Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?

This Sunday, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, I am presenting the message at Dover UMC again.  The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23 and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.


Just what is the right thing to do? This, of course, is a question that has been asked by each generation and will be asked by each generation to come. Now, there are some who would say that right and wrong are relative; others say that the ability to discern right from wrong is somehow encoded in our genes; and there are those who tell us that there is a physical law which governs the concept of right and wrong.

If right and wrong are relative to particular places and times, i.e., if something such as slavery can be right 100 years ago but wrong today, then we will have a very difficult time explaining our history and we will have a very hard time deciding what to do in the coming years.

If the ability to discern right and wrong is encoded in our genes, then we are looking at a Pandora’s Box which, if opened, will create more havoc and destruction than anything that was in the original box. The same could be said if the notion of right and wrong are somehow governed by the laws of nature.

The other possibility is that there are clear distinctions between right and wrong and these distinctions can be taught. The question arises as to when and where should they be taught and who should teach them? And what happens when what one person teaches or is taught comes into conflict with the teachings of another?

Now, I started writing this message before the release of the second portion of Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey, which dealt with the extent of religious beliefs and practices as well as the impact of religion on society. The first part of this survey, released in February, showed that many Americans switched their religious affiliations at least once in their life (see “Questions from the Religious Landscape”). Two things that came out of that particular report is that many of the mainline churches, including the United Methodist Church, are losing members and that one out of every six individuals who responded indicated that they did not belong to an organized religion. In other words, people believe but they do not belong. And they are searching for the right place to belong, the place where what they believe fits in.

They are searching because they are confused about God and what they believe. They see churches of all religions whose words and pronouncements do not match what is in their hearts and minds and the Holy Scriptures of each religion. This is, in part, what the second part of the Pew Study tells me.

In the second report, the vast majority of Americans (92%) believe in God, 74% believe in life after death, and a majority says that their religion is not the only way to salvation. On the surface, this is good news. But when you look beneath the surface, things do not appear to be that good. 21% of self-identified atheists said that they believe in God or a universal spirit with 8% “absolutely certain”. If one person out of every five says that they believe in something which by definition they cannot believe in, what does that say about the other results of this study? Other results of this survey are, for me, equally disturbing and confusing.

Many say that the results of this study indicated that we are either becoming more religious tolerant or we don’t completely understand what it is that we believe. The results suggest that we do not know the fundamental teachings of our own particular faith. And this fundamental misunderstanding of our faith is clearly indicated in other studies.

In a recent report, sixty percent of Americans could not identify five of the Ten Commandments and 50% of high school seniors thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were married. Three-quarters of the American populace believe that “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible. Though it is biblical sounding, it comes from Poor Richard’s Almanac, a book definitely not one of the four Gospels and it actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.

Don’t ask too many Americans to identify the four Gospels because only one-half can name more than one of those books. And only one-third of the populace can tell you who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. (See http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/2007-04-29-oplede_N.htm?csp=34)

Another survey (http://www.theologicalstudies.citymax.com/page/page/1573625.htm) showed that less than one out of every ten believers possess a biblical worldview as the basis for his or her decision-making or behavior. And when given thirteen basic teachings from the Bible, only 1% of adult believers firmly embraced all thirteen as being biblical perspectives.

In the June 17, 2008, issue of Christian Century, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about the “Introduction to World Religions” course that she taught at Piedmont College (“Faith Matters”). The course spends five weeks studying each of the world’s major religions. At best, only the basic information can be covered but it is enough to often change the thinking of many of the students. Students who completed the course indicate that they feel more at home in the world, they are less frightened by religious differences, and they are more informed and perhaps better equipped to wage peace instead of war.

But, when it comes to section covering Christianity, there are some disturbing results. Until they took the course, students said that they never noticed that the nativity story in Matthew was different from the nativity story in Luke and that Mark and John have no such stories. They never imagined that the first Christians did not walk around with a copy of the New Testament in their pockets. In fact, they have no concept of how the books of the Bible were assembled. Most of the students assumed that Paul was one of the disciples and that was how he gathered the information that he used to write his letters. And no one told them about Constantine, Augustine, Benedict or Martin Luther. They have no idea that there are branches to the tree of Christianity. For most students, nothing happened during the centuries between Jesus’ resurrection and their own profession of faith.

Now, from my own understanding of the learning process, this is entirely understandable. When you are presented with information that conflicts with information that you already have, the new information is often not processed beyond the moment. When it comes time to recall the information, you fall back on the old stuff rather than the new material. This is true whether you are studying chemistry or religion. And for most people, their last true class in religion was their confirmation class; so they are essentially junior high students when it comes to religion.

When you compare Dr. Taylor’s results and those of other studies that showed a similar Biblical illiteracy, the results of the Pew Study take on a new meaning. In the end, it means that we often don’t know what it is that we say we know. And if we don’t know or understand, then our belief will be weak. As one commentator noted, religion in America is 3,000 miles wide and three inches deep (see the “Americans: My faith isn’t the only way”). The tolerance of other religions that everyone says this study indicates is based more on weak beliefs than on a true understanding of each other.

As my colleague Henry Neufeld noted,

While I celebrate tolerance, I’m disturbed by the tendency to identify tolerance with weak beliefs. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. People become tolerant by becoming less committed. The article refers to this as “humility,” but it doesn’t seem so to me. Humility in one’s beliefs would require one to have some beliefs, but to admit that one might be mistaken and to be open to correction. The particular evidence for this is those who try to keep the label “evangelical” while altering the definition.

I would prefer a society made up of people with strong beliefs, who were willing to defend those beliefs, but were also determined to do so respectfully, and to respect–not agree with–the beliefs of others.

As one last note, let me add that I think this is the attitude that fosters hate speech codes. The tolerant in this sense are not really tolerant. Rather, they are tolerant of those who agree with them that their religious ideas don’t matter all that much. They are conformists, but they conform to a culture of apathy and indecision. Thus when they encounter someone who doesn’t fall within that culture, they feel justified in suppressing that person’s expression. (From “Good News and Bad News on Religious Tolerance”

The problem is that we have studied religion, and especially Christianity and Methodism, as if it were a disease for which we must be vaccinated. And once we are vaccinated, we are immune and we no longer have to worry about the material.

But, if we understand what it was that we say we are, perhaps we would be better off. When we study history, it is often with the idea of finding out who did what, when it was done and where it was done. We study the Bible as if it were a historically or scientifically based document because of that approach.

The ancients were not particularly concerned with same sort of facts. They were more concerned with the why. If we began reading the Bible like our ancestor’s ancestors did, then it would come to life and it would have more meaning for us. The Bible is an incredible description of other people’s relationships with God that was recorded so that we could understand our own relationship with God.

But changing the approach by which we learn often comes with a price; you begin to question things. And there are those who tell you that if you question even one fact in the Bible, you will begin questioning others parts of the Bible and suddenly the whole thing will become irrelevant. But there is another possibility; to question your faith is not to disown it but to claim it with a deeper passion, joy, and conviction (adapted from The Phoenix Affirmations – A New Vision for the Future of Christianity by Eric Elnes).

And I believe that God will allow us to question what He asks us to do or what He is doing. The Book of Job is about one’s man questioning of God. All Job wants is a fair hearing and, in the end, that is what he gets. We are reminded that many of the so-called righteous people associated with Job’s story want him to accept the notion that he, Job, did something wrong. And Job will not do that; he will not go quietly. As Henry Neufeld wrote, Job was willing to fight for what he believed and we should be willing to do so as well. It does not make us a lesser person and it does not confer some sort of apostate status on us; it makes us better believers.

The Old Testament Story for today (Genesis 22: 1 – 14) can be read one of two ways. Either Abraham followed God’s dictates blindly or he trusted in God because of what God had done in the past. As many translations tell us, God was testing Abraham. Had Abraham learned the lessons that had brought him to that time and place? Was he going to sacrifice his only son, the sign of the future that God had promised would be Abraham’s? God does not want us to blindly follow Him but to go where He directs us and to do what we are asked to do because we understand.

Glen Clark wrote, in I Will Lift Up My Eyes,

The first lesson God gives us in training our will is in making us go halfway with Him. He first puts us through a series of disciplines to see if we are worthy to make His team. After this lesson is learned we discover that there are many many times that God goes all the way with us. Over and over again He gives us far more than we have any right to ask. We call this “His Grace,” which goes so much farther than “His law” requires that He should go. God’s mercy goes so much farther than mere human justice goes.

And then there are many times when God give us the opportunity to go all the way with Him. He did that with Job. He did it with Abraham. He used it as a school for many of His greatest saints and leaders. One of the great privileges He may give to you – if He is preparing for you great leadership – is the opportunity sometime of going all the way with Him.

As Paul points out in his letter to the Romans, especially what we read today (Romans 6: 12 – 23), if we choose to stay where we are, if we choose not to learn, then we are condemned to a life of sin. If we, like Abraham, choose to follow God and walk the path that God wants us to walk, then we will have the life that we seek. But we cannot walk the path that God would have us walk unless we are willing to open our minds as well as our hearts.

So we are back to the original question, just what is the right thing to do? How will we every know or find out what it is that God wants us to and what the right thing to do is? The prophet Micah told us that God has shown us what to do.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
   be compassionate and loyal in your love,

And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously. (Micah 6: 8 – The Message)

Second, we need to seriously reconsider how the early Christians, our spiritual ancestors, lead their lives and brought Christianity from a small group in the Holy Land to a world encompassing movement. When Christianity began, there was no New Testament. And even if it had existed at the beginning of the movement, most of the people would not have been able to read it. And if they could read, books were very expensive.

But they told others the stories they had been told and they lived their lives according to those stories. They lived a life in which they loved God with all their heart, their mind, their soul and strength and they loved their neighbor as they loved themselves. It became very easy to see that when a law, secular or sectarian, contradicted the teachings of Jesus, such laws were suspect.

And Jesus reminds that it can begin with the simplest of acts, to give a drink of water to a thirsty person. It is time that we remember what it is that we say we are, to go back to school (as it were) if need be, and then to go out into the world and do what is right and just to bring the Gospel message to the people.

George Carlin

It was a great shock to hear that George Carlin died. While I may have disagreed with some of his views and I certainly thought that he went a little overboard with some of his routines, he was still one of the funniest guys I ever heard. So here the routines that I think were pretty good.

First, we start off with Wonderful WINO

Then we break for the news (this contains the “hippy-dippy weatherman” segment; note the references are from 1967 so some of you might not understand the jokes.)

And finally, probably his most classic routine, “the difference between football and baseball”

As I said, there were some things that he said that I didn’t like but, for the most part, his observations on life and his humor were funny. He will be missed.

It’s About The Family

Here are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.


If the overlying theme of the Bible is care for the poor and downtrodden, then the second theme has to be the family and the relationship between members of the family and with God. From the very beginning of this story, it has been about the relationship between mankind and God. And in each chapter of the story, the subplot has been how we have rejected God’s direction and how God has always tried to direct us back to Him.

Now, the key thing about this story of the family in which God is the Father is that we, the children, are not the ones defining what the family is. And therein lays the problem; because too often, we tried to do just that. We try to tell God what He should be thinking and what He should be doing. I came across a very interesting reading as I was preparing this piece. Simon Tugwell wrote in Prayer,

It is assumed that if God is omnipotent he can do anything; but this is not strictly true. What God’s omnipotence does mean is that nothing can obstruct Him, nothing can prevent His being fully and eternally Himself.

But this means that it is actually a part of His omnipotence that God does not contradict Himself. He is free to determine the manner of His own working; and in fact, as we know from revelation, He has chosen to work in such a way that we can interfere, and interfere very drastically, with His creation. God made man such that man could rebel against Him, and set up his own “world” in opposition to God. Of course, God is not without allies even in “our” world; He knows that we can never really be satisfied with any world of our own devising, so that it will always be vulnerable to His influence in one way or another; and God exploits this to the full. But He always respects the freedom and independence that He has given us.

Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations but he was told this when both he and Sarah were childless and Sarah was well beyond the natural years of child-bearing. As we know from the chapters preceding today’s Old Testament reading, they both conspired to seek a solution to God’s plan without involving God. Abraham has a son, Ishmael, with Hagar, Sarah’s servant.

And while Abraham may be celebrating the prophecy of God that he, Abraham, would be the father of many nations would be fulfilled through Ishmael, Sarah does become pregnant and gives birth to a son of her own, Isaac.

There is a rivalry born out of jealously and, if you will, natural law. For Ishmael, as Abraham’s oldest son, is the heir to the fortune and Isaac will be left with a minimal amount. So, as we read today, there is hardness in Sarah’s heart towards what she considers her son’s rival and his mother.

But even though she had been involved in the plan, Sarah quickly turns against Hagar and demands that Abraham cast Ishmael and Hagar out of his household. Our reading for today (Genesis 21: 8 – 21) points out that Ishmael will ultimately become the father of his own nation. We know today (or at least we should know today) that this prophecy is the basis for the founding of Islam and its spiritual ties back to Abraham.

There will be enmity between Isaac and Ishmael for years to come and it will only disappear when their father dies and they join together in the grief common to all families when the patriarch dies. But we still see that enmity today in the fighting that takes place in the Holy Land. We forget that the differences between Arab and Jew are not just differences found in modern-day politics but differences that are centuries old. They are resolvable differences, to be sure, but to solve these differences we must find a radical new way of thinking; one not based on force and violence but on peace and cooperation. It is not an easy solution as anyone who has had argument with their own siblings well knows. But there is an answer.

And I think that is what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel reading for today (Matthew 10: 24 – 39). I don’t think that He seeks to destroy the family nor do I think that He wishes war. But when our focus is on the world on which we stand, we are certainly not going to be focusing on the Heavenly Kingdom. How many times have children rebelled against their parents because they seek a different path than the ones the parents wish for them to walk?

With His teachings and actions, Jesus showed us a new way, one that differed greatly from the one offered throughout the generations. And for those that followed Him, it was a way that would cause grief amongst their relatives. Did not Jesus’ mother and siblings try to pull Him out of His ministry when it began? And did not Jesus seemingly renounce His family, proclaiming that those who followed Him were His true brothers and sisters? It was not that He gave up His lineage; rather He expanded it.

And that is what He wants us to do. We are not to see things from a limited view of things immediately around us. Rather, we are to expand our horizons and our views to include everyone, even those whom we may despise and those who would despise us.

The Bible tells us an interesting story of Father and child, of how the child rebelled against the parent, and wandered through the ages. It is a story of how brother fought brother, father fought son, and parents and children became estranged from each other. Throughout the Bible, we read the story of mankind separating into factions and groups, each with anger and hatred for others. In our anger and our hatred, we become lost in this world.

But, as Paul points out in his words to the Romans for today (Romans 6: 1 – 11), the Father sent His Son to save us from our wanderings and our indecision and our hatred for others. God sent Jesus to bring us back into the true family, the family begun at the beginning of the story.

When Abraham died, Isaac and Ishmael reconciled their differences to bury their father. God gives us the answer for the unity of the family. He provided the answer when He reunited the two brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, in grief. He provided the answer for each one of us when His Son died on the cross for our sins.

And so it is, the story of the Bible is all about the family, the family of God. A family separated at the beginning through jealousy, envy, greed, hatred, and anger but brought together when the Father sent His Only Son to die on the Cross to save his children from sin and death.

Teach Your Children

I don’t know if the song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is appropriate for this particular piece but the title is.

If you were like me, when you went to high school, you studied the Constitution of the United States.  There were probably very subtle reasons for doing so but it was most certainly so that we would be good citizens of this country.  In September, 2005, Charles Slater wrote that a student should be:

  1. Readers of literature
  2. Poets whose words envision new ways of being
  3. Writers who reflect thoughtfully
  4. Problem solvers who can use mathematics
  5. Observers who can sense the wonder of science
  6. Citizens who study history and take action
  7. Speakers of two languages who cross cultural borders
  8. Workers who can create with their hands and use technology
  9. Artists who sculpt, draw and paint
  10. Musicians who sing or play an instrument
  11. Athletes who exercise for a lifetime
  12. Leaders who recognize the moral dimension.

(What Does It Mean To Be An Educated Person?)

Each of these points speaks about what education should be, even at the high school level and for all persons, not just students but for all people.  But lately, I have to wonder if that is the case.  First, there was the video about the perils of dihydrogen monoxide.  Now, if you do not understand chemical nomenclature, the formula for dihydrogen monoxide is H2O.  In other words, this particularly dangerous sounding compound is nothing but water.  Granted, there are things about water that are dangerous (as the floods in Iowa and the Midwest so aptly point out) but how willingly should we be to sign a petition to ban its use when its use is critical to our own survival.

And with the July 4th coming up shortly, there will probably be a number of efforts to have people sign the Declaration of Independence without realizing what it is that they are signing.  And most people will refuse because they will think it is some sort of subversive document that will take away their freedoms.

But as Dr. Slater wrote following point #6,  “An educated populace is necessary to preserve and renew democracy.” 

In a letter written to William C. Jarvis in 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote

I know, (there is) no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of society, but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

In a letter that he wrote to Colonel Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816, he wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  President Jefferson also wrote, “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

But, as I read the responses to my post “The Rule of Law or The Spirit of the Law?”, I have to wonder if we understand what this country stands for and what the Constitution means.  We have gone to war without declaring war, we have taken away the rights of individuals without the process of law, and we have passed laws that, in the name of liberty, take away our freedoms.  Whether or not Benjamin Franklin is the author, we are reminded that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Let us remember that what we do each day teaches our children as well.  Let us work to insure that they find liberty and freedom in what they learn.

A request for prayers

To all, I received the following from a pastor in my district yesterday:
There is a 16 month old girl in my congregation who will be going in to the
hospital on July 7 for surgery to close a hole in her heart. The family is in
need of prayers.

The girl is Molly
Her sister is Skylee
Her mom
and dad are Melissa and Michael.
There are grandparents, siblings to the
parents and other relatives and friends of the family to remember in prayer

If you are members of churches or other religious communities,
would you please ask them to add Molly to their prayer lists. If you know other
prayer warriors, please enlist them.

We are also looking for people who
will commit to being in prayer for the 7 hours or more that the surgery will be
taking place.

If you will let me know of your involvement, I will forward the information to the congregation.

In Christ’s name,
Dr. Tony

Cross-linked with The Methoblog

The Rule of Law or the Spirit of the Law?

Now, I am not a lawyer so I am not going to pretend that I can offer a detailed legal analysis of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Boumediene v. Bush. But I wonder if we, as citizens, understand what was at stake and how it affects us?

The right to habeas corpus is a right that preceded even the Magna Carta. This right appears to have been common law by 1215, when the Magna Carta was written.

Article 39 of the Magna Carta states “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor will we send upon him except upon the lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land.” This was an adaptation of common law. Its original use was more straightforward – a writ to bring a prisoner into court to testify in a pending trial. But what began as a weapon for the king and the courts became – as the political climate changed – protection for the individual against arbitrary detention by the state.

This right simply states that a person must be brought before a court of law in order to determine the legality of the detention. Theoretically, it can be used by anyone who feels that they have been illegally detained. It does not determine guilt or innocence. If the charge is valid, the case goes to court; if the charge is invalid, then the person has to be set free. (See “A Brief History of Habeas Corpus”.)

The Supreme Court’s decision was that all individuals have the right to habeas corpus. The justices who dissented in this opinion appear to claim that non-citizens do not have this right. Their argument, and the argument of those who support their dissent, is that we are at war and war brings about new rules.

First, are we at war? There is no doubt that we are engaged in an armed conflict at several sites around the world, but are we at war? According to the Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war and, if my knowledge of history is correct, the last time that Congress acted to declare war was on December 8, 1941.

The power of the executive branch to send American troops into battle since 1964 has been based on the infamous Tonkin Gulf resolution. There has been much discussion about who voted for what in both the first and second Gulf War but there have been, to my knowledge, no definitive votes stating that this country is at war with either a country or a group of people.

If we are going to say that certain people do not have rights because we are at war with them, don’t you think that we should at least openly and truthfully declare war first?

Second, what is the logic in saying that those we are fighting do not have the same rights as we do? Are we not fighting for the principles of freedom? If we are, then should not the principles for which we fight be the basis upon which our actions are judged? If we are to say that the people whom we fight are not eligible for the same rights that we enjoy, then have we not somehow regressed to a lower and less civilized level?

The powers that be criticized Jesus when He healed on the Sabbath because he broke the law against working on that day. But, as He pointed out, the same law that prohibited one from healing on the Sabbath also allowed a farmer to seek medical help for a sick farm animal. There was a certain inconsistency in the law. In addition, didn’t the alleviation of human suffering outweigh a prohibition of working on the Sabbath?

There are clearly instances where we should not be working on the Sabbath. This came about, if I am not mistaken, because God rested on the Sabbath and it was meant that we should do so as well.

There is a rule that says you should never wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty and, besides, the pig will enjoy it. When we fight a war and we throw away the rules upon which our society is supposed to be based, are we not simply playing the game by the other side’s rules? How will we win?

If we desire to win the war against terrorism (and this is something I have said before and will continue to say), then we need to work against the causes of terrorism. The causes of terrorism can be found in poverty, sickness, lack of shelter, lack of food, and oppression. Let us work to remove those problems and the problems of terrorism will disappear. It will not happen overnight; too many people on both sides enjoy war and don’t want to see it go away. But if we do not try, then there will be no law, let alone a spirit of the law.

Job Announcement for a Tenure-track position

Typical State College

The Department of Astronomy, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Zoology, and Zeppelin Repair at Typical State College in Erehwon has (pending approval of funding) a tenure-track faculty position open starting Autumn, 2008.

Ph.D. required; teaching and postdoctoral experience strongly preferred, as well as a proven history of acquiring outside funding for research. Preference will be given to experimentalists who can set up a prize-winning research program that successfully involves our illiterate culturally deprived undergraduates and prison work-release inmates and attracts high levels of outside funding.

Up to $50.00 in start-up funds are available, which will be deducted in monthly installments from the successful suck–er, candidate’s first year salary. Teaching excellence at all levels is required, as well as participation in single-handed development of introductory and advanced laboratories.

Duties include teaching (typical load is no more than 168 hours per week), maintenance of a rigorous and well-funded research program, and service on college committees and administration, including selling programs at athletic events and chauffeuring Coach Goodolboy’s football players around town.

Available research facilities include a machine shop (on a time-shared basis with the Midas Muffler franchise in Erehwon), a broken but repairable Tasco 60mm refractor, dual IBM 1800 computers each with 4K of core, a PDP-11 with high-speed paper-tape reader, a large refrigerator, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Candidates in the following fields are especially encouraged to apply: Astronomical Infrared Instrumentation, Experimental Condensed Matter Physics, Experimental Quantum Optics, Experimental Cosmology, Biophysics, and Advanced Grantsmanship, but outstanding applicants in all areas of astronomy and physics will be considered if their applications include a large enough check.

To apply, send a letter of application (including an outline of intended research and involvement of students, and a history of successful grant applications along with a curriculum vitae and three letters of reference) to:  Dr. Tenured Lint, Chair – Department of Astronomy, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Zoology, and Zeppelin Repair, Typical State College, Erehwon, Everywhere 12345-0666.

Only in extreme circumstances will persons without the ability to walk on water be considered. Review of applications will begin on April 1, 2008. Typical State College is required by law to say that it is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer and especially welcomes applications from women and minority scientists but we hire who we darn well please.


I have been seeking a full-time teaching position (or any position that would utilize my background, skills, and experience for that matter) for the better part of the year.  In December, I made the interview stage for one position but the search was canceled after the three finalists met with the administration.  Recently, the same thing happened with another search.  I made it through two of the three interviews before the search was canceled.  In the first case, they notified me that the search was being canceled; I had to learn about the second one through job postings.  I will keep trying.

Ten Pretty Good Rules

My notes say that these rules were first compiled by Fellows of the Studies Group at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (1982 -1983) and modified by D. A. Stuart in 1984.

  1. Never wrestle with a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it! Corollary: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it annoys the pig and it can’t be done anyway.
  2. Never argue with an idiot; people watching may not be able to tell the difference!
  3. Observe everything; admire nothing [know you’re ignorant!]
  4. It’s easier to obtain forgiveness than it is permission!
  5. Rarely resist the opportunity to keep your mouth shut!
  6. Don’t ask the question if you cannot live with the answer!
  7. If you want a new idea, read an old book!
  8. If you don’t know [care] where you’re going, any road will take you there!
  9. Never have a philosophy which supports a lack of [integrity or] courage!
  10. Never look back unless you intend to go that way!

When Is The Time?

I am preaching at Lake Mahopac UMC (Mahopac, NY) this Sunday morning, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scriptures for today are Genesis 18: 1 – 15, Romans 5: 1- 8, and Matthew 9: 35 – 10:8.


This summer promises to be an interesting period of time. First, with the heat wave that we had last week, it would appear that summer has arrived even though the calendar tells us that it won’t actually be summer for another week or so. And while the calendar says that it is just June, the political campaigns have all the hallmarks of late September or early October. The airwaves are filled with attacks and counter-attacks, accusations and denials, mud-slinging and more mud-slinging. The only thing that is not taking place is a serious discussion of the issues that mankind faces in these early days of the 21st century.

The one nice thing about the political campaigns of today is that religion has been pushed to the back when compared to previous campaigns. That is not to say that it is entirely gone but only that it is being pushed back. It might have been nice if it hadn’t because we definitely need a serious discussion of religion in our lives but not within the framework of politics.

We need to understand what people believe when it comes to the Bible and the message of Christ. We need to understand what exactly the message of Islam is and how, like so many other religions including Christianity, it has been twisted and transformed into something entirely different. We need to understand what are the heart and soul of our life and how a belief in Jesus Christ as a Savior has been transformed into a corporate-based philosophy where big is better and individuals are shunned.

We need to understand what the Bible is and what it is not. We have to understand that a thing like the Rapture, so often mentioned in today’s popular religion, is not in the Bible but is in the writings of a 19th century preacher, John Darby.

We need to see that the Gospel message is more than just the saving of souls but a transformation of society. It is not a transformation of society into one bound by religions laws and principles but one guided and directed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The words that we hear from politicians and preachers alike are words of hate and fear. The words of Jesus were words of promise and hope. When will we begin to ask or demand that those who wish to lead us socially or spiritually offer what was offered some two thousand years ago. When is the time for us to respond?

I would say that now is that time. We can start by thinking about what we read in the Bible. You cannot simply read it and say “that’s nice” or “that’s interesting.” You have to put some thought into what you read. And that is the problem we have today. Too many people want to take what is written in this book at face value. How many times did someone, a Pharisee or a Scribe, come up to Jesus and ask Him a question about the Scriptures or law that was intended to trap Jesus but ultimately showed the ignorance of the questioner?

When you take the Bible at face value, one of two things is apt to happen. You either develop a view of the world that is fixed and two thousand years old or you get confused by the contradictions and contrary actions that are described in the chapters of both the Old and New Testament. Either way, you miss the message and misunderstand the words. You look at the world around you and try to fit the world into the Bible; to use a quote by George Bernard Shaw that was often used by Robert Kennedy, “instead of seeing things as they could be and asking why not, you see things as they are and ask why.”

For me, the Bible is not a history book, a science book, or a novel. It is an explanation of the presence of God in our lives. It is about the relationship we have with God and others; it is not meant to be a restrictive set of rules. (See Jim Wallis’ comments about the Bible at “The Bible Is Neither Conservative or Liberal”.)

Yet there are those today who believe that the Bible should be nothing more than a restrictive set of rules governing our every action and thought. They would have us live in a world of laws and rules that govern our daily lives, literally telling us what to say and think, and even literally telling us when to breath. It is no wonder that so many people rebel against the church!

But against this perception, we have to remember that Christ Himself told us that He was the embodiment of the law and that the law was superseded by the Spirit. Two thousand years ago, Israel was a society of religious laws.

Now, the basis for laws in Israel in Jesus’ time was the Ten Commandments. But, because the people were so afraid of breaking the Ten Commandments, 613 additional laws were created. Now, of these 613 laws, 365 began with “thou shalt not” and were, thus, negative in nature (the other 248 were positive in nature, beginning with “thou shall”; from “The Journey Towards Relevance” by Kary Oberbrunner, page 37). Like the Pharisees of old, we make rules and regulations that create, control, and curb personal holiness. In the name of freedom, we create laws that take away our freedom. Jesus tried to get us to see beyond the rules and regulations of society and into the spirit that was behind the law.

We are reminded that the primary emphasis of both the Old and New Testaments is how we care for people, old and young, rich and poor, those who have and those who don’t. We are reminded that if we took our Bibles and removed every reference to poverty, the poor, or the needy then it would fall apart. The Bible and Christianity are not about the rich getting richer or the healthy staying healthy or the free remaining free. It is about the poor being given opportunities, the sick being healed and the imprisoned and down-trodden being offered hope and freedom.

Read the Gospel message for today (Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8), especially the first two verses, again.

Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke.

It does not matter what translation of the Bible you read the Gospel message from. In all cases, Jesus has compassion for the people as they come to him because they were confused and lost, helpless and sick, and without hope.

In 1960, when he was running for President of the United States, John Kennedy came face to face with what may have been one of the best-kept secrets of this country, the poverty of our rural areas. It changed his view of this country and it probably made him a better person.

And it changed his brother Robert as well. The other day, on the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death, I wrote

He was a politician who challenged the people to act and not simply accept the status quo. He pushed people to get involved. He was angry at a society that would allow people to go hungry in the rural areas of this country and not protect the workers who harvested the food that the middle and upper classes of this country ate. He was angry at a society that would fight a war that appeared to have no end and would sacrifice a generation of children. But he did not simply voice his anger. He offered solutions that were solutions; he challenged people to act; he challenged people to do what was right, not what was necessarily the popular thing. (“Forty Years Ago”)

As David Ulm wrote,

Stumping in South Dakota, he spent one of his two days in the state on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In Indiana, during a lunch sponsored by the Vincennes Civitan Club, he assailed a group of businessmen on the subject of hunger, offering what Tom Congdon Jr. of the Saturday Evening Post would characterize as “reverse demagoguery — he was telling them precisely the opposite of what they wanted to hear.” Later, at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, he chided the doctors in training for failing to make “decent medical care something more than a luxury of the affluent” and spoke against draft deferments as unfair to the poor. (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/la-bk-ulin1-2008jun01,0,4884048.story)

Politics is about people but politics today is a far cry from a concern about people. At a time when the gap between rich and poor grows larger with every minute, I do not see or hear any leader stepping forth to proclaim that we need to be caring for the less fortunate and the forgotten. Rather, I see and hear too many leaders listening to the rich and want-to-be-powerful while the poor and less fortunate are pushed aside and quickly forgotten. They are unwilling to take the time to see the world around them and work, as Jesus proclaimed that first day of his ministry in the Nazareth synagogue, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and bring the Good News to the oppressed.

Our politics today, no matter what some may say, are not politics of hope and promise for tomorrow; they are the politics of fear, offering words that encourage hatred and division. They are words that say that it is perfectly reasonable to seek wealth. It was given to you by God and you need not feel guilty about being wealthy. Poverty is a state of mind and those who are poor deserve their fate. It is not our responsibility to take care of the poor; giving money to the poor and social programs only wastes our money.

And what is perhaps worse is that too many people who are affected by this dichotomy in political and social policy are quite willing to accept this way of thinking because they think that they will somehow move up in the world. They are quite willing to place the blame for society’s ills and problems on others, somehow hoping that those who have will remember those who do not have.

The politics of today tell us to fight those who would teach new theories or bring about change in society. New thoughts run counter to tradition and when you challenge tradition, society falls apart. New knowledge can only destroy the values of society.

The politics of today tell us that only military power will defeat evil. We hear that the only thing evil understands is raw power and those who say that you can counter evil with love are extremely naïve. But violence only generates more violence and those exposed to violence see violence as the only solution to their problems. Terrorism and hatred grow out of violence and when violence is used to combat terror, it can only breed more.

The politics of today tells us that others are to blame for the troubles of society. It is those who have different economic status, different lifestyles, or different skin colors that are to blame for society’s troubles. We are told to cast aside those who are not like us; we are told to build walls, physical or otherwise, that keep them strangers away (adapted from “The Vision of Hope”).

We are told that our problems are caused because illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans. Let us ignore for a moment that many of the jobs that immigrants fill are jobs that Americans will not take and let us forget that many immigrants work for wages below what many Americans feel are acceptable. And let us forget about punishing companies and corporations who hire illegal immigrants. Let us try and remember that we, or some member of our family, were once strangers in a strange land and we were once welcomed.

But how do we react to visitors to our church, our city, or our country? Right now, our country wants to build a wall along our Southern border to keep out the illegal immigrants. It is a physical wall today; it has been a legal wall in the past. But, yet, people still come to this country.

We claim that our history and our heritage is based on the Bible. What was the first thing that Abraham did in today’s Old Testament reading when the three visitors came to his camp site? He welcomed them with food and drink and he washed their feet; he made them feel welcome.

Many years ago a visitor came to a church. I was a member of that church but this visitor came many years before I did. And though his stay was a brief one, it was one that he remembered, for the people of the church made him feel welcome and a part of the community. And as a result of the efforts of the church community to make a stranger feel welcome and comfortable, when he died, his estate sent the church a check that enabled the church to build a new parsonage and turn the old one into an educational building.

But when I came to that church, only one person other than the minister and his wife said hello to my family and me. And it was a dying church. Somehow, that church had forgotten what had happened when they welcomed visitors. Fortunately, that situation of ignoring visitors changed and the church recovered and grew.

Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten what it is that we are supposed to do. Somewhere along the line, we began putting up walls and barriers that keep others out. And we forgot that when we do that, when we put up walls to keep others out, we trap ourselves in a prison of our own making. We need to see the world differently; we need for our actions to be different.

The economic situation today, the politics of the world and the nation all seem to say that there is nothing the little person, the common person can do. We hear the words of the Gospel to do the seeming impossible. We can barely make it ourselves and here today Jesus is telling us to go out into the world and do his work. When are we going to find the time? When are we going to find the wherewithal that will enable us to do it?

Some forty years ago, Martin Luther King came to my home town of Memphis. He came because there was a labor problem and he had been asked to help. And one night he got up before the workers, their supporters, and their leadership and gave a speech. We remember him telling us that there would be difficult times ahead and that he probably would not be with us at the end of the journey. This speech on April 3, 1968 was prophetic, not because Dr. King would die the next day but because of the other things he said that night.

He also spoke of God asking him what age of civilization he might want to live in. His answer to that most interesting question was

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion is all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — “We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it is nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” (which I take to mean angels rather than something more Southern in nature) in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do. (from I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” – Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968)

When is the time to begin the work of the Gospel? The time is now. Before he spoke of being on the mountain top and seeing the Promised Land, before he spoke prophetically of his own death and the likelihood that he would not reach the Promised Land, he spoke of the Good Samaritan and the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the path taken by the injured man, the rabbi, the Levite, and the Good Samaritan.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administering first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to church meetings—an ecclesiastical gathering—and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.” That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Forty years later, these are still difficult times, especially if we are to bring the Gospel into reality. The road that we have chosen to walk will not be an easy one to walk. And quite frankly, we don’t always want to have to walk the hard road; we would like to sometimes walk the easy path or the soft path.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul points out that 1) no road that we walk will ever be has hard as the one Christ had to walk and that 2) we know what truly lies at the end of our walk. And while it is uneasy to hear Martin Luther King’s words predicting his own death and while we do not want to hear Paul say that there are people for whom we should be willing to die, we also hear Paul tell us that we need not seek death. In fact, we are not asked to see death for Christ because Christ died for us; rather, we are asked to work for Christ in this world.

Too often we see the Gospel in terms of what we need. We see the need for the Gospel, especially as it pertains to the sick, the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the oppressed, and we wonder what we can do that we haven’t already done. But perhaps now, more than ever, is the time that we see the Gospel as the Good Samaritan saw it and as Dr. King expressed it. A phrase that resonated throughout my high school and college years was “if not now, when; if not me, who?” We are asked to fulfill the Gospel message; we are asked to do it today. And we have the capabilities to do so.

When God first spoke to Abram, He said that He would make Abram the father of many nations. But Abram was seventy-five and had no children. In today’s Old Testament reading, he is now Abraham and almost ninety. Sarah, his wife, is also close to ninety and, it would appear, no longer fertile. But God says that he will return within the year and when He does, Sarah will be pregnant. And when she hears this, Sarah does what we might do if that were the case with us, she laughed.

Much can be made about what happens next in this story, as it has for some two thousand years. I don’t know if Sarah was really ninety years old when she was told that she would be pregnant within the year or if the writer of the story set it up so that it would be more dramatic. That is not the point of the story.

It was, as Paul and others would write, by faith that Abram left his home and took Sarai to lands that God would show him. It was by faith that Abram became Abraham and Sarai became Sarah. It was by faith that Abraham took God’s word that he would be the father of many nations.

It is that story of faith that continues today with each one of us. By our presence, our prayers and our declaration this morning of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we continue this story that has come down through the ages. And because we have chosen to continue the story, we must be willing and prepared to take on the tasks that Christ asks us to take on.

Who will go out and harvest? Who will go out and proclaim the Gospel? Who will proclaim the Gospel message of healing, comfort, hope and promise to the world. We will be the ones to proclaim the Gospel message and we know that now is the time to do so.

New Information About Energy

I  got this information from one of the discussion lists (Chemistry Education Discussion List – CHEMED-L, for  short) that I receive.


The Board on Energy and Environmental Systems of the National Research Council recently published a 32-page booklet entitled What You Need to Know About Energy. Geared to a general audience, the booklet is the first in what will be a series of informational booklets designed to engage readers in current topics in science, engineering, and medicine.  The series is part of the National Academies’ Communications Initiative.

I have posted a “widget” that gives you information on how to get this free book.