Posts Tagged ‘God’

Speaking of Faith

September 6, 2017

“I’m spiritual but not religious.” I hear that now and then as I visit with persons inside and outside the church. Another popular cliché I hear is “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.” While I think I understand the sentiments and feelings behind these comments, and I can even relate to them on my own level, I have always had a bit of a negative reaction when I hear them.

I am not one who is immune to critiquing organized religion, it has plenty of reasons to be criticized. However, to criticize religion as a blanket statement, I have never thought was fair or necessary. There is some truth to the notion that being spiritual without connection to some forms, doctrines, and practices of organized religion can be a good and freeing thing. There is some truth, though I think less so than the first, that Christianity is a relationship not a religion. While I understand the thought behind the latter, Christianity, good, bad, indifferent…is a religion.

All this being said, as I read and listen to particular practices and beliefs from some Christians, I too have found myself disheartened and uninspired. I have said more than once that I have considered turning loose of the label of Christian and reclaiming the original label of those who embrace the life and ministry of Jesus as a Follower of the Way. So, yes, I confess, I too have my struggles. At the same time, there is a part of me that says, “No!” That is my word too! I too am a Christian and I shouldn’t let the behavior, beliefs, or practices of others determine how I identify myself.

I am reminded of a favorite author, scholar, and theologian, the late Marcus Borg. He shares a common experience when it came to belief in God, that I believe can be used to speak to this topic today. He shared that often a student would come to his class and on the first day say something to the extent of, “Dr. Borg, I just want you to know I do not believe in God.” He would respond with, “Tell me about the God you do not believe in.” This exchange would lend itself to a conversation about God and Borg shared, “Often the student would discover I did not believe in the God the student did not believe in either.” I think if we use this same logic and exchange when we say, “I’m spiritual not religious,” or “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” one might respond, “Tell me about the religion, or the church, you do not believe in.” I have to believe, often, we would discover the religion or church others do not agree or believe in, would be the same religion or church neither of us believe or agree with.

The next two Sunday’s we will be exploring these thoughts during our services. On September 10, 2017, we will talk about “Does Religion Matter?” And then on September 17, 2017 we will talk about “Speaking of Faith.” I will be utilizing information and comments from the book, Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To by Lillian Daniel. These two weeks we will be looking at religion and spirituality; are they really different or mutually exclusive? We will also be looking at the faith and perhaps thinking and rethinking how we speak of the Christian faith progressively. I hope you will join us as we consider religion, spirituality, and faith through a progressive lens.

It is one of the many ways we find the Way Forward in this journey of life and faith. Until next time, know you are loved, you are not alone, …ever.

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Pastor Kent


Christmas Tradition

December 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent


Being There

October 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do, stay with me.

Do stand with me.

Do sit with me.

Do weep with me.

Do laugh with me.

Do hold me.

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

Do listen to me. Do hear me.

Do talk with me.

Do be present with/for me.

Do be present to me.

Do be with me.

Do be available.

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

Do love me.

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent


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

Kneeling Shoeless at the Mosque

July 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent

I Am United Methodist. I Am Here To Stay.

January 20, 2014

April 21, 1959, I was born into the family of James and Nadine Little who attended the Methodist Church in Douglass Kansas. Some months later the family traveled to Meade Kansas and my baptism by a family friend. I grew up in the Methodist Church and along that journey my father entered into the ordained ministry of the Methodist Church. He was in seminary when the merger happened in 1968 and we became the United Methodist Church.

Following dad’s graduation from seminary, as chance and the bishop at the time would have it, dad was appointed to the Meade United Methodist Church in Meade Kansas. At the age of thirteen I went through confirmation classes and at the end of the classes was called to the “pastor’s” office, as were all of the confirmands. I had been called to his office before, but it had always been as son rather than potential church member.

My pastor and I discussed the faith and what I had learned in my confirmation classes. I was never asked if I was gay or straight, if I smoked or drank, overate or cheated on tests. I was asked if I believed in Jesus Christ. I was asked if I would resist evil in whatever ways it presented itself. I was asked if I would support the church with my prayers, presence, gifts, and service. I said yes.

On Confirmation Sunday we spoke of the same things, we were asked the same questions, and still none of us were asked those questions of sexual orientation, lifestyle, or character. We all answered yes and were welcomed with joy and gladness into the United Methodist Church of Meade Kansas, the church of my baptism.

