Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

A Statement of Sacred Resistance

April 5, 2019

Advertisements

We Stood.

March 4, 2019

Let me share first, after the four days I spent in St Louis this past week, it was and is difficult to stay on task with our sermon series as we wrap it up this week. There is much occupying my mind, much laying on my heart, much disturbing my soul still today, five days later. But we will carry on, perhaps this morning with a little different focus, but we will carry on.

Our faith, our journey as followers of the life and ministry of Jesus, is grounded in, passed on by, immersed in … story. We carry within us the stories that have shaped and molded our lives, our beliefs, our hopes, our faith. This story we have heard this morning in the context of our last sermon in the series of Jesus and Buddha… Right Effort, is a familiar one for those of us who have grown up in the faith. If you have been a long-time traveler in the context of Christianity you have perhaps read this story countless times, you have perhaps heard countless sermons interpreting the story… I know I have, and I have preached many times on this text. Each time the text has been a part of my experience, and my interpretations of it… while nuanced differently, preached in different contexts… the theme was generally the same.

This story of an obviously rich man going on a journey, he entrusts at least some of his wealth into the care of three of his servants. I believe it is important to note, he does not tell them to do anything with the money, simply that he has entrusted it to them each according to their ability. To one he gives five talents, one two talents, and to a third one talent. It is important to note here as well, a talent was a unit of weight of approximately 80 pounds, and when used as a unit of money, was valued for that weight of sliver. As a unit of currency, a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A denarius was the usual payment for a day’s labor, the value of a talent was about 20 years of labor by an ordinary person. By contemporary standings, at the rate of Nebraska minimum wage of $9.00 per hour, the value of a talent would be approximately $432,000 over twenty years. This was no insignificant amount of money. So, one might understand why someone would be fearful to have been entrusted with such a large amount.

The common theme and interpretation of this story, has long turned the third servant into the fool, a fool of his fear to have buried the money in the ground and made no good use of it. The common theme and interpretation have long, intentionally or unintentionally pointed to the rich man and the first two servants as heroes of the story, who used the man’s money wisely. It is a story, a parable, with a point. Let me say, this long held interpretation is well grounded, good exegesis, contextually solid. It, is a story that shapes our understanding and molds who we are as followers of Jesus life and ministry.

We gather here this morning people of stories. We all carry with us those stories that make us who we are, that make us whose we are. As I sat in the convention center in St Louis I began to think of story, as I watched the events unfold. I recalled a book I had just finished before leaving for the Conference, “Together at the Table,” by Bishop Karen Oliveto, she is the First out Lesbian Bishop elected to the episcopacy in the United Methodist Church. A good portion of her book is about her story. She tells of being asked by both ends of the theological perspective, why she doesn’t leave the UM church, by those who want her out, and by those who do not understand why she stays. She very eloquently speaks of the UM Church into which she was born, the church that held her in her baptism, the church that confirmed her in her faith, the church with God’s help who called her into ministry and ordained her, and the church who elected her as bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. It was a story I deeply resonated with for many of the same reasons. It is a story many sitting here this morning in our church resonate with and why watching and hearing the story out of St Louis has been so painful and disheartening. There are also those of us who do not have as deep a relationship with the UM Church, who also wrestle with why we stay, will we stay, what is next for us.

I recall when I was confirmed in the UMC, thirteen years old, after we had finished the confirmation classes and before Confirmation Sunday, we were all, one by one, called to the pastor’s office to meet. We were called to visit with the pastor about whether or not we wanted to join the church. We were called there to visit about what we thought that meant. We were called there not to convince us to believe in a particular doctrine or theology, we were called there not to have us promise to believe without doubt in the virgin birth, the trinity, the literalness of the bible. In my conversation with my pastor I was not asked if I was gay, or what I believed about homosexuality… I was asked if I loved God, I was asked if I loved others, I was asked if I loved myself. I was asked to tell my pastor my story.

These were many of the things that ran through my mind as I watched from the observer seats the dismantling of the UMC, or at least that is how it seemed. It was like sitting at the bedside of a loved one watching them die. While I clung to hope as long as I could, there was part of me, when I walked away on Monday night, before the last day of the conference, part of me knew the UMC of my youth…was dead.

I wondered, as I considered the parable of the talents, if I could relate to the third servant, burying the last of the resources, the fear, the grief, the loss… buried…gone… knowing it would never be the same again, I went back to my hotel room to wait, until the return the next day.

The last day of conference was the worst. It was a day where 53 percent of the delegates again and again visited harm and verbal abuse upon the LGBTQ members, clergy, friends, and family of our church and beyond. It was a brutal day and difficult to watch and listen to, I cannot begin to know what it was like for the LGBTQ community to listen to and witness this again. It has to be a special kind of abuse to have the story of their lives beaten, broken, dismissed, ignored, and diminished again and again. Their stories, the story of the church I remember, my own story… welled up in my eyes as I watched the waning hours of that last day.

Let me say, the 47 percent of moderates and progressives, straight, gay, lesbian…. the 47 percent of these delegates, and especially delegates from our own Great Plains Conference fought a valiant battle… they tried everything…but it would not be.

As these hours ticked away… one of our delegates, Rev. Mark Holland from the Great Plains stood to the microphone to speak… He held up the discipline and a bible… challenged the conservative 53 percent to think about what they were doing, putting the Discipline above the scriptures. And in a rousing, passionate, rather loud voice… said the progressive 43 percent would amend, and amend, and amend until there would be no time to take a vote, he turned to his colleagues and encouraged them to continue offering amendments and vote down any attempt to bring the Traditional Plan to a vote, which takes 2/3rds…   in the middle of that challenge the cut his mic. Which he really didn’t need one because by now he was shouting… and in terms of Roberts Rules of Order it was probably proper to cut the mic… but in that moment… I stood.

I stood because earlier in the week a young man gave a rousing speech, I would even say it was a 3-minute sermon, that had the observer seats on their feet, delegates on their feet, even many of the bishops on their feet clapping and cheering him on in his plea against the traditional plan. After things settled down a delegate from the right wing 53% went to the microphone to ask the chair of the committee to tell the people to sit down and be quiet. Another went to the microphone and said he would be standing for the remainder of the day to protest such a request and many of us did… so, in this moment I stood once again…

I stood as my thoughts were drawn back to the parable of the talents.

I stood because perhaps in this context we are interpreting it wrong.

I stood because how many times did Jesus teach about the accumulation of wealth? How many times did Jesus teach about the dangers of power and authority? How many times did Jesus warn about colluding with the powerful against the least of these and the abused and oppressed?

I stood because I think it is time to rethink our interpretation. Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent out of defiance! Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent out of resistance! Perhaps the third servant buried the 1 talent because he refused to participate in the evils of the love of money and power. Perhaps the third servant buried the money out of fear of being oppressed and a tool of that powers that be, the principalities who rule and influence not with love and welcome, but with corruption and fear, and bigotry! Perhaps the third servant’s act was resistance… “Here is your money, every last penny… and I will not be a part of who you are a harsh task master of greed. My story…. Will not be a part!

I stood in honor of my colleague Mark Holland and all those delegates who were trying to move the church to an inclusive place in the world.

I stood in honor of Bishop Karen Oliveto who sat with the bishops on the stage.

I stood in honor of the LGBTQ persons in the hall, here and home, and around the globe who have been silenced by the church for far too long!

And, in that moment, I stood for FUMC Omaha. I stood because of who we have been, who we are, and who we will continue to be.

I stood because First UMC Omaha… First Church…literally THE First Church in Omaha has persisted and persevered for too long to not stand!

I stood because you, you, have been through the fire…literally, burned to the ground and rebuilt and carried on.

I stood because you stood with Native Americans and Standing Bear against the powers that be.

I stood because you stood with Rev. Robert Naylor who stood in the pulpit with the courage to say black and white and equal and will be treated that way here at FUMC.

I stood because FUMC literally weathered the storm against the power of nature and a tornado to repair and carry on!

I stood because against all odds, when others said you would not survive the fallout after Rev. Jimmy Creech performed a same gender wedding here, you stood up for what is right, and you not only survived… you thrived.

I stood, because I know, FUMC will continue to be a light on the hill. FUMC will continue to stand up for equality and equity regardless of race, religion, gender, or age.

I stood because I know, FUMC will never be silent in the face of homophobia and the diminishing of another human being. And especially in the context of this recent ruling from the UMC General Conference solidarity with LGBTQ persons will not be dissuaded in any way, this 2019 General Conference does not speak for us… we dissent!

I stood because I know, no Conference, no doctrine, no “Plan”, no Discipline, organization, no vote, no amendment, no one… not one thing…. Nothing… will separate us from the love we know in God who immerses us in justice, connection, and community.

I stood, because FUMC will continue to deepen our spiritualty, advocate and participate through action and presence justice for all… in a community and world where we will make justice happen, love as God loves, and be the very reflection of God in the world. At this moment… we may be unsure of the context within which we do this work… but we will never be deterred… we will persist…we will resist…we will continue to rise. And Love…Love…will win. Love and Compassion ALWAYS WINS!

This my friends, is not a “May it Be So” moment….

This is a “THIS IS SO” MOMENT. AMEN AND AMEN!

Rev. Kent H. Little

The Vulnerability of Christmas

December 23, 2018

Of course, this time of year I have been pondering, neck deep so to speak, the Advent and Christmas Season. One of the most profound images of the birth narratives of Jesus is that of vulnerability. The family is forced to make a long journey only to find the meagerest of shelter which sufficed for the moment. And so, Jesus would not come in the grand palaces of the wealthy and powerful, but the least of places celebrated by the lowliest of social status. Jesus was born, like you and me, vulnerable and dependent on his parents for his every need and wellbeing.

Using this image as a template upon our current society and I find it disturbing. Two weeks ago, a father and seven-year-old daughter forced to leave their country of Guatemala for their wellbeing, are placed into custody, a cell. After several days the little girl has seizures, has a high temperature, is dehydrated, and dies just a day later.

Our immigration system is broken, I am not sure how anyone could disagree. However, until we find a solution that welcomes those who seek refuge in our country we must act with compassion. Building a wall should not be who we are, we should be providing doors, wide open doors, of compassion and welcome. To lose even one child of God such as this seven-year-old from Guatemala is too many. Such a loss while in the care of our country is unjust, cruel, and wrong.

Too many in the halls of government, as well as religion, continue to posture themselves with power and privilege at the expense of the most vulnerable of the world. We must find our way to be a compassionate place of welcome and love. Otherwise this ever-widening chasm of division will continue a spiraling descent into fear of the other and a dispassionate isolationist existence.

Our country, our churches, our communities and people of faith must practice the welcoming and inclusive Way of Jesus especially for the most vulnerable, whether they are already among us or traveling great distances for the safety and wellbeing of their families. Our country, our administration needs to take a long look in the mirror and decide who we want to be; a place where the most vulnerable can find safety and compassion even I the most meager of shelter or a place where the norm is fear of the other, suspicion, and even loss of life. I pray we find our way to justice, kindness, and humility, where we love one another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no others, only One Beloved Community of All.

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little

A Weed in the United Methodist Church

July 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is Love!

Love will Win. Love Always Wins…

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

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

Peace and Light for this Journey.

Pastor Kent

The Word

July 17, 2018

My struggle to put my thoughts into words comes from my wrestling with who I am and whose I am. There is a tension for me between my citizenship and my chosen vocation. As an ardent supporter of our constitutional ideal of separation of church and state I have a difficult time wearing the simultaneous hats of citizen and clergy.

I have long been an advocate, voice, and practitioner of justice making for all of our citizens, in particular those who are discriminated against, marginalized, and oppressed. I rarely wade into partisan politics when it comes to my writing and never when it comes to my role as clergy. While I believe Jesus was certainly political, I would posit he was never partisan. His critiques of empire and the political domination system was about policy and practice, never a particular philosophy of politic. He was certainly critical of those leaders who practiced and condoned policies of injustice, violence, and oppression. It is within this tradition I write these words.

That was two rather long paragraphs to get where I am trying to go as I wrestle with my thoughts and words. Over the last year and a half, I have struggled with our current political environment and in particular this administration and our president. I have watched and listened as he bragged about objectifying women. I have watched and listened as he belittled war heroes and their families. I have watched and listened as he mocked the disabled and the sexually abused. I have watched and listened as he continuously disparages our free press and anyone who disagrees with him. I have watched and listened as he denies at best and lies at worse about things he has verifiably said and done. And most recently has once again diminished our own intelligence agencies and multitudes of others who have confirmed via investigation and fact a foreign country technologically attacked our country and its election process.

As I continued to ponder and wonder all this again this evening it struck me…the word…the word I had been searching for. Contempt. I am not sure I have ever known a person, certainly not a leader, with as much contempt as our president. At least in my perception, and perhaps this is an exaggeration, but it appears to me he holds in contempt almost all things; the world, the world’s leaders, our allies, the poor, foreign persons in our country, the differently abled, his own party, his supporters, even perhaps his country, and his office. Maybe I am blowing this out of proportion, but when I read his tweets, listen to his speeches, watch him encounter others on the world stage, with the exception of a handful perhaps, transgender persons in our military, other religions, …the list is too long finish…. I hear so much contempt. And what deepens my struggle and heartache are those who continue to support his actions or turn a blind eye as if it is all okay and just part of the plan.

I will not be one to say, “He is not my president,” he is, right, wrong, or indifferent, for now he is our president…but I cannot support his actions and contempt for our standing in the world and his contempt for the least of these in our midst here in the USA. As a Christian clergy I will continue everyday to keep him, the administration, our governing leaders, and our country in my daily prayers… but I will not condone his contempt and I continue to resist at every turn words, practices, and actions that diminish the office of our Presidency, weaken our country’s standing with those who work for justice, belittle the oppressed and impoverished, mock the abused and differently abled, and looks with contempt on the freedoms and justice for which we contend.

To continue to support the levels of contempt and disregard for justice and compassion we are seeing in our country today will surely cause us to reap what we are sowing if we have not already begun. It is time to wake up we citizens, it is time for the church, all communities of faith, who long for and work tirelessly for the right, good, just, and compassionate beloved community to become that for which we dream! We need to pray for our country… but not just with words, with our hands and feet, with our work and our passion, with our hope and our compassion, with our voices of justice and reason! Speak up! Show up! When the time comes… Vote!

Make justice happen. Love as God loves. Be the very reflection of God in the world.

The soul of our nation depends on it. Perhaps even… our own.

May it be so. May it be now.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Jesus and American Exceptionalism

July 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus was in the including business not the excluding business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God, we are not a theocracy!

We are not a Christian Nation!

However… you are Church!

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

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

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

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

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

We should be celebrating our inter-dependence!

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

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

Rev. Kent H. Little

Sunday Morning Coffee

May 21, 2017

On Sunday morning my accustomed spot at this time is usually either sitting at my desk still tweaking my morning sermon or pacing the halls of the church in preparation for worship. It is my Sunday morning ritual of sorts, the quiet and dark of the building lends itself well to meditation and reflection. There is always a little time to light a candle, reflect on the coming celebration, nervous butterflies fluttering deep within, and that awe-filled thought that somehow, someway, I might find a word to speak to inspire, move, challenge, disturb, and resonate with those who hear.

This morning though is a different morning. This is the last day of mostly a staycation. I spent this week working on renewing, rejuvenation, reflecting, and trying to fill my cup. I made significant progress on a rocking Labrador dog for my middle granddaughter, I visited my retreat site where I was able to spend time in meditation and centering as well as a little fishing. I spent a day in a boat on a lake with my good friend where we worked on solving the troubles of the world. I filled my cup with connection and conversation with my best friend, partner, and lover. And for the past day and a half I have been surrounded by family.

So, early this Sunday morning I am not sitting at my desk or wandering the halls of our church in preparation for speaking or preaching. This morning I am sitting on a couch, with my coffee, listening to the songbirds outside the window, a woodpecker doing its thing against the house, I am watching the sunbeams stream through the windows with dancing shadow leaves on the walls and floor and furniture.

On this early Sunday morning, while my trusty writing instrument is still before me, I am not surrounded by papers, pencils, and my books. As the bird sings her early morning song I am surrounded by things like, toy helicopters, an infant capatrolr seat, Paw Patrol, sippy cup, Mickey Mouse, burp rag, a crocodile, a Cat in the Hat hat, and puzzles. I have been immersed in the giggles, hugs, and energy of a two and a half year old, the quiet coos and snuggles of one and a half month old, and the smiles and wiggles of a one year old and at noon, we will gather as a family and celebrate this our middle granddaughter’s first birthday.

I confess, while this week was much needed along my journey, it has been filled with much reflection and some struggle. The state of our world, our country, our state, and our church weighs heavy on my heart and soul. What can often seem like a tsunami of injustice, arrogance, theological malpractice, racism, bigotry, and refusal to acknowledge the corruption of society and culture by the power and prowess of empire, both secular and religious, is draining and disheartening to say the least. And yet…and yet…

It is here, on this bright Sunday morning, I am reminded, in the midst of burp rags, helicopters, Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, those who love me and whom I love… here is the reason for my passion. Here is why I do what I do. Here is why refusing to give in or give up is so very crucial, to leave this world a little better than I found it. That those who live in fear of violence and oppression will see the light of justice and compassion. The arc is still bending, but one day, I still believe, because of acts great and small by you and by me, my three granddaughters might live in a world where love, compassion, justice, kindness, humility, and are the rule rather than the exception.

So, here on this early Sunday morning, I am moved with a tear or two, because I am so fortunate and grateful to be a part of this family; to be immersed in the love of little ones and big ones, here in this place, on this day. I Love You! And because of these and so many others, my coffee cup is raised and here’s to renewed commitment to justice. Rise up. Speak truth to power. Fear and intimidation will not win the day. On this day, remind ourselves what the Divine Spirit calls us to be about …justice, kindness, and humility. Remind ourselves what the One we follower calls us to be about, caring for the least, the forgotten, and those pushed to the margins of society and the church. It is my calling… it is our calling. Rise. Speak. Act. Until justice perseveres and love prevails for all…for ALL.

May it be so.

Now it’s time for more coffee and preparation for a birthday party and cake!

Peace and Light for Our Journey!

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

Ruminations on Violence and War

April 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kent

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