Out of the Darkness; The Poetic Vision of Resurrection

April 22, 2019

April 21, 2019

Out of the Darkness

 

It was sometime in 1990, I am not sure of the exact date. I think probably late in the year, my grandma on my mom’s side was prone to strokes late in her life. I had decided to begin the process toward ordained ministry we visited grandma in the nursing facility in Douglass, KS. By this time the strokes had taken their toll and grandma was rendered speechless, literally, she could not speak. Along with that she had become so hard of hearing that she was unable to hear anything shared with her as well. To facilitate that part of her life she had a small chalkboard in her room that we could write in hopes that she could at least read them and have some sense of what we were trying to convey, though as memory serves, I am not sure she had the faculties to communicate that ability or not.

What I remember is a rather serene but un-acknowledging facial expression as she sat in the chair in her room. I remember wanting to share with her my decision to enter into the ministry but of course unable to tell if she knew what I was trying to communicate or even that she recognized and knew who I was. I wondered then whether it was a frustrating and difficult place for her, without the ability to share, to speak, to hear, caught in a body that seemed to be a prison, at least from my perspective. I wondered if she was afraid or if she had the capacity for fear, her face certainly showed no sign of stress or struggle. It was a difficult place to be that day.

We have been on a Lenten Journey in the Labyrinth. A journey of twists and turns, of introspection and searching, accompanied by the Divine Presence whose love knows no bounds. And yet, even then, as we ponder this last week of celebration, the turning of the crowd, the final meal, the garden, the betrayal, the trial, and finally death… this week has encompassed the length and breadth of the journey of life, the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the despair and so, there can be a good number of things that entomb us in fear.

We have been on a journey this season of Lent as we considered things that hold us, and cause us fear. What is it that holds us in fear? Fear is an incarcerating emotion. Fear can lock us down, lock us away, and keep us separate and separated from one another. Fear can be filled with anger, anxiety, dread, and drive us to isolation and hatred. Some of us have experienced more fear, isolation, and internal imprisonment than others. There are those wondering where the next meal is coming from or deciding between filling the prescription or paying the electric bill. There are perhaps those of us gathered here today who are caught between doing what is right and doing what is popular with the least amount of risk. There are perhaps those of us here today that struggle with dogma’s and doctrines of the church; atonement, communion, baptism, the very character of God, authority of scripture, the church in general, even…dare I say….  Resurrection? and are fearful of expressing doubts and asking questions because of past experience…or perhaps these things no longer hold meaning for us and we are fearful of what that means or if there are others like us who are asking the same questions and having the same doubts.

There are perhaps those of us here this morning who long for justice, who have been abused, condemned, judged, rejected, turned away from churches, homes, family, and friends because of sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, age, race, or the need for reproductive care. Perhaps there are those of us who long to speak up for justice and what is right but also fear abuse, rejection, judgment, and condemnation. Or maybe we just fear change. Maybe we are too comfortable with what we used to be, what we are, where we are and we would just as soon stay in this contented state of mind and not rock the boat?

But why do we fear… why do we fear embracing our full humanity… the full Human Being, Wisdom’s Child, as Walter Wink refers to Jesus and us with Jesus reflected in us he too asks the question of why in his book “The Human Being” “Why, if God is trying to incarnate in me through Wisdom’s Child. Do I resist? Can I repudiate the current world order and experience what Paul called “the glorious liberty of the children of God?”[i]

For me, the “Why” is because it is fear laden work…risky!  And yet we recognize stepping beyond these fear laden issues and attitudes can lead to isolation and rejection.  It is fear burdened work to break free of the tomb, to step through the bars of our fear-filled cells into the light of freedom, equality, and justice for all. But the task, I believe, is worth the risk, it is worth the struggle.

We began this Lenten journey in ashes. Confronting the things that hold us in fear, imprisoned, entombed, and lay them to waste…to burn them away, to let go, and journey into a Lent of confronting our fears and embracing what we have come for today… Awakening! New Life! After all that is why we have come here this morning is it not? To know the struggles of Lent, the pain, and suffering of Holy Week are not the last word?

We have come here, to the tomb, with the women this morning. And discovered there is something afoot… something has changed…something is different… there is an awe-some-ness to the morning …we have encountered Resurrection!

So, what is Resurrection? Oh, I know we have all read the stories we have in our scriptures.  Jesus died and then this morning we celebrate his being raised from the dead. However, what does it all mean? Do we know what it meant then?  Do we know what it means for us now?

There is mystery in the texts that tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection… none of the four gospels agree as to exactly what happened. Mark, the earliest of the gospels written in the canon of scripture and its oldest ending sees no risen Jesus, the women run from the tomb and say nothing to anyone. Matthew and Luke do not agree on who was there. Luke says the “men” don’t believe the women and their idle tale… John has a different take on women… having Mary be the first preacher of the gospel… not a small doctrinal point.

It is obvious, at least to me, resurrection is not about the creedal in the flesh resuscitation of Jesus that we have for so long made it into. So, if that is the case, what is resurrection? For the ancients…. And for us? 

Robin Meyers in his book “Saving Jesus from the Church,” says this, “Is it possible to rise from the dead without one’s body, and if so, how would this be verified? Is Easter a molecular event or a spiritual one?[ii]

Rudolph Bultmann – “Jesus rose into the kerygma – that is, in to the faith of the first believers. In other words, the conviction of the followers of Jesus that he was still with them was itself the resurrection. What can be known with certainty is that the Jesus movement in Judea did not cease after the execution of its leader under Pontius Pilate – but expanded! As a Pharisee, Paul believed in the resurrection of the dead, and certainly believed that Jesus had been raised. But the question Paul goes on to ask is, “With what kind of body do they come?”  “What is sown is perishable, what is raised in imperishable … it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. Bultmann says, What I am saying, is this: Whatever sort of vision Paul claims to have seen on the road to Damascus, it had nothing to do with a body.”[iii]

Does this mean we no longer need the resurrection? Does this mean we no longer embrace or include resurrection in our faith, in our doctrines, or relationships? By no means!