My own journey of life and faith was and is shaped by being a “preacher’s” kid. After high school I wandered away from the church for a time, wandered away in attendance but not who I was at the very core and that was always United Methodist. After TruDee and I were married we began to get back to being involved in the church in Johnson Kansas, to make a long story short I began to feel the call to ministry and though I ran from it for several years knew that at some point if I were to be happy I would need to answer the call of God for my life. I began my college education, received my first appointment in 1992, finished seminary in 1998 and was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church in the spring of 2000. I am a United Methodist through and through, this is my church and I am saddened to watch it struggle to “be” an inclusive and welcoming church.

In my life, faith, and ministry I myself have been told by not only members of the United Methodist Church, but those outside the UM church as well, that perhaps because of my stances on particular theological and social issues that perhaps I should consider leaving the United Methodist Church. I have held conversations with members of the churches I have served who have felt the need to consider leaving because of the church’s stance particularly the negative and restrictive language in our Discipline regarding gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer persons. These are persons who, like me, were raised, baptized, confirmed and have served in the UM Church for 10, 20, 30, 40 plus years, who have just as much claim on the UM church as I or anyone else.

I was raised, baptized, confirmed, and have remained connected and served in the UM Church for nearly 55 years as of this coming April. I serve in a United Methodist denomination who claims to exist for the purpose of Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. A purpose which it has been suggested is more important than removing the restrictive language in our UM Discipline and being a church that welcomes, includes, ordains, and marries LGBTQ persons. Let me just say this, I believe the church is wrong, and not only wrong, but doing harm to the very disciples of Christ it has called to faith.

I am blessed, honored, and humbled to serve in a church that became a Reconciling Congregation before I arrived. College Hill United Methodist Church works tirelessly in service to our community, reaching the poor, feeding the hungry, providing resource and counsel to those in need, actively participates in the neighborhood and community to make this world a better place. The Community College Hill UMC is faithful in claiming and following Christ, resisting evil in whatever form it presents itself, and is faithful in prayer, gift, presence, and service.

As a member of the United Methodist church, birthed, baptized, confirmed, educated, and ordained, I take seriously what it means to work and live in a community of faith and in particular in the United Methodist Church. Removing the restrictive and hurtful language in our Discipline is not only crucial to living a life of Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World; it should be a priority in our work and place in the world.

Let me put it this way, as a clergy ordained and serving in the United Methodist Church I have promised to uphold the Discipline. But our Discipline is conflicted and contradictory. In one place it says I am to be in ministry to the whole church and in another it limits my call to serve the LGBTQ members of the churches I have served and the church I currently serve. When two members of the church I serve, who have been together for 15, 20, 30, even over 40 years and members of the church for 15 plus years comes asks me to do their wedding and I have to say no because they are of the same gender, such a response on my part because of the church’s stance is not only damaging and harmful to the very persons who have been a part of our community working to feed the hungry, care for the poor, comfort the hurting, and calling persons to faith in Christ, it diminishes the very purpose for which we as a United Methodist Church claim to exist.

I love the United Methodist Church and I am blessed to be a part of it and serve the people of the church and our Conference. And though the church is wrong on its stance regarding being fully inclusive of LGBTQ members, I will not be leaving. Nor will I encourage any members of the UM church to leave. I have been energized and recommitted to find ways to organize our numbers, our voices, and our votes until we become the church the Spirit is calling us to be. I will not be leaving, because the story of my life and faith is deep and strong in this United Methodist Church just as many of you who may read this, if we leave who will be left to participate with the Spirit in struggling and fighting for the soul of the church? Who will remain to live and work in ministry with and alongside our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who were also baptized, confirmed and serve to transform the world, for who this church is home and whom we love?

I am United Methodist called to serve the church, called to love God and neighbor, called to work for justice and love in order to Make Disciples of Christ that we may all be transformed for the work of Christ in the church and in the world around us that the walls of exclusion might fall at and by the love of God in Christ, and I am here to stay. I am committed to Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. If you would stand with me in finding ways to not only Transform Our World for Christ but Transform our Church for Christ, to engage, share our stories, embrace in grace, and trust the Spirit to change the hearts and minds of those who would continue to hold our LGBTQ members captive and outside the ministry of the church I hope you will add your voice to mine and join me. Silence is assent and it is time to speak and be heard.

Peace and Light for Your Journey
Rev. Kent H. Little

Holding You in the Light

January 16, 2012

I often wonder what it is that goes through Simeon’s mind when he gets those one of those looks on his face. It is an inquisitive one, depth of eyes, wrinkled brow, intent and focused on what it is he sees or wishes for. It happens when he sits at the front door watching through the window, it happens when one of us is eating and he parks himself at our feet, it happens when he and Hobbes the cat are about to have a bit of a wrestling match. I think of it as an resolved and hopeful look on his face. I wonder if it is the posture of prayer for a dog.

What is prayer? Is it an expression of hope, of focus, of request, petition, meditation, a posture of being in the Presence of the Divine? I suppose it is all of the above and more. I have come to think of prayer less in terms of vocalized wishes, requests, or petitions and more of a state of being. Understanding the Divine as that all embracing and encompassing Presence in which we live and move and have our being. In that sense prayer becomes not just words but rather connection, presence, in and with us in the midst of the Presence that connects us literally to and with the Divine and to and with one another.

I liked that image I shared a couple weeks ago when speaking of God as a fish in water. The Presence like water surrounds, imbues, fills us outside and in and connects us to one another and literally the whole of the universe. In terms of personal prayer as I was doing research and reading for this coming Sunday’s theme and message I ran across an image that I resonate with coming from the Quaker tradition. Rather than telling someone they will “have you in my prayers,” they say “I will hold you in the light.” For our purposes in this current “Rethinking” series I like that image and as we continue on know that I hold each of us, our church, our community and world “in the light,” I will “hold you in the Presence,” “in my heart.”

Maybe on some simplistic level that is what I see in the eyes of Simeon, surrounds, imbues, fills us outside and in and connects us to one another and literally the whole of the universe. In terms of personal prayer as I was doing research and reading for this coming Sunday’s theme and message I ran across an image that I resonate with coming from the Quaker tradition. Rather than telling someone they will “have you in my prayers,” they say “I will hold you in the light.” For our purposes in this current “Rethinking” series I like that image and as we continue on know that I hold each of us, our church, our community and world “in the light,” I will “hold you in the Presence,” “in my heart.”

Maybe on some simplistic level that is what I see in the eyes of Simeon, yes his wish for an ear scratch, a dropped morsel, or a friend at the door, but maybe somewhere deep down that only the Presence can connect with he and all creation “holds us in the light” of love and peace. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we continue on the Way and consider and “Rethink Prayer.”

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.
Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

God at the Salad Bar

January 9, 2012

It was last Thursday about noon I walked down to the Dillons on Douglass to get a salad to bring back to the office for lunch. I picked up one of the plastic containers and began with the normal salad fixings; lettuce, some tomato, sliced bell pepper, etc. I moved along the salad island almost by myself until I rounded the corner and started on the other side.

She was a rather unassuming presence, seemingly trying to decide what it was she wanted to put in the plastic tray she held in her hand. She had a stocking cap pulled tight on her head, at least two or three layers under the well-weathered over coat she wore, shoes that were untied, and a blue scarf draped around her neck. I stood patiently beside her as she worked her way down the side as well.

Suddenly she looked at me and said, “I’m sorry I will get out of your way, I won’t touch you, I know I look a mess.” She caught me off guard, I found myself a bit at a loss for words, if you can imagine that. Not thinking I reached out my hand as if to touch her on the shoulder to reassure her I was in no hurry and said, “You’re fine, take your time.” She recoiled at the gesture and simply said, “I’ll move.”

She did move on down the side of the island from me and continued selecting the items she wanted. I finished filling my container, snapped it shut, and started to the cashier to pay for my lunch. I stepped around to the other side of the island where the lady had retreated to; others surrounded her now on both sides. I caught her eye and she looked at me again with suspicion and distrust. I said, “You have a good day.” One eye squeezed down in a squint but the other eye looked right into my soul it seemed. She closed the lid on her container, stepped away from the island, all the while looking at me, and in a gravelly voice she said, “I will you know, I will. Thank you.” and she disappeared around the end of the aisle.

I pondered, as I walked back to the church …the face of the Divine that day at the salad bar in Dillons…I wonder.

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.

As the World Revolves

June 20, 2009

Kent to Simeon: Simeon sit! Simeon stay! Simeon come! Simeon heel! No Simeon! Simeon leave it! Simeon down! Good boy Simeon! Simeon off! Simeon, no I don’t want your toy … Simeon no I don’t want your toy … Simeon no I don’t want your toy.
Simeon to Kent: Play? Play? Play? Walk? Play? Play? Look a cat! Play? Play? Play? Somehow the written word does not capture it the same as when my boys do it in a deep silly voice that just seems to fit the wrinkled brow expression Simeon has when he drops one of his toys in my lap.
For Simeon, the world, no, the entire universe revolves around him. It is no wonder of course because it seems we are constantly calling his name for one reason or another, why wouldn’t he assume that we exist to make his life better and more interesting?
Sometimes I think we make the same assumption. A friend of mine told me of a cartoon sometime back that pictured a child and a parent. The parent said to the child, “You know the world does not revolve around you!” The child responded, “How is that possible?”
Jesus addressed the notion quite often actually and continually pointed those who heard him, continually points us in the other direction. I think our sacred texts, particularly the teachings of Christ tell us the world does not revolve around us, but rather we should see it revolving around the other. Constantly looking for ways to serve the other in love and grace.
I do not know if Simeon will ever learn such a valuable lesson, maybe his presence in my life is a reminder that I am a servant and not a master. I am glad he reminds me that I should be looking to others and not myself. I pray such is the case for you as well.

The Open Table

May 5, 2009

It is an interesting concept, a hopeful concept that we participated in this last Thursday evening. We sat with a friend of ours in the living room of a couple who, like us, were United Methodist visiting and sharing together in small talk and chips and dip. Around the circle were others of varying denominational and religious backgrounds. One couple were members of a local Assembly of God church, another couple were Muslim and our friend of many years is Hindu.

          It is an effort by the Interfaith Alliance in the community we were visiting to promote understanding and relationship among those of diverse religious beliefs. It is a wonderful concept and effort to try and bring peace among the religions by actually getting to know and building relationships among all of God’s children rather than operating on assumption and misinformation.

          After we had sat for a time visiting and introducing ourselves to one another we moved into the dining room where we broke bread together. We paused and a prayer was offered as we prepared to share together a wonderful meal prepared by the hostess of our gathering. I thought to myself as the conversation ebbed and flowed from personal story, religious thought, chit chat… serious conversation and jokes and laughter … what better place to share together in such a venture, such an effort, such a moment of grace than around a table.

          In many cultural and religious thought, to be invited to sit at table with others is to be considered family; it is a very serious occasion. In my Christian tradition we still celebrate that moment of grace given to us in the Sacrament of Communion when we gather and remember Jesus gathering his friends around a table to break bread and share a cup of wine.

          I am glad for my experience, I am grateful for our friend who invited us to join her in this reaching out in grace and hope, that one day we might see others for the child of God they are and the common humanity we share as we continue to embrace our own understandings of God and life. It is reason to give thanks I believe.

          Around this table … it is one of the ways we seek to be faithful here in this place where you are one of the family; where there is always an open door, a comfortable seat, and a place at the table. Until next week know you are loved and that you are never alone.

Pondering Hospitals, Life, and the Depths of Love

February 11, 2009

          Over the past couple of weeks we have spent considerable time in two different hospitals with my wife’s dad; worrying, stewing, encouraging, teasing, laughing, crying, sitting, and walking as they have tried to figure out what to do, when to do it, where to do it. A hospital is an interesting, wearying, exhausting place to be whether one is a patient, visitor, hospital worker, and or family. Waiting is a draining task.

          I have tended to deal with the drain through exercise in the form of walking, walking the halls. I have walked in the midst of patient rooms, a variety of intensive care units, waiting rooms, family rooms, administrative offices, chaplain offices, lobbies, and cafeterias. I have navigated around nurses, doctors, office workers, patients, family, visitors, and people I, for many obvious reasons, have no clue who they were, and medical equipment. I have seen tears, smiles, and the seriousness of sober thought. I have heard the sounds of sickness, laughter, screaming, and uncontrollable sobbing. A hospital is a place of the highs of the mountaintop and the dreaded lows in the deepest of valleys.

It is a sacred place filled with all the human emotions of feeling and struggle possible. It is a sacred place filled with the laughter, tears, struggle, suffering, joy, and heartache of God. This place of healing of mind, body, and spirit … healing though not just in the physical sense but perhaps healing of the senses… healing of the spirit … a healing of God, so to speak, or at least a healing of the image of God. I wonder … in the context of my wanderings in the “halls of medicine,” I see the image of God in whom we are created … the image of a hurting, suffering, laughing, crying, chuckling, weeping, and surprising God … a God of vulnerability, a vulnerable God if you will.

Where else in our lives can we be so vulnerable as we find ourselves in the hospital bed or in the chair waiting on the one in the bed. Whether we are wrapped in one of those open backed hospital gowns, bare butt mooning the world or sitting in a chair beside a bed yearning for good news, yearning for any news , caught between unyielding hope and crushing loss.

We don’t do vulnerable well, we humans, but I have to wonder in the midst of that if such highs and lows and all that is in the middle is what it means to be fully human … vulnerable … and in the midst of that I wonder if we don’t always do God so well either.

 I am reminded of that as I sit in the room next to my father-in-law’s bed. He is of that generation. You know the one, the Greatest Generation, the one on which Tom Brokaw wrote his bestselling book. I haven’t read the book, perhaps one day I will, perhaps because of my place here in this chair beside the bed of one who lived it, perhaps I will now.

Sometimes, one looking from the outside in, his manner and matter of fact, no nonsense speaking can be seen and heard as gruff, harsh, and uncaring. But sitting here beside his bed I have had a revelation of sorts, though I suspect it is something I have known all along. I understand now, at least I have convinced myself without confiding in him, it is about life experience and how our lives shape and mold us. It is a revelation of a generation, yes; I suppose even the greatest of them. I suspect I would be much the same as he, perhaps even, suspect I would hope to be the same as he, of course with the exception of needing open heart surgery!

Here is this guy, this WWII vet laying in a hospital bed learning each day of something else, some reason they couldn’t do this procedure but could this one, only to learn the next day they could not do that one, but maybe a different one. I watched this one I know as stubborn and hard headed take the decisions in stride, disappointed yes, but open and willing to do what needed to be done. His matter of fact attitude and willingness to “do what needed to be done” is exemplary of his generation, of him.

Joining the Navy when he was really too young to do so, this man has seen and heard and experienced things I cannot begin to imagine and really do not have a lot of interest in trying to imagine in my mind’s eye. He is a practical and matter of fact kind of guy. He wants honest pay for an honest day’s work, he is generous to a fault, constantly telling us stories of helping someone out when they needed a hand. Stories not to brag about it, but simply as a statement of his life, a statement that simply says, “This is the way things ought to be, it’s the right thing to do!”

I suspect it is just those experiences that have shaped his disdain for nonsense and wasted time. He just doesn’t seem to have time for such things. I suspect his experiences have taught him to live in this moment, to not waste time with silly political, religious, or other platitudes and arguments, they are a waste of time and we don’t have much time on this good green earth. I suspect, for one who has seen and heard the things he has seen and heard, nonsense and the like are a waste of the gift of life. I suspect those experiences and his life have shaped his sharp wit and sense of humor as well. He always has a comeback or an unexpected comment that brings a smile, chuckle, or an unabashed belly laugh, his timing is incredible, which is simply another witness to his appreciation of life in its fullness, in the “now-ness” of it all.

He is stubborn, but in a good independent way, a way that says he doesn’t want anyone worrying about or over him, although he takes exception to that when he chooses to worry about others, I guess at 83 he has that right, more power to him! I have watched over the past couple of weeks that tough exterior melt away in glimpses of that tremendous soft heart he has. It has periodically bubbled up and over flowed with a word caught in his throat followed by a tear or two. That stubbornness is borne out of his hard working life that simply wants to provide for his family and himself, and on  be his own as long has he can.

          That stubbornness is matched, no it is exceeded, only by his fierce love of his family, his four girls and his grandkids, I suspect even his son in laws though I would never ask him to confirm that out loud. But that love is evident in his calm spirit and concern and those moments that are only shared between a father and his daughter[s]. It is sacred time; it is the essence of love, borne of a willingness to lay one’s life down for something larger and more important than self.

          I see that in my dad in law, that self sacrificing nature of that Greatest of generations. Shortly after his admission to the hospital one of his doctors noted he is a Vet and then proceeded to thank him for his [Dad’s] service and his [the doctor’s freedom], it was a moment in the truest sense of the word.

          So here I am sitting in the waiting room at the hospital while the doctors have that heart, that huge heart, literally in their hands and am thankful. That that guy has put up with me for 30 some years now, thankful for a guy who participated in one of the most difficult times of our country, who has, not unlike these halls I walk now, seen the extremes of life, the mountaintop of joy and the valleys of heartache, and everything in the middle, thankful for a vet whose work and service provides me with the opportunity to sit and write as I please, thankful for the stalwart, yet vulnerable, resolve of the one who help raise my wife into the loving person she is, thankful for this man, this Vet, this father, this Dad. I think I will read the book, I am sure it is worthwhile, … though, I think now, I may already know what it says.