All posts by Karen Stiller

It’s “us too” for Christian women, even in the Church

A couple of years ago a friend of mine and I went to the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing.

There, we met another Canadian writer, an older Christian man whom I had met before. I introduced him to my friend and told him some of her impressive writing credentials. I should note, my friend is also a very attractive woman. Our fellow writer clearly noticed that too. Instead of asking about her many professional accomplishments I had just listed off,  he puzzled out loud about what TV star she looked like, even inviting other men sitting nearby to join in the guessing.

Ridiculous. Was this sexual harassment? Probably not. But it was demeaning and stupid.

I know women — friends of mine who live and move and have their being in church world — who  who have had their behinds touched by Bishops, had faith leaders kiss them on the mouth uninvited, been told how beautiful they were in a weird way by their brothers in the faith, and had their personal space invaded by hugging that felt inappropriate and was uninvited.

I just took a stroll through the EFC Ottawa office to conduct an informal survey about the “me too” phenomenon. You won’t be surprised to hear my small sampling resulted in a 100% yes.

In our next issue of Faith Today, we have a very interesting story that looks at the safety of young women on Christian campuses. I will give you a sneak peek and assure you that studies show those Christian spaces are generally safer and have less incidence of sexual assault.

That’s as it should be.

It would be profoundly disturbing to think that a strong Christian faith and organizational culture does not make any kind of difference when it comes to sexual assault and unwanted attention paid to either gender. But it would be naive to think it always guarantees a harassment-free zone.

The experiences of countless Christian women I know, and the stories that come pouring out when the door to conversation is opened on this topic, provide a sobering testimony to the presence of this kind of sexual sin/bad behaviour in the Church.

Of all people, we can do better.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today

 

That beautiful debate

It is a beautiful thing to have a debate about God and faith, right in the heart of the University of Toronto campus. That’s what happened just this past Friday night.

The topic of the debate was “Is God a figment of our imagination?” and the guests were Dr. Alister McGrath (the renowned Christian and prolific author) and Dr. Michael Shermer (the renowned atheist/skeptic and very popular author).

Dr. Alister McGrath and Dr. Michael Shermer at the “Is God a figment of our imagination?” debate, moderated by Faith Today’s Karen Stiller.

Faith Today was one of the sponsors of the debate, and I was the moderator, although I preferred the word “host,” and made sure I used it in the introduction. Words matter, after all. So, when I use the word “beautiful,”  here, I don’t mean what was actually said, but the fact that it was said at all. The dialogue was at times challenging, sometimes funny, at other moments frustrating. The guests were sometimes locked into each other’s points, sharing their insights, a smooth back and forth contrasting of ideas as befits two authors of their stature. At other moments, they talked past each other, which happens.

If you came into the debate a Christian, or even just a theist, I’d guess you left the same. If you entered Convocation Hall or tuned into the livestream as an atheist, you likely still think that way. Such is the nature of debates.

So, how was it beautiful?

In church yesterday, in that sacred space, with crying babies and communion, preaching and prayers, faith is nourished and nourishing. That matters. But in the debate arena, faith is stretched and challenged and survives. Yes, faith is strong enough to be debated. It is intellectual and rigorous. It is not a crutch. It has legs. And our atheist friends want to talk. They have good questions. There are good answers. They make good points and we should be bold enough to youtube and livestream how we respond to them for all the world to hear.

I like that Faith Today is a sponsor of the Religion and Society Series. I applaud Wycliffe College, the evangelical Anglican seminary on campus who started the whole thing and does the majority of the heavy lifting. I feel a solidarity with the other sponsors of the event, both Christian and non-Christian. These are people who aren’t afraid to talk, with no guarantee how it will all turn out. I really like that.

This is what Wycliffe says about the series: “The Religion and Society Series seeks to generate critical conversations on matters of faith, society and public interest. The purpose of the series is to play a catalytic role in helping shape discourse around topics that deeply matter to individuals and society.”

And that kind of talking really is beautiful.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. You can watch Religion and Society Series events online

Is God a Figment of our Imagination? The debate is coming…

So far, it is Alister McGrath: 2, Michael Shermer: 1. That’s not actually a score, it’s my book tally as I prepare to moderate a September 15th “Is God a Figment of our Imagination?”debate at the University of Toronto.

