(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Steinbach

This blog was originally published
June 24, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Steinbach Pride

Steinbach Pride
Image: Steinbach Pride

There are so many pitfalls and temptations as one endeavours to live into solidarity from a place of privilege. In my case, I benefit greatly from many things, including a lot of education, gender and sexual orientation identities.

What that means is it is easy to think I have answers, easy to speak too loudly and tempting to assume I know what’s right. That sense of privilege, therefore, only becomes more complicated when the work of solidarity leads one see more clearly others who equally share my privilege. In particular, in the choices of those who hold authority within the democracy in which we live out our days in this Canadian context.

In the midst all of these tensions – which are really only a gloss – sometimes one must speak. As Jesus turned tables as a political critique, while not being part of the ‘official’ structure of power, I believe that Winnipeg Presbytery’s denominational context, as an Affirming Ministry, requires us to acknowledge that the work of solidarity is never done and always comes with choice.  Privilege is awkward and has great value. It also is very muddied when one wears it into places or moments in which the suffering of those who are marginalised is highlighted.

As I mused last week – Rainbow Weeps – the reality of life for our LGBTTQ friends, Sisters and Brothers remains troubled. In our United Church of Canada context, we might like to imagine that our evolving theology of diversity reveals that the world of the Kingdom-to-Come is all around us. It certainly is always in progress, and the violence in Orlando has only reinforced that assumptions of work-done can lead to complacency. Recently that sense of accomplishment has been challenged locally.

For those who do know, the third largest city in Manitoba will be holding its first Pride event. That’s right, Steinbach will be holding an event that was meant as first steps, perhaps was even imagined to be ‘low key.’. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the violence in Orlando reminds us of the ongoing struggle to embrace dignity and safety is never done. This is especially true for those who challenge the conventions of sexual gender, identity and orientation. In such times and places, privilege can be harnessed to advocate and even protect.

Solidarity

Solidarity
Image: geralt

Now I openly acknowledge that I do not agree with theologies or philosophies that are grounded in exclusion and phobia. I can also accept that people will and do have different perspectives than my own or my faith community. It becomes difficult, however, when those who have privilege (just as much as I do) and hold elected positions, hide behind ‘freedom,’ in order not to attend such events. Pride events – though some may think they are simply a party – remain grounded in a protest movement. This resistance is grounded in human rights, which have been, are, and likely will continue to be violated.

I can live in the paradox that an elected official may have personal beliefs that are different than my own. Specifically, that Creator intend us to embrace a world as blessed because of variations and differences, not because our species is at the top of the chain, but because we recognise all life is threaded and intimately woven together.

I cannot, however, reconcile when someone who holds public office does not realise that their choices not to be attend such events highlights that they are not, in fact, representing ALL of their constituents. This choice, therefore, ends up reinforcing cultural phobias and, in this case, that directed at the GLBTTQ community.

I could go on … I am most tempted to do so, but I know that is simply ego. As Jesus’ response to hurting was compassion and care, as discussed last week, his response to those in power was witness and solidarity. Walking with those who are oppressed – from my place of solidarity and privilege – feels truer to the Good News then either engaging into the vitriol of right and wrong debate or our Canadian tendency to sometime acquiesce when disagreements becomes apparent.

On July 9th, therefore, I will simply walk with those who are members of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. I will accompany those brave and courageous people in Steinbach on their initial steps toward celebrating diversity’s blessing in Creation. Anything more would be just words …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Rainbow Weeps

This blog was originally published
June 15, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

I wish I did not feel Called to blog this week …
I pray that the narrative of hate did not exist …
I find my soul torn asunder knowing that the marginalised continue to suffer in a politicised world in which power and violence violate the sanctity of life …

The recent assault on life, dignity and diversity in Orlando has been numbing. Not just for the violence that exterminated sacred lives, but the ensuing political discourse has been horrible itself. This account, which intends to seek blame and polarise, has been abhorrent.

