Moment of zen

Every Tuesday we begin our staff meeting with a moment of zen, which we define as a time to take a deep breath, praying that the Divine would somehow breathe in or through all that we do and say. Today Rosi Penner Kaufman offered the following moment of zen, paired with photos I took today, January 30, in our Rainbow Remembrance Garden.

Thank you, Rosi!

Maybe a bit sappy, but sunshine does that to me.

We used to have a sugar maple tree in front of our house. It was never a very robust tree, and an ice storm a few years ago damaged it to the point that we had to take it out. Before that, however, for several years we tapped the tree for maple syrup. Mitch and I took a trip to Vermont one year and our souvenir was a tree tap, so we figured we’d put it to use and it would be a good project to show the kids where syrup comes from. This is the time of year and the sort of weather that reminds me that it would be time to tap the tree: the days are getting incrementally longer and are above freezing, but the nights are still cold.

Sap rising in trees is a wonder of nature. Somehow, beneath the surface, the tree roots collect nutrients from the frozen ground and turn them into liquid that the tree pushes UPWARDS to the branches. How amazing is that? And the liquid doesn’t freeze. And it produces enough extra that we borrow some of  the tree’s life force so we can put it on pancakes (after a bit of work – one gallon of sap produced about a cup of rather green tasting maple syrup).

Ruth’s comments about trees on Sunday brought this to my mind. I like to think of the wonder of that life force flowing upwards, especially when I sit in the Remembrance Garden and think of the saints remembered there. So take two minutes, close your eyes, put your feet on the ground, and consider the hidden strength, wonders, and memories held in the earth.



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We are loved, so love

I had the great joy and honor of officiating at a wedding on December 30th. What follows is what I shared with the happy couple.

Joy knows sorrow and yet leans toward the light.

IMG_9072Erik and Chris, you wanted the message and experience of JOY to take central place in this marriage ceremony and in your married life. And I will tell you that seeing you walk up these steps hand in hand together was for me and hopefully for all of us, a moment of deep and profound joy. Trying to describe or talk about joy will always fall short of witnessing it or experiencing it. Nothing I say here will match or even come close to the look of joy on your faces this day.

But I’m a pastor and I still want to say a few words nonetheless 🙂 Joy, just like love, hope, and peace can be one of those words or sentiments that can quickly sound pollyanna-ish–too fickle and fragile, too shallow to meet or address the magnitude of pain experienced by so many. We might wonder whether it is responsible, or naive,  even selfish to seek and experience joy when so many people are despairing, when so many aren’t allowed to love who or what they love.

I agree with one spiritual writer who wrestles with this question in this way:

“I have little patience for the blind joy of those who fail to see the sufferings of the world. I am skeptical of those whose joy seems forced, happy no matter what befalls them. But there is another joy—deeper than the good times and bad times life metes out, stronger than our best attempts and sorest failings—a joy that lifts us when we cannot lift ourselves, a peace that grasps us and returns us renewed. To know the joy that comes from God is not to be carried away in blissful happiness, but to be strengthened and deepened in our love for others and for the world.” -Barbara Gerlach

In other words, the joy that the Biblical writers try to describe and the joy Jesus embodied is the kind of joy that will motivate us toward substantial change, working to make life more beautiful not just for ourselves, but for others.

Another writer puts it this way: “True joy moves us from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of connection and kinship.”

Chris and Erik, you will most definitely have days of cramped self-preoccupation. Days when it is difficult to look up from your work, days when conflict will restrict you, days when you will doubt your worth or confidence, days when someone or some church will delegitimize your marriage, days when joy and happiness will fade. If and when this happens, may you dig deep and remember that you are loved in and through it all. I believe the more you can be attuned to that truth, the more love you will have to offer others.

In just a moment, we will hear a piece of music by Hans Bridger Heruth called Joy. I found a lovely description of this piece of music which I would like to share with you.

For readers you can listen to it here:

“The exposition of this composition is warm and bouncy and characterizes someone that is young and full of hope and joy.

The liveliness subsides into a middle section that is hollow and ethereal, possessing a feeling of distress.

The voices echo each other’s words in a haunting ostinato while other voices sing variations of the phrase, “I am loved, I will sing,” in such a way that seems as if they are reassuring themselves of the statement.

After the climactic end of this section, the choir enters with the phrase: “I am loved, I will love”.

It’s sung in unison and is accompanied by the hopeful piano motif from the beginning of the piece. The music revvs back up into the first choral melody, yet once the piece reaches the height of this phrase, the listener can hear that our “character” now sings these melodic lines with a tinge of pain in their heart; pain, however, that they’ve overcome.

This pain is represented by drawn out melodic lines and harmonic dissonances within otherwise major chords.

As the choir begins to hum, two soprano soloists begin to sing their own line. I’d like to think that the first soloist represents the young, innocent character from the beginning, while the second soloist that joins the first represents the character’s older self who has triumphed through the hard lessons life has to offer.

The piece comes to a gentle close with the same line of: “I am loved, I will love”. It is a powerful line of text, with an even more powerful message to carry. Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, you must agree with the fact that our world is suffering, and only the power of love and the music that we share with people can heal it. We must love others, and we must share with them our hope.

And so I say to you Chris, you are loved, so love.
Eric, you are loved, so love.

To everyone here, we are loved, so for goodness sake, let’s love.



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Opening a channel

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” -James 5:13-14

IMG_1914This jar of anointing oil sometimes sits behind the Rainbow pulpit, sometimes in my car, and sometimes in the Rainbow pastor’s office. It was gifted to me by a good friend after I anointed her and her stillborn son in a time of anguished, sorrowful prayer I won’t soon forget. That time together and this jar continues to be a gift that keeps on giving. Not only have I anointed others using this jar of oil, when I’m feeling particularly anxious or sad, I dab a little of the lavender scented oil on the palm of my hand. I don’t know why exactly, although I can relate to a Rainbow member who recently said that for her, anointing with oil, “opens a channel.” Beautiful.

The Church of the Brethren folks know a thing or two about the power of anointing, having kept that biblical tradition alive in so many beautiful ways. In the Church of the Brethren Minister’s Manual, anointing is described as a ritual that helps us consider the interdependence of the mind, soul and body. It is written: “Certain possibilities for health open up when a biblical teaching and healing rite with historical roots are lived out in a congregational setting…Anointing with oil for healing is a means of God’s grace and blessing intended to bring restoration and wholeness.”

I share this because I plan to have this jar of lavender oil with me at the Rainbow Longest Night/Winter Solstice Service on Thursday, December 21. During the time of candle lighting, when people will be invited to come forward to light candles, I will stand off to the side and offer a dab of oil on the palm for those who long to “open a channel” toward greater wholeness. (Olive oil is so often used in anointing because the olive branch has long symbolized reconciliation and wholeness.)

Anointing of course is not the only way one can open a channel to God. Acts of charity and hospitality, singing, silent contemplation, studying scripture—these all can be described as channel openers.

The anointing words I will share tomorrow night are simple: “May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, my prayer is that as we seek to open channels to God, we will become channels of God’s mercy and compassion in the world.

I end this post with one of many blessings that will be shared during the Longest Night Service at 7 pm on Thursday. Hope you can join us.

Blessing for a Whole Heart by Jan Richardson

You think
if you could just
imagine it,
that would be a beginning;
that if you could envision
what it would look like,
that would be a step
toward a heart
made whole.

This blessing
is for when
you cannot imagine.
This is for when
it is difficult to dream
of what could lie beyond
the fracture, the rupture,
the cleaving through which
has come a life
you do not recognize
as your own.

When all that inhabits you
feels foreign,
your heart made strange
and beating a broken
and unfamiliar cadence,
let there come
a word of solace,
a voice that speaks
into the shattering,

reminding you
that who you are
is here,
every shard
somehow holding
the whole of you
that you cannot see
but is taking shape
even now,
piece joining to piece
in an ancient,
remembered rhythm

that bears you
not toward restoration,
not toward return—
as if you could somehow
become unchanged—
but steadily deeper
into the heart of the one
who has already dreamed you


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Singly none

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Originally posted on over and around the rainbow:
This post was originally published in November of 2016. Today I re-post it in honor of Pablo who died unexpectedly this week. Many will remember him for his jovial, mischievous spirit and…

Gallery | 1 Comment

Holy Smokes

Ten years ago, as a recent seminary graduate, I thought I knew the Christmas story frontward and backward. I did not, it turns out, know how to share this story of Jesus’ blessed birth without almost burning the church down.

To be fair, who knew oranges were flammable?

Surely you’ve heard of Christingles by now. No? The best description I’ve found is as follows: “Children are given this weird orange-based thing, then there is or is not a fire-related incident, and then Silent Night is sung.”


