A New Order of Things


Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, Christ the King Sunday.

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A number of years ago a colleague and I wrote a paper entitled “Liberal Arts and Science Education in the 21st Century”. Our purpose in writing the paper was to suggest that 1) the goals for science education should be directed towards helping students think, 2) that science was a part of the liberal arts tradition, and 3) unless science was again considered a liberal art, there would be problems.

Last year I wrote that we would never have another president like John Kennedy (“Ages of Wisdom”).  As I noted then, it wasn’t so much that we would not allow his personal flaws and medical problems to be covered up as they were then but rather because he was probably the last President to speak in literate paragraphs with references to history. He expected those who heard his speeches to understand those references and to understand what he was saying. He did not expect people to always agree with what he said but he did think that those who heard his words should understand them. President Kennedy’s words could not be reduced to sound bites or jingoism; his thoughts were not simple statements easily forgotten but ones that dwelt in our minds and challenged us to think before acting.

Coupled with our observations, it is quite clear that we have not progressed towards a thinking society. If anything, we have regressed. Our clamor for quality education in elementary, junior high/middle, and high schools has lead to a glut of testing. But all we gain in testing is a measure of how many facts students know. Very little of the testing is directed towards critical thinking, evaluation and analysis, the higher end of the cognitive learning scale.

If we are created in God’s own image (Genesis 1: 27) then we have the ability to think beyond the boundaries of our limited world. We have the capability to see possibilities where possibilities do not seem to exist. But we are unwilling to do so out of fear and ignorance than lack of ability. We may be afraid to do this because we remember what happened when people tried to build the Tower of Babel. (Genesis 11: 1 – 10) But the people built that tower because they were motivated by pride and arrogance, not necessarily out of desire to know and understand the world around them.

It isn’t just in education that our understanding of the world around us has probably regressed. Shortly after I posted the “liberal arts” paper on November 18th, there were a number of links from http://www.instapolitico.com/liberal. This is a political blog with a number of categories, including “liberal” and “conservative”. From an examination of the material in the liberal section, this blog uses a search engine to find articles with the word “liberal” in the title. It would seem that the designers of this blog made the assumption that any article with the word “liberal” in it must have political connotations. Of course, the article that I posted only speaks of politics in a very peripheral sense.

But this confusion illustrates one of the problems that today’s society has. Our ability to understand what is said and written is hindered by a reaction to key words or thoughts. Within the framework of the church, if you say that you are liberal, then it is assumed that you are not a Christian. And if you say that you are a Christian, then it is assumed that you are conservative.

We no longer are willing to take the time to think about what is going on in this world; we are quite willing to let others think for us and tell us what to think. Instead of thinking for ourselves and analyzing what is happening, we have apparently decided, in the words of the reading for Jeremiah for today (Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6), to let our shepherds lead us astray.

It is not just our political or societal leaders but our religious leaders that have led us astray as well. Our inability to think creatively, to think beyond the boundaries is showing up in our inability to present the true message of Christ. The message that comes from the church can hardly be the message that Christ first gave us some two thousand years ago. When Christ first stood up in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He proclaimed that He had come to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and free the oppressed. Yet, the message in many of today’s churches is one of exclusion and rejection. Or it is that wealth beyond your wildest dreams is yours if you only ask God. The message in many churches today is no longer about salvation and repentance. It is no longer about reaching out and bringing in the ones who are lost; it is about what God through Christ can do for you. It has become a singularly self-centered religion.

Christ was aware of His own death on the Cross; Christ understood that His mission ended on the Cross and our mission began with the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The modern church, in its various denominational forms, needs to focus on ways to continue the message.

But the modern church, in its various denominational forms, is fixated on its own death. It is the death caused by the bottom line of the secular world; it is the death that comes from a fear that the word of the church has no validity in this world. It has caused churches to seek ways that focus on bringing people in without any consideration for what the message might be. The church focuses more on the music, the setting, or softening the message in order to improve its bottom line, not fulfill its mission.

It has reinforced the beliefs of many that religion has no intrinsic value in today’s society and only serves to cloud a person’s mind. Cynics in society today are like the first criminal in today’s Gospel reading. (Luke 23: 33 – 43) Condemned to die on the cross, they ridicule the church for its inability to save itself.

Granted, if I think of Christianity in terms of rational thought alone, I might conclude that it is only, as Karl Marx wrote, “the opium of the masses.” But rational thought is no guarantee in life, for it does not have a way of explaining the often unexplainable. It is quite easy to see the contradictions in the Bible and say that any religion is based on false information and only supports close-minded thinking.

But when you stop to think about the parables that Jesus told, you have to wonder if He wanted His disciples to be close-minded. Those who heard the stories and only thought of them in terms of the old and present society often did not understand what Jesus was telling them. The twelve disciples were among those at the beginning who did not understand. But ultimately, they did understand and it was through their understanding that we have come to know what Christ’s message was.

Charles Handy, the noted philosopher, noted Jesus changed the thinking of the time by teaching that the meek should inherit the earth, the poor would be blessed and the first would be last in the ultimate scheme of things. (Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason, pg 23) In doing so, Jesus challenged the system and caused people to think in an entirely different manner. You cannot be a true Christian unless you are willing to change your thinking and see things in a new way. You cannot do this in a solely rational manner; you must have a vision based on faith. By the same token, you cannot see new things in a new way based on faith alone; you must be able to act in a rational manner.

A few weeks ago I characterized the emerging church as a church with a coffee shop or a coffee shop with a church. I will admit that I was wrong in that characterization. An emerging church is more than simply a “change of scenery”; it is a re-statement of what a church is.

There are two documents that I discovered “John Wesley and the Emerging Church” by Hal Knight and “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” by Scot McKnight ) that go into detail about what the emerging church is and what it isn’t. But it is clear from reading these documents that the United Methodist Church was the emerging church when it was created and it can be the emerging church today. It is a matter of understanding who we are and where we are headed. It is more than simply trying to do things which favor the bottom line of the organization. It is about stating what faith is and who Jesus Christ is in ways that are relevant to today’s world. It is what Jesus did when He was on this earth and it is what He expects us to do today and tomorrow.

You may think that Jesus was a fictional character but if you believe in Him, it doesn’t matter if He did in fact exist or not. But rational thought says that if we are still thinking about the man who walked the lands of Galilee some two thousand years ago and whose presence then changed the course of the world, then there must be something to what we believe.

And if you feel that our ability to think and act removes the need for such thoughts, then you have to be prepared to offer a means of seeing beyond what normal vision provides. Somewhere along the line, you need to believe.

Paul reminds us of what we believe and why. There will come a day when we will be like the two criminals who hang on the Cross on Calvary along with Christ. If we do not see the world in a new way, we will be like the first who can only see the world in its present form. We shall die without hope. But, if we see the world in the form that it is to be, then we will be like the second criminal who saw Jesus as He was, the true Messiah and our death will only be a physical one but our lives will gain everlasting life.

