(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Reconciling Time

This blog was originally published
October 07, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Reconciling Time

Reconciling Time

There are many hopeful and amazing things about being part of a faith community. They range from the gifts that arise when exploring spiritual reflection and practices to entering places that endeavour to safely nurture diversity and dignity. Pretty great stuff, if you ask me!

A recent experience afforded me just one of those moments, when cynicism or apathy might otherwise whisper, which shone light into those shadow places we often ignore. I had the pleasure to be invited to attend a gathering of a recently formed group here in Winnipeg, which is intentionally engaging in what reconciliation might look like with our Indigenous friends, Sisters and Brothers. It was heartening to hear such a broad conversation cover topics that ranged from trauma to White Privilege, and solidarity to time.

Passion is a funny thing – it cuts through our agendas and distractions. It’s like Lego pieces, when they click and keep clicking! Pretty soon what looked like chaos takes on form and shape. And – if you stick with it – form takes on identity becoming a thing which a community has fashioned, if given enough time, by listening and reflecting.

So here’s my take away from what felt like the beginning of putting pieces together, which included blocks such as Time and (White) Privilege:

    1. For those who benefit from colonialism and capitalism, which my faith community called The United Church of Canada recognises is us, this stuff is hard work. It’s not – though it may include – academic or book learned. It requires looking deeply into a mirror, in order to spy the situation of our own souls, before we even imagine talking to others about the state of their own.One of the ways we can ‘ignore’ peering into this reflective portal, therefore, is utilising time to deflect the work before us. There’s a simple adage, if you will, that suggests where the focus of one’s attention goes so too is the world created that you see;
    2. Reconciliation is a lens that challenges the focus of those who have inherited the benefits that arise from Settler privilege. Reconciliation, however, neither just happens, nor is it simply an exercise grounded in acquiring just enough information to ‘get it.’ After all, how can we understand the trauma others have experienced, when we cannot acknowledge our own suffering that arises when we awaken to our role in the hurt others experience? And,
    3. Privilege – as expressed in time – allows us to control Reconciliation, as an intellectual act: in other words, we get to set the agenda. This act, however, may end up simply perpetuating another way to maintain the status quo. When time, when understood as a challenge to privilege, becomes unmoored and Reconciliation becomes scary.
  • It’s scary because it means less talking (on our part) and more listening (to others);
  • It’s anxious making, because in listening to others we may hear difficult and hard things;
  • It’s disconcerting because these places of pain and tears may lead us to reflect on both our involvement and awaken us to our own vulnerability.; and,
  • It’s uncomfortable because if we listen and hear that which the Spirit might be sharing through our Indigenous companions, we may need to change once we awaken to (right) relations.
Soul's Reflection

Soul’s Reflection

Change is a historic constant. In this Christian community in which I journey, Creator is always with us in exile. For those who have confused faith with culture, however, change becomes the enemy. This confusion, I believe, must be resisted.

Power and change never play well together. That binary – and I admit I do not like binaries in general – leaves those who seek Reconciliation in a tight bind. Do we hold on to what we have or do we let go and let God?

As this recent experience ended, I’m certain those with whom I sat at table were inviting us to wrestle with the latter. It may be worrying to finally be unburdened of a load that we know limits embracing diversity and dignity. Letting go, ultimately, reveals a world wonder-filled, which dwarfs the time constraints we too often impose on ourselves …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Holy Saturday #2

This blog was originally published
July 21, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Part #1: Holy Saturday

Since last week’s initial exploration of Holy Saturday, I have been trying to figure out where to go next. It is not so much that I do not know what I want to offer for reflection, as much as it is that the general length of a blog often requires focus and attentive intention. In other words, there’s way more that I can talk about than the space this medium might allow. So I thought I might try to do two things:

  1. Briefly review the history of Holy Saturday; and,
  2. Connect Holy Saturday with privilege and trauma.

Let’s see if that’s possible …

Witness: Lament's Tears

Witness: Lament’s Tears

In the Christian calendar, the most important time of year is the Lenten season, which ends with the celebration of Easter. The weekend that culminates in this 40-day journey (in late winter-early spring) begins with Good Friday. Good Friday is the day we remember that Jesus was tortured and executed by the Roman Empire. The Sunday that follows – Easter – is the story of resurrection and hope in the midst of odds that are too long to count. What many – especially mainstream Protestant – often gloss over(look) is the day in between: Holy Saturday.

