Posts Tagged ‘listening’

Tuesday Night Church with Garrison Keillor

May 26, 2017

I had the opportunity to go to church last Tuesday evening. We were ushered to our seats and after the announcements were finished the preacher finally entered on stage. The staging area, for lack of better descriptors, was simple, non-ornate, curtains hung on the three surrounding walls, with only a single four-legged stool, and a lone microphone stand and mic.

This preacher was simply dressed, dark suit, white shirt, bright red tie with socks to match. He began a kind of dance, if you will, with the audience, moving deliberately from side to side, each step and slide appeared chosen and exact, and periodically he would sit on the stool. At one point of small intermission, he came down from the stage and joined us in the center aisle. He began his sermon speaking of poetry and the longing need for the art in our culture and society.

He then did a curious thing, he sang a song, and then he invited us to join in the singing with him. There was something about this invitation, and part of it was what I brought into the space with me, the experiences and knowledge that I carried into the sanctuary that night; my readings of this persons writing regarding his own political thoughts and struggles with the current political climate, the laughter I have shared listening to his radio show, and the shared grief in knowing he had just buried his seventeen year old grandson earlier that day…which he never mentioned.

I must think it was a bit of all of that, but I was touched and struck profoundly for some reason as he coaxed us into the first song we sang, My Country Tis of Thee, I couldn’t sing it, the knot in my stomach, the lump in my throat, and the tears in my eyes would not allow me to sing. So, I stood, soaking in, reveling in whatever this moving moment was about, and listened to the voices sing of this country of mine…of ours.

We sang Home on the Range, How Great Thou Art, Only Fools Rush In, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. These are but a few of the songs we sang; hymns, non-religious songs, we heard Shakespeare and poetry written by our preacher. We heard story after story of life and death and faith. We listened to stories of first loves, of bodies pressed against unclothed body, stories of youth and struggling to understand. We heard stories of growing old and health challenges complete with anatomically correct descriptions of medical procedures and prostates. We heard poetry that spoke of bodily function and humor referring to balls of brass and lightening coming out of one’s …well, ass.

And we sang, and laughed, I don’t know about anyone else but at least one cried, and pondered, and was touched deeply, and encouraged, and challenged. I am not sure what anyone else heard that night in the Stiefel Sanctuary, but here is what I walked away with. I witnessed a quiet man with a deep, deep love of country, family, relationship, and life. I watched him weave the stories of life, faith, humor, and love into a tapestry so very real it touched my heart and soul almost from the very beginning of his speaking. And for a couple of hours, I watched this teller of stories, draw a crowd of diverse people together into one place and into one voice.

As we walked back to our car I told TruDee, “I’ve been to church tonight… it was SO REAL!” Sometimes, this story he told over almost two and half hours that night was not just his story, it was my story, it was all of our stories at some point. There was something within this tapestry of telling that spoke to every one of us in the building at some point or another. It was so very REAL.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church could be so real more often, rather than the too frequent of hiding behind self-righteousness, feigned humility and modesty, religious platitudes, judgement, and condemnation.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church would simply be about the task of loving everyone, everyone, bumps, warts, body parts, young, old, weird, strange, different, … the REAL world, imperfect as it…as we are… just trying to make it through this journey together.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I long for such a world, a world where we sit down with our elders, with our peers, with our children and children’s children, and simply tell and listen to our stories…without judgement or condemnation, without correction or critique, simple telling and hearing our authentic selves and what brought us to this moment.

I long for such a place…

Some Day… Some Day…

Until then, tell your story… find a reason to listen to someone else’s.

And know you and they are beautiful and loved.

Kent

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Beautiful Hearts

April 2, 2017

We attended the Trans Day of Visibility: Rally for Equality. I confess, I know and understand very little about the journey of transgender persons and what they have been through, though I know many and am educating myself by studying, listening to their stories, respecting their presence and rights, deliberately seeing them, and loving them. While I can never fully understand, I can understand better. As it was said at the Rally Friday, it is up to me, up to us to do the work of study and educating of ourselves to try and better understand what our transgender friends and family are going through and have been through. I am working on that, I want to better understand so I can be a better pastor, ally, advocate, friend, … a better person in my loving of all of God’s children…all of us.

trans

Speakers at the rally shared stories of loss and pain. Friday I heard not just stories of bullying and hatred, but witnessed it firsthand. I listened as speakers shared of youth and adults who have ended their lives because of religion, culture, and society who diminish and belittle who and whose they are, and I was moved to tears. I can only hope to somehow understand a small fraction of the pain and fear they have encountered on their journey, but I can be here for them as they make that journey, we can all be here for them as they make that journey. Transgender persons and their journeys, though filled with tragedy and pain, fear, risk, and struggle, are courageous and beautiful, all of them.

