Faith and Science in the Class Room: Class One – Awe and Wonder and Pastoral Applications

I am sharing this post from the Vatican Observatory because of the importance seeing how faith and science can exist in the same room at the same time.

In the weeks to come, I will offer brief reflections on two projects to bring science into the seminary classroom. Seminary, for those who do not know, is the name given to the school that future priests attend. The name “seminary” means “a seedbed.” Therefore, a seminary is not only a school of academics, but it is an environment of formation in which the soil of our hearts is tilled to receive the seeds of faith. As I have written about in the past, one of the deficiencies I experienced in my seminary education was instruction on questions of faith and science. Whether it be writing for The Catholic Astronomer, participating in wonderful experiences like the Faith and Astronomy Workshop, or being a guest on Slooh, God has allowed me to embark on a unique “independent study” that has bore a great deal of fruit. Recently, I was honored to meet Jennifer Wiseman, Director of the American Association for the … Continue reading →

Source: Faith and Science in the Class Room: Class One – Awe and Wonder and Pastoral Applications

The Music We Hear

This will be on the back page of the Sunday, April 22, 2018 (4th Sunday of Easter, Year B) bulletin for Fishkill United Methodist Church.

If you haven’t figured out by now, music is very much a part of my life.  Music, however you may choose to do it, is a cooperative effort.  Looking at the Scripture readings for today, I should be referencing Jefferson Airplane.  But since I used that reference a couple of weeks ago, I will settle for the Grateful Dead!

Mickey Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead, wrote:

“To fall in love is to fall in rhythm.” It is love for each other by which we know we are followers of Jesus, the ever-attentive shepherd. In the face of societal rules and attitudes that strive to foster “everyone for themselves,” they will know we are Christians by our love. How can we listen to the music that draws us together, “falling in rhythm” with neighbor to build up the whole?

We must understand that we are a part of a world and what we do in this world affects others.  Our lives are lived in a rhythm with others, whether we want to or not. If we live in a world in which we are only for ourselves, how can we even care about others and then call ourselves Christian?

One of my favorite hymns includes the line, “my life flows on in endless song.”  Our lives are in rhythm with those around us and our lives are a song of love and hope.  As Christians, how can we not keep on singing?

~ Tony Mitchell


A couple of notes:

  1.  In terms of success, this was not a very successful piece since I missed the deadline for submitting it for publication.
  2. I began thinking about this notion of success way back around 1984.  A colleague of mine would spend our lunch hour discussing a variety of topics, one of which was the notion of success and its impact on grades in school.  What was more important, getting the best grades possible and not knowing anything about the topic or trying to understand the material and working towards the best grade.

I started this thinking about success and how it should be defined.  The problem is that success is often expressed in terms of how someone does in comparison to what others have done and it becomes a competition issue.  If you are not the best when judged against others, then society often deems you a failure.

And that is the problem; success needs to be defined internally, by what one seeks and not what others may think, John Wooden, perhaps best known for the success of his UCLA basketball teams defined success as the

. . .  peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.

But for this to be a true statement, for success to be defined in terms of what one wants, you must know what your goals might be.  And this is often a difficult task in itself.

How does one determine their goals?  Will the goals set for today be the same goals tomorrow?  One cannot determine their goals in a vacuum; one cannot determine their goals by themselves.  There must be others involved.

When Saul became Paul on the road to Damascus, he had to have help getting to Damascus.  And while he was in Damascus, Ananias was directed to come to his aid.  For Ananias, this was a statement of faith, for Ananias truly felt that Saul had come to persecute him and his fellow Christians.  But by the actions of Ananias, Saul became Paul and his mission as an apostle began.

We are also reminded that disciples and the members of the early church would never have reached their goals of preaching the Gospel if they had not been with Jesus and stayed together until Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

And don’t forget that Jesus, though he knew what his mission was to be, even at the age of 12, could not have achieved those goals without the support of his parents.

Success thus comes from knowing what one’s goals are; knowing what one’s goals are comes from having a group with which you can share your hopes and thoughts.  This group will include your parents, your teachers, and your friends; as one goes through life, this group will change but there will always be some people there.  And one must realize that they will always be the part of someone’s else group, helping others find their goals and ways to be successful.

In the end, success is met when one reaches a goal, but it could not have been achieved without others to help set the goal and find ways to reach it.

And when one helps others achieve their goals, they are also finding success.

“Finding One’s Faith”

This will be on the back page of the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for Sunday, April 08, 2018, 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year B).

In one episode of “The West Wing” (“In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part Two”), Leo McGarry tells Jed Bartlett, “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you.  Put another way: “Fake it until you make it.” Now, this biblical sounding quote is only biblically sounding; as stated, it does not exist in the Bible.

Biblical or not, it sounded very Wesleyan to me.  Once, in March 1738, Wesley told new preachers, “Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

Now, not all of us are preachers, so preaching faith may not necessarily be an option. But we can live our faith in so many ways.

I cannot recall when I first heard the Jefferson Airplane’s singing “Good Shepherd” but when I did I could not help but think about it’s relationship to the Gospel.  The dominant line in the song is “o, Good Shepherd, feed my sheep.”

When you trace the roots of this 1969 modern rock/folk song, it leads you back to a hymn written around 1800 by John Adam Granade, a Methodist minister.

Jorma Kaukomen, who wrote the version that the Airplane played and sang, said that singing songs such as this offered him new doorway into scripture.

During this season of Easter, look around for signs of faith and you will probably find them.  And don’t forget to offer signs of faith for those who are also looking.

~~Tony Mitchell


“Fifty Years”

This spring is the 50th anniversary of my high school (Nicholas Blackwell High School, known informally then as Bartlett High School).

Fifty is an interesting number because we sometimes see it as reachable and other times as out of reach.  It is easy to prepare a 50-page term paper (which most of my fellow alumni had to do in Mrs. Reed’s Senior English class) and there should be 50 people at the planned reunion of the class in the fall.

And while we can envision a trip of 50 hours or 50 days, it is very hard to envision a journey of 50 years.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation is more a celebration of longevity and, to some extent, survival.  Attendance at a class reunion will always be smaller each year, especially when you reach that magic number of 50, because, in a competition with time, time is always the victor.

Now, I understand that ours is not the only senior class preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Every high school and college graduating class will eventually have such a celebration, so that does not make our reunion or any reunion unique.

But our reunion is unique because we graduated in 1968 and we are from Memphis, Tennessee.

Historians and pundits alike have identified 1968 as the most tumultuous year in American history.  Events, local, national, and international, resonated in our lives that year.

There was the shift in public opinion concerning the Viet Nam war; there were the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., and Senator Robert Kennedy, and the violence at the Democratic National Convention.  Each of these events influenced the lives on all the people in the country but the degree of effect depends on where you were in time and place.

But when you live in Memphis, Tennessee, and your focus is on the future beyond graduation, April 4th is simply more than a date on the calendar (“Where Were You on April 4, 1968?”).

But as my fellow classmates planned to gather, as other senior classes make similar classes, what has happened in the past 50 years.  The sanitation workers strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis began because the established power structure essentially refused to acknowledge the existence of the sanitation workers or their salary issues.

Some of those with Dr. King felt that he needed to focus on a bigger picture and not spend his time with a local strike.  But you cannot focus on issues of economic inequality or racial inequality or gender inequality at the big picture level if you are not willing to work on resolving those issues on a local level.  Even today, differences in economic status, race, and gender are perhaps greater than they were 50 years ago.  Instead of moving forward, we have been moving backwards.

Fifty years ago, we were engaged in a war in southeast Asia; today we are engaged in multiple wars with the war in Afghanistan now longer than our involvement in Viet Nam.

We live in a society that spends more on the destruction of life and property than we do on rebuilding the world we are destroying.  It does not take much to realize that this is a “no-win” path.

Fifty years ago, we sent Apollo 8 to the moon and began the preparation of landing two men on the moon that following summer.  Today, our schools are slowly turning into factories that turn out drones rather than institutions focusing on creativity and critical thinking.  And just as we are going to reach a point where we will not be able to repair or restore the world that we are destroying, we will soon reach a point where we will not have any individuals capable of fixing the technology that so empowers a world or creating new solutions.

Fifty years ago, we were aware that we were polluting the environment, poisoning the air we breathe and the water we drink.  Steps were being taken to make this a safer and cleaner world; yet today, in the name of profits and rights of the business of the rights of the workers, those efforts are being reversed and removed.

The driving force, at least for me, fifty years ago, was the faith of the people.  The people who worked against inequality saw that their faith was meaningless unless others were free from poverty, sickness, and oppression.  But there were those then who felt that faith had no place in this battle and actively worked against the movement.  And today, this alternative faith movement dominates the work.

This alternative faith movement is very much like the alternative political movement; in it, the only person that matters is yourself and what you can get.  In their minds, others can receive the blessings of society only after they receive theirs; if there is anything left, it can be given to the needy but you create the system so that there is nothing left for others to share.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King spoke of the future, of being at the mountain top and seeing the Promised Land.  I will leave it to others to decide if this was a vision of his death.  I think that Dr. King saw the future and understood that the journey down from the mountain top was going to be as difficult as the journey to the mountain top.

Today, the journey is far more difficult than we might have thought 50 years ago.  Those who encourage, and support greed, exclusion, hatred, and violence seem to dominate today.

But we are beginning to see signs that some have decided that those voices shall no longer be the loudest.  These new voices are beginning to be heard.  Each is a small voice, but small voices are cumulative and each day it becomes louder.

Those of us who have made the journey from then to this day may not make it to the end, but we will and must help those who are just beginning the journey today.  If we do not do this, we will never reach the Promised Land and will be like so many before us, only looking at it.