Faith

Sermon presented at the Congregational Church of Grafton, MA, July 1, 2012.

Texts:

Mark 4:30-32 (Parable of the Mustard Seed)

Hebrews 11:1-7 & 11:32-12:2

What is Faith?  That’s not a small question.  In Christianity, the answer to that question begins with Genesis … and never really ends.  Faith defines how we see ourselves, who and what we choose to have relationships with, and what we envision our end and the end of Creation, to be.  Faith helps us make sense of the events and circumstances that shape us and our world.  It lays out a path for us to follow into the future.  Faith enables us to gaze into the infinite and the unknowable and find a place there for ourselves.  It helps us make sense of the mystery of God and the vastness of Creation.  Faith enables us to exist in a world of uncertainty and change.

Faith.  A great deal is expressed in that one tiny little word.  So, it’s kind of audacious to think we can have any sort of meaningful exploration of this topic and yet still have time to get to the Sox and Mariners game this afternoon.

A lot has been written on the topic of Faith.  Not just the Bible, but everything from Hamlet or Pilgrim’s Progress to Harry Potter and Star Trek.

We talk a lot about Faith too, saying things like “I have faith in Evolution” or “This (or that) strengthened my faith” or, “I lost (or I found) my Faith.”  But, we never define what Faith is, even though we talk a lot about how much of it we have, or need, or how to find it, or how to use it.

We also talk a lot about how important faith is to us.  We admire those who have strong faith, and we honor those who die for their faith.  We seek to encourage faith in others, and we minister to those in need as a product of what our own faith impels us to do.  Faith is a powerful thing, and central to our existence.

Yet, even though we talk a lot about what to have faith in; or, how to find faith; or, how to use our faith, we never define what it is.  It’s assumed we already know.  I’m not sure that’s a good assumption.

Continue reading “Faith”

The Fabulous Flying Fuzzball

A sermon I presented in 2008 at Payson Park Church in Belmont, MA…

Back in the mid 90’s I bought a home in rural Virginia.  The house had a huge backyard.  I had to keep the grass there under control, but could not afford a rider mower, so I bought three lambs instead.  (I figured I’d eventually get a meal or two out of the deal, but did not tell this to the lambs.)

The Bible often compares us to sheep.  Frankly, now that I’ve owned a few, that’s a scary thought.

I am not sure that sheep are as dumb as many have said they are, but they sure have a talent for getting themselves into trouble (mostly – I think – out of curiosity).  When sheep are frightened, they run.  However, if it is their curiosity that gets them into trouble, they often just sit there until someone comes and rescues them, rather then figuring out how to rescue themselves.  I think of this behavior as a sort of silent whining.

Sheep love to climb.  I remember more than one occasion where they tried to climb onto the two swings hanging from my daughter’s playset in the near corner of the backyard, in the opposite corner from where the sheep’s shed was: I’d come out in the morning and see them standing there, front hooves on the ground, back ends up in the air hanging from the slings, patiently waiting to be rescued.  Every so often they’d somehow climb up on the slide – never did figure out how they did that, but I’d find them standing up there in the morning: surveying the back yard, waiting for me to show up and make it all better.

The two ewes, Heidi and Sally were fairly docile, but we were wary of the ram, Fuzzball, because he became more and more aggressive as he approached his first birthday.

One morning, Fuzzball’s curiosity collided with my own carelessness, and so earned his place in history…

Continue reading “The Fabulous Flying Fuzzball”

Coming Out and Being Left Out

Someone close to me recently “came out” and disclosed to their family that they are gay. This person’s parents have had a hard time dealing with this, and there has been a gap of I think hurt and anger between the parents and their child.

My views on alternative lifestyles are clear to those who have read other posts in this blog, which is that we are all God’s creatures, and that how we live our own life is between us and God, subject to whether our lifestyle hurts or compromises the lives of others.

In this light, my friend’s “coming out” really hurts no one.  It does cause emotional stress for the parents, but only because they are not emotionally or intellectually prepared to deal with this new reality in their lives. Their reaction to this is (I think) a mixture of anger, hurt, and “how could my child do this to us?”  They need time to adjust, and need to be willing to love, and to be changed by their love.

My advice to all those in such a situation is to remember that your child, particularly your adult child, is a child of God even more than they are your child. And, since they are an adult, it is no longer up to you how they live their lives; it is up to them.

As parents, when our adult children do something (like this) that we cannot comprehend, we need to be willing to realize that their telling us of it is a major challenge for them, because they know they are likely to be rejected, just as they have felt shame, hurt, oppression and anger all of their lives, trying to hide this inner self that they feel is an inescapable part of who they are from the world.

So, my advice is to remember that your son or daughter’s life is hard enough, living with this reality. As parents, we may not understand their lifestyle, or like it, but they are our child. As such, it is important to remember that our Father in Heaven loves us the same no matter what we do, and even though none of us are perfect.  Regardless of who we are, we are called by Jesus to love others, most especially our children, in the same way.  Even though they are just as imperfect as us, God sees the perfection that is within.

 

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

When O When…

A good friend of mine who was on recent a “class field trip” with me to visit an Islamic center here in Boston wrote a blog posting of her thoughts regarding that experience, particularly her feelings of anger and violation because of how women are treated differently than men in this particular congregation, and in the Islamic faith as a whole.  I understand, sympathize and agree with her thoughts, So, I guess I’m stuck on how we should respond on both an individual basis, and as a class, to what she says…

My own guiding principle is that no matter what the accepted conventions of the society at large are, one’s first goal must be to do that which is true to one’s own values; though you can’t push this too far without becoming arrogant and self-righteous.  In this case, we were students of faith visiting the place of worship of another great religion, a faith that is admirable in most respects and which has made magnificent and beautiful contributions to the world in which we live; a faith which is vital, living and provides a great deal of value, purpose and comfort to hundreds of millions of people around the world.  So, balance is needed.  As human beings, we must respect the “otherness” of others, but we must also sometimes stand up for what we know within ourselves is right when the social conventions of others create injustice or oppression – and we must be willing to accept the costs of doing so.

I don’t think guidelines can easily be predetermined along the continuum of endorsement vs. acceptance vs resistance vs protest. What to do is a multidimensional and intensely personal decision in many cases, as it was for my friend (and others) here. But, on the whole, I think it is better to be true to one’s “internal compass”, especially when one has taken the time to discern, think through and systematize one’s values (as I and others are learning to do at ANTS).  Protesting the wearing of head scarves and other measures that (in American eyes) demean or oppress the status of women is often warranted, but was this a time to do so, when we were guests, guests trying to learn more about an often misunderstood and unjustly vilified faith?  I think that is a very, very hard question to answer.

I believe, that as a community of faith, the trials of one affect us all. In that light, I apologize to my friend – there is no reason why I couldn’t have worn a head scarf myself while there, other than I didn’t think of doing so at the time. But then I need to ask myself, was this the proper time and place for me to be in solidarity with others in an act of protest? — Leaving us right back where we started.  In the end, I think she made the right choice: if we had been known to this congregation, respectful protest and seeking of a mutually acceptable resolution would have been seen in a much different light then if we’d simply swooped in on this, the first time they met us, and done something that would have been seen as an unreasoning condemnation or lack of toleration for beliefs that are important to this community as part of their identity as a people of faith.

 

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

Radically Moderate

I lost a friend today.  An old High School friend of mine wrote to me via facebook this morning to tell me he was angry and insulted by the postings from some of my more liberal facebook friends.  Not only did he find those postings offensive, but went on to say that I appeared to him to be just as liberal, unbalanced and evil as them, and so he wanted nothing to do with me in the future, either.

I find this both puzzling, and sad.

Puzzling because a recent attempt of mine to become associated with an organization was derailed (at least in part) by some of its representatives who did not seem to believe that I could be appreciative of a number of conservative Christian organizations (that I’ve either worked-for or been a member-of in the past) and yet still consider myself a progressive Christian.  They seemed troubled by my refusal to denounce those organizations and what they stand for.  Instead, I emphasized the positive things that I found in them and my admiration and respect for the earnest and godly people that work for and support them.

So, I am apparently seen as too liberal by some and too conservative by others: I guess I must be doing something right.

What I find sad about my friend’s rejection, and about the other challenge I mentioned, is that in both cases I was dealing with people that I find to be dedicated, intelligent, wonderful human beings.   They are all very sincere and heartfelt in their beliefs and very dedicated to the causes they support.  There is nothing wrong with this.  In fact, it is a good thing.  Further, there are many things that each of these people consider to be heartfelt values that I also value.  In fact, I see more commonality in their respective values than I do difference.  My sadness here is because it seems that in both cases they do not see the commonality I see.  Worse still, there is a refusal to acknowledge that the “other side” has any legitimacy at all.  And so, rather than seeking to understand, respect and embrace their fellow human beings – something I believe the Bible teaches us we must do – they are both not listening to each other and are each seeking to cut off debate before it has begun.  They are both refusing to allow relationship to occur, perhaps knowing in their hearts that entering into relationship means taking the risk of being changed by that relationship.  In both cases, it seems they have decided that change is something they will not be open to, except on their own terms.  There is a refusal to learn and a refusal to appreciate that the spark of the divine exists in all of us, and needs to be valued by all of us.

Now, I want to be very careful in saying all of this – as I am sure I will receive critical comments both from those who are more conservative and those who are more liberal, each concerned that I am supporting the views of the other “side.”

What I’m getting at is that to me, there is no “side.”  We are all human, we are all pathfinders on this journey we all share called life, and we are all imperfect.  We need to support, learn from and share with each other.  We need to listen to each other, and we need to love each other.  We all stand equal before the divine, whether you identify your conception of the Divine with the term “G*d”, “Jesus”, “Allah” or “Brahman”.  For me to criticize the wonderful people I have worked with in the past would be, to me, a betrayal not only of my friendship with them and my appreciation of the wonderful people they were and are, but a violation of Christ’s command to love one another.  Similarly, I see both wisdom and willful blindness on both sides in the rancorous political debates occurring within our country at the present time.

All too frequently I run into folks who do not seem to realize that they are being just as obstinate, close minded and reactionary (in the sense of reacting before thinking) as those they condemn for being so on the other side of the religious and/or political fence.  It’s time to listen to one another, it’s time to show each other the radical love that God wants us as Christians to have for each other.  It’s time to moderate our own voices and listen to what our fellow human beings have to say.

We may not like the causes they espouse, but behind each person’s support of any cause are hopes, dreams and fears.  There are reasons why they feel those causes are legitimate.  What I have always found is that when one starts digging into those reasons, to see behind what is being said to find what is being felt, to really listen, there is much more that we share than not.  It is time to focus on that commonality and to act upon it, realizing that we cannot get agreement for the solution we see as ideal, but also realizing that we do not know the whole story, and that the only way to get a fuller understanding is to come to understand and appreciate why those we differ with believe as they do.  This is what the founding fathers of this country believed, and their wisdom has stood the test of time.

So, I will remain “radically moderate” – always (I hope) willing to listen, willing to learn, and willing to love.

 

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

Is God Involved?

One of the biggest questions any faith must address in their theology is to what extent God is involved in human affairs.  The answer can range from seeing God as distant and totally uninvolved (if not unapproachable); to heavily involved in every last detail of our lives.  None of the world’s major faiths have a single viewpoint on this issue.  Instead, we see a range communities within each of these great faiths with a broad range of views on the continuum between these two extremes.

The “distant” conception sees God as a distant, uninvolved deity.  In this view, humanity is often seen as an accidental or deliberate byproduct of creation, as rejected or cut off from God, or perhaps even forgotten by Her (or Him).  Adherents of this view usually believe it is up to humanity to somehow bridge the gap between us and God to achieve salvation.  For myself, I have difficulty with this view, since I believe God can (and does) have a personal relationship with us.  A distant and uninvolved God wouldn’t care about us one way or another, and our very existence would therefore be meaningless and futile.

A “Highly Involved God” is one where all pain, suffering and bad choices in this life are “fixed” because of God’s love for us.  While I believe God loves us, I have concerns with this point of view because it requires God to interfere in human affairs on an ongoing basis.  If God miraculously heals or favors me in some way, the cost is probably that someone else must suffer or be denied access to the benefits I am being given.  As a Rabbi once said: if I take a walk one day and see a fire engine racing by me towards smoke rising in the distance from where my house is, and I pray for God to let it not be my house that is burning, then am I, in effect, asking that someone else’s house be burned?  A God who interferes in human existence in such a way would not be respecting the gift of freedom of choice, which I believe lies at the heart of what makes us human, and is what makes us capable of having a true relationship with God.  If God does not permit us to suffer the consequences of our own choices, then we are no more than pets, or perhaps robots: playthings without a meaningful existence of our own.

The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible makes this same argument: as a human, I am finite and limited in my understanding.  Therefore, I cannot know all the consequences of what I ask of God.   So, when God does not grace me with what I see as a favorable answer to what I am requesting, is that a bad thing?  I think not.  To me, it merely means that I do not know the full story, and that I am asking for something that is not in line with God’s perfect will for me and for all of Creation.  It is not a matter of “not having enough faith” or not being perfectly obedient to God’s will.  (In fact, I would argue, as did Paul, that no one can ever be perfectly obedient, and therefore none of us ever “deserves” God’s grace.)  But, let’s get back to the question of “Is God Involved?”

Is God involved?  Does God actually care for us as individuals?  Does God even notice that we exist?  For me, the answer is “Yes”

I believe that the primary reason for the historical existence of Christ is to demonstrate that God shared with us and walked with us, both fully human and fully divine.  God knows what it means to be happy, to be sad, to be hungry, to be satisfied, to love, and to grieve.  Through Christ, God has experienced all of these things, and so knows exactly what it means to be human.  Through doing this, God demonstrated that he (or she) cares for us as individuals: that each and every one of us matters to God.

Further, as Christ said in John 14:26, the “Comforter”, the Holy Spirit, is still with us.  I believe this is the same spirit that manifested itself as the “voice” that came to Elijah in the cave (I Kings 19:13).  I believe that the Holy Spirit is but one of the many avenues God uses to communicate with us, to help us learn for ourselves what God already knows is best for us.  Yet, God will never seek to shield us from the consequences of our choices.  If we make a bad choice, bad consequences will follow.  For me, the doctrine of “original sin” teaches us that we cannot help but make imperfect choices.  In other words, any choice we make will ultimately lead to negative consequences for someone, if not for ourselves.

So, the answer is Yes, God is involved: God is constantly talking to us, feeling what we feel, walking our walk.  But, it is up to us to choose to listen and to walk the path that God knows is best for us.  Yet, if we fail to do so, God remains with us, experiencing with us the pain and loss we’re experiencing.

I believe that God never gives up on us, and so I will never give up on the God I see as a very personal and very loving God.

 

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

A Transformative Moment of Faith

A little girl was born in (if I remember right) October of 1992.  She was extremely premature, suffering from numerous life threatening medical problems.  In December, after numerous surgeries, she was sent home.  Yet, her microcephalic brain was not so easily repaired: it was 1/3rd the volume it should have been.  Her parents were told she would be a “vegetable for the rest of her life.”

That Sunday, her family brought her to church.  The Pastor called for members of the congregation to come forward and pray for the family and for the child’s healing.  I was one of those who did so.

She was such a frail little thing.  Her head was proportioned to her body as an adult’s would be, not the oversized head you expect to see in an infant.  She lay quietly as about a dozen of us crowded around, laid our hands on her and her family, and prayed for several minutes.

All of a sudden I felt a huge rush of energy pouring into and through me, and then found myself “speaking in tongues.”  I’d always dismissed this “gift of the spirit” as more likely a sign of self-delusion than a true miraculous event.  So, I was shocked, to say the least, to find it happening to me!  I returned to my pew, sweating and shaking; and had to completely rethink what had been a thoroughly intellectual and theologically liberal Protestant faith. I realized that relationships, especially my relationship with God, were much more than just logic.  Relationships require emotion, passion, and love.

Even though to this day I am still a [very] liberal Protestant Christian, this episode in my life was transformative, and made me realize that when it comes to faith, no one has all the answers, nor will we ever have all the answers: God can, and will, surprise us with something new and powerful when we least expect it.  I developed a profound and deep respect for the faith of others, as I now know that no matter where someone is “coming from,” their faith is of value not just for them, but also for others: if we are open to it, their faith can teach all of us something valuable about our own faith, and about the nature of God.

What happened to that little girl?  We left the church soon after, when we moved out of state.  We visited that town again several years later and made a point of stopping by one afternoon to see this family. The little girl with a disproportionately small head was walking, talking, and in school.  She came up to me when asked by her parents to say hello to this red headed stranger that she did not remember, then laughed and ran back to play with her sisters.

I still get tears in my eyes thinking of that moment.

 

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

A Prayer Inspired by Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Pastoral Prayer Delivered at First Parish, Lincoln, MA on January 16, 2011.

From his jail cell in Birmingham in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” and that we all have to repent not merely for the hateful words and actions of some, but for our own silence.

He said that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; but comes through the tireless efforts of those of us willing to be co-workers with God, and that without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of stagnation.

So, we dedicate ourselves to walking with those who find themselves in the abyss of despair, our brothers and sisters who have found that the trials of this world and the sorrows created by the choices of others can no longer be endured, alone.  In particular this morning, we remember:

  • The vast numbers of people in many lands who have recently lost homes and loved ones due to natural and manmade disasters;
  • Those experiencing the effects of illness, injury or disease in themselves or in those they love;
  • Those who have lost jobs and homes; and perhaps their own sense of hope and self-respect, in these difficult times;
  • Those mourning the loss of loved ones or are themselves recovering from the violence of those who have forgotten their humanity;
  • Those suffering from oppression and injustice, and are unable to speak for themselves.

Today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead help us rekindle the light of faith and hope in those we meet and minister-to.  By helping them to walk, they are helping us to run.  By helping us to run, they themselves are becoming agents of change and hope.

God, we honor your presence here today, and rejoice in the many ways you walk with us, and are a constant companion in our journey through life.  We ask for your grace, inspiration and strength as we seek to do the same for our fellow human beings, and so enable them to see you working through us.

Amen

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

God is Dead, God is Love

There’s been quite a bit of fuss over an nationwide ad campaign sponsored by some humanist groups who are determined to make us hear, in this the Christmas Season, that they believe God does not exist.

I agree with them.

These ads are reacting against a judgmental, limiting, inflexible god who’s main purpose seems to be to oppress humanity and destroy freedom.  I would have a hard time with such a god myself.  And so, I agree, the god they are reacting to does not exist.

The God I know is a god of relationship, a god of love.  Love transforms you.  Therefore, the god I know, a god of love, cannot be inflexible and unchanging.  Just as God’s love changes us, our love must change God.  My god is not a god of oppression, inflexible judgment or limitation.  My God is a god that would (and did) die for us; a God who wants to walk with us in the both the light and dark times of our lives.

So, my advice to those offended by these “God does not exist” advertisements is to agree with those who have such a viewpoint, then show your love to them, to those who seem to hate God.  What they hate is the pain inflicted on them in the name of a god that does not exist.  Let the love that God has placed in you show them that there is a different God, a real God, a God who loves them, too.  A god who gives us the freedom to love back, or to choose to not love at all. To love God is our choice, if it isn’t a choice, then God’s love would be meaningless.

 

Copyright (c) 2010, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

Power and Silence – First Sunday of Advent

Sermon given at Payson Park UCC Church, Belmont, MA November 28, 2010.

Scripture readings:
2 Samuel 11:2-5; 11:14b-15 and 11:26 – 12:7a (Bathsheba & David)
John 7:40-8:11 (The Story of the Adulterous Woman)

My thoughts today are on two themes, Power and Silence, which are both found in this morning’s scripture readings. We will look at how Power and Silence interact with each other in each story, and how they tie these two stories together across a one thousand year gap in time. Then we’ll close with some reflections on what we’ve learned and how these two themes are reflected in the coming of Christ, and Advent.

Let’s start by considering our Old Testament reading, and the setting of Nathan’s audience with David.

Nathan’s story is presented as a legal dispute. This is significant. For thousands of years throughout the ancient world disputes were brought to the local ruler or wise man for judgment. It was a very public event, with many people there: those seeking a resolution to their disputes, spectators, the King and his Court, all listening to the proceedings.

When Nathan presented his case to David, it was in such a setting; which, given what he intended to do, was a wise move! I suspect that if he had done this in a private audience with the King, he might have succumbed to a “Sword Malfunction.”

Let’s imagine what the scene must have been like: David is there with his badges of authority, a scepter and crown. He is sitting on a simple chair in front of the crowd. Scores, and perhaps hundreds of people are standing around the edges of the courtyard, waiting for their turn to be heard. David’s advisors are waiting off to the side for him to call on, if needed.

Then Nathan steps forward to tell his story. The King listens, his anger rising as he hears the tale, and when he can’t restrain himself any more, his face red, gripping his chair with both fists, he leans forward and says “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity!”

And then Nathan said four simple words, “You are the man!”

Continue reading “Power and Silence – First Sunday of Advent”

What’s in a Name?

My hometown, Brattleboro, VT, has built a new bridge across Whetstone Brook to replace the historic but long outdated “Creamery Bridge” (which will be turned into a pedestrian bridge).

Although there seems to be a consensus that some person should be honored by naming the bridge after them, there is much controversy over exactly who to memorialize in such a manner.  I hear that a very vocal group wants to name the bridge after a local man who gave his life in service of our country.  — A similar effort a few years ago resulted in a bridge in the center of town being named after a young man who died in (I think) Iraq.

I applaud and agree with the motivation behind the campaign to name the bridge after him, and have no objection whatsoever to honoring those who have served our country, particularly those who have had to put their own lives on the line while doing so.  (If anything, I think they should get far more recognition, honor and support than many or most of them do. Without them, the USA would never have become the great nation that it is.)   Yet, I have two significant reservations with regards to naming a bridge after a single fallen soldier.

The first is that we don’t have enough bridges!  Brattleboro, VT has perhaps a couple of dozen significant bridges in town (though some are Interstate Highway, not local, bridges).  Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Brattleboro natives have served in the military over the years; and many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.  Should we name a bridge for each of them?  What do we do when we run out of bridges?

Second, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with those serving in the military, it’s all about your buddies. Going into a fight, you are betting your life that the men and women with you, and supporting you, will “have your back” when the going gets tough.  That sort of complete reliance on each other to survive in the midst of battle is at the root of a camaraderie and trust that I have often heard those in the service speak about, but which most of us civilians will never experience.

In the center of town, on the “Common”, are a number of monuments. They list the names of those from Brattleboro who served and died in every war since the Civil War. What’s important to me about these monuments is that there are many names listed. A fallen soldier’s name is listed along all of his (or her) comrades in arms who died in the same war. The companionship that sustained them, and which more than a few gave their lives in battle-for is echoed in these monuments.  They are remembered together in death, just as they served together in life.   By having all of these heros memorialized and honored in one place, it gives us who pass by a chance to reflect on the dedication of the men and women of this town to serving our country, and the magnitude of the losses we’ve experienced in the fight to keep this country free.

Therefore, while naming a bridge after a single fallen soldier will honor that individual’s memory, and provides closure and solace to those they leave behind, it in effect dishonors the very thing that they and their comrades risked their lives to preserve – the lives of their fellow comrades in arms.   From what I’ve heard WWI, WWII and younger veterans all say when lauded for their service, I also think that most of those who have died while serving this country would be unhappy to hear that their sacrifice is being honored above the sacrifices of so many of their fellow servicemen.  Therefore, listing the fallen on a monument that honors all fallen soldiers from the same war together, and in a place where soldiers from all other wars are similarly honored, is (to me) much more appropriate, and provides a fitting way for us as a people to remember and honor those who gave their lives that we might remain a free and democratic country.

So, I ask the Selectpersons of Brattleboro to consider carefully whether it is appropriate to honor a single servicemen when naming this bridge.  Also, we must consider that the person we will memorialize through having their name on this bridge says something about who we are as a town, and what we think is important to be remembered about our community in years to come.  While every life is important, and the loss of even a single soldier in battle is a disaster to those who knew and loved them, no soldier (at least in this era) achieves victory by fighting alone.  Every soldier that has fallen was part of a community, a community they were fighting to preserve.  Let’s honor what they felt was worth giving their life-for.

For me, a bridge is about connection and community, about bridging gaps and making paths were no path existed before.  Therefore, whomever we name this bridge after should be a person whose life impacted Brattleboro in a positive and significant way, someone whose life reflected deep concern for the community, someone who worked to bridge gaps, and/or someone who built paths were no path existed before.

Copyright (c) 2010, 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).

A Memorial Day Prayer

Given at the regular Sunday Worship Service at First Parish, Lincoln on Sunday, May 30, 2010…

Before giving this morning’s pastoral prayer, I’d like to read you a poem that inspired my prayer and, I think, fits well with this Memorial Sunday.  It was written by Sgt. James Lenihan, a veteran who passed away in 2007.  He is known to have written only one poem in his life, describing his feelings after killing an enemy soldier in 1944.  Here it is:

A Warrior’s Poem: “Murder–So Foul”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise,
The strangest thing happened to me
I began to cry.

He was so young, so very young
And Fear was in his eyes,
He had left his home in Germany
And came to Holland to die.

And what about his Family
were they not praying for him?
Thank God they couldn’t see their son
And the man that had murdered him.

I knelt beside him
And held his hand–
I begged his forgiveness
Did he understand?

It was the War
And he was the enemy
If I hadn’t shot him
He would have shot me.

I saw he was dying
And I called him “Brother”
But he gasped out one word
And that word was “Mother.”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise
A part of me died with Him
When Death came to close
His eyes.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember all those who fought and died for this, our Nation, but we also remember that those who died fighting against us had mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, spouses, sons and daughters – just like us – who are grieving their loss, as we grieve ours.  We remember that in War there is loss and pain for all involved, affecting a community that extends far beyond the battlefield in time and in space.

Holy Spirit, we come before you this morning, remembering the losses we and those we love experience as a result of War.  We remember the pain and anguish that many, soldiers and loved ones alike, have endured for years after those battlefield experiences.  In doing so, we honor the sacrifices that so many have made in the name of freedom and in defense of this country.  We ask, Holy Spirit, that you work in us, and in those we confront as enemies, to bring peace, healing and understanding, so that armed conflict and hate no longer come between us.  Instead, let Your Love and understanding embrace and fill all of us.

We also lift up those who are battling in other ways at this time: justice or job loss, illness, and other crises in their personal lives: battling the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and those who are still seeking to recover and rebuild from the effects of the earthquake in Haiti and other natural disasters.  We ask that your spirit, love and healing fill and strengthen them, and enable us, individually and as a community, to support them in their times of spiritual and material need.

Thank You, Holy Spirit, for Your presence, Your guidance, Your Love, and Your healing power working in and through us.

Amen.

 

Copyright (c) 2010, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).