If we have accepted Christ as our Savior, then we have to work for the new kingdom. To work for the new kingdom is more than making disciples; it is bringing about changes which take away evil. To do so is more than simply encouraging or berating people to change their lives. It requires that you give them the means to change their lives and that requires that you use your ability to think and act accordingly.

We end the Christian calendar year today and we begin Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of Christ. What we say and do will be a reflection of what we think and what we believe. If we think and believe in the old world, then nothing will happen. But there is a new order brought about by the presence of Christ in this world. It is up to us to see and enable this new order of things.

An Update


As a follow-up to my post yesterday, “The Tragedy Continues”, it was reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning that the wounded soldier who received the letter from the Army asking him to repay a portion of his signing bonus received the letter inadvertently and that he could keep his entire bonus. The report also indicated that the Army doesn’t know how many others received similar letters.

That’s good news but it begs the question “Why was the letter sent in the first place?” And it also begs the question about how many letters were deliberately sent.

It Is Time To Speak Out Again


As a follow up to my posting “The Tragedy Continues”, my wife and I have sent the following letter to our Congressman and Senators.  We are also mailing a copy to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

We encourage each of you to write your Congressman and Senators and speak out against the treatment of our veterans and to end this war.  If you need to get the contact information for your congressman, go to http://www.house.gov/.  You can find your representative’s web site through a search at the top of the page; if you do not know who your representative is (and you might be surprised how many people do not know who there representative is or found that the state legislature redrew the districts and change the district we lived in) by searching for your representative by state in the search link below the connection to web sites.  Similarly, to get the contact information for your senators, go to http://www.senate.gov/ and select your senator through the search links provided.

There is a report from Pittsburgh (see http://kdka.com/local/military.signing.bonuses.2.571660.html) that states the Bush administration is asking/demanding that Iraqi war veterans who are wounded return parts or all of their enlistment bonuses.

This is another act by this administration that reflects its lack of concern for the military. At a time when the administration cannot account for the millions of dollars that it has given private contractors such as Blackwater, it is unconscionable that it would ask wounded veterans to return any money. This money was given as an enticement to enlist and, for many of the younger soldiers, it represents the savings they need when their enlistment is over.

We are asking that you support Congressman John Altmire with his bill to prevent the Defense Department from taking away the money they offered these soldiers.

We are also again asking that the Congress of the United States do what it has failed to do. Congress must exercise its Constitutional Authority and state that this war must end. This war has been fought under the most dubious and flimsiest of excuses and Congress has accepted those excuses, even when common sense and the truth have shown otherwise.

President Bush has also apparently threatened to lay off civilian workers at various Army bases across the country if Congress does not give him what appears to be unlimited funding for the Iraqi war and possibly future wars in the Middle East.

We have lost the respect of nations overseas. We are on the verge of losing an entire generation to a mindless war. We are on the verge of losing our future and ensuring that whatever future there is will be one of debt.

Any thoughts that this country is and continues to be the “Arsenal of Democracy” have been destroyed by the actions of the present administration. It is not too late to restore this country but Congress must act now.

The Tragedy Continues


Back on October 21st, I posted “The Tragedy of Building 18 continues” and “It Is Time To Speak Out.” These were a continuation of my first post on the tragedy and scandal of care being given the veterans of the Iraqi war, “Supporting Our Troops – The Tragedy of Building 18.”

Now, there is a report from the CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh (KDKA) that the administration is asking (and probably demanding) that soldiers wounded in Iraq return portions of their signing bonuses. Pennsylvania Congressman John Altmire has introduced a bill in Congress to prevent the Department of Defense and the present administration from doing this.

It would be one thing if this was a singular episode but it is a continuation of how this administration treats those it sends over to fight the war in Iraq. At the beginning of the war, it was noted that many reservists were being billed for medical treatment that they required because of their service in Iraq and the wounds they received. Now, this administration is asking that veterans wounded in the line of duty to return the bonus or part of the bonus that they were given when they enlisted. It is inconceivable and defies description that this is being done.

We ask our young people to fight in a war that was ill conceived and has been mismanaged from the beginning. It would be one thing to ask that the bonus be returned if they were quitting but quitting the military is not an option and so veterans should be allowed to keep their bonuses. And there are questions about the lack of accountability concerning the funds given to private contractors such as Blackwater. There is also a report that President Bush is threatening to lay off or furlough civilian employees at various Army bases if Congress doesn’t give him essentially unlimited funding for the Iraq war.

It is quite apparent that the present administration has no concern for the people it sends off to war. It is quite apparent that the present administration feels that the answer to the problems of the war is to continue fighting the present war and perhaps expand the war. At what point will we, the American people, cry out that enough is enough? At what point will we, the American people, cry out that we can not continue sending our young, the hope of this country for the future, to fight an ill conceived war?

It is singularly tragic when veterans are not given the medical treatment they need. But why must the tragedy continue?

Liberal Arts and Science Education in the 21st Century


Tony Mitchell (Department of Chemistry (M-S 372), St. Cloud State University, 720 Fourth Avenue South, St. Cloud, Minnesota 56301-4498)

Marcin Paprzycki (Department of Computer Science, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Odessa, Texas 79762)

This paper was presented at a seminar presented to the Division of Science at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on October 25, 1991 and was accepted for presentation at the 2nd International Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science and Science Teaching, Kingston, Ontario, May 11 – 15, 1992. While it was written in 1991, it is still applicable today.

Abstract

The critical issue in today’s society is how unprepared today’s students are. We argue that the real issue is how unprepared today’s students are for tomorrow’s society. This is a result of how students learn, especially in science.

First, there is a gap between the information presented to the students and what they are expected to do with that information. Second, while students are presented large quantities of factual information, the presentation of such information does not show how the information is connected together nor how the information can be used in situations outside the classroom.

The presentation of facts without connection is not consciously done. Rather it is the result of teaching subjects as separate entities and from an essentially theoretical foundation. In addition, the presentation of science independent of other subjects and from a theoretical basis limits the teaching of both creativity and problem solving. The teaching of science independent of other subjects and from a theoretical basis has also removed science from its foundation as a liberal art.

A return to teaching science as a liberal art will help in part resolve the issue of unprepared students. For students to enter tomorrow’s society prepared to work on and solve the problems we know about today as well as the problems we do not know about, they must have an understanding of how to use the information presented in class AND be able to determine what information is needed to solve problems which have not yet been stated. This is the essence of the liberal arts tradition of science.

This can be done by increasing the amount of teaching in the area of creativity and problem solving skills. While critics may argue that it is not possible to teach creativity or problem solving, it should be pointed out that such skills are a direct outcome of the liberal arts tradition. Using real world situations (either in separate courses or in a cross-discipline nature) is what defines the liberal arts.

