“We can never back away from this honesty.”

Starting today, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is hosting a national gathering in Vancouver.  The TRC is working to name the truth of the Canada’s Indian Residential School legacy, and work towards reconciliation for all Canadians.

Last year, the TRC met in Toronto.  Willard Metzger, Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada, attended the hearings.  He wrote the following on his blog

This story has forever marked me.

It is difficult to listen to the impact statements I heard at recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission events. To learn of such painful abuse endured by children at residential schools is disturbing – especially when those behaving abusively were representing the church.

One set of impact statements I heard in Toronto have deeply penetrated me. A sister and brother took the stand together to tell their story. The older sister detailed how life was good before they were taken to the residential schools. As most children they had no idea what was going on and that their childhood was being stolen from them. She described how she was routinely punished for waving to her younger brother. She was not allowed to even acknowledge her little brother. Despite the beatings she felt responsible for her little brother.

After multiple punishments she was awakened one night at 11:00 p.m. and told to quickly accompany the teacher because her little brother was ill and needed help. She responded immediately but was led into a room and blindfolded. Instead of being taken to her brother she was sexually assaulted by a male teacher.  As the older sister told her story her haunting eyes gazed across the room. Her little brother sat beside her wearing dark sunglasses and a baseball cap.

“Eventually I started feeling something grow in my stomach,” she explained. “So once again one night at 11:00 p.m., they came and took me to the hospital and removed the baby.” She gazed the room, eyes filled with pain, “they told me the baby was dead, but I think she is alive. Sometimes I hear her cry.”

The younger brother told his story, with equally disturbing detail. He explained how another little boy had become sick with a high fever. However at lunch time, the sickly boy was still forced by a teacher to eat. The little boy vomited into his soup bowl and onto the floor. The teacher came over and repeatedly slapped him, making him wipe up the mess on the floor. Then as she left the room she grabbed the boy and said; “And you better finish eating everything in your bowl.”

The brother paused and said; “You know you grow close to the other children in the school. You knew they were not to blame. We were all suffering the same abuse.” Then from underneath his baseball cap and behind dark glasses, he explained how the boys silently passed the bowl among themselves and each took a spoonful until the bowl was emptied.

I choked on my emotions. What a contrast of brutal cruelty and gentle tenderness. I begged God for forgiveness. I felt ashamed of those who misrepresent God’s love.

In her closing summary, Commissioner Marie Wilson said; “We have heard some harsh truth. We have shared what we have shared. We have heard what we have heard. This day should mark us all. We can never back away from this honesty.”

Lord have mercy.

 

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Aaannnddd… we’re back. Bill 18 is in the news again.

Aaannnddd… we’re back.  Bill 18 is in the news again, where over 300 Manitobans have been signed up to make ten minute presentations to our MLAs.

I wasn’t going to write anything about it this time.  Really.  I just got back from vacation, I have far more important things to do (eg.  Zach and I just rocked our first “Starfish” swimming lessons this week), it’s not getting the media coverage that it has in the past, and there’s less of an uproar, both locally and provincially, so why bother?  The bill will pass, and in the end it will all be much ado about nothing.

Then yesterday happened.  Over 30 people were making presentations, and one of my friends was there observing.  He sent me the following message:

Line of the night (so far) goes to someone who used the words “put to death” in reference to GLBTQ and the Bible.  

Seriously?!?  

Now, the case can be made that I shouldn’t even respond to such drivel.  That they represent such a small segment of the population (hopefully just themselves), it’s not worth my time.  And usually I would agree.

But last night was also a night where some presenters were gay.  Including a teenager.  And his family.  Not to mention that some of the MLAs sitting in that room are gay.

How they can sit there and listen to this and not fly off the handle is a testament to the inner strength they have. 

There have been a lot Bible “verses” thrown around in a lot of the presentations, but this one seemed to tip the scale for me.

I have told my gay friends over the last 6 months, especially in Steinbach, that they are not alone.  So thus I will briefly respond.

1)  My response when people are quoting Leviticus in response to Bill 18.  Take away their Bibles for a bit, and give them a 5 minute major (or a game misconduct) for poor hermeneutics.

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their “common sense” is sufficient for “understanding” the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the “religious experience” necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church.

Note:  it is not an issue of whether the Bible should be read politically, but an issue of which politics should determine our reading as Christians. All reading is embedded in a politics, and avoiding politics is not something for which we can or should strive.

Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America

2)  Fear.  Much of the concern is that people are afraid.  Most people won’t admit it, but if you listen carefully, you can hear it.

                – I’m afraid we’re losing our religious rights.

                – I’m afraid I’ll lose my job if I only promote heterosexual marriage.

                – I’m afraid that Christians won’t be allowed to meet in school.

                – I’m afraid that this bill “normalizes homosexuality.”

                – I’m afraid we’re going to become secularized like Europe (or Quebec).

                – If this bill passes, I’m going to home school my kids.

See the common thread?  Fear. 

Note:  In the event that people aren’t genuinely afraid, I’d contend that they are sowing fear, which is far more insidious (and tribal), but I digress…

The church is the only institution that shouldn’t exist for itself.  It should exist for the benefit of others.  Advocating for our own rights seems to be a bit counter-intuitive, especially when the legislation adds nothing or takes nothing away from religious groups (despite the fear some are spewing).

When we are fearful, we do one of two things:  Fight, or flight.  It seems like people are afraid and are choosing to fight (thankfully non-violently), because flight is kind of hard when you have a mortgage and a job and your kids have friends down the street.

When I read my Bible, over and over again the words “Fear not” appear.  When angels appear, they start off by saying “Do not fear.”  Do not be afraid.  Over and over and over again.

I was rolling my eyes last week over all of this hullabaloo, a bit frustrated, when someone much wiser than me said:  “Fear shouldn’t be condemned.  Fear needs be healed.”

And then I came across this from spiritual director Flora Slosson Wuellner (Prayer, Stress and our Inner Wounds):

No matter how distorted and hurtful our powers within us, they were originally created from the divine source, and they hold the potentiality for the unique and beautiful.  In their healing, they are not wiped out or destroyed, for nothing in God’s creation can ultimately be destroyed.  Rather, they are restored to their original, intended power of gifted creativity.   

Our fear, when healed, becomes intuitive, empathetic compassion and sensitivity toward others.

Or, another way of putting it:  There is no fear in love.  Perfect love drives out fear.

May we all seek healing from our fear.

Grace and Peace, 

Kyle

PS – A good conversation starter would be to ask everyone what they are afraid of (including myself), because while my post only addresses the faith-based side that I find myself in, it is not only evangelical Christians who suffer from fear. 

The Biggest Loser

The following was part of my sermon preached last Sunday.  The theme was “Our roles in the workplace as Jesus followers.”

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The protestant church in Canada is in numerical decline.  This is not a secret.  Similar numbers have been said about Mennonite Church Canada.  We are getting older, having less kids, and people are walking through church doors less and less.

James Penner from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada wrote a report on young adults and how they are staying away from the church like it’s a disease. They are staying away because they see the church as judgmental, hypocritical, exclusive, and unable to admit failure.  He told a bunch of us younger pastors:  If it’s a linear line, the protestant church in Canada will cease to exist in your lifetime.  Your buildings will be empty.  But good thing it’s not linear.  But there will be a time in your life where the majority of people in Canada will be able to put themselves into one of two categories:  they will either identify themselves as atheists, or as mystics.

Mel (the other pastor at Grace) and I were talking this week, about how those of us who identify ourselves as Christians interact in the world.  Do we shout really loud?  Do we have public prayer meetings?  Do wear Jesus t-shirts?  Do we put Bible verses on neon signs?  Do we wear crosses?  Will we be allowed to wear crosses?  It’s all changing, really, really fast.

But the one thing that Mel said that stuck out to me was:  Eventually, when almost nobody claims to be a follower of Jesus, those of us who still do will have to act in a way where people say: “There’s something different about that person.  Something unique.  Something peculiar.” 

