“The Real Final Exam”


Meditation for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42

To say that I am not a fan of the present teaching model would be something of an understatement. But, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I was not happy with the way that the Common Core Curriculum was “imposed” on the teachers of this country. It seemed to me that very little was done in the way of preparation for teachers, students, and parents alike. That there needs to be a common core should go without saying but you don’t change the curricula model without some sort of warning or preparatory system If there was such a warning or preparation period, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the curriculum but then again, I was working with my kindergarten age grandson and most of what we did was pretty simple stuff. I think the problem that most people had was simply with the fact that they had to think for themselves and weren’t able to adjust to the change.

Too many people today don’t want to take on new tasks, especially when it comes to learning. They are quite content to do it the way it was done when they were students and that is all they expect. And when a student, especially a college-age student, encounters a new way of learning, there is much rebellion. And that’s what makes it so easy to have a test-oriented curriculum; all you have to do is present some knowledge to the students, have them memorize it, and then test them on it. Once they are tested on it and they achieve a reasonable success level, then we move onto a new topic. That leads to the quote from “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner way back in the good old days of 1969,

The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again. (This and other sayings I have found interesting are at “A Collection of Sayings”.)

If we simply test our students, we don’t have to get involved in the learning process and that is the problem. Learning is an active and interactive process between people; testing is not.

Some of this saw this coming almost thirty years ago. When I was teaching in Missouri, the State Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, created the Basic Essential Skills Test or BEST test. Now, the rationale and purpose for this test were valid; every student needs to have a certain basic set of skills for life after school. But the manner in which the BEST test was done required a response.

So we created the Scholastic Education Council on New Directions Basic Essential Skills Test – 1) I will let you figure out the acronym and 2) the actual questions are at “THE BETTER TEST”. Clearly, our response was satire but it went to the point of what students should learn, how they should learn, and how that learning should be measured.

There was an episode in the TV series, “The Paper Chase” that speaks to this point. It was the final exam in Contract Law and Professor Kingsfield had created an exam with 100 questions covering a myriad of law-based topics in areas such as real estate, medicine, theology, and probably a few areas that one would not relate to the study and practice of the law.

To get the answers required the students search not only the law library but practically ever other library on campus. And because the students were competitive to the point of insanity, when they found the answer to one of the questions, they kept the resources for themselves so that other students would not be able to answer the question.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued because students were unable to answer all the questions (certain in their own minds that completion of all the questions was necessary for success). In the end, the students or rather the various study groups began to work how ways to share the work that they had with other groups so that they could get the answers for the questions. In the end, they wrote a series of contracts.

And what you have to remember was this was a course in Contract Law. The purpose of the exam was not to obtain all the answers individually but work together and develop solid and viable contracts, which was the purpose of the course.

A second example occurred while I was a graduate student at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). The Memphis Fire Department had agreed to take away several 55-gallon drums filled with chemical waste that the Chemistry Department had collected over the years. But before they could take them, the contents of each drum had to be identified.

Chemistry graduate students at that time took a series of monthly exams that measured their knowledge and competency. The solution to the problem of identifying the contents of the drums was to give each student a drum and tell them to apply their analytical and organic knowledge to the identification of the contents. (Of course, while this solved the department’s problem, it may have created problems for the individual students.)

I am not entirely certain that our present model of teaching can do that. In the end, our students learn to solve problems that already have solutions but they are not capable of solving problems that haven’t been solved.

And what perhaps bothers me more than anything else is that there will be a point in our own personal lives where we are going to be faced with such a problem. We shall be asked a question for which we may not know the answer and then what will or shall we do?

There really isn’t a question in the Old Testament reading for today but it is quite clear that God is testing Abraham. It is as if God is asking Abraham to prove that he, Abraham, will fulfill his part of the covenant. This covenant is the promise that Abraham’s descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and yet God has directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.

What must Abraham have thought? After all, as far as I know, Abraham believes that his oldest son, Ishmael, is dead and now he is about to kill his other son. The promise, the fulfillment of the covenant is clearly at stake at this point.

How would we respond in such a case? How would we respond if we had to put our faith on the line and just hope, without a single piece of evidence that God would fulfill His part of the covenant. And that is the real final exam! It is the one question that we have no way to study for; there is no book in which we can find the answer.

We could, I suppose, not worry about it. As Paul pointed out, you could lead the life we want, do what we want and ignore God. That way you wouldn’t have to worry or bother about right thinking or right living. But what do you get for all of that? Not much and when that moment comes when you have to answer the question you have avoided all your life, you won’t have the time, let alone the ability to think about what to say.

