Category Archives: Faith

“The Great Migration”: more love

Churches should be school of love. Love. This is the premise of Brian D. McLaren’s book The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In the book, McLaren goes into some dark days of religion: colonization, slavery, oppression. Broken relationships with Indigenous groups around the world, slave and sex trades in the name of God, and oppressing people of colour and different sexual orientations. It’s not a great past. It’s ugly and evil. But the saddest part, that McLaren points out, is the Christian religion hasn’t really changed that much from their violent and wretched past: Christianity is still about exclusion and who believe the right thing, and those how are outside that need saving. In this book, he argues that there is a better way. And there is: LOVE!

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Source: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/250879/the-great-spiritual-migration-by-brian-d-mclaren/9781601427922/

The last few years, I have found that I don’t fit into the Church I grew up in. I don’t hold as tight to the beliefs and rules that I grew up believing were the only way to follow Jesus . I find myself in a spot where I just want to love more and seek out opportunities to find challenges to be more forgiving, loving, and compassionate. I’m done with organizations that exclude people, and I’m more about organizations that include and welcome all people. This has been a long, tough journey, but I feel more freedom, which is the whole point of Christianity in the first place: freedom to love others. In his book, McLaren writes more about American churches, yet Canadian churches are just as complicit in evil (look at Indian Residential Schools for starters). He writes that “if our [church] prime contribution to humanity can be shifted from teaching correct beliefs to practicing the way of love as Jesus taught, then our whole understanding and experience of the church could be transformed. That’s why I’d like us to take a fresh look at the church as a school of love”(His emphasis, Pg 48).

McLaren shows the dangers of believing that Christianity is they only way, and excluding other faith traditions: “When we better come together as Christians, we can better join with parallel movements from other faith traditions, because ultimately, the problems we face are not just Christian problems, they are human problems. We are all human, and we need to see each other that way and work together to love each other. Just because you were raised in a certain faith tradition, that does not give you superiority and the ability to take control of what humanity should look like. That has failed miserably. Just look at Central America’s history with Christianity as one of many examples. If the goal in life to is learn how to love supernaturally, then we need to work together as humans to make that happen. It is this idea that had me nodding my head and whispering a joyful YES! as I read this book. Together is better. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is the only way.

Toward the end of the book, McLaren talks about how we can make this spiritual migration to love (instead of beliefs and rules) a reality. He quotes Richard Roh, a man also dedicated to spreading the message of love: “Richard Rohr says, ‘Pain that isn’t processed is passed on,’ or ‘Pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.'” (Pg 187). There is a lot of healing that needs to take place in the world, healing that is required as a result of so-called christian actions. Decolonization, feminism, LGBTQ rights, civil rights: all of these movements are an act of healing, and Christians should be involved in these movements toward more love. Enough with the creeds and rules, more with the love and healing. As Shad would say, “What we all want, should look a little more like love.”

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“The Secret Life of Bees”: I am enough

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was recommended to me by my Dad’s co-worker, a Catholic chaplain at a federal prison. At a Christmas party, we were chatting about authors who wrote on spirituality (like Thomas Moore, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Henri Nouwen) and he suggested that I might like The Secret Life of Bees.

bees

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Bees-Monk-Kidd/dp/0142001740

I’ve never spent much time contemplating Mary, the mother of Jesus. Growing up, Mary was part of the Christmas story and didn’t show up the other 11 months of the year. Yet in Catholic traditions, she is part of everyday life. I think I like that: having a spiritual woman part of my everyday life. Reading The Secret Life of Bees truly made me grateful that I am a woman, and that doesn’t happen too often. The love, joy, forgiveness, and genuineness that Sue Monk Kidd creates within and between her characters had me mesmerized. Lily, a young teen with a dead mother and an abusive father, saves her housekeeper from jail and they run away together and into the lives of three extraordinary women: May, June, and August. These three sisters keep bees and sell honey, yet they have also created a community around the tradition of a black Mary. These women support each other and have true friendships that uplift and challenge each other to love more.

