“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?

How Come Easter Isn’t the Same Date Every Year?


DrTony:

Here is a very interesting discussion on why Easter is never the same date two years in a row (and a challenge to remember your math skills before there was a calculator).

Originally posted on A Grace-Filled Life:

Since we have the date of Jesus’ birth (December 25) as a set date on the calendar, why isn’t Easter handled the same way? I am sure that for almost everyone it is a real challenge to figure out the month and day for our Easter celebration. Maybe the following will help clear it up. This comes from the web site of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Q:  During our Bible study this past Sunday, someone asked how Easter can be on a different Sunday every year. Pastor said it had to do with the aligning of the moon, but didn’t know the exact reason why. Can you please explain how Easter Sunday is selected every year and the theological reasoning behind it?

A:  When it comes to figuring out the date for Easter, there is really no simpler way than just looking at the calendar for the upcoming year. But…

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Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?


Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?

This was supposed to have been posted on Sunday February 15th, but things sort of got in the way.

On the church liturgical calendar, this Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. On the secular calendar, this is Evolution Weekend. Before I get into my thoughts about the nature and significance of this day, let me first identify three organizations that focus on the interaction of faith and science (I have put a link to each group on the side of my blog)

  • WesleyNexus
  • BioLogos
  • Clergy Letter project

While the title of this piece suggests that one has to make a choice about what to write about (or perhaps preach), for me, it really isn’t that way. As I hope to lay out before you, both are equally important for me.

Transfiguration Sunday focus on the change that Peter, James, and John saw in Jesus that speaks to the true nature of Jesus as the Messiah and the Christ.

Evolution Weekend focuses on the fact that February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday; it is an event that has taken place for the past ten years or so and looks at the relationship between science and faith (or at least it does for me).

From that viewpoint, these are mutually exclusive events. But I see a common thread in the two events.

In the Scripture readings for this Sunday, Jesus is seen by Peter, James, and John to have been transfigured or transformed, covered with a bright line and seen by the three disciples to be accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Perhaps the meaning of this is to let Peter, James, and John know that Jesus is really the Messiah and things are going to be changing in the next few days.

This moment, first experienced some two thousand years ago by three men, is a moment that we all have in some form or another when we accept Christ as our personal Savior. It is a moment when we truly understand what Jesus did for us two thousand years ago and what He does for us even today.

But I fear that too many people don’t truly understand what this moment means. They fail to take advantage of this opportunity. They lived their lives totally unchanged, continue to believe and live as they did before Christ came into their lives. They may acknowledge that Christ is the Savior but they do not offer the proof. They still see things as they were and not has they might or will be (thinking of the G. B. Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used).

Look at Peter’s initial response to build three monuments; this represented the traditional thinking of the time. Every encounter with God up until that moment is fixed in time and place by some sort of stone monument. This is not what Jesus wants His disciples to do; rather, I think that He wanted them to see their lives in a new way.

Our encounter with Christ and its life changing quality need not be like Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus (though there are many who would say that is the only type of valid encounter). But, however we encounter and acknowledge Christ, we have to understand that our lives change, as Saul’s did when he became Paul. If our lives do not change, the encounter with Christ may prove to be limited in its effect.

Early on in my teaching career, I discovered the work of Jean Piaget and its application to the learning of chemistry. Later I would discover research describing the “AHA Moment”. This moment is that singular moment in one’s life where a seemingly difficult item becomes easily understood. In Piagetian terms, it is that transition from one learning level to the next highest one (in chemistry, often times it is the transition from concrete, fixed thinking to a more abstract thinking process). You go from merely solving problems by rote memorization and application of previous solutions to actually creating new solutions.

For some, this never occurs. They are quite successful in their education experiences but they are lacking when it comes to creating new ideas. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself but when it becomes the norm (as I fear that it is becoming in society today), then problems will arise. You simply cannot advance the nature of society if all you know are the same old solutions; they will not work with new problems.

For me, science is critical to one’s life simply because it pushes you to understand the world around you. Too many people of faith fear science for that very reason; it pushes people to seek better answers to their questions of faith. And yet, one’s faith cannot grow if it is not challenged.

Similarly, one’s secular life also cannot grow if you are not willing to look beyond the limits of your normal vision, if you are not pushed to (and excuse the cliché) think outside the envelope.

We live in dangerous times and our responses cannot be the traditional responses. There are too many challenges taking place that call on us to push our faith and our thinking skills together beyond the limits others have established.

Jesus began to push the boundaries of ministry outside the Temple walls and He encouraged His disciples and other followers to do the same. Charles Darwin pushed the boundaries of science beyond the traditional thinking mode and challenged people to see the world a little differently.

If we are to be transformed by Christ, our world has to change. And that means that we must see the world differently, through the eyes of Christ and with a better knowledge of what we do see. So that is why I see Transfiguration Sunday and Evolution Weekend as together and not apart.