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“We’re So Proud of You and Your Ministry!”
09.30.15

When I learned of Betty’s death, I felt compelled to drive out for her memorial service.  I didn’t know why exactly, but the pull was strong.

I’d lost touch with Betty the last couple of years.  (My fault, not hers.)  I hadn’t been back to the state in 20 years.  There were only a few folks I’d kept up with at all, and that was all on Facebook.  I’ve been a UCC pastor for almost 15 years.  What need did I have to return to Oklahoma, a place that was very much part of my past?

Then I saw Tom and Nancy Willoughby.  Tom served First Baptist, Shawnee, as Minister of Music when I first came to OBU.  After a year or two, he was called to FBC, Lawton.  After graduating, I got a job teaching school in Lawton.  Tom, Nancy, and I renewed our acquaintance.  They are two of the few people I’ve kept up with over the years.  Delightful people.  And always supportive.  And terrific musicians!

When talking with Nancy, I reminded her of a comment she made at a goodbye luncheon a church member had thrown for me as I left Lawton for Southern Seminary.  Over lunch, we’d been talking about how the fundamentalists were taking over Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina.  (This was 1988.)  Nancy spoke up, her voice laced with alarm:  “I think Southern is next on their list.”  I remember wondering if she was right, then—because the idea terrified me—I shoved the thought aside.

When I reminded Nancy of her statement at Mrs. W’s memorial service, she said:  “I didn’t want you to go!  We love you and we didn’t want you to be hurt!”

When I heard Nancy speak those words, I knew I had driven to Oklahoma, in part, to hear her speak them.  “We didn’t want you to go.”  Someone had cared about what happened to me even before the fundamentalists took over Southern.  I had felt so alone, so cut off from anyone in Baptist life during the dark days of seminary, but someone had cared about what happened.  They loved me and didn’t want me to be hurt.

As her words seeped in and I scrambled to reframe my narrative of seminary, Nancy looked at me and said, “We are so proud of you and your ministry!”  It was like she was speaking another language.  Proud?  These people from way back in my Baptist history—proud of me?   Later, both Nancy and Tom assured me that they were very proud that I am a pastor and that the church I serve practices an inclusive faith.  “Really?” I asked in disbelief.  “Oh, yes.”

I’ve always liked Tom and Nancy and have always felt welcome in their presence, but I didn’t know they believed in me.  I didn’t know they were proud.  Hearing their words, receiving their hugs, hearing about their own journeys away from Baptist life—that was what I needed to hear.  It’s what I’ve needed to finally close this chapter in my life—the one of struggling to hear and follow my call to pastor.  The thing I have sought for the past 30 years is a blessing for my calling.  Certainly, many people and communities have done just that.

But I guess I’ve needed to receive that blessing from someone who was there at the beginning.  I’ve needed to hear someone say they’re proud of me for being a pastor and of the congregation I serve for being Open and Affirming.  I had no idea that blessing is what I’ve craved, what I’ve been hungry for.  Now that the blessing has been offered and received?  Now the fight to claim my call is over.  Now I can say with the ease I first heard from a monk at St. Gregory’s Abbey 30 years ago:  “This is my calling.”

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(Far left–Tom.  Far right–Nancy.)



Daily Devotion – September 29, 2015
09.29.15

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. Mark 10:13

 

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

 

Why did the disciples rebuke the children that were brought to Christ? It seems odd to me that anybody would turn a child away from a possible blessing. Sadly, it happens all the time. Children are neglected. They are forgotten. They are ignored. They are seen often as too little, too young to have any real wisdom to bring to the table. This view was probably especially true with the disciples. Christ was a prophet, a teacher, the hoped for messiah. I am sure they thought that a person of this sort of status and prestige could not be bothered with little kids. His time was too precious and too important to spend time cleaning snotty noses and answering questions that may have no relevance to the current moment.

 

It is difficult as an adult in our busy lives to stop and pay attention to a child. We work hard at our jobs, with our relationships, and with trying to make sense of everything. We get stressed, tired, and long for just a moment to catch our breath and relax from all that life throws at us every day. We have big problems that need to be solved. We need answers to our important questions. To stop and bring a child into the mix is sometimes just too much. Perhaps the disciples were feeling some of this stress when they turned the children away. I don’t know for certain what was going through the minds of the disciples, but I do know that I feel the stress of life a lot and sometimes it is easier to just turn away those who are easy to look past. It would do me well to give those people, those children, an opportunity to be noticed in those moments of stress. Perhaps they can become the much needed blessing in my life.

