Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter


The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line at http://www.theclergyletterproject.org/Resources/June2015newsletter.html. I urge you all to check this out as it has information related to the teaching of science and academic freedom.

No matter whether you are clergy or laity, I urge you to check it out and get involved in the project.

“It’s Not About A Piece Of Cloth”


Note added on 6/28/2015 — Chosen as one the noteworthy posts on “The Methodist Blogs Weekly Links of Note“!  Thanks to Allan Bevere!


On more than one occasion I have said that I am “Southern born and Southern bred, and when I die I will be Southern dead.”

But I have also noted that doesn’t mean that I hold onto many Southern traditions. I supposed that is because, even though my roots are in the South and I was born in Virginia and went to school in the south, I have lived in other places as well.

And in living in those other places, I have had the chance to compare how it is to live in all of the places. And somewhere along the line, probably about the time I began the 7th grade, I began to sense and see that some things were not quite right.

Let’s be honest, we are not going to see how are lives are different or the places where we live are different if we have nothing to compare them to. If we are not aware there is a difference between life in, say New York, and perhaps Alabama, then we will think that life is the same.

I remember when I first moved to New York and everybody was thinking that being the Governor of Texas was like being the Governor of New York. And while, politically speaking, the Governor of New York is a very powerful political person, there are four individuals in Texas with more political power than the governor of Texas (see “The Differing Voices Of Truth”). Because I had lived in both states, and because I had read Molly Ivins, I knew this; it came as a shock to many people who naturally assumed that all governors were essentially the same.

And while I was growing up, living in four different locations before elementary school and then going to five elementary schools for six years (because my father was an officer in the United States Air Force), I probably didn’t notice anything. But I probably wasn’t old enough to comprehend any differences there might have been in the places I lived.

But that all changed around the time I was twelve. Twelve is that age when we begin to notice the world around us and begin to think about what is happening. And one of the first things that I remember is an incident that took place when I went to the movies with my two brothers in Lexington, North Carolina. Lexington is my mother’s hometown and we had gone there to visit her parents, our grandparents. It was in the early 1960s and while the theater where the move was showing was a public theater, it was still segregated.

And somehow, my two brothers and I ended up in the segregated portion of the theater. What I remember most about that was trying to get back into the “whites only” section but having my way blocked by a gate that only swung one way, preventing blacks from going into the white section. It would have been easy enough to think to pull the gate instead of pushing on it but when you are in the dark with two younger brothers and you aren’t much older than 12, such thoughts aren’t easy to come by (I first described this in “Lexington, North Carolina”).

And when I began the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, I found that my parents had to buy my school books instead of my getting them from the teacher at the beginning of school, as had been the case in all the schools I had attended before then. I know that the reason for this didn’t immediately sink in but when I went to school in Colorado and Missouri and got my books from the school, I had to ask myself why that was.

Maybe that year at Bellingrath was an anomaly but when we moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1966 I was reminded that there were people who still did not want all students to have a fair education. Oh, this time, I got the books I needed from the teachers but I found out that the band only got $50.00 for music, supplies, uniforms, and instruments (as did the choir). And if the band wanted or needed additional funds, they had to come from the Parents’ Association. That meant that schools in the higher income sections. of Shelby County had better equipment and more music than did the schools in the lower income sections.

Now, understand that this was all very, very legal. The law said that all schools had to be treated equally so you just limited what you gave to each school. But understand this, whether you call it segregation or not, when you do something to affect one group of people, it will affect other groups as well. But no group is going to understand this if they never find out that they are being mistreated, abused, or limited in some way. It will only become apparent when you have a chance to compare what is happening to you to what is happening to others.

And those who are in power will do whatever it takes to keep the system that gives them power in place. And that is as true today as it was fifty years ago when I was living in Alabama.

There are those who have the Confederate battle flags taken down with one or two given to museums and the others put or thrown away. And while that is a good thing, we have to remember that it is a symbol of too many bad things. And removing a piece of cloth from public display does nothing to change the beliefs or actions of those who used that cloth as their symbol; they will simply find another symbol to use.

The challenge we are faced with today is one that we have been faced with from time immemorial and that is to see that racism, sexism, ageism, and all other forms of discrimination are merely attempts by some individuals to do whatever it takes to gather all the power and wealth that they can. Until we understand that all individuals have the same rights and that our task is to work for that equality, then nothing will change. Taking down a flag will not remove the centuries of teaching that taught there were differences in people because of the color of their skin.

But we must begin to seek the changes that will allow everyone, whomever they may be, to have the same rights and privileges as everyone else. We have to begin with one simple note – when you do something that keeps someone else back, others will be affected by it as well. And when you spend all your time working to keep someone back, you cannot be moving forward yourself. Do you remember the conversation Alice had with the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass?

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

We will not see the effects of that changes we must make immediately; the causes of discrimination are too deeply ingrained in all that we say and do. But if we do not begin to seek the changes that are really needed, then no change will ever occur.

“How Will They Know?”


In a conversation the other day, someone noted that I was a liberal Christian. Now, in one of my earlier posts, I noted that I didn’t think that there was such a thing as a conservative Christian, simply because the demands of Christianity often times, in my view, conflict with conservatism.

I know that there are some who feel that religion and politics should not mix and there are problems with one side dictates to the other.  I also feel that many people today do not have a true understanding of what being a Christian, liberal or otherwise, means and that many people think that feel that the declaration that one is a Christian automatically excludes being a liberal and that the declaration that being a liberal automatically excludes one from being religiously active.

One of my favorite quotes come from the movie “A Man For All Seasons”. I do not recall the setting in which this exchange took place but it speaks to not only the aspect of being a Christian in today’s society but to a lot of what we need to do.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The one thing that I think we have had a hard time with in our society today is, first, putting the others on that list, and second, making sure that they have priority. I think sometimes that many conservatives do not think about the others in the equation; it is all about what they do.

The more predominant voices of conservative Christianity tend to expound on what they think you need to do but do, in my mind, very little to do what it is that Jesus Christ wanted us to do when he first walked the back roads of the Galilee.

Many a preacher, in many a denomination, will state that the Great Commission is the sole purpose of Christianity.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 16 – 20 in the New International Version)

But reread this passage as it translated in The Message,

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Note how Jesus’ command changes from “make” to “train”. To further show this, read how Clarence Jordan translated the same patch in his Cotton Patch Gospel translation of Matthew,

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw him they accepted him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. James came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right in there with you – all the time – until the last inning.”

I think it is important to notice that the emphasis was on teaching. Teaching cannot be accomplished (as we are finding out) by simply forcing people to learn things. We are finding out that many people who proclaim themselves Christians do not have a firm understanding of the Bible in terms of the words written or the meaning and context of the words. (And study after study show that we are a Biblically illiterate society).

When Jesus began His mission, he proclaimed that He had come to bring the Good News to the people, to offer food for the hungry (and I think he meant both physical and spiritual hunger), to heal the sick, and relieve the oppression of the people. In the end, that is what one has to do if one says they are a Christian. Because if you are not actively involved in the ministries of Christ, then it becomes very difficult to teach others as Christ taught us.

Now, you may say that you do those things and that you don’t need a church, Jesus Christ, or for that matter, God to do those things. So why are you doing it? For what purpose do you do good?

Do you partake in acts of charity and kindness because it is the right thing to do (what was it that Spock said to Kirk that one time when Kirk asked if it was the logical thing to do? No, it was the human thing to do.) or do you seek justification for your own existence?

I know there are those who feel that to profess a belief in God is at time irrational and perhaps illogical (or even something worse). But I cannot help wondering from where we get our sense of good and evil. In Genesis we read of God commanding Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And you know the rest of the story, which has several versions, depending on your point of view. But if you feel that this knowledge of good and evil does not come from God and our own actions, then where does it come from? And how will you deal with it?

In the end, I will profess to believe that there is a God. I do so, knowing that God created all I see in the physical world in which I live and the universe through which this planet travels. I also believe that my own abilities to think and create, to understand right and wrong, good and evil, come from this same Creator. I have chosen to walk the path that was first walked by Jesus Christ some two thousand years ago over the dusty back roads of the Galilee. I do not think that story is a myth because it is still told today and because of how it was told two thousand years ago (see my notes in “The Other Side Of The Universe” on this).

I do not think that my job is to make you believe as I do. I have come to know that there are many paths to heaven and that my responsibility is to show you the one on which I walk. And to show you is to teach you in the ways of Christ, as He asked me to do some two thousand years ago.

You may disagree with me and I know that many on both sides of the spectrum will. But when someone asks, “How will they know?,” I will reply through my words, thoughts, deeds, and action.

The Two Important Issues For 2015 And 2016


I was thinking about this the other day but ran into problems with my computer and lost most of the work. So I am going to try and doing it again.

First, I prompted to post this today because I had another chance to review the life of Robert F. Kennedy. This piece will echo some of the thoughts that I posted back in March when I posted “So You Want To Be President?”

The one thing that amazes me are the differences in the 1968 campaign and today’s Presidential campaigns. Maybe it is just me but the campaigns back seem to actually focus on the issues and, while there was negative campaigning back then, it wasn’t to the extent we have today.

And how many of today’s candidates can quote Greek writers, such as Aeschylus, from memory as did Robert Kennedy? How many of today’s politicians, let alone Presidential candidates, would challenge the political system as Robert Kennedy did when he posed the question to white South Africans, “Suppose God Is Black”, or when he spoke to white medical students about serving the poor and needy (see “To Build a New Community” for a link to references of that speech).

Which, of any, of today’s candidates, could do as Robert Kennedy did on the night that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed and go into the poorer part of Indianapolis and speak of the tragedy on personal terms. Let’s remember that night, when violence erupted in almost every city in this country, it was calm in Indianapolis. I do not think that many of today’s candidates would be able to do anything similar, so used to blaming someone when there is a problem.

Both President Kennedy and Senator Kennedy spoke in terms of paragraphs, not sound bites, and they expected those who listened to them to know the references that they made. Today’s politicians merely reflect the current state of learning in this country, which is to say, limited.

That is why I think one of the major political issues in the coming months has to be the state of education in this country today. Instead of moving forward, creating thinkers and people capable of analyzing complex and multiple issues, we are creating a population of followers who have surrendered their thought process to a group of individuals who feel their duty is to do our thinking for us. Instead of providing the information for us to use, this group has taken it upon themselves to tell us what to think and what to do.

Our schools transformed from institutions of thinking and creativity into mere assembly lines, churning out numerous copies of the same product day after day. We argue about what is being taught, more so because I think we can’t do the work ourselves. If we were more involved in the process of learning and understanding what we need to learn, we might be better prepared to deal with those who would say that “they know what is best and we should just shut up and follow orders.”

For me, it would seem that first, we need to be more involved in what is happening in our schools today and we need to push our schools to do more that prepares students for tomorrow. And yes, I know this will cost money.

But we need to stop and look at where our money is going these days and wonder if we can’t stop funding wars and start funding education. We might find that tomorrow will be a lot better that way.

The second issue that we need to face is a moral one. Part of the moral dilemma that we are faced with is that we find it very easy to condemn others while not accepting blame for our sins. We have ignored what Christ said one day, “Listen, you phony, first pull the plank from your eye and then you’ll be able to see better to get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 5 – The Cotton Patch Gospels).

There are as many in the sectarian world as there are in the secular world who have made it their providence to tell us how to live our lives will telling us to ignore how they live theirs.

We cannot begin to build a world of peace when we live in a constant state of war and where individuals who claim to be speaking for God proclaim a message of hatred and exclusion. We cannot begin to build God’s Kingdom here on earth, in what form it may take, if there are those among us who would proclaim that they and only they know the true word of God.

They will tell you, in no uncertain terms that there is only way to achieve true salvation and that if you do not chose that path, you will have chosen a path to total and final condemnation. I have heard that call countless times before in my life and, each time that I have heard it, I have walked away. It is not that I don’t believe in what they are saying but because I don’t think they have the right or authority to tell me what I have to do.

But I know what path I have chosen to walk and I also know that it may not be the path that others will choose. If a person believes in God and what that means, does it matter whether they believe as I do or that I believe as they do?

What I know is that I do not have the power, the right, or authority to tell others that they must walk the same path as I. But if I feel that the path that I walk is the better path, then what I have to do is show them, through my words, my deeds and my actions, what is gaining by walking with me.

What is needed at this time and on this planet is the beginning of a revival to understand why we are here and why we must work with each other instead of against each other.

We must understand what it means to do good and how that is achieved. And let’s face it, if you are doing good because you think it will somehow save you, you need to understand that it doesn’t work that way, no matter what else you may believe. One does good for what others receive, not what one receives.

The first of this issues will be decided at the ballot box but the second one can only be decided individually in one’s heart and soul. And it will take action on both issues if we are to truly make this a better world.

“The Status Quo Means Change”


Yes, yes, I know that the meaning of “status quo” is to essentially keep things as they are but I think there is a problem with that particular idea. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.”

There is a feeling in this country today that we need to maintain the status quo. It is clearly an unstated feeling but it seems to permeate almost everything we do, whether what we do is good or bad. It is almost as if we fear change and are unwilling to seek change. In a world and a society in which we willing and boldly went over the horizon and peeked around the corner, we are now reluctant to do so. We now longer wish to venture into the unknown, preferring to stay where we are, thinking that in doing so, we will be safe and secure.

And yet, people came to this country, not knowing what was here because they wanted (and still want) to start a new life. The American Revolution was begun because our ancestors were unwilling to live in society that denied them freedom and they were willing to try a form of government that expressed ideas never before considered.

The exploration of this globe, though driven at times by more ulterior motives, required that we go over the horizon and look around the corner, even when the maps said “Terra Incognita” (or “unknown land”). In when President John Kennedy spoke about going to the moon at Rice University in May of 1962, he noted that it would a difficult task and that it would require metal alloys that had not been invented yet and without knowing what benefits we would receive from the effort.

And he acknowledged that it would not be easy and it would not be cheap. But new hopes for peace and knowledge were to be found by going to not just to the moon but to the planets and stars beyond. So we began the great exploration.

But today, we remain literally earth-bound. No one has stepped on the surface of the moon since Gene Cernan stepped back into the LEM on December 14, 1972, and we are seemingly content to let other countries send individuals into outer space. And our plans for future exploration keep getting pushed back as we consider other activities more important.

But I am afraid that those other activities are the same activities that began to take away the resources of the Apollo program. It was first the war in Viet Nam and now it is the wars and military excursions in the Middle East. And it is not just the military operations but also the mind-set that says we build weapons of war but we forget the people.

How long can we continue to focus on destruction and death rather that construction and life? How long can we continue to send our young off to die or come home injured and then forgotten?

What benefits do we reap today from sending individuals off to war? Perhaps it is the enjoyment that General Robert E. Lee so feared when he wrote to his wife, “It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow fond of it.” And what parent does not want to bury their child, remember the Herodotus’ quote, “In peace, children bury their parents; war violates the order of nature and causes parents to bury their children.”

If maintaining the status quo means keeping things the same, then we must face the fact that we are doomed. Because what we are doing today takes away our life and our future.

But if the status quo means to seek change, then we have a future. IT is future not only for ourselves but for our children and this planet.

Should we not be sending our young and all the able people to find new worlds or seek new things? It is quite easy to see the benefits that we gained from going to the moon in the 1960s. Our smart phones, our computers, and most of the technology of our lives were developed from the efforts to send people into space and return them safely. What benefits shall we reap tomorrow from what we do today?

We have a choice today. We can hold onto what we have right now, which isn’t much, and see our future disappear, much like water evaporating. It won’t be obvious but then one moment we see there is no water in the container. We try valiantly to hold onto to what we have and then we find that it is all gone.

Or we can seek change, not sure if it will work or not but knowing that if we do not seek change, if we do not see what is around the corner or over the horizon, we will fail.

Yes, there might be a cliff over the horizon but how will we know if we don’t go and look; at least we will know that is not the way to go. Yes, it will cost something to do this but consider what we are spending today and what we are spending it on and tell me that we have better ways to spend our funds.

To seek change is the only way to maintain who we are and what we are to be.

“What Are We Supposed To Remember?”


This is one of those unique weekends where Memorial Day and Pentecost Sunday are celebrated on the same weekend. On Pentecost Sunday, we remember the birth of the church and on Memorial Day we remember, though honor is perhaps a better term, those who have served this country in the past.

And yet while one of these occurrences is supposed to celebrate life and the other celebrate death, I am not entirely sure today which one is doing which. On this Pentecost Sunday, we hear not of the birth of the church but rather its death and on a day when we are suppose to honor and remember those who have died in service for this country, we seem to be more concern about having another war or continuing the wars in place.

If anything, this weekend should celebrate life. We need to remember those who have died so that others may live and, then, we need to work on ways to make sure that we do not use wars as a way to ensure peace and freedom. I do not think that those who have died believed they died in vain but I also believe that they felt the world would be safer because of what they did.

We need to remember what those gathered together in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost were doing then and find ways to keep doing it today. It is noted in the Book of Acts that they shared all they had, without exception, and they made sure those who had no resources, including those who might be called non-believers, were included. They gathered together in love and their numbers grew because of that.

But today, the money that society spends on destruction and death is far more than what is spent on construction and life. And when I think back to the way life was 100 years ago and 50 years ago and see that not much has changed – we worship war and inequality, the rich seem to get richer and the poor remained oppressed, I have what it is we are supposed to remember this weekend.

I hope that what we remember this weekend pushes us to ensure a better world and not one where war and inequality are the way. What I fear is that unless we resolve to make Pentecost an ongoing expression of our faith, of people living together and sharing all their resources, then we will have more burials of young people who died to ensure that peace and freedom continue will continue.