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What church planters can learn from Target’s failure in Canada

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Target has failed in Canada. And I can’t say that I’m surprised. But it’s not because I know much about retail. My notable retail experience includes three years working at Smart Set in Southcentre Mall during high school. I was excellent at folding t-shirts for the 2 for $25 table. Oh, and I worked the music department at Chapters back in the days of music departments with old-fashioned items like CDs. Bless.

Nope, a retail giant analyst I am not, but what I do have I offer to you: regular old church experience.

Most of my childhood and teenage years as a neo-charismatic Christian in western Canada can be characterized by an almost identical exercise: a big American name comes to Canada to Reach Canada for Christ™, plant a church, and then in rather short order, heads back over the border, usually while blaming us for the failure.

That sounds a bit bald and harsh, but I don’t mean to be. It’s simply been my experience. So first, let me say this: I’ve seen church plants succeed in Canada. Many of them, in fact. Some of them followed the Church Planter Handbook that must exist somewhere (i.e. don’t even TRY unless you have $100K in the bank and a rockin’ worship team) and others have been messy organic and unlikely. All of them bring me great joy. I love to hear of new churches opening around us – we are a people of abundance, not scarcity! Also worth noting is that in the midst of these imperfect scenarios, there were lives changed, people saved and set free.

And yet this has been my experience and so I admit, I’m a bit wary now of outsiders coming into Canada as self-appointed missionaries to Reach Canada For Christ™. I’m not quite at the “get off my lawn” stage yet though. So when news broke today about Target’s abject and utter failure to expand into Canada, I began to think this morning about how church planters to Canada (or even within Canada) can learn from the Target failure.

So off the top of my head, here’s a few connections I made between Target and outsider-church-planting in Canada:

1. Target tried to open American stores in Canada. That sounds a bit silly when I write it out but here’s what I mean: Americans often tried to start American churches in Canada. They wanted churches that looked like American churches and they wanted people who thought like Americans. And then there would be frustration because we weren’t, well, American. We didn’t worship like Americans, we didn’t have the same values at times, we thought differently or had different context. It felt like we spoke different languages. For instance, I’ve seen American preachers get so frustrated because we listen to sermons instead of hollering back. Or would import a lot of American teaching or values cloaked in Jesus-y language, conflating the two. Instead of adjusting for that difference, the leadership often just tried harder to make us fit their version of Christian. It felt more like they were trying to colonize us into American Christians than make disciples. The kicker? when they quit and left, it was always with the parting shot that it was our fault. We didn’t play by their rules.

2. Target was out of stock of the essentials. When people went to Target, they simply never found what they actually went there to get. It’s hard to miss this metaphor for the church in Canada. Often what we have to offer as a church isn’t what people actually want. Canada isn’t the United States and we aren’t Europe either. Each community has its own religious history and even that changes drastically from neighbourhood to home. For instance, I grew up in a post-Christian pocket of western Canada where I didn’t have a single Christian friend or teacher to my knowledge. Meanwhile, folks my age here in Abbotsford mostly grew up either Mennonite or Sikh. (And yes, I’ve learned to appreciate both Indian food and Ukranian food.)

3. Target went too fast. In less than a year, the retail giant created 133 stores and a few distribution centres. From a church perspective, I saw many church planters fail because they also went too fast. They landed and set up shop quickly. They weren’t part of the community, they had no friends, they didn’t take the time to live among us and with us. They had no base and they often kept a strong line between “them” and “us.” Instead of becoming part of our lives, instead of developing a theology of place, they simply parachuted into our lives and then, when it didn’t go well, they left us. And just as the retail workers at Target are left in the lurch, our small congregations were often left to scatter in the aftermath, trying to find healing as best they could. At times, it was devastating. There are many friends of mine from that season of life who have simply given up on church because of these flash-in-the-pan experiences. We felt expendable: useful when they had their big big plans for their big big ministry launch but when things got tough, we were left behind. They didn’t love us and it became obvious. We were a project, not people.

4. Target refused to allow people in Canada to lead. Like most retail giants, leadership isn’t valued as much as management. We often saw the church planters come with Their Vision and Their People and Their Six Month Plan: we were there simply to execute their plan. Our input was not required. The planter was The Man of God, we were the dumb yet adorable sheep here to be led, not to co-lead or contribute. There wasn’t a teachable spirit to the leadership which is interesting to me now, twenty-odd years later, because I remember the folks there and there were some incredible leaders among them. It seems like a dehumanizing waste to turn them into pew fodder or cogs for the machine. There are bigger questions here about discipleship, leadership, and the purpose of the church, of course, but I’ll leave it there.

