Posts Tagged ‘Violence’

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

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Hearing Voices

January 15, 2018

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

Hearing Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Time is NOW!

August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us stand and speak together.

We Must. Now.

Pastor Kent

The Song

March 2, 2016

Studying and pondering in my office this early morning I am always aware of the many sounds of our building; the hum of the fluorescent lights above, the crick and crack of the heater vent along the wall, the wind across the vent going to the roof, Debbie’s singing clocks, and the occasional self-adjusting copy machine down the hall.

This morning though there is a new sound. It is a familiar sound I did not realize on which I had been waiting. In some sense for me personally, and perhaps for you as well, it seems to have been a long fall and winter. Changes and transitions in my own journey, new opportunities, new studies, and connection have both fed my heart and soul and challenged me to venture deeper in faith and practice.

The constant drone of negativity in our media, campaigns of upcoming elections, the violence, hatred, and bigotry we see and hear so often in the world around us can take a toll on one’s journey and view of the world if we let it.

This morning though, in the early morning light and cool beginning of the day I heard a new sound as I walked across the parking lot. It continues outside my window as I ponder and write these words. I am not a bird person and so I am unable to identify the type of bird it is, all I know it is a familiar song that always sings of the coming of spring.

With all that confronts me, us, in our lives, in our community of faith, in our community, our state, and nation, there is still reason to sing. It is a new song, again, speaking and singing of new life and hope. It has filled my cup this morning and reminded me once again the Spirit is present, hope is in the air, and for all the voices to the contrary, this is still a good place with good people, living and loving along the journey we travel.

Take some time this week to listen. Listen for the songs of hope singing for you in the world around you. They are there, immersing you in a love from which you can never be separated. Thanks Be! It is one of the many small 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

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

Clickbait

October 8, 2015

My son reminded me it is called click-bait, those headlines you see on articles on social media as well as news sites that may or may not have anything to do with actual news, the actual story, even reality for that matter. They are designed to incite or at least elicit an emotion from you. Often times I even find myself tempted to be pissed off just at the headline, form an opinion, and make a judgement without even reading the actual article or other news sources. I have learned the hard way too many times regarding these often incendiary tags, and, well, the key word is bait.

It feeds that notion of us against them, I’m right you’re wrong, and what I have said for a long time now our society and culture’s incessant need to be right, and to be right at someone else expense. It is like a drug, we are addicted to it and there are times I am as guilty as the next one, but not unlike any addict often it takes admitting we have a problem before we can begin working on a solution and unfortunately I think this is going to be a long cure if we can cure it at all. Our politics and religion especially have created a black and white world, an either or world, a world that we believe can only be seen as a dichotomy rather than a place where many solutions, opinions, and ideas can be entertained simultaneously for the good of all of us.

Just look at the headlines in our so-called news, I would say rather in our sound bite world where we really prefer to let some commentator, talking head do our research and study for us rather than doing the work and finding out the facts for ourselves. All we have to do is look at the state of this so-called news. Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice, Gun Control vs Second Amendment Supporters, Freedom of Religion vs Really Freedom of Religion, Religiously Based Laws vs Separation of Church and State, Christians vs Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender Queer persons, Religion vs Religion, Religion vs Non-Religious, Negotiation and Diplomacy vs Military Action and War, Livable Wage vs Mega-Wealth, Assistance for the Poor vs Cutting Funding, Poverty, Healthcare, Understanding vs Bigotry, Violence vs Peace, the list goes on and on.

Of course in my belief and philosophical framework there are a good many of these that for me are black and white. I mean after all, how could someone disagree with me, right? (I hope you hear the sarcasm in that) Ultimately though, if we are ever going to make progress and find any sense of peace, nonviolence, lower anxiety, and a way forward we have to begin changing this dichotomous thinking of ours and come to the table to begin talking, really talking AND listening, really listening!

But it seems we are locked in our opinions and unwilling to budge. Edwin Friedman speaks of this kind of gridlock in his writings A Failure of Nerve when he says,

A characteristic of gridlocked relationship systems as either/or, black-or-white, all-or-nothing ways of thinking that eventually restrict the options of the mind. Such intense polarization also is always symptomatic of underlying emotional processes rather than of the subject matter of the polarizing issue. Anyone who has been part of an imaginatively gridlocked relationship system knows that more learning will not, on its own, automatically change the way people see things or think. There must first be a shift in the emotional processes of that institution. In order to imagine the unimaginable, people must be able to separate themselves from the surrounding emotional processes before they can even begin to see (or hear) things differently. One must have a continual search for new answer to old questions rather than an effort to re-frame the questions themselves. Innovations are new answers to old questions; paradigm shifts re-frame the question, change the information that is important, and generally eliminate previous dichotomies.

