“That One Brilliant Moment”


A Meditation for 7 February 2016, Transfiguration Sunday (Year C). The meditation is based on Exodus 34: 29 – 34, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 9: 28 – 36 (37 – 43)

There is a point in everyone’s life when the solution to a problem that they have been struggling with suddenly becomes so obvious that they wonder why they didn’t think of it before. In some circles, including my own, this is called the “Aha! Moment”.

What we have to realize is that each person will have numerous such moments in their lives, simply because each subject that we study or work with involves different parts of our brain and will depend on what we already know. The problem here is that too many other people feel that everyone should have the same “AHA” moment at the same point in their lives. What that may simply teaching, it doesn’t really work that way. And, as a side point, as long we continue to believe that this is the best way to teach, with the notion that every student is the same and thinks in the same way, our educational system will never improve.

And it is not just in our educational system that we try to standardize our beliefs. As President Jimmy Carter said in his 2002 Nobel speech in Oslo, Norway,

the present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.”

President Carter further expanded on this statement by saying,

There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions — including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasing, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: ‘Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,’ and the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman’, and then their lives are not significant.

He went on to describe how he felt that fundamentalists had distorted the vision of Christ in the world and the nature of Christianity (Adapted from “Our Endangered Values” by Jimmy Carter; first posted in “Encountering God”).

The problem lies, as Cassius said to Brutus, not in our stars but in ourselves. Cassius suggests to Brutus that we are all born equally free and that we should not bow down to another person. Our futures lies in what we do and not by some per-ordained set of rules that others created for us (adapted from http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/fault-dear-brutus-our-stars).

However, for the most part, we are incapable of knowing that there are alternatives or that the rules by which we live are faulty and even repressive.

Perhaps I was lucky in that regard. By the virtue of being the son of an Air Force officer and attending a number of different elementary, junior high, and high schools, I saw a world different from others. And beginning with the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, I began to see that there were rules that sought to limit what people could do (“Tell Me The Truth, But . . .”).

These rules were designed to create a separation of people by race and economic status and, to some extent, by gender as well. Sometimes these rules were very clear (“Lexington, North Carolina”); other times they were not so clear. But over time, it became quite clear over time that these rules were put into place by a select group of people and intended to keep them in a position of power and prestige.

Still, as I looked around the world and saw these imposed differences, I began to question the intent of these rules. I also know that many of those whom I went to school with during that same period of time probably didn’t see those differences because they grew up in that system and never knew anything different. And I see in their comments in social media today that their attitudes have not changed much over the years. They still profess the same thoughts that their parents and grandparents expressed. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

A friend of mine the other day commented that she could never understand the cruelty of man towards other men or even imagine that mankind was capable of such cruelty. But as I pointed out, if we are taught to see others as less than ourselves, it becomes quite easy to do so. And one generation teaches the next that it is acceptable to do that, it becomes easily ingrained in society and just as difficult to remove from society’s mindset (as we are seeing in some of today’s political rhetoric).

And as my friend also noted, there is in this world a certain degree of evil that transcends the teachings of the generations. But it is enhanced by those who seek to hold onto power and who seek to enhance their own power. A few moments after Cassius speaks to Brutus about the future, Caesar says of Cassius, he (Cassius) “has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Men like him are dangerous.”

Caesar feared Cassius because Cassius sought information, sought to go beyond the boundaries imposed by society and those who seek control. If we open our minds and hearts, then those who would be Caesar will fear us as much as Caesar feared Cassius.

And Paul, very bluntly I think, points out to the Corinthians that, in removing the veil, Christ showed the true nature of the political and religious establishments; that their true interest was in the control of the people and nothing else. Through Christ, the people were able to gain hope and have a new vision.

It would take Peter, James, and John a few days to understand what took place on that mountaintop during the Transfiguration described in the Gospel reading for today. But they, and the other disciples, would come to understand what had taken place and what it meant for them. Each one of us is open to the same vision, though how we receive it will be different.

For some, it will be like Saul on the road to Damascus when he became Paul; for others, it will be more the heart-warming and assuring moment of John Wesley in the Aldersgate Chapel. Our challenge today is not to make our vision the vision that others receive but to allow them to have such a vision, to have that one brilliant, life-changing moment.

We can do this through our words, our deeds, our thoughts, and our actions. We can do this by opening our hearts and minds to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow it to transform our lives, to see the world anew, bright and shining as the Son.

That life-changing moment, described in the hymn “Amazing Grace”, comes just as it did for John Newton when one accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, lets the Holy Spirit empower their lives, and then begins to world for a world where others can do the same.

That is the nature of the one brilliant moment in our lives.

I Am A Southern-born Evangelical Christian! What Are You?


Certain political events which have, fortunately or unfortunately, crossed over into the religious area lead to make that declaration and to write the following, which is in two parts. Note that I have written some of this before.

I am proud to say, without hesitation, that I am a Southern-born evangelical Christian. But that does not mean what you might think it means.

And when it is all said and done, I would, politely, ask “What are you?”

Southern-born

I am, as the saying goes, Southern-born and Southern-bred, and when I die, I will be Southern dead. But this doesn’t mean that I automatically adhere to all Southern traditions.

As the son of an Air Force officer, I moved around the country and it became very evident, especially when I was in junior high and high school that there barriers were in place that separated people in society. These barriers, no matter how they were phrased, were designed to separate people by race, creed, sex, and economic status. They were kept in place by the rich and powerful who were able to convince many affected by the barriers that those barriers were for their own good.

And because they didn’t have any way of knowing otherwise, they accepted the wisdom of the rich and powerful and kept the barriers in place. Only when they saw what was happening did they realize that the barriers kept them “in their place” as much as it did “the others”.

I see that today – the rich and powerful have convinced a group of people that there are “others” who will steal what they have unless they allow the rich and powerful to do the stealing for them (For more on this topic, see “It’s Not About A Piece Of Cloth”). But pretty soon, it is going to be evident that the freedoms we cling to so dearly have been taken away and the majority of the people in this country will be once again the chattel of a few rich (and white) old men.

Evangelical Christian

I am also born to say, and without hesitation, that I am an evangelical Christian. I was baptized as an Evangelical Christian, I was confirmed as an Evangelical Christian, and I have tried to live my life as an Evangelical Christian.

But it is quite clear that my definition and the current popular definition of what it means to be an evangelical Christian are entirely different.

I do not know or understand what those who loudly profess to be evangelical Christians believe, other than perhaps to say that “I have been saved from sin and you have not and you are going to live the rest of your life in Sheol.”

That, to me, is not evangelism and, to be honest, it is the very attitude that almost drove me from the church and which is probably driving many people away today.

For me, evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts; for more see “Who Are You Following?” or “What Do We Do Now?” where I consider how to apply the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those of Clarence Jordan).

What Are You?

At the end of his television series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan suggested that this society, this country and the whole planet were at a crossroads. One road lead to the destruction of the planet and the other lead to undiscovered worlds. Those words echo the words of 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)

There is nothing wrong with holding onto the traditions that define you. But when the traditions become more important that your self, there is a problem. No one can live in a world where yesterday was better than today for that prevents us from moving into the future.

I cannot help but think that many people today hold onto their faith as if it were a tradition and not a real part of their lives. Their acts, their words, their deeds all reflect a time past. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus looked to the future and He moved to the future, even though He knew what that future held for Him. But He also knew that our future would be insured because He moved in that direction.

Can you say that you are moving in the same direction as Jesus, towards a better future, a future free from sin and death, a future where no one is hungry, sick, homeless, or oppressed?

We stand at the crossroads and we have to decide which road we will take.

And we have to say to God at some point in our life who we are.

Who are you?

The Threat To Our Freedoms


This continues a thread on the topic of academic freedom.  A summary of my posts on this topic are given in “Notes On Academic Freedom”.  I have edited this piece (31 January 2016) to include an additional link related to this topic.


There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning attacks on our freedom. But it seems to me that these discussions are incomplete and miss the point.

It seems to me that those who complain about attacks on their freedom want to fight those attacks by limiting the amount of information available. This, to me anyway, is a far greater threat to our freedoms than anything that anyone else can imagine. For if you can control the flow of information, you control what people think, say and do and that, in turn, controls all of our freedoms.

The control of information begins when you determine how people are taught or what they are taught.

Let me start by first defining teaching and learning.

Teaching is the process of transferring information from one place, say my mind or textbook, to another location, say your mind or notebook. Success comes when the receiver of the information is able to repeat what was transferred. There is no interaction between the teacher and the student in this process; the transfer is, in effect, a one-way process.

I think this is, and has been for some time, the dominant process in our educational system. And based on various metrics, something we have become quite good at doing.

But there is relatively no new information being created and the means for doing so are not present. There is no analysis of the information presented so that the receiver can determine if it is good or bad information or even appropriate information. And without the ability to create or analyze the information, there is no way the receiver can determine the validity of the information. If you cannot analyze the data or, for that matter, create new data, then your ability to solve problems is limited.

It is possible to solve problems provided they are similar in nature to problems that you have solved in the past. But this does not provide the basis for solving completely new problems. And the ability to do so only comes when you learn something, not when someone else teaches you.

Learning is an interactive process between the pupil and the teacher, the instructor and the learner. It goes beyond what is already known by including the skills one needs to learn on one’s own. In one sense, true learning ultimately eliminates the need for the teacher because the learner gains the skills and abilities needed for future learning.

We are fast approaching a point, if we are not there already, where will not be able to respond to any sort of crisis because there will be no individuals who have the skills to think through a problem, analyze the available information, determine what additional information is needed, and then offer a new solution. At best, we only have people who can offer the same old solutions that haven’t worked in the past because they don’t have the ability to create an alternative.

I have no doubt that we know lots and lots of information but as I noted in my earlier piece, “Notes On The Common Core”, acquiring information does not automatically mean you know what to do with it. We can neither continue to maintain the status quo or, as others suggest, limit the ability of learners to question and analyze.

Consider the case of Dr. Alexander Coward, a mathematics instructor at the University of California – Berkeley (http://alexandercoward.com/). It would appear from the public information that the mathematics faculty at Berkeley is 1) opposed to the methods that Dr. Coward uses in teaching mathematics and 2) embarrassed that his results are better than the majority of the other faculty members. They would offer the notion that the results that show his students learn more and at a higher rate than other faculty members is faulty or the results are flawed and somehow incorrect.


A new web page, which may be related to the same issues that Dr. Coward is facing is “PrairieU”; like the person who pointed me to the link, there is evidence to suggest that this is a real situation but it is not clear what took place and what the resolution of the problem is.  One has to think that how we determine the effectiveness of learning is clearly a subset of the issue of academic freedom.


 

This would not be the first time a faculty has argued against a change in methodology or information. When Galileo first presented his ideas on the relatively new Copernican model of the universe, it was the academic establishment that raised the first objections because acceptance of this new idea would mean that they had to change or retool everything they were doing. The church became a participant when the academic establishment convinced church authorities that Galileo was a threat to their security as well (see “Changing Of The Seasons”).

In the end, we are faced with one undeniable piece of information – each person has their own unique style of learning and one fixed process does not always work. Each subject requires its own approach and each instructor needs to adapt and adjust according to the situation they are in and the students they are teaching. Limiting how we teach or limiting and/or controlling the information flow can only lead to failure and ultimately the loss of freedom.

Who Are We?


A Meditation for 31 January 2016, the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), based on Jeremiah 4: 1 – 10, 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 13, and Luke 4: 21 – 30

There is something rather Calvinistic (if there is such a word) about the Old Testament reading for today. If God does know me in the womb, does that mean that our lives are laid out before we are born and nothing we say or do changes the outcome? Or does God see in each of us the untapped potential that we all have? I, of course, would prefer the latter, for that gives us the opportunity to do the work that we have to do.

Standing before the people of Nazareth in the synagogue that Sabbath day some two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke of the prophecy being fulfilled. He knew what He had to do and He most definitely knew where it would lead Him. Make no mistake, if Jesus had not gone to the Cross, the narrative of life today would have been different. The difficulty that Christ had then and each one of us has today is that society defines who we are before we are born and places limits on what it is we can do based on where we were born, our race, our gender, our economic status. And when we placed limits on anyone, it becomes very difficult for anyone to see the potential you have.

If, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, there is no love behind our actions, then all is for naught. If we, as a society and as a people, do not have love for others in our society, then we are in effect shutting them out of the future. Our love for others has to be such that each person meets his or her greatest potential.

If, however, we live in a society based on our fears, our bias, and our ignorance, then we are no better than those who heard Jesus speak that first Sabbath and ask how it is that the local carpenter’s son could say such things. And our reaction today, sadly, would be the same as it was then, where because of our fears, our bias, and our ignorance we destroy or limit those who have the potential for good.

Our call today is very simple. If we say that we are Christians, then there is love in our actions. We do things, perhaps feed the hungry, heal the sick, or free the oppressed, not because it will get us something but rather because we love those people and do not like seeing them sick, hurt, hungry, or oppressed. And if we merely say that we are Christians but then do nothing, then our words and actions ring hollow and false. And in today’s world, it is quite easy to hear hollow words and see false action.

The season of Lent is two weeks away; the call for repentance and the beginning of new life, a life in Christ is two weeks away. But we must begin today. We must work for the revival of the Holy Spirit and for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and the lives of all those we touch, either personally or peripherally.

We must speak out against injustice and repression because Jesus spoke out against it. We must help people get healthcare and housing, not because it is the political thing to do but because the prophecy calls for it.

And when someone happens to ask us who we are, we can say that we are followers of Christ, who came to this world to save us from slavery to sin and death, to a live free and eternal.

My closing question this day is a very simple one, who are you?

Your Last Chance To Vote


The upcoming 2016 election could very well be your last chance to vote.

The outcome of this election, both in terms of who gets elected President, who gets elected as Senators and Representatives, and the myriad number of local elections, could very well make voting by a good majority of the people illegal or at least impossible.

Now, as a disclaimer, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. While I may have considered the idea of being a Republican early on in my life, that notion can never be considered a reality today. When the Republicans adopted their Southern strategy in 1968, it was clear that anyone who wished to be considered a liberal and a Republican (they did exist back then) was being pushed out of their party.

And today’s Republican party, built on a policy of “just saying no” and either overtly or covertly working to limit the power of the majority of people based on gender, income, and race is not a party that I wish to be a part of.

And I am not a Democrat because too many Democrats, instead of espousing the philosophy of their party, have simply modified the Republican party philosophy that money is more important that ideals and standards.

But if you do not vote in the 2016 election and vote for those who see the future in a progressive manner, then the odds are that this will be your last vote.

If a Republican is elected President and the Republicans control the House and Senate, then expect a series of laws that will limit the right to vote to a few privileged white males, much in the manner of those eligible to vote when this country began in 1776. If you are a white male who owns property, then you will have the right to vote. If you do not meet those basic qualifications, then you will be denied the right to vote.

And don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of such laws. I think that it should be obvious now that one or two of the Supreme Court judges believe in that idea. I will not say that these judges are in the pockets of the rich and powerful but they have similar philosophies and that is sufficient. And the next President will appoint one and perhaps two Justices which will insure that the philosophy remains in place for a long time.

And when you vote, vote for candidates that support your ideas all the way down the ballot. In doing so, you work to insure that at the grass roots level there are people working to insure that freedom does exist.

One other thing, do not be accept the idea that your vote doesn’t count. Right now, that is the prevailing attitude of the American voter and it shows in the participation records. And when voter turnout is low, the results favor the more active and more organized party (and that happens to be the Republican party today). They will get their voters to the poll while working to keep the opposition away and that helps to insure their victory.

I also think that such voter apathy has very long-term effects. It is one of those wonderful cliches but the future does belong to the young. And I personally fear that many youth today see no future for them in a world that favors old, rich, and powerful white men. In a world that allows politicians to preach hatred and violence, to tell others how to live their lives while doing whatever they please, many people will see no hope and will turn away from the system.

So, in the basic sense, if you do not vote in the 2016 election, you will passively vote for those who seek to limit your ability to participate. And if you do not vote for the opportunity to have a future, if you are willing to accept the notion that yesterday was better than tomorrow will ever be, then you will never have the opportunity to say otherwise.

Remember, democracy is the very thin and fragile line that separates chaos and tyranny.