Category Archives: Religion

Letting Others Speak For Me

I have written many times before about why banning abortion is the wrong and most ineffective thing to do if we truly want the abortion rate in North America to continue its decline and if we truly care about children and the mothers who birth them.

So my readers will already know that the recent Roe v Wade ruling in the United States has left me heartsick and troubled. I find myself unable to speak about it without a great deal of anger, so I am going to let three others do it for me.

For nearly 50 years, women have had the right to make their own decisions about their bodies. Today, that right was stolen from us. And while we may be devastated by this injustice, we will not be silent. We will not sit back as the progress we have already won slips away. Tomorrow, we will continue to fight — for our daughters and granddaughters, and for ourselves — until all women can decide our own futures once again.- Dr Jill Biden- First Lady of the United States

We want those feeling the pain of today’s wrongful Supreme Court decision to know that you are not alone. God has not abandoned you and neither will we. We will do what we always do when the law loses its love. We will grieve with you and offer space for lament and mourning. We will work with you until the rights of every person are honoured in this land. We will stand with you in protest. We will kneel with you in prayer. And we will maintain our commitment to educate people about abortion access and safe medically supported reproductive healthcare. Now and always, we remain firm in the knowledge that all are beloved of God, and this cause is right and holy.

-Rev. Dr John C. Dorhauer President United Church of Christ

There are days when I can’t live in this country. Not the whole thing at once, including the hateful parts, the misogyny, the brutal disregard of the powerful for the powerless. Sometimes I can only be a citizen of these trees, this rainy day, the family I can hold safe, the garden I can grow. A fire that refuses to go out.

-Barbara Kingsolver- best-selling author of the Poisonwood Bible and Pulitzer Prize nominee

Other posts………

Canada is TRYING to Do The Right Thing About Abortion

Abortion and Summer Jobs

Sex-Selective Abortion

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Abusive Relationships and the Church

I just listened to a MennoCast program where Val Hiebert and Jaymie Friesen were being interviewed. Jayme and Val coordinate an Abuse Response and Prevention program for Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba.

The two coordinators who bring a great deal of experience and expertise to their work talked about how every community, including every faith community, has people who have been abused either physically or sexually and are living in relationships that are violent and scary. Traditionally the church has not been a place where people can talk openly about this.

The podcast moderators asked Jaymie and Val what are the root causes of physical and sexual abuse in faith communities and they mentioned three things.

The first was the patriarchy that is still so prevalent in many churches where men are the ones primarily in positions of leadership and power and where God is referred to most frequently in male terms even though the Bible offers us rich mother images of God.

Jaymie and Val emphasized the importance of NOT conveying the message that men are bad or they are the problem but rather helping men realize a patriarchal system really doesn’t serve them well and keeps them small as men. They talked about the need to encourage men to become agents for changing patriarchal attitudes and systems.

Jaymie Friesen- photo from MCC Manitoba website

The second concern they cited is a religious culture that emphasizes faith as an arrival point rather than as a journey or pilgrimage. Faith communities lay out what you are to believe and if you don’t stick to that you are ousted from the community.

This makes people vulnerable to abuse because they don’t feel they can ask questions or be honest about relationships that don’t live up to the ideal set out by their church.

A third factor they talked about is the church’s obsession with a kind of purity culture and their fear of having open conversations about healthy sexuality with young people. 78% of kids in our faith communities are sexually active and the church isn’t accepting this reality.

They also mentioned the issue of pornography and said many churches are hesitant to talk about the fact that people have been socialized to watch the violent and abusive sexual activity available on the screen rather than participate in healthy sexual relationships themselves.

Image by Melva Medina about the church and violence towards women. I photographed it while on a visit to the Medina Gallery in Merida, Mexico.

The podcast provided lots of food for thought not only about how to prevent abuse but also offered suggestions and ideas for how restorative justice can bring healing but not necessarily forgiveness after incidents of abuse are reported.

Although the problem of abuse particularly in faith communities seems monumental and disturbing Jayme and Val say they find hope in the fact that more and more victims are finding their voices and speaking out about abuse. They also talked positively about programs that are being offered to help perpetrators of violence find the help they need to change their behaviour.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast yourself. This is an area where we all have a lot to learn. One in six women will experience abuse before the age of 18 and that includes women in faith communities. Those of us who participate in those communities have a responsibility to learn more and become agents of change.

Other posts………

Silent Prey

Laughing at the Suffering of Others

Violence in Christian Families

Tender and Troubling

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Filed under Family, Religion

Enoughness

I was about halfway through reading Kate Bowler’s latest book Good Enough when I watched her online interview with Winnipeg Free Press Faith columnist John Longhurst.

One of the words Kate used in her interview and uses often in her book is enoughness. She talks about her cancer diagnosis and treatment and how during that very difficult time of her life she felt the enoughness of being loved by so many people and by God. Kate says we need to be grateful for that love and not always feel like we have to earn it.

Kate’s latest book Good Enough has 41 devotionals that encourage the reader in all kinds of ways to give up the need to be perfect. We are encouraged to let go of our obsession to create material for a show and tell of our seemingly perfect lives on social media, and to realize that God is always beside us as we try to mitigate society’s constant urging to improve rather than be content with what is already ours.

Photo of Jessica Richie and Kate Bowler from the Kate Bowler website.

Kate wrote Good Enough with the executive producer of her podcast Jessica Richie and in the introduction, they talk about a good enough faith that doesn’t reach for the impossible but looks for beauty and truth in what is possible.

One thing you will quickly discover if you listen to Kate Bowler speak is that she has a marvellous sense of humour. Perhaps that is why she can get away with saying some hard and perhaps even controversial things.

She urges people from the Christian tradition to reevaluate the message they have often received from televangelists who promise them the best life now.

Instead of talking about having the best life Kate urges us to think about the precarity of our lives. Sometimes we are happy and have as Kate puts it the wind in our sails but at other times everything goes wrong and we feel like the unluckiest person in the world. She says God is with us at all places on the precarity continuum.

Kate in conversation with John Longhurst – photo from the McNally Robinson Booksellers Twitter page

In her interview Kate made me laugh out loud when she encouraged us to just do our best to transform one or two terrible things about ourselves before we die. Kate made me smile in her book when she encourages us to stop trying to have a perfect life and just aim for a mediocre one.

Each devotional in Kate and Jessica’s book Good Enough has a personal anecdote, a blessing and a good enough step we can take in our lives.

Listening to Kate’s interview made me eager to read the second half of Good Enough. I know I have lots to learn about appreciating enoughness.

Other posts……….

Your One Wild and Precious Life

Faithless? Definitely Not.

The Purpose of Life

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A Musical Family Man

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live­– Psalm 104:33

That verse from the Psalms was one assigned to me when I was asked to write a series of reflections for a devotional magazine called Rejoice which is published annually by my church denomination. I decided to connect it to some things I learned about my maternal grandfather Peter Schmidt whose life experiences inspired my novel Lost on the Prairie.

With my grandfather Peter Schmidt. Since my grandfather died when I was only seven I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked so I had to ask extended family members about him.

While I was writing the book, I contacted extended family members to learn more about Grandpa so I could better capture his personality in my story. One of the things I discovered was that grandpa loved music.

He was an excellent whistler and often whistled as he did work on his farm.  He and my grandmother regularly sang duets in their church and my mother remembers how proud she was when she became an accomplished enough pianist to accompany them on the piano. 

Grandpa liked to sing with his family when they travelled by car

Grandpa was known to croon the Bing Crosby tune Let Me Call You Sweetheart to my grandmother on occasion, especially when he wanted to win her approval for one of his projects or plans. When his family travelled by car, he led them in singalongs, often choosing African American spirituals which were favourites of his.

My Mom recalled that when his children were discouraged, her father would try to lighten their mood with the song Keep on the Sunny Side. Grandpa worked an extra job as a road grader so he could afford to buy an organ for my grandma.  When my mom was four, he purchased a piano so she could start taking lessons. 

Grandpa with his family

The Psalmist (v.33) talks about how music can be a way for us to express our love of God. For my grandfather music was not only for praising God but was also a way to share his faith, build relationships with his family and keep himself and others feeling positive. 

Other posts………

A Prayer for Journalists

Family Role Models

Lessons From A Writing Life

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Filed under Family, Religion

Family Role Models

This past week a series of devotionals I wrote appeared in Rejoice a publication of my larger church denomination that comes out quarterly. I’ve been writing for Rejoice on an annual basis for the last thirty years or so.

One of the themes for this particular issue of the publication was Family and so we were to weave that into our reflections on the Scripture verses assigned to us. Here is what I wrote for an assigned verse from the book of John.

The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do –John 14:12

I need look no further than the members of my family to find people who are role models for doing the same work Jesus did. 

My great grandparents Paul D Peters and Helena Rempel who survived a famine in Ukraine before immigrating to Canada

Jesus gave food to hungry people. During a famine in Ukraine my great grandmother baked two loaves of bread each day. My great grandfather kept one for their family but cut up the other to give to the starving children looking in the windows of their house. 

My Dad examining patients in Haiti

Jesus healed the sick. My Dad routinely left his Canadian medical practice to spend short terms of service with MCC, our church’s aid agency in places like Cambodia, Haiti, and Paraguay. 

A plaque at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach pays tribute to the work my mother did to support young children and their parents

Jesus had a special place in his heart for children.  There’s a plaque in the nursery in my parents’ home church with a picture of my mom on it. It recognizes the Cradle Roll program she helped organize. Together with other women in the church she made regular visits to young parents’ homes to provide interest and support as they nurtured their babies and toddlers. 

My cousin Stephen Fransen who had clinical practices on both the Chickasaw and Choctaw First Nations

Jesus gave sight to the blind. My cousin is an ophthalmologist who has been instrumental in setting up programs for members of First Nations communities in Oklahoma who suffer from eye diseases that in the past would have led to blindness. 

My maternal grandparents Peter and Annie Schmidt gave a job and a home to a refugee displaced by World War II

Jesus welcomed the stranger. My grandparents took in a man from Europe who had been displaced during World War II and offered him a job and a temporary home. 

Our Scripture passage today says if we are followers of Jesus, we will do our best to carry on the work he did. The members of my family inspire me to do just that. 

Other posts………

My Grandpa Was An Auctioneer

My Grandmother’s Epitaph- Words to Live By

Celebrating Family Roles

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Mennonite Humour

A 1989 article in The Mennonite Encyclopedia about humour by a former editor of mine Katie Funk Wiebe, says that humour has not been a traditional feature of Mennonite culture. The church’s history of persecution, a preoccupation with schismatic activity, and more recently the pursuit of social justice have required a serious honest faith and life that left no room for humourous stories with their use of fiction, hyperbole and satire.

Katie Funk Wiebe cites leaders of various Mennonite denominations who admonished their members about the perils of jesting and joking and laughing. She does note in her article however that things are changing and Mennonites seem to be more open to poking fun at themselves.

The proof of that change, and it’s been a huge one, was on dramatic display Friday night when I attended an event at McNally Robinson Booksellers called Mennonites Laughing featuring Andrew Unger, Armin Wiebe and Corny Rempel.

Andrew is the author of the novel Once Removed which won the prize for Best First Novel at the Manitoba Book Awards last year. In January Turnstone Press published his The Best of the Bonnet a collection of posts from Andrew’s hugely popular blog The Daily Bonnet.

In his writing, Andrew comments in a humorous way on many aspects of Mennonite life. On Friday night when questioned about whether the joke or the plot comes first in his writing process he said for his novel he planned the plot first but with his Daily Bonnet posts the joke is definitely what comes first and once he has that figured out the articles almost write themselves.

Armin Wiebe a former winner of the Manitoba Book of the Year award has written five published novels. Four are set in the same fictional Mennonite community. He has also published a book of short stories called Armin’s Shorts and written two plays.

In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press just before the first stage production of one of those plays Armin said we misjudge Mennonites if we see them as humourless or serious. In reality, he says they love to laugh, tell jokes and do crazy things.

On Friday night there was some joking about whether Armin might be confused with a much more serious Mennonite writer who shares Armin’s last name- Rudy Wiebe. We also witnessed Armin’s ability to create humour when he made a deprecating remark about marriage which had his wife popping up to question him from the audience.

Mennonites Laughing was ably hosted by the comedian Corny Rempel who is also a popular radio show host and world-renowned Elvis Presley impersonator.

A highlight of the evening was his performance of the Elvis hit Blue Suede Shoes in both English and Low German.

There was a full house for the Mennonites Laughing evening at McNally Robinson Booksellers. Because I recognized so many people I know the majority of them were Mennonites ready to listen to someone make fun of their culture and faith. They loved all the joking, jesting and laughter clearly proving that it is definitely time for The Mennonite Encyclopedia to update its entry about humour.

Other posts……..

What I Liked About the Novel Once Removed

The Brommtopp and Cross Dressing Mennonites

He Hasn’t Lost His Sense of Humour

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Filed under Books, Religion

Lots of Creation Stories

Creation of the Animals by Jacob Robusti Tintoretto- 1550

The first time I realized that the creation story in Genesis wasn’t unique was at age eighteen. I had to read Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by William Albright for my Old Testament class at Canadian Mennonite University. I grew more incredulous as I turned each page. 

The story of creation as it was told in Genesis contained elements borrowed from earlier Mesopotamian and Babylonian creation stories, had things in common with Egyptian creation accounts, and there were many similarities between the Israelite’s god Yahweh and the Canaanite god El.

I barged into my professor’s office and asked him if it was true the Israelites had just cobbled together a creation story using material from other sources. I remember him telling me that the purpose of the story was more important than the story itself.

Fast forward some fifty years and as part of my job as a mentor for university education students, I am visiting a grade nine class where the students are learning about the earth’s origins. Before they examine scientific theories the teacher shows a beautiful video where Canadian Indigenous elders tell the story of Sky Woman and the creation of Turtle Island.  

Pangu separates the earth and sky

He uses slides to introduce the Chinese story of Pangu who pushed apart the earth and the sky.  Then he invites the students to do research on creation stories from other cultures around the world and share them with the class. The kids discover all kinds of creation stories.

Those teens will not head off to university as naive as I was, having only been exposed to the Genesis account in the Bible.

It’s Earth Day today and it may be a good time to remember that there are many different creation stories about how our earth came to be.

I believe their purpose is to teach us there is a life-giving creative force at work in the world and the world was made for people to care for and enjoy.  

Other posts……….

For the Beauty of the Earth

Was North America Created On The Back of A Turtle?

Visualizing God’s Creation Gifts in Sculpture

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I Couldn’t Feel Sorry For Her

We watched the movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye about tele-evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker who along with her husband Jim Bakker rose to fame in the 1970s and 80s by promoting the prosperity gospel idea that following Jesus was the way to wealth, happiness and fame. Later Jim Bakker went to prison for using funds he and Tammy had raised through their television ministry to build their own personal fortune and to pay off a woman who had accused Jim of rape.

Tammy Faye Bakker was known for her over the top eye make-up and it took many hours each day for make-up artists to transform actress Jessica Chastain into Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain who plays Tammy Faye Bakker in the movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye won an Oscar for her performance and it is certainly praise worthy. The movie tries to make us feel some sympathy for Tammy who to her credit tried to educate the public on the devastating impact of AIDS and promoted acceptance of the LGBTQ community when it wasn’t at all popular in Christian circles to do so.

I have to admit however that I found it hard to feel sympathy for Tammy Faye who must have known deep down that what she and her husband were doing was wrong – using their Christian ministry to take money from people and diverting those donations to build mansions and a religious theme park and buy fur coats and other luxuries.

Actress Rachel Grover plays Tammy Faye Bakker’s mother in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Tammy’s mother a strait laced dour woman who raises Tammy with a judgmental, doomsday kind of Christian faith warns her daughter that her ministry isn’t ethical and Tammy must have known it wasn’t. Perhaps Tammy’s own misgivings about the morality of what she and her husband were doing led to her addiction to prescription drugs which is vividly portrayed in the film.

There were some scenes in the movie that help viewers understand how so many members of the fundamentalist Christian church in America have become intertwined in the successes of the Republican Party. Tammy Faye and her husband were supporters of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1984 and their now defunct theme park Heritage USA which was once bigger and more popular than Disneyland promoted the idea that patriotism and Christianity were the keys to wealth and success.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye points out the perils of the prosperity gospel and gives us a glimpse into how religion and politics have become bedmates in America.

It think it may also want to convince us that Tammy Faye Bakker was well-meaning, had a genuine innocence about matters of faith, was led astray by her husband, and should be the object of our sympathy. In that regard it failed for me.

Other posts…….

What An Audacious Statement

A Story of Sexual Blackmail From the Old Testament

But Not That Long Ago

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Filed under Movies, Religion

Three Celebrations in One

All three Abrahamic religions are celebrating right now. This is the first time in thirty-three years that has happened.

Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection by the Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. -1835

Christians are celebrating Easter and remembering the story of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Destroying Angel Passing Through Egypt- illustration for The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation Told in Simple Language for the Young-by Charles Foster 1880

Jews are celebrating Passover and remembering the story of the exodus of their people from slavery in Egypt when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Hebrews.

Muhammad’s Call to Prophecy and the First Revelation: Folio from a manuscript of the Compendium of Histories- 1425- From the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Muslims are celebrating Ramadan and remembering the story of the angel Gabriel bringing revelations to Mohammad from God that would be collected in their holy book the Quran.

For the first time in more than three decades the celebrations of Easter, Passover and Ramadan overlap.

All three religions hold as sacred the story of Abraham making a covenant with God. All three believe in prayer as a means of communicating with God. All three have public houses of worship and use water in important rituals and ceremonies. All three extol the virtues of charity and kindness. All three are monotheistic religions that believe in one God and all three have holy books.

And yet despite all these commonalities Muslims, Jews and Christians have spent most of their historical careers in conflict or competition with each other.

Perhaps this year as we share a common time of celebration we will be led to look at all the things we have in common and come to accept one another with warmth and wisdom realizing that we have much to learn from each other that can enrich us all.

Other posts………..

Common Threads- Indigenous Spirituality

Faithless- Definitely Not

Common Threads- The Bahá’í

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Filed under Holidays, Religion

Where Were the Men?

For the last six weeks I’ve been teaching an online course for Canadian Mennonite University’s Xplore program. My course was Learning About Biblical Women Through Art. In each class we examined different women in the Bible and looked at the way artists over the centuries have portrayed them. What new things could we learn about these women through artistic works?

A Biblical woman we examined in our course was Asenath portrayed here in a painting by Rembrandt

I had twenty-eight students in my class from many different places in Canada but………….. only one was a man and he was a program administrator who was in class at least initially, to deal with course logistics and any technical problems.

We studied Na’amah in our class and one of the art pieces we used was this portrait by Mandy Jane Williams

At the end of our final session yesterday one of my course participants asked why men hadn’t signed up for the course. We had a good discussion that left me wondering if men had stayed away because……….

  1. A woman was teaching the course and traditionally in the Mennonite church it is men who have been the teachers and leaders? When I was a Canadian Mennonite University student in the early 1970s I didn’t have any female professors. Now the university has a female president but would there still be some men, especially older ones, who would be less comfortable with a female teacher or question her instructional abilities and knowledge?
  2. Anabaptists in the past have tried to distance themselves from the Catholic Church. Has that made them suspicious that anything to do with visual art be it stained glass windows, paintings, or sculptures might just be a little too Catholic? Would that old bias influence men more than women?
  3. Is there an idea that the arts, especially visual arts are more feminine, the territory of women who traditionally in the Mennonite Church designed and stitched quilts, painted their floors with beautiful patterns, grew gorgeous flower gardens, sewed clothes for their families and embroidered their linens?
  4. Do men think that women’s stories might not be as thought provoking or consequential as the stories about men in the Bible or just not as interesting to them?

Perhaps none of these reasons are why men stayed away from the course. But the fact they did made my students curious.

Other posts……….

Don’t Forget About the Women

A Story of Sexual Blackmail From the Old Testament

I’m Going To Be Xploring

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