Being There

October 3, 2016

In preparation for this coming Sunday’s sermon on Faith and Healing I have been pondering encounters with those who seek healing of body, heart, mind, and soul. I have experienced, and perhaps you have as well, a profound sense of loneliness in times of loss and grief. Even in the midst of friends and family, an empty, lonely place deep in one’s heart and soul.

Sometimes a realization of connected-ness and relationship comes later. A knowledge in hindsight that says to us, even though I felt profoundly alone in those moments and day, I can see now that I was not. In that loneliness there are times we may want to cry out, just scream, to vent the anger, toward the hurt, and pain. We long to find a way to let it out and empty heart and soul of the grief that consumes us. That is normal and okay.

We all deal with grief differently and express it differently. When we encounter grief in our friends and loved ones we often want to try and help alleviate their pain. We want to say something. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked the question, and you probably have heard it in one way or another, “What do I say?” I want to go see them, I want to be there for them, but I don’t know what to say. We want to say something. Somehow we think we need to say something.

I think part of it is a need for us to fix the grief, and not because we think we can, but perhaps borne out of a helpless feeling and desire to try to move people through the grief process quickly because it’s uncomfortable to deal with. I usually share in response to that question, “You know, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. Being there for them is most important.”

This week I have been reflecting on grief, struggle, and healing;  pondering words I have heard, words I have said, and particularly words shared in the context of a community of faith. Those words are offered in sincere hope of caring, and offered out of a need to say something and here is the statement I found expressing for me faith, and yearning for presence and grace for the day;

Religious and faith-based platitudes are most times, in my experience, unhelpful and often times disconcerting. Though, offered in times of struggle, pain, grief, and shock by well-meaning, faithful friends and members of a community of faith who long to say something to alleviate the pain, to offer a word of comfort, to fix the unfixable, they are often words that at best ring empty and at worse can only serve to open the wound further. Here are some thoughts and words that come to mind.

Don’t tell me my loss was part of God’s plan or God’s will, I do not believe it is ever God’s will to cause me pain and suffering.

Don’t tell me my loved one is in a better place, a better place would be with me.

Don’t tell me God needed another angel, I needed my angel to laugh and cry and live with me.

Don’t tell me you understand, you can’t. You may have experienced a similar loss, you may be able to relate, you may even be able to imagine, but you can’t understand, we are all different and our relationships are different.

Don’t tell me we will understand the reason one day, to say that says to me God is responsible and I do not believe God has a reason, or is teaching me a lesson by taking my loved one away from me.

Do, stay with me.

Do stand with me.

Do sit with me.

Do weep with me.

Do laugh with me.

Do hold me.

Do call me to let me know I am on your mind.

Do listen to me. Do hear me.

Do talk with me.

Do be present with/for me.

Do be present to me.

Do be with me.

Do be available.

Be the very Presence and Love of the Spirit, the very Presence of God in Christ for me.

Do love me.

It is the knowledge we do not journey this road alone that in the end can move us to health. And not that the pain ever just goes away, it never does, yet it is this understanding of the Kindom which nourishes and is one of wholeness and completeness. It is an understanding in which we all participate and is among us, surrounding, within, and immersing the wholeness of our being.

In that, I believe, we are bound together each of us to those we have loved and who have loved us in the very Spirit of Love, which can prompt us to break into tears and song all at the same time. It is about Presence of the Spirit, of the Divine Love in whom we are immersed, a spirit that connects us not only in, to, and with God in the Christ, but inseparably to one another and all of creation.

So as we journey through this life being the faith we embrace, whether you are grieving or giving comfort, we are connected in and with the very Spirit of Love from which we can never be separated. Know where ever you find yourself, whether lonely, screaming, weeping, struggling, longing, yearning, or being present.  You are not alone. Ever.  Period. It is reason to be grateful.

It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community.  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

 

Inspiration for the writing of these words come from not only my experience but a plethora of articles, blogs, and writings I have read over the years. Too numerous or distant to cite.

Tragedy and Prayers

June 23, 2016

What is prayer for you?

The teaching we are focused on this morning is Jesus’ words from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount addressing prayer. I had intended to talk about public prayer versus private prayer; the notion of prayer in school, before government meetings, sporting events, etc. I still want to do that briefly. But it seems to me Jesus is pretty clear about how he feels regarding prayers in public. A paraphrase might be perhaps it best you don’t do it, or at least, if we do, don’t ramble on and on just to hear the eloquent words one might be able to string together.

Prayer for the most part, should be kept to an intimate conversation with God, in private, one on one.

When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. – don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don’t be like them.

When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to God in private. Your God knows what you need before you ask.

I am not sure how much more expounding those teachings need. Are they still relevant today? I believe so, I think we could all find a lesson in those words. I have been guilty of the first. There have been times I have been invited to pray at our city council meetings and once the invocation for the opening session of the Senate in Topeka. I confess, I work really hard at making my public prayers conversations with God and not a directive to the hearers. However, while driving home from Topeka that day and my good friend, who knows me well, called and I told him I had just delivered the invocation at the Capital, he asked me, “So, were you prayin’ or preachin’?” I had to confess to my friend, “I was preachin’”

I have been grateful for the latter. I have found profound comfort, solace, as well as challenge and been disturbed in my private prayers behind closed doors.

I have been known to say there is a line between praying and preaching, and it is not a fine line, it is a bold one, a chasm. If one is praying to get a message across to those in the meeting hall, the sports arena, even the church meeting, rather than talking to God, one is not praying any longer one is preaching! And it is exactly what Jesus is addressing here. And he doesn’t like it!

So, I’m not sure what more I can add to that. While pondering prayer over the last many weeks, I have really been wrestling with what to say this morning. Especially, around prayer, and the horrific events of Orlando and so many other tragedies. I want to speak to it, and in so many ways, I have no words. As I listen and read some responses to the tragedy I find myself wishing others would have no words as well.
What do we say as a community of faith? How do we speak a faithful word in the midst of such pain and devastation? It is important that we speak, but where do we begin?

Here at College Hill we began last week with a vigil and a prayer service. This prayer flag was created by Cate Adams and is made up of the 49 names of those victims of the mass shooting and the colored cards are prayers and thoughts written by those who attended the vigil through the day on Tuesday.Prayer Flags

I still struggle with what to say and do in moments of my own reflections. While I have been critiqued for sharing this before by colleagues, let me say this anyway, perhaps we do not begin by continuing the mantra of “the families are in our thoughts and prayers.” For me it has become the subject of Jesus’ teaching, “people who talk on and on as people do who don’t know God.” It has become the mantra in particular of leaders and authorities who express words of outrage and prayer with no action, and for some only serves to deepen the anxiety and distrust in our country.

Bear with me for a moment, and let me tell a story.

I was I believe in the fourth or fifth grade when it happened. I was sitting in my bedroom at a card table building a model car. You know the kind from a box with all the plastic pieces molded into a framework you had to twist and free in order to put together. I had my paints and glue spread out on the table. As I was working on one piece it had significant excess plastic I could not manage to remove just with my fingers.

I went out to the garage to rummage through my father’s toolbox and retrieved a small cardboard box, kind of like a matchbox, except this on contained single-edged razor blades. Yes, I know you are probably way ahead of me at this point. I returned to my project, pulled out a blade and removed the cardboard shield and went to work.

The blade slipped off and I managed to cut just below my thumb nearly to the bone. I went into the kitchen and yelled for my dad. He found me standing, two bloodied hands and dripping on the floor. He took me into the bathroom and began running cold water over the wound and said, “Son, this is going to need stitches.” He called the doctor in our little town and we headed to his office.

Dr. Ubelaker was, at least in my nine or ten year old mind, perhaps described best as the old country doctor. He still made house calls when he needed to. He was perhaps a little gruff, or at least that was my memory, or maybe just a man of few words. Anyway, he removed the towels that were wrapped around my hand, numbed up the wound, and stitched me up. He then shared with me a few stern words, “No recess.” “Don’t get it wet.” “No horsing around.”

A few days later we were at a family gathering. My cousins were playing basketball and I wanted to as well. I talked my aunt into wrapping up my hand so I would not get it dirty or wet. If I recall she slipped a bread bag over my hand and taped it to my arm.

That evening I noticed the bandage was seeping some blood so I untapped my bandaged to take a look. All the stitches were untied and the wound was gaping open once again. I remember I sat on the edge of my bed staring at the open wound for what seemed like a long time, speechless, just sat there in silence before I went to look for dad. I wasn’t so much afraid of telling dad, I was afraid of telling Dr. Ubelaker! Dad took me back to the Doc, who was not happy, and we started it all over again. As a result I have no doubt it took much longer to heal than it would have had I followed the right actions and directions to promote a proper healing.

There is a time for sitting with the grief. There is a time to gaze speechless into the pain. There is a time for silence. Presence can be more powerful than words. Often words can deepen the wound rather than provide a healing balm and comfort. Sometimes, “I’m here,” can be more appropriate than, “I have you in my thoughts and prayers.” Too often in these tragedies religious leaders, politicians, and others speak on and on, and nothing happens to find a cure.
What does this have to do with prayer and in particular Orlando and the attack on our LGBT friends and families? Every time this happens the wound is ripped open again, preventing its healing. I believe we need to spend time in silence, surveying and embracing our grief and shock. I also I believe it is time for people of faith, people who believe in justice and compassion and grace to do more than pray words, we must pray with our actions.

It is not enough to lift the families in our thoughts and prayers. God calls us to live our prayers, act out our prayers for comfort and resolution. To continue to lift the words of “The Families are in our thoughts and prayers” with no action to address the violence is to lift empty phrases and words that do nothing. And with every event of gun violence and acts of hate, the wound is opened again with no hope of healing.

Our country, even dare I say, the Christian church and other religions have a violence problem. It is not just mental health care, though that is part of it. It is also an addition to the idea of redemptive violence lodged deeply in the roots of the churches atonement theories, our stories, the kind of traditions and interpretations that are twisted and warped by extremists and violent people who put the stamp of God upon their acts.

Our country and our religions our churches have to own our contribution to the problem. We cannot continue to belittle and dehumanize the “other” and expect it not to influence those who would carry out violent acts of word and deed. Our words matter!

In last Sunday’s attack on the Pulse Club in Orlando, I believe the church as well as other religious traditions are culpable. We cannot continue as a church, even as a United Methodist church, to claim LGBT persons are incompatible, abominations, worthy of death, a threat to our children, our families, or that we should fear even being in the same restroom with them and not expect those words to influence not only hateful rhetoric, but violent acts and even massacres such as in Orlando. And for religious and political leaders to offer their thoughts and prayers while at the same time rejecting and passing laws that threaten the well-being of LGBT persons and others is seen as disingenuous at best.

We must find a way to pray for and then act not only with LGBT persons in the midst of this tragedy, but all who continue to be threatened by violence and hatred, all of us in a world that is increasingly perpetuating the sense of being unsafe for a community who longs for safety and peace. There must be action behind our prayers, or they become prayers in the public realm, just to look good or prayers that talk on and on as people do who don’t know God.
So, what do we do? On this Sunday Prayer, of Fathers, of Remembering, of gathering in the wake of yet another tragedy? Fathers, those who have been a father figure, teach your children about prayer as not just words, but of action and justice and compassion work. Teach our children and grandchildren about inclusion, about understanding, about welcome, about equality, about grace, about the unconditional love of God for all, for ALL! And the depths of why it matters, to us individually, our families, our country, and our world.
And here in our community of faith? In some sense, we here at CHUM, continue to do what we have been doing. Educate ourselves about process and theology and justice and action. Be not only present in prayer and support of our LGBT community, our Muslim brothers and sisters, our children and public education, and the poor, those who are marginalized and belittled, but to be a prophetic voice in the church, in the community, government, speak out against injustice and discrimination. ACT!

It takes all of us, not just one or two. This kind of prayer is not political posturing, or pious street corner attention, it is seeking the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit, and then praying with our feet and our hands and our voices to make this world a safer more compassionate kindom in which to live, for all of us.
We cannot be willing to stop talking about it. We cannot be willing to rest. We cannot be silent, until we can all walk the streets regardless of the color of our skin, until we can all dance at a club of our choice, attend a movie, go to a bible study, or sit in a classroom without fear of another massacre.

Otherwise these forty-nine represented in this prayer flag and the hundreds of other senseless deaths due to gun violence and other acts of hate and terrorism will be statistics, wounds with no healing.

Let us begin/continue the faithful work of God until finally justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God hasten the day. May it be so! May it be so!

I Too Am Guilty; Ruminations Along a Turnpike Drive

June 5, 2016

I have been hesitant to write anything in reflection or response since our United Methodist General Conference, in part because I am still processing exactly where I think I am with its outcomes and decisions. I am encouraged by some of what I heard from our Great Plains Annual Conference Delegates and I am at the same time disappointed by much of what I watched via live-stream and what I have read.

Much of my disappointment comes from our continued inability to talk with one another, civilly and respectfully, of our diverse sexuality. For me though, it is not just about how we should be opening our denomination to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and identity, but what seems to be the undoing of much of our tradition of social justice in the UMC. From not voting to divest from questionable practices, to not supporting justice in Israel and Palestine, to our severing ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. As a lifelong United Methodist it feels like we are undoing decades of progress in the area of social justice for all.

I am still in a wrestling match with our approval of the Council of Bishop’s Proposal for a Way Forward. While I understand the possibilities for hope, it also feels like we have kicked the can down the road for at least two to three years. My prayer is this can kicking will be an opportunity for the opening of a window in which we as a denomination might encounter the immersing grace of God for ALL.

Today, I believe, was a moment of grace in our own Great Plains Annual Conference. We passed a nonbinding resolution to ask our Committee on Investigation to pause the current process regarding our colleague Rev. Cynthia Meyer, and seek a just resolution and not go to trial. For me it was an opportunity for our Annual Conference to make a plea to the Committee as well as to our Bishop, to please find another way to resolve the complaint that does not necessitate a trial while not turning her away from the vital ministry she does in our midst; in the UM church she serves, and our United Methodist Church as a whole.

I was pleased with the nature of our discussion on the floor of Annual Conference this morning. It was calm, respectful, and civil. There were numerous people who rose to speak in opposition to the resolution as well as numerous, including myself, who spoke in favor.

As I sat and listened I was struck by a couple of things. Things that have wandered through my wondering mind before and I have addressed periodically but this time I had two hours to ponder them as I drove home from Topeka via the turnpike with nothing but my music, my thoughts, and the beautiful lush green flint hills to keep me company.

One is as we share about homosexuality and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender persons, we, myself included, when I fail to remain mindful, are not talking about an issue, we are talking about persons, lives, good and faithful members of our churches and our world. And too often when we talk about an issue we can fail to acknowledge their person-hood, to put a face on those we are talking with, whether we are allies or not.

The other thing that struck me was, in conversing about our UMC Disciplinary language, is the lifting up how we are all sinners, if you will. That we have all, in one way or another, been incompatible with the faith, or at least our Discipline. There are unethical acts and practices that can go unchecked, there are those of us who have looked at another with lust in our hearts, thus according to scripture have committed adultery, sinned with our hands or eyes and still have them intact, and the list can get pretty long so I will just leave the rest to your own reflections.

While I understand the implications of these citations, and I have used them in the past as well, I have come to believe they are not parallel nor helpful to what we are talking about. These unethical and/or immoral citations have implications of harm and destruction. They can damage the self, one’s relationship with another, with colleagues, with friends, family, even God.

I know there are those good and faithful persons who cite the scriptural passages that in some way speak to same gender relations. However, in terms of loving, mutual, consensual, monogamous relationships, the scriptures do not address them, the Bible is silent. The citations used are addressing idolatry, purity laws, promiscuous, and non-consensual relations. All of which have destructive, harmful, and damaging implications regardless of one’s orientation.

The difference here is Cynthia and our other LGBT colleagues and friends, have done nothing wrong. Their willingness to be their authentic self as God has created them does not threaten me, it does no destructive or unethical harm to another. If we decide to put her on trial, we are trying her not for how she has damaged a covenant, but putting her on trial simply for being herself. And as such we risk harm and damage to the Body of Christ by losing called of God, valuable, and gifted clergy person.

As I reflected while driving home on the turnpike, what came to me was this. If we put her on trial for being who she is, it is not just her we are putting on trial, it is me, and it is all of us. If we put our LGBT colleagues and friends on trial for being authentically who they are, we are putting the church on trial. And if we do this, and we find our LGBT colleagues guilty, I too am guilty, we are all guilty, and the church is guilty for the trial and conviction of an innocent member of our community, a sacred child of God.

There is hope in the Bishops Proposal for a Way Forward. There is hope in the resolution we passed today as a Great Plains Annual Conference. There is hope because, although it may feel like the Committee and the Bishop have no other choice as to what they will do, there are prophetic and compassionate choices that can move us to a Way Forward that fits with the Council of Bishop’s language of finding a way to avoid further charges and trials without punishing one for who they are.

I believe, we, all of us, wherever we find ourselves in relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters, must find a way to justly resolve the conflicts, a way to compassionately and faithfully navigate the future. We must find a way to remain together without inviting those we disagree with to simply surrender and leave. We must find a way to acknowledge and honor our differences and still realize we all serve the world in a way that welcomes more and more into the Kindom of God.

Such a way will take much prayer and discernment, such a way will take courage and hard work, and such a way will take real listening, dialogue, love, and prophetic leadership. It can be done. It must be done. We must stop the abuse and harm we continue to visit upon those of our LGBT colleagues and friends for no other reason than who they are, a child of God, just like me, just like you.

My reflections and prayers for the day, I pray they are received in the grace in which they are intended.

May it be so…May it be now.

Kent

An Open Letter to Granddaughter Nora on the Occasion of Her Birth

May 27, 2016

Dear Nora,

Good morning! As I shared with your cousin Kadee, I wanted to write a letter to you as well on the occasion of your birth and entry into our family. Today you are four days old, and in the grand scheme of things it has been a pretty normal, whatever normal is, four days. Although, you have already been through a tornado warning even before you left the hospital! Welcome to Tornado Alley! I am so glad you are safe this morning.

As I sit in our living room with a cup of coffee and the sun streaming through the kitchen windows I want to share some pondering with you as I think about this journey on which you have now begun. There are a lot of things I wish were different in the world today, things I wish we had taken care of before you arrived.

First let me share with you the state of our world on this fourth day of your journey. I want to apologize, as your Poppie, for the state of said world. It is and would have always been my hope and dream that you would have been born into a world free of war, bigotry, hatred, discrimination, disease, racism, sexism, fear, and exclusion. Alas, we have muddled that up pretty well over the centuries and we still have a long way to go.

I apologize for our countries and leaders who still believe somehow war and conflict are answers to our world disagreements. I am sorry we still send men and women into wars where they lose limb and life because of our inability to sit down at a table and discuss civilly and respectfully what it would take to have world peace.

I apologize for our lack of foresight as we still have not learned to care for our earth and God’s good green creation, not taking into account those like you who will have to come after us and clean up our mess.

I apologize for our fear of the other and for governments and even religion, who still try to make laws to discriminate against those they see as different.  Not only the world, but our country, our state, even in the church we have found ways to do harm to others simply because of who they are, what they believe, and who they love.

I apologize for our country and world where you are born with an extra challenge just because you are a female; born into a country and a world who does not believe you should be paid equally to males for the same work, not based on your ability but simply because of your gender. I apologize we still make laws that limit your choices regarding career, health care, and reproductive care; some implied and some blatant.

I apologize for our bent toward violence, especially in our country, where gun violence is the highest of all the major countries, and we are want to pass sensible laws to perhaps make you a little safer.

I apologize for a culture that, at this point, will not always take you seriously, believe you; a culture that will critique what you wear, how you look, and what you should be doing simply because you are a woman.

I hope, by the time you are old enough to understand these things, you will look at me and say, “Poppie, really? The world was really like that when I was born? I’m glad it is not now.” I hope this with all I am!

Nora, with all this being said, it might seem the world is a scary place, and I will not lie, it can be. But I also want to say, the world is a wondrously magnificent place! Filled with wonder and mystery, beauty and grace, spectacular sights, sounds, and smells and touch. The world is an incredible gift filled with art, music, whimsy, and magic.

I want to reassure you there are people in the world who are tirelessly working to change all of these scary things. There are people in the world and in the church who are ardent in the fight for justice for all, welcome, inclusion, and love. And because of the beauty of these people, I am again and again filled with hope that one day, peace and love will win.

This is the world I know you have been born into as well, because I know your mom and dad, and they will teach you and love you and show you all that is good in this world! They will raise you to be a strong and independent woman, though you have already expressed that to a degree just in your coming, a little stubborn you were. And you will be encouraged to be whatever, whoever, and wherever you will dream to be. I know your family both on your daddy’s side and you mommy’s side, families filled with love and care and support. And I know your Grammy and your Poppie, and we will do everything we can to show you how wondrously beautiful you are as is the world of which you are apart.

One more thing, and this is really important, I want you to know, your Dad and Mom will tell you this for themselves I am sure as well, but I want to say it from Poppie and Grammy. We love you. We will always love you. There is no place you can be, no situation in which you find yourself, no choice you could ever make, that will change that. We will ALWAYS love you, period! Period! And there is nothing you can do about it.

I am anxiously awaiting this coming Sunday afternoon when I can hold you in my arms again, kiss your face, and sing and whisper I love you in your ears. I also want to say that I am going to share this letter on my blog as well. Because it gives me an opportunity to brag about our newest perfect granddaughter, but also because not only do I hope all these things for you, but I pray and work every day that all of us, the church, our society and culture universally will one day embrace such a world where justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream, a world where love and justice for all is the rule rather than the exception, a world where all means all. May it be so. May it be soon.

Nora, welcome to our crazy Little family. We are so fortunate to have you with us. May you always know God loves you, we love you, and you are never alone. Ever!

 

My Love Always,

Poppie

Mother’s Day

May 2, 2016

I confess, for the most part, this writing is a rerun. I wrote this a few years ago, and as I considered the upcoming Sunday, I thought it appropriate to share once more. I have edited it a bit here and there with current thoughts and pondering, but the truth is still present and my appreciation and love of those who love still resides deeply in my heart.

I am pondering Mother’s Day today as it approaches this coming Sunday. Doing a little reading on the origins  of there day here is a bit of what I found; “The modern holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. She then began a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States. Although she was successful in 1914, she was already disappointed with its commercialization by the 1920s.” (Wikipedia) It is true we, especially in the United States, tend to commercialize anything that comes along in order to make a few bucks off of an originally innocent gesture toward someone or something.

That being said, today I am pondering Mother’s Day in my own context. My own mother is no longer with us she died at the age of 49 due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer. I have to say, while embracing my own bias, she was perhaps the closest person I have ever known that really was near Sainthood; a woman whose life and faith were grounded in unconditional love and grace.

I am grateful for all the mothers I have had in my life. In each community we lived as I was growing up, I suspect partly to compensate for mom’s disease and inability to always be present, there always emerged a mom figure for me. I have often suspected though it was never revealed to me, that mom invited these other mothers to give her a hand in raising me; Medrith, Maxine, Gerry, Iverna, Vivian, and Phyllis just to name a few, and of course Gladys my mother-in-law but no less a mom to me. In retrospect I have had a long history of loving mom influence in my life and they all loved me in spite of me.

As my own journey of life and faith has evolved I have come to know mothering is not only about blood relation or who gave one birth. Some have not experienced a mother who was unconditional in their loving, there has been abandonment, neglect, abuse, and other atrocities done by mothers to their children and one must be sensitive to that reality especially this time of year. And I always take time to hope and pray for those in these situations they are able to find a mothering example to feed and nurture their soul and spirit.

I have also come to know mothering also transcends gender, mothering is an act of unconditional love and care which is practiced by both male and female, in families of opposite gender parents, same gender parents, couples and partners, as well as single parent families. Mothering is about acceptance, care, protection, justice, kindness, guidance, and most importantly love. This should be the foundation of all of our lives whatever role we have in our families and communities.

Join us this coming Sunday as we celebrate Mother’s Day and the feminine characteristics of God at College Hill United Methodist Church, Not Your Ordinary Church inviting you to, “Find Your Place at CHUM!

It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent

 

Clanging Cymbal

April 25, 2016

Early Monday morning here at the church, once the coffee was in the cup, I wandered into the sanctuary for some quiet and meditation time. I found a pew about half way back and sat down. I love our sanctuary, a little dated perhaps, but for its 1950’s style I am sure it was state of the art, and it is still a beautiful space and place to be.

Dark other than the light that streamed in from the stained glass behind me as well as washing over the altar area. There I sat, just me the sounds of the outside world, and a cup of coffee; serene, quiet, subdued, prayerful, and calming, it is a good morning.

It startled me a bit at first, as I shifted my weight in my seat, though the noise was muffled and not very loud. I slid over just a bit to find that I was not alone in this grand space oMonkeyf worship and celebration. There wasn’t much life left in the critter as I picked it up and held it in my hand. I twisted the knob on its side which immediately brought it back to full life. A child’s toy, a walking, cymbal playing monkey had been left behind by a little one. It brought a smile to my face and a little warmth to my heart.

This encounter reminded me of the unrestrained and unbounded love of a child. Nothing fills my heart more that to see the smile on my granddaughters face, or a hug and embrace, high five, or handshake from a little one. There is an authenticity and genuineness of a child’s love. Watching this monkey clanging the cymbals reminds me of something Paul said, for all we do and say… without love, we are just rattling around making noise.

It was a simple reminder of the children who grace our community of faith, filled with energy, laughter, and love. It was a simple reminder that even the remnant of their presence can be sign we do not journey this journey of life and faith alone. And the knowledge and fact of that, not unlike the twist of a kind word, laughter, or a child’s embrace, can bring us back to life as well.

Take some time this week and every week to appreciate and notice the joy of the little ones in your midst. Remember what it was like and let the Presence fill you with new life. If anyone recognizes this critter and wishes to return it to its rightful owner it will be here in my office and I will gladly return it. In the meantime, I suspect, periodically one might find it clanging the cymbals and taking a stroll across my desk.

It is one of the many small ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community.  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

Full of Facebook

April 22, 2016

I’ve been in a ponderous mood today in the midst of reading and the writing on a final paper for my school work. Actually, it has been more than just today, I have been in a bit of a funk of late. Nothing huge on my part, just the culmination of a lot of things, all the ups and downs of life I suppose.

The struggles of our world, our country and its current political and cultural unrest, our state, the state of the church in general, the struggles of our United Methodist Church specifically, the difficulties of life and of suffering and death for friends and family, and just a funk in general.

Though I know in the grand scheme of things I have so very much to be grateful for and I am, there are days and seasons when on one level or another we humans can journey through that dark night of the soul written of by Saint John of the Cross. This journey of life is filled with not only the mountain top experiences but the valleys that can weigh heavy on our hearts and souls.

I shared with someone the other day, “I’m tired, just tired.” I have so many in my life, the most inspiring of which is my partner and spouse, who find ways to lift me out of these kinds of funks when I find myself there. I am and continue to be eternally grateful for them.

Today was a much needed day for me, a day in which I celebrate the anniversary of my birth. It began with a simple gift and an embrace, a reminder of love. This day has become enhanced over the last few years, enhanced by technology and connection. Ever since the advent of Facebook and my journey into such social media this day has become a well for me, a well which fills my cup, and this year most profoundly.

Here in the midst of my funk, over three hundred of my “friends” took perhaps all of ten to twenty seconds, some more, to say Happy Birthday, share words of affirmation and encouragement, a picture of a cake, balloons, a peaceful lake, TRex’s, even a farting dinosaur cartoon.

The reason I say “friends” is that some of these who have taken the time to acknowledge our connection I have known all my life, some I have known for twenty or thirty years, some I have known only a few years, a few months, a few weeks, and some I have never actually met, but are friends of friends of friends of friends. Some of them are of like mind in philosophy, theology, vocation, and politic, and some are perhaps even polar opposites. And yet in the midst of all this social networking… we are connected, connected enough to take a moment out of the day to say, “Hey! Thought of you today!”

So as the sun sinks below the horizon on this 57th anniversary of my birth, I want to take this moment and just say how very grateful I am for all of you who took the time to remember me, even for all of those who didn’t and yet I know we are connected as well. It is a reminder for me, for all of us, we get through this life best when we do it together. My funk has faded as I sit here near the love of my life and my home. My cup is full, full of Facebook, full of connection, full of life, and full of love, ready to take on the world once again until Justice IS, until Kindness IS, until we ARE the very Love of God in the world around us. It will be so! It will be SO!

Grateful for another year. Grateful for each and every one of you.

Peace and Light for Our Journey –

Kent

Peace; Passive and Active, We Are Not More, But We Can Be. A Comment and Call for General Conference

March 29, 2016

This is a rather long “blog” as it is a sermon, but I have had several requests for the transcript. This is the extended version. The delivered version in audio is available on our website at http://collegehillumc.org/gathering under the media tab.

Peace; Passive and Active,
We Are Not More, But We Can Be.
A Comment and Call for General Conference

March 13, 2016

“It’s Windy” “No, it’s Thursday” “Yeah, me too. Let’s get a drink.“ It is never easy to know if one is being understood or if the hearer is understanding correctly. We can be in a setting listening or speaking and hear the words or speak the words and then find ourselves in that conundrum of, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

[Let me say here I have since this sermon and writing visited with our communications director and we are visiting and working on how to communicate this campaign in a way that is open and affirming of the diverse expressions and commitments to faith and justice in our conference and jurisdiction]

I found myself in that position a few weeks ago, a disturbing, reactive, troubling place I knew I needed to process before I responded. The troubling in my soul has been present for a lot of years. This particular troubling brought it to mind again at a gathering of our clergy in Lincoln, Nebraska a few weeks ago. I learned of a communications campaign, for lack of better words, entitled We Are More, which I would confirm later is a United Methodist jurisdictional collaboration among many areas in our region.

When I first learned of it what I heard was at our upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church there would be many discussions around controversial topics. The media will choose to focus on these topics and the communication campaign is designed to suggest, while these topics are important, we are more than these topics. My first and immediate reaction was concern and a bit of a knot in my stomach.

The approach sounded to me like an attempt to deflect and move the conversation away from these topics and talk about something else. My colleague Rev. Mark Holland put words to the troubling in my soul when he asked the question, “Are we more than justice?”

While I believe I can hear the intent of the campaign, I confess it still troubles me, in how it might be communicated and used to deflect, diminish, and even shut down fruitful and much needed conversation about our Denomination’s commitment to justice and in particular social justice.

As I understand the campaign to date, it is to create a collection of videos and statements inviting persons to share their conversion and faith stories and to say, while these topics are important, regardless of our differences we all agree that, Making Disciples of Jesus for the Transformation of the World,  is our primary responsibility. i.e. We are a world-wide denomination with a great deal of concerns and ministries.

I do not disagree with that sentiment and commitment, and while I do not disagree it could be construed that there is somehow a difference or a disconnect between our social justice concerns and making disciples. I have no doubt, in particular, for our LGBT colleagues and members, as I have heard their concerns, the campaign feels like a deflection and diminishing of their place and their concerns, as do many of us who are allies and committed to justice for all of God’s children.

As for me, I am unwilling to concede there is some kind of disconnect or separation between Making Disciples and Equality and Inclusion for All Persons in the church regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Disciple making and inviting is about walking with God in Christ, learning, following, reaching out, and loving. We are all called to practice discipleship, straight or gay. Equality, and inclusion IS Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.

The personal grace and salvific nature of our journey of faith and United Methodist heritage is truly an important part of our conversation. John Wesley was certainly concerned with piety, relationship, and personal transformation. And he had a strong emphasis on social justice as shared in our United Methodist Discipline which states, “there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” In other words, for Wesley, our faith is not individualistic, it is social in nature, we need each other. Faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The troubling in my soul and the knot in my stomach is how our communication of this campaign can be, and has already been, seen as an either/or rather than a both/and.

One of the primary tension filled topics of our General Conference will be human sexuality and sexual orientation and how our United Methodist Church responds to our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender. These faithful persons in our congregations should not be seen as a but we are more, rather they are more as well.

As I shared with our Bishop one morning, I do not want to be seen as a one issue clergy person, and I know our denomination does not either. While there are other issues of social justice needing to be addressed, how we respond to persons who are LGBT and to the LGBT members and colleagues in our churches is a priority and of utmost importance.

In our own prophetic tradition there is precedent of preaching and proclaiming justice in the face of injustice until justice is made to happen. Some days it can feel like I am a broken record, and yet I refuse to be silent in the face of a belittling, diminishing, and dismissing of the faith and person-hood of so many of my friends and colleagues. We are concerned here not with a topic or an issue, but rather with people’s lives and livelihoods, calls and commissions, and the faith and practice of all children of God, persons of good character and love.

While human sexuality and sexual orientation is a priority, I also believe the critique of a but We are More communication campaign applies across the board of justice in our world including the death penalty, education, refugees, immigration, Medicaid expansion, poverty, homelessness, and the whole spectrum of justice, and particularly social justice concerns of our denomination. We are not more than these social justice concerns, I would rather say, We are These Concerns, All of Them, when it comes to justice for all.

In the familiar passage we read from Ecclesiastes, most scholars agree the author of these words was most likely depressed, frustrated, he or she was a realist of realists. Perhaps beaten up, oppressed, excluded, and treated unjustly by life. A life, they have determined that is futile; work, eat, drink, be merry and what else is there? For the author it is simply seasons and times of life. The journey of life, in culture and society, In relationship, all the times there are, and for the purposes of this sermon, in particular, times of speaking and times of silence.

I agree with this passage. There are times and seasons to our lives. Time to mourn and dance. Gather together and separate, embrace and refrain from embracing, weeping and laughing, there is a time to keep and throw away, a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

I have been told by some colleagues and others that perhaps now is the time to be silent, to be in prayer, to seek understanding and conversation in silence and solemnness. While there is nothing wrong with these things, I do not believe this is the time for silence. This is the time to speak, especially now as we approach General Conference. Especially now when the conversation is growing more and more prevalent. Now is the Time to speak, silence only serves to promote the injustices our world and fellow pilgrims on the journey are experiencing.

It is time to speak, time for ALL of us to speak and to acknowledge there are times for silent reflection, and inner peace, perhaps even passive practice of peace and meditation, AND there is a time for active peacemaking, justice making, and I believe that time is now! Speak up, let your voices, your faith, your lives be heard, until Justice is made to happen!

This posture and way of living and loving is about participating in the vision of God’s justice for all, and with God’s help, into a just, compassionate, and peaceful place for which we all yearn. Living into this vision of God’s compassionate justice in the world is about justice for all. And in terms of our denomination, in terms of the church, the Body of Christ, to emphasize my friend’s words once again, “We are not more than justice.”

All of this being said, I do believe we can be more than the injustices we promote as a denomination, as local churches, and as members. I was struck this week as I studied in Isaiah and his words for the community in which he was a part, listen –

…that you come before me – Who asked that of you? Trample my courts no more; bringing oblations is futile, incense is offensive to me. New moon and Sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, assemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide. Your new moons and fixed seasons fill me with loathing; they are become a burden to me, I cannot endure them. And when you lift up your hands, I will turn my eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime-wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from my sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.

These are the prophetic words from Isaiah for his community and ours…

We can be more than excluding good, qualified, faithful, loving LGBT members of our churches and congregations by welcoming and ordaining them into the full life of the church.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to be nonviolent and then lobby for fewer firearm restrictions when we are outside the walls of the church.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to love the poor and yet shame them by supporting drug testing and calling them lazy if they need to be on assistance.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to welcome all and then support banning Syrian refugees from our country.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we state healthcare is a right and then condemn the only attempt to provide health coverage for all.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to value life and then lobby for continuation of the death penalty.

Yes, we can be more than stating “all persons are of sacred worth to God,” while claiming “except for these.”

I do believe we can be more than the injustices we promote as a denomination, as local churches, and as members. We can be more when all of God’s children have access to both sides of the table.

We can be more when all have enough. We can be more when we are as concerned with tearing down the walls of injustice as we are with keeping the doors shut.

We can be more when we are as committed to justice for all as we are with maintaining the status quo.

We are not more than the important, compassionate, grace-filled, welcoming, loving, justice of God, all of it and more. I pray daily for our beloved United Methodist Church and our General Conference and delegates, praying one day we become more than a Denomination that fears conflict, difference, diversity, and change.

As shared with me by a friend and colleague, we are a broad tent denomination, with a wide variety of theology, belief, and practice and yes, we are more than a single issue church, but we are not more than justice for all God’s children, all of them.

Here I stand. Here I remain. In love and service with the United Methodist Church. May grace abound and love immerse us all. May it be so. May it be so in 2016. Speak Up! IT’S TIME!

Rev. Kent H. Little

 

Questions are Welcome

March 21, 2016

I remember standing in the kitchen with my dad and mom when I asked the questions. I was probably about thirteen as I believe it was confirmation class that prompted the conversation with my dad/pastor/confirmation class teacher. Mom was fixing dinner and dad and I were have a discussion about Christianity and beliefs. I remember asking, “So if Jesus was raised from the dead physically and ascended into heaven, how can we speak of the belief he is always everywhere with us? And if he was raised spiritually and not bodily and the tomb was empty what did they do with his body?

I remember dad answering the question as any good critical theologian might answer such a question, “Those are really good questions son, what do you think?” Which simply prompted more conversation, seeking, questions, and searching, which of course is exactly what dad intended. He was always one who encouraged us to seek out our own path, not to believe something just because he did, but to study, question, consider and make sure what we believed was our own.

As we sat down at the table for dinner that evening I remember mom saying to me, “You know Kent, I believe there are just some things we do not know and perhaps are not even supposed to know; they are a mystery.”

In hindsight I think there is something to be said about the kind of faith environment in which I was raised. There is tremendous benefit in being encouraged to find one’s own understanding and belief structures, to be encouraged to question, doubt, wrestle, and critically practically look at the stories of our faith. I also believe there is benefit in realizing, once we study, question, doubt, wrestle, and critically practically look at the stories of our faith, to be able to say, “I don’t know.”

There are a lot of questions and wondering around our stories and scriptures. Even the story of Jesus’ resurrection differ depending on which gospel account we are reading, they don’t even agree on the details of that morning. I have long appreciated the words of Marcus Borg with regards to the stories of resurrection when he spoke of Jesus’ resurrection as believing what you want about the story, literal bodily resurrection, spiritual, metaphorical, but how does your belief transform you and help you make this world a better place in which to live? Likewise, the quote Diana Butler Bass shared from a “liberal bishop who was asked if he believed in the resurrection,” to which he replied, “Believe it? I’ve seen it too many times not to!”

I believe questions, doubts, wrestling, wondering, and being vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” are crucial and indispensable qualities of a deep and abiding faith journey. And so, with all I know and with all I do not know, I am still able to cherish this Holy Week with all of its celebrations, questions, difficulties, suffering, betrayal, and darkness. I am still able to embrace all it holds and show up on Easter Sunday morning and celebrate and proclaim with all of us “He is Risen!”

Join us this Sunday at College Hill for our Easter Resurrection Sunday Celebration of Peace come to Life! It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent

My Brother Still Sings

March 4, 2016

yesThis writing has been bubbling up in my mind for the last few days. In some sense this blog is simply a personal journal that may or may not have resonance with those who choose to read it, but writing is how I log my journey and is therapy for me. It was prompted by a friend’s Facebook post inviting readers to make a list of twelve music albums they had carried with them over the years. I have been listening to a select number of albums as a result since that day. It is a reminder for me of how deeply music resides in my heart and soul and the meaning, connection, and even sacredness it carries as it has become such a part of me.

 

To a large degree music is where I carry my memories. When I hear particular church hymns, some other religious songs, and tunes my mom comes to mind as I recall her singing while she worked around the house. Songs like He Touched Me, Silver Bells, You are My Sunshine, Tell me Why, and I Love You a Bushel and a Peck. When I hear those songs they transport me back to the kitchen and the image mom standing at the sink doing dishes or fixing a meal are as clear in my mind as if she were standing here in my kitchen this morning.

 
I would have to say though, to a large degree, the depth of meaning in music for me happened when my older brother Chris died as the result of an injury received in a football game when he was just a month shy of his sixteenth birthday. Chris had a stereo in his room, the only stereo so to speak, in the house. It was a stereo he had purchased from a friend of his; two speakers, a set of headphones, AM FM Tuner, and an 8Track player.

 
I still remember the last time I saw Chris the morning before his fatal injury. He was getting ready to leave for school and had turned off his stereo. I pleaded with him to leave it on and promised I would turn it off before I left. I, albeit I think reluctantly, he agreed to do so. I am pretty confident it came with a big brother threat for the little brother about entering his bedroom and promising again that I would turn it off. He left it on for me to listen before I left for school.

 
In the stereo that morning was the 8Track album, Yes, Fragile. I have that album on my ITunes now and every time one of those songs, particularly Roundabout, makes the shuffle rotation I am transported back to that morning and that moment, not in a sad kind of way, but just that moment of last contact and memory.

 
After Chris died, I do not think I did it consciously at the time, in hindsight I realize I immersed myself in his music. I believe it is how I coped with such a traumatic loss at such a young age. I can remember laying on his bed for hours with the headphones on listening to all of his music. His music selections filled that empty place his absence had created; Yes; Fragile, Chicago; Live at Carnegie Hall, The Grassroots, James Gang; Thirds, Bread, Rare Earth; Live in Concert, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Led Zeppelin; IV, Three Dog Night; Golden Biscuits, just to name a few. Every time songs from these albums and others wander through my ITunes selections or on the radio, I see his face, hear his voice, and cherish the memories I have.

 
I believe it is deeper than just personal memory and journey though, there is something deeply sacred and spiritual about music, and not just religiously themed music, but almost all music. Music is deeply a part of who we are as humans and I also believe deeply a part of creation and all creatures. There is something about music that speaks to the very depths of who and whose we are. Whether we are just thumping a rhythm on the desk with the eraser at the end of our pencil while we are thinking, or immersed in a full band and orchestra and everything in between, music is just who we are, and integral part of our makeup.

 
I am grateful for the music carrying the memories of so many in my life helping keep them alive in my heart forever. I am grateful for the musicians and artists who surround me so often with the music of who and whose I am. I pray music carries for you such depth of meaning and lights your way as you journey through all the ups and downs of life.
Just some pondering on a morning here in my chair surrounded by the light of the early sun, two faithful four legged companions, warmth, and at this moment, Bread; Everything I Own playing on my phone. Never be afraid of the memories of which music reminds your heart. Then, go sing your song for the world.

 

Peace and Light and Music for your Journey,
Kent