Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

The Word

July 17, 2018

My struggle to put my thoughts into words comes from my wrestling with who I am and whose I am. There is a tension for me between my citizenship and my chosen vocation. As an ardent supporter of our constitutional ideal of separation of church and state I have a difficult time wearing the simultaneous hats of citizen and clergy.

I have long been an advocate, voice, and practitioner of justice making for all of our citizens, in particular those who are discriminated against, marginalized, and oppressed. I rarely wade into partisan politics when it comes to my writing and never when it comes to my role as clergy. While I believe Jesus was certainly political, I would posit he was never partisan. His critiques of empire and the political domination system was about policy and practice, never a particular philosophy of politic. He was certainly critical of those leaders who practiced and condoned policies of injustice, violence, and oppression. It is within this tradition I write these words.

That was two rather long paragraphs to get where I am trying to go as I wrestle with my thoughts and words. Over the last year and a half, I have struggled with our current political environment and in particular this administration and our president. I have watched and listened as he bragged about objectifying women. I have watched and listened as he belittled war heroes and their families. I have watched and listened as he mocked the disabled and the sexually abused. I have watched and listened as he continuously disparages our free press and anyone who disagrees with him. I have watched and listened as he denies at best and lies at worse about things he has verifiably said and done. And most recently has once again diminished our own intelligence agencies and multitudes of others who have confirmed via investigation and fact a foreign country technologically attacked our country and its election process.

As I continued to ponder and wonder all this again this evening it struck me…the word…the word I had been searching for. Contempt. I am not sure I have ever known a person, certainly not a leader, with as much contempt as our president. At least in my perception, and perhaps this is an exaggeration, but it appears to me he holds in contempt almost all things; the world, the world’s leaders, our allies, the poor, foreign persons in our country, the differently abled, his own party, his supporters, even perhaps his country, and his office. Maybe I am blowing this out of proportion, but when I read his tweets, listen to his speeches, watch him encounter others on the world stage, with the exception of a handful perhaps, transgender persons in our military, other religions, …the list is too long finish…. I hear so much contempt. And what deepens my struggle and heartache are those who continue to support his actions or turn a blind eye as if it is all okay and just part of the plan.

I will not be one to say, “He is not my president,” he is, right, wrong, or indifferent, for now he is our president…but I cannot support his actions and contempt for our standing in the world and his contempt for the least of these in our midst here in the USA. As a Christian clergy I will continue everyday to keep him, the administration, our governing leaders, and our country in my daily prayers… but I will not condone his contempt and I continue to resist at every turn words, practices, and actions that diminish the office of our Presidency, weaken our country’s standing with those who work for justice, belittle the oppressed and impoverished, mock the abused and differently abled, and looks with contempt on the freedoms and justice for which we contend.

To continue to support the levels of contempt and disregard for justice and compassion we are seeing in our country today will surely cause us to reap what we are sowing if we have not already begun. It is time to wake up we citizens, it is time for the church, all communities of faith, who long for and work tirelessly for the right, good, just, and compassionate beloved community to become that for which we dream! We need to pray for our country… but not just with words, with our hands and feet, with our work and our passion, with our hope and our compassion, with our voices of justice and reason! Speak up! Show up! When the time comes… Vote!

Make justice happen. Love as God loves. Be the very reflection of God in the world.

The soul of our nation depends on it. Perhaps even… our own.

 

May it be so. May it be now.

Rev. Kent H. Little

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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

Our Youth. I am Grateful.

March 5, 2018

I remember as a teenager in high school learning about our government and political processes in government class. And while I believe it was one of those classes that lit a passion within that would come to flame later in my life, I really was not very politically astute in those days.

The experience was not unlike my journey of faith in those days as well. My father was an United Methodist clergy, so I grew up in the church. And while I have no doubt the seeds of faith and passion for justice were planted in those days I was not particularly religiously astute either. Those awareness’s and passions would come later in my life as I paid closer attention to my own journey of faith as well as the workings of our country and the world around me.

I remember, especially my youngest son in particular and his interest in politics and how our government works and the political processes that happens in the wake of its work. He was much more politically astute in his teenage and college years than I ever was.

It is easy, I think, to become frustrated and disillusioned in these days we live in regarding both faith and politics and our society and culture. There is so much hate and anger, injustice and bigotry, fear and misinformation and it can be so disheartening and overwhelming. While I try to be as active an advocate as I can, it can feel like we are spinning our wheels and the silence of others only feeds the struggle for justice.

And as overwhelming and disheartening as it may seem, right in the middle of it I begin to see glimmers of light, movement, and those willing to take a stand and say it is time to speak up. I find this inspiration and hope not from our politicians, and even not so particularly the leadership of our churches, though I know there are allies and leaders for justice and compassion in both of those arenas, I see and hear it in our youth.

The youth of today are even more aware of our world than we were at their age. And with the tools of social media and networking they have power we never dreamed of. In the aftermath of the gun violence of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the students have begun a movement with students across our nation joining their voices and light together to stand and say, “Enough is Enough!” Their calls for action, their willingness to stand toe to toe with the impotent politicians who continue to do nothing in the wake of such violence and tragedy, should move us all.

I hear in these student voices the words and the passion of the prophets of old who stood eye to eye with the empire, with kings, and said you are reaping what you are sowing, and unless you do something about this violence and injustice you will fall. They are trying to wake those who refuse to see. They are standing against those who embrace money rather than the common good. They are speaking up and refusing to accept no action. They are demanding their lives are more important than the injustice of a broken system of payments and lobbyist’s.

Thank you to our youth for breaking through and beginning what so many of us seemed unable to do. I stand with you. Your work is faithful. Your work is just. And we should stand and walk with you or get out of your way. They will lead us. There is precedent for such leadership in our faith tradition. We should pay attention.

Be A Light. Love One Another. Every. Single. Other.

Pastor Kent

Ruminating Again…UMC

October 24, 2017

II have been ruminating on the current state of our United Methodist denomination again, or maybe more accurate, still. In part because it is becoming a focus of my doctoral work and a possible final project. The other piece of it is I continue to be troubled by much of what I see in terms of the posturing of groups in preparation for the Special Called General Conference in 2019. Maybe troubled is not the right word; intrigued, interested, perplexed, curious, torn…perhaps these would be better descriptors of my current state.

To some degree I see the posturing and forming of statements and groups as a way of hopefully influencing the final outcome of how our denomination will respond to the role and place of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer; LGBTQ members and clergy persons in the church. I understand the political nature of our denomination, it is what it is, and I confess I rather enjoy some forms of politics in terms of debate on the floor, bringing diverse voices together, and strategizing for change for the common good. I am a political junky.

In terms of the outcome possibilities from the Commission on a Way Forward and the special General Conference in February 2019 in Saint Louis, I see five basic possibilities. These five are just the surface possibilities and not meant to be an exhaustive list of outcomes nor processes and complications that may or may not result from the final decision. This is how I see it.

  1. The denomination become more discriminatory and punitive toward LGBTQ persons in the church and those who would be allies. This would perhaps describe to some degree the current group known as the Wesleyan Covenant Association. You can read more about where they are here – https://wesleyancovenant.org/

 

  1. The denomination would remove all discriminatory language from the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. I do not have a lot of information at this point on the group Toward an Inclusive Church, but what little I have read this second option could be a part of where this group would be. Here is an article to read – http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/new-group-aims-for-lgbtq-full-inclusion

 

  1. The denomination would create a “Local Option” compromise which would allow clergy, local churches, and conferences to determine to what extent LGBTQ persons would serve and be welcomed into the life of the church. This option would fall in one way or another with the group Uniting Methodists. You can read more about them here – http://unitingmethodists.com/

 

  1. The denomination would do nothing and continue with the status quo of the current Disciplinary language.

 

  1. The denomination would determine this issue is irreconcilable and bring for a proposal and plan for schism.

 

As I understand the Wesleyan Covenant Association, at minimum they would prefer to keep our denomination where it is regarding LGBTQ members and clergy in the church, and perhaps have stricter guidelines regarding times when the current guidelines are breached. If you are interested in this please refer and read the website, there is more information than my brief sharing here. I would not be in agreement with this group.

As I indicated above, the Toward an Inclusive Church movement is just forming, and while my assumption is perhaps they might be a group longing to remove all the discriminatory language from our denomination, I am not certain of that, it is yet to be seen. Let me say, as for me, if this group would promote the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our denomination and remove all discriminatory language from our Discipline, I would place myself fully in this understanding.

