Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

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

Of Empaths and Collateral Beauty

December 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is to Beauty and Hope –

Kent

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.

 

What Now?

November 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

Side by Side

January 4, 2016

TruDee and I attended Arri Simon’s concert Sunday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Church. He is so very talented, gracious, and just a joy to hear and be in his presence. One of the songs he has written was entitled, if I recall correctly, Side by Side. I was moved to tears, a song calling us forward to our common journey, our common presence on this good green earth, the common air we breathe, our common humanity; a reminder we are all in this together and with all that is going on in our country and world today, it can seem all too often we have forgotten we are all on this train together. It was a beautiful call to peace and harmony.

It reminded me of my time at the Mosque this last Saturday I referenced in my sermon this Sunday, the song reminded me of my being invited to stand, kneel, bow, and sit side by side with my Muslim brothers in prayer, reflection, meditation, and fellowship. It reminded me of that longing deep in my heart and soul for that day when we will all stand side by side in our diversity and yet stand as one, with one voice, and one purpose of the common good for all.

 
At the request of a couple of folks at church Sunday I am going to share that telling of my time at the Mosque and the hope for a world and a humankind, side by side, in search of peace, understanding, and love. It is as follows.

I was back at the West Mosque early yesterday at the morning prayer gathering. I arrived a bit early and sat at table visiting with the others who were early birds like me. I have been there many times before to share in conversation, prayer time, some food, and building friendship. Each time I go I learn just a little more not only about Islam, my friends, but about myself as well.

Yesterday would prove no different. A number of things struck me yesterday morning as we gathered. One was the leader of the newest Mosque on McCormick who is almost always there as well, when he arrived I stood from my chair to greet him and he smiled, shook my hand, and said, “Good morning brother Kent.” It was not a huge thing, other than it was the first time I remember him, or any of them using the language of brother. I have always felt nothing but welcome and inclusion when I gather with my friends in the early morning light, but there was just something about the term of endearment yesterday morning that nourished a bit of my heart and soul.

When it comes time, they always gather together in a straight line facing the east for morning prayers. I have always joined them, only not in their line, I have always stayed just a respectful few feet behind them with my cheat sheet, an English translation of the Arabic language in which they chant their prayers to God/Allah. As they created the line, one turned to me and motioned me to stand next to him, “Come, join us here,” he said. The one leading the prayer motioned as well and said, laughing, “It’s my responsibility to make sure the line is straight though…” Another gesture of inclusion and welcome that nourished my heart and soul.

 

I had forgotten my cheat sheet yesterday so I simply joined the group, side by side, and listened, standing when they stood, kneeling when they knelt, bowing when they bowed, and finally sitting quietly when they sat. Some of the Arabic I recognized from watching my sheet before, “Allah is great. Praise be to Allah.”

 
There is a melody to the prayer each time, a cadence, a reverence that sounds almost identical regardless of which one leads the prayer. Something about the time in prayer resonated with me, though I did not understand the language, yet still felt in prayer with my brothers yesterday morning. We then spent time around the table snacking on cheese, crackers, and drinking coffee, laughing, sharing stories from our faith, talking politics, theologies, traditions, and practices.

 
We, CHUM, will be invited to their celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday when they get a date set. One said, “Not all Muslims celebrate the birthday, but we are ones who celebrate everything!” I said, “Well, not all Christians celebrate Christmas either, but we at CHUM tend to celebrate everything as well!” To which he said, “Oh, maybe you Christians are not so different than we after all.” Lots of laughter followed.

 
Maybe we are not so different after all…echoed in my mind. We all share the same sun, breathe the same air, we’re all on this train together, were some of the words to Arri’s song. I was moved to tears thinking about all the anxiety, fear, hate, anger, and violence that faces my Muslim brothers and sisters, all those who have somehow by some been deemed as different, unworthy, lost, or outside of God’s grace because of their sexual orientation, religious belief, non-religious belief, gender, race, age, healthcare choices, immigration status, and the list goes on and on of those who are considered other.

 
Thank you Arri for your light and calling us all forward through your gift of music. I hope and pray this New Year carries us closer to that reality of grace and justice for all, a compassionate and just world where difference is honored and celebrated and the common good of all is sought by those who are willing to make a difference. I pray you will join me on this journey toward love and let your light shine in all the dark places of the world. It is time to get on this train of peace, understanding, hope, and love.

 
Such is a way 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. An Extraordinary Church with a Place for You. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

 
Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears…Oh My!

November 25, 2015

The other evening The Wizard of Oz was on. It is a favorite of mine that I rarely pass up when it comes on television. Though, since the advent of Wicked, there is part of me that can never watch the melting of the Wicked Witch of the West in the same way again. As I watched it this past Sunday, marinating in all that is going on in our world, nation, state, churches, and our lives it seemed to me there was a great deal of which to be fearful in that movie.

I know, there was always plenty of which to be afraid while watching Dorothy navigate the plot of the story. Miss Gulch, tornadoes, witches, haunted forests, poison poppies, flying monkeys…these were what frightened me most when I was little, guards, dark castles, wizards, and the list can become even longer as you consider all the darkness and dread that filled the movie screen and the story line.

As I sat and watched the familiar scenes pass before me I could not help but think of our own world, my own corner of the world where there is so much fear and anger, it seems we are saturated in it not only real, but imagined, dreamed up, made up, promoted, and thrust upon us. There are times when I wonder if there are those who just make shit up in order to stoke the fires of fear.

So many times when I turn on the news or open a paper it seems that the powers that be want us to be fearful, I have noted before that notion that a fearful citizenry is easier to control, I am believing that is true.

Terrorist threat, racism, bigotry, religious bigotry, the demonizing of the poor and refugees, homophobia, Islamophobia, fear grounded in a woman’s right to choose her own medical care, fear of losing power, fear of losing jobs, economic fear, fear of those who are different than us, the list can become even longer as we consider all the darkness and dread that fills the images of our minds and lives. Sometimes I ponder; fear is easier than understanding, fear is easier than relationship, fear is easier than trust, fear is easier than cooperation, fear is easier than listening, fear is easier than embrace, fear is easier than compassion, grace, and love.

I am reminded of the psalmist cry, “How long O Lord?” How long will we continue to let fear drive our lives, make our policy decisions, keep the doors of our nation, our state, our churches, our lives, and our hearts closed and locked tight. But we need not let fear, bigotry, and phobia overwhelm and consume us. The place to start is within, that light that burns within us we can share until we light the world. There is enough to counter the fear of those who wish to be imprisoned in suspicion and hate. And who knows, the light we share may not only set us free, but others as well.

As I prepare to join our family for Thanksgiving Day and the Holiday Season and beyond I am pondering fear. While I believe there are a great number of things to be concerned about, to stand against, to speak out in opposition, and refuse to embrace, I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to let fear guide my decisions. I refuse to allow fear to temper my compassion, my embrace, my search for understanding, and my commitment to justice, kindness, humility, and love for all.

There is plenty of light in this world to embrace if we refuse to let those who live and promote fear continue to spread a blanket of darkness and dread over our lives and the lives of all of God’s children. Take some time this Holiday Season, but even more, in each and every moment of each and every day to see and embrace the light of the common good and grace and love for all. There is much for which to be grateful in our lives.

I am reminded of the quote from Glinda the Good Witch at the end of the story when Dorothy asks how she is going to get home and Glinda responds, “You’ve always had the power…” In a world where sometimes we just want to find that peace, that place, safe and sacred, that “home” where we will one day live together all of us, where love is the rule and not the exception, we may not be able to change the world by ourselves, but we each have the power change ourselves for the good and together, then, light the world for good.

In each and every moment, I pray compassion, embrace, and love will overwhelm the worries, suspicion, and fear that would attempt to swallow us up. May we see with the eye of the Divine, even within those who may claim to hate us, the kernel of light and good, no matter how small, that resides in all of humanity … the Light that will not let the darkness overcome it…until we all, all of us…Shine.

Peace and Light for Our Journey…
Kent

The Corrupting Gospel of Peace

November 16, 2015

Paris2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are You?

October 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kent.

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

I Love You. Pondering Boston, Tragedy, and Loss.

April 16, 2013

I am sitting here in my office trying to focus, but the landscape of my mind seems rather barren, stark, …deserted in need of words but silent. I have pondered tragedy and loss before, but in this moment I struggle to find words to express that ache deep inside, uncertain why it feels more so than other times.

News of the Boston bombing and thoughts of those who have lost life and limb, those responsible, those who are caring, those who are speculating fill my wandering mind this morning. I reflect upon the news of a colleague’s family and the loss of their son too soon, as if anytime is not too soon when our loved ones die. I ponder the bedside of a saint of our community of faith who slipped away into the night and finished his journey in this life, a good and full life, yet really never ready to let go. I have all of these wrapped in the Light of love and prayer in this moment of reflection and meditation.

In this moment it is quiet, alone with my thoughts, a lump in the throat, eyes on the verge of tears, simply sitting trying to “be” in the moment. I am reminded of my own words from this past Sunday, though why keeps wandering into my thoughts, why is the wrong question. It is the “how” I look to here and now. How do we get through these difficult times? We do it together.

I consider Boston and see the imagery of those who ran toward the pain, ran toward the violence, and ran toward the fear in order to help, to heal, to care, and to save. There in the midst of tragedy is the image of the Spirit, the image of relationship, the image of love that binds us together in our common humanity and love for one another. It is an image borne out of perseverance which states, “evil” will never prevail, ever.

I ponder my colleague’s loss and our church family as we prepare to say farewell to one of our own and am reminded to hug my own spouse, my own family, my own children a little tighter and a little longer because this moment is the only moment I am guaranteed, I do not know what tomorrow holds. It reminds me that every time we come together, every time we part, every time we speak is opportunity to say the words, “I love you,” because our words matter as much as our actions and those are the words that we should all hear more often, and should be the last ones to grace our listening ears in each moment.

And so here in the silence and rambling of my own thoughts of the moment I sit and know somehow, someway there is always hope. There is always that light of the best of who we can be and who we are in the very worst of times. And the Light of that Love is the very Presence of the Divine which binds us together in ways we can only begin to imagine and is the very Presence of Love from which nothing, nothing, will ever separate us.

And so here in this moment, to my family, my friends, for those I love and for those I serve, and for those who love me and even for those I have yet to know…

I Love You.