“Systems Or People?”


Meditation for 5 October 2014, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 20: 1 – 4, 7 – 9, 12 – 20; Philippians 3: 4 – 14; Matthew 21: 33 – 46

The other day I put up a post entitled “A World Wide Systems Failure.” In part because of this post, I took that post down. But here is part of what I said in that post.

Have you noticed how administrators and other individuals in power are explaining things in terms of ‘the system failed”? That prompts me to aks when did we get to the point where we relied on systems to solve our problems. Are humans no longer involved in the problem solving process?”

One of first major political novels that I remember reading was the 1962 novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler entitled Fail Safe. It was made into a movie in 1964 and then a TV movie in 2000. the premise of the movie was that there had been a systems failure which allowed a squadron of Air Force nuclear bombers to attack targets in the Soviet Union. And while a total nuclear war was adverted, there were nuclear-based consequences.

Today, in addition to the system failures that dominate our every day news, we are looking at the possibility of many other such failures. A war which should never have started threatens to become a global war; the recent civil unrest has reminded us that societal divisions cannot be swept under the wrong.

And what’s worse, we seem to have lost our ability to solve problems, in part as a consequence of relying on systems rather than people. We talk about the capabilities of our smart phones without realizing that no phone is smarter than the person using it. We have forgotten that, no matter what the speed of the processor, no computer or calculator can solve a problem if the person who inputs the information doesn’t understand how to solve the problem. All a super fast computer or calculator can do is get the wrong answer quicker. (See Thoughts of a 21st Century Neo-Luddite”, How To Become a 21st Century Neo-Luddite”, and Observations of a 21st Century Neo-Luddite” for more thoughts on this idea.)

The fault, dear Brutus, lies with us. We have created the system and enhanced it. From the very day Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai, the lawyers and other legal experts have been creating rules and laws on how to make those ten statements of life work.

Let’s forget for a moment those who would put carve the Ten Commandments into stone and post them in every court and classroom in the country; I think that falls under the “don’t make graven images” rule. Let’s forget those who apply “thou shall not kill” to one set of circumstances but will not speak out against the death penalty or seem to think that war is an acceptable alternative.

Let us look at the 613 laws written in the Old Testament that were created to make sure that we obey the primary ten. But the Ten Commandments were and are about our relationship with God and others. The other laws created a legalistic system where salvation was impossible unless you happen to be one of those who wrote the rules. For the way the rules and laws were written, obeying one set of laws would invariably cause one to violate another set.

God’s Kingdom is first and foremost about how we react with others. In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus points out that we have forgotten that point. And what is Paul telling the Philippians, “stay away from those who focus on appearance and adherence to the law, those who hold onto the system.” Paul points out very clearly that he himself was once such a person, more interested in preserving the system than the people. And Paul acknowledges that approach took him away from God.

I don’t know if John Wesley ever made such a statement but we do know that what he initially created was a legalistic, mechanistic system that almost destroyed the movement before it began. In fact, all that we got from that initial approach was our name, “Methodist”. It was only when Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed that the Methodist movement became successful.

Systems are the means by which problems are solved. People still remain the problem solvers. When we rely solely on systems to solve the problems, then nothing will get solved. When we look to the people to solve the problems, then things will change.

Jesus came at a time when the system made it impossible for people to find God. He went beyond the system to meet the people and show them God.

When John Wesley went beyond the mechanics and legalisms and welcomed the Holy Spirit into his heart, the Methodist movement became successful and world changing.

You have the opportunity to escape from a system designed to enslave and entrap you. Shall you stay with the system or rely on Christ? Shall you work for the people or for the system. What shall you do?

“The State Of Our Memory”


I recall reading somewhere a long time ago that memory was a three-fold process:

1) You remember something.

2) You remember the source of the information.

3) You remember how you did it.

Now, it seems to me that we are doing more of the first than we are the other two. In fact, we have practically forgotten that there are references that enable us to find out more than we can ever know.

So why is it that we spend so much time on the first and less time on the others? Could it be that it is easier to teach that way and easier to determine if we are doing a “good” job?

“Changing The World”


Meditation for 31 August 2014, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Labor Day

Exodus 3: 1 – 15, Romans 12: 9 – 21, Matthew 16: 21 — 28

I don’t know about you but there is something “different” about this being the last day of August and yet being the Labor Day weekend. But every now and then, the 1st day of September is going to be the 1st Monday in September and Labor Day weekend begins in August.

I felt that because it was a little different I would have a little different take on the idea of Labor Day and focus on that which we can do with our labors.

Some years ago I used about a phrase that rather intrigued me at the time. It was “vision with action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” This phrase comes from Joel A. Barker and, while I have never heard of this individual, he took the idea of Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift and applied it to the business world. (from “What’s The Next Step?”)

Now, as it happened, eight months later I was at the same church and I used a phrase that Willie Nelson said, “one person cannot change the world but one person with a message could.” As I recall, he pointed out that Jesus and the message he carried on the back roads of the Galilee was one prime example. (from “What Does Your Church Look Like?”)

But I didn’t tie the two statements together. Now, obviously I think that these two statements work together. But I think that the question remains as to how it would apply to each one of us. Clearly Jesus had a vision and he was developing a plan that would implement His mission. And clearly we, individually and collectively, are the means by which that mission will be accomplished.

But I sometimes wonder if we, individually and collectively, understand that is what we are supposed to be doing. We are so stuck in this time and place that we cannot see create a new vision. And if we are unable to create a new vision, then, as the saying from Proverbs 29: 18 goes, “without vision, the people perish.”

So you will say to me, “Who am I to take on the world?” You will say to me, “I cannot do anything significant in this world.” You will say, “I can’t even talk right! I wouldn’t know what to say!”

And I will say that you know your Bible, especially the Old Testament pretty well for your responses are the responses of Moses and the prophets when they were called by God and tell the people.

I have used a quote by George Bernard Shaw about asking why and why not but always from a reference to the times that Robert Kennedy used it during his Presidential campaign in 1968. It would appear that Senator Kennedy borrowed the idea of the quote from his brother, President Kennedy. In his speech to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963 John Kennedy said, in part,

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were and I say: ‘Why not?'”

It is that quality of the Irish, that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination, that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country (William Jennings Bryan), “the humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.”

And if does not matter the size of the nation, then it should not matter how many individuals seek to change the world.

There has to be a point where the cries of the people, both here in this country and around the world, are so loud that people must respond. How long can we go on in a world where the rich keep getting richer, the powerful continue to grab more and more power for themselves while there is a continued increase in the number of poor and the resources of the world diminished, all in the name of greed and the lust for power?

How long can we continue in a world where the powerful and the rich see other people as pawns in their own games, not as individuals with their own rights?

How long will it take before we realize that anger and violence will never remove anger and violence from this world? How long will the words of the Bible which speak of peace be ignored simply because we think that it is easier to respond in kind, with hatred, anger, and violence?

The thing is that we probably cannot change the world by ourselves if all we are interested in is ourselves. I don’t know what it is but it seems to me that when you begin to become rich and powerful, your focus becomes on keeping your riches and your power; you become self-centered and you know longer care about how you became rich or power. You only care about staying that way and you don’t care what you have to do to maintain that. You become blind to the fact that in your grab for all there is, you ultimately have everything and there is nothing left. And if there is nothing left, then sooner or later, you must consume yourself. To ignore others, to not share what you have will lead to your demise and destruction. It is, I believe, the inevitable outcome of greed; to be consumed by your own desires.

For whatever reason, this is what we have come to believe in our society; that we are incapable of seeing beyond today and we no longer have a vision for the future. And if we are to survive, individually and collectively, we must break the cycle of the present and began to see the future.

The term “paradigm shift” is an often abused and definitely misunderstood phrase in today’s society. To have a true paradigm shift, one must change their view of the present situation, not merely seek a change. Too many people today think that any change in the way we do things, especially if it is radical or steps outside the normal operation, is a paradigm shift.

But no matter how much change occurs, if it is all external and the message remains the same, nothing will actually change. It doesn’t do any good to change the appearance of things if the thinking behind the changes is the same. Thomas Kuhn, the creator of the term (from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), called a paradigm shift a complete change in thinking. (adapted from “The Decision We Must Make”)

And this is where each one of us has to make a decision. Shall we try to change the world in terms of the present mode of thinking or is there an alternative way to seek solutions to the problems of the world? Quite honestly, I don’t see how we can change the world if we don’t seek alternative solutions.

It is important that we note how Jesus responded to Peter upon Peter’s exclamation that Jesus’ impending death and resurrection were impossible. Of course, under present thinking, Peter was right but Jesus was offering a new way to see the world.

Think about what Paul is writing in Romans, “if your enemy is hungry, give them something to eat; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” Paul, referring to the Old Testament Scriptures, echoes what Jesus told the disciples, and spoke of actions that ran counter to popular and current opinion.

In his book, The Age of Unreason, Charles Handy noted that Jesus changed the thinking of the time by teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth, the poor shall be blessed, and the first shall be last in the ultimate scheme of things (adapted from “Whose House?”).

I will not say that we, individually and/or collectively, cannot change the world. But it will be rather difficult to do so without a vision that does not speak of the world we envision. And our track record in that regard is rather dismal, if the present state of the world is any indication.

Moses feared that he would not be able to lead the people out of Egypt. But God pointed out that He would be there all along the way and that success would follow.

But, if we think about what Jesus said to the disciples that day some two thousand years ago and we accept Jesus in our hearts and our minds, then the change that we seek is possible.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, the world changes. Oh, it will not necessarily be an immediate change and it will not change unless we help to make the change. But the world will change.

There are those who would say that the world cannot change and we have to accept the outcome that lies before us. But that was the world into which Christ came and the world did change.

We see a world without hope, without justice, without compassion and we wonder if there ever will be a time when, in the words of Amos (5: 24) justice will flow like a stream and righteousness will be like a river that never runs dry.

When Jesus stood before the people and announced the beginning of His ministry, He said that He had come to proclaim the Good News to the poor, pardon the prisoners, recovery sight to the blind, set the burdened and battered free, and proclaim the Jubilee. It was time to act.

And it is time to act today. The fact is that we alone, even collectively, cannot change the world in a way that would really mean change. But in accepting Christ as our Savior, we accept a new vision and we are given the ability and power to do so.

If you have not done so, you need to open your heart, mind, and soul to Christ. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you need to open your heart, mind, and soul to the power of the Holy Spirit and become empowered to change the world.

“Simplifying A Complicated Life”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why Are We Surprised?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Anniversary We Need To Remember


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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