You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.

I am not interested in organized religion.  I think the greatest damage is done by those who are so certain of their beliefs that their way and no other is the only possible truth.

I am not interested in evangelism.  If you take the parable about the sower and the seeds at face value, then you need to consider what constitutes good soil.  Manure.  And you need to consider the responsibility of the farmer.  Who would blame the seed or the soil if a plant doesn’t grow?  We would say the farmer should have tended the ground, weeded before he planted, made sure the seed had the water and sunlight it needed.  What I’m trying to get at is the need for relationships.  Room for organic, natural growth.

What I am interested in is community.  I am interested in learning from the stories of others.  I am interested in the growth that can only come through sharing our lives together.

And I am interested in being serious about learning to love the people around me.  Learning to live with peace deeply rooted within me.  Learning to work hard for justice in my community.

I am interested in the Mystery behind all the madness.  Something within me begs for something more, something authentic.  Something that gives Hope.  Deep calls to deep.

This is Beatrice.  She lives in Ghana.  She owns a small shop where she sells sewing supplies.  I lent her money through Kiva so that she could grow her business and keep her children in school.  So far, she has repaid 75 percent of her loan and will have paid it all back by June 2010.  When she finishes repaying the loan, I will use it to help another person somewhere else in the world.

You could too, if you wanted.

Can I share three short stories?

First, a few weeks ago, I took Mogey for a walk and as I was coming home I stopped to chat with the homeless guys who often hang out in our back alley.  We’ve talked before and they are really great people, and they love Mogey so occasionally we let him hang out with them for awhile outside.  He loves the attention and I think the guys share their snacks with them (but don’t tell Brandon).  So they asked if I would leave Mogey out for a bit and I figured why not, right?  I sat with my computer near a window where I could see them, just to make sure Mogey didn’t wander away but he sat contently with them while they patted him and fed him peanuts for about a half hour.  I figured it was probably time to head back out to bring him in.  I was just heading down the stairs to get him when I heard an aggressive knock on our door.  Now, despite the fact that I’ve chatted with these guys before, I am still a little cautious around them when I’m alone, which may be wise around anyone you don’t really know that well, but this knock scared me out of my socks.  I quickly realized, being home alone, that I would be powerless if the four men decided they wanted to come into the house.  I tend to have a wild imagination and can dream up the worst possible scenarios (ask me someday about the time I thought my car was stolen, to the point where I almost called the police, only to realize I had forgotten I had parked it on the street).  So with my hand on my cell phone in my pocket, trembling and holding my breath, I opened the door.  “One puppy returning home,” chirped Ben, the oldest (and scruffiest) of the men.  He gave me a smile and said goodbye then rode off on his bike.  I shut the door and felt foolish for letting myself be so gripped by fear.

Second, earlier this week I was walking to the bus stop downtown.  The quickest route is along side streets which can sometimes seem pretty deserted but it was broad daylight so I wasn’t concerned.  Along the way, however, I noticed a guy walking down the street, about twenty paces behind me.  Again, my imagination and fear took hold and I decide to turn down another street to see if he followed.  He did.  I noticed a woman coming along an intersecting street, and turned again, so that she was just a few paces in front of me and I was no longer alone on the street.  The guy kept walking in his direction.  Ten minutes later, as I stood at the bus stop, he passed me (having taken another route to the same area) and looked at me and I wondered if he knew that I had been afraid of him.  He was black.  I wonder now, would I have felt the same level of fear if he had been white? (Sidenote: You should read this.)

Third, on Saturday night I was walking home from a two day visit at L’arche.  It was only about 8:30, but it was already dark outside.  I was walking along a major road, with lots of traffic, but the abandoned and derelict buildings suggested it might be a rough neighbourhood.  A friend had told me she heard about a shooting in Hamilton a few weeks ago and the suspects still hadn’t been caught.  Again, my imagination took off.  And again an unreasonable level of fear was the result.

I heard a quote this week, that says this:

“We have become preoccupied with unlikely dangers that take on the status of imminent threats, producing a culture where fear determines a disproportionate number of our personal and communal decisions.”

Hmm. I think it’s worth reading one more time.

I find myself searching for the line between a healthy wisdom about my surroundings and unnecessary fear.  I don’t want to end up foolishly putting myself in danger.  Yes, carrying a cell phone is a good idea.  Yes, not going out alone late at night is a good idea.  Yes, staying on main roads is a good idea.  Yes, keeping the door locked is a good idea.  But when I become so obsessed with what could potentially happen, I stop being able to appreciate what is happening.  I stop being able to discover the often hidden beauty of this neighbourhood, and worse, I treat my neighbours as bad scary evil people, when lots of the time they are just people trying to find their way in life, like me.

I am tired of participating in a culture of fear.  I will choose to trust my neighbour, regardless of his or her appearance or social status.  I will trust my instincts to keep me safe from danger.  I will choose peace over fear.

There is a beautiful old building around the corner from Rachel and Brandon’s house.  It was built in 1885 as West Ave School.  I don’t know much about architecture – I wish I did so I could describe in details the stuff that makes this building stand out.  A newer addition to the property hosts a mural painted by local young artists in 1994, commemorating the building and its importance to the African Canadian community in Hamilton.

As I passed it the other day, I heard the familiar sounds of construction workers and my initial reaction was disappointment.  Here is another historic building in Hamilton that is being torn down because no one has the time, energy, money and commitment to maintain it.  Soon this property will be nothing more than another empty lot, of which Hamilton has plenty.

Then I noticed a sign, stating that it’s currently being restored by its owner, with funding through the Hamilton Heritage Property Grant Program. With the funds, they will:

1. Replace the windows
2. Re-paint and clean the exterior façade
3. Restore the broken slate tiles and re-roof
4. Restore the original entranceway
5. Restore the cupola, dormers, cornice and eaves

I am attracted to Hamilton not for its rawness alone, but because of what that rawness allows – the possibility for redemption, restoration, growth.  In my own life, and happening in the things, people and communities around me.  I like being around things that have been discarded by society and seeing what beauty lays within.  I like seeing spirit restored.

I let myself get really easily discouraged by small things.  I had a thirty second encounter with someone on Friday that I have not been able to shake since.

I was walking down the street, Dave Matthews serenading my ears, sun shining, welcoming spring.  I was on my way somewhere, which I’m not very often, and it felt deeply good.

I noticed a crowd of youngsters on the sidewalk ahead of me, blocking the way between the bus shelter and the building, waiting to cross in the opposite direction.  No worries, I thought, I can just step off the curb and around the bus shelter and I can continue on my way.

Just as I was about to though, I noticed an older woman in a scooter, the backs of the youngsters blocking her way turned to her.  She could not just step off the curb and go around the bus shelter.  They could not hear her quiet “excuse me” over their laughter.

Here, in my ordinary daily life, an opportunity presented itself for me to use my voice for someone else.  I mustered what I hoped was a cheery and polite voice: “Hey, do you guys want to move out of the way?”  A leader of some sort (apparently this is a class trip or youth group) spoke up: “You have 45 people in front of you, where would you like us to go?”

The wind that had been blowing my inner kite instantly stopped. His words cut.  He hadn’t even noticed the woman.  How could he not notice? Not care?  I stood there, feeling accused.  The light changed and the kids headed off in their direction and I in mine.  A voice from beside me said, “Thank you. Most people don’t notice.”   And then she was ahead of me, and gone.

I feel broken.

I could rant about his selfishness, the poor example he set for his students, his exaggeration (there were about 15 students), the fact that they could have easily stepped into the bus shelter or against the wall to make a path for the woman.  I could lament my failure to engage the woman in conversation, to at least ask her name.  I could complain about the faults of society and today’s youth (and their leaders).  Vent my anger, my embarrassment, my self-righteous indignation.

I’m just sad.  Probably more sad about it than I should be.  I can’t seem to let things roll off my shoulders.  I replay the scene over and over wondering how else I could have started the conversation, how I could have better responded, what I could have said to the woman.

The memory of this moment piles up with other emotions from other occasions, unrelated, but with the same sense of helplessness, or anger, or brokenness.  And I am overwhelmed.

My friend Holli wrote a song.  One line from the chorus has been perpetually playing through my head all day.

“O healing heart, take as long as you need.”

I forget that to heal takes time.  Wounds need to be cleaned and protected or they can easily become reopened, reinfected.

We are all healing hearts.

I spent the past weekend at my parents’ house.  On Saturday night I was sitting in my old bedroom with my nine-soon-to-be-ten year old niece, Britney.  Since it was the beginning of her March Break, we had been given permission to stay up as late as we wanted after the rest of the house went to sleep.  I don’t get to hang out with Britney too often, mostly because I’ve lived in New Brunswick for the last five years of my life, so this time was deeply cherished.  I think it’s good for girls to have someone they can hang out with away from their parents and other adults.  I was so influenced by a few young adults I grew up around, and I still occasionally meet up for coffee with these role models.

