Saturday, April 22, 2017

Every Sunday should be Earth Sunday

Some Christian churches have designated the Sunday nearest to Earth Day as Earth Sunday -- and I'm wishing my church was one of them. I know it's the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday too, but I feel like our sister, Mother Earth, needs a lot more attention. Pope Francis tried to wake us up with Laudato Si almost two years ago, but it's almost like his own church didn't even hear him. His encyclical letter to the world about the plight of our planet has hardly made it into our pews yet, and I'm still waiting to hear a homily about it (though I've given a few of my own...)

I know that some churches offer a stewardship prayer, but to me it feels like they're praying more for full collection plates than for us to wake up and act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with the creation God has given us. Couldn't we incorporate the prayer from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home into tomorrow's liturgy? And every liturgy?  Just to get us thinking a little more about how we are treating creation, the poor, the abandoned and the forgotten of our world? It would be a good start... especially if we make the prayer into our action, don't you think?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Simple Suggestion #263... Consider all living things as neighbours

The City of Edmonton has made a neat little JSYK (Just So You Know) video (below) about "critters," and I just have to share it here, simply because too many of us human beings have removed ourselves so far from nature that we tend to see living things in terms of two categories: "Useful" or "Nuisance." When we come up against a critter that we don't like or that scares us, we quickly forget that every living thing is part of the web of life that supports us all, and in the case of bugs, out come the chemical pesticides (that contain poisons which are increasingly causing disease in our bodies, too...)

Yesterday I noticed a small spider in our greenhouse. I was fascinated to see it tracking a fungus gnat on the window pane, and very surprised when it jumped and caught the gnat for a quick lunch. Because I suspected it would grow into a bigger spider that I wouldn't want to deal with later on, and not wanting to walk through webs in my work space, I caught the little critter in a pail and took it out into the sunshine where it ran and hid in some rocks.

Turns out it was a Zebra Jumping Spider that doesn't grow any larger than it already was, spins webs only as safety lines, and hunts for prey by crawling around. So the little Zebra and I could have happily coexisted in the greenhouse for the most part, at least until she decided to leave an egg sac behind. I don't really want an overpopulation of Zebra Spiders in the greenhouse, but now I may end up with an overpopulation of gnats. Oh well, they're part of the ecosystem too, somehow.

Peter Daly, the Biological Sciences Technical Assistant in the video, makes a good point when he says, "Considering the importance of insects in general ecosystems, I'd certainly like to think of them more as friends and neighbours, and helpers, rather than just pests." 

And really, that's a good way to look at all living things on our planet. I just wish Peter had gone one step further to recommend avoiding the chemical pesticides and herbicides that too many of us use to do away with weeds and those insect friends and neighbours. Better to take ecologically friendly approaches...

So today's Simple Suggestion is to notice your neighbours of all shapes and sizes, and to treat them kindly. Definitely don't treat them with poisonous chemicals, and maybe don't put them in your little sister's hair!

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

See, I am near

Christ's Easter message could be something as simple as this:

I am always near
whether you notice or not.
Even when you feel alone
or abandoned,
I am with you.
When you face defeat,
I am facing it with you.
When you aren't sure how to move forward,
my arm is around you, easing you ahead.

I know all about disillusionment,
and death.
I've been through them all.

To show you
that you will come through them too.
You will be alright.
In fact, better than alright.
I promise.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ecumenism on Good Friday

It's been a busier Holy Week than I expected, so I may be too late with sharing this moodling of invitation to my readers to join in our family's more recent Good Friday tradition. We like to attend and participate in ecumenical Good Friday commemorations in our city because Good Friday is one thing all Christians hold in common (along with many other things).

If you are looking for a less denominational way to mark the day we remember Christ's self-giving, I'd like to invite you to two special events tomorrow:

The Outdoor Way of the Cross begins at 10 a.m. at Immigration Hall (100 St and 105A Ave). It's an opportunity for Christians of all denominations (and people of any faith who want to join them) to walk with our inner city brothers and sisters, to reflect on social justice issues, and to sing and pray. It's a very meaningful reflection on Christ's presence in our world today. I just hope the forecasted snow doesn't get in the way!

And the second event is the annual Ecumenical Prayer Around the Cross, held at 7 p.m. at Providence Renewal Centre (address on the banner). It features silence, scripture, and the songs of Taizé. The music is gorgeous and easy to learn, a piece of Luke's gospel will be read in as many languages as we can muster, and the prayer is always from the heart of the gathered community. So if you're looking for some gentle meditative and musical prayer, you're most welcome. Bring a friend, and come sing and pray with us.

Here's a little taste of what we will be praying with tomorrow evening... the last words of Jesus:
In Latin: In manus tuas, Pater, commendo spiritum meum.
In English: Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

He emptied himself

You show us, Lord,
again and again,
that life is about emptying ourselves
to make room for God.

Your equality with God was not what you came to prove.
Your obedience to God
and your unity with all who suffer
show us many ways to empty ourselves
of our self-righteousness and egotism.

You shared an earthly
and heavenly banquet with your friends,
offering yourself (though they didn't understand right away)
and we learn
to give without counting the cost.

You forgave your betrayer
even as he dipped bread in the bowl with you
and we learn
that it's better not to take things too personally.

You loved Peter
in spite of his false bravado and grand promises
and we learn
to accept people as they are and help them find their way.

You prayed and grieved
and received God's will,
and we learn
to let go and trust.

You accepted an unfaithful kiss
and we learn
that those we love sometimes make mistakes they -- and we -- regret.

You rejected armed conflict in your defense
and we learn
that violence is never the answer.

You healed someone you didn't know
and we learn
that in the midst of our own anguish
we can help others.

You kept silent in the face of many accusations
and we learn
that it's not always necessary to defend ourselves.

You endured abuse and torture
and we learn
that you are in all those who suffer.

You died between two criminals
and we learn
that you are closest to those on the margins.

You felt abandoned
and we learn
that ultimately, we are never abandoned.

You gave your spirit to God
and we learn that
that's where our spirits belong.

You were buried in a borrowed tomb,
and we learn
to accept generosity wherever we find it.

Help us, O Christ, to understand,
as you did,
that our lives are not about us.
Help us to empty ourselves, too,
so that God's plan can unfold.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

More Spring thinking

It's a gorgeous day. 
I should probably plant my sweet peas, 
but I went out and shovelled over my compost pile instead. 
Earliest I've ever been able to do that!

And while I was shovelling,
 I was joined by two lovely little dancers,
 also known as Fire-rim Tortoise Shell butterflies. 
They are among the earliest to appear in Alberta's spring, 
and it seems to be mating season for them.

My camera and I found many things in which I take delight -- 
among them the return of garlic chives,

the survival of the strawberry patch 
in spite of rather poor snow cover this winter,

and my own gardening fingers...

(one of these years I'll figure out a way
to keep the dirt out of my garden gloves!)
But what I'm anticipating most 
are some new residents in my bird house.
They even have their own bath.

Can you tell how much I love spring?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Lazarus you might not know

I have fallen in love with Jean Vanier’s view of the story of the death of Lazarus from the eleventh chapter of John's Gospel (I've borrowed from The Message and the Good News Translation for the version below). When we come to the gospel reading on the fifth Sunday of Lent, I like to close my eyes and see it this way…
A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.” 
We don’t know much at all about Lazarus, other than that he was Mary and Martha’s brother. It is unusual that the two women seem to be the heads of the household and that Lazarus doesn't seem to bear any responsibility for looking out for his unmarried sisters in the patriarchal society of Jesus’ day. There are also no recorded conversations between Lazarus and Jesus, while we know about his conversations with Martha and Mary. For Jean Vanier, founder of the international L'Arche communities for people with and without disabilities, these things could indicate that Lazarus might have been a person with a developmental disability who lived in the care of his sisters.

It's an interesting idea, and one that makes perfect sense to me because of my experiences with family members and friends who have developmental disabilities. They have a knack for gathering special people around them simply by their desire to have friends and by their unconditional love and welcome for everyone they meet. They are unapologetic about needing help, unlike those of us who are able to care for ourselves.

So it’s not hard for me to imagine Lazarus seeing Jesus somewhere in his travels, taking a liking to him, asking him for help to do up his sandal, then inviting him to supper. This vision of Lazarus reminds me of my friend Harry*, who invited a solitary Japanese tourist at a campground to join his L'Arche vacation group for supper (Hiro was so moved by Harry’s openness and hospitality that later he returned to Canada to join our L’Arche community on a permanent basis, and Harry and Hiro are friends to this day).

I imagine that because of Lazarus, Jesus meets Mary and Martha, their brother’s caregivers, who are used to Lazarus bringing home stray dogs and new friends. They all welcome Jesus as if he was an expected dinner guest, and a deep friendship begins -- one that I'm guessing is full of fun, laughter and unconditional love. That’s why, when Lazarus becomes ill, his sisters send word to Jesus. They know that Jesus loves Lazarus, and they trust that their healer friend will help.

But Jesus is held up for a few days because his disciples want him to lay low, afraid after an encounter with some Jews who are accusing him of blasphemy and who might still be carrying stones in their pockets in case they meet Jesus again. So he appeases his disciples, saying that
“This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”
Clearly, Jesus knows things that the disciples, Martha and Mary don’t…
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been buried four days before. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Judeans had come to see Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother's death. 
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died! But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask him for. 
“Your brother will rise to life,” Jesus told her. Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.
Jesus gives Martha a triple-whammy of good news. 1) Lazarus will rise, 2) knowing Jesus himself is life itself, and therefore 3) Martha and anyone who believes in Jesus will also have eternal life! He says:
“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord!” she answered. “I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”  
The moment Mary heard it, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The people who were in the house with Mary comforting her followed her when they saw her get up and hurry out. They thought that she was going to the grave to weep there. 
Mary arrived where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw him, she fell at his feet. “Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” 
Mary is completely at home with Jesus. Her grief at losing Lazarus knocks her to the ground, and she doesn't care if Jesus sees it. She knows that he feels it too. If you've ever lost someone dear to you, you know what it can be like when a friend comes to be with you in your grief...
Jesus saw her weeping, and he saw how the people with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved.  
Jesus wept.
I love that these two words are the shortest verse in the Bible. If Jesus weeps, we all have permission to weep, and more than that, we all need to allow ourselves to grieve. He’s showing us that our human emotions are gifts, too. And if Jesus can weep, in public, every person can do the same no matter their gender, never mind the idea that "Men don't cry."
“See how much he loved him!” the people said. Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” 
In my mind, these are also people who loved Lazarus deeply. Lazarus probably united all the neighbours in Bethany – everyone knew him, and everyone looked out for him – and he looked out for everyone too (like my friend Thomas* does), greeted them all by name every day, smiled at them even when they didn’t smile back, and doled out plenty of hugs. So of course they’re a little miffed that Jesus would heal a blind man and not their beloved friend. And Jesus hears their murmurings and feels the same way about Lazarus as they do.
Deeply moved once more, Jesus went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone placed at the entrance. Martha, the dead man's sister, said, “There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!” Jesus said to her, “Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believed?” 
Martha’s heart leaps. Of course she believes in Jesus, who loves her brother so deeply. Anything is possible with that kind of love.
They took the stone away. Jesus looked up and said, “I thank you, Father, that you listen to me.I know that you always listen to me, but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me.” After he had said this, he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  
He came out, his hands and feet wrapped in grave cloths, and with a cloth around his face. “Unbind him,” Jesus told them, “and let him go.” 
And there stands Lazarus, fumbling with the cloths with one hand, his other had reaching out for his friends, the hugest smile on his face, probably even laughing with delight, as if to say, “I’m so glad you came! This calls for a celebration!”

Jesus healed many people in his short ministry, and could have raised many more people from the dead, but according to John's gospel, Lazarus is the only one. If, as Jean Vanier suggests, Lazarus was a man with a developmental disability, Jesus' attentiveness and love for him tells us a lot about God's special love for people with disabilities of any kind.

And if God loves them so much, it seems we need to allow them more room to bind us together as community, to pay attention to how their weakness calls forth our love, and how their love helps us to admit and accept our own weaknesses. Relationships with persons with disabilities help us to become people who celebrate -- not money, fame, or power, but rather -- every person with our abilities and disabilities. Let's face it, none of us are perfect.

John's gospel tells this amazing story about life and death and life again before we hear about Jesus' death and resurrection. Maybe we've heard this story so many times that it's ceased to be amazing for us. But Jean Vanier's version has helped me to view it in a way that makes all its characters more real to me. My reflection for today is to imagine the celebrations that ensued for Lazarus, the man who called forth so much compassion and joy in Bethany. What an incredible party!

And when we all walk out of our graves to endless life with our loved ones, it will be even moreso!

*I use pseudonyms for my L'Arche friends.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spring thinking

I went out to my happy place, the greenhouse, this morning.

Then I wandered around the yard a bit...

and the warmth of the creeping thyme got me thinking...
maybe it's time to plant something!

The soil in our cold frame is warm, 
so half of my lettuce, spinach and arugula
(cold crops) are now outside, and the rest in
greenhouse pots.

You could say that it doesn't take much
to put me into a Spring frame of mind.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Roman Catholic woman priest wends her way home

I'm in the midst of saying good bye to a dear friend, and this Sunday's first reading about the anointing of David speaks to my friend's experience: "The Lord does not see as the human sees; the human looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7b).

God saw something in my friend, Ruthie, and called her to the priesthood as a young child. She had two great-uncles who were Redemptorist priests, and they would visit her family and say mass. To hear her tell it, Ruthie, the oldest in her family, became the clan presider when the kids would "play church" together. It went much deeper than play for Ruthie, though, because she knew God was calling her to do as her uncles did.

Of course, humans and human institutions don't see the way God does. Because the Catholic Church doesn't yet see that women could be called to the priesthood, Ruthie chose the next best thing. Her love for God led her to become a sister with the Ursulines of Jesus, and she taught in the Catholic school system for many years, sharing God's love with her students and colleagues. She also took courses at Newman Theological College and developed a solid foundation of theology, scripture and tradition.

I first met Ruthie and some of her siblings during my summers at Our Lady of Victory Camp. Not only was she an excellent quarterback for touch football, but she wrote the camp theme song of the time, Love Life, which was published in Young Peoples' Glory & Praise and recorded by Carey Landry. We sang her melody and performed the actions to the song hundreds of times at camp each summer, the woods around the campfire ringing with enthusiastic young voices and guitars. Love Life was a song that told the story of salvation history in a way that kids could understand -- Ruthie has always been about helping people to understand and experience God's love.

Our lives went different directions after camp, but about five years ago, I heard that Ruthie had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Exploratory surgery revealed that there was no way to remove the cancer so she opted for experimental drug therapies. Aware that her time would probably be short, she left her home to a Muslim family that she had befriended and moved in with her longtime friend, Jocelyne, who cared for her through the progression of her illness and the side-effects of different drugs. Their friendship, which dates from their joining the Ursulines, is a really beautiful story in itself.

With no time to lose after her cancer diagnosis, and with a fresh perspective on what was really important in her life, Ruthie chose to follow her conscience and obey God's call to the priesthood. After learning about and connecting with the Roman Catholic Women Priests of Canada, Ruthie went through a thorough screening process, and because of her already extensive theological training and pastoral experience, she was ordained by one of Canada's Roman Catholic woman bishops on March 31, 2012. She is in the line of apostolic succession thanks to a Cardinal who followed his conscience and ordained the first women priests and bishops in 2002 and 2005.

When I met Ruthie again eight months after her ordination, she was exercising her priestly ministry with a small inclusive Catholic community that gathered in her home most Sundays, and she welcomed me like a long-lost friend. The Sunday liturgy was simple and beautiful, with no pompous prayers to distance us from the tender Father and Mother God who loves us all. Ruthie presided with deep joy, consecrating the Eucharistic meal, and the sacred bread and wine were offered equally by each person in the circle to the person beside them, Ruthie receiving last of all in true servant-leadership. For me, the liturgy was a revelation, a celebration of the sacrament in the way early Christians did -- according to historical records, they had male and female presiders, and there were no "spectators" because of the priesthood of all believers. Everyone in the room contributed to the celebration.

The experimental drugs gave Ruthie more time, but there is still no cure for her cancer. At the community's last liturgy at the end of January, she told us that she was having rather serious memory issues and was going through some more tests. February and March brought many appointments, decreasing balance, and time in and out of hospital. On Friday morning, I spent several hours at Ruthie's bedside in Hospice. The cancer has metastasized to her brain, she is weakening, and her words are now confused, reminding me of what it's like to have a conversation with someone who is talking in their sleep. While I was there, she dozed on and off, but whenever she opened her eyes and saw me sitting beside her, she smiled.

Sitting in silence with Ruthie, I had a lot of time to think about the gift she has been in my life. She is a warm and loving person with a wonderful sense of humour and a deep yearning for justice. She has strong opinions about what is right, and though I have barely glimpsed it myself, I can imagine that others might see her as stubborn at times. Her liturgies often focused on care for creation, right relationship with our Indigenous communities, local and international social justice issues, inclusion of the marginalized, and the needs of various members of the Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community. She gave excellent homilies, and always invited the community members to share, too, which helped us all to learn from each other. Her friendship and love these last four years have meant so much to the faithful people she has gathered around her, and to me. We had deep theological discussions, and plenty of laughs. Her heart is open to everyone, and she offered encouragement and hope to everyone whose path she crossed, even as she faced her own decline and death. And now she is showing us the way to Paradise. Her gratitude for and gentle appreciation of those around her in Hospice is both moving and humbling.

After a bed bath and lunch, she was a little more awake and asked for her rosary. I gave it to her and asked if she wanted me to pray. "Not just now," she said. But a few moments later, watching her try to untangle the beads, I reached to help her and she said, "We could pray it together." So we did, she holding onto the cross, and me working my fingers around the five decades with tears trickling down my cheeks. Even though my Lenten practice this year is to pray a daily rosary, for some strange reason, I couldn't recall Friday's First Sorrowful Mystery for the life of me (the Agony in the Garden! Ruthie's sister reminded me later) -- so I took that as the Holy Spirit's suggestion to start instead with the First Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection, since that's what Ruthie's working toward anyway. Her eyes closed, and her lips moved intermittently to the prayers. She smiled frequently, especially every time I started a new decade.

Though her words are no longer clear and she fades in and out, the words to one of her favourite devotions haven't left her, and never will. I suspect that, as she wends her way home to God, the rosary plays like a gentle pastoral symphony in the background of her mind. We prayed and Ruthie smiled, and I couldn't shake the feeling that Mary and Jesus are walking along the path to Paradise with my friend, and they are smiling, too.

Thank you, my dear Ruthie, for your conviction and courage, your love and compassion, your ministry and your openness to all, and for being my friend. God saw your heart and loves you deeply. I miss you already.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

When the snow is up to your belly

Apparently it's World Puppy Day, hence the video below. It has melted a lot since last week, when Shadow had a couple of pretty long walks, and by the end of them he was pretty worn out. I guess that's how it is when the snow is up to your belly. All that delicious snow to bury your face in and eat, and definitely a good cardio workout by the time we got home! Happy Puppy Day...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

As I Am #8 -- We remember

The L'Arche International #AsIAm video producer has done it again. As I Am #8 was released yesterday, just in time for World Down Syndrome Day, and it shares a beautiful remembrance of Bapi, who lived in L'Arche in Kolkata, India. The community's recollections, sorrow and wistful smiles remind us that every life matters, and every person is a gift.

This World Down Syndrome Day, I celebrate those people with Down Syndrome who have been and still are gifts in my life.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

To the well again

The woman at the well icon at Taizé
Every day, Lord,
I try to return to the well to sit with you.
Heaven knows I'm not always successful
when it comes to actually getting there...
and staying there!

But when I do come,
you know me better than I know myself,
and you show me to myself in the silence.
You tell me everything I have ever done,
and I don't always like what I hear.

But resting in your presence
and listening for your voice
I discover who I really am
and how deeply I am loved.
And our silence together
often inspires me to action --
to move from silence with you
-- to presence with others.
I know what you want me to do -- or not do.

Now that you have given me your living water,
my thirst for you only increases,
and I only want to return to the well
to sit with you again.
Help me to get there...
and stay there!


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Simple Suggestion #262... Let music lift you

Life around here has been a bit more emotionally challenging than usual, with sad news from friends, backward steps in the world of politics, health problems and all sorts of other uncertainties. My eyes have been tired from all the tears of late. So it's always wonderful to find something hopeful -- and music lifts me up more than anything else. When I'm feeling blue, a cheerful tune is pretty much my best medicine, especially if it's danceable.

This lovely music video isn't quite in that category, but I ran across it the other day and had to listen to it several times. It is "glorious" in its way -- both in its message, and in the lovely young faces of the One Voice Mormon Children's Choir so focused on their choral conductor and filmed so beautifully. The song's harmonies make me wish I could sing in a choir again.

What raises your spirits? If it's a song, I'd love to hear it! Send me a link and if I can, I'll post your musical lift here for others to enjoy. In the meantime, here's Glorious...

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Here's to all those snow blower super heroes

Not a stitch of snow...
Maybe there are guys or gals like him in your neighbourhood, too. You know, the ones who might be recently retired, and who also recently remembered the leaf blower/snow blower that hasn't seen enough use. And hey, now that they're retired, they have time to go out and clear those sidewalks of every last bit of snow, even as it's falling... and they seem to enjoy doing it!

I'll be the first to admit that it hasn't been our snowiest winter on record. I'm actually a bit worried about a dry spring. Even so, we've been happily watching our super snow blower man lately because not only are his own sidewalks completely clear of snow and ice, but he's been out with every dusting of snow, blowing off everyone else's walks, too. He clears his own driveway, the walks of his blind neighbour, and the newly widowed elderly lady who lives the next door down -- and then he keeps on going. On Saturday, when the snow was deepest, he blew a path down the middle of the sidewalks all the way around our little area park (past about twenty homes), and our neighbour, thinking the snow blower was done, cleaned up the edges in front of our two homes. That's when super snow blower guy came by a second time and obliterated the thin skiff that the shovel couldn't get! I guess his machine had more juice than he thought, and he just kept on going, leaving not a stitch of snow behind.

Several times of late, seeing and hearing him coming, I stood at the front window to wave my thanks, but he's a heads-down, hard-working super snow blower guy who is so focused on his work that he never looks up to see my gratitude (or maybe the snow gets in his eyes). So I stuck my head out the front door, but he was already moving on, the noise of the machine preventing my voice from reaching his ears. Of course, I know where my snow blower super hero lives, and I vow to leave him some of this year's first batch of fresh backyard berry jam when the time comes...

Here's to the super snow blower people, the neighbours who clear other people's walks, or brush off their cars, or pick up litter, or perform nearly unnoticed acts of kindness just because they can. You know who you are, and you deserve better than berry jam. Thanks for all you do!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Happy Holi!

A couple of years ago, my friend from work shared a gorgeous Bollywood movie with me, and I'll admit that I was completely absorbed by what turned out to be a lovely romantic comedy with subtitles. It was just good clean fun, with some pretty amazing dancing, and the wonderful Holi scene in the video below. I love how different cultures celebrate Spring!

Today is Holi -- a festival that "signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of Spring, end of winter, and for many a day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships" (Wikipedia). Because of the Indian diaspora all over the globe, Holi is celebrated in many countries... and I remember seeing a picture of my niece covered in colours from a celebration here in Edmonton (though I think it was celebrated in the summer, not on a -13 C day like we're having now).

It's supposed to warm up, and Spring can't be that far off. In the meantime, here's a little colourful spring fun to tide us over until it actually arrives. To all friends from India, Happy Holi!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A special Lenten prayer

The thing about the silence, song and scriptural prayer of Taizé is that it's supposed to bring Christians of different denominations together. That's why we try to visit different churches each month in our prayer schedule, and to encourage people from all of the churches we visit to cross each other's thresholds more often. It's easy for Lutherans to pray in their own churches, but it's a bit of a challenge to get them to attend prayer in an Anglican church. Our hope is that people will enjoy this prayer so much, it won't matter which worship space they're in!

This weekend, our usual group of musicians is combining with the musicians who lead Taizé on the second Sunday of the month at All Saints' Anglican Cathedral (10035 103 St) at the very same time as we usually do the same. We are very excited to pray and sing with our sister group downtown, and we invite you all for what is sure to be a very special Lenten prayer. Come and pray with us, and bring a friend!

For those of you too far afield to join us, here's a beautiful chant which means, "Forever I will sing the mercy of God." I especially love the flute parts in this one. Enjoy...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

When too many yeses equal no

You could say I'm feeling pressured these days, and it's my own fault. As someone who works on a very part-time basis most of the time, it's only too easy to feel guilty when I'm not bringing home much of a pay cheque. That's when I agree to doing too many other more voluntary kinds of things. I have the time, right? I'm so blessed in that regard.

But even I have a limit. With ten musical commitments between now and Easter, one of them as musician for a week long retreat in Montreal the week before Holy Week, I hit my limit yesterday. When I was asked to lead the music for the L'Arche community's Seder Meal, I think I shocked the Community Life Coordinator by saying no. She rephrased the question and tried again, and again I said no. It took her a few minutes to understand my no, and then she did not look very happy -- I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that I've never said no to her before (plus it means she still has to find someone to say yes).

As much as I would love to help, I just can't see my way to adding one more musical commitment to a pile of other ones: two this weekend, two more next weekend, the week in Montreal (I need time to learn some French songs for that one!), two rehearsals for Easter, two Good Friday events, and Easter Vigil. And that's just the musical commitments. There's also a greenhouse calling my name, appointments to make and keep, friends who are being neglected, and other life events (and family) to which I should attend.

No is the only way to go at this point. And it actually felt good to say it yesterday. Looking at all these yeses I've been saying, I suspect I should say no more often!

How about you?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The original 40 days of Lent

I don't know about you, but I've never really given a lot of thought to the original Lent, the forty days when the holiest of holy men walked into a desert to spend time with God. It seems to be what was needed before Christ embraced his mission to teach us all about how love and the suffering that comes with it bring us to resurrection and deeper love.

In Jesus' day, going out to the desert was a practice mostly undertaken by the Essenes, a sect in Roman-occupied Palestine who embraced simplicity, prayer and fasting as a way of life. John the Baptist probably "trained" in that tradition, and it's clear that the average Jane and Joe of his time looked at the desert-dwellers as either really holy or really crazy people. You can tell from Jesus' comments about John (Matthew 11:18). Going into the desert wasn't something taken lightly -- a certain reputation came with it.

What exactly does one do in a desert for forty days? No one really knows what Jesus did with his forty-day "time away from it all retreat." I can't begin to imagine fasting or praying for that long, so I guess that's why this video with Matt Maher's song, 40 Days, caught my attention. Kudos to the video creators!

To be honest, I didn't really like it when I first saw it a few weeks ago, but after listening to the gospel reading this morning, I had to find it and watch it again and rehear the lyrics... and now something in me has changed.

The images, while simplistic, touch something fundamental about the meaning of Lent. It is a time apart from the ordinary, an opportunity for silence, solitude and simplicity. The image that stays with me the most is Christ on his belly in the dust, watching a flower grow, probably in deep conversation with the One who made the flower.

What will you do in the desert for these 40 days?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Welcome March

How did the first two months of the year disappear so quickly? It's crazy how time flies faster the older I get. I used to find March to be the hardest month of the year as far as my mental health went, but this year I'm happy to see it.

When I was younger, March was painted blue, and I found its accompanying mood hard to shake. The end of winter and Easter couldn't come soon enough, the skies always seemed to be grey, and everything felt monotone. Maybe I'd hit my limit for darker winter days.

But things have shifted over time. Having a child to celebrate mid-March helped somewhat... and buying the odd bouquet of tulips... or maybe it's the optimism that naturally arrives with age and wisdom? I'm seeing the light increasing in a way that I never did when I was younger.

At any rate, it's a bright sunny day, I've hung my first load of laundry for 2017 on the clothesline outside, and I'm singing happy little songs to March, whose blue is now sky blue. It's so good to see the sun getting a little higher in the sky each day, the daylight lasting a little longer, the waxwings flying in their swooping murmurations, and the brown patches wearing through the white coats of the jack rabbits.

Welcome, March!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Simple Suggestion #108 revisited... Naturalize your wardrobe

After a shopping trip for some cotton camisoles went nowhere on the weekend, I got into an interesting clothing-related conversation at work yesterday. A couple of my colleagues were commenting on North Americans' clothing, and how surprised they were to see people going to church in jeans and t-shirts, or walking the streets in sweat pants. According to one of my friends, in Zambia, people get gussied up just to go to and from work because it's important to look good even if you're a labourer for most of the day. For many people, a good wardrobe is a must, and wearing the same clothing over and over isn't a good choice.

But the industry that drives people to always wear the latest fashion isn't sustainable. The earth would be much better off if we had fewer clothes of better quality and wore them until they wore out, never mind what's trendy. After sorting through bags and bags of donated clothing at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul over the years, I came to a place where too much is TOO MUCH. My wardrobe is very simple, and I'm sure people have seen every item I wear many times over, but does that really matter? Not when the health of our planet is at stake. If everyone on earth buys a new spring, summer, fall and winter wardrobe, it won't be long until our planet is uninhabitable!

It's also a good idea to live in natural fibres as much as possible. For one thing, they breathe better, and for another, when they get to the end of their lives (or mine), if they end up in a landfill, they will biodegrade in a way that polyester and other artificial fibres don't. In the earlier days of humanity, everyone wore clothing that was hand-made from plants or fleece and skins of animals, but now we're covering ourselves with petroleum-derived materials that shed microfibres into our ecosystems. And our ecosystems are us... as this new video from the Story of Stuff people makes clear.

These days, almost everything we wear is processed in one way or another, so it takes extra effort to find clothing made from wool, cotton, hemp, and other natural fibres that aren't chemically treated in ways that wreck our environment at their beginnings, or aren't made by people trapped in poor working conditions. But if we can find it, clothing manufactured using sustainable, people-friendly methods is often of such good quality that it lasts longer than the unsustainable equivalents, if you can even call them equivalents. Another option is buying natural-fibre clothing second-hand instead of creating consumer demand for new items.

I've spent part of my afternoon today looking at "sustainable clothing" websites, and there still aren't enough retailers for natural fibre fair trade apparel as far as I can see. So, as the video says, we need to let the clothing industry know that we want more sustainable options, and it probably wouldn't hurt to let some of the more sustainable clothing producers out there know that we appreciate their efforts. The powers that be can't read our minds, but it seems they notice when we vote with our pocket books. Right, Ivanka Trump?

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It's quarter to two in Saskatoon

I spent a fine day at the L'Arche Day Program today while some of the team did their first aid training update. We had musical morning prayer with shakers and drums, and Mariette* prayed for all her wonderful friends as usual. Then we had a seated circle game, passing a ball around with hands and feet, and our own special version of the Bird Dance. We played Dominoes (and made lines of them for Leanne to knock down), Connect Four (who can get their pieces into the stand the fastest?), and Kerplunk! with Thomas and Leanne, counting all the marbles. It was all great fun as I hadn't played some of the games since my kids were young, and to heck with the rules!

But the most enjoyable moments of the day came from Mariette and her cell phone. While we were having lunch together, she turned it on and announced quite authoritatively, "It's twelve-seventeen in Edmonton, and one-seventeen in Saskatoon." That made us laugh out loud, no one louder than Mariette. Then we got into a conversation about what time it was in Vancouver, and Brantford Ontario, where Mariette's brother lives, and whether we know people in all of Canada's time zones.

About a half hour later, Mariette was finishing a game of Ludo, Trouble, or Aggravation (one of those games that has different names in different cultures) and she suddenly blurted out, " What do you know? It's quarter to two in Saskatoon!" to more delighted laughter from those of us present. I guess it's the running joke at L'Arche Edmonton these days, asking Mariette what time it is in Saskatoon, because she loves to give the answer. She knows she's right.

Certainty can be a wonderful thing. And aren't we all happy to show off what we know? What's delightful about Mariette's announcements of the time in Saskatoon is that it's like a big joke with a punchline that's hers to deliver -- and she delivers it with gusto and a big laugh to boot. We can't prevent ourselves from grinning and laughing with her. Jokes don't really have to be funny if you deliver them with enough joy!

It reminds me of my kids' riddles when they were small and didn't really understand conventional humour. Lines like, "What did the table cloth say to the table? Oh, you need to be washed. Hahahahaha!"

I think everyone needs a Mariette, or a child in their life, just to remind them that punchlines can be whatever you want when delivered with enough enthusiasm and a belly laugh!

*I use pseudonyms for the names of all my L'Arche friends.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Even when perturbed, Benissez le Seigneur

On Friday night, I had a lot of dishes to wash, so I downloaded the Taizé podcast from (thanks to my friend, Claudia) and got to work. It was uplifting to hear the community singing -- including two of my favourite frères -- and there was also flute, recorder and oboe, a trio I hadn't yet heard together on a podcast. In February, when pilgrims aren’t so numerous, it seems the musicians come out of the woodwork!

Toward the end of the podcast, the community sang the chant below, and I realized that this week, I was perturbed and weighed down by so many things that I kind of forgot to Benissez le Seigneur (Bless the Lord). Good thing God is compassion and knows exactly where I’m at -- with friends and family who have health issues, an unexpected cat-care regimen, my frustration with politics, and my worry-wart nature...

So I’ve decided to make up for my self-absorption by posting the chant with verses taken straight from the Book of Daniel (3:58 onward), sung in the many languages of the brothers at Taizé. Even if life seems a little bleak for the moment, it’s still important to Benissez le Seigneur – and it lifts the spirits, too. God is good, and continues to hold us and our beautiful world together even in our struggles!

All you peoples, bless the Lord -- benissez le Seigneur... Spirits and souls of the just -- benissez le Seigneur... and have a good week!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Simple Suggestion #261... Focus on one thing

These days I'm spending some time as a volunteer at our L'Arche Day Program, on days when the team has its meetings. What this means is that I arrive early enough to greet the gang when they arrive, to help with coats and pour coffee while the regular staff are elsewhere in the building.

Last week, Sandy* arrived early, even before I did, and I found her already "working hard." "Hi, Ria!" she said, and got up to pull a chair next to hers. Patting the seat so I would sit, she returned to her task -- she has playing cards from five different decks that she sorts while she drinks her coffee every morning.

I sat and marveled at her as she worked. She was methodical and unhurried, putting the cards into five different margarine containers according to the designs on their backs, and then starting over again and sorting them into suits in four of the same containers. She was so focused that nothing distracted her, and there was something very calming about the way she worked -- I found myself mesmerized -- and suddenly flashed back to the end of my first year of teaching, when I spent two days unwinding before returning to the city, doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and playing solitaire the old-fashioned way, with a deck of playing cards.

Sandy worked down to the last few cards, mostly spades, and didn't miss the fact that one of them was a club and had to go into a different container. She tossed it in with the other clubs, turned to me, and smiled, pleased with herself. I cheered and clapped, and so did she once all the cards were in the right place. "Yay!" she said. "I did it!"

There's something important about putting things in order, in finishing tasks, and in patting ourselves on the back. I'd recommend something like sorting with Sandy to anyone who could use a little break from our multi-tasking world's chaos. Focusing on one simple objective -- whether putting dishes away, straightening your desk, sweeping the floor, or playing solitaire -- is good for the soul somehow.

Thanks, Sandy, for the reminder.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All we need is radical love

After listening to the reading of the Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) this morning, my mind went off on its own homily. I couldn't help but reflect on how Christianity is failing. And I think the reason for its failure is that too many of its churches have turned into tribal councils or morality police more concerned with ensuring that their "own flocks" follow the rules than with how we need to work together for the common good of all.

Of course, it's not Christ's fault, he who said that we need to live non-violently, go the extra mile for our sisters and brothers on the margins, love our enemies, be perfect as God is perfect and a few dozen other basic things that we seem to have forgotten in our relatively comfy, privileged pews. It's a rough, raw, radical love that Jesus expects of us, one that takes a hit without hitting back and still moves forward in humility, generosity, patience and compassion. It's how he lived -- his kind of radical love reaches through the centuries -- otherwise we never even would have heard of a small town preacher and healer from a backwater town in the middle East.

The word radical comes from the Latin word for root. Radical love roots our lives in the important things in life so that we can ignore the inconsequential ones and live simply, out of love. The only way our world will survive is if we return to radical love for our planet, for others, for creation, and for ourselves. We need to work for the common good, to turn the other cheek, to give our life energies to goodness, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and do all the other radical things that Jesus himself chose to do right to the end.

A tall order. But we're seeing far too much radical hatred these days, and it's clearly not the way our world needs to go.

What acts of radical love will you engage in this week? They don't have to be anything heroic, just rooted in love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A sun dog of a different kind

When it's so cold that the sun has little snatches of rainbow around it, we call those glowing prismatic spots sun dogs. But here's a sun dog of a different kind...

I'm so happy to see the sun rising in the sky. Every day, it gets a little higher, and Shadow has noticed, too. He's finally able to enjoy his sunbeam on the dining room floor again...

Mmmm, this is good...

Were you talking to me?

No? Oh, good.

Life's simple pleasures. Ahhh....

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Praying for so many things

This evening, we will have our monthly ecumenical prayer at Grace United Church (6215 104 Ave) at 7 p.m. Please join us if you are able. I find that I have so many things/people to pray for...

My family
A friend who is dying
Others who aren't well
Our immigrants and refugees
Wisdom in our political leaders
Peace in places where it is lacking
Care for our planet and its climate, in particular
The lovely Syrian friends I bowled with yesterday (their first time)

Just to name a few...

But really, God knows everything in my heart before I utter a word. So this evening, I will simply rest in God's compassion, without asking for anything, trusting that God is caring for everything without me saying anything. We won't be singing the chant posted below at this evening's prayer, but it's become the song that plays in the back of my mind every time I pray.

In the words of Brother Roger:

You love us. You love us.
Taking everything upon yourself
you open a way for us toward faith
toward trust in God who wants neither suffering
nor human distress. Spirit of the Living Christ,
Spirit of compassion, Spirit of praise
your love for each one of us will never go away.

Who/what are you praying for? If you feel like leaving a comment, I'll pray with you, too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Taking a chance on each other

My great-grandparents in Russia
I’ve been noticing way too much anti-immigrant/refugee commentary on social media here in Canada, and it’s really bothering me. Yesterday it reached the tipping point in my head and spilled out in a grumpy, miserable moodling that I’ve toned down a lot. Even so, this may get a bit messy:

With the exception of our Canadian-from-the-very-beginning Indigenous sisters and brothers (who are still handling the effects of long-term Canadian racism -- another huge problem that still needs to be addressed), we, the people of Canada, are made up of immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Most of us came from other places to belong to a country that wasn’t ours to begin with. None of us really own our homeland, but we have helped to shape it into a country that strives to be open toward and tolerant of our human differences -- with varying rates of success.

My own great-grandparents were Russian-German farmers and blacksmiths who left their land near the Volga river during the Russian Revolution in the early 1900s. They came to Western Canada simply because their lives had been caught between the Red and White armies battling for control of Russia after the era of the Tzars. Their homes and families endangered, my ancestors fled to safety in Canada. Eventually they learned English, though the punchlines of jokes were usually in German, much to the chagrin of my third-generation cousins and me!

I suspect that most Canadians whose ancestors arrived in the first quarter of the last century (or much earlier) would say that they are also descendants of immigrants who came to Canada for the promise of good farm land, freedom, and safety for their children. Yet some of the descendants of these same immigrants now self-righteously act as though they own Canada and have the right to determine who is a “true” Canadian.

How quickly we forget our own history!

My great-grandfather came across on a boat, praying with his family to survive the long ocean crossing. He stood in a line at Pier 21 in Halifax, like thousands of others waiting to be documented, and I wonder if he got down on his hands and knees to kiss the ground once he'd scrawled his signature on the dotted line. Then he and his wife and children boarded a train that took them across the country, searched the Saskatchewan prairie for the iron stake that marked their homestead, and built a sod house before winter set in. The new immigrants had to work hard physically -- longer, harder days than many of their great-grandchildren ever will. It goes without saying that we are grateful for the Canadian birthright they worked for and handed down to us.

In a similar fashion, today's immigrant or refugee may have been driven to put his family on a boat -- belonging to a human trafficker -- because it was safer than facing terror, genocide or war where he once lived. He and his family prayed to get across the sea safely, and arrived on the other side to be herded into a truck that took them to an overcrowded refugee camp where they waited for three or four years in squalor  -- with no school for the children, no privacy, no real healthcare, and nothing to call their own but the clothes they wore. They had to scramble for money to pay foreign people to fill out reams of paperwork so they could to come to Canada, where they now have to navigate a very complex and, unfortunately, racist society. And the worst of the racists are usually nth-generation descendants of immigrants from years past.

From conversations with my immigrant friends who have come to Canada more recently, I know that they are more than willing to uphold Canada's laws and support their new country in good and bad times, to learn a new language, and to contribute their many significant talents to society while working, worrying about family members back home who might also hope to come to Canada, and helping their children to feel as though they belong here. They just want to make a good impression, to be welcomed, to have friends.

So it makes me angry when some people -- who probably don't even personally know (as friends) any of these newcomers -- decide that our new arrivals to Canada don’t deserve to be here because they’re not adapting quickly enough. The thing is, life is so different now -- in many ways that we barely even realize. While it’s true that today’s immigrants and refugees don’t have to build sod houses or plow virgin prairie, they struggle like our ancestors did to build new lives, but in a world where land, home, employment and citizenship are harder and harder to come by for lots of different reasons.

And it disturbs me to no end that some of today's nth-generation children of immigrants use the "history" of their European ancestors' military service in fighting for Canada in the World Wars as an example -- to insinuate that recently-arrived Canadians are probably terrorists from other countries who would never dream of lifting a finger to defend the Canadian lifestyle into which they and their families have been welcomed. The critics are forgetting that many of the new Canadian soldiers in the World Wars (who fled wars in their lands of origin) were conscripted. And isn't it a bit unrealistic to expect people who have fled violence for peace and security in Canada to turn around and enlist in our armed forces? Most of the Canadians-to-be that I know are just struggling to understand and fit into their adopted country’s language, culture and traditions while still treasuring their own, just as my great-grandparents did. My immigrant friends have left war, desperation, hatred and divisions behind to fully embrace their new homeland with an incredible gratitude, even as many life-long Canadians take our country for granted.

To people complaining about our newcomers I want to say: Sure, immigrants and refugees might dress differently than you and I do, but that's okay, really, it is. Their customs and traditions might seem a bit unusual at first, but everything new takes some getting used to. Their skin might not be the colour we're used to, but they're just as beautiful if you really look, and though it might be hard to understand them at first, communication will become easier with practice. And I am almost certain that anyone who lives a week in their lives or walks a hundred miles in their shoes will have nothing but respect and admiration for them, just as they respect and admire Canada for welcoming them.

Diversity means resilience and strength in nature. And diversity in our country is one of our strengths too. So while our family histories as longer-term Canadians are something that, yes, we can be proud of, they are also a reason to cut our newcomers some slack, to give them some time to settle in without facing undue criticism or racism. We need to realize that offhandedly spouting racist remarks (or copying them on social media) about not accepting people different than ourselves isn't helping anything -- rather, it's increasing bullying, prejudice, injustice, and worse, creating conditions for violence.

Instead, let's make time and opportunities to get to know more immigrants and refugees and let them share with us their goodness, kindness, generosity and friendship. And let's reciprocate! We’re better off taking a chance on each other than ignoring or denigrating potential new friends. After all, we are brothers and sisters in one human family, and in this country, we are all on our way to being Canadians together.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sunday Remoodling: Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

I was recently reminded of this moodling from two years ago because of all my present moodling (musing and doodling) about truth during these days of "alternative facts." I think it deserves to be revisited:

December 2014 -- This week I paid a visit to my local library. It's been a few years since our family's weekly routine of hauling home a bag filled with children's books went by the wayside due to the onset of adolescence, but I'm still a sucker for great children's picture books! I brought one home called Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (2003, Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-32109-3), written by Douglas Wood, and illustrated with beautiful water colour images by Jon J. Muth (I'm a sucker for water colour art, too!) 

Old Turtle is a beautiful story about a truth (like a meteorite) shooting through the sky and breaking up before it hits the earth. Animals find the truth, but realize that it is too sharp, with a piece missing that prevents it from "working properly." Then people find it, and declare it to be the most beautiful truth ever, enshrining it in a special place and fighting to keep it from others, causing all sorts of bloodshed, hatred, anguish and pain.

But a young girl with an open heart and mind goes to talk to grandmotherly Old Turtle, who gives the girl the missing piece of the truth. Gratefully receiving it, the girl takes it back to her people, who discover that the two pieces fit together perfectly, revealing the whole truth: "You are loved / and so are they." Discovering the whole truth, the people begin to be able to look at others... and see themselves, too.

Since reading the book, which I recommend to anyone with children, and even to adults(!), I've been reflecting on places where love of the 'other' has gone missing -- in relationships between nations and races, in our abuse of creation, in our refusal to accept difference.

I am realizing how much God is needed in our world in the form of justice, mercy, peace, and love. There are so many places where the darkness is calling out for light. So, we can't just sit on our hands while we wait -- we need to let our hands be God's hands, our words be God's words, our actions be God's actions in love, peace, mercy and justice.

Come, O God,
light our darkness,
heal our lovelessness,
make us into your justice
and thus,
bring us peace.
Let us always remember that,
as we are loved,
so are all the others you have created.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to avoid cruel and unusual punishment

It was bad enough getting my teeth cleaned by a less-than-gentle dental hygienist, ouch. What made it worse was the television on the ceiling of the room that was playing the U.S. President's press secretary speaking to the media while my teeth were scraped and scaled. When I told a friend about this morning's experience of being a captive audience in a dentist's chair, she laughed and said, "double cruel and unusual punishment, for sure!"

Like many people, I'm trying my best to find some good in Donald Trump -- or at least trying not to get into rants about him. I grew up hearing Thumper the Rabbit's voice (in Bambi) saying, "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all," though I now temper that phrase with Edmund Burke's "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing." My best theory about this whole situation is that perhaps the Holy Spirit is allowing the present president to teach the world that we can't wait for presidents to make the world a better place; we also have to engage in improving ourselves and the situations where we can make a difference, and speak up for those without a voice.

So far I've managed to avoid signing the many on-line petitions of complaint against the man (what will they prove, really?) and I'm watching what I say about him because I believe that all the nasty badmouthing of both sides in the last year or so seems to be what got us here in the first place. But with all the negative and fear-based things happening in the first few weeks of this presidency, it's really difficult not to continually assume that the worst will happen, especially when so many lies are flying around (and so many refugees who have already gone through "extreme vetting" and have valid visas are waiting for the U.S. borders to reopen).

When I first saw the video below, I was put off by the negative and mocking tone of the speaker -- but a few days further on, I'm thinking he makes some valid points, especially after seeing this morning's press conference. If the President continues to use the media to market and push some of the lies he's using to support his agenda the way he has been, it's definitely within the media's rights to push back -- to "pause the tape" and do some fact-checking so that the truth may be heard (more than) twice as often as the lies. Some of the world's present problems lie in the fact that so many people accept whatever the loudest or most "official" voice says. We can't even hear the truth any more.

But truth, if it is true, doesn't have to be loud and pushy. It is clearly "official" because it manifests itself in beauty, goodness, generosity, kindness, and understanding. If we don't want to live with at least four more years of this "cruel and unusual punishment," of lies and the backlash they create, we need to move into a more positive place. So how do we convince each other of the truth? Not with the angry voices of the President or Keith Olberman in the video, but maybe with some honest facts coupled with a lot of compassion -- and plenty of action to reveal lies for what they are.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Listening to voices of love

I'm not a crowd counter, but I would guess that more than 4000 people gathered near the steps of the Alberta Legislature on Monday night, and thousands more continue to gather in other cities and towns across Canada to stand in solidarity with our grieving Muslim communities. Six of our Muslim brothers in Quebec City, members of our human family -- a computer programmer, a university professor, a pharmacist's aide, a Hallal shop keeper and two newcomers to Canada who were fathers and husbands and brothers and uncles and friends -- died when a university student shot them after their evening prayers on Sunday night.

It's not much of a stretch to link the events in Quebec to the fear and lies being spread by certain politicians in our midst who are focused on closing our borders to immigrants and refugees. It hurts to listen to them create undue fear and insult those who simply want to live in peace and security by insinuating that they are terrorists -- to the point that I'm finding it harder to listen to the news for all the political lies and finger-pointing we have to wade through to get to the real stories of families who are often fleeing terrible situations for a better life with us here. Perhaps you've seen this list from the American Centre for Disease Control already, the point being that terrorism is a poor excuse for closing borders:

No automatic alt text available.

Such stupid excuses to close borders are enough to make anyone lose heart. Thankfully, a friend of mine from work was doing a Toastmasters presentation about Jean Vanier last night and she reminded me why I need to continue to pay attention. We spent some time chatting about how Jean's book, Becoming Human, dragged her from her home in Aleppo, Syria, nine years ago to come to Canada and join L'Arche, a community that helps people with and without disabilities to belong with and to each other. She reminded me of Jean's desire to "build a world where everyone belongs," and in the process, she put the heart back into me. I realized that shutting out the world only allows the wrong rhetoric to gain strength. I need to be aware and to refute it every chance I get. Even with these moodlings.

I'm not sure how we can convince those who are living in fear of immigrants and refugees to believe that everyone belongs -- except to invite them into relationship and to treat them with such tenderness that their fear is banished. It takes time and effort, but most Muslim members of our human family seem to be more than willing to show us the way, laying down their own anger and anxiety to reach out and invite us in to be with them in peace and to pray with them. On my way home from work, I pass a mosque that has thrown up a sign since the shooting inviting passersby to get to know Islam. They are living proof of the words spoken by one Muslim man to our mayor: "We Muslims hear whispers of hate, but we just listen to voices of love."

Every single person on the planet is called to listen to voices of love and to build a world where everyone belongs. So what will you do to help?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

To make compassion our action

I recently came across the little video below. These wonderful Tibetan Buddhist nuns are using the spiritual values of interdependence and compassion to heal the earth where they live:

Their message to us:

"Listen to the water. I am here for the well-being of all life.

Listen to the forest. Care for it like your own child.

We need to work together. Listen to the changes affecting us all.

Compassion is action!"

How can we bring this kind of action about in the spiritual spaces of our North American culture? Can we convince our church, synagogue, or temple communities to put our faith into action for the environment's sake? For the sake of Our Common Home, our sister, Mother Earth? It's been a while since I've moodled around topics related to Pope Francis' letter to the world, Laudato Si.

To start with, we need to give compassion a much higher place in our lives -- to care for our earth, its creatures and its climate more than we do for economic growth. Because of the climate-change-denying, backward-moving politicians in this part of the world who are more interested in pipelines than in encouraging people to reduce their reliance on greenhouse gases, I was delighted to receive an email yesterday about efforts being made by some religious groups to divest from investments connected to fossil fuel industries.

Wouldn't it be something if all the faith communities on our planet put our compassion for the earth into action? There are at least a half dozen religious organizations already involved in divestment campaigns, the Canadian Jesuits among them. And there are several websites encouraging us to start our own divestment campaigns, with free resources to help us get started. Even if we're not ready to consider divestment, tackling our personal dependence on fossil fuels is something we can all do, simply by reducing our own use of vehicles, carpooling and taking public transit more often, or better yet, walking or cycling. And how about those mostly unnecessary tropical vacations? Maybe we need to learn to love where we live and do our utmost to keep it beautiful, like these wonderful Tibetans.

Action turns compassion into more than a feeling. It becomes life for the world. And isn't that what the greatest religious teachers have tried to tell us through the centuries? The way, truth and life that humans seek comes through working together for the good of all of creation.