new wine (annotated)

by Jeff Rainwater, 24 April 2017, Cheyenne, WY

you will say
I am,
and other names
may follow.
Disturber of the Peace![5]
of Beelzebul![6]
(my absolute favorite,
but only
if you use the word…
But were you there
when Mighty Wind
blew through
when Now walked in,
to greet sacred Past
with love?
it is New Wine[7]
that was poured.
Spirit[8], Peter named it,
and I’m sure I heard
someone whisper,
Grace never tasted
so sweet.[9]

[1] Acts 2:13; Acts 2:15, Peter’s reply. There is an irony here I never caught before. The complaint was literally, “these men are full of sweet, new, wine.” The implication is clear, ‘they’re drunk.’ But Jesus has spoken of new wine before in Luke 5:37, comparing his presence with the disciples and perhaps the Kingdom itself as ‘new wine.’ (In Greek, a different word from Acts 2:13, but same idea). The complainers were more right than they knew. Were the disciples full of new, sweet, wine? Yes! Just not the wine the complainers were thinking of.
[2] John 19:12, of Jesus; Acts 21:38, of Paul, falsely
[3] Or blasphemer; Matthew 26:65, of Jesus; Acts 12:13, of Stephen, falsely
[4] Mark 3:20, of Jesus
[5] Acts 24:5, of Paul
[6] Matthew 12:24, of Jesus
[7] Luke 5:37
[8] Acts 2:17, referencing Joel 2:28-32, Joel suggests this is a singular event, but Acts later  attests to the Spirit being poured out on many occasions, as a continuing fulfillment, that I suggest continues through the present in new, sometimes equally disruptive, ways.
[9] Psalm 119:103; Psalm 34:8; and again, Acts 2:13, new, sweet, wine. Oh to taste sweet wine of Jesus’ grace given by the Spirit!


A note about this poem:  In July 2016, I was an observer privileged to be present for the election of the first openly gay Bishop within the United Methodist Church. She was elected because she was the best candidate, leading all ballots throughout the process. The election has been challenged because she chooses to live an authentic and open life in all its dimensions including her marriage to her spouse, Robin Ridenour.

Today, I leave for Newark, NJ, to stand with many others in support of Bishop Oliveto. Since her election 8 months ago in Arizona, it has been my great honor to serve on Bishop Oliveto’s Cabinet in my continuing appointment as Wyoming District Superintendent. She is my Bishop through and through, deserving in every way of the office she now holds, but to me she is more than that. Bishop Karen and Robin both have become family. As I pray for justice this week, I wish all could come to know this remarkable leader of our church as I have. I wish all could see how the Spirit is at work in the Mountain Sky Area.

For those that question the motives behind Bishop Oliveto’s election or object to my support of her or of the full inclusion the LGBTQ community within the life of our church, I offer this poem as a reflection on that day in July when history was made within the denomination I love. Whatever happens now, that moment cannot be undone.

whitewashed tombs

by Jeff Rainwater, 2 March 2017, Greenwood Village, CO

I find your holiness so empty
of life, of joy, of beauty —
a weak, grating, voice
always speaking
in the negative…
cannot should not do not.
What is to fill this
empty vessel left behind
by such commands?

Who am I to be?

True holiness is found
not in absence.
Holiness is
faith trusting,
hope risking,
love embracing!
Holiness is light,
the overflowing cup,
the undeserved gift!

Instead of the border
you have drawn
deciding who is in
or who is out
thus dividing
God’s whole,
show me the center —
a vision of the best
and most and
dearest I can

For that, I would yearn
and reach and strive
and run and pray
and, yes, even
to wait
for the day
that the dead will rise –
whitewashed tombs
no more.

*inspired by a beautiful communion service, created and led by Rev. Paul Kottke, Metropolitan District Superintendent, for the Joint Mountain Sky Area Cabinet and staff present.  The service included sharing the lyrics of Betty’s Diner, written by Carrie Newcomer. (video presentation here).

God’s Signature

by Jeff Rainwater, 1 February 2017, Cheyenne, WY

I walk in a
wonderland of white.
No mountains do I need
for inspiration today.
Sheer cliffs deep valleys
sharp peaks by the thousands
reside on each branch,
on each needle of pine or spruce.
A paradise of intricate design
in each crystal falling gently
from the sky.
Are these masterpieces
and the multiplicity
of cosmic wonders
only directed by
impersonal Laws that care not
I stand with tears
in my eyes amazed?
Is beauty just
an accident?
Yet I cannot set aside
what is so plain to see
as if these rules were laid out
to be discovered
when we were ready.
evolution —
these too are master works.
Rembrandt left his name
on his paintings
but his signature
is found in each stroke.
Mary Oliver’s mark
resides within each line.
For those with eyes to see,
might the Master’s hand
still be glimpsed in the
artistry of a child’s face,
a field of wildflowers
(all the same each unique)
or a crystal cathedral
of ice soon to vanish
before the nuclear armageddon
of the sun rising each day
so the blooms may grow.
All mastered by the
same physics
and Author Unseen
that gives me sight
and thought and feeling
so I may stand
with tears in my eyes,
a smile on my face,
and a prayer in my heart.
Thank you, Lord,
for the beauty of this day.

