Wednesday, April 17, 2019


How is it possible it’s been 15 years?

This year there’s a particular sense of the unresolved, the resurfacing of stuff buried, and it’s haunting me. 

Something about suddenly losing a brother I chose has done something to me as I recall my own brother and the suddenness of losing him. 

When a current trauma triggers feelings of an older one, the shock to the system is compounded. 

So I’m pensive. I feel sadness, anger, and confusion like I did 15 years ago. 

How the hell did this happen?
What happened?

What could I have done differently?  
What should I have said?

I couldn’t speak at Jimmy’s service.
Didn’t want to. I was too angry to pray. 

I didn’t have that luxury for John’s. I was front and center for the whole thing. 

Put your head down and grind it out. 

 “You’re so strong, Johnny. I’m amazed at how much you just take on yourself and keep going.”

Yeah, let me tell you. At one time I thought of that as a virtue, maybe even one of my superpowers. But there’s a backside to every blessing. It doesn’t matter how much any of us can take, there comes a time when one more thing is one thing too many, and what you could once carry crushes you. 

I’m crushed. Probably crazy. Definitely not awesome. 

As I live in present grief, that which is residual and unresolved reminds me that it never left. 

It weighs heavily on my shoulders. 

I can’t take off the old cloak so that I can wear the new one. 

I wear them both these days. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Eulogy for The Brother I Chose

Several people have asked for my words at John’s memorial service. I didn’t have a manuscript but some thoughts scribbled down. I’m thankful for the gift of a transcript. I’ve deleted the impromptu comments I made and augmented some thoughts with what I meant to say but left on the page. 

Rest easy, brother. 

Hi.  My name is Johnny and I love John.

Colleague, friend, brother I chose. 

I’ve lived in that reality in the last days and it occurs to me that a lot of you chose John, too. So, the family is gathered this morning to talk about a homegoing. 

And yet in the eternal promises that we know and hold so dear there is that sense of what happened?  How are we even here today?  

Part of a reading from John O’Donohue “For Grief” hit me this week, and I keep living with these words: 

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

We all have John stories.  
We all know what a John hug feels like. 
We all know what it’s like to hear those words of greeting, that for me were either in person, sometimes on the phone, but more often a text after I’ve tried to reach him on the phone.

Hey buddy.  
Hey pal.  
Hey bro.  

Those were the names we shared with one another.  I’m not sure I can remember when we ever called each other by our given names.  But there was always that feeling that there was a whole lot more that I was trying to share with him than he was willing to share in return. That his interest in my life while genuine was a way to keep him from fully sharing his with me. 

And at times that’s frustrating, that’s maddening.  And given where we are this morning, I’m mad as hell about that.  

This one, this brother I chose, who stood tall.  For the life of me I could never understand why a man who stood that tall would choose to wear a tall hat.  I mean, the Stetson company must be really sad about the market share they’re losing from John alone. 
But here’s where I am this morning:   I say this because I’m trying to convince myself that it’s true for me: “We are not a glum lot.  No, we are not.”

John’s life, John’s ministry, life in ministry, while it belonged to the whole of the city, it emerged from this room. There’s no other place we could do this service today right except here. 

This is the place where he welcomed people. This is the place where he asked if it was your first time and people would raise their hands and he’d say, “you’re already part of the family.” 

This is the place where he would say, “if you didn’t get fed, it’s your own fault because Mama Way had plenty of food.” This is the place that became sanctuary for those who in the vulnerable places of recovery aren’t sure what’s safe anymore, but this was safe.  And this is going to continue to be safe space.  

So, Friday night, 6:00.  Right here.  We’re going to welcome people, we’re going to feed their bodies, and we’re going to give a message that feeds their souls. And we’re going to talk about the steps we’re taking to lead us into a sober life, and we’re going to sing, and play music and we’re going to hear the words that matter more than ever before: that “We’re gonna love ya and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”

A week ago yesterday, I accompanied John on a plane to Minneapolis, hoping and believing that the light hasn’t been extinguished, it was just dimmed a bit. 

I told him over and over “There was no shame in relapse.  It’s okay, we’re back to step one, we’re all powerless man, it’s okay.”  He was consumed with overwhelming shame.  He asked me “Are you gonna fire me as your recovery minister?”

“Are you kidding?  No!”
Here’s what I’m learning.  You never know the pain someone seated next to you is carrying.  But you best assume that it’s something.  And if we suspect that the ones next to us are hurting, even as we’re trying to figure out how to live with our own pain, maybe we ought to start treating each other a little kinder.  Maybe we ought to start demonstrating love a little more freely.  

Among the last things I said to John was to remind him of what he said countless times to those just starting to find their way in recovery. It’s theological tenet we built The Way on, and it applied to him, too, he just wasn’t able to receive it. 

Sometimes those of us who’s not that we don’t believe what we’ve preached anymore, but it’s that when we’ve forgotten to keep doing the work of recovery, our spirits can be blinded to the truth.  And the truth I so desperately wanted John to know was that even in relapse, especially in relapse that you were going to love John and there is nothing he can do about it.  

So this morning, in the face of deep pain, but with conviction and assurance and of all I am and all I believe, within the heavenly hosts this day, there is a distinctly Memphis groove going on. And the One to whom he vowed his life, for whom he lived in ministry, is going to figure out how to hug him.  And he’s going to say “John, I love you and there is nothing, nothing, nothing,  there is NOTHING you can do about it.  

The apostle Paul said- 

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything [ANYTHING] else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My name is Johnny, I love John.  

I’m a brother to him, a brother I chose.  And I’m looking at all my siblings in the room and we’ve got to carry on.  Together.  

Thanks be to God.  

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Heart-Shaped Bread

We started celebrating the Eucharist every Sunday a few years ago (if you want to transform the spirit of your community of faith you "people called Methodists," stop messing around and embrace "The Duty of Constant Communion," now!)

The sacrament defines our community.  

The table around which we gather is an outward and visible sign of who the St. John's community is while casting the vision and challenge of who we are to become.

As we moved toward weekly observance, I asked my ministry partner, John, to compose a Great Thanksgiving for the St. John's community of faith.  John's way with words, being the lyricist that he is, left me confident that the product of his work would be a gift to St. John's for years to come.

And so it is.  This eucharistic prayer is purely John as it is Wesleyan.  As such it cannot belong to St. John's alone, it belongs to all of us who gather around the table of Grace.

So here it is.  I invite my clergy family to embrace this setting and use it as you preside the Table in your communities of faith.

Thank you John.  
Thank you God for John.

Heart-shaped Bread
Rev'd Dr. John Kilzer, Minister of Recovery Ministries
St. John’s United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee

Peace be with you.
And also with you.
What? with our hearts?
We lift them up to the Lord.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right, and wrapped in joy, 
God of this moment in eternity,
  to offer our hearts to you in thanksgiving, 
  hearts carved in your image and beating with the breath of life. 
We tried to run: we tried to hide. 
But everywhere we turned you were there. 
We were restless till we rested in you, 
God of covenant and grace, 
   of prophetic fire, 
   wind and water. 
We are yours. 
What else can we do now 
other than join your company of heaven in their unending hymn

Holy holy holy Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

Lord what we know of holiness we find in your blessed Son Jesus Christ, 
   upon whom lighted your love-shaped dove. 
He fed the poor: he led the captive free.  He said to the blind: "See!" 
He was at home with sinners. 

His suffering, death and resurrection birthed your church, 
   offering us asylum from sin and death 
   and promising us a home in the mansion of your heart.

On the night it all happened, 
   with one hand touching his heart, 
   the other offering bread, 
He gave himself to his disciples saying:
“Partake of this: remember me eternally: 
  put me back together as the church.”

Afterward, He took the cup and said; 
“Drink: I am the wine of remembrance. 
What flows from me now flows through you.” 
So: Remember, 
   give thanks always, 
   praise, and pray, 
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. 

Breathe on us God. 
Make these bones and blood be the church, 
Christ’s body in the world.

And as you are Three in One, 
Make us one in the world, 
   as we tabernacle with those 
   whose hearts are hardened, 
that our love may leaven the loaves at your heavenly banquet.

With You, through You, from You to You, 
God of glory, worthy to be praised, 
   now and through eternity, 
we all, with one heart, one voice, one spirit, and one love, say


Thursday, February 28, 2019


To the Reconciling Community of the Memphis Conference,

The events of the Special Session of the General Conference have concluded, but the impact left is indelible.  Like many of you, no doubt, I’ve wondered what this all means, and what do we do next.

What I want to convey to you in this short message is that the indelible impact will not be the pain and the tears.  There is new fire and conviction that the actions of the Church will not prevail, and that a Methodist expression of a church for all people shall not be deterred.

I attended a worship service the morning after General Confernce led by Mark Miller and The Love Thy Neighbor Coalition.  While I went expecting rage and lament, there was praise and holy boldness that this is our church and we aren’t leaving.  Rev’d David Meredith spoke and announced that something died in St. Louis.  It was a powerful witness.  In the end, though, what died was the hope and belief that The United Methodist Church will change as it is now.   What is being resurrected is the conviction that those of us who long for a church for all people will create the change we seek.   We will resist.  We will fight for change, including systemic change that allows for the existence of such an expression.

Despite the temptation to the contrary, let us hold on.  Do not succumb to despair.  On the eve of Lent, I’m reminded of Jesus’ temptations in the desert.  While we may not be able to relate to his temptations, I do believe one we all can relate to is to succumb the to temptation that things are as they are and that there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’m here to tell you there is.  

After everyone gets back to their places of ministry, where the REAL church is, new conversations will begin.  As lead pastor of the only Reconciling Congregation in our Conference, let me invite you to a time of gathering for conversation, discernment and prayer going forward.  Details will be forthcoming including a HOLD DATE.  My intent is for us to meet well before the end of March.

Remember the tears you’ve shed and the pain you feel in this moment.  And do not let it be the last thing you feel.  

Choose love.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Foretaste of Glory Divine

(St. Louis) I’m not going to even attempt to explain what happened today. You saw it, read about it.

What happened is what was going to happen. It was baked in the cake by the nature of the delegates present (yes, it matters who we elect to be delegates). The WCA had the numbers, was organized and cared only about one thing—winning, and they did everything (and I mean everything to achieve their aim) to do it. Unrelated (or is it?) I hope the Microsoft Corporation gave somebody bulk pricing for all the new Surface Tablets that some of our delegates unboxed and walked around with on the floor. 

And for now they were successful. 

The truth is the Traditional Plan was, is and will be declared unconstitutional, and the body voted for it anyway. 

But that’s what was. Through the pain and tears in St. Louis there is a family coming together. A family the color of the rainbow that will not be deterred. It’s a family that will love God and all that God loves. 

It’s a family that will love justice, do kindness and walk humbly with God. 

This family will love one another as it loves those who can’t find a way to be in fellowship with it. 

Wanna know what it’s gonna look like?  

The benediction of the Special Session was not what was spoken on the stage. It’s what was sung in the vestibule surrounded by St. Louis police for fear of rioting. 

And it was a riot. One of grace. This is the foretaste of glory Divine. I leave General Conference as I arrived. Yes, that’s Mark Miller leading the singing. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Hearts of Stone

(St. Louis) Today was a rough day. I knew it would be, which didn’t make it hurt less. 

Going into the last day tomorrow where things will be voted on the likelihood is that either nothing changes or if it does it will be the more restrictive language, neither of which is tenable. 

How do you appeal to hearts of stone?  Turns out, you can’t. Between a misplaced religious zealotry, a pervasive spirit of xenophobia and puppet masters who direct the action from above through texts and secure loyalty through the provision of many brib...I mean “gifts” (yes I said it), the Methodist concept of Christian conferencing is a sham. 

But what is emerging as a result, if it’s clear The United Methodist Church won’t live into a church for all God’s children, is that there are some of us across the connection who have and will. 

As the session closed today I was needy of a word. The benediction I sometimes use to end worship rose up in my spirit. It’s framed from the words of the Liberal Lion of the 40 years ago and hero of mine, William Sloane Coffin. Maybe they’ll help you too as we discern the new thing God is doing whether the UMC votes for it or not:

“God give you the grace never to sell yourself short - 
Courage to risk something big for something good - 
And to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

And so it is.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Priorities, Priorities

(St. Louis)  Short version. Long day.
Prioritizing legislation.
Top priority was Wespath (clergy pensions, seriously, that was the top priority).
Traditional Plan and Modified Traditional Plan deemed unconstitutional in a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council.
Yet the Tradition Plan was prioritized ahead of One Church Plan.
Lots of confusion with voting devices.
The mechanisms of unwieldy systems trying to work on display.
Yet we prayed for the Holy Spirit, still.
The prayer for the leading of the  Holy Spirit was constant.
Tomorrow is going to be one for the books.  Stay tuned.

Oh, one more thing.  You pray for the Holy Spirit to come, watch out, it just might.  And when She does, wild, crazy God-sized uncontrollable things happen, to which I pray:

Let it be.