Life, death, and the garden : Lifestyles

Life, death, and the garden : Lifestyles.

I just posted this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Facebook with the following comment, “There are those who understand why I posted this. Of course, no one is ever going to believe that I am a gardener but gardeners need quartermasters to get the things they need and that is what I am. My congratulations to this church for producing as much produce as they did!”

“A Day Of Two Anniversaries”

There are two important anniversaries to note for today which are perhaps linked together in how we move into the future.  Today marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of chemical weapons into modern warfare. It also marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.

This juxtaposition of events speaks to the challenges that we has citizens of this planet face. Shall we use the knowledge that we have to create a better world or destroy the world that we have?

Fritz Haber, the noted German chemist and co-developer of the Haber-Bosch process (the conversion of nitrogen into ammonia), worked on the development of chemical weapons such as chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas.

Regarding war and peace, Haber once said,

“During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country.”

This was an example of the ethical dilemmas facing chemists at that time. (Novak, Igor (2011). Science: a many-splendored thing. Singapore: World Scientific. pp.247–316. ISBN 9814304743. Retrieved 16 September 2014 – from Wikipedia)

Haber would rationalize the use of such weapons by saying death was death, by whatever means it was obtained. By then I remember what Robert E. Lee once wrote,

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

He would also state (revering, I think, to the Civil War but which can be applied to many other wars,

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

A note from my grandfather’s diary

October 5, 1918 – Received 3 letters from Elsie, 1 from my mother. First that I had received in some time. Gas is no stranger to us now.

This is the only reference he ever made. In a report I heard on NPR yesterday, they said that French and Belgium farmers are still digging up unexploded chemical shells from their fields.

Later, my father would make some comments about the impact of the use of atomic weapons on Japan and what it meant in terms of World War II ending.

Today is also the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. There are those today who rather this day be ignored; they show it in their callous attitudes about climate change, water usage, and water and air pollution. I have even hear some take the words of Genesis to mean that we can do whatever we want to this planet.

But the words of Genesis task us with taking care of the planet, not destorying it or misusing. This is the day we say to the people of this planet, you have a chance to make this a better world.

This is a day of two anniversaries; one that takes to death and one that takes us to life, which shall you choose.

“Why Do You Believe? The Challenge For Faith Today”

Thoughts for April 12, 2015, the 2nd Sunday of Easter (A)

I realized during the services on Sunday, April 12th, that I was subconsciously channeling the Gospel reading from John (where Thomas questions the Resurrection but only because he had not seen the evidence) in this piece. Funny how things work out.

This isn’t about what you believe, it is about why you believe. Even atheists must have some sort of belief system for even saying that you do not believe creates a belief system. (Always remember that no page is ever completely blank and the subset of no numbers contains something.) So why do you believe?

I believe in God because I see His presence in the many faiths and cultures which attribute creation to a Supreme Being. God may have many names but only one identity. I believe in God because, as Dr. Francis Collins noted in a recent interview, I see His existence in the beauty of the world around us and in the vastness and intricacies of the universe in which we reside.

And there are those questions which come from what we know. We know that, based on the evidence we have today, the creation of the universe occurred some 13 billion years ago.

This means two things; first, how did we arrive at that particular length of time? This answer, along with other answers are derived from the physical evidence left behind. This means that our lives require an understanding of science.

But even in knowing that the universe began 13 billion years ago, we still don’t know why there was a creation or what caused it . And no matter whether the creation was an accident, a fortuitous event, a coincidence, or even if the universe has always been hear, we have to ask how it all happened. And, for me, that implies the Hand of God.

Now, it should be noted that own thoughts on this matter have developed over the years and are a by-product of both my secular and sectarian education. But it should also be noted that this self-study seems to run counter to current societal beliefs that say we should let others decide for us what it is that we are to believe and that we don’t need to seek further answers to such questions.

And there are those, on both sides of the spectrum, who will tell you what to believe. And they will tell you that there are no alternatives.

Such approach, of a fixed and inflexible answer, does not allow for creativity and while it may provide the answers for questions that may have already been asked, they do little to find answers to questions that haven’t been asked. And there are gaps in the knowledge such fixed answers provide.

The answers to such questions, the ones to fill the gaps or solve new problems, can only come from each individual. One can offer suggestions as to what the answers might be but it is still each person’s responsibility to seek the answers.

Personally, I think that leaves in you in the greatest position possible because now you have the opportunity to explore and determine the outcome for your life. But where do you go to find your answers, what questions do you ask, and ultimately how do you seek the truth?

The good news is that we can do this but we have to step back for a moment and think about how we learn. Right now, our learning process is more memorization than anything else. There is a place for memorization in the education process but simply memorizing things doesn’t lead to creativity and analysis; it only provides the basis for doing that.

As I have studied the Book of Revelation and considered what it might mean, I often envisioned what it might have been like were John the Seer, the author, to live in today’s society and offer the vision the same vision he provided in his Book of Revelation. I think that we would most likely label him crazy and/or weird and possibly wonder what type of drugs he might have been taking.

But if we had studied or understood what was taking place at the time he was writing this interesting closing volume of the Bible, we would arrive at a different conclusion from that of those late 19th and early 20th century fundamentalist who see it as the prophecy of doom for today’s society.

When Jesus gave what some call the Great Commission, he gave those who heard His words the task of making those they would encounter disciples. But disciples are not simply followers of the Teacher, they are students as well. And students are taught what to believe, not told what to believe.

Each book of the New Testament, from the four Gospels through the letters of Paul to the Seer’s Revelation, was written for the people of their time, to tell them what took place those three years in the Galilee. But it wasn’t written as a history but a telling of the story, so that others would also come to know what happened.

The authors of the Gospels wrote the Gospels in such a way to make sure that we understood that things changed when Jesus walked the roads of the Galilee and a group of people followed and listened and then carried on that same mission.

So I believe in part because I was taught and because I was given the freedom to seek more information about Christ. When we accept Christ as our personal savior, when we begin to believe as so many before of us have done, then we accept the challenge, to teach others what Christ taught us.

I believe, not because I have seen the wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side but because I have been allowed to seek Christ and I have found Him.

“What Is Fracking?”

I don’t know about you but up here in New York there is a lot of discussion about “fracking” and how this will increase our supplies of crude oil and reduce our need for foreign supplies. But along side this discussion is also a discussion about how this process is not very environmental friendly and, as a secondary topic, how we need to be looking for alternative energy resources instead of continuing our reliance on fossil fuels.

So what is “fracking”? The proper name for this procedure is hydraulic fracturing and it is a technique for increasing the flow of crude oil out of bedrock. It and variants on the technique have been around probably since we first started drilling for oil.

To explain what it is, we need to have a better picture of how crude oil is taken out of the ground. I think that the most common conception of an oil well is a large pool of oil in a large cavity in the rock several thousand feet below the surface. In part, this is true but the cavities in which the oil is imbedded are very small and there is no large pool of oil.

When an oil well is set up, the pipe reaches the oil bearing rock strata, it cracks those micro-cavities and, because there is a pressure differential, the oil “flows” out of the rock strata and up to the surface. After the well is established, a pump jack is set on the wellhead to pump the oil out of the rock.

At some point in time, the pressure differential becomes to low for the pump jack to work and, in the past, the well is shut down. This is where “fracking” comes into play.

The process of “fracking” involves pumping water and other liquids under pressure back into the oil-bearing rock strata. This causes the strata to fracture and open up other pathways for the oil to flow out of the well. One benefit of this process is that it allows the extraction of oil from other oil-bearing strata normally not considered in oil production.

And that brings us to the downside of hydraulic fracturing. If all that was being pumped back into the ground was water (and I think that was the case many years ago), there might not be any problems. However, along with the water that is injected into these wells, other solvents, mostly hydrocarbons and essentially insoluble in water, are also being used.

These solvents are used to dissolve the oil and make it easier to extract but left behind in the bedrock, they end up in the water table and pollute the water. It also appears that the injection of this mixture of various solvents, under pressure, has increased the frequency of earthquakes in the area of the wells. Neither of these outcomes can be categorized as welcome and/or safe.

There are going to be those who say that the downside of “fracking” is minimal in terms of the oil that is produced from the process. Those who support this process would say that producing more domestic oil removes the need for the importation of oil from other localities. But is it worth it? Is the pollution and what would be the destruction of an underground water table worth the reduction of foreign oil?

Once upon a time, I began a science methods class by pointing out the two most important liquids in society were water and oil and that one could easily construct a curriculum based on that notion. There is no doubt that there is a limited supply of crude oil (fossil fuels are notoriously nonrenewable) but there is also a limited supply of clean drinking water. And having all the oil in the world won’t matter much if there is no water to drink. (A side note – there is plenty of water on this planet but the majority of it is undrinkable.)

Second, a focus on a process with so many downsides to it takes us away from seeking alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind. And we need to find other ways to utilize what limited resources of the fossil fuels that we do have, possibly through the use of fuel cells which would use the fossil fuels but not produce the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide associated with the combustion of the same fossil fuels.

There are probably countless technical details that I have overlooked but I hope this has provided some insight into this issue that seems to be a dominant part of the energy discussion in our country today. The reader will clearly know my bias but I hope I have left it there for them to decide on their own what their opinion will be and what action to take.


“The Life You Lead”

Mediation for October 19, 2014, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Laity Sunday

Exodus 33: 13 – 23; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10; Matthew 22: 15 – 22

I wrote some notes about these three passages a couple of months ago with the thought that I would be in the pulpit somewhere this Sunday. But in re-opening this file I noticed that what I wrote back then does not match what I am thinking today, which is often the nature and case.

I don’t know why this particular Sunday was picked to be Laity Sunday. I suspect that if one were to go back into the history of the denomination and examine old copies of The Discipline I think one might find a legal paragraph or two that mandates that lay speakers do one service a year in their own church.

I have a sense that such a rule/paragraph existed at one time and I know that it doesn’t exist today. In one sense, if it did exist, it would be a little impractical, especially in those churches with more than one active lay speaker. Of course, there really isn’t such a thing as a lay speaker anymore, having shifted to the title of lay servant and preaching or presenting the message is no longer the primary task of the lay servant.

But in one sense, having changed the focus from speaking to service makes every Sunday a Laity Sunday.

I was in a discussion with a friend the other day about the nature of the sermon and whether it served primarily as a call to respond to Christ or to provide information to the assembled people or some other purpose. I hope that we concluded with the idea that a particular sermon serves a particular purpose based on the situation and needs of those in attendance. But it also served as a call for each member of the church, the laity, to respond in some way.

Now, hold onto that thought for a moment. I will come back to it shortly.

In addition to time being set aside to recognize the laity of the church, this is also the time that many churches begin their stewardship campaign. And unfortunately most of these campaigns are simply pleas for money to operate the church and its functions for another year (see “Creative Stewardship” and “What Does Stewardship Mean To Me?” as my response to that approach).

Stewardship has to be more than simply giving money for the operation of the church. When everything is expressed in terms of operating the church, then I fear that we have elevated the building to a status similar to a false idol. This is not to say that the building is not important but then again, how many successful churches today are operating outside the framework of a permanent structure?

Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, again looking for a way to entrap him. This time, the issue is taxation, an extremely sore point with the religious establishment who could not stand that money taken by the Romans was money that could have been given to them. And Jesus replies that one gives to the government what should be given to the government and one gives to God what should be given to God.

Let’s not get into a discussion on the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of citizenship (of course, back then the Israelites were not necessarily considered Roman citizens). But too many people, I think, use Jesus’ thought of giving to the government and giving to God as an excuse to not give to God because they have to give so much to the government.

But that can only occur when God is not the priority in your life, when His presence is a slot of time on Sundays and sometimes during the week. In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses challenges God to make His presence known to the people so that they will know and understand the special relationship they have with Him.

I think the problem is that, while God is among us today, we are blind to His presence. We speak of the unique relationship that we have but we don’t acknowledge it. And if we do not acknowledge it, we can’t be aware of it.

I wrote a prayer a few years ago that hung in our feeding ministry’s kitchen. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of it on my hard drive. But I remember that one line I wrote acknowledged that Jesus Christ would be one of those who we feed that morning. How can we give to God what is God if we do not treat everyone as if he or she was a representative of Christ?

Second point, how can we see God if our lives are lived in such a way that it doesn’t reflect what we believe? When you read Paul’s words to the Thessalonians for today, note how he commends them for leading a life that shows the presence of Christ and what that means to others. Others see in the Thessalonians the way to live and the openness in which that live works.

And now I go back to the idea that every Sunday is Laity Sunday and that we, the laity, take with us at the end of the service is the knowledge that we serve Christ with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.

You cannot split your life into parts as far as Christ is concerned. You either live it fully in and with Christ or you do not. And if you do not live it fully in and with Christ, then you had best do what Jesus Himself first called upon the people to do, repent of your ways and begin anew.

You cannot expect people to accept you as a Christian if your life does not show the love of Christ. What was it that cause the people to notice the behavior of the Thessalonians if it was not a change in their life?

In response to such a challenge last week, I wrote that “generosity requires a change in thinking.” Anyone can be generous with their money but how many people are generous with their lives?

On this Sunday, we need to understand that it is not a recognition of what we have done but rather what we are going to do. It is a recognition that the life we lead is one that leads to Christ and helps others find Christ in a troubled and disturbed world. It is a life that does truly lead to peace and justice for all.

Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos

The title of a recent post by John Meunier, “Only Two Things In The Middle of The Road?”, posed a question that I am sure not many people would know how to answer. For those who are not enlightened and never read Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower, I am providing the answer as the title of this piece.

But the purpose of John’s post was not to offer some Texas humor but rather provide links to some of the discussion taking place in the blogosphere concerning the thoughts and efforts of some to seek a schism or not seek a schism in the United Methodist Church.

Now, if you have received an e-mail from me, you know that there are a series of quotes that I find interesting:

  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. (Henry David Thoreau)

  • And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8: 32)
  • Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. (John F. Kennedy)

The quote from President Kennedy was given in response to the need for a ban on nuclear weapons but could easily apply to the situation the United Methodist Church is facing today. If we don’t end that which threatens to divide this denomination, then it will kill it. I don’t think that schism is the answer simply because neither side will be able to survive the aftermath.

I was brought up to seek the truth. I choose to walk a path that encompassed and still encompasses a life of science and faith. To seek the truth should be each person’s goal and the distillation of the facts to their simplest components the means by which we find that one single truth. (There may be a hint of Eastern mysticism in that, I am not sure.)

But the one quote that has been a part of my life for as long as I have known the quote and even before I knew that there was such a quote was the one from Thoreau. Circumstances and choice lead me to a path of my own choosing.

I choose to walk with Jesus Christ. It has taken me many places. And when I may have strayed from that path, I always found a way to get back to it. The discussion of, for, or about a schism in the United Methodist Church seems to suggest that there are only two paths and I have to choose between one of two possibilities.

That I would have to choose between those two options neither sets well with my own philosophy/approach or the path that I did choose to walk. And so many other times, the finality of the choice being offered doesn’t give me the opportunity to make up my own mind.

Granted, I would be considered a political liberal or progressive. And I have written that I don’t see how one can consider the Gospel message to be a conservative one, especially not in the context of today’s conservativism. Granted, I came to this conclusion because I saw too many individuals who did not care about others or worked to insure that their views were the dominant ones.

And when you look at what Jesus did to the power structure of his society, how can anyone work to make sure that the power structure of today’s society excludes others. I am not a Wesleyan scholar but I get the impression that was the thinking that drove Wesley to begin the Methodist Revival some two hundred years ago.

The one thing that I do know is that the road I walk demands attention to Jesus, not what others are doing or saying. I hold to the faith and work to see that the Gospel is there for everyone, not selecting those who get to hear it or somehow don’t come up to a particular set of standards.

The question we perhaps need to be asking at this time is more to the point about where you are headed, not which side of the road you are walking on? Are you headed in the right direction with your life and your goals? Are you helping others find their own path to Christ?

“What Is The Ultimate Question?”

A Layperson’s Theological Perspective

What is the ultimate question?

Let me first start off by saying that, unless the person asking the question has read any of Douglas Adams work, the answer is not “42”!

And one must be under the age of five to ask the ultimate philosophical question, “Why?” Of course, those who have raised children know that the answer to this important question of life and the universe is “Because!”

More importantly, what if you do not know what the question that will determine your next step professionally or personally will be? How do you prepare for that question or series of questions?

Two thoughts:

First, it has been almost fifty years since I completed my own confirmation class. And while I am confident that I came out of that class with a better understanding of who I am what I know about the church and theology today is far more than I knew then. But what I know I know from experience and my own thought and not through an organized study of faith, theology, and Methodism.

And I wonder how many others today understand those same areas. How many times has a pastor focused on those topics for an extended period of time and in such a way that people come away with clearer understanding?

I know that when I write a message to be presented on a Sunday morning, I have focused on the lectionary readings and have tried to place them in the context of what is happening today. On some occasions, I am pretty sure that what I said has challenged one of the listeners to seek further information but that is speculation on my part. I am sure that everyone who has, either as a lay servant/speaker or pastor, hoped that what they said on a particular Sunday changed the life of someone who heard or read the words given that day. But, until the Day of Judgement does come, we have no way of knowing if that happened.

So the question/thought arises, how do we who have been charged with preparing the minds of individuals to open the hearts and souls of those same individuals do just that, prepare them for the ultimate question, the one which we do not know?

And that leads to the second thought, what might be the ultimate question or what questions should we be able to answer so that we can answer the question we do not know, especially from a layperson theological perspective?

Is it perhaps, “Are you saved?”

Or is it one of Wesley’s historical questions –

  1. Do you know God as a pardoning God? Do you have the love of God abiding in them? Do you desire nothing but God? Are you holy in all manner of conversation?
  2. Do you have gifts, as well as the evidence of God’s grace3, for the work to which you have been called? Do you have a clear, sound understanding and a right judgement of things of God; a just conception of salvation by faith? Do you speak justly, readily, and clearly?
  3. Do you have the fruit? Have you been truly convinced of sin and converted to God and a believer as edified by your service?

Things for me suggest that I spend some time working on the Wesley questions, if for no other reason than to clarify some things in my own mind. There is no doubt in my own mind that I can answer those questions in the affirmative, though the language that I might respond in may not be the accepted form.

Over the next few weeks I am going to look at the questions John Wesley posed. I invite your thoughts and comments about those questions or questions you feel that the laity and especially the laity who have been called to serve should be able to answer.