Life After Tyndale – One Student’s Journey

Some things never change.  As I walked into Tyndale the other week, I was immediately greeted by two students who were praying together in the hallway for one another.  I also was greeted by hugs, laughter, and high fives from the many friends I still have here, and was invited to walk in the woods with a student as we shared testimonies together.   This is Tyndale.  This is a school where the young and mature co-exist with each other.  Where the residents and commuters learn from each other, and where opportunities to be yourself and discover who you really are in Christ abound.  This is a place where chapels and classes form us and where we can keep relationships with professors and faculty well after our graduation.  I am grateful for this place.  For this safe haven.  My home away from L’Arche as I like to call it.

Unfortunately, when I was at Tyndale I did not truly appreciate it in the same way that I do today.  To be honest, I did have a wonderful time at Tyndale for the most part.  As I look back on my three years spent there I have many wonderful memories of lasting friendships I have created with some of the most caring men and women I have ever met.  It is in these friendships that I have discovered a mutual trust, accountability, and attitude toward prayer.  Coming back to the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] has been a most welcomed experience for me because here is where many of my closest friends are and it truly feels like home.  Not only did my friends shape my time at Tyndale, but also the classes and the professors.  I remember many classes where we were out in the community learning and growing alongside others, many special lectures that took place, and many times when I came back from a class challenged not just academically but to spiritually integrate things in my life as well.  I enjoyed many aspects of Tyndale from the pick up floor hockey on Friday nights (where no one ever complained about my poor stick handling) to intramurals where my roomate and I became so competitive that she locked me out of the dorm one night to volunteering on my weekends.  It was also at Tyndale that I truly felt that I always had options of places to go for whatever need might arise – solitude, renewal, and retreats.

Nevertheless I needed to be away from the Tyndale bubble for one year to discover the enormous impact this school has had on my life.  That’s not to say that Tyndale is perfect.  Actually, there are certain things that I wish were different about Tyndale as I would for any other institution.  Yet, even in its flaws I have discovered that Tyndale can be and is a healing place.  Tyndale is a place where we can be real with one another and come to community broken.

The difficulty is that this experience is short lived.  The majority of us are at Tyndale for three of maybe four years.  Some of us may choose to further our education here at the B Ed or Sem level, but even then we are only here for 6 or 7 years maximum.  We eventually leave this place and are thrust into a world that is not as caring as this environment.  A world where being a Christian is not always easy – a world where ceasing your devotional life becomes more intriguing, and where not everyone has the same morals as you.

It can be difficult to be thrust into such a world after Tyndale.  A world that is no longer conservative and focused on Christ.  To be honest, it can be scary at first to be surrounded by the culture of alcohol and drugs and in which partying is the norm.  How do you stay true to your Christian identity in such a culture?  Some of us are fortunate enough to remain living in the GTA  where we have an outlet at Tyndale to come back to frequently.  Where we still have friends who we can pray with, go for coffee with, and theologize with.  Others of us will find that we are increasingly more alone, especially those of us who never did find our spouse at “Bridal College”.

When I think about Tyndale now, 15 months after my BRE [Bachelor of Religious Education] graduation, I think there are two lessons that I ultimately want to put out there for everyone who is going through the motions ready to quit school and just feeling like they don’t care what they are learning anymore.

The first lesson is to really savour this time.  Tyndale is an experience unlike any other and you only get to have it once in your life.  Don’t rush through your time here, but take time to truly savour the experiences of always have friends around you, being with people who truly care, and learning how to have a solid Spiritual life.  Try to be appreciative of what this school offers to you and take advantage of everything you can – from free tutoring to the writing center to free counseling and Spiritual direction.

The second lesson is to learn that Tyndale is temporary.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you will be a Tyndale lifer… I thought that for 2.5 years of my time there, but there is a season to everything and eventually you will be done your time here.  You have to learn how to take the lessons you have gleaned from Tyndale and use them in a hostile world.  How to find community after you have left such a solid community, and how to find Spiritual disciplines after Tyndale when people around you really don’t care whether you follow them or not.

I truly hope that regardless of how long you stay at Tyndale that this will be a once in a life time experience for you and that you will make many friends and make a lasting impact on the community in any way that you can.  Always remember that God walks beside you, even in those late night papers.

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5 Simple Ways to Observe a Yahrzeit

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Yahrzeit is the anniversary of someone’s passing from this world into the next. 

Death is a truly humbling experience, but it is also one which has the potential to be beautiful and life giving.  Perhaps this seems ironic, but when I, as an immature 20 year old decided to first embark on the experience of volunteering at a hospice I told my supervisor during my interview that I believed in a Jewish proverb which states that to be born is a miracle and to die is also a miracle.  Unfortunately, due to life circumstances and school commitments I was not able to complete my term with hospice, however, this proverb has maintained significance in my life and it is through my Jewish understandings of death that I have learned that grief has powerful significance.

I will never forget one visit to a Synagogue where the Yahrzeit candle was lit for each member of the congregation who passed away during that week years ago with their names read out.  At the very end of each week we were to remember the [over] 6 million Jewish people who lost their life in the Holocaust, some of whose names we will never know. 

In my own personal life, when my Oma (grandmother) passed away I maintained this sense of Yahrzeit and this desire to remember her every year on the anniversary of her death.  Today as I write this, I am remembering the birthday of one of our residents (core members) who recently passed away, as well as Henri Nouwen’s Yahrzeit (September 21st) – who was a L’Arche pastor in our community.

I think we can all understand and appreciate the importance of keeping memories of those who go before us alive, but how exactly do we go about making this happen?  I would like to suggest five ways in which we can keep a Yahrzeit every year on the anniversary of someone’s death.

1)  Start a tradition.  One of my classmates at Tyndale went through a terrible loss in her first year when her friend passed away suddenly at a very young age.  Although grief has the tendency to have a numbing or traumatic affect for many years, this young woman courageously declared that on the anniversary of her friend’s death we could stand in solidary and remember him by posting “I want to run, jump, and spread life into this world” on our Facebook statuses.  This was the last status that he posted before his tragic death.  She also suggested we could do a random act of kindness or wear the colour orange in honour of him.

This is just one example of how we can remember someone special in our lives after they are gone.  It could also be in the form of making a certain type of food, gathering together a core group of family or friends, or holding short ceremonies at the grave side of the person we are remembering.  It is also a nice gesture to be able to write cards or send flowers to the closest family members or friends of this individual to let the family know that we are still remembering their cherished loved one.

2) Light a candle and say a prayer.  It’s such a simple thing, but there is something about the flame of a candle which has a very spiritual impact on people.  You can even put the picture of the deceased right by the candle as you offer a prayer of thanks to God for their life.  I come at this suggestion with the understanding that the Catholics and the Protestants have slightly different views on what this all entails, but nevertheless, it can be a very helpful time in the grieving process.

3) Is there a specific charity or cause the deceased was a part of?  Consider giving a donation to this organization on their Yahrzeit in memory of them.

4)  Consider planting a flower or tree every year on the deceases Yahrzeit.  It is a great way to continue the circle of life even when they are gone and to beautify the world. 

5) Spend personal time.  This is not a “creepy” thing at all.  It’s not about trying to communicate through séances or crystal balls.  Rather what it is about is letting your feelings out towards the deceased.  You can go to the graveside and simply talk there as if the person were still present.  You can write a letter to the person.  You can do all of these things while at the same time acknowledging that their present is still real but in a wholly different way. 

I hope these experiences are helpful to you as your make your own journey towards Yahrzeit remember that “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed by the Name of the Lord.”

5 Prayer Practices for Preoccupied People

Prayer is such an important part of our daily life and yet so many of us are not exercising our Spiritual muscles.  Rather than turning to God in times of despair, loneliness, and hardship we find that we are trying to take everything on ourselves and then wonder why things don’t work out as they should.  Why is this?  For the majority of us the reason that we don’t pray is because we feel we are too busy.  It is really hard for us to find the motivation to get up early or to retire late to find time for prayer, and during the day – forget about it.  Unfortunately, I have also found that my Spiritual life has struggled the most when I have been involved in Christian ministry.  I get so preoccupied doing things FOR God that I forget to spend time WITH God.  I start justifying the ministries that I am involved in as being a Godly sacrifice and yet I don’t approach God with the deepest desires of my heart.  Again and again God has shown me that if you ask He will provide for you if you only ask.

