I’m reading Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren. I first encountered Warren in her first book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, which I now use as a secondary text in my course on the spiritual disciplines. It provided an earthy, pleasant companion to Richard Foster’s classic, Celebration of Discipline which is more of a typical textbook. I fell in love with her writing with that book and knew I had to read this one when her name was on it. Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church but her writing appeals to all those who are drawn to liturgical and contemplative practices. I am one of those people. Having grown up in conservative evangelical Mennonitism, my heart finally found a spiritual home at a Roman Catholic Retreat Centre in the 1990’s. I love the symbolism, the room for silence, thoughtful liturgy, and meaningful rituals of “mainline” traditions even though I still feel at home theologically and relationally in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition.

Prayer in the Night is an elongated reflection on “Compline” or the last prayer before going to sleep at night. The book arose out of her experience of a miscarriage and feeling the need for the prayer of compline in that moment as they rushed to the hospital at night. Structured and familiar prayers can ground us in a time of chaos and turmoil. This is why people keep going back to the Psalms! Prayer in the Night includes chapters on lament, illness, angels, embodiment, suffering, death, weariness, and gratitude. It does not seek to give theological answers to difficult questions but simply reflects on the importance of prayer in dark times. Here is the prayer that forms the structure of the book.

Keep watch, dear Lord,

with those who work,

or watch,

or weep this night,

and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend the sick,

give rest to the weary,

bless the dying,

soothe the suffering,

and pity the afflicted;

all for your love’s sake, O Christ our Redeemer.

Amen.

I’m very proud to be part of a church that acknowledges the importance of mental health by having a “Mental Health Sunday” every year on the first Sunday of May, just before the national recognition of “Mental Health Week”. Our online service was particularly meaningful today as a number of people told their stories, especially in relation to how the pandemic had affected their mental health.

Click HERE to watch the video service anytime.

I was only medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety five years ago but when I was, it shed new light on my life-time of struggle with mental illness, often triggered and/or exacerbated by trauma. Members of my family of origin and our present family, also struggle with mental illness. It is a daily reality for us; and statistics say, for 20% of the population in Canada. And, as we were reminded in the worship service: all people are concerned with mental health just like we all are with bodily health. Unfortunately, mental health concerns have a lot more stigma attached to them. It has been important in recent years that we have become more open to talk about it in both church and society. Too often in the past, mental illness was seen as a purely spiritual problem and this caused a lot of harm to people in the church.

“A Conversation between Cancer and Mental Illness.”

I am Cancer.

I am Mental Illness.

The mere mention of my name strikes fear into people’s hearts.

Yes, and the mention of mine also adds some confusion.

I can take many different forms.

So can I; each one is a separate disease.

I am somewhat unique to western cultures in modern times.

I am there too but they used to think of me as demon possessed.

I cause great suffering, pain, and heart-ache.

Sadly, I do as well.

I am no respecter of persons. I strike the rich and the poor alike; it makes no difference.

You can add race, religion, and Jesus in your heart; I do not discriminate either.

I affect friends and family and all people around those who have me.

Ditto.

My treatments are long and arduous and sometimes worse than the disease itself.

Unfortunately, that goes for me too; learn to live with me for the rest of your life.

I can take over a person’s entire body.

I can do that; and then I mess with their very identity.

I can be terminal; people die because of me.

Sorry, me too, although they often blame the person for killing themselves.

People have run across Canada for me, and millions of young and old raise millions of dollars for research through public events and big name celebrities.

Hmmm, most celebrities who have me are no longer celebrities and there are very few fundraising campaigns for me.

I’m on every church and Facebook prayer list.

I prefer to suffer silently and remain hidden.

I’m part of a title: Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre.

I’m the psych ward at the back of the hospital behind locked doors.

People all feel sorry for my victims.

They just think mine are crazy.

I can be beaten.

I can carry stigma to the grave.

Better than a few posts describing the art here is a tour of the gallery:

What does one do to celebrate a milestone birthday during a pandemic? Well, if you are an introvert like me, this is not really a problem. Just give me a day by myself to reflect on six decades, culminating with a beer and BBQ with my family. But I did have a brainwave that would be compliant with community health guidelines and would give me an opportunity to express my passion for art and thematic development: a backyard art gallery with an invitation to 60 friends to come have a stroll in our backyard on a timed entry basis. The problem is that the weather in April is usually cool and wet but as it has happened, it will be sunny and warm this Sunday. The gallery will be open!

My earliest memories indicate that I have always enjoyed being creative. My artistic endeavors in my growing up years included poetry, theatre, speeches, music, song writing, drawing, and painting. During my “productive years” of having a family and establishing a career in church ministry my creative pursuits took the form of crafting and delivering sermons, Bible studies, worship services, youth events, Bible recitations, writing essays and books, and preparing and delivering lectures with PowerPoint presentations.

In early 2017 I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression triggered by a traumatic event in my life the previous fall. This diagnosis gave me new perspective on a lot of things in my past! I went on a partial medical leave for a year and have reduced my work load ever since. One of my therapeutic activities has been taking up watercolour painting after more than twenty years of dormancy.

My paintings are water colours in a simple folk art style. The backyard gallery series contains depictions of local scenes, primarily old buildings. I hope some of the titles accompanying the paintings will provoke some reflection and conversation about the history of our region. Many of the pictures and descriptions were inspired by what I have learned over the years about the interaction between European settlers and the indigenous people who have lived here since time immemorial. My recent reading of Before We Lost the Lake by Chad Reimer has been particularly inspiring.

I will be giving away the paintings to friends who visit the gallery in exchange for donations to the Mennonite Church British Columbia Indigenous Relations Fund. You are welcome to donate at www.mcbc.ca/giving.

So that my far flung connections can also enjoy the gallery I will be posting the pictures with brief descriptions in the coming weeks.

I really appreciated the physical distancing rules that were put in place.

Finally, people stayed out of my personal space!

I did not mind working from home more often.

But then I realized that a computer screen is less beautiful than a person.

I did not miss eating inside a restaurant. Patios are okay.

What I did miss was backyard BBQs and my granddaughter over to play.

Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, Door Dash, who needs ‘em?

It costs more money than transit or gas.

The delivery is not all that fast.

Restaurants don’t make any money.

The only beneficiary is whoever started the company.

I’m glad I never used them.

The churches who protested not being able to go to church because of an infringement on their religious freedom confounded me.

The prophet Amos says, “Take away the noise of your songs but let justice roll on like a river…”  

Jesus says that the Law can be summarized as “Love God and love your neighbour.”

The book of James says that “true religion is looking after widows and orphans.”

Nobody has banned justice, love, and compassion.

So don’t give me your whining about being persecuted for standing up for your religious beliefs.

I am very thankful I was one of the lucky ones to keep my job.

Small business owners, their employees, and artists were the ones to get robbed.

I like watching athletes on TV but really,

they should trade salaries with health-care workers;

it’s pretty obvious who is essential.

The worst thing and the best thing about the pandemic is that it has revealed our societal sins:

sexism, racism, able-ism, age-ism, classism, all the isms. Nobody wins!

Let us now repent and we shall be saved.

Does anyone really know what “normalcy” is?

Whether you want to return to “normal” or not

probably depends on how privileged you were before the pandemic.

We are part of a church that had a woman as the lead pastor and preacher for 25 years but there are still far too many denominations and churches that restrict the ministry of preaching to men only. It is as if they believe people are gifted according to their genitalia rather than by the Spirit. I know all the so-called restrictive biblical texts and so did the evangelist and preacher Phoebe Palmer in 1859. This excerpt is part of her response to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 where women are told to be silent in the church. More than 150 years later we still don’t seem to get it.

“Whence has the idea ob­tained that she may not even open her lips for God in the as­sem­bly of the pious, with­out being looked upon re­pul­sively, as though she were un­wom­anly in her aims and predilec­tions? And where is the beloved fe­male dis­ci­ple of any de­nom­i­na­tion, truly bap­tized of the Holy Ghost, but feels the Spirit’s urg­ings to open her mouth for God? And it is of the power of an ever-pre­sent Jesus that the Spirit would have her tes­tify; but the seal of si­lence has been placed on her lips. And who has placed the seal of si­lence on those Heaven-touched lips? Who would re­strain the lips of those whom God has en­dued with the gift of ut­ter­ance, when those lips would fain abun­dantly utter the mem­ory of God’s great good­ness? Who is it then that for­bids that woman should open her mouth in ei­ther prayer or speak­ing in the as­sem­blies of the saints?

And here we come to the point, and are forced to an an­swer to which in the name of the Head of the church we claim a re­join­der. Our an­swer is this: The Chris­t­ian churches of the pre­sent day, with but few ex­cep­tions, have im­posed si­lence on Chris­t­ian woman, so that her voice may but sel­dom be heard in Chris­t­ian as­sem­blies. And why do the churches im­pose it? The an­swer comes from a thou­sand lips, and from every point. The Head of the church for­bids it, and the churches only join in the au­thor­i­ta­tive pro­hi­bi­tion, “Let your women keep si­lence in the churches.” And here we come fairly at the ques­tion. If the Head of the church for­bids it, this set­tles the ques­tion be­yond all con­tro­versy.

Under what cir­cum­stances was this pro­hi­bi­tion given? Was it not by way of re­prov­ing some un­seemly prac­tices which had been in­tro­duced into the Corinthian church, and which, in fact, seem to have been pe­cu­liar to that church, for it is in con­nec­tion with this and kin­dred dis­or­ders which had been in­tro­duced among the Corinthian be­liev­ers. Anyone who will care­fully look at this sub­ject, with its con­nec­tions, will ob­serve that it was in ref­er­ence to this rep­re­hen­si­ble prac­tice, which had ob­tained in the Corinthian church, that Paul en­joins si­lence, and not in ref­er­ence to the ex­er­cise of the gift of prophecy, which, in con­nec­tion with this sub­ject, he so plainly ad­mits, Oth­er­wise the apos­tle’s teach­ings were ob­vi­ously con­tra­dic­tory.”

In Corinthian society women did not have the freedom to speak in public and so in the church where there was new freedom in the Spirit the women were out of control with their newfound voices! The point of 1 Corinthians 14 is not about who speaks but about the importance of order in the midst of freedom. In other words, if Paul was writing to our churches today, and the men were the ones to be causing a disturbance and speaking out of turn—as is often the case—he would tell the men to be quiet.

St. Patrick gets all the press when it comes to Irish saints so I want to level the playing field slightly by introducing Brigid, also a patron saint of Ireland, born in 451, a generation or two after Patrick. Her feast day is actually February 1 or 2 (halfway between the two solstices) but since March 17 is the day everyone is thinking about Irish saints and since it is Women’s History Month, I make this post this today.

Most of what we know about Brigid was written in “A Life of Brigid” by the Irish monk, Cogitosis in 650. What emerges from this volume is a portrait of Brigid as a strong and gentle woman, a powerful leader, a good organizer, a skillful healer, and a wise spiritual guide. She was known for her deep faith, her healing powers, her hospitality, her generosity, her great skill with dairy animals, and above all her compassion for the poor and the oppressed. In keeping with her Celtic traditions, she was wonderfully attuned to the seasons and cycles of nature.

It is generally accepted that Brigid established her abbey and church in Kildare around 480 AD, on the site now occupied by St Brigid’s Cathedral. Brigid held a unique position in the Irish Church and in the society of her day. As Abbess, she presided over the local Church of Kildare and was leader of a double monastery for men and women.

There was no lack of domestic strife in the Ireland in Brigid’s time. Feuds between clans were commonplace. She is often depicted as a peacemaker who intervened in disputes between rival factions and brought healing and reconciliation.

Brigid died at Kildare on 1 February, 525 AD. She was laid to rest in a jeweled casket at Kil Dara. In 835, her remains were moved from Kildare to protect them from Norse invaders. She was interred in the same grave that holds the remains of St. Patrick and St. Columba at the Cathedral grounds in Downpatrick. She rightfully holds a place beside these giants of Celtic spirituality.

It is a good idea to have a history month for those whose stories rarely get told. Until we get things right we need some affirmative action.

Nellie McLung, born Letitia Helen Mooney in 1873, is one of my favourite Canadian heroes. It may have started because we both grew up on a small farm near Wawanesa, Manitoba where a number of her Mooney relatives still reside.

Nellie McLung’s accomplishments are many:
1. She began a teaching career in Manitou, Manitoba where she met her husband.
2. She gave birth to five children in 16 years.
3. She authored 16 books, both fiction and nonfiction.
4. In 1911 she moved to Winnipeg and organized the “Political Equality League” to lobby for women’s suffrage. By 1916 women were allowed to vote in Manitoba.
5. She was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1921.
6. She became one of the “Famous Five” women who petitioned the federal government to expand the legal definition of PERSON to include women. They finally won their case in 1929 when women in Canada legally became persons.
7. She was also involved in other campaigns: prohibition of alcohol, anti-war, urban renewal, emphasis on family and women’s contributions to society.
8. In 1936 she became the first woman on CBC board of directors.
9. In 1938 she became Canada’s delegate to League of Nations.

Nellie McLung was known for her passionate speech and acerbic wit. Here are a few of my favourite feminist quotes, mostly from her book, In Times Like These, which was one of the readings for my graduate course on the History of Spirituality at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon.
“I am a believer in women, in their ability to do things and in their influence and power. Women set the standards for the world, and it is for us, women in Canada, to set the standards high… Men alone are not capable of making laws for men and women… Never underestimate the power of a woman… Women had first to convince the world that they had souls and then that they had minds and then it came on to this matter of political entity and the end is not yet… That seems to be the haunting fear of mankind—that the advancement of women will sometime, someway, someplace, interfere with some man’s comfort… We may yet live to see the day when women will be no longer news! And it cannot come too soon. I want to be a peaceful, happy, normal human being, pursuing my unimpeded way through life, never having to stop to explain, defend or apologize for my sex… Women who set a low value of themselves make life hard for all women… The greatest insult came at the marriage ceremony when the minister asked ‘who giveth this woman,’ and some brother, or father or other man, unblushingly said he did, as though it were entirely a commercial transaction between men… The economic dependence of women is perhaps the greatest injustice that has been done to us, and has worked the greatest injury to the race.”

And two quotes that sum up her personality and legacy: “Never retract, never explain, never apologize; get things done and let them howl… I want to leave something behind when I go; some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place.”

It is International Women’s Day on March 8. Today is my mother’s birthday. She was a feminist before she knew there was such a thing. She passed on the gene to my daughter who is well-versed in language and ideology my mother never knew. My daughter reminds me that feminism is not just about equal rights for women but for all disadvantaged people. I’m proud of them both and have been deeply shaped by both.

The liberation and empowerment of women has been a passion of mine since I became a member of the church in 1979 at the age of 18 and advocated at “brotherhood meeting” that women should be able to vote at church meetings. I don’t remember the proceedings but I know that it happened within a few years of my first getting up to speak about it. I’m still learning the many privileges I have as a man working in the field of theology. The best thing I can do for theology right now is to empower the voices of women and other marginalized voices.

I’m presently reading a new book of essays entitled, Liberating the Politics of Jesus: Renewing Peace Theology through the Wisdom of Women. The latest essay was “Salvation for the Sinned Against” by Linda Gehman Peachey in which she offers some insights about how our theology of atonement and salvation has been biased by the voices of men. I look at the bibliography for my Anabaptist History & Thought course and I see that well over 80% of the books are by men. I confess that I have some work to do to find some but there just aren’t that many publications, especially whole books, by women. This is problematic. Even something as basic as the articles of our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective were primarily written by men (seven men—six of them white—and only three women on the committee). I was struck by Gehman Peachey’s summary of her point about salvation toward the end of her essay.

“The God we meet in Jesus is always reaching out to embrace, empower, liberate, and vindicate those who suffer wrong. The goal is always to heal those who are broken and draw them into the circle of God’s love and justice. This circle includes sinners and those sinned against. Indeed, everyone is both, at one time or another. But when people sin, they cannot find full healing without acknowledging the presence and challenge of those whom they have harmed. They cannot find true forgiveness and restoration unless they can admit that their actions and participation in unjust systems cause innocent people to suffer. They have to confess that these systems will sometimes even crucify God. Following Jesus means turning away from these systems and their harmful acts. It means turning instead toward the God of life and joining in God’s saving, healing work in the world.”

Our college media department is doing a special feature during Black History Month by having a few students and staff members reflect on an influential black historical figure that has inspired them. My first thought of course was Martin Luther King Jr. There is no black person who has been more inspiring to me. But he would be the choice for many other Christians. I need to choose someone else. Plus, I’m Canadian and we need to recognize more black Canadians in our history. Viola Desmond came to mind as she has received some attention by being featured on our new ten dollar bill. She is known as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up her seat in a movie theatre for white patrons. But I wanted someone that most people had never heard of. I’m an educator; I wanted this opportunity to be educational for our social media audience.

I teach Anabaptist History which is primarily European but I have a fascination with Canadian history, especially the unique stories of Christianity in Canada. I thought back to my seminary days in Toronto when I took a course on the history of Christianity in Canada. David George! Henry Alline got most of the attention for the revivals on the east coast but David George did get a mention in the course. I did a bit more research to fill in my failing memory and even found his memoirs available online. It is one of the most important early slave memoirs available. What a precious resource!

David George was born in 1742 in Virginia, the son of slaves brought from Africa. He was converted to the Baptist faith during the Great Awakenings and was involved in founding the first black church in the American colonies in 1775. During the Revolutionary War he was among a number of slaves who found refuge behind British lines and he subsequently accepted passage to Nova Scotia as a British loyalist along with thousands of other black slaves.

He settled near Shelburne with his wife and three children. Because he was a pastor he was given a small plot of land. His response makes it obvious that he was a Baptist! “It was a spot where there was plenty of water, and which I had secretly wished for, as I knew it would be convenient for baptizing at any time.” The church grew rapidly; they built a meetinghouse, and even attracted white congregants. But when he baptized white folks there was resistance and a race riot ensued.

How did David George respond to the persecution? “I continued to preaching till they came one night, and stood before the pulpit, and swore how they would treat me if I preached again. But I stayed and preached, and the next day they came and beat me with sticks and drove me into the swamp. I returned in the evening, and took my wife and children over the river to Birchtown, where some black people were settled, and there seemed a greater prospect of doing good then at Shelburne. I preached at Birchtown… and baptized about twenty three.” He went on to baptize hundreds and planted a number of churches in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

All the while, living conditions for black people in what was to become Canada were no better than they had been in the American colonies. David George and his family—they now had five children—accepted the invitation to resettle in the British colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone. There he continued his ministry of baptizing and pastoring. He wrote his memoirs while on a visit to London, England.