Starting again

It’s spring in KS, which means it’s prairie burning time. I know it’s coming every April, and yet I’m always caught off guard. (I can only imagine how many 911 calls are placed by out-of-towners who have never heard of these prescribed or “controlled” prairie burns.)

The smoke, the crackling sounds along the roadside, the orange flames dancing on the horizon as tall as trees, the charred landscape feel almost apocalyptic, as if one has been teleported to a scorched and deserted planet. At least that is how I felt recently, when at dusk, I found myself on Middle Creek Road. I stopped to take in the eerily beautiful site (and inhale a bunch of smoke).


The conditions were perfect that day—the wind was just right, the grass was dry, and the soil was moist, which allows the deep roots of the grasses to survive. I could see a team on the horizon buzzing around on four-wheelers for this almost choreographed-like-dance of regeneration. A few days later, our own stretch of prairie was burned and my brother, with help from his drone, captured this footage:

Prescribed prairie burns are not without controversy. It results in poor air quality alerts impacting cities like Kansas City and even places in Nebraska. The fires also displace some wildlife, at least momentarily. But overall, even the most passionate environmentalists understand the value of these annual burns—namely managing weeds and woody vegetation like pesky cedar trees. And the fires promote new growth, something Native Americans knew to be true. New growth meant better grass, which meant increased bison.

Every year I marvel at how quickly the prairie regenerates itself following the burn. The burnt grass becomes soil nutrients, and there is rapid regrowth as a result—as early as two weeks. Pretty soon wildflowers—pure gifts of nature—will start appearing and the tall grass prairie, an endangered ecosystem, is reborn.

Perhaps there is a sabbatical metaphor in all this. Sabbaticals, after all, are hoped-for times of regeneration and new growth—a time of clearing away the pesky weeds of heart, mind, and soul. A time to commune again with the Regenerative One, Jesus, who came to baptize us not only with water, but with fire (Luke 3:16). And even though this has been a personally regenerative time, I have also directed much thought and prayer toward what makes for healthy ecosystems—what makes for a healthy, thriving church. What conditions create the necessary nutrients for regeneration? How might we be reborn over and over, in the light (and fire) of Christ?

I’ll look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks. For now I’ll say I’ve missed Rainbow, and I hope I’ve been missed, at least a little 🙂

And I’ll close with this beautiful quote by Hannah Becker. I look forward, once again, to being part of the “flaming” Rainbow and concerted teamwork—being about the delicate, important matter of regeneration. Hopefully 911 won’t need to be called in the process.

“There’s an intense rainbow of flaming colors, you hear sounds of fire rippling through the dead brush and you can see the concerted teamwork of burn attendees as they carefully coordinate the delicate matter of setting hundreds of acres of fire. It’s quite breathtaking.”- Hannah Becker from Kansas Living Magazine


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Hello again from Minnesota

Hello from Minnesota or should I say, Minne-soooooooo-cold-a?

My three-week residency at Collegeville Institute is coming to a close. Here is a movie with pictures and narration—my own way of saying thank you for this incredible place and opportunity.

Here we come Canada!





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In the bulb

In the bulb there is a flower… unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.        -Natalie Sleeth, from the hymn “In the bulb there is a flower”

In October 2017 I traveled alone to Berkeley, CA, seeking “emotional fresh air,” and what I got instead was near-asphyxiation from the thick layer of smoke enveloping the hills of Berkeley and the entire Bay Area.

This girl from KS knows (sort of) what to do when there is a tornado, but wildfires? No clue. So when I awoke to an eerily deserted and smoke-filled neighborhood, with no transportation of my own, I panicked, threw on some clothes, grabbed a towel to put over my mouth, put in my earphones, and raced toward the water (with Brandi Carlile’s “Firewatcher’s Daughter” album—random coincidence— ringing in my ears).   

