For those of us traveling through the gospel of Luke this Lenten season, let’s take a brief look at Luke 13:31-35:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Can’t you hear the foreshadowing? Luke, the literary genius, begins to cast an ominous pall over the story. There are references to death, three days (think Good Friday to Easter), and we are introduced to what will become our age-old Palm Sunday liturgy.

Jesus is beginning to feel the stress and weight (see Luke 12 :50). Division, violence, and abandonment are on the horizon. And it didn’t have to be this way, Jesus says. “How often have I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13: 34).

The weight of what Jesus is up against, the foxes out to get him–these things are clearly crushing in mind and spirit. He is watched closely and some of his onlookers become indignant by what they see Jesus do and say (Luke 13:14).

And yet Jesus continues to rise above (does this count as a pun?). He keeps people on their toes, often telling stories or parables packed full of whimsy, challenge, grace, instruction, and truth.

And so, as we consider the heaviness of the evolving story, let’s also not overlook the whimsy in chapters 14-15. And in that spirit, I’ll share these (somewhat dated) very short pair-of-bells recordings.

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Getting cross-examined and cross in Luke 11

For those reading through the entirety of the gospel of Luke during Lent, here are some thoughts on chapter 11.

After Jesus leaves the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), he begins (or continues) to get tested, cross-examined, and criticized, especially by some in the crowds. In turn, I sense Jesus getting a little testy, cross, and critical!

Even when a woman in the crowd raises her voice and says to Jesus with affirmation, “Blessed is the womb that bore you,” Jesus has a rather sharp response: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:27-28)

It seems to me the rest of chapter 11, perhaps even the rest of Jesus’ teachings in Luke, hinges on that statement: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

And all I can say about verse 37 onward is WOAH!

There is a lot of woe talk. Woe to Pharisees, woe to lawyers, woe to anyone everyone who is clean on the outside, but greedy and wicked on the inside. To anyone and everyone who neglects justice and the love of God (11:42), Jesus says, “Woe to you!”

The added detail in 11:44 is rather chilling: ”Woe to you! For you [the religious leaders—Pharisees] are like “unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.” Equally chilling is what Jesus says to the lawyers v. 46 onward: “Woe to you! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them…For you have taken away the key of knowledge…”

So yeah, is it any wonder that the scribes and Pharisees grew “very hostile” toward Jesus (Luke 11:53)?

Is it any wonder they ramped up their cross-examination of him? Chapter 11 ends with more chilling words: They waited for Jesus, “to catch him in something he might say.”

Of course what I catch Jesus saying most clearly is this: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” And my, how we still like to maneuver around Jesus’ harsh criticism of greed, pride, and injustice. We probably find ourselves cross-examining Jesus more than we care to admit.

Later this week I’ll post some thoughts on Luke chapter 12.

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Luke 10: 25-37 and doing more than compassion by proxy

Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech

Delivered April 3, 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) Memphis, Tennessee.
Dr. King cites Jesus’s “Parable of the Good Samaritan”

In addition to the reflections I shared in this week’s worship video, I now share some excerpts from a sermon preached by Matt Westbrook at Portland Mennonite Church in 2015.

When MLK gave the speech (linked above), it was April 3rd of 1968 and he was in Memphis, Tennessee standing with the city sanitation workers, who had been viciously treated by the city for years with unsafe conditions, discrimination, poor treatment from the white city government leadership, and the recent deaths of two sanitation workers. King chose not to show compassion by proxy, but instead to show mercy–compassion moving the body to action–by standing with the workers in marches and rallies. He made the choice to ignore his fears, emanating from continual treats on his life, and to stand with the suffering sanitation workers as they lay on the side of the road. The day after he delivered this speech, King was killed by an assassin. Compassion in action, mercy, is risky. You know you have loved your neighbors when you both feel the uncomfortableness it generates when you act in the place of the Good Samaritan, and also when you feel the uncomfortableness it generates when you recognize the enemy of yours represented by the Good Samaritan may be quite capable of being a role model in a story by Jesus.

A few other excerpts worth chewing on:

Western, wealthy, yet good-intentioned Christians, removed even from having to travel on Jericho-like roads, tend to prefer to keep their hands clean by personally sending or having their governments send money or pass laws, understanding these actions as creating permanent and lasting positive change. Once the money is given, the conscience is eased because it equates neighborliness with the click of a computer key, the tending of wounds with the wearing of a button, the costly generosity of standing and touching the person in need with the donation to a political campaign.

