Here are my thoughts for Ascension Sunday, 5 June 2011. Sorry that it was late but I had to focus on the funeral of my mother. I posted my thoughts at “A Celebration of Life.”
The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 1: 1 – 11, Ephesians 1: 15 – 23, and Luke 24: 44 – 53.
Some years ago, while working on my Master’s degree at the University of Missouri, I attended a weekly science education seminar. Now, I didn’t have to attend this seminar because I had already received credit for attending in a previous seminar. But it was expected that one attended all of the seminars, so I came, I listened, and I participated.
As it happened, this seminar was held on a Monday and Monday was one of the nights that I bowled, so my schedule was pretty busy. I would teach during the day, come home, grab a quick bite to eat, run over to campus for the class and then get to the lanes for the league.
As it happened, there was an opening in the seminar schedule and they needed someone to fill in so I volunteered to do an extra seminar. It also worked out that it would help explain why I rushed out of the classroom at the end of the seminar. And because there had been a couple of more humorous seminars that semester, I choose as my topic “The Bowling Ball as a Curriculum Tool.” (I wish I had kept my notes on this talk because there may be other opportunities in the near future for me to do something similar.)
The talk went something like this: We see bowling in terms of physical education and the scoring often reminds us of the mathematics involved in bowling. But there is also chemistry (as I would later write about in “The Chemistry of Bowling: A Short History of Bowling Balls, Lanes, Coatings, and Conditioners”) and physics (referred to in the chemistry article that I published) involved. The dynamics of skid, roll, and hook are determined by the friction between the bowling ball, the lane itself, and the lane conditioner – it is this combination of chemistry and physics (perhaps more physics today than chemistry) that determines the outcome.
What people may not realize is that there is history involved as well. It is said that Sir Frances Drake wanted to finish his game of lawn bowling before setting sail to lead the English against the Spanish Armada. There is American literature with the story of Rip Van Winkle and the reason for thunder and lightning. There is also home economics (hey, someone has to sew the names of the bowlers on their shirts), geography (when I travel to the USBC Open, I don’t always go to Reno; I have been to St. Louis, Tampa, Louisville, Memphis, Baltimore, Niagara Falls, Tulsa, Las Vegas, Jacksonville, Wichita, Toledo, Corpus Christi, Mobile, Salt Lake City, Huntsville, Syracuse, Albuquerque, Billings, Knoxville, and Baton Rouge as well). So, in the end, there are a variety of topics that can be examined with the bowling ball as your primary curriculum tool.
Now, this idea of using an item as the basis for teaching a variety of topics or subject areas is not necessarily new. It is sometimes covered as “writing across the curriculum” but I present my idea in 1973 and I think that was before the idea of “writing across the curriculum” was fully developed. Second, while there are many proponents to this idea now, they tend to see it in areas that don’t often include science and mathematics. There are reasons for this and I hope to cover them in a project I am working on.
When I taught science education courses at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, I always pointed out that science could be taught in terms of water and oil. Those two liquids are key to the success and life in west Texas (and probably many areas as well). I encouraged my students to see beyond the “walls” of the classroom and utilize all the subjects in teaching, not limit it to a particular place and time. (It should be noted that one of the ways that we incorporated art in the curriculum of science was to prepare maps for the field trips that I had my students plan.)
But, in today’s classroom and educational systems, I fear that such across the board and outside the box thinking is not well received. We like our educational process to be simple and neat. It is so much easier to teach each subject separately because then the testing process becomes easier. (See “The Vaccination Theory of Education” in “A Collection of Sayings”).
The same is true with religion and the church. As long as everything is simple and neat, cut and dried, black and white, fixed and inflexible, we are happy. But when the boundaries of church and society are crossed or get mixed, we are uncomfortable.
I can imagine that the disciples and early followers were very happy during those forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Jesus had been with them and teaching them and it was as if nothing had changed. They didn’t have to do anything. I think one can feel of panic creep in as they watched Jesus ascend into Heaven. With one event, they now realized that He was leaving it would be up to them to carry on the mission that Jesus had begun.
Now, it wasn’t so simple; now it wasn’t so easy. Now, it was no longer just Jesus talking about what was come, it was time to begin doing it themselves. But, it should be noted that Jesus was fully aware of this sense of panic that might have been engulfing His followers because He promised help; He promised that Holy Spirit would be come.
I think we forget this, especially when we see the nature of the church today. Many churches today act as if the world was like the first days after the Resurrection; they hide in fear of the world outside, afraid to let the world outside into their safe sanctuary. Their concerns are about the condition of the church and not the condition of their souls. It is almost as if putting time and energy into a building will somehow make it easier for people to come to the building. But only certain people are allowed to come into the building and nothing happens.
If there was more concern about doing the work of the church, it would be easier to meet the needs of the church. Right now, in some of the churches where I serve as a lay speaker and member, opposition to paying apportionments. It is more important that we pay the utility bill and the salaries than it is to be worried about missions and the overall church structure. I think that part of this is due to the fact that those who oppose apportionments have absolutely no clue as why apportionments are even required or what would happen if an individual church were to not pay its apportionments in full.
I have suggested that each church should take 10% of its weekly offering and set it aside for apportionments. In some of the churches I have been involved with, this suggestion has met with opposition. I have pointed out that when this was done, the church paid its apportionments (in fact, was able to begin paying the next year in advance); at least one church that refused to think of doing this is now closed.
I am hoping this summer that the Vespers in the Garden series that we host will lead to an awakening of the Spirit in the people. We are expanding the service from simply on Fridays to Fridays and Sundays. I would like to think that we can continue the Sunday Vespers after Labor Day, the end of the summer series. I have in my mind that 25 people will use the opportunity of the summer vespers to become members of the church. It is perhaps a little bit audacious but I think it is possible.
There comes a time when we have to continue the work that was begun two thousand years ago. I imagine that when the disciples and the early followers watched Jesus ascend, there was a sense of panic. But I think that they also understood that He wasn’t leaving them but allowing the process that would bring the Holy Spirit into their lives.
I think the same is true today. We need a new vision of the world. We should not be focused on the building in which our church resides but on the world in which the building resides. And to have this view, we must go outside and look up to Jesus. And we need to understand that with Pentecost, we will be empowered in such a way that what we seek we will accomplish.
We cannot come to Pentecost unless we first change our view of the world. That is what today is about.