Category Archives: Religion

Even the gods speak of God

A book I am currently reading has introduced me to the poetry of David Whyte.

Self Portrait is one of my favourite poems so far.

Maori Jesus in the window of the Faith Anglican Church
Rotorua New Zealand

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
Or many gods.
I want to know if you belong — or feel abandoned;
If you know despair
Or can see it in others.
I want to know
If you are prepared to live in the world
With its harsh need to change you;
If you can look back with firm eyes
Saying “this is where I stand.”
I want to know if you know how to melt
Into that fierce heat of living
Falling toward the centre of your longing.
I want to know if you are willing
To live day by day
With the consequence of love
And the bitter unwanted passion
Of your sure defeat.
I have been told
In that fierce embrace
Even the gods
Speak of God.

~ David Whyte ~

With my older son

Other posts…………

Two Poets on Prayer

Sweets For A Hundred Flowery Springs

A New Poet

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Filed under Poetry, Religion

Crying Is Required

As the pandemic wears on I will be the first to admit that I cry much more easily and more often than I did before. I know that my situation is not unique and that I am better off than many. But when I think about how long it has been since I have seen my three grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law in Saskatoon I get teary. I realized the other day that I have not hugged my son and daughter-in-law here in Winnipeg for over a year. Their little four-month-old daughter only sees my face on a screen or with a mask on.

Photo of me doing art with children on the Winnipeg Art Gallery site

I have not gone back to the Winnipeg Art Gallery since I was laid off from my job there because I think as soon as I walked through the doors I’d start to cry remembering how much I loved being there and loved talking about art with our visitors.

When I let myself think too much about the impact the pandemic has had on my father’s dementia the tears can flow before I know it.

The other day I watched one of those Flash Mob videos where a crowd of musicians gathers slowly to perform an instrumental and vocal rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and I was weeping by the end thinking about how long it has been since I have sung a hymn with others or have listened to a choir perform in person.

I photographed the Tear Drop Temple in Jerusalem

When I visited Jerusalem I went to the Dominus Flevit Temple. It is also known as the Tear Drop Temple because its roof is shaped like a teardrop. The temple was designed and placed on the Mount of Olives in memory of Jesus’ tears.

Inside the Dominus Flavit Temple

The Bible records two times when Jesus cried. Once was at the death of his good friend Lazarus and another was when he was overcome with sorrow because he knew what was going to happen to the people of Jerusalem. The Tear Drop Temple is said to be built on the spot where Jesus wept.

There are times when we all need a good cry. There is nothing wrong with tears. They are not a sign of weakness. Tears can relieve stress and provide a good emotional release. Tears are a healthy sign of our humanity and vulnerability. During these pandemic times, a good cry should probably be a regular requirement.

American writer Rita Schiano says “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.”

Jesus knew that. We need to remember it too.

Other posts………

Tears in A Bottle

Dad’s Sacred Trees

A Peaceful Mind and Heart

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Lessons From Trees

Lynda Toews is the talented artist in residence at my church. During the months of January and February, her beautiful paintings will be adding an element of visual wonder to our series of online worship services on the theme of trees.

Yellow Cedar by Lynda Toews

Did you know that there is a yellow cedar tree in British Columbia that is 1835 years old? It is Canada’s oldest tree. Indeed trees are the oldest living things on earth. “As the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people” Isaiah 65:22.

Trees give us a good idea of where our short life spans fit into the vast scale of time. Trees grow slowly and remind us of what we can accomplish when we have patience and perseverance. Trees also are a prime example of what great things God makes from a very small seed or pinecone.

Trees Clapping by Lynda Toews

The title of this painting Trees Clapping makes reference to the Scripture passage in Isaiah 55:12. “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills, shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Lynda went out to photograph trees in her neighbourhood to use as models for this piece. She wanted the trees to have riotous colour and energy and show movement. We may not think of trees as being emotional like humans but poets have often given them human qualities. Think of Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem where the trees lift their leafy arms to pray.

Trees can remind us how important it is to express and share our emotions as we worship and work together.

Moonlight Sonata by Lynda Toews

Lynda illustrates the relationship between trees in Moonlight Sonata. Look at how the two trees are bent towards each other and how their roots intertwine.

Scientists tell us trees share food with one another. By working together trees create an ecosystem that moderates the temperature and stores water. If you look at the forest canopy you can see that trees respect one another’s space leaving openings between their crowns.

Trees even communicate through electronic impulses that emanate from their root tips. Studies show that one tree can be connected to as many as 50 others in this way. Their communication helps them grow in healthy and safe ways.

The communication and community found in trees can be an example to humans as we strive to communicate and live together in community.

The Bible tells us we are to be like trees planted by streams of water bearing fruit. Psalm 1:3

Lynda Toews
  • The tree paintings in this post are all by Lynda Toews. You can see more of her work here and here.
  • The ideas in this blog post come from essays and other documents Lynda prepared in conjunction with her visual pieces.
  • I have used her artwork and her ideas with her permission.

Other posts……….

The Tree of Life- Poems by Sarah Klassen

Two Trees and a Marriage

Dad’s Sacred Trees

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Filed under Nature, Religion

Picking a Church Out of the Cereal Bowl

Tao Fong Shan our church in Hong Kong

It was time! When we moved to Winnipeg from Hong Kong I wanted to get involved with a church congregation in the city. 

My husband Dave thought we should shop around for a church. “Give it a year,” he said “and then we will decide.”

All Saints Church was one of many Winnipeg churches we attended during our two years of church hopping

There are more than a dozen churches that belong to our particular Mennonite church conference in Winnipeg and I think we went to them all, some several times. But we also attended Lutheran churches, United churches, Anglican churches and non-denominational congregations. This was  a great learning experience and really broadened our faith horizons.  We were so enjoying our time as church tourists that soon ……. two years, not one had passed. 

When our two year anniversary of being back in Canada was reached I told Dave we needed to settle down and get serious.  “We have to decide on a church,” I said. 

“OK,” Dave agreed. “Let’s each write the names of three churches on slips of paper, put them in a cereal bowl and then you start drawing. The last slip of paper that’s left is the church we’ll attend.”

It ended up that last slip contained the name of a church we’d both written down. Neither of us got our top pick, but we were both content with the choice.

I’m not saying the best way to choose a church is from a cereal bowl, but since our merry-go-round of visits and many discussions about the matter had produced no results, for us at least it was a practical solution.

Bethel Mennonite Church was the one we picked out of the cereal bowl

In the years since then the faith community we chose has truly become our home.  We have many friends there and have found enriching and meaningful ways to be involved in church life. 

Other posts ……..

13 Reasons Why I Go To Church

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An Australian Epiphany

January 6 is Epiphany the day the Christian church remembers the visit the Magi made to see Jesus after he was born. That story has been illustrated in many different ways. On a visit to the Museum of Sydney in Australia, I photographed two visual representations of the Magi narrative I particularly appreciate.

Three Wise Men by Linda Syddickphotographed at the Museum of Sydney

In this tapestry Indigenous artist, Linda Syddick has depicted the Magi like the Tingari, ancient ancestral spirit beings who went on long journeys across the desert landscape of Australia teaching people about important laws and customs. The Tingari Magi are looking at Jesus and offering Mary and Joseph cups of billy tea. Billy tea is a traditional Australian way of making tea by boiling water in a tin can over a fire.

Linda Syddick helps us see how the Biblical Magi story, can intersect with stories from other faith and cultural traditions and enhance our appreciation and understanding of the astrologers’ visit as it is described in the book of Matthew.

A Curiosity in Her Own Country by Phil Mayphotographed at the Museum of Sydney

This 1888 cartoon by Phil May was published in a Sydney newspaper. It shows an Indigenous woman and her child sitting on the street and being stared at. In the late 1800s, Indigenous people in Australia lived out of sight on reserves so people rarely saw them. The cartoonist was remarking on the irony of the fact that although the woman and child represent the original inhabitants of Australia they are being looked at as objects of curiosity by the colonizers who marginalized them.

Australia by Martin Sharp photographed at the Museum of Sydney

In 2009 Australian artist Martin Sharp created a painting based on the 1888 cartoon.  Sharp’s rendition was made to look like a nativity scene. The mother and child both have halos the way Mary and Jesus often do in Renaissance paintings.  The stars adorning Sharp’s painting remind us of the starry sky in Bethlehem that led the Magi to Jesus.  The colonizers looking at the mother and child represent the Magi.

Sharp has used the Magi story to make an important political statement about the relationship between Indigenous and colonizer citizens. It makes us think about why that relationship needs to change.

These two Australian artists give us a new perspective on the Epiphany story.

Other posts………

The Magi Once Got Me Into Trouble

The Magi Around the World

Edge of the Trees

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Filed under Art, Religion

What If God Is Just A Stranger on A Bus?

The Parable of the Lost Silver Piece by Godefridus Schalcken 1643-1706- The Hague

I appreciate the many metaphors for God in the Bible- a rock, a shepherd, the light, the wind and a king.  I’ve always loved the feminine metaphors in Scripture comparing God to a human mother, a mother hen, a mother bear, a mother eagle and a woman searching for a lost silver coin. But I had never considered the metaphor of stranger in relation to God, till I listened to an interview with Irish philosopher Richard Kearney. 

Abraham and the Three Strangers by Marc Chagall

Kearny pointed out how God came to Abraham and Sarah in the guise of three strangers to tell them the news they were to become parents. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the strangers and gave them food. 

Trinity by Andrei Rublev- 1411 or 1425-27

Kearny said when the Russian Orthodox painter Andrei Rublev created his famous icon of the Trinity he chose to portray them as the three strangers who visited Abraham and Sarah. 

The Cestello Annunciation by Sandro Bottecelli -1489

Mary, Jesus’ mother also welcomes a stranger in the form of the angel Gabriel who tells her she is going to have a baby.

In his interview, Kearny referred to Botticelli’s painting of Mary and Gabriel because Mary does look somewhat hesitant about accepting this strange being who brings such astounding news. Mary is reaching her hand to the stranger at the same time as she is backing away. 

We know Jesus referred to himself as a stranger, when he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio 1601

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appears as a stranger to fellow travellers on the road to Emmaus. They chat with Jesus and even have a meal with him but don’t recognize him.  

Philoxenia Love of the Stranger by Rev. Charlie Baber a comic artist for the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Look closely at the poster to see who Baber has chosen to be the three strangers in his take on the original Rublev icon.

What does the metaphor of God as a stranger teach us? We are so often wary of strangers, yet if strangers’ faces reflect the face of God then at the very least we owe them a smile, a greeting, and perhaps an invitation to share conversation.  

I am finding during the pandemic that just like me, the strangers I pass as I walk outdoors seem hungry for positive recognition and interaction, isolated as we are from other people so much of the time. 

A number of years ago there was a news story about a Winnipeg transit driver who stopped his bus on a chilly morning to get out and give his shoes to a barefoot stranger. The story garnered international attention. The bus driver seemed surprised at all the media exposure he was receiving. He figured most people would do the same thing he did if they saw a stranger in need. 

In 1995 singer Joan Osborne had a hit song called What If God Was One of Us? The chorus goes………

What if God was one of us……………….. just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?

Other posts about strangers on buses………..

Another Friend for the Moment

Bus Chat

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Filed under Art, Reflections, Religion

Is God In Control?

Is God in control during this pandemic? I don’t think so.

A few days ago I wrote about how our family survived the tsunami in Phuket Thailand in 2004. I think that was the first time I truly realized God wasn’t in control.   

When we arrived home after the tsunami so many people told us they had been praying for us. They were thankful God had saved us.  I received no comfort from that idea at all.  

Our family on the waterfront after the tsunami

What about the 230,000 people who died in the tsunami?  Didn’t many of them have friends and family praying for them? Many of them no doubt cried out to God as they were being swept out to sea, but they perished.  I could not believe God had caused the tsunami, or that a loving God had allowed something as horrific as the tsunami to happen, or that God had chosen to protect our family and not someone else’s. No God had not been in control when the tsunami hit. I didn’t want to believe in a God who had anything to do with that kind of disaster.

Those of us who grew up in the church have heard the well-intentioned phrase so often. “Don’t worry God is in control.” I know the words are meant to bring comfort, but I think we need to stop saying them. If we say that God is in control, we are really saying we believe God deliberately made the COVID 19 virus that has killed many more people than the tsunami did and caused heartache and hunger and homelessness for millions. Is God in control of COVID-19? Of course not. 

