“Why Is It”


That We Seem So Either Incredibly Stupid or Incredibly Dumb?

Forty-five years we walked on the moon and looked beyond the stars. Why aren’t we doing that today?

I saw a note the other day that stated the Missouri State Legislature was again considering a bill that would allow the teaching of creationism in schools. This is not the first time that this august body had tried to do this.

Back in the early 1980s, I was teaching high school chemistry and freshman science in the boot heel of Missouri. Now, you have to know that I was able to get through four years of high school without taking any sort of biology course. And during college, as a chemistry major, the only biology course I took was a 1-quarter course on evolution that met the graduation requirements for my B. S. Degree (and which, because of the circumstances at that time, I barely remember). I would later take a biochemistry course at Truman and courses at the University of Memphis in biochemistry and bio-inorganic chemistry.

But at the time I graduated from Truman, I was, in no way eligible for certification to teach biology. (Interestingly enough, when I applied for my teaching certification in Tennessee, I was certified to teach biology but I haven’t a clue how that was accomplished.

On that basis alone, I shouldn’t even be worried about the issue whether or not the issue of creationism versus evolution should be presented in the biology classroom. But when any group of people get together and make decisions for which they are not qualified to make, then I get a little worried.

It is what we can call academic freedom. Now, one may decide that there are certain areas that need to be covered during the course of a school year and over the course of multiple years of school but that is called a curriculum and it should be and generally is decided by qualified individuals.

But when any legislature, be it at the local, state, or national level, decides to pass a law which clearly imposes the beliefs of one group on the whole population, you are stepping outside the boundaries of the curriculum and into the area of academic freedom.

Now, I do not know what the Missouri State Legislature was thinking back in 1984. I do know that the idea of any legislature thinking is something of an oxymoron and that no one’s life or liberty is safe when the legislature is in session (thank you, Molly Ivins!). And I do know that if that legislation had passed, I would have walked out of the classroom right behind my department chair, who taught the biology courses at that high school and was a deacon in his local Southern Baptist Church. While he may have had sympathy with the ideas behind the legislation, he also knew that it was a wrong idea and a clear infringement on the academic rights of teachers in the state of Missouri.

The Missouri Legislature did not pass the legislation back then, in part because the Arkansas Legislature did and it was overturned in a court case. But now, it would seem they are going to try and do it again.

Why is it that they are doing this? Don’t they know that if it does passes, it will be challenged just as other similar legislation has and it will, in all likelihood, be found unconstitutional? Or are they so incredibly dumb and incredibly stupid to think that this time they might get away with it?

Now, what I fear the most is that this might actually happen. Consider what has happened to our schools over the past say forty-five years (and that is a deliberate time frame). We have progressively moved away from the type of science and mathematics instruction that enabled us to create rockets that took people to the moon and began to search the horizons beyond the stars.

We have seen in the past month failures of lab safety that had the potential of injuring and killing thousands of people (and I thought it was just an episode of “Leverage”). And we honestly believe, as a society, that war is somehow better than peace and that turning away people who are hungry, homeless, and in fear of their lives is better than showing compassion, feeding them and working to make their lives better.

We watched with awe and amazement as two men, representing this country and the whole world, landed and walked on the moon forty-five years ago today. We rejoiced in the triumph of mind, body, and spirit that this event represented. But, as the cost of the Viet Nam war continued to grow, we found it harder and harder to justify research and exploration. Why is it that, even today, we find war and violence so much easier to do when it has never solved the problem? Why is that we can do so much more good in the world feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and working to remove the causes of oppression and injustice and do it for far less than the cost of a war?

Why is it that we even have to keep saying this? At what point will we, as a society, a people, a nation, and a planet, begin to understand than we seek to find the answers, we get results but when we create more problems, all we get is more problems?

Are we that so incredibly dumb and/or stupid that we cannot see the handwriting on the wall? Can we not see that as long as we see life individually we will only lose; that the only way to succeed is in collectively unity?

Why is it that the only ones who want to introduce legislation that basically destroys the minds of children are those who seek power and glory for themselves? Why is that those who oppose the helping of others seem so greedy? Do they oppose helping others because they think they will somehow lose all that they have stolen, legally or otherwise?

At some point in time, many years ago, I was challenged to look at the world around me and to seek ways to make it better. Maybe I haven’t done such a good job as I should have but I will keep trying.  And I shall ask what you are going to do.

“Hard Times”


Meditation for July 20, 2014, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

And the scripture tells us that Jacob took a stone and made a pillow out of it. Even now, so many years after I first read that passage, I still don’t see how Jacob slept that night.

My pillow is very special to me; I once had a pillow that carried my head at nights while growing up and going to school. It finally died, of course, and I have sought to find another one that gives me such comfort.

Maybe that’s why Jacob had the dream of the angels climbing the stairway to heaven. With a stone for a pillow, you aren’t going to be comfortable and perhaps a little more open to a dream. But in the end, that hard pillow leads to an encounter with God that says the future will be better than the present.

