“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.

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”

“What Is The Role Of The Church Today?”


Thoughts on the state of the church in today’s society

I am prompted to write the following as I continue on a study of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and think about what this all means to us today.

What is the role of the church in today’s society? Is it the moral authority of the world? If it is and it does nothing to condemn evil and injustice in the world, how good is that authority?

Can a church dictate to individuals how to live one’s life when it offers no alternative or refuses to see alternatives?

What is the individual’s responsibility in all of this?

If the church is the ultimate authority, then do individuals have any responsibility at all? On the other hand, if each individual takes responsibility for their own moral conduct, where does that leave the church?

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?

“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.

“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.