VIDEO: Remembrance with Rita Nakashima Brock

On Sunday, Nov 6th we were honoured to host renowned theologian and educator Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock as guest preacher for our Remembrance Service. Below is a video of her sermon, followed by the text itself.

Because after all the acrid clouds of smoke and cordite, / After all the killing and rivers of blood, / After all the wasted fields and forests, / After all the craters and burnt cities, / After all the din and destruction, …

All there is is sorrow / All there is is courage / All there is is compassion / All there is is wisdom / All there is is persistence / All there is is hope. / The sun and sky endure, / the sand and restless seas remain, / the tiny, persistent grasses and poppy fields return, / and all the new children are born.

And all there is is this precious treasure, this simple divine presence, this abiding love we share.

Rebuilding a Devastated House[1]

By Rita Nakashima Brock, Director of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School
Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace
Vancouver Canada
On the ninety-eighth year after Armistice Day, in the eleventh month, the sixth day
Text: Haggai 1:15b-2:9 NRSV

Haggai 1:15- 2:9

2In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says theLord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.6For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

 

Let’s be honest, how many of you have read anything in the prophet Haggai recently?

I confess, I probably haven’t paid any attention to it since I was assigned it in a college class forty-seven years ago. But it was in the lectionary for this week, and the passage caught my eye.

 

It caught my eye for two reasons. First reason is that the time period of the text is quite precise:

“the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month,”

nearly as precise as “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918,” or Armistice Day of WW I. You Canadians will mark it on it Friday as Remembrance Day and we in the US will mark as Veterans Day

 

The second year of the reign of Darius would have been around the year 520 BCE, and in that year, the very elderly remnant of the wars between Judah and Babylon had already returned to the devastated villages and cities of Judah, along with some of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the exiles. The people in Judah who had not left were not necessarily welcoming or happy to see these strangers arrive, reminders of the traumatic past.

 

The land, too, was different: both scarred from war and indifferent to war. The desolated fields of ruined soil were dotted with the hovels of survivors. But the flesh of the dead had long ago become grass, and the blackened remains and stony rubble of the cities were overgrown with shrubs and trees. Life had returned in its own way without them.

———-

 

For several days near the end of April in 2014, I visited the Beaches of Normandy, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno. My father fought there in the U.S. Army 1st Infantry. When he fought, my mother’s family, which lived two hours from Nagasaki, were the enemy.

 

In Normandy, remnants of the war litter the fifty miles of beaches, and the viewing slits of gun bunkers still open seaward toward the ill-fated landing boats of D-day. The ground beneath my feet rumbled restlessly with the ghosts of those who crossed those wet sands seven decades ago, and I thought about the price paid by the victorious survivors who carried home memories so terrible, many like my father never spoke them aloud.

 

The week I walked those beaches, a 59-year-old Belgian reserve soldier I met near Bayeux told me of the mass grave of 86 German soldiers just discovered in Belgium. As he noted, the war lives on in the soil of Europe, long beyond the time of winners and losers and the generations who fought. The forensic work to find the families and send those 86 lost boys home is going to take years.

 

For those who survive, the journey home can also take years. Their bodies may be here, but their minds and hearts often wander the battle fields. Many are so devastated that they return as the walking dead, haunted by the horrors they cannot integrate into their former life at home.

 

Every society manages our relationships to mortality and the overwhelming power of grief with assiduous care, we sanitize or sequester death and corpses with elaborate rituals and fierce taboos. But war explodes these careful boundaries, and it wounds not only the bodies but also the humanity of those we send to fight.

 

The invisible wounds I speak of are not terror and the nightmares of fear, which are bad enough. Fear is, of course, inevitable in war, and overwhelming fear can leave behind post-traumatic stress. But something deeper, something even more devastating than fear is also an invisible wound of war: that wound is called moral injury, the violation of conscience.

 

Moral injury comes in the aftermath of surviving; it’s the long slow burn of remembering and not wanting to remember. Desperate to forget and trained to endure inner conflict with stoic resolve, the survivors of war often immerse themselves in intense work, drinking, and other avoidances to manage the guilt and grief that haunt their sleep. Still, the specters of hungry prisoners return in eruptions of grief in the middle of a morning shower. The acrid traces of burned and blackened cities smolder under the mounds of paperwork on a desk. And the empty eyes of staring unsaved children float above alcoholic stupors.

 

War can so change people that they no longer recognize who they once were and what it was like to feel “at home.” Though they may look forward to being home and be grateful to return, ordinary life can also seem shallow, gray and empty after the drama, purposefulness, and camaraderie of war. Being immersed in carnage, they return numb, desolate, disillusioned, or ashamed. But even as they long for the battlefields, their sense of meaning and faith may have been wrecked by what they failed to do or did too much, by what they witnessed or tried not to see.

 

Hidden guilt, shame, betrayal, grief, remorse, or self-loathing are signs of a wrecked moral house. Our moral house is the one we grew up with, the one others made to shelter us so that we might grow up good and safe and loved. As we move into a wider world, sometimes we face the storms of new moral challenges and have to learn from our failures and mistakes. Our house may need some repair, remodeling, or a new room here and there, but its foundations and basic structure remain our shelter throughout our lives, even if it might get considerable remodeling and look completely different after decades of life experiences.

 

But what if a catastrophic event, like a hurricane or war, completely wrecks our house? What is our shelter from the terrible winds that will blow?

 

This brings me to the second thing in this text from Haggai that caught my eye. His strange words of comfort:

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?

Haggai is speaking to the few survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem 66 years after their city and temple were leveled, telling them to remember that temple as nothing. They lived almost their whole lives as captives without their country. Then they were finally able to return from the Babylonian Exile to rebuild that Temple.

 

What might it have felt like for the exiles to return to the home that they had fought for and, after so long, had become just a ghostly nostalgic memory of lost glory?

 

Michael Yandell was an ordinance disposal specialist for the U.S. Army and served six months in Iraq. He has spoken at a number of Soul Repair conferences about his moral injury. At one of those conferences in October 2014, he said:

For me, moral injury names the disillusionment, the erosion of my perception of my place in the world. It is the removal of [my] spiritual and emotional foundations … It is having been a part of something like war, which is so much bigger than me, but feeling personally responsible for the consequences of it – long after I have distanced myself from war. It is a feeling of intense betrayal: the betrayer and the betrayed are the same person – my very self.

What began to erode for me in Iraq in 2004, and what I continue to be disillusioned with over time, is my younger self’s perception of “good” and “evil.” This disillusionment is not altogether a bad thing, but it is the best way I can describe “moral injury:” it is a painful transition from a world and way of being in the world which makes moral sense, to a world that does not….

I know plenty of people who feel terrible about our involvement in these long wars. However, the veteran, or at least I, cannot quite clearly distinguish the war as something “out there” or in the past – it is like something I own personally. Sometimes I feel that it is not only by my own actions, but by the war as a whole with which I am condemned. And I do not mean I am condemned in some cosmic sense – I mean that I condemn myself.

It is the paradox of having the war as such a formative experience in my adult life and my refusal to acknowledge that the war can be a part of my self that morally injures me. Of course the war is a part of me. I cannot avoid it. I cannot escape my experience. And yet who I am rejects what war is – and what I was in the war. This creates the most surreal experience of being uncomfortable in my own skin.[2]

 

What happens to people in war is not just that they violate values they grew up with. It is that military training and war distort the moral will. In war, killing is valorized, aggression and invulnerability are good character traits, and service to others includes obedience to authority without regard for self preservation. As Michael Yandell notes, once the war is an experience, it cannot simply be excised. It is forever a part of the veteran’s identity and memory:

It is important that I reemphasize what exactly it is about war that I categorically reject. It is this unleashing of “good” and “evil” as fundamental ways of understanding human beings. It is the notion that we can place ourselves on a moral high ground, and having done so, completely disregard any moral obligation to avoid violence and death dealing. It is the laying flat of all the ways of valuing life that we hold dear with the expectation that we will be able to rebuild those values later.

The fact is, it is nearly impossible to rebuild and reclaim all that is lost in war. …there are as many meanings for the name veteran and the experience of moral injury as there are veterans who experience it. I cannot speak or write for those who are silent; no one can. However, I can I encourage you—every once in a while—to let the news networks lie dormant. Take a moment to separate yourself from all the meanings that are thrust onto us from so many sources. Let your mind wander; let your eyes and ears drift back over the past … years or so and over all that has transpired.   What was there before, and what remains?

———-

What remains for Haggai and his people? He offers this reminder of an ancient divine promise:

[T]ake courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.

 

In some ways, this might seem like such a small promise. It speaks of an abiding inner reality that can get you through the worst things that might happen, but it offers no protection from those tragedies. How would such a promise sound to people who might have felt abandoned by God? What of people who prayed for deliverance, only to witness so many they loved die in battle or in captivity? They might have lived with trauma inside them so long, that there was no room for spirit. Could they even feel that inner sense of being loved?

 

Perhaps even Haggai knows more is needed. He piles on the comfort. He offers extravagant hope next:

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.

 

We know how true this hope is. The temple does get rebuilt to an even greater glory than the old one, though the living exiles did not live to see it. But we also know how ultimately hollow this promise is.

 

We live in the aftermath of the destruction of that second, even more glorious temple in 70 CE. In that year the Roman general Titus marched into Judah, leveled its towns, and destroyed the temple and city of Jerusalem. On these ruins the Romans built a pagan city and forbid all Jews to enter on penalty of death. Within a hundred years, the Roman governor there had never heard the name Jerusalem. Two thousand years of conflict and war mark that tiny area of land that was once called Canaan, and then Israel, then Judah, and then Palestine and many other names, until, full circle, we are back to Palestine and Israel.

 

We know how impotent the temples of empire, wealth, and privilege are against the moral catastrophes of war. The collapse of the Ottoman empire, and a whole series of empires in WW I, and the holocaust and then the utter devastations of WW II wrecked the moral houses of the West, and now we live with new insurgencies, drone warfare, and globally connected terrorism that erupts unexpectedly like a spreading termite infection in our new moral house.

 

Imperial wealth and riches are cold comfort for moral injury. Something more is needed. The comforts and promises that Haggai describes are addressed to all the people, many of whom will never share in any of the promises. So why must they also rebuild a moral house?

 

War is not possible without civilian demonization of the enemy. Otherwise, who would send their sons and daughters to fight? We must consider what it means to be raised in families and communities and to believe that because we are beloved of God, our good intensions make it possible to inflict violence and destruction on other human beings we define as evil. Once made evil, it is no easy matter to erase hatred and enmity for our adversaries.

 

As those who serve in the military know from experience, the society and relationships we live in are major factors in shaping our values and behavior. When these become dysfunctional, they cannot be changed by sheer acts of personal will. It takes a whole community, intense ritual training, and a long time to change.

 

Moral injury is not a personal disorder of a few veterans; it is the normal response of moral people to experiences of violence that cannot be integrated or understood, that shatter moral foundations, and that require long processing and reflection to understand and integrate so that hope for the future can be restored and life to flourish. This processing is not something anyone can do alone, but with honest friends and a better society that we make together, it is possible.

 

And that brings me to Haggai’s final words of comfort, which in English, sound appalling.

The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity…

Is prosperity really the antidote to war? Returning to a good life after you fill your larder with gold and silver? I think not.

 

The United States, with the prosperity it has accumulated since WW II, has sent our military into conflicts every year, save one during the Carter presidency. The places we’ve gone to war span the globe: Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Bosnia, Desert Storm, and now the so-called War on Terror.

 

But maybe we can give Haggai the benefit of the doubt. The Hebrew word translated as prosperity is shalom. What were the translators thinking? Can we please translate it as peace.

 

But if it speaks of peace, perhaps Haggai’s pronouncements about the Temple mean something deeper:

I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.

Maybe the shaken nations whose treasure is gathered as splendor is something beyond wealth. Perhaps the silver and gold of God are not wealth but something infinitely more rare and precious: divine peace. The house of shalom is the dwelling place that no catastrophe can destroy because it is the people’s house where the splendor of peace is found.

 

But the moral house of peace must be built on a foundation of Remembrance. Remembrance not only of the victories, or the casualties and the tragedies of wars past and present. We must attend also to the cost of war on its survivors, the price paid by veterans who cannot come home and take their own lives, or drink to oblivion, or work too hard and die too young, or spend their entire lives feeling unloveable and unloved because of what they carried home from war.

 

The moral injury of veterans belongs to all of us. Attending adequately to their recovery is a responsible way to welcome veterans home, with respect. If we help carry the memories, we will be better people for the struggle and better able to understand what peace requires of us.

 

Because after all the acrid clouds of smoke and cordite,

After all the killing and rivers of blood,

After all the wasted fields and forests,

After all the craters and burnt cities,

After all the din and destruction, …

All there is is sorrow

All there is is courage

All there is is compassion

All there is is wisdom

All there is is persistence

All there is is hope

The sun and sky endure,

the sand and restless seas remain,

the tiny, persistent grasses and poppy fields return,

and all the new children are born.

And all there is is this precious treasure, this simple divine presence, this abiding love we share.

May it be so—soon.

[1]I first heard this metaphor of a moral house used by Dr. Zachary Moon, a US Navy reserve chaplain and professor of pastoral theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, in January 2014 at a Soul Repair conference on moral injury held in San Diego, CA.

[2]A video of his testimony can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex_2pS6Ekkk.

We’re hiring: Facilities and Maintenance Worker

Facilities and Maintenance Worker

Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace is looking for a reliable worker to assist in operating and ensuring the good maintenance of our church and community buildings. Reporting to the Administrator, the Facilities and Maintenance Worker will identify maintenance issues, undertake light repairs and routine caretaking items, and set up rooms for events and activities.

This regular part-time morning position offers some flexibility in scheduling and requires a self-motivated, enthusiastic and well organized individual with a generalist’s skills in maintenance who is also able to oversee contractors.

Key Responsibilities

  • Be available for early morning work, usually starting between 6:30 – 8:00am, or as needed depending on scheduled events.
  • Set up chairs, tables, resource equipment and audio/visual equipment according to plans provided for events and activities
  • Represent Canadian Memorial United Church positively, provide facility users building access as needed and assist them with requests, equipment troubleshooting and similar concerns
  • Carry out routine maintenance work as required in the facilities and grounds including small repairs, basic plumbing, light painting and similar work. Liaise with and provide oversight of contractors for larger maintenance work
  • Ensure facilities and equipment are in good working order, assist in planning routine and preventative maintenance work
  • Carry out light spot cleaning as needed in support of cleaning staff; maintain tidiness of grounds
  • Other duties as required

Knowledge, Skills and Experience

  • 5 years’ experience and/or relevant education in a maintenance or caretaker role with hands-on knowledge of basic repair and facility upkeep. WHMIS, relevant trade or technical certificates are an asset.
  • An entry level knowledge of modern computer technology, comfort learning and utilizing programs for communications, planning and task scheduling
  • Access to a reliable vehicle, a good driving record, and willingness to travel locally as required
  • Ability to move and lift heavy loads
  • A proven track record as a reliable, accountable, independent worker who demonstrates initiative and effectively works without supervision to maximize available time
  • Strong planning and logistical skills, good trouble-shooting ability, a creative mind and can-do attitude
  • Ability to communicate clearly, effectively relate issues and concerns to the administration, and feel comfortable dealing with the public
  • Ability to perform calmly under pressure in a facility that can be fast paced and present unexpected demands
  • Access to tools or workshop space an asset

Compensation

This position starts with a compensation of $19.00/hour for an average 20 hour work week and is subject to a 3-month probationary period. It qualifies for United Church of Canada benefits (pension plan, group insurance plan) and Medical Services Plan. 2 weeks’ vacation is offered, the pay for which to be calculated at a rate of 4% of gross salary.

To Apply

Please send a cover letter and resume by email only to Alison Therriault: admin@canandianmemorial.org. This posting closes on October 27, 2016. While we thank all applicants for their interest, only those selected for an interview will be contacted.

Calls to Action

trc-pledge-1_0Upon its conclusion, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published a report of 94 calls to action to achieve true reconciliation among the citizens of the land called Canada. During this Thanksgiving weekend, we see fit to draw attention to these calls to action as a way to be in right relationship with the complicated nature of this holiday. Thanksgiving has traditionally been celebrated in remembrance of the first encounter between the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island/North America and the white settlers arriving from Europe by ship. But our evolving awareness of the reality of colonization demands that we question everything we thought we knew about Thanksgiving, and whether it is an event to be celebrated at all, and if so, in what way? Please read the 94 calls to action here if you are moved to declare yourself an ally to this project of awareness and healing, of truth and reconciliation.

Rev. Sally McShane leaves First United Church

sally-mcshane
Photo by Dan Toulgoet

From the staff at First United:

This week we said goodbye to our beloved Reverend Sally, who has been the steward of First United Church’s spiritual core and ‘keeper of the faith’; a trusted confidant and sounding board; a comfort and gentle guide to seekers; and a rockin’ ambassador and bridge of faith to the world. We will miss her terribly, but are at once excited and inspired by her plans for self-care and self-reflection.

 Our Board of Directors have begun the process to find Sally’s successor. In the meantime we have the support of several Ministers to ensure our community doesn’t miss out on our beloved Spirit Circle and daily Spiritual Focus. They will also be providing a listening ear to anyone who might need a friend, prayer or support.

 Please pray for us, that we can thrive in her absence, for those stepping in to fill her shoes in the interim, that we may find a worthy successor, and for Reverend Sally that she continues to find fulfillment.

Please read Rev. Sally’s parting words below:

Leonard

 a.k.a. Four Oranges, seven ginger cookies and a hot cross bun.

 These vignettes of the First United Church community are glimpses of sacred moments; memories of blessings within conversations at Spiritual Focus, Spirit Circle, private moments of conversations and personal reflections for the Prayer Chain emails. Some are prayers and quotes from community members. Any exact quotes or writings are named and have been included by permission. I offer them as precious looks inside the past five years of my ministry at First United Church, beginning with six months volunteer work.

I have named the offerings Leonard. Leonard represents a creative attempt to convey the spirit of the many voices, many dreams, and many agonies within the community.  Some voices have ceased to be heard on the streets or within the Church.

I hope you would have a pause after you read each reflection to honour the lives of these companions who have enriched our journeys; a silence reminiscent of a silence that follows a moving performance when clapping seems an intrusion or that silent moment of heaven and earth connecting.

Within the vignettes are inspiring quotes used over the past years in Spirit Circle that have been digested and interpreted within the expertise of poverty and Hope, reaching for transformative Grace. Those quotes are credited as well.

First United Church is an inclusive Christian expression of faith. We call the amalgamation of faith expressions within the First Community as Innerfaith rather than Interfaith with Jesus as host.

I hope I have honoured the privilege I have had to hear these voices, to experience these moments.

Sally McShane

 

 “Four oranges, seven ginger cookies and a hot cross bun.” Leonard carefully recites the items in his hands. For him these bits were two handfuls of joy. “I am going to eat one every hour just to savour the blessings of the day for twelve hours. I might share them.” He lifts his gaze from his hands to our faces and with smiling eyes shows us he isn’t serious about sharing.

 

 She runs up to us panting, crying, and stuttering out her words.

“Call the police. An ambulance.  This guy …..guy…..he just came up behind this other guy and hit him. He had a two by four. A stick. He hit him in the head and the guy fell to his knees.” She stops to pant some breaths into her lungs. “And then he kicked him while he was down. He walked away. He didn’t say a word. Not a f-g word.”  DLO, 23

 

 “Two men walk into a bar…” Joe stops and looks at us laughing. “You’ll love this. Funniest story I ever told. Two men walk into a bar …… and get kicked out.”  He heaves with laughter. He stops suddenly, looking at us because we don’t really get the joke. “You see. The drunks had some money in their pockets for the first time in a long time and they can’t buy a beer anywhere because they have a reputation of stealing and pickpocketing. Now that is funny”.

 

 “Has anyone seen Harley? Harley used to sit in the lobby and sing his Cree songs of lament and grief. This young man of 22 years has lost his fiancé from suicide and his Mom and Father from alcoholism in the last year. We haven’t seen him in months.”

 

 “Life is measured not by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. Dancing can do that.”  – Tahitian Choreographies by Vicki Corona

 

 “You know the world is coming to an end soon. The Book of Revelation makes it clear. Why don’t we ever study the Book of Revelation?”

“Rev. Sally doesn’t allow it.”

“What? This is the most important book in the entire Bible. It explains the end after we have all sinned and God kills the sinners.  It is the final judgement with blood running in the streets and down mountains. God will take vengeance for the poor and the greedy will be judged. God will get revenge for killing his son.”

“Actually the book doesn’t say that.”

“You don’t know anything. You are woman. God does not allow women to speak in church. The Bible says so. So just be quiet.”

“Sir, I think you need to leave the Chapel now.”

“Shut up!! You do not have a voice in the house of God, woman.”

 

 “I thank God every day for my blessings. Some people think because I live here I have no value. Some people think only money in the pocket gives value but I think God gives me value. I am free every day to say ‘thank you’ to God. It isn’t costing me anything.” BB, 34

 

 “Why is it barking?

The dog had been left in the women’s shelter by its owner for a few hours so she could seek our housing. Daisy was whimpering and barking intermittently.

“Daisy is feeling anxiety because her owner is not here. She is scared.”

That response brought out the love and a rotation of care, reassurance and patting from the other women staying in the shelter. They understand being scared.

 

 “Yah, I don’t believe that woogly-goo shit, pardon my French, about a big Father in the sky who gives a damn about me.”

Another community member responds. “Why are you here at Spirit Circle? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“I had nothing else to do and I knew I could get some food.”

The response from the community sitting around the table is strong. “This is important to us and you are welcome to the meal but you are not welcome to diminish something that is deep and meaningful to us. If you have a problem with God work it out.”

He responds, “I think you are an idiot for being here. It’s all nonsense.”

Another community member responds. Softly. “Is it the word Father that bothers you?”

His head turns to the speaker quickly. “I don’t have a Father. The bastard died a few years ago in jail for beating my Mother.  She shouldn’t have reported him. He would have been home with us kids. He wouldn’t have gone to jail and been murdered. Where was God then? It’s all bullshit.”

 

 “Religion is for those who are scared of going to hell.

  Spirituality is for those who have been there.”  DTES expression

 

 “Stephen died.  Cancer.”

 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

The Prayer Chain email begins …….Some days there just doesn’t seem to be enough Grace and Hope to go around. This is a day like that for so many. Someone is filling out forms for housing again, having been unsuccessful in finding something affordable in the last six months. Something without rats and bedbugs for under 600.00 a month, please. “The great outdoors would be more comfortable except for the rain.” Another person, along with a few others, is asking for a bed with us. We are at capacity.  We give blankets and the phone numbers of other shelters. Someone else just “fell off the wagon” after four soul wrenching, fist clenching months of being clean.  What was the straw that broke his resolve?  I don’t know. But I do know I can sit and write you an email and you will offer prayers and Hope for the community.  I thank you for being there at the end of this email and seeking the Light of God for the people of God. Please pray for the people of the DTES. Blessings, Sally

 

 “The time will soon be here when my grandchild will long for the cry of a loon, the flash of a salmon, the whisper of spruce needles, or the screech of an eagle.  But he will not make friends with any of these creatures and when his heart aches with longing he will curse me.  Have I done all to keep the air fresh?  Have I cared enough about the water?  Have I left the eagle to soar in freedom?  Have I done everything I could to earn my grandchild’s fondness?”                                                                 – Chief Dan George

 

“I would commit suicide but it would hurt my family. My awful journey began when my Mom killed herself when I was 15 years old. At her funeral everyone was drinking. They were laughing and sharing fun stories so I thought that was how we cope. But now I am forty and I am caught in this trap. Her trap. I can’t get out.” Quote by L, 55

 

 “I was sitting on a park bench at Pigeon Park on Saturday at about 5pm. It was sunny. I had a book open on my knee and I was enjoying the day. Two dudes drove up in their car and stopped in front of me and asked me if I was hungry. I live on 880.00 dollars a month and 475.00 goes to rent. I am always hungry.

‘Yes’, I said. ‘I am hungry’. They threw a bowl of soup and a burrito at me and started laughing. Then they drove away while I sat there with hot soup on my face and clothes.” SK, 35

 

 “I saw Harley. He sits in the park with his friends every day and drinks. I think he is drinking the rubbie now, too.”

 

 The Prayer Chain email begins………It has been a tough week at the Church. Many people have been in stress and tension. It is the week before the social assistance cheques arrive in the mail so food is short for seniors and single parent families. For people in addiction their bodies are already anticipating a drug and for many who are fighting their addiction the inner war is even worse. To counteract the anxiety of the week, at Wednesday night’s Spirit Circle we celebrated Christmas in August. We sang some carols and enjoyed the season of Hope without all the commercialism and hype.  Especially we listened to a carol by Bing Crosby called I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day based on a poem by Longfellow. Profound lyrics. I encourage you to Google it because it is relevant for today’s troubles. Blessings, Sally

 

 “Janet died. Janet of the long brown hair and the beautiful brown eyes who always sat in the same place in the church every day. It was on the pew in the front lobby under the poster of the dog with its face to the wind with the caption, ‘Rejoice in the Lord’.”

 

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”   Matthew 7: 7, 8

 

 She is 82 years old. Tiny. Thin. She is crying. She wrings her hands. “My daughters came to visit me in the shelter and they are really upset. I hadn’t told them I lost the apartment. I hadn’t told them about the man who took my money and so I couldn’t pay the rent and now I am homeless. All my furniture was put out of the apartment. I can’t afford any apartments now. I was too ashamed to tell them. I can’t stay with them. They have families and are struggling financially. I don’t know what to do.”

 

 

Family Prayer by Ruby (2015) age 74

God made us family

We need one another.

We need one another.

We Love one another.

We forgive one another.

We work together.

We play together.

We worship together.

Together we use God’s words together. We grow in Christ together. We love all men and women together. We serve our God together. We hope for heaven together.

Those are

Our hopes and ideals.

Help us to attain them, O God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

 “Hi Harley. Honey how are you? I have missed you.” He looks awful. No longer a cute 22 year old kid with innocence in his eyes but a weary 55 year old with red blotches and bloated cheeks.

“Hi. I just came by to tell you I am going to detox today. Time to get over the shit. Will you pray with me before I go? I don’t know if I am strong enough to face the memories.”

 

 An excerpt from an open mike eulogy for the man who kept the pigeon on his head and sat on the corner of First and Commercial:

“Gawd he was a bastard. I came today to say it in case no one else said it.  Rev. Sally I know you always try to find something nice to say but there isn’t anything good here. There was nothing nice about this son of a bitch. He cheated everyone. He took money from me. He hated everyone. Look how he kept the damn pigeons on his head with a string tied to their leg so he could get money. I know God isn’t going to allow him to get the f..k into heaven cause if he is allowed in… that place must be more like hell.”

 

 “Stop it!! Stop it.” You can hear the screams through the entire Church. Staff who are available run to help. The screams sound like they are coming from a deep, deep well of pain.

“Leave me the F alone. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I didn’t take anything.”

She tries to hide the phone she just took from someone’s bed behind her back.

“You took the phone. Please put it back.”

“She left it laying there. What does she expect? If she is that stupid she deserves to lose it.  She’s living in a Shelter for F’s sake. We’re addicts!! We take everything.”

 

 “Irish Mike died. Mike of Irish temper and swift to protect others. He just didn’t wake up this morning. Word on the street someone put something in his drink.”

 

 The Prayer Chain email begins……. Merry Christmas Day, a day of Light and Wonder…. And possibilities. This past Wednesday at Spirit Circle 45 people shared the Christmas feast. Half of them were able to take home containers of turkey meat, potatoes and more veggies with gravy. There was laughter and deep sharing but most of all gratitude. One of the community who has been on our prayer list played her drum for us. She is a elderly shy and humble woman and it was not easy for her to offer her gift but she was determined she would. It was a precious gift. I will hear the carol The Drummer Boy in new ways now. Jose who is the news right now because he was able to leave sanctuary in the Lutheran church came with his family to see Rodney and stayed for dinner and carols. He was beaming with Joy. My best gift today, Christmas Day, was a man whom I have known for four years and watched struggle with addiction and abuse finally trust me enough to reveal his life and let it unfold with tears. These moments are privileged moments.

So to all of you and this gift of prayer you give I offer my deepest gratitude. Every time you hold the people of the community in the Light you offer are offering healing and strength, as well as Hope. Blessings, Sally

 

 “My granddaughter is 9 years old. She lives in Calgary. She sent me two five dollar bills to give as gifts to two people who have helped me while I have lived in the shelter. This one is for you. Merry Christmas.” JB, 81

 

 “Has anyone seen Harley since he got out of the Recovery Centre?”

“Yes, I have. He’s back at the park with his buddies.”

 

 “This prayer I write from the bottom of my heart to all staff that work here. It’s not an easy job to do but you keep doing it right. What I say in this prayer I say from this heart of mine to the Lord. I’ll pray for you staff always because you help me out the way no one would. I love you people so much from both me and my husband.”

“May the great Spirit guide you on your way. May the Lord walk with you through the right path to clean your Spirit and soul. You’ll feel good.”           

Written by RJ, age 60, Mountain Cree.

 

 An excerpt from Spiritual Focus, a morning worship and healing circle:

“I think hope is a slippery meaningless word. Why does this Church say, ‘Hope Lives Here?’ The word has no meaning.  The word hope lacks strength. Jesus never said the word hope. He always said trust or have faith.”

Five people leaned forward into the conversation. Wilma got out her response first. “I think hope is a powerful word. It has just lost faith over the years.”

Everyone nods.

 

 Loudly he says, “Hey everyone. Do you want to join Rev. Sally’s travelling salvation wonderment show? Sponsored by Jeet’s corporation.” JG, 61

 

 “I took the quilt you gave me from that Church who made them for us and I put it on my bed in my little room. The purple is so beautiful in my room. It is like snuggling into a blessing.” HH, 45

 

 “Harley. I am so glad to see you honey.”

“I wanted to tell you I went to the Recovery Centre and I stayed sober there for two months. It was hard because I had to think about my fiancé and my parents dying last year and now my little brother is in trouble. Once I got out I had nowhere to go. So I came back to my friends.”

 

 He towered over the staff member while he spit out the angry words, “You know what?  F. U.  F.U. you can’t do anything. You can’t help me.” TG, 23

 

 “I got housing. I have a place. It is a room down the street from here. I have to share a bath … and the kitchen but it is all mine. No bugs there. Only 450.00 a month. It leaves me enough money to buy some food and get some clothes, buy my medication.”

 

 “Kids on the block!!” he yells. All along the street the drug paraphernalia and the alcohol containers disappear as the kids from the grade six class walk by with their chaperones.

 

 “I need a towel and some soap. Can I take a shower here? I almost melted away sleeping in the rain last night. I’m made of sugar you know!” He laughs as he walks away towards the foot soak to put his feet in some hot soapy water.

 

 “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord.” He lifts his hands in the air as he makes the mocking comments with a big smile on his face.

“Thanks Al for being at Spirit Circle. Where are you from? What’s your hometown?”

“I’m from Alberta. Praise the Lord.” He laughs again.

Obviously he was drunk but a happy drunk. The rest of the community around the Spirit Circle table moved their chairs to accommodate him.

“Al, you are a riot. Have some food.”

“Have some coffee. Please!!”

Al the following day: “Rev. Sally I am so sorry. Was I offensive? My grandmother would kick my ass, oh sorry, my butt if she knew I was offensive in church.”

 

“What does God actually do?  He seems a lazy kind of guy considering all the shit in the world.”

 

 “Clifford died. Stabbed.”

 

 “Jesus taught me about forgiveness when he said on the cross, ‘Forgive them God they don’t know what they are doing.’ My grandmother and my mother both went to residential school. My Mom held me and cried all over me when they took me. They pulled me out of her arms. She knew what was about to happen to me.”

                                                                  

“Deb died. Overdose. Harley’s auntie you know. The Memorial took place in the park while you were away.  The park where he hangs out. We didn’t think you wanted an email while on vacation.”

 

A Franciscan Blessing:

 

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial concerns, so that you may live deep within your heart.

 May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

 May God bless you with tears to shed for those who are hurting and with open hearts and arms to reach out in compassion and care.

 May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

 Go in hope and peace.

The world is waiting.

Bringing Our Gifts to the Table

Music director Lonnie Delisle speaks on how we can respond to the call of spirit to bring our gifts to the table, and why he gives.

Congregation members Mary Lou Whittaker, Jimena V. Mendieta, Duncan Etches, and Barb Quinn talk about why they give at Canadian Memorial.

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