“Why Is It”


That We Seem So Either Incredibly Stupid or Incredibly Dumb?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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?

“The Real Final Exam”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prayer for Today, This Society, and This World


Something inside was not comfortable at noon when I turned on the TV and then when I went to CNN I knew why.  I have been impressed by the prayer capability of this class and feel that we need to focus on praying that this epidemic of gun violence which is sweeping this nation and this world be stopped.  I know that guns are not necessarily the problem but they are the means by which so many people see the solution to their problem.

Let us pray that we find ways to peacefully resolve the issues between individuals, groups, and nations and that the use of violence as the means to solving problems be reduced and eliminated.  May the peace that is the Holy Spirit descend on all the people this hour and this day.

“Where Are We Headed?”


Mediation for 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

25 May 2014

Memorial Day

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.

The title for this piece was going to be “The One True God” and I was going to focus on Paul’s comments to the Athenians about their unknown god and our society’s focus on other gods, such as money and material.

And part of what I was going to say was how we have transformed a day to honor all those who have died in the service to their country into a day to satisfy our own needs. I was going to also point out (and I had this thought long before the present scandal in the VA erupted) that while we give some degree of honor to those who have died, we care very little about those who were wounded, injured, or maimed during the course of the combat activities or as a result of their combat. And this lack of care goes a long way back and is not limited to just the current administration. It was also pointed out by some that those who blame the current political administration of this country were among those who voted against increasing or at least maintaining benefits for current veterans.

I wish that was the only problem we were facing at this time but the shooting in the Santa Barbara area Friday evening along with the shooting in Brussels on Saturday spoke to our preoccupation with violence as a solution to our problems. I don’t know all the details about the Brussels shooting but it would be an easy guess that it was predicated on violence and hatred, perhaps not of the three who were killed but on a group of people.

And it would be easy to blame the system for failing to warn us about the young man in California. We can’t blame the guns because he bought them legally and cleared all the proper legal checks. And no matter what his mental state was, he saw the solution to his own problems in terms of violence.

And while all of this individual versus individual violence was going on (and how much more happened that we did not hear about?), there were at least three violent attacks against society with car bombs and armed militia involved. The one thing that I think these attacks have in common is that they were initiated by religious fundamentalists who seek to impose their version of religious law on the populace.

There are days when I think that we are on the verge of the end times, what with all the weather-related problems and the societal-problems. But I also know that those who would loudly proclaim such news also say that the solution to the problem is the imposition of their own version of religious law. The book that these fundamentalists use may be different from the book that the other fundamentalists use and their methods, for the moment, may be less violent but in the end they want to impose their own beliefs and values on all the people of this globe, no matter who they are or what they believe.

And the hallmark of fundamentalists, at least for me, is that you are not to question the authority of those who lead, only blindly accept what they say as the truth.

Within the United Methodist Church is a group of 80 pastors who have this view and they are willing to destroy the denomination if that means that their views are the dominant ones. These 80 individuals hide behind the curtain of anonymity and no one outside their own group knows who they are. But they have made it clear that theirs is the view that counts the most and that makes me wonder.

First, since I don’t hold those same views, what will they do with me if they gain control of the denomination. What will they do to my chosen vocation of chemistry and science when I am ordered to believe that this universe, planet, and the life on it was created in a span of six days? Will their drive for a legal truth destroy the lives and careers of people who seek the truth using the mind that God gave them?

Perhaps the scripture that I should have used was from last week when Thomas asked Christ where we are headed and Philip asked how would we know when we got there.

I see a society that may not believe as these unknown leaders do but they are not willing to say anything against them. There seems to me a blind acceptance of the moment by too many people in society today, a willingness to accept what is happening with perhaps a hope that something better will come.

There is clearly a societal wide fear of the unknown, a fear so large that we are unwilling to venture beyond the safety of our present state, no matter how hypocritical that might be.

My greatest fear is not the unknown but that we are unprepared to solve the next problem. We actually know all the answers to the present questions (though not all are in the back of the book) but we don’t know the answers to the questions that haven’t been asked and we don’t have the ability to find the answers.

In his words to the congregation today, Peter points out that we do have the answer, though we may have forgotten it. The words of Christ, written in John today, speak of what we have been given as well.

Christ did not give us a set of rules; He gave us a way of Life. He spoke of the Way, the direction we needed to be headed.

With yesterday (May 24th) being Aldersgate Day, we are reminded of what happened to John Wesley and how his legalistic, formal approach to living really didn’t work. But that moment that he accepted the Holy Spirit, things began to change.

Perhaps it is time that we forsake the gods of violence and hatred, of money and material. Perhaps it would be best if we sought the solution instead of relying on others to lead us. Quite honestly, I don’t think they know where they are going.

Perhaps it is time that we seek Christ. Then we will know where we are headed.

“What Path Will You Take?”


Which Path Will You Take?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Message yet again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A New And Darker Age”


A New and Darker Age

I haven’t been posting much lately. Let’s just say that a combination of writer’s block and personal issues have put some obstacles in my way. But things are slowly but surely improving and this should help resolve the personal issues. In the meantime, let’s see what we can do about chipping away at that writer’s block that has been hampering my creativity.

A note to begin this piece – I began thinking about this piece over a week ago. I noticed the other day that the three readings for March 30th, the 4th Sunday in Lent (Year A) would have fit rather nicely into the framework of this piece.

Yesterday was April 4th and it is a day that, while not necessarily a national holiday, should be a day in which we stop and contemplate the direction that we are taking. As I hope you, the faithful reader, know, I am a 1968 graduate of Nicholas Blackwell High School in Bartlett, Tennessee. The school is now more formally known as it always has been, Bartlett High School, and it is a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. That combination of time and place should give you some indication of my thoughts concerning April 4, 1968. If not, please revisit “Where Were You On April 4, 1968?” and On This Day”.

As I wrote then, I think we have turned away from the direction we as a country were taking back then and everything that we were working for then has disappeared. And that is what lead me to write this piece.

If you are like me, the “Dark Ages” were 1) a period of time studied in our high school history class and 2) a period of time where nothing much happened. Wikipedia indicates, in effect, that this was a period of time when human creativity and innovation slowed down. Fortunately it did not come to a complete stop.

The problem with this view of the “Dark Ages” is that it is primarily a Western viewpoint, one that only applies to Europe. Cultures in the Middle and Far East were alive and very productive. This difference in our thinking and actual reality is what I choose to call a disconnect in our thinking.

If every culture on the planet had stopped thinking and being creative back then, it is highly unlikely we would have seen much in the way of advancement. The Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment surely would not have taken place if every thinker on the planet had stopped thinking.

Now, from some of the readings I have done over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that one reason that Western civilization was able to leave the “Dark Ages” was because the churches, monasteries, and convents of the time became the repositories of books and knowledge. Thus, the resources were in place to begin anew.

But as I look around today I am wondering if we are not entering a “Newer and Darker Age”. It has been developing for some time know as our educational processes have moved away from creativity and innovation and our social and political interactions are becoming more and more divided and polarized.

Our vision is no longer beyond the horizon but more and more about what is behind us. My generation was the generation that should have gone from the moon to Mars and beyond. Yet, we have not been to the moon since 1972 and though we did have a presence in space for some thirty years, it is almost non-existent. With the exception of the Mars rovers and some deep space exploration we have virtually no presence in space and, despite some grandiose rhetoric, no plans to return.

How can you see beyond the stars if you not in the stars to begin with?

We, as a society, are unwilling to fund programs for space exploration or the educational processes needed to prepare people to think about exploration. In fact, we as a society seem quite unwilling to fund any program that benefits society but we willing over fund programs integral to the military-industrial complex, programs that are dedicated to the destruction of society in some manner.

Here again, I see a disconnect in our thinking. Many people today call for smaller governments and less spending yet are unwilling to touch those larger program. And while person after person speaks of seeking individual liberties, they are unwilling to help others find the liberty of which they so fondly speak.

How can you say you are for freedom when you don’t want others to others to share in your freedom?

Forty years ago we began to realize that we, the inhabitants of this planet, were merely tenants with limited lease. We began to realize that we were destroying the only home we had. Yet, in that same period of time, we have failed to care for this planet, acting as if we were the owners and nothing was wrong. We see the evidence but because it calls for us to do things we would rather not do, we claim the evidence is false and that everything is fine.

If nothing else, the penalty for failing to teach how to think and be creative means that we cannot find solutions to the problems that we face because we are incapable of thinking outside of the box we have placed ourselves in.

Perhaps what bothers me more than anything else is that it is the people of the church today who are pushing us further and further into this new dark age, not pulling us out of it. The people of the church protected knowledge so that we could know the truth; now it seems that it is the people of the church who want to destroy knowledge for fear that the truth will be known.

I have chosen to be a Christian because I have come to understand how Christ came to give us freedom and hope. Yet, I know so many others who call themselves Christian but are unwilling to help others find that same freedom and hope.

It was the people of the church who spoke out against injustice and repression but know it seems so many people of the church are leading the movement towards injustice and repression.

Understand that my thoughts are in terms of Christianity; but other religions are just as guilty of same reversal of thoughts over the years.

There are too many people who seek to hold onto a view of the past as the way to the future, who seek to limit the opportunities for others and claim all the rewards for themselves. I worry that if these few individuals are able to accomplish this, by limiting creativity and innovation, by shackling people with economic and social chains, then we will truly enter into a newer and darker age. And because the darkness will be worldwide, it will be very difficult for civilization to continue.

It has been postulated that there was a period of time in this planet’s past when it was completely covered with ice. But there was still some life in the oceans and deep within in the core of the planet was a source of heat. Over time, the magma in the core was able to come to the top and crack through the ice, ultimately melting the ice and beginning a new period of geological and biological activity on this planet.

It is my hope that there are enough people who see the coming days as a warning and are able to work towards enlightenment, not darkness, justice rather than injustice, freedom rather oppression, and hope not despair. It is my hope that when you get done reading this piece, you will take a few moments to think, really think, about where you are and what you can do to change the world around you. Perhaps it will take nothing more than saying hello to someone to make the change that allows the light to become brighter.

Lessons Forgotten


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phone Calls


I just posted this on my Facebook page.

Something I just read prompted me to post the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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?