Is God Unknown Today?


Here are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday of Easter.

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I cannot help but wonder how Paul would react in today’s world, especially in light of the first lesson for today (Acts 17: 22 – 31). Or rather, how would today’s society react?

For back then, as Paul spoke in Athens, he spoke of an idol dedicated to an unknown god. In a world where there was a god for just about everything, we have a utilitarian sort of god, one that covered everything that wasn’t already covered. Today, the problem isn’t that we need such a god but rather we don’t have this god. In fact, the God whom I personally call Father and who sent His Son so that I may have eternal life is virtually unknown today.

The atheists and secular humanists of the left would have us believe there is no god at all but they offer no option other than a religion of rational thought and logic. Instead of promoting their new “religion”, they simply attack other religions, often (I think) in anger because they asked for something and they didn’t get it.

By the same token, fundamentalists and other religious conservatives offer a god that bears little resemblance to the Father that Jesus Christ told us about. The god of the fundamentalists is an angry god, quick to seek retribution and vengeance, militaristic in nature and blind to the problems of the world. Their god is an authoritarian god, one that does not allow questions and forbids the seeking of the truth. They seek a world in which knowledge is limited and no one outside a select circle is allowed to know the truth.

And it would seem that the only god that the atheists and secular humanists see is this god. We live in a world where the one true God is unknown.

Fortunately, as Paul himself stated to the Athenians some two thousand years ago, God tends to overlook the ignorance of human beings. In that same speech, Paul makes it very clear that it was God who created the heaven and the earth but Paul does not offer a timeline. He does say that mankind would search for Him. To me, this is an affirmation of both the Genesis story and the nature of evolution. We are created by God and we are to seek God. We cannot do that in a realm limited to faith or logic alone. We must do it in a world of faith and logic.

There are those of us who believe in this God because we understand in our hearts the sacrifice His Son made on the Cross for us. We are a minority of believers however. We are the ones to whom Peter wrote his letter (1 Peter 3: 13 – 22), encouraging us to speak out and led the kind of life that Jesus taught us to live and those in the first Christian communities sought to live.

Ours is not a God of war and violence but one of peace. Ours is a God that cares for His children, seeking to include every one of them even when they do not know they are included. We understand the promise Christ made that we would not be alone; we understand that it is not easy, especially when those on the far right and the far left have louder voices and offer easier solutions.

It is easy to blame others for the ills of society; it means that you do not have to do anything to fix the problems that create the ills. It is easy to say there is no god but then you have to develop one to explain the things that logic and reason cannot explain.

God is not unknown; it is just that too many people are not looking for Him. They look around and they see death and destruction, they see sickness and disease, they see poverty and homelessness and they wonder why. And then they look around and they see people who, in the name of Christ and God, seek to exclude people, not include them. They see people who in the name of God and Christ seek destruction and violence instead of creation and peace. They see people who in the name of Christ and God seek to limit the knowledge of this world, not increase knowledge of this world. And they see those who argue against such people but offer nothing in return.

This is a time when we who are Christians must live up to our name. This is a time when those known as Christians must be the ones who seek peace, who seek to heal, who seek to bring freedom to the oppressed and who live according to the ways we were taught. It will not be easy to live this way; it will not be easy to get people to listen to you in a world that demands quick fixes and physical proof.

The fix will not be quick but the proof will be physical. For we have been offered the Holy Spirit (John 14: 15 – 21) and we have been give a new life. In us people will see the proof and they will wonder why. And then they will know that God is not unknown but among us today.

Turning Words Into Actions


For those who follow Star Trek, the words “Kobayashi Maru” have a special significance. For those that don’t know, this is the name of a ship in a Star Fleet Academy exercise. It is an exercise to determine how potential Star Fleet officers will respond to situations; in this case, a situation that is a “no-win” situation.

The Kobayashi Maru is a space freight trapped in the Neutral Zone between Federation space and Klingon space (at a time when the Federation and the Klingon Empire were not friendly) and sending out a distress call. Federation ships are forbidden from entering the Neutral Zone and thus the commander of the star ship in the simulation is faced with his or her first dilemma. Do they enter the Neutral Zone and rescue the freighter and its crew or obey the prohibition to not enter the Neutral Zone.

Should the decision be made to enter the Neutral Zone, the commander quickly finds out that it was a trap set by the Klingons. The Federation starship is out-numbered and out-gunned and is ultimately destroyed. No future starship commander had ever successfully passed this simulation test until James Kirk took it. It is said that it took him three times to pass the test and he only passed the test because he modified the program controlling the simulation so that a win was possible. In other words, he cheated.

The object of the simulation is to see how future and potential commanders face death and Kirk admitted that he did not like that option. I would agree; normal (and I stress normal) conflicts should never be a “no-win” situation. But conflicts are often never normal and while our thoughts and our feelings are directed maybe directed towards situations where there is a clear cut winner and a clear cut loser, we often are faced with “no-win” solutions.

A case in point has to be the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Those who lived during that time frame of thirteen days in October can tell you of the urgency and crisis that enveloped not only this country but the entire world. Those who have watched Kevin Costner’s 2000 movie, “Thirteen Days”, can get some sense of that crisis. I believe that a better depiction of the crisis is given in the 1973 made-for-television movie, “The Missiles of October”, if for no other reason that it is a starker, black-and-white presentation.

It is clear from watching either movie that the outcome could have easily been nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. One of the benefits of the collapse of the Soviet Union was an examination of papers and materials that tell their side of the story and the realization that we were closer to nuclear annihilation than we even thought back then.

It seemed to me from my reading of Robert Kennedy’s book (the basis for the two movies) and watching the movies that there were those on both sides who wanted war and there were those who wanted to avoid war. And it was also clear that one false step by anyone on either side would result in a war that no one wanted. Because what some might have thought might be a small tactical war would quickly expand in a global conflict with the exchange of nuclear weapons. And the result of that exchange would be a world where the living would envy the dead, a “no-win” solution.

It seems to me that we need to somehow include such visions of what the future might be in our current political process. We have the technology to make simulations that involve complex decision making; in fact, we make such simulations right now. But these simulations are treated as games to be played by children.

We need to expand such simulations and get those who desire to be our political leaders to actually show us what they would do when they are faced with potentially no-win situations. We need to see how they would react when one false step is taken or a word is misunderstood; we need someway to show politicians to the consequences of their words when they are forced to put their words into action. We need someway to see how those who seek to lead will respond when those who follow seek solutions that run counter to the desired outcome or whose solutions are for their own personal glory rather than the good of the people.

We love reality television shows; we love games. Here is a chance to put together the ultimate reality show. This will not replace elections; elections are the will of the people but the people need to be informed. We need to be informed as to what those who seek to lead will do when faced with problems where the only solution is a no-win one.

We have the capability to make it so (to borrow another Star Trek phrase); shouldn’t we find a way to turn words into actions so that we can make better decisions?

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Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

The Bottom Line


As a follow up to this post, you might check out “Clueless in America”, Bob Herbert Op-Ed piece in the April 22, 2008 issue of The New York Times.

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If someone were to ask me what my favorite television shows were, I would have to list “The Rogues” and “Banacek”. But number one on this list is and will always be “M*A*S*H”.

From its debut as a movie, it was something that I somehow identified with, even to the point that my dorm room that year became known as “The Swamp” (but that was after someone flooded the laundry room and that’s an entirely different story).

Through the wonders of cable TV and re-runs, I have probably seen ever episode of the television series, from the pilot to the series ending show, at least four times. I can watch a particular episode for a few moments and generally remember what that episode central story or stories are. This does have its disadvantages however.

I do not know the names of each episode or when they were originally aired. And sometimes what I think was in one episode was actually in another. Such is the case with one thought in my mind. There is one episode in which either Father Mulcahy tells Hawkeye that it is one thing for doctors to lose their patients but when he loses one, he loses their soul or Sidney Freedman (the psychiatrist) says that he loses their mind. As one who works with both the mind and the soul, I can find much in either of those two comments.

As an educator, my profession is the development of the mind and finding ways to encourage the creativity of our children and young adults. As a lay speaker and lay minister, I have to focus on the souls of those with whom I converse or speak with and who read what I write on Sunday mornings.

The problem with both American education and the American church today is that we have either forgotten what it is that we are supposed to be doing or we have decided to change the definition of what we are supposed to do. It seems that the church and school today are driven not by the outcome that the church and school offers but rather by “the bottom line.”

For too many denominations today, it is not the number of souls that are saved (as if that was something that could be easily measured and verified here on earth) but how many warm bodies are in the pews each weekend.

It is one thing to measure the success of a church by the number of people who attend but is that the best measure? We quite willing use demographics to reach out to find people and plant churches where the people are or will be but we also quite willingly seem to use demographics to determine when to abandon a church. A church may be losing people but we need to know why and a simple demographic analysis may not tell you what you need to know. I sometimes think that we abandon churches in regions when the church can be a positive symbol of hope and where hope is most needed because of the change in population. Sometimes we cannot help it if a whole region is losing people (portions of the upper Midwest come to mind) but if it is a pocket within a region (say an inner city), then shouldn’t the church be staying and helping to bring life back?

I will address the issue of the bottom line as it applies to the church today later. For the moment, I want to look at the application of the bottom line as it applies to education.

It seems to me that we, as a society, have turned our educational process has something driven by the “bottom line”. No longer are we interested in what students will become; we are interested in how many students we graduate. (For an interesting take on this, see Tom Chapin – Not on the Test.)

Every child, no matter how old they might be, can always tell you what they want to be when they grow up. And as they grow up, their focus on that goal becomes clearer and more defined. As educators, parents, and interested parties be encouraging that process. It is important that students have a sense of what they will do in and with their lives. We should not be talking students out of a career choice because we do not feel that it is a good fit for them; rather we need to be providing opportunities for the student to make a decision about a career.

But if their decision on a career is made because they think that career will bring the riches, fame, or glory and they have no idea of what is involved in the process, then their path to that career will be strewn with potholes and many, many detours.

I have had students who have an expressed a desire to become pharmacists, not because it is a valuable part of society but rather because they were promised a job bringing $30,000 as a starting salary when they completed their undergraduate degree. I can understand why students would jump at this opportunity. But I also have to wonder what those same students will do when they find out how much science and math they must have in order to get that degree? And what will they do when they find out the salary for this job after five or ten years is still essentially $30,000?

Similarly, I have meet and taught students who wish to be doctors and nurses for a variety of reasons. But their background and preparation, especially in the areas of science and mathematics, often limits their advancement. I have seen students who have expressed a desire to become elementary teachers because they like working with children. Again, this is a good job choice and the reason for doing so is a valid one. But becoming an elementary school teacher is a very demanding task because you must be conversant in all of the academic subjects (science, mathematics, reading, social studies, English, etc.). Most elementary majors are well-versed in social studies, reading, and English but not so in science and mathematics. The lack of skills does not prevent one from becoming an elementary education major but it does not help in the preparation of the students for further studies.

But when these students run into problems during their academic career, what do they do? Do they seek help and determine if their career choices were correct? Some do but most argue that it was the teacher’s fault and they do what our society has taught them to do; they sue (See “Avogadro Goes To Court” for one example; see “Transformation Sunday” for my thoughts and their implications for the church).

The argument posted in that particular court case was the student was a consumer and thus should be able to decide the value of their education. This argument would work if the students understand what it is that education is supposed to do. Education is supposed to give you the skills so that you can make better decisions; it is not a consumer-oriented activity in which the student decides what it is that he or she will learn.

In the movie “A Man for All Seasons”, there is the following interchange between Thomas More and Richard Rich.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The definition of a teacher should be in terms of what their students become and they will know it when the time comes.

But when are we going to realize this? Last week I posted “Where Have All the Flowers gone?” In this post I pointed out some of the more intellectually challenging aspects of television advertising. Now I find that there are at least two studies dealing with incompetence and the inability of people to determine their own incompetence (see Social scientists alert: Gather that data!).

For right now, I think that the bottom line, at least as it applies to education today, was first expressed by Robert Frenay in the book Pulse, page 440 (from the April Mini-AIR), “That we are smarter than algae is a given. Whether we are wiser remains an open question.”

At some point, our desire to “give the customer what they want” is going to conflict with “give the customer what they need”. Then what are we going to do?

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This is cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

The Church’s Bottom Line


Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday of Easter.

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Links updated on 18 February 2010

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Sometimes it is interesting how things work. For the better part of the week, I thought that this Sunday was April 27th instead of April 20th. So my thoughts about the Scripture during the week focused on both April 27th and May 4th (when I go back to Dover). I had not given much thought to the Scripture for April 20th because of that.

But in my post of April 18th, “The Bottom Line”, I said that I would consider the church’s bottom line at a later date. Then I reread the Scriptures for the 20th and I found the thoughts that I needed. Isn’t it interesting how things work sometimes?

For those that didn’t read the post, I made the observation that the ultimate bottom line for the church is the number of souls that are saved. I also commented that such a measurement would be a little difficult to determine. In truth, the only way that you are going to know your impact on life, be it in the church or education or some other field, will be long after you are gone from this place on earth. But if we wait until such time to determine how well we have done we will have wasted many opportunities.

The problem is that we evaluate those opportunities in ways that often are counterproductive to the mission of the church. At times, we are more interested in the number of warm bodies we can put in the pews each weekend or we are interested in how much money we contribute to the missions of the church.

Yes, we should be contributing our time, talents, and funds for the missions of the church; yes, we should be seeking to have large numbers of people in worship each weekend. But those measures are often used as substitutes for the actual work of the church. And we measure the success of a church by those same numbers.

But what happens if a church is in an economically depressed locale? Are we to abandon that church because its numbers are dwindling and its monetary contributions are falling off? What is the mission of the church if it is not to bring hope to an area? What message of hope can be given if the church itself bails out of an area and says that it cannot survive there?

People have come to believe that if they attend church regularly and they tithe, then they have met the requirements for being a good and faithful Christian. They see the church in that same way as well.

This, of course, is contradictory to the major precept of the church that it is one’s faith in Christ that is the sole requirement. Too often we turn the words and thoughts of the Scriptures from what they are into what we want them to be.

We forget that the early Christians more often than not died because of their beliefs. We forget that the early Christians had to meet in secret because of their beliefs. We forget that the early church was a community brought together because of a desire to live a life that was demonstrated to them by Christ. And we have forgotten that we are take the message that was given to them into the world, not forcing people to believe but rather showing them what it means to believe.

As Peter wrote in his first letter (1 Peter 2: 2 – 10), we are a chosen people. But that doesn’t make us exempt or remove us from the world; nor does it make us “special.” In fact, it means exactly the opposite. We are to be in the world, showing the world what life can be. It does not make us special, other than we live with a confidence that the secular world cannot provide.

The road that we travel each day is the same road everyone else travels. And for many people, that road is fraught with danger and uncertainty. As Thomas first said to Jesus, “we do not know where you are going so how do we know the way?” (John 14: 1 – 14) Thomas’ thoughts are our thoughts; we do not know the way and we seek to find the answer within this world.

Of course, we cannot do that; for the way that we must walk is a way of life, not a road. It will not be an easy life and those that say that Christianity promises an easy life have no clue as to what they are saying. The only certainty is that we have a secure foundation in Christ and that foundation will be the protection that we need when the winds of change and uncertainty blow around us.

What is the bottom line for Christianity and the church then? We are called to bring the Good News to the people. That is the bottom line. We are not called to be prisoners or martyrs for Christ. We are not called to convert people or condemn them; we are not called to stand on a street corner in our home town and shout Bible verses at the top of our long. We are called, instead, to live a life that shows the power of the Holy Spirit present in our lives.

Is this dangerous? Yes, it is. People have died living the life that Christ taught us to lead. People have been criticized and ostracized for leading the life that Christ calls us to lead. And people have left the path because they do not want the criticism, the ostracism, and the threat of life. But when we lead the life of Christ, we can approach all those fears with a new found confidence. Stephen preached the Gospel to the people and the people reacted by killing him. But through it all, Stephen praised God and asked that the people be forgiven. (Acts 7: 55 – 60)

To be sure, to be willing to die for a cause does not make the cause right. But if we are called to die for our faith, then we can see the immense worth of our faith and the worthlessness of much that we hold to have value. In his trial Socrates taught that the purpose of life is not to avoid dying but rather to avoid unrighteousness.

During the Civil Rights struggle of the early sixties, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the value of truth:

I can’t promise you that it won’t get you beaten. I can’t promise you that it won’t get your home bombed. I can’t promise you won’t get scarred up a bit — but we must stand for what is right. If you haven’t discovered something that is worth dying for, you haven’t found anything worth living for. (From Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs by James C. Howell)

The outcome of those days was a change in the mindset of the people, though I am not so sure it is remembered that way today.

What good did it do for Stephen to die? Remember that an on-looker to this event was Saul of Tarsus. Yes, he will soon begin prosecuting Christians but one has to think that this set the stage for his own encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and his conversion to Paul.

I began with a focus on the bottom line and our need as a people and as a church to think about what that constitutes. The bottom line is not the number of people in the pews for a given worship service nor is it how much money is spent by a church or individuals on mission work. And the bottom line is not your death in the name of the cause. Those who seek their death in the name of their faith have a very poor understanding of their faith. But if you understand your faith and you are willing to live your faith, then you will face the outcome with joy and celebration. That is the bottom line.

Things That We Discover


If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have a concern for education and the direction it is headed.

There is a thread or discussion going on the Chemistry Education Discussion List (or CHEM-ED list for short) about the nature of education today.  It started with some questions about when classes were being scheduled and such schedules are driven by the needs or desires of the students.