Liberal Arts and Science Education in the 21st Century

We live in an interesting time. At a time when we are experiencing the third great industrial revolution and our society is becoming more and more technologically oriented, we are also faced with an education system that cannot deal with those changes. It is estimated that only about 10% of students currently in school are capable of understanding and dealing with the changes in science and technology currently taking place. (1) If this is the case, then the most dangerous threat to our society today is not a military one but a social one. We face the possibility of creating an “intellectual elite”. This, in turn, could lead to riots much like those in industrial England when workers revolted because factory owners sought to automate the mills.

Perhaps this is too drastic a scenario. Still, it appears that there is a discernible gap between the education/training that students receive and what is needed in order to succeed in tomorrow’s society. Because of the way our educational system is structured, many students leave school with the idea “… that every problem has been solved; the answer is found in the back of the teacher’s manual”. (2)

Our educational system is structured to respond to change rather than be an instrument of change. Our educational system is also built as a compartmented structure with little encouragement between compartments. Society is more than just the sum of its parts; there is a great deal of interaction between the parts. Examining a problem only in terms of its parts removes this interaction and makes it impossible or impractical to study the whole system. Students who are taught subjects that contain no reference as to how the subject affects other subjects and how it is affected by other courses gain a false impression of the structure of the world. With such a picture in their minds, it becomes difficult for students to perceive, not to mention solve, problems with societal impacts.

If students are to be successful in tomorrow’s society, then they must be able to see or develop ways of seeing society in an overall, connective sense. Students in science should be able to use science in other disciplines. It is impractical to view solutions to problems only in terms of the disciple when societal needs are multidimensional. (3)

We argue that this is why science education must be viewed in terms of liberal arts. Liberal arts provide a process by which solutions to problems can be solved. While current society may be able to deal with current challenges, such as developing new energy sources at equitable prices, dealing with various environmental challenges, today’s students must deal with unknown problems. They should understand that “any solution to a problem is a new problem.” (4)

Consider the following. To develop the first periodic table, Mendeleev had to solve one of the great chemistry problems of his day, that of missing elements. Rather than place elements in consecutive series, Mendeleev left gaps in the table to account for missing elements. The discovery of gallium and germanium showed that this idea was correct. However, his table did not list any of the Noble Gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe, and Rn). Why?

At the time of his work, none of these gases had been discovered. So there was no information available to suggest that an additional column as there was for the other elements. Mendeleev also did not have access to information about atomic structure or the technology to determine atomic structures so he could not predict the existence of such elements. Without the information available through the knowledge of other elements or atomic structure, it was not possible for him to even hint at the existence of the Noble Gases.

This is the challenge facing today’s students. While the educational system prepares students to solve today’s problems, such preparation does not provide a basis for solving problems that have not yet been formulated. Why is that?

Let us briefly consider that recent history of science education. In 1966, science education was experiencing its “Golden Age.” Because of the Soviet Union’s successful launching of Sputnik I in 1957, the Federal Government poured large amounts of money into science education in order to produce the scientists and engineers who would put the United States back in the lead in the “space race.” It can be argued that this was not a real threat. The United States’ choice of smaller rockets required technology which had not been developed yet. The Soviet Union chose to use current technology, i.e. massive boosters, to launch their satellites. Because we were developing the technology as we went along, there was a high probability of failure. Also, because we publicized our launches, whether they were successful or not, and the Russians did not, it appeared that they were in the lead. It is not clear how many unsuccessful launches it took before Sputnik I was launched.

Whether the Soviet Union or the United States was actually in the lead of the “space race” is inconsequential. The result, as far as the United States was concerned, was the development of several science education curriculum projects, all devoted to preparing students for future science studies. (5; see Table 1 ). Referring specifically to the chemistry programs, the overall goal was to help “… the student to acquire a knowledge of chemistry, not merely some knowledge about it.” (6) Students would engage “in the pattern of scientific activity – experimental collection of data, assessment and organization of facts, deduction of unifying principles, and application of these principles in developing expectations (making predictions).” (6) Science teaching in general would improve because “real” teaching would replace authoritarian pedagogy, true chemical content would replace descriptive chemistry facts, study would replace memorization of unrelated facts, and students would be evaluated on their “true learning” instead of how simply how much information they would “regurgitate” (quotes by authors) during exams. (6) As a result of these programs, students would be better prepared for college science courses. (7, 8 )

Table 1 – Science Curriculum Projects of the 1960s

BSCS – Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. High school – “Blue” version had an emphasis on the molecule; “Green” version had an emphasis on the community and the environment; “Yellow” had an emphasis on the cell.

CBA – Chemical Bond Approach Project

CCIP – Conservation curriculum Improvement Project

CLMP – Center for Collaborative Learning Media Packages. Science and Social Studies, grades 2 to 6

COPES – Conceptually Oriented Program for Elementary Science

ECCP – Engineering Concepts Curriculum Project

ESCP – Earth Science Curriculum Project

ESP – Elementary Science Project

ESS – Elementary Science Study

ESSP – Elementary School Science Project

HPP – Harvard Project Physics

IPS – Introductory Physical Science

ISCP – Iowa Science and Culture Project

ISCS – Intermediate Science Curriculum Study Project

MINNEMAST – Minnesota Mathematics and Science Teaching Project

MSCC-JHSP – Michigan Science Curriculum Committee Junior High School Project

PP-BCP – Portland Project, Integration of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics

PSNS – Physical Science for Non-Science Students

PSSC – Physical Science Study Committee, Advanced Topics Program, College Physics Program and High School Physics Program

QPS – Course develop project in Quantitative Physical Science

SMSP – Special Materials Science Project

SSCP – School Science Curriculum Project

SSSP – Secondary School Science Project

These new, innovative programs also addressed the needs of students not interested in further science instruction. Students who would not be taking any more chemistry (or science) were supposed to gain an understanding of science in human activities. (7) Chemistry courses developed were also expected to be at the intellectual level of average students while challenging advanced students. (8)

These programs had an impact on science education. However, while students did go into science, it is not clear if the other goals were met. In fact, there are suggestions that the decline in science and mathematics enrollments today is due in part to a reliance or over-emphasis on those same first goals. What caused this shift?

A partial explanation lies in the perceptions planners had for each level of science (high school and college) in the process. Many college level planners felt that they could make changes in their science courses (to a theoretically oriented approach) because the information removed from college courses (i.e. descriptive information) would be kept in high school courses. College instructors, then and now, tend to view high school courses in terms of overall preparation (i.e. thinking skills, writing skills, etc.) rather than in terms of specific content study. From a high school standpoint, the goal of preparing students for college overshadowed the other goals, an attitude still present at the time this was written and probably still true today. (9) With high school teachers holding the view that the content of high school science courses should be the same as the college counterparts, courses at both levels focused more on the theoretical and less on the applications of science. The emphasis placed on the use of mathematics in science, especially for chemistry, was not that of a tool but rather as the explanation. (10) This might have been acceptable except that it came at a time when there was also a serious regression in the quality of mathematics teaching. Lack of a solid mathematical background and an understanding of mathematics prevented it from becoming an explanatory medium. It also appears that the efforts to show science as a part of everyday society were not included in the reforms, despite being one of the stated goals.

The result today is a series of courses that present a view of science removed from its actual nature. Instead of presenting a set of unifying rules and principles, students receive “facts” with no connection to other information, no means of determining that information, and with no relationship to the world outside the classroom. Students leave the science classroom with a perception of science very different from what it really is. With science taught from a theoretical basis and laboratory experiments more confirmatory than exploratory in nature, students see science as a confirmation of knowledge rather than as an exploration of knowledge. (10) This is a contradiction of the operations of science.

Scientists rarely follow a single, fixed path to the solution of a problem. It is more likely that they follow a process which takes an idea and refines it until it can be clearly stated and understood. Such a process includes the evolution of ideas and insights, from a first faint hint, through repeated blind alleys and diversionary channels, to a final testable result. The experimental design develops from crude initial trials through an elaborate, successive-step, equipment-intensive series of progressively complex experiments, to the final exquisite, definitive, but superficially simple demonstrations. Experimental data, at the beginning analyzed only using very simple techniques to find rough correlations, in the end is explained in terms of elaborate computer models. In its final steps, the overall picture (as broad as possible) is presented by a synthesis of data analysis and conclusions based on the results from one’s own investigations as well as those published by other investigators. (11)

The scientific method, then, is a process by which individuals solve problems, starting first with some basic unanswered questions and working to the solution of the problem. Yet, students are presented with a structures step-by-step process in which all of the answers are known beforehand. Students get the feeling that there is one algorithm that, if applied to any problem will give them the right solution.

What then is the best way to teach science and how can we best prepare students to work in the sciences? In 1971, a group of chemical educators, meeting at the Snowmass Conference, created a list of characteristics for the “ideal chemist.” The characteristics were

  • Well trained and effective in applying knowledge;
  • Concerned with the application of chemistry; aware that chemistry, as an applied science and as a technology, will have an impact on the world;
  • Sensitive to society’s changing needs, priorities (in particular, the urgent problems of developing nations), and problems; feeling a personal commitment to assist in the solution of those problems;
  • Trained and effective in multi-disciplinary problem-solving skills; and
  • Capable of and willing to communicate chemistry’s role in solving the world’s problems. (12)

Crosby presented a set of similar suggestions. (13) Interestingly enough these skills can be acquired through a liberal arts education. But are these the same skills expected by industry? Rossiter provided a list of characteristics indicative of the type of skills industry wanted universities to teach science graduates so that they, the graduates, would be prepared to work in industrial settings after graduation. These are the ability to think, achieve objectives, and communicate. In addition, such a person would have interdisciplinary interests, energy and enthusiasm, as well as a proper attitude and an understanding of industrial research. (14) He concluded that, while a good background in science is appropriate for industrial research, the other aspects were just as critical for a person’s success. After all, critical and creative thinking are not limited to those who enter industry. After all, if Tom Sawyer not thought creatively, he would have not escaped painting Aunt Becky’s fence. Would we be able to understand the humor of Victor Borge’s music if it were not for creative thinking?

Instead of teaching people to think scientifically or how science works, neither of which translates well into classroom teaching, we need to focus on ways of developing a student’s thinking skills, as well as the other skills they will need to use later. Besides, many of the great scientific discoveries came not because of a background in scientific facts but because the discoverer was prepared to act upon what was happening. As Albert Szent-Giorgi stated, “discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” (15)

There are those who would argue that you cannot teach students to solve problems unless they have a firm grounding facts. But learning facts alone has a limited outcome. Learning is incomplete unless skills are included in the learning process and students see how those skills relate to the facts presented. It would be like teaching someone to shoot free throws or drive a car. Without the practical application (going to the gym and shooting baskets or getting in a car and actually driving), there is no assurance that true learning takes place. If we can teach students how to think creatively, then they will have the skills needed for later dealing with unknown problems and everyday situations.

What then does it take to be creative and a successful problem solver? A successful problem solver must

  • Be able to understand the problem with which he or she is confronted,
  • Be able to identify suitable sub-goals,
  • Have at hand or be able to retrieve relevant information from memory,
  • Be able to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information,
  • Be able to derive solution procedures for each sub-goal,
  • Be able to carry out these procedures correctly, and
  • Know how to verify both intermediate and terminal results. (16)

Adams stated that the process of problem solving involved moving from a state of “unconscious incompetence” to one of “conscious competence” (see Table 2).

Table 2 –

From Unconscious incompetence in problem solving to conscious competence

Competent

Incompetent

Conscious

Know you know

Know you don’t know

Unconscious

Don’t know you know

Don’t know you don’t know

The process he calls conscious problem solving

  • Utilizes the experiential language of life.
  • Is restricted in speed to a rate approximating life.
  • Is linear and single-channel in any one sensory mode.
  • Likes complete information.
  • Is heavily influenced by behavioral factors.
  • Does not always do what it might like to do. (17)

What this shows is that teaching problem solving and developing creativity are both part of the liberal arts tradition. As the title of this paper suggests, there is a role for the liberal arts in dealing with science education in the coming years. The liberal arts have always focused on thinking. The goal of liberal arts (gymnastics, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical harmony, and dialectics) in their earliest forms was

“To reveal the underlying, ideal forms of reality so that a student could apply that knowledge to the pursuit of the good life, both socially and individually. The goals were practical: education should lead to effective action.” (18)

The major critique of teaching thinking skills is that it cannot be easily done. Yet, as Root-Berstein stated in speaking about teaching how to discover things,

“How a scientists handles these matters if a function of his entire personality – the sum of the interests, skills, experiences, and desires that define him as a human being.” (19)

That is the essence of the liberal arts tradition. DiLiddo wrote

“The liberal arts education is a unique approach to the development of the scientific mind. It attempts to maximize the potential for creativity by the exposure of the mind to all the forces which power creative events. A liberal arts education forces a student into all areas of knowledge, including how those which seem at the moment to be useless. A liberal arts curriculum realizes that no knowledge is ever useless, only perhaps little used. It also recognizes that one cannot pre-know what one will need to know and so guards against potential ignorance with a potpourri of knowledge.

A liberal arts education also realizes that a creative event is fueled by more than knowledge alone. The importance of analytical training is not forgotten. Those who seek to diminish the analytical portion of the liberal arts curriculum contribute to the perpetuation of lackluster ideas based on innuendo and sloppy thinking. (20)

The challenge, then, is to find ways to put science back into the liberal arts curriculum. Of course, it may have never left but it was certainly pushed aside. It is critical that we view the liberal arts tradition and curriculum not only as Aristotle did, a way to enjoy the act of thinking, but as Plato did before him, a way to improve our practical skills. In science education today, we see the call for science literacy, not in terms of scientific content but in terms of its application to today’s technology. As Krajcik and Yager pointed out, unless there is an application of knowledge being presented, the likelihood of learning such knowledge is limited and quickly forgotten. (21)

In terms of science instruction, we need to consider how we present information to students. Is information presented “straight” from our notes (or text) or is it presented within the context of applications? It may be a minor point but consider the following example.

How many of the 100 or so chemical elements do you know? Most practicing chemists/chemical educators could probably come up with 60 of the elements while filling out a blank periodic table. But instructors routinely (and we trust that we are wrong in this statement) have their students memorize the symbols and names of all the currently discovered elements. Wouldn’t it be more effective and more practical to have students only memorize those elements that they are likely to encounter in future studies or every day occurrences? This is not to minimize the importance of lesser known elements but rather maximize the importance of the ones encountered.

When a topic, such as acid-base chemistry, is presented, is it presented within the framework of current topics, such as acid rain? The reverse is also true; to discuss acid rain without considering the appropriate acid-base chemistry is like typing a manuscript without putting paper in the printer.

Table 3

Bloom’s Hierarchy of Cognitive Objectives

6

Evaluation

5

Synthesis

4

Analysis

3

Application

2

Comprehension

1

Knowledge

Similarly, how do we test? Do our tests emphasize the need to apply knowledge and synthesize new information? Or our tests simply require that students repeat what the instructor said in class? Bloom’s hierarchy of cognitive objectives (see Table 3) shows that knowledge is the lowest of the objectives.

The ability to analyze knowledge, synthesize new knowledge, and evaluate such knowledge are the highest levels of the hierarchy. Do the tests we use consider these levels?

Consider the following. We typically teach students how to determine percent yield calculations. Many times, we have them do such calculations based on actually laboratory work. The purpose behind doing so is that it is easier to grade problems, labs, and tests. Why do we not give the students typical percent yields for the experiment that they are doing and have them calculate the required amounts needed for the reactions? In this manner, we can still grade the students but we can also determine if they understand the concept and the calculations.

This is also brings into question what the laboratory emphasizes. After all, science is centered in the laboratory. Are the things done in teaching laboratories done to encourage or emphasize creative or critical thinking? Or do they simply reinforce the approach presented in the lecture? For the most part, it seems that laboratory work does not parallel the actual work of science. Instead of seeing experimentation as a means for refuting an hypothesis, students see experimentation as a means of verifying the hypothesis. If you already know the answer to the laboratory exercises, is there any reason for attending the class that day or even doing the experiment? In doing these types of experiments, students gain a less than accurate view of both the natural world around them and how science operates. If we did experiments that required knowledge of a particular concept, would it not be better if such experiments were actual problems? For example, if the concept in question is acid-base chemistry, why not have the experiments focus on the role of acid-base chemistry in various settings, such as the pH of rivers, lakes and streams. If a source of natural water is close by, samples of the water could be tested in addition or instead of artificially created samples.

How we approach teaching science will go a long way in getting activities which re-involve the liberal arts. Early resistance to the first industrial revolution arose because people were afraid of the changes and also because they were incapable of dealing with those changes. If we are to have a society which can deal with the changes that it undergoes, we will have to have a society which can understand what those changes are. That is the nature of liberal arts. Learning how to do it is the nature of science education.

(1) Speech by Mary L. Good, 18 September 1991, to the Minnesota Section of the American Chemical Society at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota.

(2) The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy, 1990

(3) Capra, F. 1983. The Turning Point, Bantam Books, New York, p 81

(4) Goethe

(5) Migaki, J. 1969 (April). “The Alphabet Game”, The Science Teacher, vol. 36 (55)

(6) Pimentel, G. C. and Ridgeway, D. W., 1972, “CHEM Study: Knowledge of Chemistry”; Pimentel, G. C. and Ridgeway, D. W. – Science Activities; Basolo and Parry also presented a discussion of the development of the CHEM Study program in “An Approach to Teaching Systematic Inorganic Reaction Chemistry in Beginning Chemistry Courses”, Journal of Chemical Education, 57,

(7) G. A. Ramsey, A Review of the Research and Literature on the Chemical Education Materials Study Project, Research Review Series – Science Paper 4 (Ohio State University ED 037592), 1970, p 2

(8) Osborn, G, 1969, “Influence of the Chemical Bond Approach and the Chemical Education Materials Study on the New York Regents Examination in High School Chemistry”, School Science and Mathematics, 69, p 53

(9) Mitchell, T., 1989, “What Do Instructors Expect from Beginning Chemistry Students? Part 1”, Journal of Chemical Education, 66, 562; Mitchell, T., 1991, “What Do Instructors Expect from Beginning Chemistry Students? Part 2”, Journal of Chemical Education, 68, 116

(10) The Liberal Art of Science: Agenda for Action. The Report of the Project on Liberal Education and the Sciences (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990) – this report also lists various courses at selected colleges which consider science as a liberal art

(11) Sindermann, C. J., 1985, The Joy of Science, Plenum Press

(12) Long, F. A., 1971, “Preparing Chemists to Meet Society’s Future Needs,” Journal of Chemical Education, 48

(13) Crosby, G. A., 14 October 1991, “Chemistry as a Liberal Art,” Chemical and Engineering News, p 59

(14) Rossiter, B. W., 1972, “What an Industry Laboratory Desires in the Preparation of Science Graduates,” Journal of Chemical Education, 49, 388

(15) Johnson, 1983, Biology, William C. Brown, p 16

(16) Scandura, J. M. 1979, “Human problem-solving: A synthesis of content, cognition, and individual difference” in Human Artificial Intelligence, F. Klix, editor, North-Holland Publishing Company, New York

(17) Adams, J. L., 1986, The Care and Feeding of Ideas – A Guide to Encouraging Creativity, Addison-Wesley

(18) Schwartz, A. T, 1980, “Chemistry: One of the Liberal Arts”, Journal of Chemical Education, 57, 13

(19) Root-Berstein, R. S., May/June, 1988, “Setting the Stage for Discovery”, The Sciences

(20) McBride DiLiddo, 1987, “Scientific Discovery: A Model for Creativity” in Creativity and Liberal Learning – Problems and Possibilities in American Education, edited by David G. Tureck, Ablex Publishing Corporation

(21) Krajcik, J. S. and Yager, R. E., 1987, “High School Chemistry as Preparation for College Chemistry,” Journal of Chemical Education, 64, 433

What Is The Promise For The Future?


Here are my thoughts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.

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I will admit, as I have in the past, that I have problems with any Biblical prophecy or prediction that says there must be a war before there is peace. It goes without saying that I have some problems with today’s Gospel reading. (1) There are some who have used Jesus’ comments about the possibility or rumors of wars to point out that my arguments against war are meaningless.

Now, there are individuals who say that they speak on the behalf of God and feel that now is the time for the United States and/or Israel to initiate a nuclear exchange with Iran. This is because they see these times as the End Times and Armageddon is about to occur. They see the signs and hear the rumors and say that now is the time.

Those who say that there will be peace on this planet following Armageddon ignore the truth and the reality of war. If what we learned after Hiroshima and Nagasaki is any indication and since the nuclear weapons that will be used in the next war will be improvements over what was used in 1945, it will be a long time, a very long time before there is peace.

I suppose that I might not have these qualms if this were an earlier age or if I had been born at a different time. But I was born and raised during the height of the Cold War and when I was old enough, I could see the B-52 bombers parked on the ready ramp ready to roll within 15 minutes as a response to an attack on this country by the Soviet Union. I was also privy to a briefing given to the families of the SAC pilots and crews stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri that indicated that the majority of the state of Missouri would be wasteland in the event of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War the only thing that prevented a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union back then was the knowledge that we could easily destroy each other’s country many times over. This policy was known as mutually assured destruction and it had its own quaint acronym, MAD. No acronym was ever so appropriate in describing what it was.

The effects of radiation will not quickly disappear but only linger long after the initial exposure. The ground where the nuclear weapons land will be poisoned for a long period of time and any survivors will be hard pressed to find a new Eden or its equivalent.

While many people may feel that a tactical nuclear attack would be limited to one area of the globe, they fail to realize that the effects through the fallout will be affected in an area much large than the intended target. It has been long thought that one of the reasons why this country sought a ban on above ground nuclear testing in 1962 was that fallout was beginning to show up in the world’s food supply.

Everyone remembers or has probably heard of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 26 April 1986. It would be easy to presume that the results of the accident were limited to just the area around Chernobyl but the fallout drifted over parts of Russia, Europe and North America. Granted, large areas of the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were contaminated but the effects of the radiation were felt as far away as the northern portion of Finland, Sweden, and Norway.

Radioactive fallout contains radioactive iodine (129I or I-129) that is quickly absorbed in the environment. In humans, it is quite easily absorbed by the thyroid gland. One beneficial effect of this action is that we can use I-129 to treat various problems with the thyroid. Unfortunately, such treatments can only be used on adult patients; similar treatments would affect the growth of children. For children in the path of the fallout from Chernobyl, it was necessary to give them large doses of iodine that would be absorbed by the thyroid and thus prevent the adverse affects of the radioactive iodine.

It is quite clear that any discussion of a limited or tactical nuclear war anywhere in this world is also a discussion on destroying the future of the world as we know it.

If we were to have a limited nuclear war anywhere in this globe, are we prepared to take the steps to protect our children? Or shall we see the future of this civilization and the world die in the toxic residue of nuclear folly? Let those who call for a nuclear war in the Mid-East because these are the End-Times explain to the world why no one can live in the world that is left after a nuclear Armageddon.

It should be noted that Jesus warns us against listening and following false teachers. (2) The false teachers, even today, are the ones who say that they speak for God and that now is the time. And even if all the signs of the end were to happen, Jesus still tells us that the end is not immediate. Other things must happen first.

Now, with what Jesus said and with what Paul wrote (3), if I see war coming and I do nothing about it, can I say that I am upholding or following God’s will? I think not! We who say we are Christians must work for the Kingdom and not simply assume that when Jesus comes, all will be right with the world because we say that we are the true believers.

Many use Paul’s admonition in the portion of his letter to the Thessalonians as a rationale to oppose welfare. (4) That discussion is for another time. Paul was writing to the Thessalonians because they thought that they were in the End Times and they no longer had to work for the coming of Jesus. I take what Paul wrote as meaning that with the Second Coming about to occur, it was even more important to work for the coming of Christ.

What we do can take many forms. It strikes me that words can stop war but they must be words of truth spoken from the heart. They cannot be words of hatred or anger; they cannot be words that threaten or condemn.

1968 was a very interesting year. First, it was the year that I graduated from high school. It was also the year that the Viet Nam war became a distinct part of my life. The war had been going on for several years and there had been many protests against the war prior to 1968. I had not paid much attention to the protests because I had other things on my mind.

But during the summer of 1968, I became more and more aware of what was transpiring in the jungles of Southeast Asia and what was transpiring on the campuses across this country.

And then there was April 4, 1968. I have posted my thoughts about this day (5) and there is no reason to go over them again at this time. But on that night, in city after city, riots and violence broke out as it became known that Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. It is reported that in 110 cities, there were over 39 deaths and 2,500 injuries. But in one major city, Indianapolis, there was no violence; there were no deaths.

Robert Kennedy had come to Indiana as part of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the President. There were those that night that encouraged him not to go into the ghettos of Indianapolis, for it was too dangerous. But the part of Senator Kennedy that made people admire him and seek to work with him told him that he had to go. And as he spoke of the pain and sorrow in his own life when his brother, President John Kennedy, was killed some five years before, he asked the people of Indianapolis not to strike out against the society which they held accountable for the death of Dr. King. He advised and prodded them not to strike out in violence but to work so that such violence would not occur again.

Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy would himself die by an assassin’s bullet some two months later and any thought that words of hope and promise would be part of the political campaign disappeared with his death. Political campaigns today are characterized more by the mud that is slung and how low a politician can sink. No longer do politicians offer hope. No longer is there a discussion as to how to make a better tomorrow when politicians and leaders offer only gloom or doom.

The new world is here if we work for it. If we stand aside and let those who only gather for themselves the fruits of the people, then we shall go hungry. If the words of false teachers and false prophet are the only words people hear, then there will be wars. And there will be no peace; for there will be no earth for the people to live on.

Isaiah speaks of a new tomorrow, of a better place. (6) He speaks of people building home in which they themselves will live. He speaks of people having food to eat and lives that are worth living. It will be a world in which the young will live long lives rather than dying young. It is a worth so much different from the world that we live in today. When Isaiah speaks of creating a new heaven and a new earth, he is speaking of the world after Christ has come. But is not the Second Coming of Christ of which he speaks but rather the first.

But if we hold to the teachings of Christ who announced to the world that the Good News was upon us, that the sick shall be healed, the hungry shall be fed, the naked have clothes and the oppressed set free, then the new earth promised so many years by Isaiah will arrive.

