Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Different Kind of Christmas Letter

Every year I write a Kukla Christmas letter.  It’s a tradition I love.  Sharing my family’s ups and downs in one paragraph per member.  I actually experience it as an intriguing discipline of finding what nugget captures the year of growth and learning each of us have had.  And because I enjoy wit and humor – I find a fair amount of that in the storytelling.  (At least I think so…….)

But those of you who haven’t hidden my statuses already know more than you ever wanted to about my family.  You know my kids are adorable, creative, energetic, stubborn, wild, opinionated, and that Caroline and I barely have anything resembling the kind of control one would expect of parents.  Just as Warren struggles with bad choices (because he is 9), Elizabeth still has no desire to learn how to read because she’d much rather just make up her own stories (and I love that about her even though it mystifies me).  Meredith doesn’t sleep and whines as a tool to get what she wants (you’d think she was the youngest and I think she still thinks she can be that and is campaigning for the lifelong job), and Danielle taught me that no matter how stubborn you think people are… you can always find one out there who is EVEN MORE stubborn (but I’m pretty sure she is going to reverse engineer this world in some amazing ways, I have booked my ticket for the ride at least).

And my wife walks on water.  She doesn’t think so… she would have you believe she is barely breathing. But she walks on water and anyone who thinks differently will have to answer to me. But we still fight.  We will get frustrated and say things we don’t mean.  But that is something we just take in stride – it’s part of our love, not in spite of it.  That is why I cannot imagine my journey without her.

So that would normally be it… and then I’d theologize just a bit about advent and Christmas here at the end… because that is what I do too.  But.  This year.  This year I’m really caught up in hope.  Not hopeful.  I’m caught up about hope because I don’t really feel it.

I shared with a group of clergy colleagues from all over the country that the church is dusty in Idaho… It’s much easier to see the cross than resurrection.

I find myself working with more and more groups with the different hats I wear who are struggling to find commitment, time, and resources to do what they love.  LOVE.  The love is genuine but how to form and direct it is… a bit lost.

I think about what it means that 1 out of every 2 people you meet is struggling with major debt issues they do not know how to deal with it and cannot get out from under.  In a nation of crazy wealth we are living beyond our means… and the stress and fear of holding up a house of cards… it’s palpable and it’s painful.  And I’m pretty sure it’s killing us all.

Racial tensions, political tensions, religious strife.  They do not pass away no matter how far we seem to think we have come.  We have enlightened toys… but we are not enlightened people.  We struggle hard to have empathy and compassion and time seems to entrench us more than redempt us.

And violence abounds.  Cyclical violence… where answers are more likely to create bigger problems.  Where the enemy is the tool we are using to fight the enemy.

Cynics are the sane people… and I can think of nothing sadder to say than that.

So where is hope?  Where is up or out from this?  If light is not being overcome, is there anywhere its overcoming the dark?

A friend just left me a voice message.  It was summed up in this, “Miss you. Wish we were doing this together.  Love you.”  I haven’t called her back yet… but there is hope.

Half a country away another friend just texted me to say it’s raining there too… and remember that once we held umbrellas up to walk 800 people into our sanctuary in the rain.  Miss you too.  There is hope.

I recall vividly and regularly a picture of my younger sister, on a ventilator for the rest of her life, standing in my parents back yard roasting s’mores on a fire.  Yah a tank of pure oxygen leaning over an open flame.  But life will not be contained by fear – because it wants to be lived.  There is hope.

I have congregation members… no strike that, friends.  Friends who struggle mightily with some of what I believe about God and faith and scripture – “ALL THAT” – but told that to me straight up… not as a complaint, not as finding fault, not as heterodoxy… they told me that because they are committed to journey with me and I with them.  There is hope.

I have had the pleasure of becoming the President of the Board of a group that seeks to rapidly rehouse homeless families.  And our little group has a lot of problems.  Not enough money, organization issues, politics… you name it.  But the people working there?  They will bankrupt us with their care to position these neighbors with the best chances of writing a Christmas letter like I usually do… where the complaints are all really bragging and food, clothing, and housing are stable and sure.  And wow!  Their passion makes me want to work myself as hard as I can with time I don’t seem to have to let them run and not walk to serve our community.  There is hope.

I visited with a person trying to find something worth fighting for in a nursing home as her life becomes smaller and frailer… but I tag teamed with another visitor and another because while her walls were bare and her room unfurnished,  her life is full of people trying to keep it bright.  There is hope.

There is hope.

Madeleine L’Engle writes in her poem, First Coming, “He did not wait till the world was ready, till men and nations were at peace.  He came when the Heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release. He did not wait for the perfect time.  He came when the need was deep and great…

…We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, or to share our grief, to touch our pain, He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!”

We cannot wait till the world is sane…. And then I read that through my lens of despair that maybe only the cynics are sane and I realize what I am feeling about hope.  We cannot wait until all has become cynical.  We mustn’t let that happen.  Hope doesn’t mean that all will be well.  Hope means that we can imagine wellness.  We can imagine survival.  We can imagine not being overcome.  We can imagine shedding our fear.  We can imagine…. future.  A future with more light than today.

Hope is a present reality, like a baby crying out in painful entry into this world where the very screams of present pain echo as a celebration of life unfolding with unlimited potential and promise.  There is hope. And we can imagine that even though we do not know where to find it…  It is here.

I was running last night to sneak in my three miles of healthiness, which I try to do every other day.  And twice during the run I saw shooting stars streaking through the night sky.  Now normally when I run I’m too busy being miserable to see something like that… but I did.  And the thought that hit me was just how alive the world was.

The world is ALIVE.

Full.  And light was seeping out of its fullness.  And I realized… there is hope.

And it was finding me as I was looking for it and somewhere in the twin journeys of attentive searching and disruptively being found – like Shepherds before an angel being sent from the mundane to discover the divine wrapped in impromptu clothing – there is hope.  More than enough for me.  Not just to hold my ground and not be overcome… but that I might just manage to birth a little more light into tomorrow than the darkness I create.

If we all just birth a little more light than darkness?   There is hope.

Love you all, and thanks for loving me to the moon and back: I found hope in the journey.

Grace and Peace,

Andrew and the whole Kukla Family.

Painting God’s World

“Persisting: Painting God’s World

4th in Series on the Prophetic Imagination of God’s Kingdom Hope

Zechariah 9

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. 13For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will arouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. 14Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. 15TheLord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour and tread down the slingers; they shall drink their blood like wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar. 16On that day the Lord their God will save them for they are the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. 17For what goodness and beauty are his! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.

We have come to the words of Zechariah, and the conclusion of this series listening to the prophetic voice speaking of God’s desires for how we are to live together – the prophetic imagination of “In that day,” the day of the Lord, how will the world appear?

Zechariah is representing for us the late tradition of the prophets.  His prophetic message comes as the tradition of the prophetic – at least the literary tradition – is coming to a close and in the wake of their message apocalypticism emerges.  Apocalypticism is born of a skeptical world view, skepticism turned to cynicism about human agency.  It is formed from a weariness with the world and the inability for us to hear and live God’s word for us.  And so the prophets turned visionaries imagine that the only way God’s Kingdom can emerge is a with a cosmic battle, a divine warrior making the kingdom win out against our stubborn waywardness – the care and indifference of all the nations to each other, and our casual disregard for those in need when it does not suit us.  And an old tension is embraced at even greater lengths: a kingdom of peace established with war.

God’s vision is for a kingdom of peace – but we cannot imagine establishing such a kingdom without God appearing in overwhelming strength. And so cosmic battle and assertion of God’s unequaled strength must come first.  And we see that tension clearly in Zechariah’s prophesy that the king who is to some, will arrive victorious…. on a donkey.  A prophesy that should ring familiar to Holy Week hopes of Jesus.  A king… yet humble and riding on a donkey.

And so it is that we come to our second reading and Zechariah providing us a review of the prophetic voice.  You can hear his weariness and fatigue that this voice has been ignored “in the former prophets” and yet he cannot help but try one more time.  Listen now to our second text from Zechariah 7:

4Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: 5Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves? 7Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, along with the towns around it, and when the Negeb and the Shephelah were inhabited?

8The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: 9Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; 10do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. 11But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. 12They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.

The origins of Zechariah’s cynicism is that the former prophets spoke and nobody listen.  Prophet after prophet, generation after generation, spoke and nobody listened.  The message stayed the same, clear and consistent, and yet nobody was willing to listen.  Hearts adamantly closed.

But Zechariah tries again and provides the vision for how society would work by God’s creative imagination, what we might call the Kingdom of God or I like to call the Community of God…. “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; 10do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”   This is the picture of the Kingdom God desires.  This is the picture of how we are to live.  That those who have no power, standing, or ability to provide for themselves: the widow, the orphan, the alien, the poor – that these who are treated as the least among us will be cared for and lifted up.  In this vision we will not seek to harm one another and we will not seek to make ourselves win, and others lose.  This is the vision for the Kingdom, it has always been the vision for the kingdom, and though the messenger and the vehicle may change the end vision has never altered.

I spent just a few minutes thinking through places we receive this message – I name that because this list could go on forever but I will only touch on the ones that occurred to me first.

We find it first in Genesis when a communal God desires to create a communal people, “Let US make humankind in OUR image.” (Genesis 1) And in the second creation story with God’s claim that it is not good that we live alone but that we live, as Adam greets Eve, recognizing that our neighbor is “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2).  And then of course this culminates in Genesis 4 when Cain grows jealous of Abel and he leads him out to the fields where he kills him.  And God asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” And Cain’s response will resound in every chapter of the Bible: He says, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the answer God gives to him will also resound in every chapter of the Bible: essentially? yes.

“For the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”

Yes, you are your brother and sister’s keeper, and everyone is your brother and sister.

In Jewish law, all 600+ of them, there is no law, not even the law to love God or keep Sabbath, that is as often repeated as the law to love the stranger as yourself.  36 times!  36 times including, most notably, in the height of Leviticus, a text about holiness and purity, the people are commanded to give their hearts to strangers, for they too have been strangers.

Again in Jeremiah 22, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages… Are you a king because you compete in cedar (wealth)? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.  But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.”

And again in Luke’s seventh chapter, when the prophet – John the Baptist – is wondering if Jesus is the messiah, the one we have been waiting for, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if this is so and Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”

This is how you will know me because this is how God has always been known – this is the way God lives in the world, this is the way God cares for God’s people.  The community that God seeks is on where we love one another.  For five chapters of the Gospel of John’s farewell discourse Jesus, speaking to his disciples – his friends, on the eve of his death will say over and over again that God loves them and desires that they love each other in the same way.  Jesus will claim community and one-ness with God and then tell them that he desires they have that same one-ness, that same community, that same love and care for one another.  We are to be as one with each other, as Jesus is with God.

And Paul will pick up this thread with the churches he plants and nurtures.  He will instill in them a care for each other’s hardship and struggle.  To the Corinthians he says (2 Corinthians 8):

“I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Over and over and over again the message of God to God’s people is to be in creation, in life, together.   To share the understanding that we are all brothers and sisters and we are indeed each other’s keeper – we are to love, as we have been loved.  Care for one another, support one another, seek a world where there is not an imbalance of power with privileged and marginalized, where there is not those in need and those with plenty.

That we seek not only to relieve the stress but to dismantle the systems that create it and build new ones that do not.

This is the message Zechariah tells us the prophets shared over and over and the people turned a deaf ear to it.  I give you again, the message of God for God’s people, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor.  Do not devise evil in your hearts towards one another.  We are all God’s people, we are all bound together because we are all God’s people.  When one among us is hurting – God is hurting, and we are hurting.

I was at the installation on Wednesday of the new Catholic Bishop of Boise, Bishop Christensen.  And toward the end of the sermon he shared that he loves doing landscape painting.  He said that when he does a landscape painting he always starts with the sky, because how the sky is dictates how everything else is.  The play of light in the sky casts its nature on the nature of the landscape – of the world around us.

Zechariah struggling to find hope, struggling to imagine that we can finally hear and age old message and receive the love of God – casts a picture for us, a landscape of the community of God in which the light that is God dictates how everything should look and feel.  The light that is God is one of love, of care for all people, of community in God’s own being – let us make humankind in our imagine, and the father and I are one: be one as we are one.

This is the light that is shining, a giving God who desires the same goodness for all of God’s creation, and this is the light that is illuminating how we are to live in the world.  And the question we put before ourselves now is: if this is how God has painted the sky, how are we going to paint the world?

Advent Thoughts: Seeking the Sacred

The concept of splitting the sacred from the profane is not only problematic – as if we could keep God out of anything or that faith can be nicely compartmentalized so it doesn’t get inconveniently obtrusive of our comfort – but its also abusive. It tells some that they are outside the providence and care of God, it divides our self: our interests, our hopes and dreams. It denigrates some truth as less than, or worse yet: not at all.

Ultimately the idea of splitting the sacred and the profane as two different realities dies in a moment of birth. The incarnation is God’s strong rebuke of any such splitting. The fullness of the divine made fully alive in the least of humanity. No split. No divide. No lack of worth. There is no corner of the world, no word in which the Word does not fully dwell. Our bodies our holy. Our minds are holy. Our spirit is holy. All people, places are dripping with the holy – the Word is present in all creation and no one can remove it, or profane it.

God profaned God’s word: emptied… descend… incarnated… and it is beautiful to behold. You are beautiful to behold. This is the message of advent, that God is already here – dwelling in and all around you, and it is good.

I Am That Man: Priviledge, Power, and Acountability

I am preaching prophets this Advent and last week I preached the story of Nathan’s parable to King David after David used his role as king to have a man killed so that David could take his wife for himself. (2 Samuel 12)

Nathan presents a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s only lamb to serve as dinner to a guest. David becomes incensed at this horrible violation and wants the man dead. Nathan turns to David and pronounces: “you are that man.”

The story gets David to see in a mirror his own power abuse, his own privileged way of life, his own shedding of accountability that caused this responsible shepherd boy to become a tyrant king. And we – in that moment – acknowledge what a horrible person David is.

…whereby we demonstrate the problem… because you see, we are that that man. Instead of learning about abuse of power, tendency towards privilege, and struggles being held accountable to ideas like equality and justice what we learned to do was heap on the blame for those who have been outed as guilty.

We blame David as easily as he blamed the rich man in Nathan’s story… but unless we turn that back on ourselves to examine our culpability than we are no better hearers, or receivers of wisdom, than David was. The story was a mirror. Nathan’s story AND David’s story.

So here we are. Stories of injustice continue. Have we gotten better at listening, learning, and self-examining? I am grieved to my heart at what is happening in Ferguson, on all “sides” (and saddened that there are even sides). I have no idea what to believe about it all. I believe the whole matter is filled with injustice, anger, fear, otherness, racial tension, class tensions, power abuse, and entitlement. I feel that from authority but I feel it as well from those resisting the authority. I have been overly quiet on this topic… because I do not think what has happened is clear, and because I’m very far from it all. But that isn’t really true. I am responsible, and I am a part of it. All of our lives are interrelated… and I am that man.

I have friends in law enforcement. Their job is incredibly hard, and I understand why they are defensive in all this fire storm. That doesn’t mean they should not be held accountable. Power always needs to be constantly examined. I think the same of the power I hold as a pastor, and I become very upset when other pastors violate that trust. And I can see the temptation in my life as well. We have to call for greater accountability to those who have greater power. I need that. I need to be held accountable.

My heart grieves similarly for the case in Staten Island. My heart grieves when life becomes cheap – any life, from any source, for any reason. We must examine closely the use of power – ALWAYS and in ALL areas. The power of establishment, and the powers of the prophet, and the powers of disestablishment. Power must be assumed with vigilant accountability. Yes for these situations… but also for me.

I have heard heard it said that “always making everything about me” is a type of narcissism. If so, I think its the kind of narcissism we need more of. Because the question I always want to ask is: how am I responsible? How am I part of unjust systems, racial tensions, class hierarchy, etc, etc… the list goes on. And seeing how I am a part – how can I transform them for the better? How can I be made empowered without abusing power, how can I work to empower others to shed my privilege and prevent entitlement, and how can I always make sure I’m held accountable to larger and larger circles of accountability?

I am aware of how just how privileged I am. I’m a white, male, heterosexual. I am married with four blond haired, blue eyed, healthy, creative young children. I was raised in an upper middle class family with every opportunity before me, and I’m highly educated, and have a job with a great deal of power. I do not apologize for any of that… but I do apologize for what it has meant when it grants me privilege I should not have, or takes privileges away from others who should have them. I apologize for what it has meant to be a white male. I apologize that we live in a world that fears those that differ from us, from the norm, from the established categories. I apologize for gay friends who fear for losing jobs because of their sexuality that has nothing to do with their job. I apologize for friends of color that they constantly have to wonder if they are safe; if they are welcome. I apologize not because I’m white. I apologize that I haven’t helped enough to make the fact that I am white not matter. I apologize not for being heterosexual, because I really love my wife! I apologize that I haven’t helped convinced other’s like me that you aren’t a threat to them.

I am that man – I am responsible to checking the impulse towards tyranny in those of power. I am responsible to eliminate privilege as much I can, and to use what I have in the pursuit of that goal. I am responsible to invite the world beyond its prejudice and fear, to invite beyond enclaves of sameness to a diverse community that bridges people across divides and brings down walls of hostility. I’m responsible. Not alone, not ultimately… but I am responsible.

A friend of mine recently asked online if other females who were presumably in a public building alone check to make sure all the bathroom stalls are empty before using it. That had never occurred to me. And that is privilege. I live in a world where I can presume a certain level of safety that many, many, many others cannot. It have never checked to see that a bathroom is truly empty. I’m thankful for that. But I’m grieved to live in a world where my case is more rare than true. I’m grieved to live in a world where being white, or male, or educated, or in a position of power, or being heterosexual… where these things make life safer for me. Because life is sacred. All life. And all life should be protected, nurtured, and empowered to flourish. I should not be any more safe or more empowered because of these attributes of my life… but I am.

As I watch the stories in the news, whether its immigrants at the borders, Gaza and Israel, ISIL and the Middle East, Ferguson and Staten Island… or even the homeless under the bridge in Boise, Idaho – my town of residence… as I watch these I hope for resolutions that will further peace and unity for everyone involved. But my hope doesn’t end there – cannot end there. I hope that I will use these stories as mirrors into my own life. How do these stories invite me to concrete actions of solidarity, good will, and good news towards ALL involved both there, but also in my own community. Let us not be David, or gang up on David to the exclusion of recognizing our own guilt. Let us learn from him, let us learn with him, and let us learn so that we can help him – to help us all be shepherds of a better future for all.

I am that man. I am that person. And so are you.