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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Coming Out as a Straight Ally

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Author: Zoe Say, YYC Campus Ministry Team Member

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to me to be a good ally to my friends in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirited communities. More and more that has meant coming out more fully and being more visible in my church, work, and life in general as an ally.

I had one of the most beautiful, enriching and affirming conversations of my life recently with a good friend in the LGBTQ+ community. It both reminded me of the importance of this work and affirmed how difficult it is, even just as an ally and not LGBTQ+ myself. I have struggled with the idea of becoming more visibly an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, as I have very good friends in all facets of my life who think very differently about this topic than I do. It pains me to think that I might alienate them or offend them, or that it might alter our relationship or their respect for me. However, it pains me even worse to feel that I am not doing my utmost to support and advocate for dear friends of mine in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirited communities. These are individuals who I respect and admire greatly. Many have stories of pain and trauma from the intersection of their sexual or gender identity and their faith identity, especially Christianity.

Churches are often dangerous spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals can be judged, condemned, and even attacked. A person in the LGBTQ+ community recently told me that the Bible had been used almost exclusively for them as a weapon.

I found that heartbreaking, in a religion that for me has always been oriented around love and inclusion, particularly of the marginalized.

This is not to say that all churches are unsafe, some churches will be the first place a member of the LGBTQ+ and two-spirited communities will come out of the closet as they know they will be loved and supported. Some are merely neutral, not putting forward an opinion on the matter either way. However because of the overwhelming Christian narrative of judgement that people in the LGBTQ+ communities hear and experience, a “neutral” space generally still does not feel safe. It could be that people are still heterosexist, they’re just not talking about it. I would dearly love to share my wonderful denomination and faith with LGBTQ+ friends who are searching for a church home, and I would love for it to be a safe, inclusive (at all levels) and nurturing space for them, so that is one of the main things I am working toward as an ally.

It has been such a relief to now be working more tangibly for healing and advocacy for these friends. I love being able to do something to support them, and hopefully, create safer spaces where they can fully be themselves.
— Zoe Say, YYCCM Program Director

My earliest memory of standing up as an ally was at a city-wide meeting several years back. It was scary but ultimately a positive experience. The topic of Human Sexuality has been debated heavily in my denomination for the last several years and even decades. This meeting was partly about discussing sending an overture my church’s national gathering on this topic of Human Sexuality several years back. I was quite young at the time, and one of the few in the room who was neither clergy nor an elder, and as a female was definitely in the minority. There was not much conversation, and what was said did not seem (to me) to take into account the fact that these doctrines we were discussion directly affect human lives every day. I spoke up to add some personal stories from my experience interacting with folks who are gender and sexual minorities, and although it was nerve-wracking as I was the youngest in the room by about 30 years, the dialogue remained respectful and I felt heard. I was approached afterward by an individual who said that my words had touched them deeply, so I was glad I had spoken.

Not long after, a congregation hosted a conversation series on Human Sexuality. I went to all of the sessions, but was disappointed again in the cerebral-level of the conversations, and lack of acknowledgment that we were discussing human beings. There was no talk about people or their stories, and no representation from the community we were discussing (as far as I knew). We merely reviewed the Report on Human Sexuality document from over 30 years ago, discussed theology, doctrine and biblical interpretation as if this topic didn’t directly affect thousands of lives. I spoke up briefly in support of a more inclusive understanding of how we can love all humans of all sexual and gender identities. I was immediately and aggressively opposed by an elder of the church, who disagreed with me on a biblical basis loudly and vehemently. Disappointingly, nobody commented on their aggressive tone or moderated the conversation. I didn’t speak up again. It didn’t feel like a safe space to discuss differing views.

That experience of being opposed so aggressively hit me pretty hard, and I struggled to speak in my denomination or church after that. I do know however that my denomination has been working very hard to create safer spaces to discuss differing perspectives, as well as to humanize the discussion and bring in the stories of those with lived experience of what we are talking about and debating. I was also humbled to know that my experience was nothing compared to what those in the LGBTQ+ communities face sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, condemning their very identity as wrong. Another important realization from that experience is that I also have to watch my language, and be careful not to attack those with differing views than my own. Meeting each other with the grace to allow our faith to be big enough for our differences feels like an important part of the process.

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Since then I have thrown myself into supporting affirming communities, educating myself, and helping to make my work community as safe as possible for all students and people of all sexual and gender identities. I have had many positive experiences in the past few years as I have learned and grown as an ally. I had the pleasure of walking and drumming in the Pride Parade for several years with an affirming congregation, which was an absolute joy. I got to share my gift of drumming and music and brought some friends along. I have learned from students and staff at Calgary's universities more about how to use pronouns and create safer spaces for those in the LGBTQ+ communities. I have attended workshops at the Q Center at the University of Calgary such as “alphabet soup” which have helped my knowledge grow enormously, and navigate those ever-evolving letters! My admiration for these courageous folks to share with me has grown, as has my desire to do something tangible to support these friends and help to heal the trauma that my religion has caused in so many. It pains me, when occasionally they ask me about my church, that I cannot offer them a space I know they will be loved, valued, supported and included in every part of the church’s life.

One of the things I learned in this process is a better understanding of the constant fear many of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community live with on a day to day basis. It is so hard for these friends to be constantly having to advocate for their own identity to be accepted, often uncertain of the reception they will receive. In many cases their very safety is at risk when their sexual or gender identity becomes apparent. I am so humbled to consider the intense courage and strength of character it takes many of these folks just to exist in the world. In order to hopefully relieve even the tiniest bit of pressure from the LGBTQ+ community constantly having to advocate for itself, I want to become much more visible as an ally.

The more of us wearing rainbows, the less targeted folks in the community might be. The more of us advocating for our friends in the community, the less they are forced to advocate for themselves. It is enormously easier for me to advocate for an identity that is not my own, as I don’t have trauma associated with it. Not only that, but sometimes folks are more willing to listen to people who are not within the community they are advocating for. That should not be the case but unfortunately all too often is true. The time has come for me to speak up once again, talking clearly about what I believe and why, while still acknowledging all perspectives as valid and worthy of being heard. To this end I am making my social media more “rainbowy”, in spite of having friends from many different perspectives on there who might disagree or become alienated. I am committing myself to speak out against homophobia when I come across it, to consistently advocate for LGBTQ+ friends, and to continue to learn, grow, and gain understanding. I am humbled by how much I have yet to learn on this journey, but it is so worth undertaking.

It has been such a relief to now be working more tangibly for healing and advocacy for these friends. I love being able to do something to support them, and hopefully, create safer spaces where they can fully be themselves. It brings me great joy that our campus ministry is embarking on becoming an Affirming Ministry, that we are walking in the Pride Parade, and that we can show tangibly that we advocate for the love and inclusion of all people in all aspects of life and the church.

Several individuals within the community have warned me that being out as an ally can be extremely hard and draining, so to be sure to build in a network and self-care. It was humbling to hear this from folks who have no choice but to be an advocate, just by their existence, and if it is that hard for me how much harder for them. I was deeply touched by their care of me, despite the fact that it will always be a thousand times harder for them. I do want to heed their advice, if only to ensure I have the support to stay healthy and continue the work of advocacy. If you are the praying type, I ask for prayer support as I embark on this journey. I have witnessed the power of prayer and believe strongly in its significance. If you would like, feel free to check in and see how the process is going, and how I am doing. Similarly, take some time to send encouraging words of support for all allies and all those living as a sexual or gender minority, who don’t have the choice of tuning out of the work for a while to take a break.

There is more I could say but I don’t want to run on too long (thanks for reading this far). Please feel free to chat with me if you’d like to chat or share experiences of being an ally or other things on this topic, I would be happy to share more. I am, however, not interested in debating theology.

Now I am looking forward to passing on that care and support to my LGBTQ+ friends. I will work on listening to all perspectives, attacking no one and extending the grace Jesus taught us as Christians to all people. I am looking forward to getting my rainbows on and walking in support and solidarity with my LGBTQ+ friends and siblings in the Pride Parade, and continuing to learn and grow as an ally. What a privilege.

4 Steps to Stay Proud All Year Long

Author: Eden Middleton, YYC Campus Ministry Team Member

Queer people don’t stop existing at the end of June, so neither should the activism and celebrations of Pride. Here are 4 steps you can take to keep celebrating Pride all year round.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things you could and can do, nor is this the only perspective on what you can do. I am part of an organization trying to do its best to educate ourselves, be inclusive and be open. Our team sees these resources and 4-steps as great starting points for anyone interested in being a year-long ally and look forward to growing this list as myself and the rest of the Campus Ministry team continue to read, learn, and grow as individuals and as an organization.

1. Build Inclusive Communities

A central aspect of Pride is the creation of radically accepting and inclusive spaces for queer-identifying people.  Work to make your communities — be it church, a classroom, your office, or your trivia night — inclusion. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Normalize pronouns. Introduce yourself using your pronouns. Put pronouns in your social media bios and email signatures. If you’re making name tags, invite people to also write their pronouns on their sticker. [Note: in some scenarios, it might not feel safe for a trans person to out themselves. Never pressure someone to share their pronouns.  Safety comes first.]
  • Replace cisnormative and heteronormative vocabulary with more inclusive language. For example: ‘folks’ or ‘distinguished guests’ is more inclusive than addressing a crowd as ladies and gentleman. So is asking about someone’s partner instead of their husband/wife.
  • Step up and speak upIf you recognize someone, be it a stranger or a loved one, making transgender people a punch line or complaining about same-sex couples ruining the sanctity of marriage and if you feel safe to do so, have a conversation with them about their actions and the possible harm it causes.  
  • Be intersectional. There are queer people of colour, and queer people with disabilities, and queer immigrants. Communities aiming to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities must also work to be accessible and decolonized. Are your gender-neutral washrooms also wheelchair accessible? Does your LGBTQ+ poetry night recognize the indigenous territory it takes place on?
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2. Stay Educated

This month we’ve focused a lot on sharing queer resources and perspectives. This can be as easy as reading queer books and listening to queer artists [I’d recommend Laramie Project, Fun Home the Musical, and Rae Spoon] to continue opening up your mind. Here are my favourite resources (some of which we’ve shared already!)

3. Take Action!
Become an LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit Activist.

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The first pride was a riot. While it’s wonderful to be joyous and celebrate how far LGBTQ+ rights have come, it’s important to know that our work isn’t done. Here’s how you can help:

4. Love Proudly!!

Love the people around you as fiercely as you can. Be empathetic. Be compassionate. Be forgiving.  Statistically, you have loved ones who identify somewhere within the LGBTQ community. You might know who they are, or you might not, but trust me, they’re there. They’re here all year round (not just June!) and it can be tough going sometimes So be vocal and generous in your love and give as much of it as you can muster.

And if you identify within the LGBTQ+ community or you’re in the process of exploring your identity, remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you. You are here. You are loved. Be proud.

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