Somehow 10 years ago, in my novel-is-always-good leadership days, I thought a weird orange-based thing out of Moravia sounded wonderful! It sure beat having to force children into sheep, shepherd and magi costumes. (I’m a daughter of a drama professor, so I have PTSD, also known as Parent in Theater Stress Disorder.)

It was going to be perfect. People could come to the church early, make their Christingles, the church would smell like citrus, and the children could process in with their lit oranges.


What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out, everything. We weren’t even half way through the opening hymn, “O come, all ye faithful,” when I heard the first pop and crackle. Sure enough, the candles had already burned down, the flame had caught the paper wrapped around the base of the candle (TERRIBLE IDEA), and one by one all 50 oranges began to go up in flames. I panicked as any good leader should not do in that situation.

Lucky for me, the high school son of the fire chief was my co-worship leader that evening. (If seminary didn’t convince me of Divine Providence, I became acquainted with him that night.) Over the next five minutes, Joe repeatedly walked up to the communion table to put out the fires one by one. I don’t even remember how he did it; all I know is that Joe turned into Jesus incarnate for me that night. He literally saved Christmas, one flaming orange at a time.

Fast forward 10 years and I find myself sticking incense into oranges (much safer!) as I nervously prepare for another Advent season. There are so many disasters and near-disasters unfolding, sometimes right in front of us, in our very homes and lives. Today’s fires of sexual abuse and harassment, racism, discrimination, economic inequalities, sexism, and the degradation of nature are too much to bear at times, and Joe, I mean Jesus, is nowhere to be found, or so it seems. I continue to wonder how we might share this story of Jesus’ blessed birth meaningfully in the presence of so much real and metaphorical fire, ash and smoke.

The hope I still cling to is that Jesus came into this world and showed the world what God’s love incarnate is and could yet be in the midst of all disasters, whether natural or human made or both. That is what I will think on as we join in singing “O come, all ye faithful” this year and hopefully NOT this hymn written in honor of  fools like me.


Christingle hymn from Ship of


See the advent candles, standing in a ring

What a pretty sight; they show us Christmas is coming


Lucky Lucy gets to strike a match upon the box,

All at once its head cones off and sets fire to her socks


See the flames lead upwards! Lucy goes berserk

We bring a fire extinguished, oh dear! it does not work


Everyone is shouting, rushing to and fro

Pretty soon the church becomes a total inferno


See the bishop blazing! listen to the choir

They can sing much louder now, that they are on fire


The fire brigade are coming now, down the street they dash

What a pity nothing’s left except for lots of ash


But what a jolly time we had, watching smoke and flame

It was so much fun that we must come to church again.

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Water tree, find Jesus

To do listIt’s that time of year again—time to lose baby Jesus. It happens every year. We set up the crèche complete with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, angels and shepherds, and usually within 24 hours poor baby Jesus goes missing. With no children in the house and two feline, I think we know who the culprit is. Yes, Pepper, we are on to you!

Thankfully we haven’t ever lost baby Jesus completely. We usually find him, put him back in his rightful place, put Pepper in time out, and within 24 hours Jesus is gone again. This hide and seek ritual continues throughout Advent and Christmas.

Last year as we were preparing for a group of church members to come over, I searched the entire house for baby Jesus, but Pepper outsmarted me. Some people noticed the missing Jesus and figured there was some theological reason for waiting until Christmas to put Jesus in his manger. I confessed that I wasn’t that sophisticated and that really, the cat burglar in the house was to blame for Jesus missing.

One of our seven-year-old house guests, who I didn’t even know was listening in on our conversation, piped up and said matter-of-factly, “Maybe Jesus will come back at Easter.” Now it’s not just cats, but seven-year-olds outsmarting me.

Today as I set up the crèche, carefully placing Jesus in his rightful place, it’s tempting to want to glue him down. I might still do that, and yet, as much as we may want Jesus securely in the center of our lives and nativity scenes, it’s never that simple. I wake up many mornings and sometimes in the middle of the night, wondering where Jesus is. Often loss, hatred, illness, suffering, abuse and violence are like thieves, robbing us of the gifts Jesus embodied and still offers. So yes, I want a here-to- stay Jesus, but as seven-year-old Arri reminds us, even the Biblical story doesn’t have Jesus glued down, what with the resurrection and all. Jesus is often found in strange, unlikely and miraculous places. Here, there and everywhere, and yet sometimes hard to find and never to be confined.