To be fair, this description doesn’t describe every act of financial generosity or political action–there are certainly exceptions right here in our church. But I believe it does hit a powerful nerve in Western liberal Christian practice. To be even-handed, I could have easily described the approach of a conservative American Christian, who may have seen the wounded man by the roadside and argued that if only the man was armed, he could have properly defended himself, but that sermon is for another day.

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I’m embarrassed to say that I’m already failing in Lent. I have excuses and justifications, but I won’t bore you, the reader, with the details. Nor will I ask for your opinion on whether or not my excuses are justified or weak! Likely the latter.

So, I hope to get back on track with some Biblical reflections next week. For now, please enjoy this little video of children describing Lent. Some real gems here!

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Ashes to ashes we all fall down

We all know some version of the rhyme right?

A pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes!
We all fall down.

And we’ve all heard the theory that this rhyme is really depicting death and ruin right?

Well, given our current pandemic, I doubt if anyone wants to think about the 1665 outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague, which some believe this rhyme references. Likewise, I can’t help but wonder if anyone is going to show up to our Zoom Ash Wednesday gathering that starts in less than 20 minutes! Who wants to think about our blessed mortality right now?

And yet, I’ll be there, contemplating the the dust or ash that we all become and the opportunities we have to make our ash/dust count.

So everyone, I have to say it: Get your ash at church!

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A Hard 40

I’ve started referring to the season of Lent as the Hard40. It a 40 day sentence (may feel like 40 years to some) of traveling with Jesus as he turns toward Jerusalem and faces the ensuing trial, brutality, trauma, and death penalty. It’s a hard road to travel before we get to Easter. But it’s a road we best not take a detour around, no matter how much we’d like to.

And so, starting on Ash Wednesday, I will post daily thoughts or photos on this site.

I will use this daily Bible reading schedule as the primary compass or jumping off point.

And to kick it off, here is a video for your consideration.

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Snow walks

Lately I’ve been doing more video recording than writing and more walking than talking (or typing). So I’ll let my recent snowy walk through Whitmore Playground speak for itself.

You can find more videos on our Rainbow YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6aQzyYF0quBZBz1a-OJksg

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Entering God’s courts

I interrupt this regularly scheduled program for a short sports reflection. 

The transition from high school basketball to collegiate play wasn’t easy. Unlike in high school, I was often the shortest player on the court in college. Sure, I was quick and strong for my size, but I had to make a lot of adjustments and improvements to my game if I stood any chance of playing.  

Thankfully my coach Floyd (pictured here), took time with me and shaped me into a decent college basketball point guard. Mostly I credit him for teaching me the magic of the bounce pass. And thanks to Floyd (and the bounce pass), I came to love the game in a whole new way. Assists became just as golden as points. 

Fast forward 23 years later.

Last night I was once again by Floyd’s side. But this time, I was in a chair and he was lying in his hospital bed at home. I was there to say goodbye, to wish him sweet peace, to tell him I’d look for him on the other side—in that heavenly “court.”

The stroke he suffered two years ago didn’t allow him to say anything in return, but the squeeze of his hand and the kind eyes looking back at me communicated a lot.  

During visits with him over these past two years, I reminded him that just as he helped me adjust to college play, I wanted to offer any support I could as he learned to adjust to life post-stroke. Floyd’s family, an A TEAM if there ever was one, welcomed me to visit whenever I could.

Nothing has been easy about the past two years and everyone who has been on Team Floyd knows he is ready to rest. “You can go, Dad,” daughter Katie said (also a coach). “We are going to be ok.”

I added that I thought Floyd was going to be ok too. He squeezed my hand one final time.

God speed, Coach.


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Black Lives Matter

Dear Rainbow friends, members, and attenders:

Will you join me in saying, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter? And will you join me in working so that these aren’t just words spoken, but a commitment lived toward a more anti-racist country and world?

For me, Black Lives Matter brings attention to the reality that for too long in this country, black lives haven’t mattered to the same degree as white lives. Black lives are treated differently and are often subjected to prejudice, inequality, and racist policies in all sectors of life, yes, even in churches.

I am frankly appalled by what I continue to learn about racist policies and attitudes undergirding this country. I am appalled by my own slowness in learning.  Racism cuts deep in our country and in the Christian church. It’s in the air we breathe. It’s in how we read and apply the Bible. No matter how progressive or non-racist we think we are, white people like me simply have blinders—blinders that cannot and will not be transformed without great intentionality, accountability, and humility.

I therefore humbly ask that you keep me accountable as Rainbow’s pastor, as I recommit toward becoming more anti-racist. And I hope and pray that we will be accountable to one another and to God as we walk this road toward becoming more anti-racist as a church. We are all at different points on this road and I’m grateful to have a church like Rainbow to walk this road with.

Progress is never linear. The road to becoming anti-racist will be long and arduous, but also  healing—leading to greater freedom and humanity for all races. May Rainbow continue to be a “school” to this end, as articulated by Rainbow’s first pastor, Stan Bohn, who recently said the following as he reflected on his time in Kansas City in the late 50s and 60s:

“I was invited to join NAACP. I was one of two white people who went to meetings. That was an education. I ended up picketing a store—things I hadn’t grown up doing…When I first went to KC, I thought of Mennonites being mediators and in a few years I realized, no, you take sides. You pick which side you are on and then you relate in a Christian way. You don’t stand as a third party outside of the conflicts.”

In many years from now, when we are asked to take account of how we acted and used our time during this period, what will we say? 

Sadly, I recognize these are still just words. Therefore, I will spend time in the coming weeks and months working with committees, such as Rainbow’s Peace and Social Justice Committee, to discern actionable steps. Hopefully we will all find ways of putting into practice this goal, as adopted in 2018 by the Rainbow congregation: Foster a relevant peace church tradition in the 21st century informed by the study of scripture and current societal challenges such as racism, gun violence, immigration and socioeconomic biases and disparities.

God be with us all in this work. May God confront our blinders and lead us toward greater healing and transformation.

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Pentecost and Black lives, flames, fumes, and tear gas

In 2015 my parents walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. They arrived in Santiago de Compostela the morning of Pentecost after spending nearly thirty days walking-sometimes registering 15-20 miles of walking per day.

I asked my parents to reflect on that and here is what they sent me:

“We were thrilled to complete our pilgrimage and exhilarated to be in Santiago on Pentecost. At the midday worship for pilgrims we were in the packed Cathedral with hundreds of pilgrims from around the world who had also arrived in Santiago that day or in the days before Pentecost.

Tradition has it that when pilgrims arrived in Santiago they smelled so bad from days of walking without bathing that they needed to be fumigated. While they were together a giant “batafumerio” weighing 176 pounds was filled with 80 pounds of charcoal and incense and raised high above the gathered congregation where it would swing high overhead so its burning incense would literally fumigate the pilgrims, a tradition going back nearly 1000 years and still preformed to this day. So to the accompaniment of the grand organ, the batafumerio swung back and forth high overhead in the cathedral over hundreds of pilgrims. A sight and sound and smell that will stay with us forever.

The worship liturgy was in Spanish and Latin which we and probably many in this international congregation could not understand. But that did not matter. Like the first Pentecost, the language of the Spirit of God overcame our differences. We were there celebrating our safe arrival in Santiago and the welcoming love of God. We have said that we understood nothing that was spoken in that worship but at the same time, we understood everything.

I received this reflection (and video footage) early last week from my parents and I have been thinking about it all week. And then last night, as I tried to fall asleep all I could hear were sirens and all I could see when I closed my eyes were the images coming from the Kansas City Plaza, which is only a couple miles from where we live and where some of our church members live. Those gathered were fumigated with tear gas, used for the purpose of scattering and some would argue, “protecting” or “preserving order.”

I sensed early in the day yesterday based on some of the news feeds I follow that a fairly big crowd was going to gather–people were saying they’d be willing to drive 3-4 hours in order to be there to join their voices with others seeking to address racist policies in America that have seeped into everything. Color does indeed matter in so many situations. Black and brown lives and bodies are treated differently, sometimes discarded or treated “less than,” especially compared to white citizens. This happens every day in micro and macro ways. And those of us who are white may not always see it or be aware of it. So for someone who is white to say, “I’m not racist,” is not helpful. It fails to recognize what we are all saturated in. Racism is in the air we breathe, and is what is choking out so much life.

I’m trying to remind myself that in all the outrage, property damage, and looting (note that it is not always clear who is doing that and for what purpose), what remains (or what should remain) most appalling of all is the racist policies that continue to dominate so many facets and sectors of American life. And that includes the Church which includes white pastors like me who still has work to do to understand my white privilege, my place in this important work of dismantling racism within myself and within the structures I exist in.

It’s become my tradition to pour leftover juice from our Rainbow communion gatherings somewhere on church grounds. Today I’m going to walk down to the Kansas City Plaza with my chalice of leftover juice and pray while considering the wide-ranging feelings of betrayal, especially that which is experienced by people of color. And as I consider what was broken or damaged last night, I will pray that the Spirit of God will be at work breathing life into places and in peoples whose lives are literally being choked out. And that those of who are part of systems that choke lives will be cleansed by the Spirit of God too.



From a friend: “Fourth day in this shirt. I’m starting to stink. Am so ANGRY.”

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