I Will Persist; A Response.

April 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Rev. Kent H. Little

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The Approaching Storm II an Addendum and Apology

April 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Kent

Ruminations on Violence and War

April 7, 2017

I remember and resonate with my professor, mentor, colleague, and friend the Rev. Dr. Tex Sample when he said, “I want to be a pacifist. I haven’t hit anyone in years, but I still want to, so I know I have not arrived yet.” I cannot ever remember thinking violence or war was the answer to violence, conflict, or war. In my mind, war, violence, an eye for an eye mentality is nothing more than a failure of humanity’s ability to be humane. I too long to be a pacifist, though I am probably more in line with President Jimmy Carter’s comment, “War can be a necessary evil, but it is always evil.”

I find myself in that conundrum again this morning as I ruminate on the most recent military action by our current administration in Syria. I find myself in a conundrum because I long for the day we humans can find a better way to resolve our conflicts than killing each other. The missile strike was a response to that country’s atrocity of dropping chemical weapons killing men, women, and children. The images from Syria are horrific and heart wrenching. While I whole heartedly agree something needed to be done in response, either by we the United States, or preferably the whole world community, I have some questions this morning as I recall our President’s comments last evening as well as news reports that are emerging today.

While I understand this is what appears to have been a limited and strategic action with, hopefully, a minimum of human lives lost, which I hope was the intent, I am troubled. I am troubled by an administration, on the one hand, who promotes the closing of our borders by banning refugees from countries like Syria and building walls to keep refugees out of our country from the south as they flee cruel and horrific governments and violence. And on the other hand our President cites the killing of men, women, and children by the countries from which they would wish to flee, as reason for a military strike on that country. I’m sorry, you can’t have it both ways. If our administration is as compassionate as they wish to appear, then open our borders to the refugees who are in need of sanctuary, don’t feign compassion by dropping bombs on them, when their countries commit atrocities against those who long for safety and refuge!

I have other questions  I am still ruminating on, as well as those that seem to be finding traction, such as around political strategy, contact with Russia, or even Syria prior to the strike, that might cause some to suspect that rather than this being a strategic response to atrocity, that the strike might be seen as a political smoke screen and attempt to take the heat off current investigations of our administration, but I acknowledge that thought, to date, is simply speculation.

Mostly I am troubled by our powers-that-be who continue to put forth an agenda of policy lacking compassion and then citing compassion as reason for a military operation. I pray this might truly be a changed administration and perhaps this atrocity was a turning point in realizing who we as a nation claim to be. However, at this point I am not holding my breath, I have seen no convincing evidence to make me think the administration has suddenly changed course. I guess we will have to see what comes to be.

In the meantime, my voice, my work, my action will continue to be used to hold our leaders accountable to the justice, compassion, and humility for all… ALL to which I believe we as a nation, as a world are called to be. I pray you will join me. May it be so. May it be soon!

 

Kent

Beautiful Hearts

April 2, 2017

We attended the Trans Day of Visibility: Rally for Equality. I confess, I know and understand very little about the journey of transgender persons and what they have been through, though I know many and am educating myself by studying, listening to their stories, respecting their presence and rights, deliberately seeing them, and loving them. While I can never fully understand, I can understand better. As it was said at the Rally Friday, it is up to me, up to us to do the work of study and educating of ourselves to try and better understand what our transgender friends and family are going through and have been through. I am working on that, I want to better understand so I can be a better pastor, ally, advocate, friend, … a better person in my loving of all of God’s children…all of us.

trans

Speakers at the rally shared stories of loss and pain. Friday I heard not just stories of bullying and hatred, but witnessed it firsthand. I listened as speakers shared of youth and adults who have ended their lives because of religion, culture, and society who diminish and belittle who and whose they are, and I was moved to tears. I can only hope to somehow understand a small fraction of the pain and fear they have encountered on their journey, but I can be here for them as they make that journey, we can all be here for them as they make that journey. Transgender persons and their journeys, though filled with tragedy and pain, fear, risk, and struggle, are courageous and beautiful, all of them.

I think of that familiar passage about the anointing of David when God shares that God looks upon the heart. I can honestly say, the transgender persons I have encountered and come to know, have beautiful hearts of grace, compassion, courage, and love. I have much to learn from my transgender brothers and sisters that already has and will continue to deepen my understanding and walk with them as well as my walk with God in Christ. I am grateful and I look forward to a new journey each morning!

