Justice Has No Religion

October 7, 2017

This is the talk I gave at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. For those who read it, if you are familiar with my writings and/or sermons, some of it may sound familiar as I gleaned from previous writings from my blog, sermons that touched on the topic, as well as new writing to create this presentation. It was an honor to have shared this with those in attendance.

Justice Has No Religion.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. I suspect that is true for a lot of things, it certainly is for me. Though I did not recognize it at the time, my high school government teacher somehow planted a seed or a burning ember in my subconscious or my heart and soul around the notion of politics. Ironically, I only had one semester of Ms. Davis as the result of receiving an F from the other government teacher in our school which then required me to take two government classes at the same time so I could graduate, thus my joining her class. It’s a long story, you are free to ask me about it sometime but I suspect this talk is going to be long enough without that addition.

As I remember it was somewhere in my early to mid-twenties I began finding my way back to the library and my reading addiction really began and found itself focused on the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy. I do not know how many books I have read on his life and times, or the number of speeches I have read, I used to have a whole collection of VCR tapes of television programs and purchased documentaries about his life and death. In terms of our topic tonight I have long been drawn to his speaking to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, September 12, 1960 addressing their concerns, of all things, about his religion. In his encounter there he spoke, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should they be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell their parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no [one] is denied public office merely because [their] religion differs from the President who might appoint [them] or the people who might elect [them].”

As TruDee and I became more and more involved in our local church I started lay speaking, filling in for vacationing preachers. Everywhere I went I was invited to consider the ordained ministry. My answer was always an emphatic “Not Interested!” As my journey continued my own pastor would ask me about ministry and he would receive the same response.

At the encouragement of TruDee I decided to begin work on a college degree and started taking some night classes as we could afford them and as I had time. Word got back to my pastor who one day asked, “So, Kent, what are you going to do with your degree when you get it?” I replied, “Well, actually I have considered public service, perhaps even politics.” His response, “Oh, perfect, like I’ve been saying you need to go into the ministry, there is a lot of politics in the church!” Well, the call, college, seminary, ordination and the rest is history!

I have long been interested in, a student of, and an active voice for equality and social justice. I have preached sermons, led studies, counseled, and had perhaps hundreds of conversations on equality, inclusion, welcome, and justice. My position on various social justice and equality perspectives are well known among those who know me, or even know of me.

I have been a part of events that have, I believe, fanned that flame that was planted long ago in an eighteen-year-old. I was inspired by the Rev. Dr. Tex Sample, a longtime friend and past seminary professor, who spoke of many of the liberal/progressive persuasion, me included, who “know all the positions and none of the moves.” we’ll leave it at that for now, let’s just say, based on my experience, we do not plan and organize well, I have some thoughts on that, but I’ll save that for another time.

Some years back I was invited to speak to a committee hearing on a bill in Topeka. I had never done that before and was terrified, but my interest and draw to the political caused me to say yes. The bill, in my opinion was an atrocious bill that was an affront to the concept of Thomas Jefferson’s comments on the First Amendment regarding separation of church and state, not to mention an offense to anyone who takes religious freedom seriously.

Jefferson wrote – “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

I sat in the chamber that day and listened to the explanation of the bill, I listened to those who supported it, and was able to listen to a few who opposed the bill. The Committee ran over time and it was postponed until the next morning before I could speak. I was disappointed.

What I walked away with that day as I listened to some who were speaking, they saw absolutely no issue with the crossing of a boundary of separation of church and state. I listened as some spoke on behalf of “the church” and “Christians,” and “religion” as if there is only one valid perspective and understanding of those terms. I found myself wanting to stand up and say, “No! You are not speaking for “all” of Christendom, you are only speaking for a “part!” Amid all of this I realized that I was weary. Weary of the powers that be who would claim to speak for all of us and I have long been frustrated by our media, government, and other venues that seem to only acknowledge and draw input from one particular view, religion, and theology as if that is the only one that matters.

Michael Austin, in his book, “That’s Not What They Meant!” writes – “The founders [of our nation] were secularists at best. Some Deists, some Christians, or Unitarians… and from all this religious diversity emerged a fairly coherent Founding compromise: America would be an officially secular nation that would vigorously protect everybody’s freedom of worship and belief. Unlike most European nations, which officially preferred their state churches and occasionally tolerated others. America would offer its citizens actual religious liberty, which meant those of any religion, or no religion at all, would be free to participate fully in the political community.” Unfortunately, I believe, many in our country have forgotten this… though there are still some of us who honor and hold to the ideals of our founders and beginnings.

I am a political junky, perhaps not to the extent of many, such as my younger son who is much more engaged than I, but I have long loved to read about, see, study, and watch the political process unfold. It is an interesting place to be as a clergy person who is staunchly committed to the separation of church and state. I often find myself dancing with that line between my own opinion, political passion, and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader community and world. But, for the most part I think I do well the dance along that line staying true to our founders and their passion for a freedom of and from religious privilege in our government, while honoring the diverse expression of religious and non-religious belief and practice in our country.

As for the politics of our day, I have colleagues and friends who tell me the discussion of politics has no place in the church, or at the Thanksgiving table either. If by that they mean partisan, political party politics in the church, I wholeheartedly agree! Honoring Jefferson and our constitutional ideals, is to refrain from talking about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc., it should not happen!  But if by that we mean politics in any sense of the word, I disagree. Jesus was deeply political, a fierce critic of the oppressive political structures in his day in the church and in the government. I really struggle sometimes with what to say while dancing that line of separation of church and state.

But it’s important for all of us, to dance that line… because… this is not just about politics, it is about people’s lives and livelihoods.

When I listen with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and comments made, objectifying women, that have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them. We must speak!

When I listen with those who are lesbian, gay, trans-gender, and bi-sexual who fear for their livelihood and their marriage and family because their rights have been promised to be reversed.                                                                   We must speak!

When I listen with immigrants and parents who are of a different color and national origin who have to comfort their children the morning after an election because their children feared they would be sent away.     We must speak!

When I listen to a government that would rather guarantee the right to purchase and bear any kind of firearm and deny the right to healthcare for all.  We must speak.

When I listen as those who are disabled fear they will be mocked and chided even more than they have been in the past.                                                                We must speak!

When I listen with persons of color victims of racism, still rampant in our society and culture, who want to peacefully kneel and exercise their right of freedom of speech in protest of the treatment of persons of color, and who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin. We must speak!

When I sit in the Mosque and pray with my Muslim friends, brothers, and sisters and listen to their stories. Stories of hate filled language, suspicious looks, vandalism against their place of worship, and fear of their neighbors.       We must speak!

I read the newspapers and listen to the news and read comments on social media… lord have mercy!  I hear those who do not want to rock the boat… that we need to give the current administration and legislature a chance… that we need unity not division and I say this…

We may need unity… But never unity at the expense of humanity.

We may need unity … But never unity with a system that governs by fear.

We may need unity… But never unity with rights for just a few.

We may need unity… But never unity with oppression and hate.

We may need unity… But never a unity with a politic of intimidation and privilege.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of compassion not bigotry.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

We should believe in the politics of the rights and humanity of ALL not just a few.

We should believe in the politics that we are all of value regardless of the religion or lack thereof we practice or not, not the politics of who is in and who is out.

In the politics of the human race not racism.

In the politics of welcome not locked doors.

In the politics of justice for all not just the few.

A politics of kindness not threat.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of Love not fear!

Perhaps all this to say, there is definitely a connection for me between my faith and my work in the political realm. My understanding of the Christian Faith, my understanding of the teachings of Jesus compels me to speak to and work for social justice across the spectrum of the issues we encounter, and especially I think of the current environment and atmosphere in our country not only in the political world, but for me in the world of the church and in general. However, it is something totally different for me to stand on Sunday morning in the context of my faith community and frame my comments in a Christian way and make connections with social justice and the teachings of Jesus, THAT is different than my standing in a hearing room at the capital in Topeka to speak on a particular piece of legislation.

When I am in the halls of government, while my faith continues to inform what I believe and what I say, if my words and actions do not promote the common good for all, religious and non-religious alike, if my words and actions are grounded only in the belief of the Christian faith to the exclusion and limitation of others, I have crossed that line of Separation of Church and State and breached and offended our founding and constitutional ideals. This is the premise of my statement, “Justice has No Religion.” Justice is blind so to speak. If my work in the capital, at the county commission, or the city council is not equally beneficial for the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Agnostic, Atheist, general population of our nation, I have breached and offended the principles of our nation’s constitution. Justice has No Religion!

So, I would say the line of separation of church and state is absolute, and should so remain! To speak of civil rights, social justice, equality for all in the eyes of the law, should always promote the common good of all our population. What has become known as the religious right, especially some particular strains of that religious, creates a blurring at best, and outright breach of the ideals held by Thomas Jefferson and decades of law and precedent protecting that separation.

I would say, religious or not, we have a mandate to speak up for those who are targeted in our country, anyone who is belittled or diminished, to stand up to and against any policy and legislation that is privileged over and against others. These are not religious issues, these are human rights and social justice issues… and even more… these are not issues at all… these are people’s lives and livelihoods that are at risk. This organization, Americans United, the ACLU, NAACP, and others who day in and day out work to ensure and hold accountable our nation are crucial to its survival in the form intended by our founders. Do not be silent… the country… all of us… need you.  Thank you.

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Wonderings of a Recovering Racist, Journeying into Hope.

September 28, 2017

My best guess is it was about 1969 and I would have been ten years old. I may be off a year but for the purposes of this story it does not really matter. As I remember, the incident occurred following our little league game and was during the older youth ball game. A group of us from our team and town were running and playing with some kids from the team and town we had just played.

At least in my mind it happened amid innocent play, but at some point, barbs began to be exchanged and playful attitudes changed. I have no idea what brought it on but I have never forgotten the impact it had on me. From somewhere down in my ten-year-old vocabulary I let loose a barb toward one of the other kids we were chasing, a boy of my age, he was black. It was a word that had never been uttered in my house. I had little knowledge of the word other than what I had heard and picked up. I had no idea of the implication or damage it could do. I am confident I had heard it at school or on television, I had never uttered the word prior to that moment either. As soon as it left my lips, there was a deep twisting knot in my stomach, a sickening feeling I knew I had done something horrible. “Nigger,” I said. The boy looked me in the eye, smiled, and returned the barb, “White trash,” he said. I knew even less about that label, I had never heard it before. With that, he and his friends took off in another direction, my friends chasing after them, and me standing with a boulder sitting in my stomach, twisting and gnawing at my insides. I wanted to throw up. I wondered what I had done. I have never used that word again, to describe or direct at another human being, at this point I am still unsure I should leave it in this writing.

Fast forward, it is 1994, I am now thirty-five, my first year of seminary in Kansas City Missouri. As part of a class I was taking on ministry we were asked to go on a ride along with the Kansas City Missouri police department. The officer I was with pulled into an alley, parked, and turned out the headlights of the patrol car. He pointed across the street at a darkened two-story house with a single light in a lower level window. He told me it was a drug house; the dealers would stay inside the house and the buyers would walk up on the porch and the deal would be done through an open window. We sat, and waited. A man appeared to our left walking down the sidewalk across the street from us, the officer made a comment about watching to see if he went up to the house. The man, a Caucasian man, I would note later, seen by the light of the streetlight, turned the corner toward the house, but then walked on by. We sat for a time again and another man appeared from the same direction, a black man I could see by the same streetlight, walking toward the corner where the house was. The officer made no comment, he reached with his left hand and turned the external spotlight on and positioned it to shine in the face of the man walking down the street. The officer kept the light on the man until he faded from our sight. It was that same knot gnawing at my insides I felt that night watching the officer spotlight the man walking down the street. It brought to mind instutional and sysytemic racism. I wondered why he had not shone the spotlight on the first man. I wondered what the second man had done. I think I know, though I did not say anything at the time, I was fearful at that point.

1995, the age of thirty-six, I was invited to a lecture at seminary as part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities. As part of the talk the speaker asked those of us in attendance to stand and make a single line through the center of the room. The line was to represent a continuum as to where we believed racism was in our country today. Stand at that end of the room if we felt racism had been eradicated from our culture and society, at the other end of the room if we felt there had be no progress at all, and somewhere in between depending on how much progress we felt had been made. I sat in my chair and wondered. I finally made the decision to remain seated. My good friend came back and sat with me and queried why I had not stood. I simply said, “I know racism is still deeply present in our culture and society, but who am I as a white guy to say where we are? I’ve never been followed in a store, looked at with suspicion, been pulled over, or had an officer shine a light in my face simply because I am white. We have a long way to go, but I don’t know.” I wonder now, looking back in hindsight, if that was a copout. Could have been…I wonder.

I shared these three, among other personal experiences and being witness to racism, both individual and systemic, to say it has been, and still is very much alive. I have spent numerous times in my ministry speaking out against, working against, reaching out to my friends who are persons of color in a battle against the cancer that is racism in our country and world. I recognize as a straight, white, Christian, male I have an enormous amount of privilege in this country and world. I am committed to working and using my privilege to expose racist tendencies and policies when I encounter them. But, I am not done with my own journey… and I wonder just how far I have yet to go.

September 25, 2017, I finished a book TruDee gave me for my fifty-eighth birthday, while she took a class. I am a relatively slow reader as I spend a lot of time pondering while I read, as a result I often go back and re-read portions as I progress. This was one of, if not the, most difficult books I have ever read. That mammoth sinking pit I mentioned in my first story, lay heavy in my gut and soul as I read every word. I have a work in progress I intend on becoming a book one day about my life, journey, theology, and philosophies, but to read this book and the author’s depth of knowing, of experiencing his own life, and the depth of from where he comes moved me deeply. I finished the book sitting in my car outside the little bakery where TruDee was taking her class…and wept, and wondered at the depths of my own racism, even though I think of myself as an ally and an advocate.

The book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates delves into the culture and society we are and from where we have come. I heard in his words, our country was founded not just on the idealized freedom of religion and freedom from oppression, our country was founded on oppression and the enslavement of another group of human beings. Their enslavement was responsible for the success of our economy, and dare I say not just southern economy but the economy of the nation as a whole. Racism, enslavement of, and the diminishing of Africans is deeply embedded in our DNA as a country. And you don’t remove that kind of tumor even with a war, even with a civil rights movement and laws, it is deeply rooted in who we are as a country and especially in those of us who are white, and even, he says, those who think they wish to be white. These are thoughts I heard as I read his words, as I fought against that deep and dark pit that weighed deeper and deeper with each page.

The book is written in the context of a letter to his son, sharing his own story, his own struggles, his own life, his body, as he puts it, and the body of persons of color that he sees as expendable by the powers that be. His sharing with his son is not to convince nor give his son answers, but rather to encourage him to find his own voice, his own being, his own struggles, and his own body and worth. These words spoke deeply to me, You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.” He also shares that it isn’t for him to change other’s minds, or help their struggle, it is for the other to find their own struggle and come to terms with this deeply rooted cancer that is on our nation, my words not his. I cannot recommend this book any higher, it has changed the way I see.

Early the next morning as I re-pondered all I had been thinking since the day before I posted on my Facebook page a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.; “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” That heavy pit reappeared in my gut. I shed a tear. I considered not sharing the quote on my page. Who was I to share the words of a man who endured the racism of our country in ways I could not even begin to know. I did share it, however, that moment and this book have caused me to completely rethink all that I have done and will do in the future. I tried to explain that to TruDee as we drove that morning, and it has touched me so deeply I could hardly speak as the emotions welled up within me. I live in a country, in a culture and society, that is deeply racist and I am a product of that culture. And as a white man, this book has caused me to wonder more deeply the ways I still participate in the racism pulsing through the veins of who we are as a culture. As Coates says, it is not for anyone else to figure out for me, struggle for me, it is not for my friends and colleagues, who are people of color, to teach me or point out what is and what is not racism, though if they do I will pay deep attention, it is for me to struggle with, to dig deep into that heavy, dark pit that resides still within me and continue to try and make myself and the world around me a better, more just and compassionate place.

This revelation is larger than racism though, it cuts across the landscape of injustice that continues to haunt and diminish our culture. Homophobia, Sexism, Women’s Rights, Xenophobia, Ageism, Religious Discrimination, and all the phobias and ism’s that plague our land. A friend once told me as a white person we are all given a backpack of privilege when we are born and we carry it with us all our lives. So, here I am, and I have been made aware on a much deeper level of that backpack of White, Male, Heterosexual, Christian privilege that I carry. I carry it as a constant reminder with that privilege comes deep, deep responsibility to better understand how I participate, consciously and unconsciously, in the injustices of which I fight so diligently against. Perhaps my title of “Recovering Racist” is a bit harsh, but maybe that is what it takes to better get my attention, because of my privilege I am a racist, perhaps not intentionally, but simply because of ways I participate in those injustices and that cancer on our culture and society and am unaware.

This is my struggle and the journey continues. Pray for me, think of me, ponder with me and us. May God continue to open my eyes, my heart, that the pit never goes away, but to serve as a constant reminder to be mindful of my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my love of all. I wonder on this journey, when we might become one…I wonder.

Speaking of Faith

September 6, 2017

“I’m spiritual but not religious.” I hear that now and then as I visit with persons inside and outside the church. Another popular cliché I hear is “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.” While I think I understand the sentiments and feelings behind these comments, and I can even relate to them on my own level, I have always had a bit of a negative reaction when I hear them.

I am not one who is immune to critiquing organized religion, it has plenty of reasons to be criticized. However, to criticize religion as a blanket statement, I have never thought was fair or necessary. There is some truth to the notion that being spiritual without connection to some forms, doctrines, and practices of organized religion can be a good and freeing thing. There is some truth, though I think less so than the first, that Christianity is a relationship not a religion. While I understand the thought behind the latter, Christianity, good, bad, indifferent…is a religion.

All this being said, as I read and listen to particular practices and beliefs from some Christians, I too have found myself disheartened and uninspired. I have said more than once that I have considered turning loose of the label of Christian and reclaiming the original label of those who embrace the life and ministry of Jesus as a Follower of the Way. So, yes, I confess, I too have my struggles. At the same time, there is a part of me that says, “No!” That is my word too! I too am a Christian and I shouldn’t let the behavior, beliefs, or practices of others determine how I identify myself.

I am reminded of a favorite author, scholar, and theologian, the late Marcus Borg. He shares a common experience when it came to belief in God, that I believe can be used to speak to this topic today. He shared that often a student would come to his class and on the first day say something to the extent of, “Dr. Borg, I just want you to know I do not believe in God.” He would respond with, “Tell me about the God you do not believe in.” This exchange would lend itself to a conversation about God and Borg shared, “Often the student would discover I did not believe in the God the student did not believe in either.” I think if we use this same logic and exchange when we say, “I’m spiritual not religious,” or “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” one might respond, “Tell me about the religion, or the church, you do not believe in.” I have to believe, often, we would discover the religion or church others do not agree or believe in, would be the same religion or church neither of us believe or agree with.

The next two Sunday’s we will be exploring these thoughts during our services. On September 10, 2017, we will talk about “Does Religion Matter?” And then on September 17, 2017 we will talk about “Speaking of Faith.” I will be utilizing information and comments from the book, Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To by Lillian Daniel. These two weeks we will be looking at religion and spirituality; are they really different or mutually exclusive? We will also be looking at the faith and perhaps thinking and rethinking how we speak of the Christian faith progressively. I hope you will join us as we consider religion, spirituality, and faith through a progressive lens.

It is one of the many ways we find the Way Forward in this journey of life and faith. Until next time, know you are loved, you are not alone, …ever.

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Pastor Kent

Beauty

August 28, 2017

Yesterday in my message I shared a bit of my experience watching the eclipse. I had a few requests to share those thoughts in the newsletter so I am including them here, with a few edits.

As I sat in my lawn chair last Monday and watched to moon blot out the sun I pondered darkness. Hundreds even thousands of years ago on a celestial event such as this, signs in the heavens, if you will, this darkness brought fear and dread. Surely the gods are angry, surely the world is coming to an end, perhaps chaos ensued, certainly there would be those capitalize on the event to instill fear and dread in others.

With all that in mind here I was sitting in a lawn chair, holding the hand of my best friend and partner, in the backyard of our son and his partner, gathered with their neighbors, who we did not know, and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands if we knew, other people across the country to gaze in wonder, and awe, and amazement at this darkness, this beauty that had once been the harbinger of doom. And in the moment of totality it was almost as if for two minutes time stood still. It wasn’t just a black spot in front of the sun, around the edges, the corona, was dancing with color. We all held our breath in awe or perhaps the best we could utter was “Wow.” Some wept, some were speechless, but we were all profoundly aware of those two minutes. Two minutes! Think about that in the grand scheme of time. We were moved by them, relished them, we will remember them always.

There is a message in that moment of time. There is a message in that drawing together of so many of us. A message that says what once brought fear and dread, if we stay in this moment, there is still beauty all around.

Right in the middle of the most difficult of times. When the world, when life and death deal us such a chaotic and difficult hands, there is still beauty to behold; the beauty of a sunrise, the beauty of a friend reaching out, the beauty of a lover and partner, the beauty of a community.

I can only speak for myself, but sometimes I think we can get so caught up in the chaos and struggle of life and work we forget to take note of the beauty around us. Take time to notice the beauty. Be the beauty. The world needs more of it.

Peace and Light …and Beauty for Our Journey.

Pastor Kent

The Time is NOW!

August 14, 2017

There is part of me struggling for words, a part of me who is tired and weary. I know I am not alone in this. I have seen comments, sat and listened to many of you and others who are also weary of the myriad of injustices continuing to confront us.

There is a condition often named for those in caring ministry, and the broader community as well, “Compassion Fatigue,” I cannot speak for others, but there is something deep within me that relates to what I might call, “Injustice Fatigue.” The symptoms of this fatigue are; indifference, apathy, a sense of being overwhelmed into silence, depression, and isolation. When we are continually assaulted through the media and our own leaders regarding refugees, women’s rights and choice, LGBTQ equality, the right to healthcare and coverage, immigration, livable wage, poverty, and the threat of war and even nuclear war, we can become worn down, weary, and ineffective.

On July 19, 1958, a group of students walked into Dockum Drugstore here in Wichita and sat down at the counter to order drinks, they were refused service. They went to the drugstore every day and were refused service until August 11, 1958 when the owner relented because he was losing too much business and said, “Serve them.” We thought, we had made much progress since then.

But now, the ugly, evil, sinful beast of racism has not only once again raised its malicious head, but claimed three lives through its violent terrorism. Nationalism and white supremacy is a cancer on our society, in our nation, and in our world. The events in Charlottesville are simply this; evil, sinful, and unacceptable. There is no room for “Yes, but…” There are not “Many Sides” to the violence, bigotry, and blatant racism present in that city as well as across our nation. This is not who we should be as a nation. This is not who we are as a church.

We are the church, the community of faith, guided and committed to confronting evil in whatever form it presents itself, and we must stand up to those who would promote this hateful and sinful ideology. However, precisely because we are the church, we do not meet hate with hate, or bigotry with bigotry, or violence with violence, we confront evil with the overwhelming power of love. As Nelson Mandela eluded to, people are not born racist. People are not born to hate. People are taught to be racist to hate. Because we know this, we believe people can be taught to love.

This is our task church. We spoke of vocation and calling a week ago, this is your calling church. It has been since your beginning, we are called to teach the world to love. If it seems too overwhelming, if it seems too wearisome, if it seems too big, we will do it one person at a time.

The current environment in which we live has raised the veil on a racism that has been part of our country’s history from our beginning, and even dare I say, part of the church. It is time, once and for all, to eradicate this beast with love. If you too are weary, fatigued, overwhelmed, I invite you to join me in listening for that still small voice of God, calling us out of our isolation and uncertainty. Not to speak up is to choose a side. Silence is not an option. We need to stand and speak as a community of faith. We need each other for strength and perseverance.

Let us stand and speak together.

We Must. Now.

Pastor Kent

Jesus and the Transgender Person

August 1, 2017

Galatians 3:23-39, Matthew 19:10-12

Humans are intriguing creatures. Each of us unique to ourselves and with similarities to others. We are as individual as our own fingerprints and unfortunately often way too predictable as a species. We are a volatile and beautiful mix of nature and nurture, and while we have the intelligence and technology to study this nature and nurture, there is constantly a blurring of the line between the two, and often uncertainty which plays how much of a role.

We are different. A diverse tapestry of personality and emotion. Even within our own families, where children are raised as nearly the same as possible, the differences and diversity are often noticeable from birth. Birth order plays a role. Being an only child plays a role. Traumatic experience plays a role. Parenting practices play a role. And sometimes, it is just our makeup, chemistry, the way the brain fires, and the synapses carry those currents…or not.

I think of my own family and the way my brother, my sister, and I were raised, raised very similarly. And yet, especially after my brother died when I was thirteen, I experienced a much different family dynamic than did my sister, who was out of the home by then, which I know shaped and molded who I am emotionally, psychologically. That dynamic affected how I respond to stimuli, how I react, how I interact in relationships, and of what I am aware in the world around me.

I think of our two boys, raised as near as we could the same, and yet from the very beginning we could tell they were different. Birth order plays a role, and yet, even at a very young age we could put our oldest in the middle of a room and surround him with toys and he would be content and play for hours. He liked to be rocked to sleep every night, didn’t want to be put to bed alone while he was still awake and aware.

Our youngest, we could put him in the middle of the same room surround him with toys and he would be pulling the cord on the table lamp, trying to stick something in the wall outlet, or chasing the cat across the room. He didn’t mind being rocked, but he enjoyed it enough he wouldn’t go to sleep. The only way we could get him to go to sleep, we learned after collection of long nights, was to just go put him in his bed alone, he would go to sleep on his own, out of boredom I suppose.

All this to simply say, we are different, all of us, diverse and unique. It made me think of that saying, “You are unique, just like everyone else!” Some of it is the way we are raised, some of it is the way we are wired from the beginning. It is true for all of us. For today’s message, I am speaking not just to all of us in general and our individual uniqueness, but in particular as it relates to those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender.

To a large degree, as I read and study, it becomes more apparent to me, I think it is unfortunate and unjust we (speaking of heterosexual orientation) in society and culture, as well as in the church, we have normalized heterosexual orientation to the point that we have to talk about this in order to inform our actions and relationships toward others as opposed to simply loving and accepting them into our lives, our families, our society and culture, and our churches.

While there continues to be medical studies regarding sexual orientation in terms of nature and nurture, there is growing evidence through brain imaging that sexual orientation is influenced greatly by nature it is the way we are wired, not just heterosexuality but homosexuality as well. It is how we are born. Yes, most studies I have read also cite that nurture, the way we are raised, our experiences, can also affect who we are. However, there is scientific evidence it is also who we are and how we are born. This is a broad statement especially for today’s message and in particular referring to the LGB person in our families, society, and in our churches.

While I selected Jesus and the Transgender Person for my sermon series on Uncomfortable Christianity last May, recent proclamations by our current administration in Washington D.C. regarding transgender persons in the military make today’s message especially relevant. I believe it is important for the church, the community of faith, to understand as best we can, to consider the most faithful way to respond to our country and world whenever such decisions effect our members and communities of persons in the world around us.

So, let me be a little more specific about transgender persons before we look at how Jesus might respond to our current environment.  I think it appropriate to begin with some common terminology and identifiers as we may not all be familiar with some of the language. While we most generally include the T(transgender) in our LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) there are other letters as well. There is also – Q – queer – which I still struggle to include as when I was growing up this was a term used as a weapon to diminish and abuse, however I understand LGBTQ persons, especially in recent years claiming it as their own to take away its power. There is also A – Asexual and I – Intersexual, and there are others as well, all of this signaling the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of these person’s identity or experience, though I do try to study and understand as best I can, but my only experience is heterosexual orientation and cis-gender (denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.) – which I acknowledge carries with it a power of position and privilege that needs to be noted held in check.

In other words, I believe this is important and crucial for the church, and for myself to address and hold before us as a person of privilege, as one who has never experienced nor feared discrimination or the loss of a job, or verbal abuse, or physical violence, or been told I cannot serve my country, simply because of who I am, such privilege carries with it responsibility to not only name it, but to use it to speak to the injustice and abuse that is leveled toward those who are discriminated against and oppressed.

This is not only a civil and human rights issue, this is a theological issue for the church and how we understand the love and grace of God and how we are called to live that love and grace in the world around us!

I want to point out just a few things regarding transgender persons specifically, I have learned through study and conversation with transgender persons outside of and within our community of faith here at CHUM.

In statistical studies by the Human Rights Campaign, n 2016 at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers. 2017 has already seen at least 15 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. (in this and other ways I believe the church is complicit through doctrine, policy, statement, and silence)

Spanish investigators, led by psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon of the National Distance Education University in Madrid and neuropsychologist Carme Junqué Plaja of the University of Barcelona in a MRI brain imaging study made the following statement – “Trans people have brains that are different from males and females, a unique kind of brain,” “It is simplistic to say that a female-to-male transgender person is a female trapped in a male body. It’s not because they have a male brain but a transsexual brain.”

In a Boston University study, a biological connection with transgender persons was made as well. Not everyone is born into clear XY or XX chromosomes, there is a wide range spectrum, there are XXY or XXX, XYY, and other combinations. All this to say, we are born this way, it is not something that is chosen or something that can somehow be cured.

Douglas John Hall, Canadian theologian suggests in his book, “Thinking the Faith, Christian Theology in a North American Context,” we not only allow the scriptures and our theology to interpret the world around us, our culture and current experience must also be allowed to interpret and inform our theology and study of the scriptures. In other words, while we embrace our scriptures as a guide for our faith, we must recognize current understandings and discoveries and let this new knowledge inform our readings of scripture and our development of theology and practice.

So, how should the community of faith respond to a culture, a society, a church that continues to diminish, discriminate, abuse, and reject those of differing orientations and gender identities? There are some specific clues in our scriptures. In terms of orientation, the passages that are most often used to support discrimination and abuse are passages outlined in the purity laws which are designed to maintain tribal procreation and boundaries. Other passages are condemning of particular practices; non-consensual, abusive, promiscuous, unequal power and status. As far as loving, consensual, equal, mutual relationships between same gender persons, it is not in our scriptures.

As for passages, I might identify as relating to transgender and gender identity specific would perhaps be passages regarding eunuchs. Eunuchs, as you may know where often made eunuchs by crushing or removing the testicles of a male to provide protection for the king’s wives so they did not have to worry about the protectors having sexual desires, so to speak.

Regarding religious treatment, in the Hebrew scriptures, eunuchs were barred from the temple as well, they could not worship there. They were discriminated against. There is a citation in the book of Acts where a eunuch is welcomed into the Way of Jesus which indicates a place in the church for those who would identify differently in gender. The passage we read from Matthew, Jesus identifies not only those who were made that way, or those who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kindom, but also indicates those who are eunuchs from birth, they were born that way. Jesus, we are told here in Matthew, makes way for those who are of differing gender identity from how they may appear as their birth identity.

And of course, there is the passage from Galatians we read that might be paraphrased, or addendum added, and interpreted to say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, no longer straight, nor gay, or lesbian, nor bisexual, nor transgender, there is no longer male and female;”

For in the community of faith, in the church, in the family of God, all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

For me this does not, nor should it, negate our diversity, our difference, it does not deny we are made up of straight, gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, but it says, we all belong, we are ALL, ALL children of the Divine, unique and authentically valued and sacred. I believe that is what Jesus would say.

The church, the community of faith cannot continue to be silent and complicit in the neglect and abuse of transgender persons, LGB persons, or any person, lives are at stake!

This is what Jesus would say to the church universal today, to the empire today, Did Say!

I would close with words, with an edit or two, from author blogger Glennon Doyle, “Straight, Gay, and especially in today’s cultural and religious context Transgender – “God says YES to you. God is FOR you and God made you just as you are and God says yes even when God’s beloved institutions, and the institutions of law and government … even when they have joined forces against you….  and are screaming NOT YET.” God still says “Yes!”

We See You. We Stand with You. God Loves You. We Love You. Period.

May it be so. May it be soon. May it be Now!

Jesus and the Protester

July 10, 2017

Sermon July 9, 2017 – Luke 19:36-46

I had never really thought of myself as much of a protester, though in hindsight I can see some of the indicators. I remember in early high school wearing one of the chrome bracelets of a MIA or POW soldier during the Vietnam war. Its presence on my wrist was not just a call to remember those in the war, but a silent protest of the war in general.

I recall my sophomore year in high school I decided to speak on those who had gone north to Canada or south to Mexico to avoid the draft. I interviewed persons in our small western Kansas town regarding how they felt about those who had fled rather than serve. I was glad my dad insisted on accompanying me on these interviews. That was an eye-opening experience for a 15 year old.

I recall my trip to Washington D.C. and NYC my junior year of high school, and my dismay at how our own Kansas Senator responded to our questions. Writing letters to our reps both state and federal came as I grew older and even more interested in how our country worked and frustrated with the political status quo.

So, all this to say, there has been a little protester in my blood for some time. As I pondered this week’s message I reflected on the protester in our world, in our country, and in our churches. Our country was really begun in protest, protesting an oppressive rule, though we brought our own oppression to those who were here before us. Our country began protesting a state mandated religion, though it can seem we have forgotten and/or denied that fact. These United States were born in and by protest. The right to assemble and speak our mind is guaranteed in our founding documents…there are those who would rather not have that right guaranteed.

Our own faith tradition was born out of protest, it is where we get our name, protest-ant. One might even say there was a little protest built into the beginnings of John Wesley’s Methodist movement, as in protest against an Anglican Church, who suggested he should not be preaching in the fields but rather keep it in the church, protesting the Anglican church, and it is important to not it was a church he never left. Not to mention the Christian faith itself, born a bit out of the struggle to be free from restrictions and burdensome laws as well as an oppressive empire.

As I think about all the examples and illustrations we might use, it seems to me there is a bit of a protester in the very genes of who we are as a people of faith. I look at our history in the world, in our nation, in our churches, in our United Methodist Church, and Lord have mercy, there is a lot to be protested. There is injustice and oppression and hatred, too much to go around. There is much to push back against, there is much to stand and speak against, it can seem overwhelming.

And so as I continue to ponder the idea of protester and how it fits into who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, as people of faith, I asked Jesus what he thought of the whole idea. I should learn, every time I invite Jesus to be a conversation partner, even though I can control what I think he should say, I am always the one who ends up uncomfortable.

So, I asked him what he thought about the protester, and this is where he started, “Love your enemies.” I said… “Seriously?” He said, “Yes!” He said, “Kent, it is really important, no, it is crucial you know why you are protesting. Are you directing your words, your march, your stand, your passion, your anger at a person, or at the unjust practices being put forth?”

So, my thoughts and reflections on Jesus’ life and ministry went to practice…

As I think about my protesting…

Is it about hate or is it about compassion?

It is about a person or is it about policy?

Is it about the one who embodies the powers that be, or is it about the institution promoting injustice?

What am I practicing when I protest?

Love and Change? Or a Hate and Exclusion of my own?

Think about the passage from Luke we read today. It is a story we have dealt with before. It is a story we read at least once a year, this year twice. The story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. If you have been here for Palm Sunday you have heard me speak on it before. Sometimes I think the church gets caught up in the “king” part of the story, that this story is about the kingship, the head of the church, the messiah, the deliverer identity of Jesus and if we don’t know the whole story we miss an important part.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, “The Last Week” tell the story of what has become known as the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus sends his disciples in to obtain a colt for him to ride. It harkens back to the prophets words about one who will ride humbly into the city and will lead them to victory.  As they ride in people lay their coats and palm branches on the road ahead of him, something done for royalty. What we are not told in this story is this day there are two processions into the city.

This is what is happening on the other end of town. In contrast to a rabbi, teacher, peasant, riding into town on a donkey, there are soldiers, armor, mighty horses, shields, swords. On this side of town there is a show of power, military prowess, this is empire at its finest, this is the way of the future, fear and control. Jesus march into the city is an opposing force, but not one of power and military prowess, not one of empire and fear, but the force of humility, vulnerability, and peace.

It is a classic confrontation, the struggle between peace and conflict, conflict between humility and arrogance, between prowess and vulnerability. It has been going on since the beginning and we are slow learners. In our tradition, it has been going on since Cain first knocked Abel in the head with a rock.

This demonstration, this procession, this march into the city by Jesus isn’t just an impromptu triumphal entry into the city by a prophet of peace. I believe Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.

This was a protest march against the powers that be.

This was a protest march against the oppressive rule of empire.

This was a protest march against the collusion of religion and empire.

This was a protest march against the collaboration of religion and politic.

Jesus was protesting injustice and oppression! And at least for a moment, we are told, had they silenced the crowd, it would seem, that even creation, the stones would carry on the protest.

In Luke’s telling, not only does this protest march seem to take on a life of its own, it even turns a little violent in the end. Jesus gets to the temple and sees the greed and the taking advantage of the poor and well, he loses it. Now, granted in Luke’s telling he doesn’t lose it as much as in other gospel telling where he makes a whip out of cords, drives the money changers from the temple, turns over the tables, runs the folks out of the courtyard, but he is highly critical of the scene, “My house,” he says, “shall be a house of prayer; but you have turned it into a house of robbers!”

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not promoting property damage. I am just pointing out in the story, that even for Jesus, turning a few table over and critiquing the church, protesting the collusion between church and state were also in his toolbox. Anyone who says Jesus, the church wasn’t, shouldn’t be, political, in terms of critiquing the powers that be and its policies need to take a close look at this story, There are no words recorded from the disciples saying anything like, “Jesus, can we stop talking politics now and just share the word?”  The “Word” is a natural protestant. The “Word” should be a natural and constant push back against the injustices of our world when injustice and evil raises its ugly head.

So, I asked Jesus again… “What do you think about this whole idea of protesting, and where does it fit in the life of we people of faith? And, well, considering your march on the city, considering your action in the temple, where does that fit into ‘Loving my Enemies?” “Good Questions,” I imagined he said, and then here is what he told me, so to speak.

“The way you love your enemies is through resistance to the oppressive unjust policies* they promote. Whether it is the government, i.e. Empire or the church. Please, don’t hate the person promoting the injustice. I know, that is hard to hear. But if we really believe in the premise of loving our enemies, if we really believe in loving one another, every single other, we can’t love just some of the others.”

We love our enemies, and we resist.

We love our enemies, not some feely, emotional doormat kind of love* but one that challenges that which we believe make them an enemy. Resistance is the way we stand, march, speak, the truth and make it known to those who would speak, act, and practice injustice, be it in our government or in our churches. Resistance is the way we say, “We love you, and you are wrong!”

Hate for Hate.

Oppression for Oppression.

Exclusion for Exclusion.

Bigotry for Bigotry.

Injustice for Injustice.

Violence for Violence.

Will only make our world, our churches, more deeply divided and blind to what would heal us. And so we love by resisting oppression and evil in whatever form it presents itself. We march, we stand, we raise our hands, and we say, “No, this is not the Way.” I was reminded of other words attributed to Jesus in our scriptures, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.”

So, I believe, discipleship, being followers of the way of Jesus includes protesting. Protesting injustice and oppression. Resist the evil that would promote bigotry and ignoring the least of these, in the church and in society and culture. And while there are a multitude of ways to resist, whether you march, or write, or speak, or support, or call, whatever your method and practice of resistance, make sure it is grounded in love and not hate.

Because we are reminded, as we heard last week, we the church, should never be the tool of the state, or even the tool of unjust powers that be in the church. But we have the tool, and the tool is, is always love.  It is so!

 

*Preaching in the Era of Trump, O. Wesley Allen Jr.

Jesus and American Exceptionalism

July 3, 2017

I have been pondering this morning’s message for some time now. I wondered, considered, even asked, what Jesus might say about the notion of American Exceptionalism, especially Exceptionalism in terms of superiority. I think there is a positive sense of understanding the country one lives in as being the best, or at least the hope that it is true. Not unlike a sports team chanting “We’re Number 1” even when it might be quite obvious to other teams that literally in the standings they are not #1. There is that healthy notion of pride in one’s country, a patriotism that loves country and works for, hopes for the best of it. An understanding of pride, patriotism, and hope while acknowledging its place in the world.
The best of this “pride” so to speak is not an arrogance or exceptionalism that states we are better than every other country in the world, but that we are proud of who we are in the midst of the other countries in the world.
So, to some degree, when I asked Jesus what he thought of the idea of American Exceptionalism, his answer was, “Meh, it can be a good thing, it can be a terrible thing.” and then he said, “You might want to unpack that a little.” It is important as part of the global community to consider how and where we fit in the grand scheme of the world.
You know, while the world has ever expanded, it is also shrinking exponentially even as we speak. We read the history books, that were written by the “winners” for the most part, that is important to point out, but we study history and realize how the world expanded from those early tribal understandings of a limited world, and suddenly the great expanse of what was out there was almost more than some could take. That lasted a long time, it is still true for some.
The great expanse of the world around us can be overwhelming. You know I think just for myself, I have lived in Kansas all my life. I have never lived outside its borders. While I have visited from coast to coast a couple of different times, and while TruDee and I hope to be able to go to Ireland sometime before we are 90, the furthest I have traveled outside the USA is Tijuana, Mexico.. Woohoo!
It is still a big world to me, and it is important for me to consider how my country and how I fit into this world in which I live. And at the same time, with the marvels of technology, I can talk with a friend in Australia, Canada, Britain, and Japan all at the same time and in real-time and even see their face while we are talking if I choose. And while these are reminders of how expansive our world is, it is also a reminder of how the world is shrinking around us. In 2001, a Boeing 787 flew around the world in under 43 hours. That sounds like a lot of hours, but think how long it takes you just to drive across Wichita! The world is shrinking and we have instant access to worldwide information that is delivered to us in a heartbeat.
One would think it would draw us together as a world, as a country, and yet, with the advent of technology, internet, computers, laptops, and smart phones, we have returned to a very isolated existence. We can, if we choose, almost never leave our houses. And it has affected, I believe, not only our individual lives but our life as a world, our life as a nation. Nationalism is on the rise once again. Isolationist policies are being debated and legislated in our governing politics. This kind of isolationism infects a more positive understanding of American Exceptionalism, and is dangerous.
It is an exceptionalism that touts – We Are Self-Sufficient… We are Great, and everyone else is the lesser. If you don’t like it here, if you criticize our nation, you can leave. It is an arrogance that says, “America – (as if we are all of America…which diminishes Canada, Mexico, Central, and South…. America) – the kind of arrogance that says “America” as in the US of A is the greatest nation on earth, and mean it in a supremacist way that belittles and diminishes every other country of the globe.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus… all this American Exceptionalism talk?
And Jesus said… “Let me tell you a story…”
‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
It was common knowledge in Jesus day the road to Jericho was dangerous, rife with thieves and robbers. And here we have, we might suppose, a good upstanding citizen of the country, traveling the way. He finds himself accosted, beaten, robbed, and left for dead lying in the ditch.
Along come two religious leaders who do not stop and help. Now, before we are too hard on these two, we really don’t know why they didn’t stop. Perhaps they had good reason. Perhaps it was their religious tradition that prevented the chance the man was dead and they did not want to be made unclean? Perhaps it was because they were afraid, they didn’t want to be robbed, beaten, and thrown in the ditch alongside this poor fellow. Or perhaps they are thinking what was that fella doing in this part of town anyway? Or maybe they assumed he lived in these parts and so got what he deserved? There are a variety of possible reasons, and however well-intentioned or not, these two opted for safety rather than compassion.
And then the third one comes along. This Samaritan, is outside the bounds of the Jesus faith, they don’t practice, worship, follow God “right” … this Samaritan, is a heretic. Kind of the bottom of the barrel if you will. Think of who might fit that for us if we found ourselves lying in the ditch; A Muslim? An undocumented worker? A Politician? One who we might look up after the two religious leaders have passed us by and our first thought is, “Crap, now I am really done for!”
But here in this telling, Jesus says in this story, what this has to do with exceptionalism is about the other. And, an unexpected other. How do we see, how do we treat, how do we care for, how do we understand, how do we encounter, the other? How do we view the other when we are lifting up the notion of American Exceptionalism?
You know I have watched church advertisements via social media, read articles, looked at blogs of churches who are celebrating this day, this Sunday, in preparation for the 4th of July. There are red, white, and blue decorations, we even have them here this morning at CHUM. There are flags, and Uncle Sam’s, and talk of patriotism, and national pride, and independence day, and I confess, every year, while this Sunday is always special for me here at CHUM. This Sunday is one of my favorites, because eight years ago, when the 4th of July fell on a Sunday, it was my first Sunday here in your midst… this Sunday holds deep meaning for me, but I confess, even though I love this country deeply, and I am as patriotic as the next person, and I love the church, the whole church, and this one in particular, I confess when I see all the flag waving and patriotic fervor in the church on this Sunday closest to the 4th, I always get a case of the hebee jebees… I am uncomfortable because I am, as I believe the founders of our country were, a firm advocate of separation of church and state. It doesn’t belong in the church any more than the church belongs in our politics.
That being said, let me ponder this for a moment as I continue to hear and listen to the voices who still say we are supposed to be a Christian Nation. So, I pondered with Jesus, what if? What if we really were a Christian Nation? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we really were a theocracy founded and grounded on the Christian faith? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we were a nation committed to, and passionate about following the Way, teachings, mission and ministry of Jesus? What if….

Jesus was in the wall tearing down business not the wall building business.

Jesus was in the woman empowering business not the woman controlling business.

Jesus was in the universal health care business not the shift the money to the rich immoral health care business.

Jesus was in the taking care of the most vulnerable business not the shaming the poor business.

Jesus was in the welcoming the stranger and alien into our midst business not the banning business.

Jesus was in the lifting people up business not the tearing down business.

Jesus was in the resisting the powers that be both political and religious oppressor business not the colluding and greed business.

Jesus was in the open hand open arms business not the closed fists business.

Jesus was in the including business not the excluding business.

Jesus was in the diversity business not the white supremacist business.

Jesus was not in the hate and bigotry business… Jesus was in the business of love.

That is what a nation grounded in the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus would look like! Not some twisted and warped sense of American Exceptionalism and Christian Exceptionalism that is far too rampant today!

Thank God, we have a nation founded on separation of church and state.

Thank God, we have a nation founded on freedom of religion!

Thank God, we have a nation should not give preference to Christianity or any other religion.

Thank God, we are not a theocracy!

We are not a Christian Nation!

However… you are Church!

You are the Christian Church, grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus! And it is this kind of love that is the resistance to the kind of exceptionalism that promotes and breeds oppression, supremacy, bigotry, hatred, exclusion, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, sexism, …

You are the church! The resistance to the powers that be both politic and religious in a world that excludes the other.

You are Church! You are the Christian Church… grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus!

And I think it is time for the church… not just the church… but all religious communities who long for justice, inclusion, compassion, grace, and love to … well… to start acting like it.

We must work together… live together… and so in this context we should not just be acknowledging our country’s independence

We should be celebrating our inter-dependence!

We need one another… the church of Jesus Christ is not isolationist… we know we need one another… EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. To make a difference in this world!
We know…. MLKJr said it well… we… the church… should be the conscience of the world politic… but never its tool… it is time to act like it… otherwise as he also said… if we do not learn to live together as sisters and brothers… we will perish together as fools.

We are not the tool….
But we have the tool…
And it is love.
Keep On Church… Keep On!
It will be so… It will. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Tuesday Night Church with Garrison Keillor

May 26, 2017

I had the opportunity to go to church last Tuesday evening. We were ushered to our seats and after the announcements were finished the preacher finally entered on stage. The staging area, for lack of better descriptors, was simple, non-ornate, curtains hung on the three surrounding walls, with only a single four-legged stool, and a lone microphone stand and mic.

This preacher was simply dressed, dark suit, white shirt, bright red tie with socks to match. He began a kind of dance, if you will, with the audience, moving deliberately from side to side, each step and slide appeared chosen and exact, and periodically he would sit on the stool. At one point of small intermission, he came down from the stage and joined us in the center aisle. He began his sermon speaking of poetry and the longing need for the art in our culture and society.

He then did a curious thing, he sang a song, and then he invited us to join in the singing with him. There was something about this invitation, and part of it was what I brought into the space with me, the experiences and knowledge that I carried into the sanctuary that night; my readings of this persons writing regarding his own political thoughts and struggles with the current political climate, the laughter I have shared listening to his radio show, and the shared grief in knowing he had just buried his seventeen year old grandson earlier that day…which he never mentioned.

I must think it was a bit of all of that, but I was touched and struck profoundly for some reason as he coaxed us into the first song we sang, My Country Tis of Thee, I couldn’t sing it, the knot in my stomach, the lump in my throat, and the tears in my eyes would not allow me to sing. So, I stood, soaking in, reveling in whatever this moving moment was about, and listened to the voices sing of this country of mine…of ours.

We sang Home on the Range, How Great Thou Art, Only Fools Rush In, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. These are but a few of the songs we sang; hymns, non-religious songs, we heard Shakespeare and poetry written by our preacher. We heard story after story of life and death and faith. We listened to stories of first loves, of bodies pressed against unclothed body, stories of youth and struggling to understand. We heard stories of growing old and health challenges complete with anatomically correct descriptions of medical procedures and prostates. We heard poetry that spoke of bodily function and humor referring to balls of brass and lightening coming out of one’s …well, ass.

And we sang, and laughed, I don’t know about anyone else but at least one cried, and pondered, and was touched deeply, and encouraged, and challenged. I am not sure what anyone else heard that night in the Stiefel Sanctuary, but here is what I walked away with. I witnessed a quiet man with a deep, deep love of country, family, relationship, and life. I watched him weave the stories of life, faith, humor, and love into a tapestry so very real it touched my heart and soul almost from the very beginning of his speaking. And for a couple of hours, I watched this teller of stories, draw a crowd of diverse people together into one place and into one voice.

As we walked back to our car I told TruDee, “I’ve been to church tonight… it was SO REAL!” Sometimes, this story he told over almost two and half hours that night was not just his story, it was my story, it was all of our stories at some point. There was something within this tapestry of telling that spoke to every one of us in the building at some point or another. It was so very REAL.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church could be so real more often, rather than the too frequent of hiding behind self-righteousness, feigned humility and modesty, religious platitudes, judgement, and condemnation.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church would simply be about the task of loving everyone, everyone, bumps, warts, body parts, young, old, weird, strange, different, … the REAL world, imperfect as it…as we are… just trying to make it through this journey together.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I long for such a world, a world where we sit down with our elders, with our peers, with our children and children’s children, and simply tell and listen to our stories…without judgement or condemnation, without correction or critique, simple telling and hearing our authentic selves and what brought us to this moment.

I long for such a place…

Some Day… Some Day…

Until then, tell your story… find a reason to listen to someone else’s.

And know you and they are beautiful and loved.

Kent

Sunday Morning Coffee

May 21, 2017

On Sunday morning my accustomed spot at this time is usually either sitting at my desk still tweaking my morning sermon or pacing the halls of the church in preparation for worship. It is my Sunday morning ritual of sorts, the quiet and dark of the building lends itself well to meditation and reflection. There is always a little time to light a candle, reflect on the coming celebration, nervous butterflies fluttering deep within, and that awe-filled thought that somehow, someway, I might find a word to speak to inspire, move, challenge, disturb, and resonate with those who hear.

This morning though is a different morning. This is the last day of mostly a staycation. I spent this week working on renewing, rejuvenation, reflecting, and trying to fill my cup. I made significant progress on a rocking Labrador dog for my middle granddaughter, I visited my retreat site where I was able to spend time in meditation and centering as well as a little fishing. I spent a day in a boat on a lake with my good friend where we worked on solving the troubles of the world. I filled my cup with connection and conversation with my best friend, partner, and lover. And for the past day and a half I have been surrounded by family.

So, early this Sunday morning I am not sitting at my desk or wandering the halls of our church in preparation for speaking or preaching. This morning I am sitting on a couch, with my coffee, listening to the songbirds outside the window, a woodpecker doing its thing against the house, I am watching the sunbeams stream through the windows with dancing shadow leaves on the walls and floor and furniture.

On this early Sunday morning, while my trusty writing instrument is still before me, I am not surrounded by papers, pencils, and my books. As the bird sings her early morning song I am surrounded by things like, toy helicopters, an infant capatrolr seat, Paw Patrol, sippy cup, Mickey Mouse, burp rag, a crocodile, a Cat in the Hat hat, and puzzles. I have been immersed in the giggles, hugs, and energy of a two and a half year old, the quiet coos and snuggles of one and a half month old, and the smiles and wiggles of a one year old and at noon, we will gather as a family and celebrate this our middle granddaughter’s first birthday.

I confess, while this week was much needed along my journey, it has been filled with much reflection and some struggle. The state of our world, our country, our state, and our church weighs heavy on my heart and soul. What can often seem like a tsunami of injustice, arrogance, theological malpractice, racism, bigotry, and refusal to acknowledge the corruption of society and culture by the power and prowess of empire, both secular and religious, is draining and disheartening to say the least. And yet…and yet…

It is here, on this bright Sunday morning, I am reminded, in the midst of burp rags, helicopters, Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, those who love me and whom I love… here is the reason for my passion. Here is why I do what I do. Here is why refusing to give in or give up is so very crucial, to leave this world a little better than I found it. That those who live in fear of violence and oppression will see the light of justice and compassion. The arc is still bending, but one day, I still believe, because of acts great and small by you and by me, my three granddaughters might live in a world where love, compassion, justice, kindness, humility, and are the rule rather than the exception.

So, here on this early Sunday morning, I am moved with a tear or two, because I am so fortunate and grateful to be a part of this family; to be immersed in the love of little ones and big ones, here in this place, on this day. I Love You! And because of these and so many others, my coffee cup is raised and here’s to renewed commitment to justice. Rise up. Speak truth to power. Fear and intimidation will not win the day. On this day, remind ourselves what the Divine Spirit calls us to be about …justice, kindness, and humility. Remind ourselves what the One we follower calls us to be about, caring for the least, the forgotten, and those pushed to the margins of society and the church. It is my calling… it is our calling. Rise. Speak. Act. Until justice perseveres and love prevails for all…for ALL.

May it be so.

Now it’s time for more coffee and preparation for a birthday party and cake!

Peace and Light for Our Journey!

Kent