The Flags We Do Not Fly On Memorial Day


A Meditation for 29 May 2016, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). This is also the Memorial Day Sunday.

The meditation is based on 1 Kings 18: 20 – 21, (22 – 29), 30 – 39; Galatians 1: 1 – 12, and Luke 7: 1 – 10.

Monday, May 30th, is Memorial Day, the day that we are supposed to pause for a few moments and remember those who have died in service to the United States.

Memorial Day began as a remembrance of the Union dead of the War Between the States. Major General John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) picked the day of May 30th as Memorial Day since it was believed that flowers would be in bloom all over the country. General Logan’s orders for that day stated,

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” (From http://www.appc1.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm)

It was not until after World War I that the meaning of the day was expanded to honor all those who died in American Wars. In 1968, the United States Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” which moved Memorial Day from the traditional May 30th date to the last Monday of May, which this year is coincidentally the same date. This law took effect in 1971.

We have, in our family, two sets of flags. One set of flags is used on days such as Memorial Day. But we have another, far more important set of flags that were given to our family in grateful thanks for the service of Colonel Walter L. Mitchell, Sr., Major Robert J. Mitchell, Sergeant Walter L. Mitchell, Jr., Sergeant George Walker, and Sergeant Raymond Troutner. Our family was fortunate in that they all died during times of peace.

But some families are not so fortunate. Their loved ones, their fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, and daughters died during war, far away from home and sometimes for a cause long forgotten. They came home with little fanfare and late at night, with the hopes of those who sent them to die that no one would notice.

Now, this will sound just a bit sarcastic but those who have died seem to have been better treated than those who were injured or wounded. It seems that those who are wounded and injured are more often than not forgotten, as the tragedies of the Veterans Administration have shown.

This need not be a somber day but it should be a day of reflection and remembrance, for we must honor those who died to insure our freedom and the liberties that we have. But I am afraid that this is becoming a day of celebration of war, not a remembrance of war and what war does. We glorify that which we should abhor and we ignore the consequences of our actions.

I am reminded that Robert E. Lee once wrote to his wife,

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

President Dwight Eisenhower said,

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

We see Memorial Day as a day of racing, parades, and the unofficial beginning of summer. For many students, Memorial Day is the marker that says school is almost over. It is hardly what we could call a day of memory and remembrance.

It is a day that says the gods of Baal, the gods of war and greed, are more important. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, will speak in platitudes and cliches that glorify war and suggest that war is and will always be the answer to the problems of the world.

And these words will often be spoken by politicians and would-be politicians who have never served a day in the military, who are quite willing to send our youth, our future off to war but who have no concept of what war is or what it can do. And when the war ends (assuming that it ends), they do nothing to repair the damages and destruction caused by war. And then they wonder why war never ends.

And when politicians and would-be politicians raise up veterans, it is often for their own political and financial gain, not for the veterans.

In much the way Dante envisioned Sheol as a series of levels, I am sure that there is a special level for those who profit from war and the death and injuries of those they sent off to fight for them.

I also think there is a special place for those who proclaim to be Christian but who treat the words of Christ as words to be ignored. Personally, if one wants to declare war as the solution to the problem, that’s somewhat fine for me. But don’t say you are a Christian because nothing you say or do even remotely models the life of Christ.

In fact, when your focus is on these other gods and not Christ, you miss the point. But the Roman captain in Capernaum understood the difference.

Here was an officer in the Roman army, perhaps the greatest single military power in the history of the world, and he understood that none of that power, none of that military might was any good when he came to healing his servant. But he did understand that Jesus had the ability and power to do just that.

We are very much like the people of Israel when Elijah was the prophet and God’s spokesperson. The nation had begun following the gods of Baal and Elijah challenged the people to decide what they were going to do. Elijah arranged a demonstration to illustrate the inability of the gods of Baal when compared to the the true power of God. And when it was all done, the gods of Baal failed terribly in this very simple demonstration, even with the situation stacked in their favor.

I do not know what was going on in Galatia but it was clear from what Paul was writing that someone was offering an alternative view of the message that Paul presented. And it was also clear from what Paul wrote that this alternative message was clearly in opposition to the original message. Is not the message of some many so-called “Christians” the same version of that alternative message?

Where are we today? Do we accept the true Gospel, in which we help others, in which we care for others, and remove the causes of war, violence, and hatred? Or do we follow the false gospel of those who pronounce that we are to hate the outsiders and those who are different, who pronounce the power of war over the power of love, all while ignoring or transforming the words of Christ and the prophets of God?

There will be wars that we must fight. World War II was, unfortunately because of the anger and hatred that ended World War I, inevitable. But had justice over anger prevailed at the Versailles Conference in April, 1919, World War II may have been avoided. And many of the problems that have plagued our society since then would, perhaps could have been worked out in other ways.

Robert E. Lee also said,

“The war . . . was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

We also need to remember the words of George Washington,

My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”

President John Kennedy pointed out,

“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.”

Two years earlier, he said,

“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind. War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”

On this Memorial Day, when we pause to remember those whose service and sacrifice allow us to live free, we also need to remember the words of Elijah as he demonstrated the false nature of the gods of Baal, we need to remember the words of Paul who showed the power of Christ, and the single Roman Captain who understood that the the power of war can never be greater than the power of true Christian love.

We are challenged this day to go out into the world, not to destroy the world, but to build the world so all people will live free.

Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter


The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line. I urge you all to check this out as it has information related to the teaching of science and academic freedom.  

There is a section in this month’s newsletter for you to sign up for the 2017 Evolution Weekend.

No matter whether you are clergy or laity, I urge you to check it out and get involved in the project.

Thoughts On Pentecost Sunday


A Meditation for 15 May 2016, Pentecost Sunday (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 2: 1 – 21, Romans 8: 14 – 17, and John 14: 8 – 17 (25 – 27.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the time when the Holy Spirit came to those gathered in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. And on this Pentecost Sunday, 2016, representatives of the United Methodist Church are gathered in Portland, Oregon, for the 2016 General Conference. I cannot help but think that, from all that I have read and heard, what is taking place in Portland cannot be, in any sense of the thought, be comparable to what transpired in Jerusalem two thousands years ago.

On a day when those gathered were united by the Holy Spirit, why are we so intent on dividing the people? Are we, as it is written in Genesis, all created in the image of God? Why is it that some people, who insist that some people do not fit that definition.

And why, when the Holy Spirit opened both the minds and spirits of the people, are so many intent on closing minds and diminishing spirit?

Why, when Jesus pointed out that He was the fulfillment of the Law, are so many people intent on maintaining the law, even when it is clear that the law is both discriminatory and out-of-date.

On this date, when the church became the church, why does it look so clearly that the United Methodist Church is soon to be simply a footnote to history.

Is it more important to maintain what we have or is it more important that we look at how to make the Gospel message reality in today’s and tomorrow’s society? Shall we deny the reality of today simply to maintain an illusion of reality?

We who have answered the call of Christ to walk with Him and who have opened our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit are challenged today to not simply keep the Spirit that we celebrate today alive but to take it out into the world. Our task is not to shut the door on those unlike us but, as Jesus outlined it when He began the Galilean ministry is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the stranger, the widow, the orphans and relieve the wants of the world.

“Science Issues For The 2016 Political Season”


I first posted this in June, 2015 but feel, in light of the current political campaign, that it needs to be reposted.


Please note that this is currently a “work in progress”. I would be interested in knowing what other issues you think might be worthy of putting in.


This has been edited since it was first posted.


As we get into the 2016 political season, we need consider a few science issues. One thing that you will note is that there are other issues, such as economics and taxation, intertwined in this piece. That’s because we do not live in a world where we cannot place our knowledge in separate categories.

To the best of my knowledge, every candidate running for President, declared or undeclared, Democrat or Republican, is a college graduate. As such, and unless this has changed, there was a small science component in their degree. This means that each of these individuals is, by definition, scientifically literate. But it is quite obvious that many of these same individuals do not utilize that knowledge in a way that reflects what they learned (unless, of course, they either didn’t attend or slept through the lecture).

Now, science literacy can be defined as the ability to use science knowledge in every day situations (“In Pursuit of Learning: The Rediscovery of Scientific Literacy”, 79th Annual Meeting, Illinois State Academy of Science, Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville, April 18, 1986). The need for a scientifically literate citizenry can be seen in the many political debates in this country. The politics of many issues have been simplified to the point of scientific irrelevance.

As I first pointed out in 2008,

“The United States is not only facing a dearth of future homegrown scientists and engineers . . . but increasingly, everyday citizens need science literacy.” (from “Have We Learned Anything Yet?”)

Only when the populace, as a whole, has the capability and the ability to understand and evaluate the issues being discussed can reasonable debate and solutions be achieved. When the populace does not understand the issue or is prevent from understanding the issue, a limited number of individuals are able to control the outcome for their own purposes, be they good or bad.

The Need For Science Literacy

The first science issue, then, that must be addressed is the scientific literacy, not only of the candidates, but how it will be achieved in the populace as well. This is being partially addressed at the pre-college level with an increase in the mathematics and science requirements for graduation from high school and admittance into college. The former (graduation from high school) clearly is of a higher priority than the latter simply because not every individual is going to college, especially with college costs continuing to rise.

Addressing the issue of science (and mathematics) literacy means reevaluating how we look at education funding. I recognize that we are dealing with what is known as the “fixed and limited volume” problem.

There is only so much money available and right now the majority of that money is directed towards other areas. So there must be 1) a restructuring of our priorities for the future and 2) an understanding that our source of funds must increase. And with regards to that latter point, I know that there are some who are not going to like that idea, just as the idea of funding education over other programs will not go well.
But in the end, if we do not increase the funding for education and we do not increase the amount of revenue in total, we will arrive at a situation where our populace is neither educated or able to be educated and all of that which we rely on today in terms of technology will be rather useless. If people do not know how to fix the technology being used, what good is the technology? And that is part of scientific literacy as well.

Creationism/Evolution Debate

I would list the creation/evolution issue as part of the science literacy issue, not so much for the content of the debate but because the debate centers on our ability to think independently and creatively. Those who seek to include creationism in the science classroom do not do it because it is viable science (which it is not) but because they want to control what students learn and in controlling what students learn, they wish to control creativity and independent learning.

I think a second part of this debate is the move by many to limit the boundaries of academic freedom, the right to teach as one feels is appropriate. Academic freedom is not necessarily a science issue but being able to teach science, or any subject for that matter, without interference is an issue of academic freedom. But as I have noted in the past, being able to teach what you want does not necessarily give you carte blanch to teach anything you want. (A summary of my blog posts dealing with academic freedom is at “Notes On Academic Freedom”.)

As a follow-up to this, we also have to consider various pseudo-science issues that seem to pervade societal discussions. For the sake of brevity, let us just say that topics in the area of pseudo-science are topics which may seem to be scientific but are more likely to bad interpretations of the information. Many times, a person will be opposed to an idea because of some scientific study that, in actuality, has no basis. Differentiating between “good” and “bad” science is necessary component of a scientifically literate populace.

Science Issues

There are several issues that require that the populace understand science.

The Environment and Energy

Perhaps the first area is that of the environment simply because there are several issues in that area, such as:

  • Air quality – is our air clean? What are we doing to keep it clean?
  • Water quality – Is our water clean? Do we have enough clean water?

I would place climate change in this category. We need to understand that we, as an inhabitants of this planet, are doing things to the climate that are not necessarily for the good. This means understanding what is meant by climate change, because not understanding what climate change is about is part of the problem today.

Addressing climate change means addressing the continued use and reliance of fossil fuels as our primary energy resource. The interdependence of our national foreign policy and our nation’s energy resources dependence on fossil fuels has placed us in a very precarious position.

The options that we have for a continued use of fossil fuels illustrate 1) the need for an increased science literacy and 2) the need to include alternative energy resources in the debate.

Consider the following questions:

  • Is natural gas an alternative?
  • There are those who say natural gas is a “cleaner” alternative.
  • Is the energy output obtained from natural gas better, on par, or worse than that from coal and oil?
  • Are the products obtained from the burning of natural gas better or worse than what comes from the burning of coal and gasoline? (If you have ever taken high school chemistry, you know how to figure out the answers to this question.)
  • How do these figures compare to similar calculations for the alternative energy resources?
  • What are the costs associated with each process?
  • Is natural gas a viable replacement for other fossil fuels?
  • Are their “cleaner” or alternative methods for obtaining fossil fuels? There is a great discussion taking place about “fracking” but do the benefits of this method outweigh the risks? Is what is gained by obtaining energy from this method worth the cost? – see “What Is Fracking?”

Alternative Energy Resources

We must, therefore, begin looking at other alternative energy resources such as nuclear power, solar energy, wind power, geothermal energy, hydroelectric energy, and fuel cells, Each of these has it own pros and cons and each has to be weighed against the other in terms of efficiency and cost. It is most likely that ultimate answer is a combination of all the possibilities that considers not only the present situation but the long-term situation as well.

Other Topics

I would think that the exploration of space has to be a bigger topic in the science debate of this country. I don’t believe that there has been a candidate who has not given “lip service” to the idea of going to Mars or putting a long-term human presence on the Moon. But when other factors come into play, such discussions are pushed aside or the suggestion is made that private enterprise should deal with it. Space cannot be the property of some corporation but must be the place where the people of this planet can work together cooperatively. If that means resolving the conflicts on this planet for the betterment of society, so be it.

Conclusion

In the end, any discussion of science issues cannot be simply a discussion of the science involved. Economics and politics will be a part as well. It seems to me that science has always played a secondary role in our political debate. Perhaps it is time for science to be at the forefront of the discussion, because it is through science that we will find a way to the future.

Election year economic issue questions


I do not pretend to be an economist so the only part of economic theory that interests me is the part that allows me to know if I can pay my bills and live a reasonable (important adjective there) life.

In terms of that thought, I have the following questions:

  1. Is there a minimum living wage?

  2. Do employers have an obligation (moral and economic) to pay such a wage?

  3. What are the responsibilities of the worker?

  4. Is health care a necessity?

  5. Who should pay for health care?

  6. Should health insurance companies be private or public corporations? Should they be “for profit” or “non-profit” corporations?

It has been said that John Wesley opposed the rich and the powerful. I know that he wasn’t happy about the power structure of the church that seemed more interested in self-preservation than spreading the Gospel but I am not sure that he necessarily opposed the rich.

I do know that he was not opposed to anyone earning the maximum that they could. Often he said earn as much as you could. But I think that he would have also add, just don’t earn your money through the exploitation of others. He also encouraged everyone to save all that they could and, give all that they could.

John Wesley wanted to make sure that everyone understood that poverty was not a condition of sin. It is unfortunate that this lesson has still not been learned. Too many people today still feel that wealth is a sign of God’s grace and poverty a sin of God’s damnation. For such, charity is a non-engaging task, designed to sooth their own consciousness. But should we not consider that, as I think Wesley did, put our faith into action. (adapted from https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/how-will-you-get-there/)

Wesley also said,

Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” (from http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/151350.John_Wesley)

I do not wish to interject religion into a political debate (we have enough of that as it is) but if a politician is going to say that they are a Christian or if they believe in God or if they hold onto a humanist view of the world, don’t you think that their actions should reflect what they believe?