Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter


The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line. I urge you all to check this out as it has information related to the teaching of science and academic freedom.

There is a section in this month’s newsletter for you to sign up for the 2017 Evolution Weekend.  You can contribute to the 2017 Weekend by offering thoughts on what the theme should be (the themes for past years are listed).

No matter whether you are clergy or laity, I urge you to check it out and get involved in the project.

An Open Letter To Donald Trump


Dear Mr. Trump,

After the latest terror attack in France, you proudly proclaimed that you would have Congress declare war on ISIS if you were elected President.

I will give you credit. There have been perhaps one or two candidates for President who have campaigned on the platform of starting a war. At least you have declared that you will follow the Constitution and have Congress declare war instead of taking off on your own.

And it makes a little difference because of the number of proposals that you have previously made that defy Constitutional authority.

But what are you going to do if Congress doesn’t do as you ask? Remember, Congress does not work for you nor does it automatically do your bidding; Congress works for the people (though they have to be occasionally reminded of that fact).

And, if they do agree, how are you going to do this? Where will this battle be fought? Will you simply bomb ISIS wherever it may be? Do you even know where these criminals hide? Or do they all look alike to you? Since ISIS is not a country or geographical entity, will you seek the help of countries in which ISIS is operating? Or will you simply invade these countries? Do you intend to include France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom on your list of targets because elements of ISIS are in those countries? How much of the world do you plan to destroy in this quest?

Will you send the youth of this country, our wives and husbands,our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren, to fight this war? Or will you proclaim that the other countries will pay the price for this war?

And what sort of bombs will you drop if this is your course of action?

What will you do that we are not already doing? And more importantly, what are you going to do when this war is over, if it is ever finished? Do you intend to keep us in a state of war forever?

Who will pay for this war that you propose? Who will rebuild the world that you seek to destroy? What will happen to all of the people whose homes and lands are destroyed in the process of defeating ISIS? Will our doors be open to those who only want to live a life in peace? Or will you slam the doors in their face and say that they are part of the problem?

Being President is an important task and decisions made by our President reverberate throughout the world.

You may say that this is a world at war; how will you make this a world at peace?

Knock, Knock! Who’s There?


As I have noted before, growing up in the South I have personally experienced the effects of segregation (many of classmates did so as well but they didn’t understand because they didn’t know).

In the spring of 1969, I stood by my friends in protest of unfair housing practices in Kirksville, MO. It was a peaceful sit-in but it could have gone bad quite easily. And I will be honest, my parents went ballistic when they found out what I was doing.

I participated in the Moratorium in 1969 in protest of the Viet Nam war (causing more concern for my parents). And I was prepared to go to jail or Canada if I were to have been drafted in 1971 (I got lucky and received a deferment).

In everything that I have said and done, I have tried to stand for equality and freedom. I have taken the precepts and principles of the Gospel as what they are, the Truth that will set people free.

It strikes me that we should never had to have passed this torch on to the next generation. We should be moving forward. But it would seem some in my generation haven’t learned the lessons of history. There are those of my generation who refuse to see others as equals because of race, gender, sexuality, or income. And they seek to pass this ignorance and hatred onto the next generation.

It works this way. We are all children of God, made in God’s image (Genesis 1: 27). We all have the same rights and freedoms, no matter what our race might be, no matter what our gender or sexuality, and certainly no matter what our economic status might be.

Those who work to keep others from having the same rights, freedoms, and, if you will, privileges as they have will have to answer to this when they meet God first hand. Those who loudly proclaim that they know what God is thinking better than God does.

And they will have to wonder why when they knock on Heaven’s Door, no one answers.

Lexington, North Carolina


As noted, this was a message I presented back in 2005.  I am reposting it because I described my own personal encounter with segregation when I was about 12 years old.


This is the message that I will present this morning at Vails Gate UMC (Vails Gate, NY). Please let me know what you think; also, if you want to use what I have written here, please let me know.  (This post was edited on 12 March 2008 to remove some programming errors)

Thanks!

In peace and with Christ – Tony Mitchell


When I began reading the Scriptures for today, my first thoughts were of my mother’s home town of Lexington, North Carolina, and the times we spent visiting there while growing up. Hence, that is the title for this sermon. But as I struggled with and worked on this sermon, my thoughts changed from the days past when I was growing up to the days present.

For me, growing up in the south, hurricanes are not just items on the evening news or something read about in the newspaper. So the impact of Katrina has hit me just a little harder than perhaps it did you. And the knowledge of what is happening in New Orleans has added to what I was thinking a few weeks ago.

The three scriptures that we have for today have two common points, fear and trust. While decided several years ago, it is quite evident that they are very appropriate and evident for today.

Very few people seem to be asking what sort of a spiritual impact this disaster will have, and whether we are going to let it affect our consciences and our collective soul. Shouldn’t we all be praying for a spiritual renewal, and for a new era of justice and love? To me, that is the sort of question we should be asking.

Having said this, I’m sure that the people who have been personally devastated by Katrina are dealing with these deeper issues, and I pray that they find the nearness of God like never before.

Our world today is filled with unknowns and fears. Not only have we had to deal with Hurricane Katrina, we read of forest fires in Portugal and the western United States, mudslides in the Alps, the continued violence, destruction, and despair in Iraq, and the on-going famine in Darfur.

Others fears, both real and imagined, gnaw at the back of many minds. We cannot begin a day without hearing what the color of the day is; we have been encouraged to view any stranger we encounter as a threat, either as a terrorist or as one who will steal our identify from us. It is no wonder then that the enthusiasm of the young is being stifled and gradually replaced with caution, reserve, and apathy. (Adapted from “Searching for the Mountaintop – Finding a purpose in a Time of Fear” by Johann Christoph Arnold)

Our politics have almost totally become politics of fear. Politicians no longer campaign on the good things they will do but rather on what terrible things their opponents will do.

I am the son and grandson of career military officers. It is quite likely that my grandfather passed through this region as his infantry regiment was transferred from Fort Meade, Maryland, to Plattsburgh, NY, in 1921. Because my father made his career as an Air Force officer, we moved around quite a bit.

Lexington, North Carolina, is my mother’s home and a place that we visited from time to time. It was the place where I was baptized, and as such, it is a place that I consider one of my hometowns.

One summer during the early 1960’s we were visiting my grandparents. While there my two brothers and I went to the movie theater in town. While trying to find a place to sit, we inadvertently wandered into what one would politely call the “colored” section. Even though the theater was a public theater, this was the south and it was still a time of segregation.

What I remember of that moment was that while it was easy to pass from the “whites only” section, it was very difficult to pass back. The gate that separated the two sections only swung one way. It was easy enough to figure out that you needed to pull the gate back rather than push it forward. But when you are in a darkened theater with two younger brothers, it is a frightening and uncomfortable situation. It is such a situation in which fear can quickly grow.

Unfortunately, the legacy of segregation and the fear that can come from that odious practice is still with us. The news coming out of New Orleans is just a hint of the decades of oppression and fear that was imposed on the minorities in this country.

It was also fear that drove Matthew to write down the words of the Gospel that we read this morning. In all of Jesus’ parables, he challenged the listeners to hear the Gospel of God’s love in different ways, through different experiences, and with different languages. This passage goes beyond anything we might comprehend; it goes beyond the tokenism of inclusiveness to a radical inclusivity where we take others seriously, listen to each other and dare trust that he or she belongs in God’s love as much as we do. (Adapted from “A Careful Read” by Deanna Langle, The Christian Century, August 23, 2005)

If you stop and think about it, these cannot be the words of Christ. As you read this passage, you have to be struck with the paradox posed. If you have a problem with a member of the church, meet with them in private. If there are still problems, then bring along some witnesses and try to work out the problem. If that fails, then they were to be expelled from the church.

Did Christ not seek all those who had been excluded from church? Did not Christ seek those who were expelled from society? So how could He say throw out those with whom you disagree?

There are those who feel that this passage from Matthew comes from the later church and not from Christ. How could Jesus have been speaking for the church when there was, at that time, no church? Would He really have said treat someone as a Gentile or a tax collector when His own actions ran counter to those words? Remember that on a number of occasions He healed Gentiles and even had dinner with Zaccaheus, a tax collector. Even Matthew (or Levi in some translations), one of the twelve was a tax collector. So there are problems with this passage. It is possible that these verses are the reflection and thoughts of the early church.

These words still have a meaning for this day and time, for this is a passage of patience and gentleness. When you feel that you have been wronged by someone, you should make the first approach. When you point out that fault that has produced the rift between the two of you, it is to be done in love and friendship. One should use such a visit as this for the purpose of regaining a lost brother or sister, not for humiliation or condemnation.

Even if this private visit fails, the individual should not be branded as anything publicly. Two or three others, chosen for their Christian grace, are to be told so that their urgings can be added. It is only if they fail that the whole congregation should be told but not so that they can thrust this individual from their company and compassion. Only the individual’s own actions can drive them from the church.

These passages offer us a glimpse into the problems of the early church. Even then, there were careless and wayward members; sometimes there were even open scandals. The epistles confirm this picture of the early church. When we re-read verse 18, we see that it has been fulfilled. The church sometimes determines what interpretations should be forbidden (bound) and which should be sanctioned (loosed). The church, both the early one and today’s varieties and versions, have not been as gentle in discipline as the Gospel reading proposed. The church many times has acted with cruel vigor. The curse and penalty discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:5 (“hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature (that his body; or that the flesh) may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5: 5) is not gentle and it has been carried far beyond Paul’s time.

Matthew has combined in this writing a call for Christian patience and a great yearning for unity in the church. (Adapted from The Interpreter’s Bible – a commentary in twelve volumes, Volume 7 – Abingdon Press, 1951)  There was truly a fear that there would be those whose work would destroy the building of the church and perhaps there was a need for such scripture. But fear should never drive what we do or we should we use fear to disenfranchise people.

We should never see the Bible as closed and only an answer book. To do so would be a grave error on our part. We will continue to use scripture to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify harm in God’s name. When this is done, we limit God.

We must listen and read passages such as these very carefully and honor the questions and tensions that they raise in us. If we listen with “new ears” we always will hear something different from what we expect. What we should take from this passage is that we are encouraged to remove the divisions between people, not building up walls that divide. We are encouraged to unite people with Christian love and grace, not separate people through fear, hatred and condemnation. And do we not sing

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., came to Memphis to help the garbage workers in the strike against the City of Memphis. On April 3rd, he spoke not knowing what would transpire the next day. On that night he said,

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop…and I’ve seen the Promised Land…I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

On the next day, Dr. King was shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King foresaw his death. He knew without a doubt that it was coming, and he had every right to be afraid. But he wasn’t. So why should we?

There can be no doubt that there was fear in the minds of the Israelites that first Passover night. What if the Angel of Death should not see the blood smeared on the door to their house? What if the Pharaoh would not heed this last warning from God and let them go? What were they going to find as they went out into the desert? There truly must have been fear in their minds. But they trusted God.

And just as they trusted God to lead them through the desert and to the Promised Land, so too must we trust in God. So too must we work to show others that God has not forgotten anyone. In the reading from Romans for today, Paul quiets our fears. We know that our future is secure through Christ’s death and sacrifice on the cross. The blood of the lamb smeared on the doors of the Israelite homes in Egypt is now the Blood of Christ soaked into the Cross on Calvary. With this, how can we be afraid of what might come before us.

We must, as Paul encouraged us from centuries past, to replace fear in this country with true Christian love. If we allow fear to control our lives, it will conquer our lives. And if fear conquers, it will breed anger; and anger will bring hate. We must bring, through our words, our deeds, our thoughts and prayers the light of the world that was brought in our lives when we first accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior.

In a time when disaster seems to bring out the worst and causes mankind to distrust mankind, we must work to bring out the best in people. In a world where people see disaster and question the very existence of a loving and kind God, we must use our skills and talents to show that God is a positive presence in every ones lives.

For me, Lexington is just one of many places that I call home. It is where I came to know Christ as a baptized infant. Though it was a place where I came to know one manner of fear that people used to control others, it was a place in which my journey with Christ also began. We each have such a place in our lives; we must work to make sure that others do so as well.

But I Don’t Know How


A Meditation for 10 July 2016, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 37.

We woke up this past Friday morning to another shooting, another act of senseless violence. Was this shooting just the act of a senseless madman or a response, rightly or wrongly, to an environment that sees violence as the only response to violence? Or was it both?

Are we a society that sees itself as one group with many parts or are we so diverse, divisive, and separated that we can never see ourselves as one group?

As I have stated in the past, I grew up in the South, perhaps at the worst possible time to be growing up in the South. Parts of the South were still segregated and the parts that were being integrated were doing so slowly and somewhat reluctantly. And I know that many of those who grew up during that time, some of them my classmates, probably haven’t accepted those changes.

And today, with the reluctance of many, we haven’t accepted the idea that the statement “all men are created equal” applies to all, men and women, people of all colors, people of all economic status, and independent of gender or gender identity.

For some, the idea that some person, whom your grandparents may have considered inferior (or worse), is your equal is still a hard pill to swallow. We still somehow want to think that we are better than anyone else and we rejoice when some politicians tell us that. We rebel when others want to claim the equality that we have taken for granted.

And the Christian church, once the hope of the oppressed and forgotten, once the source of moral strength and whose members stood up against injustice and with those cast aside by society, was among the first to build a wall and keep people out. The sanctuary in too many churches across this country have become a place that keeps society out and allows its members to hide; it is no longer a place that welcomes the outcast and the forgotten; it is slowly becoming a place that says we don’t care who you are, we don’t want you here.

But the good news is that there are those who see the inequality and the injustice and work to end the oppression. There are those who are like Amos, who would rather just do the normal jobs. But God is calling them to take on the task, of speaking out against injustice and oppression, of saying that hatred and violence will never work.

Amos also pointed out that those whose only interest was in their own well-being and maintenance of the status quo would lose in the end.

Jesus was asked by someone who probably wanted an excuse to ignore the problems of society who was his neighbor. But Jesus wouldn’t give him that opportunity but pointed out that everyone was everyone’s neighbor and that you could not ignore anyone just because they didn’t fit some notion of correctness.

Paul reminds us, as he reminded the Galatians, that the Gospel still remains true and that grows stronger every day. But it still remains for each one of us to continue the work that began two thousand years ago in the back roads of the Galilee.

We may not know how to rid this world of oppression and hatred; we may be afraid to even try.

But we do know how to bring peace and justice to this world because we know the love of Christ and we know what Christ did for each one of us.

Because God loved us enough to send His son to die on the Cross for our sins and to bring us into freedom, we know what to do. And when we take that love into the world, things will begin to change.

The View Of The Future


I heard a comment the other day that suggested, to me anyway, that the money that was spent on the Juno mission to Jupiter would have been better spent feeding the poor.

In one sense, this was correct. When we have one dollar and we have to choose between feeding the hungry and exploring the outer reaches of space, we need to feed the hungry. Because we will be unable to explore the outer reaches of space.

But I also feel that there is something wrong with this idea. It presupposes that we only have one dollar to spend, when in reality, we have perhaps ten dollars to spend. And the vast majority of that ten dollars is spent on military and security items, items which in the end destroy things.

There is clearly something wrong when the majority of our money is spent on destruction, in whatever form it takes. Because sooner or later, we will not be able to rebuild what we destroy.

If, on the other hand, we spend the vast majority of our money on building things, then we wouldn’t have to worry about feeding the people or healing the sick or the other things that suffer when we destroy rather than build.

And if we spend our money building the creative skills of the people, then we will find cures for illness, ways to grow food without modifications, create energy that does not pollute and discover answers to the questions we haven’t begun to ask at this time.

For too long this country, this society, and this planet have focused on the practice of war. It may be that there are times we need to have such a focus but, over the long run, it can only mean the destruction of people, society, and in the end, this planet.

On the other hand, a focus on building up and focusing on people allows us to have a clearer view of the future.