Bernard Brandon Scott, in his book “The Trouble with Resurrection” says of the story as it emerged among the ancients and written down… “Israel being raised up in the Hebrew scriptures was always Corporate resurrection. Paul’s understanding of resurrection was as part of community the body of Christ, the church, the community of faith… resurrected… we are resurrected… We Are Risen! Together![iv]

However, for Scott it is even more broad, more encompassing than this as he writes, this metaphor applied to the people of Israel as a corporate raising up, Paul’s alluding to the Body (pointing) of Christ being raised up…“This metaphorical system,” he writes, “also has overtones of God as creator who will restore creation.” Resurrection is fully about the resurrecting of all creation… on such a day as this Resurrection Sunday… this Earth Day! Scott goes on to say…“The power of fiction – fiction does not mean untrue or unreal but describes that which is powerfully imagined and remembered. Fiction is a powerful way of unmasking truth or reality. [it] reminds us of the power of scenario – resurrection is not “A” moment but a story. Its truth is not in its literalness, but its POETIC VISION. The trouble with resurrection is that we have literalized, narrowed, and constricted it, turned it into a creedal belief, and in the process forfeited its great claim and hope.” We keep waiting … And still God does not act. Ironically it is in precisely this situation that we need the hope of resurrection. Crucifixion is not the end, Empire did not win, cannot win. God’s justice is always coming to life; the Kindom of God is like … In the end we are [brought] back to faithfulness and a world that should be.”[v]

So, with this there are a multitude of ways Resurrection, even the resurrection of Jesus on this Easter morning, can be understood… no clearer today than it was in the various stories 2000 years ago. But as Marcus Borg, theologian, author and teacher so appropriately says…. “Believe what you want about the resurrection, believe what you want about how, why, when, the Christ rose from the dead…
but what difference does it make in your life today, how does it fill your faith today, how does it fuel you to make this world a better, more just, compassionate, kind, and humble world….  Here and now?[vi]

Maybe one of the problems with resurrection is we have left it at the empty tomb some 2000 years ago! We have walked away from the tomb and are still waiting for God to “do something else!”   Still trying to prove it happened…Still being caught up in the minute details of the telling and missing the point, when resurrection is still happening. It is happening all around us. Like the Bishop in Diana Butler Bass’s book “Christianity After Religion” said when asked if he believed in the resurrection, “Believe in it?” he said, “I’ve seen it too many times not to!” [vii]

It was a difficult time and space in my grandma’s room that day… we hoped we had conveyed our love in ways she had understood…  and as we rose to leave…  across her lips came one simple word, the only word she had spoken in the time we had been there…. “Kent,” she said.  “Kent.”  And I am here to tell you…  that was resurrection…   and the story goes on, every year, every week, every day, every moment…

Resurrection is the story of our faith, however, it is more than that, it is the story of God, it is the story of Creation… all around us in every breath of life, resurrection/new life…Resurrection is about a new thing… about Justice…about participating in the Kindom, it is happening all around us, every moment if we are mindful and awake to it! We are not uninterested, uninvolved onlookers…Resurrection is an ever evolving happening! We are invited into the Resurrection story to be an active part of its Poetic Vision through our awareness and in our participation.

Every time one comes home after a long absence…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time the treatment, the care, the surgery gives a second chance….
That’s the Poetic Vision Resurrection!

Every time we stand at the grave of a loved one and believe there is something more…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

When 15 year old Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Summit and tells leaders of the world, “Change is coming whether you like it or not!”

Every time a young person stands up to gun violence and says, “No More!”

Every time a confirmation class stands and says, “Not until the whole church is open to EVERYONE! That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time a troubled soul encounters a community of faith and God and turns their life around…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time an LGBTQIA youth is embraced by family, community, the church fully and chooses life and authenticity over ending it all..
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time a woman stands up and says “Me Too” and is believed

Every time those in need find affordable healthcare…

Every time the immigrant finds sanctuary…

Every time policies are passed to create inspections for safe, livable, and affordable housing for the most vulnerable…

Every time the least of these… the outcast, discriminated against, the marginalized, the ignored, the oppressed, the hated, the turned away…. Are fully embraced by the church…
That’s The Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time the world tells us we are foolish and we should fear and someone stands up and says, “NO!”

Every time we see, or are, a glimmer of hope in a fear laden world…

Every time the church stands up against the powers that be and says, “Enough is enough! We will not be moved!!”

That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, persons of all religious expression or no religious expression come together and  ground themselves in love and understanding for one another and the common good of all…

Every time the Power of Love Shows up and conquers fear…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Word out of Silence, Light out of Darkness, Blossom out of Seed, LIFE out of Death, Love out of Hate!

Fear and isolation, exclusion, hatred, bigotry, injustice… do not have the last word! Left behind like old used rags in the empty tomb!  it is Love that has the last word,

We are the church and until hate and bigotry, exclusion and injustice, hunger and poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the most egregious of theological malpractice grounded in fear laden dogma and doctrine, is reduced to ashes we will continue to rise.

We are the church… and we are RISEN to participate in making justice happen until it rolls down like waters and an ever-flowing stream.

We are the church! And the church needs to recapture the Poetic Vision of a constant, continual, evolving life of resurrection. To continue calling itself back to life, continually rising again, rebirthing itself into new life…into the beloved community of All!

Resurrection is Resistance!
Resurrection is Practice!
Resurrection is Love!
Resurrection is
THE Way of Life!

And for we who gather on this hope filled, Life infused, Grace immersed Day. Even on this day… as the senseless bombings in Sri Lanka bring back fresh memories of The Christ Church Mosque Shooting, the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting, school shootings and humanity’s addiction to weapons and violence… We will not fear those who wield fear, bigotry, and religion like a weapon…We will not fear the powers that be and an empire who says, we should not even risk the journey! We Will Carry On the Vision!

We gather as a people of the Resurrection and say, “No!”  because we know…  Love. True Love. Never. Dies. Love will always rise up out of the darkness!  For Wisdom’s Child, Jesus…We… Are Risen…. We are Risen Indeed! This IS So! Amen.

 

[i] Wink, Walter, (2002). The Human Being, Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.

[ii] Meyers, Robin R. (2009). Saving Jesus from the Church, How to Stop Worshipping Christ and Start Following Jesus. Harper One, New York, NY

[iii] Scott, Bernard Brandon, (2010). The Trouble with Resurrection, From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Polebridge Press, Salem OR

[iv] Scott, Bernard Brandon, (2010). The Trouble with Resurrection, From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Polebridge Press, Salem OR

[v] Scott, Bernard Brandon, (2010). The Trouble with Resurrection, From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Polebridge Press, Salem OR

[vi] Borg, Marcus J., (2003). The Heart of Christianity, Rediscovering a Life of Faith. Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA

[vii] Bass, Diana Butler, (2012). Christianity After Religion, The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Harper Collins, New York, NY

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A Statement of Sacred Resistance

April 5, 2019

We Stood.

