Posts Tagged ‘community’

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

Simple Pleasures

May 15, 2017

The story I am about to relate is true, though it is filled with assumption and speculation about facts which may or may not be accurate, let alone any of my business. But I tell the story because the vision I saw moved me and made me smile.

TruDee and I were eating at a local establishment recently and enjoying conversation and the atmosphere. I noticed a woman, perhaps about my age, wheeling an elderly gentleman in a wheel chair through the front doors. The host helped direct them to a table where another joined the two. My assumption was; an elderly man and his daughter, perhaps granddaughter, and his wife, or another daughter. It appeared in addition to his obvious different ability regarding the wheel chair, that he had perhaps had a stroke. His expressionless face held steady and his left arm bent in a right angle at his elbow with its hand clenched in a gentle fist as she navigated him up to the table.

I did not notice much after that and resumed my conversation with TruDee as we waited on our order. Our server brought our dinner and we began to eat. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement once again of the three gathered at the table. The two women were conversing and laughing and the elderly gentleman for all intents and purposes appeared engaged in listening. And then he did, what I deemed to be, a curious thing.

beerWith his right hand, he reached to the table and picked up a glass, it was filled to the rim with beer. Very deliberately and gently he brought the glass to his lips, took a sip, and smiled. He continued the ritual, and with each deliberate and gentle action and sip of his beverage, he smiled. As we were leaving I took note once again, and just as I stood from our table he finished his beer, held the glass a few inches from his face, seemed to peer into its depths, and…smiled, as did I.
The vision this night moved me. This man, obviously in diminished ability, sat in the company of family, immersed in the moment, and savored the simple things of life. I sent my boys a text shortly after that and told them, “When I am old, in a wheel chair, perhaps unable to communicate or converse, please take me out and have a beer with me.” Let me relish in your company and enjoy a simple pleasure.

In this culture and environment, not only in society but even in the church, when things can seem to be so difficult, so opposed to justice, compassion, and grace, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find a gathering of family, of community, of friends, and immerse yourself in the moment and savor the simple gifts of life and faith. Take time to immerse yourself in grace, in compassion, in soul food, in love. Jesus knew the importance of such self-care. That self-care is what fueled his passion and compassion for social justice of his day.

Give a son, a daughter, a brother or sister, a mom or dad, a friend a call this week and be together. It is one of the many ways we find the Way Forward in this journey of life and faith. Until next time, know you are loved, you are not alone, …ever.

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Pastor Kent

Christmas Tradition

December 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

 

The Throw Down

November 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because…

In the church, here at College Hill,

Here we believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Here we believe in the politics of compassion on bigotry.

Here we believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

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

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

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

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

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

Here we believe in the politics of kindness not threat.

Here we believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Here we believe in the politics of Love not fear!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Broad Tent United Methodist Church?

October 11, 2016

I am a second generation Methodist/United Methodist clergy. My father, a United Methodist Elder, served in the Methodist/United Methodist Church for thirty three years. I was born into the Methodist/United Methodist church, was baptized in 1959 and confirmed and became a full member in 1972. My journey toward ordained ministry was similar to my father’s. I spent a good deal of time running the other way from my calling, finally entering the process toward ordination at the age of thirty-two. At this date I have been in pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church for twenty-four years. All this simply to say, I am a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist of fifty-seven years.

I share this writing as I watch our United Methodist Denomination continue to struggle to stay united and one. I wrote a blog sometime back about the United Methodist Church’s official position on same gender relationships, and while this date’s writing may take a gentler tone, I remain firm in my views on that position.

I write this day wondering about the future of the Broad Tent United Methodist Church under which I grew up. There are many, not unlike myself, who have used that language to speak to inquiring persons as they ask questions about our denomination, as well as long time members who are on the journey to better understand who and how we are in the church. Language that speaks to the truth that we are not a creedal church, language of a Broad Tent denomination where there is room for a breadth of conservative evangelical members as well as liberal progressive members. I have heard those words from conservative evangelical and liberal progressive lay persons, clergy, and bishops. We are a Theologically Broad Tent denomination.

That being said, this writing is about two primary and current topics in our denomination. One is the bishop’s commission being created to study our current disciplinary language regarding human sexuality and in particular our church’s position on same gender relationships. If we are indeed a church that is of open door, open heart, open mind…if we are indeed a church with a theologically Broad Tent of belief and practice, I am troubled by the apparent makeup of the commission. The makeup of the commission as of this date appears to be twenty-one clergy, eight of whom are bishops, and eight lay persons. Theologically speaking I do not know the makeup of the commission. However, to have an imbalance of clergy to laity seems to me to strike at the heart of who we are as a denomination. Our Annual Conferences and our General Conference work hard at equity and equal representation. Not to mention we are creating a commission to determine a recommendation about how the church will move forward in relation to our LGBTQ members, and though I do not know the orientation of any of the suggested commission members, our LGBTQ members are not mentioned and I would assume then, not included. An unfortunate exclusion and rejection once again with LGBTQ persons on the outside looking in having to wait for someone else to decide whether they are welcome or not. Such exclusion from the commission is unjust and not in keeping with a so-called Broad Tent denomination. It grieves me and I can only imagine the pain and anger my LGBTQ friends and colleagues feel.

My other concern with our long championed notion of a Broad Tent theological denomination is in regards to a recently formed group, The Wesleyan Covenant Association. I think it is wonderful for like-minded Christians to gather together to share ideas, theologies, purpose, mission, and worship. I do that on a regular basis. I am a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and my affiliation with this group feeds my heart and soul whenever we gather in prayer, worship, conversation, and brainstorming ideas. My concern rests with the portion of their covenant that would appear to nullify the Broad Tent denomination we have long claimed to be.

In referencing the bishop’s commission a portion of their statement includes the following: A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.

While I would agree with the beginning words that a plan should not compromise their principles and understanding of scripture, I would hope the same courtesy would be offered to those who embrace other understandings of Scripture which shape principles and practice. The portion of the statement that would allow for a Broad Tent, i.e. “local option” around ordination and marriage, as not acceptable, would indicate that no longer would we consider a Broad Tent understanding to be tenable. I pray this would not be the case. To lose this sense of a willingness to live in community, with Christians, United Methodists of all stripes; conservative evangelical, liberal progressive, straight and gay, to lose this community with a broad understanding of theology and practice grieves my heart and at least in my life and faith would diminish our denomination’s appeal and work in the world around us. I have served eight congregations in my twenty-four years of ministry and have cherished each and every one of those congregations, none of whose members all agreed with me, nor I with them one hundred percent. Still I am committed to the belief that diversity and a willingness to acknowledge difference and still work together participating with the Spirit in bringing the Kindom here within and among us is a gift and a grace of God.

I hold our United Methodist Denomination in The Light of prayer and the Spirit every day, all of us, because I still believe in the hope and grace of the theologically Broad Tent denomination in which I was raised and in which I serve. We are all in this together, at least that is my hope and prayer. Perhaps in 2018 we will see how it all turns out. I pray there is still a place for all of us, for my more conservative evangelical friends and colleagues, a place for me, a place for my LGBTQ friends and colleagues, a place for inclusion and grace. I pray.

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Being There

October 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do, stay with me.

Do stand with me.

Do sit with me.

Do weep with me.

Do laugh with me.

Do hold me.

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

Do listen to me. Do hear me.

Do talk with me.

Do be present with/for me.

Do be present to me.

Do be with me.

Do be available.

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

Do love me.

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

 

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

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.

Kneeling Shoeless at the Mosque

July 13, 2015

It was an early Saturday morning start for me in the first weekend of June as I drove across town for a prayer and conversation time with my friends. I arrived at the mosque just as the sun was rising in the east and welcomed at the door when I walked in. I had been there before on the first Saturday at the invitation of my good friend who is a member of the west mosque. But this was the first time I had made it early enough to join them in the prayer time.

I removed my shoes in the entryway and walked into the area where they share their morning prayers. Another of the members greeted me warmly and handed me a paper with the prayer they would be chanting and explained what each section was about and invited me to participate in whatever way I felt most comfortable. I stood with them as they began, knelt with them, bowed with them, and followed the printed prayer as the leader chanted the words of prayer and worship to God.

There was, there is, something profoundly humbling and moving about kneeling shoeless with, and in the presence of, others who seek to also live in peace and grace in a world so torn with hatred and anger. There was, and is, something particularly sacred about being in prayer together even if we have differing understandings and perspectives of the one we all call God. In that place, shoeless, on my knees, bowing in a common gesture, on common ground there was connection of relationship, common goals, and a connection of striving to understand while being together immersed in the same Spirit who nurtures and nourishes us all.

Once the prayer time was over we gathered around a table with a meager collection of snacks and listened as one read from the writings of Islam. We then visited and discussed various things of current events in the world, where our respective faith traditions found touch points and common ground. I shared with them a collection of cards our congregation at College Hill UMC had written in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters in response to recent acts of protest and bigotry directed at their faith and other Muslims in other states.

My hour there, as with other times, was nourishing of mind, body, and spirit as we shared in discussion, laughter, care, and food. It was an honor for me to be included as simply another child of God present to pray, fellowship, and share at table with these fellow pilgrims on a journey of life and faith.

I pray for continued grace in our community finding ways to exist in peace and understanding working toward the common good for all not only here in Wichita, but that we might be a light to our state and world where we are all in this together.

It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and our world 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

Living Together

July 6, 2015

Simeon and Mozart, for the most part are good buddies. They wrestle and play together primarily in the backyard but now and then get started in the house and have to be invited outside. They can be found hanging out together side by side on the living room floor or sitting shoulder to should on the deck keeping watch. Every now and then though, and it tends to happen around the presence of some kind of edible thing, they get into it. They fight, and I mean really fight. They have been known more than once to even draw blood before I can get them separated. It is bound to happen I suppose, to some degree they are a bit like our human children, well hopefully with the exception of drawing blood, they can get along really well and then something sets one of them off and here we go!

I suppose on one level or another humankind tends to reflect that nature as well. Though it is always my hope and prayer we can find a way to rise above such things. What started this whole reflection was my presence at Phillips Theological Seminary the past two weeks. I have begun a journey into doctoral work and I found the first on campus session challenging, refreshing, and energizing. The program focus of my studies will be Collaborating for Change, a program designed to enhance leadership, study, preaching, and bringing a wide diversity of thought and position to the table, so to speak, to bring about just and compassionate social change.

We were there when the recent Supreme Court decisions were released and they caused much cheering, discussion, and reflection among us. It was heartening to be in a religious setting with various Christian denominations and find celebration and solidarity among other colleagues and new friends.

Of course it did not take long before the media began covering the decisions and hearing not only affirming commentary but dissenting views as well. I remember thinking, as it seems I too often do in recent years, how sad it is that we cannot disagree without being civil and respectful of one another. There is a broad range of disagreement on the decisions and so many other things. Everything from religious freedom being attacked, to the destruction of marriage, to the notion that God is going to rain wrath, vengeance, and destruction down on the U.S.A., as if slavery, racism, and the genocide of native peoples were not good enough cause for righteous destruction but somehow health care for all and civil rights for same-gender couples is.

A question was asked of us as we prepared to leave the last day of class in response to a video we had watched by Jim Wallis, “What questions are tearing your heart apart now?” The question is a challenging one. Challenging because though I have numerous things I could site in regards to an answer, how does one journey down to the core of what underlies all of those responses?

In thinking about answers, at least at this point of my journey, at the core of all that I see as broken in our world and especially in our country, is the need to find the other as less than. From the very beginnings of our country there have been those we have persecuted, denied rights, slaughtered, driven from their land, put on reservations or in internment camps, written out of equal protection under the law, and legislated discrimination against. And as time and history goes on it is apparent that many if not most of these efforts to identify the other is not just an individual injustice but built into the very systems of our government, society, and culture.

In Jim Wallis’ video he made a statement that resonated with this thought, “We can’t just keep pulling bodies out of the river without sending someone upstream to find out who is throwing them in.” Or perhaps to be specific about a current issue, We can’t just keep pulling down confederate flags, we have to find out why our system supports a racist symbol. Or perhaps, It’s not enough to just keep saying, ‘We don’t hate LGBTQ persons,’ we have to find out what it is about us as individuals, as a society, and culture that continues to belittle and see our brothers and sisters as less than.

I wish Simeon and Mozart would be as passionate and energized about resolving conflict as they are at proving which one is the boss. They will continue to do well together and they will continue to fight and do damage now and then. That’s their nature. But I do not believe we as human kind are bound by such instincts, we can rise above the vitriol language and hate, if we will work hard enough together to make it so.

Those are the things right now that tear at my heart. I am not oblivious of the fact that with 322,583,006 people in the U.S. we are not always going to agree, but somehow must learn to live as if all really are created equal. Somehow we must not only quote, but believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal words, “We must learn to live together and brothers and sisters, or perish together as fools.” Somehow we must find a way to live out that call of the Spirit to practice what we preach and create a world of Justice, Kindness, and Humility, even when we disagree.

May that day hasten to be. May it be so. May it be soon!
Pastor Kent

We Do Not Have the Market Cornered on God

July 2, 2012

Recent renewed discussions in our area as well as our state and nation have brought to the surface once again the issue of separation of church and state, prayer at government meetings, prayer in school, a chapel at our State Capital. Along with that a law passed by other states and ours addressing and the forbidding of the use of “foreign laws” to be imposed in our state. The decision was in essence meant to address the much debated issue of Sharia Law. I found the decision curious at best as if those who espouse the idea that we are a “Christian” nation, based on the laws of the Bible, those same laws are certainly well considered as “foreign” laws, certainly not originating here in the U.S.A.

All of this came close to home for me a few weeks ago when I was contacted to do the invocation at our Wichita City Council Meeting. I wrestled with the idea, as a clergy person in the city I certainly did not want to turn down the opportunity to be present and offer words of hope and grace for our city, our leaders, and all of our citizens. At the same time as Senior Minister here at College Hill with our long tradition of progressive theology and practice I wanted to be sensitive to the openness of faith and true to the witness of who we are in the city. As a board member of the local chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State I also wanted to make sure I offered non-sectarian words of hope for all of our city. I did accept the invitation and shared in that time identification that we are a city fill with a diverse tapestry of religious practice and non-religious practice and asked for the grace and wisdom of the Divine Presence that connects us all.

Research shows over the last two years there have been very few invocations offered at our local city council meetings and our county commissioner meetings by clergy or others of faith traditions different than Christianity and the majority of the prayers have been very sectarian. I believe in a country founded on freedom of religion in government sponsored meetings and events if a prayer of any kind is offered it should be sensitive to the fact that all those who hear are not necessarily of the particular faith tradition of the speaker and the words should be respectful of that fact.

Unfortunately too many of our fellow followers of Jesus believe we somehow have the market cornered on God and all other expressions of faith and practice are inferior and wrong. I could not disagree more! The Spirit moves in and among all of humankind and creation and we participate with that Spirit in the tradition that most deeply feeds our body, heart, soul, and mind; as Matthew Fox relates the saying from Meister Eckhart, “God is a great underground river that no one can dam up an dno one can stop.” There is one great river of the Divine and there are many wells of faith, practice, and tradition which tap into that river.
Ultimately it is about community, respect, grace, and love an as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Such are words to live by and exist in the peace of the Spirit among us. Join us this Sunday as we continue to Celebration Series, “The Loyal Opposition; Ponderings of a Protest-ant Christian,” and “Cornering the Market on God.” It is going to be another Great Day at the Hill!

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 family. 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.