Monday, September 18, 2017

I actually gave a sermon.

Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit- Mark 9: 14-29
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]

This is the sermon that I hoped I would never have to give.

This is a story of my fall from the divine, the suffering, and the oncoming of a new revelation. And maybe, if I am lucky, a new life.

This story all beings in the cumbersome and questionable world of online dating. One day when I was skimming thru a website, I saw a profile of a guy who was moderately good-looking and described his faith as being Catholic. We agreed to meet at the mall for coffee. As we started talking, I learned many things about this person, he had a few brothers and sisters, grew up in the N.W.T. He also later confessed to me that he used to work as a male stripper. (Eyebrow raise)

But when I got to ask him about his faith, he said that he was devoutly Catholic up until the age of 15, when he needed to go in for surgery on his leg. That day when he was put under for surgery, he awoke not 30 minutes later, to discover that no surgery had been done. He was then informed that the antistatist had made a critical error, causing an accidental overdose. He had actually died on the operating table. But luckily he had also been revived quickly, avoiding brain damage from oxygen denervation.

But the spiritual damage he suffered was lethal.

He explained to me that he expected to see the tunnel of light, that many people have described in “near death” experiences. But he saw nothing. He said to me “I just floated there in the dark.” 

The great nothingness.

I am not sure why it bothered me so much. It was almost beyond my logic. I was raised Ukrainian Catholic and orthodox. The teaching I understood, said that the soul stayed on the earth until the third day, and on that day, it would rise into heaven. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me, that he saw nothing in that brief moment. Yet I could feel this story crushing my soul, in the same way, it destroyed him.
My defenses were failing, as I was being attacked from many sides.

I made the mistake of reading a book, that I understood as being composed of progressive, well studied and respected authors. I soon discovered that this book had become the spiritual equivalent of slitting one's wrists. Needless to say, I don’t recommend it. I had committed to an interfaith retreat which I was too spiritually-immature for, I discovered that I was a raging hypocrite, and that caused me to have a meltdown in upstate New York. I had been diagnosed with chronic anxiety that no amount of prayer could relieve. I was becoming borderline suicidal, before I gave in, and filled my prescription for psych meds. My church journalism that I had become famous for, had become an impossible task. I was too weak to get out of bed, for fear of it causing further damage to my already fragile health. And too ashamed to go on writing, as someone who could not honestly stand up in a church and say the words “I believe”.

In that time I had been reading a lot. Notes, research, studies, historical insights. I don’t know if I am bold, stupid or simply a sucker for self-punishment.  But at almost every given turn, I crossed phrases like “edited latter”, “copied”, “attributed to”, “probably never happened”, “not actually written by this person”, “we are not really sure who wrote this”,  “likely didn’t happen”,  “we now know in the modern world….” The list goes on.  Reading these works I can feel for the 9 disciples arguing with the teachers of the law. The teachers spotted a weak moment when the disciples were unable to lift the spirit from the boy. Therefore the teachers took the opportunity to do everything to dispute and discredit the disciples and Jesus. I know this feeling. And it’s crippling and soul-sucking.

Faith was failing me.

And then came all the questions. I had everyone from family members, to my liquor store customers, asking “Why have you quit writing?”. Sadly I had no honest answer to give them.
At that point in my life I practically gave up praying, why do something so utterly useless?

I started to detest the items in my home. My crosses, rosaries, I even asked myself what I would do with my one of a kind finger-painted canvas that portrayed Christ in his final hours covered in blood dirt and a crown of thorns. ( show painting) I had bought the original work of art from the artist, on the condition that it would always have a good home.
I was not about to go back on my word.

Near the end, I felt like I had no bricks left in my house. It was like a nuclear blast had wiped away everything except for a few foundation stones.

In this passage from Mark 9, we learn that some demons in our lives can be stronger than others. And like in the case of the young boy, some will take you all the way to the edge before death, before they finally let-go.

In all of these books, there was a message that I could not understand. The argument put forward said, that the metaphors of the bible can be profoundly true even if they are not literally or factually true.
But how can this be? In the technological age we are being bombarded with information, much of it skewed or misrepresented or just plain old made-up BS. Knowing factual truth has become essential. And accepting false information has become dangerous if not deadly. I live in a generation that needs fact.

And the tradition I was raised in accepts much of the bible as fact. It has built a beautiful tradition steeped in rituals (show images) that glorify all of these little divine phrases and weaves them all into a great blanket in which I can wrap myself, and bask in the divine truth.
But these great thinkers have pulled the blanket off of me, and have left me frozen and alone.
And they stand before me and proclaim that they love the faith, and want it to grow into the modern truth.

 Then I ask myself, how abusive can these people be? But yet as I read them, I cannot help but agree with them.

 The year is 2017. We now know that the earth is round, the world grew and progressed thru an evolution like process, and is much older than what a lot of creationists would ever like to admit.
As quoted by John Shelby Spong; “The heart will never worship what the mid rejects”.

But humor me for a moment; what if all these great minds have it right? And there was nothing that special about this one rebellious Jew from Nazareth. If all the texts were “edited latter”, and the miracles were not so miraculous, and if truths were stretched around this man Jesus, to make him appear to be the “messiah” of prophecy, when he didn’t quite meet the bill.

Then I am left with one question.


Why did the people who knew him best go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the message of this mediocre Jew named Yeshua? Why would people risk life and limb to stand under the name “Christian” even if it meant certain death? How could all of these questionable and “embellished” stories turn the minds and hearts of some of the most heartless and abusive people in history? So they may walk the earth the next day, as holy men? And furthermore generate actual miracles, which have been testified thru history, and told to me personally, by people living in the city of Edmonton?


Christ says that “everything is possible for one that believes” But in that moment the father was broken and desperate, and he knew his faith was weak. He barely had a leg to stand on, so in that moment he reached out to Christ and cried “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”.  And even in that moment of confessing his severe lack of faith, God reached back and answered his cry.
It is true that nothing is impossible to faith, yet such a height of faith is required for such triumphs, is not to be reached in a moment, or without effort. 

The disciples had not adequately prepared themselves to tackle such a challenge. I know what it feels like to be unprepared.

After swimming thru this sea of information, I have come to a conclusion.

Even if it is all a myth, it is the greatest, most powerful and most holly myth the world has ever known.

Regardless of its factuality or accuracy, these words have connected us to the divine. They have provided the lamp at our feet to guide us on life’s highway, and protect us from on-coming danger. They have made us thankful for the everyday blessings that make our lives rich, even if we barely get by. It caused us to reflect on our sins and find it in our hearts to forgive those who have wronged us. Rising us above our primal nature. And most of all, they have taught us that showing that little bit of extra love and care to our fellow earth dwellers, may bring forth the heavenly kingdom we seek.

No, king, Army or Government has ever had such power.

Because divine love can strike stronger than any human sword.

In this lies the answer. The value of the scriptures are not a matter of accuracy, factuality or provability. If we wanted that we could just spend our days reading lab test reports, checking reference materials, and watching law court dramas unfold.

We come to the bible looking for the divine truth, and in between the quotes, stories and passages we are flooded with it! We know that God seeks those who have become lost, and that he has a place in his heart for those who have been rejected. We see’s the God who is unphased by our sin, and accepts us with open arms. The god that brings redemption that stretches to even the most unworthy. We know of the God that answers us when we cry out in the night. And we know that this God, despite our endless falls from grace, allowed himself to suffer as one of us, in order to make one last great push at opening the kingdoms doors onto us.

We know that love that we have been taught, has the ability to bring forth the kingdom of god within ourselves, in or current world, and the world to come.

Those of us that have come to accept our free salvation, know how it has changed us. This is the divine force that comes beyond measure. This is something no one needs to prove to us.

Weather the bible is literal, embellished, manufactured, inspired, or just plain questionable. I will rejoice! I will adorn my nativity at Christmas, bless my paska at Easter and, dance in the street like King David (hopefully with more clothes on!)

I leave you with Romans 5: 1-2

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction, by faith, into this grace, in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Ok people! Public service announcement time! I have two important points to make.

#1. I am not dead.
#2. I am actually giving a sermon on Sunday, Sept 17th.

The sermon will highlight the realities of dealing with a faith crisis and coming to peace with it.

I will be speaking at the Haven Church Group that gathers in the basement of Mcdougall United Church located at: 10086 MacDonald Dr NW, Edmonton, AB.

Use the south side door, Service starts at 7pm, and you are welcome to park in the church parking lot.

*Note that Haven is a church group for the Gay and Queer community, but all are welcome. If you don't think you can make it or, would not be comfortable in that environment. I will be posting my sermon afterward for everyone to read.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Church #67. Our Lady of Good Help.

Howdy folks! Welcome to another addition of Alanna-hauled-her ass-out-of-bed-and-went-to-church.

Today I was riding with Uber. I gave my driver 5 stars. But I completely forgot that it was the long weekend, so the rate was a bit higher than usual, and so was the wait time. But in the end I just barely made it to church on time.
As some of you have noticed this getting to church #67. I have come to a point  where I have largely drained my supply of churches that are easily accessible by use of public transit, and I will be resorting to using a lot of "ride for higher" services in the future. Unless someone wants to pick me up and give me a ride to a church. *wink.*wink.

So today I went to a church I have been itching to go to for a while. It is rare that you see an Arabic Church, or at least in this city. And from the outside, you would have no idea what it was any different than any other Catholic church.

However the sign out front was more than worthy of Halloween.

The entry way had a shrine to a saint... am not 100% sure which one it is.

It was a particularly small group today.However, I am not that surprised. Major weekends tend to draw people out of the city and church attendance on those weekends seems to drop dramatically. This appears to be a consistent factor over the duration of my project thus far. There were roughly 25 people in attendance.

