“Let Us Sing”


The following will be in the May 2023 issue of the Fishkill UMC Newsletter

Why do we sing?  Do we sing because we are happy (“His Eye Is on The Sparrow”, The Faith We Sing 2146)?

Do we sing because we want to make a joyful noise unto the Lord?

Perhaps we sing to express our feelings, our thoughts, and/or our emotions?

Or do we sing because what we sing rings in our soul?

To borrow a phrase from Genesis, there are as many reasons to sing as there are stars in the sky.

Each of us can identify songs and hymns, both traditional and not so traditional, that touch our hearts and move our souls, much as the early Psalms did.  These are the songs and music from the heart that bring us closer to God.

We find our connection with God in many ways. Some will find it through the spoken word, others through the written word and sometimes it comes from music that speaks to our heart. (“Music from the Heart”https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/music-from-the-heart/)

When I first heard the group Jefferson Airplane sing “Good Shepherd”, I marveled at the words of the song and how they seemed to echo words from the Gospel of John (John 21: 1 – 19).  In looking at the history of the piece, I discovered that the rock and roll piece that I heard evolved from a mid-20th century blues-based folk song.  And that folk song had evolved from a 19th century Gospel hymn with roots in an early 1800s hymn written by John Adam Grande, a Methodist preacher from Tennessee.

Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, who wrote the modern arrangement said that it was music like this that opened the doorway to the Scriptures for him.  As he noted, he found that he loved the Bible without knowing it (see “To Feed The Spirit As Well As The Body”https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/to-feed-the-spirit-as-well-as-the-body/).

Mickey Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead said,

“To fall in love is to fall in rhythm.” It is love for each other by which we know we are followers of Jesus, the ever-attentive shepherd. In the face of societal rules and attitudes that strive to foster “everyone for themselves,” they will know we are Christians by our love. How can we listen to the music that draws us together, “falling in rhythm” with neighbor to build up the whole?

(see “The Music We Hear“ – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/the-music-we-hear/)

Ann will tell you that it was Elvis’ Gospel music that provided her with an understanding of and a deep love for those who suffered. And it was hymns such as “Lift High the Cross” that helped affirm her belief in God and Jesus as her Savior. She will also tell you that another song, recorded by several groups and individuals, “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother” had a profound impact on her and her relationship with others and God.

And just recently, as I listened to “I Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For” by U2 (https://youtu.be/e3-5YC_oHjE), I again heard ties to God reaching out to us.

But what do we sing?  I am not talking about hymns or carols or folk songs or spirituals but the words that we sing. Do the words we sing have meaning?

To know if the words have meaning, we must listen carefully.  I remember the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” (https://youtu.be/gzOeAXrgYBI) by the Pacific Gas & Electric rock group.  It was one of the first pieces of music that could be called “Jesus Rock.”  It contained a very subtle Christian message, but I don’t think that many people understood the message contained within the verses of the song (I certainly didn’t back then).  I liked it because it was, for me, a good song with a good beat.  But over the course of my lay speaking, I saw connections between this song and passages in the New Testament, such as Mark 13: 1 – 8 (adapted from “Are You Ready?”https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/11/19/are-you-ready-2/).

And sometimes we may be ready to hear the words, but the sounds of society drown them out. 

Some forty years ago there was a song that showed us how the message of society can easily drown out the message of peace first expressed on Christmas Day two thousand years ago. It was a version of “Silent Night” sung by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and entitled “7 O’clock News/Silent Night”https://youtu.be/E8d5C8kPlJA

As they sang the traditional Christmas hymn, an announcer read the evening news. There is an interesting contrast between the beauty and serenity of the song and the darkness and fear that were then and are now the components of a typical news broadcast. The problem was that you had to focus on either the news broadcast or the singing; you could not hear both and it was entirely possible that the news broadcast with its litany of violence, death, and destruction drowned out the message first sung some 190 years ago.  (The Message Is Clear | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2007/01/21/the-message-is-clear/)

Bob Herren, a blogging friend of mine, noted that we often only listen to the first verse of Christmas carols such as “What Child Is This?” and thus miss the story included in the other verses. 

It is often the second or third verses of Christmas carols which get to the meat of things. The second verse of Dix’s famous carol gives us nails and spears piercing him through and the cross being borne for me and you. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” gets down to some serious Christology in the second verse as well. The first one is a rather general appeal to go to Bethlehem for a little sightseeing. O Little Town of Bethlehem waits until verse three to get into the forgiveness of sins.

(Wednesday of Christmas – Psalm 2 – A Grace-Filled Life (wordpress.com)https://bobherring2009.wordpress.com/2022/12/28/wednesday-of-christmas-psalm-2/)

As I was preparing to sing “Wade in the Water” last December, I discovered that many of the spirituals that we sing not only refer to the Bible but contain a second message, a message of freedom.

While the message of “Wade in the Water” centers on baptism, it has been suggested that those, such as Harriet Tubman, guiding escaped slaves to their freedom would sing this song to tell the people to get off the trail and into the water to prevent the dogs tracking them from finding them.

Similarly, the spiritual that I sang in January, “Down to the River” evolved from an earlier spiritual, “Down to the Valley”.  This song seems to have roots in both African American spirituals and Appalachian folk songs.  The valley represented a safe place to pray but was transformed into the river to represent a passage to freedom.  Those seeking their freedom should head “Down to the river”; the “Starry Crown” was a reference to the stars that would guide them; and “Good Lord, show me the way” was a prayer for guidance and deliverance.  As Glen Money wrote, when he sings it, he hears who did more than sing and hear but experienced the presence of God. (Down to the River to Pray | The Prompter (fbcstpete.org)https://fbcstpete.org/moneytalks/2020/01/31/down-to-the-river-to-pray/ )

It is also interesting to note that the role the Bible plays in spirituals and folk songs.  Spirituals serve as a source of education, passed on by oral tradition.  Prohibited from learning to read and write, slaves passed on life lessons through the spirituals and songs they sang.  And in learning the stories of the Bible, individuals learned about freedom.

So, we sing songs that move our souls and open the door to finding God.  We sing to tell the stories of the Bible and stories that lead to freedom, both here on Earth and within the Kingdom of God.

So, let us sing.

“Looking Beyond the Horizon”


2023 Faith and Science weekend

Boy Scout Sunday

6th Sunday after the Epiphany

The following is my contribution to 2023 Faith and Science weekend, sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project.

The lectionary readings for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20, 1 Corinthians 3: 1 – 15, and Matthew 5:21-37.

As you know, I am a chemist who chose to teach.  I am also a former lay speaker/minister.  For the better part of my career, I was engaged in both vocations.

Now, there were and are some who suggest that one cannot be both a chemist or scientist and a lay speaker/minister; you can be one but not both.  But such a combination is not unique for I know of two other individuals in the New York/Connecticut Annual Conference who are both chemists and lay speakers or ministers.  (And don’t forget that Pope Francis has a science degree in addition to his theology studies.)

In writing “A Dialogue of Science and Faith” (https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/a-dialogue-of-science-and-faith/) I discovered that Robert Boyle, founder of chemistry, Joseph Priestley, co-discoverer of oxygen, and Isaac Newton were men of science and faith who wanted to know more about how God had created this world in which we live.

Hannah Birky noted that,

We as Christians cannot claim that the world belongs to God and at the same time distrust the systematic study of it.  How Science Led Me to A Deeper Faith – Personal Story – BioLogos (https://biologos.org/personal-stories/how-science-led-me-to-a-deeper-faith)

Could we live in this world if it were not for Georges Lemaitre, who first postulated the Big Bang, or Gregor Mendel, who first postulated the mechanisms of genetics? Probably, but our knowledge of this world would be somewhat limited. Both were Catholic priests, yet both were willing to look beyond the written word to see what God had done.  (“Removing the Veil” | Thoughts from The Heart on The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/removing-the-veil/)

Yolanda Pierce wrote,

Everything that I learn about science fills me with spiritual wonder at the Creator who set a universe into motion. Everything I learn about the Creator fills me with spiritual longing to know more and to love more. These quests—the sacred and the scientific—are intertwined, not at odds with each other. To be able to peer through the Hubble telescope and to see across time and space is to experience the magnificence of a God who was there at the beginning, is now present with us, and forever more shall be. To think about DNA and the building blocks of life is to be reminded that of one blood we have all been created in God’s image and likeness. To ponder the sun, moon, and stars in their courses above is to be witness to the greatness of God’s faithfulness. Wonders upon wonders.  Believing in the future | The Christian Centuryhttps://www.christiancentury.org/article/voices/believing-future?fbclid=IwAR3GxEbJiwmcvNQKjOZC-JWVAHX0DK2d1r3L1eZZNhrRlJsOrKjfyZMdrtQ

It is entirely possible that I could or would have come to Christ without having been a Boy Scout but that is clearly a question for another time and place. Besides finding a path to God through the God and Country award, I also began to develop an appreciation for the world around us. One cannot help but see the work of God when the foothills of the Rocky Mountains serve as the backdrop for the first worship services you organize.

I concluded early on in my life that there was a Creator and that I should use the skills that God gave me and begin to work out the mysteries of the universe, from the moment of the Big Bang to the present day and perhaps far into the future?  (“Removing the Veil” | Thoughts from The Heart on The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/removing-the-veil/).

And how can we sing “for the beauty of the earth” or “when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hand is made” if there were not a Creator?

Last month I asked what you saw when you looked at the world around you (“What Do You See?” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2023/01/17/what-do-you-see-4/).

What did you see?

Did you not see the beauty of the world? 

Did you not look in awe and wonder at the beauty and complexity of the stars in pictures from the Hubble and Webb telescopes? 

Do you remember how you felt when you first looked through the lens of a microscope at drops of water taken from a nearby pond or stream?

Do you remember the feeling of watching the trees change color during the fall?

Did you see the hope and possibility of the future? 

Or was your vision of the future clouded by what is happening in the world today?  We see, feel, and hear about the effects of climate change.  We worry about the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.  We hear and are taught that all people are equal but see society divided by race, gender, and economic status and see individuals who work against equality.

As we look at the world, surely, we must ask ourselves how God can create a world that is one of beauty and hope and at the same time a world of destruction and despair.  Why would God allow evil to exist in a world of good?

Was your vision the same vision that John the Seer had when he envisioned the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death) and wonder where God might be in all of this?

But as we read in Deuteronomy, what we see is God talking to us.

I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

Today we stand at the crossroads (Jeremiah 6: 16) and must decide which path to take.  And this is a most difficult task, for we cannot see beyond the horizon.  Until we choose, the future is unknown.

Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, author of The Orthodox Way, wrote,

. . . 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 so much the object of our knowledge as is the cause of our wonder –

Ard Louis theoretical physicist and associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, noted that,

…science — as powerful, as beautiful, as amazing as it is — cannot tell me most of the answers to most of the important questions of life…

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote,

Or, to put it another way, you are God’s house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won’t get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn’t, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won’t be torn out; you’ll survive—but just barely. (1 Corinthians 3: 9 – 15)

We can choose to do nothing but then, as Paul writes, we will barely survive.  If we are not willing to give our best, then that will be the outcome.  Or we can choose the other path, to use the skills and abilities that God, Our Creator, has given us to make this a better world.

In his speech at American University on June 10, 1963 (affiliated, by the way, with the United Methodist Church), President John Kennedy noted that,

“Our problems are manmade–therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable–and we believe they can do it again.”

Science developed when we began to look at the world around us, the world that God created, and began to wonder.  And in our wonder, we began to ask “why?” and “how?”  And as we found the answers to these problems, we began to better understand ourselves.

In his speech to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963, President John Kennedy said,

George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said, “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were– and I say: ‘Why not?'”

We see the world of today for we cannot see beyond the horizon.  We look at the world today and see God’s creation.  Shall we do nothing and leave desolation and destruction in its many forms as our legacy for the future?

Or shall we use the sense of wonder and awe, shall we seek to find answers to the questions that we are asking to leave a brighter future and a greater legacy for those who follow us on the path we have chosen?


Clergy Letter Project Resources – Mystery and Awehttps://mysteryandawe.com/clergy-letter-project-resources/

Can science answer all of life’s questions? • Sharon Dirckx • OCCA (theocca.org)https://www.theocca.org/resources/can-science-answer-all-of-lifes-questions/

The 20 big questions in science | Science | The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/sep/01/20-big-questions-in-science

“What Do You See?”


This was my contribution for the January issue of the Fishkill UMC newsletter.

What do you see when you look at the stars?  The rising of Sirius, “the dog star”, in the spring told the ancient Egyptians that the annual flooding of the Nile would occur soon.

Each society and culture have their own stories about the stars and the constellations.  Do you see the people and animals that other people and cultures saw so many years ago?  Do you see the stories those first astronomers saw?  Do you see the Scorpion chasing the Hunter across the sky during the year?

The first “constellations” that you probably learned when you first looked to the skies were the “Big Dipper” and its companion, the “Little Dipper”.  It should be noted that the “Big Dipper” is an asterism, a collection of stars within a constellation.  In the case of the “Big Dipper”, it is part of the constellation Ursa Major.  (And my thanks to Jane Rausch for reminding me of this distinction.) But some cultures see the “Big Dipper” as a separate constellation.  It is also known in some cultures as the “drinking gourd” (or variations on that idea).

You learned that the two stars in the bowl of the “Big Dipper” pointed to Polaris, the star at the end of the handle of the “Little Dipper.”  (see the accompanying diagram)

It is a tradition that those escaping slavery in the time before the Civil War were told to “follow the drinking gourd.”  But the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, that told of the path to walk towards freedom was not written until after the war, so the validity of the story behind the song is questionable.  Still, those who sought their freedom by traveling north looked to the stars of the “Big Dipper”, i.e, “the drinking gourd”, for a path to freedom.

When the Magi looked at the stars, they were looking for signs of the future.  We know now that they were looking deep into the past, but that’s a story for another time.

The Magi and their colleagues opened our eyes to the wonders of the universe and their efforts are recorded in the names of many of the stars we see today (a look at the diagram of the “Little Dipper”, “Big Dipper” and Boötes shows that several of the stars have Arabic names.)

