I Am A Southern-born Evangelical Christian! What Are You?


Certain political events which have, fortunately or unfortunately, crossed over into the religious area lead to make that declaration and to write the following, which is in two parts. Note that I have written some of this before.

I am proud to say, without hesitation, that I am a Southern-born evangelical Christian. But that does not mean what you might think it means.

And when it is all said and done, I would, politely, ask “What are you?”

Southern-born

I am, as the saying goes, Southern-born and Southern-bred, and when I die, I will be Southern dead. But this doesn’t mean that I automatically adhere to all Southern traditions.

As the son of an Air Force officer, I moved around the country and it became very evident, especially when I was in junior high and high school that there barriers were in place that separated people in society. These barriers, no matter how they were phrased, were designed to separate people by race, creed, sex, and economic status. They were kept in place by the rich and powerful who were able to convince many affected by the barriers that those barriers were for their own good.

And because they didn’t have any way of knowing otherwise, they accepted the wisdom of the rich and powerful and kept the barriers in place. Only when they saw what was happening did they realize that the barriers kept them “in their place” as much as it did “the others”.

I see that today – the rich and powerful have convinced a group of people that there are “others” who will steal what they have unless they allow the rich and powerful to do the stealing for them (For more on this topic, see “It’s Not About A Piece Of Cloth”). But pretty soon, it is going to be evident that the freedoms we cling to so dearly have been taken away and the majority of the people in this country will be once again the chattel of a few rich (and white) old men.

Evangelical Christian

I am also born to say, and without hesitation, that I am an evangelical Christian. I was baptized as an Evangelical Christian, I was confirmed as an Evangelical Christian, and I have tried to live my life as an Evangelical Christian.

But it is quite clear that my definition and the current popular definition of what it means to be an evangelical Christian are entirely different.

I do not know or understand what those who loudly profess to be evangelical Christians believe, other than perhaps to say that “I have been saved from sin and you have not and you are going to live the rest of your life in Sheol.”

That, to me, is not evangelism and, to be honest, it is the very attitude that almost drove me from the church and which is probably driving many people away today.

For me, evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts; for more see “Who Are You Following?” or “What Do We Do Now?” where I consider how to apply the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those of Clarence Jordan).

What Are You?

At the end of his television series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan suggested that this society, this country and the whole planet were at a crossroads. One road lead to the destruction of the planet and the other lead to undiscovered worlds. Those words echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah when he (Jeremiah) wrote:

God’s Message yet again:

Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.

But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’

I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.

But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’

And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’

And, ‘Pay attention, Earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’

I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.

They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.

What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?

Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure. Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.” (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20, The Message)

There is nothing wrong with holding onto the traditions that define you. But when the traditions become more important that your self, there is a problem. No one can live in a world where yesterday was better than today for that prevents us from moving into the future.

I cannot help but think that many people today hold onto their faith as if it were a tradition and not a real part of their lives. Their acts, their words, their deeds all reflect a time past. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus looked to the future and He moved to the future, even though He knew what that future held for Him. But He also knew that our future would be insured because He moved in that direction.

Can you say that you are moving in the same direction as Jesus, towards a better future, a future free from sin and death, a future where no one is hungry, sick, homeless, or oppressed?

We stand at the crossroads and we have to decide which road we will take.

And we have to say to God at some point in our life who we are.

Who are you?

The Threat To Our Freedoms


This continues a thread on the topic of academic freedom.  A summary of my posts on this topic are given in “Notes On Academic Freedom”.  I have edited this piece (31 January 2016) to include an additional link related to this topic.


There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning attacks on our freedom. But it seems to me that these discussions are incomplete and miss the point.

It seems to me that those who complain about attacks on their freedom want to fight those attacks by limiting the amount of information available. This, to me anyway, is a far greater threat to our freedoms than anything that anyone else can imagine. For if you can control the flow of information, you control what people think, say and do and that, in turn, controls all of our freedoms.

The control of information begins when you determine how people are taught or what they are taught.

Let me start by first defining teaching and learning.

Teaching is the process of transferring information from one place, say my mind or textbook, to another location, say your mind or notebook. Success comes when the receiver of the information is able to repeat what was transferred. There is no interaction between the teacher and the student in this process; the transfer is, in effect, a one-way process.

I think this is, and has been for some time, the dominant process in our educational system. And based on various metrics, something we have become quite good at doing.

But there is relatively no new information being created and the means for doing so are not present. There is no analysis of the information presented so that the receiver can determine if it is good or bad information or even appropriate information. And without the ability to create or analyze the information, there is no way the receiver can determine the validity of the information. If you cannot analyze the data or, for that matter, create new data, then your ability to solve problems is limited.

It is possible to solve problems provided they are similar in nature to problems that you have solved in the past. But this does not provide the basis for solving completely new problems. And the ability to do so only comes when you learn something, not when someone else teaches you.

Learning is an interactive process between the pupil and the teacher, the instructor and the learner. It goes beyond what is already known by including the skills one needs to learn on one’s own. In one sense, true learning ultimately eliminates the need for the teacher because the learner gains the skills and abilities needed for future learning.

We are fast approaching a point, if we are not there already, where will not be able to respond to any sort of crisis because there will be no individuals who have the skills to think through a problem, analyze the available information, determine what additional information is needed, and then offer a new solution. At best, we only have people who can offer the same old solutions that haven’t worked in the past because they don’t have the ability to create an alternative.

I have no doubt that we know lots and lots of information but as I noted in my earlier piece, “Notes On The Common Core”, acquiring information does not automatically mean you know what to do with it. We can neither continue to maintain the status quo or, as others suggest, limit the ability of learners to question and analyze.

Consider the case of Dr. Alexander Coward, a mathematics instructor at the University of California – Berkeley (http://alexandercoward.com/). It would appear from the public information that the mathematics faculty at Berkeley is 1) opposed to the methods that Dr. Coward uses in teaching mathematics and 2) embarrassed that his results are better than the majority of the other faculty members. They would offer the notion that the results that show his students learn more and at a higher rate than other faculty members is faulty or the results are flawed and somehow incorrect.


A new web page, which may be related to the same issues that Dr. Coward is facing is “PrairieU”; like the person who pointed me to the link, there is evidence to suggest that this is a real situation but it is not clear what took place and what the resolution of the problem is.  One has to think that how we determine the effectiveness of learning is clearly a subset of the issue of academic freedom.


 

This would not be the first time a faculty has argued against a change in methodology or information. When Galileo first presented his ideas on the relatively new Copernican model of the universe, it was the academic establishment that raised the first objections because acceptance of this new idea would mean that they had to change or retool everything they were doing. The church became a participant when the academic establishment convinced church authorities that Galileo was a threat to their security as well (see “Changing Of The Seasons”).

In the end, we are faced with one undeniable piece of information – each person has their own unique style of learning and one fixed process does not always work. Each subject requires its own approach and each instructor needs to adapt and adjust according to the situation they are in and the students they are teaching. Limiting how we teach or limiting and/or controlling the information flow can only lead to failure and ultimately the loss of freedom.

Your Last Chance To Vote


The upcoming 2016 election could very well be your last chance to vote.

The outcome of this election, both in terms of who gets elected President, who gets elected as Senators and Representatives, and the myriad number of local elections, could very well make voting by a good majority of the people illegal or at least impossible.

Now, as a disclaimer, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. While I may have considered the idea of being a Republican early on in my life, that notion can never be considered a reality today. When the Republicans adopted their Southern strategy in 1968, it was clear that anyone who wished to be considered a liberal and a Republican (they did exist back then) was being pushed out of their party.

And today’s Republican party, built on a policy of “just saying no” and either overtly or covertly working to limit the power of the majority of people based on gender, income, and race is not a party that I wish to be a part of.

And I am not a Democrat because too many Democrats, instead of espousing the philosophy of their party, have simply modified the Republican party philosophy that money is more important that ideals and standards.

But if you do not vote in the 2016 election and vote for those who see the future in a progressive manner, then the odds are that this will be your last vote.

If a Republican is elected President and the Republicans control the House and Senate, then expect a series of laws that will limit the right to vote to a few privileged white males, much in the manner of those eligible to vote when this country began in 1776. If you are a white male who owns property, then you will have the right to vote. If you do not meet those basic qualifications, then you will be denied the right to vote.

And don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of such laws. I think that it should be obvious now that one or two of the Supreme Court judges believe in that idea. I will not say that these judges are in the pockets of the rich and powerful but they have similar philosophies and that is sufficient. And the next President will appoint one and perhaps two Justices which will insure that the philosophy remains in place for a long time.

And when you vote, vote for candidates that support your ideas all the way down the ballot. In doing so, you work to insure that at the grass roots level there are people working to insure that freedom does exist.

One other thing, do not be accept the idea that your vote doesn’t count. Right now, that is the prevailing attitude of the American voter and it shows in the participation records. And when voter turnout is low, the results favor the more active and more organized party (and that happens to be the Republican party today). They will get their voters to the poll while working to keep the opposition away and that helps to insure their victory.

I also think that such voter apathy has very long-term effects. It is one of those wonderful cliches but the future does belong to the young. And I personally fear that many youth today see no future for them in a world that favors old, rich, and powerful white men. In a world that allows politicians to preach hatred and violence, to tell others how to live their lives while doing whatever they please, many people will see no hope and will turn away from the system.

So, in the basic sense, if you do not vote in the 2016 election, you will passively vote for those who seek to limit your ability to participate. And if you do not vote for the opportunity to have a future, if you are willing to accept the notion that yesterday was better than tomorrow will ever be, then you will never have the opportunity to say otherwise.

Remember, democracy is the very thin and fragile line that separates chaos and tyranny.

Creating A Plan Of Action


A Meditation for 24 January 2016, the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C). The meditation is based on Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthian 12: 12 – 31, and Luke 4: 14 – 21

I happen to be a chemist by training. And when I began teaching after graduating from college I found that chemical education was something that interested me. This, along with bio-inorganic chemistry and statistics, became the foundation for my doctoral studies and later research.

My liturgical skills and interests came later in life but were, would be, and are supported and enhanced by the liberal art foundations provided by my research in chemistry and chemical education.

One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about teaching, be it chemistry, mathematics, English, or any other subject, is that it takes more than just knowing the subject (see “Thanks a lot, Henry!” and “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”). You have to know how people think and learn and you have to have a plan.

And any plan you create has to take into consideration the skills and abilities of all those involved, not just a select few, and the resources that you have to work with. What will work in one setting is not necessarily guaranteed to work in another.

So when we look at the Old Testament reading for today, we should see two things.

First, teaching was involved. The people were coming back to Israel after years of exile in Babylon and they had pretty well forgotten the basis for their society, their country, and their lives.

Second, everyone, not just a select people, were taught. There is a specific reference to women being present as well as all those who were capable of understanding (which would be the youth of the community).

As I have written over the past few weeks, there is a crying need for a 21st century revival and it has to begin with teaching what it means to be a Christian today. This is necessary because so many churches today have changed the meaning of Christianity to meet their definitions (see “The Four Gospels of American Christianity”) rather than the ideas expressed throughout the Bible.

It is important to note that every one will be involved, not just a select few chosen by some establishment elite. And, as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, each person will be called to utilize the skills they have as best as they can. Often times, we ask people to do things that for which they are not capable of doing or doing it at a level they cannot sustain. Some people are going to have to share in the tasks as well as understand that each person does what they can. Nor can we get upset because it would seem that some don’t do as much as others. The point is that we work together, using our skills and abilities to achieve the goals set forth by Christ that day when He stood up in His own synagogue and read the Scripture.

We are very much like the people who gathered that day to hear Nehemiah and the others. Our world is on the verge of destruction and we have been called to rebuild it; we have forgotten the nature of our faith and what that means in today’s world.

We are world of differences but that differences that when working together make the world a better place.

Each community of believers must and can create their own plan of action. And we must know what skills and abilities each member has, for what what community does may not be what another community does.

But the basis for action lies in the words of Christ first expressed in the synagogue two thousand years ago. We now are called to complete that plan.

Happenings with Energion Publishing


Last night (Tuesday, January 19, 2016), as noted below, I was part of the discusson on Creation and science.  My contribution was in the area of basic science concepts.

Tuesday Night (January 19, 2016, 7 pm Central Time): Dr. David Moffett-Moore, author of Creation in Contemporary Experience, discussing our ethical obligation to care for our planet (7:00 pm to 7:27 pm), then Dr. Tony Mitchell will discuss some basic concepts in science (7:33 pm to 8:00 pm).