(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Syria

This blog was originally published
September 18, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery

The First & Second Generations

The First & Second Generations
Image: Tannis Archive

It has been an interesting last few weeks as I have transitioned back from time away to work and blogging. One of the gifts and challenges, which I have received from more than one regular reader of A Deacon’s Musing, has been about the Syrian refugee crisis. Particularly, whether or not I would be musing and blogging about it.

I always take any and all interaction with readers of the blog very seriously and this has been no exception. I do not believe I have been resistant to this unfolding conversation, but I have been intentional to reflect on what I would say and why. The last thing I would want to do is sensationalise, politicise or exploit a heart-wrenching reality simply for the sake of blogging. I am also aware that The United Church of Canada’s Moderator – Jordan Cantwell – has already shared a message with the denomination, which has been helpful for many. The questions, “Why then would I write and/or what more might I have to add?” have been where the cursor on the screen has remained invitingly blinking …

I have also been reading the most recent issue of geez, “The Decolonization Issue.” As is often the case with geez, it has been a rich, difficult and challenging read. As I have read it, I was reminded about a previous blog – #HonourTheApology – in which I shared some of my own story: specifically my maternal connexion with what was once the Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire and how my own ancestors left Mount Lebanon looking for a better life. Four generations later, I find myself seeing history repeat itself and – dear reader – that feels like the connexion for which I have been waiting to contribute to the current global conversation. I hope – therefore – in the brevity of a blog it is helpful …

First of all – without seeming naïve (I hope) – the Christian response to refugees is rather easy: throw open the doors and help. In fact, again with the hope of not seeming simplistic, all of the Abrahamic traditions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) are very clear when it comes to the refugees, widows and orphans. There is a clear mandate to help and welcome. It is a central tenant of hospitality to offer care and shelter to those in need. I do not believe anyone would claim that the current crisis is not grounded in profound need!

Second of all … it may be simple, but it is in no way easy! I have seen enough racism and xenophobia, as the crisis continues to unfold, to be reminded that the planks and specks that are in our eyes distract from what faith – yes – demands! Whether through email, social media, Op Eds, or other traditional media, we – the privileged – are scared for multiple reasons … having been immersed in geez, let me offer just one reason why it is not easy.

Gimmee shelter

Gimmee shelter
Image: The Economist

Though I long to embrace a ministry I believe Jesus modelled – one grounded in dignity and an egalitarian discipleship – I am the inheritor of a Christianity complicit in conversion as opposed to hospitality. Though I long for a Canada that embraces a multicultural ideal, in which all are welcome without having to compromise individual or cultural identity, I am a Settler who has inherited land and capital by the suffering and violation of our First Peoples.

So there is a tension for me – for all of us – how do we help those who are in dire need, while also realising we have displaced the very people who should be (at the very least) welcoming them with us. And – at the very best – First Peoples with Settlers mutually welcome those for whom home is no longer safe.

Yes, let us open our doors and hearts! Until there is a collective examination of our complicit connexions to colonialism and consumerism both domestically and globally – we will find it very difficult to do so in the wake of the suffering that we have and do cause. For there to be healing, the individual and collective inner journey must begin …

  • A blog is too short to even claim there is a conclusion or expeditious way to address the global realities that are occurring in which millions are displaced by war, violence and environmental degradation …
  • A blog is too short to confidently claim authority or clarity in the murkiness that are human choices, some made habitually and others intentionally …
  • A blog – hopefully – can make space to be moved in our heart’s space not to judge – others or ourselves – and begin to ask how our own connexions to the Syrian refugee crisis might offer ways to begin to be change …
  • A blog – hopefully – can make space to realise that we have been, are or will be travellers who have had to rend our hearts (for varied reasons) from where we long to be, in order to arrive where we might be safe. And … if we can do that … perhaps we can open ourselves to the Other, as they might one day do for us …

May it be so!

Blog links:

 UCC: Moderator’s Message: Syrian Refugee Crisis
 Wikipedia: Settler
 YouTube: Travelers Song (Future of Forestry)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|#swanriver

I really do think that this vocation of mine is filled with rich blessings and opportunities. Sure ministry can be filled with challenges, but usually even those can be surprisingly wonderful! One of the things that is great about where I find myself is the privilege to see and experience diverse communities. Whether that’s simply within the bounds of Winnipeg Presbytery, further afield in The Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario or nationally or globally, it is an honour to experience human choices that strive to be the Kingdom in the now. This last month – I even got to hang out in the town of Swan River!

Swan River (1887)

Swan River (1887)
Photo: Thomas Fisher

Now this is not a travel blog about Swan River – though if you like fishing, golf and/or the outdoors, I think you would certainly be well pleased. In fact, what got me musing this week is the idea of privilege. There is an ongoing and appropriate analysis of what this means in our church culture. And – unfortunately – at times I think we respond with either guilt or apathy. And I get why that is … I also worry that sometimes we do not fully embrace the choices that come with the privilege we possess. Privilege is not a neutral state of being and leads to choices that are either informed or not. As those who aspire to be an Easter people, informed choices can affect lives and offer healing to our selves, God’s Creation and the Stranger.

