The Pain of Father’s Day

Fathers Day is a day that is both joyful and painful for me, as it is for many.

AJCardFathersDay2015Father’s Day is meant to be a happy time, and so it is for me – in part: a time where my wife and son conspire to present Daddy with some nice little momento, usually (at this point) a card with artwork, to tell Daddy how much he is loved by his youngest child.  And I love it: he and I do the same thing for Mom on Mother’s Day.  All such things speak of the love and care that is within this home and our life.  It also speaks of the importance we attach to family, and modeling for our son that it is important to tell those closest to us how much we love them, in many ways, all the time.

Unfortunately, Father’s Day is also a day of sadness for me, as it is for many.  In my case, it is a stark and painful reminder of the long separation between my daughter (who is now 26 years old) and myself.  July 12th of this summer will mark ten years since the last time I spoke to her, or had any idea of how her life was going, where she was living, or anything else about her.

Now, I could dwell on the events surrounding my divorce from my first wife, which began with our separation on July 10th of that year (2005), but that would be doing her a disservice, since she is not here to defend herself.  So, I will merely say that my separation from our daughter is the outcome of a great deal of dysfunction in that relationship, magnified by a legal system that grants custody to the mother as the default, on the assumption that doing so is in the best interest of the child; and made worse in turn through my own ignorance of how to navigate that same system.

Now, assuming the mother (and children) are the ones who need more (and immediate) protection when accusations of abuse are being made is not a bad thing.  In fact, it should be that way, since they are (generally) much more likely to be the ones at risk in a dysfunctional relationship.

Continue reading “The Pain of Father’s Day”

The Magnificat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “The Magnificat”


Robin Williams
Robin Williams

I’ve long promised that I would eventually post here on the issue of suicide, and this seems to be the moment, as much as I dread doing so: it is a difficult challenge, one that must be approached with great care and compassion.

What impelled me to do so at this time is the death of Robin Williams, and my feelings with regards to a post about Williams’ suicide by Matt Walsh – another screed of his that I once again (almost) agree with.

Walsh emphasizes in his recent post – “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice” – that suicide is a choice, and there is always an alternative, you can choose life.  I [almost] agree – he is right, to some extent.

In his post, Walsh discusses at length how painful suicide is, in so many ways, for those we leave behind: whether we realize it or not.  As he and I both know all too well, there are always those who love you dearly, and who will always be haunted and who will always carry a deep, hidden hurt from the suicide of someone they love.  He calls suicide a “selfish choice” and again – he is right, to some extent.

Frankly, there are far more survivors than you can possibly suspect of their own suicide attempt(s) or the suicide of someone close to them.  I am certain that there are many people you know who carry this hidden pain, and who will move heaven and earth to keep another from experiencing what they’ve gone through – which means they will do everything they can to help you, once they know that you see your own death as the only way out of the deep pain and darkness that you feel you cannot escape.

But, Walsh is also wrong – suicide seems like a choice to those looking on from outside, but for those mired in making that choice, it is not a choice: it is an escape when one becomes convinced there are no other choices.  It is a disease that deludes one into thinking that the only way out is to choose oblivion.  It leads you to believe that no one else cares, or that no one else can help you.

Continue reading “Suicide”

Where All Hope Fails

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cloudsThe last couple of weeks have been an interesting mix of highs and lows for me.

The certainty of our own mortality has intruded itself forcefully into the lives of many in this part of the country recently, with the tragic deaths of two firemen in Boston the other day (and you can be sure, fire fighters are just as much ministers of God as those of us who wear clerical robes).   Also, the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing is coming soon, during Holy Week in fact.

On a more personal note, old friends have recently made known their own brushes with mortality and how the afflictions of age are becoming more and more difficult to ignore, as has also proven to be too true for myself as well.

Finally, two friends of mine have died this week, one an old and dear friend from childhood, stricken down much too early in life following a very brief and devastating illness, much to the shock and dismay of her young students and the community where she lived.  The second was a co-worker whom I’d known as a young man: she was always with a ready laugh and smile, dying after a long battle with a serious illness.  Both great people, and both very much loved by the many whom their lives touched over the years.

Mortality does not play favorites, and (as my father has often said) “there is no get out of jail free card” – no exceptions. We will all someday confront the same dark horizon that these wonderful people (and so many others) have already passed beyond: never to return from the darkness that will eventually devour all lives, all nations and all human hope.

Continue reading “Where All Hope Fails”

Relate Unconditionally?

Conditional LoveBased on the thoughts I surfaced in a recent post (and elsewhere) regarding what I see as God’s call to Unconditional Love, I’ve had several folks ask me questions along the lines of “Does that mean I have to love the person who [abused or hurt or seeks to control] me?

Let’s answer this one carefully.

Love them?  Yes.

Have a relationship with them?  Well, that question requires a nuanced answer…

To begin with, let’s make one thing clear: Love and Relationship are not the same thing.  We can choose to love another, even if the relationship we have with them is nonexistent (or nearly so).  Loving another means building a bridge between another and you, opening a door to a better future, a better relationship.  But just because that bridge exists does not mean you have to cross it, or that they will cross it, and you certainly should not cross it all the way to the other side!

Relationship is a two-way street.  A relationship will exist in some form – after all, relationship is part of the very fabric of our existence.  So, you do have relationships with others, all others.  However, the extent and quality of that relationship is attenuated by the limitations we bring to the table.  Love makes it possible to have a better quality and more balanced relationship with another, but only if they are willing and able to return that love.  Love enables you to get to the midpoint of the bridge, but it is up to the other as to whether they’ll meet you halfway, or not.

Continue reading “Relate Unconditionally?”

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!

Continue reading “Jesus’ Last Command”

A Mite in The Emptiness

Presented at Sudbury Memorial Church, UCC, Nov 11, 2012
Scripture: Mark 12:38-13:2

There’s a tiny island about halfway up the western coast of Scotland.  It’s a small, desolate place: bare of trees, covered mostly with scrub and sand.  Ancient rises of eroded granite make up much of the island; covered with a few patches of grass, some flowers and one or two small streams.  Many years ago, I journeyed there, taking a ferry to the Island of Mull, then a long meandering bus ride along a single lane road, passing by empty hills and the occasional farm; and then – finally – a short boat ride to the Island of Iona.

I wandered there for a few hours, strolling out of the village, past the monastery and its ancient graveyard: broken and fallen stones marking the anonymous graves of ancient heroes, kings and saints.  I passed sheep grazing under the bright blue sky, then crossed the narrow island, arriving at an ancient stony hill overlooking a small beach that faced the vastness of the Ocean.

There I sat, meditating for a long while, remembering the monks who came there nearly 1500 years ago, and their long labor to bring the Gospel back to much of Europe.  Their labors ended what we now know as the “Dark Ages” that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire.  I thought of the many Scottish luminaries that history tells us are buried in the graveyard I’d passed, including Duncan and Macbeth.  I remembered reading about the monastery’s destruction by the Vikings; then it’s re-establishment in the 12th century, only to be abandoned again during the Reformation, and finally reborn in the 20th Century as a community dedicated to working for Peace and Justice.

I sat on that windswept hill, enveloped by the sound of the waves breaking on the shore, the smell of sea and flowers, the seabirds calling, the wind whispering among the sand and grass.  A sense of awe and majesty surrounded and filled me as I sat there, alone in that empty place, pondering my own uncertain future.

Continue reading “A Mite in The Emptiness”

An Ash Wednesday Meditation: Why Bother?

Sermon presented at First Congregational Church, UCC, of West Boylston, February 22, 2012

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In our reading from Joel, we are told “Blow the Trumpet … for the day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!”

Sounds depressing. Scary.  … And, it is.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we remember how ephemeral life is; that all good things in our lives, including our own existence, will eventually come to an end. Matthew warns us that all of our treasures will eventually be consumed by moths and rust, stolen from us, nothing will remain.

Thick darkness.  Moths and rust.  Nothing will remain.

As if that isn’t enough, David lays it on even more heavily in Psalm 51, saying “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

So, not only will everything end, but sin and corruption are in our lives from the very beginning.  We’re in a game that was fixed from the start.  We can’t win.  We cannot escape the trap of life.

It seems so hopeless.

Continue reading “An Ash Wednesday Meditation: Why Bother?”

The Unseen

When I lived in Belmont, MA I would often see an old man – big beard, thick graying hair (though going a little thin on the top) with a Mediterranean-looking complexion. He usually stood near the exit of the store: not saying anything, just standing there. His clothes were neat, but obviously old and worn. Yet, no one saw him. Yet, no one saw him: he was ignored as if he didn’t exist. His face, stoic as it was, always seemed to me to be filled with a hurt pride: doing what he had to do to survive, yet once having lived a life far better than the one he has now.

