Thoughts On Various Topics – Vaccinations


I have not been posting much these past few months, primarily because I have had to deal and still am dealing with some personal issues. But we are getting through those problems (though I humbly ask that you pray for a reasonable resolution of the health, emotional, and financial problems we are currently facing).

One of the ways that I think I do need to do is begin writing again, perhaps not so much on theological or lectionary topics (I have pretty much retired as a lay speaker) but more in the area of science, its interactions with faith and society. This should help me focus on a task that I definitely need to complete.

There are a couple of topics that jump to mind right now in the area of science and its interaction with society. The first is that of vaccinations; the second is the issue of “fracking”; and the third is climate change. I will post something on the last two topics in a few days. But let us turn our attention to that first topic.

As one who espouses libertarian ideas, I believe you have the right to make your own choices. If you, as a parent, do not wish to vaccinate your children, that is your right. However, I also believe that you do not have the right to make a choice which impacts my life. If you do not vaccinate your children because you fear what might happen with the vaccines, you threaten the health of not only your children but my children and grandchildren.

The problem, as I understand it, is not in the vaccine itself but rather in what is used to preserve the vaccines. Instead of not vaccinating your children because you fear the consequences, you need to be working to make sure that whatever is added to the vaccines is safe. This is an entirely different problem.

I also question the claims of many opposed to vaccinations because it comes from the same type of thinking that espouses thoughts that we never landed on the moon or other equally ridiculous conspiracy theories.

As with so many other ideas prevalent in society today, people are willing the claims of offers which have no validity. It is time that we, as a society, work for a more thoughtful approach to life.

“What Is Around The Corner?”


We stand at the beginning of a new year, not knowing what it will bring. It is as if we are at a corner and we must make go around the corner if we are to go anywhere. But it seems quite comfy where we are and there is no need to go anywhere at the present time. So why find out what is around the corner?

I had the opportunity the other day to hear part of a conversation and read the transcrip of the conversation between Amy Goodman and Daniel Ellsberg a few years back that related to the publication of the Pentagon Papers. It was interesting to review this story because of one point that Ellsberg made about the difficulty in getting this information out into the public (something that we need to consider in light of the Edward Snowden revelations).

Ellsberg pointed out that he spoke to a number of high ranking Senators, all of whom were publically opposed to the Viet Nam war, about helping him and to a person they all were willing to do it, provided Ellsberg could get someone else to do it as well. In other words, despited what they were already doing, they were unwilling to do more by themselves, choosing to “follow the herd” rather than lead. It was quite clear that disturbing the status quo was not part of being a United States Senator, especially if you wanted to keep your leadership roles. Ultimately, of course, the Pentago Papers were released and it was one of the Senators for Alaska, Mike Gravel, who would help in the process.

This came at a time when I was trying to fix in my own mind an explanation for what is happening in American politics. Here it is, the first day of 2015, and some of the news is going to fix on the presidential election of 2016, something just under two years away. It is most likely that 1) it will be a nasty campaign by both sides, 2) fear of what the other candidate might do will be the dominant theme, and 3) it will seem that the status quo will again be chosen, even when such a choice is not in the best interests of so many individuals in this country.

I got to thinking about something written in one of the books in my collection. The book focuses on the speeches of President John Kennedy when he was a candidate for President and then while he was President. In the book, the authors make the comment that President Kennedy was the last President to speak in complete sentences and expect his listeners and readers to know or understand what it was that he was saying.

I am not saying that those who occupied the office after Kennedy were not smart or literate but it sometimes seems that way. I also know that efforts begun when Eisenhower was President and continued under Kennedy (exploration of space and the development of new science and mathematics curricula) began to be phased under when the cost of the Viet Nam war became to great. Our problems today are as much or more a result of the change in focus of this country as they are anything else. Ir really does not help things when the means and motivation for thinking are systematically eliminated. And when you begin to eliminate thinking skills, it become much easier to maintain the status quo because one is no longer questioning things.

In his memorable good bye address to the country and the American people, President Eisenhower warned us against the growing danger of the military-industrial complex. It is clear today that this relationship has grown beyond reason and we have failed to heed the warning. And while we may feel that it is needed, why is it that we created weapons systems that cost in the trillions of dollars to produce and may or may not work, we cast aside as damaged equipment those who fight the wars the politicians create, and we refuse to cut the spending on the programs that sustain the complex? It goes back to something I said earlier, we seem to have a desire to maintain the status quo, even when it works against us.

I cannot help but think that those we elect are more interested in preserving the status quo and the power they have than they are in preserving or maintaining this country.