In the end, what you do, what you say, how you think shows where Christ is in your life. Many years ago I taught a course in how to teach science (a methods course). Most of my students expected me to lecture them on the various ways that one could teach science and sometimes I did just that. But a lot of times, I used the method that was the lesson, having the students do what they were going to be doing later on in life. I thought it was more important to do the method than simply speak about it. Not all my students got the message.

I would like to think that this is what Jesus was doing, having his students, his disciples do that which He taught them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn (and we know that many dropped out over the course of the three years). But in the end, enough understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that first Pentecost, they understood what they needed to do and then went from there.

Are you prepared today to take all that you have learned and go out into the world to show others who Christ is? The class is dismissed and the course begins.

Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos


The title of a recent post by John Meunier, “Only Two Things In The Middle of The Road?”, posed a question that I am sure not many people would know how to answer. For those who are not enlightened and never read Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower, I am providing the answer as the title of this piece.

But the purpose of John’s post was not to offer some Texas humor but rather provide links to some of the discussion taking place in the blogosphere concerning the thoughts and efforts of some to seek a schism or not seek a schism in the United Methodist Church.

Now, if you have received an e-mail from me, you know that there are a series of quotes that I find interesting:

  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. (Henry David Thoreau)

  • And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8: 32)
  • Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. (John F. Kennedy)

The quote from President Kennedy was given in response to the need for a ban on nuclear weapons but could easily apply to the situation the United Methodist Church is facing today. If we don’t end that which threatens to divide this denomination, then it will kill it. I don’t think that schism is the answer simply because neither side will be able to survive the aftermath.

I was brought up to seek the truth. I choose to walk a path that encompassed and still encompasses a life of science and faith. To seek the truth should be each person’s goal and the distillation of the facts to their simplest components the means by which we find that one single truth. (There may be a hint of Eastern mysticism in that, I am not sure.)

But the one quote that has been a part of my life for as long as I have known the quote and even before I knew that there was such a quote was the one from Thoreau. Circumstances and choice lead me to a path of my own choosing.

I choose to walk with Jesus Christ. It has taken me many places. And when I may have strayed from that path, I always found a way to get back to it. The discussion of, for, or about a schism in the United Methodist Church seems to suggest that there are only two paths and I have to choose between one of two possibilities.

That I would have to choose between those two options neither sets well with my own philosophy/approach or the path that I did choose to walk. And so many other times, the finality of the choice being offered doesn’t give me the opportunity to make up my own mind.

Granted, I would be considered a political liberal or progressive. And I have written that I don’t see how one can consider the Gospel message to be a conservative one, especially not in the context of today’s conservativism. Granted, I came to this conclusion because I saw too many individuals who did not care about others or worked to insure that their views were the dominant ones.

And when you look at what Jesus did to the power structure of his society, how can anyone work to make sure that the power structure of today’s society excludes others. I am not a Wesleyan scholar but I get the impression that was the thinking that drove Wesley to begin the Methodist Revival some two hundred years ago.

The one thing that I do know is that the road I walk demands attention to Jesus, not what others are doing or saying. I hold to the faith and work to see that the Gospel is there for everyone, not selecting those who get to hear it or somehow don’t come up to a particular set of standards.

The question we perhaps need to be asking at this time is more to the point about where you are headed, not which side of the road you are walking on? Are you headed in the right direction with your life and your goals? Are you helping others find their own path to Christ?

“The Stones In Our Lives”


The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 7: 55 – 60, 1 Peter 2: 2 – 10 and John 14: 1 – 14.

My initial thoughts when I read the three readings for this Sunday suggested possible titles of “Rolling Stones” or “Sticks and Stones”.

But I have never been a big fan of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones (though I once suggested that the AARP was making a big mistake – see “I Think The AARP Is Making A Big Mistake”). And there is too much violence and discord in the world to even think of using the other possibility.

But there came an image in my mind from many, many years ago when my family moved into our house on Coyle in San Antonio, just down the street from Maverick Elementary School. Our house had just been built and there really wasn’t much grass in the back yard (and the dirt that was made of a rather insidious clay that, after getting wet, hardened into a almost unbreakable rock known as caliche). My dad assigned me the task of clearing out all of the rocks and stones in the backyard so that we could plant grass. I was paid, I believe the grandiose sum of $.25 per 100 rocks!

And there were the rocks that we pulled out of the ground when we were preparing the Children’s Garden at Grace UMC in Newburgh (see “The Garden We Plant”).

The key to all of this, you see, is not that we gather the rocks together but what we do with them afterwards. As best as I can remember, I merely moved all of the rocks in our backyard in San Antonio from all over the backyard to one spot where they probably got covered up. The stones I uncovered in the Children’s Garden at Grace were moved to one spot and marked off a section of the garden.

You get the impression in reading the passage from Acts that the people went around gathering up stones in order to make Stephen the first person to die for his faith. But we are also told in this passage that Saul was there that day and those who participated in the stoning gave their cloaks to him for safekeeping. And while it is necessary that we understand why Stephen died on that day, it is also important that we know that Saul was there as well, for it suggests to the reader that something else is about to happen.

You don’t put someone’s name in a passage from the Bible unless there is a reason for doing so (see some thoughts on this in “The Other Side Of The Universe”).

In his letter to the congregation Peter speaks of the stone that is the cornerstone of faith, Jesus Christ, and like the cornerstone of a building, the most important stone in our life. When I think of Saul going to Damascus to continuing persecuting those who will become known as Christians, I thought of the road or roads from Jerusalem to Damascus that he had to have walked on.

I recall from some history that I read many years ago that it was the roads that the Romans build that linked the places of the Empire together. The primary purpose of the roads was to insure that the Roman troops could get from place to place in order to maintain order. But those roads were built to last and many are still in existence today.

The Roman troops had to have gathered countless stones in order to build each road. But the irony of this is that a road that was built to let troops get from point A to point B in order to put down a possible rebellion or allow a young, angry prosecutor to continue the repression of a new faith group became the site of an encounter between Christ and that prosecutor. Instead of being a path of potential violence and hatred, it became the path that would lead to The Truth and The Way, the very path that Jesus spoke of when Thomas asked Him where they were all going.

What are the stones in your life today? What stones must you gather together for the sole purpose of getting rid of them? We cannot build the Kingdom of God here on earth when we gather the rocks and stones out of hatred and ignorance, when we gather them for purposes of violence and oppression. Such rocks become, as Peter pointed out, something to trip over.

But in choosing to follow Christ, those same rocks can be gathered together and help build a new life.

There are stones in our lives today. The question will always be “What will you do with them?” Shall we destroy this world or shall we build this world through Christ?

“What Is The Ultimate Question?”


A Layperson’s Theological Perspective

What is the ultimate question?

Let me first start off by saying that, unless the person asking the question has read any of Douglas Adams work, the answer is not “42”!

And one must be under the age of five to ask the ultimate philosophical question, “Why?” Of course, those who have raised children know that the answer to this important question of life and the universe is “Because!”

More importantly, what if you do not know what the question that will determine your next step professionally or personally will be? How do you prepare for that question or series of questions?

Two thoughts:

First, it has been almost fifty years since I completed my own confirmation class. And while I am confident that I came out of that class with a better understanding of who I am what I know about the church and theology today is far more than I knew then. But what I know I know from experience and my own thought and not through an organized study of faith, theology, and Methodism.

And I wonder how many others today understand those same areas. How many times has a pastor focused on those topics for an extended period of time and in such a way that people come away with clearer understanding?

I know that when I write a message to be presented on a Sunday morning, I have focused on the lectionary readings and have tried to place them in the context of what is happening today. On some occasions, I am pretty sure that what I said has challenged one of the listeners to seek further information but that is speculation on my part. I am sure that everyone who has, either as a lay servant/speaker or pastor, hoped that what they said on a particular Sunday changed the life of someone who heard or read the words given that day. But, until the Day of Judgement does come, we have no way of knowing if that happened.

So the question/thought arises, how do we who have been charged with preparing the minds of individuals to open the hearts and souls of those same individuals do just that, prepare them for the ultimate question, the one which we do not know?

And that leads to the second thought, what might be the ultimate question or what questions should we be able to answer so that we can answer the question we do not know, especially from a layperson theological perspective?

Is it perhaps, “Are you saved?”

Or is it one of Wesley’s historical questions -

  1. Do you know God as a pardoning God? Do you have the love of God abiding in them? Do you desire nothing but God? Are you holy in all manner of conversation?
  2. Do you have gifts, as well as the evidence of God’s grace3, for the work to which you have been called? Do you have a clear, sound understanding and a right judgement of things of God; a just conception of salvation by faith? Do you speak justly, readily, and clearly?
  3. Do you have the fruit? Have you been truly convinced of sin and converted to God and a believer as edified by your service?

Things for me suggest that I spend some time working on the Wesley questions, if for no other reason than to clarify some things in my own mind. There is no doubt in my own mind that I can answer those questions in the affirmative, though the language that I might respond in may not be the accepted form.

Over the next few weeks I am going to look at the questions John Wesley posed. I invite your thoughts and comments about those questions or questions you feel that the laity and especially the laity who have been called to serve should be able to answer.

“What Path Will You Take?”


Which Path Will You Take?

A meditation for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A), based on Acts 2: 14, 36 – 41; 1 Peter 1: 17 – 23; and Luke 24: 13 – 35.

I actually began these thoughts a few weeks ago after receiving “Wesleyan Wisdom: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by Donald Haynes. In his piece, Dr. Haynes offered a brief history of Methodism and the paths that we have taken from those early days in England some two hundred and fifty years ago. Some of the paths we choose to take; others we were forced to walk. His capsule history of Methodism was predicated on what members of the church have felt the church should and should not be doing and, as a result, has caused many to take a different path. And we are at that point in our history once again where we will be forced to choose which path we want to walk.

I am, of course, talking about the issue of sexuality. Some people have already indicated which way they will go in this regard; others are standing by the wayside, waiting to see which path they will take. And others, perhaps many more than those who have decided or those who are waiting, are walking a third path away from the church, convinced that God doesn’t care about them and they will find what they are seeking elsewhere.

The division of the church some 170 years ago was over the issue of race and slavery. But it was predicated on a lack of knowledge about the human species, a knowledge that was proven to be quite lacking in substance. I personally believe that too many people are ignorant when it comes to knowledge of sexuality and it is that ignorance that drives so much of the division.

I fear that the United Methodist Church will again be divided but in such a way that it can never be reunited. What will the names of the divided church be; certainly not “United”?

It was easy to name the church when we split apart back in the early 19th century. When we split on the issue of pews and church dues, those who opposed the renting or buying of the pews formed the Free Methodist Church. When we split apart on the issue of slavery and race, the Southern churches became the Methodist Episcopal South church. But what shall we name the new Methodist Churches that we seem to eager to form?

That’s a question I am not prepared to answer today, if for no other reason that there will be no church to name. And I would work for the continuation of the United Methodist Church instead its destruction.

In the piece I was going to write, I was going to argue that we should begin to ignore The Discipline in what I hoped was much the same way that Jesus offered that He was the fulfillment of the law and not the law itself. I did so because I saw and see too many people for whom The Discipline is the final answer to all issues related to the church and denomination. But I could not write that piece.

I could not write that piece because I was not prepared to remove the structure of the denomination. Every organization needs some sort of structure or it will fall apart. And I have no desire to do that. So I let the notes I wrote sit, just in case I came up with something else.

I fear that we are slowly losing our intellectual ability to discern and to think. We, as a church, respond too often with a voice of ignorance and hatred. We no longer offer hope and opportunity. We do not invite the stranger in but tell them to stand outside and wait. We tell people that they must be like us for God to accept them, ignoring the fact that God does not make such a distinction.

How did the people feel in those days following the Resurrection? Wasn’t it with a feeling of despair and rejection, of loss and being lost? How do people feel today? Is it not with that same sense of loss, despair, and rejection?

The title for this piece is what I was going to use in the original piece and I think it is appropriate, especially since our Gospel message for today is about individuals walking on a path. And at the end of that day’s journey, those two individuals had to make a decision as to whether or not to invite the stranger that had walked with them to stay with them for dinner. Only then, when the stranger blessed the meal did they realize that they had been walking with Christ all along.

Perhaps we are in some way on the road to Emmaus, walking with Christ and not even knowing it is Him. We are so concerned about our struggles that we cannot see Him and yet He has been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember.

In his letter to the congregations, Peter wrote, “Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.” But it seems to me that our arguments today cloud our consciousness and we are unable to see God in our lives.

And when Peter stood with the other disciples that day in Jerusalem, he urged everyone who heard him to repent and change their lives, to get out of the culture that was trapping them.

It was, I believe, that noted baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who once noted that “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Of course, one might presume that Mr. Berra was merely channeling the prophet Jeremiah when he (Jeremiah) wrote:

God’s Message yet again:

Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.

But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’

I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.

But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’

And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’

And, ‘Pay attention, Earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’

I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.

They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.

What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?

Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure. Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.” (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20, The Message)

Whether we choose to hear the words of the disciples or the words of the prophets, we have to make a change in the direction we are headed. Jeremiah warned the people of the dangers that they would encounter if they did not choose the correct path. Peter urged the people in Jerusalem to begin a new life in Christ.

What path will we walk? What decisions will we make? Shall we let our prejudices and ignorance lead us or shall we open our eyes and free our minds so that we see Christ?

After a message a few weeks ago, I told the speaker that the message didn’t seem to have an ending. That is a problem that I often have as well, struggling to find an ending for my messages.

But the ending for this message is quite clear. We can continue to walk on the path that we have chosen to follow but it is quite clear that it is a path that leads to destruction and death. Or we can choose to walk that path with Christ, knowing that such a life leads to freedom and life.

But to walk this second path, we must repent of our old ways, forsake our ignorance and see the world as God would have us to see it, not as others would see it. We can walk on the road to Emmaus and ignore the strangers that we encounter, or we can treat the stranger as a friend and see Christ. The choice is clearly ours this day.

“Which Side Are You On?”


There is a discussion going on over on John Meunier’s blog about the future of the United Methodist Church (see “Fields in Anathoth”). John’s thoughts come from the on-going debate about homosexuality and the recent decision by my bishop, Martin McLee, not to purse the trial of Thomas Oglethorpe for officiating at the same-sex marriage of his son.

One of the comments posted spoke of what would happen at the 2016 General Conference and my reply was that we, as a denomination, probably would not make it that far; that others would seek to take actions that would preserve the Discipline but would tear apart the denomination.

I was challenged to state where I stood in regards to what will transpire in the next few months. To borrow a phrase from an old union song (and one that I have used in at least two sermons in the past), I was asked, in effect, “which side was I on?”

Now, for me to reply to this, you have to know some things. I am a Southern boy, born in the South, raised by a Southern momma, and educated, for the better part of my life, in Southern schools. I went to school in the South when schools were still segregated. The one thing that I don’t remember too much is what the pastors of the churches we attended said on the subject of integration and civil rights. I have my thoughts that the pastor of the Methodist church we attended in Montgomery, Alabama, probably didn’t say much or was opposed to the idea, what with the Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, a member of the same church.

The likelihood was that I heard that segregation was Biblical; that the scriptures were very clear that the races had to be separated.

And when I was a junior in high school in Memphis, Tennessee, and schools began to be integrated, I saw the rise of private Christian academies, schools designed to meet the thoughts of the parents that their children would never attend a integrated school.

So when I hear today that certain individuals are to be denied the same rights and privileges I have solely on the basis of their sexuality, I hear (as so many others have heard) the same arguments made fifty years ago that state that race was a determining factor in getting into heaven.

And those who read this for the first time have to know that I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education with an emphasis in chemical education. To be a scientist requires some understanding of the world around us; not mere blind acceptance of words in the Bible, especially when such acceptance is not always by choice but as the result of someone’s demands.

I am not a theologian nor am I Bible scholar so I don’t spend a lot of time dealing with scriptures that make the point for or against. Maybe that would make it easier to take a stand, make a decision, or decide where I stand.

But I don’t approach it that way. Rather, I use the skills and abilities that I know come from God and that I know He wants me to use. I think the problem through, using what I understand the Scriptures to mean (though not necessarily say). I look at the problem, knowing the laws expressed in the Old Testament were written for reasons that we have often forgotten or never understood and knowing the Jesus Christ came to embody the law, not merely enforce it.

What I have come to understand is that homosexuality is not necessarily, as some say, a choice but rather a result of genetics. If we are all made in the image of God and then deny the truth of genetics, we have a problem. For at the very least, we are saying that God made a mistake. And how is possible for God to make a mistake? (And if you think about this, if this is a mistake, what does that say about the parents who bore this child of God that we want to expel from our church? Maybe the sins of the parents are truly imposed on the children.)

My wife will tell you that she had some long and interesting discussions with a gay colleague and he would say that he always knew who he was. He would tell you if he could but he committed suicide because society didn’t want him to be an open part of it.

It’s not my place or my obligation to judge others. It is my job and my obligation to show the Love of Christ for all, no matter who they are.

I have said it before and I shall say it again – I cannot leave the United Methodist Church. It was in the United Methodist Church that I was given the opportunity to find Christ; it was because of a number of ministers in the United Methodist Church that I was given the opportunity to understand who Christ was and what He meant for me. My path was not limited because I stood side by side with friends for civil rights and in opposition to the war in Viet Nam, even though that would have been the politically sound thing to do.

It would have been very easy for me to leave the church back then. I saw working for civil rights and being against the war in Viet Nam as an extension of all that Christ had said and taught. I thought that all I had to do was the same things and I was in heaven.

It was a United Methodist minister who taught me that my actions meant nothing unless they were done with the same love that Christ showed. Still, the churches where I grew up and the church where I was a member when I was in college easily supported the war in Viet Nam and thought that civil rights were a political thing and not part of the church. Members of those churches would have treated me as a pariah, not as someone seeking Christ.

I cannot begin to imagine Christ telling someone that they cannot come into Heaven because of who they are. Yes, Christ would ask if they have repented of their sins but, then, Christ would ask us the same question.

Which side am I on? I cannot be on the side of those who would say to some that they are not welcome in this place. But I can be on the side of those who have Christ in their actions, who stand with Christ as He stands at the door beckoning all come in.

 

Lessons Forgotten


I am sure that you have seen those posts, especially on Facebook, that talk about the “good old days”, on how we played outside and how we respected our elders and said “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am.”

They will, in other posts, often bemoan how our nation has gone downhill because we don’t start each school day with a prayer and things would be so much better if prayer were allowed back in schools.

I sometimes get the impression that when such posts are made, there is an implication that 1) we are doing something wrong today and 2) the fault lies within our schools and educational system.

Now, this isn’t really about manners and respect, though perhaps it will become something about those issues. And don’t get me wrong; manners and respect are very important skills and things that need to be taught.

Same thing about prayer; how did the parents who want prayer in the classroom start their day? Did they start with prayer or did they hurry out the door on their way to work?

One thing I know, from having been a classroom teacher at both the high school and college level, is that manners and respect are taught at home and no one, no one should ever expect their children’s teachers to do what they, the parents should be doing in the first place. When a child or young adult comes into a class with an attitude that shows little respect, it is something that they learned at home and not in the classroom.

And besides, those who post such items often forget what the classroom was like some fifty years ago. I don’t remember much about my years in elementary school but I do remember how we started each day in the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, with prayer. That was 1962 and the last year that I can recall prayer in school.

But Bellingrath was a very homogenized school; let’s face it, it was segregated. And it was very easy to say a prayer because religion was very much a corporate thing and it really did not matter what denomination you were. And I would hazard a guess that if you were not a white Protestant you did not go to Bellingrath, so denominational differences were limited.

And while respect and manners were taught at home (probably by our mothers since they stayed home while daddy went off to work) we were also beginning to discover that our parents didn’t always practice what they preached. Remember that particular time (the early 60s) was the time when society was becoming very much aware of the differences between individual and while there was a belief in equality, we were finding out (in the words of George Orwell) that some people were more equal than others.

Not only were we being challenged by what we saw in society, we were also being challenged in the classroom to think creatively and innovatively, to question things, and (pardon the cliché) push the envelope.

It was the beginning of the space race and we were looking not just around the corner but to the moon and, I would suspect, that many of that generation were even thinking of travel to the stars.

Now, when you teach individuals to think creatively, to be innovative, to question things, things happen. You begin to be creative in your music and your thinking. You begin to question the assumptions behind war and sending the young off to die for the dreams of old men.

You cannot things to stay the same when one begins to question the fundamental assumption that builds walls between people because of their race, gender, economic status, or sexuality.

You cannot expect things to stay the same when you talk about equality but put then send people off to war because somehow “we are better than they are”.

And for those in power, the things that happen were not always good. You cannot expect society to change when the elders of society keep telling the youth that they must wait their turn while everything around them tells the youth that the opportunities are there for the taking.

I think that if I were to post about what was lost or forgotten, it would be about what we have forgotten. We have forgotten how to be creative, how to be innovative, how to treat each other with respect. In one sense, we have forgotten to think because if we were thinking, maybe we would be in the state we are in right now.

Look around and ask yourselves who is longing for those long ago “good old days.” It is the people in power who achieved and hold onto their power through greed and manipulation. They are the ones who don’t want people to think but simply follow and do what they say.

Look around and tell me if creativity and innovation are alive and well or if we haven’t gone back to the corporate model of education that is designed to produce workers only trained to do what they are told and not to think for themselves.

Look around and tell me if religion today is no less the corporate religion that it was fifty years ago where the pronouncement of so many religious leaders is to maintain the status quo.

Who is it that wants a return to those “good old days”? Is not those whose hold on power would slip if people were able to think on their own?

The lessons we learned fifty years ago are timeless ones. We learned that every person, no matter the color of their skin, their economic status, sexuality, or beliefs, was entitled to the same rights and priviledges as everyone else. (It may not have been taught that way but the way we taught encouraged to think that way.)

And we were also taught that every person must be involved in ensuring that every person has the opportunity to gain those rides. When you learned the lesson, you taught the lesson.

If something is missing in today’s society, it is that we have forgotten the lessons we were taught.

Phone Calls


I just posted this on my Facebook page.

Something I just read prompted me to post the following:

If you have not registered your phones with the “Do Not Call” list, do so. It will save you a lot of grief.

Even you are on the “Do Not Call” list, you are still susceptible to calls from political groups and charities (even if the charity is questionable).

If you are on the “Do Not Call” list and you are getting calls about lowering your interest rates, that is not a violation. There is a loop hole in the “Do Not Call” regulations that allows such phone calls if you had a credit card at one time.

My solution is to utilize a version of something we did with the phone in the old Bartlett High School Band Room (’66 – ’68), “East Side Mortuary. Is this a pickup or delivery?”

I don’t know how the people how the people who call because they have discovered there is a virus in my operating system get my number (blocking the number doesn’t help because they are spoofing the number that shows on the Caller ID) so I offer the suggest that I don’t have any windows in my office but I do sit by the door.

I know that this isn’t going to stop the phone calls but at least I have a little fun.

“The Master Lesson”


Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany (Year A), 9 February 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 58: 1 – 12, 1 Corinthians 1: 1 – 16, and Matthew 5: 13 – 20.  This is the message that I will give at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church this Sunday (I may make some changes in it between now and Sunday but this is essentially what I shall say); services there start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Today is Scout Sunday and something of an anniversary for me. In 1965 I was working on my God and Country Award in the Boy Scouts. I actually received the award and was confirmed as a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now 1st UMC) of Aurora in May of that year, this Sunday serves as a marker and a reminder of when I began this journey with Christ.

As I noted in my summary sheet for Boy Scout Sunday, there was a period of time when I didn’t do much after earning the award. But sometime around 1984, I felt the need to do something that reflected the choice I had made twenty years before. Since then, I have either been the liturgist or presented the message on the second Sunday in February as a reminder of a choice I made many, many years ago.

My appreciation for the environment around us also began when I was in the Boy Scouts. And when I began my college studies a little over a year after completing my God and Country work, I began a second journey, a journey of investigation of this world.

This weekend is also Evolution Weekend and marks the celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday on February 12, 1809. This message marks the 6thyear that I have participated in this part of the Clergy Letter Project, an effort to show that science and religion are compatible and can safely interact with each other. (Here is a link to my previous messages and posts – Evolution Weekend.)

Let me begin by saying that the United Methodist Church has 1) endorsed this project, 2) included a statement concerning the relationship between science, technology, and theology in The Social Principles section of The Book of Discipline (¶ 160 – The Natural World, section F), and 3) this will not be a science lesson.

Now, in one sense, perhaps I shouldn’t concern myself with issues about evolution and the creation of the universe and life on this planet. After all, I am a chemist more than I am a biologist and the issue of evolution and creation is one of biology, isn’t it?

But there is a lot of chemistry involved in the beginning of the universe and the development of atoms, elements, and compounds. And the combination of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen to ultimately form the various components of DNA means that I have to be interested or at least should be interested in how it all works.

So, I participate in this project, not because I don’t believe that God didn’t create the universe, this planet, or the life on it but rather because I do believe that He did create the universe, the planets, and all the life that we see.

It never occurred to me back in 1966 that by declaring that I would study chemistry that such studies would be conflict with my belief in God and that Jesus Christ was my Savior and that I could not be a certified lay servant/speaker in the United Methodist Church. Nor did it occur to me that my acceptance of Christ somehow prevented me from being a chemist and from searching for answers to questions sometimes out of reach.

I hold a view of the relationship between science and faith similar to that expressed by Alan Lightman, the first person to hold dual appointments in physics and the humanities at MIT. In an essay entitled “The Spiritual Universe” (from his book The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew) he writes

If science is the religion of the twenty-first century, why do we still seriously discuss heaven and hell, life after death, and the manifestations of God? Physicist Alan Guth, another member of our salon, pioneered the inflation version of the Big Bang theory and has helped extend the scientific understanding of the infant universe back to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after t = 0. A former member, biologist Nancy Hopkins, manipulates the DNA of organisms to study how genes control the development and growth of living creatures. Hasn’t modern science now pushed God into such a tiny corner that He or She or It no longer has any room to operate—or perhaps has been rendered irrelevant altogether? Not according to surveys showing that more than three-quarters of Americans believe in miracles, eternal souls, and God. Despite the recent spate of books and pronouncements by prominent atheists, religion remains, along with science, one of the dominant forces that shape our civilization. Our little group of scientists and artists finds itself fascinated with these contrasting beliefs, fascinated with different ways of understanding the world. And fascinated by how science and religion can coexist in our minds. (“Brain Pickings for 15 January 2014”)

And while Lightman and those in his group might see a world in which there is a need for both science and faith, there are those today who would tell you that to be a scientist, or in my case, a chemist precludes one from being able to study and preach the Word of God, just as there are those who feel that one’s presence in the pulpit prevents being in a lab somewhere during the week.

And as a science educator, I have to be concerned about what is transpiring in this world today, when people seek to limit free and independent thought about things both secular and sectarian to the point of being forbidden. This limits what we can do, what we can envision and where we might go.

The title of this message comes from a term often used in fine arts and music classes. A master class is one in which a recognized expert comes and teaches something a topic that everyone knows but in greater depth and detail that normally covered. It is designed to take you beyond where you are and to where you can be.

If as it is written in Genesis, we are created in God’s image, how can I not ask questions? Am I, as some would have me to do, to blindly accept something as the truth when other information tells me otherwise?

What I find interesting is that I have learned more about the Bible, Christianity, Methodism, and my own personal faith in the past few years than I learned in the two years I devoted to earning the God and Country Award and becoming a member of this church. But if I were to accept the notion that such knowledge was fixed, I would not have learned anything. And where would I be on this journey that began almost fifty years ago?

You may disagree with me on this point but telling me that I cannot pursue this information just makes me want to find out what it is you don’t want me to know. And I am fully aware that in some translations of the Bible, it was eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that drove Adam and Eve out of the garden and destroyed their relationship with God. In looking for and finding Christ, we have the opportunity to restore our relationship with God.

I know that when I began my journeys in both the secular and sectarian worlds I probably accepted the notion that the world was created in six days as described in the opening verses of Genesis. But somewhere along the line, I began to ask questions, questions that the Book of Genesis could not answer directly, questions that many people do not want answered or even asked today.

Asking questions about the Book of Genesis or any of the material in the Bible does not necessarily mean that one is questioning their faith. It means that one is trying to understand what their faith means. If I am not driven to seek more knowledge, of what value is my life? What have I learned if I do not know who God is and what He means to me?

The British philosopher and writer Alan Watts wrote a book in 1966 entitled, interestingly enough, “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”. In a sentiment that Alan Lightman (physicist and holder of a joint appointment in physics and the humanities at MIT) would come to echo more than half a century later in his remarkable meditation on science and what faith really means (and which I have expressed on numerous occassions before), Watts adds:

Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness – an act of trust in the unknown. … No considerate God would destroy the human mind by making it so rigid and unadaptable as to depend upon one book, the Bible, for all the answers. For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to point beyond themselves to a world of life and experience that is not mere words or even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency. (“Brain Pickings for 2 February 2014”)

For me, Watts is not saying that because I have studied chemistry that I must abandon God nor because I believe in God and accepted Christ as my own personal Savior that I should ignore chemistry and its scientific foundations but rather that I should use the one to find the other.

But today’s so-called experts don’t do that; they tell you to accept what they tell you as fact and irrefutable. But basis for their knowledge is often limited and incomplete and any challenge to their authority brings ridicule and scorn.

The roots of today’s debate go back almost four hundred years. Each one of us was probably taught that the church did not want Galileo to publicize his ideas about the nature of the universe. But it was not the church, per se, that sought to limit Galileo or the work of Copernicus and Kepler; rather it was individuals within the academic establishment that had based its power and authority on the Aristotlean view that Galileo’s observations challenged.

They were opposed to these new ideas because their reputation, status, and power were built on maintaining the Aristotelian view of an earth-centered universe. The church was brought into the argument because the academic establishment convinced members of the church establishment that the changes proposed by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would harm the church and threaten their status, reputation, and power as well. (From “The Changing of Seasons”; I believe my original source was The Galileo Connection by Charles E. Hummel)

What I fear, perhaps more than anything else in this world, is this same sort of world today. A world where those whose power and status are maintained in a closed environment, a world in which we cannot find the answers to our questions, a world in which we say to seekers and those on a journey that this is the answer and no questions are allowed in either the secular or sectarian world.

Were Paul’s words to the Corinthians an encouragement to seek new wisdom? Were Paul’s words not an indictment of those in power who sought to limit such new wisdom?

We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so. God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is.

Paul makes this point –– those who crucified Jesus were blind to the message that Jesus gave. They were so fixed on what they had at that moment that they could not see what lie before them.

If we are trapped in the moment that we call today, how can we move beyond the boundaries of that thought. As I read the words from Isaiah for today, I could not help but think about how those words, writen over three thousand years ago, still have meaning today and how we haven’t learned much in that time.

We are still so much more interested in our own well-being that we are others. Our greed and ignorance take precedence over caring for others and making sure that all have a chance. Isaiah makes the point, I believe, that when we are are more concerned with what we have and we ignore the plight and circumstances of others, we cannot expect much in reward.

Even Isaiah points out that when you do God’s work, you begin to shine as a light that shows the truth and the future. Those who find protection in the Law often times find themselves trapped in it.

Are we to be blind to what transpired in the Galilee some 2000 years ago? Are we to ignore the words that were spoken, the actions were taken as Jesus and His followers walked those roads? Would not asking those questions make us more like those who crucified Jesus?

What is that Jesus said to the people in our Gospel reading for today? We are to be the light of the world. Does that not mean that we show others what we have found and help them to find it themselves?

Jesus points out that He came not to fulfill the Law but to go beyond it. Those who would seek to limit what we know want the Law to constrain and prevent, to keep people where they are and not where they can be.

The lesson from the Master is very simple; if we impose boundaries on others, we will find ourselves limited. If our focus is on ourselves, we will find ourselves trapped. Our journey will be over because we can go nowhere.

But if we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, if we open our hearts, our minds, and our souls to Christ, we will find something beyond the horizon. There will be meaning and purpose to our lives, meaning and purpose that we cannot find any other way. That is the lesson to be taught, that is the lesson to be learned, and that is the lesson to be shared.