“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.

“The Real Final Exam”


Meditation for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42

To say that I am not a fan of the present teaching model would be something of an understatement. But, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I was not happy with the way that the Common Core Curriculum was “imposed” on the teachers of this country. It seemed to me that very little was done in the way of preparation for teachers, students, and parents alike. That there needs to be a common core should go without saying but you don’t change the curricula model without some sort of warning or preparatory system If there was such a warning or preparation period, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the curriculum but then again, I was working with my kindergarten age grandson and most of what we did was pretty simple stuff. I think the problem that most people had was simply with the fact that they had to think for themselves and weren’t able to adjust to the change.

Too many people today don’t want to take on new tasks, especially when it comes to learning. They are quite content to do it the way it was done when they were students and that is all they expect. And when a student, especially a college-age student, encounters a new way of learning, there is much rebellion. And that’s what makes it so easy to have a test-oriented curriculum; all you have to do is present some knowledge to the students, have them memorize it, and then test them on it. Once they are tested on it and they achieve a reasonable success level, then we move onto a new topic. That leads to the quote from “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner way back in the good old days of 1969,

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. (This and other sayings I have found interesting are at “A Collection of Sayings”.)

If we simply test our students, we don’t have to get involved in the learning process and that is the problem. Learning is an active and interactive process between people; testing is not.

Some of this saw this coming almost thirty years ago. When I was teaching in Missouri, the State Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, created the Basic Essential Skills Test or BEST test. Now, the rationale and purpose for this test were valid; every student needs to have a certain basic set of skills for life after school. But the manner in which the BEST test was done required a response.

So we created the Scholastic Education Council on New Directions Basic Essential Skills Test – 1) I will let you figure out the acronym and 2) the actual questions are at “THE BETTER TEST”. Clearly, our response was satire but it went to the point of what students should learn, how they should learn, and how that learning should be measured.

There was an episode in the TV series, “The Paper Chase” that speaks to this point. It was the final exam in Contract Law and Professor Kingsfield had created an exam with 100 questions covering a myriad of law-based topics in areas such as real estate, medicine, theology, and probably a few areas that one would not relate to the study and practice of the law.

To get the answers required the students search not only the law library but practically ever other library on campus. And because the students were competitive to the point of insanity, when they found the answer to one of the questions, they kept the resources for themselves so that other students would not be able to answer the question.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued because students were unable to answer all the questions (certain in their own minds that completion of all the questions was necessary for success). In the end, the students or rather the various study groups began to work how ways to share the work that they had with other groups so that they could get the answers for the questions. In the end, they wrote a series of contracts.

And what you have to remember was this was a course in Contract Law. The purpose of the exam was not to obtain all the answers individually but work together and develop solid and viable contracts, which was the purpose of the course.

A second example occurred while I was a graduate student at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). The Memphis Fire Department had agreed to take away several 55-gallon drums filled with chemical waste that the Chemistry Department had collected over the years. But before they could take them, the contents of each drum had to be identified.

Chemistry graduate students at that time took a series of monthly exams that measured their knowledge and competency. The solution to the problem of identifying the contents of the drums was to give each student a drum and tell them to apply their analytical and organic knowledge to the identification of the contents. (Of course, while this solved the department’s problem, it may have created problems for the individual students.)

I am not entirely certain that our present model of teaching can do that. In the end, our students learn to solve problems that already have solutions but they are not capable of solving problems that haven’t been solved.

And what perhaps bothers me more than anything else is that there will be a point in our own personal lives where we are going to be faced with such a problem. We shall be asked a question for which we may not know the answer and then what will or shall we do?

There really isn’t a question in the Old Testament reading for today but it is quite clear that God is testing Abraham. It is as if God is asking Abraham to prove that he, Abraham, will fulfill his part of the covenant. This covenant is the promise that Abraham’s descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and yet God has directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.

What must Abraham have thought? After all, as far as I know, Abraham believes that his oldest son, Ishmael, is dead and now he is about to kill his other son. The promise, the fulfillment of the covenant is clearly at stake at this point.

How would we respond in such a case? How would we respond if we had to put our faith on the line and just hope, without a single piece of evidence that God would fulfill His part of the covenant. And that is the real final exam! It is the one question that we have no way to study for; there is no book in which we can find the answer.

We could, I suppose, not worry about it. As Paul pointed out, you could lead the life we want, do what we want and ignore God. That way you wouldn’t have to worry or bother about right thinking or right living. But what do you get for all of that? Not much and when that moment comes when you have to answer the question you have avoided all your life, you won’t have the time, let alone the ability to think about what to say.

In the end, what you do, what you say, how you think shows where Christ is in your life. Many years ago I taught a course in how to teach science (a methods course). Most of my students expected me to lecture them on the various ways that one could teach science and sometimes I did just that. But a lot of times, I used the method that was the lesson, having the students do what they were going to be doing later on in life. I thought it was more important to do the method than simply speak about it. Not all my students got the message.

I would like to think that this is what Jesus was doing, having his students, his disciples do that which He taught them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn (and we know that many dropped out over the course of the three years). But in the end, enough understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that first Pentecost, they understood what they needed to do and then went from there.

Are you prepared today to take all that you have learned and go out into the world to show others who Christ is? The class is dismissed and the course begins.

Choosing A Password


I just found this and had to post it:

During a recent PASSWORD audit by NASA, they found that a rocket scientist was using the following password:

MickeyMinniePlutoHueyLouieDeweyDonaldGoofyWashingtonDC

When they asked the rocket scientist why such a long password. He replied, ”Are you kidding me? I was told that my password had to be at least 8 characters long and include one capital” – Anonymous

Top Posts of 2013


Top Posts for 2013

Here are the top posts for 2013 on this blog. As was the case for last year (“Top Posts for 2012”) I didn’t post much new stuff this year. The once nice thing is that my readership numbers continue to show an increase each year, though perhaps not as much as in previous years.

I hope that 2014 will be a different year in terms of my blogging/writing. It is possible that the direction of my ministry will be shifting and I won’t be posting much again. Or I may find it appropriate to go back to a post every week.

I am also thinking that I need to do more in the area of chemistry and science education. We are at a point where our knowledge of science is getting very limited and I am convinced that our ability to solve the unknown problem is quickly disappearing. Pretty soon we are going to be at a point where the only problems that we can solve are the ones where the answers are in the back of the book and that is sort of meaningless since those problems have already been solved.

So as I ponder what paths I shall take with this blog, here are the top posts from 2012 (as of 26 December 2013)

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling: A Short History of Bowling Balls, Lanes, Coatings, and Conditionersposted on July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2012)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – posted on November 18, 2009 (#2)
  3. What is a part per million? – posted on February 19, 2010 (#3)
  4. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – posted on October 3, 2008 (#12)
  5. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – posted on March 13, 2008 (#4)
  6. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – posted on April 5, 2008 (#13)
  7. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – posted on November 6, 2005 (#8)
  8. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  9. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  10. The Nature of Academic Freedom – March 17, 2010 (not ranked in 2012)
  11. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (#19)
  12. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#15)
  13. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (#17)
  14. Hearing God Call (sermon/message)– January 7, 2009 (#9)
  15. Meditations On An Easter Sunrise” (sermon/message for April 20, 2003) – posted on April 6, 2013 (not ranked in 2012)
  16. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#11)
  17. The Changing of Seasons” (sermon/message for October 24, 2010) – posted on October 24, 2010 (not ranked in 2012)
  18. The Meaning of Service” (sermon/message for November 17, 2002) – posted on November 14, 2008 (not ranked in 2012)
  19. There’s A Sermon In Here But First Warning” – posted on July 24, 2012 (not ranked in 2012)
  20. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#6) – This was actually the 21st rated post but the post that was in 20th was a summary of previous posts and is scheduled for deletion shortly.

The all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2012)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch (#3)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#4)
  5. What is a part per million? (new to the top 5)Top

“Top Posts for 2012”


Here are the top posts for 2012. Since I really didn’t post much new stuff this year, the list looks a lot like last year’s list (“Top Posts for 2011”).

I am not sure what 2013 will look like from a blogging standpoint. We are continuing the Saturday morning devotionals at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen and if I give the devotional, then it will be posted. (Get in touch with me if you are in the Newburgh area and want to present the devotional some Saturday).

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling – July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2011)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#3)
  3. What is a part per million? – February 19, 2010 (#8)
  4. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – March 13, 2008 (#2)
  5. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  6. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#4)
  7. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  8. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – November 6, 2005 (#13)
  9. Hearing God Call – January 7, 2009 (#12)
  10. A Brief History of Atomic Theory – April 27, 2011 (#9)
  11. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#6)
  12. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – October 3, 2008 (#14)
  13. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – November 6, 2005 (not ranked)
  14. What Does It Mean To Be Called? – August 30, 2008 (#16)
  15. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#10)
  16. A Cake Without Baking Powder” – October 8, 2006 (unranked)
  17. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (unranked)
  18. The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats” – November 27, 2008, (unranked)
  19. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (unranked)
  20. A Scout is Reverent – February 2, 2010 (#19)

My all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2011)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#4)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#3)
  5. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#5)

Top Posts of 2011


Here are my top posts for 2011. What amazes me is how it hasn’t changed from last year.

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling – July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2010)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – March 13, 2008 (#2 in 2010)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#5)
  4. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#4)
  5. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#13)
  6. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#6)
  7. Ten Pretty Good Rules – June 16, 2008
  8. Hearing God Call – January 7, 2009 (#10)
  9. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – November 6, 2005
  10. Pledges and Loyalty Oaths – March 27, 2008 (#8)
  11. What Does It Mean To Be Called? – August 30, 2008 (#11)
  12. The Meaning of Service – November 14, 2008
  13. The Mountaintop Experience – March 2, 2011

It is interesting how some of my older posts are getting read more now than when they were first posted.

My all-time list is:

  1. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (new to the list)

For those who are interested in this sort of thing, here are links to my previous “top posts”:

My Top Posts for 2006

My Top Posts For 2007

My Top Posts for 2008

Top posts for 2009

Top Posts of 2010

We no longer have a “Best of the Methoblogosphere”, not because there are no noteworthy posts but because there are so many to pick from. I want to give my thanks to Allan Bevere for his effort is picking the best of the bunch. During 2011, Allan focused on the posts of note and one of my posts (“The Situation Today” – July 14, 2011) was chosen to in this group.

The challenge of a weekly blog is a daunting one. There has been a steady increase in the number of individuals who read the various things that I post and for that I am very grateful. Still, I have to wonder what the lifetime of a blog, like any ministry, is. I began posting in July of 2005 so I am approaching the end of my 7th year. Perhaps, in a biblical sense, I should take a sabatiacal and step away from blogging for a while.

The Situation Today


I posted this on my Facebook page earlier today but since not everyone who reads this blog is my friend on Facebook, I figured I would post it here as well.
——————————————————————–
In the New York Times this morning it was reported that President Obama has raised almost 90 million dollars for his relection campaign.

The Washington Post reported that Mitt Romney raised over 18 million dollars in the last three months. He has more than double the money of his closest competitor (Michele Bachman).

That means that, conservatively, some people or corporations have given over 100 million dollars for an election.

If there ever was a better example of the problems with this country, this has to be it. How many people would have been feed if this money had been directed toward the food banks and feeding ministries of this country? Over 1000 children are now receiving free lunches in the city of Newburgh, NY, through Abraham’s Table. We started this ministry because the school lunch program stops when there is no school.

How many people would have adequate health care? How many people would have their homes today instead of having lost them to foreclosure if the money given for relection campaigns had been directed towards resolving the housing issue.

We are staring at a major financial crisis right now because the two major political parties are more interested in themselves than they are the people they represent. And the only people that they will answer to are those who can write the big, fat checks.

I am struggling to find work and I am struggling to do what Christ has called me to do. I shall put it bluntly, if you have been asked or are considering contributing to a political campaign, don’t! They have enough. But what you can do is send the money to “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen” at Grace United Methodist Church in Newburgh. Or get involved with the ministries in your area.

This is not about talking back our country from the politicians; it may be about taking it back from the greedy and selfish individuals who truly believe (and the record indicates) believe that they can buy. But what will they buy if the people are homeless, hungry, and without healthcare?

Top Posts of 2010


Here are my top posts for 2010 as of December 26, 2010:

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling – July 26, 2008
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – March 13, 2008
  3. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009
  4. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008
  5. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009
  6. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009
  7. Thoughts on the Nature of Teaching Science in the 21st Century – August 30, 2009
  8. Pledges and Loyalty Oaths – March 27, 2008
  9. A Cake Without Baking Powder – August 25, 2009
  10. Hearing God Call – January 7, 2009
  11. What Does It Mean To Be Called? – August 30, 2008
  12. The Right Place and the Right Time – February 6, 2010
  13. Who Cuts The Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009
  14. What is a part per million? – February 19, 2010
  15. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006
  16. A Scout is Reverent – February 2, 2010
  17. The Message Is Clear – January 21, 2007
  18. “How Can I?” – The Meaning of Advent – November 27, 2009
  19. “Where Were You on April 4, 1968?” – April 4, 2007
  20. “Where Do We Go From Here?” – January 26, 2008

Obviously, 2010 was not a very good year for what I posted.  But I did have two posts (“Should We Explain This?” – May 16, 2010 and “Time Has Come Today” – 24 November 2010) chosen as “Best of the Methoblogosphere.”

All time:

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday?
  3. A Collection of Sayings
  4. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager
  5. The Lost Generation – October 13, 2007

I thank you all for visiting my site this year and keeping it alive and growing.  Let us hope that it will continue to do so in 2011.

“Time Has Come Today”


It seems to me that we are a nation obsessed with time. Were it not the case, why do we have "fast foods"? Why is it so important that we get all of our Christmas shopping done on the day after Christmas? Why is it that one of the best selling books today has to do with a fictional accounting of the end of time, as perhaps first described by Saint John in his Book of Revelations? Why is it that every day, when I pick up Ann at the train station in Beacon, I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have to run off the train and drive like crazy to get out of the parking lot? You would think that people, having spent 70 minutes or so on the train ride from Grand Central Station, would want to take their time getting home as well. But they run off the train and pretend that it is the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race where drivers sprint to the cars to start the race. Still, with all the speed they put into getting off the train and getting their cars out of the parking lot, these speed demons of Beacon end up waiting in line at the light. In rushing to cut down the time of their commute, they end up gaining nothing.

We are a society that expects things now, not tomorrow. Our politics and news are built around sound bites; short little snippets of information designed to fit every decreasing attention span. We allow others to define what it is we believe so that we do not have to take the time to think things through. Are "moral values" really simple statements of opinion without any thought to consequence or outcome? It seems that our education system spends more time preparing students for a day of testing than a lifetime of thinking. Just as with news and politics, students seem to want the information presented in short sound bites, easily memorized and not requiring any analysis or thought. Could it be that our problems with the education system are not because the teachers are incompetent, bad, or ill prepared but rather because we do not give teachers the time to work with their students?

And when it comes to Sunday morning, there never seems to be enough time, at least for church and Sunday school. Somewhere along the line, we have allowed the demands placed on us in the daily workplace to control the time we spend in church on Sunday. No longer is church a daylong event; no longer are stores limited in what they can sell on Sunday mornings. I am not arguing for a return to the time of horse and buggies or the re-establishment of blue laws limiting the sale of items (especially since most of the items that were limited, I didn’t buy anyway). But as technology gave us more freedom to move about and time became more available, church attendance is no longer an expected thing in the lives of a family. Rather, it has become something that must compete with the other events of the weekend, the soccer, football and basketball games, the dance classes, recitals, housework and yard work.

The services of many churches use many techniques to take advantage of time-obsession. Services are designed to fit your schedule. Music is easy to follow and carries no thought with it. A projector shows the words of the hymn on the screen over the altar (that way you don’t have to look up the words in a hymnal). And you may think I am joking but it seems that one of the criteria for being a successful pastor in the Memphis area is the length of their sermons? The most common comment of satisfaction seems to be that we get out of church before the Baptists. This means that we get to Shoney’s before they do and can get the best seats.

We rush through life, only to get stuck in traffic along with the others seeking to rush through life. We want the answers to our problems, be the mental ones of school and work or the physical ones of food and nourishment, to be quick and easy, so as to spare us the trouble of preparation and effort. We want our church services quick and easy, as if the meaning of the Gospel can be absorbed with quick sound bites and easy visual references.

But did not the writer of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, say that there was a time for every season and time for every purpose under heaven? Did not the Preacher complain about the quality of life that came when the spiritual needs of the body were not adequately dealt with?

In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, Emily dies at the age of 26. She asks the stage manager narrating the play if she can return for a brief visit with her family. He grants her wish but advises her to choose the least important day in her life but will still be important enough. She chooses to return on her 12th birthday, only to find her father obsessed with his business problem and her mother preoccupied with kitchen duties. Emily exclaims, "Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, 14 years have gone by. I’m dead!" Unable to rouse her parents, Emily breaks down sobbing. "We don’t have time to look at one another . . . Goodbye, world! Goodbye, Mama and Papa . . . Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?" (From "Wake-up Call" by Peter W. Marty in Christian Century, November 16, 2004)

Are we so obsessed with time that we fail to see things coming? Is this society obsession with books on the end of time based on a desire to know what the ending will be without living this life? Was the owner of the house so occupied with the other things that he did not see the thief coming?

That is why we celebrate Advent and why we do it over a period of four weeks. We cannot prepare for the coming of the Lord in fifteen minutes or even a day. Rather, we must be in a state of mind that requires patience and time, qualities not often seen in today’s society. There is no urgency to the celebration of Advent but it almost seems as if society demands that it be done now.

But we have to see that Advent is more than just one Sunday. We sleep through God’s signals of alarm and act as if today is like every other day. And if we are casual with today, what chance is there that we will be careful with our lives? What hope is there that we can live less selfishly and more peacefully? (From "Wake-up Call" by Peter W. Marty in Christian Century, November 16, 2004)

We ask for things now but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to make them happen. Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of a hope that there will be a day when God will get God’s way. Isaiah knew that the hope of which he spoke in today’s passage from the Old Testament would not necessarily come in his lifetime. So he wrote in the future tense and pushed the people to walk in the light. (From "Wake-up Call" by Peter W. Marty in Christian Century, November 16, 2004)

Our hopes for the future must not be dashed because the time it takes is too long. Our hopes for the future must be based on the fact that, today, we begin the process that will make the future a possibility, that there will be peace in the coming days, that people will beat their swords into plowshares.

Walter Brueggemann wrote, in reference to Isaiah’s time and ours, "The key question is whether the promissory possibilities of God have a chance in the face of the entrenched geo-political realities." The book of Isaiah expresses profound confidence that God’s promises will prevail — against, within, despite, and through geo-political realities. But this means that it will take time; this means that it cannot occur overnight. It also means that it will take many people working together. What the words of Isaiah offer are the energy and the sustenance necessary to carry out this long journey. (Adapted from The Soul of Politics by Jim Wallis)

It may seem contradictory for me to say this but this journey cannot begin on some other day. It must start today. The time has come today when we must step forth and say that even though we may not know when the Lord will come, we are preparing for that day, no matter the time and the place. Paul’s words to the Romans today tell us that we can no longer wait and expect a quick solution at some other time. Paul is telling us that this is the time to begin and prepare, to lead lives that more reflect the presence of Christ than the lack of presence.

Isaiah encouraged those that heard his words to walk in the light, with the expectation of seeing God’s will enacted. Paul said that now was the time to cast aside all the aspects of your life that prevents you from being a disciple of Christ. As we sing our invitational hymn this morning, I invite you to come to the altar rail this morning. Take a few moments and ask Christ to come into your heart, if not for the first time, again. Take some time this morning as we sing our invitational hymn to consider how you, in the coming weeks, can best prepare for the coming of the Lord. Time has come today for you to make the choice that will allow Jesus to come, not only into your household but also into your life and into your heart.

It’s A Journey, Not A Thought


Here are my thoughts for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, 16 September 2007.  I am preaching at Dover UMC (Dover Plains, NY) this weekend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 4: 11 – 12, 22 – 28; 1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17; and Luke 15: 1 – 10.

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This has been edited since it was first published on 15 September 2007.

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As most people know, I have a Ph. D. in Science Education with an emphasis in chemical education. But many people are surprised when they find out I am also a lay minister.

Somehow the training that you receive to be a chemist is not appropriate for the ministry. In one sense, that is correct. In an ideal world, one receives the call to follow Christ at a young age and goes to college to get degrees with a theological orientation. In our society today, those who choose to walk a path that wanders through scientific laboratories automatically eliminate religion from their lives.

We live in an interesting society. It is one that encourages individuality but only when everyone else is doing the same thing. When you choose to walk a different path and find a different solution to the questions in your life, you are often labeled a heretic, a rebel, or sometimes something worse.

To follow Christ is to walk a different path, to take a different journey than the one society thinks you should walk. Being a minister does not mean that you spend all your time in cloistered seminaries, pondering the imponderable and asking great questions of life that are only answerable in the ethereal wonder of life. I have had the pleasure of knowing several individuals whose call to follow Christ came during a first career. One pastor was a lawyer before he heard the call from the Supreme Judge of Life; another was a printer before he began preaching the words of the prophets instead of putting them on paper; and a third was a nurse before she began her work as an assistant to the Great Healer. A good friend of mine is both a Catholic priest and an organic chemist. You can believe in science and God at the same time and suffer no ill effects.

But, at a time when our world is becoming more and more complex, at a time when the direction the world is taking it becomes even more confusing, we are not sure where we can turn for direction and guidance. Do we turn to science and hope that science and technology can build us a better path? Or do we turn to religion and hope that there is substance to something we cannot see or define?

But what we see when we turn to either area makes it even more confusing. Too many people in the church today tells us that science is lying (See “Why the Creation-Evolution Controversy Is Important”) and too many people in science tell us that there is no God and all that churches do is offer some illusion to life.

We would like to find direction in the church today but we sense a dissonance there. We hear and see preachers whose message is one of prosperity through the Gospel. We think to ourselves that it must be working because these preachers command great fees for their appearances and lead lifestyles that reflect the wealth they say we all can gain. There seem to be great crowds wherever they go and we remember that Jesus Christ also had great crowds following Him. But we read in the Gospel that Jesus taught us to give up wealth, not seek it. And we remember that the crowds began to leave Jesus when He spoke of the commitments that one would have to make and the work that people would have to do in order for one soul to be saved.

We remember that Jesus welcomed all who sought Him, not just the rich and the powerful but the poor, the meek, the weak and the sick. We remember Jesus speaking of freeing the oppressed and then we see and hear preachers preach a litany of hatred, exclusion, and war.

We see and hear preachers give us sets of rules that will make our lives better but we see that they don’t follow the rules that they want to impose on us. We see and hear preachers who want to tell us what to believe and how to think. We see and hear preachers who want us to ignore the signs of the world around us because what we find in the real world conflicts with what the Bible tells us. Each day, as these contradictions become so much clearer, that feeling of dissonance comes over us.

Perhaps we can find a life through simple, rational thought. When mankind was just beginning to find its path in this world, it was easy to believe in gods. Gods provided the reason and the answer for why there was rain and wind, snow and cold, hot and dry. Gods provided the reason for why there was war and why we had to fight; gods provided the reason why people got sick and died or just suffered. As we grew in our ability to understand the world around us, these gods diminished in their importance in our lives.

Now we hear that there are no gods; that the God that we worship on Sunday is only a construct of our imagination and not the product of rationale thought. Everything that we seek or desire is found within us, not in a church on Sunday. Only in rational thought based on what we see and hear in the physical world will we find the path that we want to walk.

Proponents of rational thought cannot explain why every culture has some form of Supreme Being. They cannot explain why all cultures have stories that explain how mankind came into existence. The only way they can explain why there is evil in the world is to suggest that it is part of human nature. In a world based solely on empirical evidence, good and evil become part of us and determined by who we are and where we are. Our lives are then controlled by the real world and the concept of free will has no place in our lives. If we have no free will, we cannot choose; if we cannot choose, then there is no hope. And we find in the seemingly safe world of rational thought and empirical evidence the same dissonance that we find in the church.

The problem is that we are not going to find the answers we seek nor determine the direction that we are to go in a wholly scientific setting or in a wholly theological one. Science and religion speak two languages; science speaks the language of facts while religion speaks the language of values. Science attends to objective knowledge about objects in the present whereas religion attends to subjective knowledge about transcendent dimensions of ultimate concern. As Albert Einstein once noted, “Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.” Science works best when it explains what is happening and religion works best when it explains what it means to us (http://www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/story/content/06-06-15-peters-1.asp; I am not sure if this link still works).

If we try to live a life by rules imposed on us through science or religion, we will quickly find ourselves trapped in a prison of our making. Both scientific fundamentalists and religious fundamentalists want us to follow rules that have very little flexibility. They offer a philosophy but not a direction. They give answers but not to the questions that we face each day. Christianity is not a philosophy and Jesus Christ was not a philosopher.

Christianity is a pathway, a way of life. It is not a set of creeds and doctrines that require total obedience. Christianity was, in fact, a reaction to a religion narrowly defined by law and ritual. The people of “The Way” swept through the Mediterranean world like a “mighty wind” of radical freedom. (Adapted from “Why The Christian Right Is Wrong” by Robin Meyers, page 68)

Instead of a society where the rules focused on what you did within society, a society was created where everyone was free and your concern was for the others as much as it was for yourself. This was an idea first expressed in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments do not begin with “Here are the Ten Commandments, learn them by rote,” or, “Here are the Ten Commandments, obey them.” Rather, they begin with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

The Ten Commandments are not rules that confine people but set them free. As Joe Roos noted, the Ten Commandments set you free from using the ways of society to get ahead. (Adapted from “The Foolishness of the Cross” by Joe Roos in Sojourners, August 2007) You need not covet what your neighbor has or steal their belongings to establish who you are. Yes, they are rules but they are rules to live by, not confine us. They offer direction, not imprisonment. It is a freedom that extends to all and it is a freedom that we must seek for all.

The words of Jeremiah this morning (Jeremiah 4: 11 – 22; 22 – 28) apply today as much as they did some three thousand years ago. Jeremiah speaks of the words of the Lord who warns the people about limiting their understanding to simply following a set of rules. From Jeremiah 4: 22 we read, “My people are foolish and do not know me. They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!” (Jeremiah 4: 22) The terms “foolish” and “silly” that are used in this passage from Jeremiah are contrary to the terms “knowledge” and “understanding”. Understanding means going beyond the basic information. The Lord, through Jeremiah, is warning the people that they are walking the wrong path; they are headed in the wrong direction. Instead of sustaining the world, they are destroying it; all because they have not taken the time to understand what the world is about and what it means.

Paul, in referring to his own career as a prosecutor of Christians (1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17), says the same thing. He recognizes that his life before his encounter with Christ was one fixed in the law, unchanging in its nature, and essentially doomed to failure and defeat.

The journey with Christ goes beyond the limits of society’s rules. The journey with Christ goes beyond how one thinks of themselves but rather how one thinks of others. If you accept Christ as your savior, you make a commitment to walk a new path and find a new way. If you accept Christ as your Savior, then you go beyond just posting the Ten Commandments on courtroom walls. You seek to put “blessed are the merciful” on the same walls; you seek to put “blessed are the peacemakers” on the walls of the Pentagon. As Jesus pointed out in the parable of the shepherd and the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1- 10), you are more concerned for the one who is lost more than the ones who are saved.

If you accept Christ as your savior, you have said that you will not be limited in your belief to just the things around you or things somewhat ethereal. Rather, your world becomes a world of great possibilities, of understanding the world in which we live and the one which was provided by our divine creator.

We are called today to begin this journey. It is a journey that began some two thousand years ago when a group of people gathered in a room to celebrate a journey from slavery and death to freedom. Those in that room that night did not understand that their journey was just beginning; they did not understand that the words of freedom and victory that their teacher and our Lord spoke were not just thoughts but steps. They did not understand then but would in a few days understand what the words of freedom truly meant. We know today what the words of freedom and victory over sin and death mean. Thus we are called to continue the journey that was begun so many years ago. Let us begin that journey.