Saturday, May 14, 2016

Church #63. Unitarian Church of Edmonton

First things first. I would have no idea that this church or type of faith existed if it was not for my friend and old band mate Rob Billheimer. The guy is a killer cartoon artist that is not afraid to push boundaries, ruffle feathers and make you laugh until you piss your pants! Just to prove it, here is a sample from Rob's line of comics known as The Sausage Party! 

For those of you that may not know, Alberta has declared a state of emergency as we are facing the most costly disaster, and biggest evacuation in the history of our country, due to the Fort McMurray Fires. In response, The Sausage party is selling limited edition, high quality prints of some of their best comic strips, and all money raised will be donated towards relief efforts.

Click here to Check it out! 

After finding my way to the back door, I entered the "OPEN" door only to find myself in a large open room full of garage sale items! A senior lady asked me if I was here for the Church service aAnd directed me to the service area. So I walked through the garage sale and found my way to the actual church service, it had already started and I took my seat at the back. the service was started with soft and almost trance like piano music... it kind of made me feel strange. Side note: today is Mothers Day. The opening prayer was one for safety, and rightfully so considering the current circumstances in this province. Then they had the young people of the Church come up and light the challis and say a quick prayer.

The offering for the service was then collected. It was announced that the group they were donating to for the month of may was Y.E.S.S (Youth Empowerment Support Services) .  The church leader mentioned that in light of recent events, they did consider changing the designation of the donation over to the Red Cross. But they ultimately decided that the now-homeless youth of Fort Mac will be benefiting from the use of Y.E.S.S. as they take refuge in Edmonton, so they decided to keep it as is.

Then the church members were able to come to the front and light a candle if they have any worries or concerns. The church leader also suggested that today they should consider straying from the norm and also doing "spoken candles" if the person feels right in doing so. FYI: Today is Mothers Day.

The spoken candles I found particularly interesting. As you can imagine, there was candles lit for mothers who had passed away or still present. But there were also two spoken candles that stood out to me.

#1. A lady came up and said she lit a candle for all of those people that are not able to be mothers.
On one side of the coin, I can totally understand this. As simple as this holiday might seem, I am sure it is down right painful for the women out there that wanted kids, and for some reason or another, were not able to have them or have lost a child.

On the other side of the coin... I am shrugging and rolling my eyes. If I haven't made this clear before in my blog, let me say it now: I am not having kids. Ever. I feel no lack or disappointment over my choice not to be a mother. My friends know this, and so do my family. And to all you hard working mom's, and children-loving women out there I ask on thing... be nice to us..... Please? Don't lecture, scold, question or attempt to convert us! We are all free women. We have all have the right to make choices. If you show respect and understanding for our choices, we will do the same for you! 

#2. Another lady in her 20s came up and lit a candle and explained that she had a mom that was "not very good", and that she was lighting this candle for anyone that has a "complicated" relationship with their mother. This I think is a great topic to bring up. Not a pretty one, but an important one... How are you supposed to feel on this day when you had a mother that was heartless, irresponsible and absent? Or you had a mother with severe mental illness, who physically abused you?!
How does one deal with that? These questions are not easy to answer, but thankfully they are now at least being addressed.

-To all the brave kids that broke up with their toxic moms.
-To the Mothers Hurting on Mothers Day.
-When abusive parents come crawling back....?

"These candles don't change the world, but they change our minds and hearts." 

The Church leader then went on to explain some of his thoughts and feelings about the events of the past week.  He announced to the congregation that the family of Syrian refugees that they had sponsored will be arriving soon, and that they plan to have a welcome committee come and welcome them at the airport. Strangely enough, just as they are getting ready for the family to arrive the Fort Mac fires start.
So as +80000 people are pouring out of the Fort Mac area, he can't help but feel helpless.
All their extra money has been committed to their refugee family, their extra space has been stuffed with garage sale items, and he was also not able to do anything physically because of an old injury that was bothering him. He felt empty in his lack of ability to act. He explained that sometimes "All we can do is what we can do and we need to see that, that is enough."

"Sometimes the answer is to throw money at something!" 

He related the situation to being in a flight emergency. And how they tell you to put your air mask on before helping others. Because if you pass out from no air, you cant do much to help someone else. He also pointed out that some times we are in a position to do a lot. Like the gas station owner that gave out thousands of liters of free gas for people that were fleeing in the evacuation.
He said he was brought to tears, by the competency of the people who were able to conduct this mass evacuation without any major accidents and minimal loss of life.(.... I don't really understand how someone could-be brought to tears over "human competency", but whatever speaks to you I guess?)

He spoke about how he was watching TV and how he saw the mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson, be brought to tears! Not from the loss of home and possessions, but by the unbelievable outpour of charity by Edmontonians and the rest of Canada. I can personally tell you that I have seen what he is talking about, not just at donation centers but in my daily life in Edmonton. In this last week, everything has opened up to the evacuees. Every cafe and restaurant  has a sign up advertising free food, businesses are giving away free goods and collecting donations, artists of all types are selling their work for Charity, and even the Labatt Beer Brewery stepped up to meet the emergency need for bottled water!

Labatt brewing water to help those affected by Fort McMurray wildfire
 Labatt is sending out hundreds of thousands of cans of water to those affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire.
I cant help but notice how this reminds me of Isaiah 2:4 ESV.

"He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

 He also gave his thoughts on the concept of spirituality "Spirituality to me is a a connection to another human or sometimes nature." He explained that other religions try to frame spirituality in the idea of "God" or "Allah" or "Buddha". He indicated that that was "OK". but "It doesn't cover everything".

After all this we went through what one might describe as guided meditation. We were directed as a group when to breath in and breath out and what to focus on.

Then we had a moment of silence where everyone in the room bowed their head and dimmed the lights. After about a minute, the lights came back on and the service was ended. We all then received the good news that Church members get first pick at buying from the garage sale! As you can imagine I saw the room get up and all the women in their 50's and 60's get up and run like kids heading for the candy shop!

I can honestly tell you that there is some great stuff at this garage sale and it is open to the public and being held at 11715 108 Ave NW, Edmonton AB and the hours are 8am-6pm on May 13th and 8am-4pm on May 14th. 

Also! Crucial  info for for Fort Mac evacuees!

#1. Get online and register with the Red Cross! Even if you have everything materially and friends to stay with it is sill crucial that you register! They have mental health workers!

1-888-350-6070 or

 #2 You are entitled to free money from the government to help cover your expenses while being away from your homes! Follow the link to learn more and then click on "Debit Card Relief Funding."


Now that we have this all over and done with it is now time for my RANT!

Some places have been all-killer-no-filler but this place has been just the opposite. It just feels really empty to me...

The candles felt very empty...I fail to understand how just lighting a candle would help my troubles in anyway, or replace wise human conciliation or guidance from the divine.

But what really gets me is that the word "God" was used only once in this service and in a some-what negative context. Spirituality was drilled down to a simple human emotion. Charity and aid were simply defined as "The right thing to do". It was like someone took a hypodermic needle and  purposely sucked every inch of the divine out of a church service, and left this barely living hollow-body in a post- spiritual-lobotomy state!

For some one who is used to going to common church services, this felt like living in the numbed colorless, dystopian world defined in the book : The Giver .

As I was shopping the garage sale I bought a pair of bees wax candles and as the cashier and I were marveling over them, I expressed what a beautiful piece of God's creation they were! Then is an awkward moment, she politely corrected me a she said "or Nature"....

Is "God" a bad word in this place?

I am not saying this place is bad in anyway. It has seriously introduced me to some of the most genuine people you will ever meet! But it does nothing for my spiritual thirst. I would more then suggest this church as a great resource for interfaith work and gatherings. I can also imagine an Atheist that is looking for a "church like" community would find this to be a prime option! It's just not for me.....

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Church #62. Edmonton Japanese Christian Church.

Hello and welcome back!

Today I met with the only Japanese congregation in Edmonton! Technically, the congregation are just renters in this space. The actual building belongs to Zion Baptist Church. They have their service later in the day after the Baptists are done theirs, roughly around 2pm which is nice for a semi-nocturnal human like myself.

I soon found myself in the basement kitchen talking with the church leader, as I watched him work hard preparing a large pot of Japanese curry for his congregation. "They are few, but they eat a lot!" he mentioned to me as he stirred the pot.

This is definitely what I would describe a "small and close-knit" group. It was explained to me that they normally have their services upstairs in the main body of the church, but they have one Sunday a month where they have to go downstairs for the service. This allows them to get a little closer and have a much more intimate experience. The actual demographics of this Church were much younger then normal overall. There were roughly 25 people in attendance. The majority of them were between 20-40, with a few children, teens, and seniors.

For the service itself, we set up chairs in U-shaped formation centering around a tile-finished wall with a fireplace (unlit) in the middle. The church leader sat in the middle with his guitar and led the service. Along with sermon and songs, the leader also asked that members contribute by leading prayers for certain people/groups. This included: their board members, organization, missionaries abroad, the Canadian military, and the Canadian government.

One statement that really stood out to me was "Thank-god for the freedom in Canada to be able to gather publicly."  Honestly I had totally forgotten about this. As a kid I remembered hearing about places like China, where people have church services in fear of solders breaking down doors and people being arrested. I seriously forget how good we have it in this country sometimes. But always being thankful for our liberties in the land of the true north, strong and free is difficult. Especially if you haven't lived anywhere else.

If you want to know know more, you can follow the link to learn about the top 50 countries in this world where Christians are suffering from persecution.
Link- Open Door Top 50 Countries. 

After this it was children's time. The four little ones that were in attendance came up to the front of the room and sat in front of the church leader. Today started with a question: "What makes you happy?" and "What makes you sad?" Maybe they were all a bit shy or simply to young, but regardless there was silence in the room. "Is the question too difficult?" The leader said with a chuckle. He then went on to explain that there are things that make God happy and sad. He told the children that God is the most happy when you trust him, and that it makes God very sad when you do not trust him.

The scripture lesson today was from Mark 11:12. The Church leader asked for a volunteer to read. When no one stepped forward, he said "If you decide to read, you get extra curry!".

Mark 11:12-25 (NIV)

Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Clears the Temple Courts

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[c]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[d]
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples[e] went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 

I am really appreciative that this piece of scripture was explained today. Mark 11:12 has what I feel to be the most strange and quite frankly, most awesome part of the gospel teachings of Christ. You can discern for yourself which one is which.

Going into the explanation, the church leader addressed a lot of the thoughts and feeling we all had around these verses. "I fell so bad for the fig tree! It was out of season!"  the church leader proclaimed! He also noted that Jesus was not himself that day. He was hungry and angry, and throwing over tables! "This is not the Jesus I know!"

Going into the explanation, the church leader explained that this was a message about faith, and the results of unfaithfulness. The tree looked good and healthy from a distance, full of bright thick leaves, but on closer inspection, it had no fruit. This tree represented the spiritual condition of the time. The temple was large and grand, filled with ornate decoration and strict ritual. But upon closer inspection, it was clear that the hearts of the people had no faith, and corruption ran rampant. "They were dead in spirit."

On a personal note, I also think there might be something said for Jesus's condition of being hungry and angry. Considering God was a part of Christ, I can imagine that it was God who was feeling hungry, because of the lack of faithful people, and also angry because of the evil that man was allowing to occur in his house.
For those of you that may not realize this, Jesus was an extremely political person. He also had a very strong distaste for financial corruption, specifically among the religious leaders. I suggest the book "The Politics of Jesus." by John Howard Yoder to help provide a fuller understanding of his teachings. 

Quotes of the day;

"Good deeds are not enough to reach heaven, we need Jesus". 
"Faith is about believing something impossible." 

I found it interesting that a lot of the members of the congregation were holding traditional hardback bibles. OK they were not that traditional.... they were smaller and more square then normal, some were written in Japanese and some even had plushy fabric covers on them! Maybe I should not be so quick to assume things, but I anticipated that everyone might be reading everything off their smartphones, because I have seen that to be the norm in other predominantly Asian churches.

Japan is the world center of odd things, at least to most western eyes. So as you can imagine there were a few interesting things I discovered while researching this. The major one which I thought to highlight was the fake churches and ministers of Japan. Japan has a population of roughly 126.5 million people but out of all that only about 1% are Christians. Yet interestingly enough three quarters of the weddings that are happening today in Japan are white, western-style christian weddings. That is a lot of non-Christians looking for a church and a pastor to marry them. So what do you do when the demand completely outweighs the supply? Build thousands of fake churches and fill them with fake pastors! 

Link-The Fake Christian Priests of Japan – A Booming Business

This is not to say that we don't have our share of fake Christian-ness in our own society. Crosses are worn by a lot of people for simply fashion statements. I know one guy I knew once and I asked him about the cross he was wearing after he took off his shirt to go swimming. He told me that he is not really Christian, but wears it to appease his strongly Catholic parents. That and bragging rights for wearing 24k Gold.

Rosaries are another big one. A lot of colorful small plastic rosaries are given out in the poor parts of this city, and it is not uncommon to see gang member's and repeat offending criminals wearing them around their necks. I am not entirely sure why. Maybe it just because they are given to them? Maybe it is gangster fashion? Or maybe they are trying to detract attention, and look more innocent before stealing *another* bottle of vodka. I literally remember a day in my store, when I saw one guy come in, who had collected all of the "free rosaries" in the 4 different colors they come in, and was wearing them all at the same time! He also had the neck tattoo's, baggy clothes and gang colors to match!

On a happier note, since it is the season for promoting local businesses (personally I always think it is the season for local business), let me introduce you to Ki-Fu-Ne Japan! 

This is a cute local shop that has a plethora of fun quality goods from Japan. It's address is 10046-167street NW Edmonton, and their phone number is 780-341-5424.

Over all, I really enjoyed this church, I felt very comfortable and welcome despite being being a minority in the room. This Church feels kind and genuine and I hope to visit again!

Have a good week everyone!