“Thoughts for Thanksgiving”


This will be in the November issue of the Fishkill UMC newsletter.

————————————————————————————————————————–

If you are of my generation, then you are aware of a particular 18 ½ – minute song that speaks of a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.  (I wrote of that particular song and my own Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat in Thanksgiving, 2006 | Thoughts from The Heart on The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/11/23/thanksgiving-2006/.)

When I was teaching in the bootheel of Missouri and singing in the local UMC choir, the music director would, as Thanksgiving approached, express her disdain for what she called “the corn song” (It’s #694 in the hymnal but don’t ask me why she called it the “corn song.”).

When I think of Thanksgiving and its associated songs, I think of “We Gather Together.”

Thanksgiving may be a time of football, of cooking turkeys in many ways, and of parades but it is also, at least for me, a time of family gatherings.

But while we gather with our friends and families, there are those who cannot gather with their families.  Perhaps, they are college students or service personnel who cannot go home for the short Thanksgiving holiday.  Others cannot go home because, for whatever reason, their families have shunned them.

It has been part of Methodism that we welcome the strangers.  The founders of Methodism went to the prisons, to the fields, to the mines to bring the Good News to the people.  These first efforts brought a sense of hope and thanksgiving to the people who had been forgotten or castoff.

Before we turn our attention to the end-of-the-year financial statements, before we begin traveling to be with our family and friends, and before the day of turkey, parades and football arrives, we should think about how we can continue what the members of that first Methodist movement and revival did and reach out to those who cannot do what we can.

Let this be the year that others can enjoy that Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat and give them something for which they can be thankful.

Three Words


This will be in the September 2022 newsletter for Fishkill United Methodist Church.  Services are at 10:15 am on Sundays and you are welcome to come in person or watch on YouTube.

To be published in the Fall 2022 issue of God & Nature (https://godandnature.asa3.org/) and mentioned in the August issue of “The Clergy Letter Project”.

————————————————————————————————————————–

In 1922 Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen.  As he peered through an opening into the tomb, his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, asked, “What do you see?”  And Carter responded, “wonderful things.”

That there was anything at all in Tutankhamen’s tomb was a testimony to those who built the tomb and buried the boy king in it. Each Pharoah was always buried with enormous quantities of treasures but were certainly looted shortly after the burial.  Tutankhamen’s tomb remained undiscovered until Carter figured out where it was in 1922.

I do not know about you but the images that came from the Hubble Space telescope after it was repaired, and the images of the James Webb Space Telescope fall into that category of “wonderful things”.

————————————————————————————————————

First Images from the James Webb Space Telescope | NASA (https://www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages).

—————————————————————————————————————-

And those images have been waiting to be seen for over 13 billion years.  In these images, we are seeing some of the oldest objects in space.  These objects (stars, nebulae, and galaxies were created at the beginning of creation).  But how and why did this happen?

It is perhaps because of our own human frailties that we have a challenging time understanding this.  While we may intuitively know that there is a beginning, we want to know how things began and when they began.

I can imagine a scene many (many) years ago, at the end of the day, and everyone in the clan was seated by the fire.  The youngest ones in the group would ask the elders, “Where did we come from?” and the elders would begin their answer with, “In the beginning”.

For some, these words are sufficient.  But we are a curious people (or we should be) and we like to know how things happened. And did not Jesus tell those who wondered if He was the Messiah to go and see what had been done?

The answer to any question will always (or should) generate more questions and out of this never-ending curiosity lie the roots of science.

The authors of Genesis gave no hints as to how it was done or when it occurred.

In 1650, Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh (the Church of Ireland) sought to answer the question of when the universe was created.  He calculated the date of the Creation to be at sunset on the evening of October 22, 4004 BC which would make October 23rd the First Day.  This calculation was just one of a series of calculations by others, including Isaac Newton (whose calculation gave a date of 3998 BC) and Johannes Kepler (who calculated that the universe was created on April 27, 4977 B.C.).  Others, including James Lightfoot and Joseph Justus Scaliger, also published research on the date of creation.

Lightfoot, a rabbinical scholar and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, determined that the date of Creation was 3929 BC.  Scaliger was a contemporary of Ussher and his studies of the Biblical chronology and other ancient literature showed that the Egyptian dynasties and Babylonian kingdoms existed before the accepted date of the Flood, approximately 2300 BC.  This led chronologists to realize that there were other sources of information that must be considered.

Even today, many individuals, known as Young Earth Creationists (YEC), use these early dates as the beginning of the universe.  But to achieve that date, these individuals, must either ignore the evidence that has accumulated or somehow find a way to make the data fit the theory. 

As Sherlock Holmes once told Dr. Watson, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has the data.”  And the Fourth Doctor Who reminds us,

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

“The Face of Evil”, Dr. Who, Episode 4, Season 14 (1976)

Before we dismiss these efforts, we must understand that these calculations were products of serious and concerted research, based upon the available information, including ancient records from various cultures as well as the Bible’s genealogies.  As more information became available, so too did the date of creation change.

Stephen Jay Gould, while disagreeing with Ussher’s chronology noted,

I shall be defending Ussher’s chronology as an honorable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past.

Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology.

Stephen J. Gould, “Fall in the House of Ussher, Natural History, page 100, November 1991

In 1924 Edwin Hubble (for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named) made a series of astronomical observations that allowed him to conclude in a paper published a few years later that the universe was expanding.  His observations confirmed the theoretical work of Georges Lemaitre.

Georges Lemaitre, a mathematician, physicist, and Catholic priest used Albert Einstein’s equations for general relativity to predict that the universe was expanding.

At the time of Hubble’s work, most physicists, including Albert Einstein, felt that the universe was static.  Einstein told Lemaitre that “your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious”.

Einstein would add what he called a “cosmological factor” to his relativity equations to keep the universe static.  He, Einstein, would later say this was his biggest mistake.

In April 1948, Robert Alpher and George Gamow (along with Hans Bethe) would present a series of calculations that confirmed Hubble’s observations and Lemaitre’s calculations.  Observations by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1965 also confirmed that the beginning of creation was approximately 13 billion years ago.  This moment in time was named, somewhat derisively, the “Big Bang” by British mathematician and physicist Fred Hoyle.

Hoyle was a committed atheist and he felt that such a moment was a bit too much like the words of Genesis.  Despite the evidence given by Hubble and later observations, Hoyle and others attempted to prove that the universe was static and without a beginning. 

Interesting enough, some of Hoyle’s work required the very beginning that he didn’t believe in.

While it may seem that a discussion of the creation of the universe is a relatively modern construct, it was an item of discussion in the early church (The Early Church and Genesis | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/the-early-church-and-genesis/). 

Origen, the 3rd century philosopher/theologian, opposed the idea that the opening verses of Genesis were a historical and literal account of how God created this world and universe. Later scholars, such as Thomas Aquinas, and religious figures, such as John Wesley, made similar arguments.

Wesley would say that the Scriptures were not written to satisfy our curiosity but to lead us to God (adapted from “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”http://biologos.org/questions/early-interpretations-of-genesis )

While God may not have told us when He created the universe, He did give us a mind and the capability to think and ask questions.  And he gave us the evidence to look at. So, we ask questions, and when we find the answer to those questions, we get two new questions to be answered.

And while we may get closer to understanding when the universe was created and how it was done, what we discover will never tell us why it was done. To answer why it was done and all the other questions that come from the answer to that question are done on our faith journey.

So, as we view the images provided by the James Webb Space Telescope and we think of the opening verses of Genesis, we need to see it as the beginning of a journey, a journey of exploration and understanding of both the world we live in and our relationship with God.

Transitions


This will appear in the July newsletter for Fishkill UMC

————————————

During my first summer at Truman State University in 1966, I received a letter from my mother which said that the family had moved, and I should not plan on coming home.  So, for a couple of months, I had no idea where my home was.

I was able to go to my grandmother’s home in St. Louis during the brief 4th of July break that summer.  Her home would serve as a second home many times over the next few years while I was in school and at the beginning of my professional career.

The move from Missouri to Tennessee was, for my siblings and I, nothing unusual.  As the son of an Air Force officer, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I lived in two different states and the Philippines before beginning school.  I lived in six states and attended five elementary schools, two junior high schools, and two other high schools before graduating from Bartlett High School, my 3rd high school, in 1968.  And many of those early moves occurred during the school year.

Each of these moves was a transition in my life.  While there were some drawbacks to moving so many times, I saw more of the country than many of my non-military classmates and it was very much a part of growing up. 

Also, I was either lucky or very fortunate.  I was still able to continue my academic progress.  But, for as much as the transitions that I made were positive, I am sure that they were not as positive for many others.

In all these moves, there was one constant, my mother’s desire that my siblings and I attend Sunday school and church every week.  This would establish a practice that I have tried to maintain to this day.  In the beginning, this was perhaps more of a Sunday ritual but over time, the church became a place of renewal and my spiritual home.

In 1966, I only had the beginnings of an idea what I would do professionally, and I certainly had no idea that I would become a lay speaker/minister.  I was certain that Truman State would be my academic home for the next few years, and I wanted to make sure I had a spiritual home as well.

Now this was before the merger of the EUB and Methodist denominations to form the United Methodist Church and I would have preferred attending Faith EUB.  But it was a couple of miles out of town and since I was going to be walking to church, I opted to attend 1st Methodist, which was only about seven blocks from the campus.  So, I transferred my membership from the Wright City (MO) Methodist Church to the 1st Methodist Church of Kirksville, MO (see note at the end of the paper).

When I first came up here in 1999 to meet Ann, I asked that we attend church on Sunday before I flew back to Kentucky.  And so, we came to Fishkill UMC.

For some, Fishkill UMC has been their only spiritual home; for others, it has been one of several.  But no matter how long they have been a member, it has been a place of renewal and to refresh the spirit.

And now it is July and a time of transition for many United Methodist Churches.  But it is not we who are moving but Pastor Micah and other pastors.  In a span of seven days, Pastor Micah and Kiren, along with other pastors and their families will have gathered up their belongings and memories and moved to their new charge.

The transition of church leadership is very much a part of our faith tradition.  Joshua took over the leadership of the Israelites from Moses; David became the heir apparent to Saul; Elisha took over for Elijah, and Paul always seemed to focus on the transition of leadership at the churches that he founded.

For some, Pastor Micah is the only pastor they have known and this change, this transition, can be very hard.  Even for those for whom the change of pastors is part of being a United Methodist, it is still not an easy time.  We have become used to a style, an approach, and all that is about to change.

But even in change, there is still constancy.  Our new pastor, Dan Levine, is versed in the ways of Methodism and that means that the essence of the message will still be the same, no matter how it is spoken or presented.

Each transition, be it a change of place or a change of people, gives us the opportunity to see the world in a new light. 

We must understand that though we may speak of our church home, it is first and foremost God’s home, and we are but His tenants.  If we see this as our possession, then we have evicted God and made it impossible for change to occur.

I know of situations where members of a church viewed the church as “their” church and those who come, laity and clergy alike, must adhere to already written and unwritten practices and protocols.

A transition is not a one-way process.  It is more than saying good-bye to one pastor and hello to another.  If we are to continue our own spiritual journey, and perhaps more importantly, help others begin or continue their spiritual journey, we must be a part of the transition as well.

We have said our goodbyes to Pastor Micah and Kiren.  As we now greet Pastor Dan, we understand that this transition is part of our spiritual journey as well.

——————————————————–

EUB stands for Evangelical United Brethren and was the denomination in which I began my walk with Christ.

In 1994, at the beginning of my lay speaking career, I would preach at Faith UMC.  In my message, I mentioned why I had chosen 1st over Faith.  After the service, a member of the congregation came up to me and said, “You could have called; we would have come and picked you up.”  (A Matter of Faith | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) -https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/a-matter-of-faith/)

What Is In Your Heart?


How many times have we heard someone say, “God helps those who help themselves”?  As biblical as that may sound, it is not in the Bible, and it is not even true!

What is in the Bible is that God helps those who cannot help themselves.

Jim Wallis tells the story about an experiment he and some of his friends performed while they were in seminary.  They made a study of every reference to the poor, to God’s love for the poor, and God being the deliverer of the oppressed.  They determined that such verses were the second most prominent in the Old Testament (idolatry being first).  One of every sixteen verses in the New Testament was about the poor; in the Gospels, it was one of every ten, and in the Gospel of Luke, it was one of every seven.

One member of the group then took a Bible and cut out every verse related to the poor or the oppressed.  When he was done, the Bible fell apart. (1)

When you think about it, this contrasts with the words and voices of many Christian clergy and laity who say that the two moral issues of today are marriage and sexuality.  While there are some verses on these topics in the Bible, they are, as the saying goes, few and far between and Jesus spent very little time discussing them. (2)

A group of ministers and laity who identify themselves as “traditionalist” recently created the Global Methodist Church.  But when you read the words behind the formation of this denomination, you read the words of a denomination more Baptist in nature and far from the traditions of the United Methodist Church.  (3)

These individuals are concerned, upset, and angry that paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1 of the Book of Discipline are not being enforced. (4) 

These topics deal with the ordination of LGBTQ individuals and the performance of same-sex marriages. Rather than followers of Paul, they are followers of Saul whose journey to Damascus was to arrest and bring to trial followers of Jesus for their failure to follow the law.

We know that John Wesley was barred from preaching in the sanctuaries of the Anglican Church in England. Philip Otterbein and Jacob Albright, two of the three founders of what would become the Evangelical United Brethren Church, were excommunicated from their respective churches for their failure to stay “within the boundaries” of their denomination.

Now, let me point out that Leviticus 21 lays out the physical and spiritual qualification for the priesthood.  Individuals could be considered for the priesthood if they were, first, a man and if they were “without defect.”  As I need glasses to see, under those rules, I could be considered defective and as such, ineligible to have been a lay speaker.

Luther did not define Christians by a strict adherence to those regulations (meaning laws in the Bible), because, for him, the Bible was not a law code for Christian conduct. It was a declaration of freedom based on what he called the gospel. (5)

While I understand that the Book of Discipline is to ensure the continuity and structure within the denomination and that “rules are there for a purpose”, I must question the intent and validity of laws specifically designed to prevent a given group of people from participating in activities others can engage in.

¶304.3 (4) was put into the discipline in 1972 and we have been arguing since then.  But like so many rules of this nature, it strikes me as a rule created out of ignorance, fear, and hate.

The rhetoric and debate that I have heard over these past twenty years are, in my mind, no different from the rhetoric and debate over slavery that split the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844 nor the rhetoric and debate over segregation in this country in the 1950s and 1960s.

Though I did not know it at the time, the baseball team that I tried out for in the spring of 1963 was not part of the national Little League program, but a separate program known as the Dixie Youth League.  It was not part of the national program because the adults who ran the DYL did not want to integrate their teams.

Keep in mind that many of the schools that I attended during that time were segregated by law.  And while, in the most technical of terms, the schools that others attended were equal to the schools I attended, that was never the case.

And I cannot forget, even sixty years later, the uneasiness and possible fear I felt when I encountered the physical barriers of segregation in a theater in Lexington, NC.  (6)

So, I have a problem with a law or rule that says others cannot do what I am allowed to do on the basis of skin pigmentation, gender, or sexual identity.

Who does God call to bring forth His word? 

Some of the prophets, such as Isaiah and Micah, were scholars, individuals who had studied and understood the Torah.  But others, such as Amos and Jonah, came from the general population.

Who was it that told the 12 about the resurrection?  Are we to ignore the contributions of Mary and the other women?

And remember the nature of Peter’s vision.  It was not only about what was served on the buffet table but who could receive the message.

Some received the call from the Holy Spirit in the manner of Paul on the road to Damascus; others received it in the manner of John Wesley in the chapel on Aldersgate Street.  Martin Luther came to his understanding of God’s grace through what he called his “tower moment”, that time when he was deep in a study of the Bible and attempting to understanding God’s grace.

Consider this if you will.  Each candidate for ordination goes through a series of interviews, from the local church all the way up to their District and must answer 13 separate questions concerning their call.  What does it say about an organization that says that one individual’s answers are more worthy of consideration than someone else’s because of how they identify themselves?

It is not ours to decide the validity of another person’s call; it is ours to help them move forward with that call.

Finally, what does it say about us as Methodists when we act against our very soul?

The Wesleyan approach was open, inclusive, and a practical theological vision of the Christian life as opposed to the restrictive, exclusive, dogmatic approach to matters of faith and practice seen in traditional churches.

Our theological heritage was and still is to preach outside the normal boundaries of a church. Methodism began as a spiritual movement to renew a decaying institutional church and serve the outcast, the marginalized, and the poor, those traditional Christians called the “unwashed rabble”.

The early Methodist movement was everything the traditional church wasn’t.  It was often messy or unregulated.  It was based on small groups, it empowered women, gave enslaved persons a sense of freedom, and created a vision of justice and liberation.

In 18th century America, Methodism was a “volatile, alienated, defiant, and charismatic” movement that empowered “those who were demeaned and degraded” with a revolutionary sense of God’s liberating loved (“Religion in the Old South”, Don Matthews, University of Chicago Press, 1977).  Methodism was seen as a threat to the establishment of the time because it was revolutionary, inclusive, heart-centered, and Jesus-fired.

Isn’t it time that we revive our true nature?

It is found in our hearts, strangely warmed and on fire with love.  It is an identity of risk and rebellions, of holy revolutions, of challenging ecclesial authorities who say “No!”, of listening to the voices of the outcast.

Our table is an open table, open to those who profess a love of Christ in their hearts.  From the very beginning of the Methodist revival, we turned no one away who openly professed such a love.  What other denominations or faiths can say the same? (7)

What is in your heart?  What is in your soul?  At a time when others will try to change the meaning of Methodism to facilitate their own desire for power and prestige, will you seek the fire that burns, the fire that cleans and allows one to bring the message of Christ to all the people, openly and truthfully.


Notes and references

1        When Are We Going To Learn? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/when-are-we-going-to-learn-2/

Can You? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/can-you/

2        “What Will Tomorrow Bring?” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/what-will-tomorrow-bring/

3 https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2022/04/15/5-reasons-to-stay-in-the-united-methodist-church-by-paul-chilcote/

see also Why Stay? – Stay UMChttps://www.stayumc.com/about/)

4        ¶ 304.3 While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.  The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.2

1            Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.  See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984, 1020.

2        See Judicial Council Decisions 984, 985, 1027, 1028

¶ 2702. 1.  A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶370), local pastor9, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statue of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)10 with one or more of the following offenses: a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage;11 (b) practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,12  including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;13 (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor;14 (g) child abuse;15 (h) sexual abuse;16 (i) sexual misconduct15 including the use or possession of pornography, (j) harassment, including but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; (k) racial or gender discrimination; or (l) fiscal malfeasance.

9           See Judicial Council Decision 984

10         The statute of limitations went into effect as law on a prospective basis starting on January 1, 1993.  All alleged offenses that occurred prior to this date are time barred.  See Judicial Council Decisions 691, 704, and 723.

11       The language beginning “including but not limited to . . . “first appeared in the 2004 Book of Discipline, effective January 1, 2005.

12       See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 984, 985, 1185.

13       The language beginning “including but not limited to . . . “first appeared in the 2004 Book of Discipline, effective January 1, 2005.

14       See Judicial Council Decision 702.

15       This offense was first listed as a separate chargeable offense in the 1996 Book of Discipline effective April 27, 1996.  See Judicial Council Decision 691.

16       See Judicial Council Decisions 736, 768.

6        Lexington, North Carolina | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/lexington-north-carolina/

7        “We Are Outsiders!” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

Wise and prophetic words from Diana Butler Bass (posted on Facebook by Elizabeth Brick, 3 May 2022)

Note Posted on Facebook by Paul Chilcote, 4 May 2022

“The World Out There” – A Pentecost Meditation


One of the requirements that I had to meet when completing Drivers Ed in high school was 6 hours of driving.  Some of this was done in a simulator but I still had to get in a car and do some actual driving.  Because of my schedule, I did this driving after school with a Shelby County Deputy Sheriff as my instructor.

Each day, I would meet him at the car, and he would tell me to just start driving.  Now, because my family had just moved to the Memphis area, I did not know a whole lot about the area, so I drove on the roads I knew.

For four days, I left the high school, dropped down to Stage Road and headed east toward the intersection of Stage Road with Austin Peay and Jackson.  When I got to the intersection, I would turn right onto Austin Peay and drive out to the Naval Air Station at Millington and then turn around and drive back home.  It was a straight road with one turn, no stop signs, probably one traffic light, and virtually no traffic. 

So it was that on my last day of driving, as I prepared to make my usual right hand turn onto Austin Peay, the Deputy told me to make a left hand turn onto Jackson.  This was territory into which I had never gone; I had no idea what I might encounter in the ways of stop signs or stop lights or other traffic.  But I made the turn and headed into the unknown territory of Jackson Avenue.  And as we approached the first of two bridges, the Deputy told me to take a right and go under the bridge.  This would allow me to turn around and head for home.

Clearly, what the Deputy was doing was getting me used to traffic and driving in unfamiliar situations. 

One can only imagine what the people gathered at Jerusalem on Pentecost must have thought when they were told to take the Gospel message beyond the constraints of Jerusalem.

Clearly, they knew that there was a world beyond the boundaries of their daily lives.  The list of various nationalities that were there on Pentecost tells us this.

The Roman Empire had built a network of roads to connect the empire.  They had built the roads to allow the rapid transport of military units to maintain the Pax Romana, but these roads would also allow Paul and the other disciples to take the Gospel message from Jerusalem to the other parts of the Empire.

So those gathered knew that there was a world outside Jerusalem but that would not tell them how they would be received when they presented the Good News.

Did they remember the story of Abram and Sarai leaving the Ur valley for an unknown land with only a promise that it would be a good land?  Or did they fear the consequences of leaving home and becoming enslaved like the sons of Jacob who traveled to Egypt?

Tradition tells us that 11 of the 12 disciples (Matthias having been chosen to replace Judas Iscariot) would meet a violent death.  Only John Zebedee, the Beloved Disciple, would die a natural death, though in exile on the island of Patmos.

In addition, we know that there were internal conflicts among Christians about the nature of Christianity.  At first it was an internal dispute that focused on the nature of Christianity, but over the years we would see the original church split into the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches which was later followed by the Protestant Reformation and further splits in that the various denominations we have today.  Internal divisions in the church seem to be a part of our faith tradition but these divisions were never about the mission of the church, but it always seemed to focus on the how and not the why.

The tradition of taking the Gospel message to the people is also very much a part of our Methodist tradition.  It was the Methodist circuit rider who took the message to the people of first the thirteen colonies and then the newly formed states. We see the results of those efforts today.  Many of the United Methodist Churches in the Hudson Valley were once a stop on a circuit. 

Circuit riders had to be young, in good health, and single (since marriage and a family forced preachers to settle in one area and leave the traveling ministry). Unlike their counterparts in other denominations, Methodist circuit riders did not have to have a formal education. Leaders of the new church wanted educated, trained circuit riders, but they wanted even more to spread their ministry to people on the frontier who needed Christian guidance.

Circuit riders rarely served longer than one or two years in a circuit before being appointed to a new circuit. This gave the preachers an opportunity to reuse their sermons and to perfect their delivery. It also kept them from growing too familiar with the local people and wanting to settle down.

Life was not easy for a circuit rider, partly because living conditions on the frontier were harsh. Often, a stormy night was described as so bad that only crows and Methodist preachers were out.

We can only imagine the troubles and turmoil that the early circuit riders went through. Five hundred of the first six hundred and fifty Methodist circuit-riders retired prematurely from the ministry. Nearly one fourth of the first eight hundred ministers who died were under the age of thirty-five. Over one hundred and twenty-five itinerants were between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five when they died: and over half of the eight hundred died before they reached thirty! About two hundred traveling preachers died within the first five years of their entrance into the ministry and nearly two thirds died before they had preached twelve years.

The traveling minister in the Methodist Church was noted for his self-sacrificing spirit. He endured hardships in the ministry which few men of the present age can fathom. Richard Hofstadter, the widely respected American historian, once stated,

“The bulwark and the pride of the early American Methodists were the famous circuit-riding preachers who made up in mobility, flexibility, courage, hard work, and dedication what they might lack in ministerial training or dignity. These itinerants were justly proud of the strenuous sacrifices they made to bring the gospel to the people.”

It was their devotion to God and America that kept them going. It was a demanding life, as one early preacher wrote,

Every day I travel, I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from head to feet, and some days from morning to night I am dripping with water. My horse’s legs are now skinned and rough to his hock joints, and I have rheumatism in all my joints. . . what I have suffered in body and mind my pen is not able to communicate to you.

As the preacher continued, he tells why he suffered as he did,

But this I can tell say, while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire, and I can say with Saint Paul, ‘But none of these things shall move me. Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy. (“Nothing But Crows and Methodist Preachers”)

Enoch George, who later became a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, said that serving the Pamlico Circuit (NC) in 1790 and 1791, he “was chilled by agues [malaria], burned by fevers, and, in sickness or health, beclouded by mosquitoes.”

The lifestyle of the early Methodist traveling preacher perished with the settlement and growth of the nation; however, their dedication remained an inspiration to every generation.

The one thing that ties our circuit riding forbears to the disciples in Jerusalem is/was the presence of the Holy Spirit that empowered them to go out into the world, relying on local travel knowledge as accurate maps did not exist, and not knowing who or what they may encounter.

We no longer have the traditional circuit riders but there is still a need to bring the Gospel message to the people.  And while we may know the territory into which we will take the Message, at times it is just as inhospitable as anything our circuit riding forbearers or the first disciples ever encountered.

If you have been following the news of the UMC, you know that the General Conference scheduled for 2020 was postponed and is not scheduled to meet until next year.  And the primary topic for this General Conference will be whether we as a faith can continue to be known as “United Methodists.”

There are those who call themselves “United Methodists” but whose words, thoughts, deeds, and actions reflect a more fundamentalist and legalistic approach.  They are requesting/demanding that radical changes be made to the nature of Methodism.  These individuals will say that they are reforming the United Methodist Church and returning it to its Wesleyan roots.  But while John Wesley was attempting to reform his church, the Anglican Church, and he never intended to create a new church, these “reformers” are intent on destroying the present United Methodist Church.

As Reverend Paul Chilcote noted in “5 Reasons to Stay in the United Methodist Church, (https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2022/04/15/5-reasons-to-stay-in-the-united-methodist-church-by-paul-chilcote/; see also Why Stay? – Stay UMChttps://www.stayumc.com/about/), their words sound more like something a Baptist would draft, not the words of a United Methodist. 

I will be so bold as to say these individuals are not interested in the Gospel but power.  They want to tell us what to believe and how to believe.  They want to tell us who can preach and who can come into the sanctuary.  And, if you should choose to defy their edicts, they want to take you to an ecclesiastical court and then banish you from the faith.

We know that John Wesley initially favored a faith with a legalistic and structured approach (why do you think we are called Methodists?).  But it was an approach that did not work, and it was only when John Wesley went to the Chapel on Aldersgate Street and accepted the Holy Spirit that the movement that became known as the Methodist Revival began to succeed.

