The Great 2010 Snowstorm


If you haven’t heard, my area of the country got blasted by the most recent snowstorm.  As one who grew up primarily in the south, I believe in the Tennessee snow removal plan, “Why shovel?  It will melt in a day or two!”  Unfortunately, that will not be the case this time.

Seriously, this was a major storm with severe consequences.  Starting Thursday night, this region lost power and  by Friday, some 150,000 people in our area were without power.  This morning (Sunday – 2/28/2010) we have our power back but there are still some 80,000 people without power.

These photos are from Thursday (2/25/2010) afternoon.  (Ignore the time stamp on the photos; forgot to reset it when we put new batteries in the camera.)

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This is our grandson; he has just discovered that snow is wet.

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These are from Friday morning around 6 am.  The snow has been falling since last Thursday night, after I had plowed the driveway and shoveled the walk.  The third photo in this sequence is the walkway from the street to the porch.  So much for snow removal.  :)

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Up the street from where we live – there is a transformer shorting out and the limbs in one of the trees are burning.

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The dogwood in the front yard took a beating.

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Here’s the same dogwood after we got the snow off of it.

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I will have my post for this Sunday up sometime this week and should be back to a regular posting by the weekend.  You all have a good week and stay warm and safe.  And if you need to have the snow plowed in your neighborhood, call Tennessee Snow Removal.  Remember our motto, “Why shovel?  It will melt in a day or two!”  And don’t forget to ask about our lay-away plan, though it is only good through June (for some reason, it always melts by then.)

Lenten Drash For Grace United Methodist Church


During Lent, the Newburgh Ministerial Alliance has a mid-week Lenten service.  This year, the Ash Wednesday meditation was presented by Rabbi Larry Freedman of Temple Beth Jacob.

For me, this was an educational, enlightening, and challenging presentation.  It, in my estimation, gave a new understanding for that journey that we call Lent.

I trust that you will find Rabbi Freedman’s words to be as I heard them – educational, enlightening, and challenging.

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Every time Jews pray as a group, we include a prayer called the V’ahavta. It’s a standard part of the liturgy that is a basic for all 13 year olds to learn to the point of memorization. It is so well known that most Jews who have ever gone to synagogue can recite the first line by heart or at least recognize more than most other prayers. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. V’ahavta et Adonai, Elohecha, b’chol levavcha, v’chol nafshecha, u’v’chol m’odecha. That’s how it starts. You shall love Adonai you God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.

That’s the translation but it is a bad translation because the import of these words is as poetic as it is literal. This pasuk begins with a triplet so filled with meaning that the middle section, “love God with all your soul” is the easiest to understand. That’s right, the soul is the easiest to understand. The last third is tricky. Me’od doesn’t really mean might. It means “very” as in the Hebrew, “tov” for good and “tov me’od,” very good. To love God with you all your me’od is something like, loving God with all that you’ve got, with even more. You love God much? Now it should be “very” much, that extra something, that little bit more that pushes anything from what it is to so very much more than what it is.

But the first of the triplet, oh the first of the triplet, that is a tricky one as well. It means heart but no, not really it doesn’t. It means more. The word for heart is lev לב. Just lev. And that’s a fine word, used all the time, but here we are told to love God with our levav לבב. What is a levav? It includes the word lev in it so we know it is similar and indeed it is similar. Levav is sometimes used interchangeably with lev. And sometimes it takes on a slightly different meaning. Something happens when you add that second vet. Something happens when you stretch out that word. Something more is going on.

The pasuk I’m speaking on today as you enter into your Lenten season is from I Samuel 16:7. The context of this pasuk comes as Saul, failing to completely wipe out evil, loses God’s favor and Samuel the prophet is now directed to find the next King of Israel. Reading the story, you really do feel for Saul. The discretion he shows seems decent but it was not what God asked for. That’s a whole other sermon and study but to suffice to say that Saul is out and Samuel is looking for who will be in.

And so he goes, as ordered, to the home of Jesse and asks to see his sons. And who should appear but the fine looking, strapping young Eliav and seeing this young man, Samuel says, this must be the one. But God says no. “Pay no attention to his appearance or his stature for I have rejected him. For not as man sees [does Adonai see]. A man sees what is visible but Adonai sees into the heart.” Adonai sees into the “lev”? No, Adonai sees into a man’s “levav.” Not just lev but levav. That added bet. Something more is going on.

And indeed it is. When we look about at all the places levav appears, it speaks to something much deeper. We all say, look into your heart, which means think deeply but this means think even deeper. Levav means the inner person, the inner mind, the willingness to be serious about self reflection.

This past Valentine’s Day, people gave each other cards. And they said, it’s from my heart. But let me remind you that teenagers who have been dating for 2 weeks and will be broken up and on to the next crush in another 4 and half days also said, “it comes from my heart.” That is not the same as a twenty-somethings looking across a table thinking about a lifelong commitment in marriage or the couple who has been together for 50 years. There’s coming from your heart, lev, and then there is coming from your heart, levav.

There are people who take a few minutes to consider their options and then there are people who will sit quietly for hours working out the pros and cons of a situation and being honest with themselves in nothing less than a soul baring contemplation. That is the difference between looking into your lev or levav.

When Deuteronomy says you should love God with all your levav, that is not an appreciation of the Grand Canyon and thinking the solar system is cool. That is a depth of passion and commitment that ought to make you shake in your boots, a naked opening up that makes you tremble.

When Samuel is told that God looks into the levav of people, that does not mean that God looks into your personality as opposed to your physical traits. It means God looks even past your personality. We all think we know what we are really like. We all know that we have character and a certain nobility and a truly fine spirit that no one understands. Nobody really knows the real me, we say. But the truth is deeper. There is the way we act, the personality that we pride ourselves as having and then there is that which is deeper, the things that motivate us to do what we do both for ill and for good; the inner demons and the deeply rooted kindness. There is, somewhere way past personality, who we really, really are, deep, deep in our levav. It takes a great deal of work to get us to that awareness and then it takes extraordinary effort to accept what we find because we don’t always want to accept what we find.

A man sees just what is visible but God sees into the levav. Thus says Adonai to Samuel and thus does God remind us this day.

That ought to scare all of you a great deal because you are being understood for who you really are. Who you really are past behavior, past personality, past everything. Deep, deep, to your very core, your levav.

But, as I understand it, you are in luck. You have a Lenten season leading to Easter. You have a Lenten season which gives you time to look deeply into your levav. You have a Lenten season that challenges you to give up not simple treats but really those things that come from a really bad place in your levav and, if I may be so bold, to embrace and amplify those good things you find deep down in your levav. You can prepare yourselves as you make your way to Easter where the events of that weekend remind you that there is a saving grace that also understands who you really are. And I can’t help but imagine that if you understand who you really are, with total honesty and bone rattling frankness, then you will rise up a better person that Easter morning.

And so let me wish you all, a very challenging and very meaningful Lenten season.

Where Does The Future Lie?


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 2st Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18; Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1; and Luke 13: 31 – 35.

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Somewhere in my collection of things less memorable is an old Funky Winkerbean cartoon. This strip highlighted the adventures of a high school student, his buddies and the school faculty during the seventies and eighties. It was for me a humorous reminder of what it was like when I taught high school and sometimes what I wish it had been. This particular strip was copyrighted in 1986 and includes a dialogue between the science teacher in the high school and the building principal.  (Note added in publishing this post;  I posted this cartoon as “People Walking On The Moon?” on 30 December 2008.)

The science teacher is complaining about the inadequacy of the science textbook he is forced to use and the principal wants a specific example. The teacher, quoting from the book in question, replies "it’s entirely possible that men may one day actually set foot on the moon." The principal then promises to bring up the issue at the next school board meeting.

The humor of this cartoon then was the fact that man had already walked on the moon and the textbook was out of date. Today, the humor would be in the fact that we have forgotten what we have done. There is at least one generation of students today that has never known the experience of watching an astronaut walk on the moon. And though there are grandiose plans in the works to return to the moon and move beyond and on to Mars, the likelihood is that it will be some time before it actually occurs again.

The problem is not only that, as the historian and philosopher George Santayana once noted, that we repeat our history when we fail to remember but that when we do remember our history we fail to act upon what we know. It isn’t that we don’t try; we would much rather know what the future holds than spend time remembering the past. How many people would not want to know what the five numbers and power ball number are in the upcoming lottery?

The only person who really knew what His future held was Jesus. As noted in the Gospel reading for today, Jesus knew where his future lie and what must happen. If He did not follow where the path to His future took Him, then His mission would have failed.

But our hopes for determining what the future holds are not always so cut and dried. Our hopes more often lie in either a fanciful imagination or assuming that the future will be the same as the past. For we can only use what we know when trying to determine what will happen. The writings of Jules Verne were considered fanciful and imaginative. Nobody could go around the world in eighty days as he once wrote. It was impossible to travel in a ship under water and it was certainly beyond human capability to travel to the moon. So Jules Verne’s work was considered science fiction in the 1880’s. But in the 1960’s, as we prepared to go to the moon, his books were considered remarkably predictive in nature.

Now, we consider the works of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, to be imaginative and fanciful. It is highly unlikely that we will ever encounter life on other planets. But the discoveries last week by the robot explorers on Mars may cause us to rethink the thought that we are the only ones in the universe.

When General Billy Mitchell predicted that the United States would be attacked in Hawaii on a Sunday morning, his comments were considered inflammatory and ridiculous. But many military commanders regretted their derision of General Mitchell’s vision and insight about the role of air power in military combat on December 8, 1941.

The church, I feel, is in something of the same boat. It sees the future only in terms of its past. And it does not matter whether we speak of the church in general or in terms of a specific denomination. The visions of the future for the church are based on the past. But, as we struggle with the future of the church in this country and this world in the coming years, we have to be careful about relying on the past.

Many people see the church as an oppressor rather than as a liberator. The church of old used the Bible to justify the enslavement of a race. The church of old used the Bible to stifle scientific enlightenment, persecuting those who would argue that the Sun rather than Earth is the center of the solar system. The church of old has used the Bible and the words of God to justify killing in the name of God. The church of old has used the Bible to justify granting second class status to women.

And before we speak of these being new times with a new understanding, perhaps we should consider that it wasn’t until the late twentieth century that segregation was eliminated. There are people today would who stifle the scientific process in America’s classrooms because it conflicts with their view of the Bible. There are those today who claim that the role of women in this world should be determined by what the Old Testament says, despite the fact that women were a prominent part of the original Gospel story.

And what will happen if we do find life on other planets? How will we react? Will we accept these new civilizations with open hearts and open minds or shall we seek to repress them and enslave them in the name of God, as we have done so many times in our own history?

There are those who when they hear these words will get angry and defensive. They will do so because they are comfortable in what they believe and they are not always willing to accept new viewpoints. I cannot make you think new thoughts but I can and will challenge you to be open so that new thoughts have a chance to develop.

And while you are doing that, begin to consider thinking about how you will see the future. Is your image of the future based on your view of the past? See how Abram reacted when God told him that he would have descendants to numerous to count. Abram only saw the future in terms of Ishmael, his son by Haggai, his wife’s maid. He could not see the future as God laid it out before him, "for your descendants will outnumber the stars."

But Abram was a man of faith and through his faith he understood that what God said was entirely possible. So he packed his bags, gathered his materials moved from the high plains of Iraq to the new Promised Land, which had been promised to him in the vision given by God.

Our faith is built upon the same vision that God will provide that which He has promised. It is a hope expressed by Paul in his works to the Philippians. Those who opposed Christ lived in a world that was based on the past and one that could not advance. A future based on Christ looked to the future and offered hope and promise when life itself could not offer any. Just as Abram became Abraham and the father of Isaac, so too does a belief in Christ transform us.

We are challenged during Lent to repent and prepare for the coming of the Lord. This repentance means a renunciation of the old ways. We must give up seeing our future in terms of things past and more in what it could be.

We must hear the words that Jesus preached and not flinch from them. The future can be frightening and too many people today want the church to make them safe and comfortable and to hide them from the future. Jesus knew what his future held. Three times he tried to tell His disciples what that future was. But like so many people today, they didn’t get it. They didn’t want to hear words of betrayal, death, and destruction; theirs was a good life and such talk disrupted the good life. But Jesus continued to teach and heal and bring everyone to him.

