“America First” has become “America Last”

For those who’ve followed this blog (or my ministry) for the last several years, I think you’ll agree that I try to strike a balance between my own beliefs and views (which are clearly rather Progressive); and emphasizing the importance of listening-to those who have different perspectives.  And, I believe this is imperative if we are serious about our faith: we must make a determined effort to really understand where others are “coming from.”

As I see it, we’re all in this together.  And, we cannot make progress towards a better future for all UNLESS we all believe together that it is a better future.  But, there comes a point where the line between reasoned debate and outright insanity is crossed.  That has happened repeatedly in the last few months, and isn’t going to end any time soon.  Even so, I have tried to differentiate between the actions and beliefs of our demonstrably incompetent and self centered president; and the well founded anger and doubts of many who support his administration.  Anger and concerns which many of us on the Liberal side of the spectrum actually share.  There is much more that unites us than divides us, even now.

But for me, this decision of the president’s to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is the last straw.  (This article from the Weather Channel does a good job of summarizing what this will mean for us.)

Now, for those who have questions about Climate Change, fine: have questions. Ask them. Ask lots of questions. And when well informed folk respond, listen.

But the president’s decision goes far beyond that: it not only flies in the face of unequivocal scientific research and findings; but also puts the USA at odds with the ENTIRE WORLD.

No good can come of this in an environmental, economic, political or diplomatic sense. It isolates us from our allies and economic partners.  It removes us from our former status as a respected world leader.  We are well on the way to becoming the bully with a big stick whom others will have to join together to knock back into line.  It is hard to imagine a worse decision being made by any past, present, or future president – short of starting another global war.

I’m always happy to engage in reasoned dialog on the issue of Climate Change.  But, it is not a left vs. right issue, but a right vs. wrong issue: do we listen to what ALL reputable scientists are telling us? Or, do we subscribe to the conspiracy theories and “research” promulgated by a tiny band of deniers whose motives and qualifications are for the most part highly suspect?

For this country to remain strong, for it to retain it’s position as a world leader, requires more than just a large economy and an oversized military.  Other countries will eventually eclipse us on that score, and even sooner than we might think.  Such leadership solely through raw power cannot endure.  For us to remain a leading nation in this world requires us to lead in other ways.  Sadly, the current administration and leadership in Congress does not understand this, and is leading us down a path from which we will take decades to recover, if we ever do.

Exploring God’s Creation

As I was preparing for this coming Sunday’s service (Sunday, Dec 18), it seemed to me that it would be appropriate to set aside the standard Lectionary readings and theme for the day, and focus instead on the message of Christmas. (This is, in part because my Congregation has decided to not have a service on Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec 25th: when Christmas falls on a Sunday, most churches have a very small attendance. So, why have me drive all the way out there on Christmas Day, just to minister to a much smaller than normal congregation? Better to use my skills and talents elsewhere. They are right, and I am grateful, as it is a long drive.)

As I reflected on this, I thought of how Christmas reminds us that God (who is omniscient, omnipresent, and – most importantly – nonhuman) was so moved by love and compassion for their Creation that they decided to set aside their divine existence and walk with us as a human being. This meant being born as a human being, growing up as a human being, experiencing all the joys, victories, pains and sorrows of humanity, and finally dying – as a human being.

The message of our faith centers on the reality of the Christ Child, who is also known as Emmanuel, “God with us. And, as I see it, God IS with us a very tangible, real sense. Our Creator is not some amorphous and invisible spirit inhabiting an ethereal realm far beyond our understanding. Instead, the life of Jesus shows that God walks with us, eats with us, suffers with us, laughs with us, and cares deeply about us: always has, and always will.

And yet, our entire world is just a tiny speck in the vastness of Creation. Just how little of a speck we are is made more apparent with each and every new revelation of science; especially through Astronomy and Space Exploration, which are (after all) endeavors that reach out into the vastness of space to see what is there. In so doing, we realize that we are not, and cannot be, at the center of all that is; even though our most ancient myths place us in such a position.

So, I’ve created this little video for you. It reflects upon several aspects of the expansion of our knowledge of God’s Creation and our place within it, and attempts to illustrate that growth while retaining some perspective on just how small “human scale” is in comparison.

And besides, through this I am indulging my inner “Space and Astronomy” geek!

Enjoy!
-Pastor 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!)

 

Believe!

Belief is not dependent upon conformance to the Law. Belief is the process needed to make God’s command to Love a reality in our lives.

Believe!

PopeFrancisAndManWithBoilsBelieve what? That there are angels? That Jesus died on the Cross for our sins? That all the miracles in the Bible actually happened? That the tribulation is coming? That abortion is a mortal sin? That marriage must be a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman? That only men shall be ordained into the ministry? That God somehow anoints the beliefs or agendas of one person or group over those of another? That our particular understanding of our faith excludes all other understandings, especially those we don’t understand?

Really?

We all are constantly confronted with the choice of what to believe, and how. Do we believe literally all that the Bible says? And, what does “Literal” mean? Literalism presents us with many challenges and contradictions that are impossible to resolve; so, do we instead believe the scriptures through viewing them as metaphor and allegory? Do we ignore the passages that we see as outmoded, focusing on those that seem more relevant? Or, should we go even farther, perhaps picking and choosing what seems nice from the smorgasbord of other beliefs, traditions, and wisdom that we encounter everywhere in today’s world?

I love what the Author of Hebrews has to say about all of this in this morning’s reading. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.”  So, it seems plain that there has never been a single voice deciding what is or is not to be believed as part of our faith. The Author of Hebrews is acknowledging that the prophets don’t all agree with each other, often speaking in ways that seem contradictory, or at least are hard to reconcile with other sacred writings, especially when taken literally.  And this is in fact deliberate; since the goal of the prophets was to disrupt conventional wisdom and accepted practice, the very purpose of their words was to challenge our understanding.

Every author of the 66 books in the Protestant Bible see and portray God’s word in different ways, and then there are the 73 books in the Catholic Bible, and the 81 books in the Ethiopian Bible. So, not only is there disagreement between various scriptures within our Protestant Bible, but disagreement between various branches of Christianity as to what scriptures are part of the Bible at all – not to mention the tens of thousands of variations found within the most ancient scriptural texts we have at our disposal. There is no single “right” Bible, and never has been. So, how can there be a single “right” reading of scripture? Therefore, there is no single universal scriptural standard by which we can judge what is “right” to believe, or not.

But that’s OK, because belief is not about believing the right thing!  We will not be condemned to hell for believing the wrong thing.  Belief is not a certainty that there is a perfect, eternal and unchanging truth upon which all knowledge and all reality depend. (In fact, that belief is a teaching of ancient Greek philosophy, not Judaism.)

Continue reading “Believe!”

Sermon: Knowledge and Faith

sistine-chapel-ceiling-creation-of-adam-1510I’ve been pondering how faith operates in and through us – both positively and negatively.

For a positive example, I look to our own congregation: We saw faith at work last night in our Annual Meeting – a time of remembering, visioning and deciding; sharing our knowledge, and evaluating the effectiveness of the wealth, wisdom and work we’ve expended in the past year. It was a time of counting up the resources available to us and deciding how to best utilize them to accomplish the mission and goals we believe are a part of our journey into the future.

That meeting, just like this worship service, and the many other things we do – either individually or jointly – are all positive, beneficial, things – or at least we see them as such. And, we see them as expressions of our faith.

Inhofe
Senator Jim Inhofe

On the other hand, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe frequently quotes the Bible to “prove as he says, that “…The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful, they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.” This is the perspective he works-from in his new post as chair of the Senate’s Committee on the Environment and Public Works: a placement of faith ahead of Science, to the exclusion of science in fact. Is this also Faith?  If so, is it a beneficial application of faith?

It seems to me that we need to understand what Faith is, since what it is is central to who we are as Christians, and therefore critical in our discernment and pursuit of God’s Call upon our lives.

Continue reading “Sermon: Knowledge and Faith”

The Invisible Why

imagesMy friend, Pedro S. Silva, recently made an interesting point, which is that Science and Faith both begin from the same place.  They both start with something that is invisible to the naked eye, approachable only through the functioning of the human mind.

In the case of science, all matter and energy begin with subatomic particles, mixtures of quarks and leptons in various configurations: interacting with each other at the behest of forces like gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force.  And yet, none of these elementary particles are seen, heard, tasted or touched.  Instead, we observe their effects on other things, or throw subatomic particles at each other at ridiculously high speeds to see what flies out when they collide.

And we see invisible things in other ways – using telescopes to see the universe as it was back in time, even up to shortly after the “Big Bang.”  Or, assembling myriads of data observations to find patterns that have would otherwise be hidden, patterns which have meaning to us, such as global warming, or economic trends, or opinion polls.  (…If you believe that opinion polls have meaning, which I often do not!)

Science is all about seeing the unseen, employing specific tools to help us see and appreciate things that were previously hidden from us.  Science is a useful tool, one we cannot ignore (even though some try).  Science helps us see clearly where seeing was not possible before.

Faith is no different: like Science, it also makes it possible to find meaning in the unseen.

Like Science, Faith also begins from an invisible place, a place that cannot be directly observed, a place that can be inferred only through its effects upon other things.  Those of us who are people of Faith call that place “God.”

Just like Science, Faith employs various tools to better understand the mystery of that which is invisible to our senses.  We read scriptures. We pray.  We look within ourselves and listen carefully to the unspoken thoughts, feelings and currents we find there.  We observe the world around us and find purpose and meaning in it.

Like Science, Faith sees a bigger pattern than can be discerned with the naked eye by beginning with those things that the naked eye cannot discern at all.  And yet, Faith differs from Science in one crucial aspect.  Science is about finding those patterns.  It is about the How and the Where and the When of things.  It is not about the Why of things.  Faith is about the greater purpose and direction of existence as a whole, and our individual existence.  Science focuses on the mechanics of that existence.

  • Why am I here?
  • Why am I, at all?
  • What purpose is there to my life?
  • What’s the point of life at all?

So, when I see folks dismiss the value Faith for whatever reason, such as because they believe that Science already tells us all about how the universe came to be; I am saddened, for they are not seeing the value of Faith in their lives.  They are confusing Fact with Truth…

Science tells us how the Universe started with nothing and came to be what it is.

Faith tells us why.

Science tells us how the Human body functions, and how various aspects of our environment, or our genes, influence our behavior and the quality of our lives.

Faith tells us why life is worth living.

Science tells us of all the wavelengths of light that are to be found in a rainbow, and can even tell us the chemical composition of the source from which that light came.

Faith tells us the Rainbow is beautiful, and how it is a reflection of God’s love for us.

Science helps us understand the World around us.

Faith helps us find hope within it.

Science tells us What we are.

Faith tells us Who we are.

Embrace both.

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and 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).

Evolution vs. Creationism

2hs-2009-05-a-printA thought to consider for today…

There has been a fair amount of discussion in the media in recent days of Creationism vs. Evolution, perhaps sparked by Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) and his recent online debate with Creationist Ken Ham.

My concerns with Creationism are threefold: one scientific and two theological in nature.

The scientific one is simply that Creationism flies in the face of established science, science with a very deep and well supported history of research behind it.  To choose Creationism over Evolution requires rejecting a multitude of well established and well defended facts that are highly supportive of each other, and have shown a massive amount of predictive value in terms of where to look for new revelations of the nature of Creation.  Creationism cannot do this, and also (in effect) requires rejecting the majority of scientific theory and research made over the last 500 years or so, along with the advances that have been made as a result of those theories and research.

For me, Faith is of paramount importance (which is probably obvious, given that I am a minister).  However, Faith must pass the “sniff test” – meaning that it is relevant and meaningful in this world that we live in and know.  Creationism fails that test.  This leads to my two theological concerns, where Creationism fails even more egregiously than it does when portrayed as a scientific theory.

Continue reading “Evolution vs. Creationism”

Faith

Sermon presented at the Congregational Church of Grafton, MA, July 1, 2012.

Texts:

Mark 4:30-32 (Parable of the Mustard Seed)

Hebrews 11:1-7 & 11:32-12:2

What is Faith?  That’s not a small question.  In Christianity, the answer to that question begins with Genesis … and never really ends.  Faith defines how we see ourselves, who and what we choose to have relationships with, and what we envision our end and the end of 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 of Creation.  Faith enables us to exist in a world of uncertainty and change.

Faith.  A great deal is expressed in that one tiny little word.  So, it’s kind of audacious to think we can have any sort of meaningful exploration of this topic and yet still have time to get to the Sox and Mariners game this afternoon.

A lot has been written on the topic of Faith.  Not just the Bible, but everything from Hamlet or Pilgrim’s Progress to Harry Potter and Star Trek.

We talk a lot about Faith too, saying things like “I have faith in Evolution” or “This (or that) strengthened my faith” or, “I lost (or I found) my Faith.”  But, we never define what Faith is, even though we talk a lot about how much of it we have, or need, or how to find it, or how to use it.

We also talk a lot about how important faith is to us.  We admire those who have strong faith, and we honor those who die for their faith.  We seek to encourage faith in others, and we minister to those in need as a product of what our own faith impels us to do.  Faith is a powerful thing, and central to our existence.

Yet, even though we talk a lot about what to have faith in; or, how to find faith; or, how to use our faith, we never define what it is.  It’s assumed we already know.  I’m not sure that’s a good assumption.

Continue reading “Faith”