March 4, 2019

Let me share first, after the four days I spent in St Louis this past week, it was and is difficult to stay on task with our sermon series as we wrap it up this week. There is much occupying my mind, much laying on my heart, much disturbing my soul still today, five days later. But we will carry on, perhaps this morning with a little different focus, but we will carry on.

Our faith, our journey as followers of the life and ministry of Jesus, is grounded in, passed on by, immersed in … story. We carry within us the stories that have shaped and molded our lives, our beliefs, our hopes, our faith. This story we have heard this morning in the context of our last sermon in the series of Jesus and Buddha… Right Effort, is a familiar one for those of us who have grown up in the faith. If you have been a long-time traveler in the context of Christianity you have perhaps read this story countless times, you have perhaps heard countless sermons interpreting the story… I know I have, and I have preached many times on this text. Each time the text has been a part of my experience, and my interpretations of it… while nuanced differently, preached in different contexts… the theme was generally the same.

This story of an obviously rich man going on a journey, he entrusts at least some of his wealth into the care of three of his servants. I believe it is important to note, he does not tell them to do anything with the money, simply that he has entrusted it to them each according to their ability. To one he gives five talents, one two talents, and to a third one talent. It is important to note here as well, a talent was a unit of weight of approximately 80 pounds, and when used as a unit of money, was valued for that weight of sliver. As a unit of currency, a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A denarius was the usual payment for a day’s labor, the value of a talent was about 20 years of labor by an ordinary person. By contemporary standings, at the rate of Nebraska minimum wage of $9.00 per hour, the value of a talent would be approximately $432,000 over twenty years. This was no insignificant amount of money. So, one might understand why someone would be fearful to have been entrusted with such a large amount.

The common theme and interpretation of this story, has long turned the third servant into the fool, a fool of his fear to have buried the money in the ground and made no good use of it. The common theme and interpretation have long, intentionally or unintentionally pointed to the rich man and the first two servants as heroes of the story, who used the man’s money wisely. It is a story, a parable, with a point. Let me say, this long held interpretation is well grounded, good exegesis, contextually solid. It, is a story that shapes our understanding and molds who we are as followers of Jesus life and ministry.

We gather here this morning people of stories. We all carry with us those stories that make us who we are, that make us whose we are. As I sat in the convention center in St Louis I began to think of story, as I watched the events unfold. I recalled a book I had just finished before leaving for the Conference, “Together at the Table,” by Bishop Karen Oliveto, she is the First out Lesbian Bishop elected to the episcopacy in the United Methodist Church. A good portion of her book is about her story. She tells of being asked by both ends of the theological perspective, why she doesn’t leave the UM church, by those who want her out, and by those who do not understand why she stays. She very eloquently speaks of the UM Church into which she was born, the church that held her in her baptism, the church that confirmed her in her faith, the church with God’s help who called her into ministry and ordained her, and the church who elected her as bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. It was a story I deeply resonated with for many of the same reasons. It is a story many sitting here this morning in our church resonate with and why watching and hearing the story out of St Louis has been so painful and disheartening. There are also those of us who do not have as deep a relationship with the UM Church, who also wrestle with why we stay, will we stay, what is next for us.

I recall when I was confirmed in the UMC, thirteen years old, after we had finished the confirmation classes and before Confirmation Sunday, we were all, one by one, called to the pastor’s office to meet. We were called to visit with the pastor about whether or not we wanted to join the church. We were called there to visit about what we thought that meant. We were called there not to convince us to believe in a particular doctrine or theology, we were called there not to have us promise to believe without doubt in the virgin birth, the trinity, the literalness of the bible. In my conversation with my pastor I was not asked if I was gay, or what I believed about homosexuality… I was asked if I loved God, I was asked if I loved others, I was asked if I loved myself. I was asked to tell my pastor my story.

These were many of the things that ran through my mind as I watched from the observer seats the dismantling of the UMC, or at least that is how it seemed. It was like sitting at the bedside of a loved one watching them die. While I clung to hope as long as I could, there was part of me, when I walked away on Monday night, before the last day of the conference, part of me knew the UMC of my youth…was dead.

I wondered, as I considered the parable of the talents, if I could relate to the third servant, burying the last of the resources, the fear, the grief, the loss… buried…gone… knowing it would never be the same again, I went back to my hotel room to wait, until the return the next day.

The last day of conference was the worst. It was a day where 53 percent of the delegates again and again visited harm and verbal abuse upon the LGBTQ members, clergy, friends, and family of our church and beyond. It was a brutal day and difficult to watch and listen to, I cannot begin to know what it was like for the LGBTQ community to listen to and witness this again. It has to be a special kind of abuse to have the story of their lives beaten, broken, dismissed, ignored, and diminished again and again. Their stories, the story of the church I remember, my own story… welled up in my eyes as I watched the waning hours of that last day.

Let me say, the 47 percent of moderates and progressives, straight, gay, lesbian…. the 47 percent of these delegates, and especially delegates from our own Great Plains Conference fought a valiant battle… they tried everything…but it would not be.

As these hours ticked away… one of our delegates, Rev. Mark Holland from the Great Plains stood to the microphone to speak… He held up the discipline and a bible… challenged the conservative 53 percent to think about what they were doing, putting the Discipline above the scriptures. And in a rousing, passionate, rather loud voice… said the progressive 43 percent would amend, and amend, and amend until there would be no time to take a vote, he turned to his colleagues and encouraged them to continue offering amendments and vote down any attempt to bring the Traditional Plan to a vote, which takes 2/3rds…   in the middle of that challenge the cut his mic. Which he really didn’t need one because by now he was shouting… and in terms of Roberts Rules of Order it was probably proper to cut the mic… but in that moment… I stood.

I stood because earlier in the week a young man gave a rousing speech, I would even say it was a 3-minute sermon, that had the observer seats on their feet, delegates on their feet, even many of the bishops on their feet clapping and cheering him on in his plea against the traditional plan. After things settled down a delegate from the right wing 53% went to the microphone to ask the chair of the committee to tell the people to sit down and be quiet. Another went to the microphone and said he would be standing for the remainder of the day to protest such a request and many of us did… so, in this moment I stood once again…

I stood as my thoughts were drawn back to the parable of the talents.

I stood because perhaps in this context we are interpreting it wrong.

