Category Archives: Faith reflections

Interfaith Work an Act of Peacemaking

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.”
~ Jesus ~

As you know, the Interfaith Housing Initiative is a gathering of faith communities from around Edmonton working together to address homelessness in our city.  We work together, knowing that we may believe very different things about the nature of God, the world, ourselves, and our purpose…  but we all believe in the need to love our neighbour, and to care for our neighbour.  On this common ground, people of many faiths here in Edmonton are gathered to confront the need for quality decent and affordable homes for our neighbours.
In 2004, I was ordained as a Pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.  That makes me a Calvinist who values God’s sovereignty over creation and human history.  I see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit on many interactions and movements around our city: at City Council, on building sites, in committee work, and in conversations in the local neighbourhood; and I follow the call of Jesus as King, Savior and Redeemer of our world.  And yes, I actually enjoy preaching on the Canons of Dort!

I continue to be profoundly grateful for the opportunity to serve as Housing Ambassador for the Interfaith community gathered here in common cause.   In my almost two years serving here, I have come to realize the power of what we are about:  that in a time of rising fear and suspicion between peoples and faiths, our continuing decision to work together on this common ground is a profound act of peacemaking.

Serving with each other builds understanding and relationship.  It creates a sense of community and helps us place our fears and questions in a healthier frame.  At the end of it all, there will continue to be many things we disagree on; but our shared role in shaping a just and compassionate society will not be one of them.

What we are about here truly is the work of God!

~ Pastor Mike Van Boom, Christian Reformed Church

Advertisements

Homeless & Wealth; from one Hindu Perspective

I quote a few passages below that may help you in understanding how the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi and Karma links to homelessness and wealth. 

The concept of Karma indicates that what one does, whether positive or negative, will impact us in our current lifetime or in our next lifetime.

“The Goddess Lakshmi means good luck to Hindus. The word ‘Lakshmi’ means ‘aim’ or ‘goal’, and she is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual.  Pursuing wealth is one of the four aims of a Hindu’s life as long as it does not dominate a person’s life.  Possessing and earning wealth is not restricted but there is only one restriction that the scriptures put on this activity and that is the wealth must be earned in a righteous way.

Within Hinduism, wealth is regarded as a beneficial and positive value, just like love and morality.  Still, especially for those engaged in commerce, generosity and hospitality were also highly regarded.  Traditionally, these are not only private values.  Among the roles of the state, embodied in the office of the king, was the social mandate to feed the poor and support religious institutions.  Today Hindu temples continue to promote charitable and community activities.

Hindus are expected to give away the wealth they do not need.  Distributing wealth means that a person is doing good karma and thereby securing a better next life.  As a person grows older… they need their wealth less and less.  Hinduism is not only a religion but ‘a way of life’. Two of the most widely read scriptures namely ‘The Ramayana’ & ‘The Mahabharata’ vividly describes the acts of compassion and justice.  Hindu’s are expected to live according to the values enshrined in the scriptures and practice compassion and justice in the course of their lives.

~compiled by Hasha Sasitharan

Celebrating Canadianism Together

Moses is standing atop Mt. Sinai, when God asks him where he wants to take the Israelites, where would be their Promised Land.  Moses glances around at the world and picks what he believes to be the best spot imaginable — abundant natural resources, plenty of room, no external security threats.

“Ca-ca-ca,” he begins to respond with his famous stutter.

Anticipating his answer, God quickly interrupts him and says, “Oh, Canaan?”

“I guess so,” thinks Moses, “but actually what I really had in mind was CANADA!!”

July 1st, 2017 is a special day not just for our country of Canada, but for all our faith communities of Canada.  Sometimes, as Canadians, we look at other nations and imagine that we don’t quite match up to their power and stature.  We look south to the US and feel small next to the world’s superpower.  We stare across the pond and view ourselves as a mere satellite of the British Commonwealth.  Who are we as Canadians and what does that mean to us as Jewish Canadians as Christian Canadians as Sikh Canadians as Muslim Canadians and so on?

The Bible relays the events when we find the Children of Israel who have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  Truth be told, it wasn’t a bad life.  Their daily bread came from heaven, they were protected by the Clouds of Glory, and their thirst was quenched by the Well of Miriam that accompanied them on their sojourn.  But one day, Miriam dies and the well is no more.  The people are crying out and Moses does not know what to do.  He turns to the Almighty who tells him to speak to the rock and ask it to issue forth water.

