About twirlingjen

I am a Diaconal Minister in the United Church of Canada. I live in Yorkton with my family where I minister with the folks at St. Andrew's United Church. Please feel free to use and adapt the resources you find here.

Christianity: Cause of Brokenness and Source of Healing

9723852665_0e4058295c_o_arrWednesday was National Aboriginal Day. Sometimes we forget that the history with First Nations in Canada is tied in with our theology and how we read scripture.

Passages like Galatians 4:1-7, 5:16-26 contributed to some of the history. The passage begins by saying, “heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.” In the early relationship, Europeans saw that even though First Nations lived on the land they didn’t use it or manage it in the way Europeans would. This led to an understanding that they needed guardians and trustees to manage their land and resources. This, in turn, led to the Indian Act and reserve system which is still in place. One of the first pieces of legislation related to First Nations was the “Civilization of Indian Tribes Act” in 1857. According to this legislation, if an Indian man could prove English language skills and the ability to manage his own affairs he would be able to vote and own land as long as he gave up his identity as an aboriginal person. Our scripture could be interpreted to support this belief.

This passage also makes reference to people who are enslaved by elemental spirits. In Paul’s time, there were some who wanted to return to local deities and worshiping the sun, the moon, the animals. In early Canadian history, the traditional aboriginal teachings were seen as worship of the elements. This worship was seen as against God and therefore needed to be stopped. There was genuine concern for the souls of aboriginal people, a want to bring them into Christianity and to “civilize” them. Out of these beliefs and values came the residential schools.

Christian theology was instrumental in creating and supporting the broken relationship that has developed between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Christian theology also holds hope for a future that looks different from what currently is. This passage goes on to tell us that the fruits for the spirit, the things that come from living faithfully are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the things that lead to healthy communities and relationships. We need to love our aboriginal neighbours. We need to seek peace. We need to have patience with each other as we tell stories, listen and learn from each other. We need to be kind. We need to be generous as we seek to live faithfully with our current reality. We need to speak and act with gentleness and compassion. We need to practice self-control as we look for ways to walk in a good path.

We need to understand that, as Christians, we do not have a monopoly on the sacred or on God. The traditional teachings of indigenous spirituality are very necessary as we learn how to care for the earth. Those of us who are immigrants and descendants of immigrants have much to learn from indigenous peoples. Our scriptures and theology have been used to tear down and destroy. Now we need to use those same scriptures and a new theology to build and to heal.

All are Welcome

 

There’s conflict in the early church again! In Galatians 2:11-21 Paul has been working with a congregation for several years and in that time they have welcomed people regardless of their religious background. Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians are working and worshiping together and the community is flourishing. But then they have some visitors from outside the community. These visitors feel that by having Jewish Christians sharing the table with non-Jews, they are breaking the purity code of the Jewish tradition. Cephas has been part of the community and has been comfortable sharing the table with many different people. Once these visitors come, he starts to distance himself and refuses to share the table. Then others join in and the community is divided. The Jewish Christians aren’t about to eat with sinners who don’t keep the law.

Paul goes on to argue that everyone, whether Jewish or not, is sinner. To identify as a sinner isn’t always a comfortable place. To have sin pointed out to us isn’t always comfortable but sin simply means that we have missed the mark, that we have made a mistake, that we haven’t lived up to who we are meant to be. Sin may be very personal but it also has impact on community.

Sometimes it is difficult to identify the sin. Initially, in this story, the sin is seen as breaking the purity code and not following the tradition of a segregated table. In order to resolve this break in the code, the Jewish Christians refuse to eat with non-Jews. Paul challenges this and suggests that the real sin is refusing to share the table. Paul flips the idea of sin on its head. The people who are accusing others of sin become the sinners.

We want to keep nice neat boxes which allow some people to be insiders and others outsiders but the Holy Spirit is messy and doesn’t conform to our ideas of who should be welcome in our communities. The sin for which Paul holds people accountable is the sin of exclusion and division. We continue to struggle with this challenge. Any time we tell someone that they are unwelcome, we sin because it breaks the body of Christ. It is easy to point to others and say that they are sinners and should be unwelcome but neither Christ nor Paul would support that attitude.

This video from the United Church of Christ shows what happens when we believe we are better than others and want to maintain a closed community without sinners.

When you watch this video, where do you see yourself? Do you think you are one of the ones who might get ejected or would you be the person who moves further down the pew so as not to be in the way when people are tossed out? If would could eject people from this congregation, who would you eject? Where would you stop? Perhaps someone would eject you. If you were the one being ejected, how would you feel? We need to have compassion for each other.

The point of this story is that in God’s eyes we are all equal. None of us is more or less worthy to be a part of the community. None of us should live in fear of being ejected because of something we have said or done or because of who we are. We are all special and we are all loved. The church is Christ’s body and all of us are members of the body. All of us are welcome.

 

A Spirit for Change

Pentecost is an ancient Jewish celebration. Pentecost means fiftieth day and there were several fiftieth days or Pentecosts in the tradition. From Passover to the Pentecost of New grain was fifty days. From that date to the Pentecost of new wine was fifty days and then another fifty days to the Pentecost of new oil.

In Acts 2, the disciples have gathered to celebrate the Pentecost of new grain. They are celebrating the way they do every year. There is nothing out of the ordinary. But suddenly there is a violent wind and flames have appeared out of the sky.

The crowd that has gathered is from many different places and they speak different languages but they can understand what the disciples are saying. Just like in this version of the Lord’s prayer. It sounds different but the words have similar meanings regardless of language. We can experience the Holy in multiple languages. We can speak of God, of Gitchi Manitou in several first nation languages, of Allah in Arabic but we end up in the same place…the Holy, the one who is creator and sustainer of life.

In this Pentecost experience, that creator sends a spirit of action and animation among people who have already had experience of the person of Jesus and of the risen Christ. This experience of Pentecost, of being filled with the spirit then sends them out into the world to act for the Risen Christ.

Skip forward about 60 years to the story of Paul. You might remember from a few weeks ago when we heard the story of Stephen’s stoning that Saul was watching and approved of the killing. Saul had an experience of the Risen Christ in which Christ speaks to him and asks why he is persecuting the Christians. It is an ah ha moment for Saul. He becomes Paul—a Christian missionary who travels around establishing churches everywhere he goes.

The second scripture is from Galatians and Paul is describing his life before and after the moment of his conversion. Before he met the risen Christ, he was devout in his belief. He was actively engaged in seeking to destroy any Jesus followers he could find. In Paul’s time, it was important to maintain the status quo. Change was actively avoided and Saul was part of that active resistance. The fact that Saul had an experience that changed him so profoundly would met with a healthy dose of skepticism. He would have to be able to justify the change. In the passage we heard this morning, that’s exactly what he does.

He says, “God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles.” When broken down this statement picks up various passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah. You might remember Jesus also picking up themes from the Hebrew scriptures and applying them to himself in order to find credibility amongst people who knew their Bible well.

Paul claims that this change within him was a result of his experience of the risen Christ and a call directly from Christ. He claims that God knew him before he was born and that God was revealed to him in his vision of the Risen Christ and the he is sent to proclaim God to everyone everywhere.

One of the things that is fascinating about this is that Saul/Paul’s sense of call went from maintaining the status-quo and removing anyone who threatened that status-quo to a call to change the world. He went from trying to keep people thinking, believing and practicing their faith in the same way as they had for centuries to being an voice that changed how people thought, believed and practiced their faith.

Paul didn’t start life as an advocate for Christianity. As new information presented itself, he was able to be open to a God that continued to speak to him and unsettle him. That God, completely changed the direction of his life. We need to be open to a God that continues to speak to us in many ways. We don’t always know how the Holy spirit will speak to us or touch us. We don’t always know what the spirit will say to us.

Things that we think are true and right, may not be so. People that we think are our enemy, may not actually be our enemy. The spirit turns our world upside down and inside out. It is difficult to remain faithful by maintaining the status quo, by keeping things the same. The world changes, our lives change. God calls us as individuals to different things at different points in our lives. We might have a moment where we can look back and say…it changed there. Sometimes the change is more gradual and we find that we are in a completely different place from where we thought we would be.

The church is no different. God calls the church to change over time. We are changed by people who come and go. We are changed by events in the world around us as we seek to respond faithfully. If Constantine hadn’t made Christianity the official religion of the roman empire, if Martin Luther hadn’t posted his theses, if no one else had challenged the beliefs and practices of Christianity, it would not have evolved into the faith we have today.

The Holy Spirit inspires and encourages us to be bold and faithful for Christ. It encourages us to seek ways of living that respond to challenges in our world and yet are grounded in who we know God to be. The spirit is among us—moving and faithful.

Who Belongs?

At it’s heart, this story in Acts 15:1-17 is about a community trying to define itself. Does it want to be known by the rules it keeps or by radical inclusiveness?

The story starts with a group of new Jewish-Christians arriving in Antioch, which is where Paul and Barnabas are. This group, insists that non-jews who want to become Christian must adopt Jewish law and customs. Paul and Barnabas argue about this with them. Eventually, the community decides to refer the matter to the apostles and elders who are in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas head off to Jerusalem for a consultation.

There was a big debate. We think of debates as having rules. This was basically everyone weighing in with their opinion at the same time, all shouting over each other. Once the argument had blown itself out, Peter steps into the silence and speaks. He suggests that the law was central to the Jewish faith but that something new is emerging which is not based on the law but on Jesus. It is the relationship with the Risen Christ that is central to this new faith.

The early church struggled to make sense of who they were. Would membership be based on old traditions passed down through generations or would it be based on something different? Jesus consistently questioned laws that were interpreted as a way of keeping people outside of God’s grace. Peter wanted the early church to follow in Jesus’ footsteps of creating a community based on relationship.

In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Since that time, Christianity has been associated with governments and power in many places around the world. Christianity was the religion of colonization. Christianity was the rule of the land. Initially, there was little separation between Christianity and government and even though we identify as having separated religion and politics, there continues to be an assumption of shared stories and history.

At the time of the reformation, Martin Luther asked whether the church would be based on rules and traditions that had become a burden or would it be based on something new and different? Martin Luther wanted individuals to have direct access to God without having to go through a priest. This was about the same time that the Bible started being translated and printed into multiple languages so it became accessible to more people. These were radical things but they shaped the protestant church that we have today.

The separation of church and state is a fairly recent phenomenon. We haven’t needed, until recent history, to define ourselves because there was an assumption that everyone around us was Christian even if they weren’t practicing the faith. There have always been a variety of denominations and beliefs within Christianity but always based, to a certain extent, on shared stories and history.

What was at stake in the early church was a question of membership based on following the rules that had been handed down or membership based on relationship with the Risen Christ and the community. In the end, the relational form of membership won out. When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire it was no longer a relational faith but a faith of government and power and rules. Martin Luther recognized that the faith was falling into the old habit of using rules to keep people away from the Holy and wanted to return to a form of faith where relationship with the Risen Christ was central.

Within our culture, we no longer have the shared history or the familiarity of biblical stories that once could be assumed. How do we define ourselves and our membership without these common touchstones? I believe this is a great opportunity for us to really examine what it means to be a faith filled community. Are we a faith filled community because we all believe exactly the same thing? Are we a faith filled community because we have a set of common rules that all of us follow?

How do we decide who belongs and is fit to be part of the community? Historically, people believed (or at least gave lip service to belief), which led to what was considered appropriate behavior and as a result they belonged. If they did not maintain a lip service to belief or stepped out of appropriate behavior they no longer belonged. My grandmother was raised as an old order Mennonite and when she married outside the faith she was shunned. She didn’t believe in the right way, didn’t behave in the right way and didn’t belong.

A new model of church membership flips this order. We belong. We are welcomed and loved. We have relationship with the Holy and the community. This leads to belief that there is something beyond us and that the spirit is active and present in the world. This belief then shapes our behavior. I like this model because it begins with an assumption of belonging. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. We always belong to God. If our community is faith-filled then we always belong here too. Belief and behavior flow from this sense of belonging.

This is what the early church was trying to get at. In God’s family, everyone is welcome without having to know the shared history and stories. As people are immersed in Christian community, everyone is transformed. Newcomers and long-timers alike are transformed by their interactions as they seek new ways of being faithful in a changing world.

Sharing the Faith

In Acts 8:26-39, we hear about Philip, who was named as deacon along with Stephen. Philip is given direction by an angel to go into the wilderness. There is no one for miles. It is a deserted road. On this road, he meets an Ethiopian eunuch who is the royal treasurer. He was travelling in his chariot and reading the scroll of Isaiah but he doesn’t understand it.

As Philip listens outside the carriage he is moved to speak to the eunuch. They spend time together and the eunuch is moved by what Philip says to him. The eunuch is baptized by Philip. The eunuch understood that he couldn’t learn and understand the faith by himself. He needed someone to teach him and help him to understand.

W510 - picture009 - CopyWe cannot learn the faith by ourselves. We need each other to help us learn and grow. That’s one of the reasons we always baptize in community—because we recognize that parenting and raising children in the faith is difficult. We invite families to choose God parents whose primary role is to encourage and nurture children and their parents in deepening their faith. As a faith community, we commit to supporting individuals as they grow in faith. We learn about our own faith as we worship and other times when we talk together can be even more powerful for deepening our experience of faith. Bible study, children’s programs and even moments of pastoral care can be powerful experiences of learning the faith.

Learning the faith is not something that stops when we become adults. It is something that should be an on-going part of our lives until the moment of our death when we discover what comes next. The eunuch was curious about a faith he knew nothing about and was drawn into learning. That learning was transformative for him. Learning with others needs to shape our own faith. saturday worship 4

Sometimes we are hesitant to share our faith with others. Maybe they don’t think like us and will disagree with us. Maybe we worry that someone won’t like us any more. Religion was on the list of things to not talk about when I was growing up but we need to get over this discomfort of speaking about our faith with others. Philip didn’t wait until he knew the eunuch well. He didn’t wait to find out where he had been worshiping. Instead he approached and said, “can we talk?”

We need to be bold in talking with others about our faith. There are many different kinds of Christianity. I believe that the world needs to hear a message of faith that holds rationality and mystery in tension. The world needs to hear a message that is inclusive and welcoming. The world needs to hear a message of faith grounded in compassion and love. This is a gift that we have to share with the world and the world needs this message. We need to be bold in sharing our faith, speaking truth and offering hope in a hurting world.

As we learn, we find the boldness and confidence we need. As we speak and proclaim the gospel we continue to be shaped in the spirit of Christ. We are transformed and the world is transformed.

Serving Even in Discomfort

This week’s passage (Acts 6:1-7:44) covers a lot of ground. It begins with a conflict in the church. The Greek Christians were complaining that when they were giving food to the widows the Greek widows were not being given as much as the Hebrew widows. There’s a conflict over which group within the Christian community is more important or more deserving. We’ve seen Jesus addressing similar issues in his own community as he tries to help people understand that one group is not more important than another but that all have a place in God’s kingdom. The early Christians continued to struggle with the practice of breaking down barriers and seeing “the other” as an equal. We continue to struggle with this in our own community and congregation.

But the disciples have a solution. “We’re too busy preaching the word of God to worry about feeding the widows so let’s appoint leaders to distribute the food and look after the needs of the poor.” The Greek word used to describe these leaders is diaconia. It is means to serve and it’s where we get the words deacon/deaconess and diaconal. After these people are named, the disciples pray and lay their hands on them. The Greek word here is ordinatio and from this comes ordination. Ordinatio means to lay hands on someone, to pray over them and commission them to a particular ministry.

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for more info about Diaconal Ministry check out DUCC

As a Diaconal minister, this story is rooted my identity—to serve. One of the reasons I find myself called to diaconal ministry is its commitment to serve and stand with those who are most marginalized. Training for diaconal ministers covers a wide range of places where people can be marginalized. In the social ministry year we covered topics including: Residential schools, addictions, colonization, globalization, violence and abuse, disabilities, prison ministry, refugees, militarism and non-violence, poverty, sexual orientation and gender identity, racism and many more. We were encouraged to experience as many different people as possible and learn directly from people who live these realities. The role of diaconal ministry is one that supports people in current situations and provides pastoral care, Diaconal ministry encourages people to find their own voice and then works alongside a community to transform individual lives and communities. I see my role as serving you and together serving the community beyond our doors.

It took me a long time to be comfortable with the idea of serving. I struggled with the word serving because of it’s close ties to servant. I don’t know anyone who is a servant but it conjures up images of always being at someone else’s beck and call and always following someone’s orders. What I have come to realize is that my call is to serve God. I do that by serving people. It is service that requires me to give of myself, my energy, my creativity. As a person of faith, I have to serve God. I need to do what is required and expected of me because I my faith, because of my understanding of scripture and God’s purpose in the world. This service brings joy and hope into my life. It is service that requires me to be in relationship with others. Sometimes it is challenging. Sometimes it is inconvenient. Sometimes it is exhausting. Sometimes it brings me into conflict.

Sometimes, even within the Christian church, my understanding of Christ’s radical into inclusivity and welcome leads to conflict. At times, it would be easier to remain silent but my faith requires me to challenge injustice. This week Yorkton celebrates it’s 2nd Pride week. There are many people in our community who live in fear because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are people who feel they can’t come to church because they will not be welcome or safe. What does that say about us as a church? I don’t want to live in a community where people feel unsafe because of who they are. I believe we are all created in God’s image and loved by God. Our communities and churches need to celebrate the diversity that God creates.

Sometimes, we might feel that we don’t know anyone who identifies as sexually diverse so it doesn’t impact on us directly. You might be surprised who you know that doesn’t tell you this part of themselves because they don’t feel safe. You might be surprised by who is a part of your congregation. When people don’t feel safe, I believe that the entire community suffers and the body of Christ is broken.

Stephen was commissioned to a particular ministry. I am commissioned to a particular ministry. All of us are commissioned to ministry when we are baptized. We lay hands on an infant or adult. We give a blessing and send them out into the world to be God’s hands and feet. We reaffirm these commitments in confirmations and professions of faith. Ministry—caring for the poor and marginalized is not limited to a few people but is an expectation of all people of faith.

We are entering the time of year when many communities host Pride events. I encourage you to attend at least one event this season. Your presence helps people to know that they belong, that they are welcome and that they are safe. Your presence helps to heal the body of Christ. For some of us, participating in these events might stretch our comfort zone. It might unsettle us. It is an opportunity for us to celebrate and affirm the diversity that God creates.

If Stephen could risk his life for his faith, perhaps we can risk some discomfort.

An Easter Reflection

Mary Magdalene tells her story:

Woman, Old, Senior, Desperation, Grief, Female, PersonWe spent the Sabbath, weeping and mourning and praying. There was nothing left for us to do. We wondered why God had abandoned Jesus and why God had abandoned us. We were all together comforting each other. After the Sabbath, I went with Joanna, Mary who is the mother of James and some other women to Jesus’ tomb. We hadn’t had time before the Sabbath to prepare him for burial. It was just one more indignity that he had to endure. Now we just needed to perform the proper rituals for him.

When we got to the tomb…the stone was gone. Suddenly, there were two men. They were dazzling and light glowed from them. We were terrified. There were too many strange things happening. How could it be that the stone was gone? Who were these men and why were they surrounded by bright light? They spoke to us. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That doesn’t even make sense. Jesus is dead. We saw him die. This is the place where you look for dead people and Jesus is dead. “He is not here, but has risen.” Wait….what…risen? risen? Wait… risen…raised to life? How is that possible?

We ran away in fear—not understanding what had happened. Distressed at another insult. Distressed at something else we couldn’t explain. We found the others. We tried to explain but our words just tumbled out in a jumble making no sense. It made no sense because our grief was too raw and too huge to understand, to share or explain. This new event just added to our confusion, our grief and outrage.


Rock, Outlook, Landscape, Holiday, Nature, Rocky, ViewThe Easter story is a story many of us know well. it is one that we read or hear year after year. I want to offer some cultural background about death which might put a different spin on our reflections about Easter. This information is taken from the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels by Richard L. Rohrbaugh and Bruce J. Malina . In Jesus’ culture, the original culture of Easter, there was a different understanding of death. We think that there is a moment where life stops…breath stops, the heart stops beating, the brain stops transmitting. For us, this is the moment of death…This is the moment we grieve as life changes to something else.

But in Jesus time, after death, the body would be placed on a shelf in a tomb. Family and friends would mourn for a whole year while the body decomposed. As the body decomposed, any evil deeds would fall away. It was believed that the bones contained the personality and were necessary for a resurrection. At the end of the year, the bones were collected and placed in a box to wait for resurrection.

In the case of capital punishment or crucifixion the body was held by the Sanhedrin (which functioned like a court) for the full year. When the flesh was gone from the body the sentence was complete and the bones prepared for resurrection.

For the women arriving at the tomb on Easter morning, they arrive to participate in a ritual that is part of the mourning process. But there is nothing there to mourn. Without the bones there is no hope of resurrection. We think of Easter as a happy and joyful occasion but the first witnesses would have been more distressed by an empty tomb. Their hope of resurrection is now gone.

Malina and Rohrbaugh make two points that I think challenge our theological perspective of the resurrection. They suggest that Jesus’ resurrection (the disappearance of the body), could go directly to God because there were no evil deeds that needed to rot away. This leads to another important point. Jesus death was wrong and in taking Jesus directly after death, God overturns the judgement of the earthly condemnation.

I like this twist because rather than suggest that God sent Jesus to die, it affirms that the death of Jesus, like so many other deaths, is unjust and wrong. It speaks to us in our moments of despair and confusion and grief and reminds us that God’s love and compassion overcomes the evil and violence in our world.

Maybe after they thought about it for a bit. Maybe after they had cried until they could cry no more, Mary and the other women at the tomb might hear the words of the two men at the tomb differently. With the bones gone, the only way to find hope was to believe that God had overturned the conviction and proclaimed Jesus innocent. The only way to find hope was to believe that Jesus was already resurrected.

As we look around the world and see violence and hatred and injustice the Easter story reminds us that this violence is not the end of the story. It is the beginning of a new story. It is an opportunity for new ways of seeing the world. It is a chance for hope to blossom and create new life in places of violence and pain.

What thing in your life or in the world is painful, confusing, grief-filled? What can the Easter story teach you about finding new life within this situation?