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Why I Marched

Today, I joined approximately 60,000 women, men and children marching in Toronto for women’s rights. Such marches, originating in Washington, D.C, took place in 50 states and over 600 hundred marches in solidarity on 7 continents. For some, this was a protest against President Trump and his tweets and speeches that put women down, sexualize them or mistreats them. However, this march stood for so much more!

When I announced on Facebook that I was going to this march, I received quite a bit of resistance which surprised me, claiming, for example, that this was primarily a pro-choice march. In Toronto, we had an hour of speeches and this divisive issue was not mentioned. Instead, there was a focus on the way that women of all backgrounds and beliefs have been treated. What I found special about this protest march is that it brought together people who may not agree on many things, but who all stood for fair and equal treatment for women. It was a peaceful and nonviolent protest. There were people in their 80s present as well as babies. There were men of all ages there and many of them wore pink – to all the men who came, I want to say a special thank you for standing in solidarity with women’s rights. In doing so, you speak volumes that women’s rights are something that everyone should be concerned about.

At the outset, let me say a few things. First of all, I did not agree with everything that was said nor did I stand behind each sentiment on a protest sign. At the beginning of the march, we were given pins that asked “Why are you marching?” I spent quite a bit of time in the presence of women who I know have experienced similar things to think through why I was marching. The organizers of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. posted a four page typed list of what people were standing for. And most of those things were why I marched. Second, I am also aware that this is a pretty negative post. It is all things that I think people need to hear. However, I’ve also been blessed with people who deeply respect women and value my input, gifts, experience and knowledge. I’ve been privileged enough that I haven’t felt that my gender has prevented me from work or from fair pay, a privilege I know many others do not experience. I’ve had the privilege of working for people who did not treat me differently because I am a woman. I am thankful for these people in my life and for the hope they give me in respecting women’s rights.

So let me get personal.

I have my own painful story of what I endured growing up and the consequences of speaking up. I’ve written about that elsewhere and want to focus this blog post on some other things I’ve experienced. However, this was one of the major motivations for me to walk today.

There is seldom a week that goes by when I haven’t been “cat-called” or had a comment about my body by a stranger.

I’ve grown so used to these comments that I don’t think about them anymore. Well, most of the time. Sometimes they still catch me off guard and anger me.

In the fall, I was assaulted on the bus by a stranger. I wasn’t the only one. Someone told the driver, who was subsequently required to stop the bus and wait for the police to show up. He was only allowed to tell us that transit control required him to stop. The men on the bus were quite upset that we weren’t going anywhere. Then the police showed up and removed the passenger in question. Then came the stories from all the young women on the bus who had been assaulted to varying degrees spoke about their experiences. This all happened in front of others. Granted, I know all to well how consumed in a book or my own thoughts I can become as I commute. But I have since found out that this is a common experience for women on our transit system.

Since that day, I’ve found myself sitting closer to the driver.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a candle light service that ended such that I would be at the subway station waiting for the bus after midnight. I could walk home, but the street is not well lit, there are a couple of bars with people drunk and smoking outside, and often shady characters. I asked a friend if she’d wait at the subway with me until a bus came as I didn’t feel safe.

If I’m walking at night, I am holding on to my phone – just in case I need it.

I am no longer surprised if I hear that someone has been sexually abused or assaulted.

In a workshop with youth about bullying, I had them write down on sticky notes things that they have been called. The words that the girls have been called break my heart.

Online dating is a thing for my generation. Many people have found their match through these sites and, as a tool, it alone is neither good nor bad. But for every polite conversation I have with a guy, I’ve had to delete a ridiculous number of messages that are overt in sexual come-ons.

In a recent Facebook discussion, I mentioned a stat that I had read that talked about how roughly 50% of girls who get pregnant, the father is 5-6 years older than them. Depending on how old the girl is, that is statutory rape. A person’s response was “Oh please, they wanted it”. If that was the only time I’ve heard such a sentiment, I think I could handle it ok. But it’s not.

Also in that discussion, the same person said that women should be in control of their bodies… because they are the ones that get pregnant. First of all, this dismisses the many people who have been abused, assaulted and/or raped and it’s a message we hear all the time. Why didn’t we do something about it? Why didn’t we kick or scream? Why didn’t we say no? Why didn’t we report it? But even in consensual relationships, it takes two to make a baby! Yet, I hear over and over and over how women are the ones who are to be responsible and the men get off. Interesting isn’t it, how in Scripture, the adulterous woman is about to be stoned and there is no mention of the man with whom she committed adultery!

I know what it’s like to not be believed. I know what it’s like to be dismissed because I’m hormonal. I know what it’s like prepare a sermon and have it called “teaching” simply because I was in a church that doesn’t allow women to preach. I know what it’s like to say something and have it dismissed, only for a man in the room to say the same thing and be applauded.

Today was a day that hundreds of people around the world said that all these things are wrong. It’s a day that we stood in solidarity saying that women have the right to be respected and a right to equality. It’s a day when we said no to hate. It’s a day where we said we will not be silent. It is a day when we said to each other – you are not alone. It was a day where people came together – despite their differences – to say that we demand that women be treated well. All the time.

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Giving All

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A group of kids taping their written prayers to the walls of a church in Toronto

The other day, I watched the documentary “Jesus Camp”. It’s about a radical group of Christian fundamentalists in the US and how they train up their children. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart – I had to watch it in two parts as there was much that was troublesome. There was also much that I know all to well. So I don’t recommend the film. But it’s made me think, which of course, is the purpose of documentary.

One of the key pastors looks at how radicalized muslim youth are trained from a young age and indoctrinated with values and ideas about the world as well as a belief system that leads them to want to sacrifice themselves in acts of violence for the sake of their pure radical vision. She looks at Christianity and how watered down it can become, how lazy we can be about our faith and points to the muslim example that we should be at least as radical as they are. That we should train our children that the Christian faith is worth dying for. That fasting and prayer are important.

Her tactics are wrong. But she has a point.

Did you know that one of my devout Muslim friends gets up at 5 in the morning to pray? I have trouble getting up early enough to pray before I have to go out of the house and I don’t have to get up nearly that early! And this isn’t the only time that she gets up to pray. Conversations with my Muslim (and for the record, a non-radicalized one), taught me about a religion that took prayer and fasting very seriously – perhaps more seriously than many Christians, including myself.

Another couple of Muslim friends have taught me about generosity. Even though I was an employee, they showered me with generosity, often topping up my pay check, offering me food, giving gifts. They also offered listening ears and encouragement in everything that I did – whether that be school work or Christian work.

Meanwhile, I am trying to finish up a course on Church history and have been reading about some of the great people of our faith. Some of them would give up everything they had to go and live lives of prayer in the desert. And some had a lot to give up!

I disagree with the methods of “Jesus Camp” and the theology that it tried to indoctrinate the children and youth with. But I wonder, in 2016, how do we be – and raise up – people who would give everything up for Jesus. People who love Him with their whole hearts, minds, soul and strength who would devote all that they are and all that they have to Jesus. People who would serve those who are abandoned, unloved, hungry, poor, alone. People who stand out and whose lives point to Jesus in all that they do.

Some thoughts on Cecil the Lion and how we relate to the world

My Facebook newsfeed has been flooded lately with stories of Cecil the Lion, details of the planned lion hunt, and the fallout.

I’m not the strongest animal rights advocate. I did become vegan for awhile in part because of how animals are treated. However, through that time I learned that my body – along with many others – cannot absorb several key nutrients that are required for healthy living through the vegan diet (some can, mine could not). So I returned to a primarily vegetarian diet with some meat every now and then. Some would argue that my use of animals is wrong and at times I wrestle with this.

But there is something that grabbed me about the story of Cecil the Lion. This majestic animal was killed not for hunger, but for sport. There was no reason for this creature to die beyond man’s selfishness. As a result, Cecil’s cubs are now endangered. Not because someone was starving and desperately needed to eat. On the contrary, someone paid a ridiculous amount of money to hunt this particular lion.

There is something about the killing of an innocent creature that just seems so very wrong. We are a broken world that allows such a hunt to happen.

The troubling reality though is that while terrible things happen every day to ‘innocent’ creatures – Cecil the Lion is getting proportionately more press time.

– what about the child refugees who know only war and refugee camp while we create video games that require graphic shooting and war to win?

– what about the child soldiers who out of survival mode do the unthinkable because otherwise the unthinkable will be done to them – or to their friends?

– what about the women who sell their bodies to become organ donors on the black market at best or sexual objects at worse in order to care for their families?

– what about the men and women and children who work in factories and get paid pennies for dangerous work in order to provide their children with a half decent meal while the rest of the world has money to spare and even to waste?

– what about the landfills that hold our electronics when we throw out an item to get the newest and latest best product?

and I could go on with stories that break my heart and bring me to tears.

We are a broken world.

I am pleased to see the uproar challenging trophy hunting in relation to Cecil the Lion. I am pleased to see AirLines refusing to bring back the bodies.

We need that same uproar and challenge against how we treat the environment and ALL who live in it. We need to honour the majestic creature of Cecil the Lion – and all who die daily for our own selfishness.

Speaking out

My head and heart have been distracted this past week. I have read countless articles and comments about Ghomeshi, victims of sexual crime and rape culture. I have tried to challenge and speak into what has seemed like a sad commentary on both what victims experience and people’s responses. In doing so, my story has been more public than I am used to. Yes…I write a blog and what I write is out there. But 100+ hits a day to one post is simply not what I am used to. Enough has been written on this topic and so I don’t want to say much at the moment.

But I would like to add to the discussion what speaking out is like…even for someone whose offender has been convicted.

Each time I tell a new person that I was sexually abused, I am worried that I will lose relationships. Speaking out has cost me my family and much more.

Each time I admit that I too was a victim, I worry my voice will be discounted since I am damaged … Or worse…that I am crazy as some have said.

Each time I mention the abuse by my stepfather, I wait in fear for the words of my grandmother that echo in my mind “I don’t believe you, but continue.”

Each time I tell my story, I worry what people think of me. I worry that people will consider me unfit for ministry. I worry that people will only see this side of me.

Each time I tell someone, I worry their niceness is them feeling sorry for me. I worry that silence means they don’t believe me.

I worry how this information would be used against me or used to hold me back.

This is after ten years of telling people. And the majority of them walking alongside me in the long and difficult journey towards healing and wholeness.

Dear world,
If you want more women to speak up and out, you need to know that we risk everything to do so. There is no glamour or rewards for doing so. Just shame, fear and pain. Respond tenderly. Even if you don’t believe our offenders did what we say. Even if you don’t know how to reconcile your good opinion of the person and the allegations. Choose silence over blind statements about our character. Refrain from judgment of us, just like you want to do with the offender.
Affirm our courage. Chances are, we are telling the truth and the cost of doing so is beyond what you could even begin to imagine. Affirm our pain. You do not need to know whether what we say is true in order to see that we are troubled by something.
Don’t give up on us. Whether you believe us or not, walk with us. We need you.
Respond tenderly. Affirm our courage and pain. Stick with us.
And together we will work towards a culture that does not permit sexual violence.

Toronto needs a LEADER!

Toronto’s mayoral election polls scare me.

Let’s set aside politics – I lean left, others lean right. I respect the diversity in our city. Transit, buses, LRT. Taxes. The poor, the rich. Private. Public.

At this point, I don’t care.

I want a mayor who is a LEADER

Maybe I am too idealistic – but when I interview people for youth/children work, I look for leaders:

  1. People who can instil in others a confidence that they can handle the task before us
  2. People who lead with honesty even when it means they have to own up to their mistakes
  3. People whom I trust when they go out in the neighbourhood and officially represent whatever  organization I am working for.
  4. People that children and youth can look up to – without me worrying!
  5. People who will put their own needs aside when necessary for the betterment of our community.
  6. People who have at least some self-awareness; an awareness of what they need to strive as well as when they need to care for themselves
  7. People who will work well in a leadership team, sharing responsibility and respecting each other regardless of whether they like the others
  8. People who respect people for being people – a respect that sexual orientation, race, socio-economic class, and religion do not change even if one has personal convictions that are different from the other person
  9. People who can handle tough times with integrity – as tough times do come when you are in leadership
  10. People who can keep their anger at an appropriate level – even when falsely accused or slandered.
  11. People who have the courage and wisdom to remain silent – this is pretty important to my understanding of leadership. Leaders need to be comfortable with silence.
  12. People who are empowering and not controlling
  13. People who interact appropriately with each person under their authority.
  14. People who refuse to let bullies win the day
  15. And People who refrain from being a bully

These fifteen things make for a good leader in a youth program of say 20 kids or youth in one tiny part of Toronto. Toronto’s Mayor will have jurisdiction over my small group along with every other small group in the city and with the larger business and the framework itself. Surely we need a mayor that at the very least matches this list.

Dear Torontonians – Doug Ford is not a leader.

He is about control, bullying, getting his way, playing the ‘victim card’ and refuses to play nice, fair or honest.

I don’t care whether his politics are left or right at this moment. He’s not leadership material.

Doug Ford cares about one thing and one thing only. He doesn’t care about the city – or the people in it. He constantly claims to say taxpayer’s dollars – but the veracity and the consequences of this saving are debated.

He does not care about being a fine leader marked with integrity, vision and compassion.

He is does not care about making the vulnerable people’s voices heard and their needs and rights protected

He does not care about having relationships that are right and good and restoring those that are not right. He is not interested being the first person to take a step in reconciliation

he does not care about playing fairly or by the rules

He does not care about leading with integrity and wisdom

He cares about one thing: getting elected.

If we elect Doug Ford as mayor – we place someone incapable of being a leader in charge of Canada’s largest city.

As election day draws near, lets look for a mayor who can actually lead.

Time does not stand still

September 1, 2014 1 comment

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This is a week in the calendar year that I am reminded: time does not stand still.

This picture was taken 10 years ago almost to the day. I am holding my youngest sister who turns 10 tomorrow. She is minutes old. My heart is heavy this week as I am reminded of the years – 9 1/2 – that I have missed of her life. I am privileged to have heard her first cries, laughs and see her sit up on her own. But everything else – her first word, her first step, her first dance, her first music recital – I missed. Time doesn’t stand still.

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One of my brothers turns 13 this week. In my family, we talked about the coming of age at 13 for boys (following the Jewish traditions). I wonder if there will be a special celebration for him as he marks becoming a young man. Seventeen years ago, I witnessed his birth. I had the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord and to hold him as my mom was receiving medical care. I remember him turning blue in my arms and being rushed off to be ventilated. He was in the hospital for the first week of his life and I spent a lot of time with my other siblings so that my mom and stepfather could be there. I can only picture him as this little boy who has a sense of humour and clowns around like no one else. He too is talented I gather from what the rumour weed shares. I miss him. Time doesn’t stand still.

 momandme

And today is my mom’s birthday. What a day of mixed feelings for me. In many ways, I am like her – I inherited her creative genes and workaholic-servant-attitude towards people and the church. I love puns and love music. I teach piano as a result of her influence in my life – albeit, it’s not my chosen profession. In many ways though, I am not like her for we have grown apart these 9 1/2 years. Time doesn’t stand still. She doesn’t know the person I have become, what gives me great joy or what breaks my heart. She doesn’t know the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, or any of the things I’ve done really. While children grow and make huge strives in their early years, the past almost decade has been formative and life changing for me. I’m not the same person I was when I left home. I’m thankful for that – and thankful for the growth and change. But my mother no longer knows me.

While I ache with each anniversary and birthday, my mother’s birthday is probably one of the hardest days of the calendar year. I am reminded of how very little I know my own mother. A decade ago, I would have told you all these things about my mother and more. She was the person I admired most. I watched her love one of my siblings who was on a rough path. She wrote letters to him, assuring him of her love and I was amazed at how someone could be hurt so much and still love. Sadly, that is not the mother I know now. Unconditional love is actually very conditional when you share with others the skeletons in your house. This is probably one of the deepest wounds in my life.

If I could pass on words of wisdom to those who have family – treasure it. It won’t always be there. Death and illness do come to all. People move away physically and drift emotionally away. Time doesn’t stand still.

Just plain hard to get

One of my assignments that I am working on is based on journal entries over the past few weeks and see what God is teaching me in terms of missional spirituality. It is fascinating to see themes throughout what at first seemed like random thoughts. There is one theme that speaks of my heart’s deepest questions at the moment. How do I trust God? This was a particularly poignant question as I sought to walk beside a dear friend who is hurting so much. The only answer to my constant worry and fear was to trust God. And I have struggled with this. Seems so basic – trust God. God is good, God is great, God is faithful – I know all these things. Or at least, I thought I did.

Let me explain.

I hear so often in church land “Trust God, and everything will be fine.” I believe that is a true statement. But not in the sense that it is so often offered. Trusting God is not a recipe for an easy life by any stretch of the imagination.

Here’s what trusting God has looked like in my life:

  • Praying as a young teen for safety, staying up reading Scripture hoping that God would protect me. And the abuse continued.
  • Telling a pastor couple that I need help which resulted in a phone call to children’s aid as there were young children in the home.
  • Trusting that I did the right thing and that God was at work- meanwhile my parents dump my belongings in the back parking lot of where I worked, long hurtful letters from my mom and other relatives, and a birthday present wrapped in a red plastic bag with the inscription “We won’t be needing this anymore”
  • attempting a reconciliation process that blew up in ways unimaginable and therefore put an end to a process that I thought God wanted me to pursue
  • after prayer and consulting many, I pressed charges. While I have wavered in whether this decision was right, I don’t have any doubt any more. One of my most intense experiences of God’s presence in my life was in testifying. After testifying for 3 full days, I needed a break and told my friends that I simply could not continue. Somehow (and I believe this was God) I got back up there and the defense closed the cross-examination when his last line of questioning proved to be based on an argument that was proved false. As I stood up there, I had a powerful experience that God was there with me. Doesn’t make sense unless you’ve experienced this sort of thing in impossible situations but God’s presence was unmistakeable.
  • decisions to keep pressing on and trust God through a lengthy appeal process. I wandered from God several times during this wait and faced many dark days. But when the decision came in and the lengthy account of the panel of judges’ account said everything I had hoped it would, I knew God’s hand was all over it.
  • believing that God would work a miracle of reconciliation and restoration and not being able to hug goodbye my Grandma and Grandpa

this is just a glimpse. God also allowed me to make my own bad choices and suffer the consequences. Some of these decisions were more severe than others. In hindsight, I see God never failing to leave me and staying by my side even when I told him to leave me alone. I can see that God answered my young cries in a way that I never asked – protecting the deepest part of me, the most precious aspect of life – my relationship with God and my soul. Sometimes people comment that it is amazing that I am following Christ after all I have been through. Perhaps, but I do believe that God would not let me go, even when I tried to escape him. Moreover, I see how God is using my experiences to help and bless others… and each time this happens, I find myself thankful for my painful experiences as I know how to sit with pain, I know what it is to hurt, and I know what it is like to have God hold on to you and not let you go. I am also realizing that my experiences shed light into what Christ experienced and somehow, there is a beautiful aspect in sharing in the wounds of Christ.

But in the words of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, sometimes God is “just plain hard to get.” As I watched my friend suffer this semester, I knew that I needed to trust God. But if the God I entrust her to is anything like the God I have trusted in my own life, there is very little comfort. This God allows a whole gamut of things to happen. Trusting God seems to be more about pledging your life to the one who died on the cross and walking the way of the cross than about security and safety. The hope from trusting God is that God can use and redeem anything in this life for His glory. There is peace in knowing that God is here no matter what. But as I wrestle with fear for my friend – or my own life – I am bereft of comfort. For if Christ, the perfect son of God who trusted in God, was despised, rejected and suffered – how can I expect anything different?

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape? […] Well, I memorized every word You said/ Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath/ While You’re up there plain hard to get.

Let’s face it – sometimes God is plain hard to get. And if that’s the God we need to trust, it’s no wonder I have trouble trusting.

But I do know one thing. In my suffering, I have met God. And here the conclusion of Rich Mullins’ song ring true:

You’ve led me here/ Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led/ And so You’ve been here all along I guess/ It’s just your ways and You are just plain hard to get.

Lyrics are from “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins