Posts Tagged ‘Love’

A Statement of Sacred Resistance

April 5, 2019

Advertisements

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

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 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

The Vulnerability of Christmas

December 23, 2018

Of course, this time of year I have been pondering, neck deep so to speak, the Advent and Christmas Season. One of the most profound images of the birth narratives of Jesus is that of vulnerability. The family is forced to make a long journey only to find the meagerest of shelter which sufficed for the moment. And so, Jesus would not come in the grand palaces of the wealthy and powerful, but the least of places celebrated by the lowliest of social status. Jesus was born, like you and me, vulnerable and dependent on his parents for his every need and wellbeing.

Using this image as a template upon our current society and I find it disturbing. Two weeks ago, a father and seven-year-old daughter forced to leave their country of Guatemala for their wellbeing, are placed into custody, a cell. After several days the little girl has seizures, has a high temperature, is dehydrated, and dies just a day later.

Our immigration system is broken, I am not sure how anyone could disagree. However, until we find a solution that welcomes those who seek refuge in our country we must act with compassion. Building a wall should not be who we are, we should be providing doors, wide open doors, of compassion and welcome. To lose even one child of God such as this seven-year-old from Guatemala is too many. Such a loss while in the care of our country is unjust, cruel, and wrong.

Too many in the halls of government, as well as religion, continue to posture themselves with power and privilege at the expense of the most vulnerable of the world. We must find our way to be a compassionate place of welcome and love. Otherwise this ever-widening chasm of division will continue a spiraling descent into fear of the other and a dispassionate isolationist existence.

Our country, our churches, our communities and people of faith must practice the welcoming and inclusive Way of Jesus especially for the most vulnerable, whether they are already among us or traveling great distances for the safety and wellbeing of their families. Our country, our administration needs to take a long look in the mirror and decide who we want to be; a place where the most vulnerable can find safety and compassion even I the most meager of shelter or a place where the norm is fear of the other, suspicion, and even loss of life. I pray we find our way to justice, kindness, and humility, where we love one another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no others, only One Beloved Community of All.

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little

A Weed in the United Methodist Church

July 25, 2018

I was on my hands and knees in the cool morning hours a week ago pulling weeds out of the rock landscaping we have in front of our home. I do not know what kind of weeds they are, someone told me they call it Creeping Charlie, though looking at pictures I really do not think that is what it is. It may be Spurge. Anyway, I was pulling weeds, and though it is not a favorite pastime of mine, these weeds were pretty easily uprooted. While the tap root is long and can run deep, it is thin and brittle. The plant creeps along the ground, or in our case the rocks, and sets down roots, the roots are shallow, and while the plant is very invasive, unsightly, and annoying, it is easily uprooted because of its lack of depth.

It was the first thing that came to mind as I was reading the recently released United Methodist Church Commission on a Way Forward’s Report to General Conference. Let me qualify that statement. The image of the invasive weed in my rock bed was not related to the whole report but rather, a certain section of it. Let me explain.

The Commission’s report contains three possible plans for our Denomination’s continued struggle to include, or not, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, and Queer persons in the full life of our church. I finished reading the entire report yesterday and came away rather depressed, heartbroken, and even angry.

I did fine reading through the One Church Model, which in essence creates local control in the denomination for clergy, local churches, and Annual Conferences in terms of whether they will officiate or host same gender weddings and whether Annual Conferences will ordain LGBTQ persons. While my conviction is I cannot sign on in full support of this model, to me it is the sanest of the three. I believe I can probably exist in the environment this model would create though, I cannot fully support it because it continues to allow the United Methodist Church to discriminate and do harm to our LGBTQ members and clergy. It is wrong and needs to be rectified and should this pass I would continue to be a voice of advocacy and change until the denomination makes available to the whole of the church the grace and life we claim to all persons including LGBTQ persons in our communities.

The second model I read was a little more difficult to get my head around though in theory I think I understand. The summary version is it would create three conferences in the U.S.A., a Progressive (Fully Inclusive) Conference, a “Traditional” (as we have now) Conference, and a Uniting Conference (agree to disagree). Once again, while this seems to be an attempt at a step forward, it allows our churches to discriminate and do harm.

The third model is called the Traditional Model, herein is where the image of the weed in my rock bed began to take shape. This model would leave our United Methodist Discipline as is, continue to discriminate against and do harm to LGBTQ persons within and outside the church. But it would not stop there. This model creates even more punitive reactions to those who long for an open inclusive church. Clergy, churches, boards of ordained ministry, conferences, and bishops who we unable to sign on to an agreement that they support this model would in essence be invited to leave.

While this model is referred to as Traditional it is anything but. It is certainly not in keeping with Wesley’s model of grace, for in my opinion, this model is devoid of grace, compassion, and understanding. Such legalism and punitive faith is not traditional as its literalness is only two hundred to three hundred years old at best. Its roots are shallow, thin, and brittle, invasive and unsightly.

When looking at loving relationships between same gender couples, the prohibitions are simply not in the scriptures. The clobber passages that are cited in our bible do not address same gender relationships as we know them today. To continue to cite these passages to discriminate and do harm to LGBTQ persons is uninformed at best and disingenuous at worse. John Wesley’s commitment to education should lead us further to understand this. To continue to cite two thousand to four-thousand-year-old understandings and writings without consideration of twenty first century education, science, reason, and experience is ludicrous and unfaithful.

As I read this so-called traditional model it occurred to me in my fifty-nine years in the Methodist/United Methodist church and my twenty-six years of ministry I have never read a supposed United Methodist/Wesleyan document so devoid of understanding, compassion, and grace. It boggles the mind that we as a denomination, founded by Wesley and his commitment to grace, understanding, and education, are even giving this model a voice and place on the floor at General Conference.

It is a weed. A weed with at best a thin and brittle taproot creeping across the landscape of our beloved United Methodist Denomination setting down shallow roots in an attempt to cover the foundational bedrock of the Grace and Love of God so treasured by our church.

February is still months away. There is much work to be done in preparation for this Special Called General Conference. There will be much work to be done after it is completed regardless of what the decision is. I will be there, not as a delegate, but as an observer and in prayer. I hope you join me in earnest prayer and action for our United Methodist Church, its soul is at risk. May we once again be a church grounded in grace, immersing in love…a church making justice happen, loving as God loves, and being the very reflection of God in the world.

Love is Love!

Love will Win. Love Always Wins…

when we Love One Another. Every. Single. Other.

Until there are no others. Only one Beloved Community of All.

Peace and Light for this Journey.

Pastor Kent

Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

Today is the Sunday in the Liturgical Season of the church when we celebrate Pentecost. Some say this is the Birthday of the Church. Some of us recall the story from the book of Acts about the Disciples gathered in a room and there is a sound like a rushing wind. And the Spirit like tongues of fire appear and rest on the heads of those gathered and they begin to speak in various languages. When the people outside hear all the commotion and speaking they are in wonder of what is going on and some of the crowd accuse the Disciples of being drunk. And Peter stands up and proclaims they are indeed not drunk but inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work, young and old, male and female, will prophesy and bring the good news of God’s love and justice to the world through this event.  It is a Birthday Party! The church is being born! Break out the balloons, the wine, the party hats, the cake! Let’s have a party! A 2000-year-old birthday party.

But, then I wonder…as I look across the expanse of the Church and its presence and image in the world….

Is the church too tired? Is the church too worn out? Has the church finally become irrelevant, out of touch, stuck in its stale and ineffectual dogmas and doctrines, stuck on life support and no one has the ability, courage, or compassion to pull the plug? I hear the voices of some colleagues and others who say what the church needs is an old-fashioned revival… we need to get back to the way things used to be, back when the church was new and fresh and just getting started when preachers and lay folks were on fire with the spirit like that first Pentecost and the sounds of rushing winds and the vision of flames and the sound of diverse languages were the norm… we need a dose of the old-time religion. The problem with that is those who often long for, yearn for, the way things used to be… the ones who long for a revival of the church and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit will often tell you exactly what that Spirit will look like and exactly where it will take us, which, is not necessarily something new…

But rather perhaps it just keeps the church on life support longer as we tell it what it should say and do and be. The church longs for the way things were, in the heyday, in the grand old days, in the good old days, when we knew exactly what we believed, how we were to behave, what we were to do… life and faith were simplistic… days when the cliché of “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” was the mantra…back when we knew what to expect and didn’t have to think and feel so much…. Maybe that’s what we need to do, just we sit by the bedside of the church, listening to the hum of the systems, and wait for a miracle revival to bring it all back. But nothing seems to be happening and sometimes, sometimes, it even seems to be getting worse, more disconnected, unresponsive, more distant.

As I was pondering the church in this light it made me think of the movie some years ago… “The Sixth Sense” the story of a successful psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who sees ghosts, but the psychiatrist’s life seems disconnected, his family distant and unresponsive, there is just something not right, it feels like he is just going through the motions with not much success at anything, until the end, when he discovers… he is dead, he just didn’t know it.

And I wondered, maybe for all intents and purposes, the church is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, but I wonder, maybe it is too late?

You have probably noticed by now, I did not use the passage from Acts and the traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday today. I used the Hebrew Scripture reading for this Sunday, the reading from Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones. I used it because of the stark image of death, pondering perhaps, is this where the church is today? Dead, Dry, Piled Up, Deserted, Unknowingly Gone, Irrelevant?  I used this reading because it is a national story, it is a national prophecy. It is the story of not individual faith, but of a people, and as I ponder the image of the dry bones of the people of Israel for Ezekiel I have to ask myself, is the church dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

The Church is certainly tired. The Church is certainly Tattered. And as I look out across the landscape of the church in our nation I have to consider the church is dead.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the demonization of the poor and the programs of social uplift helping feed and clothe God’s children.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the dehumanizing of immigrants and the separating of mothers and fathers from children through deportation and punishes children whose parents chose to escape torturous conditions.

The Church is dead when it claims it loves all and includes all and continues to deny LGBTQ persons full access in its life.

The Church is dead when it ignores the cries of those incarcerated unjustly and without recourse.

The church is dead when it refuses to stand for the full equality of women both within its institutions and in society.

The Church is dead when it categorically proclaims those who disagree with its doctrines and dogmas are destined for a hell of God’s choosing.

The Church is dead when it turns a blind eye/remains silent to the sins of its nation and leaders and buys into partisan politics.

The Church is dead when it does not speak up in defense of our school children because of its love of guns.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent, consciously and unconsciously in the evil of racism.

The Church is dead when it says everyone should only speak English when Pentecost is testimony against such things!

The Church is dead when it would rather split over who it can keep out rather than finding a place for everyone.

The Church is dead when it would rather cater to its membership than serve its community.

The Church is dead when it is more worried about how things have always been done rather than dreaming about how to embrace new ideas.

The Church is dead when it gives up on being the prophetic voice of change. The Church is dead when it would rather look back on the old dry bones of past ideas, past days, past preachers, past teachers, past unrealized dreams.

The Church is dead when it refuses to listen to new leadership, new innovations, new ways… the Church is dead when it is more focused on surviving than it is on thriving.

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

And then, sometimes things need to die before resurrection can happen…

And you know what? Says God to Ezekiel. God is in…The Church of Jesus is in…

The Prophecy Business…The Love Business…Is in the Resurrection Business!

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

The Church is in the Resurrection business because that is what we do!

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

Steeped in… Saturated in… Immersed in… Dripping with… Oozing with… Wrapped up in… Inundated with… Besieged with…

LOVE… Pentecost is about the love of God for ALL persons! Pentecost is about bringing new life and insight to the world…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Lifts the poor and supports programs of social uplift…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it stands with immigrants and their families…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it speaks up in support of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it disdains the unjust incarceration practices of its nation.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it votes to support the FULL equality of women in the church and society.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Uses its prophetic voice to say love conquers any kind of hell that others may proclaim.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it points out the sins and injustices of its nation and leaders.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it puts the lives of our children before the agenda of violence!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it condemns racism in ALL its forms!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it opens its doors to ALL persons!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it serves its neighborhoods and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it embraces new understandings and ideas.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it learns from its past but doesn’t live there.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it finds its prophetic voice of Justice, Compassion, Welcome, Life, and Love!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it is inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work and Love is the Way!

The Church or portions of it as we have known it…

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

May be in its last throes of death… or worse…

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

For it is the power of love that will renew and resurrect the best of what is to come…

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!

 

Call Me a Dreamer

May 18, 2018

So, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately about the state of our union. Union…a funny word actually, especially in terms of what I see happening in the news, on social media, and in our society. We are anything but united. The only union I seem to see is us versus them, whoever us is and whoever them is. (I just sent chills up the spines of my English teachers). It seems to me we only unite with those who hold our same biases, prejudices, and bigotries. Now, before you call me out, I am no less guilty. I too tend to gather with those who are of like mind. And in general, I do not believe there is anything wrong with that.

When this dis-union becomes problematic is when we begin to think us or them are less than, less than us, less than them, less than worthy, less than enough, less than…human? And as a result, become targeted by violence of word and deed. Think about it, in our tradition, every since the story tells us Cain knocked Abel in the head with a rock we have been identifying those who are less than and imprisoning them in camps, building walls to separate, hanging, beating, shooting, and otherwise trying to eliminate the other who are other than us.

Just the history of our own country, this dis-unified union… the government sponsored and sanctioned genocide of Native Americans, called them uncivilized animals, thus justifying the atrocities we committed against them. Forced slave labor of Africans, brought over on ships and tortured, beaten, stripped, whipped, lynched, and called less than human, uncivilized animals, which once again we justified our actions because they are less than. African Americans who still face devastating racism even now in the 21st Century, what is wrong with us? Indentured servants from England and Ireland and other countries, who for some reason could never quite get out from under the powerful elite who brought them here. We demonize the poor and those on assistance trying to feed their families while working two and three jobs and call them less than. Women, continue to be treated less than in the work place, in society, via access to better paying jobs, healthcare choices, and targeted as objects by powerful men who use and abuse and control. Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender persons who are fired from their jobs simply because of who they are and who they love…refused and turned away at the doors of the church and forbidden from full participation in the community of faith…beaten in the streets, laws passed to discriminate against them under the guise of religious freedom and I call BS! Religious bigotry directed at Muslims and other persons of faith because they practice differently, treated as other and less than. Immigrants and dreamers, refugees who have come here some legally and some undocumented because they are willing to do anything to save the lives of their children and families from the brutalities of their home country, treated like and called uncivilized and animals. families broken apart, children and mothers separated, because we see them as less than. This list is far too long.

Why do we continue to do this? Why do we as a country as a dis-union continue to fester the need to identify another group of humankind so that we can feel superior and special? When will we acknowledge we are all brothers and sisters, we are all children of the Divine, we all belong to one another… how long must we continue to pretend white, Christian, male, heterosexuals are the master species… I call BS!

This prejudice and bigotry, obviously, is not new, it has been going on for centuries… from the beginning really… to some degree early on it was about survival. But surely, we can evolve beyond what our earliest ancestors needed to survive. Surely, we can evolve beyond violence for violence and hate for hate. Surely one day we will lay down our weapons of war, our weapons of violence, our weapons of words and extend an open hand rather than a clenched fist…surely.

As for me, I will continue to hope, I will continue to speak to the best of who we should be, because even though my heart is hurting watching all this belligerent hate and vitriol language and violence laden dis-union of which we are a part… I still believe we can become who we are called to be. A beloved community where love is the rule and not the exception. A world where violence and war are a distant memory. A world where guns, and bombs, and swords, and spears are relics in a vast museum that simply serves to remind us of what we used to be and have no need of any longer. To such love and justice, I will commit my life. As a prophet not long ago once said… “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Dream and act with me, won’t you? Make Justice Happen. Love as God Loves. Be the Very Reflection of God in the World.

One Day… One Day…May it be so. May it be soon!

Kent H. Little

They Stopped My Heart, and I am Grateful.

November 22, 2017

For those who know me well and my writing, this is another rather long one. I often write to process serious happenings in my life and world and this one is just that. It is therapy for me… just a note of FYI should you decide to wade in.

I would say from almost the first visit from my cardiologist’s P.A. post-surgery she has asked me, “Are you depressed? You just don’t seem your normal perky self.” As I understand post operation, especially open-heart bypass surgery, it is a very appropriate question, depression is a common emotion through which to journey after such a major surgery. I have responded to her each time, “No, I don’t think so.”

As I have pondered her question it relates to my own struggle to write after such a journey, which in some sense is just a little over two weeks on the path. While I do not believe I am depressed, I do acknowledge what seems to be a pause in my normal practice of writing in order to process significant moments in my journey. For some reason this one feels a little different, a little deeper, a little more important for me. In that light I would certainly say I have been more reflective, pensive, and ponderous about this happening. As a result, my thoughts and emotions are difficult to put into words. At this first attempt at writing, I have no idea how long or where this will end up. If you choose to read this reflective wondering I just ask you bear with me as I try and find the words for an experience that reaches deep into the unknown realms of who I am and who I long to be.

In terms of what brought me to the morning of November 6, 2017 and a quadruple bypass of the three main arteries around my heart and one additional; one 90% and three 99% blocked, if I remember correctly, the combination of which I do not recall, I will try the short version. Late Sunday night chest pain, trip to the ER with atrial fibrillation, Monday evening my heart converting back to normal rhythm, Tuesday a persistent cardiologist who in his gentle measured way insisted we needed to look deeper, Wednesday morning a stress test, Wednesday a persistent cardiologist who in his gentle measured way insisted we needed to look deeper, Thursday evening a heart catheterization and learning I needed bypass surgery right away.

In terms of the surgery I think there are just a couple of things I want to ponder. One is how I felt about the surgery itself. I told TruDee, and many others, other than the obvious worst-case scenario when one is facing opening the chest and working on the heart, I really was not worried about the surgery. Everyone in the medical field we had spoken with, including my cardiologist and the cardiologist who performed the heart catheterization, and more than one doctor friend, said this surgeon was one of, if not the, best cardiac surgeons in the city. I told myself and others, if I was worried about anything it was the few weeks following the surgery that concerned me, the pain I had heard one must journey through to get back to health…I am not a fan of pain.

While I do remember shedding tears with TruDee at the initial diagnosis and news of the impending surgery, for me I think those tears were as much about the shock of it as they were about fear. I have considered I repeated this not worried/worried mantra in order to convince myself as much as anything. That is perhaps true, but even now on the other side, I do not remember being upset about having the surgery.

I will say the one thing that really caused me pause was reading this literature about the surgery. As the article was informing about all they would be doing it came to the part where the surgeon actually begins working on the heart. The words simply said, “They stop your heart.” Now, I know that sounds drastic, it sounded drastic to me, I really had not thought about that. I also know, as I had indicated earlier, I had tremendous confidence in our surgical team. I trust our technology, I know there are people and machines that keep the blood flowing in the heart’s stead… but… “They stop your heart.” This caused me pause and reflection not so much out of a fear of death, that somehow, they wouldn’t get me started again, but something deeper and more profound, at least for me.

I believe “They stop your heart,” is what continues to resonate in the depths of my reflective, ponderous, and pensive nature post-surgery. I think about all that is wrong with the world I have for so long and will continue to struggle against in relation to injustice, bigotry, misogyny, racism, homophobia, sexism, hate, and all that would make this world an ugly distasteful place. I think about all the pettiness that can infiltrate our lives, grudges, un-forgiveness, drama, bad moods, crankiness, the list is too long, and life if too short.

The long thought of placing one’s life quite literally in someone else’s hands while they stop your heart just seems to put things in perspective I guess. It is the ultimate in vulnerability, in trust, and perhaps in terms of our faith language, the ultimate in terms of experiencing and embracing love as it should be. They stopped my heart, and I am grateful. And this world, even with as much crap that continues to raise its ugly head, is still a beautiful and worthwhile place to be.

It is not lost on me the friends, family, and parishioners who have not survived such an ordeal as I have. I cannot attribute it to some special blessing or divine reason, as if somehow my life was/is more valuable than theirs, it is not. At this point in my journey I simply point to the fact that the medical community caught it early enough to do something about it and I survived. And…I grieve everyday those whom I have known and lost whose bodies did not warn them in time and the medical community were unable to pull them through.

The other piece that is so profound to me is the support, prayers, cards, visits, calls, hugs, words, and presence of those who reached out. I was inundated with the energy and love of communities and relationships across the country, which I believe aided in my comfort with the surgery as well as frame of mind as we waited.

I want to name them all, but I know I cannot, there are too many, and I would not want to forget even one. But let me lay out the short list, if there is such a thing. My family, constantly by my side, who make me better Every. Single. Moment. My doctors and surgeon and their teams. The hospital staff, nurses, cleaning crews, food service, lab techs, all of them. My community CHUM, practicing unconditional love the way it should be. Previous communities of faith and towns I have served. My extended family. Colleagues, friends from school, internet connections, across the nation.

Each morning at the hospital when I would meditate and pray I would imagine all these persons, their prayers, thoughts, energy, good mojo, the Spirit, connection, support, whatever one might call it all mixed up and in with the very Presence of God surrounding me like a warm blanket buoying me in love. It was a healing presence for me. And I am, and will always be profoundly grateful.

This gratitude and presence became a tangible symbol in our mailbox just a fblanketew days after I returned home from the hospital. There appeared a box from and unknown sender. Opening it I found a gift and words of grace shared by two of my Muslim friends from the Mosque on Meridian who had participated in our diversity event just a couple weeks before I had missed due to my being in the hospital. A warm blanket with words of healing, energy, hugs, and hope. I am grateful.

This is the season of Thanksgiving, a good time to reflect on gratitude… but… every day should be as such. This is a long writing and if you have made it this far just know this, I am grateful for you. Life is too short and fragile to get stuck in hate, grudges, un-forgiveness, pettiness, isms, drama, and the negatives of life… hug your loved ones, love your hugged ones. Tell them you love them… Today! Tell them on Thanksgiving and every single day following. And… Love One Another. Every. Single. Other. Until there are no Others…Only Us.

I am grateful. I have no complaints whatsoever.

I love you.

Kent.

The Time is NOW!

August 14, 2017

There is part of me struggling for words, a part of me who is tired and weary. I know I am not alone in this. I have seen comments, sat and listened to many of you and others who are also weary of the myriad of injustices continuing to confront us.

There is a condition often named for those in caring ministry, and the broader community as well, “Compassion Fatigue,” I cannot speak for others, but there is something deep within me that relates to what I might call, “Injustice Fatigue.” The symptoms of this fatigue are; indifference, apathy, a sense of being overwhelmed into silence, depression, and isolation. When we are continually assaulted through the media and our own leaders regarding refugees, women’s rights and choice, LGBTQ equality, the right to healthcare and coverage, immigration, livable wage, poverty, and the threat of war and even nuclear war, we can become worn down, weary, and ineffective.

On July 19, 1958, a group of students walked into Dockum Drugstore here in Wichita and sat down at the counter to order drinks, they were refused service. They went to the drugstore every day and were refused service until August 11, 1958 when the owner relented because he was losing too much business and said, “Serve them.” We thought, we had made much progress since then.

But now, the ugly, evil, sinful beast of racism has not only once again raised its malicious head, but claimed three lives through its violent terrorism. Nationalism and white supremacy is a cancer on our society, in our nation, and in our world. The events in Charlottesville are simply this; evil, sinful, and unacceptable. There is no room for “Yes, but…” There are not “Many Sides” to the violence, bigotry, and blatant racism present in that city as well as across our nation. This is not who we should be as a nation. This is not who we are as a church.

We are the church, the community of faith, guided and committed to confronting evil in whatever form it presents itself, and we must stand up to those who would promote this hateful and sinful ideology. However, precisely because we are the church, we do not meet hate with hate, or bigotry with bigotry, or violence with violence, we confront evil with the overwhelming power of love. As Nelson Mandela eluded to, people are not born racist. People are not born to hate. People are taught to be racist to hate. Because we know this, we believe people can be taught to love.

This is our task church. We spoke of vocation and calling a week ago, this is your calling church. It has been since your beginning, we are called to teach the world to love. If it seems too overwhelming, if it seems too wearisome, if it seems too big, we will do it one person at a time.

The current environment in which we live has raised the veil on a racism that has been part of our country’s history from our beginning, and even dare I say, part of the church. It is time, once and for all, to eradicate this beast with love. If you too are weary, fatigued, overwhelmed, I invite you to join me in listening for that still small voice of God, calling us out of our isolation and uncertainty. Not to speak up is to choose a side. Silence is not an option. We need to stand and speak as a community of faith. We need each other for strength and perseverance.

Let us stand and speak together.

We Must. Now.

Pastor Kent