“Let Us Sing”

The following will be in the May 2023 issue of the Fishkill UMC Newsletter

Why do we sing?  Do we sing because we are happy (“His Eye Is on The Sparrow”, The Faith We Sing 2146)?

Do we sing because we want to make a joyful noise unto the Lord?

Perhaps we sing to express our feelings, our thoughts, and/or our emotions?

Or do we sing because what we sing rings in our soul?

To borrow a phrase from Genesis, there are as many reasons to sing as there are stars in the sky.

Each of us can identify songs and hymns, both traditional and not so traditional, that touch our hearts and move our souls, much as the early Psalms did.  These are the songs and music from the heart that bring us closer to God.

We find our connection with God in many ways. Some will find it through the spoken word, others through the written word and sometimes it comes from music that speaks to our heart. (“Music from the Heart”https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/music-from-the-heart/)

When I first heard the group Jefferson Airplane sing “Good Shepherd”, I marveled at the words of the song and how they seemed to echo words from the Gospel of John (John 21: 1 – 19).  In looking at the history of the piece, I discovered that the rock and roll piece that I heard evolved from a mid-20th century blues-based folk song.  And that folk song had evolved from a 19th century Gospel hymn with roots in an early 1800s hymn written by John Adam Grande, a Methodist preacher from Tennessee.

Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, who wrote the modern arrangement said that it was music like this that opened the doorway to the Scriptures for him.  As he noted, he found that he loved the Bible without knowing it (see “To Feed The Spirit As Well As The Body”https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/to-feed-the-spirit-as-well-as-the-body/).

Mickey Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead said,

“To fall in love is to fall in rhythm.” It is love for each other by which we know we are followers of Jesus, the ever-attentive shepherd. In the face of societal rules and attitudes that strive to foster “everyone for themselves,” they will know we are Christians by our love. How can we listen to the music that draws us together, “falling in rhythm” with neighbor to build up the whole?

(see “The Music We Hear“ – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/the-music-we-hear/)

Ann will tell you that it was Elvis’ Gospel music that provided her with an understanding of and a deep love for those who suffered. And it was hymns such as “Lift High the Cross” that helped affirm her belief in God and Jesus as her Savior. She will also tell you that another song, recorded by several groups and individuals, “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother” had a profound impact on her and her relationship with others and God.

And just recently, as I listened to “I Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For” by U2 (https://youtu.be/e3-5YC_oHjE), I again heard ties to God reaching out to us.

But what do we sing?  I am not talking about hymns or carols or folk songs or spirituals but the words that we sing. Do the words we sing have meaning?

To know if the words have meaning, we must listen carefully.  I remember the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” (https://youtu.be/gzOeAXrgYBI) by the Pacific Gas & Electric rock group.  It was one of the first pieces of music that could be called “Jesus Rock.”  It contained a very subtle Christian message, but I don’t think that many people understood the message contained within the verses of the song (I certainly didn’t back then).  I liked it because it was, for me, a good song with a good beat.  But over the course of my lay speaking, I saw connections between this song and passages in the New Testament, such as Mark 13: 1 – 8 (adapted from “Are You Ready?”https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/11/19/are-you-ready-2/).

And sometimes we may be ready to hear the words, but the sounds of society drown them out. 

Some forty years ago there was a song that showed us how the message of society can easily drown out the message of peace first expressed on Christmas Day two thousand years ago. It was a version of “Silent Night” sung by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and entitled “7 O’clock News/Silent Night”https://youtu.be/E8d5C8kPlJA

As they sang the traditional Christmas hymn, an announcer read the evening news. There is an interesting contrast between the beauty and serenity of the song and the darkness and fear that were then and are now the components of a typical news broadcast. The problem was that you had to focus on either the news broadcast or the singing; you could not hear both and it was entirely possible that the news broadcast with its litany of violence, death, and destruction drowned out the message first sung some 190 years ago.  (The Message Is Clear | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2007/01/21/the-message-is-clear/)

Bob Herren, a blogging friend of mine, noted that we often only listen to the first verse of Christmas carols such as “What Child Is This?” and thus miss the story included in the other verses. 