I stood because how many times did Jesus teach about the accumulation of wealth? How many times did Jesus teach about the dangers of power and authority? How many times did Jesus warn about colluding with the powerful against the least of these and the abused and oppressed?

I stood because I think it is time to rethink our interpretation. Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent out of defiance! Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent out of resistance! Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent because he refused to participate in the evils of the love of money and power. Perhaps the third servant buried the money out of fear of being oppressed and a tool of that powers that be, the principalities who rule and influence not with love and welcome, but with corruption and fear, and bigotry! Perhaps the third servant’s act was resistance… “Here is your money, every last penny… and I will not be a part of who you are a harsh task master of greed. My story…. Will not be a part!

I stood in honor of my colleague Mark Holland and all those delegates who were trying to move the church to an inclusive place in the world.

I stood in honor of Bishop Karen Oliveto who sat with the bishops on the stage.

I stood in honor of the LGBTQ persons in the hall, here and home, and around the globe who have been silenced by the church for far too long!

And, in that moment, I stood for FUMC Omaha. I stood because of who we have been, who we are, and who we will continue to be.

I stood because First UMC Omaha… First Church…literally THE First Church in Omaha has persisted and persevered for too long to not stand!

I stood because you, you, have been through the fire…literally, burned to the ground and rebuilt and carried on.

I stood because you stood with Native Americans and Standing Bear against the powers that be.

I stood because you stood with Rev. Robert Naylor who stood in the pulpit with the courage to say black and white and equal and will be treated that way here at FUMC.

I stood because FUMC literally weathered the storm against the power of nature and a tornado to repair and carry on!

I stood because against all odds, when others said you would not survive the fallout after Rev. Jimmy Creech performed a same gender wedding here, you stood up for what is right, and you not only survived… you thrived.

I stood, because I know, FUMC will continue to be a light on the hill. FUMC will continue to stand up for equality and equity regardless of race, religion, gender, or age.

I stood because I know, FUMC will never be silent in the face of homophobia and the diminishing of another human being. And especially in the context of this recent ruling from the UMC General Conference solidarity with LGBTQ persons will not be dissuaded in any way, this 2019 General Conference does not speak for us… we dissent!

I stood because I know, no Conference, no doctrine, no “Plan”, no Discipline, organization, no vote, no amendment, no one… not one thing…. Nothing… will separate us from the love we know in God who immerses us in justice, connection, and community.

I stood, because FUMC will continue to deepen our spiritualty, advocate and participate through action and presence justice for all… in a community and world where we will make justice happen, love as God loves, and be the very reflection of God in the world. At this moment… we may be unsure of the context within which we do this work… but we will never be deterred… we will persist…we will resist…we will continue to rise. And Love…Love…will win. Love and Compassion ALWAYS WINS!

This my friends, is not a “May it Be So” moment….

This is a “THIS IS SO” MOMENT. AMEN AND AMEN!

Rev. Kent H. Little

Here We Stand

February 28, 2019

A public statement from our Lead Pastor, Rev. Kent H. Little. His words will also be published in the Omaha World Herald in the “from the pulpit” section.

 
I recently attended our Special 2019 General Conference of the Global United Methodist Church in St Louis. It was a difficult and sad experience. You may have heard about the conference on the news or some other news media source. The Conference was to address our denomination’s position on human sexuality, specifically the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus persons in the life of the church. I am sad to say, not only did our denomination uphold its discriminatory prohibitions toward LGBTQ persons in the church, it made those prohibitions even more punitive.

 
Let me say first, using appropriate, quality biblical scholarship, there is absolutely no biblical mandate to discrimination against homosexual orientation in the scriptures. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures have nothing to say about loving, mutual, equal, same gender relationships, period. It is not in there. However, for far too long religious institutions, leaders, and others have used the bible to discriminate, do violence to, and oppress LGBTQ persons in the church and in the laws of the land.

 

I want to be clear, the recent policy decision of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church does not speak for First United Methodist Church of Omaha in any way, and does not reflect the unconditional love of God we know. First United Methodist Church of Omaha affirms the dignity, sacred worth, and identity of all persons, especially LGBTQ persons in the church and the community, and society at large.

 
To the LGBTQ members and attendees of FUMC Omaha, and the wider community of Omaha and across Nebraska, we see you, we hear you, we grieve with you in your pain, and stand with you against any form of oppression, hate, discrimination, exclusion, or violence of word or deed. You are welcome here.

 
Here we Stand.

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Pastor
First United Methodist Church Omaha

Sitting at the Bedside of the UMC

February 26, 2019

I was born into a Methodist family in April 1959. I was baptized that same year in the Methodist Church in Meade, Kansas. A Methodist/United Methodist preacher’s kid I would have to unique opportunity to be confirmed thirteen years later in that same small western Kansas town of Meade while my father was serving as pastor. I was nurtured in Sunday School, UMYF, and other activities by the church. For me it was always a place where questions were welcome, inclusion seemed to be a given, and love and welcome were the norm. It was in the United Methodist Church I was married to my best friend and both of our children were baptized and confirmed. I have loved the UMC all my life.

I write this pondering now in part because I cannot sleep. I write this pondering because this is often how I process. TruDee mentioned the other day, perhaps, I write these ponderings because they are one way I pray. However, I cannot sleep right now because there is something amiss in my heart and soul. It is something that has been a troubling for some years now, an empty spot that has longed for the UMC of my youth. That church has seemed absent for a good number of years. It has felt as if it had lost its moorings in justice, compassion, and love. It has felt to me my beloved United Methodist Church had been consumed with a legalism and letter of the law kind of existence that had choked out the openness and welcome of earlier years, like a creeping kudzu of sorts. There is part of me that knew it was happening, however my tendency to wear rose colored glasses, the inclination to believe the best about people, and an idealistic optimism refused to let me see the obvious symptoms.

Today, attending the third day of this Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward felt a bit like I was sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one as I watched the events unfold. That kudzu of fear and control, legalism and judgment ruled the day. I watched as the life was sucked out of the large convention hall with a plan for a way forward that is anything but grace filled, was filled with exclusion and harm toward LGBTQ persons within and outside the church. I watched as we put money and exit plans ahead of people’s lives and the notion of finding a way to live together. I watched as it seemed the breath went out of the church I have walked with for so long.

