Dinner with a Black Lives Matter Speaker

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.04.46 PM

For a white person, talking about Canadian racial issues is like unclogging a communal shower drain by hand. You only partially know what’s there, and that causes anxiety and avoidance.

An immigrant pointed out to me that Canadians like to compare themselves to evade their own messes.  Bad is bad, he said.  Who cares whose mess is worse.  It is like a kid refusing to clean his room because his sibling’s room is messier.  Both rooms need cleaning.  So it is with Canadian racism.  When it comes to racial issues, we speak more about our southern neighbour’s sins than our own.  I wanted to better understand how a member of a racial minority viewed their situation in Canada so I contacted EJ, a speaker at the Black Lives Matter rally.  She graciously accepted my dinner invitation.

We met at The Original Spaghetti House Pizzeria.  It is a place she frequents because it is owned and operated by an immigrant who hires other immigrants.  For EJ, eating here was a safety issue.  Despite being born in the Peterborough area, she feels more comfortable in immigrant-run establishments.

She’s hilarious.  I’m slightly embarrassed to admit we had multitudinous belly laughs talking about violence and discrimination against black people.  EJ knows she’s funny.  She explained that she developed humour as a coping mechanism for the racism she experienced growing up.   She told me of a childhood bus driver who always used to stiffen up and grasp his wallet every time she entered the bus.  She dealt with it by joking with him, “Ooh!  Better protect your wallet or else I’ll steal it!”

What disturbed me most though was EJ’s belief that she didn’t have a voice; that if she spoke out it was perceived as whining but if a white person spoke out, they had something important to say.  It shocked me, until I realized that this is how I feel about gender discrimination.  If I speak out, the people who need to hear it won’t take me seriously.  If my husband speaks out, they are more likely to listen.  I feel that way because I’ve lived that experience.

What a horrible truth!  After all, who better understands issues of racism?  Me or a member of a racial minority?  Who better understands issues of gender?  Me or my husband?

At the rally, EJ spoke of the police discrimination she experienced in Peterborough – multiple incidents – including being held at gunpoint in a situation where no charges were actually laid.  EJ is my age.  These are not stories from the 1950s.  Since speaking out, EJ has received threatening anonymous phone calls telling her that if she ever needs protection, the police will not help.

These are the kinds of messes Canadians need to clean up. We can unclog our own drain.  We can clean our own room.  Let us start by actually listening to our minorities, because black lives matter here too.

Advertisements

Black Lives Matter

IMG_20160722_165431

This past Friday my husband and I attended a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Peterborough.  As we approached, we saw three police officers standing around shooting the breeze, watching and listening to the protest.  Nervously, but with chins positioned decidedly upwards, we walked past the officers and joined the other protesters.

The rally was run by black people, but people of all ages and skin tones were present, from small native children to a gaggle of particularly passionate elderly white people.  One white man showed up with a sign that read “Black Lives Matter to Jesus Christ.” The scene was bleached with July’s dangerous rays, so many of us gathered under one big oak tree, eating watermelon and zucchini bread donated by Food Not Bombs while we waited for the rally to start.

Speeches, songs, and poetry from black and native people introduced the protest.  They told stories of racism in Canada, especially of the black community’s experience of Peterborough’s police force.  Then, we took to the main streets in downtown Peterborough, getting in the way of traffic with our signs and drums, chanting, “Black and Indigenous Solidarity!  Black Lives Matter!”

IMG_20160722_171202

To give credit to the police, it turns out they were only there to protect us.  I think they were actually invited, which is good, because they needed to hear the message.  It was kind of awkward and beautiful, and a reminder that though there is clearly injustice in our police system, injustice that needs to be addressed, there is also systematic goodness.

Perhaps, my biggest takeaway was meditating upon the importance of voices.  Black voices.  Native voices.  My voice.  Our marching line was long and gap-filled.  Sometimes I could only hear my own voice chanting over and over again: “Black and Indigenous Solidarity!  Black Lives Matter!”  I’m not used to speaking for so long, and about something so serious.  To hear myself vocalize something important and controversial, to hear myself take a stand in the streets, to hear minorities speak up about their own conflicts with the society I live in, not to mention the relief and strength I felt when I could hear the other marchers’ voices again – these things made me realize how important our voices are.   How important minority voices are.  How important it is to fight the urge to shut up and let things be.

 

Godless Moments

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 2.50.27 PM.png

God is like a song.  Having a personal relationship with God is often considered the hallmark of a true Christian.  Having one, in my experience, is like having a forever playing tune inside your head, whose lyrics and beat provide a certain rhythm and guidance which dictates every conscious, intentional movement of your life.  Departing from faith is like no longer being able to hear the music, even in moments when you strain to try to discern something, even in moments when you watch others dance to the music so easily.

(Sometimes people stop “hearing the music” and choose to continue to be a part of the faith anyway.  I believe the concept is sometimes referred to as “the dark night of the soul.”)

In The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, the main character receives bells on Christmas morning from Santa Claus.  His parents think the bells are broken because they can’t hear the ringing.  The truth is though, only true believers in Santa Claus can hear the bells.  Its like that.  I can’t hear the bells anymore.

My Poppa, my Mom’s father, just passed away this morning.  Right now is a moment when hearing the God song again would be helpful, but it no longer plays for me.  Its strange for me, a relatively new sensation, dealing with tragedy and loss without belief in a higher power.  Its almost awkward, because its difficult to try and figure out where to direct my thoughts and emotions.

I think instead I will give myself permission to do nothing this afternoon, to take the time to reflect and journal (as I’m doing now), to take the time to process and figure out how to support my Mom.  I will remind myself that I am loved, by so many people, and by myself.  And I will call someone if necessary.  And I will eat a cookie.

 

Gluten-Free Cookies at The Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 3.11.16 PM

This past Sunday, my husband and I ventured into The Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough.  I’ve been curious about this religion for awhile now.  Knowing that people from all religious backgrounds are welcome to join, even atheists, it appears that they unite under the idea that who you are is more important than what you believe.

According to their website, they cite their roots to pre-credal Christianity, when Christian thought was not defined by the creeds and structures it needed to become the official religion of the Roman Empire.  As a pacifist and (former) Protestant, I’ve never really liked the changes the Constantinian Era made to Christianity three hundred years into its history.  In my mind, it took a religion that was vibrant, subversive and radically submissive and tamed it into something cold and oppressive, still capable as an avenue for love and healing, but nevertheless diminished from its former, freer state.  Lots of Christian groups today claim their roots in pre-credal Christianity including the Independent Fundamental Baptists I visited in January, and the Mennonites I went to college and university with.  The difference that I can see between this group and all the other Christian groups is that this group defines itself as inclusive, and celebratory of holding together a variety of points view and “personal truths”.

During the Reformation period in Eastern Europe, Frances David, a Unitarian preacher, was attributed with stating, “We need not think alike to love alike.”  I adore that thought, and I have found it to be true in my own life as well.

Something about walking into a unitarian universalist church felt more sinful than my first cigarette, my first beer and my first sexual experience all multiplied by each other.  The fact that their website proudly aligns themselves with Christianity’s original “heretics” (something I didn’t read until afterwards) tells me just how culturally ingrained it is for me to be suspicious of these people.

The service though, was lovely.  It felt familiar, with bulletins, announcements, songs, and a sermon.  This congregation is sponsoring a refugee family, has an upcoming sexual education retreat for teenagers, has a choir, and serves coffee and cookies at the end.  All of these are typical of the kind of religious services I grew up with.

It had a different kind of depth though, than what you would normally find in a church.  We happened to come on a children’s service, where the contents of the events of the morning were meant to be engaging to people of all ages.  Considering human impact on the environment was the thesis.  Nature themed songs were sung.  Poetry with names like “Ode to the Worm” were read aloud, and an incredibly talented performer acted out the “sermon” with puppets and various props in a production that, while simple, put every children’s ministry play I ever put on as a children’s pastor to shame.  From the Ojibway natives to the fur traders to the lumber jacks to modern day people – we learned how people had interacted with their environmental around the local Otonobee River and what (or who) needs to be considered as we interact with the river today.  A tree planting ceremony followed the service for those who wanted to participate.  The idea that all living things are connected to each other and that it is our responsibility to take care of the planet was compassionately and inspirationally portrayed.

A similar service could have easily been held at a Baptist or a United church.  What made this different though was that neither God nor the Bible was mentioned, perhaps because neither of these are needed to help motivate these people into action.  After all, regardless of whether or not God made the earth worm, it still does a great job of producing nutrient-rich soil.  Regardless of whether or not God made trees, they still produce life-giving oxygen.  They have intrinsic, interconnected worth.

I find myself incredibly  drawn to this congregation.  The idea that who you are is more important than what you believe is the same criteria that I use for my friends and my marriage.  Why not have it be the criteria I use to find a religious community to call home?

I miss being a part of a multi-generational community that meets regularly.  I miss having others to enact social and environmental justice initiatives with.  I miss having a spiritual home.  I’ve been out of a church community for over a year now, and I still do not understand how so many people live their entire lives without ever feeling the need to congregate and grow emotionally and spiritually with others.  How wonderful to have stumbled upon a group that, from all appearances, would love me and accept me and find what I had to say valuable regardless of whether or not I call myself a Christian, or believe in God at all.

 

 

 

Radical Grace

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.29.34 PM

I recently had the heart wrenching privilege of watching Radical Grace.  It relays the story of a group of nuns – actually, all American nuns – who came into hot water with the Vatican.  They faced the possibility of excommunication for focussing too much on social justice.  It follows the nuns from Vatican II onwards, depicting the roles the different popes played in supporting or suppressing the voices of Catholic women.  Seeing their story hit an unsuspecting nerve in me.

This documentary is a rare beauty because there are few insider female voices publicly discussing contemporary issues in Christianity.  This is because among those issues is whether women should be given a public platform to talk about faith.  After all, it is widely accepted that men can’t learn anything worthwhile if the transmitter of that knowledge is a woman standing at the front of a church.  (In many Protestant circles, if it’s a really important message that has been weighing on her for some time, she must get married.  Then, she can quietly approach her husband about it provided she is simultaneously nursing, cleaning something and making his dinner.  That way, he can sieve out her hysteria before he decides whether or not her thoughts are worth sharing more widely.)

That paragraph is angrier than I like to get on this blog, but it is an issue that stabbed at me as a Christian.  I faced similar Bible verses, dismissive stances, theological arguments and holy sexism to what these nuns did.

As I lay awake last night contemplating the challenges Christian women put up with, my heart let out a long throaty, grieving wail.  It physically ached within my chest, feeling a size too big for my ribs.   I reluctantly observed that even though its been a year since I left the Church, I’m still so hurt by this.  Overwhelmed with sadness, I tried to think of other things – my toes, my breathing, the sounds of the night – enough to distract myself from the soreness and the cry of my heart to fall asleep.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.30.00 PM.png

All of the nuns in the film were older women who had been fighting for causes for decades.  To watch them hold their ground and weather the threat of being dismissed from the Church they gave their entire lives to was inspiring.  It was a testament to the strength of their convictions, their faith and their character.

Since I last posted, my husband got a new job in a different part of the province. As quickly as we could, we quit our current jobs and moved to a new city.

As a result, my future has suddenly gone blank.  What do I want to do with it?  The prospect is both scary and delicious.  I hope I can make it into something that has the same flavours of courage, goodness and tenacity that these nuns have.  I hope I can find my own tribe of “sisters” to do it with me.  I hope.  It won’t be in Jesus’ name, because I’ve given up on that now.  Nevertheless this film has supplied me with such hope in the potential of women on a mission.

Watch it while you can online.  I’ve given a link to it, but it will only be available on CBC’s website for free for a short time.

Why I Am No Longer A Christian: The Documentary

I stumbled upon the documentary series “Why I Am No Longer A Christian” a couple of years ago.  I was a closet atheist at the time, nowhere near being ready to “come out,” and I didn’t have anyone in my life who was experiencing anything similar.  It was an extremely painful and lonely time.

This documentary series happened to be featured as a top pick on a website that showcased free documentaries.  My curiosity was piqued so I clicked.

The graphics are terrible, the music is weird, but his story is oh-so-compelling.  It made me feel less insane.  I identified with many of the stages this person went through and encountered many of the same emotions, realizations and academic research that he did during my own journey.  I highly recommend it for those of you wanting to understand how someone can make the transition from having a flourishing relationship with their Creator to no longer believing in any kind of a divine being at all.  For my friends who are passionate about Apologetics, this would be an excellent series to base a group study on.   The weaknesses in his approach can and should be discussed.  For those of you like me who are transitioning or have already transitioned out of their Christianity, watching this might be one of the most fabulous things you do this week, or year.

It kind of goes on forever… I actually haven’t finished it.  Eventually, after 4 hours of clips, you seem to be prompted to pay for more, but by that point, he’s gotten so technical in his philosophical language that I just lost interest.  BUT the first three hours or so are amazing.  If you watch it, tell me what you think.

My experience stepping into Kingdom Hall and embracing Jehovah’s Witness for who they are.

Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Pearl – a passionate old soul who whole heartily believes in divinity. Growing up on Sikh principals, values, and morals I have always welcomed and accepted others form of faiths with open arms and a curiosity to learn about the different paths to God people choose to take.

I was introduced to Jehovah’s Witnesses long ago when they showed up to my door to discuss teachings of the Bible and how to apply these teachings to everyday life, along with copies of Watchtower articles. Over the years my family continued to welcome them in to share beautiful comparisons and similarities between our faiths.

Walking into Kingdom Hall, I felt welcomed and although unaware of what the meeting had in store fairly confident that it would be easy to follow along. The Bible study was on dealing with anxiety, what most resonated with me was the teaching to give our anxieties, worries, and stress to Jehovah channeled through prayer. If one truly believes in the magnificence of Jehovah than they will recognize that he is here to aid us and relieve us from these worldly sorrows so we can pursue our perfect world (Mind, this is my interpretation). The second topic was about the power of our words and too only speak though the pureness and essence of Jehovah. This talk was interesting because the congregation was actively involved in bringing up relateable scenarios to watch and adjust our language and mannerisms to embody a holy essence.

Overall I found the Sunday meeting completely enlightening and delightful, it was apparent that those that made the effort to come were effectively trying to become better humans through the laws of the holy Bible. I found everyone to be completely welcoming and passionate about their faith.

Members of the community warm heartily welcomed us into their home for lunch, as we continued to discuss back and forth about the faith. If there is one thing I know for sure – it’s that Jehovah’s Witness will always have a direct verse and reference to any question asked from the Bible, very impressive. The conversation was warm, and despite typical stereotypes about Jehovah’s Witnesses I did not feel pressured into converting but more so to gain valuable knowledge about their beliefs. I definitely learned more about Christianity than I ever have before and I would recommend that to anyone 🙂 So grateful to have been a recipient to the hospitality of Emma and her beautiful family.

https://www.jw.org/en/

Interestingly enough later that day my friends and I met up to witness the beautiful sunset and full Moon to take place, unconsciously we ended up in a near by Jehovah’s Witness parking lot (which I’ve never acknowledged before). Once again a Divine force had played a little thought provoking event to peacefully end the adventure that was the day.

PS.

The kingdom hall we visited was located on the outskirts of Kitchener, Ontario… in Amish county – Definitely a culture shock to see the Amish lifestyle and I look forward to learning more about them.

Crockpot Chilli with Jehovah’s Witnesses

This past Sunday, Pearl and I had the opportunity to meet up with Emma and Colin, an old friend and her husband at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Elmira.   Afterwards, we had lunch at their house with another family from her congregation.

I feel foolish admitting it now, but I was nervous sick walking in to the building.  Yet once I was inside, I was immediately put at ease.  The atmosphere was warm, safe and humble.

A Jehovah’s Witness meeting goes like this.  The meeting opens with a song and prayer. There’s a talk given by an elder. This Sunday it was on anxiety. Another song is sung and then a group discussion begins. This week’s was based on an article from the Watchtower about using the power of your tongue for good.  A song and prayer close the meeting.  It was like a cross between a conservative evangelical Sunday service, a group devotional and a university class.  Interestingly, nothing that was talked about that morning would have contradicted with anything preached in more classical Christian circles.

In hindsight, I maybe shouldn’t have gone.  I was getting over being sick and developed a horrendous hacking cough that morning.  During the meeting, I had to keep running to the bathroom to let my coughing fits out, and when congregants realized what was going on, one of them brought me water and a few of them gave me some mints and cough drops.  I was incredibly grateful, and impressed with their concern and hospitality.

The best part of the day though, was going back to Emma and Colin’s house for lunch.  They also had another family from their church there, and the seven of us sat around the table.  Emma cooked a crockpot chilli with cheese and sour cream to stir in, and veggies and dip on the side.  It was delectable, and the afternoon conversation was a pure pleasure to participate in.  Not only did I feel heard, I got the sense that everyone who wanted to speak got the opportunity to.  I even felt safe enough to discuss a couple of concerns I had with the talk at the Kingdom Hall.  That is pretty incredible, I think, because so rarely do we Canadians feel safe bringing up potential points of contention, especially over religion.  Honestly though – THAT’S how at ease I felt.

Here is Emma’s chilli recipe:

Emmas Chilli Recipe

Sometimes, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a bad reputation in our society.  My experience, though, was lovely.  My pre-conceptions were badly bludgeoned and I left with a revitalized respect for this group and a happy lightness after having a beautiful meal and an equally wonderful conversation with old and new friends.

 

Hinduism: I Am But a Pepperoni Pizza

 

IMG_20160214_123905
Marion, Pearl and I outside of BAPS on an exceptionally frosty February day.  The architecture is all hand carved!

My experience at the Hindu Temple of BAPS Shri Swaminaryan Mantir resonated with me in a way that stunned me, overwhelmed me, entranced me and relaxed me.  The sounds, the smells, the communal rhythms – and above all, the architecture – were like nothing I had encountered before.

The temple is Canada’s first traditionally hand-carved Hindu place of worship.  It was completed in 2007 and built to last 1000 years.  I found myself mouthing “Wow!” at every new step.  Like being at the Canadian National Art Gallery, my eyes grew tired quickly from having more worth examining before me than I could possibly drink in during one visit.

Unlike being at a gallery, here is a list of things that I have experienced in my life that compare to how dwelling in this place made me feel:
– gazing out at the Swiss Alps
– a misty morning sunset on a Northern Ontario lake
– a slow-paced conversation with a dear friend
– the unexpectedly warm tranquility of being inside a driveway-side igloo.

Take all of these experiences, throw them in a blender, add a generous scoop of religious and cultural oblivion, whip them together and you get something similar to what I experienced on Sunday.  (Worth noting: I have been to some of Europe’s most famous cathedrals.  I thought this was better.)

You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple and frankly, I wouldn’t want to.  It would be like taking pictures on your wedding night.  The ultra magnificence of the place humbled me, reminding me that 1 ÷ ∞ = 0.  The way my Grade 12 Calculus teacher described that equation was to imagine a pizza being divided by an infinite number of people.  First, there’s a pizza, and then POOF!  Its gone.  I was that pizza.  I felt small but safe, like I was being put in my proper place in the grand order of things – close to the bottom.

I’m not about to convert to Hinduism, but I can’t help but sense that this 11,000 year old religion has had time to distill a few things about human spirituality down to perfection.

The encounter raised these questions for me:
What is spirituality? What is a spiritual experience?  Given the bitter conflicts associated with so many religions, does having regular spiritual experiences make you a more peaceful human being?

 

 

 

Grey: The Official Colour of Agnosticism

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 2.37.09 PMThis past week we didn’t go to any particular religious or cultural event.  Part of the joy/pity of not belonging to a religion is that there’s nowhere for you to be on a Sunday, so at home alone I stayed, reflecting on my own belief journey.

My own belief melted into doubt.  Then it crystallized into what is turning out to be agnosticism.

The colour of agnosticism is grey. Grey is a neutral.  It goes with everything.  In embracing grey, I am free to explore a vast landscape of ideologies and ways of life.  I am not concerned about dirtying my perceptions by wading through others’.  I am able to acknowledge that there are good reasons to believe in something, or not.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 9.20.42 PMAs an agnostic, it has been more fun not knowing.  To look to myself as my own source of sustaining unconditional love. To stare at a starry sky and shiver at its unknown vastness.  To accept the finiteness of my own ability to discern truth and stand in awe of the Great Mystery that is that anything exists at all – these have been such wonderful blessings.

Grey is more accurately the colour of just about everything that we call black or white.  It is the colour of compromise.  It is the colour of storms, Depression, and consequently, the colour of many a ground-toothed liminal moment.  It is, perhaps, not the most pleasant of colours, but it is an un-ignorable part of our human experience.  And I intend to relish it.

Grey