If you are interested in reading this discussion, go to http://mailer.uwf.edu/listserv/wa.exe?S1=chemed-l and put “When did this happen?” in the first box (marked “string”).  You should get some 57 “hits” (including the new thread “Effective Teaching”).

But, as many discussions or threads do, there has been a shift from the need to accommodate or meet the needs of students to the demands students place on the instructional process (often called the “student as the consumer” model).  There is a passing reference to this model in my post for Transfiguration Sunday (“Transformation Sunday”); to save you the trouble, read “Avogadro goes to court”.

Now when I posted my note about the court case to the list, one respondent suggested that it was nothing more than an urban legend.  But, as I noted in response, a Google search for “students suing the instructor” produced 175,000 hits.  Some of these are legitimate cases but others point out the idea that many students come into class with the idea that they are consumers and they have a right to decide if what they receive is the what they wanted (i.e., student as a consumer).

I also discovered that this problem is not as new as some think but has been around for at least fifteen years.  See

  1. “Student as Consumer”: A Critical Narrative of the Commercialization of Teacher Education (see http://www.jceps.com/index.php?pageID=article&articleID=56) and
  2. ”Should We Buy the “Student-As-Consumer” Metaphor?” (see http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall1997/Cheney.html).

Against this backdrop, I find a little bit of good news.  The George Lucas Educational Foundation has identified a number of educators, the “Daring Dozen”, who are working to change the system.  It may not seem like twelve people (the number that the foundation has identified) may make a major change in the ways things work but Margaret Mead reminds us “…that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”  Or if you will, as Sonia Johnson (an American feminist who was excommunicated by the Mormon church for her activities), “We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.”

It would seem to me that there is hope for our educational system and that we need to be taking note of these changes.

This will be cross-posted to RedBlueChristian.com

Two Thoughts on Science and Religion


I have had one thought bouncing around in my head for a few days now and a recent article in the New York Times (“Gauging a Collider’s Odds of Creating a Black Hole”) prompts me to post it and other thought.

First

What is the ethical or religious response to the prayer at the beginning of this essay?  What do you say to a person whose creation or invention can, if used one way, benefit mankind but, if used in an entirely different manner, destroy mankind?

And yes, this is the question that we faced in 1945 with the development of the first atomic weapons?  My father was one of those who knew that his life was spared because we dropped the two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the likelihood is that your father might have been one as well.

So how do we respond?

Second

Whether you think that our first encounter with other life forms is a derivation of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Independence Day”, or “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, what should be our response?  How do we relate the Good News to another intelligent/extra-terrestrial life form?

Just some things to think about today.

The Common Good


As we slog our way through the final months of primary elections and prepare for the upcoming conventions and then endure the fall campaign and everything that it promises to be and not be, I wonder if we haven’t seen or are now seeing the end of our two major political parties.

To be honest, I don’t think that either major political party now accurately represents their historic constituents. The Democratic Party was once the party of labor while the Republican Party was the party of management and business. Democrats were often for change while Republicans stood for the status quo (that’s how I saw it). It always seemed that there were clear cut differences between the two parties.

But lately, with a view to history, I am having a hard time determining what Republicans and Democrats believe or stand for. The history of each party seems to be just that, a history, and not a guide for tomorrow.

Perhaps it is time to let these two parties die and for new political parties to develop. If I am not mistaken, the word “politics” is derived from the Greek for the people; perhaps I am wrong about theat. But if that is the case, then maybe it is time that our politics to be the words and thoughts of the many and not the few.

The first reading for yesterday was from Acts and it described the beginnings of the new church. The people shared everything and everything was held in common. This is not a call for communism or even the development of communes. Rather this is a call for leaders and those who desire to be our leaders to seek what is good for all, not just a few. This is a call for a thought of what we as a people can do for the common good.

There will always be a discussion about how such a goal can be obtained; that’s what politics is all about. But the means that we have at our disposal are not necessarily working and I think it is time to seek of alternative ways.

Are our political parties more important or is the common good more important?

This has been cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

Reinventing the Wheel


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter.

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As I read the passage from Acts for today (Acts 2: 42 – 47), I am reminded how much the church of today differs from the beginning church. No matter what version of this passage you read, the message is the same.

New International Version

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The Message

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel

They were all bound together by the officers’ instruction and by the sense of community, by the common meal and the prayers. A great reverence came over everybody, while many amazing and instructive things were done by the officers. The whole company of believers stuck together and held all things common. They were selling their goods and belongings, and dividing them among the group on the basis of one’s need. Knit together with singleness of purpose they gathered at the church every day, and as they ate the common meal from house to house they had a joyful and humble spirit, praising God and showing over-flowing kindness toward everyone. And day by day, as people were rescued, the Lord would add them to the fellowship.

The people shared not only a meal but their goods and belongings. This is most definitely not what we are doing in today’s church.

Now, it should be noted that there were those in the early church who felt that Christ’s return was imminent and they stopped working. On a number of occasions, Paul had to chastise members of churches for their failure to keep working for the good of the group.

It appears to me that we are trying, when it comes to the nature of the church today, very desperately to reinvent the wheel. We seek models of the church that will reinvigorate or revitalize the church. This comes at a time when religion in general is under question, both from within the church in general and from outside the church.

From within the church, we have questions about the nature of the church. None of these questions reflect the history of the early, post-Easter church. Is the church to be the moral police, enforcing rules that determine salvation? Or is it to be the moral conscience, bringing people to awareness? Again, reflecting on the reading from Acts for today, it would seem that the growth of the early church came from the presentation of information that offered hope and a promise, not an enforcement of rules and regulations.

It is also apparent that the view of the church from the outside is one that sees a determination by those inside the church to foster a society of rules and regulations. The rise of atheism-oriented materials and the seeming disdain for the role the modern church has had in society can be, I think, directly related to the view of the church as closed to society, rigid, inflexible, and fixed in a time long past.

In a time when there are serious questions being asked in society, when divisions between people because of race, gender, social and economic status are growing wider by the day, the church should be working to bring people together, not tearing them apart. At a time when people are called seekers, churches should be among those who are helping to answer questions, not simply forcing a fixed answer.

Now, this is not going to be a theological conversation. It is not even going to be a philosophical conversation. The role of philosophy, religious or otherwise, is to provide assistance in a person’s ongoing quest for truth, not to allow a suspension of rational thought by providing you with a final and absolute answer. It is evident that, as a society, we are quite unwilling to seek the truth, preferring to develop it from our own point of view. In today’s Gospel reading (John 10: 1 – 10), we are reminded that there is only one entrance into the Kingdom. For those of us who profess to be Christians and whose lives are a reflection of the early church, the gatekeeper is Jesus Christ.

But what if you are not a professing Christian? What if you are a professing Jew or Muslim? Are you barred from Heaven? I don’t believe so but that is because if you profess to believe in God from the context of another religion, then the rules or practices that apply to me do not apply. And that is the catch. If you profess to believe in God but your life is not a reflection of your profession, or if you have no profession of belief in God, then you are like the one in the Gospel reading who seeks to gain entrance by climbing over the wall. I would also add that those who seek to choose the best of all religions while ignoring the worst of the same are no better than one who professes belief but does not act on that profession.

In response to this, many churches are examining their processes and trying to figure out how the church can be more relevant in today’s work. There are at least three models for church growth. I have previously discussed these in “Opening the Circle” so I won’t go into the detail of each model.

But now a new model for church growth is emerging and it is known, coincidentally, as the emerging church matrix. The proposed goal of many in this movement is to provide an alternative to the “seeker-driven, big church” model that blankets the evangelical countryside like kudzu on a southern hillside. For those of you who have never encountered this ubiquitous southern weed, kudzu grows anywhere and everywhere under almost any kind of condition. It has been said that if you parked your car on the roadside next to a hill where kudzu was growing, it would be enveloped by the kudzu within twenty-four hours.

If “seeker services” were considered contemporary worship and looked more like a Christian version of a rock concert, then emerging church worship could be considered more like a Christian version of Starbucks with its small spaces, comfortable seating (preferably couches) and interactivity. The things that have been stripped from the contemporary worship services of the seeker service (the cross, candles, bread and wine, altars) are very much a part of the scene in this new style of worship. In addition, just as in the contemporary worship service, there is a heavy emphasis on the modern technology.

What I found most interesting in this discussion of the emerging church is the use of words such as post-conservative and post-liberal. There seems to be a discussion of the relevance of the church in a world that has been divided by the church and its adherents, both liberal and conservative. This discussion focuses on using the methods of today in conjunction with the traditions of the past to bring about a more relevant relationship with God. But for all its new style and return of old traditions, the emerging church model will fail as an alternative if it does little more than offer a newer, more hip version of the current culture. (1)

I will admit that I have not quite figured out what is meant by the terms “emerging church” and “emergent church”. I once wrote that I thought such churches were associated with coffee houses. If the church had a coffee house associated with it, or if a coffee house had a church associated with it, then it was considered an “emerging church”. (2)

However, I discovered that there was more to this “movement” than the location of the worship. I came across an article by Hal Knight (“John Wesley and the Emerging Church”). This is an interesting article because it points out that Methodism, from its inception, is essentially an emerging church. This is interesting because emerging churches are considered a relatively new phenomenon and Methodist churches are considered traditional.

