Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

A Time for Silence and a Time to Speak

October 8, 2016

This is one of those blogs, it has been a long time since and a long time coming, that I write for my own peace of mind and therapy. When I find myself wrestling and pondering life, faith, and journey, I write, it is how I process.

I have been relatively silent for some time now regarding many things in our world, nation, and church. Part of that silence has been intentional. A portion of that silence can be attributed to my focusing more on my leadership and work at the church. A portion of that silence is linked to my school work and the need to focus on my academics. And, if I am entirely honest, a good portion of the silence is mental and emotional exhaustion regarding my work, activity, thought, and considering social justice and the state of our world, nation, and church.

The level of discord, hatred, bigotry, injustice, disconnectedness, and division is just overwhelming if one spends time considering all that is going on around us. I am confident I am not alone in this overloaded boat that can seem, at times, to be drifting toward a treacherous waterfall.

I had the incredible gift and opportunity to escape from it all a week ago. TruDee and I drove to Colorado and stayed in the mountains for a week. We spent time driving through the beauty of the changing colors of the Aspen trees. We drove and witnessed the majestic elk in Estes Park and listened to them bugle in the midst of their mating season. We ate too much wonderful food, we napped, read, sat together, and reconnected with dear friends over breakfast and coffee. It was a much needed retreat to reassess, rethink, relax, and renew my sense of direction and purpose. My heart, soul, and mind are full, my cup is full and re-energized.

My time away reaffirmed my commitment to my continued passion for social justice in our political system both civic and religious. As I consider our current political atmosphere I have been pretty much silent in regards to the presidential race, in part for the reasons listed above, but also because of my commitment to separation of church and state. While I believe I am entitled to my opinion regarding politics and party, I do not want to breach that separation should anyone deem I would be supporting a candidate by virtue of my position in the pulpit and church.

All this being said, as a citizen, a pastor, a husband, father, and grandfather of two incredible granddaughters I cannot keep silent any longer. The following pondering, statements, and words are not as a representative of the church I serve, nor is it to be considered as any kind of directive for those I serve. This. Is. Just. Me.

As I have watched the political campaign unfold over the many months it speaks deep to my overwhelmed-ness of thought, spirit, and emotion. Whether it is the instant information age in which we live or whether this has gone on since the beginning of our nation, I know it is both and, it certainly feels more prevalent now to me than any time before. The level of bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, ignorance, bullying, and hatred filling the airwaves, the news sites, and the internet feels like a tsunami of social injustice to one whose passion is working to end injustice in the world.

It was clarified for me today as I lay on a fishing dock listening to a meditation entitled Finding Clarity and Letting Go. This overwhelmed feeling I have been caught in stems from all of the isms, phobias, and vitriol language that has been permeating not only what I read and hear, but the very heart of who and what I am.

In the most recent release of comments made by Donald Trump I find myself angry and enraged at his continued misogynistic posture and these comments that demean women and are in and of themselves assaulting and descriptive of who he is and how he thinks. I would have to say, watching his campaign, unfortunately I was not surprised by what I heard, and it is a pattern we have seen since the beginning of his candidacy. As a husband, brother to a sister, father-in-law, and a grandfather of two granddaughters, the thought of having this person, with these views and practices, as president of our country is beyond me, I simply have no words other than horrified disbelief that it could even be considered.

It became clear to me today this candidate is, in some sense the encapsulation of so much of what is wrong with our country and world, a culmination of all the phobias, isms, bullying, incivility, anger, arrogance, and ignorance, and social injustice of which I long to eradicate in our world. It breaks my heart that there are so many in our country who believe he is the right person for the highest office in our land.

While I identify my disdain for this one, I also call myself into check in terms of my ability to remain engaged in the process and conversation with others. This candidacy also encapsulates what I see as a growing trend in our country both in politics of country and even the church. A trend that is a, my way or the highway mentality. It is a trend that is more concerned with being right than compassionate, it is a trend that has an insatiable need to be right and the other wrong, and to be right at another’s expense.

While I do believe this in the very core of who I am, there are times when I am moved to say simply, “No, you’re wrong,” in this case, “No, Mr. Trump, you’re wrong.” But being wrong or believing one is right does not dismiss one from the work of remaining connected and engaged in the process of bringing about justice and resolution.

Pondering my recent leadership courses in my doctoral work I would say this kind of speaking out and engaging is part of appropriate leadership whether one is working in the halls of government or in the halls of the church. Leadership is always risky, willingness to say the difficult thing, point out the injustice, make decisions and comments that may or may not be popular, but remaining engaged is part of the process. Some will be willing to remain engaged and lead alongside for the common good of all and some will not choosing to isolate and disengage themselves from the ongoing conversation and work.

I know there are those out there who will disagree with me. I know I have friends and family who will disagree with me as well. But I believe it is possible to disagree and still remain respectful and in loving relationship.

Surely our country, our churches, our communities and lives are better than a life and faith driven by hatred, distrust, and fear. Surely we can hear the clarion call of our for-bearers, complete with clay feet of their own and wrong in their own areas and thinking, who put forth the notion that all persons are created equal, regardless of gender, race, orientation or identity, national origin, religion or lack thereof, all persons. We are all in this together and we will either learn to live together as brothers [and sisters], or we will perish together as fools. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

I pray for together. I pray for Mr. Trump. I pray for our country. I pray for all of us. But prayer is not enough, prayer is nothing if it is not a precursor for action. Pray and pray we must, but stand and speak, stand and act, until all are welcome, appreciated, respected, transformed, educated, and loved.

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little

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Tragedy and Prayers

June 23, 2016

What is prayer for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side by Side

January 4, 2016

TruDee and I attended Arri Simon’s concert Sunday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Church. He is so very talented, gracious, and just a joy to hear and be in his presence. One of the songs he has written was entitled, if I recall correctly, Side by Side. I was moved to tears, a song calling us forward to our common journey, our common presence on this good green earth, the common air we breathe, our common humanity; a reminder we are all in this together and with all that is going on in our country and world today, it can seem all too often we have forgotten we are all on this train together. It was a beautiful call to peace and harmony.

It reminded me of my time at the Mosque this last Saturday I referenced in my sermon this Sunday, the song reminded me of my being invited to stand, kneel, bow, and sit side by side with my Muslim brothers in prayer, reflection, meditation, and fellowship. It reminded me of that longing deep in my heart and soul for that day when we will all stand side by side in our diversity and yet stand as one, with one voice, and one purpose of the common good for all.

 
At the request of a couple of folks at church Sunday I am going to share that telling of my time at the Mosque and the hope for a world and a humankind, side by side, in search of peace, understanding, and love. It is as follows.

I was back at the West Mosque early yesterday at the morning prayer gathering. I arrived a bit early and sat at table visiting with the others who were early birds like me. I have been there many times before to share in conversation, prayer time, some food, and building friendship. Each time I go I learn just a little more not only about Islam, my friends, but about myself as well.

Yesterday would prove no different. A number of things struck me yesterday morning as we gathered. One was the leader of the newest Mosque on McCormick who is almost always there as well, when he arrived I stood from my chair to greet him and he smiled, shook my hand, and said, “Good morning brother Kent.” It was not a huge thing, other than it was the first time I remember him, or any of them using the language of brother. I have always felt nothing but welcome and inclusion when I gather with my friends in the early morning light, but there was just something about the term of endearment yesterday morning that nourished a bit of my heart and soul.

When it comes time, they always gather together in a straight line facing the east for morning prayers. I have always joined them, only not in their line, I have always stayed just a respectful few feet behind them with my cheat sheet, an English translation of the Arabic language in which they chant their prayers to God/Allah. As they created the line, one turned to me and motioned me to stand next to him, “Come, join us here,” he said. The one leading the prayer motioned as well and said, laughing, “It’s my responsibility to make sure the line is straight though…” Another gesture of inclusion and welcome that nourished my heart and soul.