5. Target didn’t connect to the communities where they set up shop. The leaders often didn’t consult the area churches, leaders, or believers. They simply showed up and started without a thought for other believers already labouring in that field. They didn’t take the time to become part of the team – maybe because they thought they were above the team? who knows. Our church communities might be small but they are strong. I often joke that here in western Canada, if you’re a Christian, we either know you or we know someone who knows you. Our world is small and there isn’t anywhere to hide. Burning bridges is harder when you have a small community of believers. That small community is one of our great assets – we cheer each other on, work together on projects, and avoid competitiveness with each other (speaking generally, of course). I love how churches in our area work together so well, so often particularly when it comes to major events or causes. But by not connecting to their community, these leaders often missed opportunities to learn and to be part of something amazing.

I’ll miss Target in theory. I feel incredibly sad for their employees today.

But the truth is that I didn’t shop there either. 

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Continue Reading · canada, church planting · 108

In which we welcome a Husker to Canada

After twelve years of marriage to his Canuck here, eight years as a resident of Canada, three babies, and countless double-doubles, my husband officially became a dual citizen of Canada this past spring.

Brian becomes Canadian

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To celebrate the day, we decided to embark on a day filled with Canadian stereotypes. We took the tinies out of school, and after the ceremony in Surrey, the day of Canadian Stereotypes commenced. We only had a day and that isn’t quite enough time for all the stereotypes so to start off: he received his own Team Canada hockey sweater. One must be properly attired, you understand.

Then it was off for buying hockey gear at Canadian Tire with Canadian Tire money. Then a maple dip doughnut and a double-double at Tim Horton’s using loonies and toonies.  For lunch, we ate Montreal Smoked Meat and poutine at Annie’s in New Westminster (the best poutine we’ve found in the Lower Mainland). He learned not to be offended by the term “homo milk.” He called Coca-Cola “pop” instead of “soda.” As a carpenter, he’s already familiar with a Robertson screwdriver, so that was one we could leave off the list. He can spot a Canadian anywhere in the world by their use of the word “brutal.”

Then he curled up with a copy of Anne of Green Gables and a proper beer. There were a few lessons in how to apologise even when it is not his fault, and then a grammar lesson about the importance of adding a “u” to most of his words. He proved his ability to use the modifier of “eh”  – turning statements into questions, NOT as a form of “huh?” – and he wore a toque for most of the day. And then he indulged in a bit of old fashioned tree-hugging and protesting.

He made fun of Toronto.

Later that night, we played street hockey with the neighbourhood kids. We strongly considered a visit to the ER just to cap it off but decided against it. It’s BC so no snow to shovel or Zamboni to ride. His chosen favourite hockey team – the Calgary Flames – hasn’t won much of anything for more than a decade and so now he’s also well acquainted with the resolute grief of cheering for a losing team.

Happy Canada Day to one of our newest Canadians, Bri. Sorry but we think you’re a pretty wonderful Canadian, buddy.

 

Continue Reading · brian, canada · 14

In which I offer a Christian response to #IdleNoMore

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The first time I heard the phrase “Idle No More” on CBC radio, I thought it was yet another Vancouver campaign about car emissions.

I’m a white Canadian woman from the prairies, now living in the south coast of British Columbia. I have zero Aboriginal blood, zero personal connections to the struggle and realities of Aboriginal rights. The most time I’ve spent on the rez is driving through quickly. Growing up in Regina, I had a few “native” friends (as we called First Nations in those days), but as I grew up and moved further and further west, Aboriginals disappeared from my circles of work and schooling. Now, I find myself in the position of unintentional isolation from our First Nations community.

I heard about Idle No More two months ago, and as the days have gone by, and more and more of our First Nations are participating in this protest movement, I’ve been compelled to frankly recognize both my privilege and my ignorance. I needed to learn about this movement, not only as a Canadian, but particularly as a follower of Jesus. I believe Jesus meant all that stuff he said in the Bible, and so the whole “caring for my neighbour” thing needs to show up in my real life. I wanted to know how to best love and support First Nations in this current climate.

so what is idle no more?

Idle No More is a grassroots uprising among Canadian Aboriginals. It was started by four women in Saskatchewan, Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld, more than two months ago with no funding and no “official” covering or sponsorship (I am pretty sure that qualifies for an “eshet chayil! woman of valour!”). The movement has grown to  fairly large protests and wide-spread mobilization of the Aboriginal community.

While the movement uses a lot of really big verbs and nouns and images about respect, rights, and revolution, Idle No More started because of Bill C-45. (We can talk about the democratic practice of an omnibus bill later, perhaps, because gracious, what a miscarriage of democracy…) So Bill C-45 is an omnibus bill, attached to our budget currently going through Parliament, with hundreds of provisions included, which (and these are the key ones related to Idle No More) seriously undermine our environmental sustainability as a nation and the sovereign rights of the First Nations still existing within our borders. It has already passed first readings. At its core, most of these changes are connected to the almighty economy and development related to pipelines. Already more than 16,000 lakes and rivers within Canada have had their protected status removed in order to facilitate oil exploration and resource mining on First Nations land. These omnibus bill provisions are likely just the next step towards this relentless economic development at the price of our environmental sustainability and the covenantal relationship we’ve had with First Nations stretching back centuries to the Crown’s agreements of the late 18th century. (A reminder: we’re not talking modern business contracts in this relationship: we’re talking ancient covenantal relationship, which carries a solemnity and respect and consistency come what may.)

Aaron Paquette said: This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware of the world in which you live.

First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word.

Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything.

Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing.

And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us).

Bill C-45 came to Ottawa on the heels of the crisis in Attiwapiskat. When the remote northern community of Attiwapiskat declared a state of emergency, their horrible conditions exposed the real conditions of many reserves throughout Canada as more akin to third-world standards. Attiwapiskat was an “in-your-face” example to those of us without connections to the reserves about the how life really is for our First Nations.

Inadequate housing. Little to no schooling. Addictions. Abuse. Loss or abandonment of children to the government systems. No jobs. Poverty. Little access to healthy food. High rates of suicide. Poor water. No heat in the winter. The list went on and on.

So Attiwapiskat declared emergency, and yet, due to the complexity of the Indian Act, treaties, government red tape, and the general consensus that there is “plenty of money being thrown at” the First Nations so there must be rampant corruption and mismanagement, very little was actually accomplished.  Like many Canadians, I was horrified by the sight of small Canadian children and families living in shacks in the north with no jobs, no money, no toilets, no heat, no hope. How is this even happening here, one of the richest nations in the world? Both of these instances are serving as a sort of “tipping point” in a long line of injustices and abuses within the community.

Idle No More was launched in an attempt to wake the sleeping giant, to shake First Nations and all of Canada out of apathy. As a result, the protest has become bigger than this one omnibus bill. It’s now turned into rhetoric and conversations about sovereignty, colonization, justice, treaty-honouring, respect, and sustainability. It’s not just about rivers and lakes, it’s what this decision represents for our treaty partners, and the bigger issues surrounding how the bill is being run through.

The mission statement of Idle No more calls “on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth”.

From Indigenous Nationhood: When asked what do we want, that question can be answered in two parts:

(1) In the short term, Canada must withdraw the suite of legislation impacting First Nations, amend those omnibus bills which threaten our lands and waters, and restore the funding that was cut to our First Nation advocacy organizations and communities;

(2) In the long term, Canada must set up a Nation to Nation process whereby First Nations and Canada can address many of the long outstanding issues related to the implementation of treaties and sharing the lands and resources.

There are several key players and extreme positions within the movement and the government: Prime Minister Harper, Chief Teresa Spence as an icon of the Idle No More young revolutionaries, drum circles, elders, statesmen, chiefs, passionate youth, and also the brilliant Shawn Atleo as head of the Assembly of First Nations.

From âpihtawikosisân: The Canadian government continues to mouth platitudes about its supposed dedication to this relationship, while it slashes funding, ignores our emergencies, pulls out of comprehensive land claim discussions, ‘consults’ with us and then ignores everything we told them, all while pursuing a hard-line agenda which accepts only termination as a result. We have been backed into a corner and we are literally fighting for our lives. We are literally dying, in so many preventable and unacceptable ways. I’m not being poetic or hyperbolic here and I don’t just mean culturally.

 

Idle No More :: Sarah Bessey

so what is the Christian response?

I don’t actually like the idea of “The” Christian Response. There is a lot of diversity within Christianity, many ways to respond. Some of us are called to this work in a front-lines sort of way but all of us are called to care, all of us are called to love.

So if we believe that Jesus meant what he said, then the question that truly needs to guide our varied responses is this one: what would Love want to do here? So here’s what I think that means within the context of Idle No More:

Stay and listen and learn

We must listen. Before anything else, we must listen. We must listen to the truth of the histories, the experiences, the personal stories, the larger historical context. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to listen to them, so start there. Show up at a rally, make a friend, email a blogger, listen and read something other than filtered media, with an open heart to learn and honour. Then make sure that your words, your posture, your attitude, and actions communicate the dignity of truth that you love, you support, you are seeking justice and friendship as a student and fellow traveller.  Also, remember to find the joy, find the fun, find the love that exists in each other and celebrate it. Remember, we’re talking about people here, not a cause. PEOPLE. Complex, diverse, wise, interesting people with unique stories and experiences beyond the obvious and one-note stereotypes. We can’t separate God’s justice from God’s presence.

Recognize our role and repent

Much of the problems that plague First Nations communities have their roots in their treatment and abuse at the hands of colonization. Residential schools, forced assimilation, racism, systemic murder, crippling economic inequalities, lack of adequate schooling, we have a disgusting history as a nation when it comes to our First Nations. We need to repent of the evil, yes, but we also need to repent of our continued disconnection of turning our neighbours into “The Other” through stereotypes and divisions. We must recognize our own failings and habits, our own poverty, our bad habits of treating our friends and neighbours as “a cause” instead of as a partner.  Refugee advocate, J.R. Goudeau pointedly reminds us:

Christians are often implicit in asymmetrical relationships that privilege First World over Third World, white over black, men over women, urban over rural, Western over Eastern, cosmopolitan over “primitive.”

So many of the imperial relationships that broke down in the twentieth century have been examined in-depth in academic and political settings, and yet we barely touch this subject in many churches.

We travel. We bring back sideshows and videos. We talk about “the poor,” “orphans,” “the least of these.”

We are guilty of not examining the acts of translation that turn an ordinary Bolivian into an object of sympathy for our mega-churches. We are guilty of using the degrees of removal that separate an upper-class white Midwestern Christian from a Haitian mother as guilt trips or morality moments. We are guilty of objectifying African villages by making their stories about our reactions, our acts of generosity, without really stopping to see what is happening their on the ground.

We are guilty of using “the poor” as objects or foils sent to teach us about ourselves rather than people in their own right.

Instead of pretending injustice doesn’t exist or opining that “they should just get over it already” or paying lip service to “things are so much better now,” there is something spiritual and powerful to repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness as individuals, religious communities, and a nation. We can no longer point to the occasional corruption or grandiose actions or ongoing mismanagement of a few as an excuse for our perpetual inaction or devaluation of an entire community’s very immediate and pressing needs.

There is also something spiritual in accepting that apology and forgiving, according to Kenny Blacksmith. We cannot underestimate the power of forgiveness and restitution, and the power of making things right, of turning from our old ways and moving forward into justice with renewed purpose and focus. Work and live on the side of reconciliation and justice.

Encourage and live the values of negotiation, conversation, friendship, and reconciliation

We come alongside one another as brothers and sisters, as treaty partners and covenant partners, committed to the relationship’s sustainability, with deep respect and honour. Christians should be the first ones to reject violence, to disavow the language of shame and paternalism, acts of oppression and dismissal. That has no place in the heart of one who practices the ways of Jesus’ upside down kingdom. Even in the places of disagreement for best way forward, there is a way to disagree beautifully in love and respect. Moving forward in hope is more important than brinkmanship, saving face, getting the final word. These are complex, tangled issues which will likely have complex and varied solutions and responses. Conversation, negotiation, good faith is key.

Commit to community development

As Christian social activist D.L. Mayfield wrote, “we should all be engaged in the brokenness of our communities. And we should all be working through how we use our gifts and creativity to shine light in dark situations, in ways that dignify and uplift and empower others.”

We are the people of justice seeking and peace making. I’m not talking about “helping the poor” in the lame and destructive colonial ways connected to assimilation and conversions, palatable stereotypes and hand-outs. No, I’m talking about participating in the redemptive movement of God, his heart to reconcile and redeem within First Nations together. I believe God cares about housing and economics, about overcoming addictions and families, about children and clean water, about schooling and sustainability. This may look like working within the community as a partner, it may look like supporting active work, it may look like participating in a big life-changing way, foster care advocacy, it may look like writing to our government, employment, opportunity, friendship, or perhaps protesting or participating, it may look like advocating for these changes and opportunities at the highest levels of government. We need policy makers and pragmatists, we also need prophets and poets. We can come alongside our brothers and sisters, lending our voices and power to theirs, and stand together for a unified people advocating for justice and peace and wholeness. We support, we believe, we are with them for the long haul.

Pray

Pray for peace and justice, the restoration of hope and leadership. We must pray for the root of injustice to be removed, for wisdom in our leadership, for forgiveness and justice. We must pray with our spirits, with our words, with our hands and with our feet.

and read more…

Official Idle No More

Idle No More on Facebook

 

9 Questions About Idle No More at CBC News

The natives are restless. Wondering why? by âpihtawikosisân

The revolution will not be televised (but it will be tweeted) by Aaron Paquette

Idle No More: A Christian Issue by ChristianWeek

What is the Idle No More movement…really? by Indigenous Nationhood

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any by Shaneisms

Stephen Harper, First Nations, and an opportunity lost by Chris Hill for CBC

Idle No More: Canada’s Indigenous “Occupy” by Bilbo Poynter for the Christian Science Monitor

Wiconi International

Gathering Nations with Kenny and Louise Blacksmith

 (If you have other resources or articles, feel free to share them in the comments.)

 

Continue Reading · canada, faith, local, politics, social justice · 28

In which an uneasy pacifist wears the poppy

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My grandpa was a good-looking kid from the Canadian prairie when he marched away to war. He was shot on a hill in Italy during a pre-dawn raid. He fell in the cold, thick mud while it poured rain, everyone rushing past, a stampede. Bright red blood from his back thigh soaked into the thick fabric and the mud while he, unsure if he would live or die, was desperate with a fear more sharp than pain. A buddy of his pulled him to safety that day, carried him, slung over his back, gear and all, he ran them both straight down that hill.

He never talked about the war much. Oh, he sang old songs like “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We’re going on a mighty mission” and joked about his wound, his buddies. But once, in uncharacteristic solemnity, he admitted that he’d never been so afraid in his life as he was that day on that hill, alone in the mud, surrounded by the sounds of his friends running and screaming and falling and dying in the dark.

“We were terrified,” he said. “We were just a bunch of kids.”

He came home. Many of his friends did not.

November 11 is Remembrance Day for Commonwealth nations. I have a plastic poppy pinned to my heavy fall coat. Since I was little-little, reciting In Flander’s Fields in school assemblies while holding paper cut-out poppies glued to green cardboard wreaths,I swore that I would always remember. My eldest daughter sang a song about peace in a school assembly yesterday, she asked me about war and soldiers, and I didn’t really know what to say but that it made me so sad.

N’oubliez pas.

War is complex, horrible, evil. As a Christian, I have felt lead to a path of peace-making but it’s an “uneasy pacifism” because I don’t know how it looks all the time, how best to live a consistent pro-life ethic with peace and love in a culture of violence, power and war. I know that pacifism is not total and absolute abhorrence of all violence – instead, to me, it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.

It’s living in the tension between my beautiful ideals and the ugly realities of the world, figuring out how to make-peace every day.

God, I’m so proud of him. I’m proud of my grandpa’s guts, of his bravery, his story. I’m proud of an entire generation’s commitment to a cause, proud of what they accomplished, proud of what they did in the face of fear and uncertainty.

I can’t bring myself to wear a pacifist’s white poppy. No, I need the blood-red one - baggage and uneasy pacifism, wonderings and tension, be damned.

This weekend, I remember my grandpa, I remember his friends, I remember my friends – and their husbands and wives, I remember every man and woman who has served in war-time. I remember the true cost and the reality of war. I listen to my daughter sing in her childish voice a song she can’t even fathom yet, and I will pass on the memories that I still carry of the look in his eye, that day he said: we were just kids. And I was so scared.

This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving nor idealistic condemnation. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing. One eye on the fields still covered with poppies, watered with blood and shit and mud, and on the wartorn homes of the world, for those that shall never grow old, the years never marking them.

May our veterans know how deeply I grieve with them, pray for them, love them, honour them. I fervently pray and speak and work for peace because I remember.

I will not break faith with them.

Lest we forget.

Continue Reading · canada, peace, war · 20