Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter


The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available online.

In this Clergy Letter Project update you’ll find the following seven items:

1.    The Climate Crisis Letter is Live: Have You Signed? (read on the web);

2.    Astrobiology News for February 2020: Celebrating a Noted Climate Scientist during Black History Month (read on the web);

3.    Scientists in Synagogues Program Accepting Applications (read on the web);

4.    Review of The Hidden Life of Trees (read on the web);

5.    Evolution Weekend 2020 (read on the web);

6.    New Year, New Attacks on Evolution (read on the web); and

7.    Teaching about Climate Change: A Special Discount for Members (read on the web).

“The Prime Directive”


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin of Fishkill UMC for this coming Sunday, February 19, 2020 (6th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A). Our services start at 10:15 am and you are always welcome.

Can Science and Religion Work Together to Deal with the Problems of Climate Change?

In the beginning, God charged humankind with one directive, to take care of the earth and all that was in it.  In one sense, this affirms that science is as much a part of our life as faith, for it is through science that we can find the ways to take care of this world on which we live and with whom we share its resources and space.  And while the Bible should never be seen or taken as a science text, it can be seen as help us to think and even take us outside the box, as it were.

In Deuteronomy, we read of God telling us to look at what He has done for us.  But when we do look around, can we say that we have taken care of what we have been directed to do?

For a long time, humankind has thought that it could do whatever it wished with this planet and its resources; recent events have shown the fallacy of that thought.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks of the Ten Commandments and our relationship with others.  Does this not extend to how we care for this world that we share with so many others?

Despite the claims of some, the problem of climate change is a man-made problem and it will be up to us to solve.  Science can give us the solutions but it will be the church which provides the moral imperative to seek the solution

~~Tony Mitchell

Information about Evolution weekend can be found on my blog at  https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/evolution-weekend/

The Continuing Story of the 1918 Armistice


On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns fell silent for the first time in just over four years of fighting. 

In the diary that he kept during his time in France, my grandfather, then a Captain in the U. S. Army infantry noted, 

NOVEMBER 11, 1918. –ARMISTICE DAY– 

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. 

Following a period of time where his unit was involved in post-war occupation duties, my grandfather would come home to his young bride and began a career in the army and a family. 

My grandfather enlisted in the army in 1914 and rose in the ranks to Colonel, retiring in April, 1944.  I have some notes that suggest he was being considered for promotion to Brigadier General and that he would have participated in the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. 

My grandfather was one of the fortunate ways.  He came home from two wars to live in St. Louis with his wife and experience the birth of four grandsons.  He would die at home in 1956 during a period of relative peace. 

My father served as an officer in the United States Air Force for just over twenty years.  For a number of reasons, I never discussed his participation in World War II or the following occupation of Japan.  The only time he volunteered any information was to confirm the briefing he had received just prior to the proposed invasion of the Japanese mainland.  He noted that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved the lives of over a million US and Allied soldiers. 

My father would also die at home in a period of relatively peace. 

But other families were and are not so lucky.  Their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters are sent off to war, even if it is not called a war.  Some die in faraway lands; others return home, some with visible wounds, many with invisible wounds.  Forgive me if I sound cynical but it seems to me that we send people off to war and then forget them when we come home. 

That is part of the story of the 1918 Armistice. 

An armistice is an agreement to stop fighting so that negotiations for peace can begin.  What transpired over the next six months did not ensure the peace but rather, in my opinion, insured that there would be a second war.  And in fact, when one looks at the world today, the effects of those six months are still being felt today. 

We live in a world where war seems to be the answer, even when we don’t know the question.  It may be politically incorrect but I remember (and have often quoted) what Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife following the battle at Fredericksburg 

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” – 13 December 1862 

I don’t think there is a general officer in the Armed Services today who does not consider the cost of human life when contemplating war.  But there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a general officer today who understands that war is not the first response but, rather, the last response. 

Countries like the United States created and perhaps continue to create weapons of war and then say to other countries that they are not allowed to have those weapons.   

There was, I believe, a discussion amongst the scientific community to publish the details of the first atomic weapons but the United States wouldn’t do that (in fact, they would not share the details with Great Britain, forcing Great Britain to begin its own weapons program).  The Soviet Union, through its established spy networks, was able to obtain the details for both the atomic and hydrogen bomb and have working models long before the United States government thought they would. 

During the period that my father was on active duty, we, as a country and as a planet, lived under the threat of nuclear destruction.  And the only thing that kept the threat from being actual was that both sides knew that no one wins in a nuclear exchange.  How appropriate that this was the MAD doctrine(mutually assured destruction). 

For the most part, the military and political leaders of the world during that time understood what an exchange of nuclear weapons would mean to life on this planet.  And while they did not shy away from war, they sought other forms. 

I don’t think that is the case today.  The actions taken at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 created divisions that are still being felt today.  The cause for war was not diminished by that conference; in fact, it was magnified. 

We do not see the buildup in military weapons that preceded World War I or World War II but over 50% of budgets of the major political powers on this planet are directed towards destruction.  And that can only mean that if you spend more on destruction than construction, no one wins! 

What will it take for countries to turn their weapons into plowshares, to the money that goes to weapons right now and invest it in education and research?   

On this day 101 years ago a story began.  The theme was that there would be no more war; that the war that had been fought was the “war to end all wars.”  But everything that was done in the days that followed ensured that there would be another war. 

Right now, the ending of this story must be “to be continued” while the closing chapters are written. 

Because we keep making weapons of war better, the next war will be the war to end all wars because we will have destroyed this planet and that will be the final chapter. 

But we can take the occasion of this day to change the ending of the story.  To move away from destruction to construction, to building new lives, to bring a lasting peace to this world.  It will not be a single chapter but several chapters. 

The 1918 Armistice was meant to be the end of war but it became the beginning.  Now is the time for us to write the conclusion as it was meant to be. 

What does a Christian do?


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, October 13, 2019, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C). Services start at 10:15 am and, as I wrote last week, “You all come”.

One of the ideas that popped in my head when I read today’s lectionary was the question as to what Christians do?  Jeremiah tells the Israelites in their Babylonian exile that even though they are far from home and under great stress they should continue their normal lives.  It is one way to maintain the connection to their far away homeland.

But what does it mean to continue one’s normal life?  For us today, it would be things like attending church regularly, reading the Bible on a similar regular schedule and taking time for prayer each day.  But is there anything else we can do?

One of the things about faith that John Wesley wrote about was the need to seek perfection.  Lead the life that exemplifies what Jesus taught us two thousand years ago and seek to make each day better than yesterday.  Lead the life that tells those around you that you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus.

But how do we do that?  When Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, He said He had come to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and free the oppressed.  He set the guidelines for what Christians should do.

And therein lies the rub.  Our history as Christians tells us that, in the words of the prayer of  confession,  we have not always done what we should have done but done what we should not have done.  In the 1930s, Christians in Germany turned their back on the plight of the Jews.  In the 1960s, Christians in this country sanctioned the repression of blacks who sought the same rights as their white counterparts.  Even today, there are many Christians who sanction the repression of many simply because of the color of their skin, their lack of income, or where they came from.  Despite their claim to be Christian, it is quite clear that their allegiance is to a more political god.

This is more than a theological question.  Can a person support repression and terrorism and still be considered worthy of the name Christian?  Can a denomination which sanctions (quietly or openly) repression of individuals because of the color of their skin, their lack of financial status, or even their gender or sexual identity be worthy of being a Christian denomination?  It leads us back to the beginning question, “What does a Christian do?”          

~~Tony Mitchell

“And A Child Shall Lead Them’


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC Bulletin for this Sunday, 29 September 2019 (the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C).

On January 20, 1960, John Kennedy stood before the American people and the world as the youngest President ever elected,  His inaugural address put forth a vision for the future and also served as a rebuttal to those who thought that he was too young to serve as the President.

Earlier in the campaign, he addressed a gathering of pastors in Houston, Texas, who felt that his being a Roman Catholic denied him the right to serve as President.  In this speech, he pointed out that no one asked for the faith or nationality of those who died at the Alamo in the fight to gain freedom for Texas.

There are also many who will recall how the elders in Jerusalem sat in wonder, awe, amazement, and probably fear as a 12-year-old boy explained the nuances of the Scriptures and the Law.

Our society today is a society governed by the elders of the society; mostly white men who seem to be out of touch with society and seek to only serve the desires, needs, and wants of a select few.  They respond to the fears of the people and ignore the cries of the needy, the downtrodden, and the persecuted.  Theirs is a god of money and power, not hope and salvation.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul warns against pursuing riches for the sake of riches, for one cannot take them with you when you die.  He encourages Timothy to continue the walk with Jesus that they have shared.  In the alternative Old Testament reading for this Sunday, the prophet Amos warns the rich and the elite that they will be the first to be taken into captivity and driven into exile; that their riches and exalted lifestyle will not save them in the coming days.

And Jesus notes that they will not have the chance to warn their friends in the later days because they did nothing in the present time.

A week ago, the youth of this country and this world spoke directly to the leaders of this country and this world.  The future does not belong to the elders but to the youth.  Why did Jeremiah speak of buying the land?  It was not for now but for the future.  Two thousand years ago, the elders of society heard the voice of a young boy teaching them.  We know today that many of them ignored that young man; can we risk ignoring the voice of the youth of today?

~~Tony Mitchell

“The Paradox of Creativity”


Here are my thoughts that will appear on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, 22 September 2019 (15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C).

For me, there are two paradoxes involved in the Gospel reading for today.  The first involves the owner and the manager.  The owner fires the manager for doing a bad job but praises him for what he then does.  This would suggest that what the owner was doing was wrong to begin with.  But as I have only the back page of my church’s bulletin for expressing my thoughts, I looked at the fact that the manager was being creative in his work and that Jesus speaks of using our creativity in a positive manner.

To be creative, one must have a place to be a creative and a time to be creative (which are the same requirements for regular prayer).  And therein lies the second paradox.

But the world today, just like the world of which Jeremiah wrote, has made it very difficult to set aside such a time and a place.  So we must be attuned to the world around us and correct those things that might distract us.

“When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: “Only stand out of my light.” Perhaps someday we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for creative men and women is to stand out of their light.”— John W. Gardner

We are much like Jeremiah, trying to get away from the world but we are also hearing Paul reminding us to pray for those involved in changing this world. 

And in the end, we are like the manager, working to correct things in this world.

~~Tony Mitchell