Sunday, December 30, 2012

Evil, raw and unholy

The media, newspapers, Facebook, twitter, and even conversations have been taken over by the atrocities of the shooting in Connecticut- as they should. We should reel in disbelief, in pain, in grief, in so many emotions, as human kind. The loss of life in such a violent way is and should never be made to be acceptable. As all of these text or personal conversations swirl around my head I can't help but listen to the theme of the outcry to God; 'Why did God let this happen?' 'Why didn't God stop this? Isn't God all-powerful?' I recently read a stream from a friend's Facebook account who publicly (and bravely) stated these questions. In many ways, they should be commended as they basically voiced what much of the world is thinking; how could God allow such an atrocity to happen? I suppose that it is arguably human nature for the believing soul in a higher power to automatically question that higher being and ask these almost rhetorical questions. What I question though, in these instantaneous responses, is whether or not our culture and society has predisposed us to this reaction. I do think that emotional responses are worthy of respect. Everyone is entitled to the way they feel but I do raise the question because I have found that in certain singular catastrophic events in other places around the world, the response is quite different. In some circumstances no blame is laid at all; others the questions are far more introspective. Can this be a useful tool to investigate alternative reactions? One of my own personal reactions to the shootings in Newtown was to question myself and what part I had to do with it. I was most certainly not directly involved, nor indirectly, but perhaps on a larger scale I was somehow interconnected into this web of humans hurting other humans. I had to question myself, how often had I been mean or unkind to another person, how often do I judge or criticize another person, or did I even hold the door open for a stranger at the store the other day. I do not know the state of people I interact with on daily basis. Who could tell me before that the person I cut off in traffic was just coming home from a loved-ones funeral? It is questions like these ones which bring myself into this picture of our interconnectedness as humans. Instead of laying blame, how can we call ourselves into accountability? What can we focus our conversations on now?

Monday, December 3, 2012

An New Year, a New Covanent (maybe)

The Christian calendar starts just a little bit earlier than the rest of the world. With the coming of the New Year I have been mulling over some thoughts lately. This is nothing new for me but it is one that does require a substantive amount of brain power, which is ironic because I should be using said brain power for my papers and exams. Figures! I have been contemplating my ecological footprint on this earth and trying to think of ways that I might be able to help diminish it a little. I recently became friends with a lady who is an avid vegan. She is very active and certainly broke many of the stereotypes I held of the vegan culture. I spent quite some time interrogating her as to her daily diet, the pros and cons, and her ethical reasons for choosing this lifestyle. I recently read an article that discussed the links between hormone supplements given to animals for slaughtering and the increased risks of cancer. I have also been doing some research into clothing stores that sell ethical clothing. I was both surprised and disheartened. Many of my beloved stores either sold ethically made clothing that costed an arm and a leg, or simply did not. With all these thoughts in my mind, I have been thinking about committing to a year of eating and living as ethically as possible. I know that there are very mixed options on this and I am quite aware that there are certain things that I am simply not able to do. This is not a cop-out but a recognition that I can only do my best; up until this point, I don't think I can say that. Here is what I am proposing to commit: 1) Eat a primarily vegetarian/vegan diet which would include local foods when available. 2) Only purchase fair trade products where available 3) Only purchase ethically made/second-hand 4) Make an intentional effort to travel as ethically as possible So, I am writing this for two reasons. One, to encourage myself to really commit to this and two, to hear your feedback on this. What have been your experiences? I would really like to hear what you have to say.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The End of a Great Week and a Beginning of a New One!

This week has certainly been one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life. People coming together to discuss theology from all over the world- it does really get much beter than that. This past week we have engaged in conversations about Poverty and Wealth, Disaster and Creation, Christian Ethics and Worship and Spirituality. It has been absolutely amazing. We have class from Monday to Thursday and on Friday we went to a cultural centre where we got to paint local art, make batiks, and plant a rice field. The rice field in particular proved to be such fun. It was a rather muddy experience without much reprieve from the heat. We were able to ride on the back of a make-shift rig attached to 2 water buffalo who drag a grate around in circles to level off. the fields to plant the rice. Awesome! Yesterday we went to visit a community affected by a mudslide. It was fascinating listening to their perspective on what we would define as a disaster. The community is located on the side of the Merapi mountain which is an active volcano that erupted just a few months prior. Much of the mud that came down after a particularly hard rain was the ash that had settled around the mountain. We were greeted and addressed by local church leaders and an Indonesian man doing his PH.D. in local Indonesian culture. What was so interesting about this talk was their perspective of the mudslide. They told us that they believe that prior to an eruption, the mountain is cooking in preparation for a wedding. The wedding occurs when the eruption happens. What was noted from our group was that they did not seem to focus their attention on blaming God or asking God why this happened. They simply went to work to clean up the left-over wedding festivities. We walked around the village and were able to see the effects that mud, stones and water can have. A friend and I decided to go into an abandoned building. On the floor, below a small fill of stiff sand was beautifully colour tile. On the wall were plaques of Islamic prayer. It is hard to describe the feelings standing seeing the beauty in the destruction. What challenged me was my instinct to question God first, even though I had just heard the locals do the exact opposite. I think I will still need some time to reflect on this one a bit further. UP next, another exciting week of theological studies!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The beginning of a Wonderful Experience

