“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/)

“The Mountains of Our Life”


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, 23 February 2020, Transfiguration Sunday (Year A). Our services start at 10:15 and you are welcome to come and worship with us.

When I moved here in 1999 from Whitesburg, KY, I traded one part of the Appalachian Mountains for another and the headwaters of the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Big Sandy Rivers for the aforementioned Hudson River.

If you stop and think about it, there have always been mountains and rivers in your life.  Some are physical (Mt. Beacon and the Hudson River, for example); others are more ethereal (raising a child, taking a new job).

Sometimes mountains are a challenge.  When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he replied, “Because it’s there!” 

Other times, mountains are an obstacle.  Until Daniel Boone and others developed the Wilderness Road as a passage for settlers to transverse the Appalachian Mountains, the mountains were an obstacle to the expansion of this country.

Sometimes the mountains in our lives are more ethereal than physical.  For a long time, completing my dissertation was a mountain I had to climb.  When it was finished, it like standing on the mountain top, basking in the sunlight of completion and success.

Sometimes the mountains can give us a sense of what lies before us.  As I drove back to Whitesburg after a business trip, I contemplated the path my professional life was taking.  During the drive, I could see the Appalachian Mountains rising before me in the east and I heard the voice of God quoting the Psalmist,

I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

I had to climb the mountain to find the answer; I had to go to the mountain top.

As you leave today, consider the mountains that you have climbed and the mountains that rise before you today.  Know that the answer lies on the mountain top. 

~~Tony Mitchell

Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019


This will be the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, March 3, 2019, Transfiguration Sunday (Year C)

In the years before Interstate highways, as you drove from town to town on the back roads of America you would see advertisements telling you to “Visit Meramec Caverns” or “See 7 States from Rock City atop Lookout Mt.” painted on barns.

The thing about Lookout Mt. is that without signs pointing to the specific state, you cannot tell them apart.  From atop Lookout Mt., all the states look alike.

And while the view from the mountain top is wonderful and you can see far into the distance, you cannot see the people at the bottom of the mountain.  While we are at the top of the of the mountain, awash in the glory of the intense sunlight, we cannot see what is at the bottom of the mountain, awash in the day-to-day muck and mire of daily life.  You cannot see the pain, the problems, the joys, and celebrations of the people.

I learned a long time ago that a successful program is one in which the participants were involved in the process.  This is exactly what Jesus did when he walked the back roads of the Galilee.

He, the disciples, and other followers wandered around, meeting the people, seeing them in their daily lives, coming to understand their problems and challenges they faced each day.  They also saw how the identity of the person determined how they were treated.

It is nice to be at the top of the mountain, able to see vast expanses of space.  But when we do this, we miss the things going on in life. It is not the light at the top of the mountain that brings hope to the world; it is the Light of Christ that we bring to the people in our daily encounters that brings the hope.          ~~Tony Mitchell

“Finding God in The Details”


This is not necessarily a post for Transfiguration Sunday (11 February 2018) as much as it a post for Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend; “A Reminder” serves that purpose.  Still it helps to realize that this weekend is a marker in my life.

On the 2nd Sunday in February 1965, I was confirmed and received into membership with the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora).  A little over one year later, I was accepted in the High School Honors Program of Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).  In June of 1966, I choose to become a chemistry major.  Each of those decisions defined the path that I would take over the coming years.

The simplest and easiest way to summarize my beliefs is found in what is commonly called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline).  And since I see my faith in living and real terms, it is it is better to describe the relationship between the elements in a 3-dimensional tetrahedral – The Wesleyan Tetrahedron – rather than a 2-dimensional square (hey, I’m a chemist, remember!)Tetrahedron

Perhaps I spent more time 50 years ago focusing on my education and I know that I certainly have spent several years wandering in the wilderness, as it were.  But even if it were not a dominant part of my life, my faith has been as much a part of my life as have been my chemistry studies.

And that brings forth the questions, “Can one be both a scientist and a Christian?  Can one both appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation and still ask how it all came into being?”

Today, there are those who see science as a threat to religion, and especially Christianity.  And there are those who see religion, and especially Christianity, as nothing more than superstition and meaningless today.  There is, I believe a comment on one of my early posts on this blog that questions the validity of my PhD. in Science Education considering my being, at the time, a lay pastor in the United Methodist Church.  I can assure you, gentle reader, that my PhD. is a valid one and that I have done research in both chemistry and chemical education.  Those interests are very much part of my life today.

But there was a point in my life when I was asked to provide long-term pulpit supply for a number of churches and it was a very valuable experience (see the notes with “Who Will Work For The Lord?”.)

After I left the pulpit, but did not give up lay speaking, I discovered that there was a connection between my chemistry and lay speaking ministry.  In “A Dialogue Of Science And Faith” I discovered that Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestley, both chemists, were also heavily involved in matters of faith as they were in matters of science.

And while detractors today may say otherwise, scientists from Copernicus and Galileo to Boyle and Newton and onto this day have never sought to prove or disprove the existence of God, only to understand what He has done.

Perhaps the one defining characteristic of humankind is its curiosity.  From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the world around us and wondered “why?”  And our answer to this, at once the simplest and most complex of all questions, has lead us to seek beyond the horizon and to the stars and see answers in our soul, even if we are not sure what we were looking for or if we would know the answer.

And we would could not find the answer in the physical world, we often turned to the supernatural or spiritual world to find the answer.  But just as easy as it easy to find the answer in the physical world, it is often just as hard to find the answer in the spiritual realm.  And so, in our own way, we create simple spiritual answers to the most complicated of questions.

When the star that is called Sirius first appeared in the spring, we knew that river was going to flood, and it would be time to prepare.  But instead of tying two physical occurrences, we saw it as a sign from the gods.  When the rains didn’t come, we blamed the rain god.  We knew that if the crops didn’t come in as expected, perhaps we needed to appease the god of crops.  Of course, today we have scientific explanations for most, if not all, the physical phenomena that once was attributed to spiritual or supernatural forces.  But even so, we still search for explanations for good and evil, truth and beauty, and the most important question of all times, why are we here in this time and place.

This search for the answers has lead us in many different paths.  When the writer of Genesis wrote that Adam was given the task of naming all the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2: 19 – 20), Adam became, other things, the first biologists.  And when Abraham was told to count all the stars (Genesis 15: 5), he took on one of the tasks of an astronomer.

Understand that the Bible is and should never be considered the same as a biology, chemistry, physics, or geology/earth science textbook.  From the very day that the first writer put the words of Genesis on papyrus, it has been about our relationship with God.

The Psalmist looked the world around him and at the skies above him and saw the Glory of God,

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry,

Moon and stars mounted in their settings.  Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,

Why do you bother with us?  Why take a second look our way?

Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light.

You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge,

Made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild,

Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps.

God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.  (Psalm 8: 3 – 9, The Message)

And how was it that Jesus could use the habits of foxes and birds or know how mustard seeds and grow in his parables if He had not studied science when he was growing up.

Science can give meaning to what we see in this world, but it cannot explain why it is here.  Science can never explain there is good and evil or why there is suffering and pain in this world.

Science can never show you God; it can only show you, through nature, the works of God.  Science has always been driven to know things about the world in which we live.  Scientists from Copernicus through Newton and even into these days used the process of science to understand the works of God, not disprove the existence of God or displace God.

Science gives us the opportunity to know what is happening in this world; it is up to our faith to know why it is happening.  It is our faith that will provide the guidance that we need to use what science shows us.  It is through our faith that we can discern the path that we should take, to use our scientific discoveries for good.

Science can open avenues of research whose answers will help feed the people of this planet and cure sickness and disease, but science cannot eliminate injustice and oppression.  For all that science can do, it cannot do all things.  And for those things that science cannot do, you must have faith, faith in things unseen, faith that will lead you to find ways to use the knowledge that you gain from science.

We look at the world around us and wonder why and how.  As we ask how things came to be, we find ourselves marveling at the works of God.  And as we begin to understand the works of God, we began to understand ourselves just a little bit better.

A Reminder


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for February 11, 2018, Transfiguration Sunday (Year B).  This is also Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend (I will have something else posted this week that focuses on those topics.)


Several years ago, I was headed to a college in northwest Missouri.  Driving across the plains of northwest Missouri that day and nearing Conception Junction, I saw a cathedral rising from the plains about ten miles away.  It wasn’t what I had planned but I had to see what this was.  After all, when does God check your schedule when he has something for you to do?

Conception Abbey postcard from 1908 postcard – By Unknown – postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19493851

Conception Abbey was built in the late 19th century to provide the local Irish and German immigrants of the area a spiritual home.  That day, it served as a reminder that I had made a covenant with God in 1965.

A covenant with God is not a promise but an agreement one makes with God; It is an agreement that each party will do something.  Throughout the ages, God always keeps His part of the covenant; we are often the ones who forget what we said we would do.

Seeing that cathedral, literally rising from the plains, reminded me that I had made a covenant and that it was time to fulfill my part of the agreement.  As I continued my trip that day, I began to think about how I could fulfill that covenant I made in 1965.  How could I use my skills and talents that I had been given and developed over the years?  In one sense, I am here today because of the sudden appearance of the Presence of God in my life.

Each of us, in one way or another, has had that same moment, where God suddenly appears to us.   How will you respond?

~Tony Mitchell

“I Saw the Light”


This is an expanded version of what appears on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for 26 February 2017 (Transfiguration Sunday [A]).

One of the thing that I was thinking about was the song “I Saw the Light”.  This is a country-gospel song that was written by Hank Williams (which I think most people didn’t know).

When I began teaching, I knew the subjects that I was teaching (chemistry and other physical sciences) and I was learning how to teach.  But as this was all taking place, I found myself thinking about how my students learned chemistry.

We all learn in different ways and at different rates.  And, as an instructor, I am tasked with helping each student reach that point of understanding; that point we call the “AHA! Moment”.  It is that moment, and we all have had such moments in our own lives, when we understand what we are learning.  This is a major moment in our lives because it takes us past simply “knowing” the right answer to understanding why it is the right answer.

I don’t think that it makes a difference whether we are speaking about secular or sectarian learning.  And while I realize that this moment of understanding is different for each person, our educational process, both secular and sectarian, must be directed towards helping each person reach that moment of enlightenment.

And I realize that achieving this moment requires a great deal of effort, both by the teacher and by the student.  How many times did we get the feeling that Jesus was frustrated by the lack of learning exhibited by the 12.  They were his primary students and yet, time and time again, they didn’t seem to get the point of the lesson.

That is, until the First Easter and the Resurrection.  Then they understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that First Pentecost, they became empowered to take the Gospel message into the world.

John Wesley knew what was needed but until that moment that we call Aldersgate, he didn’t quite understand how to achieve what he sought.  The success of the Methodist Revival only began when the Holy Spirit warmed his heart and he understood who Christ truly was.

For Peter, James, and John, that moment was on the Mount with Jesus; for Paul, it was that moment on the road to Damascus.

Each of us has that same moment, that point when we understand that Christ is our Savior.  Each person’s moment of understanding, of seeing the light is unique and we should never try to force our moment on others.  But, we can and must help others find their moment.

Today marks the day that the Disciples began to see the light.  Their lives began to change.  Each of us has that moment; that moment when we realize that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior.  And this gives us the opportunity to begin helping others find their moment.