I cannot help but think that we are experiencing hard times. I will even admit that when I see the news and all the troubles that circle this world I begin to think that maybe those who have predicted these are the End Times may be right after all.

But the problem with that scenario, at least for me, is that those who prophecy that these are the End Times feel that only certain people are going to win and that it is all fixed. I have never really liked the idea that the outcome was fixed before we even started, though there have been times when I was certain I wasn’t playing on a level playing field (read the Bartlett High School in band competition in 1966 and 1967; but that’s for another time).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday would also suggest that there is a fixed outcome and that, come Judgement Day, the good will be separated from the evil, the good will survive and the evil will perish.

Where does that leave us? First, what seed are we that got planted in the field. In Clarence Jordan’s translation of Matthew, he uses the term “certified seed”. Farmers know that is seed that is clean and ready to plant, with no weeds or other items that might interfere with the planting process. That is seed that has been prepared for the planting; the seed that the enemy sows has just about everything imaginable in it and when it is planted, who knows what might pop up.

So, are we the seed that was certified? Are we the seed that has been processed and purified? If we are to be planted in the fields, it would be nice to know that we are ready to be planted.

My problem with a vision of the End that says that certain people will win and others will lose always says that this is worked out in advance. And that doesn’t give much hope to those people who aren’t on the “good” list.

But that isn’t what Jesus said or did? Yes, he did say that the good will survive and the bad will lose. But He also gave us the opportunity to become one of the good and cast away our bad life. And yes, that is a hard choice to make at times. We want the good life now, not later.

And yet, that is what Paul is telling the Romans; the good life comes later but you have to give up the bad life right now!

One of the things that you learn in chemistry is that reactions don’t always go right away. Certain factors have to be in place and occasionally you have to add a little something to the process to get the reaction going. But after the reaction gets going, things go pretty well.

Sure these are “hard times” but they will only remain such if we let them. We have been given a great opportunity to see a future that is beyond description but we have to make some choices right now.

Maybe we don’t need to sleep with a stone fr a pillow but I know that the decision not to follow Christ could cause us to toss and turn all night long, undoubtedly like Jacob must have done. In our discomfort, perhaps we will see the path that we will lead us out of our own hard times and into the good times.

But it doesn’t take a pillow of stone for us to change our lives; all it takes is for us to open our hearts and minds to Christ and give up the hard life of sin and death for the good life in Christ.

“How Many Methodists”


Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

This all came about because of Dave Faulkner’s Sermon on Acts 11: 1 – 9, “Acts – Explain Yourself!”. I think he makes some very good points about how we view change and what we need to consider about this process. But for the moment, my focus is going to be on his opening questions.

He begins with four essential changing light bulb questions:

  1. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

    Three, but they are really only one.

  2. How many agnostics does it take to change a light bulb?

    Agnostics question the existence of the light bulb.

  3. How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bubl?

    THE BIBLE * DOES * NOT * SAY * ANYTHING * ABOUT * LIGHT BULBS!

  4. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

Change? What’s this word change?

This prompted me to look for other Methodist and the art of changing light bulbs and this is what I found. It should be noted that several of these have been attributed to other denominations and religions as well but, for now, we will limit ourselves to the United Methodist Church.

How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Twenty-two: One to hold the ladder, one to climb the ladder, ten to form a committee to evaluate the effectiveness of the old light bulb, and ten to form a committee for a pot-luck to welcome in the new light bulb.
  • Change a light bulb???? Why…my grandmother gave that light bulb!!!!
  • “Change?!?” “You can’t change that light bulb! Harry Finnigan’s family gave that as a memorial during the big merger.”
  • Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved — you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. A church-wide lighting service is planned for Sunday, August 19. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.
  • This Statement was issued: “We neither affirm nor reject the use of a light bulb. If you have found a light bulb helpful in your journey, that is good. If one would wish, they could submit an original poem or interpretive dance about their light bulb, or light source, or non-dark resource, for the annual light bulb celebration, where a variety of light bulb traditions will be explored, including long-life, incandescent, three-way, and tinted, all of which are valid paths to luminescence.”
  • I think that about covers it for changing the light bulbs in a United Methodist Church. If I have missed one, please let me know.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”


Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?

“What Is The Role Of The Church Today?”


Thoughts on the state of the church in today’s society

I am prompted to write the following as I continue on a study of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and think about what this all means to us today.

What is the role of the church in today’s society? Is it the moral authority of the world? If it is and it does nothing to condemn evil and injustice in the world, how good is that authority?

Can a church dictate to individuals how to live one’s life when it offers no alternative or refuses to see alternatives?

What is the individual’s responsibility in all of this?

If the church is the ultimate authority, then do individuals have any responsibility at all? On the other hand, if each individual takes responsibility for their own moral conduct, where does that leave the church?