Often, what happens, is that somewhere on a continuum people either focus on the torture and suffering (Good Friday) or the joyful celebration of new life (Easter). Not that these are bad or inappropriate responses to this very old and sacred story. There is an aspect to the tradition, however, that I would suggest helps us in this discussion that began with reflecting on #BlackLivesMatter & Steinbach Pride last week.

For those of us who benefit from a history of privilege, in my Christian context The United Church of Canada, Holy Saturday offers a place to pause and reflect. According to 1 Peter 3:19–20, this day is ripe with meaning as it falls between lament and jubilation. It is the day in which Jesus was not only dead, but in fact found himself on a fast track straight to Hell! And – in that place of myth and story, truth and metaphor – he saw and endured the pains of those lost and suffering. He saw truths and torment better left to the imagination and which often we would rather avoid …

What I think this Holy Saturday offers the church, as it wrestles with its own history, is an opportunity to witness, truly see and hear the suffering we have caused. For some, this has already begun with our denomination’s apology in 1986 and our ongoing support and journey with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is indeed faithful work, but I think it is misses something because we still would rather not witness in respect to our complicity as settlers and colonisers.

Witness: Joy Dawns

Witness: Joy Dawns

One of the realities, I feel, we must confront from our position of privilege is whether we are looking for solutions and healing simply from our heads. Do we want to experience resolution through logic, where mind and body are divided? And though there are indeed those in our midst who have bravely and courageously witnessed the stories of survivors, I think as a denomination we stand in a place of critical reflection: have we rationalised that reconciliation is an intellectual journey in which words and position papers, apologies and sermons allow us to claim that we have lived into Right Relations? To what extent have the several thousand worshipping communities across Canada truly engaged in witnessing our past by walking with and engaging with First Nations survivors, Elders and communities, who are willing to actually trust that we long for reconciliation?

For those who work with people who have experienced trauma – and I would say that certainly applies to people who have endured oppression based on sexual orientation, gender identity, racial, religious and linguistic marginalisation – you can find some connexion with Christian theology, doctrine or world view. For those who experience trauma it is not logical or confined to space and time. It is embodied, deeply entrenched and there is no ‘fix,’ that can allow those who witness and journey with to acquiesce or rationalise that ‘enough has been done.’ In fact, that response – I would gently though directly offer – is simply one example of our privilege and reticence to recognise where we have been and what we have done … As such, engaging in a practice suggested by Holy Saturday, therefore, might open our hearts and eyes …

This two-part blog began in the paradox of joy and horror coexisting. There is not easy answer to systemic racism or marginalisation. There can indeed be trite explanations that allow us (the privileged) some sense of not looking into the mirror, that we have done all we can. This is hard work, journeying in the model that Jesus invites us to embrace as disciples will demand of us to see things horrible and glorious.

We will weep with joy and – yes most assuredly – with lament. If we do not take brave, though perhaps admittedly quivering steps into awful realities of human experience, then it is not solidarity that we endeavour toward. If we stay in what we know and entrench where we are, we perpetuate systems that will continue to exploit and leave us all less than we might be as One … certainly not simple, but it does beckon us toward what Christians call the Good News

Part #1: Holy Saturday

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Holy Saturday #1

This blog was originally published
July 14, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Part #2: Holy Saturday

• The last week has been, once again, difficult – to say the least …
• The last week has been, once again, joyful – to say the least …

We have, on the one hand, celebrated (as church) such faithful solidarity work by participating at Steinbach Pride. During this first Pride event in Steinbach, MB, over 4000 people showed up. In this context, in which secular faith-based allies marched, the ideal that human rights must and should confront discrimination, whether ideological or theological, was highlighted!

On the other hand, we have seen the horrible and tragic deaths of two African-American men a day apart by law enforcement. Then the shooting of seven officers and shocking death of five others in Dallas followed. All of this occurring in the swirl of #BlackLivesMatter and the challenge of systemic racism as a lived reality in the United States and Canada.

Peace on High

Peace on High

In these poles of blessing and horror, it is easy to feel somewhat removed in our Canadian context. As I was weeping and praying – joyfully and with lament – I felt the stirring of a blog that will likely need to be explored in more than one stage. I am hoping that this initial discussion, if you will, might set the stage for a conversation that the church, mainstream Protestantism in general and The United Church of Canada specifically, can explore as result of these recent events.

I thought, therefore, that the rest of this blog might name some of my assumptions as to the context of these events. Furthermore, I hope they might illustrate how these events connect with the church, as it finds itself today. The subsequent exploration, which will continue next week, will hopefully attempt to engage in some reflection that arises from both the following assumptions, as well as any subsequent conversations that might develop as a result.

Holy Saturday Assumptions:

      1. Though all lives matter, #BlackLivesMatter highlights and resists systemic racism;
      2. It is a false binary to pit #BlackLivesMatter against law enforcement;
      3. All racialized systems create tension for those who suffer oppression in respect to the agents who enforce cultural norms. In systems of inequality, First Responders are placed in a paradox in which stereotyping stands in contrast to the call to serve and protect;
      4. In most situations in which First Responders confront those who suffer oppression, the training often employed is grounded in force and coercion, when social service would be more generative to create a shared sense of commonality;
      5. Though #BlackLivesMatter is primarily a US movement, it does resonate with an African-Canadian racialized experience;
      6. #BlackLivesMatter serves to parallel and complement the Canadian endeavour to live into Right Relations as explored through the Truth & Reconciliation Commission & the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
      7. Oppression and marginalisation, according to Liberation Theology, can place those who experience repression in opposition/competition with one another. As a result, this serves to detract from civil discourse about systems of inequality (i.e. Toronto Pride vs. #BlackLivesMatter);
      8. In our North American context, one of the central frames in which to explore oppression is White Privilege;
Hope Abides

Hope Abides

    1. The church – in particular mainstream Protestantism – in North America is grounded in a context of colonialism. Some refer to this as a settler position and is grounded in White Privilege. The church has/is wrestling with its complicity in this reality;
    2. Previously, the church was one of the primary actors that moulded the Other to be ‘normal’ (i.e. White). As an institution, the church is now confronting a loss of authority and power;
    3. The church now finds itself wrestling with its complicity in creating doctrine(s) that have led to trauma (i.e. racialized and sexual identity theologies). This complicity has revealed a confusion of the Good News with cultural practice;
    4. These theologies – often used to validate settler White Privilege – have exposed a tension between a church of Empire and an earlier church separate from the state and living in a radically different and egalitarian way;
    5. As the church (perhaps reluctantly) lives into this tension, it finds itself waking up on Holy Saturday;
    6. In the Christian calendar, Holy Saturday is an in-between time, where death has occurred (Good Friday) and there is no guarantee of resurrection (Easter) to come;
    7. It is in this uncomfortable place in which the institutional church now finds itself. One that is lonely and desolate. In what some call the Harrowing of Hell, hope flounders and doubt arises; and,
    8. Here we are presented with the choice to witness, to truly experience the implications of choices we have made, to listen to the traumas and pain in which we have colluded, and – perhaps – something new might be resurrected with Spirit’s guidance …

Source: CNN

Part #2: Holy Saturday

(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: TED|Ep. 5

This blog was originally published
April 22, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Image: Diane Hammerling

When I first heard Angela Cassie’s presentation to TEDxWinnipeg (previously TEDxManitoba), I remember being struck by the reflective quality of her voice and mannerism. The invitational cadence of her own story and sharing about her own experience of racism with which she began and the mounting passion, which arises in a flourish near the end, was emboldening. As I have revisited it, I have only been further drawn into the manner in which she introduced the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and its mandate approximately 100 days prior to its opening in Winnipeg.

As with each of the TEDx episodes of A Deacon’s Musing, there is so much richness, challenge and potential to explore that only one blog is admittedly cursory at best. As such, I though I would share two particular items that have drawn my attention during this revisiting of that 2014 experience.

While The United Church of Canada (and Winnipeg Presbytery specifically) endeavours to embrace and live into being an Intercultural Church, underlying this intention is human rights. Furthermore, the place where and how faith communities and the secular meet in celebrating and – just as importantly – protecting diversity and dignity arises. As Angela reminds us, this is not an easy or simple task. It is, however, central to what we (as Christians) call the Good News.

World Peace

World Peace
Image: Aia Fernandez

As a Christian community, we have wrestled with such difficult (and at times polarising) issues that range from gender equality, dignity regardless of sexual identity or orientation to acknowledging the reality of racism, privilege. In these noble – and sometimes horribly faulty attempts – pursuits, we long to help all people shine. In such intention, we are reminded by Angela that not only do we all have a human rights story from our own lives, but that this inter-connexion translates into each of us having a responsibility to ensure that the world is a place open to hearing stories of those who are too often silenced!

