Monday, December 17, 2012

Stop the Violence

Sixteen mass shooting took place in the United States in 2012 resulting in 88 deaths (information from The Nation magazine). They were:

February 22nd – five people were killed at a Korean Health Spa in Norcross, Georgia.

February 26 – gunmen opened fire in a Jackson, Mississippi nightclub, killing one.

February 27 – three students were shot to death at a high school in rural Ohio.

March 8 – two people were killed at a psychiatric hospital in Pittsburg.

March 31 – two people attending a funeral were shot and killed in North Miami, FL.

April 2 – a former student killed seven people “execution style” at Oikos University in Oakland, California.

April 6 – two men went on a shooting spree targeting African American men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, killing three.

May 29 – in Seattle, Washington, a man opened fire in a coffee shop killing five people and then himself.

July 9 – three people were killed at a soccer tournament in Wilmington, DE.

July 20 – a man entered a movie theater in Aurora, CO, and killed 12 people.

August 5 – six people were shot to death in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI.

August 14 – three people, including a police officer, were shot and killed at Texas A & M University.

September 27 – in Minneapolis, MN, a man shot and killed five people at his former work place, then killed himself.

October 21 – three people were shot to death at a spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin; the gunman then killed himself.

December 11 – two people were killed at a mall in Portland, Oregon.

December 15 – 26 people, mostly children, were shot and killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; the shooter’s mother was killed at her home; the shooter committed suicide.

We who are followers of Jesus Christ, who love God and live to do God's work in this world - what will we do in response to these killings? We must respond, not just with an expression of sympathy or an official statement naming these as tragedies, but with ourselves - our bodies, our minds, our efforts, our words and our actions.

I believe two things must be done in our nation to curtail these horrifying occurences. First we must provide comprehensive and excellent mental health care to all people who need it. That could get expensive to us as a society, but the cost is worth it to prevent more deaths like those listed above. Those who shoot innocent people for no reason are not well. I say that not to excuse their behavior but to underscore that providing mental health care to all is necessary if we are to have a safe society.

The second thing we must do is ban the sale of any and all rapid-fire guns in the United States. No one needs a rapid fire weapon to protect him/herself or to hunt, and those are the only reasons a person needs to own a gun. Guns do not necessarily keep a person safe. The mother of the shooter in Connecticut owned the guns that were used to kill her; they did not protect her life from danger.

The violence must stop. What will you do? What can we do together? We cannot be silent, we cannot fail to act any longer. Let's work together to stop the violence.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hands Empty. Hearts Full

It was the look that got me, the look he gave toward the altar after the offering plates were collected. That look wrenched my heart, wrenched all our hearts, but what could we do?

At Shepherd King our adult ushers collect the offerings during worship on Sunday mornings. But often when there are children in the service the ushers ask a couple of them to carry the full plates back to the altar as the congregation sings the doxology. A worship assistant waits for them in the chancel, receives the plates, and takes them to the credence table.

On Sunday Kathy was the worship assistant. Conner and his little cousin, Hudson, were chosen to bring the offering forward to the altar. Conner has done this many times before; he's 8 years old and quite capable of participating in various ways in the service. Hudson had helped once before, but at barely 3, it's harder for him to handle those collection plates with checks, bills, and coins in them. So as the boys came forward Conner held the plates and Hudson walked alongside him, hands empty.

As soon as they started forward Hudson began to lobby for carrying one of the plates. He reached for a plate, but as the bigger and more responsible one, Conner held them fast. Hudson veered slightly in front of Conner. Conner patiently guided his little cousin over to the side and continued walking. As they got closer and closer to Kathy, waiting for them at the altar, Hudson's appeal for a plate become more demonstrative -- reaching again, giving his cousin pleading looks, getting in front of him. Conner didn't waver, just brought the plates forward. He had probably been told to carry them both for fear that Hudson might drop one, sending checks and cash flying.

Finally they reached the front. A few feet short of the altar Hudson came to an abrupt stop. Conner continued on and gave Kathy the plates, then he turned and headed back to his pew. But not Hudson (who loves Conner more than anything and usually follows him everywhere). Hudson just stood there - his body turned partially towards the back, his face turned toward the altar, his head down. And the look on his face was heartbreaking. This boy used to be so shy he would not come to the front of the church even with Conner or his Dad. But now he stood there all alone with a look of dejection and defeat on his face. We all ached to console him.

Kathy had begun walking toward the credence table with the plates, but Hudson's expression made her pause. For a moment she didn't move. Then she went back, reached down and invited Hudson to re-give her one of the plates. He happily moved forward, took the top plate, lifted it just a little, and put it back again. Then he turned and walked proudly back to his seat while Kathy took the plates away.

Grace had come to life right in front of us. We saw a boy who felt left out, rejected, and dismissed be acknowledged, be welcomed at the altar - the home of God. There, in God's presence, Kathy shared God's kindness, God's tangible love, with a little boy. The whole congregation sighed. Our hearts were filled by that gracious gesture. And Hudson learned, again, that he is loved in this place, that he matters to us, that we see him and care for him as a child of God, our brother in Christ.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grief and Grieving

I don't know how to grieve. People grieve differently, of course, and there is no perfect way to do it. Even so, the process I follow, the ways I express my grief seem inadequate.

I feel like a child standing on a street corner with a lost look on my face. When I first heard the news I could only think to say these two things: "but I just saw her" and "oh God, oh God, oh God." We wander blindly through grief, not knowing where the path will lead us, unsure what to say or do, stuck fast in disbelief.

We did just see Julie, on Sunday. She was her usual delightful self - smiling, helping set the altar for communion, singing in the choir, talking about her kids. Who could imagine Mt. Zion without Julie Klutz and why would anyone have done so? Her grandmother lived to be 97; surely Julie had many more good years of life left.

But she didn't. On Friday she collapsed, went into a coma, and died, sending a whole community - church members, neighbors, friends of her sons, her family and her own friends - into shock. It didn't seem possible.  It didn't seem real. It didn't make sense -- still doesn't.

I don't know how to grieve. Mostly I am numb and sad. My attention may be diverted by a task at work but as soon as it is finished I remember: "Julie is dead." When I awaken after a night's sleep, feeling the heaviness within, the thought comes quickly: "Julie is gone."  On the outside I appear calm, normal, but inside a tiny "me" is beating her fists on the walls and screaming "no! no! no! It isn't fair!"  I would cry if I could but the tears only come at inopportune moments - during a meeting, in worship when I'm giving the announcements or trying to sing. I don't know how to grieve.

Grief comes as it will, expresses itself on its own terms. One friend can't eat; several friends are having trouble sleeping. Julie's family is surrounded by people, come to offer their condolences. They get to talking, remembering, even laughing. But when the house is empty and it's time for bed, 'reality' (as Austin put it) smacks them in the face, punches them in the gut all over again.

I don't know how to grieve, but I do know this - we grieve together. We check on each other and talk even when we don't know what to say. We play music to relieve the pain and share special songs with our friends. We fix food and bring it to those in mourning. We encourage one another to rest, to eat, to know we are all still loved. We come together for worship to be comforted, to cry and lament, to hear the Word, to hold each other up. We do not do this grieving alone but with each other; together we keep going. And we remember - her smile, her kindness, her laughter, her goodness, her friendship. Yes, we remember.

"For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
     a time to be born and a time to die...
     a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted...
     a time to weep and a time to laugh...
     a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing..."  (Ecclesiastes chapter 3)

Now is the time to grieve, and grieve, and grieve.  It is also the time to live, giving thanks to God for the life of Julie Klutz, for each other, for the nearness of the Savior and for the promise of life everlasting.

Pastor Kris

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I had a "come to Jesus" meeting with Shepherd King's youth group last Sunday. The previous Sunday, when I was gone, our youth had made a plea for financial support for their trip to New Orleans at the beginning of worship. Then several of them sat off by themselves and proceeded talk all through the service and pay so little attention to what was going on around them that they did not stand up for the gospel or the creed or anything else. Adult members found their behavior inappropriate and disrespectful. By the time I was back in the office last Tuesday, the complaints were pouring in.

