The Feast of St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus

St.-NicholasOver the past few months, we at Grace been learning about the saints, and celebrating their faith stories by having mini-feasts in the foyer.

This morning, we are celebrating St.  Nicholas, the original Santa Claus.

Nicholas was born in 3rd century to rich parents in what is now Turkey. However, they died when he was as young boy and was raised by his uncle, a bishop.

His parents had left him an inheritance, and one of the first things that he did was promptly give it all away to the poor, the sick, and children in need.

He is remembered for quite a few acts of generosity, many of those giving little heed to his own life and safety. There’s a story of him standing between a slave owner and his property.  There’s another one of him standing between an executioner and his victim.  And one of him un-kidnapping a boy.

But the one is most remembered for is his rescuing of three girls from slavery.  Back in those days, families had to provide dowries for their daughters when they got married. The bigger the dowry, the higher up the socio-economic status they could marry. The smaller the dowry, the lower they could marry. No dowry meant no marriage, and were thus were usually condemned to live their lives as sex workers or slaves.

One poor father had three daughters, and was planning on selling them into slavery.  One night, Nicholas went to their house and threw three bags of gold in through the window so that the girls wouldn’t have to be sold.  The story goes that the three bags of gold ended up in socks that were drying by the fire, and that is why we, still to this day, hang our stockings by the chimney and put presents in them.

Although giving away our parent’s inheritance to strangers so they don’t have to live lives of destitution and slavery, is certainly a little more saint like than giving iPads and Xbox’s to our children.

And so, after our worship, enjoy your coffee and paperpnet, peppernuts, or however you say that word… enjoy it and celebrate the generosity of St. Nicholas.

** A big thanks to Shane Claiborne and Pete Enns and Wikipedia for the info and blatant plagiarism.**
 

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Dear Christian: Beware the Niqab

Dear Christian,

Beware of the niqab.

But not because a piece of cloth over a woman’s face is any sort of threat to us.  It’s not.  What Muslim women wear on their faces has zero effect on our lives.  I bet most of us would have to think long and hard to when we actually last saw a niqab.  Plus the courts won’t let a law regarding a niqab ban pass anyways.  This whole niqab thing is quite ridiculous.

So why should we be aware of the niqab?

Because it would appear a political party is willing to infringe on religious freedoms for the sake of power.

Are you a pacifist and expecting to be a conscientious objector during a war?  Beware.

Do you wear a cross, a head covering, a WWJD bracelet, or have a Bible verse tattoo somewhere?  Beware.

Do you get upset every December because you think there’s a “war on Christmas”?  Beware.

Are you worried that the government might force your pastor or your church perform a same-sex wedding?  Beware.

Have you heard the (strange) rumour that Mulcair will stop your church from giving charitable tax receipts for donations?  Beware.

Why?  Because it would appear a political party is willing to infringe on religious freedoms for the sake of power.

Religious freedom flows both ways.  If we want the freedom to practice our religion, then we need to give others the freedom to practice theirs. If we want others to care about our religious freedom, then we have to care about their religious freedom.

– Kyle

PS – I’m talking about women who choose to wear a niqab, not those who are forced to.  Believe it or not, some people choose to.

PPS – What I’m not talking about is an institution receiving government funding and then flouting government rules.  If any of us take government money (or subsidies, or give tax receipts, etc), then we are saying that we’ll play by the government’s rules.  Last time I checked, wearing a niqab doesn’t involve government funding.

The New Orthodoxy Test – Part Four: Bird Song

We’ve explored as to why LGBTQ inclusion has become the new orthodoxy test, even though it hasn’t been part of any credal confession for the past 2000 years.

As a way forward, I’d like to offer two suggestions for everyone (There are a lot more important ones, especially ones addressing how we best keep teenagers alive, but I’m doing my best here to simply address the WHY of this conversation.   So please don’t treat these as final steps, but rather, as first steps).

1)  Wherever you find yourself, please get to know someone who doesn’t think like you.  And try to love them.

