Monthly Archives: May 2010

bertrand and i

have you ever read someone elses writing and felt oddly (or rightly) at home? as if someone had read your very thoughts, organized them better than you could have and written them out for all to read? this happened to me just the other night. having decided to be a bit of a nerd and refresh myself on some of plato’s philosophy (1. dont ak me why and 2. yes, im THAT big of a nerd) i linked across to a certain bertrand russell. philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, socialist, pacifist, and social critic – a thinker/writer with most of the bases covered.

at the age of 84, russell published What I have lived for, a short prologue to his growing autobiography. summarizing his work and life.

it reads as follows:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness – that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what – at last – I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

-br

while ol’ bertrand and i may disagree on other areas of philosophy (he was a self-proclaimed agnostic who was rather critical of christianity) the words he wrote here i believe we share quite closely. hopefully, after ive become a tired, old man i can look back on my life and utter the same words bertrand did: “This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.”

hopefully.

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poetry from the poor

aj is a friend of mine who frequents first united mission. we usually fake kung fu fight in the lobby (to the entertainment of those in attendance) or he boasts about dunking on my head in a game of one on one. itd be quite the accomplishment for a 40-something addict who stands at no more than 5’7. hes got a great sense of humor, a solid left jab/giddy up kick (he invented it) and hes become one of the clients i look most forward to seeing when i head into work. 

aj is a survivor of the residential school system. for those not familiar, the residential schools were a systematic attempt by the canadian government and numerous churches to destroy native culture in canada. the intention was “to kill the indian in the child” and to transform aboriginal children from “savages” into civilized members of the canadian society. assimilation to western norms. children were taken from their families at young ages and forced into these schools, severing ties of culture that ran between generations. there were communities where all children were taken.. 

it was the intention of the government that native culture and language become purposely supressed. even punishable by “tough love” tactics, to put it mildly. emotional, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse were experienced by children at the hands of their ‘educators’. upon becoming adults and elders in their communities, the abuse was passed on, creating a vicious cycle of abuse that still runs deep to this day. 

its an ugly part of our nations history that most dont hear about, both in the news and school textbooks. winston churchill was once quoted as saying, “history is written by the victors”. apt and rather fitting for this chapter in our nations history. 

aj gave me some of his poetry the other day. he entered a writing contest recently so he gave me a copy of what he submitted. 

i believe it quietly describes the turmoil within him. but i can only guess.. 

by the way, i asked him if i could post his poetry here.  he said yes. 

 

ajs poem

open doors, slammed doors 

closed doors 

here we go again, you cant numb the pain 

we always end up on hastings and main 

why is our lives so much in vain? 

our lives are so much in pain 

empty sidewalks 

empty roads 

why are our lives at our crossroads? 

you go pick up 

then its my turn to go 

this is an obsession 

there is no where to go?

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i am second

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crab thrower

someone recently asked me about my current vocation. explaining to them that i worked in a homeless shelter they asked me ‘why’. after telling them my desire to help people rebuild (or simply build for the first time) their lives and move past their hurts, hatreds and hangups, they once again asked me ‘why’. there are many different answers i could have given but only one that seemed crystal clear.

why not?

why not help those that need help? why not give some of what i have so that someone else can have a better life? why not spend some time with someone thats lonely or feeling shut out from the world? why not lend a hand when i have two to lend? why not help when im able to do so?

they asked me how i gaged success. addictions broken, jobs and housing found, illnesses healed, etc? i thought all the above sounded pretty good and said so.

they asked me how often this was the case. how often were addictions broken, jobs and housing found and illnesses healed? i sadly remarked that all too often they were not. all too often addictions continue to hold power in their lives. all too often they lose their jobs and then their housing. all too often the cancer takes their life or the voices in their head dont stop whispering.

‘why do you waste your time then?’

i could tell, though im fairly certain they could not, that we were from two very different worlds. we lived in the same country, in the same city, within the same culture but distinictly different worlds. for whatever reason they didnt see what i saw or felt what i felt. id be lying if i didnt admit that part of me envies that.

i told them that i was content being a crab thrower. a bewildered look ran down his face and the inevitable question sprang from his lips… ‘whats a crab thrower?’

so i told them this old parable…

there was this place where waves washed crabs up onto the beach where they perished in the hot sun. a boy ran along the beach picking up the crabs, tossing them back into the water.

a man said, “why do you bother? there are millions of crabs? you can barely make a dent.”

the boy replied, “it matters to this crab!” as he tossed yet another out into the water.

a pensive nod and a respectful handshake later, im left wondering if we were from different worlds afterall.

