Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

Why it is Important that we Came

Posted by on Friday, July 11th, 2014 in Minister

Our trip to Winnipeg has been short - too short we all agree. It seems like we just arrived, have just gotten to know the people there and to appreciate everything that is so special about them and we have to go. But there is absolutely no feeling in the group that it was not worth the effort to get here for a few days.

Why are we so sure that it was vital that we come? Because we have received that message loud and clear from everyone at all involved in the ministry that we have met and from the children and young people and families. Is that because of all the work that we did for them? Well, not exactly. They certainly appreciated everything that we did. Whether it was painting Flora House (and, yes, we did manage to get the main hall and the front and back entrances painted in our time with a little help from Derek) or organizing clothes and goods in the miracle store, weeding Papa's Garden, helping to keep the kids or youth organised and safe on outings or cleaning out mountains of cardboard, everything was fully appreciated. Rev. Margaret Mullin's head seemed to be constantly at work trying to come up with something else for us to do. But we were appreciated more than what we did.

From the moment we arrived, Rev. Mullin made one thing perfectly clear: we would have to leave our mark behind us. It would not be enough to paint Flora House a nice bright colour. We would have to each leave our personal handprints behind us, though she did allow us to decide what our hand prints would look like and we chose to arrange them in the colour wheel that they use at Anishanabe.

See, they caught me red handed.

In addition, the painting of a new mural by our team in the Miracle Store was deemed so important that Alexis, Gabrielle and Joni were given almost all of our last day to work on it. This was clearly a priority. Why? I mean, yes, the mural that Alexis designed is beautiful and it will be enjoyed for a long time. But why was it so vital?

The answer to that question may be found in a woman named Jane. She is a wonderful, beautiful person who runs the Miracle Store where she gives away clothes, food and other items to whoever comes in for next to nothing. Jane is a registered nurse, a grandmother and is about the sharpest person I have ever seen when it comes to dealing with people who might want to take advantage of the situation. She seemed to connect with our group right away and to be immediately fond of us. But she especially loved Alexis and Gabrielle. In fact, by the last day, she was determined to find a way to adopt them and keep them!  Her understanding of what they were doing by painting the mural was clear: they were leaving a little bit of themselves behind. And in response to that gift, Jane did something truly extraordinary.

Some First Nations people do not like to have their picture taken. They find it disrespectful - as if someone is stealing a piece of themselves from them. Jane is one such native woman. Through many years working with Winnipeg Inner City Mission, she has always refused to have her picture taken even by people that she loves dearly. But on the last day, once the mural had been finished, a miracle occurred. Joni respectfully asked Jane if she would consent to have her picture taken with the mural and the girls and she agreed. She did not do so lightly. In fact, she had considered the possibility long and hard the night before.

I have a copy of the picture with Jane, but I will not be sharing it here on this blog because I understand that it was Jane's intention to give a gift to Gabrielle and Alexis - a little piece of herself willingly given for them to take with them just as they were leaving a piece of themselves in the mural. It was a very special and precious gift but it was a private gift for them - one that they will long treasure. It doesn't belong on the internet.

Here is my understanding of why our coming to them is so important to them. Native ministry in the inner city of Winnipeg is tough - really tough. But one thing that makes it tougher is the sense that no one else cares. Yes, the national church does support some of the ministry positions through Presbyterian Sharing... and, yes, there are many faithful supporters spread across the country, but when you are faced with so many examples of apathy and even open hostility to the work being done there, it is very easy to fall into the feeling that you are all alone and that nobody really cares. When people like us come and are not afraid to roll up our sleeves and do some work, it is a vital reminder that people - white church people - do care a great deal. It lifts their spirits to know that they are not alone. But the trips are short and the people leave too soon (way too soon it seemed in our case). That is why it is so vital to them that we leave a piece of ourselves behind. They need to remember us. They need reminders on their walls and on their sidewalks (like in this cement poured by a previous team outside the miracle store) so that they do not forget us and fall back into despair. It matters that we came.

So if anyone out there is considering making a mission trip to the Winnipeg Inner City Mission, we can highly recommend it. You will make a difference. You will feel loved and appreciated. It will matter that came.

We are home now and this is my blog for the final day there. But I know that I am not finished reflecting on our time there. Give me a few more days to process and I am sure I'll have lots more to say. Thanks for listening


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Thundering Eagle Woman

Posted by on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 in Minister

Rev Margaret Mullin comes from a mixed First Natiions and Irish heritage. She is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a recognized First Nations elder who has had the traditions passed on to her from the elders who have gone before. There are eight eagle feathers on her staff to represent the eight years she has spent learning from the elders. The spirit name that she was given is Thundering Eagle Woman - a name that fits her very well indeed.

It is as if in her two different worlds have come together in one beautiful spirit.

Today she spoke to us about the long and difficult journey she has had to reconcile the different traditions that are her heritage. Today she participates in almost all forms of native spirituality and sees no contradiction to the teachings of the Christian tradition as she has received and absorbed it. 

I tend to think that she is on the right track. There is no question that the Christian church has done a lot of damage and been a party to a lot of damage that has been done to native communities. This makes it very difficult indeed for many First Nations people to see the Christian gospel as a good thing. It would be wrong for us to insist that in order to accept it they must leave behind spiritual practices of their ancestors that might very well contribute to their healing and strong walk with God. 

But, even more importantly, we need to let go of our arrogant notion that our way of dealing with and living out our relationship with Jesus and with the Creator is the only way. For thousands of years, people lived out their spirituality on the lands where we now live. And through centuries of practice, trial and error (and, yes, I'm sure there were errors but they learned from them), they found practices that worked in this land. Are we to ignore all the wisdom that they gained at great cost now that we live here too?

Yes, we have a revelation of God through Jesus Christ that is unique and that is precious to us. We must not abandon that. But an openness to other traditions can, if done wisely, deepen our understanding of the revelation that we received. This thought came to me as Margaret spoke of one native spirituality practice that she will not participate in: the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance is a ritual in which participants cut and pierce themselves for the healing or atonement of others. Margaret doesn't participate (though she is respectful of the participation of others) because of something that lies at the heart of our faith: the belief that only one needs to suffer and bleed for the healing and atonement of others and that that work has already been accomplished. As Christians we simply have no need for a Sun Dance like ritual - just rituals that remind us of the sacrifice already made.

But even if we don't need it, the ongoing practice of a ritual like the Sun Dance can provide us with an continuing illustration of the deep meaning of what Jesus has accomplished for us. How they do it can still teach us.

Rev. Mullin spoke about how she has been trying to persuade the Doctrine Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Canada to tackle the question of how Christian Faith and Native Spirituality can live peacefully and respectfully side by side in a mutually beneficial way. They have not accepted the challenge. I certainly think that it would be time well spent (better spent than some other projects Doctrine has taken on). And yet at the same time, I have no doubt that the discussion of such a report on the floor of General Assembly would include many a cringe-worthy moment. We still have a long way to go as a church, I am afraid.

I hope I can do my part in helping our church on that journey.


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Smudging along

Posted by on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 in Minister

I spent most of my day, our third day at Winnipeg Inner City Mission, at Flora House. The day's activities there began, as they often do, with a smudging ceremony. The First Nations kids take smudging very seriously and respectfully and it really makes for a good start to the day together for them.

In such a ceremony, dried herbs (usually some mixture of sage, tobacco and cedar) are set to smoking in a small shell or pot. The smoke is waved by a feather and each person takes a turn to waft the smoke over his or her arms, head and body.

The smudging ceremony is primarily a purification ceremony -- a way of putting aside mistakes, errors, regrets and things that weigh you down. This kind of ritual that is part of most every religion and is needed by everyone (even non religious folk) at least sometimes.

And that was kind of what all of our day's work at Flora House was about today. Flora House has gone through some tough times recently. There have been some things that have gone wrong there, some staff have left, there have been changes that have been hard to deal with. Maybe the stress of dealing with an extremely needy group of kids in an extremely depressed area just got too heavy. And there is a real spirit about the place that has become negative and people can feel it.

I do believe that spiritual forces are real in this world and that they can be very destructive. They can linger in the certain places and in certain communities like churches. (Amazingly the spirit can remain in a community even when the membership overturns entirely.) They can often also be very difficult to get rid of. In many ways, Rev, Margaret Mullin is asking us to expel the bad spirit from Flora House this week. How successful we will be in this, we will have to see, but we sure worked hard at it today.

This morning Joni spent some time with the WICM staff team. We discovered yesterday that they were in need of training and updating in Leading with Care -- the Presbyterian Church's policy for providing safe environments for children and vulnerable people. Turns out that Joni has all kinds of experience and training with this and she was able to volunteer and provide the training for them. By coming in as an outsider to their staff group, I think she was also able to provide something else too -- helping to build up the team and suggesting better ways to work together. This is the kind of thing that will prove very helpful in new beginnings.

From 11 am to 4 pm, Joni, Alexis, Gabrielle and I stayed at Flora House while the others went with the kids to Oak Hammock Marsh (where they had a great time). We were continuing the painting job the others had started the day before.

The painting in a bright new peach colour is a very important in the plan to lighten the spirit at Flora House. Sometimes a change in the setting can go a long way to making sure that things change on a spiritual level. Already Flora House looks like a very different place inside and I am sure that Margaret is right that our work here will make a very big difference going forward.

We said when we came here that we were willing to do whatever we could to help. And Margaret has certainly taken us at our word! Every time she walks up to us she seems to have a twinkle in her eye and a new idea in her head. We're learning to watch out for that twinkle.

But she has a way of making you certain that whatever you are doing it is completely drenched with meaning and significance. She makes me feel sure that our brief time here will leave its traces for a long time. In fact, she has Alexis at work right now designing a new mural in the Miracle Store that they want us to paint so that they can celebrate the time that they have had with us and not forget us.

We'll sure not forget them. It's hard to think we'll be leaving before we know it. We are resolved to keep the relationship going in some way though.

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Overcoming the Overwhelming

Posted by on Monday, July 7th, 2014 in Minister

I'll start today's blog entry where the day started at The Place of Hope. We had a sharing circle where everyone was asked to share some reflections from the previous day. As we went around the circle, one word that came up again and again was "overwelming." It had been overwhelming in terms of the information and the stories that we had had to absorbed and were only beginning to process and in other ways as well.

The word that came to me in the circle was also overwelming but especially in terms of the challenges that fill the community around the Place of Hope. With gangs, prostitution, drugs, alchoholism and much more, the problems just seem too big. They are overwhelming. And when I face an overwelming challenge like that, the temptation is always to throw up my hands and say, "It's too big, it can't be solved so what is the point of even trying. We'll never get anywhere anyways."

To see the ministry that is taking place here at WICM against overwelming problems like that is really amazing. How these people -- in fulfillment of the vision given to Margaret Mullin -- managed to build a place where people could come and live and turn around lives that seem impossible to turn around is an amazing story. The funds were raised, the permissions and property were obtained. The local gang didn't want it built and did everything to threaten and strike fear in the heart of the people involved in the project but they still built it. The overwhelming was overcome.

And then the people came. It seemed impossible for them to turn their lives around when they were in such a mess. But they did. Not all of them, of course. Some have dropped out. Some have had to be told to leave but there are these wonderful success stories. The overwhelming was overcome.

Yes, I think there is a message for me in that somewhere -- when I feel like I'm up against something overwhelming.

After our sharing circle we headed over to Flora House to spend the rest of the morning and the afternoon with the kids in the day camp program. The kids were awesome and were very open to meeting us and interacting with us. Before I knew it, there were a few moments break as the staff had to organize a few things and I found myself thrust forward. "Tell a story." they said.

Anyways, I just went with one of my favourites of Jesus because it was the only one I could think of. It was the story of the shepherd who had 100 sheep and had to count them every day and kept falling asleep (because we all know what happens when you count sheep). But one day he was suddenly wide awake because he only counted 99! Well you all know how that one ends -- with a big celebration with all the shepherds friends and neighbours (I figure that had a big lamb stew). Jesus said that parties like that are what the kingdom of God is like. (That's totally how Jesus told the story, right?)

Anyways they listened graciously to my story and I felt connected with them from there.

Spending the afternoon with them at the water park was just pure fun. I loved to watch eight year old Johnny play. He just enjoyed everything 100%. He loved everything that you would do with him whether is was jumping on the bridge or playing in the water. Johnny has a number of things to struggle with but I don't think I'll soon forget him.

All of the kids were well behaved and loved everything you did with them. Naomi in particular seemed to latch onto the girls. They were amazing with her too.

I talked with one of the staff from Flora House in the van. His name is Brad. He's had a tough history and managed to come out of many things. For many years he ran a gym and taught mixed martial fighting. There were some things he could do in that line of work to help kids to find a better path in life, but ultimately he felt like he wasn't doing enough.

He also spent some time working in halfway houses, working with youth on their way out of detention. These places are supposed to help them to prepare to reintegrate back into society but there he found that the centres were just not doing enough to really help these young people to get back to productive and positive lives. It seemed that there was so little being done. He wanted to accomplish more.

So now Brad has been at Flora House for about a year. The great thing there is that he gets to know these kids and young people while they're still young. He knows that very soon (if it hasn't happened already) they will be facing enormous pressures to get involved in gangs and drugs, prostitution or whatever it may be. But his hope is that if they know people like him, people that they can talk to and trust, it will give them options that they wouldn't have had otherwise. It will enable them to make better choices and find the resources to help them when they need it. It is one way to make the overwhelming problems in these neighbourhoods become overcomeable. If they can catch these kids before they fall, think of the possibilities for the future. Now that I'm getting to know these kids, I know that there is tremendous potential in them. What can't they do for their community? The ministry of Flora House is very important indeed when you look at it that way.

We came back to our room tonight and cooked an ate together using our limited resources. The salad was in a pot. We had to "scoop" ice cream with a knife, The chicken was warmed in a frying pan and kind of pulled apart. We all agreed it was the best supper ever! It was so good to be together as a group and share our various experiences. (Some had been painting at Flora House -- an important project that I hope to get into tomorrow). God has really blessed us with a wonderful team. Everyone seems to be providing something essential to the work of the whole. It is a perfect model of the functioning of the body of Christ. What a blessing to be here together as a team.

Well, off to bed because I know that tomorrow will be just as challenging, if not more!

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A gift from Vivian

Posted by on Sunday, July 6th, 2014 in Minister

Our first day at WICM was very full and meaningful and I am quite sure that I will be processing it for some time. I have shared some thoughts on the early part of the day and am too weary now to reflect on all of the rest of it. But I did just want to say that I will long remember watching and listening as Vivian Ketchum stood by this monument to survivors of the Residential Schools (erected just a couple of months ago outside what will soon be an absolutely stunning human rights museum) and tell her utterly devastating story of what her time in the Cecile Jeffery Residential School (run by the Presbyterian Church in Canada) cost her.

Her testimony is so much more powerful because she is able to speak it now as a healed and healthy woman who has dealt with her loss and anger and betrayal. She has also done amazing things to help bring the church towards healing from what it was involved in by helping it understand what it did and still does sometimes. She is a wonderful illustration of the power of grace and forgiveness. She has been a gift to us and to the church.
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Toto, we’re not in Cambridge anymore

Posted by on Sunday, July 6th, 2014 in Minister

We started out first day of working with WICM with a round circle discussion in the Place of Hope. Margaret Mullin and some of the people involved here gave us an incredible look at the work they do here and the challenges that they face. Mostly she just told us the stories of people touched by the ministry here. Some of them are stories of great triumph -- people who overcome addiction, bad backgrounds and gang affiliations who managed to pull their lives together. Some of them were not necessarily triumphs but there was still much evidence of God's love and care touching their lives in some really profound ways. So many of the stories, sadly, even the triumphant ones, end in tragedy and death. She walked us through so many names on this banner. But even through the stories of tragedy, hope found a way to shine through.
Margaret says that the biggest enemy that they face is what she called anomie. It is that sense that the people have here that as bad as their life is right now, there is zero potential of it getting any better. When they fall  into this sense of anomie they see absolutely no reason to try and do anything to get out of it and so easy get caught up in addiction, gang activity, illegality and worse. If you cannot break that spirit of anomie with a new spirit of hope, you will never get anyway.

This, more than anything, makes me realize that the kind of ministry that they are doing here is worlds away from the problems we are trying to help people with in Cambridge. Yes people struggle there and we do have a ministry in helping them, but this is in a whole different league. We are not in Cambridge anymore. Our issue isn't anomie, of course, because most can have hope for their own life. Our issue is apathy -- the temptation to withdraw into the conclusion that there is nothing we can do to change anything so why bother trying.

It is amazing to see what they really have accomplished in the lives of people here. Margaret clearly has an amazing vision and annointing from God to accomplish what are clearly miracles in people's lives when you look at it. What a privilige to be part of it for this little while.

After our long opening discussion we saw another look at how they do church here when it was suddenly decided that, despite no preplanning having been done (due to anticipated bad weather that hasn't really materialized) that they would go ahead an hold the church picnic in a park anyways. So some of our people were sent off the the grocery store get everything needed. So glad to have a Shirely Love and Theresa Miller here who can plan a menu for 60 at the drop of a hat! Others will be soon busy loading chairs and tables and taking people to the park.

We'd never plan a major event in the life of our congregation like that, would we? But somehow God's spirit in is clearly at work in the frantic preparations. We don't do church like this but.. we're not in Cambridge anymore and I somehow have no doubt that it's all going to be something quite amazing and unexpected.


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Writing at 20,000 feet

Posted by on Sunday, July 6th, 2014 in Minister

I am starting this post in a Bombardier Q400 Turboprop airplane about 20,000 feet somewhere over Lake Superior. Soon we will be decending to Thunder Bay -- about halfway to our goal in Winnipeg. Of course, I cannot post this now, but I will as soon as I get a chance to connect to WIFI.

There is something about actually being on your way to where you are going that makes you think more concretely about what you are going to do when you get there. I must admit that, though I have been looking forward to this trip, I haven't necessarily given much thought to what we are really going there to do. I have heard a great deal about the Winnipeg Inner City Mission over the years, seen a number of pictures and a few videos. I have also heard Margaret Mullin speak passionately on a number of occasions about her ministery and what it means to her. But I expect that it will be really different to see the ministry in action. At St. Andrew's I am involved on a near weekly basis in interacting with people who are looking for assistance in terms of food, clothing or a shared meal, but I don't really expect that WICM will be like anything I am familiar with.

We have now stopped over in Thunder Bay and are continuing on to Winnipeg with a near empty plane. We are all spread out in the cabin with everyone claiming a window seat of their own. While we waited to take off again we got to visit the cockpit and talk with the pilots. Where does that happen anymore? The clouds outside the window are looking particularly beautiful.

We have a real good team. They are light hearted and fun loving. I know they are going to make the time very pleasurable. But they are also engaged and committed. Joanne is sitting accross the aisle from me reading Thomas King's book, The Inconvenient Indian. She is obviously very interested in understanding the challenges faced by the people we will be working among. Alexis and Gabrielle will be great together. The stewardess just assumed that they were sisters. We are going to be very tired when we land and have a big day tomorrow. I'll probably talk to you all then.

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Packing for a Mission Trip

Posted by on Saturday, June 28th, 2014 in Minister

One week from today I will hop on a plane with the members of our team and fly off to Manitoba to spend a week together immersing ourselves in the ministry of the Winnipeg Inner City Mission (WICM). I expect that I will be experiencing many things during my time there. We will be witnessing firsthand the very real issues and problems created by poverty in the inner city of Winnipeg. Also, since the inner city of Winnipeg has a very high First Nations population and Native ministries is a very big focus at WICM, I expect to be exposed to the issues, problems and challenges that are particularly important to native people today.

Anytime I take a major trip, I spend time thinking about what I ought to take with me, how to pack and worrying about what I might forget. This trip will be no different. But packing for a mission trip is surely a little different. On a trip like this, yes, I will need to remember things like my toothbrush and razor, but what else might be essential? What else should I be sure not to forget? And what might be best left behind?

What to leave behind:

Prejudice. I have lived all my life as a middle-class white Canadian. You cannot come out of that context without absorbing -- often without even being aware of it -- certain prejudicial attitudes towards poor people and First Nations People. I will not list the prejudices that are common enough because I don't think it is necessary. But even if I consciously reject such attitudes, that does not mean that they do not affect me. They cannot help but be present in my unconscious mind. So I must do my best to treat the people that I meet, not at members of some particular group but as individuals who are loved and valued by God no matter what their background, creed or status.

Judgement. It is so easy to judge people who have a different life and a different background from me. Happily, as a Christian, I believe that there is only one Judge whose rulings matter and it is not up to me to anticipate or impose such rulings.

Solutions. Are there solutions to the problems being faced by the people in the inner city of Winnipeg? Absolutely! But real solutions that make a lasting difference will not come from outside of the community. The best solutions always begin within the community where the challenges are best understood. Coming from the outside we can nurture and encourage such solutions and sometimes even clear away roadblocks that stand in the way of them, but it is rarely helpful to come in and just impose solutions.

What to pack:

An open mind. Of course, if I leave prejudice, judgement and solutions behind, there will be all kinds of room in my luggage to bring a mind open and ready to learn. Really, it is not much worth going on this kind of trip if you don't bring one of those.

Hope. To be the bearer of the hope that we have in God is different than coming in with solutions and judgement. Hope is universal and has its foundations in the very nature of God.

Trust -- that is, trust in God (also known as faith). In such a journey, things will not always go right and they will often go quite contrary to what you have planned. When you trust in God that the trip is in God's hands, you do not need to worry and you be assured that God will make things work out even better than what you could have planned.

Oh yeah, and bug spray -- I hear that mosquitoes are bad in Winnipeg. 

So what do you think? What else do I need to bring? What would be best left behind?
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Christian Reflections on Prostitution

Posted by on Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 in Minister

Lately I have been doing a lot of reflection on the genealogy of Jesus that is offered in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. (This is part preparation for a series of sermons in November and part preparation for a book I hope to write about Matthew's nativity story.)

It has long been noted that, in this genealogy, Matthew names four woman apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus. These women are: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. (Bathsheba is not actually named but referred to as "the wife of Uriah.) People have long puzzled over the naming of these women as, in ancient Mediterranean society, women were considered to be utterly unimportant in all kinds of ways and so were never mentioned in genealogies. I don't know why Matthew felt he needed to name them but I suspect that it may have something to do with the social scandals that surrounded each of these women in the Old Testament traditions.

These days, I am particularly noticing the fact that the Bible identifies half of these women, Tamar and Rahab, as prostitutes.

Prostitution is on my mind because of a new law being proposed. In 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the existing laws on prostitution, not because it felt (or because Canadians felt) that prostitution was fine and dandy but because the existing laws infringed the rights of those working in the sex trade to security of the person.

The government has now proposed a new law to replace the law that was struck down. Basically, the new law makes it legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it. In addition it makes it illegal to advertise sexual services or to solicit in any place where a person under 18 years old might be present. Given that we have a majority government, the new legislation is expected to pass.

The new law doesn't really address the concerns of the Ontario Court of Appeal in that it does nothing to enhance the security of those in the sex trade (and may make them less secure) so I do expect that the new law will eventually be challenged and struck down by another court and we'll be back at the beginning again. But that is a legal matter (and I have no expertise in such an area) and others would be in a better place to comment on that than I.

My concern is how do we approach such an issue as Christians. I cannot condone the sale and purchase of sex. I know that it happens in this world but I do not see it as conforming to God's intentions for how we ought to relate to one another with honour and respect. But I am concerned about these new proposed laws. Because prostitution will not just go away no matter what laws are passed, the effect of this law will be to push the trade into marginalized areas and prevent prostitutes from screening their clients in any meaningful way. This is what happened in Vancouver around the turn of the millennium which made the city a prime hunting ground for a serial killer named Robert Picton who boasted of killing 49 women, most of them prostitutes.I cannot celebrate a law that would make things easier for the likes of Robert Picton.

That brings me back to the prostitutes in Matthew's genealogy. I do not think that, by naming them, Matthew is celebrating their profession. But he certainly doesn't seem to be condemning them as people either. Little is said about Rahab's practice of prostitution in the Bible but the New Testament only has good things to say about her:
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. (Hebrews 13:31)
 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?  (James 2:25)

Tamar's story is far more interesting (Genesis 38). Basically, Tamar resorts to prostitution out of desperation. Widowed twice (having married Er and his brother Onan who have both died) she is in dire straits because she has no husband and no sons. A woman in that culture was not permitted to earn a living and had to depend on a male to support her. According to custom, her father-in-law, Judah, should give her another son to marry but he is superstitious. He has already lost two sons that have married her and he doesn't want to lose another. He refuses leaving Tamar with no other options. Tamar becomes a prostitute - but a prostitute with a plan. She disguises herself and solicits her father-in-law Judah who goes into her tent. Tamar conceives and becomes visibly pregnant. When the pregnancy becomes public, Tamar, is brought before her father-in-law to be judged for immorality. (He seems to be the only male in her life and so has to right to judge her according to the rules of that society. He intends to sentence her to be burned to death.) But when she is accused, Tamar produces the proof that Judah is the father. He acknowledges what he had done and acknowledges her children (she has twins) as his own. One of her children, Perez, becomes the ancestor of King David and of Jesus.

It seems to me that Matthew names Tamar as an ancestor of Jesus because she sees her actions as heroic. In her day, the line of Judah - the line that would lead to Jesus - was in danger of failing because of a lack of male heirs. And Tamar, through persistence, wit, creativity and, yes, prostitution, saved it when Judah failed to do so. Judah admits as much in Genesis 38:26. She really had no choice but to resort to prostitution (it was likely that or starve to death) but she chose to do it in the most heroic way possible - in the way that maintained the line of descent for the messiah and that is what Matthew celebrates by naming her.

That is why I think that the Bible teaches us to respect prostitutes as persons. We are certainly taught not to use their services (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) but are to treat them as persons who are trying to do their best under their circumstances. We may not like what they do but they have the right (as the court has said) to do it in as much personal safety and security as possible.

Jesus was famous (or the better word is probably infamous) for being a friend to those who lived on the outskirts of society. Among his friends he almost certainly counted prostitutes. Did he counsel them to get out of the profession and to seek other means of living. Yes, I believe that he did. Even more important (and more effective) he actually gave them the opportunity to do so by creating a community - the disciple community - that made it possible for them to survive without having to earn their living by prostitution. But there is no evidence that he sought to marginalize them any further from society - quite the contrary, he welcomed them when no one else would.

As to those who liked to get moralistic about prostitutes, Jesus has only this to say on the subject:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:31,32)
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Lectio Devina – A Brief Guide and Some Resources

Posted by on Sunday, May 4th, 2014 in Minister

Today, at St. Andrew's Hespeler, I did not really preach a sermon. Instead I introduced a method that people can use to read the scriptures for themselves and to discover God in their reading. This method of Christian reflection is called Lectio Divina. Here is an excerpt from my message:

So what I'd like to do today is give you a simple and straightforward way to approach the Biblical text all on your own. The method is called Lectio Divina. It was developed mostly in the Middle Ages by St. Benedict but, in some ways, it is as ancient as Scripture itself – it is the kind of approach to the Bible that is spoken of in that passage in Joshua and in the part of Psalm 119 we read this morning. It is so old that the method itself and the steps in the method are still referred to in the Latin language.
The first step in Lectio Divina, is called the lectio -- which is Latin for reading. During this time you simply read a given passage. But the reading may be a little bit different from your usual reading practice. It's not like reading a newspaper or a novel. You read a short passage slowly and read it over several times. And you pay special attention to the things that jump out at you as you read it. Often there is a word or a phrase that just seems to be louder or more insistent as you read. Don't worry, for the moment, about why those things grab your attention. Just take note of them and write them down.
The next step is called meditatioor meditation. This is when you start to look closer at the things that stood out for you in the passage. Ask yourself questions like, "Why did that jump out to me? Is there something going on in my life or something that happened to me recently that that word or phrase might be speaking to?" Think about these things and, once again, write down your reflections. This is also the time to make use of other resources, if you have them, to better understand some of the things about the passage that might puzzle you. The meditatio might lead you in many directions.
The next part of the Lectio Divina is the oratio – which is Latin for prayer. But think of it as prayer in the simplest sense. It is just talking back to God – reflecting back the things that you have seen in the passage, that have caught your attention and maybe focussed your attention on what's going on in your life. It's kind of like what happens sometimes when you talk with your really good friend. You can share with them what you're going through, just talk it out with them and they don't even have to say very much, but you come away from that talk with a better understanding of what your problems really are. That's the kind of talking to God that you do.
After the oratio comes the contemplatio or contemplation. This ends the entire exercise by taking some time to simply sit in silence – to turn off your mind as much as possible and wait expectantly to meet with God. Various spiritual exercises like the centring prayer that we will discuss in a few weeks can be used to open the mind to hear what God might have to say.
I promised that I would post for the congregation some tools and links that they can use to continue their own personal experiment in Lectio Divina.

This link, Lectio Divina: Divine Reading, offers another description of the method and usefulness of the Lectio Divina.

This link, Lectio Divina Guides, will take you to a page that includes scores of links to documents in pdf format. Each document is a printable page including a Bible text that well suited lectio divina as well as some instructions and prayers that you can use. If you you work your way through all of these guides, you will quickly become very proficient at Lectio Divina.

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