Who’s Right? It Depends…

We are all valid.  We are all wonderful.  We are all unique.  God made it so.

I came across this fascinating video yesterday.  It was created last year by Hillary Diane A. Andales, a teenager living in the Philippines, to provide an easily understandable explanation of the theory of relativity.  Her video was the winning entry in the “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” of 2017.

What I find most fascinating about this video is its relevance to many of the battles we see being played out in the media and other forums within this country, and around the world, every day.  The focus of these battles always seems to center on the question of “Who is right?”   Ultimately, they are battles over the question of who’s reality is THE Reality.  But, Ms. Andales’ video forces us to ask ourselves whether such battles are worth fighting at all.

Continue reading “Who’s Right? It Depends…”

I’m Not Racist?

We cannot be our own judge.

“No, I am not a racist.”

Really?

The problem with self-declared exonerations such as our president recently gave is that they’re meaningless.  (And no, I’m not saying that he or his administration is meaningless – far from it!  But, judging the meaning of the current administration is not the subject of this posting.)

Here’s the issue: statements such as “I am not racist” originate from our own point of view.  They are an expression of how we see ourselves.  And of course, we are our own heroes in the reality show that is our life.  So, no – we’re certain that we’re not racists.  We’re not misogynists.  We’re not bullies.  We’re not evil.  Those are negative words, about nasty things – everybody agrees they’re nasty, but we’re not nasty – so no, such nasty, negative, sad terms are not labels that can be applied to us.

In proclaiming our guiltlessness, we ignore that we cannot provide a valid and balanced judgment of ourselves with regards to the accusation that we are racist.  That judgment must be left up to others, to those who are the victims of racism.  Our racism (or any oppressive behavior we may exhibit) can be only identified by another, not by ourselves.  We cannot be our own judge.

Continue reading “I’m Not Racist?”

All Men Are Created Equal?

What do we mean when we say “all men are created equal”? And, who gets to decide what “being equal” means?

It seemed appropriate for my final post here for the calendar year 2017 to focus-on and reaffirm the ideals that I see as central to my walk as a Christian (and indeed, for all Christians).  Then ask how those ideals should (or at least can) be applied within the context of the issues of the present time.

Let’s begin with some well known quotes…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
– Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
– The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

The well known maxim “All men are created equal” is itself is a corollary of the First and Second Great Commandments as stated by Jesus…

[One asked] “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” [To which Jesus replied] “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

– Matthew 22:36-40 [The Message]

“All men are created equal” is the foundational principle upon which this nation is built.  Putting that principle into practice is at the heart of the entire purpose of the Constitution and Laws our forefathers crafted for themselves (and us).  And, “All men are created equal” is the standard by which all of our laws, regulations, court decisions, ideologies and leaders must be judged.  It is the standard that lights our way in times of  confusion and discord.

Continue reading “All Men Are Created Equal?”

Conspiracy Theories

roy-moore-3-x750

Here’s why I have no patience for conspiracy theories, and come down hard on those who unthinkingly repeat them…

With conspiracy theories, everything The Other says is assumed to be a false front for a hidden agenda.

The Other has no recourse, no ability to challenge what is being said, because anything they say is assumed to be in support of the conspiracy, even if what they say is objective fact or truth.

The Other, and everything they say, is judged as invalid (if not evil) even before they say it because they are seen as invalid for being (or believing in) the conspiracy.

Such thinking led to the deaths of millions of Jews (and others) in World War II, not to mention many other massacres of Jews and other minorities throughout history, all over the world.

Such thinking led to the U.S’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, and to the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 70’s.

And yet, we all do this. Continue reading “Conspiracy Theories”

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.

Continue reading “Violence Begets Violence”

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.)

Continue reading “The Fallacy of Atheism”

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.

Continue reading ““Approve of Him”?”

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.

Continue reading “Lost But Not Forgotten”

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?”

Continue reading “Those *^*%&$ Artifacts”

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!)