Who’s your God?


This was a sermon given by my friend, Lauriston Avery, at The United Methodist Church of Danbury on 31 July 2022

The Scripture readings for this message were from Hosea 11:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21

The hymns for this Sunday were “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (UMH #140), “Seek Ye First” (UMH #405) and “Take My Life, and Let It Be” (UMH #399).

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Thank you for having me again, I am praying Kim is recovering well now, and that you won’t need me back again so, so soon!

Trigger warning, though. I plan to ask a lot of questions, hard questions, today. And I don’t have any of the answers!

First question: Who’s your god?

Every time I asked myself that as I was preparing for today, I heard the song by the Zombies . . .do you remember it? . . .

What’s your name? (What’s your name?)

Who’s your daddy? (Who’s your daddy?)

He rich?  Is he rich like me?

Has he taken (has he taken?) any time (any time) (to show) to show you what you need to live?

. . . It’s the time of the season for loving . . .

The Zombies – Time of the Season

Our scripture lessons deal with the human understanding and ambiguity of love, does it come from an earthly place or a divine place? Are we completely conscious of what we are doing in this life? Are we really connecting with God, or are we replacing God with something else? Do we know what we need to live?

So, who IS your God?

Is it Golf? My husband used to regularly skip church on Sunday and I would sit on the edge of the bed and show first my left hand, then my right hand and say “Golf? or your immortal soul? Golf? or your immortal soul?” ~it didn’t dissuade him from taking up his golf clubs (and not his cross) I’m sorry to say.

Is your God an ism? Communism or Socialism or Capitalism or Woke-ism or Progressivism, or Liberalism or Conservatism or Libertarianism? Do you think that society could be made right if ONLY we would adopt one of those isms, that there, in that societal construct, would be the answer to everything, all our problems?

Or maybe your sexuality is your God. Is your gender identity the most important thing about you? Do you live into your fantasy, or do you live into your fidelity?

Is Roe your God or is Dobbs your decision? Does God legislate a woman’s body or does God have an investment in a fetus’s chance at life? Is this complex situation an impossible one for we, who love God, to forgive one another?

How about fear, is fear your God? Are you afraid of what the world can do to you, or what a virus can do to you? Are you paralyzed by your fear, or do you flaunt your fear in dangerous risk taking?

Are you yourself your God? Do you depend on only yourself? Are you fully self-reliant in your own capabilities and depend on your own strength and productivity for your security? And how’s that working out for you?

Is politics your God? Tell me are you on the red team or the blue team?

We have an event every summer in our community called Shakespeare On The Sound. One year they performed Henry the fifth, and my dear friend took her young sons to see the play ~but they only got to see the first act and went home at intermission because it was too late for them to stay up. The next morning, she went to get her son out of bed and he popped up and he said “Mom! Who won? The red team or the blue team?” The play was about King Henry of England always at war against France. We seem to perpetuate that endless war, don’t we? What about us? We always seem to be at war between our red team and our blue team. And yet if we look at the things, we each accuse the other of, well it’s the same thing! When we are divided along those tribal lines, we seem to always achieve the same outcome: more division, more war, less love, more death.

Is no-God your God? I have a friend on Facebook who is an avowed atheist and anytime I post anything relating to my faith he comes and gives it the good old atheist attack ~he doesn’t take it kindly when I say to him “It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God because God still believes in you.”

My atheist friend’s God is Science because he won’t believe anything until it can be absolutely proved empirically and for him the heavens are NOT telling the glory of God, that’s not evidentiary enough proof for him that God exists. (Say “evidentiary five times fast!)

In our Hosea passage the prophet points to his community still believing in the gods of Baal ~do you know what they did to worship the god Baal? They used to take their children and sacrifice them in the fire. This remains a continuing problem today, in the crime of human trafficking. The sacrifice of children goes on today and it’s just as horrific as it’s described in our Hebrew Scriptures. God did intervene when Abraham took Isaac to sacrifice him at the altar, in the fire. That was an important moment when God definitively eliminated the horrible practice of child sacrifice, God demonstrated his compassion and his loving care for his people. God rescued them, called them out from slavery in Egypt! But Hosea laments, that they continued to turn away from God, and they continued sacrificing their children to Baal.

But it is the true God, who is our God, who is bigger and more compassionate and eternally persistent than all these other false Gods, Hear O children of Israel, because our God is all, and in all. And yet, we, the heritage of Israel, we continue to turn away.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus is first confronted by someone who asks him to intervene with his (likely) older brother, to divide the inheritance with him. In those days, the eldest brother always got a double share of the inheritance. Jesus sternly calls him a word that means generically “human.” (The word would have referred to both men and women) He referenced Moses here, who intervened when two Hebrews fought with each other, but Jesus rejects the idea that he is a second Moses; he is not their judge and ruler, as the two Hebrews fighting demanded of Moses, but Jesus is their teacher, and savior.

Now he tells the story of the man who kept building bigger barns and relying on his harvest filling them; and it’s God, the true God, who laughs at him and who calls him “dummy!” Literally, dumb, like a statue, unable to speak, senseless in fact, a statue, an idol, a no-god. A fool! Because your soul is required of you tonight! Your immortal soul is required of you, and all you’ve got are bigger barns and NO TIME to eat drink and be merry. And all your wealth, whose will they be? An unanswerable question for sure. Maybe all those crops will become that younger brother’s inheritance, who was mad about his older brother’s double share.

Apparently, this human, foolish, dummy, fails to recognize that his immortal soul is at stake, that he is himself the harvest, and not his barn full of crops. God shouts at him “You can’t take it with you!” It’s worthless chaff, if you don’t have God.

I like to imagine Jesus telling this parable in true comedic style and that those who are listening to him might’ve been “rolling on the floor laughing out loud” because they were well aware of the fragility of life and they were well aware of how often, as the Yiddish saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”

And I imagine God, the loving father, and the doting mother in one, who, as described in Hosea, has taught his beloved Israel to walk, who took them up in His arms, but they did not know, they did not realize, that their God, their mother’s kiss, has healed their wounds, that it was God, God’s self, that led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love, who lifted them to God’s cheeks, it was God who bent down to feed them.

How can we resist the love of God? The overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God, who sings over us? Who breathed his own life-giving spirit into us? Who has been so, so good to us? Who has been so, so kind to us?

Reckless Love

Oh these unanswerable questions, this deep and delicious mystery that we try to name and call God, our Yah-Weh, the breathing in and breathing out of God’s own spirit that is our source and sustaining life, our only source, our only sustaining spirit, this gift, this human life that is just wind, just spirit, the only Way, the only One to help us to find the true treasure, which is the divine life, a life richly blessed in God.

Even though we, God’s children, continue to turn away, to rebel and seek other gods, God loves us more than any human parent could, God’s love for us is unfailing, God’s love is a love that will not let us go.

Who’s our God? God is our God. The God, the One God, that is so much greater than any human thought or idea or thing or achievement. When we add up all we can do, God is greater than that, and God is requiring our immortal soul today, tonight, all days and all nights, because when we turn, return, toward God, there is no greater riches than to be at one, in God’s Love.

“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/

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

Two Questions


Notes on Evolution Weekend

This will be my contribution for the 2022 Evolution Weekend (11-13 February 2022).

Evolution Weekend is a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday and is sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project (https://www.theclergyletterproject.org/).  I have been a participant in the project since 2006.

As stated on its website, “The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.”

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. The ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

The theme for the 2022 Weekend is “The Pandemic, Climate Change and Evolution:  How Religion and Science, Working Together, Can Advance Our Understanding.”

Notes on Boy Scout Sunday

The 2nd Sunday in February is also Boy Scout Sunday and marks the anniversary in 1965 of my becoming a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the United Methodist Church).  That year, I would complete my studies for the “God and Country Award.”  In addition to being my contribution to the Clergy Letter Project, this also represents my continuance of the journey with Christ that I began that Sunday in 1965.

Lectionary Readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), 13 February 2022

Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6: 17 – 26

Two Questions

Two Questions, Part 1

We are, by nature, curious creatures.  We continually search for a better understanding of who we are, the world on which we live, and the universe through which we travel.  We look around and wonder “why?”  And then we ask “how?”

For many years, we had one answer to both questions.  But the more we searched for the answers to these questions, the more we discovered that when we understood “why”, we did not know “how”.  And we found that knowing “how” could not tell us “why”.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) believed that there were three levels of living in the world: The physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual. He called them the realms of the body, mind, and heart.

We began calling the process of asking “how” science and the process of finding out “why” faith and/or religion. 

We discovered that science and faith were open systems.  It seemed as if the more we discovered, the more there was to discover.

At first, we tried to use the one to explain the other, but this didn’t always seem to work.  It began to seem as if the answer for each question conflicted with each other.  But these conflicts were not conflicts of knowledge or understanding what knowledge was true and what knowledge was not.  Rather, this was a conflict of power, with each side declaring that their understanding was true and the other heretical or false.

But, as expressed in the Old Testament reading for this Sunday (Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10), we need both science and faith to completely understand the world around us.  Note that in verse 10, the author of Jeremiah wrote “I, God, search the heart and examine the mind.

Albert Einstein offered the view that “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” (“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941).

In a 1959 sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

“There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists,” he said. “But not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different, and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”

“A tough mind and a tender heart”

Dr. King would add,

“Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism,” he said. “Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr. On Science And Religion (forbes.com)

Ian Barbour, 1999 Templeton Prize winner, suggested that the relationship between science and religion was one of four possibilities:

  1. That they fundamentally conflict,
  2. That they are separate domains,
  3. That the complexity of science affirms divine guidance, and
  4. Finally — the approach he preferred — that science and religion should be viewed as being engaged in a constructive dialogue with each other.

Barbour would later write,

“This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection”

Obituary of Ian Barbour, New York Times, January 13, 2014

We must realize that science and faith use language in different ways.  The language of faith and its use of images, parables, and paradoxes is more that of poetry than of science.  The language of faith should be seen as complimentary to the language of science (from Nobel-Winning Physicist Niels Bohr on Subjective vs. Objective Reality and the Uses of Religion in a Secular World – The Marginalian).

In his sermon entitled “Keep Moving From This Mountain,” King embraced this idea even further.

“Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” he said. “And the great challenge is to move out of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and higher mountain which recognizes somehow that we must live by and toward the basic ends of life. We must move on to that mountain which says in substance, ‘What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world of means — airplanes, televisions, electric lights — and lose the end: the soul?'”

That the views of science and faith ae complimentary views of the world should return us to the beginning when Adam was tasked with the care of God’s creation.

The name “Adam” has several meanings; it is the name of one individual but within the context of Genesis, it meant to represent the whole of humankind, in other words, our ancestors.

Two Questions, Part 2

What is God’s creation?  Is it just this world on which we are temporary inhabitants?  Or is it how we relate to those with whom we share this space?

Today, in 2022, we are in the 2nd year of a pandemic, we are seeing the effects of climate change, and battles in the classroom over the teaching of climate change and evolution.  We have discovered that these are not merely academic topics but ones that affect all layers of society.

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that…”

Gus Speth, US Advisor on climate change and Yale professor (“Shared Planet: Religion and Nature, BBC Radio 4 (1 October 2013) https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b03bqws7)

How do we respond?  My first response, as a former United Methodist lay speaker/pastor, is to say that we must radically reorient our priorities.  For too long, we, as nations, societies, and as humans, have spent more on destruction than construction.  We have taken Adam’s task to take care of God’s creation to mean that we could do whatever we wanted.  It does no good to speak of the future if we are dedicated to the destruction of the present.

As a chemist and science educator, I would argue that we must have education systems in place that allow the development of new ideas.  This will also be radical departure from the present system that teaches that all the problems have been solved and the answers are in the back of the book.  We must realize that book of answers hasn’t been written yet.

In the end, the world which we see with two views is still one world.

The poet T. S. Elliott wrote,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets (Gardners Books; Main edition, April 30, 2001) Originally published 1943.”

Two Questions, Part 3

When I began this manuscript, the two questions were “how?” and “why?”.  Now, at the completion of this manuscript the two questions must be (with respects to Rabbi Hillel “if not now, when?” and “if not me, who?”,

What Gifts Did You Received? What Will You Do with Them? Thoughts for the Epiphany of the Lord


Let me begin by asking two questions.  First, how many “wise men” or Magi visited the Baby Jesus?  And second, why were the gifts that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

We tend to think that there were three because three gifts were given.  But in most translations of Matthew’s Gospel, there is no mention of how many came.  In Eastern tradition, the number is set at 12.  And, in the manner of the time, there is no mention if there were any women or children in the entourage.

Who were the Magi?  Again, we have no records to tell us who they were, and it is only in legend that three of the Magi are named.

And why were the gifts given gold, frankincense, and myrrh?  Some suggest that the gold was used to finance the family’s escape from Herod into Egypt and the frankincense and myrrh represented the preparation of Jesus’ body when he died.

But Herod’s wrath that would lead to Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt did not occur until after the Magi left.  And no matter how wise the Magi would have been, I don’t think they would have given materials used for the preparation of a body for burial as a birthday gift.  In addition, because of their shelf life, I don’t think that the frankincense and myrrh would have lasted for thirty-some years.

It was convenient for Matthew to write his Gospel with those events in mind because he was writing some seventy years after the birth of Jesus.  But many traditions, just like myths, have an element of truth in them.

Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were gifts present to a newborn king, whom the Magi had sought out.  And after the Magi had left, Joseph could have sold the frankincense and myrrh to fund the trip to Egypt and the gold would have probably provided enough funds to allow them to settle in while Joseph found work until it was safe for the family to return to Nazareth.  (In modern day terms, the Magi started a “GoFundMe’ account for the family.)

In giving Jesus their gifts, they ensured that we would have a future.  I am sure that someone will point out that if the Magi had not been there, God would have seen to it that someone was there.  But it was the Magi who saw the signs of Jesus’ birth and it was the Magi that sought out the newborn baby.  It was their gifts that enabled the future to be what it became.

As we look into the mists of tomorrow, what future do we see?  What we can see does not bode well. 

The issues we face today are more than those that arise from our lack of concern for the environment.  The pandemic has exposed our lack of concern for those with whom we share this planet.  And it is evident that the lives of everyone on this planet are tied to the condition of this world.

We are reminded that as descendants of Adam and Eve, we have inherited the task of caring for God’s Creation.  And quite honestly, it would seem we haven’t done a good job in that regard. 

In 1974, the writer Ursula Le Guin wrote,

My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974) (from Verse & Voice, 9/17/21)

We have seen the consequences of not caring for this world.  What was the Hudson River like some twenty years ago?  What was the quality of air in New York City?  Even today, we are still dealing with the consequences of our thoughts that we can bury our waste or throw it into the rivers or oceans.

And we do not need the myriad reports telling us that climate change is real, for all we must do is reflect on the changes we have seen in the past few years. 

Despite the claims of some, climate change is real and the result of what we, the inhabitants of this planet, have done. 

Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (August 2021)

The scientific consensus on climate change is genuine, credible, and robust. It is no wonder that those who have ideological and pecuniary motives for denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change are eager to deny the existence, extent, and legitimacy of the scientific consensus, and that these denials threaten the integrity of public science education. Likewise, it is no wonder that the integrity of public science education both demands and benefits from a vigorous assertion, explanation, and defense of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Glenn Branch, Deputy Director, National Center for Science Education, Inc. in “Teaching Climate Change by Leveraging Scientific Consensus to Dispel Social Controversy”, California Journal of Science Education (https://journal.cascience.org)

What are we doing to alleviate the conditions that lead to poverty and injustice?  Do we find ways to put into practice the tasks that Jesus laid before the people that day some 2000 years ago in the Nazareth synagogue? (Luke 4: 18)

I do not know what gifts you received for Christmas, but I do know what gifts you received when you opened your heart, soul, and mind to Christ.  Some received the gift of teaching; others received the gift of prophesy.  Some will use their gifts to heal others or find ways to encourage others.  Some will use their gifts to help others through counseling and understanding.  Each person will find a way to use the gifts that they received when they accepted the Presence of the Lord in our lives.

We stand at the crossroads of time.  One path leads to a future of destruction and despair; the other path leads to a future of hope, renewal, and promise.  How we use our gifts will decide what path we take.

Borrowing a thought from fifty years ago and with acknowledgement to Reinhold Niebuhr (I first posted this on Facebook on 18 August 2019),

Are we so deaf that we cannot hear the cries of the people, no matter who they are?

Are we so blind that we cannot see the damage we are doing to this planet, our home?

Are we so dumb that we will never learn that what we do changes the future, in ways we cannot understand?

Today, I pray that we will open our ears and hear the cries of the people. I pray that we will respond.

Today, I pray that we will open our eyes and see new ways, new roads to the future.

Today, I pray that we will open our minds and let the power of the Holy Spirit empower us to use our gifts of mind and heart to make sure that we can walk the new roads to the future.

Thoughts on Christmas, 2021


This is my seventy-first Christmas.  Each one different, each one the same.

I know that my first Christmas was in Lexington, NC, because I was baptized at the First Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington on Christmas Eve.  My parents would have been there along with my mother’s parents (Lexington was her hometown).  My father’s parents might have been there, but they were living in St. Louis at the time, and I don’t know if they made the trip.

Until I moved to Kirksville, MO, in 1968 to begin my sophomore year in college, Christmas was either at home (wherever that was) or in St. Louis at my grandmother’s home.  The young spruce tree in this photo (taken in July 1952) was known as “Tony’s Christmas tree”.

“Tony’s Christmas tree, July 1952”

Surprisingly, for all the moves that I have made, I never experienced snowfall on Christmas until I was forty years old.  Of course, when you spend many a Christmas in places where snow in December is a rarity, it is not likely Bing Crosby will be singing at your place.

For someone who turned 18 in 1968, I was lucky.  The only time I spent Christmas overseas was in 1953 when we lived in the Philippines.  Others of my generation spent Christmas overseas when they were bit older and in far more trying and hostile times.

I have seen my gifts shift from the toys of a young one to the needs of an adult.  I have gotten presents that I really wanted and presents that I really needed and presents that I absolutely hated but they, like all the others, were given in love, so they were accepted. 

I have tried to give presents that people wanted or could use many times.  And admittedly, in these recent times, the gifts have become rather utilitarian, allowing the recipient options.

Many, if not all, of these Christmas’ past have been days of joy and tradition.

But divorce and broken bones have also been a part of my Christmas past.  The darkness of those days makes the present shine a bit brighter.

But the constant in all these years of celebrating Christmas has been my family.  Even during the Christmas when I was technically homeless, my Christmas was spent with my family.

And one Christmas, I brought someone into my family and began a new one.

The definition of my family is more than just being with my parents and siblings or as a parent with my children.  For some twenty years, Christmas being with a congregation, either my own or as the assigned lay speaker/servant.

And that is what Christmas is about.  As we read the Christmas story, we note that Joseph had gone to Bethlehem because that was the place from which his family had come.  That meant, at least for me, that many of the people who were in town that time were relatives.

It is a time when we are with our family.  I leave it to you to define who is your family.  It can be your parents, your siblings, and/or your children.  It can be with those you love or share common goals and thoughts.  It can be with those at church or with those with whom you gather frequently.  And I hope that whoever you gather with lift you up and that you lift them up.

It is a time to remember that some two thousand years ago, a family was begun.  Perhaps the beginnings were not the best (after all, the ruler of the country would soon send out a hit squad) but we know that it was a family where love was part of the growth process and would be there until the end.

So, we gather for Christmas, in many places and in many ways, but also knowing that, like so many others over so many years, it is because Jesus Christ was born this day.

“The Meaning of the Seasons”- An Advent Meditation


And the Preacher wrote, “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven.”

There is a sense of rhythm to the changing of the seasons.  At this time of year, the changing of the colors of the leaves, the chill in the morning, the southward migration of the birds, and the loss of sunlight tells us that winter is approaching.

It took humankind a long time to understand this rhythm.  The “medicine wheels” of the high Northern plains, the stone circles at Stonehenge and the similar wooden circles in Germany, the intricate calendars of the Mayan civilization were, as it were, not created overnight but only after many years of study.  Someone or a group of people saw the changes in the Sun, the moon, and the stars and began tracking and studying those movements.  And from their observations and studies came the ability to begin planning for the special days in their lives.  And remember, it was that study of the skies and the movement of the stars that led the Magi to the Christ-child.

But it takes time to do such studies, it takes time to detect the rhythm.  It is very hard to do so in an environment where things are rushed.  In a world where the “sound bite” rules, we are not prepared for lengthy and deep discussions concerning the world around us.  In these times, we find ourselves listening to false prophets pass on false, misleading, and incorrect information.

But there were and are true prophets, prophets who speak not for themselves but for the people.  They do not tell the people what to think or who to listen to; they point to the signs and say, “Look and listen!”.

This Sunday, look carefully at the altar.  See that it is clothed in green, the color for me that symbolizes growth.  Over the next six weeks, watch as it changes from green to white on November 21st to mark the end of the church calendar year.  And look as the altar colors change from white to purple on November 28th.  When we see this change at this time of year, we know that the Season of Advent is approaching.

Advent is the season of preparing for the coming of Christ.  It is a time to stop and look around, to consider how your life has been and know there is time to repent, to change and begin anew.

Listen as the Scripture readings each Sunday prepare us for the coming of Christ.  Take time to ponder those words throughout the week.

When the Preacher wrote the words that we read at the beginning of this piece, he knew that time could not be rushed.

We need the four weeks of Advent to pause, contemplate, and prepare.  The four weeks of Advent are a way to step away from the rush of the world and give us the opportunity to truly prepare for the coming of Christ.

In the words of “Take Time to Be Holy” (UMH #395), Advent gives us the time to talk with the Lord, to see the world as it is to be and not as it is.

To paraphrase the thoughts of the Preacher, there is a time for every season and this is the Season of the Lord.

“To Seek Freedom and Truth, We Must Ask ‘Why?’”


Here are my thoughts for July 4, 2021


Lectionary readings

  • Jeremiah 33:14-18
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34 Messiah and New Covenant
  • 2 Samuel 5:1-5
  • 2 Samuel 5:9-10
  • Ezekiel 2:1-7
  • 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
  • Mark 6:1-13

The focus of the message will be John 8: 31 – 47


Some two thousand years ago, Jesus stood before a gathering of religious and political leaders and told them that to be free they needed to seek the truth.  But these leaders scoffed at the notion they were not free, claiming that through Abraham, they had gained their freedom.

But their freedom was, at best, illusionary.  They had constructed a legal environment that limited their actions.  They had forgotten that the dietary rules they so strictly enforced came from health concerns during the Exodus and were not necessarily a requirement for faith.  They had criticized Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath while ignoring that it was permissible for a farmer to take care of an ailing animal.  There were also angry that Jesus sought to open a society that they sought to close.

These religious and political leaders were also blind to the realization that their power, their position, their prestige, and place in society were dependent on their subservience to the Roman political authorities.  In maintaining their lifestyle, they were slaves to the Roman political authority.

Spiritually and politically, they were not free but slaves to their prejudices, bias, and desire for power.

Two hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Jefferson sat in a hot and sweltering hotel room in Philadelphia and wrote what many consider the most radical of all political manifestos, a statement that the people have the right to determine their own freedom.  He wrote of the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.

Even today, there is much debate what Jefferson was thinking when he wrote those words.  Over time, we have come to see that singular phrase, that “all men are created equal,” be all inclusive, meaning everyone, regardless of gender, sexual identity, financial status, race, creed, or color.

President John Kennedy once noted,

“the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

Some 245 years later, we struggle to achieve that equality as there are those whose view of equality is limited and who see an expansion of equality as a threat to their power and prestige.

As a science educator, I see a society that hesitates to seek the future, trying desperately to stay in the status quo, forgetting, as Heraclitus noted,

“No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The ruling class saw Jesus as the son of a working man, incapable of deep theological thought.  Somehow, they had forgotten that some twenty years before, Jesus has confounded and astonished the religious elite in the Temple.  It should be noted that the changes in physics in the early 20th century, changes that allowed the development of much of today’s technology, came not from the physics establishment but by younger physicists not bound by the boundaries imposed by the physics of that time.

Today, we are faced with many problems, problems that threaten our freedom as individuals, as a society, and as inhabitants of this planet. 

They are problems of science (climate change, a pandemic, a need for alternative energy); they are problems of equality, in all its forms.  Despite the cries and efforts of a minority, these are man-made problems, and as President John Kennedy noted, can be solved by man.

These problems require that we begin (again) asking the most fundamental question of all, “Why?”

As I noted in “Tell Me The Truth, But. . .”, I am the grandson of an Army officer and the son of an Air Force officer.  This gave me a view of the world different from my many classmates.  And I crossed the boundary from eleven to twelve, the age at which Samuel answered the call from God and Jesus debated the teachers in the Temple, I answer to call from God.

By the time I came to Memphis in 1966, I had chosen to walk two paths, one of faith and one of science.  Each of these paths leads to a definition of the truth.  I do believe there are several truths, some are found in the spiritual world, others are found in the physical world.  To seek the truth should be each person’s goal and the distillation of the facts to their simplest components is how we find that one single truth.  There may be a hint of Eastern mysticism in that, I am not sure (adapted from Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos | Thoughts from The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

Let me just say that I am not interested in the post-modern definition of truth where one’s version of truth may differ from someone else’s.  That is for others in a different time and place.

The search for the truth in the physical world depends, in fact, demands that we ask “why?”

As a chemist, I know that there are certain fundamental truths, but these truths have changed over time as we have delved deeper and deeper into the nature of matter.  We have gone from indivisible particles called atoms to the discovery of the particles present at the beginning of the universe.  We have gone from an understanding of matter as simply being a combination of earth, air, fire, and water, to a collection of 118 elements that promises, with the development of new technologies and a better understanding of the technology, to continue to grow.

And just as there is a certain set of fundamental truths for the physical world, there is also a certain set of fundamental truths in the spiritual world.  These, I believe, are more difficult to discover for one must find themselves first. 

Part of the difficulty lies in the things that constitute the basis for this truth are often not visible or measurable (as might be the existence of atoms or elements).  President Jimmy Carter once noted,

What are the things that you cannot see that are important?  (2 Corinthians 4:18) I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love.  You cannot see any of those but they’re the guiding lights of a life.” – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_power_corrupt_everyone_equally

It is not my responsibility to tell you how to think or what to believe; it is my responsibility, my duty, to show you how to answer the question of “why?” 

In 1969, I was a college sophomore struggling with the demands of college life, searching for meaning in my life.  Against that backdrop, I was beginning to ask how a Gospel message of hope and promise worked in a world of war, hatred, poverty, and ignorance.  As I prepared to travel to my home in Memphis for the Spring break, I asked my pastor, Marvin Fortel, if I could meet with him and take communion.  During the communion, I came to discover the true meaning of God’s grace.

That day, so many years ago, I came to understand that I work for justice and freedom, not because it will get me into Heaven but because it is my responsibility as a citizen of the Kingdom of God (adapted from “The Changing of Seasons”).

. . . 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 the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder — Based on Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, author 0f The Orthodox Way  

When I was in college and on my own (as it were), I figured that I would be able to sleep late on Sunday mornings and skip out on church.  But then I discovered that I needed to be in church.  College brought up a lot of questions, some about chemistry, some about calculus, one or two about English and history.  But there were also a lot of questions about who I was and I found that the answers to those questions came when I was in church. 

I was lucky.  The pastors that I meet and worked with in college didn’t give me the answers to those questions.  They showed me the way to find the answers on my own. (Adapted from “Now It Is Your Turn!”)

There were some pastors, of course, who will tell you what the answers to the questions are and that you are not to question those answers.  I genuinely believe that had these individuals been my guide, I would have, as so many are doing today, left the church and the faith.

In a way, I still seek the truth, both in the physical world and in the spiritual realm.  And as I help others answer their own questions of “why?”, so too do I find the freedom that comes from seeking the truth.

In the Star Trek movie, “Resurrection”, Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, asked Captain Picard if the regaining of his sight was worth it if others lose their homes and lives.  Our search from truth and freedom cannot come at the expense of others.  Rather our search from truth and freedom will come when we help others seek the same goals, to answer the same questions, all that being with “why?”

“Permanent Resident or Passing Through: Reflections for Evolution Weekend and Boy Scout Sunday”


Scripture readings for Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 2: 1 – 12

Psalm 50 — UMH # 783

2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6

Mark 9: 2 – 9


On the liturgical calendar, today is Transfiguration Sunday.

Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the Season of Epiphany and serves as a marker for the being of Lent with Ash Wednesday this coming Wednesday.  Were these “normal times”, we would begin planning for Mardi Gras and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.  I suppose one could still have pancakes on Tuesday, but any sharing of the celebration would, by necessity, must be virtual.

This Sunday, the second Sunday in February, has a more personal meaning for me.  The second Sunday in February is Boy Scout Sunday and on this Sunday in 1965, in the process of completing the work for the “God and Country Award”, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st United Methodist Church) of Aurora, Colorado.

Since 2006, this has also been “Evolution Weekend”, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project.  As noted on its website, “The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.”

The goal of Evolution Weekend is to show that faith and science are compatible and not adversarial in nature. I have participated in this event since 2009.  The theme for this year Is “climate change”.

Let me pause for a moment and offer a bit of science.  To understand what climate change is, we must first understand what weather and climate are.

What is weather?

Weather is what is happening outside your house right now.  It can be raining or snowing; the temperature could be up or down.  Weather changes from day to day and even at times from hour to hour.

Going to school and living in Missouri, I remember that statement that if you did not like the weather now, wait one hour.  And the renowned Missouri author, Mark Twain, once remarked that the if you did not like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.  And it does appear that he never said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco (for more on this memorable non-Twain quote, see https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/the-coldest-winter-i-ever-spent-was-a-summer-in-san-francisco-say-what-says-who/.)

What is climate?

Climate is more what the weather is over a long period of time.  While the weather may change over a period of hours, climate changes take longer periods of time. 

One might think of weather as being what clothes you are going to wear each day, while climate is what clothes you have in your closet.

And therein lies the rub; what causes climate changes?  The changes in the climate that have been observed since the mid-20th Century can be directly attributed to human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”.  This effect is caused by the increased production of gases which when released into the atmosphere trap heat radiating from Earth into space.  Most of these gases are a result of human activity.

How do changes in the climate affect the weather?  As a result of this increased production of greenhouse gases, the Earth is becoming warmer. Such warmer conditions lead to an increased evaporation of surface water and precipitation overall, but the effects will depend on the region.  Increased global warming will raise the temperature of the oceans, partially melting glaciers and ice sheets, which, in turn, will lead to an increased sea level rise.

The evidence suggests that, with a 95% probability, human activity over the past 50 years has warmed this planet, with increased production of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the cause.  Industrial activities have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 414 ppm in the past 150 years.  (“The Cause of Climate Change”)

Despite the efforts of some to discredit the science behind climate change (many who also support the inclusion of creation science), the evidence is clear that humankind is a contributing, and perhaps major, factor in change of the climate.

From almost the beginning of creation, humankind has been tasked with the care of this planet.  As descendants of Adam, we are also charged to be stewards of this world.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflect our nature

So, they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,

And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

God created human beings; he created them godlike.

Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.

God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” ().

Genesis 1: 26 – 28, The Message

We need to be reminded that throughout the Old Testament the writers emphasized that this world was God’s creation and that we must answer to Him when it is done.  Remember that at the end of the Book of Job, God reminds Job that it was He who was responsible for the creation.

And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said:

“Why do you confuse the issue?  Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about?

Pull yourself together, Job!  Up on your feet! Stand tall!

 I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.

Where were you when I created the earth?  Tell me since you know so much!

Who decided on its size? Certainly, you’ll know that!  Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?

How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone?

While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?

And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb

That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds and tucked it in safely at night.

Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it could not run loose,

And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’

“And have you ever ordered Morning, ‘Get up!’ told Dawn, ‘Get to work!’

So you could seize Earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches?

As the sun brings everything to light, brings out all the colors and shapes,

The cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked—they are caught in the very act!

“Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?

Do you know the first thing about death?  Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries?

And do you have any idea how large this earth is?   Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.

Job 38: 1 -18

For too long, humanity held the view that the charge to be good stewards of this world meant we could do anything we wanted.  We dumped our trash in the streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, confident that there was always going to be fresh water left over.  We filled the atmosphere with noxious gases, confident that the size of the atmosphere would be enough to eliminate the threat. 

But we have begun to see that there is a limit to the damage we do to this world; we are beginning to see that what we once were unlimited resources are beginning to run out.  In our greed and ignorance, in our lack of care for the welfare of this world, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.

But if we are responsible for the care of this world, we must understand that what we do to this world, its resources, and those with whom we share this world has consequences.  Mike Hulme (“9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happen to Be Christians”) is the author of “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”, which was one of The Economist ‘s four science and technology books of the year in 2009. Ever since receiving his Ph.D. in climatology from the University of Wales, he has been a leading Christian voice on the reality of climate change, which he has summed up in five severe but notably levelheaded lessons (“Five Lessons of Climate Change” a personal statement):

  1. “Climate change is a relative risk, not an absolute one.”
  2. “Climate risks are serious, and we should seek to minimize them.”
  3. “Our world has huge unmet development needs.”
  4. “Our current energy portfolio is not sustainable.
  5. “Massive and deliberate geo-engineering of the planet is a dubious practice.

For a variety of reasons, I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist, but when I was in the Boy Scouts, I was taught to always leave the place where we were camping a better place than we found it.

Perhaps because today is also Valentine’s Day and we speak of our love for our family, friends, and others, we might want to also consider how much we love this world on which we live.

Pertaining to the title of the piece, do we treat this world as if we are its owners or simply temporary residents?  Can we, as permanent residents, do whatever we want to our home, or because we are simply temporary residents, just passing through, do we leave this place for the next generations?

In the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Elisha is concerned about what Elijah, his mentor and friend, was going to leave him.  What are we going to leave those who come after us?

The Season of Epiphany is one marked by illumination; it began with the Wise Men seeking the light that they say, it ends with illumination of Christ.  Yet, there are many, both secular and sectarian, who would rather live in the darkness of ignorance.  We live in a world teetering between the darkness of ignorance and the light of wisdom; as so often happens, we must decide which direction we as society must take.

In the 2nd lesson for today, Paul speaks of a message being obscured, not because he is holding back some information but because the people are not giving it serious attention.

Theirs is a voice which calls the notion of climate change fake or false science.  They are like many who heard Paul’s words to the Corinthians without listening and are blind to what they see happening to this world.

We see the growing seasons for crops changing; we see the average amount of rainfall changing, and we wonder why we see more hurricanes every year wonder why the intensity of hurricanes seemed to be increase with the numbers.  To borrow a phrase from “The Guess Who”, we see the seasons change but we do not wonder why.

When we look at the empirical evidence (remembering that Jesus told the disciples of John to return and tell him what they saw when asked if He, Jesus, were the coming Messiah), we see the signs that there is change and humankind is responsible.   The good sign is that we also have the capability to fix the errors that we have caused.

On this day, when Elijah insured the future for Elisha, we need to think about what we will be leaving for the generations to come.

On this day, when the world of the disciples was enveloped in the Light of Christ, how can we live in the darkness of ignorance.

We are reminded that this is God’s world and while we may feel that we are the permanent residents and owners, we are just temporary residents passing through.  Do we do as we please or do we leave this world a better place?


Notes on climate change (https://www.rff.org/publications/reports/climateinsights2020/)