Posts Tagged ‘Homophobia’

A Statement of Sacred Resistance

April 5, 2019

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We Stood.

March 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Kent H. Little

Here We Stand

February 28, 2019

A public statement from our Lead Pastor, Rev. Kent H. Little. His words will also be published in the Omaha World Herald in the “from the pulpit” section.

 
I recently attended our Special 2019 General Conference of the Global United Methodist Church in St Louis. It was a difficult and sad experience. You may have heard about the conference on the news or some other news media source. The Conference was to address our denomination’s position on human sexuality, specifically the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus persons in the life of the church. I am sad to say, not only did our denomination uphold its discriminatory prohibitions toward LGBTQ persons in the church, it made those prohibitions even more punitive.

 
Let me say first, using appropriate, quality biblical scholarship, there is absolutely no biblical mandate to discrimination against homosexual orientation in the scriptures. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures have nothing to say about loving, mutual, equal, same gender relationships, period. It is not in there. However, for far too long religious institutions, leaders, and others have used the bible to discriminate, do violence to, and oppress LGBTQ persons in the church and in the laws of the land.

 

I want to be clear, the recent policy decision of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church does not speak for First United Methodist Church of Omaha in any way, and does not reflect the unconditional love of God we know. First United Methodist Church of Omaha affirms the dignity, sacred worth, and identity of all persons, especially LGBTQ persons in the church and the community, and society at large.

 
To the LGBTQ members and attendees of FUMC Omaha, and the wider community of Omaha and across Nebraska, we see you, we hear you, we grieve with you in your pain, and stand with you against any form of oppression, hate, discrimination, exclusion, or violence of word or deed. You are welcome here.

 
Here we Stand.

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Pastor
First United Methodist Church Omaha

Sitting at the Bedside of the UMC

February 26, 2019

I was born into a Methodist family in April 1959. I was baptized that same year in the Methodist Church in Meade, Kansas. A Methodist/United Methodist preacher’s kid I would have to unique opportunity to be confirmed thirteen years later in that same small western Kansas town of Meade while my father was serving as pastor. I was nurtured in Sunday School, UMYF, and other activities by the church. For me it was always a place where questions were welcome, inclusion seemed to be a given, and love and welcome were the norm. It was in the United Methodist Church I was married to my best friend and both of our children were baptized and confirmed. I have loved the UMC all my life.

I write this pondering now in part because I cannot sleep. I write this pondering because this is often how I process. TruDee mentioned the other day, perhaps, I write these ponderings because they are one way I pray. However, I cannot sleep right now because there is something amiss in my heart and soul. It is something that has been a troubling for some years now, an empty spot that has longed for the UMC of my youth. That church has seemed absent for a good number of years. It has felt as if it had lost its moorings in justice, compassion, and love. It has felt to me my beloved United Methodist Church had been consumed with a legalism and letter of the law kind of existence that had choked out the openness and welcome of earlier years, like a creeping kudzu of sorts. There is part of me that knew it was happening, however my tendency to wear rose colored glasses, the inclination to believe the best about people, and an idealistic optimism refused to let me see the obvious symptoms.

Today, attending the third day of this Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward felt a bit like I was sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one as I watched the events unfold. That kudzu of fear and control, legalism and judgment ruled the day. I watched as the life was sucked out of the large convention hall with a plan for a way forward that is anything but grace filled, was filled with exclusion and harm toward LGBTQ persons within and outside the church. I watched as we put money and exit plans ahead of people’s lives and the notion of finding a way to live together. I watched as it seemed the breath went out of the church I have walked with for so long.

I know, many of my colleagues and friends have not given up hope yet, and I will say neither have I. There is just enough rose color in my glasses and just enough faith still deep within my heart and soul that maybe somehow, with the work of our incredible delegation, and the move of the Spirit, perhaps someone can jolt this body back to life. I am praying for a little resurrection this night, however, right now in my heart of hearts, it looks pretty grim. It feels like someone has their finger on the off button of the life support and is just waiting for the moment between now and tomorrow evening. I pray it is not so.

I confess, and I know it is because of the way I was raised, I do not understand the kind of fear that continues to plague not only the church, but our society and culture, fear of the other, fear of disagreeing, fear that we will not all think alike, fear that smothers the very love of God until there is no breath of life left. From where does this kind of controlling, consuming, power hungry, and bitter fear come?

I think of how deeply I grieve this night and how it cannot hope to compare to the pain and suffering LGBTQ persons have felt and feel and experienced in the hall today. My struggle holds not a candle to what they have experienced and continue to experience in these days. Their perseverance, persistence, courage, grace, and love shame me and my sense of struggle. However, they inspire me and remind me it is not my fight to give up. To you, my LGBTQ friends, family, and colleagues, I see you, I hear you, I stand and march with you. We cannot be the church, the beloved community of faith without you and I am grieved at the harm we have once again caused you this day.

I think it is too late for part of my beloved United Methodist Church. I think a little bit of me died this afternoon sitting watching the gasping for air in the room. I think a little bit, or more, of the United Methodist Church died this afternoon, even as a good number tried to keep it alive.

That being said, I will trust the Spirit, I will trust those who are working tirelessly to save this church’s soul to do what they can tomorrow to breathe some new life into what we seemed to have pulled the plug on today. Regardless of what happens tomorrow though, even if those who wish to watch it wither and die succeed, Wednesday will come, Thursday just behind it, and I am confident the church… the church, the beloved community of faith, will rise and make justice happen, love as God loves, and BE the very reflection of God in the world. May I be on the other side of the darkness with the community of faith who knows no walls or exclusions, no bigotry or hate. I pray it will be so.

May We find Peace and Light on this continued Journey Together.

Rev. Kent

The Way Forward through the lens of “Right Intention” and the Connection of Jesus and Buddha

January 14, 2019

I was listening to a local radio station the other day and the host was talking about this fall and winter here in Omaha. He was speaking to the fact that he had never been able to get the leaves raked in his yard because of the rain and now snow that keeps coming. Just about the time he thought things had dried out enough to rake, here came another round of moisture preventing him from getting the job done.

I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, that’s why I haven’t managed to get the leaves picked up out of our yard too! It’s the rain and snow’s fault!” Friday, I had minimal tasks to do around the house, one of which was to take the outdoor Christmas lights down, which I did. The whole time I was outside unclipping them from the gutters and gathering the extension cords I was looking at the yard thinking, I should get the leaves picked up. Of course, then it was time to drive downtown and have lunch with TruDee, our Friday tradition. Then I had some other tasks to do in the house, you know like, do a little laundry, send some emails, …take a nap. The next thing you know TruDee is home from work and it is starting to get dark and then…well…yesterday morning, that dang snow again! I am the king of procrastination.  I saw a saying the other day, “If a man says he’ll do something he’ll do it. No need to remind him every six months about it.” It’s easy to blame the weather for the fact I still have the oak leaves in my yard now under the snow again, but obviously it is not the weather’s fault.

I think about the parable of Jesus we read this morning about the two sons in relation to our topic this morning, Right Intention. One son says he will do something and does not, a procrastinator. The other son says he will not do it and does, perhaps even a procrastinator of sorts himself. Which one, Jesus asks, does the will of his father? Well, the obvious answer is the second son who actually does the work. This parable could certainly be seen in light of intention. Perhaps even pointing to that tired cliché “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps, at least in this sense… having good intentions is not a way to practice our faith or life and place in the world. It is one thing to say we are an advocate and ally for justice, peace, compassion, and love in the world around us…but if our actions, practice, and lives do not reflect those ideals, the intention become empty hollow words. So, in terms of this parable and the concept of intentions there is truth to this, we are challenged in this story of Jesus to do what we say we are going to do, be who you claim you are, words are just words unless the come to life in and through your practice in the world.

While this is true, and it does relate to our theme and message for today, I think we need to take it deeper. Last week we talked about Right Mindfulness, if you were here perhaps you recall my suggesting Mindfulness can be seen as rather the foundational piece of the Eight Fold path we are working through. A presence of mind, a constant reminder to stay in the moment without judgement, a way to be in the world and hold all things in tension, embrace them for what they are; good, bad, ugly… and then release them. It is an appropriate segue into Right Intention, related in an inseparable way. For if we are mindful enough to hold all things in tension in this present moment, perhaps the question we ask ourselves is… what is our intent. In Buddhist thought, right intention is the intention and resolve to give up the causes of suffering, to give up ill-will and to adopt harmlessness. It contrasts with wrong intention, which involves craving for worldly things (wealth, sex, power) and the wish to harm. In this sense, right intention then, can become more than what we do or do not do… it becomes who we are and how we see and practice in the world. Right intention becomes the lens through which we see the world around us as we not only give up the causes of suffering (attachment) for ourselves, but alleviate suffering for others. Right intention become a part of our state of being and how we are present in this moment that we and others can draw from as we practice as well.

The Buddha said, “When you see someone practicing the Way of giving, aid them joyously, and you will obtain vast and great blessings.” A shramana asked, “Is there an end to those blessings?” The Buddha said, “Consider the flame of a single lamp. Though a hundred thousand people come and light their own lamps from it so that they can cook their food and ward off the darkness, the first lamp remains the same as before. Blessings are like this too.”

We are to be light in the world…in the moment that alleviates suffering, release ill-will, and to do no harm…which stirs others to be the same. I think of another parable of Jesus which takes the parable of the two sons deeper… the parable of the Samaritan who came upon the traveler beaten on the side of the road. The Samaritan tends to the stranger, cares for his wounds, provides shelter for him, and promises to return. The Samaritan has alleviated suffering, carries no ill-will, and does no harm, he is present in the moment without judgement of this man who presumably does not hold the same beliefs as himself, and yet he cares for him with no restraint or concern for what he himself believes either…other than a lens of compassion he obviously carries with him…the “lighted lamp” so to speak, others can draw from without diminishing the giver or the one who receives.

I think herein is where we can encounter difficulty in our own journey and practice, or at least I can. This practice of mindfulness and intention holding no judgement but rather is guided by compassion and non-violence, of word and deed. I would suggest right intention in Buddhist thought can be seen as a lens through which we approach the world. I suspect, based on the stories of Jesus we have, similar thought would be present there as well. Jesus, while turning over tables and making a whip out of cords were obviously in his tool box, he never walked away…he remained engaged with those he disagreed. Challenged them yes, resisted them yes, exampled for them yes, taught them yes, but never abandoned them. His “intention,” I believe, was always to alleviate suffering, release ill-will, and to adopt harmlessness.

This intention as a lens…as a posture and practice in the world…a way of being that holds the whole of the world in a place of peace making and reconciliation. Intention is the compassionate lens through which we are called to see and act and respond. Do you remember Jesus words in his sermon in Matthew… “Do not judge.” “Do not love only those who love you but love your enemies as well?” Intention then becomes less about what we do and more about who we are and how we are present in the world. Present to those around us for not only what we bring, but from what can we learn from them and the world, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree.

