Why Should We Resist?

Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime, and will. We would do so in a collaborative, supportive way if he were a reasonable man…. But, he is not that kind of man.

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From “An Emerging, and Very Pointed, Democratic Resistance”, The New Yorker Magazine, Jan 18, 2017 (link below)

During my first job as a computer programmer (way back in the late 1970’s) the owner of the small factory where I worked was quite a large and “take charge” sort of man, and had quite the temper.  When you crossed or disappointed him in any way, he’d lean forward, turn red in the face and pound his fist on his desk: yelling at you and insulting you.

Everyone in the office would cower behind their desks when this happened: hoping they would not become the next target of his wrath.  No one dared tell him “No.” (Except me, although that was largely because I was too naive to realize I should be intimidated.  I also didn’t have a mortgage or car payment to worry about!)

What I learned is that once he yelled and screamed for a bit, he’d calm down, and then would listen to what I had to say.  He came to respect me because I stood up to him, and told me so.  Even though we never became friends, I did respect him; and we accomplished a great deal during my time there.

That ability to stand firm in the face of such anger has served me well in the years since.  (Although it has also gotten me fired once or twice, until I learned that doing so works best if you listen carefully past the emotion, to hear what the other is trying to say.)

Now, the politics of consensus and community-building – which are my own default and preferred approach – can lead one to conclude that we should play nice with our new President from day one, as  Joan Vennochi advocates in her opinion piece “Democrats, don’t take your ball and go home” in today’s Boston Globe.

Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime.  If he were a reasonable man (and nothing he’s said in public leads to that conclusion), I’d agree with Ms. Vennochi’s points.  But, he is not that kind of man: his personality is very similar to that long ago boss of mine, and many others I’ve encountered in the years since.

Continue reading “Why Should We Resist?”

A Message for All Ages: Let There be Light!

In order for God’s light to shine everywhere, as God intends, and as we are called to make happen, we need to actively look for where the darkness is, and then labor to bring light into those places.

dsc_0007A few months ago I noticed that the light bulb in the recessed fixture above my office door was burned out.

No big deal, I thought: I removed the old bulb (it was VERY dirty, must have been there for years) to make sure I knew exactly what kind of bulb I needed.  Fortunately, I had an identical spare.

I put the new bulb in: it didn’t work.  Hmm, that’s odd.

I tested the new bulb in another fixture: it worked.  Even more odd.

I then took a standard light bulb and tested the fixture above my door: it worked.

I then tested the old bulb in a desk lamp: it worked.

Everything worked.  Nothing was burned out.

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: Let There be Light!”

Sermon: Hearing the Gospel

Our faith is not a static set of rules, nor is it a deep understanding of tradition and scripture. Our faith is a constantly evolving and ever deepening and broadening dialog between our selves, our neighbors, and our God.

joachim-patenier-the-baptism-of-christ-1515-kunsthistorisches-museum-viennaA couple of weeks ago I woke up to find snow covering the ground outside our bedroom window. But there were warmer temperatures in the day’s forecast, I was concerned we’d soon have a thick layer of slush outside. And frankly, my snowblower is not terribly useful in slush! So I hopped right out of bed, taking care that my sleeping sweetheart, who’d been up a lot the previous night, was undisturbed, and ran to the front door.

I stepped out to see what I had to deal with. Hmm: still pretty cold. So, I was pretty sure I had time for some coffee. As I turned around, I saw that the inner door had swung almost shut, but I knew it wouldn’t latch on its own.  So, I pulled open the storm door to go back in and … “click.”

It was not quite 6:00am in the morning. It was 28 degrees outside. It was dark. I’m wearing only socks, sweat bottoms, and a T-Shirt.

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The UCC’s Letter to Talladega College

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Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, President of Talladega College

Yesterday while I was leading my Church’s Worship Service, a member of our congregation asked me (during our “announcements time”) what I thought of the UCC’s recent letter to Talladega College, a historically Black College in Alabama that has been rebuilding itself after nearly failing a few years ago.  This letter challenges the school’s decision to allow their marching band appear in the Inauguration Parade in Washington DC on January 20th.  It seemed fitting to publish my thoughts here; expanding on the response I gave to her question.

Now, clearly the school’s decision is very controversial, given the incoming administration’s abysmal track record (to date) when it comes to social justice issues and policies.  However, Talladega College’s President, Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, defended the school’s decision saying: “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade, … As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

In response to the college’s announcement, the leadership of the United Church of Christ, my own denomination, and which has been a supporter of Talladega College, sent a letter to the school questioning this decision and asking that they reconsider.  Several alumni of the school have expressed similar concerns.

This is an old, old argument: a new phase in the long battle between those in the Black Community who advocate a more accommodating approach in confronting racism and injustice in this country; and those who favor a more confrontive approach.  Both approaches are valid, and are part of a toolkit that encompasses a wide range of possible responses to racism and injustice that can (and should) be deployed.  (Though which is most appropriate depends upon the particular situation.)

I cannot speak to the specifics of this situation: I was not party to the decision process at Talladega, and have not seen the text of the UCC’s letter to the school.  However, I am deeply concerned by the UCC’s actions here.  What I do know is that Dr. Hawkins is no lightweight, and no stranger to tough challenges; and that we cannot dismiss his school’s decision, or reasoning, lightly.

Continue reading “The UCC’s Letter to Talladega College”

Too Nice for My Own Good

I woke up early this morning to discover a nice white covering on the ground outside our bedroom window: we had some substantial rain that changed to heavy snow late last night. With warming temperatures this morning, I’m concerned that we’ll soon have a thick layer of slush; and my snow blower is not terribly useful in heavy slush!

So, I quickly hopped out of bed, leaving my sleeping sweetheart undisturbed; snug and cozy. Running to the front door, I unlocked it, then opened the storm door while leaving the inner door ajar so that I could get back in. I stepped out on the stoop to see what I had to deal with. I turn around and see the cat at the window: he’s wondering if I’ll let him out. Putting my hand down to the ground, I find that the beautiful whiteness consists of ice and hard snow: not so fun with the snow blower – but better than slush!

I turn around and open the storm door. The inner door has already swung almost shut, but is not latched. Pulling open the storm door causes the air pressure to drop in the space between the two doors: “click!”

Continue reading “Too Nice for My Own Good”

Remembering Carrie Fisher

carrie-new-hi-resIt was the Spring of 2002; and Lucasfilm was hosting “Star Wars Celebration II” at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.  My [then] wife, daughter and I travelled there in our camper: joining 75,000 or so other people to celebrate all things Star Wars, and especially the upcoming release of Star Wars “Attack of the Clones.”

My 13 year old daughter was a huge fan, and had been preparing for this trip ever since we first heard about it, developing her “Jedi Jaina” character: purple and black hair; lavender costume, purple light saber.  She’d written a script and put together a sound track as the background for a solo performance at the talent show that would be part of the convention’s many events, and hosted by Anthony Daniels. (I was the voice of Yoda for her sound track: the worst Yoda voice-over ever!)  Even though she did not win the talent show contest, her pluckiness and costume were a huge hit.  And, she got to give Mr. Daniels a big hug in front of about 5,000 people.  I was so proud of her: her dreams had come true.

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Sermon: Loving Creation

Our image of God needed to change. In fact, God needed to change. God’s love could not live in a perfect place that was inaccessible to us. For God’s love to be real and meaningful, … God had to become human. God had to become one of us.

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“The Family” by John D. Batten (1886)

The Gospels tell us a lot of things about what Mary must have gone through because of her pregnancy.  She left town and stayed with her Cousin Elizabeth for months, probably to escape public shaming for being an unwed mother. Matthew tells us that Joseph could have abandoned her, but didn’t.

And, shortly before Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph had to take a long trip. Mary, at full term, bounced up and down on that (d****d!) donkey all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They hoped their poverty would discourage robbers. And when they get there, there is no room at the Inn, so they have to stay in a stable.

Then, after the birth, Herod wants to kill them! They had to flee into exile.  They became refugees. Once it is safe to return, they settle in Nazareth. But, it is a hard life: many there believed Mary had been unfaithful. And, because of that “sin,” Mary and her son were not looked-on kindly or with compassion; and we see hints of that throughout the Gospels.

Joseph is said to have been a Carpenter, but a more correct term might be “Day Laborer.” He probably walked several miles every morning from Nazareth in the hills down to Sepphoris, a city being built as the new capitol of  Galilee at the time. Once there, he hung out at the local equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts: hoping someone would hire him to haul rocks and lumber, or perhaps saw wood for the day. It was a hard life: exhausting, dangerous work; harsh overseers; long hours; terrible pay andno job security. …Not unlike the lives of many of our friends and neighbors here and now.

Joseph was a good man, and like so many people back then (and now) he did what he had to do to survive and provide for his family. His grim situation was common throughout Galilee at the time. Rich foreigners were moving in: confiscating farms; forcing families like the family of Joseph and Mary into poverty. Their fields became vineyards. The people were being taxed beyond reason. Huge villas were being built on those country estates, their absentee owners were living in luxury in cities like Sepphoris, which were built on the backs of men such as Joseph.

There was no hope for the future. Rome and its vassals controlled Judea and Galilee; and the Jews, especially the people in the countryside, starved and suffered. Life for the poor was short, and painful, and brutal.

What does this have to do with Christmas? The Bible teaches us that Christ’s birth marks the moment when God manifested among us; becoming Emmanuel, “God with us,” walking the earth alongside us. It began there in Galilee among the poor and dispossessed. God became fully human; but was still, and at the same time, fully divine.

What does this mean for us now, in this world where nothing seems to be going right? We too are constantly battling to survive, and grieving our losses. We fight for a good life. Yet, no matter what we do, we know it will end in death: the death of those dear to us, the death of everything that matters to us, and ultimately our own death. How can we possibly be joyful when the end of our story is already known, and inescapable, and depressing, and  futile? Why is it important that God became a human being?

The other day, while pondering this and sharing my thoughts with others, someone asked me “Why is it so important that God was not human [to begin with]?”  

Good question!

I’ll tell you.

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A Benediction: The Word Became Flesh

This Benediction is based on the well known “The Word Became Flesh” passage at the start of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-14).  I wrote it for use on Christmas Day in year “A” of the Revised Common Lectionary. 


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   This Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen its glory, full of grace and truth. And, all who receive the Word are children of God, born of God.

The Word is the light of all people. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. And, so that all might believe, we are called to testify to this light.

So, go forth!  Rejoice in the Love of God made manifest through the Child of God. Go forth, testify to that Love and share it with all of God’s Creation, just as God shares it with each and every one of us.

Amen.


Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

A Reality Check about Trump and Russia

putin-finalWhile I lean towards accepting what is being said by many in the government (and echoed throughout the mainstream media) about Russia deliberately interfering in our elections to benefit Trump, I am also aware that human beings, especially bureaucrats, tend to behave a bit like Lemmings.
 
So, we must ask ourselves: are these many Federal bureaus and agencies all reaching this conclusion of Russia’s deliberate interference out of independent, unbiased investigations and analysis; or are they looking at which way the wind is blowing and finding facts to fit the conclusions they feel others want to see?
 
Such “proof” got us into the the Second  Iraq War; and such “proof” has been the cause of much injustice and pain throughout history. So, let’s be careful about jumping to conclusions prematurely.
 
On the other hand, more than a few Republicans, and especially Trump’s camp, are taking this as an attack against his legitimacy as President. They’re right, it is; but it is a legitimate concern, not a manufactured one.  And frankly, if Hillary had been a stronger candidate, the validity of Trump’s election would never have become a concern.  (To be clear, I was a Hillary supporter; even though I recognize her weaknesses as a candidate.  However, this discussion is about Trump and Putin, not the validity or outcome of her candidacy.)
 
The way for Trump and his supporters to solve the problem is NOT to try and discredit the concerns and accusations, or to try sweep the whole mess under the rug.  It was hard enough for Obama due to similar (although baseless) accusations, and he swept into office with a huge electoral mandate on his side.  It will be far harder for Trump, who will be a President with a shaky mandate from day one.  So, it is in Trump’s own best interest to make sure the truth is revealed, and quickly – even if the accusations turn out to be true. Otherwise, he will find himself to be a President that few see as legitimate and whom no one pays much attention to, outside of an ever-shrinking circle of devoted fans.
 
Our faith, and our Democracy, are both intended to help us to find Truth in spite of ourselves.  So, let’s make sure we take the time to allow the Truth to be made known.

Exploring God’s Creation

As I was preparing for this coming Sunday’s service (Sunday, Dec 18), it seemed to me that it would be appropriate to set aside the standard Lectionary readings and theme for the day, and focus instead on the message of Christmas. (This is, in part because my Congregation has decided to not have a service on Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec 25th: when Christmas falls on a Sunday, most churches have a very small attendance. So, why have me drive all the way out there on Christmas Day, just to minister to a much smaller than normal congregation? Better to use my skills and talents elsewhere. They are right, and I am grateful, as it is a long drive.)

As I reflected on this, I thought of how Christmas reminds us that God (who is omniscient, omnipresent, and – most importantly – nonhuman) was so moved by love and compassion for their Creation that they decided to set aside their divine existence and walk with us as a human being. This meant being born as a human being, growing up as a human being, experiencing all the joys, victories, pains and sorrows of humanity, and finally dying – as a human being.

The message of our faith centers on the reality of the Christ Child, who is also known as Emmanuel, “God with us. And, as I see it, God IS with us a very tangible, real sense. Our Creator is not some amorphous and invisible spirit inhabiting an ethereal realm far beyond our understanding. Instead, the life of Jesus shows that God walks with us, eats with us, suffers with us, laughs with us, and cares deeply about us: always has, and always will.

And yet, our entire world is just a tiny speck in the vastness of Creation. Just how little of a speck we are is made more apparent with each and every new revelation of science; especially through Astronomy and Space Exploration, which are (after all) endeavors that reach out into the vastness of space to see what is there. In so doing, we realize that we are not, and cannot be, at the center of all that is; even though our most ancient myths place us in such a position.

So, I’ve created this little video for you. It reflects upon several aspects of the expansion of our knowledge of God’s Creation and our place within it, and attempts to illustrate that growth while retaining some perspective on just how small “human scale” is in comparison.

And besides, through this I am indulging my inner “Space and Astronomy” geek!

Enjoy!
-Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

 

Sermon: Repent

Would God’s love for us have any meaning or value if God did not expect something of us in return? The death of Christ on the Cross is proof that Love does not come cheap. So, while the Love of God is freely given to all, there is a price to accepting it. And, that price is Repentance.

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There are lots of wonderful old traditions we celebrate this time year: the annual church rummage sale. The men’s pancake breakfast. The live nativity scenes. Going Caroling. Maybe in some churches the youth group sets up a tree in the sanctuary; and the younger children make ornaments to hang on them. Perhaps we have an “Angel Tree” or a box to donate gifts for those who would not otherwise have a Christmas at all. And then there’s my personal favorite: all those Christmas cookies!

These are all beautiful and very worthwhile traditions; they express who we are and what is important to us. And, many if not most of them are centered on Christ’s call to take of each other and take care of those in need. This is a good thing. But, such traditions, as wonderful and good and appropriate to Christmas as they are, are not what Advent is about.

Advent is about who we are about to become, not about who we are now. Advent is about preparing for the gift of God: the Christ Child who is not yet here. It is a call to prepare for what is about to happen.

So, what is Repentance? And, why is it a theme of this, our Second Sunday of Advent? I’d like to begin by exploring what Repentance isn’t.

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Sermon: Hope Amidst the Darkness

Christ calls us to see the unseen, and right now the unseen include many who are rejecting the wisdom that we hold dear. They reject it because they see nothing in it for them, and nothing in it that respects who they are or what they need. And, until that changes, nothing we do will have a lasting impact, no matter how well intentioned we are. …And that’s a hard truth to face.

I’m starting today’s message with a slideshow. Each and every quote and image you’ll be seeing in these slides was said or written by someone I know well, or by a friend of someone I know well; and many of the locations shown in these slides (except for the very last one) are probably places you know of and may well have been to, or at least near… So, these are all people and locations with a relatively close connection to me.

These quotes and images demonstrate how this election has caused fear to overwhelm so many people that we know. This is not a criticism of whoever ran. It is trying to help us understand that there are a lot of scared and hurting people out there. People close to us, living in places close to us. I’m hoping they help us see how these reports of terror, bullying, and oppression are not just something from a newscast about a distant place, but are happening to our neighbors and friends and relatives right here, and right now.

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