Photo from Creative Commons

Some religious folks are saying God is letting the pandemic happen to teach us something. One certainly hopes the world learns many lessons from what is happening, but God does not choose pain and suffering as teaching tools.

I believe God is good and anything that isn’t good doesn’t from God. So, if God isn’t in control who is? Well unfortunately or fortunately we are.  Remember in Genesis when God gave human beings dominion over the earth?  Luckily however the goodness of God is still present, and we can act in partnership with it to respond to the pandemic with love and a desire to make better choices for our world in the future. Believing God isn’t in control is actually much harder than believing God is. Because it means we can’t just be bystanders, we have to get involved. 

Image from public domain photo library of the American Centre for Disease Control

The tsunami taught me that God does not control us or the things that happen in our world. God provides insight into how we should act through the Bible, through other people, through what we can learn from creation. God walks with us when we suffer like we are now in the pandemic through the actions of caring health providers, through the inventive minds of scientists who come up with vaccines, through our neighbours and family members who reach out to help us make it through these days. But God is not in control and it is dangerous and wrong to think God is. 

Other posts………

Prayer- A Kick in the Pants

What is Sin?

The Post Election Priorities of American Christians

Did Jesus Have A Wife?

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Religion

The Post Election Priorities of American Christians

The Institute on Religion and Public Life published an article this week by Kenneth Craycraft who claims that the newly elected Biden/Harris administration will implement policies in direct conflict with Christian morality. 

And what are those policies that will offend Christian morals? 

Abortion and gender identity. The Biden administration will protect a woman’s right to control her own body and make it easier for women to have abortions and obtain contraception. Biden will also enforce Obama era policies that require schools and workplaces to respect someone’s gender choice and to offer gender-neutral washrooms and locker rooms.  

Biden’s plans in these areas,  according to Craycraft, should be morally repugnant to Christians. Biden will infringe on Christian freedoms by forcing Christian employers to provide for abortion and contraception in their medical plans.  The rights of Christian schools and workplaces will be violated if they are forced to comply with Biden’s gender-neutral mandates. 

Jesus had nothing to say about either abortion or gender identity but for some reason, these are issues that Craycraft suggests American Christians take very seriously as their new president comes to power. 

Might I suggest that instead, Christians like Craycraft evaluate Biden on the policies he will initiate that address things Jesus did talk about?  Things like affordable health care, poverty reduction and increased immigration? Unlike abortion and gender identity, which are topics about which Jesus was silent, Jesus had a whole lot to say about healing the sick, caring for the poor and welcoming the stranger. 

As I’ve said so many times before in my blog posts, research makes clear stricter abortion laws don’t reduce abortion numbers although there are many other political initiatives that do.  And I simply don’t understand why gender-neutral washrooms should bother anyone.  We all have them in our homes. 

If Craycraft wants to find reprehensible things for American Christians to examine he might turn his attention to the lines that stretch as far as the eye can see at food banks across America while the profits of billionaires in the country soar. Now that’s truly morally repugnant. By comparison, laws that will be ineffective at reducing abortions and worrying about washrooms that won’t hurt anyone seem petty concerns at best. 

I realize however that there are millions of American Christians who agree with Craycraft’s concerns and priorities. It leaves me puzzled and incredulous. How do I begin to understand such a mindset in those who share my faith? 

Other posts……….

Pro-Choice and Pro-Life – What Might We Have in Common?

Responding to Changing Understandings of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Gender-Neutral Washrooms

Three Things I Couldn’t Get Out of My Head As I Watched The Two Popes

Your One Wild and Precious Life

 

 

 

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What is Sin?

I am preparing for an upcoming sermon on the topic of sin. I needed some ideas so I posted the question What is sin? on the home page of a Facebook group I belong to. The group’s purpose is to foster discussion on how one might best follow the example of Jesus in our modern world.

People in the group were obviously interested in my question since I received nearly a hundred responses. Here are some examples.  I have combined or summarized ideas that were very much the same. 

Sin is………….

  • Missing the mark like in archery. You aim for perfection but fall short. 
  • Spending your time and energy and money on the wrong things. 
  • Selfishness
  • The opposite of good
  • Anything less than love
  • Using an illegitimate means to achieve a legitimate end
  • Disrespect
  • Not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • Ignoring love
  • Going your own way instead of God’s way
  • Idolatry
  • Something that breaks trust
  • Something that leads you away from a good and purposeful life
  • Pushing God away
  • Not listening
  • Missing an opportunity to love
  • Abusing power
  • Thinking you have the right to choose your own reality
  • A lack of integrity
  • Making bad choices
  • Sin and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin and the relationship between them is hope 
  • Anything that is out of kilter with what you were created to be or meant to be

There are two definitions that I am going to expand on in my sermon. 

  • Sin is anything that causes harm to your relationship with yourself, others, the earth or God. 
  • Sin is the refusal to grow. 

I am very grateful to all the people who took the time to respond to my query. How would you answer the question What is sin? 

Other posts……..

Silent Prey

Blaming Satan is Misguided and Dangerous

A Black and White Religion

 

 

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Personal Connections With Dad, God and Me

Ralph Friesen’s book Dad, God and Me brought back a flood of memories.  Ralph grew up in the predominantly Mennonite town of Steinbach and I lived there as well from ages 8-18.  Although Ralph was a little older than I was, and the Mennonite church in Steinbach his father pastored was much more conservative than the one my family attended, I could connect personally with Ralph’s memoir in many ways. 
Ralph writes about his love of reading as a child.  On a trip to Winnipeg, his father dropped him off at the Good Will Store on Princess Avenue, a second-hand business where Ralph could buy books.  Like Ralph’s Dad, my mother took me to the Good Will Store on Princess as well.  Steinbach didn’t have a public library so the Good Will was an alternate source for reading material. Books were 10 cents and I was usually given a dollar which garnered me ten books.  Ralph writes about choosing a book he wasn’t sure his father would approve of and I too occasionally slipped a book into my pile my mother might not have deemed wholesome.

My grade three class at the Kornelson School in Steinbach

Since I moved to Steinbach when I was eight it was only then I found out movies were sinful, a truth Ralph says in his book he was privy to from a much earlier age. I made the mistake of divulging to some grade three classmates at Kornelson School that I’d seen Mary Poppins and Bambi. They told me going to the theatre offered me a sure ticket to hell. 
I was intrigued by the wooden toboggan slide Ralph’s Dad built for his children in 1945-46. He has a photo of it in the book. There was a large wooden toboggan slide much like that just behind our first house in Steinbach on Highway 12. In the photo above you can see it through the window behind me.

Dad at the far right in the back row with doctors at Bethesda Hospital in Steinbach -1970s

Ralph’s father owned a bookstore and was a pastor.  My father was a Steinbach physician. Both men were rarely home. Although my father was not a minister like Ralph’s Dad, he served generously as a volunteer on a myriad of church and community committees that took up much of his time when he wasn’t attending to his thriving medical practice. I remember him coming home for lunch and enjoying these quick power naps just like Ralph describes his father doing.

Grace Mennonite Church Steinbach in the 1960s

The way Ralph talks about how some churches were holier than others in Steinbach certainly struck a chord with me. I went to Grace Mennonite, also nicknamed the TV Church because so many members had televisions. Our church was way down on the Steinbach holiness scale because men in our church wore coloured shirts, women wore lipstick and some members drank alcohol.  Ralph on the other hand attended the much holier Evangelical Mennonite Church. 

My Dad looks at the poplars outside the window of his assisted living apartment

Ralph’s relationship with his Dad changed markedly after his father experienced a stroke and became more vulnerable and needy.  Ralph had to provide support and assistance to his Dad and he writes about that in painful detail.   Ralph’s experience resonates since my father is currently suffering from dementia and a marked decline in his physical agility which means he needs my help.  That is changing my relationship with my Dad too. 

This is not a conventional review of Dad, God and Me.  Quite a number have already been written and are easy to find by doing an online search.  The personal connections I have shared here are just a small sample of the dozens I found as I read Ralph’s book. I would highly recommend it especially to people who grew up in Steinbach. I would most interested to hear about connections other readers had with Ralph’s story. 

Other posts about growing up in Steinbach………..

His Dream Came True

A Recipe Book Brings Back Memories

Centre Stage in Oklahoma

 

 

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