“Approve of Him”?

I’ve recently seen a spate of Facebook posts, political emails and opinion columns saying the writer can’t (and we shouldn’t) “approve of the President.”  I would suggest this is a fundamentally flawed approach…

Saying this suggests we should hate or dismiss the man for what and who he is.

Really?

And yet, as a minister, I and many of my peers constantly preach and demonstrate we love all of our neighbors no matter who they are or what they believe.  No matter what their race, income, nationality, immigration status, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Jesus taught that we are to love each other without judgment, without preconditions.

That includes the President, too.

So, I cannot approve of him, nor disapprove of him.

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Going Too Far

Some thoughts regarding the push to get advertisers to drop sponsorship of Megan Kelly’s new show in advance of her first broadcast tonight, in which she interviews a conspiracy theorist who’s said some really vile things about Sandy Hook and its victims…

In a Huffingtonpost article, Emily Peck says…

“We unleashed this monster, and sometimes it’s a great weapon for social justice and sometimes it’s people censoring and sometimes it’s both.”

I know people who were very close to some of the Sandy Hook victims, and others who were deeply involved in ministering to the survivors. And so, I know that conspiracy theorists like the crass and hate-spewing blabbermouth Ms. Kelly interviewed (to be broadcast this evening) should not be given a chance by anyone, let alone competent journalists (of any political stripe) to spread their hateful and hurtful poison.

But I think the author of this article is right. Trying to shut down the broadcast of something, because we have PREJUDGED it to be abhorrent is censorship, and will ultimately do more harm than good. We don’t yet know how she will portray this guy or his message.

We can go too far, and this is such a case.

They Started It!

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– The “Second Great Commandment” – Matthew 22:39

In a recent interview with Sean Hannity on Fox, Eric Trump said that those who oppose his dad “are not even people” and then proceeded to criticize those who are calling his father names, and making all sorts of vile accusations against him.

I’ll have to admit, it’s really hard for many to take such ire seriously.  After all, no one has ever accused our current president of being a high-minded politician.  And, all of us (even his most ardent supporters) can easily recite quite a long list of derogatory phrases he has used to label those he sees as enemies.  He’s a master at the craft of name-calling and the memorable insult, we all know it.

But, does that justify our own insults of him in return?  And, does our own insulting of him justify his supporters (and him) re-insulting us back?  And, does their re-insulting of us in response to our insulting of them after they insulted us justify our re-insulting them back again?  And, does our re-insulting of them for re-insulting us after we insulted them for their insulting us justify their re-re-insulting us again?  And…

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“America First” has become “America Last”

For those who’ve followed this blog (or my ministry) for the last several years, I think you’ll agree that I try to strike a balance between my own beliefs and views (which are clearly rather Progressive); and emphasizing the importance of listening-to those who have different perspectives.  And, I believe this is imperative if we are serious about our faith: we must make a determined effort to really understand where others are “coming from.”

As I see it, we’re all in this together.  And, we cannot make progress towards a better future for all UNLESS we all believe together that it is a better future.  But, there comes a point where the line between reasoned debate and outright insanity is crossed.  That has happened repeatedly in the last few months, and isn’t going to end any time soon.  Even so, I have tried to differentiate between the actions and beliefs of our demonstrably incompetent and self centered president; and the well founded anger and doubts of many who support his administration.  Anger and concerns which many of us on the Liberal side of the spectrum actually share.  There is much more that unites us than divides us, even now.

But for me, this decision of the president’s to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is the last straw.  (This article from the Weather Channel does a good job of summarizing what this will mean for us.)

Now, for those who have questions about Climate Change, fine: have questions. Ask them. Ask lots of questions. And when well informed folk respond, listen.

But the president’s decision goes far beyond that: it not only flies in the face of unequivocal scientific research and findings; but also puts the USA at odds with the ENTIRE WORLD.

No good can come of this in an environmental, economic, political or diplomatic sense. It isolates us from our allies and economic partners.  It removes us from our former status as a respected world leader.  We are well on the way to becoming the bully with a big stick whom others will have to join together to knock back into line.  It is hard to imagine a worse decision being made by any past, present, or future president – short of starting another global war.

I’m always happy to engage in reasoned dialog on the issue of Climate Change.  But, it is not a left vs. right issue, but a right vs. wrong issue: do we listen to what ALL reputable scientists are telling us? Or, do we subscribe to the conspiracy theories and “research” promulgated by a tiny band of deniers whose motives and qualifications are for the most part highly suspect?

For this country to remain strong, for it to retain it’s position as a world leader, requires more than just a large economy and an oversized military.  Other countries will eventually eclipse us on that score, and even sooner than we might think.  Such leadership solely through raw power cannot endure.  For us to remain a leading nation in this world requires us to lead in other ways.  Sadly, the current administration and leadership in Congress does not understand this, and is leading us down a path from which we will take decades to recover, if we ever do.

Those *^*%&$ Artifacts

The past is the framework upon which our present is built. So, by appropriating the past of another for ourselves, we are often stealing or destroying their future.

For the last several years my alma mater, Andover Newton, has been wrestling with the issue of repatriation of the significant collection Native American Artifacts it has accumulated over the last two hundred (or so) years. The process has been heavily criticized by many because it has been extremely slow, with little apparent progress to outside observers.
 
And yet, as my fellow alumnus, friend (and awesome minister) Rev. Virginia Child pointed out recently: the reality is that the effort to restore even a single artifact to its rightful present day caretakers is a far more challenging and convoluted process than it would seem. While we usually know where an artifact came from and who originally gave it to the school, identifying who should be the caretaker can be quite a challenge, as this article about a controversy over the repatriation of the remains of an ancient Wampanoag leader demonstrates.
 
So, while it is frustratingly slow, Andover Newton’s determination to be careful and sensitive in the repatriation of each of these artifacts is to its credit. It would be much easier to simply hand them to the first group that shows up with something resembling a valid claim. But, such an approach would only continue and aggravate the long ago injustices that created the present situation.
 
This same type of controversy is an often intractable aspect of far larger conflicts we see in so many places: Israel/Palestine; the Progressive/Conservative battles in the US and elsewhere; the tensions between China and many of its neighbors; North Korea; Black Lives Matter; the controversies in many of our Southern states right now over flying the Confederate flag and the placement of statues and memorials venerating Confederate heroes and events; and the representations of Native Americans in sports team names and logos.  In each case, tensions focus on questions of “Who owns our past?” And, “Who has control over the narrative of what our past means?”

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Fearless Girl / Charging Bull

gettyimages-660179780-1024x566A bit of a kerfluffle has erupted in the last few days over the “Fearless Girl” sculpture on Wall Street in New York City, created by Kristen Visbal.

As most of you know, on the morning of International Women’s Day, “Fearless Girl” was set up facing (and, in fact confronting) the famous “Charging Bull” sculpture on Wall Street.  “Fearless Girl” is intended to make it clear that the time of Wall Street and major firms being a “mens’-only” club is over.  Women have long deserved the right (as well as convincingly earned the right) to have an equal role in the leadership of this nation’s business community and its many firms and organizations.

Now, the artist who created and installed “Charging Bull,” Arturo Di Modica, is taking offense at the way “Fearless Girl” changes how the public looks at his own work.  He wants “Fearless Girl” removed, and is suing the City to try and force this to happen.

But really, is this a reasonable argument?

“Charging Bull” was a piece of guerrilla art itself, secretly installed one night after the Stock Market crash of the 1987.  The artist saw it as a symbol of prosperity and strength.

But, it has also become a symbol in the years since of the dominance of capitalism and forcefulness of American business.

And that’s precisely the problem…

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Running for Office

In January I announced to my congregation that I would be resigning as the pastor of ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA; effective June of this year.  It is a lovely congregation, full of energy and determination to be a voice for God’s call to love all of our neighbors without condition and without judgment.  Over the past 3-1/2 years since we first met, they have become good friends, and I will definitely miss them.  I am confident they will do great and wonderful things in the months and years to come, and I wish them well.

 

I have set my feet on this new path because I had found that – regardless of whether I win in Monday’s election or not – my deepening involvement in local government, community building and social justice efforts has brought me to a point where it is no longer possible to be as engaged as I feel I must be in either field of endeavor, if I were to try to do both at the same time.

While I will no longer have a regular “Day Job” as a Minister, I’m sure I’ll occasionally preach, or officiate at a wedding or funeral.  …The call to ministry is still here, just manifesting in a slightly different way most of the time.

This does not mean that the theological and political or social justice commentary that I present here in this blog will end – far from it.  If anything, such written perambulations will probably increase!

My passion is, and always has been, to help bridge gaps between people: to bring them closer together, to learn to trust and respect each other, and so to make it more possible for them – both individually and as a community – to be all that they are called to be; and to live lives filled with peace, respect and happiness.

That call upon my life continues, merely in a different form.

Political Reality

I’ve said this before, and it needs to be said again and again:

Some aspects of the GOP’s agenda, particularly with regards to economic policy and governance, have merit: reducing government bloat and overregulation are good goals; as is strengthening our manufacturing base and increasing our economic competitiveness.
 
I may disagree with some aspects of these goals, especially certain proposed implementations, but the basic ideas are sound. Making progress on these issues would be welcomed by many moderate Democrats and non-aligned voters, especially if implemented with some effort at building a common consensus with those outside the party. And many within the GOP, such as Senator McCain and even Dick Cheney have said exactly this.
 
However, the GOP’s blind spot is their assumption that they have been given a mandate to promote their social agenda and a pass on ignoring the influence of dark money and corruption in politics.  If they continue pushing on rolling back social reform and ignore the corruption issues (as they are actively doing), they’ll have a really tough time in the next election cycle – despite their extensive attempts at voter suppression and gerrymandering.
 
But Democrats be warned: American voters are determined to have a government that is focused on improving the situation of the middle class and the poor, and they see “dark money” and influence-buying as key obstacles to making that happen. I think it likely we’ll continue to see increasingly large, wild and ultimately destructive swings every few years from one party being given control to the other until both parties recognize this and do something about it.  Case in point: the current regime.

And let’s be perfectly clear on this: those of us who are devoted to the cause of social justice can never ignore the fact that people vote first with their wallets.  If we don’t provide the majority of people within this country with realistic hope for a stable and prosperous future, they will be adamant in their refusal to support any expansion of social justice that could be construed as taking away what little stability and hope they already have.  It doesn’t matter to them how right or just a particular cause may be: what matters is whether they have a roof over their own heads and food on the table for their own children.

That’s reality: deal with it.

– Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2017, Allen Vander Meulen III.
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Abolish the Johnson Amendment?

In a recent editorial (“IRS Should not Enforce Silence from the Pulpit“), the Boston Globe gave a nuanced and thoughtful (if brief) critique of the current state of the law. And, in fact, I agree with their position.

As I (and the Globe) see it, the problem with the so-called “Johnson Amendment” which prohibits churches and other tax-exempt groups from specifically endorsing candidates is not that the law exists, but in how it is enforced by the IRS.  In fact, it’s a bit of a morass, with varying standards applied in various cases with varying degrees of zeal on the part of the IRS’s representatives.

As a minister, I do not specifically endorse (or condemn) candidates from the pulpit. (Although, I doubt anyone is in the dark about my political leanings!)

On the other hand, I have known of ministers who have condemned (or endorsed) specific political candidates from the pulpit in various ways, and I feel – even if it were allowed by the law –  this is a seriously flawed approach, from many different points of view.  I have even known ministers who have allowed campaigning politicians to give speeches from their pulpit, in clear violation of the Johnson Amendment.

Aside from the very clear “First Amendment” issues (regarding both Separation of Church and State and Freedom of Speech), I see such endorsements as a Pastoral failure: it is insensitive and dismissive, if not blind to, the feelings and experience of many who are in our congregations.  Ministers who make such a stand often find themselves in hot water with their congregations for precisely that reason, and rightly so.

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Sermon: “With”

“…whether Women or Blacks or Jews or Japanese or Gays or Muslims or Hispanics or Native Americans are human is not the issue. They are, obviously. The real question is: are we?”

dsc_0168One point I was hoping to make with the “Hope” video I was going to show at the beginning of today’s service was that the “Women’s Marches” around the country on the day after the inauguration were not “Protests.”

Now, a “Protest” is where you stand against something – some event or social ill or person. And, certainly this was an impetus to the creation and organization of those demonstrations; but to “Protest” is not what I saw when I was there: it was not why millions of us came together.

We came to be with each other! We knew it was important to show through our physical presence, that we will support those who are being marginalized. We came because we care. We came because we will no longer stand by while our neighbors are being silenced and oppressed. We gathered together out of love, not out of hate.

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Major Crow

The heart of the problem is that many believe that being in a leadership position means they no longer need advice, particularly unsolicited advice: They must have all the answers, and see accepting advice from others as a sign of weakness. They think they’ll lose face for accepting help from others; or that “naysayers” are seeking to undermine them and their cause. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“Where there is no guidance, a nation falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
– Proverbs 11:14 (NRSV)

A dozen (or so) years ago, I was a Technical Lead for an IT services contractor in the DC area.  After wrapping up one project, I had been assigned to lead a project for a new client of another division within my company.  A few months later, I was pulled back into my old group because a project that had been waiting approval for a long time had finally gotten the green light: writing a new and very complex logistics-support application for a branch of the military.

Several members of my team had spent years supporting (and fixing) the predecessor to the proposed new system.  They had developed a very deep and thorough knowledge of the way the client used the system, the system’s remaining flaws, and the needs it was failing to address at all.  We had known for a long time that it would cost far more to finish fixing the existing system’s critical problems and gaps than to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.  The client had finally agreed: a design and project plan had been developed, and the proposal had been approved.  I was brought back to lead the technical side of that effort.

Just a couple of weeks later, we had our initial meeting with the primary stakeholders of the new system in an office building not far from the Pentagon.  I arrived along with my boss.  She and I were escorted into a conference room.  Several of the folks associated with the use of the system were already there, and we all chatted for a few minutes as the rest of the team trickled in.

Suddenly, an aide came in and announced an Officer: after that introduction, he strode in and sat down.  Wasting no time, his message was pointed and brief: he had talked to the commander about an hour earlier and convinced him that our project should be under his command, since he was already tasked with leading the development and deployment of a similar system.  (Although similar, not identical – its mission actually had very little overlap with that of our project.)

He explained that our project was needless duplication, and that it would detract from what he was trying to accomplish.  Besides, he’d had a conversation with the vendor of the workgroup product his own “portal” was going to be built-with, and the vendor had assured him it would only take 8 months to duplicate the functionality our project would provide.  And so, he’d promised his commander that he would have the new system up and running in eight months time.

Therefore, he was shutting down our project, effective immediately.

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Marching in the Light of God

img_8889A synopsis of the “A Message for All Ages” I presented to our congregation’s children (and adults) on January 22, 2017.


I attended the “Women’s March for America” in Boston yesterday.  It was not easy to get to because Boston’s Public Transportation system was overwhelmed by how many people were trying to go, but it was well worth the hassle it took to get there.

I thought it would be good to show you a slideshow of some of the things I saw, as well as talk about what that March means for us and our neighbors.

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