Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Christmas Greetings From The Heretic

Sunday, December 22, 2013
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada

It has been a couple of years since I have sat down to type out a Christmas letter or blog, and when I do, I usually will have written it out first and tweaked it before publishing it. But let's do things differently this year - a stream-of-consciousness, off-the-cuff post of what's currently on my mind.

I am quite aware all year round that I am a heretic, but perhaps there's no other time in the year when I feel it so strongly.

Heretic (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary):

  • a dissenter from established religious dogma;
  • one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.

I have taken on the label rather proudly, though once in awhile it kind of stings. 

I was a "safe" Christian for twenty-some-odd years of my years. I was raised Brethren In Christ, and I also tried out the Evangelical Missionary Church. When I chose to move away to go to an evangelical fundamentalist Bible college, I tried out many other denominations, including Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, and again the Brethren In Christ. It wasn't until near the end of my third year of Bible college that I realized that I no longer believed in some of the fundamentals such as the existence of Hell, or that Jesus Christ was the only way to a heavenly afterlife, and then I went through a few years in the wilderness before I sought out religious community again. I came across a vibrant Unitarian congregation in Waterloo, Ontario, then spent time with a very loving Unity congregation in Kitchener, and then went back to the Unitarians. It was pointed out to me by more than a few people how much I had strayed from the truth by aligning myself with people from Unity or the Unitarians; they were cults or just plain wrong religions. Recently I have moved and it seems I am settling in with the local Quaker community, which is ironic seeing as it is perhaps the most "Christian" out of all the communities I've been a part of for the last several years.

This is what I find unfortunate about religion this time of the year (okay okay, quite a bit of it still angers me). What angers me is that for many evangelical fundamentalist Christians, either you believe what they believe about Jesus and are in the good books and therefore Jesus can mean something to you at this time of you, or else, well, you don't and Jesus can't mean anything to you this time of the year. Many - not all - evangelical fundamentalists have put such a monopoly on what Christmas and the birth of Christ really means, that there is no room in the inn - or stable - for anyone else. And it isn't just nonbelievers in salvation such as myself that are on the naughty list. What about Catholics (though this may be changing because of the great new humble Pope - and I mean that), or the Eastern Orthodox Christians, or for liberal, non-fundamentalist churches that find their spiritual meaning through Christianity, just not the evangelical fundamentalist way?

Christmas is a bizarre hodge-podge of the pagan and the religious as it is. Gift-giving, the Christmas tree, the commercialization that even the "right" Christians take part in - surely they weren't part of the original birth story. And that's just Christmas; there's so much in our celebration of Easter, the Christian high holiday, that is absolutely pagan, yet very few seem to have a problem with that. We do it for the children we say. Or out of tradition. 

Then there's Christmas and the Bible itself. We seem to believe that the Magi came to the stable as led by a star and presented their gifts to the baby. Not according to one testament, when the Magi came to the house where the child Jesus was. And who did the angel appear to first? Mary or Joseph? OR is almost the entire story a myth. Now now, don't go thinking that I equate a myth with being false; not at all. A myth or legend can say more to us sometimes than an actual literal account of an event. 

I often hear that "you just have to believe what the Bible says word for word, or else you don't believe it at all." Nothing could be farther from the truth. For one thing, if I believed everything in the Bible, I'd worship a God who commanded Israelites to smite their enemies, including bashing their children's heads against the rocks. I would believe that slavery and the subjugation of women were perfectly fine (and that's in the NEW testament.) And when it comes to Christmas, we really don't have an eyewitness account of what happened at the the time of the birth of Jesus. The gospel writers didn't write their testaments until decades after the event. One author emphasized how Jesus was the awaited Messiah (presumably because that's who he wanted him to be), while another author emphasized Jesus was the Son of God (presumably because Caesar was often called the Son of God and the author wanted to say that Jesus had just as much or more authority than Caesar). 

Head spinning yet?

There is not one clear-cut eyewitness account of what happened at the birth of Jesus, or even what happened during his life or at his death or supposed resurrection. So do fundamentalist evangelical Christians have the sole God-given right to say who is right and who is wrong when it comes to Jesus Christ? No way. Each person, whether Christian (whichever version), Jew, Muslim, atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, etc, can take what they may from what we read about Jesus.

So on this Christmas 2013, what does Christmas mean to me? Well, it means time with family, good food, A Christmas Carol, Holiday Inn, It's A Wonderful Life. But what does the birth of Jesus and the life of Jesus mean to me; who does Jesus challenge me to be? Jesus challenges me to be a person of inclusion, someone who identifies with the poor, the outsider, the down-trodden. Jesus challenges me to be more humble (the genuine kind, not the fake kind), and he challenges me to fight against corporate greed and corrupt governments.

This Christmas there may still be many out there who think I have no right to claim a part of Jesus as my own. But on Christmas Eve, I will walk into a Christian church, sit in a pew, and bow my head in reverence for the little child who causes so many of us to think big thoughts and want to be better people.

Merry Christmas,

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Embracing The Wounded

We can look to our higher angels or stoop to our lowest demons in any situation. At my best I am a a good listener, compassionate and empathetic. At my worst I am extremely judgmental, prejudiced, and even racist.

One of the things about living in a much smaller town now is that people with mental or developmental disabilities are much more noticeable. Walking down the street, in the mall food court, at the doctors office, etc. I don't know how to explain it, because in larger cities they are everywhere - they're sitting or laying along Main Street. They're just easier to ignore I guess. But in these cavernous malls with more vacant stores than shops, it's hard to not stop and look or listen.

And then marginalize. Because there's no way that I cold be like there. God no.

Obviously a shift in attitude, even a change of heart is needed. Because what is needed is not merely keeping my prejudice well hidden or toleration, but a full embrace of these women and men who might not dress well, speak eloquently, or even smell well.

Why are we - why am I - so threatened by those who are more obviously different from "regular society" than the rest of us?

It is because we are them.

If you are like me and believe in the unity of all things and particularly the unity of all people, we are the successful banker, we are the talented singer, and yes, we are the stuttering, smelly, and awkward homeless beggar whose mother drank heavily during her pregnancy.

The other night I was in the emergency department of the local hospital to get a refill for a prescription for a mental illness that I deal with (one that's not as noticeable as many are), and in the next curtain was a young man probably ten years younger than I who had also just moved to this town or was visiting. I could soon tell that he also had psychiatric conditions - they were just more obvious than mine. Yet I couldn't wait for him to be dealt with and shipped off by a cab to his temporary bed for the night.

I think a lot of this prejudice comes from our fear of our own weakness. We put walls up around our weaknesses, fortifying ourselves against the outside world  because like everyone else, we're afraid of being hurt or shunned. However, perhaps it is is the case that we can not, we dare not reach our greatness until we stoop into the gutters and not only tolerate, but embrace our weaknesses. If we can not embrace our own weakness, we will never fully accept ourselves. And if we will not accept ourselves, we can not possibly accept those who are different than us - the outcast or the ill.

Today I challenge myself to not look with disgust at my neighbours. But first, the inner work must continue.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Lover Who Is More Than We Dared Hope For

"I believe contemplation shows us that nothing inside us is as bad as our hatred and denial of the bad. Hating and denying it only complicates our problems. All of life is grist for the mill. Paula D'Arcy puts it, 'God comes to us disguised as our life.' Everything belongs; God uses everything. There are no dead-ends. There is no wasted energy. Everything is recycled. Sin history and salvation history are two sides of one coin. I believe with all my heart that the Gospel is all about the mystery of forgiveness. When you 'get' forgiveness, you get it. We use the phrase 'falling in love.' I think forgiveness is almost the same thing. It's a mystery we fall into: the mystery is God. God forgives all things for being imperfect, broken, and poor. Not only Jesus but all the great people who pray that I have met in my life say the same thing. That's the conclusion they come to. The people who know God well - the mystics, the hermits, those who risk everything to find God - always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a tyrannical mother, but always a lover who is more than we dared hope for. How different than the 'account manager' that most  people seem to worship."

~ Richard Rohr "Everything Belongs"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Letting Go And Letting God...Really?

At some points in our lives we have to let go and let (insert your chosen name for the divine or source here).

There. I said it.

Almost everyone who knows me knows my story about going from a fundamentalist conservative faith which believed that God knows everything and every outcome before it happens, and then to very little adherence to religion, and now to a more liberal religious view.

As Star Wars-like as it may sound, I believe in a Life Force that exists both around us and within us. However, I don't believe in a Supreme God who knows that a tornado is going to devastate a town or strike down a family member with an illness. This kind of God is not much short of an impotent, if not bastard-like sadistic creature (in my opinion of course).

So what, if anything, can we rely on when we face a difficult situation?

I believe this Life Force or Divine Spirit does exist and can be relied on, but that it is definitely much more about Mystery than we may be comfortable with. We'd like to say "I'm going to find the right mate in one year's time because I've prayed to God," or "My Uncle Frank is going to be healed from his fatal illness because it is 'God's will,' but we really don't know. This scares us because we want finite answers, but we just don't know. And then when our manufactured idea of God doesn't act the way we have commanded him to, we are miffed, disillusioned, or we may even abandon all religious belief.

This doesn't, however, mean that there isn't a loving safety net that is there, that is here for us, lovingly waiting to catch us during both the ecstatic and the traumatic times in our lives.

What's important, I believe, is that we take the jump, or as the Bible says, lean not on our own understanding all of the time. Our faith in Mystery cannot mature, cannot grow if we never ever use it. This may mean folding our hands in prayer, or throwing our arms up in the air and screaming at God with words we usually only hear in our minds or on an HBO series. But we must begin somewhere. We must test our faith. I encourage you to take a small step today. I'll try my best to do so as well.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Being Aware, & Resisting That Which Would Tame Us

excerpt from "The Wisdom of Wilderness" by Gerald May

"What we are missing is fullness of life. To put it simply, in concentrating on one thing at a time, we miss everything else. Going shopping, we miss the sky. Doing work, we miss the singing of birds. In conversation with one person, we ignore the presence of others. Through it all, we fail to appreciate our own precious being - the soft flow of breath, the beating of heart, the subtle beauty and wisdom of body, the sheer pristine wonder of being aware. One could say these are only aesthetic qualities, unimportant in handling the real tasks of daily life, but our handicapped awareness has serious and far-reaching practical implications as well.

Like domesticated animals, we are completely unprepared for the wild - the wild outdoors, the wild in our cities, the wild in our own psyches. In any of these places, we panic when we're lost and afraid. We frantically concentrate our attention here and there, following nonexistent tracks, unaware of a thousand clues from sky and light and smell and inner Wisdom that could tell us where to go and what to do. Feeling so divorced from the nature within and around us, we make wildness an adversary that we must tame rather than join, master rather than learn from. Wherever we find it, we feel we must force Nature into the tunnel of our own concentrated vision. That's what brings us to manage natural resources, engineer social change, strategize our child-rearing and human relationships, control our emotions, and cope with our stresses.

There are, of course, places for focused awareness. I'm happy that my airline pilot and my surgeon are able to concentrate on their checklists and technical procedures, but I hope they have plenty of contemplative presence as well. When the checklist is complete, I hope my pilot will be open to all stimuli at once, the sound of the engines, the look of the surrounding sky, the feel of the controls, simply present to everything as a whole. And I hope my surgeon will pause frequently to take a breath and sense the subtleties that don't fit into lists and procedures, to be attentive not just to the rate of my pulse and breath but to their gentle rhythms as well, and to all the sights and sounds and smells and feelings and intuitions of each precious moment. In any activity, in any setting, it is this contemplative possibility that makes the difference between simple technical correctness and truly accurate responsiveness.

My hunch is that life needs 95 percent openness and 5 percent concentration, and we have the proportions reversed. I wish we could encourage our children's natural contemplative awareness as well as their capacity to concentrate. And I wish that we adults who have been trained-away from contemplative presence could have a teacher to show us where the present moment is. All it takes is Someone or Something to point us in the right direction, and then, when we look there, we discover teachers waiting everywhere: inside trees, animals, wind, and stars, in the pristine eyes of little children, and in our own souls."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Embracing Our Woundedness

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
St. Thomas, Ontario

Have you ever, like me, been walking down the street and come across a man or woman talking to themselves? Have you ever been in the food court of a mall and seen someone whose body was so contorted by disease that they must be fed by a care-taker? Have you avoided a visitation or funeral because it's just too overwhelming?

These things, these seemingly open and viewable wounds, disturb both you and I and sometimes leave us crossing the street, finding another seat, or avoiding the open casket.

In doing so, we are doing ourselves a disservice. I believe that the major reason for our avoidance is that we have not come to terms with our own woundedness, our own brokenness. If I can project an image of strength - emotionally, mentally, and physically - then I do not have to turn inward and look at my own wounds, though they may be less obvious to the outside world than the woman with schizophrenia, the man who was severely wounded in a car wreck, or the person who has died.

Along with our yearning for love and acceptance, woundedness is the common thread that weaves its way through millions of people on our planet. But instead of turning toward it or learning to use it as an educational tool in learning who we are as creatures, we most often run directly in the other direction. We immerse ourselves in the internet and social media, we shop, we watch countless hours of TV or movies, or we just keep busy somehow, whether it's with friends, sports, or volunteering. None of these things are intrinsically negative, but when used to continuously douse our pain, they come up well short.

So if keeping busy distracting ourselves is not the answer, then what is? As frightening and raw as it may seem, stopping and doing a 180 is essential. There is the saying "The only way out is through," and that applies here. It may feel like walking through a cemetery on Hallowe'en night, but the only way to find healing for our personal wounds is to face them directly, be gentle with ourselves, and then walk up to them and examine what we have tried to avoid for days, weeks, months, or years. Perhaps it is the loss of a relationship, the loss of health, the loss of dreams we once had, or the loss of a close relative. Perhaps it is deep loneliness and depression. My spiritual mentor, the Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen, wisely wrote that we should not automatically jump head-first into the abyss of our woundedness; that's too much to handle. Instead, and often with professional help, we mend the edges of that great chasm, slowly finding healing.

Returning to what I wrote about a little earlier, we encounter other wounded people every single day - sometimes their woundedness is obvious, sometimes it is not. But our woundedness, my friends, is something that should bring us together and spawn understanding, compassion, love, and friendship, rather than alienation.

Let us make a commitment today to realize our oneness with all people, and to slowly walk through our woundedness, not around it.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Place Where We Become Human Again

I've been out of the city for about a week now, actually twin cities with a population just over 300,000. Instead, I've been spending time at my Mom's house in a town with a population of 38,000. It has been what I have needed. I can actually walk down the street without the gridlock of sight and sound and make my way spaciously through the mall.

Perhaps the thing that has been so refreshing is that I've sat here in a coffee shop at the mall the last couple of days, and people have actually smiled at me when I smile at them! It's amazing! In the city, when you come across someone on the street, they inevitably either turn their head away, or their chin becomes glued to their neck, as if you were Medusa.

If eyes are the window to the soul, it's clear these people are suspicious and don't want to let you in at all.

We do this at our own peril. Yes, there are some people who are disturbed, but you know what, I'll even go as far as to say that they deserve a friendly smile to brighten their day. We all need some connection with our fellow human beings, and what better way to start than with a smile. It says "Welcome friend, we share our humanity," rather than "Get away, you're probably a perv or a threat."

It is when we make eye contact or - shocking - even say hello that we may make new friends, perhaps our best friends. A part of either us or them or both may be healed as we realize "this person sees me on their level and may even care about me. It's been a long time since I've felt that." In today's world of video games, virtual worlds, satellite TV, and social media, so many of us have very little actual human contact.

My brothers and sisters, today we have an opportunity change all that. Maybe it starts with just one smile.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Bogeyman, The Monster, & The Ghost: Dealing With Fear

On March 4, 1933, newly elected U.S. President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, uttered the now famous words, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his inaugural speech. At the time, the United States was facing one of the worst economic crises in history and the eternally optimistic FDR was trying his best to keep the country from erupting in panic. Whether it was that statement or dozens of his innovative new approaches to kick start the economy, things began to rapidly improve soon after that speech.

Over the years I have thought about FDR's famous quote. After all, one of my diagnoses is mixed anxiety disorder (sort of like mixed nuts - which sounds apropos!) including obsessive compulsive disorder and general anxiety disorder. I have lived many if not most days of my 35 years in a state of fear. Sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes it creeps up in the afternoon, and sometimes I go to bed with it. Heck, sometimes I am scared of who I go to bed with!

But I'm thinking today, isn't fear really just a big bogeyman, the monster under the bed, the ghost in the closet? Maybe fear isn't real at all, as I've heard many people say. There is a difference between fear and danger. Danger can be real, fear is not.

I'm trying to live in the moment today as several things are up in the air in life. But from inside I hear that persistent, divine voice calling, saying to me, "Mark, why won't you let it go? It's out of your control. You can only do as much as you can do, and the rest is up to me. Let go of your fear. Do it!" I know it is easier said than done, but I believe that yes, it can be done. Sometimes we need help doing it. For me, I have anti-anxiety medication and friends and guides to help me. If there is one thing in my life that I would choose to change if someone gave me a magic wand, it would probably be that I wouldn't be so afraid all the time. It shortens our lifespan, and robs us of being in the present moment.

Speaking of being in the present moment, I am thinking again that prayer and meditation are essential ways to deal with our fear, our anxieties. Just to take some time each and every day and quiet our mind, and if we are spiritual, pray and listen to the affirming words that the Spirit is telling us. The Scriptures say that where love is, fear is not, that in fact perfect love casts out all fear. Probably my favourite verse in the Bible (1 John 4:18).

It is hard, it is dreadfully hard to trust and let go of our many fears. It is as if we are trapeze artists who have to trust that there is a net underneath of us if we fall. The Spirit is our net, and She will not let us go.

Bless you on your journey today,

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tweets & Wall Posts: Social Media's Illusion Of Intimacy

"It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought... it figures"
~ A. Morissette

Yes, I realize that the following entry will seem "a little too ironic," as I'm using social media to talk against it. But here goes.

It's amazing how much technology has advanced in, say 20 years. 20 years ago it was a novelty to send an electronic message to your cousin studying abroad (and by abroad I mean another country, not a woman, though I've studied broads frequently - okay I digress). 20 years ago we'd find ourselves logging onto message boards (BBS's), and spending hours creating basic webpages on Geocities.

Oh how far we've come in 20 years. Today if you go to the electronics store of your choice and buy an iPhone or a Samsung, chances are that in 2 weeks there will be a better model out there (and by model I mean type of phone). If you work for Blackberry, today you'll have a job, tomorrow you probably won't - ouch, my bad.

But what about social media. Today we are enamoured, no addicted to Facebook, Twitter (Facebook's cooler younger sister), Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Here are a few problems I have with social media.

1) People who use social media as catharsis. These are the people - and I've been guilty of it in the past - of practically bloodletting on their Facebook page and thus on the pages of their 624 friends news feeds. This happens when their girlfriend dumps them, or when life just sucks and somehow everyone should know about it. GUESS WHAT?! It doesn't work! It only makes you feel worse when not as many people "like" or comment on your woes, and it makes you feel pathetic.

Lesson: Save the time and call an actual friend or a therapist.

2) Meme's - This is more of a pet peeve than anything. We all see them, every single day. We scroll down our Facebook news feed and someone  has posted a cute picture of a cat or of a sublime sunset with some "inspirational" quote. Most of these are quotes that some random guy in Indonesia has come up with, though other times they are quotes from Rumi or the Dalai Llama. Regardless, they're pretty annoying.

Lesson: If you want to get inspired, GO FOR A WALK.

3) People who use social media to document Every. Single. Minutiae. of their life.
  •  We can no longer fully eat a scrumptious burger. Instead we take a pic of it while our teeth still has pickles in it.

  • We can no longer just visit a great café. Instead we have to "check into" that café online, so that Aunt Matilda in Port Bruce knows.

  • We can no longer just get together for a conversation with a close friend. Instead we must post a status update saying that we're "with" them.
4) Social media interrupts the flow of life. Ooooooh New Agey! But I think that it is the case. I think there's a reason that we are part of someone's life in Grade 3 and then we never hear from them again. I think there's a reason that we aren't "friends" with that guy from high school that beat us up but now may be perfectly nice. People enter our lives like a wave, and they leave our lives like a wave; it's only natural. And that's talking only about the people that we actually know. Some of us, myself included, have added friends or followed people that we barely know, or who we may only know through a friend of a friend of a friend.  In the last 2 months I have cut my Facebook friends list by 300 people, and it feels great; I feel like I have more mental space. Social media can lead to anxiety and mental clutter.

Now this doesn't mean that we should all convert to the Amish way of life or even disable our Facebook or Twitter accounts, but I believe there must be some balance. I also must say that there is the rare case when you do meet someone online and you end up having meaningful friendships with them. I find this to be more the rarity though.

In closing, remember when you're posting something personal to your "friends," don't expect too much intimacy in return. Seek out real faces, real smiles, real ears, real hands.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We Are The Beloved Sons And Daughters Of God

A sermon by Mark Andrew Nouwen
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Church of the Good Shepherd, Kitchener, Ontario

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Giver Of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.
Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

~ Amy Lowell

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Malala Yousafzai: This Is What A Leader Looks Like

The following is complete video of Malala Yousafzai's speech to the United Nations on July 12, 2013 on her 16th birthday. Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan in October of 2012 simply because she was a girl who was seeking an education. What an exceptional leader she continues to be.

Your Left Hip Bone

Caressing your face at the end of a long day
Feeling your hand clasped in mine as we get lost on city trails
Breathing on your neck as we curl up to watch a movie
Heart touching heart as we sit across from each other in serious conversation
Kissing your top lip under a full moon
Brushing back your hair and wiping away your tears
Laying beside you with my hand on your left hip bone 
Waking up wanting to be absolutely no place else.
Touch. I do not want to live without you.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Leading "Gay-Curing" Organization To Shut Down

Exodus International President Alan Chambers
In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Exodus International announced that it will effectively be ending its "ministry." Not only that, they apologized.

Exodus' mission since its inception in 1976 was to "proclaim freedom from homosexuality" with the purpose of curing people of their homosexuality. It was an umbrella organization which grew to include over 120 local ministries in the United States and Canada and over 150 ministries in 17 other countries including the UK, France and Australia.

For several years former pro-straight leaders have been making apologies to the gay community for their "curing" efforts. Just this past April, John Paulk, former chairman of Exodus, renounced his past involvement in the movement and expressed remorse for his actions. And years prior to 2013, other prominent "ex-gay" leaders were apologizing for their involvement in the movement:

On its website Wednesday, Exodus president Alan Chambers said this:

“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism. For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered. For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry. “This is a new season of ministry, to a new generation,” said Chambers. “Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

A little earlier in the day, Chambers, who has a wife but admits to same-sex attraction, had this to say:

"Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.

Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated.

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.  

You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.

Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing."

I personally celebrate these moves by Exodus and its leaders and pray for healing for those who have suffered because of their actions. ~ Mark Andrew Nouwen

Ex-Ex-Gay Links:


Beyond Ex-Gay

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When You Cannot Honour Thy Father Or Thy Mother

April 1989 - Smiles can conceal so much.
"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." ~ Exodus 20:12 (KJV)

There are the words, written in stone - supposedly literally. If you were to ask many Christians (or Jews for that matter) what their favourite Bible passage is, the answers would vary. But ask them what the most important passage is, and many would reply with "The Ten Commandments."

There are some difficult commandments within the ten that Moses brought down from the mountain, and throughout the Bible in general. But for some of us, "Honour they father and thy mother" is the hardest.

For instance,

  • Some have grown up without a father or a mother; we have no idea who our father or mother is,
  • Some have grown up with a practically-absentee mother or father who left the parenting to the other parent,
  • Some have grown up with an abusive father or mother. Instead of love, we experienced intense fear. Instead of security, we constantly felt insecure. Instead of guidance, we were left to figure out life for ourselves. Instead of words of encouragement and praise, we heard words that no young person should hear.
Some of us dealt with one or more of these scenarios for our entire childhoods. There was no vacation from it. If there was a good day, you knew that sooner or later it would be followed by an awful one.

We were bruised.
We were scared.
We were abandoned.
We had to grow up much too soon.

Still, there are those hefty words in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, commanding us to honour thy father and thy mother.

The too-easy Christian answer for far too long has often been "Well, you just have to forgive your Mom/Dad. And once you release that anger, treat them with love." There is also often a heavy concentration on reconciliation within Christian circles, no matter the cost it seems.

But I'm here to say that sometimes it just can't be done. By it I'm talking about reconciliation. I definitely believe that forgiveness is achievable, at least in my case. Forgiveness is often more about your own healing rather than the person who has done you wrong. Holding onto bitterness against someone for years just gnaws at your soul and mind and I think it's very helpful to make a decision to let that go.

However, reconciliation is another thing. What I'm about to say is contrary to the Bible, I know, but:

Sometimes you cannot honour thy father or thy mother. 
Get away. Change your phone number. Throw away the letters.

This can be a very hard thing to do particularly for Christians because often they are taught to love at all costs, even if it hurts. However, so many children of absent or abusive parents attempt to do this almost to the point of masochism.  

Why is it so difficult to attempt to have a relationship with an absent or abusive parent? Often it is because the nature of the relationship has not changed (i.e. a parent doesn't acknowledge that their children has their own wishes and dreams) OR because the parent is still an abusive, miserable person and it is unbearable to try to maintain any sort of relationship with them.  

Some people would say that you are honouring your father or mother by ignoring them because you're allowing them to heal.

Let's stop it with the sugar-coating. 

I just say it sucks.

It sucks because in our minds and hearts we still feel that we want a mother or a father, and we try to believe so hard that a relationship will be possible.  Some can torture themselves for years when the best thing to do is to say goodbye, at least for now. You can't say what the future will hold. But it's time to take care of yourself.

Let me get personal for a moment; obviously there's a reason that I'm writing a blog post like this.

Without getting into the whole story, I grew up with an emotionally and verbally abusive father. It was almost constant right up until I left the house at age 17.  I describe it as hell.  My father was a ticking time-bomb. If there happened to be a good day (and there were), I still knew that it wouldn't last and I'd be hiding out in my bedroom listening to the abuse being heaped upon my mother.  On many occasions my father's temper would be so bad that my mother would necessarily shovel me into the car with a change of clothing and we'd stay at a pastor or youth leader's home overnight.  When my father wasn't yelling, there was deafening silence, the kind you could cut with a knife.  My Mom left him in my first year of college.  For several years my father noticeably changed; for instance his temper virtually disappeared.

In the last dozen years, my relationship with my father has been very rocky. There have been periods where we haven't had contact for a year and a half, on more than one occasion.  There have also been some good times, where we've been in regular contact. 

However, sadly, I have now had to distance myself from my father on a more permanent basis. The main reason is because it seems that my father cannot have a relationship with me without pointing out my "faults." These faults include that I have several gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends and am an active advocate for LGBTQ rights. Add to that the fact that I left fundamentalist Christianity over ten years ago and am now a Unitarian Universalist is a major point of contention.   I don't need people to agree with everything that I believe in or in my activities, but I also don't need - check that - I won't accept belittling and attacking. So, for now, I have cut my father out of my life.

It is a painful process to have to cut a parent out of your life, but often the pain of not having them in your life is far outweighed by the crap you take by constantly trying to make the relationship work and receiving grief in return. But allow yourself to feel that pain and that grief.

Finally, Christians who decide to cut off a parent shouldn't take any guff from fellow-Christians who start quoting The Ten Commandments to them. And while we're at it, women shouldn't take any guff from Christian leaders for leaving abusive husbands - that could be a whole other blogpost. It seems to me that Jesus said that he came that "we might have life, and have it abundantly," not miserably.

I am grateful for the relationships I have with some of my relatives, particularly my other immediate family members; they mean the world to me. But as a friend recently told me, and it hit me like a tonne of bricks - shared DNA does not constitute family.

I pray that if you've had to cut off a parent, or are in the process of doing so, that you'll realize that you are highly loved and that there are people around you who see and accept you for who you are.  Be good to yourself. You'll make it through this.

Mark Andrew Nouwen
(Feel free to share this, as it may help someone in a similar situation.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's Not Too Late To Live Your True Calling

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 - 4:00pm
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario
Soundtrack: Shania Twain's Greatest Hits

A few Sundays ago, an older gentleman - one of the foundations of my Unitarian  congregation - came up to me at coffee hour after church. I was having a particularly shitty day, feeling quite depressed. But he came up to me and said "Mark, do you know what I see when I look at you? A minister." His encouraging words automatically lifted my sullen spirits; it's amazing what just a few words will do at the right time.

A few minutes ago my friend Alison and I were having coffee and I mentioned that I can see myself going to seminary one day. This comes after having attended her graduation from the Masters program there this past Friday.

I've sort of wandered for, oh, a decade when it comes to a career. I attended Bible college when I was 19 - which seems like a lifetime ago (I'm almost 35 now) - but left without completing when my religious beliefs radically shifted. Then I immersed myself in my job and reading and writing at coffee shops. It worked for awhile, but then I became very dissatisfied. Add to that problems with depression and anxiety and eventually self-medicating myself with alcohol, and years went by very quickly. I am often very thankful that I am still only 35 years old.

I believe that it is very important that we do what we are passionate about. So many of us get stuck - or become resigned to - jobs that we don't like just so that we can pay the bills. Meanwhile we're dying inside little by little.

Maybe you're in this position. Perhaps it's been for a year or two, maybe it's been for twenty years.

It's never too late to do what you are passionate about. Perhaps that means a change in occupation, or perhaps not. Perhaps it means pursuing an activity or volunteerism on the side. Something that makes you come alive. Is there a poet, a singer, a dancer inside of you?

As for me, a few Sundays ago wasn't the first time that someone told me they saw a minister in me; I used to hear it all the time when I was just a boy growing up. I have a feeling that one day that very well may come true - that or chaplaincy.

Maybe it's time to start looking at finishing a Bachelors degree. Stay tuned!

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, June 10, 2013

For The Disappointed And Downtrodden Heart

Monday, June 10th, 2013 - 1:30pm
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar
Kitchener, Ontario
Soundtrack: Ella Fitzgerald - The Cole Porter Songbook

What is the first thing that most people ask of each other upon meeting? Perhaps it is "How are you?" which is often a superficial inquiry if you're strangers. But for the most part the question is "What do you do?" Our answer, as it goes, goes a long way in defining for the other person who we are. We're architects, or teachers, or factory workers perhaps.

But what of people who are unable to work, either temporarily or for a long-term or permanent basis? Who are they if they are not defined by their occupation? Are they second-class citizens? To put it personally,  since I haven't worked for quite some time, am I a second-class citizen? What of those who are born without the ability to speak or hear or practically do anything for themselves? What is their value?

That's why the first question that I like to ask of people is "What are you passionate about?" Or perhaps "What is it that gets your heart most excited?" or "What do you dream of?" Questions like these really get the ball rolling. A lot of people despise what they do for money from 9 to 5, yet ask them what their passions are and you'll light up their eyes. "I want to be a leader," "I've always wanted to take singing lessons," "I want to go to another country and teach English to kids."

But let's take it another step further. What if we were unable to do absolutely anything. Many of us know people, or at least of  people who seemingly can't do anything on their own. They can't see or hear, they can't eat on their own, they have to be bathed. They can't even articulate their dreams in a way we could understand them. What of them?

And this is the value of the human heart. I believe that if you or I were completely incapacitated today - even for the rest of our lives - we would still be able to love and be loved.  I believe that our hearts are made of love and for love. There is no heart that can not change their ways and choose to love and be loved. I have very few concrete answers to the mysteries of life, and that's ok with me. Recently I attended a funeral, and it got me thinking again of how few answers I have about life and death. All that I can say is this: From love I came, in love I live, to love I will return.

My encouragement to you if you're overwhelmed or disappointed by life, or if you feel that your life really doesn't make a difference is this: It is not what you do that defines you. Your heart defines you, and within it is a storehouse of love. You are love.


Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When Nothing And Everything Is Alright

It's funny how something can happen to us as grown-ups and automatically we feel like we are 8 years old again. Our heart palpitates, we break into sweats, we feel like we're going to throw up.

Actually, it's not funny at all. We often wonder "Why am I feeling this way again? I'm making too big of a deal of this. Just snap out of it!"

I feel this particularly with my anxiety disorder (I also deal with chronic to major depression and bi-polar).  When a tense moment happens, even now when I am approaching 35 years old, I feel almost exactly like I did when I was a boy.

And the coping mechanisms were quite helpful back then. The shutting off of emotions, the bottling of anger deep inside, the daily worrying that things would get even worse. Keeping quiet.

They were helpful as I listened to my father, almost nightly, yell and yell at my Mom, and secondarily at me. They were helpful when he didn't want to go out and spend time with other people, preferring to preoccupy himself with pen and paper for hours on end. They were helpful when we would drive the 20 minutes to buy groceries and the quiet tension was so thick you could feel it in your chest. They were helpful when I was ferried off to a church leader's home on many nights when he was too angry to be around. I lived under this abuse for my entire childhood and into my teenage years.

These were helpful coping mechanisms when I was a boy and a teenager. But I am not in those situations anymore and rather than help, those coping strategies only hurt. The anxiety doesn't need to be there, the dread, the fear. Rather than helping, they can ruin relationships, careers - it just goes on and on.

A person can go their whole life merely surviving if they don't learn to leave the coping mechanisms behind. For me this has required many therapists as well as medication, and a support network of family and friends.

Often I'll be walking down the street and feel like nothing is right. In reality, nothing is wrong.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Dangers Of Christian "Marriage Worship"

The following is an interesting article that I stumbled upon on Huffington Post Religion by Christian Piatt, an author, editor, and speaker.

"I've written before about the seemingly contrasting messages we offer to young people in church about sex and sexuality:

Sex is dirty; save it for someone you marry someday.

Umm, what? Granted, we walk a narrow rhetorical tightrope when discussing sex with our kids. If we tell them it's actually pretty awesome, and then tell them they can't do it, that's a setup for failure. On the other hand, if we focus on the negatives, we risk scarring and shaming them into a life of emotional conflict and struggle when it comes to sexual intimacy.

What we end up with, often times, is a vacuous silence when it comes to the real, difficult issues of sexual identity, impulse and expression. Add to that the Christian emphasis on marriage, and the result in many cases is scads of unhealthy, sexually awkward young people, married far too early with no idea why.

I was interviewed recently by Chelsea Batten for an article on virginity in Converge Magazine (yes, they wanted my opinion on virginity, what of it?), and she asked me about my take on the Church's approach to the matter. This, excerpted from her full article, linked above:

"I think we sometimes conflate institutional systems and structures, and covenant with God, to the point that we believe that signing a marriage license is God's intention." This from Christian Piatt, an author and blogger with Patheos and The Good Men Project.

"You can be married and use someone," he points out. "You can devalue and denigrate someone without ever touching them. You can abuse someone sexually without ever having sex with them."

He reviles the setting of arbitrary sexual boundaries as a means of emotional and spiritual protection in sexual relationships. "Hand jobs okay, intercourse not" is, he says, a Pharisaical reduction of the law to its letter. It preserves personal gratification, rather than reverence for the other person and their body, as the goal of a sexual relationship.

Marriage, says Mr. Piatt, is no magic pill for a righteous sexual relationship. The end of the matter, he says, is being able to say to your partner "'I'm doing this out of love and respect and reverence for you.'"

Before going any further, let's take a step back, say, a couple of millennia. The issue of sex before marriage simply wasn't as big of a deal, namely because young people were married off soon after they were able to make babies. There was little time wasted in active sexual maturity out of wedlock, primarily because there were babies to make -- LOTS of them. Many of the newborns would not be carried to full term, others would die at birth, and lots more would die in their first year or two of life. Plus, an agrarian culture such as this depended on family to maintain one's land and to create a sustainable food source for the whole clan. So children were a kind of capital investment, as it were.
This isn't to say that the notion of romantic love -- and as sex being used to express such love -- was nonexistent. One doesn't have to look any further than Song of Solomon in Scripture for evidence of so much. But whereas sex in today's western culture has taken on so very much with regard to power, identity, personal worth and more, it was mostly about baby-making back in the good old days.
Now, the average age for marriage (compared with 12 to 14 back in the day) has stretched into the mid- to late-20s, with many waiting until their 30s to tie the knot. And though it's tantamount to heresy to say so, we Christians are stuck in large part in the ancient understanding of what it means to be married. Keep in mind, however, that back in those times, it was also thought that the man held the entire human embryo in his semen, and that women merely carried the seed planted in them (patriarchy alert!), and that a man was bound to marry his sister-in law if his brother died. There were even rules about sex with slaves, so let's not go too deeply with our infatuation with "biblical marriage," shall we?  All of this is a rather roundabout way to suggest that our inability to engage a real, contemporary discussion about sex, sexuality and marriage reduces the terribly complex landscape of human intimacy to the same old silver-bullet panacea that marriage fixes everything. Wait until you're married, and then you'll magically know how to treat someone's body with love and respect, and how to express yourself in a way that honors the covenant binding two people together (in theory) for the rest of their lives.
And where, pray tell, does this flash of knowledge come from? God? If so, why is the divorce rate 42 percent among Christians? And what about this statement from the head of one of the leading religious research bodies in the world today:
"While it may be alarming to discover that born-again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time," said George Barna, president of Barna Research Group.

It's not that I'm against marriage. I've been married for nearly 13 years now. But I'm also a child of divorce (with one Christian parent), as is Amy (with a minister as a father). Further, our haste to pressure young people into marriage without endowing them with the necessary tools to understand their own bodies and implications of sexual intimacy creates fertile soil for misappropriation of sex under the supposed cloak of a religiously blessed marriage.

We preach that marriage fixes everything, from sexual infidelity to general moral decline in our culture. But it hasn't, and the way we teach about it, it won't. And it's not marriage's fault. I think it has more to do with what we understand marriage to be than anything else.

When we talk about being a Christian as principally being about the moment at which you accept Jesus as your savior (if you believe that is necessary), we do a disservice to every day that follows, in which the path toward Christ gets nothing but harder. Likewise, when we focus our attention about marriage on the act of getting married, as if some magical mojo rained down from the sky to help us honor that covenant forever after, we're being just as naive and foolish. We're setting up our young people for failure, primarily because focusing on getting them married (so we don't have to talk about sex) is a hell of a lot easier than helping them stay that way."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Question Period: Calm & Collected NDP Leader Shows True Leadership

If you are a Canadian such as myself, no doubt that you have heard of the current Senate scandal here. For those not in the know, a quick background. Canada has an unelected, unaccountable Senate which many would like to see abolished, including the main Opposition party, the New Democratic Party (the party I support). Recently it was discovered that Conservative Senator Mike Duffy wrongly claimed that his primary residence was in Prince Edward Island, when in fact he spends most of his time in Ontario. Also, he was found to be out campaigning for Conservative candidates in the last election while claiming the time as Senate expenses. Duffy was ordered to pay $90, 000 back. Apparently he didn't have this money at his disposal, so Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright wrote him a cheque to cover it.

Today was the first time that Prime Minister Harper had to face questions in the Canadian House of Commons. When the New Democrats picked Thomas Mulcair to be their leader, many were watching out to see if "Angry Tom" would show up, as he was known for his fieriness. However, these people have been disappointed, as Mulcair has provided solid, steady leadership while almost always keeping his cool. 

Here are the questions that Mr. Mulcair posed to the Prime Minister today. He was calm, collected, and to the point, something that you don't often see in the House of Commons. I have never been prouder to be a New Democrat and to support my leader.

Friday, May 17, 2013

LGBTQ Rights Are Human Rights

Each year on May 17th across the globe, thousands gather for or take time to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Bi-phobia & Transphobia. The occasion was created  in 2003 in Quebec to commemorate removal of 'homosexuality' as a mental disorder by the World Health Organization in 1990. Transphobia was included in 2009 “to give a specific dimension, and fight against the invisibility of the trans issue”.

Today I recognize this occasion as an ally of the gay community, having also served as LGBTQ Representative for Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party last year. 

I still have to pinch myself sometimes for being both.

You see, it wasn't always this way. I grew up as a conservative evangelical Christian, and homosexuality was  pretty much THE worst sin imaginable. To throngs of people it still is.  I remember as a teenager, writing to my small-town newspaper against same-sex marriage, and they printed it with the title "It's Just Plain Sin." And then something happened. Near the end of my high-school years I started to hang around classmates who weren't Christians - something new to me - and in spending time with them and having discussions with them I began to realize something: These weren't bad people. Just because they didn't believe the same things that I did did not mean they were in danger of Hell. I say I began to realize it because it would take several more years for me to fully embrace it. Something else that was very significant happened as well. Near the end of high school my best friend sat me down and told me that he was in fact gay. A few years earlier I might have jumped out of my chair, bewildered and disgusted. Instead, I sat calmly, and I felt that this was something that could bring us closer together, not farther apart. He is still my best friend to this day; I don't know what I would do without him. ♥  It wasn't until my third year of Bible college, however, that I gave up several key Christian beliefs for me, including the sinfulness of homosexuality. From then on out, I have increasingly become more outspoken on behalf of LGBTQ rights. To me, this fight is exactly the same as the one Martin Luther King Jr. fought on behalf of African-Americans. LGBTQ rights are human rights.

One question that I would do well in asking someone who is arguing the sinfulness of homosexuality to me is this: Do you actually know someone - a family member, a friend, a co-worker - who is gay? I don't just mean knowing them in passing, but interacting with them on a close level.  Many people have this belief about gay people that has been handed down to them by their families or churches, but have not taken the time to get to know any of them. When I finally "came out" of my shell and got to know more and more gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, I realized something: These are some of the most loving and accepting people I have ever met. Maybe it's because they know what it's like to be marginalized or treated like crap, and they wouldn't want to treat anyone else that way.

For many others, like it was for me until my early 20's, it is religion that made me judge gay people. Because of 4 or 5 verses in the entire Bible, many (not all) Christians marginalize those in the LGBTQ community. However, these people do not live out many other things in the Bible, like slavery or killing women and children in battle. I could argue about this for awhile; all I'll say now is that I came to realize that the Bible is not God's word about us (and therefore infallible); rather it is our words about God. What gives a person the right to take something that an opinionated man wrote hundreds of years ago and decide that a whole group of people are incapable and unworthy of loving and being loved, just because of who they are attracted to?

Today I recognize International Day Against Homophobia, Bi-phobia, & Transphobia.

For all the gay youth who are being bullied or afraid of coming out.

For all those who want their love recognized just as any other couple is recognized.

For those who are killed each year just for being who they are.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Saturday, May 11, 2013

We Are The Beloved

"The soul of the soul of the universe is Love." ~ Rumi

When you or I meet someone new, what is the first question that we are asked and often ask in return? "So, what do you do?" As in , what is your job?  For a few years now I have thought that this first question isn't an appropriate one. A more fulfilling and personal answer would come from the question, "What is it that you are passionate about?" Why do I say this?

  1. We are not what we "do" for employment.
  2. We are not what we do in our spare time.
  3. We are not what we can do artistically.
  4. We are not what we can do athletically.
It is so very hard to break out of this mentality when we live in a society that places so much value in how we make our money. It is so hard to break out of this mentality when we see athletes breaking records or artists climbing up the Top 40. Then we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "What the hell have I ever done?"

Instead, a question that needs to be asked by each one of us is "Who am I?" This might bring up a lot of heartache and pain: "I'm a nobody," "I'm a failure," "I've never succeeded at anything and I never will." Most often these are messages that have been within us for a very long time and they've stuck.

But one thing that I have learned (and I admit there are many days when I forget it) is that it is not what we do that defines us, it is who we are. Some people may say that it is the other way around, that "by your fruits you shall know them," and there is some truth to this. But I believe that everything comes back to how we view ourselves and in turn the rest of humanity.

This is what I believe: 
  1. You and I are the Beloved of God (insert Divine, Spirit, Father, Mother, Universe in here if you use different language to describe God). 
  2. Before we were even born, and helpless, we had been stamped with the mark of Love.
  3. There is nothing that can separate us from this love - not a lover or a parent or a friend who told us we were worthless, no act of abuse or bruising word.
  4. This love is not based on any feat we must accomplish. Look at those in our society who are severely handicapped and can seeming "do nothing." Does this make them less valuable? Of course not. Each of us is equally loved.
  5. This love is not based on religion, economic status, race, sex, sexual orientation, or age.
  6. There is nothing that we could do more or less to be recipients of this Love. 
Be easy on yourself. Be kind to your self. Try to take a few moments each day realizing that you are truly, unconditionally loved.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sitting With Your Sadness

"Love your sadness. It gives you a chance to be still with the most tender place of your being. Love gives your sadness the energy it needs to move through you, so you can move on. By loving your sadness, you are respecting your truth. And freedom always follows truth." 
~ Danielle Laporte

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
~ Frederick Buechner

I have been sad lately. Actually, I am very often in a sad place; it has been this way for many years. Yes, part of this is depression, and then our (society's) predilection is toward treatment through therapy and/or medication. Those who know me will know that I am a big supporter - and user - of both therapy and medication if a person needs them for a certain time, maybe even a long time. But lately I have been feeling sad and instead of running to music or TV or the internet in an attempt to crowd it out, I've just been sitting here, noticing it. Yes, there can be a destructive sadness or depression, but I think there is a kind of sadness that is not destructive; rather, sadness, like many other emotions, can remind us that we are alive. Loving our sadness, as Danielle Laporte writes, "gives (us) a chance to be still with the most tender place of (our) being." It may be that in the most vulnerable, fragile times in our lives, that we actually are on the brink of something great - a new understanding, a greater ability to love, a connection with the Divine. The difficult part, though, is to actually just sit there. We automatically think there's something wrong if we feel sad. And then we reach out, yelping like a wounded dog, saying to all those around us who will listen, "Pay attention to me, heal my sadness! Why aren't you healing my sadness?" And then we suffocate them.  It would do better for us to go for a leisurely walk on a trail, or put pen to paper, or talk it out with a very close friend who can handle it. Sadness may also be a sign to slow things down a bit and perhaps to take a different turn in your life, especially if you are unhappy with how things currently are for you. Finally, it is natural for us to see a friend who is sad and try to cheer them up, but it is often better to just take their hand and be present.


Mark Andrew Nouwen

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Canada: A Government In Serious Decay

I am a 35 year old life-long Canadian. I can remember a time in my youth when I would excitedly travel to political events featuring either  then-current Prime Ministers or other party leaders. And I can remember a time, even though they aren't the party of my first choice currently, when I was proud of the government I had and how we were envied around the world.

That era is not just fading, it is plunging like a runaway train into a canyon. And, my friends, it is time to give a damn.

The last couple of weeks have highlighted a series of bungles, ignorance, and bullying that is almost unprecedented ever since the Conservative Party of Canada first took power in 2006. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ability to tightly control the country, not to mention his own party, seems to finally be falling apart.

In a recent case of friendly fire, Conservative MP's such as Michael Chong and Mark Warawa complained to Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer that they were being silenced in the House of Commons because of their controversial views. They argued that, despite their party whip's position, they are elected members and should therefore have the right to speak. Mr. Scheer did the right thing and essentially agreed with them. "The right to seek the floor at any time is the right of each individual Member of Parliament,” he said, “and is not dependent on any other Member of Parliament.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and a motion was put forward in the House of Commons by New Democrat MP Megan Leslie which said the following:
"That this House: (a) agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency that there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures; (b) condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments; and (c) call on the government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.
And what were the results? 179 members of the House, mostly Conservative, but also Liberal and, unbelievably Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, voted nay to said motion.

It should be no surprise that the Conservative government is not dedicated to make any headway on the environment portfolio. Conservative Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently called a leading scientist's views "exaggerated" and said he was "crying wolf."

However, the bad news just got exponentially worse for Canada's government with this week's release of the Auditor-General's report by Michael Ferguson.

If there are two things that many Canadians have thought they could trust the Conservative Party with, they are "money" and "keeping Canadians safe." The AG's Report puts both into serious question. Ferguson found that $3.1-billion in money allocated for anti-terror initiatives has simply vanished. $3.1 billion dollars. Ferguson then said that there a search and rescue service that is nearly at the breaking point because of lack of a federal plan. "(Peter) MacKay said that a request for proposals to replace the 45-year-old Buffalo and 20-year-old Hercules airplanes used in search and rescue missions should be issued this year. But work has been ongoing on this file since 2002, leading to suggestions that this is not a priority for the department of National Defence." (The National Post)

Another section of the AG's damning report criticized the Aboriginal Affairs department for failing to co-operate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create a historical record of Indian residential schools. NDP MP Romeo Saganash stood up to note that thousands died in the schools, “including my brother.”

Also, the Auditor General said that "The Public Health Agency has not been leading federal efforts to prevent and control diabetes. Activities remain largely unco-ordinated and their impact is unknown.”

Finally, and astonishingly, it was revealed only days ago that the Conservative government plans on blatantly intruding on collective bargaining within crown corporations such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada Post, and VIA Rail. Under new legislation, a representative of the government would be at the table, and would have final say on any deals.

This is a government that is used to a control and conquer mentality, however now it is cracking and crumbling.  It is time for Canadians to rise up and say a defiant NO.

We have two years until the next federal election, and it is our job to be as vocal as we possibly can. We deserve better government than we have been getting. I will put my partisan hat on for a moment and say that I believe that the Official Opposition New Democratic Party is most worthy to place our confidence in. Its caucus has hard-working dedicated members, and a seasoned leader who has been very vocal in standing up across from Prime Minister Harper in these recent embarrassing times. Meanwhile, "Justin Trudeau, the new Liberal leader, chose to all but ignore the (Auditor-General's) report, sticking to the increases in tariffs announced in the budget. It represented a missed opportunity for the Liberals." (The National Post)
While the NDP is my choice for good governance, they also have work to do to earn the trust of more voters, particularly in places like Saskatchewan, its birthplace..

In conclusion, these are sad times to be a Canadian reflecting on its government. Canada no longer possesses a government that is the envy of nations. We must change this in 2015.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Roy Orbison, Spring, & Romance

23/04/2013 - 2:14 p.m.
Matter Of Taste Coffee Bar, Kitchener, Ontario

Today would have been Roy Orbison's 77th birthday, so I'm listening to a comprehensive collection of his work as I type this. It is a beautiful spring day here in downtown Kitchener.

Spring is a time, as the cliché says, for new beginnings. It's right of course. More sunlight, warmer temperatures lift us up from our sometimes deep depressions, if even for a few moments. We also undertake spring cleaning. In my case, I am undergoing a move in just a few days, which I'm happy about.

Spring may also be a time to try new things or to get out and meet new people; it's amazing what a coffee shop encounter can do for your spirit. Just this morning an FB friend of mine came in and we had a nice half-hour chat and it brightened my day.

Spring is also a time to be bold and scandalous, to do something that you've wanted to do for a long time but have been too afraid to try. Yes, that sounds like a horoscope or fortune cookie, but I like it anyways. It's a time to take yourself less seriously and open up the windows.

Spring may also be time for new romance, which may mean taking chances (as Celine Dion would say - oh yes, I just referenced Celine Dion). The worst she/he can say is no (actually the worse she can do is slap you in the face, but the hand-mark on your face will subside within a few minutes.) You're never too old for love.

I leave you with some Roy Orbison performing on the Tonight Show with a then up-and-coming artist, k.d. lang. What a duet!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

VIDEO: Henri Nouwen: You Are The Beloved

The following is a series of sermons given by Catholic priest and author Henri J.M. Nouwen at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California in 1992, four years before his death. Here he speaks firstly on Being The Beloved, then on Becoming The Beloved, and finally on being Disciples of the Beloved. I have taken on Henri's last name as an indication of how significant his message was and continues to be for me:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I See Your Pain, It Runs Deep

The Suffering Of Self-Exile
by John O'Donohue
excerpt from Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong

"Many people sense a yawning emptiness at the centre of their lives. This secretly terrifies them. They become afraid that if they engage the emptiness, they will lose all control over their life and identity. This fear drives them towards permanent flight from any possibility of real self-encounter. They keep conversations always on safe ground. Often they are the humourous figures who constantly joke and will not allow any question through their subtle protection shields. They labour valiantly to be accepted by others, but no-one, not even themselves, ever gets near them. A phalanx of language and movement keeps them hidden. It is as if their every word and gesture strain desperately into the safe middle distance. Yet they long all the while to enter the door of their own hearts but fear has hidden the key. This is a neglected and unattended region of suffering, the secret suffering of the permanently self-exiled. They are always circling within inches of home, yet they seem never to be able to get there. They are somehow forlorn and their presence is dislocated. The suffering here is the exile from true inner belonging. It is the voice of forlorn longing. It is as if a secret limbo has opened in that region between a person's intimate heart and all their actions and connections in the outer world. In the intense whirr of dislocation and fragmentation which assails modern consciousness, this limbo has become ever more extensive. There is a consuming loneliness which separates more and more individuals from each other and from their own inner life.
Post-modern culture is deeply lonely. This loneliness derives in large part from the intense drive to avoid suffering and pain and the repudiation of commitment. People relentlessly attempt to calm their inner turbulence by all manner of therapy and spirituality. They seek refuge in each new programme or method as if it offered final resolution. Yet so many of these programmes have no earth beneath the seductive surface. They can offer no growth, nor enable a person to identify the pain at the root of identity. Such external tamperings never manage to reach or embrace the inner loss which is a natural part of being a human person. Every heart has to manage the emptiness of its own dark. Jung suggested that neurosis was unmet suffering. This dialogue with your inner loss is slow and painful. Yet to avoid or sidestep this necessary pain only brings a slow, seeping sense of loneliness which continues to shadow and haunt your life. The Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran said: 'Suffering is the cause of consciousness. (Dostoevsky) Men belong to two categories: those who have understood this, and the others.'"

Friday, April 19, 2013

Healing Within Community

5:12 p.m.
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario

We all have those days when we have a hard time functioning, whether it be at work or with our families or in some other area of our lives. We have days when we can barely get out of bed. And it can seem that there is no easy answer, no quick fix, and we wonder if we'll ever emerge from this "funk."

I have many days like this, as I suffer from clinical depression as well as bi-polar disorder. I write "suffer from" rather than just "have" because it is a suffering. Sometimes it's like the perfect storm..without George Clooney. On days like this it seems like there's no way out. This can be extra hard if you're like me and you tend to be quite introverted as it is.

I am fortunate to have a few very close friends whom I can do coffee with or chat with during these times.  But I suggest another form of healing, and that is healing within community. Finding a community where you can be yourself and feel welcome and safe is like gold. For me it is my Unitarian Universalist congregation where I attend each week and feel surrounded by a group of people who are supportive rather than judgmental.  For others it could be their church or a service club or being part of a sports team.

Another benefit of finding healing within community is that you aren't putting the full weight of your pain on one person, or expecting "this person" or "that person" to heal your pain, which can be enormous.  When we do this, we often crush people and they flee; they end the friendship or relationship because they simply do not have it in them to be our emotional healer. And it's not their job.

Within community we can be lifted up by several understanding people without crushing any of them. Community can augment our personal friendships as well as the professional help we may need.

Peace and wellness to you today,

Mark Andrew Nouwen