We have arrived at a point in the history of this country where we are unwillingly to venture into the unknown, to peak around the corner and see what is there. We have forgotten that this nation was created on the basis of an untried political idea known as democracy and, while there have been times where we didn’t think it will work, it has provided a basis for doing things that have never been done before. We have become a nation unwilling to take risks and we are incapable of peeking around the corner so that we can venture into the unknown.

As 2015 starts, let us hope and pray that we can regain that ability to take risks and venture into the unknown. Let us begin to peak around the corner and boldly go into areas we have been afraid to go before. Let us move from the safety of the status quo and into the uncertainity of tomorrow. If we do not, then I am afraid that there will be no future and civilization will come to an end.

We can stay here, where we are, perhaps safe and secure in the status quo or we can venture into the unknown of tomorrow and begin a new adventure. The choice is ours.

“The Meaning Of The Christmas Story – 2014″


Here are my thoughts for Christmas this year.

If we are to give meaning to the story of Christmas that we tell this year, we ought to start with what we know.

For some, the idea that Jesus Christ was ever born is a fantasy or superstition. But something happened some two thousand years ago that caused some people to write down some stories and tell them to others and risk their lives in doing so. And while it may not always be possible to factually verify everything, that we are still telling the story today should tell us that there is a certain degree of truth in the story.

But let us start with the knowledge that we know Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th or in December for that matter. With the statement in Luke’s Gospel that the shepherds were in their fields that night, we can surmise that Jesus was most likely born in either March or early April.

But if we were to celebrate Jesus’ birthday at that time, there would inevitably be a conflict with Easter and that would probably not be a good idea.

We also know that those involved in the early church coopted a pagan holiday that occurred during the winter solstice as the date for Christmas. One supposes this was done to change the focus but, as we will see in a few moments, there was at least one other compelling reason.

But let me just say at this moment, if you profess to be an atheist, why are you disturbed by all of this? By your own declaration, you do not believe in any sort of god or gods, so the actions of one group to “steal” another groups holiday should have no effect on you.

And as an atheist or even as a pagan believer, if you participate in any sort of gift exchange because it is Christmas, then you are in it for yourself and that is not nor has it ever been the story or meaning of Christmas.

I would also add that those many self-righteous individuals who call themselves Christian but lead a life that does not contain Christ are also in it for themselves. Just because you put a sticker on the right side of your bumper that proclaims “keeping Christ in Christmas” doesn’t make you a Christian if you haven’t kept Christ in your heart as well.

You see the story of Christmas begins with an invitation, not to the rich and the powerful or members of the political and religious establishment, but to the outcasts of society. The announcement of the birth of Jesus was given to the shepherds, who by the very nature of their work, were considered ritually unclean and no self-respecting citizen in Jesus’ time would have anything to do with them.

Despite the profession as their King and his beginnings as a shepherd, the shepherd profession was not very well appreciated. I can only imagine what parents back then might have thought if one of their children were to come home and say that they wanted to become a shepherd or that they were going to marry one.

I don’t think much has changed in the past two thousand years. The people and professions change but we still exude an aura of exclusion when it comes to the people we bring to Christ or to whom we take Christ.

Yes, we have a food closet at our church; we hold food and coat drives; yes, we give food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas and we do all of that in the name of Christ but what happens the other days of the year. If we truly felt that no one should go hungry or naked, homeless or sick, why are we not doing something about that? Is that not what Christ said He came to this world to do and is that not part of the Christmas story?

Now, the one thing that I don’t want to do is mix up the Christmas stories in the Gospels but then again we have done a pretty good job of that on our own anyway. It may be that most people don’t know the reason for celebrating Christmas in December but they also don’t know that the story that is told is a combination of stories and that there really is no Christmas story in Mark or John.

And that makes the inclusion of the Magi all the more important. We also speak of the three wise men but we really don’t know if there were only three or if more may have been on the trip. We make the argument for three because three gifts were given. In fact, we don’t even know if they were all men (I think that we make certain assumptions about the nature of the position that are necessarily true). And we have to go to sources outside the Bible to get their names.

The Magi are in the story because they have seen signs of Jesus’ birth, signs that were available to the scientific advisers of the Israelite political and religious authorities as well. How is it that they missed them? Could it have been they were more interested in preserving their own positions than advancing knowledge? Why was it that the signs of Jesus’ birth were given to individuals outside the religious and political establishment? Could it have been that the knowledge of Christ’s birth was meant for all and not just a select few?

Even today, there are those who seek to limit our knowledge, telling us that there is a limit to our knowledge. But if their counterparts two thousand years ago couldn’t get it right, how can we trust them today?

We know that Jesus will grow in wisdom and stature so learning had to be important to Mary and Joseph. So should it be today. And just as the Magi looked beyond the horizon, so should our learning process push the envelope as well. Say what you will about the science of the Magi, it was the foundation for the science of today. They sought answers to questions and that is what we need to be teaching today. The answer to the question will always be in what we do, not what is in some book.

It was never made clear to me when I was growing up what sort of society Jesus was raised in or what the nature of that time might have been. But I have come to know, because I have sought to find out, that though the time may have been called the “Pax Romana”, it was a peace enforced by brutal force and oppression.

Are these times any different? We still seek to establish peace through force and oppression but we are finding that it does not work. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, there can be no peace as long as war is used to accomplish it.

We are also reminded that even one of Jesus’ disciples questioned the validity of Jesus’ message because He was from Nazareth. Our own ability to understand people is often clouded by our own preconceived notions of time and place. We struggle each day to judge a person by the content of their character and not their outward appearance.

We live in a dark time, in part because the relationship between the earth and its journey around the sun. But the darkness that envelopes our lives is brought on as much by our indifference to the conditions of others and our own self-interests.

I would hope that when the early church authorities decided to co-opt pagan winter solstice ceremonies, they did so because they understood that there was more to the darkness in the people’s lives than just the position of the earth around the sun.

Christ’s birth was meant to be the light that could overcome the darkness and allow people to know that, no matter who they may be or where they come from, there was hope in this world. He came to this world to bring light to a darkened world and that is the Christmas story.

It was never meant to be a one-day event. It was meant to be the beginning of a story that lasts a lifetime and one we live each day. It was and need to be a story told by all and told to all. So, as you tell the story, remember how it began and how lives were changed.

That is the meaning of the story this year and in the years to come.

“Guy Fawkes Day”


This is a combination of things that I posted on my Facebook page this morning.

There is a certain irony in this day being the day after the 2014 election. It happens to be the anniversary of Richard Nixon’s election at President in 1968. And it is also Guy Fawkes Day! Any English historians wish to comment on that? :)

Okay, we woke up to the same world this morning as before. The Sun is coming up in the east (we need only worry if it comes up in the west but that means you did something really awful or interesting the night before).

Unfortunately, the rules for politics remain the same as well. That means that seniority rules and all the newcomers to political organizations will have to wait their turn. Or they will cause such a problem that it will make people even more disgusted with the system. The end result will be more and more people turning away, leaving the system to those on the extreme who will change the world to fit their view.

Some may say that it is too late, that the world is on a path of destruction. But I don’t think so. First, we have been saying that for how many years now and it hasn’t happened. Second, all change comes from the bottom, not the top. Those who think that they can change the world from the top will quickly find that it doesn’t happen that way. True change comes from those individuals who work local, with their friends, their neighbors, and the people they meet on the street. True change comes when you educate people, not when you tell people what to do or think.

We need a political system but we are reminded that politics is derived (I think) from the same root that gives us people (something Pete Seeger once said). So, the questions becomes, what are you going to do today that will make the world better tomorrow?

One final thought, I am sure that there were some in Israel two thousand years ago who complained about the system and that fact that the political/religious structure ignored them and blocked them out. But there was someone from Nazareth (and we all know that nothing good comes from Nazareth) who showed that there was a way to the truth and to the life. The political/religious establishment sought to silence Him but they failed and the world became a better place.

Change comes when you meet and work with all the people. The groundwork has been laid; now all we have to do is build on it.

Peace this day and Peace tomorrow.

“Thoughts On A Sunday Morning”


Some quick thoughts on this Sunday morning, 2 November 2014.

First, please remember that Tuesday, November 4th, is Election Day. There is no more important election than this one but that statement is true for every election. When you forget to vote, two things happen: 1) You lose the right to complain about how things are taking place and 2) You allow someone else to tell you how to think and talk.

Right now, my fear is that too many people no longer trust the political system and will not vote. This will give those who seek to manipulate the system for their own benefit more leeway to do just that. And it is becoming more and more evident that certain groups do not want people to vote because they fear the expression of the free voice. These special interest groups want to turn the clock back, not one hour, but 200 years, to a time when only certain individuals could vote.

I happened to watch a program on the democracy that was created in Athens some 2000+ years ago. Granted, the power to vote and govern was limited but if you were in that group that had the power you were expected to vote and take part in the governmental process. What we have done over these past 2000 years has redefined who is a part of that process. And this has caused those who considered themselves “elite” to seek changes that save their position at our expenses. Democracy was never meant to be that way and the only way that it will revert to a select group of individuals controlling our lives is if we let them. So in the end, participate in what I have always called the single greatest act of political protest known to mankind, VOTE!