 

Prayer:

 

God, open my heart in my moments of stress and ponderings of life’s bigger questions to the blessings of those around me. Teach me to be patient and not to rebuke those who could offer me a blessing that could bring peace and comfort in a time of great need. Amen.



Daily Devotion – September 28, 2015
09.28.15

 

James 3:7-10

 

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

 

Devotion By Elizabeth Schwartz

This verse hit home this week. I have experienced challenges with colleagues at work. The tongue is a powerful weapon. With it, we can lift people up or tear them down. We can praise God or speak our worst fears. The truth is, we are all made in God’s image. Our ego can judge others and speak ill will against them. And our tongues can act as a sword, but we are all worthy of God’s love and grace, even on our worst days. We are no worse than those we use our tongue to speak ill will of. The difference is, we should praise God and extend the compassion and love God shows us on everyone we meet and use our tongues for lifting others up.

Prayer:

Gracious God, please help me use my tongue to praise you and see everyone I meet as your likeness.

 



Sermon: Imagining a New Heaven and a New Earth (9/27/15)

At last summer’s Annual meeting of the Southeast Conference of the UCC, a man named John Stewart (not THAT Jon Stewart!  This John has an “h.”) led a workshop called:  When Democracy Worked:  Reflections on the Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As an aide to Senator Hubert Humphrey, John did lots of the leg work that led to the passage of the Act.

After decades of severe discrimination against African Americans, the need for the Civil Rights Act was clear, but the political will wasn’t there.  “It won’t pass in my district,” some in Congress said.  “It’s too soon,” others said.  “We need to move more slowly.”  Many Southern representatives were adamantly opposed to the legislation.  Representatives from other parts of the country wondered if things were really bad enough to warrant new legislation.

To break the impasse, here’s what Sen. Humphrey’s staff did.  Some senators would vote for the Act no matter what.  Others would not vote for the Act no matter what.  They didn’t bother those folks.

But for those who were on the fence, or who might be swayed to support the legislation, Sen. Humphrey’s aides talked to as many religious leaders as they could in those senators’ states.  If they knew a Senator was flying home, they’d make sure a clergy person the senator knew would just “happen” to be at the airport and “casually” bring up the Civil Rights Act and offer their support.  In one case, the aides colluded with a senator’s wife.  Every day just after the senator left for the office, a staffer would call the house and speak with the Mrs.  They’d plot their next step in changing the mind of the senator, which usually involved selecting the topic of conversation for supper that night.

John Stewart told us that without the strategy of involving religious leaders in the process of swaying public opinion–or at least the opinions of a few key US senators–the Civil Rights Act would not have passed.  Stewart’s assessment was this.  Before the clergy became involved, the issue of what amounted to American Apartheid was a matter of opinion.  When the clergy became involved, the mistreatment of African Americans became a moral issue.  When it became a moral issue, the tide of public opinion shifted…because the American public now could see that not passing the Act was no longer an option.  If we were going to be a just and humane nation, we had to pass the Act.

So, why am I telling you this story?  Because I think something similar is happening with Pope Francis’ encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home.”  Scientists have worked for decades advocating for policy changes that will slow–if not reverse—the devastating effects of climate change.  To this point, though, much of the debate–especially in our country–has been opinion-based.  With the Pope’s encyclical, caring for the earth has become a moral issue:  If we are going to be just and humane, we have to take decisive action in caring for the earth.

Has anyone been binge-watching Pope-sightings this week?  At the White House, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue in the Pope-mobile, at the World Trade Center Memorial, celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, celebrating Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, eschewing lunch with politicians to serve a meal to homeless folks and spend time with them?

Most of my friends are not Catholic.  Many are former Catholics.  A lot are adherents of other faiths or no faith.  Most, of course, are Protestants.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends the past couple years, “I’m not Catholic, but he’s my pope.”  The Pope is still Catholic, of course.  There are many policies he staunchly supports with which many of us would not agree.  But overall, Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor, to simplicity, to erring on the side of love…he’s radically changing the face of the papacy.  And the world is taking note.

I’ve wondered many times since Francis became Pope why he’s doing this.  If he loves simplicity, if he stands with the poor, if he’d rather serve lunch to the homeless than eat lunch with the powerful, why in the world did he become Pope, arguably the most powerful position on the planet?  I’m not up on all the rules about these things.  It could be that if you’re elected Pope, you don’t have a choice….so maybe poor Francis is just stuck.

