Sunday, October 30, 2011

Does this Governor have an agenda to help children and families?

It’s time to ask the Governor of Wyoming whether he has a children and families agenda. The Governor’s decision to turn down nearly 28 million dollars to provide quality pre-school programs comes on the heels of other policy choices that don’t bode well for children and families.

In rejecting the funds, Mead said, “Wyoming can do this ourselves.” I suppose he’s right. Wyoming can indeed afford to do this but saying we can and doing it are far different things. Where’s the plan? Where’s the leadership?

The last administration, under Dave Freudenthal, had any number of people who understood how to put the interests of children and families first. They knew why it was important not only to child development but to economic development. They could make the connections because they took the time to read the research behind early childhood development and the importance of quality pre-school experiences.

This one did not. This administration heard somewhere on Fox News that accepting federal grants didn’t meet the conservative’s litmus test.  Yet they aren’t willing to say no to all federal funds.

Mead himself stands in line for federal agricultural subsidies so taking federal funds is not really an issue for him. He wasn’t hesitant to ask for federal dollars for disaster aid following last spring’s flooding.  But money for children and families? Now he has a problem.

Mead supported the doctrinaire position taken by the Wyoming House of Representatives rejecting 38 million dollars for families experiencing long-term unemployment in this recession. That was 38 million dollars families would have put directly into local economies, spending the money with landlords, grocers, children’s clothing stores and service providers. But Mead and like-minded legislators, several of whom were also in that same ag subsidy trough, saw it as a Tea Party teaching moment.

And then came last week when Governor Mead announced his administration wouldn’t request $27.8 made available by the Obama administration to help Wyoming’s preschool children prepare for school. Word on the street is he acquiesced to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and her Tea  Party-esque idea of what’s right in a world that doesn’t put children first.

This is not the first occasion when Mead had the opportunity to put children first and failed.  His administration has a track record of selling out children beginning with the decision to abdicate to judges on juvenile reform. Yet this decision is an especially troubling omen for a Governor with more than three years left in his term.

Supporting pre-school programs is a no-brainer. It’s not only good politics. It’s even better public policy especially in a state struggling to improve academic success, reduce dropout rates and respond to the challenges of youthful delinquent and risky behaviors.

Anyone who knows anything about child development understands the role of pre-school education. Research shows as much as one-half of the achievement gap exists by the time children begin first grade. A child who begins with a competitive deficit soon learns to dislike school. Ever wonder why Wyoming’s dropout rate is so high. Duh?
High-quality pre-K programs improve children’s learning and help narrow the achievement gap. Studies demonstrate high-quality early childhood programs have positive impacts on youngsters’ learning and life outcomes.
One federal reserve bank study concluded that of all the strategies states use to attract business, e.g. cheap land, tax breaks, etc., the most effective is the availability of high quality pre-school programs. A state that puts children and families first is attractive to business.
But hey, the Governor says Wyoming doesn’t need the stinkin’ feds stinkin’ money. He says we can do it on our own. Really? Where’s that beef?  We can believe it when at least one of three things happen: (1) he holds a press conference to announce his own adequately funded pre-school plan; (2) he turns down those agricultural subsidies; or (3) pigs fly!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

“I’m so angry I made this sign!”

“Bro, I’ve been lied to so many times I don’t know who to believe,” Mr. Alandt said. “All the world’s problems run downhill, and I’m at the bottom.” Mr. Arandt, an unemployed worker, joined the “occupy” movement in New York City last weekend. He sounded a lot like those who joined us in “occupy Cheyenne” at the Depot Plaza last Saturday.
One fellow at the depot hoisted a sign reading, “I’m so angry I made this sign!”
Admittedly, the focus on “anger” is as troubling an element of this movement as it is with the Tea Party. Anger leads to a focus more on pessimism than on hope. Anger alone is unlikely to provide the foundation to meaningful, lasting change. Author Parker Palmer has written a book entitled “Healing the Heart of America’s Democracy.” Palmer’s premise is we claim to be “angry” because we are afraid to admit we are actually “heartbroken.”
Palmer is on to something. We are heartbroken because on our watch, in our time, Democracy in America has come to this. While we took it for granted  those with selfish motives took advantage. During our lifetimes America evolved from a nation willing to sacrifice for the common good to one the Old Testament prophets would recognize. Isaiah occupied the public square of his day, shouting, “God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry! Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land! Ah, you who are heroes… who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of their rights!” (Isaiah 5).
You ask the intent of those who gather on Wall Street, in Cheyenne, Casper, Thermopolis and throughout the country? It is to occupy the ground loyal Americans ceded to right wing radio and TV entertainers like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. It’s to occupy the public arena we surrendered to the talking points of self-serving politicians and the distortions of political action committees.
We are “occupying” ground once abandoned by those who care about the future of the nation. Special interest groups have made an art of occupying the spheres of public debate once available to all. They buy the airwaves of local and national media. They write the talking points our congressional delegation uses to respond to the letters of concern we write.
Their lobbyists assure legislative bodies are about solving their problems, not ours. Their lawyers occupy the justice system so the courts are places where justice is experienced so infrequently that when it does Hollywood makes a movie about such rarities.
Those with wealth and power have corrupted the public arena persuading much of the middle class to vote against their own interests, fronting issues like state’s rights, abortion, gay rights and others knowing many of us could be diverted by those hot buttons long enough that they could take control over the economy, tax law and the political system.

If any of those issues “got your goat” in the last generation, what did you get for voting for their candidates? Not much. But while you were looking that way, they “robbed” the bank. Craftily using terms like “the death tax” they got those who would have never had to pay it to help protect their ill-gotten gains from it. The United States had a surplus until they got their taxes cut. And although their tax cuts created the deficit, they want you to sacrifice your social security, healthcare and the education of your children to solve the problem they created.  When we complain, they accuse us of class warfare.

You ask why some of us have hit the streets to “occupy” Cheyenne? The real question is why you haven’t? Why are you not as heartbroken about what has happened to our country?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

“Only those who cry out for the Jews can sing the Gregorian chants.” Bonehoeffer

This is the transcript of remarks I prepared (most of which I actually delivered) for Saturday's Wyoming Association of Churches forum "Civility Matters." The issue Rev. Bob Norris and I discussed was marriage equality.

“Only those who cry out for the Jews can sing the Gregorian chants.” Bonehoeffer
Why does this discussion matter? What’s at stake. I brought this photograph. It’s my brother and his partner Lee. When Bob died 5 years ago he and Lee had been together in a loving, caring relationship for more than 16 years. It was a relationship defined by love and respect, not by the way in which they had sex.
When I told Bob I had decided to go to seminary…he was not pleased. He told me he figured that my new role in the church would mean I would have to condemn him as other clergy had. I would never have done that but because of Bob I knew I had to reach an understanding of just what it is scripture says about homosexuals.
Ultimately it became a question of how do we read scripture. Without doubt there are verses that condemn homosexuality. We can make persuasive arguments that they don’t really mean what they appear to say but in the end we have to confront a strict interpretation of those verses.
As I studied the Gospels it became clear to me that is exactly what confronted Jesus. Much of his ministry was about making a choice between a strict construction of the Bible and accepting, healing, feeding, touching and loving those who had been historically marginalized by those who read the Bible literally.
The title of this gathering is “Civility Matters.” What is “civility.”  Civility is defined as “courteous acts that contribute to smoothness and ease in dealings and social relationships.”
Accordingly, civility involves acts that are “courteous” and that through courtesy they “contribute” something to improving social relationships. How did Jesus approach “social relationships” and what can we learn from him that might civilize the otherwise divisive contemporary dialogue about same-sex marriage?
If this thing we call “civility” has something to do with being polite, Jesus made clear it isn’t the same thing as being a pushover, nor is it the same as false collegiality that needlessly avoids confrontation. It should also be pointed out that Jesus never hesitated to confront those who used scripture to marginalize others. Nor was he always polite about it. He called the literalists a “brood of vipers.” I am guessing a poll of the Pharisees, Sadducees and chief priests would have disclosed a large majority who did not view the rabbi as polite. But as Christians we have him as our model and by definition of faith, Jesus provides a design for us to follow.
Searching for a civil way in which to discuss marriage equality means first understanding the stakes. We can acknowledge the stakes are high but no higher than they were in the debates over the abolition of slavery and the extension of civil and religious rights to women. Scripture has always been used to limit the choices people could make about who they love and who they marry…from admonitions about not marrying outside the faith to condemnation of interracial marriage the Bible has been quoted. It’s always been a contest pitting Biblical interpretation against love. What is at stake today is what was at stake when Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his time.
There are two aspects to the debate over marriage equality. One is civil, the other religious. Marriage is first a civil institution, defined by the laws enacted by government. It is the legislature, not the church who decides whether people of the same-sex can marry. In a multi-cultural society, that decision is made on entirely different criteria than a decision or choice made in the councils of our churches, mosques, temples and synagogues.
A political decision on this matter must adhere to principles of law. This nation made a decision in 1789 that these choices would not be made by imposing one set of religious beliefs on others. The guarantee of religious freedom has, at its heart, an assumption that we don’t all see religious matters in the same way and, as a result, the government should not impose one set of religious beliefs on the rest of us. Thus, the decisions made by the government are to be guided instead by law. The 14th Amendment resolved the question of slavery and the rights of African-Americans to be protected from discriminatory state laws…even in the face of strong Biblical arguments for the preservation of slavery! The 14th Amendment was later used as the basis for overturning state laws that made it a crime for people of different races to marry…again imposed in the face of strong Biblical arguments against interracial marriage.
The 14th Amendment requires that in order to discriminate, the state must convince the court it has a “rational basis” for denying some of the rights it makes available to others.
In Lawrence v. Texas (2003) the Court struck down a Texas statute prohibiting homosexual sodomy on the basis of the 14th Amendment. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's argued that by prohibiting only homosexual sodomy, and not heterosexual sodomy as well, Texas's statute did not meet rational-basis review under the Equal Protection Clause. I think there is little doubt the states can provide no rational basis for denying same-sex couples the right to marry and all the rights being married bring with the civil marriage license.
The religious community must prepare itself for the day which is coming when the Supreme Court announces that the law of the land must provide marriage equality as it once did for racial and gender equality. It won’t happen because America is godless or that judges are activists with a liberal agenda. It will happen because America is a nation of law where the people consented to being governed by a Constitution rather than the religious beliefs of some.
The other aspect of the debate is the religious question. Regardless of what the civil courts decide, the debate will continue in the churches. How are we to have a “civil” discussion about an issue that necessarily determines how we interpret Holy scripture?
For Christians the roadmap is clearly marked. Learning how to think about these matters requires some self discipline about what we think. If we are not to simply go with our notions and prejudices, we must have some core principles. It’s easy for Christians. Our core principle is Jesus…what he said and taught and how he lived.
The life, teachings, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus have their ultimate meaning in the question of scriptural interpretation. The purpose of his life was to challenge conventional religious beliefs and literal interpretation of scripture. Throughout his ministry Jesus confronted and was confronted by those who had read the scripture, studied it, could quote it and believed it should be followed to the letter. They were the ones who plotted his death.
Charles Dickens observed. “The civility which money will purchase is rarely extended to those who have none. The same thing can be said of those who have power…in the government and in the churches. The “civility” that power commands is rarely extended to those with no power. And there is perhaps no greater power than that “purchased” through a literal interpretation of scripture. And the Bible itself demonstrates that point.

