Cosmological Mysteries Needing Answers


The more we learn about cosmology and theoretical physics the more questions seem to arise.  Here are some of the most urgent questions of this age:

Is there extraterrestrial life?

This is almost a certainty.  There is most likely extraterrestrial life in our own solar system.  We need to look at places such as Europa and Enceladus. And, if we find a second venue for life in our own solar system we may well conclude that life is ubiquitous throughout the galaxy.

There is life on Earth everywhere we look.  There is life in the cooling tanks of nuclear power plants.  There is life living on chemosynthesis in rocks miles underground.  There is life in the boiling paint pots full of caustic chemicals in Yellowstone Park.  There is live in the deepest volcanic vents under the Earth’s oceans, surviving in boiling temperatures, extreme pressures, in total darkness, and it feeds off of the toxic sulfur fumes being vented by undersea volcanoes.

Given the tenacity of life on Earth there simply must be other life in the Universe.

Is there intelligent, technological life on other planets with radio telescopes?

This is a hard one.  Perhaps, but the vastness of space and time may mean that even if they might exist (have existed or will exist), we may never be able to connect with them.

Did life transfer to Earth by means of panspermia?

Perhaps there could be some local spreading of life by panspermia.  For example, rocks blasted of the surface of Mars carrying primitive organisms could perhaps have landed on Earth and seeded life here.  But the distance would need to be very small.  The Star Trek notion of panspermia on a galactic level seems beyond ridiculous.  And even if we embrace panspermia, what does it actually accomplish for us?  What would it matter if life arose on Mars and was transferred to the Earth?  We still need to answer the question of how life arose, and panspermia seems only to delay and complicate the answer.  Instead of answering how life arose on Earth, we would then have to answer how life arose on Mars, how it transferred to Earth, and how it came to flourish on Earth.

Can we find a Higgs particle, and will it be what we have conjectured?                    DONE! 07/04/2012

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is looking for this now.  If CERN fails to find it does it mean that the Higgs particle (AKA Higgs boson) does not exist, or does it mean that we will need a much higher energy level to find it?

The Higgs particle is hypothesized as a particle that produces mass.  It is required by the Standard Model. If this concept is incorrect then it is back to the drawing boards.

Can we find the graviton particle?

A graviton particle is required by quantum mechanics.  If we fail to find one it will be problematic.  A graviton particle is most likely the messenger particle of gravity, similar to a photon which is the messenger particle of light.

What is dark matter?

Is this some non-luminous form of baryonic matter?  Or is it black holes or composed of exotic particles such as WIMPS (weakly interactive massive particles) or neutrinos?

Can we find gravity waves?

 DONE! 02/11/2016

Gravity waves are required by general relativity.  There are gravity “telescopes” in use.

Note: These last several questions show how little that we know about gravity, even after the breakthroughs by Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and Albert Einstein.

What is the Relationship between super-massive black holes and their respective galaxies?

We know that galaxies form with black holes in their centers, and that the mass of the black hole is directly proportional to the mass of the galaxy.  But we do not understand this relationship or how the black holes and galaxies form.

Will we be able to travel faster than the speed of light?

If so, it will be through the process of warping space.  This is a Star Trek concept that actually jives with general relativity.  So it may be possible.

Without warp drive or similar process, any interstellar voyages would be impossible.  It would take us 80,000 years at space shuttle speed to reach the nearest star.  And even if we could increase the speed by a factor of ten, it would still take us 8,000 years.  Civilization on Earth as measured by the birth of agriculture and walled cities in only 10,000 years old.  So, the notion of making voyages requiring thousands of years is not likely to occur.

Are there other universes?

We use to believe that the Universe was all that there is.  Now it is not so clear.  Some have said that there may be a “Multiverse” made up of a vast number of discreet universes, each one like a soap-bubble in a bath tub.  String theory and the related membrane theory allows for such a concept. 

What is dark energy?

This is truly one of the great mysteries of the cosmos, and perhaps the most disturbing question.  Just as we are starting to make sense of the four fundamental forces and how they can work together, we are now faced with this new mystery that totally disrupts our existing models.  It is a force that we know little about.  But what we do know is that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, and the name we give to this phenomenon is dark energy.  The questions here are endless.  Is it a repulsive form of gravity?  If not, how does it relate to the other fundamental forces?

One recent hypothesis is that our universe is simply one of many, and that it has an edge. This new hypothesis is that galaxies in our universe are streaming to the edges, drawn by gravitational attraction of masses in adjoining universes.

String theory

So far, string theory is nothing more than an elegant thought experiment, sort of like believing in leprechauns.  String theory is almost too beautiful  NOT to be true.  But then again, so is a belief in leprechauns.  Will there ever be an experiment that can give some substance to this vision?

Can we unify quantum mechanics and relativity?

We have two rival and dissimilar theories of the Universe.  Quantum mechanics describes the world of the very small, and the forces of electromagnetism, strong nuclear and weak nuclear forces.  Relativity deals with the very large, and the force of gravity.  Where things break down is in objects such as black holes, where the subject is both hyper-massive and exceedingly small.  This is where physics breaks down and our view of the Universe becomes schizophrenic.

Extra Dimensions


It is hard to understand why there is still any debate about extra dimensions beyond the three spatial and one temporal dimension that are a part of our everyday experience.  With Einstein’s description of gravity as the warping of the spacetime continuum, it should be obvious to all that that warp must occur in an extra spatial dimension.

The above is a two dimensional illustration of the spacetime warp.  Such an illustration can also be rendered in three dimensions by means of physical models.  Many science museums have just such a three dimensional representation shaped like a funnel with curved sides, where steel balls orbit and slowly fall into the center hole as their momentum is slowed by friction.  But even such three dimensional constructions are simply a three dimensional analogues of a four dimensional space.

To put it simply, the spacetime warp cannot exist in three dimensional space.  Rather, this warping must of necessity occur in an extra dimension that is not part of our normal experience of the universe.

Cosmic Creation and Calamity


I once had a question about volcanoes that launched a spiritual inquiry. Why are their volcanos? They cause so much death and destruction. What purpose do they serve? And, why are they allowed to exist at all? It seems hard to fathom the destructive forces of nature.

We expect to be safe and comfortable in our “normal” lives. Then suddenly we are overcome by a volcano or another natural disaster. Is this any way to run a planet? But as I delved into this issue, it slowly became clear that the forces of destruction are also the forces of creation and regeneration.

Ask anyone living in Hawaii or Iceland about volcanoes. Without volcanoes neither group would have a place to stand. Volcanoes create new land, but they do much more as well. They release water vapor and various chemicals into the atmosphere. They nourish and enrich the soil with their minerals. They bring diamonds to the surface from their birth place deep in the mantle.

Of course, volcanoes are not alone in their destructive power. When I first moved to California my family back in Iowa thought it was very unwise to move to earthquake country. But then I thought about my boyhood days in Iowa. Iowa has tornadoes, thunderstorms, ice storms, blizzards, and flooding. California mostly has earthquakes. I guessed that more people die in Iowa blizzards each year than have ever died in a California earthquake, mostly from shoveling three feet of wet snow off of their driveways.

From this I conjectured that there is no safe place on the planet. There are hurricanes, tsunamis, wildfires, avalanches, landslides, killing droughts, crop failures, floods, meteor impacts, not to mention diseases and epidemics all with the potential to do us in.

Where you live determines which perils you will face, but no place is safe. California does not have hurricanes because of its cold ocean, but it does have earthquakes. Life on earth has its perils. And, when we take a big picture view it becomes apparent that these are just a normal part of the circle of life, of the paradox of creation.

Everything is being created and destroyed, and we are living in the construction zone without a hardhat.

And now, here is the rub. Earth is not the only hazard zone in the universe. Space can host as many natural disasters as can our lowly planet. There are asteroid bombardments which I have already mentioned, gamma ray bursts that can fry a planet from thousands of light years away, coronal mass ejections from the sun. There are blowtorch like jets streaming from pulsars that can destroy whole solar systems from a great distance.

The universe was created from the Big Bang. Does that tell you something? Every element except for hydrogen and helium must be produced in stellar furnaces. The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, and the oxygen that we breathe are all born of stardust.