 

I had forgotten my cheat sheet yesterday so I simply joined the group, side by side, and listened, standing when they stood, kneeling when they knelt, bowing when they bowed, and finally sitting quietly when they sat. Some of the Arabic I recognized from watching my sheet before, “Allah is great. Praise be to Allah.”

 
There is a melody to the prayer each time, a cadence, a reverence that sounds almost identical regardless of which one leads the prayer. Something about the time in prayer resonated with me, though I did not understand the language, yet still felt in prayer with my brothers yesterday morning. We then spent time around the table snacking on cheese, crackers, and drinking coffee, laughing, sharing stories from our faith, talking politics, theologies, traditions, and practices.

 
We, CHUM, will be invited to their celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday when they get a date set. One said, “Not all Muslims celebrate the birthday, but we are ones who celebrate everything!” I said, “Well, not all Christians celebrate Christmas either, but we at CHUM tend to celebrate everything as well!” To which he said, “Oh, maybe you Christians are not so different than we after all.” Lots of laughter followed.

 
Maybe we are not so different after all…echoed in my mind. We all share the same sun, breathe the same air, we’re all on this train together, were some of the words to Arri’s song. I was moved to tears thinking about all the anxiety, fear, hate, anger, and violence that faces my Muslim brothers and sisters, all those who have somehow by some been deemed as different, unworthy, lost, or outside of God’s grace because of their sexual orientation, religious belief, non-religious belief, gender, race, age, healthcare choices, immigration status, and the list goes on and on of those who are considered other.

 
Thank you Arri for your light and calling us all forward through your gift of music. I hope and pray this New Year carries us closer to that reality of grace and justice for all, a compassionate and just world where difference is honored and celebrated and the common good of all is sought by those who are willing to make a difference. I pray you will join me on this journey toward love and let your light shine in all the dark places of the world. It is time to get on this train of peace, understanding, hope, and love.

 
Such is a way we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and our world here at the Hill, where you are one of the community. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. An Extraordinary Church with a Place for You. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

 
Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent

The Corrupting Gospel of Peace

November 16, 2015

Paris2

I have had some requests for the text of my message this past Sunday addressing the tragedy in Paris and the violence in our world.

I have been working on a rocking horse in preparation for Christmas for our granddaughter Kadee, well my intent is to modify the rocking horse patter very slightly and create a rocking unicorn. It is in process.

Friday afternoon I was in the garage working on this creation. I am at that stage where most of the large cutouts have been made and the body actually looks like a horse, it has no horn in its head as of yet. What is required now in the process is a lot of sanding. Sanding not only so the surface will be smooth, but sanding all of the joints and places where the layered wood pieces do not quite match because I don’t have ability to cut them our simultaneously, but rather individually and then glue. As a result there is at times significant wood to sand away depending on how accurate I have been able to be with my jigsaw or band saw.

Sanding, even with a two or three different types of power sanders, is tedious work, it is not my favorite part. It moves too slowly, I have to stand in one place longer than I wish on a concrete floor that gives me a backache, and it creates that very fine dust that is not as easy to cleanup as the larger saw dust from the original cuts. However it is some of the most important work on the project, not only for beauty sake but for safety. Without the sanding the stain and/or paint lacks the luster and the grain is dull and not accentuated. Without the sanding, there is danger of splinter, rough edges, and mismatched edges that can cause discomfort at best and injury at worse. Sanding is my least favorite, because it takes time and attention to detail, in an instant gratification kind of world, it is the most difficult part of the project to remain focused upon.

I was stopping for the day as I had an invitation to speak at a WSU event on campus early Friday evening and wanted some time to think about and process what I was planning to say. I dusted myself off and picked up my phone from my work bench that had been playing my favorite tunes as I worked. I noticed I had several news alerts from one of my news apps and went in and sat down with a cold drink on the couch. I began reading the breaking news about Paris, as I read there was a deep, deep sigh that escaped from my being, I can’t even say I shook my head or said anything out loud, it was just a deep sigh and sadness that came over me. Not again, I thought, not again.

I had a direction for my sermon this morning but Friday and Yesterday, the nagging sense that one cannot choose to ignore this all too common event in our world. I opened my social media on my phone and began reading the comments from friends, family, news organizations, and political organizations. And like my friend Rev. Karyn Wiseman in her blog shared, there were basically two threads of conversation. One were those people lifting earnest prayer for those suffering violence in the wake of the horrendous event. Comments from Christians, Jews, Muslims, and persons of no faith tradition condemning the act of terrorism and lifting prayers of support and compassion. And some not only for Paris but for other violence laden areas of our world including the U.S.

The other group of comments I read were those who were quick to judgement; blaming an entire religious and faith tradition for the heinous acts of a few, blaming politicians, blaming the refugees who were trying to escape this very kind of violence, posturing and calculating comments to further their own political agenda and career but instilling fear and blame in those who would choose to listen to and believe them. At times like this I think it can become too easy to resort to blame, hate, suspicion, revenge, and scapegoating. Some of the comments were so vitriol they were difficult and painful to read.

As one comment shared, “All we have to do is open a paper, turn on the news on any given day” and not only Paris, but our world our country is saturated in violence and terrorism. Paris, a College in Kenya with over 100 dead, Lebanon, Iraq, these where Muslims and non-Muslims have died at the hands of a group that while they claim religious affiliation, only exist to instill fear and terror, Muslims from around the world condemn them and their actions. But not only ISIS, but our own country where a Syrian hospital is bombed by U.S. forces, racism and bigotry are alive and well where a young white male sits in a church for bible study and then proceeds to kill his black hosts in their church. Over 150 school shootings since December 2012, all acts of terror and violence.

We live in a world of extremes, we live in a country of extremes with little or no room for a middle of the road, moderate, thoughtful position. Rather it seems we as a culture, as a society, would rather stand at a distance from one another and point our fingers at them, and deny our own participation in the fear and dread mongering. We see it in our world, we see it in our country, our State, our community, even in our churches. A willingness to shift to blame passing, fear, and anger when we find ourselves in crisis and afraid. We are all too often are willing citizens of an us vs them world. And I believe, in an us vs them world, our fear and distrust, our anger and hate, our suspicion and blaming will only serve to transform us into the enemy that we think we oppose, fear and hate and distrust will only serve to consume us in the end.

I had originally planned on an extended exegesis and explanation of this parable of Jesus and the yeast. And though I am sure he tried to explain it to his disciples and the crowd who was listening, while they thought it odd he would use a symbol of something they had long considered as a bad thing, yeast, for talking about the Kindom of God, he pretty much left it be, to rattle around in the heads of those who first heard the story. I had a seminary professor once say, on some level, as soon as you try to explain a parable, you have already screwed it up, leave it be. (That might have been a paraphrase).

Let me just say this; yeast is a fungus, it eats at the sugars and nutrients present. In some sense its purpose is the rot the dough, or whatever else it is placed in. (that is if you do not tend to it) it is a corrupting agent. So for Jesus to have told his audience that the Kindom of God was like a woman, first odd and ludicrous piece of this parable for his audience, like a woman who put yeast in 3 measures (50 pounds) of flour… those listening would have found it laughable at best and offensive at worse. Maybe this… the Kindom of God is like a woman who kneads yeast into 3 measures of flour… and then has a choice to leave it to fester on its own until it rots the entire 50 pounds… or kneads it… lets it rise… and then finishes the project by baking the bread that feeds to Kindom and all those within. We, the church, the world, those who follow the one of Grace, Justice, Compassion, and Love have a choice, do we allow the yeast of faith, the yeast of religion, corrupt the world into a never ending spiral of fear, hate, and unchanging violence? Or do we do something with it, for good…for the good of the whole, not just ourselves, but for the good of the whole of the Kindom?

Where will we expend our energy as individuals, as the church, as a country, as a world? How will we spend our time and effort, will we immerse ourselves in fear, conspiracy, hate, and vengeance… or will we find a better way, a way to move together to build up the whole of our churches, our country, and our world? When we look within, when we look across the landscape of all that should be good and well and it is not, when we open the maps of our land and places of faith and a world torn in fear and violence… when we as was shared in a Social Media quote from Warsan Shire last evening…

“later that night I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered, “where does it hurt?” it answered, “everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”

On what will we choose to focus? I want to focus, I want us to focus on the good and authentic faith of the one we follow, one of grace, one of reconciliation, one of justice, one of compassion, trust, humility, and love. Like my friend Karyn writes, I want to focus on the Sikh temples in Paris who opened their doors for those seeking shelter, taxi drivers turning off their meters to drive people home from the areas of attack, thousands who are donating blood today in Paris, the young man playing an impromptu “Imagine” in the streets of Paris, people who opened their homes to those seeking safety, … I want us to focus on ways to reach out to one another in compassion and grace not fear and dread. I want us to find ways to educate ourselves about that which we fear and do not understand rather than making assumptions that labels an entire group with stigmatization that is misinformed at best.

I want us, the church, the country, the world to finish the work that was started. To do the difficult work of coming together and staying together. I think about the rocking horse/unicorn being prepared for my little Kadee and I want us all to focus on the tedious work of sanding the church, the country, and the world into the beautiful and safe place and space we know it can be. Not just for our own good, the immediate good, the common good here and now, but for our children, our children’s children, and beyond. I want us to focus on the Divine within and the Divine without, the one who through whom the community said, “I am bringing peace, not like the world gives, but as I give.” I want us to focus on the Divine who brings “genuine love, rejoicing, weeping, peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness” to the table, an open table for all.

We can do this, but it is not enough to simply pray…we cannot be content with the corrupting of the world around us that finds itself rough, jagged, and rotting in fear and unfounded blaming and hate… we have to do the tedious work of smoothing that which is rough and jagged, need and finish the work to prevent further rotting of our souls and act as well, we have to LIVE a life of reconciliation, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and love, in the world around us… right here…right now. Active agents of change to save our churches and other communities of faith committed to that same difficult time-laden work of grace, compassion, understanding, and peace…

The world came together after 9/11
The world came together after Paris
The hope is in the fact that we can come together. We know how to do this, but the commitment is often found untried, difficult, and too brief. Our judgement is that we too easily and quickly slip back into the numbness of the droning fear of us vs them, of our individualistic culture, of what is in it for just me and those like me rather than embracing the opportunity that tragedy, change, and struggle offers us, to cling to together, to cling to the fullness of US, … ALL of us rather than fear and hate, blame and violence of word and deed. That the words, “Not again, not again,” need never be spoken by we who have the power or by our children who have the power to change the world for good. When will we learn, Lord have mercy, when will we learn? May it be so. May it be soon. May it be now. Amen.

Where is God in Tragedy?

December 17, 2012

In the aftermath of Newtown Connecticut and other tragedies of loss and violence there are always words shared trying to find comfort, meaning, and sense in a comfortless, meaningless, and senseless act. Words are often shared with those who have lost loved ones by well-meaning and faithful people who want to say “something,” I can appreciate and understand, I have done it myself from time to time without thinking of how the words might be heard and received. In my experience there are times when those words can ring hollow and only deepen the experience of pain and emptiness. In those moments I have found less is always more. Presence, care, compassion, and service are almost always more helpful than words of attempted explanation. Rather, be there for them, tell them you care, do something good for them.

What I do not understand is how a person like Mr. Huckabee, who is a pastor would go on a national news program and imply that God was involved either directly, indirectly, or because God was “ordered” out of our schools. The idea that we or anyone else could “order” God, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, according to Paul, out of anywhere is absurd at best. To claim we as a Nation have removed prayer from school is simply untrue. Student led prayer and individual prayer have never been removed from school. The only prayer removed is my making you pray with me. That being said, our schools are in place to serve all of our citizens, those who pray as well as those who do not, and our government is called to the same purpose, Mr. Huckabee knows this. As I read his statements, they are not statements of faith; they are statements of politic and fear, certainly not about a God of love incarnate.

In my opinion, to even imply that God had somehow abandoned those children and teachers and administrators and subjected them to bloodshed and violence is not only abhorrent to the Spirit and the God of love that should be especially celebrated this time of year, but would be the equivalent of theological malpractice and another way to victimize those who are suffering and mourning. God was there, huddled in the corner with the children, hiding in the closet with the teachers, present in those shielding the children from the violence, laying down their lives for the littlest of these, weeping with them and us, frightened by the violence, and crying out for help and hope. God is there in the concern, compassion, and outpouring of love and support for the community of Newtown and others.

We should be telling our children, our adults, our friends, ourselves, we are embraced in the very grace and Spirit of God who would never, will never abandon you ever, or do anything to harm them, ever. The children who have died, the children who are still here, all of our children have been frightened enough; they do not deserve to be frightened of God as well. They deserve to know they are cherished, embraced, and loved beyond measure by us, and by God.

Prayer

August 27, 2012

Simeon has a camel that he loves. It is a furry one that was once stuffed with filling before he proceeded to disembowel it. But he continues to play with it; the camel is his favorite toy. It has lasted a long time for a cloth toy as it is going on somewhere over 2 years now since I gave it to him out of my camel collection.
One of his favorite activities is to bring it to us expecting us to throw it. Often it is covered in, well he has been chewing on it for some time before bringing it so you can use your own imagination. He lays it in our lap and watches us expectantly for the toss, intent on our response. One might liken it to a prayer as he lays his offering in my lap and the look on his face prays, “Play?”

Studies have suggested that dogs are sight and sound stimulated. In other words they are great at out of sight out of mind. Part of me hopes that while I am away at work he thinks of me during the day. But from what I have read the truth is probably “out of sight out of mind.” He probably doesn’t think a lot about me until he hears the truck pull in the driveway. His “prayers,” if you will are focused on his immediate need and his awareness is determined by his ability to “see” that which is providing his need at the time.

I am pondering this morning, or perhaps in the light of the upcoming New Fall Sermon Series of “Be Faith,” and the first sermon on “Be Connected, Prayer and Contemplation” I should say I am contemplating this morning. In terms of my friend Simeon our “seeing” or “thinking” about God in bodily form “reaching down,” for lack of a better descriptor and intervening, or waiting to be “called upon” can be problematic for how we understand the image of God let alone our understanding of prayer.

One of the hindrances for many when considering the image of God is the continued thought and image of an anthropomorphic God who is up there, out there, over there, somewhere disconnected from creation, creature, and humanity who must be called upon, or down, or over, in order to act and then intervene. We need to move to an understanding of God as truly Presence, Spirit, like being immersed in a great ocean of the Spirit, everything, everyone buoyed in the Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being, within and without. A Spirit of Presence who is not only other, but simply “is.” A Spirit that connects us together so that when we are aware and mindful every act, every thought, every word, and movement is a prayer, is a part of God, and participates with that Spirit in and where the Spirit is already at work; creating, embracing, speaking, loving, and present in and through us. A Spirit who permeates all, understood in many ways, but the same Spirit, the same God, the same Divine Presence. A constant reminder we are all in this together, we are all responsible for creation, and as Mother Teresa said, “We all belong to one another.”

I will continue to trust that Simeon is awake to my presence when I am there and probably not so much when I am not. I will continue to practice mindfulness and awakening to the presence of the Spirit in whom I know we all exist within like the very air we breathe.

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 family. 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.

Holding You in the Light

January 16, 2012

I often wonder what it is that goes through Simeon’s mind when he gets those one of those looks on his face. It is an inquisitive one, depth of eyes, wrinkled brow, intent and focused on what it is he sees or wishes for. It happens when he sits at the front door watching through the window, it happens when one of us is eating and he parks himself at our feet, it happens when he and Hobbes the cat are about to have a bit of a wrestling match. I think of it as an resolved and hopeful look on his face. I wonder if it is the posture of prayer for a dog.

What is prayer? Is it an expression of hope, of focus, of request, petition, meditation, a posture of being in the Presence of the Divine? I suppose it is all of the above and more. I have come to think of prayer less in terms of vocalized wishes, requests, or petitions and more of a state of being. Understanding the Divine as that all embracing and encompassing Presence in which we live and move and have our being. In that sense prayer becomes not just words but rather connection, presence, in and with us in the midst of the Presence that connects us literally to and with the Divine and to and with one another.

I liked that image I shared a couple weeks ago when speaking of God as a fish in water. The Presence like water surrounds, imbues, fills us outside and in and connects us to one another and literally the whole of the universe. In terms of personal prayer as I was doing research and reading for this coming Sunday’s theme and message I ran across an image that I resonate with coming from the Quaker tradition. Rather than telling someone they will “have you in my prayers,” they say “I will hold you in the light.” For our purposes in this current “Rethinking” series I like that image and as we continue on know that I hold each of us, our church, our community and world “in the light,” I will “hold you in the Presence,” “in my heart.”

Maybe on some simplistic level that is what I see in the eyes of Simeon, surrounds, imbues, fills us outside and in and connects us to one another and literally the whole of the universe. In terms of personal prayer as I was doing research and reading for this coming Sunday’s theme and message I ran across an image that I resonate with coming from the Quaker tradition. Rather than telling someone they will “have you in my prayers,” they say “I will hold you in the light.” For our purposes in this current “Rethinking” series I like that image and as we continue on know that I hold each of us, our church, our community and world “in the light,” I will “hold you in the Presence,” “in my heart.”

Maybe on some simplistic level that is what I see in the eyes of Simeon, yes his wish for an ear scratch, a dropped morsel, or a friend at the door, but maybe somewhere deep down that only the Presence can connect with he and all creation “holds us in the light” of love and peace. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we continue on the Way and consider and “Rethink Prayer.”

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 family. 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.

Being Prayer

November 2, 2010

   I confess some days it just flows better than others. There are times when I yearn to be connected to, to be immersed in, acutely aware of the Presence of the Spirit when I pray, and sometimes it just seems that no matter how hard I try it just does not happen.
   I have often appreciated Tex Sample, one of my favorite seminary professors, and his words in regards to the subject and practice in his book, “Earthy Mysticism.” He speaks of his own struggles with the practice and not unlike him I have knelt, sat, lay down, with eyes raised, and eyes closed. I have focused on imagery, icons, and burning candles. I have used prayer beads and mantras.
   There have been times, and I still practice these from time to time, that one of these practices and methods have just clicked, so to speak. There have been times and still are in the right moment, frame of mind, spiritual presence, one of these have taken me to a place, into a Presence that has filled my heart and soul. And there have been times when all I get done is burn candle wax.
   I have been revisiting Thich Nhat Hanh of late in his book “Happiness,” as well as revisiting Andrew Harvey and his book, “The Direct Path.” I am reminded of the mindfulness and present moment in these writings from these wise directors and pointers of the way. I am reminded of the first time I heard the words from a dear friend, “A hug is a prayer.” It brings me back to words in our own sacred texts, “Pray without ceasing.”
   It is in these words I remember God who loves us, whom we love, and is as close as our very heartbeat, “in whom we live and move and have our being.” This being the case, if the Divine Spirit is as close as, is within the very breath we breathe then all of life would be, should be, and is prayer. There is a Word of grace in every breeze, in every blade of grass, in every pebble, in the color of every fall leaf. There is a word of gratitude, a gesture of thanks, and a connection to and with all in every spoken word, every step, every touch, every glance, every sound, and every moment.
   Being immersed in such a Spirit of grace and love is a constant reminder I am not alone and for such Presence I am thankful. I pray this week that you might be mindful of the Spirit in your life, that you might be mindful of the Spirit in the lives of those you encounter along the Way, and give thanks.