I found water eventually, which in turn led me to a peninsula called Albany Bulb, a place I would return to over and over during my week in Cali. With each visit, I felt the courage to venture further and further inside the peninsula, and as I did, I wondered if I had mistakingly walked through the wardrobe of Narnia.  Here are just a few photos to give you a an idea of what I stumbled upon. 


I love this description by Susan Moffat, from her longer article here:

“Guarding the hillside crouches a giant dragon with reindeer antlers, ridden by a warrior—all made of driftwood. Along the shoreline an iron samurai wields a sword and a fifteen-foot-tall woman reaches to the sky with a beseeching gesture. Her windswept hair is made of branches, her skirts of twisted tin. Painted gargoyle faces stick their tongues out at you from truck-sized pieces of concrete. Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the distance. You can hear the tinkling and squeaking of kinetic scrap metal sculptures spinning in the breeze. Straight ahead, past cormorants perched on mouldering piers, wetlands glisten with the movements of snowy egrets, curlews, and airborne flocks of sandpipers catching the sun like tossed confetti…Dogs bark, running in and out of the water at a small beach. You smell horses and saltwater and coastal sage… An enormous red and yellow and green concrete Rubik’s cube clings to the rocky shore just above the water line, and clouds of pink, magenta, and white valerian, golden California poppies, and crimson roses spill down the causeway’s precipitous hillsides. A castle perches on a pile of rubble with a gothic arch for a window and a small turret. The castle is covered with paintings of human-sized rabbits.”

During and after each visit to the Bulb, I did some research. It used to be a landfill for construction debris. Again to quote Moffat:

“People in the small town of Albany still remember coming here in the sixties and seventies to dump their old furniture and yard waste on top of broken buildings. When nearby cities needed new highways, commuter lines, stores, schools, and houses, what was torn down got deposited at the Bulb. Because the landfill was never completely capped, it is an open-air museum of creative destruction exhibiting huge chunks of brick walls, bathroom tile, highway supports, rebar, and asphalt with yellow highway lines intact.”

There’s more. Had I ventured to Albany Bulb a couple years earlier, I would have found a community of more than sixty people living on the Bulb in tents, shacks, or as the Bulb residents called them, “cliffside mansions.” After all, who wouldn’t want this million-dollar view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, all for free. 

Again, Moffat:

“It provided refuge for people struggling with trauma and mental illness who preferred living outdoors to the claustrophobia and social threats of shelters. Amber and her partner, Phyll, built a compound of tents hidden by a scrap metal fence. “When you live indoors, nothing moves,” said Amber, who had a quick smile with no front teeth, a wardrobe of camouflage and black lace, an archaeologist’s eye for half-buried treasure, and an impressive knack for reviving laptops and mobile phones pulled out of dumpsters. The Bulb’s wind, the tides, and the movement of the grass and trees kept her sane: “The Bulb is the healthiest place I’ve ever lived.”

It’s no wonder that Albany Bulb has long been a place where people from all over memorialize the deceased via various shrines, sculptures, cairns, and labyrinths. One sees scraps and remnants of people’s lives littered and/or carefully placed all throughout Albany Bulb. 


And it was here, at this labyrinth, (pictured above), with Brandi Carlile still in my ears, asking why it is we so often remember what we want to forget, where I finally received some much-needed emotional fresh air. I was grieving the death (and actions) of someone I had grown to care about (and fear). I was on my own wild and somewhat emotional peninsula of sorts, and somehow the debris, chaos, and beauty of Albany Bulb was just the right place for me to express some of my fears, regrets, anger, pain, love, grief, and shattered confidence. I walked the labyrinth and got into a beseeching posture alongside my new fifteen-foot-tall lady friend (see movie below). I built cairns, took photos, cried,  pretended to be a dragon-flying warrior, and breathed in the smell of sage. Perhaps I could find a way to remember in ways that didn’t feel so scary and guilt-inducing. 

In her song “The Things I regret,” Carlile suggests that when the weight of it all rests on our back, and the road seems cracked—to keep pressing forward, with feet on the ground.  So I kept walking and I kept beseeching, and eventually found my way back home (both up the hills to my guest house in Berkeley and back to my loving home and community in KS). 

So thank you Brandi, thank you to the one (you know who you are) who gave me frequent flyer miles for this trip, thank you to my Berkeley hosts, and thank you Natalie Sleeth for a hymn that will forever be linked to my time at Albany Bulb. (And my husband for playing it in the video below.) 

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.  


PS The 2017 (and 2018) California wildfires were (and continue to be) devastating. In fact, living next to me currently is a Buddhist monk who was in the middle of the California fires in 2017, helping his fellow monastery members and neighbors escape the flames. A reflection for another day.

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Hello from Apartment 9 on Ecumenical Drive

It begins—my long-awaited three-week writing residency with Collegeville Institute, located on Ecumenical Drive on the campus of St. John’s University, Minnesota. I’m here with about 10 other residents (theologians, pastors, artists, professors—you know, the general trouble making type.) I haven’t met anybody yet, as we have all been instructed to STAY INSIDE if we can help it. (When I finally ventured to the abbey yesterday, even the monks were missing in action.)

The last time I was here, over six years ago, it was July and sunny. As I write it is -30 degrees.

Saint John’s University is a liberal arts college for men. (The women’s college, College of Saint Benedict, is about four miles from St. John’s.)  St. John’s is also a Catholic seminary for priesthood candidates.  The Abbey and University Church is one of the most visually interesting abbey’s I’ve ever seen. You can take a virtual tour of the campus here:

Liturgical Press, a publisher of liturgy and worship resources, also resides on campus, as well as a co-ed graduate school of theology. St. John’s is also known for its role in commissioning the Saint John’s Bible, the first illuminated, hand-written Bible in more than 500 years. As soon as this polar vortex passes, I look forward to seeing several of the original pages on exhibit here.   

And then there is Collegeville Institute, the residential ecumenical/theological center where I am staying. 

Collegeville was founded by a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Father Kilian McDonnel. Today Collegeville is an autonomous part of the St. John’s campus/community. Its mission is to bring together a variety of people (writers, scholars, artists, professionals, corporate leaders, etc) for the purpose of study, prayer, reflection, writing, and dialogue across religious and faith experiences. 

Krista Tippett, whose “Becoming Wise” book I’m currently reading, writes about her time at Collegeville in the mid-1990’s:

“I began to learn an art of conversation about undergirding truths from the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey of Collegeville…These Benedictines had founded a quiet but mighty institute for ecumenical and cultural research in the 1960s, when the notion of Catholics and Protestants in relationship was a now unimaginably daring move. It became a seedbed of cross-religious ferment for the latter half of the twentieth century.”

That’s because, as Tippett describes, at Collegeville the focus in on storytelling, conversation, and asking questions. “In Collegeville,” she writes, “discussion about a large, meaty, theological subject began by framing it as a question, and then asking everyone around the table to begin to answer the question through the story of their lives: Who is God? What is prayer? How to approach the problem of evil? What is the content of Christian hope? I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.” 

I don’t know how much storytelling and dialogue I will participate in this time around at Collegeville. I do plan to attend daily prayers at the abbey, but other than that I might be a lone glove of sorts, hanging out reading, writing, and reflecting. Oh, and taking pictures. 

So with that, I’ll sign out with these photos.

Missing Rainbow, and yet so grateful for this time at Collegeville. 

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Up, down, and all around

Every year, the “high lights” of December come in the form of Arlie Regier’s sculpture. The lights are literally high—so high many people have to stand on their tip-toes just to reach the candles. And while I love this sculpture, it’s best that I look away when people light it. I get too nervous. Fire in the sanctuary is not something to take “lightly” after all.  For example:

Thankfully I didn’t look away on Christmas Eve. With the bells and words of John 1 still ringing in my ears, and as Christian Buller played the gorgeous tune, “Of the Father’s love begotten,” Lizzie Shelly lit the candles one by one. Except she didn’t light them in any particular order. She went rogue and went from top to bottom, side to top, bottom to side. I loved watching her unpredictable movements and choices—a dance of order and chaos.

