“Leave Room for Dessert”


For some time, I have been writing some thoughts that my church (Fishkill United Methodist Church) puts on the back page .  Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, 19 February 2017, the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A).


Have you ever wondered why we are “the people called United Methodists?”  The “United” comes, of course, from the 1968 merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches but the “Methodist” part is a little bit older.  In 1729, Charles Wesley and some of his college friends started what they called the “Holy Club”.  John Wesley joined shortly after and became its leader.  The goal of this group was to achieve salvation through a rigorous and legalistic approach to faith.  Because of this approach, others would ridicule them by calling them “Methodists”.

Yet, until that time that we have come to call Aldersgate, the plan was a failure.  Yes, things were accomplished that helped others but there was still a feeling that success and accomplishment was lacking.  The plan was not working.

But when one creates a set of laws, one must be careful that you are not setting the conditions that imprison you.

The focus of today’s Old Testament reading is not about a legal structure for a community but on the relationship between the members of the community.  The Israelites were counseled to leave something behind when they harvested the crops so that there would be something for everyone.  It was important that the Israelites see everyone as part of their community and that they treat everyone fairly.

We leave room for dessert because we want a complete meal.  Our relationship with Christ can never be complete if we do not share it with others.

“The Balance of Life”


This was initially written for another publication (Fishkill UMC “Back Pages”.  Part of what I have written may be used in another piece that I will be posting shortly.

When I began working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the book “Two Cultures” by C. P. Snow.  Snow presented the argument that we lived in two cultures, one based on the humanities and the other based on science and technology, a division that appears to still be present today.

I think we also have another division of cultures in our time, with some proclaiming the need for a solely secular/non-religious life while other proclaim that what it is needed is a sectarian/religious life.

But life is and has never been an either/or choice.  Ideas presented in the secular world tell us how to solve problems but do not always indicate what is the best use of that solution.  And it is only through the sectarian view of the world that we come to understand our relationship with others in our community and around the world.

Jesus never said that we should totally abandon the secular world for the sectarian world; he merely wanted us to view things with a sense of priority.

And that means that while one works in the secular world, it is important to maintain a presence, constant and on-going, in the sectarian world as well.  A world that does not include time for thoughts about God (be it in worship, prayer, music or communicating with others) can be a lonely and desolate place.

 

A Society of Laws


This is an interesting Sunday (at least for me) on the liturgical calendar. While this Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord, it can also be considered Epiphany Sunday.

If the Baptism of the Lord focuses on the relationship between God and society, then Epiphany Sunday is the relationship between science and society.

In the following thoughts, I have tried to addressed those two points, points that are critical to the future of society.


Ours is a society of laws. Some of these laws come from our understanding of nature; others come through interaction with others on this planet.

The laws that come from our understanding of nature come from a deliberate attempt to understand the world around us. The discovery and determination of these laws is often time laborious and difficult with the results often unintelligible to the untrained mind.

The basic premise of our human-based laws should be to do no harm or to prevent harm from coming to us. From the time that the Code of Hammurabi was first written, laws have been written to define relationships between people and groups of people.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God also outlined how the Israelites were to relate with God and others. From these basic tenets came some 600 or so other laws, some telling the people what they could do and others telling them what they could not do. Often, actions dictated by one law conflicted with actions dictated by other laws.

There are those today who would like to have a society based on “God’s law”, whatever such laws may be. But these laws merely seek to place one group of people in a position of power and superiority of others. And the implication of said laws is often done with a sort of discriminatory approach that borders on hypocrisy. Those who wish to have “God’s laws” in place would ban abortion, yet they are quite willing to support the death penalty for criminals and equally willing to go to war, even both of those actions violate the basic commandment that one shall not kill.

And in quoting biblical verses that one should seek an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, they ignore that such statements were never meant to be statements of vengeance and retaliation but rather limits for such action.

And such an approach, founded in a distorted view of the Old Testament, ignores the actions espoused by Jesus who often proposed an active opposition to tyranny and power.

And how do we, today, respond, to the imposition of rules and laws that are designed to discriminate and oppress? The answer comes from the same approach that Jesus used, active opposition to tyranny and power; it comes from the same processes that allowed us to discover the basic laws of nature – experimentation and examination and the use of free thought.

One must understand that this approach cannot tell you if something is good or evil. One cannot quantify good and evil like one can quantify the force of gravity or the speed of light. But if we understand the outcome of our work, we have a better understanding of what we can and cannot do.

We may see others as inferior or different from us but there is nothing in nature that supports that idea, so laws that treat people differently because someone fears the differences between them are unjust and illegal.

Our challenge today is very simple. Create a society in which we understand the world around us that allows us to understand those who share this same world. On this weekend when we celebrate the visit of the Magi, we are quietly saying that we want a world in which we seek the information that brings us to a better time.

Chaos or Opportunity


Posting this today (31 December 2017) but it is also my beginning 2017 post.  Comments and thoughts about the coming year are welcomed.  I would also would like to know if the blog is “readable” (i.e. reasonable font with reasonable size, and so forth).


In some of his speeches, President John Kennedy would offer the thought,

In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity (Speeches by President Kennedy at United Negro College Fund fundraiser, Indianapolis, Indiana, 12 April 1959, and Valley Forge Country Club, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 29 October 1960)

There are some linguists, however, who suggest that this is, at best, a very bad analogy based on a simplistic understanding of the written Chinese language.

Perhaps a better thought is the one offered by Sun-Tzu, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”

Whether one wishes to see the world before us in 2017 as one in chaos or one in crisis, we need see the opportunities that this presents.

Some of these opportunities are short-term while others will not come to fruition for one or two years.  But we must begin immediately to counter-act and reverse some very disturbing trends.

It is obvious that the political system has been hijacked, or stolen if you wish, by individuals who feel that equality is simply a word in the dictionary without any definition or meaning.  These individuals feel that one’s social and economic status count matter more than anything else and that one’s race, gender, or sexuality are reasons for divisions, not unity.

It is also obvious that religion has been hijacked, or stolen if you wish, by individuals who wish to use the idea of religion and belief as a means for control and power.  And it is not surprising that the many of the individuals in this group consort and conspire with individuals in the first group, for the aims of power, creed, and control transcend political and religious boundaries.  (And while I feel that the concept of religious control transcends faith, I will focus on Christianity.)

As a Christian, I am disturbed that there are those who insist on the acceptance of certain documents as factual and true when there are questions as to their source and authorship.  I do not deny the thoughts that lie in the Bible for to do so would be to deny my faith.  But I also believe and know in my heart and mind that I was given a mind that would allow me to look at the world and understand what I see, not merely to accept the views and thoughts of others whose goals have nothing to do with the growth of knowledge and understanding.

I am also disturbed by the slow and, perhaps deliberate, degradation of our educational system.  It seems to me that, in the name of accountability, we have stripped our educational system of the very thing that makes education the liberating force it was always meant to be.  As Nelson Mandela said,

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

While I have no problems with demanding accountability in educational systems (which would suggest that other systems also be held accountable), I do feel that we need to do more than simply expect students to memorize data without meaning and repeat that information back on a test.

This process removes much of the learning process from the equation and develops a culture in which one does not question things.  Right now (and I have said this before), we need to prepare our students to answer questions that haven’t been asked or even considered at the present time.  What we are doing is teaching students that all the problems have been solved and the answers are in the back of the book.  This is a recipe for disaster.

The solution to this problem, as well as the solution to the political and religious problems that so dominate the conversation, cannot be achieved immediately nor with broad pronouncements from the “powers that be”.

The solution should take time, if for no other reason than it will take time to correct the mistakes and errors we have made already.  It must be a broad-based, again because the errors are so wide-spread.  And we must realize that one solution will not fit all.  We must take each student and see where there are at and work from that basis (which, admittedly, goes against the current process).

Second, the change must come from the local level.  Those who are at the top of the structure have no interest in changing a system that can and will bring about change.  In addition, working at the local level and building up provides the basis for a long-term solution and works well with the concept of seeing each student as an individual, rather than part of a group.

The changes in the political and religious systems must also take place at the local level, if for no other reason that change does not come from the top down.

2016 ended in and 2017 began in chaos.  But in the chaos comes a great opportunity, the opportunity to make possibility more than just a word in the dictionary.

What Season Is This?


One of the things that makes us human is our ability to discern the differences in things.  I would suspect that one of the reasons the Preacher was able to write “to everything there is a season” was that he could see the passage of time in the seasons of the year.

We know that this is the winter season because the signs of the world around us tell us that it is winter time.  The beginning of shorter days, colder temperatures, animals beginning to prepare for hibernation, etc., all are signs that winter is upon us.

In the same way, we know that this is the Christmas season.  Unfortunately, the signs of Christmas seem to be appearing earlier and earlier ever year and these signs seem to have taken on an almost apocalyptic overtone.

They speak of economic disaster if we do not buy Christmas presents, forgetting that the first Christmas presents were given to the Christ child, not received by those who came to see the new-born baby.

The signs of Christmas today speak more about who we are today and less and less about what we can be tomorrow.  There are those who speak of a “war on or against Christmas”, and to some extent, they are correct.  There are those whose idea of Christmas is limited to what they want and who seem to forget that the primary visitors to the new-born baby were societal outcasts and foreign nationals (and individuals who spent their lives seeking new answers rather than accepting as unchanging answers that possibly do not work).

In a world where power is measured by one’s economic and social status, it is hard to imagine a child born in the most minimal setting being the One and True King.  This child has no true power, no money, no retinue to do his bidding or will so how can he be the true King?

We speak of the Prince of Peace being born and yet we continue to live in a world where violence and warfare dominate.  We are so attuned to this world and this way of life that we fail to realize that its only conclusion is the destruction of the world in which we live.  We are so attuned to this world and its way of life that we fail to realize that allowing only a few people to have all the money and wealth can only create conditions where violence and warfare are the only solutions.

We live in a world where a small group seek to maintain control by keeping those with common interests from coming together.  When groups of individuals hate, or at the minimum, fear other groups of individuals, those in power remain in power.  And sooner or later, this too will lead to the destruction of the world.

The signs of Christmas do not bode well for the future.  And the signs that tell us what season it is are not good signs at all.

But, there is one good sign.  It is that a small child was born some two thousand years ago, in a non-descript setting in a backwater town that virtually no one even knew existed.  But it was enough of a birth to disturb the powerful.  And as this young child would grow into an adult, He would begin to change the world in ways that the world could not understand (and obviously does not understand today).

When asked one time how one should treat one’s neighbor, Jesus spoke of ways that ran counter to accepted social policies, “ask what you would want people to do for you and then do that for them.”  It works this way – just because there are people who feel that they have the right to treat others in negative ways does not give you the right to do the same in return.

He said to turn the other cheek when someone struck you, to give your second cloak when someone demands your first, to walk the extra mile when commanded to walk one mile.  Time and time again, His way was a different way of life.  Some got it, others didn’t; some came to understand it; others never will.

There are those who have taken the title “Christian” but have chosen to live a life of exclusion, hatred, and violence. That is not the Way and it never was. The hymn says that they will know we are Christians by our love, not our hatred.

I know that the coming months are going to be hard but I know that with Christ the central part of my life, I am going to stare directly into the face of hatred and evil, smile and say that God loves you no matter what.

I know that the traditional mission of the followers of Christ was to go out into the world and make disciples of all the people.  But that didn’t mean beat them over the head with a stick until they accepted Christ.

But how are we to do that, make disciples of everyone.  Since disciples can be taken to mean students, we are to teach them about Christ and what Christ did.  And it must be a lesson that is done outside the classroom, not inside.

When Jesus began His ministry, He spoke of bring sight to the blind, of feeding the hungry, of bringing aid and comfort to the sick and afflicted, and freeing the oppressed.  There is, if you will a concrete and an abstract view of this mission statement.  But you cannot achieve the abstract if you do not have the concrete.

Our task is to put the words of Christ into action.  This is a season of new hopes and new beginnings, it is a season that begins with us.

Peace to you, peace to all your friends, and peace for the season.

 

New Presidential Concerns


I have sent the following comments to my Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Representative Maloney.


There was an item in the news the other day that indicated Mr. Trump has elected to use his own security service instead of the Secret Service for his protection.

The similarity of this action to what transpired in Germany during the 1930’s is beyond belief.  That alone would suggest that Congress act to insure the safety of our government.

It must be made clear that individuals acting in the capacity of private security agents for the sole purpose of protecting Mr. Trump are acting as private citizens employed by an individual and not by the Secret Service.  There must be a clear statement that any actions taken by these individuals acting for a private security firm are liable under Federal and State laws.  There can be no instances where actions taken by these individuals are sanctioned by the United States Government.  They do not deserve nor should they get the same protection under the law that Secret Service employees receive.

And because Mr. Trump has voluntarily chosen to use his own security personnel, the Secret Service should not be tasked with the protection of properties that are not United States Government properties.  In other words, if Mr. Trump wishes to stay at one of his properties in either New York, Florida, or elsewhere, the United States Government should not be billed for any security expenses.  Mr. Trump has indicated that he wishes to employ his own staff for this purpose so he should bear the brunt of that expense.

The one thing that the Secret Service and personnel from our defense and intelligence agencies must do is insure that no classified or top secret documents or devices are in these properties without the proper security and that those individuals without the proper security clearances not be allowed access to such documents and/or devices.

If Mr. Trump should decide to use his own plane for transportation purposes rather than Air Force One, the United States Government should not be charged for any travel expenditures.

If the United States Government is charged for any services that are being handled by a third-party, that a strict audit of the charges be made and only reasonable expense be paid.  Whether he likes the concept or not, Mr. Trump will, in approximately one month, work for me and I don’t want my money wasted.