So we had a come to Jesus meeting. I told them they'd shot themselves in the foot - asking for support and then acting up all through worship. With their parents standing by listening, I talked to the youth about showing respect - to their parents, to the worshipping community, to me, and most of all, to God. We went over a list spelling out guidelines for good behavior in worship - take off your hat in church, stand up for the Gospel reading, open your bulletin and your hymnal and participate, keep your hands to yourself. Being part of the church, I said, is a two-way street. The congregation provides you with a cool youth room, supports the trips you take, teaches you Sunday school, hires you a youth director. In return, you need to come to worship, behave properly, and be courteous to others. We posted a copy of these guidelines on the door of the Youth room.

We have great kids here at Shepherd King. Each is a fine person with sensitivity and kindness, loyalty, good humor, faith in God, and willingness to help others. But often they come to Sunday school and then do not attend worship, staying in the youth room or going outside instead. That has irked me for some time, but it was only this past Sunday that I talked to them about it. Which makes me wonder - why have I hesitated to make it clear to the youth what I expect from them? Why haven't I addressed them like this before?

I believe the youth - their wellbeing, their behavior, their faith development - is the responsibility of the whole congregation. But I, like most members of our congregation, have left discipline to their parents. "If those kids are not in worship," I've reasoned to myself, "their parents need to do something about it!"  Yet, truthfully, I don't believe that. The parents/guardians of these kids work hard to get their kids to worship; they've told their children how to behave in church. Why should they be the only ones who say to our youth "put that cell phone away, please" or "come on, it's time for worship and you guys need to be there"?

People grow and become their best selves when held to a high standard. Low standards do not make for friendliness, only sloppiness. Yet I think, in the church, we have been afraid of offending other people if we make our expectations clear. Do we expect those in our community of faith to come to worship every Sunday (or only on occasion)? Do we expect each other to speak up at meetings and participate in the ministry we undertake?  Do we expect ourselves and one another to represent Jesus in our daily living?

God does not hesitate to let us know what is expected of us as baptized people. We hear these words in the rite of Affirmation of Baptism - "you have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God's faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?"  Our response (should we accept this mission) is "I do, and I ask God to help and guide me."

God has high expectations of us. God expects us to worship together regularly - hearing the Word, sharing the supper. God expects our lives to reflect the good news of Jesus. God expects us to work for peace and justice in all the earth. These are high expectations!

"From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected."  That applies to us.  We have received so much from God - life, health, safety, work, family, abilities, the love of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection. Now God lovingly expects us to achieve much, to give much, to strive to love one another as Jesus Christ has loved us.

Maybe we should post this section of the Affirmation of Baptism on our church doors so that we all will remember - God expects a lot from us. May God uphold us and enable us as we worship with full hearts, serve alongside each other, and promote peace and justice in all the world.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.

Monday, April 2, 2012


You can plainly hear someone screaming in the background. Someone is screaming, begging for help. The voice is terrified, the cries urgent. The dispatcher says "911, do you need police, the fire department or an ambulance" and the caller responds "someone outside needs help." In the background you can hear him screaming, shouting "help me, help me!"

Is it Trayvon Martin screaming or George Zimmerman? We don't know for sure, although several experts have said the voice is not that of Zimmerman, who shot and killed Martin in what he claims was self-defense. Questions about that claim remain.

I listened to the you-tube tape of the 911 call. The first time I didn't even notice the sounds in the background; I was hearing what the operator and the caller were saying. But the second time I heard it - a voice screaming, then crying "help me! help me!" It was chilling. We know that senseless killings happen every day throughout America. What is it about this case that has so captured the attention and roused the sympathies of our people? I think it's the details that get to us - the iced tea and skittles, that he was 17, the hoodie, that an African-American youth was regarded as suspicious in a gated community. All those things trouble our minds and hurt our hearts, but especially the screaming, the calls for help.

It is Holy Week in the Church, a week when we focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Already on Sunday many of us read the passion account from Mark and sang the somber hymns: "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." Each year we remember and mourn the tragic death of Jesus, the Son of God. We confront, again, our own complicity in Jesus' death. Though it happened long ago, his dying continues wherever there is hatred, careless suspicion of others, killing, cruelty, blaming and scape-goating, prejudice, unconcern for those in need. During Holy Week we confess our guilt because we participate in those things.

I keep thinking about the screams, and yes, I assume they came from Trayvon Martin. Did Jesus scream in pain as he hung on the cross; did the Creator scream while watching the Son die? I haven't ever screamed aloud when someone I love dies or is near death; but those screams live within me. As the church moves toward Good Friday where Jesus will be nailed to a cross and left to die, the screams from the 911 tape sound in my head. Thinking of the crowd shouting for Jesus' death "crucify, crucify him," the soldiers whipping Jesus, the guards taunting and spitting on him, I hear in the background those screams.

I know Easter is coming - the resurrection, the bright promise, new life. I know that my Redeemer lives, that the Redeemer of the whole world lives. This Sunday will be filled with beautiful flowers, smiling faces, great good news, joyous singing, the sense that all is well. But I can't move too quickly from the dying, from the loss, the pointlessness of killing one another. Even when Easter is on the horizon, the crucifixion lasts a long, long time - minutes like hours, hours like days. Today there is sorrow. Today there is questioning, hurting, listening to the screaming. While we ultimately rejoice in life-everlasting, there is a time to wrestle with death, a time to ask 'why?,' a time to seek answers and resolution. For me, now is that time.

I pray God hears the screaming. I pray we hear and respond to the screaming and to this culture of death.

Remembering the Crucified One,

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, STM

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hoodies and Race.

The reports say that Trayvon Martin looked suspicious because he was wearing a hoodie with the hood up. Wow. If that's all it takes for a young man to look suspicious then most of the church kids I've known the last 10 or 15 years fit the bill. In North Carolina the kids at Mt. Zion wore hoodies - Billy, Taylor, Corey, Jarrett, Logan, Eddie, Brandon... Here at Shepherd King, in Texas, the kids wear them, too - Lane, Catie, Cameron, Saidee, Rane... In fact, if you're an American between the ages of 7 and 27 you probably own and wear a hoodie, sometimes with the hood up. It's standard dress these days.

I doubt that people would think Billy or Taylor, Cameron or Saidee or any of the others I listed above would look "suspicious" when they're wearing hoodies. That's because each of them is white. A crucial element left out of the official reports is that Trayvon Martin looked "suspicious" because he was wearing a hoodie and he was black. He was, in fact, a young African-American male -- just the image that would come to mind for most of us if we heard that a "suspicious person" was in our neighborhood.

Racism is an important component in this case. I'm not, in particular, talking about George Zimmerman - the man who shot and killed Trayvon; I'm talking about us - you and me and the society we live in. We are all infected with racism, whether we want to be or not. I certainly do NOT intend to think of young black men as likely criminals. I know such labels and stereotypes are untrue, unfair, and harmful to all of us. You're probably like me. You do not intend to be racist; you do not harbor illwill or hatred of African American people in your heart. You try to be open and accepting of all people. That is how I think of myself, and yet still, we are infected with racism.

Nobody likes to be called a "racist" - we bristle and insist that we do not hold a person's skin color against them. Most likely, that is true - we do not intentionally reject people or dislike people because of their color. That is true of me. Even so, we have racism in our minds and our hearts. We may hate that (I do), we may try to eliminate that (I do), but to be truthful, to be fair, it is there. Ridding ourselves of racism is hard work; it requires consistent, sustained effort. We shouldn't expect it to be easy or that we'll accomplish it quickly.

Slavery in the United States was abolished in 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Of course, the on-going civil war meant that this law did not take effect in many places until several years later. The first African slaves were brought to the United States (territory at that time) around 1565 (Wikipedia). 300 hundred years of slavery in America has been followed, thus far, by almost 150 years of freedom for African Americans. Now, we know that good things take longer to establish than do harmful things. Making peace is a long process; starting a war happens in an instant. So it should not surprise us that we - our society - still has a ways to go in terms of overcoming racism.

I do not mean that last statement to be an excuse. My hope is that we might, all of us, realize that racism lingers within us like toxic waste saturates the soil after a spillage has been cleaned up. To say certain actions or attitudes are 'racist' is not to say we are all a bunch of awful, irredeemable people who clearly hate anyone who is different from ourselves. Acknowledging racism among us is simply a confession of truth. If racism were not prevalent among us - not just in some individuals, but in our collective lives - Trayvon Martin would not have seemed 'suspicious' because he was wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled up. He looked suspicious because he was a young, African-American male wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled up. And that is racism.

We can tackle this problem. It is not insurmountable. We can move beyond the racism we have grown up with (as a society - I don't mean in your or my individual families). But the first step, as I see it, is to admit the fact that there is still racism in our minds, in our attitudes, in our reactions to others. We cannot talk about racism as if it only applies to someone else. I must strive to erase racism in myself and you, in yourself. We can do this, together. We can confess the wrong within us and ask God to help us change, help us grow, help us be the people we want to be. Please join me in doing that today and into the future.

No more Trayvon Martins. No more senseless killings because we distrust one another, in large part, on the basis of skin color. Let's work harder to be cured of our racism. And may God help us and bring us to that goal.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill, STM

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mitt, Tim, and Jesus

This morning the radio played a clip from a recent press conference held by a presidential candidate. The candidate's wife explained how her husband had nearly decided not to run for office. Together they had discussed how draining a campaign would be, how they would encounter negative publicity, how their personal lives would be under scrutiny and they might get dragged through the mud. At that point her husband thought perhaps he should not run for president. But, said his wife, she looked him in the eye and asked him: "Mitt, can you save America?" When I heard that remark I gasped aloud and said "oh my God!" "Oh my God!" I said again and again, shocked that anyone would suggest such a thing.

What hubris! [Hubris - extreme haughtiness, excessive pride or arrogance.] What incredible, inexcusable hubris - especially for someone who worships God. God saves, and God alone. Human beings work, serve, lead, support, critique, inquire, respond, listen, advise, and work some more. But no human being, no candidate for office, no president has the ability to "save America." Is this what we think now? If so, we will always be disappointed because that expectation is simply wrong.

On Sunday Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards in the Bronco's playoff win over Pittsburg. Tebow-mania, already rampant, has intensified as fans say his passing yards are a sign from God. They interpret 316 [passing yards] as a message from God, linking it to John 3:16 (a wonderful passage from the Bible about our salvation in Jesus Christ). Is this a miracle? Sports commentators did not expect Denver to win much, have not expected Tebow to succeed as a quarterback, yet he's done well and now has even won a playoff game. Is God speaking through Tim Tebow? God might speak through Tebow - in the same way that God speaks through other human beings - but not because the quarterback registered 316 yards in passing. God speaks to us in scripture, in sacred music, in prayer and meditation - not in football statistics.

I am increasingly puzzled by my fellow Americans, many of whom claim that ours is a "Christian nation." [My Dad taught me long ago that this is neither true nor possible. One becomes a Christian through baptism and you cannot baptize a nation.] How can people who worship one God ("Hear O Israel, the LORD is God, the LORD alone." Deuteronomy 6:4) not take offense at anyone who asserts (or whose wife asserts) that he can save America? How can serious Christians think God is speaking to them through the exploits or the statistics of a football player? God does speak to us, all the time, in scripture, in issues and events that challenge us, in our neighbor who needs us or the one who annoys us.

Maybe this is what we get when nearly every aspect of our lives is defined as a commodity, when our most holy days (holidays) are celebrated by gluttonous spending, when we measure our worth in terms of our wealth, our self-esteem in terms of our appearance. Maybe this is what happens. We begin to believe that a president can "save" us from our problems; we expect television shows to bring us messages from heaven; we worship Tim Tebow instead of worshipping Jesus. Maybe we've lost our minds - or just our common sense.

If you want to be saved, turn to God. God is waiting to receive you with joy. If you want to hear a message from God, pray, attend weekly worship, read scripture. Watching football is great - but it's just football. Let presidents be presidents (the job is hard enough without anyone expecting them to be the Messiah). Let Jesus be Jesus and let Tim Tebow be a guy who loves Jesus and plays quarterback.

Pastor Kris Franke Hill