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Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

Today is the Sunday in the Liturgical Season of the church when we celebrate Pentecost. Some say this is the Birthday of the Church. Some of us recall the story from the book of Acts about the Disciples gathered in a room and there is a sound like a rushing wind. And the Spirit like tongues of fire appear and rest on the heads of those gathered and they begin to speak in various languages. When the people outside hear all the commotion and speaking they are in wonder of what is going on and some of the crowd accuse the Disciples of being drunk. And Peter stands up and proclaims they are indeed not drunk but inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work, young and old, male and female, will prophesy and bring the good news of God’s love and justice to the world through this event.  It is a Birthday Party! The church is being born! Break out the balloons, the wine, the party hats, the cake! Let’s have a party! A 2000-year-old birthday party.

But, then I wonder…as I look across the expanse of the Church and its presence and image in the world….

Is the church too tired? Is the church too worn out? Has the church finally become irrelevant, out of touch, stuck in its stale and ineffectual dogmas and doctrines, stuck on life support and no one has the ability, courage, or compassion to pull the plug? I hear the voices of some colleagues and others who say what the church needs is an old-fashioned revival… we need to get back to the way things used to be, back when the church was new and fresh and just getting started when preachers and lay folks were on fire with the spirit like that first Pentecost and the sounds of rushing winds and the vision of flames and the sound of diverse languages were the norm… we need a dose of the old-time religion. The problem with that is those who often long for, yearn for, the way things used to be… the ones who long for a revival of the church and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit will often tell you exactly what that Spirit will look like and exactly where it will take us, which, is not necessarily something new…

But rather perhaps it just keeps the church on life support longer as we tell it what it should say and do and be. The church longs for the way things were, in the heyday, in the grand old days, in the good old days, when we knew exactly what we believed, how we were to behave, what we were to do… life and faith were simplistic… days when the cliché of “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” was the mantra…back when we knew what to expect and didn’t have to think and feel so much…. Maybe that’s what we need to do, just we sit by the bedside of the church, listening to the hum of the systems, and wait for a miracle revival to bring it all back. But nothing seems to be happening and sometimes, sometimes, it even seems to be getting worse, more disconnected, unresponsive, more distant.

As I was pondering the church in this light it made me think of the movie some years ago… “The Sixth Sense” the story of a successful psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who sees ghosts, but the psychiatrist’s life seems disconnected, his family distant and unresponsive, there is just something not right, it feels like he is just going through the motions with not much success at anything, until the end, when he discovers… he is dead, he just didn’t know it.

And I wondered, maybe for all intents and purposes, the church is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, but I wonder, maybe it is too late?

You have probably noticed by now, I did not use the passage from Acts and the traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday today. I used the Hebrew Scripture reading for this Sunday, the reading from Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones. I used it because of the stark image of death, pondering perhaps, is this where the church is today? Dead, Dry, Piled Up, Deserted, Unknowingly Gone, Irrelevant?  I used this reading because it is a national story, it is a national prophecy. It is the story of not individual faith, but of a people, and as I ponder the image of the dry bones of the people of Israel for Ezekiel I have to ask myself, is the church dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

The Church is certainly tired. The Church is certainly Tattered. And as I look out across the landscape of the church in our nation I have to consider the church is dead.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the demonization of the poor and the programs of social uplift helping feed and clothe God’s children.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the dehumanizing of immigrants and the separating of mothers and fathers from children through deportation and punishes children whose parents chose to escape torturous conditions.

The Church is dead when it claims it loves all and includes all and continues to deny LGBTQ persons full access in its life.

The Church is dead when it ignores the cries of those incarcerated unjustly and without recourse.

The church is dead when it refuses to stand for the full equality of women both within its institutions and in society.

The Church is dead when it categorically proclaims those who disagree with its doctrines and dogmas are destined for a hell of God’s choosing.

The Church is dead when it turns a blind eye/remains silent to the sins of its nation and leaders and buys into partisan politics.

The Church is dead when it does not speak up in defense of our school children because of its love of guns.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent, consciously and unconsciously in the evil of racism.

The Church is dead when it says everyone should only speak English when Pentecost is testimony against such things!

The Church is dead when it would rather split over who it can keep out rather than finding a place for everyone.

The Church is dead when it would rather cater to its membership than serve its community.

The Church is dead when it is more worried about how things have always been done rather than dreaming about how to embrace new ideas.

The Church is dead when it gives up on being the prophetic voice of change. The Church is dead when it would rather look back on the old dry bones of past ideas, past days, past preachers, past teachers, past unrealized dreams.

The Church is dead when it refuses to listen to new leadership, new innovations, new ways… the Church is dead when it is more focused on surviving than it is on thriving.

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

And then, sometimes things need to die before resurrection can happen…

And you know what? Says God to Ezekiel. God is in…The Church of Jesus is in…

The Prophecy Business…The Love Business…Is in the Resurrection Business!

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

The Church is in the Resurrection business because that is what we do!

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

Steeped in… Saturated in… Immersed in… Dripping with… Oozing with… Wrapped up in… Inundated with… Besieged with…

LOVE… Pentecost is about the love of God for ALL persons! Pentecost is about bringing new life and insight to the world…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Lifts the poor and supports programs of social uplift…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it stands with immigrants and their families…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it speaks up in support of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it disdains the unjust incarceration practices of its nation.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it votes to support the FULL equality of women in the church and society.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Uses its prophetic voice to say love conquers any kind of hell that others may proclaim.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it points out the sins and injustices of its nation and leaders.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it puts the lives of our children before the agenda of violence!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it condemns racism in ALL its forms!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it opens its doors to ALL persons!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it serves its neighborhoods and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it embraces new understandings and ideas.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it learns from its past but doesn’t live there.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it finds its prophetic voice of Justice, Compassion, Welcome, Life, and Love!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it is inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work and Love is the Way!

The Church or portions of it as we have known it…

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

May be in its last throes of death… or worse…

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

For it is the power of love that will renew and resurrect the best of what is to come…

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!

 

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Call Me a Dreamer

May 18, 2018

So, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately about the state of our union. Union…a funny word actually, especially in terms of what I see happening in the news, on social media, and in our society. We are anything but united. The only union I seem to see is us versus them, whoever us is and whoever them is. (I just sent chills up the spines of my English teachers). It seems to me we only unite with those who hold our same biases, prejudices, and bigotries. Now, before you call me out, I am no less guilty. I too tend to gather with those who are of like mind. And in general, I do not believe there is anything wrong with that.

When this dis-union becomes problematic is when we begin to think us or them are less than, less than us, less than them, less than worthy, less than enough, less than…human? And as a result, become targeted by violence of word and deed. Think about it, in our tradition, every since the story tells us Cain knocked Abel in the head with a rock we have been identifying those who are less than and imprisoning them in camps, building walls to separate, hanging, beating, shooting, and otherwise trying to eliminate the other who are other than us.

Just the history of our own country, this dis-unified union… the government sponsored and sanctioned genocide of Native Americans, called them uncivilized animals, thus justifying the atrocities we committed against them. Forced slave labor of Africans, brought over on ships and tortured, beaten, stripped, whipped, lynched, and called less than human, uncivilized animals, which once again we justified our actions because they are less than. African Americans who still face devastating racism even now in the 21st Century, what is wrong with us? Indentured servants from England and Ireland and other countries, who for some reason could never quite get out from under the powerful elite who brought them here. We demonize the poor and those on assistance trying to feed their families while working two and three jobs and call them less than. Women, continue to be treated less than in the work place, in society, via access to better paying jobs, healthcare choices, and targeted as objects by powerful men who use and abuse and control. Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender persons who are fired from their jobs simply because of who they are and who they love…refused and turned away at the doors of the church and forbidden from full participation in the community of faith…beaten in the streets, laws passed to discriminate against them under the guise of religious freedom and I call BS! Religious bigotry directed at Muslims and other persons of faith because they practice differently, treated as other and less than. Immigrants and dreamers, refugees who have come here some legally and some undocumented because they are willing to do anything to save the lives of their children and families from the brutalities of their home country, treated like and called uncivilized and animals. families broken apart, children and mothers separated, because we see them as less than. This list is far too long.

Why do we continue to do this? Why do we as a country as a dis-union continue to fester the need to identify another group of humankind so that we can feel superior and special? When will we acknowledge we are all brothers and sisters, we are all children of the Divine, we all belong to one another… how long must we continue to pretend white, Christian, male, heterosexuals are the master species… I call BS!

This prejudice and bigotry, obviously, is not new, it has been going on for centuries… from the beginning really… to some degree early on it was about survival. But surely, we can evolve beyond what our earliest ancestors needed to survive. Surely, we can evolve beyond violence for violence and hate for hate. Surely one day we will lay down our weapons of war, our weapons of violence, our weapons of words and extend an open hand rather than a clenched fist…surely.

As for me, I will continue to hope, I will continue to speak to the best of who we should be, because even though my heart is hurting watching all this belligerent hate and vitriol language and violence laden dis-union of which we are a part… I still believe we can become who we are called to be. A beloved community where love is the rule and not the exception. A world where violence and war are a distant memory. A world where guns, and bombs, and swords, and spears are relics in a vast museum that simply serves to remind us of what we used to be and have no need of any longer. To such love and justice, I will commit my life. As a prophet not long ago once said… “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Dream and act with me, won’t you? Make Justice Happen. Love as God Loves. Be the Very Reflection of God in the World.

One Day… One Day…May it be so. May it be soon!

Kent H. Little

Carry On Young Prophets!

March 25, 2018

I stood in a sea of students, teachers, allies, parents, aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas on a chilly morning outside an elementary school and read signs and listened to calm and thoughtful instructions preceding our march. We marched from the school to the steps of the courthouse here in Wichita, a short walk, but an important one.

I stood and listened to the students speak, the chants ringing out, “Not One More!” “Vote them Out!” The impassioned speeches of the students, governmental representatives, and teachers were articulate, committed, determined, and moving…I was moved to tears more than once as their words echoed off the surrounding buildings. “We should not live in fear in our schools.” “Something needs to be done, continuing to throw up our hands and say nothing can be done is no longer acceptable.”

A clarion call from these young voices for common sense gun reform, better background checks, the restricting or banning of military style weapons with large capacity magazines, better schools, better student to teacher ratios, more resources for quality educational relationships, and better healthcare, just to name a few. They were not unreasonable pie in the sky ideas, but solid and practical ideas to change their world, to make a difference.

These students are not the leaders of the future, they are the leaders of today because our current leaders seem unable, or worse, unwilling to attempt any change for fear of losing financial support and reelection. A leader in our government should make policy not because it will garner financial support. A leader in our government should not make policy because it will get them reelected. A leader in our government should make policy because it makes our country safer, more compassionate, and create a just and equitable society for the common good of all persons.

The students I witnessed today are done with partisan politics where lobbyists line the pockets of politicians to advance an agenda contrary to the common good of all. I hear and see in these young people today the words of the prophet Micah of what God requires of all of us, “To make justice happen. To love as God loves. To be the very reflection of God in the world.” Perhaps these youth, these rising young persons are the tangible, active, impassioned answer to all of those “Thoughts and Prayers” that get thrown around and said after every school shooting and tragedy.

As I stood on the courthouse lawn, with tears in my eyes, the words from the Prophet Jeremiah came to mind concerning his call. “Then I said, “Ah, God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But I heard God say to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

The ancient prophets approached and stood toe to toe with the leaders of the empire and the religious leaders of their time and said, again and again, “Enough is Enough!” They were dismissed, told they were too young, too crazy, too out of touch. They were exiled, others tried to silence them, deflect from their message, and they were ignored. And yet, so many times, connected to God and the people, they changed the world around them.

I stood on the courthouse lawn and was inspired and moved by these modern-day prophets. Speaking truth to power, undaunted and fearless. For me, and my generation, my place is to stand with them, support them, do everything I can to strengthen their voice and resolve. If I am unable or unwilling to do that, I need to get the hell out of the way. For what I witnessed today was the power and resolve of community, of relationship, of truth.

Stand Strong Young Prophets!
Speak Loud Young Prophets!
March on Young Prophets!
Change the World Young Prophets!
I, and many are With You!
Carry On my Friends. Carry On.

Peace and Light for Our Journey Together,
Pastor Kent

Our Youth. I am Grateful.

March 5, 2018

I remember as a teenager in high school learning about our government and political processes in government class. And while I believe it was one of those classes that lit a passion within that would come to flame later in my life, I really was not very politically astute in those days.

The experience was not unlike my journey of faith in those days as well. My father was an United Methodist clergy, so I grew up in the church. And while I have no doubt the seeds of faith and passion for justice were planted in those days I was not particularly religiously astute either. Those awareness’s and passions would come later in my life as I paid closer attention to my own journey of faith as well as the workings of our country and the world around me.

I remember, especially my youngest son in particular and his interest in politics and how our government works and the political processes that happens in the wake of its work. He was much more politically astute in his teenage and college years than I ever was.

It is easy, I think, to become frustrated and disillusioned in these days we live in regarding both faith and politics and our society and culture. There is so much hate and anger, injustice and bigotry, fear and misinformation and it can be so disheartening and overwhelming. While I try to be as active an advocate as I can, it can feel like we are spinning our wheels and the silence of others only feeds the struggle for justice.

And as overwhelming and disheartening as it may seem, right in the middle of it I begin to see glimmers of light, movement, and those willing to take a stand and say it is time to speak up. I find this inspiration and hope not from our politicians, and even not so particularly the leadership of our churches, though I know there are allies and leaders for justice and compassion in both of those arenas, I see and hear it in our youth.

The youth of today are even more aware of our world than we were at their age. And with the tools of social media and networking they have power we never dreamed of. In the aftermath of the gun violence of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the students have begun a movement with students across our nation joining their voices and light together to stand and say, “Enough is Enough!” Their calls for action, their willingness to stand toe to toe with the impotent politicians who continue to do nothing in the wake of such violence and tragedy, should move us all.

I hear in these student voices the words and the passion of the prophets of old who stood eye to eye with the empire, with kings, and said you are reaping what you are sowing, and unless you do something about this violence and injustice you will fall. They are trying to wake those who refuse to see. They are standing against those who embrace money rather than the common good. They are speaking up and refusing to accept no action. They are demanding their lives are more important than the injustice of a broken system of payments and lobbyist’s.

Thank you to our youth for breaking through and beginning what so many of us seemed unable to do. I stand with you. Your work is faithful. Your work is just. And we should stand and walk with you or get out of your way. They will lead us. There is precedent for such leadership in our faith tradition. We should pay attention.

Be A Light. Love One Another. Every. Single. Other.

Pastor Kent

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.

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.