Promotional Campaigns: How not to go Overboard with Promotions (A Guest Blog Post By: Grace Beckett)

promoZweibachandPeace is excited to welcome back guest blogger: Grace Beckett.  Grace has previously contributed other articles to this blog mainly on topics of health and nutrition.  For some of her past works check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/the-importance-of-pediatric-dentistry-a-guest-blog-post-by-grace-beckett/ and https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/nutrition-for-baby-boomers-a-guest-blog-post-by-grace-beckett/.   Here she offers an inspiring new perspective on marketing.  Is there something on your mind?  If you’d also like to contribute a guest blog post on a topic of your choosing, please send us a quick email at: deborahruthferber@gmail.com and we’d be happy to feature you in an upcoming blog.

Without further ado, here’s Grace:

Promoting your brand can be a tricky little thing. While you want maximum visibility, you don’t want clients to become sick of seeing you. This is especially true when it comes to personalized products you give as gifts. You may want to give a nice, tasteful keychain that can be both useful to the person as well as a good promotional tool for you, but you may not know how to do it.

When it comes to promotional campaigns, simplicity is the key. Here are a few simple Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind while running a promotional campaign with customized gifts:

Dos

  • Do make the products available in different colors and sizes: Make sure that when you are running a promotional campaign with gifts that you are truly catering to the client’s needs while promoting your brand. Otherwise, the clients will not be interested in the gift and your company’s logo will end up somewhere at the back of their attic.
  • Do center the gifts around one theme: Themes are very important. Personalized gifts shouldn’t just be a haphazard bunch of things thrown together. To show that you care, put some thought into selecting gifts around a theme. Customized gardening tools can be very unique idea, so can selecting a bunch of household items with one for each member of the employees’ or clients’ family.
  • Do make sure the logos and slogans are small and tasteful: While no one minds wearing a cap or a polo tee with a simple logo printed on it, no one is going to wear a t-shirt with your logo taking up 90 percent of the front like a rock-star’s face. No one wants that. When in doubt, you should leave it to the professionals and get the customization done through a company.

Don’ts

  • Don’t give out too many customized gifts: Less is more when it comes to putting your brand on things. Make sure that the gifts are going to be used. At the end of the day, visibility is important but make sure people don’t find your brand annoying.
  • Don’t compromise on the quality of the product: This is of utmost importance. Giving out substandard items will be a reflection of your company and people will associate your reputation with this product. Make sure to buy your gifts from a trustworthy and professional client.
  • Don’t put too many details on your custom gift but don’t forget the important ones either: Basic Contact information should go on gifts that have a huge surface area but if it is a small gift, just the website address or a contact number should be all that is visible.

So keep it snazzy and simple with your gifts. Intrigue potential clients with your brand rather overwhelming them by bombarding them with a bunch of logos. Make sure you keep it nice and easy for a pleasant corporate gifting experience.

About the author

Grace is associated with House of Imprints, a leading company specializing in the production of personalized products and textiles. Her other interests include writing about fashion, technology, lifestyle and home improvement.

 

A Letter to My Future Son

letter-to-son

Dear Unborn Son,

If you ever end up being born, I am going to do my very best to help teach you a few things.

I hope you will grow up knowing that you will always be loved and cherished no matter what your interests are. I hope that you will always know that you have a place in our house even if you decide that you like dance, gymnastics, or ballet. I hope you will come to see your masculinity as more than monster trucks and dumbells. I hope you will understand that true manhood begins with being so confident in yourself that you simply don’t care what your peers are doing. I hope you will learn to be yourself.

I hope that you will grow up knowing that men and women are equal and that as a result of this knowledge that you will treat your sisters (both biological and in Christ) with the utmost respect. I hope that you will learn to honour and defend your wife at any cost – even at the cost of your own life. I hope that you will learn how to lead a family, but also how to step back and let her lead when that needs to happen. I pray that one day God will give you the most beautiful wife of all and that she will always remain beautiful in your eyes no matter how old and wrinkly she gets.

I pray that as you grow older you will begin to question the stereotypes and unfair assumptions our culture places on women. I hope you will stand up for women when they are being teased or treated disrespectfully in school. I pray that you will one day open up theology textbooks written by both Walter Bruggemann and Phyllis Tribble. I pray that you will try to make a difference in your field by allowing more women’s voices to be heard.

I sincerely hope that you will never be okay with violence towards women. I pray that you will work hard at changing this culture which puts down victims and does nothing to defend the rights of the weak and the oppressed. I pray that you will never misunderstand what a woman being the “weaker vessel” truly means. I pray that instead of using it to explain away why women are so easily victims, that you will instead see that verse as meaning that women are a treasured vessel that we should seek to serve and protect with all of our life-breath.

I pray that from the moment you are born that you will know that your identity lies in far more than your sexuality. I pray that while you cannot change your maleness that you will redefine what “maleness” truly entails. I pray that one day you will see your sexuality as not simply tied to one specific physical act, but to an entire awareness of the body, mind, and soul God created you with. I pray that you will view your future wife in the same way.

I pray that you will learn to take responsibility for your actions. I pray that you will never blame your mistakes and mishaps on another, but that you will learn lessons from your failures. I pray that you will know that after a devastating day you can come home and your father and I will still love you. Most importantly, I pray that after you come back heartbroken for the first time, rejected, and worn-out that you will know that you are selfishly loved by the Creator and Father Himself.

In all things, I pray that you will always strive for excellency and to be a man of God.   I pray that you will learn to be both compassionate and bold. Both humble and yet not self-effacing. I pray that you will learn what true love is in a culture that has marred God’s true intentions for relationships. I pray that you will begin to see God as both your Father and your Mother. As both a Creator and Sustainer. As both a Challenger and a Comforter.

I close this letter with the seal of my love and with my warmest embrace.

Love,

Your Future Mother

Towards an Ethic of Self-Love (Part 2 of a 2 Part Series)

self esteem 3To view the first post in this two part series head over to: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/towards-an-ethic-of-self-love-part-1-of-a-2-part-series/?preview=true&preview_id=2003.  The following is a poem I recently wrote on the theme of Self-Love:

How easy is it

To read the words of Scripture

To attempt to pour truths over our own lives

To vibrantly, passionately live in Christ,

All the while

Allowing stones to choke our lives?

Dispassionately connected

From the very One who breathes into our frame

Dishonestly cheating ourselves of the true peace that lives there.

Slaves to the three minute culture.

Slaves to the very statements of consumerism that cheat us of true, lasting love.

It’s like we’re in solitary confinement

All the while being surrounded by people.

It’s like Japanese water torture

But instead of unsteady drips

We are forced to listen to the vile tape inside our minds

Poisoning us from the true love that could flow

IF ONLY WE LET IT.

We wonder where God is in this mess.

Why doesn’t He care?

Does He even listen?

But have we ever thought,

Truly taken a moment to ponder

That God is speaking to us,

But we won’t listen?

We pray for miracles

And then brush off the birth of a new child,

The dignified letting go of a brave soul who fought cancer for years,

The courage a teenager shows to say no to drugs and yes to life.

Relegating courage to the sidelines,

We elevate Esther, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King

All the while ignoring the courage of single mothers,

Women who were abused but continue to press on,

And the homeless man down the street.

We ask God to love us,

We demand from our pulpits to love our friends,

And even our enemies.

But we forget to love ourselves.

Abusing our bodies,

Pushing them past their limits,

Denying them sleep,

And why?

All in the name of so-called love of another.

Abusing our minds,

Abusing our spirits,

Playing the victim.

Convincing ourselves that the injustices of the world fall squarely on our shoulders

Rather than equally sharing the burden.

Abusing our very souls,

With notions that mar God’s good intentions.

That we are ugly instead of creatively crafted,

That we are stupid or deficient,

Instead of uniquely gifted.

That we are unworthy of love and the affection of others,

Instead of selfishly loved by the Creator Himself.

How selfish can we be?

Pretending to die to self,

Only so that we can justify living for ourselves?

Forgetting to love ourselves only so that we can selfishly love others.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbours as ourselves.

It’s so easy to do the first part, but to ignore the latter.

Choosing to deny self-care is the most selfish, distasteful, and unethical thing we can do.

For it is only in loving ourselves that we find strength to love others.

That we find the courage to be fully loved and accepted by God.

It is only in loving ourselves that we love what is right and just.

Only then does it become easy for us to read the pages of Scripture

As a defined love letter delicately passed to us.

And it is only then

That God will speak to us,

Because we will have chosen to listen.

So Much More – Tyndale Mission’s Blog Post

WP_20140903_016

Me at a L’Arche Daybreak birthday party

The following blog post was first published on Tyndale’s Missions Blog.  You can check out the original entry here: http://tyndaleblogs.ca/missions/categories/articles/so-much-more/.

The year is 2011.  I slip into the back row of the Intro to University class (then called “Douloi Christou”).  This coming spring, I will graduate from my BRE.  I have also been commissioned to help Dean Sweetman lead and mentor the other leaders as they provide insights to the incoming frosh.  This role provides me with many blessings including new and deeper friendships with the other students all the while continuing to grow into my own developing sense of community awareness and servant leadership.  However, there is one additional blessing that I will not see until two full years later.

Fast forward to July 2013.  After completing my BRE from Tyndale and subsequently completing a graduate diploma in Peace studies and Theology from another seminary, I find myself at a crossroads.  Burnt out from the rigorous of academic life and wishing to acquire new skills, I remember back to 2011 when Tyndale welcomed Sister Sue Mosteller (SOSJ) to talk to the frosh about Imago Dei (the image of God).  Sister Sue, herself a long-term L’Arche community member challenged all of us, and in particular me, to see the inherent value in each person.  Further compelled by reading Henri Nouwen’s book “In the Name of Jesus” for my undergrad Intro to Leadership course taught by Professor Dickens, I could no longer ignore the constant whisperings in my soul to go join this community.  So without much experience and with limited knowledge of exactly what to anticipate: I packed my bags, moved north to Richmond Hill, and began to live life amongst adults with profound developmental disabilities.

What is L’Arche?  Upon first glance L’Arche is a group home.  A community of adults who are otherwise dependent upon the support of others sometimes for even the most basic of life skills.  Yet, upon further exploration L’Arche proves to be so much more.  It’s a spiritually enriching experience, an opportunity to grow, and a discipleship program all connected into one lived out and shared reality.

God may have called me to this life, but Tyndale prepared me for this step in my journey.  By first learning what community looks like through my years in residence and the deep friendships formed as a result of extra-cirriculars, I was able to make my home at L’Arche.  By being challenged in what ministry and servanthood really are through classes and informal interactions, I was able to approach L’Arche as an opportunity for service.

Although I no longer live full time in this community, the deep friendships, passion, and skills I have acquired throughout my journey with the residents will hopefully continue to go on.  I still continue to be part of this community and to learn from them in different ways even though now I am back in seminary.  By hanging out on Saturdays, helping to prepare a meal, or just going out for coffee with a resident, I seek to continue to invest into their lives while constantly being reminded that I have received so much more from these individuals than I could ever request.

Last month, Coordinator for Community and Global Engagement James Brooks, challenged Tyndale students that our time is really not our own, and that it is so imperative for Christians to give back and invest into their communities.  I pray that God may lay it on your heart to reach out to a demographic you have never really worked with before.  I guarantee it will tremendously bless your life and challenge you to be stretched and to grow.  And for that I am truly grateful.

Towards an Ethic of Self-Love (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

self-image-self-love I did it again. Rushing in late, sandwiched in between appointments, with only about a five minute window to breathe. This has been my life over the last several months. Doing more than full time graduate studies, working multiple jobs, and still trying to keep up a somewhat vibrant social life. Trying to balance blogging, freelance writing, and actual homework, all the while trying to put in at least some effort into spending devotional time with God and still finding time to exercise. Interestingly enough, during my year at L’Arche I took one course on Self-Care in Ministry. Easily one of the most important courses I’ve ever taken, I learned such skills as when an emergency is truly an emergency, how to incorporate things I love and am passionate about into the mundane tasks of daily living, and how to make space for de-stressing after a long day at work. And yet, not four months later, I find myself busier than before I took this course. It’s like all that learning has simply gone out the window.

As a result, I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time recently looking at this strange concept of Self-Love. Self-Love is something that I think counselors may have some idea about. It’s quite easily related to the themes of self-care and self-esteem. It’s something that we do to show ourselves that we think we are important and meaningful. AND YET, it’s something that most Christians, especially pastors, are inherently bad at doing.

You see, for those of us who grew up in church, especially those of us who grew up in the more evangelical or even Anabaptist streams of the church, we are taught that our first priority after loving God is to love others. Jesus Himself said so. In Luke 10:27 Christ distilled all ten of the commandments down into a bite-sized chunk when He simply said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbours as yourself.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A27&version=ESV). As Christians we place a large priority of our time and resources into helping those who are less fortunate. The homeless, the marginalized, and those caught in sex trafficking. We learn to exert our efforts in hopes of making someone else’s life just a bit easier. We are often incorrectly taught that servanthood and humility are synonymous with a complete debasement of self.

Taking it one step further, for those of us who grew up in the evangelical church, we are often taught a dismissive type of worldview called “worm theology”. It goes something like this “Jesus loves me, worm that I am. Despite doing these terrible things in my life, the Holy Spirit has given me a second chance that I am nowhere near deserving of. I could never do enough good things to earn my way into heaven. All of my righteousness is as filthy rags. It is only by God’s mercy that I am forgiven. I pray and read my Bible, but not as often as I should. I can always be doing more. I can always be doing more to love others, to serve the needs of my community, and to spend more time meditating upon the Word of God.”

At first glance, this type of theology actually has quite a bit of truth to it. It is true, according to Scripture, that on our own we are not capable of getting into heaven. God’s gift of Salvation for us is based not upon our own merit; otherwise we would spend all day boasting about it, but rather is a free gift for all who believe (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+2%3A9&version=ESV).  It is also true that even the best of our goodness cannot compare to Christ’s infinite love for us. So, in this way, “Worm theology” does carry some level of truth to it.

On the other hand, “worm theology” sets us up for failure. By constantly placing our guilt before us, we begin to develop low self-esteem and an almost dangerously low opinion of ourselves. We spend so much time dwelling on the Scripture verses telling us that we aren’t good enough, that we almost completely ignore the fact that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+139%3A14&version=ESV). Hand-crafted and hand-designed by God. We get so caught up in the injunction to “love our neighbours” that we forget the qualifier of the sentence “as yourselves”. You see, love of others, must flow out of the love we already have for ourselves.

Loving ourselves is not the same as being prideful or arrogant. In the truest sense of the phrase, loving ourselves will not imply narcissism. On the other hand, loving ourselves means having a high regard for who God has created us to be. It’s living into our gifts and abilities. It’s seeing the good in ourselves. It’s telling ourselves that we deserve a rest when we are tired. It’s pacing ourselves so that we don’t get burnt out in ministry. It’s a kind of “unselfish-selfishness” that is generous with itself in order to be continually giving into the lives of others.

Unfortunately, I don’t think many pastors, missionaries, or other church leaders seem to “get” that. It’s no wonder then that the majority of ministers face burn out in their first five years and that many pastors will not even retire in the profession in which they started. I believe a large part of this is because they have never truly learned to love themselves. I believe this is because many congregations and seminaries teach pastors to keep going even when their physical bodies are screaming for them to stop or at least slow down. I believe this is because we have failed to see how truly important we are in the eyes of Christ.

Not practicing self-care is perhaps one of the most unethical things a pastor can do. It is unethical in that we get so worn down that we end up wearing out others. It is an injustice in the fact that when we are stressed we can often become short tempered with others instead of genuinely listening to them. It is unfair not only to ourselves, but to our spouses and children – the very ones who should have the first priority in our lives after God Himself.

When Christ said that we need to love others just like we love ourselves it means that we must first have a high regard for who we are and for who Christ has made us to be. Christ knows our breaking point, unfortunately, many of us do not. As a culture we push ourselves past our breaking point almost weekly and then some. Listen. There is a reason that God created the Sabbath. Christ Himself told us that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+2%3A27&version=ESV).   In other words, the Sabbath is a gift. It’s something given to us for our own rest, renewal, and enjoyment. It’s not meant to enslave us. It’s not something to get legalistic about. And it’s definitely not something to just add more activities to our already growing to-do list. Rather, it’s a time to practice radical self-care and radical self-love.

Therefore, we must seek to practice self-love in all aspects of our lives and our ministries if we truly want to be the people who God has destined us to be.

Some Reflections on the Junia’s Daughters Conference

static.squarespace.com Yesterday, I left my house early in the morning, headed on a two hour journey, and eventually landed at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. Upon first entering the College, I was instantly greeted by several feminist theologians, doctoral students, and pastors all who were there to attend a special conference seeking to honour the courage of women who are in top leadership roles within the church. Despite the fact that I may not be as liberal as the majority of the women who attended this conference are, I still found myself leaving with a few pretty basic understandings of some of the issues women both young and old face as they traverse the often steep path of ministry. I’d like to share with you a few of the recurring thoughts that kept surfacing over the course of this one day event in hopes that it will somehow move you to begin to articulate an even deeper awareness of some of the unique challenges those of us who are female are so susceptible to.

#1: So, you’re single. You’re a woman and you’re a pastor. Now what? Although our culture is inherently shifting towards a more egalitarian approach; still, those of us who are female leaders in our churches continue to  find it a struggle to have our voices heard on a daily basis. This is true of married women and single women; however, single women are at an even greater disadvantage.   There is a temptation within churches to see single women as a “token”. In other words, “wow, she can do so much for us because she doesn’t have children yet!!” One young woman even shared that someone in her congregation told her “we’re going to have to keep you single so that you can keep serving us so remarkably.” Friends, do you not see anything wrong with such a statement? Should a woman truly be denied the rights of a long lasting and intimate partnership in hopes that she will continue to serve feverishly within the church? This seems like not only a recipe for bad self-care but an injustice to one of the greatest gifts God has provided us with – companionship in marriage.

#2: For women, living into our sexuality is extremely hard. While our culture is trying to advance itself (albeit still very imperfectly), our church is still severely lagging in this one area. Trust me: I, like the majority of the women who attended this conference grew up in the capital E Evangelical church. I know all about what it’s like to see different sexual standards applied to men than to women. There is still a very unfortunate concept within many churches today that women are not sexual beings at all and to express any form of sexual pleasure or even desire for sexual intimacy outside of marriage is inherently a sin. The purity standards that these churches provide women with are not only highly unattainable, but they also are largely unhealthy.

Furthermore, it is so shameful to hear stories of how sexual abuse is so prevalent even within our churches. People claiming to be sons (or daughters) of God defiling God’s princesses. Yet, what is even more gripping and shocking is the amount of women who were not even able to get their offender to take responsibility for his ravaging and savage works. As I listened to my sisters share some of their painful stories of growing up in the church as survivors of sexual abuse, I was able to see how the church has often minimized these experiences. Some of the women in the group were even blamed further or told that it was all simply a “misunderstanding”. It seems that even within churches today, we have this unfortunate and false concept that men are savage animals who cannot control themselves and therefore the onus lies on women to protect themselves and act wisely. Not so. We need to start by teaching our sons how to treat a woman and how to show respect for their sisters in Christ!

[For some gripping personal stories check out this blog: http://notwithink.blogspot.ca/2014/03/lets-talk-about-sex-and-shame-endish.html]

Another blog you may want to view is: https://christianresponse2sexualabuse.wordpress.com/

#3: Despite the fact that we are allowing more women to hold church leadership positions, they are still strongly in the minority. Looking back at my entire 7 years in the academy, I can count on one hand the amount of times I have been taught any course by a woman. The amount of times I’ve been taught a theology or Bible course by a woman comes to two. And the amount of times I’ve been taught a Bible course (or any course for that matter) by a woman who was also a visible minority comes to an astonishing 0.

What does it say about our theology when almost all of the people who are teaching Bible and theology courses are white, heterosexual, middle-aged men? What does it say about our awareness of the Kingdom of God when we fail to hear the voices of people who practice womanist, feminist, or Latina theology?

I wasn’t surprised; however, I was deeply saddened to hear the stories of so many sisters who attended this conference who still felt that their voices were not heard. Some of them are now pastors, and yet, they talk about their own need to work twice as hard as their male counterparts in order to get half of the respect. I think something is gravely wrong with this picture.

#4: We Need to Begin to Read the Bible Differently. One of the first exercises we did as a large group at this conference was to write on small pieces of paper the names of women in the Scriptures or biblical texts directly speaking to women. We were then encouraged to put it on a timeline with the positive texts at the top and the negative ones at the bottom.

We made a few discoveries. Firstly, it needs to be noted that there are very few texts devoted to women in comparison to the texts that speak of men. Secondly, there are many troubling texts in the Bible that we simply cannot ignore. What does it say about our womanhood when we read a story such as the Levite and the Concubine in Judges 19 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+19) or when we read the troubling story of Jepthah’s daughter in Judges 11 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+11)? How do we explain the inherently male hierarchy and female injustices that are directly explicit and implicit in Scripture?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to go on some male bashing trip here. We must understand that the Scriptures were written in a very patriarchal context. Nevertheless, we must find ways to address these issues that have shamed and silence women for years choosing instead to uncover a liberation theology surrounding it. We must find ways to make these texts accessible to women in our congregations in ways that bring them the dignity and respect that has often been misappropriated from them.

#5: Lastly, we need to work at providing more opportunities for female leaders to connect with one another. One of the most encouraging things for me about attending this conference was the amount of women who were under the age of thirty in attendance. I felt privileged to share lunch with a group of about 5 students from Redeemer University in Ancaster all of whom were between the ages of 20 and 23. I also noticed several women who were studying for their doctoral degrees and even had the privilege of meeting a fellow Mennonite in her mid-twenties working on her ThD. I believe that based on the amount of women in attendance and the amount of denominations that were represented at this gathering that these issues are so prevalent within the majority of our denominations. Issues of gender equality do not just touch the Mennonite, Pentecostal, or Anglican Church. They permeate the very fiber of essentially all churches.

It is my hope that the Junia’s Daughters conference will be one among many. I hope that these types of conferences will continue to take place and give women an opportunity and a venue to be heard perhaps in ways that they have never been able to be heard in before. I thank the University of Toronto and all who took part in the planning of this amazing conference for their courage to take part in such a conversation and I look forward to attending similar conferences in the future.

5 Things Having a Muslim Friend Taught Me

muslim_christian_love_dialogue_by_my_artworks-d4rca97  In 2014, I made a very close non-Christian friend. A beautiful Muslim woman, deeply spiritual, and full of compassion for others; we spent our days together eating snacks, discussing our religions, and debating some of the intense happenings in our world. Despite the fact that almost all of the rest of my friends are typically not only Christian, but deeply involved in ministry, if not training to be pastors (you have to remember the circles I run in), there was something unique about this young woman. Her vigour and passion for life, topped with a desire to love and serve others, instantly directed me at some of the deepest longings of her heart. Sharing in a similar interest in developmental disabilities, the two of us united, eventually welcoming in several other members to what later came to be known as the “The Weekly Snack Club.”

Spending time with this young woman not only proved to be fun and entertaining for the most part, but also opened my eyes to several things about the Muslim faith, which I would like to share with you here. You see, I think it’s so easy for us as Christians to get caught up in our own version of spirituality that we can forget how to truly connect to those around us who may view the world differently than we do.   That’s why whether you consider yourself fundamentally Christian, ecumenical, or even inter-faith, I believe that before we truly are able to start hearing one another, we need to really begin a dialogue with the other person and get to know them first on a friendship level. Below are five things that I have learned as a result of having a Muslim friend:

  • Christianity and Islam are actually quite similar. Now, before those of you who are hard-core Christian roll up your sleeves and get ready to engage in a debate with me, hear what I said a second time: Christianity and Islam are actually QUITE similar. That doesn’t mean they are the same thing.   That doesn’t mean that we believe or follow the same practices or theology. What it does mean is that at the core of who we are, we have more similarities than differences. AND YET, how easy is it for us to only focus on what makes us different? At the very root of both our religions is a desire to serve and love others. At the very root of both of our religions is the desire to bring peace to this world.
  • Muslims are deeply committed to their faith. When you consider how many Muslims actually take the injunctions not to eat pork or to drink alcohol seriously and how important prayer is in the Islamic faith – dare I say it, but we Christians could certainly learn a lot from them. Now, of course, there are Muslims, just as there are Christians, who choose not to follow these laws, but for someone truly following the core convictions, they are truly living counter-culturally. Now, ask yourself: what if Christians had that same amount of courage? What if Christians also chose to live just as counter-culturally? Of course, there are many, many Christians who do live differently than society… I’m just saying in general, as Christians we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that we are the one religion that takes our faith so seriously. No! There are so many other rich and vibrant religions who also care deeply about what God is leading them to do.
  • Muslims Come in Many Different Shapes and Sizes. Before I made my first Muslim friend, I actually had a rather skewed belief about how “all” Muslims dressed or acted. The problem is: that just as there are many forms of Christians and yet we are all one body in Christ Jesus, so it is with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Many Muslim women are highly educated and are contributing so much to their professional fields. Not all Muslims wear the hijab, and very few Muslims actually fit the stereotypes that so many Western Christians seem to think they do. So, don’t be so quick to put your preconceived ideas of Islam onto someone who actually practices that religion.
  • Muslims Typically Have the Same Core Values That All of the Rest of Us Do. They love their family. They love their pets. Some of them even love celebrating the Western holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas. Many Muslims enjoy the same music that we like to listen to, they enjoy the same types of activities, and they enjoy just having a good time. That’s right, everyone needs a Muslim friend 😉
  • Just Like With Many Other Religions, Just Because Someone Is Muslim Does Not Mean They Aren’t Interested in Your Religion. When we make friends with someone of a different religion, whether that be Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish, we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that they won’t be interested in learning about our own beliefs and practices. And we shouldn’t necessarily enter into the friendship trying to convert them either. You see, the more I spend time with my Muslim friend the more I become aware of just how culturally rich and vibrant her faith really is. As we begin to dialogue and share questions with one another, we move into a closer understanding of one of the most fundamental things in our lives. Every time I learn something about her religion, it also gives me a chance to look deeper into my own faith. Why I believe the way I do and why I practice the way I do. It challenges me to become a better Christian. To become more faithful. To become more holy. Therefore, I have learned that some days I can be closer to God in the presence of a Muslim friend even than when I am at church or sitting in a chapel.

Why am I sharing these thoughts on Islam and Christianity on a blog so clearly devoted to the Christian faith, you may ask? What am I trying to get at here? Am I saying that Islam and Christianity are the same and we should just mold into one religion? Not at all.

I believe that while there are similarities between the two world faiths, there are also profound differences. There are differences in how we view certain characters in our Scriptures and how we view the role of God and His reign in our world. I do not want to change those differences firstly because it would be impossible to “force” everyone in this world to believe as I do, but more importantly, because I believe that it is in these differences that the beauty truly comes out. Ignoring these vital differences in and of itself is a form of marginalization. Rather, every day, I seek to grow closer to my own understanding of who God is and I encourage my Muslim brothers and sisters to do the same. I encourage both religions to not passively accept what they have been taught, but rather to ask questions and to seek answers. It is only by doing so that we can truly begin to co-exist as one.

An Open Letter to Christian Churches in General (And It’s NOT About the LGBTQ Issue)

Open letterWarning: Every once in a while I write a controversial blog post.  Today is such a day.  As you read it, please understand that I am writing as a concerned individual, not as someone seeking to judge.  If anything, I want to find ways to foster dialogue within our churches, especially in areas that are so commonly lacking.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and engage further with you!  Please drop me a line in the comments 🙂

An Open Letter to Christian Churches in General:

Before you press the panic button or start tuning out because you think I am going to start espousing some type of uber-liberal theology that you may or may not disagree with, I ask that you hear me out.

This letter is written not to one church in particular, but to all churches across North America. It’s not aimed at exploring the shortcomings of the Mennonite, Baptist, or Presbyterian Church. It’s not pointing fingers at the Anglican, Lutheran, or Roman Catholics. And it’s certainly not finding fault with the Orthodox or the Pentecostal. Instead, this letter is written to all Christians, even to those who don’t go to church on a regular basis. In other words: if you say that you’re a Christian whether that be of the brethren, the Seventh Day Adventists, or the Reformed flavour, this letter is for you.

Now before you start making assumptions about what the two words “open letter” truly stand for, I just want to clarify a few things. Don’t worry! I’m not about to come out of the closet (for anyone wondering I’m straight) and I’m also not about to divulge some deep dark secret that not even my closest friends know about, instead, I am going to speak on behalf of the minority.

You see, the LGBTQ issue has been getting a lot of press lately and I don’t fault them for that. I think that for a long time these group of individuals have had their voices suppressed, have been relegated to the sidelines on the basis of committing some kind of “unforgivable” sin, and have unfortunately been the brunt of many prejudicial jokes (how many times have we flippantly heard someone say “that’s so gay”? Now take it a step further and ask yourself, how many times you have heard someone say “that’s so straight?”). Why is it that we, even those of us who are Christians, the very people who are supposed to live differently than the rest of the world, still find ourselves putting down a certain minority group? Why is it that the minute a Christian wants to genuinely explore this debate we try to silence them writing it off right away as a sin? Or conversely the minute someone wants to respectfully discuss how their understanding of the Bible (whether right or wrong) points to an informed understanding that it is indeed a sin, those in the more liberal streams have the temptation to right away label said people as “gay bashers” with phrases like “see, this is exactly what I don’t like about Christians. They are just so judgmental!”

But that’s really not what I’m here to talk about today. At all. You see, I feel that lately all of the open letters I’ve been reading on blogs or as I scroll down people’s Facebook feeds seem to relate to this one issue. People who identify themselves as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual openly and explicitly telling their churches that they have felt left out. Excluded. Left for dead. Instead of gracefully being accepted into the very organization that should be the least segregated in the world; the very institution that Jesus created in order to bring in those who were otherwise left on the margins. I’m not trying to downplay these individual’s experiences. I’m not trying to negate the profoundly dangerous emotional, psychological, and most importantly, spiritual effects these unfortunate episodes have created. AT ALL. However, I’d like to encourage all of us to take a step back and I’d like to suggest something radical.

PEOPLE WHO ARE GAY, LESBIAN, OR BISEXUAL MAY HAVE A RIGHT TO AIR THEIR OPEN LETTERS TO THEIR CHURCH, BUT SO DO A VARIETY OF OTHER GROUPS OF PEOPLE WHO WE NEVER SEEM TO READ OPEN LETTERS FROM.

What about the single mothers in our congregation who are working hard financially and emotionally to raise their two children after their husband abandoned them? What about the young mother widowed in her early thirties after her forty year old husband was in a serious car accident? And what about the teenage girl who was recently raped at 17 and now, because she is pro-life, is carrying a child inside of her scared out of her mind because she isn’t sure how she will be able to finish school?

What about that young man in your youth group who has grown up his entire life thinking that he is not truly masculine enough because he isn’t good at sports, has never had the courage to ask a girl out on a date, and prefers dance to rap? What about that homeless man down the street who faithfully comes into our church every Sunday despite the fact that he never has anything to put into the offering plate? What about that 25 year old university student who has grown up in your church his entire life but now that he is 25 and unmarried he suddenly feels out of place? Too old to be in youth group, but not eligible for the young married group, struggling to figure out how he can still be part of something that has always been so meaningful to him and yet not sure how to continue to have those weekly social interactions?

What about that young family who just immigrated from Nepal, struggling to learn the language and to find a job here in Canada? The mom’s a doctor, the dad’s an engineer, but the best they can do is get a job driving taxis? What about the young woman who struggles with severe depression who has a hard time believing that God could ever truly love her? What about the man who has been battling cancer for years being told over and over again that if he were to simply have more faith God would just miraculously heal him?

You see, I’m not saying AT ALL that we need to silence the voice of our LGBTQ partners. They have a right to have their opinions expressed and at the very least listened to. But I’m also suggesting, in a radical way, that no matter how open and accepting our churches might be, they are missing out on reaching at least half the population.

We seem to be uncomfortable as a body of Christ discussing the very things that Jesus died for. We have a hard time getting messy. We like church to be neat and orderly, all the while forgetting that Christ gave up His life for the depressed, the disillusioned, and those who were demon possessed. Here’s a question for those of you who aren’t charismatic: when is the last time your church talked about those who were demonically oppressed never mind possessed?

As a church, as an entire body of Christ, I believe we can do better. I believe we can reach out to women who have been victims of rape, sexual assault, and domestic abuse just as much as we channel energy into stopping sex trafficking and modern day slavery. I believe we can reach out to the men who find themselves struggling with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder just as much as we channel energy into including people who identify as LGBTQ in our churches. I believe we can make the church welcoming to the homeless, those who have developmental disabilities, and those who otherwise are not able to find their place in society just as much as we channel energy into welcoming young married couples into our midst.

There are many minority groups in our churches that hardly ever get their voices heard. Single young adults (especially those who feel called to celibacy), those who have low self-esteem and never thought they would be “smart” enough to get an education, and those who are so painfully shy that stringing a sentence together seems to take the utmost of their effort.

As Christians, I really think we can do better. As Christians, I think we can open up our hearts and our lives to EVERYONE. Not just the select few who we think might fit the criteria of what a “true” Christian looks like, but EVERYONE.

I hope you will join me in this effort. I hope that next time you see someone in your church who seems a bit unsure of why they are there, that instead of avoiding them for the sake of awkwardness, you will have the boldness and courage to approach them, say hi, and maybe invite them to share a cup of coffee with you. It is only by doing this that we will be able to work towards extending the Kingdom of God.

Building God’s Kingdom One Job at a Time: The Case for Hiring Adults with Disabilities

post-1-0-55919700-1384422697The following article first appeared in the October issue of Peace Signs (a Publication of Mennonite Church USA).  You can read the article online here: http://pjsnpeacesigns.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/moving-beyond-ableism-boosting-the-economy-why-hiring-adults-with-disabilities-is-a-smart-business-decision-and-builds-gods-kingdom/

This same article also appeared in Anabaptist Disability Network’s (ADNET) e-newsletter for their October edition on National Disability Awareness Month.  The link is accessible here: http://www.adnetonline.org/:/HTML/Resources/Newsletter/Connections/Connections%20201410/BuildingGodsKingdom.html

At 4pm on the 15th and 30th of every month, Darryl comes back to his group home waving his check excitedly in the air.  “Deborah, tell me how much I made this month!” he eagerly demands.  We open his mail together, I read out the number at the very bottom of the page, and give him a high-five.  The next question is a natural one, “So, Darryl, how are you going to spend your pay check this month?”  Without hesitation, Darryl answers back, “I’m saving my money for my vacation.”

Darryl is a member of one of the largest untapped work forces in our nation—the group of industrious workers made up of individuals with developmental disabilities.  As a young man in his early thirties who has Down Syndrome, Darryl is quick to tell you that he is “no longer a school boy, but a working man.”  He proudly describes himself as a businessman, and with the greatest sense of philanthropy I have ever seen, adamantly repeats his desire to raise more funds for the intentional community he is a part of.

Working 5 days a week, alternating between a packaging company and a local woodworking shop which makes splints for St. John’s Ambulance and Flare Sticks for railways, Darryl has shown me first-hand the positive effects of working a steady job. To Darryl it is not just about the money he receives at the end of the day—his capacity to understand and manage his own finances is very low—but rather it has to do with contributing to society, being part of a group, and living a more normalized life.  The average person gets up, goes to work for 8 hours a day, comes home and rests only to repeat this same cycle again the next morning.  For persons with a developmental disability who have joined this rhythm of life, their self-esteem often increases and they find they have much in common even among those who do not have a disability.

Yet, even though recent statistics have shown that close to 20% of the American population has some kind of disability, the unfortunate reality is that only a third of those individuals are currently working, which means that the other two-thirds are unemployed.[1]  Reasons for this vary.  Some employers resist hiring people with developmental disabilities because they feel these individuals will be too difficult to train or will lack the passion and the stamina to keep going.  For the most part, nothing could be further from the truth.  People with disabilities often are hard-working, committed, and dedicated to making a difference in their fields.[2]  These individuals also are less likely to complain about what may be seen as minimal tasks, instead embracing each opportunity as another job to be completed.  Additionally, it has been shown that individuals with developmental disabilities are up to 3 times more likely to stick with entry level positions compared to the high turnover rates companies often experience.[3]

As Christians, we are called to help those who otherwise would be marginalized and to seek ways to include all of God’s children.  One of the best ways for this to take place is to have Christian employers become more aware of the positive outcomes employing people with disabilities provides.  As more churches become aware of every person’s need for inclusion, self-worth and purpose, we can corporately reach out as the Body of Christ to try to place individuals with disabilities in jobs which best use their interests and skillsets.  As Christians, let us take the risk of allowing someone with a disability to be part of our workforce rather than only persons with a university degree or years of experience.  As someone who works with employed individuals with disabilities I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

[1] “Disability Employment Information, Facts, and Myths,” Disabled World, Accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/disability-employment-information.php

[2] “Why Hire?” Community Living Ontario, Accessed September 17, 2014. http://www.communitylivingontario.ca/employers/why-hire.

[3] Disabled World. http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/disability-employment-information.php

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.