I remember several years ago I was taking a class at a Buddhist Sangha. Sitting on a cushion on the floor listening to the teacher a fly began buzzing around my head. I shooed it numerous times and it was really becoming an annoyance, it was a very persistent fly and I am not sure why it picked me out of the group of students in the class at the time, but it had. After numerous attempts to catch it, which in hindsight I am glad I didn’t, and numerous shooing’s… the teacher, Namdril, finally asked, “Kent, is that fly bothering you?” I apologized for interrupting the teaching, “So sorry, yes, it is a persistent one.” She answered, “Yes they are persistent and want to teach you, we call them our kind mothers…these flies, are teaching us patience and gratitude.” It is about our posture and presence in the world, our practice, and the lens through which we see and respond to those around us. What is our intent?

In the book, “The Chocolate Cake Sutra” by Geri Larken, the author speaks of everyone as holy… in the context of intention I would suggest, all things holy; everyone and everything. It is about mindfulness and how we intend to affect the environment in which we find ourselves. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Being Peace,” he writes of peace making. He says, “If we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace.” He goes on, “If our true nature is to be interconnected selves, then our peacemaking, if it is going to be effective, must flow out of our interconnectedness. That includes our interconnectedness with the people whose actions we have to oppose.” It is about mindfulness and intention in the moment to alleviate suffering even from those who do not know they are suffering. In Knitter’s book, “Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian,” he writes of this intentional posture when he says, “[In the Buddhist] there is an aversion to violence, I believe for the Buddhist there is no such thing as “just anger.” Of course, we feel anger and it will motivate and direct our energies. But, for Buddhists, it will not determine what those energies lead to. We will not act out of anger. Rather, when anger surges, we will be mindful of it, and that means embrace it, be kind to it. Our anger will point us to those people or events which, through mindfulness…[intentional]…we will seek to respond to with understanding and compassion. Yes, we may have to oppose them, seek to stop them from their agendas, but our opposition will be one of non-violent resistance; that means compassionate resistance. One of the most quoted verses of the Dhammapada is: “In this world hatred is not dispelled by hatred; by love alone is hatred dispelled. This is eternal law.”

So, in this sense, Right Intention is a lens through which we see everything with compassion and love, even those things that we must resist. In Knitter’s book, he suggests Buddhist thought would be, “Justice will, as it were, take care of itself if compassion is truly present.” The lens of Compassionate Intention will not judge, will be mindful of the present moment, will resist non-violently, will stay engaged, and such presence will change the world for the common good of all.

I think about these things with our upcoming informational meetings, letter writing campaign, and our United Methodist Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward in February. At the Conference there will be three primary plans presented as a Way Forward of our denomination in relation to full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, plus…persons in our United Methodist Denomination. As I consider and reflect on the current state of things in the church, I see the plans as the United Methodist “Intention” of how they are going to relate to LGBTQ persons in our congregations and in ministry. The three primary plans are identified as The Traditionalist Plan, The Connectional Plan, and The One Church Plan.

The Traditionalist Plan leaves the current discriminatory language in our UM Discipline as well as adds more stringent penalties for those who do not abide by the rules regarding same gender weddings and ordination of LGBTQ clergy candidates. It also requires clergy, churches, conferences, and bishops to sign off on the language and if they refuse these will be invited to exit the denomination. In my opinion, this plan, if we use the language of Intention and Practice, is grounded in an intention of fear and judgement. It is a plan formulated with an intention that does not alleviate, I would say increases, suffering, promotes ill-will, and does harm to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in our congregations and the world at large. This is a lens of intention that does not follow the Way of compassion and love Jesus lived and taught.

The Connectional Plan is a plan that recreates the structure of the church in terms of conferences and jurisdictions. Creating a theological and philosophical divide where clergy churches can relate to conferences that fit their theology and view regarding LGBTQ persons role in the church. The conferences and jurisdictions will no longer be geographical in nature, but rather theological and philosophical in nature. While it follows some other models that seem to work well in other denominations it will take a great deal of constitutional changes to get it into place and I do not think it will pass any vote. For me, in terms of intention, I think it is a good intentional view of a way forward…but a complex and difficult journey at best.

The One Church Plan creates a denomination that also allows for differing theological viewpoints. In essence it creates local control and decision making. Each clergy, church, and conference will decide if they will or will not officiate or host same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons in the church. I believe it is important that  you, our community of faith here at FUMC know where I stand, and of the three plans this is the one I support. I support it because it reflects the long history of the United Methodist Church of openness and conferencing. The One Church Plan brings to the table a mindfulness and intention of recognizing we do not all agree one this and makes room under a large tent non-judgement and compassion for both sides of our struggle. This plan gives opportunity to continue to practice patience, to hold in tension opposing viewpoints, to resist non-violently and compassionately, to stay engaged and not walk away from those we are called to love. The One Church Plan makes great strides to alleviate suffering, gives space to release ill-will, and offers hope in doing no harm.

Beginning Sunday, the 27th of this month and the next three Sundays, we here at FUMC will invite our entire congregation to participate in a letter writing campaign to delegates who will be voting at the General Conference in February. I hope we all participate, this is an important and crucial time for our denomination and our church. As one of, if not the, flagship Reconciling Congregation in Nebraska and our Annual Conference we need to make our voice heard and I believe of the plans to be brought before the Conference, we need to support the One Church Plan. We need to make our voice and our intention known at General Conference.

I think of the world in which we live today and the deep divisions we have across our country and in our church. There is too much vitriol, there is too much hate, there is too much walking away and not staying engaged. It is time we truly open ourselves, not to just those who agree with us, but engage and embrace all persons with compassion and love… for this is what will change the world for the common good of all. May it be so. May it be NOW. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little, Lead Clergy

First United Methodist Church, Omaha, NE

The Magnificat; Love is Resistance!