It is often the second or third verses of Christmas carols which get to the meat of things. The second verse of Dix’s famous carol gives us nails and spears piercing him through and the cross being borne for me and you. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” gets down to some serious Christology in the second verse as well. The first one is a rather general appeal to go to Bethlehem for a little sightseeing. O Little Town of Bethlehem waits until verse three to get into the forgiveness of sins.

(Wednesday of Christmas – Psalm 2 – A Grace-Filled Life (wordpress.com)https://bobherring2009.wordpress.com/2022/12/28/wednesday-of-christmas-psalm-2/)

As I was preparing to sing “Wade in the Water” last December, I discovered that many of the spirituals that we sing not only refer to the Bible but contain a second message, a message of freedom.

While the message of “Wade in the Water” centers on baptism, it has been suggested that those, such as Harriet Tubman, guiding escaped slaves to their freedom would sing this song to tell the people to get off the trail and into the water to prevent the dogs tracking them from finding them.

Similarly, the spiritual that I sang in January, “Down to the River” evolved from an earlier spiritual, “Down to the Valley”.  This song seems to have roots in both African American spirituals and Appalachian folk songs.  The valley represented a safe place to pray but was transformed into the river to represent a passage to freedom.  Those seeking their freedom should head “Down to the river”; the “Starry Crown” was a reference to the stars that would guide them; and “Good Lord, show me the way” was a prayer for guidance and deliverance.  As Glen Money wrote, when he sings it, he hears who did more than sing and hear but experienced the presence of God. (Down to the River to Pray | The Prompter (fbcstpete.org)https://fbcstpete.org/moneytalks/2020/01/31/down-to-the-river-to-pray/ )

It is also interesting to note that the role the Bible plays in spirituals and folk songs.  Spirituals serve as a source of education, passed on by oral tradition.  Prohibited from learning to read and write, slaves passed on life lessons through the spirituals and songs they sang.  And in learning the stories of the Bible, individuals learned about freedom.

So, we sing songs that move our souls and open the door to finding God.  We sing to tell the stories of the Bible and stories that lead to freedom, both here on Earth and within the Kingdom of God.

So, let us sing.

The Places We Have Gone/The Places We’ll Go – Thoughts for Thanksgiving, 2020

Over the course of my seventy years, I have lived in 12 states and one other country; I have celebrated Thanksgiving in 11 of those states and the other country, The Philippines.

I lived in the Philippines when I was two and really don’t know if my mother made a Thanksgiving Dinner or whether we celebrated Thanksgiving at the Officers’ Club at Clark Air Force Base.  Until I graduated from college in 1971, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family wherever my father was stationed or working.  We might have celebrated Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house in St. Louis when we lived in Illinois since it was close by.

Many of those whom I grew up with or went to school at that time were like myself, the sons and daughters of Air Force officers, so the places where they celebrated Thanksgiving were as wide and varied as the places where my family celebrated.  Of course, some of the guys I went to high school probably spent at least one Thanksgiving in Vietnam or other far away places.  But because Thanksgiving is one of those special days, I would think that their Thanksgiving meal was a little bit different from the regular fare served.

Like years’ past, there are many spending Thanksgiving in a place far from home.  But this year’s Thanksgiving is, as we are aware, just a bit different.  Because of the pandemic, we are also separated from our family and friends.  And even with the technology that gives us Facetime, Skype, Zoom, and other communication tools, there still is a space between our loved ones and us.

But as we gather together virtually, we do so giving thanks that next year’s Thanksgiving will be as different from this year as this year was so much different from last year.

