An On-going Culture of War


It was Robert E. Lee who, following the battle of Fredericksburg stated that “it is fortunate that war is so terrible – lest we should grow fond of it.” He also wrote in a letter to his wife on Christmas Day, 1862, “What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that, on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. … My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.”

clip_image002[5]In a saying that has been passed down through the ages, we are reminded that nobody is stupid enough to prefer war over peace. Because, in peacetime children bury their parents but in war, it is the parents who bury their children (attributed to Herodotus).

Yet, despite our seeming aversion to war, we quickly resort to war as the solution to our problems and our fears. Some would say that war in inevitable; that the conflict between good and evil can only be resolved through war. We have even created a “just war” theory in order to justify wars; we have created rules of war so that we can play the game of war properly and know who wins and loses.

But over the years, the rules of warfare have changed and what were once a legitimate rules are no longer acceptable. When we fought the American Revolution, there were times when our forces used Indian tactics (firing from behind trees rather in military straight lines) and the British called “foul” or “unfair”. In the Civil War, battlefield tactics required lines and lines of men marching towards the objective. But the weapons of war had improved and the accuracy of the weapons had improved, so the causalities that were incurred increased (it was the decimation of the ranks by this type of approach that lead General Lee to utter his first remark).

Each war has brought about improvements in weapons and delivery systems, yet we fight the war with the previous war’s tactics. The winner is not the one who plays by the rules of the present war but the one who adapts the quickest to the new technologies of war.

What will it take to break the cycle of war that seems to be passed down from generation to generation? What will it take to change this on-going culture of war?

One thing that will be needed is a change in our view of leadership, not just the President who is the Commander-in-Chief but all those who are involved in the decision to send our young men and women into battles in far-away places.

It would be nice if those who send our children off to war would be there when they come home. I am not speaking about the parades and victory celebrations that we so often desire; I am speaking about the times when our children come home wounded or dead. Each person at the uppermost level of leadership in this country should be required, if not by law then by common sense and decency, to be present at the funeral of those who have fought and served. They should be there to share the burden and grief of the families who have lost their future, for it is the future of the country that is buried as well. And no business of the country should take place if the leaders are not there to see the results of their decisions.

Second, we need to remember that there are only three qualifications to be President of this country. The individual must be either a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States, at least thirty-five years old, and a resident of the United States for fourteen years. There is nothing in the constitution concerning religion, race, sex, or military service that would further delineate these qualifications. And by the way, “so help me God” is not a part of the official oath of office; it was added spontaneously by George Washington at the conclusion of his first inauguration and has been repeated by every President since that time.

We heard the cry when President Clinton first ran for election in 1992 that he wasn’t qualified to be President because he had not served in the military while President George H. W. Bush was a qualified war hero. Somehow, the present President Bush’s military service in the Texas and Alabama National Guard qualified him to be the Commander-in-Chief while Senator Kerry’s war record in Viet Nam was challenged and questioned.

It would appear that Senator McCain’s military record will be used as a rationale for electing him. There is no doubt that Senator McCain should be proclaimed a war hero but that is not necessarily a reason for electing him President. Nor should the lack of service be considered a detriment to election. Neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton served (and had Senator Clinton been able to serve, it would have only been in non-combat roles; we want our military heroes on the front-line).

This is not to be an endorsement of any candidate currently seeking the position. Rather, I am pointing out that we have created a culture of war. If we want our military heroes to be our leaders, the only way we can have military heroes is to have wars.

Instead of heroes or messiahs, we need leaders who are willing to work to remove the causes of war, not just prevent them. We know what causes wars, yet we seem to ignore those causes.

If there are to be wars in our future we need leaders who understand the cost of war and are willing to carry that burden with the people they have been elected to lead. But war should not be the answer and the question in which war should be the answer should never be asked.

It is time that we examine the culture of war that we have created and begin taking the steps needed to end it. Let me add some thoughts that are in the April, 2008, issue of Connections, a monthly newsletter by Barbara Wendland. In this issue, she is reviewing The Politics of Jesus by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Reverend Hendricks points out that Jesus’ strategies were:

  • Jesus treated people and their needs as holy.
  • Jesus gave a voice to the voiceless.
  • Jesus exposed oppressive systems.
  • Jesus called demons by their names.
  • Jesus got angry about seeing others mistreated.
  • Jesus took blows without returning them.
  • Jesus demonstrated His way.

It is time that we who claim to be Christian act as Christians. The guidelines have been given to us and it is time that we put them into place.

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This is cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

The Next Move


As we enter this season of Easter, my home church is beginning to work on some areas identified by the Natural Church Development process.  (For those not familiar with Natural Church Development, you can go here).

We will be considering the following statement over the next few weeks, “Passionate Spirituality is developing a loving and trusting relationship with God that empowers and gives us the confidence to carry the spirit out of the Sanctuary and into the world.”

One thought we might consider is that between Easter and Pentecost the church began to develop its identity.  I am going to be using the above statement in conjunction with the lectionary for each week to develop the ideas that I will be writing about.  For those that are interested, I will also be preaching at Dover UMC on April 6th and May 4th.

