Dear Chris

November 19, 2019

Heart of the Sunrise by Yes, Everything I Own by Bread, Black Dog by Led Zeppelin, any song by Chicago pre-1975, Daniel by Elton John…this is just a short list of countless songs that bring my brother Chris back in very real and profound ways. They always have ever since his death, now 47 years ago. He would have been 63 this past November 16th, 2019. In some ways it seems so very far in the distant past, and sometimes it seems like yesterday when the pain and sadness sweeps over me unexpectedly.

Talking with my therapist the other day we spoke of those times grief comes sneaking up on me from behind when I am not ready. This time of year, especially, I think. Chris’s injury and death in October and his birthday shortly after in November, I suppose consciously or subconsciously those anniversary dates are always there. It was Thursday, November 14th the conversation occurred sitting in my therapist’s office when we had the chat. It would be the next day driving across Omaha to pick up TruDee after work the song, Daniel, by Elton John came up in my playlist and immediately felt that knot in my stomach, the tightening of my throat, and tears welling up in my eyes as Chris’s face came to mind and the deep pain that accompanies those thoughts of late.

The song has long brought thoughts of Chris, the imagery in the lyrics speak to the permanence of loss, absence, and pain. Released in 1973, a year after his death, the first time I heard the song I remember feeling that knot, tightening, and pain…

Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much.

Oh oh, Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal?
Your eyes have died, but you see more than I,
Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky.

Music is such a deep part of me, a soundtrack of my life I suppose, songs that mark my journey of joy and of pain.

I have talked with my sister now and then and how he has been on my mind more over the last several years than usual, she has shared the same experience. I don’t know why that is, perhaps because I am getting older and my own mortality looms larger now than it used to. Maybe just the change of age and things that seem more important now like memories, family, connection, and love. I think I do tend to be more emotional now as I remember those who have had a hand in shaping who I am and my journey and the wish that I could tell them now how much that means to me.

However, mostly I just don’t know. I dream about him more now than I used to. I don’t dwell on his memory, though he comes to mind more often that he used to, more things remind me of him. When his memory comes to mind it seems to move me so much more deeply and profoundly than it ever has before. My therapist encourages me to sit with these feelings and seek to experience them in ways I have experienced them before. I am a feeler, so to speak, I think. I have long been rather emotional and moved easily to tears by strong messages of loss, pain, love, and community. One friend once asked me if I am an empath. I looked it up, though to an extreme degree I would probably say no, though many of the attributes of an empath do resonate with me. While I try to sit with this experience there is the logical part of me wanting to figure it out. Why now? What is going on in my life that brings Chris to me so often? What is it about him that moves me so deeply and profoundly now? I don’t know.

So, of course as she knows me so well, TruDee asks… “Would it help you to write about him?” Write… what a novel idea!

So, here I am writing. I thought about a letter format, perhaps I should write him a letter? I don’t know. I feel lost in the wonderment of whys and whats and how comes. However, … I will try…

Chris,

It has been a long time, 47 years in fact. In my mind, or in pictures, when I look at your face, while you look the same as you did the last time I saw you, I still imagine you as older than me. Weird, I know, but I have always been the weird little brother. I often wonder what you would be like today. I think about the kind of relationship we would have.

Things I remember as we were growing up seem so far away now and to remember them seems almost surreal. Remember the night in the Bat House when Becky was throwing things at us in bed…or at least we thought she was until we discovered it was a bat flying around.

I remember the brush piles in the pasture in Burchfield and playing army. Oh, and the awesome treehouse dad built for us there, it was so many things, a fort, battleship, hiding place. And riding our bikes up to the cemetery and the time you rode across the graves and I was mortified and told you I hoped no one did that to your grave!

I don’t recall a lot about doing much together in South Haven. Mostly playing football with you and friends in the vacant lot beside our house, going down to the creek…and the time we had BB gun fights with Lloyd and Roger Olivas, probably not the smartest thing we ever did. I don’t remember exactly what prompted it, but do you remember the time you sang “Were you there when Kent stole the catcher’s glove?” to the tune of the hymn “Were You There.” I remember laughing until I almost made myself sick.

And of course, Meade. We didn’t hang out there much. We got along for the most part, but I was the smartass junior high kid and you were in high school. I remember the first time I went to two a day football practice and after the first morning told you I was quitting. You sitting down on the edge of my bed and encouraging me, giving me a pep talk, and getting me up from the bed and back to the football field.

I’ve already written about my memories and experience of your injury and death, so I am not going to do that here. It was such a dark time for me… for all of us. I don’t think mom and dad survived it very well. Oh, it was many years before the marriage finally fell apart, but I believe the pain and grief of losing you was too much.

Becky is doing fine; she lives in Wichita. She’s had a great career as an RN, you’d be proud of her, I know I am. She has a son Deric; he lives in Derby I believe. We don’t stay in touch very well. She has a whole flock of grandkids that keep her busy. She is thinking about retiring in the next year. She’s 66 you know…can you believe she’s that old? Ha!

I married my best friend, the love of my life TruDee, in 1978. Yeah, I know we were just 19, but it was the best decision I have made in my life. Wish you could have been there. We have two incredibly gifted and talented sons, Matthew and Nathan. Matthew reminds me a bit of you now and then, he has some of your physical characteristics, he especially did when he was younger. Nathan looks more like me, poor chap! They are both in the banking world doing very well. Both of them married beautiful and talented women, Emily and Stephanie. Happy, healthy, and solid families all of whom we are so proud. We couldn’t ask for better kids. You would be proud of them too, I know. And, we have three perfect granddaughters. Chris, they are beautiful, strong, and passionate girls even at the ages of 5,3, and 2… I can tell. While I want to cherish them at this age, I also can’t wait to see who they become you would love them too!

I wonder that about you… what you would have done in life. You were so talented, athletic, musically, academically I have no doubt you would have had the world by the tail.

I’m in the ministry…go figure, huh? It’s been good. I am in my last church, I hope, Omaha, Nebraska.

I feel like I am running out of things to say. I am sure I will return to this writing and add more as I continue my journey. I wish I could talk with you. I wish I knew why you are so on my mind of late. I love you. I miss you so much.

 

The Little Bro… Kent

Grateful for Light

November 4, 2019

This story begins sometime in 1958 as I recall, I may be off a year or two in one direction or the other however, this beginning will suffice for now. I suspect my pondering has been sparked by the recent All Saints Day celebration as well as fall and in particular October and November which always brings thoughts of my brother, we will get to him later, and our current sermon series here at First Church on being Grateful.

For purposes of this pondering though, I will begin in 1958ish. My family of origin has its joys and struggles as most do. Ours was not, is not, any more subject to its own levels of dysfunction, ups, downs, celebrations, and missteps as any other family. In 1958 or thereabouts, a year prior to my birth, at the age of 25 my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It is a terrible disease filled with struggle, disable, suffering, uncertainty, and hardship. I grew up with a mother who quite literally did not know whether she would be able to get up the next morning or not, or even raise her head off the pillow. That kind of thing did not happen often, but it happened and for all our fear and wondering we managed to persevere.

The loss of her eyesight was the primary symptom, though she had some sense of sight, light and dark, colors, and could make out reading large letters early on, it was the persistent of her symptoms. She would slowly weaken over the years and spent her last years bedridden in a care home. In about 1981 she was diagnosed with cancer, I do not recall the exact kind, but would lose a leg as a result. The cancer spread throughout her body over the next couple of years, manifesting itself in large external lesions, to the extent at her funeral we chose to keep her casket closed. She died in 1983 at the age of 49.

I would have to say, of all the people I have known, while she certainly had reason to be angry, disappointed, and bitter I do not ever recall her expressing it to me about her health or circumstance. Oh, I have no doubt she had her days, who wouldn’t? I just do not recall her ever expressing it to me or to anyone while in my presence.

Mom had the gift of Light. She shared that Light with everyone she encountered. My sister and I, and I suspect anyone who knew her well carry that light still.

In the midst of this story of struggle and Light the year was 1972. My brother at the age of 15 sustained what would be a fatal head injury during a high school football game. He lost consciousness at the game from which he never recovered and died about a week later in the hospital. It is the kind of traumatic loss a family often never recovers. Our family would be no different, suffice to say I believe it was an underlying factor of a lot of issues regarding our family manifesting themselves later in life. I just remember those dark days and the effect this event had on me as a 13 year old. Effects and pain I carry with me still 47 years later.

I ponder as well the year 1991, when we lost 4 family members over 4 consecutive months. The year from hell we often refer to it.

I write these words on the heels of All Saints Day and in this month of being grateful not to garner sympathy or to somehow think our family has had more pain and struggle than others. Rather, I write these words simply as an acknowledgement of what we as humans, as creatures of compassion and love journey through as we move from celebration to struggle, laughter to tears, and joy to heartache. I write these words because I have come to realize I often find the deepest lessons in the most vulnerable places in my life.

I recognize I am a culmination of these experiences and they have molded and shaped who I am as thinking and feeling human being. These experiences and this journey has also shaped who I am as a theologian, a pastor, and one who ponders the meaning of life and the work of the Divine in the world around me.

I confess, I have little patience for the notion all that happens is part of some grand plan of God and that God puts us through these trials as a test. Nonsense, I say. I remember my dad telling me once a colleague of his said to him shortly after my brother had died something to the effect of that God just thought it must have been Chris’s time to go so God took him, all part of God’s plan. I remember dad telling me he looked at his colleague and said, “If I believed that I would turn in my credentials and walk away from the ministry today.”

I have little patience for the notion sickness and illness is all in our heads and if we would just believe we would be healed. I have little patience for those who have no use for modern medicine and treatments and endorse strange and bizarre cures that only promote blind faith and false hope. I believe modern medicine is beneficial and lifesaving!

These kinds of experiences, my studies, and my own reasoning have shaped my theology and practice of ministry in ways that effect my beliefs and actions in ways I know many may not understand. I am a firm believer in practicality and a big picture theology. For me, it is about empathy and compassion.

Here now, after this long pondering of struggle and heartache though, I am grateful for where I am today. I am not grateful for the loss, the pain and suffering we all encounter. However, I am grateful for the strength and love of family and community surrounding me and those I love in those difficult times. I am grateful for the ability to think about what I have learned from those experiences and allowing them to shape my theology, relationship with the Divine, and my relationship with those I love. I am grateful for the Light my mother passed on to me. I am grateful for the Light the community passed on to me through my brother’s death. I am grateful for my family who surrounded us in that year from hell and passed the Light on to us as we journeyed on.

Just a Grateful pondering as we venture toward the holy day season, when family, community, relationship, and love should be…is what it is all about.

Peace and Light for Our Journey…

Kent

Presence; Out Here

October 15, 2019

Will you support the church with your prayers, your presence, your service, and your gifts? Last week we talked about what it means to support the church with your prayers, what is prayer, how does it work, how do we practice? Today… What does it mean to support the church with your presence? What does it mean for the church to be a presence? And in particular in the context of today, joining the other Reconciling UMC’s of Omaha… what does it mean to be a presence on this National Coming Out Sunday in support of our LGBTQIA+ friends, family, and siblings?

I want to begin by touching on what are considered the primary biblical passages many that are not supportive of our LGBTQIA+ siblings use in defense of their position as people of faith. They are often referred to as the six clobber versus, or passages.

First – Using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a blanket condemnation of homosexuality in any form. Let me just say this is unequivocally not true. This is the story of angelic beings visiting Lot and the men of the city showing up on Lot’s doorstep demanding lot send the men out so they might “know” them, “know” in the biblical sense of sexual relations.  This is not homosexuality; this is a demand of gang rape. Not only that, it gets worse when Lot offers his daughter instead of his guests, of course that is not mentioned when this story is used to condemn homosexuality. The clearest definition of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in the bible comes from Ezekiel 16:49 – “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about same gender relations.

Second – Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 – these are found in the Levitical Law… the purity laws, these prohibitions citing male same gender relations are contextually about a warning against practicing in the temple prostitution that was common in the culture that surrounded the Hebrews and as a result would make one ritually unclean… thus the context within the purity laws…also within this context in the early tribal nature of the Hebrew people, sexual acts were understood to preserve the tribe so if it did not produce children it was seen as unacceptable. These passages do not address same gender relations as we understand them today, in the sense of loving, relationships grounded in the science of orientation, they simply do not apply.

Third and Fourth – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:1-10 – These passages deal with the practice of pederasty… the practice of an older male and a younger male. Pederasty…where we get the word pedophile. These relationships were often non-consensual in which a younger male was purchased as a slave… perhaps not unlike sex trafficking today, this and temple prostitution and a promiscuous lifestyle. These verses are about particular practices of the day which would be considered unhealthy and inappropriate relationships regardless of orientation. Thus, once again, these passages do not address same gender relations in terms of what we know about the science of orientation or loving, monogamous, long term relationships today.

Fifth – Jude 6-7 – These two chapters cite Sodom and Gomorrah as the resource, which we have already spoken of as well as temple prostitution. For the same reasoning as already discussed… these passages are not dealing with same gender relations as we understand them today.

Sixth – Romans 1:25-27 – Likewise, these verses in the Letter to the Romans are dealing with temple and cult prostitution. Paul is addressing a particular practice common in his day and time and in Rome that would be seen as wrong regardless of orientation.

Suffice to say, as one of my favorite Bible professors at seminary says, “In terms of biblical condemnation of same gender relations, and in particular loving, equal, relationships based on orientation and the science of orientation we know in the 21st century… It Is Not in There. Period.”

Growing up in the church, I do not ever remember my dad preaching on these passages or on same gender relations… He would have been in his prime, preaching-wise, in the early to mid-seventies… when the UMC added the discriminatory language to our discipline. I would like to think it was because he knew we were called to love and support all God’s children… I don’t know though, I never had that conversation with him. I wish now I had been able to be better present to him so I could know where he was.

What does it mean then… to support the church, to be the church with our presence? I think about my dear friend when I was in junior high. He and I had become fast friends, best of friends. I was at his house as much or more than I was at my own. So much so, I called his mom… “Mom” she called me one of her other sons. We were constantly together. As we both moved into high school… he began to push me away, we hung out less, he was always busy doing something else, we grew apart… I didn’t know why… at that age I am not sure I could have understood. I moved away.

Years later I ran into him at a mall in Wichita. We visited for a bit, I asked if he ever got back to our home town. He replied, “No, there is nothing there for me.” I remember the comment seemed strange and alien to me but I didn’t say anything.

After I was in the ministry I reconnected with him. We were eating lunch together at Carlos O’Kelley’s when he looked across the table at me and said, “Kent, I am gay you know.” I replied something to the effect of, “Yeah, I think I had figured that out. I’m straight you know.” We both laughed. We had numerous years of reestablishing our relationship and friendship. He died some 10 or so years later… I had the honor and privilege of officiating at this service.

I think of him often and wonder if I could have handled, understood when we were young about how to be present to him in those years. I have thought of all the youth I have worked with in youth groups at churches I have served, or at church camp, those who I know have come out and those I still wonder about… and how I might have been better present for them in their young years. How the churches I have served might have been better present for them when they were young. How much better it would have been to be able to celebrate them then, rather than they feel the need to hide.

It is why I have invited Terry to share with us this morning part of her story… so I…so we all… might have a better understanding about the stories we may resonate with… or the stories we may need to hear in order to better support by being more present as individuals and a church.

Terri – Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into things, and then can’t seem to find my way out. But here I am and here’s my story, it might be different but I think they all are. I didn’t have good experiences with males from the time I was a child into my adulthood. I didn’t think that made me gay though. I really didn’t know what that was about because I was Catholic and, I mean, Catholics aren’t gay.

I remember in high school someone saying something about, I went to an all girl high school, saying someone was gay and I didn’t really know, I guess I know but I really didn’t understand. It wasn’t until in my thirties that I met a woman and we fell in love. I realized, that’s what it’s like; falling in love. It’s all about love. That was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. But, it didn’t last and so I backpedaled and said I must be bi because I surely can’t be gay.

Then I met this man and he had two kids he was raising and I had a daughter I was raising and she had never had a father because he had opted out, and their mother had left them. So, I saw that this perfect family could be formed and they could have a mother, and she could have a father, and then there would be us. I liked him, but I didn’t love him. With my luck he turned out to be one of those Jekyll Hyde characters and had only one thing on his mind, and I was to serve him in any way he wanted.

So, the marriage didn’t go well, and he encouraged me to seek out women for his pleasure. When that didn’t happen, he found one and began having an affair. I had a history of mental illness and he decided to divorce me, which on one hand was fine, on the other hand I would be alone. I then came out, not by choice, but when he told his kids and my daughter that I was gay. My daughter was sixteen and she moved out, and they moved out, and I tried to kill myself because I thought I lost everything.

It took a long time, my grandma, I didn’t have to come out to my parents because the died when I was in my twenties, but my grandma, she was all knowing, much like God, she said she knew I was gay, and I said, “Why didn’t you let me know?” She just always knew everything.

So, I just kind of bounced around and lived with friends, I wasn’t able to work. Then I met Jo online, we were both volunteers in the women’s network on AOL. She lived in Baltimore and I lived in Omaha and we just, I think we needed each other. We hit it off and the next thing I know we moved to Baltimore. Once again I found out it doesn’t matter who you love, it is that you love, it’s the people you love. Love should be the reason for the relationship, it shouldn’t be about sex. I have been happy; we’ve been together for twenty years and I hope we have at least twenty more. Thanks.

Kent – So, Terri what brought you to First Church?

Terri – Duh? God! I left the Catholic church and I said, “Okay, I need a church,” so, I got on the internet and narrowed down to this place and Countryside, then I said, “Which place? Which place?” I just kept being drawn here. It was actually closer, then I talked it over with my therapist and my nurse practitioner and they both said, “First United,” so, I came here and the first time I was here I felt like I was home. And the next week people new my name! Not everybody, but nobody in the Catholic church knew my name after going for a couple of years. So, it was just a real eye opening experience and just a real comfortable feeling knowing I was where I was meant to be.

Kent – In honoring this National Coming Out Day and Sunday there are still a lot of LGBTQIA+ persons who either aren’t ready to come out or are fearful of losing jobs, losing families etc.. What word of encouragement would you share with them?

Terri – Well, first of all, take your time. Don’t push yourself before you’re ready. God led me to a therapist who changed my life, so I’m a big believer in therapy. Not conversion therapy! Just someone to talk it out. It really helps if they have that kind of support and someone who, you know, would set their parents straight if they needed to be.

Kent – As a community of faith, you know, we strive to be present for LGBTQIA+ persons. What words of encouragement would you have for our whole community of faith, and especially for those of us who are allies, are there things we can do to be better present and supportive?

Terri – That’s a hard question, because I’ve been so impressed by this church and the acceptance I have seen here. I never saw that anywhere else. I would just tell people to keep spreading the word, and talking to people, not in a judgmental way, but maybe saying, “Hey, you know, have you considered this might be about love?” That’s what God preaches, to love one another. He didn’t say only certain people. So, if they can just, if people can wrap their heads around the idea that it’s about love, like any other relationship, their half way there.

Kent – Thank you Terri for your courage and your willingness to do this.

We are called in this stewardship month to consider at what level we might be able to resource our community of faith… it is not only the way we support FUMC with our prayers… It is how we facilitate and resource our ability to be present in support of our community and especially those who seek a safe space and place to be who they are.

Looking back now, I wish I would have had these biblical scholarship tools earlier. Looking back now I wish I had known more how to be present for my friends and students and youth who lived in fear because of who they are.

However, I have the tools now. I know better now how to be present. Though I am far from perfect. I do not fear the hierarchy of those powers that be who continue to hold improper interpretations of scripture in order to oppress and dehumanize our LGBTQIA+ friends, family, and siblings.

And so… how will I support, how will we support FUMC with our presence?

By creating space here… in this building and on these premises that ALL are welcome to be the unique and unrepeatable child of the Divine they are.

By creating space here, in these hearts where ALL are Welcome to be the unique and unrepeatable child of the Divine you are.

The Church should be a Presence of Grace. A place where Love is a given. A place where “coming out” is no longer necessary. A Place where we, all of us, simply are. A Place Paul envisioned where…

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer gay nor straight, bisexual or transgender; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Today and every day… we celebrate YOU. This. Is. So! Amen!

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Clergy – First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Nebraska

*Special thanks to Terri for her vulnerability and courage in sharing her story. And special honor and recognition to all LGBTQIA+ persons who have come out and who have yet to come out. May we continue to journey toward that day when “coming out” is a thing of the past. That day when all persons are celebrated for their authentic and unique selves. May it be soon!

Leadership Institute Update FUMC

September 27, 2019

              We arrived Wednesday about noon and attended the workshop on having difficult conversations. The presenter used a model called Spiral Dynamics, A Model for Explaining Our Differences. It was a good presentation that helped up better understand why we think as we do and the evolution of consciousness we progress through in our lives. It is a helpful model. This was a “pre-workshop” that was offered, among others, before the official beginning of the Leadership Institute here at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS.

               The Institute officially kicked off with a worship service and a presentation by Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton about the state of the UMC leading up to and following the Special Called General Conference on A Way Forward in St Louis last February. His presentation was instructive and helpful in setting the stage for what we would be doing the remainder of Thursday and Friday morning. We used an online poll to help us understand who was in the room with us and where we were regarding the current state of the UMC. There were 1300 churches represented and just over 2500 people. He set our theological positions within a framework of four identifiable perspectives –

               Traditional In-compatibilists – Those who support the current discriminatory language in our UMC Discipline and will not stay in the same church with others they disagree with regarding sexual orientation. – 10%-20% of UM Churches

               Traditional Compatibilists – Those who support the current discriminatory language in our UMC Discipline and are willing to stay in the same church with others they disagree with regarding sexual orientation. – 30%-45% of UM Churches

               Progressive Compatibilists – Those who want a fully inclusive church and are willing to stay in the same church with others they disagree with regarding sexual orientation as long as the church allows them to be in full ministry with LGBTQIA+ persons. – 30%-45% of UM Churches

               Progressive In-compatibilists – Those who want a fully inclusive church and are not are not willing to stay in the same church where LGBTQIA+ persons are discriminated against. About 10% of Um Churches

               Adam Hamilton gave a presentation on biblical interpretation using examples of how we as progressives and moderates approach the scriptures seriously without taking them literally. It was a good review. There were also video clips of families sharing their pain of loss of their LGBTQIA+ children and family members who had lost them to suicide.

               Thursday we heard the history of the church’s discrimination against people of color and women and why those presenters are glad they have stayed in the UMC to continue to fight the fight and to acknowledge the struggle continues with racism and sexism not only in the wider society and culture but in the church as well.

               Presentations were made by LGBTQIA+ persons around their place in the church and they pain they have felt and abuse they have endured at the hands of the church and why they continue to stay and fight the battle for a fully inclusive UMC.

               We heard a brief summary of three of the proposals going to General Conference in May of 2020 for a solution to our current crisis. These plans were put together by progressives, centrists, and “traditionalists.”  An overview of the Indianapolis Plan, The Next Generation Plan, and the UMForward Plan. There is also a fourth plan entitled the Baard Jones plan. I will make a presentation on these plans at our October 1st meeting at First UMC Omaha.

               We heard a talk by New York Columnist David Brooks Thursday afternoon. It was moving and inspiring. My take away for Thursday was a recurrent theme of “Things are Changing” and the church can either be on the leading edge of this change with grace and inclusion or we can stay stuck in the old modes of who is in and who is out.

               Friday we will have breakout sessions by Annual Conference and I hope we will be talking about concrete actions we can take to affect General Conference in May in a positive way. Jason and I look forward to being back in the church to bring what we have gleaned from this meeting as well as sharing the information from our house meetings and other information we have gathered since last we met as a church. I will be writing an extended version of this update early next week.

Until then…

Peace and Light for Our Continued Journey Forward,

Rev. Kent

We Cry, “Thoughts and Prayers…”

August 4, 2019

“We are desensitized, numb, used to it;” I hear and read the words across social media, the news, and from our government representatives. I find myself somewhat speechless in the wake of yet another senseless act of gun violence in our country. Mass shootings, defined as 3 or more deaths, in 2019 have been 248, with 246 deaths, and 979 wounded. It is difficult at best to find words that have not been said before. We find ourselves, once again, in that all too familiar cycle of outrage, thoughts and prayers, no action, and amnesia until the next one happens. How many will it take; lives taken, families shattered, bodies mangled, until our leaders have the courage to do something to curb this pestilence in our land?

This violence born of hatred, racism, xenophobia, and the othering of persons who are not white is fueled by words that identify others as less than; murders, rapists, animals, those who need to go back where they came from, those who are ripped from their parents and put in cages. Words matter and those who spew hatred and unfounded accusation are responsible with those who hunt down the other.

This violence, born of hatred and racism, xenophobia and bigotry, is systemically ingrained in our culture and society, in our government and systems. When black men selling cigarettes, or who pick up a BB gun in a store are shot and killed while a white man with an AK47 style rifle kills 20 persons in a store and is taken into custody without incidence…there is something wrong with our system!

This violence, born of hatred and racism, xenophobia and bigotry, is systemically ingrained in our culture and society, in our government and systems. We hear language of terrorists and thugs if a person of color or other religion commits a crime and when a white man commits the same offense all of a sudden it is about mental illness. We have a white man, white supremacist terrorism problem in our country; home grown terrorists with easy access to violent weapons and we are asleep at the wheel. When millions of dollars, and hours of time, and campaign rallies rail  on the dangers of Muslims, immigrants, asylum seekers, and persons of color and say nothing of the plague of white men with white supremacist affiliation, Nazi values, and racist ideologies continue to gun down innocent lives…there is something wrong with our system!

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” as another twenty of God’s children are slaughtered by senseless gun violence as if we believe God is suddenly going to swoop in and save us from our warring madness.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” from the highest halls of our government and yet the cowards who are supposed to be our leaders, supposed to work for the common welfare of our nation do nothing.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” in our places of worship, light candles, pray for peace, weep and grieve with the mourning, and yet refuse to yield our rights even if it might save just one life.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” and point fingers at the others we believe are responsible and refuse to consider our own guilt.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” and sit comfortably in our gated communities and our alarmed and armed homes…as long as mine are safe I need not worry about the others.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” and by August 15, 2019 El Paso and Dayton will just be a memory of two more killings in our land like the others, as we wait for the next.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” as the attempts at sensible gun legislation continue to pile up on the desk of those whose cowardice, power, and greed refuse to strive for a solution.

We cry “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers!” and I wonder how many more lives it will take before we awake from our blood stained and violence ridden comas of denial?

How long O Lord, will we sacrifice your children on the altar of gun rights, racism, white terrorism, individualism, and hatred? Not long I pray, however it has already been too long. I am seeking some light in the darkness of this morning. How many times must our hearts been ripped open before we are willing to let the light of justice, compassion, and love shine in?

Today I will say my prayers, I will light a candle, I will do my best to speak truth to power and find some way to make a difference. I pray you will join me.

Searching for Peace and Light on Our Journey…

Rev. Kent

Words, They Matter!

July 31, 2019

The words of my mom came to me as I wrestled with this writing. If memory serves me correctly, we were on a family trip to California. The radio was on in the car and Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain began to play. Mom was in the back seat and she told us to change the station because she did not care for the song. You see, mom was one who not only said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” she lived it. I have often said I never heard my mom say a curse word, I am not even sure she thought them. I certainly never heard her speak ill of anyone. I am sure she wasn’t perfect; however, you couldn’t prove it by me.

And then there is this prophetic task to which I believe I am called. I think about the prophetic tradition of which I am a part. Reading the Hebrew prophets, I am not sure the idea of “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” was something they practiced with a lot of success.

I find myself in this uncomfortable tension of late, regarding the current state of our country, our culture, our government, and in particular our administration and president. I feel caught in the life lesson my mom and my dad raised me with, the notion words matter. The words we say and how we say them matter. I have learned along with that the old saying, “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is not true. Words used wrongly hurt, tear down, destroy, they can even inspire others to kill. Words matter!

I am caught between that gift of grace that defined my mom and the frustration and even anger I feel when I hear words being leveled from the highest levels of our government that not only demean and belittle their intended targets, but demean, belittle, and tarnish the office from which they come.

I have written bits and pieces about this dilemma before; however, it has been weighing heavy on my heart and soul of late and need to get it out. There comes a time, a colleague of mine once said, when gentle words no long work. There comes a time, a colleague of mine once said, agreeing to disagree is not longer palatable. There comes a time when one needs to stand up, speak up, and simply speak truth to power and say, “No. You are wrong!”

The struggle began in the campaign leading up to the election when, our now president, mocked a Vietnam War hero, mocked a disabled journalist, and evidence released of his objectifying women. It only grew worse when he encouraged attendees of his rallies to punch someone and he would pay for their legal fees. Since he has been in office it has only continued.

Mr. President, you are wrong. It is one thing to disagree with members of congress, senators, community leaders in the nation you are sworn to support. It is one thing to disagree with world leaders and dignitaries as you represent our country around the world. It is quite another to use words and language that demeans, belittles, attacks, and targets persons for who they are and for where they are from. You are wrong to use your language to incite bigotry and division in our own country. You are wrong to suggest there are both good and bad among white supremacists. Mr. President you are wrong to demean a city in the country you are sworn to represent by derogatory language of rat-infested communities. Mr. President the divisive and vitriol words you use influence those who take you seriously and are dangerous for our country and its citizens. Mr. President, your continued tweets and diminishing language is beneath the dignity of the office to which you were elected. It saddens me to hear and read of your continued inflammatory words. It weighs heavy on me daily to listen to those who support you dismiss your often hateful and derogatory words.

All this being said, I was raised by two loving parents who taught me there is good in everyone. And there is still a part of me that wants to believe there is something within you that knows what you say is wrong. It is. I also believe in the power of our citizens and know in the end, right, compassion, justice, equality, diversity, grace, and love will endure and prevail. I will pray for you. I will love you, Mr. President. My love will be in the form of resistance and calling you to account. I pray others will join me in this kind of resistant love that stands and speaks and says, “No! You are wrong!” when you are. It will also be one that acknowledges when you do the right thing.

In the tenor of my mom’s teaching…one can call another to account, one can stand up and speak up and say to another they are wrong, without the belittling and hateful language coming from our highest office. I will continue to strive for this goal. I pray you would too.

Rise. Resist. Prevail.

Be a Light. Love One Another. Until there are no others, only one beloved community of All.

Rev. Kent H. Little

It’s not Political, It’s Christianity!

July 30, 2019

I am unsure of the details leading to the decision, however the article I read preceded a comment from a colleague regarding politics and the church. It seems in Texas a bishop of the United Methodist Church had been invited to speak at the Lights for Liberty event. The news story indicated the bishop had withdrawn his name from the event because of a turn toward the political as opposed to what he deemed the original intent of the gathering to stand in solidarity with the children held in concentration camp conditions on our border. I wish I knew more about what the bishop deemed too political; however, the article did not reveal those details.

A colleague asked me a couple of days ago about whether or not I received pushback from the congregation when I get too political in my sermons. He was referencing the times I have included critique of the powers that be in relation to immigration, children held at the border, LGBTQIA+ rights, racism, women’s reproductive rights, and other topics around equality and human rights. My response to him was something to the effect of, “These are not political issues, in particular they should not be partisan political issues, these are human rights issues, they are Christian issues the church should be speaking to, not only within the walls of the community of faith, but in the community at large and to the government who should be working to resolve the oppressive and unjust laws or lack thereof.

My point with my colleague and friend, in a broader understanding, is a church that does not have the wherewithal to venture into the political machine to affect change for the common good of all is not following the Way of Jesus. Jesus ministry, life, and words, as best we know, were very politically charged and pointed. I would say certainly not in a partisan way, however certainly in a justice and compassionate way.

The church needs to regain its socially prophetic voice in the world and in our country today. Too many are sitting on the sidelines letting the voices of those who would collude with a corrupt government creating atrocities we see unfolding every day. If the church is unwilling to address the social injustices of our day saying, they do not belong in the worship service, or those are too political to address, the church will continue to decline into irrelevance and empty rhetoric.

I will not withdraw from the work of justice, compassion, and love. I will always speak to the culture and society in which we live, affirming those moments and events promoting love and justice for all, and taking a stand against those moments and events demeaning and limiting the common good for all persons. I believe it is the work of the church. It is our work. It is the Way of which Jesus spoke. May we continue on in compassion, action, and love. It’s not political. It is Christianity.

Peace and Light on Our Way.

Rev. Kent

Finding the Divine

July 23, 2019

If my memory serves me well, and sometimes it does not, I believe the experience was in my third year of seminary. We were required to participate in an emersion experience and we had two or three different options. I chose to spend a week at a monastery in southern Missouri as did several of my classmates.

I remember the first night we were there and attended the Mass where there was an extended time of silence for prayer and meditation. Following this service there was the Great Silence, where the monks, and we, were invited to be in silence until time to retire to our cells for the night. It was during the silence in the service I remember several of my classmates gave me a hard time, evidently, I had fallen asleep and according to their story I engaged in a bit of snoring. In my defense, it was the end of a long day of driving, however, I often find myself in this sleepy state when I attempt to meditate in silence.

This is not to say I do not relish my times of stillness and silence; I do. As a borderline introvert I need my time of quiet and rest. However, in terms of meditation, prayer, and connection with the Divine it has just never resonated deeply with me in that sense. I admire, perhaps even envy, those I know who are deep practitioners of silent meditation and prayer. I seek the practice enough that from time to time I revisit these practices and attempt to reenter those spaces via silence, meditation, labyrinth walking, prayer beads, reading scripture, however often I find myself unfulfilled and set these practices aside until I return to them another time. I find myself in the midst of these practices ever distracted, bored, longing for conversation, connection, interaction, and, well…noise. A colleague of mine shared a quote with me, I do not recall who said it, dealing with this ever returning to the practice when it seems not to work, the quote was something to the effect of, “How wonderful the opportunity to turn back toward God each time.” I think if this each time I return to these moments of attempted silent practice.

So, all this being said, where do I most profoundly connect with the Divine Presence, God, Eternal Energy, that Spirit, and Connection we have with all that is? Music, I love music, all kinds, though I am not particularly fond of country music. Music can move me to tears, bring laughter, a smile to my face, or simple serenity. Herein is the Divine.

Sitting at the bedside of someone who is ill or struggling for life are some of the most sacred and Divine Presence encounters I have experienced. Listening to the stories of life, good and bad, joy filled and struggles. Gathered around a table for a cup of coffee with diverse persons of differing beliefs, religions, political persuasions, those I agree with and those with whom I passionately disagree having civil and respectful conversation. Walking hand in hand with the love of my life whether on a busy street or along a wooded path. The laughter, tears, squeals, screams, constant motion, and playing of my three granddaughters. Listening to the stories and accomplishments of our two sons and their partners. Walking in a protest march for justice. Sharing a hug with life long friends or people I have just met. Walking through crowds of people, looking at their faces, making eye contact, sharing a smile or holding a door.

All of these examples and more speak deeply to my own connection with community and the Divine. You see, my cup is filled most profoundly via connection and relationship, my soul is fed most deeply in the presence of community. I believe, for me, community is ultimately the purpose of life and faith. Community and relationships, activity and the noise and rhythms of life are the place where God is most present for me. Not to the exclusion of those practices of stillness and silence, meditation, and a contemplative life, but all the above. For me, it takes all of us, a diverse, eclectic, messy, sometimes even chaotic community to see the beauty of God.

I am grateful for my colleagues, friends, and all those who are able to still themselves in silent contemplative practice. I need them to remind me God is not held in a particular box of practice, but is in all, with all, and through all things, a Spirit in whom we are immersed, who moves us in a variety of ways. We all bring diverse experiences of the Divine and life to this party of existence and we would do well to listen more broadly and expose ourselves to a variety of existence and practice. Our world would be a better place if we sought out others not for how we might change them but rather what can we learn. We would do well to encounter to other to learn and understand what it is they bring to the party and then share our own gift.

These are just some ponderings and thoughts that have been occupying my mind the last many days. Listen to your heart and soul and find that Way, that practice, that experience that nourishes your journey and join the party more deeply. It takes all kinds. It takes all of us to enrich this crazy world of which we are a part.

Be You. The world needs more of that.

Peace and Light for Our Journey.  ~ Kent

Dry Spell

July 17, 2019

I remember my dad used to call them Dry Spells, one might liken them to the Dark Night of the Soul often credited to St. John of the Cross. For dad, he referred to those times when the inspiration was evasive and the Spirit seemed distant at best, and absent at worst…Dry Spells. The Dark Night of the Soul has often been used to describe similar feelings; the struggles of life when the Spirit seems distant at best and absent at worst. I too have experienced those moments, hours, days, weeks when the troubles of the world weigh heavy on my soul. As I ponder, I am reminded of the story of Eli and Samuel when, as the text says, The word of God was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

To some degree I have felt that way for some time now. I have struggled to write, which is my go-to process when I need to ponder, but lately it has evaded me. The weight seems to be heavy on my shoulders as I consider the state of our nation and the state of our church.

We have children and families in concentration camp conditions on our border. We have families living in fear of raids and separation. There are continued attacks both physically violent and verbally abusive of Muslims and their houses of worship. We have blatant racism and xenophobia being spewed not only in the general public but from the highest offices in our land. Our Mother Earth is suffering before our eyes and the continued denial of climate change puts us ever closer in peril. The ever-widening gap between the wealthiest in our country and those most in need. The continued blaming of the poor and diminishing of programs of social uplift. There is so much to be done, and what would seem to be so little being done to care for the oppressed, vulnerable, and neglected in our world and country.

It is easy to become overwhelmed, angry, and bitter with the atmosphere being fostered in our country. We live in a time where civil discourse seems to be a lost art. We live in a time of othering people rather than listening and trying to understand. We would rather condemn than have a thoughtful respectful conversation. The example of name calling, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and hate filters from the most prominent among us, to the everyday citizen, and yes, sometimes I can even find myself slipping into that which I abhor.

I heard an attorney speaking once who said of the political climates of our nation, “The pendulum always swings back.” I am still waiting for the swing, when we can focus more on the common good for all, rather than who is to blame. I am still waiting for compassion to return to our government rather than the hatred and partisan lack of care among our politicians. I am still waiting for a country more concerned with the least of these among us rather than the mega profits of corporations. I am still waiting for a semblance of the beloved community rather than watching out for number one. It is exhausting some days. I had a colleague who once said, “This kind of work is soul sucking work.” So true.

So, here I sit in my Dry Spell, waiting and longing to write again… and…I am writing. Actually, if one reads St. John of the Cross, the Dark Night of the Soul was less about the hard times when the word of God was rare, and more of a preparatory state. Being in that dark state of the unknowable God as a purification for something to come. In some sense it was sitting with oneself and seeking, listening for, waiting for that awakening and awareness of God to move. And, here I am writing again…

Perhaps the Dry Spell, the Dark Night of the Soul I sense in our country these days is the coming of something new. Perhaps, it is the preparatory time for the pendulum to swing back. These days are difficult for me, I know they are difficult for you as well because I have heard your stories, handed you tissues, seen your tears, listened as your hearts have broken.

As difficult as it can seem, I believe in hope. I believe in a light to come. I believe in people, like you, who also believe in the best of us all. Those of you who refuse to let the evil and sin of racism and bigotry have the last word! We will not! The darkness is where the Spirit is with us most profoundly, calling us out and into the light of compassion, justice, and love.

We are called to love all, even those who promote hate and injustice. However, we love them by resisting! We will stand up to and resist racist language and accusation. We will stand up to and resist brutal treatment of children and asylum seekers. We will stand up to and resist those who belittle and diminish another because of their faith. We will stand up to and resist, not out of hatred, but because we love. And we know love, true love will prevail, it always does.

It may feel like a Dry Spell; however, the rain is coming! It may feel like the Dark Night of the Soul; however, the light awaits us! It may feel like the Spirit is rare and the visions are few, however…We, we are coming! We are enough to overcome. Injustice, hate, and othering will not have the last word, it never does!

May we always strive to Love One Another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no Others. Only one Beloved Community of All.

Carry On. Be Love.

Rev. Kent

 

We Know Better

July 14, 2019

Several years ago, I had the honor of presiding at the funeral of a high school friend of mine. He was a social worker, however he never talked much about the details of his work, other than just admitting he was approaching burn out with the long and stressful hours. He died unexpectedly at the age of fifty-seven.

I thought of him the other day reading the stories of children held in concentration camp conditions on our border. I thought of him as I did my research for the service, discovering he had been selected for state recognition for his work. He was credited with saving the lives of thousands of children who were in abusive, unfit, and dangerous living conditions. I thought of him because I cannot imagine the pain and frustration he might be feeling today if he were still with us. I have wept remembering my friend and thinking of the children at the border.

I disagree with President Trump, politicians, and others who have turned this crisis into a political partisan issue. This is not a partisan issue! This is a human rights crisis! We are talking about vulnerable children without privacy, soap, clean clothes, basic necessities, and a warm place to sleep. It is time for President Trump and those with power to resolve this travesty!

Our country has a sordid history from our beginnings with regard to Native Americans, Africans, the Japanese, and others. We should have learned from our past the separation and isolation of families and in particular children is not who we are. We know better. We are all children of the Divine, called to care for those most vulnerable among us. I pray President Trump and the leaders of our nation reunite these children with their families and resolve our immigration and refugee policy as soon as possible. It is time!

 

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Clergy

First United Methodist Church

Omaha, Nebraska