Posts Tagged ‘United Church of Canada’


Celtic spirituality speaks of their being 300 feet between physical life and spiritual life, that there is a thin space between where they can intersect. This is where love/belonging truly happens. Within the Belonging Pyramid, this is the heart that supports the inverted pyramid shape- Agape.

The thin liminal space. Are we ready to exist there as communities? I will take you through an exercise of Orthodox theology (those who like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, or are familiar with the marriage equality discussion documents from the Orthodox to the Anglican Communion, they were written to the Roman Catholics). It becomes a parabolic discourse to a third party so the other can look in.

For the Canadian Church (and communities) this can be the Trump-Southern Baptist conversation (great article here ). Where even Pastor Crum began resonating within the Thin Space, and knew something needed to be said, yet as many, Not time yet.

It is the same argument within dying congregations around the belonging pyramid and drive not to be open as it was with these dying congregations of the Southern Baptist convention that rallied around Trump. Creating the closed huddle, allowed for a theology of survival and rallying to something.

If we cannot afford a pastor, and our fear is the cost to retro-fit the building to be accessible for all members, renters and welcome to the community, then perhaps we should give up the building and partner with a community centre so we can ensure at the least accessibility and inclusion.

-Me, as an associate pastor at a congregation meeting, tenure did not last

The song of survival is often heard. It is a common one. Regardless of how much money is coming in, there is never enough, nothing can change, must maintain donations or we will not survive. There is always another project that crops up to fundraise for that takes over any (if there even was) thought for basic accessibility. See churches get away with even the top portion of the pyramid for the simple fact their buildings fly under the radar the most. They come up to the letter of accessibility code when renovations are undertaken but rarely will go beyond because of “cost” they say.

What is hidden in that statement at the accessibility level is: your need (not want, NEED) does not override our privilege to preserve our bottom line.

Like the pastor in the article struggling with delivering a true message knowing it would cost, the church does not want to hear the truth of those in their congregation. This is not just about persons with disabilities– oh wait it is. For elders, youth, okay across the lifespan are using mobility devices and need accessibility.

Yet, we may make noises at national levels, but trickle down to the congregational and very little change happens. Due to one fact, tradition of reading. The Bible stories are all read as very black and white. Jesus healed the (insert descriptor of differently-abled here) and then they were included in the community. Full stop, medical model, something is wrong with the person so it is okay, because they must earn belonging, inclusion, even prove the case for accessibility beyond an archaic ramp at a side with a door not even grown to allow ease of entry.

I fall back to John 9:1-12 a lot, because it is so clear on this issue in showing the pyramid:

Verse 1 identifies the “disability” (blind). Which is what accessibility is about. What is wrong, how do we remove some barriers.

Verse 2 identifies the question- what is wrong with them? (Inclusion) it is trying to understand how to keep someone out. Yes, inclusion has become that kind of word in our 21st century. What are grounds for exclusion? How can we look like we have drawn the circle wider, but in fact are strategically shrinking it so the bottom line, old guards belief system is not challenge. This is the type of question that allowed the person to be “included” in the wider community as a beggar, seen as a burden, and allowed to hear teachings, but not fully participate within Temple life.

Verse 3 is about belonging. Jesus gobsmacks his followers and the people. The glory of God. That is belonging. The cosmic dust, life spark within each of us. The spirit that connects us with everything and everything with us within the Holy (that really is a puzzle created through and with the Thin Space tapestry of all creation). That is right, Jesus is showing that part of that tapestry is diversity within all its forms (other times he showed it through acts of kindness to Samaritans (traitors); and Romans (occupiers)).

Ahh but then the challenge for the listener where this might resonate. For Jesus does do a healing. This collapses the theory one would say.

NO!

It strengthens the theory. Look at the journey/ritual this man went through. Publicly to show the whole community that there was no turning him away any more. It was not only about vague inclusion. Jesus realized people could not understand belonging and agape. He short circuited it, much like his own transfiguration story. Jesus gave this man a ritual of transfiguration to reveal the living cosmic dust within to all.

Love illuminated.

2,000 years on (in some cases over 4,000 years) from the stories within the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament. Meaning and understanding has shifted and changed throughout time EXCEPT for those around healing. Why? Simple, we do not want to understand what is a disease and how someone is specifically created. Anything that is outside what we want to see as “typical” we want to demonize.

I can’t wait until I am in heaven with your son so I can hear him speak and see him run and dance. -“Well meaning” congregant.

That needs to end. At the current General Council 43 of the United Church of Canada there is a gent with disabilities up for moderator. I would love to see him elected. Yet I know the church is not ready for it. It would cause each and every congregation to confront authentic accessibility, inclusion, and belonging sourced through agape and not lip service. Much like a small Southern Baptist congregation of Trump supporters in their pews on a warm Sunday morning as the pastor opens to preach about the 7th Commandment (thou shalt not commit adultery) and backs down because they are not ready yet for the full implications of faith.

So is spiritual life that does not see the beauty in the diversity. The belonging of the person in full person-hood, or as Brother Jesus said, “Glory of God”.

It is trite, but it is true. We are all created in love just the way we are.

But are we ready to hear the full implications of our beliefs?

Are we willing to step out of the physical, and into the Thin Space of resonance?

To live, unreservedly out of love for OUR NEIGHBOUR?

 


I wish I could say that the 2018 slate of candidates for Moderator of the United Church of Canada has put a moratorium on my beliefs around the Christianities perpetuating ableism. One would think it would, especially with 34 year old Lay Candidate, Collin Phillips:

“I’ve come to see disability as just another part of the diversity of God’s Creation,” says Phillips, who uses a wheelchair and communicates via a word board. “While my disability is integral to who I am, it does not define me or my call. I know this will challenge, maybe even anger, some in the church, but I’m hoping it will deepen our understanding of inclusion.”

Meet your 2018 Moderator Candidates by Mike Milne, July-August Observer 2018 (https://www.ucobserver.org/faith/2018/07/meet_2018_moderator_nominees/)

I do hope he becomes moderator, for it would force a dialogue beyond accessibility (physically belonging in space). Hopefully challenge the outdated “must be healed to belong” b.s. of the churches and grow the circle wider (inclusion). Yet, it would take a gospel level miracle for this to happen for I do not feel the desire within the church for such a movement of the Holy Spirit in mystical discernment and understanding.

Honestly, outside of personal experience, and yes there are many progressive to conservative Christians who believe it is their right to lay hands and pray over you if you have a physically visible disability (without consent). To the idea that it is about making things accessible, but not fully comprehending the need at the most basic level that not everyone does things the same. Whether it is how they experience life (physically, mentally or spiritually) to socio-economically.  But the cynic in me grows for there have been many in leadership throughout the years who are a part of the disabilities community, and yet we are still having the same debates around RIGHT TO EXIST.

Most notably is the amount of times the UC Observer has hyped the plastic straw ban and has not been able to see beyond their own enviro-lens to a fuller belonging lens. Finally, when you can crack through you are not sure if they get it or not, and their declarative includes a surcharge (not comprehending the socio-economics of persons with disabilities).

Yes. I hope this is a breakthrough. Yes, I hope it draws the circle wider. Yet for that too. happen the church itself must wrestle with its own history and identity. It must admit that there are many great things that were birthed out of the social gospel, yet the darkest shadow of that was the plague of eugenics? Truth and reconciliation must happen on doctrine lead (Christian) pushed for locking away in institutions, less than ideology, forced sterilizations and the litany goes on.

Sadly, until that happens, it is just more lip service and tokenism, hiding in the visage of inclusion…

But refusing the most important piece of Agape—BELONGING.

Is the church ready? 

End thoughts:

  1. Considering outgoing Moderator Jordan Cantwell called for listening in this time of change…I do not see much of that in regards to the intersection of abilities.
  2. I have stood my ground as an ally for those in the mental health-disabilities community and paid the price as staff (laid off, fired, reorganized); laity/volunteer (kicked out) and friend/parent (devastated) as congregants harrassed and belittled, dehumanized those they did not see as “whole” in the Body of Christ…what would this chap as moderator mean for those within the church?
  3. Finally, Moderators travel and visit congregations– how many of the churches meet the first level of the inverted Belonging Pyramid – accessibility, and simply increase the cries of “we are so broke, we have no money.” Instead of the inward looking to community focused solutions?

Addition post General Council 43 (August 7, 2018) in Philips own words:

A moderator nominee says the majority of commissioners at General Council weren’t comfortable enough to truly engage him. Read his full thoughts here.


Ecclectica a random compilation of thoughts/commentaries on this point in history.

Equalization:

It amazes me how many Albertans hold an opinion on equalization payments, without understanding equalization (including those politicians who supposedly have worked out formulas). Back to basics of poli-sci. First it is not money out of provinces, but money from federal taxes. It is a system designed for balance to aid have not provinces. It is not a screw job on Alberta, in fact for many years before the boom squandered by our then PC Government, we were a “have-not” province receiving more equalization money. So what is someone who used to receive aid, now complaining about someone else in need receiving aid known as?? Inquiring minds want to know. *cough*hypocrites *cough*

Oh and the current formula that was renewed by the Liberal Government was negotiated by our Opposition Leader, Jason Kenney, when he was in Government.

Kids in Camps (and not the good kind):

Trumps’ attempted authoritarianism. His executive order sham. He does not care about kids, he cares about how much strength and stamina is left in the resistance, only reason for the smoke and mirror back pedal. The First Lady’s jacket revealed his true thoughts to the kids in camps. Same as the EO moving it from a simple civil violation, to a criminal one.

Oh, and for Canadians who are supporting Trump and slamming out government. There was a practice from 2012-2015, when it was under the portfolio of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (ahem, Alberta). It is abhorrent, and quit slamming the government. Right you MP about it, if it is still happening call the government to stop. If it isn’t but there is still a law it needs to be abolished. This is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue, and needs to be an all party issue.

Single Use Plastic bans:

Yes we need to be good stewards of our environment, yes we need to reduce consumption. We also need to stop dumping the crap in our oceans, and find ways to recycle what we do use, and reclaim what damage has been caused. Before these are phased out, we need viable replacements at same costs. Yes, this is a pointed argument at the ABLEIST environmental movement of the straw-ban (and note it is driven by industry of other types of reusable straws, for there are much more harmful products to target). But for some with disabilities the elimination of the plastic straw is literally a difference between drinking or not:

infographic created by a disability advocate, screen shot from a re-tweet on twitter.

In regards to plastic bags. Companies (ala Wal-Mart) charging 5 cents a bag does not discourage use, your tills are not designed for me to pack my own. Also, it is a serious socio-economic question I have. Many food banks use plastic bags for their hampers (and yes these are also hampers given to children in public school to ensure they get food). What is the plan? What is the replacement? What costs of donation does this take from the bottom line of aiding those in need?

Like the straws, this comes from a place of upper-class wealth and pushing new products. All for new products. All for environmental care (hell I am formed as a Franciscan). BUT– Ableism and socio-economics need to be taken into account with any change, and that includes these ones. How are we going to ensure belonging and care of neighbour without adding extra-burdens to fixed or poverty/working class incomes?

CBE Lisa Davis

I am going to admit to being pissed about CBE Trustee Lisa Davis exploring a UCP run and possibly leaving the CBE Trustees. Why? She was an ALLY for kids with disabilities, and aided us in getting our voice out during a busing mess that put kids lives at risk last summer. A mess that CBE administration and then sitting trustees blamed on our community, and as parents we should be happy with what we got BECAUSE WE CHOSE TO HAVE THESE KIDS.

Trustee Hrdlicka’s twitter responses quoting CBE policy just illuminated the board is not there for students or families.

Though it does give a microcosm of the NDP/UCP Dichotomy.

By-Elections

Two by-elections in Alberta are set for July 12, 2018 provincially. There has been a number since the 2015 change of governments that saw the 44 year PC dynasty end. Most notably election night when Jim Prentice who won his seat, but lost his government resigned.

By-elections have become “accepted”. It has become acceptable to not fulfill your elected obligation, and walk out on your citizens. I would love a political scientist to do an accounting on how much these cost us each term, and which parties have cost us the most (my hunch this time is they have all come from one source- UCP “PC/WRP legacy”).

There obviously is some things that cannot be foreseen. The unforeseen and sad death of MLA Bhullar. A massive health crisis. As with any vocation this cannot be foreseen, and as such a penalty for the by-election should not be imposed.

Otherwise, there needs to be a penalty. By-elections are expensive.

Some thoughts are a penalty paid by the elected official. Monetary may work. Not being eligible anymore for any type of pension is another. An inability to run for any office for a set length of time (5-10 years to encompass most levels of governance).

But there also needs to be a penalty by the party so they do not seek to trigger the by-election by bullying or shunning a member out. That penalty is simple, they cannot run a candidate in the by-election, and any one who wins and crosses the floor to joint he party triggering the election forfeits their seat, and the party loses the ability to run a candidate in that riding for two election cycles.

Another option is the party causing the by-election must pay for it out of party coffers.

But by-elections should not be something we are comfortable with, for it says we are okay with elected officials opting out of the oath they sign when they run.

Eugenics History

Has anyone else noted that the thrust for eugenics (purifying of the race; forced sterilization of those with disabilities; experimentation on those with disabilities/mental health concerns; forced institutionalization) grew out of a biblical concept of less than for the person who was not seen as whole or typical. Yet governments and churches have not apologized as with other groups? They do not seek truth and reconciliation?

Where is the words of repentance from the Salvation Army? Evangelicals? Anglicans? Catholics? United Church? Presbyterians? Jehovah Witnesses? All the Christianities who have supported teachings such as this?

It is quite simple, I love the social gospel movement. It has brought many beautiful and positive changes in our world– feminism, human rights, labour rights, birthed other movements. But within that heritage one also has to wrestle with eugenics (which has stayed around passively as Ableism)… is the church willing? Or is this the last group that can be ignored/shuffled to the corner with impunity?

2019 and 2020 elections

Just your friendly PSA that Canada is not a locked 2 party voting system. We have multiplicity provincially and federally. Please look at your local candidates, and their parties closely to what aligns with your core.

ALSO VOTE. The only vote that does not count, is the vote not cast. Ontario has a PC Government, but 48% of eligible Ontarian did not vote. So yes technically 60% of the 52% did vote non-PC, but you still do not have a true encapsulation of what all eligible voters would be.

VOTING

When the government consults on voting, ensure you take time to speak for those accessing homeless shelters, who may be in hospital, long term care, lodges, hospice and any other facility they may not have mobility to get to a polling station to have the polling station brought to them.

Also remember constitutionally to vote in Canada (and run for office) you have to be in the country for 6 months and over 18 years old.

 

 

 

 


I have always enjoyed reading the practical current events spiritual magazines/newspapers published in Canada. Most are denominationally specific. Among my top 3 were: United Church Observer, Anglican Sower and Presbyterian Record. The last two I also had the privilege to write for and share thoughts, unfortunately they are also no longer publishing (the fact they carried my works has nothing to do with the ceasing of publication I believe). One can also trace in my spiritual journey, denominations or religious traditions have not been high, I have drank and do drink from the many wells the one river feeds, yet it is the one river that I thirst for.

As I wrote a few days ago after a cascade of flashbacks triggered by a denominational prayer cycle (Read post here) it is unique that the latest issue of the United Church Observer in their Question Box column, Spiritual Solidarity, touched upon clerical unionization.

                “Clergy conflict reflect the ongoing turmoil and anxiety within the wider United Church.”

-Christopher White

Workplace and community conflicts are part of existing together. They are to be expected, what is not to be expected in civilized society is such harassment, haranguing and trauma that individuals leave their employment, or wind up with deep rooted scars. This article triggered flashbacks, part of the work of trying to rise above my flashbacks is acknowledging the pain, but also acknowledging the good I have seen and been apart of.

Obviously, the article is centred on the organic transformation within the United Church on this issue, but I can attest it crosses Christianities tradition and denominational lines. Following is a few thoughts on the good and bad I have been apart of.

“I also believe that more and more…is moving from primarily seeing ministry as a covenanted relationship to seeing it as a contractual one.”

-Christopher White

  1. The small congregation that hired me as a youth leader leaving my first experience, and then a minister. Both with contradicting missions. The congregation responding to the pain their abuse had caused catastrophe with previous ministries, allowing those with the money to run rampant. Online abuse existed before social media it was done via cc and bcc on e-mail as my character and personhood were attacked by those in the church that did not like their children/youth thinking. The harassment also continued through the office of clergy towards me, and some youth with mental health concerns. Meetings were held; then it went up to the Presbytery level to meet with the congregation and even though these meetings concerned me I was not allowed to attend. Eventually they beat you down, and I chose to surrender my ministry—yes the majority wanted to bring me on as minister, but even with mechanisms to sanction the vocal minority bullies—they refused. How did the organization reward this community? With more money, bigger space…message sent to those targeted—you do not matter.
  2. Being a Lay Professional Leader in a congregation doing things such as contemplative worship services, pulpit fill in; leading a bible study. Yet the wealthy in the aging congregation got their tempest in a tea pot over kids at play, noise, and the online attack campaign begun. Unwillingness again to call out a spade as a spade from those higher due to—yup you guessed it—money at play as donors.
  3. Stalked on and harassed via social media by a congregation and their pastor—why? As a family, we attempted to advertise our home bible study and potluck on the church Facebook page. My wife encouraged to distance herself from me and my unChrist-like influence. When she refused, and we chose to leave as a family those that said they were our “friends” shunned us like leaving a cult.
  4. My son’s joyful noise at a Santa Clause service being called out in vehement anger by the minister and called to leave service. Shunned by the supposedly “inclusive” spiritual home. In the moment those who preached standing up for injustice became the bystanders while the bully postured and the bullied was left believing he was on Santa’s naughty list.
  5. In Bible College having a professor point blank tell the class when I answered in favour of inclusion “that is why your church must die”…and being taunted in the halls as the “fag church member” still standing strong and up as best I could, leaving the learning environment to be battered in my “church homes” as I tried to build ministries.
  6. Para-church directors head hunting to fire me for my political and/or theological beliefs not aligning with their personal understanding.
  7. Being the family scape goated by an ill-equipped children’s educational ministry, because we had the “special needs kid” and not looking seriously at the bullying issue by the children of the long term generational members, and having the “r word” used to describe my son.
  8. Hearing during service a priest being called out on the rug because he took a stand for inclusion of God’s children, and love for those who are differently abled.

That is the darkness. Some can see through that a need for the mediating voice, but a union is not just there for the darkness, they are there to create a support network for successes. A place where the story can be shared for what has transformed, what has been overcome, and can create a relationship where clergy can easily move between denominations.

  1. I have been apart of wonderful churches that have had no actual building. Where ministries and retreats for youth were sponsored by church family members (with or without kids) in their own homes.
  2. I have been there when seniors have continued to answer the call to serve our children as they closed in on 100 years old, as we created “Elders Time” where a big comfy chair was created and the Elder could share the story, and then have the youth be their hands and legs for the activity.
  3. I have seen the passion of inclusion, where walls were broken down and churches laughed off the “tradition” of church youth/community youth time tables to have open youth group for all where spiritual formation was encouraged, and critical thought.
  4. I have seen youth and young families forego the “contemporary” service to be apart of the old liturgical service because it is where the seniors were, and allowed those without grandparents to find that role in their life in church.
  5. I have broken bread, shared meals, lifted many families and friends within my own home around simple things as movie discussion nights, bible studies…where life was done for those shunned by churches they did not fit the mold for due to life circumstance, simple acts of kindness and love allowed the journey to continue… and yes, the noise of children is apart of that.
  6. A Children’s Ministry coordinator coming and speaking directly to my son about coming and being part of the group, not asking us, asking him and listening close for his body language and spastic voice if he wanted to come.
  7. Having a priest during High Mass while blessing the host pause, as my son cheers loudly, and state to the congregation overflowing, “May we all have that excitement to be one with Jesus!”
  8. A minister that contacts my son about if he wants to be in the Christmas pageant, and then the congregation learns about inclusionary communication tools.
  9. Simple things, like a free half day Vacation Bible School that I was blessed to be apart of growing up, and then my teacher asking if my daughter would attend as they are re-launching (and yes, this past summer she learned some French!).
  10. Offering scholarships for VBS’s that have a cost so no child is turned away.
  11. Celebrating the diversity in our unity as spiritual beings from who we are to where we are from…whether it is being Affirming or Dancing our Offering to the Altar to everything in between and not even dreamed of yet.
  12. A Priest taking the flack for replacing offering over two weeks of masses to ensure the food cupboard is overflowing with blessing.
  13. A nun that gathers toys to deliver with food hampers to families in need, and when families without homes sleep in the church ensure that even the volunteers have what they need.
  14. A priest that is troubled by persons with mobility issues not being able to get to the dining hall with dignity for church meals, installs and elevator.
  15. A priest that volunteers with homeless families and realizes they do not have the opportunity to shower in the parish before going out for their day. Installs showers, and announces offering from that weekend needs to be generous to pay for it.

For every horror story there is good stories, even great ones. Yet we cannot say the good outweighs the bad. We cannot say “this is church” to allow for the bullying. People are essentially good. We need to be generous in our ability to do what we can to build a better world, one simple act of kindness at a time.

A union for church employees on the surface may be something to be scoffed at, but it creates a mediating body, removes the ability of congregations or higher church authorities to cover up for PR reasons. It creates an environment with standardized codes of care and conduct that cannot be shouted down due to the “wealthy donor” paradigm. It levels the playing field, much like the gospels pointed to.

This is my story, my experience, my opinion. My act of reconciliation as the story stands, the truth told…now it is time to move forward…into a new day, and a hopeful healthier relationship in the congregation we have settled in.


Denominational prayer cycles are part of liturgical practice that has congregations praying for other congregations; leadership throughout the year.

I returned to organized religion in 1998 to a small United Church congregation in the community of Bowness in Calgary. I was in a rough spot emotionally, and my Nan and a long-time family friend took me to their church. It was a good place on the surface to re-enter Christianity, very progressive which for an activist like me was good. The Minister of the time allowed, even encouraged, an expansive understanding of Christian theology/practice/belief.

38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[a] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:38-40 (New Living Translation)

Where I had been baptized Anglican, pre-schooled in the Alliance Church, and VBS’ed Presbyterian (explored everything else). This was a space that allowed me to understand my family’s religious culture within my own growing understanding. It was the church I was confirmed in, taught Sunday School in. It was the church I answered my call to Ordered Ministry, and my minister provided a recommendation to a local bible college to attend.

When the letters went out to young adults seeking a youth leader, I answered. It was the group that I first took to a street ministry, and found another outlet for helping. It was where the strict guidelines of the new ministry initiative had to be followed, and groups had to meet on Friday nights. Which caused myself economic hardship, when the youth were told there was no money and we found a way to make some, the church board brow beat us to control the funds as general revenues not ours so they vanished and expenditures for the youth group continued to come out of my ever-shrinking income stream. When the harassment from older board members about me being young, not understanding how things were done, and threatening I did what we did in my circles, full transparency with the grass roots and one Sunday at announcements brought forward I was done and leaving. This led to a phone call of encouragement from our minister on study leave. One thing that still rings in my ear though from the harassers, “this is church”.

The final straw was they decided to post a paying position, and stated I would have to apply to see if I was qualified…which led me off to build another youth ministry as they offered and that is a horror story for other reasons.

But it was a church with fond memories, and my Nan. I was in an out to attend between ministry builds. Some healthy communities that thrived and my time naturally came to an end, others that were not good fits at all. When they hit a snag and their “qualified youth leader” kept flaking off, not showing up, I was asked to help, and I would pitch hit whether it was baking pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, or helping the youth do a service, or some minor teaching…but when time to fill the role they thought elsewhere.

Third time is the charm? Needing a Sunday School ministry, a open nursery and having youth I had returned to the church after a successful, and peaceful time in another denomination and ministerial outreach. Having completed seminary, and now looking to pursuing a doctorate, my Nan was not doing well and a regular weekly time together was nice. I once again as the one that brought the average age of the church drastically down filled roles as needed. My kids attended Sunday School. We had two young adults who were differently abled in the youth group, and two children differently abled in the Sunday School (one was my son). That stirring of the spirit to make ordination official stirred again, and I pursued discernment. A committee was struck and we began the journey to see if there was a call: Ordered, Diaconal, Designated Lay or something else.

I was also holding multiple roles in the Church board, and as Presbytery representative to aid the church in staying “politically” viable according to the United Church manual. We were working as spiritual leaders to ostracize the pain, and heal the wounds, reconcile the community together. Looking back, what should have been a strong sign that there were shenanigans planned for me, was during the meeting to craft a behavioural covenant for the community. The wealthy-power base that had harassed and expunged me previously reared their bully voice silencing the already bullied in the pews.

            Added some pulpit supply and my son and I doing chaplaincy for patients in dementia care as we went along the path less taken. Growing my para-church ministry work at the outreach I mentioned earlier (which becomes important, for the denomination, and multiple congregations were supporters of it).

Continued the work. Doing my best to let the weekly snide comments, harassment phone calls slide off my back like the proverbial duck—for this was church. Even though I knew that I had served in multiple locations that proved this wrong. But for me at this moment and time with my Nan, one of my best friend’s health declining, this was church because I needed to hold it together, it was one of the places my Nan enjoyed going.

Making safer, and brighter spaces within a very inaccessible building for our children who are differently abled. Almost dying from choking on cobwebs and dust while moving the “sacred annals of congregation history” in my deep clean.

            Harassing and angry phone calls directed at me.

Then the Annual General Meeting. M&P (one of those powerful members) had decided it was time to shatter the community. Redevelop the youth leader role. Needing to pay the role (I had not been taking pay, and had put forward that the monthly stipend be put as a budget line for youth monies for events). They motion before me and the congregation she pushed for vote was to hire a more qualified youth leader (keep in mind at this point I had roughly 12 years experience, was manager at the outreach, had a B.A. and M.A from a Bible College and Seminary, and had almost wrapped my doctorate). But that wasn’t the whole motion, it also attacked the differently abled to rip them from their community. The parents blamed me saying I knew. I still do not know to this day if they heard and took in that I did not, my heart was tearing.

            The bullies WON.

A church, that would see my family broken. When my Nan would enter care for her own dementia those that professed to be friends would shun and not show up. Cast us aside publicly. It was heard by me some saying that children like my son did not belong in church.

I was left with a quandary. Nearly done discernment. Looking out at the ABUSE done. Reflecting on my journey. It couldn’t be. Yet my committee I saw as good people, good members of the church, who were struggling to reconcile, asking if I would meet with folks to repair the bridge. I said I would meet but it wouldn’t change our mind about leaving. Those that say what was heard was out of context never called. I chose to end my discernment, but seeing the insidious viciousness of the power base knew I could not walk away stating this was the cause, simply said my call laid in the work I was already doing. I could not risk harm to the larger good being done by the donations and volunteerism, I did not know how much this darkness bled outwards. It was a bad decision on my part. I clearly explained to my committee the journey up to that point. It was a church now searching for a new minister and youth leader. I left it in the leaders’ hands of the church to deal with as I walked out to protect my family. I knew that my ability to be ordained in any of the three types of ministry within this church tradition were done, discernment was a one off. I knew the choice I was making.

I WALKED OUT TO PROTECT MY FAMILY.

            My Mum and Nan always said no matter who you were, how much you make, church was the one place you belong, and you should be welcomed. In my time in ministry I experienced that 30% of the time regardless of tradition. The other 70% money, control and power destroyed or is destroying communities. Churches have mechanisms to deal with ill health, but are unwilling to step up it is left to the congregational level. Then they wonder why members bleed out, staff burn out.

The Roman Catholic church could cover up crap because they moved priests around in a top down control model, churches like this case study could do this because they controlled the hiring at the congregational level. They could force the minister or board members or whomever out when they got to scratch beneath the surface and could force change. The ones who create the issue exert their unhealthy control and continue perpetuating the cycle. The worst part is larger umbrellas that are supposed to handle this allow more and more staff to cycle through.

I thought years ago I had put this to rest in my soul finally (3 years out of Christendom will do that), but we are part of the larger umbrella (in a congregation that made my top 3 for welcome of all) …and that is where this flashback came. It has plagued me all day, and caused horrendous seizures. The kernel that started it, was the denominational prayer cycle where we as a congregation were called to pray for this place.

Liturgical prayer cycles are hard when you lead a service, I have omitted and gotten hand slapped because I knew whom or where was being called to pray could do harm to someone in healing. At the same time, I know I probably have harmed because I did not know. Church communities are not transparent about our pain. It is not specific to a denomination or tradition. Where it can build broader community, it can also harm. Truly our words carry power.

This is my story. Nothing more. Nothing less. I know that as it has been shared and ignored before, it will continue. What I do know, is that all institutions need to become safer more inclusive places. That begins with each one of us.

The journey of reconciliation is a hard one. It begins with sharing the pain. Then it lets the pain stand there as testament. Then comes the hardest part, deciding to walk forward into a new reality.

This is the story of the pain.

This is where the story stands.

This is my prayer that the story will be different from here on. That change will happen.

This is me deciding to step forward and see what becomes…

Who is my Neighbour?

-Last year I shared of my son’s tears soaking my shirt as he thought he had ruined my life due to this congregation of darkness (read post here). Why the tears? The denominational cycle of prayer they had come up again…Same answer as last year: No you did not my son, we chose the light. We chose life, inclusion, belonging.

We CHOOSE L-O-V-E!

 


When you teach your child to undervalue some people, they soon will be able to undervalue all including their parents.”

-Jean-Luc Picard (ST:TNG Chain of Command Pt.2)

December 1992, I was in Grade 9, and already a student of politics, social justice, mysteries and science fiction. A writer. It was also when Star Trek: The Next Generation aired the two part Chain of Command that covered a story of current political climate and historical, and one that still has its place today in discourse. Working with Amnesty International it was the exploration of torture.

                Think of this? What is the purpose of torture? Or as the P.C. neo-right call “enhanced interrogation techniques”? Some say it gets to information, everything points to the patent false hood of this for under duress the human psyche will do whatever is necessary for survival which means information captured in this process on the off chance may be accurate, but truly when one looks at archived information especially out of the Stalinist gulag it is about control. Breaking down the other.

This is where the quote that opened comes from. The scene is the Gul torturing Jean-Luc’s daughter is there in the room. Jean-Luc questions him about why, and he points out the need for them to see the value that their species has over others. To which Jean-Luc begins a counter with the undervaluing of all, the ability to be able to see anyone as the other. No actual communal ties. Pointing what the military-efficiency domination of Cardassians had taken them from a spiritual-scientific culture to this brutality.

Think of it, the breakdown of someone to be nothing more than the other. So stripped of agency that one could rationalization brutalization for they were not your equal so it was okay. History is filled with these atrocities. In fact, the beginning of the torture of Picard begins with the Gul pointing out he will have no name anymore, simply be the human. And yes, the torture involved lies “we killed the Klingon” or “your ship is in flames”. But the forcing of control to see how one had been broken to another’s will through answering how many lights Picard could see? There was 4, the torturer demanded he see 5, it was a finger control trick from the Gulag histories to see if the person had been broken.

Think deeper though, yes this is a bigger issue we can still see today. But look at what is at the core? The ability to dehumanize someone from their intrinsic value of a person. Boil it down so they are less than simply because of X, Y, or Z. It is the essence where bullying, assault, and abuse begin. The needs of me, outweighs the needs of others.

As we enter a time of quasi-enlightenment and seeing the damage removing intrinsic worth, and undervaluing the other has caused perhaps it is time to revisit communal rights and responsibly, along with the accountability.  For even during the pain, if the person does not break there is hope for healing, once broken there is the possibility of rebuilding.  What a better world though would exist if one did not have to endure the attempt to break or the breaking to begin with?

As I have written before sci-fi when done well can create conversations communities may not have the capacity to engage with civilly towards change. As I watched the blu-ray special edition, and remembered I saw part two on Christmas Day as a 14 year old I remembered a story trying to shed light on workplace abuse.

Years ago I remember ministers in Ontario looking at joining Union due to the abuse that had been heaped upon them by congregants. This group within the United Church of Canada got derision from the broader Christianities, yet what was missed was they were the whistle blowers on the unhealthy work and community created for them. It was and is a reality I have experienced and can speak to with my time in ministry and believe if this option had been on the table in some postings for myself I would have sought the support of a bargaining body. Too much was covered up with the “let’s pray about it” to the “it is God’s will” to the “we employ you.” Yet not willing to see harm done, and patterns created to perpetuate harm. If these congregations had been a person doing this to another at the very least they would have been a bully, at most possibly a harasser or assailant.

Yet accountability was lacked, because it was easier to stand with the voice devaluing…to be with the Guls (Cardassians Military) and not those that saw a different path, for those voices were pushed out or silenced. Other means that torture where used, but the valuing system of commodifying the person so that their value could be undercut still existed.

So do we crumble to the torturer, or after one exchange, stand as a Picard, with this closing quote:

Hey I got you to call me Picard.”

-Jean-Luc Picard (ST: TNG Chain of Command pt. 2)


“You are right. You can fire me, but you cannot tell me what to do.”

-Jesse Stone to the Town Council (Jesse Stone series)

J.S. Woodsworth was a Methodist minister, a founding member and leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a labour activist who had the literal beating scars from police to prove it. He had worked tirelessly in his life to get Canada to treat all Canadians as Brother Jesus implored us to. Yet his values of anti-war and stopping evil entered conflict within him as he sat as a MP in Canada’s Parliament when it came time to declare war on Nazi Germany.

See he was against war. More than just conscientious objection, he saw in war for a way of the 1% to get wealthier through munitions and more efficient ways to exterminate human beings manufacturing, and as a way the wealthy used the draft to cull the herds of poor they saw as taxing on the country’s system. Yet, he also believed the horrors against humanity that his fellow caucus members in the CCF reported back about Germany and their program.

So what was he to do?

On that fateful day, Woodsworth would lose his job as leader of his party and movement, and not be elected again. As he would stand on the side of saving lives of poor Canadians and voting against the war. The one vote against, while the rest of his party voted with the other parties to enter the war. It is not about whether Woodsworth’s decision for anyone else was right or wrong, he had a conviction and made a choice. In that choice, he faced the consequences.

In 1990’s Alberta Kevin Taft as a governmental employee would face a similar choice as he recorder in Shredding the Public Interest (1997) where he recounted how one party rule was not for the betterment of Albertans. As it was in shredding documents that showed the government was intentionally screwing over the elders that built the province, and it resulted in a loss of his job.

Another choice of conviction.

These are hard choices to make in life. Yet we are all faced with them. Those moments when we need to decide, is this the hill I die on? Or does this path tie to other values of mine that can lead me forward. A former co-worker once described working with me as an acquired taste, for that resiliency. There was the grand mission of trying to make my corner of the world a better place where I could follow many paths. Yet in those instances where my heart became set on what was right in a situation whether it be for a group, a person or a practice there was no shaking the ground beneath my feet…and yes in those instances it did simply become one of “you as an organization can continue on that path but it will be without me.” Sometimes I chose to end the professional relationship, other times it was chosen for me. Yet regardless of how it ended, I would leave with my head up knowing I had made a choice much like those examples that opened this reflection.

Whether it was choosing communities of full inclusion regardless of gender identity, sexuality, mental health, being differently abled or cultural origin, which was a stand I needed to take on more than one occasion in my service in religions and spirituality.

Putting sitting government’s feet to the fire as a journalist, writer, speaker, activist, and student.

Challenging the norms of an institution to hopefully re-think how they existed to be a more open space.

Even in those moments where a group would pink slip me or so radically change my job description at a public meeting that my role was publicly voted out with me in the room, receiving death threats, being black listed from press access to certain government officials, or  one community having me resign to protect my children, only to have the things we had rattled the establishment to institute slowly roll out those changes that so challenged them (essentially using my family and I as a sacrificial lamb or a scapegoat).

Remembering a famous line, I had used in many battles:

This is about right and wrong for our community. You can fire me, I was looking for a job before I came here and I will find one no matter how I leave here. But what will not change is what those you try to segregate see as the true heart of their community and what they choose.

To the current challenge of where my family worships and the challenge it places on my being. This congregation has been good and inclusive, welcoming and warm. Yet it is part of a tradition that many times knocked me around because it did not want inclusiveness or change, other congregations where literally I had to surrender my ministry because I refused to be apart of acts of segregation.

The value challenge that I can feel Woodsworth must have gone through on vote day. Which value overtakes the other?

Does the brand matter as much as the local practice?

Finding a resting place of inclusion where my kids can be who they are called to be, where the family can be active. Yet part of me, still awaits the other shoe to drop. That tiny voice in the back of my head that can it be too good to be true? A simple way station where we have been apart of many that have just not gotten it. Where words and practice did not align? Perhaps the heart is weary, and this truth has no reconciliation left.

Or perhaps…

Simply perhaps…

Sometimes the battle has ripples that are left unseen for some…and…

Perhaps those ripples outside, need to simply be experienced. Only time will tell with the shattered bridges, burnt souls, and cast aside lives…if there is enough to continue moving forward, but I do know despite the challenges life has laid before me. So yes I have made a choice, one that sits with my values.

Despite the winding roads of life’s journey, one thing will not change.

That is the central core of my faith system.

Inclusion.

And yes my journey of understanding who my neighbour is has made that simple community aspect a non-negotiable.

What are your non-negotiable? Those ones where you literally would put livelihood on the line? In one word, what is that non-negotiable value for you?