Solidarity instead of Charity, right here in Edmonton
I have always had a penchant for the dramatic, though one might not have recognized this in me as a shy, young child, I have grown to enjoy putting myself in interesting (sometimes a bit un-nerving) situations like traveling alone or working in the inner city (against my poor parents pleas). I have also always been a touch over dramatic in my day-dreaming as well; I have played out how I would react in many scenes over and over in my head such as my wedding day, being kidnapped from a mall parking lot, and what I would do if my house had been burgled.
Well today folks, I got to play that later one out for real! How exciting [look on the bright side right?]
So here is what I learned:
- I am even more [outwardly] calm than I thought I would be. Inside I was freaking out a little bit at first, but when I drove in the yard and noticed the light in my bedroom was on, I thought, “huh, I bet my house was broken into”. I calmly drove around to the front and walked to the front door, busted (the door that is), walked back to my car, and called my parents and then the police… By the time the police got there 20 min later, was literally laughing.
- #singlegirlproblems: not having someone to come into the house with you, not having someone to sleep next to you in the creepy house afterwards
- Some police are pretty nice. I have had various dealings with police over the past few years in the inner city, some nicer than others, but these ones were great. I also realized more than ever how powerless the police can be in situations like this. What can they really do? Nothing. In many ways, they provide a very false sense of safety (though I’ll admit, I was thankful they were there to accompany me into my broken into house.
- Always trust your intuition. Oddly enough only days before as I was packing to go to the lake for Christmas, I looked at my lap top and thought to myself, “To take, or not to take? Your parents don’t even have Internet, you won’t need that. But you might want to watch a movie. No, there is no Internet remember, and that’s what the t.v. is for. Oh okay, I’ll leave it. Oh wait, what if the house gets broken into, you’d be mad at yourself if it got stolen.” Yes self, I would have been mad at me, and also royally f*’d for school next semester too. Always listen to intuition.
- Bad things bring people together. As I was trying to be outwardly calm at the beginning (before going inside the house) I was also trying to be proactive. So I looked through my contacts to see whose couch I could crash on (thinking at this time that I would be really upset and freaked out like I was in my dramatic re-enactments of day dreams, and imagining a disaster of epic proportions awaiting me inside). There were a few people that came to mind, and while I love all my friends, and I know I could count on any of them, some seemed to be the clear choices in my moments of quiet panic. The two people I did reach out to were so generous and caring and offered a place to stay at any time, one of them even offered to just stay on the phone if I needed, or to come over and stay the night if I was scared. Bad things have a beautiful way of bringing out generosity and care in people, it sure feels nice.
- Where to hide your valuables. Well folks, it’s true, they do look in between your mattresses and in your jewelry boxes. The bathroom however, was untouched…
- The getting back on the horse metaphor is good, but also hard. Even as I write this I am hearing all kinds of sounds in my creaky little house. Of course my mind is jumpy as all get-out and everything sounds like footsteps, but I have to keep telling myself that eventually I will have to sleep here alone, and why not today. No time like the present right?
Since you’re all probably wondering, only one thing seems to have been taken from the house; one very valuable piece of jewelry, which is quite unfortunate, though it could have been much worse. They didn’t even wreck anything other than the door. They emptied out my garbage on my bed, but other than that, things were just rummaged through, not broken. So either they were just the most polite burglars ever or something else was at work. Everyone seems to have a different theory about this; that we had nothing of real value anyway, that I was just cashing in some karma, that something or someone came and scared them away, that they were in a rush, maybe that they were only looking for money or jewelry, my dad’s theory is perhaps the most unusual, he thinks perhaps they saw a picture of me, or one of my friends that works in the inner city or of my friend Ann, a well known woman in the inner city who was homeless for many years, and recognized someone they knew and left without doing too much damage. I think this theory is a little far fetched, though stranger things have happened. Either way, I am safe and sound, I will likely have a ridiculously expensive heating bill from my door being open for days in -30 weather, but all in all, I’m thanking God (and maybe my Guardian Angel Ann) because it could have been a whole lot worse.
One final note: Crime can happen anywhere. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again a thousand times. Crime can happen anywhere. I know a couple who’s home was broken into in St. Albert, my car has been broken into two times, both times on the south side. You can even see a map of Edmonton that shows crimes that happen in every neighborhood (Even yours) http://crimemapping.edmontonpolice.ca/ I love my neighborhood, even if it is a little rough at times, I see so many good things happening here and I won’t be convinced that this wouldn’t have happened if I lived somewhere else, because it simply isn’t certain.
Some of the best conversations I’ve had have happened on the front steps of The Mustard Seed. The steps face southwest and are often basked in the warmth of the afternoon sun, making them a perfect place to sit. These steps are where I first got to know Lori. It was one of those warm afternoons when I arrived early for a Saturday shift- Lori was already on the steps, relaxing in the sun. In our first conversation, we sat and talked for hours.
Over the following months Lori began to share pieces of her story with me, memories from the past that were sometimes painful and other times quite humorous. On the streets and struggling with addiction since the age of 12, Lori never ceased to amaze me at the things she could endure while still maintaining an incredible sense of humor. Listening to her struggles I had no idea what to do for Lori. What could I say? How could I respond? What could I do that would possibly be of help to someone in so much pain?
Author Jamie Arpin-Ricci writes, “All too often, when faced with the sadness and suffering of others, we rush to offer comfort in order to ease our own discomfort… We want to give advice, to solve the problem, to fix what is broken as much to relieve our own discomfort as to genuinely help the other’s hurt. Instead, Jesus invites us to come alongside, identify with those suffering and join them in their mourning…the community into which Jesus invites us is beautiful because it is a sacred place – the only place – in which the mourner can truly find comfort.”
Lori taught me the essence of relationship: she taught me that all I could do in the face of her tremendous pain, and perhaps all she needed me to do, was to mourn alongside her; to join her in grief, but also in hope.
This is a sad week for me as I mourn the recent death of Lori. She touched my life in deeply meaningful ways. My invitation to you is to mourn along with me the loss of a special woman, a wonderful human being whom I hope has finally found the real love and true comfort she was longing for.
To see this post in it’s oringinal form (and more like it), check out The Mustard Seed Blog (HERE)
What is Justice?
Have you ever considered the word “justice”?
Here’s how the dictionary defines it:
jus·tice noun 1. The quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause. 2. The administering of deserved punishment or reward. (Dictionary.com)
The Bible talks about justice in a lot of different ways:
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:17
But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24
But what does all this talk about justice really mean for us? Administer punishment to the person we see littering? Go pleading for the widows to our government officials? Can we turn on a tap and see justice flow out like water? How does justice actually work? What does it look like?
Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, “covenant members who practice justice and righteousness are to be active advocates for the poor and marginalized; that’s how we love God, by actively loving our neighbor.” Civil rights activist Cornel West says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
God’s justice is all about equality. The invitation of the Gospel is to live in such a way that aims to correct the inequalities in our community; sharing resources, knowledge, and opportunity. I like how the prophet Amos says, “Let justice roll down like waters.” The neat thing about water is that it spreads out equally wherever it is; it fills all areas in the same way. This is how I imagine justice to look- like water in a pond, there may be an uneven bottom, but the top is level; equal, all the areas of the pond are filled with water. Water doesn’t judge the bottom of the pond, which nook or cranny is worthy of being filled, it just fills everything up equally.
Perhaps that is how justice works today. Loving our neighbor like water filling a pond; not judging the worthiness of the neighbor, just filling each one up with love and justice equally.
The following is a video about Justice. It asks us: “If justice and injustice were embodied by humans, what would they have to say to us? Whose voice would sound more familiar?”
Have a look and find out- http://vimeo.com/20523454
Weekends are a unique time in the inner city. Most of the agencies are closed, and there is a kind of hush that seems to blanket the remaining activity. As I was leaving work one Sunday, a somewhat distraught older, aboriginal man approached me wanting to talk. We sat, side by side, our arms slightly touching, on the steps of the church looking out at the neighborhood. Sitting for a while, in silence, and then looking off into the distance he said, “I did something bad.” “You did something bad?” I echoed in reply, my mind wandering off as I imagined any number of confessions that could follow. I looked at him and waited for him to respond. It was as if he was pulling the words from deep inside mustering the energy to give them voice. “I gave my money to some bad people. They asked me for money and when I gave them some, they tried to take all of it from me. How can I be a Christian?” he asked, “I try so hard to love people and to give them what they want, and then they hurt me.” I could tell he had a heavy heart, and we continued to sit for a while in silence, intermittently speaking about the difficulties of being human, being a Christian, and of loving people.
Across the street a fight broke out, an irate young woman chased after a young man shrieking about the money he owed her. “How can humans be so horrible to one another?” he chocked out nearly weeping. It was as if the woman was beating him up too. He reached over and grasped my hand for a moment as we waited for the clash to dissipate.
In this holiday season we are often reminded of the good in the world, it is a time to remember family and friends, to enjoy big meals, and of course, to give gifts, but there is also a great deal of pain for many people. Many of the worst parts of the inner city; the violence, the addictions, the broken relationships all seem to increase around this time, and they often seem senseless until they are seen as responses to the intense pain many of our neighbors harbor, pain that is often amplified by the memories of holidays past. In listening to this man it was as if I could feel some of his pain. I share this with you because in this Christmas season, one of the invitations of the season is to love one another through the spirit of giving. My invitation to you is to consider that perhaps whenever people ask for something from us, we are to give to them; perhaps not always specifically what they are asking for, but we can always give dignity, respect, and kindness.
This Christmas Season, and throughout the year, may I always remind myself to pause and consider, “What is this person asking of me, and what am I able to give them?” Let me be reminded that not all gifts must be bought from a store and wrapped in pretty paper to be valuable, and for each person I meet, may I take the time to ask myself, “How can I love this person more?”
Many of you know about my work in the inner city of Edmonton at the Mustard Seed. I’m sure I’ve shared different stories and thoughts about the topics of poverty and homelessness both abroad and right here at home, but through the past 2-3 years of steady immersion in Edmontons poorest neighbourhood, the majority of my free time spent reading, watching, and listening to everything about poverty and it’s related issues that I can get my hands on, nothing has come quite as close as the link below has to articulating the issues and why I seem to care so deeply about them in a way that I think everyone can understand.
I’m sending this to you because I want so badly for you to understand why this cause has become so important to me, and why I just can’t let it go. Why despite my frustrations and tears, I keep going back for more every day. And because I would really love to hear your thoughts on it. I think it is our nature to share important things with the people we love and this is so important to me, and I value your opinion. So “all I want for Christmas this year” is for you to listen in!
The following link is from a CBC radio show called The Current and there are three parts.
Have a listen, and if you like, tell me what you think and pass it on to someone you know and care about so they can hear it too.
If you haven’t heard it yet this year, let me be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas.
I love working at The Mustard Seed, but sometimes after a long day, when someone approaches me to talk, I just don’t have the desire or the energy to be fully present to them. John (we’ll call him), doesn’t come to The Mustard Seed very often, but when he does we always have very awkward and strange conversations that I don’t look forward to, so when I arrived at work already exhausted one evening after a long day at school to find John, eager to chat, I have to admit I was less than thrilled. It was a busy night, the kind where the entire shift can go by without a moment’s pause. I was thankful for this because no sooner had John begun to chat, I was called away to deal with a flooded toilet and then a conflict, and on and on the list went. Whilst maneuvering through the crowded drop-in from one task to the other, John reached out and caught my attention for a moment; seated alone in the midst of the chaos of a hundred other people talking and laughing, eating, playing games, and sharing community together. John looked up at me from his seat and said, “Loneliness is terrible. Sometimes it’s nice just to be with other people, isn’t it?” I think for the first time I heard John not with my ears, but with the whole of me; in this moment of vulnerability, I really saw him there as a human being.
Author and priest Henri Nouwen said, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” Today I am thankful for people like John, who remind me that The Mustard Seed exists because, not only is it nice to be with other people, it’s essential; it’s what we were created for. I am thankful for John because he forces me to collide head on with the true meaning of community and, through awkwardness and uncomfortable conversations, invites me to understand and practice community better.
A reporter recently asked me, “As a Christian leader, does your faith have anything to say about Wall Street?” I said, “How much time do you have?”
The Christian message has a lot to say to Wall Street.
Theologian Karl Barth said, “We have to read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” For too long we Christians have used our faith as a ticket out of this world rather than fuel to engage it.
In his parables, Jesus wasn’t offering pie-in-the-sky theology… he was talking about the real stuff of earth. He talks about wages, debt, widows and orphans, unjust business owners and bad politicians. In fact Woody Guthrie breaks it all down in his song “Jesus Christ”. The song ends with Woody singing, “This song was written in New York City… If Jesus were to preach what he preached in Galilee, they would lay him in his grave again.”
The more I read the Gospels, the more they seem to confront the very patterns of the world we live in. At one point Mary, pregnant with Jesus cries out: “God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly… God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty…” You can’t help but think if she were alive in contemporary America some folks would try to accuse the Virgin Mother of being Marxist or promoting class warfare. But all through Scripture we see this – over 2000 verses about how God cares for the poor and most vulnerable.
What would Jesus say about Wall Street?
It doesn’t get much better than Luke chapter 12. Jesus begins by saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And then, as per usual, he tells a story. The story is about a “rich man” whose business makes it big. He has so much stuff he doesn’t know where to put it all. So he decides, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones… and I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But Jesus says God looks down and is not happy. God says to the rich man, “You fool! This very night you will die — and what will happen to all your stuff?” And Jesus ends the teaching by saying this is how things will be for folks who store up stuff for themselves.
It does make you wonder what to do about 401k’s and pensions. But it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn’t a big fan of stockpiling stuff in barns and banks, especially when folks are dying of starvation and preventable diseases.
One of the constant threads of Scripture is “Give us this day our daily bread.” Nothing more, nothing less. Underneath this admonition is the assumption that the more we store up for tomorrow the less people will have for today. And in a world where 1% of the world owns half the world’s stuff, we are beginning to realize that there is enough for everyone’s need, but there is not enough for everyone’s greed. Lots of folks are beginning to say, “Maybe God has a different dream for the world than the Wall Street dream.”
Maybe God’s dream is for us to live simply so that others may simply live. Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.
Woody Guthrie may be right. If Jesus came to Wall Street preaching the same message that he preached in Galilee… he might land himself on a cross again.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borderswhich creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world.
A woman came to the doors of my office today naked. Well. Not totally naked (thank goodness), but I was surprised as I was leaving work for the day to find a woman with no pants, socks, or shoes standing at the door shivering in the shadow of the building and the cool fall air. As I was gathering items to give to the woman at the door, I had to chuckle to myself at the sometimes blatant ways that God pushes his way into my life. It brought to mind the verse in Mathew where Jesus said, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Despite the fact that I work with the hungry, the sick, the lonely, the poor, the oppressed (and sometimes the naked too apparently), I often seem to lose perspective on my purpose. I begin to forget what it’s all about; I often ask myself, “Am I really doing anything that matters?”
A large part of my job is to teach people about the inner city and the issues that affect the people who live there. It is easy to become weighed down by the sheer complexity and overwhelming amount of issues to deal with, but somehow God brings it all back to the little things. Mere minutes before this woman appeared at the door, I had just returned from leading 30 people in a tour of the inner city to help them understand a bit more about the complexities of poverty. The goal of the tours is to introduce people to the issues of housing security, poverty, justice, mental health and addictions by showing them what is actually happening right there in their own city. Not only had we discussed the issues, but we also made bagged lunches to feed the hungry, and visited the people in the remand center by stopping outside the building beneath the windows of their cells. Although we can’t physically go inside, I feel as though it is an act of solidarity to be able to lead groups of people there to talk to them about the issues of the remand center. Built in 1979, the Remand Centre now holds upwards of 700 inmates, although it was originally built to hold about half that number, and is now one of the most overcrowded, dangerous correctional facilities in Canada. The inmates there who often spend their limited time outside of their cells looking out the windows waiting for people to write them a message on the pavement, or wave to acknowledge their presence, often wave to me as I pass. Many I’m sure have seen me a few times given the amount of tours I lead each week, some of them may even know me from the Seed. My hope is that each group of people I bring to see them leaves with a greater sense of empathy for the people inside, and a sense of appreciation for the unique situations that caused each person to end up there as well as an eagerness to support them as they are released. It’s something little, but I hope in the long run it helps.
I brought the woman some clothes and left for the day, but it did cause me to question myself. How can I give a naked woman clothes and then hop in my car and drive away unchanged? How in this day and age can some members in our society make million and billion dollar salaries each year and others end up at the doors of the Mustard Seed with no pants on? How can this happen and how can I continue to live this privileged lifestyle that perpetuates the systems that make this phenomenon possible? Even as I write this I am sitting drinking a latte at a chain coffee shop who’s CEO’s probably make more in a year than I will make in lifetime. Perhaps it was just the shock seeing a half-naked person on the steps that shook me out of my complacency for the day, something you don’t see too often, but this woman reminded me in a very real way why we are called the Mustard Seed and why, even though I can’t change the world in all the ways I want to, I choose to work for an organization that is able to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. You see, mustard seeds, are very little seeds, but they grow into deeply rooted, full-bodied bushes that are a nuisance to get rid of. We are called the Mustard Seed because we hope that even the little things make a big difference. Because human dignity is important and we hope that even something as small as a pair of pants, a bagged lunch, or a wave from far below can make a difference and help to restore some of that dignity that has been stripped away.
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Loving Andy Mckee right now - beautiful tunes. Check out his website here
Writer M.F.K. Fisher once wrote,
"[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
— (The Art of Eating)
I made bread for a dinner party today and it was an almost hypnotic business, before I knew it I was in a sort of trance; measuring and kneeding, letting the dough rise in the warm oven and punching the billowy mound of risen dough down an hour later, rolling the loaves and nestling them into their buttery pans to rise again, brushing their bulbous tops with melted butter and sighing a deep breathy sigh at the smell of the yeasty, floury goodness that had been building from the time I mixed the yeast with the warm water. The smell wafted throughout my apartment lulling me into a bread-coma, and before I knew it, three hours had gone by…
it was especially more wonderful than braving the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon - an act that could take three hours in and of itself given all the other shoppers out and about at this time…
Try it for yourself. It is a wonderful way to embrace one of the simple joys of life.
I also enjoyed reading the Seven Spoons blog - it inspired my bread baking in fact - read it here.
4 and 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast (or the equivalent of two packets)
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces
2 and 2/3 cup additional warm water
9-10 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the tops of the loaves
Additional butter/cooking spray, for greasing your rising bowl and loaf pans
1. In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cup of warm water, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the sugar, salt, butter, additional 2 and 2/3 cup warm water, and mix gently to combine.
3. Slowly add 5 cups of the flour, mixing on low speed until smooth.
4. With the mixer on its lowest speed (you don’t want flour everywhere…as I have discovered), slowly add the remaining flour until the dough is smooth.
5. Switch to your dough hook attachment and knead the dough for 10 minutes. ***Now, if you have a smaller mixer, I would recommend kneading the dough in two portions so as not to burn your motor out-this is a lot of dough. Alternatively, like my grandmother used to do, you can knead all of the dough by hand.
6. While the dough is kneading, lightly grease a large bowl with butter or cooking spray, as well as two loaf pans (I used 9″).
7. Once the dough is ready, place the dough in the greased bowl and turn over to completely coat the dough with butter/cooking spray. Cover, and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.
8. After an hour, punch down the dough (yes!) and divide it into two portions.
9. Working with one portion at a time, roll (with a rolling pin) the dough out into roughly 12″ x 12″ rectangles, making sure that the thickness of the dough is uniform throughout.
10. Slowly and tightly roll up each rectangle, sealing the edges firmly.
11. Tuck the ends of the roll tightly under the bread and place into your prepared loaf pans. Repeat with the second loaf. Cover the loaves, set in a warm place, and let rise until doubled, about another hour.
12. Place one rack on the lowest position in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
13. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes, then cover each loaf with aluminum foil to prevent the tops from browning too much.
14. Once covered with foil, bake for an additional 15 minutes.
15. Remove the loaves from the oven, place on a wire rack to cool, and lightly brush the loaves with the melted butter.