In the last month, I’ve read McGrath’s Inventing the Universe and The Passionate Intellect, and I  finished The Believing Brain by Shermer. Now I’m reading Shermer’s The Moral Arc. And it’s a very big book.

Join us in person if you are in Toronto, or live stream anywhere around the world.

What have I learned so far? That my book tally will be the only real score kept surrounding this event. Both of these authors and thinkers are leaders in their field. And they are both very respectful of those with whom they disagree. I think this will be less of a debate and more of a deep dialogue.

As I picture Convocation Hall filling up on that night, and groups around the world live-streaming the evening and then launching into discussions, I think that everyone – whether Christian, a person of another faith, or a person with no faith at all – will be challenged. I know we will all learn something new and have to rethink something old. I have already just through my reading.

It is such a privilege we have in our society to disagree openly, to debate loudly, to interact and exchange ideas with those with whom we share the most important and fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the universe, and with those with whom we do not. So, come to this event if you live in the area. Or live-stream it with a rowdy group of friends. Engage in this conversation.
Continue reading Is God a Figment of our Imagination? The debate is coming…

It’s worth all the dirty laundry

Seven or so loads later, and the stinky, dusty dirty clothing and sleeping bags from a summer at camp have been laundered and folded. I was going to add “and put away” but a glance at my son’s bedroom floor tells me that is not the case, and maybe never will be.

All three of our kids (21, 18 and 17) spent the majority of their summer at a Christian camp, the same one they attended as campers during most of their childhood. This year they were all working there in various capacities: as an assistant camp director, as a section head, and as a chalet leader that included working with special needs or “inclusion campers.”

When our kids  were campers themselves, camp was a highlight of their year. It was fun. It built their faith and it resulted in great, strong, year-round friendships with other Christian youth.

We are grateful that we listened to the advice of a Christian leader years ago who told us to send our kids to camp even if we couldn’t afford it. That’s right. We went into debt to do it every single year. I’m not saying that’s what everyone should do, of course. But for us it was “good debt.” In fact, it was great debt. We knew it was an investment into our kid’s lives, and it has produced more valuable treasure than any other investment we have made, of that I am certain.

I can see the treasures in them now as they are stretched as leaders, while still receiving a level of spiritual support and challenge that I don’t think they would receive elsewhere. At camp, they have been loved and learned to love. They have been led and learned to lead.
Continue reading It’s worth all the dirty laundry

The passing of a great one: Haddon Robinson influenced many Canadian preachers

Years ago, I sat in a small room at the old campus of Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto and interviewed Haddon Robinson, who died last week. The scholar most recently from Gordon Conwell Seminary, known far and wide as one of the greatest living preachers, was in Toronto to speak at Tyndale’s President’s Dinner. I had already met Haddon because my husband was enrolled in a DMin program, with  Haddon as his supervisor. The one moment I remember clearly from the interview was Haddon growling, in his distinctive New York accent, that when he reads theology that is dense and incomprehensible, he just wants to “throw it against the wall.” That’s because he was a master of communication, and that’s what he expected from his students.

Like many, many Canadian preachers and church leaders over the years, Brent made a yearly trek to Boston to study under one of the greats. I would hazard to guess that this unassuming American preacher from a hardscrabble childhood influenced more Canadian preachers over the years than one could easily count. The Canadians in the program tended to drift toward each other, and that was no different in my husband’s group. Toronto church planter and writer Darryl Dash became a friend. I asked him, on behalf of the Canadian preachers who studied under Haddon, to share some thoughts.

Here’s Darryl:

I first met Haddon when I was assigned the task of driving him back to the airport in Toronto. His full name: Haddon Robinson, author of Biblical Preaching, renowned professor of preaching, named one of “The 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World” by Baylor University.
Continue reading The passing of a great one: Haddon Robinson influenced many Canadian preachers

My morning on Ottawa’s streets. The start of a Faith Today story

When we first moved to Ottawa in January, a brand new city for us,  we didn’t know much of anything about living in the area. A fun group of parishioners from our new church who live in the same neighbourhood as we do had a get-together to welcome us and answer questions. They filled scrapbook pages with tips on things like where to get the best thai food and cupcakes (those ‘must-know’ bits of information).

Later, on the “Day Trip” page, I  noticed one woman had written, “Shadow me on the sidewalks of downtown Ottawa and minister to the poor.” And she doodled a smiley face in blue marker beside her invitation.

Last Thursday, I took her up on it. We met at our downtown church at 7:30am and fuelled ourselves with coffee and breakfast at a nearby diner, where I heard her heart for this ministry of presence on the streets of the nation’s capital. Then we wandered the sidewalks to reach out to the homeless we came upon. My friend Jill is executive director with  Urban Christian Outreach Ottawa. She spends usually two days a week doing what we did last week, prayerfully walking down the sidewalks of downtown Ottawa, trying to be salt and light to those who need her.

We ducked into a courtroom to see if any of Jill’s friends were there. We wandered through a mall where many of them used to hang out to see if anyone needed her there. We stopped and spoke to men (because it was just men on that day), who were panhandling and offered to get them water or coffee. In one case, Jill bought breakfast for a veteran who was sitting in a wheelchair, cup out for donations.

We sat in McDonald’s, while Jill tried to help one of the men we met that day.

The story he told us was sad and complicated, and hinted at the maze like process veterans have to navigate, sometimes alone, to get the help they may need. In the end, our friend wheeled away from us in frustration, assuming we were just another dead end. Undaunted, Jill pulled out her phone to make calls to see if she could still find out anything that would help the man find a home.
Continue reading My morning on Ottawa’s streets. The start of a Faith Today story

Reconciliation involves listening. Blanket Exercise makes that easy.

I participated in my first Blanket Exercise recently on Parliament Hill.

The largest Blanket Exercise in Canada was held recently on Parliament Hill

I had heard of it only once before, when the earnest son of a friend, newly sensitized to Aboriginal issues, tried to walk his extended family through it at a barbecue, to mixed results. I knew it involved blankets and a history lesson, and in my friend’s case, an annoyed grandpa.

But it was much more than that.

Kairos Canada, who helps facilitate the exercise, describes it as a “participatory popular education methodology” with the goal of  building “understanding about our shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada by walking through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance.” If you show up, you can be involved. The colourful blankets, in my case spread out beneath the stairs that lead up to the front doors of Parliament, represent pre-colonized Canada.

You’re invited to take your place on the blankets, and there it begins, a moving and enlightening walk-through of Canada’s history with our First Nations.

What struck me most, besides of course the realization of how much I don’t actually know  (or have forgotten) about my country’s own history, was the kindness of the facilitators. Volunteers strolled through the crowd offering kleenex to those moved to tears by the experience. Then, in a move that reminded me of Psalm 56:8 (God gathering our tears in a bottle), they collected the tissues back up again, because the tears were so important and not to be carelessly tossed aside.

Participants were warned they might find the exercise upsetting, learning in more detail than perhaps ever before about the harsh and sometimes fatal treatment of Indigenous peoples by the hand of government, Church, and history in general. But we were very kindly and gently asked to not feel shame or guilt, but to enter and exit the exercise with a healthy sense of hope and love for each other. It was about reconciliation. That beautiful spirit touched me as much as the actual shifting and sorting and bunching up of blankets that told this part of our history that we’d probably rather forget. But true reconciliation means remembering.

Next week, on Wednesday June 21, it is Aboriginal Day. If you can find some event in your community — maybe even a Blanket Exercise — to show your commitment to reconciliation and hope and love, try to attend.

Here at Faith Today, our Jul/Aug issue features an interview with Christine MacMillan, World Evangelical Alliance’s associate secretary general for public engagement. Here’s part of what she said about reconciliation in that soon to be published interview: “It’s being patient. It’s listening to the point where listening even of itself be- comes peace and reconciliation. It’s exploring “what will it take to bring peace?” – and as you explore in that way reconciliation starts to happen. The process is as important as the outcome. [Reconciliation doesn’t begin] until you get people feeling the trust in the room that allows them to tell the layers of their story. The Church must be that safe place, as well as that public place.”

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If you are faith-based group sponsoring refugees, you are doing them a great service

Privately-sponsored refugees are more likely than government-sponsored refugees to have Canadian friends for the long haul. That was one of the insights presented about immigration and refugees at the “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th” conference, held recently in Ottawa.

If you are part of a faith group sponsoring refugees, this will ring true for you, as private sponsors are normally very involved, at least in the beginning months, of a newcomer’s settlement experience into Canada. Driving someone to the dentist, going grocery shopping with them and helping their kids adjust to a new school are all potential ingredients for a life-long bond. Plus, you care.

“Faith and Settlement Partnership: Setting Immigrants and Canada Up for Success” was the name of one workshop offered at the conference. A panel presented some of the initial findings of a multi-partner research project (of the same name as the workshop) going on now in Canada by the Centre for Community-Based Research.

The research is tackling three main questions:

  • To what extent are faith/settlement partnerships viewed positively?
  • What types of partnerships presently exist and how could they be improved?
  • How can effective partnerships be better facilitated?

Initial results show that faith groups tend to work better with short term focused projects. They are very effective at mobilizing for immediate action. Sometimes faith groups give out inaccurate information to newcomers, and settlement agencies have to clear things up when needed.

The research is showing that there needs to be more collaboration between government and faith groups, in order for faith groups to be more integrated in the world of sponsoring refugees in Canada, and for the sake of the refugee. Trust is key. A recurring theme to the research into partnerships between faith based groups and settlement agencies was the need to be friends, and nurture that relationship. And collaboration is key to responding to service gaps. Faith based services and organizations should be part of the settlement supports offered newcomers, suggest the research. Faith helps people overcome challenges and find meaning in difficulties. Faith is significant for the integration of newcomers, so clergy and faith based groups can and should be part of the settlement process. Settlement brings a lot of stressors, faith can be used to mitigate many of them.

The researchers feel there is energy and excitement around the prospect of a closer partnership. And incase you wondered, Mississauga, Ont.,  is the third most attractive city (after Montreal and Toronto) for recent immigrants born in Syria.

And, not surprisingly, less bureaucratic red tape would help everyone.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Read about the experience of some churches settling refugees in Canada for the first time. Subscribe today

Fear of parents is a factor in abortions

Last week the March for Life wound its way through downtown Ottawa. Thousands of people filled the streets carrying pro-life signs and banners. As I thought about the issue of the day, I couldn’t help but reflect on the two situations involving abortions I have been closely involved with in my life.

One was a friend years and years ago, when we were barely out of our teens, the other was more recently with another young woman. In both situations, but particularly the most recent one now that I’ve had children of my own and know more about the issue, I worked hard to try to present alternatives to abortion. Ultimately, I failed. I arranged a meeting between the young woman and a crisis pregnancy centre worker in my living room. I met with her myself whenever she’d let me, trying to listen and to gently persuade her to walk the path of courage and sacrifice and yes, what seemed to her to be the more difficult path, — and not have the abortion.

In the end, though, she did.
Continue reading Fear of parents is a factor in abortions

Why the Parent Cafe works so well

Ask most parents what they most need within their busy schedules, and they might say an occasional safe place to talk and share and be supported in what is one of the most difficult jobs in the world: being a good parent.

Here is an early poster for the Parent Cafe, welcoming harried parents to a night of learning and mutual support.

The May/Jun Faith Today features a story about an innovative and effective ministry to meet this need created by New Song Church in Port Perry, Ont., a congregation of the Anglican Network in Canada. In the spirit of full disclosure, that was the church where my husband served for the last five years. I was involved in the Parent Cafe ministry from the beginning, and I’m convinced this elegant idea can easily be transplanted into other congregations, especially in areas where there might not be visible social problems to help solve, but more hidden needs, like support and community for busy parents and families stretched in 100 directions.

The idea is simple: When parents get better, the whole family gets better. Parenting is one of the most difficult (and most rewarding!) things in the world and it’s easier and better when parents support each other and freely share their knowledge and experience.
Continue reading Why the Parent Cafe works so well