Creating A Plan Of Action


A Meditation for 24 January 2016, the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C). The meditation is based on Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthian 12: 12 – 31, and Luke 4: 14 – 21

I happen to be a chemist by training. And when I began teaching after graduating from college I found that chemical education was something that interested me. This, along with bio-inorganic chemistry and statistics, became the foundation for my doctoral studies and later research.

My liturgical skills and interests came later in life but were, would be, and are supported and enhanced by the liberal art foundations provided by my research in chemistry and chemical education.

One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about teaching, be it chemistry, mathematics, English, or any other subject, is that it takes more than just knowing the subject (see “Thanks a lot, Henry!” and “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”). You have to know how people think and learn and you have to have a plan.

And any plan you create has to take into consideration the skills and abilities of all those involved, not just a select few, and the resources that you have to work with. What will work in one setting is not necessarily guaranteed to work in another.

So when we look at the Old Testament reading for today, we should see two things.

First, teaching was involved. The people were coming back to Israel after years of exile in Babylon and they had pretty well forgotten the basis for their society, their country, and their lives.

Second, everyone, not just a select people, were taught. There is a specific reference to women being present as well as all those who were capable of understanding (which would be the youth of the community).

As I have written over the past few weeks, there is a crying need for a 21st century revival and it has to begin with teaching what it means to be a Christian today. This is necessary because so many churches today have changed the meaning of Christianity to meet their definitions (see “The Four Gospels of American Christianity”) rather than the ideas expressed throughout the Bible.

It is important to note that every one will be involved, not just a select few chosen by some establishment elite. And, as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, each person will be called to utilize the skills they have as best as they can. Often times, we ask people to do things that for which they are not capable of doing or doing it at a level they cannot sustain. Some people are going to have to share in the tasks as well as understand that each person does what they can. Nor can we get upset because it would seem that some don’t do as much as others. The point is that we work together, using our skills and abilities to achieve the goals set forth by Christ that day when He stood up in His own synagogue and read the Scripture.

We are very much like the people who gathered that day to hear Nehemiah and the others. Our world is on the verge of destruction and we have been called to rebuild it; we have forgotten the nature of our faith and what that means in today’s world.

We are world of differences but that differences that when working together make the world a better place.

Each community of believers must and can create their own plan of action. And we must know what skills and abilities each member has, for what what community does may not be what another community does.

But the basis for action lies in the words of Christ first expressed in the synagogue two thousand years ago. We now are called to complete that plan.

Happenings with Energion Publishing


Last night (Tuesday, January 19, 2016), as noted below, I was part of the discusson on Creation and science.  My contribution was in the area of basic science concepts.

Tuesday Night (January 19, 2016, 7 pm Central Time): Dr. David Moffett-Moore, author of Creation in Contemporary Experience, discussing our ethical obligation to care for our planet (7:00 pm to 7:27 pm), then Dr. Tony Mitchell will discuss some basic concepts in science (7:33 pm to 8:00 pm).

The Four Gospels of American Christianity


No, this is not about the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It isn’t even about the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene, or Judas Iscariot.

Rather, it is about how I perceive churches in America operating in today’s society. This is not any sort of scientific study but perhaps anecdotal in nature. But in a world and a society where how Christianity is perceived, it might help if we consider what it is we do as a church and how it reflects on Christianity and on us.

This critique is not about the style of worship but the meaning of worship. There is an argument in churches today that music must be modern in nature, to appeal to those outside the walls of the church. But if the message that the people hear when they come is not a true message, then being hip or cool will not keep them there.  Nor is this an issue of the use of technology in today’s church.  You may use the newest and best technology but, again, if the message is old, out-dated, or limiting, all that new technology does is highlight how wrong it might be.

The “Four Gospels of American Christianity” are:

  • The Corporate Gospel
  • The Prosperity Gospel
  • The Old Testament Gospel
  • The True Gospel

The Corporate Gospel

For me, churches who believe in the “corporate gospel” are driven by the bottom line. The bills must be paid first and the building must be in excellent condition. Members of the congregation are more like customers who purchase time on Sunday. There is a set time for the service each week and members of the congregation are expected to be there at that time and in their proper seats. There are no deviations from the time or style of worship. The message given each Sunday by the pastor is very easy and never demanding, almost to the point of having no meaning at all; for to do so would drive away the customers. If churches operating on the corporate gospel have one redeeming value, it is that the coffee is good and the snacks served during the post-service fellowship hour are fresh.

The building and the operation of the building is the primary ministry of these churches. Help for the community around the church or in the world is secondary.

The Prosperity Gospel

Churches utilizing the prosperity gospel are churches filled with glitz and glamour. Pastors leading the service are among the most well-dressed individuals you will ever find because God expects them to dress that way. But suits and outfits which cost on the order of one thousand dollars require money and money is the driving force of these churches. The members of these churches give their money to support the communications ministries of the church (which are some of the best ministries in the business) but the money goes to support the minister and the life-style of the church.

Often times, it is very hard to discern where the focus of the message and the mission of the church lie because the traditional symbols of the church are missing or secondary in nature.

The Old Testament Gospel Church

If anything, churches that focus on the Old Testament as their gospel shouldn’t be even be considered Christian in nature. If the meaning of the word “gospel” is “the good news”, then it essentially applies to the New Testament. Churches who use the Old Testament as their gospel may be considered fundamentalist in nature. They have a fundamental understanding of the message of Christ but it has gotten lost in legalistic nature of their structure, much like the church establishment did in the time when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee.

The gospel of the Old Testament is a very legalistic gospel but without much love or understanding. It is very much in tune with the written laws and regulations of the Old Testament but has no understanding of why those laws and regulations were even considered two thousand years ago, let alone today.

Christ told those who questioned his attitude towards the laws and regulations that He came to fulfill the law the following:

Completing God’s Law

Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. (Matthew 5:17-18, The Message)

Clarence Jordan, translating Matthew from the original Greek, wrote it this way:

Don’t ever think that I’m trying to destroy the moral and religious principles of our way of life. My purpose is not to destroy them but to establish them. For I truthfully tell you that as long as he)aven and earth remain, not one dotting of an “i” or crossing of a “t” will be eliminated from our highest and noblest ideals until every one of them becomes a reality. So then, if anyone disregards one of the least of these God-given principles, and encourages others to do so, he shall be considered unimportant in God’s new order of the Spirit. But whoever lives by them and upholds them shall be considered vital to God’s new order of the Spirit. (Matthew 5: 17 – 19, The Cotton Patch Gospel of Matthew)

Now, same may argue that Jesus’ words, as given in Matthew, allow for the legalistic view espoused in the Old Testament and the imposition of a strict code of behavior. But we also have to realize that that approach limits life, not encourages life. And that is what Jesus did, he came to bring life and meaning to the people, which in turn required a breaking of the legalistic framework that had been opposed on the people by the church.

Without the love of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, all the laws do is imprison people, not free them.

It should be noted that in each of these three church models, power in the church is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.

Another distinction is that the ministries of these churches are often considered missions, to which one gives but does not take part. The attitude is that there are others who can do the Lord’s “dirty work.”

The True Gospel

There are churches today in which the true Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is heard and seen. But one must seek them because they are not very evident. But when you find this place, you will know it.

The building may not be shiny and new as other churches but there is a warmth in the building that doesn’t come from the heating system. Extra monies that could be spent on the building and properties are often directed to ministries in the community and the world.

Such churches are clearly in tune with the needs of the community outside the building and their outreach programs and ministries seek to involve those in that community. The people of the church are involved in this programs and they are more than just an afterthought.

It is clear that the goal of such “True Gospel” churches is understanding how to make Christ part of the process rather than to simply teaching others about Christ

It is perhaps an axiom that there is something of all four churches in each church but that would force the question of which one dominates? A church was never meant to be a building but rather the people inside the building. A church was never meant to be enclosed inside a building but to be a part of the community in which the building served as a meeting place.

And in today’s world, any place can be a meeting place if the meeting is to bring the Gospel message to the world. The question then is, “What Gospel message does your church bring to the world?”

How Do We Do It


A Meditation for 17 January 2016, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), based on Isaiah 62: 1 – 5, 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11, and John 2: 1 – 11

I personally believe that today’s Gospel reading illustrates or typifies the problem with Christianity today.

There are those who feel that we should take what is written in the Bible as it is and ask no questions about it. Their reasoning is two-fold. First, these individuals hold the view that the words of the Bible are fixed and unchanging so no questions can be asked; what you see is, if you will, what you get. Second, to question the words of the Bible is to question one’s faith and that is a sign of weakness.

Of course, as you all are well aware, I don’t subscribe to either view. First, I see questions of faith as part of the faith-building process and part of human nature in general. If you do not ask questions, you cannot begin to understand what is taking place. And there will come a time when, because you do not understand, you will be unable to answer questions about your faith when others ask you to do so.

As to the unchanging nature of the Bible or that it was somehow dictated by God directly, how do we explain those scriptures that are not part of the accepted canon, of which I will mention something in a moment?

But let’s begin by asking some questions about the situation in the Gospel reading. What is, if you will, the back story about this passage?

Why were Jesus, his disciples, and his mother, Mary, at the wedding in the first place? And why did Mary command, not ask, Jesus to solve the wine problem? One possible answer would be that they all were invited to be there, perhaps because it was a relative of theirs.

But I don’t think that answer answers the second question as to the wine problem. Perhaps they all were at the wedding because, as some have suggested, it was Jesus’ wedding and he was marrying his girlfriend, Mary Magdalene. Now, this is all speculation because there is no evidence in any of the accepted Gospels or any of the other non-canonical literature to support this idea. In fact, if I am not mistaken, this is a relatively new idea, brought forth from more sectarian literature than anything else.

But with Mary telling Jesus to solve the wine problem and also telling the caterers (who else would they have been) to listen to Jesus, we can assume that they are more involved with the wedding than simply being guests of either the bride or the groom.

Now, what did Mary expect Jesus to do? There are some scripture writings (such as “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas”) which tried to fill in the gaps between Jesus’ birth and his appearance in the Temple when he was twelve. In these writings, we read of a young Jesus just learning who He is and what He can do. And we note that Mary found Jesus in the Temple when He was twelve, she kept in her memory all the things that He had said and done. So it would have been quite easy for her to ask Him to solve the wine problem, even if it were not what He might have preferred to have done.

In the end, no matter what the back story might have been, we know that Mary had confidence that her son had the skills, talents, and abilities to solve a minor problem as the lack of wine at the wedding.

And that is where we find ourselves at times. Faced with many problems, ranging from the mundane to the major, we wonder how we will be able to resolve them.

There is a hymn that tells us to turn our eyes upon Jesus in times of trouble and need. But we have to understand that if Christ is not a part of our lives before the trouble comes, we are going to have an awfully difficult time of finding Him when it does come. We have done a great job of putting Jesus (and God) in the storage closet, to be brought out for those special occasions and when we need Him the most.

This is fundamentally a reversal of our relationship with Jesus, and through Him, our relationship with God. And in the end that will never work.

If God were to only appear when we needed Him the most, in our crisis and when we are weakest, we will quickly find Him of little use. We have to see and seek God who comes to us in the midst of our life at those times we are most confident in our own abilities (adapted from Faith in a Secular Age, page 41).

And from whence, perhaps do we get those abilities? In his notes to the Corinthians, Paul talks about God wanting us to the intelligence He gave us. He points out that there are a variety of ways in which we can apply that intelligence. And we must do that if we are to read, as Christ so often commanded us, the signs of the times.

We cannot project our own self-history into our actions and expect to do God’s will. Throughout history, there have been countless examples of individuals presenting their own view of the world as God’s view. At the beginning of World War I, both sides proclaimed that God was on their side. During John Wesley’s time, countless sermons showed real concern for the plight of the working and lower classes; yet salvation for them could only occur if they were somehow part of the upper class. We perhaps would call that the prosperity gospel today.

The call for renewal and revival is not about what we want to do but what we are called to do. We are called by Christ to follow Him, wherever that may lead us. That which we seek we find in Christ, not in this world.

And we begin the revival by looking at what we can do with the gifts that God has given us through our relationship with Christ, a relationship filled with the joy that Isaiah described.

The Difference between Football in the North and the South


I am reposting this tonight (11 January 2016) because of something I posted on Facebook.  I also updated the story about the MIT student and his “science project.”

I heard part of this over the weekend and went looking for the whole list. This is what I found.

CAMPUS DÉCOR

Up North Statues of founding fathers

Down South Statues of Heisman Trophy winners

HEROES

Up North Mario Cuomo

Down South “Bear” Bryant

ALUMNI

Up North Take prospects on sailing trips before they join the law firm.

Down South Take prospects on fishing trip so they don’t leave for the NFL their senior year.

FATHERS

Up North Expect their daughter to understand Sylvia Plath.

Down South Expect their daughters to understand pass interference.

GETTING TICKETS

Up North Five minutes before the game you walk into the ticket office on campus and still purchase tickets.

Down South 5 months before the game you can walk into the ticket office on campus and still be placed on the waiting list for tickets because the all the games have been sold out for months.

PARKING

Up North An hour before game time the University opens the campus for game parking.

Down South On Wednesday and Thursday the RVs sporting their school flags pull into campus and set up for the weekend festivities. The real faithful sometimes start on Tuesday.

GETTING TO THE STADIUM

Up North You ask “Where’s the stadium?” When you find it, you walk right in with no line.

Down South No directions needed. When you’re near it, you’ll hear it. Just follow the crowd of cheering fans toward the most amazing stadiums build by man, singing their school fight song like it is gospel,. As you wait in line to get to the gate you hear the fight songs by both bands battling it out for bragging rights for another 365 days. On game day, it becomes the state’s third largest city.

Please note that the comment about stadium size does not necessarily apply to school in the South; when the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers play football at home, the stadium becomes the state’s third largest city.

STADIUM SIZE

Up North College football stadiums hold 20,000

Down South High School football stadiums hold 20,000

GAME DAY

Up North A few students party in the dorm and watch ESPN on TV.

Down South Every student wakes up, has a beer for breakfast, and rushes over to where ESPN is broadcasting on Game Day “live” to get on camera and wave to their Mom and Dad back home and to the idiots up North who wonder why game day is never broadcast from their campus.

FRIDAY CLASSES AFTER A THURSDAY NIGHT GAME

Up North Students and Teachers are not sure if they are going because they have class on Friday.

Down South Teachers cancel class on Friday because they are going to the Thursday Night game and they don’t want to see the few hung-over students that might actually make it to class on Friday.

TAILGATING

Up North They think a barbecue is putting raw meat on the grill with a few guys standing around drinking a beer with a lime in it, and listening to the local radio station with the back of their truck down.

Down South Thirty-foot custom pig-shaped smoker fires up at dawn. The barbecued smells of ribs and chicken that have been soaking in Pa’s secret sauce for days cover the campus, while you and your closest friends renew friendship and reminisce last years victory over an aged bottle of whiskey and several cases of beer. Cooking is accompanied by a live performance by Jerry Jeff Walker, who comes over during breaks and asks for a hit off your bottle of bourbon.

CONCESSIONS

Up North Drinks served in a paper cup filled to the top with soda.

Down South Drinks served in a plastic cup with the home team’s mascot and is only filled 3/4 of the way to ensure enough room for the right mix of bourbon.

ATTIRE

Up North Male and female alike: woolly sweater or sweatshirt and jeans.

Down South Male – press khakis, oxford shirt, cap with frat logo, Justin Ropers. Female – ankle-length skirt, coordinated cardigan, flat riding boots, oxford shirt.

WOMEN’S ATTIRE

Up North Chapstick in their back pocket and a $20 bill in their front pocket.

Down South Louis Vuitton duffel containing two lipsticks, powder, mascara (waterproof), concealer, and a fifth of bourbon. A wallet is not necessary; that’s what dates are for.

WHEN THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IS PLAYED

Up North Stands are less than half full.

Down South Only a few ticket holders are not in the stadium as 100,000+ fans stand and proudly sing along in perfect 3-part harmony.

WHEN THE PLAYERS TAKE THE FIELD

Up North The only ones cheering are the student section and the announcer (and the announcer is paid).

Down South… the fans scream and cheer so loud the stadium roars and a tear comes to the announcer’s eyes because he’s so proud of his team.

THE SMELL IN THE AIR AFTER THE FIRST SCORE

Up North Nothing Changes!

Down South Fireworks with a twist of bourbon

ANNOUNCERS

Up North Paid

Down South Announcer harmonizes with the crowd in the fight song, with a tear in his eye because he is so proud of his team.

COMMENTARY (MALE)

Up North “Nice Play”

Down South “Dammit you slow sumbitch – tackle him and break his legs!!!”

COMMENTARY (FEMALE)

Up North “My, this is a violent sport.”

Down South “Dammit you slow sumbitch – tackle him and break his legs!!!”

HOMECOMING QUEEN

Up North Also a Physics Major

Down South Also Miss USA

AFTER THE GAME

Up North The stadium is empty before the game ends.

Down South The celebration begins with the bragging rights to going to the victor for another 365 days. Fans from both schools share some home cooked ribs and a fine glass of aged whiskey and plan to start all over for the next home game.

Some stories I have heard and enjoyed:

There’s a story about a MIT student who spent an entire summer going to the Harvard football field every day wearing a black and white striped shirt, walking up and down the field for ten or fifteen minutes throwing birdseed all over the field, blowing a whistle and then walking off the field. At the end of the summer, it came time for the first Harvard home football team, the referee walked onto the field and blew the whistle, and the game had to be delayed for a half hour to wait for the birds to get off of the field. The guy wrote his thesis on this, and graduated.  Note added on 11 January 2016 – apparently this story has the status of an urban legend.  According to the notes in Wikipedia, there is no record of this ever having been done.

After Bear Bryant dies and enters the Pearly Gates, God takes him on a tour. He shows Bear a little two-bedroom house with a faded Alabama banner hanging from the front porch.

“This is your house, coach,” God says happily. “Most people don’t get their own houses up here.”

Bear looks at the house, then turns around and looks at the one sitting on top of the hill. It’s a huge, beautiful two-story mansion with white marble columns and little patios under all the windows. Auburn flags line both sides of the sidewalk and a huge Auburn banner hangs between the marble columns.

“Thanks for the house, God,” Bear says. “But let me ask you a question. I get this little two-bedroom house with a faded banner and Shug gets a mansion with Auburn banners and AU flags flying all over the place. Why is that?”

God looks at him seriously for a moment, then says, “Bear, that’s not Shug’s house. That’s mine.”

A true event (I am not so sure that it is true but it might have been) happened during a football game in the Southeast Conference between the great rivals of Alabama and Auburn back in the days when Bear Bryant was still living and Pat Dye was the coach of Auburn. The first-team quarterback for the Alabama team had been injured, so they were left with the second-team quarterback. Alabama was on Auburn’s twenty-yard line, and had a five point lead in the game. There was two minutes left in the game and Alabama had a first down. Coach Bryant yelled into the ear hole helmet of the second-team quarterback, “Whatever you do, do not pass! Run the ball all four plays. And then if we have to hold them, our defense will get us through and we will win.”

The second-team quarterback ran in full determination. On first down, Auburn crushed the Alabama attack. On second down Auburn once again held the line of scrimmage. On third down, Alabama gained a yard. On fourth down, some how the Alabama handoff was muffled and the quarterback wound up running the ball. Running around the backfield, he looked down field and saw his split end wide open in the endzone, so he threw the football towards him.

What the quarterback failed to see was the fastest man on the field was the fastest man on the field, the free safety for the Auburn Tigers, who broke quickly for the ball. The free safety came in front of the receiver, intercepted the pass and started to race down the sidelines for the endzone. The Alabama quarterback, not very fast himself normally, sprinted down the field, caught the man and tackled him. Alabama won the game.

Coach Dye said later to Coach Bryant, “I read the scouting report on your quarterback, he is suppose to be slow. How is it he caught up with the fastest man on the field?” Coach Bryant replied, “It is very simple. Your man was running for the goal line and a touchdown. My man was running for his life!”

And my favorite

Auburn vs. Alabama, SEC Championship. Fourth Down. One yard to go. 2 seconds left. It was 15-17, ‘Bama leading.

Pat Dye beseeched the Lord. God said, “Pat, go for the touchdown and run right.”

Pat Dye gives the instructions to his players; the play executes, ‘Bama stops Auburn’s offense just short of the goal line, ending the game.

‘Bama won.

Pat Dye was distraught. “Why, Lord?” and God said, “I don’t know. Bear, why did we tell him that?”

Darkness and Light


Yesterday, President Obama announced steps that he was taking to close some loopholes in our gun policies. He wasn’t going against the right to own weapons and he certainly wasn’t taking them away from anyone and yet there are those, including individuals running for President of this country, who are absolutely convinced that is what he said he is going to do.

It comes down to this. Those who oppose the President and the majority of the American people on this matter have yet to propose any legitimate and logical solution. Arming the entire populace on the theory that a “good” guy with a gun will stop a “bad” guy with a guy is hardly logical; for one thing, how will anyone who did not see the entire situation know who the “good” guy is and who the “bad” guy is when they both have guns?

This lack of logical is not limited to the topic of gun control; in fact, it is almost prevalent in all areas of thought and conversation today.

A Christian college fires a professor for saying that the God of Islam is the same as the God of Christianity and Judaism only shows the closed-mindedness of the college administration, not any fundamental truth about the three Abrahamic religions. This mindset will only cause greater divisions between groups and push those seeking salvation away from it.

There is an increasing climate of fear and hatred in this country. Such attitudes only grow in the darkness, a darkness that comes when thought and knowledge are shut out. We can choose to live in a world of darkness, of fear and ignorance, of hatred and violence and let those who preach those ideas try to lead us. But they do not have the light for they have worked hard and long to shut out the light. So these self-proclaimed leaders lead us deeper into the darkness.

But we have a choice. We can let those who would seek to govern in darkness continue or we can challenge them, bring them into the light so that people see what they truly are and that they have nothing.

Darkness wins when people refuse the light.