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Source: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/secretlifeofbees/

Monk Kidd’s novel tackles racism, abuse, sexism, and depression. She does not shy away from issues that most people like to ignore. In the novel, she creates situations that seem so outrageous, yet most likely happened. Situations of black women being beaten in prison by their white male accusers. White people standing in the way of black people registering to vote. Black teens being arrested for throwing a coke bottle at white men. Yet the three sisters–May, June, and August–are strong and they gather other women around them to encourage them and support them. Lily, who has run away from home, is treated with kindness and love, and with a patience that seems unworldly. As she works with the bees, she learns more about herself and about reality:

“The sting shot pain all the way to my elbow, causing me to marvel at how much punishment a minuscule creature can inflict. I’m prideful enough to say I didn’t complain. After you get stung, you can’t get unstung no matter how much you whine about it. I just dived back into the riptide of saving bees”  (pg 167)

I love Lily’s attitude. Stung, yet dove back into the work and didn’t get angry or upset at the bees. August keeps reminding her to send love to the bees and to remain calm and observe. Life lesson!

Lily isn’t always calm and patient, and has some fantastic moments of rage and pain about how life has treated her. We follow Lily’s progression from an angry, confused girl, into a young woman who is learning that the most subversive thing a woman can do is love herself. As Lily helps the sisters care for the bees, she learns a lot of about herself:

 

Her hands stayed where they were but released their pressure. “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love–but to persist in love.”

She paused. Bees drummed their sound into the air. August retrieved her hands from the pile on my chest, but I left mine there.

“This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.'”

I closed my eyes, and in the coolness of the morning, there among the bees, I felt for one clear instant what she was talking about. (Pg 289)

Lily learns something that most people struggle, not only to say, but to believe: I am enough. The three sisters have a statue of Mary that was inspirational to many black slaves in the area and they continue to draw strength from this statue. Yet in this conversation with August, Lily tries to find strength from outside of herself and August reminds her that Mary is there to draw out the best: Mary’s power doesn’t come from her statue, but instead comes from empowering others to see the beauty and love in themselves.

mary

Source: http://beesbeesbees.weebly.com/the-daughters-and-son-of-mary.html

I found this book refreshing: looking at spirituality, Christianity, from a female perspective. And a wonderful reminder in Lent that yes, I am enough!

enough

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/i-am-enough/

“Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you. … You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.” (Sue Monk Kidd)

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you.” (From the “Hail Mary” prayer)

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary. 2010 Stephen B. Whatley

Source: http://www.stephenbwhatley.com/1_the-immaculate-heart-of-mary-2010-30-x-24in-by-stephen-b-whatley-copy-jpg

“The Giveness of Things”: theology of choice

Marilynne Robinson is someone I have been meaning to read for a while now. My Mom got When I was a Child I Read Books last Christmas and she enjoyed it.  So when I saw she had a new book out, I thought I’d pick it up from the library: The Giveness of Things: Essays.

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Source: http://time.com/4135245/best-books-2015-nonfiction/

I have to say that I was not a huge fan of the book.  I completely respect Robinson.  She writes with passion, and since it is a collections of essays, she is able to speak to many different topics.  Her intelligence and thoughtfulness are easy to see right from page one.  Yet I was not her target audience.

Robinson writes a lot about the USA and it’s history, especially where it is connected to Christianity.  I am not American and don’t fully understand my neighbour to the south.  In fact, it’s interesting that we exist on the same continent, yet are so very different.  Another nit-picky criticism is her references to Shakespeare.  Robinson is clearly a lover of Shakespeare and studies him thoroughly; I was never a lover of Shakespeare.  I can appreciate and enjoy, yet I would not choose to read his plays on my own time.  (That being said, I loved teaching Macbeth and Julius Caesar in my classroom.)

One of the biggest deterrents from keeping me from enjoying and buying into Robinson’s book is her love of John Calvin.

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/johnnieprophet/theological-humor/

For Robinson, Calvin is her saint.  He was prolific and did cause people to pause and think about their beliefs.  He was a rebel against a corrupt system.  Yet I grew up in an environment and Church that was pretty much opposite to a lot of Calvin’s ideas and interpretations.  Arminian theology, from James Arminius who lived in the late 1500’s, believes heavily in the free will of humans to make decisions, guided by the Spirit.  This way of thinking is found in Methodist churches, especially with John Wesley’s writing and thinking and as far back as the Dessert Fathers and Mothers in the early centuries of the Church.  Although I am not an expert, I do know which side of the debate between Calvin and Arminius I’m on.  So I had a hard time following along with Robinson.

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Source: http://pastormattblog.com/2013/10/25/the-five-books-on-arminianism-that-every-christian-should-read/

Differences in nationality, literature, and theology aside, I did appreciate Robinson’s book.  She has some beautifully clear ideas that are spot on!  “Cultural pessimism is always fashionable, and, since we are human, there are always grounds for it.  It has the negative consequences of depressing the level of aspiration, the sense of the possible” (Pg 29).  Yes!

“One of our presidents, in bygone days, said that the only solution to the problems of democracy is more democracy.  Things tend in another direction now.  The word ‘capitalism’ has replaced the word ‘democracy’ as the banner under which we have flourished” (Pg 182).  Yes!

“We know how deeply we can injure one another by denying fairness.  We know how profoundly we can impoverish ourselves by failing to find value in one another.  We know that respect is a profound alleviation, which we can offer and too often withhold” (Pg 286).  Yes!

I respect Robinson’s collection of essays.  From her 70 years on this earth, she is able to share her thoughts and observations about who we are as humans, living in this world together.

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Source: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/02/marilynne-robinson-book-club

“There’s so much to be grateful for, words are poor things.” (Marilynne Robinson)

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

(Psalm 86:15)

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Source: http://michellelesleybooks.com/2012/06/26/tiptoeing-through-the-t-u-l-i-p-s/

“My Bright Abyss”: beautiful truth

Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer had me wanting to do something terrible: I wanted to highlight and underline my library book! That is what happens when a poet writes about those moments in life that are inexplicable, those soul moments that make time stop. Wiman is able to put into words the experiences that seem to transcend words.

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Source: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/marapr/edge-of-all-i-know.html

He has genius moments of clarity: “Be careful. Be certain that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world” (pg 9-10).

For me, he is able to see through all of the smoke and mirrors, and is able to speak the truth with grace.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that it wasn’t just reflections on his life, he also challenges himself, and his readers, along the way. He realizes that “you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you. These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion” (21). Beautiful reminders that have me believing that there could actually be some universal truths.

After writing about belief, doubt, death, and life, Wiman writes about faith: “But faith is not a new life in this sense; it is the old life newly seen” (pg 108). And then after writing about his horrible experiences with cancer, he is able to write, “The temptation is to make an idol of our own experience, to assume our pain is more singular than it is. Even here, in some of the entries above, I see that I have fallen prey to it. In truth, experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others” (Pg 162).

Wiman’s book is beautiful and challenging and heartbreaking all at the same time because it is full of clarity and honesty. He begins and ends with a stanza from one of his unfinished poems:

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this:


Source: http://www.mbird.com/2013/10/mondays-with-mandelstam-rough-draft-1937/

“Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us” (Christian Wiman).

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

TRUTH-2
Source: http://nicolettelodge.com/truth-2/

“Surprised by Scripture”: let’s get political

We are in the midst of a long and painful election campaign. #AngryOldGuy, #BathRobeGuy, #HairGate, #PeeGate, #PeopleLikeNenshi. It seems that the election has started to become more and more ridiculous and it is a bit disheartening to watch as a proud Canadian.

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Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservative-supporter-yells-reporters-memes-1.3196052

Yet I am encouraged because the countdown is on and there seems to be a lot of articles like this floating around lately: :A Real Nation Would Not Let This Happen” from Maclean’s. The last line really got me thinking: “I don’t know who to be more ashamed of, our politicians or us.”

After reading Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues by N.T. Wright, I am even more convicted to act and become more involved in active politics. “The church is to prove the world wrong about justice . . . The world thinks it knows what justice is, but again and again the world gets it wrong, favoring the rich and powerful, turning a blind eye to wickedness in high places, forgetting the cry of the poor and needy who the Bible insists are the special objects of God’s just and right care. So the church, in the power of the Spirit, has to speak up for God’s justice, in the light of Jesus’s ascension to the throne of the world, and to draw the world’s attention to where it’s getting this wrong. This has immediate and urgent application in holding our governments to account concerning justice for the world’s poorest, who have been kept poor by the unpayable compound interest owed to Western banks on loans made decades ago to corrupt dictators. The injustice has itself been compounded by our governments’ breathtaking bailing out of superrich companies, including banks, when they defaulted: the very rich did for the very rich what they still refuse to do for the very poor” (Pg 193-194).

Wright doesn’t mince words in his book. He calls out people who claim to follow Christ and says that if they are not holding their governments accountable, then they are not following Christ. He asks: “How do we shape a generation through which the Spirit will convict the world of sin (in the face of Western arrogance and assumed moral superiority), of justice (in a world where biblical meaning, justice for the poor, has been obliterated by justice in the shape of state-sanctioned violence), and of judgement (in a culture that acts as if it were the arbiter of truth)? That is the challenge” (Pg 195).

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Source: https://thoughwetremble.wordpress.com/2010/08/

So, how can all Canadians who believe in love, especially those who believe in the love of God, show their love and act in ways of love? Wright would suggest that we live our lives to reflect Jesus’s ministry of loving those who society rejects. He suggests that we get political: email, write, and call up our politicians to demand action for those who are the most vulnerable in our society and in the world.

How do you find your Member of Parliment? Here.

How to write the letter? Here.

What Global issues to write about? Here.

Where to find information about the current refugee crisis? Here.

How to address Governemnt Officials? Here.

How or what to write about Canada’s First Nations’ children? Here.

Where to find information on Canada’s missing Aboriginal women? Here.

I don’t think there are any excuses as Canadians. We have let the silly actions of our political parties to distract us from the real issues. We need to hold the media and the government accountable.

So, I am challenged and convicted to start writing letters. Join me?

Homepage_Indigenous
Source: http://www.keepthepromise.ca/

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Act 20:35)

“We care more about postal service, child care and tax credits for the suburban middle class than we do Aboriginal issues. What kind of a nation are we?” (Scott Gilmore, in his article)

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Source: http://desmog.ca/2013/10/16/canada-faces-crisis-situation-indigenous-peoples-says-un-special-rapporteur

“The Quotidian Mysteries”: mystery in the everyday

This weekend I had a conversation about my love for liturgy in my spiritual life and practice. The routine is something that speaks to me. It leaves a space to enter into something familiar where something unexpected might happen. On the recommendation of one of my cousins, I picked up Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris and I was seriously encouraged and challenged by her book.

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Source: https://www.episcopalbookstore.com/product.aspx?productid=6089

We all know that we take for granted the everyday routines in our lives. We all know that some days we run on autopilot. We all know that we dread doing the dishes and laundry after a long day at work or a glorious day off. Yet it is how we act in these small, everyday tasks that grounds us and allows us to wake up and see the world around us. Norris speaks of these moments and the potential for how to make them meaningful.

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Source: http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/our-first-african-american-president-sadly-will-go-down-in-history-as-our-most-inept-corrupt-wa/question-3720923/?page=24

She relates our everyday tasks to those everyday prayers that happen in Churches (and should happen, at least for me, more at home):

“No human being can pay full attention to the words that he or she is praying every single day, and apparently this is how God would have it. Sometimes, particularly at crisis points in our lives, we feel these words with our whole heart. They seem to burn in our chests, and bring tears to our eyes. We find that we mean them in ways that remain unfathomable, and on rare occasions a new interpretation of a line or image will come to us” (Pg 81).

This is precisely why I love liturgy! Yet Norris challenges her readers to be aware of those routines and habits we get into and how we can become more aware during them. “Laundry, liturgy and women’s work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-support work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings. But they have a considerable spiritual import, and their significance for Christian theology, the way they come together in the fabric of faith, is not often appreciated. But it is the daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that the religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit, and these days it is easy to lose sight of that as, like our society itself, churches are becoming more politicized and polarized. Christian faith is a way of life, not an impregnable fortress made up of ideas; not a philosophy; not a grocery list of beliefs” (Pg 77; emphasis mine).

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Source: https://meetville.com/quotes/tag/action/page6

Norris’ book has been humbling, challenging, and encouraging all at the same time. Her gift for poetic language made her ideas a joy to read, even while they packed a punch! I can tell that this is a book I will be rereading over and over again.

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Source: https://thehubbydiaries.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/a-swift-kick-in-the-butt/

“The Bible is full of evidence that God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us–loves us so much that we the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life” (Kathleen Norris).

“With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Quotation-Kathleen-Norris-prayer-Meetville-Quotes-145851
Source: http://likesuccess.com/511339

“Searching for Sunday”: what is church?

This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.

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Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday/

In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)

It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.

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Source: http://rachelkingbatson.com/tag/rachel-held-evans/

One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)

No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)

Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.

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Source: https://twitter.com/StStephenYYC/media

“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

welcome
Source: http://www.ladera.org/beliefs/openAffirming.html