To quote Richard Rohr, “To get a real grasp of the truth of the gospel, I believe we have to enter into solidarity with at least one person who’s different than us.  This means crossing to the other side.  For example, if you’re afraid of a certain race or religion, then the best thing is to head directly there.  If a certain set of people scare you, then you have to enter into solidarity with them.  We have to endure being with those people for a while and learn to view reality from their standpoint. That’s why Jesus says we have to love our enemies.  It’s the only way to grasp the whole picture.  It’s the only way to learn to love the other side of our soul.” – Found in his book Simplicity

When you do, you should find that even though you may disagree on some things, that person probably isn’t the poo-poo head you thought they were (and they’ll probably discover that you’re not the poo-poo head they thought you were).  Surely this is an important, first step for all of us, as hard as it may be.

Worth noting here is that if you are thinking, “Yeah!  Those people over there should be more loving because they’re jerks who think they’re right all the time!”, I’d encourage you to stop, take a breath, and simply ask God to help you be more loving.  This applies equally to everyone, no matter where  one falls on the spectrum.

For example, my neighbours go to a church that definitely teaches a different posture towards LGBTQ inclusion than I hold.  And I snow blow their driveway and they cut my grass and we share cucumbers from the garden and my kids pet their dog and their grandchildren use our swing set.  As mundane as that sounds, I believe that it’s actually quite important.

Why?

Rather than seeing people who disagree with me as enemies, I learn to see them as sisters and brothers and worthy of love.  St. Francis said, “This is why I call my enemies my friends.  Because they have taught me that I don’t yet know how to love.”

And if you can’t find people who think differently than you to love, I know of a certain church where people who disagree on a whole lot of things can still sit in the same pew and try to love God and the world together.

**A note about loving – Most of us find that actions speak louder than words.  So if you feel you have to declare that you’re being loving, but the people you’re declaring love to don’t feel very loved, you most likely need to find a better (and probably quieter) way of loving.  Like cutting their grass.  Or bringing them wine.  It would kind of be like me declaring how I’m not racist, but my black neighbours actually think I am a racist.  Seems a bit funny, eh?**

2)  Remember this poem:

In Error

It grieves me to hear

men in the afternoon

of life wrangling like

it’s the morning.

There are sixty year

old men still booming

over the inerrancy of

scripture instead of

growing quieter and

quieter, learning the

verses of bird song.

(author unknown to me)

downloadWhy this poem?   Because as soon as we’ve learned to grow quiet and quieter, learning the verses of bird song, “we no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves.  Ironically, we are more than ever before in a position to change people – but we do not need to – and that makes all the difference.  We have moved from doing to being to an utterly new kind of doing that flows almost organically, quietly, and by osmosis.  Our actions are less compulsive.  We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences.  We usually cannot do this very well when we are young.”  – Richard Rohr in Falling Upward (At this point, definitely feel free to call me a hypocrite, as I am not very good at getting quieter and quieter and learning the verses of bird song.)

So, in conclusion, it is quite understandable why one’s posture towards sexual minorities is the new orthodoxy test.  Everyone involved feels that the stakes are quite high.  And I would agree.

But maybe, of all the responses that we’re capable of, we should start by always remember to be loving (especially to those who are different than us), and grow quieter so we can learn the verses of bird song.

Thanks for following along!

And happy Pride Week everyone!  

PS – I heard the first Pride Parade was a riot!

The New Orthodoxy Test – Part Three: It’s About the Bible (but also about a bunch of other things too)

This post has taken me a bit longer to figure out.

I’ve asked myself over and over again, “Why the heck are some people in church so opposed to this?”

Will society break down over the approximately 50 same-sex marriages performed in Manitoba a year?

If only 4-5% of the population identifies as LGBTQ, and many of them don’t go to church, why are we so keen to write policies about why we won’t officiate their weddings?

I think there several reasons, with some of them needing longer explanations than others.

1)  One can look at their Bible and name it as “sin”, and Christians are loathe to condone sin.  However, this one “sin” can be really easy to name and isolate and condemn, especially for those of us who are straight.  As a straight guy who isn’t attracted to men, I am fairly certain that I will not “sin” by getting married to another man.  So, in my effort to live a pure and holy life and not “sin”, I can easily throw daggers at a “sin” that I won’t be tempted with.

However, as soon as we talk about other sins that might brush up a bit closer to me or my family and friends, I have to treat the conversation with a little more nuance, because I know it’s not straightforward. If one is against porn because it is lust, is watching Titanic sin?  If one is against adultery, is watching Grey’s Anatomy sin?  If one is against violence, is playing Call of Duty sin?  If one is against ecological disaster, is driving a SUV to church a sin?  If one is against wealth inequality, are we supposed to cap our wages and pay more than minimum wage?  If one is against slavery, do we only eat fair trade chocolate bars?

6356567031103321091462542598_il-dottor-derek-shepherd-di-grey-s-anatomyObviously, most of these can’t be answered with  black and white answers, because we like Grey’s Anatomy (although I can’t believe Derek Shepherd died), drive SUVs, and like pay raises so we can fund our vacations to those ecologically horrible hotels in Mexico that pays their workers peanuts while we drink our faces off bragging about how we bartered with the local merchant who is trying to put his kids through school.  So, if a potential “sin” might hit close to home, we tread softer.  Which is why some of us who are straight have a really easy time speaking about against those of us who aren’t.

2)  Similarly, if something is foreign to us, we are quicker to name it as bad, evil, other, and condemn it.  Our brains are dualistic, in that we only learn what tall is in relation to short, and we only learn what black is in relation to white, and we only learn what Canadian is in relation to American (a big thanks to Molson beer for helping us Canadians out with that one 15 years ago).  And the nature of dualism is that we will usually call ourselves, “good” and “normal”, and the other, “bad”, “less than ideal,” or “not normative”.   Think racism, sexism, Islamophobia, cultural ethnocentricity, genocide, partisan politics, etc.

So, if 95% of our population doesn’t identify as LGBTQ, then of course it’s easy to name “the other” as “wrong”, and then get all worked up when people are advocating something that we believe is “wrong”.

3)  We ask questions like, “If I’m wrong about LGBTQ inclusion, what else might I be wrong about? Was I misled?  Were my parents wrong?  My pastor?  What in the Bible is actually right then?  Is anything true anymore?   Did Jesus even rise from the dead?”

We get excited because sometimes our faith is like a deck of cards, and if one of those cards is pulled out, we’re afraid the entire thing might collapse.   And, since our egos are usually in the habit of protecting themselves, we will do everything we can to make sure that deck of cards doesn’t collapse.  So we make sure to tell people how the Bible is right (or at least our interpretation of it).

4)  A pastor friend told me that he was shocked at how many older Mennonite were afraid of dying. Not the actual process of dying, but questions of the afterlife.  I scrunched my eyebrows and asked “Why?  If they’ve been faithful their whole lives, gone to church for 80 plus years, what the heck are they afraid of?”

My friend gave his best speculative answer.  “Maybe we have spent such a long time emphasizing discipleship, action, and doing what Jesus wants, that we have forgotten the message of grace.  Maybe we’ve been so focused on how we live that we’ve been trying to earn God’s favour, and are fearful that we haven’t done enough.”

Ah… so we’re afraid that if we get something wrong here on Earth, God is going to smite us.  So we get really excited about who can marry whom for fear of God’s wrath.  That might explain a lot.

5)  Another idea – When a couple fights about whose turn it is to take out the garbage, the conflict usually isn’t about whose turn it was take out the garbage.  The conflict is about something bigger, more important. Maybe about whether or not one feels listened to and respected, or about how each partner gives and receives love.  Sure, the garbage is still there, but there’s probably something else going on.

My same pastor friend suggested that underneath all the policy writing and Facebook posts and leaving the conference is a question about God’s character and our own inadequacy.  If we have parts of our lives that are broken, that aren’t humming along, that we wish we could change (which we all do), then we most likely are asking God for help.

So when people come along and say:  ”I’m LGBTQ and this is who God made me and I can’t change”,  we start to wonder then if God can actually change us.  It makes us question God’s character, and whether or not transformation is possible, and question if our faith can really move mountains.  So, in order to protect our image of God and our understanding of how God works, we end up shouting really loud about why same-sex marriage is wrong.

6)  The end of Christendom is here.   It’s becoming harder and harder to claim that the majority of Canadians are Christian, and thus we should be allowed to pray in schools and before city council meetings.   However, to quickly move from a place of the majority to the minority, to where everyone once thought like and now nobody thinks like you, can be quite disorienting.   And so part of us using LGBTQ inclusion as an orthodoxy test is us desperately trying to cling to some of cultural control and relevancy.

One of the best examples of this was what I was once told by another pastor.  He said, “We lost the battle over evolution.  We’re not going to lose this one.”

And, as Richard Rohr defines suffering simply as “anytime we’re not in control” (think health concerns, natural disasters, car crashes, lineups in stores, no WIFI), if we’re not in control of our churches, our governments, our culture, then we’re experiencing a form of suffering.  Albeit, not a very large form of suffering, as most of our lives, jobs, churches, and marriages will look exactly the same, but it’s a form of suffering, nonetheless.  And wow, do we ever hate suffering.  So as the world swirls around us, we cling to “the traditional definition of marriage” as a form of control and to avoid suffering.

Having fun yet?

I’m sure there are more.  But I think that these might help explain why some of us in church world would rather sit in jail than do a same-sex marriage.  We’re actually not just talking about who marries whom.  We’re talking about cultural relevancy and control, the avoidance of suffering, the character of God, scriptural interpretation, notions of afterlife,  defining the boundaries of who’s in “our group,” and trying not to “sin”.  Pretty intense stuff with pretty high stakes.  Hence why one’s posture towards LGBTQ is the new orthodoxy test.

Tomorrow I’m offer two pieces of wisdom that hopefully help us move forward from hating each other.

The New Orthodoxy Test – Part Two:  It`s All About Equality

Thinking through and writing this post was actually quite easy for me.

I asked one of gay friends if we as a church should make some sort of formal statement, and his response was,  “Do you have a statement welcoming black people?”

I also had a short conversation with someone who said to me, “My church can barely handle talking about women in leadership, let alone same-sex marriage.”

Ummm… Yeah.  So, not including LGBTQ people in the church draws parallels to racism and sexism.  That might explain a lot.

LGBTQ inclusion in the church is the new orthodoxy test because it can be framed as a question of equality.  So of course this is a big deal.  Not including sexual minorities in the church is working against equality, and is further marginalizing a historically marginalized group.

Plus you throw in some of the higher self-harm and suicide rates of LGBTQ teenagers.

Plus you throw in some the ridiculously high percentage of LGBTQ teenagers who are homeless because their parents have kicked the out.

Plus you throw in a couple of horrendous stories of exclusion, bullying, and violence.

Plus you throw in some slippery slope fallacies that worry about same sex marriages leading to state sanctioned bestiality or incest (Take a second and think about your own relationship – I can’t really begin to understand how damaging it would be to be told that my marriage to my wife might lead to people marrying their siblings).

Plus you throw in that most of us now have a family member or friend who identifies as LGBTQ, so it’s no longer a theoretical question, but rather now hits close to home.

Very quickly this becomes a conversation about equality, human rights, oppression, marginalization, and how to best keep teenagers alive.

Because if the church is not only not standing up for the oppressed, but actively oppressing people, yeah… that’s a pretty big problem, isn’t it?

So, for people who find themselves leaning towards LGBTQ inclusion, this as the new orthodoxy test actually makes a lot of sense.

Desmond Tutu sums up this post quite well: tutu

“Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause. Sometimes you wish you could keep quiet. It’s the kind of thing you heard the prophet Jeremiah complain of where he says, “You know God, I didn’t want to be a prophet and you made me speak words of condemnation against a people I love deeply. Your word is like a fire burning in my breast.”

“It isn’t that it’s questionable when you speak up for the right of people with different sexual orientation. People took some part of us and used it to discriminate against us. In our case, it was our ethnicity; it’s precisely the same thing for sexual orientation. People are killed because they’re gay. I don’t think, “What do I want to do today? I want to speak up on gay rights.” No. It’s God catching me by my neck.”

The New Orthodoxy Test – Part One: Why???

220px-ICA_flag.svgIt’s Pride Week in Manitoba.  So let’s talk about sexuality and Christianity.  You know, because nobody else is doing that, right?

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed something about sexuality and faith that I find interesting.

It appears that one’s posture towards sexual minorities has turned into a modern day orthodoxy test in the church.   It’s our new litmus test, our new standard, our new way of deciding if somebody is “in” or “out”, a “true” believer or a “false” believer.  We seem to filter everything through whether or not one is LGBTQ-inclusive or not, and if somebody finds themselves in a different place than ourselves, we roll our eyes and write them off.

And, just so nobody thinks they can claim the moral high ground, it’s both “sides” doing this to each other.

Now, I’m fairly certain this is fairly common in most conflicts.  We circle the wagons, vilify the other side, and smugly know that we’re right and they’re wrong (and, most likely, believe that they’re really big poo-poo heads too).

But even if this is common in most conflicts, there’s something about LGBTQ inclusion and the church that gets everybody especially riled up.  And I wonder… why?

In my little corner of the Mennonite world, we have churches who are voting to leave our conference because it’s not disciplining other churches who are doing gay weddings. We have churches withholding donations to organizations until that organization writes a clear policy on LGBTQ inclusion or exclusion.  We have churches who are looking to hire pastors, and actually write down in their little 120 word ad that they must hold a traditional view of marriage.  And this is without talking about Caitlyn Jenner, gay wedding cakes, Trinity Western University, Gay-Straight Alliances, self-harm, Michael Sam, the Vatican, Rob Bell, or Supreme Court rulings.

Why the heck are we spending so much time and energy on this?

One’s stance towards sexual minorities is not in any of the historical creeds that have been used to define orthodoxy over the past 2000 years.   If the core values of Anabaptism are Jesus, community, and peace, I don’t see anything about who’s marrying who in there.   We don’t get our knickers in a knot of child vs. infant baptism, who gets communion, different atonement theories, or whether or not Jesus was a pacifist, but if we mention anything about same-sex marriage in the church, watch out, as you just may have kicked a hornet’s nest.

Of all the things that we can possibly disagree on, why has this become the new orthodoxy test?  And why exactly are we fighting about it?

So, this is what I’m going to write about.  I’m going to explore why one’s posture towards sexual minorities has become our new orthodoxy test.

I’ll do my best to NOT write about why one “side” is “right” and the other is “wrong”.   I’m sure some of you will tell me why you’re right, though.  You’ll quote your favourite author that I most likely haven’t read.  Or you’ll tell me 17 reasons why you think what you do.  But, in these posts, I’m not intending to write about where I find myself and why, or who’s right and who’s wrong, but rather try to figure out WHY this question seems to trump all other question (I will probably fail though, as my bias will probably come out.  My apologies in advance).

So as to try make my posts short and readable, I’ve broken my thoughts into four posts, and will be rolling one out each day.  Feel free to agree, disagree, or whatever. Just please keep it civil (so please don’t compare a faithful, committed, monogamous relationship between two consenting adults to bestiality or incest). And the fact that I had to even write that last sentence is probably a good segue into tomorrow`s post.

You’ll never guess what Richard Rohr said about Mennonites!

How’s that for a click bait title?


In March, I went to California to spend a few days with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr.  Both are gifted authors and communicators, and it was truly a gift to see them riff together for sixteen hours without notes, and not only blow my mind, but blow each other’s.

I took 34 pages of notes (which is more than I took in most of my university courses), and I could talk for hours about what they said, but what I did want to record here was the conversations I had with them.

** I know my trip was almost 3 months ago.  I’ve been a bit busy coaching the Green Valley Garden Gnomes in the High School Ultimate Provincials.  So thanks for understanding. **

So, I was a bit of a groupie in awe of these two, and I was determined to take a picture of me with them. But I wanted to at least pretend to have a bit of substance to me, so I figured I’d ask them a question first, and then pose for the picture (I’m sure they’ve never seen that move before).

Let’s start with Rob Bell.  We were in line, getting Wachos (waffle nachos), and this is a paraphrased version of our conversation.

image2

“Hi Rob.  Kyle from cold Winnipeg here.  We met while surfing yesterday.”

“Ah, yes.  Cold Winnipeg.”

“I have a question for you. What do you do with all of your critics?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ummm… what do YOU mean, what do you mean?  You are aware that there are some people who don’t like your writing, who disagree with you, who write blog posts about you being a heretic… that kind of stuff.  What do you with all of it?”

“Well, do you know who they are?”

“No.”

“Do I know who they are?”

“No.”

“So, who are these people, and why do what they say matter?”

“Come on, Rob.  You know what I mean.  If you type your name into Google, you find all sorts of websites that state why you suck.”

He smiled at me.

“Okay, first of all, I don’t do this for them.  Their toxicity towards others is a symptom of how toxic their understanding of faith is.  They’re off, over there, doing their thing, and writing for their people.  But I don’t do what I do for them.  I do it for people who have rejected that toxic faith, but still want a vibrant spirituality.  I do it for people who find Jesus compelling, but don’t want all that other stuff.  I’m trying to help people not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  So, yeah, sure, there are people out there who write things about me.  I’ve heard about them. But really, I couldn’t care less.  Because there are hundreds of people who are here, today, who do care, and are finding life within this understanding of spirituality.  I do it all for people like you, and basically ignore the rest, because they’re happy in their understanding of faith.”

“Ahh….”

“And secondly, never Google your name.”

“Thanks Rob.”

And then I went and ate my Wachos on the beach while watching a dolphin swim by.

My take home thoughts from that conversation:  I don’t do it for them.  Their toxicity is a symptom of their toxic faith.  I do it for the people who want to find life in this movement called Christianity, but don’t want anything to do with THAT.


And then, during an afternoon break, I went and asked Richard Rohr a question.

image1

“Hi Father.  Question for you.  You write a lot about ego, and about powerlessness, and about humility.  How does that work when we’re all here paying hundreds of dollars to hear you speak and then bug you during coffee breaks to take your picture?  And by the way, can you smile for a picture?”

“Well, now you’re feeding my ego and causing me to not be humble!  But yes, a good question. It takes a lot of work, but it’s a good thing I’m a Franciscan and I took a vow of poverty and humility.  That helps.  And a lot of prayer and contemplation.”

“Thanks for that.  I’m a pastor in a small Mennonite church, and the other pastor I work with loves your books, and he was quite jealous that I was coming to hear you speak, so this picture will definitely make him jealous.”

“You’re a Mennonite!?!?  I love Mennonites!  If I wasn’t a Franciscan, I’d definitely be a Mennonite. Your understanding of peace and non-violence, community and simplicity have a very large sphere of influence, far further than most of you know.”

“Ha!  Now you’re feeding my ego and causing me to not be humble.  Thanks Father Richard.”

And then I went and elbowed my new Episcopalian priest friend and said “Ha!  Richard Rohr said that if he wasn’t a Franciscan, he’d be a Mennonite. You can have Rachel Held Evans.” (or something along those lines, right Dorian?)

My take home thoughts from that conversation:  I need to pray more.  And dang it, did he ever feed my ego and make me proud to be a Mennonite, hence my need to pray more.


Obviously, there was tons more in those few days, but those are the paraphrases of the conversations I had with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr.  And if you haven’t read any of their books, be sure to stop by my office and I’ll hook you up.