Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Two ecumenical ways to have a good Good Friday

I remember dreading Good Friday when I was a kid. Such a heavy, heavy day, with that long story of Jesus' ordeal before he died, and that sad song asking, "Were you there?" To me, it was overwhelmingly sad that a good man had to die, supposedly to atone for my sins. I think it was the guilt complex that came with Good Friday that made it so difficult. I mean, was the fact that I fought with my sisters really why Jesus had to die?

But I was missing the point. Jesus came to show us how to live, even in the most impossible circumstances. He was all about love and forgiveness, right to his death, when he said, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). 

Even so, I'm still not a huge fan of the traditional three o'clock Good Friday service. That's why I offer alternative possibilities for Good Friday observance in these moodlings every year -- ones that are focused less on the reading of the Gospel narrative of the passion, and more on the hope that Jesus gives all people by the way he surrenders himself to God. His deep trust in God and his solidarity with us in the most difficult of human struggles is meant to give us hope and courage. So for the last several years, I have been attending two different Good Friday events that offer slightly different slants on Christ's death. If you've been following my moodlings for a while, you know where I'm going with this...

No automatic alt text available.The first event is the Edmonton Outdoor Way of the Cross. It's an ecumenical event that begins at 10 am outside of Immigration Hall on the corner of 100th Street and 105th Ave. If the weather holds (the present forecast indicates snow and cool weather, so it's important to dress for it), we will walk an easy two-kilometer route, ending a block from where we began. There will be several stations where the crowd will gather to listen to reflections on the theme of "Speaking Truth to Power." As we follow the cross through the inner city, we are challenged to become Christ's hands and feet on the day we remember that his were nailed to the cross -- we are all called to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly like he did.

The second event is Ecumenical Prayer Around the Cross in the style of Taizé at the beautiful main chapel in Providence Renewal Centre (3005 119 Street) at 7 p.m. It's a little longer than an hour of meditative reflection with silence, a short passage from the Gospel, prayers of the gathered community, and a lot of beautiful music that calms and quiets the soul so that God can be heard.

Both events are free, though donations to Hope Mission are welcomed after the Way of the Cross. The free-will offering collected at the evening Ecumenical Prayer will be divided between Wings of Providence Women's Shelter and the Anawim Food Bank -- two charities associated with the Sisters of Providence, who are hosting the evening prayer.

However you choose to observe Good Friday, I hope it is a deeply meaningful day for you, one that is sad, yes, but also hopeful, motivating us all toward justice and peace.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday reflection: Empty

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Philippians 2: 6-11.


But it wasn't about your ego.

You set your Godliness aside
to show us
how to become


servants are empty
of their own will,
doing only
what they are asked.

You were born
as we are born.

You lived
but rather differently
than most of us live.

Your humility
and obedience
took you
to unspeakable human places:
and death.

We know some of these.

you died
on a broken tree.

But it was your emptiness
that allowed
God to fill you up again
with God's life
and strength.

God raised you
and gave you the name
anointed one,
alpha and omega,
first and last,
before all things
and beyond all things.

And yes,
every knee should bend
and every tongue should confess
that the empty one,
the humble one,
the obedient one
has showed us
how to
so that God
can fill us up
and shine through us.

O Christ,
show us how
to set our egos aside,
to become empty,
to become


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pronouns matter

To say that our family has struggled with pronouns in the last two years is a bit of an understatement.

If you've been following these moodlings for any length of time, you'll know that our youngest child (a young adult as of last week) came out as a non-binary person almost two years ago. I haven't moodled much about this transition because I've been too busy trying to get my head around what it all means for our family, and there are still many things to sort out. But thanks to some good people and a few helpful resources, I'm starting to be able to articulate my experience as the parent of a transgender child.

The first thing I'll admit to is that I haven't been very good at this whole transition. From the outset, I was able to say, "I don't really care what gender you are -- I'm your mom, and I love you and support you no matter what." Thank goodness for that much.

But there are lots of things I have struggled with. Realizing that my child -- with whom I had lived and whom I loved (by another name and gender) for their first 16 years -- was not who I understood them to be, was difficult, to put it mildly. To be honest, I am still going through a grieving process.

Understanding and believing that God could create people outside of the two tick-boxes of male and female has been a bit easier for me thanks to my friends in the LGBTQ community, some of whom are very faith-filled people. Unfortunately, my Church is way behind on gender issues (but lucky for me, I've had a fair number of prior disagreements with it to prepare me for this one, and my spiritual director has helped me to gain some peace by emphasizing the importance of my relationship with God above Church).

But one of my main struggles -- and one that everyone I share my story with seems to complain about -- is pronouns. In my frustration back at the beginning of the journey, I once said to Jay, "I'm being held hostage by f***ing pronouns!" But that was just plain wrong. It's Jay who is most negatively affected by the wrong gender-related words being applied, and adapting my pronoun usage is really a minor thing when it makes a difference for Jay's mental health. As I found out in my reading of a helpful resource book by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney, two experts on gender diversity,
If someone with a non-binary identity asks you to use a gender-neutral pronoun (e.g., they) and you continue to use pronouns associated with their assumed gender, then that is non-affirming... Non-affirmation is associated with mental distress, as well as perceived general life stress, depression and social anxiety.
-The Transgender Teen: 
A Handbook for Parents and Professionals 
Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens 
(2016 Cleis Press, ISBN978-1-62778-174-9) 

For Jay and many others like them, to be called he or she feels wrong. Just wrong. I know that this isn't the greatest comparison, but it's the closest example I can come up with of what it must be like to be mis-gendered. Once I went shopping in the lingerie department of a local department store after a fresh haircut, and the cashier there called me sir. It rankled, and made me question myself and my self-image, at least until the sales clerk became quite embarrassed when they realized their mistake. (See what I did there with those gender-neutral pronouns?)

Being called sir was a very minor incident for me, but the fact that I still remember it says something important. Having that same thing happen over and over again every day, week in and week out would be completely demoralizing. I can't imagine having to constantly correct people who assign me another gender's pronouns. It would be exhausting and humiliating. I'd feel less than myself, I'd get tired of trying, and I'd start to believe that people just can't accept me as I am. Can you imagine?

Jay tells me that being called he or she by people who don't take the time to care what pronouns work for Jay wears them down. If people make an honest mistake, that's one thing, but if they continue call my child a she or a he without even trying to adjust their pronoun use, that's not affirming of who Jay feels they are.

Heaven knows I've made a million mistakes pronoun-wise in the past two years, and Jay forgives me and other family members because they know we are trying even though our brains don't always choose those pronouns properly. I have yet to make it through a week with all the correct pronouns, but I apologize and keep going!

I know it feels strange to use they, them and their, but I also know that railing against they, them and their being used as singular pronouns doesn't help anything. It's interesting to note that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is moving with the times, and has adapted to a new use of what those of us over 30 would prefer to think of as plural pronouns:
They is taking on a new use, however: as a pronoun of choice for someone who doesn’t identify as either male or female. This is a different use than the traditional singular they, which is used to refer to a person whose gender isn’t known or isn’t important in the context [Maria's note: like my story about the store clerk above]... The new use of they is direct, and it is for a person whose gender is known, but who does not identify as male or female. If I were introducing a friend who preferred to use the pronoun they, I would say, “This is my friend, Jay. I met them at work.”
Read more at https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/singular-nonbinary-they

If Merriam-Webster recognizes the importance of the singular non-binary they, maybe it's time for the rest of us to get with the program. Maybe we need to accept that everything changes, and language evolves with time just as human beings do?

When I was Jay's age, transgender people were pretty much unheard of, and the LGBTQ community was pretty much living in hiding. It's only recently that they are starting to feel safe enough to be themselves, and I want to cry when I think how many people from past generations were lost to addiction, mental health issues, or suicide because they felt they couldn't be themselves.

I now have four people in my life who ask that I use they, them and their as their pronouns, and I'll admit that it can be a bit confusing at times. When I talk about Jay as they, people who don't know about Jay's transition to non-binary wonder, "They? Jay and who else?" It also can be challenging to explain the use of the singular they to someone who has yet to meet and greet a non-binary person. I'm never sure how people will respond. But as our society moves to be more gender-inclusive, we need to remember that for some among us, pronouns matter a lot, and that we ought to do our best to use them well.

So, when we meet someone who has different pronouns than we'd expect, the best thing is to roll with what works for that person to the best of our ability. We can't just ignore pronouns -- we need to pay attention to gender words and use them appropriately. It's simple respect. Of course, we binary-brained cis-gender people can expect to make mistakes, and expect to apologize frequently. But we also need to be gentle with ourselves. It takes a while for our brain synapses to adjust to change, but change is inevitable. Especially if we work at it.

I'm living proof (99 times out of 100)!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Reflection: The days are surely coming

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Jeremiah 31: 31-34.

You are making
a new covenant with us,
O God.

We don't deserve it,
but that's just who you are.

You stand by us no matter what.

You give us life.

You surround us with beauty, goodness, and truth,
and we neglect to notice,
or worse, spoil it.

But you are putting a new law within us
even as we see
how our old laws are failing us.

You are writing better ways on our hearts:
ways of openness and inclusion,
ways of peace and humility,
ways of compassion and love for all your creatures.

You are our God
and we are your people.

The days are surely coming
when we will all know
that you are present in all that you have made,
and we will respond to your presence
in all things
with the respect that you
and they deserve.

The broken covenant won't be broken any more
because we will walk in harmony
with all your creatures
and with you,
Friend at our side.


Here's a lovely, newer melody (by David Haas) for the old hymn taken from St. Patrick's Breastplate...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Simple Suggestion #273... Start a seed

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Well, almost. Spring starts early when you're a gardener, and after a long winter, getting my hands back into dirt is always wonderful!

By the end of harvest in autumn, I'm always too tuckered to tidy up the greenhouse, even. So it sits, a jumble of pots and dead plants, until the sun gets higher, the days get longer, and the hothouse gets hotter -- it reached 35 degrees earlier this week. That's a clear sign that it's time to get on with things.

Now the pots are sorted, the shelves are cleaned, the floor is swept, the thermostat/heater and seedling heat mats are re-installed, and planting begins.

On the left are 40 tomato plants for me (and a few extras for my mom and friends), and on the right, three large pots of lettuce and some small planters for perennials. I brought in a few pails of snow because ordinary precipitation is better for these future babies than ordinary tap water.

Indoors, my little windowsill herb garden is growing quite happily, including one marigold seed that I found on my desk back in January! It seems to be doing better than the oregano that is also growing in that pot (probably stealing all the soil nutrients). And there are a few peppers slowly coming up -- they need more consistent heat than the greenhouse provides (on sunless days it sits between 7 and 16 degrees, colder than peppers like) so I'll keep them indoors for a little longer.

In a world where we are so often separated from the sources of our food and walled off from nature, it's really important for me -- for all of us, though not all of us know it -- to find a way back to seeds, soil, and green growing things, even if it's just a little jam jar on a windowsill. We all need some connection to the mysterious Source of Life somehow -- I'm sure our souls are healthier for it!

So today's Simple Suggestion is to start a seed. Any seed. Watch it grow, and feel your soul expand with it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

It's Jay's birthday

Our youngest is suddenly 18. An adult, according to Alberta law, but still very much a kid at heart. My prayer is that Jay will never lose their child-likeness, that they will always remember that we are here for them, and that they can continue to be true to themself, strong, smart, courageous, and still sometimes hilarious as they face the challenges their future holds.

Happy Birthday, Jay! You are always in my heart, even if I can't remember the exact time you were born! (I'm pretty sure it was 12:39 p.m....)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Accepting God's invitation

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Ephesians 2: 4-10.

O God,
your mercy
is worth more than all our wealth.

Your love
is our life.

Your grace
is our salvation.

You seat us with Christ
to show us
that we are your valued children too.

And nothing we can do,
none of our efforts
to deserve your love
or win our place at your table
are necessary.

It is all your gift
and none of our effort
that brings us to your dwelling place.

All we have to do
is believe in our beloved-ness
and your tenderness
and accept your invitation
to participate in the good work
you have called us to do.

Thank you,
Lover of us all.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Special Feature: A local website for International Women's Day

This International Women's Day, I'm sharing the website of a woman who has a heart for women and the incredible challenges many face. I want to draw attention to Missing Cara, which is a beautiful website created by Edmontonian Kathy King.

I have been deeply touched by Kathy and her story on many occasions, mainly because of Kathy's strength and resilience as a woman who lost a daughter to drugs and the sex trade, and who is now a strong advocate for the cause of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and all those who have suffered great losses. Her own loss of Cara is well-chronicled on her website -- a painful, challenging, and inspiring story, with beauty shining through simply because Kathy is a person who thinks deeply about life and loves it well.

Kathy's website is a gorgeous tribute to Cara, and will hold 4 books carrying the story of Cara and many other lost Alberta women -- three books are already available at the bottom of the home page. They're not easy to read, but they are incredibly important if our society is to change the way it reaches out to women in high-risk situations. There is also a page encouraging donations to agencies that support women caught up in the sex trade that I encourage everyone to visit.

Please take today's moodling as a challenge to do all that we can this International Women's Day -- and every day -- in honour of all those women among us who are facing challenges that we can or cannot imagine.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Sunday Reflection: Words, words, words

Today's reflection is brought to you by Psalm 19.

O God,
I've come to a place
where I am tired of words.

I like to think that
you gave us two ears
and one mouth
for obvious reasons.

But we seem
to have gotten mixed up somewhere.

Some of us think
that every word in The Bible
was literally spoken by you
(even the words about violence and vengeance).

We forget that you are compassion and love.

We've gotten into the habit
of thinking that we have to use
many fancy words
to address you,
multitudes of words
repeated endlessly to implore your mercy.

We forget that it's already ours.

Perhaps you'd prefer fewer words
and more silence --
so that we can hear you
in the spaces between all those words.

Only you
have the (gently spoken) words
of everlasting life:
perfect, reviving words,
words that are pure and wise,
full of what's right,
of clarity and light,
enduring and true,
finer than gold,
and sweeter than honey, too.

Thank you, God,
for your gift of words.

Heaven knows I've spoken too many.

I'll listen now.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Simple Suggestion #272... Keep on recycling

Two weeks ago, at conference for members of a charitable organization I volunteer with, I was stunned to hear a facilitator announce, "The City of Edmonton is no longer recycling." As if the end of recycling was a done deal.


As a Master Composter Recycler, I quickly jumped in to try to set the record straight. Yes, the City of Edmonton's Waste Management Branch is facing some challenges, but recycling continues! (I don't think the facilitator read the entire newspaper article on which she was basing her statement.)

The Waste Management Branch, the City's utility committee, and City Council are working to come up with improvements in the way our waste is handled. One idea is to get residents to do more sorting of their own waste -- by providing them with different bins for separating organics from plastics, metals, glass, and paper, so that different items aren't contaminated by being squished together in the trucks that haul them to the recycling facility. Another idea is to refuse to pick up yard waste like grass clippings (because it's actually much smarter to leave them on the lawn rather than spend fossil fuels trucking them around). And I'm sure there are many other options being discussed.

The City of Edmonton's Waste Management has been in the news lately because it hasn't lived up to its very ambitious plan to divert 90% of residential waste from our landfill, but we can't let that stop us from recycling all that we can. And along with recycling, we can also do our best to reduce waste at the source by buying items with less packaging, by taking simple steps to reduce single-use items in our lives (for example, by using travel mugs, cloth shopping bags, mesh produce bags, and I hope you can name a dozen other possibilities), and by learning to compost our kitchen scraps and yard waste.

Even if you don't live in the Edmonton area, we have to keep on reducing our impact on this planet, and the best way is simply to use fewer resources in the first place, opt out of consumerism wherever possible, share our resources, and recycle what's left over from our daily lives however possible.

It's a huge challenge, and it's a bandwagon that we all need to jump on and stay on. Don't let anyone tell you to give up on recycling. Do your own research on methods if need be, and keep on recycling!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

If we could all sing together like this

Here's something really beautiful... Imagine a world where we could all drop our politics and ideologies and sing from the heart like these people. And then imagine that the positive feelings that flow from sharing such beautiful music surrounds the planet and fills every being on earth...

Thousands of Jews and Muslims sing One Day in perfect harmony: A spectacular musical achievement that is as inspiring as it is impressive – the Kololam project