Our friends and family in Fort McMurray experienced a trifecta of challenge this spring. Already faced with a combination of a spreading global pandemic and economic hardship with falling oil prices, the community went into emergency status as spring ice blocked the river and caused major flooding in the lower parts of the city. The CRC congregation of Evergreen was fortunate to be located on high ground and did not sustain damage but some families in the congregation were displaced and life has gotten more challenging for them and their neighbouring communities. They are facing the loss of local support systems, food supply chains are affected and getting basic resources has become unpredictable. It is estimated that they are facing a boil water order for the near future; maybe even through the summer.
So in response, with urging from brothers and sisters around our Classis, we were able to mount a collective effort to help and bless Evergreen CRC and its community. After a highly successful collection, a safe round trip to Fort McMurray and contributions from many people (and generous congregations) we all want to say THANK YOU! A special thanks to Pastor Bruce who helped with a lot of organizing and energy, and Norm and Mark for driving the shipment.
Many Classis Alberta North churches contributed goods, cash, or collections and the support has been amazing. Pastor Josh has expressed his appreciation and feeling of being connected and supported by the larger CRC body. Here are a few pictures of items loaded into a huge trailer that were delivered to Evergreen CRC. This help blesses the congregation AND helps the congregation bless their community.
Check out the linked video made by our friends at The River Community CRC who did so much work on the ground to make this happen.
After a week and a half, I spoke with Pastor Josh for an update. They still have goods from the stockpile shipment and so far, have been able to use it to bless neighbours as well as partner non-profits. They have been able to contribute food to help feed a hundred or so volunteers in the past week and some of the partnering relief organizations have been able to call on them for access to much needed supplies. They have also been able to help a family who found themselves without insurance, to get the basics of stable housing back up and running, by getting the electricity, gas and hot water supply reconnected.
Samaritans Purse is officially wrapping up their time at Fort McMurray so things may shift in the next few weeks without them around helping but we will stay in touch to see what happens. For now, if your church has collected money to support long term needs for Evergreen church, you can either send it directly to them, or make it out to NADC (with Ft.McMurray flood in memo line).
Pastor Josh feels blessed to be a source of support and resource for the community and is deeply thankful for the larger CRC body to be helping and blessing them. They have been able to help in ways that they did not before and share the love of Jesus to folks who simply ask why would you do something like this for me?
NADC will stay connected to Evergreen, World Renew and Diaconal Ministries, to follow-up with future needs, but let me know if there are any questions and I can keep you in touch if things change.
In the summer of 2019 I took this picture of a cruise-ship, in the backdrop of wartime ruins on Vancouver Island. When I took it, I had no idea of the intersection of themes that would take place in the early months of 2020. At the time of taking picture, the contrast between the modernity and affluence of the cruise liner industry and the infancy of Canada as a nation in the late 1800’s was striking to me. Now looking at it again, brings thoughts of how ironic it is that two pandemics, over a century apart, are being represented in one picture. The wartime structures were built in 1895, to be ready for the first World War and the pandemic of 1918. The cruise ship became the early symbol of the pandemic that has begun in 2020.
Facing global pandemic again, the world has been exiled into a season of unknowns. What can a global market economy sustain, if a global market economy will crash or will it ever return to where it once was. Fear of what this will do to the economy is being felt from presidents and executives all the way down to the managers and labourers.
Many pastors and theologians are addressing fear, and rightly so, because they say when we deal with fear, we deal with THE WHAT. On the other hand, when we operate in the confidence of the Spirit, we deal with THE WHO... Jesus, God and others (relationship). True communion requires commons and living in relationship with others requires thinking about them while sacrificing some of self. Jesus taught us that, in fact he sacrificed all of himself! In the mystery of that trinitarian relationship, which is extended to us, God is not merely an observer. Exodus 3:7 says, “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I KNOW their sufferings.”
It will be up to all of us to live into trinitarian relationship when we are able to gather again. Not to hoard resources, not to only look out for how we can get back on our own feet but to ask what we can do to sustain one another. How can God’s power be enacted by human agency? It may be an economy that we are not used to, an economy where values of minimalism, sufficiency and things other than profit are the true measures. As Walter Brueggemann says, “…the church is called to its public vocation to practise neighbourliness in a way that includes both support of policies of distributive justice and practises of face-to-face restorative generosity.”
A word that came up recently in discussion and that has already been added to online urban dictionaries is coronaphobia. The definition is as follows:
coronaphobia - The fear of catching the current strain (COVID-19 in March 2020) of human coronavirus, expressed by wearing a face mask in public, or simply avoiding public places, public events and public transport.
There is a very real fear out there and it is not something for us to shrug off or condemn. We should be empathetic to those who are feeling it and even honest to accept and acknowledge those feelings in ourselves. It doesn’t make us weak or sinful, it makes us human and reliant on God for care and comfort. There are also feelings of being infectious towards others, unclean, a pariah. Or just being perceived that way because of the unknown circumstances. Isn’t that the way lepers, widows and the poor must have felt in Bible times? Isn’t that the way people on the margins have felt for centuries? The way the LGBTQ+, prisoners, poor and COVID infected feel today!
Jesus was able to transcend societal boundaries and walk in gracious and compassionate love with those on the margins. Jesus practised a neighbourly economy. He was the perfect example for us to aspire to. The details of how have to be wisely discerned and in step with the Holy Spirit, but I hope that's what is on our hearts, for service and worship to creator God. The time will soon come again that God will lead people out of slavery, out of the desert, away from sickness and death towards new life again. Our call will be to walk with him, go to those difficult places that His son went and where the Spirit is already dwelling.
Woe to the people who consume without consideration or good reason,
Woe to the nations that commodify every thing; in every season.
When purpose and value come from extraction,
We lose things like time and social interaction.
Teachings of simple supply and demand,
Are taken as gospel, the way an economy must stand.
But there is another way; there is another path,
Living in commons; loving with neighbours; doing different math.
In liminal spaces of unknown and change,
One thing remains the same; mystery and strange.
Creator God is there in relationship with all,
Inviting us to walk in step, listening to His call.
As Easter approaches, our faith communities are typically anticipating a special weekend of gathering, remembering and celebrating what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. One way that many of our CRC churches have done so is with the gift of the set of paintings called "The Creator's Sacrifice," painted by artist Ovide Bighetty. These 17 stunning paintings, done in Woodlands Cree style, tell the Passion Story in a moving and unique way.
The best way to see and experience this art is in person; with time to interact with it in a number of ways. It is also something that can bring people together, open up imagination and conversation. Churches have been able to experience and learn about relationship building with Indigenous People along side those in their communities. Unfortunately in this moment of time, with gatherings of more than 15 people not being safe for containing the spread of COVID-19, a gallery viewing of these paintings is not ideal.
With so many things moving to the virtual and internet platforms, including church services, we have put together a modest showing of these prints for individuals and churches to add to their Easter experience if they are interested. See the videos below, of the paintings with readings from the Stations of the Cross. They are done individually, as well as all put together, to give you different options of how you can interact with them best. The large file with all of them together is viewable only and includes a doxology at the end, sung by artist Cheryl Bear. www.dropbox.com/s/3hx7rwl1rs2ltsh/Stations%20of%20the%20Cross.mp4?dl=0
I was inspired by reading Lamentations and a book called "Prophetic Lament: A Call For Justice in Troubled Times" by Soong-Chan Rah. From his book, I learned about the style and art of poetry used by the writers of Lamentations and thought I would give a version of it a try. Here it is below.
Jesse's Acrostic Poem
As the sun rises in the East, I am thankful for the gift of a new day.
Bright rays of Alberta light reveal the wonder of creation.
Creatures stir from their slumber; humans rise from their rest.
Darkness has gone, but not completely for all.
Everywhere I turn, I see signs of brokenness.
Fear manifests itself as violence.
Greed and power are the governing principles of our economy and culture.
How long, creator God, will we extract and consume?
Is our connection to Genesis too far gone?
Justice and mercy are not available to all.
Kindness and grace are conditional; not sacrificial.
Love of the Father seems distorted, withdrawn or lost.
Many of your children do not know about your love.
Neighbours are strangers, when they should be Samaritans.
Our connection to Shalom is only a thin strand of silk.
Prepare our hearts with the gentle call of the Spirit.
Quiet our minds and souls, to be able to receive and hear from you.
Restore peace to a world that needs to learn to live in solidarity.
Save us from the ways we hurt ourselves and others.
Turn our feet to follow the path of Christ.
Use us to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Visit us in the mysterious and liminal spaces.
Watch over us when we fall down into the valley of dry bones.
Xerosis is only a temporary affliction and condition.
You will breathe new life into us again, making all things new.
Zeal for the great commission invites us to co-labor in the coming of your kindom.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night and find your mind active, your senses alert and your body unable to fall back to rest? My mom taught me that it is a time when God is calling for your attention or asking you to do something. She told me that if you find yourself in that situation, take time to be still and listen, to pray and receive. I had that happen to me recently, stirred awake at two in the morning unable to get back to sleep until four. I got out of bed, started to pray and listen as God was filling my mind and heart with words. I tried just thinking and meditating on them at first but could not move past them until I had written them down.
Later I wondered if this could be how some of the letter writers experienced their process of putting down the words inspired by God. Were the words of Joel, Micah, Haggai, Timothy, Peter or John the result of hours of reflection; days of study, or were they the stirring of the Spirit, speaking to them in the still quiet hours and places? We do not know the answers to those questions, and I do not even minutely want to compare my words to those of the inspired Biblical authors, but I do find some comfort in the comparison. Just to think that God spoke to them in ways that He can still speak to us now. Not to write a new Bible, not to add to what is perfectly revealed and preserved, but to contextualize how our Creator has been made known to us through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ.
So in that light and in these uncertain times of global pandemic, I offer you this letter...
Dear friend (and/or neighbor),
I’m sorry that I've never invited you to church. I’m sorry if church is a trigger word for you. For me, it only partially means a physical place or a building because in reality, it is way more than that and I’m sorry society has let it be reduced to that in many cases. But in the midst of a global pandemic, we are faced with the new reality of social distancing and caring for each other from two meters apart. We are also being asked to act (or more importantly not to, in many ways), in order to be mindful and compassionate towards the vulnerable populations among us. And isn’t that what God has been asking us to do all along?
You may know a little about me, or have seen me around here and there, but I have not given enough energy and intention to get to know you. When we fail to get to know each other, we fall back on assumptions of what we see on the surface. Someone with a big house, a loud truck... two dogs, loving spouse... kids running crazy, always on the go... expensive vacations, dinners out... among other ways that I see you and you see me. This will not tell the whole story of the values you hold and the things that you care about for yourself and your loved ones. I wonder what is on your heart and mind at this time, what stresses are you facing and how is that affecting your connection to others?
I am imperfectly trying to follow the teaching of Jesus, to love my neighbors, to do it literally not metaphorically. I hope, knowing me the little bit that you do, that receiving this letter is not being too pushy. That is the beauty of a letter. You can read it; or not, you can delete it or even pass it on. Until this season of personal distancing is over; If you want, you can write back. Hopefully one day soon, we can get together in personal again and get to know each other better. My hope is that when we can all be connected to creation and each other again, we will be able to explore our connection to a spirituality that gives us life and restoration, future possibility of re-creation.
Rebirth and restoration await, I look forward to following a path that allows us to be in relationships that give life, hope and peace. Hard times can be reminders that we have to stick together, care for each other, trust in the promises of God and be “the church” our creator intended us to be.
It is winter, but only a 12-hour drive from Edmonton, there are still fires burning in B.C. The news of the summer told us about physical fires burning up forest and threatening towns and residences, but the news of today speaks of a different threat. The fires burning today are that of struggle and resistance by the Wet’suwet’en Peoples. It is a struggle that I am learning more about, as many other Canadians are, but have largely been ignorant of for almost a decade now.
Parts of this current struggle date back to 2010 and there have been two elections since then, where the federal government has promised better relations and conditions for Indigenous Peoples. In the meantime, the B.C. provincial government has supported UNDRIP on paper but we are not seeing how that is being lived out practically. In a time when government and organizations talk of reconciliation, it does not seem like the talk and words put on paper match the actions observed in real time and place on Unist’ot’en territory.
It is a complicated situation and many factors and people are involved. I do not even pretend to know the full story or contribute much by way of direction or support for either side but I do know, the simple fact is, voices that do not hold the conventional power of our society need to be heard. So, I am watching the footage, reading the reports and considering what I can do to contribute to a level field of mutual honor and respect. I would encourage you to not just dismiss news about this under the pretense that it has nothing to do with us in Alberta. We are all connected and it is closer to “home” than we may think. To learn more, check out some of the stories and videos at this link... unistoten.camp and consider what you can do today and for the time to follow.
Since the new year, I have been letting a book I got for Christmas guide some of my prayer times each day. It is a compilation of prayers by Walter Brueggemann called Prayers for a Privileged People and it speaks to many of our realities and my own context. This excerpt below struck me today when thinking and writing about the Wet’suwet’en People.
I was blessed to attend a Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative event that focused on Pathways to Recovery. Recent emphasis and a growing awareness of mental health and addiction in our communities (including faith communities) made this a perfect learning event. I do not have a lot of knowledge and experience around this, so I am trying to expand my bubbles in both areas.
The dialogue was aimed at understanding two key elements; abstinence and harm reduction models of addictions relief and recovery. By definition abstinence is pretty straight forward, but I knew nothing about what harm reduction was or involved. My simplified explanation of harm reduction would be; an addiction care and recovery model that limits and controls the use of a substance, but does not expect to completely eliminate it (at least not at first). The speakers were very deliberate to make it clear that some models had elements of fluidity and one was not better than the other in all cases. In fact, they were careful to also say that each is not right or wrong, but that our society needs both. People are wired differently; some models work for certain people in different ways and there are many complicated contextual factors that need to be considered.
Karen Bruno led a conversation about harm reduction that started with respecting where people are at, not judging them for what they have done. She talked about supportive housing staff understanding medical recovery models, understanding housing design and being trauma informed in regards to their policies, design and care. Staff went through safety training, self-care practices, possible trauma triggers and what they could offer for education, awareness and support for those facing addiction. Harm reduction acceptance takes a huge measure of empathy.
A few of the elements that were stressed, seemed so reassuringly familiar, they could be posted in most church council rooms. Make space and time, share food, listen and let people share their stories. Sound familiar? One thing that may be different for some faith communities was that volunteers were encouraged to go into the community, be with the people where they are and not wait for them to come to the church doors.
Peer support workers talked about some of the biggest supports being sponsors & mentors, community connection and spirituality. With these supports, those facing addiction could experience levels of healing in various parts of their life, especially if they were not directly battling the pain of withdrawal and the drive to find resources to use. The harm reduction model could give people a safe way to manage the addiction and tackle healing in a holistic way. It is a way of not being on the streets and maintaining some freedoms without being completely institutionalized. Harm reduction may also involve realistic budgeting that factors in money for drug/alcohol use in a safe way.
There were a few things that evening that struck me. I was interested to learn that one step in harm reduction was called stabilization. Maybe that does not sound too novel to you, but they described it as a time of great importance, to key in on support and positive influences. At that moment, the person is in a vulnerable position of making further steps to growth or falling back down in relapse. During stabilization, they are at the point when emotional and spiritual feelings start coming back and can help them heal or make them vulnerable to further triggers. The other thing that came to light for me was that recovery is not an individual thing, it does affect generations. We hear about struggling families and, in turn, struggling children. Then the cycle continues. One person lamented that they repeatedly see parents teaching their kids to be on assistance, just by being stuck in the system.
There is a stigma around mental health and addiction that keeps people in the shadows, without community, without support and it needs to be brought to light for things to change. Challenges that remain hurdles include facing stigma, negative messaging, judgment, living in silos, complex systems with complex paperwork, stains on records, work histories, trauma, waiting lists, transportation costs, intergenerational poverty, lack of support resources and more.
I am grateful for the people who shared their own work, involvement and experience in these areas, including permanent supportive staff workers, peer support workers, transitional and recovery staff workers, and managers of supportive housing and managed alcohol programs. There were also people with the lived experience of past or ongoing addiction that were present and shared in small groups. Some of the agencies represented were the Salvation Army, Excel Society, Grand Manor, Balwin Place and Homeward Trust. I have also been hearing about a support program called Celebrate Recovery from some of the guys I am friends with through the reintegration program.
In a heavy conversation, being faced with brokenness, I want to end with the promises of God who created and loves us all. In the hope that Jesus brings, for all things to be made new again, some of the ways we can get involved in areas of support are one on one, group therapy, work support, education, programming, life skills learning and almost anything that gives meaning and purpose to life. For those facing addiction, even benign things like government issued I.D., leisure access and bus passes can be great supports. Relationship building and time are huge factors and people who genuinely want to help cannot expect changes overnight. There are root causes and complex back stories to much of the brokenness and it will take significant time and resources to care and love each other.
Check out some of the agencies mentioned, websites below or contact me to explore further. Jesse – email@example.com
Here is a quick preview of the report you will see for Classis in March 2020... if you are a delegate to the meetings or simply just interested in checking out diaconal matters, take a look.
Since we met last fall:
- As part of the past oral presentation to Classis, I mentioned my exploration of prison ministry opportunities. I have made contacts with The Mustard Seed prison reintegration chaplain, Prison Fellowship Canada, Crossroads Prison ministry and have done training with Corrections Services Canada. I am volunteering with a couple of community reintegration groups and hope to learn more about the ministry and encourage others to do so as well.
-DOE 2019 happened the first Saturday of November and was a great day. Many moving stories were shared and positive feedback was received from the day. Speakers were well received and the participants enjoyed being together as a big group for the morning. Lewis Cardinal and Jennifer Henry both brought profound messages about hospitality from the two ends of Canada’s historical spectrum. It was well attended and featured special refugee guests from many churches, who shared their stories.
-Later in the fall I also participated in helping Kairos plan a regional gathering in Edmonton that focused on themes of reconciliation and allyship. It was a nice ecumenical partnership with the Mennonite community and also went well with a Friday night film screening and Saturday workshop.
Looking at 2020 so far and what’s to come:
Author Dwight J. Friesen brings us a novel that allows the reader the chance to explore what a Christian walk and church community could look like through a networked kingdom lens. Our Western culture is often described by many, including Margaret Wheatley, as holding ideas of autonomy of the individual, the voluntary nature of community, a mechanical view of creation, life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, and belief in the inherent goodness of progress... to name just a few. BUT, if we hold to God's reconciling love, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, then it could be described as an ecological view, in a sense. That would recognize the fundamental interdependence, even synchronization, of all facets of life. It sees that we are all embedded in one another and dependent on one another as part of the divinely created order. (Leonard Sweet)
This book by Friesen is an interesting compilation of various disciplines such as leadership, theology, network theory, biblical studies and science. He walks through five main sections he calls clusters and explores topics of connectivity, networking, leadership, the church body and connective practices. I found it spoke favourably to the structure and benefits of being a part of a larger denomination with access to community, regional and even global partnerships. It had much to do with linking multiple nods that could turn our attention to focus on similar things and turn singular identity into "We" identity. Friesen says, "God's mission is more than the salvation of individuals; it is also the formation of a people who participate with God in the reconciliation of all and the re-creation of the world."
There are many great metaphors to consider and great word picture illustrations as well. Friesen uses an example of "lighthouse Christianity" in comparison to "networked cities" that is particularly interesting to think about. I loved how it includes the calling and mission of diakonia in our churches, where the mission of life in God's networked Kingdom is to participate in the ending of suffering of all kinds. Kingdom connecters know that when one person suffers, we all suffer, and that to bless one has untold ripple effects. Friesen asks, what if I blessed, what if I sought reconciliation, what if I served? The connections we have are gifts to steward with wisdom, humility and openness.
Friesen explores interesting concepts of the parable of Google, Kenosis, Christ-Commons and more. There is a lot of great stuff to think about as big picture practices and it was an easy book to read and relate to. I really liked how he says Churches exist to connect people with God, one another and with creation. The local church is an expression of the reality of God's networked kingdom, which I am sure others like Block, Brueggemann and McKnight would agree. Drop me a line if you would like to borrow the book and read it fully for yourself, I would be happy to lend it out.
"Life begets life. Energy becomes energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."