December 23, 2018

We have journeyed through Advent this year through the lens of the wisdom of Mr. Rogers addressing the traditional themes of the season; Hope, Peace, Joy, and today…Love. Love. I confess sometimes I struggle a bit with the word itself. It seems to me in our culture and society, even in the church, there are times if not most of the time we have watered it down, relegated it to a gentle, non-threatening, innocuous, rose-colored glasses kind of sentiment. We use it in so many ways it can feel like it has lost its edge, like a once interesting, unique, rock in the rough after being polished smooth in a rock polishing machine. We love so many things now… I love coconut cream pie, I love my shoes, I love that haircut, to an entire car ad campaign, “Love, it’s what makes a Subaru.” Every time I see that ad, I want to say… “Really?” We have spread the use of the word love so thin it has lost its meaning.

To some degree…I think we can be in danger of doing the same thing with the whole of the traditional themes of Advent and Christmas. We have domesticated the season into a manageable and tame mawkish time of gentleness and warm fuzzies. We have turned hope from a driving force to a pie in the sky attitude, we have turned peace from an active way of life into individualistic isolation, we have turned joy from a frame of mind contagious to those around us to something that denies the struggles of life, and we have turned love from a foundation through which to change the world to a feeling that only feeds to ego.

Too many in the church, in society and culture, dismiss love as some kind of mushy, dreamy, emotion without force or cause. I have heard colleagues say to me, “All you liberals ever preach about is love, love, love.” To which I rely, “Well, yeah, what else is there?”  But too many have lost its edginess. Granted, it is still there if one looks for it… but we have done it to ourselves in a culture and society, in a church who refuses to do the difficult work of looking for the depths of the meaning in the simple nature of what love is suppose to be and look like.

Too many in the community of faith, this time of year, look at Mary’s song we read this morning and only hear her simple words of gratitude and the praising of God…

With all my heart I glorify God! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. The Divine has looked with favor on the low status of this servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name. God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors God.

We celebrate the young woman who is pregnant with the child of God and sing songs and feel hope, peace, joy, and love in our hearts. And we leave our churches feeling warm and fuzzy and for too many of those who have worshipped on Sunday morning this time of year that is as far as it goes until the next week. Mary, meek and mild, humble, submissive, and obedient to the end, and this is where too many in our communities of faith end the reading.

As I pondered this simplistic notion of love and the season of Advent over the last couple of weeks, words of Mr. Rogers came to mind from the book of his sayings…

Love is like infinity: You can’t have more or less infinity, and you can’t compare two things to see if they’re ‘equally infinite.’ Infinity just is, and that’s the way I think love is, too. Perhaps you can hear him saying that in your mind like I can, the simple, inviting, gentle way he spoke and welcomed us into his home. I remembered an episode of Mr. Rogers that they spoke of in the documentary about his life. It was an episode in which he spoke of the many different ways we show or tell others we love them. The episode began simplistically and uneventful. Mr. Rogers arrives at home as he does every time, singing his song, putting on his sweater, and taking off his shoes. But this time he does something very different, he has a pair of “slippers” he calls them, I would have referred to them as flip flops but I suppose for a national television show slippers sounded more appropriate. Anyway, in this episode he takes off his socks too, he points out that it is different, that he has never done that before. He puts on the slippers and goes outside to soak his tired feet in a plastic wading pool. He says he has been thinking about the many ways we show or tell someone we love them. The camera shifts from Mr. Rogers sitting on a chair soaking his feet to images of children and adults being present to one another in wide variety of ways. This goes on for several minutes. One, like myself, might be carried off into their imagination of ways I have been told or shown I am loved or ways I have told or shown others I love them. It is a hopeful, peaceful, joyful, gentle journey through the memories in my mind, certainly sentimental.

Love in our faith tradition has been, or at least should be, the foundation of who we are. However, I recognize with the 40-some thousand expressions of Christianity in our world to ask each one of them to explain or define what love means, one may receive numerous definitions and explanations that may be similar or not and certainly not agree. We are in the midst of that right now in our own Global UMC, we are in the midst of that right now in our own country here in the U.S.A. What does love look like? What is it suppose to be? What is it suppose to do? Makes me think of the Tina Turner song… “What’s love got to do with it?”

In his book, God Believes in Love, Bishop Gene Robinson writes of the love of God… [The Divine] is all about love. Whatever is at the center of the universe, whatever gives meaning to creaturely existence, whatever we mean by “God,” it is all about love. There is no more fundamental belief among people of faith. Many adjectives are used in the holy texts of major religions to describe God – what God is like, as experienced by human beings, what God is apt to favor, what God abhors. In Christianity, God is defined quite simply in the [Second] Testament’s First Letter of John: “Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

No religion can claim to know all there is to know about God. Each religion, and each practitioner of religion, can only claim to know a part of God. But this is a startling claim that the First Letter of John makes, that to love is to know God. I take this to mean that there is something about loving another that participates in the reality that is God. For those who desire to know the nature of God, indeed to “know” God, this is very significant because it plots a pathway to the Divine Mystery. It beckons to those who want to experience the divine: If you want to know God, you will find God in the loving of another.

According to Robinson, according to the Sufi Poet Rumi, according to our faith tradition, Love is all there is! And it is not some sentimental, rose colored glasses, emotion that is only about feeling good about ourselves and the world. Love is a world changing force for the common good of all. Love is edgy, love is challenge, love is prophetic, love changes us and the world from the inside out.

Too many in the church stop reading or stop listening after the first part of Mary’s song when she is praising God and giving gratitude to the power of God. They do not hear, or refuse to hear, the deeply political and prophetic words in her song… this is not a simplistic song just about humility and being favored, this is a song about the Kindom of God… the coming Way that will be… this is a song about Love… the love of God, the love of the world and the Love to which we are called to participate…

The Spirit has shown strength with its arm. God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. The Divine has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The Spirit has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

Scattered the arrogant and the proud…pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty handed.

THIS is the Love of God. THIS is Love come down at Christmas. THIS is the coming one for which Mary sings.

Love is Resistance! Just Ask Mary….

As I continued to watch the episode of Mr. Rogers the images of those sharing loved ended and the scene cuts back to Mr. Rogers sitting and soaking his feet. About that time Officer Francois Clemmons comes strolling into Mr. Rogers yard. Mr. Rogers invites him to join in soaking his feet in the pool with him, retrieves a chair, and they both sit and visit about the day and about love. Francois sings a song about the many different ways of loving. Finally, he must leave, Mr. Rogers helps him dry his feet and away he goes. It is a statement about love. It is a statement about race relations as Francois is African American. Mr. Rogers is showing us love is not just some sentimental emotion… love is about taking a stand against those things that diminish and belittle love.

That being said, it is important to note that while Mr. Rogers was willing to take on racism at the time he was unwilling to address full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Francois was gay, as a result the show would require him to stop going to a gay bar at which he had been seen and he would never be allowed to stay with the show as an out gay man. It would not be until years later Mr. Rogers would come around and be fully accepting and embrace Francois as he was.

It is an important lesson for us all, it is an important lesson for the church and in particular the United Methodist Church. It is a testament to the love that transformed Mr. Rogers’ heart to finally embrace Francois. It gives me hope for our denomination.

Mr. Rogers, in our context today…is taking a knee in solidarity with the those who are oppressed and discriminated against. And Mr. Rogers is a testament to the transformative power of love.

Love transforms us from the inside out and…

Love is resistance! Just Ask Mr. Rogers!

I look at our current state of church, not only the UMC but church in general and the exclusion and hate that is done in the name of love and I wonder where is the voice of Mary… where is the voice of Mr. Rogers? Where is the voice of the church who knows what love ought to be about? I look at the state of our nation and our administration and I wonder where the voice of the church is.

When children are ripped from their families filled with uncertainty and fear. When a 7-year-old Guatemalan Child turns ill and dies while in the custody of our government. When the government shuts down denying payroll to those who count on those wages and vouchers to pay their bills. When spending an estimated between 12 and 21 billion dollars [with a B] on a border wall…and we are told health care for all is too expensive, clean water can’t be cleaned up, sustainable energy is too costly, adequate housing can’t be provided… where is the resistance of the people of Mary, this prophet, this voice of one crying out to portend the Way things ought to be in the Kindom of God. This wall, this government shut-down, this treatment of immigrants and refugees, …these are not just political issues… these are moral issues… these are theological issues… these are children of God… each and every one of them. And the Love of Mary, the Love of God calls us into the fray this Christmas Season…to be a voice, to be active in the Way of Love.

Love is Resistance. It is So. It. Is. So.  Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Justice Has No Religion

October 7, 2017

This is the talk I gave at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. For those who read it, if you are familiar with my writings and/or sermons, some of it may sound familiar as I gleaned from previous writings from my blog, sermons that touched on the topic, as well as new writing to create this presentation. It was an honor to have shared this with those in attendance.

Justice Has No Religion.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. I suspect that is true for a lot of things, it certainly is for me. Though I did not recognize it at the time, my high school government teacher somehow planted a seed or a burning ember in my subconscious or my heart and soul around the notion of politics. Ironically, I only had one semester of Ms. Davis as the result of receiving an F from the other government teacher in our school which then required me to take two government classes at the same time so I could graduate, thus my joining her class. It’s a long story, you are free to ask me about it sometime but I suspect this talk is going to be long enough without that addition.

As I remember it was somewhere in my early to mid-twenties I began finding my way back to the library and my reading addiction really began and found itself focused on the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy. I do not know how many books I have read on his life and times, or the number of speeches I have read, I used to have a whole collection of VCR tapes of television programs and purchased documentaries about his life and death. In terms of our topic tonight I have long been drawn to his speaking to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, September 12, 1960 addressing their concerns, of all things, about his religion. In his encounter there he spoke, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should they be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell their parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no [one] is denied public office merely because [their] religion differs from the President who might appoint [them] or the people who might elect [them].”

As TruDee and I became more and more involved in our local church I started lay speaking, filling in for vacationing preachers. Everywhere I went I was invited to consider the ordained ministry. My answer was always an emphatic “Not Interested!” As my journey continued my own pastor would ask me about ministry and he would receive the same response.

At the encouragement of TruDee I decided to begin work on a college degree and started taking some night classes as we could afford them and as I had time. Word got back to my pastor who one day asked, “So, Kent, what are you going to do with your degree when you get it?” I replied, “Well, actually I have considered public service, perhaps even politics.” His response, “Oh, perfect, like I’ve been saying you need to go into the ministry, there is a lot of politics in the church!” Well, the call, college, seminary, ordination and the rest is history!

I have long been interested in, a student of, and an active voice for equality and social justice. I have preached sermons, led studies, counseled, and had perhaps hundreds of conversations on equality, inclusion, welcome, and justice. My position on various social justice and equality perspectives are well known among those who know me, or even know of me.

I have been a part of events that have, I believe, fanned that flame that was planted long ago in an eighteen-year-old. I was inspired by the Rev. Dr. Tex Sample, a longtime friend and past seminary professor, who spoke of many of the liberal/progressive persuasion, me included, who “know all the positions and none of the moves.” we’ll leave it at that for now, let’s just say, based on my experience, we do not plan and organize well, I have some thoughts on that, but I’ll save that for another time.

Some years back I was invited to speak to a committee hearing on a bill in Topeka. I had never done that before and was terrified, but my interest and draw to the political caused me to say yes. The bill, in my opinion was an atrocious bill that was an affront to the concept of Thomas Jefferson’s comments on the First Amendment regarding separation of church and state, not to mention an offense to anyone who takes religious freedom seriously.

Jefferson wrote – “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

I sat in the chamber that day and listened to the explanation of the bill, I listened to those who supported it, and was able to listen to a few who opposed the bill. The Committee ran over time and it was postponed until the next morning before I could speak. I was disappointed.

What I walked away with that day as I listened to some who were speaking, they saw absolutely no issue with the crossing of a boundary of separation of church and state. I listened as some spoke on behalf of “the church” and “Christians,” and “religion” as if there is only one valid perspective and understanding of those terms. I found myself wanting to stand up and say, “No! You are not speaking for “all” of Christendom, you are only speaking for a “part!” Amid all of this I realized that I was weary. Weary of the powers that be who would claim to speak for all of us and I have long been frustrated by our media, government, and other venues that seem to only acknowledge and draw input from one particular view, religion, and theology as if that is the only one that matters.

Michael Austin, in his book, “That’s Not What They Meant!” writes – “The founders [of our nation] were secularists at best. Some Deists, some Christians, or Unitarians… and from all this religious diversity emerged a fairly coherent Founding compromise: America would be an officially secular nation that would vigorously protect everybody’s freedom of worship and belief. Unlike most European nations, which officially preferred their state churches and occasionally tolerated others. America would offer its citizens actual religious liberty, which meant those of any religion, or no religion at all, would be free to participate fully in the political community.” Unfortunately, I believe, many in our country have forgotten this… though there are still some of us who honor and hold to the ideals of our founders and beginnings.

I am a political junky, perhaps not to the extent of many, such as my younger son who is much more engaged than I, 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 opinion, political passion, and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader community and 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.

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! Honoring Jefferson and our constitutional ideals, is to refrain from talking about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc., it should not 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 really struggle sometimes with what to say while dancing that line of separation of church and state.

But it’s important for all of us, to dance that line… because… this is not just about politics, it is about people’s lives and livelihoods.

When I listen with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and comments made, objectifying women, that have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them. We must speak!

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.                                                                   We must speak!

When I listen with immigrants and parents who are of a different color and national origin who have to comfort their children the morning after an election because their children feared they would be sent away.     We must speak!

When I listen to a government that would rather guarantee the right to purchase and bear any kind of firearm and deny the right to healthcare for all.  We must speak.

When I listen as those who are disabled fear they will be mocked and chided even more than they have been in the past.                                                                We must speak!

When I listen with persons of color victims of racism, still rampant in our society and culture, who want to peacefully kneel and exercise their right of freedom of speech in protest of the treatment of persons of color, and who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin. We must speak!

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.       We must speak!

I read the newspapers and listen to the news and read comments on social media… lord have mercy!  I hear those who do not want to rock the boat… that we need to give the current administration and legislature a chance… that we need unity not division and I say this…

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 USA we should believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of compassion not bigotry.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

We should believe in the politics of the rights and humanity of ALL not just a few.

We should believe in the politics that we are all of value regardless of the religion or lack thereof we practice or not, not the politics of who is in and who is out.

In the politics of the human race not racism.

In the politics of welcome not locked doors.

In the politics of justice for all not just the few.

A politics of kindness not threat.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Because in the USA we should believe in the politics of Love not fear!

Perhaps all this to say, there is definitely a connection for me between my faith and my work in the political realm. My understanding of the Christian Faith, my understanding of the teachings of Jesus compels me to speak to and work for social justice across the spectrum of the issues we encounter, and especially I think of the current environment and atmosphere in our country not only in the political world, but for me in the world of the church and in general. However, it is something totally different for me to stand on Sunday morning in the context of my faith community and frame my comments in a Christian way and make connections with social justice and the teachings of Jesus, THAT is different than my standing in a hearing room at the capital in Topeka to speak on a particular piece of legislation.

When I am in the halls of government, while my faith continues to inform what I believe and what I say, if my words and actions do not promote the common good for all, religious and non-religious alike, if my words and actions are grounded only in the belief of the Christian faith to the exclusion and limitation of others, I have crossed that line of Separation of Church and State and breached and offended our founding and constitutional ideals. This is the premise of my statement, “Justice has No Religion.” Justice is blind so to speak. If my work in the capital, at the county commission, or the city council is not equally beneficial for the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Agnostic, Atheist, general population of our nation, I have breached and offended the principles of our nation’s constitution. Justice has No Religion!

So, I would say the line of separation of church and state is absolute, and should so remain! To speak of civil rights, social justice, equality for all in the eyes of the law, should always promote the common good of all our population. What has become known as the religious right, especially some particular strains of that religious, creates a blurring at best, and outright breach of the ideals held by Thomas Jefferson and decades of law and precedent protecting that separation.

I would say, religious or not, we have a mandate to speak up for those who are targeted in our country, anyone who is belittled or diminished, to stand up to and against any policy and legislation that is privileged over and against others. These are not religious issues, these are human rights and social justice issues… and even more… these are not issues at all… these are people’s lives and livelihoods that are at risk. This organization, Americans United, the ACLU, NAACP, and others who day in and day out work to ensure and hold accountable our nation are crucial to its survival in the form intended by our founders. Do not be silent… the country… all of us… need you.  Thank you.

Wonderings of a Recovering Racist, Journeying into Hope.

September 28, 2017

My best guess is it was about 1969 and I would have been ten years old. I may be off a year but for the purposes of this story it does not really matter. As I remember, the incident occurred following our little league game and was during the older youth ball game. A group of us from our team and town were running and playing with some kids from the team and town we had just played.

At least in my mind it happened amid innocent play, but at some point, barbs began to be exchanged and playful attitudes changed. I have no idea what brought it on but I have never forgotten the impact it had on me. From somewhere down in my ten-year-old vocabulary I let loose a barb toward one of the other kids we were chasing, a boy of my age, he was black. It was a word that had never been uttered in my house. I had little knowledge of the word other than what I had heard and picked up. I had no idea of the implication or damage it could do. I am confident I had heard it at school or on television, I had never uttered the word prior to that moment either. As soon as it left my lips, there was a deep twisting knot in my stomach, a sickening feeling I knew I had done something horrible. “Nigger,” I said. The boy looked me in the eye, smiled, and returned the barb, “White trash,” he said. I knew even less about that label, I had never heard it before. With that, he and his friends took off in another direction, my friends chasing after them, and me standing with a boulder sitting in my stomach, twisting and gnawing at my insides. I wanted to throw up. I wondered what I had done. I have never used that word again, to describe or direct at another human being, at this point I am still unsure I should leave it in this writing.

Fast forward, it is 1994, I am now thirty-five, my first year of seminary in Kansas City Missouri. As part of a class I was taking on ministry we were asked to go on a ride along with the Kansas City Missouri police department. The officer I was with pulled into an alley, parked, and turned out the headlights of the patrol car. He pointed across the street at a darkened two-story house with a single light in a lower level window. He told me it was a drug house; the dealers would stay inside the house and the buyers would walk up on the porch and the deal would be done through an open window. We sat, and waited. A man appeared to our left walking down the sidewalk across the street from us, the officer made a comment about watching to see if he went up to the house. The man, a Caucasian man, I would note later, seen by the light of the streetlight, turned the corner toward the house, but then walked on by. We sat for a time again and another man appeared from the same direction, a black man I could see by the same streetlight, walking toward the corner where the house was. The officer made no comment, he reached with his left hand and turned the external spotlight on and positioned it to shine in the face of the man walking down the street. The officer kept the light on the man until he faded from our sight. It was that same knot gnawing at my insides I felt that night watching the officer spotlight the man walking down the street. It brought to mind instutional and sysytemic racism. I wondered why he had not shone the spotlight on the first man. I wondered what the second man had done. I think I know, though I did not say anything at the time, I was fearful at that point.

1995, the age of thirty-six, I was invited to a lecture at seminary as part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities. As part of the talk the speaker asked those of us in attendance to stand and make a single line through the center of the room. The line was to represent a continuum as to where we believed racism was in our country today. Stand at that end of the room if we felt racism had been eradicated from our culture and society, at the other end of the room if we felt there had be no progress at all, and somewhere in between depending on how much progress we felt had been made. I sat in my chair and wondered. I finally made the decision to remain seated. My good friend came back and sat with me and queried why I had not stood. I simply said, “I know racism is still deeply present in our culture and society, but who am I as a white guy to say where we are? I’ve never been followed in a store, looked at with suspicion, been pulled over, or had an officer shine a light in my face simply because I am white. We have a long way to go, but I don’t know.” I wonder now, looking back in hindsight, if that was a copout. Could have been…I wonder.

I shared these three, among other personal experiences and being witness to racism, both individual and systemic, to say it has been, and still is very much alive. I have spent numerous times in my ministry speaking out against, working against, reaching out to my friends who are persons of color in a battle against the cancer that is racism in our country and world. I recognize as a straight, white, Christian, male I have an enormous amount of privilege in this country and world. I am committed to working and using my privilege to expose racist tendencies and policies when I encounter them. But, I am not done with my own journey… and I wonder just how far I have yet to go.

September 25, 2017, I finished a book TruDee gave me for my fifty-eighth birthday, while she took a class. I am a relatively slow reader as I spend a lot of time pondering while I read, as a result I often go back and re-read portions as I progress. This was one of, if not the, most difficult books I have ever read. That mammoth sinking pit I mentioned in my first story, lay heavy in my gut and soul as I read every word. I have a work in progress I intend on becoming a book one day about my life, journey, theology, and philosophies, but to read this book and the author’s depth of knowing, of experiencing his own life, and the depth of from where he comes moved me deeply. I finished the book sitting in my car outside the little bakery where TruDee was taking her class…and wept, and wondered at the depths of my own racism, even though I think of myself as an ally and an advocate.

The book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates delves into the culture and society we are and from where we have come. I heard in his words, our country was founded not just on the idealized freedom of religion and freedom from oppression, our country was founded on oppression and the enslavement of another group of human beings. Their enslavement was responsible for the success of our economy, and dare I say not just southern economy but the economy of the nation as a whole. Racism, enslavement of, and the diminishing of Africans is deeply embedded in our DNA as a country. And you don’t remove that kind of tumor even with a war, even with a civil rights movement and laws, it is deeply rooted in who we are as a country and especially in those of us who are white, and even, he says, those who think they wish to be white. These are thoughts I heard as I read his words, as I fought against that deep and dark pit that weighed deeper and deeper with each page.

The book is written in the context of a letter to his son, sharing his own story, his own struggles, his own life, his body, as he puts it, and the body of persons of color that he sees as expendable by the powers that be. His sharing with his son is not to convince nor give his son answers, but rather to encourage him to find his own voice, his own being, his own struggles, and his own body and worth. These words spoke deeply to me, You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.” He also shares that it isn’t for him to change other’s minds, or help their struggle, it is for the other to find their own struggle and come to terms with this deeply rooted cancer that is on our nation, my words not his. I cannot recommend this book any higher, it has changed the way I see.

Early the next morning as I re-pondered all I had been thinking since the day before I posted on my Facebook page a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.; “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” That heavy pit reappeared in my gut. I shed a tear. I considered not sharing the quote on my page. Who was I to share the words of a man who endured the racism of our country in ways I could not even begin to know. I did share it, however, that moment and this book have caused me to completely rethink all that I have done and will do in the future. I tried to explain that to TruDee as we drove that morning, and it has touched me so deeply I could hardly speak as the emotions welled up within me. I live in a country, in a culture and society, that is deeply racist and I am a product of that culture. And as a white man, this book has caused me to wonder more deeply the ways I still participate in the racism pulsing through the veins of who we are as a culture. As Coates says, it is not for anyone else to figure out for me, struggle for me, it is not for my friends and colleagues, who are people of color, to teach me or point out what is and what is not racism, though if they do I will pay deep attention, it is for me to struggle with, to dig deep into that heavy, dark pit that resides still within me and continue to try and make myself and the world around me a better, more just and compassionate place.

This revelation is larger than racism though, it cuts across the landscape of injustice that continues to haunt and diminish our culture. Homophobia, Sexism, Women’s Rights, Xenophobia, Ageism, Religious Discrimination, and all the phobias and ism’s that plague our land. A friend once told me as a white person we are all given a backpack of privilege when we are born and we carry it with us all our lives. So, here I am, and I have been made aware on a much deeper level of that backpack of White, Male, Heterosexual, Christian privilege that I carry. I carry it as a constant reminder with that privilege comes deep, deep responsibility to better understand how I participate, consciously and unconsciously, in the injustices of which I fight so diligently against. Perhaps my title of “Recovering Racist” is a bit harsh, but maybe that is what it takes to better get my attention, because of my privilege I am a racist, perhaps not intentionally, but simply because of ways I participate in those injustices and that cancer on our culture and society and am unaware.

This is my struggle and the journey continues. Pray for me, think of me, ponder with me and us. May God continue to open my eyes, my heart, that the pit never goes away, but to serve as a constant reminder to be mindful of my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my love of all. I wonder on this journey, when we might become one…I wonder.

I Marched this Day

January 24, 2017

The sign I carried had printed in black on white, “We the People will Never Be Silent.” We built the sign with paper, printer, foam board, glue, staple, and wood. I considered not carrying my sign, sore hands from a fall on the ice a week before. But when we arrived at the gathering space I could not bring myself to leave it behind. My sign was one of thousands. There were hopeful signs, angry signs, fearful signs, signs that were difficult to see and read, humorous signs, and signs of love and unity. My sign too…belonged.

This was not my first march or rally to speak up for justice and compassion. I have attended many over the years. I am often asked as some have asked why I marched this day; a man, and in particular a white, straight, middle class man with my back pack of privilege I have carried with me since my birth. I have pondered the question since hearing it for myself as well as watching others wrestle with the question. I did not want to answer without much consideration. A part of my answer is, I marched in part because I do not know, because I have never experienced the kinds of things those with which I joined in solidarity have.

I have never been humiliated, objectified, assaulted, groped, paid less, talked about like I was an object for the pleasure of another, refused needed medical procedure or had my private decisions with my doctor legislated out of my hands, or the target of offensive and unacceptable “locker room talk,” because I am a man.

I have never been beaten, fired, fearful, rejected, disowned, homeless, yelled at on the streets of the city, or threatened, I have never had to worry about my marriage being nullified by the government because I am straight.

I have never been stopped in my car, followed in a store, had a glaring glance, or a suspicious look… I have never had someone cross to the other side of the street, clutch their bag or their child a little tighter when I walk past… just because I of the color of my skin.

I have never been mocked, made fun of, belittled, or limited in opportunity because of being differently-abled.

I have never been feared, targeted, discriminated against, vandalized, beaten, or told I cannot practice my religion because I am a Christian.

I have never been threatened to be sent back to Germany or anywhere else in Europe because it is the land of my ancestry, had the fear of being separated from my family because of my origin, or struggled to find the funds and assistance because I am not a citizen.

I have never had to fear a wall being built to keep me out or keep me in because I am in the United States.

I have never lived in fear because of bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination, prejudice, or hatred because I am different.

I marched with some three thousand persons, and millions around the world, because I have never experienced these things. I marched this day in support of my partner, my daughter’s in law, and my granddaughters because they should not have to live in a world where these things are a reality. I marched this day because I want my sons to know they nor their partners nor their daughters should have to live in a world where these things are a reality. I marched this day because no one, not one should have to live in a world where these things are a reality and happen each and every day in our communities, in our states, in our nation, and around the world .. and no ONE should have to experience such atrocities.

I marched this day because of my faith in a God who loves each and every one of us, each and every creature and all of creation. I marched this day because my faith tells me the vision of KINdom, is one of kinship, we are all related, we belong to one another and that vision for the common good of all requires of us Justice for all, Kindness for all, Humility from and with all.

Until that day … the people… I …cannot be silent.

I marched this day.

May this day be a re-beginning of our journey toward the Common Good for ALL,

Kent H. Little

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.