(1) Luke 21: 5 – 19

(2) Luke 21: 8

(3) 2 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13

(4) 2 Thessalonians 3: 10

(5) http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2007/04/04/where-were-you-on-april-4-1968/

(6) Isaiah 65: 17 – 25

My Grandfather’s Diary entry for this day, 11 November 1918


For those who are not aware, I am the son of a career Air Force officer and the grandson of a career Army officer. I do not know much about my grandfather, as he died when I was five years old. What I know about him comes from “tales” told to me by my parents and the diary that he wrote while in combat in France during World War I.

His entry for the month of November reads

At the beginning of November, 1918, the 2nd Army was preparing for a major attack on the section of the Hindenburg Line in the Metz area. The attacks were scheduled for November 10th and 11th. At the beginning of the month, the 14th Brigade had been withdrawn from the front line and replaced with the 13th Brigade. While ostensibly a move to give the 14th Brigade time for additional training, it appears that this move also facilitated moving the 14th to its intended position of the planned series of attacks. The 34th Regiment found itself scattered throughout the section.

During the period 9 – 11 November, the Division executed local attacks and gained temporary occupation of a hill west of Preny (9 November), Hill 323 (1 km southeast of Rembercourt) on 10 November, and established a line from 310.2 to 287.1 in the Bois de Grand-Fontaine, captured the quarry near 278.7 west of Rembercourt, and the small woods .25 km south of Mon Plaisir Fme. on November 11th.

November 9, 1918

On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

November 10, 1918

Attack held up by very strong machine gun fire and a cannon barrage by “Fritz”.

NOVEMBER 11, 1918. –ARMISTICE DAY–

November 11, 1918

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p.m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

From the second diary – Was in German dugout at points 242.4 & 365 (on the Thiaucourt 1 to 50,000 maps) on the day Armistice was signed. 34th Infantry Regiment captured 1 German officer, 32 enlisted personnel, and 3 machine guns during tour; advance the outpost line .75 kilometers to include Hills 311.2, 310.2, and 312.

Nothing in what my grandfather wrote tells me anything about his feelings on war. Any mention of death or destruction in the diary is rather simple. I think that this was because he used his diary as a drafting board. As the Adjutant for the 34th Infantry Regiment, one of his duties was to prepare the daily reports. Those daily reports, recorded in the unit history, are almost the same things I read in the diary. Still, it was what he wrote on the front page of the diary that tells me he saw war for what it was and what it could be.

If I should fall, will the finder of this take it on him or herself to see that gets to my wife, Mrs. Walter L. Mitchell, 4150 A De Tonty Street, St. Louis, MO., USA? By doing so, they were conferring a favor upon Walter L. Mitchell, Captain, 34th US Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces, France.

The Spirit or the Letter


Here are my thoughts for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost.

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What is meant by a law? What is the difference between the 1st Law of Motion and a law that says that you have to wear your seatbelt when riding in a motor vehicle?

The first difference is that the 1st Law of Motion, formulated by Isaac Newton, is a scientific law and obtained through countless observations and tests. Simply stated, it says that any object in motion will remain in motion and any object at rest will remain at rest. It is the basis for the definition of inertia.

The law that states that you must wear your seatbelt when riding in a moving vehicle is a man-made law and it is designed to protect. For example, if you are riding in a moving vehicle of any kind and it comes to a sudden stop, say through a collision with another object. If you are not restrained with a seatbelt, you will continue moving forward (or in whatever direction you were moving at the time of the collision). Depending on other factors, the only thing that will stop your movement is the dashboard of the car or the back seat. And depending on those same factors, there is the very distinct likelihood that you will be injured or worse. Laws requiring seatbelts were not necessary when the speed of the car was limited or if the design of the car was such that impact of a collision was absorbed by the body of the vehicle.

But as the speeds of moving vehicles increased and the design of the car was changed to favor lighter masses, so too did the likelihood of injury increased; and, thus the need for laws to protect individuals.

Granted there are individuals who will tell you that seatbelts are too confining and will prevent you from escaping from a car that is turning over. But there are always going to be situations that are not considered in the initial writing of the law. And there are no laws that can protect a person from their own carelessness or ignorance of the situation.

The Sadducees come to Jesus in the today’s Gospel reading (1) with an interesting hypothetical situation. A woman marries a man with seven brothers. The man dies before they have any children. According to society’s laws at that time, the oldest surviving brother is required to marry the woman. This is what is called in the Bible a Levirate law and it was designed to perpetuate the name of the man who died childless.

But the Sadducees push the limit of this law by asking what would happen if, after marrying the widow, each brother dies until all seven brothers have married the one woman and each in turn has died and there are no children. Then the woman dies and all eight are reunited in heaven. Who is the widow married too in this case?

This example was not a test of the Law but rather a test of Jesus. The Sadducees based their beliefs on the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses. They denied that there could be a resurrection and this example was designed to suggest that resurrection was impossible. In His reply, Jesus pointed out that marriage was not part of the age to come and that resurrection was. The situation that the Sadducees described was not a possibility.

Jesus also pointed out that only those who were counted worthy would receive the benefits of the age to come. Jesus’ ability to cite the law and how it truly applied made an impact on the Sadducees, whose faith was based on the books of Moses.

What we have to understand about this passage is that we can apply laws only in the situation for which they were intended. And too often we write laws that are meant to restrict what we can do, not simply protect us.

There are many dietary laws in the Old Testament that seem ridiculous to each one of us living in the 21st century. We might find it questionable to have limitations placed on our ability to eat, say, shellfish. But remove the ability to refrigerate food and some foods, such as shellfish, can quickly become inedible.

There were also restrictions on what one could and could not do on the Sabbath. In the Ten Commandments we are told to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. This latter commandment eventually translated into thou shalt not work on the Sabbath. When Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath, the Sadducees and Pharisees pointed out that this was a violation of this law. But Jesus pointed out that the Sadducees and Pharisees had determined a number of exemptions to that prohibition, though none of them involved humans. It is the Spirit of the Law that commands one to set aside some time during the week for thought and mediation, not the letter of the Law.

Today’s Old Testament reading (2) comes from the Book of Haggai and centers in part on the attitude of the people towards God. Haggai poses a series of questions for the people of Israel to consider. One of those questions is about what is considered clean and unclean. It is another issue that Jesus deals with in Mark (3) and which Peter faces in Acts (4).

But, just as there is a difference between a scientific law and a man-made law, so are there differences between the discussions of cleanliness and uncleanliness. The laws of cleanliness first formulated in Leviticus had several purposes.

The primary purpose was to protect the people from disease. But they were also designed to teach certain spiritual lessons and create in the people an instinctive sense of right and wrong. Over the course of the years, the reasons for the formulation of laws in terms of health and protection give way to simply ritual practices with little or no understanding of why things are done.

No longer do people understand that it was the Lord and not a particular person who determined what was good or evil. In his dialogue with the priests, the prophet Haggai asks if cleanness or holiness can be transmitted through touch. The priests reply that it cannot be done. Haggai then asks if uncleanness can be transmitted through touch and the priests answer that it can. Haggai applies this principle to the nation of Israel. The nation was supposed to be rebuilding the temple after their return from exile but their attitude was indifferent to the task. Thus, their work was unacceptable to the Lord.

We live in a time when the same can be said about our society. We claim to be a Christian society and a Christian nation, yet our actions are often times unacceptable to the Lord. It may be that God will seek retribution against those who forsake His ways but I don’t think that He will be selective in whom He selects.

The problem is, as has been noted on a number of previous occasions, that the image people have of the church today is not the same image that they have of Christ. It is the image of the church as hypocritical, mean-spirited, and legalistic that is driving people away from the church.

Perhaps you have heard of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. If so, then you know that the minister of this church is Fred Phelps and the members of this church are his children and grand-children. They are collectively known for their vitriolic hatred of homosexuals and their protests at the funerals of military personnel killed in the Iraq war. They claim that God is punishing this country for its acceptance of homosexuals. Their thought is that as long as we continue to accept homosexuality, then soldiers and marines will keep dying in Iraq.

In a country where there is supposed to be freedom of speech, the protests of the Phelps family and their supporters qualifies as free speech. There are, of course, many who feel that they have pushed this definition to its limit. A number of states have passed laws which limit where the Phelps family can stand in relationship to the funeral and a number of motorcycle groups gather at the funerals to protect the families from the Phelps family.

Recently, through another freedom of this country, the family of a Marine killed in Iraq sued the church and the family. The court found the Phelps family and the church guilty of invasion of privacy and awarded the family of the Marine soldier a civil judgment of $11 million dollars. I applaud the family of the Marine for taking the Phelps family to court and I am glad they won their victory in court. They have done what so few churches and few true Christians have done; they have spoken out against the Phelps and they have spoken out for justice.

I do not approve of what the Phelps family does for I think their extreme interpretation of the Old Testament is wrong. Now, my stand on the issue of homosexuality is already on record and we will not spend time on that issue. What I find more disturbing than the lack of voice among churches today is the reaction to the vandalism of the Westboro Church. (5) As much as I disapprove of what the Phelps family does in the name of the Gospel, I cannot accept as acceptable the vandalism of the church, even if it is not really a church. I also find it abhorrent that there are people who seemed to have cheered this vandalism or claimed that it is an acceptable form of justice.

Too often we hear “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and proclaim that we are justified in acting in a similar manner as what was applied to us. We still feel that it is our “right” to do wrong against the one who has wronged us (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth); we ignore Jesus’ commandment to turn the other cheek. We would rather act instinctively, even when we know that two wrongs don’t make a right and fire added to fire stills burns the house down. (6)

It is entirely reasonable to think that whenever hatred and violence are done against you or thrown in your face that you have the right to respond in kind. But does that make it right? Does a law, which was designed to limit retribution, give you the right to apply additional violence? It should be noted that some of the Phelps family see the acts of vandalism done against them as justification for them to continue their acts of hatred and violence. So violence begets violence.

In October, 2006, three young Amish girls were killed by a gunman. The people of this country were shocked that such violence would be carried out against such a quiet and non-violent group of people. But I think that the people were as equally shocked by the reaction of the Amish community. They did not ask that a similar fate be applied to the children of the gunman; rather, they reached out and gave comfort and support to the gunman’s family. They may have been angry, they were certainly hurt but they did not blame God nor did they seek to strike out against another person.

When Jesus said that He was the fulfillment of the Law, he was saying that there was a new community and there were new rules by which we should live. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians this week (7), is pointing out that they, the community of believers had chosen to live by the new rules and not the old ones.

We are not willing to immediately accept the new version of wisdom that is offered through Christ. We are angry at those who inflict violence and injustice on us; we seek revenge and we cannot fathom how a community can forgive the family of the person who killed their children. We demand justice and revenge and we cannot fathom how a community can reach a hand of caring and forgiveness to a family that they are supposed to hate.

So what do we do? In his book, “Letters of a C. O. from Prison,” Timothy Zimmer wrote,

We say, many of us, that such and such a condition is evil, that such and such a goal is good; this the spirit which binds us, not in commitment, but in the possibility of commitment. For it is what comes after the good and evil have been defined and agreed upon that determines the grain of activism. Do we practice what we preach? Or, do we, advocating peace, resort to violence in our advocacy? And advocating freedom, refuse to face the real threat to our security which freedom brings? And advocating love, hate the haters more than they hate us? . . . If we preach love and freedom and peace, we must first love, be free, be peaceful — or better yet not preach at all but let love and peace and freedom speak for themselves in our actions. (8)

The word “disciple” does not necessarily mean “a student of a teacher” but more “a follower of somebody.” Discipleship in the New Testament is to follow Jesus, to go on a journey with Jesus. The hardest thing we are ever asked to do is change how we see and view the world around us. Before Christ, it was quite easy to see the world in terms of violence and answering violence with violence. But, now, in Christ, there is a new order. We are asked to carry His words into the world and we are asked to live by those words. We are challenged to live by the Spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law.

If we meet the challenge placed before us, then we can truly begin to see the Kingdom of God here on earth. In the Spirit of the Law, we find hope; without the Spirit, we find despair and desolation. The choice is ours; shall we live by the Spirit of the Law and in Christ or shall we live by the letter of the law?

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(1) Luke 20: 27 – 38

(2) Haggai 1: 15b – 2: 9

(3) Mark 7

(4) Acts 10

(5) http://kmbz-am.fimc.net/listingsEntry.asp?ID=521807&PT=Local+Headlines

(6) Adapted from “Letters of a C. O. from Prison”, Timothy W. L. Zimmer (1969, The Judson Press), page 25

(7) 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17

(8) “Letters of a C. O. from Prison”, Timothy W. L. Zimmer (1969, The Judson Press), page 36 – 37

The Last Great Act of Political Defiance


Today was election day in these area.  And we voted.  Did you?

When we were a colony of England, we were not represented in the English Parliament.  And when that Parliament decided that we should be taxed to cover the costs of the French and Indian War, we revolted.  The battle cry was taxation without representation.

Though the rules about who can vote and which offices were subject to public election and despite our lack of understanding of how we elect the President, we are still one of the few countries that has free and open elections.  Yet, the number of people who exercise their freedom seems to grow smaller every year.

It amazes me that there are movements across this country to make certain days in this country’s history national holidays.  There have been discussions in the past that the first Tuesday of November be a national holiday in hopes that it will increase voter turn-out.  Of course, all that would happen is we would have a blizzard of Election Day sales and Election Day specials.

This day and the right to vote were one of the reasons that this country fought for its freedom.  It will continue to be the single and greatest act of political defiance to vote and I hope that you contributed today.