Dear France

by Jeff Rainwater28 January, 2017, in Buffalo, Wyoming

Take her back.
Box her up.
Send her across the sea.
We don’t deserve her
Perhaps we were
What you dreamed.
It’s not just Trump,
A singular viIlain.
Nor MusIims
The sole recipients
Of disdain.
Irish, Italians,
Africans, Jews,
Almost every color
And ev’ry creed,
Those who came before,
Some who followed after,
Images of God All,
Were diminished
And denied
The hope written
At her feet.
So many,
Too many,
Hold markers
Against her promise
A Democrat locked up
A Republican shut out
You would think
We would learn.
This was to become
The land of the free;
Home of the brave.
Courage means risk.
An open door
Is Fearless.
Not so a closed fist.
We have been
In other lands.
Yet sometimes
At home.
So take her back.
We will understand.
Such a lady
deserves better
than us.

“Give me your tired,
Your poor,
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse
Of your teeming shore
send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me,
I lift up my lamp
beside the golden door!”
– Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island

A Lesson from Michelle: Radical Hospitality


Practicing Radical Hospitality means we offer the absolute utmost of ourselves, our creativity, and our abilities to offer the gracious invitation and welcome of Christ to others.  We pray, plan, and work to invite others to help them feel welcome and to support them in their spiritual journey.[1]

Since I arrived in Laramie almost 4 years ago, I have attended a breakfast with a small group of men at the local Village Inn.  We come to discuss a spiritual book we are reading together (during Lent, the Forty Days of Fruitful Living by Robert Schnase), talk about Laramie events and our lives, and generally encourage one another in our daily faith walk.

We arrive around 7 am (I’m usually late).  Gary orders two poached eggs and cottage cheese.  Dean and I are a little more extravagant; French toast for us.  Harold and Larry just have coffee.  Only we never really have to order.  It’s already taken care of.  For the last year or more, we have had one waitress, Michelle, who always goes beyond the normal expectations.  She has memorized our orders (we are very predictable), knows our names, even knows what cars we drive and watches for us every Wednesday morning so that by the time I get my coat off and sit down, my small orange juice and hot tea with extra honey are practically waiting for me.   She greets us as friends, attends to our needs with diligence and care, and gives us space when it is needed.  Every week, Michelle makes an ordinary breakfast meeting just a little more special.

In his many works on the five practices of fruitful congregations, Robert Schnase describes radical hospitality as one of the essential practices of congregations who want to grow and bear fruit for Christ’s kingdom.  Such hospitality goes beyond shallow greetings and cursory gestures toward the guest.  It is a deep, abiding, focus on the needs of the guest as we welcome them into our church and nurture their growth in faith.

Following Jesus’ example of gathering people into the Body of Christ, inviting them to the banquet of God’s gracious love requires intentional focus on those outside the community of faith.  Jesus’ example of hospitality demands an unceasingly invitational posture that we carry with us into our world of work and leisure and into our practice of neighborliness and community service.[2]

When I think of what radical hospitality should be like within our church walls, my mind returns to that weekly breakfast meeting at the local Village Inn and Michelle’s service to us.  She does her job welcoming us and attending to our needs.  But it is more.  Her radical hospitality is shown in the small but important extra details… being ready before we ask, knowing who we are by name, taking the time to stop and say a few words.  Her attitude is authentic; she is not doing this to get a bigger tip.  She honestly wants to welcome us and serve us to the best of her ability.  She makes the extra effort because she wants our experience each Wednesday morning to be a good one.

It is Michelle’s spirit of hospitality that I want in my church.  And I hope her attitude is one we can take outside of our church walls as well.  I pray that I can have such a spirit in every relationship, but especially with those whom Christ is inviting through me to a new relationship with Him.  I want us to offer Christ with the same generous, authentic, hospitality that Michelle offers me breakfast every Wednesday morning.  Her example reminds me that radical hospitality doesn’t have to be radically hard.  It is often the simple gestures that make a difference when offered genuinely.  It is attentiveness to the other that makes hospitality truly radical.

Yesterday, like every Wednesday, we arrived for our breakfast.  Only something was different.  There was a small card on the table waiting for us alongside my hot tea with extra honey.  After we had arrived, Michelle told us she was leaving her position at Village Inn.  In the envelope was a thank you card.  She was actually thanking us for allowing her to serve us these many Wednesdays. Thank you, Michelle, for your service to us.  And thank you for the example of true, authentic, hospitality.

Thank you, God, for servant-friends like Michelle who give us glimpses of the hospitality You offer us as You invite us into Your life and kingdom through Christ our Lord.  May we extend that same hospitality to others in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

[1] Schnase, Robert C., Cultivating fruitfulness: five weeks of prayer and practice for congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008) 6

[2] Schnase, Robert C., Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007) Location 199 of 2863 Kindle