Conspiracy Theories

roy-moore-3-x750

Here’s why I have no patience for conspiracy theories, and come down hard on those who unthinkingly repeat them…

With conspiracy theories, everything The Other says is assumed to be a false front for a hidden agenda.

The Other has no recourse, no ability to challenge what is being said, because anything they say is assumed to be in support of the conspiracy, even if what they say is objective fact or truth.

The Other, and everything they say, is judged as invalid (if not evil) even before they say it because they are seen as invalid for being (or believing in) the conspiracy.

Such thinking led to the deaths of millions of Jews (and others) in World War II, not to mention many other massacres of Jews and other minorities throughout history, all over the world.

Such thinking led to the U.S’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, and to the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 70’s.

And yet, we all do this. Continue reading “Conspiracy Theories”

Sermon: Wisdom

Detail from the cover of “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” by Dr. Seuss
Detail from the cover of “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” by Dr. Seuss

Two young fish were swimming along and happened to pass by an older fish. The older fish says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on. Eventually, one of them looks over at the other and says “What the heck is water?”

Please join me in prayer… 

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s lessons.  May they touch our hearts, and speak clearly to our souls, that we may come to more fully comprehend your eternal and undying love for us and for all of your Creation. Amen.

This Sunday we consecrate our Christian Education Ministry’s programs for the year. So, it is fitting that our topic is Wisdom.

As I was preparing this message, I came across a Commencement Address by the late David Foster Wallace, given at Kenyon College in May of 2005.

Professor Wallace gave the fish story I related at the beginning of this message and then said its point “is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

Dr. David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)
Dr. David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

He then related another story:

Two guys are sitting in a bar in Alaska. One guy is religious, the other an Atheist. After a few beers, they begin to argue about the existence of God with great intensity. Finally the Atheist says: “Look, I have reasons for not believing in God. Just last month I got in a terrible blizzard. I was lost and couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below. So I fell to my knees and cried out ‘Oh, God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’”  

The religious guy gives the atheist a puzzled look: “Well, you must believe now. After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist rolls his eyes. “Nope, two Eskimos happened to wander by and showed me the way back to camp.”

The lesson here, Wallace points out, is just as obvious as that of the first story: the exact same experience can mean totally different things to different people, because their templates of how the world works are very different.

Google Glass
Google Glass

These “templates of meaning” are the maps we carry inside ourselves, the lens through which we see and interpret everything we experience.

This is an important point: all of our meaning-making depends on how we see and interpret what we witness in the world around us. Meaning and understanding are the result of interpretation. The teachings of our faith – teachings of any sort, in fact – are meaningless without interpretation. Interpretation is the process of taking our own observations or knowledge and making them real and relevant to ourselves or others.

Continue reading “Sermon: Wisdom”

“Bible Mindedness”

bibleI find a recent survey done by the “American Bible Society” quite troubling, not just because of the conclusions the survey’s authors present, but also because of the criteria used in evaluating where people stood on what the ABS termed “Bible Mindedness.”

The authors of this study evaluated “Bible Mindedness” using the following criteria: “Respondents who report reading the bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible are classified as ‘Bible Minded…’”

I take strong exception to this, as I find just as many devout and thoughtful Christians here in the Boston area (which was near the bottom of the study’s rankings) as I do anywhere.  The criteria used here heavily skew the results towards a very narrow and slanted view of what “Bible Mindedness” means.

For me, reading the Bible on a nearly constant basis should not equate to “Bible Mindedness” because such a practice assumes the Bible can be relevant and useful to us in our daily lives entirely without reference to the world in which we live, an assumption that is deeply flawed.

Reading other works that reflect upon the Bible and our faith, such the writings of various theologians, works of poetry, histories, science, novels, the Talmud, the Koran, etc; all provide new insights about how our faith impacts us and impacts the world around us.  Such readings help us gain a greater appreciation of the variety and magnificence of God’s Creation.  And, they provide new and deeper revelations of what our faith means to us, and how we can apply that faith to the challenges of life, as well as helping us attain a broader perspective of what it means to be a person of faith.

Since God is infinite, God must encompass an infinitude of perspectives.  Therefore, limiting ourselves to a single (and literal) perspective of the Bible limits us in our understanding of Creation and of our relationship with our Creator.

So for me, being a person of faith – being “Bible Minded” – means using the Bible as a starting point – not an end point.  A view shared by many who were dismissed (by the criteria used in this survey) as “not engaged with the Bible” and not using the Bible to make sense of [their] life.

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). 

Standing in a New Place

Standing in a new placeSermon: “Standing in a New Place”
Presented at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA
October 20, 2013

Scripture readings:
Job 38:1-18, 24-30, 34-5 and 42:1-6 (from “The Message”),
Luke 18:18-25  
(from “The Message”)

A Prologue…

I held up a card with one word in large block letters on each side, as follows…

RED         GREEN

and then said (more or less)…

All of us can see one side of this card, but not the other.  Most of you see Green, the rest of us see Red.   Each of you can appreciate part of what this card is, but not the whole thing.  You can see one aspect of its truth, but not all of it.  What you see depends on where you are sitting, but you cannot appreciate all that this card is without your changing positions or my rotating the card – there has to be movement of some sort.  Bear this in mind as you hear this message…

Please pray with me…

Lord, open our eyes that we may see the truth you have for us here today; place in our hands and hearts the wisdom and courage to follow your Truth wherever it may lead us, and so come to a deeper appreciation of your Gospel from a new perspective. Open my mouth, Lord, that I may be a faithful witness to your Gospel, that the eyes of our hearts might be opened, and that your love for all of us, your children, is made manifest.  Prepare our hearts to share your gospel with all we whom encounter today, and in the days ahead.  Amen.

The Message…

I recently visited a dear friend, Carolyn, and we began talking about my ideas for this week’s sermon.  This in turn reminded her of a story, one that I’m sure most parents have run into (at least a few times).

When her family was much younger, they all went to a ball game.  Later, in talking about an event during the game, the narrative that Carolyn related to her children differed a great deal from the one her husband Don gave about the same incident.  When Carolyn realized this, she sat her kids down and told them that even though mommy and daddy’s versions were very different, neither of them were lying, and neither of them were wrong, it was just that they remembered it differently because different aspects of the event mattered to each of them.  They saw the same thing from different perspectives, which is why their memories of it, and their narratives, differed.

Continue reading “Standing in a New Place”

Children’s Message: Different Colors

Two-Face-Optical-Illusion-cSummary…

Scriptural basis: Job 38:1-18, 24-30, 34-5; Job 42:1-6; Luke 18:18-25

The point: Once we have a good “recipe” for doing something, we tend to keep on using it even though will sometimes give us the wrong answers.  Most adults playing this game alongside the kids will shout out GREEN for one of the sheets that you hold up, even though the letters are blue.

Truth is the same way.  We assume that when something works as we expect it to, then we know the truth; but, details can be important – there is often more there than meets the eye.  The truth we see is never the whole truth.

The goal is to learn that the truth of God is unchanging, but that the truth as we see it will always change and deepen as we learn more.

Continue reading “Children’s Message: Different Colors”