Sunday, December 04, 2005

Methodist Blogger Profile: Tony Mitchell

I am a husband (married to Ann Walker for six years) and a grandfather (I have two daughters, one grandson and one granddaughter; Ann has two sons, two daughters, two grandsons, four granddaughters and one great-grandson); I am a chemist and an educator; I am a Methodist Lay Preacher.

I am a Southern boy who has moved all around the country. My father and grandfather were both career military officers. I am evangelical by baptism, confirmation, and belief.
I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education from the University of Iowa, an M. Ed. from the University of Missouri, and a B. S. from Truman State University (Andy Bryan is also an alumnus of Truman).

I have been an active lay speaker since 1991 and served as a lay minister since 1995. I served churches in Kansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky from 1995 to 1999 and two churches in the New York Annual Conference from 1999 to this last summer. I am hoping to begin the process to become a Certified Lay Minister in the near future.

Why do you blog?
It is a way to put down my thoughts. There is the possibility that I will get a call to preach at a nearby church and I want to have my sermon (based on the common lectionary) ready. It also keeps me in a routine of reading, writing, and thinking.

What has been your best blogging experience?
Anytime I get a comment for one of my posts is a great experience. It means that for one brief moment in time, someone thought about something I wrote or said. I get an extra special feeling when I find that what I wrote was rated best in the blogsphere for that week.

What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
I would advise anyone to just go ahead and start. Make a plan of what you want to write about, pick a time to sit down and write what you are thinking.

If you could read only three blogs a day, what would they be?
I generally just hit the random selection button on the Methodist blog list. That way, I see most of the current postings. I get some notes from other sources that lead me to other blogs.

Who are your spiritual heroes?
I have come to admire Clarence Jordan. He saw the hypocrisy of the church in the South and sought ways to fight it. I like reading his “Cotton Patch Gospels”; they bring a new voice to a reading of the New Testament. I think Peter qualifies as one of my heroes as well. I find a lot in common with this man, though I don’t think I will ever be what he was (though I shall certainly want to try). Dietrich Bonhoeffer is on the list as well; I was introduced to some of his thoughts when I was in college. I have been reintroduced to him recently and think that his message is very much a message for our time.

I would put Meredith Eller on my list of heroes. Dr. Eller and his wife were first my sponsors when I joined First UMC in Kirksville, Missouri (I was fifteen and a freshman in college; the church thought I should have someone with me when I joined); he later was my history professor. It was my understanding that he left one college position because he didn’t think it was right for a church related school to have a ROTC unit on campus. Later I found that he was a minister in the United Methodist Church (his doctoral robes weren’t shiny and new like the other professors at Truman; they were also his preaching robes).

What are you reading at the moment?
I was reading “The Four Witnesses” by Robin Griffith-Jones (something he wrote lead to my writing “The Candles of Advent”). I am re-reading “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn in preparation for some thoughts. Most of what I will be reading this coming week will be lab reports from my students; the final is next week and they are trying to get all their work turned in.

What is your favorite hymn and why?
“Be Thou My Vision”, “Here I Am”, “Guide Me, O Thou great Jehovah”, and “Amazing Grace” are among my favorite hymns. There is a feeling in the songs that touch my heart. “Here I Am” moves me to tears sometimes.

There is a lot of the traditional Gospel music out there that we like as well. I had the privilege of working with two pastors when I was getting started who were great singers, Will Cotton and John Praetorius. Some of Will’s sermons were done in song and I have tried to include songs with some of my writings (if I put a reference to a hymn in one of my posts then I will probably sing one or two verses if I preach from that posting).

Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind?
I am not sure if I have changed my mind on any number of issues; I may have changed how I view something. I was more opposed to the draft than the war when I was in college in the late 60’s. I am not opposed to military service (how can I as the son and grandson of career officers?) but I think that we need to rethink what we can do with force and what we cannot do with force. The war in Iraq is an example of poor planning and poor thinking on the part of those who think that military power will always triumph. We are again getting trapped in something that has no viable military solution and we are trying to use military force in ways that military force should not be used.

What philosophical thesis do you think is most important to combat?
I think we need to stop equating power with money. Too many people see money as a path to power and think that their wealth gives them the right to have the loudest voice. Those without money are quickly losing their voice and there are signs that those with money truly believe they can buy just about anything, including our government.

Also I think we have to do more to get people to think independently instead of just accepting what others say blindly. This applies to politics, religion, and daily life.

If you could effect one major change in the governing of your country, what would it be?
I am not sure that I would change much in the way of the government; the good thing about our country is that we have made it this far. But there are too many inequities in our society that must be addressed by the people and not the government. Remember the old bumper sticker “it will be a good day when our schools have enough money and the Defense Department has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Our teachers are underpaid in relation to the value they give to society. I don’t mind athletes getting the multi-billion dollar contracts. But shouldn’t most of that money be going to the ones who taught them? Are the people of this country aware that many of our enlisted personnel are eligible for food stamps? How we spend our money seems to be reflective of the values of our society and I think we need to look at those values very, very closely.

If you could effect one major policy change in the United Methodist Church, what would it be?
I could get into a lot of trouble but I think that what the Methodist Church really needs to do is stop trying to straddle the fence. We have quite being the force we once were because we no longer take the stands that need to be taken. We are blinded by our desire to keep the church together despite the conflicts. I am not that crazy in saying that because I fear that the church will split over any number of issues, if not before, than soon after the next General Conference. But we must stand for what we believe and we must say what it is that we believe.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
The best advice I can ever give is to be yourself and don’t make things complicated.

What, if anything, do you worry about?
I worry about the nature of the United Methodist Church. I worry that our inability to articulate a clear cut message about what we believe is driving people away; I think that our fear of the church splitting hampers our ability to articulate that clear cut message. And our structure needs to be re-thought. There must be some sort of structure in any organization but the structure cannot stifle change or prevent new ideas from developing.

I worry about the educational system in this country. Our current processes do more to teach facts and facts alone than teach what to do with the facts. We have forgotten that most taxonomies of education place the knowledge of facts low in the order of things. Students want to know the answers to the questions but they don’t seem to want to know how to find out how the answers were obtained.

I worry about this country because we don’t seem to see where we are headed and we have no plan for getting there. We spend more time complaining about what others are doing instead of working to move us forward. And before I get flamed with e-mails or bombarded with comments, I know that there are others out there who are doing exactly that. It is just that they get lost in the shuffle of things and not enough is being done to find them.

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything that you'd do differently?
Believe or not, I have thought about this question many times and there isn’t a lot that I would have done differently. Because, if I had done certain things differently, it would mean that I probably would not be at this place in time. Nor would I probably be doing what I am doing. I know some of the mistakes I have made and wish that I could go back and fix those mistakes. But that would have changed the course of my life in ways that one cannot predict.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?
I would like to live anywhere near rivers and mountains. I have lived near the Mississippi River most of my life and I have lived in or near the Rockies, the Ozarks, and the Appalachian Mountains most of my life. I don’t mind the flat land but give me hills and flowing water. The nice thing about living here in Beacon, New York, is its proximity to the Hudson River and the Appalachian Mountains (the Appalachian Trail passes through the county and one can get to it from a number of places in the county).

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I bowl in what spare time I do have. And every year, I get to go to another part of the country for the United States Bowling Congress annual tournament. I have been doing this for the past twenty-eight years and will do it again this coming May in Corpus Christi. Two of the guys on one of my four teams have bowled with me for some twenty-five years and it has been fun (now, if we could just win a little more prize money, it would be even better). But not too many people get a chance to make twenty-eight tournaments so I feel pretty good about that. Right now, I am shooting for thirty-seven tournaments so I can pass my mother (who participated in thirty-six WIBC tournaments) and then will play it on a year-by-year basis.

What is your most treasured possession?
I think my most treasured possession is the wedding ring that I have on my hand right now. I got lucky when I met Ann seven years ago and feel that she is the singular most important thing that has ever happened to me. My daughters and grand-children are the light of my life but having Ann in my life makes it possible to enjoy life and see the light.

What talent would you most like to have?
I would like to sing better than I do (if I forget to bring a bucket with me to practice, I am not able to carry a tune). I would like to cut down on the errors that creep into my bowling game. I would like to write better and with fewer errors.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner, who would they be?
As dinner guests, I would invite John Wooden, Clarence Jordan, and Isaac Newton. They all know/knew God and what God means. Thomas Jefferson would also be someone to talk with over dinner.

UPDATE: Link to Andy Bryan's blog added in the second paragraph at Tony's e-mailed request.


hypatia 370 said...

Thank you for this informative profile of blogger Tony Mitchell whom I found while researching televangelism. (He was cited on under a critique of Joel Osteen). I've enjoyed Tony's posts, especially his heartfelt sermons. Plus, I'm now clued-in to your blog. Seems Tuesday is lagniappe day in the blogosphere....

Anonymous said...

My father, Meredith F. Eller, did not leave Central Methodist College to teach at then-NEMO, over a protest re ROTC.