As I listen(ed) to this blame game –  whether about religion, gun violence, political choices, or strategies to address terrorism it has been tempting to engage. This detached and – at times – abstract debate so easily removes us from wailing lament. It also silences compassion, which invites (those of us who inherit a new world filled with death and the potential for new choices) to reply.

The reality is that – from a perspective of faith – there is no easy answer. No analysis or critique, which is shaped in a sound byte, can address the complexity of an interconnected world. A world in which mental illness, racism, geo-politics, gender and sexual identity – to name only a few of the strands that bind this tapestry of pain – are constantly defining what and who is normal.

Rainbow Weeps

Rainbow Weeps
Image: Affirm United

What I do know is that this ministry, which Christians constantly endeavour to model, is grounded in a radical compassion. One that seeks to hold all involved with love. Any knee jerk response, without first offering unconditional love to all who weep, hurt and suffer, simply leads to a world further entrenched in violence: whether that is punctuated by a word or bullet. Bullets and words, after all, are not semantic talking points, they are as interconnected as an immune system virally under siege.

The work with which Jesus left us always points not to power, but to the oppressed and hurting. It is in that possible response, that new relationships might lead to that which we cannot yet imagine. Looking to power simply and always reinforces what is.

No matter the work toward embracing (a theology) diversity as a model that recognises ever persons’ (inherent and blessed) dignity that we might assume has been done and accomplished, we have been reminded that an assault on the GLBTQ community affects all of us. How we respond, is a reflection for how we care for ourselves. How we hold the Other, as tears bleed, stands before us as judge. What we do, in respect to the root causes, eventually reflects whether or not that which is (capitalize?) becomes that which was (capitalize?) or continues to be that which will be.

I wish there was a neat and profound way to wrap this up. It would be nice if words could fix the fibre, which collectively binds us, by knitting it back together. But there are no such words, just action  …

maybe, as more than one survivor has shared, how we love one another is a helpful way to imagine a different story …
maybe how we see love in this horror that defies logic of binaries such as right and wrong, it might point us to an old narrative …
maybe, seeing Jesus sitting with the demons and criminals, holding the marginalised and feeding the despised offers us a way to pause …
a way to let go of solutions …
a way to simply hold the dying …
care for the living …
walk with the healing …

For now, maybe, that is enough …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Vignette|Pen & Mirror

This blog was originally published
April 08, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Stories, Vignettes & the Archive

Stories … they’re funny things. This A Deacon’s Musing feature will share vignettes of voices that are (often) an amalgamation of experiences, contexts and people. They will frequently be monologues, which will be speaking both directly to our United Church of Canada and generally to faith communities. As with all stories, this may not have actually happened, but all stories are true. And as story-tellers know, once you hear them, they are happening to you …

Please explore the Vignette Archive for more stories.

calamus pluma

calamus pluma
Image: Kelsey Scalaro

They had both come from very different places. Their journey to Reverend Meadow’s flock had been filled with a few pauses here and there, from one house church to another or finding themselves in a new relationship after two churches got married: so many stories that led to their friendship …

When they finally met, even though they were totally different, it was like they had found a treasure for which they had always been looking, even longing. In fact, whenever Styla and Specul had a chance to hangout, they often talked about the different things they had witnessed since they were last together. Whenever fortune so shone, it was like they had never been apart. Often, the conversation began with a conjunction, as though there had never been a pause since the last time Styla found she had been left near Specul.

“Didn’t they just look beautiful?” Specul boomed in his ornate voice. Though the church was quiet now and Steeple had stopped her ringing, Specul’s prim and proper presentation remained immaculate. It was not that he was prideful, but he was always grateful that he could reflect back each person’s beauty as they gazed into him.

“Oh, were they?” Styla inquired in her clear whisper.

The mirror and pen often found themselves together after a wedding or funeral, baptism or welcome of new members. Both were well cared for heirlooms of their church. Heirlooms that reached all the way back to the time when all of those different people decided to unite. Sometimes Styla would get excited remembering the signing of the union document in that cavernous arena. It was often a story on which they would reflect when something new happened.

“Yes, indeed. Ruth and Naomi were both handsome and beautiful. The way the various shades of ivory complemented what the other was wearing. And the punch of colour of Ruth’s lavender accessories and the ivy that was in Naomi’s hair, joyfully-tear-making in their splendour!” declared Specul.

Styla rolled this image around: since she was unable to often appreciate … or admittedly understand … what he saw, she reflected on the similarity in what she felt.

“It sounds a lot like the moment one of them passed me to the other, as they could sign the marriage certificate. The moment their hands touched, I felt all flush with care and compassion. I could even sense, in the quivered pause, their evident attraction. I felt proud to be part of this day, Specul!” Styla added.

mirror mirror on the wall

mirror mirror on the wall
Image: opethpainter

After they shared their notes and impressions, from the marvel of how an organ and electric guitar could actually make beautiful music, to the giggles from the wee people as the pigeons flew as the steeple sang, Specul paused for enough time that Styla wondered if he had been covered.

“In all the excitement, I forgot about the worry for Mrs. Habib,” Specul finally said.

 “Oh no: why?” she inquired, obviously worried.

“Well,” he continued in a low bass, “you remember that after she and her family arrived from Mosul Pastor Meadow had to help them get acquainted to the different things Christians did here in worship?”

Styla responded affirmatively.

“Well I didn’t realise,” he continued, “that though she and her husband are Christians, they have many Muslim family members and some of them have been hurt recently.”

“Oh no!” Styla declared with shock.

“I’m afraid so. Pastor Meadow is trying to help her figure out if she should go and help. While they were talking, it is clear that the election is making people angry and some think hurting those who are different is okay now,” Specul concluded.

This time it was Styla’s time to pause. In fact, she was quiet so long, that Specul thought she might have been collected by Tatiana without him seeing her.

“Well that makes sense,” Styla declared, interrupting Specul’s worry.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

At first Styla spoke so fast in her whisper that he had to ask her to slow down. Finally, with just enough pausing between words, she shared that she understood what everyone was signing before the wedding: a petition!

Inaugural Service

Inaugural Service
10 June 1925, Mutual Street Arena
Image: The United Church of Canada

The stone church had a history of activism, of putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the ‘least,’ they would say. Styla was not sure – then – why all the different hands were gathered, in fact she ran dry more than once as they signed the document. Calloused and soft gentle ones and shades of earth and rose coloured hands held her. She could sense their smells: garlic, rosemary, and curry to name only a few. But each one held her firmly – she thought that grip with which she was embraced spoke to their solidarity for one another.

Styla and Specul paused … and as they were separated, they did not know what was next for Mrs. Habib, but they knew she was not alone. They also knew that even the stone church was not always immune to the causes that Reverend’s Flocks confronted – graffiti had scarred the church and windows broken in the past – but the people stood together and their voice always spoke as confidently as steeple’s announcement each time a new day dawned …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Bullying

This blog was originally published March 24, 2013
by The United Church in Meadowood

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

Lent: We walk into the gathering danger & doubt surrounding Jesus as he made choices that led to the Cross.
This is a time of preparation & reflection.
Where have you been this year & where might you be going?
What are the things that have kept your journey on pause?
What are the choices you have made that you would like to revisit?
A Lenten Collection

Revolution

Revolution

During the Season of Lent, UCiM will be engaging line by line with the Lord’s Prayer. This week’s exploration has considered the entire prayer in relationship to our current Affirming Exploration. I hope, therefore, that these Lenten blogs, honour those faithful conversations, which are occurring within our community of faith.

Okay, I think this blog may end up being more rant like, so please use the comment section below to let me know whether – in fact – this is true & any thoughts/challenges that may arise!

Well … the following are some vignettes of this week that have led to this Lenten blog …

Vignette #1: In Manitoba there is a certain piece of legislation being considered called Bill 18, which will be presented for assent in September. Basically, the bill entrenches expectations around confronting bullying and – as just one example – how it affects GLBTTQ youth and the manner in which such legislation proposes to address homophobia (i.e. mandatory Gay Straight Alliances). Of course no one likes bullying, but apparently some people of faith feel that this is an infringement on their freedom of religion …

Vignette #2: I was blessed to be involved in a recent discussion with Brothers & Sisters of the United Church of Canada (UCC). During that time, we discussed and explored some of our denomination’s context – where we’ve been and where we might find ourselves – as to where the Spirit’s movement has been in our midst. I shared that my own ‘opting-in’ to this human institution was on account of a UCC decision in 1988. This courageous decision basically held up that ANYONE – regardless of sexual orientation – could step into accountable leadership (as a full member) if discerned that they possessed the gifts and skills for such a Call. In that reflection, I named I would not have explored a Call to ministry otherwise …

Vignette #3: Following this conversation, a friend on facebook posted an image from Tom Gauld’s cartoon collection about Revolution. The cartoon struck me as an appropriate critique of both secular privilege, as well as faith-based apathy …

Vignette #4: The last experience occurred while I enjoyed coffee with a dear Brother and we were discussing … well we were discussing evangelism! I love this word, its depth, its challenge, & its power! We were also lamenting that for many progressive/liberal mainstream denomination’s we’ve acquiesced the word to theological perspectives that have devolved into fundamental, short, simply binary ideas of God, faith, nationalism and militarism; to mention just a few of the syllables we so ‘humbly’ explored …

Bullying

Bullying

{rant}I really do not care what – you the Reader – believe. My only proviso is this: does what you believe lead you to not only compassion, but humility? The combination of the two inevitably confronts violence, whether dogmatic, intellectual or religious as unacceptable. In other words, if what you espouse, articulate, or preach can lead to dehumanising another person and – subsequently – rationalise depriving him/her of dignity our potential relationship has arrived at a ‘non-negotiable.’

As Christians, I believe that the UCC has spoken loudly and clearly in the past to a large audience that looked to us for direction. That denominational experience has created the illusion that we continue to be heard. The fact is that our voice has waned, specifically within the traditional media that regularly portrays dysfunctional, judgemental and – let’s face it – hate-filled voices that claim to speak normatively for Christianity. And {rant continues} we’ve allowed it to happen and we’ve moved (it sometimes seems) from speaking prophetically to a place of seeing the torture device upon which Jesus was fastened and executed as some intellectual puzzle or riddle to be worried, as opposed to a call to action in the world. When we do not speak up, put our bodies in the way to protect – LITERALLY – those who suffer marginalisation and oppression, we have not only stumbled, we’ve become complicit.{/rant}

Okay, I’m taking a deep breath. I realise that any rant is often just as much a gloss that over-simplifies and also can leave an impression of frustration. And though some of that may be true, the point is that I love this UCC institution for all its human failings and challenges. It is core to our history that we have spoken truth; we have stood in solidarity with those for whom human dignity has been diminished. Bill 18 and its intrinsic truths, grounded in secular and humanist ideas of human rights, resonates fundamentally with a Christian understanding of abundance and the blessings that all of us in our diversity are Beloved Children of God. And whenever voices – secular, ecumenical, and inter-faith friends – speak in tongues that wrap discrimination and intolerance in the guise of freedom then silent we must not be!

We walk into Holy Week, a dark week of truths dressed in shadows. This week for Christians resonates to the core of who we long to be … but Easter is not yet here and Christmas is long behind us. Though the crowds cheered upon Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with palms waving, they would shortly turn from gaiety to discord. For those of us who endeavour to live into this discipleship there is great joy and bounty, but it is always grounded in the reality of eyes wide open to the suffering and adversity that humanity perpetuates upon the least. And – should we be so emboldened – standing in the place of suffering and adversity is a humbling invitation to be the Light for whom the Holy knows we are …

Blog links:

Wikipedia: GSA
Wikipedia: Lent
Wikipedia: Lord’s Prayer

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Particularities

This blog was originally published January 10, 2013
by The United Church in Meadowood & was entitled
Particularities & Generalities

Particularities illustrate a generality:
we tend to dehumanise.
May we challenge/model all as Blessing!
UCiM-isms (Jan 10/13)

The catalyst for this blog has been a recent article from, Do Gays Need A Church Of Their Own Anymore? First of all, it feels important to acknowledge that I am a heterosexual male and I am blessed to be in a monogamous relationship. I know I cannot answer that question for any of my GLBTTQ Brothers & Sisters. I do know, however, that homophobia is just one of the particularities that remains entrenched in our psyche. And that reality or generality, I believe, allows me to speak with some authority.

As a Christian community, which has been journeying for millennia, discerning God’s call to us through the lens of an itinerant Rabbi known as Jesus has not always been easy. In fact, it’s been a tension for almost as long as we’ve endeavoured to be faithful! This tension has always – to varying degrees – fallen into whether we are pure enough or whether we are inclusive enough. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus, in particular, illustrates a belief that our purity depended on particular practices. Some of which, though certainly not limited to, were a prohibition against eating shellfish, that a Priest had to have two good eyes, there was to be no association with women during the menstrual cycle and certain sexual relations, such as same gender, was not permitted.

Rainbow @ St. Coletta's Church

Rainbow @ St. Coletta’s Church

It is certainly not my intention to judge those who have come before us and it is also important to understand that those particular aspects that defined purity of the faith occurred in a context that was pre-scientific method, pre-Enlightenment and – most certainly – pre-Postmodernity. That’s a lot of syllables, but here’s the point: Applying particular historical external practices to our contemporary context no longer encourages purity of faith, but a theology of chauvinism and judgement.

It has been my experience and – I offer this as a general historical gloss – that since the Enlightenment, Christianity (through fits and starts) has been moving toward an expression of faith grounded in inclusivity, which must confront previous particularities that lead to a generality that dehumanises. Whether it’s been slavery, women’s suffrage, the idea of divorce and women’s rights to property, racism and Right Relations with our Indigenous friends, and Brothers & Sisters, we have had to confront historical ideas of purity. When historical Purity Laws are considered normative outside of their context, they devolve into intellectual excuses to demean, judge, dehumanise and – by extension – maim, harm and even kill another human being.

When people experience a particularity, which might range from stereotyping to physical violence, the question of creating safe space should be central. To respond to a question about safety requires that relationships be grounded in mutuality and hoped-for-solidarity. Regardless of the answer, however, it is incumbent on Christian communities, which endeavour to live into being inclusive of diversity, to confront particularities.

In the 21st century, I believe that the practice of purity is no longer one that can be grounded, primarily, in external practices. Rather, I believe that purity of faith – from a Christian perspective – needs to pay close attention to the egalitarian nature that Jesus modelled. That ethos or discipline – for us, I believe – demands that we pay attention to those who suffer and who are excluded. The reality is that those who confront external expectations of purity are most often the marginalised and represent the bodies upon whom the privileged stand.

There is no denying that the reality of homophobia continues to be challenged in a manner that would have seemed impossible even fifteen years ago and that is most certainly hopeful! But as the video below, from It Gets Better Project, illustrates from members of Surrey RCMP Detachment, as long as any child needs to be supported, nurtured and protected to realise that the bullying they experience is not only inappropriate, but dehumanising, then I think, as Christians, we need to continue to always ask:

“How do we create safe places for those who are marginalised?”

We need to ask:

“How do we confront and challenge a particularity that is not life-giving?”

And – just as important – we must realise that one kind of oppression is – in reality – a constant reminder of our tendency to create systems based on a generality of exclusion. And this awareness, I truly believe, speaks to the core of what it means to a Christian community that endeavours to live into the Kingdom to Come now …

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Scientific Method
YouTube: It Gets Better

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Waiting for Crackpot Jesus

This blog was originally publishedDecember 2, 2011
by The United Church in Meadowood
& was entitled
A Deacon’s Musing: Advent & Waiting for Crackpot Jesus

An Advent Collection

An Advent Collection

Advent: It’s time to wait.
For whom are we waiting?

As Christians, we say that is Jesus! This is a Holy Time in our Christian calendar when we might make space for reflection, silence and – hopefully – confront some of the import of the choices that lay before us.

An Advent Collection

I recently had the gift of sitting with a Sister in the Faith and I referred to Jesus as a crackpot. I did not, nor do I, mean that in any derogatory way. But the fact is, that this child for whom we wait – Christ, the Messiah, Saviour, Root of Jesse (the list is really long) – was seen as a wing-nut, crackpot, social disturber. The boy would grow into a man who threw everything upside down and would become such a fundamental threat that he was executed.

For many, understanding Jesus in this manner is not new. For others this is disturbing and challenging. And, hopefully, we will always find ourselves somewhere in the midst of getting it and being wary. God – as Jesus’ life modelled – is not easily understood and that, in itself, is disturbing for those of us – all of us I would contend – who want stability, consistency and safety. But … yes there is often a but when we talk about Jesus … the one for whom we wait, wasn’t all about that, now was he?

Advent

He arrives poor, the lowest of the low, to a class of people seen as the refuse of the Roman Empire, who were the disposable labour that propped up a system of economic disparity that – frankly speaking – has always been with us. Here he comes, preaching not to the central power in Rome, but going from village to village, hanging with those on the margin and he’s challenging them to wake up, to realise their inherent worth that they are Holy and that IS ENOUGH. And, for those who heard this message, freedom was attained and life was so precious that even death – even martyrdom – was no barrier to the Kingdom of Heaven that began the moment this simple and revelatory message was not only understood in the headspace, but felt vibrantly in the very core of their being.

What’s the point? What’s that mean now as we wait? I have been struck lately by the ongoing anger and hatred that I witness in both the secular media and among certain Christians directed at the GLBTTQ community. The ongoing debate that marriage is framed as only sacred between a man and a woman, thus precluding same-sex couples and confining any critique of bullying to a sound-bite, detracts from the reality that a gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirited, transgendered or queer youth succumbs to suicide, makes me angry!

As I have been waiting, in this place of reflection, it occurred to me to ask: what’s the connexion between the coming Jesus and this intolerance? And then there was that click: the Jesus for whom we wait is the person on the outside, born into a culture that hates him – and yes her – and would rather create a feedback loop that beats him down, dehumanises in order to make him pliable to the systems that keep us asleep and, should he even have an inkling that something is amiss, push him to the place where life feels like it would be better if it he simply let suicide become the solution. And whom do we hate enough, in the 21st century here in Winnipeg, Canada, to believe our collective lie?

  • Is it the aboriginal youth in the North End, who suffers the silencing and loss of her relations generation after generation owing to Colonialism that continues to inform our collective chauvinism?
  • The lesbian girl, who longs to be who she knows she is, yet must confront the implicit violence that occurs when one comes out?
  • The invisible Philippine migrant worker that we avoid noticing, but if we were able to confront the truth, we would have to acknowledge is a slave to a form of economics called Consumerism?

So – here’s the upside down thing – not only was the Jesus for whom we wait born on the outside, but right from the get go he modelled his Holiness. Our Sacred Texts talk about the various ways, even as a youth and young man, that he lived this out. So while I wait, in this time of silence and reflection, longing for something to awaken in me and around me, I have to realise that as long as young men and women succumb to suicide, as did Jamie Hubley, we are perpetuating a system of intolerance and hatred. This system is not new: for Jesus’ ministry ultimately challenged those who name themselves as Disciples to enter into these human realities and preach the Good News. A Good News that tells all people not only that they are loved, but that if they are able to hear that message, they can also be freed. It is that freedom that is offered by the child for whom we wait: A freedom that untethers us from the self-hating cycles that create the illusion of humanist control and leads us to walk with those for whom this is not a safe world. This is a Holy trust and, ultimately, worthy of life. Of course, this all sounds somewhat out of line with Fox News, the Winnipeg Sun or the Shopping Network, but I suspect it may have just enough craziness that you and I might want to try it nonetheless. As you walk into Advent, for whom is it you are waiting …

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Advent

Pages: