“Why Do You Believe? The Challenge For Faith Today”

Thoughts for April 12, 2015, the 2nd Sunday of Easter (A)

I realized during the services on Sunday, April 12th, that I was subconsciously channeling the Gospel reading from John (where Thomas questions the Resurrection but only because he had not seen the evidence) in this piece. Funny how things work out.

This isn’t about what you believe, it is about why you believe. Even atheists must have some sort of belief system for even saying that you do not believe creates a belief system. (Always remember that no page is ever completely blank and the subset of no numbers contains something.) So why do you believe?

I believe in God because I see His presence in the many faiths and cultures which attribute creation to a Supreme Being. God may have many names but only one identity. I believe in God because, as Dr. Francis Collins noted in a recent interview, I see His existence in the beauty of the world around us and in the vastness and intricacies of the universe in which we reside.

And there are those questions which come from what we know. We know that, based on the evidence we have today, the creation of the universe occurred some 13 billion years ago.

This means two things; first, how did we arrive at that particular length of time? This answer, along with other answers are derived from the physical evidence left behind. This means that our lives require an understanding of science.

But even in knowing that the universe began 13 billion years ago, we still don’t know why there was a creation or what caused it . And no matter whether the creation was an accident, a fortuitous event, a coincidence, or even if the universe has always been hear, we have to ask how it all happened. And, for me, that implies the Hand of God.

Now, it should be noted that own thoughts on this matter have developed over the years and are a by-product of both my secular and sectarian education. But it should also be noted that this self-study seems to run counter to current societal beliefs that say we should let others decide for us what it is that we are to believe and that we don’t need to seek further answers to such questions.

And there are those, on both sides of the spectrum, who will tell you what to believe. And they will tell you that there are no alternatives.

Such approach, of a fixed and inflexible answer, does not allow for creativity and while it may provide the answers for questions that may have already been asked, they do little to find answers to questions that haven’t been asked. And there are gaps in the knowledge such fixed answers provide.

The answers to such questions, the ones to fill the gaps or solve new problems, can only come from each individual. One can offer suggestions as to what the answers might be but it is still each person’s responsibility to seek the answers.

Personally, I think that leaves in you in the greatest position possible because now you have the opportunity to explore and determine the outcome for your life. But where do you go to find your answers, what questions do you ask, and ultimately how do you seek the truth?

The good news is that we can do this but we have to step back for a moment and think about how we learn. Right now, our learning process is more memorization than anything else. There is a place for memorization in the education process but simply memorizing things doesn’t lead to creativity and analysis; it only provides the basis for doing that.

As I have studied the Book of Revelation and considered what it might mean, I often envisioned what it might have been like were John the Seer, the author, to live in today’s society and offer the vision the same vision he provided in his Book of Revelation. I think that we would most likely label him crazy and/or weird and possibly wonder what type of drugs he might have been taking.

But if we had studied or understood what was taking place at the time he was writing this interesting closing volume of the Bible, we would arrive at a different conclusion from that of those late 19th and early 20th century fundamentalist who see it as the prophecy of doom for today’s society.

When Jesus gave what some call the Great Commission, he gave those who heard His words the task of making those they would encounter disciples. But disciples are not simply followers of the Teacher, they are students as well. And students are taught what to believe, not told what to believe.

Each book of the New Testament, from the four Gospels through the letters of Paul to the Seer’s Revelation, was written for the people of their time, to tell them what took place those three years in the Galilee. But it wasn’t written as a history but a telling of the story, so that others would also come to know what happened.

The authors of the Gospels wrote the Gospels in such a way to make sure that we understood that things changed when Jesus walked the roads of the Galilee and a group of people followed and listened and then carried on that same mission.

So I believe in part because I was taught and because I was given the freedom to seek more information about Christ. When we accept Christ as our personal savior, when we begin to believe as so many before of us have done, then we accept the challenge, to teach others what Christ taught us.

I believe, not because I have seen the wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side but because I have been allowed to seek Christ and I have found Him.

“The Meaning Of This Day”

Today is April 4th. It is that day between Good Friday and Easter. Some call it “Black Saturday”, others don’t call it anything at all. I have never understood why, from at least a liturgical standpoint, we don’t do anything on this day. I wrote a piece entitled “The Missing Day” a few years ago that tried to put into words what I thought took place that day (I have since tried to turn it into a play and if you are interested, let me know).

But the significance of this day is not just in its place on the liturgical calendar. Next year, because of the uniqueness of the Easter calendar, this missing day will March 26. It will still be the day between Good Friday and Easter but it will not have the same significance as today, April 4th, might have to some, myself included.

On this day in 1969 I would have been either on my way from Kirksville, Missouri, to Memphis, Tennessee, or already in Memphis for Easter/spring break. I would have in my possession two books, Letters of a C. O. from Prison (Timothy W. L. Zimmer, The Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1969) and Faith In A Secular Age (Colin Williams, First Harper ChapelBook, Harper & Row, 1966).

These books were given to me by Reverend Marvin Fortel, my pastor at the 1st United Methodist Church of Kirksville, after our meeting and communion the day before I left for Memphis. I have read and used the Faith book so much that is has fallen apart and is held together by a strong paper clip. Reverend Fortel gave these books to me to help me understand some questions I had about the role of faith in society and what path I might take. ((I first published my account of this conversation and what happened on that spring break trip home in That First Baptism”; the details of the conversation itself were first published in Our Father’s House”.)

But the meaning of this day goes back one more year, to April 4, 1968, when I was a senior at Bartlett High School in Memphis, Tennessee. It was on this day that Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot, shot for speaking out for the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis and for speaking out for equality, both racial and economic. As I have written elsewhere, I have no doubt that Dr. King would have also spoken out for gender equality as well. (My thoughts on this day are posted on “Where Were You On April 4, 1968?” and “On This Day”).

The meaning of this day in 2015 is perhaps an understanding that we haven’t moved towards the goals that were so clearly envisioned that spring in 1968, both in what took place in Memphis, and on the political trails with Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Sadly, the political vision that Robert Kennedy offered this country that spring will also be cut down by an assassin’s bullet some two months after Dr. King was assassinated.

We live in a society where the rich demand favors and politicians are so quick to give. We live in a society where many people think that the rich will share the wealth with them so that they too can be rich. We have accepted as economic truth that the wealth of the view will somehow trickle down to the masses but we fail to see the flow of money only goes one way and that is to the rich and not the poor.

We live in a society where you are not allowed to be who you are and often times assumed to be less than others because of the color of your skin or the nature of your relationships with others. We are quickly finding out that bigotry, racism, and inequality are the norms of society and not the outliers.

We live in a society where many people see religion and faith as either superstitious or antiquated thinking and others do everything in their power to ensure that view remains. I am not sure where we are going when faith and what one believes does more to harm than it does for good.

In 1968, we were just beginning to understand the role humans played in the care and upkeep of the environment. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River would once again catch fire and while as damaging as an earlier fire in 1952 (it turns out that the Cuyahoga River has had a history of catching on fire, dating back to 1868), would help us to understand, what it was that we were doing to the environment.

And yet today, there are those who would refute the evidence that shows what mankind is doing to its home planet, for to accept the evidence would mean a change in how we live.

As 1968 ended and 1969 began, we were on the verge of walking on the moon. There were those who envisioned the possibilities of moving beyond the moon and to the planets and perhaps the stars. But we stopped going to the moon and the vision of traveling to the stars is often only seen on television and in the movies.

We seem unwilling to create schools that produce thinkers and visionaries because such processes open the eyes of the youth to the truths of society. Education was once the means by which we could move forward; I am not sure what it has become today.

How long can we continue to live in a world where ignorance and greed dominate our thinking and, in the end, destroy not only mankind but the world on which we live?

What is the meaning of this day in 2015? For some, this day is the beginning of Passover and marks the beginning of the path to freedom. For some, myself included, this day is the day before Christ’s Resurrection and the triumph over sin and death. It too is the beginning of the path to freedom.