Where does our future lie? We can be like the disciples before Good Friday, comfortable in our status, comfortable in being with the Great Teacher but unaware of the cost of being a follower of Jesus’. Or we can accept the challenge that comes with being such a follower, of working to bring people together. We can accept the challenge of being in a place where righteousness and justice are more than simple words but thoughts of action and belief. We can accept the challenge and bring the Word to a world in desperate need of hearing it through word and deed.

As the days of Lent pass by and the Resurrection comes close, we must look ahead just as Jesus did. Our future lies down the same road. Will we travel it?

The Promise of the Future


This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 2st Sunday in Lent, 11 March 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18; Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1; and Luke 13: 31 – 35.

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I still don’t know what to make of the events last week. Did those students, the young man in California and the young woman in Pennsylvania, know or understand the consequence of their actions? Could they see what the future would be? Is it possible that their actions were in part because they didn’t think they had a future or that whatever future there was not worth it?

When we read the Book of Genesis, we see what the vision of the future can be in terms of one individual. Abram, later of course renamed Abraham, is a key (if not the key) figure in the Old Testament. His story fills sixteen chapters of Genesis. He was obedient to God from the time he left his home (in Genesis 12) through his willingness to sacrifice his son (in Genesis 22). Nonetheless, he had his moments of doubts and uncertainty.

The beginning part of the Old Testament reading for today suggests that Abram was worried about his very survival. Perhaps he was worried about retaliation for rescuing Lot (in chapter 14). It is more likely that his concern stemmed from the fact that he had no male child to pass on his lineage and possessions. And in a society where that the ability to pass on your legacy was your future, to have no way to do so was to have no future.

But as it states in verse 6, "Abram believed the Lord, and [God] credited it to [Abram] as righteousness." Abram believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises and was given the vision of the future in the stars that he saw during the night.

Jesus also had a vision of the future. In the presence of the Pharisees sent from Herod, Jesus could see in his mind’s eye the long and bitter trek to Jerusalem where he would die rejected by society. But Jesus also knew that if He did not go to Jerusalem, if he did not die on the cross, then everything that he had done up to that point would have been worthless and there would be no hope in the future for us.

The astonishing thing in the passage from Luke that we read today is the presence of the Pharisees. Our usual picture of the Pharisees is one of those who measured and counted every bean on their plate in order to tithe yet could turn around steal from widows and orphans. They were the ones who prayed on street corners so that everyone could see them, they were tone ones who traversed land and sea to make one convert and then would make this new convert into a twofold son of hell. The Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs with all manner of uncleanness inside.

Perhaps this passage speaks of our tendency to lump people together and judge them alike, to paint them all with the same brush. No doubt we all identified with the above picture of the Pharisee; yet we are also aware that they were at least two Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, who were very different. There is so much good in the worst of us and so much evil in the best of us that it behooves us to be careful in our judgment of others.

I do think that what those students did was wrong and anyone who feels that the only way to get attention is to do something violent is also wrong. To do something wrong just because others did you wrong can never be a justification for actions. But I also think that they truly believed that there was no alternative for them to take.

It is the easiest thing in the world to criticize. There are those who decry society’s impact on students saying that it is because society has allowed violence to be such a part of our day to day life that violence is seen as the only alternative. Yet, in condemning society, these critics fail to realize that we are society.

But what alternatives did those students have? Who could they have turned to in their community? If there were a student in this area who was thinking of something similar, whom would they have or where could they go?

Verse 32 gives a needed corrective to the stance of being so nonjudgmental that we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to obvious evil. There is no virtue in a hypocritical and simplistic refusal to see the devil at work! Jesus, you remember, said that others would know us by our fruits. It is possible to be so open-minded that our brains will fall out.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, to tell Herod – "that fox" that he will continue in his ministry, is a reminder to us today that there are times when we need to respond boldly and openly to the schemes of the evil around us.

Now is not the time for criticism; now is the time for action. Action requires a vision, an understanding of what is to come or perhaps what we would like to come. Historically, it has been religion that has offered the guidance for spiritual and moral values. We, as a society, suffer today because we have lost our vision. And without a vision of the future, we are perishing.

What is vision, anyway? Webster’s Dictionary defines vision as "the act or power of imagination." And it goes on to define imagination as "creative ability," the "ability to confront and deal with a problem," and "poetic creation." Imagination means to picture something new; to have a vision of the future is see something that otherwise might not be seen.

The alternative moral and political vision that society requires today is unlikely to come from the pinnacles of power. Too many leaders make bold pronouncements without understanding what the local situation is. What will work for one area does not always work for other areas. The true vision often from comes from the small communities, such as Walker Valley, working from the bottom up to change people’s lives.

To have a vision requires imagination – the ability to see what cannot be seen in the present and the capacity to picture a new reality. Vision requires using more than ordinary sight, being rooted in a historical memory, and building upon some experience of what you seek to envision.

If what we are to do is to have some basis on prior experience, then we should consider what Paul told the people of Philippi, "Join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us." In this day and age, we are disinclined to set ourselves up as models of behavior, not just because we are so humble but because to do so requires an uncomfortable amount of accountability. It is not enough to offer people guidelines for living. The most lasting lessons of faith are not passed on in the classroom; they are conveyed in what we see in living, moving bodies.

Each of us has a unique experience with Christ. We have individually come to know Christ. Each week we come together as a community to share that experience. We see in Christ a hope the future that cannot be found anywhere else. Our celebration of communion today is a reminder that the promise of the future, much like Abraham’s future was set before him in the stars, is set by the cross and the empty grave. The challenge we face is to find ways to help others so that they may see the same hope and promise of the future.

“Lessons from the Wilderness”


Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent, 21 February 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 13.

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Against the backdrop of Lent and our preparation for Easter, we are still wrestling with the issue of the climate and whether or not it is changing and whether or not we can reverse any change that might be occurring. There are some who will tell you quite emphatically that there is no change or the change that is occurring is cyclical in nature. Yes, the climate of this planet does have a cyclical nature but we should be cooling off, not warming up. And we are warming up. The pack ice around the Arctic is melting; this planet’s weather is becoming more and more extreme. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is now at 387 ppm (for an explanation of what a ppm is, see “What is a part per million?) and is rising (see http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ for data at one location). And while we may laugh while the East Coast of the United States gets blasted by successive snow storms while the Winter Olympics have to truck in snow for the skiing events, these events are examples of the extreme changes in weather that accompany climate change.

But I think it is more than just the climate change that we need to be worried about at this time. It is that we have forgotten how we got here and what we should be doing. The forty days of Lent are to be a reminder of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to the beginning of his ministry; they are also supposed to symbolize the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness before being allowed to enter into the Promised Land.

But whereas Jesus resisted the temptations put before Him, we as a people and knowingly or unknowingly as individuals, have not done such a good job. We want the good food, the power, and the glory that Jesus put aside. We have been given a good place to live and we have trashed it and we have turned neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation.

It isn’t just the extreme rich who seem to grab for all they can get and then find some way to keep it; it is those who profess anger at the extreme rich and then wander why they can’t have the same things. I would agree with many who have been involved in the political protests that have marked the past year or so if it weren’t for the fact that I see in these protests a certain amount of selfishness and greed.

There are definitely things wrong with the ways things are done in this country today but the answer is not found in political protests that basically say “give me what you got!” There is a call by some to take our money out of the big mega-banks (the ones that are too big to fail) but I wonder where those who are making the call keep their money (some have moved to community banks but I have to wonder if they all have and, by the way, we have moved from a BIG bank to a smaller community bank). If these protests (both left and right) were more about the people instead of the individual, I might find some credibility in them. But the anger and resentment directed at politicians is just that, anger and resentment, and in the end, nothing will change and the lot of the people will not have changed.

But perhaps because so much of this is happening now, at the beginning of Lent, there is a chance and a hope that we can change the world around us.

From the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, we are reminded that we are here because of God’s grace. The first fruits that we have need to be returned to God. So we stop keeping the good stuff for ourselves. My home church, like so many churches in this area, is faced with many financial challenges and I proposed one solution to the problem that was pretty quickly shot down. I basically proposed that we set aside 10% of each Sunday’s offerings for our apportionments in order to resolve the problem about paying the apportionments. And I said that by doing this, we would begin to see a resolution of the other financial problems. I know that this approach works but it only works if you see apportionments as the tip of the mission of the church instead of a bill that must be paid (see “What is a church? Is it the building or the people inside it?”).

What would happen if we were to view each person in our home communities, in our nation, and on this planet as equal to ourselves? What would happen if we were to echo Paul’s words to the Romans that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek or, as he told the Galatians, no male or female, free or slave as well. We are all the same in God’s eyes. Yes, I know that he put this in the context of those who had accepted Jesus as their Savior. But I also know that there are many who make that acceptance mandatory and without thought. If I say to you that you are doomed because you do not believe the way that I believe, am I really living the life the way I am supposed to be living? Or am I seeking the power and the glory that was offered Christ during the 40 days?

These forty days, meant to remember the time in the wilderness, can be the most important forty days of our lives. When we leave this wilderness, will we have cast aside our old ways, our destructive and selfish ways? Or will we keep them, seeking only for ourselves? Will we use these forty days to cleanse our soul and find deep within us who we truly are? Will we use this time to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our soul for the betterment of the world through Christ?

We know that these forty days can change us. And if they can change us, we can change the world. There are lessons in these forty days; are you prepared to learn the lessons from the wilderness?

What is a part per million?


Whenever we are talking about water quality or the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the term “ppm” or “part per million” is used. Now, unless you are an analytical chemist, you probably don’t understand what this means. So here is information that I hope will help.

Parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb), and parts per trillion (ppt), are the most commonly used terms to describe very small amounts of contaminants in our environment.

But what do these terms represent? They are measures of concentration, the amount of one material in a larger amount of another material; for example, the weight of a toxic chemical in a certain weight of food. They are expressed as concentrations rather than total amounts so we can easily compare a variety of different environmental situations. For example, scientists can measure the concentration of a chemical in the Great Lakes by looking at small samples. They do not have to measure the total amount of chemicals or water in all of the lakes.

An example might help illustrate the part per … idea. If you divide a pie equally into 10 pieces, then each piece would be a part per ten; for example, one-tenth of the total pie. If, instead, you cut this pie into a million pieces, then each piece would be very small and would represent a millionth of the total pie or one part per million of the original pie. If you cut each of these million minute pieces into a thousand little pieces, then each of these new pieces would be one part per billion of the original pie. To give you an idea of how little this would be, a pinch of salt in ten tons of potato chips is also one part (salt) per billion parts (chips).

In this example, the pieces of the pie were made up of the same material as the whole. However, if there was a contaminant in the pie at a level of one part per billion, one of these invisible pieces of pie would be made up of the contaminant and the other 999,999,999 pieces would be pure pie. Similarly, one part per billion of an impurity in water represents a tiny fraction of the total amount of water. One part per billion is the equivalent of one drop of impurity in 500 barrels of water.

Part per hundred

One part per hundred is generally represented by the percent (%) symbol and denotes one part per 100 parts, one part in 102, and a value of 1 × 10–2.

This is equivalent to one drop of water in 5 milliliters (one spoonful) or about fifteen minutes out of one day.

Part per thousand

One part per thousand is generally spelled out in full and not as “ppt” (which is usually understood to represent “parts per trillion”). It may also be denoted by the permille (‰) symbol. Note however, that specific disciplines such as the analysis of ocean water salt concentration and educational exercises occasionally use the “ppt” abbreviation. “One part per thousand” denotes one part per 1000 parts, one part in 103, and a value of 1 × 10–3.

This is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 50 milliliters (ten spoonful’s), or about one and a half minutes out of one day.

Part per ten thousand

One part per ten thousand is denoted by the permyriad (‱) symbol. It is used almost exclusively in finance, where it is known as the basis point and is typically used to denote fractional changes in percentages. For instance, a change in an interest rate from 5.15% to 5.35% would be denoted as a change of 20 basis points or 20 ‱. Although rarely used in science (ppm is typically used instead), one permyriad has an unambiguous value of one part per 10,000 parts, one part in 104, and a value of 1 × 10–4.

This is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into half a liter, or about nine second out of one day.

Part per million

One part per million (ppm) denotes one part per 1,000,000 parts, one part in 106, and a value of 1 × 10–6.

It is often used when measuring levels of pollutants in air, water, body fluids, etc. One ppm is 1 part in 1,000,000. The common unit mg/liter is equal to ppm. Four drops of ink in a 55-gallon barrel of water would produce an "ink concentration" of 1 ppm.

A ppm is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 50 liters (roughly the fuel tank capacity of a compact car), or about thirty seconds out of a year.

A part per million is equal to:

  • one penny in $10,000
  • one minute in two years
  • one dime in a one-mile-high stack of pennies

Part per billion

One part per billion (ppb) denotes one part per 1,000,000,000 parts, one part in 109, and a value of 1 × 10–9.

One part per billion is 1 part in 1,000,000,000. One drop of ink in one of the largest tanker trucks used to haul gasoline would represent 1 ppb.

The difference between 1 ppm and 1 ppb is important. A prestigious scientific journal recently reported the concentration of a substance as 0.5-1.5 ppm. The real value was 0.5-1.5 ppb. The difference between $1 and $1000!

A ppb is equivalent to 1 drop of water diluted into 250 chemical drums (50 m3), or about three seconds out of a century.

A part per billion is equal to:

  • one penny in $10,000,000
  • one pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips
  • one second in 32 years

Part per trillion

One part per trillion (ppt) denotes one part per 1,000,000,000,000 parts, one part in 1012, and a value of 1 × 10–12.

A unit of concentration used to measure vanishingly small levels of pollutants or contaminants in, for example, body fluids. One ppt is 1 part in 1,000,000,000,000. One drop of ink distributed through the water contained in a total of 4 of the 3-million-gallon reservoirs pictured would result in a final concentration of 1 ppt.

A ppt is equivalent to 1 drop of water diluted into 20, two-meter-deep Olympic-size swimming pools (50,000 m3), or about three seconds out of every hundred thousand years.

Part per quadrillion

One part per quadrillion (ppq) denotes one part per 1,000,000,000,000,000 parts, one part in 1015, and a value of 1 × 10–15.

This is equivalent to 1 drop of water diluted into a cube of water measuring approximately 368 meters on a side (fifty million cubic meters, which is a cube about as tall as the roof of the Empire State Building), or two and a half minutes out of the age of the Earth (4.5 billion years). Although relatively uncommon in analytic chemistry, measurements at the ppq level are performed.

A part per quadrillion is equal to:

  • one penny in $10,000,000,000,000
  • one second in 320,000 centuries

“Almost Spring”


Well, it’s almost spring, no matter what some rodent may have seen or not seen. I have never quite understood what Groundhog Day was all about. After all, if you look at a calendar and you agree that spring will begin on the Vernal Equinox, then there are seven weeks between Groundhog Day and spring. If we are arguing about seven days before “the pools open”, we have a problem.

Now, if you look at the Julian calendar instead of the present day Gregorian calendar, it does clear things up. Instead of March 20 or 21st, the Vernal Equinox occurred on March 16th and the time frame between February 2nd and Spring is now six weeks and it really doesn’t matter whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow or not!

Now, there once was a reason for having Groundhog Day but that reason has been lost through the passage of time and the change in the way our calendar works. The same change, by the way, is the reason for April Fool’s Day but that is another story (see "A New Year, A New Plan", “This New Year”, “A Degree of Irony”. What this does show is that we have turned a single day in February with some significance some three hundred years ago into a semi-major societal event. It also shows our willingness and readiness to accept things without questions (“because that’s the way it has always been done”) and without examination.

The reason for this piece was not to discuss meteorological predictions (though that may come into play), animal behavior, or the flaws in our calendar systems (we will wait until December 21, 2012 to do that). Rather it is about our willingness to accept things without question or examination.

You see, with the coming of spring, comes the annual Texas State Board of Education curriculum decision. Each year, this Board meets to consider changes in a given area of the curriculum and what textbooks will be used in the various classrooms in the state. For many people, this meeting would seem to have little or no consequence in their lives.

But as I pointed out once before (“The Differing Voices of Truth”), decisions made about the textbooks used in Texas do have a lasting impact on the textbooks used in whatever state you may live in. That is because California and Texas are the two largest textbook markets in the country and, essentially, what they decide is what the various textbook publishers put into the textbook.

California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And it has the money to spend on textbooks. Its $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country and is used to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually. This alone should be enough for various educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State (for reference purposes, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html).

Whether you agree with this idea or not, the decisions regarding the content of textbooks made by the State Board of Education in Texas and its counterpart in California effectively decide content of the textbooks in the other forty-eight states. What the people of New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, or North Carolina might think is of little matter in this regard.

Last spring, the issue in Texas was the inclusion or support of intelligent design (a decision which was defeated); this year, the issue is about the nature of the history of this country, whether or not our Founding Fathers were Christian or not, and who shall be considered worthy of study. Those favoring changes would like to see a more detailed study of various and sundry conservative icons, including but not limited to Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, and Joseph McCarthy. The discussion for liberal icons such as Edward Kennedy, Caesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is to be somewhat limited or curtailed.

The problem, of course, is not which persons should or should not get included into a history curriculum. Whether a politician is a liberal or conservative is not the point; if they made a significant contribution to the development of this country, they should be studied. But it leads to a point where the amount of material covered exceeds the time available, i.e. the fixed volume problem. All subject areas are subject to this problem and it is clear that when the amount of information deemed worthy of knowing exceeds the amount of time available for learning, there are going to be problems.

And those problems are now starting to appear. A 2008 report entitled “Still at Risk: What Student’s Don’t Know, Even Now” indicates that students do not possess the basic knowledge necessary to succeed in this world or achieve their full potential as democratic citizens (http://www.commoncore.org/pressrelease-01.php). The authors of this report surveyed 1200 17-year-olds and found that:

· Nearly a quarter cannot identify Adolf Hitler, with ten percent thinking Hitler was a munitions manufacturer.

· More than a quarter think Christopher Columbus sailed after 1750.

· Fewer than half can place the Civil War in the correct half-century.

· A third did not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of speech and religion.

· Half have no idea what the Renaissance was.

· Nearly half think that The Scarlet Letter was either about a witch trial or a piece of correspondence.

For most people, these are shocking results, if for no other reason than we know the correct answers. But in light of the way education is treated today, they are not surprising answers. You cannot simply test a student for knowledge after they have completed a unit; you must test them after they have had the opportunity to utilize the information and make it a part of their lives.

As a society and individually, we face many great challenges today. We cannot even begin to think of solutions to these problems unless we change the manner in which our children learn. It makes matters worse when a few individuals try to force their view of history or science upon us and tell us that they know the truth.

There is no doubt in my mind that our Founding Fathers believed in God but I rather question the assumption that their beliefs were in line with many conservative Christians. Now, this is a point that I addressed a couple of years ago in “Don’t Know Much History” and somewhat alluded to in “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”. It strikes me that those individuals would much rather try and tell others, especially the students in our classrooms today, what is important to know, no matter whether it is the truth or not, than it is to give the students the opportunity to think and learn for themselves.

Somewhere over the passage of time and education, I came to understand that education was a liberating force; that it provided the knowledge that would enable an individual to rise from where they were to where they wanted to go (http://wilderdom.com/experiential/SummaryJohnDeweyExperienceEducation.html). But it cannot be a liberating force if students are not given the opportunity to think and learn for themselves.

I was taught that the Constitution was a “living” document. It contained a message about how we were to govern ourselves through the generations; it was not meant to be fixed in time. Yet, many conservatives seem to prefer the term “enduring”; though I cannot tell you what that means. I suppose they would have us believe that we are supposed to use the same definitions about men and people that existed some two hundred years ago; but to do so would limit the nature of what this country stands for.

The very beginning of the Constitution, the Preamble, points that out. It begins “We, the People.” And in that phrase, we see the life of the document. When it was written, the only people for whom it actually applied to were the landed gentry of society, white males who owned properties. Women and minorities did not count. But over time, we have not changed the Preamble but rather who the people of this country are.

The same is true for the Declaration of Independence. Even though we know today that Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots may not have necessarily believed that “all men are created equal”, we have accepted that statement as a fundamental truth and have expanded it to include all men and all women.

And Abraham Lincoln’s statement that the government was “of the people, by the people, for the people” has not changed over the years of this country but we, the people, have constantly strived to make the definition inclusive. The proposals before the Texas State Board of Education try to make that definition exclusive and limited, limited by their definitions and their decisions.

It does not matter whether the writers of the Constitution favored a more state-oriented form of government or a Federal form of government; they all believed that the majority of people in this country were incapable of governing this country because they were uneducated. The design of the government (consider the Electoral College and how Senators were originally selected) had that very fact in mind.

But, if the Constitution was designed with the idea that only the educated can govern and if education is a liberating force, then the more educated the populace, the better the government will be.

When a group, any group, seeks to revise history or interpret facts in order that one’s agenda is the only agenda, it is the beginning of a dictatorship. To accept such a revision or interpretation without questioning is the beginning of the loss of one’s liberties through ignorance. When what education can do is limited, it only serves to maintain the status quo and insure that a selected elite will be in power.

We are on the verge of a Roman-style state, with an imperial government imposing its will on its citizens enslaved by economic fiat. But no matter how terrifying this form of state-sponsored terrorism might be or how horrifying the thought, it is built on fear and ignorance and as such can only last a short time. It may kill the bodies but it will not kill the spirit.

Fear and ignorance cannot survive for long in the light of knowledge and freedom.

And it does appear to me that those who would presume to state the faith of our Founding Fathers in spite of evidence to the contrary are also very much in opposition to what I feel is the true meaning of Christianity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us that if Christian teaching is not our guide in the use of freedom and God is denied, then all obligations and responsibilities that are sacred and binding on man are undermined. We must speak up and we must speak out when teaching leads not towards freedom but away from it. And I am afraid that is the direction that we are taking with the discussion that is taking place in Texas right now.

It is almost spring and with spring time comes new growth. But new growth requires careful thought and planning. If we are only interested in more of what we already have, then we will allow others to do the planting for us. It is clear that what these individuals want to plant will destroy liberty and freedom. If we desire liberty, if we desire freedom, then we have to plant the seeds of creativity. From such seeds, great things will come.

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Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

The Gifts We Give


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 1st Sunday in Lent, 29 February 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 13.

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It is interesting to note that our Lenten journey this year begins with a celebration. The Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy recounts the commemoration of the Israelites for the generosity of God. God brought them out of Egypt and slavery and gave them the land "flowing with milk and honey." God freely gave these blessings to the Israelites. In return, the Israelites were to give up their false idols and trust in the liberation promised by God.

In our own journey through the wilderness, can you identify the gifts that God has given you? What talents do each of us have because of God’s generosity towards us. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 12,

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teachers, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12: 6 – 8)

But what do we do with these gifts? How do we use these talents? God gave us these gifts so that they could be used to build up the other members in the church. These gifts, though irrevocable, should still be pursued and developed. If Lent is a time of repentance and preparation, then perhaps we should think about how to answer those latter two questions.

Jesus began his ministry with a forty-day period of fasting and contemplation. Forty days is both symbolic of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert and the forty days that Moses and Elijah both spent in the preparation for their own God-directed missions.

As the Gospel reading said, Jesus went into the desert on his own, directed by the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of this period it was probably very easy to focus on the coming mission and what was going to be required. But as the days passed and the body grew weak from the lack of food, the temptations began to increase and the drive to finish began to weaken. And, as we know, when the body is weak, so too is our spirit. We all fall quickly to the temptations around us when the body is weak. It must have been that way for Jesus.

And that is when Satan is at his best, when anyone of us is at our weakest. The same can be said for Jesus; otherwise, why would Satan have challenged Jesus as he did? And therein lies the key. Satan challenged Jesus when Jesus was at his weakest, when His ability to fight and resist was impaired. But what purpose would Jesus have gained by responding to Satan?

There is no doubt that Jesus could have done what Satan asked Him to do. Everything was in Jesus’ power. But each time that Satan presented one of the temptations, it was with a catch. Do it not for the betterment of man or to please God but for yourself. Use the talents, the skills, the gifts, and the ability that you have only for yourself. Give up what God has given to you for your own well being, not for others.

Paul speaks of the salvation that comes through faith. But this description and process is an internal process. There are two kinds of righteousness, one by works, the other by faith. One is inaccessible while the other is very accessible. Paul shows us today that righteousness by faith is neither far off nor inaccessible. In fact, it is as near as one’s mouth and heart. All one has to do is repent, believe in Jesus, and confess that belief.

But the condition for righteousness remains internal faith. The condition for salvation is external confession. You cannot have one without the other. If you confess but do not believe, then your confession is hollow and hypocritical. If you believe but do not confess, then nothing can happen.

Our gifts, our talents, our abilities come from God but if we use them for our own good, they are worthless. We hold them up for everyone to see but they are false gods.

How can we, like the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, call upon God when we have rejected Him because we keep our gifts and talents to ourselves? How can we, if we use our talents and abilities only for ourselves, turn to God from whom the gifts first came?

This is a time when our faith is tested. We see all sorts of temptations around us, temptations that lead us to abandon our faith. Like Jesus in the wilderness, we see chances to seemingly better ourselves. But these chances destroy our hopes of reconciliation with God. I fear that if we choose to use our gifts to protect or comfort ourselves, then we will not come closer to God but further away. I say this because I think this is the message many churches present today. It is a message of false hope, designed to make one feel good about themselves but does little more.

If we respond to violence in this world with violence (and we most certainly have the talent and ability to do so), then violence will never go away. If we meet tyranny and oppression with tyranny and oppression (and we have), then there will always be tyranny and oppression. We may speak of loving our brothers and sisters here on earth but if we exclude some or mistreat others; if we treat others with disrespect, then racism and prejudice will never disappear.

Paul said that there was no distinction between Jew and Greek. All who believe shall be saved. But we still treat many people as second class citizens. And churches still exclude people from their services because of their race, their creed, their social standing, and their beliefs. So how can we say that we are using God’s gifts?

Think about it. Each of us has been given some gift, some talent. Do we use these gifts to bring people together or do we use them to keep people apart, choosing to exalt our own abilities above others? In perhaps his most famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3)

If we use the gifts that we have given that only benefits ourselves, then the gifts are useless. We must begin looking at new ways to utilize our gifts and our talents. The time of Lent is a time of repentance, to give up the old ways and seek the new. The time of Lent is a time of preparation, of preparing to accept the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Jesus went into the wilderness. For forty days he faced temptations and self-doubt. Satan gave him many opportunities to counter the self-doubt, to remove the tempting forces. But to do so would have meant that Jesus would have to give up His ministry.

During this forty-day period of our lives I challenge you to think about the gifts that God has given you. Do you use them for yourself or to help others? Do you, through your actions, show the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart?



Membership – Privileges and Responsibilities


This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 1st Sunday in Lent, 4 March 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 13.

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When I was sophomore in high school, the boy next door was rapidly approaching sixteen. There is something in our culture that makes the turning of sixteen, for both boys and girls, a certain rite of passage. As the majority of us can remember when we turn sixteen, and perhaps more as parents of children who have or are about to do so, we know that with that birthday comes the right to get your driver’s license.

And the kid next door to us in Missouri was no exception. As the days got closer, he kept hounding and pestering his father to get him a car. And one day, the relentless pressure succeeded and the father told the son that he would get a car on his sixteenth birthday, provided that his grades were satisfactory and that he kept the grades satisfactory. This was a mutually agreed upon solution and all was well. That is, until after the passage of the next grading period, when the effect of having the car was immediately evident. As you might expect, with the new car, the boy did little studying and his grades suffered. This put the father in something of a dilemma. How would he take away the car and yet still have an incentive for the boy to study? The solution was immediately obvious. He did not take the car away; rather, he put it up on blocks in the back yard and took off the wheels. The kid could keep his car but until he got the grades back up, the wheels stayed in the shop.

When you gain rights, there are responsibilities. In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses instructed the Israelites on their responsibilities for having gotten the Promised Land from God.

The Israelites had received the beautiful gift of land, the end result of many generations of patient waiting. The promise had finally come true and the people were ready to receive this most precious gift from God. But in this time of receiving, Moses took time to instruct them as to their response for receiving the gift.

This is a historical moment in the lives of God’s people as they lay claim to God’s promise. They represent a long history of generations that kept alive the idea of the Promised Land. This passage makes it clear that God’s gifts to us are received only when we respond and acknowledge such giving through our own sense of gratitude, symbolized by the sharing of the first fruits. It is not enough just to have the gift given; such giving demands some kind of response from us that we have received the gift with appreciation and joy.

This story is certainly out of sync with the culture we live in today. Far too often we have allowed the attitude of getting something for nothing permeate who we are in terms of receiving gifts. Such an attitude mocks the story that we read today by trying to manipulate both the giving and the receiving. We seek ways to get something for nothing or desire to have someone else do the work that we should undertake. The attitude of something for nothing is in direct conflict with biblical tradition of giving and receiving.

God, through Moses, wanted those receiving the gift of the Promised Land to understand that an exchange between God and mankind was and is a sacred moment. Such an event in people’s lives demands a response of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, and a very sense of power of receiving the gift. To receive a gift and then do nothing demeans the gift, the giver of the gift, and certainly the one for whom the gift was given. The sharing of first fruits as a remembrance of the history of the sacred relationship to past generations centering on this promise of God is a most appropriate response by the people as a way of expressing joy, thanks, as well as responsibility, for this most cherished gift of land.

For us this day, the heart, soul, and power of this story is discovered in realizing that there really no such thing as a "free" gift. Any gift given freely ultimately implies a decision as to how one will respond to the gift being shared. While it is fine in the church today to help persons understand that God’s motivations for giving are free from any condition or expectation, we must also be honest and say that any gift given must be received.

What are we going to do with what God has given us?

Part of the reason that Jesus went into the wilderness for those forty days was so that He could prepare for the ministry. In facing the devil and all the temptations that were put before Him, Jesus had to decide what path His ministry would take. For one thing, Jesus did not need the devil to remind Him of the powers that He held. Jesus fully knew that if He did have everything the devil suggested He would have compromised the very essence of His ministry.

By resisting the devil, Jesus showed that his allegiance was to God. He also showed that he would not operate independent of God. If Jesus had turned the stones in bread, as the devil suggested, then he would have shown a lack of dependence on the Father. Finally, if Jesus were to have taken the devils offer of all the kingdoms of the world, he would have taken the "easy way" to power but to do so would involve a detour around the Cross. And it was the Cross that was the goal.

Jesus knew what was ahead of Him; he knew what He had been given and He knew what he had to do in return. The result of Jesus’ ministry some two thousand years ago is the gift of freedom from sin and death, a gift of everlasting life. But with this gift comes the responsibility to help others receive that same gift.

May it is time that we did something. Paul pointed out that what we say with our lips would be what is in our hearts. If we believe that Jesus died to save us, if we believe that Jesus is our Savior, that is what we will say and what we will do. Truthfully, the gift was given without expectation and without any requirements. But, if we are to accept that gift in the spirit that it was given, we must help others to find that gift as well.

The challenge before us is a great one. Too often, people turn away from the church because they don’t see the rewards that are offered. People are told that they will go to hell if they do not believe in Christ; that their life of sin will lead them only to death. But that is redundant; for a life in sin is a life in death and has no rewards. We should be telling people that a life in Christ is free from sin; that there is a greater reward beyond this earthly home. Ours should be a celebration of life, of community, knowing that there are responsibilities, the rewards are even greater.

Why Are You Here?


This was my Ash Wednesday Meditation for February 25, 2004, at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures are Joel 2: 1 – 2, 12 – 17; 2 Corinthians 5: 20 – 6: 10; and Matthew 6: 1 – 6, 16 – 21

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A few years back I was on my way to work in New York City. Then that particular chore in life required walking from Grand Central Station to Union Square. And on this particular day, seemingly no different from the others, I could not help but notice that people walking back towards Grand Central Station all had a smudge on their foreheads.

It was not just one or two people who were marked this way but dozens of people. There was no commotion, no shouting and these people did not seem to be any different from the others around them. Obviously, I could not help but think how strange this appeared to be. But then it occurred to me. It was Ash Wednesday and I was approaching the Catholic Church on Park Avenue just as the morning mass was ending.

Now, both figuratively and theologically, I knew then what Ash Wednesday was. But my knowledge of the day was not like it is today. With the requirements of getting to work weighing more heavily on my mind, the significance of this day and of this time on the Christian calendar did not register. In fact, while growing up, there was little or no emphasis on this date or the time of the calendar.

Oh, I know about giving something up and one cannot, when growing up in the South or the Midwest, not know the meaning of Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. Yesterday was, depending on your language, either "Fat" Tuesday (otherwise known as Mardi Gras) or Shrove Tuesday. In traditional times, the rules for fasting and abstinence were rather strict and so on the last day before Lent, you used up all your food. So that you could begin fasting, you ate meat and anything like pancakes that would use up the eggs, butter and dairy products, and fat that was in your larder, hence the tradition of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. This was also a day for rowdy sports and mischief; hence the celebrations for Mardi Gras, especially in New Orleans.

But Lent is much more than a party before or giving up of something during Lent. Far too many people emphasize the partying and far too many people give something up during the forty days, only to take it back when Easter has come and passed. That is not what this time is about.

The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten or "spring". Historically, the forty days before Easter are a period of preparation for Easter. It was a time of fasting. It was also in the ancient churches a time to baptize the newly convert. It was a time of penance.

But it was not meant to be a temporary change. It was meant to be a change of the heart, an inward change, not merely something on the outside for others to see. And when I began to see that Lent was more about what happen to people inside rather that what they did on the days before Lent began, my view of this day has changed. That is why I am here today.

That is why we are here today. God, through Joel, calls to us to return "with all our heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning." But to do so we must change our hearts. "Rend your hearts, not your clothes" is what God said to the Israelites. Change your ways is what God requires.

Jesus was saying the same thing. He was especially disdainful of those who would stand on the corner and pray so that others could see them doing so. They were not praying to God but rather performing for the others. Avoid the public display of penance and devotion. Your penance must be for yourself, not for others. What you do during this time must be for yourself and done to restore your relationship with God, not for public attention or adulation.

So why are you here today? I hope that you have come because you seek a change in your life; I hope that you have come this day because you know you need to repent. Remember that as Jesus died on the cross that Good Friday one of the two thieves that were crucified with him mocked him and ridiculed him. But the other thief understood that he was there because he had done wrong and that Jesus had not.

And in the agony of his death, the second thief asked Jesus to forgive him. And Jesus did. In the Old Testament reading for today, we hear God saying that there is no time when you cannot change, there is no time when God will not be there if you so desire.

In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul asked them to open their hearts, minds, and ears to God and hear his cry to us. Today, we are in the same position as the Corinthians of hearing God’s call for reconciliation. Paul pointed out that many of the Corinthians had, in fact, already acknowledged salvation through Christ but that they had become stuck because they had not changed their lives.

Paul pointed out that God was ready to listen to the cries of the Corinthians and He is ready to hear our cries. God is willing to help the Corinthians and, by extension, ourselves. But we must first make the change.

We are here today because God is calling us and we have heard Him calling. We are here today because we have said to God that we are willing to confess our sins and not only give up the old life for forty days but to do so for the days beyond that.

The smudge of ashes that we receive today is not a badge of honor but a reminder. They remind us of our own mortality; they remind us of our sins. But they also remind us that we have come seeking to change our lives and begin anew. The ashes are also a sign that we have begun preparing for Easter and the Resurrection of Christ. They are a sign that we are a truly reconciled people who have sought to come back to God.

Only a cynic or someone who does not know what is to come would now ask, "why are you here?" They ask because their faith is weak or non-existent. And those of us here today would answer, "I am here because I truly desire to repent and be reconciled with God."

We know the answer to the question, a question that will be asked many times in the course of our journey in faith. And in forty days we will hear the angel ask Mary that very same question. We are here because we seek the Risen Savior, who died for our sins and to set us free.