There is still a debate as to what the Magi saw that lead them to travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  But whatever they saw, they interpreted it as something important and that was enough for them to make the journey. Others saw the same signes but they either ignored the signs or decided they were not important.

In one sense, the Magi did see the future, but it was when they met the Christ Child that they had a glimpse of the future.  The announcement of Jesus’s birth was not given in the hallways of the rich, mighty, and powerful but among the people.  Jesus’ birth changed the future and gave hope to the people when it did not seem that hope was possible. 

“Systems are designed for the results they are getting. If you want different results, you will have to redesign the system.”

Jones, Quest for Quality in the Church: A New Paradigm

Joseph Henry, one of America’s first great physicists, once remarked that “the seeds of great discoveries are constantly flowing around us, but they only take root in minds well prepared to receive them.” 

Louis Pasteur once said that “Luck favors the prepared mind.”

X-rays, penicillin, Teflon, and pulsars are examples of events where the experimenter saw something that others considered superfluous or an experimental error.

Wilhelm Roentgen saw what others had seen and determined that a new ray, which he called X-rays, caused the “fogging” of the photographic plates in his laboratory. Others had seen this same fogging but ignored it or blamed it on faulty equipment. Roentgen went beyond the simple explanations and made the discovery.

In 1962, Neil Bartlett synthesized xenon tetrafluoride. The uniqueness of this synthesis was that, according to the chemistry textbooks of the time (and this includes the textbooks I used as a student from 1966 – 1968 and as an instructor from 1971 from 1980), it impossible to do. Xenon is known as a Noble Gas, so named because it seems to be chemically inert and thus would not form chemical compounds. Dr. Bartlett looked at the properties of xenon and determined that, in fact, such compounds could be made.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was a graduate student in 1967 when she saw what she described as “bits of scruff” on the printout of the output of a radio telescope.  Her professor insisted that the signal was simply interference and manmade.  Dr. Bell Burnell insisted that the signal was real and futher study provided the evidence for pulsars.

How we see the signs around us tell a lot about who we are and who we desire to be?

Marilyn Ferguson wrote in the Aquarian Conspiracy, “We find our individual freedom by choosing not a destination but a direction.”

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice was told that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” (a paraphrase of the dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland)

Slaves saw the “drinking gourd” as the direction to freedom.  The Magi saw the signs of a new future when they found the Christ Child.  Their lives were no doubt changed by this encounter and I am sure that they told others, their friends, and their neighbors, just as the shepherds did, what they saw when they returned home.

The religious and political establishment saw Jesus as a threat to their positions of power.  When they crucified Jesus and had Him put into the Tomb, they thought that was the end of the story.

What do you see now that Christmas is over, and the shepherds and Magi have come and gone?  Do you see a new world or is it the same world that was there before we celebrated Christmas?  How do you see the lost, the persecuted, the sick and forgotten?  Are they mistakes in society to be forgotten or is humanity to be found in how they are treated?

What do you see?

Notes

Leading The Way | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

A Matter of Faith | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

And When You Least Expect It | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

“Thoughts for Thanksgiving”


This will be in the November issue of the Fishkill UMC newsletter.

————————————————————————————————————————–

If you are of my generation, then you are aware of a particular 18 ½ – minute song that speaks of a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.  (I wrote of that particular song and my own Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat in Thanksgiving, 2006 | Thoughts from The Heart on The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/11/23/thanksgiving-2006/.)

When I was teaching in the bootheel of Missouri and singing in the local UMC choir, the music director would, as Thanksgiving approached, express her disdain for what she called “the corn song” (It’s #694 in the hymnal but don’t ask me why she called it the “corn song.”).

When I think of Thanksgiving and its associated songs, I think of “We Gather Together.”

Thanksgiving may be a time of football, of cooking turkeys in many ways, and of parades but it is also, at least for me, a time of family gatherings.

But while we gather with our friends and families, there are those who cannot gather with their families.  Perhaps, they are college students or service personnel who cannot go home for the short Thanksgiving holiday.  Others cannot go home because, for whatever reason, their families have shunned them.

It has been part of Methodism that we welcome the strangers.  The founders of Methodism went to the prisons, to the fields, to the mines to bring the Good News to the people.  These first efforts brought a sense of hope and thanksgiving to the people who had been forgotten or castoff.

Before we turn our attention to the end-of-the-year financial statements, before we begin traveling to be with our family and friends, and before the day of turkey, parades and football arrives, we should think about how we can continue what the members of that first Methodist movement and revival did and reach out to those who cannot do what we can.

Let this be the year that others can enjoy that Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat and give them something for which they can be thankful.

What Is In Your Heart?


How many times have we heard someone say, “God helps those who help themselves”?  As biblical as that may sound, it is not in the Bible, and it is not even true!

What is in the Bible is that God helps those who cannot help themselves.

Jim Wallis tells the story about an experiment he and some of his friends performed while they were in seminary.  They made a study of every reference to the poor, to God’s love for the poor, and God being the deliverer of the oppressed.  They determined that such verses were the second most prominent in the Old Testament (idolatry being first).  One of every sixteen verses in the New Testament was about the poor; in the Gospels, it was one of every ten, and in the Gospel of Luke, it was one of every seven.

One member of the group then took a Bible and cut out every verse related to the poor or the oppressed.  When he was done, the Bible fell apart. (1)

When you think about it, this contrasts with the words and voices of many Christian clergy and laity who say that the two moral issues of today are marriage and sexuality.  While there are some verses on these topics in the Bible, they are, as the saying goes, few and far between and Jesus spent very little time discussing them. (2)

A group of ministers and laity who identify themselves as “traditionalist” recently created the Global Methodist Church.  But when you read the words behind the formation of this denomination, you read the words of a denomination more Baptist in nature and far from the traditions of the United Methodist Church.  (3)

These individuals are concerned, upset, and angry that paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1 of the Book of Discipline are not being enforced. (4) 

These topics deal with the ordination of LGBTQ individuals and the performance of same-sex marriages. Rather than followers of Paul, they are followers of Saul whose journey to Damascus was to arrest and bring to trial followers of Jesus for their failure to follow the law.

We know that John Wesley was barred from preaching in the sanctuaries of the Anglican Church in England. Philip Otterbein and Jacob Albright, two of the three founders of what would become the Evangelical United Brethren Church, were excommunicated from their respective churches for their failure to stay “within the boundaries” of their denomination.

Now, let me point out that Leviticus 21 lays out the physical and spiritual qualification for the priesthood.  Individuals could be considered for the priesthood if they were, first, a man and if they were “without defect.”  As I need glasses to see, under those rules, I could be considered defective and as such, ineligible to have been a lay speaker.

Luther did not define Christians by a strict adherence to those regulations (meaning laws in the Bible), because, for him, the Bible was not a law code for Christian conduct. It was a declaration of freedom based on what he called the gospel. (5)

While I understand that the Book of Discipline is to ensure the continuity and structure within the denomination and that “rules are there for a purpose”, I must question the intent and validity of laws specifically designed to prevent a given group of people from participating in activities others can engage in.

¶304.3 (4) was put into the discipline in 1972 and we have been arguing since then.  But like so many rules of this nature, it strikes me as a rule created out of ignorance, fear, and hate.

The rhetoric and debate that I have heard over these past twenty years are, in my mind, no different from the rhetoric and debate over slavery that split the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844 nor the rhetoric and debate over segregation in this country in the 1950s and 1960s.

Though I did not know it at the time, the baseball team that I tried out for in the spring of 1963 was not part of the national Little League program, but a separate program known as the Dixie Youth League.  It was not part of the national program because the adults who ran the DYL did not want to integrate their teams.

Keep in mind that many of the schools that I attended during that time were segregated by law.  And while, in the most technical of terms, the schools that others attended were equal to the schools I attended, that was never the case.

And I cannot forget, even sixty years later, the uneasiness and possible fear I felt when I encountered the physical barriers of segregation in a theater in Lexington, NC.  (6)

So, I have a problem with a law or rule that says others cannot do what I am allowed to do on the basis of skin pigmentation, gender, or sexual identity.

Who does God call to bring forth His word? 

Some of the prophets, such as Isaiah and Micah, were scholars, individuals who had studied and understood the Torah.  But others, such as Amos and Jonah, came from the general population.

Who was it that told the 12 about the resurrection?  Are we to ignore the contributions of Mary and the other women?

And remember the nature of Peter’s vision.  It was not only about what was served on the buffet table but who could receive the message.

Some received the call from the Holy Spirit in the manner of Paul on the road to Damascus; others received it in the manner of John Wesley in the chapel on Aldersgate Street.  Martin Luther came to his understanding of God’s grace through what he called his “tower moment”, that time when he was deep in a study of the Bible and attempting to understanding God’s grace.

Consider this if you will.  Each candidate for ordination goes through a series of interviews, from the local church all the way up to their District and must answer 13 separate questions concerning their call.  What does it say about an organization that says that one individual’s answers are more worthy of consideration than someone else’s because of how they identify themselves?

It is not ours to decide the validity of another person’s call; it is ours to help them move forward with that call.

Finally, what does it say about us as Methodists when we act against our very soul?

The Wesleyan approach was open, inclusive, and a practical theological vision of the Christian life as opposed to the restrictive, exclusive, dogmatic approach to matters of faith and practice seen in traditional churches.

Our theological heritage was and still is to preach outside the normal boundaries of a church. Methodism began as a spiritual movement to renew a decaying institutional church and serve the outcast, the marginalized, and the poor, those traditional Christians called the “unwashed rabble”.

The early Methodist movement was everything the traditional church wasn’t.  It was often messy or unregulated.  It was based on small groups, it empowered women, gave enslaved persons a sense of freedom, and created a vision of justice and liberation.

In 18th century America, Methodism was a “volatile, alienated, defiant, and charismatic” movement that empowered “those who were demeaned and degraded” with a revolutionary sense of God’s liberating loved (“Religion in the Old South”, Don Matthews, University of Chicago Press, 1977).  Methodism was seen as a threat to the establishment of the time because it was revolutionary, inclusive, heart-centered, and Jesus-fired.

Isn’t it time that we revive our true nature?

It is found in our hearts, strangely warmed and on fire with love.  It is an identity of risk and rebellions, of holy revolutions, of challenging ecclesial authorities who say “No!”, of listening to the voices of the outcast.

Our table is an open table, open to those who profess a love of Christ in their hearts.  From the very beginning of the Methodist revival, we turned no one away who openly professed such a love.  What other denominations or faiths can say the same? (7)

What is in your heart?  What is in your soul?  At a time when others will try to change the meaning of Methodism to facilitate their own desire for power and prestige, will you seek the fire that burns, the fire that cleans and allows one to bring the message of Christ to all the people, openly and truthfully.


Notes and references

1        When Are We Going To Learn? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/when-are-we-going-to-learn-2/

Can You? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/can-you/

2        “What Will Tomorrow Bring?” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/what-will-tomorrow-bring/

3 https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2022/04/15/5-reasons-to-stay-in-the-united-methodist-church-by-paul-chilcote/

see also Why Stay? – Stay UMChttps://www.stayumc.com/about/)

4        ¶ 304.3 While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.  The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.2

1            Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.  See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984, 1020.

2        See Judicial Council Decisions 984, 985, 1027, 1028

¶ 2702. 1.  A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶370), local pastor9, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statue of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)10 with one or more of the following offenses: a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage;11 (b) practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,12  including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;13 (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor;14 (g) child abuse;15 (h) sexual abuse;16 (i) sexual misconduct15 including the use or possession of pornography, (j) harassment, including but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; (k) racial or gender discrimination; or (l) fiscal malfeasance.

9           See Judicial Council Decision 984

10         The statute of limitations went into effect as law on a prospective basis starting on January 1, 1993.  All alleged offenses that occurred prior to this date are time barred.  See Judicial Council Decisions 691, 704, and 723.

11       The language beginning “including but not limited to . . . “first appeared in the 2004 Book of Discipline, effective January 1, 2005.

12       See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 984, 985, 1185.

13       The language beginning “including but not limited to . . . “first appeared in the 2004 Book of Discipline, effective January 1, 2005.

14       See Judicial Council Decision 702.

15       This offense was first listed as a separate chargeable offense in the 1996 Book of Discipline effective April 27, 1996.  See Judicial Council Decision 691.

16       See Judicial Council Decisions 736, 768.

6        Lexington, North Carolina | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/lexington-north-carolina/

7        “We Are Outsiders!” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

Wise and prophetic words from Diana Butler Bass (posted on Facebook by Elizabeth Brick, 3 May 2022)

Note Posted on Facebook by Paul Chilcote, 4 May 2022

“The World Out There” – A Pentecost Meditation


One of the requirements that I had to meet when completing Drivers Ed in high school was 6 hours of driving.  Some of this was done in a simulator but I still had to get in a car and do some actual driving.  Because of my schedule, I did this driving after school with a Shelby County Deputy Sheriff as my instructor.

Each day, I would meet him at the car, and he would tell me to just start driving.  Now, because my family had just moved to the Memphis area, I did not know a whole lot about the area, so I drove on the roads I knew.

For four days, I left the high school, dropped down to Stage Road and headed east toward the intersection of Stage Road with Austin Peay and Jackson.  When I got to the intersection, I would turn right onto Austin Peay and drive out to the Naval Air Station at Millington and then turn around and drive back home.  It was a straight road with one turn, no stop signs, probably one traffic light, and virtually no traffic. 

So it was that on my last day of driving, as I prepared to make my usual right hand turn onto Austin Peay, the Deputy told me to make a left hand turn onto Jackson.  This was territory into which I had never gone; I had no idea what I might encounter in the ways of stop signs or stop lights or other traffic.  But I made the turn and headed into the unknown territory of Jackson Avenue.  And as we approached the first of two bridges, the Deputy told me to take a right and go under the bridge.  This would allow me to turn around and head for home.

Clearly, what the Deputy was doing was getting me used to traffic and driving in unfamiliar situations. 

One can only imagine what the people gathered at Jerusalem on Pentecost must have thought when they were told to take the Gospel message beyond the constraints of Jerusalem.

Clearly, they knew that there was a world beyond the boundaries of their daily lives.  The list of various nationalities that were there on Pentecost tells us this.

