Monthly Clergy Letter Project Newsletter


The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line. I urge you all to check this out as it has information related to the teaching of science and academic freedom.

Some very interesting comments about the upcoming March for Science that one needs to look at.  For those in the Poughkeepsie, NY, area, there will be an event (see Hudson Valley March For Science)

No matter whether you are clergy or laity, I urge you to check it out and get involved in the project.https://www.facebook.com/events/632990203567761/

“What Do We Do Next? – Thoughts on Easter, 2017


There are two parts to this message – the first being random thoughts on the preparation of a message; the second being the actual thoughts.  I think the first is needed to set the tone for the second.

Random Thoughts on The Preparation of a Message

The first few times that I gave a message I used specific scripture readings.  I was only preaching once or twice a year so this method worked (and it is something that I suggested beginning lay servants do as well).  This works well when you have sufficient time to prepare and think through what you want to say and do.

But I quickly found out that this didn’t work as well when you had to do it on a weekly basis.  (The first lay speaking assignments that I received were on a multi-week basis and not spot assignments; not the assignments a typical lay servant would receive today.)  So, I turned to the lectionary for the basis of my scriptures; first using the Common Lectionary outlined in The Guide to Prayer (published by the Upper Room) and then with the Revised Common Lectionary.

But whether I was using specific readings or readings from either lectionary, I wanted to make what I said a connection between the readings and what was taking place at that time and place.  I also made the decision to use all three of the lectionary readings (which is something that I have suggested beginning lay servants do not do).

But the Holy Week readings have always been, for the lack of a better word, a dilemma for me.  Over the years, I have begun to understand how it is all set up and the need to know what is happening at the church where I am to work out what I shall say.  And I came to the decision that works for me is to look at the complete story, not simply the story expressed by the Gospel writers.

I have, with unspoken thanks to others, also seen that there are other ways to give the message and have tried on occasion to take the message outside the confines of the pulpit.

And so, it is that I come to this Easter Sunday.

Thoughts on Easter Sunday, 2017

I assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with the Gospel readings for this Sunday (if not, the lectionary readings for today are Acts 10: 34 – 43; Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 14 – 24; Colossians 3: 1 – 4; and John 20: 1 – 8) so I am going to focus on the setting and the thoughts of those that were there and try to put where we are today, socially and spiritually, into that context.

Keep in mind that this day is a nexus.  It marks the end of one story and the beginnings of a new story.  We have the benefit of knowing this; those that were there that day do not.  But even today, we are faced with as much of an uncertain future as those who had followed Jesus two thousand years ago and, perhaps, we are, just as they may have been thinking then, wondering what it is that we do next?

Easter Sunday begins in a cloud of doubt and fear.  Jesus is dead, buried in the tomb, and the disciples are in hiding, fearful for their lives and not certain what, if anything they can do.  Everything they have done for three years has been destroyed.

Can they go home and pick up where they left off three years before?  Will they even be welcome?  What do they say to those who question their friendship and devotion to one now considered by religious and political authorities to be rebel and a criminal?  Can it ever be safe to talk about what they did when someone asked them where they have been or what they have been doing?

And what of all the people with whom they worked or encountered?  What do they say to all those people who were healed, fed, or comforted?  Was it a trick or a con?  What will they say to those who come to them now, seeking the same healing, the same comfort, or seeking to be fed?

Right now, the only answer that they have is that HE is not here anymore so you must go somewhere else.

Is this not how so many of us feel today?  We see our world being destroyed.  Our land is being taken away by corporate and political systems our water, our air is being poisoned, often with the support of religious authorities.  Religious and political authorities seemingly want to tell us what to think and how to act (all while they themselves think they are immune to the same laws).

And the church, which in the past was a sanctuary of hope for those without hope, a refugee for those cast out by society, has become a mirror of the church two thousand years ago, exclusive and restrictive, saying to many, “go away, you do not belong here and you are not welcome.”

The person who is called Jesus in these churches is not the Jesus who lives in me.  I do not know the person who would say to any person, “go away or you are not worthy.”  I do not know the person who would say that wealth is good and one should see all one can, even if it means that others go hungry or become sick or have no place to live.

The Jesus that I know, the Jesus that is in my heart and soul is the one who let the children come to Him at a time when children were ignored.  The Jesus I know feed the hungry, even when it seems as if there was not enough for one person.  The Jesus I know healed the sick, even when doing so would make it impossible for Him to enter the Temple because he had become unclean.  The Jesus I know looked at the person and not the law; he gave meaning to hope.

And somehow, I think those where the thoughts that had to have been in the minds of the disciples and the followers that first Easter morning.  And yet they were probably also asking what they were going to do next.

And then it happened.  The word came, first with uncertainty but then with clarity that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there!  The word was passed from one to the next that He was alive and all that He had said and done for three years was did, in fact, have meaning.  And it meant that there was a future.

It would be a future that became a vision and then a reality, first by the Twelve and those that were there at the beginning, then by Paul, and then by generation after generation of believers until today.  It would be a message that reached the limits of the known world.

It would be a future expressed by John Wesley.  In a world of danger and despair, of revolution and revolt, John Wesley would gather together a band of friends and work out a system that would offer hope.  It has been said that England at the time of John Wesley was on the verge of the same violent revolution that swept over and through France.  And yet, England remained calm, perhaps because John Wesley saw that the way to avoid violence was to remove the causes of violence.

How is today not unlike the world in which Jesus began His ministry or the world that John Wesley saw when he began what became known as the Methodist Revival?

And, on this day, when our doubts and fears are removed as easily as the stone was rolled away from the tomb, is it not clear what we must do?

It will take more than one day (remembering that Easter is a season and not just a single day on the church calendar).  It will take a lot of effort; even if Jesus had not predicted the violent deaths of all but one of his disciples, I am sure that they knew it would not be easy.

It will make us outcasts in society but no more so than John Wesley who would be barred from preaching in churches or even the early Methodists in this country who could not build churches of their own.

But we who know the truth know in that truth we will be set free.  And we know that what we do will change the world, even if we are not here when that change comes.

So, we remember why Jesus came and we remember that death could not keep him imprisoned.  We remember that the lives of people were changed two thousand years ago and through the ages until today.  And then we will know what we must do.

Performance Reviews


I am reposting this because I think it is needed, though we may cry rather than laugh when we think of the situation we are in.


This is somewhere out there in the ether but I wanted to put it anyway (some at CarTalk)

The following comments are said to have been included in actual performance reviews (the source seems to vary according):

  • A gross ignoramus — 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.
  • A photographic memory but the lens cap glued on.
  • A prime candidate for natural deselection.
  • Donated his brain to science before he was done using it.
  • Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t running.
  • Got a full six-pack but lacks the plastic thing to hold it all together.
  • Has two brains:  One is lost and the other is out looking for it.
  • He brings a lot of joy when he leaves the room.
  • He certainly takes a long time to make his pointless.
  • He doesn’t have ulcers, but he’s a carrier.
  • He has carried out each and every one of his duties to his entire satisfaction.
  • He has the wisdom of youth, and the energy of old age.
  • Sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.
  • He would argue with a signpost.
  • He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle.
  • His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of curiosity.
  • I would like to go hunting with him sometime.
  • I would not breed from this officer.
  • If he were any more stupid, he’d have to be watered twice a week.
  • If you give him a penny for his thoughts, you’d get change.
  • If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one.
  • If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.
  • In my opinion this pilot should not be authorized to fly below 250 feet.
  • One neuron short of a synapse
  • Since my last report he has reached rock bottom, and has started to dig.
  • Some drink at the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.
  • Takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 minutes.
  • Technically sound, but socially impossible.
  • The wheel is turning but the hamster is dead.
  • This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
  • Is really not so much of a has been, but more of a definitely won’t be.
  • This employee should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better.
  • This medical officer has used my ship to carry his genitals from port to port, and my officers to carry him from bar to bar.
  • This officer reminds me very much of a gyroscope: always spinning around at a frantic pace, but not really going anywhere.
  • This young lady had delusions of adequacy.
  • When he joined my ship, this officer was something of a granny; since then he has aged considerably.
  • When his I. Q. reaches 50, he should sell.
  • When she opens her mouth, it seems that is only to change feet.
  • Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.

Education in the 21st Century


Oh, I don’t know but this seems rather appropriate this morning.  From the Gospel of John (as translated by Clarence Jordan), we read

“If y’all stick by what I’ve said, you are honest followers of mine.  You’ll understand the truth, and the truth will liberate you.”

And from George Bernard Shaw, we read

“Some men see things as they are and ask why.  Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

This is the quote that President Kennedy referred to in his speech to the Irish Parliament in 1963 and was often used by his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, during his 1968 Presidential campaign.  Senator Kennedy also said in 1964,

To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident. I observe regretfully that in politics, however, it can be heresy. It can be denounced as radicalism, or branded as subversion. There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.

You cannot dream of things that never were, you cannot have a vision of the future, or even be free without education.  And education must be more than the memorization and recall of facts but the active experience of learning, of seeking and of finding.

The Past Can Never Be Our Future


A couple of things about this piece – I am posting this on Boy Scout Sunday, which has a special meaning for me.  This is also Evolution Weekend, the celebration of Charles Darwin’s birth (see Evolution Weekend for a list of my posts.) That this is the same weekend as Boy Scout Sunday is also of special significance for me.

Please note that this post will not be a debate on “nature versus nurture.”  But if we are to have a vision for our future, we must first understand our past; I know it is a cliché but one must remember what the poet and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (“Reason in Common Sense”, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life of Reason).

The other day I watching the last part of a show on Public Television dealing with genealogy and DNA.  This, coupled with some other shows that I have watched on this topic and similar television stations, prompted the following thoughts.

First, if you have your DNA tested, you will be surprised by the results.  Because, as it turns out, our DNA contains elements of the past that we would have never imagined.  For example, many people with European backgrounds will be surprised to know that some 20% of their DNA is from Neanderthals (At least 20% of Neanderthal DNA Is in Humans).  This research points out, that genetically, we are a diverse population.  And this will be very disturbing for some people because the purest strands of DNA, the ones with the least number of sources come from Africa.  As I said, some people will have problems processing that tidbit of information.

Now, if it were affordable, I would like to take advantage of that testing, if for no other reason than to prove or disprove some thoughts about my own heritage and ancestry.

When you look at my family tree, there are four branches.  The most dominant one is probably the one that extends back to Germany in the 16th century.  It would appear from the records that were discovered that constructed this branch that we, as a family, may have known Martin Luther personally for the records indicated that some twelve of my ancestors were or are Lutheran ministers.  Perhaps it was this hidden genealogy that played a part in my choosing to be involved in lay ministry through the United Methodist Church.

But I came to this ministry through the Evangelical United Brethren Church instead of the Lutheran Church.  And even though there is a shared German heritage in these denominations, there are those in the Lutheran Church who would view me as something of heretic for choosing a different path.  But that, as you will see in the coming paragraphs, is perhaps one marker of my life today.

The other dominant, though shorter, branch on the family tree leads to the hills and hollows of Appalachia.  I don’t know as much about this branch as I do the German branch but the signs on this second branch say that I am of the Scotch-Irish tradition.

The Scotch-Irish of America are among those whose families moved from Scotland to Ireland because English authorities encouraged Scottish families to move to Ireland, in part because of conditions in Scotland and in part because the English authorities wanted more of a presence in Ireland.  Later, the English authorities decided that to be in a position of authority one had to be a member of the Anglican Church, which many of those Scots living in Ireland were not.  From this began the move to America, a move to escape religious persecution where a government felt it had the right to tell others how and what to believe.  And again, I can see in my past another strain of rebellion.

I would like to write more about the other two branches of this tree but those branches end rather abruptly, clothed in a seemingly impenetrable darkness.  It may be with modern technology and perseverance along with society’s penchant for record keeping that this darkness can be removed and that my siblings and cousin will come to know more about what is for the moment, “familia incognito”.

And while there may be a genealogical basis for my rebellious streak, one can also become a rebel despite one’s genetics or family history just as easily.  And in fact, it is probably easier to do it than one might think (see, for example, “I Am a Southern-born Evangelical Christian!  What Are You?”

My choice to become a member of the Evangelical United Brethren church was not so that my ancestors could call me a heretic; rather, it was a choice of convenience since 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now the 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora) was the closest church to where I lived and it fit into the pattern of church attendance my family followed at that time.

My choice to enter lay ministry of the United Methodist Church was made before I knew of my family’s ministerial history.  Perhaps the only part of my own past that directly influenced the path that I would walk was the decision in the summer of 1966 to become a chemistry major at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).  (This, by the way, was also an unconscious act of rebellion because it did not fit the pattern that my father would have preferred; but that is for another time and place.)

The point must be made, and I feel that this is true for everyone, it is not necessarily one’s past that determines one’s future.  The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

When you look at the river of time, you see a changing image; one that is not fixed in the past.  But what you see can determine what you do.

I grew up at a time of great creativity.  The Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik spurred a demand for increased mathematics and science education.  As I noted in “Liberal Arts and Science Education in the 21st Century”, there was development of curriculum materials that focused on experimentation, rather than the traditional method of rote memorization.  It was a process that required the development of higher-level thinking skills.

653px-bloomscognitivedomainFigure 1 – Categories in the cognitive domain (Bloom’s Taxonomy) – Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001

And alongside this change in how science and mathematics were being taught came a similar expansion of what I shall call the creativity aspect of social relations.  No longer was there an acceptance of the traditional social status quo but a demand for an explanation of why people were treated equally in a world which proclaimed equality was the norm.  (Or as George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “while all are equal, some are more equal than others.”)

I know that my questioning of Southern traditions began when I could see differences in the ways schools operated during the period from 1962 to 1966 when I moved from Alabama to Colorado to Missouri to Tennessee.

In 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy sought the Democratic Party’s nomination to be President of the United States.  Throughout that campaign, he used variations on the following George Bernard Shaw quote,

“You see things; and you will say, “Why?”  But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”

And in questioning some of those traditions, I began, in my own way, to ask “Why?” and “Why not?”

There are those today who would rather we not ask why but to simply take their word as the final authority on the matter, seemingly in both science and faith.

It should be noted that the opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution is relatively modern.  At best, it arose because religious authorities, having accepted the primacy of the Bible, could not accepted a reasoned and developed idea about how life evolved on this planet.  But on at least one occasion in His ministry, Jesus told those around him to look at what they saw.  If we are not to look around us at the world in which we live, how will we ever be able to make this a better place?

And while many will say that it was the Catholic Church that was opposed to Galileo’s depiction of the cosmos (based on what he had observed), it was the academic establishment who opposed his ideas, simply because they were counter to what they were teaching.  This academic establishment pushed religious authorities to declare Galileo a heretic because that was the easiest way to get him out of the way.

It should also be noted that the notion of the “Big Bang”, confirmed by physical observations, was initially opposed by the scientific community because it was like the Creation story in Genesis.

If we are not teaching our children how to think and evaluate, how then can we even begin to envision the future?  And I am fully aware that in doing so, we are encouraging our children to think independently and without our input.  And this causes great concern for some because it brings into question what they have been teaching their children all these years.

My only response to this is that if you have been teaching your children through strict adherence to a set of guidelines and without explanation, you had better be willing to accept defiance and rebellion.  And you had better begin questioning just what it is that you believe.  Is your faith and belief system strong enough to withstand questioning?

My understanding of evolution and the “Big Bang” only enhances my belief in God, for when I see the wonders of His work, I can only begin to wonder how it all took place.  And, as it is written in Genesis, I was created in God’s image, then I was created to be a questioning and inquisitive individual.

I look at my heritage with an understanding that is where I come from.  But my heritage can never tell me where I am going.  Nothing from our past or our present can give us any insight into what our future will hold.  But it is what we do today that will allow there to be a future.

We must be working for a better understanding of the world around us, for a better understanding of the other people with whom we share this world, and for a better understanding of how we came to be on this planet.

The future will always be the last “great unknown” and getting there will not be easy but, with the tools and abilities that we have been given, it ought to be fun.

Evolution Weekend


With Evolution Weekend coming up this weekend, I figured I should up date this particular piece.

As I have noted in the pieces that I list below,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy. – “The Clergy Letter Project”

This project began in 2006 and I have participated, either with a sermon or a blog post, since 2009. The following is a list of those messages and posts. This has been edited since it was first posted to correct a link.

February 1, 2009 – Lake Mahopac (NY) UMC – “The Differing Voices of Truth”

February 14, 2010 – “That Transforming Moment”

February 13, 2011 – “It’s about Commitment”

February 12, 2012 – “To Leave the World A Better Place”

February 3, 2013 – “Removing The Veil”

February 9, 2014 – Sloatsburg UMC – “The Master Lesson”

February 15, 2015 – “Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?”

February 14, 2016 – “Where Are We Going?”

February 12, 2017 – “The Past Can Never Be Our Future”

It should also be noted that this weekend is also the weekend of Boy Scout Sunday, which has additional meaning for me.

“The Balance of Life”


This was initially written for another publication (Fishkill UMC “Back Pages”.  Part of what I have written may be used in another piece that I will be posting shortly.

When I began working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the book “Two Cultures” by C. P. Snow.  Snow presented the argument that we lived in two cultures, one based on the humanities and the other based on science and technology, a division that appears to still be present today.

I think we also have another division of cultures in our time, with some proclaiming the need for a solely secular/non-religious life while other proclaim that what it is needed is a sectarian/religious life.

But life is and has never been an either/or choice.  Ideas presented in the secular world tell us how to solve problems but do not always indicate what is the best use of that solution.  And it is only through the sectarian view of the world that we come to understand our relationship with others in our community and around the world.

Jesus never said that we should totally abandon the secular world for the sectarian world; he merely wanted us to view things with a sense of priority.

And that means that while one works in the secular world, it is important to maintain a presence, constant and on-going, in the sectarian world as well.  A world that does not include time for thoughts about God (be it in worship, prayer, music or communicating with others) can be a lonely and desolate place.