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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution Weekend


With Evolution Weekend coming up this weekend, I figured I should up date this particular piece.

As I have noted in the pieces that I list below,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy. – “The Clergy Letter Project”

This project began in 2006 and I have participated, either with a sermon or a blog post, since 2009. The following is a list of those messages and posts. This has been edited since it was first posted to correct a link.

February 1, 2009 – Lake Mahopac (NY) UMC – “The Differing Voices of Truth”

February 14, 2010 – “That Transforming Moment”

February 13, 2011 – “It’s about Commitment”

February 12, 2012 – “To Leave the World A Better Place”

February 3, 2013 – “Removing The Veil”

February 9, 2014 – Sloatsburg UMC – “The Master Lesson”

February 15, 2015 – “Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?”

February 14, 2016 – “Where Are We Going?”

February 12, 2017 – “The Past Can Never Be Our Future”

It should also be noted that this weekend is also the weekend of Boy Scout Sunday, which has additional meaning for me.

A Society of Laws


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos or Opportunity


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear President-elect Trump


This comes from “Yale Climate Connections”; per the notes in 4th paragraph, I am sharing it with you all.


Dear President-elect Trump

A Wisconsin retired lawyer has drafted an “Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump” that he hopes will be widely shared, possibly signed and sent along to the President-elect, and used in a petition to him.

Requesting anonymity, he says that with Trump’s election, his legacy will be based more on his performance in office than on the “understandable pride” he and future Trump generations will take in the “Trump brand” and business. He calls climate change “one of the most important issues” affecting the Trump legacy and says his actions on that issue “will last long beyond your days on this Earth,” a clear appeal to Trump’s keen interest in his brand/image and thus his legacy. He points to a Trump-owned coastal golf course’s having already taken steps to manage risks it faces in a changing climate.

Reconsidering some of his earlier climate change statements as a candidate “would be good for the country, for the world, and for the legacy of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States,” said the letter writer, who describes himself as “a concerned citizen.”

The letter follows in full and can be copied and shared with others, or signed and mailed to the President-elect or used as a template or model in a petition, the letter writer said.


Dear President-elect Trump:

Re: Climate change and your legacy

“Before I get to the subject of this letter, I want to offer my congratulations on your successful campaign for president. The outcome on November 8, 2016, will likely stand like no other in the history of presidential politics. The election changed America and I believe it will change you, particularly as it relates to the subject of this letter.

Had you lost the election, your legacy would be the Trump brand. In that case, in the future when people would seek to understand who was Donald J. Trump, their search of the internet would reflect your impact in the various communities where you built hotels, resorts, golf clubs, etc. that bear your name. Your children, grandchildren, and the Trump generations to follow would point to these accomplishments with understandable pride.

Your victory on November 8 changes this. Your legacy will now be a matter of what you do during your term in office. Unlike your legacy as a builder, which will be fixed when you die, your legacy as president will reflect the actions you take during your term in office – actions whose effects will last long beyond your days on this Earth.

One of the most important issues that will affect your legacy as president is climate change. In the weeks leading up to the election it was reported that one of your properties – Trump International Golf Links Ireland – filed an application with local zoning authorities for permission to construct a seawall. According to that report, the application explicitly cited global warming and its consequences – increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century.

If you were to roll back the U.S. positions on climate change, the dangers noted by your resort application will most certainly ensue, along with severe population disruptions in the U.S. and elsewhere when millions are forced inland to higher ground to avoid the coastal flooding from currently projected major sea-level rise. In the future, when Americans and others around the world are enduring the miseries of unchecked climate change, they will likely look back and point to your actions as a significant if not deciding cause.

Post-election reporting has revealed your willingness to adjust some of the positions you took during the election – e.g., keeping some features of Obamacare. My hope is that you will reconsider your stated opposition to actions to halt or lessen the impacts of climate change. It would be good for the country, for the world, and for the legacy of Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States.

Okay, here’s the plan.


First, we need to continually remind President-elect Trump that he is the President of the United States and not chairman of the board.  He cannot appoint friends and cronies who will loot the United States Treasury for their own personal well-being.

He is the President of all the people but just as some of his supporters say that we need to support him, so too do we remind us that he must lead us all and not those who curry his favor or his temperament.  The Constitution remains in effect and he will take the pledge to preserve, protect, and defend it.  If he so desires to dismantle laws designed to protect people, if he so desires to dismantle laws design to ensure that this planet on which we live is safe to live on, if so desires to create and extend divisions between the people because of race, religion, economic status, gender, then he will have violated his oath of office.

And the second part of this plan is to remember that there is an election in 2018 and that every member of the House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate are up for election.  Despite the efforts of the Republicans to strip individuals of the right to vote, to return to the days when only a select and privileged group of old white men with property could decide the future of this country, the people still have the right to vote.  Any member of Congress who works to insure the equality of all people, to maintain this planet as a safe place to live and work, and works to advance the rights of all people has nothing to fear.

But any member of Congress who seeks to limit equality, who does not care about this planet on which we live, or seeks to limit the rights of all people needs to be voted out of office.

The American Revolution was a long and sometimes frustrating period in the history of this country.  And these next few years promise to be as frustrating.  But when one thinks of the future, it is what we must do.

What does it mean to be a conscientious objector?


There is a movie currently in release that describes the life and actions of the only conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  This individual felt that he needed to serve in the military during World War II but he also felt that his beliefs would not allow him to carry a gun or kill anyone.  After some difficulty, the Army allowed him to serve as a combat medic and it was in that role while on Iwo Jima in 1945 that he repeatedly risked his life to save the men of his unit.

When I was in college and faced with the possibility that I would be drafted into the Army, I contemplated seeking conscientious objector status.  But merely being opposed to the war and the draft was not sufficient conditions for such a status and I had to consider other options.

In the end, the effects of acne on my back was sufficient for me to be exempted from the draft and I went on to teach high school chemistry.

Now, before going on, let me point out that as the son and grandson of military officers, I was not, at that time nor am I now opposed to military service.  I am opposed to the draft because of its inherent inequality and the use of military power to solve a world problem should always be the last option and never the first.  Unfortunately, I do not believe that many people feel that way today, thinking that we should just bomb our enemies first and then seek a peaceful solution.

But more to the point, what does it mean today to object to something because it goes against one’s religious beliefs, what I believe to be the major point in considering conscientious objection.

When I was teaching college chemistry a few years ago, I had a Muslim woman in my class.  And as an article of faith, she wore the hijab.  I will be honest; this did not bother me but I was worried about the safety issue of having the fabric of the covering being close to any open flames.  But rather than make a big deal out of this, I simply conferred with her about being careful in the lab.  And that was the end of the discussion.

Later in the course, the question of ½-life and radiometric dating came up.  This was, for a few students, a problem because it was an article of faith that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  And again, you have the problem of dealing with an article of faith and a matter of scientific fact.

In the end, my counsel to the students was because this topic was highly unlikely to play a factor in what they were going to do.  I simply suggested that they understand the mathematics behind the problem so they could solve the one or two questions I was likely to answer and any discussion about the meaning of physical evidence with relationship to issues of faith should be discussed within their faith community.

But there are situations where the article of faith is, in my judgement, faulty.  And to use faith as a reason for holding onto a false belief is wrong and a discredit to the faith in question.

There is in this country and around this planet a crisis of faith.  There is a need for faith in these times as there is a need for reason.  And the need for faith requires more than just blind acceptance but an examination of the reasons.  There are those who say that you can never question the articles of faith for it will destroy your faith.

But if you say to me that I must accept a statement of faith, then you must also show me why.  And you must allow me to decide.

Understand, there are some articles of faith that I do not question.  I trust that I understand what I believe and I know that I must work to make sure that is true.

But there are also articles of faith that I have discarded because it is clear to me that they were false in their basis and run counter to the basic tenets of faith.

In the end, you may claim that you cannot do something because it runs counter to what you believe.  But if what you believe is based on false assumptions or false teachings, then you will have a problem.