“The Winter of the Church, the Season of Innovation” from Hacking Christianity

I encourage everyone to wander over to the “Hacking Christianity” blog and read Jeremy’s latest thoughts, “The Winter of the Churc

I encourage everyone to wander over to the “Hacking Christianity” blog and read Jeremy’s latest thoughts, “The Winter of the Church, the Season of Innovation.”

2015 Anti-Science Legislation

I am not sure how we need to address the problem but there are those who are committed to limiting the K – 12 educational processes by changing the nature of science education.

The National Center for Science Education has just posted a list of various bills from state legislatures that would limit science education in the areas of evolution and climate science. Opponents to evolution and climate science continually seek ways to force teachers to teach creationism and a denial of climate change as part of science.

Actually, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. Because if K – 12 teachers truly understood the processes of science and taught the controversy, creationism and/or intelligent design would be thrown quickly.

The State of Education Today

It is bad enough that there is a minority (at least I hope it is minority) would rather us go to war than seek peace in this world.

But I just read that the new president of the University of North Carolina system was given a salary of $775,000 and the chancellors in the same system were given raises of 8 to 19 percent. The faculty in the UNC system, after several years of pay freezes were given a one-time payment of $750.

I have never understood why administrators are given six figure salaries when it is the faculty and support staff that do all the work.

And all the while, tuition goes up making it harder and harder for families to send their children to college.

And this is not just in North Carolina (for the record, Ann Walker​ and I have ties to the state that go back several years). I see such gaps between administrators and faculty in K – 12 education as well.

But we are told that teachers are overpaid for what they do. In 1971, my first year of public school teaching, I made $6,300. My landlord essentially told me that I should be grateful that I was getting that much and shouldn’t complain because I also got 3 months summer vacation. But during that “vacation” I was under contract to go to school and I did not get paid for those months of vacation.

College teaching is really no better because, especially at colleges like the UNC system, you are expected to do research and seek funds which then replace, not supplement, your salary. And if you don’t do the research and publish the results (which by the way grants are written belong to the university), then you go looking for another position somewhere else. In most cases, it does not matter one bit if your passion and excellence lies in teaching, research and publications for the benefit of the university are all that matter.

And now, with the need for an educated populace even more of an imperative, there are those who would lead us to say that education is not important, that it cannot be free, and that we need to pursue more mundane jobs. I am not saying that every child should go to college because, for some, that is the wrong mix. But education needs to be a way of improvement, not the maintenance of the status quo.

The process of education is two-fold. First, it helps each and every individual find who they are. Second, it creates within each individual the opportunity to discover new things. Right now, we are not doing that and we are going to pay the price pretty soon.

Who Are Your Saints?

A Meditation for 1 November 2015, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), All Saints Day based on Wisdom of Solomon 3: 1 – 9 (or Isaiah 26: 6 – 10), Revelation 2: 1 – 8, and John 11: 29 – 44

Ordinarily I would be using the lectionary readings for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Ruth 1: 1 – 18, Hebrews 9: 11 – 14, and Mark 12: 28 – 34) but because this is also All Saints Day, I felt it more appropriate to use the lectionary readings for All Saints Days.

But why should we, as United Methodists and also Protestants, even celebrate All Saints Day? To a great extent, the celebration of saints is not a part of our heritage or even our tradition. This, I would think to lead John Wesley to caution the fledgling Methodist Church against holding saints in too high regard. In his Articles of Religion that he sent to Methodists in America in 1784 he included a statement against the “invocation of saints” (Article XIV – Of Purgatory, Book of Discipline ¶104) because he could not find any biblical evidence for the practice and argued against it.

But he also suggested that we should not disregard the saints altogether. In his journal for November 1, 1767, he wrote that All Saints Day was a “a festival that I truly love.” Twenty-one years later, he wrote “I always find this a comfortable day.” And one year later, in 1789, he wrote in his journal that All Saints Day was “a day that I peculiarly love.”

And we know from a reading of Hebrews 12 that we are asked to remember the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us and encourage us, cheering us on in our daily lives. So this day, All Saints Day, gives us the opportunity celebrate our history and tradition by giving thanks to those who have gone before us in faith (adapted from “All Saints Day: A Holy Day John Wesley Loved.”).

Wesley also believed

that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline).”

And since I see my faith in living and real terms, it is better to describe the relationship between the elements in a 3-dimensional tetrahedral rather than a 2-dimensional square (hey, I’m a chemist, remember!).

Tetrahedron.gif (337×286)

Illustration 1: The Wesleyan Tetrahedron

And in addition to the tradition and history of the church, our own experiences play a strong and equal role in how we see this day.

Each one of us knows that our presence here is because there was someone in our lives who made sure that we had the opportunity to be here. Oh, we may have been brought here kicking and screaming and feeling that there may have been better ways to spend a Sunday morning or some event in the middle of the week. And we most certainly didn’t understand then what we know today.

I have said it before and written about those early moments when I felt that God was calling to me. Quite honestly, what I felt was my mother’s elbow in my ribs keeping me awake while the preacher droned on and on. The only way I was going to stop my mother from planting her elbow in my ribs was to go sit by myself in the sanctuary and hopefully not completely fall asleep (which I was able to do). But somewhere in proclaiming my independence to sit wherever I wanted to in the sanctuary, I began to sense God telling me to do more than just sit there.

And when we moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Denver, Colorado, and I began attending the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now the 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora), I also began looking at earning my God & Country award in Boy Scouts. While some may argue that all of the awards in scouting are the choice of the individual, choosing to earn the God & Country award requires a far more internal commitment than the other awards simply because you have to make a commitment to God that changes your live more than one can know when they begin.

So it was that one year later, after having given up my Saturday mornings to be in study at the church with Gary Smith and Don Fisher, when I no longer could sleep late but had to be at church on Sunday morning to serve as one of the acolytes for the 8 am service, after having carried a cross and some small hymnals with me on the troop camping trips and lead short services in the foothills of the Rockies, I had earned the one award in scouting that means more to me than anything else. And I put it away so that I wouldn’t lose it.

But two things happened. First, ten members of my Boy Scout troop who, at first, were probably jealous that Gary and I got out of doing troop things around the church on Saturday mornings (Don was a member of another troop) decided that maybe studying about God and seeking His presence in their own lives wasn’t such a bad idea and the second God & Country class began.

And that is, I think how it works, As there has been someone in your life who pushed you to find God in your life, you will, through what you have done or will do, help someone else to find God in their life. As someone has been a saint to you, so to will you someday be a saint for someone else.

But the odds are that you will never know that this happened. I don’t know what happened to those ten guys who followed us but I trust that it went well.

The second thing that happened was that I found my life changing in ways that were not immediately clear. But one year after I completed my God & Country work, I began the other major journey in my life, the journey that would ultimately lead to my earning my doctorate.

And during the first summer at Kirksville, as a freshman in college at the age of 15, away from home, and with the opportunity at long last to sleep in late on a Sunday morning, I found that I couldn’t do it. I had to be in church on Sunday morning, even though it meant walking to the church as I did not have a car. And on the Sunday that I became a member of 1st United Methodist Church of Kirksville, Missouri, I met another Saint of the church, Dr. Meredith Eller.

When I joined 1st UMC, Dr. Eller and his wife stood there with me as my god-parents. A few weeks later, Dr. Eller would become my history professor and I would take all of my history classes with him. And while I was actually a chemistry major, Dr. Eller served as one of many mentors in my college life. And when I served as one of the junior class marshals for the 1970 commencement exercise, I discovered that Dr. Eller was not only an esteemed professor of history but an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (which sort of explained why his doctoral robes were a little more faded than many of the other professors at Truman; while others may wear their doctoral robes once or twice a year for commencement and college activities, he wore his every week as a circuit riding preacher in the northeast corner of Missouri; part of my thoughts about Dr. Eller and other heroes/saints was first mentioned in “Guess Who’s Coming To Breakfast?” and in detail in “Methodist Blogger Profile: Tony Mitchell”.)

In 1984 I made a major move in my life and as a consequence of that move, I began to think about what I had done with what I had learned some twenty years before during that time when I earned my God and Country. At that point, I began to serve as a liturgist in my home church and paid special attention to remember the meaning of Boy Scout Sunday.

And then, in 1991, we find God again reminding me once again that I made a commitment to Him in 1965, and that all I had done, even though it was in chemistry, had prepared me to be a lay speaker and ultimately something of a circuit rider. And I think about those who I helped prepare for the ministry in those years and those who heard my words or read them on my blog and I know that someone will change the path of their life and I might have done something worthy of sainthood.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the other United Methodist preacher from my days and times in Kirksville, Reverend Marvin Fortel. In a conversation that we had in 1969, he changed the direction of my life, and as I pointed out in “The Changing Of Seasons”, neither one of us knew how that conversation would change our lives.

And that is the nature of being a saint. You do not know in the present who might be a saint in your life nor do you know if you are a saint in the life of someone else. You lead your life as it was intended to be lead; you met with people and simply talk with them. In your walk and in your talk, you might offer an alternative to what they are doing.

And yes, leading the life that Christ would have you lead is not always the easiest life and the rewards that one gets in the present time are sometimes few and limited.

But the Old Testament readings for today point out that those who suffered ultimately received their reward in Heaven. John the Seer wrote in his Revelation that the outcome of life for the believers was a good one. And Jesus pointed out when he brought Lazarus out of the tomb that God does know what we are doing and that we will triumph of the slavery of sin and death in the end.

So on this day, we pause to remember the saints in our lives, those individuals who, through example as well as word, pointed and guided us to victory. And we stop to think that there will be those who will hear our words and see what we do and their lives will change as a result.

So when we ask the question as to “who are your saints?” we are also asking “how will we be saints as well?”

“The Value Of Wisdom”

A Meditation for 30 August, 2015, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27, and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23

The other day, a blogging friend and colleague (Allan R. Bevere) posted a cartoon showing Jesus telling the four Gospel writers, “If you all don’t pay attention, we’re going to end up with four different versions of this miracle!” And on the side of the cartoon is a little boy holding a basket with 2 loaves of bread and 5 fish.

The catch in this cartoon is that, as best as we can figure, no one was taking notes about what transpired during the three years of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Mark began his Gospel some forty years or so after the fact; Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from what Mark wrote; and John wrote his Gospel much, much later. All four of the Gospels relied on what people had been saying over the years between the occurrence of the Gospels and when they were written.

Now, I knew that there were four versions of the feeding of the multitudes but I had found out when I began writing this piece that didn’t remember using John 6: 1 – 21 in any of the messages I have prepared over the past twenty years.

Now, before you frantically turn in your New Testament (you remember where you put it, I hope), this is John’s version of the feeding of the multitude. I think that because I focus so much on Matthew’s telling of the story and the fact that there are two stories in Matthew, I forgot that I have used the story in John on several occasions (five times in the past 15 years, including a couple of weeks ago). I also found out that is Luke’s version of the feeding that is not included in the lectionary.

Memory is a funny thing. If you don’t reinforce it, you are likely to forget what it is that you wanted to remember. I can, without much problem, give the first twenty elements of the periodic table in order. And I know most of the elements on the table, simply because it has been a part of my life for almost forty years now.

Even with all the work I have done preparing sermons, messages, and blog posts, chemistry is still my primary interest. So it is not surprising that I sometimes don’t remember what I have written with regards to the lectionary verses for each week. This single cartoon has reminded me that I need to pay just a little bit more attention to the lectionary verses each week and to be little more studious in the coming days.

One of the biggest problems we have today is our willingness to seek an immediate solution, without really understanding what the problem is. Our response to so many problems is something akin to the “old” saying, “A child with a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail” (from “A Collection Of Sayings”). We don’t stop to think about what the problem is and what has to be done to solve the problem.

Over the next few weeks, the Old Testament Reading will come from the section of the Old Testament knows as the “wisdom” section. In one sense, this is, for me, the best part of the Old Testament because it focuses on how we think. This section of the Old Testament bridges the history and law portions of the Old Testament with the prophecies. As you read the various books in this section, you are giving an alternative view to wisdom and an understanding of the nature of God. There is very little mention of God in the Song of Solomon or the books of Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, or Job, the books in the revised common lectionary that will be the source of the Old Testament reading for the next few weeks (from “Forgotten Books”).

Note added on 30 August – “James is a collection of early Jewish Christian wisdom materials.  As with the earlier wisdom writings, it emphasizes wisdom not so much as what one knows about God, but how one lives in response to God.”  (From (I believe) Ministry Matters)

This section shows that there is more to life than simply a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. It also shows that there is a view of the world that does not necessarily end in tragedy and gloom.

The Song of Solomon reveals its treasures to the patient reader who approaches the book on its own terms, searching for and meditating on its meaning. (from “What Does It Mean?”)

Jesus challenges the Pharisees and religious scholars about their rigorous attention to the ritual hand-washing, almost to the point of ignoring the meal. Don’t get me wrong, there are some sound and very good scientific reasons for washing your hands before each meal (and you can hear every mother in this country saying, “see, I told you so.”).

I am sure that if we were to somehow trace the origin of this rule about washing one’s hands before a meal, we would find that is was developed for sanitary reasons. But, as is often the case, this reason got lost over the course of time. And when that happened, it lost its meaning. As Jesus pointed out, the ritual act of hand-washing is meaningless if what comes out of your mouth is dirty and polluted. It does little to wash the dirt and slime off your hands if your heart is not clean, for all that you touch will still be dirty.

Jesus’ point was that you had better understand what the act of washing was meant to do and then turn your life around. Paul, in the portion of his letter to the Ephesians that is part of the lectionary for today, points out that you have to act on what you hear. The catch here, of course, is that you have to distinguish between the Good and the evil. Paul also points out anyone can “talk a good game” but only through acting out your words can the true good be found.

In the end, we are tasked with knowing the Word and then acting out the Word. The closing words of the passage from Ephesians today remind us that our primary task in this world is to “reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against the corruption from the godless world.”

The value of wisdom is first remember that and then doing that.