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 —

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?