I think of that familiar passage about the anointing of David when God shares that God looks upon the heart. I can honestly say, the transgender persons I have encountered and come to know, have beautiful hearts of grace, compassion, courage, and love. I have much to learn from my transgender brothers and sisters that already has and will continue to deepen my understanding and walk with them as well as my walk with God in Christ. I am grateful and I look forward to a new journey each morning!

For our church, here at College Hill. The first of the year I had the congregation fill out note cards expressing what they loved about CHUM, why they came, what was our purpose. I shared those responses in our newsletter and we will be visiting them at our next Extended Council meeting. While we want to be aware and attentive to all the responses, the overwhelming nature of the responses had to do with our open, loving, welcoming, and inclusive posture and vision. We will be focusing on that and talking about how we can better share that message not only with our current membership but with our city and Annual Conference.

I want to emphasize my place here in this writing in that I stand with and will advocate for transgender persons, and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual persons, and those regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, and age who are marginalized and oppressed. It is my passion, my vocation, my calling, and I believe what and who God with Christ has called me to be in this world so filled with brokenness, bigotry, hate, and exclusion.

I implore our society, city, state, country, and religious communities, to stop the discrimination and hate. Sit down with someone, talk less and listen more to the stories of those who simply want to live authentically as they were created to be. Here at CHUM, we are, and can be even more of a beacon of justice, grace, wisdom, and love. It is a beautiful way to join the beauty of this diverse tapestry of us God has created. Join me won’t you?

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

Pastor Kent

Practicing Presence

February 6, 2017

Mozart, our Shar-Pei, is a lover so to speak. He loves affection and attention. Ignoring him is usually not an option. He loves to be loved. Our car Frodo, on the other hand, is a one person cat for the most part. He sits on TruDee’s lap if he sits on lap at all. It only takes a look from me to cause him to flee across the room, he pretty much doesn’t want anything to do with anyone or anything except TruDee.moz-and-frodo

He will acknowledge our two dogs as long as it’s his idea and not theirs. Mozart really wants to interact with Frodo, but most of the time Frodo is not having it. I noticed the other evening Mozart scooting across the floor close to Frodo. Mozart finally stopped and simply lay his head close to Frodo and just waited.

Perhaps he learned this from our older dog Simeon, I have often referred to Simeon as my Zen master. Simeon for the most part is about presence. He doesn’t need a lot of attention or petting, he is generally content just laying or sitting near you in a, “I’m here,” presence.

I think about so many instances and situations in our culture and society, our state and nation, our government, politics, even in the church and I wonder what we might learn from such an example of Mozart and Simeon? It seems to me there is so much incivility, vitriol language, intolerance, lack of understanding, and too much talking at one another rather than listening.

I wonder, if we focused more on the practice of forgiveness and grace, a practice of a patient listening presence rather than how we are going to respond in accusation or proving another wrong and we right, if our world, our churches, and our lives might be a little more open to the common good for all? I wonder.

Take some time this week and beyond to consider how we could all spend a little more time on inward reflection on our own behavior and reactions. Take some time this week and beyond to reflect on how we all might practice patience and an intentional listening presence to understand rather than to be right.

Mozart’s attempt at practicing presence did not result in a new best of friends scenario, but perhaps it will lead to a more understanding and friendly relationship between two who must live in the world together peaceably and gracefully. Practice patience. Practice presence. Practice Love, Kindness, and Humility.

It is one of the many of the 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…and Presence for Your Journey!

Pastor Kent

The Evolution of Our Discourse

February 1, 2017

It is an evolution of conversation. There was a day in political as well as religious discourse when reaching across divides, finding common ground, give and take, even dare I say, compromise, was the work of those in leadership. We are years, perhaps even decades beyond that notion, it seems an almost fantasy laden idealism now as I look at our culture and society today.

For at least eighteen to twenty years I have been saying our society and culture, be it in the halls of government or the hallowed halls of the church, has devolved into an us versus them attitude. I have been guilty of it as well, my way or the highway mentality. I slip into that frame of mind when I find myself frustrated, overwhelmed, and tired. I have shared on more than one occasion that we are a nation, church, perhaps even world who have an insatiable need to be right and an insatiable need to be right at the expense of someone else. There seems no longer room for civil discussion, committed engagement, and compromise that furthers the common good of all.

I wrote a blog a year ago telling my denomination it is wrong in its treatment of LGBTQ persons. I still believe that. I stand by it with every fiber of my being, informed by my study of scripture, the traditions of the faith, my own experience, and reason… the foundations of my journey of faith! And while I believe this unequivocally I believe there is room for discussion and compromise in ways that build up the church that no longer does violence and harm to the faithful who are LGBTQ.

It is larger than that though. It is an issue and a problem that reaches across the landscape of what I believe to be God’s vision for the world and our corner of it. This notion of the need to be right has evolved into an even deeper ingrained entrenchment of society. It is an all or none scenario, and I would say, arguments that play the, us vs them, in ways that are untenable and unsustainable.

The extreme ends of any issue seem to believe that if they can even find one person that upholds their views it must be true for all and the other is obviously wrong. We no longer consider the middle ground of gray to even be a valid part of the discussion. It seems we have forgotten how difficult engaged and committed citizenship and faith are. It is not an easy thing this “We the People” or as the one of my tradition stated, how very difficult it is to practice “the narrow way.” You have to want this kind of freedom and place in the world badly and to continue with the incivility and bigotry is the easy way out because one does not have take responsibility for their own participation in the problems they can just blame someone else. Perhaps what we all need is a mirror.

I am often drawn to the words of a favorite speech in the movie The American President, when the character Andrew Shepard shares these words,

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

One of the reasons I like this quote so much is I hear it applying not only to our political landscape in our country and world, but also to the religious landscape, especially in our own United Methodist Church. Living together as progressive and conservative Christians as well as other religious theologies and ideologies is hard work, “You have to want it bad!” Sharing our passion and commitment to our vision of the world and the church requires the ability and finesse of finding common ground that ensures the common good of ALL concerned, not just the privileged few.

Maybe this writing is preaching to myself, I certainly know I have been guilty, but the question keeps coming back to me and so I will pass it on to those who take time to read, “How long?” How long will we refuse to listen? How long will we continue to make one another the enemy rather than owning we are all in this together? How long will we continue to deny we belong to one another? It takes ALL of us.

Life it too short to deny basic rights, equality, and justice to all of our citizenry, to all of God’s children. Life is too short to unfriend, belittle, attack physically and verbally, life is too short to live in hate and suspicion of the other. These are the reasons I continue to speak, to march, to protest, and to listen.

But if we continue on this path of exclusion, closed doors, closed hearts, closed minds, of either or with no common ground… will devour ourselves. There will be more of these ponderings… this is what is on my mind today.

Peace Be –

Kent

The Right to Listen

August 7, 2009

I confess I am a supporter of free speech. Yes, just like the rest of us in our Nation, I like the idea of being able to express my views, my opinions, my feelings on particular ideas be they political, social, religious or otherwise. When I disagree with someone or something, with a law, policy, or action I like to freedom to speak to it and when I agree with the same I enjoy the same privilege.
I also confess over the last many months I have become more and more discouraged, disheartened, and perhaps even cranky. I own up to the fact that when I find myself in disagreement with another point of view sometimes I do not listen so well. I often find myself spending more time plotting and planning my response to who I disagree with than I do really listening to what they are saying. In other words, sometimes I am so bound and determined I am going to disagree with them; it would not matter whether what they said made sense or not, I was going to prove them wrong!
I find that continually true in the current political climate today, and I would say as a leader in the church it is just as evident there on particular issues as well. What disheartens and disappoints me so is the unwillingness to listen, to be so dead set against something or someone that we would choose to shout them down rather than actually hear what they have to say. Often we spend so much time convinced that they have absolutely nothing of value to offer us, it would not matter if they did, and we would not admit it anyway.
I have recently encountered and read comments related to our current President and Administration. It saddens me to hear everything from likening him to Hitler to threats of civil war because folks do not like what he is trying to do for our country. I have no doubt he will make mistakes, already has I am sure. Not unlike any president we have had in the past or president we will have in the future.
We went from a Republican President to a Democrat with very different views and visions about where our Nation was, is, and what direction we should be heading and how to get there. There is no doubt about that. I also have no doubt that both men, both administrations, love and loved their country, and both administrations did and are doing what they believe and believed to be in the best interest of our country, agree with them or not, mistakes or not.
As I read blogs, news, and listen to the news I am wondering if we ought to add an amendment right after the Right to Free Speech. I am still working on its title, perhaps, “The Right to Be Heard,” or “The Right to Listen,” or “The Right to Be Listened To.” It seems to me, and I believe depending who is talking and who is not listening, it happens on both sides of the aisle, we can be likened to the little kid who has his fingers in his ears all the while saying, “lalalalalalalalalala” so as not to hear what is being said and disrupting the conversation so that anyone who does want to listen can’t.
It feels like a country fueled by phobia rather than hope, fueled by intolerance rather than justice, fueled by malice rather than kindness and mercy, by fear rather than love.
Obviously I am but one voice of many in my world, but perhaps a voice too long quiet. I will continue to be in prayer for my President and his administration, for our country, and all of its citizens as well as our world. And I will persist with the ideal of not only speaking freely but freely listening and to seeking to understand those who come from a different place than I. May justice roll down, may peace abound, and may love be the rule rather than the exception in all our lives.