Still, there is a gap or a void that even the best of technology can bridge.  The  pandemic and the political environment have exposed and opened serious rifts in the fabric of society.  And even if the turkey tryptophan effect could lull us asleep after our Thanksgiving dinner, the world in which we awake will still bear the scars these past few months have inflicted upon us.  Perhaps, and even more so, because of this we have even more reasons to be thankful.  While problems that we cannot see are often difficult to solve, there is still a solution if we seek it.

And that means that the problems that lie before us are that much easier to solve because we can see them.  And we know that, because the solutions for these visible problems haven’t worked in the past, we have to seek new solutions; we have to see the world differently.  Like those who gathered in Philadelphia that hot summer in 1776, we understand the thoughts that Benjamin Franklin is said to have expressed, “We must all hang together, or we shall all separately. 

On this Thanksgiving, 2020, no matter where we are or where we have been, have the chance to change where this world is headed.  The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. – Isaiah 2: 3 – 4

I do not doubt that there are some who will refuse to walk with us in the way suggested by Isaiah.  They walk the path that is focused on where they have been and long for those days.  They see a divided world but in looking at the past, they miss the Glory of the Coming Lord

But as we look forward, we see the Glory of the Coming Lord and realize that we have the opportunity to, in as many ways as there are people, share in God’s Bounty.

We live in many different places; we have been to many different places but today, on a day where we may be separated by distance, disease, and anger, with God, we can bridge those gaps and move to the Promise of God’s Kingdom given to us some 2000 year ago.

Thoughts on a Saturday morning in New York state

Can anyone tell me where Jim Cantore is?

More to the point – working on the “Back Page” for next Sunday (January 27th) – the one for tomorrow has been up for a few days (“Is Your Faith In A Box Or In Use?”).

Working on a devotional for next Christmas (publisher’s deadline, but, hey, if it is going to look like Christmas outside, why not?)

Whether or not the government is up or down, in or out, left, right, back or forward (pray for forward, by the way), the W-2 came in the mail so I must work on the taxes.

Finally, I have three summaries of the plans to be put forth for the Special General Conference on February 23. Three things jump out:

If you took American History, then you might see some similarities between the discussion that will take place in St. Louis and the discussions that took place in this country during the period of time we operated under the “Articles of Confederation”.

Much of the conversation that will take place will echo the General Conferences of 1836, 1840, and 1844.

Finally, and most importantly, it does not matter which plan is accepted; if there is not a change of heart among the delegates and the members of the United Methodist Church, it really won’t matter plan is chosen.

I will be posting a summary and links in the next few days.

Thanksgiving Memories

Here are my memories and thanks for this Thanksgiving.  I hope that your memories are good and that you have much for which to be thankful.

My memories of Thanksgiving are many and diverse.  But all in some way or another involve food, travel, and/or my family.

Growing up, my family meant my parents, grandparents, brothers and sister.  Then it meant my wife and my children.  And since Ann has been so much of my life, her children, grand-children, and great-grand-children as there as well (and thank God for Skype).

If one thinks of Thanksgiving, one must think of food and travel.  I have the memory of my mother using an electric roaster every year for almost thirty years and remembering that every time we used this roaster the dials on the electric meter spun almost out of control.  There were my attempts to roast a turkey on the grill (it works but you need a spit).  And then there was the one dinner where our chihuahua, Pepe, decided he wanted one of the turkey legs, the one bigger than him, for his own personal Thanksgiving treat.  I also remember one post-Thanksgiving trip where I got stuck in Colorado during a massive snowstorm.

But one year, I was alone and unable to get to Memphis and my family as I would like to have done.  It was looking like it would be a bleak and dreary Thanksgiving.  In the loneliness of that moment, I found another family, the family of Christ.  A local church was hosting a Thanksgiving dinner and I was able have a very simple meal.  It may have been a simple meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans but, as Arlo Guthrie might sing, it was a Thanksgiving meal that couldn’t be beat.

A few years later, I was part of a church which opened its hearts and doors to those who were lost, forgotten, or alone and provide another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.  This would later lead to a wonderful feeding ministry.  (See Thanksgiving, 2006 for details about these two dinners.)

I have plenty of memories and much to be thankful for each Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is about being with one’s family, enjoying the food (especially Ann’s apple pie).

But more than anything else, I am thankful that I am part of Christ’s family and that we can share God’s Grace in so many different ways.

Performance Reviews

I am reposting this because I think it is needed, though we may cry rather than laugh when we think of the situation we are in.

This is somewhere out there in the ether but I wanted to put it anyway (some at CarTalk)

The following comments are said to have been included in actual performance reviews (the source seems to vary according):

  • A gross ignoramus — 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.
  • A photographic memory but the lens cap glued on.
  • A prime candidate for natural deselection.
  • Donated his brain to science before he was done using it.
  • Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t running.
  • Got a full six-pack but lacks the plastic thing to hold it all together.
  • Has two brains:  One is lost and the other is out looking for it.
  • He brings a lot of joy when he leaves the room.
  • He certainly takes a long time to make his pointless.
  • He doesn’t have ulcers, but he’s a carrier.
  • He has carried out each and every one of his duties to his entire satisfaction.
  • He has the wisdom of youth, and the energy of old age.
  • Sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.
  • He would argue with a signpost.
  • He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle.
  • His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of curiosity.
  • I would like to go hunting with him sometime.
  • I would not breed from this officer.
  • If he were any more stupid, he’d have to be watered twice a week.
  • If you give him a penny for his thoughts, you’d get change.
  • If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one.
  • If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.
  • In my opinion this pilot should not be authorized to fly below 250 feet.
  • One neuron short of a synapse
  • Since my last report he has reached rock bottom, and has started to dig.
  • Some drink at the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.
  • Takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 minutes.
  • Technically sound, but socially impossible.
  • The wheel is turning but the hamster is dead.
  • This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
  • Is really not so much of a has been, but more of a definitely won’t be.
  • This employee should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better.
  • This medical officer has used my ship to carry his genitals from port to port, and my officers to carry him from bar to bar.
  • This officer reminds me very much of a gyroscope: always spinning around at a frantic pace, but not really going anywhere.
  • This young lady had delusions of adequacy.
  • When he joined my ship, this officer was something of a granny; since then he has aged considerably.
  • When his I. Q. reaches 50, he should sell.
  • When she opens her mouth, it seems that is only to change feet.
  • Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.

My Grandfather’s Diary entry for this day, 11 November 1918

I first published this on 11 November 2007.  I think it is important enough to be reposted.


For those who are not aware, I am the son of a career Air Force officer and the grandson of a career Army officer. I do not know much about my grandfather, as he died when I was five years old. What I know about him comes from “tales” told to me by my parents and the diary that he wrote while in combat in France during World War I.


His entry for the month of November reads

At the beginning of November, 1918, the 2nd Army was preparing for a major attack on the section of the Hindenburg Line in the Metz area. The attacks were scheduled for November 10th and 11th. At the beginning of the month, the 14th Brigade had been withdrawn from the front line and replaced with the 13th Brigade. While ostensibly a move to give the 14th Brigade time for additional training, it appears that this move also facilitated moving the 14th to its intended position of the planned series of attacks. The 34th Regiment found itself scattered throughout the section.

During the period 9 – 11 November, the Division executed local attacks and gained temporary occupation of a hill west of Preny (9 November), Hill 323 (1 km southeast of Rembercourt) on 10 November, and established a line from 310.2 to 287.1 in the Bois de Grand-Fontaine, captured the quarry near 278.7 west of Rembercourt, and the small woods .25 km south of Mon Plaisir Fme. on November 11th.

November 9, 1918

On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

November 10, 1918

Attack held up by very strong machine gun fire and a cannon barrage by “Fritz”.


November 11, 1918

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p.m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

From a second diary –

Was in German dugout at points 242.4 & 365 (on the Thiaucourt 1 to 50,000 maps) on the day Armistice was signed. 34th Infantry Regiment captured 1 German officer, 32 enlisted personnel, and 3 machine guns during tour; advance the outpost line .75 kilometers to include Hills 311.2, 310.2, and 312.

Nothing in what my grandfather wrote tells me anything about his feelings on war. Any mention of death or destruction in the diary is rather simple. I think that this was because he used his diary as a drafting board. As the Adjutant for the 34th Infantry Regiment, one of his duties was to prepare the daily reports. Those daily reports, recorded in the unit history, are almost the same things I read in the diary. Still, it was what he wrote on the front page of the diary that tells me he saw war for what it was and what it could be.

If I should fall, will the finder of this take it on him or herself to see that gets to my wife, Mrs. Walter L. Mitchell, 4150 A De Tonty Street, St. Louis, MO., USA? By doing so, they were conferring a favor upon Walter L. Mitchell, Captain, 34th US Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces, France.

A Collection of Sayings

The following are a collection of sayings and quotes that I have gathered over the years.  Some are attributed; others I have just picked up and haven’t figured out who said or when it was said.

This was updated on 23 February 2016 to add the quote from Robert Kennedy. 

This was updated on 23 April 2018 to correct the Robert E. Lee quote.


The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again.

“Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”

“A child with a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail.”

“We find our individual freedom by choosing not a destination but a direction.” (Marilyn Ferguson)

“You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’” (George Bernard Shaw)

“If you found a path with no obstacle, it probably does not lead anywhere.”

“It is necessary to say that poetic spirits are of two kinds; first, those who invent fables, and second, those who are disposed toward believing them.” (Galileo [as translated by Sheldon Glashow])

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” (David Thoreau)

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.” (The Talmud)

Jawaharlal Nehru, who with Mahatma Gandhi successfully freed India from British colonial rule, once said, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the sound of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” (Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Col. Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816)

“If I am not for myself, who is for me?
But if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when? (Rabbi Hillel, Sayings of the Fathers, 1: 14)

“It’s a revolution damn it! We’re going to have to offend somebody!” – John Adams, while discussing the massive changes being hacked into the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” Dr. Who

There is a fine line between being on the leading edge and being in the lunatic fringe.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. (Albert Einstein)

“Sanity is the playground of the unimaginative mind”.

Programming: The art of debugging a blank sheet of paper (Nick Donaldson, University of Manitoba)

“Foolish is the man who competes for competition’s sake . . . Wise is the man who knows what battles are worth fighting.” – Ancient Chinese proverb.

“It is fortunate that war is so ugly for we could become very fond of it” — attributed to Robert E. Lee following the Battle of Fredericksburg.

“War is not healthy for children and other living things.” — Lorraine Schneider, 1969 — www.warisnothealthy.org

Nobody is stupid enough to prefer war to peace. Because in times of peace children bury their parents, whereas, on the contrary, in times of war parents bury their children — Herodotus.

“Men are generally idle, and ready to satisfy themselves, and intimidate the industry of others, by calling that impossible which is only difficult.” — Samuel Johnson

Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.” — Robert Anthony, American business professor (my source – Sigma Xi Smartbrief for 21 January 2014)

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. It hardly seems necessary to point out in California – of all States — that change, although it involves risks, is the law of life.

Nevertheless, there are those, frustrated by a difficult future, who grab out for the security of the non-existent past. Frustrated by change they condemn the wisdom, the motives, and even the patriotism of those who seek to contend with the realities of the future. (Robert Kennedy, “The Opening To The Future”)

“There’s this desert prison…. with an old prisoner, resigned to his life, and a young one just arrived. The young one talks constantly of escape, and after a few months, he makes a break. He’s gone a week and then he’s brought back by the guards. He’s half dead, crazy with hunger and thirst. He describes how awful it was to the old prisoner. The endless stretches of sand, no oasis, no sign of life anywhere.

The old prisoner listens for a while, then says, `Yep, I know. I tried to escape myself, twenty years ago.’

The young prisoner says, `You did? Why didn’t you tell me, all these months I was planning my escape? Why didn’t you let me know it was impossible?’

And the old prisoner shrugs, and says, `So who publishes negative results?'” (Jeffery Hudson, in “Scientist as Subject: The Psychological Imperative.”)

The Coming Year

I had intended to call this “America’s Coming Educational Crisis” but 1) the crisis is already there and 2) I think it is far more important that we look to the future and see if it is possible to even have a future.

Some quick statistics As of 2014, 91% of Americans held a high school diploma and 34% of Americans had the equivalent of a college Bachelor’s degree. The good news about this education is that the numbers are trending upwards. The bad news is that this may not mean a whole lot.

A recent study indicated that over 50% of Americans today believe in the Biblical story of creation which makes sense since there are other studies which indicate most Americans own a Bible. This is just one of several statistics that look at the level of scientific illiteracy in this country today.

Sixty-one percent of Americans do not believe that the “Big Bang” actually happened, despite the evidence that it did. One in four Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth. And a fast majority of Americans (some 70%) feel that government funding for science and mathematics education was either too generous or just right (and all one has to do with that is examine the spending on science and mathematics education in the 1960s to know that we are clearly not spending enough today).

It isn’t just the big ticket topics such as evolution, climate change, and renewable energy. It is the basic concepts that are taught, such as DNA (Americans seem to want food containing DNA to be labeled), what a microchip is, or the nature of vaccines.

In short, despite statistics that indicated that we are becoming an educated society, follow-up studies indicate that we actually know very little about the world in which we live or the people with whom we share this world (there are other statistics that indicated people in this country can’t locate states on a map or countries on a globe).

And if our scientific illiteracy is shocking, consider the state of our Biblical illiteracy. While the majority of Americans own a Bible, they apparently do not know what is in it. Over 50% of Americans seem to want to slow down or stop the immigration of Syrian refugees; yet the main story of the Bible is about immigrants and refugees and the need for the people of God to help them, not turn them away. (Note – a majority of adults think that the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.)

Despite the presence of the idea that this is a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, most Americans would not be able to list those principles (probably because such a list does not exist). Most people (82% the last time it was checked; 83% of born-again Christians) will tell you that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible but that only works if you consider Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac as a chapter in the Bible.

Consider the following tidbits of data gathered over the years:

  • Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels.
  • Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
    • One study indicated that many people thought that both John the Baptist and Paul were disciples.
    • 60% of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.
  • 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
  • A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50% thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
  • This is one of my favorites – a considerable number of respondents to one poll felt that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.

I don’t think that we need to go on.

We cannot continue along the path that we are presently on, where fear and ignorance dominate and where the only answer seems to be to try what we have done in the past. Our answer to war and violence is more war and violence, even when we know that cycle will only end when there are no more soldiers to send into battle. In the 1960s, this country was willing to go to nuclear war against the Soviet Union, even when everyone knew that the majority of people on this plane would not survive and those who did would envy the dead. And yet, we pushed for more and more nuclear weapons.

Our politics today are the politics of fear and ignorance, fueled by the greed of those who afraid of what they may lose, but what good are countless millions of dollars when you have no where to spend your money? Very few politicians offer solutions that build up this country and this planet.

Fear and ignorance can be overcome but it has to be through education, both secular and sectarian in nature.

It is the lack of knowledge that threatens our future. Our present educational system has produced individuals who can take tests quite well but who are incapable (I am sorry to say) of generating new answers. If the answer to the question is not in the back of the book, they don’t have the capable of finding it and they don’t want it on the test.

The fundamental fact that we must understand is that there is at least one book that hasn’t been written yet and it contains the answers to the questions that we must answer. If we do not begin to change our ways, morally and educationally, we will not have the skills and understanding needed to read that book when it is published and we will not be able to answer the questions it contains.

There is a great challenge before us today as 2015 comes to a close. Cliche or not, what happens in the year 2016 will determine our future. Act as if we are at the crossroads and determine which way you will go.

“Seeing The Future”

A Meditation for 3 January 2016, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (Year C), or (Epiphany of the Lord) based on Jeremiah 31: 7 – 14 (Sirach 24: 1 – 12), Ephesians 1: 3 – 14, and John 1: (1 – 9), 10 – 18

I think that it is rather obligatory to start with some predictions about the future. You know, things like Bill Gates announcing in 1991 that 640 K was enough memory for computer usage or Ken Olson, founder and president of Digital Equipment Company stating in 1997 that there was no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Of course, everyone does have a computer of some sort in their home and the memory on even the simplest of those devices exceeds the capacity that Bill Gates thought would be the limit.

What we have to understand is that such pronouncements about the future are always based on what we know today; to truly see the future, to see around the corner and over the horizon, requires that we somehow “break” away from the limits of the future. But how do you do that; how do you see around the corner or over the horizon at what is coming when one is tied to the present, whether they want it or not?

The simplest answer, of course, would be to open one’s mind to new possibilities and not simply try stuff that didn’t work the first time in hopes that it will work the second time. Or at least put in the effort to try the new things; often times things are tried once with little or no perceived success and then thrown away.

If you schedule an activity on a night when another major activity is taking place and you are counting on the success of your new activity, the chances are it will fail simply because something else, well-established in the minds of the desired community, will take the people away. Also, are you doing the activity for the right reasons? What reasons are you using? What is the criteria for success? (See my notes on the 1992 Hog Roast at Grace United Methodist Church in St. Cloud, Missouri – “Simple Gifts”)

Our society’s greatest problem today is its inability to see the future in terms other than the present or the past. Society is not willing to invest in options that haven’t been tried because we, as a society, are quite unwilling to try something new. And I think our inability to try something new because we cannot envision its future makes us blind to the failures of the methods we do try.

This is especially true in the church today. So many churches are rooted in systems that haven’t changed in at least 50 years and then they wonder why the church is dying, in population and in faith.

The loudest voices seem to say that we do not follow the Bible more explicitly and that adherence to the laws of the Bible found in the Old Testament would bring us back to God. But this fails for two reasons. First, in today’s society, it would be very difficult to set up a justice system mirroring the Bible because of the injustices and inequities such a system would bring about. Some may echo the words of George Orwell in Animal Farm that some are more equal than others but society today has a sense and is demanding more equality than that. Second, a cry for an adherence to Old Testament laws ignores the presence of Christ and His pronouncement that He had come to fulfill the laws.

Those who seek such an Old Testament system today are blind to the failures of society back then, when it was believed that through the law, one could achieve salvation. I also think that those who seek this sort of system long for a day when they were completely in charge and no one questioned their authority. Again, one of the things that I believe came about from Jesus’ ministry was the notion that the system in place was wrong and needed to be fixed.

The problem with seeing the future is that one has to have the freedom to see the future. If we are tied to the present, for whatever reason, we are not free to see the future or think “outside the box”.

And what do we do to create a church that is very much alive and well in the 21st century? First, understand that we need to see Christ outside the timeline of history (which is, of course, what John was doing when he wrote the opening lines of his Gospel reading, our Gospel lesson for today). When you put Christ on the timeline, He is stuck 2100 years back in the future and cannot be present today. We must see God and Christ in this moment, free from the limits and constraints of time and space.

When you read the verses from Jeremiah for today, you get a sense that the people were joyful and things were going to change. There was something new about to happen. We know now that what Jeremiah was doing was telling his world about the birth of Christ and the new covenant.

And Paul speaks of the outcome of that new covenant, the freedom that comes from having accepted Christ as one’s own Savior. And that is, I think, the key to seeing the future. First, as I mentioned, you have to be free to see the future and not be limited by the moment or the present. And that is exactly what Christ provides, the freedom to go beyond the present, to see around the corner and over the horizon.

There is, in this country today, a need for a fourth revival but this one has to be a little bit different. It will still require that people accept Christ as their personal Savior (that will never change nor should it). But it will require people to see Christ, not as a part of history but as a part of their life today and tomorrow. It will require a new understanding of the church in today’s world, not simply a building but a presence, not simply meeting on Sunday mornings but meeting and doing things during the week that take the people of the church outside the building.

It will require an understanding by all that Jesus removed the boundaries society had imposed on those outside the establishment. All will be welcome to bathe in the Glory of Christ and not be turned away by those who in the past pronounced judgment on others, doing so in the name of God even when God did not do so.

I am not saying that this is going to be an easy task. The old ways are far too entrenched in many churches today but faced with the reality that change is almost a necessity instead of a luxury, change will take place.

Within this fourth revival is a need for education, to better understand what it means when one says they are a Christian and to understand that saying that one is a Christian does not mean that one’s role in the life of a church ends at noon on Sundays. (I am beginning to see those for whom being a Christian as a 9 to 11 job on Sundays in a corporate mode; it is about punching a time clock and collecting your wages at the end of the time period; unfortunately the notion of a corporate church that dominates today’s world was never meant to be the model for the church).

Education is more than simply Bible study but understanding why it is that the verses being read are in the Bible in the first place (and why there are so many verses which were never accepted as part of the Bible).

When John the Seer concluded the Book of Revelation, it was a victory for the church. It was not a victory encased in doom and destruction, as so many people think it was. Rather it was a statement of triumph and rejoicing for all the people and that is how we need to see the future, both for ourselves individually and collectively as a church and a society.

As we start this new year, we have two choices. We can continue on the same path that we are walking on, perhaps living in the corporate Christian mode, knowing that in the end this will only lead to the death of the present time church and one’s own death.

Or will you accept Jesus as your Savior, to free you from the shackles of sin that lead to slavery and death and gives you the freedom to seek new ways in this world?

The State of Education Today

It is bad enough that there is a minority (at least I hope it is minority) would rather us go to war than seek peace in this world.

But I just read that the new president of the University of North Carolina system was given a salary of $775,000 and the chancellors in the same system were given raises of 8 to 19 percent. The faculty in the UNC system, after several years of pay freezes were given a one-time payment of $750.

I have never understood why administrators are given six figure salaries when it is the faculty and support staff that do all the work.

And all the while, tuition goes up making it harder and harder for families to send their children to college.

And this is not just in North Carolina (for the record, Ann Walker​ and I have ties to the state that go back several years). I see such gaps between administrators and faculty in K – 12 education as well.

But we are told that teachers are overpaid for what they do. In 1971, my first year of public school teaching, I made $6,300. My landlord essentially told me that I should be grateful that I was getting that much and shouldn’t complain because I also got 3 months summer vacation. But during that “vacation” I was under contract to go to school and I did not get paid for those months of vacation.

College teaching is really no better because, especially at colleges like the UNC system, you are expected to do research and seek funds which then replace, not supplement, your salary. And if you don’t do the research and publish the results (which by the way grants are written belong to the university), then you go looking for another position somewhere else. In most cases, it does not matter one bit if your passion and excellence lies in teaching, research and publications for the benefit of the university are all that matter.

And now, with the need for an educated populace even more of an imperative, there are those who would lead us to say that education is not important, that it cannot be free, and that we need to pursue more mundane jobs. I am not saying that every child should go to college because, for some, that is the wrong mix. But education needs to be a way of improvement, not the maintenance of the status quo.

The process of education is two-fold. First, it helps each and every individual find who they are. Second, it creates within each individual the opportunity to discover new things. Right now, we are not doing that and we are going to pay the price pretty soon.