Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

Hearing Voices

January 15, 2018

I have had requests for the text of my sermon this last Sunday. It is here below.

Hearing Voices

I confess I have found this morning’s message a difficult one to create. This weekend’s emphasis and tomorrow’s remembering and celebrating of Martin Luther King Jr. is an important remembering… it has always been ever since the being signed into law as a federal holiday in 1983. But for me, this remembering is even more important right here, right now… this January of 2018. The depths of its importance and struggle was deepened for me this last year as I finished the book, “Between the World and Me” by Coates. Over the Past couple of years, and this year in particular it has felt to me like words found at the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. “The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, 1968 dashed the hopes of black Americans for progress toward racial equality. “The murder of King changed the whole dynamic of the country,” recalled Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver.

With the pulling back the veil of racism that has never been gone, only covered and ignored, we have discovered that Dr. King’s work was far from finished on that day in April. In some sense witnessing the current state of our nation and the inherent racism, bigotry, and xenophobia that continues to infect who we are, pondering the Coates book, listening to the words that come out of Washington and across our nation… there is a part of me speechless. Speechless as a white man, for in some sense who am I to speak of such things? Who am I to presume to know the plight and continued struggle of those whose lives are treated as less than? And besides… as I read critiques and offerings by persons of faith across the country…  preachers shouldn’t bring politics into the church and certainly shouldn’t preach them from the pulpit. I am confident Dr. King heard such words as well.

Let me clarify a little. The Greek word polis, meaning “city” or “community.” Politics is the science and art of governing citizens. Politics… at its root is about community. We have changed the narrative and definition about what politics is and is not. We have created the definition around the pejorative nature of what we think and believe around politics and/or politicians. Now, I am not saying that is necessarily wrong, it is what it is, but it is not its root meaning. Politics is about community and safety and governing. Unfortunately, we have defined politics around partisan politics. Our politics have become less about community and more about my community… what is best for my political interests rather than the common good. Republican, Democrat, Green Party, Independent, Libertarian, … we have allowed these to define our politics rather than what is best for our community. And, just to be clear, I am not speaking only of politicians and government here… the church is no less guilty. Churches align themselves with political parties and partisan politics all the time. I read a sermon many years ago by a colleague of mine in which he stated after a preceding presidential election, speaking to the church he served, “We lost the White House.”… speaking of a particular political party.

It is unfortunate churches so clearly identify with political party … though I understand why it happens. It happens because parties have particular platforms that resonate with our values and priorities. This creates a difficult existence when we are charged with minding the line of separation of church and state. And yet, those platforms are important and the church has a responsibility to be a voice in the world.

In navigating that separation, I appreciated Dennis Ross’ book, All Politics is Religious. In his book he draws a distinction between what has become known as and identified as partisan politics and policy. When the church speaks, it should not speak on partisan politics, but it should always speak to policy. It matters not which party or politician is writing or voting on policy, the church’s voice should always speak to the powers that be regarding the policies we create so that they reflect the dream and vision of God for our country and world. And I believe, especially of late, the church has lost its voice.

I believe the church has lost its voice because I believe we have stopped listening for the voice of the spirit and are instead listening to the voice of fear and scarcity. The church has given up its voice of conscience and justice and has been seduced by power and status in the world. Refusing to be critiqued and refusing to be critical of power. The church, has silenced itself and has become comfortable rather than prophetic! The church has become an instigator of division and separateness, a promoter of us vs them, and an agent of who are the chosen and who are on the outside.

I am reminded of Dr. King’s words to the white church in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, “…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens, in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,. Tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.”

It is no less what was happening in our wisdom readings today. Israel and Eli had become comfortable in their practices. We are told in the text that… “Because the word of the Lord was rare and prophecy was not widespread.” …so much so, that it takes Eli, an elder prophet and Samuel three attempts by God before God gets their attention and they realize what is going on! Three times God calls… and the “word of the Lord” is so scarce… they don’t recognize it. So, it would seem… not only are Eli and Israel not listening for the vision and voice of God… they are not practicing it either. They are comfortable in the arms of the powers that be. It is easier telling the King, the country, the administration what they want to hear rather than speaking truth to power. Granted, sometimes it feels like power wouldn’t know the truth if it ran over them in the street. But that does not let Samuel or Eli or Israel, or us off the hook. God has a dire message for Eli and Israel… straighten up or the consequences will be devastating. Eli, recognizing the weight of the matter implores Samuel to tell him everything… everything… even if it hurts.

Lay this story, this scenario across the landscape of our current reality. A country deeply divided and complicit in the mistreatment, harassment, and abuse of women, complicit the banning of Muslims, complicit in the labeling of neighbors to our south as drug dealers and rapists, complicit in the breaking up of families through deportation and imprisonment, complicit in the threating of nuclear war, complicit in placating white supremacists and Nazis, and complicit in labeling of entire countries as some kind of hole unworthy of grace.

Words matter and our own Proverb is true… Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.  All of these words and more and I wonder where the prophetic church is? I wonder where the church willing to speak truth to power is? I wonder where the words of justice and compassion are? Stinging words from King’s Letter again profoundly speak to today’s church.

“The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

Too many times I read and listen to the contemporary church justifying, dismissing, ignoring and remaining silence, or even agreeing with the poisonous words polluting our nation today. And this is not politics! This is about policy! This is about Justice!  The policy of our faith, the policy of our prophetic tradition!

We should be hearing the voice of, speaking the voice of, practicing the policy of Micah, Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly with Our God. Or my favorite translation, Make Justice Happen! Love as God Loves! Be the very reflection of God in the world around you! This is the vision of God for the world. This is the vision for which the church exists! This is the vision of what it looks like to dream. A dream of justice where men and women are treated and valued, honored and respected equally! A dream where persons of color are seen as equal in everyone’s eyes! A dream where parents and children are welcomed and given opportunity here in our land! A dream where war and the threat of war are a distant memory! A dream where the church stands up and speaks truth to power even when its knees are shaking! A dream when religious live in peace throughout the kindom! A dream where every human being… EVERY human being, regardless of what country or part of the world they come, is seen as a child of the Divine; worthy, capable, beautiful, and enough. This is the vision of the God I know. This is the vision of the world I long for. This is the vision I am committed to speaking up for! This is my dream! Is it yours?

There are those who may say I am just preaching to the choir. It is true I am. But do you know why I am preaching to the choir? Because this voice, these truths, these visions, this dream needs to be shared! I preach to the choir to encourage all of us, ALL OF US to be the prophetic voice of Justice, Kindness, and Humility! It is not just my job it is the church’s calling, mission, vision, and dream! If you hear a racist comment, say something! If you hear a sexist comment, say something! We should all be speaking this truth to power and this truth to the world who needs to know we are still here! The ones with vision, the dreamers who believe the beloved community is still possible! Those of us who believe Martin’s Dream didn’t die on April 4, 1968!

I am Preaching to the Choir, because we need the practice! Because we need to sing! We need to sing the song of Justice…for ALL!

I stood here in this place a week ago yesterday and took this picture. A10 - MLKJr Unfinished Kentnd then I paused …and I wept. I wept because his life was cut short before it should have been. But I also wept tears of inspiration, challenge, and responsibility. What strikes you about this sculpture? What do you notice? I did some research on the design, study, and creation of this sculpture and could not find a specific reference to the first thing that struck me as I stood at the foot of this memorial to the one we remember and honor this weekend. It struck me from the moment I walked up to the monument…it’s not finished. His work is far from complete. Because, his work is now ours.  ours. It is so! Let’s go the voice. Sing the song. Amen.

 

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Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

January 12, 2018

As a part of my Doctor of Ministry work I had the incredible privilege of journeying to Washington D.C. and New York City with my classmates for a week-long immersion experience. The focus of our experience was to engage and explore the connection and collaboration between church, nonprofits, and NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations), and government as we work for the common good of all. We met with several organizations and groups as well as visiting museums and monuments dedicated to our history, and a tour of the United Nations. It was a dense and whirlwind experience filled with inspiration, heartache, challenge, and hope.

During our time in these cities I found myself moved to tears more than once as I encountered both the horrific tragedies of our history as well as the inspiration of those who again and again refused to be silenced in their fight for justice. Though I was unable to experience all I wished, there were a few I want to mention.

The horrors of our nation’s oppression of, and participation in, our treatment of Africans through the slave trade and practice of slavery I witnessed as I walked through the African American History Museum felt like heavy ballasts on my legs with each step. The Holocaust Museum was a horrific reminder of the evil we do to others who are not like us. I found myself in both of these spaces almost unable to breathe and more than once shed a tear.

I found myself so moved walking through the Rights exhibit at the National Archives. Legislation and treaties guaranteeing rights and peace which were again and again established and rescinded. Moved to tears by the pain of what persons in our nation endured and at the same time tears of inspiration from those who refused to be erased and made invisible.

There were two particular places that moved me which caught me rather off guard as I was not expecting the reaction. As I stood at the foot of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to take a picture, there developed a knot in my stomach and tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my cheeks. And an almost identical reaction when I stood at the foot of the larger than life image of President Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. I cannot explain my emotional reaction other than my passion for social justice, equality, and the inspiration I draw from these two historical figures and the realization that their work is not yet complete and continues to be our work now.

All I have written in the preceding paragraphs is a preamble to what I want to say now. After being so deeply moved and inspired in an immersion experience in our Nation’s Capital I read the news headlines last evening of our president as he once again disparaged groups of people, and in particular people of color. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”, he said referring to immigration and in particular Haitians and Africans.

Words matter. What we say matters. In my Judeo-Christian tradition we have a proverb that states, Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. The comments by President Trump are un-presidential, unacceptable, and inexcusable. But these are not the first of this type to be uttered by our president. Whether we are speaking of inciting violence during his campaign appearances, referring to sexual assault against women, mocking the disabled, suggesting a registry of Muslims, accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists, leveling racist comments toward Native Americans, placating Nazi sympathizers, or his attacks on President Obama regarding his birth place, our words matter. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

And my indignation toward his words and policies are not just directed toward the president. Those who continue to deny, deflect, ignore, and justify his comments are equally as guilty, even to say nothing is to lend support to the inherent racism and sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry whether it is blatant or underlying his words. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

As I come from that incredibly inspiring experience in our Nation’s Capital, reading words of our founders, of the likes of Lincoln, King, Rosa Parks, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Shirley Chisolm, and so many others, and I think of the words that continue to come from our current administration I am heartsick and disgusted. The words from our current president continue to be a blemish on our great history and I can no longer remain silent. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose. I will choose fruit, for I cannot participate in, nor condone any sense of the poison continuing to be put forth by our president.

President Trump, I pray for you, I pray for our country. You have been our president for a year now, it is time you began acting like one and living up to the great honor and office you hold. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.

 

Rev. Kent H. Little

The Bending Arc

January 15, 2016

I received an email from a friend asking if I would be willing to come to Topeka to speak in favor of a bill being presented to a House Committee. Several years ago I committed, with the support of our church, to bring an alternative and additional voice of the faith to pertinent legislation and action. I agreed to come, wrote a written testimony, forwarded it and planned to make the drive Thursday afternoon.

 
I sat in the committee room as another bill was discussed and then HB2323 was presented. In essence it is a bill that adds “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, to protect the rights of our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. This amending language provides for safety, access, equality, and employment protection for those who at current time can be discriminated against, simply because of who they are.

 
I was one of five who spoke in favor of the amending language. I will include my complete testimony either as an attachment to this blog or as an additional page. As I believe this was not a religious issue, and even though I am a leader in the faith, I focused on the fact that our founders, both national and state, grounded our governance on equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one, none of us, should live under threat of discrimination and loss of livelihood, happiness, based simply on who we all are as children of the Creator.

 
There were an equal number of persons scheduled to speak in opposition to the bill. The testimonies quickly took a religious freedom bent even though this issue, this bill, this amending language has nothing to do with religion.

 
One Representative suggested that a clergy person could be compelled to hire or not a LGBT person, the one giving testimony concurred. A false statement. An attorney representing a Christian organization, when asked if a pastor could be compelled to perform a same gender marriage against his/her belief answered, “Yes.” An attorney! A lie. I was pleased when one Representative finally held her accountable, or at least tried to. As I sat and listened to misrepresentation of the LGBT community, misinformation, bigotry, prejudice, and blatant untruth being shared as if it were logical, rational, and just I literally finally had to get up and leave the room as I was having a difficult time remaining silent.

 
As I sat in my chair listening and struggling to find some sense in what was going on, the words from Martin Luther King Jr. came to mind. I suppose on one level or another it was because he has been on my mind as we move toward the day we honor his legacy and dream, but as I watched this unfold I could hear his voice, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,”

 
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” ~ MLKJr.

 
I realize, over the years as I watch the political process I have suspected this, witnessed it from afar, experienced it myself, but somehow it was always rather subtle, in a way that made me want to say, “Really?” But it just never struck me deeply or at any kind of profoundly disturbing level.

 
I heard MLKJr’s voice today, witnessed his prophetic witness come to be, a religion that has become the tool of the state and a state that has become the tool of religion. Religious and political tools of fear, distrust, bigotry, discrimination, and misinformation designed to control and silence those who raised an alternative voice, all masked in the language of religious freedom. I saw it up close and personal, it lingered in the air we breathed, it was so thick in the room I could reach out and touch it.

 
This night as I reflect, and am more deeply disturbed and troubled as I have ever been as I watch, not only on our state level, but the national stage as well, a religious form that is defined by fear mongering, discrimination, hatred, suspicion, a religious form that is defined by who it can exclude and shut out rather than a nation founded on freedom for all, and a religious expression grounded in the unconditional love and grace of the Creator.

 
However, while in this present moment I am discouraged and heavy of heart I know, I know of other words that guide my thoughts this weekend. I know of those words spoken from the steps of the State Capital in Montgomery, Alabama, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

 
I suspect it will continue to be a long time coming, the kind of peaceable and just world we long for because the arc is long. Patience can be hard to come by, because the arc is long. Justice rolling like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream may be a distant horizon, because the arc is long. A world without fear, dishonesty, and discrimination may have lost the day today, because the arc is long.

 
But it bends toward justice. There is a light that shines in the distance, I may not ever bathe in its light, but I will not be dissuaded. The journey toward that light is our task, so that those who come behind us will know we were a part of why it shines, when it finally immerses us in the warmth of justice, compassion, welcome, and love. One day, one day my friends. Keep on. Keep on. For our way may be long, but it is the way to justice. And on that day, we will all say, Love Won, it always wins.

 
Tomorrow is a new day. The light will shine. The work will be done. And love will dawn.

 
Kent