Five Habits of the Heart
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
Parker Palmer has been an inspiration to me ever since I first heard his name and read some of his writings. The founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, Palmer is a world–renowned writer, speaker and activist who focusses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change.
In 2011, he wrote Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, in which he discusses five habits of the heart. These are “deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that involve our minds, our emotions, our self–images, our concepts of meaning and purpose.”
In a time when our fractured politics reflects a society which is increasingly broken along cultural, religious and economic lines, these five habits of the heart are essential to rebuilding a healthier dialogue among us.
Habit #1: Understand that we are all in this together
Biologists, ecologists, economists, ethicists and leaders of the great wisdom traditions have all given voice to this theme. Despite our illusions of individualism and national superiority, human beings are a profoundly interconnected species. We are entwined with one another and with all forms of life, as the global economic and ecological crises reveal in vivid and frightening detail.
We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent upon and accountable to one another, and that includes the stranger, the alien, the other.
How do you embody this habit in your life? What are some of the things that get in the way of this understanding?
Habit #2: Appreciate the value of “otherness”
It is true that we are all in this together. It is equally true that we spend most of our lives interacting with those who are like us. Sociologists talk about living in tribes to describe this practice. We think of the world in terms of “us” and “them”. It is one of the many limitations of the human mind.
The good news is that “us and them” does not have to mean “us versus them.” Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into 21st century terms. Hospitality rightly understood is premised on the notion that the stranger has much to teach us. We invite others into our lives so that our lives become richer and more expansive.
Have you experienced a time when you engaged with someone different from you? Can you imagine sitting down with someone from a different faith, a different group, a different tribe?
Habit #3: Cultivate an ability to hold tension in life–giving ways.
Our lives are filled with all kinds of contradictions. For example, there is often a gap between what we hope for and what we actually do. Again, we often observe things which we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. Other people in the world believe and act differently than we do.
If we fail to hold these contradictions creatively, they will shut us down and take us out of the action. But when we allow the tensions between them to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.
How might you attend to some of the contradictions in your life by spending time with someone with who you disagree?
Habit #4: Develop a sense of personal voice and agency.
This habit encourages us to understand that we are able to speak and act out of our own understanding of truth, while at the same time checking and correcting it against the truths of others.
Many of us lack confidence to do this, because we have grown up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama. As a result, we tend to treat politics as a spectator sport rather than an arena for action.
Yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change—if we have the support of a community.
Habit #5: Develop a capacity to create community.
Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve a voice of our own. It takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks or a Viola Desmond. A community makes it possible to exercise the “power of one” in such a way that this power can multiply. It took a village to translate Parks’ and Davis’ acts of personal integrity into social change.
Community rarely comes ready–made. We don’t have to spend all our time organizing a community. We can create community in the places where we live and work as we find the steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits. They can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. There are many ways to plant and cultivate the seeds of community in our personal and local lives.
These five habits cultivate in us a desire to create a healthier community. As we cultivate them in our own lives, we will find that our lives become richer, more whole, more complete.
Living Together in Hope
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
(I am grateful for Louise Penny’s blog, which sparked these thoughts, and which also provided some of the language I use.)
Oh dear Lord. Like many of you, my heart has been breaking this week. Six people murdered while at prayer at a mosque in Quebec. Five others critically injured. Our hearts break for them. Sitting peacefully in the safest of places. Our hearts break for their wives, children, parents. Loved ones.
Our hearts break for a world that is so broken. So fractured. In such pain.
Our hearts break for the men and women and children who are homeless. Those who are stranded. The refugees who thought they were finally safe. And accepted.
And then I thought a little more. Canada has a shameful history of this sort of thing. There have been shameful incidents in our past, in our Canadian story.
In 1914, a ship named the Komagata Maru came to the coast of British Columbia, only to be denied and ordered to turn back. The ship carried 376 passengers fleeing British India. They were mostly from Punjab and they were forced to sail back to India because Canada’s government excluded certain ethnic groups, and they were unwanted.
In World War 2, Japanese nationals were interned in camps, right here in the Kootenays.
On the Atlantic coast, Canadian immigration refused to accept any Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. An anonymous immigration agent, when asked how many Jewish refugees would be allowed to enter, responded, “None is too many.” This official policy of Canada from 1933–1948 was memorialized in the “none is too many” memorial in Halifax.
In 1879, a government report proposed setting up Indian Residential Schools. In the words of one survivor, the policy was to “beat the Indian out of us and make us into little copies of white people”. The first school opened in 1883 … and the last one closed a mere 20 years ago in Punnichy SK in 1996.
Since then, the government signed into law the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007. Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented a report which laid the groundwork for moving towards reconciliation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters. In the words of Justice Murray Sinclair, it took generations to set this abuse in motion, and it will take generations to undo the damage that was done.
We have lived with the burden of our shame for generations. I trust we have learned from it. I was heartened when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” I can only hope that his words will translate into action.
I saw a brief video online from Denmark a couple of days ago which made the point that it is easy to put people in boxes. “There’s us and there’s them; there are the high earners and those just getting by; there are those we trust and those we try to avoid; there are people from away and those who have always been here; there are people from the countryside and those who have never seen a cow; there are people with whom we share something and those we don’t share anything with ….
“And then there’s us with commonalities beyond our differences. There are those who have been bullied, and those who have bullied others; those of us who are broken hearted and those who are being healed; those of us who are madly in love and we who feel lonely; those of us who are bisexual and we who are not; those of us who welcome change and we who are afraid of it. Above all, there are simply those of us who love life.”
I believe that all of us, regardless of our creed or race, our gender or social standing, seek a wholeness in which we live together in peace and hope. Desmond Tutu wrote that “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
We need, now more than ever, to be people who practice the hard work of hope. I don’t mean simple optimism, or the sense that everything is going to work out fine in the end. I mean hope—the hard work of being people who will speak out against hatred and prejudice, of being people who will speak words of compassion and grace, of being people who take a stand regardless of the cost against anyone who seeks to bully or demean or belittle others.
Premier Philippe Couillard of Quebec was absolutely right when he said that words have power. We can use words to break down. We can use words to lift up.
We need to grow. We need to grow together. We need to welcome those who are different and be open to those who differ from us. We need to become people who speak words of healing and justice.
Because at our heart, we are all human beings, rooted in creation, bound together. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, marvel at the same beauty. We all seek to find a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.
Christ of the Homeless
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
There are a couple of pieces of art which have spoken to me in powerful ways.
The first is a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg, a German–American illustrator who lived from 1901–1991. He worked primarily as an engraver, and his best–known works were concerned with religion, social justice and nonviolence. He was a close friend with Dorothy Day who co–founded the Catholic Worker movement in the USA in the late 1930’s.
His work “Christ of the Homeless” shows Christ huddling with an elderly homeless couple underneath a sign which evokes the cross.
Christ of the Homeless was created in 1982. It is a powerful evocation of Jesus, who identified himself with “the least of these my brothers and sisters” in Matthew 25.
It points us to one of the central concerns of the gospel, which is that God is not to be found among the powerful and well–heeled, but rather that God chooses to be among those whom society discounts. This is the great surprise of the gospel, the upside–down wisdom of God.
It reminds us once again that the gospel puts the lie to the so–called “prosperity gospel” which proclaims that our wealth and position in society are God’s blessings for living faithfully.
The second work of art is the statue “Homeless Jesus” created by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary homeless person sleeping on a park bench. As you look more closely, you notice the holes in his feet.
Originally crafted in 2013, the statue was rejected by two Roman Catholic cathedrals. It was finally placed at the University of Toronto’s Regis College. Then, last year, a replica was also installed inside the Vatican, at the entrance of the Office of Papal Charities. Other replicas have been installed in cities across North America and Europe. It has become one of the most talked–about sculptures of recent years.
For Christians, the homeless are not just statistics. Their plight is our plight. The image of the Homeless Jesus reminds us of Christ’s demand that we be in solidarity with those who need our compassion. This sculpture is not just a normal statue; it was not created to be looked at and admired. It is an image which should draw the viewer’s glance to the many park benches, doorways and sheltered corners where Jesus lays homeless every day and every night.
I bring these two works of art up at this time because homelessness has reached a crisis in our country, and in our city and region.
A recent report in this newspaper mentioned a fundraising effort sponsored locally by the Homeless Outreach & Prevention Program to be held on February 25. They are hosting a Coldest Night of the Year walk. You can participate by walking 2 km, 5 km or 10 km. They have set an ambitious goal of $50,000 to support and serve “the hungry, homeless and hurting across Canada.”
Registration opens at 4 pm on February 25 outside Mt. Baker Secondary School. The finish is at the Community Connections building (209A – 16th Ave N). A warm light meal will be served to all walkers and volunteers.
You can find much more information at https://canada.cnoy.org/location/cranbrook.
I know several churches who are organizing a team. Here is something we can all do together, and as we do it for the least of these our brothers and sisters, we are doing it for the Christ who calls us to follow.
Inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
Last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day in the USA It is an annual remembrance of the courage and conviction of a man who gave his life in service.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the nature of his non–violent approach to solving conflict as the USA has just inaugurated a new president. In my opinion, King appealed to the best in us; the incoming president, on the other hand, has appealed to the worst in us.
King is a hero of mine. He was a leader for civil rights, and called the nation to live with compassion, clarity and courage.
Above all, compassion was marked by the nonviolent nature of King’s hopeful activism. He opposed segregation and fought for the rights of all people, regardless of race or circumstance.
He had an absolute clarity about the moral nature of our actions, both at an institutional and a personal level. Every act we undertake comes out of a moral centre.
He exhibited a rare courage as he faced social inequities and injustice, and he embraced the possibilities of what he called “the beloved community”.
As we move into a new era, King’s character and leadership invites us to reflect more deeply about how our lives, communities and societies may move towards hope, equity and peace.
I offer here for your reflection several quotes by King. As we reflect on them, may they empower us to seek to be a community of courage. As we do so, may we live up to and into the most noble dreams of our callings.
Dare to Love. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Dare to Forgive. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude. We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
Dare to Be Nonviolent. “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.”
Dare to See the Other. “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
Dare to Be Known. “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
Dare to Speak. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Dare to Act. “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well–being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Dare to Seek Justice beyond Self Interest. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dare to Hope. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”
Dare to Lead with Soul. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because our conscience tells us it is right.”
Martin Luther King, Jr called us all to action. He called us to embark on a long journey, fraught with difficulty. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Even so, he remained convinced until his dying day that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Therefore, “with patient and firm determination we will press on until every valley of despair is exalted to new peaks of hope, until every mountain of pride and irrationality is made low by the leveling process of humility and compassion; until the rough places of injustice are transformed into a smooth plane of equality of opportunity; and until the crooked places of prejudice are transformed by the straightening process of bright–eyed wisdom.”
Signposts on the Journey of Life
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
This past summer, I discovered Louise Penny and her marvelous novels featuring Inspector Gamache. Her novels are set in the fictional town of Three Pines, in the eastern townships just south and east of Montreal, along the border shared with Vermont and New Hampshire.
I couldn’t get enough of Penny’s characters and writing. Thankfully, a friend of mine loved her books too, and lent me them so I could read them in order. I fell in love with these characters. I laughed with them. I cried with them. I delighted in their successes and mourned their failures.
I cannot recommend these books to you highly enough! Go out and find them and read them!
The main character is Armand Gamache, an inspector in the Sureté de Quebec—the provincial police force. Each book revolves around a particular murder which he has to solve. But there is also an ongoing supporting cast of characters who are equally important in these stories. If it were a television show, it would be called an “ensemble cast”.
Near the end of Penny’s latest book, “The Great Reckoning”, Gamache addresses the graduating class of the Academy, men and women about to become police officers. He says,
“‘We are all of us marred and scarred and imperfect. We make mistakes. We do things we deeply regret. We are tempted and sometimes we give in to that temptation. Not because we’re bad or weak, but because we’re human. We are a crowd of faults. But know this.’
“He stood in complete silence for a moment, the huge auditorium motionless.
“‘There is always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know.’ He paused again. ‘I need help. Those are the signposts. The cardinal directions.’”
“And then he smiled again, the creases deep, his eyes bright.”
I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help.
It strikes me that if those four sentences were to become more commonplace in our lives, then our life together would be stronger and more whole for everyone.
I’m sorry. We all have done things of which we are ashamed. We all have hurt other people, either intentionally or unintentionally. We all have done or said things which we wish we could take back. We all have been mean or cruel at times.
And there is only one way to get past that. You can’t bluff your way out of it. You can’t just pretend it didn’t happen. You can’t ignore it and hope it goes away. You can’t just sweep it under the rug. If you try, it will fester and erupt and make life a whole lot more ugly.
The only way to get past it is to admit fault. I’m sorry.
I was wrong. It’s a mark of humility to acknowledge that you made a mistake. Each of us, as human beings, has done so. It’s inescapable. We can’t avoid making mistakes.
And again, you can bluster and try to get around it. You can try to bluff your way out of it. You can try to ignore the mistake.
But again, the only way to get past it is to admit what we’ve done. I was wrong.
I don’t know. We are all finite creatures. There are some things—many things—which we do not and cannot know. Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist monk, famously wrote a prayer which begins, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” There is so much we don’t know, and complete certainty about anything is virtually impossible.
