The Coming Year


I had intended to call this “America’s Coming Educational Crisis” but 1) the crisis is already there and 2) I think it is far more important that we look to the future and see if it is possible to even have a future.

Some quick statistics As of 2014, 91% of Americans held a high school diploma and 34% of Americans had the equivalent of a college Bachelor’s degree. The good news about this education is that the numbers are trending upwards. The bad news is that this may not mean a whole lot.

A recent study indicated that over 50% of Americans today believe in the Biblical story of creation which makes sense since there are other studies which indicate most Americans own a Bible. This is just one of several statistics that look at the level of scientific illiteracy in this country today.

Sixty-one percent of Americans do not believe that the “Big Bang” actually happened, despite the evidence that it did. One in four Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth. And a fast majority of Americans (some 70%) feel that government funding for science and mathematics education was either too generous or just right (and all one has to do with that is examine the spending on science and mathematics education in the 1960s to know that we are clearly not spending enough today).

It isn’t just the big ticket topics such as evolution, climate change, and renewable energy. It is the basic concepts that are taught, such as DNA (Americans seem to want food containing DNA to be labeled), what a microchip is, or the nature of vaccines.

In short, despite statistics that indicated that we are becoming an educated society, follow-up studies indicate that we actually know very little about the world in which we live or the people with whom we share this world (there are other statistics that indicated people in this country can’t locate states on a map or countries on a globe).

And if our scientific illiteracy is shocking, consider the state of our Biblical illiteracy. While the majority of Americans own a Bible, they apparently do not know what is in it. Over 50% of Americans seem to want to slow down or stop the immigration of Syrian refugees; yet the main story of the Bible is about immigrants and refugees and the need for the people of God to help them, not turn them away. (Note – a majority of adults think that the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.)

Despite the presence of the idea that this is a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, most Americans would not be able to list those principles (probably because such a list does not exist). Most people (82% the last time it was checked; 83% of born-again Christians) will tell you that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible but that only works if you consider Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac as a chapter in the Bible.

Consider the following tidbits of data gathered over the years:

  • Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels.
  • Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
    • One study indicated that many people thought that both John the Baptist and Paul were disciples.
    • 60% of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.
  • 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
  • A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50% thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
  • This is one of my favorites – a considerable number of respondents to one poll felt that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.

I don’t think that we need to go on.

We cannot continue along the path that we are presently on, where fear and ignorance dominate and where the only answer seems to be to try what we have done in the past. Our answer to war and violence is more war and violence, even when we know that cycle will only end when there are no more soldiers to send into battle. In the 1960s, this country was willing to go to nuclear war against the Soviet Union, even when everyone knew that the majority of people on this plane would not survive and those who did would envy the dead. And yet, we pushed for more and more nuclear weapons.

Our politics today are the politics of fear and ignorance, fueled by the greed of those who afraid of what they may lose, but what good are countless millions of dollars when you have no where to spend your money? Very few politicians offer solutions that build up this country and this planet.

Fear and ignorance can be overcome but it has to be through education, both secular and sectarian in nature.

It is the lack of knowledge that threatens our future. Our present educational system has produced individuals who can take tests quite well but who are incapable (I am sorry to say) of generating new answers. If the answer to the question is not in the back of the book, they don’t have the capable of finding it and they don’t want it on the test.

The fundamental fact that we must understand is that there is at least one book that hasn’t been written yet and it contains the answers to the questions that we must answer. If we do not begin to change our ways, morally and educationally, we will not have the skills and understanding needed to read that book when it is published and we will not be able to answer the questions it contains.

There is a great challenge before us today as 2015 comes to a close. Cliche or not, what happens in the year 2016 will determine our future. Act as if we are at the crossroads and determine which way you will go.

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“Seeing The Future”


A Meditation for 3 January 2016, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (Year C), or (Epiphany of the Lord) based on Jeremiah 31: 7 – 14 (Sirach 24: 1 – 12), Ephesians 1: 3 – 14, and John 1: (1 – 9), 10 – 18

I think that it is rather obligatory to start with some predictions about the future. You know, things like Bill Gates announcing in 1991 that 640 K was enough memory for computer usage or Ken Olson, founder and president of Digital Equipment Company stating in 1997 that there was no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Of course, everyone does have a computer of some sort in their home and the memory on even the simplest of those devices exceeds the capacity that Bill Gates thought would be the limit.

What we have to understand is that such pronouncements about the future are always based on what we know today; to truly see the future, to see around the corner and over the horizon, requires that we somehow “break” away from the limits of the future. But how do you do that; how do you see around the corner or over the horizon at what is coming when one is tied to the present, whether they want it or not?

The simplest answer, of course, would be to open one’s mind to new possibilities and not simply try stuff that didn’t work the first time in hopes that it will work the second time. Or at least put in the effort to try the new things; often times things are tried once with little or no perceived success and then thrown away.

If you schedule an activity on a night when another major activity is taking place and you are counting on the success of your new activity, the chances are it will fail simply because something else, well-established in the minds of the desired community, will take the people away. Also, are you doing the activity for the right reasons? What reasons are you using? What is the criteria for success? (See my notes on the 1992 Hog Roast at Grace United Methodist Church in St. Cloud, Missouri – “Simple Gifts”)

Our society’s greatest problem today is its inability to see the future in terms other than the present or the past. Society is not willing to invest in options that haven’t been tried because we, as a society, are quite unwilling to try something new. And I think our inability to try something new because we cannot envision its future makes us blind to the failures of the methods we do try.

This is especially true in the church today. So many churches are rooted in systems that haven’t changed in at least 50 years and then they wonder why the church is dying, in population and in faith.

The loudest voices seem to say that we do not follow the Bible more explicitly and that adherence to the laws of the Bible found in the Old Testament would bring us back to God. But this fails for two reasons. First, in today’s society, it would be very difficult to set up a justice system mirroring the Bible because of the injustices and inequities such a system would bring about. Some may echo the words of George Orwell in Animal Farm that some are more equal than others but society today has a sense and is demanding more equality than that. Second, a cry for an adherence to Old Testament laws ignores the presence of Christ and His pronouncement that He had come to fulfill the laws.

Those who seek such an Old Testament system today are blind to the failures of society back then, when it was believed that through the law, one could achieve salvation. I also think that those who seek this sort of system long for a day when they were completely in charge and no one questioned their authority. Again, one of the things that I believe came about from Jesus’ ministry was the notion that the system in place was wrong and needed to be fixed.

The problem with seeing the future is that one has to have the freedom to see the future. If we are tied to the present, for whatever reason, we are not free to see the future or think “outside the box”.

And what do we do to create a church that is very much alive and well in the 21st century? First, understand that we need to see Christ outside the timeline of history (which is, of course, what John was doing when he wrote the opening lines of his Gospel reading, our Gospel lesson for today). When you put Christ on the timeline, He is stuck 2100 years back in the future and cannot be present today. We must see God and Christ in this moment, free from the limits and constraints of time and space.

When you read the verses from Jeremiah for today, you get a sense that the people were joyful and things were going to change. There was something new about to happen. We know now that what Jeremiah was doing was telling his world about the birth of Christ and the new covenant.

And Paul speaks of the outcome of that new covenant, the freedom that comes from having accepted Christ as one’s own Savior. And that is, I think, the key to seeing the future. First, as I mentioned, you have to be free to see the future and not be limited by the moment or the present. And that is exactly what Christ provides, the freedom to go beyond the present, to see around the corner and over the horizon.

There is, in this country today, a need for a fourth revival but this one has to be a little bit different. It will still require that people accept Christ as their personal Savior (that will never change nor should it). But it will require people to see Christ, not as a part of history but as a part of their life today and tomorrow. It will require a new understanding of the church in today’s world, not simply a building but a presence, not simply meeting on Sunday mornings but meeting and doing things during the week that take the people of the church outside the building.

It will require an understanding by all that Jesus removed the boundaries society had imposed on those outside the establishment. All will be welcome to bathe in the Glory of Christ and not be turned away by those who in the past pronounced judgment on others, doing so in the name of God even when God did not do so.

I am not saying that this is going to be an easy task. The old ways are far too entrenched in many churches today but faced with the reality that change is almost a necessity instead of a luxury, change will take place.

Within this fourth revival is a need for education, to better understand what it means when one says they are a Christian and to understand that saying that one is a Christian does not mean that one’s role in the life of a church ends at noon on Sundays. (I am beginning to see those for whom being a Christian as a 9 to 11 job on Sundays in a corporate mode; it is about punching a time clock and collecting your wages at the end of the time period; unfortunately the notion of a corporate church that dominates today’s world was never meant to be the model for the church).

Education is more than simply Bible study but understanding why it is that the verses being read are in the Bible in the first place (and why there are so many verses which were never accepted as part of the Bible).

When John the Seer concluded the Book of Revelation, it was a victory for the church. It was not a victory encased in doom and destruction, as so many people think it was. Rather it was a statement of triumph and rejoicing for all the people and that is how we need to see the future, both for ourselves individually and collectively as a church and a society.

As we start this new year, we have two choices. We can continue on the same path that we are walking on, perhaps living in the corporate Christian mode, knowing that in the end this will only lead to the death of the present time church and one’s own death.

Or will you accept Jesus as your Savior, to free you from the shackles of sin that lead to slavery and death and gives you the freedom to seek new ways in this world?

A Personal Evolution of Christmas


I didn’t post much during 2015, in part because things going on in the world that required more attention. As bad as the year began, it appears to be coming to a better close, and that is perhaps the best reason to celebrate this Christmas.

I will be trying as the old saying goes, “with the Good Lord willing and if the creek doesn’t rise,” to resume a regular Sunday publication schedule. Look for “What I Believe” and “Seeing The Future” to be posted sometime next week (the pages are up but only as a “place-holder”).

Christmas for me has been a variety things. Though not many, there were Christmas spent at my grandparent’s homes in North Carolina and Missouri (my first Christmas was in Lexington, North Carolina in 1950 and was marked by my baptism at the First Evangelical and Reformed Church on 24 December 1950; see “My Two Baptisms” for thoughts on the idea of infant baptism.)

Christmas for the Mitchell family was often times a celebration of the family wherever my father happened to be stationed. And despite the thought that snow on Christmas would be nice, it was not until I lived in Minnesota from 1991 to 1993 that I experienced such a Christmas.

Sometime in the 1960s I began to express the idea that Ebeneezer Scrooge might have had the right idea about Christmas. Of course, most people objected to this characterization of the season, seeing Mr. Scrooge as the bitter and mean business man. But when you read “A Christmas Carol”, you know that as a result of the visits the Ebeneezer Scrooge at the end of the story was not the same individual he was at the beginning of the story. I have never read any critical analysis of the story so I don’t know what Dickens’ thoughts were in his writing this story but it does, at least to me, show the transforming power of Christmas.

I sometimes, especially in these days, wonder if we have forgotten this critical point in our celebration of the day and the season. I fear that we have forgotten the reason for Christmas and have transformed it into a sectarian business ritual that requires our utmost devotion in order to save our country but not our souls.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like getting presents just as much as the next person but over the years I have come to, at least privately, look to what took place in Bethlehem and Nazareth some two thousand years ago as more important.

And the nature of what took place then has also changed in a way that helps me to better understand why Christ came to this earth as a child and what it meant then and what it means today.

I know that when I was young, I accepted the Christmas story that is told each Christmas eve. But I now know that there are two decidedly different Nativity stories and that a true expression of the Christmas story must take at least two weeks because the wise men were not there at the birth but arrived a few weeks later. (But try taking the wise men out of the nativity scene on the altar or on the front lawn of the church.)

And while it may be popular to characterize Mary as a young, unwed mother, she was betrothed to Joseph which meant that a wedding was in the plans. I don’t think that there is anyone today who doesn’t understand the joy and fear that Mary must have felt nor the possible anger that Joseph might have felt. But we know that both Mary and Joseph had a sense of relief to know what was taken place though it would have been nice to have known what conversation took place between the two of them during those months before the trip to Bethlehem.

I have noticed a few posts on social media that characterize Joseph and Mary as a homeless refuge family (as a political statement for the many “Christians” who would want this country to turn away refugees from the Middle East). True, in a few short weeks, Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus will become political refuges but that doesn’t occur until after the visit of the wise men and the anger of Herod.

How do we see the birth of Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem? Was it just Joseph and Mary along with the various animals? Or were their others present as well?

For me, the key to this question is found in the reason for the visit to Bethlehem. We are told that a census was being taken and that all were to go to their home town, which for Joseph was Bethlehem. Now we also know that Bethlehem was so crowded that there was no room in the inn. Everyone who had come to Bethlehem were in some way related to Joseph, so Jesus was born during a family reunion and I am certain that among his cousins, aunts, and uncles were enough people present to assist in His birth. So I have always seen Jesus being born in a crowd and not alone as we sometimes think.

I know that some critics don’t like the selection of December 25th as Christmas, arguing that it was an attempt by the early church to co-opt a pagan festival. And that’s true but they had to have a date and a date in March or April that was more likely to be correct (based on the notion of the shepherds in the field) would ultimately collide with the observance and celebration of Easter.

The selection of a December date for Christmas speaks more to the point of Christ’s birth than simply a repackaging of an old pagan festival. In what are the darkest physical days of the human soul, we find the Birth of Christ as a light that begins to shine and bring hope to a world of trouble and despair.

Let us remember that the first to be told of Jesus’ birth (outside of his extended family) were the shepherds. Shepherds were considered the lowest of society and often times not welcome. And yet, the angels told them first that someone cared about them. This message would be constantly repeated throughout Jesus ministry, telling all those who society had forgotten or thrown away that they had not been forgotten.

The story of the wise men (however many there might have been) tells us two things. First, the gifts that were given were an indication of what would happen to Jesus. The frankincense and myrrh were valuable gifts used in the preparation of the body for burial. What strange gifts to give a new-born infant unless you knew, as the writer of Matthew knew, the outcome of His life. The gold would be used to finance the families trip from Nazareth to Egypt when Herod had his massive temper tantrum.

And, from a personal note, however you wish to translate the terms that give us “wise men” and “Magi”, you have to see in their visit an acknowledge that science is a part of our lives as much as faith and religion should be. As I have written before, these individuals were more than astrologers because from the efforts of those individuals and counterparts would come the basis for modern science and mathematics.

Let us remember that Christmas is more than a single day on the calendar but rather a two-week period of time from December 25th to the arrival of the wise man in January. Sure, we might take down the tree and put away the decorations on the 26th but let us not stop the celebration and let us use this time of Christmas to remember why Christ came and to help others to seek the joy, hope and peace that He brought to this world.

Disciple Dojo – JMSmith.org » “I’m open to religion…where do I start??”


Today a good friend of mine tagged me in a very thoughtful post in which he basically said “I was raised Catholic, but I don’t really have a personal belief in a theistic God. I’m open to searching for religious truth. Where do I begin?”

Source: Disciple Dojo – JMSmith.org » “I’m open to religion…where do I start??”