Matthew 12

12At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”  Jesus said, 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Mark 3.1-6

3Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
We tend to read the Gospels and judge the Pharisees harshly. But in fact all they were doing was attempting to uphold a literal interpretation of the Bible. But Jesus got in their way. Whenever he ate a meal with tax collectors, palled around with prostitutes, touched a leper or any other person deemed “unclean” or healed on the Sabbath Jesus was in direct violation of the express words of the Bible they read and could quote verbatim.
One of the great definers of the faith was Augustine who taught that the interpretation of scripture must establish what he called “the reign of charity.” Augustine believed a literal understanding of any Biblical passage could lead to hatred and the only way to avoid that was to consider scripture always as an allegory for love.”
A verse can be found, indeed has always been found to justify sins ranging from war to the impoverishment of others to child abuse and slavery and the marginalization of women and now gays and lesbians. By quoting verses from the Bible even the most devout can justify about anything. But the Bible is more than a collection of verses. It’s the story of the relationship between God and humans, the story of God’s hope for the world…a hope achieved only through loving God and one another which is why Jesus reduced all of the 613 laws to two.
So…with Jesus as our teacher…we learn civility demands we challenge a literal interpretation of scripture. When Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and one another, he added…all of the law is to be judged by those two commandments. You cannot claim to “love” someone you condemn, you cannot love someone you marginalize…and any reading of scripture must give way to love. It is the challenge that got him killed. But it was the resurrection that confirmed his teaching.
When it comes to the meaning of the Bible, we are all guessing, hopefully making educated, spirit led guesses…but guessing. If I am going to guess, I will err on the side of loving, accepting and speaking for those whom our society marginalizes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Are our children worth the cost?

If you always do what you’ve always done you can’t be too surprised when you always get what you always got. It’s therefore discouraging to see the Laramie County commissioners headed down a familiar old road again…a road with the same dead end it has always had.
The commissioners acted boldly in deciding to build a juvenile detention center. There probably should have been more discussion about the wisdom of building a new facility. If you build it the courts will fill it and Wyoming already places more children in detention than any state in the Union. Knowing that, it is regretful there was not a clearer plan for funding the operation of the center. Of course, the availability of funding from the much maligned stimulus made the building decision a bit easier.
At the time the commissioners seemed clear that county control over would be preferable. Commissioner Gay Woodhouse was quoted as saying a county facility will give the county more control over costs. Commissioner Diane Humphrey said it was a "huge thing for our county to be in charge of our juveniles."
Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick said his office could do a good job of running the facility for about $2.6 million a year. Apparently sticker shock caused the commissioners to seek lower-cost alternatives from the private sector. What corners will be cut in order to lower the actual cost of doing this the right way?

We’ve been there, done that and juveniles and their families have paid a price. There are many old adages that quickly come to mind. “Pay me now or pay me later.” “You get what you pay for.”

The commissioners need to decide what it is they want to accomplish before deciding how much they want to spend. Costs can always be reduced especially if expectations for outcomes are likewise reduced. There’s little doubt someone in the private sector will give a lower bid. However, if the real goal is to create a center that meets the complicated needs of children and families, looking for the lowest bid won’t achieve the result. What is it about our experience with Frontier Corrections that the county commissioners don’t remember? Costs accelerated while outcomes plummeted. Neither the county nor the state could exercise reasonable oversight and accountability was not more than a wistful thought.

It wasn’t because the private provider didn’t care. There was no questioning their dedication to children. But if the first concern is cost there’s an inevitable sacrifice of quality. If, on the other hand, the first and highest concern is providing quality services and meaningful outcomes for those children who enter the juvenile justice system, the commissioners should establish funding priorities to achieve that goal.

One of the reasons Wyoming’s juvenile justice system has been dysfunctional is decision makers have always started with the goal of cutting costs. Perhaps this decision affords the commissioners a last opportunity to start instead with the science. The research is crystal clear. The earlier in life a child experiences detention, the more likely that child is to enter the adult detention system. Early and comprehensive home-based services are far more effective. Detention as a last resort must be accompanied by mental and physical health as well as educational services.

According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, “Because juveniles are developmentally and socially different from adults, they are more likely to be rehabilitated by carefully designed and tested treatment programs than by a purely punishment-based sanction system. Young people who break the law must be held accountable for the consequences of their illegal behavior by a legal system that balances the protection of the community, the developmentally appropriate correction of juveniles who violate the law, and the protection of the legitimate rights of the victims of juvenile crime.”

The question is not so much what does that cost but rather, what is that worth?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Wyoming Democratic Party (1890-2011)

Over the years there have been many examples of dead people voting. Less frequently dead people have actually been elected to office. Now we have a “dead party walking.” After years on life support, the Wyoming Democratic Party has succumbed despite the heroic efforts of the other Party to breathe life into its limp body. Given the rigor mortis, it’s impossible to determine the date of death however, the cause is obvious. While the few remaining family members claim it was a homicide, the death has all the hallmarks of suicide.
The Party will be remembered for those times when it sang “Happy days Are Here Again” though it’s been many years since the final refrain. The Party was predeceased by activists and statesmen and women who understood what it took to breathe life into a Party even in this conservative cemetery, e.g. Joseph Carey, John Kendrick, Nellie Tayloe Ross, Leslie Miller, Joe O’Mahoney, Lester C. Hunt, Gale McGee, Teno Roncalio, Joe Hickey, Jack Gage, Ed Herschler, Mike Sullivan and Dave Freudenthal. Yet even their memory failed to spark enough energy to reignite the heart of this Party.
The Party had apparently slipped into a coma during the most recent session of the legislature which many observers thought was the most painful in Wyoming history. The GOP offered several antidotes including its rejection of 38 million dollars to extend unemployment benefits to long term unemployed citizens. Even when it was learned that several legislators like Matt Teeters voted against their unemployed constituents while themselves receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in agricultural subsidies the Democratic Party was simply too weak to speak up. Teeters didn’t think it wise to assist unemployed families in providing for their children but took more than his fair share from the public trough. He was one of the 27 legislators for whose Hawaiian trip you and I paid. But, even that didn’t arouse the Democratic Party from its slumber.
Indeed the Party was unexpectedly quiet as the Republican majority in the legislature launched unprecedented assaults on personal freedoms, state’s rights and women in particular. The failure of the Party to respond was a sure sign the end was inevitable.
Even Wyoming’s Republican Congressional delegation made a valiant attempt to resuscitate the Democrats by voting as a bloc to end Medicare and impose severe budget cuts on middle class programs while insisting on giving more tax breaks to the uber-wealthy. Senator John Barrasso who calls himself “Wyoming’s Doctor,” made numerous house calls, resorting to increasingly large doses of distorted facts in a last minute hope to save this patient.
The Party was simply too moribund to take nourishment much less notice when told a story of one of our US Senator’s son’s benefiting personally from stimulus spending while his father was denouncing the program as “bailout baloney.” Even this abuse of the stimulus could not provide the Wyoming Democratic Party any stimulus.
In the Party’s waning hours, Secretary of State Max Maxfield reached out to help by filing a lawsuit to overturn a term limits law the voters had enacted through an Initiative and Referendum. The Democratic Party who had such a weak pulse it was unable to speak for the tens of thousands of voters who had enacted the law over the objections of their elected officials. Certainly Maxfield must have expected to get a rise from the Democrats…but alas, to no avail.
The Party’s silence has long been deafening and its heart too weak. The Party that once prided itself on giving a voice to the voiceless has itself become voiceless. Perhaps Wyoming is just too small. Perhaps this “everyone knows everyone else” image of Wyoming makes it impossible for two parties to survive if you expect one to hold the other accountable.
Services are pending and will be scheduled at a later date if anyone cares.

Monday, October 3, 2011

There is no dividing line between God and science.

The following is an excerpt from the sermon I delivered yesterday
at Highlands Presbyterian Church entitled
"Nature Preaches the Sermon"
This morning’s reading of the 104th Psalm invokes the memory of the God of Creation through the voices of nature. The natural world does what God created it to do, authenticating the presence of God in a more convincing way than words. There is no dividing line between God and science. Science reveals but a portion of the work of the Creator, providing an occasional glimpse of the wonders of the Creation.
Recall the words of Deuteronomy 29:29. 29The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever. Science and philosophy are but revealers, the exercise of human curiosity aided by the God’s gift of God of intellect. God endowed each of us with an insatiable desire to know, asking not only that we be awed by the mysteries but that we seek to know the truth that underlies them.
The Psalmist looked at the beauty and mystery surrounding his or her world and saw God not only in the beauty but also the mystery…and sang…
1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, 2wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, 3you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, 4you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers. 5You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. 6You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
At the time the psalm was written, worshippers understood nature to be a gift from God. The psalmist didn’t know how the mountains were created but knew God was the creator. The psalmist had no understanding of how the sun created light but knew it was the light that wrapped itself around the God he worshipped. The psalmist could look into the sky without today’s telescopes, satellites, space stations, and computer models and readily understand it all formed a boundless tent for the heavens…that the clouds moved around the vastness of the skies as a chariot, that natural winds and fires had something to do with God’s message.
The psalmists would be stunned by those who say God must be understood separate and apart from science, as some conservative Christians have drawn a line in the sand, making it a litmus test. They say you can either believe in God or evolution but not both.
The psalmist could look upon the natural world and although he could not understand the scientific process that caused water to flow, rains to fall, wind to blow, lightning to cause fires, mountains to appear…he knew it was the handiwork of the God he worshipped…and he had no difficulty in looking upon all of nature’s immense mystery and finding God in its creation.
13From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, 15and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. 16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. 18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rabbits.
19You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. 20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. 21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.
It may surprise you to know that as the early Christians began to unravel the secrets of science, they too saw God behind it all. They could read the metaphors of creation and the poetry of nature on the pages of the Bible and yet accept the discoveries of the scientists who used the intellect and the curiosity God gave them to look beyond the surface.
The existence of the mountains itself spawns the questions about how is something so marvelous created? The movement of the sun and the moon, the schedules on which animals emerge to look for food at night and rest during the day, the fact the earth naturally produces the food the cattle need, the trees in which the birds make their homes…the devout had no issue or even a thought causing them to separate the mystery of those processes from the wonder of God.
10You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, 11giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. 12By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
One of the greatest of the church leaders was Augustine who lived 400 years after Christ. Augustine could not imagine a god who would endow humans with the capacity to learn and understand and yet reject that which humans came to learn and understand. Indeed, Augustine was clear that whenever scripture clashed with science, the church must respect the science. He believed the failure to do so would bring scripture into disrepute. Indeed it does. Those who read the creation story as literal history do bring disrepute on scripture in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of when and how the planet was created.
One of Augustine’s contemporaries, St. Denys taught “Creation is not something that happened once in the distant past but is a continuous, timeless process in which God is fully involved.” And for that, the psalmist praised God.
24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 27These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28when you give to them, they gather it up;30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
Yet at some point in rather recent time, some in the church became threatened by science, sensing it would replace rather than help explain God and God’s role in the universe. And certainly there are those scientists who have attempted to explain God out of existence through the discovery of natural process in the environment. They have drawn Christians into an unfortunate public battle in which they seem to be armed with knowledge and we with an indefensible and literal interpretation of writings that were never intended to be science nor to conflict with science.
In her book The case for God, Karen Armstrong frames the conflict. “While religion clung timidly to the unchangeable truths of revelation, science forged ahead giving us telescopes, barometers, canals, hospitals, schools, the telegraph, calculus and more.
Having framed the debate as either God or science, the scientists are seen as those who can liberate the world from religious fanatics. It was not supposed to be that way. The psalmist could look on the wonders of nature and see God’s face, God’s plans, God’s hopes and God’s presence…and sing:
31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— 32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Next week we will bless the harvest and think about the process God created that starts with soil, water, sun and seed and in a few short months produces life giving and nurturing food. We’ll bless the animals as a way of honoring a God who set into motion the scientific process that provided us with animals for food, for toil and for companionship.
Every leaf of lettuce or tomato grown in our community garden, every pet that brightens our day…we bless as a way of thanking God for creating a world full of mystery knowing that a God who can set into motion a chain of events that turn seeds into grapes and grapes into wine, a God who can convert sunshine and water into grain and through the use of fire can transform the grain into communion bread…that is a God worth worshipping.
And the psalmist concludes with a closing prayer.
34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. 35 Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!