The scripture for today was Luke 14:25-33 ESV

 The Cost of Discipleship.

25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

There was some big news today. The priest announced that Mother Teresa was being canonized as a saint today in Rome.
"Dear St. Teresa, you take the word of God Seriously!"
"She followed everything Christ taught."

CNN News Coverage Mother Teresa Canonization.
How to become a Saint in the Catholic Church?

Quote of the day:

"The means can not justify the ends."
"The means must be appropriate to the ends".  
"A Christian must be ready in the boundless love of Christ!" 

One thing I have come to notice, is that even with a tradition as fixed as Catholicism, regional culture always finds a way to seep in. At this Catholics church the priest referred to all the members of the congregation as brothers and sisters, God was sometimes referred to as "Abba Father", and communion was done slightly different. The priest actually got down on his knees and touched his head to the later before starting the communion ritual. And then when it came to actually receiving communion, the priest took the wafer, dipped it in the wine, and placed one on everyone's tongue individually.

That is rare. The whole ritual of being "hand fed" communion, I mean.

And I forget the exact details of it, but there was a small group of people that were visiting from another church in attendance. I think they might have been working on a project together? The priest was very warm and welcoming to everyone in the group, including the guests that were clearly part of the L.G.B.Q. community.

Before I came to this church I was checking out this churches website ( by they way they have a pretty good website) But as I was looking thru some photos, and I was taken back for a moment. This church, being designed for Arabic speaking people, had what I am assuming are the words  "Do this is remembrance of me." Written across the alter, in Arabic.

I in the initial moment I saw this, my first reaction was shock and fear. My second reaction was; "Alanna... calm down! You are over-reacting!"

As  many of you know, I am a vocal supporter of my brother's and sisters of other faiths. Even if it is a faith that I do not have 100% positive feelings towards. Regardless of that, Christians are still fully bound to obey what Christ described as the most import of all the laws, which is; "love thy neighbor as thy self". 

But the point is that my initial reaction meant something. It meant that a person with rational knowledge and love, had still been conditioned to immediately fear anything that might have to do with Muslims. 

So wanted to bring a topic to light.

In this post 9-11 period Islamophobia is everywhere. A lot of people start making connections to anything that might be related to Muslims, ex. clothing, language etc. There have been cases of people that have been mistaken for Muslims and have been assaulted because of it. Not to mention all the harassment that actual Muslims have suffered on a regular basis. All and all, the situation has become simply retarded. Let me lay this out.....

Arabic does Not =Muslim
Head Scarf does Not =Muslim
And most of all, Muslim does not =Evil.

As for a simple example of this, let me introduce you to a viral video called "When you speak Arabic in Public." 

I have photos of all of my great grandmothers wearing some form of a headscarf.

They were all from eastern Europe, and all of them were either Catholic or Orthodox Christians.
Despite popular belief, Islam doesn't own the headscarf.

And finally, there is one last resource I would like to share with you something called "The Jesus Fatwah". In this project in which a christian scholar breaks down, and DE-bunks Islam. All while helping give context to how Christians can look at their Muslim neighbors, with Christ-like love and understanding. And for the record this material is very long and it is not free, but maybe you might be lucky enough to have it your local library or borrow it from someone.  Trust me. Its worth it.

Anyhow, past all that it was a very relaxed little Catholic church, and it definitely had a few interesting Bilingual characteristics to it.


See Y'all Next Week!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Church #66. Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Barbara

Hey Everyone! Sorry for the hiatus, things got a little turbulent there for a while, but we are back now.

So in the not-so-recent past, I visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Barbara. I am gonna put this out there right now, this church visit is not recommended for beginners. The orthodox are very special in the fact that they practice a very long list of heavy, symbolic, and elongated traditions. I am not saying that someone would have a fit on you if you did not bow your head or cross yourself at all the right times. But it is not unheard of. Especially if you are a member.

I have a lot of mixed thoughts and feeling about the orthodox. On one hand, they have some of the most ancient, and beautiful rituals perfectly preserved, in a way no other group has done. If you don't believe me just look up  some pictures from an orthodox style wedding.

On the other hand, the degree as to which this division of the church obsesses over ritual and symbolism, can become burdensome on its member's. That and it still remains far lagging on a lot of issues related to modern reform.

Before you visit an Orthodox church, I highly recommend you read this essay.
"12 Things I wish I knew before visiting an Orthodox Church."

So how did I know how to navigate this church  you may ask? Being someone who was baptized Catholic as a baby and raised in the United Church of Canada? The answer to that is many, many, many years of  summer camp!

Say hello to camp Kiev's-K-Hi Ukrainian Orthodox Summer Youth Camp.!


I also credit this camp for teaching me how to sit thru 4-hour long church services, where you have to stand half the time.

Once you can survive that. Every other church I have been to since is cake-walk in comparison....

Despite having a good degree of experience in the orthodox church, I almost made a significant error when visiting this church. I didn't bring a scarf to put over my head. But after further examination of the women in the room, I noticed that only about half of the women chose to wear a scarf over their heads, the other half did not. At that point, I concluded that it was safe for me to proceed.

Now to bring up a new question... should women cover their head in church? This has become one of the far lost, and obscure issues, of the church that has kind of fallen to the dusty book shelves of debated issues. Paul speaks in one of his letters that women should have their heads covered in church, as an act of submission to their husbands and to God. In some of his other writings, he says that women need to keep their heads covered in church "because of the angles"? And quite frankly no one quite knows what he is talking about in that one......

The reality is that the majority of modern scholars and churches in North America see no significant function or purpose in keeping a woman's head covered in church. I can say this with a fair amount of certainty after visiting 65 prior churches, and seeing so few cases of "head covering" that I can easily count them all on one hand. And I have never heard a church leader give a sermon on the issue. Now if you search the interwebs you will find endless rants that argue one way or another. But The way I see it is, if you want to wear it, wear it. But putting it out there and reinforcing it is doing nothing for the greater over-all mission of bringing people to Christ in this place and time.

But that's my thoughts anyhow. 

But what I find kind of comical with all this is that the highly debated reasons that Muslim women cover their heads are not the same as the reasons why Christian women cover their heads. With the Muslims, the idea is that hair is "seductive" and therefore should be covered up. But with Christian women, the idea is more so with keeping the top of the head covered in church, as an act of submission, vs covering the hair. So while a Muslim woman might be concerned about keeping her hair covered, the women I saw  in the front pews before me, had no issue having their long haired ponytails sticking-out the back of  their head scarf.

The demographics of this church were slightly younger than normal. Everyone was white, and one guy in particular, looked very Jewish. The majority of the population was middle aged with its share of seniors and a few young people. There were roughly a dozen children at this church, almost all of them were girls. And all the women wore skirts or dresses. Is it just me or does it feel like whenever you are in a Slavic community/family, that somehow it is always overflowing with women?  Or is it just the fact that my mother grew up in a farm-house, with a total of six women and one man.(God save Grandpa!)
Apparently according to the stats my hunch actually not that far off...

"Why the former USSR has far fewer men than women?"

The choir sang for the first part of the service. I didn't recognize much of what they were saying, so I am assuming that they were singing in Russian, however, the actual church service was in English.

Now to the actual church service.

This was the scripture of the day; (Luke 11:33-36) and (Luke 12:22-34)

The Lamp of the Body 

22The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. "

Do Not Worry 

25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?
28And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans pursue all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own. "

Quote of the day;
"If we follow these rules we can become saints."

 Notes from the sermon;
 #1. Have a Good Eye.
It was explained that the eye is the soul of the mind and like sunlight, the eye must be straight and right.

#2. Don't worry about material things. 
"There is no rich or poor in nature."

....... because you know.... there is no homosexuality in nature eather....(cough*)
Link- Homosexual Activity Among Animals Stirs Debate

Sorry. I needed to get that out.

#3. Don't worry about yourself.

#4. Don't stash away for tomorrow.
So this brought up the story of the time when the Israelites were in the desert and god provided the mana. And how it would go bad if they tried stashing extra away for the next day "they were not trusting in God".

Then he told the story of a very old and crippled woman, who always seemed very happy and content. When she was asked, "who lives with you?" "who helps you?" She said, "God lives with me!" 
As I mentioned before. Everything is ultra-symbolic and ritualistic in the orthodox church. So much so that I can not even begin to cover the depth of meaning of half the stuff I observed. A good piece of background information to have in mind, is that orthodoxy developed in very illiterate countries in its early days. So teaching thru ritual and symbolism, proved a very effective method to get the information across and indicate its significance of God and the trinity.

So if you are wondering what I saw? The only answer I have to that is "a lot".

Communion is also not a simple process here. Because you can not accept communion at this church if #1. you are not an orthodox Christian, and #2. you have not "prepared" yourself the night before with prayer and fasting. When the people did line up for communion, anyone with kids went first, and some people even kneeled briefly in the line up while waiting in line. And if you are not aware, in the orthodox tradition, people are literally "spoon fed communion." Another interesting ritual.
I saw priests and deacons and altar boys  in some of the most  extravagant robes you will every see ( and they don't even have the holiday robes on at the moment.) I saw people kneeling right on the floor, and in some cases, men would even kneel in the aisle during the worship. Despite there being room in the pews. To these people everything in the church is holy. Including the door frame. Yes, part of their rituals includes the priest kissing the door frame, that leads to the sanctuary.  But then again this is an orthodox church. They kiss a lot of things, including icons, crosses, the hand of the priest, etc. I saw one parent pick up their two-year-old so they could kiss the cross in the priest's hand. And by the way, since these people have such a deep value of the symbols that they use for teaching, that they have become very good at adorning things. And when you are Russian Orthodox, that means...


And having  a massive chandelier helps too! I guess?.....

This also happens to  be the Church of St. Barbara  you can read more about her here...
Link-Who was Saint Barbara?

And ifyou happen to be shopping for orthodox icons, they have a great selection of them that you can can purchas for a very reasonable price!

See Y'all next Sunday!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Church #65. The Church of God.

Welcome back, ya'll!

So today I ventured off to church, and I was not looking forward to it. Like, at all. To explain this, I need to take us on a quick detour.

A few months ago, I was walking down Whyte ave and we all know that Whyte has it share of street preachers. This can include all kinds of characters including but not limited to: the people that stand on a soap box with a megaphone, the Jehovahs Witnesses and their pamphlet stands, the teams of slick-dressed Mormon missionaries walking their beat, and the people that hand out random evangelizing cartoon booklets. Yes, we have all of these.

And in all honestly I would have preferred any of the above over what I encountered.
Normally when I see some of these street preachers I either wave and smile, or walk right past them if they are screaming at me thru a megaphone.

But  a few months earlier, I was simply walking walking the far end of the ave, when I encountered a heavy set woman (roughly 27 years old)  dressed in a skirt and professional office attire. She was walking in the direction towards me and before I knew it, she had stepped her whole body in front of me, and put her face six inches from my nose, and she blurted the phrase "Have you heard about God the Mother?!?!"  Probably what disturbed me most about all this, woman's eyes. They were just this blank, straight-staring, unmoved blur. This woman was clearly brainwashed. She appeared to have no ability to comprehend outside information even in the form of basic conversation.
I had to ask myself what could have possibly happened to this person to make them like this? It was like this person must have been raised in a cage? Or a cardboard box? Regardless, the site of her was very disturbing.

Normally I would never get into a discussion with these people because I know that God wants us to commit our time towards more meaningful things than debating theology with lunatics on the street. Especially ones that think the best way to bring you to Christ is to get in your face and yell at you.

I tried to defuse the situation by telling her that I have heard about the "god the mother" theology (among others), and that I was already a Christian. That was apparently not enough to let me off the hook. So I thought "Fine. You wanna fight? Lets fight!". So after a raging theology debate, I was able to step my way around this raging whale of a woman, and continue my walk.

By the way, she made it very clear that she is from "The Church of God".
Now there are a large multitude of churches in the city with that name and I am really not sure if all of them are actually related to each other. But one thing I do know for sure is that there is only one "Church of God" in the area where I was walking.

That is the church I am visiting today.

I have had to question myself on if I am still willing to visit certain churches, as I am now understanding what groups and divisions I do or do not agree with. Some that I could even put all the way to the point of being dangerous. But after some thought and pastoral guidance, I have concluded that I should still keep going to these places (sparsely). Because despite them being hard to handle and often resulting in impassioned and angry rants, there is value in them. Because often after I take a hard look at them, I grow in the depth of my desire to avoid some of these (what I perceive to be) un-Christ-like ways and be driven even stronger towards building the kind of love God wants to see in this world.

I knew from the get-go that this was going to be rough. So I got up early went for a walk, prayed, listen to the church bells ring, took nature photographs, and planned to go for brunch afterwards and get one of these babies....

Say hello to The Tavern's XXXL Caesar! For all your boozy Sunday brunchfest needs! This is literately a drink with over a dozen garnishes and including a skewered grilled cheese sandwich!
Just like Jesus, this should also be an essential part of your Sunday morning routine!

For more info, visit here!

Now that I have clearly made you hungry (and crave salt), lets go to church!

The first thing that was apparent was the fact that I was clearly under-dressed. All the men in this place where in full suits, and the women were all in nice dresses, with all their hair and make-up fully done. And so there I stood with my sneakers, jeans and shoulder bag, and of course my grey "Lion of Judah" T-shirt.

What? I was wearing my church shirt!

I actually picked up the t-shirt in New York at at the Clear Water Festival! Check out the artist and his online store here!-

So I snuck in right as the service started and sat in the back next to a mom with all of her kids.
This is, at minimum, the second church that I have now seen that uses a large brass band to start their services.The first church where I saw this was the Salvation Army Church. The band was quite large (roughly 24 people.) Most of the people in the band were in their teens and 20's. This church was fairly full. There were roughly 150 people in attendance. Still a majority of seniors, but there was a few middle aged people and also many young families. Everyone that I could see in the room was caucasian.

The reading today was Matthew 13: 44-46 NIV

 The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Then the choir sang. I felt the worship at this kind of church was very "just sit there and listen".  The room did not actively sing with the choir or any music, and prayers were generally not said in a group fashion.

The topic of the day was "Where should we store our treasure?" 

He basically explained that we should not become obsessed with hoarding earthly possession because you can't take it with you. And all those material things you collected mean squat in Gods Kingdom. So the right to do is to take the resources that we have and invest them in things that will be valuable in Gods Kingdom, whether that means financially supporting your local mission or congregation, giving clothing and food to a person in need, or volunteering your time for a worthy cause, etc. etc.

He clarified that we do not earn our way into heaven because salvation is given freely. He also mentioned an interesting story about some missionaries that gauged the value of everything in their lives against its eternal value and not its earthly value. I can imagine that would make for a very interesting everyday life.

He also advised that we should not be so near-sighted with our treasures. And then for some reason thru in a quick comment about atheists? He stated that non-believers are thinking that this life is simply a short interval and they hope there is nothing after so they don't have to be accountable in this life. Personally, I find this to be a bold blanket statement which I don't think is true for all atheists. But I need to be honest with you. I personally know a few people in this category.

He spoke of young people working hard to hoard money, as well as seniors who are still putting away every penny even at the very end of their lives.

But at the same time, there is a big difference in my mind when it comes to saving to build frivolous material wealth and saving for necessity.

But the reality is that there are a lot of people out there that didn't save enough for retirement. There are many seniors that will be forced to work until the day they die, or be forced into retirement without enough money to sustain them.  They will suffer in poverty lacking basic necessities. And that includes food. Seniors eating cat food is a thing. Sad truth. there are many ways you can help combat this. One local organization I would recommend is -Adopt-a-Grandparent

After the service ended I had one lady with her children ask me who I was and what I was doing there. So I explained just that and handed her my business card. As soon as I did that, I was meet with a small sea of angry middle aged woman staring at me. Their sour faces made for an odd contrast to formal dresses they were all wearing.

Speaking of the clothes.

I feel the need to bring up the whole "what is proper church clothing"? question. The simplest and most effective answer I have heard to this question is that we should "Dress in a way that glorifies God." So what is that anyhow? To some, it is dressing modestly in order to be "humble before god" in a sense. Others see dressing fancy as a showing of "giving God our best", harking back to the offerings that the Israelites would bring to the later. To others, it may be wearing affordable everyday clothes, as to not alienate our brothers and sisters that have less money, and show solidarity with the poor. And heck! Some people go to church naked! In the southern USA there is actually a significant number of nude churches.

To a lot of people they think the lines are simple, but I really don't think it is all that simple and clean-cut.

Here is a good example. I have a friend that has always fought with her weight. Always. Now in her late 20's thru much faith and perseverance, she has achieved a healthy weight. To celebrate, she went out and bought something she always wanted, but could never wear: a belly shirt. Yes, a belly shirt.  That kind that girls were banned from wearing in school, and that Britney Spears made all the rage in the 90's! So where was the first place she wore it? Church. To her, that shirt was a clear and defining example of clothing that "Glorified God" and what God has done in her life.

You are probably wondering why I have no pictures of the church. lets just say I didn't feel the need to stick around until the place cleared out.

Instead feel free to enjoy my nature photos!

Have a good week everyone!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Temple Beth Ora - Refromed Jewish Synagogue

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Welcome to Friday night 8 pm Shabbat at Temple Beth Ora! For those of you that haven't read much of my earlier stuff, this might surprise you.

Besides my mission to visit 100 churches, I have also decided that my project is not complete without visiting some other houses of worship besides just Christian churches.
So far I have been to a Unitarian gathering, A Tao Buddhist Temple, and now a Jewish Synagogue.

Some of you that are better educated in Judaism may assume that this Shabbat would be for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot (which was only 2 days away). Nope, this Shabbat was special alright but it was honouring another kind of celebration: GAY PRIDE WEEK!!!!!

To be clear this is actually their 3rd annual Gay Pride Shabbat.

I have had an uncle that has told me a lot of questionable things in my life.
Two of these things have been that:

#1 women can't be Rabbis', and #2 you can't be gay and Jewish.

I am sorry uncle, but you were a little off...
Today I sat in a room on Shabbat with many gay Jews, and I have watched a female Rabbi lead a service more than once in my life.

(*mic drop)

Its actually 2016 but you get the idea...

Speaking of our country's Prime Minister. Later on there was a young man in a suit that came up and spoke on behalf of a parliament member that wanted to attend, but was unable to. He sends greeting from the city, the province, and the Prime Minister. He explained that this was his first Shabbat and that he has truly enjoyed it and intends to come back! (he said this all with such enthusiasm that his Kippa (skull cap) actually fell off while giving the speech!)

It was a fun night.
Just saying.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

So I found the building, and it was not far from downtown, and very accessible by public transit. It was also surprisingly close to this famous Edmonton icon.

When I walked in the first four things I saw were a donation bin for the Fort Mac fire victims, a donation bin for the food bank, a info table with info on community activism, and a tall young African-Canadian fellow handing out program guides for the service, while wearing a rainbow skull cap and shawl around his neck.

There were roughly 70 people at this service. Ages on average ranged from 20-60. A lot of families with adult children were in attendance.

Some may think it to be a difficult and complicated task to attend a worship service at a Jewish synagogue. That fact is not necessarily true. But you need to know what you are looking for.  Some important things to keep in mind when Understanding Jews.

- This is not just a religion. It is a tribe with a religion built into it. A lot of theses people in this room have blood connections to the people spoke about in the Torah (aka Old Testament) . With the exception of some converts. Their faith is literally close to home.
- Judaism is traditionally very closed, and Jews almost never go around evangelizing.
- Jews believe that the messiah is still yet to come, and that Jesus was not the man that fit the bill. They have a very solid argument to back their position. Link- What Jews and Christians Should Know about Each Other.
 - Edmonton only has 3 synagogues (that I know of). They are in the denominations of Conservative, Orthodox, and Reformed.
- The "Sabbath" starts at sundown on Friday and goes to sun-down on Saturday.

I also must take a moment to throw my heart out to the Jewish cohort at Stony Point Centre in upstate New York, USA. If it was not for you wonderful people I would not be half as well educated in what Judaism is all about. That education is completely necessary for what I am doing today. To put an example to this, let me just say that because of that education I know that the reformed temple would be the only one in this city that I could easily walk into and report on. That is because I take notes. And that is considered working on the Sabbath, while inside the synagogue. At this synagogue they don't care, but anywhere else in this city I would be asked to stop, or possibly leave.

You gotta know your stuff when visiting our friends the Jews.

The service started out with a few acknowledgements. Including the acknowledgement that this gathering was being held on Treaty #6 Land. There was a prayer after asking for unity and peace, specifically with Canada's First Nations people. This service had some wonderful guest speakers, including some Christian pastors who came up and read while wearing the skull cap and rainbow shall around their neck. One of the main speakers was a bit of a surprise. It was a Rabbi from the other Synagogue in the local area (Beth Shalom) that was of the Conservative denomination.

Next came the lighting of the Shabbat candles. In this tradition normally two candles are lit (today they increased it to six to get more colours of the rainbow). And in a home setting, the mother of the family will go before them, and cover her eyes with both hands and recite a prayer in Hebrew, asking God to bless and protect the family. Today two women were asked to come up and perform this honour with their children at their sides. I need to say I found both of these women every interesting. The first was a Caucasian senior woman, who was caring for a young girl, elementary school aged girl who was of Asian or First Nations heritage? I was not sure. And the other lady was in her 30's, tall and thin with a short masculine hair cut. And she was caring for a young 12-year old(ish?) girl, who appeared to have some type of developmental disability. The girl hung very close to her and it was clear that this woman was very committed to the love and care of this young lady. It always feels good to see a child with a disability is in good hands.

One of the most beautiful things I saw that day actually had to do with the young girl . Like most children, they are not particularly good at sitting still. Which was perfectly fine here, and for part of the service she stood in the aisle holding her stuffy toy. As the service was going on, I saw her tracing the Star of David slowly with her finger (the engraving was in the side of the pews). It was a lovely sight to see, and I am sure many Jews would find this image quite heart-warming.

I made a point of mentioning this because the spirit of tonight's service was embodied in that image.  That Gods word and presence is not only active in the lives of the Israelite's, but also the entire world.

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."  

Then we sang the "Lecha Dodi" after which we all stood and turned towards the door to greet the Shabbat bride. One lady with a sense of humour started making hand gestures as if she was marvelling at the beauty of the bride. Even though there is clearly nothing visible that enters in through the door.

NOTE: Jews see the approach of the Shabbat (day of rest) as a joyful event. Joy that can be related to the feeling of a groom waiting for his bride to appear (and you thought you took your days off seriously).

And if any of you were wondering what the music is like in a synagogue, it is very similar to what you would hear in church. As many of you know there are a lot of songs in the Bible, and a lot of the style and music got passed down to us Christians. The major difference being is that the Jews still largely sing almost all of their songs in Hebrew.

P.S. I have tried many times, but I could not sing in Hebrew to save my life. It takes skill.

I apologize in advance for this article being exceedingly long, but there was honestly so much great stuff in this service, I would have a hard time leaving much of it out.

Such as...

Despite God not being defined as having a gender, the four letter name for "God" that the Hebrews use, actually has two letters that define God's masculine attributes, and two letters that define the feminine ones. Generally, God is referred to in the masculine sense, but that practice is not constant in the whole Torah (Old testament). For example, the Jews have a word to describe "the manifestation of God's presence, that fills the universe". That word is a feminine descriptive word known as Shechinah.

In the past, a lot of pieces of scripture have been thrown out at the gay community as a way of  oppressing, alienating and hurting anyone that falls into that spectrum. Much of this comes from the book of Leviticus. But I was very happy to see that even that can be turned positive! This was some of  what was recited.

Congregation: We are your lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.
Rabi: Do not seek vengeance nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. (Lev 19:18) 

Congregation: We are Elderly lesbians, bisexual, gay men and transgender people.
Rabi: You shall rise before the hoary head and show deference to the aged. (Lev. 19:32)

Congregation: We are lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender victims of gay bashing and murder.
Rabi: You shall not stand Idly by while your neighbour's blood is shed. (Lev. 19:16)

There was also a talented woman that come up and sang twice during the service. One thing I  happen to notice is how she rocked her body back and forth over the table at the front of the room. As a musician, I have known drummers who intentionally rock their bodies to help keep time. But this is the first time I have seen a singer do it. I have to say that I have really noticed that us Christians are really the odd-man-out when it comes to this whole rocking thing, we don't do a lot of it.  Jews do it, Muslims do it, heck, even the Buddhists and more!

Speaking of our friends the Muslims, I was reminded on how shockingly similar the two faiths are when I saw the Rabbi face the front of the room while he covered his head with his Tallit (prayer shawl) and starting praying and rocking while also looking right to left. The shape that the shawl on his head made reminded me strongly of the high-backed robes of Christian orthodox priests. Which kind of doesn't surprise me. Judaism is our foundation of the Christian faith, and the orthodox love sticking close to the foundation.

But when it comes to Islam and Judaism, It blows my mind more each day that I learn about these two faiths, and how they are so extremely similar in so many ways. They have much more in common than Christianity has in common with either of them! And the more I notice all of these similarities, the more I am baffled at how there are still such raging conflicts between the two groups when their commonalities are clearly stronger than their differences? But let's just leave the politics at the door for now.

After all this, we heard from our guest speaker from the conservative synagogue just down the street.

He started out by making the announcement that today was significant in the fact that on this day, 13 years ago, he graduated seminary and became a rabbi. This was of course followed by applause. He explained further, that the term "Conservative" when relating to his synagogue, describes the style of rituals they follow, and not necessarily his own political views. He remarked, "If you are conservative that is fine, just don't tell my congregation!".

He went on to speak more about his graduation day, and how he gave a speech, while also being in protest. He and many other students that day were wearing rainbow buttons over their hearts, along with their grad gowns. The school had refused to graduate any students that were openly gay from the seminary. The good news is this policy was lifted a few years after his graduation.

He also revealed that he has a gay brother who is married and living in Jerusalem with his partner. He is also proud to announce that his brother and his partner are the first gay couple officially recognized by the state.... for tax purposes. And on an even more interesting note... in Israel there is something called lactation privileges. This is given to the woman of a married couple which allows her to leave work a few hours early to better care for her children.  law requires that one person in a married couple must get these privileges. So his brother has been officially granted "lactation privileges" by the state. The rabbi mentioned that he is fairly sure that his brother is not lactating.

"If you are into super-fabulous sermons! This is not it!!!"

Then he went on to a brief sermon which I am sure that I have heard somewhere before. This sermon asks the question as to why was the Torah given in the desert?  There are two points with this: #1, the desert forces you to think, and #2, the desert is a no-mans land. It truly belongs to no one  , and is yet accessible to all at the same time. He interpenetrates this as Gods statement of equality. Yet equality can be hard to come by in this world. He reflected on the numbers of people that were counted as the Israelite's left Egypt. In the Torah, only men that were old enough to see battle were officially counted. After some number crunching, it has been calculated that over 2 million Israelite's, including many women and children, left Egypt. Yet only a fraction of those people were ever "counted " as being significant.

He further explained the sadness he feels for the "uncounted" as he revealed that he is in a multi-faith marriage with his wife and one child. Even with the difference in faith between him and his wife, they have a positive relationship where she actively encourages his Jewish faith. Despite all this, he feels hurt living with the reality, that his wife is not allowed to visit and participate at the synagogue to some degree. She may be allowed to visit, but because she is not Jewish, she is still excluded from many "members only" events. He admits that seeing the woman he loves being excluded from important holiday rituals in his spiritual life, pulls him away from his own faith.  In conclusion, he is asking for more interfaith events to be organized, so him and his wife have a space to be recognized in their faith and celebrate together.

After that was all said and done we went to the back of the room where we blessed the Challah (Jewish egg bread) laying hands on each other in a chain fashion while one person held the bread. And then we blessed the cup of wine.

Yes, this is where the Christian tradition of communion is based out of.
But this was no regular Challah. Most Challah is just your standard yellow braided egg bread. This Shabbat we had the special edition "Rainbow Challah" for pride week. It made my day very joyful!

After indulging in one of the most wonderful buffets of rainbow-and-sweet-everything I could not be happier! Over all it was a great time and I would recommend anyone who wants a taste of Jewish tradition to drop into Temple Beth Ora. They are very friendly, I promise!

Here is a photo of everyone hanging around the table at the back of the room.

And here is the front of the room.

Don't forget to Refresh your Nefesh!
Until next time, Shabbat Shalom Everyone!