For our church, here at College Hill. The first of the year I had the congregation fill out note cards expressing what they loved about CHUM, why they came, what was our purpose. I shared those responses in our newsletter and we will be visiting them at our next Extended Council meeting. While we want to be aware and attentive to all the responses, the overwhelming nature of the responses had to do with our open, loving, welcoming, and inclusive posture and vision. We will be focusing on that and talking about how we can better share that message not only with our current membership but with our city and Annual Conference.

I want to emphasize my place here in this writing in that I stand with and will advocate for transgender persons, and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual persons, and those regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, and age who are marginalized and oppressed. It is my passion, my vocation, my calling, and I believe what and who God with Christ has called me to be in this world so filled with brokenness, bigotry, hate, and exclusion.

I implore our society, city, state, country, and religious communities, to stop the discrimination and hate. Sit down with someone, talk less and listen more to the stories of those who simply want to live authentically as they were created to be. Here at CHUM, we are, and can be even more of a beacon of justice, grace, wisdom, and love. It is a beautiful way to join the beauty of this diverse tapestry of us God has created. Join me won’t you?

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community, the whole community of God’s children!  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.   Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Pastor Kent

Practicing Presence

February 6, 2017

Mozart, our Shar-Pei, is a lover so to speak. He loves affection and attention. Ignoring him is usually not an option. He loves to be loved. Our car Frodo, on the other hand, is a one person cat for the most part. He sits on TruDee’s lap if he sits on lap at all. It only takes a look from me to cause him to flee across the room, he pretty much doesn’t want anything to do with anyone or anything except TruDee.moz-and-frodo

He will acknowledge our two dogs as long as it’s his idea and not theirs. Mozart really wants to interact with Frodo, but most of the time Frodo is not having it. I noticed the other evening Mozart scooting across the floor close to Frodo. Mozart finally stopped and simply lay his head close to Frodo and just waited.

Perhaps he learned this from our older dog Simeon, I have often referred to Simeon as my Zen master. Simeon for the most part is about presence. He doesn’t need a lot of attention or petting, he is generally content just laying or sitting near you in a, “I’m here,” presence.

I think about so many instances and situations in our culture and society, our state and nation, our government, politics, even in the church and I wonder what we might learn from such an example of Mozart and Simeon? It seems to me there is so much incivility, vitriol language, intolerance, lack of understanding, and too much talking at one another rather than listening.

I wonder, if we focused more on the practice of forgiveness and grace, a practice of a patient listening presence rather than how we are going to respond in accusation or proving another wrong and we right, if our world, our churches, and our lives might be a little more open to the common good for all? I wonder.

Take some time this week and beyond to consider how we could all spend a little more time on inward reflection on our own behavior and reactions. Take some time this week and beyond to reflect on how we all might practice patience and an intentional listening presence to understand rather than to be right.

Mozart’s attempt at practicing presence did not result in a new best of friends scenario, but perhaps it will lead to a more understanding and friendly relationship between two who must live in the world together peaceably and gracefully. Practice patience. Practice presence. Practice Love, Kindness, and Humility.

It is one of the many of the 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…and Presence for Your Journey!

Pastor Kent

The Evolution of Our Discourse

February 1, 2017

It is an evolution of conversation. There was a day in political as well as religious discourse when reaching across divides, finding common ground, give and take, even dare I say, compromise, was the work of those in leadership. We are years, perhaps even decades beyond that notion, it seems an almost fantasy laden idealism now as I look at our culture and society today.

For at least eighteen to twenty years I have been saying our society and culture, be it in the halls of government or the hallowed halls of the church, has devolved into an us versus them attitude. I have been guilty of it as well, my way or the highway mentality. I slip into that frame of mind when I find myself frustrated, overwhelmed, and tired. I have shared on more than one occasion that we are a nation, church, perhaps even world who have an insatiable need to be right and an insatiable need to be right at the expense of someone else. There seems no longer room for civil discussion, committed engagement, and compromise that furthers the common good of all.

I wrote a blog a year ago telling my denomination it is wrong in its treatment of LGBTQ persons. I still believe that. I stand by it with every fiber of my being, informed by my study of scripture, the traditions of the faith, my own experience, and reason… the foundations of my journey of faith! And while I believe this unequivocally I believe there is room for discussion and compromise in ways that build up the church that no longer does violence and harm to the faithful who are LGBTQ.

It is larger than that though. It is an issue and a problem that reaches across the landscape of what I believe to be God’s vision for the world and our corner of it. This notion of the need to be right has evolved into an even deeper ingrained entrenchment of society. It is an all or none scenario, and I would say, arguments that play the, us vs them, in ways that are untenable and unsustainable.

The extreme ends of any issue seem to believe that if they can even find one person that upholds their views it must be true for all and the other is obviously wrong. We no longer consider the middle ground of gray to even be a valid part of the discussion. It seems we have forgotten how difficult engaged and committed citizenship and faith are. It is not an easy thing this “We the People” or as the one of my tradition stated, how very difficult it is to practice “the narrow way.” You have to want this kind of freedom and place in the world badly and to continue with the incivility and bigotry is the easy way out because one does not have take responsibility for their own participation in the problems they can just blame someone else. Perhaps what we all need is a mirror.

I am often drawn to the words of a favorite speech in the movie The American President, when the character Andrew Shepard shares these words,

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

One of the reasons I like this quote so much is I hear it applying not only to our political landscape in our country and world, but also to the religious landscape, especially in our own United Methodist Church. Living together as progressive and conservative Christians as well as other religious theologies and ideologies is hard work, “You have to want it bad!” Sharing our passion and commitment to our vision of the world and the church requires the ability and finesse of finding common ground that ensures the common good of ALL concerned, not just the privileged few.

Maybe this writing is preaching to myself, I certainly know I have been guilty, but the question keeps coming back to me and so I will pass it on to those who take time to read, “How long?” How long will we refuse to listen? How long will we continue to make one another the enemy rather than owning we are all in this together? How long will we continue to deny we belong to one another? It takes ALL of us.

Life it too short to deny basic rights, equality, and justice to all of our citizenry, to all of God’s children. Life is too short to unfriend, belittle, attack physically and verbally, life is too short to live in hate and suspicion of the other. These are the reasons I continue to speak, to march, to protest, and to listen.

But if we continue on this path of exclusion, closed doors, closed hearts, closed minds, of either or with no common ground… will devour ourselves. There will be more of these ponderings… this is what is on my mind today.

Peace Be –

Kent

I Marched this Day

January 24, 2017

The sign I carried had printed in black on white, “We the People will Never Be Silent.” We built the sign with paper, printer, foam board, glue, staple, and wood. I considered not carrying my sign, sore hands from a fall on the ice a week before. But when we arrived at the gathering space I could not bring myself to leave it behind. My sign was one of thousands. There were hopeful signs, angry signs, fearful signs, signs that were difficult to see and read, humorous signs, and signs of love and unity. My sign too…belonged.

This was not my first march or rally to speak up for justice and compassion. I have attended many over the years. I am often asked as some have asked why I marched this day; a man, and in particular a white, straight, middle class man with my back pack of privilege I have carried with me since my birth. I have pondered the question since hearing it for myself as well as watching others wrestle with the question. I did not want to answer without much consideration. A part of my answer is, I marched in part because I do not know, because I have never experienced the kinds of things those with which I joined in solidarity have.

I have never been humiliated, objectified, assaulted, groped, paid less, talked about like I was an object for the pleasure of another, refused needed medical procedure or had my private decisions with my doctor legislated out of my hands, or the target of offensive and unacceptable “locker room talk,” because I am a man.

I have never been beaten, fired, fearful, rejected, disowned, homeless, yelled at on the streets of the city, or threatened, I have never had to worry about my marriage being nullified by the government because I am straight.

I have never been stopped in my car, followed in a store, had a glaring glance, or a suspicious look… I have never had someone cross to the other side of the street, clutch their bag or their child a little tighter when I walk past… just because I of the color of my skin.

I have never been mocked, made fun of, belittled, or limited in opportunity because of being differently-abled.

I have never been feared, targeted, discriminated against, vandalized, beaten, or told I cannot practice my religion because I am a Christian.

I have never been threatened to be sent back to Germany or anywhere else in Europe because it is the land of my ancestry, had the fear of being separated from my family because of my origin, or struggled to find the funds and assistance because I am not a citizen.

I have never had to fear a wall being built to keep me out or keep me in because I am in the United States.

I have never lived in fear because of bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination, prejudice, or hatred because I am different.

I marched with some three thousand persons, and millions around the world, because I have never experienced these things. I marched this day in support of my partner, my daughter’s in law, and my granddaughters because they should not have to live in a world where these things are a reality. I marched this day because I want my sons to know they nor their partners nor their daughters should have to live in a world where these things are a reality. I marched this day because no one, not one should have to live in a world where these things are a reality and happen each and every day in our communities, in our states, in our nation, and around the world .. and no ONE should have to experience such atrocities.

I marched this day because of my faith in a God who loves each and every one of us, each and every creature and all of creation. I marched this day because my faith tells me the vision of KINdom, is one of kinship, we are all related, we belong to one another and that vision for the common good of all requires of us Justice for all, Kindness for all, Humility from and with all.

Until that day … the people… I …cannot be silent.

I marched this day.

May this day be a re-beginning of our journey toward the Common Good for ALL,

Kent H. Little

Of Empaths and Collateral Beauty

December 31, 2016

I want to talk about the movie Collateral Beauty, but I want to start with another piece of recent pondering in order to lead into the movie.

If I recall it was just about a year ago now a friend asked me the question while we were on retreat, “Are you an empath?” I do not remember the exact context of the conversation at the time, but I remember having to ask what that referred to as I had never heard the term before, other than assuming it had something to do with empathy. She explained that empaths have a sense about them and can take on others pain, joy, struggle, and emotions and/or are especially sensitive to positive or negative energy in a room.

I came home after the retreat and looked up empath and read numerous articles, blogs, and journals about those who identify themselves as such. The articles spanned a wide array of theories and abilities, some for my more practical and skeptical self, seemed a little bizarre, but many of the articles I resonated with deeply in my being and experience. Here is one of the articles I found helpful in my readings, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-freedom/201602/10-traits-empathic-people found in Psychology Today.

Some days I can feel like the whole weight of the world is on my shoulders and I have a difficult time shaking the funk so to speak. When I walk in a hospital room when a family is struggling with difficult news and making difficult decisions I can often feel an almost physical heaviness, a tangible distress in my body. Even in other places, the office, a social gathering, dinner with friends, or when it is just TrweepingbuddhauDee and I, there is an energy, presence, whatever one may call it, that is often palpable. I believe this is one reason I found such connection with the image of the Weeping Buddha from the first time I saw it and read the legend behind the figure. Here is a link to the legend of the Weeping Buddha, if you are interested, https://www.buddhagroove.com/what-does-the-weeping-buddha-signify/.

Now to the movie, if you are reading this and wondering, “What the heck?” hang with me I’ll make the connection shortly. TruDee and I went to see the movie Collateral Beauty last night. The movie, in every review I have read has been panned, by some critics as the worst movie of 2016. Now, I know I am not a professional critic and evidently do not look for the same things as those who make a living watching movies, but I found the movie moving, meaningful, and deep.

One critic said the movie failed at answering the question of “What is collateral beauty.” I would agree, the movie is not clear on exactly what it is or what it means. Being the pondering kind of person I am, such a critique does not disturb me. I have no problem with stories, movies, and books that leave me hanging trying to wrestle out the meaning for myself. Heck, I have at the foundation of my vocation a book I have spent fifty seven years wrestling out the meaning in the bible!

I am not going to give any spoilers in this writing but I want to make a brief connection between my pondering of one who has identified with the empaths of the world and what came to me in the movie Collateral Beauty. I have been on a soul and self-searching journey this past year. With the help of a counselor, and a long distance friend, I have resolved some pieces of my journey I did not realize needed resolved. One major difference for me is the Christmas season, every Christmas Season I always have a day, I even named it, my Melancholy Day. I never know when it is going to hit me, but in the midst of the celebrations I have a day when grief overwhelms me and I find it difficult to function. This year, it never came, or at least not at this writing now six days post-Christmas. I believe that while I still have those moments of deep connection of struggle and joy, the day never came because of an intentional attempt to move my focus.

What I found in the movie, was depth and peace. No it did not answer the question of collateral beauty other than to suggest it had to do with connection. I found the movie beautiful, difficult, emotional, and fodder for much contemplation. What I came away with was this, and I think it is very timely at least for me, in this world, in our country, in our state, in our churches, there is so much pain, fear, hate, discrimination, uncertainty, and incivility we have a choice. While these things cause me, and so many others, concern, anger, and fear, in the midst of so much Collateral Damage, I have to choose not to miss the Collateral Beauty. The movie did not answer the question because this beauty will be different for all of us, we will find it in different ways, in different places, in different people, but I must be intentional about seeking it out and allow it to feed and nurture my passion and work in the world, otherwise, like Howard in the movie, the damage of negativity, suffering, grief, hate, and xenophobia will consume me and drive me deep into that ever darkening spiral of hopeless despair, especially for one who connects as an empath in the world. I highly recommend this movie, take some tissues with you.

So, as I close this writing, let me say on this last day of 2016, look for, seek out, be unrelenting in your search for beauty on your path, in your world, in each and every one you encounter, it may be what ultimately saves our world, saves ourselves.

If I were to make a New Year’s Resolution, though it is not what I am calling this, it would  be to continue my journey, as best I can, from moment to moment, seeking out undauntedly the beauty of everything, everything. I know 2016 has been a difficult year, but in the coming year, embrace beauty my friends, you are enough, you are beautiful, you are not alone, I love you… and together … may we make 2017 beautiful and filled with grace, justice, compassion, and love.

Here is to Beauty and Hope –

Kent

Christmas Tradition

December 19, 2016

Tradition always comes to mind this time of year and I am sure each of us have some kind of tradition we remember and continue to practice. Some of those traditions are grand and involved and others are simple and quiet. To some degree these family and faith traditions are the glue that hold us together, remind us who we are, and who we hope to be.

Our family is no different, we have various traditions, especially around Christmas. Some are traditions we have carried forward with us and some we have created ourselves. Every year we put gold coins, often those gold foil covered chocolate ones, in our family stockings to remind us of the legend of Saint Nicholas; potato soup with the family, the long conversation about whether we can open gifts early or not, finding a way to try and help someone who might need a hand and a little extra love this time of year, and of course the gathering of family around a table laden with food, laughter, stories, memories, and love…mostly love.

I have a tradition I started many years ago involving primarily just myself. It is simple, brief, meaningful, and fills my soul a little more each year. Reading a book by Robert Fulgham, though I do not remember which one it was, he uses the imagery of Christmas music to speak of a cold, winter starry night. If you have been to many of our Christmas Eve Services you have heard me use those words as a form of encouragement. On Christmas Eve, after our Christmas Eve Service is over, either at the church or once I get home I always take just a few moments to… “Wander out on a midnight clear. Watch the Silent Stars go by. And listen…listen for the angels singing.”

My second tradition involves the communion elements. I asked a friend of mine while I was in seminary, who was a member of The Order of Saint Luke, what was proper in regards to left over bread and juice, or wine, after celebrating communion. He told me under no circumstances is one to just throw it away, pour the juice down the drain, or toss the bread in the trash. One should share the bread and juice with one who is hungry, consume it themselves, or “return them to the creation from which they came.” Each Christmas Eve I make sure our communion steward saves at least a portion of the remaining bread and juice for me to take home. Early on Christmas Morning I practice what I call my Saint Francis moment, and if you drive by our house early on Christmas Morn, you just might see an interesting fellow in his slippers standing in the yard, even in the snow, albeit it is usually in the backyard, pouring grape juice in the yard and scattering bits of broken bread on the ground for the creatures who dwell near our house. These two practices fill my heart and soul each Christmas.

Take some time this Christmas to nourish your soul, walk out this Christmas Eve on a midnight clear, watch the silent stars go by, and listen for the angels to sing. And as you gather together with friends and family on Christmas Day, find a way to remember even the least of the creatures of this good green earth we inhabit. And may the Light of this Season fill every nook and cranny of your being and burst forth onto and into the world around you so that the darkness will be held a little more at bay because of who you are.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. I am grateful to have so many family members, friends, and to be a part of this community and in some small way a part of your lives. I love you, God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

 

The Throw Down

November 14, 2016

It takes a long time to construct our institutions. It takes a long time to construct those things we hold as sacred. It takes a long time to construct those things we hold close to our hearts and souls. It takes a lifetime to construct how, what, where, we believe, and encounter one another and God. It takes a lifetime to construct our passion and journey discovering what we believe God wants for our faith and our life. It takes a lifetime.

Depending on what scholar one reads, the temple of Jesus’ day took somewhere between a few years and 46 years to construct. It takes a long time to construct those things that feel sacred in our lives and faith. 46 years in Jesus’ day was a lifetime.

Construction work today is hard work, whether is talking literally or metaphorically. Construction work was literally a whole lot more difficult in Jesus day, and certainly as hard metaphorically.

The journey of construction is difficult work. Whether we are talking literally constructing a physical thing, temple, church, house, office, etc., or whether we are talking about constructing our life and faith. In my own experience, regarding our life and faith journey, it takes building and tearing down, questions and supposed answers, second guessing, doubts, grief, tears, laughter, celebrations, heartache, and struggle.

And when one thinks they know, according to authors such as Richard Kearney in “Anatheism, Returning to God after God” and John Caputo in “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” once we think we have the faith, the journey, God figured out, it is time to deconstruct those images, admit we can know virtually nothing about God and begin all over again our quest to understand.

It is heart breaking to believe in an ideal, to trust the sacredness of our hopes and dreams, it is devastating to trust, know, believe to the very core of who we are; what we know of the Kindom of God, what the peaceable Kindom is supposed to look like, what justice, kindness, and humility ought to be about, to know in our very heart of hearts what the common good for all should be, and have it destroyed, attacked, and torn asunder.

That is what many heard when Jesus suggested “not one stone will be left upon the other; all will be thrown down.” It had taken years, decades, lifetimes to build and he is suggesting it was all for naught. At the time this was written the temple was already gone. It was already devastated, destroyed, not one stone was left upon another, which I have no doubt influenced the writing of this text. It had to, what one of us could experience such a devastating event and it not effect and influence everything we do?

So here I am, and we need to talk, and listen, and be together. First, I am not going to presume nor critique how any of we in our community of CHUM voted in the recent election. Not only would that be inappropriate and unethical for me, but illegal in this setting and context.

I am a political junky, I suppose not to the extent of many, but I have long loved to read about, see, study, and watch the political process unfold. It is an interesting place to be as a clergy person who is staunchly committed to the separation of church and state. I often find myself dancing with that line between my own personal opinion and political passion and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader world. But, for the most part I think I do well the dance along that line staying true to our founders and their passion for a freedom of and from religious privilege in our government, while honoring the diverse expression of religious and non-religious belief and practice in our country. And while I believe this, there are some things we need to talk about this morning.

There are those in our world, in our country, in our community, and here in our church who are grieving. I want to say, it is okay, grief is fine, normal, and important, and I nor anyone here or outside these walls has the right to diminish your grief in the aftermath of hopes unrealized and dreams shattered. No One. Tears, anger, confusion, bargaining, are all part of the grieving process, and those of us who are grieving need to take as long as we need to in order to process what we are going through. I am here for you, whatever your grief looks like, on whatever side of the political and ideological aisle you find yourself on. You are not alone!

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

I have been wrestling and dancing in the tension between gentle pastoral care and prophetic anger and passion. I thought I was firmly in place in my gentle preparation for today, until I continued following the news and media. While I will not talk partisan party politics I will be an active, loud, committed, and unrelenting voice against the politics of fear regardless of who is using it.

I attended a peaceful protest and gathering Friday evening. I was present and supportive of all who were there. Not so much because of the outcome of the election. My presence and support at this protest rally was in love and support of those who have been targeted and harassed by what has been unleashed by the campaign; women harassed by strangers on the street, fear and slurs directed at persons of other religions, livelihoods and marriages threatened and increased bigotry toward those LGBTQ persons. This protest rally was not about sour grapes or being “crybabies” because a candidate lost. This protest rally was about REAL emboldened and blatant harassment, hatred, and bigotry in our country and our communities as a result of the campaign rhetoric and hate directed at certain groups of God’s children. I will not be silent nor will I stand by and passively listen to others condemn persons who are being targeted and harassed. Please think before you speak! If you disagree and want to talk about it I am here. If you are threatened and afraid and need a safe person and place to talk, I am here.

Yes, when I encounter these things I too get angry, but our anger in and of itself will do us, me, no good, we need to find ways to channel it and my channel will be do all I can to make justice happen! I will Love as God Loves! I will to the best of my ability be the very reflection of God’s love and justice in the world!

My grief and struggle over the last few days, over the last year, is not about political ideology, though that is the context in which it was often born. What has broken my heart is borne out of my faith in God and my role as pastor as I witness the fear and pain that has been instilled because of the vitriol language, hatred, and bigotry that seems to have raised its ugly head in so many ways.

I am profoundly aware I need to temper my words so as to not assume I know or have experienced the kind of fear and hate many are feeling today because I do not and have not. I am white, male, and straight, and as such, I carry a certain amount of privilege. My responsibility is to listen and stand with those who have come to trust me enough to be vulnerable.

When I listen with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and we feel that recent comments made, objectifying women, have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them, my heart is heavy. And I say… Enough!

When I listen with those who are lesbian, gay, trans-gender, and bi-sexual who fear for their livelihood and their marriage and family because their rights have been promised to be reversed, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When I listen with immigrants and parents who are of a different color and national origin who had to comfort their children the morning after the election because their children feared they would be sent away, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When listen with those who are disabled fear they will be mocked and chided even more than they have been in the past, my heart is heavy. When I listen with persons of color victims of racism, still rampant in our society and culture, who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When I sit in the Mosque and pray with my Muslim friends, brothers, and sisters and listen to their stories. Stories of hate filled language, suspicious looks, vandalism against their place of worship, and fear of their neighbors, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

It’s time to listen to ourselves. It is time to listen to one another. We need to listen not to diminish, not to critique, not to try and fix the others anger or grief, not even to respond. We need to listen, really listen to one another, to understand what all of us are going through.

We all process and deal with grief and anger, heartache and fear differently. I would encourage you to not cast it off too soon. Don’t just smooth it over for smoothing over sake. Sit with it for as long as you need, abide with it for as long as you need, breathe it in and breathe it out. When you are ready we will gather together. We will gather to figure out how, what, when, we want to do something. We will gather to find hope, find support for our grief, tears for our tears, and love for our Fears.

It is already happening, I have had numerous persons reach out to me over the last few days with questions, “What do I do?” “Where do I turn?” “How can I help?”

We will gather here to do the work of compassion and hope. I here at College Hill we do discuss politics. But never a politic that divides, always a politic that unites and brings us all, ALL together. And not only politics but unity. There will be those who will call us to come together and unify. This is good, but not unity for unity’s sake. Never a unity that denies compassion and justice.

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

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

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

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

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

Because…

In the church, here at College Hill,

Here we believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Here we believe in the politics of compassion on bigotry.

Here we believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

Here we believe in the politics of the rights and humanity of ALL not just a few.

Here we believe in the politics that we are all children of the divine regardless of the religion or lack thereof we practice or not, not the politics of who is in and who is out.

Here we believe in the politics of the human race not racism.

Here we believe in the politics of welcome not locked doors.

Here we believe in the politics of justice for all not just the few.

Here we believe in the politics of kindness not threat.

Here we believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Here we believe in the politics of Love not fear!

We will be gathering a group together in the next week and a half. A group to brainstorm, support, and figure out what to do. We need to do something to support those in our midst who know the real fear of threat to their families, livelihoods, and lives AND especially those beyond these walls who are living in fear and uncertainty. It is not enough to stand idly by with only words of support and comfort. We have to put actions behind our words, ALL of us. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, though I have some pretty grand ideas for a few things. We need to start small, knock on a neighbor’s door and tell them you care. Take a plate of cookies to the Mosque, or The Center downtown, offer you support, your solidarity, your presence, and your love. We will rise, and we will rise together for Justice, Kindness, Humility, and Love.      This. IS. SO. Amen.

 

These are lyrics to a song written by Joe Crookston sung following this sermon and communion together here at College Hill UMC.

My father, he could use a little mercy now. The fruits of his labor, falling right slowly on the ground. His work is almost over, won’t be long he won’t be around, and I love my father, he could use some mercy now.

My brother, he could use a little mercy now. He’s a stranger to freedom, shackled to his fears and his doubts. The pain that he lives in, is almost more than living will allow. And I love my brother, he could use some mercy now.

My church and my country, they could use a little mercy now. As they sink into a poison pit, it’s going to take forever to climb out. And they carry the weight of the faithful, as they follow them down. And I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now.

Yeah, I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.

Yeah, we all, we could use a little mercy now. We may not deserve it, we need it anyhow. We hang in the balance between hell and hallowed ground. Every single one of us, could use some mercy now. Yeah, we all, could use some mercy now.