And so Moses gathers the Israelites together and begins talking to the rock.  But alas, no matter how many jokes he tells the rock, how much praise he heaps upon it nothing works.  The problem, our sages explain, is that he’s speaking to the wrong rock, because the correct rock was hidden amongst the other rocks!  And so Moses picks up his staff and strikes the rock.  Not once, but twice.

And all of a sudden, water comes gushing forth, in seemingly limitless supply!  The people are elated.  But not God.  He summons Moses and Aaron and informs them that as a consequence of their disobedience, they will not enter the Promised Land.

As far as Diaspora life goes, we are incredibly blessed to be living in a land of promise, in our beloved country of Canada.  Why is this year so spiritually significant?  Because the name says it all.  In the Jewish linguistic tradition, the word Canada may be subdivided into two words – “kan” which is Hebrew for ‘nest’, and “da” which is Yiddish for ‘here’ or Aramaic for ‘this.’  In other words, this here (our country) is a nest.  What does a nest represent?  Comfort.  Protection.  Happiness.  Soaring above the world.  These are all feelings that we as Canadians share.  What’s more, “kan” also happens to equal 150 – now isn’t that something?!

The great Canadian philosopher, John Ralston Saul, calls Canada a Metis nation.  Instead of seeing ourselves as not quite matching up to Great Britain or the United States, we should take pride in being the premier nation in the world to embody the qualities of multiculturalism and respect for our First Nations fellow citizens. And on that note, certainly this year we celebrate 150 years of the confederation of our nation. Nevertheless, we must always remember that our country, our land, has been here for millennia. Today we acknowledge the First Nations who opened their homeland to us and invited us to join them as a nation, and we express our gratitude to them for the treaty land upon which we stand.  150 years ago, we performed the commandment of “shiluach hakain” – we kissed the mother-bird goodbye and established our own independent nest, a nest where birds of a feather flock together.

But unlike our neighbours to the south or across the pond, birds of a feather don’t have to be ‘American’ or ‘British’ first and everything else, second, in some almost-embarrassed way of hiding one’s ethno-religious identity in the privacy of one’s home, whilst melting into some public ‘everyone’s-the-same’ pot.  Not in Canada.  We can be ‘birds of a feather’ while maintaining our unique cultural identities.

That’s what makes Canada great.  Because being Jewish and Canadian or being Sikh and Canadian or Somali and Canadian is part and parcel of the fabric of Canadian society.  Canadianism is multiculturalism at its very best.  Canadianism means being a proud of your belief.  The better the Sikh I am, the better the Canadian I become.   In Canada, we have created the most unique nest in the history of humankind.

And it’s this unparalleled attitude, this special approach to diplomacy and the brotherhood of man that we bring to the world beyond our borders.  We don’t strike the rock.  We speak to the rock.  A great deal of the work of our Canadian Armed Forces is serving as peacekeepers.  We’re there to negotiate international crises, to assist those in insecure regions of the world, to educate, to train, to advocate for the rights of women and children.

Does that mean we never strike the rock?  Of course, it doesn’t.  Sometimes you need to strike.  The problem occurs when one strikes not once, but twice.  Our approach to the use of force is extremely measured, we go to the ends of the earth to avoid the use of excessive force.  Because we realize that sometimes the ones we’re really targeting have gone, just like Moses’ target rock, and hidden themselves amongst innocent, peaceful good populations.  And when those innocents are displaced and see their lives destroyed, through no fault of their own, we do everything in our power to assist them in rebuilding their lives, either in their locales or in our welcoming Canadian arms.

We excel at and revel in this form of soft power, because as a Metis nation, we have immense and profound respect and love for all human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, or creed.  Canada also contains the same letters as “nekudah” which means ‘point’.  We, as Canadians, get the point.  And we must never feel in any way inferior to any other nation, au contraire (it would have been remiss of us to omit any French!), we must proudly and boldly express this point to the world!

150 years is an incredible milestone.  We have much to be grateful for.  Today we thank God for our great country and we bless our leaders that they remain eternally committed to the awe-inspiring principles of Canadianism.  May we continue for the next 150 years to be the leading nation in the world!

This speech given by Rabbanit  Batya Friedman on Canada Day July 1, 2017 at Beth Israel Synagogue (as published in the Neighbourly, August 2017)

 

Together Against the Cold

There are many Biblical Prophecies pointing to terrible hardship in humanity’s future: Of famine, disease, war, death and global cataclysm.  But the one that scares me the most is a small phrase from Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives about the end times in Matthew 24:12.  He simply says, “…the hearts of most will grow cold.”

Why does this word of prophecy scare me more than the others?  Because when the cold of famine, disease, war and death strike, it is those moments of a sharing humanity (in love, generosity, compassion, and sacrifice) that warm, comfort and preserve us, keeping us alive in the face of hardship.

Today, the world really is a cold place for so many of us experiencing great struggle.  Across the world, we see it in the face of refugees fleeing their homes, and leaving behind country, culture and family.  We see it in the gaunt faces of children in places swept by famine, or in lands made barren by war.  And we see it here in our own families and communities:  In those battling a mental illness and depression, often alone.  In trauma from broken or abusive relationships and violence.  In slavery to addictions.  In bitterness and angry wounds that refuse to heal.  In desperate poverty; lacking food, shelter, safety, and supportive community.  It is an unending shiver that sinks weariness into our bones.

So why do we so often choose to answer this cold with cold?  Like those upstanding model citizens in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we often see the need of a neighbour, but choose to keep our distance and keep walking.  When we are asked to respond in some way to the plight of a refugee or the person seeking an affordable home in our communities, we often choose a cold academic discussion about possible negative pressures and impacts on our way of life over a gentler, deeper, wiser and more compassionate conversation that acknowledges the humanity of our neighbour and seeks health and vibrancy for all.

“The crisis is too big for us to get involved in,” we say.  “Their wounds are too angry, and we do not have the skills to help them.  We need to protect ourselves; afraid that this person may turn around and hurt us.  We do not believe it is possible for someone to heal from this trauma, break from their past, or break from an addiction.  Better to keep our doors locked tight, and let our neighbours sort out whatever hand God, or fate, or their own actions have dealt them.  Best look out for number one.  Best keep walking.”

Or we can choose to respond with warmth and humanity as the Samaritan (an outsider) did in Jesus’ parable.   On seeing this man lying naked and half dead on the side of the road, “he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

For followers of Jesus, choosing the cold response is not an option.  It is true that we as people are limited in what we can do.  We cannot solve every problem, or respond to every crisis, and we must always find time to rest along the way.  But we must always be ready to respond as God calls us: to a life full of love, hope and trust, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, commitment, compassion, hospitality, self-control, wisdom and sacrifice; to live as steady and warm expressions of the loving God we serve.
…so the cold does not win.

Below is a link to a powerful award-winning video that I think speaks beautifully to this work of fighting together against the cold:

The Deepening Community Rap

By Pastor Mike Van Boom, from Centrepointe church (Christian Reformed)

Creating Community for People in Prison

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…  I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   – Jesus  (Matthew 25:36, 40)

Reflection
When Jesus identifies himself with the person who is hungry, weak, the prisoner, or the stranger, he challenges his followers to always see another person’s potential, value, and humanity, and to respond in tenacious faith to what God may do in the life of their neighbour.  Yesterday and today, that belief drives Christians to invest themselves in the lives of their neighbours, even in prison.

On Sunday nights from 6:00-7:30,

       A team of women and (even a few men) from Beulah Alliance Church and West Edmonton Christian Assembly go to visit with women in a prison on the west end, here in Edmonton.  About thirty-five women from the prison come out to join them for coffee and snacks, and to experience the Alpha program.  They eat together, pray together, share stories, and learn about the Christian Faith.  One woman attended the program 3 or 4 times without showing any desire to embrace Christianity.  When asked why, she said, ‘Because I feel cared for.’
       That honest statement points to the genuine heart of why those doing this ministry do what they do:  To support these women in their struggle to heal, to confront some of the darkness and pain they carry, and find answers to who they are so that they may succeed.  In these gatherings, caring relationships are formed, some of which are able to carry on after a woman is discharged into the community.
      Marilyn Johnson, one of the leaders in the team has observed that it is very good to have men participate in these visits as well, so that the women have an opportunity to have a healthy relationship with a male presence.
      Because of the success of the program and the trust earned, mentors in the program have earned escort privileges to take some of the women to church on a Sunday morning.  (If a women is from the medium security end, then she would also be escorted by two guards.)  But this means so much to the women, to have the opportunity to get out of prison and be welcomed by a church community.  They have hard deadlines that do not budge, of course.  The women must be back by 10:00 am, sharp!  But the efforts of these churches gives them an experience of belonging, which means a lot.
      Their efforts have been very well-received by both the women, and by their families, who have expressed profound gratitude; even from a father from Manitoba, who was all in tears.

Prison can be a place of restoration

I am glad God brought me into prison.  If I was still out there, I would probably be dead!”
      This statement by a woman visiting the program reinforces an observation made by Marilyn others that many of the stories told by the women had a common theme:  Wrong place!  Wrong time!  Wrong friends!
      For many of the women, prison can offer them an opportunity; a solid interruption to unhealthy choices, circumstances and relationships.  Many of the women are eager to use this opportunity, and having people come into the prison to walk that road with them, is really valuable.

Challenges On the Outside

      Much work goes into helping a women succeed on the outside, but the challenges following release are significant.  Generally the women will find themselves immersed in the same set of circumstances and troubled relationships that fuelled their wrong choices and bad behaviors.  A top indicator for whether a person succeeds or fails on the outside is whether or not they have healthy supportive community.  But finding this can be very hard.
      The organizers of the program really want to support the women once they are on the outside, but there are major challenges.  One simple difficulty is to keep in contact with women once they have left the prison.  Their home communities are all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so many are simply separated by distance.  Many are sent to half-way houses, and may not even know where they are headed a week ahead of time.
       For the women who stay locally, they may have some success for a while and stay in regular contact.  But then they might do something that they are ashamed to admit, and pull back.  As well, the team is forced to keep some distance in relationships, and they struggle with whether to open their homes and give out personal information.  One reason for that caution is that some of the women can be manipulative.  When volunteers begin this work, they take a course on what they are or are not allowed to do; including sharing personal information.  Many of those guidelines continue to apply even on the outside.
       But within those guidelines, there is much that can be done.

What can we do to provide supportive community to people coming out of prison?

1. Run support groups like celebrate recovery that can provide both support and accountability.
2. Get together socially!  Meet for coffee or get food at a restaurant. Go for walks, or get out to have fun together.
3. Provide work opportunities.  There are businesses that are willing to work with people coming out of prison, and do much to provide that supportive community environment.

These activities may take some organizing, but this engagement is very meaningful to anyone trying to pull their life back together after prison.

A Success story:  A woman in her fifties formed a relationship with the group while she was still in prison.  She had killed someone many years ago.  Now she has been out for two years and is doing really well.  She calls up Marilyn and others from the program to get together, and she is so excited when she gets to be with them.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Marilyn Johnson    

Why Scientologists Help!

      One can look around this world and find numerous examples of tragedies, poverty, war and losses. It is easy to become depressed about this and feel that all is in despair.

We can put our attention on this and become hopeless or we can focus on the people that are tackling these problems to help; better yet we can join them to create huge effects for the betterment of all mankind.  Scientology believes that something can be done about it.

The eight dynamics as survival in Scientology is a fundamental  principle. The first dynamic is you as an individual, the second is creativity and family, the third is groups, the fourth is mankind, the fifth is all life forms, the sixth is the physical universe, the seventh is the spiritual and the eighth is infinity (however one wants to define God, Creator, Supreme Being etc…) In order to achieve harmony and success, one must ensure that all of these dynamics are thriving. They are intertwined and can not be separated.  This core belief is understood by Scientologists that one can not help himself and better his conditions in life if he is only focusing on the first dynamic. A poor 4th dynamic (mankind) will bring down all the others. We are only as good as all of our dynamics. It directly contributes to our personal survival to help our fellow man.

We help because anyone can sit on the sidelines and say what others need to do. Life is not a spectator sport. Life is a game and we play it hard. We know ways to help and it is our duty and our pleasure to back it up with action. One of the basic truths within Scientology is that one is as valuable as one is able to help others.

We don’t all have to have the same faiths to join together and create a healthy, thriving and safe world. We just need a common purpose – to help. And we can move mountains…

Article submitted by Kara Murray, from Edmonton’s Scientology Community