So, having “said” all that, here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Easter. The Scriptures for this week are Acts 2: 14, 22 -33, 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9, and John 20: 19 – 31.

I have always been fascinated by time. I suppose that comes from a video that I showed several years ago about how time, or rather the keeping and marking of time, was developed. In that video, the narrator quoted Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 (“to everything there is a season”).

During the course of any twelve months, we marked the passage of time by the seasons. And that is especially true with regards to the church calendar. We are, once again, in the season of Easter. It is that particular passage of time from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, when the new church begins to take on its own identity and prepares to move from a local and limited regional movement to one that will eventually span the entire globe.

And while we are doing that we are also preparing for our General Conference, that peculiar four-year passage of time in the business of the United Methodist Church. We are also at a point in our country’s history where, as someone put it and I cannot remember who it was, the focus of our politics is not on a war fought some thirty years ago but on religion. We are beginning to ask ourselves, as we often should, “what is our religion and what is it that we truly believe?”

The answers to these questions and the outcome of General Conference will speak volumes as to what the future will become.

John Meunier, in his post “Is it the business model not the theology”, asked whether it was theology or a business model that was driving modern church development. There was a discussion, brief in ways of the blogging community, about what was meant by “the church”. Is the church the bride of Christ or is it some institution that mankind has created? It seems to me, as it apparently did to several others, that the church is an institution. I would add to this that we often see institutionalized churches in terms of the building it is in or the people who are there, not the message that is given inside the walls. And if that is the case, then the church has changed or is no longer what we speak of each week when we recite “The Apostle’s Creed” or any of the creeds that are in our hymnal.

There are those today outside the church that have the skepticism of Thomas but have chosen not to seek the evidence. And, because they do not seek the evidence as Thomas did, they will reject the Resurrection and, ultimately, reject Christ.

I do not have the actual numbers but I would hypothesize that the number of people who have read the books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett equal the number of people who have read the books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. We are a society that seeks simple answers to complicated questions and, as a society we are quite willing to allow others to dictate how we will answer those questions. Kevin Horrigan, in recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (“Obama Tests America’s cult of ignorance”) pointed out that society in general no longer wants the information that it needs in order to make informed decisions and quite willingly lets others dictate the depth and breadth of the information presented.

As this pertains to today and the discussion of the church, we need to be asking why it is that books by neo-atheists and books by fundamentalists so easily dominate our lives. For the neo-atheist, if one cannot logically prove there is a God, then there must not be a God. But this view rejects religious faith as a part of one’s life and replaces it with a new faith called scientism. Somewhere along the line, you have to develop an answer about the creation and existence of good and evil. Even if this is done with logic and reason, you must conclude that good and evil are inherent in mankind or, as mankind had believed throughout the ages, that there is some sort of god. If you choose the former, then you have several interesting ethical questions to answer. If you choose the latter, then you are faced with the dilemma of mankind about whom or what is a god? In the end, rejecting faith as a belief system and not replacing it with something ultimately fails. There was an interesting article in Christian Century (“Amateur Atheists”) that explores the problems of today’s neo-atheists when their views are contrasted to the classical atheists of history; the conclusion was that you cannot lead a life without some sort of belief system.

For fundamentalists, the only solution to the many problems of the world is found in the destruction of the world, where all true believers are taken away in the moments before that occurs. But if we stand around and wait for the destruction of the world, what are we to do with the sick, the homeless, the naked, and the oppressed? Did Jesus not remind us that those who proclaim themselves as righteous but ignore those in need will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven? How can we stand by and not work for a better world?

For these believers, science must be explained in terms of faith. Logic and reason must be subverted and questioning the basic tenets of faith cannot be allowed.

But we do not live in a world where you can live by logic and reason alone, nor do we live in a world of faith alone.

In these two extreme views, there is a challenge. The challenge is not to find a path that balances the two extreme positions but rather to develop a new path, one that involves a new way of thinking.

The words that Peter and the other disciples spoke to the crowds at the beginning of the church, “We have seen the Christ and we know that He has risen from the dead,” echo throughout the passage of time.

In that meeting in the Upper Room some two thousand years ago, Jesus empowered the disciples to take the Gospel message out into the world. And each succeeding generation has been empowered by the generation before it to do the same. Each one of us knows someone whose life illuminated Christ in such a way that we could find Jesus for ourselves.

Perhaps it was an act of simple kindness or the invitation to share a cup of coffee; whatever it was, it was an expression of the love that Christ had for us and it was something that transformed our lives. It is that which we must do for the next generation as well.

It takes more than insisting that our children attend Sunday School; it will take more than a single invitation to a person to get them to come. It will take people quietly living their lives as an example of Christ. And it will take the people inside a church’s walls reaching out to the neighbors on the other side of the walls.

It will take churches as institutions and as people saying to those neighbors that we are here with you and that we are not going to leave (it will also take church organizations to say the same thing).

Society often demands that we walk several paths at one time. Society places demands on us that we often cannot meet. Becoming a Christian does not remove the demands of society from our lives; it simply places them in the proper perspective.

Becoming a Christian requires that one make a decision, a decision to walk a different path rather than the path that society would have you to walk. When we chose to walk the new path of a life in Christ, we say to the world that we will not allow society to dominate and imprison us or the people we come into contact with. Rather, we will show the world a better life, a life of loving and caring, a live of inclusion and support.

Throughout the ages, from David writing his Psalms to Peter and disciples going out into the world, it has been the same. The message of the Gospel changes lives. It is our responsibility to show those changes so that others will see and know. Some will be like Thomas, asking for more evidence. And the evidence will be each one of us.

If the future is to be a promising one, it will be because we have offered a vision that is promising. It is a vision of Christ in the world through us.

How we move into the future is up to us. What is your next move?

Pledges and Loyalty Oaths


Jim Parsons recently asked if we, as Christians, should pledge allegiance to anything but Christ (see “Pledge of Allegiance – Right or Wrong?”.

When I last taught high school (during the 2001 – 2002 academic year), we were literally ordered to begin the school day by reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance”.  Growing up as I did, I had no problems with reciting the pledge, though getting the proper phrasing (remember that “under God” was added to the original phrase and is separated by commas) was always a problem.  But the order and it was an order to say the pledge came after September 11, 2001 and was done as way, I believe, to encourage patriotism.  But patriotism cannot come through forced means.

Now we read in the April 8, 2008 issue of Christian Century reprinted an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that reported on the firing of a California State University mathematics instructor and a Quaker was fired because she refused to sign an unaltered state loyalty oath.

The instructor was willing to sign the loyalty oath provided it was modified to conform to her Quaker beliefs.  The article notes that the university did not care about the quality of her instruction or whether she actually believed in what she was signing but only that she signed an unaltered oath.

I have twice been forced to sign loyalty oaths (once in 1995 and once in 2005) and was told that if I did not sign them I would not receive a paycheck.

Loyalty oaths were, I believe, a product of the McCarthy era of the 1950’s and were designed to “protect” society from those who would seek its destruction.  There is an episode in M*A*S*H where it was discovered that Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist, had not signed his loyalty oath and thus could be kicked out of the Army.  Dr. Freedman pointed out that if he were a Communist, the first thing he would have done is signed the loyalty oath.  In the meantime, Hawkeye compliments Sidney on how smart he was for finding a way to get out of the army.

Are requiring that people say the “Pledge of Allegiance” or signing a loyalty oath a true measure of someone’s patriotism or commitment to one’s country?  How many people put up flags following 9/11 that have since become torn and tattered and faded in the sunlight?  Is patriotism something than can be expressed through forced means or is it found in the hearts and souls of the people?

Each Sunday we say a creed that defines what we believe.  Hopefully we believe what we say and we say it, not from memory, but from our heart. I think the same is true about pledges and loyalty oaths; they have no meaning if they are forced.

Cross posted to RedBlueChristian

An Interesting Article


There is an interesting article in the March 21, 2008 print version of The United Methodist Reporter (Worship Trends section).  It is entitled “Blogging Benefits: Pastors discover online community enhances preaching” and mentions several members of The Methoblog.  The on-line version is here.

The Political Nature of Christianity


The one thing that has consistently and constantly amazed me is that some people can say that they are conservatives and Christians.  It is not that it is an impossible statement to make but that is seems rather implausible.

What exactly does it mean when you say that you are politically liberal or politically conservative?

I am old enough to remember, though not old enough to have voted, when Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964 against Lyndon Johnson.  I recall reading how President John Kennedy was relishing the opportunity to run against Senator Goldwater and how they had thought and planned to appear together in a series of debates, much like the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856, in which they would define their positions in a public forum.  How I and many others would have liked to have seen and heard such a debate.  It may have very well changed the landscape and nature of our political campaigns today.  Unfortunately, this was not the case so we will never know. 

I have come to understand that conservatives believe in the rights of the individual first and foremost.  But I also think that liberals believe that the rights of the individual also come first and foremost.  It is probably in the fulfillment of those rights that things get a little muddy.

I didn’t want Barry Goldwater as President because he believed that civil rights were to be decided by the individual states and not by the federal government. 

The rights of the states (i.e., “states’ rights”) versus the rights of the federal government has been a historical part of the political debate.  But what happens when what the state does limits the rights of people.  For those not familiar with my background, I grew up in the South and the laws of segregation and discrimination affected my family as much as they did any black family.  Granted, the limitations placed on my family were not the same as the limitations that were placed on black families.  My parents could vote while most blacks were barred from voting.  And it took federal legislation to bring equality to the voting booth.

But the federal legislation that brought about many of the changes in the 1960’s did not come about until people were morally outraged by the treatment of one group of society by another.  And over time, the basis for mistreatment would change from race to economic status, though it would seem that race and gender are the central issues today.

Somewhere along the line though, being called a conservative was to say that you were a defender of the status quo rather than the defender of individual rights. It became more important to keep what you had rather than insure that everyone was treated equally.  It maybe that people are oppressed but they have the same opportunities as everyone else and, if they cannot take advantage of the opportunities available, that is their problem.

Against that backdrop, let us consider Christianity and the charge given to us some two thousand years ago. In most translations of Matthew 28: 19 – 20 Christ commands us

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (the New International Version)

But other versions of this passage, included Clarence Jordan’s translation, say

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (The Message)

As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. (Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel)

And what did Jesus teach His disciples and what were His disciples to teach us?  Consider what He said when He began His ministry,

He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
   God’s Spirit is on me;
      he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
       the poor,
   Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
      recovery of sight to the blind,
   To set the burdened and battered free,
      to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (Luke4: 16 – 21, The Message)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, and sought to free the people from oppression.  He gave voice to the individual at a time when individuals had no voice.

It was the conservatives of Jesus’ time, those who would hold onto the status quo,who sought His arrest and crucifixion.  It was those who held onto the power and used the law as a means of suppression that sought to limit the power of the new Christian movement.

And it was and is the conservatives of this country who have often tried to repress and restrain minorities in this country.

There will be those who tell me that governments have no business feeding people or providing medical care or building homes.   Perhaps that is correct but if individuals do not do it or if the problem is greater than the collective sum of the individuals, who will do it?

And should not the church be calling to task those who say that the poor have only themselves to blame?  What do we do when there are CEO’s in this country who earn more in one year than many of their workers will ever earn in a lifetime? 

Perhaps Christianity has no business being in politics but then where will the call for justice and righteousness come from?  If being a conservative is compatible with being a Christian and being a conservative means holding onto the status quo, who will look out after those for whom the status quo means less.

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Cross posted to RedBlueChristian.com

Technology and the Church


The other day I pointed out that businesses, along with many colleges, were discouraging the use of Powerpoint presentations. I updated it with a link to a site where someone had converted Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address into a Powerpoint presentation.  I then concluded by asking “What does this tell us or say to us about the use of technology in our worship services today and tomorrow?”  (See “Here’s Something Interesting”).

I received an e-mail the other day that asked what would happen if we gave treated our Bibles like we do our cell phones?  There are a number of people who have posted that particular piece so I won’t add to the list.  But it prompted me to think about text messaging and its impact on our culture.  A search provided a link to a contest back in 2001 to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer as a text message (go here).

In response to my posting “Rock and Roll Revival Revisited”, Sarah Dylan Breuer noted that the music played during a worship has to resonate with the congregation.  The same is true for technology; if the moment calls for a Powerpoint presentation, then use it.  But if the moment doesn’t call for, don’t try to fit the two together.

So where does technology fit in a church?  Is the means by which the message is given or is the message driven by the method?  Do we continue to do the same thing every Sunday and hope that people get the message?  Or do we try to do some things differently in hopes that people find church hip and totally cool?  Or will we get so caught up in the process of the presentation that we forget what the message is?

Addendum – John Meunier asks “Is It the Business Model not the Theology?”.  What drives how we build our church?

Here’s Something Interesting


(I have updated this post from last week and added a link at the end of the post; enjoy!)

At the beginning of this post, let me know that there have been times where I have used my laptop in the pulpit. 

I am one of those who prefers to have his thoughts and words down on paper but when my printer isn’t working, I will carefully put my laptop on the pulpit, see the document for full screen and go with the flow.

In all the churches that I have been, only once I have I seen a Power Point presentation or something similar used.  I have never used a Power Point presentation as part of my sermon and I have no intention of doing so.  There may be times when I want to show some pictures but for the most part technology helps me prepare the message but not deliver it.

Now, having said that, I do and will use technological applications in my chemistry classroom as part of the instructional process.  There are some things that technology helps facilitate.

There is a trend it seems for students to bring laptops into the classroom.  This is, a good thing, because of what you can then do.  But very few of my students in the recent past have brought their own laptops into the classroom.  This is a reflection of economics more than anything else.

But some students at other schools do so on a regular basis.  For the most part and if you can do it, it is an easier way to take notes.  And considering the handwriting of some of my students, I wouldn’t mind giving them an electronic form of a test and have them type in their answers.

There are problems with using laptops, of course.  If you let students put their answers down in an electronic form, then you have to find some way to prevent them from getting the answers off the Internet or through some form of wireless communication. 

Now we read that some schools have taken to banning the use of laptops in the classroom.  Apparently students are not taking notes but rather engaging in other activities, such as updating their personal pages, chatting with others (hopefully not in the same classroom), or just playing games.

Businesses are now finding it necessary to do the same thing.  There is an interesting article on the InsideHigherEd.com website describe this new trend (link).

As is noted in the article, there is a possible link between an obsessive reliance on technology and a moral failing in society.  If nothing else, the reliance on technology reduces the need for the human mind to think and, in turn, reduces the need for face-to-face interaction with other human beings.

A number of people are discussing the utility and usage of powerpoint presentations in the chemistry classroom.  As part of that discussion (the archives are located here), someone pointed out that there was powerpoint presentation of the Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.  It is here.

What does this tell us or say to us about the use of technology in our worship services today and tomorrow?

