8 Tips to Get Your Schedule Under Control

By Robert Massey, YYCCM Team Member

As the semester swings into full gear, assignments get handed out, and events start pilling on top of one another, it can feel hard to fit it all in. And it may not be possible. But, if you stop and take some time to plan you may just realize you have more time than you thought to finish that assignment, take up a new hobby, or binge your favourite show.  

So here are 8 ideas to help you get your semester under control and have more time to do what you love.

Schedule Everything

If you have a lot going on, setting aside specific time to do a task or complete a project is very important. And not just saying, I’ll get to that this afternoon, but going into your calendar and setting aside a couple of hours at a specific time.

Here’s one way of doing that. Every Sunday, sit down with your calendar (whether that’s a physical calendar on the wall or the one in your phone or both) and look at what you have due soon, what you are doing that week, what meetings you have, and what fun things you want to get up to. And then set aside time for each task during the week.

The psychology behind doing this is pretty evident. One, it helps you recognize what you have going on and what may be sipping through the cracks allowing you to keep on top of tasks and projects. Two, it allows you to stay focused during your set work periods, especially if you know you have something fun coming up after you have finished your study time or project work time. This will make you more productive during those times and less likely to stray off task. Three, it allows you to have fun when you aren’t working or studying. Too often we hear students complain about their lack of time, or how much work they have to do, and how they should stop talking and go study (I’m sure we’ve all done this). But this means that they are thinking about work or their project, allowing that task to take up more time and space in their lives and not focusing on the person in front of them or the enjoyable thing they are doing. It is taking away from their time to enjoy life.

Mute your Notifications

Those little bubbles that come up everywhere - on your phone, on the corner of your computer screen, in tabs on your browser - they are one of the single biggest distractions in life. And they drag your focus away from the task at hand. When you really want to buckle down and focus on something, mute everything! Nearly every notification we receive (unless you're in emergency services) can wait the half hour until you take your break.

It’s a Distraction Based Economy

In the same vein as muting your notifications, getting rid of distractions is important as well. The world we live in today strives to make money off your attention. It is a distraction-based economy. The more time that companies can get you to spend looking at your phone, scrolling feeds, looking at notifications, the better for their bottom line. And those little notifications that come up constantly are their way of subtly reminding you to go and check your feeds, see what your friends are doing, take just a few minutes of your time to do something they want you to do. Where is the harm in taking five minutes to do that? Except normally that five minutes turns into 20 or 30 and changes your mental focus from one of work to one of relaxation and it is hard to get back into ‘go mode’ again. Don’t let companies distract you from what needs to be done.

Close Netflix (or Stop Multitasking)

Multitasking seems like a good idea because you can pretend that you’re working twice as hard. After all, you’re doing two things at once! But, multitasking doesn’t lead to better work, it leads to the same work taking four times longer than if you just worked on one thing at a time. This is especially true if you are attempting to watch a tv show while working on a project. So close the Netflix tabs, your work and marks will thank you for it.

Use one Notebook for Each Class

If you’re like me and learn things better by writing them down (or the class doesn’t jive while with taking computer-driven notes), then this one should help you. Keep a different notebook for each class. This will do a couple of things for your time management. Taking out a specific notebook that ties into a certain class can help signal to your brain that it is time to think about chemistry, art history, the music of AC/DC or whatever class you are sitting in. This will help you to focus on that subject matter and recall information faster, which will make getting things done faster. It will also help keep you far more organized, and when you are looking for that specific note will prevent you from scrolling through hundreds of other classes and pages of information.

Break Down Big Tasks into Smaller Tasks

Sitting and thinking about a 20-page research paper on Handle’s Messiah can be a daunting task (even for those who enjoy Handle’s music). It can seem overwhelming before you even begin, making it more likely you will procrastinate doing it. Instead of thinking about it as one big project, think about it as a list of smaller, easy to accomplish tasks that will lead to accomplishing your bigger goal.

Try Bullet Journaling

People all over the world swear by this method of organization. It may work for you, so check out the idea behind it.

https://bulletjournal.com/

Learn to Say No

Sometimes the simplest thing you can do for your time management is simply to say no every once in a while. This can be hard to do when you have demands coming on you from every side, but it could be the most healthy thing you do for your self. Say no to tasks that you don’t have time for, that you know are going to take up large amounts of time, or are simply things you don’t want to do (and that you don’t have to do, because there are lots of things in work that I don’t want to do but have to do).

So, where you can say no. Be respectful to yourself, your time, and your mental health. Leave yourself some space to breathe.


Dealing with Exam Stress

It’s that time of year again. Finals are here. Big projects are coming due and group projects are causing migraines. But it isn’t the end of the world (even if it feels like it is). The stress can be managed. And it is very important to take care of the stress before it overwhelms you.

There are some ways to handle the stress, and this post will offer you some of the best ways to look after your mental health heading into the end of the fall term.

  1. Schedule things to look forward to
    Seeing a big block of revision in your schedule can overwhelm your brain, making the stress worse and making studying less productive. Give yourself time to do some fun things and something to look forward to. At the end of a long morning of revision, schedule lunch with a friend and just enjoy the time with them. Or at the end of a full day, go out and see a film or climb a mountain. Give yourself a positive outcome to look forward to, not just another night of more studying.

  2. Give yourself a break
    Breaks are incredibly important. Studies have shown that constantly studying and working leads to brain fatigue, ineffective work, and retaining less information. So take a break when your brain starts to feel overwhelmed. Don’t stop and read Facebook or scroll Instagram though. Get out of your chair, get outside and breathe some fresh air. Listen to some music that makes you happy. Go for a walk. Even 20 minutes of this can reboot your brain and make your next hour of studying far more productive than just powering through.

  3. Get some Exercise
    We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Take advantage of it. Get outside and go for a stroll or hike a mountain. Or maybe go for a swim, go rock climbing, go running, play hockey, or hit the gym. Just do something. Besides giving your brain a break, exercise has been shown to boost your mood and your productivity and make it easier to focus. So an hour of exercise can make you more effective at studying. Plus, healthier. And that's always a great thing.

  4. Don’t Compare
    Comparison is the end of creativity and positivity, so don’t compare your study habits and what you’ve learned to others. This is just a tool for stressing you out more. Talking to others, and studying with other people is a great way to revise. But listening to other people talk about their habits, and then comparing yours to theirs isn’t healthy. Do what is best for you to get a positive result and you will succeed. Plus, if you’re comparing yourself to others than you are wasting that time thinking about someone else rather than studying. Kind of counterproductive.

  5. Eat Something Healthy
    Eating healthy at any point can be hard, but during exams, it seems impossible. Unfortunately, sugar crashes are real things and can completely kill a productive afternoon. Eat full meals that will satisfy your body. On that note, check out our Simple Supper on Wednesdays at UCalgary and Thursdays at MRU for a healthy, homemade meal that you don’t have to cook.

  6. Find a Study Buddy
    Studying alone for hours on end can lead to feelings of isolation. Fight that by finding the right person to study with. Even having another person in the room with you who you can occasionally ask a question of has been proven to make studying easier. But find the right person. Someone you can work alongside and isn’t going to distract you from revising.

  7. Plan Out Your Revision
    Leaving studying to the last minute can lead to a massive amount of stress and lack of sleep. Be prepared in advance, know how long you will need to study and make a plan. Work in space for things to go wrong as well, because, well… life. It happens and can screw up the best-laid plans.

  8. Don’t Consume too Much Caffeine
    It’s really easy to keep drinking coffee as you study, but at a certain point, your body is not going to respond well. You can get jittery, lose focus, and become more anxious the more caffeine you consume. Keep the coffee, and black tea, consumption down to maximize the benefit of a couple of cups. This much coffee can also drastically alter your sleeping.

  9. Avoid All-Night Binges the Day Before an Exam
    This is self-explanatory for many. Going into an exam on no sleep doesn’t make your brain work better or faster. It just makes you feel groggy and foggy. Don’t get pulled down into this trap. Get some rest, which actually leads to number 10.

  10. SLEEP!
    This is one of the most important things that many students (and adults in general) do not do. Give yourself time to rest and heal and your brain the chance to make the biggest impact by giving it a good nights rest. This isn’t always possible, but do your best to get a decent amount of sleep each night and you will be feeling rested and ready for every challenge that comes the next day.

Some quick things to do to reduce stress:

  • Meditate or reflect on things that are important to you. Give time for gratitude and thanks that you are in a position to be studying for post-secondary exams.

  • A shower or a bath can help to relieve stress.

  • Cook or bake something that gives you joy. Remake a childhood favourite, your favourite dessert, or make a special dinner for you and your friends or loved ones.

  • Avoid other stressed people. You know the ones we mean. Those that are running around with cue cards falling out of their pockets, asking everyone if they know this date or that person, and trying to remember every detail at the last moment. They will do nothing positive for you.

  • Be flexible and gentle with yourself. Having a timetable for revision is important, but if you don’t stick to it don’t beat yourself up over it. Get back on track quickly and regain your focus.

  • Keep things in perspective. Yes, exams are important. But you are so much more than your exam results.

Digging into Dirty Theology: Mythbusting Sin

By Zoe Say, YYCCM Team Member

Laughter erupted from me as I strained not to spew my mouthful of cappuccino all over the beautiful wooden table in front of me. I quickly swallowed and then let loose, along with the entire group around the table. Our laughter rang throughout Knox United Church’s gorgeous sanctuary; bouncing off of pews, rising to the stained glass windows and echoing around the vaulted ceiling. As we quieted down, our fearless facilitator Rev. Nick Coates dove into the question raised and the cause of our laughter, “If original sin is thought to pass from generation to generation through the seed, or sperm, of Adam, would masturbation, therefore, be a good thing, as it “spills the seed” which spreads the sin?” The topic of our conversation shifted from original sin to masturbation, and whether it was good or bad or somewhere in the middle. Rev. Nick helped us look at the story of Onan “spilling his seed” in the bible, and a new take on what God might have been really mad about (here’s a hint, it’s not the act of masturbation).

This is exactly the kind of conversation and ethos I hoped to create with a slight shift for year two of Dirty Theology, a partnership program of St. Andrew’s Regional Ministry and ourselves, now being hosted in Sanctuary Coffee at Knox. For this second year, we decided to spend time digging deep into one of the grittiest topics of the Christian Faith - Sin. Specifically, busting through some of the myths, guilt, and shame that often surround the word sin, and reclaiming how it might be helpful in today’s society.

If original sin is thought to pass from generation to generation through the seed, or sperm, of Adam, would masturbation, therefore, be a good thing, as it “spills the seed” which spreads the sin?
— The question of the night
Our fantastic facilitator Rev. Nick Coates.

Our fantastic facilitator Rev. Nick Coates.

Last year we loved delving into some of the Bible's most risque stories but found ourselves yearning for a bit more time to delve into how the Bible story or topic affected our daily lives. Instead, we spent a lot of time unpacking the bible story, and only a little chatting about how that story was also our story, as Rev. Nick Coates likes to stay. The bible is rich with stories about the messy lives of humans, muddling their way through life, falling down, trying again, and God meeting them there. The hope this year is to start from an overarching theme of Mythbusting Sin, flush it out to individual focus topics each month, and then bring in the Bible as it relates to what we're talking about. We already have many topics that emerged from last Sunday's discussion that I can't wait to dig into throughout the year. We will have a focus topic for each month under the broader theme of Mythbusting Sin such as racism or sex. These can be one-offs, so there is no pressure for young adults to show up every month, but will also have a flow and build upon one another.

As Program Director for the YYC Campus Ministry, I spend a lot of time hanging out with young adults and chatting about faith. One of greatest barriers young people have toward religion is a fear and expectation of judgement. They hear a lot in the media around sin, shame and guilt in relation to Christianity. Rev. Greg Glatz, the brains behind Knox United Church’s Sanctuary Coffee, jokingly put on one of their signs for the cafe “no you won’t burst into flames if you walk into the church”. This, sadly, is not far off from what many expect. It is exciting to attempt to dig into and reclaim sin not as a tool for judgement, but rather a way to address the barriers that come between us and the love that Jesus both preached and lived.

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A Night in Zambia

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By Robert Massey, YYCCM Team Member

A little over a year ago, my partner left on, at the time, a 9-month journey to Zambia to work with the SANI project. This had been a life-long goal of hers. She had wanted to return to the African country since her first visit there in 2008 on a trip with other Calgary-based youth in the United Church. This was her chance to go back and try to make an impact on a country that so deeply impacted her. What that meant for us was another long stint living in other places (this had become the norm in our relationship). But what this also meant was the chance for me to go and visit Zambia as well! And, of course, visiting Zambia meant taking a ton of photographs.

The trip was both eye opening, interesting, and amazing. It started with the longest travel days I've ever had and involved a 60 C temperature change (literally, it was -30C when I left Calgary & +30C when I landed in Lusaka). My partner and I did all the touristy things including visiting Victoria Falls in Livingston, kayaking down the Zambezi, and doing a three-day safari in South Luangwa National Park (where we also got to visit a local congregation). It involved nearly 48 hours riding buses (and two totally awesome plane rides) and seeing the brand new and highly undeveloped region my partner was working in.

But I didn't just want to see the pretty parts of this country. Be a drop-in tourist that just takes in the sites and leaves. I also wanted to do something while I was there, I wanted to volunteer or at least make some sort of an impact. So my partner arranged for us to do field visits with her team, where I'd take photographs and video that could be used in various media by the variety of organizations in charge of the project. These field visits, unfortunately, didn't end up arising for a variety of reasons. What this meant was I came home looking for another way to give something back. That is how this fundraiser came to be.

A Night in Zambia is an opportunity for you to learn more about this country, hear the stories from those who have been there, and admire and purchase some (in my totally biased opinion) awesome photographs all while supporting a Zambian Homecare Project and YYC Campus Ministry.

Before we launch into all the details about the night, let's take a step back. Back to 2008. My partner was part of the United Church's Youth Exposure trip to Zambia. She went for three weeks into the country's copper belt, learned all about the difficulties facing the countries people, and had an amazing and eye-opening experience. This trip is what led her to go back there and work once again. Fast forward nearly a decade to 2017, and another group of Calgary UCC youth headed off to Zambia. I couldn't do justice to what this group learned and saw so take a look here at a blog post written by our summer student Eden Middleton all about her experience. It's an amazing read, make sure you come back here though!

The leader of both of these expeditions was Rev. Vicki McPhee of Symons Valley United. She has a special place in her heart for Zambia and the amazing people there. She holds the country and the people in her heart, and when I approached her wanting to run a fundraiser for a Zambian project she was all over it.

And on November 17th at 7 p.m. at Scarboro United Church our fundraiser will be taking place!

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What makes this truly special for me is the night will be a gala-style sale of my artwork from Zambia. This is the first time I have hosted a whole gallery-sale to myself and I must admit that it both excites and scares me greatly. I love that I have the opportunity to show work that I have created, but beyond that, I love that I can use that work to make an impact. Every piece of art I bring to the gala will be for sale. From the large-scale prints on the walls to the art-cards, everything will be available and all the proceeds are going to be split evenly between the Zambian Project and the Campus Ministry.

The night goes well beyond the artwork, you will also get to hear from some of the youth and young adults who were on the Zambian trips. They will tell you their stories about being there, what they experienced and about the impact it has had on them. These are some amazing people, with spectacular stories. It is well worth the cost of admission just to hear them speak. Finally, if amazing speakers and beautiful artwork weren't enough, there will be drinks, appies, door prizes, and live classical music from three very talented University of Calgary students. So come on out and experience Zambia in photographs and in stories. It will be a one-night special that can have a lasting impact.

WHEN: November 17th, 2018

TIME: 7 p.m.

LOCATION: Scarboro United Church

TICKETS: https://nightinzambia.brownpapertickets.com/

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Welcome Back!

Welcome back to a new semester! We are so stoked for a new semester of drumming, of suppers, of services, conversations, dancing, talking, thinking, debating, and listening.

Last week we kicked off all of our programming, and they went off with a bang!

On Sunday, we had our Contemplative Worship Service where 10 of us gathered to welcome in the new school year. Then on Wednesday, we kicked off three of our programs at the University of Calgary. Fourteen amazing women gathered together for the bi-weekly Women’s Circle before 22 of us gathered for our Welcome Back Drum Circle. This was one of the most musical and magical starts to the year we have ever had. So many new drummers with amazing skills who just started vibing together right off the hop. That night we hosted another 20 people at the brand new Faith & Spirituality Centre where we all enjoyed a Glowing Red Lentil soup handcrafted by the amazing Margaret.

Thursday saw us kick things off in a brand new location at MRU, the Yellow Room (Z203) on the second floor of Wyckham House. Fifteen of us drummed out some pretty awesome beats, then 8 of us stayed for soup and a great conversation.

But the start of the year isn’t just about programs. It’s also about what the start of the semester means. This is a time of transitions for so many young adults, regardless of if they are students or not. September is a time of change and a time of things ending and things beginning. For us at the Campus Ministry, this is a really important thing that we constantly keep in mind when interacting and working alongside the students.

For students there a lot of new things to experience, new classes, new classmates, new living situations, and lots of new lessons in and out of class. We are proud to be one of the places that students can come and learn new things, meet new people, and have new experiences. But we are also proud of being one of the places that students can come to when they are feeling overwhelmed. When they need someone to listen to them. When they need to just sit in silence, with someone ready to help bear their problems with them.

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This is what the Campus Ministry is really about at its core. It isn’t just about providing free food and a musical experience. Don't’ get us wrong, those are amazing and fun opportunities, but what we are at the core is a place where students can come and know that they have people who are ready to care for them. Ready to listen to them. Ready to help them how we can. We are about providing a space for students to be themselves, without the outside pressures of university, of being graded, or of being worried about being judged. Our programming is designed to give students a space to speak freely, express themselves without worry, to make mistakes and to find joy.

School is incredibly important ( we wouldn’t be working on campus if we didn’t believe that) but having a space to be free, full of people ready to listen and talk about whatever is weighing on one’s mind is important too. This is why we do what we do, to give students this space.

The programming side of these spaces returns on Wednesday at the University of Calgary at 4:30 in the Vitruvian Space for drumming and 6:00 pm. in the FSC (MB122) for the Simple Supper. Then on Thursday, our programming returns at 4:30 for drumming and 6:00 p.m. for the Simple Supper in z203 on the second floor of Wyckham House.

Our off-campus programming returns on the second Sunday of October with the Contemplative Worship Service at 6:00 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church and then Dirty Theology returns on October 21 at Knox United Church.

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Celebrating Pride

Drums. Dancing. Screaming. Cheering. Chanting. 

This is how we celebrated our first ever Pride Parade as an organization. With handmade signs, handprints of love, and the energy to drum and dance continuously for over 3 km. 

And it was a BLAST! The energy, the excitement, the vigour, the feeling. It was amazing to walk between the nearly 80,000 people who came down to celebrate and invigorate the Pride Parade. But the biggest thing from this afternoon was the love. You could feel it. There was a palpable wall of love that you passed through as the people in the crowd swelled and cheered when you entered the parade route. It washed over you. Enveloped you. You couldn't help but smile. This feeling nearly brought some of our members to tears, it was that powerful. It felt less like getting hit with a wave and more like being wrapped in a warm, inviting blanket.

It was pure, unbridled happiness and love pouring out from tens of thousands of strangers. We didn't know them. They didn't know us. But they cheered and we cheered right back. We drummed and they clapped in time. We danced and they got their feet moving. We loved each other as a community, and that is all you can ask for.  

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We had a strong contingent of people, nearly 20 of us walking behind a homemade banner held up by a curtain rod taken from an employee's house. The young adults alongside us let their Pride flow strong. They cheered and got the crowd moving. They drummed and they sang. And they held signs high, proclaiming the true message of the Bible and of Jesus. Love.

Just simply love.

This was important. Especially when protesters appear, proclaiming god isn't proud, that we were all sinners, that everyone should repent. It was even more important when these signs appeared. But there were few of them, tucked in one corner of the route. And it was powerful for us to counter their protest with our signs of love, of grace, of joy and happiness. 

To counter their protest with our very presence. 

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We were part of a large and long contingent of churches and religious organizations there to stand with the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities. We were over 500 strong marching in the parade alone, let alone all the believers in churches and on the sides of the parade this morning. They were a tiny number, hiding behind large signs. We were loud, large and proud of supporting these communities. We let our presence be known. We let our message of love fly in the face of their hatred, and the 80,000 people around us cheered with us. They roared when Tim ran in front of their signs, dressed full on in his robes, rainbow stole and collar; grinning as he happily supported the Pride Parade. 
It is those visible signs of hatred that make the Pride Parade, Pride week celebrations, the work of Affirm United, and GSA's so important. People often ask why we need the Pride Parade and the celebrations. Those signs tell us why.

They also tell us why it is so important that the Campus Ministry is pursuing it's affirming designation. We started that process earlier this summer, putting our work where our words have been for so many years. Today was something special for us all. We walked together. Visibly, happily, and in unity as an organization with a squadron of young adults walking, dancing, and drumming along with us. We took an important step as an organization today, openly acting upon what we have been saying for years.

Now it's time for us to keep the excitement going. Pride is more than just one week, it's every day of every year. It's about showing support and inclusion at every event and every corner of our work.

It's about showing love for everyone.

Our team with Mayor Nenshi at the end of the parade route. 

Our team with Mayor Nenshi at the end of the parade route. 

The Ties That Bind

Our guest author at the sign making event!

Our guest author at the sign making event!

By Izunna Nwogbo, Guest Author

There’s been no shortage of new and fun experiences I’ve had since joining the YYC Campus Ministry back in early 2018, and our latest venture only further cements that there will be more to come. With the Calgary Pride Parade just around the corner, members have been hard at work preparing posters, signs, and banners to flourish and show their support on the big day. Come August 26th, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the aptly named Tie Dye Team Build Extravaganza – where all those with a passion for crafting creative and colourfast shirts in the name of a good cause were welcome.

It was my first time ever doing something like this, and I found that when it came to tying and dying, there were patterns galore to choose from. Some opted for stylish spiral designs with different bands of colour, while others sprang for the always appreciated rainbow stripes. There was even a unique case of crinkling used to get a desired and worthwhile effect. Regardless of what was picked, however, it was indisputable that everyone had released the experimental artist within them that evening.

The event’s spread was nothing to overlook either, as Diane and Reverend Tim saw to it that no one left the yard hungry. With delicious homemade mint lemonade provided by our esteemed host and Tim and Diane’s serving of fruit salad coupled with exotic bean salad and yams, we soon had a sure banquet on our hands.

It was no secret that summer was fleeting, and with the last few moments of it shuffling out the door, we found ourselves fighting against wind and rain to keep our tarp from collapsing and our banner dry. But in a way, that proved to be fun for me too, because even when we were trying to keep everything together and from falling into chaos – I felt like it was also bringing us all closer together as a result. Summer coming to an end couldn’t take that away even if it wanted to.

Photo by Izunna Nwogbo

Photo by Izunna Nwogbo

Our tie-dyed shirts were specially wrapped and secured in plastic bags to dry safely until they were ready for the next step. To keep the shirts from losing their beautiful colours, white vinegar would have to be applied after soaking them in cool water. Once all of that was done, they’d be in tiptop shape for Pride 2018.

As we were closing up shop, I decided to get some final comments from fellow partakers. One said he was happy he had shown up because he felt it was a great opportunity to let people know that they weren’t alone in the world, even if it may feel that way at times.

Photos by Izunna Nwogbo

Love Overcomes All

By Tracy Robertson, St. Thomas United Church Minister

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I love living in the NE. I love the ethnic and cultural diversity and that I can go for a bike ride for 1.5 hours and never see another Caucasian person. Diversity is what gives me passion and excitement and, quite frankly, makes life worth living. For me, diversity gives me a glance into the face and heart of God. All people are children of God, and their diversity is who God is.

That’s why I also love serving an Affirming Church. Being an Affirming Church in the United Church of Canada means that a community of faith has worked through a year-long process of publicly becoming a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals. The process ensures all voices are heard and honoured. A large part of the process includes sharing and hearing stories of those marginalized and oppressed by society but also by churches and how we as a faith community are able to begin making amends and ensuring our congregation is always creating and re-creating safe space that is inclusive of all.

This is why I love serving an Affirming Church. I love the lifestyle diversity that is celebrated and affirmed. I truly feel as though the Holy and Divine are out of the closet when all God’s children can express themselves as they are and have been created…and it’s all in God’s image! Wonderful.

So, how do we deal with the haters? Those who express their fear of people who are different from themselves through hatred and anger.

Youth on the Zambian Youth Exposure Tour in August 2017.

Youth on the Zambian Youth Exposure Tour in August 2017.

Love…that’s how. Love trumps all hate and the haters never see it coming. We are children of God – children of love. It’s through that unconditional love of God that the world will change to the better. God doesn’t create haters. Love doesn’t create haters. While we are all created in the image of God – of love – we also seem to think that we all have to believe, act, look, the same. How boring! God is a God of diversity and that diversity is something to be embraced and celebrated and lifted up.

When I was in Zambia on a youth exposure trip last August, we offered to host an Open Forum with the students of the United Church of Zambia University on the topic of Affirming and LGBTQ+ awareness. Although attendance was optional, all the students and faculty came. And, although being gay or lesbian is against the law in Zambia, most in attendance were open to a dialogue and wanted to learn how to love and care for everyone and all. They may not have agreed, but most truly wanted to learn how to be the love that is God and Jesus in the world. Part of the dialogue includes holding people accountable to hurtful comments and doing so still holding love at the centre of that accountability. At the start of the Forum, we did some intentional educating around creating and maintaining safe space during the time we were together.

Towards the end of our time together, one of the very few haters made a very inappropriate request. Specifically, this individual asked that I tell the group which of us from Canada were LGBTQ and then the Zambians could approach those people later and continue to ask them questions. Basically, I was asked to ‘out’ those in the Canadian group. Keep in mind, that being LGBTQ in Zambia is illegal. My immediate reaction, in my head and heart, was yelling “oh, hell no!” My heart raced and I feared for those of us on the spectrum. I was mad at the ignorance and insensitivity at this outrageous request. But in that split second, I was able to see this person through God’s eyes; through that lense of unconditional love and I realized that he had no idea what he was asking. He was ignorant to the severity of his request and what harm it could possibly inflict. At the same time, I had to hold him accountable by shutting down that line of questioning and let him know that the safety we created at the start of our time together had now been made unsafe with his question.

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My hope is that he gently gained an awareness of how his question diminished the safety of the space. What I do know, however, is that this Forum, this space of discussion and vulnerability that we intentionally created, was a gift to most of those in attendance. I know this because we received comment after comment in the weeks following the Forum from individuals thanking us for opening their awareness to what LGBTQ means and what it means to minister and care for all people, including LGBTQ people.

When we respond to haters with love, we can continue to celebrate the diversity that reflects who God is in the best way possible. When haters come to the Pride Parade, and they will, respond to them with love. Create a chant of love as a gift to the haters. Overwhelm them with love for one another as a sign of God’s love for us all. Love…that’s how. Happy Pride Everyone! Be loud and proud of who you are and how you were created by God to be who you are. All are worthy and all of us are created in the image of God. And because God is love, we are created in the image of love. So let’s do what we’re meant to do and spread love instead of hate. Share love in the midst of hate. Be love…even to the haters. May it be so.

My Heart is Tired

BY EDEN MIDDLETON, YYCCM SUMMER STUDENT 

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A year and (almost) a week ago today, I stood at the front of a tiny Zambian chapel in a space usually reserved for Scripture-readers and preachers. The room was crowded with theological students scattered on red cushioned chairs like the ones at that fill my sanctuary at home. As the night continued, more drifted through the door and stood politely in the back, listening intently as I did not read scripture or deliver a sermon. Instead, I was trying to explain the word ‘bisexual’ to a group of adults who grew up in a country where acts of gross public indecency (in other words, homosexuality) are punishable by 14 years in prison. 

In many ways, this position is not unfamiliar to me. At age 15, I stood at the front of several United Churches and spoke about the importance of radically accepting religious spaces for my work with the Calgary Presbytery Affirm committee. At 17, I spent every Tuesday lunch standing in front of my high school’s GSA, facilitating conversations about social justice and cool movies and how it felt to keep same-sex crushes secret from conservative Christian parents. Throughout my life, I have stood in front of crowds on theatre stages and at poetry slams. True to the stereotype about artists, most of my best friends and favourite collaborators identify as some type of queer. Anyone who knows me knows that I am intensely passionate about creating spaces where people are unafraid to love who they love and be who they are. 

It was therefore with a sinking, icky feeling that I realized that Zambia was not safe for queer people.  Homosexuality is illegal. This is a legacy of colonial Christianity that has left 87% of Zambia devoutly Christian. A United Nations survey from 2016 found that only 7% of Zambians would tolerate or accept a gay neighbour.  As I was researching that statistic for this post, I found a January 2018 article detailing police persecution of two young women who posted “intimate photos” on social media. My sinking feeling was accompanied by the knowledge that I could not go to Zambia and force this kind of conversation. There is a dark and ugly history of white, wealthy Canadians like me going abroad with well-meaning intentions of “fixing” a perceived African problem through mission trips and voluntourism. 

It is a practice that reeks of white saviorism and colonialism. It almost always does more harm than good. 

Every effort was being made to ensure that our trip was not like that. Our job was to be humble guests, to learn from and listen to their stories, and to use our privilege to support our hosts however they asked us to. I could not have a conversation about LGBTQ rights without their invitation, and that invitation felt impossible given the circumstances.

I had six months between this realization and our departure. I spent hours in coffee shops with youth leaders and friends, expressing my fears and heartaches; I stopped my habit of making gay jokes without thinking at GSA meetings; I journaled, and wrote little lines of poetry. I took all of my thoughts and feelings about LGBTQ rights and placed them neatly in an imaginary box I wouldn’t open until I was safe at home. 

My neatly packed box of LGBTQ activism had not only been opened but overturned, its debris strewn in dark corners that I would stumble upon and wince at throughout the trip.

August 1st, 2017 

The 7th hour of our second flight. We were somewhere between Toronto and Ethiopia in the biggest plane I have ever flown on, and I was circling the length of the plane to stave off the strange combination of boredom and anxiety bubbling in my chest. Our trip’s fearless leader (and my minister), Vicki McPhee placed a hand on my shoulder as I walked past. She whispered gleefully that there was maybe (emphasis on maybe) a chance that we would connect with one or two lesbian/gay activists. She’d heard a rumour from Mui Mui, our Zambian connection and the head of the theological university that would be our home for 3 weeks.  

My carefully packed box opened, just a little. Never the less, it was only a rumour. We wouldn’t see our schedule until we arrived at the university. Even then, between ‘Zambian time’ and the nature of the trip, nothing on the schedule was definite until it had already happened. It was still unlikely, if not impossible. 

The Chapel doors in Zambia where Eden helped to host an Open Forum on Lesbians and Gays in the United Church of Canada.

The Chapel doors in Zambia where Eden helped to host an Open Forum on Lesbians and Gays in the United Church of Canada.

August 4th 

We had been in Zambia just long enough for me to learn how to say good morning in Bembe (the local dialect). We had spent our day at Racecourse, a school for the students who could not afford the price of uniforms required to attend most government schools. That day, I learned that personal space is different here, especially with curious and affectionate kids who are fascinated by foreigners with skin like mine. It felt like everyone had wanted to hold my hand or touch my hair or teach me a schoolyard clapping game. I was officially out of social minutes, and still re-calibrating after 37 hours of travel a few days earlier. Then, Vicki and Rev. Tracy Robertson (our spiritual leader) pulled me aside.  

You see, we had assumed that the block labelled “open forum” in our schedule was a presentation on life in Canada that our group had prepared before coming here.  Vicki informed me that actually, the full title of that block was “open forum on lesbians and gays in the United Church of Canada”.  I’m paraphrasing but the next words went something like “Eden, you and Tracy have done stuff like this before. You have one hour. Go.” 

This brought me to the front of tiny Zambian chapel, standing in a space not unfamiliar to me, explaining the word bisexual to adults who had never heard the word before. I don’t remember much of this part—fear and adrenaline has fogged my memory of those opening moments. My notes tell me that we began by emphasizing the importance of a church community’s love for the outcast. Then, we broke down the acronym and spoke about the United Church’s history of affirming and what that meant. We connected Canada’s history of discrimination to the HIV/AIDS crisis, which had ravaged all of Zambia (not just the gay demographic). In between, we broke into smaller groups where we invited people to share thoughts, questions, and fears.  

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Some of these conversations were delightfully open and constructive. In a country where orphanages and health clinics were run not by the government but by churches, our Zambian friends were intimately familiar with the vital role church served in the lives of those outcast by society. They were also quick to draw the parallel between LGBTQ to polygamy. Polygamy, the practice of marrying more than one person, is illegal (and taboo) within Canada. In Zambia, it is common practice. The same is true in reverse of same-sex marriage. This developed into a fascinating discussion that defined sin as a cultural value instead of a universal moral truth.  We also discovered that while Canadian marriages centralized love, Zambians were more likely to choose a partner based on who could best support their family.

Other conversations were mostly curious. One group spent ten minutes asking one of our adult leaders (a professional nurse) detailed questions about genital reassignment surgery and hormone therapy.  Another woman raised fears that this question meant the United Church of Canada would withhold funding because the Zambian United Church was not affirming; we did our best to reassure her that the UCC is not a converting church and that we do not attach strings like that to our funds. 

My journal entry that night was a single sentence: “my heart is tired.”

Of course, there were moments that were not open or constructive.  In my small group, a man with knee-high black and yellow socks would derail the conversation with theological and moral ‘gotchas’ the likes of which I had seen online but never heard in person. He framed them as questions and accompanied them with a pleasant smile, but their complexity and snaking logic made them feel more like traps. (After the forum, he would ask to take a selfie with me on his flip phone. I would oblige, and smile).  Other students were more explicit—Vicki’s small group was told with frightening certainty that the UCC was going to hell and needed to repent their sins.

When we moved out of small groups and into a Q&A style forum, the night grew darker still. Bumblebee socks stood and spoke at length about the biblical evidence against homosexuality. Another declared that the AIDS crisis (which had wiped out nearly an entire generation of Zambians) was government propaganda and implied that we were either fools or liars for believing it. A third student, who spoke quietly with his hands folded neatly at his belly, requested that we out those among our group who were gay, so that he might learn from our experiences. Tracy declined to answer and reminded the group about our commitment to safe space, while I tried to quiet the buzzing fear I felt in my gut, certain that my discussion had put us all at risk. As is typical of every gathering in Zambia, I ended our evening with a blessing I had written during our hour’s preparation. I did not feel blessed. 

Immediately following, myself, another youth who had led a small group, and the adult leaders gathered for an over-exhausted debrief. We spiralled. The ignorance and bigotry we had experienced while isolated in our small groups stacked on top of each other, quickly drowning out the little moments of light.  One leader worried that the cops would be called on the gay Canadians, a fear quickly quelled by the knowledge that our privilege as wealthy internationals would protect us. My memory of this debrief is clouded by the deep trembling sensation of fear and guilt I felt tightening around my chest. I knew that statistically, there were queer Zambians in that audience. I was terrified that by having this conversation, I had exposed them to bigotry and investigation; that I had unearthed something meant to stay buried and hurt them in my naivety. Underlying this fear was my immense guilt: in three weeks, I got to go home to a country where I was safe and protected. They did not. This conversation was their life. 

My journal entry that night was a single sentence: “my heart is tired.”

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My neatly packed box of LGBTQ activism had not only been opened but overturned, its debris strewn in dark corners that I would stumble upon and wince at throughout the trip. Although the weight of this conversation would not completely disappear, it did get lighter. The next morning, Mui Mui noted that he was quite pleased by the conversation and added that some students (like the man who had denied the AIDS crisis) still had much to learn. Another leader offered the reassurance that “those in front take a few arrows," and that the nature of my position and privilege meant that I could afford to take these arrows. I focused on the present moment and did my best to let go of my superman-syndrome and my guilt. I played soccer with school kids and danced to beautiful African hymns and took photos with an elephant. I did my best to let it go. 

Nevertheless, it hurt. It hurts still, a year and a week later. It hurts to know and love and be close with someone who denies the basic humanity of people you love. I am still learning how to have these conversations. I still don’t know how.  It would be easy if I could speak only about how love is love is love.  But I can’t. These conversations demand engagement with intersecting complexities: centuries of faith traditions; colonial and imperialist histories; the cultural values and teachings surrounding identity; fear of the unknown; the unique experiences of any given individual. Navigating that conversation with compassion and an openness is terrifying and exhausting and a role I feel vastly underqualified for.   It makes my heart tired.  It hurts.

August 16th

Our last day in Kitwe at the University. During our goodbye ceremony, our group and a few students sat together in the tiny red-walled chapel. We sang hymns, the Canadians stumbling through Bembe and unfamiliar melodies as the Zambians laughed at us. Then, the students got up and said a few words. One thanked us for the open forum. He said, “In Canada, you embrace everyone no matter who they are. I think maybe this is something we as Zambian Christians need to learn from our Canadian brothers & sisters in Christ.” 

Months later, a different student messaged Tracy over whats-app. He said, “In my theological studies I have realized that Jesus Christ preached a very simple message on earth but the church has complicated it. Jesus said ‘come to me as you are I will give you rest’ regardless of your sexual orientation, polygamous. Today the church is busy saying no to these people, I wonder why Rev. Tracy, coz Jesus preached a very simple message…”

Maybe a tired heart is worth it after all. 

 

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Struggling with the Realities of what the Church has Done

Author: Caitlin Hornbeck, Guest Author

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A few months ago, I found it getting harder for me to go to church on Sunday mornings. No, it wasn’t the early wake-up call for a 10 am service that made the thought of going to church unbearable some Sundays. As it turns out, I just hit a dead end. I, as some folks do in their journey of faith, had lost my enthusiasm for the Church. In light of discussions I had and discoveries I made about the history of the United Church, the rose-coloured glasses I looked at my faith through became dull.

I joined the United Church about 6 years ago- cognizant of my choice to follow organized religion after a childhood of no religion. The introduction to my faith community had very little to do with religion, in fact. I started attending my church because of the vibrant youth programming- and I guess I fell into the religion later on. From the get-go, I was absolutely ecstatic about where I worshipped. I prided myself on the fact that my church hung a rainbow flag above the doors outside. I gleamed at the knowledge that my church ordained people of all genders. I saw young families intermingling with older folks in the congregation. I was living in my own picture-perfect religious bubble… Until that bubble burst.

As a result of my late arrival to the Church, and religion as a whole, I was ignorant of the pain and suffering caused in the name of God. Of course, through my schoolwork, I was introduced to the idea of religion being used to persecute. I knew some of the history of colonization, and I knew it was bad. But learning from a textbook is vastly different than hearing stories from a real person. It wasn’t until 2014, during my time at a youth conference, when I learned of the United Church’s involvement in the Residential schooling system. In 2016, I also learned that the United Church, in the 1960’s, declared homosexuality a sin. But I held on. I accepted the facts as they were; that the United Church had made mistakes. I was contented for the time being knowing that the place I worshipped had apologized for its involvement in the residential schooling system and since declared that homosexuality was not a sin.

This time, after being confronted head-on by the history of the Church, I became cynical. I started hating going to church, and I stopped attending for a period of time

And then, in the winter of 2018, I was confronted again with feelings of anger and resentment towards the Church. I was taking part in an immersive program called the Kaleidoscope Project (applications are open for the next session. I would definitely recommend applying!) at the University of Calgary. The Project offered a unique perspective on 6 different religions - one of them being Christianity. During our learning about the Christian faith, discussions took place about the pain Christianity had caused for some folks. Hearing real people, my friends, tell their stories made everything more real. The pain and suffering went from being history to being reality.

This time, after being confronted head-on by the history of the Church, I became cynical. I started hating going to church, and I stopped attending for a period of time. I couldn’t sit in a pew and truly appreciate what was happening in a service because my mind was occupied by all the things I had learned. I didn’t want to go to church and sing hymns and act like the past didn’t happen. I saw the effects of the history of the Church firsthand, and it scared me.  

It scared me because I didn’t understand. I became so occupied in my rage that I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of the fact that my faith is centred in love. I forgot that my church flies a rainbow flag outside because that is a living apology to the LGBTQ+ community, a constant reminder that God’s love is for all. I forgot that my church has a Right Relations committee to live out our commitment to Reconciliation and to always remember what happened, so it doesn’t happen again. I’ve seen changes in the way my congregation worships- including the acknowledgement of the land on which we worship and the presence of dedicated committees for several social justice issues. These changes bring me joy. They remind me, in all my cynicism, that the path to healing has no defined course. There is no end to this story.

I guess the best way for me (and Christians as a whole) to move forward is to continue working. I am making a conscious effort to always embody the best teachings Jesus has taught me. I am called to love unconditionally, to live authentically, and to speak thoughtfully. I am going through the motions, yes, as I come to terms with the fact that we are not perfect. Damage has been done and we, as God’s people, must make it right no matter how long it takes or how painful it may be.

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