All posts by johncarr

Believe then behave then belong? (Gabriel Snyman)

It used to work like this. Through the working of the Holy Spirit you came to faith in Jesus Christ, accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour. You then studied the Word and the various creeds and doctrines of a particular way. You got to know their liturgy and rules. You started to attend this church’s gatherings and “behaved” in a way that proved that you did your homework. Only then you got accepted or inducted or whatever the case may be.

Sometimes for some it still works like this. But I do think a better and I dare say a more gospel like order is on the rise in the approach of churches. This order is: Belong, then behave and then believe. It works like this- churches practice radical hospitality, inviting people into their community and gatherings with open arms. This is done on the theological basis that every person being created by God and in His image is equal before God and therefore welcome. How deeply and how long a new person invited wants to partake in the community and its activities is up to the individual. If the person shows interest in the line of thinking and the disciplines that this community of faith sees as their “glue” he or she is then instructed and “coached” in it. The final step then is for this individual to come to faith, profess it and partake as a member that participate and extends the hospitality him/herself.

I say it is more gospel like because it is a recognizable pattern in the ministry of Jesus. He invited disciples to follow Him that is to live in community with him (belong). We can assume that involved for starters to do the simple tasks of life with Jesus like preparing food, getting ready for bed and joining conversations he had with people. Gradually as they were ready He taught them who He was and what his mission was all about. He also invited them to partake in His work (behave) until finally they came to a deeper understanding and professed their faith (believe)even at the price of martyr ship and death.

Most churches do not think and operate like this. We assume people who share our believe system will look us up, comply with our unique way of doing things and then be welcomed. Some do follow this script but it is usually with people from the ever-declining minority who share our denominational background from childhood.

Where do we start? By asking ourselves how we can practice radical hospitality.

Gabriel Snyman
Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray

Let’s Pray for Each Other (Janet Taylor)

One of the most encouraging experiences as a Christian is to be prayed for by someone else. When someone prays for us, especially in our presence, something special happens in our hearts – we feel cared for and encouraged. There’s a sense of intimacy, both between us and the other person, and between us and God. It’s like we’re knocking on heaven’s door together. It’s one of the best ways to build relationships between Christians – it binds our hearts together, and it’s one of the surest ways of ensuring unity in the church.

It’s pretty hard for division to exist and take hold when people are praying together. But we need to pray not only FOR one another, we need to pray WITH one another.

Robert McCheyne, a minister in the Church of Scotland, once said: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

The Bible confirms McCheyne’s comment: Heb 7:25 says “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” It is by His grace, not by our own efforts, that we remain faithful today.

If we remember that it is through grace that we our saved, sanctified, protected an uplifted, we can turn to our brothers and sisters, whether they be Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Baptist – and even further than that: whether they be Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, and see God’s grace at work in them as well.

Jesus doesn’t pray that we all be of precisely like mind, or that we blend into a homogenous grey blob. He prays that God will be with us, that we will feel the protection of God, that we will trust the intercession of Christ when we get things wrong, and that we love one another. If this is what Jesus prayed, do you, like me, believe that it’s time we started praying the same for (and with) one another?

Janet Taylor
Braeside and Westmount Presbyterian Churches
St. Albert and Edmonton, Alberta

Unity (Charles McNeil)

I hesitated to write on the subject of unity within the PCC being aware of the old adage – least said soonest mended!  However, the subject is front and centre in our hearts and minds these days. So, I felt led to contribute, what I hope, is a little light to the subject!

Unity can be upheld or disturbed by any question that becomes contentious. We aren’t going to tackle the unity of the Christian Church for obvious reasons.  But what about the denomination called the Presbyterian Church in Canada?

I was born, bred, and raised within the PCC.  The PCC congregation which raised me both spiritually and physically was a place of traditionally held views.  It provided a safe place to ask compelling, challenging, and open-ended questions.  It allowed for spiritual growth, and for growth beyond the traditional grounding. The then rural congregation was like many across the country finding its faith expression in the ebb and flow of the seasons passing one after another.

I remember very clearly one Sunday when I was in my teen years.  After worship people lingered and passed the time. Something was said about the sermon for the day.  To which I replied rather haughtily (I blush at the memory) that I didn’t agree with the sermon!

One of the older women in the congregation very gently, graciously, but pointedly responded.  Mrs. Bishop looked me squarely in the eye and said – Charles that’s not the point!  The point is that sermons are to make you think!

That is where Mrs. Bishop left it.  I didn’t take her comment as a rebuke.  It was someone of mature faith bringing a little brother along in the practice of living within the life, work, and witness of the congregation and the church!

That comment has stuck with me throughout my life and indeed has influenced me in the work of pastoral ministry to which God has called me!  God’s Word is to get us to think, and obviously to respond in kind to what was shared by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit!

Does everyone hear the exact same Word on any given Sunday or in a Bible study? Does God not speak directly to each of us customizing His Word in a prophetic, loving, gracious critique?  Are we not convicted and converted by the Word of God, however it is shared and through whomever it is shared?

It seems to me that unity within any congregation, presbytery, synod, general assembly or denomination has to do with lovingly accepting one another as God accepts us – even or especially if I am wrong!

Note the pronoun.   When I am wrong is there grace accorded me to be given time to see not the right thing but the loving, gracious, repenting thing?  The communion services from the Iona Community (among others) highlight the giving and receiving of forgiveness in the prayers of confession.  Those praying confess the need for forgiveness and seek God’s grace for the time to live out something of a forgiven lifestyle.

It’s a mutual thing expressed in that service because the minister laments his/her spiritual need and is supported in receiving reclamation from God. Then the congregation does the same and is supported as well!

I used to work for one of my older brothers.  He used to say, that yes, he could occasionally be wrong, but in whatever the present case he wasn’t!

I wish I were as certain, as my brother pretended to have been, in these times that are before us!  I wish I could say categorically on any subject – this is the way it is!

I sat through witnessing a heated argument between two friends recently.  It was a political rather than a spiritual argument.  However, at the end of the heated time together where they’d gone head to head it was clear that they both loved this county passionately and wanted only the best for our country – politically and socially!

I believe the same is true of brothers and sisters in Christ across the denomination.  There is an exquisite love for God in Christ Jesus.  There is a hungering to do what Jesus requires of us all.   There is a sacrificial spirit within our folk. There is a love of the church and denomination bar none!  There is a passion for the gospel to be shared far and wide for the benefit of all creation!

And yet the disagreements are threatening the health and welfare of the denomination!

Recently I heard two questions that made me stop and think.  And stop and think about me.

The questions were …
What is it in your own position that gives you trouble?
What is it in another’s position that attracts you?

If we answer nothing to both the above questions, then the discussion is over.  If we are honest and inquisitive, we then have opportunity to seek, ask, and knock.  To invite Jesus to be our guide in answering questions like the two above, or more pressingly the question of do we hate others who disagree with us?  Christ Jesus is to be the indispensable arbiter of whatever conflicts and disagreements arise!

Am I willing to be open to the possibility that I am wrong?  Am I teachable?  Will I accept others’ teachings, and most pressingly will I accept and embrace the person and teachings of Jesus?  Am I prepared to be liberated and transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit in being propelled forward in a significant leap of faith, love, and action?!

Echoing something of what the Apostle Paul wrote in the 4th chapter of Philippians: am I malleable to the work of the Spirit of God?  Are you?  Is the denomination?  Is the Church?

God willing and we are able – we are!

Respectfully submitted
Charlie McNeil
Knox Presbyterian Church, Lloydminster
Ganton Presbyterian Church

A Word of Hope (William Ball)

The bones of the earth were laid bare, trees looking like blackened sticks reaching for the sun which will never again bless them with energy and growth.   Scars upon the landscape, scorch marks upon the soil and rock.

I’ve seen wildfires before.  Growing up on Vancouver Island, every summer was a season of TV and radio reports about forest fires.  Smelling the smoke on the wind while camping, one always wondered whether it was coming from the other side of the campground, or down the lake, or from the fire on the other side of the mountain.

Mine was a family and region which made its living from forestry, and in pulp and paper particularly.  I knew how much our livelihood depended upon “good” fire weather.  When it was a bad fire season, everyone had to keep out of the forest, and activities were curtailed.

Travelling north to September’s Presbytery meeting in Fort McMurray had us wondering what we would encounter.  The horrific images of walls of flame and people desperate to flee their homes for the uncertain safety of “elsewhere” came back to us as we entered the fire zone.  What would we find there?  Have people stayed away?  Would the community come back to life again?

This is often the question that people ask after their landscape changes.  When the world changes around us, can we find new life again after disasters?  Will God renew us?

Is there a good word to be heard?

Isaiah 55 says:
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The word of hope which God offers to us is one which looks like LIFE!  It feels like life which is renewed.  The Spirit of God works, sometimes slowly, often silently – but sometimes like a gust of fresh wind which blows out the cobwebs and leads us to places we did not expect to go.

So it is with Christ’s church.  The Presbyterian Church in Canada, among others, is facing a changing landscape, but as God renews the face of the earth, so also God can bring new life to us.

In among the blackened sticks of the Fort McMurray firescape, one could see the new life which God has crafted: grasses and bushes, small trees, the beginnings of regrowth.  Poplar trees, the first to take hold – a pioneer species, my friend Jerry the botanist calls them.  Maybe it’s not the same as what was there, but the process necessary for the ecological progression, from the pioneer species to the climax species

Just as fire is part of the dynamic nature of forests as they germinate, grow and replace themselves, change and renewal is part of the church.  But it is hard for us to be in the period of transition, the time of change.  Yet, Jesus spoke about new life coming to the vine of God’s church, and that pruning is part of the process.  Seeds of hope and new possibilities are released.  The shoots of tender undergrowth of faith are renewed and God’s church begins again.  It is not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.  The church of the future will not look like the church of the past.  But God is faithful and steadfast and will renew us – individually and corporately.  What will the Church look like in this new landscape?  Are you willing to follow Jesus into that new adventure?

William Ball
Mill Woods Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

When awe evokes gratitude (Heinrich Grosskopf)

When the psalmist in Psalm 8 writes about our place in creation, “what are human beings that You are mindful of them, mortals that You care for them? Yet You have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour” there is a response that wells up in us. Doesn’t it lead us to become filled with awe? This creation is where we see the moon and the stars, and also the grandeur of the northern lights and the lovely bright colours of the trees during fall. This is when we can’t NOT be moved to a total stance of gratitude towards God.

Maybe Thanksgiving is not all about being supposed to bring thanks to God, but rather about being moved toward gratefulness.

This seems to be a time of deep awareness the God is the provider of so much. We needn’t be in a state of constant craving for more and more, we can fully rely on the Lord taking care of us. We are invited to be content.

How odd is it that the American Thanksgiving lies right beside Black Friday at the end of November? The turkey meal is barely swallowed, let alone digested, when folks miss out on the overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude as the page through the flyers to see what can be bought for Christmas. Run, run, run it becomes to get hold of the best deals for sale.

Yet, when we are stunned by the awe-some-ness of God, by God’s splendour and majesty, we are enabled to rest in the Lord and creator as our constant and loving provider at all times. Then we are able to rest in God’s care through thick and thin, because God loves us.

Heinrich Grosskopf
Dayspring Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

On Being a Leader (Peter Bush – Guest Contributor)

I was introduced to a new think tank this summer – Bain & Company. I have had fun reading through some of their research. A piece published in 2016 on what makes inspiring leaders has deeply impressed me.

Let’s stop for a moment to assess that word “leader” – all of us function or can function as leaders in some aspect of our life. From the recognized leader to people who by their lives and examples invite people to imitate them, we are all leaders.

The research team started by asking 2,000 employees this question: what leadership traits inspire you to follow a leader? They then tested those results with a larger sample of 10,000 employees and clients.

When I saw they came back with 33 characteristics of the inspiring leader, I was depressed. Thirty-three things leaders need to work on and develop. That felt overwhelming, until I read deeper.

One attribute stands out above all the others: Centeredness. The study defines Centeredness as “a state of greater mindfulness, achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present.” Centeredness “improves one’s ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others and listen more deeply.”

Okay, setting that aside, what else really matters. The answer is: any of the other 32 traits is fine; in fact, people who develop just three other traits in addition to Centeredness will be in the top 10% of inspiring leaders. Only 10% of inspiring leaders have four or more of the characteristics. In fact, people can be inspiring leaders with just one of the traits.

The researchers grouped the traits in four sets of eight each.

  • Developing inner resources: Stress tolerance; Self-regard; Emotional self-awareness; Flexibility; Independence; Self-actualization; Emotional expression; Optimism
  • Connecting with others: Vitality; Humility; Empathy; Development; Assertiveness; Listening; Expressiveness; Commonality
  • Setting the tone: Worldview; Openness; Shared ambition; Follow through; Responsibility; Unselfishness; Recognition; Balance
  • Leading the team:  Vision; Focus; Harmony; Direction; Empowerment; Co-creation; Servanthood; Sponsorship
    Definitions of these traits can be found  at  https://www.bain.com/insights/how-leaders-inspire-cracking-the-code/

The traits are diverse, at times seemingly contradictory. The diversity, however, reminds us that leaders come in all kinds of types. There is no single way to be a leader.

