Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.

 

When he became a she – walking in love

I just had to share this beautiful post, no additional commentary needed…

The other day, Zac and I went into a retail store and were greeted by an associate. I soon recognized the associate as someone I used to go to church with years ago. Someone close to my age, who I …

Source: When he became a she – walking in love

A Message for All Ages: “Glass of Water”

The challenges of life are like this glass of water. Carry them by yourself for only a short while and it’s not too bad. Worry about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if we carry them all day long, or longer, we will get to the point where we think of nothing but the pain of holding them.

HoldingWaterGlass

Prop: a half full tumbler of water (needs to be clear glass – not a plastic or paper cup).  

If a younger child might be your volunteer, you may want to take steps in anticipation of a spill or the glass being dropped – such as a towel on the floor underneath to use in mopping up spills, and to serve as a soft landing spot.

You can begin the lesson by pointing out – in a humorous way – that this is not a lesson about “Is the glass half full, or half empty?”

Ask for a volunteer to come and hold the cup. Have them hold it at arm’s length, sideways to the audience if possible, so that the water level and any dip of the arm are plainly visible to the congregation.

Ask “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: “Glass of Water””

A Message for All Ages: Giving Stuff Up

 

Vintage-Jewelry-Storage-font-b-Box-b-font-Metal-Lock-Wooden-Organizer-Case-Wood-Boxes-ChineseThis exercise puts a different spin on to Lent’s theme “putting away of distractions” or the practice of “giving something up for Lent.”  The point being made is that Lent’s purpose is to help us to give up to God those the things that we cannot give up on our own.  

I’d like to do a little exercise today: I’m going to pass out notecards and ask that we all write down something in our life that we know that we can’t resolve without God’s help. It could be something simple, like losing ten pounds, or something harder, like ending or recovering from a toxic or painful relationship.

Through this, we’ll be practicing Lent as a time for giving up, but not in an abstinence sort of way. Instead, it’ll be a time of giving up to God that which we can’t fix ourselves.

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: Giving Stuff Up”

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!)

An Advent Prayer

534100_445597948860210_865607878_nLord, Advent and Christmas are a dark time for many, a time when the pain of past and present injuries and losses become almost unbearable.  A time we’d rather not face all over again.

And yet, the purpose of Advent is to remind us of our brokenness and sin, of our need for the grace and healing touch of a God who loves us fiercely and compassionately. Further, Christmas teaches us that God knows our pain because God has lived it: walking among us as one of us, as a human being.  Jesus experienced birth, the love of a devoted mother, the pain of losing those dear to him.  He knew rejection, hunger, despair and fear.  He was betrayed by those he loved, and he experienced a painful and humiliating death.  God knows what it means to be human.  God knows our deepest, greatest, most deeply hidden fears, failures and weaknesses.

And so, our faith tells us, Jesus is Emmanuel – the God who walks with us.  God and the Kingdom of Heaven are near us at the hardest of moments, and for every moment of our lives, including now.

Continue reading “An Advent Prayer”

Static Faith?

10846012_10203194098156896_5553452210125203673_n

In some ways (and perhaps oddly, for a Progressive Christian like me), I admire Joel Osteen.  I like his preaching, even though I often disagree with his Theology, because he presents a clear and simple message that is grounded in God’s love.

This particular tweet of his is, however, a little bit problematic for me: mostly but not entirely because of Osteen’s main point, “choose faith over facts.”  Even though this is, in fact, a theme that often appears in my own preaching and teaching, including my recent sermon entitled “Risky Business.”

But with regards to this tweet, the heart of my concern lies in how that statement is modified by the statements that precede it: “The facts may tell you one thing” and “God is not limited by facts.”

Continue reading “Static Faith?”

Bridging the Gap

AN31491615epa03937969-Pope-Sermon: “Bridging the Gap”
Presented at Payson Park Church, UCC in Belmont, MA
September 8, 2013
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10

It is good to be back among friends, to once again worship with the Christian Community that embraced me as one of their own when I first moved back to New England in 2006. Your love of me brought healing, hope and eventually new love and new life into my life, and I am glad that I have been able to bring my wife and son, the fruits of the love you cultivated in me, here with me today, and I am blessed that you continue to support me in my call to the ministry through your invitation to have me speak here today – and so I extend a deeply felt “Thank You” to Lael, and all of you, for this opportunity.

And it is about embracing the stranger that I wish to speak of today. In today’s world, we see increasingly extreme cases of violence and brutality afflicted by those with power upon those who have little or none. And, our public discourse has degenerated from a dialog for finding common ground for action into a strident battle over whose demagoguery is the most pure and right. The quarrels and injustices grow ever more daunting; and the gaps that separate us seem wider, every time we turn around. All of these are examples of how rejecting those who are different, placing those who are foreign or strange – those not of our “family” – on the other side of a gap that has been opened between us and them.

And once it’s there, no matter whether we created it or others, it seems like there is nothing we can do to bridge that gap; to rebuild relationship and trust once they have been extinguished. We can’t fix it. Change for the better has never seemed so out of reach as it does now. These strife-laden gaps make it all too easy, and reasonable, to retreat into protecting our own turf: responding to differences with others’ by hardening our positions, and demonizing them in return.

Continue reading “Bridging the Gap”

Children’s Message: Holy Spirit Balloons

A fun Children’s Meditation on the importance of the Holy Spirit and why God wishes us to be healed.

The Choir enthusiastically participating in the task of handing out %22Holy Spirit Balloons%22 following the Children's message, 5-19-2013

A fun Children’s Meditation that gets the congregation as a whole involved in presenting the message.  The lesson is on the importance of the Holy Spirit and that God wishes us to be healed so that we can share the Holy Spirit with others.

Scriptures: Acts 2; and possibly either Isaiah 53:5 or 1 Peter 2:24

The suggested quantities of balloons are for a group of 12-15 children, with a generous “margin of safety” so that no one is left out if more than the expected number show up!

Continue reading “Children’s Message: Holy Spirit Balloons”

A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

Lord God, like our predecessors who sought out John the Baptist so long ago, we are seeking you because we are in a wilderness of loneliness, pain and desperation.  We see only walls and closed doors when we look for your presence.  We feel cut off, isolated and forgotten: unseen in a dark and uncaring world.

Yet, You are our God: the One who calls us out of that darkness, the One who sees and heals our pain, the One who never forgets us, and never looses faith in us.  Paul prays that You will sanctify us entirely, keeping our spirit, soul and body sound and blameless for the return of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

And so, we are assured, and are certain – through the witness of the Holy Spirit within us – that this is true. You are faithful, and You are calling to us, even now, calling us out of your love for us, a love that overcomes all the pain, imperfection and injustice in this world, a love that transcends and conquers even death.  We are awed and restored through this love that you have so freely given us through the gift of your son, Jesus Christ.

Lord, we bring our prayers to You in faith, certain that nothing is impossible for You, not even the impossibly deep love you have for each of us and for all of humanity.

Hear now our prayers: for those of your Body who are suffering illness, job loss or other challenges, and for those who are grieving any loss, many of whom are known only to you.  Grant them healing, comfort and peace.  We pray for those who wrestle with addictions, for those caught in the trap of domestic violence, and for those who love and suffer alongside them.

Lord, in this Winter Season, we pray that all who seek warmth and shelter find it.  That all who need healing and peace are granted it.  That all who hunger for sustenance and companionship are satisfied.  May all of us be touched by your grace and power.  May all who serve our community and country be kept safe from harm, especially those in the military, and may and their families enjoy Holiday Seasons that are safe, warm and happy.

Finally Lord, we ask that we be granted the courage and grace we need to follow you faithfully, and with integrity.  Let our actions bear witness to the words we speak, and our worship and love for you overflow into every corner of our being, bringing light and hope into the lives of all we meet through our love for you and your son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

A Transformative Moment of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

Oh, THAT Prayer!

A Classmate gave a sermon in “Preaching Class” that made me realize how my current experience parallels that of Zachariah (the father of John the Baptist, in the Gospel of Luke) in some ways, and how thankful I am for the grace of God in my life.

In “preaching” class recently, a fellow student gave a message that was deeply moving and poignant.  The text was Luke 1, the story of Zachariah, father of John the Baptist.  She talked about how Zachariah had been chosen to burn incense on the altar in the Temple and pray.  Then, an angel appeared and said “your prayers are answered.”

Then she asked “which prayers were being answered?”  At the time, Zachariah was praying as part of a public ritual, he was not praying solely for himself.  He must have done a double-take, thinking “Oh, THAT prayer!” when the Angel said “Elizabeth will have a son” instead of saying something like “the Messiah is coming and Israel will be restored.”

Zachariah was old, as was his wife.  Would they have bothered talking about wanting a child to anyone, any more?  Was that long-unanswered prayer one that they only thought-about in the dark hours of the night, when sleep could not find them, when (as my classmate said) they stared at the empty spot in the corner where they had once hoped a cradle, someday, would be?

These are the types of prayers that we hide and bury down deep because we can no longer bear saying them out loud.  Was God answering a prayer that Zachariah had given up-on himself?

His response to Gabriel seems to indicate this was the case: “How will I know this for certain?”  At this point in the sermon, a whole train of thought hit me: All those unanswered prayers of my own broke upon me, and I completely lost track of the rest of her message.

All of us can identify with Zachariah’s “hidden prayers” all too well.  We have all spent many lonely nights, remembering those earnest prayers that never seem to have been answered.  And yet here, those hopes were answered in an unexpected way, at an unexpected time: Zachariah was completely unprepared for it.  What can his story teach us?

First, God’s timing is not ours.  Zachariah had given up on his hidden prayers being fulfilled.  There was no longer any reasonable expectation that they could be:  Zachariah certainly didn’t expect it, nor did I when my own such prayers were answered.

Second, that God’s means of fulfilling those hidden and buried prayers is not ours.  If someone, on July 9, 2005, had told me that my life would be anything like where I am today, I’d have (bitterly) laughed in their face: at the time I felt that all of my life’s prayers were beyond reach, any hope of attaining them gone forever.  Yet, a day later, my feet were firmly on the path to the life I have now.  Like Zachariah, the change was sudden, startling, and irrevocable.  For me, the path forward was not clear, nor was there any certainity to it, but I knew that the path forward could only be far better than where I had been.

Third, that attaining the fulfillment of those hidden prayers is not easy – even once the door opens.  There was a high cost, at least for me and Zachariah.  Yet, I don’t think either of us would think about paying it all over again if we had to.  For us, every step of that journey has been worth it.  In Zachariah’s case, it was the birth of a son.  For me, it has been a whole multitude of things, not the least of which is my wife, my new (and restored) family, and the opportunity to pursue the career that itself had been a hidden prayer for many years.

Finally, the journey is not done.  The need for God’s grace and presence didn’t end with Zachariah’s naming his son “John”.  Although we are not told the rest the story, I am certain that John’s walk towards becoming a Prophet was marked by unnumbered examples of God’s grace and guidance, and that his parents were on their knees frequently: thanking God and praying for their son.  In my own case, a similar journey is one of several that are just beginning for me.

Other “hidden prayers” remain in my own life, as in all of our lives.  For me, one unanswered prayer that I think about every day, if not several times a day,  is seeing the relationship with my daughter healed and restored: a hidden hurt that has become all the more poignant for me, now that her brother’s birth is imminent.  I pray that the gulf between us is somehow bridged, so that I can at least know that my constant prayers for her safety and happiness are being answered.

But, maybe those prayers aren’t as hidden and forgotten as we think: from Zachariah’s example, we know that those prayers are not hidden from God, and so that hope of their fulfillment never needs to die.  But, we can also be sure that God will fulfill them in a way and time of His own choosing, not ours.  So, I will also remember what Romans 8:6 teaches us: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”  If we focus on worldly means of achieving our prayers, as Zachariah and I did, those hopes will die.  But, by staying focused on the inner witness of God’s Love for us, we will have peace even when all worldly hope is gone.

 

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).

Amen!