Monthly Archives: December 2015
Greetings Friends and Family,
I spent a bit today ready my annual Christmas letters from years past. I can’t find a couple and I wish I could – I’ll have to do some digging because there is something… spiritual to them. A cataloging of time that slips away quite fast from us. You can read my mood from them. Sometimes light and bouncy – sometimes like bullet point historical logs, sometimes sappy, and other times somber and almost dark, like last year’s “A Different Kind of Christmas Letter.”
This year? I’ve been through two deaths this week with memorial services next and there is a heaviness of heart for that. And it would be too overwhelming to catalog the year past. But what has hold on me, I think because of those realities, is gratitude for family and community. So this year what I’d like to share is my thanks.
I am grateful for my mother and father – they taught me many things. In the end I think the best lesson I learned from them was leadership as responsibility. Don’t find problems, be the solutions. No project is too big… or too small. And leaders lead where need is (not where you wish to be) and they have to do that from the trenches. I learned a lot more than that… but it all begins and ends there.
My sisters. I learned from them that love is messy… not cute or serene. Love is knowing all the things that annoy you about someone and then not letting that matter when the rubber meets the road. I learned tenacious spirit from each of my sisters. They are tough. Not hard. Not callous. Not serious… okay almost never serious. They have stick-to-it-tive-ness as we say. They taught me never to quit… and to always put the seat down on the toilet.
Caroline. Caroline is my partner in all things. Well almost all things… not Minecraft. She hates Minecraft with a passion. I think that is what I love in Caroline the most. Passion. She cares deeply for people. I try to understand people. Caroline just loves them, hurts with them, and laughs alongside them. I love that I get to do that every day. She is my rock. The foundation upon which I get to do a great many things. If you are every thankful for me… it’s Caroline that deserves that thanks.
Warren. Maybe I shouldn’t start with the 10 year old only son? 😉
I have said it before and I will say it again – if he can ever develop disciplines thought, Nietzsche’s long obedience in the same direction, he will rule the world. He is maybe the least naturally creative of my children. But he is resourceful and devilishly clever. And he has a good heart… most days. Warren teaches me patience – or he tries really hard to do so!
Elizabeth makes us laugh. She is the creative one in our family. Her facial expressions, goofy ability to mimic everyone… and me most of all, and the way she manages to poke fun at life on subjects that are far, wide, and deep let you know that beneath that comic exterior she is an incredibly insightful observer. Elizabeth teaches me to take note of different gifts because her genius lies outside the lines and the normal standards of measure but is plain to see all the same.
Meredith reminds me of my youngest sister Sally. She is exceptionally athletic when she wishes to be, can scale the side of a cliff, scamper down a mountain at full speed… I’m pretty sure she can run through a brick way without getting hurt because the girl is solid. I almost died trying to follow her on a hike because she is all mountain goat… and I am not. But she has this elf -like daintiness to her smile and she is Ms. Pink Princess to the T (or the P). She reminds me not to judge a book by the cover… or deny the book its chosen cover either. She loves pink and princess and she will literally end you if you think that makes her weak or a stereotype. I have no worries for her in life… only for the folk in her way.
Danielle is pure joy, except when she is isn’t. Her smile is larger than any room. She is barely three but you would never know it except that she still wears 18 month clothes. Still emerging in personality but it’s the joy I’m grateful for. No matter my mood when she enters a room, or I into hers, there is light the beams from her… and you cannot help but have your step lighten and lift, as she sings Elsa songs.
So much more. I’m grateful for church communities past and present who share life with me and let me share theirs. I am allowed to walk into people’s lives and I’m so grateful for that. I’m thankful for friends scattered over the globe quite literally… well literally I have friends all over the globe, not friends in pieces all over. That would be gross.
Thank you for the tears and laughter, for debates and miscommunications that become enriched knowledge and awareness, for sharing and listening, for helping me and admitting when you needed help. You teach and remind me that in the end it’s all about shared lives. Covenantal faithfulness in all its myriad varieties. I do not greet you as family AND friends… You are all family. You are all friends. And I am grateful for you all… most of the time. 😉
So I see that I’m working myself to half way down a second page. The five people still reading are ready to be done and the rest of you just tuned back in, if at all. I am thinking about radical presence this evening. I hope and pray that you are gathered, wherever you are, with others. That you may be radically present – open, vulnerable, hearing, sharing, caring – to each other. May we all learn from one another to be so. I truly believe that this is the only way there will be peace in our world. So let there be peace on earth… and let it begin with you.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays today and into the new year.
Andrew and the Boise Kukla Family
In my last blog I mentioned saying thank you to people, people who act as light in the darkness. In that vein I want to share a thank you letter I wrote to my local Planned Parenthood office in the wake of the recent violence that has been fostered and perpetrated against them.
Since the day I was invited to learn more of your work I have been awed by all that you do. That day earlier this year I called you all resurrection workers. I stand by it. Every day you all are willing to walk into a building that is piled high with the garbage of so many people filled with hate. You walk in there, not because you enjoy mucking around in other people’s cross-hairs. But because you steadfastly refuse to leave neighbors in need to bear that burden alone. You walk into a building taking on the ire and hate of entire populations of people in order to say to others, “You are not alone. Don’t be afraid.”
You know who else does that? Angels. Literally. Almost without fail the first words heaven has to speak to earth in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” And through the very presence of those angels we are also reminded us we are not alone. Every single day you make that your life’s work. And you do it at great danger and expense to yourself. Thank you.
I cannot convey the depth of my awe with regard to your generous spirits – to look people in the eye and not look away, to wipe away shame with love? You inspire me. Scripture is what I do, so I apologize but I will quote it again – yes you are having scripture quoted at you. I wish this was the only reason people did so… to thank you.
In John’s Gospel it begins saying that a light shines in the darkness…. And that the darkness will not overcome it. Those words have always evoked for me a sense of a light that is struggling to stay on. A light that is constantly beset by the darkness. A light that constantly seems on the verge of failing. And yet… it is a light that cannot, will not, ever, ever go out. It won’t because it’s too important. It won’t because love, grace, and mercy always win out in the end. You cannot kill love. You can bury it in garbage and even blood. But you cannot put it out. It will shine through the worst the world has to offer to light up the best that we can be for one another.
Thank you for being a light. Thank you for risking yourself and your own peace of mind to add peace in the lives of people who are so often turned away from the ones most expected to give us love. You will not be overcome – we cannot let that happen, we will not let that happen. Keep on shining, keep on giving, and keep on working to sew hope in the darkness.
I love you all. You are not alone.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla
Rain. Rain. Rain.
When you live on the edges of the high desert you don’t see much. Over the summer it will take us months to get an inch… in a good year. This year? I feel like it’s rained every day for the last month. 40 degrees and wet.
Someone just told me to have a good night… at noon. I informed them that despite the look outside it actually wasn’t night… yet. But it will be soon – and it will be the longest night of the year. Winter solstice is at exactly 9:49 pm local time. We will be as far away from the sun as we get this year at that point. We will be in the midst a night that is 15 hours and 5 minutes long from sunrise to sunset.
Dark. Dark. Dark.
I just left the bedside of one of our members. She didn’t have the energy to face another winter. She went quietly into the night… as she wished to do. I held her hand and the hand of her dear and incredibly faithful husband (they’d walked a long journey of hesed, covenant-faithfulness, just the two of them… God I can’t imagine letting go). They had agreed to disagree. He stood by her side and said good bye. I remembered a time she called me on the phone and told me not to take it the wrong way but she thought I was cute. I remembered a week ago in the hospital – I told her I loved her, she told me the same. Good bye was right… not easy.
I waited in my car in the parking lot afterward to get a phone call… to find out if another member still lived – which way should I pull out from the parking lot. Where was I going next? I really don’t care that the bulletin is sitting undone in the next tab over.
Cold. Cold. Cold.
I’m overwhelmed at the moment with the desire to add my tears to the rain. When I think of all the fights going on… about who we should welcome, about the cost of caring for people, about walling people in or out, about what we can or cannot wear on our heads or pray or who is allowed to get married or who can make their own medical choices or the consequences of someone else not measuring up to my standards as workers, as neighbors, as fellow parents, about how overpaid people are who are working hard and unable to pay the rent…
I want to cry. WHY?
Why, in a world that is hard enough, do we insist on making it harder? Why do we not care? Colder. Darker. Wetter.
Wet. Wet. Wet.
Longest night indeed. I don’t cry though. No tears come – though I wish they would, and mingle with the slushy puddles in the road. Like sitting before an empty bucket knowing you need to purge your guts but it won’t come… I wish to vomit out the dis-ease but its holding on tight. It just sits there in center of my being. This malaise of yuck. The roiling chaos of toxicity. I want to let it all go.
But instead all that happens is the eerie discontent settles in. Slightly peaceful even.
I shut the door. I turn off the lights. I put my phone on do not disturb. And I stare out at the cars through my window that looks out onto State Street. A lyric comes to mind “all those people… going somewhere… why have I never cared.”
My heart craves this night. I need to sit still for a moment in an otherwise overwhelming scheduling… I need to soak up the sorrow and find the sweetness in it. There is sweetness in it. A light, if you will, shining in the darkness. I have made phone calls to person after person. Those I know who will want to know to care. Care for a husband… mourn from a friend… attend to another dying neighbor…
Light. Light. Light.
Yesterday I sat in class and talked about thanking people who “magnified God’s presence” to us. Sending a note to another who shared a meaningful experience with us with gratitude that they were there to share it.
In the cold, damp, dark – huddle close. A light shines in the darkness not being its some existential reality beyond us… its because we wouldn’t allow it to be any other way. I will be your light, will you be mine?
