The Last Few Weeks

The last few weeks of this term (and my first year of seminary) are under way… As a fantastic end-of-term gift, three out of five profs have made 80% of our mark to be determined by papers and presentations due within these final weeks. It is less fun than it sounds.

Earlier this term I did some writing for the blog on the Diocese of BC website. It was published this week: What I learned from singing…

Enjoy.

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Encounters at home

It was an ordinary day on my recent visit home to Victoria. Midmorning on a weekend, walking up a less-busy downtown street, enjoying the smells and sights of home after nearly eight months away.

I didn’t tell many people I was in Victoria. It was a short visit and I was on limited time. But suddenly I heard my name yelled out. Yelled.

Unsure if it was me (but how many Gillians are there?!) I turned to see where the call was coming from. And then I saw him, one of my former clients from the shelter, running across the street. He reached me on the other sidewalk, picked me up in a giant hug and, as he set me down started to talk.

He’d just moved into his own apartment – first one since transitional housing at the shelter. He was doing really well and was really excited about life … and he just wanted to tell me that since he hadn’t seen me for awhile.

I was smiling for the rest of the day.

 

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Young Leaders Thrive Amidst Opposition

This was written for justgeneration and has also appeared on pwrdf.org.

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Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young… (I Tim 4:14)

Those words were ringing through my head as I sat in a circle with a group of young people working for PWRDF partner CoCoSI (Committee Against AIDS) just outside of Santa Marta, El Salvador.

One by one we went around the circle, introducing ourselves, saying what our role was, and how old we were. “I am 24 … 31 … 29 …” As each one of the other young people told their story of working for CoCoSI I was struck by how this group of young people had all seen a need in their community and responded to it, regardless of opposition.

CoCoSI was founded in 1999 by a group of young people, some of whom still work for CoCoSI. They founded the organization to raise awareness of and promote prevention of HIV and AIDS in their community and in the local prisons. Since then, CoCoSi has also begun to work at preventing gender-based violence, particularly towards women, and promoting human rights to those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

And there was opposition: some of the young adults were as young as 15 when they founded CoCoSI. They faced opposition from those who thought they were too young to do what they were doing. They faced opposition from those who did not think HIV and AIDS should be talked about. They faced opposition from those who said they did not have enough formal education. In some cases, they faced opposition from within their own families and communities.

What was remarkable was that these were young people who should not, by all accounts, have succeeded. Most were born across the border in Honduras, in refugee camps that their parents had escaped to during the long years of the Salvadoran conflict. They had, as teenagers and young adults, returned home and begun to advocate within their community for rights of the marginalized. They also began developing HIV and AIDS education and prevention programs in their region.

Despite, or in spite of all of this, they have succeeded. After spending time with the young staff of CoCoSI, I had the opportunity to sit with two of them as they facilitated a women’s support group in a nearby community. Despite only understanding about half of the Spanish conversation, I could see the joy on the faces of the women in the group. I could see the passion and love for the women and for their job in the presentation of the two young women from CoCoSI. And I heard and understood stories of empowerment and safety echoed around the circle. Indeed, CoCoSI has been recognized internationally for their programs and I am so proud that we at PWRDF partner with them to help see that their incredible work continues.

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El Salvador

IMG_2680I’ve been going full-tilt since I arrived home a little over a week ago – so much so that I haven’t even stopped to edit/review my photos. (Though you can see a few that I posted to Instagram while I was down there if you scroll back through my web feed)

This week is reading break so I’m hoping that I will have some time to catch up with myself, if only to prepare for the two papers and two midterms due next week before I head off to Victoria for Diocese of BC events.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI did do some blogging whilst in El Salvador, though the justgeneration.ca website went down so blogs have been posted since I’ve arrived home. The blogs are, wonderfully, filling two purposes: updating our justgen website with stories about what two of our PWRDF partners are up to in El Salvador and becoming the reflection paper I have to write as a part of the program requirements for school.

Notably missing from the blogs will be my concerns with the long hours while we were there and the fact that I got sick from sheer exhaustion. But evident will be the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, and the amazing work that our partners are doing down there.

In case you haven’t found them yet, I’m not going to reproduce them here, but the blogs can be found here:

Preparing to Leave for El Salvador

Reflecting on Archbishop Oscar Romero

Observing an Election

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On the same day as reported on with the Oscar Romero blog, I had another, even more moving experience related to a friend of mine from home. It is a beautiful story that I am still deciding on whether it is mine to share. Regardless, some amazing moments out of that trip.

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Off and Away

I’m off on another adventure!

Today I leave, with a group of others from London-area, to spend the next nine days in El Salvador. We will be UN observers at the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador and then will have the opportunity to visit PWRDF partners there: the Cristosal Foundation and CoCoSi. I’m looking forward to learning more about the work that these two partners do.

I may have been quiet on here as of late, but I have been writing! Stay tuned to justgeneration.ca (or like it on Facebook!) to see updates from me as I am able to send them back from El Salvador. I do not expect to have regular and amazing access to the Internet there, so sending blogs and photos back to justgeneration.ca will be a priority over putting them up on this blog. A large story will come when I return, however!

In the meantime, I am anticipating warmth for the first time since…. August?! In a temperature change felt only when I moved to Australia (or on extreme chinook days in Southern Alberta!) I’ll be going from a balmy -19C (-30 with the windchill, I’m told) here in London to a gorgeous high of +32C in San Salvador today. Bring it on!

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Luther: The Law and Superman

Basically, this is my favourite twitter conversation of the week.

Yes, I footnoted it in my paper.

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Hoops

Insomnia is a bitch. I was doing really well at sleeping through the night, up until last night. Now it seems that I’m back to wee-hours of the morning awakenings.

On the plus side, it leaves me more time to read and think.

I keep discovering more things that I have to do on this process towards ordination. It is frustrating at times because it seems like so much is required when there is often such a miserable return (yes, I have clergy friends. I know how tough it is at times! I also know how rewarding it is at other times.) I have been reflecting on the idea of “hoops” – those requirements that seem like they are requirements for the sake of being requirements, not for any other purpose – and recalled some advise given to me by an unnamed person in a collar: “Just jump through the hoops that you need to in order to get where you are called to be.”

Yesterday was a cold-day in London. All of the schools, including the university, were either closed or had all classes cancelled. So I went for a walk. Well, a walk to the bus stop and then took a bus downtown for coffee and a change of scenery in which to read. I brought along Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrixwhich a friend was kind enough to loan me and I have been meaning to read all holiday.

In it she tells the story of being asked to preach at an ELCA service to recognize LGBTQ clergy being brought back onto the official clergy roster, one of whom being the pastor who, as she describes it, introduced her to grace. The text she was given was the parable about the Kingdom of God and the landowner who hires labourers in the morning, midday, and in the afternoon, paying them all the same at the end of the day.

I said that the text for the day is not the parable of the workers. It’s the parable of the landowner. What makes this the kingdom of God is not the worthiness or piety or social justicey-ness or the hard work of the labourers… none of that matters. It’s the fact that the trampy landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the marketplace. He goes back and back and back, interrupting lives…coming to get his people. Grace tapping us on the shoulder.

And so, I reminded those seven pastors specifically, including the man who introduced me to grace, that the kingdom of God was just like that exact moment in which sinners/saints are reconciled to God and to one another. The kingdom of God is like that very moment when God was making all things new. In the end, their calling, and their value in the kingdom of God comes not from the approval of a denomination or of the other workers, but in their having been come-and-gotten by God. It is the pure and unfathomable mercy of God that defines them and that says, “Pay attention, this is for you.”

This morning, when I could not sleep, I pulled out Malcolm Guite’s Sounding the Seasons and re-read the sonnets for epiphany. Again, I found words of affirmation.

The Call of the Disciples

He calls us all to step aboard his ship,

Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,

Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,

Whatever storms or floods are threatening.

If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,

Then, as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,

For he is always with us and will hear,

And make our peace with his creative Word,

Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set

All his beloved lovers in an ark;

Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float

Above the rising waves, the falling dark,

As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,

Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.

I’m right where I should be.

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Cultural Differences in Snow

UPDATE: Classes are cancelled tomorrow because it’s cooooold. Brrrr. Places outside London seem to have been hit even harder than here with the white stuff.

Today is the kind of day when I enjoyed being a Victorian: yes, it might be cloudy and there is a good chance it is at least lightly raining, but it is above zero and the grass is still visible. I may have also been was one of those Victorians who enjoyed flaunting that in the face of the rest of Canada.

Now I really don’t like those people. Rest of Canada: I’m sorry for being like that. (Though I will probably return to that once I move back to Victoria!)

In semi-atoning for my gloating, I’ve come to some conclusions.

(Southern) Ontario freaks out about snow just as much as Victoria does. Which is strange, because they KNOW it is coming – it snows EVERY YEAR, whereas it usually catches Victoria by surprise. (“Will we have snow this year?” “I don’t know, we didn’t last year.”).

The difference of freak out is to about a magnitude of 10:

1cm of snow: Victoria freaks out and wishes they still had a snow plow in town. Police advise people to stay off the roads and some schools and businesses will likely close for at least part of the day.

10cm of snow: London finally deploys its full fleet of snow plows (this is the threshold that the city managers reported on the radio this morning), long after police have advised people to drive carefully if they have to leave the house. But they should probably stay home. Schools might be cancelled, depending on how much the snow is blowing.

Contrast this with my memories of high school in Lethbridge:

Cancelled school?!? What are you, a wuss? We’ll only cancel snow if the temperature is below minus 30 C. And then only if the busses can’t start.

…Or my college days in Prince George:

Why would we cancel college? You can still get here right? So Gillian cross-country skis to school.

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Happy New Year

I’m writing from work on what will probably be the first New Year’s Eve midnight that I will be awake for in years. It is a quiet night, and the remote log in to work-related things is not working at the moment, giving me time to do a bit of reflecting on the year that has passed (sorry. I hate those posts too).

A year ago I was desperately trying to sleep as music blasted at the next camp over from where we were staying in Maun, Botswana. We had enjoyed a beautiful day of travelling around the Okavango Delta by makoro and were anticipating a long day of travel to the other side of the country the next day.

How things have changed. From the desert of southern Africa to the cold and blowing snow of my walk into work this evening, a lot has happened this year. I have spent time in several different countries this year and I have moved nearly all the way across this one. I have started the formal educational path towards ordination. My first term of school is over and, all things considered, it seems to have gone well. I am adjusting to life here in Ontario and am finding my way around town quite easily now. Day after day of snow no longer seems strange and unusual and I have been enjoying the beautiful quiet that comes with a late night walk in falling snow.

One term of classes is over: I passed Hebrew with flying colours and am reasonably happy with the other grades I have received back. I have begun to find my place within the school atmosphere and am enjoying the academics of being back in school and the challenges that come with that. The biggest bonus: I have access to an entire university full of library books! Most of my papers this term, with the exception of church history, were looking at various angles on postcolonial feminist discourse. Its been a lot of fun (school, fun?!? I know!) immersing myself in that world and I have learned a lot.

Next term will be more of the same, with some scheduled class-skipping. One year to the day that I returned from South Africa I will be taking off for ten days in El Salvador. This will be my first Latin American adventure (unless you count a week at an all-inclusive in Cuba. Which I do not) and likely the only adventure of this sort in 2014. I will be travelling down with a group of people from London to be elections observers and then will spend some time visiting the Cristosal foundation, a partner with PWRDF.

It is weird how these things work out: Latin America has never been one of the “must visit” destinations for me (though I said the same thing about China before I went there for the first time and I LOVED it there) and I know very little Spanish. Following conversations with a former coworker, I began to do some more research on the history of the region. Then, out of the blue, this opportunity to go to El Salvador landed in my lap. Not usually being one to pass up an adventure, I hesitated a little bit because of the school I would miss, but in the end I have signed on and will be headed off in just under a month. Hopefully that will be the impetus I need to do a little more non-school-related writing as I plan to blog for PWRDF and justgeneration.ca while I am away.

So 2013 has been a year of change and transition and I am excited to see what 2014 might hold.

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Thoughts on Food and Society

Two things, posted on the Internet in close succession, from completely different sources, yet somewhat related and looking at some of the deepest needs and structural problems within our society.

The Foodbank, by cartoonist Dave Walker: The problem is just getting worse (and not only in the UK from where Dave Walker is drawing). People don’t have enough to eat around the world. This is one of the reasons why PWRDF started the Fred Says campaign, to highlight the problem of food security. But it is looking internationally. The problem is right in our own backyard and continuing to fill shelves of foodbanks helps, but it merely puts a bandaid on a gaping societal wound.

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The Many Faces of Rock Bay Landing: An article in the Victoria Times Colonist about the shelter at which I used to work. Again, it outlines some of the deficits in our current social systems and the problems that has created for a lot of people. That shelter operates over capacity every day of the year. That alone should be enough to cause us to pause and rethink how we define ourselves as a community and country.

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