The Roman Empire had built a network of roads to connect the empire.  They had built the roads to allow the rapid transport of military units to maintain the Pax Romana, but these roads would also allow Paul and the other disciples to take the Gospel message from Jerusalem to the other parts of the Empire.

So those gathered knew that there was a world outside Jerusalem but that would not tell them how they would be received when they presented the Good News.

Did they remember the story of Abram and Sarai leaving the Ur valley for an unknown land with only a promise that it would be a good land?  Or did they fear the consequences of leaving home and becoming enslaved like the sons of Jacob who traveled to Egypt?

Tradition tells us that 11 of the 12 disciples (Matthias having been chosen to replace Judas Iscariot) would meet a violent death.  Only John Zebedee, the Beloved Disciple, would die a natural death, though in exile on the island of Patmos.

In addition, we know that there were internal conflicts among Christians about the nature of Christianity.  At first it was an internal dispute that focused on the nature of Christianity, but over the years we would see the original church split into the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches which was later followed by the Protestant Reformation and further splits in that the various denominations we have today.  Internal divisions in the church seem to be a part of our faith tradition but these divisions were never about the mission of the church, but it always seemed to focus on the how and not the why.

The tradition of taking the Gospel message to the people is also very much a part of our Methodist tradition.  It was the Methodist circuit rider who took the message to the people of first the thirteen colonies and then the newly formed states. We see the results of those efforts today.  Many of the United Methodist Churches in the Hudson Valley were once a stop on a circuit. 

Circuit riders had to be young, in good health, and single (since marriage and a family forced preachers to settle in one area and leave the traveling ministry). Unlike their counterparts in other denominations, Methodist circuit riders did not have to have a formal education. Leaders of the new church wanted educated, trained circuit riders, but they wanted even more to spread their ministry to people on the frontier who needed Christian guidance.

Circuit riders rarely served longer than one or two years in a circuit before being appointed to a new circuit. This gave the preachers an opportunity to reuse their sermons and to perfect their delivery. It also kept them from growing too familiar with the local people and wanting to settle down.

Life was not easy for a circuit rider, partly because living conditions on the frontier were harsh. Often, a stormy night was described as so bad that only crows and Methodist preachers were out.

We can only imagine the troubles and turmoil that the early circuit riders went through. Five hundred of the first six hundred and fifty Methodist circuit-riders retired prematurely from the ministry. Nearly one fourth of the first eight hundred ministers who died were under the age of thirty-five. Over one hundred and twenty-five itinerants were between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five when they died: and over half of the eight hundred died before they reached thirty! About two hundred traveling preachers died within the first five years of their entrance into the ministry and nearly two thirds died before they had preached twelve years.

The traveling minister in the Methodist Church was noted for his self-sacrificing spirit. He endured hardships in the ministry which few men of the present age can fathom. Richard Hofstadter, the widely respected American historian, once stated,

“The bulwark and the pride of the early American Methodists were the famous circuit-riding preachers who made up in mobility, flexibility, courage, hard work, and dedication what they might lack in ministerial training or dignity. These itinerants were justly proud of the strenuous sacrifices they made to bring the gospel to the people.”

It was their devotion to God and America that kept them going. It was a demanding life, as one early preacher wrote,

Every day I travel, I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from head to feet, and some days from morning to night I am dripping with water. My horse’s legs are now skinned and rough to his hock joints, and I have rheumatism in all my joints. . . what I have suffered in body and mind my pen is not able to communicate to you.

As the preacher continued, he tells why he suffered as he did,

But this I can tell say, while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire, and I can say with Saint Paul, ‘But none of these things shall move me. Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy. (“Nothing But Crows and Methodist Preachers”)

Enoch George, who later became a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, said that serving the Pamlico Circuit (NC) in 1790 and 1791, he “was chilled by agues [malaria], burned by fevers, and, in sickness or health, beclouded by mosquitoes.”

The lifestyle of the early Methodist traveling preacher perished with the settlement and growth of the nation; however, their dedication remained an inspiration to every generation.

The one thing that ties our circuit riding forbears to the disciples in Jerusalem is/was the presence of the Holy Spirit that empowered them to go out into the world, relying on local travel knowledge as accurate maps did not exist, and not knowing who or what they may encounter.

We no longer have the traditional circuit riders but there is still a need to bring the Gospel message to the people.  And while we may know the territory into which we will take the Message, at times it is just as inhospitable as anything our circuit riding forbearers or the first disciples ever encountered.

If you have been following the news of the UMC, you know that the General Conference scheduled for 2020 was postponed and is not scheduled to meet until next year.  And the primary topic for this General Conference will be whether we as a faith can continue to be known as “United Methodists.”

There are those who call themselves “United Methodists” but whose words, thoughts, deeds, and actions reflect a more fundamentalist and legalistic approach.  They are requesting/demanding that radical changes be made to the nature of Methodism.  These individuals will say that they are reforming the United Methodist Church and returning it to its Wesleyan roots.  But while John Wesley was attempting to reform his church, the Anglican Church, and he never intended to create a new church, these “reformers” are intent on destroying the present United Methodist Church.

As Reverend Paul Chilcote noted in “5 Reasons to Stay in the United Methodist Church, (https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2022/04/15/5-reasons-to-stay-in-the-united-methodist-church-by-paul-chilcote/; see also Why Stay? – Stay UMChttps://www.stayumc.com/about/), their words sound more like something a Baptist would draft, not the words of a United Methodist. 

I will be so bold as to say these individuals are not interested in the Gospel but power.  They want to tell us what to believe and how to believe.  They want to tell us who can preach and who can come into the sanctuary.  And, if you should choose to defy their edicts, they want to take you to an ecclesiastical court and then banish you from the faith.

We know that John Wesley initially favored a faith with a legalistic and structured approach (why do you think we are called Methodists?).  But it was an approach that did not work, and it was only when John Wesley went to the Chapel on Aldersgate Street and accepted the Holy Spirit that the movement that became known as the Methodist Revival began to succeed.

Notwithstanding differences between denominations, the fundamental message of Christianity remains the same.  As Clarence Jordan noted,

“It seems to me that we Christians have an idea here that the world is tremendously in need of. When we’re tottering fearfully on the brink of utter annihilation, looking so desperately for hope from somewhere, walking in deep darkness, looking for one little streak of light, do not we Christians have some light? Can’t we say, ‘Sure, we know the way. It’s the way of love and of peace. We shall not confront the world with guns in our hands and bombs behind our backs. We shall confront the world without fear, with utter helplessness except for the strength of God.” – Clarence Jordan, The God Movement, The Substance of Faith

A few years back it looked like I might have to leave the denomination.  But I made the decision to stay.  In part, it was because I could see no other denomination where I might fit in.  But the decision to stay lie also in what the denomination had done for me.

As a chemist, I know how to answer questions that deal with how things are done; as a Christian, I seek to answer questions about why.  In that regard, I had pastors who taught me, guided me, and helped me find the answers to the questions I was asking. 

Without their teaching and guidance, I may never have understood the nature of God’s call or realize that one day some years later I needed to do more than simply say that I am a Christian and a Methodist. 

Three hundred and fifty years ago, when John Wesley and his friends began what became known as the Methodist Revival, the conditions for a violent revolution in England were present.  It is a matter of the historical record that the Methodist revival, which began after Aldersgate, prevented the type of violent revolution that swept over France at the same time. 