I know, many of my colleagues and friends have not given up hope yet, and I will say neither have I. There is just enough rose color in my glasses and just enough faith still deep within my heart and soul that maybe somehow, with the work of our incredible delegation, and the move of the Spirit, perhaps someone can jolt this body back to life. I am praying for a little resurrection this night, however, right now in my heart of hearts, it looks pretty grim. It feels like someone has their finger on the off button of the life support and is just waiting for the moment between now and tomorrow evening. I pray it is not so.

I confess, and I know it is because of the way I was raised, I do not understand the kind of fear that continues to plague not only the church, but our society and culture, fear of the other, fear of disagreeing, fear that we will not all think alike, fear that smothers the very love of God until there is no breath of life left. From where does this kind of controlling, consuming, power hungry, and bitter fear come?

I think of how deeply I grieve this night and how it cannot hope to compare to the pain and suffering LGBTQ persons have felt and feel and experienced in the hall today. My struggle holds not a candle to what they have experienced and continue to experience in these days. Their perseverance, persistence, courage, grace, and love shame me and my sense of struggle. However, they inspire me and remind me it is not my fight to give up. To you, my LGBTQ friends, family, and colleagues, I see you, I hear you, I stand and march with you. We cannot be the church, the beloved community of faith without you and I am grieved at the harm we have once again caused you this day.

I think it is too late for part of my beloved United Methodist Church. I think a little bit of me died this afternoon sitting watching the gasping for air in the room. I think a little bit, or more, of the United Methodist Church died this afternoon, even as a good number tried to keep it alive.

That being said, I will trust the Spirit, I will trust those who are working tirelessly to save this church’s soul to do what they can tomorrow to breathe some new life into what we seemed to have pulled the plug on today. Regardless of what happens tomorrow though, even if those who wish to watch it wither and die succeed, Wednesday will come, Thursday just behind it, and I am confident the church… the church, the beloved community of faith, will rise and make justice happen, love as God loves, and BE the very reflection of God in the world. May I be on the other side of the darkness with the community of faith who knows no walls or exclusions, no bigotry or hate. I pray it will be so.

May We find Peace and Light on this continued Journey Together.

Rev. Kent

‘Twas the Night Before General Conference…

February 23, 2019

I found myself ruminating while making the trek east toward Saint Louis for the Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward. It was an interesting experience as I drove. I found the emotions welling up within me looking ahead as the white divider stripes on the highway flashed by. I wondered why the emotions were so close to the surface?

In part, I suppose, it is the metaphor of journey. Closing in on being a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist of nearly sixty years this has been a long expedition. For our church it has been near forty-seven years. The prospect of coming to my first General Conference, and a historic one, that may finally open our church to full inclusion of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer friends, family, members, and colleagues is a moving thought for me. Just to consider that possibility is reason to shed tears of hope and joy.

I have not always been an ally, sad to say, though I would not place myself as a full-fledged homophobe in my early years. However, I do remember in middle school, high school, and early adulthood using derogatory language directed at gays and lesbians in general, though not to any specific person or situation. It is embarrassing and heartbreaking to me now as I recall those times.

My earliest recollection with personal experience was with a school mate. We were almost inseparable in my middle school days and early high school. I spent as much time at his house as mine, maybe even more. As we grew older, we grew apart, I did not really think about it much then, but in hindsight I know now why. It would be years later when we reconnected, I would discover he was gay. I was honored to have been welcomed back into relationship with him before he died several years ago.

My second most profound experience was with a young woman in seminary I had in a human sexuality class. She was very openly out as a lesbian and one day after class as we were walking to the dining hall, I caught up with her on the sidewalk, introduced myself, and asked, “Would you tell me your story? I do not understand, but I want to, as best I can.” We spent many opportunities meeting over lunch or coffee and I listened. I lost contact with her over the years, I regret that. However, this experience solidified my already growing ally-ship with LGBTQ persons in the church as well as the broader culture and society.

So, perhaps the emotion comes from deep in my hope and optimism that we are on the cusp of finally doing the right thing in this our beloved United Methodist Church. While this has been a journey for me, I cannot begin the know what must be pulsing through the hearts and minds of LGBTQ persons in our church and the, albeit surely cautious, hope they may be feeling.

But as I pondered and considered my own journey and this long drive into St. Louis, I realized I was caught in this tension between hope and fear. There is this gnawing fear of the possible atmosphere in the Dome in St. Louis. And while I may have fears about what may transpire, my fear does not compare, cannot hold a candle to the anxiety the LBGTQ persons in our church must be feeling. For they are here again, again…after continuing to suffer at the hands of the church they love as much, or maybe even more than I. The bravery and courage of the LGBTQ members, friends, family, and clergy who continue to fight for the soul of the United Methodist Church puts my journey to shame. These soul-filled children of the Divine willing to subject themselves to the abuse and rejection of the church…inspire, challenge, and give me hope for our future. For we cannot be the church without them.

But my emotion is also caught up in that fear that the church, this weekend, will throw back any sense of the veil it has hidden under and show the world just how viscous, degrading, and horrible we can be to those with whom it disagree, and especially toward our own LBGTQ among us. As I pondered that possibility driving down the road, I told myself perhaps, I hope, I was letting my pessimistic imagination run away with me. Surely the church will not do such a thing this time.

I arrived at my hotel this afternoon and while waiting for my room to be ready I was reading some of the national media coverage of our General Conference. Let me just say it did not alleviate my fear. I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal in which they had interviewed Rob Renfrow of Good News. Here is an excerpt from the article,

“We’re in a cage match,” said Rob Renfroe, a conservative pastor in Texas who believes the denomination should break up. “The loser can’t get up off the mat. The winner is beaten up, bloody, battered.”

“We’re in a cage match…the loser can’t get up off the mat and the winner is beaten up, bloody and battered”? Really? Seriously? This is the church he is describing? It’s not the church I know! Right now, I am not sure what to do with that. What a sad commentary on what we are to be about this weekend! I am sure I will address that more as the weekend progresses, I am rather speechless at such a, well, dare I say…un-Christlike comment?

So here I am, on the night before this General Conference, hanging in the tension between hope and fear, joy and grief, anxiety and love. I cannot do a lot while I am here, however I can BE here, present, prayerfully, and bringing what little bit of positive light into this gathering that I can. I will be praying and putting forth thoughts of peace, civility, grace, hope, compassion, and love as I observe and hold all those present in the Light of the Divine. To those who would promote images of violence of word and deed I will hold you in prayers of love and light. To LGBTQ persons present here in St. Louis and around the globe who await justice rolling down … I am grateful for you in the church, I am a better human being, a better Christian, a better pastor because I have been influenced by your grace, ministry, faith, compassion, and love.

