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?”,

What Gifts Did You Received? What Will You Do with Them? Thoughts for the Epiphany of the Lord


Let me begin by asking two questions.  First, how many “wise men” or Magi visited the Baby Jesus?  And second, why were the gifts that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

We tend to think that there were three because three gifts were given.  But in most translations of Matthew’s Gospel, there is no mention of how many came.  In Eastern tradition, the number is set at 12.  And, in the manner of the time, there is no mention if there were any women or children in the entourage.

Who were the Magi?  Again, we have no records to tell us who they were, and it is only in legend that three of the Magi are named.

And why were the gifts given gold, frankincense, and myrrh?  Some suggest that the gold was used to finance the family’s escape from Herod into Egypt and the frankincense and myrrh represented the preparation of Jesus’ body when he died.

But Herod’s wrath that would lead to Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt did not occur until after the Magi left.  And no matter how wise the Magi would have been, I don’t think they would have given materials used for the preparation of a body for burial as a birthday gift.  In addition, because of their shelf life, I don’t think that the frankincense and myrrh would have lasted for thirty-some years.

It was convenient for Matthew to write his Gospel with those events in mind because he was writing some seventy years after the birth of Jesus.  But many traditions, just like myths, have an element of truth in them.

Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were gifts present to a newborn king, whom the Magi had sought out.  And after the Magi had left, Joseph could have sold the frankincense and myrrh to fund the trip to Egypt and the gold would have probably provided enough funds to allow them to settle in while Joseph found work until it was safe for the family to return to Nazareth.  (In modern day terms, the Magi started a “GoFundMe’ account for the family.)

In giving Jesus their gifts, they ensured that we would have a future.  I am sure that someone will point out that if the Magi had not been there, God would have seen to it that someone was there.  But it was the Magi who saw the signs of Jesus’ birth and it was the Magi that sought out the newborn baby.  It was their gifts that enabled the future to be what it became.

As we look into the mists of tomorrow, what future do we see?  What we can see does not bode well. 

The issues we face today are more than those that arise from our lack of concern for the environment.  The pandemic has exposed our lack of concern for those with whom we share this planet.  And it is evident that the lives of everyone on this planet are tied to the condition of this world.

We are reminded that as descendants of Adam and Eve, we have inherited the task of caring for God’s Creation.  And quite honestly, it would seem we haven’t done a good job in that regard. 

In 1974, the writer Ursula Le Guin wrote,

My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974) (from Verse & Voice, 9/17/21)

We have seen the consequences of not caring for this world.  What was the Hudson River like some twenty years ago?  What was the quality of air in New York City?  Even today, we are still dealing with the consequences of our thoughts that we can bury our waste or throw it into the rivers or oceans.

And we do not need the myriad reports telling us that climate change is real, for all we must do is reflect on the changes we have seen in the past few years. 

Despite the claims of some, climate change is real and the result of what we, the inhabitants of this planet, have done. 

Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (August 2021)

The scientific consensus on climate change is genuine, credible, and robust. It is no wonder that those who have ideological and pecuniary motives for denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change are eager to deny the existence, extent, and legitimacy of the scientific consensus, and that these denials threaten the integrity of public science education. Likewise, it is no wonder that the integrity of public science education both demands and benefits from a vigorous assertion, explanation, and defense of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Glenn Branch, Deputy Director, National Center for Science Education, Inc. in “Teaching Climate Change by Leveraging Scientific Consensus to Dispel Social Controversy”, California Journal of Science Education (https://journal.cascience.org)

What are we doing to alleviate the conditions that lead to poverty and injustice?  Do we find ways to put into practice the tasks that Jesus laid before the people that day some 2000 years ago in the Nazareth synagogue? (Luke 4: 18)

I do not know what gifts you received for Christmas, but I do know what gifts you received when you opened your heart, soul, and mind to Christ.  Some received the gift of teaching; others received the gift of prophesy.  Some will use their gifts to heal others or find ways to encourage others.  Some will use their gifts to help others through counseling and understanding.  Each person will find a way to use the gifts that they received when they accepted the Presence of the Lord in our lives.

We stand at the crossroads of time.  One path leads to a future of destruction and despair; the other path leads to a future of hope, renewal, and promise.  How we use our gifts will decide what path we take.

Borrowing a thought from fifty years ago and with acknowledgement to Reinhold Niebuhr (I first posted this on Facebook on 18 August 2019),

Are we so deaf that we cannot hear the cries of the people, no matter who they are?

Are we so blind that we cannot see the damage we are doing to this planet, our home?

Are we so dumb that we will never learn that what we do changes the future, in ways we cannot understand?

Today, I pray that we will open our ears and hear the cries of the people. I pray that we will respond.

Today, I pray that we will open our eyes and see new ways, new roads to the future.

Today, I pray that we will open our minds and let the power of the Holy Spirit empower us to use our gifts of mind and heart to make sure that we can walk the new roads to the future.

“The Meaning of the Seasons”- An Advent Meditation


And the Preacher wrote, “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven.”

There is a sense of rhythm to the changing of the seasons.  At this time of year, the changing of the colors of the leaves, the chill in the morning, the southward migration of the birds, and the loss of sunlight tells us that winter is approaching.

It took humankind a long time to understand this rhythm.  The “medicine wheels” of the high Northern plains, the stone circles at Stonehenge and the similar wooden circles in Germany, the intricate calendars of the Mayan civilization were, as it were, not created overnight but only after many years of study.  Someone or a group of people saw the changes in the Sun, the moon, and the stars and began tracking and studying those movements.  And from their observations and studies came the ability to begin planning for the special days in their lives.  And remember, it was that study of the skies and the movement of the stars that led the Magi to the Christ-child.

But it takes time to do such studies, it takes time to detect the rhythm.  It is very hard to do so in an environment where things are rushed.  In a world where the “sound bite” rules, we are not prepared for lengthy and deep discussions concerning the world around us.  In these times, we find ourselves listening to false prophets pass on false, misleading, and incorrect information.

But there were and are true prophets, prophets who speak not for themselves but for the people.  They do not tell the people what to think or who to listen to; they point to the signs and say, “Look and listen!”.

This Sunday, look carefully at the altar.  See that it is clothed in green, the color for me that symbolizes growth.  Over the next six weeks, watch as it changes from green to white on November 21st to mark the end of the church calendar year.  And look as the altar colors change from white to purple on November 28th.  When we see this change at this time of year, we know that the Season of Advent is approaching.

Advent is the season of preparing for the coming of Christ.  It is a time to stop and look around, to consider how your life has been and know there is time to repent, to change and begin anew.

Listen as the Scripture readings each Sunday prepare us for the coming of Christ.  Take time to ponder those words throughout the week.

When the Preacher wrote the words that we read at the beginning of this piece, he knew that time could not be rushed.

We need the four weeks of Advent to pause, contemplate, and prepare.  The four weeks of Advent are a way to step away from the rush of the world and give us the opportunity to truly prepare for the coming of Christ.

In the words of “Take Time to Be Holy” (UMH #395), Advent gives us the time to talk with the Lord, to see the world as it is to be and not as it is.

To paraphrase the thoughts of the Preacher, there is a time for every season and this is the Season of the Lord.

No one told me: Thoughts on the relationship of science and faith


The following was published in the Fall, 2021, issue of “God & Nature – https://godandnature.asa3.org/mitchell-no-one-told-me.html

No one told me in 1965, when I chose to walk with Jesus Christ as my Savior, that I could not study mathematics and science.

No one told me a year later, when I declared chemistry as my major area of study, that I would have to give up my faith.

Over the years, as I grew in my understanding of my faith and my vocation, no one told me that they were mutually exclusive. 

I do remember someone telling me that the earth was only 6000 years old because of the work Bishop Ussher had done in 1650 to pinpoint the beginning of creation at nightfall on 23 October 4004 BC.  But I remember that Jesus told the people to look around to see if he was the Messiah, so when I looked at the evidence for the beginning of Creation, I knew there was something wrong with that date (among other things, it is far too specific for the data that was used).  And all I could think was that God would not lie about the evidence before us and I should not accept false evidence as a matter of faith.

In 1980, the Missouri state legislature was preparing to pass a bill that would have told biology teachers how to teach biology, by including creationism in the discussion of evolution.  I suppose I could have ignored this because I only taught chemistry, but one must be careful when individuals who do not have any knowledge of the processes of science (“The Processes of Science”) try to tell science teachers what to teach and how to teach it.  I was prepared to resign if the law passed and was surprised to find that my department chairman, a devout Southern Baptist layman and biologist, was also going to resign. 

Galileo was tried and convicted by the Catholic church for refusing to accept the prevailing idea of the time and dictates of the church (that the earth was the center of the universe).  He was told not to push the issue, but he did and the church, with the support of the academic establishment whose reputation was based on the geocentric universe, took their revenge.

I was not told, in part because it was not part of the curriculum, that Newton was an alchemist and, had people known what he wrote, a heretic.  Newton, along with Robert Boyle (considered the father of modern chemistry), wrote extensively on the topic of religion.  Newton went so far as to predict of the end of times to begin in 2060.

I was not told that Joseph Priestley, one of the discoverers of oxygen, was a founder of Unitarianism and that he fled England for America when members of the church establishment burned down his home and church.

And yet their work in science was directed towards better understanding God.

There are others who share a life of faith and science.  John Polkinghorne, a noted nuclear physicist, became a minister in the Church of England in 1982.  Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest and mathematician, looked at the theory of relativity equations prepared by Albert Einstein and developed the mathematical idea for the “Big Bang”.  I knew of the “Big Bang” but only recently discovered that a noted theoretical physicist and an atheist, Fred Hoyle, coined the term because he feared the discovery would support the idea of creation expressed in Genesis 1. 

We are told that there is a conflict between science and faith but the only ones who suggest this are the ones whose power lies in telling others what to do. 

We are reminded that Adam was tasked with the care of the Garden of Eden and that, as his descendants, we are tasked with caring for this world.  And yet there are those, especially secular and sectarian fundamentalists, who say that climate change is false.

Faith and science both share the same characteristics – we see things and ask why; we ask why and seek answers. 

Despite the claims of some, science cannot answer all the questions we might have about this world.  Science has no way to answer the question of the matter of good and evil or why we are here.  Science cannot tell us “Why”, only “how”.  The Bible does tell us why and who we are, but it cannot, nor should it ever be a science textbook.

Over the years, there have been many who have tried to tell me how to believe and what to believe but the ones who speak the truth are the ones who do not tell you what to believe but show you the path so you can find the answers that vex and bewilder you.

I think about Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.  Raised as an atheist (or better stated, a non-believer), he was faced with a series of questions about faith.  It was a United Methodist minister who offered the guidance that allowed Dr. Collins to come to Christ.

I will never, I hope, tell you what to believe or say that your belief system does not work.  I am still learning about my faith, so I am not able to tell you how to find yours.  But I will help you find the way to the answers.

What Will You Say?


You say that you believe in equality but then you say that because I am a different color, different gender or sexuality, or different economic status I do not count.

You say that you believe that all are children of God but you will not let me in God’s House.

I remember when your ancestor begged Abraham for a drop of water to ease his thirst and Abraham reminded of the times he had walked by the beggar at the gates of the city and ignored him.

What will you say when that day comes and Jesus asks why you didn’t feed the hungry, why you didn’t visit the people in prison, why you didn’t care for the visitors and strangers.

What will you say?

“To Seek Freedom and Truth, We Must Ask ‘Why?’”


Here are my thoughts for July 4, 2021


Lectionary readings

  • Jeremiah 33:14-18
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34 Messiah and New Covenant
  • 2 Samuel 5:1-5
  • 2 Samuel 5:9-10
  • Ezekiel 2:1-7
  • 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
  • Mark 6:1-13

The focus of the message will be John 8: 31 – 47


Some two thousand years ago, Jesus stood before a gathering of religious and political leaders and told them that to be free they needed to seek the truth.  But these leaders scoffed at the notion they were not free, claiming that through Abraham, they had gained their freedom.

But their freedom was, at best, illusionary.  They had constructed a legal environment that limited their actions.  They had forgotten that the dietary rules they so strictly enforced came from health concerns during the Exodus and were not necessarily a requirement for faith.  They had criticized Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath while ignoring that it was permissible for a farmer to take care of an ailing animal.  There were also angry that Jesus sought to open a society that they sought to close.

These religious and political leaders were also blind to the realization that their power, their position, their prestige, and place in society were dependent on their subservience to the Roman political authorities.  In maintaining their lifestyle, they were slaves to the Roman political authority.

Spiritually and politically, they were not free but slaves to their prejudices, bias, and desire for power.

Two hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Jefferson sat in a hot and sweltering hotel room in Philadelphia and wrote what many consider the most radical of all political manifestos, a statement that the people have the right to determine their own freedom.  He wrote of the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.

Even today, there is much debate what Jefferson was thinking when he wrote those words.  Over time, we have come to see that singular phrase, that “all men are created equal,” be all inclusive, meaning everyone, regardless of gender, sexual identity, financial status, race, creed, or color.

President John Kennedy once noted,

“the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

Some 245 years later, we struggle to achieve that equality as there are those whose view of equality is limited and who see an expansion of equality as a threat to their power and prestige.

As a science educator, I see a society that hesitates to seek the future, trying desperately to stay in the status quo, forgetting, as Heraclitus noted,

“No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The ruling class saw Jesus as the son of a working man, incapable of deep theological thought.  Somehow, they had forgotten that some twenty years before, Jesus has confounded and astonished the religious elite in the Temple.  It should be noted that the changes in physics in the early 20th century, changes that allowed the development of much of today’s technology, came not from the physics establishment but by younger physicists not bound by the boundaries imposed by the physics of that time.

Today, we are faced with many problems, problems that threaten our freedom as individuals, as a society, and as inhabitants of this planet. 

They are problems of science (climate change, a pandemic, a need for alternative energy); they are problems of equality, in all its forms.  Despite the cries and efforts of a minority, these are man-made problems, and as President John Kennedy noted, can be solved by man.

These problems require that we begin (again) asking the most fundamental question of all, “Why?”

As I noted in “Tell Me The Truth, But. . .”, I am the grandson of an Army officer and the son of an Air Force officer.  This gave me a view of the world different from my many classmates.  And I crossed the boundary from eleven to twelve, the age at which Samuel answered the call from God and Jesus debated the teachers in the Temple, I answer to call from God.

By the time I came to Memphis in 1966, I had chosen to walk two paths, one of faith and one of science.  Each of these paths leads to a definition of the truth.  I do believe there are several truths, some are found in the spiritual world, others are found in the physical world.  To seek the truth should be each person’s goal and the distillation of the facts to their simplest components is how we find that one single truth.  There may be a hint of Eastern mysticism in that, I am not sure (adapted from Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos | Thoughts from The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

Let me just say that I am not interested in the post-modern definition of truth where one’s version of truth may differ from someone else’s.  That is for others in a different time and place.

The search for the truth in the physical world depends, in fact, demands that we ask “why?”

As a chemist, I know that there are certain fundamental truths, but these truths have changed over time as we have delved deeper and deeper into the nature of matter.  We have gone from indivisible particles called atoms to the discovery of the particles present at the beginning of the universe.  We have gone from an understanding of matter as simply being a combination of earth, air, fire, and water, to a collection of 118 elements that promises, with the development of new technologies and a better understanding of the technology, to continue to grow.

And just as there is a certain set of fundamental truths for the physical world, there is also a certain set of fundamental truths in the spiritual world.  These, I believe, are more difficult to discover for one must find themselves first. 

Part of the difficulty lies in the things that constitute the basis for this truth are often not visible or measurable (as might be the existence of atoms or elements).  President Jimmy Carter once noted,

What are the things that you cannot see that are important?  (2 Corinthians 4:18) I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love.  You cannot see any of those but they’re the guiding lights of a life.” – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_power_corrupt_everyone_equally

It is not my responsibility to tell you how to think or what to believe; it is my responsibility, my duty, to show you how to answer the question of “why?” 

In 1969, I was a college sophomore struggling with the demands of college life, searching for meaning in my life.  Against that backdrop, I was beginning to ask how a Gospel message of hope and promise worked in a world of war, hatred, poverty, and ignorance.  As I prepared to travel to my home in Memphis for the Spring break, I asked my pastor, Marvin Fortel, if I could meet with him and take communion.  During the communion, I came to discover the true meaning of God’s grace.

That day, so many years ago, I came to understand that I work for justice and freedom, not because it will get me into Heaven but because it is my responsibility as a citizen of the Kingdom of God (adapted from “The Changing of Seasons”).

. . . it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder — Based on Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, author 0f The Orthodox Way  

When I was in college and on my own (as it were), I figured that I would be able to sleep late on Sunday mornings and skip out on church.  But then I discovered that I needed to be in church.  College brought up a lot of questions, some about chemistry, some about calculus, one or two about English and history.  But there were also a lot of questions about who I was and I found that the answers to those questions came when I was in church. 

I was lucky.  The pastors that I meet and worked with in college didn’t give me the answers to those questions.  They showed me the way to find the answers on my own. (Adapted from “Now It Is Your Turn!”)

There were some pastors, of course, who will tell you what the answers to the questions are and that you are not to question those answers.  I genuinely believe that had these individuals been my guide, I would have, as so many are doing today, left the church and the faith.

In a way, I still seek the truth, both in the physical world and in the spiritual realm.  And as I help others answer their own questions of “why?”, so too do I find the freedom that comes from seeking the truth.

In the Star Trek movie, “Resurrection”, Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, asked Captain Picard if the regaining of his sight was worth it if others lose their homes and lives.  Our search from truth and freedom cannot come at the expense of others.  Rather our search from truth and freedom will come when we help others seek the same goals, to answer the same questions, all that being with “why?”

The WesleyNexus Newsletter


The new WesleyNexus newsletter is now available.

Please follow the link below in order to see the current newsletter available today. It is now on the WesleyNexus website, and we hope you will take a moment to read it.  In this issue:

Video: Naturalism—as Religion, within Religions, or without Religion?  

The Vital Breath: Saving Our Sacred Rainforests, with Dr. Audrey Kitagawa

An interview with Katharine Hayhoe

Vaccines and fetal cells by Katelyn Jetelina

When does an idea die? Plato and string theory clash with data by Marcelo Gleiser

Cern: scientists discover four new particles – here’s why they matter

Facebook post from Robert Edward Grant (2/28/2021)

Weaving the Shadow: A Lenten Reflection by Patricia Adams Farmer

A sermon for Holy Week by E. Maynard Moore

The Newsletter can be found here:

Video: Naturalism—as Religion, within Religions, or without Religion?  

The Vital Breath: Saving Our Sacred Rainforests, with Dr. Audrey Kitagawa

An interview with Katharine Hayhoe

Vaccines and fetal cells by Katelyn Jetelina

When does an idea die? Plato and string theory clash with data by Marcelo Gleiser

Cern: scientists discover four new particles – here’s why they matter

Facebook post from Robert Edward Grant (2/28/2021)

Weaving the Shadow: A Lenten Reflection by Patricia Adams Farmer

A sermon for Holy Week by E. Maynard Moore

It can also be found at www.wesnex.org

The Newsletter can be found here:

https://www.wesnex.org/February-2021-newsletter/.

It can also be found at www.wesnex.org.

Rick Barr

WesleyNexus, Inc.

“Permanent Resident or Passing Through: Reflections for Evolution Weekend and Boy Scout Sunday”


Scripture readings for Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 2: 1 – 12

Psalm 50 — UMH # 783

2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6

Mark 9: 2 – 9


On the liturgical calendar, today is Transfiguration Sunday.

Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the Season of Epiphany and serves as a marker for the being of Lent with Ash Wednesday this coming Wednesday.  Were these “normal times”, we would begin planning for Mardi Gras and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.  I suppose one could still have pancakes on Tuesday, but any sharing of the celebration would, by necessity, must be virtual.

This Sunday, the second Sunday in February, has a more personal meaning for me.  The second Sunday in February is Boy Scout Sunday and on this Sunday in 1965, in the process of completing the work for the “God and Country Award”, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st United Methodist Church) of Aurora, Colorado.

Since 2006, this has also been “Evolution Weekend”, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project.  As noted 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.”

The goal of Evolution Weekend is to show that faith and science are compatible and not adversarial in nature. I have participated in this event since 2009.  The theme for this year Is “climate change”.

Let me pause for a moment and offer a bit of science.  To understand what climate change is, we must first understand what weather and climate are.

What is weather?

Weather is what is happening outside your house right now.  It can be raining or snowing; the temperature could be up or down.  Weather changes from day to day and even at times from hour to hour.

Going to school and living in Missouri, I remember that statement that if you did not like the weather now, wait one hour.  And the renowned Missouri author, Mark Twain, once remarked that the if you did not like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.  And it does appear that he never said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco (for more on this memorable non-Twain quote, see https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/the-coldest-winter-i-ever-spent-was-a-summer-in-san-francisco-say-what-says-who/.)

What is climate?

Climate is more what the weather is over a long period of time.  While the weather may change over a period of hours, climate changes take longer periods of time. 

One might think of weather as being what clothes you are going to wear each day, while climate is what clothes you have in your closet.

And therein lies the rub; what causes climate changes?  The changes in the climate that have been observed since the mid-20th Century can be directly attributed to human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”.  This effect is caused by the increased production of gases which when released into the atmosphere trap heat radiating from Earth into space.  Most of these gases are a result of human activity.

How do changes in the climate affect the weather?  As a result of this increased production of greenhouse gases, the Earth is becoming warmer. Such warmer conditions lead to an increased evaporation of surface water and precipitation overall, but the effects will depend on the region.  Increased global warming will raise the temperature of the oceans, partially melting glaciers and ice sheets, which, in turn, will lead to an increased sea level rise.

The evidence suggests that, with a 95% probability, human activity over the past 50 years has warmed this planet, with increased production of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the cause.  Industrial activities have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 414 ppm in the past 150 years.  (“The Cause of Climate Change”)

Despite the efforts of some to discredit the science behind climate change (many who also support the inclusion of creation science), the evidence is clear that humankind is a contributing, and perhaps major, factor in change of the climate.

From almost the beginning of creation, humankind has been tasked with the care of this planet.  As descendants of Adam, we are also charged to be stewards of this world.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflect our nature

So, they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,

And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

God created human beings; he created them godlike.

Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.

God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” ().

Genesis 1: 26 – 28, The Message

We need to be reminded that throughout the Old Testament the writers emphasized that this world was God’s creation and that we must answer to Him when it is done.  Remember that at the end of the Book of Job, God reminds Job that it was He who was responsible for the creation.

And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said:

“Why do you confuse the issue?  Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about?

Pull yourself together, Job!  Up on your feet! Stand tall!

 I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.

Where were you when I created the earth?  Tell me since you know so much!

Who decided on its size? Certainly, you’ll know that!  Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?

How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone?

While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?

And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb

That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds and tucked it in safely at night.

Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it could not run loose,

And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’

“And have you ever ordered Morning, ‘Get up!’ told Dawn, ‘Get to work!’

So you could seize Earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches?

As the sun brings everything to light, brings out all the colors and shapes,

The cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked—they are caught in the very act!

“Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?

Do you know the first thing about death?  Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries?

And do you have any idea how large this earth is?   Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.

Job 38: 1 -18

For too long, humanity held the view that the charge to be good stewards of this world meant we could do anything we wanted.  We dumped our trash in the streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, confident that there was always going to be fresh water left over.  We filled the atmosphere with noxious gases, confident that the size of the atmosphere would be enough to eliminate the threat. 

But we have begun to see that there is a limit to the damage we do to this world; we are beginning to see that what we once were unlimited resources are beginning to run out.  In our greed and ignorance, in our lack of care for the welfare of this world, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.

But if we are responsible for the care of this world, we must understand that what we do to this world, its resources, and those with whom we share this world has consequences.  Mike Hulme (“9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happen to Be Christians”) is the author of “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”, which was one of The Economist ‘s four science and technology books of the year in 2009. Ever since receiving his Ph.D. in climatology from the University of Wales, he has been a leading Christian voice on the reality of climate change, which he has summed up in five severe but notably levelheaded lessons (“Five Lessons of Climate Change” a personal statement):

  1. “Climate change is a relative risk, not an absolute one.”
  2. “Climate risks are serious, and we should seek to minimize them.”
  3. “Our world has huge unmet development needs.”
  4. “Our current energy portfolio is not sustainable.
  5. “Massive and deliberate geo-engineering of the planet is a dubious practice.

For a variety of reasons, I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist, but when I was in the Boy Scouts, I was taught to always leave the place where we were camping a better place than we found it.

Perhaps because today is also Valentine’s Day and we speak of our love for our family, friends, and others, we might want to also consider how much we love this world on which we live.

Pertaining to the title of the piece, do we treat this world as if we are its owners or simply temporary residents?  Can we, as permanent residents, do whatever we want to our home, or because we are simply temporary residents, just passing through, do we leave this place for the next generations?

In the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Elisha is concerned about what Elijah, his mentor and friend, was going to leave him.  What are we going to leave those who come after us?

The Season of Epiphany is one marked by illumination; it began with the Wise Men seeking the light that they say, it ends with illumination of Christ.  Yet, there are many, both secular and sectarian, who would rather live in the darkness of ignorance.  We live in a world teetering between the darkness of ignorance and the light of wisdom; as so often happens, we must decide which direction we as society must take.

In the 2nd lesson for today, Paul speaks of a message being obscured, not because he is holding back some information but because the people are not giving it serious attention.

Theirs is a voice which calls the notion of climate change fake or false science.  They are like many who heard Paul’s words to the Corinthians without listening and are blind to what they see happening to this world.

We see the growing seasons for crops changing; we see the average amount of rainfall changing, and we wonder why we see more hurricanes every year wonder why the intensity of hurricanes seemed to be increase with the numbers.  To borrow a phrase from “The Guess Who”, we see the seasons change but we do not wonder why.

When we look at the empirical evidence (remembering that Jesus told the disciples of John to return and tell him what they saw when asked if He, Jesus, were the coming Messiah), we see the signs that there is change and humankind is responsible.   The good sign is that we also have the capability to fix the errors that we have caused.

On this day, when Elijah insured the future for Elisha, we need to think about what we will be leaving for the generations to come.

On this day, when the world of the disciples was enveloped in the Light of Christ, how can we live in the darkness of ignorance.

We are reminded that this is God’s world and while we may feel that we are the permanent residents and owners, we are just temporary residents passing through.  Do we do as we please or do we leave this world a better place?


Notes on climate change (https://www.rff.org/publications/reports/climateinsights2020/)

Evolution Weekend


With Evolution Weekend coming up this weekend, I figured I should up date this particular piece.

As I have noted in the pieces that I list below,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy. – “The Clergy Letter Project”

This project began in 2006 and I have participated, either with a sermon or a blog post, since 2009. The following is a list of those messages and posts. This has been edited since it was first posted to correct a link.

February 1, 2009 – Lake Mahopac (NY) UMC – “The Differing Voices of Truth”

February 14, 2010 – “That Transforming Moment”

February 13, 2011 – “It’s about Commitment”

February 12, 2012 – “To Leave the World A Better Place”

February 3, 2013 – “Removing The Veil”

February 9, 2014 – Sloatsburg UMC – “The Master Lesson”

February 15, 2015 – “Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?”

February 14, 2016 – “Where Are We Going?”

February 12, 2017 – “The Past Can Never Be Our Future”

February 11, 2018 – “A Reminder” and “Finding God In The Details”

February 10, 2019 – “The Path You Walk” and “The Confluence Between Religion and Science”

February 19, 2020 – “The Prime Directive”

February 14, 2021 – “Permanent Residents or Passing Through”

It should also be noted that this weekend is also the weekend of Boy Scout Sunday, which has additional meaning for me.

Some Post-Pentecost Thoughts


 I am once again reminded that I don’t like open time.  Even with the thought that Isaac Newton developed his ideas on gravitation and calculus during one episode of the Black Plague in England (which is perhaps ironic for me as my first major scientific work dealt with Newton’s Law of Gravity) and William Shakespeare did most of his best writing in similar periods, for some reason I do not find the same spark of creativity. 

But that is not to say that I haven’t been thinking and in the coming weeks, I will have to not only be thinking about what I am going to be writing but I will have to put some effort into the research phase of writing as I look at the history of our favorite hymns. 

But, let’s step back a day or two on think about Pentecost and what it means for the coming days. There were three points made in the Lectionary for Pentecost – common languages, skills, and community. 

When I was in high school, I planned on taking three years of German.  But this plan was quickly cast aside when we moved from the Denver area to the St. Louis area and then to the Memphis area.  The high schools I attended in Missouri and Tennessee did not offer German and I was not interested in taking Spanish, French, or Latin.  So, the plans of my freshman year were cast aside. 

That’s not to say that I don’t have a “foreign language”.  My interests in computer programming would provide the basis for meeting the language requirement for my doctorate at Iowa as I used my proficiency with SPSS to meet the language requirement (and produce my first set of professional papers). 

The idea of a foreign language being part of one’s doctoral program goes to the idea of being part of a community.  For many years, German was the language of science and mathematics because much of the ground-breaking work was done in Germany.  But over the years, the language of the lab became English and the demand for German dropped.  But the development of computers suggested a new language, that of computers, as the means for communication. 

There is still a need in science and mathematics for traditional methods, but computers offer ways to assist those traditional methods.  And it was through computer-based communication that several of the papers that I wrote with Marcin Paprzycki and George Duckett were produced. 

On Pentecost, many individuals, from various places around the Middle East, had gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Harvest.  One can only imagine the chaos of that time and place as people found it impossible to communicate with each other.  But when the Holy Spirit came, it suddenly became possible for the visitors to Jerusalem to understand the Christians and each other.  And though there were many different individuals, from many different lands and backgrounds, through the Holy Spirit, a new community was built.  It was a community of believers, using the skills and abilities to meet the needs of the community. 

If we fast forward to today, we find that the idea of the community of believers is being tested, tested perhaps to the breaking point.  Can Christianity or any of its denominations, survive a time when many who identify themselves as Christians demand that believers accept what they believe as the absolute truth. 

Can society survive when the search for truth, a process that requires many different skills and, often, people working together, is questioned.  It strikes me than the greatest resistance to the search for truth often comes from people ensconced in their self-contained bubbles, impervious to change and new information? 

Can society survive when, while we speak one common language, are unable to understand what others are saying?  We see the same object but, at the same time, we do not see the same object. 

We are at a crossroads and we must decide which way we are going to turn.  One way leads to the Kingdom of God and the other leads away.  What Pentecost tells us is that we must turn as one community, working together, using all the skills we have, finding many ways to communicate.  If we declare that our way is the only way, we may find ourselves going in the wrong direction.  But if we see that we are a community of many believers, then we will find the right path.