Re-Visiting Zacchaeus

sycamore-1630190-1280x1920When we are kids, we color pictures of a guy sitting up in the branches of a tree. But when we get older, we know that the really important part of the story comes at the end. When this very wealthy tax collector declares to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.”

Giving to the poor is an important part of following Jesus. And without diminishing this point about holding our worldly possessions lightly, I would like to re-visit the childhood fascination with the short little businessman perched in a tree. So back up with me, if you would, to verse three: “He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not.”

All those years of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, all I ever got was that Zachhaeus wanted to see Jesus. Like the tourists want to see a movie star in Hollywood. Like my kids wanted to see Donald Duck at Disney World.

But the text doesn’t say he wanted to see Jesus. It says he wanted to see who Jesus was. This wealthy tax collector has questions about Jesus. Who is this guy? What does he look like? What does he sound like? What is it about the way that he looks at people, touches them, that stirs up all of this energy, this excitement?

Zachhaeus knew that the crowd was in the way, obscuring his view. So he climbed up a tree. Zachhaeus doesn’t care how ridiculous he looks or if he might rip his new toga. He wants to see who Jesus is. I am struck by this image of climbing the tree. Of putting ourselves in a place of perspective.

And I’m thinking about what our sycamore trees might be. Because I have to say that the crowds are pretty distracting right now. It would be nice to find a place of perspective, a place where it is possible to see who Jesus is in the midst of the chaos.

Worship is a sycamore tree for me. And morning prayer, when I manage it. And reading thoughtful, spiritual books. And listening to others. Those are all ways I can put myself in a better position to see who Jesus is. Those are some of the trees I need to climb.

What are yours? Where are the places of perspective to which you need to go?

I know there is more to following Jesus than climbing the tree. More than simply putting ourselves in a place of perspective. This following Jesus business is hard. And complicated. Still, I trust this story of Zacchaeus.

If we have the desire to see who Jesus is, if we have faith and courage and disregard for the crowds enough to climb the tree, Jesus will show up. He will look us in the eye. He will call our name. And our lives will never be the same again.

This post is excerpted from a sermon I wrote in 2009 and focuses on Luke 19:1-10.

Meeting Survival Guide for Women

file691263254605Women who attend meetings with men are often frustrated by the sexist dynamics in the room. Some men tend to interrupt, repeat women’s ideas as if they were their own, explain things they don’t really understand, and just generally not listen well. Women often want to advocate for themselves, but it can be hard to know what to say. And it can get wearisome saying the same thing over and over again.

So, as a public service (and because my friend on Facebook asked for it and I’m trying to put off doing real work), here is a four-week rotation of phrases women can use in meetings when men seem to be taking over.

Monday: Please listen to me.

Tuesday: That idea was much more interesting five minutes ago when I [or a female colleague] said it.

Wednesday:  . . . And your time is up. My turn.

Thursday: I realize you were talking. I just thought we were doing that thing where we interrupt each other with redundant comments.

Friday: Well bless your heart.

Monday: I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people will listen to me.

Tuesday: I do have a masters degree in that area, but if you read a Wikipedia article, by all means, share your insight.

Wednesday: Based on my calculations, the men have used up their share of the speaking time for this meeting. Women, let’s get stuff done.

Thursday: Knock, knock. [Who’s there?] Me. [Me who?] Me, the competent woman with good ideas that you’ve been ignoring this whole meeting.

Friday: You should know it really pisses Jesus [or another deity of your choice] off when you are dismissive of women.

Monday: I realize you are trying to interrupt me but I’m just going to keep on speaking and gradually increase the volume of my voice until you stop talking and let me finish.

Tuesday: I will listen to you for two full minutes. Setting my timer . . . and . . . go!

Wednesday: If you could answer the question I actually asked, that would be great.

Thursday: Let me expound on my own idea.

Friday: Take the day off. Ask a guy who gets it to speak up for you today.

Monday: Let me repeat what I just said so you can listen this time.

Tuesday: Before the meeting starts, I just wanted to check. Will we all be expected to talk about things we really understand, or just pull words out of our butts because we like the sound of our own voices?

Wednesday: Let’s play the quiet game. First one to talk loses. [This can be accompanied by flicking the lights on and off until everyone quiets down.]

Thursday: Please tell me more about what I’m really thinking.

Friday: Last night some aliens took me up in their spaceship and told me the solution to all of our problems.

“Walls to Tables”: A BMC Gathering

Jay Yoder interviewing Franconia Dyck (aka Frank Trnka) at the BMC gathering. Photo credit: Stephanie Krehbiel

Last weekend, I was honored to attend the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Bay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests. The theme of the gathering was “Walls to Tables.” I connected with good friends and got to know acquaintances better and met many wonderful new people. As much as I hate to promote stereotypes of the gay community, I have to admit that the singing—mostly four part a capella—was AMAZING. And the laughter. One thing about people who have stuck with the church despite decades of harassment and shaming and systemic oppression—they have wonderful senses of humor.

I am grateful to the LGBTQIA Mennonite and Brethren community for allowing me to be with them and

Photo credit: Elisha Beachy.

learn from them during their celebration. I learned how difficult and fearful it was for gay Mennonites to find each other and form this network of support in the 1970’s. I learned that in earlier years of the organization, BMC began board meetings by naming those who had died from AIDS. I learned the history of Germantown Mennonite, that has been kicked out of MCUSA for its open and affirming stance. I learned the phrase “lipstick lesbian.”

Most importantly, I got a brief sense of how it feels to be a minority in terms of my sexual identity; and I got a glimpse of the depth of my own heteronormative assumptions.

It was a wonderful weekend that concluded with a prophetic and celebratory worship service that focused on Psalm 23 and led us to a communion table laden with bread and juice and fruit. Below are three pieces written especially for this service. I share them here with deep gratitude for all who were gathered around that spectacular table with me this past Sunday.

A Call to Gather
by Annabeth Roeschley

Welcome to this place — a place where all are welcome.
Welcome to this sacred place, the walls that invite in, the table of abundance, the house of the holy;
A house made ever more holy by our persistent presence.
Welcome home.

You who have come home often, and you who have not been for a very long time;
Welcome home.

You who saw the early walls, who have dismantled, who have danced in the margins,
You who are still resisting, who are dancing even harder;
Welcome home.

You who have gone before,
You who have left, who have been left behind, pushed out; you who are dancing elsewhere;
Your spirits are remembered in this home.

We have walked in the valley of shadows. We have seen evil.
For forty years (and more!) we have wandered, and found, wandered, and found.
And where we have gathered, we find —
beloved friends, the finest foods, cups pouring over, the anointing oil.
We find the most colorful god who welcomes with reckless abandon.
May we be blessed in this home!

May our bodies be blessed and at home here.
Our born bodies, Our reclaimed bodies, Our transitioning bodies.
May our inner selves be blessed and at home here.
Our whole selves, Our partial selves, Our questioning selves.

May joyfulness, passion, and love meet us here; may this house of abundance be our dwelling forever.
Welcome, and blessed be!

Litany of Prayer
by Lisa Ann Pierce

Gather at the Stonewall. Come as you are, you bright, wild, beautiful children of God, for here we will not be policed. At the Stonewall, your outrage is as welcome as your joy. Your desires are as welcome as your generosity. Your pride is as welcome as your humility. Bring your whole, holy, queer and queer-loving selves, for we are about to pray. Holy One, hear our prayers.

 Holy One, hear our rage and peace, our longings and belongings, our brokenness and our fierce resiliency.

 We thank you, God, for those who, with wisdom and courage, created BMC. Against all odds, they created a community of love and justice. They forged a path out of isolation and into possibility, out of Egypt and toward a land of milk and honey.

 Thanks be to God!

We thank you, God, for all those who have followed, each injecting new hope and vitality in their own way, some arriving, some parting, all keeping BMC on the path through these 40 years of wilderness travel.

Thanks be to God!

We thank you, God, that we meet your love in the power of community to break down shame, to bind up wounds, to strengthen us for the hard work of desert living.

Thanks be to God!

Holy One, hear our rage! While you send manna in the desert, our denominations continue to build walls! Sometimes we have bloodied our heads on those walls. We have made ourselves vulnerable, shared our stories, pleaded for change. In response, denominational leaders have asked us to wait, to be patient, then to be vulnerable again and again, to put on sack cloth and ashes, to exhibit our pain for their examination, then sit in silent moratoria while they wait for their terms to end.

Hear us, Holy One, in our rage and pain!

But you, Holy One, cannot be contained by walls. You meet us at these walls, erected in fear. You tend our wounds, call us out of suffering, and invite us to dance. So we have learned to dance at the walls, watching the walls shake with every footfall. We have learned to celebrate the church we are, claiming our God-given gifts. Now we dance and play, finding joy, like Jesus, in resistance to injustice, in subversion of hatred.

Holy One, we dance with you!

Let this be our most joyful dance! Let us dance with such bliss that the walls shudder and fall. Let us take up those broken walls and transform them, that they may never be repurposed. Let us build a table for all, a table of welcome, joy, justice, and peace–a table to transform the world.

Holy One, your Love transforms the world!

Spread the table in beauty and in love. Fill it with abundance. There we will break bread, drink of the cup, remember Jesus and our cloud of witnesses. There we will look backward upon oppression and forward toward a just world. There we will look one another in the eye and know God’s greatest gift is love.

Holy One, your Love transforms the world! Amen.

Expanded Psalm 23
by Joanna Harader and Ruth Harder

The Holy One is our shepherd, we have enough:
enough love and longing
enough community and compassion
enough sacred and sassy
enough fierceness and fabulousness

They make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters and restore our souls:
at BMC gatherings
at Connecting Families
at Pink Menno rooms
at this place, right here, right now.

You lead and accompany [us] / into the path of justice and solidarity, / and [we] find integrity in your way.
the way of speaking out and listening well
the way of deep love and deep pain
the way of celebration and protest
the way of dancing and wall-demolition

Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death
where we are talked about, but not to
where our giftedness is not received
where our relationships are not honored
where we are labeled and cast aside

We will fear no evil, for you are with us; your rod and your staff, they comfort us.
We lean on your Word that speaks love and justice
We lean on your people, who speak acceptance and life
We lean on your church where it is open, affirming, and welcoming of our whole selves
We lean on your Spirit of praise, protection, and protest

You prepare a table before us
this table made from fallen walls
this table covered with all the colors of the rainbow
this table of fountains and fruits and abundance
this table where we are welcome

In the presence of our enemies
people and principalities
polities, procedures, and processes
dialog” and “discernment”
resolutions and yet another task force

You anoint our heads with oil
the oil of blessing
for lives that are holy and whole, sacred and fabulous
the oil of commissioning
that we might go forth in our fierceness to tear down walls and set spectacular tables

Our cups overflow
our joy overflows
our hearts overflow
our queer and queer-loving selves overflow
with the abundance you pour out

Surely rainbows and unicorns will follow us all the days of our lives
and we will dwell in the fabulous house of the Divine forever.

Book Review: More than Enough

lee bookIf you are Mennonite, you may have noticed that my last name contains an extra “a”–it’s not “Harder,” but “Harader.” And no, I did not add an “a” for fun; it’s always been there. My extended family is not Mennonite and I did not grow up in the Mennonite tradition. Like many who have been drawn to the Mennonites, my journey began with that most radical and dangerous book, Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre.

Even though Lee Hull Moses is (sadly) not a Mennonite, her new book is very much in the More with Less spirit and explores a central question that is near and dear to my Mennonite heart: What does it mean to live as a faithful follower of Jesus in our contemporary context? Her title says it nicely: More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess.

As a pastor, Moses addresses this question from a theological and biblical perspective. The book brings in a range of biblical teachings from creation and Exodus, to the Psalms, to the words and actions of Jesus. And it presents insights from many contemporary theologians such as Walter Brueggemann, William J. Barber, Barbara Brown Taylor, Ellen Painter Dollar, Rebecca Todd Peters, and Marva Dawn. Despite the obvious research and scholarship that went into this book, Moses’ writing never comes across as academic or preachy.

Lee Hull Moses – Version 3As a parent, Moses sustains a conversational tone throughout the book as she connects our personal and family lives with larger issues such as global economic realities, systemic injustice in our communities, and globalization. In sharing concrete examples from her own life, readers are nudged to consider the decisions that we make about what to buy and where to shop and how to vacation and what to wear. I personally can relate to her angst over buying sleds as Christmas presents—we don’t want cheap plastic stuff but the quality local option is more expensive and may not be available by Christmas and do the kids really need another gift anyway? I can relate to feeling guilt about vacations and wondering if it’s really worth it to buy organic and trying to balance a faithful awareness of the injustices of the world with my own need for basic household maintenance.

More than Enough will engage and challenge readers to consider how our everyday choices can contribute to—or thwart—a more just world. The book’s brevity and thematic chapters make it particularly well-suited for use in Sunday School classes or other small group settings. Moses has created a free study guide and worship planning guide to use with this book.

Whether you read it alone or with a group, I highly recommend More than Enough.

The book does not hand out easy answers, but it does offer encouragement for those of us who want to live abundantly in a culture of excess. In my personal efforts to live more faithfully in this world, I carry with me these words from Lee Hull Moses:

God calls us to lives of enough.
Enough is not nothing.
Enough has no winners or losers.
No one goes hungry, no one gets lost.
Enough, with grace, is abundant life. (14)

Poem for a Wednesday


Call it seeking connection
or intimate desire
or anticipation

Call it revealing yourself
or whispering your need
or opening up

Call it eager groaning
or impassioned insistence
or simply “O, my God”

Call it your safe word
your pillow talk
your contented rest

Call it your love chase so far


Call to Worship: Choose Life

Our scripture readings for this coming Sunday come from the Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 14:25-33. Here is the call to worship I wrote–which is actually a mash-up of two previous calls to worship.

God sets before us life and death.
We long to choose life.

God sets before us blessings and curses.
We long to choose blessings.
And so we seek the path of Jesus.
Unsure of the terrain.
And so we try to follow Jesus.
Even though we don’t quite understand him.
And so we gather this morning for worship,
Offering this small piece of our time, our talents, ourselves.
Holy One, by your grace,
Meet us where we are.
Lead us to where you long for us to be.

Summary of Sexual Abuse Case in MCUSA

greendove*This piece is intended as an overview of how MCUSA and related institutions are addressing the sexual violence perpetrated against Lauren Shifflett. (It is slightly revised from a previous post.) I will try to update when major developments occur. For more details and analysis, I commend to you the links within the post.

In January (2016) Luke Hartman was arrested for solicitation of prostitution and resigned from his position as Vice President of Eastern Mennonite University. The Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of SNAP urged anyone who had been harmed by Hartman to report to an authority outside of the church. SNAP received information suggesting that Hartman had used his positions within the church to harass and abuse people within the church; SNAP reported that leaders within EMU, MCUSA, and Virginia Mennonite Conference may have withheld information that allowed Hartman to continue in positions that gave him the power he abused in violent and harmful ways.

Lauren Shifflett bravely shared her story, which includes manipulation and abuse by Luke. Her sister, Marissa Buck, wrote about how their congregation, Lindale Mennonite, responded when Lauren told those in leadership about being abused; while Lauren and her family experienced cared and support from some members, adequate steps were not taken to hold Luke accountable or to protect Lauren spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

As it happens, just last summer MCUSA delegates approved—with almost unanimous support—a church-wide statement on sexual abuse. The statement laments our personal and institutional failures of the past that have contributed to sexual abuse, and it calls the church to “repent and seek to change [its] ways.” As a response to that statement, a sexual abuse prevention panel was formed.

So, lucky for us, this wonderful group of people was already assembled to lead the denomination in addressing sexual abuse within the church. In May, this panel recommended that Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Lindale Mennonite Church “seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner.” The panel recommended GRACE, Faith-Trust Institute, “or another panel-approved independent organization.” GRACE is considered the “gold standard” of investigating institutions by advocates in SNAP, and is the highly preferred option.

In early June, Ervin Stutzman (MCUSA Executive Director) and Carolos Romero (Mennonite Education Agency Executive Director) met with representatives of EMU, VMC, and Lindale Mennonite to follow up on the panel’s recommendation. Notice that the voices of victim advocates were not prioritized at this meeting. Those who were present developed a plan to “call for and review proposals from several outside organizations.” There is no mention of why they declined to simply hire GRACE as the top recommendation from the panel.

The statement from the early June meeting also contains the problematic statement: “The panel will affirm the final choice prior to board approval.” The panel, however, should feel free to NOT affirm the final choice.

On August 2, 2016, Eastern Mennonite University announced that D. Stafford and Associates had been hired to conduct an administrative inquiry and a review of the university’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. Victims’ advocates find D. Stafford problematic because it is institution-oriented, focusing on ways to help universities get into compliance with current laws and thus avoid lawsuits. There is also a concern that D. Stafford is run by a career police officer and thus does not do its work from a theological, pacifist foundation.

From the beginning, SNAP representatives were concerned that the use of GRACE was being discouraged because of that organization’s insistence on full access to institutional records. After EMU decided to use D. Stafford, Ervin Stuzman acknowledged that EMU had considered GRACE, but they wanted to review the report before releasing it in case there were matters to remain confidential, which became a sticking point.” So one key reason GRACE was not chosen as the investigating organization is because GRACE would not agree to let EMU keep aspects of the investigation results secret.

On August 3, the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention withdrew its participation in the investigative process now being run by church institutional leaders. In their statement, they write, “We cannot affirm the process that resulted in the selection ofD. Stafford and Associates (DSA) for EMU, or any process that does not involve Lauren. . . . we are choosing to support Lauren, victims and survivors over this flawed process.

On August 16, Our Stories Untold posted a statement by Lauren Shifflett explaining why she had declined to participate in the investigation being done by D. Stafford and Associates. She is troubled by the fact that DSA wants to talk to me about the “accusations of misconduct” I made against Luke. That fact alone shows me they just don’t get it.  This investigation shouldn’t be about me. I already told my story in detail.  I stand behind my words.”  Lauren’s sister, Marissa Buck, has also refused to participate in the DSA review.

D. Stafford and Associates has been hired and is conducting the investigations at Eastern Mennonite University. This firm has also been hired by MCUSA to investigate the responses by Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church to Luke Hartman’s abuse of Lauren Shifflett.

Feel free to contact those panel members and MCUSA staff with your encouragement, questions, and concerns.

Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention

Anna Groff:
Regina Shands Stoltzfus:
Ross Erb:
Nancy Kauffman:
David Miller:
Jenny Castro:

MCUSA staff members involved in this process

Ervin Stutzman:
Iris deLeón-Hartshorn:
Carlos Romero: