Gender, Pleasure, and God – Rev. Lura Groen

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I’m still learning to embrace the word ‘pleasure’. From childhood, I learned all too quickly that the word immediately referenced sexual touching, and that was meant for a specific time and place in all times and in all places. Anything else was shameful.

At least, that’s my limited view of the world interpreted the messages I received.

Whispering to myself that I feel pleasure in eating a homemade meal I’d put together from scratch was revolutionary. And scary. It felt dirty and wrong and carnal.

Doesn’t God hate all things carnal?

Learning to acknowledge body pleasure, in its various forms, as GOOD is a journey I’m far from completing. But even with the muscle ease that comes with deep breathing, I’m discovering that pleasure is connected to life in more ways than sex only.

Having said that, I’m learning that my greatest moments of pleasure are distinctly private. I do experience pleasure when I’m out with a few friends for coffee, buried in deep discussion. But when I’m alone and have the time to actually sit with this experience called pleasure, be afraid of it, be welcoming of it, or move however I need to with it, I find that I am able to release more of the fear that I’ve held for too long.

Great thoughts from We Talk We Listen.

We Talk. We Listen.

ThomasLinda sittingIn many, many Christian circles enjoyment is suspect and “pleasure” is a dirty word. This quandary even more problematic when you’re a woman (let alone any other gender-oppressed group), as society is often perpetually finding ways to force itself upon everything in your life – let alone your sense of pleasure. In response to this, Rev. Lura Groen provides a rather eloquent and affirmation that bodily pleasures are part of what it means to be created by God – and by extension are holy. It makes a wonderful addition to this months entries and we hope you enjoy it. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor –“We Talk. We Listen.”


Like an apple tree among the wild trees,
so is my lover among the young men.
In his shade I take pleasure in sitting,
and…

View original post 1,225 more words

Look Up

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Seen from the descent at Busteni

Where do you look to for help?

When real life demands to be lived, a chirpy Psalm might seem a bit shallow to turn to. What’s the use in saying God will keep us from all evil when death and evil clearly still impacts our daily lives? What is the Psalmist trying to say? What hope is there in celebrating the faithful presence of God when presence seems impossible?

I asked myself these things while reflecting on my moments in a Romanian cable car swinging hundreds of feet in the air.

“Do Not Worry” — Sparse Counsel for A Life Deeply Lived

fear art
“Letting Go of Fear” (Creative Commons)

Matthew 6:25-34 (The Cotton Patch Gospel):

25. “Therefore, let me tell you all something: Don’t worry about making a living—what you’ll eat, what you’ll drink, what you’ll wear. Isn’t the life of a man more important than what he eats? Think for a moment about the birds of the sky. They don’t plant. They don’t harvest. They don’t store up in barns. Even so, your spiritual Father cares for them. Really now, aren’t you all more precious than birds? Besides, who of you, by fretting and fuming, can make himself one inch taller?

28. “And what’s all this big to-do over clothing? Look yonder at that field of flowers, how they’re growing. They do no housework and no sewing. But I’m telling you, not even Solomon in all his finery was ever dressed up like one of them. Well then, if God so clothes the flowers of the field, which are blooming today and are used for kindling tomorrow, won’t he do even more for you, you spiritual runts? So cut out your anxious talk about ‘what are we gonna eat, and what are we gonna drink, and what are we gonna wear.’ For the people of the world go tearing around after all these things. Listen, your spiritual Father is quite aware that you’ve got to have all such stuff. Then set your heart on the God Movement and its kind of life, and all these things will come as a matter of course. Don’t worry over the future; let the future worry over itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I often forget that the Sermon on the Mount was written as one long sermon. I see a beloved holy man sitting near the summit of a high hill, surrounded by devoted disciples and few a curious children. And the masses mill about with their blankets and picnics. Jesus delivers his massive discourse, packed with divine wisdom and love, hitting almost every major area of life in one session.

I forget that I’m getting the condensed version of what was more likely a series of conversations with many people. In seeing Jesus speaking once to one crowd, I apply this universal approach to my own life. Jesus told this massive crowd not to worry, thus I am not to worry. End of story.

What I often fail to do is read the tone in which I read Jesus’ words. As calm and loving as he sounds when he breathes the Beatitudes, Jesus voice suddenly becomes flippant and casual when he talks about worry.

“Pffft…! What? Me worry? Naw! It’s a ridiculous waste of time to worry over little things, so don’t do it!”

I’ve heard this tone in countless sermons growing up. Worry was such a trivial action for Jesus that all he needed to do was to tell the crowds not to do it, and that was the end of the matter. Jesus was already so actualized and chill that worry had no hold upon his own life. If I’m to emulate this Jesus, then, I need to stop worrying because then I step into disobedience.

What a perfectly packaged guilt trip. Jesus said, so that ends it.

What I fail to remember is that Jesus was telling starving people not to worry about what they were going to eat or drink; he was telling marginalized people — their stations in life often marked by their type of garments — not to worry about what they were going to wear; he was telling a hurting people to not worry about their hurt.

This isn’t flippancy. This is upside-down thinking.

I’ve come to believe that Jesus didn’t offer his words “do not worry” easily. He’s already known hunger and thirst; he’s already known the impacts of castes and classist systems; he knows his audience better than we do as foreign readers. Jesus did not casually toss out the demand for his followers to stop worrying.

He was acknowledging that their fears were real, and that God already had intimate knowledge of those fears and even deeper care about them.

He was paving the way for people to realize just how much God and God’s love was already present in their lives. He wasn’t dismissing their troubles or their worries. His words were carefully chosen and not lightly given. In his humanness, Jesus was speaking as much to himself as he was to his hearers.

How much it must have hurt him to tell a hungry person “Don’t worry; your heavenly Father cares about you”, or a naked person “Don’t worry; a Force who clothes these flowers cares for you more than you know.”

I assume that Jesus was continuously overjoyed to share what we perceive are words of freedom and comfort. I forget that his words, even if they were intended to be hopeful, would have had immediate and shocking impacts.

Words don’t stop stomach pains.

Words don’t clean stinking rags.

So if I continue to read Jesus’ words in this new tone — one of caution marked with a lifetime of experience — believing that it was difficult for him to encourage hungry and naked people with such crazy notions, my perceptions of worry change as well.

I am not as quick to tell others not to worry about their troubles.

“Don’t worry” ceases to be a go-to catch-all phrase to say when I can’t think of anything else to say.

I am more mindful of the present circumstances others are living in — indeed even my own — that are contributing to our worries and cares. Jesus himself confesses that each day has enough trouble of its own. He doesn’t erase suffering in this passage. In fact, he highlights it. Jesus is offering a way for a beleaguered people to begin to step into spiritual, social, and political freedom so life could begin to thrive rather than be stunted.

When I become more aware of Jesus’ tone in his own context, “don’t worry” ceases to be a casual drop of advice, or a pat answer for any person I may happen to encounter.

Worry is real.

Fear is real.

They are real because hunger, loss, homelessness, and disease are all real and have already had deadly impacts on our lives. Is it Jesus’ desire that we continue to live in fear?

Likely not, but I dare say he understands that fear and worry are daily monsters we all face.

I would say that Jesus’ desire is for us to understand his tone more than anything else. For if we choose to put his words into his own context, we can’t help but hear heaviness and years of life experience in his voice.

Here is the example I need to follow: a person who knew life well enough to offer what words he did, but saw the whole of it and refused to reduce it.

May I be wise enough to follow in such deep footsteps.

Spring Not Spring

I always enjoy sharing Tadhg Talks. As we Albertans continue to bear the onslaught of winter — and even find solace in the cold and snow — find encouragement, too, in thoughts of spring.

Peace.

As we’re in the season of spring, the main element of our focus of this time is air. But, that’s not to ignore the other three elements – and apologies to those that hold to three elements in total (as I’m a ‘four element’ man in the main, though maybe in actuality I’m a ‘five […]

via Harmony Of The Elements: Celtic Thought — Tadhg Talks…

Desiring Death

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Her skin is cool and feels like dry paper. Her muscle tone is gone, and her hair has been cut short. The woman I knew who could power walk for miles is now lying in a palliative care bed waiting to die.

We spoke quiet words with one another today. She had been a remarkable encouragement to me, even without knowing it, when I acted as her education assistant at our local post-secondary institution. She was a substitute high school teacher — a job only the rarest of courageous spirits could maintain — so I counted it a extra pleasure when I was able to be with her in the classroom.

Then we were placed in a professional development course together, along with a handful of other people. A certain degree of personal disclosure was required of all us, and I got to know her story a little bit. She got to know mine…a little bit. She got to know Katie, Romania, and that I journeyed life with this odd man named Jesus.

Evangelism was certainly not on the forefront of my mind. In fact, I had already begun to check out at church. I showed up out of form; I showed up so I could keep up with the youth; I showed up because perhaps I didn’t know of anywhere else to go. Church seemed so bleak, and yet to not go at all seemed even more lonely.

But she didn’t know this.

Nor was I aware of the Spirit’s movement in her own life.

As I entered new phases of my life and she into hers, we would take long walks out on the island; then we would pull up lounge chairs on her cabin’s property and sip on refreshments while the sun set over the lake. She would talk about our first encounters with each other years ago — back in the classroom, back in that course. Many of the moments I had long forgotten, being mundane to me, turned out to be profound for her. I was never sure whether to be humbled in her presence or encouraged. Perhaps this was a lesson for me in needing to be both.

Whatever her life circumstance, she radiated kindness to me and affirmed again and again and again that I mattered in the world and that God had not given up on me. No matter how badly I screwed up, she simply refused to see the bad in me or the mistakes. She saw beauty and made sure I knew it.

Now cancer is eating away at her internally. Life is a matter of days for her, or hours.

She, herself, is praying for hours.

Final arrangements have been taken care of; family members are with her 24/7; people have visited, prayed, wept, and laughed. The time is close.

As one who is supposed to believe in miraculous healings, I feel a heavy guilt wanting the death the she wants. Aren’t I supposed to believe the impossible is possible? Am I not the one to advocate physical healing? Aren’t I the one to not give up?

I have absolutely no idea. Not in this moment.

She is at peace. She is ready. As easy as those words are to type, I know they are not easy realities to even speak, much less accept especially for her family. Yet I find myself wanting to walk with her on the journey she is ready to take, as far as the road will allow me. No more pain. No more tears. No more treatments. No more.

Desiring death is not always the release of hope. We furiously work to stave off every shade of death throughout our entire lives, so that even when death stares us in the face we fight to cling on to who and what we know.

There are times to fight death; there are times when we do not give up pursuing life as we know it here for it is the loving, just, and good thing to do; there are times when we refuse to let death its due because the world is already so full of death’s grieving wake, that we must create and nurture life with our whole beings.

But there are times when peace and intimacy with God whisper that we usher one another on to what comes next. At some point we must let go of the hand, commending all life to God, and find beauty in this journey. I speak of this journey not as an eternal optimist, but as one who has had to walk various forms of this path. In the midst of grief and sorrow, the journey is anything but beautiful and profound.

There are moments, certainly, when the beauty and light break in. And these are the moments I look back on and become transformed by later in life. During the journey through the shadow of death, however, the world is icy, dark, and bleak.

So perhaps the miracle here is that death, not having the final word in our existence, is one more way we can be miracles to one another. We become witnesses to divine breath moving from one place to an eternity; we become witnesses to God’s beloved straddling this reality and infinity; we choose to be wounded because we love so hard and love so well, that as the wounds become scars, we are able to breathe that divine breath with others.

I can’t speak for all deaths and all losses in all times and in all places. I can speak to the truth that surrounding one person during their final journey home is one of life’s most potent moments. Whether we approach death with courage or cowardice, love or hate, peace or angst, the truth is we can approach it without guilt or shame.

We can hold hands at the beside and know we are on holy ground.

Will Real Hate Please Stand Up

hate

“I hate peas.”

“I hate this show.”

“I hate winter.”

“I hate summer.”

“I hate internet trolls.”

“I hate violence.”

“I hate how you treated me.”

“I hate haters.”

Definition of hate (Merriam-Webster)

  1. 1a :  intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injuryb :  extreme dislike or disgust :  antipathy,  loathing <had a great hate of hard work>

  2. 2:  an object of hatred

hatedhating

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1:  to feel extreme enmity toward :  to regard with active hostility <hates his country’s enemies>

  3. 2:  to have a strong aversion to :  find very distasteful <hated to have to meet strangers><hate hypocrisy>

  4. intransitive verb
  5. :  to express or feel extreme enmity or active hostility

According to the Criminal Code of Canada…

Sections 318, 319, and 320 of the Code forbid hate propaganda.[3] “Hate propaganda” means “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319.”

Section 318 prescribes imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years for anyone who advocates genocide. The Code defines genocide as the destruction of an “identifiable group.” The Code defines an “identifiable group” as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Section 319 prescribes penalties from a fine to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years for anyone who incites hatred against any identifiable group.

Under section 319, an accused is not guilty: (a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true; (b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text; (c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or (d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada.

Section 320 allows a judge to confiscate publications which appear to be hate propaganda.

It seems to me that just as love in our world is portrayed as an easy, pleasure-filled, sugar-injected coma creating a false sense of truth, hate is just as bandied about in our vernacular creating a false sense of what hatred itself actually is.

Do we know what hate is?

I know that when I eat peas, I have a strong aversion to the taste and I want to spit them out. Does that reaction equate to ‘hate’ or ‘hatred’? Have the peas themselves done something to me out of malice or anger to deliberately arouse my taste buds?

Is this hate?

Today the car in front of me pulled a “Lac La Biche-U”. That is, the driver deliberately turned left — across traffic — in order to angle park in the front of the grocery store. I ‘hate’ that! It’s dangerous, irresponsible, reckless (especially on a day with slippery, icy, rainy roads), and it’s disrespectful.

I didn’t know the driver, and I can reasonably assume he chose to pull the U-turn because it suited his own interests rather than deliberately infuriating me.

Is this hate?

I planned a girls’ group a couple of years ago that looked promising as a go. But due to lack of enrolment, we had to cancel it. There were a few community members who were pleased with the cancellation for their own reasons (which were hurtful to me at the time). Supporters told me: “Don’t mind the ‘haters’. If you have haters, it means you’re doing something right.”

Really? Christians use this catch-phrase ad nauseam to justify our actions: if someone opposes us and our lifestyles or actions, it means the ‘hater’ actually hates the goodness and love of Jesus and not really us. If the world hates us, we’re on the right path.

It would do us well to perhaps back the hater-train up and roll into a station of humility.

Is this really hate?

We have muddled our perceptions of hate so dramatically that I believe we sincerely struggle in determining what is real hate, and what is not.

Sometimes we really believe that any opposition to our opinions or convictions qualifies as ‘hate’. In having an admittedly heated conversation with a colleague over LGBTQ+ people and families, he accused me of giving ‘hate-filled diatribes’. I paused for a long moment in that conversation because I don’t recall feeling hate; I don’t recall wishing for the demise of the person in front of me. I was sad, yes. I was hurt, yes. I was tired, yes.

But hate-filled?

I can honestly say that I wasn’t.

From this man’s perspective, however, my convictions were calling his convictions to task; and for him, this action qualified mine as hateful.

In politics, each extreme side accuses the other of being hate-filled; of being so narrowly focused on its own agenda, that it fails to see the hate that it’s spreading to the community at large. Each side points to the other, and each uses the larger community as a rationale for getting the other side to wake up.

In colloquial culture, it’s acceptable to say “I hate peas” or “I hate winter”. People understand what we mean; some agree, and some disagree. However, when we attribute the heated label of ‘hate’ to inanimate objects or environmental seasons, flouting the term around without understanding its fiery undertones, we make hate and hatred a joke.

Is it any wonder that we can’t recognize true hate when it’s openly upon us?

To hate on anything has become so socially acceptable that we’re often unable to see with liberated and Spirit-filled minds where true hatred begins or where it can possibly end. Without having honest conversations about hate — what it actually is and how it actually works and spreads in our worlds — we will continue to point out what we think is hatred in ourselves and other people, and remain unable to address true hatred festering in our homes, our churches, our street corners and soap boxes, and our selves.

Where do we begin? With dictionary definitions? With legal definitions?

I can begin by chewing on my peas and recognizing that, despite my aversion to them, that they are nutritious for me and that other people do enjoy the flavour.

I can begin my checking my frustration at the poor driver in front of me, knowing that unbridled frustration can be a breeding ground for the beginnings of hatred. If the person did me no harm, I let it go and carry on. If a safety incident needs to be addressed, I park my car and address that incident with compassion and truth.

I can begin by refusing to be baited into conversations about topics that will only trigger sensitive responses in me. Hard conversations need to happen, but perhaps I need to enter into them prepared and with the knowledge that I will not convince ‘the other side’. That side is already convinced of their rightness or certainty. Perhaps I can offer a different way to respond to the world, and that offer is the other side’s decision to accept it or not (just as it is mine). My hurt and pain, like the anger with the bad driver, are justified but left unchecked can breed into justification for hatred.

What about you?

What does hatred look like for you?

How would you begin a conversation about hate and hatred and hating in our world?

Dear Nephews: On This Day of Trump’s Inauguration

Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America just now. I’ll admit it: I feel sick to my stomach.

I still don’t understand how a narcissistic bully without any political experience won the presidency using racism, misogyny, lies, and outright meanness. He’s a cruel man, and I’m having a difficult time right now envisioning how a cruel man can become a compassionate leader. He’s justified rape culture, torn down people of colour, and has promised severe reversals in same-sex marriage laws. Trust me, boys, millions of people (both Americans and international folks) are justifiably angry, terrified, sad, and confused.

Protests are happening en masse around the world against Donald Trump. While I don’t agree with all the methods some protesters are using, I do agree with unflagging zeal of nonviolent activism that Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. embodied. Just because Trump is officially America’s president now, it doesn’t mean he’s no longer accountable. In fact, it is all the more critical that people of conscience and justice rise up and not back down.

If you think such protests are the domain of the marginalized, you would be wrong. Only months ago, thousands of Albertans – yes our fellow Albertans – marched on the Legislature in Edmonton (many brandishing pitchforks) to protest a bill Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP Party was pressing into law. I confess I was ashamed to be an Albertan that day, not because of any lack of deep respect for farmers, but because their display connoted a violence against other people whether that was the intention or not. Pitchforks, when taken out of the field or garden, have long been a symbol of peasant uprisings used to kill, torture, and destroy. In other words, the pitchforks were being used by people for purposes for which they were not intended.

And the underlying tone of the protest was so hostile and angry that I found it challenging to dig deeper into the real reasons protesters actually showed up for such an event. Having said all of that: even though I did not agree with how the protesters sent their message, (and I strenuously disagree with much of the vitriol towards women, immigrants, indigenous people, and Premier Notley herself that flowed out of that protest) I agreed that the right to protest was a part of the democratic process we all shared.

The kinds of democracies that both Canada and America have built allow for such protests. Remember that. Even when you vote for any given candidate, your work is not done, my boys. The hardest part is learning to live in community when the leadership above you stands against almost everything you hold dear.

And to live in community in ways that emulate Christ.

No easy task.

How can we do this? Today it seems impossible.

  1. I’m going to be gentle with myself today, boys. I’m angry and sad both for the backsliding America and for my friends in America who are genuinely afraid for their futures now. That anger can fuel further community action, but left to its own devices it will devour me. So I’m going to take a long walk around the lake, watch the birds, and (if I’m lucky) look up to witness a brilliant display of Northern Lights.No matter how dark the world seems to get, search for the beauty within it. Always. When anger or sadness threatens to consume you, take a step back. There’s no shame in doing so. Find a quiet space that is safe for you. Be alone with God and enjoy your presence together. Learn from the ancient mystics, prophets, and sages who meditated, prayed in the desert, and found Jesus in the broken places of the world. Walk gently, boys. Walk gently.
  2. I’m going to keep on learning how to listen. Not every Trump supporter would declare themselves as racist or homophobic. In fact, many thought his promises of viable work and food on the table were finally going to be real for them.So often I want MY viewpoint heard, because MY viewpoint has already critically examined all aspects of an issue or an event. But MY viewpoint is extremely limited. I need to learn not only to listen, but to DESIRE to listen. Even if the person across from me is making (what I believe to be) horrible statements that I disagree with, I must challenge myself and ask: “How can I make this space between us safe enough that this other person senses that no harm will come to them, even if we disagree?”
  3. I’m going to work all the harder to find the truth in the “news”. Fake news and post-truth are trending terms right now. How do we know what to believe? Outrageous stories shape my viewpoint, whether I like to confess it or not, and I must be oh-so-careful. False news is a beautiful way to start wars and genocides. Be zealous in getting all your information, boys, but be cautious and questioning of all of it.
  4. I’m going to stand with those already oppressed. There are many privileges you and I take for granted (and not all of them are good privileges) that millions around the world and in Canada will never know. I choose to listen to them, to see the world through their eyes, to glean from their wisdom, to repent of my own blindness, and to transform the world by seeking transformation within myself. I can donate all the canned goods in the world to the food bank, but without taking the time to understand why food banks exist in the first place (and ways to grow past them), poverty will continue.

You will all grow up and find your own ways of collecting information, forming your own opinions, and acting on your convictions. Today was a dark day for millions of people, even as it was seen as a day of light for millions of others. I can’t tell you what to think, but I can help you how to think. Be informed, be wise, be discerning, be questioning, be kind, and be loving. Choose that your heads and your hearts work together as one, just as we were created to be, so that your words shape your actions with integrity, honesty, humility, and love.

As for me, I’m going to take that walk by the lake now. I’m going to take long deep breaths of fresh air.

Tomorrow we resist.

“The ultimate thing is that we build community not on our love but on God’s love, because we really do not have that much love ourselves, and that is the real challenge. . . . It puts us in a position where sometimes natural community is very difficult. People are sent here and there, and often very incompatible people are thrown together. Groups of people who would never have chosen to be together in an ordinary human way find themselves living together. . . . This is a test of faith. This puts God’s love to the test and it is meant to. . . . It isn’t just a question of whether you are building community with people that you naturally like, it is also a question of building community with people that God has brought together.” —THOMAS MERTON, “MERTON IN ALASKA”