“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?

“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?

“The Final Victory”


This was to be the devotional for Saturday, November 9th (25th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh). However, circumstances have forced us to suspend the operation of the Kitchen for the time being. It may be that we will resume operations in a few months but other factors suggest otherwise.

The Scriptures for this Sunday were Haggai 1: 15- 2: 9; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17; and Luke 20: 27 – 38. I focused primarily on the passages from 2 Thessalonians and Haggai but some of what was in Luke was in this piece as well.

Monday is an important day, at least for me. No, it’s not my birthday (that was back in September) and it’s not my anniversary (that’s in July). It has nothing to do with Grannie Annie or this Kitchen (that was last week). But it has all to do with who we are as a country and as a people and as a society. And yet, for all that Monday represents, we, in our wonderful manner, have reduced it to a blip on the calendar.

It has to be an important day because it is a national holiday though I doubt that many people could tell you why it is such a day. Today is Veteran’s Day and it is the day that we set aside so that we can completely and fully honor all those individuals who have served this country in war and peace throughout the years. Still, when we consider how many veterans of this country are treated when they come home, perhaps it would be better if we didn’t celebrate it all.

I sometimes think that we focus on celebrating such things in hopes that it will bring us the ultimate, the final victory. We have changed the name of this holiday from an indication that we had stopped fighting to one that suggests honoring all those who have fallen. And yet, when our veterans come home, we do little to honor them.

Now, do not think that I am opposed to honoring those who have served this country. If anything, we haven’t done enough to honor them. But I think that we, as a society, really don’t care about those who serve. We are more interested in who won the war, not how much it cost or what toll it takes on families, both here and in the countries where we fought. And what is worse, most people have probably forgotten how this day came about and what it meant.

The original name for November 11th was Armistice Day, for it was on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 at 11 in the morning that the shooting and killing in what we have come to call World War I ended. The war itself would not end for several months, until the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

The importance of this that I have my grandfather’s diary from that time in his life. It was a recording of the military action of the 34th Regiment of the 7th Division of the United States Army while fighting in France during 1918. In this diary, on 9 November 1918, he wrote

On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

Two days later, 11 November 1918, he wrote

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p. m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

That’s all he wrote. Nothing he wrote in this diary ever gave me a hint of his feelings about war, death or destruction. But there is a note at the beginning of the diary that, in the event of his death on the battlefield, that the finder of the diary find a way to get it to his wife, my grandmother. I think that for all that was not in the diary there was an understanding that death was always a possibility. For the record, my grandfather died some 37 years later, in peacetime and at home, among family and friends. Of course not everyone was so lucky as the words on so many marble head stones in the many national cemeteries throughout this country show us.

We have to realize that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the shooting stopped. This was not the end to the “War to end all wars” but merely a cessation of combat activities.

There was a distinct possibility that combat action might resume, as the notes in my Grandfather’s diary suggest, if the various parties did not sign the agreement.

Over the years, we have forgotten the war did not officially end until the signing of the Versailles treaty in April, 1919. And while I am not a historian, I would hazard a guess that many historians will tell you that the unofficial beginning of World War II began at that moment.

As I have watched the various shows about World War I that appear on the various cable channels, I have been continually amazed about what we don’t know about what happened then. The one thing that has always struck me was the vindictiveness of the French and English in setting the terms for the treaty of Versailles. If there was ever a clear cut cause for World War II, it can be found in that single document.

The conditions imposed by that treaty would set the stage for the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. I sometimes wonder if we are not doing the same thing with our various wars today. And yet, we keep on sending people off to war, in hopes of achieving that final, elusive victory.

We as a society want a finality to things; we don’t want things to drag on. But we are unwilling to work for the finality; we are unwilling, and perhaps unable, to find a way to remove the causes that bring about war and violence.

Paul’s warning to the people of Thessalonica is very clear. Be wary of the false preachers, the ones who proclaim these are the End Times, the time of Christ’s final victory. Paul is very clear in his words that while Christ’s time reaches into the the past and is clearly in the present, it also reaches into the future. If we think that these are the End Times, Paul would tell you that you had better think again.

Some might say that the reading from the Gospel about the widow and the seven brothers might not apply to these thoughts today. But I think they just might. Jesus rebukes the authorities for the blindness in seeking a solution to a hypothetical situation through the laws of society. (It may not be all that hypothetical; I have a cousin who married two of three sisters but that’s another story for another time).

Can we see beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law? Or do we get so caught up in staying within the constraints of the law, we fail to see what might happen?

In the passage for Haggai, we read about the people rebuilding the Temple after its destruction. It is not a time for vindictiveness but a time for rebuilding, a time to begin again.

As long as we are more concerned with who won the war, we are never going to be in a position to rebuild and restart. Jesus did not come to enforce the law but to go beyond the law, to restore the connection between the people and God.

I think that, on this day, when we honor those who have served this country, as we plant flags on the white marble headstones, we can do one of two things. We can remain locked up in the legalistic and limited view of the world that says the answer to war is more war. If this is what we think, then we need to get more land because there will be more dead to bury.

Or we can think about the love of God for all of his people and work to make sure that love is expressed in every language in every nation by every person today, tomorrow and for the days to come. That will be the final victory.

Bringing Peace To An Often Violent World


Micah Royal (“Progressive Redneck Preacher”) is doing a series of posts on peace and the Christian’s call to find peace with justice.  I hope that you will follow what he is writing because the more that we focus on finding peace with justice the more likely we are to eliminate war and violence as a means of solving this world’s problems.

For me, the idea of peace is not just something on an international level but often times within the boundaries of our own country and within the boundaries of our cities.  It is what we do at that level which will do much to bring the promises echoed in the readings from Jeremiah for the next weeks to fruition.

And then there is the Congress.  To find peace, you must be aware of the injustice that comes from confrontation.  The Senate this morning was very bluntly reminded of the tasks before them.  The following was in an e-mail that I received this morning:

Senate Chaplain Shows His Disapproval During Morning Prayer

By JEREMY W. PETERS

Published: October 6, 2013

WASHINGTON — The disapproval comes from angry constituents, baffled party elders and colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. But nowhere have senators found criticism more personal or immediate than right inside their own chamber every morning when the chaplain delivers the opening prayer.

“Save us from the madness,” the chaplain, a Seventh-day Adventist, former Navy rear admiral and collector of brightly colored bow ties named Barry C. Black, said one day late last week as he warmed up into what became an epic ministerial scolding.

“We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride,” he went on, his baritone voice filling the room. “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

So it has gone every day for the last week when Mr. Black, who has been the Senate’s official man of the cloth for 10 years, has taken one of the more rote rituals on Capitol Hill — the morning invocation — and turned it into a daily conscience check for the 100 men and women of the United States Senate.

Inside the tempestuous Senate chamber, where debate has degenerated into daily name-calling — the Tea Party as a band of nihilists and extortionists, and Democrats as socialists who want to force their will on the American people —  Mr. Black’s words manage to cut through as powerful and persuasive.

During his prayer on Friday, the day after officers from the United States Capitol Police shot and killed a woman who had used her car as a battering ram, Mr. Black noted that the officers were not being paid because of the government shutdown.

Then he turned his attention back to the senators. “Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism,” he said. “Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”

Senator Harry Reid, the pugnacious majority leader who has called his Republican adversaries anarchists, rumps and hostage takers, took note. As Mr. Black spoke, Mr. Reid, whose head was bowed low in prayer, broke his concentration and looked straight up at the chaplain.

“Following the suggestion in the prayer of Admiral Black,” the majority leader said after the invocation, seeming genuinely contrite, “I think we’ve all here in the Senate kind of lost the aura of Robert Byrd,” one of the historical giants of the Senate, who prized gentility and compromise.

In many ways, Mr. Black, 65, is like any other employee of the federal government who is fed up with lawmakers’ inability to resolve the political crisis that has kept the government closed for almost a week. He is not being paid. His Bible study classes, which he holds for senators and their staff members four times a week, have been canceled until further notice.

His is a nonpartisan position, one of just a few in the Senate, and he prefers to leave his political leanings vague. He was chosen in 2003 by Senator Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican who was the majority leader at the time, from a group of finalists selected by a bipartisan committee. Before that he ministered in the Navy for nearly 30 years.

“I use a biblical perspective to decide my beliefs about various issues,” Mr. Black said in an interview in his office suite on the third floor of the Capitol. “Let’s just say I’m liberal on some and conservative on others. But it’s obvious the Bible condemns some things in a very forceful and overt way, and I would go along with that condemnation.”

Last year, he participated in the Hoodies on the Hill rally to draw attention to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. In 2007, after objections from groups that did not like the idea of a Senate chaplain appearing alongside political figures, he canceled a speech he was scheduled to give at an evangelical event featuring, among others, Tony Perkins of the conservative Focus on the Family and the columnist and author Ann Coulter.

Mr. Black, who is the first black Senate chaplain as well as its first Seventh-day Adventist, grew up in public housing in Baltimore, an experience he draws on in his sermons and writings, including a 2006 autobiography, “From the Hood to the Hill.”

In his role as chaplain, a position that has existed since 1789, he acts as a sounding board, spiritual adviser and ethical counselor to members of the Senate. When he prays each day, he said, he recites the names of all 100 senators and their spouses, reading them from a laminated index card.

It is not uncommon for him to have 125 people at his Bible study gatherings or 20 to 30 senators at his weekly prayer breakfast. He officiates weddings for Senate staff members. He performs hospital visitations. And he has been at the side of senators when they have died, most recently Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii in December.

He tries to use his proximity to the senators — and the fact that for at least one minute every morning, his is the only voice they hear — to break through on issues that he feels are especially urgent. Lately, he said, they seem to be paying attention.

“I remember once talking about self-inflicted wounds — that captured the imagination of some of our lawmakers,” he said. “Remember, my prayer is the first thing they hear every day. I have the opportunity, really, to frame the day in a special way.”

His words lately may be pointed, but his tone is always steady and calm.

“May they remember that all that is necessary for unintended catastrophic consequences is for good people to do nothing,” he said the day of the shutdown deadline.

“Unless you empower our lawmakers,” he prayed another day, “they can comprehend their duty but not perform it.”

The House, which has its own chaplain, liked what it heard from Mr. Black so much that it invited him to give the invocation on Friday.

“I see us playing a very dangerous game,” Mr. Black said as he sat in his office the other day. “It’s like the showdown at the O.K. Corral. Who’s going to blink first? So I can’t help but have some of this spill over into my prayer. Because you’re hoping that something will get through and that cooler heads will prevail.”