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Damaged Goods

i am damaged goods

I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.

And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.

Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”

Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You threw away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve ruined everything. No one honourable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged goods, Sarah.”

If true love waits, I heard, then I have been disqualified from true love.

In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.

And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me – and, according to this research, 80% of you are like me –  as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.

We, the majority non-virgins in the myopic purity conversations,  feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.  In this clouded swirl of shame, our sexual choices are the barometer of our righteousness and worth. We can’t let any one know, so we keep it quiet, lest any one discover we were not virgins on some mythic wedding night. We don’t want to be the object of disgust or pity or gossip or judgement. And in the silence, our shame – and the lies of the enemy – grow.

And so here, now, I’ll stand up and say it, the way I wish someone had said it to me fifteen years ago when I was sitting in that packed auditorium with my heart racing, wrists aching, eyes stinging, drowning and silenced by the imposition of shame masquerading as ashes of repentance:

“So, you had sex before you were married.

It’s okay.

Really. It’s okay.

There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity – or lack thereof – and more than your sexual past.

Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.

It’s likely you would make different choices, if you knew then what you know now, but, darling, don’t make it more than it is, and don’t make it less than it is. Let it be true, and don’t let anyone silence you or the redeeming work of Christ in your life out of shame.

Now, in Christ, you’re clear, like Canadian mountain water, rushing and alive, quenching and bracing, in your wholeness.

Virginity isn’t a guarantee of healthy sexuality or marriage. You don’t have to consign your sexuality to the box marked “Wrong.” Your very normal and healthy desires aren’t a switch to be flipped. Morality tales and false identities aren’t the stuff of a real marriage. Purity isn’t judged by outward appearances and technicalities. The sheep and the goats are not divided on the basis of their virginity. (Besides, this focus is weird and over-realized, it’s the flip side of the culture’s coin which values women only for their sexuality. It’s also damaging, not only for you, but for the virgins in the room, too. Really, there’s a lot of baggage from this whole purity movement heading out into the world.)

For I am convinced, right along with the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any other power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.* Not even “neither virginity nor promiscuity” and all points between can separate you from this love. You are loved – without condition – beyond your wildest dreams already.

I would say: Sarah, your worth isn’t determined by your virginity. What a lie.

No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.

Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie.

You never were, you never will be, damaged goods.”

 

image source, creative commons

Apostle Paul quote from Romans 8:38-39

 


And now:

Two years ago, almost to the day, we published this essay of mine at A Deeper Story. Since ADS will be closing up shop soon, I have slowly been reading my old posts there and backing them up for my own records. I decided to republish this one here today. It remains my most popular Deeper Story post, yes, but it is also one of my most popular ever. At the time when it was written, it was sort of surprise for a Christian woman to write a story like this. And then it went crazy. Comments spiraled out of control. I spent months fielding emails and letters from people who were so relieved, who felt free for the first time from the shame. It was amazing to witness. Of course, I was called horrible names in public, threatened several times. There were dozens and dozens of “response posts” written about me, shaming all over again, but twice as many were written saying, “Me, too! me, too!” Larger conversations about purity and purity culture spun off. I wrote this follow-up at the time.

This is the power of story, I believe. As we always say at A Deeper Story, it’s easy to tell someone your opinion. The hard work is in telling your story. At the time, there were so few places who were willing to “go there” into the wounds and hurts and deeper questions of our faith, so few who were listening to those of us outside of the usual shiny-happy-Jesus-people narratives. I’m so glad I wrote it, so glad for a place like A Deeper Story to publish it.

So before Deeper Story disappears from the Internet, I wanted to point to a few of the iconic posts from that beloved community:

Where else would we have read such powerful or life-changing posts as Mary DeMuth’s The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be?

Or Ashleigh Baker’s What I Won’t Tell You About My Ballet-Dancing Son?

Or Nish Weiseth’s post about Mormonism called Choosing to Listen?

Or how Amanda Williams’ found God in a little white pill?

Or Addie Zierman’s defence of the 4-letter words?

Or Micah Murray’s confession that he doesn’t want to be a good Christian anymore?

There are so many incredible stories there, so much bravery and truth-telling. I have a hard time no listing every single writer who has graced our community over the years, one after another after another.

It’s been a good ride. My deepest thanks to Nish Weiseth for creating A Deeper Story four years ago and then for taking a chance on me. Not only did it change my life as a writer, the community also opened doors to some of my dearest friendships. I’ll always be grateful.

 

 

Continue Reading · A Deeper Story, faith, fearless · 32

It shouldn’t have worked. But it did.

(RSS readers, you may have to click through to watch the video that introduces this post.)


It’s an imperfect sort of story.

Aren’t they all?

I’ve had many moments like the story I told about “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” in that video above – times when the Spirit has used something foolish to move into my life.

Just when I think I’m educated beyond the humble old habits and ways, just when I’ve theologically proved why everything from cheesy Christian music to children’s ministry to blogging is useless and sometimes damaging, my wisdom is disrupted.

Just a quick glance at the Internet will tell us all the ways we are doing it wrong – and the ways in which everyone else has done it wrong. Whether we’re in a megachurch or a small house church, whether we went to seminary or we never did, whether we observe the Church calendar or have never prayed the liturgy, whether we listen to Christian music or turn up our noses. Maybe this week, it’s the two-week mission trip or altar calls, church camp, revivals, camp meetings, political clubs, and “asking Jesus to come into your heart” when we were children.

Foolish things, perhaps, when we strip them down.

That Christian children’s record shouldn’t have “worked” as the great pursuit of God towards our family.

But it did.

***

I remember, there was this TV preacher that I sort of, um, disliked.

I would see his face on the TV or grinning from yet-another-bestseller list and want to shriek words like “heresy!” and “false teacher!” and “step away from the teeth whitener and the self tanner!”

It amazed me that people like him were even on television.  I railed against his popularity, convinced that his popularity was spelling the downfall of the western church. I judged the people in his megachurch as shallow seekers of feel-good entertainment.

Clearly they were not as enlightened and wise as I was (clearly – can’t you see how much like Jesus I was acting?). I thought he was a weak teacher at best, a heretical charlatan using the Gospel for his own personal gain (and a jet) at worst. His theology was atrocious, truly the worst.

And then one day, a dear friend called. This was a friend who had been on the receiving end of decades of prayer on our part. We had done everything properly with great sensitivity. All to no avail.

But he called that day because, guess what! Just last night, he had decided to follow Jesus! His whole life had changed! God is real! He was completely changed, full of life! This is amazing!

That’s wonderful, friend! But…. how… did this happen?

Well, one day, he was watching TV…. and came across this TV preacher – had I ever heard of him? Because suddenly it all made sense, everything. The Gospel message had been preached to my friend in a way that he could hear it. And the spark of life and faith and spirit had ignited in his heart.

Of course, it was that exact same TV preacher.

And I listened to my friend, full of joy, recount how he understood now what we had been trying to say but somehow this time it all just made sense. His joy, his resurrection, was tangible. This was real.

He wanted to know if I would mind telling him the name of a book that this preacher had written? He’d like to start to read his Bible but he wants to do it with help from this wonderful man of God, the one who helped him to understand and opened his heart to Jesus.

Isn’t it just amazing that there are people like this man on television? he marvelled to me. Yes, amazing, I said slowly.

My wisdom felt like judgement ash in my own mouth.

***

I’ve been thinking about an old story in Acts chapter 5 lately. In the heady early days of the Church, Peter and John were once again arrested for preaching Christ and his resurrection. The High Council was furious and wanted to kill them.

But a wise and well-respected Pharisee named Gamaliel stood up and said something incredibly profound:

“Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered. So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:35-39, NLT)

***

Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

– excerpted from As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerard Manley Hopkins

***

I’m a recovering know-it-all. It seems just when I finally have an opinion locked into place, exceptions will abound.

Black-and-white thinking has been denied to me in many areas of my life – some days, I can’t figure out if this is a cross to bear or a mercy to enjoy.

The Spirit always sweeps into my opinions and preferences with holy disruption.

