Posts Tagged ‘xenophobia’

Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

Today is the Sunday in the Liturgical Season of the church when we celebrate Pentecost. Some say this is the Birthday of the Church. Some of us recall the story from the book of Acts about the Disciples gathered in a room and there is a sound like a rushing wind. And the Spirit like tongues of fire appear and rest on the heads of those gathered and they begin to speak in various languages. When the people outside hear all the commotion and speaking they are in wonder of what is going on and some of the crowd accuse the Disciples of being drunk. And Peter stands up and proclaims they are indeed not drunk but inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work, young and old, male and female, will prophesy and bring the good news of God’s love and justice to the world through this event.  It is a Birthday Party! The church is being born! Break out the balloons, the wine, the party hats, the cake! Let’s have a party! A 2000-year-old birthday party.

But, then I wonder…as I look across the expanse of the Church and its presence and image in the world….

Is the church too tired? Is the church too worn out? Has the church finally become irrelevant, out of touch, stuck in its stale and ineffectual dogmas and doctrines, stuck on life support and no one has the ability, courage, or compassion to pull the plug? I hear the voices of some colleagues and others who say what the church needs is an old-fashioned revival… we need to get back to the way things used to be, back when the church was new and fresh and just getting started when preachers and lay folks were on fire with the spirit like that first Pentecost and the sounds of rushing winds and the vision of flames and the sound of diverse languages were the norm… we need a dose of the old-time religion. The problem with that is those who often long for, yearn for, the way things used to be… the ones who long for a revival of the church and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit will often tell you exactly what that Spirit will look like and exactly where it will take us, which, is not necessarily something new…

But rather perhaps it just keeps the church on life support longer as we tell it what it should say and do and be. The church longs for the way things were, in the heyday, in the grand old days, in the good old days, when we knew exactly what we believed, how we were to behave, what we were to do… life and faith were simplistic… days when the cliché of “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” was the mantra…back when we knew what to expect and didn’t have to think and feel so much…. Maybe that’s what we need to do, just we sit by the bedside of the church, listening to the hum of the systems, and wait for a miracle revival to bring it all back. But nothing seems to be happening and sometimes, sometimes, it even seems to be getting worse, more disconnected, unresponsive, more distant.

As I was pondering the church in this light it made me think of the movie some years ago… “The Sixth Sense” the story of a successful psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who sees ghosts, but the psychiatrist’s life seems disconnected, his family distant and unresponsive, there is just something not right, it feels like he is just going through the motions with not much success at anything, until the end, when he discovers… he is dead, he just didn’t know it.

And I wondered, maybe for all intents and purposes, the church is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, but I wonder, maybe it is too late?

You have probably noticed by now, I did not use the passage from Acts and the traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday today. I used the Hebrew Scripture reading for this Sunday, the reading from Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones. I used it because of the stark image of death, pondering perhaps, is this where the church is today? Dead, Dry, Piled Up, Deserted, Unknowingly Gone, Irrelevant?  I used this reading because it is a national story, it is a national prophecy. It is the story of not individual faith, but of a people, and as I ponder the image of the dry bones of the people of Israel for Ezekiel I have to ask myself, is the church dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

The Church is certainly tired. The Church is certainly Tattered. And as I look out across the landscape of the church in our nation I have to consider the church is dead.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the demonization of the poor and the programs of social uplift helping feed and clothe God’s children.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the dehumanizing of immigrants and the separating of mothers and fathers from children through deportation and punishes children whose parents chose to escape torturous conditions.

The Church is dead when it claims it loves all and includes all and continues to deny LGBTQ persons full access in its life.

The Church is dead when it ignores the cries of those incarcerated unjustly and without recourse.

The church is dead when it refuses to stand for the full equality of women both within its institutions and in society.

The Church is dead when it categorically proclaims those who disagree with its doctrines and dogmas are destined for a hell of God’s choosing.

The Church is dead when it turns a blind eye/remains silent to the sins of its nation and leaders and buys into partisan politics.

The Church is dead when it does not speak up in defense of our school children because of its love of guns.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent, consciously and unconsciously in the evil of racism.

The Church is dead when it says everyone should only speak English when Pentecost is testimony against such things!

The Church is dead when it would rather split over who it can keep out rather than finding a place for everyone.

The Church is dead when it would rather cater to its membership than serve its community.