There are clearly differences between emerging churches and the typical Methodist church of today. First, as Knight pointed out, the emerging church tends to be diverse and decentralized and averse to static structures and fixed ideas. It is also driven by an increasing dissatisfaction with the assumption and practices of many churches.

But they also understand that discipleship is meant to closely follow and emulate the person and ministry of Jesus. And while many people express Christianity as I did last week (water at birth, rice at weddings, and dirt at funerals), most emerging churches see the mission of the church. They see that they are to be communities who participate in the mission of God in the world.

Emerging churches also reject many of the dualisms that dominate the traditional churches of today. They tend to see all of life as potentially sacred and all culture subject to transformation and renewal by the Kingdom of God. Emerging churches are alternative communities. No longer do people go to church; they are the church.

While emerging churches hold to the authority and primacy of the Scriptures, it is more of a narrative than a reading. With a narrative reading, the church is able to draw upon a broad scheme of things and offer more diverse forms of worship. Finally, there is a sense of what some call a generous orthodoxy. By this, truth is not something that is captured and mounted on a wall like a stuffed trophy but rather exemplified by the community of believers.

Each point in this description of the emerging church has a Methodist counterpoint, a point developed by John Wesley almost two hundred and fifty years ago. Wesley developed the Methodist Church of his time in response to the needs and demands of society and the lack of response by the church of that time.

The needs and demands of society today are quite easily the same as they were then. But, since we are often a society that tends to forget what it is that got us to where we are today, we have forgotten what it is that we have done and what we are supposed to do. In his first letter, Peter reminded his readers that Christ bore the pain of our sins so that we would not have to do so.

We need not reinvent the church because we want to respond to the needs and demands of society. All we have to do is remember what the church was at its beginning and what the Methodist Church was at its beginning. All we have to do is do what has been done in the past and we will find the success that was then and can be tomorrow.



(1)  Adapted from “What Comes Next”

(2)  See “A New Beginning”

Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide! The Invisible Killer


Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.

Dihydrogen monoxide:

  • is also known as hydric acid, and is the major component of acid rain.
  • contributes to the “greenhouse effect.”
  • may cause severe burns.
  • contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.

CONTAMINATION IS REACHING EPIDEMIC PROPORTIONS!

Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide have been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America today. The pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice. In the midwest alone DHMO has caused millions of dollars of property damage.

Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:

  • as an industrial solvent and coolant.
  • in nuclear power plants.
  • in the production of styrofoam.
  • as a fire retardant.
  • in many forms of cruel animal research.
  • in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
  • as an additive in certain “junk-foods” and other food products.

Companies dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still legal. The impact on wildlife is extreme, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer!

THE HORROR MUST BE STOPPED!

The American government has refused to ban the production, distribution, or use of this damaging chemical due to its “importance to the economic health of this nation.” In fact, the navy and other military organizations are conducting experiments with DHMO, and designing multi-billion dollar devices to control and utilize it during warfare situations. Hundreds of military research facilities receive tons of it through a highly sophisticated underground distribution network. Many store large quantities for later use.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE!

Act NOW to prevent further contamination. Find out more about this dangerous chemical. What you don’t know can hurt you and others throughout the world.

If you are confused about what dihydrogen monoxide might be, it’s chemical formula is H2O and it is commonly called water.

Per various and sundry regulations, the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for this compound is located here.  To settle your nerves, you might try some coffee but read its MSDS sheet first (located here)

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?


Yes, the title comes from the Pete Seeger song of the same name, but it is not necessarily an anti-war piece. War is fought in ignorance and misunderstanding; leaders use the ignorance of the people to justify their actions. Sometimes it is a long held ignorance; other times, it is an ignorance that comes through fear. There are those who would and do stand up and point out the futility but their voices are often drowned by the cries of the populace who do not understand and are willing to let others tell them what to think and do.

In the spring, flowers bloom. With the blooming of the flowers, comes the promise of a new generation. Each generation should see that the next generation can move beyond the present; each generation should see that the next generation is the best and brightest. But with each day I wonder if that is the case. Are we demanding excellence in our schools today? Or have we confused excellence with mediocrity and is success equated with something other than doing the best that you can? I have posted my thoughts on this before (see “To Search for Excellence” and “Defining Excellence”).

