Tag Archives: beauty

Resurrection hope

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Back in December, Erinn and I heard through the grapevine that a dear Dale friend had passed away. We sought out confirmation, but neither the hospital, the police, nor the coroner’s office had any news for us.

So we held onto hope that we would see him around the neighbourhood…but the days turned into weeks, which turned into months. Erinn and I both wrote blogs about him, in attempts to process our sadness that he seemed to be gone.We were contemplating holding a memorial, but didn’t feel right about that since we didn’t actually know if he had died.

And then, through the persistence of another dear friend, we discovered that he was alive, and safe!! Erinn and I went to see him yesterday, and it was like seeing someone who had been raised from the grave. While he isn’t well physically, he is living, sober, and still very much his hilarious, grumpy self. It was SUCH a joy to see him, and I can’t wait to go see him again.

As Easter nears, I am so grateful for this reminder that resurrection hope is real. While this friend will eventually pass away, along with the rest of us, death does not have the final word. Hope will not disappoint us.

 

The word of the day…and of life

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here, as there’s been rather a lot going on within my life outside The Dale; housing changes, family changes, community and individual relationship changes. Most of these changes have been good, and also tiring… as change often is.

But I have a story that I’ve been meaning to share for weeks, and now I finally will 🙂

One Monday, I was about to head off to our meal drop in, and was telling one of my housemates how overwhelmed I was feeling by the hard things going on in the lives of people around me, and in my own head/heart. After rhyming off the list of things I was mulling over, I said, “But I know there’s hope. There has to be hope.”

When I got to drop in, a conflict that had been simmering for months erupted. Both parties felt misunderstood and wronged, and I had no clue how/if the situation could be mediated. Then, miraculously, one of the people involved suddenly came around to the other person’s point of view, and they agreed to shake hands. I was so genuinely shocked that I burst into tears, and couldn’t get my act together for a good five minutes! Both folks have been part of the Dale for a while, and this turn of events is evidence that they have both come a long way, by God’s grace. Evidence that change is possible. Hope.

A while later, a dear mentor/friend of mine came in with a gift for me. It was her “God loves Parkdale” t-shirt, and a note with this verse:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13). Hope!

I’ve had to the chance to describe my understanding of Christianity to a few new friends recently. I’ve realized that, to me, my faith all comes down to this one word: HOPE.

I believe that in the beginning there was God, God’s creation and relationships, and it was good.

I believe that in the end, there will be God, God’s new creation, and relationships, and it will be good.

In the middle, we’ve really screwed things up, for ourselves, each other and the creation with which we were entrusted.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean that death, sin and despair have been defeated, and that the end of the story will be good.

Hope. It’s all we’ve really got, and it’s enough.

Salty and bright

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I was reading the Gospel of Matthew a couple of days ago, and read the passage where Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:13, 14)

Somehow I had always associated those words with the end of Jesus’ ministry, and assumed he was talking to his closest friends, the disciples who were about to start the Church.

But, according to the chronology of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks these words to a large crowd of folks during his Sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of his ministry. Matthew, the author of the gospel, hadn’t even been called by Jesus yet!

Jesus had just finished healing a large number of people who had been afflicted with all sorts of diseases and struggles that would have left them on the margins of society. Matthew writes that these folks followed Jesus, and we can assume that they made up a large portion of the crowd to which Jesus was speaking. He started his sermon with the Beatitudes, proclaiming that the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted were the most blessed in the Kingdom.

And then, immediately after healing people who had experienced deep pain and marginalization, and telling them that they were The Blessed Ones, he tells them that they are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. He tells them not to lose their saltiness, or hide their light.

In my experience in communities like The Dale and Sanctuary, it is absolutely true that folks who have suffered the most are the saltiest and brightest.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who is wonderfully wise, and struggles mightily with an addiction to alcohol. She said to me, “I’m so weak…but His strength is made perfect in my weakness. He’s blessed me with nice people like you and Erinn, and I turn my back. But He never turns his back on me… I think about you a lot, you know. How is your family doing?”

A week or so later, I was speaking with another friend who is in chronic pain and struggles to make ends meet. At first he was focused on his pain, but then transitioned into an amazing mini-sermon about how it all comes down to love, how we need to listen to God even when it hurts, how it’s important to be a giver not just a taker, and how we need to learn to see the good in other people even when it’s not readily visible.

Another friend adopted a cat many years ago who wasn’t expected to live for very long, due to a variety of ailments. My friend has cared tenderly for this cat that would likely have otherwise been put down. He sat cuddling his beloved pet the other day, and the image was too beautiful not to capture. He told me I could share it with you.

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While Jesus is the ultimate Salt and Light, he makes it pretty clear (all throughout the gospels) that people on the margins are uniquely blessed with the ability to display his saltiness and brightness. I am so grateful for my friends who are constantly reminding me of this deep theological truth.

The beauty of spilling out

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When Erinn or I tell the story of The Dale, we often say that roughly three years ago we spilled out into the streets. The Dale (then PNC) could no longer afford to pay rent, and the decision was made to become a church without our own walls, rather then shut our (figurative) doors completely.

This way of being a roaming church has become a huge part of our identity, and sometimes I even forget that it’s not “normal”. Having no space of our own has it’s challenges, for SURE, but on days like today I am reminded anew of the beautiful blessing that it is to be a mobile church.

There is some work being done on the space that we usually inhabit on Wednesdays, and so we moved our art and breakfast drop-in into the park! It was the loveliest morning. We shared a simple meal of muffins, fruit and coffee. Some of us did some art, and some of us created music. We were able to connect with folks in the neighbourhood that we don’t usually see, and enjoyed being outside under the warm sun. The community was not at all thrown off by our change of location, since we have all become used to moving around, and being The Dale wherever two or more of us we end up!

At one point, a man came over and complimented the musicians on their rendition of “Sultans of Swing”, saying that he thought someone had been playing it on the radio. He was delighted to find the two of them playing it live. It turns out that this gentleman is a classical music radio show host! He was intrigued by our gathering, and took Erinn’s business card. While nothing more may come of this encounter, it was super encouraging, and another reminder of the neat things that can happen when we spill out into the neighbourhood and make ourselves open to new friendships.

I am grateful for days like today.

Gratitude

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I realized the other day that I haven’t done any blogging in a while, and I think it’s because things are still pretty difficult around The Dale, and within myself. Many good things have happened… and over all it’s been tough slogging. I don’t want to downplay or diminish the hard things, but I do want to take this blog post to name the things for which I am really grateful. And, in honour and anticipation of our upcoming Photo Exhibit (opening July 23rd at Gallery 1313 on Queen West… come!), I thought I’d use some pictures I’ve snapped over the last few weeks.

So, I am grateful for:

Our community garden plot, tended entirely by the community

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Sidewalk reminders

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Parkdale sunsets

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Backyard bonfires

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Friends who like to swing from vines

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Friends with farms and pies

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Colourful little critters found at farms

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More graffiti reminders

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Good poetry (thanks Wendell Berry!)

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Cherries picked blocks and hours from our drop in

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As Anne Lamott says, “Awful stuff happens and beautiful stuff happens, and it’s all part of the big picture. In the face of everything, we slowly come through… And at some point, we cast our eyes to the beautiful skies… and we whisper, ‘thank you.’ ”  (Help, Thanks, Wow, pg 51)

In the end, in the end, in the end

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Things continue to be pretty heavy at The Dale. Two dear friends are still in hospital, and may not come out. Another community member who it seemed was just beginning to trust us, and was only a year older than me, passed away last week. As a community, and as individuals, we are sad, and tired.

This morning I was with one of our friends in the hospital, just before he was transferred to a different, further away, hospital. I read him a psalm, and reminded him that he is God’s beloved. He replied, “I know. I’m his creation. I’m his son!” This friend has seen more than his fair share of struggles (and showed me some of his scars today that prove it… not that I had any doubt), and yet he holds onto his true identity as a beloved child of God.

Later in the day I was at the Thrift Store, for our coffee and hang-out time. We are often visited on Tuesdays by a small friend and his babysitter, and their presence is always a blessing. This little guy has a very kind and, I think, pastoral heart. Before he left today, he went around and gave each person in the circle a big hug. I can’t even tell you how beautiful it was. This child knows that he is loved, and out of that love flows love for others.

The other friend who is hospitalized is on life support, so I haven’t been able to talk to him in two and a half weeks. But he has many sayings that have been running through my head over these past weeks. One of them, that he used in the way that I use “anyways” or “in any case”, is “in the end, in the end, in the end.” I’ve been thinking about that, and holding onto the hope that it points me towards. In the end, all will be made right. We are beloved children of God, and in the end we will no longer experience loss, fear, illness, confusion and pain. In the end, in the end, in the end.

And in the meantime, we need to keep remembering our identity, know that we are loved, and love each other with that love.

Wowzers

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Tonight’s Bible study was really lovely.

We were small in number, but had a good, deep discussion and the chance to really share and pray together, which is sometimes hard in bigger groups.

One member took off a bit early to get to an AA meeting, and we cheered him on his way, congratulating him on 13 days of sobriety.

The rest of us spent some time praying. One member prayed “for the guy in the bus shelter, even though he’s crabby with me. I don’t really know why I’m praying for him… but I love him, and I’ll miss him when he’s gone.” Another prayed for “everyone who thinks that no one loves them.”

Wowzers. What a group.

Words from the community

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A friend at The Dale recently told me that he writes poetry, and asked if I’d like to read some of his work. I excitedly said I would love to!

The next week he handed me two work books containing his handwritten poetry/theological reflections/prayers. It has been a deep privilege to read through his work, and I’m trying to convince him to publish it, in some way.

In the meantime, he has given me permission to share some of his words with you. Here are excerpts from a piece called “The Lord Make his Face Shine upon us”

Our Heavenly Father looks upon us with pleasure. He looks upon us through the lens of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Father no longer sees our sins for they have been washed away in Jesus Christ’s blood. He no longer sees our weakness, because we have been clothed in Jesus Christ. God’s face is shining upon us because we are His dear children through faith in Jesus Christ, who on the cross earned for us a place in God’s family.

Father in Heaven, we are grateful to you, Lord, that you know our hearts with our pain and joy. Thank you that you never leave us nor forsake us, as your word tells us. Father, do not turn your face from me, but always look upon me with the shining grace of your Son. Keep me as a sheep of your flock, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Thank you Father.

May you be blessed by these words today.

Art doesn’t judge.

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Just over a month ago I was gifted with two tickets to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I asked a friend from Sanctuary, who adores classical music, to join me. He did, and we had a wonderful time. He knows far more about classical than I do, and enjoyed it on a deeper level than I think I’ll ever be able to. It was a joy to be with him, seeing him soak in the piano concerto, as at home in Roy Thompson hall as he is on the street. He belonged there, and the music welcomed him in.

Today I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario with a friend from The Dale. Someone had gifted her with a family pass, and she was having a hard time finding someone who wanted to go along. Eventually she asked me, and of course I said yes! Again, this friend knows way more about art than I do. We spent a long time looking at the model ships, and she taught me a ton about them, having made some herself when she was younger. We cruised around the halls of this grand gallery and soaked in the beauty. Again, my friend was totally at home, and the art welcomed her in.

I love having these experiences with my friends. I love being welcomed in by the art, to enjoy its beauty, with no questions asked.This reminds me of the Source of all creativity, who created us with the longing to create, and to enjoy the creations of others. The Source who welcomes all of us in.

Another brutiful year

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It’s a new year. Christmas has come and gone again. A friend from my Sanctuary community, Maggie Paul, shared a new word with me just before Christmas that I found/find incredibly helpful when thinking about Christmas, the new year, and life in general: brutiful. This word is originally from a blog called Momastery [http://momastery.com/blog/2010/10/04/brutiful-2/]

The word brutiful reminds us that many things are simultaneously brutal and beautiful. This is similar to the idea I was trying to get at in my last post, when I talked about grief and grace living side by side.

I found Christmas Eve at the Dale to be brutiful. Brutal that so many of our friends were already in hibernation mode, hunkering down and attempting to ignore the holidays altogether. Brutal that the festive season brought up so much past hurt and current pain for so many of us. And beautiful that a group of us came together to enjoy a warm, yummy breakfast and a gingerbread house that we had created a couple of weeks before. Beautiful that two 12 year old “elves” (Erinn’s daughter and her friend) handed out gift bags to the folks who had gathered. Beautiful that the number of bags was exactly the same as the number of people.

Once I started thinking in “brutiful terms”, I saw this paradox everywhere.

A friend called me throughout the holidays to update me on his efforts to secure a room in a rooming house for another friend in the community. Brutal that a small, windowless room without kitchen facilities is currently the only feasible option for this friend. But beautiful that members of the community are looking out for one another, and allowing me the honour of being kept in the loop.

A friend fell off the wagon after being sober for over a month. He came to talk to us because people told him we were worried about him. We chatted for a while, and it was brutal to see him intoxicated when I knew how desperately he wanted to not be. But then he got quiet, looked me straight in the eyes and whispered, “Jesus loves you. He really does, you know.” Beautiful.

So here we are in 2015, a year that we know for sure will be brutiful. Brutal isn’t nearly a strong enough word to describe today’s shootings in Paris. And yet we know that, somehow, beauty will keep surprising us throughout the year. We may need to train our eyes to see it, but it will be there. By the grace of God, beauty remains.

Lord give us the wisdom, courage and grace we will need in this brutiful year ahead.