Stuck or not, here’s the thing I find most impressive about this Pope—he’s using his position to create positive change in the world.  He’s using his position to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the poor—and to how decisions of those in the developed world create hardships for those in under-developed parts of the world.  For a man who, after being elected Pope, rode the bus back to his hotel, you’ve got to think that all the trappings of the papacy must annoy Francis…even so, he is using his office to raise the moral consciousness of everyone on the planet.  And you know, I think it might just be working.

Today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah comes as the people are preparing to go home from what has been a decades-long exile.  They lost their sovereignty, they lost their land, and they wondered for a long time if God was even there anymore.

As they begin packing up their belongings to head back to their homeland—though not with the sovereignty they once enjoyed—the prophet invites them to imagine a more hope-filled future…one where heaven and earth are like new, where cries of distress no longer are heard;  a future where babies don’t die and old people live out an entire lifetime;  a future where the people who build houses and plant vineyards actually get to live in those houses and eat the fruit produced by those vines;  a future where the wolf and the lamb shall feed together.

I once heard environmental poet Wendell Berry say, “If I can imagine it, I can do it.”  (At the time he hadn’t yet been able to imagine how to live without his pick-up truck.  He was working on it.)   That’s exactly what the prophet is offering the people as they head home.  For a people whose future looked bleak, the prophet was inviting them to look again and imagine a more hopeful future

It sounds nutty, I know.  Wolves and lambs sitting down to the same table without the wolves eating the lambs?  Impossible!  But the first step toward making something impossible happen is to imagine it happening…so the prophet gives the people a picture, something to work toward.  Before we see an actual wolf and an actual lamb sit down together at the picnic tables outside, we’ll have to imagine it.  Before we see our planet whole and flourishing, we’ll have  to imagine it.  Before we inhabit an actual world where cries of distress are no longer heard and where babies don’t die, we’ll have to imagine it.

When we see just how devastated our planet and its inhabits are after centuries of poor environmental practices, finding a new heaven and earth like the prophet suggests sometimes seems like our only option.  Maybe life on Mars is the answer.  But as we move into the future, the prophet reminds us that God is already there, working for our welfare, hoping for our wholeness.  We needn’t fear what’s to come, because God is already there waiting for us so that we can work together to create a new heaven and earth in the here and now.

A good way make our way to the future God is hoping for us is to answer the Pope’s call to work together with people of all faiths across the globe to heal our common home.  I don’t know that anyone or anything has done as much as Pope Francis to engage the imaginations of people around the world.  A pope tooling around Rome in a little Fiat?  Who would’ve imagined?  A pope who prefers to live in simplicity in community rather than in the papal apartment?  Who would’ve imagined?  A pope who chooses to wash the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday instead of the feet of the cardinals?  Who would’ve imagined?

Watching Pope Francis re-make the papacy, I’ve about decided he’s the most imaginative person alive right now.  He is using the power of his position to seek the healing of the planet, to make better the lives of the poor.  And he’s not preaching at us or guilting us into being good… he’s showing us how to be good; he’s calling forth the good that’s already inside each and every one of us; he’s showing us how to use the power for good each of us has to act the earth and its inhabitants into well-being.

So, let’s do a little imagining.  Imagine an environmental issue, something that really has you worried, something specific—maybe it’s lack of safe drinking water for all earth’s inhabitants;  maybe it’s the drought in California;  maybe it’s rapidly melting polar ice caps….or perhaps what most worries you is the devastating effects on the world’s poor of unrestrained consumption in the developed world…or the equally devastating effects of deforestation on creatures who once lived in those forests….

My goal isn’t to depress you more than you already are about these issues.  The invitation is to focus on one issue related to earth-care—it could even be some small thing around your house…  Think of one problem that seems insurmountable—and imagine that problem solved.  You don’t have to come up with the plan for getting it solved.  Just imagine that whatever that problem is has been solved.  What does that new world look like?  Take a minute and imagine …  [One minute of silence.]

Let us pray.  Holy One, keep our imaginations alive and active, especially when it comes to acting creation and its inhabitants into well-being.  Help us to trust in your promise of a hope-filled future by working to create it.  Amen.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan ©201



Singing Betty Home

Text to Allen:  I’m in the sanctuary at FBC.  My heart is racing!

Allen:  I’m praying.  All will be well.

Me:  Thanks.  Ron Lewis just started playing organ.  Settling down.

Allen:  Good.  Still praying for you.

Me:  There are several brass players headed for the balcony.  Gotta go get a bulletin.

Allen:  Okay.

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Betty’s service was lovely.  Lots of music.  Lots of hymn-singing.  A beautiful tribute to her life…as was the large number of people who gathered to tell her goodbye.

I was so glad to be one of them.



Daily Devotion – September 27, 2015

Mark 9:38-41

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

Devotion by Julia Shiver

Unfortunately, I tend to get somewhat agitated by some of the things done by people who call themselves “Christians.” How can you possibly be a Christian and do, say, believe THAT? But this verse reminds us that even as we are called to serve in Christ’s name, maybe we shouldn’t discount the service of others done in Christ’s name. The power of Christ, invoked in his name, is greater than our doctrinal differences. Even if someone believes differently than me, God is still present, God’s will is still being done.

Dear God,

Help me be mindful of the service others give in your name, even when I find it hard to see their point of view. The power in Christ’s name is always there. Please help me be open and receptive to Christ’s name. Amen.



Daily Devotion – September 26, 2015
09.26.15

Mark 9:33-37

 

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

 

Reflection by Lynne Buell

 

The disciples thought they were fooling Jesus by not revealing what they were arguing about on their journey. Silly disciples. Jesus knew exactly why they were quarreling. They all thought that one over the others should be the greatest. So why did Jesus use a child to make His point? Whether the child was a symbol of innocence or defenselessness, the fact that I believe He was stressing was in order to be a good follower of Jesus, we must make an effort to humble ourselves and be last of all and act as servants to others; in particular the powerless and vulnerable…to help them.

 

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for helping me to understand that I must live a life of humble service. Help me to stay on track if I begin to sway toward selfishness. Amen.



Loving Baptists

Driving out to Oklahoma for Betty Woodward’s memorial service, I had the sense that part of the reason for the trip was to forgive myself…which felt odd.  Forgive myself for what?  Now, I wonder if the thing for which I feel I need forgiveness is being Baptist.  Maybe it is.  And maybe that assumption grows out of internalizing the thoughts of people who disparage Baptists.

The truth is, though, that there was much about Baptist life that nourished me.  The Baptists, in their evangelical fervor, found me, for one thing.  They took me under their wings.  They nurtured me the best they knew how.  They weren’t able to imagine some things for me, like a call to pastor, but….they did the best they could with what they had.

They did the best they could.

So maybe now I can love, really love, these Baptist folks.  Many of the Baptists I knew—some of whom I’ll see on Saturday—were very good people, people who loved me.  If they don’t remember me or remember me, but not with fondness—so what?  They loved me then.  And nurtured me.  And helped me get to the place where I, eventually, was able to do the healing work I needed to do.

And that is something for which I can be very grateful.



“Nexus Point”

In an email exchange with a friend, she described this moment as a “nexus point,” a time to take stock of things and identify what to keep and what to leave in Oklahoma.  Since arriving, driving around the campus, I’ve felt very little connection with OBU.  I realize now that that’s a gift.  OBU was an important place for me 30 years ago, but I’m a different person now.  OBU is a different place.  And that is just fine.  I can be grateful for what I received and move on.

Even so, I am apprehensive about how I will be received by my OBU friends…will they remember me?  I suspect they will remember me, but will they remember me with fondness?



Daily Devotion – September 24, 2015
09.24.15

Isaiah 65:25

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

Throughout the Bible, there are references to lambs and their shepherds protecting them from wolves. But here, God proclaims that “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together”. It says two things to me. One, that enemies shall live peacefully together. And two, the hierarchy shall be flattened, and all shall be made equal. Isn’t that we want when we pray for world peace?

God continues the analogy with “the lion shall eat straw like the ox”. So the lion won’t eat other animals for its food. It will live peacefully with other animals.

However, “the serpent — its food shall be dust!” Like the garden of Eden, the serpent is made out to be the evil one. If one follows the devil, then that one will not eat with others. That one will not be equal with all others. That one will be alone to eat dust.

What can be more tasteless than dust? What can be more lowly than crawling on the dry Earth? What can be more lifeless and barren?

Prayer:

Dear God. Guide me to work for world peace so that the wolf and lamb may eat together. Help keep the serpents of my life from slithering into my mind and heart so that I may honor your. Amen.