Posts Tagged ‘Church’

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

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.

 

Rise

November 10, 2016

This is a long blog but today I write. Yesterday I tried to spend the day caring for myself and those I heard and saw who were struggling with fear, pain, and grief. I write, in large part, because it is in this atmosphere I process my own thoughts and feelings. For me in this moment such processing is important because of all the fear and pain I see in the world around me.

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 so, today, after a day of reflection, tears, prayer, reading, meditation, and pondering I want to share in my blog where I am. I share this not looking for debate or defense, but simply so those who care would know my heart and the pain and struggle I feel for those who are feeling isolated, targeted, and fearful.

Let me say first, in regards to the political, I understand diverse political views. I have been a member of both major political parties and in my thirty-nine years of voting I have rarely voted a straight ticket, always looking for the best possibility for fairness and justice.  I understand we are not always going to agree on political stance and thought. For me, that is one of my loves of the process, to come together with diverse perspectives and try and find ways to work together for the common good, honoring our differences while lifting up and highlighting those places we can compromise and move forward.

So, that being said, while I voted for Hillary Clinton, I can still deal with and wrap my head around why there are those of my friends and acquaintances who voted for President Elect Donald Trump from a political ideological perspective. While I am sure we may passionately disagree in our political ideology and perspective, as I said earlier, that is the way our system works, and I believe one of the things that makes our system strong. And though I think we have lost some sense of the ability in our country to disagree civilly and respectfully while working together for the common good, I pray and work every day for that ideal.

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 counsel, listen, weep with, and pray with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and feel that comments by Mr. Trump have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them, my heart is heavy.

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

When I counsel, listen, weep with, and pray 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.

When I counsel, listen, weep with, and pray 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 counsel, listen, weep with, and pray with persons of color who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin, my heart is heavy.

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

What breaks my heart, what has me grieving yet today, is not even so much about the one we have elected as our next president, but the racism, sexism, misogyny, Islamophobia, discrimination, bigotry, xenophobia, fear, and hatred that seems to have been unleashed in our country.

As I said earlier, while I would passionately disagree, I can understand and wrap my head around why someone would vote for this from a political ideological standpoint. What grieves my heart and soul is those I watch use their faith as a justification for that vote. That I cannot understand. My faith, my God, my Jesus would never condone voting for these kinds of abusive and fear laden beliefs. God is not a God of fear, but a God of love. Our faith should have no place for this kind of fear, indeed, it should cast it out!

Today as a clergy and religious leader, I am less upset about our political process as I am with our religious community. I point the finger at myself as well in this, where was the church? How could the church condone such hatred of the other, either by its blatant support or by its fearful silence? I hope and pray we will come together and advocate justice for all in a way where all means all!

We need to stand with those who are uncertain and fearful today. It is important to acknowledge and be sensitive to those who feel marginalized and how they might, justly, fear me, white, male, and straight, and Caucasian people in general, because they feel betrayed and have no idea who they can trust. We need to go out of our way to be kind and helpful and reach out and get to know them, even defend them. Whether we voted for Hillary or not, we are, at first glance, now judged as bigots, and unfortunately we now need to prove otherwise.  It’s not their problem, we all have to own it to overcome it, and especially, I believe, the church.

While I am still grieving and heartbroken with the fear I see in my brothers and sisters lives who are uncertain of their future and place in our country, I am not defeated. I am reminded of the words of Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians as he encourages them, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Those of us committed to justice, compassion, kindness, mercy, love, and humility, I pray, are even more committed today. As the mourning passes, we will rise, together! And we will stand with women, immigrants, persons of color, LGBTQ persons, the disabled, Muslims and all persons of religious faith as well as non-religious, persons of color, and all those who feel marginalized and targeted by prejudice and hate. May we all embrace the mandate from the prophet and Act Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with our God. Justice for all will come. Love will prevail. It is my prayer. It is my passion. It is my life. Here I stand, I pray you will join me. May it be so.

 

Peace and Light for our Journey ahead –

Rev. Kent H. Little

What Now?

November 7, 2016

Most likely by the time you read this writing you will either have already voted, as I have, or the election will be over. I write this on Monday November 7, the day before the election of our next President and many representatives, senators, and judges. On the evening of Tuesday November 8 emotions will continue to run high, either with hope and relief or concern and disappointment, even, perhaps apathy and continued cynicism about the whole of our system of campaigns, elections, and government.

I have a friend, colleague, and mentor, Bill Selby, who shared the other day, “These are some of the most exciting times to be the church!” I believe there is truth in the statement. The church, the community of faith, and all those who long for a more civil, compassionate, just, and loving world have an incredible opportunity to be a voice and channel for healing and grace. With the election of a new president and other leadership, there will be continued challenge and opportunity to reach across aisles and tables to engage in conversation and work toward the common good for all.

I read colleague Eric Folkerth’s  writing  the other day addressing the state of mind of so many of us in our country. He described this state of mind as a kind of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. I hear and listen to our own parishioners as well as other friends and colleagues, who share tears and fears about the future. There has been, according to many, an unprecedented amount of hatred, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, and fear-laden vitriol language associated with this campaign season. I have likened it more than once to the continued ripping off of a scab from a wound we thought had begun to heal over the years, decades, perhaps even centuries.

With all that has boiled to the surface over the past several years, regardless of which leaders we elect, these issues are not going to go away. The hate and vitriol language will still be present whether it is blatantly out in the open or it returns to just under the surface in subversive and clandestine ways. There is going to need to be focused work on healing, conversation, civility, listening, and compassionate reaching out to those who are hurting and fearful, and to those with whom we disagree. As a country, as communities, as the church, as communities of faith, religious, and non-religious, we cannot afford to sweep these emotions and fears under the rug and hope they just disappear after our particular candidate is or is not elected. The church has to find a way to keep the struggle before us in constructive, redemptive, and justice seeking ways.

Being the church in this atmosphere is difficult work. While that is true, I agree with my friend and colleague, this is an exciting, though difficult time to be the church. We have an opportunity to be a unique and critical voice of reason and compassion in a country and world torn by fear, distrust, and anger. Too many times in days such as this the church has retreated from the difficult work of being a voice of justice, kindness, and humility in the world. Too often, the church chooses the broader way of exclusion, reflecting our fears rather than our grace. We cannot afford to shrink from the responsibility we carry set forth by the one we follow who challenges and disturbs us to “Love your enemies,” to “Turn the other cheek,” to engage others, even those with whom we passionately disagree, in ways that draw us to the table as opposed to close the table off.

I am drawn again and again to not only the words of Jesus but to those of Martin Luther King Jr., “We will either learn to live together as brothers and [sisters], or we will perish together as fools.” It is a narrow path, it is one fraught with difficulty and being uncomfortable, but it is the Way, the only Way we, we ALL of us, will find healing and mercy for our hearts and souls.

I hope you will join us this Sunday, November 13, 2016 at College Hill United Methodist Church for a worship service dedicated to keeping the difficulties before us, while offering hope, healing, and grace in this difficult time. It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community.  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

Tragedy and Prayers

June 23, 2016

What is prayer for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bending Arc

January 15, 2016

I received an email from a friend asking if I would be willing to come to Topeka to speak in favor of a bill being presented to a House Committee. Several years ago I committed, with the support of our church, to bring an alternative and additional voice of the faith to pertinent legislation and action. I agreed to come, wrote a written testimony, forwarded it and planned to make the drive Thursday afternoon.

 
I sat in the committee room as another bill was discussed and then HB2323 was presented. In essence it is a bill that adds “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, to protect the rights of our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. This amending language provides for safety, access, equality, and employment protection for those who at current time can be discriminated against, simply because of who they are.

 
I was one of five who spoke in favor of the amending language. I will include my complete testimony either as an attachment to this blog or as an additional page. As I believe this was not a religious issue, and even though I am a leader in the faith, I focused on the fact that our founders, both national and state, grounded our governance on equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one, none of us, should live under threat of discrimination and loss of livelihood, happiness, based simply on who we all are as children of the Creator.

 
There were an equal number of persons scheduled to speak in opposition to the bill. The testimonies quickly took a religious freedom bent even though this issue, this bill, this amending language has nothing to do with religion.

 
One Representative suggested that a clergy person could be compelled to hire or not a LGBT person, the one giving testimony concurred. A false statement. An attorney representing a Christian organization, when asked if a pastor could be compelled to perform a same gender marriage against his/her belief answered, “Yes.” An attorney! A lie. I was pleased when one Representative finally held her accountable, or at least tried to. As I sat and listened to misrepresentation of the LGBT community, misinformation, bigotry, prejudice, and blatant untruth being shared as if it were logical, rational, and just I literally finally had to get up and leave the room as I was having a difficult time remaining silent.

 
As I sat in my chair listening and struggling to find some sense in what was going on, the words from Martin Luther King Jr. came to mind. I suppose on one level or another it was because he has been on my mind as we move toward the day we honor his legacy and dream, but as I watched this unfold I could hear his voice, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,”

 
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” ~ MLKJr.

 
I realize, over the years as I watch the political process I have suspected this, witnessed it from afar, experienced it myself, but somehow it was always rather subtle, in a way that made me want to say, “Really?” But it just never struck me deeply or at any kind of profoundly disturbing level.

 
I heard MLKJr’s voice today, witnessed his prophetic witness come to be, a religion that has become the tool of the state and a state that has become the tool of religion. Religious and political tools of fear, distrust, bigotry, discrimination, and misinformation designed to control and silence those who raised an alternative voice, all masked in the language of religious freedom. I saw it up close and personal, it lingered in the air we breathed, it was so thick in the room I could reach out and touch it.

 
This night as I reflect, and am more deeply disturbed and troubled as I have ever been as I watch, not only on our state level, but the national stage as well, a religious form that is defined by fear mongering, discrimination, hatred, suspicion, a religious form that is defined by who it can exclude and shut out rather than a nation founded on freedom for all, and a religious expression grounded in the unconditional love and grace of the Creator.

 
However, while in this present moment I am discouraged and heavy of heart I know, I know of other words that guide my thoughts this weekend. I know of those words spoken from the steps of the State Capital in Montgomery, Alabama, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

 
I suspect it will continue to be a long time coming, the kind of peaceable and just world we long for because the arc is long. Patience can be hard to come by, because the arc is long. Justice rolling like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream may be a distant horizon, because the arc is long. A world without fear, dishonesty, and discrimination may have lost the day today, because the arc is long.

 
But it bends toward justice. There is a light that shines in the distance, I may not ever bathe in its light, but I will not be dissuaded. The journey toward that light is our task, so that those who come behind us will know we were a part of why it shines, when it finally immerses us in the warmth of justice, compassion, welcome, and love. One day, one day my friends. Keep on. Keep on. For our way may be long, but it is the way to justice. And on that day, we will all say, Love Won, it always wins.

 
Tomorrow is a new day. The light will shine. The work will be done. And love will dawn.

 
Kent

The Corrupting Gospel of Peace

November 16, 2015

Paris2

I have had some requests for the text of my message this past Sunday addressing the tragedy in Paris and the violence in our world.

I have been working on a rocking horse in preparation for Christmas for our granddaughter Kadee, well my intent is to modify the rocking horse patter very slightly and create a rocking unicorn. It is in process.

Friday afternoon I was in the garage working on this creation. I am at that stage where most of the large cutouts have been made and the body actually looks like a horse, it has no horn in its head as of yet. What is required now in the process is a lot of sanding. Sanding not only so the surface will be smooth, but sanding all of the joints and places where the layered wood pieces do not quite match because I don’t have ability to cut them our simultaneously, but rather individually and then glue. As a result there is at times significant wood to sand away depending on how accurate I have been able to be with my jigsaw or band saw.

Sanding, even with a two or three different types of power sanders, is tedious work, it is not my favorite part. It moves too slowly, I have to stand in one place longer than I wish on a concrete floor that gives me a backache, and it creates that very fine dust that is not as easy to cleanup as the larger saw dust from the original cuts. However it is some of the most important work on the project, not only for beauty sake but for safety. Without the sanding the stain and/or paint lacks the luster and the grain is dull and not accentuated. Without the sanding, there is danger of splinter, rough edges, and mismatched edges that can cause discomfort at best and injury at worse. Sanding is my least favorite, because it takes time and attention to detail, in an instant gratification kind of world, it is the most difficult part of the project to remain focused upon.

I was stopping for the day as I had an invitation to speak at a WSU event on campus early Friday evening and wanted some time to think about and process what I was planning to say. I dusted myself off and picked up my phone from my work bench that had been playing my favorite tunes as I worked. I noticed I had several news alerts from one of my news apps and went in and sat down with a cold drink on the couch. I began reading the breaking news about Paris, as I read there was a deep, deep sigh that escaped from my being, I can’t even say I shook my head or said anything out loud, it was just a deep sigh and sadness that came over me. Not again, I thought, not again.

I had a direction for my sermon this morning but Friday and Yesterday, the nagging sense that one cannot choose to ignore this all too common event in our world. I opened my social media on my phone and began reading the comments from friends, family, news organizations, and political organizations. And like my friend Rev. Karyn Wiseman in her blog shared, there were basically two threads of conversation. One were those people lifting earnest prayer for those suffering violence in the wake of the horrendous event. Comments from Christians, Jews, Muslims, and persons of no faith tradition condemning the act of terrorism and lifting prayers of support and compassion. And some not only for Paris but for other violence laden areas of our world including the U.S.

The other group of comments I read were those who were quick to judgement; blaming an entire religious and faith tradition for the heinous acts of a few, blaming politicians, blaming the refugees who were trying to escape this very kind of violence, posturing and calculating comments to further their own political agenda and career but instilling fear and blame in those who would choose to listen to and believe them. At times like this I think it can become too easy to resort to blame, hate, suspicion, revenge, and scapegoating. Some of the comments were so vitriol they were difficult and painful to read.

As one comment shared, “All we have to do is open a paper, turn on the news on any given day” and not only Paris, but our world our country is saturated in violence and terrorism. Paris, a College in Kenya with over 100 dead, Lebanon, Iraq, these where Muslims and non-Muslims have died at the hands of a group that while they claim religious affiliation, only exist to instill fear and terror, Muslims from around the world condemn them and their actions. But not only ISIS, but our own country where a Syrian hospital is bombed by U.S. forces, racism and bigotry are alive and well where a young white male sits in a church for bible study and then proceeds to kill his black hosts in their church. Over 150 school shootings since December 2012, all acts of terror and violence.

We live in a world of extremes, we live in a country of extremes with little or no room for a middle of the road, moderate, thoughtful position. Rather it seems we as a culture, as a society, would rather stand at a distance from one another and point our fingers at them, and deny our own participation in the fear and dread mongering. We see it in our world, we see it in our country, our State, our community, even in our churches. A willingness to shift to blame passing, fear, and anger when we find ourselves in crisis and afraid. We are all too often are willing citizens of an us vs them world. And I believe, in an us vs them world, our fear and distrust, our anger and hate, our suspicion and blaming will only serve to transform us into the enemy that we think we oppose, fear and hate and distrust will only serve to consume us in the end.

I had originally planned on an extended exegesis and explanation of this parable of Jesus and the yeast. And though I am sure he tried to explain it to his disciples and the crowd who was listening, while they thought it odd he would use a symbol of something they had long considered as a bad thing, yeast, for talking about the Kindom of God, he pretty much left it be, to rattle around in the heads of those who first heard the story. I had a seminary professor once say, on some level, as soon as you try to explain a parable, you have already screwed it up, leave it be. (That might have been a paraphrase).

Let me just say this; yeast is a fungus, it eats at the sugars and nutrients present. In some sense its purpose is the rot the dough, or whatever else it is placed in. (that is if you do not tend to it) it is a corrupting agent. So for Jesus to have told his audience that the Kindom of God was like a woman, first odd and ludicrous piece of this parable for his audience, like a woman who put yeast in 3 measures (50 pounds) of flour… those listening would have found it laughable at best and offensive at worse. Maybe this… the Kindom of God is like a woman who kneads yeast into 3 measures of flour… and then has a choice to leave it to fester on its own until it rots the entire 50 pounds… or kneads it… lets it rise… and then finishes the project by baking the bread that feeds to Kindom and all those within. We, the church, the world, those who follow the one of Grace, Justice, Compassion, and Love have a choice, do we allow the yeast of faith, the yeast of religion, corrupt the world into a never ending spiral of fear, hate, and unchanging violence? Or do we do something with it, for good…for the good of the whole, not just ourselves, but for the good of the whole of the Kindom?

Where will we expend our energy as individuals, as the church, as a country, as a world? How will we spend our time and effort, will we immerse ourselves in fear, conspiracy, hate, and vengeance… or will we find a better way, a way to move together to build up the whole of our churches, our country, and our world? When we look within, when we look across the landscape of all that should be good and well and it is not, when we open the maps of our land and places of faith and a world torn in fear and violence… when we as was shared in a Social Media quote from Warsan Shire last evening…

“later that night I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered, “where does it hurt?” it answered, “everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”

On what will we choose to focus? I want to focus, I want us to focus on the good and authentic faith of the one we follow, one of grace, one of reconciliation, one of justice, one of compassion, trust, humility, and love. Like my friend Karyn writes, I want to focus on the Sikh temples in Paris who opened their doors for those seeking shelter, taxi drivers turning off their meters to drive people home from the areas of attack, thousands who are donating blood today in Paris, the young man playing an impromptu “Imagine” in the streets of Paris, people who opened their homes to those seeking safety, … I want us to focus on ways to reach out to one another in compassion and grace not fear and dread. I want us to find ways to educate ourselves about that which we fear and do not understand rather than making assumptions that labels an entire group with stigmatization that is misinformed at best.

I want us, the church, the country, the world to finish the work that was started. To do the difficult work of coming together and staying together. I think about the rocking horse/unicorn being prepared for my little Kadee and I want us all to focus on the tedious work of sanding the church, the country, and the world into the beautiful and safe place and space we know it can be. Not just for our own good, the immediate good, the common good here and now, but for our children, our children’s children, and beyond. I want us to focus on the Divine within and the Divine without, the one who through whom the community said, “I am bringing peace, not like the world gives, but as I give.” I want us to focus on the Divine who brings “genuine love, rejoicing, weeping, peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness” to the table, an open table for all.

We can do this, but it is not enough to simply pray…we cannot be content with the corrupting of the world around us that finds itself rough, jagged, and rotting in fear and unfounded blaming and hate… we have to do the tedious work of smoothing that which is rough and jagged, need and finish the work to prevent further rotting of our souls and act as well, we have to LIVE a life of reconciliation, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and love, in the world around us… right here…right now. Active agents of change to save our churches and other communities of faith committed to that same difficult time-laden work of grace, compassion, understanding, and peace…

The world came together after 9/11
The world came together after Paris
The hope is in the fact that we can come together. We know how to do this, but the commitment is often found untried, difficult, and too brief. Our judgement is that we too easily and quickly slip back into the numbness of the droning fear of us vs them, of our individualistic culture, of what is in it for just me and those like me rather than embracing the opportunity that tragedy, change, and struggle offers us, to cling to together, to cling to the fullness of US, … ALL of us rather than fear and hate, blame and violence of word and deed. That the words, “Not again, not again,” need never be spoken by we who have the power or by our children who have the power to change the world for good. When will we learn, Lord have mercy, when will we learn? May it be so. May it be soon. May it be now. Amen.

Where Are You?

October 15, 2015

I walked away from the meeting feeling as good as I have in a long time. My friend asked me, “So, this journey you have been on, how are you, where are you?” I had to pause for a moment before I responded. Over the many months, and to a large degree over the past several weeks I have been on what I consider an inward journey; inward into my past, my future, and finally my present.

There is so much to consider about what I, what we, experience in the past that shapes and molds who we become in positive and negative ways. And to come to the realization that just a blip on the screen of one’s life can effect so much, can open one’s eyes to a clarity and vision that grounds one in who, whose, what, and why they are.

There is so much in our world that can seem so broken. So much to worry about, fight against, stand up to, and speak out against. It is often difficult, I think, in our current reality to get to the important, deeper, and more life giving issues than in this soundbite world we live in.

There is so much attention focused on “what is in it for me” rather than making this world a better place in which to live for “all” of us. Depending on what side of the political and or religious fence one is on determines where we stand on so many issues, but really not “issues,” we are affecting people’s lives and livelihoods.

Prepare here for personal, religious, political perspective rant. Too many lives and livelihoods are threatened in our country, in our world today.

The lives and livelihoods of persons, female persons, who want to access quality healthcare, prescriptions, abortion care, care that should be provided and decided between them and their doctors, and in clinics that shouldn’t subjected to false accusations and edited videos, government should not be making these decisions for women and their doctors.

The lives and livelihoods of parents and children who want a more safe and sane world, more safe and sane educational experiences, without having to worry about whether some unlicensed, untrained, unregistered individual is going to walk into the room with a gun with intent to do harm.

The lives and livelihoods of immigrants and their children and whether they are going to have a chance at education, food, medical care, and the opportunity to become citizens without the fear of deportation and inhumane treatment.

The lives and livelihoods of young black men and women, parents and children alike, who have to worry about being targeted and profiled unjustly putting their lives and livelihoods at risk.

The lives and livelihoods of the poor, middle class, working poor whose incomes and resources are continued to be mocked and swallowed up by the greedy and those who lack compassion.

The lives and livelihoods of those religious who simply want to practice their faith in peace but are besieged by protest, threat, suspicion, lies, and bigotry in a nation founded on freedom of religion.

The lives and livelihoods of those who simply want to embrace the same rights and freedoms as the rest of us, marry the ones they love, buy their houses, file their taxes, care for one another and visit one another when they are sick, and share the same protections under the law that my wife and I have.

The lives and livelihoods of all of us, when science is ignored and denied while glaciers melt, anomaly weather patterns create floods, droughts, and super storms that threaten life as we know it.

There is so very much wrong in our world, in our country, in our government, in our churches today. And I believe we are charged with the continued work of trying to make it a better place, for all of us, all of us.

All of this being said, I had a bit of a revelation along this journey I have been on over the last many months and last few weeks. Life is too short. Life is too short to get bogged down in what is wrong with the world. Life is too short to get caught up in a soundbite world that is more interested in shallow fear of the other, fear of new things, than it is in the weightier matters of the common good for all. Life is too short to focus on sensationalized headlines rather than substantive information and education. Whether it be in the halls of government or the sanctuaries of the church, life is too short to bicker about who is in and who is out, who is worthy and who is not, what I want to your exclusion, or who deserves and who is undeserving. Life is too short not to embrace the world, the whole of it and tell it, “I love you, and deep down inside … you are good; Good I Tell You!

With all of this preceding pondering, I can say I walked away from my meeting as good as I have been in a long time. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m right here.” I replied. “Right here, in as good a place as I have been for a long time, here in this moment.” Life is too short to let the past continue to obscure and blur my vision. Life is too short to worry about the future. Life is too short to live anywhere but right here, in this moment.

My calling by the Spirit of the Divine as a politically active pastor, clergy, advocate, voice, thorn in the side, and nervous prophet is no less important to me, I would venture to say it is now even more so now. My encounters with the Divine contine to bring me peace, nurture, and connection. My calling is within and outside the halls of the church. Within to continue to challenge the status quo, to continue to look for where God is doing a new thing. My studies, I pray, will bring new revelations and understandings of what it means to follow The Way. Progressive and compassionate theologies grounded in love of God, neighbor, and self, not focused on fear and sacrifice. And that Spirit calls me to be a voice, presence, and advocate of social justice not only within the church but in the halls of government as well. Our Gospel is a Social Gospel and without the Social Gospel there is no Gospel at all.

I still intend on changing the world, even if it is just my little corner of it, moment by ticking moment. My renewed vision of the present moment has clarified for me my vision of the task that lies before me. Life is too short to sit idly by and watch as injustice after injustice diminishes and belittles the lives and livelihoods of too many women, men, and children.

I am no longer governed by fear, but am led and guided by, immersed in the love of the Divine, a love that I believe we are all immersed and connected within. This love of God is a love from which nothing, no thing, not one thing, can ever separate any of us … in each eternal moment, we are loved, period! I am here, right here, and present in as good a place as I have been for a long time. I am not going away or shrinking back, the moment before us is huge, but we will persevere, we will see the day, when Love will, Love does, when Love Wins!

Just a long process of pondering along the Journey of the Way… the Way of Light, Life, and Love.

Kent.

Pondering the Pew Report and the Decline in Religious Affiliation

May 29, 2015

I have been pondering the recent Pew Study and the multitude of responses to the statistics that indicate a decline in church affiliation. In reading the numerous interpretations of the report and how the church has it right or wrong and what needs to be done to remedy the decline I have come to a conclusion, at least at this point in my pondering, that the interpreters fix, so to speak, is directly related to his or her theological perspective.

There are those who say the reason persons, especially millennials, are declining in religious affiliation is that we have watered down the gospel, the faith, and they have become disillusioned with our lack of backbone. There are those who say the church is too rigid, close minded, and exclusive and they are tired of our judgmental attitudes and hypocrisy. There is not enough liturgy, too much liturgy, not enough study and small groups, too much study and small groups. We are too inwardly focused and not focused enough on outreach and making this world a better place in which to live.

As I consider all the interpretations that are being put forth I have to say, they are all true and they are all false. The problem in part, at least in my humble opinion, is the idea that there is a singular fix for a problem that may or may not be a problem at all. When I say maybe not a problem at all, I am thinking of a particular story in regards to our Christian faith in that death need not be the end. That and there seems to be an assumption that all millennials are looking for the same thing, so if we can just figure out that one thing all will be well.

Millennials are no different than the rest of us in terms of individuality, we are all different. The fact that liturgy, sacrament, and traditional worship may speak to some millennials, does not mean it is going to speak to all of them and the converse is true as well. If we as a church, culture, and society have a problem it isn’t because we are doing it wrong, perhaps it is the fact that we have a really bad habit of assigning a whole group of people the same ideologies, thoughts, beliefs, wants, and needs rather than engaging our communities to discover the diverse range of thought and belief and then trying to meet folks where they are rather than offering them a fix they do not need or want.

Perhaps in light of this new pew report the task, ministry, and outreach of the church is to keep on keepin’ on, to use an old cliche. To do what we do best and improve upon those best practices and ministries. To talk with our members, our neighborhoods, our communities, to engage our local culture where it is and simply embrace and love them where they are.

I can only speak for myself, but I know I am as guilty as anyone else at trying the newest fad in worship, church leadership, outreach, and communication in order to somehow offer what those young people in our community might want and need so that they may want to be a part of our community of faith. Perhaps, if I learn anything from the Pew Report and my own pondering it is this; quit trying so hard to figure it out, to fix it, to offer the newest thing to attract new young people to the church and simply embrace them where they are, for who they are, and love them and trust they are much more in tune with what they are looking for than I am. Perhaps, that is enough.

Pondering continues…

Peace and Light for Our Journey,
Kent