The Educational Case for Recycling

If you are an advocate of laboratory instruction as an integral and essential part of chemistry education (as I am), you have to face several obstacles.

The first obstacle is that you have to have the materials to do laboratory work. This wasn’t a problem some forty or fifty years ago as there were countless funds available to outfit and supply the laboratory.

Second, you have to overcome the mentality that work in the lab serves to prove what was said in the lecture is correct. If you are using the lab as part of the learning process, you have to create experiments that don’t prove the lecture correct but show how to use the lecture or perhaps even develop what is covered in the lecture.

Then, there is the problem with disposal. If we are to have a “green” chemistry lab, we have to be sensitive to the materials that we use. It would be nice if the raw materials that we use and produce were environmentally friendly but that is not always the case.

And finally, how do you relate societal issues such as “green” chemistry and recycling to the issues of a chemistry class. Some textbooks simply add a few lines of commentary to a textbook problem but never really address the issue.

In what I like to consider “a favorite problem”, I have created a scenario that addresses the environmental question and works within the context of the chemistry course.

My favorite problem

An article (written in the early 1980s) in the Journal of Chemical Education discussed the problem of toxic waste disposal in freshman chemistry laboratories.

The essence of the problem was “what to do with some Co2+ solution that was left after an analytical problem. Should the solution be diluted to a safe level and disposed of by pouring down the drain or shipped off as liquid waste; should it be precipitated and shipped off to a landfill as solid waste; or should it be recycled and used again during the next semester. The calculations for this problem are typical calculations for an introductory chemistry course and one can set up the calculations to be dependent on the size of the class. The only information that an instructor would be need would be the cost of the original raw materials as well the cost of shipping liquid and solid wastes.

In order for the students to do the calculations, they need to know how many students are in the course in question.

It probably bothers some people that I give the exact same question each time but the beauty of it is that since this number will vary from semester to semester, the answers to some of the questions will vary as well.

But, from an environmental standpoint, it always appears that that recycling is the best solution.            

Assume that one of the experiments for this class requires that each student use 100.-mL of a 0.050 M Cr(NO3)3 solution. At the completion of the experiment, each student will have 200.-mL of a 0.025 M solution that must be dealt with in some manner.

  1. What is the accepted IUPAC name for the compound used to make the solution?

The EPA-designated toxic threshold concentration for total chromium is 5.0 ppm. Note that while only Cr(VI) is considered toxic and we are using Cr(III), the threshold limit is for total chromium. Solutions containing more than 5.0 mg/L of chromium in any form are considered toxic and cannot legally go down the drain. It is also illegal to dilute a solution to a concentration below the threshold limit and pour it down the drain.

  1. What concentration, in ppm of chromium, will each student end up with?
  2. Can students dispose of their solution by pouring it down the drain?
  3. What is the total volume of solution that this class would have to dispose of? Note assume that for the purposes of this test there are ten students enrolled in the course at the time of the experiment.
  4. To what volume must the combined solutions be diluted in order to reduce the concentration to acceptable limits?
  5. Would diluting the combined solutions be a reasonable solution?
  6. Can the combined solutions be disposed of by pouring them down the drain?

An acceptable and legal alternative to dilution would be to send the solution to an EPA-approved landfill.

  1. Assuming the cost of packing, transporting, and disposing of these solutions is $6.08/L, what would it cost to send this class’ chromium waste to such a landfill?

A third alternative would be to precipitate the Cr(III) as the hydroxide.

  1. What amount of solid NaOH is needed to precipitate the Cr3+ as the hydroxide?
  2. How much chromium (III) hydroxide is made?
  3. Assuming that the total amount of solid waste can fit into a 500-mL beaker, what will it cost to ship this waste? (Use the same shipping costs as before.)

Care must be taken to assure that the chromium (III) hydroxide does not go back into solution as the tetrahydroxochormate(III) complex as indicated in the following reaction, Cr(OH)3(s) + OH(aq)w Cr(OH)4(aq) Kf = .4.

  1. If the complex cannot be more that 5 mg/L (the legal limit for chromium in a solution), what pH must the solution be in order to insure that the precipitate does not dissolve and from the complex
  2. At this pH, what is the molar concentration of Cr3+ in the solution (Ksp for Cr(OH)3 = 6.7 x 10-31)?
  3. Using current catalog information found on the worldwide web, what does 500 g of Cr(NO3)3 cost? (Don’t forget to include the reference you obtained.)
  4. What would it cost to prepare the necessary amount of Cr(NO3)3 solution for next year’s class, assuming the size of the class remains constant.
  5. What does 500 mL of hydrochloric acid (stock solution, 13.6 M) cost?
  6. What would it cost to prepare the necessary amount of chromium (III) solution by dissolving the leftover Cr(OH)3 from this year’s experiment in hydrochloric acid?
  7. Of the various alternatives presented in this problem (dilution and disposal into the public water system, transportation of the liquid waste to an authorized landfill, transportation of the solid waste to an authorized landfill, recycling of waste), which is the most logical? Why?

The Clash of Science, Culture, and Religion

I am trying to clean off “my desktop”.

Academic Freedom

There was a report in “Inside Higher Ed” about an adjunct that lost her position after going public with threats made against her after she took against the stand for the separation of church and state. –

I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a movement both against science and education in general in this country. We are seeking to turn our schools into factories that turn out mindless automatons rather than individuals who will seek solutions to existing problems and problems that haven’t even popped up.

There are many people in society today who are arguing for a plan that will in the end hurt them. You hear individuals who want to reduce taxes to the point where the Federal Government cannot operate yet they will not consider the fact that the military-industrial complex is a part of the Federal Government. We will cut funds that help people but keep spending money on those things that hurt people. That, at least to me, seems counter-productive.

See “The Nature of Academic Freedom” for additional thoughts on the topic of academic freedom.

Scientific Thought

As a member of the Methoblog, I get a summary of all the posts, including my own that get posted to the Methoblog. (If you are a Methodist blogger and not part of the Methoblog, you really are missing out on spreading your thoughts and knowing what others are thinking – go to to submit your blog.)

Among the postings the other day was a note from Dave Faulkner (“Big Circumstance”) about a lecture that Scot McKnight gave at BioLogos“With a Tear in His Eye”. While my focus is on chemistry and the development of scientific thought, I have to also consider the view that comes from the pulpit as well. I think that the point that McKnight makes about the need for pastors to have an understanding of scientific thought is a critical one. The comments to this post are well worth reading.

I have encountered students who have a similar crisis as described in the talk – where the physical evidence before them contradicts what they are told they have to believe in order to hold onto their faith. The challenge before us is not to make them choose which to follow but to help them understand what each side is telling them.

I have also encountered students for whom science has eliminated the need for a god – see “A Particular Moment in Time” – but when you put science in the place of religion, you create some alternatives that should not exist. There are links in “A Particular Moment in Time” that deal with scientism and the creation of a scientific religion.

Astronomical Observations

I live in the part of the country that didn’t see the annular eclipse of the Sun the other day but I have seen several solar eclipses so I didn’t let that bother me. I cannot recall if I even heard of the transit of Venus across the Sun back in 2004 so I hope the weather will allow me to carefully observe the transit on June 5th. For more information on this interesting astronomical occurrence and the precautions one needs to take, go to “Everything You Need to Know: Venus transit on June 5 – 6”. Check out “What’s the best way to view the June 5 – 6 transit of Venus safely?”; remember that you never look directly into the Sun and there really isn’t any amount of protection that will protect you (what one might use to observe an eclipse will not necessarily work for a transit).

My favorite science museum, The Exploratorium, will have an on-line feed –

“I Hear That There Are Divisions Among You”: Discerning the Broken Body at General Conference 2012

I will not always agree wit the thoughts that others have concerning what transpired at GC2012 but the only way we are going to go forward is when we know what those thoughts are.

Uniting Grace

ImageCourtesy UMNS

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

The matter of unworthiness has a sticky history in Protestantism.  Most astute readers of Scripture now agree that Paul’s concern for “eating unto damnation” was not an issue of individual sin, but rather of communal brokenness that made a mockery of the Lord’s Supper.  At issue in Corinth was not a bunch of sinners eating something that they had no business eating (for we are always sinners asking for scraps and sips of grace), but that the community was unmaking the…

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Friday Afternoon Humor

It’s Friday afternoon; it was not a good week for the job search. So I sought some humor might relive the stress a little bit.

Yes, I stole these from other places but they have been around enough that I don’t have to put in the references!

First, one of my all-time favorites:

A young executive was leaving the office late one evening when he found the CEO standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand.

“Listen,” said the CEO, “this is a very sensitive and important document here, and my secretary has gone for the night. Can you make this thing work?”

“Certainly,” said the young executive. He turned the machine on, inserted the paper, and pressed the start button.

“Excellent, excellent!” said the CEO as his paper disappeared inside the machine, “I just need one copy.”

Then we have some brilliant memos:

In 1998 a business magazine ran a contest asking for Dilbert-like quotes from people who had real-life Dilbert-like managers. Here are some of the winners.

  1. As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.  (Microsoft Corporation – this one took first place)
  2. What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter (Lykes Lines Shipping).
  3. How long is this Beta guy going to keep testing our stuff? (Programming intern, Microsoft Development Team)
  4. E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.  (Accounting Mgr, Electric Boat Company)
  5. This project is so important that we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it. (Advertising/Mktg. Mgr, UPS)
  6. Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule. No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks, and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.  (R&D Supervisor, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing/3M Corp.)
  7. My boss spent the entire weekend retyping a 25-page proposal that only needed corrections. She claims the disk I gave her was damaged and she couldn’t edit it. The disk I gave her was write-protected. (CIO of Dell Computers)
  8. Quote from the boss: “Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.”  (Marketing Executive, Citrix Corporation)
  9. My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my boss, he said she died so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said, “That would be better for me.” (Shipping Executive, FTD Florists)
  10. We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.  (AT&T Long Lines Division)
  11. We recently received a memo from senior management saying, “This is to inform you that a memo will be issued today regarding the subject mentioned above.” (Microsoft Legal Affairs Division)
  12. As director of communications, I was asked to prepare a memo reviewing our company’s training programs and materials. In the body of the memo one of the sentences mentioned the “pedagogical approach” used by one of the training manuals. The day after I routed the memo to the executive committee, I was called into the HR director’s office and was told that the executive VP wanted me out of the building by lunch. When I asked why, I was told that she wouldn’t stand for “perverts” (pedophiles?) working in her company. He showed me her copy of the memo, with her demand that I be fired, with the word “pedagogical” circled in red. The HR Manager was fairly reasonable, and once he looked the word up in his dictionary and made a copy of the definition to send to my boss, he told me not to worry. He would take care of it. Two days later a memo to the entire staff came out, directing us that no words which could not be found in the local Sunday newspaper could be used in company memos. A month later I resigned. In accordance with company policy, I created my resignation letter by pasting words together from the Sunday paper. (Taco Bell Corporation)
  13. This gem is the closing paragraph of a nationally circulated memo: “Lucent Technologies is endeavorily determined to promote constant attention on current procedures of transacting business focusing emphasis on innovative ways to better, if not supercede, the expectations of quality!”  (Lucent Technologies – formerly a division of AT&T)

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

When you see how the Arab world was radically changed by the nature of social media (and the lack of knowledge by many in power about what could happen) you have to appreciate what is taking place in #gcc2012. I will continue to reblog posts from those who are active in this mode. I have said it before but change only comes from the bottom up and this is one way to do it.

We Your People, Ours the Journey

Monday night was magic.

We had our first Twitter Chat for #DreamUMC, the conversation born out of the strong desire to keep shaping the future of our denomination in the wake of General Conference. You can read the full archive of the chat here, or you can view bullet points of answers to the questions we discussed (and some unofficial demographic info) at the facebook page.

First of all, wow! There were 171 people tweeting, and many many more I know who were “lurking,” or as I call it, actively listening. We sent 1,272 tweets, not including retweets. That’s a lot of conversation in an hour! Although dominated by younger voices, the conversation spanned generations, came down fairly even on gender representation, included voices of clergy, laity, and folks between the two, and crossed the U.S. pretty well. We have some work to do…

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2012 Twitter Hashtags and Live Streaming for #UMC Conferences

I do not Twitter but I recognize that this is an important means of communication and one that redefines the local community for the 21st Century.
If such methods as Twittering can change the world, what can it do for the United Methodist Church and the people called Methodists?

Rev. Andrew Conard

At the end of the #dreamUMC chat last night, I volunteered to collect hashtags for United Methodist conferences this year. I hope you will find it helpful to stay connected across the denomination.

Will you please help me complete this list? Please send me an @reply on Twitter @andrewconard or leave a comment on this post with dates, clarification on hashtags, link if it is being live streamed or additional conferences.

Please tweet or share this link to this post to spread the word –

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“A New Plan”

This is the message that I presented at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, Brighton, TN on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 4 May 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 10: 44 – 48, 1 John 5: 1 – 6, and John 15: 9 – 17.

I should note before I start that I have been told preachers should never preach about money. This sermon, though it may sound like it is about money, is not about money but rather, is about planning.

You have probably heard, read, or seen something dealing with financial planning. Now it may have been an ad from some financial institution or an investment firm talking about retirement; it may been about handling debts. Whatever the ad said, for any financial plan to be successful, it will take a long period of time.

Even if you are planning on winning the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, it takes several months of action on your part for the people with the balloons, the cameras, and the check to appear on your doorstep.

Similarly, God’s plan for each one of us requires a long period of time. From the very beginning, God has been thinking of us. I think it the one great mystery of salvation that God has known us and about us long before we ever came into existence.

The God-who-is has always been searching for me. By his choice, his relationship with me is a presence, as a call, as a guide; he is not satisfied with speaking to me, or showing things to me, or asking things of me. He does much more.

He is Life, and he knows his creature can do nothing without him; he knows his child would die of hunger without bread.

But our bread is God himself, and God gives himself to us as food.

Only eternal life can feed one who is destined for eternal life.

The bread of earth can nourish us only for this finite earth; it can sustain us only as far as the frontier, the bread from our fields is not sufficient; if we want to march along the roads of the Invisible, we must feed on bread from heaven.

This bread from heaven is God himself. He becomes food to us walking in the Invisible. “The God Who Comes” by Carlos Carretto

And Jesus told His disciples that He picked them, not the other way around.

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I call you friends, for everything I learned from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15: 14 – 16)

Through all of history, God has never forgotten His plan. Whether it was His promise to Noah and his family after the flood

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you — the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the water of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all l living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Genesis 9: 8 – 17)

or his promises to the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, God has always shown his commitment to the plan. It would seem that every prophet from Isaiah to Joel has spoken of God’s caring for us. We know that God sent His son Jesus because he cared for us, because he had a plan for us. As written in John 3: 16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that who so ever believed in Him would have everlasting life.”

But God’s plan is not single-sided. Though it is by God’s grace that we have been given this plan, we cannot simply stand idly by. Action on our part is required. We cannot know God’s Grace if we do nothing! Even if we wait until that last minute before death to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know that we will receive God’s grace.

If our hearts, like those who listened to Peter preach, are open to the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit will be there for us.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who came with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10: 44 – 48)

The most difficult thing about following God’s plan is that we often feel that it is too hard, that we cannot meet the challenge. But Jesus only gave us one commandment to follow

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 9 – 14)

Granted, this commandment is a hard one. It challenges everything we hear and see today. Consider the Pope. After he had recovered from the attempted assassination, he went to the jail where the assassin was and forgave him. The love that Jesus wants us to show others is like this. While we might agree with the penalties someone must pay for their crimes, how is it that we can forgive someone for their actions? Sometimes, it seems a lot easier to take the easy way out. The recent meeting in Philadelphia shows such a conflict. How many people are willing to volunteer, how many people are willing to help others? I have always been amazed that those who help others often times are not far removed from the situations that the ones they are helping are in. Consider the following thought:

We should try to be so closely united to Our Lord that we reproduce his life in our own, that our thoughts and words and actions should proclaim his teaching, so that he reigns is us, lives in us. He so often enters within us in Holy Communion. May his Kingdom reign in us.

If he sends us happiness let us accept it gratefully. Like the Good Shepherd he sets us in rich pasture to strengthen us to follow him later into barren lands. If he sends us crosses let us embrace them and say ‘Bona Crux,’ for this is the greatest grace of all. It means walking through life hand in hand with our Lord, helping him to carry his Cross like Simon of Cyrene. It is our Beloved asking us to prove how much we love him. Whether in mental suffering or bodily pain ‘let us rejoice and tremble with joy.’ Our Lord calls us and asks us to tell him of our love and repeat it over and over again all through our sufferings.

Every cross, great or small, even small annoyances, are the voice of the Beloved. He is asking for a declaration of love from us to last whilst the suffering lasts.

Oh, when one thinks of this one would like the suffering to last forever. It will last as long as Our Lord wishes. However sweet the suffering may become to us, we only desire it at such times as Our Lord sends it. Your will be done, my Brother Jesus, and not mine. We long to forget ourselves, we ask nothing, only your glory. (“Meditations of a Hermit” by Charles de Foucauld

Life today is not easy. There are cynics among us who would ridicule us for believing in Jesus today. But I think that many of these people are probably leading very miserable lives today.

I can imagine John sitting down writing those letter to his friends and thinking about the problems he had to endure as a disciple of Jesus. But he could remember what Jesus told his disciples.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 12 – 14)

Today, John tells us

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is truth.

God’s plan is very simple actually. Accept Jesus Christ into our heart and then live a life which shows that Christ is a part of our lives, loving others as we know Christ has loved us.

Defining Love

I am at Trinity-Boscobel United Methodist Church in Buchanan, NY, this morning (location of the church). The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day, are Acts 10: 44 – 48, 1 John 5: 1 – 6, and John 15: 9 – 17. Their services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.


I am at the end of a three-week journey as a lay speaker. Two weeks ago I spoke about the continuation of the church and how, among other things, how the local church is part of the community (“Passing the Torch”). Last week I spoke of the encounter one has with Jesus (“A Chance Encounter”). I mentioned that I felt that each person’s encounter with Jesus was unique and that one should not necessarily expect others to have an encounter like their own nor should they expect their encounter to be like someone else’s encounter.

Our personal journey with Christ is just that, a journey and a personal one. Our role as individuals and as a church in all of this is to be of assistance, to help the journey begin, to help with the encounter, and to help after the encounter. It is simply a matter of being there.

For no matter where your journey may lead you, it is not always going to be an easy one. There are going to be rough times as well as good; there are going to be moments of sadness as well as joy. And while we would like to just have the good times, we have to realize that there will be bad times as well. And we need a place where we can share the joys and find support for the bad times. And if the church is not there, where will many people find the support and comfort needed on their own journey? How will people find that support and comfort? Where can people share their joys and sorrows?

For me, one of those bad times was the spring of 1969. Not much had gone right the previous few months and I had just completed the worst quarter of my academic career, one that effectively killed any hopes of receiving any sort of academic honors when I graduated from college. I was not failing by any means but sometimes failure is a selective standard and I was not at the level where I wanted to be.

The pressure that I felt internally was increased by pressure from my family and compounded by questions about the draft. For the record, I was not nor am I necessarily opposed to military service; how could I as the son of an Air Force officer and the grandson of an Army officer? I just didn’t, and I still don’t, like the idea of a draft. The idea of the draft seemed, to me, undemocratic; if you want someone to serve in the Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines, give them reasons that make sense; don’t force them to join.

Now, because of how I began college, I turned 18 one month after the start of my sophomore year in college and I dutifully attempted to register for the draft. At Christmas that year (1968) I found out that I had not, in fact, registered for the draft when I thought I had. And while I corrected that matter rather quickly, I spent the better part of the beginning of 1969 worried that I would be called into service. And with the poor winter quarter grades that I received, I was certain that I would be in Army by the summer of 1969, a future that I did not want or even envision.

It did not help matters much that by 1969, the justification for the expansion of the war in Viet Nam was fast disappearing. The arguments being made for the war at that time were no longer being accepted by the American people and they could not or would not view the combat losses as acceptable losses (an interesting counterpoint to today’s society, to say the least). So I became involved, or it would be better to say that my involvement in the anti-war movement on my college campus increased. It wasn’t a big movement as it was on other, far larger campuses, but it was there, though not readily accepted by the college administration or the town. Truman State, then known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, was and is in the heart of conservative farm country and most people felt that it was your duty and right to serve in the Army and to do so without questioning the reasons or the rationale.

Do I follow my heart and mind or do I follow the crowd? That’s one of the great questions that every college sophomore, in fact every person has to answer at one point in their life. I found the answer myself because one of the things that I learned at Truman was to think and to think independently. And while I found support for my decisions in the pastors of the college community churches, including the pastor of the 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville (Marvin Fortel) and the pastor of the Wesley Foundation (Dick Todd), I also found a part of my soul as well, something I will come back to in a moment.

And so it was that as Mother’s Day, 1969, approached, amidst all the turmoil in my life, I had to come up with something to give my mother for Mother’s Day. And it happened that I discovered an organization called “Another Mother for Peace”. They made a necklace that had on it the statement “War is not healthy for children and other living things”. It was a statement of the times, it was a statement that I could believe in then and now, and I thought it would be a good gift for my mother. And for the record, “Another Mother for Peace” is still active today and has its own web site at

But after my mother received this gift from the heart of her oldest son, she wrote a very stern letter indicating a disapproval of my extra-curricular political activities (you should have heard what she said when I was involved in a civil rights protest later that same spring but that is a story for another time and place (see “Side by Side” and “Side by Side” if you can’t wait). But, and what is so important to the meaning of today, she told me that she would keep the necklace because I was her son and she loved me.

Later she would tell my niece, her third granddaughter, in an interview for a high school project that she was relieved that neither my two brothers nor I were drafted and required to go off to war.

If I were to define love, it is with the understanding that it will not be done from the traditional standpoint of the three definitions from the Greek word for love. That is a philosophical exercise that has been played out too many times in the past. Rather, it has to be done within the framework of my mother’s reaction to that 1999 Mother’s Day gift.

I know that neither of my parents approved of my anti-war stance nor my civil rights stance but they never stopped loving me. My journeys in life would take far from my home in Memphis but never far from the heart of my mother.

Love isn’t always the automatic acceptance of someone but the ability to accept what they do. My mother’s love was unconditional.

It was part of the foundation that she laid down for each of us, my two brothers, my sister, and me. She laid the foundation so that we could choose our own path, knowing that no matter where it may lead, we would be supported in our efforts. In our Momma we knew there was a home to come to in times of strife, struggle, and celebration.

When I married Ann in 1999, Momma rejoiced. She jokingly told Ann that now she, Ann, was stuck with me and that I couldn’t come back home. But in a more serious vein, Momma told Ann that she was happy that I had found someone to love and care about me; that now she didn’t have to worry so much about my happiness.

Momma was patient with us, teaching us right from wrong. Rewards came when we did well. We were encouraged to, if you will, do our own thing. This doesn’t mean that we could do just about anything that we wanted. If we did wrong, we could expect punishment. It was sometimes harsh, sometimes hard, and sometimes stern but always, always with the understanding that we were still loved. Still, we had to eat the Brussels sprouts that were every so often a part of the supper meal.

But against that was the incident somewhere in Louisiana in the early 1960s when we were traveling from Texas to North Carolina. We had spent the night in a motel and were ordering breakfast. Breakfast on the road was a treat for us because we got to order what we wanted. Each of us, my two brothers, my sister and I, each ordered something (though I think my mother ordered from my sister who was only two or three at the time) and we anxiously awaited this joyous repast to begin our day of travel.

Each of us received the breakfast that we had ordered but each plate also had on it a mysterious white, gelatinous-like substance on it. In a single voice, my two brothers and I asked, “Momma, what’s that white stuff??” To which she, a Southern born and bred mother, replied, “Those are grits; you don’t have to eat them.” A mother’s love can be expressed in many ways and allowing us the privilege or opportunity to not eat grits that morning in Louisiana was one such expression.

Were my parents perfect? Far from it; there were times when we thought they were the most horrible and terrible parents one could ever imagine. Did we want them to express their love in perhaps the more traditional ways, say by buying us a car or new clothes when we didn’t need them? Of course we did. And there were times we would have liked to have heard it stated more clearly that everything was going to turn out alright or that we had done a fine job or made a valiant effort. Every child wants to hear those words. But in the end, what our parents did was give us the opportunity to be who we were to be, not who they wanted us to be.

But I know of too many parents today where love is conditional, where receipt of the love, in whatever form it may be wished, comes with a price, a price that sometimes cannot be paid. There are many parents who will say to their children that they must go to this school or get this degree or marry this person if they want their parents’ love. And there are many children who feel that they must do something like that if they are to gain their love and support.

Such love is a far cry from the love that Jesus expressed in the Gospel message for today, an unconditional love that reaches out, that creates and demands respect, that lifts people up and offers them hope. The love that we are to have is a love that is an expression of our love for God. Remember what John called those who would say that they loved God but did not love their brothers and sisters? He called them hypocrites. He reinforces that sentiment today. If we love the one who conceived the Child, then we will surely love the child who was conceived. The proof is in our ability to keep God’s commandments and the first of these is to love others as you would have them love us (yes, I am paraphrasing several thoughts).

But I fear that today we have forgotten how to love in this way. We find it so much easier to hate. We find it easier to put labels on people that enable us to make them a second class or lower. There are those who would have us create a society much like the Old Testament with clear lines of demarcation between peoples, a society in which the chosen are protected and the others are cast aside. They would create a society where God’s gifts are only available to a select few and not the many and where they, the select few, get to decide who will receive those gifts.

Look again at the reading from Acts for today. Those who had come with Peter that day could not believe it when “outsiders” received the Holy Spirit in the same manner that they had. I can imagine what some of those in the Church of England must have said when Wesley reported on his work in the prisons and the mines, in the mills and the countryside. But I also can imagine how those who received the Holy Spirit that day recorded in Acts must have felt and I am sure those who heard Wesley’s words and the words of others in the Methodist Revival of the 18th century must have felt when they were told that they were loved by God through Christ as much as those who lead the rich and privileged life.

There are many today who have heard the words of the United Methodist Church spoken at the General Conference held the past two weeks. They heard the words of hatred and ignorance, words that would seek to expel people from the arms of God because they are different. Growing up in the south, I have heard those words before; one cannot help but remember hearing people who say they are Christians speak of other human beings as lesser persons because of the color of their skin or the nature of their religion. Those who say they are Christian but act this way go to great lengths to twist the words of the Bible and science to justify their policies, policies which have and continue to lead to the death of thousands.

On day when the words from the pulpit will speak of a mother’s love for a child and a child’s love for their mother, it is perhaps discomforting to hear that we find it easier to hate. But John, writing to the people, noted that those who believe in Christ, who have experienced and live the love of God through Christ, will win.

In a world where violence and strife seem to be constant occurrence, where the words of hatred and prejudice seem so commonplace, how can love prevail?

The good news is that there are those who have rejected those words, those attitudes, and that culture. They are the ones who began a journey two thousand years ago, who traveled a path known as “The Way”. They shared their property, their gifts, and their story about Jesus Christ with all who they meet along the way. Persecuted at the beginning, they changed the world.

This journey continued when a group of friends gathered on the Oxford University campus in England to pray together, read the scripture and go forth to the mills, mines, and prisons in England. Called “Methodists” by those who ridiculed them, they wore the name as a badge of honor. And when John Wesley understood deep in his heart that he was loved by God, the movement that became the Methodist Revival swept across England and through the American colonies and changed the world.

I know two things today. I know of my mother’s love for me. I know of Christ’s love for me, even when I strayed from the path that He would lay before me. I know that were it not for the presence of 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville and its pastor at the time, Marvin Fortel, and the presence of the Wesley Campus Foundation and its director, Dick Todd, my story would be a different one today and I might not be here at all.

You will also note that the changes brought by the early Christians, the followers of “The Way”, and the members of the Holy Club who would become the founders of Methodism were not the leaders of the church. They were the people of the church who understood through their own experience the love of God and the need to show and express that love to others, no matter who they might be. They sought to open the doors that others had shut.

As I was preparing this message I found these words, written in the aftermath of General Conference.

We are called to love people and reflect God’s presence in whatever culture surrounds us. Love often involves accepting people where they are, in what they believe, and in how they live because that is where God meets each of us and calls us. That means being with and among the people, bearing their suffering, hearing their cries, celebrating their successes, laughing and rejoicing with them, and weeping with them in their pain. I will not meet a single individual today who is not precious to God. From “Reflections on Following Jesus, Culture Wars, Loving People, and Radical Discipleship”

It is clear to me that one thing that came out of the General Conference proceedings was that the top-down model that was to be the salvation and saving model for the church will not work. But then again, anyone who has ever studied how excellence is created in an organization could have told you that; effective change in an organization begins at the local level. Effective change occurs when the local church looks at where they are and what they can do and should be doing. I followed Rebecca Clark’s blogs as she traveled from Vermont to Tampa to participate in General Conference. What she wrote was often not easy to read because she wrote of the strife and struggle she and others encountered during General Conference. But out of that came an opportunity to seek and effect change. In one her latest blogs, she quoted a colleague and friend on Facebook, Pastor Deb, as saying “vital congregations cannot be legislated, or mandated, or created by statistical reporting. The Spirit has begun to empower the people.” (From “Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope.”)

Becca Clark also indicated that there is the making of a conversation about the nature of the United Methodist Church and what the future of and for the denomination will be. And this is being done at the local, albeit a 21st century version of the local level, with a TwitterChat. I do not Twitter but if you do or are interested look for #dreamUMC. Further information can be found in Becca Clarks’s post, “Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope.”

I am also going to echo some of the thoughts that she posted in next post, “I’m still here.” There are some who would have individuals like Becca and I leave this church, this denomination. She could easily leave and she has options that would allow her to do so. But she is staying in the United Methodist Church because there are others who cannot leave. She concluded her blog by writing,

I’m giving my all for a church that practices the grace we say we believe in, and that orders itself with love and compassion around Wesley’s rule to do no harm and do all the good we can, and I hope we can someday live into his invitation: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

I do not have the options that she has. I have thought about it and I have to think about the love that has been shown to me; the love of the people at 1st UMC and the Wesley Foundation that supported me in a time of crisis; the love of pastors who pushed and prodded me to continue my journey of faith. And then there is the love of a mother that sought to lay a foundation for me so that I may begin a journey.

Love is defined in many ways but it is best defined by that one verse that we as children memorized, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that we could be saved.” If you have not done so, you are invited this day to know that you are loved by Christ; if you have accepted Christ this day, you are invited to open your heart and soul to the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can go out into the world and show the love of God to His Children.

Yes, it was the dog’s fault!

As I was preparing my notes for last Thursday (“To Offer a New Vision”), I came across the following incident in the life of Sir Isaac Newton:

One winter’s morning, while attending early service in Trinity College, Newton inadvertently left Diamond shut up in his room. On returning from chapel he found that the little fellow had upset a candle on his desk, by which several papers containing minutes of many years’ experiments were destroyed. On perceiving this irreparable loss, he exclaimed, “Oh, Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done!” (Diffusion of Useful Knowledge: Life of Newton, p. 25, col. 2)

Huygens, 1694, referring to this accident says: “Newtonum incidisse in phrenitin abhinc anno ac sex mensibus. An ex nimia studii assiduitate, an dolore infortunii, quod in incendio laboratorium chemicum et scripta quædam amiserat.”

I guess that we can say that the dog in fact did eat the homework.

If you did not follow what transpired over the past few days in Tampa, I encourage you to jump over to Becca Clark’s blog and read what she wrote. There are those who would seek to silence her but hers was a voice speaking the truth (I recieved confirmation of that from other sources).
There are those who want a return to a more Wesley oriented church but they have no idea what such a church would be. What they want is the authoriatian nature that was Wesley privately, not the church that sought change in the world.

We Your People, Ours the Journey

I received a comment on my last post (and have received several mentions on Twitter) decrying my efforts with my colleagues as overly political, pushing an agenda, and even Machiavellian or Orwellian. My commenter wrote: “The only totalitarianism is the ‘progressive’ caucus forcing their will on the rest of the church. Disgraceful.”

Let me be clear: this was indeed a wild, crazy, political, how-the-sausage-gets-made, messy jumble. But if you’re looking for the “some are more equal than others” agenda, you are barking up the wrong side of the barn, my friends.

Make no mistake: the progressives were not the only ones caucusing, strategizing, and trying to make sure their “agenda” made it to the floor. We were not the only ones who huddled at the 4:15 break or the dinner hour. We were not the only ones who had been working for ten days to try to mold the United…

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