Being in Swan River, I was reminded of the beauty of nature and the real power of hospitality. In the almost 20 years in which I have walked with The United Church of Canada, I have never seen dance offered as a way to share a community’s richness. And that is indeed what happened during one of the lunches. On my morning runs, my right arm was actually growing tired by the waving to which I responded by women and men in cars passing me by!

There I was (with about 300 hundred other UCC folks) …

privileged to be able to afford to travel;
privileged to experience a community that welcomed us; and,
privileged to recognise that there is blessing and work to be done …

  • I do not think it is inappropriate to note that hospitality to the Stranger, which we were, does not preclude that acknowledging that prejudice continues to exist in ourselves and others; and,
  • I do not think it is inappropriate to note that the semblance of earth’s bounty, which was clearly in bloom in Swan River, does not preclude that we collectively contribute to environmental degradation.
Priv[e|i]lege

Priv[e|i]lege
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

And – here’s the thing with which I have been wrestling: as we (denominationally) sometimes get stuck in what we imagine we no longer have and (in turn) pull back owing to a lens of deficit, we remove ourselves from relationships. And without relationships, how can we affect the change for which we long? How can we share what know to be Good News, when we tell ourselves (too often I would have to admit were I able to look into that mirror) that there is not enough?

The Annual Church Gathering in Swan River is grounded in privilege and safety, which is not shared by many on Planet Earth. And by going to these places we are able to note things that sometimes staying at home we may not recognise. I pray that as we continue to explore change and the possibility of restructuring that we do not forget that staying under someone else’s tent is as important as the words we use to tell those we love how dear they are to us, because ‘life happens to us while we are busy making other plans …’

Beautiful Boy (Lyrics)

Blog links:

(Design) The United Church in Meadowood

For six years, The United Church of Meadowood (UCiM) has been using a robust and multi-layered Social Media Infrastructure. In many ways, this is the growing area for a web presence in such pursuits that ranges from business and entrepreneurial endeavours to NGOs and faith-based communities. An infrastructure is often – though not bound to – a (Static/Dynamic) Site that makes use of other social media platforms (i.e. twitter, facebook, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest). Establishing such a presence within this area often begins with understanding that your web presence is as much about potential relationships as it is in sharing your passion, whether that’s a product, vision or dream!

UCiM

UCiM

UCiM, as a faith community, has utilised a Social Media Infrastructure to share their understanding of what it means to be an inclusive and hospitable community that encourages belonging and affirming of all people. In order to meet this objective, UCiM has used such Social Media Platforms as YouTube, twitter, Google+, facebook and the platform specific to The United Church of Canada, Wondercafe. To that end our relationship with UCiM, until 2013, has evolved to include more than 1000 Followers, Likes, and Circles. It has been a journey that has reminded us that the digital environment is not removed from our everyday lives. In fact, our experience has affirmed what more and more sociological studies demonstrate: people who engage with social media are, in fact, demonstrably more trusting and engaged in their everyday lives than otherwise is assumed.

 

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Maya Consulting|Design

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Bread

This blog was originally published February 28, 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

Give us this day our daily bread.
Matthew 6:11 (NRSV)

During the Season of Lent, the United Church in Meadowood (UCiM) will be engaging line by line with the Lord’s Prayer. This week’s exploration has delved into the third line of the prayer. I hope, therefore, that these Lenten blogs, honour those faithful conversations, which are occurring within our community of faith.

Various Grains

Various Grains

Bread: I’ve been musing this week about this staple: One that every culture has, one which often marks the line between subsistence and thriving. Bread is central to the Christian prayer that invokes, discusses and dialogues with the Creator. This central image must have some depth to it, which goes beyond simply thinking of God as an ATM machine … from which getting something has a wee bit more breadth than a superficial concept of acquiring …

Bread: In the Palestinian context, the land is often dry and often threatened by drought thereby highlighting crops dependency on rain – rain that sometimes taunted, infuriated and no matter how much raging was present (i.e. Psalms 65.9-1, 104.13-14, 147.8) sometimes would just not fall. But when the rain fell, the land bloomed, flowers awoke and crops cried ‘Glory!’

Bread: The people with whom Jesus journeyed and ministered were predominately those who lived on the margins, were often judged based on the places from which they were raised and the work that they did. Often these manual labourers, men and women, were those who walked the line between subsistence and thievery – you don’t think those fishermen were floating on shiny international trawlers do you? – were those who answered a Call to share the Good News! And bread – well, bread wasn’t provided as part of a negotiated contractual agreement … and yet these fishermen (Matt 4.18-22) – Simon, Andrew, James & John – dropped their nets and followed him – with no guarantees into places of privilege and power they walked and spoke truth. And, truth speaking my friends tis rather dangerous work!

