Faith in Canada 150: Tips for Christians engaging in Interfaith Conversations

By Valeria

On June 28-30, 2017 a group of 75 Millennials of faith met in Ottawa under the patronage of Cardus and the Faith in Canada 150 initiative. The gathering was called ‘the Millennial Summit’ and it was an opportunity for religious youth in Canada to talk about faith and secularism in contemporary Canada – challenges and opportunities ahead, and reflect on the contributions of faith on the lives of Millennials.

More info on the event is available here



I have attended the Millennial Summit as City in Focus’s Interfaith Coordinator, and as a member of the Roman Catholic community of Vancouver. Here’s a few lessons that I took from my time in Ottawa, regarding interfaith dialogue and religion in Canada:


  • Encourage genuine disagreement: Dr. Andrew Bennett and Mr. Balpreet Singh Boparai – respectively the Chair and a member of the Cabinet of Canadians of Faith in Canada 150– spoke about the trust that comes from disagreeing with someone on matters of life and faith, while still showing profound respect for one another. Their interaction on this matter really set the tone for the conference, enabling and encouraging us – all 75 participants ­–­ to ask real questions of each other.


  • Be aware of systemic racism: the Summit was a multifaith gathering and an occasion for millennials of faith – all faiths – to converse and get to know one another, and to tackle questions and issues of common interest. The premise of the Summit, then, was that all faiths would have equal space and voice at the gathering, and that all faiths mattered equally. However, faith is not an isolated box in our lives. Matters of faith intersect with matters of class, race and gender among others. Christians – who have dominated the history of Canada in terms of numbers and economic and political supremacy over the past few centuries – have faced different issues altogether than Sikhs or Muslisms or indigenous peoples, who continue to be facing racial discrimination. Being aware of how systemic racism affects the practice of certain faiths is particularly important in order to show respect to practitioners of these traditions.


  • Define and abide by shared goals and principles: What is the end goal of interfaith dialogue – in the end, what are we here for? Having a stated and common shared goal helps to define the limits and the boundaries of a conversation.


  • Don’t try to homogenize difference: Often times, well-intention interfaith dialoguers can praise another faith because it teaches the same thing that one faith’s teaches. For example, a Christian could praise a Jew for believing in one God, or Muslims for recognizing the sanctity of Jesus. However, this kind of appreciation does not stem from genuine respect for another’s beliefs and it always comes off as patronizing. Rather, it stems from one’s appreciation of what people of other faiths believe that is exactly like one’s own. In other words – this kind of approach to interfaith dialogue obliterates and homogenizes difference. Avoiding this kind of simplistic approach to interfaith dialogue involves the ability to receive and to respect others’ beliefs on their own terms.


  • Be personal: No one within an interfaith setting is asked to share the doctrine of one’s own faith background. Rather, one is asked to share from one’s personal understanding and lived experience of one’s faith. It is understood that faith is not ‘one’ but that there are as many Christian faiths as many Christians walk the Earth on any day. This is because everyone invariably lives and understands faith differently than anyone else – there is no one way of being Sikh or Jewish or Christian or Mormon. There are many ways of being that way. This is also true for the non-religious. There are as many ways of being an atheist as there are atheists around the globe. Don’t take someone else’s take on their religion as the ‘correct’ way to look at that religion; keep asking questions to everyone you meet and remember that God speaks to each of us in a unique and personal way.


  • Suspend judgment: In order to enter into genuine dialogue with someone, we have to suspend our own judgment about what the capital T truth is. This does not mean that we have to reject our own truths, faith or belief, but that we have to be able to gracefully hold the tension between what is true to us, and what are other ways of looking at the world that might reasonably be true to someone else. This is a profound human gift – to be able to retain our own identity while at the same time also understanding, appreciating, and empathizing with someone’s identity or circumstances. We are both ourselves and we are also our neighbor at the same time.


  • Be honest about the shortcomings of our faith: The most annoying interfaith dialogues events that I have been a part of are the ones in which someone tries to market one’s own faith – or apologize for it. We, as Christians, especially have to be conscious and open about the shortcomings of the Church here in Canada – the abhorrent way in which we have treated indigenous peoples, and the continued racism and sexism that is present in our institutions. This does not mean that we need to abjure our faith – rather, when we are honest about the imperfect way in which God speaks through the history of our tradition, we demonstrate honesty and humanity – both qualities which will be noticed and appreciated by our audience.

The Christians at Pacific Theatre – an evangelical odyssey!

On September 14, 2017 some City in Focus staff attended the play ‘The Christians’ put on by Pacific Theatre – available until October 7, 2017. Tom and Karen Cooper and Valeria thoroughly enjoyed the play and highly recommend it! Read more info below or learn about it through Pacific Theatre here.

The story follows the life of an evangelical megachurch in the USA – where the head pastor, Paul, suddenly ‘comes out’ to say, during a Sunday sermon, that he no longer believes in hell. This abrupt theological change in the church’s approach causes a schism in the congregation – the associate pastor Joshua, younger than Paul, walks away from the church and founds his own. To complicate matters, the church’s financial stability is at risk.

Most of the the play follows a series of conversations between pastor Paul and church congregants – including members of the board, and his own wife – following the schism. The tensions, contradictions, and doubts that emerge from these dialogues are masterfully highlighted and explored.

If you’re up for a roller coaster ride of heaven, hell, and everything in between – constellated with gospel songs and personal struggles – then ‘The Christians’ is the play for you!


Religious Jokes in the Office

Louise writes

The chances are that you are working in an environment with some diversity of religious beliefs. Although the statistics tell us we are largely losing

our religion, we are certainly aware of the ‘colours’ of religion that appear every day as we move around any urban setting. The David Brent style discriminatory humour is even more spiked now as our sensitivity to racial and religious intolerance is heightened across the board.

Michael Wakelin, a consultant to UK businesses and associate at Cambridge University’s Interfaith Initiative, says some people are “really hostile” to religion in the workplace. He says that jokes about race or gender are a definite no-no but that religious digs may be the last place where workplace discrimination waits to be extinguished.  To that effect, Wakelin is running a new Religious Literacy project in partnership with Ernst and Young.  He certainly doesn’t want to push religion under the office carpet but, instead, to make others aware of how to handle it.  ‘Religion in the workplace is not going anywhere’  he says.  Instead, given huge diversity throughout the diaspora and particularly immigrant communities having religion play a major part in their identity, it is necessary to teach workers best practice religious ‘etiquette’.

Read more HERE

As Mr Wakelin observes, “Organisations and businesses that have better religious literacy within their workforces are better at attracting and retaining staff.”

The Practice of Perspiring

Blog by Louise

This week, during a rather flow-style stretch session, I found myself sweating profusely. The room was stuffy and the temperature high in the late afternoon. Sweat. A sign of success. The result of my effort to work hard and to remain focused on the instructions from the teacher.

So, what if perspiration is like a spiritual practice—not attractive but a sign of cleansing and reaching a place of release. We have to work hard if we want our inner core – the spiritual one – to become strong and able to hold up in times of stress. We maintain our spiritual practices of prayer and bible study to train our spirits and, of course, to worship. To worship in order to love better, to fend off the diseases of anger and greed and jealousy. Perhaps a good session of prayer effectively releases the toxins that are harboured in a weak human system.

Though he causes us grief – we perspire in our effort to follow Him – He then has compassion on us according to the abundance of his loyal kindness’.
— Lamentations 3:32

I snuck a line into that Lamentations verse ‘ we perspire in our effort to follow him’. Sometimes it’s tough to maintain a spiritual posture. But the results are worth it. It pays off.

In other words, as I stand at the bus stop and wait, after my class, I feel damn good. Feeling it – those beads of kindness running down my back.

Compassionate Capitalism

As trendy as it seems, the idea that business could have a social conscience actually has deep historical roots. In a recent paper, researchers in England found that medieval entrepreneurs used large portions of their profits to help their communities—embodying what the paper called “compassionate capitalism.”

A recent research paper written by Catherine Casson, Mark Casson, John Lee and Katie Phillips explores the idea that corporate compassion or businesses ‘giving back’ to the community has its roots as early as the medieval period. The Atlantic published its own report on this. READ MORE


Living life at Godspeed: It’s not what you think.

Damon Mak

We have presuppositions and expectations of what church should be.  We may even believe that if certain elements of church are present or missing, it is therefore church or isn’t.  And before you read on, I invite you to watch a short documentary (30 minutes in length) titled “Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known.” It’s a story about an American pastor who journeys to Scotland with presuppositions and expectations of church and desiring to change the world, but arriving and is transformed himself by the life experiences of the Methlick parish.
Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known
The Ranch Studios: Danny Lund

One of the opening lines of the video, “If you want to walk like Jesus, you have to slow down.”  Every city has a unique pulse and speed.  In the city, there also seems to be an urgency to get things done and to accomplish something–to be successful; and when we aren’t doing something exciting and if aren’t working towards some goal we often feel inadequate–even guilty.  Others may think there is something wrong with us.   Spiritually, if we’re not feeling great emotionally about our faith, about God, about church and about life in general, we feel that something must be wrong.  