Once a star produces iron it is doomed. It then explodes sending its detritus across the heavens. New stars and their planets are then formed from the debris. Elements heavier than iron cannot be formed inside of a star. The heavier elements can only be formed by the supernova explosion itself, an explosion which blows the star apart. This exemplifies the paradox of creation.

Even the cells of our bodies are dependent upon past disasters. And speaking of disasters, did you know that disaster came from the Latin for “bad star?”

Some four billion years from now the Andromeda Galaxy will collide with our own Milky Way Galaxy, and we have no idea how it will affect the earth. In the swirling maelstrom we might be ripped from our sun and flung into the cold darkness of interplanetary space. Or, we might smash into our sun or another nearby object. There is no way to predict the outcome of a galactic collision between two galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars.

And, since we are dabbling in classical languages, did you know that the word galaxy comes from the Greek word for “milk?” We all know that our galaxy is called the Milky Way because it looks like milk spilled across the heavens. But what you may not know is that galaxy means “milk,” and is related to such English words as lactose and lactation.

Even if we should survive this cosmic collision with the Andromeda Galaxy, we know the fate of the earth and it is tragic. In some five billion years the sun will swell up into a red giant. It will expand to fill the earth’s orbit. But long before, earth will be nothing but a burnt out cinder, scorched by heat and sterilized by radiation.

Creation and destruction, two names for the same processes. So how can we survive in this ongoing train wreck? The answer is simple and profound. . We are a part of this cosmic maelstrom. We were born to survive. Life is tenacious and so are we.

The Inequity of Public Sector Pensions


This article is written about public pensions in California.  But many states face similar issues as well.  There is an outcry for reform of the public pension system. It is bankrupting our governments and creating the most egregious disparities between public and private sector workers.

Public employees are retiring in their fifties with fat pension checks, while private sector workers often must toil into their seventies out of financial necessity.  At present, public employees can “game” the system by inflating their final year earnings. This practice is called “pension spiking.”  Spiking is done by working lots of overtime in the final year.  And more disturbingly, public sector employees are able to cash in any unused sick leave accumulated over years of employment.  Private sector employees are generally not able to cash in unused sick leave at all.  But public sector employees not only get paid out on unused sick leave, but then use the proceeds of this payout to spike their pensions.  The pensions of public employees should not be calculated by their final year’s income, but by a lifetime of employer and employee retirement plan contributions and related investment earnings.

Recently a local police chief of a small town retired at age 53 at the very peak of her professional skills and abilities.  The loss of her professional skills and experience was to the city’s detriment.  But not only that, the police chief received an annual pension of $175,000 per year.  At that rate she will be paid over $2 million in pension benefits BEFORE she reaches age 66, the normal retirement age for private sector workers.

When a private sector employee retires, he or she must survive on a combination of Social Security plus their 401(k) retirement savings.  Their 401(k) account balance will depend upon three things:

  • Employee contributions
  • Employer matching contributions
  • The investment results on these accounts

When the market tanks, as it did in 2001 and 2008, no-one steps in to make the 401(k) plan investors whole.  But with public sector pensions, when the state pension funds lose money in the market, tax payers must cover the gap and make sure that the public sector employees receive the full value of their guaranteed pensions.

Public employee pensions should be designed to replicate Social Security plus the 401(k) plans upon which private sector employees must depend.  Workers and their employers would pay into retirement accounts. Employees would retire based on the value of funds accumulated in their retirement savings.

At the point of retirement, the accumulated funds would be annuitized over the expected life span of the retiree. Under such a system there would be equity between private and public sector workers, and no more unfunded public pension liabilities.

Life in the Solar System


By gregbentall on May 28, 2012 | Edit

One of the most poignant questions that we face is, “Are we alone?”  Space is so infinitely vast, with hundreds of billions of galaxies, each one home to hundreds of billions of stars.  With such vastness of space it seems hard to believe that there is not someone else out there.  But our chances of linking up may be near zero.  Perhaps other civilizations have come and gone while we were still in the age of the dinosaurs, or even in the Bronze Age.  We may never know.  Just as once oceans and mountain ranges separated one tribe of humans from another, so may the vastness of space and time separate us from other intelligent life.

Flying Saucer Attacks Vancouver

But the question of life in beyond the earth is becomes a much different question if we are speaking of simple life forms.  There may be simple life forms to be found on other bodies in our solar system.  There is a chance that we will find some primitive organisms on Mars.

Mars is a near miss in terms of the development of life.  It is possible and perhaps even likely that life evolved on Mars.  But Mars as a life bearing planet had one fatal defect.  It was simply too small to sustain life for the extended period that it takes to develop an intelligent, technological society.

Mars simply was too small and cooled too quickly.  In the beginning it had a magnetic field generated by its core of molten iron.  Our robotic missions to Mars have found evidence of a likely place for life to evolve.  But as the small planet cooled, it lost its magnetic field and the force field that it created.  With the force field gone, the solar winds were able to strip Mars of its atmosphere and liquid water, and to bombard the surface with lethal doses of radiation.

But there are other sites in the solar system that are even more likely to harbor current life forms, places such as Jupiter’s Europa or Saturn’s Enceladus.  Both moons contain vast amounts of liquid water.  And we have found that where there is water there is life.

Europa shows signs of a liquid ocean below its frozen ice caps. Could this reddish brown stuff emerging from the cracks in the ice flows and spreading on the surface be a life form???

But there are other sites in the solar system that are even more likely to harbor current life forms, places such as Jupiter’s Europa or Saturn’s Enceladus.  Both moons contain vast amounts of liquid water.  And we have found that where there is water there is life.

Europa is covered with a frozen ice cap, much like the one found at earth’s North Pole.  We know that there is liquid water below the ice cap because the ice flows jostle around without any fixed reference points.  This shows that the ice is free floating above a liquid ocean below.

The ice on Europa floats about in broken flows, separated by dark red bands at the fracture points.  Here is a thought.  What if the reddish-brown crud that we see at the cracks in the ice flows and spreading on the surface of Europa are actually primitive life forms, something like an algae or bacteria?  If so, we might then be looking at extraterrestrial life forms with our earthbound telescopes.  We will never know until we get there and explore.

Cryobot prototype (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ideal mission to Europa would be to send a robotic space probe equipped with a submarine.  First we would check the surface. Then the submarine would melt its way through perhaps six miles of ice in order to submerse itself in the ocean below.  What it would find there is anyone’s guess.  But we might be pleasantly surprised.  We might find some primitive, single cell life forms, but we might also find some more advanced live forms, such as tube worms, shrimp, and perhaps even something similar to a squid.

And, if we can find a second example of life emerging in our solar system, than we can safely conclude that life is ubiquitous throughout the galaxy.

Such a mission to Europa would cost less than one one-thousandths of the cost of a manned mission to Mars, and just might lead us to a vastly more significant discovery.

Clean Water – The #1 Global Public Health Issue


Clean water is the most serious public health issue in the world.

  • Nearly one billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water.
  • A child dies every 15 seconds from a lack of clean water.
  • Two people every second die from contaminated water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene.  Clean water is needed for washing as well as drinking.
  • Twenty percent of those children who die before age five will di of water-borne diseases.
  • Children often walk miles every day to collect dirty water for their families to drink.  The time and energy required to fetch water keeps many children out of school.
  • Water related illness kills more people each year than wars or conflicts.
  • Nearly 80% of illness in developing countries is linked to poor water and sanitary conditions.

There are many excellent resources on this topic.

The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman gives a global perspective on the whole water issue.  (Fishman, Charles. The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. New York: Free, 2011. Print.)

TheWaterProject.org digs wells in Africa and India.

PottersForPeace.org  creates factories in developing areas to produce ceramic water filters from clay and sawdust  impregnated  with colloidal silver.  Their geographic area is Central America.

DropInTheBucket.org is an organization providing wells and clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.

OperationSafeDrinkingWater.org provided rain water catchment systems in Central America.

Potterswithoutborders.com works with ceramic water filters and also technologies for removing chemical pollutants.

The American Heritage of Religious Dissent


Conservative Christians, especially those of the biblical fundamentalist variety, will tell us that America is a theocracy under their God’s rule.  They will tell us that America is a Christian nation, born of a divine covenant. They will attempt to use government and civil authority to compel us to live according to their God’s design. They will proclaim that if only we will follow their God, their God will bless us and our nation.  But if we should stray from their God’s ways we shall be destroyed.

There is also a Roman Catholic brand of fundamentalism that finds its foundation not in the scriptures, but in Roman Catholic doctrine on such issues as reproductive freedom.  Often biblical fundamentalists will unite with doctrinal fundamentalists to impose their social agendas upon society.

The conservative Christians will attack modern science, and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology.  They oppose the teachings of Darwin, even though Darwin’s work has prevailed against more than one hundred and fifty years of scientific challenge.  If these biblical literalists were consistent, instead of just opposing evolution and Charles Darwin, they would need to oppose Copernicus, Galileo and all that those who have followed for the last five hundred years.

The biblical world view consists of a flat earth covered by the firmament, which was an inverted dome,  and separating the waters from above the firmament from the waters below the firmament (Genesis 1:7-8). This view of the earth can be envisioned as a dinner plate covered by an inverted salad bowl.  Furthermore, the earth was created in 4004 BC according to Bishop Ussher’s literalist chronology.

In the same manner as these fundamentalist attack science and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology, these fundamentalist endeavored to stifle our democracy and to replace it with a fundamentalist theocracy which they would control.  If any American really believes that they would like to live in a theocracy, they should live for a while in a country such as Iran or Israel just to see what that would be like.

The conservative Christians will tell you that America was founded by Christians for Christian purposes.  But the part that the conservative Christians will not tell you is that America was settled by religious dissidents who were seeking religious freedom.  The Reformation in Europe brought in its wake centuries of religious warfare and persecutions.

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.

“America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition).” America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition). Web. 27 May 2012. <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html&gt;.

European Persecution

Many conservative Christians seem to have forgotten the lessons learned in this violent and painful era of European history and seek to impose a new era of religious subjugation, domination and persecution.  They have forgotten that religious warfare and persecutions in Europe were the result of heavy-handed governments trying to impose uniformity in religious faith and practices by force.

The freedom of religion is a core American value, born out of the lessons learned in centuries of religious conflict in Europe. Freedom of religion is essential to our democracy.  It is also freedom from religion.  Every American is endowed with the inalienable right to worship God in a way that they choose, and/or to avoid religion all together.

America, and its great democratic traditions, was, is and always must be, a land of religious freedom, free of religious oppression and tyranny.  It must also be free of any coercive religious doctrine imposed by the government upon its citizens.

The Declaration of Independence contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This great expression of human rights contains the mention of the Creator.  But what people often fail to realize is that this statement is Deist and not Christian in its tone and content.  Deism, as defined in Wikipedia, is,

”a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an intelligent creator.”

Note that this passage from the Declaration of Independence contains no appeals to religious affiliations, religious doctrines, or sacred scriptures of any type.  Rather, it is born out of the Deist notion that God can be perceived through logic and observation of the world.  The Deist God of American civil religion is much like the “higher power” in a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  The Deist God of American civil religion exists without sacred scriptures, creeds, sacred history, or religious affiliation.  The God of the Deists is abstract, formless and devoid of doctrine.  Therefore, no one may presume to speak for God, or to cite divine sanction for their own personal political agenda in the public life and governance of our nation.

We are a free people, free to worship God in our own way,  or not at all. We do not need “permission” from religious zealots or ecclesiastical authorities  to make our own religious or spiritual choices.  Our government must, under the constitution, be neutral on all religious questions, and must always defend our religious liberties against all oppression, either civil or ecclesiastical.

NOTE:  The recent political campaign by Rick Santorum, wherein he tried to deny reproductive services to workers at Roman Catholic related institutions was not an act of “religious freedom” for the Roman Catholic Church, but rather would be an act of religious oppression by the Roman Catholic Church against its non-sectarian workers.  The Roman Catholic Church has the right to create any rules it wants for those under religious orders. It also has the right to encourage various religious practices to its membership.

But it has no right to dictate the reproductive choices for a any workers not under religious orders.  For example, a Methodist or non church going accountant working at a Roman Catholic Church related hospital must not be denied the right to a vasectomy or an abortion because such practice might run counter to Roman Catholic doctrine.   And the Roman Catholic Church has no right to deny health insurance coverage to this hypothetical employee for these purpose.  If the hospital is hiring from the general public, then it is operating in the public domain, and therefore must follow all of the rules for all public employers.

Plant Based Whole Foods Diet


According to notable doctors, Caldwell Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Mark Hyman, and Santa Rosa’s own John McDougall:

If everyone embraced a plant based whole foods diet:

  • The cost of medical care would fall by 70%. 
  • Life expectancy would increase dramatically.
  • Cardiovascular disease would utterly disappear.
  • Obesity and type 2 diabetes would become a rarity.
  • Cancer would be greatly reduced.
  • Arthritis in all of its forms, lupus, and all such related maladies would become a rarity.
  • Countless other human ailments, from sleep apnea to infertility, would either be lessened or eliminated all together.

Our nutritional needs:

  • We are being poisoned by our “Industrial Diet” and its resultant epic pandemic of “Diabesity.” Our industrial diet is dense in animal fats, empty calories, harmful chemicals and hormones, but low in nutritional value.
  • We can get all the protein that we need from a plant based diet.  Just ask any elephant, rhinoceros, bison or moose.
  • Cow’s milk is the perfect food — for baby cows.
  • Human breast milk is the perfect food for us in our first two years of life, with the introduction of solid foods after six months.

Saving the planet and its people:

  • Cows consume enough grain to feed nine billion people, more than the current human population of the earth.
  • Cows produce more greenhouse gasses than all global transportation.
  • Rainforests in the Amazon and other places are being cut down in order to raise cattle.
  • Cattle in feed lots are fed animal byproducts from meat processing plants, also chicken manure.  These practices assure the transmission of animal diseases between species and the contamination of our food supply.  For example, mad cow disease comes from eating brain and nerve tissue from infected animals.
  • Feedlot cattle are also fed steroids, growth hormones, and antibiotics.  The excessive use of antibiotics causes the rise of antibiotic resistant germs.

Let’s End Polio


Poliomyelitis

In 1980 the world saw the eradication of smallpox, a disease that had killed 500 million people.  As of today polio is nearly extinguished across the whole planet.  The World Health Organization has been the lead player in this eradication.  Other groups included in the eradication efforts include UNICEF and Rotary International.  To date there have been 60 cases of polio in the world in 2012 as reported through  May 23.  This shows how close we are to the finish line.  For comparison, there were an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns of global polio threat: “Wild viruses and wildfires have two things in common. If neglected, they can spread out of control. If handled properly, they can be stamped out for good. Today, the flame of polio is near extinction — but sparks in three countries threaten to ignite a global blaze. Now is the moment to act.” Read full opinion piece at:

Polio Eradication

Weekly Update

If we do not stop polio today we could see a resurgence.  By the year 2030 we could have 300,000 new cases each year.  Or, we could stop polio today.  It is our choice.

There are currently three hot spots in the war on polio, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.  With only a little more perseverance this disease can be eradicated in the next few years.

There has already been a partial victory in this fight.  One of the three strains of polio virus has already been eradicated; one down two to go.

Polio has been known since ancient times, but it reached pandemic status in the first half of the Twentieth Century.   In 1952 in the United States the epidemic became the worst outbreak in the nation’s history.  It infected 58,000 people, 3,000 of whom died and 21,000 were left with various degrees of paralysis.

It was eliminated in developing countries in 1980, due in large part to vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.

Pentacost and The Global Village


United Church of Cloverdale

Sermon: Acts 2:1-21

05/23/2010

Greg Bentall

It was nightfall in the village but the temperature was still very hot.  My hosts asked me if I wanted hot water for my shower, but I declined.

Agua fria, por favor.  Hay mucho calor.

I explained in my very rudimentary Spanish.  The village of Tres Reyes (Three Kings) is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, deep in the heart of Mayan Country.  I had travelled into this region on many occasions to scuba dive and to explore Mayan ruins.  But to sample village life was a rare treat.  I was there with a group of college students and their leaders who were spending their Spring Break building an addition to a church in nearby Cozumel.  We arrived in the village on Saturday night after a day of hard labor building the church.  It was nice to take a break from our labors and to spend some time absorbing the culture.

There was a hymn sing at the church that night.  While the songs were unfamiliar, the spirit was easy to recognize.  The little church rocked with music and joyous laughter.

It is easy to feel God’s grace in the Yucatan.  The land is hot and dry with scrub brush and bramble bushes that are almost impossible to conquer.  There is no surface water anywhere to drink.  Every village and town in the Yucatan is centered on a CEYNOTE, what we would generally call a sink hole.  At the bottom of the ceynotes are deep pools filled with water, drawn from the underground rivers of the Yucatan.  To find a ceynote in the dessert is to find a habitat where life is possible.  It is a gift from a gracious God than allows life and community.

We slept in simple hammocks tied from string.  The houses were simple stick structures built on concrete slabs.  The hammocks could be retied for day-time use as various forms of easy chairs.  The only alternative was hard, straight back chairs cut from logs.

On Sunday morning we joined together for the formal worship service.  We prayed and sang and broke bread together.

There was one young woman who insisted on conversing with me in Spanish.  It was a real struggle, but somehow I was able to put words together that she could understand.  We talked about a lot of things.  For example, in Tres Reyes she told me that girls often marry at age twelve or thirteen.  Then she asked me at what age girls marry in my country.

At the end of the weekend in Tres Reyes, I knew that something remarkable had happened.  Somehow we knew that this village with its faithful saints of the church was now a part of us.

+++

In College I spent a year in England, and worshipped at an Anglican Church.  On weekends I would tour the country.  Some of my favorite sites were the beautiful gothic cathedrals that fill the land.  I came to love the richness of Anglican worship, with its glorious liturgies, colorful vestments.  But the part I liked best was the wonderful pipe organs capable of shaking both the flesh and the spirit of all the worshipers within those stone cathedrals!  One did not so much HEAR the music, but rather FELT it, shaking the whole building and causing every living cell to vibrate.

But the most remarkable cathedral in England is not gothic at all.  Coventry Cathedral was gutted by German bombs in World War II.  All that remains is the exterior walls and the steeple.

But attached to the old ruin is a beautiful, modern, Anglican cathedral that was constructed after the war with massive help from Germany as a monument to world peace.

One of the interesting stories about Coventry is that Winston Churchill had intelligence to show that Coventry was about to be bombed.  Coventry was, and is, an important industrial city in the Midlands.  The problem for Churchill was that he knew of the German attack because of the ENIGMA machine.  This was a captured German cipher machine used by the Germans to transmit battlefield commands.  Capturing the Enigma machine was a development of monumental proportions for the Brits.  With the Enigma machine, English commanders sometimes even knew the German battle plans before they had even been sent to the German commanders.

The Brits could not let on that they had the Enigma machine.  It was just too valuable of a secret.  So, Churchill’s choice was to allow Coventry to be bombed, rather than to reveal the Enigma secret.

Such is the insanity of war.

In this violent and conflicted world, Coventry Cathedral is a holy shrine of world peace.

+++

Seminario Evangelico in San Juan, Puerto Rico was created by a broadly ecumenical group of churches in Puerto Rico so as to have a place to educate their own women and men for ministry.  There I was once able to study side by side with the local pastors.  Apart from our coursework we would discuss all sorts of issues, including Puerto Rico’s future.

The status of the future of Puerto Rico is a hot-button issue to be sure.  There are three basic choices:

  • Puerto Rico could continue in its present configuration as a commonwealth of the US.  But somehow this status will always feel like “unfinished business.”
  • Puerto Rico could become an independent nation.
  • Or, Puerto Rico could become the fifty-first state of the US.

In discussing these issues with the Puerto Rican pastors, I was amazed to find that they would all campaign for INDEPENDENCE.

I was truly shocked and stunned by this attitude.  I told them that I could not understand.  I asked them why they would not want to become an American state.  And what they told me were words that were hard to hear.

I was told that the US espouses wonderful values.  It promotes peace, freedom, human rights, economic development, and all of those wonderful values.  The problem, these pastors told me, is that the US refuses to actually LIVE by those values that it espouses.  They told me how they perceived the US as a world class tyrant who overthrows even duly elected governments.  They told me how the US will always act in its own political and economic interests regardless of the tyranny being imposed upon the hemisphere.

They spoke of the time when President Eisenhower invaded Nicaragua in an effort to keep the workers of the United Fruit Company from striking.  The US supports organized labor at home, but will deny it when it foreign workers seek better wages and work conditions when working for US companies abroad.  After all, a strike in Nicaragua against the United Fruit Company might raise the price of bananas stateside, a situation that Eisenhower simply could not tolerate.  And that American intervention into Nicaragua destabilized that country for the next fifty years.

They told me that they would be ashamed to call themselves Americans until such time as the US decides to live up to it’s most noble values.

One of the pastors then invited me to worship at his church on the north coast of the Island, a short distance west of San Juan.  When I got there I found the liveliest music imaginable.  And the surprise was that there was a group of four or five women who were dancing themselves into a total frenzy during the music.  They were all dressed in vivid flowered dresses and made for an amazing worship experience.

+++

The METROPOLITAN of Kiev was visiting Washington DC as a part of a Soviet entourage.  The Metropolitan was what we would call an ARCHBISHOP in the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Metropolitan had asked to meet with religious leaders.  And so, his Soviet handlers tried to set up a meeting between him and various astrologers, spiritualists, tarot card readers and psychics.  But the Metropolitan rebelled.  He said that he was interested not in spiritualism, but in the HOLY SPIRIT.

He finally got his way and was able to hold a meeting of church leaders.  I received an invitation from my role as a Conference staff member in Baltimore.

The Metropolitan told us of the urgent need to rebuild the church in the Soviet Union.  This was a time when the restrictions on religious life in the USSR was beginning to ease.   He told us of how the Christian message had nearly been extinguished by decades of Communist rule.  Most of the church buildings had been either taken over or destroyed.  A great many Orthodox priest had been put to death.  The only remaining Russian Orthodox priests were a few very old men, who had been ordained before the Bolshevik revolution.

The Metropolitan told us about how the new birth of faith had become a challenge to the state.  And indeed, the Soviet empire fell a few years later, due largely to a resurgence of both the Christian and Islamic religions.  Women and men at prayer can bring the most powerful empires to their knees.

The Metropolitan then passed out his bag of gifts to all of the participants.  He gave us a picture book of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Unfortunately, this was written in Russian.  He also gave our commemorative plaques, that were again, written in Russian.  And so I am not sure what the plaques commemorated.

But the best gift of all was cans of CAVIAR.  The aides to the Metropolitan told us that this was the GOOD STUFF, genuine sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea.  Now I love fish roe, but have never experienced the “GOOD STUFF.”  Never having experienced a life of opulence, I was at a loss at how to make use of this precious gift.  I let the caviar sit around for several years, waiting for the “RIGHT MOMENT” to indulge in this opulent treat, but somehow, the RIGHT MOMENT never came along.   But one ordinary day, several years later, I decided that it was time to try the exquisite caviar.  When I opened the can it was rotten, and the opportunity was wasted.  This is what happens when we fail to use our gifts.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  At that time the Church was endowed with every good and perfect gift.  It was a time when all divisions were overcome, and the church emerged as a global fellowship without barriers or boarders.

+++

My Friends, the Church is much bigger than all of us.  It is much bigger than we can possibly understand.  We are two billion people around the globe, speaking every language and tongue, living on every continent, with diverse nationalities, theologies and styles of worshiping God.  And yet we are of one Spirit, one Lord and Savior of us all.  We share one bread and drink one cup.

In earlier weeks we studied the end of the division between Jews and Greeks.  Today we celebrate the end to the divisions between all peoples and nations.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made into one holy and global fellowship.  There are no differences that divide us, or ever COULD divide us, so long as we faithfully worship and serve our God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

WE ARE THE CHURCH, and that is a very big roll to fill.  There is no room for petty jealousies to keep us from fulfilling our mission as SAINTS OF THE CHURCH.

Our congregation has been taking a TIME OUT, to sort out our differences, and to find a way to go forward.  Now, with the DISCERNMENT process nearly completed, we have elected a new slate of officers and are now ready to move forward in our mission.

Let us not waste the precious gifts that we have been given.  Let us join with women and men throughout the whole EUCUMENE, in serving Christ and worshiping him.

%d bloggers like this: