Posts Tagged ‘Hate’

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.

 

Tragedy and Prayers

June 23, 2016

What is prayer for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song

March 2, 2016

Studying and pondering in my office this early morning I am always aware of the many sounds of our building; the hum of the fluorescent lights above, the crick and crack of the heater vent along the wall, the wind across the vent going to the roof, Debbie’s singing clocks, and the occasional self-adjusting copy machine down the hall.

This morning though there is a new sound. It is a familiar sound I did not realize on which I had been waiting. In some sense for me personally, and perhaps for you as well, it seems to have been a long fall and winter. Changes and transitions in my own journey, new opportunities, new studies, and connection have both fed my heart and soul and challenged me to venture deeper in faith and practice.

The constant drone of negativity in our media, campaigns of upcoming elections, the violence, hatred, and bigotry we see and hear so often in the world around us can take a toll on one’s journey and view of the world if we let it.

This morning though, in the early morning light and cool beginning of the day I heard a new sound as I walked across the parking lot. It continues outside my window as I ponder and write these words. I am not a bird person and so I am unable to identify the type of bird it is, all I know it is a familiar song that always sings of the coming of spring.

With all that confronts me, us, in our lives, in our community of faith, in our community, our state, and nation, there is still reason to sing. It is a new song, again, speaking and singing of new life and hope. It has filled my cup this morning and reminded me once again the Spirit is present, hope is in the air, and for all the voices to the contrary, this is still a good place with good people, living and loving along the journey we travel.

Take some time this week to listen. Listen for the songs of hope singing for you in the world around you. They are there, immersing you in a love from which you can never be separated. Thanks Be! It is one of the many small 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

Clickbait

October 8, 2015

My son reminded me it is called click-bait, those headlines you see on articles on social media as well as news sites that may or may not have anything to do with actual news, the actual story, even reality for that matter. They are designed to incite or at least elicit an emotion from you. Often times I even find myself tempted to be pissed off just at the headline, form an opinion, and make a judgement without even reading the actual article or other news sources. I have learned the hard way too many times regarding these often incendiary tags, and, well, the key word is bait.

It feeds that notion of us against them, I’m right you’re wrong, and what I have said for a long time now our society and culture’s incessant need to be right, and to be right at someone else expense. It is like a drug, we are addicted to it and there are times I am as guilty as the next one, but not unlike any addict often it takes admitting we have a problem before we can begin working on a solution and unfortunately I think this is going to be a long cure if we can cure it at all. Our politics and religion especially have created a black and white world, an either or world, a world that we believe can only be seen as a dichotomy rather than a place where many solutions, opinions, and ideas can be entertained simultaneously for the good of all of us.

Just look at the headlines in our so-called news, I would say rather in our sound bite world where we really prefer to let some commentator, talking head do our research and study for us rather than doing the work and finding out the facts for ourselves. All we have to do is look at the state of this so-called news. Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice, Gun Control vs Second Amendment Supporters, Freedom of Religion vs Really Freedom of Religion, Religiously Based Laws vs Separation of Church and State, Christians vs Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender Queer persons, Religion vs Religion, Religion vs Non-Religious, Negotiation and Diplomacy vs Military Action and War, Livable Wage vs Mega-Wealth, Assistance for the Poor vs Cutting Funding, Poverty, Healthcare, Understanding vs Bigotry, Violence vs Peace, the list goes on and on.

Of course in my belief and philosophical framework there are a good many of these that for me are black and white. I mean after all, how could someone disagree with me, right? (I hope you hear the sarcasm in that) Ultimately though, if we are ever going to make progress and find any sense of peace, nonviolence, lower anxiety, and a way forward we have to begin changing this dichotomous thinking of ours and come to the table to begin talking, really talking AND listening, really listening!

But it seems we are locked in our opinions and unwilling to budge. Edwin Friedman speaks of this kind of gridlock in his writings A Failure of Nerve when he says,

A characteristic of gridlocked relationship systems as either/or, black-or-white, all-or-nothing ways of thinking that eventually restrict the options of the mind. Such intense polarization also is always symptomatic of underlying emotional processes rather than of the subject matter of the polarizing issue. Anyone who has been part of an imaginatively gridlocked relationship system knows that more learning will not, on its own, automatically change the way people see things or think. There must first be a shift in the emotional processes of that institution. In order to imagine the unimaginable, people must be able to separate themselves from the surrounding emotional processes before they can even begin to see (or hear) things differently. One must have a continual search for new answer to old questions rather than an effort to re-frame the questions themselves. Innovations are new answers to old questions; paradigm shifts re-frame the question, change the information that is important, and generally eliminate previous dichotomies.

Perhaps we are in the midst of a paradigm shift of thought and existence and are still clinging to old ways of thinking and believing. As Friedman says, Paradigm shifts re-frame the question, change the information that is important, and generally eliminate previous dichotomies. One must have a continual search for new answer to old questions. Continuing to use the same old arguments, again and again from both sides of an issue will never find consensus and collaboration. My way or the highway has rarely if ever, especially on emotional issues such as many of the ones we are wrestling with now, come to a point where the solution is good for all. There are more than two ways to look at most anything.

We must as a society and culture, we must as a church find a way forward that addresses the needs and rights of all our citizens and members in a just, compassionate, humble, and nonviolent way. A Way that does not do soundbite band aides that just kick the issue down the road for our kids and grand kids to try and find a way. This is difficult work, it will take all of us individually and collectively to come to the table in a civil, respectful, and compassionate frame of mind or we will be doomed to continue repeating the same old, tired, worn out vitriol language that only causes us to dig our heels in deeper.

I encountered a book in my doctoral work this past June that I appreciated deeply and hopefully will one day be able to use much of its wisdom and knowledge. Juana Bordas’, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit, Leadership for a Multicultural Age, in the section entitled, I is Contained in We writes,

I and we are not a dichotomy. I is intrinsic to the We orientation – individuals must be strong for the collective to thrive. We do not have to choose one or the other. This concept of both/and rather than either/or is a thread that runs through collectivist cultures. Because they are more tightly woven, there is a wholeness in which many things, including differences, can exist at once. The challenge is to balance communal good with individual gain – to reach the higher ground of interdependence, here personal gain is not achieved at the expense of the common good.

We must find a way to move ahead with grace and compassion not only in our world and country, but in the church and in our inter-religious relationships. It grieves me to see so much anger and violence in our world. It breaks my heart to think this is the world I am apt to leave behind for my grandchildren, all our children and grandchildren. I am committed to find a way, I pray you will join me.

Perhaps just the ramblings of a weary soul ready once again to take a stand for all that is just and compassionate. My writing and my speaking are my tools, I pray for the strength of the Divine to raise me, raise us all up into a better place, a better world, that is nurtured, shaped, and guided not by the superficial bait of me vs you, us vs them, but the depths of we together, coming to an open table of community working for the common good of all, of all.

Light and Love – Kent H. Little