“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.

Notes on Transfiguration Sunday

Here is a compilation of my sermons/messages/posts for Transfiguration Sunday, as well as some thoughts for what I would have said this Sunday.

February 14, 1999 – Year A – Neon (KY) UMC – “A Scout is Reverent” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

March 4, 2000 – Year B – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 25, 2001 – Year C – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – “The Mountain Top”

February 25, 2002 – Year A – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 2, 2003 – Year B – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “That Moment in Time”

February 22, 2004 – Year C – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “Mornings in Whitesburg”

February 6, 2005 – Year A – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “The Mountaintop Experience” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

February 26, 2006 – Year B – “Let Us Tell The Story”

February 18, 2007 – Year C – Dover Plains (NY) UMC – “Encountering God” (sermon)

February 3, 2008 – Year A – “Transformation Sunday”

February 22, 2009 – Year B – “The View From The Mountaintop”

February 14, 2010 – Year C – “That Transforming Moment”– (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend – see Evolution Weekend)

March 6, 2011 – Year A – United Methodist Church of the Highlands (NY) – Seeing Through The Clouds

February 19, 2012 – Year B

As I was preparing this list, I got a note that I might be needed at a local church. It was one of those situations where the call would come at the last minute. This has happened twice in my career; once when I was just beginning (see “What Do You Do?”); then a few years ago (see “Hearing God’s Call”). As it turned out, I wasn’t needed this Sunday so I didn’t finish what I was writing.

But had I presented the message, it would have been entitled “A Lasting Monument”. I thought about how Peter wanted to build a stone monument to the moment of Jesus being transfigured and how we have turned so many of churches into empty stone monuments celebrating the past accomplishments of individuals who are long gone and perhaps forgotten. Do you have any knowledge of why your church has the name it does?

I thought about what Paul wrote and how translated into the actions and deeds of today’s churches. And I thought about what we are being asked to do in the United Methodist Church today. What needs to be our response to the “Call to Action”? In part, I think we need to find ways to answer that call and I wanted the “Missional Manifest for the United Methodist Church” that John Meunier and Jay Voorhees created – my link to their efforts is at https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/missional-manifesto-for-the-umc/

And finally I thought about the transition from Elijah to Elisha and how that applies to each one of us in today’s church. It is reflected in the dialogue between Sir Thomas More and Richard Rich in the play, “A Man For All Seasons.”

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.

We do not need monuments of stone that stand in quiet remembrance of something that happened a long, long time ago. Nor do we need monuments that are in memory of someone no one knows or who did something that no one can recall. What we need people who will continue to do God’s work and spread the message that Christ gave to us. That will be the best and most lasting monument.

“Seeing Through the Clouds”

I was at the United Methodist Church of the Highlands (341 Main Street, Highland Falls, NY 10928) yesterday (6 March 2011), Transfiguration Sunday.  The Scriptures for Sunday were Exodus 24: 12 – 18, 2 Peter 1: 16 – 21, and Matthew 17: 1 – 9.

Their service starts at 11 am and you are welcome to be a part of the worship.

Notes added on 12 November 2013 – To get from Newburgh to Highland Falls requires driving over Storm King Mountain.  As I recall, on this Sunday, the cloud cover that morning was rather low and you entered the clouds as you drove up the north slope and then back through the clouds as you came down on the south slope.  It made for a very interesting drive and relationship to the Old Testament reading that morning.

I have also removed the link to my publications list; if you are interested in seeing this list, please contact me.


There is a new phrase floating around these days called “cloud computing.” Essentially, it is a way for two members of a family to share pictures or videos or some other file through the Internet. It is a great idea, except for one thing; it is not a new idea.

Sharing files was one of the primary reasons that the Internet was invented back in the late 1980s. And the sharing of files so that two individuals in different locations can work on the file at the same time has been a part of most office computer networks since the invention of the local area network. What “cloud computing” does is to expand the range of the collaboration. But again, that is nothing new, at least as far as I know.

Back in 1991, Marcin Paprzycki and I co-authored a series of manuscripts that focused on the use of computer networks in the classroom. We foresaw a number of situations that are in place today. And after the publication of one of our papers, George Duckett contacted us about a possible collaborative research project. Now, some people will say that this is no big deal; collaborative research projects are part and parcel of academic life. The only thing about this project was that George was at the University of Tasmania in Australia, Marcin was at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas, and I was at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The only contact that the three of us had was through e-mail communication on a regular basis. I was fortunate to meet George when he came to the United States in 1995 but Marcin never met him in person. In addition to the research papers generated by the project, what was, I believe, the first paper to outline what was needed for an on-line collaborative project was also published. Some aspects of what we wrote are no longer applicable but I believe the general ideas expressed are still valid. (A list of the papers that Marcin, George and I wrote from 1991 to 1995 can be found on “Publications of Tony Mitchell”; if you are interested in a copy, drop me a note. The outline for doing research on the Internet is still available – “Research Methods Using Computer Networks”, with Marcin Paprzycki and George Duckett, The Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture, 2(4), August 1994.)

Now, what do you ask does all this have to do with a church? Well, there are a number of churches who see “cloud computing” and what one can do with it as their, excuse me for an obvious pun, salvation. There are a number of churches who have been recording their Sunday morning worship services and sending the tapes around to the home-bound members and that is good. Some have even video taped the service and sent copies of the video. With “cloud computing”, it is possible for any church with a minimal cost to broadcast on the Internet, extending the range of the church from the local community to the whole world. There is the possibility of interactive communication, of people in one place conversing in real time with people in another. This will open new avenues for the church, such as an on-line church (which some are trying to develop right now).

But at some point we have to realize that the church is still in the “people” business. I have said on numerous occasions before but it bears repeating. Technology is nice; after all, I used a laptop computer to prepare and print this sermon; I will post it to my blog so that others can read it later in the day. But it always comes down to the people.

It does not matter how many people you reach on-line. For one thing there are certain aspects of the church, baptism and communion, that I truly feel cannot be done on-line; they must be done in person. It doesn’t matter if you make either an audio or video recording of the service and take it to the home-bound if you don’t spend time with the people when you take the recording.

It may be nice to do church in “the cloud” but I would much rather be there as well.

Of course, Moses spent forty days in the cloud with God but he was alone and all the Israelites saw was something that looked like a raging fire (to borrow a phrase from The Message’s translation of the Old Testament reading for today). And while Moses was on the mountain with God, he could not see what was happening to the people at the foot of the mountain.

He could not see or sense their panic as the days passed and he did not return. He could not see them begging with Aaron and the other elders to create the golden calf so that they would have tangible evidence of a god.

We all know what happened when Moses and Joshua came back down from the mountain and discovered the unfaithfulness of the people. So we will leave that for another day and jump forward to the Gospel reading when Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain top.

We aren’t told if the mountain was shrouded in clouds as was the case when Moses climbed to the top. But we do know that Peter, filled with the excitement of the moment, wanted to build a monument to mark this moment and place. But who would have seen this monument? How would the people have gotten to it?

If this mountain were shrouded in clouds, the people would not have seen it and the fact that it was on the mountaintop meant that it wasn’t easily accessible. That’s not what a church is supposed to be. A church is supposed to be visible and accessible, available for all the people of the community, not just a select few.

What Jesus did and does today is call us by our own name. He has removed the clouds of mystery that surround our lives and keep us from seeing God. Each one of us has a unique and different relationship with Jesus and it is this fact that we each individually have this in common that brings us together every Sunday. We are reminded that I cannot answer your call when Jesus calls you by your name. Nor can you answer when Jesus calls me. But because we are a collective group of individuals who are joined by a similar experience we can help each other. (I want to thank John Meunier for his thoughts on this relationship – “What you can’t do for me”)

And that is what prompted Peter to write his words. He was there that day; he saw the Light that was Christ but instead of keeping it secret or private, he chose to share it with others. As was written, “Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.”

The clouds have rolled away and the sun shines brightly. And we have been challenged to tell others what we have seen and what has happened. Some may choose to use new technologies and this will allow many to know about Christ for the first time. But many more others will come to know who Christ is and what He means by what each one of us does. Peter, James, and John were told not to speak of what they saw on the mountain that day some two thousand years ago because the time wasn’t right. But the time is right today for each of us to go forth in the world and let the people know who Christ is and what He means for each one of us.