Little did Lizzie know that my go-to phrase in 2018 was “Up, down, and all around.” That’s how the year felt—so many joys, sorrows, uncertainties, and provisions. A dance of order and chaos. 

As as I watched Lizzie light these candles in random order, it’s like each candle represented a joy or concern of this past year. And with each candle, I found myself silently repeating the words of John 1: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overtake it.” That is indeed our prayer and hope.  

Below you will find some random Rainbow “high lights” from 2018, preserved in picture form. It’s certainly not complete, but hopefully you too can sense the flickering of good news—that indeed, the light continues to shine……nothing can put it out.   

Here is the highlight reel: rainbow 2018 slideshow


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Home for the holidays

Headed Home for the Holidays And Need More Than Table Talk Tips?

How Grief, Gratitude, and a Triangle Sandwich Surprise Made Me Fall in Love with Family after a Decade of Difference and Division

by Kimberly Hunter

December 19, 2018

Basketball Dreams at Sunset

On the Irish New Year (November 1) I experienced a healing so unexpected I sometimes refer to it as miraculous, or mystical. And the people who facilitated this transformation surprised me as much as the miracle itself. Because the change was internal, I recognized it by how it felt in my gut – light, joyful, complete, irreversible, and beyond my control. Almost like falling in love. The last time I’d felt that, it signaled my heart shifting away from fundamentalist* Christianity. This time – 12 years later – it signaled my heart shifting back toward understanding, accepting, and appreciating the fundamentalists I call family.

The process began a few days before November 1. Early on October 29, I drove from Kansas City to North Newton, Kansas for another class with the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Bethel College. Since the course would last through October 31, I’d asked my aunt and uncle in Whitewater if I could stay overnight with them, and they’d agreed to host me. I felt grateful because their hospitality would be free and familiar, for as a child I’d visited cousins, chased chickens, swam in cattle tanks, and caught chiggers and lightning bugs on their farm.

But I also felt much of the family systems anxiety about which Pastor Keith Harder recently preached. I felt nervous my Whitewater family might receive me with skepticism or even hostility, since I’ve been vocal about leaving the fundamentalism upon which they’ve built their lives. I also felt much of the responsibility and little of the curiosity Pastor Harder mentioned. Since midterm elections were near, I felt duty-bound to help my aunt and uncle understand how Kobach had harmed me and people I love. So I’d intended to spend much time in prayer and reflection, preparing to be my best self during what felt like a high-stakes visit.

Alas, I did no such thing. Instead, I departed Kansas City exhausted from over-work; angry and wounded from a painful breakup; and in need of basic care. Almost like a refugee seeking solace from the violent pace of modern life. Though I felt ashamed of my ill-preparedness, arriving that way jumpstarted my healing. Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” describes why: “Ring the bells that still can ring… Forget your perfect offering… There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in… Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.” In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says something similar: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” By requesting and receiving care, I allowed my family to be Jesus to me.

During the drive, however, I did manage to prepare a little by listening to NPR’s My Fellow Kansans podcast, which Rainbow congregant Sammy Stayton recommended to me since I enjoy Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas. Both the podcast and the book recount the socio-political history of my family, of how fundamentalist Christians and the Republican party became one over the issues of abortion, gay rights and whether or not public schools permit prayer and teach evolution. But what stunned me was how Kansas Christians organized that national movement in 1991. We won widely and quickly with tools like civil disobedience, stadium rallies, and running activists as candidates on ballots across the state. Though fascinated and full of questions, after class I was so tired I determined not to discuss our most divisive disagreements. Instead, I hoped to hear what my aunt and uncle thought about the intersections between faith, farming and immigration. But they had other plans.

