“Are These The End Times?”

I will admit that I do not believe in the “End Times” prophecies promulgated by Christian fundamentalists (and I wish that they would at least document that much of what they profess to be the outcome came from a 19th century pastor and not from John the Seer or Daniel). But I keep wondering if we aren’t somehow doing it to ourselves without the need of a Biblical reference.

  1. Another shooting in a group environment – let’s not go into whether this was a terrorist event or not. One person took a gun into a theater and killed people! And yet we are afraid to even discuss the issue of reasonable and common sense gun control. Are we so afraid that Wayne LaPierre is going to grab his flintlock rifle off the rack above his fireplace, jump on his horse, and warn us that the British are once again coming to take away our guns?
  2. How many people have died because the police over-reacted? I don’t even what to break down the deaths by race because that’s another issue that we don’t seem to want to deal with. The only benefit that I can see (and I am being sarcastic) is that we will all drive much more safer now because we don’t want to be stopped by the police.
  3. The House of Representatives just passed a bill that would allow employers to fire any employee they wish because that employee does something which goes against their religious beliefs. Even if the Senate passes it, it will be vetoed by President Obama but you can bet it will be introduced again if a Republican (heaven forbid, please) is elected President. By the way, if marriage is defined in terms of having children, then my second and current marriages might be considered illegal.
  4. Perhaps the worst of all is that we seem to be getting dumber. Our educational processes seem more attuned to developing “worker bees” rather than thinkers.

I cannot help but think that we began this path towards self-destruction when Richard Nixon was elected to his second term. At the same time that everyone was affirming his status as one of the greatest Presidents of all time, he was involved in one of the greatest political cover-ups of all time. The most interesting thing about the elections of 1968 and 1972 were that there were entirely based on dividing this country by race, sex, and economic class.

At what point can the people cry out and say enough! Or are we in the “End Times” and it is too late!

“Random Thoughts On A Wednesday”

I find it very amazing that we as a society seem headed towards a life of mediocrity and we seem quite happy to be headed in that direction. I supposed there is nothing wrong with mediocrity; after all, a mediocre life would have no challenges and there would be no need to worry about things because they are going to same as they have always been. And life is always good when tomorrow is the same as today and you know what to expect.

But there is no challenge in living a life which is essentially the same every day. There is no drive, no push to seek things, and in the end, life becomes very stale. And when life becomes stale, mistakes are made.

One can make mistakes because one is in a hurry or is not careful; those mistakes can be fixed. But mistakes can be made because life is routine and you do the same thing over and over again. Those, I think, are the worst mistakes because they come without warning. They come because you no longer stop and think about what is going on.

We have been understandably upset because of many of the comments that Donald Trump has made recently and we should be upset because he is not challenging anyone to a better life but merely echoing thoughts that others have expressed.

And while we should be angry at what Mr. Trump has said, we have forgotten what people said about Max Cleland when they questioned his heroism and patriotism in Viet Nam or when they questioned the heroism and patriotism of Tammy Duckworth in Iraq. And no one seems to remember how many of the same Republicans who have decried what Mr. Trump said recently supported wholeheartedly the efforts to discredit the patriotism and heroism of John Kerry, simply because he chose to protest the war in Viet Nam.

We hear so many people calling for a war, against countries, religions, and nationalities but these same people found ways to avoid serving their country at a time when their service was needed. (For the record, I received one student deferment and one medical deferment during the Viet Nam War. I don’t remember what my number in the lottery was and might very well have gone to Canada or jail in 1971 if I had not failed my draft physical.)

We hear people say that forcing them to serve members of the LGBT community against their religious beliefs but they seem to forget that the same words were used to justify segregation and, before that, slavery. And there were those in 1960 who said that John Kennedy could not be President because he was Roman Catholic and everyone knew that Roman Catholics were really not Christians. And while President Kennedy decried the use of a religious test in politics today, we seemed to have created such a test in politics today.

And in the end, those who proclaim that they are Christian seem to forget that Jesus Christ Himself was criticized time and time again for embracing the outcasts of society. When you leave a mediocre life, content with each day being the same, you don’t pay attention to things and you are not open to the minor details which make each day new and exciting.

We rejoice in the healing that Jesus did (and which the disciples would later do) yet we forget that each time He did heal someone or a group of people, He became an outcast in society. Each time that he spoke to a woman in public, he went against societal norms. We forget that were it not for the provisions of the Old Testament that 10% of the fields be left for the poor and needy, Ruth might never have married Boaz, which in turn would have meant that there would be no tree from which the branch of Jesse could arise. If there was no branch, there was no David, and there would have been no Christ.

In one sense, we like our lives to be simple (the old Quaker song speaks of the gift to be simple being a gift to be free) but we also must be aware that each day is a new day and that we cannot do what we did yesterday.

There is a challenge in each day and you cannot meet the challenge by being mediocre. In some way, you must push the envelope.

“Finding A Sanctuary”

A Mediation for 19 July 2015, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14, Ephesians 2: 11 – 22, and Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56.

This is an incomplete mediation because I wasn’t sure how to end it. It sometimes seems to me that we seek sanctuary only for ourselves but we end up making it a fortress. We need to find ways of making the world a sanctuary and not a war zone.

There is an episode in MASH where a young soldier wants to get out of the Army and he seeks Father Mulcahy’s assistance. In this episode, Father Mulcahy invokes the role of the church as a sanctuary from war; but the problem is that Father Mulcahy’s church also happens to be the camp’s mess tent and there is a problem resolving the difference in those two roles. At the end of this episode, the young soldier grabs a gun and this causes Father Mulcahy to get very angry. As he points out, you cannot use a gun in a place in which you have sought sanctuary.

What is the role of the church and those who call it home in today’s society? Is a church a place of sanctuary from which one can seek protection for all that is wrong with the world? Does that mean that what goes on inside the walls of a church should insulate its members and protect them from whatever is going on outside the walls?

Or should a church be a sanctuary from which all people, not just the members, can find solace and peace, protection from those who would do them harm?

I think it is quite easy to build walls around us that block off the world and prevent us from seeing what is happening and call that a sanctuary. But when you build such walls, it becomes very difficult to make it so you cannot get it. In trying to keep the world from getting into your life, you make it very hard for you to get back into the world.

But there has to be a place where people can seek solace and peace, to find protection from those who would seek to do harm. In another MASH episode, Father Mulcahy notes that warring armies always left a particular monastery alone, recognizing that it was a sanctuary and place of peace.

So what is a sanctuary? Is it a place where one can feel safe and protected from the outside world? Or is it a place where the outside world can feel safe and protected? If the answer is the first one, then what happens to the world? And how does one accomplish anything if you are inside your sanctuary?

But we can’t make the world a sanctuary? Or can we? I was reminded the other day that hospitality in the Old Testament was a matter of making all people, strangers and friends alike, welcome in your home? The distance between places and the lack of things that we take for granted today made almost a requirement that you welcome the stranger into your home.

“You Are A Better Man Than I”

This is probably going to make some people mad, but maybe it will get them to think. It wasn’t so prevalent when I was in high school but, as I haven’t written before, I can still recall segregated schools and I can remember being in the “wrong” section of a public theater. I don’t think that I ever saw a sign that told me who can drink from a water fountain or which water fountain you were supposed to drink from but I know they were there. And for the most part, most everyone agreed that that was wrong.

But it was all justified because the Bible said it was okay to segregate the races (though I think it took a stretch to come up with the “right” verses to do so).

So, how can it be alright to say to someone you have never met that they can or cannot come into your store or your home or be your friend because of who they want to marry? Oh, I know there are Bible verses that you can quote better than I that will justify your actions but like I said, there were those when I grew up who could quote chapter and verse to justify segregation and whose grandparents (actually, their grandparents’ bosses) who could quote chapter and verse to justify slavery.