The second point that resonates – upon this revisiting – is that when people are allowed to share their story, the power of human resilience and passion in our vulnerability, which arises from stories shadow filled and tear laden, the only response is often humbled silence. In this place of humility, compassion and listening, such a dream (that is this Canadian museum) connects people of faith and the secular in recognising that dignity is embraced not in the wrongs, but in the rights this institution endeavours to highlight.

As with all human institutions, they reflect our intention. At times, our species’ intention has been less than humane – often occurring when we are frightened. But when we choose to highlight the best we have been, in order to aspire to that which we believe might be our best, such collections of stories help us begin to imagine ways to not only avoid such wrongs, but begin to fashion a city, society, culture and world in which we might begin to recognise that the rights are the foundational blocks of a brave new world, which we (as Christians) sometimes understand as the Social Gospel where our collective common good embraces not just everyone, but all of Creation … and that feels like Good News indeed!

TEDxManitoba 2014

TEDxManitoba 2014
Image: TEDxManitoba

I made a promise to TEDxManitoba (now known as TEDxWinnipeg) in 2014. I committed to sharing their important (secular) work in my faith-based context. I have lived into that pledge by creating another recurring feature for A Deacon’s Musing : TED|Episodes (Two others are: 1: Feather’s Fall serial story; &, 2: Vignettes). The intent is to highlight one TED Talk in each episode and muse about connexions (both secularly and internally) to the church.

 

Episodes

Ep. 1: Pilot
Ep. 2: Farming Our Future: The Urban Agriculture Revolution
Ep. 3: Got Bannock? In honour of the village we once had
Ep. 4: What do you do after the bullets miss you?
Ep. 5: What is an inspiring encounter with human rights?

 

Blog links:

 WPGPres: Intercultural Ministry
Wikipedia: Good News
 Wikipedia: Social Gospel
 Wikipedia: TED
 YouTube: What is an inspiring encounter with human rights? (TEDxWinnipeg: Angela Cassie)

(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|Easter Mercy

This blog was originally published
April 01, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Mercy

Mercy

It’s funny how we anticipate that rising dawn sun 2000-and-change-years later: an event/time/story/experience that Christians call Easter. This Lent – the season before Easter –  has been a difficult, sad and weary making journey. We have seen violence used with intentional precision, experienced our own denomination wrestle with the reality of orthodoxy and its inherent temptations, and heard xenophobia and misogyny positioned as political platforms by some of the so called leaders of the ‘free world.” It has, indeed, been a shadowed season and the longed for arrival of light’s piercing clarity has been a blessing.

As I prepared for this week’s blog, knowing it might wander from one disconnected note to another, I was also aware that I recently returned from an Intercultural Ministry gathering, in which Sisters and Brothers from throughout The United Church of Canada gathered. In our time of play and pray, learning and sharing, there was the undercurrent of how to challenge privilege and name that racism remains embedded in our structures, regardless of the narrative to which we long to cleave.

  • How do those who so often carry difficult messages of change, look, sound and behave differently than those to whom such missives such sharing is intended?
  • How do we help a church, which is grounded in Anglo-Saxon privilege that sees abundance as deficit, hear the Spirit’s call?
Easter's Dawn

Easter’s Dawn

I have also wondered how tired those first Disciples must have been. Perhaps they were even irritated on that first shock-inducing resurrection Easter-morn, when all they wanted to do was hide and grieve. Men and women, most likely assuming leadership roles for which their birth station should have denied them, whose dear Rabbuni had been cruelly – hell inhumanely –  tortured and executed. Yet upon death’s doorstep they were being summoned by invitation to bear Light into the very Empire and world from which they had and would (are and will) suffer …

As this musing moved to another note, I also continue(d) to hear a repeating song of mercy. A word for which I have always imagined that it is one of the few responses specific to those with privilege. We – the bearers of this institution – who can choose to dress in the garment of white are often resistant, perhaps even intentionally oblivious, to the power we actually have. Like Joseph of Arimathea, when he chose to use his authority to request the body of Jesus of Pilate, we must confront that letting go of our assumed influence often begins with one step: mercy.

  • Whether we hold onto the institutional structures and its explicit and implicit underpinnings will be telling to the extent to which we live into this theology of diversity toward which this denomination has been aimed for almost 100 years.
  • When those whom we have colonised, exploited, and dehumanised strike back at us, how we respond will be the plumb line upon which reconciliation is gauged as either an intentional commitment or simply lip service.

Easter mercy: for those who have and do benefit from the systems in which we live, it is a choice. One difficult and challenging. It is in the letting go, the emptying of the ego, that – perhaps – we begin to see ourselves for who we truly are: interconnected and beautiful. We begin to see – perhaps – that the illusions that separate us are infinitesimally inferior to the abundant rich threads that not only connect us to one another, but that speak to a Creation in which miracles happen in every moment if we but have eyes to see them and ears to listen to the harmony that is everywhere and everywhen …

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Easter
Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Mercy

 Wikipedia: The United Church of Canada
 Winnipeg Presbytery: Intercultural Ministry
 YouTube: Mercy (Dave Matthews Band)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: TED|Ep. 4

This blog was originally published
February 6, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Guns & Ammo 2

Guns & Ammo 2
Image: Ken

“What will you do after the bullets miss you?” Brian Bowman asked during TEDxManitoba (now TEDxWinnipeg) in 2014. Watching the video again reminded me how striking his sharing and vulnerability were two years ago. As he described his experience of violence during an internship in Mexico, I felt a clear connexion with my position writing from a faith-based context. What was further challenging and hopeful was what he did with his experience: he framed it as an opportunity for each of us present. He explicitly asked how we might find ways to collaboratively respond to the changes that we see that are needed in Winnipeg.

Much has changed since that presentation. Brian Bowman is now the Mayor of Winnipeg; the city has been labelled the most racist city in Canada. There has been a refugee crisis resulting from the ongoing conflict in Syria and we are now entering a time intended to be a Year of Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

Two years, and the world has changed.
Two years, and the questions and challenges remain.

  • In the moments that awaken you to the hurting in the world, how might you respond to heal it and be healed?
  • What choices arise when your eyes are opened to the harm of stereotyping?
  • What possibilities emerge when we hear and listen to those crying out from the shadows?

In Bowman’s presentation, what Brian refers to as the ‘bullet moment’ might best be paralleled – from a faith-based Christian perspective – as the moment in which one is born again or a time of epiphany or revelation. And, true to the experience in which the bullet moment inspired Brian, unfortunately it is often in crisis or violence when such awakening occurs.

the Peg

the Peg
Image: Carolynn Primeau

It is not (often) in places of comfort or privilege, which are afforded by many church contexts, that one recognises ways to be the change. Rather, it is often in places of vulnerability and/or solidarity when new choices are revealed, when unexpected doors are opened. It is frequently in those places and spaces where those of us who are accustomed to control are shaken to our core that we realise the fragility of the narrative we tell of ourselves about what is safety.

As we confront these illusions, the moorings become loosened and, in the face of the unknown, we often stand trembling. Our bodies are hard-wired to respond to threats with adrenaline, which leads to the instinctive responses of flight or fight. But there is a gift in such moments, often arising with reflection and discernment, but that luxury is not always possible. So – if in moments in which death is present – we but take a breath, the gift of centring ourselves in such instability, it is possible that people of faith and the church might hear a very old invitation. This invitation is perhaps is easy to forget in the lulling temptation of comfort, asking us: “what will you do if you are saved?”

TEDxManitoba 2014

TEDxManitoba 2014
Image: TEDxManitoba

I made a promise to TEDxManitoba (now known as TEDxWinnipeg) in 2014. I committed to sharing their important (secular) work in my faith-based context. I have lived into that pledge by creating another recurring feature for A Deacon’s Musing : TED|Episodes (Two others are: 1: Feather’s Fall serial story; &, 2: Vignettes). The intent is to highlight one TED Talk in each episode and muse about connexions (both secularly and internally) to the church.

 

Episodes

Ep. 1: Pilot
Ep. 2: Farming Our Future: The Urban Agriculture Revolution
Ep. 3: Got Bannock? In honour of the village we once had
Ep. 4: What do you do after the bullets miss you?
Ep. 5: What is an inspiring encounter with human rights?

 

Blog links:

 CBC: Year of Reconciliation
 Image: Guns & Ammo
 Image: peg

 TEDxWinnipeg
 Wikipedia: Syrian Refugees
Wikipedia: TED
 YouTube: What do you do after the bullets miss you? (TEDxWinnipeg: Brian Bowman)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Phobia

This blog was originally published
November 20, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Many of us mistake Phobia for true fear. Whereas fear is a gift from
God to be used for self-preservation. Phobia are obstacles strategically
Placed in society by opposers of positive existence. Through
Stereotyping, innuendo, false documentation, and glorification they’ll
Turn your fear switch to a permanent on. We can change this by changing
The small truth within’ the lie. Death is a small price to pay for
Respect. Death is a small price to pay for respect. You know who it is
You know what it is. Peace out
Phobia, Outkast, ©1995

#PrayFor ...

#PrayFor …
Image: Immanuel Evangelical Covenant Church

Just as the lyrics for Phobia – by Outkast – are often prefaced with a parental advisory warning, this week’s musing may, as well! Though I realise I have written previously about being political, and about politics and racism – the most recent being Camelot – this last week (following the atrocious horror of the terror attacks in Paris) have rudely led me back to revisit these aspects of our human condition.

In particular, what I have seen occurring in social media has – to be frank – incensed me as a person who identifies in multiple ways: male, heterosexual, privileged, post-modern, and Christian to name just a few ‘hats.’ As with all communication tools, social media can illustrate what makes us sparkle when at our best and illustrate how we are diminished when we are at our worst. This week has held both those tensions!

At our best, I celebrate that places like Nova Scotia are overwhelmed with responses to support and help Syrian refugees. There is an intrinsic – I believe – thread that binds most Canadians to an essential awareness: that this tapestry of multi & interculturalism is what should define us. As such, we endeavour to respect a remembrance of those places from which some of us came as refugees, in order to remain grounded in humility for the gift of safety that has been inherited. And – in turn – at our best we strive to honour the welcome that First Nations offered, in order to be grounded in the humility that some of us now share their home!

Even as I celebrate, however, I have seen racism and Islamophobia occur in my own feeds across multiple platforms. Whether it is a blanket declaration that an entire faith is fundamentally violent or parallels that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, in which a particular race should be assigned visible identification, I am righteously pissed off! This anger, this visceral–gut–embodied response to such hate has me struggling to take a breath to ask myself what’s going on in this for me?

Mountain of Fire

Mountain of Fire
Image: Chris Yarzab

Having found some solid footing after wanting to reply instinctively (which would only perpetuate a binary of right and wrong) I have finally integrated something. This integration is something that I had previously appreciated intellectually, but for the first time it feels holistic. It is that as a Christian who endeavours to live and thrive in the gift of diversity and pluralism there must be boundaries and limitations that remind all of us that democratic values are a responsibility, not simply a get–out–of–jail–card–to–say–whatever–you-want–right. For instance, a value that we celebrate is freedom of speech. When divorced, however, from an inherent responsibility, it becomes one way to invoke hate without recrimination.

To utilise stereotypes grounded in phobia that polarise, we must be able to say “no, that is not only inappropriate, it is theologically inaccurate and sinful.” Establishing that there are boundaries attached to how we speak to one another, therefore, is necessary because once phobia comes into play, the next inevitable step is violence. And – as far as I am concerned – that is abhorrent whether I am a secular person for whom the Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenges me to be better or if I am a Christian who constantly hears Jesus’ ministry whispering incessantly – who has been left out and marginalised today?

If anything has become clear to me it is that the intentional use of violence to terrorise Paris, Nigeria and Beirut illustrate that the egalitarian theological values of my faith and the democratic tenets to which I aspire require not only nurture, but an awareness that we can easily become the perpetrators and perpetuators of the very fear that we are confronting. Like a dis-ease, without care and dialogue we may very well become carriers who spread an infection that is soul-devouring and life-destroying. And that – as far as I am concerned – is unacceptable and as such means we must collectively make choices to not just be better, but to be the best people that we can – people who welcome unconditionally. It is in the bright glare of such radical welcome that phobia cannot remain shaded! That, I believe, is a worthy goal for people of faith who endeavour to co-nurture a pluralistic and democratic culture!

In horror’s midst
carnage’s grip
May we be #compassion
for which #fear longs
May we with #love
embrace other’s #hate

(A #Verse)

Worlds fired
by hate & shame
threaten compassion’s glimmer
Agency awakens
our choices that kindle
ever-present hope

(A #Verse)

Blog links:

 A Deacon’s Musing|Camelot
 A Verse: #1
 A Verse: #2
CBC: Syrian refugees

 Image: Mountain of Fire
 Image: #PrayFor …
 Lyrics: Phobia (Outkast)
 Wikipedia: Islamaphobia
 YouTube: What is liberation theology? 

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