I remember growing up and singing a familiar song by Eddie Espinosa. Change my heart oh God. If you have learned it, you will know it instantly, if not; you can check it out (www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEtsHWFE6-w) and learn it quickly. A theme that I have always found meaningful from this song, is the desire to observe and learn about the characteristics of God. What does God care for, long for, desire to make whole again? Who does God cry for and what injustices need to reconciled? It is a similar sentiment to the words and prayers commonly cried out like, Break my heart for what breaks yours!
This shift in perspective is one that often goes from the mind to the heart, to the hands and feet. It does not have to go in that order, but in a troubled world facing pandemic, isolation and loneliness, we are likely at the starting place of our mind. And in troubled times, it may seem counter intuitive to be asking God to stir us... trouble us... unsettle us... but our lives have been disrupted already, so we might as well search for God's work in all of it.
Three excellent books that have done that for me lately have been: Unsettling Truths, by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah; Gospel Haymanot, by Vince Bantu; and Wrongs to Rights, edited by Steve Heinrichs. These are all books featuring multiple authors and a diversity of voices that are speaking to deep issues of historical significance impacting societies and faith communities today.
Unsettling Truths tells the U.S. story of the formation of that country with the difficult stories of slavery and Indigenous oppression all tied up with it. Charles and Rah do not hold back on their analysis of power, conquest, Doctrine of Discovery and marriage of church and state. A very short example of this is their statement, "Christendom is the prostitution of the church to the empire that created a church culture of seeking power rather than relationships." A strong, troubling statement. And while this is the US context, we share denominational and historical similarities in Canada.
Gospel Haymanot is a more scholarly dive into theories and reflections of race, centering around African and Diasporic Christianity. In it, the authors challenge our hearts and minds by pointing out, "The Church must treat the sin of systemic injustice as seriously as we treat personal sins of impiety or theological heresy." The authors tackle things like Christian exceptionalism, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, white supremacy and more. Troubling challenges of how we read scripture and who we see ourselves as representing, in those stories.
And finally, Wrongs to Rights is a collection of articles and essays directly collected for Canadian churches and faith communities. It was originally put together in 2016 when the Canadian government was adopting UNDRIP, but is even more relevant today because legislation to actually implement any legal change is still to take place. It has been delayed, failed in 2020 and is uncertain whether or not it will pass through the senate in time to be ratified again this year. It is an excellent book that urges churches to start action of their own, as well as call our government leaders to do the same. A troubling history and path to reconciliation for Turtle Island.
While these books highlight what is messy, painful and sad; grief and lament are parts of the journey towards recovery, hope and transformation. We cry out to a God more abundant and capable than ourselves and we can navigate troubled waters together. I would encourage you to consider reading one of these to challenge and trouble your mind, but also consider joining with others in your community or congregation to talk and work through it. A safe space to do so is with the Canadian ministries journey of Hearts Exchanged. Check it out here (www.crcna.org/hearts-exchanged) and consider being a part.
Jesse - NADC consultant - email@example.com
As I reflect on my place and position in life, one way I have been taught to meditate is by doing a daily examine. I find it to be grounding, humbling and also a challenging practice. One reason it challenges me is when it reveals my privilege and biases that are born out of my own experiences and context of being a white male. Another challenge is born out of an external physical reality of comfort, safety and lack of distress (even within distressing global circumstance). I wonder if a large portion of North Americans live in that similar dichotomy where the most prevalent struggles in our lives are coming from within our own bodies as we deal with trauma, anxiety, loneliness and spiritual struggle? One of the bigger questions that may come up in a time of examine, or a time of internal struggle, is the questions of why?
I have been wrestling with that very question over the past months, being part of an online book study group that is reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. This book study is with a group of people that are men’s group volunteers, formerly and currently incarcerated men. The book was chosen by the guys “on the inside” and is a great book to help us all reflect on the big picture why’s of life. The author is using his story of struggle and survival of an internment camp to introduce a therapy concept called logotherapy, but there are many deep aspects of humanity, spirituality and practical life lessons that can be teased out of it. There is also a common intersection of imprisonment, between the story from the book and the situations that the incarcerated guys share.
Victor Frankl talks about experiences of deep sadness, boredom, longing and near complete loss of self or one’s own humanity. With extended periods of time for almost nothing more than self-reflection, Frankl describes the most important thing he had within was the freedom of choice. His life was completely limited by his external circumstance, but he always had the option to choose how he was going to react and what kind of attitude he was going to have. It was amazing to hear the guys on the inside describe some of the choices they have had to make and to be able to have come to a realization like “I didn’t want to give up on my future” or “I decided that I could not give up on the people I love and who love me.”
The other striking thing about the book is, although it talks a lot about inner examination and personal therapy, Frankl puts a huge amount of value on external experience. He talks about meaning and purpose in life (the big why question) as only truly being able to be found in things like relational connection, service to others, experiencing nature and beauty, or the most profound of all; the act of love. If we have the answer to why we want to live and love others, then we can somehow manage to work out the how. The why gives us hope and is often associated with a sense of community and purposeful belonging. In a community, we miss those who are not there, and conversely they miss us when we are not there.
That is part of why this pandemic has us languishing as it drags on. Our intrinsic worth as humans living in community is being challenged, our resolve is being pressed and we are being forced to find hope and belonging in smaller circles and more simplistic ways. Being present can mean being risky, negligent or at very least, not fully present. Caring for each other includes listening to stories, responding with empathy and compassion, but it is so difficult to do right now. In suffering; aspects of listening, lamenting, slowing down and still finding ways to connect is challenging. The connection with self-care, God, creation and community is the way to maintaining hope and keeping us on the path of healing and shalom. Easier said than done right now… As Frankl says, our last freedom is our choice, how we are going to choose to respond to day to day situations; with what kind of attitude.
The struggle within can include trauma, pain, loss, boredom, personal crisis, but the struggle without is equally concerning. Without connection, purpose, meaning or hope… where do we turn, how do we continue? Suffering through this will change us, make us pay attention to new things and force us to act with newly defined intentions. The power to love will come from within, from our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, but it will not come without direct action of our humanity lived out, in society together.
Northern Alberta Diaconal Conference: A Classis ministry of which all churches are members. The full board consists of a representative of each church. This representative is usually, though not always, a deacon. We exist to encourage congregations and communities to grow in living lives of stewardship, justice, mercy, and compassion. This is done by regularly meeting, collaborating, communicating and sharing of experience between members and ministry partners. Since we met last fall:
a) The Deacons and reps met on February 11th by zoom to connect and encourage each other. We heard from Chris Artola who is a new area rep, for World Renew in their finance department. We also heard from Dona Abma, who is one of the founding directors of The Broom Tree Foundation in Lacombe. She shared about this vital ministry for women, the impacts it is having and how churches in our Classis can be involved. If you were unable to attend but want to hear more, please check out the website for the recording (www.classisalbertanorth.ca/nadc).
b) Involvement in various zoom meetings with deacon chairs, connections to Classis ministries like the Cuba Connection, and our denominational partners of World Renew and Diaconal Ministries Canada continues as best it can during covid. Online connection has been a blessing to be able to at least engage in some interaction and things like justice book clubs, neighborhood engagement learning and benevolence workshops have been some of them.
c) My involvement continues with prison ministry connections, but in disrupted ways because of covid. I have helped facilitate community reintegration group meetings; both online and limited capacity, physical distanced. With things being locked down again, I have had to visit inmates by phone and online. Morale is low with the guys in prison and half-way houses and they seek connection and hope. So far there have not been major illnesses in the facilities that I interact with but that is sadly not true of everywhere. Things are worse off in larger facilities and we are holding out hope for a quicker vaccine roll out for everyone in Canada.
Jesse Edgington - firstname.lastname@example.org
On February 11th we met on zoom for our NADC meeting, which you can check out on a previous post. What is also significant about that day, is that it is the anniversary date of when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years for his outspoken role against South African apartheid. www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/30th-anniversary-of-nelson-mandelas-release. This is a significant history for, not only South Africa, but also for what got tied up in the story and history of America. In living out Black History month, I have been reading the three books pictured above and have been experiencing some significant wow moments of the heart and mind.
The novel called Homegoing, is one story of the complex lives lived in Africa and subsequent new beginnings in America during the era of the trans Atlantic slave trade. It is a difficult history to learn about what happened on both sides of the ocean, with slave trade staging castles being owned and operated by the Spanish, English and Dutch en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Coast_Castle. It is challenging to learn how colonizing, new world christians, used Black people for power and resource, while justifying it with dualistic views of using the body but "saving the soul."
That brings us to the middle book... the Bible...the Slave Bible. But this particular edition has been conscripted for a specific means, to attempt to characterize the afterlife saving grace of God, without the saving act of justice or freedom in present life. This edition of the Bible was edited so American slave owners could evangelize their slaves but not give them hope beyond their lot. It removed books and passages that would give any sense of hope or ideas of uprising. It only contains 32 of the 66 books in the canon; about 90% of the Old Testament and 50% of the New Testament were deleted. Thankfully, due to the expansion of printing and distribution, this attempt did not last and someway, somehow the Black Church grew and became a resilient community for survival and change www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIpjtLZFBgw&t=198s.
The final book is the writing of Howard Thurman who is a Black theologian, author, civil rights leader and was the spiritual director to Martin Luther King Jr en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Thurman. In this book, Thurman gives insight to the characteristics and perspectives of people living on the margins and through oppression. He talks about deep overarching themes of fear, deception, hate and love. Through it all, as a reader and observer, I am awed and amazed at God's working presence in the lives of His people. I can only try to imagine going through such circumstances and still being able to be known by God, to know and love Him. That is the power of our wonderful and merciful creator, connected to our humanity by the Spirit and the very real presence of our savior Jesus Christ.
May the knowledge of our past, the examination of our present and the restoring Missio Dei of our Creator lead us into the future.
At the most recent NADC meeting (Feb 11), we invited two guests to join us and tell us about the ministries they are a part of. Chris Artola from World Renew is featured in the first half and Donna Abma from The Broom Tree Foundation in Lacombe is featured on the second half. Take a look at the video for their stories and presentation and see below for a file that you can download and share. See their websites for more...worldrenew.ca and ...thebroomtreefoundation.com
These are two great organizations for our deacons and churches to be supporting.
I was really hoping a new year would bring a new feel... and while it has brought some positive change so far, I can't help but shake some of the remains of lament from 2020. I know I will, and I am trying to sit in a place of hopeful readiness, but I can't ignore the need for leaders and congregation members to have a holistic balance and engage with lament instead of glossing it over. The 'Keep Calm and Worship On' sentiment just doesn't resonate with me. So here are two things you can watch, read and sit with to engage a little more with lament, as you go into your day, week and 2021. I pray for the spirit to lead and guide you into the places you need to rest, heal and grow as you serve others in the days to come.
I recently watched an update video report from World Renew and the director, Ida Kaastra Mutoigo, had an interesting take on SDG's that I had not heard before. She was mentioning how it has been a very difficult year around the world and covid has caused setbacks for many of the sustainable development goals... but Christians are continuing to press on forward for the betterment of others all around the world and also for God's SDG's. God's spiritual development goals... in our lives and our communities.
What a great observation and what a great way to think about the relief and development work that we are a part of in the world. God's work, holistic work... that involves people, communities, agencies... but also deals with the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. We pray for World Renew as they lead and guide us through the work at this time. Check out the following video with an update and Ida's message (vimeo.com/500220527/0584163eae).
We also pray for those leading and guiding us in our local neighborhoods, where the SDG's may not be exactly the same, but God's SDG's are. I encourage you all to engage with some of the many neighborhood conversations happening with Diaconal Ministries Canada and Resonate. People like Karen Wilk and others are guiding new learning and facilitating groups in processes like Go Local Intensives, community opportunity scans and quality of life indexes for cities and neighborhoods. Check out these websites (www.resonateglobalmission.org/western-canada, diaconalministries.com/community-engagement/)or be in touch with me and I can help connect you.
Jesse - email@example.com
Recently I was reading and reflecting on a passage from 1st Peter and a parallel image came so strongly in my mind and on my heart that I had to write it down. I have been in relationship with guys making the transition from inside institutions to back out into community and the challenges they face are significant. In this time of covid isolation, and complexity thrown into all life's systems, I hope and pray for all who are navigating change. This interpretation is for incarcerated brothers and sisters but as Peter wrote it, inspired by the God, has meaning for us all in some way. I encourage you to read both versions and listen for what the Spirit imparts to your heart.
1 Peter 2: 11-16 (prison context)
I encourage you, as inmates and parolees, to stop thinking about the things that broke you and your healthy relationships. Live such good lives among the guards and officers, that though they know your crimes, they will see how much you’ve changed and will congratulate your family and friends on the days they visit.
In order to make peace while in the system, submit to the people in power who are your gate keepers. Listen to the authorities, judges, officers, C.O.’s and P.O.’s. They are there to punish; but also to help and support. It is our Creators great plan, that by living in good relations in the moment, ignorance, fear and foolishness will die off.
With the release of your conviction, even though you are still inside or on conditions, live as free people. But do not forget or abuse that freedom when you get out. Separate yourself from former ways and people that try to drag you back into crime cycles. Live lives as if you are still inmates, but incarcerated to right relationships, chained to a harmony tree. Submit yourselves to sacrificial neighborly love of self, Creator and others.
I've recently wondered what Christmas would be like in Cuba? I don't mean on the beach at a resort with a mojito in hand, but in rural Cuba, small town or village, Cuba. I had the opportunity to meet with the Cuba Connection committee by zoom and meet the folks passionate about serving our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Cuba. They relayed stories about the people that they have formed relationships with and who they long to keep in closer contact with.
This time of covid pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but has only compounded already present and difficult conditions faced by most Cubans. Lack of resources, small measures of basic food supply, unreliable phone and internet communications and uncertainty around political and economic systems has hampered the growth of the CRC church there (and the relationship with our CRC churches here).
The committee is blessed to be able to send some much needed monetary resources their way, which will help with repairs and construction of residences for pastors, but even with that, it may not be possible if the supplies are not there in the first place. On top of that, they continue to feel the covid disruption that holds back the growing relationships and we have had to sit and wait in this season of advent, with the perseverance and hope for greater things to come and injustices to be overcome.
What has come recently, and praise God for making the way, is another brand new family to Canada from Syria! Fellowship CRC welcomed a new family that they were waiting for since the initial covid shut down in March. What an OVER EXTENDED time of advent it has been for them. A Christmas miracle for that family, and the Fellowship church community, to be welcomed to a new place, with new possibilities and hope for flourishing.
It shows us a spectrum of struggle and celebration and it reminds us that God is with us through it all. He is with us in our pain, He knows our needs and He loves us no matter what. His desire is for us to know that, know him and reflect that heart of love and compassion to others. If you want to learn more about our Classis's Cuba Connection, check out the tab in the committees & ministries menu on this website or reach out to me by email. Also if you or your church want to learn more or become active in the area of refugee resettlement, we know of specific families that are in need and would benefit from your support.
Jesse - firstname.lastname@example.org
Check it out below or download the pdf file underneath. Don't forget to also email if you have not received the links to the DOE recordings and would like them to watch and share. email@example.com