Bread: In the New Testament the word is (ἄρτον or ‘arton’) … vague? It’s not used often and carries a depth of meaning that simply loses a lot of nuance in translation. Rowan Williams says this about the phrase: “Rivers of ink have been spilt over the exact meaning of ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ because the word that’s used in the Greek is a very, very strange one that you hardly find anywhere else.” Though we may want to equate its use with simply the act of feeding the body, there’s a richness to it that implies something more than simply subsistence. There’s a nuance of ‘divine sustenance’ that is imagined: an abundance that defies our tendency to equate reality with cause and effect. This depth, Williams concludes connects tomorrow – the Kingdom (that we discussed last week) – with today: “And so perhaps that ghost of an idea, that shadow of an idea that this is also bread for tomorrow and tomorrow’s bread, can come in somewhere.”

Bread: Prayer is neither simply passive or active. It’s an engagement with Being, not simply being. Those who have and continue to respond to walking the Way (Acts 9.1) navigate a human world that separates resources and people, creates hierarchies of privilege and class with a faith in something more, something richer, something profoundly life-giving that is akin to seeing with new glasses. This response tends to see shift from oppression to freedom, from subsistence to abundance. Prayer does not deny the reality of inequality or suffering. Rather, it recognises that the language we use, the actions that progress from how we communicate, and thus the experiences others have of those choices can soul-enriching and – ultimately – divine sustaining.

And – just sometimes – what may seem like a dance, poetry embodied, leads to song; in the richness of melody, awakening may continue …

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Lent
Wikipedia: Lord’s Prayer
YouTube: This Day (Whitney Houston)

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Temptation!

This blog was originally published January 8, 2009
by Emerging Spirit & was entitled,
Temptation: Punching with Love!

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 6 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18.1-6)

Allegory of Hope

The last time I wrote a blog was prior to my trip to Israel-Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. To say that it seems a long time ago that I wrote those words or that the intervening days since my return have been full of challenge and reflection would be an understatement. With the recent escalation of violence and political double speak coming out of Israel and Gaza, it would be fair to say that my cynicism with our human institutions and endeavours has been fed well.

My initial reaction to all this, the questions and the back-and-forth ‘it’s not us, it’s them,’ has been to simply punch someone with love! Yes – there you have it – I have been in a frame of mind as of late to simply shake my head in exasperation and put the smackdown on the use of words that lack any culpability or what seems like a disregard that children are dying!

Of course, being somewhat flip aside, I realise that punching someone really only perpetuates our collective addiction to violence as a solution to the problems which we have created ourselves. Let’s face it, there is NO way that God, Creator of subatomic particles to shiny sundogs, of children’s laughter and the glint of wisdom in an Elder’s eye, has ANYTHING to do with our predilection toward self-annihilation. Now it could be glib, but the violence that occurs in Gaza, right now, is not only occurring in a foreign country, but in our homes and streets here in Canada. The oppressed people of Palestine, in my experience, want the same peace that Jewish parents in Tel Aviv, a grandmother in Winnipeg and an Uncle in Iqaluit does. Of course, our systems, our human processes and policies at institutional levels seem, paradoxically, opposed to enabling this desire.

I met with a lot of people during my time in the West Bank, with people from both sides of the apartheid-like system that is in place within Palestine and there were consistent things that I heard and experienced:

  1. The first was Hope – obviously not at all satisfactory to my Western assumption of Despair;
  2. In turn, there was a Hospitality that was phenomenal. In the midst of demolished homes and tents that would in no way hold back the cooler rainy season, tea flavoured with fresh mint and sugar, hummus and pita were served with joy;
  3. I was asked to share what was happening, to tell stories entrusted to me;
  4. That regardless of how long, 10, 25, 50 or 500 years there would be peace and all – Jew and Palestinian – could live in harmony as has occurred in the past;
  5. No one seemed to trust their elected officials – there was an apathy. Whether it was with the Knesset in Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza, people seemed not to trust the people who represented the institutions of governance; and
  6. The children … they were everywhere and everyone seemed to place them forward as the reason for peace.

Nouri al-Ukbi on El-Arakib Lands

As a Christian struggling with Discipleship one thing is most clear to me from the ministry that Jesus offer as a model – children are the gauge by which we measure the Kingdom to Come. If children suffer, if we block their development into recognising that they are God’s Beloved, that we are God’s entrusted Stewards, then we are failing. As long as children die, from poverty or violence anywhere in the world, not only do I believe that God weeps, I believe we stand in judgement in the truest sense.

So … yep likely a wee bit too preachy … but it is simple … of course we like and are tempted by nuance and context, the whys and who’s to blame … distractions really, imo. But, as I take a breath, it is not the why or the history that matter, I met children in Israel and Palestine who are just as special and precious as my niece and nephews – children who demand of us care and peace. Our role as leaders in our communities is to recognise when they suffer and to take action to change the systems that cause suffering and not to perpetuate them. Until that radical message is heard, I believe that children will die and we all need to take a moment to reflect on our role in this system …

And, in moments of darkness, I will remember the light of a Bedouin man, who showed us his demolished home and yet his face glowed as it was framed in a red keffiyeh with gratitude to simply share his story. In the sharing of the story, we were invited to listen and the blood flowed from my knee jerk smackdown reaction into my brain, into the creativity that comes when people pause to hear one another and now I share that moment with you, the Reader. We create the narrative and perhaps we might begin to write one where it is the children who are the plot and not the geo-political manoeuvring of a species always tempted with destruction, as opposed to creation.

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