I don’t think that God is really interested in how well we can quote obscure text (especially when it is out of context or improperly translated). He is more interested in how you treat everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from, what color their skin might be, or with whom they have decided to spend their life.

We have a choice. We can put up signs that tell people whom we will do business with and whom we will interact with or we can just live our lives as they were meant to be live.

I close with a song by the Yardbirds, “Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I.”

“Remembering the Past Or Seeing The Future”

A Mediation for 12 July 2015, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 6:1 – 5, 12 – 19, Ephesians 1:3 – 14, and Mark 6:14 – 29

If you are like me, you have to wonder why it was that Uzzah was killed almost immediately after touching the Ark of the Covenant, or as it is listed in The Message, the Chest of God. I mean, we are talking about the Ark of the Covenant and those who were carrying it should have taken all sorts of precautions to make sure that it was dropped or anything like that.

But when you go back in and look at the rest of the story, you begin to understand that the particular episode, you begin to understand that the way the Ark was transported violated practically every single rule that God had laid down when the Ark was first made.

And in the first part of this passage from the Old Testament, David appears to have forgotten every one of those rules, from who was to move the Ark to how it was to be moved. Uzzah may have thought that keeping the Ark from falling was the right thing to do but, in retrospect, letting it fall may have been the only viable option.

I cannot help but think that we have something of that mentality today. We treat certain things with some reverence but we fail to remember why it was that we do so. We give lip service, as it were, proclaiming that this item or that item have meaning in our lives but we don’t bother to know what that meaning might be or what the real meaning actually is.

And, if you haven’t figured it out by now, if you hold up the Confederate battle flag and say this is a symbol of my heritage, then you better understand what your heritage really is. It would be far better to cast your heritage aside and move forward than to simply try to figure out a way to justify living in the past.

In growing up in the South, I met those who did just that, tried to justify living in the past. I began to understand early on what that meant; later on, I would learn or begin to realize that the memories of the South that people wanted to keep in their minds was a limited one, one in which nothing bad happened and in which Yankees were to blame for all the problems. But then I began to see that the only ones who wanted to keep those memories fresh were those who wanted to hold on to power and position; they had no desire to see anyone, whatever color they might be, become equal.

And that is something I think is still holding true today. I see too many people who are like Herod, afraid of John the Baptizer and what he is saying, for it lets people know that he (Herod) is abusing his position and authority. He doesn’t want people to hear the Baptizer’s words of truth for those words damage his position and his power. For Herod, the Baptizer is an outsider (even though, of course, he was a local boy) and outsiders only bring bad news.

And there are those today who call themselves Christian but whose thoughts, words, and deeds show that they give little thought to what it is they profess. They see in the Cross a symbol of power and authority to laud over others and which somehow makes them better people. But they are not willing to see the Cross for what it really stands for, a chance to change your life because Christ died for them.

They are unwilling to put themselves in the place that Christ put Himself, a place where everything was given up so that we could be successful. As Paul told the Ephesians, there was a long-range plan for each one of us in Christ.

And while there are those who would rather remember the past, in Christ we are offered a vision of the future. It is a future that is open to all, no matter who they might be.

“It’s A Matter Of Vision”

A Mediation for 5 July 2015, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 5: 1 – 5, 9 – 10, 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10, and Mark 6: 1 – 13

I have always said and thought that one of the hardest messages to prepare is the one for the 4th of July weekend Sunday. At a time when the country is celebrating the beginning of a revolution, it is sometimes very difficult to talk about peace.

Granted, when our founding fathers gathered together in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776, their vision of the coming months was undoubtedly one of war and not peace. Even Patrick Henry, in his memorable speech of March 23, 1775, noted “The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!”

A couple of years ago I came across a quote that said,

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

I initially thought that the author Arthur C. Clarke had said it. But I found out that it was an individual named Joel A. Barker. I have never heard of this individual but I discovered that his claim to fame is that he took the notion of the paradigm shift, first proposed by Thomas Kuhn in relation to the idea of scientific ideas, and applied it to business models (“What’s The Next Step?”)