I hope you remembered to “fall back” this morning. What I needed to do was remember which clocks I needed to set manually (five of them) and which did so automatically. Now, if I could get the coffee maker to put in the coffee and add the water automatically, I would be set.

I normally don’t do this but in your prayers this morning, left up the United Methodist Church. There are those who would sacrifice the denomination for the law and who place the value of the law over the value of a human soul. I don’t see this as a conservative/liberal/progressive issue but as one that falls within the meaning of the Gospel. But I do think that those who espouse the viewpoint that the law supersedes grace are locked into a mind-set that is out-dated and incomplete.

Also, as we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, pray for the families of this country. As the gap between rich and poor increases and many of the rich seem bent on keeping it all for themselves, we need to remember that many individuals and families do not have the resources to survive. The Gospel message, for me anyway, has always been about helping individuals meet their needs, be it housing, medical care, or food. As we begin looking to the ends of the next two months, pray that all will find the resources needed and that all will give so that all receive.

And finally, a quick thanks to those who have visited this blog over the past three months. There has been a gradual increase in readership and it suggests that the projected group of the blog is on track.

“Systems Or People?”


Meditation for 5 October 2014, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 20: 1 – 4, 7 – 9, 12 – 20; Philippians 3: 4 – 14; Matthew 21: 33 – 46

The other day I put up a post entitled “A World Wide Systems Failure.” In part because of this post, I took that post down. But here is part of what I said in that post.

Have you noticed how administrators and other individuals in power are explaining things in terms of ‘the system failed”? That prompts me to aks when did we get to the point where we relied on systems to solve our problems. Are humans no longer involved in the problem solving process?”

One of first major political novels that I remember reading was the 1962 novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler entitled Fail Safe. It was made into a movie in 1964 and then a TV movie in 2000. the premise of the movie was that there had been a systems failure which allowed a squadron of Air Force nuclear bombers to attack targets in the Soviet Union. And while a total nuclear war was adverted, there were nuclear-based consequences.

Today, in addition to the system failures that dominate our every day news, we are looking at the possibility of many other such failures. A war which should never have started threatens to become a global war; the recent civil unrest has reminded us that societal divisions cannot be swept under the wrong.

And what’s worse, we seem to have lost our ability to solve problems, in part as a consequence of relying on systems rather than people. We talk about the capabilities of our smart phones without realizing that no phone is smarter than the person using it. We have forgotten that, no matter what the speed of the processor, no computer or calculator can solve a problem if the person who inputs the information doesn’t understand how to solve the problem. All a super fast computer or calculator can do is get the wrong answer quicker. (See Thoughts of a 21st Century Neo-Luddite”, How To Become a 21st Century Neo-Luddite”, and Observations of a 21st Century Neo-Luddite” for more thoughts on this idea.)

The fault, dear Brutus, lies with us. We have created the system and enhanced it. From the very day Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai, the lawyers and other legal experts have been creating rules and laws on how to make those ten statements of life work.

Let’s forget for a moment those who would put carve the Ten Commandments into stone and post them in every court and classroom in the country; I think that falls under the “don’t make graven images” rule. Let’s forget those who apply “thou shall not kill” to one set of circumstances but will not speak out against the death penalty or seem to think that war is an acceptable alternative.

Let us look at the 613 laws written in the Old Testament that were created to make sure that we obey the primary ten. But the Ten Commandments were and are about our relationship with God and others. The other laws created a legalistic system where salvation was impossible unless you happen to be one of those who wrote the rules. For the way the rules and laws were written, obeying one set of laws would invariably cause one to violate another set.

God’s Kingdom is first and foremost about how we react with others. In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus points out that we have forgotten that point. And what is Paul telling the Philippians, “stay away from those who focus on appearance and adherence to the law, those who hold onto the system.” Paul points out very clearly that he himself was once such a person, more interested in preserving the system than the people. And Paul acknowledges that approach took him away from God.

I don’t know if John Wesley ever made such a statement but we do know that what he initially created was a legalistic, mechanistic system that almost destroyed the movement before it began. In fact, all that we got from that initial approach was our name, “Methodist”. It was only when Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed that the Methodist movement became successful.

Systems are the means by which problems are solved. People still remain the problem solvers. When we rely solely on systems to solve the problems, then nothing will get solved. When we look to the people to solve the problems, then things will change.

Jesus came at a time when the system made it impossible for people to find God. He went beyond the system to meet the people and show them God.

When John Wesley went beyond the mechanics and legalisms and welcomed the Holy Spirit into his heart, the Methodist movement became successful and world changing.

You have the opportunity to escape from a system designed to enslave and entrap you. Shall you stay with the system or rely on Christ? Shall you work for the people or for the system. What shall you do?