The Church is dead when it is more worried about how things have always been done rather than dreaming about how to embrace new ideas.

The Church is dead when it gives up on being the prophetic voice of change. The Church is dead when it would rather look back on the old dry bones of past ideas, past days, past preachers, past teachers, past unrealized dreams.

The Church is dead when it refuses to listen to new leadership, new innovations, new ways… the Church is dead when it is more focused on surviving than it is on thriving.

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

And then, sometimes things need to die before resurrection can happen…

And you know what? Says God to Ezekiel. God is in…The Church of Jesus is in…

The Prophecy Business…The Love Business…Is in the Resurrection Business!

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

The Church is in the Resurrection business because that is what we do!

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

Steeped in… Saturated in… Immersed in… Dripping with… Oozing with… Wrapped up in… Inundated with… Besieged with…

LOVE… Pentecost is about the love of God for ALL persons! Pentecost is about bringing new life and insight to the world…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Lifts the poor and supports programs of social uplift…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it stands with immigrants and their families…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it speaks up in support of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it disdains the unjust incarceration practices of its nation.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it votes to support the FULL equality of women in the church and society.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Uses its prophetic voice to say love conquers any kind of hell that others may proclaim.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it points out the sins and injustices of its nation and leaders.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it puts the lives of our children before the agenda of violence!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it condemns racism in ALL its forms!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it opens its doors to ALL persons!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it serves its neighborhoods and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it embraces new understandings and ideas.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it learns from its past but doesn’t live there.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it finds its prophetic voice of Justice, Compassion, Welcome, Life, and Love!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it is inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work and Love is the Way!

The Church or portions of it as we have known it…

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

May be in its last throes of death… or worse…

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

For it is the power of love that will renew and resurrect the best of what is to come…

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!

 

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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.

 

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

January 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rev. Kent H. Little

Wonderings of a Recovering Racist, Journeying into Hope.

September 28, 2017

My best guess is it was about 1969 and I would have been ten years old. I may be off a year but for the purposes of this story it does not really matter. As I remember, the incident occurred following our little league game and was during the older youth ball game. A group of us from our team and town were running and playing with some kids from the team and town we had just played.

At least in my mind it happened amid innocent play, but at some point, barbs began to be exchanged and playful attitudes changed. I have no idea what brought it on but I have never forgotten the impact it had on me. From somewhere down in my ten-year-old vocabulary I let loose a barb toward one of the other kids we were chasing, a boy of my age, he was black. It was a word that had never been uttered in my house. I had little knowledge of the word other than what I had heard and picked up. I had no idea of the implication or damage it could do. I am confident I had heard it at school or on television, I had never uttered the word prior to that moment either. As soon as it left my lips, there was a deep twisting knot in my stomach, a sickening feeling I knew I had done something horrible. “Nigger,” I said. The boy looked me in the eye, smiled, and returned the barb, “White trash,” he said. I knew even less about that label, I had never heard it before. With that, he and his friends took off in another direction, my friends chasing after them, and me standing with a boulder sitting in my stomach, twisting and gnawing at my insides. I wanted to throw up. I wondered what I had done. I have never used that word again, to describe or direct at another human being, at this point I am still unsure I should leave it in this writing.

Fast forward, it is 1994, I am now thirty-five, my first year of seminary in Kansas City Missouri. As part of a class I was taking on ministry we were asked to go on a ride along with the Kansas City Missouri police department. The officer I was with pulled into an alley, parked, and turned out the headlights of the patrol car. He pointed across the street at a darkened two-story house with a single light in a lower level window. He told me it was a drug house; the dealers would stay inside the house and the buyers would walk up on the porch and the deal would be done through an open window. We sat, and waited. A man appeared to our left walking down the sidewalk across the street from us, the officer made a comment about watching to see if he went up to the house. The man, a Caucasian man, I would note later, seen by the light of the streetlight, turned the corner toward the house, but then walked on by. We sat for a time again and another man appeared from the same direction, a black man I could see by the same streetlight, walking toward the corner where the house was. The officer made no comment, he reached with his left hand and turned the external spotlight on and positioned it to shine in the face of the man walking down the street. The officer kept the light on the man until he faded from our sight. It was that same knot gnawing at my insides I felt that night watching the officer spotlight the man walking down the street. It brought to mind instutional and sysytemic racism. I wondered why he had not shone the spotlight on the first man. I wondered what the second man had done. I think I know, though I did not say anything at the time, I was fearful at that point.

1995, the age of thirty-six, I was invited to a lecture at seminary as part of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities. As part of the talk the speaker asked those of us in attendance to stand and make a single line through the center of the room. The line was to represent a continuum as to where we believed racism was in our country today. Stand at that end of the room if we felt racism had been eradicated from our culture and society, at the other end of the room if we felt there had be no progress at all, and somewhere in between depending on how much progress we felt had been made. I sat in my chair and wondered. I finally made the decision to remain seated. My good friend came back and sat with me and queried why I had not stood. I simply said, “I know racism is still deeply present in our culture and society, but who am I as a white guy to say where we are? I’ve never been followed in a store, looked at with suspicion, been pulled over, or had an officer shine a light in my face simply because I am white. We have a long way to go, but I don’t know.” I wonder now, looking back in hindsight, if that was a copout. Could have been…I wonder.

I shared these three, among other personal experiences and being witness to racism, both individual and systemic, to say it has been, and still is very much alive. I have spent numerous times in my ministry speaking out against, working against, reaching out to my friends who are persons of color in a battle against the cancer that is racism in our country and world. I recognize as a straight, white, Christian, male I have an enormous amount of privilege in this country and world. I am committed to working and using my privilege to expose racist tendencies and policies when I encounter them. But, I am not done with my own journey… and I wonder just how far I have yet to go.

September 25, 2017, I finished a book TruDee gave me for my fifty-eighth birthday, while she took a class. I am a relatively slow reader as I spend a lot of time pondering while I read, as a result I often go back and re-read portions as I progress. This was one of, if not the, most difficult books I have ever read. That mammoth sinking pit I mentioned in my first story, lay heavy in my gut and soul as I read every word. I have a work in progress I intend on becoming a book one day about my life, journey, theology, and philosophies, but to read this book and the author’s depth of knowing, of experiencing his own life, and the depth of from where he comes moved me deeply. I finished the book sitting in my car outside the little bakery where TruDee was taking her class…and wept, and wondered at the depths of my own racism, even though I think of myself as an ally and an advocate.

The book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates delves into the culture and society we are and from where we have come. I heard in his words, our country was founded not just on the idealized freedom of religion and freedom from oppression, our country was founded on oppression and the enslavement of another group of human beings. Their enslavement was responsible for the success of our economy, and dare I say not just southern economy but the economy of the nation as a whole. Racism, enslavement of, and the diminishing of Africans is deeply embedded in our DNA as a country. And you don’t remove that kind of tumor even with a war, even with a civil rights movement and laws, it is deeply rooted in who we are as a country and especially in those of us who are white, and even, he says, those who think they wish to be white. These are thoughts I heard as I read his words, as I fought against that deep and dark pit that weighed deeper and deeper with each page.

The book is written in the context of a letter to his son, sharing his own story, his own struggles, his own life, his body, as he puts it, and the body of persons of color that he sees as expendable by the powers that be. His sharing with his son is not to convince nor give his son answers, but rather to encourage him to find his own voice, his own being, his own struggles, and his own body and worth. These words spoke deeply to me, You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.” He also shares that it isn’t for him to change other’s minds, or help their struggle, it is for the other to find their own struggle and come to terms with this deeply rooted cancer that is on our nation, my words not his. I cannot recommend this book any higher, it has changed the way I see.

Early the next morning as I re-pondered all I had been thinking since the day before I posted on my Facebook page a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.; “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” That heavy pit reappeared in my gut. I shed a tear. I considered not sharing the quote on my page. Who was I to share the words of a man who endured the racism of our country in ways I could not even begin to know. I did share it, however, that moment and this book have caused me to completely rethink all that I have done and will do in the future. I tried to explain that to TruDee as we drove that morning, and it has touched me so deeply I could hardly speak as the emotions welled up within me. I live in a country, in a culture and society, that is deeply racist and I am a product of that culture. And as a white man, this book has caused me to wonder more deeply the ways I still participate in the racism pulsing through the veins of who we are as a culture. As Coates says, it is not for anyone else to figure out for me, struggle for me, it is not for my friends and colleagues, who are people of color, to teach me or point out what is and what is not racism, though if they do I will pay deep attention, it is for me to struggle with, to dig deep into that heavy, dark pit that resides still within me and continue to try and make myself and the world around me a better, more just and compassionate place.

This revelation is larger than racism though, it cuts across the landscape of injustice that continues to haunt and diminish our culture. Homophobia, Sexism, Women’s Rights, Xenophobia, Ageism, Religious Discrimination, and all the phobias and ism’s that plague our land. A friend once told me as a white person we are all given a backpack of privilege when we are born and we carry it with us all our lives. So, here I am, and I have been made aware on a much deeper level of that backpack of White, Male, Heterosexual, Christian privilege that I carry. I carry it as a constant reminder with that privilege comes deep, deep responsibility to better understand how I participate, consciously and unconsciously, in the injustices of which I fight so diligently against. Perhaps my title of “Recovering Racist” is a bit harsh, but maybe that is what it takes to better get my attention, because of my privilege I am a racist, perhaps not intentionally, but simply because of ways I participate in those injustices and that cancer on our culture and society and am unaware.

This is my struggle and the journey continues. Pray for me, think of me, ponder with me and us. May God continue to open my eyes, my heart, that the pit never goes away, but to serve as a constant reminder to be mindful of my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my love of all. I wonder on this journey, when we might become one…I wonder.

Jesus and American Exceptionalism

July 3, 2017

I have been pondering this morning’s message for some time now. I wondered, considered, even asked, what Jesus might say about the notion of American Exceptionalism, especially Exceptionalism in terms of superiority. I think there is a positive sense of understanding the country one lives in as being the best, or at least the hope that it is true. Not unlike a sports team chanting “We’re Number 1” even when it might be quite obvious to other teams that literally in the standings they are not #1. There is that healthy notion of pride in one’s country, a patriotism that loves country and works for, hopes for the best of it. An understanding of pride, patriotism, and hope while acknowledging its place in the world.
The best of this “pride” so to speak is not an arrogance or exceptionalism that states we are better than every other country in the world, but that we are proud of who we are in the midst of the other countries in the world.
So, to some degree, when I asked Jesus what he thought of the idea of American Exceptionalism, his answer was, “Meh, it can be a good thing, it can be a terrible thing.” and then he said, “You might want to unpack that a little.” It is important as part of the global community to consider how and where we fit in the grand scheme of the world.
You know, while the world has ever expanded, it is also shrinking exponentially even as we speak. We read the history books, that were written by the “winners” for the most part, that is important to point out, but we study history and realize how the world expanded from those early tribal understandings of a limited world, and suddenly the great expanse of what was out there was almost more than some could take. That lasted a long time, it is still true for some.
The great expanse of the world around us can be overwhelming. You know I think just for myself, I have lived in Kansas all my life. I have never lived outside its borders. While I have visited from coast to coast a couple of different times, and while TruDee and I hope to be able to go to Ireland sometime before we are 90, the furthest I have traveled outside the USA is Tijuana, Mexico.. Woohoo!
It is still a big world to me, and it is important for me to consider how my country and how I fit into this world in which I live. And at the same time, with the marvels of technology, I can talk with a friend in Australia, Canada, Britain, and Japan all at the same time and in real-time and even see their face while we are talking if I choose. And while these are reminders of how expansive our world is, it is also a reminder of how the world is shrinking around us. In 2001, a Boeing 787 flew around the world in under 43 hours. That sounds like a lot of hours, but think how long it takes you just to drive across Wichita! The world is shrinking and we have instant access to worldwide information that is delivered to us in a heartbeat.
One would think it would draw us together as a world, as a country, and yet, with the advent of technology, internet, computers, laptops, and smart phones, we have returned to a very isolated existence. We can, if we choose, almost never leave our houses. And it has affected, I believe, not only our individual lives but our life as a world, our life as a nation. Nationalism is on the rise once again. Isolationist policies are being debated and legislated in our governing politics. This kind of isolationism infects a more positive understanding of American Exceptionalism, and is dangerous.
It is an exceptionalism that touts – We Are Self-Sufficient… We are Great, and everyone else is the lesser. If you don’t like it here, if you criticize our nation, you can leave. It is an arrogance that says, “America – (as if we are all of America…which diminishes Canada, Mexico, Central, and South…. America) – the kind of arrogance that says “America” as in the US of A is the greatest nation on earth, and mean it in a supremacist way that belittles and diminishes every other country of the globe.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus… all this American Exceptionalism talk?
And Jesus said… “Let me tell you a story…”
‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
It was common knowledge in Jesus day the road to Jericho was dangerous, rife with thieves and robbers. And here we have, we might suppose, a good upstanding citizen of the country, traveling the way. He finds himself accosted, beaten, robbed, and left for dead lying in the ditch.
Along come two religious leaders who do not stop and help. Now, before we are too hard on these two, we really don’t know why they didn’t stop. Perhaps they had good reason. Perhaps it was their religious tradition that prevented the chance the man was dead and they did not want to be made unclean? Perhaps it was because they were afraid, they didn’t want to be robbed, beaten, and thrown in the ditch alongside this poor fellow. Or perhaps they are thinking what was that fella doing in this part of town anyway? Or maybe they assumed he lived in these parts and so got what he deserved? There are a variety of possible reasons, and however well-intentioned or not, these two opted for safety rather than compassion.
And then the third one comes along. This Samaritan, is outside the bounds of the Jesus faith, they don’t practice, worship, follow God “right” … this Samaritan, is a heretic. Kind of the bottom of the barrel if you will. Think of who might fit that for us if we found ourselves lying in the ditch; A Muslim? An undocumented worker? A Politician? One who we might look up after the two religious leaders have passed us by and our first thought is, “Crap, now I am really done for!”
But here in this telling, Jesus says in this story, what this has to do with exceptionalism is about the other. And, an unexpected other. How do we see, how do we treat, how do we care for, how do we understand, how do we encounter, the other? How do we view the other when we are lifting up the notion of American Exceptionalism?
You know I have watched church advertisements via social media, read articles, looked at blogs of churches who are celebrating this day, this Sunday, in preparation for the 4th of July. There are red, white, and blue decorations, we even have them here this morning at CHUM. There are flags, and Uncle Sam’s, and talk of patriotism, and national pride, and independence day, and I confess, every year, while this Sunday is always special for me here at CHUM. This Sunday is one of my favorites, because eight years ago, when the 4th of July fell on a Sunday, it was my first Sunday here in your midst… this Sunday holds deep meaning for me, but I confess, even though I love this country deeply, and I am as patriotic as the next person, and I love the church, the whole church, and this one in particular, I confess when I see all the flag waving and patriotic fervor in the church on this Sunday closest to the 4th, I always get a case of the hebee jebees… I am uncomfortable because I am, as I believe the founders of our country were, a firm advocate of separation of church and state. It doesn’t belong in the church any more than the church belongs in our politics.
That being said, let me ponder this for a moment as I continue to hear and listen to the voices who still say we are supposed to be a Christian Nation. So, I pondered with Jesus, what if? What if we really were a Christian Nation? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we really were a theocracy founded and grounded on the Christian faith? Imagine with me for a moment, what if we were a nation committed to, and passionate about following the Way, teachings, mission and ministry of Jesus? What if….

Jesus was in the wall tearing down business not the wall building business.

Jesus was in the woman empowering business not the woman controlling business.

Jesus was in the universal health care business not the shift the money to the rich immoral health care business.

Jesus was in the taking care of the most vulnerable business not the shaming the poor business.

Jesus was in the welcoming the stranger and alien into our midst business not the banning business.

Jesus was in the lifting people up business not the tearing down business.

Jesus was in the resisting the powers that be both political and religious oppressor business not the colluding and greed business.

Jesus was in the open hand open arms business not the closed fists business.

Jesus was in the including business not the excluding business.

Jesus was in the diversity business not the white supremacist business.

Jesus was not in the hate and bigotry business… Jesus was in the business of love.

That is what a nation grounded in the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus would look like! Not some twisted and warped sense of American Exceptionalism and Christian Exceptionalism that is far too rampant today!

Thank God, we have a nation founded on separation of church and state.

Thank God, we have a nation founded on freedom of religion!

Thank God, we have a nation should not give preference to Christianity or any other religion.

Thank God, we are not a theocracy!

We are not a Christian Nation!

However… you are Church!

You are the Christian Church, grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus! And it is this kind of love that is the resistance to the kind of exceptionalism that promotes and breeds oppression, supremacy, bigotry, hatred, exclusion, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, sexism, …

You are the church! The resistance to the powers that be both politic and religious in a world that excludes the other.