Again, the only way to get past it is to acknowledge what you don’t know, and trust others to help you learn what you need to learn. As we live together with that kind of humility, we will come ever closer to being a community in action as well as in name.
I need help. For me, this is the crux of it. I am not a self–made man. I am who I am because of the help others have given me throughout my life. My family, my friends, teachers and doctors and nurses, and strangers—all have helped me.
As an example of this last signpost, Bell is sponsoring “Let’s Talk Day” on January 25. It’s a chance for us to talk about mental illness. It’s a chance to say “I need help”, and to do so without shame or embarrassment.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2000. I made a plan to kill myself. I learned to say, “I need help”—and I did it with the help of countless people who loved me enough.
I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help.
Louise Penny describes these as “the cardinal directions” in life. They are the north, east, south and west of our lives. They are the touchstones which can make our lives more whole, more complete, and more healthy. We need these signposts, these cardinal directions, to help us learn to live with the fact that we “are a crowd of faults”, and not to let it get in the way of our journey to wholeness.
I am grateful for having learned this.
No, Jesus Wasn’t Born to Die
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
I heard it again this Christmas season. A couple of folks were trying to convince me that Jesus is the reason for the season, and the reason for Jesus is that he came to die.
It’s as if the entire purpose of his life was to die. Evangelicals seem to believe this with a deep and abiding passion. Why, John Piper (a noted Baptist preacher) even wrote a book in 2006 entitled “Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die”. He followed that up in 2007 with a tract called “Ten Reasons Jesus came to Die”.
But was dying really the reason why Jesus came to earth?
I don’t think so. In fact, I disagree 100% with people who make this claim.
The entire premise behind this idea that Jesus came to die is that God is angry with humanity. We screwed up. God is ticked off. God needs a sacrifice to mitigate his wrath. That’s why you often hear evangelicals begin telling the Christian story with terms like “sin” and “judgement” as they transition to the birth of Jesus.
But that’s not how the Christmas story begins. At least, not if you’re reading it out of the Bible.
In the Bible, angels make the birth announcement about the Christ to a group of shepherds—and what’s interesting is that there’s no mention of God’s anger, wrath, or anything else. In fact, the opposite is true. When the angels announce the birth they say, “Fear not! For behold, I am bringing you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The angels continue by praising God: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among humanity, whom God favours.” It is also possible to translate the last phrase, “with whom God is well pleased.”
In any case, the birth of Jesus is announced as a result of God’s pleasure, God’s good favour for us. There’s no sense at all that God is ticked off. If the Bible were to line up with the narrative that “Jesus came to die”, it wouldn’t use this kind of language. Don’t be afraid. God brings peace. Or in Matthew’s story, Jesus is Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.
The idea that Jesus was born to die hits the same kind of brick wall in other parts of the Bible. The Old Testament tells us again and again that God utterly detests human sacrifice. Why should we believe that God’s plan to save humanity requires something God thought was an abomination?
The whole Bible paints a portrait of a God who is compassionate, loving, welcoming and inclusive. God seeks justice and mercy, righteousness and grace. John’s gospel tells us that God loved the world … not that God was ticked off at the world.
Furthermore, if the entire point of Jesus coming to earth was to die, why not just let a sleeping baby Jesus die of natural causes warm in the manger? Why wait so many years and have Jesus die in one of the most horrific forms of execution humanity has ever devised? If it was all about dying, dying as a baby would have done the trick.
So let me say it again, as the Bible says it again. Jesus didn’t come to die. Jesus came to show us how to live. Jesus came that “we may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10). Jesus came to proclaim the message about God’s coming kingdom (Mark 1). Jesus came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12).
In other words, Jesus shows us how drastically we have misunderstood God. God does not delight in sacrifices. Jesus teaches us that we are not to repay evil with evil, that we must not retaliate when we are sinned against, but that we are to do kind things even toward those who hate us because we are to emulate God who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
Jesus came to show us that God in the flesh can stand in the presence of sinners, and instead of anger and rage, says “neither do I condemn you.”
Dying wasn’t the point at all. The point of Jesus’ whole life was that he came to live.
This is precisely why in the book of 1 John we’re told, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” It’s why 1 Peter says, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” And it’s also why, just hours before Jesus is executed, he looks at each one of his followers and tells them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have.”
When it comes to the story of Jesus, it was never about dying at all. It was always about living.
And that was the whole point. The whole goal. We killed him, and even in that act, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them. They don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”
Jesus came to show us what love looks like.
Jesus wasn’t born to die. Jesus was born to be a living invitation—to live differently, to live fully and abundantly, to imitate God by imitating Jesus. His whole life showed us what God is truly like.