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From the book: Small Things With Great Love by Margo Starbuck

Biggest loser wins. That’s the whole premise of the popular weight-loss reality show featuring women and men who are hundreds of pounds over-weight. Whoever loses the most, wins. Every week, as someone is voted off of the weight-loss ranch, a compassionate host must confirm, “You are not the biggest loser ” Dejected, the not-loser packs up his or her belongings and heads home.

If the scene feels weirdly familiar, it’s because it’s a story that’s been told before. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes a divine host who gathers all the contestants and divides them up into two teams. Up until then, they’d all been living and dining and working out together in one big group. The host forms a red team on his right and a blue team on his left. And although the show’s producer knows how the cut was made, the participants aren’t yet privy to the behind-the-scenes priorities.

Then the host turns to the red team and says, “You win! You’re the biggest losers! You lost your life, for me. You saw me hungry and shared your healthy snacks. When I was thirsty, you offered me your water bottle. When I was brand-new here, you welcomed me. When the airline lost my luggage, you shared your clothes. When I was sick, stuck in my room, you visited me. Even when I landed in jail, you visited.”

The red team then looks at the host, feeling confused “Um, did all that stuff even happen? We don’t really know you that well—probably because you’re the celebrity and we’re just regular people dressed in red T-shirts. We actually don’t remember doing any of that stuff.”

“What you didn’t realize,” the host explains patiently, “is that my kid brother, Marquez, who suffered a brain injury when we were kids, is on the food service crew. So whatever you did for those guys, you did for me.”

Slowly, the red team catches on. Thinking back, they recognize that they sort of had done all that the host had mentioned. That very morning, in fact, when local cops had mistakenly picked up his brother, they’d gone to bail him out at the police station.

Then, the host turns to the blue team. “You’re finished, gang I was famished while you feasted. I was thirsty while you drank your pricey flavored vitamin waters. I was in need and you ignored me.”

Because a lot of the folks wearing blue had been sucking up to the show’s host all along, they were particularly confused.

“Um,” they asked, “when did we see you have any of those needs and not help you?”

The host explained, “Whatever you didn’t do for the folks who cleaned the rooms where you’ve been sleeping, the ones washing your dishes, the ones working in wardrobe—not to mention the undocumented ones living in trailers along the route where you jog who’d love to have any of those jobs—you didn’t do for me. I’m sorry to tell you, blue team, you are not the biggest losers.”

In the weird kingdom reversal, those who gave their lives away kept them, and those who clung to their own lives lost them. The blue team, disappointed, packed up their belongings and headed off dejectedly to eternal damnation. The red team, now sharing the stage with the gracious host, started jumping up and down, waving their new friends—the camera operators and paper pushers and the wait staff and the cleaning crew—onto the stage to share in the shower of confetti.

Once you’ve grieved the disappointing ending for the blue team, you’re left with the gospel-driven men and women on the red team who are daily choosing to lose their own lives for the sake of the ones Jesus loves.

 In this kingdom reversal, whether a relationship elevates one’s own status or meets one’s own needs becomes less important than the ways it confirms the inherent worth of another and satisfies his or her needs (bold mine). Giving one’s life away in relationship with those in need—according to Jesus—is the way to gain it. Whoever loses the most wins.

That said, we’re not talking about huge losses here. We’re talking about grabbing two sub sandwiches from the grocery store and sharing one with someone you just met who is really hungry. It might be offering some cold lemonade to the recent immigrant who’s been mowing your lawn all morning. Inviting a stranger in might be as manageable as opening your dinner table once a quarter to foreign students attending a local university. Clothing the naked might just mean you quietly slip the athletic director at your kids’ school—or your school!—some extra cash for the players who can’t afford to pay for pricey uniforms. Visiting those in need could mean that you have coffee at the nursing home with an elderly woman from your church and then give her a ride to visit her son, who is doing time in prison for white-collar crime.

This is how Kingdom Losers is played.

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When we speak, may we continue to speak the very words of God.  When we serve, may we do so with the strength God provides. 

And when we go to our places of work, may we continue to do small things with great love, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To God be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.