On the other side of the world on the other side of the year Emperor Penguins will survive a winter far worse than mine. They will breed in it – and mostly, they will survive it all – together. In the worst of their darkest nights they huddle close and form circles with the weakest and youngest in the center completely buffered from the wind. The outside edge shuffles constantly to have movement to warm up and they create a living wave effect with their shuffling – a constant turning so that they each get a turn on the windward side of the circle.
Alone? They would be doomed. Together? They live.
I can forget that when the sun shines. When a languid spring day turns into a glorious summer sunset. When all seems right with the world. I think I stand on my own quite well.
But not tonight. Tonight I’m thankful for the light. The light of all those who would never choose any other way but to care. Not for their preservation, but for OUR preservation. Huddle close. Cry, shiver, shuffle, and go quietly into the night. But not alone. Never alone. I’m grateful I’m not alone.
I will be your light, will you be mine?
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
(Boise by night… the lights are faint in the picture. But they are there!)
This last weekend I preached on the story of the wise men (here). We are focusing on advent-ure this season and the various journeys people took to find the Christ-child. We began with the longest journey, these star-followers who might well have started journeying first, and arrived last. On Sunday, as often happens, there were sermons that didn’t get preached. I like to say that the Holy Spirit holds my sermons upside down and shakes out all the loose change. Sometimes I hold on too strong and keep the rabbit trails in my sermon – but on a good week I let them go (kicking and screaming). This is one of those trails, but it just might have been the more important sermon. It isn’t the story of the wise men. This is our story when we meet them…
“When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3)
The words form a very important counter-point to scripture’s tendency to remind us early and often to “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” When the wise men bring word to Jerusalem that they believe the child who will be King of Jews has been born the reaction they get is not what we might have hoped for. They do not get excitement. They do not get intrigue. They get fear. First from the current King, and then from all Jerusalem.
Both of these movements are important and telling and need attention. It’s not a throwaway line in the story of the wise men. In fact, it is the story most of the people lived. Once the small band of astrologers continues off to find the child… EVERYONE ELSE STAYS PUT.
Hear that again: the long-awaited Messiah may be born…. Let’s do nothing but sit here afraid.
King Herod heard this, he was frightened…
The very first bit of wisdom is a reminder that there cannot be two masters, and if a new order is emerging (think Isaiah, “Look I am doing a new think, do you not perceive it?” and any conversation about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom… prepare the way of the Lord) this is not good news to the establishment. How many times have you seen some version of the church joke that says something like, we want a new innovative pastor who will bring new energy and life to our church and give us a great vision for the future in which we do not have to do anything different… (cue rim shot).
The potential of the messiah coming isn’t necessarily good news for those who profit from the current arrangement. If Mary’s child does half the overturning she claims he will… I’m not convinced the child’s birth is good news to me. I stand to lose a lot. It’s not just King Herod’s fear. It’s my fear too.
How willing am I to embrace a new order? Am I willing to leave the comfort of my settled ways for the journey of following one who intends to turn the world upside down? The birth of a messiah is the ultimate moment when preaching moves to meddling. God is getting’ all up in our business. What are we going to do about it? This birth narrative says we will choose to ignore it, to look the other ways, to cling tightly to what we have in fear that change will be harder than we wish it to be. It says, in fact, even more than that. It says a small group of outsiders will get caught up in the movement and drop everything to follow a star (just like a small group of religious left-overs will drop their nets to follow this child many years later) in hopes of participating in a word-changing event… THE climactic moment of creation. And the people for who the event was known about and long-awaited? We will use every means at our disposal to double down on the way it always has been and rationalize why this isn’t really the moment to be stirred to action.
…and all Jerusalem with him.
I think I can read this two ways at the same time and they both can be simultaneously true.
The first is that we take our lead… from our leaders. When we are led by fearful people than we become fearful people. The rhetoric of power forms our reality. I remember having a leadership consultant say to me once that people go where the leaders go. Leaders have to lead. When the leaders go to fear… that is where everyone else will go as well. When leaders aren’t able to lead but hide in uncertainty… than that this where the people go too. King Herod doesn’t follow; the people don’t follow. King Herod choose suspicious not confirmation; the people choose the same. King Herod became afraid; the people get caught up in that same fear. King Herod will strike out with death; the people too will cry for death.
We need better leaders. We need self-differentiated people. We need discernment. We need, most of all, not to be afraid. Because we cannot do any of those things – lead, be whole, and seek the path forward – when we are caught in fear.
But the other reality is this, I will name it because it has to be called out to be countered, the structures of power also have our lives in their hands. The people don’t only join Herod in fear because he led them there… they also have every reason to fear the consequences of a scared leader. Herod will slaughter innocents out of his fear… and those will be their children. The fear is natural. The response to it is problematic. The fear is real but the consequences of it are worse for their desire to resist waking up and taking note of the change that was taking place in their world. Being afraid didn’t stop the slaughter.
They needed better leaders. They needed a better way. They needed change.
And so do we.
So do not be afraid. Be prepared to uproot and seek diligently the new things God is doing and become agents of that change – leaders of the way, in word and deed, this day and forevermore.