I am far from perfect and I still do not spend as much time with God as I should, which is ironic because Martin Luther was also a very busy man and yet he once said, “I am so busy that I cannot afford to NOT spend 3 hours in prayer each day.”  Yet for those of us who aren’t morning people and who truly feel that we can’t carve out that time in our day, I would like to suggest 5 very simple practices for very busy people.

1)      What in your life is giving you life and what in your life is taking away from your joy?  Think to yourself about whether there is anything that you could give up to clear away time in your schedule to actually practice the discipline of being with God and being with your closest family and friends.  Remember that it is a Spiritual discipline to say no and it is also a Spiritual discipline to receive enough rest at the end of each day.  Also remember that it is virtually impossible to take care of others when you are not fully taking care of yourself.  When you are so stressed out that you feel burnt out each and every day, then you need to know that you are not helping yourself or anyone else.

 

2)      Practice “Flash Prayers”.  This is a discipline that I first came upon during my time at Tyndale.  Basically what it consists of is looking for things in your daily life to pray about.  Say for example you are on the city bus and you notice a young woman with a baby.  You can take a minute or two to pray for this baby to grow up strong and healthy and to come to know the Lord.  If you are walking down the street and you notice a car accident, take a minute to pause and pray for the people affected by it.  It’s also a fun exercise to do with a friend.

 

3)      Carry Bible verses with you.  This prayer practice was recommended to me by one of my closest friends from my high school days.  Write out on small slips of paper some verses you want to memorize and throughout the day you can glance at them and practice.

 

4)      Sing while you work!  When I’m walking back from the L’Arche property I’m often carrying the tune of one of my favourite hymns or praise songs.  When I’m cleaning the house at L’Arche or preparing a meal I also enjoy listening to Christian music.  Remember, singing is an artful response to God!  Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  Worship Him with praise and thanksgiving.  The Psalms are full of constant reminders of this.

 

5)      Take short Sabbaths each day.  Although I have found in my own experience that Sabbath keeping makes me more productive and is something which I look forward to, if it is hard for you to keep 24 hours a week, try to make one short Sabbath each day.  This could be something along the lines of “after 8pm I will have time to myself and not do anymore work.”  Or “in the mornings I will have quiet time before I start my day and get my children up.”

 

When I am tempted to not keep up my prayer practices I remember the words of one wise roomate that I had who often reminded me that God has done so much in my life and I’m not even willing to give Him 1 hour of my day.  That really put it into perspective for me!

I’m also challenged to look at the reasons I DON’T want to worship.  Sometimes you just don’t feel like it, but this same roomate reminded me that if Jesus simply didn’t FEEL like dying on the cross we wouldn’t have our ultimate Salvation through Him.  We need to be reminded that spiritual disciplines are called disciplines for a reason.  They take time to learn, to practice, and to become committed to.  So, find a discipline that you enjoy.  This could range from journaling to writing poetry to having a Bible study.  It could include meeting with a Spiritual director or Spiritual friend, having a mentor, or dancing.  Don’t become caught up with the legalism.  If you forget a discipline one day don’t make the next day’s twice as long.  If you are using a devotional book with dates, don’t become preoccupied with praying Monday’s prayer on Monday and Saturday’s prayer on Saturday.  Remember to always remain open to the moving and breathings of the Holy Spirit, for it is only in Her wings that we are able to find our true comfort and joy.

Still struggling with finding time in your terribly busy schedule for your disciplines?  Check out the book: Prayer Practices for Terrifically Busy People by Daniel P. Schrock

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Intentional Living or Living Intentionally? (The Problem With the Bubble)

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I chose this picture not only because What-A-Ball is a lot of fun and something I enjoyed at the Jazz Festival my first month into L’Arche, but also because I think this is a pretty accurate description of what I am talking about in this article.  Being in one of these balls is literally being in a bubble that builds up around you.  You are in the water with other participants but you stick to your own ball – never communicating with them.  You may as well be oblivious that they are there. 

The day I discovered that I did not have a single non-Christian friend and that the majority of my friends came from the exact same (or almost the exact same) philosophical, moral, ethical, political, and cultural background that I do was the day that I began to feel uncomfortable.  It was the day that I began to realize that I was a whole lot more polarizing than I thought I was, and it was the day that I realized that despite the fact that I am involved in social justice and want to make the world a more equal place that in reality, I am not really able to remove myself from a culture which makes whites somehow better and which says that education buys your way into heaven (or something like that).  After all, didn’t Jesus say “Blessed are the educated for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven?”  “Blessed are you, whites, for you will be filled?” And “Blessed are you heterosexuals for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?” 

I am being more than a bit facetious here, but seriously, it does bother me that I am somehow going about my daily life in community without really being a part of the community.  The thought first came to me when I was at Tyndale.  It bothered me that I was living in the “rich” part of Toronto and ignoring my brothers and sisters who were in the downtown core who were homeless and it bothered me that I stayed as far away from “Boys’ Town” (the section of Toronto where male prostitutes and homosexuals hang out) as possible because it made me feel uncomfortable.  It was incredibly easy to live the Christian life at Tyndale where anyone who got smashed was frowned upon, where no one would admit to struggling with sins like lust because that was the most evil of all of them, where it was assumed that homosexuality was something you could just “turn off”, and where the dorm rules were so stringent that the idea of having sex on campus was virtually nil… I’m sure it has happened in the past, I’m just saying, they made that pretty hard compared to the secular campuses.  Don’t get me wrong, I am forever indebted to the wonderful friends I made at Tyndale who have always held me in prayer before God and who hold me accountable for watching my alcohol consumption and encouraging my on-going desire to maintain purity.  And I also don’t necessarily think that there was anything wrong with anything they were doing… but it did concern me, just a bit, that we were in a secluded bubble – not letting the world in. 

We might not have spoken in these terms, but there definitely was an “us” vs. “them” mentality that the majority of us lived out on a daily basis… myself included.  WE were the ones who were saved by God and just like shining knights we were to blaze into the field of sinners and convert every single one of them.  WE were the ones who were to set an example for those same sinners to lead them to Christ at any necessary cost.  WE were the ones who were supposed to worship for hours and once filled with the Holy Spirit to fall down on the ground, roll over, and speak in tongues.  THEY were the ones on the outside.  The ones who were sinners and who needed Christ.  Sure, we should reach out to them, but we should never truly befriend them.  After all the Bible says something about not being unequally yoked, right?  And there is that verse about bad company corrupting good character or something like that… so that means that our REAL friends have to be Christian.  Those other people on the outside, they are just there for us to evangelize to.  Only once we have truly witnessed to them are we to actually spend time with them getting to know them for who they are.

I definitely feel that as a Christian it is so important to have strong Christian friends, but I feel that this Us vs. Them mentality really makes us lose out on the diversity that life can bring us.  More than that, I have noticed that the same types of people tend to gravitate and hang out in these bubbles.  They are predominantly white, male, and a higher income bracket.  They tend to be theologically and politically conservative, and they tend to be straight and want nothing to do with the LGBTQ thing unless it is to bash the other party.  So, that explains why, when I look at who my best friends currently are I notice a common thread among them… and there is nothing wrong with that thread… but it is still a thread nonetheless.

Fast forward to my first year in seminary, once again I was confronted with a whole school full of only Christians and once again I was living in a bubble, except that this time it was worse.  Unlike Tyndale where I made a conscious effort to really get outside and volunteer once a week (through hospice, through nursing homes, and through local churches) so that I could at least meet others outside of Tyndale who had different ethnicities and different religious traditions, at AMBS I basically stayed in the school.  The whole time.  I didn’t own a car and the bussing system in Indiana was not good, plus seminary was a lot more academically rigorous than I had bargained for, so it didn’t seem to be something I really wanted to invest a whole lot of energy into.  Which in hindsight is a shame because there were so many organizations in Elkhart that I really could have poured myself in to.  Once again, my affinity with people who are just like me became a black hole sucking all those Mennonite Christians into and keep everyone else pushed to the edges.