Notwithstanding differences between denominations, the fundamental message of Christianity remains the same.  As Clarence Jordan noted,

“It seems to me that we Christians have an idea here that the world is tremendously in need of. When we’re tottering fearfully on the brink of utter annihilation, looking so desperately for hope from somewhere, walking in deep darkness, looking for one little streak of light, do not we Christians have some light? Can’t we say, ‘Sure, we know the way. It’s the way of love and of peace. We shall not confront the world with guns in our hands and bombs behind our backs. We shall confront the world without fear, with utter helplessness except for the strength of God.” – Clarence Jordan, The God Movement, The Substance of Faith

A few years back it looked like I might have to leave the denomination.  But I made the decision to stay.  In part, it was because I could see no other denomination where I might fit in.  But the decision to stay lie also in what the denomination had done for me.

As a chemist, I know how to answer questions that deal with how things are done; as a Christian, I seek to answer questions about why.  In that regard, I had pastors who taught me, guided me, and helped me find the answers to the questions I was asking. 

Without their teaching and guidance, I may never have understood the nature of God’s call or realize that one day some years later I needed to do more than simply say that I am a Christian and a Methodist. 

Three hundred and fifty years ago, when John Wesley and his friends began what became known as the Methodist Revival, the conditions for a violent revolution in England were present.  It is a matter of the historical record that the Methodist revival, which began after Aldersgate, prevented the type of violent revolution that swept over France at the same time. 

And in today’s world marked by more violence, where wars are waging and poverty, homelessness, and sickness are more and more part of our lives, where people are excluded because of their race or identity, more and more people are asking “why”. 

Where will those seeking answers to their questions find them? 

We are being called.

As Pentecost approaches, we are being called.

We are being called to help people find answers to their questions of why? 

We are being called to answer the question, “Where is God in the world out there?”

We are being called to take the Good News into the world out there. 

We are being called to tell the world out there that there is a better way, a way of love and peace, a way where all succeed, where pain is relieved, where injustice is overcome, where repression is banished to the 11th level of Sheol, never to escape.

We are being called to go outside our comfort zone and into the world out there.

We are being called.

Yes, it was scary when that Deputy Sheriff told me to “turn left at the light” and go into unknown territory.  But I trusted that he knew what he was doing.  He had watched me drive for four days and knew what I could do.

Those gathered in Jerusalem two thousand years ago were told to wait until the Holy Spirit had come and empowered them.

I remember that first summer when a District Superintendent asked to me lead a series of churches for ten weeks.  And while I may not have known it at that time, I have come to know that every time I stepped up to the pulpit, I did not do it alone, for the Holy Spirit was there with me.

And as we go into the world out there, we know that we do not go alone.  We go with our friends, and we go empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The world out there awaits the Good News, so go in peace, and take the Word.


Notes

https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/can-you-imagine-2/

https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-search-for-excellence-in-the-church-today/


Notes on the history of circuit riders –

“Into the Wilderness: Circuit Riders Take Religion to the People”, Jordan Fred, Jr., Spring, 1998 (https://www.ncpedia.org/anchor/wilderness-circuit-riders)

“Methodist circuit-riders in America, 1776 – 1844, William A. Powell, Jr., 1977 (https://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1836&context=masters-theses)

References within

Elmer T. Clark, Album of Methodist History (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1932), p. 107.

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), p. 95.

Methodist Revival and the non-English Revolution

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/evangelical-revival-in-england-11630228.html

https://christianheritagefellowship.com/the-prayer-meeting-that-saved-england/

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/367 disputes this notion

http://www.apricotpie.com/lucy-anne/how-methodist-movement-prevented-british-revolution

https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/revival-and-revolution/

5 Reasons to Stay in The United Methodist Church by Paul Chilcote


This was originally posted by Paul E. Chilcote on Facebook on April 9, 2022. My thanks to Reverend Chilcote for allowing me to post this.

My roots are deep in The United Methodist Church. Like most “preachers’ kids,” I went through a period in which I questioned my inherited faith tradition, but I came through that process with a deeper appreciation and love for the UMC and all it represents. “Ten Reasons Why I’ll Join the Global Methodist Church,” by Jay Therrell, President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Florida Chapter, has recently made a new appearance on Facebook. If you read through that document closely, the portrait of the GMC he paints is congregational in polity (not connectional), creedal in orientation (not oriented around “faith working by love”), and essentially exclusive (not inclusive in vision, despite its “global” title).

I co-chaired the World Methodist Council/Baptist World Alliance Dialogue, and the ten reasons document “feels” like something my Baptist colleagues may have drafted. I do not mean that pejoratively in any way. I love my Baptist brothers and sisters, but the UMC offers a different vision of Christian faith and practice. What concerns me most about this blog is the way in which it diverges sharply, in my humble opinion, from a genuinely Wesleyan vision.

As May 1 looms large for many of us who are United Methodists, here are my five reasons to stay in the UMC.

1. The UMC has a wide, gracious, and loving embrace. The church I think most people yearn for is a community of faith that puts love at the very center of its life and vision. This openness to all people as unique brothers and sisters deeply loved by God characterizes the UMC I know. All God’s children are invited to put their gifts to use in the service of God’s reign of reconciliation.

2. The UMC aspires to be Christ-like in practice. Countless surveys over the past decades demonstrate that the majority of people in the United States view the church as judgmental. Jesus gives us a different model of relating to the world and others. The UMC seeks to cultivate disciples of Jesus who are like him – merciful, compassionate, forgiving.

3. The UMC is shaped by a dynamic view of scripture. The UMC is strongly biblical in its orientation. The Bible is the bedrock upon which the faith of United Methodists is built. But its view of the Bible is not simplistic; rather, like Wesley, it embraces a dynamic conception of scripture as the “living Word.” Antithetical to literalistic views of scripture, the United Methodist view offers a rich, robust, but yes scriptural foundation for life in the triune God.

4. The UMC is deeply concerned about growth in grace. Not so much invested in believing the right things, its primary passion is translating God’s love into action in life. It elevates the importance of practices of piety, like prayer, but also advocates acts of mercy – compassion and justice for all. The UMC offers a holistic spirituality that refuses to separate the spiritual from the concrete realities of life.

5. The UMC is missional in character. The UMC does not live for itself, but for others. It is missional in its design to partner with God in God’s great work of love in the world. Its fundamental orientation is outward, spun out in the life of the world to wage peace, work for justice, and to emulate the “beloved community” God desires for all.

The Days We Remember


As I began this piece, I thought of a piece by the Beatles, “There are places that I remember.”  This is a very appropriate song for someone who has grown up in so many places and met so many people along the way.

But I also see my journey through time and space in terms of dates, days of special importance to me.

We all have a set of dates that we remember.  Birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions are a part of our memory.  They are dates on the calendar that mark the high points (and sometimes low points) of our lives.

I will always remember that December 23, 1950, was the date of my baptism.  I will always remember that on February 14, 1965, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st UMC) of Aurora, Colorado).

And I have the letter dated March 7, 1966, that told me that I was accepted into the High School Honors Program at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).

I cannot forget July 7, 1973, or June 7, 1976, as those are the birthdays of my two daughters (Melanie Mitchell-Wexler and Meara Lee Mitchell).  And I had better not forget April 22, 1943, as that is Ann’s birthday or July 17, 1999, as that is our anniversary.

Despite their importance in my life, I do not remember the date of my high school graduation in 1968, my graduation from Truman in 1971, or my graduation for the University of Missouri in 1975.  I remember that it rained the night of my high school graduation, so our after-graduation celebration was somewhat muted.  I remember that my graduation from Missouri was on a Saturday afternoon in August and how there had been finals that morning and there were perhaps a few people in attendance who really hadn’t graduated.  I suspect that I do not remember those dates because I was expected to graduate.

I would like to say I remember receiving my doctorate from Iowa but the administration of the university where I worked wouldn’t let me travel to Iowa City, so there is no ceremony to remember.

June 6th has a double meaning for me.  If the notes I have concerning my grandfather’s military career are correct, he was going to be promoted to brigadier general and would have commanded a unit that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944.  But a recurring ulcer forced him to retire in 1943 and I would get a chance that many did not to know him, if but for a few years.

Senator Robert Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet on June 6, 1968.  I was in school at Truman, so the impact of his death was not as direct or powerful as what had transpired two months earlier on April 4, 1968.

On that Thursday, four days before the beginning of Holy Week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.  His assassination had perhaps a bit more of an impact on me as I was living in Memphis at the time.

Slightly over one year later, I would be standing next to the leadership of the Association of Black Collegians during a sit-in of the administration building at Truman (an act that did not please my parents).  I had experienced the effects of segregation while growing up in Alabama and Tennessee, so I could not stand by when some of my college friends were treated in the same manner (see Side by Side).

It was also at that time that I began to gain a better understanding of what it meant to be a Christian (see “The Changing of Seasons”).

In a few days (depending on when you read this), we will begin Holy Week (Palm Sunday is April 10th and Easter Sunday is April 17th).

These dates are on our calendar because someone two thousand years ago wanted us to remember what happened.

They wanted us to remember the joy and celebration that occurred when Jesus entered the city on the day that we now call Palm Sunday. 

They wanted us to remember the anger that Jesus expressed when he threw the money changers out of the temple on Tuesday of that week.

They wanted us to remember the bewilderment they felt when they heard Jesus speak of His broken body and shed blood during their last meal together.

They really didn’t want to remember how the crowds that cheered on Sunday jeered on Friday or the sadness they felt as they saw Jesus crucified.

They really didn’t want to remember watching Jesus die on the Cross or the fear they felt because they thought that the political and religious authorities would now be looking for them.

And they really did not want to remember the feeling of hopelessness that engulfed them on Saturday as Jesus lay in the tomb and it appeared that all they had worked for the past three years seemed to be for naught.

But most important of all, they wanted us to remember the joy and excitement that came with hearing that Jesus had risen from the dead that Easter Sunday.  And they wrote this all down so that those who were not there then and people for years to follow would know what had taken place those three years in the Galilee.

They wanted us to know about the people who were healed, of the people brought back to society after being cast aside, of bringing hope and a promise to those who were lost and forgotten.

Each generation has taken the words written down some two thousand years ago and added to the story.  What will we be adding?

Will the people of the church remember what Jesus said that day in Nazareth when he began his ministry?

“The Lord’s spirit is on me;

He has ordained me to break the good news to the poor people.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the oppressed,

And sight for the blind.

To help those who have been grievously insulted to find dignity;

To proclaim the Lord’s new era.”

(Luke 4: 18 – 19, The Cotton Patch Gospels)

Will the people of the church remember that Jesus came, not to enforce the law, but to bring life to the law?  Will they remember that what Jesus offered gave them a path to God that the religious authorities denied them?

Will the people remember the church as being people-centered or for maintaining the status quo?

Today, some two thousand years later, I am not sure that people remember that Jesus turned no one away, that he felt compassion for all, and that he forgave those who persecuted Him.  There are many who call themselves Christian, but they do not fear the religious and political authorities for they have sought to become those individuals.  Their only desire is to persecute those who do not believe as they do or might question the tenets of faith that they hold dear.

Today, I am not sure what my classmates remember about that April day in 1968.  From comments that I have seen from some of them on Facebook, the death of Dr. King had no effect on their lives.  All the work that was done to achieve equality for all is slowly being taken apart by those who believe there is no equality among people, and they are superior.

And yet the equality the Civil Rights movement sought, and for which many died, has its very roots in the equality that Jesus sought.

Will the church be remembered for preaching that the Gospel message was for all the people and or for preaching a message of exclusion and hatred?

Will the people of the United Methodist Church remember that it was the early Methodists who started the first schools for children, who created credit unions to help the working class, provided free health care clinics to people who could not afford health care, or that they fed the hungry and visited the prisoners in jail?

Will the church be remembered for welcoming immigrants because we were once immigrants, or will it shun the immigrants because it does not want to remember?  And will people remember that those who laid the foundation of our faith were once immigrants as well?

Will the church of today be remembered as the church that fostered scientific inquiry or the church that stifled it?  Will the church be remembered for caring for God’s creation or will be it remembered for allowing it to be destroyed through war and neglect?

We have spent the last forty days preparing for this time. 

We stood at that altar at one point in our life and gave our lives to Christ.  Are we disciples of Christ or merely admirers of His work?

Are we willing to stand before the world and say, “I am a Christian!  I may not want to do the work before me, I may not want to feed the hungry; I may not want to find shelter for the homeless or clothes for the needy; I am in no position to give comfort or support for those in pain and I certainly do not want to fight oppression and persecution.  But that is what I am called to do and that is what I shall do.

On the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, how will you be remembered?


Notes:

Dreams of the Present, Visions of the Future | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2008/05/02/dreams-of-the-present-visions-of-the-future/

“This Is the Place” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/this-is-the-place-2/

Where Were You On April 4, 1968? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/where-were-you-on-april-4-1968/

“Let Us Finish What We Started” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/let-us-finish-what-we-started/

Why Are We Observing Lent Again


These are my thoughts for this year’s season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is March 2nd this year.  Why are we observing Lent this year?  Are we doing so because we really haven’t observed it these past two years? 

If nothing else, it is nice to be back to the mindset of a “normal” season of Lent.  Then again, because the timing of Lent is based on when Easter occurs, no Lenten season is the same as the ones before it. So, the question really should be “why do we observe Lent every year?”

Perhaps this year we can really look at what Lent means for each of us.  I am afraid that for too many people Lent is about sacrifice.  These individuals will publicly announce, sometimes with great fanfare and showmanship, that they are giving something up for Lent.  But such acts are the acts of the religious elite that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called out.  For as soon as Lent turns to the Easter season, these individuals will return to their consumption or usage of whatever it was they sacrificed for Lent.

Lent is more than the sacrifice of a favorite food or activity; it is about repentance and preparation.

We are far from a perfect people, but we are also a people who, through Christ, seek perfection.  Repentance is, thus, part of this process.  We must repent of our old ways, casting off that which has kept us from reaching our goals.  But we must also have some sense of where we want to go.  And that requires study and preparation.

If our faith is to live, it must be nurtured.  Otherwise, it will die.  And while our physical body may live on, what good is that if our soul has died?

I am not sure if I have ever met someone whose soul has died so I can only imagine what sort of life that person must have.  But I have met many whose intellectual life has died.  These individuals have reached the goals they set for themselves professionally and, having reached those goals, stopped learning.  Such individuals are quite literally out of touch with today’s society.  I have also met individuals who reached the pinnacle in their profession, but they continue to learn, striving to reach higher goals.

The difference, perhaps, is that those who continue to seek understanding also understand that their profession continues to change and to be alive in their profession, they must continue the process themselves.

I have been involved in chemical education for some 57 years, first as a high school student, then as a college student, and then as a teacher in high school and an instructor/assistant professor college.  Even today, as a chemistry tutor, I continue to learn more about this subject that has been my vocation for this so many years (recently, the American Chemical Society announced an online review course to see chemistry with modern examples [Facebook post – 2/9/22]).

Over these years I have observed that chemistry is based on a certain set of fundamentals.  In fact, from the day in 1661 when Robert Boyle published the “Sceptical Chymist”, we have known that there is a set of fundamentals on which chemistry (and all sciences) are based.  [It should also be noted that Boyle was as well known for writings on theology as he was for his scientific endeavors.]  But over the years, our understanding of those fundamentals has changed.

The idea of the atom as the smallest part of matter has been a fundamental part of chemistry since approximately 450 BCE.  But our understanding of what makes up the atom and how the atom interacts has changed.

Even though the neutron was discovered in 1932, there is no mention of it in either of my father’s high school textbooks, both published in 1935. My father had, to the best of my knowledge, a rudimentary knowledge of atomic theory but his ideas were out-of-date by the time I took high school chemistry in 1966.

The idea of an element as the simplest form of matter is one such fundamental. 

Mendeleev used the idea of chemical families, elements with similar chemical properties, to arrange the elements on the first periodic table.  The Noble Gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon) were the last family added to Mendeleev’s table because of the lack of observable chemical properties.

In my 1966 high school textbook was the comment that these elements did not form compounds.  Yet, in 1962, Neil Bartlett had synthesized the first Noble gas compounds.  Do I rely on the material in the text, or do I look at the research in the field?

The discovery of the neutron would lead to two important areas of discovery.  First, it created the path that allowed chemists to create elements heavier than uranium.

Over the years, the number of elements that we know has changed.  There were 63 elements on the first organized periodic table Dimitri Mendeleev created in 1869.  When my father took high school chemistry in 1938, there were 88 elements; when I took chemistry in 1966, the number had risen to 103 and there are now 118 identified elements. 

The work of individuals seeking to create new elements led to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 (the year my father graduated from high school).  And this discovery would lead to the development of atomic and nuclear weapons.

I think there is a corollary to our understanding of our faith.  We learned the fundamentals of our faith in our membership class many years ago.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 12,

If our understanding of our faith has not grown as we have grown, then our faith is no longer viable and in danger of dying.  While the fundamentals of our faith have not changed, our understanding has (or should have).  And that means, as we enter in the Season of Lent and a time of repentance and preparation, we must look to what our faith means to us today.

” When I was a child, I was talking like a child, thinking like a child, acting like a child, but when I became an adult, I outgrew my childish ways.”

Why are we observing Lent this year?  Because in our striving to be more perfect, more like Christ, we must set aside time to cast aside that which has held us back and seek to find ways to move us to our goal.


Notes:

A New Life for the Church and in the Church

Finding the Truth

A Brief History of Atomic Theory

Thoughts on the nature of teaching science in the 21st Century

Amazing Grace as A Song of Freedom


This was first published in the Fishkill UMC July 2020 Newsletter.

There are two stories about the hymn “Amazing Grace”.  One of the stories is about the hymn itself.  I wrote about how people learned to sing this hymn (and other hymns) using shape notes back in the April 2020 newsletter.

But there is the story about the author of the words of the hymn, John Newton.

Do you remember the first time you ever heard the story about John Newton?  We often think that the story of the hymn is the story of the author but that is not the case.

I believe that I heard the story when I went to an Arlo Guthrie concert when I was in graduate school at the University of Memphis.  But the story that Arlo told that night was slightly off.  Newton did embrace Christianity on the night of March 10, 1748 during a rather intense storm at sea.  He had previously denounced Christianity, but something drove him to begin studying it and on the night in 1748, he called out to God to save him.

But he did not turn the ship around and free the slaves, as some have said.  He would ultimately quit the slave trade and become a priest in the Anglican Church in 1764.  (The Methodist connection here is that John Wesley encouraged him to enter the ministry.)

After becoming a priest in the church, he joined the anti-slavery movement in Britain, working with William Wilberforce to abolish slavery.  History will note that the information that Newton provided Wilberforce allowed other important and influential individuals to realize the horrors of the slave trade.

John Newton wrote the words for this hymn in 1772 as a poem for his church’s prayer service. The central idea for this hymn is the grace of God.

While the United Methodist Hymnal gives 1 Chronicles 17:16–17 as the basis for the hymn, it is probably better based on Ephesian 2: 4 – 9.  In Chronicles, the prophet Nathan has pointed out how he had failed in the eyes of God, but that God has plans for him.  David recognizes that it is only by the Grace of God that he will continue.

For John Newton, it was God’s grace that saved him from the life that he was leading.  In selecting the passage from Chronicles as the basis for his poem, Newton showed that God’s grace allowed David to move forward with his life.

So how is this a song of freedom? 

In 1990 Bill Moyers presented a documentary about “Amazing Grace” for PBS (there is a copy of this on YouTube if you are interested (https://youtu.be/wKH1lkUjAgA ;it is an old copy and has some flaws from the recording, but it is worth watching).

Moyers spent some time talking with people about how they sang the hymn, but he also spent time with several individuals including Judy Collins and Johnny Cash about what it meant to them to sing it. 

Judy Collins told Bill,

For me, it was always the song that gave me an inner experience of another dimension. When I sing this song with a group of people, I always feel that there’s a mystical territory between the singer and the audience. It’s not just me singing, it’s something else that’s singing. And it’s all of those people and all of their spirits, so that somewhere or other, there is some experience going on which gives something to them and gives something to me that’s more than the sum of any of us.

I always think that the experience of bliss, of pleasure, of joy, of singing is something that you experience on different level not a material level. And ‘Amazing Grace’ has always locked into that center for me. It kind of hits me on the same place every time.

She would add:

JUDY COLLINS:

I had heard that the song was written by a man who had had a wretched life and been a slave trader. What an expression of, yes, of gratitude and of joy to know that there was the other side to that, which can only be given by such a profound and I would call spiritual experience. I mean, “Amazing Grace”-I mean, it really says, “This choice is wretched and this other one is worlds apart, indescribable.”

BILL MOYERS:

Did you ever feel like a wretch?

JUDY COLLINS:

Oh, yes, enough so that it always reminds me that there have been those very, very dark times in my own life, some of which, during some of which, this song, I think, really carried me through. “Amazing Grace” is almost like a talisman.

In his interview with Johnny Cash, Johnny indicated that when he sang the hymn, he felt a sense of freedom from the things that had imprisoned him.  It was an idea that was reflected by the comments of others in the video.

BILL MOYERS:

We all do have our prisons, don’t we?

JOHNNY CASH:

Yeah, we do. We can get ourselves into a little prison of, you know, drugs, alcohol, a relationship or a habit or a situation, you know, that we weave ourselves into that can be like a prison, with bars that you can’t break out of.

Cash would say later in the interview:

When I sing that song, I could be in a dungeon, or I could have chains all over me, but I would be free as a breeze. It’s a song that makes a difference. There are some songs that make a difference in your life, and that song makes a difference.

I would think that many others have a sense of God’s grace in their lives when they sing this hymn.  Even in settings where one might not expect it, the celebration for Nelson Mandela a few years ago, for example, people joined with Jessye Norman to sing this hymn.  It says something of its power and the power of God’s grace that a group of people, expecting a rock concert, would join in singing this hymn.

So “Amazing Grace” is a song of freedom, the freedom given to each one of us through God’s grace, freely given and freely accepted.

———————————————————————————

http://anointedlinks.com/amazing_grace.html

https://billmoyers.com/content/amazing-grace-bill-moyers/

———————————————————————————

Note posted on Facebook by Sarah Tillery Caldwell on 23 December 2018 about the nature of the verses of “Amazing Grace” in reply to my comment that we sang carols to tell the story of Christmas, she replied,

All our best hymns are theologically based. Case in point, the five original verses of Amazing Grace describe John Wesley’s teaching on the stages of grace.

Two Questions


Notes on Evolution Weekend

This will be my contribution for the 2022 Evolution Weekend (11-13 February 2022).

Evolution Weekend is a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday and is sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project (https://www.theclergyletterproject.org/).  I have been a participant in the project since 2006.

As stated on its website, “The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.”

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. The ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

The theme for the 2022 Weekend is “The Pandemic, Climate Change and Evolution:  How Religion and Science, Working Together, Can Advance Our Understanding.”

Notes on Boy Scout Sunday

The 2nd Sunday in February is also Boy Scout Sunday and marks the anniversary in 1965 of my becoming a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the United Methodist Church).  That year, I would complete my studies for the “God and Country Award.”  In addition to being my contribution to the Clergy Letter Project, this also represents my continuance of the journey with Christ that I began that Sunday in 1965.

Lectionary Readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), 13 February 2022

Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6: 17 – 26

Two Questions

Two Questions, Part 1

We are, by nature, curious creatures.  We continually search for a better understanding of who we are, the world on which we live, and the universe through which we travel.  We look around and wonder “why?”  And then we ask “how?”

For many years, we had one answer to both questions.  But the more we searched for the answers to these questions, the more we discovered that when we understood “why”, we did not know “how”.  And we found that knowing “how” could not tell us “why”.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) believed that there were three levels of living in the world: The physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual. He called them the realms of the body, mind, and heart.

We began calling the process of asking “how” science and the process of finding out “why” faith and/or religion. 

We discovered that science and faith were open systems.  It seemed as if the more we discovered, the more there was to discover.

At first, we tried to use the one to explain the other, but this didn’t always seem to work.  It began to seem as if the answer for each question conflicted with each other.  But these conflicts were not conflicts of knowledge or understanding what knowledge was true and what knowledge was not.  Rather, this was a conflict of power, with each side declaring that their understanding was true and the other heretical or false.

But, as expressed in the Old Testament reading for this Sunday (Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10), we need both science and faith to completely understand the world around us.  Note that in verse 10, the author of Jeremiah wrote “I, God, search the heart and examine the mind.

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

In a 1959 sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

“There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists,” he said. “But not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different, and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”

“A tough mind and a tender heart”

Dr. King would add,

“Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism,” he said. “Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr. On Science And Religion (forbes.com)

Ian Barbour, 1999 Templeton Prize winner, suggested that the relationship between science and religion was one of four possibilities:

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

Barbour would later write,

“This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection”

Obituary of Ian Barbour, New York Times, January 13, 2014

We must realize that science and faith use language in different ways.  The language of faith and its use of images, parables, and paradoxes is more that of poetry than of science.  The language of faith should be seen as complimentary to the language of science (from Nobel-Winning Physicist Niels Bohr on Subjective vs. Objective Reality and the Uses of Religion in a Secular World – The Marginalian).

In his sermon entitled “Keep Moving From This Mountain,” King embraced this idea even further.

“Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” he said. “And the great challenge is to move out of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and higher mountain which recognizes somehow that we must live by and toward the basic ends of life. We must move on to that mountain which says in substance, ‘What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world of means — airplanes, televisions, electric lights — and lose the end: the soul?'”

That the views of science and faith ae complimentary views of the world should return us to the beginning when Adam was tasked with the care of God’s creation.

The name “Adam” has several meanings; it is the name of one individual but within the context of Genesis, it meant to represent the whole of humankind, in other words, our ancestors.

Two Questions, Part 2

What is God’s creation?  Is it just this world on which we are temporary inhabitants?  Or is it how we relate to those with whom we share this space?

Today, in 2022, we are in the 2nd year of a pandemic, we are seeing the effects of climate change, and battles in the classroom over the teaching of climate change and evolution.  We have discovered that these are not merely academic topics but ones that affect all layers of society.

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that…”

Gus Speth, US Advisor on climate change and Yale professor (“Shared Planet: Religion and Nature, BBC Radio 4 (1 October 2013) https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b03bqws7)

How do we respond?  My first response, as a former United Methodist lay speaker/pastor, is to say that we must radically reorient our priorities.  For too long, we, as nations, societies, and as humans, have spent more on destruction than construction.  We have taken Adam’s task to take care of God’s creation to mean that we could do whatever we wanted.  It does no good to speak of the future if we are dedicated to the destruction of the present.

As a chemist and science educator, I would argue that we must have education systems in place that allow the development of new ideas.  This will also be radical departure from the present system that teaches that all the problems have been solved and the answers are in the back of the book.  We must realize that book of answers hasn’t been written yet.

In the end, the world which we see with two views is still one world.

The poet T. S. Elliott wrote,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets (Gardners Books; Main edition, April 30, 2001) Originally published 1943.”

Two Questions, Part 3

When I began this manuscript, the two questions were “how?” and “why?”.  Now, at the completion of this manuscript the two questions must be (with respects to Rabbi Hillel “if not now, when?” and “if not me, who?”,