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

 

Searching for Freedom

May 19, 2017

TruDee had told me she heard noises for several nights. Noises like the wind blowing an open door or window. When she would investigate, there was nothing to be found. One evening we were sitting in the living room and I heard it as well. My thought was it must have been a bird hit a window, it was just a short, “Thump.”

I had gone to bed early one night later and when she came to bed she said she thought something was in the basement probably in one of our window wells. She had heard the thump again and then scratching. We have had bunnies fall through the wooden slates that cover the opening to the window wells in the backyard before. I did not check it that night.

The next morning, I went downstairs to check out what kind of creature we had in the basement thumping and scratching around. The window well in the bedroom seemed to be clear as near as I could tell with the flashlight on my phone. When I checked the larger well in the family room it appeared there was nothing there either. That is, until I final saw movement, a dark gray rounded creature burrowed in the corner under some leaves and yard debris that had blown into the well. It was an armadillo. I suspect the cornered creature found itself in this predicament after being chased across the yard by our two dogs, I don’t know that for sure… but, well, it is highly likely.

After researching online and doing a Facebook Hivemind request I was still unsure what to do. Armadillos are not easily captured. To try and catch one by hand is difficult as they can jump, they have sharp teeth, a hard shell, and an attitude. All of this and the fact they can carry rabies as well as possibly Hansen’s Disease, i.e. leprosy. After learning government animal control only deals with domestic animals, I knew this was not going to be an easily resolved problem. The last thing I wanted to do was be in an eight foot deep, five by four foot hole with a jumping, armored, sharp toothed, possibly disease toting, armadillo with an attitude.

TruDee gave me the idea when she suggested a large tub with some food to coax it in and put a lid on it, it had to be hungry after being in a hole for several days. That got me to thinking, it was confined, armadillos are nocturnal, it had nothing to eat or drink for at least three or four days… surely it would be lethargic. I went home, retrieved a large plastic tub, threw in some dog food for good measure, opened the large window for access to the well, and sat the tub on end opposite our guest. I took a four-pronged rake and just nudged it gently to see how it would react. It stood up and turned aroDillound in the corner and just looked at me. I reached beyond it with the prongs of the rake and pulled it just a few inches toward the tub to see what it would do. Nothing…just sat there and looked at me. So, I placed the prongs of the rake firmly against its side and gave it a quick more forceful jerk and pull… it basically rolled right into the tub, I sat the tub up, snapped the lid on, taped it shut, loaded it in the car and drove our guest armadillo several miles south of town and set it free. The armadillo, I imagined, and I were very pleased with the outcome.

Sometimes I tell stories because they have taught me a deeply profound lesson about life and faith. Sometimes I tell stories because they are simply good stories and they make me smile and feed my soul.

This story I think was as much just about the story as it was anything else. And at the same time, it might have something to say to me, to those for whom it resonates, there are times in our lives we might find ourselves trapped, unable to see our way to freedom, and sometime through no fault of our own, it can just happen. It can be lonely in those places, dark, body and soul sucking places and spaces that drain us and leave us huddled in a corner wondering what more could possibly go wrong.

And then something happens, someone happens along the way to coax us out of our corner with a little nudge, and little shove, a little nourishment, and a reminder that this hole we have found ourselves in is not where we belong. It is the truth of who we are that sets us free. Free to be our authentic self, just as we are, unconfined and unrestricted by society or even the church, but rather acknowledged for the wondrous creature we are, remembering whose we are as children of the Divine with a crucial and irreplaceable place in this community, in this world, in this humankind.

May the walls and holes you encounter be few. May there always be a little nourishment for your body and soul. May you always have community close by who are willing to risk themselves to help set you free. May there always be community nearby willing to give you a little nudge or even a firm shove to remind you to be who you are.

You Are Beautiful! You Are Enough! You Are Not Alone!

Peace and Light for Your Journey!

Pastor Kent.

Simple Pleasures

May 15, 2017

The story I am about to relate is true, though it is filled with assumption and speculation about facts which may or may not be accurate, let alone any of my business. But I tell the story because the vision I saw moved me and made me smile.

TruDee and I were eating at a local establishment recently and enjoying conversation and the atmosphere. I noticed a woman, perhaps about my age, wheeling an elderly gentleman in a wheel chair through the front doors. The host helped direct them to a table where another joined the two. My assumption was; an elderly man and his daughter, perhaps granddaughter, and his wife, or another daughter. It appeared in addition to his obvious different ability regarding the wheel chair, that he had perhaps had a stroke. His expressionless face held steady and his left arm bent in a right angle at his elbow with its hand clenched in a gentle fist as she navigated him up to the table.

I did not notice much after that and resumed my conversation with TruDee as we waited on our order. Our server brought our dinner and we began to eat. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement once again of the three gathered at the table. The two women were conversing and laughing and the elderly gentleman for all intents and purposes appeared engaged in listening. And then he did, what I deemed to be, a curious thing.

beerWith his right hand, he reached to the table and picked up a glass, it was filled to the rim with beer. Very deliberately and gently he brought the glass to his lips, took a sip, and smiled. He continued the ritual, and with each deliberate and gentle action and sip of his beverage, he smiled. As we were leaving I took note once again, and just as I stood from our table he finished his beer, held the glass a few inches from his face, seemed to peer into its depths, and…smiled, as did I.
The vision this night moved me. This man, obviously in diminished ability, sat in the company of family, immersed in the moment, and savored the simple things of life. I sent my boys a text shortly after that and told them, “When I am old, in a wheel chair, perhaps unable to communicate or converse, please take me out and have a beer with me.” Let me relish in your company and enjoy a simple pleasure.

In this culture and environment, not only in society but even in the church, when things can seem to be so difficult, so opposed to justice, compassion, and grace, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find a gathering of family, of community, of friends, and immerse yourself in the moment and savor the simple gifts of life and faith. Take time to immerse yourself in grace, in compassion, in soul food, in love. Jesus knew the importance of such self-care. That self-care is what fueled his passion and compassion for social justice of his day.

Give a son, a daughter, a brother or sister, a mom or dad, a friend a call this week and be together. 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

I Will Persist; A Response.

April 30, 2017

One might consider this writing an addendum #2 to my previous writings in regards to our United Methodist Church’s continued mishandling of our stance on human sexuality, and in particular LGBTQ persons, both lay and clergy, and their role in our church. It can seem, at least to me, I have written about this too many times, but alas, as an ally and the lead clergy of a Reconciling Congregation, I refuse to be silent.

This current writing is a response to the recent United Methodist Judicial Council ruling in regards to the election of a gay or lesbian clergy to the episcopacy. I have hesitated in my response in part because I wanted to respond as best I could and not simply react. I have hesitated in my response in part because the ruling is not simple nor is it easy to understand. I have hesitated in my response because not only am I still heartbroken and weary, I am frustrated and I suppose still a little angry as well. I have been inspired and encouraged by colleagues and others who have written responses and analysis in clear, concise ways that have done a good job of keeping the emotion and anxiety at a minimum. I confess, I am not there yet, but I feel compelled to respond nonetheless.

I am not going to try and explain the ruling other than saying this, if I understand it correctly, while the Council found the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto violated church law, she is still a bishop in good standing, however now the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, who elected her, will now have to seek resolution to the complaints that have been filed against her. It is entirely possible she could be defrocked, forced to retire, or there could be a just resolution and she remain bishop. It could be seen as a bit of both/and, there is still work to be done.

There is still some remnant of hope, at least for me, Bishop Oliveto will remain and serve faithfully and gracefully as a bishop in our United Methodist Church. However, the Council also set a dangerous precedent, if I understand it correctly, in a directive that Boards of Ordained Ministry be required to inquire as to ministerial candidate’s sexual orientation and also their practice. As a result, this decision and ruling was not just about Bishop Oliveto and bishops to follow her, this ruling does harm to all LGBTQ persons in our church, both lay and clergy, as well as LGBTQ persons in our society and culture at large when we deny God might have the audacity to call them into ordained ministry.

I am not surprised by the Council’s rulings; however, I am deeply heartbroken, and yes even angry. It is beyond me why a clergy in good standing, regardless of their sexual orientation, elected to the office of bishop in their respective jurisdiction is the concern of anyone other than their electing jurisdictional body. It is beyond me why a group or individual from a different conference and jurisdiction would feel the need to challenge the election. And I believe, this is the will of the Discipline, and the intent of the Western Jurisdiction’s reasoning at the hearing.

That being said, there are those who would say this is only a symptom of a larger problem of biblical authority and interpretation. Perhaps surprisingly, I would agree, and am continually frustrated by our insistence on the authority of the Discipline versus careful and good scholarship regarding our scriptures. Careful study of the scriptures would show the understanding of same gender relations in our canon of scripture and the passages used to condemn the children of God who are LGBTQ are limited to purity laws and abusive, nonconsensual, promiscuous, unequal, and non-mutual practices. These passages used to condemn LGBTQ children of God in the world at large and in our church, have nothing to do with mutual, consenting, committed, loving relationships between two adults, whether they be same gender or opposite gender. Condemnation for loving committed same gender relationships is not in there.

In my own journey in understanding the faith and in particular in relation to LGBTQ children of God, there is too much denial going on within the people of God, and in our context, the UMC. In regards our UMC’s current raging storm of how we are to move forward as a relevant church in the world my study of the scriptures, tradition, my own experience and reason has led me to three understandings of those who would deny LGBTQ person’s full participation in the church. Either one has not had the opportunity to do, study, or hear good critical biblical scholarship regarding same gender relations, one refuses to do, study, or hear good critical biblical scholarship regarding same gender relations, or one has done the study, hearing of good critical biblical scholarship regarding same gender relations and chooses to deny its veracity.

All of this to say while I am disappointed and disheartened at the Judicial Council’s ruling, I am still hopeful. While this points our denomination in a direction I would prefer it not travel, there is still important work to be done, in particular by the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward. This ruling by the Council makes the Commission’s work even more critical and crucial if we are to move forward in a relevant, compassionate, inclusive, and loving way. There is still hope.

In the meantime, I hope you will continue to persist with me, hope with me, engage with me, speak up with me, and pray with me that our church will preserve and prevail in love and welcome of all God’s children. For I am convinced grace and inclusion, welcome and love are The Way forward into a future where all God’s children are welcome on all sides of the table of Jesus Christ as we transform this world into a more compassionate, passionate, and just world. We shall overcome.

 

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Rev. Kent H. Little

The Approaching Storm II an Addendum and Apology

April 21, 2017

I wrote yesterday of what I see as an approaching storm in our United Methodist Church. A friend and colleague responded which prompted a 3:00am wakening with a thought and a need for an addendum to yesterday’s writing.

While I always try to be aware and conscious of my privilege in the church, and larger culture and society as a straight, white, male, I woke in the night realizing I had written yesterday’s blog straight out of that privilege without acknowledging or even realizing it! And, for those for whom I presumed to speak without thought or sensitivity I apologize.

Here is what I mean and why I write again. My friend and colleague indicated he has “spent a good part of his ministry picking up the pieces” of the United Methodist Church’s continued harm to LGBTQ persons in our church by telling them they are not only incompatible, not worthy, and unwelcome to serve or even be married in the church, but denied the fact that the Spirit of God might even have the audacity to call them into ministry! The Storm has been raging for a long time.

I write this morning this addendum and apology because I had the audacity to suggest the storm had not yet arrived! It has been here. This storm has been wreaking havoc in the church for 40 plus years. It has been uprooting, devastating, and ruining lives for over 40 years, in some cases even contributing to the ending of lives. Who am I to say the storm is approaching? To a large degree, as a straight, white, male, I have no clue to depths of pain and struggle and storm LGBTQ persons have been enduring in the church let alone society and culture in general. But in the church our LGBTQ members and clergy this storm has been slinging debris far too long. In my privilege I have been huddled in the basement at best, and watching it all from the door at worst. Maybe it is time for those of us with privilege to rush into the storm that is already raging!

Granted there is an approaching sense of anxiety with the Judicial Council’s deliberations next week and the Bishop’s Commission recommendation at the Called Conference in 2019, but in reality this is not the approaching of the storm, this was the General Conference finally forcing the issue. This was a jurisdiction who said, we have a qualified, gifted, called of God candidate for Bishop and this is who we will elect. This was the General Conference saying, “We have watched the storm from the doorway for too long, and too many lives have been left strewn upon the lawns of our church, left knocking on the doors, and we need to decide who we are, a church of the grace and love of Jesus Christ, or not.”

Perhaps a better analogy is that the storm approached years ago, at least 40 years ago, and we have been huddled in our basement or standing at the door watching as too many have been left in the wake of spiritual and theological malpractice, left in the wake of a church who refuses to let go of the door and finally let the winds of the Spirit blow it open or better yet, blow it off its hinges.

As I have pondered my writing of yesterday I stand corrected, the storm is not approaching, the storm is here my friends. And the church, the United Methodist Church needs to get out of the doorway and let it open. There will still be pieces to pick up. We will still need to pray and discern how we will respond to the upcoming decisions. We still need to keep the church, the Council, and the Commission in our prayers. I do pray for unity, but as from a book recently read by Rachel Held Evans, “unity does not require uniformity.” But regardless, we cannot continue to remain huddled in the basement in fear of the storm, nor can we simply stand in the doorway and watch the destruction of lives and families. Let go of the door church, and trust the Spirit knows what it is doing.

Pray, Reflect, Meditate, and Hold Us All in the Light.

Rev. Kent