Sounds of Freedom


These are my thoughts for this week.  They are based on the Scriptures for Sunday, July 2, 2017, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.

What are the sounds of freedom?  What sounds or words do you associate with freedom?  Granted, there are many choices one could pick but the first sound that I thought of was Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at the Woodstock Festival back in 1969.

The story is that Richie Havens was the opening act for the festival and only scheduled to sing a few songs.  But, for whatever reason, the next couple of acts had not arrived and the organizers asked Richie to keep playing.  So, he played and he played.  And after playing virtually all his material, he began to improvise on the song, “Freedom.”

The ability to improvise is not as easy as it might seem.  If one is not versed in the fundamentals of one’s trade, it is literally impossible to improvise.  So, when I hear this song, I am reminded that freedom is more than a word and that we must work on the fundamentals upon which freedom is based.

And there is another song which reminds me of the fundamentals of freedom, “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  As the words of the song state, the cost of freedom is buried in the ground.  Unfortunately, there are those who see the way to freedom through war and are quick to go to war when other means can achieve freedom as well.

I am reminded of the closing lines of Patrick Henry’s speech on March 23, 1775.  We all are aware of this speech for the closing line, perhaps echoing Joshua’s proclamation from Joshua 24: 15, “As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

But it is the line that precedes this is just as important when considering the words and sounds of freedom,

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the prices of chains and slavery?”

Those who heard that speech that day were probably well aware that Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah, was mentally ill and there were those who felt that the best solution was to have her committed to the public hospital in Williamsburg.

If Patrick Henry had agreed to this treatment, his wife would have been locked in a windowless cell and chained to the wall with leg irons.  Rather than accept this, he chose to keep her home, in a well-lit and well-ventilated two-room apartment with 24-hour attention.  It should be noted that when Sarah died, she was died a Christian burial or religious funeral service because it was felt her mental illness was caused by possession by the devil.

The cost of freedom goes beyond the sacrifice of a few and to finding a way to maintain freedom.  Sadly, in today’s world, there are those who wish for others to die for their country while ignoring the wounded and maimed.  And when the wounded and maimed come home, they are quickly forgotten and monies that could be spent on building freedom are spent on additional weapons of war.

The next words of freedom come from Jesus.  In John 8: 32, we read that we are to seek the truth and the truth will set us free.  It is interesting to note that some of those who heard those words felt that they were already free because they adhered to the laws, rules, and regulations of the time.

But those laws, rules, and regulations gave freedom to those who wrote the laws, rules, and regulations; for the rest of the population, all they did was to enslave and entrap the population.  When people began to seek the truth for themselves, instead of relying on others, then freedom became a possibility.

And that leads to the last words of freedom.  When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, he spoke of people working together to seek the common goals of all humanity.

The words and sounds of freedom are many and various.  They echo through the ages and presage the future.  And while individuals speak the words of freedom, they require the work of all the people, working for all the people and not just a select few.  One cannot be free if someone else is not free.

So as you celebrate freedom, remember what you are asked to do.

 

“A New Start”


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin on 11 June 2017, “Trinity Sunday (Year A).  This is also Peace and Justice Sunday.


The key point about Genesis, at least for me, is not how God created the world but why He created it.  The book of Genesis, in fact the entire Bible, is about our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

It would be worth considering the words of today’s Gospel reading.  Often called the “Great Commission”, Jesus commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all the people.  But in the Cotton Patch Gospel and the Message, this passage speaks of the disciples teaching people in the ways that they were taught.

We are called to begin anew, to teach others what we have been taught, and to work for a world of peace and justice.  In the words of Senator Cory Booker,

Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all her children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

In a world where people view confrontation and conflict as the solution, we need a new beginning.  We need to seek opportunities to seek justice in new and peaceful ways.  Today can be that day.

What Do We Do Next?


I didn’t post anything for Memorial Day and perhaps i should have.  Memorial Day is a day to remember those whose sacrifices enabled his to celebrate our freedom.  Granted, this is has and will always been a day to consider those who have served in the military but I do think it proper and appropriate to remember those civilians who have died in the cause of freedom.

But what do we do next?  In this time and in this place, what are we going to do to stop the need for war to be the solution of society’s problems.  We know what causes war – when one group feels the need to extend their grasp of power over others, when one group goes to great trouble to take away the essentials of life, should we not be surprised that there is a war?

What would happen if we worked to remove the causes of war?  What would happen if we made sure that the sick and injured received medical treatment?  What would happen if all people have enough to eat?  What would happen if people were treated equally?  What if we spent millions and millions of dollars on education and other services that enable people to find their own path?  Would this not be a better world?  Would this be a world without war?

Do I think that we can eliminate war?  No, I don’t.  But if we focus on removing the causes of war, we are likely to make a non-starter.

So on the day after Memorial Day, will you be working to ensure that there are no new deaths to remember next year?

Is War Something To Forget?


I once wrote a piece for my blog entitled “Maybe We Should Study War More Often”. It was written as a response to another blogger’s idea that war can solve many of the problems of modern society (it turned out I was arguing with a bumper sticker).

War can never be the answer unless the question is related to the total and complete destruction of civilization and life as we know it.

One of my middle names (I have two) is Lee. It is a family name, given to me in honor of my maternal grandfather. I suspect there is a lengthy history to this name and that some of my ancestors named their children Lee in honor of Robert E. Lee.

I am fully aware of the role that General Lee played in the Civil War but I also know that he once wrote his wife, and I have used this quote many times, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should too fond of it.”  (My thoughts concerning this topic are found in “It’s Not About a Piece of Cloth”.)

When I opposed the Viet Nam War, it was because I saw several injustices. Among those injustices was the decision by old (and usually white) men sending young men off to battle, to die on the battle field, lonely and forgotten.

I don’t know how others felt but my argument was and will always be with a leadership that sends the youth off to war and then forgets them. Those that went to war and were fortunate to come home deserve recognition and support (something that our society and our leaders have seeming forgotten).

In my family are three flags, flags that are not flown on national holidays but cared for because of what they represent.  Each of these flags was given by a representative to the United States as an expression of thanks for the service given by the individual on whose coffin they lie.

Many people have these flags, folded in a triangle, and carefully stored because these are flags that cannot be replaced.  My family was lucky because each flag was given during the peacetime.  Other families received their flags during the war time and their father or son, their mother or their daughter died on a battlefield far away from home.

I have a Facebook friend whose brother, Walter. went to the same high school as she and I did.  He was five years ahead of me so I never knew him.  Shortly after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  In 1967, he died in Viet Nam.  Before he died, he saved the lives of several of his comrades and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Over the past few years, I have observed the love his younger sister, Carolyn, had for him and I know that his death was not vain.

But we seem to think that it is okay to send our youth off to war and to forget them when they come home, some wounded, others dead but all changed by the horrors of war.

In this place and time, we must work for a world in which there is no war and that war is never used as the first step in the solution of conflict and hatred.  Against the violence and destruction of war, we must make a stand that says, “we shall study war no more and we will not forget those who have died when war was necessary.”

Three People


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year A), 26 March 2017.  The reading is from Matthew 27: 33 – 44.


There were three men on that hill outside Jerusalem.  They hung on crosses where everyone could see them to remind the people there were rules to society and you paid the price when you broke the rules.

Two of the three committed crimes against people directly but the other’s “crime” was simply to question the roles of society, rules that excluded people because of actual and perceived differences.  To question the rules of society was considered as bad as robbery or murder.

We live in a similar society today.  There are those who suggest that there is a standard for society’s membership and if you don’t meet that standard, you don’t belong.  Many people want a society where obedience to the law is greater than concern for the people.

The one criminal echoed the views of society then and perhaps today that Jesus’ mission was to ensure that the status quo was maintained at all costs and that there were people tasked with that maintenance.  He and society see Jesus in terms of earthly power and might, of the rule of law without compassion.

But the other criminal understood that Jesus had sought to move beyond the “law”.  He understood that Jesus’ mission was never about him but about His Father and how people were treated in God’s Kingdom. And in understanding this, the second man asked for forgiveness.

Which of the two are you?  And what will you do?

“I Dreamed of a Church: Christ’s Representative”


This will be the “back page” for the 19 March 2017, 3rd Sunday of Lent (A), bulletin at Fishkill UMC.  The reading for this Sunday comes from Matthew 25.  I have told this story before but it speaks to the point of our participation in someone else’s baptism.

I have been fortunate to have been directly involved in the baptism of several individuals, both as a pastoral assistant and as a member of the family.  Perhaps the greatest joy was when I presented Casey, my granddaughter, and George, my grandson, to the congregation on the day of their baptisms.

But the story that strikes a chord with me is not my story but rather that of a current United Methodist pastor.  At the time of this story, this pastor-to-be was a bouncer in a local bar (which seems to be the career path of choice these days).  He was present at the baptism as the result of a direct command from his sister.  So, he came to church that Sunday morning after a rather long night at his regular job.  At the end of the service, one of the “saints” of the church saw that he was desperately searching for a cup of coffee and directed him to the church’s Fellowship Hall.

A few weeks later he found the bulletin for that Sunday in his coat pocket.  With the remembrance that someone had shown him some kindness, he returned to that church on his own accord.  Shortly afterwards, he made the decision to accept Christ as his Savior and he was baptized.

As it turns out, there was more to this than simply accepting the call to follow Christ.  It began a journey that has lead to becoming a minister in the United Methodist Church.

We all take part in the baptism of an individual.  In our participation, we welcome friends and strangers.  And while we never know how this will all turn out, we need to understand that one time someone offered a cup of coffee to a stranger and a life was changed.                                                – Tony Mitchell