Now I’ve lived through enough evolutions of my self and enough transformation by the Spirit that I have learned to keep my mouth shut a bit more, to wait in kindness, to hold it loosely. I try to think critically without giving myself over to a critical heart. I try to be kind, to remember the ways that I have grown and changed, the ways that I will continue to grow and change.

My story began in a way that has typified most of my walk with Jesus: subjective, earthy, humble, experiential. No matter how hard I try to find a different and more “elevated” path, I always end up circling like a corkscrew back around the same truths I learned at the beginning, my charismatic practices only enriched by the wisdom and practices of ancients through the ages and the prophets alongside of me now.

As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, Christ plays in ten thousand places. Is it such a stretch to believe he played so beautifully in my history? in the foolish ways we try to disciple and lead each other? Is it such a stretch to believe that the Spirit moved into a family and changed everything because of one 14-year-old babysitter who gave away a children’s record from the 70s? what about in a megachurch pastor’s sunny sermons? in a television show about prosperity preachers? in our pet theologians and favourite scapegoats and Twitter-sparring contests? in a seminary ivory tower? in Alcoholics Anonymous? in the liturgy? in the old habits of the quiet morning hour spent in Scripture? in tongues and Awanas? in the Baptists and the Presbyterians and the Vineyard and the anti-institutional movement? in the vacation Bible schools and accountability groups?  in the atheists and agnostics? in the powerful and the powerless alike?

I’m learning to move a bit slowly. Maybe the “next big thing” will come to nothing. Maybe the old thing that once-was turned out to be nothing. But maybe, just maybe, Christ is playing there, too.

***

But here is the truth: No one else came to our family with the Gospel. Our only missionary was a little fourteen-year-old girl offering up a Christian record and her unspoken hopes for us. Resurrection hides in the foolish places, it seems.

According to the “experts,” these imperfect people or methods or tactics or habits shouldn’t work. We’ve grown out of them, surely. Put such childish things behind us. We are wise, nuanced, well-educated now. Right? These ways are sometimes crass, sometimes misguided, sometimes lame. And worse, sometimes they are truly damaging, evil even, and we are left trying to untangle ourselves from the wreckage of someone else’s god.

Perhaps we can now admit: we would do things differently now –  if we knew then what we know now. The old ways of our history are often foolish things when we strip them down. And yet they continue to confound the wise.

Christ played there. Christ plays there. And Christ will continue to play there.

The Spirit disrupts our wisdom and our opinions and our preferences.

It’s an imperfect sort of story.

Aren’t we all?

(The video is one of many produced by The Work of the People.)

Continue Reading · A Deeper Story · 0

We’re suffering for Jesus in matching t-shirts

 

When Help One Now invited me to Haiti as part of a storytellers trip, I wanted to say no.

I wanted to say no because I was afraid of poverty, and I was afraid of my heart breaking. I wanted to say no because it was inconvenient, and I was reluctant to leave my tinies. And I wanted to say no because I had an aversion to the whole blogger trip phenomenon. I spent years of my evangelical church life avoiding mission trips – quite a notable feat for a woman married to a former missionary to Mexico and a youth pastor. “Oh, I have to work,” I excused myself, which was true, but I also thought Mexico hardly needed one more group of rich North Americans performing bad mime on their street corners, and the money spent going would be better spent in the hands of on-the-ground community development. Mission trips seemed more like a yearning for travel and adventure cloaked in pious language.

“We’ll spend four days painting rooms in an orphanage, and then we’ll go shopping and hang out on the beach! We’re suffering for Jesus! Let’s get matching t-shirts! It’ll be so rad. Last night is totally cry-night.”

So when Chris Marlow, the leader of the Help One Now tribe, asked me to join him on a short trip to Haiti with a group of bloggers, my first instinct was a simple no.

The western world, including churches, have a habit of showing up in developing countries with a lot of zeal and good intentions that ultimately end up hurting or crippling complex societies, and then wounding precious people through inadvertent ignorance. I had learned how helping can hurt, and I didn’t want to hurt Haiti economically, or relationally. I wasn’t interested in tidy, simple narratives for the purpose of raising money. I cringed at the thought of trotting Haitians out as props for fundraising. The phrase “poverty tourism” revolted me. It was easier and safer to do, well, nothing than it was to risk hurting any one or accidentally set foot into colonialism.

Yet I couldn’t seem to say no to going to Haiti.

Every time I tried to refuse, my “no” stuck in my throat. I wondered if that might be a nudge from the Holy Spirit, so I took a few steps back and, as I got to know Chris and the rest of the team, I learned they were centered on empowering and resourcing local leaders for the long-haul precisely because of their great love for God. They were focused on community development to combat the orphan crisis, instead of simple rescue aid or hugging smiling orphans one week before disappearing once the slide-show pictures were done, let alone performing feel-good “revivals” to fluff up statistics in church annual reports.

Chris and his team deferred to Haitian leaders, and purposefully kept all Americans associated with the project in the background. They took the posture of students, listeners, fellow-journeyers instead of saviours. They didn’t shy away from the complexities of Haiti’s systemic injustices and the long road ahead. They were not perfect but they were learning, because they were here to stay with Haiti.

So I said yes.

I was honoured to share my little platform, I longed to treat the stories of Haiti with dignity, and I began to see it as opening a door between my readers and these new friends. I was ready – I thought.

Give me a stat, and I don’t give a damn. Tell me a story, and I weep like a baby, said Chris.

I went to Haiti. I’ve heard that souls grow by leaps and bounds. If that is true, then Haiti was a catapult for me.  (I wrote about the experience here, if you’d like to read about it.)

Everywhere we went with Help One Now, we were greeted as “the ones who come back.” Chris and his team were not show-up-and-take-pictures Christians; they were we-are-with-you-always-especially-in-the-hard-parts Christians, they were thinking about long-term consequences of their decisions, they were thinking about community development and driven by relationships, they were planning on moving that mountain, one carefully chosen strategic stone at a time.

While we were there, I discovered just how thin the membrane is between helping and hurting, and how well-meaning aid can often be the undoing of a community. So those crews of painters from North America at the orphanage mean a few less jobs for local painters, and handing out cast-off t-shirts from last year’s mission trip deprives local clothing providers of their work. The years-worth of free rice from USAID and the UN after the earthquake put an entire region of Haitian rice farmers out of work, driving their families into abject poverty, and now their children are vulnerable to child trafficking. Every action has a reaction, a unintended consequence, however benevolent the motivation, however great the spiritual or moral awakening of the giver.

Haiti seemed like a mountain of complexity to me. Poverty, the earthquake, family, religion, economics, policy, corruption, housing, education – if you pulled out a single stone in an effort to help, there was a possible of an avalanche of unintended consequences raining down.

I can’t pretend I’ll be one of “the ones who come back” or that I understand Haiti. Not at all. I am not living alongside of Haitians, truly knowing them, truly becoming friends, in the same way. I’m not suffering for Jesus here. It’s not the same at all and I probably won’t be back in Haiti any time soon (although I’d love to go back – if just for a cold Prestige beer and a chance to finish about seventeen conversations). I respect Haiti too much to simplify her.

And yet: Haiti changed me with her stories.

Pastor Gaetan and his mountain moving faith.

Pastor St. Cyr singing How Great Thou Art in the largest tent-city of Port au Prince.

The 17-year-old new mama breastfeeding her baby at the midwifery clinic run by Heartline Ministries.

Lovely Manita at the orphanage and the feel of her arms around me, her refusal to let me go until the last heart-wrenching moment.

Little girls with bows in their hair, rubbing my leftover baby-belly with delight and snuggling right into me.

A little girl in a pink shirt sweeping the dirt of her tent into neat rows like a proud homemaker.

Women sitting in their tents of a city that used to be called “a rape camp.”

Richard the artist with his stunning work and micro-finance story.

Dozens of children sleeping in bunk beds together instead of being raised in families.

Pastor Jean Alix and his tireless work ethic on behalf of his community.

One of our translators whose mother was forced to abandon him to life on the streets due to her inability to provide a home for him.

All of them matter to me now. All of them stay with me.

I give a damn because I heard their stories for myself.

Maybe I should have been moved by the stats or the news. But I wasn’t, I’m hard wired for story, I needed to see them, I needed to feel them, and I needed their presence. I didn’t need souvenirs from a market day or a matching t-shirt. I needed names, faces, friends.

We sat around on our last day there feeling like we wanted to be part of the Kingdom work here for longer than just this little trip. We fell in love with Haiti. We wanted to be part of their story, somehow, for the long haul, too.

So Pastor Gaetan shared his big crazy dream with us. He wanted to build a school because 1 in 5 kids aren’t finishing secondary school. It is impossible to lift Haiti out of poverty with stats like that, he said.  He wanted kids to learn how to be leaders, he wanted them well-educated. He wanted doctors and teachers, writers and artists, pastors and policy makers to rise up out of Haiti. He wanted families to be strong.

We decided to help him build that school.

This school will create over 100 jobs in the next six months — all Haitian jobs.

It will serve thousands of children.

We are committed to building a first class building; it will be one that will last and give back to the community for a long, long time.

The school will also be used for Sunday School classes, discipleship training, counselling centre, and most importantly, it will be a safe shelter for the children and the community.

This building will be a center of Kingdom activity.  Everyday.  All day.  365 days a year. And we’ll be part of that story now.

I came home from Haiti a few months ago.

This school is one small thing, one small stone in that massive mountain of complex issues related to economics, social justice, community development, family, debt repayments, international policy, poverty, education, all of it. I can’t move the whole mountain. I can’t. But I can move this one stone, and I chose this small stone because the people that live there told me it was a good pick. And it’s moving, phase after phase, we’re actually really building a school in Haiti. And one after another after another, the stones move with the stories, the schools, the children, the mamas, the fathers, the pastors, the policy makers, and God will move the mountain.

I feel like I’m at the beginning of this story. I have no idea how it ends. I do know matching t-shirts won’t be required.

If you’d like to participate in building the school in Haiti, click here.

Every single bit helps.

Legacy Project // Sarah Bessy from Help One Now on Vimeo.

 

 


Continue Reading · A Deeper Story, Haiti · 0

In which I’m practicing

I have practiced cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over.  I have practiced being defensive – about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics – until I was on the offense. I performed, with repetition, outrage and anger, the victim of someone else’s god, I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every blog post, pontificate to every question. I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy.

It didn’t take long for my proficiency in cynicism to become obvious to others. My aptitude didn’t take a lot of work, I’ll be honest, it seemed to come rather naturally to me, maybe I was a prodigy. I practiced poking holes, deflating arguments, identifying the pill in all of the jam. My response to it all was, “yeah, but…” and I set up my piano on the border between Funny and Mean, playing sarcastic scales in the name of wit, you might be surprised by how much snark you can fit into 140 characters. And over and over and over again, I practiced and practiced, but no one liked to hear me play.

Give me just a moment here, follow me outside. I’m done with this grand piano, with this glossy stage. I’m done with the concert proficiency at Being Right, I’m ready to be Beloved instead. Here, now, let’s head for the Canadian wilderness together, I’ve got just the spot in mind, and wouldn’t you know it, out here, in the sunshine, there’s a battered old thrift store piano, just for me.

Look at me, clumsy, and learning to practice goodness and truth, like scales all over again, it’s like I’m born again. I want to practice gentleness and beauty, over and over again, until my fingers find the keys without thought. I am performing the bare basics, once more and then one more time and then again, boldness, discipline, silence, prayer, community, again and again.

I want to practice faithfulness, and practice kindness, I want to fill my ears with the repetitions of wide-eyes and open hands, and innocent fun, holy laughter. I want to practice, with intention, joy. I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism any more, I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath. I will check the notes, ask for help, and I’ll relax my shoulders, straighten my spine, and breathe fresh air while I learn, all over again, the gift of grace freely given and wisdom honoured, and healing, and when my fingers fumble, when I sound flat or sharp, I’ll simply try again.

I’ll practice the ways of Jesus, over and over, until the scales fall from my eyes, and my ears begin to hear, and soon, my fingers will be flying over the keys, in old hymns and new songs, and on that day, when I look up, I bet there will be a field full of people dancing, beside the water, whirling, stomping their feet and laughing, and babies will be bouncing, and I’ll be singing and singing and singing the song I was always and ever meant to sing, the rocks will be crying out, and the trees will be clapping their hands, and the banquet table will be groaning with the weight of apples and wine and bread, and we’ll sing until the stars come down.

image source

 

Continue Reading · A Deeper Story, abundant life, community, faith, Guest Post, journey, music · 4

In which my heart just sits down

Six people are dead in Wisconsin, dead because they were at the Sikh temple early that day, and motives are still unclear, but oh, my heart, may we, as the people of Jesus, be mourning alongside.

I read this article after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin. The reporter quoted a victim’s family member at the scene of the horror, he said that when he heard the news, “it was like the heart just sat down.” This shooting, coming so soon on the heels of another American shooting in Colorado, and the one before that and the one before that, and what is there to say but I’m so so so sorry. God. God.

I first became acquainted with the Sikh faith when I was 16. I covered my long red hair with a wide headscarf, went to a temple. It was a field trip for World Religions, and we arrived, teenage-obnoxious, a list of likely-ignorant questions scribbled. I left my Docs at the door for the women, rejoined the boys. After the tour, we quietly observed a service, then we went to a separate room to gather in a circle, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the soft carpeting around our welcoming host. We asked questions about his faith, about how it “felt” to be Sikh in Canada (he laughed), about their history, about family dynamics, the differences between Sikhism and Christianity, what they believed and practiced and what was with the little knives. Nearly twenty years later, I remember our tall host, he was so gentle and wise, so kind to this group of evangelical kids from Calgary, he blessed us in our ignorance. My friend snapped a picture of me standing there in the parking lot on our way out, we wanted to remember how we looked in the head coverings, I was grinning wide at the novelty. I scribbled a few notes down: The Five K’s, the Five Thieves, something something something, truth, justice, karma, equality, peace, a few doodles on the margins.

Now, we live in a community that is home to the first Sikh temple in Canada more than 100 years ago, the Gur Sikh Temple on South Fraser Way, and more than a third of my town is South Asian. My husband’s hard-working and generous clients invite him over for tandoori, our tinies dance to Bhangra music at the insurance agency customer appreciation days. The democracy of public school and soccer practice and work blends us all in together, and here, you’re as likely to see a Nishan Sahib decal as a Christian fish, on the back of the minivans at the mall. There is ignorance here, too, racism and exclusivity, no doubt, but we live together somehow.

When my eldest daughter was two, she thought the Indian ladies shopping beside us at the Superstore were real-live-princesses, she followed their bright sunset orange saris and gauzy scarves covering long ropes of black hair, and they chuckled kindly at her obvious wonder over their beauty. We nod hello to each other, the picnic tables of men in turbans at the park, they’re solving the world’s problems apparently. On Saturday nights, our chain restaurants on the west side play Hockey Night in Canada on one TV, the Punjabi feed for the same hockey game is on the other, men in turbans and dark beards calling the plays on the ice. On Canada Day, we danced to Dehli 2 Dublin at the exhibition grounds, the fireworks banging into the night sky, to the strains of Celtic-Punjabi-fusion. I admit it: I guard the location of my favourite hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant like a treasure, lest it become popular with the hipsters.

Hard conversations are coming, perhaps legislation, around gun control, about hatred, racism, religion, about our culture’s glorification of violence, our nationalism, and the divisions between us, yes, those conversations need to happen, but not just now: now is the time for grieving, now is the time for loving, for burying, for mourning with those who mourn, for gathering humanity together, and for compassion.

I believe that it is precisely because of my Christian faith that I am sitting my heart down, mourning with those that mourn, grieving and honouring, loving and praying. Love casts out fear, and may the mouths of the faithful be filled with words of Love and hope and peace, never fear.

So yes, my heart is sitting down, my friends, my neighbours, we are all with you, too, we’ll bear witness and stand with you.

My heart will sit down with your own heart, I’ll light my candle and say my common prayers for your grieving and your wounded, for us all. And then we will rise up again.

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