That Morning


Here are my thoughts for Easter Sunday, 2008.  I will be preaching at Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY.  I am trying something different this year, telling the story from the view of one of the disciples, Nathanael (Bartholomew). (It has been edited since first posted on Friday evening).

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Information about the disciple Bartholomew and the observations about Nazareth were found at the following locations:

(1) http://www.12apostlesofthecatholicchurch.com/bartholomew.html

(2) http://www.aumethodists.org/sermons/sermon030119.html

(3) http://www.abbotjohneudes.org/h5jan02.htm

A man comes running in, all excited and shouting, “Did you hear the news? Can you believe what they are saying? Is it possible?”

He continues, “The tomb is empty!!! Jesus is not there!!! Has He truly risen from the dead? Did Jesus do what He said He would do?”

Good morning! Allow me to introduce myself. I was one of Jesus twelve disciples, listed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as Bartholomew. In the Gospel of John, I was called Nathanael, which means “gift of God.” In truth, I am both for I am the son of Tholomew and thus am called Bar-Tholomew or son of Tholomew. But my parents called me Nathanael, so I am your humble servant Nathanael Bartholomew.   I would like to speak to you this morning about a man called Jesus, who is the Christ.  He was my teacher and my friend.

My first encounter with Jesus was not an impressive one and perhaps I should not be here today to tell you of the wondrous news of this morning.

My friend Philip came to me one day and told me that he and his friends, John, James, and Peter, had found the Messiah, the man whom Moses and the prophets spoke of so many years ago. They had found Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.

Now you must understand what this meant to me. Growing up in the Galilee was different from growing up in or near Jerusalem and the southern part of Israel.

With Jerusalem the capital, the rich and powerful lived there. To the people there, the Galilee was just a territory and one easily forgotten in the business of the country. Galilee was nothing more than the backwoods and we Galileans were treated as such. We were often scorned and rejected; only the Samaritans were treated worse.

But no matter how we were treated as a group, the people of Nazareth were treated worse. In the years to come, Nazareth would be a town whose name would be written in the pages of history but it is not even mentioned in what you have come to call the Old Testament. Neither Josephus nor any of the rabbis ever wrote a word about Nazareth. It was a town for ridicule and scorn; it was a town from which nothing good was expected.

So when Philip told me that they had found the Messiah and He came from Nazareth, I could only ask, half in jest, “can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Yet I knew that good could come from Nazareth because I had studied the Scriptures and the Law. Everyone else expected the Messiah would come from the line of David and that meant that He would come from Bethlehem and Judah, Every scripture that you read tells you that the Messiah will be born in Judea, not in Galilee. But I had studied the scriptures as well and I knew that good in the form of the Savior could come from Nazareth.

And, in my heart, I was looking for this Savior. Andrew and John had all followed the Baptizer as he traveled around the Galilee before they had become Jesus’ disciples. They brought their brothers Simon and James to meet Jesus. Then they brought my friend Philip.

I heard the Baptizer’s call for repentance and preparation but his call was not the call I sought. When Philip came with his message, I knew in my heart that Jesus was the one I was searching for, the one that I sought.

You can understand how I felt. You do not go to the doctor when you are well; you only go when you are sick. You do not call the plumber when there are no leaks but when a pipe leaks, you quickly call. And so now, when you feel lost and forgotten, you try to find the one who will give you direction.

When I met Jesus for the first time three years ago, He spoke of seeing me studying under the fig tree in my yard. I knew then that He was the Messiah.

It would take me three years of following and listening for me and the other disciples to understand His teachings. We would watch in amazement as he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. We were in awe as he gave life to the limbs of the lame and he cured so many people of their illnesses and diseases that only perplexed the doctors and healers.

And when He sent us out on our first mission and we did many of the same things, what joy filled our hearts! Of course, we did not understand what power He had given us nor did we understand what it was we were to do with this power. But we saw and we listened and we were amazed at what was happening across the landscape of this country.

And we were there when He brought His friend Lazarus out of the tomb some three days after he had died. Of course, we did not understand what that meant when we saw it that first time.

And last Sunday, what joy we felt when Jesus was welcomed into the city. The people crowded the streets, shouting “Hosanna” and waving the palms in the celebration of the new king. Three years, we had walked the countryside and now we entered the city as heroes.

But the joy of the people quickly disappeared. They wanted an earthly king, one who would lead an army and drive out the Romans. Like us, they did not always understand the message of the kingdom that Jesus taught us.

And our joy quickly disappeared into confusion and bewilderment. And the confusion quickly became fear. And with the fear came the thought that everything, everything that we had done was gone.

One of our own was dead and another was in hiding, having openly denounced the man who had taught him and named him as his successor.

We had gathered on Thursday for the Passover meal. A meal that was supposed to be a meal of celebration and joy took on the ghostly pale of death.

First Jesus announced that one of us, one of those who had walked with Him for three years, would betray Him that very night. Who among us would betray the trust and friendship that three years had developed? We did not know?

And then Jesus spoke of His death. He offered the bread and called it His Body, broken for our sins. He offered the wine and called it His Blood, shed for our sins. The Passover is a celebration meal and yet He was talking of death. It was not the first time He had spoken of His death and yet we still did not understand.

And then we went into the garden to pray. Unfortunately, the day and the week had taken their toil and we disciples feel asleep. Twice Jesus woke us up and encouraged us to keep watch and pray with him but we could not. So, at the hour of His betrayal, none of us saw the authorities coming with the soldiers to arrest Him.

Yes, we ran away. Yes, we hid. We feared for our lives. We felt that after the authorities dealt with Jesus, they would come after us and we did not want to suffer the same fate that Jesus was going through.

As we gathered we found out it was Judas who had betrayed Jesus. Judas had been our friend and it confused us as to why he would do so. Perhaps it was because Judas sought military power and wanted to fight for the kingdom on earth.

But it was clear that he no longer believed in Jesus as we did. But he didn’t expect the authorities to try Jesus and condemn Him to death. We know that he tried to give back the monies that the authorities had given him in exchange for his betrayal.

And where was Peter? After we hid, Peter had said something about trying to find a way to help Jesus escape but each time that he was spotted he denied knowing Jesus. And when the rooster crowed on Friday morning, Peter had denied Jesus not just once but three times, just as Jesus said he would.

The trials, which everyone knew were a sham, were completed that night and we saw the people turn against the very man whom they had cheered some five days ago.

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised. When we started three years ago, the crowds were huge but they soon dwindled as people realized that they were being called to take on responsibilities in the new kingdom that Jesus spoke of. How many times did we see some rich man or some Pharisee come to us in secret and profess his belief in what Jesus was saying but leave disappointed that he couldn’t keep his power or the glory of his position.

And Friday, we heard that Judas had killed himself. We were told by some of our friends that Judas realized what he had done and how the authorities had lied to him. He tried to give the money they had given back but they only laughed in his face. So ashamed of his act was he that he killed himself.

And Peter was missing and we feared for what he might do. And as we hid, fearful for own lives, our Lord and Teacher died on a cross on a hill just outside of town, in the place they called Golgotha.

John was able to take Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene and other to Golgotha but there was nothing they could do but watch as the soldiers mocked Him and gambled for His clothes. They could do nothing as He cried out in thirst and pain.

And He died, crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And He died.

And as the sky turned black on that Friday, they took His body down. There was no time for a proper burial so they placed His body in a tomb. How ironic that we had friends who would find a place to bury our teacher but would not speak out in His time of need. They wouldn’t even let Mary, his mother, or our friends Mary and Martha properly prepare His body for burial.

All through the Saturday Sabbath, we hid and wondered when the authorities would come for us. All through the Sabbath, we wondered what we would do.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John spoke of going back to the Galilee and begin fishing again. I thought that maybe I could find a school where I could finish my studies but I wondered who would teach me as much as I had learned from Jesus. We all knew that we couldn’t really go back to the lives we had left some three years before but what could we do?

And then this morning, the word came. Mary and Martha had gone to the tomb, hoping somehow to find the body and do what was the only decent and proper thing to do. We knew that the authorities had posted guards around the tomb because they thought they we would seek to steal Jesus’ body. They had even gone so far as to place a bigger stone than usual in front of the tomb to keep us out.

How were we ever going to steal His body? What power did we have? They had shown us what they thought of us and it was clear that they were not going to tolerate what we had to say any more than they had tolerated our Teacher.

But then Mary came running in to tell us the tomb was empty. We did not believe her. It wasn’t that her words were false but how could a man rise from the dead and live again? Even though we had seen it happen with Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, we still not believe that it was true.

Peter and John ran to the tomb to confirm this. And Mary then told us that she had seen Jesus and that He was alive. She told us that she was not to touch Him but that she should tell us to return to Galilee and He would meet us there.

Then, it became clear. Everything that Jesus had said over three years, every illusion or mention of resurrection and everlasting life, every mention of what was to come began to make sense. Jesus did escape from the tomb and the movement that He had begun was not finished. It was almost as if it was now just beginning.

In a few days, I will gather with my friends and we will again be with our friend, our teacher, our Lord and our Savior. We will encounter Him on the road to Emmaus and we will find Him on the beach preparing food. We will see the wounds on His hands and feet and see where He was pierced in the side. We will know that He has truly risen from the dead.

And we will begin taking the movement from Galilee into the world. My friend Thomas and I will begin a mission trip to take the Gospel to the Indians and I will travel to Georgia, much like John and Charles Wesley will do.

I leave you today with these thoughts. When I first met Christ, it was clear that my most hidden thoughts of my mind and my soul were open to the One who would send His Son to seek us out. And just as God used Philip to bring me to Jesus, so does He use each one of us to reveal Christ to the world. He will find ways to use us in ways that we cannot understand at this moment; He will give us the words and the confidence that we need at those times when our words and confidence disappear.

And as He Himself said on that first encounter, we will see things that will bring the Glory of God to life in this world. We celebrate today because today we know that Christ has indeed risen. Alleluia and Amen!