But more than this, I think these times of hanging out with Britney are important because they do something for me.  Yes, I am selfishly motivated.  She brings fresh perspective to my life.  Helps me remember to be child-like.  To be giddy.  To have fun.  To be creative.  She reminds me that I have something important to offer, that other people generally like spending time with me.  And she reminds me how easily I can hurt others, that in all my relationships I need to be patient and nurturing, as best I can.  I really like spending time with her.  She’s probably my favourite kid in the entire world.

Seeing as she is my favourite kid, it seemed fitting to pull a dusty copy of my favourite book off the shelf.  If you’ve never read “Oh the Place You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, you don’t know what you’re missing.  If you have read it and you didn’t love it, you should probably get your head checked.  It really is my favourite book of all time.

And although I’ve read it a hundred times over, and at one point had most of it memorized, I sat on the bed on Saturday night reading aloud, surprised to see my own life unfolding on the pages.  I’ve experienced the frustration and uselessness of the waiting place.  I’ve faced the difficult task of unslumping myself after coming down from an unpleasant bump.  I’ve raced across weirdish wild space.  But I’ve also joined the high flyers who soar to high heights and found the bright places where boom bands are playing.

And I know Britney will too.  I don’t know if Britney realized it, but I couldn’t have believed in her more deeply as I read those words that sum up all the potential she possesses.

Oh, the places you’ll go. Kid, you’ll move mountains.

I recently unpacked my bags at Rachel and Brandon’s place in Hamilton.  I’m not entirely sure all the reasons why I’m here.  I mean, I am pursuing an opportunity with L’arche and starting to volunteer at a few places, but for the most part right now, I’m just trying to get to know our neighbours.  I’ve said hello to a few people who I think are unaccustomed to engaging in conversation with strangers and received some odd looks for it.

There are a few local guys who hang out in our back alley on warmer days.  They are really great guys to chat with when they are sober and I’m getting better at learning how to respond when they’re not.  Having a friend like Mogey (Rachel and Brandon’s new dog) makes it a lot easier to start conversations with strangers and reminds me to get outside for a walk at least once a day.  Mogey likes these walks through the back alleys.  There is usually someone who will offer a friendly pat on the head, and he eagerly sniffs out scraps of food and garbage before any of us even notice its there.

From the outside, my life these days might not look like it has much of an immediate, obvious sense of meaning, but I’m grateful for the chances I have to take things a day at a time, to observe and reflect, and to invest in conversations with people I meet along the way.

I’ve been brewing over the importance of meaning for a few months now.  The following was part of an email my former philosophy professor and good friend, Jeremy Wiebe, sent my way back in November.  He wrote,

Meaning in life is very important at a deep level; not just intellectual exercises where one tries to discern meaning, but LIVED, EXISTENTIAL meaning that you can feel, that fills your imagination, your hopes and dreams, and your disappointments.  Where is this Golden Mean, between hellish unrest and unrealistic striving AND complacency?  Only God knows.  But I want to celebrate and accept my earthliness, that I am limited, that I get tired and cranky… but am also capable of stumbling towards love, acceptance and kindness.

I’ve written four different drafts of this post, trying to unpack the mystery of how we cultivate meaning in our lives.  I feel like every attempt results in nothing but words.  In a postmodern society, where the basis of social norms, language, even truth, are constantly being challenged by theories of relativity and social construction, it becomes so hard to find any lasting sense of meaning, of purpose.

I know what it feels like to lack purpose.  To feel like everything I am striving for amounts to nothing.  To feel hellish unrest driven by anger and despair at all the world’s (and my own) brokenness.  And to feel like there isn’t anything real, substantial or true to hold on to in the face of this brokenness.

The only thought I keep coming back to is hope.  If we are so bogged down by complacency, so familiar with routine that we can walk through our days with our eyes closed, meaning and purpose become pretty elusive.  If all we can see around us is drudgery and endless unsolvable problems, it is as if we are pushing a rock up a hill but never able to reach the top.

But if, by some miracle, hope fills our imagination and enables us to see the possibility of stumbling upon something beautiful, even in littered and abandoned back alleys, our purpose becomes more clear.  This potential leads us forward, despite our shortcomings, our failings, our disappointments.  We stumble forward with the hope of finding something deeply meaningful and I think if we are willing to search it out, it will always be there to be found.

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