Author Archives: commonword

2023 Dialogue: “Help Me Be Teachable Today” – A Reflection

On Saturday, October 28, a group of individuals representing Edmonton’s interfaith and intercultural community gathered in the beautiful fellowship space of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples.

A Common Word Alberta’s 13th Annual Dialogue consisted of Christians, Muslims and Indigenous teachers coming together in a spirit of learning and for setting a foundation of reconciliation. This dialogue took place as global events have brought news of untold suffering and an incomprehensible destruction of life. The Planning Committee wondered how these feelings of dismay and despair be integrated with our invitation to others to learn. By the grace of God, and with the help of Indigenous ceremony in the form of the opening smudge and land acknowledgement, we were brought into the present moment to absorb what we were meant to learn that day.

We were in the care of Indigenous Elder, Fernie Marty, and his helper, Candida Shepherd.  Building on last year’s dialogue on the theme of “Expanding the Circle,” we gathered to further explore the intersections of land, history, displacement from one’s land and oppression and the impacts on the Indigenous people. We learned about our roles and our responsibilities as people of faith living today on Treaty Six land. The theme for the gathering was “Help me to be teachable today.” Fernie Marty is an Indigenous Cree Elder tasked with passing on Indigenous Cree teachings, and holds much knowledge about Good Medicine, medicine that contributes to our well-being including herbs. Yet, with all of this knowledge, Elder Fernie had shared that he wakes up every morning and prays, “Lord, help me to be teachable today.”  

The goal of our learning was threefold:

·         to understand the history that led to the Truth and Reconciliation’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action (2015)

·         to begin to understand the Medicine Wheel as a tool to help us live into wellbeing for ourselves and every living thing around us

·         to see where we are being invited to do the work of reconciliation through the unending circle of the Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel can help to heal us and the world. As Elder Fernie taught, we engage each day with the cycle of life in the medicine wheel. The four directions of help bring awareness to the four aspects of our human life experience that contribute to our wellbeing: our mental health, our physical health, our emotional health and our spiritual health. Our awareness is the first step to helping us rebalance these when one or more is out of synergy.   

For the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples, the cross, in the context of Christ’s great love or “Sacred Heart,” is at the centre of the Medicine Wheel. All of our attention to experiencing the cycles of life, the cycles of planting, growing, harvesting and resting, contributes to our ability to rebalance our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. And all of this comes from and goes out from the centre which is our One God – our Creator. 

The Medicine Wheel is a way to balance our inner and outer world.  When we reflect on the Medicine wheel, we are invited to consider many moving parts of the cycle and the circle – things happening all at once, all the time. The medicine wheel helps us leave the temptations that pull us out of the center of the circle. For our current collective work, the medicine wheel helps us interact with the TRC, since all of the calls to action fall into either mental, emotional, physical or spiritual incompleteness for our Indigenous peoples. We learned that CBC is tracking the progress on the 94 calls to action at the Beyond the Calls website. This website can help us remember, and encourage our government to play its role in the reconciliation we want to see. 

May we use this powerful tool of reconciliation as we remember our collective past here on Treaty 6 land, as we free people who have been harmed by the settler history of this land to speak their truth. Dennis Saddleman shared his truth in a poem about his Residential School experience called  “I hate you Monster “ — 2022  — where he compares the residential school building to a monster who is hungry to devour culture, language, confidence, and children. The poem ends with a vision of transforming our monsters to reclaim our dreams and stories of tomorrow. As we listen to the truth expressed by our children and elders and everybody in between, may we contribute in ways that allow for all those whose dreams and stories have been snuffed out to reclaim what we all long for as believers in One God.

2023 Dialogue: “Help Me Be Teachable Today”

A Common Word Alberta (ACWAB) Annual Interfaith Dialogue is approaching. We warmly invite you to join us again this year to build on the journey of expanding our circle and allow us to find

interconnectedness and reconciliation with the First Peoples of Treaty Six.

During our time together, we will be guided by our special guests Elder Fernie, and Helper Candida. They will teach us about the Cree Medicine Wheel of Life. Cree Medicine is the element that contributes to a holistic philosophy of health and healing where our well-being is at its fullest and emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental experiences are interconnected.

Our guests will integrate this medicine wheel with the Calls to Action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report to help us, as settlers, including newcomer settlers, understand our role in the reconciliation process. We will have four opportunities to have a dialogue in small groups. Our time together will conclude with reflections from Dr. Christina Conroy and Imam Sadique Pathan.

We invite you to share this opportunity with your friends and relations so that we can

all learn together what it means to contribute the best of ourselves and our faith traditions to reconcile with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. May God guide us in his infinite mercy and peace.

Refreshments and a light lunch will be served.

Saturday, October 28, 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples (10821 96 Street).

Tickets available at Eventbrite.

Invite your friends on Facebook.

2022 Dialogue: “Drawing the Circle Bigger”

Written and edited by Suzanne Gross and Naz Qureshi

On October 29, 2022,  A Common Word Alberta hosted its 9th annual dialogue. Individuals representing the Muslim and Christian faith traditions gathered in-person and virtually at the All-Saints Anglican Cathedral to engage in dialogue. Scott Sharman and Naz Qureshi  opened with the following context for this year’s theme of ‘Drawing the Circle Bigger’:

“We are asking our speakers to help us understand how our call into dialogue as Muslims and Christians also calls us to broaden the dialogue further. In particular, the way that Christians and Muslims living in this land we call Canada each have a responsibility to pursue right relations with the First Peoples in whose traditional territories we live. 

This topic was chosen in part because of the recent visit of Pope Francis to Canada as part of a penitential pilgrimage among the First Peoples. It also has a special urgency because of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that address religious communities. While some of these calls to action are directed in particular ways to Christian churches and institutions, there are also interfaith dimensions. “  

The guest panelists were Christina Conroy, a professor of theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, and Imam Sadique Pathan from Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton. Four main questions were used to guide the reflections of the panelists, as well as the table discussions where participants shared insights from their experiences and perspectives:

1. What in your respective scriptures/stories from your faith traditions encourage us to take collective responsibility for “sins of the past”? 

2. Can you reflect on the overlap between the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada and messages and examples of reconciliation from your faith traditions?

3. Are there scriptures/stories from your faith traditions that illustrate “drawing the circle bigger” to include everyone as worthy of the mercy or love of God?

4. Many Indigenous Peoples teach that all of us live in a wide web of relationships – to other humans, certainly, but also to lands, to waters, and to what are often called non-human relatives (which includes plant and animal life, and various kinds of spiritual beings). These relationships always come with mutual responsibilities. Please share a similar concept of relationship and responsibility from your own faith tradition and reflect on how it is relevant to dialogue and reconciliation.

The panel discussion from the two panelists was thought provoking and engaging. After each table discussion, a representative was asked to share key insights. Collectively, a few themes emerged that are summarized below.

Although our different scriptures do not all include a concept of collective guilt or collective sin, the concept of collective responsibility emerged as a guiding principle as we navigate oppression or injustice from the past. Having settled in this land, those who are not of Indigenous descent, inherit the social constructs and complexities that have arisen from the past.  Christina shared the Christian concept of Jubilee, which is striving to address inequity economically, including returning of land, and Sadique discussed the Islamic concept of justice, and being accountable for our actions. Both concepts invite us to lead lives with a spirit of recalibrating or rebalancing for justice to prevail.   

The Quran starts with us as individuals, encouraging believers to be critical thinkers when it comes to judging or discriminating against others. It calls the faithful to stand firm for justice, even it if is against yourself or your next of kin. The idea that reconciliation is the core work of a Christian can be found in writings of the apostle Paul, in Colossians.

Reconciliation starts with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and apology but does not stop with simple validation. As Canadians, we need to convey intent that “we stand with you; what do you need or how can I help?” when it comes to reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.  

On the topic of overlap with Indigenous teachings about care of and responsibility for the natural world, our Christina reflected on how Jesus often referred to nature using natural plants and phenomena in his parables.  Who was Jesus’ teacher in all of this?  Likely his mother Mary. Both traditions have stories of caring for the environment, nature, and all created beings. Sadique shared stories from the Islamic faith on the treatment of animals and how in the Quran, everything created praises God the creator – even the rocks – a concept echoed in the Hebrew and Christian Bible as well.  

An observation shared from a participant was that our governments seem to get stuck on apology and are unable to move to taking meaningful action that helps restore justice. One table participant commented: “If government is the obstacle to addressing the systemic issues that keep us from moving from apology to justice, maybe these interfaith dialogues are even more important! “

While a sensitive topic, it was one that needed to be broached, and it was done so in a beautiful manner. 

2022 Dialogue: “Drawing the Circle Bigger” Coming Up on October 29

For the past nine years, ACWAB has played a quiet but impactful role in our community in getting Christians and Muslims face to face in a non-threatening environment for conversation.  In a time when it has come to our corporate attention that our communities are fragmented and we have a real problem with islamophobia, we have found face to face interactions between Muslims and Christians are effective in building peaceful, respectful and loving relationships between differing faiths.

We invite you and interested community members to join us this year in our annual Dialogue Event on October 29, 2022, 10:00am -2:00pm.  The venue this year will be All Saints Anglican Cathedral.  

You can get tickets at Eventbrite here for both in-person or on Zoom. You can also spread the word by inviting your friends on Facebook.

We look forward to coming together as diverse and harmonious communities on October 29th!

You can also learn about our Past Events.

2021 Dialogue: “Does Faith Matter?”

For the past eight years, ACWAB has played a quiet but impactful role in our community in getting Christians and Muslims face to face in a non-threatening environment for conversation.  In a time when it has come to our corporate attention that our communities are fragmented and we have a real problem with islamophobia, we have found face to face interactions between Muslims and Christians are effective in building peaceful, respectful and loving relationships between differing faiths.

We invite you and interested community members to join us this year in our annual Dialogue Event on October 30, 2021, 9:30am -1:00pm.  The venue for the in person component this year will be Al Rashid Mosque.  There is a zoom option to join.  Either way, participants will be welcomed and given an opportunity to interact on the topic of “Does Faith Matter?”  We will hear from four (younger) individuals from both faith traditions, followed by facilitated table discussions on this topic. 

You and your community members are invited to register for this event and share with their friends and contacts at the following link:

We look forward to coming together as diverse and harmonious communities on October 30th!

An October 31st Invitation to Christian Muslim Dialogue

by Donna Entz- Mennonite Christian

“Ashura” was commemorated on August 30, the culmination of 10 days of mourning in the Muslim Shia community. The martydom of the family of the prophet in Karbala, Iraq, in the year of 680, was carried out by a despicable leader of the fledgling Muslim movement. The grandson, Imam Husayn, took a stand against this corruption and is therefore honoured for his willingness to die in self-sacrifice. The details of Ashura story:                 

As I watched the sorrowful livestream at a local mosque, where I have often visited, my heart reflected that today our times are no better – still “so much wrong and so much injustice”.  With sudden astonishment,  I recognized the words as a modern Christian song by John Bell from the Iona community.  It was a surprise  to experience the same emotional tone in the song about Jesus’ death as I had in the Muslim event.  The lyrics continued the Ashura theme, calling us to follow Jesus who took a stand against injustice.  In fact that common vision for justice had brought us together in advocacy for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  I sent the song to these Muslim friends, and though it also highlighted deep theological differences, Dr Masoud Shadnam, chose these words to post to social media: 

“So much wrong and so much injustice,

so you shouldered a wooden cross.

Now, like you, my best dreams are shattered;

all I know is the weight of loss.

No fine song, no impressive music

can attempt to relieve my heart;

in this hour I am called to grieving,

lest no other will play this part.”

 John Bell’s song:

Commonalities and connections are often experienced  at informal and formal Interfaith Dialogues.  My Mennonite-shaped reaction has often been to want to build ongoing connections among the participants.  In “A Common Word Alberta” a unique form of dialogue has emerged, where the majority of the time together is spent not in listening to presenters, but in sharing with those around a table (and in today’s Zoom world, break-out rooms). Our style of dialogue has been officially promoted among Canadian Lutherans and Anglicans, now also.  

Dialogues are where both faith communities give verbal  testimony to their understanding and experiences of faith. I remember the year that a Moravian pastor shared many stories about Jesus and how he related with respect and care to people of all kinds.  My heart leapt  for joy to think that so many Muslims were introduced to these stories, so important in my life. It was also around a table at a Dialogue that a Turkish friend shared her heart’s grief of the suffering women in her home country.  Our combined communities shared her pain. These interactions are a common thread between my decades of work as a Witness worker in Burkina Faso and my years of work here in Edmonton  through Mennonite Church Alberta. 

Our  Christian Muslim Dialogue will have an online component this year. That means that folks from all across Canada can participate in these same experiences. For details – and to register for the October 31 – event, go to:

A Quaker-Jewish Perspective on Ethics and Halachah

Robert Kirchner

Topics addressed: theological grounding of ethics, relation to halachah, comparison of Jewish and Quaker approaches.

1. What is Havayah?

I begin by attempting to formulate a personal understanding (coherent, I hope) of ethics and its relation to theology. I’m not a trained philosopher nor a theologian; perhaps my thoughts on these topics are obvious and/or easily discredited. Indulge me please as I try to work this out for myself.

Studying organic gardening triggered a mystical response in me. Soil, I learned, is not an inert substance: it’s a living community, a complex ecosystem of growing and decaying vegetation, arthropods, nematodes, bacteria, fungi, as well as sand, silt, clay, water and air. The soil fauna and microbes constantly break down dead vegetation, making the nutrients within it available to the living plants, while feeding themselves other fauna, and storing extra nutrients in the form of humus. I felt radical amazement at how these billions of microbes in a foot of topsoil have richly interdependent relationships, with each other and with the plants and microorganisms that grow among them, permitting them to thrive, and how all of life, including us, emerges from this dense symbiotic network, cycling nutrients and energy among living things, as one organism dies, and another grows from its remains.

So what can we call this web of rich interdependence, these relations of parts to each other and to the whole? I want an word that not only objectively describes the phenomenon, but also recognizes and does justice to the radical amazement that it provokes. I want to call this phenomenon ‘love’. If we understand love not primarily as an emotion, but as actions of caring for another, of mutual aid, I don’t think it is at all far-fetched to say that the soil food web, including both living things and inorganic materials, massively exhibits love.

Now, let’s move from microcosm to macrocosm, from a bit of soil to the whole universe. I understand God, or (to use a friendlier term) Havayah1, to be the sacredness immanent within the universe. She could also characterized as the אחד2 of the universe. And just as in a bit of soil, the relation of all the parts to one another, and to the underlying אחד, is also massive love, now on a macrocosmic scale.

‘God is love’: so says a certain first-century Jewish text, 1 John 4:7 (though this text was excluded from the canon of Rabbinic Judaism). I don’t know whether there are comparable statements within the Rabbinic canon, or in subsequent Jewish literature. I do recall Rabbi Arthur Green asserting that love is the fundamental value underlying Judaism, notwithstanding the common misconception that this idea that Christianity has exclusive ownership of this idea, and that Jews are thereby preempted from saying the same thing.

2. Havayah and ethics.

There are at least two distinct senses in which we use the terms ‘good’ and its opposite, ‘evil’ or ‘bad’. ‘Good and bad’ can refer to things that I like or don’t like, respectively, or that humans collectively like or don’t like in general. A comfortable chair is good; stomach cancer is bad. Good and bad, in this usage, have nothing to do with ethics. In this sense, we can say that Havayah creates both good and evil, as in Isaiah 45: 7, for She is what underlies reality — all of reality — whether we like it or not.

In the realm of human ethics, however, my starting place is Hannah Arendt’s observation, ‘the banality of evil’. That is, evil (in the ethical sense) is fundamentally a manifestation of prosaic human stupidity, a failure of imagination, a lack of emotional intelligence, that prevents human moral agents from apprehending their connection to others, of thereby feeling compassion for their suffering, or of giving sufficient attention to the consequences of their actions (or inactions) toward others. Conversely, good (in the ethical sense) is action (or inaction) toward others which is fully informed by and imbued with an attitude of love. Love, awareness of connection, action that accords with such awareness — these are the very essence of Havayah. When humans, in our banality, act in ways that are contrary to love, we are living at cross-purposes to Havayah, to the spirit of the universe Herself, we are denying the sacred, cutting ourselves off from Her. I thus ground my ethics firmly in my theology, but without appealing to a personal God who issues commandments, nor punishments nor rewards therefor.

3. Ethics, halachah3, and Quaker testimonies.

However, merely saying, ‘act in accordance with love’, is insufficient practical guidance in many cases. Our limited human intelligence, our lack of awareness of others’ needs, our failure to consider complex consequences of our actions, may all result in harm rather than aid. Moreover, the demands of compassion toward others must be balanced against the need to care for ourselves, not to mention our finite attentions. For all these reasons, our individual capacity to do good, in actual practice, may be significantly enhanced when the principle of love is supplemented with the collective wisdom of a community, developed over time, as to how to apply that principle in specific cases, or even broad classes of cases. Hence the utility of notions such as halachah and Torah.

It occurs to me that Quakers have a somewhat analogous notion, the Testimonies. These are broad principles or values – formulated variously as

  • Simplicity
  • Truth
  • Equality
  • Peace

(acronym STEP), or

  • Simplicity
  • Peace
  • Integrity
  • Community
  • Equality,
  • (and more recently, Sustainability)

(acronym SPICE(S)).

These Testimonies are still highly general, far from the specificity of typical halachic rules. But each Testimony derives from concrete actions that early Quakers felt ‘led by the Spirit’ (i.e. commanded by God) to take, contrary to contemporary social norms and laws. The Testimony of Peace is a generalization of Friends’4 early collective leading to refuse to participate in warfare; and that decision has been reaffirmed by every subsequent generation of Quakers. Similarly, the Testimony of Equality is a generalization of Friends’ early refusal to show deference to their social ‘betters’, and their recognition that women could minister as well as men; and this Testimony was reaffirmed and extended further when we came to oppose slavery and accompanying theories of racial superiority. So each of these Testimonies has a kernel of historic specificity, of concrete application, which still obtains, as well as a penumbra of extensions.

Quakers, like other mystical movements, emphasize personal direct experience of God. But in discerning how we should act in the world, Friends’ focus on individual experience is tempered by our collective decision-making process. An individual may experience a ‘leading’ to do something, but if it somehow reflects on Friends generally or requires support from other Friends, the leading must be ‘tested’ by the whole Meeting. If the Meeting ‘unites’ with the leading, it becomes part of Quaker practice, perhaps just for that local Meeting; or if other Meetings adopt it as well, the practice may come to be adopted among Quakers more broadly. These decisions are recorded in minutes of the Meeting. In practice, Friends rarely consult minutes from more than a few years ago, and tend to rely more on the memories of long-term members. Friends do not study past decisions the way Jews study the Talmud. Perhaps we ought to.

I don’t have much further to say about halachah at this point, being still largely ignorant of the field. But I am encouraged by this discovery of certain parallels between halachah and Quaker practice, and this motivates me to learn more about it.

These parallels should not be overstated, though. One obvious difference is that Quaker decisions are reached by the whole Meeting, whereas halachic decision-making, Orthodox or Reform, is restricted to those with specialized training, the rabbis.

I close with a lament that both Reform Judaism and Liberal Quakerism, in modern times, have largely abdicated the field to individualism. At a time when our communities urgently need to be collectively discussing and strategizing about how to resist and overcome capitalist injustice and environmental disaster, we are instead left more or less to our own devices; the surrounding culture insists, and we have acquiesced, that it is a matter of individual choice how we earn our livelihoods, how we get our food, how we travel, etc., though all of these ‘personal’ decisions have huge collective impacts. I value personal autonomy – I don’t wish to move to an arrangement where every personal decision needs to be approved by a committee – but we can’t effectively challenge the status quo so long as we each make all of our decisions in isolation.

1Havayah (הויה) means ‘existence’ in Hebrew. It is sometimes used in liberal Jewish circles as an alternative to Adonai, to refer to God. The word is etymologically related to the ineffable Biblical name of God, it is a permutation of the same four Hebrew letters, and it is of feminine gender.

2Eḥad, ‘one’.

3Halachah (הלכה) means Jewish law, literally ‘[way of] walking’.

4I use ‘Quaker’ and ‘Friend’ interchangeably.

What I learned from Ramadan

Randolph Haluza-DeLay

(Published in Canadian Mennonite, May 6, 2020)

We were in the midst of the Christian season of Lent as I wrote this. Shortly after Lent ended and Easter came, Muslims began the season of Ramadan. The month-long period of daily fasting launched on April 23. The couple of years I have observed the season of Ramadan have been of stunning benefit for my Christian faith.

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and heightened devotion for Muslims. This period of 29 or 30 days—the dates change every year, following the lunar calendar of 13 months—is marked by fasting, prayer, self-examination and community. The fasting is most well-known, just as giving up something for Lent is what most people understand about the Christian season. Each fasting period lasts from just before sunup to just after sundown. Believers are to refrain from food, any sort of drink, intimate relations, tobacco and other impurities, and are encouraged to give more to charity. 

Ramadan fell across the summer solstice in the year that I fasted; the longest days of the Canadian year are long indeed! Fasting is not unusual for me, or for many other Christians. But abstaining from water or any other drink made this fast much more strenuous in effort.

The rigour of the Ramadan fast was my first lesson. The discipline reduced my energy and concentration, so it provided appreciation for what Muslim co-workers and fellow Canadians may be experiencing for a full month. It also reminded me that, as a Christian, my holy days are holidays and I do not need to take vacation time to practise my religion.

Most Muslims break the fast each day with family, friends or fellow congregants in the iftar meal. My second lesson was that the daily fast was far more difficult because I had no one to celebrate each day with. The difficult things are easier when family or others share the journey. 

In another year, I was to be at a month-long gathering of Christian scholars during Ramadan. Fasting would be awkward, so I decided to pray five times a day. This is another pillar of Muslim religious practice. Some liturgical and contemplative Christian traditions also set several specific times at which to pray the “divine office” that may include matins, midmorning prayer, vespers and so on. For Muslims, the five times are set according to the arc of the sun across the daily sky. The specificity of the time reminds the faithful that God comes first, before any of the activities we might be engaged in. This attitude, and frequent prayer, would be something that Christians would value, I thought.

Two lessons also occurred that year. The first was the inconvenience posed by regular times for prayer, even among fellow believers! I set reminder alarms for lunch, and at morning and afternoon tea breaks, in addition to the early-morning and late-day times. But the days fluctuated enough to make these alarms disruptive. God interrupts our lives!

The second lesson was how wonderful this practice was for producing a sense of closeness to God. For several months afterward, I kept the routine, and now I am flabbergasted as to why I did not continue. 

Lent and Ramadan are “disruptions” in the regularity of life. They interrupt the normal everydayness in which habits form without conscious reflection, and life becomes taken for granted. Like bumps in the road that, when driving late at night, disrupt the sleepy autopilot, we need these disruptor moments in our faith lives. 

Randolph Haluza-DeLay participates in several Christian-Muslim dialogue groups in Edmonton and co-taught a course with a Muslim theologian at The King’s University called Engaging Islam as Interfaith Encounter.