I hope that you will pause this day and begin to think about how it is that you can work for freedom and justice. This is not a day to keep the past as the present but to work so that the future can be reached.

“How Will I Know?”

Laws have been passed that say that I don’t have to serve someone in my place of business if in doing so it goes against my religious beliefs.

But how will I know if that person or persons is doing something that goes against my religious beliefs? Will I now have to ask everyone who comes to my place of business if their activities in the past or present or even in the future will somehow go against what I believe?

I know that Jesus often told those He met during the course of His ministry to go and sin no more but I don’t recall Him ever asking anyone what it was that caused them to be a sinner. I don’t recall Him questioning the individual who hung next to Him on Golgotha as to the reason why he and the other individual were hanging there with Him. All He did was forgive him and allow him to enter into Heaven.

In fact, the only ones who seemed upset when Jesus even so much as talked to the sinners of the community were the religious and political leaders.

So how will I know who to serve and who not to serve? Wouldn’t it just be better if I did as my Lord and Savior did and treat everyone the same, with equal love and concern for the well-being, even if they do not return the love?

The Heresy of Religious Freedom


This is worth reading. My first thought was that it echoed, in a slightly different manner something I said in my own piece from back in 2009, “When are we going to learn?” – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/when-are-we-going-to-learn-2/

Originally posted on The Unlikely Evangelist:

It is getting much harder to call myself a Christian.

This isn’t because I have lost any faith in the saving and redeeming power of Jesus. Far from it: my commitment to follow the Way is as strong as it has ever been, stronger even. It isn’t because I have been sinning in any spectacular way: my sins are what they have always been, significant only in their persistence, rather than their magnitude.

No, it is harder to call myself a Christian because that title has become toxic to so many people, both inside and outside of the church. While I would love to loudly proclaim myself as a Follower of Jesus, that proclamation now has to come with caveats to avoid hurting entire groups of people.

“I am a Follower of Jesus, but I don’t hate gay people.

“I am a Follower of Jesus, but I don’t hate…

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“Revisiting Science Literacy”

For me, science literacy or rather scientific literacy, expresses the idea of understanding science in a way that helps to understand the problems of science, not necessarily to be a scientist. In one sense, being scientifically literate offers one the ability to think independently, critically, and creatively.

One of the first science education papers I presented, way back in 1986, was entitled “In Pursuit of Learning: The Rediscovery of Scientific Literacy.” This was not an argument for becoming a scientist but, rather, for understanding how science is a part of our lives and how to use the processes of science as a means to problem solving in all areas of life.

I would make the argument in 1987 that how one views the role of science is especially critical if one is to be successful in today’s increasingly technological society. In 1994 Carl Sagan wrote,

We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That is a clear prescription for disaster.” (Carl Sagan, http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/06/whatisscience/)

But it would appear today, with the debates over climate change and the teaching of evolution, that the idea that we need to be a scientifically literate society has somehow gotten lost in the discussion. These leads me to ask two questions:

  1. How did we get to this point in time?
  2. What do we have to do to change our course of action?

How did we get to this point in time?

When I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I looked at the goals of the chemistry curriculum projects developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The various curriculum projects in biology (BSCS), chemistry, physics, and earth science, were developed in the early 1960s as a response to a perceived need for an increased awareness of science and mathematics following the 1957 launch of Sputnik I by the then Soviet Union. The focus of these programs was experimentation and development of thinking skills (see Liberal Arts and Science Education In The 21st Century). It should be noted that the central focus for the three versions of the BSCS curriculum would be evolution and its role in the development of biology.

Referring specifically to the chemistry programs, the overall goal was to help

“… the student to acquire a knowledge of chemistry, not merely some knowledge about it.” (Pimentel, G. C. and Ridgeway, D. W., 1972, “CHEM Study: Knowledge of Chemistry”; Pimentel, G. C. and Ridgeway, D. W. – Science Activities.

Basolo and Parry also presented a discussion of the development of the CHEM Study program in “An Approach to Teaching Systematic Inorganic Reaction Chemistry in Beginning Chemistry Courses”, Journal of Chemical Education, 57)

Students would engage “in the pattern of scientific activity – experimental collection of data, assessment and organization of facts, deduction of unifying principles, and application of these principles in developing expectations (making predictions).

Science teaching in general would improve because “real” teaching would replace authoritarian pedagogy, true chemical content would replace descriptive chemistry facts, study would replace memorization of unrelated facts, and students would be evaluated on their “true learning” instead of simply how much information they would “regurgitate” (quotes by authors) during exams. As a result of these programs, students would be better prepared for college science courses. (G. A. Ramsey, A Review of the Research and Literature on the Chemical Education Materials Study Project, Research Review Series – Science Paper 4 (Ohio State University ED 037592), 1970, p 2. and Osborn, G, 1969, “Influence of the Chemical Bond Approach and the Chemical Education Materials Study on the New York Regents Examination in High School Chemistry”, School Science and Mathematics, 69, p 53)

But each of these curriculum projects were based on students being involved in active experimentation and the development of knowledge through experimentation.

The problem with this approach, at least from an administrative viewpoint, is that it is an expensive approach. Experiments require equipment and supplies, items on a budget that cannot be amortized over a period of years. This was not necessarily a problem at first because there was plenty of money available through federal grants to buy the necessary equipment and supplies but as other issues arose (such as the Viet Nam war), this money was some of the first money to be cut from the overall federal budget and it was never replaced by state or local funds.

So as the supplies ran out and the equipment wore out, the teaching of science became dominated by the information in the textbook (textbooks have a long shelf-life so they are favored by school accountants). And without experiments to show how information was gathered and theories developed, scientific theories slowly became scientific facts or at least the correct answer on standardized examinations.

No longer were students asked to critically analyze the information before them; rather, all they had to do is know which facts fit which holes and respond accordingly. And in today’s environment, where scores on standardized tests are used to measure both student success and teacher proficiency (neither of which are the purpose of such exams), we don’t know what a scientific theory is or what it means.

We no longer have the ability to analyze the information before us. And we rely on many individuals, some qualified, others not qualified, to tell us what the information means or doesn’t mean.


Literacy can mean many things but the most important thing that it means is that we have the ability to understand the information before us. And an inability to understand is probably the greatest challenge we face today.

This is when science intersects with society. Let’s face it, there is something going on with our climate and our environment that is not right. There is data that suggests changes are taking place in our climate that will soon be irreversible; yet we continue to hear from individuals in position of power and other quasi-experts that there are no changes and that we should keep continuing doing what we have always been doing.

Being scientifically literate does not necessarily mean that one is a chemist, a biologist, a geologist, an astronomer, a physicist, or anyone of a myriad of possibilities in the sciences; it means that one has the ability to see the data and analyze the data and understand what is happening. The scientific process is more of a thinking process and can be the basis for all that we do, no matter the area.

We need critical thinking at all levels, and an ability to question any and every “trend” be it social, scientific or political. It does our society a tremendous disservice if our government buys into one line of thinking, because literally, they will have bought one line of research.

A truly open society will have an open discussion, and an open marketplace, regarding finding out what’s wrong, and how to fix it. Right now, it seems that we are unwilling to have such a conversation or discussion.

Somewhere in the process, our educational system has regressed backwards into the 19th century, with openness and creativity being sacrificed for the goal of rigid right and wrong testing. There are great educational ideas being offered, but few are listening, and fewer are interpreting or implementing with sensitivity to true liberal education. By liberal I mean, wide ranging, open-ended, possessing or manifesting a free and generous heart. A broad and enlightened approach to thinking is the foundation of a truly liberal education.

We have been engaged in a number of wars over the past few years that are, perhaps only indirectly but nonetheless, tied to the world’s supply of oil. I realize that the reasons behind nations going to war are perhaps a bit more complex but it seems rather limited to think that the only way to world safety is through military power.

Clearly, we cannot afford to have ideological dictators in possession of nuclear weapons but how do we solve that problem? There are those who will say that only the threat of military action or possibly the imposition of such action are the only way to solve this problem. But that is an answer locked into the old way of thinking.

It is clear that more liberally open discussions about the nature of evil are a step to the ultimate solution, the law of love. But the sin of religious rigidity has made that discussion extremely difficult.

Why do we constantly seek other sources of fossil fuels instead of seeking alternative sources of energy? How long can we ignore the evidence of the destruction of water supplies and the environment in general that comes with the search for fossil fuels?

What are we doing in the world to remove the causes of war? What are we doing to remove the poverty and the oppression that feed the fires of violence and encourage war. What are we as a total society doing in places to help the Sudanese and other nationalities affected by war and violence? Except as people of faith, one at a time, we are doing very little.

As I commend those who freely offer of themselves, I am reminded of the conversation attributed between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau but which may not have actually occurred. Emerson is supposed to have visited Thoreau when he was in jail and asked him, “Henry, why are you in jail?” Thoreau’s response was to the point, “Waldo, why are you out of jail?” No matter whether this actually took place or not, we are one side of this question or the other. We are at a point where we must take positive action, seeking solutions that transcend the normal responses, responses that seem to have failed us too many times.

What do we have to do to change our course of action?

First, we have to realize that there is no quick fix to this problem. And that will make it very difficult to actually change things. We have fallen into the notion that we can quickly solve any problem, no matter the difficulty, and problems that can’t be fixed immediately can’t be fixed at all. Our thirty-second sound bite has come back to bite us hard!

We need to reorder our priorities and quit spending money on the destruction of the planet (through war and neglect) and begin spending money on the development of the planet and the people who inhabit it. Military power and its ability to destroy is not the way to create a new world. But investing in people seems to me to be the most logical way of insuring that we have a future. What is really needed are more creative approaches to all of it. I believe that education requires this paradigm shift, toward creative, executive and critical thinking.

We have to change minds and hearts. We need to begin putting money back into our schools, improving the science laboratories and providing support for science and mathematics education, not only at the high school level but in the earlier grades as well. And let’s not forget the other subjects either. Music, art, and literature play an equal and important part of the creative process as much as science and mathematics.

When we begin the process of teaching thinking skills with the younger children, we help them gain higher order skills in addition to preparing them for the later so-called academic learning. If we are able to make the paradigm shift, and teach with brain development in mind, it should not cost as much as we think it needs to.

What students need are real problems to work on. Students are always surprisingly brilliant if you let them be, by asking questions that are truly curious about what they, the students, are thinking. It’s also the way to tap into what truly motivates them, and will help them soar beyond anything we dull-minded adults could dream of.

As some of my former students will tell you, I have often noted that the most curious creatures in the world is a two-year old. And yet, by the time they arrive at high school and college, all of the curiosity seems to have disappeared and many will say that they “hate science.” Let me just say that society desperately NEEDS their ideas and creativity, it’s how the world will ultimately be saved. Mary Catherine Bateson, Margaret Mead’s daughter wrote in her book, Peripheral Visions,

It takes adult effort to turn a bright open child into a sullen underclass.”

She meant that our emphasis on “correctness” eliminates their fresh view of the world, and grows up people who are dependent and bored.

The scientific process is and will always be a cooperative process. It may be a cliché but two heads are always better than one and allow for a diversity of views which can lead to productive discussions. Separated twin studies have shown that God did make us both conservative and liberal, possibly because He understood better than we that His Creation works because of the beautiful dialectic of thesis ~ antithesis ~ synthesis.

I began this by noting that the issue of scientific literacy, for me anyway, is almost thirty years old. I will not say that a focus on it will change the way we are headed but it will help find the means and the processes to make the changes that do need to be made. It will offer a way to renew the creative processes we have had from the very beginning of life and allow us to create a better tomorrow, not only for ourselves but for the generations to come.