Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Between Solitude And Isolation" by Rev. Jessica Purple Rodela

Between Solitude and Isolation
by Rev. Jessica Purple Rodela
Preachment:  First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo
19 February 2012

This sermon was largely inspired by Emily White's book:  "Lonely;  Learning To Live With Solitude."

Years ago, thanks to the combined circumstance of a family illness, leaving the workplace to telecommute from home, and yet another move to yet another town, I cultivated a habit of isolation.  Though it would be hard for those who know me now to understand, there were a few years when it was not unusual for me to go weeks without having any conversation outside of my tiny family unit of husband and son, except for niceties with the mailman or the grocery store clerk.  Isolation breeds on itself, so the more I was alone, the more I craved aloneness, the more normal it seemed, and the more stressful it felt to ‘deal’ with other people.  I became more morose, more depressed, more withdrawn.  And the more withdrawn I became, the more stressful any interaction with others became, and the less inclined to seek out company.  It is what author Emily White describes as a situation of “emotional anorexia” (White 295)[1].

It is easy, from my current perspective, to look back and see the pattern as it evolved, to understand how, when I started working from home, I lost my social connections at work; I was living in a conservative area, so I had little in common with my neighbours; my family of origin and friends lived far away; the nearest Unitarian congregation presented transportation problems.  Over time, I’d become disconnected.  And the ironic result of disconnection is that to survive it, one becomes accustomed to it, even craving it.  It took, not a wake-up call, but a near wake-up FALL to change my life. 

One day, with my son and husband away from home, I climbed atop a tall ladder to do some household chore.  Perched precariously at its top rung (the step above the one that says, do not climb higher), the ladder suddenly tilted to the right and I lost my footing.  I scrambled to the left, grabbing a curtain rod on the wall and barely righted myself, setting the ladder back on its legs, and my own wobbly legs firmly beneath me, and retreated to the “topmost” rung of safety.  My heart pounded in my chest and I breathed deeply.   I reflected that with my family gone for the week, and in my state of isolation, had I fallen, there would be no one – no one – who would know I was lying in need at the foot of a fallen ladder.  No neighbour would know to look for me, I had no appointments; I expected no callers.  I would not be missed.

It frightened me enough, that I shortly thereafter took the risk of volunteering for our housing community board.  I needed to start belonging somewhere.  I confess . . . I hated it at first.  I hated the drama; I hated the personal politics; I sometimes resented the interruption of the obligations I’d volunteered for.  But I also started coming back to life in a new and curious way.  It was the beginning of a new life, of finding a balance in my life between the tension of the habit of isolation and the choice of solitude. 

I am someone who seeks solitude in larger doses than most.  My tolerance for aloneness is high, a longtime habit of a childhood spent in dark corners and in little self-made caves under desks and in closet corners where I would read books and write my little stories.  Solitude serves me well still as a writer.  I relish the quiet of my empty apartment.  I do not crave constant companionship.  Alone, I can hear the whisper of my soul, singing me into being.  Alone, I can fully feel my breathing, listen to my heartbeat, and learn the yearnings of my potential.  Alone, I can let go of all pretension, role, and expectation.  Alone, I can be truly spontaneous.   Alone, I notice insights that otherwise dissipate amidst the noise of others – not just noisy others, but the noise in my own head, when I am around others, because there is a constant awareness and filter I apply to accommodate people nearby.  Alone, wandering through a park or a museum, I can commune with creativity itself.  I don’t have to censor my reactions, scripted toward someone else’s acceptance or crafted for their approval.  Solitude is the site of spiritual awakening and awareness.  It is a spiritual practice, which I carefully guard  because it is only in solitude can I forge truly original ideas.  So, I welcome time alone.  I am solicitous of solitude. 

But solitude has its limits.  It requires balance.    As humans, we are biologically hardwired to be communal creatures (White 227).  We must balance our alone time by time spent among others. To not do so, or to be bereft of company leads to isolation.  Isolation breeds loneliness.

An article in “Psychology Today”[2] draws a clear distinction between solitude and isolation.   “Solitude [as] the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company. . . . Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.  Loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.  Solitude is something you choose.  . . . It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. . .  [In short, ]  Solitude restores body and mind. Lonelinesss depletes them.”  Or , as theologian Paul Tillich wrote: “Language . . . has created the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone.”

Writer Emily White chose to engage with her own chronic loneliness with curiosity.  She explores her own journey and learnings in her book Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude where she draws a distinction between social loneliness and emotional loneliness (White 170-1).  Social loneliness may be experienced by people who may have a family at home, but lack a broader social network – friends or colleagues, neighbours or networks.  Emotional loneliness is experienced by many single people.  They may have many friends, but no intimate relationships.  This explains how a person might still feel lonely, even having some connections, but not of both types.  And this is where it gets hard for lonely people to safely name and explore their feelings. 

Loneliness sounds damning, and even accusatory as a diagnosis.  To admit to a family or friend that you are lonely seems insulting to them, and is often misunderstood and negated.   The result is that it gets conflated with depression  (White 259).  There are those who have a harder time accepting or experiencing connection for reasons we do not understand.   There is, of course, situational loneliness -- a break up, a death, a move -- that create a temporal sense of loneliness as an appropriate response to losing one’s accustomed network or intimacies.  But there is also the trait of loneliness,  a loneliness that some are born with, inclined to, or learned from an early instability in childhood relationships.  And this is much harder to cope with, combat, or understand (White 181).  One researcher writes “Loneliness[3] occurs on two conditions. The first, a person must feel rejected or excluded by others, the second is that the rejected or excluded person wants to be accepted or included.  Loneliness is a state of alienation that is “deeply rooted in permanence.”” 

Another aspect of loneliness is its subjective or objective reality (White 186).  A person’s loneliness may be fueled by isolation, either chosen or imposed.  But it is also possible to feel lonely in a roomful of people, or with one’s own family.   Both are intensified by circumstances of our modern life. 

Today we live more disjointed lives, even as technology has created more ways to virtually connect, the actual physical connective tissue of person-to-person has disintegrated.  “Between 1960 and 1980, the number of people living alone soared (White 186).  The isolation has fueled loneliness to a near-epidemic. 

Consider the statistics, since the 1970’s the average time spent at work in the course of a year has increased by a full month’s worth of work hours – in other words, we are working 13 month’s of work hours in a 12 month year now (W 213); today one quarter of Canadian household are composed of a single individual, similar to the United States, and in the UK, 32% of households are people living alone.  It’s a huge jump from prior generations (W 216). 

Those of us living alone have sometimes called ourselves a ‘family of one’ . . . but it’s ingenuous, isn’t it, when the word ‘family’ means ‘more than one.’ I may be enough, but I alone do not constitute a family.  What reality are we hiding from?   Living alone does indicate a degree of isolation, but is not necessarily equated to loneliness.  However, a social survey from the US which I’ve cited before indicates that isolation is on the rise, too.  When asked how many people a person might talk to about important matters – a way of measuring intimacy – in 1985, most people could name 3 confidantes in their lives.  But by 2004, the same survey revealed the average number of confidantes was close to zero.  In fact, 25%  had no one with whom they could confide.  No one.  And nearly 20% could count only one confidante.  As a culture, we are becoming lonelier (White 232), and ironically, at a time communications technology has exploded and expounded the number of virtual ‘friends’ you might find on the internet or via email, Facebook, or the Twitterverse.  While these connections can serve as a lifebuoy to the lonely, they are no substitute for physical connection.  Author Emily White explains these internet relationships as “absent presences.”  She writes:  “Someone might say that they’re a part of your life if they email you, or if you can read about them on MySpace, but this is a long way from having someone literally on hand.  To state the obvious:  you can’t cry on a digital shoulder, you can’t hold a digital hand, you can’t take comfort in a presence that isn’t actually there.  As humans, we’re hardwired to seek a sense of togetherness and community . . . . If you’re staring down a lion, what you need are other people on hand with tranquilizer guns.  The fact that someone might be sending encouragements on their BlackBerry doesn’t really cut it.”  (White 233). 

In the few studies of loneliness conducted by researchers, it is identified as a serious public health issue.  Loneliness is bad for your health.  Two different studies of mortality rates and loneliness have shown that, in these limited test cases, that ‘the lonely were more likely to have died than the nonlonely.  The ratio was 2 to 1!  (White 96-98).  So, right along with other efforts to recommend to the public that we stop smoking, exercise more, and eat a balanced diet --  these researchers also strongly urge that we find ways to get connected to others (White 98) in order to lead a long and healthy life.  Despite the studies, loneliness is usually relegated to a self-proscribed circumstance rather than recognized as an actual problem or propensity. 

Standing against the social trend of disconnection and virtual relationships, is the time-honoured tradition of gathering as a congregation.  Consenting to be together, here on a Sunday morning, in the fellowship hall sharing a cup of coffee, and in our classes and events, in our playgroups and pub nights.   Gathering as a congregation is one way we combat the very real issue of this disjointed and disconnected society at large.  You heard me, I just named the congregation as a cure for isolation.   Church is good for your health!  Understand, and some of you know, there is no lonelier place than a crowded fellowship hall during coffee hour where you know no one.  But in this community of people, there are also opportunities to connect in classes and volunteer spaces to get to know people.  And it is especially important for those of us who are a ‘family of one’ to seek out connections actively, to put ourselves in the flow of activity so that we have a balance of time with others.  Time with others helps balance other stress in our lives; it serves as a reality check; it helps to mirror our own behaviour, and it helps give us fuel on which to reflect on a wider aspect of the world than our own single brains can conceive.  Every experience expands our own understanding.  Others help us grow.   

And the work of a congregation is a two-way street of belongingness and welcoming.  New studies about why the next generation of congregants are arriving at our door is that they are looking for connection – the hope for friendships.  People do not join a church because of its theology.  They do not join us because of our history.  They join because there are other people here with whom  they hope to forge connections, share their values, and live their faith.  People come to church for conversation not conversion.

And connection need not mean busy-ness.  There are also opportunities here to encourage a soulful solitude – at meditation and other spiritual practice classes, and even in the anonymity of a crowded Sunday morning, where you might sit in a pew and pause in your busy lives to simply BE as one, in company of others, for reflection.  A congregation is one of the few places left in our communities where multiple generations gather and work and process together.  Here you will meet a mix of people from different perspectives, from different backgrounds, and from different beliefs.  For those wanting to find connections, I urge you to sign up for a class or attend one of our other, smaller events.  The best way to meet people is still to volunteer to work downstairs in the classrooms, the kitchen, the AV equipment, or as a worship associate.  It is a way to be known, to practice a voice.  Take the risk of relationship, and put yourself in the flow of things.  And for those more comfortable with being outgoing, take a chance to greet a stranger, and for goodness sakes, get out and go have lunch with someone new.  Start a conversation, and connect.  Really connect. 

In closing, I cite a historical precedent.  Remember, that one of our most famous Unitarians, Henry David Thoreau, who waxed philosophical about his blessed solitude ‘on Walden Pond,’ still often walked to town in that otherwise lonely year to have dinner with his friend and Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson and his wife to converse about the value of selective solitude.  May it be so for all of us, that we find balance in the company of self and others.

[1] This sermon was largely inspired and informed by Emily White’s book Lonely:  Learning to Live with Solitude.  Toronto:  McClelland & Stewart Ltd.  2010. 

[3] Rubin Gotesky: ‘Aloneness, Loneliness, Isolation, Solitude’ November 30, 2007 by vconlon accessed at http://erlebnis.wordpress.com/2007/11/30/r-gotesky-aloneness-loneliness-isolation-solitude/

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Introduction To Inclusive & Progressive Christianity

Some of you might wonder "What the heck is Mark talking about when he talks about inclusive or progressive Christianity? How can he see Christianity in a non-fundamentalist, literal-Bible way?" This video is a great starting point.

In Praise Of Sadness

Everyone wants to be happy. But the tough times are worthwhile, too.

by: Hugh Mackay

From the January 2012 edition of Readers Digest Canada

We seem to have become afraid of sadness. There’s been so much emphasis on happiness, positive thinking and invincible self-esteem; we are in danger of forgetting that an important part of being a complete person is learning to handle the tough stuff as well.

Obviously, positive emotions are more enjoyable, but it’s perfectly normal to be engulfed by waves of grief and stymied by feelings of despair. All those emotions have something to teach us about ourselves, and without them we’d never know what happiness is.

But it all depends on what we mean by “happiness,” so let’s start at the beginning. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the ideal was the life of eudaimonia – a word usually translated as “happiness.” But Aristotle was not talking about a life of sensory pleasure, nor was he endorsing a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are.

His idea of happiness comes much closer to our word ‘wholeness’. For Aristotle, eudaimonia was about living accordance with reason; fulfilling our sense of purpose; doing our civic duty; living virtuously; being fully engaged with the world; and, especially, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship.

The richness of human love and friendship? Everyone knows that’s no bed of roses. Personal relationships can bring us our deepest satisfactions and make an immense contribution to our sense of wholeness, but they are essentially messy, unpredictable and, frequently, our greatest source of disappointment. And that is precisely why they have so much to teach us.

When we’re dejected or miserable, we may feel as though life is unkind or unfair. So it’s easy to see why, at such times, we might regard happiness as a suitable goal for our lives or perhaps the “natural” state to be in. But that would ignore an important truth about the experience of being human: Sadness is as authentic an emotion as happiness. Moments of bliss and joy, and the deeper sense of contentment that occasionally envelops us, only makes sense because they represent such a contrast with our experiences of disappointment, suffering or sadness or even with those times when we feel trapped in a dull routine.

When I hear parents say, “I only want my children to be happy,” I’m always tempted to ask: “Is that all you want for them? Do you really want them to be as emotionally deprived as that? Don’t you want them to learn how to cope with disappointment, failure and unfairness?”

When individuals experience sudden and dramatic change – divorce, bereavement, loss of employment, life-threatening illness – their anxiety levels rise and they typically report feelings of stress and even occasional panic. When the changes are society-wide, we get the same reactions on a large scale: an epidemic of anxiety and general sense of insecurity.

Considering the upheavals that have been reshaping Western society, it’s no wonder we’re a bit shell-shocked: We’ve reinvented the institution of marriage (and abandoned it in droves); transformed the nature of family life; sent the birth rate tumbling to an all-time low; shrunk our households; felt the tremors of international economic crises; widened the gulf between wealth and poverty; and rewritten labour-market statistics (especially those involving female participation and part-time work).

We have been swept up in the information and communication technology revolution that has transformed the way we live and work and redefined notions of privacy and identity, especially among the young.
As predicted 40 years ago by Alvin Toffler in his prescient book, Future Shock, all these disruptions to our way of life have not only increased our level of anxiety (and boosted our consumption of tranquilizers), but they have also induced a nagging sense of powerlessness and loss of control. There’s a real danger that we might only make things worse if we put too much emphasis on positive thinking and not enough on the process of living courageously, kindly and even nobly in the face of all this change.

I fear that even happiness might be taking on a new meaning in response to our desire for control: We’re in danger of treating happiness as a symptom or a sign that we’re in control, which means that, by contrast, sadness would be a sign that we’re not – as if we can choose to be either happy or sad.

Thinking positively is better than thinking negatively. But thinking realistically has even more to comment it, and being realistic acknowledges that the richness of life lies in the interplay between light and shade.

“Cheer up!” we say to each other, but why should we try to induce a chirpy emotional state in someone who is passing through the shadows or dealing with loss or disappointment? I’m with Marcel Proust on this: “We are healed of suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”

Most people report that their really significant personal growth and development has come from pain and suffering, not from pleasure. So when we need to be sad, it’s a mistake to rush the process of dealing with the sadness, our disappointment or our distress. Happiness usually visits us in quick bursts, but the darker emotions need time to do their work.

For more articles to do with mental illness, visit/join my new Facebook Group - "It's My Turn."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TransTalk: Perspectives On Life From A Gender Outlaw

Meet my close friend Wes Austin. In this video, he delivers a lecture at the University of Waterloo on February 6th on being a transgender man. This lecture was extremely informative for me, and is delivered with absolute honesty and a touch of humour. Thanks Wes!

Little Bean

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"It's My Turn" To Talk About Mental Illness

"It's My Turn." A new movement to reduce the stigma and fear surrounding mental illness.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day 2012: Near, Far, Wherever You Are - Mark Andrew's Thoughts

Yes, I am going to utter those 3 blissful, or dreadful words, depending on who you are. Happy Valentines Day.

Myself, I celebrated early, last night to be exact when I checked my mail and my Mom had sent me a chocolate bar. I'm 33, my Mom still does stuff like that, and I love it. The only time it backfired was one Easter several years back when she bubble-wrapped a rabbit and sent it to me; a quick funeral was held.

I found it hilarious that I had an appointment with my psychiatrist scheduled for this morning. My friend Ethan asked me if she was hot, and I guess he is - in a balding, middle-aged, middle-eastern kind of way. He's great though. I confided in him that I thought I lived in my head too much. He said "Well what we have to do is get your heart on," and referred me to another therapist. Great guy.

I am actually writing this note on paper since my computer is having issues, which works out nicely so that I don't have to read all of the status updates of my friends who are in relationships, leaving wall-posts, etc for their little snookems.

But let's move on.

When I think about love and relationships, I am influenced a lot by the author Henri Nouwen. Nouwen, who suffered immensely do to the conclusion of a special relationship in his life, speaks of having too high expectations of the other person in the relationship. He says essentially that we buy into the Hollywood fantasy, that 2 people meet, fall in love, complete each other, and live in bliss.

But as  you know, this isn't always the case. No matter how much we may love someone, we still need nights out with the guys, or Zumba nights with the girls (as an aside, I've seen women doing Zumba before, and am convinced that it's just Tai Chi on uppers.)

Nouwen says that when we expect another person to complete us, we get angry and bitter when we realize that no one person can do that.

I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. How much better it is to love someone because we actually appreciate who they are, rather than because we need them to fill some gaping hole in our lives. When we demand the latter, we no longer love someone just for who they are, but we love them out of a desperate need within us. Our giving and taking can look more like violence, Nouwen says - even if it isn't physical violence.

But is a certain amount of need wrong in a relationship? A certain amount of dependency? Henri Nouwen was a priest. I'm just some dude sitting in a café with wants, desires, thoughts, etc.

Your thoughts?

Mark Andrew

Monday, February 13, 2012

Welfare Bums

Oh Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. 

It's a love/hate relationship some days. Especially when I scan my News Feed and come across something like this.  I could barely believe this when I saw it, and had to read it 2 or 3 times before I realized it said what it actually said.

I commented on the post, saying that while yes, there are most likely people who take advantage of government assistance, there are many many others who need to rely on it, sometimes for awhile.  

I used myself as an example. When I stopped working due to health reasons in the summer of 2010, I eventually went onto Ontario Works (my province's name for welfare). Did I want to do this? No. But was I healthy enough to go out and procure another job? Absolutely not.  Do many people receive welfare because they love not being able to work? My guess is that the number is far fewer than people realize. 

People who love sayings such as "I work hard so millions on welfare don't have to" have probably seen their neighbours - who are on welfare - buying an ice-cream cone for their kids or perhaps having to buy a new vehicle. This brings them to think, "Oh My God! They don't really need welfare! Why on earth am I getting up at 5:30 in the morning and working my ass off while John and Susan are eating ice-cream and driving a new car! (My guess is that it isn't a Rolls Royce.)

Maybe they should think twice before posting things like this, because although there may be comments explaining their reasoning below the posted picture on Facebook, this one is very overt and has a "Fuck you" feel to it.

Don't know what to get that welfare bum for their birthday? Try this! (there are also mugs, water bottles, t-shirts, and bumper stickers.)  

I'm sorry you hate your job, but making those who are on welfare feel like shit because they either just lost their job, can't find a job, or are ill is pretty low.

There's a bitterness here, and there's no need to spread it.

Mark Andrew Alward

Live Fully, Love Wastefully, Be All That You Can Be

"The whole purpose of the Christ, the whole purpose of the Church, is to build a world where everyone in that world has a better opportunity to live fully, to love wastefully, and to be all that they can be in the infinite variety of our humanity. People of every race and of every ethnic origin, male and female, gay and straight, transgender, bisexual, left-handed, right-handed, ALL the varieties of our humanity. The job of the Church is not to tell someone what they must be to satisfy our emotional needs. The job of the church is to free everybody and to love everybody into being all that they can be. That's the message of the gospel. 'I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly' and 'By this shall people know that you are my disciples - that you love one another.' There are no exceptions. Jesus did not say, "Come unto me, some of ye.' He said, "Come unto me, ALL of ye." 

~ Bishop John Shelby Spong (Ret.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Changes Within The Bible: A Lecture By John Shelby Spong

Clinging To God In Solitude

"When we enter into solitude to be with God alone, we quickly discover how dependent we are. Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies. Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, and significant. Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure ourselves that we are "somebodies." But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is not other people's responses to us but God's eternal love for us. To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude as to the One who makes us who we are."
~Henri Nouwen

Friday, February 10, 2012

When Death Takes Off Our Masks

‎"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. This world is a form; our bodies are forms, and no visible acts of devotion can be without forms. But yet the less form in religion the better, since God is a Spirit; for the more mental our worship, the more adequate to the nature of God; the more silent, the more suitable to the language of a Spirit." 

~ William Penn, 1693 - Quaker (Religious Society of Friends)

On Diversity, Inclusion, & Bishop John Shelby Spong

Today I am thankful for diversity and inclusion. And for whenever I can find a good steal at a used bookstore. Today in downtown Kitchener, I picked up an autobiography, Here I Stand: My Struggle For A Christianity Of Integrity, Love & Equality, by Bishop John Shelby Spong. I have read 2 of his many books - Why Christianity Must Change Or Die (1999), and A New Christianity For A New World (2002). It'll be quite exhilarating to hear of his faith journey and the encounters and obstacles he's met along the way. Here is some of the "fan mail" that Bishop Song has received:

"Your words are not just heresy, they are apostasy. Burning you at the stake would be too kind!" - Pittsburg, PA

"Your book was like manna from heaven - God-sent! I cannot adequately express my gratitude." - Richmond, VA

"Bishop Spong, you are full of shit. We are going to clean you up."

"Reading your book is like eating a delicious Black Forest cherry birthday cake. It has made me vulnerable while increasing my desire to worship." - British Columbia, Canada

...and my personal favourite:

"You rail against the Church's doctrines and core beliefs while you accept wages from her. Even whores appreciate their clients. You sir, have less integrity than a whore!" - Selma, Alabama

Interested in reading a book by someone who encourages some people and drives other people to threaten his very life?  I suggest the two books I mentioned above, and that are pictured below.

John Shelby Spong is now 80 years old. His most recent book is from 2011, entitled  Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World.

Beth Nielsen Chapman - "How We Love"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Jesus Junk"

Do you ever find yourself scrolling through your Facebook News Feed and come across something that makes you really angry and kind of makes you laugh a little all at the same time? Here's what I scrolled upon 2 minutes ago:

Have you ever heard of the term "Jesus Junk?" Jesus Junk is a term used by Christians and non-Christians alike for tacky merchandising with Christian slogans or Bible verses on them. You know what I'm talking about. The "Turn or Burn" t-shirts, the Jesus bobble-head dolls,  the golf balls with crosses on them. I used to collect some of the stuff when I was growing up; guilty as charged. Now, I'm not railing against all Jesus Junk. If someone is excited and proud of something and wants others to know about it too, they want to put the message out there.  But "Bill Gaither-inspired tea bags?" "Believe in God Breathspray?" "JesUSAvior t-shirts?" Ya, read that one again (we all know that Jesus was an affluent, white American!)

At some point, especially when it comes to religion, this sort of stuff cheapens faith in the eyes of many. And now Jesus Junk has reached the Facebook & Twitter age.

Honestly, do you really think that someone is going to read that Facebook Photo above, and say "Oh My! I better re-post this right away or God might think I don't love him!" ....The sad part....some people will think that - primarily younger Christians. The even sadder part is that the majority of the people who see that photo and are non-Christians will think "Wow, this is another example of just how ridiculous Christianity is."  The people who post this sort of stuff and produce Jesus Junk should stop for a minute, even 30 seconds, and ask themselves, "Is this really going to make someone think more seriously about Jesus and his important teachings?"  And I'm not just saying this as a "jaded former fundamentalist Christian." CCM Magazine, the former major publication concerning Contemporary Christian Music, once published a whole article on this stuff and many, many Christians find it ridiculous too.  

All of a sudden an image comes to mind of Jesus walking into a Christian bookstore and, as he did in the Jerusalem temple, start angrily overturning tables.  

He might take a Jesus Christ nite-lite back with him as a memento, though.

Make sure that you check out jesusjunk.com. God wants you to.

Mark Andrew Alward

What Is Christianity All About?

I watched this video tonight of one of my favourite progressive Christian authors, Marcus J. Borg. I had the privilege of hearing him speak in London, Ontario several years ago, and I highly recommend his books, including "The Heart of Christianity," and "The God We Never Knew."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Love Is The Doctrine Of This Church

Affirmation used during every service @ First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo (Ontario)

When Rainbows Fade: Honouring Sexual Diversity

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of attending the service at First Unitarian Congregation. The theme was embracing the LGBTQ community and standing up against bullying. Rev. Jessica Purple Rodela gave an impassioned sermon. Here it is. Please share with your friends if you find it powerful as well:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Go Ahead And Smell Your Shit

Lately I've been thinking again about the importance of being honest with your feelings, including the so-called negative ones. Sometimes we can be in situations where it is expected of us - either stated or covertly implied - to have a smile on our face, to be cheery, to always look on the sunny side of life. In these situations, or when in the company of certain people, feelings like anger, sadness, loneliness and fear are not permitted. And if you do display one or more of these feelings, there is a problem with you. Sometimes we learn not to show these feelings from a very early age, and sometimes there are certain religious settings where everyone is so nice it's like everyone is on a tranquilizer.

And you know what? Sometimes it is necessary to "pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off." Sometimes we are not in a safe place or with safe people to express our "darker" emotions. And of course I'm not advocating that we go around shouting at everyone 7 days a week.

But I believe those darker emotions must be felt, and that they can even be a teacher.

Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun speaks of this in her book When Things Fall Apart.
"Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can't simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what's going on, but that there's something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world. Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That's the compassionate thing to do. That's the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape? We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, and embarrassment (and I would add anger, sadness, and fear) and not believe there's something wrong with that. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better "me" who one day will emerge. We can't just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It's better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises."
Sometimes being real with our closest friend(s) does the job. Other times our sadness becomes major depression, our anger becomes rage, and we need a skilled therapist to guide us through our feelings.

I guess my message today is that it's okay to feel these things. It's part of this life, and if we stop running away from these feelings, we may just learn something and we'll be the better for it.

Love and peace to today...unless you're having a
really shitty day. ;)

Did You Believe That I Loved You, That I Longed For You?

Former Franciscan priest and author Brennan Manning, who's works include Abba's Child, The Signature of Jesus, and The Ragamuffin Gospel. You are immensely Loved.

VIDEO: "God Loves Everyone" by Jay Moore & Mark Andrew Alward

My close friend Jay Moore & I are performing this Ron Sexsmith song at First Unitarian Congregation Of Waterloo on Sunday, February 5th, 2012.