“How Many Methodists”


Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

This all came about because of Dave Faulkner’s Sermon on Acts 11: 1 – 9, “Acts – Explain Yourself!”. I think he makes some very good points about how we view change and what we need to consider about this process. But for the moment, my focus is going to be on his opening questions.

He begins with four essential changing light bulb questions:

  1. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

    Three, but they are really only one.

  2. How many agnostics does it take to change a light bulb?

    Agnostics question the existence of the light bulb.

  3. How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bubl?

    THE BIBLE * DOES * NOT * SAY * ANYTHING * ABOUT * LIGHT BULBS!

  4. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

Change? What’s this word change?

This prompted me to look for other Methodist and the art of changing light bulbs and this is what I found. It should be noted that several of these have been attributed to other denominations and religions as well but, for now, we will limit ourselves to the United Methodist Church.

How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Twenty-two: One to hold the ladder, one to climb the ladder, ten to form a committee to evaluate the effectiveness of the old light bulb, and ten to form a committee for a pot-luck to welcome in the new light bulb.
  • Change a light bulb???? Why…my grandmother gave that light bulb!!!!
  • “Change?!?” “You can’t change that light bulb! Harry Finnigan’s family gave that as a memorial during the big merger.”
  • Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved — you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. A church-wide lighting service is planned for Sunday, August 19. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.
  • This Statement was issued: “We neither affirm nor reject the use of a light bulb. If you have found a light bulb helpful in your journey, that is good. If one would wish, they could submit an original poem or interpretive dance about their light bulb, or light source, or non-dark resource, for the annual light bulb celebration, where a variety of light bulb traditions will be explored, including long-life, incandescent, three-way, and tinted, all of which are valid paths to luminescence.”
  • I think that about covers it for changing the light bulbs in a United Methodist Church. If I have missed one, please let me know.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”


Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?

“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.

“Stranded In The Wilderness”


Meditation for June 22, 2014, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, and Matthew 10: 24 – 39.

When I start writing something, I have a sense of what I want to say but I have also found that sometimes this changes as I am go along. For me, this is God speaking to me as I write. It is one way that I sense the presence of God in my life.

This may not be how you feel that it happens but that is the wonderfulness of God in each of our lives; what works for you is not necessarily what works for me and what works for me may not be the best for you.

But there are also times (and they have been plenty lately) where that sense of the presence of God in my life has not been there. Such times are times when I feel as if I am the middle of the wilderness, with no path seemingly available, no future in front of me.

In the times that I participated in teaching others how to prepare a sermon, I tell the students to look at the lectionary readings for the Sunday in question and go with that one. But I never took that course and when I began preaching on a regular basis I felt the need to use all three readings together.

And there are times when I struggled trying to find the common thread to the readings. Still, as I looked at the three readings, it came to me that I needed to look at not just the three readings but the direction they take the reader.

It would be very easy to use the Old Testament reading as the backdrop for a discussion of the politics of the mid-East and what happened to Ishmael and those that came after him. But to connect that to the other readings would be a stretch and one that I didn’t want to make.

But I also know that the skills that I have, the gifts that I have been given, and my ability to use them come from God. What did the writer of Genesis tell us about Ishmael, that God was on his side as he grew up? Is that not the case for each one of us? Have there not been times in each of our own lives where we have to wonder about the skills that we have and what to do with them?

The passage from Matthew speaks also of the conflict that will arise within families when one person in the family chooses to follow Christ. But doesn’t the same strife happen when someone in the family takes a path of their own choosing rather than one that would be, let’s say, more traditional or keeping with what the family wants?

Or, on a more personal level, what is the strife that comes within one’s self, when there is a conflict between doing what you love and what you think you have to do? Society, that most powerful of driving forces today, tells us that we need to focus on ourselves, getting what we can for ourselves and not worrying about others. And yet, there is that something inside us that tells us or pushes us to pursue things that may not have the same material gain but lead to greater rewards.

When I started writing my blog, it was with the intention of keeping in the habit of writing a weekly message. After all, I had just completed a seven-year period where I was doing that as the lay pastor for three small churches in Kentucky and New York. For awhile, I thought that I would be doing that again but it didn’t come to pass. Still, when you look at my preaching schedule over the past nine years, I have been, on the average in the pulpit twenty weeks out of the year. So writing the blog has served its purpose.

But now I think that I need to see if that is where I need to be going. One of the other things that I did with this blog was focus on chemistry and chemical/science education. And I think it is time that I look more in that area than I have been doing.

We as a people, a society, a nation, and inhabitants of this planet, are at a crossroads. The signs are appearing more and more frequently that what we are doing to this planet is doing more harm than good and we are fast approaching that time when it will be too late. We will find ourselves in a wilderness of our own making and without the capability and resources to make the corrections and changes. For me, one of the problems is that we have gotten lazy in our thinking; we, quite frankly, want others to do our thinking for us. We are unwilling to think independently and critically; we are fast approaching the time when we won’t be able to even do that.

I have said it before but it bears repeating but our students leave school today with the idea that if the material is not in the text book, then it isn’t going to be taught and that all the problems have been solved and are in the back of the text book (from The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy, 1990). But what will happen when we encounter a problem that hasn’t been solved or for which the answer hasn’t been provided in advance? What do we do then?

So I need to move my thoughts in another direction, perhaps back to from whence I came, the laboratory and the mind. But I will not leave my heart nor my soul to do so.

My concern has to be that one understands where science fits, along with faith and religion, in one’s life. And that is where I think I need to focus.

Paul writes about a life in sin and a life with Christ, two clear choices. Paul writes to the Romans that they have an option, one with hope. But he also writes or implies that you don’t have to take that option but that leaves you with sin. And throughout all of his writings, to live in sin is to live in slavery. There is a freedom that can only come from Christ and in terms of what Matthew wrote, it is a freedom to do your thing, the thing that your heart, mind, and soul direct you to follow.

We are stranded in this wilderness, wondering what will happen to us. But just as Hagar saw the well of water which enable her to save her son and go on to the future that was to be, so too can we look to God through Christ and find our freedom, our path out of the wilderness.

We have a choice to make today. The simplest thing would be to do nothing, but that leaves us where we are and as time moves forward, that means we shall be left behind (pun intended). On the other hand, we have the opportunity to follow Christ, out of the wilderness and into the future. What shall your choice be?