Archive for July, 2019

This is what we do (Letters from the Coast)

In a small meeting room belonging to St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church, a group of Christ’s disciples gathered around a laptop screen and watched two hours’ worth of debate over a motion to begin offering full same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada.

We were few, but we were a microcosm of young and old across our national church. There were gay and bisexual people. There were trans and nonbinary people. There were a couple of allies who had pledged to support us.

Parts of it were deeply painful to watch. Parts of it were utterly disgraceful.

We held our breath as they counted the votes. Ten minutes lasted ten thousand years.

And once again, our hearts were broken by the church.

Although I had expected this outcome, it still felt like a cannonball to the chest, particularly because the vote was so close. In order for a canon change to be accepted, it must pass through two consecutive synods by a two-thirds majority in all three houses: the house of laity, the house of clergy, and the house of bishops.

The plain facts were that it did pass by a two-thirds majority in the houses of laity and clergy.

There was a holdout from, as I understand, two bishops out of fourteen or so.


Three of our country’s bishops whom we know to be affirming were kept from us by illness, including my own bishop, Archbishop Melissa Skelton, who I was told tried her best to wrangle a day pass from hospital out of her doctors, but could not.

I stood there, crying, as others wept or simply fell silent.

And then – blessing of blessings – my friend C stated firmly, “Okay. Now let’s go do some kind of service.”

“What should we do?” some of us mourned.

“I had thought of singing songs on the steps of the law courts across the street,” I mumbled.

“No. Let’s do a Eucharist. And do it right in front of the hotel,” C said.

Of course C was right. It had to be. We were Anglican. This is what we do.

And just like that, we fanned out, gathering up the snacks, books, crayons, and other things we had brought to construct our safe haven for the night. It probably took about ten to fifteen minutes. Many hands and so on.

I got separated briefly, with an armload of cookies and Kinder Eggs, but found my friends again in front of the shining fountain before the Sheraton Wall Centre, where General Synod was being held.

I dumped the food at the fountain and texted my husband to come and be with us. Another priest went to fetch elements, returning with a huge hand-crafted loaf and a bottle of de-alcoholized wine from IGA. C laid out a rainbow scarf and lit candles, and we began to sing.

“And we will walk on / Knowing God is always with us / The wilderness is holy ground

And through uncertainty / There’s so much possibility to be found.”

Voices rose and fell over the crashing beauty of the fountain, reminding us of our baptism, which, no matter where or when it happened, through the power of God’s love, happened at the river, the beautiful the beautiful river.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” I said, leaning into every word.

“And also with you.”

My husband had arrived, and I noticed him standing off to the side. Although he is not a believer, I assumed he would join us, but he didn’t. It took me a little while to realize that he was standing sentinel, making sure that all of us were safe, and watching our body language to make sure that no-one who joined us (and there were a few) were the kind of folks we wouldn’t want to be there.

Where the sermon would have been, we shared. We spoke our truths.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been so angry. “I feel like someone shot me,” I said, and I couldn’t help my voice rising. “I am tired of this! I am tired of fighting when I know that God has blessed us!”

Others were numb. Some could not share at all.

As C shared, a woman from a Newfoundland diocese, who had told us her bishops were drafting a letter of support, came and hugged me tight, and whispered to me, “Hang in there. I’m being ordained in a year and a half, and I am coming for them.”

When we had exhausted our voices, we decided to get on with it. I counted our circle of sharing as prayers and affirmation of faith, and we prepared to break bread.

Bishop Lynne McNaughton of the diocese of Kootenay held my phone for me as I read from the Book of Alternative Services. About halfway through, the page got lost, and we went a little off-script. There was laughter.

I insisted that Bishop Lynne be the one to share out the bread. She was the only bishop that joined us. I wanted all those gathered to see that they had bishops who would not betray their vulnerability and their trust, who would feed them no matter their pronouns and no matter their loves.

As we went around, the circle sang, “All we need is here, all we need is here.”

I blessed us: “Live without fear. Your Creator has made you holy, has always welcomed you, and loves you like a good mother. Go in peace to follow the good road, and the Sacred Three to save, to shield, and to surround you all your life, all the days of your life.”


C raised a triumphant hand. “Go in peace, be gay, do crimes.”

We howled with laughter. “Thanks be to God!”

I picked up the very large remains of the broken loaf. “Church! I need your help!”

It all got eaten. There were no baskets left over.

Perhaps we are the baskets left over, a living testament to there always being enough, to there always being a place at the table.

The church broke my heart, and yet somehow, at the same time, I was so, so proud to be church, in the dim electric light and crashing waves of that fountain.

Done with the debate, Part 2 (Letters from the Coast)

This is the second in a two part entry about the inherent objectification and racism of modern evangelism.



Of course my own denomination has its own problematic racial history to contend with. Glass houses, and whatnot. But the racism of the mainline Canadian Anglican church looks very different from the racism of the North American evangelical church. While we cling to the paternalistic, colonialist racism inherent in historically British institutions, what I’m interested in is the inherently objectifying framework of evangelism as present in those who risk it all to save souls.

Going abroad to spread the message goes all the way back to the beginning of Christianity, but it’s disingenuous to compare Paul’s jaunts across the Mediterranean with Jesuits bringing the Bible to Canada. Paul, while a Roman citizen, was still a member of an occupied community under Roman rule who ended up in prison for what he was doing. And while he was pretty spicy in some of his criticisms of his flock, he tirelessly fought for integration of Gentiles in the infant church. Of course this brought us to a complicated place once the church became the establishment, but in its early days this was more cult than colonialism, and even pretty radical.

Fast forward to today, where we have whatever the heck Jilly’s doing, and people like the somber looking folks my boss and I noticed fanning out across the street from our church two by two, with books in their hands and resolute faces. Fast forward to today, where arguments are not made in good faith but are merely a chance to show off one’s supposed rhetorical skill – really just a chance to, in my opinion, commit the sin of pride by supposedly running circles around heathens with your encyclopedic knowledge of random Scripture quotes, as though doing glorified sword drills were really that impressive a display of faith or knowledge.

There are so many ways to do this kind of work, and almost all of them drive me up the wall.

We’ll start with a beatific smile, and move into the main course, which is telling me, through all of those teeth, that I’m going to burn in hell if I don’t align myself with a set of beliefs that dates back a hundred years at most.

If I do anything other than slam the door, it quickly becomes a chance to mansplain Scripture to me, as if I, raised in the church, a student of the faith in earnest on my return to Christ in 2005, and an ordained priest with an MDiv and awards for my work in New Testament hermeneutics, knows nothing about how the Bible should really be read; even though, again, their particular interpretation of Scripture grew out of a barely one hundred year old panic that higher biblical criticism was going to topple the universe – indeed, as though after two thousand years of biblical scholarship all across the world a handful of white men in the United States only just got it right in 1910.

But if you refuse to engage, of course, you’re a coward. “Debate me!”


I don’t have to.

As a dear friend once told me, “You don’t have to justify yourself. You are already justified.”

I didn’t invent the radical reading of Scripture. I’m only one in a long of radical interpreters. Indeed, I’m only one in a long line of folks, lay and ordained, who have woven their own culture, their own worldview, their own zeitgeist into the braid of Scripture.

That is what Jesus did. That is what Paul did. That is what everyone has always done.

The opposite of faith, someone once told me, is not doubt, but certainty.

If you are so so sure about something, that’s not faith at all. Faith is first and foremost about relationship before intellectual assent. This is how it was in the church for thousands of years. In these latter days of the Enlightenment, though, faith is also about holding fast to what you’re really not sure about, allowing something to shape your life because you know in your heart it’s true but can’t really prove it with the tools of logic. For me, that’s about saying that love, as it exists outside of romance or family ties, as it exists, driving people to give everything up for the other, is more than just a neuron. It’s something that has no biological source, but exists in and indeed holds up the universe. I can’t show it to you on a microscope. I can only show it to you with my actions and my words…AND I would never tell you to only experience it through my actions and words.

What fundamentalists do for their god has nothing to do with faith. It’s just bullheadedness.

In these days where we challenge the colonial legacy of the church, where we scramble to piece together a faith that has probably done as much damage as good (and it has done quite a bit of good, despite what a lot of folks would have you believe), I think we need a radical reinterpretation of what it means to bring Jesus to those who do not know him.

I think maybe it looks like actually practicing what we preach.

I think maybe it looks like friendship more than threats.

And I think maybe it looks like having a bit of damn humility for once.

“Because God wants you,” (Sermon, July 14th, 2019)

On Tuesday, I told my husband, “I’m probably going to have to write two sermons.”

He looked at me and his mouth twisted sympathetically. “Have you thought about saying that? Like, to the congregation?”

“I don’t know,” I said, surprised. “I guess I could.”

“You should,” he said, and speared another forkful of stirfry.

This is how a lot of my bigger theological decisions begin, believe it or not. My husband, who identifies as atheist, hears me say something like, “I’m thinking about wearing my collar to that protest.” “I’m thinking of speaking up the next time I hear that kind of garbage theology.”

And he responds, “You should.” Sometimes it’s even, “You have to.”

I wonder if God ever sounds like that to a prophet.

We are so accustomed to seeing prophets as fiery types who warn of bizarre natural spectacles like bloody moons and trembling mountains, wild-eyed locust eaters who froth about the indolent rich and axes at the roots of trees.

But here, well into Isaiah, we see something different. We see compassion, patience, and love. We see gentle words, reassurance, and hope.

The chapter from which we read is a part of the collected work called Isaiah that many scholars attribute to an anonymous author often called ‘Deutero-Isaiah,’ or ‘Second Isaiah.’ Unlike the author of ‘First Isaiah,’ which runs from Chapters 1 to 39, Second Isaiah wrote during the time of the Judean exile. Many of the surviving people of God had been torn from their homelands and brought in captivity to Babylon around the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. These forcibly deported people would have felt not only fear and humiliation, but confusion. Jerusalem was believed to be the holy city, God’s protected place. How could it have fallen?

And in the days of old, when wars were seen not only as conflicts between nations but between gods, it would have seemed to many that their God had been defeated.

What was the point of remaining on God’s side? God was, for lack of a better word, dead.

Second Isaiah needed his readers to understand that God was not so weak, and God’s favour was not so fickle. God’s presence was unending, everlasting. God was preparing a servant to liberate the people, just as she had with Moses. God would do this, because God was loving. God had called Israel by name from the beginning. Verse 1 reminds the people of their roots: Jacob whom God loved and with whom God struggled at Peniel, imparting a blessing earned through struggle and hardship and broken bones.

Perhaps, Second Isaiah thought, the people needed a reminder that they had been in exile before, and God had safely steered them home then. But rather than showing annoyance with their forgetfulness, as God sometimes did in other parts of scripture, God here is patient and loving, as a parent might be with a child who’s been told a million times that there’s nothing under the bed or in the closet.

God understands the depth of our fear, our despair, our rage, our helplessness.

Christians, who sobbed through the death of their Messiah on Good Friday only to, like Mary Magdalene, be confronted with the awesome foolishness of his resurrection on Sunday, were so heavily influenced by the Book of Isaiah that some scholars refer to it as the Fifth Gospel. Advent is the time when we hear it the most. It’s woven through Handel’s Messiah. It’s woven into our very language, from “swords into ploughshares” to “a voice in the wilderness.”

The sense of kinship Christians had with these writings is totally understandable for a number of reasons. While some endured persecution and took comfort in the more general notion that God was with them in times of trial, those who read it following the destruction of the Temple in the first Jewish-Roman war resonated deeply with those who had been ripped from their divine homeland. The destruction of the Second Temple was another watershed moment in Judaism, one that again threw their conception of God into question. Was God really with us, no longer having a house to live in?

The rabbis said, “Yes, of course. There was no house in the wilderness. God is so much bigger than that.” And out of their devotion to their scripture and scholarship, they and their people saved the Jewish faith.

Centuries later, Christians agreed.

So what about us?

After hard and mean years of exile, queer Christians have been shut outside again. We have been told that there is no place for us in the palace of the righteous. We have been told that we must bend ourselves into a hundred shuddering shapes to be made ready for the kingdom.

This is nothing new. It’s awful. It’s wearisome. It’s the worst sort of foolishness.

But it’s nothing new.

Not to us, and not to the church.

We are so, so tired.

We’re tired of being told to be patient when we’ve been walking through desolation for thousands of years.

We’re tired of manna in the desert, morning foam on grass, when our bodies want meat.

We’re tired of having to smash stones for water, when we just want to drink from a spring flowing from a generous heart.

We’re tired of asking for fish and being given snakes.

We’re starting to wonder what the hell the point of all this is.

Why spend hours trying to muscle in on a seat at the table when you’re clearly not wanted?


Because you are wanted.

Because God wants you.

God wants all of us.

No matter what any of the proverbial haters say, even our church knew that on Friday. The change passed in two out of three houses.

We already have a seat at the table. Just because it’s been blocked off by a couple of heavies doesn’t mean it’s not there.

God put it there.

The Church has been wrong before, and it will be again.

And God is with us then, and God will be with us the next time, and the next, and the next.

And all the time she is calling, calling us from the margins, from the wilderness, calling out that we must remember that we are known by name.

Like the exiles, ripped from the arms of our homeland to a faraway place, we are called to remember our roots, to remember who we are: children of God, named and claimed as beloved, because God is where love is.

Like Paul, architect of death and terroristic persecution who suddenly found himself forged into a new creation, thrown from his horse in the blazing light of a new master who would lead him into a love so strong he was happy to exchange his life for it.

Like Mary Magdalene, fumbling through pre-dawn uncertainty, turning to look on the gardener who was not a gardener and yet was, a new Adam come to save us from what we were before: a creature that sought to execute the source of all life and found all attempts thwarted with the gentle question, “Whom are you looking for?”

Like the church itself, a ragtag group of brown men and women living in an occupied land, who would never have associated with each other outside of the Spirit’s mischievous will, who went from persecuted to glorified to feared to ignored and perhaps in the end back again, always carrying within it the most frustrating paradox and the most important news: that death and fear are not the end, that slavery is never a closed chapter, that joy comes in the morning, that struggles are seen and known and felt in the bleeding heart of one who was pierced and returned to us still pierced and speaking peace.

So let us continue our work of love, here and in our own relationships. Let us continue to be loud and proud. Let us continue to show God’s love in everything we do.

For the best way to shame those who would shame us is to live our lives as though we are blessed, because we are.

We are.

Five Smooth Stones

This is an adapted version of something I posted on Twitter. I shared it as a reflection accompanying Morning Prayer the morning after a few bishops at General Synod 2019 voted not to pass the motion on the Marriage Canon, which would have allowed same-sex couples to marry (rather than simply have their unions blessed) in the Anglican Church of Canada. The passage assigned for the lectionary that morning (really!) was 1 Samuel 17:31-49, the battle between David and Goliath.

Reading this, I’m struck by two things.

Now I’m going to do my best to be “professional” and say that what we should take away from this story is David’s reckless faith in the Lord of hosts…

But I need to confess, my family, that the stone sinking into the giant’s forehead and striking him down made me feel a little happy.

And also, perhaps there’s something to be said for the moment when David removes Saul’s armour. Perhaps we clothe ourselves too much in the armour of those who would do us harm with their words. Those words could be hateful speech, but honestly also Scripture.

Hear me out!

It has been made clear over the course of thirty years that progressive and conservative Christians will not be able to meet in the middle on Scripture. I could argue about the meanings of the terrible texts until I’m blue in the face, and I will never change anyone’s mind. And I don’t even want to anymore.

It is not a philosophical exercise, this debate over people’s lives and loves and identities. I refuse to allow for that. We armour ourselves with our stories, and while I often feel rage that we are forced to do that when it has been proven they will not be held with respect, it remains that witnessing us, seeing us and our relationships, is what truly changes people.

Perhaps that too is a call with its own beauty. For we were forced into closets and ill-fitting “protective” armour, and yet God has always called us to be seen: no armour, no helmet, armed only with the smooth stones of our stories.

So let us mourn if we need to, for there is a season for all things. But when we feel ready, let us stand up and be reckless in our faith in the God who has liberated us. Like beautiful Clare Urquhart said so bravely said last night, we KNOW we are blessed. We KNOW we are loved.

Let’s act like it.

Let’s be prophets.

Let’s take our story-stones and slay some dragons.

Daybreak Eyes

Done with the Debate, Part 1 (Letters from the Coast)

This is another two parter entry on the racism and objectifying nature of modern evangelism.


Chencho and I at the Oscar Romero museum in San Salvador

In late 2013, I applied to go on an “exposure trip” to El Salvador with the Student Christian Movement. The organization was careful to explain to us that this was not a missions trip or a chance for a bunch of us white kids to go build things and take selfies with brown children. While we would do some work with locals, the main focus of the trip was to meet Jose “Chencho” Alas, a personal friend of Bishop Oscar Romero and a leader of liberation theology, a grassroots movement most folks trace back to Central and South America in the ‘70s and ‘80s which sought to empower laypeople to deepen their faith and orchestrate their own liberation from colonialism and oppression.

I told my stepmother, who didn’t understand that last part. “So…you’re going on a missions trip?”

“No,” I said. “We’re going to learn from Chencho and help out with some of the projects his group has already started.” (We helped plant a food garden and distributed/planted fruit trees in village yards with a group of kids and adults as part of a reforestation and anti-hunger effort spearheaded by his organization).

“You remember my auntie Jilly[1], right?”

My eye probably twitched a little. “Yes.”

“If you’re interested in that kind of stuff, you should get in touch with her! Here, she sent me a postcard.”

My stepmother’s aunt was not the kind of Christian I generally get along with very well. I have vague memories of her when I was a kid, and she was a lovely, kind, vivacious lady. But as I deepened in my own faith, I began to discover that Jilly’s work was starting to make me feel more and more uncomfortable.

Jilly called herself a missionary, and a few churches recognized her as one and sent her money to support her work, which occurs in an American border town. She works mostly with children, many of them with disabilities. She regularly sent letters and postcards to her family and friends detailing the work she did.

Lots of selfies with brown children, as you can imagine.

Shortly after my stepmother encouraged me to get in touch with her, I did become curious about her work. I already knew that it was going to be the kind of thing I would be utterly uninterested in doing for a number of reasons, but I realized I had no idea what churches supported her work, or who was actually keeping an eye on what she was doing. I didn’t even know what denominational family she was a part of, although I do remember my stepmother’s grandmother was a staunch Jehovah’s Witness and remember my father debating Scripture with her – basically the only childhood memories I have of my dad engaging with religion at all.

I set about trying to find her.

She had no website of her own, but I do remember finding references to her on one missionary website which I can no longer find. There is also an archived letter that pops up when you plug her name into Google, replete with both fragmentary and run-on sentences and exclamation points. It’s impossible to tell from the letter what it is Jilly is actually doing with the kids, or exactly where it’s happening, although it’s in a border town and she claims that they are all very poor and many have intellectual disabilities. She also name drops church folks I can’t really trace, and talks about partnering with one organization which has a charitable arm that carefully omits references to Christianity and does look to be doing good work.

In short, I have never been able to fully decipher what it is that Jilly does or who is sponsoring her.

And frankly, that disturbed me.

It disturbed me even more when this story came out.

I actually heard about it through my favourite podcast, Robert Evans’s brilliant Behind the Bastards. When his episode on Bach came out, there was as yet little Western media coverage. Most of his sources were Ugandan, and the group “No White Saviours” had been putting the story out there. He was certain that the story would explode very shortly, and he was clearly right.

Once again, I took to the internet to find more information about Jilly. It was even harder to find anything this time. The letter I mention above was nine years old when I read it the first time in 2014. It’s still there, and I found one or two references in church bulletins to someone with the same name as Jilly, but there’s no way to confirm if it’s really her.

I did find her on Facebook. I won’t add her, so there will be some things I can’t see, but I still scrolled through quite a bit. And again, it’s totally unclear what it is that she’s actually doing. There are lots of selfies of her with brown kids, although it seems to be the same few, so I don’t know if these are kids she’s adopted or if they’re part of a house she’s running. There is also an incredibly eye-rolling post from the summer of 2016 that suggests voting for Trump (without ever mentioning him by name but it’s quite clear) because he’s “brutally honest,” unlike “the other candidate.” Obviously I’m not missing out on a good relationship. It all feels quite typical for the kind of Christian I remember her being.

Let me be clear that I don’t think Jilly is experimenting on the kids. Based on memory and what I’ve seen, she’s never been able to have children of her own, and I believe she does love the children in her care.

But I’m also still deeply troubled by what I perceive to be a total lack of transparency of and accountability for what she’s doing, and the weird feelings I have when I consider that she is female and, as far as I’m aware, unmarried – Fundamentalists and evangelicals have such weird double standards whenever it comes to missionaries!

Considering these two stories together, I started to understand on a deeper level what Christians of colour mean when they say white supremacy is at the core of the North American evangelical church.


[1] Not her real name

Love what death can touch (Letters from the Coast)

The first time my mum decided to take a break from singing in Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral Choir, I didn’t think much of it. She had been a faithful servant in their music scene for thirty-five years. It didn’t seem unreasonable to step back for a bit.

And she did return for a while, and then stepped back again, and then returned.

It didn’t happen too many more times, but each time the stepping away was a little longer.

Her friends were confused. Some of them started to ask me questions. I was in the dark.

Finally, one day, I said to her, “Are you done with the choir?”

“I don’t know,” she said, and shrugged. “Maybe.”

“How come?”

“I’m finding it a bit stressful,” she said. “All that music…I can’t really keep it all straight anymore, and then I worry about what the others think. I don’t want them to have to put up with it.”

She laughed a little.

I just stared.

This was my mum. She had been juggling works like Handel’s Messiah, Vaughn Williams’ Mass in G Minor, and Tallis’s Spem in Alium (a forty-part Renaissance-era motet for eight choirs of five voices each) since before I was born. Since when did she find a few pieces she had sung over and over for years too difficult to manage?

Oh well, I thought. She’s an adult. These things happen as people age, I suppose.

But it wasn’t just that. The things she said about herself, about how she couldn’t keep it together, about how she was a “space cadet,” were coming more and more often. Some of the things she said, always accompanied by that awkward chuckle, were downright cruel.

My mother had always been a titanic figure for me. It was us against the world, and she was, to my eyes, unflappably confident and in control. But over time, I watched this fall away, and while she always seemed happy, she also seemed more anxious, and more forgetful. At first it seemed like any of my other older family members and friends, but it quickly became clear that it was a bit more serious than that.

After lots of convincing from her absolutely inimitable partner, she finally went to the doctor, and some time later invited my spouse and me over to tell us the news: She had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

It was June of 2018.


I couldn’t believe it.

I managed to hold it together, smiling and laughing and planning for the future, until we left. We walked home, and I did so in almost complete silence.

Finally, when I got home, I tried again to hold it together, but couldn’t. I ran to my bedroom, fell upon my bed, and didn’t cry but howled, like a wounded animal. I sobbed so hard that when I emerged to wash my face, I saw I had rings of tiny red dots around my eyes, like the heat rashes I used to get in the summer

What’s worse? I wondered. My dad literally dropping dead with no warning, or watching my mum, without whom I can’t possibly imagine a world, slowly become lost in a thicket of dementia?

There is no answer to such a question, although in some ways this seemed worse. My relationship with my father was complicated. I did not get to resolve it in a way that I wanted before he died, which was very difficult.

My relationship with my mother is imperfect…but, for me, quite uncomplicated.

I love my mum. She is my hero.

Believe it or not, things are, in some ways, much improved. Mum is no longer trying to hide her illness. She is still fairly independent. She and her friends have been traveling and having a ton of parties and visits.

We still giggle and shop for clothes and eat and drink wine.

I have still called her for support during times of uncertainty, just like I always have, to ask her opinion, and she has given it freely.

I remember in those first few horrendous hours thinking, “How can I possibly do this? I love her so much.”

And later, the beautiful, cruel, and utterly true realization: “You should feel blessed – your love will be what makes it possible.”

Love makes so much possible – but it never makes anything easy. That has never been a part of the promise.

But then I was introduced by my priest, Peter, to a quote from the 11th century poet Judah Halevi:

“‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch.”

And I remembered that that’s the whole point of a Christian life, for the ability to “love what death can touch” is the very nature of God.

Dear ones, with my whole heart, I pray:

Love what death can touch.