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Faith Exchange: Season’s meanings
Faith Exchange: Season’s meanings


Season’s meanings: the spiritual side of the holidays Add to ...

Guy Nicholson: One of my favourite concepts is where two children are forced to share a finite thing; a piece of cake is the usual example. One is tasked with dividing it, the other is allowed to choose. It’s so simple and perfect – I wish it could be applied in a situation like that.

Howard Voss-Altman: Yes, in our house, one child picks three films to watch, and the other picks one film from the three. It seems to work quite well. I’m afraid that such arrangements work only where there is the perception of equal value from the finite object at stake. Negotiations for land and water – not to mention historical claim – make for a more complex scenario.

Guy Nicholson: And like you suggest, there first has to be a desire on all sides to pursue a peaceful resolution as the primary objective.

Lorna Dueck: That’s a great example, and also why self-sacrifice is such an important virtue to celebrate – it has the potential to affect all levels of our globe.

The tools for peacemaking include deep listening, humility and accessing the rich truths of our own traditions. For Christians, it’s the example of Jesus. Earlier this year, I stood in Bethlehem Square on the site the tradition declares Jesus was born, and I was thinking that, while I saw peace for the moment between the Muslims and Christians who shared the square, the cathedral over Jesus’s birthplace was a different story.

Here you had three Christian traditions arguing over space and care, preferences and style – it really messed up any sense of awe. Just like what happens in too many of our families and communities. We have an amazing opportunity to see God when we engage in peacemaking. I recently interviewed Miroslav Volf at Yale’s Center for Faith and Culture. He said we need “more religion, not less” in peacemaking. He told me that, when we read our faith “thin, instead of thick,” we lose its very capacity to be a beautiful gift for love and peace.

Howard Voss-Altman: Sadly, when our religious doctrines are mingled with intractable political and historical conflicts, our doctrines get very “thin,” indeed.

Peter Stockland: But isn’t that where families come in? Families that say, ‘No, we’re not going to treat the neighbours instrumentally; we are going to treat them as God’s children just like us.” If that sounds romantic and far-fetched, well, Northern Ireland hasn’t been romantic for much of its history, but something of the sort worked there.

Guy Nicholson: That takes us to our third seasonal theme.


Ontario’s government and teachers are at loggerheads. Across Canada, legislation meant to increase educational inclusiveness is seen as trampling religious rights. Increasing numbers of university students seek counselling to cope with academic stress. What is the most important thing to teach a child?

Peter Stockland: Kindness, encompassing not just friendliness, congeniality, niceness or positivity but being present to other people, actually standing still and listening to what they’re saying – paying attention to them as you would have them pay attention to you. From a Christian (and Christmas) perspective, one of the things that really strikes me in the Gospels is Jesus’s almost fierce loving attention to whoever is before him. If I could go back in time and give my own children one thing, it would be a measure of that ability to pay fierce loving attention. And if I could go even further back, I would have my own parents give it to me.

Howard Voss-Altman: Well said. When we are truly present with each other, peace just might be possible. We also need to give our children a sense of self-confidence. I’m not exactly sure how to do it, but it couldn’t be more important.

Lorna Dueck: The most important thing to teach a child is that they are loved by God and that nothing can change that. Not stress over academics, not poverty, not ability, not health, not status, not bullying. Children are defined by the reality they are created in the image of God. When family is the foundation of love and belonging, that becomes easier to absorb, but it’s not everybody’s experience. So it’s our work to teach that every human is to be protected and loved because they belong to God. They have a dignity-endowing blessing because we were created in the image of God. I had an early look at some of the rollout coming on the Christmas movies hitting cinemas: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables carries this message of the image of God in people so strongly – I think it’s a gift for Christmas.

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