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 nine items:

1.  Religious Courage in Troubling Times (read on the web);

2.  Update on Grace Wolf-Chase and Astrobiology News (read on the web);

3.  Covid-19, Religion and Higher Education (read on the web);

4.  Evolution Weekend 2021: Input Requested (read on the web);

5.  The Climate Crisis Letter (read on the web);

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

7.  Francis Collins Wins Templeton Prize (read on the web);

8.  Encouraging News about the Teaching of Evolution (read on the web); and

9.  Environmental Learning and Covid-19 (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

The Legacy of the Wise Men

January 5, 2020

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of this Sunday’s (January 5) Bulletin at Fishkill UMC. We will be focusing on Epiphany of the Lord (Year A). Services start at 10:15 am and you are welcome to be a part of a new year of worship.

As you may know, I am a chemist and a science educator.  If you were to trace the lineage of my profession backwards in time, sooner or later you would end in some obscure laboratory in 17th century Europe.  More importantly, if you continued the travel back in time, you would also end up in an equally obscure laboratory outside 16th century Baghdad.

The wise men are the intellectual ancestors of today’s mathematicians and scientists.  While we call what they did alchemy, it was still a study of matter and its reactions, the basic definition of chemistry.  The driving force behind these studies was to gain a better understand of who God was and what God was doing.  It should be noted that Robert Boyle, considered the father of modern chemistry, was also a prolific writer of religious manuscripts and Sir Isaac Newton, in the preface to his most famous work, Principia Mathematica, wrote that he hoped that what he presented would lead the reader to a better understanding of God.

Did not Jesus, when asked if He was the expected Messiah, tell the questioners to look at the evidence before them?

The evidence before me tells me that the universe is not quite 14 billion years old and not, as determined by some quirky and faulty calculations, 10,000 years old.  But the evidence does not tell me why it was created.

If nothing else, that I am both a Christian and a scientist dispels the notion that one cannot be both or that one must sacrifice one for the other.  When I look at the processes of creation, I can understand how it occurred but it is though my faith that I begin to understand why it was created.

And in doing so, I continue the legacy of Boyle and Newton and those who saw the Star in the East and sought to understand the meaning of what they saw.

In including the wise men in the Christmas narrative, Matthew suggested that, like the wise men, we must seek our understanding of God.  In looking at the world around us, in trying to understand the world around us, we can better understand who God is and what our relationship to Him through Christ might be.

~~Dr. Tony Mitchell

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 

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. 

Sunday morning prayer

Borrowing a thought from fifty years ago and with acknowledgement to Reinhold Niebuhr,

Are we so deaf that we cannot hear the cries of the people, no matter who they are?

Are we so blind that we cannot see the damage we are doing to this planet, our home?

Are we so dumb that we will never learn that what we do changes the future, in ways we cannot understand?

Today, I pray that we will open our ears and hear the cries of the people. I pray that we will respond.

Today, I pray that we will open our eyes and see new ways, new roads to the future.

Today, I pray that we will open our minds and let the power of the Holy Spirit empower us to use our gifts of mind and heart to make sure that we can walk the new roads to the future.

Growing Suspect of Religion, not Science

I am reposting this from “The Catholic Astronomer” web site.  Take some time to read through the notes and observe the conclusions.

On the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science pages there is a really cool entry that readers of The Catholic Astronomer should take a look at.  The entry consists of an excerpt from the Tahāfut al-falāsifa, or The Incoherence of the Philosophers, of Abu Hāmid Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tūsi al-Ghazālī.  (The excerpt is fully downloadable in PDF format.)  Al-Ghazālī, who lived in the eleventh century, is one of medieval Islam’s best-known religious intellectuals. Al-Ghazālī says that disputing matters of science on the basis of religious texts or ideology is a waste of time.  Moreover, he says the atheists love it when people of faith do such things, because, he says, “then the atheist’s path for refuting religion becomes easy”.  He says that once something is scientifically well-established (for example, the mechanism by which eclipses occur), then whoever inspects them and is convinced by their evidence, deriving for himself information about the extent, times of occurrence, and duration of these two kinds … Continue reading →

Source: Growing Suspect of Religion, not Science

Navigating the Fourth Day of Creation by means of Jupiter’s Moons

This is an interesting read on the nature of science and creation – (from the Catholic Astronomer).

Once, at the beginning of a semester, on the second meeting of an Astronomy 101 class, one of my students piped up with a comment.  She said that when she had told a certain person (her grandmother, if I recall correctly) that she would be taking an astronomy class, that person had responded by saying that astronomy in particular and science in general was the stuff of devil-worshipers. My student thus offered the class a wonderful comment.  She was seeking from the outset of class to engage the material, her professor, and her fellow students with a very honest comment, expressing honest fears (her grandmother’s, and perhaps hers, too).  Her comment reflected a sentiment that is not uncommon among students taking science classes—a fear that there is something about science that is contrary to their religion, and in that way there is something about science that is the work of the devil.  (This view is not limited to grandmothers of … Continue reading →

Source: Navigating the Fourth Day of Creation by means of Jupiter’s Moons

Global Vs. Local Perspective. The Difficulties In Helping People Understand Climate Change.

This is one of those posts I almost dread to write. The reason I say almost is because I have come to peace with my understanding of global climate change. The reason I feel a hint of dread is because of how the people I know who live in Wisconsin will react to this post. These past three weeks, we have experience wind chills that have dropped to -51 degrees Fahrenheit, multiple snow storms that shut down local schools for days at a time, and so much cloud cover that those with seasonal affect disorder are going a little nutty. Am I simply complaining about the weather as many in the Midwest United States enjoy doing? Perhaps. However, my primary reason for reflecting on this is because NASA, the United Kingdom Met Office, and the World Meteorological Organization have found that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.  After reading the reports, I have no problem embrace these findings. … Continue reading →

Source: Global Vs. Local Perspective. The Difficulties In Helping People Understand Climate Change.

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”

February 11, 2018 – “A Reminder” and “Finding God In The Details”

February 10, 2019 – “The Path You Walk” and “The Confluence Between Religion and Science”

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

The Path You Walk”

This will be the “Back Page” for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC this coming Sunday, 10 February 2019 (5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C). This Sunday is Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend. My piece for Evolution weekend is “The Confluence Between Religion and Science” and will be posted later this week.

As many of you know, the 2nd Sunday in February holds a place special significance in my heart and in my life.  On February 14, 1965, I formally began my walk with Christ as I became a member of the 1st EUB Church of Aurora, CO.  Slightly over 1 year later, I would begin the walk that would lead to my Ph. D. in Science Education.

Of course, back then, I really didn’t know where those paths would take me.  But, over the years, one thing became clear.  You cannot walk two distinct paths; either you walk one and ignore the other or the two paths merge into one.  But to choose one path over another means that your life will be incomplete.

Paul always made, at least for me, a logical argument for believing in Christ.  After all his encounter with Christ was a great deal different from the disciples.  And Isaiah, in the OT reading for today, makes a subtle argument for education and the consequences when one was not willing to learn.  As Jesus selected those who become the disciples, he told them that they would be using their skills in a new way.

The same is true for each of us.  We start off walking many different paths, not sure of where they might lead.  But when those paths merge with the path that we walk with Christ, we know where we are headed.  On this path, we will meet others who also walk with Christ.

But we will also meet many who are lost, have no idea where they are going and are seeking Christ.  With our skills and talents, we can help these individuals began their walk with Christ.

~~Tony Mitchell