Sermon: “The Ocean of Memory”

“…nothing we own, nothing we value, nothing we think we control in this life, will last.  Once we are gone, we cannot enjoy any amount of wealth, cannot use anything we once had to return us into present life.  We remain there forever – lost in that ocean of memory with none of the riches we once treasured.  We will not even have control over our own memory: everything will be in the hands of those we leave behind.”

This weekend, of course, is Memorial Day weekend.  It started as a sort of groundswell movement all over the North and South during and shortly after the Civil War: a day to place flowers on the graves of those who died in battle; a day to remember those we’d lost because of that war: It has grown to become a day of Remembrance for all who died in any of the wars our nation has fought.

Now I am not going to speak about the Civil War, or how it is still being fought today in so many ways, nor even about war in general.  But, I think the themes of Memorial Day’s narrative are reflected in this morning’s scripture readings – the themes of loss, and of the Love of God; and how that shapes our relationships with others, and even within ourselves.

Every death, whether expected or understandable – such as from old age, or perhaps in battle; or not understandable – such as from COVID, or a shooting in a classroom; is a loss.  The uniqueness of those who died, and all the richness and beauty and potential of their lives dies with them.  They are lost from the present, never to return; living on only in our memories.  But, human memory inevitably fades with time, and it vanishes entirely when those who knew that person pass on themselves.  I visualize this as a sort of tide, a tide of memory slowly receding from the shores of the present.  Yet, in reality it is the present that is advancing.  We are leaving that tide behind.

I grieve even when those who have been a royal pain to me or to those I whom love pass away – although I’ll admit, perhaps I don’t grieve quite as much. 

Even so, our lack of fond memories of them does not mean they were not loved by others, nor that they did not have value as human beings.  If nothing else, they were loved and valued by God.  And if God loves and values them, how can we not do the same?  To me, the question seems to be not whether we should love those who are in our past, but how to do so in our present.

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Seen but not Heard

In my own encounters with abusive situations, I’ve come to a couple of hard-learned and sometimes painful but valuable conclusions. As a starting point, always give credence and respect to the claims of the party with less power

https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2022/05/20/johnny-depp-amber-heard-trial-testimonies-kaye-pkg-ac360-vpx.cnn

Watching how Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard is playing out in social media is deeply disturbing to me.

In my own encounters with abusive situations, I’ve come to a couple of hard-learned and sometimes painful but valuable conclusions.

As a starting point, always give credence and respect to the claims of the party with less power.

Continue reading “Seen but not Heard”

Where to Go From Here: Thoughts on the Second Impeachment

Going forward from here, the question is not what can our leaders do for us, but what we, as people of Faith, must do to heal our country and our world.

Many of us who are Democrats or Liberals are angry and/or despondent at the failure of the Second Impeachment attempt of our ex-president.

Consider that in voting to acquit the ex-president the GOP has refused to join with America as a whole to deal with the problem. He is now their problem, and theirs alone.

It will be telling to see how – or if – they attempt to deal with his blatantly criminal behavior and failure to uphold his oath of office (among other things); and whether the internal strife his failed presidency has engendered within their ranks will rip the party apart, or transform it into an unapologetically racist and even violent movement.

But the Democrats are not blameless in all of this…

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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Static Faith?

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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.”

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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.

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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”

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