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Losing Your Head.

February 18, 2018

It is difficult to know exactly what to say this morning. When I began putting this sermon series together months ago the notion of the connection between starting the Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday with Valentine’s Day and celebrating Resurrection Day on Easter morning with April Fool’s Day seemed an opportunity for theological challenge and homiletical creativity. My intent in the series was/is to hold in tension that notion of love from Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday, an image of love that is not the sentimental all’s well image, but rather the difficult, vulnerable, even dangerous image of love. An image of love where we lay our lives down for our friends. An image of love that is costly, prophetic, life and world changing, and transformative.

And with all of this pondering and thought for the series, I confess I was not prepared to begin the journey of Lent with such a heart wrenching, real, and horrific image of vulnerability and danger as this last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day. I did not expect to be rendered speechless last Wednesday by the senseless violence of yet another mass shooting in one of our nation’s schools and the loss of seventeen lives. And still today, five days later, I struggle to find the words. And not just words, but to speak for the church, to have the audacity to try and discern, ponder, pray, consider, and find some way to utter what I, what we might hear from God on such a day as this, in such days as these.

It is difficult to know what to say, in some sense, what to say that we haven’t already said. I have preached on, written about, conversed with those on all sides of the issue of gun violence in our nation. What more do we say? What can we say and do to make a difference? How do we express the kind of love in the world, in our lives, with our families and friends that makes a difference? How do we share the kind of vulnerability that transforms the world around us into that beloved community where violence against one another, against our children is a distant memory rather than a horrific reality?

What should be our voice as the church sound like? What is our task? Is there any way to stop this tragic increasing trend in our country? What is our calling as the church, as followers of the Way of Jesus, the Way of Christ? Because, it is certainly not the notion of offering thoughts and prayers and then sitting back and hoping for the best. Prayer is participatory, reciprocal, and active. If our thoughts and prayers are not followed by action in bringing comfort for the hurting, conviction for the complacent, truth to the complicit, and justice for the vulnerable and innocent, it is not prayer at all, such prayers are an empty void of faithless self-righteousness.

We live in a dangerous time. We live in a day when we long for a safe place. We ache to know we can or we can watch our children walk away from us as they go to go to school, to a movie, a concert, to work, and not have to worry it will be the last time we see them. How do we exist in such an anxiety laden and fear driven society and culture? I am drawn to the words of theologian and author Walter Brueggemann in considering the task and role of the church, those of us who follow the Way. I believe his words begin to help us bring focus to what we might be about and how we might rise up and carry on.

Brueggemann says, “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”

“To tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion.” It is an illusion to believe we live in the greatest nation in the world when we are and continue to be a nation fueled by fear and violence. It is an illusion to believe we live in the greatest nation in the world when 56,755 of our citizens were killed by guns from 2014 to 2017, both intentional and accidental deaths, the number is even larger if we include suicide. In 2017 alone, 15,590 Americans died. It is an illusion to believe we live in the greatest country in the world when in that same 3-year span 2,710 children under the age of 12 died as the result of guns. Difficult truths to hear, but unless we shake off the illusion we live under and hear these numbers we will never overcome our addiction. We have a gun fetish in our country, an addiction to firearms and violence. After every mass shooting, classified as 4 or more deaths, gun sales and stocks spike! Guns have been discharged on school grounds so far 2018 somewhere around 18 times. I have read counter opinion articles to that number. I it is important to know that that around 18 is not shootings as in with the intent to harm. Some were accidental discharges, a student pulled the trigger of an officer’s gun in the holster, some were after hours, and other accidental discharges of a fire arm, suicide, etc… Yet still, think about it, firearms discharged on school property. The fact that that they were discharged at all on school property, regardless of the reason, should be alarming!

And it is not just the guns, it is our whole culture, we have immersed ourselves in a culture of violence, individualism, and isolationism. What is good for me trumps what is good for the community. And the church is not innocent either. Every time the church turns inward and isolates itself from the culture around it,  every time the church says we need to get back to the bible and get out of the social justice business, every time the church refuses to speak out against this violent culture we have created, where we allow games that glorify rape, gun violence, war, street fights, and other forms of violence, every time the church covers up sexual abuse, the diminishing and discrimination of a group of people, the objectification and dismissing of women, the allowing of bullying, we contribute to the violent culture we say we abhor.

Our task is to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion.

Our text today refers to the violent death of John the Baptist. Just when Jesus ministry is beginning to get some traction and reputation is spreading. A reputation of a healing, community building, compassionate, truth speaking ministry, one that will in the end cost him his own life, here in the text we read remember John’s death. While I have not necessarily always appreciated the image I invoke of John’s style of preaching, it is just that kind of prophetic preaching John found out can cost you your head, your life, telling the truth in a society that lives in illusion is dangerous business.  John has told the religious leaders they are snakes of deceit and greed. John has told the ruling powers that be they are living sinful lives and they will reap what they sow, and it cost him his life.

Telling the truth to a culture and society a church that lives in illusion can cost one everything. The truth is, we have a society and culture that is willing to overlook the sins of violence against women, violence against children, violence against health care, violence against those with disabilities, violence against the most vulnerable in our midst because it serves the culture’s consumeristic individualism. Our culture lives the illusion that it doesn’t have to care for the whole as long as it gets what it wants. Brueggemann writes, “Our society is dominated by the self-serving who proceed by ways of calculation and cunning and manipulation and deceit. But such a society – with its violence, its consumerism, its militarism, its alienation – is no way to live.”

Telling the truth is dangerous business and forces us to take stock in what is important in our lives, in our churches, in our families, in our communities, in our country and world. Taking stock of our priorities, counting the cost, also involves grief. What has been lost? What continues to be lost? What could be lost? It is about vulnerability.

“The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, and grieve in a society that practices denial” We live in a culture and society in denial. We are in denial that we are reaping what we have sown. No, it Is not just about the guns, though guns are a huge part, it is about access to proper health care, it is about a culture saturated in violence, it is about individualism and isolation, it is about ease of access to firearms, it is about the types of guns, especially military style guns that increase mass deaths, it is about an unwillingness to relinquish some of our privilege for the common good of all. We need to grieve. We need to repent, lament our apathy, our individualism, our greed, our silence, our complacency, our complicities, and our denial.

We need to grieve that our children no longer have a safe place to simply be children, our youth have to look over the shoulder constantly, we need to grieve that a hoodie and the color of one’s skin can determine whether or not they should fear for their lives. We need to grieve that individuals would rather stockpile guns and ammunition than get to know their neighbor. We need to wake up from the darkness of denial and take care of each other.

We need to grieve because these are not political issues, or rights issues, or even constitutional issues. For the prophetic church these are moral issues, issues of righteousness, and justice, and compassion! We need to grieve the church’s silence and the country’s denial that we have created this beast of violence and isolationism.

And…

We need to “express hope in a society that lives in despair.” The prophetic task of the church needs to speak to the hope that we are not alone, that we do not have to live in a world of individualism and isolation! We are a COMMUNITY of Faith, and we do need to be in prayer! A quote I saw yesterday reads, “Yes, it is usually better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but sometimes you need to remind the darkness just how loud you can be.” Speak the truth… even if your voice shakes.

The church, our church, needs to express hope in a society in despair. The despair can be overwhelming and exhausting, I know, but if we are to participate in the kindom of which God is calling us to be, if we are to embrace the work, life, and ministry of Christ, if we are to follow the vulnerability of what it means to be the prophetic church, we must rise up once again and again,  we must be present in the culture around us, and be the hope it so desperately needs. Brueggemann writes, “To ponder an alternative, (–to a society with its violence, its consumerism, its militarism, its alienation), to ponder the alternative, from greed to generosity, from self -serving to gratitude, is transformative. Such a way of life contradicts the way of the world.” We need to be “counter culture” Reject the wretched fear of violence and weaponry! Be the hope in our corner of the world that shines a light and brings people together! Begin the conversations that heal rather than wound.

The answers, whatever they are, will not be easy. What to do in response to such violence, tragedy, and fear is often so very uncertain. I do not have the answers. But we need to talk and have these difficult conversations. And, at a minimum, do not be silent, be the prophetic voice of truth, grief, and hope.

By all means, PRAY! AND THEN do something! Work for common sense gun laws, not a free for all. Work for policy change to make our country safer. Work for the change of hearts of those who are fearful of change. Work for better access to healthcare. Work for more compassionate governance.

Be aware of your surroundings. Get to know your neighbors better. Notice the loner, the isolated, the excluded and get to know them. Be builders of community. Don’t let the fear mongers beat you down. Be the Prophetic CHURCH I know you are. Be the Hope we need in the world.

You are NOT alone. You are NOT alone. This IS So. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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365 Days of Prayer

February 12, 2018

The Discipline of the United Methodist Church365 Days of Prayer

Paragraph 161F– The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.

Paragraph 304.3– The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.

Paragraph 341.6 – Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.

The preceding statements are excerpts from our United Methodist Discipline. They are discriminatory against Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender persons within and outside our beloved United Methodist Church. While these statements are believed to be linked to biblical teachings in our Judeo-Christian tradition and according to debate and resolution are the traditional teachings and understandings of the faith, they are grounded in scripture texts that are tribal based, culturally bound, as well as addressing promiscuous and abusive relationships. Twenty-first Century understanding, science, and progress shows us same gender relationships in our understanding today are simply not addressed in our canon of scripture.

For these reasons College Hill United Methodist Church continues to be committed to the task of having these statements removed from our United Methodist Discipline. They are unjust, unscriptural, and harmful to our LGBT brothers and sisters, members, and those who would seek a place in the church of Jesus Christ.

As many of us know the 2016 General Conference and Council of Bishops implemented a Commission to study and bring forth The Way Forward to a Special Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church to resolve our conflicted ministry with LGBTQ persons. This Special General Conference will meet in Saint Louis, February 23 – 26, 2019. It will be a pivotal time in the life of the United Methodist Church.

In light of this coming General Conference I am calling on our College Hill United Methodist Church Community, and those who would like to join us, to be in 365 Days of Prayer for our Bishops, the Commission on The Way Forward, our Delegates, and our UM Church. It is my intent to pray for the opening of minds and hearts, that we might truly live into our stated Open Minds, Open Hearts, and Open Doors. It is my hope that as a result of the many prayers and actions of our churches and members justice may finally roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. May the Spirit move so we would become a church of welcome, inclusion, compassion, justice, and love.

There will be charts available to sign up for as many days as you would like to be in prayer for our Denomination one Sunday mornings as well as in the office through the week. It is my prayer we will have persons signed up and intentionally praying each of the 365 days beginning February 26, 2018. The Chapel will be open every day for this time of hope and prayer, however prayers happen, and you certainly do not need to be present here to be in prayer or to sign up for a day. If you are not a part of College Hill UMC but would like to participate simply let us know and we can sign you up, most importantly, pray.  May we indeed Make Justice Happen, Love as God Loves, and Be the Very Reflection of God in the World.

May it Be So.

Pastor Kent

Silence

January 22, 2018

I confess, even though I may speak on the topic with some regularity, I struggle with silence. I suppose I am a victim, or perhaps better a product, of my environment. When I try to meditate my mind wanders, I am drawn to the next thing I need to do, the next place I need to be, the next person I need to see. Even now, as I write at home, there is a movie on the television that I have seen numerous times before, it is just background noise I don’t have to pay attention to know what is going on.

While these thoughts are true I work on my being comfortable with silence. I practice, as imperfect as my practice is, I take time in my office, or in the basement here at home to sit in subtle light, in the quiet, and practice stilling my mind in the effort to simply be.

As much as I wrestle with the practice, I also know how much I need it. Our world is filled with too much noise. Noise not just in the literal sense, but noise that diminishes, belittles, and attacks. We live in a world where the noise of injustice, racism, sexism, bigotry, and hate. It is this kind of noise our faith calls us to stand against, to speak to, and to transform in the songs of justice and grace.

The practice of silence and centering is about preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for the noisy world around us so we are prepared to be a presence of peace, light, and compassion in a world that has often forgotten how to be such things.

One of the places that brought me hope on my journey to Washington D.C. and New York was the United Nations Building. In a country and world that can often seem so hell bent on war, conflict, violence, and diminishing of the other, it was inspiring to be in a place dedicated to peace, committed to human rights, and determined to create a world free of weapons and war.

In the building I spent a couple of minutes in The Meditation Room. These are some of the words I was greeted with just outside the room,IMG_8654

“We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So, it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.” If you would like to read more about the room here is a link, http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/dag/meditationroom.htm.

I found the place and space calming and inspiring as well as instructing, that in all the work we do to promote the kindom and beloved community of peace, justice, kindness, and humility we need time for stillness and silence.

Take some time this day, this week, and all the days to come, to tend your soul, to be still, and know the Divine is with you, you are never alone. And then we will rise together to stand and light a light of hope and justice in the world around us.

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Pastor Kent

Hearing Voices

January 15, 2018

I have had requests for the text of my sermon this last Sunday. It is here below.

Hearing Voices

I confess I have found this morning’s message a difficult one to create. This weekend’s emphasis and tomorrow’s remembering and celebrating of Martin Luther King Jr. is an important remembering… it has always been ever since the being signed into law as a federal holiday in 1983. But for me, this remembering is even more important right here, right now… this January of 2018. The depths of its importance and struggle was deepened for me this last year as I finished the book, “Between the World and Me” by Coates. Over the Past couple of years, and this year in particular it has felt to me like words found at the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. “The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, 1968 dashed the hopes of black Americans for progress toward racial equality. “The murder of King changed the whole dynamic of the country,” recalled Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver.

With the pulling back the veil of racism that has never been gone, only covered and ignored, we have discovered that Dr. King’s work was far from finished on that day in April. In some sense witnessing the current state of our nation and the inherent racism, bigotry, and xenophobia that continues to infect who we are, pondering the Coates book, listening to the words that come out of Washington and across our nation… there is a part of me speechless. Speechless as a white man, for in some sense who am I to speak of such things? Who am I to presume to know the plight and continued struggle of those whose lives are treated as less than? And besides… as I read critiques and offerings by persons of faith across the country…  preachers shouldn’t bring politics into the church and certainly shouldn’t preach them from the pulpit. I am confident Dr. King heard such words as well.

Let me clarify a little. The Greek word polis, meaning “city” or “community.” Politics is the science and art of governing citizens. Politics… at its root is about community. We have changed the narrative and definition about what politics is and is not. We have created the definition around the pejorative nature of what we think and believe around politics and/or politicians. Now, I am not saying that is necessarily wrong, it is what it is, but it is not its root meaning. Politics is about community and safety and governing. Unfortunately, we have defined politics around partisan politics. Our politics have become less about community and more about my community… what is best for my political interests rather than the common good. Republican, Democrat, Green Party, Independent, Libertarian, … we have allowed these to define our politics rather than what is best for our community. And, just to be clear, I am not speaking only of politicians and government here… the church is no less guilty. Churches align themselves with political parties and partisan politics all the time. I read a sermon many years ago by a colleague of mine in which he stated after a preceding presidential election, speaking to the church he served, “We lost the White House.”… speaking of a particular political party.

It is unfortunate churches so clearly identify with political party … though I understand why it happens. It happens because parties have particular platforms that resonate with our values and priorities. This creates a difficult existence when we are charged with minding the line of separation of church and state. And yet, those platforms are important and the church has a responsibility to be a voice in the world.

In navigating that separation, I appreciated Dennis Ross’ book, All Politics is Religious. In his book he draws a distinction between what has become known as and identified as partisan politics and policy. When the church speaks, it should not speak on partisan politics, but it should always speak to policy. It matters not which party or politician is writing or voting on policy, the church’s voice should always speak to the powers that be regarding the policies we create so that they reflect the dream and vision of God for our country and world. And I believe, especially of late, the church has lost its voice.

I believe the church has lost its voice because I believe we have stopped listening for the voice of the spirit and are instead listening to the voice of fear and scarcity. The church has given up its voice of conscience and justice and has been seduced by power and status in the world. Refusing to be critiqued and refusing to be critical of power. The church, has silenced itself and has become comfortable rather than prophetic! The church has become an instigator of division and separateness, a promoter of us vs them, and an agent of who are the chosen and who are on the outside.

I am reminded of Dr. King’s words to the white church in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, “…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens, in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,. Tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.”

It is no less what was happening in our wisdom readings today. Israel and Eli had become comfortable in their practices. We are told in the text that… “Because the word of the Lord was rare and prophecy was not widespread.” …so much so, that it takes Eli, an elder prophet and Samuel three attempts by God before God gets their attention and they realize what is going on! Three times God calls… and the “word of the Lord” is so scarce… they don’t recognize it. So, it would seem… not only are Eli and Israel not listening for the vision and voice of God… they are not practicing it either. They are comfortable in the arms of the powers that be. It is easier telling the King, the country, the administration what they want to hear rather than speaking truth to power. Granted, sometimes it feels like power wouldn’t know the truth if it ran over them in the street. But that does not let Samuel or Eli or Israel, or us off the hook. God has a dire message for Eli and Israel… straighten up or the consequences will be devastating. Eli, recognizing the weight of the matter implores Samuel to tell him everything… everything… even if it hurts.

Lay this story, this scenario across the landscape of our current reality. A country deeply divided and complicit in the mistreatment, harassment, and abuse of women, complicit the banning of Muslims, complicit in the labeling of neighbors to our south as drug dealers and rapists, complicit in the breaking up of families through deportation and imprisonment, complicit in the threating of nuclear war, complicit in placating white supremacists and Nazis, and complicit in labeling of entire countries as some kind of hole unworthy of grace.

Words matter and our own Proverb is true… Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.  All of these words and more and I wonder where the prophetic church is? I wonder where the church willing to speak truth to power is? I wonder where the words of justice and compassion are? Stinging words from King’s Letter again profoundly speak to today’s church.

“The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

Too many times I read and listen to the contemporary church justifying, dismissing, ignoring and remaining silence, or even agreeing with the poisonous words polluting our nation today. And this is not politics! This is about policy! This is about Justice!  The policy of our faith, the policy of our prophetic tradition!

We should be hearing the voice of, speaking the voice of, practicing the policy of Micah, Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly with Our God. Or my favorite translation, Make Justice Happen! Love as God Loves! Be the very reflection of God in the world around you! This is the vision of God for the world. This is the vision for which the church exists! This is the vision of what it looks like to dream. A dream of justice where men and women are treated and valued, honored and respected equally! A dream where persons of color are seen as equal in everyone’s eyes! A dream where parents and children are welcomed and given opportunity here in our land! A dream where war and the threat of war are a distant memory! A dream where the church stands up and speaks truth to power even when its knees are shaking! A dream when religious live in peace throughout the kindom! A dream where every human being… EVERY human being, regardless of what country or part of the world they come, is seen as a child of the Divine; worthy, capable, beautiful, and enough. This is the vision of the God I know. This is the vision of the world I long for. This is the vision I am committed to speaking up for! This is my dream! Is it yours?

There are those who may say I am just preaching to the choir. It is true I am. But do you know why I am preaching to the choir? Because this voice, these truths, these visions, this dream needs to be shared! I preach to the choir to encourage all of us, ALL OF US to be the prophetic voice of Justice, Kindness, and Humility! It is not just my job it is the church’s calling, mission, vision, and dream! If you hear a racist comment, say something! If you hear a sexist comment, say something! We should all be speaking this truth to power and this truth to the world who needs to know we are still here! The ones with vision, the dreamers who believe the beloved community is still possible! Those of us who believe Martin’s Dream didn’t die on April 4, 1968!

I am Preaching to the Choir, because we need the practice! Because we need to sing! We need to sing the song of Justice…for ALL!

I stood here in this place a week ago yesterday and took this picture. A10 - MLKJr Unfinished Kentnd then I paused …and I wept. I wept because his life was cut short before it should have been. But I also wept tears of inspiration, challenge, and responsibility. What strikes you about this sculpture? What do you notice? I did some research on the design, study, and creation of this sculpture and could not find a specific reference to the first thing that struck me as I stood at the foot of this memorial to the one we remember and honor this weekend. It struck me from the moment I walked up to the monument…it’s not finished. His work is far from complete. Because, his work is now ours.  ours. It is so! Let’s go the voice. Sing the song. Amen.

 

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

January 12, 2018

As a part of my Doctor of Ministry work I had the incredible privilege of journeying to Washington D.C. and New York City with my classmates for a week-long immersion experience. The focus of our experience was to engage and explore the connection and collaboration between church, nonprofits, and NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), and government as we work for the common good of all. We met with several organizations and groups as well as visiting museums and monuments dedicated to our history, and a tour of the United Nations. It was a dense and whirlwind experience filled with inspiration, heartache, challenge, and hope.

During our time in these cities I found myself moved to tears more than once as I encountered both the horrific tragedies of our history as well as the inspiration of those who again and again refused to be silenced in their fight for justice. Though I was unable to experience all I wished, there were a few I want to mention.

The horrors of our nation’s oppression of, and participation in, our treatment of Africans through the slave trade and practice of slavery I witnessed as I walked through the African American History Museum felt like heavy ballasts on my legs with each step. The Holocaust Museum was a horrific reminder of the evil we do to others who are not like us. I found myself in both of these spaces almost unable to breathe and more than once shed a tear.

I found myself so moved walking through the Rights exhibit at the National Archives. Legislation and treaties guaranteeing rights and peace which were again and again established and rescinded. Moved to tears by the pain of what persons in our nation endured and at the same time tears of inspiration from those who refused to be erased and made invisible.

There were two particular places that moved me which caught me rather off guard as I was not expecting the reaction. As I stood at the foot of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to take a picture, there developed a knot in my stomach and tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my cheeks. And an almost identical reaction when I stood at the foot of the larger than life image of President Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. I cannot explain my emotional reaction other than my passion for social justice, equality, and the inspiration I draw from these two historical figures and the realization that their work is not yet complete and continues to be our work now.

All I have written in the preceding paragraphs is a preamble to what I want to say now. After being so deeply moved and inspired in an immersion experience in our Nation’s Capital I read the news headlines last evening of our president as he once again disparaged groups of people, and in particular people of color. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”, he said referring to immigration and in particular Haitians and Africans.

Words matter. What we say matters. In my Judeo-Christian tradition we have a proverb that states, Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. The comments by President Trump are un-presidential, unacceptable, and inexcusable. But these are not the first of this type to be uttered by our president. Whether we are speaking of inciting violence during his campaign appearances, referring to sexual assault against women, mocking the disabled, suggesting a registry of Muslims, accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists, leveling racist comments toward Native Americans, placating Nazi sympathizers, or his attacks on President Obama regarding his birth place, our words matter. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

And my indignation toward his words and policies are not just directed toward the president. Those who continue to deny, deflect, ignore, and justify his comments are equally as guilty, even to say nothing is to lend support to the inherent racism and sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry whether it is blatant or underlying his words. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

As I come from that incredibly inspiring experience in our Nation’s Capital, reading words of our founders, of the likes of Lincoln, King, Rosa Parks, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Shirley Chisolm, and so many others, and I think of the words that continue to come from our current administration I am heartsick and disgusted. The words from our current president continue to be a blemish on our great history and I can no longer remain silent. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose. I will choose fruit, for I cannot participate in, nor condone any sense of the poison continuing to be put forth by our president.

President Trump, I pray for you, I pray for our country. You have been our president for a year now, it is time you began acting like one and living up to the great honor and office you hold. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

 

Rev. Kent H. Little

They Stopped My Heart, and I am Grateful.

November 22, 2017

For those who know me well and my writing, this is another rather long one. I often write to process serious happenings in my life and world and this one is just that. It is therapy for me… just a note of FYI should you decide to wade in.

I would say from almost the first visit from my cardiologist’s P.A. post-surgery she has asked me, “Are you depressed? You just don’t seem your normal perky self.” As I understand post operation, especially open-heart bypass surgery, it is a very appropriate question, depression is a common emotion through which to journey after such a major surgery. I have responded to her each time, “No, I don’t think so.”

As I have pondered her question it relates to my own struggle to write after such a journey, which in some sense is just a little over two weeks on the path. While I do not believe I am depressed, I do acknowledge what seems to be a pause in my normal practice of writing in order to process significant moments in my journey. For some reason this one feels a little different, a little deeper, a little more important for me. In that light I would certainly say I have been more reflective, pensive, and ponderous about this happening. As a result, my thoughts and emotions are difficult to put into words. At this first attempt at writing, I have no idea how long or where this will end up. If you choose to read this reflective wondering I just ask you bear with me as I try and find the words for an experience that reaches deep into the unknown realms of who I am and who I long to be.

In terms of what brought me to the morning of November 6, 2017 and a quadruple bypass of the three main arteries around my heart and one additional; one 90% and three 99% blocked, if I remember correctly, the combination of which I do not recall, I will try the short version. Late Sunday night chest pain, trip to the ER with atrial fibrillation, Monday evening my heart converting back to normal rhythm, Tuesday a persistent cardiologist who in his gentle measured way insisted we needed to look deeper, Wednesday morning a stress test, Wednesday a persistent cardiologist who in his gentle measured way insisted we needed to look deeper, Thursday evening a heart catheterization and learning I needed bypass surgery right away.

In terms of the surgery I think there are just a couple of things I want to ponder. One is how I felt about the surgery itself. I told TruDee, and many others, other than the obvious worst-case scenario when one is facing opening the chest and working on the heart, I really was not worried about the surgery. Everyone in the medical field we had spoken with, including my cardiologist and the cardiologist who performed the heart catheterization, and more than one doctor friend, said this surgeon was one of, if not the, best cardiac surgeons in the city. I told myself and others, if I was worried about anything it was the few weeks following the surgery that concerned me, the pain I had heard one must journey through to get back to health…I am not a fan of pain.

While I do remember shedding tears with TruDee at the initial diagnosis and news of the impending surgery, for me I think those tears were as much about the shock of it as they were about fear. I have considered I repeated this not worried/worried mantra in order to convince myself as much as anything. That is perhaps true, but even now on the other side, I do not remember being upset about having the surgery.

I will say the one thing that really caused me pause was reading this literature about the surgery. As the article was informing about all they would be doing it came to the part where the surgeon actually begins working on the heart. The words simply said, “They stop your heart.” Now, I know that sounds drastic, it sounded drastic to me, I really had not thought about that. I also know, as I had indicated earlier, I had tremendous confidence in our surgical team. I trust our technology, I know there are people and machines that keep the blood flowing in the heart’s stead… but… “They stop your heart.” This caused me pause and reflection not so much out of a fear of death, that somehow, they wouldn’t get me started again, but something deeper and more profound, at least for me.

I believe “They stop your heart,” is what continues to resonate in the depths of my reflective, ponderous, and pensive nature post-surgery. I think about all that is wrong with the world I have for so long and will continue to struggle against in relation to injustice, bigotry, misogyny, racism, homophobia, sexism, hate, and all that would make this world an ugly distasteful place. I think about all the pettiness that can infiltrate our lives, grudges, un-forgiveness, drama, bad moods, crankiness, the list is too long, and life if too short.

The long thought of placing one’s life quite literally in someone else’s hands while they stop your heart just seems to put things in perspective I guess. It is the ultimate in vulnerability, in trust, and perhaps in terms of our faith language, the ultimate in terms of experiencing and embracing love as it should be. They stopped my heart, and I am grateful. And this world, even with as much crap that continues to raise its ugly head, is still a beautiful and worthwhile place to be.

It is not lost on me the friends, family, and parishioners who have not survived such an ordeal as I have. I cannot attribute it to some special blessing or divine reason, as if somehow my life was/is more valuable than theirs, it is not. At this point in my journey I simply point to the fact that the medical community caught it early enough to do something about it and I survived. And…I grieve everyday those whom I have known and lost whose bodies did not warn them in time and the medical community were unable to pull them through.

The other piece that is so profound to me is the support, prayers, cards, visits, calls, hugs, words, and presence of those who reached out. I was inundated with the energy and love of communities and relationships across the country, which I believe aided in my comfort with the surgery as well as frame of mind as we waited.

I want to name them all, but I know I cannot, there are too many, and I would not want to forget even one. But let me lay out the short list, if there is such a thing. My family, constantly by my side, who make me better Every. Single. Moment. My doctors and surgeon and their teams. The hospital staff, nurses, cleaning crews, food service, lab techs, all of them. My community CHUM, practicing unconditional love the way it should be. Previous communities of faith and towns I have served. My extended family. Colleagues, friends from school, internet connections, across the nation.

Each morning at the hospital when I would meditate and pray I would imagine all these persons, their prayers, thoughts, energy, good mojo, the Spirit, connection, support, whatever one might call it all mixed up and in with the very Presence of God surrounding me like a warm blanket buoying me in love. It was a healing presence for me. And I am, and will always be profoundly grateful.

This gratitude and presence became a tangible symbol in our mailbox just a fblanketew days after I returned home from the hospital. There appeared a box from and unknown sender. Opening it I found a gift and words of grace shared by two of my Muslim friends from the Mosque on Meridian who had participated in our diversity event just a couple weeks before I had missed due to my being in the hospital. A warm blanket with words of healing, energy, hugs, and hope. I am grateful.

This is the season of Thanksgiving, a good time to reflect on gratitude… but… every day should be as such. This is a long writing and if you have made it this far just know this, I am grateful for you. Life is too short and fragile to get stuck in hate, grudges, un-forgiveness, pettiness, isms, drama, and the negatives of life… hug your loved ones, love your hugged ones. Tell them you love them… Today! Tell them on Thanksgiving and every single day following. And… Love One Another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no Others…Only Us.

I am grateful. I have no complaints whatsoever.

I love you.

Kent.

Ruminating Again…UMC

October 24, 2017

II have been ruminating on the current state of our United Methodist denomination again, or maybe more accurate, still. In part because it is becoming a focus of my doctoral work and a possible final project. The other piece of it is I continue to be troubled by much of what I see in terms of the posturing of groups in preparation for the Special Called General Conference in 2019. Maybe troubled is not the right word; intrigued, interested, perplexed, curious, torn…perhaps these would be better descriptors of my current state.

To some degree I see the posturing and forming of statements and groups as a way of hopefully influencing the final outcome of how our denomination will respond to the role and place of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer; LGBTQ members and clergy persons in the church. I understand the political nature of our denomination, it is what it is, and I confess I rather enjoy some forms of politics in terms of debate on the floor, bringing diverse voices together, and strategizing for change for the common good. I am a political junky.

In terms of the outcome possibilities from the Commission on a Way Forward and the special General Conference in February 2019 in Saint Louis, I see five basic possibilities. These five are just the surface possibilities and not meant to be an exhaustive list of outcomes nor processes and complications that may or may not result from the final decision. This is how I see it.

  1. The denomination become more discriminatory and punitive toward LGBTQ persons in the church and those who would be allies. This would perhaps describe to some degree the current group known as the Wesleyan Covenant Association. You can read more about where they are here – https://wesleyancovenant.org/

 

  1. The denomination would remove all discriminatory language from the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. I do not have a lot of information at this point on the group Toward an Inclusive Church, but what little I have read this second option could be a part of where this group would be. Here is an article to read – http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/new-group-aims-for-lgbtq-full-inclusion

 

  1. The denomination would create a “Local Option” compromise which would allow clergy, local churches, and conferences to determine to what extent LGBTQ persons would serve and be welcomed into the life of the church. This option would fall in one way or another with the group Uniting Methodists. You can read more about them here – http://unitingmethodists.com/

 

  1. The denomination would do nothing and continue with the status quo of the current Disciplinary language.

 

  1. The denomination would determine this issue is irreconcilable and bring for a proposal and plan for schism.

 

As I understand the Wesleyan Covenant Association, at minimum they would prefer to keep our denomination where it is regarding LGBTQ members and clergy in the church, and perhaps have stricter guidelines regarding times when the current guidelines are breached. If you are interested in this please refer and read the website, there is more information than my brief sharing here. I would not be in agreement with this group.

As I indicated above, the Toward an Inclusive Church movement is just forming, and while my assumption is perhaps they might be a group longing to remove all the discriminatory language from our denomination, I am not certain of that, it is yet to be seen. Let me say, as for me, if this group would promote the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our denomination and remove all discriminatory language from our Discipline, I would place myself fully in this understanding.

I understand the Uniting Methodist movement and believe it is perhaps the best scenario for maintaining the institution with the least schism. While I believe I could continue to serve, minister, and exist in this environment, my struggle is the continued discrimination and harm some of our churches may continue to practice toward LGBTQ members and clergy. I understand it is an attempt to focus on common ground issues and in essence “agree to disagree.” I know many of my colleagues, and members of the church I serve have signed this, and I understand and support that, I really do not want to see our church split more than it already is. This being said, I have not signed in support of this group for the above hightlighted reasons.

Just a few weeks ago a parent who has a gay child came to me distraught. They indicated a person in their church had told them, unless their child repented of being gay, they were destined for the fires of hell. “How can I stay in relationship with this friend who thinks this of my child?” they asked. Or to paraphrase a conversation I had with a friend some weeks ago, “How can I agree to disagree?”

Herein is in large part, what continues to be the gadfly in my struggle and journey. Would I have agreed to disagree rather than split in 1844 when we were torn by slavery? Would I have agreed to disagree rather than split in 1956 when we debated the ordination of women? Would I have agreed to disagree rather than split in 1964 when we our nation was struggling with civil rights? How can I draw a line in the sand when it comes to racism and other injustices and not draw a line in the sand when it comes to justice for all in our beloved UMC.

These are my current and continued ponderings and wonderings. Pray for our churches, pray for our bishops, pray for the Commission on a Way Forward, pray for our United Methodist Church. February of 2019 in Saint Louis, I have no doubt, will be a tenuous time.

Here, at least for today, is where I stand.

Peace and Light for Our Journey Together.

Rev. Kent H. Little

 

Justice Has No Religion

October 7, 2017

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

Justice Has No Religion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the politics of the human race not racism.

In the politics of welcome not locked doors.

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

A politics of kindness not threat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderings of a Recovering Racist, Journeying into Hope.

September 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Faith

September 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Pastor Kent