Is War Something To Forget?


I once wrote a piece for my blog entitled “Maybe We Should Study War More Often”. It was written as a response to another blogger’s idea that war can solve many of the problems of modern society (it turned out I was arguing with a bumper sticker).

War can never be the answer unless the question is related to the total and complete destruction of civilization and life as we know it.

One of my middle names (I have two) is Lee. It is a family name, given to me in honor of my maternal grandfather. I suspect there is a lengthy history to this name and that some of my ancestors named their children Lee in honor of Robert E. Lee.

I am fully aware of the role that General Lee played in the Civil War but I also know that he once wrote his wife, and I have used this quote many times, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should too fond of it.”  (My thoughts concerning this topic are found in “It’s Not About a Piece of Cloth”.)

When I opposed the Viet Nam War, it was because I saw several injustices. Among those injustices was the decision by old (and usually white) men sending young men off to battle, to die on the battle field, lonely and forgotten.

I don’t know how others felt but my argument was and will always be with a leadership that sends the youth off to war and then forgets them. Those that went to war and were fortunate to come home deserve recognition and support (something that our society and our leaders have seeming forgotten).

In my family are three flags, flags that are not flown on national holidays but cared for because of what they represent.  Each of these flags was given by a representative to the United States as an expression of thanks for the service given by the individual on whose coffin they lie.

Many people have these flags, folded in a triangle, and carefully stored because these are flags that cannot be replaced.  My family was lucky because each flag was given during the peacetime.  Other families received their flags during the war time and their father or son, their mother or their daughter died on a battlefield far away from home.

I have a Facebook friend whose brother, Walter. went to the same high school as she and I did.  He was five years ahead of me so I never knew him.  Shortly after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  In 1967, he died in Viet Nam.  Before he died, he saved the lives of several of his comrades and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Over the past few years, I have observed the love his younger sister, Carolyn, had for him and I know that his death was not vain.

But we seem to think that it is okay to send our youth off to war and to forget them when they come home, some wounded, others dead but all changed by the horrors of war.

In this place and time, we must work for a world in which there is no war and that war is never used as the first step in the solution of conflict and hatred.  Against the violence and destruction of war, we must make a stand that says, “we shall study war no more and we will not forget those who have died when war was necessary.”

Where Do You Meet Jesus?


Ordinarily, I would wait until the end of the post before answering the question that I use for the title.  But in this case, I will answer the question at the beginning.

I think that we will meet Jesus in the most unexpected and unusual places.  We will meet him when we are not ready or when it is the most inconvenient.  This is an uncomfortable answer for many today, simply because we want to meet Jesus on our terms, not His.

And I do that because, in the first weeks of the Easter season, on the day of the Resurrection and in the days following, the disciples and followers of Jesus were meeting Him in some rather unusual or unexpected places.  And from the gloom and despair that came on Good Friday came the joy and restoration of the Resurrection.  The movement, the ministry that had been three years in the making would not end but would continue.

And it must have been even more frustrating to the political and religious authorities that the movement, which they felt they had crushed, was still alive.  But it had to be frustrating because Jesus never did things the way they, the “experts”, had said religion was supposed to be done.

There were rules and laws which dictated the behavior of the people; there were places in which one was to worship God.  And Jesus went outside the boundaries set by the rules and the laws.  He extended the ability to worship God to people who were routinely excluded, for any number of reasons, from worship.

Jesus didn’t do things the “right” way, the way prescribed by the laws and the rules established by the religious authorities.  He understood those rules and those laws, but more importantly he moved beyond simply following them because he also understood that the rules and laws which prescribed the proper behavior served as a limitation, preventing individuals from truly encountering God in their lives.

During this Easter season, I have been looking for quotes from John Wesley to put on the back page of the Fishkill UMC Sunday bulletin.  I was interested in the more well-known quotes, though I did use three of them.  But I also found two quotes that spoke to John Wesley’s mind set about religion in 18th century England (see the entries for May 7th and May 28th).

It seems to me that Wesley was the ultimate Type A person, he also understood that others were not.  And while he demanded that those who wanted to be “those people called Methodists” follow the rules of the Methodist society, I don’t think that he demanded that all people do so.