But a number of things have transpired over the past few days that cause me to reconsider excellence, success, and where our country, society, and civilization may be headed. Consider if you will, in no particular order, the following:

  • Kinoki foot pads
  • Nigerian bank scams
  • Problems with your colon
  • “if it’s on TV, it must be true”

There are others that I could list but good taste and commons sense prevent me from doing so. Do I need to keep going?

My first thought when I see the commercials for some of these products, when I pass through the representative infomercial while late night channel surfing, or when I receive e-mails touting various financial opportunities is “do these people think I am stupid?” I may be flaky but I don’t think that I am so stupid to think that a pad glued to the bottom of my foot is going to detoxify my body of some mysterious substance. I am certainly not going to send someone money in the hopes of receiving a fabulous sum of money (and that includes certain religious types who will send me a small square of cloth or a vial of oil in return for my check). I do know that I will get sick if I listen to someone tell me that my physical problems are related to 20 pounds of junk stuck in my colon.

I supposed I could dismiss all of the above as garbage and let it go at that but then I read a letter to the editor in my local paper. The other day, someone wanted our local government to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. One of the reasons listed in the resolution was that they had lied to the American people concerning the reasons for the Iraq war. There are a number of communities who are doing this and it may be the ground swell that is needed for this country but that is for another time and post.

In this particular letter to the editor, however, the writer pointed out that we went into Iraq because 1) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and 2) Iraq was a training ground for Al-Qaeda. Here it is, how many years after the fact and there are still people who accept those statements as truth?

As far as I know, while Iraq may have had such weapons in the past (they did use poison gas in the war against Iran and against the Kurds), no one found any such weapons when we got there. Second, even though it appears that Al-Qaeda is present in Iraq today, there is no evidence there were using Iraq as a training ground before we invaded. And if they were in Iraq before the war started, why did we invade Afghanistan?

After I wrote the post entitled “Death and Dignity” I sent copies of it to my Congressman and Senators. To my Congressman’s credit, he sent it to FEMA and asked for comment, especially the part where I suggested that the excavation of the Twin Towers was done for monetary reasons rather than human dignity. The response from FEMA indicated that

The blog is about war, drifting into vague suggestions about wrongdoing in the recovery work at the World Trade Center. The constituent’s article is a series of his and others’ opinions; it is not a factual document. (Letter from William H. Douglass, Congressional Liaison, External Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency)

There were no vague suggestions about wrongdoing; maybe I wasn’t clear but I did identify the source of my thoughts and I gave a link (which still works). I think that what I wrote was very factual.

This society has quickly become one in which critical thinking and analyses are fast becoming lost arts. While the economy and a viable solution to the Iraq war are the major topics in the political debate today, I think the number one issue facing the American people today, in fact the major issue of civilization, is education. There are serious problems with our schools and we need to advance some serious solutions to fix the problems. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that laws such as “No Child Left Behind” will do the trick.

But has been said before and will probably be said for several years to come, all this “wonderful” law has done is turn the children of this nation into test-taking wizards. But it has done nothing to help our children think; nor should it we expect that it would. We, as a society, have become accustomed to the quick fix and that is what NCLB is.

We hear that our children are the most computer-literate generation. In one sense, that is true. They are very technologically literate and they have the ability to do many different things. But how many of our children can take a picture using their cell phone and transfer it to a word file as part of a report about something? The ability to text message is a very nice ability to have but how does that transfer to a learning of grammar and writing in general?

In the meantime, our media flourishes in an environment where the only serious discussions are about celebrities and the problems of their life. Television in the fifties and early sixties was often marked by serious discussions of the problems in America but we often do not see them on television today. Any discussion of America’s problems is lead by self-proclaimed experts who will tell you the answer and that your input is worthless and without value.

Our society has become one where intelligence is to be frowned upon and you are labeled a troublemaker or reactionary if you should challenge the status quo.

Education should be liberating, not limiting. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Education should develop skills in people so that they can question and challenge authority, not simply following the statements of its leaders.

We are faced with a challenge in today’s society and civilization. The questions that we will face, both those that are asked today and those that will be asked in the future, are becoming increasingly more and more difficulty. But our ability to answer them and create the solutions to solve the problems that we do not know about is disappearing just as fast.

If each generation’s children are the flowers of that generation, we are going to be asking pretty soon “where have all the flowers gone?”

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Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian