Sermon: Pursuing the Light

The light of that star reveals the brokenness and darkness that surrounds us and which was always there, but now the veil behind which it was hidden is torn. The new star reveals how inadequate human effort is, and reveals the destructiveness of hubris and denial. But, it also brings the promise of God’s perfect gift, lying in that manger, the promise that new and better things are to come, and indeed are already here, and that God’s will and love for us can never be denied or defeated. But fear Not! For in Jesus the dream becomes reality and the light he brings will never die.

Image-of_Sirius
NASA image of Sirius, the brightest star in our nighttime sky.

As a kid, my two great loves were science and exploration. I would consume the National Geographic the second it arrived in the mail, and my bedroom was festooned with space posters, photos, astronomic charts, and lunar maps. I faithfully read the New York Times Science and Technology section every Sunday afternoon. I so wanted to be an explorer, or maybe a Scientist! In fact, for a long time my ultimate goal was to become an Astronaut, or perhaps an Astronomer!

But, becoming an Astronaut was simply not possible for someone as nearsighted as I am. So much for that dream, things change.

That left Astronomy, which I pursued diligently for a long time. In fact, I audited a college level Astronomy class in 9th grade.

I loved our late night labs in that course, hauling out the telescopes and looking at the moon, planets and stars. Plus, hanging with college kids late at night was – ah – educational. That class was really fun, and cool – not to mention cold, there in Wyoming in the late fall!

What you soon learn when you regularly and carefully observe the celestial sphere is that the Sun, Moon and stars circle overhead, faithfully following their courses year after year. True, the planets wander, but even their wanderings have a regular pattern. And so, particularly for the ancients, nothing about the heavens is random. All the movements they saw were very regular, very repetitive and very predictable. From the point of view of the ancients, the only things that broke the rules were an occasional eclipse, or the rare comet. When such things occurred, their strangeness, unpredictability and frightening appearance were often taken as evidence of turmoil in the heavens: a sign of supernatural displeasure, great catastrophes, and doom.

But then we have the star in this morning’s reading.

Continue reading “Sermon: Pursuing the Light”

Rejection

…Rejection is less about the person being rejected and more about the person who is doing the rejecting. Rejection occurs because you do not fit the mold that another has sought to place upon you. This does not mean they don’t love you, but it does mean they do not know how to love you.

You cannot change how they see you and love you. But, you can continue to love them in some fashion, perhaps distantly, and give them the time and space they need to confront themselves and to learn that they need to grow and change, just as you have grown and changed.

breakupThere was a young woman I recently encountered through an online forum who had “come out” to her parents, only to have them seemingly reject her in some unhealthy and painful ways.  She did not give much detail, but it was clear it was a painful experience for her (as many of my friends and readers have also experienced, or can imagine).

Here is the counsel I gave her (with some minor edits), which I hope may be of help for others who are also experiencing rejection.  (…Though we must also recognize that there are many out there, especially those who are the survivors of abuse, for whom such an approach will only promote or increase the pain they are experiencing, rather than bringing the healing they are looking for.)


 

…From the tiny bit you’ve said it sounds to me like your parents are going through an identity crisis. They see you as an extension of themselves. (And we are all extensions of our parents in many different ways, aren’t we?)  So, they are confused and distraught because their daughter has suddenly turned out to be someone entirely different (in their minds) from the person they thought she was.

This has shaken their own self image to the core, and they are probably reacting in all sorts of unhealthy ways because of it. I suspect they love you deeply, but are realizing – at some deep and probably unconscious level – that to love this person who is their daughter as deeply as they do means some major readjustments in their own life, with their relationships with you, and even with their relationship with each other and with their God, all of which is scary. They are no longer the parents they thought they were, but something else, some other kind of parent.

Speaking as the parent of an adult child myself, it’s a hard adjustment. Your parents have to learn to accept you as an adult, someone who has their own life to live.  They raised you to be such a person, but didn’t really realize until now that raising you to be a strong and independent person resulted in you becoming a strong and independent person!

In a way, your roles have been reversed: you are now the adult, and they are the ones who need to grow up a bit more.  They’ll need time and space to come to that place of acceptance, so don’t give up on them, but also don’t try to “make” them see and accept the truth of who you are, it is best to let that happen when the time is right.

Show them how to love you as you are, that you are a wonderful person in large part because of who they are – just as they hoped you would be.  And, let the Spirit of the God you share with them give all of you peace as you weather the storms and adjustments that are taking place as they adjust to this new reality in their lives.

My prayers are with you all.


 

In my experience, rejection is less about the person being rejected and more about the person who is doing the rejecting.  Rejection occurs because you do not fit the mold that another has sought to place upon you.  This does not mean they don’t love you, but it does mean they do not know how to love you.  

You cannot change how they see you and love you.  But, you can continue to love those who reject you in some fashion, perhaps distantly, and give them the time and space they need to confront themselves and to learn that they need to grow and change, just as you have grown and changed.

Peace,

Pastor Allen


 

Copyright (c) 2015, 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 Many Languages of Faith

Christianity is the faith-language we use here in encountering the Divine, but there are many such languages. It would be nice if there was a single, simple answer, but faith never provides a single answer, let alone a simple one – how could you have such an answer with an infinite God? You can’t write a symphony with a single note, and God’s Creation is far more complex, extensive and wonderful than any symphony! Our faith-language, combined with many others, are sung by the great choir that extols the greatness, diversity and immensity of an infinite and loving God, who loves each of us for who we are, just as we are – treasuring the unique and special gift that each of us is – a gift from God to all of Creation.