Finally, I came to L’Arche and this is where the new story both begins and ends.  My roomate just came to visit me at L’Arche yesterday and while she was here she started reading a poster that we have on the property that talks about how to build community.  This poster suggested ideas such as inviting someone over for dinner, planting a garden, and starting up a conversation with a stranger.  My roomate shared with me that it is sometimes very hard to build community if other people don’t want to help in that cause.  Through our conversation I could hear in her voice a longing to be part of something bigger than just the daily 9-5 grind.  I can hear that same exasperation in many young adults that I talk to.  They want a community, but they are not quite ready yet to plant roots in one geographical location nor are they married (family being a community in itself).  This is part of the reason why, in my opinion, young adults are so drawn towards living in intentional communities.  They want to be with other likeminded Christians who are roughly their age and they want to make a difference by reaching out to their neighbours with the help and support of their community.  This trend is so popular that I even took a full semester course about it in seminary where we ate breakfast together once a week and shared in communal life through prayers and potlucks.

I am living in an intentional community myself and I daily discover both the joys and frustrations that it can bring.  I think that the relationships I have made at L’Arche (especially with our core members) oftentimes have the potential to be much deeper than the superficial ones I have sometimes held on the outside.  I believe that the daily rhythms in community of prayer, rest, solitude, and the Eucharist are ones that make the community a safe place to be and a haven in a tempestuous world.  At the same time, I believe that there can be danger in living in community. 

When I live in community I become very focused on only a small core group of people, namely the 4 core members who live in my house and the assistants who have come to share life with them for a season.  I am not looking out for anyone outside of the community nor is it really feasible for me to place a lot of effort into something other than L’Arche because of our intense schedule.  Also, living in community I have found that people who are drawn to a certain type of community often share in the same life philosophies and so my mind is not always being expanded.  For sure, we have assistants from around the world who bring with them their own rich cultural heritage, but the fact remains that if you are going to dedicate a year of your life to working with people whom society deems to be “less than we are” or even “worthless” than you must have similar interests and visions. 

The fact that L’Arche is a haven is definitely it’s biggest blessing as well as the most difficult thing about it.  It is a blessing because I feel that at L’Arche I can truly be myself in ways that I have never been able to before.  It is an ideal place of growing and learning about yourself as well as experiencing the world around you.  It is a very forgiving place where you do not have to be strong and where when someone asks you how you are doing they patiently wait to hear the real answer, not just the superficial one.  It is also its greatest difficulty because it conditions you to be a sensitive person who is truly willing to go the extra mile for others.  Oftentimes I have heard from people who have left L’Arche that after leaving this bubble they feel that they feel a bit disillusioned by life and they realize that outside of L’Arche bosses and supervisors do not really care about your personal wellbeing all that much.  Many of them only care about the fact that your job is done and done well.  It can be a very difficult thing for people who have spent extensive time in community to transition back to the “real world”.

So what am I suggesting here?  Should we do away with all intentional communities?  I don’t think we should.  I think there is a lot of good that comes out of move-in patches and living among the least of these.  I think there is definitely a place for groups of likeminded individuals to be stretched to think in new ways within a supportive environment.  But I think that even more important than this is a strong desire to live intentionally WITHIN the community rather than apart from it as one’s own entity.  I think it’s about intentionally choosing to honour God through our food choices, our economics, the way we choose to vote (or to abstain from voting), the causes that we choose to protest or support, and the way that we interact with one another.  It’s about opening doors for people at the supermarket, offering that nice parking spot to someone else, and not always racing to get to the top.

As I was describing my daily rhythm of L’Arche to my roomate she said to me, “You know, what you are doing might not sound like a lot, but if more people did this we would have more stable families.”  Here at L’Arche dinner time is a sacred time for us.  It’s an opportunity to gather the whole house together, to make sure that the television, the radio, and any other electronic gadgets are off.  We do not answer the house phone or cell phones if they ring during the dinner hour regardless of how important the call might be, and we do not come with an agenda.  During dinner hour we do not bring grudges or business to the table.  It is not the place to address disputes that are taking place in the house or other interpersonal conflicts.  It is meant to be an enjoyable evening without upsetting or hurting one another.  Our dinner always ends in a time of prayer where each core member and assistant shares the most valuable and most vulnerable things in their heart with each other and then we end in the Lord’s Prayer.  The meals are always carefully prepared – healthy alternatives and always home cooked.  After dinner, we are expected to help clean up.

The statistics increasingly show that this is not what happens in most families.  Oftentimes, children come home to instructions for a make it yourself meal or grab something from the freezer which they will just pop into the microwave and watch while on the computer or watching TV.  Texting and Facebook status updates often happen at the dinner table.  How often have you been out at a restaurant where someone can’t even go the entire dinner without checking their phone once?  These types of behaviours can make people feel that they are unwanted, unappreciated, or that the opinions and ideas that they wish to discuss do not truly matter.  By eating dinner together we are making a positive step in building the first community that we are responsible for – our own homes and families.

The bubble can often be a problem, but if we choose to make it into a scenario of blowing bubbles…. where there is not just one bubble but many co-existing together in sky, then I think that we are on to something.  It’s when we truly care about the people in front of us rather than just their online persona and when we are attempting to meet people who are strangely not like us that we are actually being intentional about the community that we are so hung up on.  This, then, is the challenge – we are called to be living in the world but not of it.  It’s up to us to decide what form and shape this will take, but first, let’s start by branching out and making a friend who is not a believer.  Perhaps even one who has no intentions of ever becoming one.Image

Finding God in the Midst of Affluence

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In the sleepy town of Richmond Hill, I look out and ask myself, “Where is God?” and “What work is God doing here?”  As a Mennonite and as a person who has spent times in evangelical settings, I have come to be conditioned to trying to find God in the alley ways and the dark streets.  Among the prostitutes and the homeless.  I have been conditioned to be more sympathetic to inner city causes, troubled youth, and children in the two thirds world than anything else.  Child sponsorship and missionary work in Africa has often been on my radar while I sit comfortably on my nice chair in the living room on my expensive laptop with my nice new cell phone in a safe neighbourhood where children are free to run around after dark.

I came to Richmond Hill after living in Elkhart, Indiana… a city that really grew on me in a strange way during my time there.  I found Elkhart to be very broken and racially segregated.  There were many times when, as a woman, I did not feel safe to venture off by myself at night and every time I opened a newspaper another murder had taken place.  I know that the churches in Elkhart were doing all they could to reach out and I applaud their efforts… but there was always a strange uncomfortableness that I felt when I was there… and perhaps that is not all bad.

When I think of the many ways that my friends and I have tried to reach out to others, I think about the move-in patches that many of my friends have joined where a group of people live in areas which have high immigration, crime, or poverty rates really trying to make a difference through prayer, fasting, and community building.  There is definitely a place for what they are doing especially when we consider the fact that even with all of our economic and literary advancements there are still more than a billion people worldwide who can’t write their own names and 2.6 billion people lack basic water sanitation worldwide. (http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats).  This is definitely a wake-up call that as Christians we need to be trying to help fight these global issues.  Furthermore, as someone who works in a field for people who have developmental disabilities, I am troubled by the statistic which says that “There are approximately 170 million individuals in the world with intellectual disabilities. 26 million of these people live on less than a dollar a day” (In other words about 15%) (http://vimeo.com/7736205)

 

But what does all this mean to the person who lives in Rich Man’s Hill where the car of choice is either a Lexus or a BMW or where the houses are worth several million dollars each?  There is definitely a feeling of snobbery in the air sometimes that can be stifling as even though most places in the Greater Toronto Area are wealthy, moreso Richmond Hill.  Definitely, there seems to be a core relation between having wealth and the feeling of safety and security however false that might be.  There is also a feeling of discontentment and even depression among people who are always reaching for the top and always striving for the next top dollar. 

A part of me wants to go into some type of lecture about how all the wealthy people who live in Richmond Hill could be doing a whole lot more than they currently are, or something like that, but I don’t really think that that’s the point.  In fact, I feel that it is too bad that so many people view wealth with suspicion.  Truly, I think that even though there are people who come by their wealth greedily or through dishonest gain, there are many hard working and efficient people who have spent a life time learning how to budget and who are truly generous whom God has gifted with wealth.  It is a wonderful thing to have the resources to go on extensive trips and to see the world.  And it’s a wonderful thing to enjoy the sensations of fine dining and luxurious living if that is what you have been given.  It’s not all there is to life, and the trap can become to think it is, but if you are still down to earth and personable, you can enjoy many truly good friends while sharing in this lifestyle that you enjoy.  So, I don’t think it’s about preaching a Gospel of guilt or saying that because people live in poverty we shouldn’t enjoy that nice juicy steak. After all, we will always have the poor among us.  I can admit to the fact that there were many days after an economic justice class that I felt guilty because it is not my fault that I was born into the Canadian society rather than one which does not have the same advantages and that I was born into a family which valued education and hard work.  That said, I do think that as Christians we do need to use the resources we are given wisely rather than squandering them.

 So, as I look around my community I might not see racial segregation or poverty in overt ways like I did in Elkhart, but I still know that God is here.  Even though I don’t really have dirt under my fingernails at the moment.  I still see potential to reach out to the immigrant population here and to hear their stories even though they have prestigious jobs.  More than that, I love the fact that L’Arche is in Richmond Hill.  Often, there can be a temptation where there is affluence to regard those who are unable to have a job as lazy or “bums”.   But what of people who have severe disabilities who are not able to walk, talk, or bathe themselves?  How do affluent people view these brothers and sisters?  Are they simply a nuisance?  Useless to our society because they are not contributing members of our economy nor will they ever use these expensive services or enjoy the pleasures of fine dining?

Well, this is where L’Arche steps in as a sign and says, “hey wait a minute, people with developmental disabilities have something to offer too”.  And so, we give them a wage, take them out into the community, and let them experience “normal” life.  You’d be surprized at how many local business owners actually take kindly to short visits from our core members! 

Living among BMWs and Lexuses and living among people who rake in 6 digits might be a different kind of witnessing than living among those who are homeless or imprisoned, but it is still possible and important nonetheless.  We are called to be “Christ with skin on” to all those that we come into contact with – regardless of their economic situation.  So, next time you are in a rich neighbourhood rather than being envious or looking down on them thinking they must be snobs, truly ask yourself, how could I build community here?  Is it possible that even in their wealth they are truly lost and need to see me be the face of Christ for them today?

A Truly Perfect Heaven

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Death can be a terrifyingly mysterious thing, especially when it happens in unexpected ways or to the most vulnerable people like children.  I think it is fairly safe to say that the majority of people do not enjoy death.  Death is something we like to avoid at all costs and that is a taboo subject to bring up.  That’s why we have invented all these clichés like “knock on wood” or euphemisms which we hope will soften the blow of the reality like “she passed away peacefully in her sleep last night.”

As real and as difficult as death may be, it has also long been a topic of theological fascination.  The truth is, no one knows what heaven is like because none of us have experienced it and will not experience it until a later date.  So, I typically don’t discuss it much because I feel that it’s more important to talk about concrete topics of the “here and now” that we can actually make a difference in.  If there are people who are starving I’m going to give them food rather than just theologize to them about the topic of the afterlife which I have very limited knowledge about.

That said, these past few months our community (at L’Arche) has been facing a very difficult time.  In L’Arche lingo we would say “we are living a lot”.  This is because one of the pillars of our community recently passed away and although she lived to be a very good age, after L’Arche being her home for so long it has left an indelible hole in each one of us.  During this specific person’s illness and passing, it has given me a chance to not only grieve before the actual death took place, but also to work through some of my own theological understandings.  I did, after all, study Theology for 4 years and I am still very much a seminary student at heart. 

I know that often times people from outside the community have attempted to comfort me with words such as “she will be in heaven which is infinitely a better place and she will be given a new body and a new mind.”  Yet, the more I have thought about this theology the more it disturbs me.  Once again, I admit to the fact that I do not know very much about heaven – only what I have studied in school and read on my own and that I have very biased opinions most of the time.  But in all honesty, I believe that to think that there will be no disabilities in heaven is rather abelistic.

I know that the Bible says in Revelation that there will be no more pain, suffering, crying, or fear and for sure, many disabilities cause these things.  When someone is born with spinal biffida or cerebral palsy that can cause physical pain in their life.  When someone is born with a severe developmental disability that might also cause a lot of suffering for them.  Sometimes I hear core members at L’Arche literally crying out in pain, and many people with disabilities live in fear that they will not be able to provide for themselves or that their most basic needs will not be met.  So how does knowing this compute with the fact that I believe that there are disabilities in heaven?

Well, I truly do believe that in heaven if there are disabilities they will be much different from what we experience here.  I don’t think there will be any shame or stigma attached to the disability, and I don’t think that there will be physical pain accompanying the disability. 

I am also not too sure of what having a new body all entails.  I know that someone who was born with blindness might truly wish that they could see and someone who is born with deafness might truly wish that they could hear the sound of a waterfall or of lovely music playing.  This might especially be true for someone who was born without any impairments but who developed impairments later in life either because of an accident, illness, or aging.  I am not sure if people who have development disabilities ever wish that they didn’t… from what I observe at L’Arche, I believe that there may be some people here who truly do wish that they were the same as others and some of them really do pick up on the fact that they are different.  Sometimes that difference has been cherished and their unique gifts brought out, other times they have been looked down on by society and taught to think that they are somehow not special enough or not loved enough.

I also know that I do not believe that disabilities are caused because of parental or generational sin.  I think back to John 9 where Jesus heals a man who is born blind and his disciples ask him who sinned: this man (while he was still in the womb) or his parents, and Jesus replies that neither sinned but that this is so that God’s glory will be magnified.  Of course, in this specific story the man was healed.  Sometimes I ask myself, what if he had not been healed, how would this story have changed?  Would Jesus still have assured the disciples that there was really no sin involved and would the blindness still be considered as a way to bring God glory?

I’m not too sure, but I do know that working in a field with people who have disabilities often times those disabilities can really bring out the beauty in a person.  It’s because I work with people who have disabilities that I am able to receive love and support from them in a way that is so genuine and so mutual.  It’s because they have disabilities and they can’t all talk or walk or even feed themselves that I am able to really build community.  In some ways, to the world it appears like the last place you would look for community.  How are you supposed to have community with someone who doesn’t even respond to your presence or who will never say thank you or “I love you”?  But in so many other ways, it’s actually the most natural place to start looking for community because there is an intense desire to be loved, to receive physical touch, and to really get to know the heart of a person without the layers of superficiality.  During my time at L’Arche and the time I spent before that working on the Alzheimer floor of nursing homes for 2 years, I have come to believe that some of my best friendships have been with people who did not speak audibly, but only with their heart.  There is something special about learning how to communicate in this way especially in a world that just won’t shut up.

I believe that people with Down Syndrome, Autism, and other mental delays add a certain bit of fun and laughter into our lives that more logical thinkers miss out on.  They help remind us of the simple joys and pleasures in life and the importance of forgiveness and other theological concepts that we are still wrestling with while they have been living them out for years. 

So, I think about my core member who has passed away and I truly believe that she is in heaven right now and that she is still has her developmental disability.  After all, the Bible says to let the little children come to God because of the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.  People who have developmental disabilities are often in a childlike state even though they are adults and should be treated as adults.  I believe that God welcomes them into His Kingdom with open arms and that they enjoy being with Him and sitting on His lap.  I think they get to enjoy all the pleasures they faced in this world without the pressure to conform to the abelistic society.  In fact, in my own opinion heaven would be boring if there were no people with Down Syndrome.  I don’t think I would ever really want to go to a heaven like that.