As I pulled into their gravel driveway, my aunt waved from atop a riding lawnmower, motioning where I should park. A few minutes later, I placed my bags in my cousin’s old bedroom. Though the beautiful quilt on the bed was new, old childhood memories filled the air, and I laughed, recalling how mad I’d been when my mother once made me nap in that room while my cousins romped outside. My aunt laughed, too, then invited me to walk with her – after she finished baking two bundt cakes for the crisis care pregnancy center. And so it began.

We walked, talked, and laughed along the gravel road — and later around pot roast dinner, over dirty dishes, on a flying four-wheeler, in deer stand darkness, and while slurping Braum’s milkshakes. As we shared these activities, our awkwardness gave way to familiarity, but also to questions and stories hidden from me as a child. We discussed politics as personal, recounting family histories ranging from when my Christian musician celebrity uncle-in-law came out as gay a month before my cousin married his daughter, to how another uncle sexually assaulted multiple female family members and how sad and hurt I felt when our family helped elect a President not only dismissive but also suspected of abusing women. But most impactful to me were the stories where I mostly listened. These included my aunt’s run for office and Mennonite journey, my uncle’s gun control convictions, and hearing how their faith intersects with their daughter’s choice to be a foster parent.

During our first conversation, my aunt surprised me with the news she had been serving as her township’s treasurer for the past three years. Slightly incredulous, I teased her about being the first politician in our family. She blushed. When I pressed her for more details, she shared a male friend had asked her to run for office and only three people had voted against her. She beamed. “But Kimberly!” she gasped, shaking her head. “When I went to the first meeting, I was shocked to see I was the only woman in a room full of men!” For a moment, I thought my aunt may have become a feminist. But she continued, “Since I’m no Women’s Lib, I was horrified, thinking I had taken a man’s job! So now I just let the men make the decisions and type up what they decide.” This time I gasped – first with shock, then with humor. I nodded my head, knowing my aunt’s sincerity and Biblical interpretation required her to respond this way.

Harder FamilyThough I knew my aunt and uncle were Mennonite, learning the depth of my aunt’s Anabaptist roots amazed me. They stretched far beyond her peppernut recipes and intricate quiltmaking. Her ancestors founded Emmaus Mennonite Church, which she still attends today, and include Bernhard Harder, the pastor famous for defusing an angry, nationalist mob with his zestful rendition of “My Country ‘tis of Thee.” They also include her father’s conscientious objector papers, which she still treasures. Like me, her faith has also shifted over the years, but in different ways than mine. She no longer identifies as a pacifist, and after her church leaders found Mennonite seminary professors teaching inclusivity toward LGBTQIA folks, Emmaus withdrew from the General Conference and now hesitates to identify as Mennonite at all.

During most of these stories, I asked questions and listened more than I spoke. But when the conversation turned toward guns and hunting, I decided to explain my concerns about Kris Kobach’s campaign for Kansas governor, since the midterm elections were just around the corner. To begin, I said I was uncomfortable with Kobach’s habit of parading through small towns with an assault rifle mounted to his jeep. To which my uncle replied, “What do you mean by assault rifle? There is no such thing. That term is a liberal media invention. Whether a gun is used for assault depends on who holds it and how they use it.” Since I’d never thought of the term “assault rifle” that way and guns are like a foreign language to me, I invited him to explain further. So he opened his hunting catalogue, pointed to two rifles, and asked which looked scarier. I pointed to one. He then pointed to the fine print, which showed they were exactly the same. We looked up a photo of Kobach’s gun, and my uncle exclaimed, “Oh! That’s a machine gun!” He paused, then rationalized, “Well, if Kobach supports the military, I guess that could be a gesture of support.” We went on to discuss what effective gun control measures and a consistent pro-life ethic might look like. No one “won” the discussion; instead, our understandings of one another grew.

As I watched and listened, I also realized, despite our differences, we share much in common. This stretches beyond simple lifestyle choices like growing gardens, using clotheslines, and shooting hoops at sunset to issues like Christians’ responsibility toward those in need of care – especially children. For years, my aunt and uncle’s eldest daughter has been a foster mom. She did this even when she was single, teaching full time, and lacking family support. But since then, her parents have come to respect and even be inspired by her choice – so much so that at one point my aunt exclaimed, “My brother crunched some numbers and found that for every one church in the state of Kansas, there are two kids in need of a foster home. So if the Church was doing its job, there would be no foster care crisis.” My jaw dropped in shock and joy. Imagine if we could work together around something like that?!

But what most melted my heart was not how much we agree. It was how tenderly my aunt and uncle cared for me, and how they reciprocated my vulnerability. Imagining their kindness now still puts a lump in my throat. They not only opened their home to give me a place to sleep; my uncle opened his heart after a long day of work, and my aunt cooked me three meals a day. When I woke up before the sun to get ready, she was already in the kitchen cooking me breakfast. And when I left for class, she handed me a sack lunch. Again, I was speechless before I could muster words of thanks. How many years had it been since someone packed me a lunch? I fought back tears. Hours later, I opened it to discover she’d cut the sandwich into diagonals for me. When I texted and thanked her for making a lunch that was both tasty and beautiful, she wrote back, “My grandkids call those “triangle sandwiches 🙂.” I grinned.

During our final meal together, I felt safe enough to dive deep and be vulnerable, so I shared the story about my recent heartbreak asked them how they’d fallen in love and decided to get married. Their story wasn’t as simple as I’d imagined. Later my aunt also shared the story of the quilt on my bed; she had stitched her wedding blues into it – the sadness she felt after her daughter got married and left home. This melted me, too. Change is hard for all of us.

As I drove home Halloween night, my heart felt different – softer, kinder, more open. Back at work on Día de Muertos, I received heart wrenching news from a friend that his father had completed suicide to avoid going to prison for a DUI. The world stopped. Witnessing such profound sorrow on the heels of experiencing profound kindness brought the miracle full circle. Spirit moved, and my heart no longer had space for anger and resentment. Suddenly I was ready to forgive. To begin, that night I wrote kind messages to two people from whom I’d been estranged. I searched for resources to let go and start anew. Since I’m part Irish, I Googled “Irish letting go rituals.” Astonished, I discovered November 1 is the Irish New Year, during which they sweep out the old to make space for the new. I meditated on that for a moment; then, before going to bed, I emailed the ritual to an Irish congregant I’d met recently. When I awoke November 2, I had not only an email back from him – the beginning of a new friendship – but also an email from a New York friend I’d been trying to reach for years. I was dumbfounded.

So what is going on? I still don’t know exactly. Mostly, I feel grateful and amazed. But I think it has something to do with love – the huggable kind. In Exclusion and Embrace, theologian Miroslav Volf says an embrace has three steps. First you must open your arms (be willing to embrace). Then, if the other person is also open, you wrap your arms around each other (an encounter which touches both people). And finally, you let go and return home a little different than before you left. For a long time now, I’ve known I needed to hug my family like this if I want to effectively work for social change. In The Fire This Time, James Baldwin explains why this is necessary: “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and will not be today and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” But I didn’t know how to do that sincerely, with no agenda. Now I know. We are all in need of being changed by God’s love – even (especially?) those of us who want to change the world. So wherever the holidays find you, I pray for you as Pastor Ruth prayed for us on November 18: “Your love is not done with any of us… May your love meet our needs and calm our fears.



Arriving to family gatherings vulnerable may not be safe or appropriate for all families. This story applies most to situations where “we” feel a responsibility to change “them.” You know yourself and your family best. So be safe. Be well. And if you can, be kind, honest, curious, courageous, and huggable, too.

Click here to reflect on a wonderful prayer for families, as well as a few other links.

A Prayer for All Families by Carol Penner

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Oh the drama of it all



I hope everyone has a chance to see these incredible puppets in action this coming Sunday! It has been a creative collaboration between Kathryn Kreider, Rosi Penner Kaufman, local hardware stores,  and many, many others! 