VT_2007_03_ 015Our faith is like a language, a framework that helps us explore, express and deepen our relationship with the Divine. Everyone has a faith-language, whether we are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Shamanists … even Atheists (since even non-relationship with the Divine is still a type of relationship).

We use this framework to understand and express our faith. It shapes how we look at the world around us: how we see our relationships with each other; and how we interact with each other; how we perceive the world is organized, what the purpose of Creation is (if any); and the purpose and limits of our own existence. Our faith-language is a lens we use all the time – not just in encountering the Divine, but in dealing with the everyday realities of life.

Our own faith language is Christianity. How we experience and express our faith is influenced by our familial roots, education, relationships and life experiences, the choices we’ve made in life, and many other factors. They all affect how we see and express the relationship we have with God and our relationships with each other. These relationships and experiences are uniquely ours, never to be repeated.

We all have a unique relationship with the Divine because our faith tells us that God values and loves us as and because we are unique and distinct individuals.  The faith-language share binds us together as a community in relationship with each other, and with God.

And, Christianity works well for us (I hope!): we are familiar with it. It is part of the “cultural wallpaper” of our lives. It’s a tool that we constantly use throughout our lives: developing, strengthening and exploring our relationships with each other and with God. But, that does not mean that Christianity is the only faith-language for everyone, or even anyone, else. In fact, it can’t be.

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Muffin’s Love

Muffin is an example to me of how the Lord loves us: He finds us dirty, smelly, and unlovable; and accepts us into his home. He then patiently works to bind up our wounds, heal our hearts, and make us clean.

In 2000 my then-wife and daughter went to a SPCA animal shelter in nearby Lancaster County, PA and adopted a gray and black poodle that had been found and brought to the shelter nearly a month before. She appeared to have been a stray for quite a while. She had no name, so, after some discussion, my daughter named her “Muffin”. I must confess that I was a bit skeptical: Muffin was not a young dog. The veterinarians who looked at her thought she must be at least ten years old, perhaps older.

When we adopted her, she stank, she was weak, and her bones were painfully obvious to the touch underneath all of her very long and incredibly tangled hair. (Her hair was so tangled and matted that she didn’t like being touched over much of her body, especially her legs and underside. She was unable to wag her tail or move her rear legs due to the pain caused by the tangled hairs pulling on her skin. Feces were embedded in the mats of hair under her tail and between her rear legs as well.) To put it mildly, she was a weak, smelly, unlovable mess.

Despite it all, we loved her anyway: we immediately clipped off as much matted hair as Muffin would let us remove. She obviously liked the attention, stretching out and letting us work on her for several hours. we slowly worked through each mat of hair (and dulling a new pair of scissors in the process). She ate a huge amount of food that evening. Her teeth appeared to cause her pain, so we provided softer food for her.

We gave her a bath the next morning, which she relished. We spent a fair amount of time each day working away at the matted hair, slowly gaining her trust, and patiently working our way through the mats under her body, between her legs, and on her feet. Muffin ate good solid meals each day, and slept most of the time. She quickly put on weight, and her energy got better each day.

She was a sweet dog. She had obviously been well cared-for at one point. It appears that she was once in a home where she had been trained, and was allowed to sleep on her master’s (or mistress’s) bed, she begged to be allowed to get up on our bed the first time she saw it, and tried to jump-up, though her hind legs were too weak to do so. She was obviously much loved by her previous owner: she loved to be cuddled, and had no fear of people (which we thought might be a problem, given that many dogs in pounds come from neglective or abusive environments). We often wondered how she came to be a stray, and if her former owner missed her.

At first, Muffin always stayed near us as we moved about the house, and loved to be cuddled. Her presence in our family had a very positive impact on our lives. We loved her, and she obviously loved us, and returned that love. We, and especially my daughter, poured love into her from the minute they first met at the pound.

Through her whole life with us, she was a happy, joyful dog, but was definitely a tough old lady when she needed to be. In 2001 she developed into some major health problems including a severe infection of her oil glands, and so we took her to the vet: my daughter assisted in the operating room while Muffin was put under general anesthetic to have the infected area cleaned and some abscessed teeth removed. Despite her great age at the time, Muffin came through with flying colors, and I’m sure my daughter’s hard work and love had a lot to do with her successful recovery.

As another dog (Cappuccino) and then cats (starting with Misty) came into the home, and despite fading eyesight and arthritic legs, Muffin remained the queen of the roost: she was definitely the dominant personality. She lived with us until the summer of 2004: but then began to rapidly lose weight, was incontinent, and was growing significantly weaker every day. When it was clear the end was near, and rather than allow her to suffer, we put her to sleep. I held her in my arms and cried while the doctor gave her the injection. We buried her in the backyard of the townhouse we lived in at the time in Woodbridge, VA.

Muffin is an example to me of how the Lord loves us: He finds us dirty, smelly, and unlovable; and accepts us into his home. He then patiently works to bind up our wounds, heal our hearts, and make us clean. While healing us, He never does more than we can handle at one time, and He loves us unconditionally, no matter what condition we are in, or where we’ve been, or what we’ve done. All He wants us to do is return His love.

Copyright (c) 2009, 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).