A few Sundays ago, at the beginning of Advent, I was asked to give the “Childrens’ Message” at my church – appropriate (or ironic, depending on how you look at it) since at the time, my son was due to be born any day.  I warned my fellow worship leaders that this might interfere with my being there — making it difficult for me to give the Childrens’ Message!  I said that if it happened, I would be invisible (even though everyone would know why), but that I would be “present in spirit”.

Yet, there is another kind of invisibility: the invisibility of those who are unseen.

When I lived in Belmont I would shop at the supermarket at Belmont Ave and Mt Auburn Road, not far from “Mt Auburn Cemetery” where so many notable Americans have been buried.  While shopping there, I would often see an old man – big beard, thick graying hair (though going a little thin on the top) with a Mediterranean-looking complexion.  He usually stood near the exit of the store: not saying anything, just standing there.  His clothes were neat, but obviously old and worn.  Yet, no one saw him: he was ignored as if he didn’t exist.   His face, stoic as it was, always seemed to me to be filled with a hurt pride: doing what he had to do to survive, yet once having lived a life far better than the one he has now.

Not many people think about it, but there is an abandoned railroad spur that runs behind that store: it starts as a branch off of the “Red Line” near Alewife, runs behind Fresh Pond Mall, through Fresh Pond Park, past many industrial buildings and Mt. Auburn Cemetery, before it dead ends at the Lexus dealership near the Arsenal in Watertown.  It is heavily overgrown, with at least four bridges where it passes under major roads.

Such an overgrown area in the middle of suburbia is a perfect hideaway for the homeless: trees, old buildings and overpasses provide excellent shelter.  Recycle and trash bins provide excellent foraging for cans and bottles to redeem at the supermarket.  (I often see the homeless in the area: pushing grocery carts piled-high with cans, bottles, and their worldly possessions, searching in our garbage cans anything that they can use or redeem.)

These are the real “invisible” people: living right alongside us, sometimes sleeping just a few yards from our bedroom windows, but we never see them, we never acknowledge them, we never engage with them.  — Just like that old man I saw so many times at the Shaws in Belmont.

In this Holiday season, we often talk about how Jesus, the babe is a gift from God to the world.  (…John 3:16!)  Yet, we often forget that this gift is to the world, not just us.  That world includes the homeless, the hungry, the poor.  Also, the gift wasn’t “stuff” rather, God gave of himself.

I’m reminded of another poor man I once knew – “Old George” – who had just enough money from his Social Security Check to pay his rent, and that was all.  He survived as so many of the poor in this area survive – scrounging tin cans and bottles so that he could buy food.  He was renowned for being verbally abusive and mean to people, but he changed.  The change came not because he got more money or was given more “stuff” but because someone I knew invited him to lunch.  She befriended him, and saw him as a person.  She gave of herself, her own time: showing him that he mattered, that he wasn’t just a forgotten and poor old man.

As the friendship with him continued, he began to take the love and friendship he was receiving and “spread it around” to others.  The thing that changed him as a person is that he learned that someone cared.  So, in this Christmas season I ask myself: how am I showing that “I care” to those around me?  How will that old man at the Shaws Market in Belmont know that he matters to God, unless I show him – as Jesus taught us to do?

Next time I’m in that neighborhood, I’ll seek him out and say “Hi, my name’s Allen: what’s your name?”

I wonder if he’ll be hungry.


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

Do It Again, Daddy!

Even though the Universe is huge and complex, and we ourselves are such a small and insignificant part of it, the Bible is filled with lessons and examples of how God is committed to us and cares for us. God emphasized this to me one night through a simple question asked by my young daughter.

Sermon delivered at Payson Park Church, UCC, Belmont MA; August 23, 2009

It was the evening of Friday, May 4th, 1991. My life was at a crossroads. Worries that had been looming over my family on every side for months, getting ever darker and more worrisome, hit as full blown crises – all at the same time.

At home, my marriage appeared to be on the rocks: divorce seemed to be unavoidable. Compounding this was a financial situation that was dire, due in large part to our buying a house that had far more problems than we’d been led to believe, or could have imagined.

My career was also up in the air: I had been managing a very successful two year-long project, but the economic recession of 1991 (sparked by the first Gulf War) hit just as we completed the effort. This resulted in a hiring freeze at my company: I was given a temporary assignment, but was also told I would be laid off if things didn’t improve soon.

I felt very alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I have not been in a more challenging situation either before or since that time.

Continue reading “Do It Again, Daddy!”

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).

%d bloggers like this: