The Threat To Our Freedoms


This continues a thread on the topic of academic freedom.  A summary of my posts on this topic are given in “Notes On Academic Freedom”.  I have edited this piece (31 January 2016) to include an additional link related to this topic.


There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning attacks on our freedom. But it seems to me that these discussions are incomplete and miss the point.

It seems to me that those who complain about attacks on their freedom want to fight those attacks by limiting the amount of information available. This, to me anyway, is a far greater threat to our freedoms than anything that anyone else can imagine. For if you can control the flow of information, you control what people think, say and do and that, in turn, controls all of our freedoms.

The control of information begins when you determine how people are taught or what they are taught.

Let me start by first defining teaching and learning.

Teaching is the process of transferring information from one place, say my mind or textbook, to another location, say your mind or notebook. Success comes when the receiver of the information is able to repeat what was transferred. There is no interaction between the teacher and the student in this process; the transfer is, in effect, a one-way process.

I think this is, and has been for some time, the dominant process in our educational system. And based on various metrics, something we have become quite good at doing.

But there is relatively no new information being created and the means for doing so are not present. There is no analysis of the information presented so that the receiver can determine if it is good or bad information or even appropriate information. And without the ability to create or analyze the information, there is no way the receiver can determine the validity of the information. If you cannot analyze the data or, for that matter, create new data, then your ability to solve problems is limited.

It is possible to solve problems provided they are similar in nature to problems that you have solved in the past. But this does not provide the basis for solving completely new problems. And the ability to do so only comes when you learn something, not when someone else teaches you.

Learning is an interactive process between the pupil and the teacher, the instructor and the learner. It goes beyond what is already known by including the skills one needs to learn on one’s own. In one sense, true learning ultimately eliminates the need for the teacher because the learner gains the skills and abilities needed for future learning.

We are fast approaching a point, if we are not there already, where will not be able to respond to any sort of crisis because there will be no individuals who have the skills to think through a problem, analyze the available information, determine what additional information is needed, and then offer a new solution. At best, we only have people who can offer the same old solutions that haven’t worked in the past because they don’t have the ability to create an alternative.

I have no doubt that we know lots and lots of information but as I noted in my earlier piece, “Notes On The Common Core”, acquiring information does not automatically mean you know what to do with it. We can neither continue to maintain the status quo or, as others suggest, limit the ability of learners to question and analyze.

Consider the case of Dr. Alexander Coward, a mathematics instructor at the University of California – Berkeley (http://alexandercoward.com/). It would appear from the public information that the mathematics faculty at Berkeley is 1) opposed to the methods that Dr. Coward uses in teaching mathematics and 2) embarrassed that his results are better than the majority of the other faculty members. They would offer the notion that the results that show his students learn more and at a higher rate than other faculty members is faulty or the results are flawed and somehow incorrect.


A new web page, which may be related to the same issues that Dr. Coward is facing is “PrairieU”; like the person who pointed me to the link, there is evidence to suggest that this is a real situation but it is not clear what took place and what the resolution of the problem is.  One has to think that how we determine the effectiveness of learning is clearly a subset of the issue of academic freedom.


 

This would not be the first time a faculty has argued against a change in methodology or information. When Galileo first presented his ideas on the relatively new Copernican model of the universe, it was the academic establishment that raised the first objections because acceptance of this new idea would mean that they had to change or retool everything they were doing. The church became a participant when the academic establishment convinced church authorities that Galileo was a threat to their security as well (see “Changing Of The Seasons”).

In the end, we are faced with one undeniable piece of information – each person has their own unique style of learning and one fixed process does not always work. Each subject requires its own approach and each instructor needs to adapt and adjust according to the situation they are in and the students they are teaching. Limiting how we teach or limiting and/or controlling the information flow can only lead to failure and ultimately the loss of freedom.

Who Are We?


A Meditation for 31 January 2016, the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), based on Jeremiah 4: 1 – 10, 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 13, and Luke 4: 21 – 30

There is something rather Calvinistic (if there is such a word) about the Old Testament reading for today. If God does know me in the womb, does that mean that our lives are laid out before we are born and nothing we say or do changes the outcome? Or does God see in each of us the untapped potential that we all have? I, of course, would prefer the latter, for that gives us the opportunity to do the work that we have to do.

Standing before the people of Nazareth in the synagogue that Sabbath day some two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke of the prophecy being fulfilled. He knew what He had to do and He most definitely knew where it would lead Him. Make no mistake, if Jesus had not gone to the Cross, the narrative of life today would have been different. The difficulty that Christ had then and each one of us has today is that society defines who we are before we are born and places limits on what it is we can do based on where we were born, our race, our gender, our economic status. And when we placed limits on anyone, it becomes very difficult for anyone to see the potential you have.

If, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, there is no love behind our actions, then all is for naught. If we, as a society and as a people, do not have love for others in our society, then we are in effect shutting them out of the future. Our love for others has to be such that each person meets his or her greatest potential.

If, however, we live in a society based on our fears, our bias, and our ignorance, then we are no better than those who heard Jesus speak that first Sabbath and ask how it is that the local carpenter’s son could say such things. And our reaction today, sadly, would be the same as it was then, where because of our fears, our bias, and our ignorance we destroy or limit those who have the potential for good.

Our call today is very simple. If we say that we are Christians, then there is love in our actions. We do things, perhaps feed the hungry, heal the sick, or free the oppressed, not because it will get us something but rather because we love those people and do not like seeing them sick, hurt, hungry, or oppressed. And if we merely say that we are Christians but then do nothing, then our words and actions ring hollow and false. And in today’s world, it is quite easy to hear hollow words and see false action.

The season of Lent is two weeks away; the call for repentance and the beginning of new life, a life in Christ is two weeks away. But we must begin today. We must work for the revival of the Holy Spirit and for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and the lives of all those we touch, either personally or peripherally.

We must speak out against injustice and repression because Jesus spoke out against it. We must help people get healthcare and housing, not because it is the political thing to do but because the prophecy calls for it.

And when someone happens to ask us who we are, we can say that we are followers of Christ, who came to this world to save us from slavery to sin and death, to a live free and eternal.

My closing question this day is a very simple one, who are you?

Your Last Chance To Vote


The upcoming 2016 election could very well be your last chance to vote.

The outcome of this election, both in terms of who gets elected President, who gets elected as Senators and Representatives, and the myriad number of local elections, could very well make voting by a good majority of the people illegal or at least impossible.

Now, as a disclaimer, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. While I may have considered the idea of being a Republican early on in my life, that notion can never be considered a reality today. When the Republicans adopted their Southern strategy in 1968, it was clear that anyone who wished to be considered a liberal and a Republican (they did exist back then) was being pushed out of their party.

And today’s Republican party, built on a policy of “just saying no” and either overtly or covertly working to limit the power of the majority of people based on gender, income, and race is not a party that I wish to be a part of.

And I am not a Democrat because too many Democrats, instead of espousing the philosophy of their party, have simply modified the Republican party philosophy that money is more important that ideals and standards.

But if you do not vote in the 2016 election and vote for those who see the future in a progressive manner, then the odds are that this will be your last vote.

If a Republican is elected President and the Republicans control the House and Senate, then expect a series of laws that will limit the right to vote to a few privileged white males, much in the manner of those eligible to vote when this country began in 1776. If you are a white male who owns property, then you will have the right to vote. If you do not meet those basic qualifications, then you will be denied the right to vote.

And don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of such laws. I think that it should be obvious now that one or two of the Supreme Court judges believe in that idea. I will not say that these judges are in the pockets of the rich and powerful but they have similar philosophies and that is sufficient. And the next President will appoint one and perhaps two Justices which will insure that the philosophy remains in place for a long time.

And when you vote, vote for candidates that support your ideas all the way down the ballot. In doing so, you work to insure that at the grass roots level there are people working to insure that freedom does exist.

One other thing, do not be accept the idea that your vote doesn’t count. Right now, that is the prevailing attitude of the American voter and it shows in the participation records. And when voter turnout is low, the results favor the more active and more organized party (and that happens to be the Republican party today). They will get their voters to the poll while working to keep the opposition away and that helps to insure their victory.

I also think that such voter apathy has very long-term effects. It is one of those wonderful cliches but the future does belong to the young. And I personally fear that many youth today see no future for them in a world that favors old, rich, and powerful white men. In a world that allows politicians to preach hatred and violence, to tell others how to live their lives while doing whatever they please, many people will see no hope and will turn away from the system.

So, in the basic sense, if you do not vote in the 2016 election, you will passively vote for those who seek to limit your ability to participate. And if you do not vote for the opportunity to have a future, if you are willing to accept the notion that yesterday was better than tomorrow will ever be, then you will never have the opportunity to say otherwise.

Remember, democracy is the very thin and fragile line that separates chaos and tyranny.

Creating A Plan Of Action


A Meditation for 24 January 2016, the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C). The meditation is based on Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthian 12: 12 – 31, and Luke 4: 14 – 21

I happen to be a chemist by training. And when I began teaching after graduating from college I found that chemical education was something that interested me. This, along with bio-inorganic chemistry and statistics, became the foundation for my doctoral studies and later research.

My liturgical skills and interests came later in life but were, would be, and are supported and enhanced by the liberal art foundations provided by my research in chemistry and chemical education.

One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about teaching, be it chemistry, mathematics, English, or any other subject, is that it takes more than just knowing the subject (see “Thanks a lot, Henry!” and “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”). You have to know how people think and learn and you have to have a plan.

And any plan you create has to take into consideration the skills and abilities of all those involved, not just a select few, and the resources that you have to work with. What will work in one setting is not necessarily guaranteed to work in another.

So when we look at the Old Testament reading for today, we should see two things.

First, teaching was involved. The people were coming back to Israel after years of exile in Babylon and they had pretty well forgotten the basis for their society, their country, and their lives.

Second, everyone, not just a select people, were taught. There is a specific reference to women being present as well as all those who were capable of understanding (which would be the youth of the community).

As I have written over the past few weeks, there is a crying need for a 21st century revival and it has to begin with teaching what it means to be a Christian today. This is necessary because so many churches today have changed the meaning of Christianity to meet their definitions (see “The Four Gospels of American Christianity”) rather than the ideas expressed throughout the Bible.

It is important to note that every one will be involved, not just a select few chosen by some establishment elite. And, as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, each person will be called to utilize the skills they have as best as they can. Often times, we ask people to do things that for which they are not capable of doing or doing it at a level they cannot sustain. Some people are going to have to share in the tasks as well as understand that each person does what they can. Nor can we get upset because it would seem that some don’t do as much as others. The point is that we work together, using our skills and abilities to achieve the goals set forth by Christ that day when He stood up in His own synagogue and read the Scripture.

We are very much like the people who gathered that day to hear Nehemiah and the others. Our world is on the verge of destruction and we have been called to rebuild it; we have forgotten the nature of our faith and what that means in today’s world.

We are world of differences but that differences that when working together make the world a better place.

Each community of believers must and can create their own plan of action. And we must know what skills and abilities each member has, for what what community does may not be what another community does.

But the basis for action lies in the words of Christ first expressed in the synagogue two thousand years ago. We now are called to complete that plan.

Happenings with Energion Publishing


Last night (Tuesday, January 19, 2016), as noted below, I was part of the discusson on Creation and science.  My contribution was in the area of basic science concepts.

Tuesday Night (January 19, 2016, 7 pm Central Time): Dr. David Moffett-Moore, author of Creation in Contemporary Experience, discussing our ethical obligation to care for our planet (7:00 pm to 7:27 pm), then Dr. Tony Mitchell will discuss some basic concepts in science (7:33 pm to 8:00 pm).

The Four Gospels of American Christianity


No, this is not about the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It isn’t even about the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene, or Judas Iscariot.

Rather, it is about how I perceive churches in America operating in today’s society. This is not any sort of scientific study but perhaps anecdotal in nature. But in a world and a society where how Christianity is perceived, it might help if we consider what it is we do as a church and how it reflects on Christianity and on us.

This critique is not about the style of worship but the meaning of worship. There is an argument in churches today that music must be modern in nature, to appeal to those outside the walls of the church. But if the message that the people hear when they come is not a true message, then being hip or cool will not keep them there.  Nor is this an issue of the use of technology in today’s church.  You may use the newest and best technology but, again, if the message is old, out-dated, or limiting, all that new technology does is highlight how wrong it might be.

The “Four Gospels of American Christianity” are:

  • The Corporate Gospel
  • The Prosperity Gospel
  • The Old Testament Gospel
  • The True Gospel

The Corporate Gospel

For me, churches who believe in the “corporate gospel” are driven by the bottom line. The bills must be paid first and the building must be in excellent condition. Members of the congregation are more like customers who purchase time on Sunday. There is a set time for the service each week and members of the congregation are expected to be there at that time and in their proper seats. There are no deviations from the time or style of worship. The message given each Sunday by the pastor is very easy and never demanding, almost to the point of having no meaning at all; for to do so would drive away the customers. If churches operating on the corporate gospel have one redeeming value, it is that the coffee is good and the snacks served during the post-service fellowship hour are fresh.

The building and the operation of the building is the primary ministry of these churches. Help for the community around the church or in the world is secondary.

The Prosperity Gospel

Churches utilizing the prosperity gospel are churches filled with glitz and glamour. Pastors leading the service are among the most well-dressed individuals you will ever find because God expects them to dress that way. But suits and outfits which cost on the order of one thousand dollars require money and money is the driving force of these churches. The members of these churches give their money to support the communications ministries of the church (which are some of the best ministries in the business) but the money goes to support the minister and the life-style of the church.

Often times, it is very hard to discern where the focus of the message and the mission of the church lie because the traditional symbols of the church are missing or secondary in nature.

The Old Testament Gospel Church

If anything, churches that focus on the Old Testament as their gospel shouldn’t be even be considered Christian in nature. If the meaning of the word “gospel” is “the good news”, then it essentially applies to the New Testament. Churches who use the Old Testament as their gospel may be considered fundamentalist in nature. They have a fundamental understanding of the message of Christ but it has gotten lost in legalistic nature of their structure, much like the church establishment did in the time when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee.

The gospel of the Old Testament is a very legalistic gospel but without much love or understanding. It is very much in tune with the written laws and regulations of the Old Testament but has no understanding of why those laws and regulations were even considered two thousand years ago, let alone today.

Christ told those who questioned his attitude towards the laws and regulations that He came to fulfill the law the following:

Completing God’s Law

Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. (Matthew 5:17-18, The Message)

Clarence Jordan, translating Matthew from the original Greek, wrote it this way:

Don’t ever think that I’m trying to destroy the moral and religious principles of our way of life. My purpose is not to destroy them but to establish them. For I truthfully tell you that as long as he)aven and earth remain, not one dotting of an “i” or crossing of a “t” will be eliminated from our highest and noblest ideals until every one of them becomes a reality. So then, if anyone disregards one of the least of these God-given principles, and encourages others to do so, he shall be considered unimportant in God’s new order of the Spirit. But whoever lives by them and upholds them shall be considered vital to God’s new order of the Spirit. (Matthew 5: 17 – 19, The Cotton Patch Gospel of Matthew)

Now, same may argue that Jesus’ words, as given in Matthew, allow for the legalistic view espoused in the Old Testament and the imposition of a strict code of behavior. But we also have to realize that that approach limits life, not encourages life. And that is what Jesus did, he came to bring life and meaning to the people, which in turn required a breaking of the legalistic framework that had been opposed on the people by the church.

Without the love of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, all the laws do is imprison people, not free them.

It should be noted that in each of these three church models, power in the church is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.

Another distinction is that the ministries of these churches are often considered missions, to which one gives but does not take part. The attitude is that there are others who can do the Lord’s “dirty work.”

The True Gospel

There are churches today in which the true Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is heard and seen. But one must seek them because they are not very evident. But when you find this place, you will know it.

The building may not be shiny and new as other churches but there is a warmth in the building that doesn’t come from the heating system. Extra monies that could be spent on the building and properties are often directed to ministries in the community and the world.

Such churches are clearly in tune with the needs of the community outside the building and their outreach programs and ministries seek to involve those in that community. The people of the church are involved in this programs and they are more than just an afterthought.

It is clear that the goal of such “True Gospel” churches is understanding how to make Christ part of the process rather than to simply teaching others about Christ

It is perhaps an axiom that there is something of all four churches in each church but that would force the question of which one dominates? A church was never meant to be a building but rather the people inside the building. A church was never meant to be enclosed inside a building but to be a part of the community in which the building served as a meeting place.

And in today’s world, any place can be a meeting place if the meeting is to bring the Gospel message to the world. The question then is, “What Gospel message does your church bring to the world?”

How Do We Do It


A Meditation for 17 January 2016, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), based on Isaiah 62: 1 – 5, 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11, and John 2: 1 – 11

I personally believe that today’s Gospel reading illustrates or typifies the problem with Christianity today.

There are those who feel that we should take what is written in the Bible as it is and ask no questions about it. Their reasoning is two-fold. First, these individuals hold the view that the words of the Bible are fixed and unchanging so no questions can be asked; what you see is, if you will, what you get. Second, to question the words of the Bible is to question one’s faith and that is a sign of weakness.

Of course, as you all are well aware, I don’t subscribe to either view. First, I see questions of faith as part of the faith-building process and part of human nature in general. If you do not ask questions, you cannot begin to understand what is taking place. And there will come a time when, because you do not understand, you will be unable to answer questions about your faith when others ask you to do so.

As to the unchanging nature of the Bible or that it was somehow dictated by God directly, how do we explain those scriptures that are not part of the accepted canon, of which I will mention something in a moment?

But let’s begin by asking some questions about the situation in the Gospel reading. What is, if you will, the back story about this passage?

Why were Jesus, his disciples, and his mother, Mary, at the wedding in the first place? And why did Mary command, not ask, Jesus to solve the wine problem? One possible answer would be that they all were invited to be there, perhaps because it was a relative of theirs.

But I don’t think that answer answers the second question as to the wine problem. Perhaps they all were at the wedding because, as some have suggested, it was Jesus’ wedding and he was marrying his girlfriend, Mary Magdalene. Now, this is all speculation because there is no evidence in any of the accepted Gospels or any of the other non-canonical literature to support this idea. In fact, if I am not mistaken, this is a relatively new idea, brought forth from more sectarian literature than anything else.

But with Mary telling Jesus to solve the wine problem and also telling the caterers (who else would they have been) to listen to Jesus, we can assume that they are more involved with the wedding than simply being guests of either the bride or the groom.

Now, what did Mary expect Jesus to do? There are some scripture writings (such as “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas”) which tried to fill in the gaps between Jesus’ birth and his appearance in the Temple when he was twelve. In these writings, we read of a young Jesus just learning who He is and what He can do. And we note that Mary found Jesus in the Temple when He was twelve, she kept in her memory all the things that He had said and done. So it would have been quite easy for her to ask Him to solve the wine problem, even if it were not what He might have preferred to have done.

In the end, no matter what the back story might have been, we know that Mary had confidence that her son had the skills, talents, and abilities to solve a minor problem as the lack of wine at the wedding.

And that is where we find ourselves at times. Faced with many problems, ranging from the mundane to the major, we wonder how we will be able to resolve them.

There is a hymn that tells us to turn our eyes upon Jesus in times of trouble and need. But we have to understand that if Christ is not a part of our lives before the trouble comes, we are going to have an awfully difficult time of finding Him when it does come. We have done a great job of putting Jesus (and God) in the storage closet, to be brought out for those special occasions and when we need Him the most.

This is fundamentally a reversal of our relationship with Jesus, and through Him, our relationship with God. And in the end that will never work.

If God were to only appear when we needed Him the most, in our crisis and when we are weakest, we will quickly find Him of little use. We have to see and seek God who comes to us in the midst of our life at those times we are most confident in our own abilities (adapted from Faith in a Secular Age, page 41).

And from whence, perhaps do we get those abilities? In his notes to the Corinthians, Paul talks about God wanting us to the intelligence He gave us. He points out that there are a variety of ways in which we can apply that intelligence. And we must do that if we are to read, as Christ so often commanded us, the signs of the times.

We cannot project our own self-history into our actions and expect to do God’s will. Throughout history, there have been countless examples of individuals presenting their own view of the world as God’s view. At the beginning of World War I, both sides proclaimed that God was on their side. During John Wesley’s time, countless sermons showed real concern for the plight of the working and lower classes; yet salvation for them could only occur if they were somehow part of the upper class. We perhaps would call that the prosperity gospel today.

The call for renewal and revival is not about what we want to do but what we are called to do. We are called by Christ to follow Him, wherever that may lead us. That which we seek we find in Christ, not in this world.

And we begin the revival by looking at what we can do with the gifts that God has given us through our relationship with Christ, a relationship filled with the joy that Isaiah described.