All posts by Karen Stiller

Our Whole Society conference brings old and new friends together

I knew that I knew her from somewhere. The woman at the end of my row in a workshop at the “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th” in Ottawa was eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her.

I caught a glimpse at her name tag and did a quick google. I discovered we shared one Facebook friend, and that was an old elementary school friend of mine, who was later my university roommate.

I realized with a jolt of surprise that this woman was the mother of my old friend. It had been at least 28 years since I had seen her, and now here we were at a conference dedicated to thinking about the role of religion in our country.

After I introduced myself, we exclaimed and embraced, and I thought how interesting it was to be at a faith-based-and-centered conference with my friend’s mother, who I had always known as the “Mormon Mother.” They were the family who didn’t drink tea and were very mysterious and somewhat exotic, with a host of other rules and practices that back then I did not understand, or even try to, quite honestly.  Back then,  I just knew that my friend came from a very religious family, and that we were different. I never, ever would have thought I would someday find myself at the same conference with her family.

But all of the faiths present at this conference, and there are several, share concerns about the topics being addressed at the conference, which include religious freedom, solidarity in diversity, reconciliation, and immigration and refugees. We are here together.
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Making peace with creation: the story behind the new film out of Regent College

In “Making Peace with Creation” poet and theologian Loren Wilkinson presents a compelling and compassionate vision for life in the 21st century.

by Iwan Russell-Jones

I knew that I had to make this film after my wife, Amanda, and I took part in the ‘Boat Course’, a remarkable educational experience that Loren and Mary Ruth Wilkinson devised and have been offering at Regent College for many years.

From the Wilkinson’s home on Galiano students and teachers set off together in two rowing boats on an 8-day voyage around the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, to think, study, discuss and meditate on the meaning of life on this our beautiful and fragile planet – to ponder Technology, Wilderness and Creation (to give the course its correct title).

It was an unforgettable trip – shipping our oars while a pod of Orcas crossed the channel just metres in front of us, standing in wonder on the beach in the dead of night as the sea was lit up by millions of plankton working their miracle of bioluminescence, reading the Scriptures and praying together using the rhythms of Celtic daily prayer in the stunning setting of the Pacific Northwest, contemplating the devastating long-term impact of the acidification of the oceans …  And weaving it all together with insight, poetry and passion was Loren himself, who has spent decades of his life thinking and teaching about the human experience and its relationship to a biblical understanding of creation.

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My conversation with a man whose wife died by assisted suicide

The other day I met a man whose wife had died by assisted suicide earlier this year. We sat beside each other on an airplane and struck up conversation, as people do. We discovered we were both writers of a sort, and that was our starting point.

I don’t really remember how it came up, but I must have asked him about his wife. He was an elderly man and something he said made me think he was widowed fairly recently. Then he told me this really enormous thing: that his wife had fought cancer for years and had entered a new, final phase of not winning the fight anymore and so she had chosen assisted suicide about four months ago, with his support.

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This seemed like a huge disclosure, a big, sad, tragic thing to share. I don’t know if the ease of his disclosure is a statement about how writers tend to go deep quickly with each other, or maybe it’s more a statement about the potential “ordinariness” of what we are now doing in Canada, by having assisted suicide.

Or, maybe, he was just sad and it was recent and so he blurted it out to a stranger. Then, almost right after he told me, this kind, quiet man asked me what kind of writing I do.

So, I told him I wrote mostly about faith things, and religious things, and that my husband is a minister. I’m not sure why I added that bit about my husband, but I think I said it because I wanted to assure him that I understood grief, and he was clearly grieving.
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The latest issue of Faith Today is out in the world

Politics is on everyone’s mind these days. It’s almost impossible to avoid, and why would we? As Christians we know we are citizens of another Kingdom, one we will welcome someday in its fullness. But in the meantime we are called to be good citizens here, engaged in caring for our neighbours, our communities and creation.

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Our cover article in the Mar/Apr issue of Faith Today provides challenging insights from a handful of different theologians on how our faith should not — and cannot — be separated from our politics. Canadians too easily assume politics is public and faith is private, but this article is a timely reminder to avoid that mistake.

Our interview with Loren Wilkinson presents another facet of citizenship — our call to care for creation. The B.C. poet and theologian, together with his wife Mary-Ruth Wilkinson, has devoted years to opening their home on Galiano Island to students who come to visit, feast together and get their hands dirty in creation’s soil around the island.

