“How Will They Know?”


In a conversation the other day, someone noted that I was a liberal Christian. Now, in one of my earlier posts, I noted that I didn’t think that there was such a thing as a conservative Christian, simply because the demands of Christianity often times, in my view, conflict with conservatism.

I know that there are some who feel that religion and politics should not mix and there are problems with one side dictates to the other.  I also feel that many people today do not have a true understanding of what being a Christian, liberal or otherwise, means and that many people think that feel that the declaration that one is a Christian automatically excludes being a liberal and that the declaration that being a liberal automatically excludes one from being religiously active.

One of my favorite quotes come from the movie “A Man For All Seasons”. I do not recall the setting in which this exchange took place but it speaks to not only the aspect of being a Christian in today’s society but to a lot of what we need to do.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The one thing that I think we have had a hard time with in our society today is, first, putting the others on that list, and second, making sure that they have priority. I think sometimes that many conservatives do not think about the others in the equation; it is all about what they do.

The more predominant voices of conservative Christianity tend to expound on what they think you need to do but do, in my mind, very little to do what it is that Jesus Christ wanted us to do when he first walked the back roads of the Galilee.

Many a preacher, in many a denomination, will state that the Great Commission is the sole purpose of Christianity.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 16 – 20 in the New International Version)

But reread this passage as it translated in The Message,

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Note how Jesus’ command changes from “make” to “train”. To further show this, read how Clarence Jordan translated the same patch in his Cotton Patch Gospel translation of Matthew,

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw him they accepted him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. James came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right in there with you – all the time – until the last inning.”

I think it is important to notice that the emphasis was on teaching. Teaching cannot be accomplished (as we are finding out) by simply forcing people to learn things. We are finding out that many people who proclaim themselves Christians do not have a firm understanding of the Bible in terms of the words written or the meaning and context of the words. (And study after study show that we are a Biblically illiterate society).

When Jesus began His mission, he proclaimed that He had come to bring the Good News to the people, to offer food for the hungry (and I think he meant both physical and spiritual hunger), to heal the sick, and relieve the oppression of the people. In the end, that is what one has to do if one says they are a Christian. Because if you are not actively involved in the ministries of Christ, then it becomes very difficult to teach others as Christ taught us.

Now, you may say that you do those things and that you don’t need a church, Jesus Christ, or for that matter, God to do those things. So why are you doing it? For what purpose do you do good?

Do you partake in acts of charity and kindness because it is the right thing to do (what was it that Spock said to Kirk that one time when Kirk asked if it was the logical thing to do? No, it was the human thing to do.) or do you seek justification for your own existence?

I know there are those who feel that to profess a belief in God is at time irrational and perhaps illogical (or even something worse). But I cannot help wondering from where we get our sense of good and evil. In Genesis we read of God commanding Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And you know the rest of the story, which has several versions, depending on your point of view. But if you feel that this knowledge of good and evil does not come from God and our own actions, then where does it come from? And how will you deal with it?

In the end, I will profess to believe that there is a God. I do so, knowing that God created all I see in the physical world in which I live and the universe through which this planet travels. I also believe that my own abilities to think and create, to understand right and wrong, good and evil, come from this same Creator. I have chosen to walk the path that was first walked by Jesus Christ some two thousand years ago over the dusty back roads of the Galilee. I do not think that story is a myth because it is still told today and because of how it was told two thousand years ago (see my notes in “The Other Side Of The Universe” on this).

I do not think that my job is to make you believe as I do. I have come to know that there are many paths to heaven and that my responsibility is to show you the one on which I walk. And to show you is to teach you in the ways of Christ, as He asked me to do some two thousand years ago.

You may disagree with me and I know that many on both sides of the spectrum will. But when someone asks, “How will they know?,” I will reply through my words, thoughts, deeds, and action.

The Two Important Issues For 2015 And 2016


I was thinking about this the other day but ran into problems with my computer and lost most of the work. So I am going to try and doing it again.

First, I prompted to post this today because I had another chance to review the life of Robert F. Kennedy. This piece will echo some of the thoughts that I posted back in March when I posted “So You Want To Be President?”

The one thing that amazes me are the differences in the 1968 campaign and today’s Presidential campaigns. Maybe it is just me but the campaigns back seem to actually focus on the issues and, while there was negative campaigning back then, it wasn’t to the extent we have today.

And how many of today’s candidates can quote Greek writers, such as Aeschylus, from memory as did Robert Kennedy? How many of today’s politicians, let alone Presidential candidates, would challenge the political system as Robert Kennedy did when he posed the question to white South Africans, “Suppose God Is Black”, or when he spoke to white medical students about serving the poor and needy (see “To Build a New Community” for a link to references of that speech).

Which, of any, of today’s candidates, could do as Robert Kennedy did on the night that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed and go into the poorer part of Indianapolis and speak of the tragedy on personal terms. Let’s remember that night, when violence erupted in almost every city in this country, it was calm in Indianapolis. I do not think that many of today’s candidates would be able to do anything similar, so used to blaming someone when there is a problem.

Both President Kennedy and Senator Kennedy spoke in terms of paragraphs, not sound bites, and they expected those who listened to them to know the references that they made. Today’s politicians merely reflect the current state of learning in this country, which is to say, limited.

That is why I think one of the major political issues in the coming months has to be the state of education in this country today. Instead of moving forward, creating thinkers and people capable of analyzing complex and multiple issues, we are creating a population of followers who have surrendered their thought process to a group of individuals who feel their duty is to do our thinking for us. Instead of providing the information for us to use, this group has taken it upon themselves to tell us what to think and what to do.

Our schools transformed from institutions of thinking and creativity into mere assembly lines, churning out numerous copies of the same product day after day. We argue about what is being taught, more so because I think we can’t do the work ourselves. If we were more involved in the process of learning and understanding what we need to learn, we might be better prepared to deal with those who would say that “they know what is best and we should just shut up and follow orders.”

For me, it would seem that first, we need to be more involved in what is happening in our schools today and we need to push our schools to do more that prepares students for tomorrow. And yes, I know this will cost money.

But we need to stop and look at where our money is going these days and wonder if we can’t stop funding wars and start funding education. We might find that tomorrow will be a lot better that way.

The second issue that we need to face is a moral one. Part of the moral dilemma that we are faced with is that we find it very easy to condemn others while not accepting blame for our sins. We have ignored what Christ said one day, “Listen, you phony, first pull the plank from your eye and then you’ll be able to see better to get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 5 – The Cotton Patch Gospels).

There are as many in the sectarian world as there are in the secular world who have made it their providence to tell us how to live our lives will telling us to ignore how they live theirs.

We cannot begin to build a world of peace when we live in a constant state of war and where individuals who claim to be speaking for God proclaim a message of hatred and exclusion. We cannot begin to build God’s Kingdom here on earth, in what form it may take, if there are those among us who would proclaim that they and only they know the true word of God.

They will tell you, in no uncertain terms that there is only way to achieve true salvation and that if you do not chose that path, you will have chosen a path to total and final condemnation. I have heard that call countless times before in my life and, each time that I have heard it, I have walked away. It is not that I don’t believe in what they are saying but because I don’t think they have the right or authority to tell me what I have to do.

But I know what path I have chosen to walk and I also know that it may not be the path that others will choose. If a person believes in God and what that means, does it matter whether they believe as I do or that I believe as they do?

What I know is that I do not have the power, the right, or authority to tell others that they must walk the same path as I. But if I feel that the path that I walk is the better path, then what I have to do is show them, through my words, my deeds and my actions, what is gaining by walking with me.

What is needed at this time and on this planet is the beginning of a revival to understand why we are here and why we must work with each other instead of against each other.

We must understand what it means to do good and how that is achieved. And let’s face it, if you are doing good because you think it will somehow save you, you need to understand that it doesn’t work that way, no matter what else you may believe. One does good for what others receive, not what one receives.

The first of this issues will be decided at the ballot box but the second one can only be decided individually in one’s heart and soul. And it will take action on both issues if we are to truly make this a better world.

“What Are We Supposed To Remember?”


This is one of those unique weekends where Memorial Day and Pentecost Sunday are celebrated on the same weekend. On Pentecost Sunday, we remember the birth of the church and on Memorial Day we remember, though honor is perhaps a better term, those who have served this country in the past.

