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!”

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Luck Favors the Prepared?

We are not a lucky people, we are a prepared people!

Our son “working” with a snowblower

My wife Stephanie is a Chiropractor. When we have snowy weeks like this, I wonder if it was such a great idea to have her office in our home. Out of consideration for her patients, I spend a great deal of time on days like today plowing, shoveling & sanding; and I’ve built up a set of tools, practices, skills and resources appropriate to such efforts. Without them, I would not be able to do what needs to be done to support her and her patients in a timely fashion, let alone have time to complete my newsletter article for ARK Church!

the-incredibles-poster-artwork-craig-t-nelson-holly-hunter-samuel-l-jacksonOne of my favorite movies is Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” a story in which each main character’s super-strength is also their weakness. They are so used to employing their strengths to solve any problem that they are at a loss when their strengths are no longer sufficient for the challenges they face. But, right when all of the individual crises of the main characters peak and collide, a wise friend tells Helen Parr (aka Elastigirl), “Luck favors the prepared.

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The Magnificat

Third Isaiah is a text that deals with disappointment, of a restoration gone wrong, of a reality that does not match up with the image that hope had inspired in the minds of the people. They thought the future was here, but now realize it will take much longer to realize the vision. So, we are forced to admit, with disappointment and frustration, that the future is still not here, yet! We are also facing doubt and division over the way forward, and finding that our vision for the future does not match that of others. The future is much cloudier than we thought. Things are not going well, and we are struggling to figure out who is responsible for failing to implement the dream. We are coming to realize that bringing the dream into reality is far harder than we we ever imagined.

Janvier_2014__La_Visitation_de_Champaign_4ce186db1bThis week we will be celebrating the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday.  Tradition tells us it is “…a day to be joyful even in the midst of long waiting and keen awareness of suffering.”   

Advent begins with a focus on the future: “The reign of God is coming. Prepare!”  And ends a little over a week from now with a focus on the past: “The Messiah is about to be born in Bethlehem. Rejoice!”  Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, is named using a Latin word meaning “to rejoice” in the imperative – meaning we are commanded to rejoice.

Last week’s reading from Isaiah 40:1-11 was the Second Isaiah’s comforting of Jerusalem because the restoration from exile of both God and the people was at hand.  That morning’s sermon focused on the need to prepare in anticipation of that return, to reflect upon our own failings and sin, and admit to ourselves that we needed God to heal (or fill) the gaps and holes in our own lives.

This coming Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is from the third set of prophesies in the Hebrew Testament’s book of Isaiah: prophesies that mainly concern themselves with the situation in Jerusalem after the exiles have returned from the Babylonian exile.  Just as the second set (chapters 40-54) are referred to as “Second Isaiah,” scholars refer to these writings (chapters 55 through 66) as “Third Isaiah.”  Like the second set, those who compiled the Book of Isaiah felt it important to include the prophesies of “Third Isaiah,” along with those of “Second Isaiah” to follow the complete (three generation long) narrative arc of exile of Judah to Babylon: from the First Isaiah’s prophesies of future doom and destruction for Judah’s distancing itself from God; to Second Isaiah’s call for compassion and redemption in the present as the seemingly impossible dream of restoration comes to pass; to Third Isaiah’s focus on the disappointment, discord and disillusionment that followed the return of the exiles to Jerusalem a generation earlier.

The story of Advent follows a similar arc: our emphasis on the future declines as our emphasis on the past increases.  Our readings for Advent begin with a mature Jesus teaching us about the reign of God, and they close with the unborn Christ Child in Mary’s womb.

This movement reflects our Christian understanding that the sacred story, to be understood fully and correctly, has to be told backwards.  The birth and ministry of Jesus are incomprehensible until we know of his death and resurrection.  To put it another way, our understanding of the past is muddled and incomplete until we grasp the nature of the future and purpose of History.  Christianity sees History as having a definite start, a definite end, and that it reflects the plan and purpose of God, reaching its crescendo in Christ.  In other words, while we have (incomplete) knowledge of the past and present, we cannot make sense of what we know of them until we know the whole story, including the end.

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A Veteran’s Day Message

Cimetière_américain_de_Romagne-sous-Montfaucon_-_1918_-_France
The American Cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, where many of the 26,000 Americans who died in the 47 day long Meuse-Argonne Offensive (at the end of WWI) are buried.

This week, 96 years ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the conflict known as WWI ended when the Armistice went into effect – an event we now celebrate as “Veterans Day”.

I probably would not be writing this today if it weren’t for that Armistice.

My Grandfather was a soldier in France, a corporal, in the fall of 1918.  Although he’d been in the military for some time (at first ill for several months with what may have been the infamous “Spanish Flu”, then in an artillery unit), his first taste of face to face combat with the enemy was set for a couple of days after that symbolic day that ended the war.  He and a team of soldiers were to attack a German fortification (which he termed a “castle”) with the goal of diverting attention from the main attack elsewhere.  In military terms, “divert” means “get shot at,” which is why he and his fellows called these teams “Suicide Squads.” The survival rate was typically under 5% – if they were doing their jobs right (and my grandfather never did anything “halfway” in his entire life).

He and his fellow soldiers in that squad survived only because the diplomats agreed to end the war at that symbolic time, and did not drag out negotiations for a couple of more days.  If they’d delayed for only a day or two, I might never have existed.

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Christmas Treats!

Cookies! Breads! Treats of every kind! As a member of the Pastoral Staff, my inbox and desk were flooded with all sorts of goodies this Holiday Season. The oh so steady but slow gains in my battle against the beltline all went out the window in just a few hours as I chomped down on all of the treats thoughtfully baked and prepared by our parishioners.

We often groan at the thought of being flooded with toothsome goodies every Holiday Season, but I have learned that everyone has a story to go with such gifts.

One man I’ll call Ed had received his recipe for a sweetbread from a friend of his family, who had in turn received it from Ed’s father years earlier. When Ed’s father died, this friend felt moved to give Ed the recipe that Christmas, saying that he knew Ed’s father would have wanted him to have it. So, every Christmas since then, Ed has baked that recipe, always cooking from the same tired, stained, ripped old piece of paper that his friend gave him all those years ago, with the recipe on it in his Father’s handwriting.

Another women I’ll call Nina gave me a loaf of bread, and on her note she wrote, simply, “This is my Grandmother’s Sweet Nut Bread.” I can just imagine the wonderful memories the aroma of this bread must have created for Nina, smelling it now must bring her back to those times as a child when her grandmother was baking it for the Holidays.

Miriam gave me a plate of cookies, and told me how grateful she was to have had so many good years since a life-threatening bout of illness. For her, life is to be enjoyed, every day is relished, because for her, every day is a gift. These cookies are a way for her to share that goodness of life with others.

All of these people were expanding my waistline, it is true, but more importantly they were sharing the good times, poignant memories, wonderful smells and wonderful meals that meant so much to them. They were sharing a part of themselves with me, taking the time to give me – literally – a portion of the fruit of their labors. They were inviting me into their lives, giving me a glimpse of what is important to them, what is deeply meaningful to them. I am being asked to become a part of their family, in a way, I am being invited into the story of their lives.

And this is the way it is with Jesus. God shared Jesus with us. In so doing, God has invited us to be a part of his life, to be part of his family, to become part of His story.

Sharing food is a very intimate, precious thing – sharing one’s time, sustenance and story with another. Gifts like this also have such strong echoes with the Breaking of Bread at Communion, potluck suppers on Sundays after church, and even the sharing of the temple sacrifices with the priests in Ancient Israel. All of these are statements of togetherness, of being a family, of being one with each other.

So, as I sit down and sample these wonderful gifts, I will share them with my own family and be thankful for these wonderful people who have given of themselves to make this happen. And, I will be thankful that I am part of The Story.

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).

For Unto Us

It is with great pleasure that I tell you that my son, Allen Vander Meulen IV, was born on December 9 at 1:15am.  As for his vital statistics, his weight was 7 lbs, 12 oz and he is 20.5 inches long.

“Junior” is a very happy, peaceful baby boy – very much like my daughter was at that age.  In fact, about the only thing dimming the beauty and wonder of this occasion is that the relationship with my daughter is still broken.

I very much want her little brother to get to know her – I am certain he will grow up to be as fine and wonderful a person as she is.  I will be just as proud of him and love him no less (and no more) than I am proud-of and love my daughter.