Posts Tagged ‘Church’

A Weed in the United Methodist Church

July 25, 2018

I was on my hands and knees in the cool morning hours a week ago pulling weeds out of the rock landscaping we have in front of our home. I do not know what kind of weeds they are, someone told me they call it Creeping Charlie, though looking at pictures I really do not think that is what it is. It may be Spurge. Anyway, I was pulling weeds, and though it is not a favorite pastime of mine, these weeds were pretty easily uprooted. While the tap root is long and can run deep, it is thin and brittle. The plant creeps along the ground, or in our case the rocks, and sets down roots, the roots are shallow, and while the plant is very invasive, unsightly, and annoying, it is easily uprooted because of its lack of depth.

It was the first thing that came to mind as I was reading the recently released United Methodist Church Commission on a Way Forward’s Report to General Conference. Let me qualify that statement. The image of the invasive weed in my rock bed was not related to the whole report but rather, a certain section of it. Let me explain.

The Commission’s report contains three possible plans for our Denomination’s continued struggle to include, or not, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, and Queer persons in the full life of our church. I finished reading the entire report yesterday and came away rather depressed, heartbroken, and even angry.

I did fine reading through the One Church Model, which in essence creates local control in the denomination for clergy, local churches, and Annual Conferences in terms of whether they will officiate or host same gender weddings and whether Annual Conferences will ordain LGBTQ persons. While my conviction is I cannot sign on in full support of this model, to me it is the sanest of the three. I believe I can probably exist in the environment this model would create though, I cannot fully support it because it continues to allow the United Methodist Church to discriminate and do harm to our LGBTQ members and clergy. It is wrong and needs to be rectified and should this pass I would continue to be a voice of advocacy and change until the denomination makes available to the whole of the church the grace and life we claim to all persons including LGBTQ persons in our communities.

The second model I read was a little more difficult to get my head around though in theory I think I understand. The summary version is it would create three conferences in the U.S.A., a Progressive (Fully Inclusive) Conference, a “Traditional” (as we have now) Conference, and a Uniting Conference (agree to disagree). Once again, while this seems to be an attempt at a step forward, it allows our churches to discriminate and do harm.

The third model is called the Traditional Model, herein is where the image of the weed in my rock bed began to take shape. This model would leave our United Methodist Discipline as is, continue to discriminate against and do harm to LGBTQ persons within and outside the church. But it would not stop there. This model creates even more punitive reactions to those who long for an open inclusive church. Clergy, churches, boards of ordained ministry, conferences, and bishops who we unable to sign on to an agreement that they support this model would in essence be invited to leave.

While this model is referred to as Traditional it is anything but. It is certainly not in keeping with Wesley’s model of grace, for in my opinion, this model is devoid of grace, compassion, and understanding. Such legalism and punitive faith is not traditional as its literalness is only two hundred to three hundred years old at best. Its roots are shallow, thin, and brittle, invasive and unsightly.

When looking at loving relationships between same gender couples, the prohibitions are simply not in the scriptures. The clobber passages that are cited in our bible do not address same gender relationships as we know them today. To continue to cite these passages to discriminate and do harm to LGBTQ persons is uninformed at best and disingenuous at worse. John Wesley’s commitment to education should lead us further to understand this. To continue to cite two thousand to four-thousand-year-old understandings and writings without consideration of twenty first century education, science, reason, and experience is ludicrous and unfaithful.

As I read this so-called traditional model it occurred to me in my fifty-nine years in the Methodist/United Methodist church and my twenty-six years of ministry I have never read a supposed United Methodist/Wesleyan document so devoid of understanding, compassion, and grace. It boggles the mind that we as a denomination, founded by Wesley and his commitment to grace, understanding, and education, are even giving this model a voice and place on the floor at General Conference.

It is a weed. A weed with at best a thin and brittle taproot creeping across the landscape of our beloved United Methodist Denomination setting down shallow roots in an attempt to cover the foundational bedrock of the Grace and Love of God so treasured by our church.

February is still months away. There is much work to be done in preparation for this Special Called General Conference. There will be much work to be done after it is completed regardless of what the decision is. I will be there, not as a delegate, but as an observer and in prayer. I hope you join me in earnest prayer and action for our United Methodist Church, its soul is at risk. May we once again be a church grounded in grace, immersing in love…a church making justice happen, loving as God loves, and being the very reflection of God in the world.

Love is Love!

Love will Win. Love Always Wins…

when we Love One Another. Every. Single. Other.

Until there are no others. Only one Beloved Community of All.

Peace and Light for this Journey.

Pastor Kent

Advertisements

Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

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

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

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

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

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

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

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

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

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

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!

 

Hearing Voices

January 15, 2018

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

Hearing Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Time is NOW!

August 14, 2017

There is part of me struggling for words, a part of me who is tired and weary. I know I am not alone in this. I have seen comments, sat and listened to many of you and others who are also weary of the myriad of injustices continuing to confront us.

There is a condition often named for those in caring ministry, and the broader community as well, “Compassion Fatigue,” I cannot speak for others, but there is something deep within me that relates to what I might call, “Injustice Fatigue.” The symptoms of this fatigue are; indifference, apathy, a sense of being overwhelmed into silence, depression, and isolation. When we are continually assaulted through the media and our own leaders regarding refugees, women’s rights and choice, LGBTQ equality, the right to healthcare and coverage, immigration, livable wage, poverty, and the threat of war and even nuclear war, we can become worn down, weary, and ineffective.

On July 19, 1958, a group of students walked into Dockum Drugstore here in Wichita and sat down at the counter to order drinks, they were refused service. They went to the drugstore every day and were refused service until August 11, 1958 when the owner relented because he was losing too much business and said, “Serve them.” We thought, we had made much progress since then.

But now, the ugly, evil, sinful beast of racism has not only once again raised its malicious head, but claimed three lives through its violent terrorism. Nationalism and white supremacy is a cancer on our society, in our nation, and in our world. The events in Charlottesville are simply this; evil, sinful, and unacceptable. There is no room for “Yes, but…” There are not “Many Sides” to the violence, bigotry, and blatant racism present in that city as well as across our nation. This is not who we should be as a nation. This is not who we are as a church.

We are the church, the community of faith, guided and committed to confronting evil in whatever form it presents itself, and we must stand up to those who would promote this hateful and sinful ideology. However, precisely because we are the church, we do not meet hate with hate, or bigotry with bigotry, or violence with violence, we confront evil with the overwhelming power of love. As Nelson Mandela eluded to, people are not born racist. People are not born to hate. People are taught to be racist to hate. Because we know this, we believe people can be taught to love.

This is our task church. We spoke of vocation and calling a week ago, this is your calling church. It has been since your beginning, we are called to teach the world to love. If it seems too overwhelming, if it seems too wearisome, if it seems too big, we will do it one person at a time.

The current environment in which we live has raised the veil on a racism that has been part of our country’s history from our beginning, and even dare I say, part of the church. It is time, once and for all, to eradicate this beast with love. If you too are weary, fatigued, overwhelmed, I invite you to join me in listening for that still small voice of God, calling us out of our isolation and uncertainty. Not to speak up is to choose a side. Silence is not an option. We need to stand and speak as a community of faith. We need each other for strength and perseverance.

Let us stand and speak together.

We Must. Now.

Pastor Kent

Jesus and the Transgender Person

August 1, 2017

Galatians 3:23-39, Matthew 19:10-12

Humans are intriguing creatures. Each of us unique to ourselves and with similarities to others. We are as individual as our own fingerprints and unfortunately often way too predictable as a species. We are a volatile and beautiful mix of nature and nurture, and while we have the intelligence and technology to study this nature and nurture, there is constantly a blurring of the line between the two, and often uncertainty which plays how much of a role.

We are different. A diverse tapestry of personality and emotion. Even within our own families, where children are raised as nearly the same as possible, the differences and diversity are often noticeable from birth. Birth order plays a role. Being an only child plays a role. Traumatic experience plays a role. Parenting practices play a role. And sometimes, it is just our makeup, chemistry, the way the brain fires, and the synapses carry those currents…or not.

I think of my own family and the way my brother, my sister, and I were raised, raised very similarly. And yet, especially after my brother died when I was thirteen, I experienced a much different family dynamic than did my sister, who was out of the home by then, which I know shaped and molded who I am emotionally, psychologically. That dynamic affected how I respond to stimuli, how I react, how I interact in relationships, and of what I am aware in the world around me.

I think of our two boys, raised as near as we could the same, and yet from the very beginning we could tell they were different. Birth order plays a role, and yet, even at a very young age we could put our oldest in the middle of a room and surround him with toys and he would be content and play for hours. He liked to be rocked to sleep every night, didn’t want to be put to bed alone while he was still awake and aware.

Our youngest, we could put him in the middle of the same room surround him with toys and he would be pulling the cord on the table lamp, trying to stick something in the wall outlet, or chasing the cat across the room. He didn’t mind being rocked, but he enjoyed it enough he wouldn’t go to sleep. The only way we could get him to go to sleep, we learned after collection of long nights, was to just go put him in his bed alone, he would go to sleep on his own, out of boredom I suppose.

All this to simply say, we are different, all of us, diverse and unique. It made me think of that saying, “You are unique, just like everyone else!” Some of it is the way we are raised, some of it is the way we are wired from the beginning. It is true for all of us. For today’s message, I am speaking not just to all of us in general and our individual uniqueness, but in particular as it relates to those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender.

To a large degree, as I read and study, it becomes more apparent to me, I think it is unfortunate and unjust we (speaking of heterosexual orientation) in society and culture, as well as in the church, we have normalized heterosexual orientation to the point that we have to talk about this in order to inform our actions and relationships toward others as opposed to simply loving and accepting them into our lives, our families, our society and culture, and our churches.

While there continues to be medical studies regarding sexual orientation in terms of nature and nurture, there is growing evidence through brain imaging that sexual orientation is influenced greatly by nature it is the way we are wired, not just heterosexuality but homosexuality as well. It is how we are born. Yes, most studies I have read also cite that nurture, the way we are raised, our experiences, can also affect who we are. However, there is scientific evidence it is also who we are and how we are born. This is a broad statement especially for today’s message and in particular referring to the LGB person in our families, society, and in our churches.

While I selected Jesus and the Transgender Person for my sermon series on Uncomfortable Christianity last May, recent proclamations by our current administration in Washington D.C. regarding transgender persons in the military make today’s message especially relevant. I believe it is important for the church, the community of faith, to understand as best we can, to consider the most faithful way to respond to our country and world whenever such decisions effect our members and communities of persons in the world around us.

So, let me be a little more specific about transgender persons before we look at how Jesus might respond to our current environment.  I think it appropriate to begin with some common terminology and identifiers as we may not all be familiar with some of the language. While we most generally include the T(transgender) in our LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) there are other letters as well. There is also – Q – queer – which I still struggle to include as when I was growing up this was a term used as a weapon to diminish and abuse, however I understand LGBTQ persons, especially in recent years claiming it as their own to take away its power. There is also A – Asexual and I – Intersexual, and there are others as well, all of this signaling the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of these person’s identity or experience, though I do try to study and understand as best I can, but my only experience is heterosexual orientation and cis-gender (denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.) – which I acknowledge carries with it a power of position and privilege that needs to be noted held in check.

In other words, I believe this is important and crucial for the church, and for myself to address and hold before us as a person of privilege, as one who has never experienced nor feared discrimination or the loss of a job, or verbal abuse, or physical violence, or been told I cannot serve my country, simply because of who I am, such privilege carries with it responsibility to not only name it, but to use it to speak to the injustice and abuse that is leveled toward those who are discriminated against and oppressed.

This is not only a civil and human rights issue, this is a theological issue for the church and how we understand the love and grace of God and how we are called to live that love and grace in the world around us!

I want to point out just a few things regarding transgender persons specifically, I have learned through study and conversation with transgender persons outside of and within our community of faith here at CHUM.

In statistical studies by the Human Rights Campaign, n 2016 at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers. 2017 has already seen at least 15 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. (in this and other ways I believe the church is complicit through doctrine, policy, statement, and silence)

Spanish investigators, led by psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon of the National Distance Education University in Madrid and neuropsychologist Carme Junqué Plaja of the University of Barcelona in a MRI brain imaging study made the following statement – “Trans people have brains that are different from males and females, a unique kind of brain,” “It is simplistic to say that a female-to-male transgender person is a female trapped in a male body. It’s not because they have a male brain but a transsexual brain.”

In a Boston University study, a biological connection with transgender persons was made as well. Not everyone is born into clear XY or XX chromosomes, there is a wide range spectrum, there are XXY or XXX, XYY, and other combinations. All this to say, we are born this way, it is not something that is chosen or something that can somehow be cured.

Douglas John Hall, Canadian theologian suggests in his book, “Thinking the Faith, Christian Theology in a North American Context,” we not only allow the scriptures and our theology to interpret the world around us, our culture and current experience must also be allowed to interpret and inform our theology and study of the scriptures. In other words, while we embrace our scriptures as a guide for our faith, we must recognize current understandings and discoveries and let this new knowledge inform our readings of scripture and our development of theology and practice.

So, how should the community of faith respond to a culture, a society, a church that continues to diminish, discriminate, abuse, and reject those of differing orientations and gender identities? There are some specific clues in our scriptures. In terms of orientation, the passages that are most often used to support discrimination and abuse are passages outlined in the purity laws which are designed to maintain tribal procreation and boundaries. Other passages are condemning of particular practices; non-consensual, abusive, promiscuous, unequal power and status. As far as loving, consensual, equal, mutual relationships between same gender persons, it is not in our scriptures.

As for passages, I might identify as relating to transgender and gender identity specific would perhaps be passages regarding eunuchs. Eunuchs, as you may know where often made eunuchs by crushing or removing the testicles of a male to provide protection for the king’s wives so they did not have to worry about the protectors having sexual desires, so to speak.

Regarding religious treatment, in the Hebrew scriptures, eunuchs were barred from the temple as well, they could not worship there. They were discriminated against. There is a citation in the book of Acts where a eunuch is welcomed into the Way of Jesus which indicates a place in the church for those who would identify differently in gender. The passage we read from Matthew, Jesus identifies not only those who were made that way, or those who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kindom, but also indicates those who are eunuchs from birth, they were born that way. Jesus, we are told here in Matthew, makes way for those who are of differing gender identity from how they may appear as their birth identity.

And of course, there is the passage from Galatians we read that might be paraphrased, or addendum added, and interpreted to say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, no longer straight, nor gay, or lesbian, nor bisexual, nor transgender, there is no longer male and female;”

For in the community of faith, in the church, in the family of God, all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

For me this does not, nor should it, negate our diversity, our difference, it does not deny we are made up of straight, gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, but it says, we all belong, we are ALL, ALL children of the Divine, unique and authentically valued and sacred. I believe that is what Jesus would say.

The church, the community of faith cannot continue to be silent and complicit in the neglect and abuse of transgender persons, LGB persons, or any person, lives are at stake!

This is what Jesus would say to the church universal today, to the empire today, Did Say!

I would close with words, with an edit or two, from author blogger Glennon Doyle, “Straight, Gay, and especially in today’s cultural and religious context Transgender – “God says YES to you. God is FOR you and God made you just as you are and God says yes even when God’s beloved institutions, and the institutions of law and government … even when they have joined forces against you….  and are screaming NOT YET.” God still says “Yes!”

We See You. We Stand with You. God Loves You. We Love You. Period.

May it be so. May it be soon. May it be Now!

Jesus and the Protester

July 10, 2017

Sermon July 9, 2017 – Luke 19:36-46

I had never really thought of myself as much of a protester, though in hindsight I can see some of the indicators. I remember in early high school wearing one of the chrome bracelets of a MIA or POW soldier during the Vietnam war. Its presence on my wrist was not just a call to remember those in the war, but a silent protest of the war in general.

I recall my sophomore year in high school I decided to speak on those who had gone north to Canada or south to Mexico to avoid the draft. I interviewed persons in our small western Kansas town regarding how they felt about those who had fled rather than serve. I was glad my dad insisted on accompanying me on these interviews. That was an eye-opening experience for a 15 year old.

I recall my trip to Washington D.C. and NYC my junior year of high school, and my dismay at how our own Kansas Senator responded to our questions. Writing letters to our reps both state and federal came as I grew older and even more interested in how our country worked and frustrated with the political status quo.

So, all this to say, there has been a little protester in my blood for some time. As I pondered this week’s message I reflected on the protester in our world, in our country, and in our churches. Our country was really begun in protest, protesting an oppressive rule, though we brought our own oppression to those who were here before us. Our country began protesting a state mandated religion, though it can seem we have forgotten and/or denied that fact. These United States were born in and by protest. The right to assemble and speak our mind is guaranteed in our founding documents…there are those who would rather not have that right guaranteed.

Our own faith tradition was born out of protest, it is where we get our name, protest-ant. One might even say there was a little protest built into the beginnings of John Wesley’s Methodist movement, as in protest against an Anglican Church, who suggested he should not be preaching in the fields but rather keep it in the church, protesting the Anglican church, and it is important to not it was a church he never left. Not to mention the Christian faith itself, born a bit out of the struggle to be free from restrictions and burdensome laws as well as an oppressive empire.

As I think about all the examples and illustrations we might use, it seems to me there is a bit of a protester in the very genes of who we are as a people of faith. I look at our history in the world, in our nation, in our churches, in our United Methodist Church, and Lord have mercy, there is a lot to be protested. There is injustice and oppression and hatred, too much to go around. There is much to push back against, there is much to stand and speak against, it can seem overwhelming.

And so as I continue to ponder the idea of protester and how it fits into who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, as people of faith, I asked Jesus what he thought of the whole idea. I should learn, every time I invite Jesus to be a conversation partner, even though I can control what I think he should say, I am always the one who ends up uncomfortable.

So, I asked him what he thought about the protester, and this is where he started, “Love your enemies.” I said… “Seriously?” He said, “Yes!” He said, “Kent, it is really important, no, it is crucial you know why you are protesting. Are you directing your words, your march, your stand, your passion, your anger at a person, or at the unjust practices being put forth?”

So, my thoughts and reflections on Jesus’ life and ministry went to practice…

As I think about my protesting…

Is it about hate or is it about compassion?

It is about a person or is it about policy?

Is it about the one who embodies the powers that be, or is it about the institution promoting injustice?

What am I practicing when I protest?

Love and Change? Or a Hate and Exclusion of my own?

Think about the passage from Luke we read today. It is a story we have dealt with before. It is a story we read at least once a year, this year twice. The story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. If you have been here for Palm Sunday you have heard me speak on it before. Sometimes I think the church gets caught up in the “king” part of the story, that this story is about the kingship, the head of the church, the messiah, the deliverer identity of Jesus and if we don’t know the whole story we miss an important part.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, “The Last Week” tell the story of what has become known as the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus sends his disciples in to obtain a colt for him to ride. It harkens back to the prophets words about one who will ride humbly into the city and will lead them to victory.  As they ride in people lay their coats and palm branches on the road ahead of him, something done for royalty. What we are not told in this story is this day there are two processions into the city.

This is what is happening on the other end of town. In contrast to a rabbi, teacher, peasant, riding into town on a donkey, there are soldiers, armor, mighty horses, shields, swords. On this side of town there is a show of power, military prowess, this is empire at its finest, this is the way of the future, fear and control. Jesus march into the city is an opposing force, but not one of power and military prowess, not one of empire and fear, but the force of humility, vulnerability, and peace.

It is a classic confrontation, the struggle between peace and conflict, conflict between humility and arrogance, between prowess and vulnerability. It has been going on since the beginning and we are slow learners. In our tradition, it has been going on since Cain first knocked Abel in the head with a rock.

This demonstration, this procession, this march into the city by Jesus isn’t just an impromptu triumphal entry into the city by a prophet of peace. I believe Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.

This was a protest march against the powers that be.

This was a protest march against the oppressive rule of empire.

This was a protest march against the collusion of religion and empire.

This was a protest march against the collaboration of religion and politic.

Jesus was protesting injustice and oppression! And at least for a moment, we are told, had they silenced the crowd, it would seem, that even creation, the stones would carry on the protest.

In Luke’s telling, not only does this protest march seem to take on a life of its own, it even turns a little violent in the end. Jesus gets to the temple and sees the greed and the taking advantage of the poor and well, he loses it. Now, granted in Luke’s telling he doesn’t lose it as much as in other gospel telling where he makes a whip out of cords, drives the money changers from the temple, turns over the tables, runs the folks out of the courtyard, but he is highly critical of the scene, “My house,” he says, “shall be a house of prayer; but you have turned it into a house of robbers!”

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not promoting property damage. I am just pointing out in the story, that even for Jesus, turning a few table over and critiquing the church, protesting the collusion between church and state were also in his toolbox. Anyone who says Jesus, the church wasn’t, shouldn’t be, political, in terms of critiquing the powers that be and its policies need to take a close look at this story, There are no words recorded from the disciples saying anything like, “Jesus, can we stop talking politics now and just share the word?”  The “Word” is a natural protestant. The “Word” should be a natural and constant push back against the injustices of our world when injustice and evil raises its ugly head.

So, I asked Jesus again… “What do you think about this whole idea of protesting, and where does it fit in the life of we people of faith? And, well, considering your march on the city, considering your action in the temple, where does that fit into ‘Loving my Enemies?” “Good Questions,” I imagined he said, and then here is what he told me, so to speak.

“The way you love your enemies is through resistance to the oppressive unjust policies* they promote. Whether it is the government, i.e. Empire or the church. Please, don’t hate the person promoting the injustice. I know, that is hard to hear. But if we really believe in the premise of loving our enemies, if we really believe in loving one another, every single other, we can’t love just some of the others.”

We love our enemies, and we resist.

We love our enemies, not some feely, emotional doormat kind of love* but one that challenges that which we believe make them an enemy. Resistance is the way we stand, march, speak, the truth and make it known to those who would speak, act, and practice injustice, be it in our government or in our churches. Resistance is the way we say, “We love you, and you are wrong!”

Hate for Hate.

Oppression for Oppression.

Exclusion for Exclusion.

Bigotry for Bigotry.

Injustice for Injustice.

Violence for Violence.

Will only make our world, our churches, more deeply divided and blind to what would heal us. And so we love by resisting oppression and evil in whatever form it presents itself. We march, we stand, we raise our hands, and we say, “No, this is not the Way.” I was reminded of other words attributed to Jesus in our scriptures, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.”

So, I believe, discipleship, being followers of the way of Jesus includes protesting. Protesting injustice and oppression. Resist the evil that would promote bigotry and ignoring the least of these, in the church and in society and culture. And while there are a multitude of ways to resist, whether you march, or write, or speak, or support, or call, whatever your method and practice of resistance, make sure it is grounded in love and not hate.

Because we are reminded, as we heard last week, we the church, should never be the tool of the state, or even the tool of unjust powers that be in the church. But we have the tool, and the tool is, is always love.  It is so!

 

*Preaching in the Era of Trump, O. Wesley Allen Jr.

Jesus and American Exceptionalism

July 3, 2017

I have been pondering this morning’s message for some time now. I wondered, considered, even asked, what Jesus might say about the notion of American Exceptionalism, especially Exceptionalism in terms of superiority. I think there is a positive sense of understanding the country one lives in as being the best, or at least the hope that it is true. Not unlike a sports team chanting “We’re Number 1” even when it might be quite obvious to other teams that literally in the standings they are not #1. There is that healthy notion of pride in one’s country, a patriotism that loves country and works for, hopes for the best of it. An understanding of pride, patriotism, and hope while acknowledging its place in the world.
The best of this “pride” so to speak is not an arrogance or exceptionalism that states we are better than every other country in the world, but that we are proud of who we are in the midst of the other countries in the world.
So, to some degree, when I asked Jesus what he thought of the idea of American Exceptionalism, his answer was, “Meh, it can be a good thing, it can be a terrible thing.” and then he said, “You might want to unpack that a little.” It is important as part of the global community to consider how and where we fit in the grand scheme of the world.
You know, while the world has ever expanded, it is also shrinking exponentially even as we speak. We read the history books, that were written by the “winners” for the most part, that is important to point out, but we study history and realize how the world expanded from those early tribal understandings of a limited world, and suddenly the great expanse of what was out there was almost more than some could take. That lasted a long time, it is still true for some.
The great expanse of the world around us can be overwhelming. You know I think just for myself, I have lived in Kansas all my life. I have never lived outside its borders. While I have visited from coast to coast a couple of different times, and while TruDee and I hope to be able to go to Ireland sometime before we are 90, the furthest I have traveled outside the USA is Tijuana, Mexico.. Woohoo!
It is still a big world to me, and it is important for me to consider how my country and how I fit into this world in which I live. And at the same time, with the marvels of technology, I can talk with a friend in Australia, Canada, Britain, and Japan all at the same time and in real-time and even see their face while we are talking if I choose. And while these are reminders of how expansive our world is, it is also a reminder of how the world is shrinking around us. In 2001, a Boeing 787 flew around the world in under 43 hours. That sounds like a lot of hours, but think how long it takes you just to drive across Wichita! The world is shrinking and we have instant access to worldwide information that is delivered to us in a heartbeat.
One would think it would draw us together as a world, as a country, and yet, with the advent of technology, internet, computers, laptops, and smart phones, we have returned to a very isolated existence. We can, if we choose, almost never leave our houses. And it has affected, I believe, not only our individual lives but our life as a world, our life as a nation. Nationalism is on the rise once again. Isolationist policies are being debated and legislated in our governing politics. This kind of isolationism infects a more positive understanding of American Exceptionalism, and is dangerous.
It is an exceptionalism that touts – We Are Self-Sufficient… We are Great, and everyone else is the lesser. If you don’t like it here, if you criticize our nation, you can leave. It is an arrogance that says, “America – (as if we are all of America…which diminishes Canada, Mexico, Central, and South…. America) – the kind of arrogance that says “America” as in the US of A is the greatest nation on earth, and mean it in a supremacist way that belittles and diminishes every other country of the globe.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus… all this American Exceptionalism talk?
And Jesus said… “Let me tell you a story…”
‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
It was common knowledge in Jesus day the road to Jericho was dangerous, rife with thieves and robbers. And here we have, we might suppose, a good upstanding citizen of the country, traveling the way. He finds himself accosted, beaten, robbed, and left for dead lying in the ditch.
Along come two religious leaders who do not stop and help. Now, before we are too hard on these two, we really don’t know why they didn’t stop. Perhaps they had good reason. Perhaps it was their religious tradition that prevented the chance the man was dead and they did not want to be made unclean? Perhaps it was because they were afraid, they didn’t want to be robbed, beaten, and thrown in the ditch alongside this poor fellow. Or perhaps they are thinking what was that fella doing in this part of town anyway? Or maybe they assumed he lived in these parts and so got what he deserved? There are a variety of possible reasons, and however well-intentioned or not, these two opted for safety rather than compassion.
And then the third one comes along. This Samaritan, is outside the bounds of the Jesus faith, they don’t practice, worship, follow God “right” … this Samaritan, is a heretic. Kind of the bottom of the barrel if you will. Think of who might fit that for us if we found ourselves lying in the ditch; A Muslim? An undocumented worker? A Politician? One who we might look up after the two religious leaders have passed us by and our first thought is, “Crap, now I am really done for!”
But here in this telling, Jesus says in this story, what this has to do with exceptionalism is about the other. And, an unexpected other. How do we see, how do we treat, how do we care for, how do we understand, how do we encounter, the other? How do we view the other when we are lifting up the notion of American Exceptionalism?
You know I have watched church advertisements via social media, read articles, looked at blogs of churches who are celebrating this day, this Sunday, in preparation for the 4th of July. There are red, white, and blue decorations, we even have them here this morning at CHUM. There are flags, and Uncle Sam’s, and talk of patriotism, and national pride, and independence day, and I confess, every year, while this Sunday is always special for me here at CHUM. This Sunday is one of my favorites, because eight years ago, when the 4th of July fell on a Sunday, it was my first Sunday here in your midst… this Sunday holds deep meaning for me, but I confess, even though I love this country deeply, and I am as patriotic as the next person, and I love the church, the whole church, and this one in particular, I confess when I see all the flag waving and patriotic fervor in the church on this Sunday closest to the 4th, I always get a case of the hebee jebees… I am uncomfortable because I am, as I believe the founders of our country were, a firm advocate of separation of church and state. It doesn’t belong in the church any more than the church belongs in our politics.
That being said, let me ponder this for a moment as I continue to hear and listen to the voices who still say we are supposed to be a Christian Nation. So, I pondered with Jesus, what if? What if we really were a Christian Nation? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we really were a theocracy founded and grounded on the Christian faith? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we were a nation committed to, and passionate about following the Way, teachings, mission and ministry of Jesus? What if….

Jesus was in the wall tearing down business not the wall building business.

Jesus was in the woman empowering business not the woman controlling business.

Jesus was in the universal health care business not the shift the money to the rich immoral health care business.

Jesus was in the taking care of the most vulnerable business not the shaming the poor business.

Jesus was in the welcoming the stranger and alien into our midst business not the banning business.

Jesus was in the lifting people up business not the tearing down business.

Jesus was in the resisting the powers that be both political and religious oppressor business not the colluding and greed business.

Jesus was in the open hand open arms business not the closed fists business.

Jesus was in the including business not the excluding business.

Jesus was in the diversity business not the white supremacist business.

Jesus was not in the hate and bigotry business… Jesus was in the business of love.

That is what a nation grounded in the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus would look like! Not some twisted and warped sense of American Exceptionalism and Christian Exceptionalism that is far too rampant today!

Thank God, we have a nation founded on separation of church and state.

Thank God, we have a nation founded on freedom of religion!

Thank God, we have a nation should not give preference to Christianity or any other religion.

Thank God, we are not a theocracy!

We are not a Christian Nation!

However… you are Church!

You are the Christian Church, grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus! And it is this kind of love that is the resistance to the kind of exceptionalism that promotes and breeds oppression, supremacy, bigotry, hatred, exclusion, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, sexism, …

You are the church! The resistance to the powers that be both politic and religious in a world that excludes the other.

You are Church! You are the Christian Church… grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus!

And I think it is time for the church… not just the church… but all religious communities who long for justice, inclusion, compassion, grace, and love to … well… to start acting like it.

We must work together… live together… and so in this context we should not just be acknowledging our country’s independence

We should be celebrating our inter-dependence!

We need one another… the church of Jesus Christ is not isolationist… we know we need one another… EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. To make a difference in this world!
We know…. MLKJr said it well… we… the church… should be the conscience of the world politic… but never its tool… it is time to act like it… otherwise as he also said… if we do not learn to live together as sisters and brothers… we will perish together as fools.

We are not the tool….
But we have the tool…
And it is love.
Keep On Church… Keep On!
It will be so… It will. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Tuesday Night Church with Garrison Keillor

May 26, 2017

I had the opportunity to go to church last Tuesday evening. We were ushered to our seats and after the announcements were finished the preacher finally entered on stage. The staging area, for lack of better descriptors, was simple, non-ornate, curtains hung on the three surrounding walls, with only a single four-legged stool, and a lone microphone stand and mic.

This preacher was simply dressed, dark suit, white shirt, bright red tie with socks to match. He began a kind of dance, if you will, with the audience, moving deliberately from side to side, each step and slide appeared chosen and exact, and periodically he would sit on the stool. At one point of small intermission, he came down from the stage and joined us in the center aisle. He began his sermon speaking of poetry and the longing need for the art in our culture and society.

He then did a curious thing, he sang a song, and then he invited us to join in the singing with him. There was something about this invitation, and part of it was what I brought into the space with me, the experiences and knowledge that I carried into the sanctuary that night; my readings of this persons writing regarding his own political thoughts and struggles with the current political climate, the laughter I have shared listening to his radio show, and the shared grief in knowing he had just buried his seventeen year old grandson earlier that day…which he never mentioned.

I must think it was a bit of all of that, but I was touched and struck profoundly for some reason as he coaxed us into the first song we sang, My Country Tis of Thee, I couldn’t sing it, the knot in my stomach, the lump in my throat, and the tears in my eyes would not allow me to sing. So, I stood, soaking in, reveling in whatever this moving moment was about, and listened to the voices sing of this country of mine…of ours.

We sang Home on the Range, How Great Thou Art, Only Fools Rush In, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. These are but a few of the songs we sang; hymns, non-religious songs, we heard Shakespeare and poetry written by our preacher. We heard story after story of life and death and faith. We listened to stories of first loves, of bodies pressed against unclothed body, stories of youth and struggling to understand. We heard stories of growing old and health challenges complete with anatomically correct descriptions of medical procedures and prostates. We heard poetry that spoke of bodily function and humor referring to balls of brass and lightening coming out of one’s …well, ass.

And we sang, and laughed, I don’t know about anyone else but at least one cried, and pondered, and was touched deeply, and encouraged, and challenged. I am not sure what anyone else heard that night in the Stiefel Sanctuary, but here is what I walked away with. I witnessed a quiet man with a deep, deep love of country, family, relationship, and life. I watched him weave the stories of life, faith, humor, and love into a tapestry so very real it touched my heart and soul almost from the very beginning of his speaking. And for a couple of hours, I watched this teller of stories, draw a crowd of diverse people together into one place and into one voice.

As we walked back to our car I told TruDee, “I’ve been to church tonight… it was SO REAL!” Sometimes, this story he told over almost two and half hours that night was not just his story, it was my story, it was all of our stories at some point. There was something within this tapestry of telling that spoke to every one of us in the building at some point or another. It was so very REAL.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church could be so real more often, rather than the too frequent of hiding behind self-righteousness, feigned humility and modesty, religious platitudes, judgement, and condemnation.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church would simply be about the task of loving everyone, everyone, bumps, warts, body parts, young, old, weird, strange, different, … the REAL world, imperfect as it…as we are… just trying to make it through this journey together.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I long for such a world, a world where we sit down with our elders, with our peers, with our children and children’s children, and simply tell and listen to our stories…without judgement or condemnation, without correction or critique, simple telling and hearing our authentic selves and what brought us to this moment.

I long for such a place…

Some Day… Some Day…

Until then, tell your story… find a reason to listen to someone else’s.

And know you and they are beautiful and loved.

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

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