And in today’s world marked by more violence, where wars are waging and poverty, homelessness, and sickness are more and more part of our lives, where people are excluded because of their race or identity, more and more people are asking “why”. 

Where will those seeking answers to their questions find them? 

We are being called.

As Pentecost approaches, we are being called.

We are being called to help people find answers to their questions of why? 

We are being called to answer the question, “Where is God in the world out there?”

We are being called to take the Good News into the world out there. 

We are being called to tell the world out there that there is a better way, a way of love and peace, a way where all succeed, where pain is relieved, where injustice is overcome, where repression is banished to the 11th level of Sheol, never to escape.

We are being called to go outside our comfort zone and into the world out there.

We are being called.

Yes, it was scary when that Deputy Sheriff told me to “turn left at the light” and go into unknown territory.  But I trusted that he knew what he was doing.  He had watched me drive for four days and knew what I could do.

Those gathered in Jerusalem two thousand years ago were told to wait until the Holy Spirit had come and empowered them.

I remember that first summer when a District Superintendent asked to me lead a series of churches for ten weeks.  And while I may not have known it at that time, I have come to know that every time I stepped up to the pulpit, I did not do it alone, for the Holy Spirit was there with me.

And as we go into the world out there, we know that we do not go alone.  We go with our friends, and we go empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The world out there awaits the Good News, so go in peace, and take the Word.


Notes

https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/can-you-imagine-2/

https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-search-for-excellence-in-the-church-today/


Notes on the history of circuit riders –

“Into the Wilderness: Circuit Riders Take Religion to the People”, Jordan Fred, Jr., Spring, 1998 (https://www.ncpedia.org/anchor/wilderness-circuit-riders)

“Methodist circuit-riders in America, 1776 – 1844, William A. Powell, Jr., 1977 (https://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1836&context=masters-theses)

References within

Elmer T. Clark, Album of Methodist History (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1932), p. 107.

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), p. 95.

Methodist Revival and the non-English Revolution

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/evangelical-revival-in-england-11630228.html

https://christianheritagefellowship.com/the-prayer-meeting-that-saved-england/

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/367 disputes this notion

http://www.apricotpie.com/lucy-anne/how-methodist-movement-prevented-british-revolution

https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/revival-and-revolution/

5 Reasons to Stay in The United Methodist Church by Paul Chilcote


This was originally posted by Paul E. Chilcote on Facebook on April 9, 2022. My thanks to Reverend Chilcote for allowing me to post this.

My roots are deep in The United Methodist Church. Like most “preachers’ kids,” I went through a period in which I questioned my inherited faith tradition, but I came through that process with a deeper appreciation and love for the UMC and all it represents. “Ten Reasons Why I’ll Join the Global Methodist Church,” by Jay Therrell, President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Florida Chapter, has recently made a new appearance on Facebook. If you read through that document closely, the portrait of the GMC he paints is congregational in polity (not connectional), creedal in orientation (not oriented around “faith working by love”), and essentially exclusive (not inclusive in vision, despite its “global” title).

I co-chaired the World Methodist Council/Baptist World Alliance Dialogue, and the ten reasons document “feels” like something my Baptist colleagues may have drafted. I do not mean that pejoratively in any way. I love my Baptist brothers and sisters, but the UMC offers a different vision of Christian faith and practice. What concerns me most about this blog is the way in which it diverges sharply, in my humble opinion, from a genuinely Wesleyan vision.

As May 1 looms large for many of us who are United Methodists, here are my five reasons to stay in the UMC.

1. The UMC has a wide, gracious, and loving embrace. The church I think most people yearn for is a community of faith that puts love at the very center of its life and vision. This openness to all people as unique brothers and sisters deeply loved by God characterizes the UMC I know. All God’s children are invited to put their gifts to use in the service of God’s reign of reconciliation.

2. The UMC aspires to be Christ-like in practice. Countless surveys over the past decades demonstrate that the majority of people in the United States view the church as judgmental. Jesus gives us a different model of relating to the world and others. The UMC seeks to cultivate disciples of Jesus who are like him – merciful, compassionate, forgiving.

3. The UMC is shaped by a dynamic view of scripture. The UMC is strongly biblical in its orientation. The Bible is the bedrock upon which the faith of United Methodists is built. But its view of the Bible is not simplistic; rather, like Wesley, it embraces a dynamic conception of scripture as the “living Word.” Antithetical to literalistic views of scripture, the United Methodist view offers a rich, robust, but yes scriptural foundation for life in the triune God.

4. The UMC is deeply concerned about growth in grace. Not so much invested in believing the right things, its primary passion is translating God’s love into action in life. It elevates the importance of practices of piety, like prayer, but also advocates acts of mercy – compassion and justice for all. The UMC offers a holistic spirituality that refuses to separate the spiritual from the concrete realities of life.

5. The UMC is missional in character. The UMC does not live for itself, but for others. It is missional in its design to partner with God in God’s great work of love in the world. Its fundamental orientation is outward, spun out in the life of the world to wage peace, work for justice, and to emulate the “beloved community” God desires for all.

The Days We Remember


As I began this piece, I thought of a piece by the Beatles, “There are places that I remember.”  This is a very appropriate song for someone who has grown up in so many places and met so many people along the way.

But I also see my journey through time and space in terms of dates, days of special importance to me.

We all have a set of dates that we remember.  Birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions are a part of our memory.  They are dates on the calendar that mark the high points (and sometimes low points) of our lives.

I will always remember that December 23, 1950, was the date of my baptism.  I will always remember that on February 14, 1965, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st UMC) of Aurora, Colorado).

And I have the letter dated March 7, 1966, that told me that I was accepted into the High School Honors Program at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).

I cannot forget July 7, 1973, or June 7, 1976, as those are the birthdays of my two daughters (Melanie Mitchell-Wexler and Meara Lee Mitchell).  And I had better not forget April 22, 1943, as that is Ann’s birthday or July 17, 1999, as that is our anniversary.

Despite their importance in my life, I do not remember the date of my high school graduation in 1968, my graduation from Truman in 1971, or my graduation for the University of Missouri in 1975.  I remember that it rained the night of my high school graduation, so our after-graduation celebration was somewhat muted.  I remember that my graduation from Missouri was on a Saturday afternoon in August and how there had been finals that morning and there were perhaps a few people in attendance who really hadn’t graduated.  I suspect that I do not remember those dates because I was expected to graduate.

I would like to say I remember receiving my doctorate from Iowa but the administration of the university where I worked wouldn’t let me travel to Iowa City, so there is no ceremony to remember.

June 6th has a double meaning for me.  If the notes I have concerning my grandfather’s military career are correct, he was going to be promoted to brigadier general and would have commanded a unit that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944.  But a recurring ulcer forced him to retire in 1943 and I would get a chance that many did not to know him, if but for a few years.

Senator Robert Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet on June 6, 1968.  I was in school at Truman, so the impact of his death was not as direct or powerful as what had transpired two months earlier on April 4, 1968.

On that Thursday, four days before the beginning of Holy Week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.  His assassination had perhaps a bit more of an impact on me as I was living in Memphis at the time.

Slightly over one year later, I would be standing next to the leadership of the Association of Black Collegians during a sit-in of the administration building at Truman (an act that did not please my parents).  I had experienced the effects of segregation while growing up in Alabama and Tennessee, so I could not stand by when some of my college friends were treated in the same manner (see Side by Side).

It was also at that time that I began to gain a better understanding of what it meant to be a Christian (see “The Changing of Seasons”).

In a few days (depending on when you read this), we will begin Holy Week (Palm Sunday is April 10th and Easter Sunday is April 17th).

These dates are on our calendar because someone two thousand years ago wanted us to remember what happened.

They wanted us to remember the joy and celebration that occurred when Jesus entered the city on the day that we now call Palm Sunday. 

They wanted us to remember the anger that Jesus expressed when he threw the money changers out of the temple on Tuesday of that week.

They wanted us to remember the bewilderment they felt when they heard Jesus speak of His broken body and shed blood during their last meal together.

They really didn’t want to remember how the crowds that cheered on Sunday jeered on Friday or the sadness they felt as they saw Jesus crucified.

They really didn’t want to remember watching Jesus die on the Cross or the fear they felt because they thought that the political and religious authorities would now be looking for them.

And they really did not want to remember the feeling of hopelessness that engulfed them on Saturday as Jesus lay in the tomb and it appeared that all they had worked for the past three years seemed to be for naught.

But most important of all, they wanted us to remember the joy and excitement that came with hearing that Jesus had risen from the dead that Easter Sunday.  And they wrote this all down so that those who were not there then and people for years to follow would know what had taken place those three years in the Galilee.

They wanted us to know about the people who were healed, of the people brought back to society after being cast aside, of bringing hope and a promise to those who were lost and forgotten.

Each generation has taken the words written down some two thousand years ago and added to the story.  What will we be adding?

Will the people of the church remember what Jesus said that day in Nazareth when he began his ministry?

“The Lord’s spirit is on me;

He has ordained me to break the good news to the poor people.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the oppressed,

And sight for the blind.

To help those who have been grievously insulted to find dignity;

To proclaim the Lord’s new era.”

(Luke 4: 18 – 19, The Cotton Patch Gospels)

Will the people of the church remember that Jesus came, not to enforce the law, but to bring life to the law?  Will they remember that what Jesus offered gave them a path to God that the religious authorities denied them?

Will the people remember the church as being people-centered or for maintaining the status quo?

Today, some two thousand years later, I am not sure that people remember that Jesus turned no one away, that he felt compassion for all, and that he forgave those who persecuted Him.  There are many who call themselves Christian, but they do not fear the religious and political authorities for they have sought to become those individuals.  Their only desire is to persecute those who do not believe as they do or might question the tenets of faith that they hold dear.

Today, I am not sure what my classmates remember about that April day in 1968.  From comments that I have seen from some of them on Facebook, the death of Dr. King had no effect on their lives.  All the work that was done to achieve equality for all is slowly being taken apart by those who believe there is no equality among people, and they are superior.

And yet the equality the Civil Rights movement sought, and for which many died, has its very roots in the equality that Jesus sought.

Will the church be remembered for preaching that the Gospel message was for all the people and or for preaching a message of exclusion and hatred?

Will the people of the United Methodist Church remember that it was the early Methodists who started the first schools for children, who created credit unions to help the working class, provided free health care clinics to people who could not afford health care, or that they fed the hungry and visited the prisoners in jail?

Will the church be remembered for welcoming immigrants because we were once immigrants, or will it shun the immigrants because it does not want to remember?  And will people remember that those who laid the foundation of our faith were once immigrants as well?

Will the church of today be remembered as the church that fostered scientific inquiry or the church that stifled it?  Will the church be remembered for caring for God’s creation or will be it remembered for allowing it to be destroyed through war and neglect?

We have spent the last forty days preparing for this time. 

We stood at that altar at one point in our life and gave our lives to Christ.  Are we disciples of Christ or merely admirers of His work?

Are we willing to stand before the world and say, “I am a Christian!  I may not want to do the work before me, I may not want to feed the hungry; I may not want to find shelter for the homeless or clothes for the needy; I am in no position to give comfort or support for those in pain and I certainly do not want to fight oppression and persecution.  But that is what I am called to do and that is what I shall do.

On the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, how will you be remembered?


Notes:

Dreams of the Present, Visions of the Future | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2008/05/02/dreams-of-the-present-visions-of-the-future/

“This Is the Place” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/this-is-the-place-2/

Where Were You On April 4, 1968? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/where-were-you-on-april-4-1968/

“Let Us Finish What We Started” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/let-us-finish-what-we-started/

Why Are We Observing Lent Again


These are my thoughts for this year’s season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is March 2nd this year.  Why are we observing Lent this year?  Are we doing so because we really haven’t observed it these past two years? 

If nothing else, it is nice to be back to the mindset of a “normal” season of Lent.  Then again, because the timing of Lent is based on when Easter occurs, no Lenten season is the same as the ones before it. So, the question really should be “why do we observe Lent every year?”

Perhaps this year we can really look at what Lent means for each of us.  I am afraid that for too many people Lent is about sacrifice.  These individuals will publicly announce, sometimes with great fanfare and showmanship, that they are giving something up for Lent.  But such acts are the acts of the religious elite that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called out.  For as soon as Lent turns to the Easter season, these individuals will return to their consumption or usage of whatever it was they sacrificed for Lent.

Lent is more than the sacrifice of a favorite food or activity; it is about repentance and preparation.

We are far from a perfect people, but we are also a people who, through Christ, seek perfection.  Repentance is, thus, part of this process.  We must repent of our old ways, casting off that which has kept us from reaching our goals.  But we must also have some sense of where we want to go.  And that requires study and preparation.

If our faith is to live, it must be nurtured.  Otherwise, it will die.  And while our physical body may live on, what good is that if our soul has died?

I am not sure if I have ever met someone whose soul has died so I can only imagine what sort of life that person must have.  But I have met many whose intellectual life has died.  These individuals have reached the goals they set for themselves professionally and, having reached those goals, stopped learning.  Such individuals are quite literally out of touch with today’s society.  I have also met individuals who reached the pinnacle in their profession, but they continue to learn, striving to reach higher goals.

The difference, perhaps, is that those who continue to seek understanding also understand that their profession continues to change and to be alive in their profession, they must continue the process themselves.

I have been involved in chemical education for some 57 years, first as a high school student, then as a college student, and then as a teacher in high school and an instructor/assistant professor college.  Even today, as a chemistry tutor, I continue to learn more about this subject that has been my vocation for this so many years (recently, the American Chemical Society announced an online review course to see chemistry with modern examples [Facebook post – 2/9/22]).

Over these years I have observed that chemistry is based on a certain set of fundamentals.  In fact, from the day in 1661 when Robert Boyle published the “Sceptical Chymist”, we have known that there is a set of fundamentals on which chemistry (and all sciences) are based.  [It should also be noted that Boyle was as well known for writings on theology as he was for his scientific endeavors.]  But over the years, our understanding of those fundamentals has changed.

The idea of the atom as the smallest part of matter has been a fundamental part of chemistry since approximately 450 BCE.  But our understanding of what makes up the atom and how the atom interacts has changed.

Even though the neutron was discovered in 1932, there is no mention of it in either of my father’s high school textbooks, both published in 1935. My father had, to the best of my knowledge, a rudimentary knowledge of atomic theory but his ideas were out-of-date by the time I took high school chemistry in 1966.

The idea of an element as the simplest form of matter is one such fundamental. 

Mendeleev used the idea of chemical families, elements with similar chemical properties, to arrange the elements on the first periodic table.  The Noble Gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon) were the last family added to Mendeleev’s table because of the lack of observable chemical properties.

In my 1966 high school textbook was the comment that these elements did not form compounds.  Yet, in 1962, Neil Bartlett had synthesized the first Noble gas compounds.  Do I rely on the material in the text, or do I look at the research in the field?

The discovery of the neutron would lead to two important areas of discovery.  First, it created the path that allowed chemists to create elements heavier than uranium.

Over the years, the number of elements that we know has changed.  There were 63 elements on the first organized periodic table Dimitri Mendeleev created in 1869.  When my father took high school chemistry in 1938, there were 88 elements; when I took chemistry in 1966, the number had risen to 103 and there are now 118 identified elements. 

The work of individuals seeking to create new elements led to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 (the year my father graduated from high school).  And this discovery would lead to the development of atomic and nuclear weapons.

I think there is a corollary to our understanding of our faith.  We learned the fundamentals of our faith in our membership class many years ago.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 12,

If our understanding of our faith has not grown as we have grown, then our faith is no longer viable and in danger of dying.  While the fundamentals of our faith have not changed, our understanding has (or should have).  And that means, as we enter in the Season of Lent and a time of repentance and preparation, we must look to what our faith means to us today.

” When I was a child, I was talking like a child, thinking like a child, acting like a child, but when I became an adult, I outgrew my childish ways.”

Why are we observing Lent this year?  Because in our striving to be more perfect, more like Christ, we must set aside time to cast aside that which has held us back and seek to find ways to move us to our goal.


Notes:

A New Life for the Church and in the Church

Finding the Truth

A Brief History of Atomic Theory

Thoughts on the nature of teaching science in the 21st Century

Amazing Grace as A Song of Freedom


This was first published in the Fishkill UMC July 2020 Newsletter.

There are two stories about the hymn “Amazing Grace”.  One of the stories is about the hymn itself.  I wrote about how people learned to sing this hymn (and other hymns) using shape notes back in the April 2020 newsletter.

But there is the story about the author of the words of the hymn, John Newton.

Do you remember the first time you ever heard the story about John Newton?  We often think that the story of the hymn is the story of the author but that is not the case.

I believe that I heard the story when I went to an Arlo Guthrie concert when I was in graduate school at the University of Memphis.  But the story that Arlo told that night was slightly off.  Newton did embrace Christianity on the night of March 10, 1748 during a rather intense storm at sea.  He had previously denounced Christianity, but something drove him to begin studying it and on the night in 1748, he called out to God to save him.

But he did not turn the ship around and free the slaves, as some have said.  He would ultimately quit the slave trade and become a priest in the Anglican Church in 1764.  (The Methodist connection here is that John Wesley encouraged him to enter the ministry.)

After becoming a priest in the church, he joined the anti-slavery movement in Britain, working with William Wilberforce to abolish slavery.  History will note that the information that Newton provided Wilberforce allowed other important and influential individuals to realize the horrors of the slave trade.

John Newton wrote the words for this hymn in 1772 as a poem for his church’s prayer service. The central idea for this hymn is the grace of God.

While the United Methodist Hymnal gives 1 Chronicles 17:16–17 as the basis for the hymn, it is probably better based on Ephesian 2: 4 – 9.  In Chronicles, the prophet Nathan has pointed out how he had failed in the eyes of God, but that God has plans for him.  David recognizes that it is only by the Grace of God that he will continue.

For John Newton, it was God’s grace that saved him from the life that he was leading.  In selecting the passage from Chronicles as the basis for his poem, Newton showed that God’s grace allowed David to move forward with his life.

So how is this a song of freedom? 

In 1990 Bill Moyers presented a documentary about “Amazing Grace” for PBS (there is a copy of this on YouTube if you are interested (https://youtu.be/wKH1lkUjAgA ;it is an old copy and has some flaws from the recording, but it is worth watching).

Moyers spent some time talking with people about how they sang the hymn, but he also spent time with several individuals including Judy Collins and Johnny Cash about what it meant to them to sing it. 

Judy Collins told Bill,

For me, it was always the song that gave me an inner experience of another dimension. When I sing this song with a group of people, I always feel that there’s a mystical territory between the singer and the audience. It’s not just me singing, it’s something else that’s singing. And it’s all of those people and all of their spirits, so that somewhere or other, there is some experience going on which gives something to them and gives something to me that’s more than the sum of any of us.

I always think that the experience of bliss, of pleasure, of joy, of singing is something that you experience on different level not a material level. And ‘Amazing Grace’ has always locked into that center for me. It kind of hits me on the same place every time.

She would add:

JUDY COLLINS:

I had heard that the song was written by a man who had had a wretched life and been a slave trader. What an expression of, yes, of gratitude and of joy to know that there was the other side to that, which can only be given by such a profound and I would call spiritual experience. I mean, “Amazing Grace”-I mean, it really says, “This choice is wretched and this other one is worlds apart, indescribable.”

BILL MOYERS:

Did you ever feel like a wretch?

JUDY COLLINS:

Oh, yes, enough so that it always reminds me that there have been those very, very dark times in my own life, some of which, during some of which, this song, I think, really carried me through. “Amazing Grace” is almost like a talisman.

In his interview with Johnny Cash, Johnny indicated that when he sang the hymn, he felt a sense of freedom from the things that had imprisoned him.  It was an idea that was reflected by the comments of others in the video.

BILL MOYERS:

We all do have our prisons, don’t we?

JOHNNY CASH:

Yeah, we do. We can get ourselves into a little prison of, you know, drugs, alcohol, a relationship or a habit or a situation, you know, that we weave ourselves into that can be like a prison, with bars that you can’t break out of.

Cash would say later in the interview:

When I sing that song, I could be in a dungeon, or I could have chains all over me, but I would be free as a breeze. It’s a song that makes a difference. There are some songs that make a difference in your life, and that song makes a difference.

I would think that many others have a sense of God’s grace in their lives when they sing this hymn.  Even in settings where one might not expect it, the celebration for Nelson Mandela a few years ago, for example, people joined with Jessye Norman to sing this hymn.  It says something of its power and the power of God’s grace that a group of people, expecting a rock concert, would join in singing this hymn.

So “Amazing Grace” is a song of freedom, the freedom given to each one of us through God’s grace, freely given and freely accepted.

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http://anointedlinks.com/amazing_grace.html

https://billmoyers.com/content/amazing-grace-bill-moyers/

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Note posted on Facebook by Sarah Tillery Caldwell on 23 December 2018 about the nature of the verses of “Amazing Grace” in reply to my comment that we sang carols to tell the story of Christmas, she replied,

All our best hymns are theologically based. Case in point, the five original verses of Amazing Grace describe John Wesley’s teaching on the stages of grace.