“Postulating The Existence Of God”

There was a fascinating series recently on PBS called “The First Peoples”. It offered new information about how human beings journeyed out of Africa and moved to Asia, Australia, the Americas, and Europe. In doing so, it offers some new insights about what it means to be a human (and some of those insights are very surprising).

But it is pointed out that early humans had a distinct spirituality. Whether this is, as my wife pointed out, related to Karl Jung’s collective unconscious or something else I do not know. But it suggests to me that we as a people, from ages past, have known there was a God.

Now, this leads me to think of some basic questions. If you do not accept the idea of God, then what do you believe in? How can you explain things beyond the empirical realm?

I will admit that I see the creation of the universe as a 14 billion year old process and that it began, as one cynic labeled it, as a “big bang.” And I understand that it is very possible that this is one unique outcome out of all possible outcomes. But the statistics tell me that it is a very unlikely outcome.

Perhaps we can use the famous “Drake Equation” which suggests that there is more than such world such as ours. 

N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

But even with favorable statistics, we are still left with questions about why this all took place and I am not prepared to say that it just happened and that everything that has taken place is just that way.

Were we created without a purpose? Then why even ask? I know that there are some who have predicated their own lives on making sure that we never ask questions; it is the only way that they can hold onto power.

And for me, that strikes me as one of the most evil things possible. And the existence of evil and the equal presence of good tells me that there has to be a God. You may not believe in the same God that I do but when you track back what you know, it would appear that the one God in my life is the same God in your life.

And that means that we cannot say to someone else that our God is the only God and they have to accept that. But it also means that we need to help people find God.

“The One Person”

A mediation for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 26 July 2015 based on 2 Samuel 11: 1 – 15, Ephesians 3: 14 – 21, and John 6: 1 – 21.

A few years ago I found a thought by Willie Nelson, “one person could not change the world but one person with a message could.” But what perhaps is the message?

Uriah could have easily done what David wanted him to do and no one would have said anything. But Uriah knew that his men didn’t have the opportunity for the comforts that David was encouraging him to enjoy. I am sure that other generals and military leaders would have done exactly that. I think that leadership sometimes requires that leaders understand what is taking place in the field.

A number of years ago there was a movement in business to seek excellence. Two of the outcomes of this movement were 1) most innovations occur at the basic level and not in the upper levels of management and 2) good leaders managed by “walking around” and studying what was happening at the basic levels of the company. In one sense that is what Uriah is saying, “my men do not have these privileges so I will not enjoy them.”

Of course, in this particular case, Uriah’s insistence on holding onto his vision of what was right lead to his own death as David attempted to cover up his own problems. But David paid a penalty for his sins and errors in the cover-up and we need to keep that in mind.

In the Gospel reading for today, Philip (and probably the other disciples as well) does not immediately see the solution to the problem of feeding all the people on that hillside. Now, John the writer notes that Jesus already knew what He was going to do but He wanted Philip to begin to see the answer. And, of course, the answer was provided by the young man who had brought a lunch of bread and fish.

There seems to be a problem in society today. Faced with numerous problems, we tend to think in terms of traditional answers. And we bang our heads against the wall time and time again trying to make the traditional answer work. The traditional answer for Uriah would have been to take advantage of the benefits of his position but that would have done anything for his men. The traditional response for the disciples would have been to tell the people to get their own lunches but while that may have worked, it would not have not opened the minds and spirits of all the people, including the disciples, to what God can do in their lives.

I have said it before, your encounter with Christ is likely to change your life. You will see the world in a different way. In one sense, that is what Paul told the Ephesians. You cannot lead the same life you were living after you encounter Christ (as he well knew).

One person with a vision can change the world – I don’t know if Willie Nelson was thinking of Christ when he made the that comment but I do know that Jesus Christ saw the world in a different way and He worked to make that vision a possibility. Our response today is to hear the call that Christ is making and understand that in accepting it we can change the world.

“Are These The End Times?”

I will admit that I do not believe in the “End Times” prophecies promulgated by Christian fundamentalists (and I wish that they would at least document that much of what they profess to be the outcome came from a 19th century pastor and not from John the Seer or Daniel). But I keep wondering if we aren’t somehow doing it to ourselves without the need of a Biblical reference.

  1. Another shooting in a group environment – let’s not go into whether this was a terrorist event or not. One person took a gun into a theater and killed people! And yet we are afraid to even discuss the issue of reasonable and common sense gun control. Are we so afraid that Wayne LaPierre is going to grab his flintlock rifle off the rack above his fireplace, jump on his horse, and warn us that the British are once again coming to take away our guns?
  2. How many people have died because the police over-reacted? I don’t even what to break down the deaths by race because that’s another issue that we don’t seem to want to deal with. The only benefit that I can see (and I am being sarcastic) is that we will all drive much more safer now because we don’t want to be stopped by the police.
  3. The House of Representatives just passed a bill that would allow employers to fire any employee they wish because that employee does something which goes against their religious beliefs. Even if the Senate passes it, it will be vetoed by President Obama but you can bet it will be introduced again if a Republican (heaven forbid, please) is elected President. By the way, if marriage is defined in terms of having children, then my second and current marriages might be considered illegal.
  4. Perhaps the worst of all is that we seem to be getting dumber. Our educational processes seem more attuned to developing “worker bees” rather than thinkers.

I cannot help but think that we began this path towards self-destruction when Richard Nixon was elected to his second term. At the same time that everyone was affirming his status as one of the greatest Presidents of all time, he was involved in one of the greatest political cover-ups of all time. The most interesting thing about the elections of 1968 and 1972 were that there were entirely based on dividing this country by race, sex, and economic class.

At what point can the people cry out and say enough! Or are we in the “End Times” and it is too late!

“Random Thoughts On A Wednesday”

I find it very amazing that we as a society seem headed towards a life of mediocrity and we seem quite happy to be headed in that direction. I supposed there is nothing wrong with mediocrity; after all, a mediocre life would have no challenges and there would be no need to worry about things because they are going to same as they have always been. And life is always good when tomorrow is the same as today and you know what to expect.

But there is no challenge in living a life which is essentially the same every day. There is no drive, no push to seek things, and in the end, life becomes very stale. And when life becomes stale, mistakes are made.

One can make mistakes because one is in a hurry or is not careful; those mistakes can be fixed. But mistakes can be made because life is routine and you do the same thing over and over again. Those, I think, are the worst mistakes because they come without warning. They come because you no longer stop and think about what is going on.

We have been understandably upset because of many of the comments that Donald Trump has made recently and we should be upset because he is not challenging anyone to a better life but merely echoing thoughts that others have expressed.

And while we should be angry at what Mr. Trump has said, we have forgotten what people said about Max Cleland when they questioned his heroism and patriotism in Viet Nam or when they questioned the heroism and patriotism of Tammy Duckworth in Iraq. And no one seems to remember how many of the same Republicans who have decried what Mr. Trump said recently supported wholeheartedly the efforts to discredit the patriotism and heroism of John Kerry, simply because he chose to protest the war in Viet Nam.

We hear so many people calling for a war, against countries, religions, and nationalities but these same people found ways to avoid serving their country at a time when their service was needed. (For the record, I received one student deferment and one medical deferment during the Viet Nam War. I don’t remember what my number in the lottery was and might very well have gone to Canada or jail in 1971 if I had not failed my draft physical.)

We hear people say that forcing them to serve members of the LGBT community against their religious beliefs but they seem to forget that the same words were used to justify segregation and, before that, slavery. And there were those in 1960 who said that John Kennedy could not be President because he was Roman Catholic and everyone knew that Roman Catholics were really not Christians. And while President Kennedy decried the use of a religious test in politics today, we seemed to have created such a test in politics today.

And in the end, those who proclaim that they are Christian seem to forget that Jesus Christ Himself was criticized time and time again for embracing the outcasts of society. When you leave a mediocre life, content with each day being the same, you don’t pay attention to things and you are not open to the minor details which make each day new and exciting.

We rejoice in the healing that Jesus did (and which the disciples would later do) yet we forget that each time He did heal someone or a group of people, He became an outcast in society. Each time that he spoke to a woman in public, he went against societal norms. We forget that were it not for the provisions of the Old Testament that 10% of the fields be left for the poor and needy, Ruth might never have married Boaz, which in turn would have meant that there would be no tree from which the branch of Jesse could arise. If there was no branch, there was no David, and there would have been no Christ.

In one sense, we like our lives to be simple (the old Quaker song speaks of the gift to be simple being a gift to be free) but we also must be aware that each day is a new day and that we cannot do what we did yesterday.

There is a challenge in each day and you cannot meet the challenge by being mediocre. In some way, you must push the envelope.

“Finding A Sanctuary”

A Mediation for 19 July 2015, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14, Ephesians 2: 11 – 22, and Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56.

This is an incomplete mediation because I wasn’t sure how to end it. It sometimes seems to me that we seek sanctuary only for ourselves but we end up making it a fortress. We need to find ways of making the world a sanctuary and not a war zone.

There is an episode in MASH where a young soldier wants to get out of the Army and he seeks Father Mulcahy’s assistance. In this episode, Father Mulcahy invokes the role of the church as a sanctuary from war; but the problem is that Father Mulcahy’s church also happens to be the camp’s mess tent and there is a problem resolving the difference in those two roles. At the end of this episode, the young soldier grabs a gun and this causes Father Mulcahy to get very angry. As he points out, you cannot use a gun in a place in which you have sought sanctuary.

What is the role of the church and those who call it home in today’s society? Is a church a place of sanctuary from which one can seek protection for all that is wrong with the world? Does that mean that what goes on inside the walls of a church should insulate its members and protect them from whatever is going on outside the walls?

Or should a church be a sanctuary from which all people, not just the members, can find solace and peace, protection from those who would do them harm?

I think it is quite easy to build walls around us that block off the world and prevent us from seeing what is happening and call that a sanctuary. But when you build such walls, it becomes very difficult to make it so you cannot get it. In trying to keep the world from getting into your life, you make it very hard for you to get back into the world.

But there has to be a place where people can seek solace and peace, to find protection from those who would seek to do harm. In another MASH episode, Father Mulcahy notes that warring armies always left a particular monastery alone, recognizing that it was a sanctuary and place of peace.

So what is a sanctuary? Is it a place where one can feel safe and protected from the outside world? Or is it a place where the outside world can feel safe and protected? If the answer is the first one, then what happens to the world? And how does one accomplish anything if you are inside your sanctuary?

But we can’t make the world a sanctuary? Or can we? I was reminded the other day that hospitality in the Old Testament was a matter of making all people, strangers and friends alike, welcome in your home? The distance between places and the lack of things that we take for granted today made almost a requirement that you welcome the stranger into your home.

“You Are A Better Man Than I”

This is probably going to make some people mad, but maybe it will get them to think. It wasn’t so prevalent when I was in high school but, as I have written before, I can still recall segregated schools and I can remember being in the “wrong” section of a public theater. I don’t think that I ever saw a sign that told me who can drink from a water fountain or which water fountain you were supposed to drink from but I know they were there. And for the most part, most everyone agreed that that was wrong.

But it was all justified because the Bible said it was okay to segregate the races (though I think it took a stretch to come up with the “right” verses to do so).

So, how can it be alright to say to someone you have never met that they can or cannot come into your store or your home or be your friend because of who they want to marry? Oh, I know there are Bible verses that you can quote better than I that will justify your actions but like I said, there were those when I grew up who could quote chapter and verse to justify segregation and whose grandparents (actually, their grandparents’ bosses) who could quote chapter and verse to justify slavery.

I don’t think that God is really interested in how well we can quote obscure text (especially when it is out of context or improperly translated). He is more interested in how you treat everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from, what color their skin might be, or with whom they have decided to spend their life.

We have a choice. We can put up signs that tell people whom we will do business with and whom we will interact with or we can just live our lives as they were meant to be live.

I close with a song by the Yardbirds, “Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I.”

“Remembering the Past Or Seeing The Future”

A Mediation for 12 July 2015, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 6:1 – 5, 12 – 19, Ephesians 1:3 – 14, and Mark 6:14 – 29

If you are like me, you have to wonder why it was that Uzzah was killed almost immediately after touching the Ark of the Covenant, or as it is listed in The Message, the Chest of God. I mean, we are talking about the Ark of the Covenant and those who were carrying it should have taken all sorts of precautions to make sure that it was dropped or anything like that.

But when you go back in and look at the rest of the story, you begin to understand that the particular episode, you begin to understand that the way the Ark was transported violated practically every single rule that God had laid down when the Ark was first made.

And in the first part of this passage from the Old Testament, David appears to have forgotten every one of those rules, from who was to move the Ark to how it was to be moved. Uzzah may have thought that keeping the Ark from falling was the right thing to do but, in retrospect, letting it fall may have been the only viable option.

I cannot help but think that we have something of that mentality today. We treat certain things with some reverence but we fail to remember why it was that we do so. We give lip service, as it were, proclaiming that this item or that item have meaning in our lives but we don’t bother to know what that meaning might be or what the real meaning actually is.

And, if you haven’t figured it out by now, if you hold up the Confederate battle flag and say this is a symbol of my heritage, then you better understand what your heritage really is. It would be far better to cast your heritage aside and move forward than to simply try to figure out a way to justify living in the past.

In growing up in the South, I met those who did just that, tried to justify living in the past. I began to understand early on what that meant; later on, I would learn or begin to realize that the memories of the South that people wanted to keep in their minds was a limited one, one in which nothing bad happened and in which Yankees were to blame for all the problems. But then I began to see that the only ones who wanted to keep those memories fresh were those who wanted to hold on to power and position; they had no desire to see anyone, whatever color they might be, become equal.

And that is something I think is still holding true today. I see too many people who are like Herod, afraid of John the Baptizer and what he is saying, for it lets people know that he (Herod) is abusing his position and authority. He doesn’t want people to hear the Baptizer’s words of truth for those words damage his position and his power. For Herod, the Baptizer is an outsider (even though, of course, he was a local boy) and outsiders only bring bad news.

And there are those today who call themselves Christian but whose thoughts, words, and deeds show that they give little thought to what it is they profess. They see in the Cross a symbol of power and authority to laud over others and which somehow makes them better people. But they are not willing to see the Cross for what it really stands for, a chance to change your life because Christ died for them.

They are unwilling to put themselves in the place that Christ put Himself, a place where everything was given up so that we could be successful. As Paul told the Ephesians, there was a long-range plan for each one of us in Christ.

And while there are those who would rather remember the past, in Christ we are offered a vision of the future. It is a future that is open to all, no matter who they might be.

The Return of the Seven Month Full-Term Baby

I would add that part of what Christie writes is true for me.

The Thoughtful Pastor

Image courtesy of Creative Commons Clip Art Image courtesy of Creative Commons Clip Art

After I wrote of my support of the recent SCOTUS decision that affirms marriage for all citizens, one commentator wrote of his agreement for certain civil rights for gay couples and then added this caveat, “Marriage is a contract between two people of opposite sex that want to have children and raise a family. That is not biologically possible between gay and lesbian couples.”

So, I ask these questions:

  • Should we then make fertility a requirement for marriage?
  • How would hetero couples prove their abilities to reproduce before marriage?
  • What about older couples who desire to marry but who are no longer biologically capable of reproducing?
  • What about those who have suffered from childhood cancers whose treatments have rendered them infertile?
  • If a couple announces before marriage that they do not wish to ever have children, should we then deny them the right to…

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