Category Archives: Religion

A Change of Prayer

A photo I took of women praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

I pray every night before I go to sleep.  I have a litany of things I pray about. For the most part, my prayer list is just individual expressions of hope for good things for members of my family, my friends, myself and the world.   I truly believe you can make a difference by naming your hopes deliberately and routinely and sending those sincere desires out into the universe or winging up to a divine power.  I know reminding myself each night of the things I hope for, also inspires and motivates me to take whatever actions I can to make my prayers a reality. 

In the past, my prayers for the world have always been pretty general.  I pray for things like an end to poverty and an end to war and conflict. But at the beginning of June when I saw President Trump waving a Bible around in front of a church, I was so sad at how negatively the world has been affected by having an American leader with such a lack of moral integrity, I actually started praying specifically for many nights in a row that President Trump would lose the coming November election.  That prayer didn’t sit well with me though.  I hated to say his name and honestly I didn’t want to use my prayers to wish anyone ill. 

Then I heard an interview with Stacey Abrams, an American lawyer and a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives who is one of the candidates Joe Biden is considering as a running mate.   She was talking about how voting is an act of faith.  She said her parents had both been pastors and they had taught her to believe that you get what you work for, but you also get what you pray for. She compared the act of voting to an act of prayer, a prayer that good people with good hearts and good intentions would be elected. 

I loved that.  I decided I would stop praying that President Trump would lose the election and instead pray that good people with good hearts and good intentions would win.  I would pray that those who loved mercy and justice would prevail in our world. 

Of course, I never know in what way, or in what time, the things I pray and hope for will come to fruition, or unfold. But that has never stopped me from praying for them in the past and won’t stop me from praying for them now. 

Other posts……………

Prayer at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Spiritual Practices in Yunnan China

Prayer for a Golf Tournament



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A Mennonite on A Motorcycle

I just finished reading the book Menno Moto. Author Cameron Dueck takes his readers along on a motorcycle trip that begins on the shores of the Rat River in Manitoba and wends its way south through communities of Mennonites in Mexico, Belize, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.

Cameron grew up in a Mennonite community and we learn all about that experience too. Throughout the book, Cameron compares the Mennonites he meets on his journey to those in his family and in his childhood community.

Cameron on his motorcycle from his Instagram Page

Menno Moto was a fascinating read. The very idea of an adventure like Cameron’s is inspiring and exciting.  As he tells us about his personal past and as he travels from one enclave of Mennonites to another, we come to realize there really are no stereotypical Mennonites.  

The book made that point for me personally because while Cameron and I both grew up in rural Mennonite communities in Manitoba, had ancestors who immigrated to Canada from Ukraine, attended Mennonite churches and colleges, and have made our homes in Hong Kong for an extended period of time, our experiences as Mennonites are remarkably different. Mennonite readers, in particular, will find it interesting to compare their own understanding of Mennonite faith and culture to Cameron’s and those of the Mennonites we meet in his book.

If I had one critique of the book it would be that Cameron sometimes speaks too generally about Mennonites. For example, he gives the impression in one chapter that most Mennonites don’t value higher education while I come from a Mennonite family where the value of higher education was almost a sacred thing.

Mennonite Family in Mexico photo from Cameron Dueck ‘s Instagram page

Cameron doesn’t shy away from being honest and critical of the Mennonites he meets. We see how Mennonite immigrants have damaged the environment with their farming methods and have become assimilated into societies where they moved at great hardship and sacrifice precisely to be separated from society.  Certainly, Cameron makes it clear that women are far from equal with men in any of the communities he visits and when he is in Bolivia and investigates the rapes of women and the incest in Mennonite communities there, readers will shudder along with him. For those who have read Mennonite writer Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, a novel based on what some of these Bolivian Mennonite women experienced, Cameron’s account will provide an additional perspective on the tragic situation. 

Cameron took his motorcycle trip in 2012 so we are reading about it some eight years later and one wonders how much things will have changed in the communities he visited during that time and how those communities are responding now to the pandemic.

Since Cameron has made his home in Hong Kong for many years I wondered if he has ever explored what life is like for the nearly half a million Mennonites in seventeen different Asian countries. Could that be the focus of another adventure? 

Although Menno Moto has some excellent large black and white photos you will want to visit Cameron’s Instagram page to see the colour photos of his adventure that give added life to the stories in his book. 

Other posts……..

 His Dream Came True introduces another southern Manitoba Mennonite living in Hong Kong. 

Learn more about Miriam Toews and her book Women Talking in-Miriam Toews Has A Complicated Relationship With Her Hometown. 

Since Cameron lives in Asia I was reminded of the time we introduced our friends from Hong Kong and India to the Mennonite culture at the Steinbach Heritage Village Museum



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Filed under Books, COVID-19 Diary, Religion

Faith in a Time of Fear and Women in a Time of Crisis

 About a week ago my friend Mari posted a photo on her Facebook page of this beautifully woven tapestry made by women from China’s Tujia minority. These tapestries illustrating Biblical stories were sold in an art shop next door to the church Dave and I attended in Hong Kong. Mari’s tapestry shows Jesus out on the Sea of Galilee with his close friends. There was a storm and his friends were very scared so Jesus calmed the waves and then said, “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith?”

Mari said the gospel story depicted on the tapestry reminded her that God is always with us.  Right now we are all in boats, different kinds of boats its true, but everyone in the world is trying to weather the storm of COVID-19 and God is in everyone’s boat with them. We need to have faith we will get through this. Like Mari and her husband Taylor, Dave and I also have a Tujia tapestry illustrating a gospel story hanging in the bedroom at our house. Mari’s post had me looking at it in a new way.  Our tapestry shows Jesus at the home of his friends Mary and Martha. Jesus who treated women with the utmost respect affirmed both the more practical gifts and skills of his friend Martha and the thoughtful, wise ideas of her sister Mary. It struck me that women are helping us get through the storm of COVID-19 using both kinds of traits Jesus so admired in his two friends.  

There are many brilliant female political leaders who are using their intelligence and thoughtful wisdom to chart their country’s voyages through the pandemic storm in a way the whole world is admiring. Women like Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Here in Canada our Chief Public Health Officer is a woman as are half of the chief public health officers in our provinces and territories. 

But women are also doing so much of the practical work in dangerous front line positions.  Half of American grocery store workers and 55%  of pharmacists in the United States are women.  Half of Canada’s doctors and 92% of Canada’s nurses are women. I just saw photos of two of my nieces both dressed in full PPE attire as they set off to work. One is a paramedic and the other is a physiatric nurse doing community outreach work. 

I have a brochure I picked up when I purchased my tapestry that shows all of the other gospel stories the Tujia women have illustrated in their beautiful art pieces. I wonder what we could learn from them as we navigate through the current crisis?

Other posts………..

On A Boat On the Sea of Galilee

Visiting the Hubbards

Ubi Caritas


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Trading in Love For Judgement, Top Album and Sounds of the Bayou

Basketball star Stephen Curry visits former President Barack Obama at the White House

We listened to talk show host Trevor Noah interview six-time NBA all-star basketball player Stephen Curry on his show last week.  Curry was talking about an organization he founded together with his wife Ayesha called Eat. Learn. Play.   It sponsors programs to help kids get proper nutrition, engage in healthy physical activity and have opportunities to secure a college education.  During the current COVID crisis the foundation is partnering with food banks and schools to meet the most pressing needs of vulnerable families. One thing Curry did NOT talk about during the interview was his Christian faith but it doesn’t take very long to find articles online where Curry explains how his parents’ example taught him about faith in a higher power and that has impacted his career, his family life and especially his commitment to giving back to the community. 

Ralph Drollinger- photo by Stephen Voss

Ralph Drollinger is a former NBA basketball player and a Christian minister who leads a Bible study at the White House for members of Donald Trump’s cabinet.  According to an article in Newsweek Drollinger believes among other things that the earth was created in six days, women shouldn’t be in church leadership, it is important for Christians to dress well and capital punishment is a good idea.  He has argued in a series of blog posts that the coronavirus is God’s “consequential wrath on our nation.” This wrath has been visited on Americans because of their radical environmentalism and tolerance of homosexuality. 

American religious leaders present President Trump with the House of Zion award

In an article by Jonathan Merrit in The Atlantic Drollinger and other high profile, Christian leaders are taken to task for acting out of self-righteousness judgement rather than love during the pandemic.  Merrit is puzzled as to why such a large percentage of white evangelicals support a president who is acting in a greedy, vain, dishonest and unethical way during the current crisis.  Merrit says while there are many caring Christians in America who are responding to COVID-19 with acts of compassion and love, unfortunately, the judgmental ones who follow their brash and vulgar president are getting too many of the headlines. 

Merrit ends his article with a line from a song I learned in my teen years at church camps and youth conferences “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”   He feels many of America’s most visible Christians have lost sight of that mantra and are trading in love for judgement. 

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

My husband Dave is doing one of those Facebook challenges. This one is to post the covers of your top ten record albums.  Dave tagged me but I am not really that excited about it.  However, since I love my husband I will post my top album pick right here. The instructions say you need to do that without any words or description or justification for your choice.

Biking down the Bonivital Parkway two days ago Dave and I came upon scenes like this that reminded us of being in a bayou in the American southwest.  The bare trees and the high water silhouetted against the blue sky and billowing clouds created its own stark and natural beauty. Perhaps because there is so little traffic noise these days when we stop at places like this on our bike rides we notice how we can hear the hammering of woodpeckers, the cawing of crows, the honking of geese, the squawking of gulls, the croaking of frogs, and the wind in the branches just waiting to bud. 

Other posts……….

Frogs that Sound Like Cows Bellowing

Imagine It!

Ten Things I Learned About Carol King

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More Than A Library

The door to the library at Bethel Mennonite Church

“Can I take my drugs in the library?”  I am the librarian at my church and last Sunday an elderly woman came to the door and asked me that question.  She had a beeper that went off when it was time for her to administer her medication and that had just happened.  She needed a place to sit down and take her pills before she forgot.  I told her we were a full-service library and she should come right in. 

One thing I am noticing about our church library is that it is much more than just a place to get books.  For example, before the Sunday morning worship hour, there are a couple of regulars who like to hang out in the library because the noise and hubbub in the lobby before the service is just too much for them, either due to hearing difficulties or because they are of a more introverted nature. We have a couple of nice comfy chairs that provide a safe space for them. 

Parents whose children are having trouble sitting through a church service also come into the library to read stories, or walk around in an open area that provides an alternative to the confining pews in the sanctuary.

The cool new sign for our Kid’s Corner was made by Ike Derksen a talented graphic artist in our church

We’ve just finished setting up a Kids’ Corner in the library to invite even more of that kind of use of our space. 

A group of dedicated volunteers take turns working in the library each Sunday and chatting with church members

Many people come in just to chat. They may start off asking you to recommend a book for them but then the conversation quickly veers to a family matter that is troubling them, a social issue on which they have an opinion to share, a physical ailment that is challenging or something in the church that is of concern to them.  I often get caught up for quite some time in one of these conversations as do the wonderful volunteers who work in the library each Sunday helping people sign out new books and returning the old ones to the shelves. 

I just put up a new bulletin board display of books we have added to the library in recent months

We do have our critics, although certainly a minority.  They come in because they don’t agree with the selection of books we have, or they aren’t happy with the way the books are displayed, or they are concerned about the church perhaps spending too much money on library books or they are sad that I have removed an old book from the shelves that was really important to them. I actually enjoy chatting with these folks and am pleased they are taking such an interest in the library.  Their concerns have led me to develop a Book Selection policy that has been approved by the church’s education committee which oversees my work in the library. 

And then, of course, there are the library patrons who are devoted literary fans. They come into the library to see if you have the latest title which is in big demand, to discuss a book from the library they know I have read too, to have me recommend a book I think they will like, to donate a book to the library, or to tell me about a book they have read that they think should be on our shelves. 

We recently added an Indigenous Relations section in the library

And our library is used for other things too. Church committees sometimes reserve the library for meetings during the week. Families may gather there before a funeral service. People sometimes slip in to find a quiet place to take a phone call or have a one on one conversation with a friend. Folks who are visiting the church for the first time wander in because they are curious or are looking to connect with someone. 

I was just asked on Sunday by our church’s gift discernment committee if I want to continue my work in the library for another two years and I answered yes immediately. I love being in the library at our church not only because I enjoy reading books and talking about them, but because I love the fact that so many other things happen in the library besides taking out books and returning them. 

Other posts………

Love These Guys

Are You A Book Hoarder or a Book Minimalist? 

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prayer installationA new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery by artist James Webb is called Prayer.  The installation is an ongoing project that began in Cape Town South Africa in 2000.  The 10th version currently at the Winnipeg Art Gallery was created in the city of Chicago.  The exhibit consists of dozens and dozens of recordings of prayers spoken by people of many different religious affiliations. There are prayers said by Catholics, Lutherans,  Occultists, Episcopalians, Hindus, Bahai, Presbyterians, Mormons and Methodists.  There are prayers spoken in Buddhist temples, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques and evangelical churches. 

james webb prayerVisitors can take off their shoes and walk down the red carpet listening to the prayers arising from all the different speakers or they can sit down in front of one speaker and listen to the variety of prayers emanating from it.

prayer james webbJames Webb is a musician and visual artist from South Africa and has a degree in comparative religions.  As he moves his project to one city after another Webb creates a collaborative community of people from many different faiths and provides a sort of spiritual and religious landscape of that city.  As I experienced the Chicago version of Prayer I thought how interesting it would be to create a similar installation with people from the city of Winnipeg.  

Prayer will be in Winnipeg till May.  Be sure to stop in and experience it on your next visit to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

Other posts………..

A Prayer For a Golf Tournament

An Artist’s Prayer

A Prayer for the New Year

Two Artists on Prayer


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Filed under Art, Religion, winnipeg art gallery

Thanks Lindsey

I was looking through an old journal when I came across this drawing I had taped onto one of the pages. It is by Lindsey Banman and I think was made in 2000 when Lindsey was probably about nine or ten years old.  I still remember receiving it from her.  I had given the sermon in my church, Grace Mennonite in Steinbach one Sunday during advent and Lindsey was in the congregation with her parents. As I spoke she drew this picture of me behind the pulpit and after the service, she gave it to me.  I loved it! Lindsey had included so many details.  Notice the four advent banners on the wall behind me and the Christmas trees? She even has the cross on the pulpit and has drawn the microphone.  

I’ve always loved children’s art and that’s one reason why I’ve kept Lindsey’s wonderful drawing for nearly twenty years but there’s another reason too. As a child, I NEVER saw a woman behind the pulpit. Women weren’t allowed to give sermons.  I remember thinking after Lindsey gave me her drawing how glad I was that she wasn’t growing up in a church where young girls never had a chance to see women taking a leadership role in worship. Seeing Lindsey’s drawing reminded me of just how far we’d come. Thanks, Lindsey. 

Other posts………

Many Women Are Pastors But Our Language Still Excludes Them

Five Wives

Huldah. Have You Heard of Her? 

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Filed under Religion

Imagine It !

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

Last Sunday the Scripture passage that was the focus of our church service was the one in Isaiah 11 where the future is described as a time when all of the earth will be at peace. Harm and destruction will stop and those that have traditionally been thought of as natural enemies will live in harmony. Children will take the lead.

Artistic interpretation of Isaiah 11 by John August Swanson. Note the people on the road with candles coming to follow the child in the centre with a candle of hope.

Of course, the vision described in Isaiah 11 seems like an impossible reality. Our world will never be a place like that but…. our speaker last Sunday urged us to use our imaginations and start thinking about the planet we share as just such a place of peace and positivity. He said if we can keep imagining the possibility of a harmonious and happy future for humanity like the writer of Isaiah did, we will start living as if we believe it is going to happen.
That really resonated with me. It is easy to think our world is falling apart and the future is grim. Many people just throw up their hands and say there is nothing we can do. But if you can imagine the possibility of a future for humanity that is bright and good like the one described in the figurative language in Isaiah, then you will be inclined to act in ways that will help to make that peaceful, happy future a reality. 

My husband Dave at the John Lennon Wall in Prague

The anniversary of John Lennon’s death was exactly one week ago. In the lyrics of his song Imagine he provided us with a modern version of the Isaiah scripture passage inviting us to imagine a future in which everyone lives in peace, sharing the world’s resources and not allowing religious differences or economic differences or political differences to cause harm and destruction. 

Imagine it. Believe it. Act like you believe it. It just may happen. 

Other posts…………

To The World Peace- Visiting Westminster Abbey

Common Threads – Indigenous Spirituality

A Book To Make You Insanely Hopeful

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I Want To See

When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Mark 10:47 and 51  

My friend Esther sorts and packs recycled eyeglasses once a week. She volunteers for the Lions Club, a service organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the blind and visually impaired. Distributing some twenty million pairs of glasses annually to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them is only one part of the club’s global vision initiative.

Lion’s Club members know developing nations are disproportionately affected by eye problems for a variety of reasons including environmental ones. Tibet has one of the highest rates of cataracts because of soot and pathogens from the dusty environment and overexposure to UV rays.

Doctor checking children for trachoma in rural Ghana – Photo from FHI 360 a non-profit human development organization

Trachoma another eye disease rampant in developing countries could be eliminated by addressing environmental concerns like the inaccessibility of clean water and lack of proper sanitation facilities. The World Health Organization believes that with support and intervention 80% of the world’s vision problems would be avoidable.

The Healing of a Blind Man by Duccio di Buoninsegna- 1308

The Bible passages I quoted at the beginning of this post are from a story about a blind man named Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus knows Jesus is nearby and calls out to him for help. Bartimaeus makes me think about the people around the world calling out for help with their vision difficulties.  Jesus restored sight to Bartimaeus. Our world has the resources to prevent blindness and improve the quality of life for almost all of the visually challenged in the human family.  

There are more than a hundred charitable organizations focused on hearing and answering the voices of those who are saying just as Bartimaeus did, “I want to see again”.  How can we help?

Read about an amazing project my cousin Dr. Stephen Fransen established in Nicaragua to help people whose sight has been compromised by retinal diseases

Read about a modern-day miracle worker who is doing the same thing Jesus did in Nicholas Kristoff’s column in the New York Times


Filed under Health, Religion

Gifts From the Earth

And God brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
So here I am. I’m offering some of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O God.  Deuteronomy 26: 9-10

During the year we taught on the Hopi First Nation in Arizona a colleague asked us to join her family at dawn for the baby naming ceremony of her grandchild. Later we were invited into her home for breakfast. The meal was spread out on a large cloth on the floor so as we sat around it we would be close to the earth.  Before we ate the grandmother took a wooden bowl and filled it with small bits of food from the many different dishes she’d prepared.  The bowl was placed on the ground just outside the door of the house as a way to recognize the gifts received from the creator and the earth.

Corn grown by Manny Talasmaynewa near the Hopi village of Moenkopi. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

In Deuteronomy 26:9-10 the children of Israel also offer a gift of food from the earth as a way to thank the creator.  The land flowing with milk and honey described in Deuteronomy 26:9 presents a stark contrast to the Hopi Nation where a scarcity of rain requires special centuries-old farming methods, careful preservation and care of the soil, and plenty of hard work and faith in order to harvest crops like corn, beans, squash and melons.

This weekend our American neighbours celebrated Thanksgiving. The holiday provides another opportunity to reflect on the fact that our food is a gift from the earth and from the creator. We are responsible to care for, preserve, and use the earth in the best possible way so the whole human family can share in creation’s bounty both now and in the future.

Other posts………

He Hasn’t Lost His Green Thumb

A Thankful Weekend

They Don’t Grow Tomatoes Like They Used To

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Filed under Holidays, Religion