Category Archives: Religion

What An Audacious Statement!

“Today we see a form of selfishness…. people do not want to have children, or just one and no more. This denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity.”

Pope Francis spoke those words earlier this month.  It seems somewhat audacious that an 85 -year- old man who has never had children is suggesting women need to get pregnant more often.  But even aside from that irony, the Pope’s statement is troubling on many fronts. 

I provide support for a 99- year -old single aunt of mine.  Aunt Viola never had children but contrary to what the Pope suggests you’d be hard-pressed to meet someone with more humanity. A dedicated elementary school educator for over four decades Aunt Vi spent her retirement years volunteering with all kinds of church and community organizations. Since I take care of her finances I am well aware of the many charities she gifted generously with donations.  

Helping my aunt move several years ago I packed up a stack of guest books signed by the literally thousands of people she’d entertained in her home over the past sixty years. Aunt Vi took my elderly grandmother into her home when she required support and cared for her till she died and then she opened her house to university students in need of affordable housing. I would never call my aunt selfish or lacking in humanity just because she didn’t have children. The Pope’s statement does a disservice to people like my aunt.

Waiting by Caitlan Connolly

I know couples who have struggled with infertility.  This is such a difficult and heartbreaking experience for those who hope to become parents.  Their situation is certainly not made any easier by pronouncements like the Pope’s.

Might I suggest he sell some of the billions of dollars worth of art at the Vatican and donate the money to fertility clinics so they can help every couple who wants to have children? Right now, at least in Canada, the services of fertility clinics are financially out of reach for many people.

Philanthropist Melinda French Gates says women being able to control how many children they have and when they have them is the key to overcoming poverty in many countries.

Pope Francis has been a champion of the poor, so it is surprising that he is not connecting the dots and realizing women have to be able to limit the number of children they have if we want to eradicate poverty around the world.  Being able to control their family’s size makes it possible for women to be more independent so they can contribute to the family income or further their education.

Limiting the number of children they have, allows them to properly care for, feed and educate the children they do have.  It is so important women have access to contraception so they can plan their families. The Pope’s words could discourage that. 

Chrystia Freeland Canada’s Finance Minister announces funding for Canada’s new daycare program

Raising children is hard and families need support. Parents in Canada are fortunate because their country is currently instituting an initiative to provide affordable, accessible daycare for young children. We have generous paternity and maternity leave plans but many countries, including our neighbours to the south do not. 

Here in Manitoba where we have the distinction of being the province with the highest child poverty rate in the country and the highest number of children in foster care it would be far more prudent for the Pope to be urging our government to provide additional support for families so they can care for the children already in this world rather than encouraging them to add more to the population. 

Pope Francis has a reputation for being a forward-thinking religious leader who listens to people.  On the issue of having children however he appears to be tone-deaf and mired in ideas and attitudes from the past. 

Other posts………

Universal Childcare A Wise Investment for Canada

A Book To Make You Feel Insanely Hopeful

Paternity Leave- A Winning Scenario

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I’m Going to be Xploring!

I am really excited about an online course I am going to be teaching for the Canadian Mennonite University Xplore program. The spring session of the program starts in March and runs for six weeks. Each session is an hour in length. My course is called Learning About Biblical Women Through Art. The course brings together two passions of mine.

One is looking for references to women in the Bible and then learning more about those women so I can tell their stories in interesting ways.

One of my explorations of women in the Bible led to me writing the script and lyrics for a musical about the daughters of Zelophehad whose story is found in the book of Numbers. Craig Cassils wrote the music and we called our collaboration The Daughters of Z
Giving a tour to folks from Siloam Mission at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

And the second passion I’ll bring to the course is my interest in art that began when I chaperoned a high school art trip to Spain. That eventually led to nearly a decade of employment as a guide at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

You can see me in the mirror photographing a statue of Susanna in the Pitti Palace in Florence Italy. Susanna’s story is told in the apocryphal book of Daniel.

I have visited art galleries all over the world and have always taken a particular interest in women artists and female subjects in paintings.

Dina Cormick is a modern artist who does lively and colourful paintings of Biblical women. This is her portrait of Huldah, an Old Testament prophet.

I like looking for stories and artwork of the more well-known women in the Bible but am particularly intrigued by the lesser-known women mentioned in Scripture texts.

Anna from the Gospel of Luke by Rembrandt

I am intrigued with the different ways Biblical women have been portrayed by artists in the past but am also discovering more and more contemporary artists who are depicting women in the Biblical texts in fascinating ways.

Mary and Martha portrayed in a Tuja tapestry from China

I’ve started making a list of interesting women we could talk about in the course and I already know we won’t be able to cover them all.

This post is an invitation for my blog readers to join my course Learning About Biblical Women Through Art. You can register here.

Other posts………

I Want To Be Like Anna

The Family of Jesus Portrayed in a Controversial Way

A Grandmother for Jesus

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Don’t Forget About the Women

Last week a fellow Carillon columnist wrote about the people who had played key roles in the Biblical story.  Not a single woman was mentioned by name. The columnist is a man so perhaps that explains his sole focus on male figures in the Bible.  I on the other hand, identify more closely with the female characters.  Here are some women I think are crucial to the narrative arc of the Old and New Testament. 

Shiphrah and Puah by Dina Cormick– 1989

Shiphrah and Puah were two midwives who prevented the total genocide of male Hebrew babies because they refused to follow the Egyptian Pharoah’s orders to kill the infants as soon as they were born. When the monarch challenged the two brave women, they came up with a brilliant excuse for not complying with his dictate. 

Moses’ Mother by Alexey Tyranove- 1839-1842

The swift actions of three women saved the life of the leader Moses when he was a baby, his sister Miriam, his mother Jochebed and Bitiah an Egyptian princess. What would have happened without their heroism? 

The Daughters of Zelophehad by Iris Wexler

My favorite Old Testament female characters are the five sisters in Numbers 27.  Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, Tirzah and Mahlah, go before Moses and ask him to let them inherit their father’s land after he dies.  Because of the determination of Zelophehad’s daughters a precedent for the legal rights of women is established. 

Rahab by Ans Taylor

It was Rahab, a brave woman in Jericho, who hid the Hebrew spies on her rooftop and made sure they escaped so they could pass on valuable information to their leader Joshua.  Rahab is considered so important she is named in the genealogy of Jesus found in the book of Matthew. 

Huldah by Sara Ronnevick

Later Rahab’s descendant a woman named Huldah is the prophetess King Josiah chooses to consult at a critical point in the history of Israel even though Jeremiah a more well-known male prophet is also available for advice. 

Mary illustrated by one of my fifth grade students in Hong Kong

We are about to celebrate the birth of Jesus and there are women crucial to that story.  Elizabeth offers solace and refuge to her cousin Mary when she is pregnant. Mary becomes the kind of mother we would all aspire to be, offering her son such unconditional love and encouragement that Jesus’ last act in life is to ask his best friend to take care of his mom after he’s gone.  

Prophet Anna by Rembrandt- 1631- Wikipedia Commons

Mary and Joseph meet Anna when they take their newborn son to the temple. Anna is the woman in the Bible I look to as a role model now that I am a senior.  She is over a hundred years old but is still deeply involved in her community. Robin Gallaher Branch, a Fulbright scholar, describes Anna as a tad eccentric but mobile, articulate, alert, savvy and unselfish. 

Priscilla is portrayed with Paul and Apollos and her husband Aquila in a 2013 painting by Silvia Dimitrova a Bulgarian icon artist living in Bath England. 

The New Testament offers so many wonderful female role models. Priscilla who engaged Paul in lively theological discussions, shared her home with him and even saved his life. What would have happened without her?  And then of course there is Phoebe, Dorcas, Susanna, Rhoda, Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Mary, Martha, Joanna and well, there isn’t room in this column to list all the vitally important women in the New Testament. 

It is understandable why my fellow Carillon columnist didn’t name any of these women last week.  Men were the primary focus during most of my years of religious education too.  But I have made it a priority to find Biblical women’s stories and share them as widely and frequently as I can.

Flight into Egypt- Sagrada Familia- Barcelona- Photo by MaryLou Driedger

This week we celebrate the pivotal event in the scriptural accounts. Acknowledging the women that played an important role in the Biblical story is a way to ensure that its message offers a personal connection for everyone. 

Other posts…….

I Want to be Like Anna

Meet Priscilla

A Story of Sexual Blackmail From the Bible

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Female Magi- A Real Possibility?

I gave a sermon last Sunday about envisioning women as part of the group of magi who populate traditional nativity scenes. Someone asked me if the idea of female magi was purely imaginative on my part or if it really was possible.

The work of New Testament scholar Benedict Vivano suggests that one or more of the magi may have indeed been women. He writes about it in a 2011 book called Studies in Matthew.

The Queen of Sheba Visits King Solomon by Lukas de Heere1559

Vivano says Matthew’s gospel was aimed at a Jewish audience and so the author drew on an Old Testament story about wise people to write about the magi. In Chapter 10 of the first book of Kings, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon in search of wisdom and she brings with her three gifts- gold, exotic spices, and gems two of those gifts exactly like the ones the magi are said to have brought for Jesus.  The Queen of Sheba had a reputation for being very wise herself and the Bible tells us she came prepared for her meeting with Solomon with some skill-testing questions. 

Vivano says if we read the magi story with the Solomon and Sheba story as its closest parallel Old Testament biblical narrative it opens up the possibility that some of the magi could have been women like Sheba the wise woman in the 1 Kings account.

Sophia (Wisdom )by Sara Beth Art

Vivano also points out that the Israelites had a tradition of personifying wisdom as a woman. He refers to Proverbs Chapter 8 which begins

Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand.

If Jewish audiences were used to hearing wisdom personified in female terms it might not have been surprising to them that some of the magi who personified wisdom in the nativity account could also have been a woman. 

The Magi – an illustration from a curriculum I authored for Faith and Life Press. Artwork by Denny Bond. Notice two women are included in the Magi group.

The gospel of Matthew does not mention that Joseph was present at all when the magi came to visit.  In fact in the account, we find the phrase ‘the child and his mother’ five times but no mention of a father. Vivano says that in Middle Eastern tradition it would not have been at all proper for a woman to be in the presence of men without other women present. If some of the magi had been women there would have been no issue with Mary welcoming them in to visit Jesus even though her husband Joseph was not there. 

In my sermon, I also talked about why it was important to envision some of the magi as women. I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Other posts………

The Magi Around the World

The Magi Got Me Into Trouble

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Lessons From A Clown

This figure was painted for me by a friend on the Hopi First Nation in Arizona and given to me as a gift during the year we lived in Kykotsmovi, a Hopi community. The figure is a clown Kachina.

I’ve had my clown kachina for more than thirty years and his right foot has been damaged by children and grandchildren who enjoyed playing with him

A Kachina is a spirit in the Hopi belief system. There are many different kinds of Kachinas. At the dances we went to in various Hopi villages, members of the community would dress up to look like the Kachinas. Each kind of Kachina had a different appearance and personality and purpose.

The clown Kachinas were often a source of amusement at the village dances. They were noisy and not terribly circumspect in their comments. They were often dramatic and behaved in a kind of ‘over the top’ way. They satirized life by acting out and exaggerating improper behaviour. Their aim I think was to illustrate how overdoing anything is bad not only for individuals but the community as a whole.

I remember how at one dance we attended the clown Kachinas were giving us a very boisterous and entertaining lesson about the detrimental impact of smoking too much.

The clown Kachinas made us think about the fact that if we wanted to have a peaceful community we needed to first examine our own standards of behaviour.

It’s an important truth for all of us to consider. I have my clown Kachina figure on my desk to remind me that my behaviour makes a difference in the ethos of my family and my community.

Other posts…….

That’s How Light Gets In

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Saint Maybe

This morning I’m giving a talk in a church and I’ll be addressing the idea of sainthood since we celebrated All Saints Day this last week. My inspiration came from a favorite Anne Tyler book of mine Saint Maybe. In the novel, a young man named Ian gives up his college studies, his career plans, and his girlfriend in order to help his parents raise two orphaned nieces and a nephew after Ian’s brother and his wife die. Tyler explores the possibility that Ian is a saint for what he did.

In my talk, I’ll speculate on whether maybe we can all be saints or at least try to be. To prepare for my presentation I thought about the lives of people I might consider saints and also examined the way the various religions of the world describe saints. This led to me creating a list of six saintly qualities.

A saint………………

Loves to learn

Shares what they learn with others

Has a kind and compassionate heart

Is a good listener

Is honest

Doesn’t think they are a saint

Do you know people who maybe would qualify for sainthood? Could you?

Other posts…………..

Mrs. Brown’s Daycare- This Woman Should Be A Saint

A Winnipeg Coffeeshop Named For a Saint

A Photo I Took is in A Books of Saints

Thomas Times Two

A Grandmother for Jesus

 

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A Story of Sexual Blackmail From the Old Testament

Susanna and the Elders by Peruvian artist Ivan Fernandez- Davila

Susanna is a Biblical character you may not have heard about because she is introduced in a chapter of the Book of Daniel that has been removed from many versions of the Old Testament. The story appears in Greek translations of the Bible. Susanna stood up to a pair of men in authority who were threatening to sexually blackmail her.

Susanna and the Elders by African American artist Robert Colescott- 1980

Susanna was a wife, mother, and daughter well thought of in her community. She had a secluded garden spot in her back yard where she took a bath each day with her maids in attendance.  Two church elders began to spy on her regularly. One day when her maids went into the house on an errand, the elders came out of hiding and confronted Susanna. They told her either she had to have sex with both of them or they would publicly accuse her of having done so.

Susanna and the Elders by Israeli artist Alexander Gurevich

The elders thought they had Susanna backed into a corner but she didn’t give in to their demand and refused to have sex with them. The religious men carried through on their threat and falsely and publicly accused her of infidelity. Susanna was brought to court. She insisted on telling the truth about what had happened. No one believed her and she was led away to be stoned to death for committing adultery.

The Judgement of Daniel or the Innocence of Susanna by Valentin de Boulogne1630s

Then Daniel, a young lawyer at the time, came forward to defend her and by questioning the elders exposed the inconsistencies in their individual versions of events. Susanna was set free and her accusers were brought to justice for misusing the power of their position.

Alfred Hitchcock explains the use of a Susanna and the Elders painting in his movie Psycho

I first discovered Susanna’s story while doing a film study of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho with my high school literature students. A painting depicting the Susanna story plays an important role in the film. Norman, the villain of the movie, is spying on a woman taking a shower. He looks at her through a peep-hole in the wall that he exposes by moving a Franz van Miris painting of Susanna.  Like the elders in the Biblical story, Norman is spying on a woman bathing.

When Dave and I were touring a former spa in Rotorua New Zealand I took this photograph of a statue of Susanna created by Australian artist, Charles Summers. Given the fact that Susanna is bathing in the Biblical story, she was a fitting choice as a subject for a statue in a bathhouse. 

Susanna and the Elders by Lorenzo Lotto- 1517

Visiting Florence, Italy I found out just how popular the Susanna story was in the Renaissance. In the famed Uffizi art gallery, we saw three different paintings of her by artists Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Piazzetta, and Cristofano Allori.  When Dave and I visited the Städel Gallery in Frankfurt Germany we saw another painting of Susanna by Massimo Stanzione.

Susanna and the Elders by Marc Chagall-1912
Susanna and the Elders by the photographic Ukrainian artist Irene Caesar-2015

If you search online you will find literally hundreds of depictions of Susanna done by artists from around the world over the last six centuries. It demonstrates the way her story has left an indelible impression.

Walking through the Pitti Palace, in Florence Italy, I took a picture of a sculpture of Susanna by Odoardo Fantacchiotti. I didn’t realize till I loaded the photo onto my computer that the statue is situated in front of a mirror. An image of me taking the photo was reflected there.  Seeing myself in the picture of Susanna’s statue made me wonder whether I’d have had her courage and resolve.

Other posts……….

Silent Prey

The Daughters of Zelophehad

Meet Priscilla

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Playing The Mennonite Game

I think you went to college with my son.  Is your husband my good friend’s nephew? Didn’t you play volleyball at university with my pastor’s daughter? The principal at the high school where my son teaches must be your aunt. I think we could be fourth cousins.

I remember those comments being exchanged just after I was introduced to someone new for the first time. An acquaintance who was with me observed our interaction with a quizzical look on her face and said, “You two have never met each other before and within a minute you have all these connections?  

Many names are instantly recognizable as Mennonite

I tried to explain.  “As soon as we introduced ourselves we knew from our last names we were both Mennonite and so we started trying to find people we might both know. It’s called playing The Mennonite Game.”

The Mennonite Game seems strange to those who aren’t part of the Mennonite milieu. It is much like the popular six degrees of separation theory that on average we are all only six personal connections away from any other person either by acquaintance or kinship or some common experience. 

Many Mennonites used to attend private Mennonite high schools like the Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna, Manitoba. My father was part of the 1947 graduating class.

Because large numbers of Mennonites used to live together in certain communities, attend the same private educational institutions, go to Mennonite summer camps, frequent Mennonite church conferences and gatherings, or do service with Mennonite charitable organizations they had lots of things in common. This meant people with easily identifiable Mennonite names could often find many connections.

Bruno Dyck in his paper Exploring Congregational Clans: Playing the Mennonite Game in Winnipeg explains it well.

The goal of this game is to see how quickly two Mennonites, meeting each other for the first time can get to know each other’s family ancestry and establish how many of each other’s relatives they know. While some participants may play this game reluctantly due to peer pressure, others seem to play for the sheer fun and challenge of it. In any case, participants likely believe that knowing something of another person’s familial ancestry helps to understand that person better

A YouTube singer named BLT has made a recording of a song called The Mennonite Game.  

An inventive entrepreneur named Mark Eash Hershberger has created a card game called of course The Mennonite Game.

On his popular blog, The Daily Bonnet Andrew Unger has poked fun at playing the Mennonite Game.

Someone has even created a Facebook group called The Mennonite Game

The Mennonite Game may become harder to play in the future since the majority of North American Mennonites now live in a variety of neighborhoods in urban multi-cultural settings. Some have taken the last names of non-Mennonite partners and many have not maintained their connections with Mennonite institutions and churches. In a generation or two, it may be almost impossible to play The Mennonite Game.  Depending on your point of view that might not be such a bad thing. 

Other posts……….

A Mennonite on the Titanic

A Mennonite on a Motorcycle

What Does A Mennonite Look Like?

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Will Things Ever Change?

I wrote an article about worship for the September 1992 issue of the magazine The Mennonite. The editor at the time was Muriel Stackley.

Almost thirty years ago I wrote an article for my church’s denominational magazine The Mennonite called The Church Family Needs to Talk About Worship. I proposed the idea that big changes were needed in the way most churches spent their Sunday mornings.

I had led a workshop at a provincial conference for Mennonite churches about passing on the faith to children and some parents in the group suggested a hindrance to getting their children interested in faith and the church was the nature of Sunday morning worship.

They said we needed a worship experience that got children involved in more than just token ways, that got adults involved. “If we were honest,” the workshop participants noted, “most of us just zone out during the service.”

In my article, I suggested ways the church might consider changing their worship experiences.

My husband playing in a blues band at a once-a-year outdoor church service. Should church move outdoors more often?

Why do we worship in the same physical space every week? Could worship be in a park sometimes or in a shopping mall, in people’s homes, by a lake, on a skating rink, in a garden, or on a football field?

Why do we sit in pews facing forward? What if we sat in small circles facing each other so we could have meaningful conversations, share stories, do artwork, eat, pray, meditate or write poetry together?

Forming a circle might offer new ways to worship

Why do we sit still most of the time? Could we dance, play instruments, do pantomimes, clap, and walk around to different stations to do a variety of activities?

Why do we have a sermon that is a spoken lecture as part of the service? Could we replace it with dramas, films, reader’s theatre pieces, object lessons, stories, puppet shows, games, dance performances, musicals, or activities that required everyone to participate?

The second page of my 1992 article

I had a personal motivation for writing the magazine piece about worship because my son who was 12 at the time was balking at going to church complaining, “There’s nothing to do during the worship service. It’s not for me.”

I told him I was going to write an article suggesting some changes. I assured him changes would happen eventually.

Unfortunately for the most part, after thirty years, they basically have not. Most congregations still do church the same old way.

There has been lots of talk about whether people will come back to church after such a long absence during the pandemic. I wonder that too. Maybe this would be a good time to try something new.

Other posts………

5 Reasons (No Wait… 13 Reasons) Why I Go To Church

Sunday Worship in Newfoundland

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But Not That Long Ago…

Dr. Cheryl Pauls is the president of Canadian Mennonite University my alma mater

The church denomination to which I belong invites women to be leaders in every area of its congregational life. My church has two ordained female pastors. Canadian Mennonite University which was founded by my denomination has a female president.

Although women are taking many more leadership roles in my branch of the Mennonite church it hasn’t always been that way. In my lifetime I have been part of a church where men and women were treated in very different and distinct ways.

My grandmother, furthest to the left, sits with her sisters on the women’s side of the church

When I was a child and attended my grandparents’ church the men still sat on one side of the aisle and the women on the other.

When I was a small child I never saw a woman pastor behind the pulpit. Women didn’t serve as deacons or on church committees.

I was a teenager when I heard about a young woman who attended a church in my hometown and was forced to “confess her sin” in front of the congregation when she became pregnant before her wedding. Her fiancée did not have to confess.

During the 1980s I often did workshops and presentations in churches

Once when I was a young mother I was speaking at a women’s conference at a church in my hometown and the conference organizers told me I would need to stand behind a special microphone at the front of the church because only men could stand behind the pulpit.

I still remember when I made a motion at a church membership meeting in my home church that we use inclusive language rather than exclusively male language when we rewrote our church constitution and the motion was defeated.

When I was first married they would post lists of people who would set tables and bring food and do dishes for church suppers and there were only women on the list.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr

I am reading a book called The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Barr. She says the idea women can’t be leaders in the church and they must assume lesser roles and be treated differently than men, isn’t biblical and it arose because the church was influenced by the patriarchal world around it.

According to Barr too many churches today, remain patriarchial and don’t give women an opportunity to serve in ways that make the best use of their gifts and talents. This is damaging to both women and the church. It is good that change is happening but in many denominations, it is not happening nearly fast enough.

Other posts……..

Have You Heard of Huldah?

Meet Priscilla

Why Are Women Always the Example For Sin?

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