The video Godspeed is a reminder that if we want to walk like Jesus, to experience the life and what it means to be human, we need to slow down.  3 kilometers an hour.   And in walking like Jesus, we slow down to really get to know people–really know people and their stories but to also to allow others to know who we are; knowing means to know each other as persons created in the image of God, to know each other’s fears and aspirations, our insecurities,  our struggles and our hopes.    The thing is, relationship is organic and it can’t be structured; when we try to force it, or if we have an agenda in mind–trust is broken even before the relationship begins.   The foundation of church is on relationships (relationship with the Triune God) and the embrace of the each other.   Slow down.  Slow down.  Slow down.  And in walking like Jesus, at Godspeed, we will experience God when we in fact “slow down so that we catch up to God.”  This is what I am learning to do; and personally, it starts with being–who we are: a child loved, forgiven, and reconciled with God our father.

While work is important to God and our work indeed matters, we also need to be reminded that the work is not the end in itself.   God is to receive all the glory.  We are building FOR the kingdom–we don’t build it.  We also have be careful not to be doing for the sake of doing; or doing because of someone else’s expectation for us. Don’t get trapped in the frantic whirlwind of doing or keeping yourself busy.   In my experience, that only leads to burnout–work becomes meaningless.   In other words, work with purpose and intentionality.  As an aside, occasional reflection on where you’re heading, what problem are you trying to solve, our strengths and values, how do I make a difference to the situation, and so forth can help us re-calibrate.   Another tool is to think about what are some things in your schedule you need to stop doing, start, or slowdown?  There is nothing wrong with slow–slow is good and imagine what life would be like if you began living and working at Godspeed.  

Is there a Spirituality of Summer?

Contributed by Louise

Does Summer have a certain spirit about it? We are half-way into the summer of 2017. This may be a good week to take a look at the significance of the barometer on our spiritual practices.

I found this article by Dr Gemma Simmonds, a sister with the Congregation of Jesus in Britain quite a delightful read.

Behaviour becomes less guarded: people sit in parks picnicking over lunch breaks, take coffee outside, sit at pavement cafes instead of huddling indoors.  Summer becomes a time for reconnecting with the natural light, the greater opportunities for communal living afforded by being able to sit out of doors for longer, watching children playing and people talking outside instead of sitting enclosed.  There is a sense of a general relaxing into the present, a willingness to linger over meals or encounters, savouring the moment, allowing the time to flow by.  Summer takes us into holiday time, when in families the rhythms of work change, children and adults may spend more time together, positively or negatively as such an experience may be.  Holidays can take us into different environments, give opportunities for exploration and expansion of horizons.  ‘This is my body’ becomes an invitation to contemplate the risen Jesus in the other, to experience the presence of God in human encounters.





Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ teaches theology at Heythrop College, University of London.

Gemma Simmonds is a sister of the Congregation of Jesus. After a career in teaching she worked as chaplain in the University of Cambridge and at Heythrop, where she also co-ordinated student support services. Since her return from study and work among women and street children in Brazil in 1992 she has been a volunteer on the chaplaincy team in Holloway Prison. She has worked in spiritual direction as a teacher and retreat-giver after training in the Jesuit Centre for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, USA, and has been involved in religious and priestly formation internationally since 1993. Her work as a conference facilitator and simultaneous translator has also led her into translating theological works in French, Spanish and Portuguese. She re-joined the staff at Heythrop in 2005 and is a Senior Lecturer in Pastoral and Social Studies and Theology. She is Director of the Religious Life Institute, Co-ordinator of the Erasmus Exchange Programme and President of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.

A Spiritual Journey Eastward

Louise Tischhauser

Ever since I threw in the Catholic towel at about age 18,  I have been trying to work out my strange relationship with the  Catholics. I hopped aboard the Pentecostal train in my late twenties and proceeded to bury all my Catholic memorabilia and lost any sense of kinship with the RCs.  It is only in the past five years, as the institutional dust has settled in my life, the Catholics have re-appeared on my path and, indeed, welcomed me in as one of their own.

I am hungry to explore the breadth and depth of our Christian traditions in all the glorious forms and praxes. So, when it was suggested that Father Richard Soo offer a retreat in the tradition of the Byzantine Eastern Tradition, we began working together to make this happen. Father Richard has an interesting mix of spiritual genetics, being raised an Evangelical and then finding his place as a Jesuit practising his Catholicism in the cloth of the Eastern Church….in Vancouver!

The retreat gives me the opportunity to enter in as a child of god and share in a theology and praxis certainly different from my own. This is of great interest to me.  I look forward to resting at this half-day Saturday event in a couple of weeks.

We will provide the lunch while Father has organized the program complete with cantors! Come one and all, Catholic or not, seasoned contemplative or retreat novice, and join me as we soak in the traditions of the East and in the love of our Father in Heaven.


All About Us   |    In a Nutshell

All About Us | In a Nutshell

City in Focus celebrates the sacred value of the human soul. In a world of performance and competition, we help people make space for spiritual dimensions of life within themselves and alongside others. We create this space through one-to-one pastoral engagement and events that spark thoughtful conversation.

Our goal is to further biblical Kingdom living by ministering to individuals and growing their capacity for purposeful, effective living.

Our constituency includes people of influence in business, education, health, government and ministry.

Our chaplains engage in personal, conversational ministry with people from all walks of life.

Our events are inclusive gatherings that highlight issues of social and emotional health in the context of business and public policy. Through the generous sharing of personal stories, new ideas, lessons learned, and the experience of experts, new alliances and friendships are formed.

By fostering a climate of personal spirituality and growing community connections, we care for the deepest needs of people and thereby improve the lives of families, of organizations and the city as a whole.


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The Reality of Sexual Exploitation

May 26, 2017 – Post by Damon Mak

Picture a full bus load of men coming to Vancouver.  And instead of going on a cruise together or sight-seeing, they come to Vancouver to buy sex from exploited women and children.

That was the essence of a comment made by one of the attendees in a conversation I had after the breakfast talk on Human Trafficking hosted by City in Focus last Friday.  

On the panel that morning was Cathy Peters (International Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate), Phil Reilly (Director of Development and Mobilization for IJM, BC), Sister Nancy Brown (Covenant House), and Gwendoline Allison (Foy Allison Law).  The discussion was mediated by Tom Cooper.

Surely human trafficking cannot be that big of a problem here in our beautiful city? We would be naïve to believe that the ads in the local newspapers for nail parlors, escorts and massage services are what they advertise.  Those are the services that publicly advertised; with the emergence of the Internet, many of those services have gone underground.  

Some other comments from the morning:

  • 20% of the prostitutes (women and men) are from the streets, and 80% from the Internet.  
  • 50% of those women are aboriginals.  
  • Globally, the sex industry accounts for $120-150 Billion USD which affects approximately 2 million children who are exploited for profit.   
  • Vancouver is the largest Sugar Daddy city.  
  • There is a child pornography problem right in the city.
  • Canada has the top 3 sites for hosting material for cyber sex trafficking.

With sex trafficking affecting so many people and of such big magnitude, why is there so little being said by our media?  It’s not difficult to deduce why.

The solution is not easy nor simple. It is multi-faceted and complex.  As our panelists pointed out, “Without addressing the demand for buying sex, we cannot hope to reduce the supply of victimized people.”  The way forward does begin locally, here in our city.  Change begins with raising awareness, increased enforcement and improved laws, education, and the pulpit.  

Need for greater awareness.  Without reports to the police, the crime hasn’t been committed; that is one of the reasons why media doesn’t talk about it.  To simply advocate that the victims go to police and report the problem is also to dismiss the emotions especially fears of a each person who are traumatized by their perpetrators.  Our society has turned prostitution into a choice–a choice of work or choice of the individual.  However, if you are poor–it is neither a choice nor is it work.  We need to name it for what it is–exploitation.

There is also a need for increased police involvement and enforcement of the law.  This will obviously require the review of our existing laws around the selling of sex and buyers of sex. It was troubling to hear a comment made during the session that the police often are not (and cannot be?) involved unless a girl goes missing, or has died from an incident.  In Vancouver, there is yet to be a someone charged for the crime.   The directive to take action needs to come from the top levels of our government and lead by the leaders of our city and police.  More, we need funding and programs to help trafficked individuals transition out of prostitution.  

There needs to be improved education.  Some of the girls that are lured into the sex industry are girls; Under aged girls who are too young and naïve to realize what is actually happening.  Trafficking of boys and girls are typically for labour or sex.  This is Vancouver I’m talking about.  Some girls from other countries are lured into the industry with the false promise of better education in Canada.  The poor are being exploited.  Education of our children needs to happen at an early age.  And it needs to begin in our homes; At the core, it’s about helping them understand their value as persons as well as educating them on the dignity of all humans and that all human life needs to be respected.

Lastly, something must change in our local churches.  The Church needs to be at the forefront of the battle in what Cathy Peters summarized as a “fight against evil.”   In other words, the weekly message from the pulpits needs to change. When we are Pro-Life, we need to be concerned about the entire life and all stages of the individual’s life–”from Womb to Tomb” as Tom Cooper exhorted. We need a renewed understanding of who we are as persons made in the image of God.  People, in particular women and children, cannot be equal if they are treated as objects–objects that can be consumed or bought and sold as commodity.  All people are precious in the heart of God.  If the Christian message is simply about being saved and going to Heaven after we die, we are perpetuating the problem.  If the Christian message is about shalom, justice, compassion, love, kindness, rescue and restoration–we, as the Body of Christ, need to take action today to live out what we in fact believe in.  This is a calling to the whole people of God, and we need to work together NOW.

“Having heard of all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

Damon Mak