Category Archives: Religion

Why Are Women Always the Example For Sin?

My 96-year-old aunt lives in a Mennonite personal care home in Saskatoon.   On Thursday morning I joined my aunt’s Bible Study group that included six other women in their late 80s and 90s. The leader was reading John 8:1-11 a story about a woman caught in adultery and the teachers of the law who thought she should be stoned.  The leader read………“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?” Right at this point, one woman in the group interrupted in a loud voice.  “I say if they were going to stone the woman, they should have stoned the man too. “

The room where our bible study group met

The Bible Study leader was a little taken aback but stopped to thank the woman for her comment.  When she was finished reading the passage in which Jesus challenges the Pharisees that the one among them who is sinless should cast the first stone, the leader asked for any responses from the group and the same woman who had made the earlier comment said, “Why do they always seem to use a woman as the example for a sinner in the Bible? The Bible starts off with the story of Eve as a sinner.”  The leader said it was because the Bible was written in a time when there were different attitudes towards women when women weren’t even considered people.  “Good thing that’s changed,” the woman replied. 

Talking about this with someone later they commented that perhaps the woman who spoke up so boldly had been thinking along those same lines all her life.  Now due to her age, and perhaps having lost some of her social filters she is able to share her real opinions, opinions she may have had all along but wouldn’t have dared voice aloud in the patriarchal Mennonite church in which she was raised. 

We often say the truth comes from the mouths of babes or children.  It can also come from the mouths of octogenarian women.

Christ and the Adultress by Lucas Cranach the Elder- 1535-1540

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A Poignant Book

Five Sisters

A Woman I Wish I Knew More About

 

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Your One Wild and Precious Life

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

On Sunday the theme of the sermon in our church was that question from the poem The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. Our pastor talked about people she felt had done incredible things with their one wild and precious life.

One example she gave was Rachel Held Evans a 37-year-old best selling author of four books and mother of two young children who died suddenly on May 4 from a brain infection. I have been reading Rachel’s blog for many years and admired her.  

Rachel was an evangelical Christian but she spoke out long and loud about making the church a place where everyone was welcome including those who were part of the LGBTQ community.  She was a Christian feminist who advocated for an equal role for women in the church and in society.  I especially respected her common sense approach to the issue of abortion.  She encouraged people to vote for political candidates who would actually bring about the changes in society that research has shown reduce the abortion rate. She encouraged hard questions and firmly believed you didn’t need to sacrifice your intellectual integrity to be a person of faith. Rachel was respected and loved by millions. She became an articulate and powerful spokeswoman for people of faith who believed in a very different kind of Christianity than the one espoused by the supporters of Donald Trump.

Evidence of the importance of Rachel Held Evans life was clear as almost every major news source in the United States ran stories about her death.  The Washington Post, The New York Times,The New Yorker, The Atlantic,CNN,CBS,NPR, Fox,  Newsweek and hundreds of others.   A Twitter hashtag #Becauseof RHE soon garnered a host of moving testimonies from people who said their lives had been changed because of her. These tweets were shared thousands of times worldwide. 

Rachel Held Evans was indeed a person who made the very most of her one wild and precious life. She inspires us all to emulate her.

Other posts………

Inspiration from Poet Mary Oliver

Meet Priscilla

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

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Filed under People, Religion

The Religion of Trees

Tree Movement by Emily Carr. Photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

In an April 22 article in the religion section of the Washington Post writer Matthew Sleeth reminds us that Friday was Arbor Day, an American holiday where people are encouraged to appreciate trees and plant trees.  Here in Canada different provinces recognize Arbor Day in a variety of ways.  The folks in Ontario sponsor an entire Arbor Week which began on Friday.  Here in Winnipeg there will be an Arbor Day celebration on June 1 in St. Vital Park.  You can learn more about that here.  

Trees by Dorothy Knowles. Photographed at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon. 

No matter when Arbor Day is celebrated the point of Sleeth’s Washington Post piece is that all people of faith, but in particular Christians, should be busy planting and protecting trees world-wide. He says trees are mentioned in the Bible more often than any other living thing.  

Olive Trees by Vincent Van Gogh. Photographed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Revelation 22:2 suggests that the leaves of trees might bring healing to the nations of the world. Could caring for trees and our environment be a cause that unites the world?

A glass mosaic called Ash Trees in the Late Afternoon by my cousin Sharon Loeppky. Photographed at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg. 

In Genesis 21:33 Abraham plants a tree as a symbol for the signing of a peace treaty. Could reforestation projects be a way for countries to come together in peace to replenish the earth’s tree population?

Tree Children by Winnipeg artist Leo Mol. Photographed just outside the Richardson Building in downtown Winnipeg.

What a different world we might have if everyone acted like “oaks of righteousness” the way  good people are described in Isaiah 61:3.  Jesus said in the beatitudes that righteous people are gentle peacemakers. 

Root Dress by Barb Hunt. Photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

In the comments on Sleeth’s article in the Washington Post people are very derisive of any person of faith who dares to say they want to protect trees or the environment.   They claim most religious people believe their god has provided the blessings of the natural world for them to dominate and exploit. One commentator cites the way former American Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt who was given his post by Donald Trump used Bible verses to justify policies he put in place that had potentially devastating consequences for the environment.

Poplar Woods by Lionel LeMoine Fitzgerald. Photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

And here in Canada we have little reason to be smug about the attitude of our American neighbours. Ironically on the day before Arbor Day the government of Ontario announced it will end a program that aimed to plant 50 million trees in their province. 

Metchosin by Emily Carr. Photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

On the weekend just prior to Arbor Day Christians began their celebration of Easter, a time of new beginnings, new life and new hope.  Planting and caring for trees can be a way to celebrate all those things.

Other posts……….

Happy Earth Day

Imitating Emily

Two Trees

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Filed under Art, Nature, Religion

The Women of the Easter Story

Station of the cross, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France.

Station of the Cross Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France.

A large crowd trailed behind Jesus including many grief-striken women. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Do not weep for me.”- Luke 23:27-28

vladimir-borovikovsky-the-crucifixion-undated-e1276393643585

The Crucifixion by Vladimir Borovikovsky

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister and Mary Magdalene.  John 19:25

The Three Marys at the Sepulcher by Peter Von Cornelius

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

Holy Women at the Tomb by Peter Paul Rubens

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them……

Three Marys at the Tomb by Sally K. Green

And one  said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!  Luke 24:1-6

Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene After the Ressurection by Alexander Ivanov

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turned toward him and cried out “Teacher.”- John 20:14-16

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A Scripture Verse For Spring

Spring warblers are filling the forest with sweet arpeggios. Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed, and cherry trees are fragrant with blossoms.

Song of Solomon 2: 11-13a- The Message

Other posts………

Marriage Statistics and Bible Verses

If You Can’t Say Something Nice

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Miriam Toews Has A Complicated Relationship With Her Home Town

Alexandra Schwartz writes a lengthy feature in the current issue of The New Yorker magazine about author Miriam Toews who was born and raised in Steinbach, Manitoba.    

Toews’ eighth novel Women Talking will be released in the United States this week. Covers for the British, Italian and German editions of Women Talking are featured on Toews’ media sites. Schwartz interviewed Toews both in her current Toronto home and during a trip the two made to Steinbach to explore Toews’ roots, since characters and locations inspired by Steinbach people and places figure prominently in Toews’ novels.a complicated kindnessSchwartz also interviewed Steinbach teacher Andrew Unger who studies Toews’ best selling novel A Complicated Kindness with his high school students. Unger once featured Toews on his popular satirical Daily Bonnet website where he mused about why there wasn’t a giant statue of Toews in her hometown.  Of course Unger was ‘schputting’- a Low German word for making fun of something or being irreverent about it. ‘Schputting’ is explained in The New Yorker article with reference to Toews’ own writing.

Unger wasn’t ‘schputting’ however when he told The New Yorker that Steinbach hasn’t really acknowledged the accomplishments of Toews.  “We’ve done nothing as a community to recognize or honor her.”

Why hasn’t Steinbach recognized a woman The New Yorker calls one of Canada’s best loved and best known writers, a woman who has won international literary prizes and whose work is critically acclaimed?

I think one reason is because Toews’ books fictionalize real events and people. Steinbach residents who have knowledge of those same events and people tend to get upset because Toews didn’t write about them accurately.   

I was connected in several ways to the Toews’ family and have sometimes caught myself saying as I read Miriam’s books, “But that’s not the way it happened.”  I know that Toews is writing fiction but I understand how some people might be unsettled reading her fictionalized version of true events.

Toews’ mother Elvira puts it even more strongly in The New Yorker article when she talks about people who say her daughter “just tells lies.”  Mennonite novelist Dora Dueck confesses on her blog she initially struggled with something similar while reading Women Talking.  Dueck has high praise for the book but says she had to lecture herself that it was a novel and not journalism.

Another reason why Toews may not be lauded in her hometown is because the predominantly Mennonite population is troubled by her honest revelations about the abuse, oppression and hypocrisy particularly directed towards women by the historically entrenched patriarchy in Mennonite churches and the church’s tendency at least in the past, to ignore or silence people with addictions, mental health issues and family dysfunction.  The devastating consequences of these kinds of attitudes are being brought to light every day in every kind of church denomination but Toews’ books focus on the Mennonite church and so some Mennonites might feel they have been singled out for unfair criticism.

To balance Toews’ perceived lack of popularity in her hometown one has to remember she gives voice to many people who know from first hand experience that her accounts of growing up in in a small conservative community, and her characters’ experiences with the church ring true, no matter where they live or what religious affiliation they might have. Toews may not have enough fans in her hometown to be given recognition with her name on a building, or street sign, or piece of public art, but she does have a multitude of fans around the world who appreciate her and love to read her books.  

Other posts

Are Men and Women’s Friendships Different?

Mennonite Nuns

Violence in Christian Families

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What Should You Give Up For Lent?

The movie Chocolat tells the story of a  young woman and her daughter who move to a small French village just before Easter and set up a new chocolate shop directly across the street from the church. 

The mayor of the village, a very pious man, is appalled that a single mother would want to entice the community’s fine Catholic citizens with so pleasurable a thing as chocolate during Lent– a time of year when they should be denying themselves pleasure. 

In an attempt to reconcile the two,  the young priest from the village church delivers a Sunday message in which he suggests to his congregation that rather than give something up for Lent they embrace something new. They might befriend a new person or be open-minded enough to accept a new idea. 

I wonder if we couldn’t benefit the most by combining the ‘giving up’ and ’embracing something new’ aspects of Lent.

What if we……..

Gave up jealousy and joyfully celebrated the success of others

Gave up holding grudges and forgave those who have wronged us

Gave up worrying about our health and started doing something to improve it

Gave up gossiping and looked for positive things to say about people

Gave up losing our temper so quickly and tried to practice more patience even with the most frustrating people in our lives

Gave up being self-centered and thought about what we could do to help someone else

Gave up expecting the worst and hoped for the best

Gave up wishing our lives could be different or better and took steps to make that happen

Gave up__________ and ___________

This approach could have consequences. Researchers have found it only takes six weeks to establish a new habit. Lent, which lasts for forty days is just about that long. Who knows? If we do give up some negatives and embrace more positive alternatives for Lent we might just change our lives forever. 

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