“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.

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.

That Transforming Moment


These are my thoughts for Transfiguration Sunday, 14 February 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 34: 29 – 34, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 9: 28 – 36 (37 – 43a).

There is a certain degree of significance in this weekend for me. In addition to this being Transfiguration Sunday, it is also Boy Scout Sunday and, with February 12 being the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth in 1809, Evolution Weekend. To quote from “The Clergy Letter Project” web page,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.

There are those who find my being both a chemist and a lay speaker mutually incompatible. As I have mentioned before, I find it disturbing that many in this country feel that you can be one or the other but not both. This, I also find alarming and frightening. For it speaks to a world where one’s thought is limited and controlled. To me, the topic of evolution and what it means in the context of both faith and religion is about controlling; controlling what one believes and how one believes.

As a chemist I need not, I suppose, be concerned with the issue of teaching evolution in our schools. But as a science educator and as a parent and grandparent, I find any attempt to limit the discussion of science in the classroom an alarming and frightening proposition. I also believe that such limitations come about from a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to seek answers to questions that are often beyond comprehension.

Too many people, I fear, take their rudimentary knowledge about their faith and the world around them as the limit to what they can and cannot know. But to do so is to limit what God can be for each of us and what we are meant to be.

We are presented with a society in which our individuality is determined by our conformity and acceptance of societal standards. We are told that we can be a person of faith but then we are told what a person of faith is supposed to be; we are not allowed to find out for ourselves. We are told that we can be a person of reason but, again, we are told what a person of reason is supposed to be. We are told that we can be one or the other but not both. We are told by those whose faith and ability to reason is limited by that veil that covers their eyes and mind and whose vision of the world is cloudy at best that we must limit who we are and what we can be.

But there comes a time when there are opportunities to push aside that veil and seek what lies beyond, to see new visions from the mountaintop and pursue them wherever they may lead.

When I was twelve, I heard the call to seek God. Three years later, I would again hear the call, this time to seek a better understanding of this world. I would answer the call to seek God by earning the God and Country award in the Boy Scouts. In the summer of 1966, I would begin the journey that would ultimately lead to my doctorate (though I had no idea then that it would) by entering the Honors Program at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).

Were it not for my involvement in the Boy Scouts when I was growing up, I doubt very seriously that I would have even contemplated, let alone begun, this particular ministry. For it was my confirmation class and my study for the God and Country award that provided the foundation in faith that would enable me to pursue an active lay speaking career in the United Methodist Church. The skills learned as a Scout, both in earning the God and Country award and otherwise, have served me well over the years.

Besides giving me the opportunity to build a foundation for my own faith, the Scouting program also gave me an appreciation for the world around me. I am not by any sort of standard an environmentalist but that doesn’t mean that I believe that we can do what we want with this planet and its resources. I was taught to leave the places where I had been better than they were when I got there; I was taught to carry out my trash and not just bury it somewhere so that it wouldn’t disturb others. I wish I could say that this appreciation for the environment was universal but it appears to me that we as a society and as a civilization are bound and determined to leave this world trashed and abandoned.

It isn’t that we deliberately litter this world but we definitely don’t show much consideration for the earth on which we live. We still cling to the idea that, given enough time, the environment somehow will correct itself. At least we don’t have any rivers catching fire like they did forty years ago (“Cuyahoga River Fire”). But when we run out of clean air and clean water and our land has outlived its fertility, we will wonder what happened.

I truly believe that any discussion of the environment must also include a discussion about climate change. But this is difficult to do when the discussion is dominated by a vocal minority that refuses to accept the notion that mankind is screwing up the environment They have taken God’s commandment to be good stewards of this earth to mean that they can do anything they want and not expect to pay the cost of such blind ignorance.

This vocal minority will tell you that there is ample coal and oil to meet this planet’s energy needs and that we need not seek alternative energy resources but simply drill for more oil and mine more coal. It is of little consequence to them that the burning of more and more fossil fuels adds more CO2 to the atmosphere. To them, such statements are merely part of a myth perpetuated by liberals who have a grievance against the growth of business and prosperity.

But can we keep growing? Is prosperity limitless? Or are their limits to what we can and cannot do? Is it possible that human greed, driven by ignorance, is the real problem in this world today?

There is a nuclear power plant in the region where I live and its operating license is due to expire in 2012. The plant owners want to renew the license for another 20 years but there are a number of groups and individuals who want the plant shut down, not at the end of the license, but right now.

There is a problem with the various nuclear reactors that are in this country today but it is not terrorism; rather the major problem is ignorance and complacency. After a certain period of time, the age of the plant comes into play and this particular plant is definitely old. And while that is a problem, it is not the whole problem.

You see, there is a small problem with a leak coming from an underground pipe. It is a water leak but it is water contaminated with tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen. It is a by-product of the process but it is not supposed to “leave the building”.

First, the plant owners said there wasn’t an underground pipe but now they have acknowledged that there are such pipes but, apparently, they aren’t sure where these pipes are.

To me, all of this is not a problem with nuclear energy; it is a problem with humans and the desire of humans, especially in business, to cut corners and shave expenses. The pipes weren’t supposed to be there in the first place but the government’s regulating agencies didn’t catch the error because they have too many places to regulate and not enough people to do the regulating. Of course, some people actually believe that the government shouldn’t be regulating such industries but rather should let the industries regulate themselves; after all, they know what’s best, right?

And while there is a threat to the water supply, the issue is no longer about that threat; it is that this particular company doesn’t have the trust of the people; they lied about the leak and the pipes and no one is going to believe them about anything.

Why, we ask, would a company do this; why would any company try to get by with shoddy workmanship, sloppy quality control, and an arrogance that they can do anything they want and the public will accept it for economic and national security reasons? Because we, the people of this country, let them!

Perhaps the world is changing too fast technologically for most of us; perhaps we are just too lazy and don’t want to learn. Whatever the reason, we see the world through a veil and the images that we see are cloudy and dim. And rather than lift the veil and see the world clearly, we gladly let others tell us what to see and what to do.

We are fast approaching a point where our own ignorance will destroy us. This company that I described wouldn’t have tried to do what it did and is doing unless it thought it could get away with it. While I was preparing this piece, I have been following a debate on the CHEMED list about climate change. But it is no longer a debate about climate change; it is a debate about the validity of the data, caused in part because evidence has arisen that some individuals have tried to tamper with the data, not show all the data, or prevented all the data from being presented. It is not a debate about what is happening; it is a debate about people.

It is a nasty debate that no one will win. It is symptomatic of our society that when we no longer debate the issue, we debate and debase the people. And we do that because we are essentially, and excuse me for being blunt, ignorant and unwilling to learn.

Learning is a transforming moment in our lives; when we learn something, it is like the veil has been pulled from our eyes and we can see what is happening. We have all had that moment, a moment when a difficult learning experience suddenly becomes quite clear and we then wonder why it had been so difficult before.

It is a liberating moment, giving us the opportunity to move beyond the boundaries of our lives. But liberation can be frightening because it takes us where we do not know what’s there. And we sometimes are more comfortable in being where we are, not where we could be.

Learning requires an active participation by the learner; it cannot be accomplished by having an instructor tell a pupil what will happen. Would Peter, James, and John have understood the relationship between Jesus and God if they had not gone with Jesus to the mountain top? Participation is an important part of the learning process, but it is quite clear that too many people today want education to be more about what happens than actually doing it. Our educational process today gives more credit for learning about basketball than learning how to dribble a basketball or make free throws.

Learning also requires questioning, not just blind acceptance.

And in the field of science, there are those who would limit any experiences. There is no way Darwin could have created his theory had he stayed home in England. It took being in the field and observing variations in species and thoughtful consideration about what was observed before he put his thoughts on paper. And from his observations Darwin began to ask questions.

Yet, there are those today who would have us blindly accept words written two thousand years ago as more than fact, as statements that cannot be questioned or tested; words which were intended only to tell us who we are and why we are on this planet. They would have us believe that certain processes are so complex that they are beyond comprehension and that we should just accept that some intelligent designer designed the process and we are not to even think about what happened. But to say that something is unlearnable or unknowable is as much an invitation to explore and find as it is against God’s own words to seek the truth so that it, the truth, can set the people free.

It would be understandable if the Bible was a science book or a history book but it is neither one. It is story about who we are and what we are and why we are here. It provides the opportunity for us to complete the story; to truly understand the creation called Earth that God made for us, with all of its complexities and all of its paradoxes and contradictions.

When we limit what we learn; when we demand that evolution not be taught in schools or that alternative theories be taught (even though there are no credible alternative theories), we are acting as Paul said the people did when Moses wore the veil to hide his face. There is a veil over our minds and it clouds our minds and prevents us from seeing that which needs to be seen. As Paul writes, without the veil, we can see the glory of the Lord clearly and we are, ourselves, transformed.

Now, I will add this caveat; if we are to teach the theory of evolution, and note that I said “theory of evolution”, we need to make sure that it is taught correctly (something that I am not entirely convinced happens today). I think that the reason there is a controversy about this subject is because the individuals involved do not know what it is they are teaching. But if we really want people to understand the glory and power of God, we should work to make sure that they are capable of doing just that.

There are those today who are afraid of what might happen if their children or grandchildren are taught the theory of evolution. And perhaps they should, for if their children and grandchildren were to learn something new, it would open up their world and take them away from the rigidity and control that their parents and grandparent seek to impose on them. But, God never meant that our lives would be limited or controlled; He gave us the power to explore and open our minds, to find out who He was and what He was about.

There is a danger when we open our minds and we begin to see the world differently; we may not like what we find. I think that is why so many people are opposed to the teaching of evolution; it will lead people away from God.

It is true that as we explore this world around us, our belief in gods (note the plurality and lower case) as the cause of illness, sickness, death, weather, and various other things diminishes. But it should not diminish our belief in God for it was through Him that we have achieved the ability to conquer illness and sickness and disease. Were it not for our being created in His image we would not have the power to change this world, to bring water to dry valleys, to make crooked roads straight and fill valleys. It is when we forget from whom we received our abilities that we run the risk of doing what we are doing right now, destroying the world.

And when we forget from whom our gifts, our talents, and our abilities come from, we also run the risk of reducing God to a capacity and size limited by our capacity and size, thus once again placing the veil before our eyes. And when we do this, we are unable to call upon God and like the people of the Old Testament find ourselves as a lost and forgotten people wandering in the wilderness.

The debate in this country about whether or not we should teach or not evolution or whether we should offer some sort of alternative theory is more a debate about whether we want to see the world clearly. Now, none of this has anything to do with evolution but it does have a lot to do with that moment on the mountain top when Moses encountered God and when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah in the same light that first bathed Moses.

I doubt very seriously that Peter, James, and John truly understood what took place that day on the mountaintop. After all Luke writes that they didn’t speak of what happened. But it was there in their minds, along with all the other miracles that they had seen Jesus do. And when Jesus was resurrected on Easter Sunday, then it became very clear what was happening.

When Jesus was transformed on the mountain, He showed the Glory of God to all. When Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, He demonstrated the power and greatness of God. And He gave authority to the disciples to do the same, to pass on to the people that knowledge

On this weekend, I celebrate that I was given the opportunity to open my eyes and expand my horizon. I celebrate that I was shown the wonders of the world and given the opportunity to explore it and appreciate it as a gift from God. And on this weekend, I want to offer to others that ability to transform their minds and their lives.

Mornings in Whitesburg


Here is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for Transfiguration Sunday, 22 February 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 34: 29 – 35, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 6: 28 – 36 (37 – 43a).

—————————————————————————

Before I moved to New York I lived in Whitesburg, Kentucky. This is a small town in a small county in the southeast corner of the state. I am reminded of this every time I drive down the Taconic parkway. Partially, the sharp turns and narrow road beds of the Taconic as well as Highways 9 and 9D are reminiscent of the roads that I traveled in that particular part of the state. Also, it is traditional to call the enclaves tucked in the various valleys of eastern Kentucky "hollows" so driving along Peekskill Hollow reminds me that I haven’t really left where I came from.

But another reminder is seen every time I turn off of Highway 301 and head south on the Taconic. There on the left hand side, just about a mile down the road is a sign indicating that I am at 1153 feet above sea level. Though I have traveled almost as far north as I have ever done, I haven’t gained or lost much altitude.

Whitesburg is at about 1200 feet above sea level. The primary difference between Whitesburg and here is that the valleys on the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains are broad and shallow while the valleys and hollows of the western slopes through Kentucky and West Virginia are narrow and deep. Whitesburg may be at 1200 feet but the tops of the mountains that surround the town are another 1000 feet higher.

This makes for some interesting mornings. On some mornings it was not unusual to wake up and find the town shrouded in clouds. This is not fog, as it might be in this area but low-level clouds.

Within the clouds, life is very gray. But if you head up the mountain to the top to cross over, you pass through the clouds and it suddenly becomes very clear and very bright. Your vision clears up and you can see for miles. Sometimes there isn’t much to see, what with the valleys and hollows below shrouded in clouds but it is an awe inspiring sight and the brightness of the sky is a stark contrast to the grayness you left behind.

(see “The View From The Mountain Top”)

It may not be as bright as what Peter, James and John experienced on the mountaintop that day in the Gospel. Nor would it be like the brightness that burned Moses’ skin. But it is a brightness that takes you back for a few seconds when you pass through the clouds and forces you to readjust your sight.

The Israelites had to adjust their sight every time Moses came back from talking with God. As the Old Testament reading states, Moses’ face shined so bright that the people could not look at him and he was forced to wear a veil. The veil served two purposes; it allowed the people to look at Moses without being blinded and it prevented the people from seeing that the brightness faded over time. It was a veil that prevented them from seeing clearly.

We don’t always want to see things clearly. Sometimes we think it is better if what we see or what we are told are only half-right. Many preachers today do exactly that, in part because it glorifies them, making them seem greater than they are and in part because the people do not want to know the truth, even if the truth will in fact set them free.

There are preachers who bring in the crowds but what are they saying? In many cases, it is not the Gospel they preach but rather statements of hate and prejudice, falsities and half-truths, statements meant to divide, not join together. (Adapted from "Is That You, God?" by Norma Sherry, posted to the BuzzFlash web page on 18 February 2004.)  They preach what the people want to hear. People want to hear these words because they are afraid. They are afraid of what is happening in the world and instead of working to solve the problems of the world, they seek someone to blame. They do not want to be reminded of the problems outside their safe environment of the church.

Christ walked and ate with sinners; the Pharisees reviled him for doing so. Christ made them look like fools. But, if we are to believe some of today’s more widely known preachers, we are not to reach out to the sinners, we are to exclude them.

Their religion is a religion of exclusion; their religion condemns but does not forgive. The ills of society are caused because others are wrong, not because we have not worked to solve the problems. The ills of society will go away, so it seems, if we ignore the problems, keep them away for our lives.

That is not what Jesus said or did. Yes, he opposed sin but he never condemned someone because of it. He did not exclude people or force people away. He gave people the choice to walk with him or not. The implication was obvious; to not walk with Christ was to condemn one’s self. We cannot save ourselves without Christ, but we can be lost.

The old-line churches don’t have it any easier. They practice a religion of exclusion as well. They have lost ground to the more modern churches because they have failed to keep up. They hold on to the old ways, of expectations and structures designed for another time and place. There are fights between those that seek modern solutions and those that want to hold on to the old beliefs.

How can we expect to bring people in if all they see or read is the trouble the churches are going through? How can we expect people to come to a church if it is filled with internal squabbling? Don’t kid yourself, people can sense when there is squabbling, even if the people hide it. The rise of modern or more contemporary denominations is as much about the problems of the old as it is selling the new.

But changing the olden ways and making something new doesn’t mean that there will be changes.

The rise in membership in churches today is in the "modern" church, the one that markets the Gospel to the people. But marketing always removes a lot of the context of the message; marketing is designed to get you to try the product. The problem, at least I see it, is that what passes for new provides nothing in the way of substance. And I think this fact, more than any others, is lost in the message of many churches today. The Gospel is not a product that you buy and sell and I fear that in the next few years as people find out the shallowness of the message being preached, they are going to discard it and throw it away.

People go to these churches because it is easy; there are no demands placed on them. The problems of the world are not their problems; others caused them and others must fix them. As long as we are in these modern churches, we feel safe. These modern churches preach a Gospel of the here and now, with fear for the future.

Even Peter was not immune to the idea of a Gospel in the here and now. His reaction to the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus was to build a monument celebrating the event. He was focused on what was happening now, not what was to come. And when they came down from the mountain, they still were more interested in themselves than they were in helping others.

Jesus’ anger at his disciples for their failure to help the epileptic child may have been as much for what was going on between the disciples as it was for their lack of faith. In Luke 9:46 we read about a dispute among the disciples about who would be the greatest. Despite everything Jesus was telling them, the disciples were still interested in their own standing, not the result of their work. Jesus pointed out that it was the least of all whom would receive the greatest standing in God’s kingdom. I think that this message gets lost in today’s church, as it did back then in the early days of Christ’s mission.

It may seem hopeless, to be a part of church that some see as selfish and self-centered or greedy, bigoted, and exclusive. But Paul points out that there is hope and that we should not lose heart. Those who heard the words of Moses clung to the old ways and to them there was a veil hiding the light of God. Paul points out we no longer need to hide the light of God. Through Christ’s death and sacrifice, the veil has been removed. We are able to clearly see what God wants us to see, if we are willing to look.

Bill Wilson was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was smart enough that Thomas Edison wanted to hire him even though he did not have a college degree. But rather than work for Edison, Wilson chose to work in the stock market. But it was not the stock market crash of 1929 that brought him down. Long before the market crashed, alcoholism had destroyed his life. One doctor told him that alcoholism was a disease without a cure (an interesting diagnosis at a time when it was still considered a moral problem). One can only imagine Bill Wilson being told that he was incurable and thus beyond hope. The noted Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung felt that the only cure for alcoholism would come through spiritual experience. This must have also been reassuring to Bill Wilson, as he was a man who did not believe in God.

But when he hit bottom, Wilson in all of his unbelief cried out, "If there be a God, let him show himself!" At this Wilson reported that the room was filled with a blazing light and that he was filled with ecstasy and that he felt like a new person. (From a note in the 24 February 2004 issue of Christian Century. The note was taken from My Name is Bill by Susan Cheever and printed by Simon & Schuster.)

The presence of God in our lives opens our eyes, it gives us hope and shows a promise for the future. We may not encounter God or Christ as Bill Wilson or Paul did. But there will be enlightenment in our hearts and in our minds. That day on the mountaintop, Jesus showed Peter, James and John the beginning of a new day, a new morning in their own lives.

Those who preach the Gospel for their own gains or falsify its meaning or cover it with false truths are not unique to this day and again. The same things were said about Paul. But Paul stated that he had no need to be crafty or deceitful; he had no reason to lie and he certainly wasn’t doing it for personal gain. He relied on the truth of the Gospel, a Gospel that was open to all that choose to hear it, not those who would be denied the right to hear it. He boasted in his belief in God and what the Gospel stood for; shouldn’t we do the same?

Nowadays, I don’t wake up to many foggy or cloudy mornings. Some mornings there is some fog but it quickly dissipates. Each day though, I see the sun come over the ridge and begin a new day. On this day some two thousand years ago, there was a new morning. It was not a new morning in the sense of a calendar but rather a new morning in the time of man. It was the announcement by God that Jesus was His Son and was sent to save the world, even if we did not want to be saved. As we go out into the world this afternoon and as we work among our friends and neighbors, strangers and enemies, may they see in us that same light that shone when Christ announced to the world that his mission was among us. Let this be the start of our new morning in our lives as well.


The Mountain Top


Here is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for Transfiguration Sunday, 25 February 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 34: 29 – 35, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 6: 28 – 36 (37 – 43a).

—————————————————————————

The view from a mountaintop can be a most spectacular site. When I was living in Whitesburg, it was always a joy when I had to drive over the mountain to Cumberland or through Pound Gap into Virginia and down to Knoxville. To get from Whitesburg to Cumberland meant having to drive a two-lane highway literally up the side of Pine Mountain using a variety of switchbacks.

But at the top of the mountain, you had a chance to pull over (you didn’t dare stop on the highway anywhere else) and look westward across the hills and valleys of eastern Kentucky. Similarly, when I had to drive over to Virginia, the view of western Virginia was one beyond words.

(see “The View From The Mountain Top”).

Another thing that gave a surreal beauty to the area was the fact that many times the cloud cover was at 1,400 feet. What added to the beauty was that Whitesburg was at 1250 feet and so driving over the mountain took you through the clouds. And when you were at the summit of Pine Mountain and look at the valleys below, they seemed filled with clouds. It was also interesting walking to work on days like that because you knew you were in the clouds.

It is this beauty and the vistas that the mountaintops hold that are the reason people want to come and visit eastern Kentucky and western Virginia. But the problem with such wonderful views is that though you can see for great distances and the beauty is so wonderful, you can’t see the details. You can’t see the people walking in the streets and you can just barely make out the cars as they go by. Nor is it possible to see the poverty, the unemployment, the illiteracy that make Letcher County one of the poorest counties in Appalachia and the country.

When you come down from the mountaintop, you might see the straight pipes that take the sewage and household wastes from the various cabins, shacks, and houses in the hollers and dump it in the creeks that feed the headwaters of the Kentucky, Cumberland, and Big Sandy rivers. And if you know where to look, you can see the effect years of strip-mining coal have had on the environment.

It is an interesting experience to relate the beauty and spectacular views of the mountaintop with the reality of life that exists in the valleys and hollows of eastern Kentucky.

As a covenant people, ours is a history of mountaintop experiences, where we rededicated our lives to the one whom "in his might loves justice" and who "established equity." Mountaintops are an important part of our own faith journey, for it is there that we have access to the kingdom perspective and can see clearly God’s loving and just plan for humanity. Mountaintops, though, are not ends in themselves; they are only the means by which we are better prepared to embody the covenant in the valleys of history.

The transfiguration account, as written in Luke, comes between two episodes that emphasize the day-to-day reality of Jesus’ ministry. Before Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the mountaintop, he has spent time revealing that His Messiahship is embodied not in political revolution nor religious power but in His suffering, death, and resurrection. In the second passage, following the transfiguration, Jesus must exorcise a demon from a suffering child because his apostles could not do so, reportedly because of their own lack of faith.

The ecstasy of the transfiguration is thus grounded by and rooted in the reality of the Christ who suffers for and who is incarnately present with those who also suffer. Luke emphasizes that our covenant is fulfilled or broken not on mountaintops but in our daily commitment to more fully embody the love of Christ.

One thing that I took from reading the Epistle today was that we cannot hide the glory of God. When Moses returned from having gone up on the mountain and talked with God, his face glowed from having been in the presence of God. The veil that Moses wore served two purposes. First, it allayed the fears of the people who still saw God in terms of power and not love. For all they had heard, they had reason to fear what had happened to Moses. And second, as Paul pointed out, it was a temporary glow that faded because of the imperfect glory.

Paul also pointed out that when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Our understanding and our ability to reach out come from the presence of the Lord in our lives.

As we come to this season of Lent, I hope that you will take time to go to the mountaintop, to renew your own covenant with God and the covenant you made when you joined this church, to support it with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service. Take a few moments to reach out to those in your area who are members of this church but haven’t been here for awhile and encourage them to come back and renew their covenant.

As Christians we, like Peter, face the temptation of becoming entrenched in our mountaintop experiences, wanting to live safely apart from the struggle and desperation of those who seek justice in an unjust world. As tempting as it is, we cannot get comfortable on the mountaintop, for we are just passing through. We can enjoy the view from the top but sooner or latter we must come down from the top. But having been to the mountaintop, having been with God, we can more easily face the day-to-day difficulties of trying to live the Gospel in a broken world.

The road to Cumberland over the top of Pine Mountain was a narrow, two-lane highway, full of twists and hairpin turns. You never knew what might be coming from the other direction around the corner, but it was just about the only way that you could go. Such is the same with life. But when we go to the mountaintop and come closer to God, through Jesus Christ, we are better prepared to make that trip back down the mountain.