An On-going Culture of War

It was Robert E. Lee who, following the battle of Fredericksburg stated that “it is fortunate that war is so terrible – lest we should grow fond of it.” He also wrote in a letter to his wife on Christmas Day, 1862, “What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that, on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. … My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.”

clip_image002[5]In a saying that has been passed down through the ages, we are reminded that nobody is stupid enough to prefer war over peace. Because, in peacetime children bury their parents but in war, it is the parents who bury their children (attributed to Herodotus).

Yet, despite our seeming aversion to war, we quickly resort to war as the solution to our problems and our fears. Some would say that war in inevitable; that the conflict between good and evil can only be resolved through war. We have even created a “just war” theory in order to justify wars; we have created rules of war so that we can play the game of war properly and know who wins and loses.

But over the years, the rules of warfare have changed and what were once a legitimate rules are no longer acceptable. When we fought the American Revolution, there were times when our forces used Indian tactics (firing from behind trees rather in military straight lines) and the British called “foul” or “unfair”. In the Civil War, battlefield tactics required lines and lines of men marching towards the objective. But the weapons of war had improved and the accuracy of the weapons had improved, so the causalities that were incurred increased (it was the decimation of the ranks by this type of approach that lead General Lee to utter his first remark).

Each war has brought about improvements in weapons and delivery systems, yet we fight the war with the previous war’s tactics. The winner is not the one who plays by the rules of the present war but the one who adapts the quickest to the new technologies of war.

What will it take to break the cycle of war that seems to be passed down from generation to generation? What will it take to change this on-going culture of war?

One thing that will be needed is a change in our view of leadership, not just the President who is the Commander-in-Chief but all those who are involved in the decision to send our young men and women into battles in far-away places.

It would be nice if those who send our children off to war would be there when they come home. I am not speaking about the parades and victory celebrations that we so often desire; I am speaking about the times when our children come home wounded or dead. Each person at the uppermost level of leadership in this country should be required, if not by law then by common sense and decency, to be present at the funeral of those who have fought and served. They should be there to share the burden and grief of the families who have lost their future, for it is the future of the country that is buried as well. And no business of the country should take place if the leaders are not there to see the results of their decisions.

Second, we need to remember that there are only three qualifications to be President of this country. The individual must be either a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States, at least thirty-five years old, and a resident of the United States for fourteen years. There is nothing in the constitution concerning religion, race, sex, or military service that would further delineate these qualifications. And by the way, “so help me God” is not a part of the official oath of office; it was added spontaneously by George Washington at the conclusion of his first inauguration and has been repeated by every President since that time.

We heard the cry when President Clinton first ran for election in 1992 that he wasn’t qualified to be President because he had not served in the military while President George H. W. Bush was a qualified war hero. Somehow, the present President Bush’s military service in the Texas and Alabama National Guard qualified him to be the Commander-in-Chief while Senator Kerry’s war record in Viet Nam was challenged and questioned.

It would appear that Senator McCain’s military record will be used as a rationale for electing him. There is no doubt that Senator McCain should be proclaimed a war hero but that is not necessarily a reason for electing him President. Nor should the lack of service be considered a detriment to election. Neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton served (and had Senator Clinton been able to serve, it would have only been in non-combat roles; we want our military heroes on the front-line).

This is not to be an endorsement of any candidate currently seeking the position. Rather, I am pointing out that we have created a culture of war. If we want our military heroes to be our leaders, the only way we can have military heroes is to have wars.

Instead of heroes or messiahs, we need leaders who are willing to work to remove the causes of war, not just prevent them. We know what causes wars, yet we seem to ignore those causes.

If there are to be wars in our future we need leaders who understand the cost of war and are willing to carry that burden with the people they have been elected to lead. But war should not be the answer and the question in which war should be the answer should never be asked.

It is time that we examine the culture of war that we have created and begin taking the steps needed to end it. Let me add some thoughts that are in the April, 2008, issue of Connections, a monthly newsletter by Barbara Wendland. In this issue, she is reviewing The Politics of Jesus by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Reverend Hendricks points out that Jesus’ strategies were:

  • Jesus treated people and their needs as holy.
  • Jesus gave a voice to the voiceless.
  • Jesus exposed oppressive systems.
  • Jesus called demons by their names.
  • Jesus got angry about seeing others mistreated.
  • Jesus took blows without returning them.
  • Jesus demonstrated His way.

It is time that we who claim to be Christian act as Christians. The guidelines have been given to us and it is time that we put them into place.



The Next Move

As we enter this season of Easter, my home church is beginning to work on some areas identified by the Natural Church Development process.  (For those not familiar with Natural Church Development, you can go here).

We will be considering the following statement over the next few weeks, “Passionate Spirituality is developing a loving and trusting relationship with God that empowers and gives us the confidence to carry the spirit out of the Sanctuary and into the world.”

One thought we might consider is that between Easter and Pentecost the church began to develop its identity.  I am going to be using the above statement in conjunction with the lectionary for each week to develop the ideas that I will be writing about.  For those that are interested, I will also be preaching at Dover UMC on April 6th and May 4th.

So, having “said” all that, here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Easter. The Scriptures for this week are Acts 2: 14, 22 -33, 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9, and John 20: 19 – 31.

I have always been fascinated by time. I suppose that comes from a video that I showed several years ago about how time, or rather the keeping and marking of time, was developed. In that video, the narrator quoted Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 (“to everything there is a season”).

During the course of any twelve months, we marked the passage of time by the seasons. And that is especially true with regards to the church calendar. We are, once again, in the season of Easter. It is that particular passage of time from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, when the new church begins to take on its own identity and prepares to move from a local and limited regional movement to one that will eventually span the entire globe.

And while we are doing that we are also preparing for our General Conference, that peculiar four-year passage of time in the business of the United Methodist Church. We are also at a point in our country’s history where, as someone put it and I cannot remember who it was, the focus of our politics is not on a war fought some thirty years ago but on religion. We are beginning to ask ourselves, as we often should, “what is our religion and what is it that we truly believe?”

The answers to these questions and the outcome of General Conference will speak volumes as to what the future will become.

John Meunier, in his post “Is it the business model not the theology”, asked whether it was theology or a business model that was driving modern church development. There was a discussion, brief in ways of the blogging community, about what was meant by “the church”. Is the church the bride of Christ or is it some institution that mankind has created? It seems to me, as it apparently did to several others, that the church is an institution. I would add to this that we often see institutionalized churches in terms of the building it is in or the people who are there, not the message that is given inside the walls. And if that is the case, then the church has changed or is no longer what we speak of each week when we recite “The Apostle’s Creed” or any of the creeds that are in our hymnal.

There are those today outside the church that have the skepticism of Thomas but have chosen not to seek the evidence. And, because they do not seek the evidence as Thomas did, they will reject the Resurrection and, ultimately, reject Christ.

I do not have the actual numbers but I would hypothesize that the number of people who have read the books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett equal the number of people who have read the books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. We are a society that seeks simple answers to complicated questions and, as a society we are quite willing to allow others to dictate how we will answer those questions. Kevin Horrigan, in recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (“Obama Tests America’s cult of ignorance”) pointed out that society in general no longer wants the information that it needs in order to make informed decisions and quite willingly lets others dictate the depth and breadth of the information presented.

As this pertains to today and the discussion of the church, we need to be asking why it is that books by neo-atheists and books by fundamentalists so easily dominate our lives. For the neo-atheist, if one cannot logically prove there is a God, then there must not be a God. But this view rejects religious faith as a part of one’s life and replaces it with a new faith called scientism. Somewhere along the line, you have to develop an answer about the creation and existence of good and evil. Even if this is done with logic and reason, you must conclude that good and evil are inherent in mankind or, as mankind had believed throughout the ages, that there is some sort of god. If you choose the former, then you have several interesting ethical questions to answer. If you choose the latter, then you are faced with the dilemma of mankind about whom or what is a god? In the end, rejecting faith as a belief system and not replacing it with something ultimately fails. There was an interesting article in Christian Century (“Amateur Atheists”) that explores the problems of today’s neo-atheists when their views are contrasted to the classical atheists of history; the conclusion was that you cannot lead a life without some sort of belief system.

For fundamentalists, the only solution to the many problems of the world is found in the destruction of the world, where all true believers are taken away in the moments before that occurs. But if we stand around and wait for the destruction of the world, what are we to do with the sick, the homeless, the naked, and the oppressed? Did Jesus not remind us that those who proclaim themselves as righteous but ignore those in need will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven? How can we stand by and not work for a better world?

For these believers, science must be explained in terms of faith. Logic and reason must be subverted and questioning the basic tenets of faith cannot be allowed.

But we do not live in a world where you can live by logic and reason alone, nor do we live in a world of faith alone.

In these two extreme views, there is a challenge. The challenge is not to find a path that balances the two extreme positions but rather to develop a new path, one that involves a new way of thinking.

The words that Peter and the other disciples spoke to the crowds at the beginning of the church, “We have seen the Christ and we know that He has risen from the dead,” echo throughout the passage of time.

In that meeting in the Upper Room some two thousand years ago, Jesus empowered the disciples to take the Gospel message out into the world. And each succeeding generation has been empowered by the generation before it to do the same. Each one of us knows someone whose life illuminated Christ in such a way that we could find Jesus for ourselves.

Perhaps it was an act of simple kindness or the invitation to share a cup of coffee; whatever it was, it was an expression of the love that Christ had for us and it was something that transformed our lives. It is that which we must do for the next generation as well.

It takes more than insisting that our children attend Sunday School; it will take more than a single invitation to a person to get them to come. It will take people quietly living their lives as an example of Christ. And it will take the people inside a church’s walls reaching out to the neighbors on the other side of the walls.

It will take churches as institutions and as people saying to those neighbors that we are here with you and that we are not going to leave (it will also take church organizations to say the same thing).

Society often demands that we walk several paths at one time. Society places demands on us that we often cannot meet. Becoming a Christian does not remove the demands of society from our lives; it simply places them in the proper perspective.

Becoming a Christian requires that one make a decision, a decision to walk a different path rather than the path that society would have you to walk. When we chose to walk the new path of a life in Christ, we say to the world that we will not allow society to dominate and imprison us or the people we come into contact with. Rather, we will show the world a better life, a life of loving and caring, a live of inclusion and support.

Throughout the ages, from David writing his Psalms to Peter and disciples going out into the world, it has been the same. The message of the Gospel changes lives. It is our responsibility to show those changes so that others will see and know. Some will be like Thomas, asking for more evidence. And the evidence will be each one of us.

If the future is to be a promising one, it will be because we have offered a vision that is promising. It is a vision of Christ in the world through us.

How we move into the future is up to us. What is your next move?

Pledges and Loyalty Oaths

Jim Parsons recently asked if we, as Christians, should pledge allegiance to anything but Christ (see “Pledge of Allegiance – Right or Wrong?”.

When I last taught high school (during the 2001 – 2002 academic year), we were literally ordered to begin the school day by reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance”.  Growing up as I did, I had no problems with reciting the pledge, though getting the proper phrasing (remember that “under God” was added to the original phrase and is separated by commas) was always a problem.  But the order and it was an order to say the pledge came after September 11, 2001 and was done as way, I believe, to encourage patriotism.  But patriotism cannot come through forced means.

Now we read in the April 8, 2008 issue of Christian Century reprinted an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that reported on the firing of a California State University mathematics instructor and a Quaker was fired because she refused to sign an unaltered state loyalty oath.

The instructor was willing to sign the loyalty oath provided it was modified to conform to her Quaker beliefs.  The article notes that the university did not care about the quality of her instruction or whether she actually believed in what she was signing but only that she signed an unaltered oath.

I have twice been forced to sign loyalty oaths (once in 1995 and once in 2005) and was told that if I did not sign them I would not receive a paycheck.

Loyalty oaths were, I believe, a product of the McCarthy era of the 1950’s and were designed to “protect” society from those who would seek its destruction.  There is an episode in M*A*S*H where it was discovered that Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist, had not signed his loyalty oath and thus could be kicked out of the Army.  Dr. Freedman pointed out that if he were a Communist, the first thing he would have done is signed the loyalty oath.  In the meantime, Hawkeye compliments Sidney on how smart he was for finding a way to get out of the army.

Are requiring that people say the “Pledge of Allegiance” or signing a loyalty oath a true measure of someone’s patriotism or commitment to one’s country?  How many people put up flags following 9/11 that have since become torn and tattered and faded in the sunlight?  Is patriotism something than can be expressed through forced means or is it found in the hearts and souls of the people?

Each Sunday we say a creed that defines what we believe.  Hopefully we believe what we say and we say it, not from memory, but from our heart. I think the same is true about pledges and loyalty oaths; they have no meaning if they are forced.

An Interesting Article

There is an interesting article in the March 21, 2008 print version of The United Methodist Reporter (Worship Trends section).  It is entitled “Blogging Benefits: Pastors discover online community enhances preaching” and mentions several members of The Methoblog.  The on-line version is here.

The Political Nature of Christianity

The one thing that has consistently and constantly amazed me is that some people can say that they are conservatives and Christians.  It is not that it is an impossible statement to make but that is seems rather implausible.

What exactly does it mean when you say that you are politically liberal or politically conservative?

I am old enough to remember, though not old enough to have voted, when Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964 against Lyndon Johnson.  I recall reading how President John Kennedy was relishing the opportunity to run against Senator Goldwater and how they had thought and planned to appear together in a series of debates, much like the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856, in which they would define their positions in a public forum.  How I and many others would have liked to have seen and heard such a debate.  It may have very well changed the landscape and nature of our political campaigns today.  Unfortunately, this was not the case so we will never know. 

I have come to understand that conservatives believe in the rights of the individual first and foremost.  But I also think that liberals believe that the rights of the individual also come first and foremost.  It is probably in the fulfillment of those rights that things get a little muddy.

I didn’t want Barry Goldwater as President because he believed that civil rights were to be decided by the individual states and not by the federal government. 

The rights of the states (i.e., “states’ rights”) versus the rights of the federal government has been a historical part of the political debate.  But what happens when what the state does limits the rights of people.  For those not familiar with my background, I grew up in the South and the laws of segregation and discrimination affected my family as much as they did any black family.  Granted, the limitations placed on my family were not the same as the limitations that were placed on black families.  My parents could vote while most blacks were barred from voting.  And it took federal legislation to bring equality to the voting booth.

But the federal legislation that brought about many of the changes in the 1960’s did not come about until people were morally outraged by the treatment of one group of society by another.  And over time, the basis for mistreatment would change from race to economic status, though it would seem that race and gender are the central issues today.

Somewhere along the line though, being called a conservative was to say that you were a defender of the status quo rather than the defender of individual rights. It became more important to keep what you had rather than insure that everyone was treated equally.  It maybe that people are oppressed but they have the same opportunities as everyone else and, if they cannot take advantage of the opportunities available, that is their problem.

Against that backdrop, let us consider Christianity and the charge given to us some two thousand years ago. In most translations of Matthew 28: 19 – 20 Christ commands us

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (the New International Version)

But other versions of this passage, included Clarence Jordan’s translation, say

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (The Message)

As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. (Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel)

And what did Jesus teach His disciples and what were His disciples to teach us?  Consider what He said when He began His ministry,

He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
   God’s Spirit is on me;
      he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
       the poor,
   Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
      recovery of sight to the blind,
   To set the burdened and battered free,
      to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (Luke4: 16 – 21, The Message)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, and sought to free the people from oppression.  He gave voice to the individual at a time when individuals had no voice.

It was the conservatives of Jesus’ time, those who would hold onto the status quo,who sought His arrest and crucifixion.  It was those who held onto the power and used the law as a means of suppression that sought to limit the power of the new Christian movement.

And it was and is the conservatives of this country who have often tried to repress and restrain minorities in this country.

There will be those who tell me that governments have no business feeding people or providing medical care or building homes.   Perhaps that is correct but if individuals do not do it or if the problem is greater than the collective sum of the individuals, who will do it?

And should not the church be calling to task those who say that the poor have only themselves to blame?  What do we do when there are CEO’s in this country who earn more in one year than many of their workers will ever earn in a lifetime? 

Perhaps Christianity has no business being in politics but then where will the call for justice and righteousness come from?  If being a conservative is compatible with being a Christian and being a conservative means holding onto the status quo, who will look out after those for whom the status quo means less.


Cross posted to

Technology and the Church

The other day I pointed out that businesses, along with many colleges, were discouraging the use of Powerpoint presentations. I updated it with a link to a site where someone had converted Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address into a Powerpoint presentation.  I then concluded by asking “What does this tell us or say to us about the use of technology in our worship services today and tomorrow?”  (See “Here’s Something Interesting”).

I received an e-mail the other day that asked what would happen if we gave treated our Bibles like we do our cell phones?  There are a number of people who have posted that particular piece so I won’t add to the list.  But it prompted me to think about text messaging and its impact on our culture.  A search provided a link to a contest back in 2001 to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer as a text message (go here).

In response to my posting “Rock and Roll Revival Revisited”, Sarah Dylan Breuer noted that the music played during a worship has to resonate with the congregation.  The same is true for technology; if the moment calls for a Powerpoint presentation, then use it.  But if the moment doesn’t call for, don’t try to fit the two together.

So where does technology fit in a church?  Is the means by which the message is given or is the message driven by the method?  Do we continue to do the same thing every Sunday and hope that people get the message?  Or do we try to do some things differently in hopes that people find church hip and totally cool?  Or will we get so caught up in the process of the presentation that we forget what the message is?

Addendum – John Meunier asks “Is It the Business Model not the Theology?”.  What drives how we build our church?

Here’s Something Interesting

(I have updated this post from last week and added a link at the end of the post; enjoy!)

At the beginning of this post, let me know that there have been times where I have used my laptop in the pulpit. 

I am one of those who prefers to have his thoughts and words down on paper but when my printer isn’t working, I will carefully put my laptop on the pulpit, see the document for full screen and go with the flow.

In all the churches that I have been, only once I have I seen a Power Point presentation or something similar used.  I have never used a Power Point presentation as part of my sermon and I have no intention of doing so.  There may be times when I want to show some pictures but for the most part technology helps me prepare the message but not deliver it.

Now, having said that, I do and will use technological applications in my chemistry classroom as part of the instructional process.  There are some things that technology helps facilitate.

There is a trend it seems for students to bring laptops into the classroom.  This is, a good thing, because of what you can then do.  But very few of my students in the recent past have brought their own laptops into the classroom.  This is a reflection of economics more than anything else.

But some students at other schools do so on a regular basis.  For the most part and if you can do it, it is an easier way to take notes.  And considering the handwriting of some of my students, I wouldn’t mind giving them an electronic form of a test and have them type in their answers.

There are problems with using laptops, of course.  If you let students put their answers down in an electronic form, then you have to find some way to prevent them from getting the answers off the Internet or through some form of wireless communication. 

Now we read that some schools have taken to banning the use of laptops in the classroom.  Apparently students are not taking notes but rather engaging in other activities, such as updating their personal pages, chatting with others (hopefully not in the same classroom), or just playing games.

Businesses are now finding it necessary to do the same thing.  There is an interesting article on the website describe this new trend (link).

As is noted in the article, there is a possible link between an obsessive reliance on technology and a moral failing in society.  If nothing else, the reliance on technology reduces the need for the human mind to think and, in turn, reduces the need for face-to-face interaction with other human beings.

A number of people are discussing the utility and usage of powerpoint presentations in the chemistry classroom.  As part of that discussion (the archives are located here), someone pointed out that there was powerpoint presentation of the Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.  It is here.

What does this tell us or say to us about the use of technology in our worship services today and tomorrow?