You are Church! You are the Christian Church… grounded and founded on the life, ministry, mission, and love of Jesus!

And I think it is time for the church… not just the church… but all religious communities who long for justice, inclusion, compassion, grace, and love to … well… to start acting like it.

We must work together… live together… and so in this context we should not just be acknowledging our country’s independence

We should be celebrating our inter-dependence!

We need one another… the church of Jesus Christ is not isolationist… we know we need one another… EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. To make a difference in this world!
We know…. MLKJr said it well… we… the church… should be the conscience of the world politic… but never its tool… it is time to act like it… otherwise as he also said… if we do not learn to live together as sisters and brothers… we will perish together as fools.

We are not the tool….
But we have the tool…
And it is love.
Keep On Church… Keep On!
It will be so… It will. Amen.

Rev. Kent H. Little

I Marched this Day

January 24, 2017

The sign I carried had printed in black on white, “We the People will Never Be Silent.” We built the sign with paper, printer, foam board, glue, staple, and wood. I considered not carrying my sign, sore hands from a fall on the ice a week before. But when we arrived at the gathering space I could not bring myself to leave it behind. My sign was one of thousands. There were hopeful signs, angry signs, fearful signs, signs that were difficult to see and read, humorous signs, and signs of love and unity. My sign too…belonged.

This was not my first march or rally to speak up for justice and compassion. I have attended many over the years. I am often asked as some have asked why I marched this day; a man, and in particular a white, straight, middle class man with my back pack of privilege I have carried with me since my birth. I have pondered the question since hearing it for myself as well as watching others wrestle with the question. I did not want to answer without much consideration. A part of my answer is, I marched in part because I do not know, because I have never experienced the kinds of things those with which I joined in solidarity have.

I have never been humiliated, objectified, assaulted, groped, paid less, talked about like I was an object for the pleasure of another, refused needed medical procedure or had my private decisions with my doctor legislated out of my hands, or the target of offensive and unacceptable “locker room talk,” because I am a man.

I have never been beaten, fired, fearful, rejected, disowned, homeless, yelled at on the streets of the city, or threatened, I have never had to worry about my marriage being nullified by the government because I am straight.

I have never been stopped in my car, followed in a store, had a glaring glance, or a suspicious look… I have never had someone cross to the other side of the street, clutch their bag or their child a little tighter when I walk past… just because I of the color of my skin.

I have never been mocked, made fun of, belittled, or limited in opportunity because of being differently-abled.

I have never been feared, targeted, discriminated against, vandalized, beaten, or told I cannot practice my religion because I am a Christian.

I have never been threatened to be sent back to Germany or anywhere else in Europe because it is the land of my ancestry, had the fear of being separated from my family because of my origin, or struggled to find the funds and assistance because I am not a citizen.

I have never had to fear a wall being built to keep me out or keep me in because I am in the United States.

I have never lived in fear because of bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination, prejudice, or hatred because I am different.

I marched with some three thousand persons, and millions around the world, because I have never experienced these things. I marched this day in support of my partner, my daughter’s in law, and my granddaughters because they should not have to live in a world where these things are a reality. I marched this day because I want my sons to know they nor their partners nor their daughters should have to live in a world where these things are a reality. I marched this day because no one, not one should have to live in a world where these things are a reality and happen each and every day in our communities, in our states, in our nation, and around the world .. and no ONE should have to experience such atrocities.

I marched this day because of my faith in a God who loves each and every one of us, each and every creature and all of creation. I marched this day because my faith tells me the vision of KINdom, is one of kinship, we are all related, we belong to one another and that vision for the common good of all requires of us Justice for all, Kindness for all, Humility from and with all.

Until that day … the people… I …cannot be silent.

I marched this day.

May this day be a re-beginning of our journey toward the Common Good for ALL,

Kent H. Little

Of Empaths and Collateral Beauty

December 31, 2016

I want to talk about the movie Collateral Beauty, but I want to start with another piece of recent pondering in order to lead into the movie.

If I recall it was just about a year ago now a friend asked me the question while we were on retreat, “Are you an empath?” I do not remember the exact context of the conversation at the time, but I remember having to ask what that referred to as I had never heard the term before, other than assuming it had something to do with empathy. She explained that empaths have a sense about them and can take on others pain, joy, struggle, and emotions and/or are especially sensitive to positive or negative energy in a room.

I came home after the retreat and looked up empath and read numerous articles, blogs, and journals about those who identify themselves as such. The articles spanned a wide array of theories and abilities, some for my more practical and skeptical self, seemed a little bizarre, but many of the articles I resonated with deeply in my being and experience. Here is one of the articles I found helpful in my readings, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-freedom/201602/10-traits-empathic-people found in Psychology Today.

Some days I can feel like the whole weight of the world is on my shoulders and I have a difficult time shaking the funk so to speak. When I walk in a hospital room when a family is struggling with difficult news and making difficult decisions I can often feel an almost physical heaviness, a tangible distress in my body. Even in other places, the office, a social gathering, dinner with friends, or when it is just TrweepingbuddhauDee and I, there is an energy, presence, whatever one may call it, that is often palpable. I believe this is one reason I found such connection with the image of the Weeping Buddha from the first time I saw it and read the legend behind the figure. Here is a link to the legend of the Weeping Buddha, if you are interested, https://www.buddhagroove.com/what-does-the-weeping-buddha-signify/.

Now to the movie, if you are reading this and wondering, “What the heck?” hang with me I’ll make the connection shortly. TruDee and I went to see the movie Collateral Beauty last night. The movie, in every review I have read has been panned, by some critics as the worst movie of 2016. Now, I know I am not a professional critic and evidently do not look for the same things as those who make a living watching movies, but I found the movie moving, meaningful, and deep.

One critic said the movie failed at answering the question of “What is collateral beauty.” I would agree, the movie is not clear on exactly what it is or what it means. Being the pondering kind of person I am, such a critique does not disturb me. I have no problem with stories, movies, and books that leave me hanging trying to wrestle out the meaning for myself. Heck, I have at the foundation of my vocation a book I have spent fifty seven years wrestling out the meaning in the bible!

I am not going to give any spoilers in this writing but I want to make a brief connection between my pondering of one who has identified with the empaths of the world and what came to me in the movie Collateral Beauty. I have been on a soul and self-searching journey this past year. With the help of a counselor, and a long distance friend, I have resolved some pieces of my journey I did not realize needed resolved. One major difference for me is the Christmas season, every Christmas Season I always have a day, I even named it, my Melancholy Day. I never know when it is going to hit me, but in the midst of the celebrations I have a day when grief overwhelms me and I find it difficult to function. This year, it never came, or at least not at this writing now six days post-Christmas. I believe that while I still have those moments of deep connection of struggle and joy, the day never came because of an intentional attempt to move my focus.

What I found in the movie, was depth and peace. No it did not answer the question of collateral beauty other than to suggest it had to do with connection. I found the movie beautiful, difficult, emotional, and fodder for much contemplation. What I came away with was this, and I think it is very timely at least for me, in this world, in our country, in our state, in our churches, there is so much pain, fear, hate, discrimination, uncertainty, and incivility we have a choice. While these things cause me, and so many others, concern, anger, and fear, in the midst of so much Collateral Damage, I have to choose not to miss the Collateral Beauty. The movie did not answer the question because this beauty will be different for all of us, we will find it in different ways, in different places, in different people, but I must be intentional about seeking it out and allow it to feed and nurture my passion and work in the world, otherwise, like Howard in the movie, the damage of negativity, suffering, grief, hate, and xenophobia will consume me and drive me deep into that ever darkening spiral of hopeless despair, especially for one who connects as an empath in the world. I highly recommend this movie, take some tissues with you.

So, as I close this writing, let me say on this last day of 2016, look for, seek out, be unrelenting in your search for beauty on your path, in your world, in each and every one you encounter, it may be what ultimately saves our world, saves ourselves.

If I were to make a New Year’s Resolution, though it is not what I am calling this, it would  be to continue my journey, as best I can, from moment to moment, seeking out undauntedly the beauty of everything, everything. I know 2016 has been a difficult year, but in the coming year, embrace beauty my friends, you are enough, you are beautiful, you are not alone, I love you… and together … may we make 2017 beautiful and filled with grace, justice, compassion, and love.

Here is to Beauty and Hope –

Kent

A Time for Silence and a Time to Speak

October 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little