It is all strangely familiar; the sights, the smells, the buildings. There is one thing, though, that has been a new shock to the system-the humid heat. I have basically sweated my way through each day and peel my clothes off at the end of every day. I think my Indonesian room-mate must find me rather amusing with the amount of liquids I seem to be expelling here. It is certainly not the most pleasant thing to experience for my cold North American blood. When I first arrived I really wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to deal with the heat. I am a fairly stubborn person and so it was a challenge for me to accept that this heat might get the better of me. I have stayed happy and healthy and we’ve had a great time learning coping methods here together. Apparently Asia has been having a heat wave so it is even hotter than normal. YIKES! It has been about a week now that I have been in Indonesia and this conference is starting off wonderfully well. We have had some absolutely amazing discussion on the church’s place in issues such as Poverty and Wealth as well as Calvinist Theology and inter-cultural Spirituality. I was misinformed when I thought there would only be 30 people from across the world. There are actually 70 people in attendance here and I have met some truly inspiring people. Our daily schedule starts with breakfast at 7am and then community worship at 8. Then, we get onto the sticky buses and travel to the school to have our morning class from 9:30-11:30. We come home for lunch and then have another class in the afternoon. Everyone is taking 2 courses and then we are divided for our afternoon courses. I am taking Poverty and Wealth as well as the theology of Creation and Disaster. Fascinating! On Saturday a small group of us decided to make our way to one of the local beaches. I had forgotten how much I miss travelling with local people on various forms of transportation. This particular beach had blackened sand from the volcano. We did not go swimming as the undertow was too strong but it was nice to get to know some people better. Unfortunately, as soon as I arrived in Indonesia my computer decided not to work. I will do my very best to write as often as I can. Blessings, Margaret

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Privilege of Witnessing Dying

We all want to be present when a new life has come into the world. We all want to see and hold this new baby and share in celebration with the new parents. It is a time when people experience sheer joy. We rejoice and declare the new life everywhere we go and seem to instantaneously possess such love we’ve never known before. Birth is one of the two most significant marks of our lives. We are promised very little from the time we are born but we all know that someday we will die. What about those moments when you witness the last breath of a person’s life? I’ve been working as a Volunteer Pastoral care-giver at the local hospital for a few weeks now and have been witness to people in the process of dying. The first person I visited was coming to the very end and I left the hospital with a deepened sense of the mark that they had left on me. I am marked by my birth, my siblings and every other person who has a significant place in my life, but never have I ever been so acutely aware of the mark that this relative stranger’s dying-process has left on me? The experiences I’ve had at the hospital, caring for those near and after death, have marked me. Nicolas Wolterstorff wrote a book called “A Lament for a Son” where he expresses how the death of his son marks everything in his life. This book writes of the raw, dirty, gritty path through grief that we do not experience openly in society. When I lived in Kenya, death was far more ‘common’ than it is here. What I mean by this is that death is far more visible. It is not hidden behind sanitized doors and it is not swept away immediately after a short ceremony. Funerals can last hours and when a person dies, the entire community is made aware. Wails and moaning can be heard from far away. As upsetting as it is to witness such open grief, I wonder If there is something to it that provides healing. The community gathers around the grieving family and they have a vigil. People will pray for days and days before the service without leaving the house of the deceased. Even though each of these unique situations are very different I recall being immersed in a deep feeling of gratitude and privilege. It is a privilege to be present during the last stages of life, just as it is to be at the beginning. When we look at the themes of birth and death we often see them as a gain and a loss; life is given through birth and taken through death. I have come to look at it in a more cyclical fashion; the journey of life began at a time that we have yet to completely comprehend, it begins in a place that we understand and then it returns back to the place it began. I believe that it is in the witness of those left behind that we find the great gift, like the witness of a birth, of a life returning back to where it came from.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Reflection on Mother's Day

I’ve been reflecting a great deal this past week over a conversation that happened over Facebook. For those of you who do not know what Facebook is, it is an online community where people can post interesting items or thoughts as well as pictures. People can put in some personal information if they wish. This conversation happened around Mother’s Day and someone posted on their page that God is not a Mother. I, being who I am, decided that I would put my two senses in. I generally tend not to engage in deep theological conversations via the computer as I think that much is lost in the colour of conversation between two or more people. However, this is what I said: To express God as a 'not' is rather limiting of God. Yes, God is not evil and God is not sin, but God is so much more than what is possible for us to imagine. Ancient Greek translations of the Holy Spirit use the word "Pneuma" which is a feminine word. The same applies to the Holy Spirit described as "Sophia"- feminine form of wisdom. Therefore, if God is all-in-one (the Trinity) and feminine words are used to describe God, I think it is quite appropriate to use a term 'Mother' to describe a certain characteristic of God. It is not limiting in any way. It is simply a way for humans to begin to understand the magnitude of God. The conversation that ensued was based around the fact that Jesus taught us to prayer “Our Father who art in heaven…” thus it is not possible for us to believe that God could also be Mother. After I explained that in the Old Testament God was actually referred to in both female and male terms, it was expressed that perhaps people may get too caught up in the anthropological and historical aspects of God, and in this point I think they are quite right. They were not convinced by my argument of the femininity of a noun was a way of expressing God. I have been thinking about this for the past week and I thought it would be interesting to reflect on it in this blog post. As I write this I am listening to “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” which is a personal favourite hymn. I think that it is interesting that we can apply metaphors such as the Tree of Life, Rock, Bread of Life, Fountain, Root, and many others as a means of expressing God. What is unique about all of these metaphors? They have been personified. None of these items have life in the human-sense. They have been given life-like features as a means to help people understand the magnitude to God’s abilities, love, and presence in the world. Christians do not seem to have a strong dislike of describing God with things that do not have life in the human sense, yet they are adamant that God cannot be Mother. For fair comparison purposes, we have human-inspired metaphors such as King, Ruler, Offspring, Rabbi, and Messiah, all of which have male attachments. This is the wonder of language and life; often we do not have the words to describe the intricate beauty or complexity that we encounter so we use a measure of words to help us begin to understand it. So, back to my original question: what can’t we understand God as Mother? What is so wrong with that? As the Bible has been translated over and over into many different languages, somewhere along the lines we lost some of the complexity to describing God. There is even sure representation that Ancient Israelites understood God as/and many gods (gasp!). When patriarchal societies ruled in history past, the Bible began to reflect the ideologies of the time (for some further reading, see this blog post I found and feminine descriptions of God were lost. Male understandings of God are not wrong, but then again, neither is the female. As a woman, I found this rather upsetting that people were so against the idea that God could be a Mother. How could God not be a Mother? Both my parents have shown me the ways of God, each in their own wonderful and unique ways. To say that God is not a Mother is the same thing as saying that God is not working in and through my Mother, one of the most loving and caring people I have ever met. If you say God is not a Mother, then how could God have created such a wonderful person in my mother? This may seem like a long jump to this conclusion, but how could God create such a woman in my mother if God is not a Mother as well? I suppose that this hit me rather close to home because someday I hope to be a mother myself. I hope to work with God, using my body to create life and raise it in that same love. I believe that God created me in God’s motherly image to be a future mother. I think this is where it ultimately comes down to; we are made in God’s beautiful and perfect image. That does not mean that we are perfect, by any means, but that God must be all things to all people in order to create such originality. In God the Mother’s image my mother, grandmother, aunt and every other mother today and time past is made in that beautiful image. In a way, they act as metaphors of God, just like the words we use to describe God. It is through and with them that I learn more about God’s love, compassion and kindness every day. I love the image that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 3, that we are the letters of Christ where he writes “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all humans; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Beautiful! We are the letters in the image of God! There is no need of a letter of recommendation for our place with God! Therefore, whether I use the term God my Mother or God my Father or God The Tree of Life whose “fruit doth make my soul to thrive, It keeps my dying faith alive; Which makes my soul in haste to be With Jesus Christ the apple tree” –Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. Amen

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

T'is the Season of...Epiphany

I have been contemplating over the 'after-Christmas' season that seems to drift into a world of resolutions, lifestyle changes, and starting afresh. In the yearly cycle of the church this is the time of the Epiphany. The root of the word comes from the greek word epiphaneia, which literally translates to 'manifestation'. After the Twelve Days of Christmas, on January 6th, the Epiphany is celebrated. Perhaps it is simply my own experience but I find that the Season of the Epiphany is often forgotten in the hubub of the New Year. This is very strange, since it occupies such a large space of time in the church calendar from January 6th to Ash Wednesday. The Epiphany is intrinsically linked to the birth of Christ. As we know, Jesus was born in manger to a young mother but the world had yet to realize what had happened. No one knew that a child was born who who would change the face of humanity forever. The Epiphany celebration the recognition of the world realizing who Jesus is. It is a season of realization. Although I do not know the history behind the New Year's Resolution I can understand it in reference to the season of the Epiphany; realizing something is different. So, what is different? Every year the world spends billions of dollars on gifts during the 'Holiday Season'. Decemeber has become known as a time to give and spend with family. The word Christmas is band in certain references. If this is all happening, where does the Epiphany fit in? How can the Epiphany be if there isn't even a recognition of Christmas. Perhaps this is exactly why the Epiphany is needed. When Jesus was born, the world continued on. On one expected that the birth of a baby would affect them in any way. No one would have given much thought to seeing a pregnant woman riding on a donkey. It wasn't until the arrival of the Wise Men that Jesus' identity became known. Jesus' significance was never the question. The question was, how long would it take the world to realize what had happened? This is the season of Epiphany! Praying for and recognizing the reality of Christ. What will be your New Year's Resolution this year? Mine? I pray that Christ be realized in my heart and yours! The anticipation is over. Christ has arrived but now, we can anticipate Christ's manifestation in greater ways this year!