Repeat Or Repent


A Meditation for 28 February 2016, the 3rd in Lent (Year C). The meditation is based on Isaiah 55: 1 – 9, 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 13, and Luke 13: 1 – 9

One of the shows that is on my “favorite” list is “Leverage”, probably because of its contrarian viewpoint. In one of the early episodes, the Leverage team learned that Nate Ford, their leader, had been in seminary (“The Miracle Job”). In this episode, the villain is trying to foreclose on a Catholic church in Los Angeles (we will ignore the probability that the writers of this episode didn’t really understand the nature of Roman Catholic real estate proceedings). In what he assumes will be the last Mass held at the church, the priest (a friend of Nate’s) uses the Gospel reading for today as the basis for his homily.

Now, I have not heard that many homilies in my day so I am always surprised when this priest seems to be, as a former choir director of mine would say, is a bit more Pentecostal than usual. The priest tells the congregation that the message of the Gospel is that they must repent or perish.

I don’t think I have ever thought of that passage in those terms. For me, the central part of the message is the time-frame. In my own experiences, for any effective change to take place, you have to have a long-term plan and three years is not really that long. I am sure that someone will tell me that the three years in the Gospel story is related to the three years of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the traditional three years that a Methodist pastor serves a congregation comes from those two ideas.

Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in today’s New Testament reading reminds us that when we reflect on our past, it is very hard to move forward or even envision the future.

Balance this with the idea that Lent is the season of repentance and to repent is to change your life, totally and completely. For too many people, repentance, especially during Lent, simply means to ask forgiveness for whatever it is that they have done, try to avoid doing it for forty days, and then, after Lent is over, returning to that prior behavior.

Everything that is taking place today, in our society and throughout the world, seems to say that we have forgotten the lessons of the past and all that happened then. Or it is with the idea that yesterday was better than today and tomorrow can never be as good as today is.

In 1964, then Attorney General Robert Kennedy spoke to the students, faculty, and guests at an assembly at the California Institute of Technology about the role of science and technology in shaping the future. In what might be considered a rather prophetic statement, he said,

To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident.· I observe regretfully that in politics, however it can be heresy. It can be denounced as radicalism, or branded as subversion. There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. It hardly seems necessary to point out in California – of all States — that change, although it involves risks, is the law of life.”

Nevertheless, there are those, frustrated by a difficult future, who grab out for the security of the non-existent past. Frustrated by change they condemn the wisdom, the motives, and even the patriotism of those who seek to contend with the realities of the future. (“The Opening To The Future”)

This is something I wrote about last week (“The Paradox Of Vision”). Some churches feel that the key to the future lies in repeating what was done in the past. Yet, the conditions that made the past successful are not always conditions that will work in the present and what might work today might not necessarily work tomorrow. If one does not understand the operating conditions, failure is almost certain.

Ultimately, it comes down to this, if you choose not to repent, to cast aside the past and begin anew, then you will surely repeat the past. And if it did not work then, it most certainly will not work today. And that means that there probably will not be a tomorrow.

On the other hand, if you repent and renounce that which ties you to the past and keeps you from moving forward, then you will have a future. It will be a future in which joy and hope abound beyond description; it will be a future that most definitely obtains the goals of the Gospel, to tell the Good News and bring relief to the downtrodden, good health to the sick, shelter for the homeless, and justice for the oppressed.

The choice is yours, repent and move forward or repeat the past and die in the backwaters of history.

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A Collection of Sayings


The following are a collection of sayings and quotes that I have gathered over the years.  Some are attributed; others I have just picked up and haven’t figured out who said or when it was said.


This was updated on 23 February 2016 to add the quote from Robert Kennedy

SAYINGS OF INTEREST

The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again.

“Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”

“A child with a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail.”

“We find our individual freedom by choosing not a destination but a direction.” (Marilyn Ferguson)

“You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’” (George Bernard Shaw)

“If you found a path with no obstacle, it probably does not lead anywhere.”

“It is necessary to say that poetic spirits are of two kinds; first, those who invent fables, and second, those who are disposed toward believing them.” (Galileo [as translated by Sheldon Glashow])

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” (David Thoreau)

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.” (The Talmud)

Jawaharlal Nehru, who with Mahatma Gandhi successfully freed India from British colonial rule, once said, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the sound of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” (Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Col. Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816)

“If I am not for myself, who is for me?
But if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when? (Rabbi Hillel, Sayings of the Fathers, 1: 14)

“It’s a revolution damn it! We’re going to have to offend somebody!” – John Adams, while discussing the massive changes being hacked into the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” Dr. Who

There is a fine line between being on the leading edge and being in the lunatic fringe.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. (Albert Einstein)

“Sanity is the playground of the unimaginative mind”.

Programming: The art of debugging a blank sheet of paper (Nick Donaldson, University of Manitoba)

“Foolish is the man who competes for competition’s sake . . . Wise is the man who knows what battles are worth fighting.” – Ancient Chinese proverb.

“It is fortunate that war is so ugly for we could become very fond of it” — attributed to Robert E. Lee following the Battle of Gettysburg.

“War is not healthy for children and other living things.” — Lorraine Schneider, 1969 — www.warisnothealthy.org

Nobody is stupid enough to prefer war to peace. Because in times of peace children bury their parents, whereas, on the contrary, in times of war parents bury their children — Herodotus.

“Men are generally idle, and ready to satisfy themselves, and intimidate the industry of others, by calling that impossible which is only difficult.” — Samuel Johnson

Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.” — Robert Anthony, American business professor (my source – Sigma Xi Smartbrief for 21 January 2014)

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. It hardly seems necessary to point out in California – of all States — that change, although it involves risks, is the law of life.

Nevertheless, there are those, frustrated by a difficult future, who grab out for the security of the non-existent past. Frustrated by change they condemn the wisdom, the motives, and even the patriotism of those who seek to contend with the realities of the future. (Robert Kennedy, “The Opening To The Future”)


“There’s this desert prison…. with an old prisoner, resigned to his life, and a young one just arrived. The young one talks constantly of escape, and after a few months, he makes a break. He’s gone a week and then he’s brought back by the guards. He’s half dead, crazy with hunger and thirst. He describes how awful it was to the old prisoner. The endless stretches of sand, no oasis, no sign of life anywhere.

The old prisoner listens for a while, then says, `Yep, I know. I tried to escape myself, twenty years ago.’

The young prisoner says, `You did? Why didn’t you tell me, all these months I was planning my escape? Why didn’t you let me know it was impossible?’

And the old prisoner shrugs, and says, `So who publishes negative results?'” (Jeffery Hudson, in “Scientist as Subject: The Psychological Imperative.”)

Heliocentrism Condemned: 400 Years Ago this Tuesday – The Catholic Astronomer


On Tuesday February 23, 1616, the working session of the experts of the Holy Office reached unanimous agreement regarding two propositions encapsulating heliocentrism. Four hundred years is one of the periods in the Gregorian Calendar after which the days of the months are guaranteed to fall on the same days of the week. And so it is that this year we can re-live the events of 1616 with special acuity. The Sacred Congregation for the Holy Inquisition of Heretical Error (Sacra Congregatio Sanctae Inquisitionis Haereticae Pravitatis: the official designation of this dicastery/tribunal by Sixtus V in Immensa Aeterni Dei of Feb. 11, 1588, instituting Roman Curia’s major reform) typically held two or three sessions a week. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there would be plenary sessions at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Solemn plenary sessions, presided over by the Supreme Pontiff who was the Congregation’s head (there was no Cardinal Prefect), were held on Thursdays. In addition, the Inquisition’s officials would meet without the Cardinals at … Continue reading →

Source: Heliocentrism Condemned: 400 Years Ago this Tuesday – The Catholic Astronomer

The Paradox Of Vision


A Meditation for 21 February 2016, the 2nd in Lent (Year C). The meditation is based on Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18, Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1, and Luke 13: 31 – 35

There is something of a paradox in the Old Testament reading for this morning. God tells Abram to look in the sky and count the stars and he, Abram, will know how many descendants he will have. In other words, as Abram looks at the stars, he will be seeing the future. Of course, we know today that when we look at the stars, we are, in actuality, looking into the deep and far past.

And I believe that qualifies as a paradox. If a paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself, then one cannot look at the stars and see both the future and the past. I would think that it is somewhat similar to the Schrödinger’s cat problem.

This is a problem in quantum physics derived by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935 to illustrate some of the problems dealing with the topic of quantum mechanics (or the workings of the atom) in physics. Essentially, one had to make a choice about what was to happen and nothing happens until one makes a choice.

How do we see the world today? Are we more interested in the past when the pews were filled, people were joining the church without much effort, there was a Sunday school class for every grade from kindergarten through sixth grade, there were programs for the junior high and high school students. The adult choir sang every Sunday and the children and youth choirs sang once a month. The stewardship campaign always ended with enough pledges to meet the goals of the budget, the bills were paid on time, and there was even enough money left over each month to support some actual mission work.

Now, if there was ever such a church or its counterparts, it doesn’t exist today. With few exceptions, most churches are losing members and Sunday school programs are almost non-existent. Instead of discussions on growth, church financial discussions focus on where to cut expenses in order to pay the bills; mission support is often an after-thought and membership plans are very seldom discussed because no one is moving into the area. It becomes very difficult to look to the future when looking at the present is difficult enough.

But if you went back and looked at the plans of those churches which are thriving today, you would see that their focus was not on the past or the present but, rather, the future.

I know of one church in my home town of Memphis that saw the future very clearly. The church leadership knew that the majority of members lived outside the traditional area in which the church was located and more and more of the membership was moving away from the city. So this church made the decision to buy property in the area where the members lived and sell the city property (ironically, to a church of another denomination seeking to expand its presence in the city).

And then there is the story of the Clifton Presbyterian Church. In a sermon I gave several years ago (“What Do We Need?”) I spoke of how the members of the Clifton Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, responded to the issue of homelessness in their local community. From the simple beginning of offering a few homeless individuals a place to stay for the night, it became a shelter and home where some 30 individuals at a time found a way out of their homelessness and back into society. The interesting thing was that the Clifton Presbyterian Church no longer exists; the congregation voted to disband and become parts of other Presbyterian churches in the area. But the ministry of the homeless stayed in the building that once was the church, continuing the ministry that was begun by the congregation (The link to the story about the Clifton Presbyterian Church in “What Do We Need?” no longer works but you can go to “Clifton Sanctuary Ministries” to find out more about this ministry).

I also talked about a woman who wanted to help local high school students and during a high school assembly gave the students the church’s phone number. If the student wanted to talk with someone about a problem they might be having, all they had to do was call the church and someone would be there to listen. The next day, the church had over 300 calls from local students. (Adapted from “A Different Sense Of Community”)

Side note – I have been part of something similar called the InterFaith Hospitality Network. It is a program that offers homeless families temporary housing while the families seek suitable housing. These are families where both parents work and yet do not earn enough to have suitable housing. The sad part about this is that the churches of which I was a member were covertly opposed to the idea of providing shelter for homeless families. Let us just say that the vision of these churches where I was a member was rather limited and short-sighted.

As long as we are fixed on the past or if we try to stay in the present, we will never be able to do the same. If the church we seek is a church based on the past, we will never achieve it. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, once said, “no man ever steps in the same river twice”, which would say that we cannot even maintain the present state of the church, for that too quickly passes.

Now, we know that when the Pharisees come to tell Jesus that Herod is looking to kill Him, Jesus responded in a way that suggested He was more worried about the future than He was the present.

What we have to understand is that Christ never had anything but the future on His mind. His mind was always fixed on what it would take to complete the mission.

Paul makes the same case for the future, imploring the Philippians to look to the future and not be distracted by those whose focus is on today (or perhaps yesterday). As Paul pointed out, it is very easy to focus on the present because it is right here, right now. And it is easier to focus on the past because we know (or we think we know what is there).

It is much harder to focus on the future because there is a large amount of uncertainty or doubt about what the future holds. And following Christ, as Paul points out, is not exactly an easy thing to do.

If we think that we can somehow maintain the status quo, then we will be quickly swept downstream by the river of time. And if we focus on the past, then we will quickly lost sight of the present. Only by focusing on the future are we able to move forward.

Either through ignorance or fear, there are those who will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. But they will quickly find the forces of time working against them.

Our hope for the church and for ourselves is know where we are today, what resources we have, and then determine how we can accomplish the goals of Christ’s mission on this earth today.

The paradox is that if we do not look to the future, then it is very likely that we cannot see the present. Jesus understood very clearly that His future would lead to the Cross. Our future lies beyond the Cross, if only we choose to look in that direction.

If we choose to look to the past or solely at the present, then we will be among those who are lost.

Where Are We Going?


A Meditation for 14 February 2016, the 1st Sunday in Lent (Year C). This is also “Evolution Weekend” and Boy Scout Sunday. The meditation is based on Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 3

I was going to use what I thought was a quote from Lewis Carroll,

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

But, according to http://philosiblog.com/2011/07/13/if-you-dont-know-where-youre-going/, that is only a paraphrase of the actual conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,”

Alice: “I don’t much care where–”

The Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

The Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.”

So where are we going? Are we going to wander aimlessly about until we get somewhere? Or should we stop and consider where it is that we would like to go? Today is the 1st Sunday in Lent, that season of the church year when we begin or renew our own personal journey of preparation and repentance. There is also some personal significance for this day for me.

It is Boy Scout Sunday. On this Sunday in 1965 I began my own personal journey with Christ. This is also Evolution Weekend, the celebration of Charles Darwin’s birth and the role that science and faith jointly play in our life. For me, these two events serve as markers in my professional and personal careers and the interaction in both the secular and sectarian world.

There are many today who feel that you cannot live in both worlds, that you must choose one over the other.

There was a discussion on Facebook recently about why it was that there was such a strong conflict between science and religion.

There are those who say that the battle between science and religion is as old as the Scriptures. Others say that you must choose between explanations based on divine intervention and explanations based on logic and reason.

There are those who see any idea of religion as mere superstition and outmoded, overtaken by the enlightenment of the ages. But there is still evil in this world and no degree of enlightenment or understanding of the natural world is going to explain or create ways to remove it.

Somehow, we must find a way to live in a world where science, which is very good at explaining how things work, and faith/religion, which offers an explanation of what it all means, not only co-exist but work together (http://www.rabbisacks.org/books/the-great-partnership-god-science-and-the-search-for-meaning/).

Why does it seem that so many people would rather “burn the bridges” that connect the two worlds than make sure that there is an open and available path between them?

Ian Barbour, 1999 Templeton Prize winner, offered the idea that there were four prevailing views concerning the relationship between science and religion:

  1. That they fundamentally conflict,
  2. That they are separate domains,
  3. That the complexity of science affirms divine guidance, and
  4. Finally — the approach he preferred — that science and religion should be viewed as being engaged in a constructive dialogue with each other.

Barbour would later write,

This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection” (Obituary of Ian Barbour, New York Times, January 13, 2014)

Albert Einstein offered a similar view that “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” (“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941).

We can begin by understanding that this conflict is not as old as the scriptures and that is driven by the need for individuals to control the lives of others. Advocates for a single point of view (be it secular or sectarian) are seeking one thing and that is the power, simple raw power, to control the lives of other people.

When Galileo was tried by the Catholic Church for heresy some four hundred years ago, the opposition to his ideas and the ideas of Copernicus and Kepler did not originate with the church. The opposition came from individuals within the academic establishment of that time. They were opposed to these new ideas because their reputation, status, and power were built on maintaining the Aristotelian view of an earth-centered universe. The church was brought into the argument because the academic establishment convinced members of the church establishment that the changes proposed by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would harm the church and threaten their status, reputation, and power.

It was an atheist who called the beginning moment of creation the “Big Bang” because he felt the idea of a beginning moment in time was too much like the opening words of Genesis. His terminology was meant to deride a point in time that he felt did not exist. Unfortunately, the name stuck and his ideas didn’t.

Similarly, opposition to Darwin’s ideas about evolution began in the late 19th century and solely because some in the church establishment saw his ideas as threats to their views. Those who opposed Darwin’s ideas felt that it was in their best interest to limit the information that the people received, probably understanding that the more information a person had, the more likely that they would begin to make decisions on their own. It should also be pointed out the Darwin never considered what he was writing to be an alternate view or replacement for the Creation story in the Bible. Rather, it was, as all theories are, an explanation for what he had observed.

When you look at the history of the church from its early days through the 18th century, you find something totally in opposition to the present attitude. Many in the early church saw the opening words of Genesis as an allegory, written to help the people understand it better (from “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).

If there is to be a coherent and civil discussion about the nature of science into today’s society, be it on the topic of evolution and creation or any other topic (climate change, for example), it must be made with all of the facts and not just a select few. It must be done with an understanding both of the meaning of the Scriptures and the science that is involved.

It should be noted that the Devil has this tendency to only partially quote the Scriptures (or simply misconstrue or change the words of God, such as he did when he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden). Now, it does not help things when people do the same thing, knowingly or unknowingly. If you do not understand the topic, then it becomes very difficult to talk about it.

The Devil, in whatever form he may take, takes advantage of our ignorance and uses our own ignorance to feed our fears. In the Old Testament reading for today, the people bring their gifts to place before God. Is not our ability to reason and think one of those gifts from God? Should we not be celebrating that gift, should we not nurture and support that gift? Surely, the ability to think, to reason, and to be creative is as important as any other gift we have been given?

Paul, in writing to the Romans, speaks of preparing to greet the Messiah and of the difficulty of living a righteous life through the law only. We must prepare to meet Christ as the Messiah so that we gain a total and complete freedom, a freedom to seek the unknown in the world around us, a freedom to begin making changes in this world that reflect the wonder and beauty of God.

We must begin to see science as a way to the truth of the natural world, knowing that each time we answer one question, we create two new questions. We must understand that our faith gives us the power to seek the unknown and that questioning the world around us does not destroy our faith but makes it stronger.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of standing at the crossroads and having to make a decision, of deciding which way we are going to go. There are actually three roads at this intersection. One is the path wholly sectarian in nature, a path that leads to discoveries of all sorts. But this road has no understanding of good or evil and discoveries that could do wondrous things can also lead to disaster.

The second path is a secular path but it too is limited, just as it was when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee two thousand years ago. Life is good because you don’t have to think, for there are those who will do the thinking for you. But such a life has no hope, no promise of anything better, for it is hard enough living with in the structure of a law.

And there is the third path, a path which contains all that we can be. It opens up to us when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, for it frees us from the chains of sin and death, it offers an opportunity to have and seek hope, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become empowered to reach out and venture into the unknown.

As we began our journey through Lent and to Easter and the Resurrection, which path will you choose? Where are you going?

“That One Brilliant Moment”


A Meditation for 7 February 2016, Transfiguration Sunday (Year C). The meditation is based on Exodus 34: 29 – 34, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 9: 28 – 36 (37 – 43)

There is a point in everyone’s life when the solution to a problem that they have been struggling with suddenly becomes so obvious that they wonder why they didn’t think of it before. In some circles, including my own, this is called the “Aha! Moment”.

What we have to realize is that each person will have numerous such moments in their lives, simply because each subject that we study or work with involves different parts of our brain and will depend on what we already know. The problem here is that too many other people feel that everyone should have the same “AHA” moment at the same point in their lives. What that may simply teaching, it doesn’t really work that way. And, as a side point, as long we continue to believe that this is the best way to teach, with the notion that every student is the same and thinks in the same way, our educational system will never improve.

And it is not just in our educational system that we try to standardize our beliefs. As President Jimmy Carter said in his 2002 Nobel speech in Oslo, Norway,

the present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.”

President Carter further expanded on this statement by saying,

There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions — including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasing, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: ‘Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,’ and the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman’, and then their lives are not significant.

He went on to describe how he felt that fundamentalists had distorted the vision of Christ in the world and the nature of Christianity (Adapted from “Our Endangered Values” by Jimmy Carter; first posted in “Encountering God”).

The problem lies, as Cassius said to Brutus, not in our stars but in ourselves. Cassius suggests to Brutus that we are all born equally free and that we should not bow down to another person. Our futures lies in what we do and not by some per-ordained set of rules that others created for us (adapted from http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/fault-dear-brutus-our-stars).

However, for the most part, we are incapable of knowing that there are alternatives or that the rules by which we live are faulty and even repressive.

Perhaps I was lucky in that regard. By the virtue of being the son of an Air Force officer and attending a number of different elementary, junior high, and high schools, I saw a world different from others. And beginning with the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, I began to see that there were rules that sought to limit what people could do (“Tell Me The Truth, But . . .”).

These rules were designed to create a separation of people by race and economic status and, to some extent, by gender as well. Sometimes these rules were very clear (“Lexington, North Carolina”); other times they were not so clear. But over time, it became quite clear over time that these rules were put into place by a select group of people and intended to keep them in a position of power and prestige.

Still, as I looked around the world and saw these imposed differences, I began to question the intent of these rules. I also know that many of those whom I went to school with during that same period of time probably didn’t see those differences because they grew up in that system and never knew anything different. And I see in their comments in social media today that their attitudes have not changed much over the years. They still profess the same thoughts that their parents and grandparents expressed. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

A friend of mine the other day commented that she could never understand the cruelty of man towards other men or even imagine that mankind was capable of such cruelty. But as I pointed out, if we are taught to see others as less than ourselves, it becomes quite easy to do so. And one generation teaches the next that it is acceptable to do that, it becomes easily ingrained in society and just as difficult to remove from society’s mindset (as we are seeing in some of today’s political rhetoric).

And as my friend also noted, there is in this world a certain degree of evil that transcends the teachings of the generations. But it is enhanced by those who seek to hold onto power and who seek to enhance their own power. A few moments after Cassius speaks to Brutus about the future, Caesar says of Cassius, he (Cassius) “has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Men like him are dangerous.”

Caesar feared Cassius because Cassius sought information, sought to go beyond the boundaries imposed by society and those who seek control. If we open our minds and hearts, then those who would be Caesar will fear us as much as Caesar feared Cassius.

And Paul, very bluntly I think, points out to the Corinthians that, in removing the veil, Christ showed the true nature of the political and religious establishments; that their true interest was in the control of the people and nothing else. Through Christ, the people were able to gain hope and have a new vision.

It would take Peter, James, and John a few days to understand what took place on that mountaintop during the Transfiguration described in the Gospel reading for today. But they, and the other disciples, would come to understand what had taken place and what it meant for them. Each one of us is open to the same vision, though how we receive it will be different.

For some, it will be like Saul on the road to Damascus when he became Paul; for others, it will be more the heart-warming and assuring moment of John Wesley in the Aldersgate Chapel. Our challenge today is not to make our vision the vision that others receive but to allow them to have such a vision, to have that one brilliant, life-changing moment.

We can do this through our words, our deeds, our thoughts, and our actions. We can do this by opening our hearts and minds to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow it to transform our lives, to see the world anew, bright and shining as the Son.

That life-changing moment, described in the hymn “Amazing Grace”, comes just as it did for John Newton when one accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, lets the Holy Spirit empower their lives, and then begins to world for a world where others can do the same.

That is the nature of the one brilliant moment in our lives.

I Am A Southern-born Evangelical Christian! What Are You?


Certain political events which have, fortunately or unfortunately, crossed over into the religious area lead to make that declaration and to write the following, which is in two parts. Note that I have written some of this before.

I am proud to say, without hesitation, that I am a Southern-born evangelical Christian. But that does not mean what you might think it means.

And when it is all said and done, I would, politely, ask “What are you?”

Southern-born

I am, as the saying goes, Southern-born and Southern-bred, and when I die, I will be Southern dead. But this doesn’t mean that I automatically adhere to all Southern traditions.

As the son of an Air Force officer, I moved around the country and it became very evident, especially when I was in junior high and high school that there were barriers in place that separated people in society. These barriers, no matter how they were phrased, were designed to separate people by race, creed, sex, and economic status. They were kept in place by the rich and powerful who were able to convince many affected by the barriers that those barriers were for their own good.

And because they didn’t have any way of knowing otherwise, they accepted the wisdom of the rich and powerful and kept the barriers in place. Only when they saw what was happening did they realize that the barriers kept them “in their place” as much as it did “the others”.

I see that today – the rich and powerful have convinced a group of people that there are “others” who will steal what they have unless they allow the rich and powerful to do the stealing for them (For more on this topic, see “It’s Not About A Piece Of Cloth”). But pretty soon, it is going to be evident that the freedoms we cling to so dearly have been taken away and the majority of the people in this country will be once again the chattel of a few rich (and white) old men.

Evangelical Christian

I am also born to say, and without hesitation, that I am an evangelical Christian. I was baptized as an Evangelical Christian, I was confirmed as an Evangelical Christian, and I have tried to live my life as an Evangelical Christian.

But it is quite clear that my definition and the current popular definition of what it means to be an evangelical Christian are entirely different.

I do not know or understand what those who loudly profess to be evangelical Christians believe, other than perhaps to say that “I have been saved from sin and you have not and you are going to live the rest of your life in Sheol.”

That, to me, is not evangelism and, to be honest, it is the very attitude that almost drove me from the church and which is probably driving many people away today.

For me, evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts; for more see “Who Are You Following?” or “What Do We Do Now?” where I consider how to apply the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those of Clarence Jordan).

What Are You?

At the end of his television series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan suggested that this society, this country and the whole planet were at a crossroads. One road lead to the destruction of the planet and the other lead to undiscovered worlds. Those words echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah when he (Jeremiah) wrote:

God’s Message yet again:

Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.

But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’

I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.

But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’

And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’

And, ‘Pay attention, Earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’

I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.

They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.

What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?

Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure. Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.” (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20, The Message)

There is nothing wrong with holding onto the traditions that define you. But when the traditions become more important that your self, there is a problem. No one can live in a world where yesterday was better than today for that prevents us from moving into the future.

I cannot help but think that many people today hold onto their faith as if it were a tradition and not a real part of their lives. Their acts, their words, their deeds all reflect a time past. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus looked to the future and He moved to the future, even though He knew what that future held for Him. But He also knew that our future would be insured because He moved in that direction.

Can you say that you are moving in the same direction as Jesus, towards a better future, a future free from sin and death, a future where no one is hungry, sick, homeless, or oppressed?

We stand at the crossroads and we have to decide which road we will take.

And we have to say to God at some point in our life who we are.

Who are you?