And yet while one of these occurrences is supposed to celebrate life and the other celebrate death, I am not entirely sure today which one is doing which. On this Pentecost Sunday, we hear not of the birth of the church but rather its death and on a day when we are suppose to honor and remember those who have died in service for this country, we seem to be more concern about having another war or continuing the wars in place.

If anything, this weekend should celebrate life. We need to remember those who have died so that others may live and, then, we need to work on ways to make sure that we do not use wars as a way to ensure peace and freedom. I do not think that those who have died believed they died in vain but I also believe that they felt the world would be safer because of what they did.

We need to remember what those gathered together in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost were doing then and find ways to keep doing it today. It is noted in the Book of Acts that they shared all they had, without exception, and they made sure those who had no resources, including those who might be called non-believers, were included. They gathered together in love and their numbers grew because of that.

But today, the money that society spends on destruction and death is far more than what is spent on construction and life. And when I think back to the way life was 100 years ago and 50 years ago and see that not much has changed – we worship war and inequality, the rich seem to get richer and the poor remained oppressed, I have what it is we are supposed to remember this weekend.

I hope that what we remember this weekend pushes us to ensure a better world and not one where war and inequality are the way. What I fear is that unless we resolve to make Pentecost an ongoing expression of our faith, of people living together and sharing all their resources, then we will have more burials of young people who died to ensure that peace and freedom continue will continue.

“Thoughts On Good Shepherd Sunday”


Some random thoughts on this the 4th Sunday of Easter, often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”.

I happened to, because of the way the day works, listen to two different messages that focused on today’s lectionary readings. In both cases, the speaker spoke of encountering a herd of sheep while traveling in Ireland.

In the Gospel reading for this morning, we hear Jesus say that all the sheep know His voice (echoing words from Isaiah where we are called by name). Now, there are some who are going to feel that God has somehow forgotten them, that they call out and no one answers.

For them, God does not exist. But is it that God doesn’t answer or that we don’t hear the answer? Could it be that we are so wrapped up in troubles that it creates a blanket of noise that keeps us from hearing the quiet, almost inaudible voice of God saying that He loves us and that He will never abandon us?

Both speakers that I listened to also spoke of the need to envision the Gospel reading, of Christ calling us by name, as something that we needed to do as a community. This call for a community offers a way to remove the noise that prevents us from hearing God and continuing God’s work.

Two closing thoughts – Back in 1995, when I was living in Pittsburg, Kansas, there was a cemetery across from my apartment complex. Within its boundaries were graves that may or may not have been the graves of family relatives. The sad part is that because of our family history, or rather the lack of records for the family history, we will never really know if there is a link between our present family and the family there.

I also saw several graves in this cemetery with lambs atop the grave stone. Such markers tell us that a child was buried there and it tells, in one way, the story of a community that struggle to make a go of it in southeastern Kansas. That particular part of Kansas used to be a mining area and families from the Balkans came to build a new life in the soil of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. The lambs tell us it was not an easy struggle to build that new community.

Finally, if one speaks of the Good Shepherd, one needs to remember the song that Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, and Nash sung back in the late ’60s – “Good Shepherd”. This song has its origins in the Gospel of John 21: 1 – 19 and was originally written by a Methodist minister in the 1840’s (see my notes on this song in “A Rock and Roll Revival”).

We have been called by the Good Shepherd and we have been asked to help others find the Good Shepherd.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Meaning Of This Day”


Today is April 4th. It is that day between Good Friday and Easter. Some call it “Black Saturday”, others don’t call it anything at all. I have never understood why, from at least a liturgical standpoint, we don’t do anything on this day. I wrote a piece entitled “The Missing Day” a few years ago that tried to put into words what I thought took place that day (I have since tried to turn it into a play and if you are interested, let me know).

But the significance of this day is not just in its place on the liturgical calendar. Next year, because of the uniqueness of the Easter calendar, this missing day will March 26. It will still be the day between Good Friday and Easter but it will not have the same significance as today, April 4th, might have to some, myself included.

On this day in 1969 I would have been either on my way from Kirksville, Missouri, to Memphis, Tennessee, or already in Memphis for Easter/spring break. I would have in my possession two books, Letters of a C. O. from Prison (Timothy W. L. Zimmer, The Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1969) and Faith In A Secular Age (Colin Williams, First Harper ChapelBook, Harper & Row, 1966).

These books were given to me by Reverend Marvin Fortel, my pastor at the 1st United Methodist Church of Kirksville, after our meeting and communion the day before I left for Memphis. I have read and used the Faith book so much that is has fallen apart and is held together by a strong paper clip. Reverend Fortel gave these books to me to help me understand some questions I had about the role of faith in society and what path I might take. ((I first published my account of this conversation and what happened on that spring break trip home in That First Baptism”; the details of the conversation itself were first published in Our Father’s House”.)

But the meaning of this day goes back one more year, to April 4, 1968, when I was a senior at Bartlett High School in Memphis, Tennessee. It was on this day that Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot, shot for speaking out for the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis and for speaking out for equality, both racial and economic. As I have written elsewhere, I have no doubt that Dr. King would have also spoken out for gender equality as well. (My thoughts on this day are posted on “Where Were You On April 4, 1968?” and “On This Day”).

The meaning of this day in 2015 is perhaps an understanding that we haven’t moved towards the goals that were so clearly envisioned that spring in 1968, both in what took place in Memphis, and on the political trails with Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Sadly, the political vision that Robert Kennedy offered this country that spring will also be cut down by an assassin’s bullet some two months after Dr. King was assassinated.

We live in a society where the rich demand favors and politicians are so quick to give. We live in a society where many people think that the rich will share the wealth with them so that they too can be rich. We have accepted as economic truth that the wealth of the view will somehow trickle down to the masses but we fail to see the flow of money only goes one way and that is to the rich and not the poor.

We live in a society where you are not allowed to be who you are and often times assumed to be less than others because of the color of your skin or the nature of your relationships with others. We are quickly finding out that bigotry, racism, and inequality are the norms of society and not the outliers.

We live in a society where many people see religion and faith as either superstitious or antiquated thinking and others do everything in their power to ensure that view remains. I am not sure where we are going when faith and what one believes does more to harm than it does for good.

In 1968, we were just beginning to understand the role humans played in the care and upkeep of the environment. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River would once again catch fire and while as damaging as an earlier fire in 1952 (it turns out that the Cuyahoga River has had a history of catching on fire, dating back to 1868), would help us to understand, what it was that we were doing to the environment.

And yet today, there are those who would refute the evidence that shows what mankind is doing to its home planet, for to accept the evidence would mean a change in how we live.

As 1968 ended and 1969 began, we were on the verge of walking on the moon. There were those who envisioned the possibilities of moving beyond the moon and to the planets and perhaps the stars. But we stopped going to the moon and the vision of traveling to the stars is often only seen on television and in the movies.

We seem unwilling to create schools that produce thinkers and visionaries because such processes open the eyes of the youth to the truths of society. Education was once the means by which we could move forward; I am not sure what it has become today.

How long can we continue to live in a world where ignorance and greed dominate our thinking and, in the end, destroy not only mankind but the world on which we live?

What is the meaning of this day in 2015? For some, this day is the beginning of Passover and marks the beginning of the path to freedom. For some, myself included, this day is the day before Christ’s Resurrection and the triumph over sin and death. It too is the beginning of the path to freedom.

I hope that you will pause this day and begin to think about how it is that you can work for freedom and justice. This is not a day to keep the past as the present but to work so that the future can be reached.

“How Will I Know?”


Laws have been passed that say that I don’t have to serve someone in my place of business if in doing so it goes against my religious beliefs.

But how will I know if that person or persons is doing something that goes against my religious beliefs? Will I now have to ask everyone who comes to my place of business if their activities in the past or present or even in the future will somehow go against what I believe?

I know that Jesus often told those He met during the course of His ministry to go and sin no more but I don’t recall Him ever asking anyone what it was that caused them to be a sinner. I don’t recall Him questioning the individual who hung next to Him on Golgotha as to the reason why he and the other individual were hanging there with Him. All He did was forgive him and allow him to enter into Heaven.

In fact, the only ones who seemed upset when Jesus even so much as talked to the sinners of the community were the religious and political leaders.

So how will I know who to serve and who not to serve? Wouldn’t it just be better if I did as my Lord and Savior did and treat everyone the same, with equal love and concern for the well-being, even if they do not return the love?