“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.

“Our New Operating System”


I am at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday. Services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Here are my thoughts for the 7th Sunday of Epiphany (Year A), 23 February 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18;3: 10 – 23; and Matthew 5: 38 – 48.

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The title for today’s message is an interesting one, don’t you think? It reflects some of the thoughts I had while I was reading the Scripture readings for today and seeing if I could install, or rather, have a new operating system installed on my netbook. It turned out that the installation was not as simple as I envisioned and it required skills that I had not used in quite some time.

Now, I have always been interested in computers and computing technology but, as the machines have developed and evolved, my own interests moved from computer programming towards how one can best use computers, computer technology, and information technology in one’s own daily life. I am quite happy to let others build the machines and then write and refine the programs that allow me to do and make it a little easier to accomplish.

My choice of sayings for the thoughts of the day reflect that evolution and change in computers. If I had had the space to include them, I would have added the statement made in 1943 by the chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson,

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

I would have followed that statement with one made in Popular Mechanics in 1949 where, forecasting the relentless march of science, it was proclaimed that

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

I could then add the comment made by an unnamed engineer in the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM in 1968 about the microchip,

“But what … is it good for?”

Of course, it was the microchip and its subsequent development that has lead to the existence of computers in so much of our lives.

I wonder how Ken Olson, president and founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation feels about the statement he made in 1997 that

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

And finally there is that definitive statement by Bill Gates in 1981 that

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

Today, of course, we operate with computer memories in the gigabytes and have devices in our home and work that operate on chips with greater computer power than the limit proposed by Mr. Gates some thirty years ago. What I find personally interesting is that many of the memory sticks that are so common today have many times more memory capability than did the Apollo spacecrafts that went to and landed on the moon in the late 60s and early 70s.

It would be unfair to say that each of these “prophecies” was a failure. Each of these statements was a reflection of the time and the knowledge available at that time. It was a statement that this is were we are at and where we are going to be. I am sure that similar statements have been made by many in today’s society, statements that place a limit on what we can and cannot do.

The noted philosopher, Charles Handy, pointed out that we live at a time where it seems that the more we know, the more confused we get. And as we increase our technological capacity, we also seem to become more powerless.

We call for an end to wars yet we see more wars as the solution. And while we have developed some of the most sophisticated armaments in the history of the world, we can only watch impotently while parts of the world kill each other and we are entrapped in wars of our own making (italics added as my own thought).

We grow more food than we need but we somehow cannot feed the starving. We offer feeding programs but the food often given out is loaded with sugar and carbohydrates which leads to an increase in diabetes.

We can unravel the mysteries of the galaxies yet we cannot understand other humans. We know that learning takes time but we demand immediate results from education. We call for quality education but we seem to think that funding education is wasteful.

We call for an end to poverty but our solution is to allow the rich to keep their money such that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, not decreased, over the past few years.

We demand the truth and we will listen to any prophet who can tell us what the future holds. But prophets do not foretell the future. What they do is tell the truth as they see it; they warn of dangers ahead if the present course is not changed. They point out what they think is wrong, unjust or prejudiced. They offer a way to clarify and concentrate the mind.

But they cannot tell the people what to do, despite the fact that is what many people want them to do. It was Jesus who told us that we should seek the truth and the truth will set us free but we are afraid of that truth. (from “The Age of Paradox”, Charles Handy; first referenced in “To Build A New Community”)

We say we are solving the problems but in doing so only create more problems. We create rules and laws to solve the problems but which only create barriers and walls that entrap and enslave us.

This is not to say that we cannot go beyond the limits of today’s society; it is more proper to say that innovation and creativity exist in an environment that encourages one to look beyond the boundaries, to peek around the corner and over the horizon. But you cannot do so if you are limited by rules and regulations or when others seek to impose their definitions and beliefs on you.

It has long been noted that the first thing that John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA, did at the beginning of each basketball season was to teach his players how to put on their socks and basketball shoes. And he reminded them that their hair could only be so long.

To the players, such rules were an imposition on them, rules designed for the coach to control them. But as they learned, such rules were not to limit them but to allow them to play.

By insisting that their socks and shoes be put on in a particular manner, Coach Wooden was insuring that they would not get blisters on their feet and thus be prevented from playing. The rule about the length of a player’s hair was not a fashion statement but rather an acknowledgement that long hair would prove to be an impediment when playing.

Player after player will tell you that they did not understand Coach Wooden’s rules when they were playing but after their playing days were over, they found that rules provided the basis for the success in their lives, whether it was in basketball or elsewhere.

And for me, there was a degree of comfort in knowing that Coach Wooden found his own success in Christ.

Charles Handy, the noted philosopher, noted Jesus changed the thinking of the time by teaching that the meek should inherit the earth, the poor would be blessed and the first would be last in the ultimate scheme of things. (Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason, pg 23) In doing so, Jesus challenged the system and caused people to think in an entirely different manner. You cannot be a true Christian unless you are willing to change your thinking and see things in a new way. You cannot do this in a solely rational manner; you must have a vision based on faith. By the same token, you cannot see new things in a new way based on faith alone; you must be able to act in a rational manner. (adapted from “A New Order Of Things”)

We can easily see the Book of Leviticus as a set of laws, rules, and regulations that tell us how to live. In fact, there are many today who seek to have that accomplished today.

But if we look carefully at the rules that are the reading for today, we find that they are more than that. From the very first statement, “Be holy as I am holy” to the ending verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” these verses show how the holiness of the Holy One is to be lived out in our daily live and how we treat and do not treat our neighbors. These verses are the biblical ground for what John Wesley would later call “social holiness.”

Wesley would also put it this way, social holiness is the way we watch over one another in love. It was a way to help early Methodists fulfill the three General Rules:

  1. Do no harm
  2. Do good
  3. Stay in love with God

The organization of the early Methodist church, the Methodist bands, class meetings and societies, was done to help the early Methodists fulfill these rules. But it was not meant to be a simple checklist of personal actions (I have done this, this and this today); rather it was meant to be a way of actively working and witnessing against evil and for good in the general society. It was, if you will, the basis for an operating system, a way to live one’s life to the fullest.

Jesus takes the call from Leviticus to love one’s neighbor further. He reminds us that in God’s Kingdom we are called to love not just our neighbors but those who harm us, oppress us, and seek to destroy us. Offer those who harm you the other cheek; give those who steal our outer garments all your clothes; offer to walk an extra mile when you are compelled to walk one. Give liberally to those who beg and want to borrow from you. Counter those who would steal with a generosity they weren’t expecting and give those lacking in love and who seek to harm you the perfection in love they sorely lack.

In those verses of Matthew, Jesus offers a way to turn the evil intentions of one’s opponents back on themselves for all to see. And in doing so, in going against what would seem to be the norm and usual response, Jesus was calling us to experience and exercise the perfection in love that was possible with the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This is our new operating system, one that takes us beyond the norms and visions of society, one that takes us into the new world of God’s Kingdom.

Just as I found that my own skills and abilities were insufficient to make the changes I wanted for the operating system of my computer, so too are my skills and abilities insufficient for making significant changes in this world that would allow God’s Kingdom to be realized. But it is not up to me, nor can it ever be up to me, to achieve that sort of outcome.

Paul writes to the Corinthians,

Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool—that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid.

Our responses to the actions, words, thoughts, and deeds of this world cannot be the same. That is what Jesus was saying; those are the rules for living first stated in Leviticus. If God loved us, then we must show that same sort of love. The love for one’s neighbor first expressed in Leviticus is also shown by loving our enemies as well.

There are too many examples, both throughout the pages of history and in our own lives, that tell us our own vision of the future is limited. And yet there is Jesus telling us that we can reach beyond the horizon, we can see around the corner and the vision of God’s Kingdom is there if we were but to see.

Our choice today is very simple. We can continue using the same operating system we have now and get the same results that we have always gotten. Or we can open our hearts, minds, and souls to Christ and accept the new operating system that is offered. And in doing so, we know that the world will change. The choice is ours, what will it be?

“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.

“There Was A Football Game Last Night”


Yes, I know that there was a football game last night and I know who won. But I didn’t watch the game and really wasn’t interested in it. Oh, I know who played (how can anyone not know that?) and I know who won (even the BBC radio news I listen to gave the score).

Still, I know it makes me some sort of oddball in today’s society but for a variety of reasons, I just don’t get interested in the Super Bowl that much any more.

On Saturday, WFUV (Fordham University) hosts a sports call-in show and they were broadcasting from the media center in New York City. They were asking people to call in with their own personal Super Bowl moments but I never got the chance to do so.

But it got me thinking. And as I was working on my notes for this coming Sunday (“The Master Lesson” at Sloatsburg United Methodist Church; services there start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend) I came across a comment I made a couple of years ago concerning the first game between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

. . . the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in what was billed as the “NFL – AFL World Championship Game.” The term “Super Bowl” didn’t get attached to the game until the 1970 game, when the Chiefs met the Minnesota Vikings and beat them. And while Super Bowls are a virtual sell-out once the game site is announced, there were plenty of empty seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum for that first championship game. By the way, tickets for that game costs upwards of $12.00; that might get you a parking place at today’s game

Interestingly enough, there are no video tapes of that first game as the tapes were reused because no one thought that the game would have the status that it does today. Clearly, that didn’t happen. The game is no longer just a game between league champions on a Sunday afternoon; it has evolved into a multi-hour spectacular with companies spending millions and millions of dollars for a few moments of advertising time (even when research suggests that the return for that moment is miniscule at best). Half-time at a Super Bowl has taken on a life of its own, with entertainment superstars vying for the right to headline the half-time.

Today’s Super Bowl game will be broadcast to practically every country on the globe that has a radio or television station and probably in most of the languages that people speak. It will almost certainly be broadcast on the Armed Forces radio and television networks so that serviceman abroad can have a taste of home. But it will also be broadcast to countries where football is played by kicking a round ball; it will almost certainly be viewed as curiosity to many of those viewers.

I have nothing against football but I no longer care about professional football. I have, on occasion, noted that the most common words uttered by a football official at an elementary, junior-high or high school game is “this isn’t Sunday, coach.” Too many coaches spend all their time watching the professional games in hopes of finding a play that will bring their team success instead of focusing on the fundamentals of the game. (from “What Is Our Focus?”)

My memories of the Super Bowl are of those first games when they were really games, not the extravaganzas they have become and truly statements about the quality of play in the AFL. But that was because I was always an AFL fan and not necessarily a NFL fan (though the St. Louis Cardinals of the 60s were a favorite team of mine because of my family ties to St. Louis and because the quarterback at that time, Charley Johnson, had degrees in chemical engineering while I was beginning work on my own chemistry degree).

If I were to say favorite Super Bowls, it would have to be the 1969 game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets and the 1970 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Minnesota Vikings.

The ’69 game is the one where Joe Namath guaranteed a victory over the colts. After the way the Packers had dominated the Chiefs and the Raiders in the first two games of this series, everyone automatically assumed that the NFL team was the better team. And they were aghast at the audacity of Joe Namath to make such a pronouncement. But he was a good quarterback and he knew what it would take to win and he delivered! I had to work in the college library that Sunday and could only get a chance to zip over the Student Union every now and then to see how the game was progressing.

What I remember from the 1970 game comes from some of the highlights of Hank Stram, the coach of the Chiefs, chortling and joking about what was happening on the field as the Chiefs defeated the Vikings.

Somewhere in the future, I may get interested in the game again but it isn’t going to be any time soon. With all that is going on the world right now, the one thing we don’t need are gladiatorial contests. As I have said when I was coaching, if you can convince me that the outcome of this game will make the sun come up in the west tomorrow morning, then I will be concerned. Until that time, it is just a game and I will treat it as such.

“The Latest Scheme”


It is interesting to see how the Internet has changed things.

Let’s start off with those innumerable e-mails that warn of some impending doom and disaster coming and we need to flood the bandwidth with notes to our friends, neighbors, cohorts and persons we haven’t even met. And don’t forget all those wonderful messages from various and sundry agencies warning us that our accounts have been comprised and we need to contact them immediately or our accounts will be terminated. All this has done is lead to a new term in the internet lexicology, “phishing”. I have put notes about similar problems in “An Emerging Technical Problem”and “Continuing Thoughts on Emerging Technical Problems”.

There there were those e-mails from Nigerian bankers informing us that we could get untold sums of money, provided we send them a down payment and our checking account information.  As I noted in a previous piece, I even got an e-mail from the FBI once asking for my assistance in tracking down those same Nigerian bankers.

Then, we started receiving e-mails from our friends telling us that there were stranded somewhere in Europe without any assistance and that they needed our help getting home. (Never mind that if you can get a U. S. Consular office or embassy, that pretty much takes care of the problem.)

Some of us have even been invited to give a talk or presentation overseas but the organizers need a few extra bucks from us to resolve issues related to the visa and travel permits (see “There’s A Sermon In Here Somewhere But First A Warning!”)

So it is not surprising that the efforts at easy money have shifted back to the telephone. How many people have received phone calls from Microsoft Tech Support informing us that there are viruses on our computer? All we need to do is let them install some software on our computer that will remove those viruses. Of course, in doing this, you have now let a real virus come into your system and it can now go out into the world and multiply. And you probably better not use the credit card that you gave them because they maxed that out a long time ago.

When these scammers refer to Windows, I sometimes mention that I work in a windowless office and sit by the door. Other times I wonder why my Mac has Windows.

But the new scam is the one we received yesterday informing us that the Government is going to give us $8400! Of course, all we have to do is give them our credit card information or our checking account and routing numbers and we will have our funds within 45 minutes. This one got real interesting when I asked the individual for some form of identification, such as their Social Security number. They hung up.

In this time, when things are rough, it becomes very easy to think that any of these requests are real. But the one thing is that most of what these will do is make life rougher, not easier.  See “Let’s Think About This For A Moment” for some additional thoughts on some of the e-mails and blog posts we get at times.

So if you need a laugh to avoid from crying, get a copy of the “Bad Times Virus”.

“The Real Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah”


I am watching a show on cable about the various mysteries of the Bible and how we might be able to explain them.  It does make for some interesting reading and it also makes the viewer think about what they know.

For instance, one of the episodes discusses what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah and talks about the sinful nature of the people of that area.  What is interesting is that the sin of this people is perhaps not what we think but rather that they were very inhospitable to visitors.

There is a contrast between the nomadic life of the early people of the Bible where kindness to strangers was essential and the sedentary life of people living in the developing cities.

Now, I am not a Biblical scholar but if this is the sin of these cities, what does this say about various issues before us today that we so often associate with those two long-vanished towns?

“A Moral Imperative”


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany (Year A), 19 January 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 49: 1 – 7, 1 Corinthians 1: 1 – 9, and John 1: 29 – 42. This is also Human Relations Sunday.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I am Southern born and Southern bred and when I die I will be Southern dead. I am also the son of an Air Force officer and the grandson of an Army officer. As a result, though I was born in Virginia, I grew up in a variety of states and have worked in another group of states. All together, this combination provides for a unique view of society and the world; a view that does not hold to many of the traditions so often associated with the South.

You cannot expect someone who attended as many elementary, junior high and high schools as I did to not wonder why the rules at one school in one state are so dramatically different from the rules of another school in another state. Why is that every kid can go to the same school in Colorado but some kids have to go to one school in Alabama while other kids of the same age have to go to another one? Why is that high school bands in Colorado and Missouri had ample funds (at least, back when I went to school) but high school bands in Tennessee had to scrap for funds? Somewhere along the way, as I was growing up in Virginia, Alabama, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, and Tennessee, I began to question certain aspects of society in terms of economics and race. There are questions that still need to be asked today and have expanded way beyond what they were in the 1960s.

Now, you have to know that my parents were very conservative and this questioning attitude and the actions that I undertook to answer my questions did not always set well with them. But they raised my siblings and myself to think and act independently and to know that 1) we were responsible for our actions, whatever the result, and 2) we would be loved no matter what. And over time, their conservatism mellowed and the views on war and equality began to change.

The Old Testament and Epistle readings for today speak to much of what I feel today. The Old Testament reading speaks of Isaiah seeing no value to the work that he has done at the local level but God telling him, in essence, to look beyond the horizon and see a bigger picture and know that his work does have some impact. Paul speaks of the gifts that God has given each one of us.

I know that the gifts and skills that I have are from God and I know that I have not always used them in the way that best serves God. There are times when it has been clear that my gifts and talents have been squandered and I have not done what needed to be done.

But I know that I have heard, in several different ways, the call to go out into the word and do the work of God. It requires seeing each person, no matter who they are, not in the context of their local setting but as members of God’s Kingdom and as such (and to borrow words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), measured by the content of their character and nothing else, not their race, their economic status, their sexuality, or place in life.

And while I may see the impact of the words of Isaiah and Paul in terms of my own life, I know that they are words spoken to each person on this planet, whomever they may be. Granted, it means that I, along with others, have to tell the people what those words are. It does not mean that those who hear those words must accept them but you cannot determine the path that you wish to walk if you do not know what lies ahead.

We live in a day and age where greed, violence, hatred, and war are commonplace occurrences and where the response to each of these plagues on science is often times more of the same. The Gospel message that offers promise, hope, and freedom is often times cast aside as meaningless and without substance.

The problem is that too many times those who often so proclaim themselves as followers of Christ are among the leaders who promote hatred, greed, violence and war. They do so because 1) they see only the present and the local, not the future and the world; and 2) because that’s the way they have been taught.

And when the time comes they teach what they know without seeing alternatives or options; they have no desire to see beyond their own limits. And one cannot often blame them, for when you teach others to think beyond the present, to think of the future and what might happen, you give them the chance to change the world. And changing the world today is a threat to those in power. 

And if nothing else and whatever the cost, we have to begin changing the world, both in terms of what is done, what is to be done, and how we teach the world.  This is a very frightening thought because it goes against almost everything done up to this part.  In fact, it goes against everything we have been taught but what we have been taught and what are children are being taught is designed to keep those who have the power in power and not open up the horizons of life.

In today’s Gospel reading, there is a transfer of power from the prophecy of John the Baptist to the mission of Jesus. But it is also about what happens to us when we meet Jesus Christ for the first time. Simon, brother of Andrew, comes to Jesus but leaves as Peter, the Rock upon whom the church will be built. Meeting Jesus is a life changing moment. When we meet Jesus, our names may remain the same but our lives do not. We cannot expect that what we will tomorrow to be the same that we did yesterday.

When I selected the title for this piece, it was with the assumption that it had been used at some time in the past. And while it had been used, it was not by the individuals that I thought would have used it. I thought of John Kennedy’s comments concerning the need for a comprehensive civil rights bill in the 1960s and I thought about what Dr. King had said on any number of occasions but neither used the term that I had selected.

I am reminded of the words that Senator Edward Kennedy spoke at his brother’s, Robert Kennedy, funeral, “of how he saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

There is a moral imperative in our lives today; it is that yearning in our soul to make sure that all of the people of this world are free and treated equally, that war and violence, poverty and hunger have no place on this planet and that the change that must be made begin with each one of us.

There may be a few who read these words and say that there is no God, there is no Christ, and they will have to determine where that call for justice comes from if it does not come from God through Christ. But I believe that call comes from God and that I have to answer it as such. And I have made my choice to follow Christ and seek to do what I can in His Name to make sure that Gospel message is fulfilled.

The challenge for each one of us is find ways, individually and collectively, to do the same.

“Pardon Me, Do You Know The Way To Bethlehem?”


Here are my thoughts for 5 January 2014, the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday (Year A). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 – 12.

A couple of things – I didn’t post anything for last Sunday but if I had I would have compared what transpired in Israel with the slaughter of the innocents with what is transpiring in this country with the cuts being made in our social programs and what is transpiring in other countries such as Syria where children are being killed with the same ease as those who are intent on fighting. Somehow I just can’t escape the notion that we haven’t learned that when you do harm to the welfare of the young and innocent, you don’t give yourself much of a future.

The second note I wanted to make was that I had promised to write something with the title of this post for a youth group to give as a devotional. I want to apologize to that group for not getting it done. In my defense, I am finding it difficult to be creative at the moment. I might be able to use what follows later and prepare something that can be done by a group.

Along those lines, I chose the title because this is the Sunday that the wise men (number unknown) arrived at the home of Joseph and Mary. We know from the scriptures that they were essentially astronomers (thought we would probably call them astrologers today) and had determined by their observations of the night sky that something unique was taking place.

Now, just as I would have compared the situation in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s rage with what we are doing to our children last week, let us think about what is transpiring with our society, country, and throughout the world today.

Each day we get evidence that we are getting dumber and dumber each day. Whether it be in what we know about human qualities or science matters, we are unwilling and unable to sufficiently analyze the information before us and make informed and accurate decisions. I don’t have any data but I suspect that if we were to quantify the number of conspiracy based theories floating around the universe and/or the Internet today, we would find that the number has increased significantly over the past twenty years or so.

And I would be willing to wager that our standing relative to other countries in terms of mathematics, science, history, and reading has fallen at the same time.

Let’s face it; we are quickly becoming incapable of thinking for ourselves. And there are quite a few individuals who would be glad and are working towards reaching the goal where they will do our thinking for us.

Now, some people will gladly point out that religion has a hand in it but it is not religion that is leading us astray. It is those leaders who feel that they and they alone know what is the best path to take and what are the best thoughts to think. These leaders work very well in the darkness of ignorance and will do whatever it takes to keep the people there.

But the prophet Isaiah calls for the people of Israel to be in the light, to see what is coming. You know that if you keep people in the dark, they can’t see what’s coming and if you can’t see what’s coming, you will not be prepared.

I have said it before and I will keep saying it. Our schools are not preparing students for the unknown problems; they are preparing for the problems that are already solved. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that when they assign problems for homework, they have to make sure that the answers are in the back of the book. If they give any other problems, they will hear about it from the administration and the parents.

Even Paul points out that, under normal situations, he might not understand much of what he writes. But he also acknowledges that there was a moment in his life when he gained that understanding.

In some circles, that is called the “AHA Moment”, that moment when a hard problem becomes very easy to understand. We should have all had such a moment in our life but it only comes when your mental skills and thinking processes are tested. And I think that we would all agree that Saul was truly tested that one day on the road to Damascus, sufficient that not only was his mind opened to Christ but his life changed and he became known from then on as Paul.

The wise men were clearly students of the sky, seeking answers to many questions. Whatever it was that they saw, individually and/or collectively, was sufficient to cause them to leave their lands and travel to Israel and seek out Jesus.

You cannot seek out Jesus if your heart is closed; you will never know who Jesus is for you unless your mind is open as well. In our churches today, we are faced with a dilemma. There are those who come to the doors of many churches asking where the child born in Bethlehem may be found. But they do not get an answer because many people do not know the answer or they are unwilling or unable to share the knowledge.

So, do you know the way to Bethlehem? Can you help a traveler find the way?