With our annual Rainbow Christmas program quickly approaching (December 16 at 5 pm), I thought I’d share these lovely reflections from Rehearsing Scripture by Anna Carter Florence. (I took the liberty to add a few of my own remarks in parenthesis.) 

“If you’re a child, and your grown-ups have anything to do with church, sooner or later someone is going to draft you into the Christmas pageant. It will probably happen multiple times over the years, because Christmas pageants have plenty of parts for every age group. The good news about this is that you’ll rarely play the same role twice (unless you’re a diva like Renee Reimer who always got to play Mary).

Eventually you’ll age out of the sheep and cows in the stable, and move up to shepherds or angels or wise men. You might even be Mary or Joseph, one year, if the pageant director thinks you won’t be embarrassed by it, and can sit still for that long (or if the pageant director isn’t your mother).

Even babies can be in the Christmas pageant in the starring role; they won’t remember it, but they’ll grow up hearing about it, knowing they had a turn in the spotlighted manger. Adults who have long since graduated from Christmas pageant eligibility will tell you, in an offhand way, that they were baby Jesus in 1954.

I don’t remember every Christmas pageant I was ever in, but I do remember some. Does anyone remember the year Riley Long took the baby Jesus out of the manger by his feet and held him upside down while the kids sang? As Rosi said, ‘Early juggling skills.’)

I remember having to stand with the barn animals, in fuzzy pajamas, and wishing I were old enough to be in the junior choir, so I could wear a red robe with a white cassock and sing with the heavenly host. I remember being thrilled the year I was chosen to play the angel Gabriel, who had real lines and got to sit behind the pulpit and make a grand entrance. I remember being startled and secretly pleased, as a thirteen-year-old, the year I was asked to be Mary—until I heard my younger brother was going to be Joseph.



Here I am as Mary, with my brother Scott as Joseph in a rad 80s sports duo. I distinctly remember pretending the doll or “Jesus” was a football. And I’m pretty sure my brother is still experiencing trauma from the drama of it all. 


Back to Anna Carter Florence:

As an older teenager, I remember singing with the adult shepherds’ chorus the year our Christmas pageant was a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. And as a parent, I remember the year I had to sneak up front to sit in the chancel with my younger song, who was most reluctant to join the other three-year-old angels in their tinsel crowns, singing Away in a Manger.

Christmas pageants are annual celebrations for the community, showcases for the education program, and a ton of work for the adults in charge—but they’re so much more than that. They are the first place, and perhaps the only place, where we’ll learn what it’s like to switch roles in our sacred story, and so experience its verbs from another point of view. A child who plays a donkey one year, carefully guiding Mary to the  manger and then nestling down in the straw to watch, will have very different verbs than the year she plays an angel in the balcony, bubbling with excitement and shouting to shepherds about good tidings of great joy. From her perspective in each role, what she hears, what she sees, and what she knows in her body will be different. Next year, maybe she’ll be a dove in the rafters. Or a shepherd in a field. Or a wise man from afar. Or an innkeeper with no more room. Eventually, she may play all those roles, each with its own set of verbs. And every one will show her something new about what it means for us that God came into the world as a tiny child to a poor family that was far from home, with nowhere to stay.”

Anna Carter Florence ends her chapter (p. 58) by encouraging us to tap into this Christmas pageant mode of being and doing whenever we read Scripture together.

“Switch roles in the text to try out new verbs. Be intentional about it. Begin with the characters that seem most natural to play, and then pick a new role. Audition for another part that goes against type. Try reading from the point of view of the prodigal son, then the older brother, then the father: what do you notice? Try standing with Pharaoh, then Pharaoh’s daughter, then Moses: What do you hear? Be a disciple and then a Pharisee, a leper and then a priest, a prophet and then the wayward people, a slave and then a landowner. There are so many parts to play in the text, with so many verbs, and each part is worth playing more than once.”

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