Now if we could just figure out a way to keep Pepper in his rightful place.

This wouldn’t be complete without some shameless buzz marketing (and Christmas present ask): Introducing the purrrrrrfect gift—A Cat Lover’s Nativity from Ten Thousand Villages!

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A Thanksgiving letter

Frank's Tree - Copy

Fall greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from Rainbow!

It has become my annual November tradition to connect by letter to the extended Rainbow community. Rainbow exists today because of the many people near and far, past and present, who give generously of prayers and resources. Thank you for being part of the Rainbow that stretches across many geographies and decades.

There is much to be grateful for in this time of changing seasons. Here are just a few of the highlights from this past year at Rainbow.

  • The once vacant lot at the corner of Southwest Boulevard and Mill Street is now an orchard full of trees and bushes of all varieties—blackberries, jujubes, peaches, Asian pears and more!
  • A Rainbow Butterfly Garden was planted on the east end of Whitmore Playground
  • Under the Executive Director leadership of Ashton Wells, Sharing Community in Rosedale, Inc. is committed and poised to begin offering year-long youth educational opportunities in the Rosedale community, with the six-week summer program held at Rainbow Mennonite Church remaining a top priority. We continue to be grateful for this historic and vibrant collaboration between church and
  • Personnel changes have included welcoming a new full-time Church Administrator, Carrie Parsons. Carrie and her spouse Ken and two children first started attending Rainbow in 2008. This year we also increased Renee Reimer’s hours and changed her job title to Youth and Outreach Ministries Director. Rosi Penner Kaufman continues in her role as Music Ministries Director and Terry Rouse is our
    dedicated half time Maintenance Coordinator.
  • This year we also marked the following 40th anniversaries: 1) Rainbow’s involvement with Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS); 2) Whitmore Playground; 3) The formation of Sharing Community in Rosedale, Inc. Thanks to a Vital Worship Grant Rainbow received from Calvin Institute of Christian worship, we had a big outdoor celebration in Whitmore Playground in June which we affectionately
    called “Whitmore Jubilee.” And in terms of MVS, after a year sabbatical, we hope to be up and running again as an MVS site in August 2018.
  • 16 people from Rainbow attended MCUSA Convention in Orlando, FL: 7 sr high youth (including 1 who served as a youth step-up delegate), 3 sponsors, 2 adult delegates, and 4 attendees/volunteers. 10 jr high youth volunteered around the church and at several local organizations for a service-inspired week at the end of July. 7 jr high youth made the trek out to Colorado in January to spend a long weekend worshiping and interacting with other youth at Snow Camp held at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp.
  • A new communion table and prayer bowl table were commissioned and built
  • Twenty-two members of the Rainbow Choir joined with over sixty singers from UMKC in a performance of Dona Nobis Pacem, a major choral work by Ralph Vaughn-Williams. This event was part of the opening of a Muted Voices Symposium at the WWI Museum.
  • Thanks to a grant we received from Schowalter Foundation, after the Muted Voices symposium Rainbow hosted a traveling exhibit called Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War, built by Kauffman Museum. This exhibit lifts up the prophetic insights and the personal courage of World War I peace protesters, and suggests parallels to the culture of war and violence in our world today.
  • Last but not least, on November 19 we marked our 60th year anniversary as a congregation. Charter Day was November 24, 1957, at which time 42 individuals became members. We’re fortunate to have a few charter members still active at Rainbow!

No year passes without difficulties. Violence and abuse continues to affect and sometimes destroy people’s lives, catastrophes and disasters happen at an alarming rate, we mourn the deaths of loved ones and Christians continue to fight over what it means to follow Jesus. And so as we move into this new year, we hope to set some new Rainbow goals—goals that will help us live out our mission with greater intention and courage: To maintain a fellowship of all who profess faith and a desire to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of race, ethnic identity,gender, sexual orientation, age, economic or other life circumstances, and who will strengthen and express our faith by corporate
worship, study and teaching of the gospel, and who will seek to serve the spiritual and material needs of this and the larger community.

Hopefully some of you receive our weekly midweek email describing current events and happenings. Or perhaps you follow the Rainbow Facebook page or utilize our church website for audio recordings of Sunday services, or maybe you have made use of the online giving feature.

From all of us at Rainbow, may the year ahead be full of hope, joy, peace and love.

Ruth Harder, Pastor

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