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dont almost give

have you ever..?

have you ever walked past someone panhandling for money and thought about giving? you had some change in your pocket at the time, probably left over from lunch at some restaurant. but hey, you might need that three bucks in change for a starbucks coffee later in your day…

have you ever gone grocery shopping and, as you were leaving the store, notice the food bank bin sitting pretty empty? with a cart full of groceries you pushed past thinking that others would fill the bin. its not like you should make yourself go without those few cans of beans or soup…

have you ever had the chance to give to someone less fortunate than you but just didnt?

dont almost give.

http://www.dontalmostgive.org

ad council dont almost give campaign
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uihDAE7BETs

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wyatt earp, eat your heart out

 my buddy joe and i recently went to the gun range and shot some guns.  pretty awesome.

if theres ever a zombie invasion, just give me a shotgun and stand aside.

want proof?

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another day at the office

not wanting to waste a perfectly good sunny day inside i decided to venture downtown a bit before i started work. sunny days spent walking concrete sidewalks attached to concrete buildings usually isnt my idea of a day well spent but i guess the city is changing me. for better or for worse im sure time will tell eventually. it was hard to miss the line of buses that stretched back several blocks on hastings. the closer to main street and hastings i got (the dtes epicenter) the louder the lady on the bullhorn got. as i squinted in the sunlight, i could begin to make out the large group of protesters sitting in the usually very busy intersection. not a typical place to form a circle and sing songs but they carried a good melody nontheless. the sudden closure of the popular health contact center had not sat well with many people in the dtes community. the contact center acted as a first point of contact between health/social services and individuals in the dtes, providing direct access to basic health care through nurses and health care workers. abruptly and shocking to many in the area, the city pulled its funding to the center late last week. the peaceful though inconvenient protest proved how seriously the community felt this decision impacted them. the police watched for a few hours before disbanding the would-be revolutionaries.

theres something about a good protest that makes me hungry, so i decided to head back up to the church and visit with some of my homeless friends and have me some dinner. shelly was cooking in the kitchen and that woman knows how to cook 200+ meals and make it taste good. real good! no easy feat, in my opinion.

george was working and covering as refuge manager. its not a stretch for me to say that george just might be my favorite person at the church to work with. forget that he introduced me to chimichangas (google it!) making my life arguably 3, maybe 4x better, hes a pretty jolly fella with a rad moustache and a big heart for the people we work with. ill be sure to take a picture of the rad moustache and post it soon.

so fastforward an hour and a bit..

a lady that stays at the church had recently been released from emergency. she had been given a prescription of sleeping pills so that she could rest. staying up for days on end feeding your addiction will do that to you. instead of taking the right amount of pills she chose to take (perhaps by accident…) them all. 20 pills in all. a few other residents of the church informed us of the situation. finding her sleeping, we tried to wake her but she wouldnt respond. we decided it best if the paramedics came and take a look at her. no sooner than we called she began having troubles breathing and seemed to be going into shock. two mins later the paramedics and several firemen showed up to give her proper medical attention and gurnied here out the front doors to the waiting ambulance.

i pray shes ok. i hope that she comes out of the hospital healthy and in a better frame of mind, though i know both are long shots..

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rant

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” ~John Berger

compared to those that live in poverty, the average north american lives a life of abundance, indulgence and comfort. even our lower middle class looks incredibly wealthy compared to the 1.2 billion people around the world that live on less than one dollar per day, almost 3 billion on less than two dollars per day and a billion more live their lives on two to four dollars. do the math. thats more than half of the population that lives in poverty. 11 million children die everyday before reaching their 5th birthday..

what comes to your mind when you think of this? pity? sympathy? sadness? anything…? does it not seem ridiculous that billions of our global neighbours are living in poverty especially when we have ample wealth, knowledge, technology and resources to help? we have the ability to help the 2.5 million kids each year that die from malaria. people, malaria medicine is cheap! for the same price as your speciality coffee at starbucks or the burger at your nearest fast food joint you can buy malaria medicine for a child in afria that would save their life. thats no exaggeration. its that cheap to save someones life. four dollars.

why dont we act? why dont we make a difference?

a parable by henry nouwen might give us some insight..

once there was a people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “how can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? we want to survive whatever happens. let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” so they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other peoples protested and said: “you have much more than you need, while we dont have enough to survive. give us part of your wealth.” but the fearful hoarders said: “no, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bd for us,too, in case our lives are threatened.” but the others said: “we are dying now, please give us food an materials and knowledge to survive. we cant wait.. we need it now!”

then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. so they said to one another: ” let us build walls around our wealthso that no stranger can take it from us.” they started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside their walls or not! as their fear increased they told each other: our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. out walls are not strong enough to keep them away. we need to put bombs on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” but instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they have bult wit their own fear. they even became afraid of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. and gradually they realized their fear of death had brought them closer to it.

i think this parable describes us well. we spend most of our time protecting what we already have or attempting to get more. we’ve become so obsessed with the ‘never enough’ mentality that we the cant see the forest from the trees – translation: we’re so focused on the details (the petty materialistic things of our lives) that we cant see the overall big picture. we’re so focused on “me, me, me!” that we forget sometimes that there is a “we” as well. we have global neighbors that need our help to survive. they’re not asking for our fancy cars and ipods. theyre pleading with us for food, water, education and medical attention.

the part about poverty that really ticks me off: its preventable!!

when will we be moved to help?

i dare you not to be moved by this.

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dtes poorest area code in canada?

ok, for a few years ive been hearing from many different voices that the downtown eastside is the poorest area code in the country. looking down the streets its easy to see why people say that. if you had the chance to watch the video i posted (if you havent, i implore you to go now and watch it) they guy in it states the same thing.

but is it true?  i decided to find out for myself.

comparing the top ten poorest area codes in canada by lowest median income, the dtes comes in 8th with the average annual income being $13,600. not surprisingly the other seven area codes all belong to first nations reserves. the reserve that i take half my heritage from – eel ground, new brunswick- sits at number six on the list while burnt church, new brunswick sits on top (the bottom?) with a devastatingly low average of $9200. when you measure by comparing the percentage of people who live in households that are below the poverty level, the dtes sits at fourth with 47%. flip a coin. every other person is sitting below the line.

if we look at a third set of data, using a narrower definition, we finally get the dtes on top of the list. looking at the median income in large urban areas with at least 3000 tax filers, the dtes edges out a neighbourhood in montreal by a difference of 800 dollars. so for urban poverty, the dtes has the nations number one spot.

whichever way you want to dice it, the dtes is a very poor neighbourhood.  one in need of more help.

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God is weak

ive heard that statement from some people. ive heard all the questions that go along with it. 

 

isnt God supposed to be all-powerful?  isnt he’s supposed to be all-good? he loves us, right? so why is there so much crap in this world?

why is there lying, stealing and cheating? why does it turn from stealing things to stealing lives? why are perfectly good lives wasted fighting wars? 

why are there serial killers, pedophiles, terrorists, tyrants and dictators that commit genocides? 

if God existed and he cared about us, wouldnt He put a stop to all these terrible things in our world? 

or is He just weak…? 

ive been wrestled with this idea quite a lot lately, especially while im at first united or doing outreach on the streets. 

wheres your power, God?! why dont you help these people on the streets?

as much as i love the work i do, it has its rough side. in the last twelve months first united has seen 50+ people leave their ranks through resignation or pink slip. im warned constantly by people: dont get too close. it just makes it harder. harder? how the heck does that make it harder? i think itd be harder to “keep a safe distance” than the alternative. how is it humanly possible to work with and help people while remaining detached and distant? how are we supposed to build community with that mentality? im a relational person and i cant imagine being any other way. not only does it make me tick but i strongly believe that thats whats missing in our society – true community. sure, if theres no relationship then theres less hurt when bad things inevitably happen. so what? if we took that approach strictly, we’d all live on our own isolated island, in our minds at the very least. bad things happen. friends leave, relationships end and people die. 

but why do bad things happen? why do they HAVE to happen? 

a native friend of mine is in the hospital right now. hes going to die and it breaks my heart. his addiction finally stole his life. 

i had the fortunate chance to talk with tom the day before he had a fall that lead to an aneurysm rupturing in his brain. i listened as we talked in-depth about him. where he was from, his family, his friends, his old life. he missed it. he told me how badly he wanted to stop drinking but he didnt have the willpower. all his friends drank and the temptation was always in his face. we talked about getting him into a treatment program further away from the downtown eastside. he liked that idea. he told me he was fed up with living like he was. i believed him. i could see it in his eyes. then he went to sleep and i havent see him again… and i probably wont. 

in his letters and papers from the prison, dietrich bonhoeffer (german theologian) spoke of the need to think of God in terms of his powerlessness rather than almightness. God has power, but this is paradoxically the power of the powerlessness (weakness) of his love. “God allows himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God becomes weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.” bonhoeffer explains here that God essentially conquers death in the world precisely by his weakness. in his attempt to reconcile the world back to him, God sends his son to be the go-between. “there is one mediator between God and men – the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” (1 tim 2:5-6) He turns something as barbaric and humiliating as torture on a cross into the rescue of everyone. he does the opposite from what we want or think is best. he uses his weakness to bring peace. 

and what about our accountability? whats to say about our role in the bad things that happen? dare we question God and not turn attention as keenly to ourselves? 

we make decisions. sometimes theyre good and sometimes theyre not so good. sometimes theyre really, really bad. sometimes they lead us down a path that we never intended to go down. we hurt other people. we wonder why God allows bad things to happen (a product of our freedom to choose!) and remain willfully ignorant that hes given us the ability to do something about it! we dont offer our helping hand unless it benefits us. we dont love on our neighbour the way we should. we certainly dont treat God the way he should be treated. is it any real wonder why our world looks the way it does?  we need only look as far as the mirror. 

had someone reached out to him sooner… 

while his real name is tom most of us down at first united called him doc. 

hes another human being to fall through the cracks of our society and into the obituaries. hes another drunk on the side of the road. another native man to see his demise at the end of a bottle of booze. hes going to be just another statistic. 

far, far beyond any of those descriptors, he was my friend. 

 im going to miss him a lot… 

rip tom. 

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