I understand the Uniting Methodist movement and believe it is perhaps the best scenario for maintaining the institution with the least schism. While I believe I could continue to serve, minister, and exist in this environment, my struggle is the continued discrimination and harm some of our churches may continue to practice toward LGBTQ members and clergy. I understand it is an attempt to focus on common ground issues and in essence “agree to disagree.” I know many of my colleagues, and members of the church I serve have signed this, and I understand and support that, I really do not want to see our church split more than it already is. This being said, I have not signed in support of this group for the above hightlighted reasons.

Just a few weeks ago a parent who has a gay child came to me distraught. They indicated a person in their church had told them, unless their child repented of being gay, they were destined for the fires of hell. “How can I stay in relationship with this friend who thinks this of my child?” they asked. Or to paraphrase a conversation I had with a friend some weeks ago, “How can I agree to disagree?”

Herein is in large part, what continues to be the gadfly in my struggle and journey. Would I have agreed to disagree rather than split in 1844 when we were torn by slavery? Would I have agreed to disagree rather than split in 1956 when we debated the ordination of women? Would I have agreed to disagree rather than split in 1964 when we our nation was struggling with civil rights? How can I draw a line in the sand when it comes to racism and other injustices and not draw a line in the sand when it comes to justice for all in our beloved UMC.

These are my current and continued ponderings and wonderings. Pray for our churches, pray for our bishops, pray for the Commission on a Way Forward, pray for our United Methodist Church. February of 2019 in Saint Louis, I have no doubt, will be a tenuous time.

Here, at least for today, is where I stand.

Peace and Light for Our Journey Together.

Rev. Kent H. Little

 

Justice Has No Religion

October 7, 2017

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

Justice Has No Religion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a political junky, perhaps not to the extent of many, such as my younger son who is much more engaged than I, but I have long loved to read about, see, study, and watch the political process unfold. It is an interesting place to be as a clergy person who is staunchly committed to the separation of church and state. I often find myself dancing with that line between my own opinion, political passion, and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader community and world. But, for the most part I think I do well the dance along that line staying true to our founders and their passion for a freedom of and from religious privilege in our government, while honoring the diverse expression of religious and non-religious belief and practice in our country.

As for the politics of our day, I have colleagues and friends who tell me the discussion of politics has no place in the church, or at the Thanksgiving table either. If by that they mean partisan, political party politics in the church, I wholeheartedly agree! Honoring Jefferson and our constitutional ideals, is to refrain from talking about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc., it should not happen!  But if by that we mean politics in any sense of the word, I disagree. Jesus was deeply political, a fierce critic of the oppressive political structures in his day in the church and in the government. I really struggle sometimes with what to say while dancing that line of separation of church and state.

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

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

When I listen with those who are lesbian, gay, trans-gender, and bi-sexual who fear for their livelihood and their marriage and family because their rights have been promised to be reversed.                                                                   We must speak!

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

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

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

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

When I sit in the Mosque and pray with my Muslim friends, brothers, and sisters and listen to their stories. Stories of hate filled language, suspicious looks, vandalism against their place of worship, and fear of their neighbors.       We must speak!

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

We may need unity… But never unity at the expense of humanity.

We may need unity … But never unity with a system that governs by fear.

We may need unity… But never unity with rights for just a few.

We may need unity… But never unity with oppression and hate.

We may need unity… But never a unity with a politic of intimidation and privilege.

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

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

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

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

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

In the politics of the human race not racism.

In the politics of welcome not locked doors.

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

A politics of kindness not threat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Faith

September 6, 2017

“I’m spiritual but not religious.” I hear that now and then as I visit with persons inside and outside the church. Another popular cliché I hear is “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.” While I think I understand the sentiments and feelings behind these comments, and I can even relate to them on my own level, I have always had a bit of a negative reaction when I hear them.

I am not one who is immune to critiquing organized religion, it has plenty of reasons to be criticized. However, to criticize religion as a blanket statement, I have never thought was fair or necessary. There is some truth to the notion that being spiritual without connection to some forms, doctrines, and practices of organized religion can be a good and freeing thing. There is some truth, though I think less so than the first, that Christianity is a relationship not a religion. While I understand the thought behind the latter, Christianity, good, bad, indifferent…is a religion.

All this being said, as I read and listen to particular practices and beliefs from some Christians, I too have found myself disheartened and uninspired. I have said more than once that I have considered turning loose of the label of Christian and reclaiming the original label of those who embrace the life and ministry of Jesus as a Follower of the Way. So, yes, I confess, I too have my struggles. At the same time, there is a part of me that says, “No!” That is my word too! I too am a Christian and I shouldn’t let the behavior, beliefs, or practices of others determine how I identify myself.

I am reminded of a favorite author, scholar, and theologian, the late Marcus Borg. He shares a common experience when it came to belief in God, that I believe can be used to speak to this topic today. He shared that often a student would come to his class and on the first day say something to the extent of, “Dr. Borg, I just want you to know I do not believe in God.” He would respond with, “Tell me about the God you do not believe in.” This exchange would lend itself to a conversation about God and Borg shared, “Often the student would discover I did not believe in the God the student did not believe in either.” I think if we use this same logic and exchange when we say, “I’m spiritual not religious,” or “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” one might respond, “Tell me about the religion, or the church, you do not believe in.” I have to believe, often, we would discover the religion or church others do not agree or believe in, would be the same religion or church neither of us believe or agree with.

The next two Sunday’s we will be exploring these thoughts during our services. On September 10, 2017, we will talk about “Does Religion Matter?” And then on September 17, 2017 we will talk about “Speaking of Faith.” I will be utilizing information and comments from the book, Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To by Lillian Daniel. These two weeks we will be looking at religion and spirituality; are they really different or mutually exclusive? We will also be looking at the faith and perhaps thinking and rethinking how we speak of the Christian faith progressively. I hope you will join us as we consider religion, spirituality, and faith through a progressive lens.

It is one of the many ways we find the Way Forward in this journey of life and faith. Until next time, know you are loved, you are not alone, …ever.

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Pastor Kent

Sunday Morning Coffee

May 21, 2017

On Sunday morning my accustomed spot at this time is usually either sitting at my desk still tweaking my morning sermon or pacing the halls of the church in preparation for worship. It is my Sunday morning ritual of sorts, the quiet and dark of the building lends itself well to meditation and reflection. There is always a little time to light a candle, reflect on the coming celebration, nervous butterflies fluttering deep within, and that awe-filled thought that somehow, someway, I might find a word to speak to inspire, move, challenge, disturb, and resonate with those who hear.

This morning though is a different morning. This is the last day of mostly a staycation. I spent this week working on renewing, rejuvenation, reflecting, and trying to fill my cup. I made significant progress on a rocking Labrador dog for my middle granddaughter, I visited my retreat site where I was able to spend time in meditation and centering as well as a little fishing. I spent a day in a boat on a lake with my good friend where we worked on solving the troubles of the world. I filled my cup with connection and conversation with my best friend, partner, and lover. And for the past day and a half I have been surrounded by family.

So, early this Sunday morning I am not sitting at my desk or wandering the halls of our church in preparation for speaking or preaching. This morning I am sitting on a couch, with my coffee, listening to the songbirds outside the window, a woodpecker doing its thing against the house, I am watching the sunbeams stream through the windows with dancing shadow leaves on the walls and floor and furniture.

On this early Sunday morning, while my trusty writing instrument is still before me, I am not surrounded by papers, pencils, and my books. As the bird sings her early morning song I am surrounded by things like, toy helicopters, an infant capatrolr seat, Paw Patrol, sippy cup, Mickey Mouse, burp rag, a crocodile, a Cat in the Hat hat, and puzzles. I have been immersed in the giggles, hugs, and energy of a two and a half year old, the quiet coos and snuggles of one and a half month old, and the smiles and wiggles of a one year old and at noon, we will gather as a family and celebrate this our middle granddaughter’s first birthday.

I confess, while this week was much needed along my journey, it has been filled with much reflection and some struggle. The state of our world, our country, our state, and our church weighs heavy on my heart and soul. What can often seem like a tsunami of injustice, arrogance, theological malpractice, racism, bigotry, and refusal to acknowledge the corruption of society and culture by the power and prowess of empire, both secular and religious, is draining and disheartening to say the least. And yet…and yet…

It is here, on this bright Sunday morning, I am reminded, in the midst of burp rags, helicopters, Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, those who love me and whom I love… here is the reason for my passion. Here is why I do what I do. Here is why refusing to give in or give up is so very crucial, to leave this world a little better than I found it. That those who live in fear of violence and oppression will see the light of justice and compassion. The arc is still bending, but one day, I still believe, because of acts great and small by you and by me, my three granddaughters might live in a world where love, compassion, justice, kindness, humility, and are the rule rather than the exception.

So, here on this early Sunday morning, I am moved with a tear or two, because I am so fortunate and grateful to be a part of this family; to be immersed in the love of little ones and big ones, here in this place, on this day. I Love You! And because of these and so many others, my coffee cup is raised and here’s to renewed commitment to justice. Rise up. Speak truth to power. Fear and intimidation will not win the day. On this day, remind ourselves what the Divine Spirit calls us to be about …justice, kindness, and humility. Remind ourselves what the One we follower calls us to be about, caring for the least, the forgotten, and those pushed to the margins of society and the church. It is my calling… it is our calling. Rise. Speak. Act. Until justice perseveres and love prevails for all…for ALL.

May it be so.

Now it’s time for more coffee and preparation for a birthday party and cake!

Peace and Light for Our Journey!

Kent

 

The Approaching Storm II an Addendum and Apology

April 21, 2017

I wrote yesterday of what I see as an approaching storm in our United Methodist Church. A friend and colleague responded which prompted a 3:00am wakening with a thought and a need for an addendum to yesterday’s writing.

While I always try to be aware and conscious of my privilege in the church, and larger culture and society as a straight, white, male, I woke in the night realizing I had written yesterday’s blog straight out of that privilege without acknowledging or even realizing it! And, for those for whom I presumed to speak without thought or sensitivity I apologize.

Here is what I mean and why I write again. My friend and colleague indicated he has “spent a good part of his ministry picking up the pieces” of the United Methodist Church’s continued harm to LGBTQ persons in our church by telling them they are not only incompatible, not worthy, and unwelcome to serve or even be married in the church, but denied the fact that the Spirit of God might even have the audacity to call them into ministry! The Storm has been raging for a long time.

I write this morning this addendum and apology because I had the audacity to suggest the storm had not yet arrived! It has been here. This storm has been wreaking havoc in the church for 40 plus years. It has been uprooting, devastating, and ruining lives for over 40 years, in some cases even contributing to the ending of lives. Who am I to say the storm is approaching? To a large degree, as a straight, white, male, I have no clue to depths of pain and struggle and storm LGBTQ persons have been enduring in the church let alone society and culture in general. But in the church our LGBTQ members and clergy this storm has been slinging debris far too long. In my privilege I have been huddled in the basement at best, and watching it all from the door at worst. Maybe it is time for those of us with privilege to rush into the storm that is already raging!

Granted there is an approaching sense of anxiety with the Judicial Council’s deliberations next week and the Bishop’s Commission recommendation at the Called Conference in 2019, but in reality this is not the approaching of the storm, this was the General Conference finally forcing the issue. This was a jurisdiction who said, we have a qualified, gifted, called of God candidate for Bishop and this is who we will elect. This was the General Conference saying, “We have watched the storm from the doorway for too long, and too many lives have been left strewn upon the lawns of our church, left knocking on the doors, and we need to decide who we are, a church of the grace and love of Jesus Christ, or not.”

Perhaps a better analogy is that the storm approached years ago, at least 40 years ago, and we have been huddled in our basement or standing at the door watching as too many have been left in the wake of spiritual and theological malpractice, left in the wake of a church who refuses to let go of the door and finally let the winds of the Spirit blow it open or better yet, blow it off its hinges.

As I have pondered my writing of yesterday I stand corrected, the storm is not approaching, the storm is here my friends. And the church, the United Methodist Church needs to get out of the doorway and let it open. There will still be pieces to pick up. We will still need to pray and discern how we will respond to the upcoming decisions. We still need to keep the church, the Council, and the Commission in our prayers. I do pray for unity, but as from a book recently read by Rachel Held Evans, “unity does not require uniformity.” But regardless, we cannot continue to remain huddled in the basement in fear of the storm, nor can we simply stand in the doorway and watch the destruction of lives and families. Let go of the door church, and trust the Spirit knows what it is doing.

Pray, Reflect, Meditate, and Hold Us All in the Light.

Rev. Kent

Beautiful Hearts

April 2, 2017

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

trans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Kent

Being There

October 3, 2016

In preparation for this coming Sunday’s sermon on Faith and Healing I have been pondering encounters with those who seek healing of body, heart, mind, and soul. I have experienced, and perhaps you have as well, a profound sense of loneliness in times of loss and grief. Even in the midst of friends and family, an empty, lonely place deep in one’s heart and soul.

Sometimes a realization of connected-ness and relationship comes later. A knowledge in hindsight that says to us, even though I felt profoundly alone in those moments and day, I can see now that I was not. In that loneliness there are times we may want to cry out, just scream, to vent the anger, toward the hurt, and pain. We long to find a way to let it out and empty heart and soul of the grief that consumes us. That is normal and okay.

We all deal with grief differently and express it differently. When we encounter grief in our friends and loved ones we often want to try and help alleviate their pain. We want to say something. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked the question, and you probably have heard it in one way or another, “What do I say?” I want to go see them, I want to be there for them, but I don’t know what to say. We want to say something. Somehow we think we need to say something.

I think part of it is a need for us to fix the grief, and not because we think we can, but perhaps borne out of a helpless feeling and desire to try to move people through the grief process quickly because it’s uncomfortable to deal with. I usually share in response to that question, “You know, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. Being there for them is most important.”

This week I have been reflecting on grief, struggle, and healing;  pondering words I have heard, words I have said, and particularly words shared in the context of a community of faith. Those words are offered in sincere hope of caring, and offered out of a need to say something and here is the statement I found expressing for me faith, and yearning for presence and grace for the day;

Religious and faith-based platitudes are most times, in my experience, unhelpful and often times disconcerting. Though, offered in times of struggle, pain, grief, and shock by well-meaning, faithful friends and members of a community of faith who long to say something to alleviate the pain, to offer a word of comfort, to fix the unfixable, they are often words that at best ring empty and at worse can only serve to open the wound further. Here are some thoughts and words that come to mind.

Don’t tell me my loss was part of God’s plan or God’s will, I do not believe it is ever God’s will to cause me pain and suffering.

Don’t tell me my loved one is in a better place, a better place would be with me.

Don’t tell me God needed another angel, I needed my angel to laugh and cry and live with me.

Don’t tell me you understand, you can’t. You may have experienced a similar loss, you may be able to relate, you may even be able to imagine, but you can’t understand, we are all different and our relationships are different.

Don’t tell me we will understand the reason one day, to say that says to me God is responsible and I do not believe God has a reason, or is teaching me a lesson by taking my loved one away from me.

Do, stay with me.

Do stand with me.

Do sit with me.

Do weep with me.

Do laugh with me.

Do hold me.

Do call me to let me know I am on your mind.

Do listen to me. Do hear me.

Do talk with me.

Do be present with/for me.

Do be present to me.

Do be with me.

Do be available.

Be the very Presence and Love of the Spirit, the very Presence of God in Christ for me.

Do love me.

It is the knowledge we do not journey this road alone that in the end can move us to health. And not that the pain ever just goes away, it never does, yet it is this understanding of the Kindom which nourishes and is one of wholeness and completeness. It is an understanding in which we all participate and is among us, surrounding, within, and immersing the wholeness of our being.

In that, I believe, we are bound together each of us to those we have loved and who have loved us in the very Spirit of Love, which can prompt us to break into tears and song all at the same time. It is about Presence of the Spirit, of the Divine Love in whom we are immersed, a spirit that connects us not only in, to, and with God in the Christ, but inseparably to one another and all of creation.

So as we journey through this life being the faith we embrace, whether you are grieving or giving comfort, we are connected in and with the very Spirit of Love from which we can never be separated. Know where ever you find yourself, whether lonely, screaming, weeping, struggling, longing, yearning, or being present.  You are not alone. Ever.  Period. It is reason to be grateful.

It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community.  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,

Pastor Kent

 

Inspiration for the writing of these words come from not only my experience but a plethora of articles, blogs, and writings I have read over the years. Too numerous or distant to cite.