What is Faith?

Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it. It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken. We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” So then, what is Hebrews 11 teaching us about what “Faith” is?

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What is Faith?

 

It’s not a simple question.  For us, the answer to that question begins with Genesis … and never really ends.

As I’ve said before, Faith defines how we see ourselves, who and what we choose to have relationships with, and what we envision our end (and the eventual end of all 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 and beauty of Creation.  And, it enables us to exist in a world of uncertainty and change.

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A lot has been written on the topic of Faith; not just the in Bible, but in everything from Hamlet or Pilgrim’s Progress, to Harry Potter and Star Trek. We admire those who have faith, and we honor those who die for their faith.  We seek to encourage faith in others, and our faith impels us to minister to those in need.  Faith is a powerful thing, and central to our existence, even though we may have a hard time defining exactly what it is.

 

The 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a profound response to the question of “What is Faith?”  Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it.  It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken.  We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

Much of its Theology is subtle, but the delivery isn’t, nor was it intended to be. The author was addressing a community in crisis.  The people had lost their faith, and had no hope in their future.  The author intended to stir them up; re-awaken their faith; and help them reclaim God’s hope and plan for themselves, their community, and their future.

Chapter 11 is where the evangelist reaches the crescendo of their message.  I imagine them preaching it: arms waving in the air, voice thundering, starting each new thought with the ringing phrase “By Faith” …

By Faith Abraham obeyed when he was called … (and)

By Faith he and his descendants dwelt in the land God promised them, even though they did not yet possess it… (and)

By Faith Abraham believed God’s promise of descendants, despite he and Sarah being far too old to procreate…

By Faith!

Continue reading “What is Faith?”

A Message for All Ages: Faith with a Capital “F”

This example using a Dollar Bill shows how and why Christianity is a communal faith and not an individual one: that we are called to work together to make a difference in the world.

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Show a one dollar bill to your audience…

Question: What is it?

Possible Answers: A Dollar, Paper Money, etc.

Question: What is it worth?

Possible Answers: One Dollar!

Question: But it is just a piece of paper with some printing on it!  Why is it worth a Dollar?

…Your audience will (hopefully) get stumped on this one, because there is really no reason why a dollar is worth a dollar other than because everyone agrees that it is worth a dollar.

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: Faith with a Capital “F””

Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: Why do we think he is male, and why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Slide1This particular discussion was inspired by this (admittedly facetious) blogpost entitled “Where Would Jesus Pee?”

In it, Andrew Seidel raises an interesting point:  Jesus had a biological mother, but no biological father.  Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit intervened to cause Mary to become pregnant, all of the genetic material was from his mother.

Now, a person of female gender has two X chromosomes (XX) while a person of male gender has an X and a Y (XY).   The gender of their child is determined by which chromosome they get from the father – either the X or the Y.  But, since Jesus has no biological father, then all of his genetic material would come from Mary, meaning he got an “X” instead of a “Y” and so must be female.

I recently presented this as part of our church’s “Message for All Ages” (being very careful of how I presented it, given that grammar school aged children were present).  Then asked the question, “So, what do you think; why isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

As you can imagine, this produced some amazing facial expressions (and answers) from kids and adults like!

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: How can we be sure he was genetically male, or even that he presented himself as a typical male, for that matter?  Why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Continue reading “Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

Keeping the Christ in Christianity

Those who seek to minimize the Christ in their Christianity do so out of a conviction that we must not offend, and must not intimidate (through “churchy” language and ritual) those who are looking for a touch of the divine in their lives. This is a worthy impulse, but we must be careful to not allow such thinking to seduce us into creating a faith for ourselves that is inoperative and unchallenging.

NotCrossRev. Heath is absolutely right in her recent article in Christian Century entitled “On Throwing the Baby Jesus Out with the Bath Water”: we need to keep the “Christ” in our Christianity.

In my view, the tradition that has been passed down to us, combined with the teachings and example of Christ and others as found in the New Testament and elsewhere, forms a foundation or framework for our faith: denying, minimizing, or casting aside that framework really would leave our faith “rootless” as many Evangelicals often (erroneously) label we who are Progressive Christians.

Christianity is not about supplying all the answers or enforcing a rigid set of doctrines and laws to live by. Jesus preached against exactly that sort of thinking and practice in the First Century, and it doesn’t work any better now than it did then. (And, frankly, doing so has never worked well.)

On the other hand, our faith isn’t just about making us feel good about who and where we are at the moment, either: Yes, we are to love and accept ourselves and each other as we are right now, but we are called to continually seek to do better, not simply accept what is.

Keeping Christ in our faith is challenging, and should always be so: if our faith is not challenged, if it is not continually being refined in the tension of this place we exist that lies between what was and what is to come, then our faith would be fruitless and meaningless. It would simply be a rationale for accepting things as they are, rather than challenging us to become better: to become more just, more thoughtful, and more compassionate.

Continue reading “Keeping the Christ in Christianity”

Making Guns our God

The discussion on gun control needs to be on where to draw the line – on what is in the best interests of society as a whole. Claiming that it is a matter of “personal rights guaranteed by the constitution” is a profound misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of a document that was intended from the start “to create a more perfect union” by delineating the boundaries between the responsibilities and rights of the State vs. those of the individual.

IOF-32-REV-1[Just a reminder to all: I make an effort to approve all comments regardless of the writer’s perspective.  But when it comes to contentious issues like this (where passions are strong), I recommend reviewing my comments policy before writing your response.]

I agree with the basic premise of author Mark Lockhard’s recent post on the Sojourners website entitled “Making Guns our God”:  Claiming that the best response to “the other’s” (real or imagined) possibility for violence is to have an equal or greater capacity for violence of your own is not in line with any flavor of Christian thought (thoughtless Christianity exempted). It is also futile and never ends well, as both history and recent news headlines have repeatedly shown.

But, I tend to be a bit more of a pragmatist, I think.  We will not and cannot eliminate guns from society, and while I will never own a gun myself, I realize that we as a society have to make room for those who like having and using guns for sport and personal enjoyment; as well as for those who hunt.

The gun debate is about where to draw the line when it comes to owning tools of violence. We don’t allow people to own all the atomic bombs, fighter jets, tanks, or grenade launchers they want to have – i.e., our laws already make it clear that people cannot arm themselves with whatever weapons they want. So, the claim that gun ownership must have no limits [whether based on a questionable reading of the 2nd amendment or not] is unreasonable, just as a complete ban on all gun ownership is equally unreasonable. The line is somewhere in between.

Continue reading “Making Guns our God”

Love

I often ponder, why do I feel a call to Ministry?  Frankly, why would anyone?  Why become a Pastor in a society where Christianity is losing influence and is declining in the face of shrinking and aging congregations, often in buildings that are also aging and located in less than ideal locations?  Why be in a profession where many congregations struggle just to keep the doors open, let alone provide a livable salary for their pastor?  Why become a pastor in a society where many people have little (if any) knowledge of the Bible and what it contains, who have little or no idea of what Christianity really is about?  Why be a religious leader in a society where many (if not most) in the society we live in believe religion is obsolete and irrelevant?

The answer to all these questions is Love.

Love is an inescapable part of what makes us human.  Without love, we would loose that which makes life a journey of hope rather than of despair.  Without love, we would cease to be human.  Paul said it best (of course) in First Corinthians 13:2, “…and if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Love is an outgrowth of relationship: our relationships with each other, even our relationship with ourselves, and especially our relationship with Christ.

After many years of exploring many different varieties of Christianity and some other faiths, I have found that the place for me that best expresses and supports these three sets of relationships (with self, man and the Eternal) is Christianity, and especially my particular denomination, which emphasizes our individual relationship with God within the context of our relationship with our local Congregation.

So, I am seeking to become a Pastor because I am driven by love: love for others, love for my church, and love of God.  As a Pastor, I see one of my major tasks as being a conduit, or perhaps an advisor: helping others develop stronger, healthier, more vibrant relationships in all of these areas, to help them become surrounded, filled and even pouring out love. I feel this aspect of religion is very relevant in today’s world, where relationships are becoming fewer, shorter in duration, and more likely to be indirect and distant (such as through Facebook) than face to face.  Our faith in God and membership in a Community of Faith brings meaning and value to our lives; it enables us to love.  Too few people in today’s world know where to turn to fill this need we all have for relationship and love in our lives.  Too few have any idea that Faith is the answer.

In other words, being a Pastor is not about me: it’s about my faith, my congregation and my love for others.  It’s about walking together in the here and now, and in so doing, setting our feet onto the path God has set for our journey into the future; and helping others learn that this same path can be for them, too.

 

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).

Which is More Important: Social Justice or Faith?

Yet, in pursuing Social Justice, it is easy to fall into a trap, the same trap that Karl Barth resoundingly destroyed in his famous book “The Epistle to the Romans”: the trap of thinking that the pursuit of Social Justice has anything to do with achieving salvation, that our status as believers in God and our work to spread Christ’s message while performing good works makes us any more worthy than anyone else in God’s eyes. It doesn’t.

Historically, many African Americans disdained Paul’s Epistles in the Christian Bible because slave owners often selectively presented his writings to their illiterate slaves, quoting him out of context: crassly using religion to control their slaves.  Yet, most Theologians, including African American Theologians, would agree that Paul was committed-to a gospel of radical equality. Even so, some fault Paul for diluting his message in favor of expediency: for his retreating from his ideal of radical equality in the face of the dominant culture’s values. It is true that Paul allowed short term concerns to take precedence over the primary goals of his ministry and preaching. What some have overlooked is why he did so.

Some say that Paul lacked courage in his convictions; that the liberating ethics inherent in his theology are often set aside in favor of practical considerations. Yet, Paul clearly did not back down in the face of threats, even physical attack. If anything, he was more likely to confront such challenges head on. We have numerous examples of this, such as in Lyca where Paul went back into the city after being stoned (Acts 14:19-20); in Phillipi, where Paul and Silas revealed their Roman Citizenship only after being beaten and jailed (Acts 16:11-40); in Ephesus, where Paul had to be restrained by his followers from going into a murderously hostile crowd (Acts 19:30); in Jerusalem, where he addresses and re-incites a mob that had tried to kill him only a few moments before (Acts 21:31-22:29) and finally his imprisonment and eventual execution.

Paul was 100% devoted to his mission, which was to spread the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection by every conceivable means, driven to redeem as many people as possible before the Day of Judgment came. He had a sense of urgency: derived from his Apocalyptic Theology, which stated that the day of Christ’s return was imminent.

Paul was very clear that Christians must “hold firmly to the message I preached to you … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day” (I Corinthians 15:2-4). Earlier in the same epistle he says “I … become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:20-22). Finally, he said in Galatians that the Gospel proclaimed to him was a direct revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:11), and that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16).

Clearly we see that, to Paul, the Gospel was more important than any earthly consideration. He was certain that securing a place in the Kingdom to come was far more important than any worldly goal. He was as flexible and approachable as he needed to be, even to the point of death, if it meant enabling a few more to be saved for Christ.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Paul, despite preaching a Gospel of radical equality of all humanity before Christ, had no problem with making accommodations so that a community of believers could survive within the oppressive and highly stratified culture surrounding them. What mattered to him was whether their faith was strong and pure.

Slavery was an inescapable fact of life in Paul’s time: it was a violation of his message that all are equal before the Lord. Yet, it was an issue of this world, not the next. Paul was not focused on trying to make the world better for its own sake, since he felt Christ’s return would soon reshape the world anyway; and since Christ’s return was soon, Paul was intent on reaching as many people for the Gospel as possible beforehand.

Being a slave is evil and wrong, and Paul certainly encouraged slaves to gain their freedom if they could (I Corinthians 7:21); but whether one is a slave (or not) is irrelevant to a person’s worth in the eyes of God. Paul would not have made any aspect of the issue of social justice central to his ministry since he would have seen any achievement in that area as, at best, a victory with only limited value in the face of Christ’s imminent return. Making it central to his ministry would have been a distraction from what he saw as his primary mission, which was to recruit as many into the Kingdom of God as possible in the short time left.

Where does this leave us in today’s world? Certainly, now that experience has taught us that Christ is unlikely to return any time soon, social justice issues should no longer be set aside in favor of winning over souls to Christ.

Yet, in pursuing Social Justice, it is easy to fall into a trap, the same trap that Karl Barth resoundingly destroyed in his famous book “The Epistle to the Romans”: the trap of thinking that the pursuit of Social Justice has anything to do with achieving salvation, that our status as believers in God and our work to spread Christ’s message while performing good works makes us any more worthy than anyone else in God’s eyes.   It doesn’t.

We no longer feel the urgency to “spread the Gospel” that Paul felt. It is also certainly true in this day and age that “spreading the Gospel” does not mean what it meant to Paul. Yet, Paul and I share a conviction, one he shares with us in his Epistle to the Romans, which is that none of us can achieve salvation through our own efforts, but only through Faith in God.

God’s infinite nature cannot be comprehended by the human mind. Therefore, and as I’ve said before, I find that I cannot condemn or dismiss the value of other faiths: they each have value in helping us to better understand God. Yet, even so, what matters first and foremost is that we have faith in God. I am convinced, based on what Paul and both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and traditions teach us, is that how we chose to express and act on our Faith is between us and God. These great Faiths, and others, teach us how to live as creatures of God, but the starting point always is, and always will be, our Faith in God.

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).

Thoughts on Job

God has a plan for all of creation: it is a comfort to know that I have a part in that plan…

One message of the Hebrew Bible’s book of Job is that God’s view of what our best interests are is based on His perspective, which is universal and all-encompassing; unlike our perspective, which is inherently limited and focused on our personal needs.

We all go through “dark tunnels” from time to time. It’s an unavoidable part of life. In my case, the estrangement from my daughter has been the most heart wrenching.  A separation that I still do not fully understand why or how it happened, and one so complete that I have had no significant knowledge of anything that has been happening in her life for almost four years.  In any such experience, we have an immediate desire to have the situation resolved.  Unfortunately, Job teaches us that God does not think that way.

One thing I’ve learned from this experience is that when these things happen, God always seems to open up new doors for us as a result of it. If the relationship between my daughter and I had not been destroyed, I would still be sacrificing my own needs and life goals in the face of my desire to be the perfect Dad – as I’d been doing since she was born. In fact, I would have been working at it harder than ever.   It was only through losing her that I slowed down enough to realize there were big holes in my own life, and eventually learn what I needed to do to fill them. Because of this I found my wife, who I firmly believe is truly the perfect life companion for me, and also because of this I am now going back to school. None of this would have happened if my daughter was still in the picture, and I would never have worked on what I needed to fulfill my own potential as a person or to pursue my goals and dreams.

Does this mean that I’m glad my daughter is estranged from me? No. But, I’ve come to see that God is using the situation to help me grow and become a better, happier person than I would otherwise have been. If He is doing this for me, then I can be certain he is doing the same for her: He is not worrying about how our relationship was twisted and destroyed.  To God, what matters most is that we each acheive His plan for each of our lives within the context of His Great Plan for all.  This enables me to forgive and forget the fear, misconceptions and perhaps even lies that led to our separation, and enables me to hope that someday she will be able to share in the joy, peace and happiness that is in my life now.  But, even if she never does, he will take care of her, too – just as He has done for me.

Job’s message for me is that God is looking out for our interests, but is doing so in the context of the best interests for all of His Creation, and in the long term.  That is not a terribly comforting thought when you’re in the middle of gutwrenching crisis.  On the other hand, I’d rather have a God that does that, than one that caters to my own personal, immediate needs – or to the personal, immediate needs of others.  God has a plan for all of creation: it is a comfort to know that I have a part in that plan, as does my daughter.

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).

The Languages of the Eternal

Our Faith is a language: the language we use to explain and explore our relationship with the Eternal.

What’s both wonderful and  annoying about being a Divinity Student is that you are always thinking: thinking about the next paper, this morning’s lecture, conversations in the cafeteria, email exchanges with friends, etc.  It is a constant learning experience, both inside the classroom, and outside.

You are (or at least I am) always ruminating upon the implications of the things we are learning.  I am always seeking to tie my latest revelations into that tapestry that is the sum of what I’ve learned to date in the long and rather meandering path I’ve taken through life.  I also love to write and to discuss these thoughts with others. So, voila, time for a blog.

My viewpoint from a pastoral / theological point of view is this: that our faith is for each of us like a language.  It is a language that helps us explore and express our relationship with the eternal.  Everyone has such a language, whether we are a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Atheist, Shamanist or we (as our Australian Aboriginal cousins do) walk in the Dreaming.

Our Faith is a language: the language we use to explain and explore our relationship with the Eternal.  A major interest of mine has always been to learn more about our own “eternal language” and those of others.

The “eternal language” I use to explore my own relationship with the eternal, with God if you will, is Christianity.  That I am a Christian is in large part due to the confluence of my origins as a child born and raised in the Reformed Protestant tradition, my deep familial roots in New England, my education, and the choices I’ve made in life up to this point.  Christianity works for me.  I am familiar with it.  It is part of the “cultural wallpaper” of my life, and I find that the concepts it embraces and expresses are excellent and familiar tools as I explore and learn more about my relationship with God.  This does not mean that I feel Christianity is the right “eternal language” for everyone, or even anyone, else.

When meeting speakers of languages like German, Spanish, Tagalog or Warlpiri, we do not condemn such people for not speaking English.  (At least, I do not!)  We (hopefully) recognize that their language is an integral part of who they are, how they view the world, and how they relate to the culture in which they were born and (probably) still live.  Their language helps define who they are and their place in this everyday world we both share.

Similarly, one’s faith defines one’s understanding of who we are and where we stand in relationship to the issues of eternity.  Faith answers questions like “Why are we here?” and “Where do we go when we die?”  Faith is the language we use to explore the eternal world, it also shapes our view of that eternal world, shapes our relationship with it, and is how we communicate our views on such issues when talking with others about them.

Therefore, every Faith has value.  Every one provides a viewpoint on issues of eternity – a viewpoint that can be a new perspective that helps us more fully understand both our own faith and how we relate to eternity.  So, I am always looking to learn about the faiths of others, so that I can more fully appreciate where they stand, and because I find that learning more about their faiths enriches my understanding and appreciation of my own.

Our faiths are the sum of the millenias-old legacy of thought and belief that has been passed down to us.  What I find both interesting and distressing about this is how so many of us (including myself) are often ignorant of that legacy.  In that ignorance, we often do not think-through the implications of what we believe, whether the reasons for a particular belief we have has relevance any more, or how our beliefs impact, or are viewed-by, others.

My goal in this blog is to explore Faith both in the general and in the particular: exploring my own views on Christianity and how it relates to my day to day experiences in this world, and reaching across the boundaries to explore the faiths of others.  I also hope to help both myself (and you) better understand other faiths and how their understanding of the eternal can shed light on our own understanding.

This blog is therefore an exploration and a learning experience.  I am glad that you have taken the time to journey on at least part of this path with me, hope you’ll share your own thoughts as we go along.

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).