Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The switchover

That I was blogging through April last year is quite helpful to gauge expectations and precedent for bikeable weather this year. Thus, this seems a good place to note for future reference that I took out my 3-season bike on Thursday, April 17.

I'd dropped it off at Natural Cycle for a tune-up at the end of March, so it was ready early in April already, but, the roads still having some slippery spots and a whole lot of gravel, I decided to stay on the winter bike a while longer to spare my lovely from the worst wet and grit. Then it was hard to gauge when would be an appropriate time to make the switch.

In the end, my bike made the decision for me.

A month before, I'd had a bizarre incident with my drive train where my chain was tugging and pulling and catching and simply feeling wretched. With no measures to fix it, the problem disappeared.

A few days before the fateful Wednesday, I'd been feeling some wonkiness in the drive train but it felt like my right pedal -- which had me worried I'd face another incident of my crank arm (the other side this time) falling off mid-stroke. Instead, Wednesday, I was afflicted by that nasty pulling and catching sensation from my chain. It was irritating on the way to work, so I leaned down and knocked some chunks of the considerable gunk off the cogs in my derailleurs but it was even worse on the way home, to the point where it felt like the chain had actually slipped off the gears.

I promptly parked the bike when I got home, switched over my lock, and it was blue sky from then on.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Angles

Once again, some advocacy group has declared April "Bike Every Day" month, a group that obviously doesn't live in Manitoba where fair weather bike riders only begin to think of hauling the two-wheeled conveyance out of the shop part-way through the month.

So numbers for Bike Winnipeg's annual spring bike count were pretty low this sunny but brisk morning.

I learned something, though, and not about the demographics of Winnipeg's active transportation participants.

I found myself tensing up when an approaching person's appearance suggested a life on the street. Thoughts like, "I wonder what it's like to get mugged" reared their ugly head, and, selfishly, "how will I extricate myself from some awkward conversation with someone who may not be fully in possession of all mental faculties?"

On average, these persons of whom I tended to be apprehensive were the friendliest passersby of the morning.

Given my previous post on how I see my choice to cycle as a giving up of privilege, I was struck to my core when the talkative member of a large group of rougher looking pedestrians asked what I was doing. "Counting bicycles," I said. "I wish I had a bicycle -- then you could count me!" he said with a good-natured laugh.

Even in my chosen simplicity, I am drenched in privilege.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Suffering

Horse and buggy Mennonites don't love horses, says Mennonite historian Royden Loewen; it's suffering.

I suspect it's not that they don't like their horses, nor that they don't find some parts of the horse-dependent existence enjoyable, even preferable to mainstream society's ways, but it's not some horse crazy notion that leads them to that choice.

They're under no illusion that their simple life is necessarily easier. It would be more comfortable to have cars. It would be more comfortable to have electricity.

But at what cost? It's not financial cost at issue, but the cost to souls. It's hard to be mindful when life is easy. It's easy to become independent and preoccupied with leisure. It's hard to keep God in his place and us in ours.

Suffering -- no, not a mortal suffering, not the pain of broken relationships, nor a masochistic infliction, but a choice to do things the hard way for the greater good -- that's the saving grace of the horse. The extra effort reminds you of your physical fitness to exert it and the gratefulness that is due. The slower pace means you can take time to see and be in your environment. The vulnerability to the elements puts the universe and our ultimate reliance on the creator in perspective.

Is it pompous to say that through my biking I can relate with this perspective?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More on singleness (No clever titles)



I’m a word aficionado, a trivia collector, an all-season cyclist, a homework tutor, an editor, a worship team leader, a daughter, sister, aunt.

But most importantly, I’m a beloved child of God.

And I’m single.

Is there a place in your church for me? Or will I be alone in hostile territory?

God has opened doors along my path to study language, and teach English, and live and serve with Mennonites of many stripes, and teach school to MKs. Now I write and edit for the denomination, and I study, and I tutor children, and I sing at church, and I sit on committees.

But sometimes, it feels like I haven’t graduated yet. Because in the church subculture, the entry requirement to sit at the adult table seems to be marriage and children.

Recently, I had the honour of writing about the experience of being single in the church. I offered a challenge to our churches to emphasize the right thing – discipleship, not family.

I received a tide of personal responses to that piece, and I’d like to share some of those usually silent voices here.

One of my biggest frustrations with the North American church is its obsession with promoting & defending 'family values' instead of being like Jesus,” wrote one.

Another wrote: “My church puts so much emphasis on family and couples that as a thirtysomething single woman, I’m not really part of the group. I’m trying to follow this faith in a culture that is highly focused on 'finding prince charming,'” she said, begging the church to help her be a Christian – to retain the countercultural perspective that our ultimate fulfillment, completion, and intimacy is found not a romantic partner, but in God.

I want to see the church take the emphasis off social needs (especially matchmaking), and help singles steward the gift of singleness well in the context of being disciples of Jesus in the here and now.”

And, most heart-breakingly, several said, “I’ve stopped going to church. I could only hear so many sermons on how to be a better wife, how to be the best parents your child can have.

As singles, we’re asking for help, not because we’re especially broken, but because we’re human. As human beings, we’re all wired for love -- and we’re all called to follow Jesus. It’s not an easy path, but he equips us: with strength in our spirits and with family to come alongside. That’s not a family of blood but a family of adopted siblings: co-heirs with Christ.

Created to be in relationship not only with God but with other people, we each need intimacy. The gift of sex is a particular expression of intimacy, and as a single person, I accept that God’s standards for purity preclude my participation. However, intimacy is not only physical but also emotional and spiritual. As a single person, I am perhaps in greater need of relational intimacy -- yet in a church culture that idolizes nuclear families, I’m less likely to find it.

I admit: I have an independent spirit. Rudyard Kipling’s children story of “The cat that walks by herself” for whom “all places are the same to me” resonated with me even as a child. I pride myself on being able to do things myself – I can remodel a closet, make repairs on my bike; or enter a room full of strangers or go to a movie alone.

But where did we get the idea independence was a virtue? Isn’t the body of Christ all about being built up through each other’s gifts? My independence isn’t godly if it allows me to think I don’t need others – or they me.

The irony of the cat that walks by herself is that she keeps going back to where the others are. In fact, she schemes to secure a by the fire in the middle of the home. But Jesus calls me to drop the pretense of independence, and humbly gather at the heart with brothers and sisters.

As a single adult, I need the church to be the covenant community promised in the Confession of Faith: “[members who] love, care, and pray for each other, share each others’ joys and burdens, admonish and correct each other.”

This journey of Jesus-followership goes over terrain rocky or smooth; through joyful sprints and tedious plodding; in sparkling sunshine, pouring rain, or whirling snow. Co-heirs with Christ, will you walk alongside me?

Fellow children of God, will you remind me of whose I am?

Delivered as a testimony at the study conference on human sexuality

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parsing the gospel

Does anyone else find it ironic that those evangelicals who tend to emphasize "heart" (to the exclusion of mind), and have an ambivalence for -- even antipathy toward -- higher learning and critical thought are so awfully obsessed with believing and articulating exactly the right (narrow) things about Jesus and the gospel? The proliferation of workshops and books on "GOSPEL!" and the importance (and achievability) of "understanding" it correctly makes me gag.
These same men (yes, I used that word on purpose) are the ones constantly chiding (or dismissing) those involved in social justice work for assuming (and perhaps at times neglecting) Jesus, yet they do so themselves in a terribly arrogant way when they implicitly suggest through their teaching emphases that conviction and conversion are up to us. If we don't have our gospel "right" and know how to articulate it properly, we will fail to make anyone a Christian!
Wait, I thought it was the Holy Spirit who did the convicting. I thought we were coworkers with Christ -- but not entrusted to do that alone or in our own power. I thought God through his mysterious wisdom draws people to himself. I thought the gospel was good news -- the wonderful, mind-blowing fact that Master of the Universe has through his own sacrifice defeated death and evil and is reconciling all the world to himself in myriad creative ways.
Understand the gospel? I hope not! If it's not entirely too far-reaching, all-encompassing, unexpected, challenging and inexpressibly beautiful for me to wrap my mind around, I'm not sure it's all that hopeful. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A little learning

For most of the years I've been volunteering with after-school youth programming at an immigrants agency, I've attended the volunteer orientation at the beginning of the year. There are generally moments when I wonder why I'm wasting my time there (clearly, most of the volunteers don't show), but by the end of the evening, I've usually come away with some insights that stick with me.

Last year, I was reminded not to be negative about math to the kids, but also to not call any given assignment "easy." These children may or may not be literate in their mother tongue, may or may not have had development-stunting undernutrition in their childhood, etc.; it may shame or frustrate a youth to have work he or she finds "impossible" dismissed as "simple." So, I resolved to urge all my young charges that their assignments are always "do-able!"

This year, two facilitators who work with at-risk youth regaled us with stories from their experiences while forcing us into (uncomfortable) partner work, and ultimately, despite the grating "leadership" language, teaching some helpful perspectives on becoming adult mentors to youth. I resolved to take home three insights:

1) Bids: any attempt at interaction from a child or youth is a "bid" for relationship. In-kind reciprocation is "catching" the bid. If you accept the bid, you're at the beginning of a possibility to build trust. If you reject it, the child will move on to someone else. Endeavour to catch all bids.

2) Tit for tat: children and youth with a history of negative experiences have come to expect hostility/disdain/dismissal from adults and will attempt to provoke exactly that. Expected behaviour, however negative, is preferable to surprises. The answer: don't push back.
The facilitators told a story that thrilled my heart as a beautiful example of nonviolence: an angry girl lashed out in a stream of invective and insults at the two adult mentors who sat there smiling and nodding until the girl, confused by their unexpectedly gentle behaviour, had exhausted her rage and was ready to be reasonable.
This one is tricky; it'll take plenty of intention, combating my instincts, and creative thinking to find a way around responding to "tit" with "tat."

Finally, 3) Children and youth can't get enough of affirmation. They aren't looking for adult mentors who exhort them about what to do -- that's what parents are for -- they want people to believe in them. The classic feedback sandwich (bury a criticism between two positive comments) has grown "many-sliced" in the past decades of research. Over the past 15 years, the number has grown from 4 positive comments to a young person for every correction to 16! Working with youth, the facilitators said, praise absolutely every thing the kids do right, no matter how trivial, from the first moment, so when the inevitable correction is needed, a buffer of affirmation has already been established.
The facilitators also encouraged us to listen for affirmation. We did an exercise where one partner spoke and the other listened, and was only allowed to speak if the words were praise or affirmation.When youth tell an adult about something they've decided, they're not actually looking for advice. They've decided on their course of action: they're looking for someone to respond. No matter how bad the idea, the facilitators urged, find something to affirm, because criticism will only throw up walls, whereas encouragement builds relationship.

It all sounded so inspiring the way the facilitators told it, but I know it'll take a lot of work, not only with the kids who I coach along in their homework, but also my peaches who are quickly growing up.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Alone in hostile territory: being single in the church

Why is the church so fixated on who’s entering into exclusive intimate relationships with who?

That was just one of the lines that didn't make the cut in a piece a wrote for the September issue at work. I'll probably get in enough trouble for my provocative opening (which I'm a tad worried readers will misconstrue) that it's just as well I left this inflammatory line out.

The reason I liked this line so much that I had to share it elsewhere is that it spreads...let's not call it blame or accusation, let's call it...responsibility across a whole spectrum of people. It calls out those who can't accept single people as real adults until they've started dating; it challenges gossips and finger-waggers who tut-tut premarital sex without offering any good advice for how to not have it; it points out the absurdity of  males in ministry who think the only way to preserve their purity is to never talk to women; and it questions those for whom preventing homosexuality from being acceptable is the nearly the only idea of being biblical.

I've often denounced "the evangelical cult of the nuclear family" in conversation, and when a blogger's addition to the discussion of premarital sexuality (on "waiting for marriage") set me off, I got assigned to write a personal piece on the subject of singleness in the church. (To the blogger: a healthy, well-adjusted, happy single Christian woman in her 50s who hasn't had sex isn't "waiting for marriage." That perspective is a recipe for bitterness, self-hatred, and misanthropy.) We need a better way to talk about living pure and chaste lives -- and to acknowledge that standards still apply after marriage. The evangelical world has so few resources for thinking theologically about singleness (and, aggravatingly, every book I found ended up with the author married by the end), that I started reading books on nuns and was inspired and challenged by the women I met. 
The article was hanging over my head for quite a while. It was ironic that by the time I finished the article, I'd done so much thinking and reading and mulling over singleness and the church that I'd stewed myself into a rather dissatisfied place -- which made my "healthy, well-adjusted single person" persona feel a little disingenuous.

But that didn't stop me from having something to say! There were so many things I'd've loved to rant about in the article, but I had to keep it focussed on what I'm convinced is the main point: people in the church all need each other to help us be followers of Jesus. Full stop.

However, I still want to get these things off my chest -- in a forum where I'm less likely to get in trouble, because, let's be honest; the whole world CAN read this blog, but in reality, if 2 or 3 are reading anything regularly, I'll call that an audience. In my article, I tried to keep my comments generic genderwise. Many of these comments here spring from the particular frustrations of being a single woman in ministry.
  • I wanted to say that I’m not a second-class citizen, a social failure, not-a-real-adult, or incapable just because I’m single. (Most days I believe this, though I have little conviction about the second one.) Please don't think single women are fit only for children's ministry, or the worship band; spiritual gifts are connected to our membership in the family of God, not the acquisition of a husband and children.
  • I wanted to rail against strict "accountability rules" for males in ministry that practically forbid talking to women. These are disgraceful and false. They teach that we’re incapable of being anything more than weak, unprincipled, and lust-driven people and we daren't even try to rise above our baser instincts, only repress them and run from any possibility of temptation. One pastor's personal guidelines for safeguarding his ministry were making the rounds of Facebook reposts; I was appalled to read that he's so careful not to give undue attention to a woman when he's counselling a couple that he often doesn't recognize her if he meets her outside the session because he never actually looked at her face. This is not healthy. I begin to sputter and turn incoherent with indignation at the suggestion that a man and a woman couldn't work together or even be friends. (I won't even start on the hypocrisy that calls Islam oppressive when Christians hold standards like this.) The disciples get most of the ink, but the Gospels reveal that Jesus had a whole group of female friends as well.
  • Speaking of friends, I'd like to urge women to allow me be friends with their husbands too. Please don't assume I'm trying to mate-poach. Sometimes I need to hear perspectives from the opposite gender. (I say this on behalf of other women who I know lack for male companionship. I'm extremely grateful that the husband of one of my close girlfriends has also become a good friend; I'm so enriched by his perspective and encouragement.) I don't agree with Harry's famous statement in When Harry Met Sally that men and women can't be friends without the sex getting in the way. That said, I don't think it's wise to consider your "best friend" someone of the opposite gender who is not your spouse. 
People-who-are-not-in-an-exclusive-relationship-with-a-special- individual-to-whom-they-are-attracted don’t need to be singled out. Though I love to talk with other single people because we understand each other's particular joys and challenges, I don’t want to be segregated into some singles group at church as though I’m incapable of talking to or learning from someone who’s married. Just because I don't have a spouse or children doesn't mean I'm incapable of appreciating the perspectives, joys, and challenges or those who do; in fact, I need to hear them to help me be a more balanced and compassionate individual.
Which brings me back to the point I made in my article. I’m really convinced that the most healthy thing the church can do for singles and married people is to stop making it about singles and married people and start marking it about discipleship for all members of the family of Christ.