“That One Brilliant Moment”


A Meditation for 7 February 2016, Transfiguration Sunday (Year C). The meditation is based on Exodus 34: 29 – 34, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 9: 28 – 36 (37 – 43)

There is a point in everyone’s life when the solution to a problem that they have been struggling with suddenly becomes so obvious that they wonder why they didn’t think of it before. In some circles, including my own, this is called the “Aha! Moment”.

What we have to realize is that each person will have numerous such moments in their lives, simply because each subject that we study or work with involves different parts of our brain and will depend on what we already know. The problem here is that too many other people feel that everyone should have the same “AHA” moment at the same point in their lives. What that may simply teaching, it doesn’t really work that way. And, as a side point, as long we continue to believe that this is the best way to teach, with the notion that every student is the same and thinks in the same way, our educational system will never improve.

And it is not just in our educational system that we try to standardize our beliefs. As President Jimmy Carter said in his 2002 Nobel speech in Oslo, Norway,

the present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.”

President Carter further expanded on this statement by saying,

There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions — including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasing, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: ‘Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,’ and the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman’, and then their lives are not significant.

He went on to describe how he felt that fundamentalists had distorted the vision of Christ in the world and the nature of Christianity (Adapted from “Our Endangered Values” by Jimmy Carter; first posted in “Encountering God”).

The problem lies, as Cassius said to Brutus, not in our stars but in ourselves. Cassius suggests to Brutus that we are all born equally free and that we should not bow down to another person. Our futures lies in what we do and not by some per-ordained set of rules that others created for us (adapted from http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/fault-dear-brutus-our-stars).

However, for the most part, we are incapable of knowing that there are alternatives or that the rules by which we live are faulty and even repressive.

Perhaps I was lucky in that regard. By the virtue of being the son of an Air Force officer and attending a number of different elementary, junior high, and high schools, I saw a world different from others. And beginning with the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, I began to see that there were rules that sought to limit what people could do (“Tell Me The Truth, But . . .”).

These rules were designed to create a separation of people by race and economic status and, to some extent, by gender as well. Sometimes these rules were very clear (“Lexington, North Carolina”); other times they were not so clear. But over time, it became quite clear over time that these rules were put into place by a select group of people and intended to keep them in a position of power and prestige.

Still, as I looked around the world and saw these imposed differences, I began to question the intent of these rules. I also know that many of those whom I went to school with during that same period of time probably didn’t see those differences because they grew up in that system and never knew anything different. And I see in their comments in social media today that their attitudes have not changed much over the years. They still profess the same thoughts that their parents and grandparents expressed. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

A friend of mine the other day commented that she could never understand the cruelty of man towards other men or even imagine that mankind was capable of such cruelty. But as I pointed out, if we are taught to see others as less than ourselves, it becomes quite easy to do so. And one generation teaches the next that it is acceptable to do that, it becomes easily ingrained in society and just as difficult to remove from society’s mindset (as we are seeing in some of today’s political rhetoric).

And as my friend also noted, there is in this world a certain degree of evil that transcends the teachings of the generations. But it is enhanced by those who seek to hold onto power and who seek to enhance their own power. A few moments after Cassius speaks to Brutus about the future, Caesar says of Cassius, he (Cassius) “has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Men like him are dangerous.”

Caesar feared Cassius because Cassius sought information, sought to go beyond the boundaries imposed by society and those who seek control. If we open our minds and hearts, then those who would be Caesar will fear us as much as Caesar feared Cassius.

And Paul, very bluntly I think, points out to the Corinthians that, in removing the veil, Christ showed the true nature of the political and religious establishments; that their true interest was in the control of the people and nothing else. Through Christ, the people were able to gain hope and have a new vision.

It would take Peter, James, and John a few days to understand what took place on that mountaintop during the Transfiguration described in the Gospel reading for today. But they, and the other disciples, would come to understand what had taken place and what it meant for them. Each one of us is open to the same vision, though how we receive it will be different.

For some, it will be like Saul on the road to Damascus when he became Paul; for others, it will be more the heart-warming and assuring moment of John Wesley in the Aldersgate Chapel. Our challenge today is not to make our vision the vision that others receive but to allow them to have such a vision, to have that one brilliant, life-changing moment.

We can do this through our words, our deeds, our thoughts, and our actions. We can do this by opening our hearts and minds to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow it to transform our lives, to see the world anew, bright and shining as the Son.

That life-changing moment, described in the hymn “Amazing Grace”, comes just as it did for John Newton when one accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, lets the Holy Spirit empower their lives, and then begins to world for a world where others can do the same.

That is the nature of the one brilliant moment in our lives.

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.

Catching up and planning ahead (perhaps?)


I finally posted “Removing the veil” this morning. Sorry for the delay but it got hectic over the weekend. You cannot imagine what several inches of snow does to your time frame. 🙂

This is going to be a busy week. We will be at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen this Saturday, unless, of course, the weather doesn’t allow us to do so. Maria Irish from the Monroe UMC will be presenting the message “Rut Ro Raggy!”.

On Sunday, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY. Service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend. The title of my message is “The Journey Begins”.

At 4 pm on Sunday, we begin the 2013 Lenten School. We will be offering courses in Basic Lay Servant Ministries and advanced courses in sermon planning, leading small groups, leading prayer, spiritual gifts, and the history and polity of the United Methodist Church. The early registration fee is $35.00; registration on the 17th is $40.00. Ann will again provide the afternoon meal (4:00 to 4:30 each Sunday) during the school. We open the school with a worship service from ~4:30 to 5:00 and I will present the message, using some of the same thoughts from my morning message.

Registration information can be found at NY/CT District – 2013 Lay Servant Lenten School; if you have any questions, leave a comment and I will try to answer them.

“Removing the Veil”


This was originally entitled “A New Vision” but as I worked on it and I kept focusing on the veil that Moses wore and that one that Paul tells us that Christ removed, that title didn’t seem to work. And in light of the focus of this piece in conjunction with Evolution Weekend and Boy Scout Sunday, it made sense to talk about removing the veil so that one can see.

Corollary thoughts may be found at Ponderings on a Faith Journey: Science, Faith and the Pursuit of Truth.

Evolution Weekend is the weekend that coincides with Charles Darwin’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Chuck!) and focuses on the interaction of faith, religion, and science. I have participated in this observance, either through a sermon or a blog post since 2009.

And because it is the 2nd Sunday in February, it is Boy Scout Sunday and it represents for me the day that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

I am not certain that it has always been on Transfiguration Sunday as it this weekend but it is perhaps a good connection between what transpired for Jesus and the disciples and what must transpire in our minds and soul when we encounter Christ in our own lives.

Now, for some, there can be no discussion of the interaction of any sort between religion, faith, and science. Both sides of this “debate” or “issue” see the other group as the enemy, dedicated to the reduction of the other to virtual and actual nothingness.

Richard Dawkins once stated,

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. . . Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. (Page 4, The Language of God, Francis S. Collins)

My first thought on this is that this is an incomplete thought; perhaps an expression that science can answer all questions and one needs to place their “faith” in science. To me, this strikes as nothing more than scientism, a belief system based on science. (See “A Particular Moment in Time” for links to discussion on this idea.)

Francis Collins, from whose book The Language of God I got the quote from Richard Dawkins, also quoted the noted creationist Henry Morris,

Evolution’s lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field. That being the case, it follows inevitably that evolutionary thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere. . . When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data. (Page 5, The Language of God, Francis S. Collins)

And just as I think that what Dawkins said was incomplete, so too do I believe that what Morris said was also incomplete. There are numerous examples of where Darwin’s notions about the evolution of life have been misused but that should not be considered the fault of the theory behind evolution.

It is interesting that Morris would say that science misinterprets the data and I would like to know how it is that he came up with that statement. Actually, I think I know how it is that he did and, for someone who claimed to operating under the framework of science, there was a major flaw in his thinking process.

You can never interpret the data in terms of a preconceived conclusion, which is the case for so many people who think that the Genesis creation story is the absolute truth. For among other things, they find themselves having to adjust the data, experimentally determined, to fit their model. Quoting Sherlock Holmes in my post “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence.” Neither can you make the evidence fit the theory; the theory must come from the evidence. This doesn’t mean that your interpretation will be correct.

I noted in the “Dialogue” that Tycho Brahe had the evidence that suggested stars were a long way away from the earth but because he did not believe that the stars could be as far away from the earth as his observations suggested, he concluded that the earth was motionless and at the center of the universe. Again, he forced the data to fit his model.

I find many people who understand the concept of radioactivity and its use in dating ancient objects but who then “fiddle” with the data so as to keep their chosen model in place. I posted a piece two years ago about radiometric dating (“How Old Is Old?”) because of the number of individuals who have decided that the age of the earth is 10,000 years and the data that suggests otherwise. As it happens, in my own piece I refer to a more detailed explanation of this issue at “Radiometric Dating – A Christian Perspective” by Dr. Roger C. Wiens. Dr. Wiens also provided rebuttals for the critics of these techniques.

But my question to those who suggest that the data that we observe has somehow been altered by some supernatural deity is, “Why should I believe in a god that would manipulate the data and then expect me to believe in him, her, or it?”

Do I believe in the words of the Bible? Yes, I do, for they tell me a lot about the people whose faith system is the foundation of what we believe today. Do I believe that they knew as much as about the world that we do today? No. But the Bible wasn’t written to tell me about the world; it was written to tell me about the people and their relationship with God, a relationship that exists today. It is a story that speaks volumes if we would listen and think about what it said.

Am I to simply accept the statements of a few individuals that the world is less than 10,000 years old (a figure that, by the way, is not found in the Bible). What am I do to with the data that tells me otherwise? Should I change my data to fit the words of Genesis simply because a group of pastors in the late 19th century decided that they were the words of truth?

Too many people today simply want don’t want to think about the words or what they mean. Because to think means that they must be involved and they do not want to be involved.

And for those who see science as the answer to all questions (again, invoking the notion of scientism rather than science) I would ask, “Where is that good and evil come from? Are they parts of our bodies, encoded somehow into our DNA? If one has denied religion and faith, one cannot then say that good and evil are parts of our soul, for the soul is not part of physical body. So good and evil are inherent parts of our bodies and that opens a box that even Pandora would not want to open.

On the other hand, if we acknowledge that there is something or someone “out there” that had a hand in our creation, then we have to have some sort of faith system in our lives.

It is entirely possible that I could or would have come to Christ without having been a Boy Scout but that is clearly a question for another time and place. Besides finding a path to God through the God and Country award, I also began to develop an appreciation for the world around us. I cannot call myself an environmentalist but clearly, having seen the beauty of the Rocky Mountains when camping with my troop and seeing the physical wonders of this country and then seeing the awesome view of galaxies far away, I know that there is a Creator out there. And if there is not a Creator, then how was this all done?

Can I use the skills that God gave me (allowing me to use other words from Genesis that state that you and I were created in His image) and begin to work out the mysteries of the universe, from the moment of the Big Bang to the present day and perhaps far into the future?

My participation in Evolution Weekend comes because I cannot stand aside and let two groups, both whose minds appear to be closed to new ideas, destroy the fabric and nature of science, all in the name of the truth as they see it.

I have stated it before that I perhaps don’t have to be involved in this because I am a chemist and chemical educator who never took biology. I never took biology because I had the opportunity to skip it when I was in high school and I could take alternative courses to traditional biology when I was in college (though at least one of my college classmates offered the thought once that the course that we both took provided the impetus for his accepting the Genesis creation as the true story of creation.)

In a Rod Stewart moment (“if I had known then what I know now”), if I had known that I was going to really be involved in chemistry and especially bio-inorganic chemistry, it would have been beneficial to have taken biology sometime in my life. Quite honestly, you can be successful in biochemistry without having taken a biology course but it does help. But, it does not matter whether or not I have taken biology at any time in my life. As a chemical and science educator, I have made a commitment to help individuals think and the attack being made on evolution today must be met.

We have created a society in which knowledge is feared, not respected and certainly not to be gained. We began a space race in 1957, not because we were interested in the cosmos or what might lie beyond the stars but because we perceived that there was a major threat to our way of life and we could not envision a world where the Soviet Union and its Communist philosophy was better and capable of launching a satelite while our country could not. Our response was a massive science and mathematics revolution but it was a fleeting one at best and one whose effects are long forgotten.

We stopped sending people to the moon, not because we had answered all of our questions, but because we had won the political race with the Soviet Union. And as the cost of the Viet Nam war took away our resources (both our youth and our money), we found ourselves unable to do the things that would develop our resources.

And the result is that today we are probably incapable of responding in the manner that we responded in 1957. Let us hope that any problems that develop in the coming years have solutions in the back of the book, because that is what we are teaching our children today.

Some will say that the problem lies in our leadership but I fear that the problem lies somewhere between what Pogo (of comic strip fame) said in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us”, and what Cassius said to Brutus in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Society is often like the Israelites demanding that Moses put on a veil because they were afraid of the glow that cover Moses’ face after his encounters with God. And if they were not afraid of the change that had taken place in Moses, they were certainly unsure as to what was happening and they were ill-prepared to respond.

The problem is that too many leaders are quite willing to put the veil on and hide the knowledge, knowing that it allows them to control the people. If there is a veil between the people and the truth, the people cannot see the truth and must accept whatever it is that their leaders tell them, even if, they know in their own minds that what is being said is not always truthful.

Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ removed the veil so that we could know for ourselves who God was and what God has done for us and what He wants us to do.

And I go back to my original statement; if we are created in God’s image, are we not to seek more information?

Several years ago I encountered a piece in which the author postulated that Isaac Newton would have opposed Charles Darwin’s thoughts and ideas on the nature of evolution (“A Dialogue of Science and Faith”). In writing my piece I discovered that my path of faith and science was somewhat similar to that of two early chemists, Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestly. I also had the opportunity to re-read a biography of Isaac Newton that I owned. Each man was both a man of science and a man of faith; each man wanted to know more about how God had created this world in which we live.

Could we live in this world if it were not for Georges Lemaître, who first postulated the Big Bang, or Gregor Mendel, who first postulated the mechanisms of genetics? Probably, but our knowledge of this world would be somewhat limited. Both were Catholic priests yet both were willing to look beyond the written word to see what God had done.

The beginning of Francis Collins’ book describes the ceremony at which human genome, the sequence of DNA that defines our bodies, was first unveiled. He offered a quote by President Bill Clinton,

Today we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.

Some would have us simply say that the human genome was the product of some entity and are so complex as to be beyond our understanding? But any time we are presented with a question that asks us how, we are challenged to find an answer. It was once said that the answer to a single question may be two more questions but that is the nature of life at times.

If we live a life where the truth is hidden by a veil and we are unwilling to seek that truth, then perhaps we deserve a life of ignorance. For in ignorance there is no hope. But that is not why Christ came to this world, that is not why Christ walked among us and taught us and healed us and helped us in so many ways. He offered a chance to see beyond the veil, to remove our reliance on those whose own interests were more self-serving than God-serving. Christ gives us the opportunity to remove the veil of ignorance that keeps us from the truth.

On this day when Peter, James, and John began to understand just what it was that was about to happen, it is also a day that we can open not only our heart and soul but our minds to Christ. For our lives are not just our heart and soul or our mind alone but all three. Opening our hearts, our minds, and our souls to Christ allows the veil of ignorance to be lifted and the truth to shine.