The Basis Upon Which We Speak


If you have not heard or read Jeremiah Wright’s recent words, you are either lucky or have been disconnected from the Internet for a long time.  There is no need for me to address what he said or why he said it.  It was an emotional sermon and spoken from the perspective of years past.  It did have what I thought were some inaccuracies.

And that leads me to ask upon what basis should we speak.  It is entirely proper to use emotion when you are in the pulpit, be it the “bully” pulpit of politics or the pulpit in a church.  And it is proper to be angry when speaking from whichever pulpit you are in.  But should emotions be driven entirely by anger coupled with hate?  Should not reason and knowledge somehow and someway be the basis upon which our emotions are let out?

What then do we say of a pastor who preaches hatred out of ignorance?

What do we say of a pastor who argues for nuclear war as the precursor for the 2nd Coming of Christ?

What do we say of a pastor who argues for the destruction of a people because of what the pastor thinks those people said?

At what point do we the listeners stand up and say “Wait a minute!! That is not right!”

Is the pulpit, be it politic or religious, the place for a rhetoric based on hate?  What happened to the words of Christ and the Gospel message?  Where are the words of unification and peace to come from?

On more than one occasion, I have written and spoken of a fear which seems to have taken over this country.  If we allow fear to control our lives, then we will have surrendered reason for emotion.  And out of this will come anger.  And with anger comes hatred.  We need to be bringing people together, working to remove the injustice and oppression that pervades this world.  We will not do so when our words are angry.

Let us remember what Paul told the Ephesians,

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. (Ephesians 4: 26 – 27)

Let us speak the truth but let us do so in a way that we can build, not destroy.  There has been enough killing; more than enough angry words have been spoken. 

Let us remember also the words of the prophets Isaiah and Micah,

. . . when all is said and done,
   God’s Temple on the mountain,
Firmly fixed, will dominate all mountains,
   towering above surrounding hills.
People will stream to it
   and many nations set out for it,
Saying, “Come, let’s climb God’s mountain.
   Let’s go to the Temple of Jacob’s God.
He will teach us how to live.
   We’ll know how to live God’s way.”
True teaching will issue from Zion,
   God’s revelation from Jerusalem.
He’ll establish justice in the rabble of nations
   and settle disputes in faraway places.
They’ll trade in their swords for shovels,
   their spears for rakes and hoes.
Nations will quit fighting each other,
   quit learning how to kill one another. (Micah 4: 2 – 3)

On this particular March 20th, let us remember who died and why He died.  Let us work to bring the freedom that Christ’s death on the cross represents into fulfillment.

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Cross posted to RedBlueChristian.com

The Processes of Science


Further updating this particular post, I want to note something written on Theolog by Jonathan Marlowe entitled “Binocular Vision”.  Marlowe is writing about John Polkinghorne and his career in physics and religion (a tip of the hat to Dogwood Dave for noting this piece).  It is embarrassing to note that I have one of Polkinghorne’s books (Belief In God in an Age of Science) close by my desk.

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As an update to this post (first published on 20 February 2008), quoting the The New York Times,

The $1.6 million Templeton Prize, the richest award made to an individual by a philanthropic organization, was given Wednesday to Michael Heller, 72, a Roman Catholic priest, cosmologist and philosopher who has spent his life asking, and perhaps more impressively answering, questions like “Does the universe need to have a cause?”

Additional information can be found at “The Templeton Prize – Current prize winner”.

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Those who have read my blogs know that I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education and am a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church.  For some, this would imply a contradiction in what I believe. There are some who would say that if I believe in science, then I cannot believe in God. And there are those who would have a hard time accepting the notion that I can believe in God and, at the same time, be a scientist. The difficulty is, of course, being able to understand what each area does.

But one can be a scientist and religious without contradicting either area or having conflicts with either area.

I count as a friend a Catholic priest who is also an organic chemist. I am reminded of Gregor Mendel, the Austrian priest, whose work with peas generated the beginnings of our understanding of genetics. And there is the Georges Lemaitre.

You may not have heard of this gentleman but he is both a mathematician and a Catholic priest. In 1931, Lemaitre proposed that the universe had a definite beginning in which all matter and energy were concentrated at one point. This simple statement is the proposal of what we have come to know as the “Big Bang”.

For me, being a Christian is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior. This is a statement of faith. There are no known experiments which can prove this statement. There need be no experiments that we should look at. 

But experiments can and do tell us a lot about the world around us and the universe in which we live.

The problem is that many people do not understand what an experiment is and what the processes of science are.

Now, let me start off by saying that there no such thing as the “scientific method”. I have observed too many teachers try to teach the “scientific method” when in reality they are teaching the process of problem solving.

If you feel that you have to have a method, then try to make sure that it goes something like this:

  1. Determine the question you wish to answer
  2. Create a reasonable answer to your question – this is your hypothesis.
  3. Think about how you will find the answer to your question.
  4. Collect the data
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data
  7. Prepare a report.

The question you wish to answer can be almost anything you want, provided that it is reasonable and there is logical answer possible. One student I had the pleasure of working with asked why no grass grew around certain weeds in her backyard. Her hypothesis was that the weed exuded some sort of substance which killed the grass.

Here you have an example of a question with a logical answer. On the other hand, you can ask a question for which there is no possible logical answer. When I was in the 9th grade in 1965, I conjured up the question “what is the earth’s gravitational effect on itself?” Clearly, this is not a logical question to ask. After refinement, we asked the question, “What is the effect of the earth’s gravitational field on a spacecraft on a journey from the earth to the moon?”

This was further refined into “If an Apollo spacecraft halfway to the moon were to suddenly loses its velocity where would it fall?” A second question would be “How far from the moon would the spacecraft have to be before it could not return to earth?”

Now, my questions were easily answerable using Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. And I was able to determine that the earth’s gravitational field would have an influence on the Apollo spacecraft through 90% of the journey. Only when the spacecraft was less than 3.9 x 104 kilometers (39000 km) from the moon or 3.5 x 109 km from earth before the moon’s gravitational field would have an effect on the spacecraft. {And if this problem sounds vaguely familiar, in 1970 the Apollo 13 spacecraft suffered a catastrophic power failure approximately 3.2 x 105 km from earth.)

The other experiment that I mentioned involved the elucidation of compounds, besides chlorophyll, that were present in the weed. For her work, the student ultimately received a full scholarship to a major university where she began working with a professor who had been studying the same phenomena for a number of years. I got a good grade in my 9th grade science class.

So you start with a question and a hypothesis. Then you seek a means of answering the question and proving or disproving the hypothesis. (For those who have taken statistics course, we could discuss the ubiquitous “null hypothesis” but we will save that for a later time and place.)

When you collect the data that will enable you to answer your question, you are seeking the facts. Facts are those items that are observable through one or more of your senses.

A conclusion is the interpretation or meaning you give for the facts that you have gathered. And a key point here is that you cannot change the facts to fit a pre-determined outcome. If the facts do not match the desired outcome, the desire outcome must change.

After one has done a number of experiments in a given area, it is possible to generate a theory. A theory is a broader conclusion.

Here is where people make errors. Theories are not facts; they are not meant to be facts. Theories are the best explanation for what has been observed and offer the best explanation for what might happen next.

Consider the development of the heliocentric (or sun-centered) model of the solar system. When man first began looking at the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets, it seemed logical that all heavenly bodies moved and the earth stayed still. But as data was gathered on the movement of the various bodies, errors began to creep in. One of the most glaring errors was the retrograde motion of Mars.

Retrograde motion means that Mars was moving backward rather forward through the sky.

Now, it was and is possible to create a model of the solar system that accounts for the various observations, including the retrograde motion of Mars. But it is a very complicated model. The process of science is best served by simple models and simple models often require extensive amounts of data.

Or they require looking at things with a different viewpoint. When Galileo observed the moons of Jupiter orbiting the planet of Jupiter, he was able to understand what Kepler and Copernicus were thinking as they sought to correct the model of the universe. Of course, Galileo’s explanation ran counter to the Catholic Church’s view of the universe and you know that story.

When Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands, he observed the differences between the various birds and other animals living on each island. It was based on those observations that he began developing the theory of evolution. The theory itself is not immediately obvious; it only comes after serious consideration of what has been observed.

Theories can be tested; in fact, they demand testing. If a theory cannot hold up to the test, it is not a very good theory. The first atomic theory was that the atom was indivisible; the discovery of the electron and proton effectively destroyed that theory. The concept of the atom was further refined by the discovery of the nucleus. For many years, it was assumed that the electron, proton, and neutron were indivisible but research has shown that these sub-atomic particles can be divided into even smaller particles. At some point, there must be a limit to the sub-division of particles but it is still some time in the future before that point will be reached.

The one thing that we must avoid is thinking that a theory is a fact. It is not a fact; repeat, it is not a fact. If a theory is taught as such, it is being taught wrong. But that doesn’t mean that other theories are correct. A theory can be replaced when it is proven false but it must be proven false by the same methods that generated the first theory.

When you invoke processes outside the realm of science as part of the means for validating a theory, then you have invalidated the process. And false methods cannot generate true answers.

What does this all mean? First, Darwin’s theory of evolution is the best explanation for the development of life on this planet. It is based on observations and conjectures. It does not require the imposition of any supernatural being nor does it require that we declare that one part of the process is too complex for the human mind to comprehend.

If someone is teaching Darwin’s theory as fact, then they are teaching it wrong. But that doesn’t mean that other theories should necessarily be taught.

This is going to be hard for many people to accept. They want to accept the idea that God created Heaven and earth but they somehow think that science is telling them that they can’t do so. But nowhere in the process of figuring out how things develop or work has science ever told us why things were developed or how things work the way they do.

Faith is needed in order to understand why things happen. That is why it is possible to be a scientist and have faith. They too work together, not in opposition.

Mankind was created in God’s image. If we were not meant to seek God, we would not have been given the ability to think and seek. Instead of not thinking and not seeking as a means of better understanding the world around us, wouldn’t it be better if we were to think and see?