You Lost Me…

Beth Woolsey’s blog is always entertaining, and often deeply insightful: filled with a deep passion for life and compassion for others.

This particular post of hers (which lays out why she left Conservative Christianity behind) in many ways reflects my own journey on the same path.

http://bethwoolsey.com/2017/09/how-i-became-a-heretic-or-how-the-evangelical-conservative-church-lost-me/

Compassion and Leadership

It is clear from his interactions with these students that this is not simply a show for the cameras. The President is involved: asking these young scientists questions, encouraging them, and engaging in extended dialog with them; not allowing other (more “adult”) priorities to distract him.
Whether we agree with his policies and political stances or not; we must admire how, in so many ways, the President is constantly and concretely demonstrating how much he cares for people, all people.
Which of our current crop of Presidential candidates show that they care?
Do we really want our next President to be someone determined to destroy people’s lives through deportations, carpet bombing, or draconian social and economic policies?  If a candidate demonstrates a complete lack of compassion for so many whom we see as “other,” can we reasonably expect them to concern themselves at all for how their leadership will impact us?
Our faith – and in fact every Faith – begins with compassion and love. If these things are not present in the words and deeds of a prospective leader, then they have no business being in the business of caring for this nation.
– Allen
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Sermon: It Didn’t Go So Well

Love is not a wimpy or sentimental emotion; but a passionate, fierce action. … Such Love requires us to participate in the life of the person in front of us. It makes us see that it isn’t all about us or our agendas. … Jesus will always confound our expectations because he isn’t here to meet our expectations, but rather to help us achieve all that God hopes for us.

Eeckhout-ChristTeachingAtTheSynagogue
Christ Teaching in the Synagogue at Nazareth by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1658

This morning’s gospel reading focuses on the most extensive narrative we have of Jesus in a Synagogue; and, it didn’t go so well! Or did it?

Please pray with me… Lord, let it be your voice that speaks through my mouth, and let our hearts and minds be open and receptive to hearing the Word & Mission you have for us here today. Amen.

Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke narrates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. At the start of this morning’s reading, we are told that “filled with the power of the Spirit,” Jesus ministers in Galilee and eventually returns to the village where he grew up.

People throughout Galilee are saying he is the first true prophet in centuries, and perhaps more than that. But for those in Nazareth, he’s more: he is their celebrity – their hometown hero. Can you imagine? Such an important person, from a tiny, obscure village: they know him! …So exciting! The community was abuzz with rumors and speculation, hopes for a bright future to be brought about through the glory of their native son.

But some are filled with doubt: they watched him grow up. They know him as the son of Joseph the Carpenter. They know Jesus and his family all too well.

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Sermon: Bede’s Sparrow

Let us be clear: there is no magic wand that will make everything in this life better. God is not going to come down and make it as if we – meaning all of us – never made all of the mistakes (and good decisions) we’ve made that have gotten us to this point. We cannot escape responsibility for what we’ve done to each other, or to God’s Creation.

The command to “Love our Neighbor” means acknowledging this, and so embracing compassion for ourselves and others as a way of life. It means conscientiously making room for “The Other” – for those who are different from us. We can begin by opening our minds and our hearts to what they have to say.

“Bede’s Sparrow” by Carrie Wild

This past Friday evening, George Takei was preparing for a performance of his musical which opened on Broadway a few days ago, a very personal story of the terrible price George and his family paid for being of Japanese ancestry and living in America during World War II.

On hearing of the attacks in Paris, Mr. Takei wrote: “…I’m writing this backstage at Allegiance, my heart heavy with the news from Paris, aching for the victims and their families and friends.

Aziz Abu Sarah
Aziz Abu Sarah, Peace Activist

My friend Aziz Abu Sarah, who, like George, spends his life urging peace and building bridges to span the gaps separating people around the world, and whose family has also paid a very heavy price through years of terror and oppression, had this to say: “Two days of ongoing terrible news… From Beirut to Paris, bombs, murder and dozens of victims. Its another heartbreaking day.”

My lifelong “older brother” in spirit, Ahmed, said this in his email to my parents yesterday morning: “We are all distressed as Paris has become our home .… I am flying there on Friday unless the borders are closed. France has been openly at war with Islamists for a number of years and terrorist attacks were expected. But they can never be predicted or controlled. I expect life in France will change following the latest carnage.”

Ahmed’s wife, Lena, who is in Paris at the moment, posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Tears this morning. With a very heavy heart I start the day.”

All of these people have labored their whole lives to bring peace and justice into this world. They’ve all worked diligently against poverty, oppression, despair and injustice. They have all taken firm and often costly stands against the dehumanization of “The Other” that lies at the heart of these attacks. Some of them are hurt and despairing, as you heard. But I think I can give voice to what lies in all of their hearts by quoting this from Mr. Takei’s message:

“There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.”

Now. let’s skip back 1400 years, to a time when England was a collection of little Kingdoms, almost 300 years before they would be united under King Alfred the Great and his heirs.

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Jesus’ Last Command

This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture. It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.

Sermon presented 4/28/2013, Sudbury Memorial Church, UCC
Scripture: Excerpts from John 13:4-35

This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who have been wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture.  It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.

What the disciples knew was that Jesus had just washed all of their feet, and told them that if they truly love him they must follow his example by ministering to one another, as he had.  He then foretold his imminent betrayal by one of their own.  Finally, Judas accepted an offering of bread and vanished into the night on some unknown errand.  It was the evening of the “Last Supper.”  The disciples had taken shelter from the darkness outside in the cherished, annual celebration of their love and connection with each other, and with the people of God.

We remember and celebrate this even today, in the sacrament of communion.  The sharing of the bread is seen as the sharing of the Body of Christ that has been broken for us.  By eating of it, we are sharing in his life, in his death, and in the resurrection.  By eating of it together as a community, we are acknowledging that we are all part of the Body of Christ here on earth, working together to continue His ministry and to make manifest the Kingdom of God that is already all around us, even though we may not yet see it in all of its glory and perfection.

Judas took his piece of that bread as he left the light and warmth of his companions, and his Lord, as he retreated into the night.

Why did John think it so important to preserve the memory of this strange offering to the Betrayer?  Judas is someone to be shunned, damned and forgotten for all time – why remember anything about him at all?  Was that gift just for Judas?  I doubt it.  No passage in the scriptures has just one lesson for us – or I’d be out of a job!

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Grief

… it is OK to feel that anger, it is OK to allow ourselves to experience it, just as it is OK to experience the grief and sadness. It is part of what being human is all about. Our emotions are a critical part of who and what we are. Without emotions, we could not love, without emotions we could not create, and we could not grieve; but also, without emotions, we would not destroy and we would not hate.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Don McLean’s rendition of “Waters of Babylon” – a beautiful, haunting, sad three part canon that mourns the loss of Zion and the captivity of the Jews following the Babylonian’s destruction of all they had known and loved, including the Temple and the City of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE.

The lyrics are taken from Psalm 137 in the Bible, which I quote in full here (using the New Revised Standard Version):

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!}
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

It is times such as the recent shootings in Newtown and this week’s bombing at the Boston Marathon that bring back this song into my mind in all its power and beauty – the events and the music working together to forcefully remind me of how frail and fragile our human existence is; that our time on earth, and the lives of us and all of our fellow human beings, are far too precious to waste.

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The Myth of Legislated Morality

Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In my ten or so years as a Project Manager and Software Developer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, I was frequently involved in discussions with physicians about what limits to incorporate into system designs.

Software development, and any sort of engineering or design for that matter, focuses to a large extent on limits.  We often needed to address questions like:

  • How large a number does this data field need to be able to store?
  • How wide should this column be on this report?
  • How flexible does this screen’s functionality need to be?

At Mayo, the underlying attitude was always “Limit our options and flexibility as little as possible.”  This was because physicians are dealing with people’s lives.  They absolutely do not want anything getting in the way of their ability to provide the best possible care for their patients. Is our “Great Physician,” Jesus, any different?

People constantly come to Doctors with all sorts of symptoms and issues that were well outside of what is expected, and so the tools they use in caring for those patients cannot limit their ability to provide the care that is needed.  Since we cannot accurately predict what situations the future will hold, we must provide tools that “flex” well in unexpected situations, and that do not needlessly place restraints on what can be done.

This same logic applies when talking about moral issues in everyday life, things like abortion, or gay marriage, or adoption across cultural or ethnic boundaries.  In all of these situations, people are involved.  Therefore, each such situation has its own unique circumstances.  Each one involves difficult, sometimes painful choices and adjustments.  Like a physician’s care of a patient, all of these situations involve decisions that these people will have to live with for the rest of their lives.  They are not choices that are made lightly.  Further, they are not choices made in isolation: the choice that is made impacts not only the person making it, but others as well, whether that is an unborn infant, or a same-sex partner, or a child who needs a family.  Their choices also impact and involve the “community” of which they are a part – family, friends, co-workers, and so on.

Continue reading “The Myth of Legislated Morality”