Perhaps we are in the midst of a paradigm shift of thought and existence and are still clinging to old ways of thinking and believing. As Friedman says, Paradigm shifts re-frame the question, change the information that is important, and generally eliminate previous dichotomies. One must have a continual search for new answer to old questions. Continuing to use the same old arguments, again and again from both sides of an issue will never find consensus and collaboration. My way or the highway has rarely if ever, especially on emotional issues such as many of the ones we are wrestling with now, come to a point where the solution is good for all. There are more than two ways to look at most anything.

We must as a society and culture, we must as a church find a way forward that addresses the needs and rights of all our citizens and members in a just, compassionate, humble, and nonviolent way. A Way that does not do soundbite band aides that just kick the issue down the road for our kids and grand kids to try and find a way. This is difficult work, it will take all of us individually and collectively to come to the table in a civil, respectful, and compassionate frame of mind or we will be doomed to continue repeating the same old, tired, worn out vitriol language that only causes us to dig our heels in deeper.

I encountered a book in my doctoral work this past June that I appreciated deeply and hopefully will one day be able to use much of its wisdom and knowledge. Juana Bordas’, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit, Leadership for a Multicultural Age, in the section entitled, I is Contained in We writes,

I and we are not a dichotomy. I is intrinsic to the We orientation – individuals must be strong for the collective to thrive. We do not have to choose one or the other. This concept of both/and rather than either/or is a thread that runs through collectivist cultures. Because they are more tightly woven, there is a wholeness in which many things, including differences, can exist at once. The challenge is to balance communal good with individual gain – to reach the higher ground of interdependence, here personal gain is not achieved at the expense of the common good.

We must find a way to move ahead with grace and compassion not only in our world and country, but in the church and in our inter-religious relationships. It grieves me to see so much anger and violence in our world. It breaks my heart to think this is the world I am apt to leave behind for my grandchildren, all our children and grandchildren. I am committed to find a way, I pray you will join me.

Perhaps just the ramblings of a weary soul ready once again to take a stand for all that is just and compassionate. My writing and my speaking are my tools, I pray for the strength of the Divine to raise me, raise us all up into a better place, a better world, that is nurtured, shaped, and guided not by the superficial bait of me vs you, us vs them, but the depths of we together, coming to an open table of community working for the common good of all, of all.

Light and Love – Kent H. Little

Black Lives Matter

September 2, 2015

I have addressed this before to some degree but want to express my opinion in an expanded sense in regards to much comment and sharing I see on social media and in the news of late. Let me first say that I believe the majority of our law enforcement officers are good, fair, compassionate, excellent officers who often put their lives on the line in ways we can only hope to imagine. The recent killings of police officers is abhorrent and should be to any of us. Those responsible for these acts need to be held accountable and face the consequences of their heinous acts. I have seen a good deal of sharing and listened to news people talk about the commitment to “Police Officers Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter,” both of these are true.

I have also seen and listened to the movement in our country that has emerged in response to systemic racist practices in our society, culture, communities, law enforcement, and judicial system. “Black Lives Matter,” is a legitimate movement addressing serious injustices and the taking of lives often for questionable reasons at best and blatant racism at worse. Those involved in such abhorrent and racially motivated acts need to be held accountable whether they are law enforcement officers, citizens, or members of the judicial system.

I know there are good and faithful people expressing outrage at all of these acts, but let me say this; if I post, share, or report that “Police Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter,” in an attempt to counter “Black Lives Matter,” as if “Black Lives Matter” is somehow less than or irrelevant when held up against the other, I am racist, period. And the frustration and anger is justified and needs to be addressed by all of society, it is time to admit we have a systemic racism problem, as well as a gun and violence problem, in this country and begin the difficult work of rectifying it together!

The idea that President Obama or anyone is creating unrest around racial issues is ludicrous, they are simply pointing out what already exists, which makes some in this country very nervous when those of us who are privileged feel threatened.

I know this brief blog will probably not be popular with some who may read it, but for me this is a faith issue, this is a justice issue, this is an issue the church and those of us who embrace God of all, all persons need to speak to and stop being so quietly timid about taking a stand.

I am grateful for my many friends who work tirelessly for the cause of racial justice and reconciliation. I am grateful for our law enforcement officers who work tirelessly for the safety of our communities. My voice and plan of action is still evolving with these tragedies, but I believe it is only through the work of both/and, all of us, with the Spirit’s help and guidance, that we will soften hearts of hate and violence and find ourselves at the table of grace, understanding, equality, and justice for all.

Peace – Kent

A Rock, a Gun, and Our Addiction to Violence

June 18, 2015

Office Table
A friend of mine walked in my office the other day and handed me a rock. She said she had had it for some time and wanted to share it with me. It has found a place on my small pondering table in my office along with a Tibetan singing bowl, small prayer mat from a Muslim friend, a weeping Buddha, a book of selected scriptures, communion chalice, prayer beads, and a stole from Guatemala. It is a simple rock, with a simple message. Engraved in the rock is the word, “Listen.” I placed it on the table in the midst of so many expressions of faith to remind me to listen, to listen to a variety of voices, to listen for the Spirit, to listen to the world, and to listen to my heart.

This morning I am listening and it is difficult. This morning I am listening to a cry as I read of another senseless, violent act against innocents with a firearm borne out of racism, bigotry, and unbridled hatred. Listening to the cry rips my heart apart, brings tears to my eyes, and a welling anger within.

I was raised by a father who loved to hunt, he and I spent hours together participating in various forms. I have, years ago, lost that desire to go hunting though I still own two guns, one is mine, and one was my fathers. I have fond memories of our time together walking fields, crawling up on ponds, or sitting in a blind.

But that was hunting, and even though I no long participate in that activity the memories are good ones. I do not understand our country’s love affair with firearms, with tools of violence. I do not understand the desire to stockpile, buying more and more guns and ammunition. The idea that putting more guns on the street will make us safer, in my mind is simply ludicrous.

I have written about this before on my blog, and I hesitated to do it again as I didn’t want to sound like a broken record, but, Lord have mercy how long does this have to go on? How many innocent lives do we have to lose before our addiction to violence, hatred, and weapons kills someone in our own family? When will we finally listen to the cries of our mothers and fathers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our friends and families, how many children have to die before we admit we and our warped fascination with weapons designed to kill is the problem? When will we listen?

There is rampant violence across our nation, rampant hatred, bigotry, and racism that continues to raise its ugly and evil head, and the continued passing of laws that allow for the purchase of guns without background checks, registration, and training is irresponsible, ignorant, and killing our friends and families, our children! Gun control is not the enemy! Guns in the hands of those who long for violent resolution are the enemy and we need sensible gun laws NOW! When will we finally say, ENOUGH?! When will we finally admit we have a problem? We are indeed….reaping what we are sow.

We live in a culture and society that is ever polarized. We live in a culture and society that would rather sensationalize and demonize with sound bites than really sit and listen. Hatred, racism, bigotry, vitriol language and action are served up on a daily basis. We have lost the art of listening and understanding. We have lost the art of compassion and humility. We have lost the art of responding and engaging respectfully.

It seems we would rather secure the right to own a gun than feed the hungry children in our schools and neighborhoods. We would rather secure the right to cry religious discrimination than find common ground with those of differing faith tradition. We would rather deny the right to adequate health care and coverage than make sure the most vulnerable in our society are cared for. We would rather make sure we can burn our fuels than find ways to care for our planet. We are losing our souls to greed, hatred, violence, bigotry, and racism. We have sold our souls to the highest bidders of lobbyists, politicians, and corporate money.

This morning I find myself stunned once again at our lack of compassion and common sense. We have become our own worst enemy. Bowing at the altar of the gun lobbies, and until we stand and admit we have a problem not just with humankind, but with guns, there will be more such incidents like this most recent tragedy in Charleston. So I write and I sit with my rock, my faith in a God who is weeping once again, the Spirit within who calls me to listen, …listen… and cry out, “How long O Lord, how long?” Not much longer I pray. May the One who holds us all be most profoundly present in Charleston this day and in the coming days as well as with all those who suffer at the hands of senseless violence. May it be soon… May it be soon!

Perishing, Perishing

November 25, 2014

The news and images from Ferguson over the past months have been heart wrenching and difficult to read and watch. With the announcement of the final decision by the Grand Jury there has obviously been outcry, violence, affirmation, and struggle. It is difficult to form a good unbiased opinion from more than four hundred miles away without all the evidence, facts, and the overwhelming emotion. But, I felt compelled to speak to the situation in what plans to just be a brief pondering on my blog that is subject to editing and evolution as I continue to ponder.

First let me say the media carries a huge amount of responsibility for fueling the fires of discontent. Some days it seems the media would prefer there be violence and uprising as opposed to peaceful protest. However, unfortunately that is what sells because that is what we the consumers buy. In one comment I read someone referred to it as “disaster porn.” But to paint all media with that broad brush would not be just or fair, there are good media outlets and reporters just as there are poor ones.

The findings of the Grand Jury were difficult to hear. There is so much competing information from both sides of the argument it is difficult at best to know what is fact and what is fiction and what is presumption. I would say for myself, based on all I have read and listened to I am still not clear on where I would weigh in on this particular situation involving Officer Wilson and Michael Brown. There seems to be compelling evidence that Officer Wilson may have overreacted and used excessive force. I have difficulty believing an unarmed young man would need to be shot so many times… a needless tragedy. And there seems to be compelling evidence that Michael Brown threatened and a physically altercation occurred. The young man seems to bear some responsibility for engaging the officer in what sounds like a threatening and physical way. However, ultimately, I don’t know, I just don’t know, which are the three most difficult words for some people to say.

Let me say this though. To use this tragedy to say all law enforcement officer are never guilty of racism, excessive force, and wrongful acts is simply wrong and disingenuous and to use this tragedy to say law enforcement officers are always guilty of racism, excessive force, and wrongful acts is simply wrong and disingenuous. To use this tragedy deny racism is still alive and well in our country is at best ignorant and at worst dishonest. Our system is broken and dysfunctional and skewed toward the privileged and it is up to us to fix it, nonviolently and civilly.

Racism is still rampant in our country. I have seen it happen. I have heard it spoken. I have witnessed it carried out. That being said, I am not one to say how far we have come or how little progress we have made in regards to race, as well as gender, and religious relations. I believe we have made progress but at the same time I have never been suspect, followed, refused service, spat on, avoided, or treated differently simply because I am white. I live in a country that privileges me simply because I am a white, male, Christian, and we have a long way to go and much work to be done.

I don’t have the answers other than we need to find a way to be in honest conversation; conversation that is civil, forward thinking, and seeking to better understand what it means to live in this country together! We do that best, I believe, by getting to know one another; by creating just and compassionate relationships, to walk our neighborhoods and find ways to be together in order to make this world and country a better place to live. It is an oft used quote, but some things bear repeating until we get them right, from Martin Luther King Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or perish together as fools.” Dr. King, I am sorry to say we are still perishing…we are still perishing. Lord have mercy.

Will We Ever Learn

July 17, 2013

I had made the comment to TruDee the other day after my first walk in the park near our new home. Perhaps no big thing but an experience worth pondering I thought as I shared that along the walking path I met many people. Primarily those of whom I would assume were my race, Caucasian and many along the path looked to be of Asian descent. The curious thing to me was the amount of eye contact and the level of interaction. I tend to always make eye contact and offer a greeting when I meet someone on my walks.

I found it interesting on this first occasion in the park that the Caucasian, white, persons I met along the way rarely made eye contact and none of them acknowledged my smile or my greeting. On the other had every person I met that was not of my Caucasian race made eye contact immediately, greeting my smile with a smile, and either acknowledged my “Good Morning” with a verbal response or at minimum a head nod. One man of Asian heritage smiled and waved at me from a good eight to ten feet away as if I were a long lost friend. Interesting I thought, but maybe I just got some folks on a bad day and others on a good one.

 
This morning Simeon and I left the house for our every other day walk in the park and along the route I encountered many of the same people I had last Friday and a handful of faces I did not recognize. The experience this morning was the same. I suppose there are a host of ponderings, explanations, analysis, etc., or maybe there aren’t any particular underlying reasons for the difference in engagement with others. This morning as I walked and pondered my own upcoming sermon about immigration, about the Trayvon Martin travesty, about the next sermon in this series around marriage and civil rights, two past experiences came to me.

Both experiences came in my seminary years at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. The first was a discussion group I was a part of around the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday that year and we had a special speaker at the school. We were in a large room and I remember the speaker inviting us to create a human timeline to indicate where we thought racism was in the United States. He said those of you who believe racism is no more, it is not a problem, we have resolved it stand nearest me and those of you who believe we have made no progress at all stand at the other end of the line, and so on along the line at whatever point you believe expresses the progress we have made with the problem of racism. I sat in my chair for a long time pondering where I might stand. Finally, after much thought, I decided to stay in my seat and not stand in the line.
My friend sat down beside me after the exercise was done and looked at me with a puzzled look and asked, “What’s up with that? How come you didn’t participate?” I told him, “Well Mark, you know as I sat here and thought it occurred to me, who am I to say where we are on this issue? Who am I as a white male to say how far we’ve come? I’ve never been spat at, refused service, been called ‘those people’ or ‘your kind,’ I’ve never had someone cross on the other side of the street rather than pass me on a sidewalk, I’ve never had people look at me suspiciously just because of the color of my skin. Do I think we have made progress? Yes,” I said. “Do I think it is resolved and nonexistent? Not by a long shot. That’s why I didn’t stand Mark, because I have never been black or brown like you, I can only acknowledge my own racism that is probably deep within me and do my best to work on obliterating from my genes.” With that my friend leaned back in his chair and put his arm around my shoulder and we finished listening to the speaker.