And how ever one views Wesley, I think it is important to realize that the vision that he had for the church required that the church go beyond its physical boundaries.  Just as Jesus went beyond the boundaries of the established religion, so did Wesley do that as well.  Faith cannot grow, individually or collectively, if it is limited in vision and scope.  One has to be very careful that the rules and laws that one creates as the basis for operation don’t become restrictions and boundaries that prevent you from moving.

We live in a time where, if there is a vision for the future it is a bleak one.  We live in a time where some feel that being one of God’s children is determined by your race, gender or sexual identity, or economic status.  The world that Jesus sought to open is becoming very much closed.  And as we seemingly stare longingly at the past, we need to see that the England in John Wesley preached could very well have undergone the same violent and bloody revolution that France had recently gone through.

But history tells us that England did not undergo the same revolution as France, in part because of the Methodist revival lead by John Wesley.

In the 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw a world in which laws became even more controlling and limiting.  And while the laws that were passed directly limited the rights of a few, they, in effect, limited the rights of all.  And this is something that we in this country know quite well (or at least we should know quite well).  And, if I understand what took place, the effects of those restrictive and prohibitive laws, filled with hate, changed the way that Bonhoeffer saw the world around him and the role of Christianity in that world.

Today, we are seeing the same things happen.  We are seeing the passage or the attempt to pass secular and sectarian laws which limit the rights and privileges of a few.  And we would be sadly mistaken if we think that such laws do not affect us, for as it has long been said, when we seek to enslave one, we enslave all.

And the true nature of Christianity is being challenged, challenged in such a way that the church may not survive.  Now, I do not know and have never understand that one can claim to be a Christian and yet work for the oppression of minorities, deny healthcare to people, favor the wealthy over the poor and disposed, or even cast out the strangers in our lands.  I cannot conceive of anyone claiming to be a Christian but still seek a society that ignores even the basic message of the Gospel.  The world in which these people live is a restricted and exclusive world, a world in which even Jesus is excluded.

We are on the cusp of a great change.  How we respond to the changes taking place will decide not only our future but the future for our children and this planet.

Personally, I will not live in that world and I will work to make sure that the world in which I live is one in which one can meet Jesus.  You see, if we are who we say we are, when others meet us and when we meet others, there we will meet Jesus.


Quotes of John Wesley for the back page of the Easter Season bulletins for Fishkill United Methodist Church (service starts at 10 am on Sundays, click here for the location of the church; you are more than welcome to come and worship with us!

23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

In August, 1739, John Wesley went  to Bristol, England to begin a Methodist revival.

The  Bishop of the Anglican Church, Joseph Butler, told him, “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore, I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley replied, “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can –do most good here. Therefore, here I stay.”

And thus, the Methodist Revival began in England.

30 April 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. John Wesley, Journal (11 June 1739)

7 May 2017 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Condemn no man for not thinking as you think.  Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself.  Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God.  Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the spirit of persecution, if you cannot reason nor persuade a man into truth, never attempt to force a man into it.  If love will not compel him to come, leave him to God, the judge of all.                      John Wesley

14 May 2017 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church. . . nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence.

Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley (as this was Mother’s Day, the quote came from John’s mother).

21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter

May 24, 1738 – the moment we called Aldersgate (let’s face, what quote would you use for this Sunday?)

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death – John Wesley,

28 May 2017 – Ascension Sunday

This is the first of the four points John Wesley used in beginning the Methodist Revival in 1738 –

Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is, at best, but a very slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part of it at all; that neither does religion consist in negatives, in bare harmlessness of any kind; nor merely in externals, in doing good, or using the means of grace, in works of piety (so called) or of charity; that it is nothing short of, or different from, “the mind that was in Christ;” the image of God stamped upon the heart; inward righteousness, attended with the peace of God; and “joy in the Holy Ghost.”

4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

I have seen (as far as it can be seen) many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of horror, fear, and despair to the spirit of hope, joy, peace; and from sinful desires, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God.

“What Do We Do Next? – Thoughts on Easter, 2017


There are two parts to this message – the first being random thoughts on the preparation of a message; the second being the actual thoughts.  I think the first is needed to set the tone for the second.

Random Thoughts on The Preparation of a Message

The first few times that I gave a message I used specific scripture readings.  I was only preaching once or twice a year so this method worked (and it is something that I suggested beginning lay servants do as well).  This works well when you have sufficient time to prepare and think through what you want to say and do.

But I quickly found out that this didn’t work as well when you had to do it on a weekly basis.  (The first lay speaking assignments that I received were on a multi-week basis and not spot assignments; not the assignments a typical lay servant would receive today.)  So, I turned to the lectionary for the basis of my scriptures; first using the Common Lectionary outlined in The Guide to Prayer (published by the Upper Room) and then with the Revised Common Lectionary.

But whether I was using specific readings or readings from either lectionary, I wanted to make what I said a connection between the readings and what was taking place at that time and place.  I also made the decision to use all three of the lectionary readings (which is something that I have suggested beginning lay servants do not do).

But the Holy Week readings have always been, for the lack of a better word, a dilemma for me.  Over the years, I have begun to understand how it is all set up and the need to know what is happening at the church where I am to work out what I shall say.  And I came to the decision that works for me is to look at the complete story, not simply the story expressed by the Gospel writers.

I have, with unspoken thanks to others, also seen that there are other ways to give the message and have tried on occasion to take the message outside the confines of the pulpit.

And so, it is that I come to this Easter Sunday.

Thoughts on Easter Sunday, 2017

I assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with the Gospel readings for this Sunday (if not, the lectionary readings for today are Acts 10: 34 – 43; Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 14 – 24; Colossians 3: 1 – 4; and John 20: 1 – 8) so I am going to focus on the setting and the thoughts of those that were there and try to put where we are today, socially and spiritually, into that context.

Keep in mind that this day is a nexus.  It marks the end of one story and the beginnings of a new story.  We have the benefit of knowing this; those that were there that day do not.  But even today, we are faced with as much of an uncertain future as those who had followed Jesus two thousand years ago and, perhaps, we are, just as they may have been thinking then, wondering what it is that we do next?

Easter Sunday begins in a cloud of doubt and fear.  Jesus is dead, buried in the tomb, and the disciples are in hiding, fearful for their lives and not certain what, if anything they can do.  Everything they have done for three years has been destroyed.

Can they go home and pick up where they left off three years before?  Will they even be welcome?  What do they say to those who question their friendship and devotion to one now considered by religious and political authorities to be rebel and a criminal?  Can it ever be safe to talk about what they did when someone asked them where they have been or what they have been doing?

And what of all the people with whom they worked or encountered?  What do they say to all those people who were healed, fed, or comforted?  Was it a trick or a con?  What will they say to those who come to them now, seeking the same healing, the same comfort, or seeking to be fed?

Right now, the only answer that they have is that HE is not here anymore so you must go somewhere else.

Is this not how so many of us feel today?  We see our world being destroyed.  Our land is being taken away by corporate and political systems our water, our air is being poisoned, often with the support of religious authorities.  Religious and political authorities seemingly want to tell us what to think and how to act (all while they themselves think they are immune to the same laws).

And the church, which in the past was a sanctuary of hope for those without hope, a refugee for those cast out by society, has become a mirror of the church two thousand years ago, exclusive and restrictive, saying to many, “go away, you do not belong here and you are not welcome.”

The person who is called Jesus in these churches is not the Jesus who lives in me.  I do not know the person who would say to any person, “go away or you are not worthy.”  I do not know the person who would say that wealth is good and one should see all one can, even if it means that others go hungry or become sick or have no place to live.

The Jesus that I know, the Jesus that is in my heart and soul is the one who let the children come to Him at a time when children were ignored.  The Jesus I know feed the hungry, even when it seems as if there was not enough for one person.  The Jesus I know healed the sick, even when doing so would make it impossible for Him to enter the Temple because he had become unclean.  The Jesus I know looked at the person and not the law; he gave meaning to hope.

And somehow, I think those where the thoughts that had to have been in the minds of the disciples and the followers that first Easter morning.  And yet they were probably also asking what they were going to do next.

And then it happened.  The word came, first with uncertainty but then with clarity that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there!  The word was passed from one to the next that He was alive and all that He had said and done for three years was did, in fact, have meaning.  And it meant that there was a future.

It would be a future that became a vision and then a reality, first by the Twelve and those that were there at the beginning, then by Paul, and then by generation after generation of believers until today.  It would be a message that reached the limits of the known world.

It would be a future expressed by John Wesley.  In a world of danger and despair, of revolution and revolt, John Wesley would gather together a band of friends and work out a system that would offer hope.  It has been said that England at the time of John Wesley was on the verge of the same violent revolution that swept over and through France.  And yet, England remained calm, perhaps because John Wesley saw that the way to avoid violence was to remove the causes of violence.

How is today not unlike the world in which Jesus began His ministry or the world that John Wesley saw when he began what became known as the Methodist Revival?

And, on this day, when our doubts and fears are removed as easily as the stone was rolled away from the tomb, is it not clear what we must do?

It will take more than one day (remembering that Easter is a season and not just a single day on the church calendar).  It will take a lot of effort; even if Jesus had not predicted the violent deaths of all but one of his disciples, I am sure that they knew it would not be easy.

It will make us outcasts in society but no more so than John Wesley who would be barred from preaching in churches or even the early Methodists in this country who could not build churches of their own.

But we who know the truth know in that truth we will be set free.  And we know that what we do will change the world, even if we are not here when that change comes.

So, we remember why Jesus came and we remember that death could not keep him imprisoned.  We remember that the lives of people were changed two thousand years ago and through the ages until today.  And then we will know what we must do.

“What Comes After Baptism?”


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, Palm Sunday (Year A), 9 April 2017.

It should be noted that I have spoken of this incident on a number of occasions in the past.

One week after I found out that my understanding of Christianity was a little bit off (see What Does It Mean to Be Baptized?), I was told that my baptism as an infant didn’t count.  And, if I wanted to be saved, I needed to be baptized right then and there.

Without going into the details, these were not the best times for me and, quite honestly, I didn’t need that type of pronouncement for my future. So, I politely declined the offer of baptism.

Now, in one sense, the person who told me that was right.  Had I not be raised to understand the nature of my baptism or if I had not been given the opportunity to begin my journey of faith, then my baptism would have had no meaning.

But my parents raised me to understand what my baptism meant and gave me the opportunity to choose the path I wanted to walk.  But I didn’t do it alone; I was fortunate to have many ministers and lay people to serve as companions and mentors on this journey.

Our journey begins when we are baptized and we become part of a faith community.  Through our faith community, we find the path that we are meant to walk and because we are members of a faith community, we are there to help other begin and continue their own journey.

~ Tony Mitchell

What Does It Mean to Be Baptized?


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year A), 2 April 2017.  The reading is from Isaiah 58: 6 – 12.

It should be noted that I have spoken of this incident on a number of occasions in the past.


There is no doubt in my mind that my faith was challenged during the season of Easter in 1969.  I didn’t understand (though I thought I did) what it meant to be a Christian and then (as I will describe next week) my own faith journey was questioned.

With the war in Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement constantly in the news, one could not help but think about the correct thing to do.  I was, as many people know, active in the anti-war and civil rights movements on my college campus (much to my parents’ concern).  My participation was based on the idea that it was the right thing to do and it would open the gates of heaven when the time came.

But I found out that you do not do good things to get into heaven; you do good things because it is what you have been called to do when you accept Christ as your Savior.

I believe only you know when Christ calls you to accept Him.  But I know that I could discern that call because I was baptized and raised to understand that my baptism was more than an event in my life.

The challenge is we must build a community that helps people find Christ and that makes the act of baptism the first step on that journey.

What does it meant to be baptized?  It means that we, individually and collectively, have decided to begin a journey with Christ.

~ Tony Mitchell

Three People


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year A), 26 March 2017.  The reading is from Matthew 27: 33 – 44.


There were three men on that hill outside Jerusalem.  They hung on crosses where everyone could see them to remind the people there were rules to society and you paid the price when you broke the rules.

Two of the three committed crimes against people directly but the other’s “crime” was simply to question the roles of society, rules that excluded people because of actual and perceived differences.  To question the rules of society was considered as bad as robbery or murder.

We live in a similar society today.  There are those who suggest that there is a standard for society’s membership and if you don’t meet that standard, you don’t belong.  Many people want a society where obedience to the law is greater than concern for the people.

The one criminal echoed the views of society then and perhaps today that Jesus’ mission was to ensure that the status quo was maintained at all costs and that there were people tasked with that maintenance.  He and society see Jesus in terms of earthly power and might, of the rule of law without compassion.

But the other criminal understood that Jesus had sought to move beyond the “law”.  He understood that Jesus’ mission was never about him but about His Father and how people were treated in God’s Kingdom. And in understanding this, the second man asked for forgiveness.

Which of the two are you?  And what will you do?