Violence Begets Violence

I can understand a church’s desire to protect its’ people. We’ve seen far too many massacres at churches (or anywhere, for that matter).  But, despite that reality, threatening more violence in reaction to violence doesn’t even remotely approach having anything to do with the teachings of the faith.

When relating the story of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemene, Matthew 26:52 tells us that when a disciple sought to defend Jesus from those arresting him:

…Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

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The Fallacy of Atheism

One thing I’ve noticed about many who reject Faith without thoroughly exploring the subject to begin with (“It just doesn’t make sense to me.”) – is that they envision faith as being focused on The Creation and The Afterlife – on narratives of The Beginning and of The End.  They see these narratives – which most or all faiths have – as factually and fatally flawed, if not downright foolish; and so not worthy of serious consideration.  Therefore, in their eyes, the faith as a whole must be flawed.

Now, there are many people who have adopted the label “Atheist” because they see the evil and pain in this world and cannot believe that a loving God would allow such things. (And perhaps even blame faith as responsible for much of the world’s pain – which, sadly, is true).  Therefore, they say, there is no God.  But, that’s an entirely different topic that I have referred-to in some of my past posts here on this site.)

When talking about the Creation or the End Times, the problem – at least in my view – is that focusing on a factual interpretation of a Faith’s narratives of The Beginning and The End completely misses the point.  (Biblical interpretation Literalists, please take note.)

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You Lost Me…

Beth Woolsey’s blog is always entertaining, and often deeply insightful: filled with a deep passion for life and compassion for others.

This particular post of hers (which lays out why she left Conservative Christianity behind) in many ways reflects my own journey on the same path.

http://bethwoolsey.com/2017/09/how-i-became-a-heretic-or-how-the-evangelical-conservative-church-lost-me/

“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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Lost But Not Forgotten

This image is of my daughter taking a bow after dancing to the song “I Will Follow Him” in a talent show at our church in October of 1995.  I pulled this from one frame of a shaky and out of focus video of the performance, shot by a very poor videographer (me), using a video camera that was old and tired even then. The video’s quality has not been helped by its later conversion from VHS to DVD and then (recently) to MP4.

Despite the faded and poor quality imagery, my memory of her performance that day is sharp and clear, and always will be.   She was only six years old at the time.  She selected the song by herself and used what she’d learned in her Ballet lessons to choreograph the dance on her own.  And, she selected her outfit for the performance – a red “twirly hoop dress” – all by herself, too.

She did a fabulous job, and kept her composure even when an excited toddler ran on to the stage during the dance.  The congregation let her know their appreciation with a rousing ovation and cheers.  She did great.  I was a very, very proud father that day.

But, it is also a memory tinged with sadness.  A few years later, our relationship was destroyed in the death of my first marriage: I was shut out of her life without any choice or voice in the matter, and know almost nothing of her life since.  I doubt that this rupture will ever be healed.

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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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The Civil War, Slavery, and Black Lives Matter

The above video from Prager University provides a really good overview of the issue of Slavery and the Civil War.
 
A question to ask: many in the South at the time claimed they would be more supportive of Emancipation if it weren’t for the economic cost of giving up their slaves. So, what would have happened if the North had paid for freeing the slaves?  The cost of doing so was said to be far too high at the time, but I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have been as costly as the war that resulted.

Continue reading “The Civil War, Slavery, and Black Lives Matter”

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!)

 

For or Against?

14724498_10157594211435113_4623695507832864461_nI like this meme by John Pavlovitz: It gets to the heart of something that always troubles me when I’m labelled as an ally of one group or another…

It is true that we are called by our faith to make a special effort to support those who are not empowered, no matter who they are. And, this is a central concept within my own ministry and in my day to day existence.

But the problem has always been that people tend to view someone who is “for” some group or cause as being against something else. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Continue reading “For or Against?”

9/11/2001: Fifteen Years

On this, the 15th anniversary of the “9-11 Attacks” I’ve been asking myself: “How do we remember the past; while also being messengers of healing and growth for those still hurting from this (and other) such events?” And, our remembrances must be respectful of the present and the past: a time of healing, not a source of renewed pain.

So, I created this short video to remind us of the events of that day, and reflect on how we remember what we remember.

This coming Sunday marks the 15th Anniversary of the “9-11 Attacks.”

The youngest of us who remember that day are now of voting age, having lived their whole lives in a world where the threat of Terrorism is real and present; no longer distant and theoretical, as many of us thought it to be before that sunny Tuesday morning in September.

We confront the legacy of 9-11 in our lives in many ways, every day. But, the attacks themselves are growing ever more distant with time. (I marvel that World War II, which seems like such ancient history to me, ended just 15 years before my birth.) 15 years can seem like an eon, yet simultaneously it can be as fresh and strong as if it was just yesterday…

I’ve been asking myself: “How do we remember what has been; while also being  messengers of healing and growth for those still hurting from this (and other) such events?”  Yet, we must also be sensitive to the fact that for many, dredging up these memories is intensely painful. Our remembrance must be respectful of the present and the past. It must be a time of healing, not a source of renewed pain.

For me, one way to do this was to compile a short video that is intended to remind us of the events of that day, and which reflects on how we remember what we remember. I will be showing this video following the church service I’ll be leading this Sunday, and afterwards we’ll have a time for remembering, sharing, and prayer.

There are no words in the video, just carefully selected music and images. This is deliberate – in part so that those who find the memories (that these images will recall) too powerful or painful can simply close their eyes. However, the larger reason is that human words are not adequate for expressing how many of us, including myself, still feel when reminded of the events of that day.

No matter whether you worship in a Church, a Synagogue, a Mosque or a Temple;  please join me this coming Sunday morning: September 11th 2016, to remember, and to pray for those who are still hurting.  Pray with me for the healing of all who have been wounded by hate or fear.

Our  wounds and losses will never be forgotten, but we all believe in a Higher Power – whether that power is in the form of a deity, or simply the power of a people united for the common good.  What is necessary is that we learn to believe and trust in each other, because only by trusting each other and working together will our world be freed from the losses and wounds that we inflict upon others out of our own fear and pain.

 

-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!)

The Great Divide

Let us not mince words, as a country we have a starker choice than we’ve ever had before: to choose hate, or to choose love. Which path does our faith call us to pursue?

A year ago today our souls were still filled with the words of President Obama’s Eulogy in Charleston for nine Christians murdered in their own church: in that speech his words were filled with calls for forgiveness, love, tolerance, and social justice.  And then, a year ago today, the Supreme Court passed down a decision that made it legal for everyone in this nation to marry whomever they love.
How have these two great events impacted us now, a year later?
On the one side we have a political party that talks about respect and care and social justice. Now, admittedly, they don’t always live up to the ideals they hold, but the intent is there: a determination to love others as God love us.
On the other hand, we have a political party that talks about alienation, about deportation, building walls, embracing hate for all who are different from them in any way, claiming that the threat of deadly violence against another as the first and best defense against injustice. And, it is clear that the presumptive nominee of that party has no concern for anyone but himself: in his mind, people are tools to be used, not creatures of God to be loved as God loves us.
Let us not mince words, as a country we have a starker choice than we’ve ever had before: to choose hate, or to choose love.

Continue reading “The Great Divide”

Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.