It would be interesting to ask friends and close colleagues what traits they see in you and build on those traits. It would be equally interesting to encourage colleagues to develop the traits you see in them.

Peter Bush
Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada

The Biggest Loser (Harry Currie)

A few years ago I watched season 14 of The Biggest Loser. If you are not familiar with The Biggest Loser it is a television show in which a bunch of very, very, overweight people are taken to a ranch that has all their housing, food, and fitness needs and each week, someone goes home, usually the one who has lost the least weight, or someone voted off from the team that lost the least weight.

And at the end someone who ends up losing a lot of weight is the last person left and is crowned the biggest loser.

Season 14’s winner Jeremy Brett weighed in at 389 pounds and when he was weighed in at the final weigh in several months later he weighed in a 190 pounds. An incredible 199 pound weight loss.

Believe me, it is a powerful emotional experience to see people who are changed dramatically because of their weight loss. And it is also maybe no surprise to many of us that heavy weight gain is often associated with emotional stress. Sometimes the people on the TV show, told their stories of being different, or being people who have been picked on; or sometimes their story was that of hard times and struggles; and they eat as a way to cope with the emotional pain of life.

I was thinking about this show in particular one time when the lectionary reading about Jesus’ baptism appeared and what Jesus’ baptism meant.

Most of us, when we see a baptism, we see a cute little baby, dressed up in white and all the family and friends come, and church attendance swells a little bit.

The minister walks the baby up and down the aisle, says a bunch of nice words and then sprinkles water on the baby…

And it is cute and the family takes a bunch of nice pictures.

And even though the minister talks about the various meanings of baptism, I sometimes do not think we get it.

The whole moment is just too cute.    Because…

Because… one of the meanings of baptism is that we are baptized into Christ’s death. We are buried with him and we rise with him, which is to say that we are initiated into the same ministry of Jesus: The ministry of giving our lives for others; The ministry of doing hard, dangerous and sometimes impossible thing; Fighting for justice; Forgiving ignorant people who we don’t want to forgive; Making peace with our enemies; Reaching out to the untouchables, or the losers, or the dirty, or the sinners, or whoever we think is unworthy;  Changing our mind set to be inclusive and loving of all people… I could go on and on about the ministry of Christ.

And believe me sometimes it is dangerous. When you love everyone, it means that you will love people that others do not love, and they may try to get you for it. May I remind you that John the Baptist loses his head for calling people to change their ways. And Jesus himself knows what his ministry will cost him. It will cost him his life.

And so being baptized is not all cute and cuddly warm and fuzzy. It is sometimes about entering the battlefield against evil and hate and prejudice and injustice and intolerance, and pettiness and gossip. And sometimes it ain’t easy.

Well when they started the 14th season of the biggest loser, they picked 15 people to go the farm. And these people were happy and crying, and telling their stories of pain, and so looking forward to changing their lives. And then they got to ranch and they started their first big workout and it was a baptism of fire. Some of them didn’t know what had hit them. The workouts were extremely demanding, the trainers were yelling at them. The trainer Jillian was back on the show and she was literally screaming at people. And several of the contestants literally keeled over. Some needed oxygen and some were vomiting. It was a mad house. And I am sitting there watching, thinking at first. “Oh my God, that Jillian is abusive.”

But upon reflection what she was trying to do by screaming at them was get them so mad and angry at her, that they would fight back. Because the reason that they had the weight problem is that they wouldn’t fight for themselves. They wouldn’t stand up for themselves and their health. And she was screaming. Screaming at them: “Make the choice. Make the choice. Make the choice to do the workout or get out of here.” That is what they were baptized with….

And sometimes, I wonder if we have lost that side of baptism in church. The side that says following Jesus is hard. It is to take up a cross. It is to enter the battle against evil and hate etc. It is to make a choice to keep going in the struggle even when you want to give up.         It is to make a choice to love even when the other is hate. It is to make a choice to love even when the other is violent. It is to make a choice to love even when the other is prejudiced. It is to make a choice to care because only in caring may someone else be changed. But who knows what crap will be dumped on you. Jillian is screaming. “Make the choice.” Make the choice to fight and do what is right and good and true and loving.

That is the side I think we sometimes lose in our Christian ministry, in our church, in our lives, in our baptism. That dogged determination to fight for Christ and for love, come what may, even if it is a cross, or our own death.

So where do we get the energy to do this and to keep going? From God. When Jesus was baptized, in Luke’s gospel it says. “You are my son. With you I am well pleased.” And God’s very presence, the Spirit of God descended upon him.             The touch of God… The blessing of God…

And while I have talked about our dogged determination to follow Jesus and make a choice to be his disciple, I want to remind you that baptism is primarily not about our choice, but the fact that we are chosen. Baptism says that God touches you with love. That God puts his hand upon you with blessing. That God cares for you and loves you and treasures you. That God makes you his child. Today Jesus reaches out his hand to bless you… To touch you with love… To baptize or immerse you in love…

And then Jesus invites you to respond by loving everyone, so that you will reach out your hand to bless someone, so that will be one less loser in the world. Amen.

The Rev. Harry Currie
First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

Captain’s Log (Ken MacRae)

Captain’s Log. Star date 06072018 0632hrs

(OK, I know I’m a Major…but “Captain” sound more Star Trek-ish).

The inhabitants and I have just completed the Air Force Run in the desert in Kuwait. Why? No logical reason other than being told, “You will all be running”. Order given. Order obeyed. Spock would not be happy (when is he?) with my timing of 5 kms in 32 minutes. However, I’m old, and at 0600hrs it is already mid 30’s degrees. The fact that I crossed the line at all is something I’m glad to have achieved. I didn’t even need a defibrillator! Some other Vulcan must have entered the race. His time…I was told…was slightly over 18 minutes. I tried to phaser him going by, but I missed.

Upon reflection I wondered why I was running. Halfway through I really wondered, “Why the heck am I running?” I’m a Chaplain damn it…not a gazelle! Then as delirium came over me I remembered that at Star fleet academy we were taught about “ministry of presence”. Thus, wherever the troops are, I will be. If they are running, I’m running. If they are moving sandbags, I’m moving sandbags. If they are digging a trench…I’m standing by watching them work and mocking them. (I never said I was a good chaplain!)

In all due seriousness I am very thankful for the privilege of serving with some of the best troops and leaders in our country. A Chaplain’s ministry is relational. I would love to think that many people come to a deeper faith relationship through my great and wonderful preaching skills. However, I believe that more people have come to an awareness of God by me simply walking with them through good times and bad. If my presence, my words or my actions have helped others in any way, then I am grateful.

One Biblical verse to end with. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18 (ESV)

Padre (Major Kenneth) MacRae…out!
Canadian Armed Forces

How to Light Up the Sky (Stephen Haughland)

“And still, after all this time, the Sun never says to the earth ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” (Hafez)

What a great quote! And what an interesting, and subtle, way to say what most of us already know, but have horrendous difficulty believing: Love is timeless. Love exists for the sake of giving. Love knows no restrictions and no exceptions.

Love like that lights the whole sky….!

Hearing such words always reminds me of that other person – a man who also came to know the true meaning of that little, one-syllable word. Only four letters. Two consonants and two vowels – one of which is silent, and yet a word so powerful…..

…and  he too, could do naught but speak from his own experience at having received a gift that, like the sun that shines in the sky, he did not deserve, could not control and could not earn, but could only bask in and pass on to others!

Some have called this man “The Apostle of the Heart Set Free,” and surely there is no description of St. Paul truer than that.  What we often forget, however, is that this was the same man who fought tooth and nail against such love – even to the point of trying to destroy and subvert its presence. Who could imagine that he would be the same man who would eventually surrender to its power, and then go on to pen the majority of our New Testament – itself the greatest tribute to love ever written!

Today I cannot claim to be a St. Paul. I only know that surrendering to that power which “lights the whole sky” is, for me, the only option bringing the freedom of which Paul wrote and spoke. Every day, I pray that my poor imitation of its power may be acceptable to the Lord and to the people whom I am called to serve, and every day I ask God to help me “surrender” – a bit more than I did yesterday, but not as much as I might tomorrow…..

“If I should speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I would be only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I could understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and even if I had a faith that could move mountains, but did not have love, I would be nothing. And if I gave away all that I had, and offered my body in sacrifice, but did it not from love, I would gain nothing.”

“Love is patient, and kind. Love does not boast. Love is neither rude, nor proud, nor self-seeking. Love keeps no record of wrongs, harbours no resentments, rejoices not in evil, but rejoices in the truth. Love hopes all things, believes all things, bears all things. Love never ends.”

Look, indeed, at what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky!

Tomorrow, when it comes, will still find my efforts to embrace and understand what can only be embraced and understood in each moment still falling short. However, I will continue to take to heart that timeless power, devoid of restrictions and exceptions, which will always cause the universe, and my world, to unfold as it should:

In due season!

Where all things work for good for all those whom God loves!

For today, I will live secure in the knowledge that neither life, nor God, nor anyone else owes me anything…..and I am simply here to embrace, receive, enjoy, celebrate, marvel at, learn from, be convinced of and convicted by, sing to, and to pass on to others that gift at once so simple, and yet so enduring….

“Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky!”

Blessings…!
Rev. Steve (Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chauvin, Alberta

On the Pulse of Morning (Gabriel Snyman)

I am barely awake when my wife, Isabel, gives me instructions for the afternoon. I should take Steph, our son to the theatre this afternoon. He should be dressed in his Sunday best and seated on his assigned seat. I should buy a ticket for myself and Marise, our daughter should sit next to me. Eight hours later, she would have been proud of me. I remembered and complied with military precision. Steph sits on his assigned seat and me and Marise on the ones I bought tickets for and chose. I am vaguely aware that I am at the prize giving function of the Oilsands Rotary Music Festival and that Steph will receive a prize for a piano recital he practiced for hours on end at home. In my own selfish inner world, I am not quite here. I am elsewhere and nowhere. I hate prize giving functions. I have every intention of playing around on my phone until this function ends. Prize giving functions are like kid’s parties-if you have been to one, you have been to all.

But then after the usual welcome, thank you to the sponsors and how-the evening will work breakdown, something beautiful happens. A black girl of about 14 years walks on stage. Her name is Kudukwashi Simbi. She is beautiful. She stands upright, she looks at the audience intently with pride and confidence. When you come from South Africa it is hard to not be mesmerised by a young black woman with the charisma and pride she displays. Kudukwashi captivates me even before she spoke one word.

When she finally does speak, she not only captivates me but takes me with her on a journey. She recites a peom entitled “On the Pulse of Morning” from Maya Angelou.

“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.”

As she says these word, I get goosebumps all over. Sometimes words at the right time form the right person is like a spoon that stirs up flavours dormant in one’s soul and blends them into the aroma of hope. To me Kudukwashi becomes such a person as she continues and ends the poem with these words:

“Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning”.

Somewhere deep inside me an “Encore!” cries out silently. I don’t want her to go but at least I am present now, so I allow her to bow out of the saviour role she just played in my life. Suddenly, I am here. Me and my soul. Being present like this opens my eyes to see many other beautiful things. Other children perform on the piano and violin and recite poetry and prose. Every one of them lifts my soul. I get to know Fort McMurray as a community brimming with young musical talent and great teachers.

A well dressed young man of barely nine with the last name Li plays a piece on the piano. It’s entitled “Water”. As you listen to him, it’s like your ears gets wetted softly and gently. The mayor’s daughter, Jeya Scott, plays a piece. Her mother is originally from China and I’ve been told she has a doctorate in music. When Jeya plays it sounds like she has one too! Had that piano had a tail, it would have wagged the whole time she was playing. Anirudh Shankar tells a funny story. Avery Rex sings a sad song about a waitress who gets pregnant and realizes that she will have to raise the baby all on her own. By the time she’s finished I need a handkerchief and feel ready to sign adoption papers.

One by one the children come to receive their awards and prize money. Raziela Odei, Victor Oganwemimo, Rita Pan, Nishka Rai, Soumannadip Sarkar, Alessandro Rizzuto, Brooke Tetreault, Krithka Venkataramadas, Vlad Stan and then my own, blonde Steph Snyman. There is not a peoples group on earth that is not represented here. Somebody recently told me that in most communities in Canada people speak 25 different languages apart from English but there are 52 different languages spoken in Fort McMurray. This must make Fort McMurray one of the most diverse places on earth. I take a look at the people around me. I see Sari’s and Burkas, tattoo’s and crosses, turbans and baseball caps.

I grew up in a racially segregated country. Somehow, I always believed what I experience tonight is possible. This is what I longed to see for many years. I often miss things and especially people of South Africa. But this tolerant, harmonious diversity is a treasure I cherish. It makes me rich.

Fort McMurray has become to me, the place where I can simply and with hope say: “Good Morning”. I am deeply grateful to be here. A wise theologian once taught me: A commitment to the God of Abraham can only be a commitment to the God of all people. To God and his people.

Gabriel Snyman
Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray