There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation.                          MADELEINE L’ENGLE 

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Every year from October 1 to May 31

Generous Spaciousness

A workshop with Jamie Arpin-Ricci

On November 30, 2012, Jamie Arpin-Ricci came to lead a workshop entitled 'Generous Spaciousness', that encouraged its attendees to reconsider a hotly debated issue in our urban milieu: the views of the Christian Church on homosexuality. Resident of West End inner city neighbourhood in Winnipeg, co-director of YWAM Urban Ministries Winnipeg as well as the Chiara House, blog- and book-author, pastor to Little Flowers Community (a collaboration between YWAM and the Menonite Church Manitoba), and father to a recently adopted Ethiopian boy, Jamie has a knack for imbuing his talks with rich and inspiring real- world stories of what it meant to practice our faith in a modern community context. And this is precisely what he did in dealing with the topic of homosexuality and the church when he recounted the events of an "I'm Sorry" campaign, driven by the Marin Foundation, that took place in June of this year. The campaign was an effort by Christians to reach out to the LGBT community and apologize for the mistreatment and judgement that the church has long directed towards said community. The mental image created by Jamie's descriptions of Christians walking down the streets wearing "I'm Sorry" t-shirts and holding up signs with words that promoted a spirit of humility, apology, and love, was a touching one indeed, and one that epitomized the nature of the Generous Spaciousness workshop.

"I am not an expert," began Jamie on Friday morning, "so I ask for your grace and patience with me. We all know this is a topic filled with emotion. It divides our culture and it divides the church. We don't want this conversation today to be about division." With these words began an opening of dialogue amongst a roomful of people committed to opening their ears to a potentially controversial, but ultimately loving, message, and opening their eyes to the need for this type of reconsideration. "On the other side of the politics, on the other side of the theology, are human hearts." Rather than asking us to answer questions we were not equipped to answer, such as 'is homosexuality a sin?', what Jamie was calling us to do was remember what lies at the core of our religious community - a common humanity, and the requirement of humility. "There are people made in the image of God that are suffering. The only reaction that should stir in us is compassion," he compelled us. This was an important realization - that in dealing with 'homosexuality' we are in fact dealing with real people who all hold value in the eyes of God and therefore should merit consideration in our eyes as well.

As guidelines in dealing with the realities of homosexuality from a Christian standpoint, Jamie provided three core convictions. Firstly, we need to approach the topic as pastoral, not doctrinal. This means acknowledging that lovingly reaching people is more important than proclaiming morals and doctrines. Secondly, we must be careful not to place authority on our own 'disgust-induced' convictions. It is a reality that many people do not frown on homosexuality solely based on the idea that it is sinful according to the Bible's teachings, but largely because of their own emotional reaction to the idea of same sex attraction and sexual interaction - they are disconcerted by it, made uncomfortable by it, and react out of that discomfort more than anything. Rather than reject the things we (or society) label as 'impure' and 'unclean', we might be wiser to follow Jesus' example and turn this so-called 'negativity dominance' on its head and not be afraid to dwell within it, interact with it and in so doing, deconstruct our emotion-based preconceptions. The third and final core conviction Jamie presented to us was that we should not presume to have understood all there is to know. It was the very attitude he put forth with his opening words, and the final words with which he sent us off. By acknowledging our own ignorance and being humble in our understandings, we recognize that we have no authority to delineate rights and wrongs.

None of us are experts, and none of us should pretend to be. The Pharisees were religious leaders and experts of their time, and Jesus committed himself to subverting their authoritative views in favor of the 'unclean', the 'impure', the 'sinners'. He did not affirm or condemn their sins, he merely loved them for what they were - bearers of the image of God. This is the central figure of our religion, and his attitude should be the central aim of it too. There will always be questions with ambiguous answers, and there will always be things we don't personally agree with or even have a strong aversion to. It doesn't matter. We aren't here to have all the answers and proclaim them as holy law, that is God's job alone. All we are here to do is love one another. It is in this spirit that I, and I hope many others, left that room on Friday. I hope, also, that we might not only hold this belief, but continue to act on it with a perseverance to create ' generous spaciousness' - by pushing the boundaries, widening the margins, and building the necessary bridges, all in the name of God's lavish and limitless love.

Esther ten Zijthoff
Urban Cultures DTS 2012 - 2013

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