Borrowing from my doctoral notes on the nature of scientific philosophy, a paradigm can be considered the boundaries that define our practices. There comes a time, however, when our practices cannot meet the needs of the system and there needs to be a paradigm shift, the development of new practices and possibly new ideas. Such changes come with great difficulty and much fighting (from “The New Paradigm”). Intellectually, this comes about when our thinking processes make a radical change, when we stop trying to apply rote memory for solving problems (trying to solve a problem that we have always done so) and actually solve the problem.

It goes without saying, I suppose, that our founding fathers understood this point very clearly; that they needed to take action to make the Declaration of Independence a real document and not just words on a piece of parchment. But is the same true today?

How do we effect change today? Can we change the world without resorting to the gun or the other countless weapons of mass destruction that we have at our beck and call? Are we to understand, as Chairman Mao once stated, that “Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun.” If that is the case, then there is no answer except for war and violence. And, it would seem to me, that if that is the case, then it isn’t necessarily a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong but whoever has the most destructive weapons. I am not willing to accept that as the the future for this world or society.

And so we are at a point where we can continue operating under the same system as before or we can create a new paradigm.

What was Jesus trying to do when he sent the 12 out on that first mission described into today’s Gospel reading? Wasn’t he trying to show them (and the others identified in the other Gospel readings) what was possible? Was Jesus not offering a new vision for the future instead of the one that everyone currently had?

Paul writes about his own personal transformation, of being a different person than the one many people knew. Again, Paul was offering the possibility of a new vision, something unexpected.

The interesting thing about this change, this transformation, is that one has to be personally involved with the process. It does not come automatically, nor does it come from simply reading about it or even perhaps acknowledging it. You must become actively involved in the process.

As I have recounted numerous times in the past, my own involvement in the anti-war and civil rights movements of the late ’60s and early ’70s (limited as they were) stemmed in part from the thought that my works would get me into heaven. Of course, it is granted that it is only by God’s grace that we have such access but does that mean that we are not to do good works, only accept Christ?

If you do good works and expect that by doing so, you will gain that coveted access, I think you will be sorely disappointed. Because you did not do the works for others, you did them for yourself. On the other hand, you might find yourself in a situation similar to the one John Wesley found himself in.

Immediately it stuck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked [Peter] Böhler, whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” — John Wesley, Journal, 4 March 1738

I think this is also what Paul is pointing out to the Corinthians; his salvation was not of his doing and perhaps his doing may have been leading him in the wrong direction. But that moment when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus was a life-changer, in more ways than one. For us, today, Paul’s conversion allowed us to gather together today. His efforts in telling the world about Christ, no small task in itself, created changes that resounded through the world.

Our task today is very similar but I think we need to see it in a different way. It is clearly evident that telling people about Jesus and doing so in a way that literally forces them to believe is wrong. Did not Jesus tell the disciples that if they were welcome in a town to continue walking?

Second, we have to understand that not everyone has the same sense of Christ that we do. So telling them about Christ has no effect, since they haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.

But, if we do that which we have been asked to do, to do what the disciples did on that first journey of their own, we can show what it means to be a Christian and what Christ has done for us.

If we see the world as it is, we cannot change it. And if we try to force the world to change by the same methods we have been using in the past, then we will destroy the world.

On the other hand, if we have a new vision of the world, a vision in which we help others, in which we reach out to all the peoples, then perhaps we will see change. We will not see change overnight but it will come. Our vision of the world has to be the vision Christ had; otherwise we will not have a vision.

The Next Big Chemistry Challenge

In the process of doing some file cleaning, I came across a question that I had set aside.  In light of the recent Supreme Court announcement concerning pollution and issues related to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), I thought it might be a good time to post it again.

In your opinion, what is the biggest chemical challenge facing this society in the coming ten years? Why?