“Simplifying A Complicated Life”


First off, let me say that this will probably not offer the solution that you think it might. But that’s because I don’t think the “normal” solution works or that it has ever worked.

Let’s face it, our lives have become overly complicated lately and each day it seems as if they get more so. We long for a simple life, one where we can make easy decisions and troubles are limited. But I don’t think those days ever existed. No matter what age we may have been, each day brought about some sort of complication.

When we were just beginning to walk, it was a complicated process of being able to stand and keep our balance. And when we could keep our balance long enough, then it became a matter of moving one foot in front of another while still maintaining our balance. But once we could walk, boy (or girl) did we begin to move.

Then when we were older, we started riding our bicycle. We may have moved up from riding a tricycle but the process was still the same. Maintaining balance and then learning how to move our legs while keeping our feet on the pedal. Each step more complicated than the next. But walking by ourselves and riding a bicycle seem so simple now.

Our lives are inherently complicated, both externally and internally and we try to find simple solutions. Unfortunately simple solutions may not always be the best answer. We live in a violent world but I personally don’t believe that violence is the natural state of the world. Some may disagree with me, pointing out that in nature life is often times violent.

But is that how we should view things? Doesn’t the fact that we are supposedly a highly evolved creature with some sort of intelligence mean that we can see other alternatives?

Can we not see that violence is the product of other facts? Can we not see that violence is not always the answer to violence? Or have we allowed ourselves to believe, mainly because other people tell us, that violence is the answer? I have come to believe that, in this complicated world that we live in, we have become complacent in our actions, choosing, in the name of simplicity, to let others do our thinking for us and accepting the first option rather than thinking through the process.

Stop and think about it. Our world is full of experts telling us what to think and how to think (and I suppose that this qualifies in some way). But I am not telling you what to think or how to act; I am simply asking that you first think and then make the decision yourself.

I remember when I was growing up that there always seemed to be a controversy when certain families moved into certain neighborhoods with the comment being made that if that were allowed the property values would go down. I think that attitude still holds true today. But I thought to myself, how could that be if the family moving in had the money to buy the house in the first place? Let’s just say that I didn’t see the logical in that argument.

There are too many people making that sort of argument today and it still doesn’t work. I know today part of the reason why that argument was made and it is called fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the different. And what has transpired today is that when one person’s response is out of fear, it is likely that the next response will be made out of fear as well. And the circle, pardon me, will never be broken. It will only get bigger and out of fear comes violence and hatred. Out of fear comes greed as we are unwilling to share our lives with others, even if we know them.

Life is a complicated process and in our attempt to simplify it, we have made it more complicated. But I do believe that we have the capability of changing things, of making life, no matter how complicated it may be, simpler. We start by thinking and we then add a component of love to our lives. We will quickly find that it is an easier way to lead a complicated life. Will it happen overnight? Of course not! First, we have let the bad become to much a part of our life but if we keep pushing, it will disappear.

Second, we tell those who push anger and violence as the solution that they are wrong and that we won’t listen to them anymore. Pretty soon, the voice of reason will be louder than the other voices.

Simplifying a complicated life is not easy by any means but it can be done.

“Why Are We Surprised?”


Readers of this blog know that while I am not from St. Louis, St. Louis and Missouri play an important part in my life. So I am a little surprised and perhaps shocked by the activities in Ferguson over the past week.

But, to some extent, I am not surprised by the responses by both parties and their representatives. And why should I be surprised? After all, the actions of the police and the protestors are what we have come to expect in incidents and actions such as this.

Let’s face it, we have created the environment and culture in which we live today. We live in a culture of fear; we do not trust anyone who is not like us in any way. We see those who are in someway different from us as a threat to our way of life. We have become greedy because we see anyone coming close to us as a threat to our stuff and we are not quite prepare to share.

Our politicians feed on this fear. They paint a picture so frightening that we cannot do anything but live in fear. And the answer that most politicians offer, that we will combat this fear with force and strength, only makes the level of fear higher.

We live in a culture of violence. While we would hope for non-violent responses, we find that violence is often the first and immediate response and not by one side of the argument but by both sides. And the combination of fear and violence is a very bad mixture.

We live in a culture of guns. Not withstanding the 2nd amendment, we have created a culture were guns are the answer (which was never, I believe, the intention behind that amendment). We have allowed guns to dominate our lives. Our fear of what might happen, our fear that they only way that we counter the unknown is with massive power on our part has lead to many police departments becoming mini-armies, supplied by the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department.

We have allowed, through our silence, our acquiescence, and our apathy this world of fear and violence to encapsulate and consume us. And perhaps it is too late.

The only voices speaking right now are angry. I am not saying that they should not be angry but I sometimes think that words spoken I anger carry a different message from those spoken softly.

There are reasons to be angry; all one has to do is look at the world around us and know that there is a great deal of anger in this world. It comes from a world that lives in fear and depends on violence to solve its problems.

We need to stop and take a step back so that we can see what we are faced with. We need to listen carefully to the words being spoken and make sure that they are words of peace and solution rather than words of hatred and anger and discord.

We need to look at what is going on in our communities, both at home and abroad. How much better would the world be if the monies that are spent on armaments were spent on taking care of people? How much better would the world be if monies spent on death and destruction were spent of life and construction?

There will always be evil in this world but it cannot be left to infest the world. We, the people, must begin by saying that things must change. Monies spent on war must be spent on peace and those who promote hatred (in all forms) and such that we must have more power than any one else must not only be told they are wrong but shown that they are wrong.

Then we won’t be surprised when the world becomes a better place.

Understanding Advent in the 21st Century

Featured


You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A Pre-Advent Bible Study”


All the details haven’t been worked out yet but we are thinking of hosting a pre-Advent Bible study at our place in October.

#1 Yes, I know Advent doesn’t start until November 30th but weather issues suggest having the study in October.

#2 I have come up with the following questions/thoughts:

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us consider the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of Advent?
  2. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

#3 What questions would you cover during such a study? (For those reading this on Facebook, I would appreciate it if you would also add your comments on the blog page as well. Thanks!)

An Anniversary We Need To Remember


We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. For the next four years or so, we are going to be reminded about the death and carnage that circled the world one hundred years ago.

In one sense, I am more attuned to World War I than World War II simply because I have my Grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in France and Belgium in 1918 and 1919. (I have photos from that period in his life on a backup file and if I can find the software to recover the files, will be able to recover them and publish them even though they aren’t pretty by any means.)

What I find interesting is not that this world went to war 100 years ago or how it began. What I do find interesting is how it all developed into what it became and what happened when it was all over.

First, think back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and how John Kennedy was worried that what was happening between Cuba, the Soviet Union, and this country could easily escalate into a major conflict. He pointed out the leaders of Europe felt that they were so attuned to each others thoughts that they could anticipate what they were going to do. Obviously, the outcome of that particular thought process didn’t work and millions died as a result.

The other thing that I find interesting comes from a series of comments for the post “Study War No More”. In response to my comment that wars did not solve problems, one commentator replied “except for slavery, Nazism, fascism, and communism”. I didn’t realize that his comment came from a bumper sticker.

When we look at the map of the world before and after World War I, we see the loss of two empires and the expansion of others. The African and Pacific colonies of Germany were given to other European countries and Japan; the Middle East was re-mapped to favor British and French interests (especially considering oil). The concerns of the people living in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia were ignored in favor of the winning colonial powers. And the burdens placed on Germany by the Allied Powers definitely contributed to the beginning of World War II.

So here we are today, watching wars and conflicts in the Middle East that have roots in a conflict in Europe 100 years ago. How different would the world have been if we been more attuned to the needs of the world instead of mankind’s selfish interests?

So this is anniversary we should remember. Maybe we will learn something this time around.

I published my Grandfather’s thoughts for the day of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 here – “My Grandfather’s Diary entry for this day, 11 November 1918”

“Why Is It”


That We Seem So Either Incredibly Stupid or Incredibly Dumb?

Forty-five years we walked on the moon and looked beyond the stars. Why aren’t we doing that today?

I saw a note the other day that stated the Missouri State Legislature was again considering a bill that would allow the teaching of creationism in schools. This is not the first time that this august body had tried to do this.

Back in the early 1980s, I was teaching high school chemistry and freshman science in the boot heel of Missouri. Now, you have to know that I was able to get through four years of high school without taking any sort of biology course. And during college, as a chemistry major, the only biology course I took was a 1-quarter course on evolution that met the graduation requirements for my B. S. Degree (and which, because of the circumstances at that time, I barely remember). I would later take a biochemistry course at Truman and courses at the University of Memphis in biochemistry and bio-inorganic chemistry.

But at the time I graduated from Truman, I was, in no way eligible for certification to teach biology. (Interestingly enough, when I applied for my teaching certification in Tennessee, I was certified to teach biology but I haven’t a clue how that was accomplished.

On that basis alone, I shouldn’t even be worried about the issue whether or not the issue of creationism versus evolution should be presented in the biology classroom. But when any group of people get together and make decisions for which they are not qualified to make, then I get a little worried.

It is what we can call academic freedom. Now, one may decide that there are certain areas that need to be covered during the course of a school year and over the course of multiple years of school but that is called a curriculum and it should be and generally is decided by qualified individuals.

But when any legislature, be it at the local, state, or national level, decides to pass a law which clearly imposes the beliefs of one group on the whole population, you are stepping outside the boundaries of the curriculum and into the area of academic freedom.

Now, I do not know what the Missouri State Legislature was thinking back in 1984. I do know that the idea of any legislature thinking is something of an oxymoron and that no one’s life or liberty is safe when the legislature is in session (thank you, Molly Ivins!). And I do know that if that legislation had passed, I would have walked out of the classroom right behind my department chair, who taught the biology courses at that high school and was a deacon in his local Southern Baptist Church. While he may have had sympathy with the ideas behind the legislation, he also knew that it was a wrong idea and a clear infringement on the academic rights of teachers in the state of Missouri.

The Missouri Legislature did not pass the legislation back then, in part because the Arkansas Legislature did and it was overturned in a court case. But now, it would seem they are going to try and do it again.

Why is it that they are doing this? Don’t they know that if it does passes, it will be challenged just as other similar legislation has and it will, in all likelihood, be found unconstitutional? Or are they so incredibly dumb and incredibly stupid to think that this time they might get away with it?

Now, what I fear the most is that this might actually happen. Consider what has happened to our schools over the past say forty-five years (and that is a deliberate time frame). We have progressively moved away from the type of science and mathematics instruction that enabled us to create rockets that took people to the moon and began to search the horizons beyond the stars.

We have seen in the past month failures of lab safety that had the potential of injuring and killing thousands of people (and I thought it was just an episode of “Leverage”). And we honestly believe, as a society, that war is somehow better than peace and that turning away people who are hungry, homeless, and in fear of their lives is better than showing compassion, feeding them and working to make their lives better.

We watched with awe and amazement as two men, representing this country and the whole world, landed and walked on the moon forty-five years ago today. We rejoiced in the triumph of mind, body, and spirit that this event represented. But, as the cost of the Viet Nam war continued to grow, we found it harder and harder to justify research and exploration. Why is it that, even today, we find war and violence so much easier to do when it has never solved the problem? Why is that we can do so much more good in the world feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and working to remove the causes of oppression and injustice and do it for far less than the cost of a war?

Why is it that we even have to keep saying this? At what point will we, as a society, a people, a nation, and a planet, begin to understand than we seek to find the answers, we get results but when we create more problems, all we get is more problems?

Are we that so incredibly dumb and/or stupid that we cannot see the handwriting on the wall? Can we not see that as long as we see life individually we will only lose; that the only way to succeed is in collectively unity?

Why is it that the only ones who want to introduce legislation that basically destroys the minds of children are those who seek power and glory for themselves? Why is that those who oppose the helping of others seem so greedy? Do they oppose helping others because they think they will somehow lose all that they have stolen, legally or otherwise?

At some point in time, many years ago, I was challenged to look at the world around me and to seek ways to make it better. Maybe I haven’t done such a good job as I should have but I will keep trying.  And I shall ask what you are going to do.

“Hard Times”


Meditation for July 20, 2014, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

And the scripture tells us that Jacob took a stone and made a pillow out of it. Even now, so many years after I first read that passage, I still don’t see how Jacob slept that night.

My pillow is very special to me; I once had a pillow that carried my head at nights while growing up and going to school. It finally died, of course, and I have sought to find another one that gives me such comfort.

Maybe that’s why Jacob had the dream of the angels climbing the stairway to heaven. With a stone for a pillow, you aren’t going to be comfortable and perhaps a little more open to a dream. But in the end, that hard pillow leads to an encounter with God that says the future will be better than the present.

I cannot help but think that we are experiencing hard times. I will even admit that when I see the news and all the troubles that circle this world I begin to think that maybe those who have predicted these are the End Times may be right after all.

But the problem with that scenario, at least for me, is that those who prophecy that these are the End Times feel that only certain people are going to win and that it is all fixed. I have never really liked the idea that the outcome was fixed before we even started, though there have been times when I was certain I wasn’t playing on a level playing field (read the Bartlett High School in band competition in 1966 and 1967; but that’s for another time).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday would also suggest that there is a fixed outcome and that, come Judgement Day, the good will be separated from the evil, the good will survive and the evil will perish.

Where does that leave us? First, what seed are we that got planted in the field. In Clarence Jordan’s translation of Matthew, he uses the term “certified seed”. Farmers know that is seed that is clean and ready to plant, with no weeds or other items that might interfere with the planting process. That is seed that has been prepared for the planting; the seed that the enemy sows has just about everything imaginable in it and when it is planted, who knows what might pop up.

So, are we the seed that was certified? Are we the seed that has been processed and purified? If we are to be planted in the fields, it would be nice to know that we are ready to be planted.

My problem with a vision of the End that says that certain people will win and others will lose always says that this is worked out in advance. And that doesn’t give much hope to those people who aren’t on the “good” list.

But that isn’t what Jesus said or did? Yes, he did say that the good will survive and the bad will lose. But He also gave us the opportunity to become one of the good and cast away our bad life. And yes, that is a hard choice to make at times. We want the good life now, not later.

And yet, that is what Paul is telling the Romans; the good life comes later but you have to give up the bad life right now!

One of the things that you learn in chemistry is that reactions don’t always go right away. Certain factors have to be in place and occasionally you have to add a little something to the process to get the reaction going. But after the reaction gets going, things go pretty well.

Sure these are “hard times” but they will only remain such if we let them. We have been given a great opportunity to see a future that is beyond description but we have to make some choices right now.

Maybe we don’t need to sleep with a stone fr a pillow but I know that the decision not to follow Christ could cause us to toss and turn all night long, undoubtedly like Jacob must have done. In our discomfort, perhaps we will see the path that we will lead us out of our own hard times and into the good times.

But it doesn’t take a pillow of stone for us to change our lives; all it takes is for us to open our hearts and minds to Christ and give up the hard life of sin and death for the good life in Christ.

“How Many Methodists”


Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

This all came about because of Dave Faulkner’s Sermon on Acts 11: 1 – 9, “Acts – Explain Yourself!”. I think he makes some very good points about how we view change and what we need to consider about this process. But for the moment, my focus is going to be on his opening questions.

He begins with four essential changing light bulb questions:

  1. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

    Three, but they are really only one.

  2. How many agnostics does it take to change a light bulb?

    Agnostics question the existence of the light bulb.

  3. How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bubl?

    THE BIBLE * DOES * NOT * SAY * ANYTHING * ABOUT * LIGHT BULBS!

  4. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

Change? What’s this word change?

This prompted me to look for other Methodist and the art of changing light bulbs and this is what I found. It should be noted that several of these have been attributed to other denominations and religions as well but, for now, we will limit ourselves to the United Methodist Church.

How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Twenty-two: One to hold the ladder, one to climb the ladder, ten to form a committee to evaluate the effectiveness of the old light bulb, and ten to form a committee for a pot-luck to welcome in the new light bulb.
  • Change a light bulb???? Why…my grandmother gave that light bulb!!!!
  • “Change?!?” “You can’t change that light bulb! Harry Finnigan’s family gave that as a memorial during the big merger.”
  • Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved — you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. A church-wide lighting service is planned for Sunday, August 19. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.
  • This Statement was issued: “We neither affirm nor reject the use of a light bulb. If you have found a light bulb helpful in your journey, that is good. If one would wish, they could submit an original poem or interpretive dance about their light bulb, or light source, or non-dark resource, for the annual light bulb celebration, where a variety of light bulb traditions will be explored, including long-life, incandescent, three-way, and tinted, all of which are valid paths to luminescence.”
  • I think that about covers it for changing the light bulbs in a United Methodist Church. If I have missed one, please let me know.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”


Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?