Posts Tagged ‘welcome’

Tuesday Night Church with Garrison Keillor

May 26, 2017

I had the opportunity to go to church last Tuesday evening. We were ushered to our seats and after the announcements were finished the preacher finally entered on stage. The staging area, for lack of better descriptors, was simple, non-ornate, curtains hung on the three surrounding walls, with only a single four-legged stool, and a lone microphone stand and mic.

This preacher was simply dressed, dark suit, white shirt, bright red tie with socks to match. He began a kind of dance, if you will, with the audience, moving deliberately from side to side, each step and slide appeared chosen and exact, and periodically he would sit on the stool. At one point of small intermission, he came down from the stage and joined us in the center aisle. He began his sermon speaking of poetry and the longing need for the art in our culture and society.

He then did a curious thing, he sang a song, and then he invited us to join in the singing with him. There was something about this invitation, and part of it was what I brought into the space with me, the experiences and knowledge that I carried into the sanctuary that night; my readings of this persons writing regarding his own political thoughts and struggles with the current political climate, the laughter I have shared listening to his radio show, and the shared grief in knowing he had just buried his seventeen year old grandson earlier that day…which he never mentioned.

I must think it was a bit of all of that, but I was touched and struck profoundly for some reason as he coaxed us into the first song we sang, My Country Tis of Thee, I couldn’t sing it, the knot in my stomach, the lump in my throat, and the tears in my eyes would not allow me to sing. So, I stood, soaking in, reveling in whatever this moving moment was about, and listened to the voices sing of this country of mine…of ours.

We sang Home on the Range, How Great Thou Art, Only Fools Rush In, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. These are but a few of the songs we sang; hymns, non-religious songs, we heard Shakespeare and poetry written by our preacher. We heard story after story of life and death and faith. We listened to stories of first loves, of bodies pressed against unclothed body, stories of youth and struggling to understand. We heard stories of growing old and health challenges complete with anatomically correct descriptions of medical procedures and prostates. We heard poetry that spoke of bodily function and humor referring to balls of brass and lightening coming out of one’s …well, ass.

And we sang, and laughed, I don’t know about anyone else but at least one cried, and pondered, and was touched deeply, and encouraged, and challenged. I am not sure what anyone else heard that night in the Stiefel Sanctuary, but here is what I walked away with. I witnessed a quiet man with a deep, deep love of country, family, relationship, and life. I watched him weave the stories of life, faith, humor, and love into a tapestry so very real it touched my heart and soul almost from the very beginning of his speaking. And for a couple of hours, I watched this teller of stories, draw a crowd of diverse people together into one place and into one voice.

As we walked back to our car I told TruDee, “I’ve been to church tonight… it was SO REAL!” Sometimes, this story he told over almost two and half hours that night was not just his story, it was my story, it was all of our stories at some point. There was something within this tapestry of telling that spoke to every one of us in the building at some point or another. It was so very REAL.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church could be so real more often, rather than the too frequent of hiding behind self-righteousness, feigned humility and modesty, religious platitudes, judgement, and condemnation.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I wish the church would simply be about the task of loving everyone, everyone, bumps, warts, body parts, young, old, weird, strange, different, … the REAL world, imperfect as it…as we are… just trying to make it through this journey together.

Sometimes, while I ponder, I long for such a world, a world where we sit down with our elders, with our peers, with our children and children’s children, and simply tell and listen to our stories…without judgement or condemnation, without correction or critique, simple telling and hearing our authentic selves and what brought us to this moment.

I long for such a place…

Some Day… Some Day…

Until then, tell your story… find a reason to listen to someone else’s.

And know you and they are beautiful and loved.

Kent

The Throw Down

November 14, 2016

It takes a long time to construct our institutions. It takes a long time to construct those things we hold as sacred. It takes a long time to construct those things we hold close to our hearts and souls. It takes a lifetime to construct how, what, where, we believe, and encounter one another and God. It takes a lifetime to construct our passion and journey discovering what we believe God wants for our faith and our life. It takes a lifetime.

Depending on what scholar one reads, the temple of Jesus’ day took somewhere between a few years and 46 years to construct. It takes a long time to construct those things that feel sacred in our lives and faith. 46 years in Jesus’ day was a lifetime.

Construction work today is hard work, whether is talking literally or metaphorically. Construction work was literally a whole lot more difficult in Jesus day, and certainly as hard metaphorically.

The journey of construction is difficult work. Whether we are talking literally constructing a physical thing, temple, church, house, office, etc., or whether we are talking about constructing our life and faith. In my own experience, regarding our life and faith journey, it takes building and tearing down, questions and supposed answers, second guessing, doubts, grief, tears, laughter, celebrations, heartache, and struggle.

And when one thinks they know, according to authors such as Richard Kearney in “Anatheism, Returning to God after God” and John Caputo in “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” once we think we have the faith, the journey, God figured out, it is time to deconstruct those images, admit we can know virtually nothing about God and begin all over again our quest to understand.

It is heart breaking to believe in an ideal, to trust the sacredness of our hopes and dreams, it is devastating to trust, know, believe to the very core of who we are; what we know of the Kindom of God, what the peaceable Kindom is supposed to look like, what justice, kindness, and humility ought to be about, to know in our very heart of hearts what the common good for all should be, and have it destroyed, attacked, and torn asunder.

That is what many heard when Jesus suggested “not one stone will be left upon the other; all will be thrown down.” It had taken years, decades, lifetimes to build and he is suggesting it was all for naught. At the time this was written the temple was already gone. It was already devastated, destroyed, not one stone was left upon another, which I have no doubt influenced the writing of this text. It had to, what one of us could experience such a devastating event and it not effect and influence everything we do?

So here I am, and we need to talk, and listen, and be together. First, I am not going to presume nor critique how any of we in our community of CHUM voted in the recent election. Not only would that be inappropriate and unethical for me, but illegal in this setting and context.

I am a political junky, I suppose not to the extent of many, 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 personal opinion and political passion and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader 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. And while I believe this, there are some things we need to talk about this morning.

There are those in our world, in our country, in our community, and here in our church who are grieving. I want to say, it is okay, grief is fine, normal, and important, and I nor anyone here or outside these walls has the right to diminish your grief in the aftermath of hopes unrealized and dreams shattered. No One. Tears, anger, confusion, bargaining, are all part of the grieving process, and those of us who are grieving need to take as long as we need to in order to process what we are going through. I am here for you, whatever your grief looks like, on whatever side of the political and ideological aisle you find yourself on. You are not alone!

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! We are not going to talk about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc., it is not going to 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 have had to really struggle with what I wanted to say this morning, dancing that line of separation of church and state.

I have been wrestling and dancing in the tension between gentle pastoral care and prophetic anger and passion. I thought I was firmly in place in my gentle preparation for today, until I continued following the news and media. While I will not talk partisan party politics I will be an active, loud, committed, and unrelenting voice against the politics of fear regardless of who is using it.

I attended a peaceful protest and gathering Friday evening. I was present and supportive of all who were there. Not so much because of the outcome of the election. My presence and support at this protest rally was in love and support of those who have been targeted and harassed by what has been unleashed by the campaign; women harassed by strangers on the street, fear and slurs directed at persons of other religions, livelihoods and marriages threatened and increased bigotry toward those LGBTQ persons. This protest rally was not about sour grapes or being “crybabies” because a candidate lost. This protest rally was about REAL emboldened and blatant harassment, hatred, and bigotry in our country and our communities as a result of the campaign rhetoric and hate directed at certain groups of God’s children. I will not be silent nor will I stand by and passively listen to others condemn persons who are being targeted and harassed. Please think before you speak! If you disagree and want to talk about it I am here. If you are threatened and afraid and need a safe person and place to talk, I am here.

Yes, when I encounter these things I too get angry, but our anger in and of itself will do us, me, no good, we need to find ways to channel it and my channel will be do all I can to make justice happen! I will Love as God Loves! I will to the best of my ability be the very reflection of God’s love and justice in the world!

My grief and struggle over the last few days, over the last year, is not about political ideology, though that is the context in which it was often born. What has broken my heart is borne out of my faith in God and my role as pastor as I witness the fear and pain that has been instilled because of the vitriol language, hatred, and bigotry that seems to have raised its ugly head in so many ways.

I am profoundly aware I need to temper my words so as to not assume I know or have experienced the kind of fear and hate many are feeling today because I do not and have not. I am white, male, and straight, and as such, I carry a certain amount of privilege. My responsibility is to listen and stand with those who have come to trust me enough to be vulnerable.

When I listen with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and we feel that recent comments made, objectifying women, have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them, my heart is heavy. And I say… Enough!

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, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When I listen with immigrants and parents who are of a different color and national origin who had to comfort their children the morning after the election because their children feared they would be sent away, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When listen with those who are disabled fear they will be mocked and chided even more than they have been in the past, my heart is heavy. When I listen with persons of color victims of racism, still rampant in our society and culture, who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

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, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

It’s time to listen to ourselves. It is time to listen to one another. We need to listen not to diminish, not to critique, not to try and fix the others anger or grief, not even to respond. We need to listen, really listen to one another, to understand what all of us are going through.

We all process and deal with grief and anger, heartache and fear differently. I would encourage you to not cast it off too soon. Don’t just smooth it over for smoothing over sake. Sit with it for as long as you need, abide with it for as long as you need, breathe it in and breathe it out. When you are ready we will gather together. We will gather to figure out how, what, when, we want to do something. We will gather to find hope, find support for our grief, tears for our tears, and love for our Fears.

It is already happening, I have had numerous persons reach out to me over the last few days with questions, “What do I do?” “Where do I turn?” “How can I help?”

We will gather here to do the work of compassion and hope. I here at College Hill we do discuss politics. But never a politic that divides, always a politic that unites and brings us all, ALL together. And not only politics but unity. There will be those who will call us to come together and unify. This is good, but not unity for unity’s sake. Never a unity that denies compassion and justice.

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 church, here at College Hill,

Here we believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Here we believe in the politics of compassion on bigotry.

Here we believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

Here we believe in the politics of the rights and humanity of ALL not just a few.

Here we believe in the politics that we are all children of the divine regardless of the religion or lack thereof we practice or not, not the politics of who is in and who is out.

Here we believe in the politics of the human race not racism.

Here we believe in the politics of welcome not locked doors.

Here we believe in the politics of justice for all not just the few.

Here we believe in the politics of kindness not threat.

Here we believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Here we believe in the politics of Love not fear!

We will be gathering a group together in the next week and a half. A group to brainstorm, support, and figure out what to do. We need to do something to support those in our midst who know the real fear of threat to their families, livelihoods, and lives AND especially those beyond these walls who are living in fear and uncertainty. It is not enough to stand idly by with only words of support and comfort. We have to put actions behind our words, ALL of us. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, though I have some pretty grand ideas for a few things. We need to start small, knock on a neighbor’s door and tell them you care. Take a plate of cookies to the Mosque, or The Center downtown, offer you support, your solidarity, your presence, and your love. We will rise, and we will rise together for Justice, Kindness, Humility, and Love.      This. IS. SO. Amen.

 

These are lyrics to a song written by Joe Crookston sung following this sermon and communion together here at College Hill UMC.

My father, he could use a little mercy now. The fruits of his labor, falling right slowly on the ground. His work is almost over, won’t be long he won’t be around, and I love my father, he could use some mercy now.

My brother, he could use a little mercy now. He’s a stranger to freedom, shackled to his fears and his doubts. The pain that he lives in, is almost more than living will allow. And I love my brother, he could use some mercy now.

My church and my country, they could use a little mercy now. As they sink into a poison pit, it’s going to take forever to climb out. And they carry the weight of the faithful, as they follow them down. And I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now.

Yeah, I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.

Yeah, we all, we could use a little mercy now. We may not deserve it, we need it anyhow. We hang in the balance between hell and hallowed ground. Every single one of us, could use some mercy now. Yeah, we all, could use some mercy now.

 

An Open Letter to Granddaughter Nora on the Occasion of Her Birth

May 27, 2016

Dear Nora,

Good morning! As I shared with your cousin Kadee, I wanted to write a letter to you as well on the occasion of your birth and entry into our family. Today you are four days old, and in the grand scheme of things it has been a pretty normal, whatever normal is, four days. Although, you have already been through a tornado warning even before you left the hospital! Welcome to Tornado Alley! I am so glad you are safe this morning.

As I sit in our living room with a cup of coffee and the sun streaming through the kitchen windows I want to share some pondering with you as I think about this journey on which you have now begun. There are a lot of things I wish were different in the world today, things I wish we had taken care of before you arrived.

First let me share with you the state of our world on this fourth day of your journey. I want to apologize, as your Poppie, for the state of said world. It is and would have always been my hope and dream that you would have been born into a world free of war, bigotry, hatred, discrimination, disease, racism, sexism, fear, and exclusion. Alas, we have muddled that up pretty well over the centuries and we still have a long way to go.

I apologize for our countries and leaders who still believe somehow war and conflict are answers to our world disagreements. I am sorry we still send men and women into wars where they lose limb and life because of our inability to sit down at a table and discuss civilly and respectfully what it would take to have world peace.

I apologize for our lack of foresight as we still have not learned to care for our earth and God’s good green creation, not taking into account those like you who will have to come after us and clean up our mess.

I apologize for our fear of the other and for governments and even religion, who still try to make laws to discriminate against those they see as different.  Not only the world, but our country, our state, even in the church we have found ways to do harm to others simply because of who they are, what they believe, and who they love.

I apologize for our country and world where you are born with an extra challenge just because you are a female; born into a country and a world who does not believe you should be paid equally to males for the same work, not based on your ability but simply because of your gender. I apologize we still make laws that limit your choices regarding career, health care, and reproductive care; some implied and some blatant.

I apologize for our bent toward violence, especially in our country, where gun violence is the highest of all the major countries, and we are want to pass sensible laws to perhaps make you a little safer.

I apologize for a culture that, at this point, will not always take you seriously, believe you; a culture that will critique what you wear, how you look, and what you should be doing simply because you are a woman.

I hope, by the time you are old enough to understand these things, you will look at me and say, “Poppie, really? The world was really like that when I was born? I’m glad it is not now.” I hope this with all I am!

Nora, with all this being said, it might seem the world is a scary place, and I will not lie, it can be. But I also want to say, the world is a wondrously magnificent place! Filled with wonder and mystery, beauty and grace, spectacular sights, sounds, and smells and touch. The world is an incredible gift filled with art, music, whimsy, and magic.

I want to reassure you there are people in the world who are tirelessly working to change all of these scary things. There are people in the world and in the church who are ardent in the fight for justice for all, welcome, inclusion, and love. And because of the beauty of these people, I am again and again filled with hope that one day, peace and love will win.

This is the world I know you have been born into as well, because I know your mom and dad, and they will teach you and love you and show you all that is good in this world! They will raise you to be a strong and independent woman, though you have already expressed that to a degree just in your coming, a little stubborn you were. And you will be encouraged to be whatever, whoever, and wherever you will dream to be. I know your family both on your daddy’s side and you mommy’s side, families filled with love and care and support. And I know your Grammy and your Poppie, and we will do everything we can to show you how wondrously beautiful you are as is the world of which you are apart.

One more thing, and this is really important, I want you to know, your Dad and Mom will tell you this for themselves I am sure as well, but I want to say it from Poppie and Grammy. We love you. We will always love you. There is no place you can be, no situation in which you find yourself, no choice you could ever make, that will change that. We will ALWAYS love you, period! Period! And there is nothing you can do about it.

I am anxiously awaiting this coming Sunday afternoon when I can hold you in my arms again, kiss your face, and sing and whisper I love you in your ears. I also want to say that I am going to share this letter on my blog as well. Because it gives me an opportunity to brag about our newest perfect granddaughter, but also because not only do I hope all these things for you, but I pray and work every day that all of us, the church, our society and culture universally will one day embrace such a world where justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream, a world where love and justice for all is the rule rather than the exception, a world where all means all. May it be so. May it be soon.

Nora, welcome to our crazy Little family. We are so fortunate to have you with us. May you always know God loves you, we love you, and you are never alone. Ever!

 

My Love Always,

Poppie

A Pondering in Rhyme

January 25, 2012

“Thump” resounded in my office as I peered out through the panes lining a North wall.
“Thump” I thought as I continued my pondering, just a noise and that was all.

I wondered what it was in the early morning light,
Because I was looking, seeing, but something had escaped my sight.

So I rose from my rest and wandered out the sliding door to see what I could not see,
There on the ground, on the cold hard concrete was a creature still and no longer free.

I stretched the temporary security holding the gate,
Stepping close I looked at the broken one lying in a motionless state.

With the edge of my shoe I nudged this little one with feather colored in art.
I was surprised to have the life return as it sprung to its feet giving me quite a start.

We stood toe to toe for what seemed a very long time,
Gazing at one another, me with my smile and the little one with feather fine.

I suspected my new found friend was not smiling at all,
After what appeared to be clear sailing ending with a fall.

It cocked its head back and forth in question and with a chastising chirp,
Took to wing and fluttered away out of stone, leaf, and dirt.

I stood and watched as it flew, darting here and there, and then out of sight.
I went back to my perch in my office warm and light,

I wondered upon wonder as I peered again through the glass,
How long we inside the church will continue to say we see and …alas,

All the while willingly unaware of those yearning for a warm and welcome place,
Lying cold and broken just outside that clear but present barrier to grace,

On our front step, left outside, behind, turned away this One, the Christ,
How long will it take to see what we refuse to see, the Light Free and Bright.

The Disconnect

June 20, 2011

As I participated in our Annual Conference a few weeks ago in Hutchinson, KS I was impressed and encouraged by so many of the presentations and sermons I had the opportunity to experience. I continue to hear language of grace, welcome, inclusion, and radical hospitality. I am so grateful for this language and attempt to articulate our vision and dreams of being an open church that promotes not only an openness of heart, mind, and doors, but also a people and church that opens hearts, minds, and doors.
I must confess though, I am troubled by the disconnect I find between who we say we are and the reality of who we are. I believe it is fundamentally not only a practical issue but also theological. I find this disconnect between words of “all persons are of sacred worth” and “the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching;” a disconnect between a “clergy’s due counsel and responsibility to perform marriage ceremonies where the decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor” and “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
We continue to be concerned about our declining numbers and resources. We continue to look to the future with vision and hope, as well we should. But I see our church deeply divided and conflicted between a theology of grace and openness and a politic of control and exclusion. I see our church deeply divided to the point of even refusing to admit we are not of one mind on this issue let along others. We, I believe, continue to operate in a kind of split personality and theological denial.
We are a church challenged and called to be Risk Taking, Excited, Radically Inviting, and a church of Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors, a faith community ready and willing to Re-Think Church! But I have to wonder if we are really all these things. Are we really willing to risk opening our doors, our minds, and our hearts to all persons? Do we really practice radical hospitality? Do we really believe all persons are of sacred worth? Do we really embrace Christ in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female? Is it within our ability to live a life and faith and practice a means of grace that is inclusive of all? Sometimes I wonder.
The one thing I do not wonder about is timing, because I believe it is time. It is time to embrace who we dream to be, confess who we are, and allow the Spirit of God to transform us within and without into the church God calls us to be; a people of faith truly and radically inclusive as the Body of Christ., a people of faith and love whose Hearts, Minds, and Doors are indeed, Open.
I hope you join us this weekend at the Pride Fest and visit the College Hill UMC booth as we reflect the light of love and Believe Out Loud! I hope you join us Sunday morning in one of our Celebration times as we celebrate our decision to be a Reconciling Church and continue to work toward full inclusion of our gay and lesbian friends, brothers and sisters, family into the life of the church.
It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.
Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.