Category Archives: Uncategorized

Voicemails

Standard

I give out my number pretty freely at The Dale. I never guarantee that I will answer my phone, and almost always keep it on silent overnight, but I know that sometimes people just need to speak things aloud and that leaving a voicemail will do the job.

I’ve come to expect a certain type of message from certain people. If “Paul” calls, it’s almost always to let me know how he’s doing, and to tell me that he’s praying for me and the rest of us at The Dale. He will encourage me in my role, and remind me to trust in God.

If “Maureen” calls, it’s usually to confirm that we’re meeting at a certain place at a certain time; since The Dale is a nomadic church she likes to check to make sure she has the right spot.

If “Trevor” calls, he’s usually had a bit to drink and will leave a few messages in a row. These voicemails are usually a combination of his own renditions of popular songs, philosophical/theological ramblings, as well as a bizarre mixture of over-the-top compliments and patronizing insults. I don’t take either of these things personally, as I know that they come from his own history of pain.

So, when I saw that I had a voicemail from Trevor yesterday, I was expecting more of the same. I should know by now that assumptions are very often incorrect; this message from Trevor was clear and compassionate. He thought that he saw me walking down Queen Street with a friend the other day, and was sure that I was crying. He wanted to check in and see if someone I loved had died, and if so, who? And if so, he was there to listen with an empathetic ear. He has lost many friends, he told me, and so knows the pain that he thought I must be feeling.

While I have been known to walk down the street crying, the person he saw the other day wasn’t me. But I was humbled and grateful that this friend took the time to check in with me and offer a listening ear. No compliments, no insults. Just empathy.

As per usual, God chose to show up in a moment I least expected, knocking down my assumptions and opening up my heart anew.

Advertisements

The Hard Path of Love

Standard

The Dale’s Tuesday night Bible studies are always interesting. Sometimes we go off on pretty wild tangents, and I have a hard time knowing which way is up. Sometimes people come out with such profound insights, questions and prayers that I’m brought to tears. Almost always someone presents a perspective on scripture that I never would have come up with on my own. I love it.

A couple of weeks ago we read John 13, where Jesus washed his disciples feet, predicted Judas’ betrayal, let Judas go to do what he was going to do, and then spoke to his disciples about the new commandment to love. After showing his friends what love looks like, he asked them to follow suit.

After these verses were read aloud by someone, I asked the group what they thought about this commandment to love. A newcomer to the group stated the bald truth right away: “loving people is hard!” She gave the example that simply choosing to say hi to someone against whom you have a grudge is difficult.

Another member of the group agreed, saying that loving sometimes just means not punching someone in the face– which is hard enough! Other examples of difficult, loving actions were given: listening to each other, cutting each other some slack, etc. As these things were named off, we agreed that loving is HARD!

I am so thankful for the real-ness of my community at The Dale. We all know that sometimes the only loving thing you can do is not punch someone in the face… But folks in our little Bible study are honest enough to say it!

Love isn’t always/often glamorous. Sometimes it means washing each others’ grimy feet, choosing to let go of a grudge, or sitting and listening. It’s hard. But it’s the one thing that Jesus asks of us. Lord, give us the strength to walk in the hard path of love.

Light and Shadow

Standard

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about God as Light, in whom there is no darkness at all. I’ve also been thinking about the darkness that pervades so much of the news these days, and the lives of so many of my friends.

It can be easy to dwell in the shadows of climate change, senseless violence, the mocking of abuse victims, the threat of evictions, and a host of other dark things happening in our world.

AND it is possible to step into the brightness of the good things; to allow our eyes to be dazzled by Light. To do so is not to be in denial about the darkness, but to acknowledge that shadow and light both exist, and that we don’t need to be overcome by the dark.

In this spirit, I’d like to share a couple of stories from The Dale this week:

  • Our trip up to camp was lovely. The weather wasn’t great, but we had a fire blazing in the lodge all weekend, played lots of games, ate good food, and experienced a true retreat. While some of our folks had a difficult time transitioning back to the city and its stressors, the time that was spent up north was good for all of our souls.
  • During our Monday drop-in, a friend came in to tell us that he’d had a beautiful dream in which three of our deceased dear ones were happy, relaxed, and cheering for him. He attributes their applause to the steps toward health he’s been taking recently. He was so encouraged by this dream, and so were we.
  • During the same drop-in, another friend came by (after a long absence) to let us know that she’s doing well. She is still experiencing homelessness, but has also been taking steps toward health and wholeness, has a supportive partner, and is hopeful that they will be able to find permanent housing outside Toronto soon. While we would miss her, this would be a good thing for her mental and physical health. So we’re thrilled.

I’ve realized recently that all of my favourite paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario make dramatic use of light and shadow; they mirror the reality of our shared, beautiful, painful world.

Life is hard. And often dark. And lets not forget: there is Light.

Copyright: The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

Hellos and goodbyes

Standard

Last week was a beginnings and endings kind of a week.

On Wednesday morning, we at The Dale said goodbye to our dear friend Mike during a memorial service. Tears we shed and stories were shared. While the loss of Mike still seems surreal to me and others, communal grieving was a necessary and helpful part of the process of letting him go.

On Wednesday afternoon, a few of us went down to the shores of Lake Ontario and participated in the baptism of our friend Kim. It was her desire to be baptized outside, and then to have a tea party on the beach to begin this new stage in her life. So that’s exactly what we did.

On Thursday morning my cousin Laura gave birth to a baby boy, and named him Clarke Thomas. Clarke is the name of our grandfather who died when I was an infant, before Laura was born. We have heard so many wonderful things about this man over the years, and I wish that my sister, cousins, and I had the chance to get to know him. Thomas is the name of our cousin who died in a car accident when he was 11, along with his sister Meredith who was 8. I’ve written about them here.

On Friday morning I attended a memorial service for my great-aunt Kathrine, who recently passed away at the age of 93. Many, many members of her immediate and extended family, as well as a large number of friends gathered to remember her life and celebrate her legacy of love. I will always remember Aunt Kathrine for her thoughtfulness in the form of birthday cards- nearly every year, the first of my birthday cards to arrive in the mail would be from her. This is astonishing, given that she had several grandchildren of her own, let alone all her grand-nieces and nephews!

While I’m still processing all that happened last week, I am struck by the beauty of welcoming new life in the midst of saying goodbye those who have died. In particular, I’m struck by Clarke Thomas, this new little creature, who is named for two beloved people to whom our family has had to say goodbye.

Hello to new life! The new, baptized life of Kim. The new presence of Clarke Thomas, as well as Peyton, Julie and Rosslyn (all born this year into the extended Moon family!)

Good bye to our beloveds. Goodbye Mike, you larger than life character. Good bye Aunt Kathrine, also larger than life in your own gentle way.

Last week really was a beginnings and endings kind of week.

Back to school (a little bit)

Standard

For many people, September is synonymous with “back to school.” And for most of my life I’ve been one of those people, except for the last six Septembers.

When I graduated from Wycliffe I had a feeling that I’d like to do more schooling at some point, but didn’t know what form that would take. And for the last six years, learning to be a Community Worker and community member at The Dale has been schooling enough! I’ve been pretty much constantly challenged and stretched, supported and humbled, encouraged and changed.

Over these six years I’ve participated in some one or two day professional development courses on topics like addiction, tuberculosis awareness, vicarious trauma and polarity management. While these courses have all been helpful, I’ve been yearning for some more in-depth academic learning.

So… this fall I enrolled to audit a course at Regis College (part of the Toronto School of Theology), while continuing to work full time at The Dale! I’m thrilled that I’m able to continue learning from my community, and also make a bit of a return to the classroom 🙂

The course I chose is focused on integrative approaches to trauma, through the lenses of psychotherapy and spiritual care. While I don’t plan to become a psychotherapist, I’m interested in learning how the fields of psychotherapy and spiritual care can inform one another. The focus on trauma is especially close to my heart, as so many of my friends at The Dale have faced (and continue to face) more than their fair share of traumatic life experiences. While I’m only one week into the course, I can already tell that the readings, lectures and discussions are going to be rich and (I pray) enriching to my ministry at The Dale.

So, Happy Back to School Month, everybody!

Mike

Standard

It’s been a week and half now since our friend Mike DeWolfe died, and I still can’t quite bring myself to believe that fact to be true. As Erinn acknowledged in her blog about Mike, he wasn’t at all well near the end of his life. I can’t even remember how many different hospitals/rooms we went to in order to visit Mike. But because he had survived so many close calls, it seemed that he would always survive the next one. The finality of death is something that seems incongruous with this friend who, in many ways, seemed larger than life.

When I first started working in Parkdale I would hear stories about famous “Iron Mike”, a ring leader and neighbourhood institution. Even then his brushes with death were legendary. At that point he was living in Newfoundland, and doing really well. He was healthy,  working, and in a relationship.

Then Mike came back to Parkdale for a visit, and ended up staying. It was during this time that I got to know Mike. While I gather that the Mike I knew and loved was a dialed back version, he still had a huge amount of charm and charisma. He loved his friends, and would always ask how things were going for us at The Dale. He had a special spot in his heart for Erinn, and felt a great deal of concern for her and her family.

While I know that Mike was far from perfect and lived with much regret, he was an important part of many peoples’ lives, mine included. I was reading a Walt Whitman poem the other day about grieving the death of friend, and he used the phrase “large sweet soul that has gone”… and that made me think of Mike.

The photo below was sent to us from Mike’s son, and was taken decades before I met him. But this is how I imagine him now– with a huge, somewhat cheeky grin.

Peace to you, Mike.

Oh, Canada…

Standard

My Canada Day prayer:

O God, thank you for this land.

I lament the way it was stolen, and the way it has been/is being misused.

And I rejoice in its beauty.

I lament the injustices perpetuated in this country, and rejoice in the values of multiculturalism and inclusivity for which we have often been known to strive.

I lament the pain we inflict on each other, and rejoice in communities and initiatives that promote healing and restoration.

God of us all, may we seek to learn from each other, indigenous, settler and new comer folks alike. Those with a high degree of social privilege, and those with far less. Those from urban centers, and those from tiny hamlets.

In You, Triune God, we see unity in diversity. May we seek that for ourselves. Thank you for the way this land mirrors that unified diversity — majestic mountains, stretching prairies, icy landscapes, old growth forests, strings of lakes, sandy beaches, rugged islands, rolling pastures. All of these make this land what it is.

And we need each other to be fully beautiful. Help us, God, not to fear diversity, but  to embrace it as our one, shared, identity.

Amen.

Image result for diversity canadian flag

(source: https://celebratecanada.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/mock-up-of-the-2010-canadian-flag-mosaic/)

Ten Years Later

Standard

I realized this week that it’s been ten years since I was first introduced to the idea of friendship-based street ministry. A whole decade! This was really brought home to me yesterday, when my friend Ben came to visit The Dale. He and I met each other on a trip to Halifax, ten summers ago. In fact, it was Ben who invited me to a place called “The Fish Coffeehouse” in downtown Halifax, where I first experienced the joy of friendship-based street ministry.

Ben had spent time in Halifax before and had been to The Fish: a spot for folks who were street involved to come in, have a cup of coffee, chat, and play board games if they felt so inclined. When he invited me to try it out, I was hesitant. And the first time I went I kept feeling like I should be “doing something useful”; I was coming from the worldview that people like me should be serving and giving to people who had less than I did. At The Fish I began to learn that simply being with people was “doing something useful”, and that while I may have had more social privilege than folks walking in off the street, I did not necessarily have more to give. Most of these folks were light-years ahead of me in terms of wisdom, humour, authenticity, faith and strength.

While the trip that Ben and I were part of was not focused on this style of ministry, it quickly became clear to me that spending time with people who were marginalized was the thing that made my soul sing, and the thing that Jesus tended to do (something that hadn’t really occurred to me until then). I began chatting with people who were panhandling along Spring Garden Road, the main drag in Halifax. I continued going to The Fish, and also attended a Sunday night supper at a Presbyterian Church. By the time I returned home to Ontario in August of 2008, I knew that my life would need to include time spent on the street.

Fast forward ten years, and here I am in Parkdale, introducing Ben to Dale folks who I’ve grown to love dearly over the past 6ish years. It was such a joy to show to have him at our drop-in, and see members of the community welcome him in. It was also a joy take him on a tour around the neighbourhood, bumping into Dale folks all along Queen Street. I showed him all the places we hold drop-ins, our community garden plot, and my favourite falafel spot. One Dale friend joined us for at least half of this tour, giving insights into the neighbourhood and bits of her own story.

The lessons that I began to learn at The Fish ring truer every day: just being with people is doing something useful. And while I have good gifts to give, I also have much to learn and receive.

The Fish. I’m in the background chatting on the couch.

All in a day’s work

Standard

As I mentioned in my last post, we have a couple of wonderful interns at The Dale this summer, Olivia and Ahmeda. I have been spending some time with Olivia in particular, showing her the ropes. In the process I have been able to see our day-to-day lives at The Dale through fresh eyes… and have realized anew that sometimes our days are pretty strange!

Take today for example. We had a staff meeting in a noisy coffee shop. That’s normal for us, but not for most organizations. At the end of the meeting, one of the staff people (who we’ve come to know over the many hours per month that we spend having meetings in that particular cafe), asked us what we were up to for the rest of the day. She knows that we run drop-ins throughout the week, and had a box full of ziploc bags full of snacks that she was hoping to give to us. We gladly received them, to then discover (with delight) that they were shaped like butterflies: a painted clothes peg with googly eyes and pipe-cleaner antennae was clipped in the center of each bag, so that the two halves of the bag formed wings. We, as a community, greatly enjoyed these creative snacks while meeting in the park for our Tuesday afternoon drop-in.

Partway through drop-in, a complete stranger came over and asked me to tie his hair into a ponytail using a beaded bracelet. After a moment of language-barrier confusion, I tied his hair into a ponytail with his bracelet, and he went on his way smiling. I guess we looked like a friendly enough bunch, and I had my hair in a low ponytail like the one he was hoping to acquire. So it all worked out great.

Then Olivia and I walked down Queen Street towards the home of a recently hospitalized friend. Our job was to check in on his cats. On the way we were stopped a number of times; once by a friend who was busking, but stopped mid-stanza to say hello and meet Olivia. He asked what happened to my other co-workers, assuming that Olivia was a replacement.  When I happily explained that we’ve actually grown to a team of five for the summer, he said “oh, that’s beautiful!” This from a guy who has very little time for organized religion on the whole, but seems to think The Dale is alright.

We were stopped a few steps later by a friend who had just gotten keys to a room in a rooming house- his first place to call home in a very long time. We congratulated him with great joy 🙂

When we finally made it to our destination, we fed a couple of hungry cats, and cleaned out a rather full litter box. We realized, on our way out, that we didn’t know where the garbage bins were located for our friend’s building, so asked some neighbours if we could put our bag (which happened to be full of litter box contents!) into their bin. They agreed, and we went on our way.

Later today we’ll meet up for dinner with some Dale friends at St. Francis Table, where meals are served restaurant-style for $1 (including dessert and coffee!) After dinner, we’ll read a section of the book of John, and discuss it.

All in a day’s work. As strange as these days can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being let in

Standard

Many of us humans, for many valid reasons, find it hard to let people in.

While I consider myself to be something of an open book, I’m aware that the reason I trust easily is because I have had very few experiences of having my trust betrayed. This is a privilege that I do not take for granted.

Many/most folks who call The Dale home do not share this privilege. For many of our friends, having their trust betrayed is the rule, not the exception. It’s no wonder that it can take years for trusting relationships to form in the context of community, when the assumption is that the other party involved will eventually stab you in the back.

This is why it’s a really big deal when our friends not only allow us into their hearts, but also their homes. Some of our folks couch surf or shelter hop. But others have a room in a rooming house, or an apartment in a relatively affordable building. Many of these housed friends do not consider their place to be “home”- it’s simply a place to sleep, and/or a place that becomes overwhelming due to the tendency to hoard. This tendency is understandable, when scarcity is the overwhelming trend in someone’s life.

Over the last few months and years we’ve had more and more experiences of people at The Dale allowing us into their spaces, in order to help bring a bit of order to the reigning chaos. This is always such an honour.

I realized last week that we’d turned a corner in our relationship with a community member when they allowed not only me/Erinn/Meagan (people they know well) to come and clean, but one of our wonderful summer interns (who is new to this friend). It took years for this friend to let us in, but only a week to let in a new person who was assumed to be trustworthy because she’s with us. Wow 🙂

Being let in. It never gets old.