Love will prevail. It will. It always does.

May it be so. May it be in the next four days.

Peace, Light, and Love as we begin…again.

Rev. Kent H. Little

A Prisoner of Hope

February 20, 2019

Pondering St. Louis.

 

Pondering St. Louis on this cold and snowy night…st louis

Reflecting on the walls around the church…

Considering the gatekeepers and the sentries at the doors…

Since when, I wonder…

Did the church decide we need walls?

Since when, I wonder…

Did church decide we need gatekeepers?

Since when, I wonder…

Did the church decide we must determine who is in…

Decide, who is out?

Since when, I wonder…

Did we put in the mouth of Jesus…

You are not welcome behind the table?

You are not welcome to be fully in the community of faith?

Since when, I wonder…

Has the church, the community of faith decided…

It no longer wants to be the church, the community of faith?

Because, I consider…without the fullness of humanity within…

It, the church, is not.

My prayer continues…

My hope is full…

My determination will not waver…

My faith will not be deterred…

Until all the children of the Divine…

Straight, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer…

Black, White, Male, Female, Brown, Golden Hue…

Young, Old, … ALL of us… are included…

Embraced, Welcomed, Appreciated, Fully A Part…

A place where ALL means All…

Are…Preaching, Teaching, Marrying, Celebrating All the Acts of the Community of Faith…

Until then… we…this Beloved UMC…

Is incomplete… only a portion of who we should be…

Of who we are called to be…

I have my rose colored glasses on…

While unlike Mr. West…

I am an eternal optimist…

But I am too…

A Prisoner of hope…

We have lost too many…

Too many have been…are…being harmed, excluded…

Too many have been…are…being persecuted, oppressed…

Too many have been…are…ignored, talked about not with…

I pray… It’s Time.

May the inclusive, unconditional Love of the Divine Spirit…

Immerse, and fill the Dome of St. Louis and all who gather…

Fill the space with a spirit of Civility…

Of Understanding…

Of Peace…

Of Grace…

Of Hope…

Of Love.

That Justice WILL roll down…

And the Walls will crumble…

The gatekeepers relieved of duty…

The door taken from their hinges…

And Love lead the Way…

To a Whole Beloved Community of ALL.

May it be so…May it be so.

I am resting in this Hope…

I will be Rising in this Light.

Good Night My Friends.

Sleep Loose.

Attempts at Hostage Taking

January 30, 2019

I have seen the tactic before, unfortunately it has been around along time. I used to encounter it on the grade school playground when those who want power would threaten if they did not get their way. I have seen it as a teenager from those who tell others it is their way or no way. I have seen it as an adult among groups who try to hold other groups hostage by threatening retaliation, withdrawal of support, or threats of leaving in order to inflict damage. It happens in families, in communities, it is common practice in politics and in our culture and society, and unfortunately it continues to be prevalent in the church.

The practice is a shared strategy among bullies and the power hungry. This may sound harsh, but it is what I see happening in our United Methodist Church and what is known as the Wesleyan Covenant Association. There was some sense of understanding they planned to leave the denomination if their preferred plan does not pass at the upcoming Special Called General Conference in St. Louis. But up until this last week it was innuendo, leaked conversations, implication, and speculation. Now they have put it in writing for all to see. Unless their preferred plan, without revisions, passes they will exit the denomination with significant demands. It is a move, in my opinion, to take the denomination hostage, “Give us what we want or we will exit and do our best to cripple what is left of the UMC.”

As much as I would like to see the Simple Plan pass in St. Louis, this scenario is exactly why I continue to support the One Church Plan. To practice what I preach, if I am a true progressive and want my faith open and welcoming to everyone…EVERYONE…I have to include even those with whom I disagree. Continue to engage them? Yes! Continue to resist injustice and bigotry? Yes! Continue to advocate for our denomination to finally stop discriminating against LGBTQ+ persons in total? Yes! Continue to try and change minds and hearts to an inclusive and welcoming place where LGBTQ+ persons are welcome in all aspects of the church? Yes! However, to respond in kind by walking away from those Jesus calls me to love, even those I vehemently disagree with? I cannot.

This is what the one church plan does. Do I wish every church in the UMC would be welcoming and inclusive of all persons? Yes. The One Church Plan allows our denomination to stay in tension with those who disagree and continue to work toward the Kindom into which we are all called to live.

I grieve for those who feel it is necessary to threaten the UMC with tactics that say unless we get what we want we are going to turn our backs on the rest of the church. It is unfortunate, disingenuous, and anything but in the Wesleyan Spirit.

I will continue to pray for our United Methodist Church and the upcoming General Conference in St. Louis. I will be present at the Conference as an observer and a prayer. I hope in those four days we do the right thing…the thing that is immersed and grounded in grace, and not dripping in threat and hostage taking. We can be better than this. We are better than this.

May it be so. May it be Now!

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Pastor

First United Methodist Church Omaha, NE

 

The Way Forward through the lens of “Right Intention” and the Connection of Jesus and Buddha

January 14, 2019

I was listening to a local radio station the other day and the host was talking about this fall and winter here in Omaha. He was speaking to the fact that he had never been able to get the leaves raked in his yard because of the rain and now snow that keeps coming. Just about the time he thought things had dried out enough to rake, here came another round of moisture preventing him from getting the job done.

I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, that’s why I haven’t managed to get the leaves picked up out of our yard too! It’s the rain and snow’s fault!” Friday, I had minimal tasks to do around the house, one of which was to take the outdoor Christmas lights down, which I did. The whole time I was outside unclipping them from the gutters and gathering the extension cords I was looking at the yard thinking, I should get the leaves picked up. Of course, then it was time to drive downtown and have lunch with TruDee, our Friday tradition. Then I had some other tasks to do in the house, you know like, do a little laundry, send some emails, …take a nap. The next thing you know TruDee is home from work and it is starting to get dark and then…well…yesterday morning, that dang snow again! I am the king of procrastination.  I saw a saying the other day, “If a man says he’ll do something he’ll do it. No need to remind him every six months about it.” It’s easy to blame the weather for the fact I still have the oak leaves in my yard now under the snow again, but obviously it is not the weather’s fault.

I think about the parable of Jesus we read this morning about the two sons in relation to our topic this morning, Right Intention. One son says he will do something and does not, a procrastinator. The other son says he will not do it and does, perhaps even a procrastinator of sorts himself. Which one, Jesus asks, does the will of his father? Well, the obvious answer is the second son who actually does the work. This parable could certainly be seen in light of intention. Perhaps even pointing to that tired cliché “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps, at least in this sense… having good intentions is not a way to practice our faith or life and place in the world. It is one thing to say we are an advocate and ally for justice, peace, compassion, and love in the world around us…but if our actions, practice, and lives do not reflect those ideals, the intention become empty hollow words. So, in terms of this parable and the concept of intentions there is truth to this, we are challenged in this story of Jesus to do what we say we are going to do, be who you claim you are, words are just words unless the come to life in and through your practice in the world.

While this is true, and it does relate to our theme and message for today, I think we need to take it deeper. Last week we talked about Right Mindfulness, if you were here perhaps you recall my suggesting Mindfulness can be seen as rather the foundational piece of the Eight Fold path we are working through. A presence of mind, a constant reminder to stay in the moment without judgement, a way to be in the world and hold all things in tension, embrace them for what they are; good, bad, ugly… and then release them. It is an appropriate segue into Right Intention, related in an inseparable way. For if we are mindful enough to hold all things in tension in this present moment, perhaps the question we ask ourselves is… what is our intent. In Buddhist thought, right intention is the intention and resolve to give up the causes of suffering, to give up ill-will and to adopt harmlessness. It contrasts with wrong intention, which involves craving for worldly things (wealth, sex, power) and the wish to harm. In this sense, right intention then, can become more than what we do or do not do… it becomes who we are and how we see and practice in the world. Right intention becomes the lens through which we see the world around us as we not only give up the causes of suffering (attachment) for ourselves, but alleviate suffering for others. Right intention become a part of our state of being and how we are present in this moment that we and others can draw from as we practice as well.

The Buddha said, “When you see someone practicing the Way of giving, aid them joyously, and you will obtain vast and great blessings.” A shramana asked, “Is there an end to those blessings?” The Buddha said, “Consider the flame of a single lamp. Though a hundred thousand people come and light their own lamps from it so that they can cook their food and ward off the darkness, the first lamp remains the same as before. Blessings are like this too.”

We are to be light in the world…in the moment that alleviates suffering, release ill-will, and to do no harm…which stirs others to be the same. I think of another parable of Jesus which takes the parable of the two sons deeper… the parable of the Samaritan who came upon the traveler beaten on the side of the road. The Samaritan tends to the stranger, cares for his wounds, provides shelter for him, and promises to return. The Samaritan has alleviated suffering, carries no ill-will, and does no harm, he is present in the moment without judgement of this man who presumably does not hold the same beliefs as himself, and yet he cares for him with no restraint or concern for what he himself believes either…other than a lens of compassion he obviously carries with him…the “lighted lamp” so to speak, others can draw from without diminishing the giver or the one who receives.

I think herein is where we can encounter difficulty in our own journey and practice, or at least I can. This practice of mindfulness and intention holding no judgement but rather is guided by compassion and non-violence, of word and deed. I would suggest right intention in Buddhist thought can be seen as a lens through which we approach the world. I suspect, based on the stories of Jesus we have, similar thought would be present there as well. Jesus, while turning over tables and making a whip out of cords were obviously in his tool box, he never walked away…he remained engaged with those he disagreed. Challenged them yes, resisted them yes, exampled for them yes, taught them yes, but never abandoned them. His “intention,” I believe, was always to alleviate suffering, release ill-will, and to adopt harmlessness.

This intention as a lens…as a posture and practice in the world…a way of being that holds the whole of the world in a place of peace making and reconciliation. Intention is the compassionate lens through which we are called to see and act and respond. Do you remember Jesus words in his sermon in Matthew… “Do not judge.” “Do not love only those who love you but love your enemies as well?” Intention then becomes less about what we do and more about who we are and how we are present in the world. Present to those around us for not only what we bring, but from what can we learn from them and the world, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree.

I remember several years ago I was taking a class at a Buddhist Sangha. Sitting on a cushion on the floor listening to the teacher a fly began buzzing around my head. I shooed it numerous times and it was really becoming an annoyance, it was a very persistent fly and I am not sure why it picked me out of the group of students in the class at the time, but it had. After numerous attempts to catch it, which in hindsight I am glad I didn’t, and numerous shooing’s… the teacher, Namdril, finally asked, “Kent, is that fly bothering you?” I apologized for interrupting the teaching, “So sorry, yes, it is a persistent one.” She answered, “Yes they are persistent and want to teach you, we call them our kind mothers…these flies, are teaching us patience and gratitude.” It is about our posture and presence in the world, our practice, and the lens through which we see and respond to those around us. What is our intent?

In the book, “The Chocolate Cake Sutra” by Geri Larken, the author speaks of everyone as holy… in the context of intention I would suggest, all things holy; everyone and everything. It is about mindfulness and how we intend to affect the environment in which we find ourselves. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Being Peace,” he writes of peace making. He says, “If we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace.” He goes on, “If our true nature is to be interconnected selves, then our peacemaking, if it is going to be effective, must flow out of our interconnectedness. That includes our interconnectedness with the people whose actions we have to oppose.” It is about mindfulness and intention in the moment to alleviate suffering even from those who do not know they are suffering. In Knitter’s book, “Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian,” he writes of this intentional posture when he says, “[In the Buddhist] there is an aversion to violence, I believe for the Buddhist there is no such thing as “just anger.” Of course, we feel anger and it will motivate and direct our energies. But, for Buddhists, it will not determine what those energies lead to. We will not act out of anger. Rather, when anger surges, we will be mindful of it, and that means embrace it, be kind to it. Our anger will point us to those people or events which, through mindfulness…[intentional]…we will seek to respond to with understanding and compassion. Yes, we may have to oppose them, seek to stop them from their agendas, but our opposition will be one of non-violent resistance; that means compassionate resistance. One of the most quoted verses of the Dhammapada is: “In this world hatred is not dispelled by hatred; by love alone is hatred dispelled. This is eternal law.”

So, in this sense, Right Intention is a lens through which we see everything with compassion and love, even those things that we must resist. In Knitter’s book, he suggests Buddhist thought would be, “Justice will, as it were, take care of itself if compassion is truly present.” The lens of Compassionate Intention will not judge, will be mindful of the present moment, will resist non-violently, will stay engaged, and such presence will change the world for the common good of all.

I think about these things with our upcoming informational meetings, letter writing campaign, and our United Methodist Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward in February. At the Conference there will be three primary plans presented as a Way Forward of our denomination in relation to full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, plus…persons in our United Methodist Denomination. As I consider and reflect on the current state of things in the church, I see the plans as the United Methodist “Intention” of how they are going to relate to LGBTQ persons in our congregations and in ministry. The three primary plans are identified as The Traditionalist Plan, The Connectional Plan, and The One Church Plan.

The Traditionalist Plan leaves the current discriminatory language in our UM Discipline as well as adds more stringent penalties for those who do not abide by the rules regarding same gender weddings and ordination of LGBTQ clergy candidates. It also requires clergy, churches, conferences, and bishops to sign off on the language and if they refuse these will be invited to exit the denomination. In my opinion, this plan, if we use the language of Intention and Practice, is grounded in an intention of fear and judgement. It is a plan formulated with an intention that does not alleviate, I would say increases, suffering, promotes ill-will, and does harm to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in our congregations and the world at large. This is a lens of intention that does not follow the Way of compassion and love Jesus lived and taught.

The Connectional Plan is a plan that recreates the structure of the church in terms of conferences and jurisdictions. Creating a theological and philosophical divide where clergy churches can relate to conferences that fit their theology and view regarding LGBTQ persons role in the church. The conferences and jurisdictions will no longer be geographical in nature, but rather theological and philosophical in nature. While it follows some other models that seem to work well in other denominations it will take a great deal of constitutional changes to get it into place and I do not think it will pass any vote. For me, in terms of intention, I think it is a good intentional view of a way forward…but a complex and difficult journey at best.

The One Church Plan creates a denomination that also allows for differing theological viewpoints. In essence it creates local control and decision making. Each clergy, church, and conference will decide if they will or will not officiate or host same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons in the church. I believe it is important that  you, our community of faith here at FUMC know where I stand, and of the three plans this is the one I support. I support it because it reflects the long history of the United Methodist Church of openness and conferencing. The One Church Plan brings to the table a mindfulness and intention of recognizing we do not all agree one this and makes room under a large tent non-judgement and compassion for both sides of our struggle. This plan gives opportunity to continue to practice patience, to hold in tension opposing viewpoints, to resist non-violently and compassionately, to stay engaged and not walk away from those we are called to love. The One Church Plan makes great strides to alleviate suffering, gives space to release ill-will, and offers hope in doing no harm.

Beginning Sunday, the 27th of this month and the next three Sundays, we here at FUMC will invite our entire congregation to participate in a letter writing campaign to delegates who will be voting at the General Conference in February. I hope we all participate, this is an important and crucial time for our denomination and our church. As one of, if not the, flagship Reconciling Congregation in Nebraska and our Annual Conference we need to make our voice heard and I believe of the plans to be brought before the Conference, we need to support the One Church Plan. We need to make our voice and our intention known at General Conference.

I think of the world in which we live today and the deep divisions we have across our country and in our church. There is too much vitriol, there is too much hate, there is too much walking away and not staying engaged. It is time we truly open ourselves, not to just those who agree with us, but engage and embrace all persons with compassion and love… for this is what will change the world for the common good of all. May it be so. May it be NOW. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Clergy

First United Methodist Church, Omaha, NE

We Can Be Better in 2019

December 31, 2018

I am here in the continued afterglow of the Season… of Christmas Eve Services, study, writing, sons and daughters-in-law, and three perfect granddaughters, life is good here in the Little home. It is New Year’s Eve day and I have been pondering this year past and what the new year might hold. I am hopeful about many things, and I am frustrated about many things as well.

My frustrations come from many venues. However, I think right now my main frustration is my continued attempts to understand our current administration and our President as well as those who so adamantly support him. I write this not to look for an argument or a debate, but mostly to vent a little and continue to try and understand. I watched as he mocked a disabled person, a war hero and former prisoner of war, a veteran’s family, women, promoted violence against those who would oppose him at rallies and found myself in disbelief that we would elect such a one.

Since his election I have watched and listened to him continue to diminish our allies, our courts, and our federal law enforcement agencies. Refusing to take advice from his advisors on things such as Syria or his own party on the proposed border wall. I have found myself rather aghast at his hesitation, or even seeming refusal to denounce white supremacy groups. His policies continue to threaten the safety of those who seek asylum in our country from other parts of the world that threaten life and livelihood. The list grows ever longer of things I see as injustice, xenophobic, a threat to the common good of all, and just honesty in general. Just recently he compared the wall he wishes to build on our border with Mexico with the ten-foot wall around President Obama’s current home…a wall that does not exist.

I know many who support President Trump, so much so to the point, it almost seems it doesn’t matter what he does or says. I want to understand, I really do, but now after listening to his speeches and reading news stories for nearly three years, I still cannot seem to wrap my head around what we were thinking or what he is thinking. I cannot decide if he is really just trying to distract the country, and if so, distract us from what or if he is just being intentionally obtuse. I see the struggle in our country and I think of a favorite movie of mine, Remember the Titans, and the struggle the team was having to come together at one point, Gerry tells Julius he needs to fix his attitude, Julius responds, “Attitude reflects leadership.” I don’t know, maybe that applies to us today, our leader is a mess…and thus…so are we.

All this being said, as 2019 rolls into the present, I will continue to keep President Trump in my prayers, our country in my prayers, and our world in my prayers. I will pray for understanding as I continue my unwillingness to settle and my commitment to actively resist any policy diminishing the poor, oppressed, discriminated against and the least of these in our midst.

With the continued struggle of the last few years I am still hopeful. I am hopeful because I find myself to be one who must be. I will continue to try and understand and listen more. However, I refuse to let fear, distrust, chaos, injustice, and violence of word and deed be a directing force in my life.

I believe, whether we are people part of a community of faith or not, we are all called as a community of humankind to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper…ALL of them, and especially those who are the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It takes all of us, yet the division that continues to be driven like a wedge among our fellow humankind in our country and our world will in the end destroy us unless we come together.

However, I believe more in the Kindom, the Beloved Community dreamed of by one of our finest…I believe in our country and our founding documents, I believe more in who we have been and who we can become more than I believe in who our current administration and government are. I refuse to believe we are stuck in this descending spiral of vitriol and disrespect. I am willing to extend a hand and have the difficult conversations to find a way out of this fog of disillusion.

We can be better in this 2019.

My hand is here. My heart is here. Let us begin again on this New Year.

Rev. Kent H. Little