Breakage

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I’ve been struggling to find words to share here today; there are stories from the community rolling around my head, but they all seem too unfinished to write down… yet. Instead, I’d like to share a poem that I read this week, which resonates with this feeling: that I need to slow down and seek to understand people (including myself!) in our particularity before I can make any sense of the bigger story.

 

I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!

The cusp of the whelk,

the broken cupboard of the clam,

the opened, blue mussels,

moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—

nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,

dropped by the gulls onto the grey rocks and all the

moisture gone.

It’s like a schoolhouse

of little words,

thousands of words.

First you figure out what each one means by itself,

the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop

full of moonlight.

 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

– “Breakage” by Mary Oliver

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Snow crocuses

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Back in October, I wrote a post about planting bulbs. I was hoping that I would start to see some signs of life in mid March… but it wasn’t until Easter weekend that little green spikes started to emerge from the earth. I was pumped, especially considering the symbolism- new life and our celebration of the resurrection all in one weekend!

And then April happened: wild fluctuations in temperature and weird precipitation patterns, culminating in last weekend’s ice storm and dump of snow. My heart sank for my tender little shoots, assuming that they’d been crushed under the weight of all that ice and snow. My mom (the seasoned gardener that she is) assured me that they would be fine, but I’ll admit that I had my doubts.

And then (oh, me of little faith), they BLOOMED! It felt like a miracle, even though I know it happens every single year.

Sometimes life in community feels like this. You plant seeds of friendship, knowing that you may not see much happen for a long while. You live through some dark, wintry times. Then you see little green sprouts in the hearts of folks in your community, or in your own heart. You rejoice, and might even pat yourself on the back for your patience. Spring has come!

Then there’s a big old ice storm. It seems that all the progress you saw has been squashed. You’re reminded that you’re really not in control of this process at all, and that any hope you have for continued growth will not come from your own limited resources. The earth is faithful, and will do its work in its time.

And even though you know that all this is true, and those who have gone before you remind you that things will be okay, you still have doubts.

And sometimes things don’t work out the way you’d like them to. Sometimes your crocuses come up a different colour than you imagined, or they’re smaller that you thought they would be. And that’s okay.

As I look at my snow crocuses, I remind myself of these truths.

Love and pride

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I’ve had a line from a song by Sara Groves running through my brain recently: “love and pride can’t occupy the same spaces, baby, and only one makes you free.”

As this line runs laps around my brain I keep noticing different aspects of it, as I view it through the lenses of various experiences.

As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve had some difficult experiences with a few folks at The Dale recently. During one interaction I needed to acknowledge that I had said the wrong thing at the wrong time. I saw the truth in that Sara Groves lyric, that I couldn’t be loving and self-defensive/prideful at the same time.

In other situations it became very apparent to me that pride is not the same thing as self-respect. Sometimes the most loving thing that we can do is to let someone know that they have crossed a line and need to take a step back. In these scenarios, love and self-respect must occupy the same spaces, and to mix up pride with self-respect is to do a disservice to ourselves and the other person.

Pride vs love.

Self-defensiveness vs self-respect.

These are big topics, which we as a staff team are sorting through, in theory and in practice. The hope and prayer is that as we do, love will make all of us increasingly free.

Being Family

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I was thinking this morning about the importance of family, and being with people through the thick and the thin.

I am very grateful to be part of many families. I have the deep privilege of being surrounded by a vast network of biological/extended/step family members who know and love me. I do not take this privilege lightly.

I am also part of networks of friends who are basically family. I’ve known some of these folks for much of my life, and others I’ve met relatively recently but feel like our souls have known each other for much longer.

I also have the honour of being part of the big, quirky families that are Sanctuary and The Dale. I’ve been reflecting recently on how these communities are family-like in a bunch of real (sometimes uncomfortably real) ways. Take the last few weeks at The Dale for example:

  • One of the women who volunteers in the kitchen recently lost her spouse, very unexpectedly. While this friend comes from outside Parkdale, she is very much part of The Dale family. She loves us and we love her. A van-load of folks from The Dale made the trek downtown on a Saturday morning, to attend the memorial service for our friend’s dear partner. Because that’s what families do.
  • We had some tough conversations at The Dale over the last couple of weeks, after a few explosive interactions left various parties feeling raw and frustrated. Like all families, we have some strong personalities, and everyone has their own baggage and trigger points. We work hard to communicate well, and some conversations go better than others. We’re a work in progress, but our aim is to increasingly become a family where everyone feels safe and respected.
  • This Friday our dear friend (and my fellow Community Worker) Meagan got married to Ian, another dear friend of the Dale. All week long, people were wishing Meg well, and when she and Ian return from their honeymoon we plan on having a Dale-style celebration for these members of our family.

So, yeah. In sadness, in frustration, in joy, we’re with each other. Thank you to all of you, who by your support, prayers and readership, are part of our extended Dale family. We’re in this thing together.

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Keeping Parkdale Awesome

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*Sorry that this post is longer-winded and more academic than usual! This stuff is really important to me, and I wanted to do it justice…

 

Over the last number of months I’ve gotten more involved in community organizing in Parkdale, surrounding the issue of gentrification and the resulting displacement of folks who are marginalized. This neighbourhood is changing so rapidly, and it saddens and angers me to know that the people who are being most negatively impacted by these changes are my friends who live on low incomes and already struggle to get through each month without the stress of losing their housing.

This story has repeated itself over and over, in cities all over the world. A low-income neighbourhood becomes a desirable spot for young people and artists, because it is affordable and “edgy”. Gradually rents begin to increase, and independent, affordable stores and restaurants are replaced by higher-end shops. The rooming houses that have provided many people with affordable (if inadequate) housing are bought up and turned back into single-family dwellings. People who have rented apartments at an affordable rate are evicted (often illegally), and landlords jack up the rental price for new tenants. As these sources of affordable housing dry up, the wait times for subsidized housing (which are already ~10 years long in Toronto), get longer and longer. Eventually condominiums are built, which people on fixed incomes could never dream of affording. People who have lived in the neighbourhood for many years (or decades) are forced to take whatever affordable housing they can find, miles and miles away from the place they call home.  This is the current story of Parkdale.

When I first came to this neighbhourhood, 5+ years ago, I knew that gentrification was happening. But it seems that, in the last year or so (perhaps due to the general acknowledgement of the unaffordability of housing in Toronto), there is a growing urgency in the collective consciousness of Parkdale; a determination to do what we can to stop/mitigate the harmful effects of gentrification.

Back in the Fall, I attended a public meeting about the proposed development of a 706-unit luxury condo at the south east corner of Parkdale. It was clear in that meeting that this condo was unwanted by people who call Parkdale home, for a whole variety of reasons. I attended a boisterous but peaceful rally at the proposed development site early one Wednesday morning (pictured below), and wrote a deputation that was read at a committee meeting at City Hall. Despite the overwhelming disapproval of Parkdale residents, and the apparent regret of many City councilors, the proposal for two towers of luxury condos was approved.

In January, I joined with a number of other people from the neighbourhood at City Hall to speak about the proposed regulations around Inclusionary Zoning (a set of policies could allow the City of Toronto to require that developers ensure that a certain percentage of new housing units be affordable.) This could be an amazing way to generate more affordable housing, but the policy that was written by the province was very weak. So I represented The Dale at City Hall, urging City Council to demand a stronger policy. By the end of the meeting, it was clear that City staff and City Council intended to do just that, which was encouraging.

Last Saturday I joined a group of people (many of whom were also at the public meeting, rally and City Hall meetings) to help develop the mandate for P.E.R.N., the Parkdale Eviction Resistance Network. The idea behind this network is that people in Parkdale are often evicted illegally because they don’t know their rights as tenants and/or they don’t have the support they need to stand up for those rights. The hope is that P.E.R.N. can help to educate our friends and neighbourhoods about the due process surrounding eviction, and provide support for those times when an illegal eviction is taking place.

I’m really glad to be engaged in this kind of community organizing in Parkdale; I’m encouraged by the solidarity and camaraderie that is being generated, and I believe that small groups of people can do great things.  And I am still very concerned about the future of this neighbourhood. I’m worried that my friends on the margins will no longer be able to live in the place that feels like home.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can be involved in this work, please contact me at joanna@thedale.org

And if you don’t have the time, energy or inclination for direct involvement, please join me and others in praying for the shalom of God to rest on this beloved community as time marches forward and changes develop.

In hope that Parkdale can be kept awesome,

Joanna

 

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Capable hands

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This past week I was away on holiday. The timing felt pretty terrible, as Erinn was still in the midst of Dion’s health crisis and there were three people from the Dale in hospital. But, after being urged to go by my staff team and others, I did as many hospital visits as I could after our Monday drop-in and left on Tuesday.

I returned home early yesterday morning, and was delighted (and not surprised) to hear from various sources how incredibly well Meagan managed as the lone staff person for three drop-ins, two Bible studies, and a Sunday service. As always, the community rose to the occasion and surrounded Meg with support. I feel SO proud of her, and of our motley crew.

This was a completely new experience for me– I’m used to being the one taking the reins when Erinn needs to be away, and know the feeling of being held gently by the community. But I’ve never been the one to leave the community in the hands of someone who has been on staff for less time than I have. I’m so glad that Meg now has ample proof that her hands are capable of more than she imagined, and that she/we can count on the grace of God to flow through our Dale family when we need it most.

May you also know that you are held by the most capable of Hands this week.

The most honest prayer

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This past Sunday, when I shared the news with folks at The Dale that Erinn’s husband Dion is in the hospital due to his worsening MS, the reactions varied from shock to sadness to anger. One friend’s response was “well #@&!, thanks for showing up for Dion, God.” An honest prayer. While I trust that God is working in the life of the Oxford family, it’s undeniably difficult to imagine why God hasn’t made things easier for these three precious people.

Later that same day I was at Sanctuary and a dear friend sat down next to me. He was under the influence, which brought his deep feelings to the surface. He expressed his love for those around him, as well as his confusion and pain. This friend has lost the majority of his biological siblings in the past ten years, as well as numerous street siblings. He has every reason to lament. During part of the service he was praying quietly, and I managed to catch a few snatches; “I love you, Jesus. And I’m just really pissed off with you… I know you love me, Jesus. I’m just having a hard time receiving it.” Another honest prayer.

I think there’s a good reason that so many of the Psalms are songs of lament. We need to and get to express our hearts to God, when we are joyful, confused, tired, angry, hopeful and deeply sad. To me it’s a sign of true and courageous faith when people who have suffered much continue to call out to God in fear, anger and confusion.

May we all learn how to pray these kinds of honest prayers.

Leaning into Beauty

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Back in May, when I turned thirty, I decided I wanted my word of the year to be “beauty”. I wanted to intentionally appreciate the beauty of nature, visual art, music, literature, take time to create more art myself, and also have my eyes, ears, mind and heart open to the beauty to be found in unexpected places.

As we launch into 2018, I am renewing my intention to focus on beauty. I’ve picked up some poetry books, I’ve been dabbling in water colour painting, and have been writing down beautiful experiences so that they don’t slip into the haze of my not-so-great memory. It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Beautiful Moments” blog, so I think it’s high time 🙂 Here are a few from this week:

– On Monday I had an exceptionally pleasant conversation with a member of the community who is usually very volatile when he comes into drop-in. We chit chatted for a good 15 minutes without him getting angry, which is record-shattering! (He lost it on me later in the day, but those 15 minutes of happy chatting still happened! Unexpected camaraderie is beautiful.)

– On Tuesday evening the discussion at Bible study was quite powerful, thanks to the decision by a couple of folks to be vulnerable about their struggles. I basically sat back and witnessed these friends come to a deeper understanding of God’s love for them by sharing their unique perspectives and experiences with one another. It was uncomfortable at times, and very worth it. Trusting openness is beautiful.

-After Bible Study a couple of us walked a community member to his WheelTrans bus (an accessible transportation service), while singing “Lean on Me” at the top of our lungs (not my idea! But I went along with it, because… why NOT!) Passersby looked confused and/or amused, and the WheelTrans driver got a kick out of us. Silliness is beautiful.

May you find lots of beauty this year, too.

A carol that pulls no punches

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Yesterday Erinn and I, along with our dear friend Sam, sang Christmas carols for “Jane”, a Dale friend I’ve blogged about here. Jane has been living in a long term care facility for the last four years after suffering a major stroke. She hasn’t spoken, eaten solid food, or moved the right side of her body for those four years.

When I first started going to see her, Jane would weep with tears that communicated that she recognized me. Over the years, there have been fewer indications that Jane knows who I am, or if our visits make a difference to her. But when the three of us walked through the door yesterday, Jane started to weep again. Throughout our visit she would calm down, then start to cry again We held her hand, sang carols to her, and prayed for her before we left. It was so sad, and I think it was also very good.

I can’t imagine what Jane has endured these last four years, spending every moment in her bed, unable to communicate. But I can guess that of all the carols that we sang, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear rang the most true, especially verse 4. If you’ve never really absorbed these lyrics (as I hadn’t until this year), I invite you to read them all:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

 

This has become my favourite carol, because it pulls no punches. It acknowledges that life is hard, and that we are in desperate need of peace. May Jane, and all of us, know deep hope in the midst of this weary world.

Another whiplash day

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Yesterday was one of those days when Erinn, Meagan and I had to give our heads a shake and re-adjust ourselves a few times.

The day started with a pretty chill breakfast and art drop-in, with many of our folks quietly creating art using some newly-acquired adult colouring books while another community member flipped pancakes and fried up some bacon. The peace and homey-ness was palpable.

This time needed to be cut short in order for us to transition into a memorial that folks from the neighbourhood had asked us to host for a friend who passed away suddenly on Sunday. Dannie was very well known around the Parkdale Community Health Center, having spent time in the parkette adjacent to the center almost every day for the last several years. His sister, a number of staff from PCHC and many of his friends filled the room where we had just eaten breakfast. Songs were sung, stories were shared, tears and laughter both flowed freely. His sister requested that a group shot be taken in the parkette, so we filed out into the cold and gathered around his favourite sitting rock for a photo. The grief, and the celebration of a life that impacted so many others were strong in equal measure.

Directly after the memorial, Erinn, Meg and I went to my house to prepare little Christmas gifts for distribution at our Monday drop in, and some more substantial gift bags to be handed out on Christmas Eve. These gifts were made possible by the generosity of the church in which I was raised, (Ferndale Bible Church in Peterborough), and a few other kind friends of The Dale. We sat around my living room, writing “Merry Christmas! Love, The Dale girls” on 120+ gift tags, listened to Christmas music, and enjoyed the smell of scented candles. My gratitude for the generosity of our extended Dale family, and sadness that these gifts may be the only ones our friends receive this Christmas were both very real.

Peace, grief, gratitude. A roller coaster, to be sure. While there is an ever-present risk for whiplash, there’s no other ride on which I’d rather be.