If the coming of spring isn’t already getting you thinking about gardening around your church, you probably will be after hearing from Wilkinson — and you’ll be reminded of its spiritual importance.

And that applies to sending kids to summer camp, as our advertising feature will no doubt remind you.
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What if your love language stinks?

Years ago, at a marriage retreat we were attending, the couple leading the talk made reference to the hugely bestselling book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman. They listed off the love languages — words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service or physical touch. Then they quickly added that neither of them had the love language of  receiving gifts. As if that was a bad thing (to have that love language) and a good thing (to not have that love language).

Happy 25th Anniversary to the book that has taught a lot of couples how to love each other even better. Watch for our “mini-interview” with author Gary Chapman in May/Jun Faith Today.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and glanced at my husband. Because … my name is Karen and receiving gifts is my love language.

I remember when we first completed the love language profile, the results rolled in and it felt like of all the love languages, I managed to get the most superficial, materialistic, greedy needy one. Of course, that is not how Gary Chapman intended it to be understood. He writes: “A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say ‘Look, he was thinking of me,’ or ‘She remembered me.’ The gift itself is a symbol of that thought. It doesn’t matter whether it costs money. What is important is you thought of him.”

But still, it has always felt funny.  Continue reading What if your love language stinks?

The beauty of church

There are a hundred reasons to dislike church. A thousand reasons to suspend your participation in one church, or swap it for attendance at another. I attend church every Sunday and I haven’t church shopped, swapped or dropped since I was in my early 20s (and that was a while ago). I’m married to an Anglican priest, so his church is my church, our family goes every week, and yes, there is bickering and badgering and we are often late.

Read Rod Wilson’s article on the circulation of the saints in the Jan/Feb Faith Today, available now.

As I’ve seen people in various churches over the years drop out for a time or for good, or switch churches (usually for a bigger or newer option, and yes, I totally get that there are lots of good reasons to leave a church), I’ve wondered what I would do if I had that freedom. Would I become a circulating saint, as Rod Wilson puts it in his recent Faith Today article? Would I regularly try out other churches to sample the offerings? Would I choose my couch and a good book on Sunday morning instead, and often? Would I let my kids throw in the worship towel because I just can’t stand the arguing? I can’t honestly answer “no” to those questions, because I just don’t know. I hope not, but it is possible that without my built-in church attendance motivation,  I might go to bedside Baptist, and poolside Presbyterian and be Lutheran at the lake, and all those other silly names.
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An Interview with the authors of “Theology Matters” study

The recent study “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy” grabbed the attention of mainline media in Canada. The study showed that mainline churches that grow in Canada tend to be theologically  more conservative, led by pastors who engage more regularly in personal religious practices, and attended by Canadians who also engage more regularly in such practices.

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The Jan/Feb issue of Faith Today digs into the study and asks questions we haven’t seen asked anywhere else — such as how mainline denominational leaders are responding to a study that shows church growth is found in the opposite direction theologically in which their denominations tend to be moving. We felt like readers might want even more than is in the article, so our FT team went back to two of the study’s authors (David Haskell and Kevin Flatt) and asked more questions. Here is our interview…
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The Top Faith Today Blogs of 2016

Blog readers, we salute you. Thank you for paying attention and interacting with the Faith Today blog. Our intention with the blog is to provide you with even more excellent Christian journalism and thinking, to build on and expand on what you find in the pages of the print magazine. As we begin a new year of blogging, here’s a look back on the Top 10 Faith Today blog posts of 2016. 

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  1. Announcing a Faith Today contest to reward your pastor. This blog post invited Canadian congregations to nominate their pastors for a well-deserved break. Canadians loved this idea, because they love their pastors.
  2. Pornography most common sexual sin of men. We invited Kirk Giles, head of Promise Keepers Canada, to write for us after he appeared in the magazine as our featured Question and Answer subject. His topic was provocative and timely.
  3. Goodbye beautiful writer, our lovely friend. We said goodbye to Debra Fieguth, a beloved and highly experienced Canadian Christian journalist this year. The Christian writing and reading community celebrated her achievements while mourning her loss.
  4. Memories of the Christian Brethren. Faith Today readers enjoy John Stackhouse’s great writing and challenging insights. He offered us some warm memories in this more personal piece than we usually see from him.
  5. What I learned visiting churches in Moncton. Sometimes our ideas for blogs come from outside of our writing circles, and we love that. This one hit a nerve.
  6. The 17 year old girl forced to go to church shares her thoughts. Wow! This one really caused some waves. This blog from 2015 still made our 2016 Top Ten list. A 17-year-old daughter of one our editors tells it like it is.
  7. We know it will be messy: Trinity Western. Readers responded well to this behind the scenes look at the motivation behind Trinity Western University’s long, long struggle to have their law school students recognized across Canada.
  8. Writing the difficult story of Gospel for Asia. In this blog we explained more about our reasons for writing an investigative piece into one of the world’s largest Christian charities. Some of our readers had wondered if we were in the muck a bit with this one — we think not, and here we explained why.
  9. Faith Today writer shares what it’s like to have a sister in the Olympics. Sometimes a blog is just fun, light, wonderful reading, like this one.
  10. Dear Fundraiser, a letter from Christians who give. Our cover story writer on “Being, Doing, Having” (all about Christians and money) does a spin-off blog on fundraising, and readers enjoyed it.

Thanks again for reading the Faith Today blog. Subscribe to the print issue today and keep Christian print journalism alive and well in Canada.

A new kind of bucket list for a new year

Do you have a bucket list for 2017? Author Ann Voskamp (our Jan/Feb Faith Today Interview) in her latest book The Broken Way: a daring path into the abundant life, suggests we think bigger than that. “What if,” she writes, “living the abundant life isn’t about having better stories to share but about living a story that lets others live better?”

Author Ann Voskamp, our Jan/Feb in-depth interview in Faith Today, offers a new and refreshing take on the bucket list idea.

I thought of Voskamp’s take on the popular bucket list idea — where you plot out and list off the adventures and accomplishments you want to achieve before you “kick the bucket” — when I read a Globe and Mail article called “Kicking the Bucket List” on Dec. 30.

The article shares the history of “bucket lists,” and how that name entered the lexicon of popular culture about a decade ago. It also names one of the big weaknesses of the bucket list: “When however it comes to those things we value not for themselves but as markers of success and status, one thing can easily substitute for another. You finally get the specific job — the new title of junior assistant associate undersecretary — that you have been coveting. Two months later, it means nothing to you…”

Anyone who has ever crossed an accomplishment or the obtaining of some desired object off their list knows that feeling all too well. We always want more. We are rarely satisfied.

With Voskamp’s rewriting of the bucket list to a kind of “give it” list however, satisfaction is almost always guaranteed. “More than any bucket list of merely exploring the world, you could live an empty bucket list of expending all for the world.” She asks, “Where are the people ready to do the hard and holy things?”

I spoke more with Voskamp about this in the upcoming Faith Today interview for Jan/Feb. You won’t want to miss it. Meanwhile, why not spend a few moments creating a “give-it” list? What gifts and resources can you share with your community, and the world, in 2017? What might be hard and holy — and I’m guessing ultimately very fulfilling — for you this year?  What do you have to give? I’m sure that list is longer than you can imagine.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Subscribe today to not miss the Voskamp interview, and have access to some of the best Christian print journalism in Canada. 

 

How I wound up on 100 Huntley St with my golden doodle

It was actually a Faith Today article and webinar that indirectly led to my dog Dewey and I embarking on a journey to become a therapy dog team visiting seniors in a residence.

Dewey the Dog visiting while people talk about him in the background for 100 Huntley St.

While researching and interviewing for a piece about palliative care and euthanasia — of all things — I started to hear a clear message, especially from Bruce Clemenger, president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He talked about the need for Canadian Christians to embrace our seniors and make sure we are being the hands and feet of Christ to a portion of our population who are often  lonely and sometimes neglected by their families, friends, and perhaps even by an overloaded medical care system.

At the same time, I was feeling a clear call to volunteer my time outside of the church circles in which I normally served. Plus, I have a great big, fluffy, lovable golden doodle who loves nothing more than going from person to person in a room, being cuddled and loved and talked to in warm, adoring voices by whomever is willing and available.

So, Dewey and I applied to become a therapy dog team through St. John Ambulance. We went through the process of evaluation and training, and then a four week mentoring period with an experienced therapy dog volunteer.

Each week me, my mentor, and Dewey of course, would meet outside the doors of the Port Perry Villa, and have a conversation about things like what side of a wheel chair to approach, how to handle barking if dogs meet up in this otherwise very human environment, and the most important tip for me: to not get in the way. In my nervousness, I had been kneeling down to be eye level with Dewey, so I could reassure him in this unfamiliar setting. My mentor asked me not to do this, to just trust Dewey to do his job.
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