Category Archives: Religion

Five Wives

I just finished reading Five Wives by Winnipeg author Joan Thomas. I loved her book Curiosity and this new novel is equally riveting. Like Curiosity which is a mixture of fact and fiction Five Wives is based on the true story of five American missionaries killed by the Waorani people of Ecuador in 1956. The young men were camped on a beach near a Waorani village hoping to make contact with the isolated tribe and convert them to Christianity. Their first interaction was friendly, the second disastrous.

Each of the missionaries killed was married and Thomas’ book profiles the five women left behind when the men died. We are also given a deeply personal look into the daily lives of some of the missionary couples and their families prior to the killings.

Photo page from the January 30, 1956 issue of Life Magazine

Life magazine sent a photographer to Ecuador who was there when the missionaries’ bodies were found. He took haunting portraits of the five young widows and their seven children. That magazine story helped turn the five men who died into international heroes and martyrs especially in evangelical Christian circles.

Reading Joan Thomas’ book makes you realize yet again how dangerous and damaging it is to believe your religious beliefs are so superior to the beliefs of others, that you are willing to die to try to convince someone else to follow your particular spiritual path.

Photos of the five young men who died from a blog post on the Mission Aviation Fellowship website January 8, 2016

The young men who died trying to bring salvation to the Waorani were pilots and law students, philosophy graduates and linguists. One had studied architecture. And they were fathers and marriage partners. What might they have contributed to the world had they lived?

The five men’s deaths brought such notoriety to the Waorani people that it wasn’t long before lasting contact was established with them. We learn from Joan Thomas’ book that as a result of greater contact with the outside world many Waorani died because they were exposed to diseases they were not immune to. Contact eventually led to the Waorani losing most of their traditional lands to developers. Oil companies built roads running right through Waorani villages.

While the missionaries wanted to bring a “better” life to the Waorani they may actually have helped make things worse for them in many ways.

The women and children left behind after their husbands died

The Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer gave Five Wives a glowing recommendation. I would wholeheartedly agree with him. I spent two days doing virtually nothing else but reading Thomas’ beautifully written and intriguing novel.

What was most interesting to me were some of the comments by online readers of the Globe and Mail review. One said they wouldn’t even bother to read the book because it questioned the work of missionaries who in the commentators’ opinion “had done so much good for so many people.” Another said they wouldn’t read the book either because it was clear from the review it painted Christians in a bad light. Quite to the contrary one of the things that drew me to Five Wives was the sympathy Joan Thomas has for her characters. Although I was disappointed to not have been able to attend the launch of Five Wives, someone told me later that when author David Bergen was interviewing Joan about her book he asked her if she hadn’t been too easy on her characters. 

Her book does, however, make it clear there are troubling things to consider about the whole idea of missions.
Joan explains in a Winnipeg Free Press interview. “You see, for example, the evangelical church as a bloc supporting Donald Trump, and all these heinous attitudes towards those coming to the southern border. Yet at the same time, they’re sending missionaries to South America. I really wanted to investigate some of the attitudes that let people live with this kind of doublethink.”

Five Wives by Joan Thomas is one of the nominees for the Governor General’s Literary award to be presented on October 29.

Joan Thomas’ book makes people of faith think deeply about many assumptions they may have made in the past. It raises a whole host of interesting and thought-provoking questions. And besides all that it tells a fascinating and absorbing story!

Other posts……….

Is It Wrong To Die For Your Faith?

Questions After Watching The Movie Silence

Common Threads- Aboriginal Spirituality


Filed under Books, Religion

Beginning With Respect

Last Sunday I gave a talk in a church and used the traditional indigenous teachings as a guide for approaching new beginnings. The first teaching I looked at was respect.  Respecting others and respecting ourselves makes new beginnings easier to navigate. 

In this 1796 painting, The Water of Life Discourse by Maria Anna Angelika Kauffmann Jesus talks respectfully with a Samaritan woman who is leading a rather unorthodox lifestyle.

I talked about how Jesus always approached the people he met with respect. He met them where they were in their lives whether they were dealing with a medical problem, had a demeaning or demonized profession, were facing mental health challenges, were working too hard or were in a bad place financially. He listened to them. He was non-judgemental, and he offered people hope for a new beginning in their lives.

Whither Thou Goest a painting of Ruth and Naomi by Sandra Freckleton Gagon

I also talked about the Old Testament character Ruth who showed such enormous respect for her mother-in-law Naomi as the two of them traveled to Bethlehem to make a new beginning in their lives. Even after Ruth found a new husband and began her life again she continued to treat Naomi with respect.

My grade one class in our school on the Hopi Nation

I gave the personal example of starting a new teaching year and how important it was to respect where my students came from. I had to be respectful and understanding of my students’ current home and family situation, and where they were at right at that point in their learning journey, not where timelines and checklists said they should be. 

Christ in the Wilderness by Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino) 1515-1520 in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum

Respecting yourself during a new beginning is also important. Jesus did that. When the crowds got too much for him he would withdraw to secluded spots on boats out on the water, in gardens, in desert places to take time to pray and get away from all the demands being made on his time and attention.

On a junk boat in Hong Kong with colleagues taking time for fun and relaxation away from our busy and demanding professional lives

I talked about how when I first moved to Hong Kong I got really sick.  The demands on teachers at our international school were extremely high and I was teaching all-new curriculum and courses. I was adjusting to being far away from my children and parents, eating new kinds of foods, living in a very small space with my husband and using new modes of transportation. I was also struggling to handle the extreme heat and humidity.  I had to learn to treat myself with respect -to care for my mental and physical health, balance work and relaxation and give myself grace and time to adjust- so that a new beginning in a new place could become a positive experience.

Respect for others and respect for oneself are very important as we make new beginnings in our lives. 

Other posts………


A Time of New Beginnings

A Life That Adds Up to Something


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Filed under Reflections, Religion

Statistics and Bible Verses

I sometimes think statistics have become the modern-day equivalent of Bible verses.

Both statistics and Bible verses are handy for proving almost any point. There are people who have a barrage of Scripture passages on the tip of their tongues ready to provide substantiation of any viewpoint. Quotations from the Bible have been used to defend all kinds of crazy things including……..the earth is flat, human beings never walked on the moon, women should be silent and education is bad. I read a story in the New York Times about an American pastor using Scripture to justify his advice to administer corporal punishment to babies. 

Statistics are often used like Bible verses. Pick a cause or an idea and you will probably be able to find a statistic to back up your opinion of it. It can be unsettling for people of faith when Biblical quotations are used to defend radically different ideas. Statistics can be equally unsettling.  

Take marriage for example. A Canadian statistical study on marriage looked at what factors lead to divorce and which indicators give couples a better chance to have a lasting relationship. Looking at them I can’t figure out whether my marriage has a good chance or not. 

dave marylou

Dave and I when we had just started dating and I visited his family in Leamington

My husband and I did not live together before we were married. This is in our favor since 35% of Canadian couples who cohabitate before marriage get divorced compared to only 19% of those who don’t live together. 

wedding 1973I got married at the tender age of 19.  My husband was 20. According to statistics, this makes it three times more likely we will end up in a divorce court compared to if we had waited until we were over 30 to marry. 

We attend church regularly and this is a statistic in our favor since it improves a couple’s chances of staying married. 

Another statistic would suggest shaky ground for my marriage. Women who work outside the home, as I have always done, have a higher rate of divorce. 

So which statistics should I take seriously, the ones that say my marriage has a good chance of surviving or others that say it doesn’t?  

on the la ceiba golf course with dave

Dave and I on the La Ceiba Golf Course in Merida Mexico last winter

I won’t be using Scripture either to predict the success of my marriage. “Those who marry will face many troubles,” says Saint Paul in the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians.

“It is not good for people to live alone”, says the narrator in the second chapter of Genesis. 

Other posts……….

Is Marriage a Good Thing For Women?

Celebrating our Marriage History in a Historic Building

Bucket List For Marriage

Chinese Wisdom on Marriage

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Filed under Family, Religion

Modern Gleaners

You are probably familiar with this famous painting by Jean-Francois Millet called The Gleaners.  Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been harvested.  In the Bible, it is recommended as a way to help the poor.

The sign on The Gleaners building  we visited says Using Ontario’s Surplus Produce to Reduce Global Hunger

This past week we saw the modern version of gleaning in Leamington Ontario.  Both my brother-in-law Paul and my sister-in-law Shirley volunteer their time at the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners.

Paul and Shirley took us to see what they do as volunteers.  We arrived just at coffee break time so the work crew wasn’t on the floor when we there but it was still interesting to check out the operation. 

Dave and his brother Paul with some of the donated produce

Local fruit and vegetable growers donate unmarketable produce to The Gleaners and then a crew of volunteers turns it into nutritious packaged food mixes that are distributed to needy people locally, nationally and internationally.  

Behind Dave and Paul is one of the big dehydration machines

Donated produce is cleaned, sorted, diced, dried and dehydrated.

Shirley explains how the assembly line works for packaging products. 

The Gleaners make a number of different products 

The mixes are measured, labeled and packaged.  The volunteers can package 36,000 servings of soup in just one hour. Last year they diverted more than a million pounds of produce from landfills. 

Everything is put into boxes

These boxes are ready to leave the building to go worldwide including northern remote parts of Canada. Each year the Gleaners area of influence gets bigger as they send more products to more destinations. 

Instead of food being thrown away it is gleaned and repurposed and helps people who need it most. This sign I saw on the chalkboard at the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners explains their philosophy. The day we visited there must have been nearly thirty people lending a hand to the important mission of The Gleaners. Thanks, Paul and Shirley for showing us around.  The work you are doing is important and inspirational. 

Other posts…………

Mending What We Can



Filed under Food, Religion

Spiritual Practices in Yunnan

What kinds of spiritual practices are helpful for you? Do you meditate, walk labyrinths, smudge, fast, journal or chant? 

Dancing with Naxi women in Shangra La in Yunnan province

Traveling through the Chinese province of Yunnan years ago we learned about the unique ways people there connect with the divine. Religiously the people of Yunnan practice a mix of Taoism, Confucianism, and Tibetan Buddhism and they introduced us to some of their spiritual practices.   

In the village of Baisha, Taoist Dr. Ho offered us some of his herbal tea. We were assured that slowly sipping it would cure us of any spiritual, emotional or physical ills we might have. 

Hundreds of locks adorned the railings around a Buddhist temple beside Black Dragon Pond in Lijiang. Each had a person’s name, a date and a prayer engraved on it.  For a small fee, a priest would etch your name and prayer on a golden lock. You fastened your lock to the fence taking the key with you. Eventually, your prayer would be answered.
A lake near Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was a lovely turquoise color because of the various iron deposits it contained. “Wash your hands in it” our guide urged me, “and you will live happily for a long, long time.” 

I had never seen a stupa until I visited the city of Zhongdiang. These are huge mounds of stones each with a Buddhist Scripture to read on one side and a personal prayer written on the other. We were offered stones to write prayers and we placed them on the stupa as well.

At a Tibetan Buddhist temple, the monks gave us yak bead bracelets to finger as we prayed and also encouraged us to inhale the incense they make from plants they grow themselves.  

Like most people in the world, the citizens of China’s Yunnan province have a firm belief that a power greater than themselves can influence the direction of their lives. We were privileged to have a chance to learn about some of the ways they present their desires and concerns to the divine.

Other posts……..

Common Threads- The Hopi

Common Threads- Judaism and Christianity

Common Threads- The Bahai

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Filed under Religion

Two Poets on Prayer

Small stones I photographed at The Arches in Newfoundland

It  doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

― Mary Oliver from the poem Praying

Wicker basket of oranges I photographed in a shop in Lisbon

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,

and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

– Billy Collins from As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse

Other posts……….

Artist’s Prayer

Prayer for a Golf Tournament

A Prayer for the New Year

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Filed under Poetry, Religion

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

Last Saturday night we had people over for dessert and coffee. We were chatting about our plans for Sunday. When I said we would be going to church one of our guests asked, “Why do you go to church?”  It was a good question and the next day at church I thought about it. I came up with five reasons why I go to church.

Three fellows from my church who helped me set up our church’s Little Free Library.

 1. I like books.  I am our church’s librarian and I also maintain our church’s Little Free Library where people in our neighborhood can help themselves to books or donate them.  My library involvement at church gives me the opportunity to chat enthusiastically with so many people each week about books and reading. I love that. 

My husband Dave sings in a male choir at our church. Here he is playing the harmonica at their Christmas concert.

2. I like music.  Our church has some incredibly gifted musicians and I love listening to them.  On Sunday morning, I get to sing with lots of other people. Many of them grew up in the Mennonite church as I did, and we have a strong choral tradition. For us singing in rich four-part harmony is second nature.  At church, I get to hear and participate in great music-making. 

I work at a Thrift store with women from my church.

3. I like helping others.  Our church has a daycare, a children’s after school club, a mother’s support group, a reading tutor program, a senior’s residence, services for immigrants and a food bank. My church donations help support that work. Along with a group of women from our church I volunteer at a Thrift Store that recycles thousands of items each year with the proceeds going to help aid programs around the world. I feel better about myself when I know I am using some of my time and money to help others and my church facilitates that for me.

Our Mennonite church logo has a dove with an olive branch in its mouth- a symbol of our desire that people live in peace with each other and our belief that change can come about in non-violent peaceful ways

4.  I like to feel hopeful.  Often on Sunday mornings the things I hear at church help me to feel more hopeful about the state of our world.  Last Sunday, for example, our pastor talked about the horror of the mass shootings in the United States but then he reminded us that even the smallest actions on our part can make a difference in the world.  Sharing our love with others, and being committed to the way of peace Jesus taught us, can bring about change in our troubled world. His words inspired hope.

A stained glass window at my church

5.  I like time to be peaceful and quiet.  It is hard sometimes to find space in my week to just think and pray and be silent.  In church, I am not on my computer or looking at my phone.  Our church is a beautiful place with stained glass windows and thoughtful art pieces. It gives me the opportunity to be still and take a deep breath and rest my mind and heart before the busy week ahead. 

Since last Sunday I have thought of even more reasons why I go to church.

  1. I have a chance to meet and visit with interesting people.  
  2. My husband and I have made many life long friends at the different churches we have attended.  
  3. The church has provided my family with tangible support during some difficult times.
  4. The church has given us a moral compass when we have needed to make decisions.
  5. The church has sometimes been a place for me to question, rethink and reshape my world view.
  6. The church has played a role in helping us mark important occasions in our family life- weddings, funerals, child dedications, and baptisms.  
  7. The church is a place where I feel connected to something greater than myself, to the spirit of God, the creative force, the human family.
  8. The church gives me a bridge to the past. I am of Mennonite heritage and the church has been intertwined and entangled with the history and culture of my family for many, many generations. 

I’m glad my guest last Saturday asked me why I go to church. I couldn’t think of all these ideas right at the moment but maybe he will read this and his question will be answered. 

Why do you go to church? Or why don’t you?

Other posts………

Playing Church

Picking A Church Out Of A Cereal Bowl

Thin Places

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Filed under Religion