The other experience was on a ride along with the Kansas City Missouri Police Department as part of an immersion experience for a class. I do not remember the exact time frame we rode just that it began early evening and went late into the night, perhaps 11:00pm or midnight. The officer I rode with was informative and conversant. We went on several domestic dispute calls and made several traffic stops. We sat in an alley outside a known drug house to monitor activity of which there was none.

Toward the end of the ride along we parked in the entrance of an alley and just sat and visited and observed traffic, both vehicle and the few who were walking past. There had been no one by for an extended period of time when a lone man in a jacket across the street walked slowly along the sidewalk. In the glow of the night you could see his long hair under a cap, his white face, and holey jeans. The officer made no comment about the man though we both watched as he walked along and continued our conversation. Another ten or twenty minutes passed by and another man, by himself appeared walking down the same sidewalk, same side of the street as the previous man. I could see he too had a hat on and a jacket, ragged jeans. The officer reached up and turned on his spot light and shined it in the man’s face across the street. The man paused and raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright light and looked in our direction then continued on his way. I asked the officer why he had shined the light on this man and his only response was, “Just letting him know we are here watching.” The only difference between these two men was the second one was black. There wasn’t any more conversation between myself and the officer after that and I was glad when the ride along was over.

What is it that prompts an officer to shine a bright light into the eyes of one man and not another obviously just because of his skin color? What prompts an armed man to decide an African American teenager in a hoodie is suspicious enough to pursue even when a 911 dispatcher instructs him to stay in his car? What prompts two men to torture and beat a young man to death simply because he is gay? What prompts one to vandalize, burn, and taunt a temple or mosque simply because they do not agree with what they believe? What prompts a man to walk into a church or a Sikh temple and shot other human beings just because they are different? What prompts a country that was begun, fed, and nurtured by immigrants to decide immigration is now somehow a bad thing?

What is so deeply ingrained in us that causes us to fear the other, the diverse, and the unique? I suspect there would be those who say this has been going on since Cain first knocked Abel in the head with a rock, which it is part of who we are, inherent, it is in our genes. Perhaps there is even a little truth in the idea that this is perhaps instinctive and part of our survival mechanisms from an earlier time in our evolutionary process. But, I tend to believe it is little truth.

One learns to be suspicious, one learns to hate, one learns to exclude, and one learns to be a bigot. We are all guilty, me included. I do not embrace change easily. Difference is uncomfortable. Getting to know someone who is different, who believes differently, thinks differently, looks differently is hard work, and to fear and exclude them, even hate them and deny them freedoms and rights is the broad path that is easier and more convenient. Acknowledging our fear and “going toward the roar” as a friend of mine says, in order to learn, and know, and better understand is the better way, the narrow way, and the way that will lead to life. But it takes vulnerability and we don’t do vulnerable well.

We continue to have a huge problem in our country with racism, sexism, bigotry, hate, and violence, to deny that we all participate in it in some way is not only to be disingenuous but it is to be a huge part of the problem. The first step to a cure is to admit the problem, not deny it. Stand Your Ground Laws are not a solution, Stand Your Ground Laws only feeds the problem! To remain silent about it is to perpetuate the hate and violence that takes the lives of our best and our brightest. And it’s time to speak!

Martin Luther King Jr. stated we fear others because we do not know them. Mother Teresa said we do not have peace in the world because we have forgotten we belong to one another. For all the Trayvon Martin’s, Sikh Temples, Muslim Mosque’s, Christian Church’s, George Tiller’s, Matthew Shepard’s, the unknown who are simply walking down a dark sidewalk, and the innumerable who are beaten, bullied, excluded, hated, simply because of the way the look, believe, or who they love, when are we going to acknowledge our fear of the other and lay down our arms?

When are we going to remember our common humanity and finally beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, or turn our bombs into planters? When are we going to admit our fear and addiction to violence and hatred toward the other and earnestly and honestly work on understanding, welcome, and grace? When will we finally let go of our fear and let love be the rule rather than the exception?

I liked the quote, though I do not recall who said it, I saw earlier this week that said something along the line of “I long for the day when the George Zimmerman offers Trayvon Martin a ride home in the rain.” I long for the day when compassion is our first response rather than an afterthought. I long for the day when we all see within each one we meet the light of the Divine, the light of grace, and the light of love. For Martin Luther King Jr.’s words ring just as true today as they did when he originally spoke them, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”