Saturday, August 1, 2020

Journeying from Ecumenical to Multi-faith

As a person with disabilities, many of my actions showed others how I was different in a wrong way. Because of my visual impairment, I wasn’t picked for the soccer team at recess, and I was forced to either hang out with others who had diffabilities of their own, or with adults who probably felt sorry for me. As I graduated into high school, my diffabilities became mainstream, my visual impairment was accepted, and I could join others at the 7/11 down the street during my spare blocks if I wanted to. But as a pastor’s kid, in high school, my diffabilities changed from being physical to spiritual ones. I lived a good, evangelical Christian life which was admired and affirmed at home. And at church, I wasn’t on the outside looking in, hoping for acceptance. Instead, I was on the inside, loving the acceptance I was receiving at least one day per week.

On that particular day, I read and listened to reassuring scripture such as John 14:6 where Jesus famously said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father, except through me.” For years, this verse was a delight for me to read. It told me that, despite what did or didn’t happened at school, I was in the in crowd because this was the right thing to believe, and I believed it. But wherever there is an in-crowd, there are those who are kept out, and whether they want to be a part of the in-crowd or not, they aren’t.

As a student chaplain, I have loved learning about the inclusivity of multi-faith. Though this has increased my understanding and belief that God, however we believe in him, can speak to us in ways that are exactly what we need to hear, it also gives me many questions about the verse I loved so much when I was younger. By definition, does multi-faith mean that Jesus is not the way, the truth and the life, but rather simply one way, one truth to find a life that seems ever so elusive? Therefore, I am finding myself at a crossroads. In my desire to affirm all people whom I minister to, am I slowly walking away and denying the faith I was raised with? Am I actually denying Christ, my Saviour, Redeemer and Lord? Or is faith not as black and white an issue as John 14:6 makes Christians believe it is? Is Jesus the Lord who welcomes all of us, or does he only welcome those who are able to accept him as these three things, and if they don’t, are they forever on the outside?

In exegeting this verse, Fr. Richard Roar says that “Jesus is not talking about joining or privileging any group; he is describing the way by which all religions must allow matter and spirit to operate as one, which indeed is the universal way for all people.” In other words, as Gundi has said, “we need to have an appreciative understanding of the other person’s religion” and not discriminate between one faith group and another. This is because, as Imam Jamal of the Three Interfaith Amigos has said succinctly, “when there is discrimination, there is fear.”

As a Canadian, I have been watching from a distance how America has dealt with radical Islamic extremism, and my immediate righteous reaction to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath was, ‘I would never act that way.’ However, since then I have been uncertain what my alternative response would be. Rabbi Ted Falcon knew exactly what the correct response was. On that same day, he contacted his friend Imam Jamal Rahman and invited him to join him at his upcoming shabbat service “because it was crucial to offer a more authentic face of Islam than the face that created the fear of all Muslims.”

However, it’s not always that simple. As Falcon states “every authentic spiritual path is an avenue to a shared universal.” But Interfaith dialogue is often quite difficult because of the “particular and the universal.” It is often at this place where we stop, refusing to move further. But as Falcon continues, “that universal is far greater than any particular path. And when the particular path assumes that it owns the universal . . . we’re in for serious global difficulties.” Therefore, spirituality is, and must remain inclusive.

It has been over a decade since the twin towers fell, and though some people could say they have drawn closer to others of different faiths since then, so many of us have repelled from ‘the other.’ If we repel, Jason Byassee of the Vancouver School of Theology says that we will likely find solace in the scriptures of our own faith. Most of us stop there, deciding to know and be known only by those with whom we are like minded. But As we know our own faith, Byassee says that we are then free to relate with those of other faith traditions with openness and confidence. As we do this, we will realize that we are more alike than we are different. This realization allows Byassee, together with the three interfaith amigos to relate with one another with enjoyment, curiosity and humour. Pastor Don Mackenzie can then conclude that though it is difficult, “true interfaith dialogue can lead to effective collaboration on the moral issues facing our world today.” Though I cannot yet conclude that I am and act as an interfaith believer, I recognize that I am walking the road between Ecumenical and Multi-faith. As I continue to take one step followed by another, I trust that I will indeed get there.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Please Change

As I was waiting for the 240 bus at Georgia and Granville in downtown Vancouver this evening, a street person walked in front of each transit traveller in our line. As he walked along the edge of the curb, like a gymnast on a balance beam, he looked at us in the eye and asked “please change.” Because we were at a central travel hub in Vancouver, and his bare hands were cupped open, we all understood his question as “please give me some change” though he did not utter the three words in the middle.
But after a few minutes, I thought of his plea as a different request. “You, don’t act in your normal way, please change.” “You, well dressed business-woman, please change. Don’t just be concerned about your busy-ness, be concerned about mine too.” “You, cool, self-focussed teenager, who is on his way home after a night of partying, please change. Can you contribute to my party?” “You, well dressed chaplain, please change. Don’t simply be a bringer of religious gobbledygook – as you were a few hours ago. Please bring true good news, and you can start with me.”
About a minute after he asked me this simple, but penetrating question, I regret how I thought, ‘I don’t need to change as much as you do.’ Thankfully, my mouth is not as fast at expressing what my mind is thinking. But as I sat on the bus, now many miles away from the man who changed the thought pattern of my evening, I realized ‘I am not one who needs change, but I am one who needs to change.’ I need to change to become more caring, I need to change to become poorer in spirit, I need to change to become more like the beggar who asks for small things.
Now these questions linger: How do I need to change? What do I need to change into? Who may be able to help me change? Do I want to become more like the one who asks me to change? Or maybe most importantly, do I need to change at all, or can I watch the change around me and join in it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Waving Moon - by uncle David

Once there was a mad moon.
But the moon had not always been mad. Though she had always been blue, her spirits had not always been that way. This was because the light the sun gave her was just enough to keep her nice and warm, and just bright enough so that mommies and daddies could read a good night story to their kids. Other times, she watched owners take their dogs out for an evening walk, or young lovers walking in her light, hand in hand.
Before mummy and daddy were born, spaceships started landing on her and people started walking on her. She loved having visitors. The first person who walked on her, someone named Neil Armstrong, said this was “one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.”
“Wow,” she thought. “I didn’t know it would mean so much for people to visit me.”
These were fun times for the moon. Like when someone draws on your back, the moon felt shivers of delight when people bounced up and down on her surface. Neil Armstrong even stuck an American flag on top of one of her mountains to show how proud America was to be the first country to land on her surface. And in her own way, the moon shared in his delight.
But other times she didn’t like being the moon. The more people who came, the more flags were stuck in her surface, the more noisy and crowded it became, and the more garbage they left behind. “Hey,” she thought, “this is my house! Please stop messing up my house!” This made her mad.
Meanwhile on earth, some of the scientists who had visited the moon learned that it was she who made the oceans wave. When the oceans were calm that was because the moon was calm. Then boys and girls would come to the beach to swim, skip rocks and build sand castles. But every now and again, the moon was mad. Then kids would stay away from the crashing waves, rocks would be left un-skipped and castles unmade. In fact, except for the odd dare-devil wind-surfer, at these times, everybody everywhere stayed away from the mad moon’s waves.
Even spaceships flew past her without even a glance. Though astronauts had come to visit, and some of them even returned; many of them found bigger and better places to go. “Where are they going?” the moon wondered. “Have they discovered something bigger and better?” For a while, she was curious, but most of the tine, she was just lonely. The noise of excited chatter among astronauts was distant history, she missed the feeling of people tickling her surface, and even missed the garbage that people brought. Now the biggest and best man-made thing in space, the International Space Station was receiving all of the attention. She could see it sometimes, but at others it was blocked by the earth. The only option she had now was her waves. As people walked along the beach, would they see her waving?
Some time later, the Russians arrived and stuck their flag in the ground. People who spoke a different language in a different accent arrived more regularly. The moon was pleased to welcome her new friends. But every once in a while, she remembers back to the first people who landed on her surface. “What are they up to now? Are they off to bigger and better things like Mars, Jupiter or learning about Saturn’s rings?”

So when you are at the beach next, watch the waves. Is she angry, is she lonely. Go for a swim and let her give you a hug. Watch her waving at you. And don’t forget to wave back.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Promised Change

A friend of mine listed eight ways she wanted to change in 2016. Eight good and valiant endeavors such as; halting her tendency to doubt herself, stop being afraid of failure, prohibit procrastination and, that her desire to please people would cease. These are good changes to make. But the fact that she may hope to make all of them immediately is doomed to failure before the year even begins. This is because no one can change themselves that quickly.

However, if you also made eight similar resolutions for 2016, don’t discard them as unrealistic goals. Keep them. Practice them one at a time for 1.5 months each. After practicing the first goal for that long, it should become routine. Then move on to the next one. When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2017, the goals you made at the beginning of the year may just become routine. Then you would be well on your way to reaching your goals.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Called to Move

As we look around at the modern world, we are encouraged to “do this,” “love that,” “be more” and “expect all our dreams to come true.” But once we have them, we no longer appreciate them as much as we did when they were simply desires. Life always looks ‘greener on the other side of the fence’, and our current realities never match up to them. How do we get out of this cycle? How can we take our desires captive, before they do this to us, and we experience an unexpected and inevitable calamity? The answer is, move.
This does not mean that we change vocations, associations or relations. But, as priest, professor and writer Henri Nouwen writes, we must listen to our call. "You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid [them], you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses" when we desire what we see, just beyond the fence.
The idea of living ‘from’ a new place, while physically living ‘in’ our present place is an extreme challenge that is avoided by many. But those who attempt to make this move realize that heeding its call is exactly what is needed. Then we realize that moving was the best decision we could have ever made.
What does it mean to you to live out of a new place?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reaching your goal Step-by-Step

Several years ago, it was popular for Evangelical Christians to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” by wearing W.W.J.D. bracelets. Though I no longer take part in this fad, questions like these are always good to ask.
I don’t do this because I constantly need to know what Jesus would do in a situation, this act sounds too frantic to me, but because I want to differentiate myself from the current situation. As I have talked about elsewhere, self-differentiation is the ability to emotionally remove oneself from a troubling situation, and view it from an alternate perspective. Then, when we have “the ability to separate feelings and thoughts” we see that the problems in front of us become smaller and smaller.
Organizational Skills Training (OST) is a way for students with ADHD to do this. Its objective is to teach children how to acquire “skills that can be linked to easily recognizable situations [that] are directly relevant to children’s daily functioning at school and home.” Then through a series of small steps, kids learn to manage school more effectively.
Whatever questions confuse us, whether they are about education, our faith, or something different entirely, making the challenges smaller and smaller until they are obsolete is the goal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What Leadership Needs

Meaning “good judgment” and “good taste,” clinical pastoral counsellor Mike Nichols defines discernment as a process of “giving conscious attention to what we think and feel in relation to particular choices we are making.”
In Richard Adams’ classic Watership Down[1], Hazel the Chief Rabbit shows how discernment enables him to be a leader with good sense. After hearing of a dispute that needed attention, he calmly asks for information.
“Hello,” said Hazel, “What’s happened? Where are the others?”
“Over there,” Blackberry anxiously answered, “There’s been a fearful fight. Bigwig told Hawkbit and Speedwell that he’d scratch them to pieces if they didn’t obey him. And when Hawkbit wanted to know who was chief rabbit, Bigwig bit him.”
Blackberry, Hawkbit and Speedwell are undifferentiated rabbits. Their anxiety is troubling their thinking and confusing their decision-making. Bigwig, whom they thought might be the self-differentiated leader they needed, was not acting like it.
To make a wise decision, Nichols says we must “read the facts and pay attention to our feelings because our immediate experience contains elements of both. Paying “attention to these processes enables us to recognize and choose what is better rather than what is less good.” [2]
Hazel draws the situation to a differentiated conclusion: “There was no need biting Hawkbit... Now Bigwig’s put their back’s up, and they’ll think they’ve got to go on because he makes them. I want them to go on because they can see it’s the only thing to do.” 
Hazel’s slow, methodical and thoughtful manner resulted in the best and clearest conclusion.

[1] Adams, Richard. (1972) Watership Down. London, England: Rex Collins ch. 11
[2] Nichols, Mike. (2015) Learning the Art of Pastoral Care - Challenge Care p. 8