Thursday, 4 May 2017

Mental Health: Get Loud for Dignity

In the last few years, in part thanks to Bell Let's Talk Day and the initiatives surrounding it, there is more and more talk about mental health, and the stigma surrounding it is beginning to be broken down. For years mental health and the lack of it has been shoved into the closet, something we don't talk about, and certainly something we do not admit to. 

Mental Health has been a part of life as far back as I can remember. My mother was a mental health nurse who worked primarily in the community on behalf of a larger hospital. When we were younger, she oversaw outpatient programs and community counselling for a regional psychiatric hospital. One of the groups that she worked with was for schizophrenics and every year there would be a friends and family baseball game against a group from another community. Not many ten year olds choose to spend a summer afternoon with the mentally ill, but it was just a part of our lives and those in the group were regular people, unique in their own way. 

Perhaps it was growing up in a small town where most people knew each other, knew each others families and what everyone was doing, or maybe it was because of my father being a local doctor and my mother a mental health counsellor, but growing up I was on a first name basis with many people with mental health issues. I think it has given me an awareness and a passion for issues around mental health. It also probably helped that my mom has been a board member of the local Canadian Mental Health Association. 

Despite all of this, mental health remained a taboo topic in many of my circles. I remember as a late teen sitting around one night talking with two friends I had known since preschool and when two of the three of us admitted to having had thoughts of suicide at one time or another, the third friend was utterly shocked. Suicide, along with depression and anxiety were just something you never talked about, let alone admitted to. Thankfully things are changing and we all have a role to play in that by talking about mental health in the same way we talk about other diseases, to normalize and remove the stigma. When we stop treating mental health as a weakness to be overcome, we give people permission to admit it and to seek the help they need to deal with it.  

Mental Health is a justice issue, as we seek fairness and dignity for all. Often those who are suffering from mental health issues struggle to find their voice, they can be marginalized and so I believer that we as Christians, need to stand with them and to advocate on their behalf because in all probability every one of us will be touched by mental illness in our lives, whether it is ourselves or someone we love. When we treat mental health and illness like any other health issue, we are fulfilling our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourself and respecting the dignity of every human being. We are all God's children, and just as we have broken down other barriers, let us commit to breaking down the barriers that surround mental health. 

This year the theme of The Canadian Mental Health Association's Mental Health Awareness week (May 1-7, 2017) is Get Loud, an invitation to speak up and speak out. Let us talk about mental health, let us tear down stigmas and let us advocate for better mental health resources and services for all of God's beloved children.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Witnesses of Grace: The General Synod Rollercoaster

It has been an emotionally charged and draining few days as an Anglican. As many will be aware General Synod - the gathering every three years of representatives of Anglican Dioceses and Partners across Canada met July 7-12 in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Given it was so close to home I applied to be a volunteer and helped primarily with welcoming people and pointing them in the right direction; from where to register when they arrived to answering a wide range questions during the event. I also had the opportunity to wander through the many exhibits representing a diversity of ministries, causes, special interest groups and business partnerships associated with the Anglican Church of Canada. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones.

One of the greatest and most challenging at times part of General Synod was being part of the Observers gallery inside the room and also part of the wider community that was part of this gathering through the live stream. We are greatly blessed by the gift of technology that allows us to listen in on these important meetings of our national church from wherever we are as long as we have an internet connection.  Observing these preceding has given me a greater appreciation for the Church that I love.

This year’s theme was, “You Are My Witnesses” and that played out for me in hearing about the amazing work that is going on in the name of the Anglican Church of Canada, locally, nationally and internationally. To hear about the relationship building with the Diocese of Jerusalem, and some of the heartbreaking stories and realities of ministry in that part of the world that we rarely hear about, was moving. As was the personal account from Fort McMurray that gave me goose bumps as a man described the miracles, there is no other word for it, of God’s provision in this crisis. The ongoing work of building ecumenical relationships and partnerships is heartening to hear and recognize that we seek to serve the same God.  Important work has also been ongoing in our relationship with Indigenous people, especially in light of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the formation of an Indigenous church.

These important pieces of work by General Synod over those six days, was overshadowed by the discussion, debate and drama that surrounded the first reading of the changes to Canon XXI, the Marriage Canon, essentially to allow for same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church. Any reports I saw aside from those from our Anglican sources, were focused on this sole issue. After days of small group discussions, which the delegates I spoke to described as intense, the resolution came to the floor. In many ways it is unfortunate that our decision making process requires this type of debate, but it was an opportunity for all to be heard. Sitting in the Observers gallery and later watching the live stream it was clear that those who spoke were sincere and deeply invested. This only made the emotional tenure that much more intense.

As the vote began after lengthy debate, everyone was holding their breathe knowing that regardless of the outcome there would people deeply hurt. Slowly as the results were revealed, we realized that the resolution to change the Marriage Canon, with a few amendments, had failed to gain two-thirds in all three houses (bishops, clergy and laity) - by one vote in the house of Clergy. There was a stunned silence in the room, and in the virtual world. For some there was shock and sadness as people considered what this meant for them, those they represented and so many others that they minister to. For others there was relief as though we as a church had narrowly escaped going over that dreaded cliff. For everyone the emotion of that decision was heavy. Some bishops reacted immediately by announcing that they would be proceeding anyway as a pastoral response. It was a restless night for many.

In the morning, the agenda was reconfigured to give time for a “what now” discussion and groups gathered to talk about not only how we as a Church move forward, but more importantly about how do we engage in meaningful conversation that builds bridges between those from all sides who felt the scars of the discussion and debate. Although I could only watch via the live stream, I sensed a renewal of hope and renewed commitment to dialogue that truly listens. In the waning moments of General Synod, following the request for the list of votes to be released immediately, instead of a few months from now in the official minutes, it was discovered that there had been a technical error with one of the votes. The General Secretary, who is a licensed priest working in the National Church office, had his vote registered in a different house, not the house of clergy. The result of that one vote being counted changed the results so as to tip the house of clergy over the two-thirds line and so the motion, after much conversation, was declared passed. 

The emotions of the evening before were suddenly reversed, as people came to grips with what had happened. It was clear that no one was celebrating. As a friend posted, “perhaps it is a good thing that we have all felt it--that shared experience [of dismay] might be a place where we can find the Spirit who will lead us to healing and reconciliation.”  I know that for friends that were in that room, it was a very emotional experience, as it was for the great cloud of witnesses who surrounded them.  

I have to say that I was very impressed by the pastoral and gracious way that Primate Fred Hiltz led throughout. He exemplified for me throughout what it means to love and respect all people and opinions. When bullying was reported in the small groups, he immediately addressed it as unacceptable. He reminded delegates and observers alike that applause was inappropriate as there were those in the room who would not agree and even be hurt by the comments. His continual call to dialogue and understand is what we all needed to hear then and even more now. The Archbishop's most gracious moment that will remain with me for a long time was his response to the General Secretary when the General Secretary realized and apologized that it was his vote that led to the rollercoaster of events. As a Christian and servant of this Church, I pray that will be able to follow Archbishop Hiltz's example in my own life and ministry. 

The question remains, so where do we go from here. There will be those that are dismayed, disappointed, and even angry and may consider leaving the Church. And there will be those who want to charge full steam ahead. To both I would like to say, wait, stay engaged, seek out those of opposing opinions and listen, really listen to what they have to say. One of the greatest gifts I believe the Anglican Church has to bring to the wider church is the witness of what it means to be able to hold intense, very diverse beliefs and still remain at the table together. I have often been asked why I am Anglican, I think this is the reason. As frustrating as it is at times that on many issues we don’t say “this is what we believe” or how we understand “X”, it also what allows us to remain in conversation, to remain at the table, the Lord’s Table, together, knowing that first and foremost we are all Children of God, loved and saved by the only one who can love unconditionally.

May we pray for one another and may we continue to seek to see one another not as opponents or allies but as God sees us: his beloved children.

If you want to know more about the ongoing conversation around same-sex marriage I encourage you to read, This Holy Estate, which also includes numerous submission from all those opinions, and links to other reports produced by national church and others on this issue. As well as the other resources from the Anglican Church of Canada on Human Sexuality.  

For more on information of General Synod or updates from The Anglican Church of Canada, go to, News

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Letting Go and Finding Joy

Growing up on a lake means fishing is part of some of my earliest memories. As a kid we fished off the dock mostly, although occasionally our cousin would take us out in the small aluminum fishing boat with a 9.9 hp motor. Most of our fishing in those days was with a hook, worm and a bobber. I'm not sure when I stopped, but for years I didn't fish. Maybe it was because there was no one to take the fish off the hook if I was so lucky as to catch one. I had no problem with worms, but I never did want to touch the fish. Then I met my husband-to-be who was crazy about fishing, so much so he had just bought himself a fast running bass boat. So I started going out fishing with him, at first content to watch the fish finder. I realized quickly, this was very different from the fishing I had done as a child. and the more time I spent with him, and the more time I spent on the boat, the more complicated fishing seemed to become.

Unlike my childhood fishing this was serious stuff with a myriad of different types of lures, hooks, and baits of all shapes and sizes, and just as many ways to "fish them".  I learned there were TV programs dedicated to these different styles, and fishing shows you went to with retailers and live demonstrations about products and the best technique. I discovered there was a whole other vocabulary of wacky rigging, Texas rigging, drop-shot, crank-bait and jerk-bait. This was hardly the relaxing, "throw your line in the water" fishing I remembered.

As a perfectionist, I watched the TV shows and attended the demos at fishing shows, taking notes; I ask my husband a million questions, watching him closely trying to mimic his technique. I also accompanied him to stores dedicated to fishing, stocking a fishing bag form myself with every hook, weight and plastic bait I thought I would need to master fishing. Problem is there is no mastering fishing, it is a constant learning curve, which seems pretty steep most of the time.  

So this year as fishing season approached I decided to approach it differently, to be less concerned about getting it right and more about enjoying it, and enjoying my time on the water. This spring I didn't go looking to add more to my fishing bag or to buy the latest baits. This year I resolved to pick two or three types of bait and just throw them and see what happened.  I decided to pull out that bobber once again and just relax, to enjoy fishing like I had when I was kid.

Learning to let go is something I believe we all need to do. As I look at the world around me I see people striving to get it right, whether in careers or personal lives. We spend so much time worrying about whether we measure up that we miss out on the simple joys that are often in front of us. This brings to mind Jesus' words about worry, that God who takes care of birds of the air also promise to provide for what we  need (Matthew 6:25-30). I'm not always good at letting go, but I'm learning that the best moments of life rarely require the frantic energy and worry I put into them. May we all learn to let go and let God a little more often and be amazed what might come.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Caring for Creation

Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God's creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth? 

This is the newest promise or affirmation added in 2013 by the Anglican Church of Canada, so the prayer books in the church and many churches will not include this, only those printed in the last year or so. Yet I think this is as important as any of the other ways that we promise to live out our faith in our baptismal promises. In recent years there has been increasing attention paid to the environment, and even great debate about the reality of climate change. I have heard persuasive arguments on both sides, but personally, based on what I have read and heard from those I believe to be credible, I would be on the side climate change being real and requiring action.

As Christians who believe that God created the world and commissioned humankind as the stewards of that creation we should be particularly attentive to environmental issues, which is one of the reasons why this affirmation was added recently to our baptismal covenant.  While our initial attention might be drawn to the environmental issues, caring for God's creation encompasses not only environmental issues like water, air, climate change or land use and abuse, it also includes concern for God's other creatures and creations from animals to flora and fauna. As stewards of God's creation we are to protect every aspect of what God created, from the beautiful butterfly to the odourous skunk. When we forget that all of it belongs to God and we are only entrusted with it as caretakers not owner to do with as we desire it is easy to abuse the creation to our advantage. When we learn to see the air, water, land and everything that lives in and on it as God's it changes how we interact with creation.

There is another reason we need to be attentive to creation, the impact that environment has on us as humans as well.  In a recent article the Presiding Bishop of the the United States of America, a form scientist herself, also draws the connection to impact on the poorest and most vulnerable (link to article).  Often it is those who are most vulnerable who suffer because of lack of clean water, clear air or basic necessities for healthy lives. Those with means are more likely to able either buy what they need or at least have access to it by where they live. As we seek to honour God as our creator we need to honour His creation, by protecting it, and seeking to prevent or reverse the damage done by humans. We all know that God has only given us one plant earth as our home and we need to do everything we can to care for it.

Reflection Question:

  1. What is one thing you can change about your own behaviour that could have a positive impact on creation? 
  2. How can you educate yourself on the issues and facts surrounding the environment? 
  3. How can you work with others to advocate for sustaining and renewing of God's creation? 

More Resources on Faith and Environment can be found on the Toronto Diocesan Website - Environmental Resources

Monday, 23 March 2015

Justice and Dignity for all

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

This is a promise that is easy to affirmative and difficult to live out. In an ideal world there would be justice for all, people treated with fairness and equality, and everyone is able to and does live in harmony with one another. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and everyday people face injustice, strife, prejedice and degrading situations and treatment from other people. The news is constantly filled with stories of injustice, of things that don't seem right and of conflicts between individuals, groups and nations. We react to such news with sadness, and frustration, and even despair. What we do after that goes to heart of this question. We have the choice to throw our arms up in resignation that  nothing will ever change or we can seek to do something that will change it. Yet even if we do something,  it is natural to wonder what we as one person can do to change such huge problems.

As Christians we are called to follow in Jesus' footsteps, and that means seeking to change the world one person or issue at a time. There are various course of action we can take. We can begin with prayer, for the situation, for change and for wisdom about other ways we can respond. Taking it a step further, we can speak out, calling attention to the situation. For some people this is an opportunity to become involved in the resolution, but this takes courage and trust in God, or we can financially  support those who are. While we may not be able to change the whole world, we can change our immediate surroundings, we can be intentional about how we treat others. Following on last week's question, when we seek to see Jesus in others it naturally follows we will be more likely to show respect and seek dignity for them.

One of our hinderances to striving for justice and peace among all people is not knowing the facts, so being easily swayed by whoever shouts the loudest. So we need to educate ourselves about the issues so that we can speak and act based on truth rather than other people's opinions.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What do I do when I hear about injustice or lack of peace?
  2. What one issue can I take action on? What are steps I can commit to today?
  3. How can I change the situations in my own environment?
  4. What issue can I educate myself on, so as to better respond? 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Seeking and Serving Jesus

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

The first half of this promise reminds me of the parables the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), where people are separated based on whether they fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick or prison. In both cases the question is asked, “When did we see you....?” and the answer was “what you did/did not do for the least of these you did/did not do for me.” We are called to look of Jesus in everyone we meet and to realize that whenever we serve another, whenever we care for them we are serving Jesus. The blessing that I used this morning was inspired by this idea of seeking and serving Jesus. I first heard it a number of years ago and it has always stuck with me and I have used it myself on occasions, like this morning. 
                    “May Jesus Christ who walks on wounded feet, 
                      walk with you to the end of the road,
                     May Jesus Christ to served with wounded hands, 
                     open your hands to serve, 
                    May Jesus Christ who loves with a wounded heart, 
                    open your heart to love. 
                    May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet 
                    and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you. 
                    The Blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit 
                    be with you and remain with you always."    
We are all made in the image of God, we are all children of God no matter if we believe or not and so when we seek to see Jesus in others, and to act accordingly we are honouring God within that person and within ourselves.

The second part of the question brings to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) which Jesus tells in response to the question he asked,” Who is my neighbour?”  Through this story Jesus tells us that our neighbour is not just the people we know and like, not just the people who are like us with same values and beliefs, the same opinions. It would be easy to love those people. Instead Jesus said our neighbour is also the person we don’t like, the person whose values, opinions and belief may run contrary to our own. The Samaritan had every reason to despite the man who lie dying from his beating, and no one would have faulted him if he’d spit on the man and left him to die, but he doesn’t. This promise requires us to look beyond the surface, beyond our preferences and prejudices to not only see Christ within the other no matter how different from us, but to serve them as we would serve Christ with love and grace.

Reflection Questions:
The homeless Jesus

  1. How would I treat other people who are different from me if they were Jesus?
  2. Who do I struggle to see Jesus in? How can I turn that around and love them?
  3. How am I serving Jesus in everyone I meet? 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Proclaiming Good News

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
On this our third week of Lent we consider the baptismal promise of proclamation. I think of all the promises this is probably the hardest one for many people because it takes faith out of the private realm and places it squarely in the public one.  As we will see in the questions that follow a “good person” could easily answer affirmatively, but this one can only be affirmed by someone who has faith in Jesus Christ and is willing to speak and act on it. Like the disciples asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” there is a vulnerability, a risk in publicly declaring what we believe. What if what I say is wrong? What if it offends someone? How might others respond or react? These are all questions that can trip us up.

To respond to this promise honestly, we need to think about what is the good news and specifically the good news for me. During Lent we prepare to celebrate the core of this good news, that through Jesus’ death our sins are forgiven and through his resurrection we are offered new life, a life in relationship with our creator. This is the foundation of the good news we share in word and example, but each of us has a story to share, our own story of faith, what God and Christ mean to us, of our experiences of God in our life. One of our fears is that someone will ask a question or challenge what we say and we will not know how to respond. Honesty is best, and I think people respect that when we say that we don't know or we have to think about it. 

There was a time when it was enough to proclaim the good news in example, by what we did and how we lived, because everyone knew the basic Christian story even if they did not go to church. Serving others was a primary means of evangelism, of sharing the good news and everyone knew why we were doing what we were doing. Now in our Post-Christian society when so many have never heard the story, having no “Christian memory” to give reference to our actions, we cannot rely on our actions only, we need to speak too.  May our lives be a living testimony to the good news of God in Christ. 

Reflection Questions:
  1. What is the good news of God in Christ for me? What is it that is important enough about faith, about Jesus, that I have chosen to follow him?
  2.  If I was charged with a Christian, would what I say and do be enough evidence to convict me? 
  3.  Who have I proclaimed the good news to recently? Who can I proclaim it to this week or month? How?