“The Cost of Freedom”

This will be the back page for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC on Sunday, July 1, 2018 (6th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).  Services are at 10 am and you are welcome to attend.

If there is one common theme for this week, it would have to be freedom.  And invariably, when I think of freedom, I think of the flags Ann and I have but which we do not fly.  I also think of Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at the opening of Woodstock and Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing “Find the Cost of Freedom.”  The freedom of which CSN sang is the very freedom represented by the flags that the families, such as ours, were given by a grateful nation.  But the cost of freedom is also represented by Richie Havens singing.

Freedom doesn’t come automatically but after much effort; while Havens was improvising much of what he sang that day in August 1969, he couldn’t have done it without preparation and study.

Our own freedoms also do not come automatically but as the result of much effort by each of us and those who came before us.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we can never be truly free if there are others who are not free.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul commended them on their desire to excel.  But his commendation comes with a caveat; you cannot succeed at the expense of others, a thought later expressed by John Wesley.

Our freedoms today cannot be measured in society’s terms, for society sees things unequally.  If we are to be truly free, we must be willing to help others find the same freedoms we enjoy.

Christ died so that we may live; our freedoms are found through Christ.  Are we willing to help others find that same freedom?

~Tony Mitchell


Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter

The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line.  Topics this month are:

“Pay Attention to the Details”

This will be the back page for the Sunday, June 03, 2018 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B) bulletin of Fishkill UMC.

For my doctoral work, I needed to synthesize two chemical compounds.  For the first compound, I was going to reproduce some work that had been done a few years before to confirm the structure of the compound.

The interesting thing about this synthesis was that one step in the process had to be done “backwards”.  Instead of adding “A” to “B”, I had to add “B” to “A”.  “A” to “B” was the traditional approach and the one taught to all students.  If you looked at the experimental method, this would have been the method you would have chosen.  But if you did this, all your work would have been destroyed in the process.  That you had to do this step in reverse order was discovered by the first group and their notes, which I had, noted the importance of changing the order.  But had I not had their notes, I would have noted there was a problem in the synthesis and worked out an alternative.  Either way, I had to be aware of what I was doing.

The Pharisees were hung up on the details about the sanctity of the Sabbath and felt that it was more important to uphold the sanctity rather focus on the meaning of the Sabbath.

For many people today, Christianity is superficial.  Some say they are Christian, but it is only on the surface and they lack the depth that shows the presence of Christ.

When we travel out into the world as representatives of Christ, we must be aware that we are showing the fullness and completeness of God’s Love.      ~Tony Mitchell

Faith and Science in the Class Room: Class One – Awe and Wonder and Pastoral Applications

I am sharing this post from the Vatican Observatory because of the importance seeing how faith and science can exist in the same room at the same time.

In the weeks to come, I will offer brief reflections on two projects to bring science into the seminary classroom. Seminary, for those who do not know, is the name given to the school that future priests attend. The name “seminary” means “a seedbed.” Therefore, a seminary is not only a school of academics, but it is an environment of formation in which the soil of our hearts is tilled to receive the seeds of faith. As I have written about in the past, one of the deficiencies I experienced in my seminary education was instruction on questions of faith and science. Whether it be writing for The Catholic Astronomer, participating in wonderful experiences like the Faith and Astronomy Workshop, or being a guest on Slooh, God has allowed me to embark on a unique “independent study” that has bore a great deal of fruit. Recently, I was honored to meet Jennifer Wiseman, Director of the American Association for the … Continue reading →

Source: Faith and Science in the Class Room: Class One – Awe and Wonder and Pastoral Applications

“Fifty Years”

This spring is the 50th anniversary of my high school (Nicholas Blackwell High School, known informally then as Bartlett High School).

Fifty is an interesting number because we sometimes see it as reachable and other times as out of reach.  It is easy to prepare a 50-page term paper (which most of my fellow alumni had to do in Mrs. Reed’s Senior English class) and there should be 50 people at the planned reunion of the class in the fall.

And while we can envision a trip of 50 hours or 50 days, it is very hard to envision a journey of 50 years.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation is more a celebration of longevity and, to some extent, survival.  Attendance at a class reunion will always be smaller each year, especially when you reach that magic number of 50, because, in a competition with time, time is always the victor.

Now, I understand that ours is not the only senior class preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Every high school and college graduating class will eventually have such a celebration, so that does not make our reunion or any reunion unique.

But our reunion is unique because we graduated in 1968 and we are from Memphis, Tennessee.

Historians and pundits alike have identified 1968 as the most tumultuous year in American history.  Events, local, national, and international, resonated in our lives that year.

There was the shift in public opinion concerning the Viet Nam war; there were the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., and Senator Robert Kennedy, and the violence at the Democratic National Convention.  Each of these events influenced the lives on all the people in the country but the degree of effect depends on where you were in time and place.

But when you live in Memphis, Tennessee, and your focus is on the future beyond graduation, April 4th is simply more than a date on the calendar (“Where Were You on April 4, 1968?”).

But as my fellow classmates planned to gather, as other senior classes make similar classes, what has happened in the past 50 years.  The sanitation workers strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis began because the established power structure essentially refused to acknowledge the existence of the sanitation workers or their salary issues.

Some of those with Dr. King felt that he needed to focus on a bigger picture and not spend his time with a local strike.  But you cannot focus on issues of economic inequality or racial inequality or gender inequality at the big picture level if you are not willing to work on resolving those issues on a local level.  Even today, differences in economic status, race, and gender are perhaps greater than they were 50 years ago.  Instead of moving forward, we have been moving backwards.

Fifty years ago, we were engaged in a war in southeast Asia; today we are engaged in multiple wars with the war in Afghanistan now longer than our involvement in Viet Nam.

We live in a society that spends more on the destruction of life and property than we do on rebuilding the world we are destroying.  It does not take much to realize that this is a “no-win” path.

Fifty years ago, we sent Apollo 8 to the moon and began the preparation of landing two men on the moon that following summer.  Today, our schools are slowly turning into factories that turn out drones rather than institutions focusing on creativity and critical thinking.  And just as we are going to reach a point where we will not be able to repair or restore the world that we are destroying, we will soon reach a point where we will not have any individuals capable of fixing the technology that so empowers a world or creating new solutions.

Fifty years ago, we were aware that we were polluting the environment, poisoning the air we breathe and the water we drink.  Steps were being taken to make this a safer and cleaner world; yet today, in the name of profits and rights of the business of the rights of the workers, those efforts are being reversed and removed.

The driving force, at least for me, fifty years ago, was the faith of the people.  The people who worked against inequality saw that their faith was meaningless unless others were free from poverty, sickness, and oppression.  But there were those then who felt that faith had no place in this battle and actively worked against the movement.  And today, this alternative faith movement dominates the work.

This alternative faith movement is very much like the alternative political movement; in it, the only person that matters is yourself and what you can get.  In their minds, others can receive the blessings of society only after they receive theirs; if there is anything left, it can be given to the needy but you create the system so that there is nothing left for others to share.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King spoke of the future, of being at the mountain top and seeing the Promised Land.  I will leave it to others to decide if this was a vision of his death.  I think that Dr. King saw the future and understood that the journey down from the mountain top was going to be as difficult as the journey to the mountain top.

Today, the journey is far more difficult than we might have thought 50 years ago.  Those who encourage, and support greed, exclusion, hatred, and violence seem to dominate today.

But we are beginning to see signs that some have decided that those voices shall no longer be the loudest.  These new voices are beginning to be heard.  Each is a small voice, but small voices are cumulative and each day it becomes louder.

Those of us who have made the journey from then to this day may not make it to the end, but we will and must help those who are just beginning the journey today.  If we do not do this, we will never reach the Promised Land and will be like so many before us, only looking at it.

“A Celebration”

Here is the back page for the Palm Sunday Bulletin (Sunday, March 25, 2018, Year B) for Fishkill United Methodist Church.

I heard a comment a while back that said that at the very moment Jesus was entering Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, Pontius Pilate was entering on the other side of the city.  The contrast in the two parades is obvious.

On one side of the city, Pilate, the Roman political and military governor, no doubt astride a beautiful white stallion, entered the city, accompanied by a massive display of military power, all designed to remind the people that they were a conquered and enslaved people.

On the other side of the city, Jesus entered on a young donkey cheered by people who saw him as the liberator from the very military and political power on display on the other side of the city.

We know how this will all play out.  By the end of the week, the political, religious, and military establishment will have exercised their power and the status quo will remain.  All those who cheered for Jesus on Sunday will be calling out for his crucifixion on Friday, seeing him as a failure to fulfill the mission they thought he was undertaking.

But Jesus’ mission was never about this day; it was about next Sunday.  Over the next few days, the status quo will be, first, challenged, and then changed.

We celebrate Palm Sunday because we know that the world is going to change in a few days.  We celebrate Palm Sunday because we understand that our lives change when we make the conscious decision to let Jesus Christ become our Savior.  We celebrate because, through Christ, we are no longer an enslaved and oppressed people.  We celebrate because we can help bring the freedom of God’s Kingdom to this world.

~~Tony Mitchell

The “back page” will be taking a hiatus during the Season of Easter.  We will be using other materials for the back page and I will be focusing on some other writing projects.