Category Archives: Community Conversation

Let’s talk about faith baby. We are rediscovering and rejuvenating the art of good conversation – with particular attention to life in and around the faith domain. Heresies are welcome. They typically make for more interesting dialogue anyway.

Holding Open a Space for the “Other” (further thoughts)

A few days ago I wrote about holding a space open for the “other”.  You might want to start there before reading this post.

I’m writing from the perspective of different cultures getting along together and different faiths respecting each other but these principles are also useful in knowing and understanding our children (teenagers for example), divorced spouses, teachers, employers….really anyone it’s difficult to understand and come to a middle ground with.

If we don’t hold the space open, reserve judgment and keep learning new things about the ‘other’ we will get it wrong. We will miss the truth because we’ve already decided what the truth is (damn the facts). I see this all the time here. People decide, based on their experiences with a certain group of people, that they are liars, inept, incompetent, arrogant, careless, or any number of other things. Once they have put them in that category they are incapable of seeing much more. It might feel good to feel like you have some things figured out, but it will be a part truth.

When we first moved here to Qatar, it was 45 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). Every room has air conditioning so it wasn’t a big hardship. Our villa hadn’t been lived in for a year so the a/c was a little temperamental and kept freezing up. Maintenance was called in several times. They repeatedly told me not to set the a/c  lower than 18 degrees. I assured them that I never did. I set it between 22-25.  Yet every time they came in they tried to talk me into not turning it under 18.  They eventually taped a note under the control to remind me.  They said, “We know you Canadians like it cold”. I could not convince them that I did not move to this beautifully hot country to freeze in the air conditioning. It didn’t do any good.

Several weeks later I met another Canadian woman in our compound. She complained about her air conditioning freezing up and the repeated repairs being done and about maintenance telling her not to put it below 18. She said “I don’t care what they say, I like my a/c set at 15 degrees, they can just deal with it.”

Ahhhh…and henceforth, they know us Canadians and, they know we like it cold. It makes sense of course because we also come from the land of permanent snow and we live in igloos.

Whoever you’re trying to come to an understanding with/of, I implore you, resist the temptation to peg them. Keep learning, keep listening. Expect your perceptions to change. Hold your understandings lightly. Walk humbly. Be kind.

 

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Holding a Space Open for the “Other”

How good are you at hearing someone else’s opinion? How long can you hold a space in your heart open for someone who is very “other” than you?

I’m new at living in a Middle Eastern country. I’ve been in Qatar 6 months now and although I’m new to it I am also immersed in it. Everyday I’m watching and processing what I’m seeing. Everyday I’m confronted by differences and everyday I’m trying to understand. Everyday I’m reading about the culture around me. This does not make me an expert. Everyday I resist the temptation to move from a position of learning into a position of ‘got it figured out now’. This would only yield partial understanding and half truths and block the way for clearer understanding.

Part of the process is learning that I was wrong about some things. We know, intellectually that we are shaped by the news we hear, other people’s opinions and our own cultures biases, but when a new piece of information arrives on our doorstep, how do we handle it? Especially if it’s not really what we want to believe or if we don’t like it.

I’m going to invite you to an exercise that I partake in regularly. Exercising my ability to stay open even when I’m uncomfortable with the information being provided. This has become so important for me, here in the Middle East. And I believe it’s important for all of us in our increasingly interconnected global village.

It’s become so important to have and cultivate skills in restraining our egocentrism and ethnocentrism, skills in critical thinking and in waiting, and holding our opinion at least long enough to let other’s opinions sink in. It requires restraint and humility.

Here’s an opportunity for you to test those skills and see how you do. I’m going to share with you some thoughts that are new to me since moving here. Ideas that were hard to find a place to hook into my western/feminist steeped ideologies.

Remember this: 1) you don’t have to agree with these thoughts, just sit with them and stay open to them for longer than you’re comfortable with. Try to remove yourself from your own culture and enter someone else’s. Observe how long you can be open before you find yourself making opposing arguments. What are your opposing arguments based on? Do you know for sure? Do you need to be right? Why do you feel the need to jump to reiterating your arguments? Do you feel you have something to lose? Is your reaction and response proportional to the issue at hand?

And 2) When you do start to make your argument (if you do) ask yourself if there is a reflection of what you’re arguing against in your own culture/church/family/life. (ie. do you find yourself saying ‘that’s not religious, they’re socialized to think that way’? Are there things we’ve thought are “christian” but are really more an expression of socialization?)

Muslim Women Covering Their Heads/Faces

I am a Canadian woman, born in the 60’s, into a family of brothers whom I had to compete with (and did so successfully). I’m a mother who has had a number of successful careers. I’m deeply concerned about women’s issues and equality. I have been treated as an equal participant in family, marriage, ministry and business. I can spot chauvinism a mile away and can sniff out even a hint of male superiority. I react like most North American women (and many men) to issues of inequality. If you understand where I’m coming from then I suspect you could easily make an argument against women being veiled. I can.

Here’s what I’ve been confronted with in Qatar, which, it should be noted, is a relatively moderate Muslim country where veiling is optional as far as the law is concerned but very definitely the social norm.

One of my first jarring realizations made me feel like I was a poor excuse for a feminist. My neighbour is a divorced, single mother from Lebanon. I wondered for far too long as to why she covered her head. If you wanted to shed the head covering, moving to another country, away from the social pressures of family and culture would do it. Lebanese women here are very mixed about covering and no one would have thought twice if she didn’t cover. Also, she has no husband here that might make her submit to wearing a head covering. I’m ashamed to admit that it took far too long for me to come to the conclusion that she has a faith of her own, that she has considered the teachings and practices of Islam herself and that she has decided for herself that this is how she’d like to express her own faith and submission to God alone. She has her own religious convictions. I know that many women here say that it’s their choice, but I suspect social conformity to be a really big factor. Until you remove yourself from your culture I doubt you can actually tell how much is your choice and how much you are keeping the peace. But for my neighbour, I see no other reason.

There are many expressions of covering. There are women who have just their heads covered, sometimes with very colourful scarves (I believe these women are from neighbouring Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan). The Qatari women are all in black but still with a lot of variety. Some are completely covered, head to toe, including faces and gloves. Others have openings in the veil for their eyes, some covered from the nose down and a lot have just their head (and body of course) covered. This leads me to believe that there is a lot of discussion and decision that goes along with their clothes. I know that there is lively discussion about faith and tradition, about what is acceptable and why. Why did I think it was done without thought, following traditions and pressures without thought? (Arrogance?)

The reasoning they often give for covering the women is that they are “precious jewels” to be protected and cherished, not to be flaunted or judged by others. I admit suspicion of this. I wonder, is this code, used by obsessively jealous husbands and prudishly protective fathers? Is this a mask for extreme subjugation of women? Maybe it is. I can tell you this; these women do not carry themselves like they are subjugated. They carry themselves like they are royalty (indeed, some may be). They walk tall. They smile kindly. The ones I have met are smart and determined. They are not wallflowers. Is it possible that they carry with them the feeling of being cherished like a jewel? Is it possible that they enjoy this tradition?

Many of the women say that what they like about being covered is that no one can judge them for their appearance. This made me really sad. I wanted to say to them, ‘my sisters, it’s ok, we won’t judge you, please come out and be loved for who you are.’ Then I realized just how blind to my own culture I really am. Is this my experience? Do western women accept each other and refrain from judging each other? On the contrary!! Western society is fraught with the repercussions of being very judgmental of the appearance of women and the illusive perfect shape and size. We are very hard on ourselves as a result. Is our way better?

Some may assume that the abaya/hijab coverings are an old fashioned, medieval reflection of this culture’s lack of exposure to the world around them and their submersion in the past.’ Au contraire again friends. The women covered by these abayas are actually driving the haute couture industry in the world today.

Assumption: Women do not want to be covered and are looking to be rescued from this oppression.

It took me a while to really enter into the thought that these women have never known any different. It’s not like they were all of a sudden covered and now want out. (On the contrary…it was I who was new to the covering of women…was it I who was anxious to have it changed? Projection?) Surely there are some who would like to break out of this tradition. I now suspect most are just fine with it. I have actually come to appreciate the fact that while so many cultures have been sucked into the vortex of the North American dress code this group of people has proudly hung onto theirs. Not just the women but the men in their crisp white thobes as well. I feel an unexpected “good for you!” rise up in my soul when I see them.

As I have been writing this post another one of my Muslim neighbours, who has not been covered up, has made the decision that she will now be wearing an abaya and a hijab. She was born and raised in England, is a school teacher in her 40’s and has no social or marital pressure to do so. This is her decision. She is also very open about it and I look forward to talking with her and finding out what is triggering this change.

The descriptions in this post are of life in Qatar. This is not a statement, for example, of the burka experience of women in Afghanistan or the experience of women in the Sudan etc.  My point here is to question an assumption that I’ve had for years. Is the covering of women, in and of itself, a symbol of the oppression of women? Is that what I see every time I look at a covered woman? Is there room for my thinking to be broadened and therefore more respectful of their rights, opinions and culture?

I was not prepared to respect the decision of women to cover up. Can you consider this? Can you hold a place open for the women who are intelligent and diligent about their faith and who chose to cover their heads? Can you see similarities with the Christian faith? How quickly do you want to fire off a comment to this blog? Can you take a breath first? Are there other issues in different cultures that you need to pull back your initial reactions and at least think about?

Adventures in cross cultural relations. May the open space we create be a place for us to meet with “others” in peace, understanding and mutual respect.

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Christmas

 Somehow I thought the Christmas spirit was a force of nature. It was a spiritual tsunami that hit every year because of the power of the birth of the Messiah. How could the tides not roll toward wonder and worship? How could we not get caught up in the mystery of a little baby, the fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecies and the hope for all mankind born in a manger?

As it turns out, if the malls and the grocery stores and the radio station aren’t playing Christmas carols and the houses don’t start to sprout festively coloured lights and the temperatures aren’t dropping …the Christmas spirit forgets to show up.

I saw it on the calendar. I knew the season was upon us and I made a few feeble attempts to drum it up.  I treated it with the respect of a force of nature though, knowing that if I got too close the feeling of loneliness and separation from family and friends could wash me away.

I couldn’t help puzzle about the absence of it in my heart though and I must admit…I went another round with getting all theologically forensic. It’s like an involuntary reflex.

So I went down the dark road of, was it really a virgin birth? If not, what? An illegitimate teenage mistake? What about the star? The wise men? The angels and the shepherds?   Is it a real story, or a myth? And if it’s a myth…if a lot of the things I used to believe as literal truth are myth then why am I still calling myself a christian? Was Jesus actually God? Like, there before the earth was formed, G-d? If not, what’s it all about? What’s any of it all about?

Oh ya baby, why not make a new Christmas tradition…International Torture Yourself With Existential Angst Day? It’s somewhere between the 8th and the 12th day of advent. 

Troy, bless his heart, threw a life ring out to my floundering soul. We emailed back and forth a bit about it. He lives so comfortably with the tension and the mystery. I always think that I do, and then I backslide into the abyss of needing-to-know. 

Troy talked about the holiday being bigger than the birth of Christ and that was ok for him and that for him, theologically, the anchor to hold onto for him was: There is a God that loves us and Jesus is really important, the Messiah even. 

That stopped the downward trajectory of my mood and the general loss of Christmas for me. A knot in the end of the rope so to speak.

Now we’re in Sri Lanka, opting for vacationing rather than sitting at home missing children. 

Sri Lanka is about 67% Buddhist and then Muslim, Christian and Hindu make up the rest. I’ve really enjoyed seeing monks around in their bright orange robes. I brighten up every time I see them. They seem especially set apart to bear peace and joy to all around them. I’ve also gained a great deal of respect for Muslims as I’ve gotten to know our neighbours who are diligent and devoted to their faith and who want to please Allah and do what’s right. They are loving and peaceful as well. I’ve taken them all very seriously and respectfully. And of course, I’ve wondered if there is greater truth in their religion than in mine. Ok – I said it. I can’t even help myself. Why must I do this?

Christmas eve was the worst of the family-friend-christmas-snow-hustle-bustle-missing-home moments. Somehow the anticipation of Christmas comes to a crescendo on Christmas eve day for me and I felt the weight of it as we skyped with our girls. Of course I was brave online but I’ll admit to one melt down and a lump in my throat for most of the day.

The anticipation, the last of the preparations quickly getting finished up and the long awaited time of celebration just hours away. Calls to loved ones, “merry Christmas”’s to everyone you pass by. The pressure and the power of love for everyone, the thoughts for peace on earth and joy to the world and all that is good and right all coming together like a tidal wave of love. It’s almost impossible to resist. Something in me started to unravel. All the theological wonderings and wanderings began to spin away and the power of the story, whether myth or fact, gripped my heart again. Love coming down to humanity, to be with us, to show us love and how to live in peace and to bring forth justice. A baby, the most humble human expression, the most vulnerable and innocent and pure, coming to get all down and dirty with us so that we might be whole and connected to Divine Love. Whether the truth is in the story or behind the story doesn’t seem that important to me today. It is the story I have loved, and it is a beautiful and powerful story of a God who loves us and it is a story I felt myself choosing to identify with in a more whole hearted way than I had in a long time.

The Sri Lankan’s in their broken english seem to have changed the word Christian to Christmas.  Several of them have asked us “you are Buddha? or you are Christmas?”

I am Christmas.

 

 

 

Good Neighbourliness Day

Turkmenistan has an official holiday called Good Neighbourliness Day which is celebrated today (or this past Sunday depending on the source.)

Why don’t we get in on the action and be mindful about being good neighbours today (you can extend this all week if you want:) What are your ideas about how to be a good neighbour? Share some of your experiences practicing good neighbourliness today.

Here are a few ideas on Good Neighbourliness:

1. Invite a person/family in your neighbourhood over for a meal, coffee, activity, whatever.
2. Bake something and drop in on your neighbours bearing gifts of holiday cheer.
3. Help our neighbours in need by going to your local community services directory http://www.niagararegion.ca/social-services/wish-list-default.aspx for a list of agencies and services that serve those in need and at risk in our community and support them.

Other ideas?

btw – see Luke 10:25-37 if you are having trouble figuring out who your neighbour is.

Reflection Questions – November 28 Week

Let’s keep the conversation on the way of Jesus and money going. Here are the reflection questions from Sunday night.

1.  What does it mean for us to be in the empire but not of the empire?
How would my lifestyle, decisions, etc. be different?
Like Zacchaeus – how do we work in but not for the Empire?

2.  Reflect on Jesus & the early church’s non-violent anti-empire position
(i.e. Gerasene Demoniac story). How ought we to resist empire
today? How do we embody our allegiance to God’s kingdom instead?

3.    How do we seek the kingdom of God first in our lives?
What has worked for you or others you know?
What inhibits or hinders your seeking?

4.  Is economic growth really the god of our modern world?
What does healthy (Godly) economic growth look like?

5.  What are the implications of Jesus proclaiming salvation coming to
the household of Zacchaeus because of what he does with his money.

Blessed Are The Innovators

I think the opening lyric from Buffalo Springfield’s popular protest song – “there’s something happening here, [but] what it is ain’t exactly clear” – sums up how many of us feel about the paradigm shift we find ourselves in. What is clear to anyone paying attention, is that epic change is sweeping across our planet: from the social and political revolutions in the middle East and northern Africa; to the significant role the internet and social networking now play in every aspect of life on every continent; to the shocking vulnerability of one of the worlds most economically and technologically advanced nations to catastrophic natural and nuclear disasters; to China preparing to surpass the USA as the world’s largest economy in a few years; to many scientists predicting an impending environmental apocalypse if we don’t change our ways; to the rapidly declining Christian church in virtually every Western country built upon Christendom.

Everything is in shift. Including Christianity.

So how are churches responding to this faith transition? One of four ways.

1. Denial (What paradigm shift? Postmodernity is a fad!)

2. Defiance (The remnant shall fight this rebellion against God to the death!)

3. Despair (Will all our children & grandchildren abandon our church, denomination, and faith for good?)

4. Deconstruction and Innovation (Lets look at this with fresh eyes and try something different.)

The fourth response holds the key to the future. It is the faith of present day Iconoclasts and Innovators that will move forward into the new paradigm and inspire future generations to heed the timeless call of Christ to be people of peace and love, attuned to God’s Spirit.

However, innovation is certainly not what church culture is best known for these days. Many would go so far as to label church culture a bastion of tradition and protector of the status quo.

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory states that:

2.5% of people are innovators (creators of big new ideas).

13.5% are early adopters (support innovation and risk trying ‘crazy’ ideas).

34% represent the early majority (open to new ideas that have demonstrated promise).

34% represent the late majority (open to new ideas that have a proven track record) and

16% are laggards (reluctantly go along with the majority or dig in their heels and resist).

This would mean the vast majority of church members, roughly 84%, are wary of innovation and new ideas. This has several implications.

First, we tend to be laggards instead of pioneers, change-makers and cultural influencers (i.e. adopting egalitarian policies years after the women’s rights movement; accepting other forms of music as valid expressions of worship many years after those forms of music became normative for the culture that is our missional context and accepted in other denominations).

Second, we tend to discourage, silence or shut down the most creative people in our midst, the very innovators who could help us move forward with vitality into the new paradigm.

Third, our current decline is directly related to our fear of change and aversion to unbridled creativity. The sustainability crisis the Church is facing will not be solved by status quo mentalities – it will only be exacerbated. As Albert Einstein allegedly said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” He’s also credited with another saying that seems appropriate for some of our ecclesiological tendencies, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” I hear many traditionalists talking about our need to “get back to the basics, resurrect old programs, conduct more Bible studies and hold more prayer meetings” as if this will make the church a thriving movement that is impacting and transforming society once again. While some of these are certainly things we can’t abandon as followers of the way of Jesus, they are not the solution either. Attempting to breathe life into our dying congregational bodies by doing the same things we have been doing for decades (or even centuries)…well that’s doing the same things over and over again expecting a different outcome this time!

For such a time and place as we find ourselves – the way of Jesus needs certain kinds of leaders and certain kinds of communities. These leaders and communities will need to be:

  • In Tune with God’s Spirit
  • Iconoclasts (open to new ways of seeing God and open to surprising plot shifts in God’s unfolding story)
  • Innovators (creative, risk taking, imaginative, ground-breaking, experimental pioneers)

The good news here is that God continues to gift the world and churches with innovators – but it is up to faith communities to empower them and experiment with their ‘far out’ ideas.

This means, first, we’ll have to risk ‘failure’ because many (most) of their ideas will not work. (Remember Edison created 1000 commercial light bulbs that didn’t work before coming up with the one that did.) It is important for us to remember there are no such things as failures, only outcomes, only results to interpret and learn from.

Second, to create faith community environments where innovation is celebrated and encouraged we must elevate the status of creativity in our theology and practice. Patterning our lives after our Creator includes pursuing creativity. To be godly is to be creative.

The majority of conventional Christians may caution us to “be careful about being creative for the sake of being creative” but I think that makes about as much sense as being careful not to be moral for the sake of being moral. I am not sure why creativity has become secondary to other divine character traits we strive to emulate. We should value creativity equally alongside holiness, mercy, and honesty and make it just as much a mark of authentic Christian spirituality. When I look around at this incredibly diverse and strange universe full of platypuses, aye-ayes, Venus flytraps and the like – it certainly seems like God gets carried away with being creative! I certainly can’t think of a moral or practical reason for the creation of blobfish or the proboscis monkey.

It’s time to unleash our innovators and get carried away with the Creative Spirit.

Questions For Followers of the Way:

Are we intentionally working at encouraging and creating space for innovators in our communities?

Are we inadvertently encouraging our most entrepreneurial and imaginative young adults to pursue leadership in other fields rather than ministry because there is not enough room for innovators to experiment and flourish in church settings?

Are you snuffing out your own creativity and innovative tendencies to conform to the status quo expectations of your own faith community or your conventional belief system?

Embracing the Warrior

I am trying to encourage my inner warrior. My attempts are feeble, but after listening, uncomfortably, to the teachings on this particular spiritual journey, I want to try. I want to encourage my inner Joshua, or perhaps my inner Xena, wherever she may be hiding.

The phrase “The universe is conspiring for you” haunts me everywhere I go. I’m trying the phrase on, breathing it in, attempting to make its uncomfortable form fit somehow onto my rather meek head.

Today it was a simple task. I merely wanted to work on some editing at Starbucks. I went; I saw the one, tiny empty table. Contrary to my usual slow and self-conscious self, I purposefully marched to claim the table in the long, dark corridor. Once seated, my eye caught sight of a man leaving the table I really wanted: next to the expansive window, where I could let my mind take wandering breaks while contemplating the pitter patter of the rain.

“This is silly,” I thought. “I just sat down.” I checked out the line. No one else seemed to be moving toward the table. “The universe is conspiring for you.” Damn, perhaps it was. I grabbed my belongings and purposefully marched again, satisfyingly plunking myself down beside the window, thankfully taking in the view. (Well, okay, it’s just a parking lot and a McDonalds, but it’s still a view.)

I’m happy to report that I’ve just completed a very productive session of editing. Sometimes, it’s in the small details of life, eh?

How is the universe conspiring for you today?