Tag Archives: friendship

good company

bad company corrupts good character.

i often quote to others things that have been true in my own life.  yesterday, quoting the above statement to one of my street brothers was no different.

i got the call just as i was leaving the gym last night.

‘where are you?’

‘just leaving the gym and heading home.’

‘wait!  i’ll be right there.’

i brought t into my home this time last year in order to get his life sorted out.  he has been running from things in his life for too long but not sure how to face them.  i offered him a safe space to stay while he did so.  no more shelter beds, coaching surfing and sleeping rough.

t gives kat and i a big hug when he sees us.  asks to walk with us while we head back to my place for some dinner.  we talk about his new cooking job and other details of his life.  on the surface, things are looking much better than before.

when we get to my apartment, t decides to come in and hang out for a bit.  he pushes us out of the kitchen so he can cook us dinner.  he amazes us both with an incredible meal that i wasn’t even aware i had the ingredients for.  he often did the same when he used to live with me.

we sit in the living room and talk life.  brass tacks sort of talk.  t needs community.  healthy community.  he’s been drifting back with the wrong crowd for the last while now.  it’s not easy leaving people behind, even when they are self-serving friends who will turn on you and rat you out when the situation calls for it.

‘bad company corrupts good character,’ i tell him.

he nods in agreement.

it’s not the first time we have talked about this and i’m sure it’s not the last either.  i know it’s not easy for t because it wasn’t easy for me.  while the crowds we hung out with were quite different, they both pulled us down like quicksand.  crabs in a bucket, as my uncle says.

t agrees he needs healthy community surrounding him.  he wants to make healthier lifestyle choices but needs help.

i’ve always appreciated t’s honesty and humility.  he’s always been pretty quick to own his mistakes and reach out for help when he needs it.  it’s more than most of the rest of us can say.

pride is a hell of a drug, ain’t it?

t leaves but not without making me promise to have lunch with him the next day.  he doesn’t need to twist my arm.  we agree on a time and hug on it before he leaves.

‘i love you, guys,’ he says through a smile as he leaves my apartment.

love you too, t.

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memory of a midnight mission

my blog reminded me today that 3 years ago i started this blog.  it sure doesn’t feel like that long ago.  crazy how time passes by so fast.

in light of that, i thought i would share a memory from 2010.

***

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it’s a bit past 1am before i get to new beginnings church where lou has been living during his internship.  if you didn’t know any better, you’d think we were robbing the church.  we whisper and creep inside the side doors of the church and into the basement.

that’s where our stash is.

two large garbage bags full of pastries, donated by a local baker who cares for the poor in his community.

tonight is going to be good.  lou and i are both psyched.

new beginnings was a church just on the fringe of the downtown eastside of vancouver.   just a hop, skip and a jump from the glow of the dtes.  surrounded by cheap public housing for first nations and immigrants populations, the church was created to help the local community in any way they could.  pastor joe was a large man (i felt like a dwarf beside him) who had an even larger heart and a crazy redemption story he didn’t mind sharing.

back outside, we sat on the ledge beside the church contemplating our midnight mission.  we had about 70 pounds of sweets between the two bags we found in the basement.

south.

we would head south until we found someone or we hit the industrial park.  bags slung over our shoulders we set off.

bill was filling his cart up with new cans he had found in the gas station garbage bin when we crossed paths with him.  his haul was quite substantial.  he had been working hard for several hours before he met us.  pushing the cart around all day had made him really hungry.

‘how about some muffins or donuts?’ lou offered.

‘can i have both?’

‘you can have a few of each if you want.’

bill didn’t need to be told twice.  out came four pastries of his choosing, a few oozing with icing and creamy filling.

a big smile came across bill’s face and our own.  we talked with him for a while, hearing his story about life on the streets.  he gave us some wise advice which he repeated for emphasis.

‘don’t you boys forget this now, ya hear?’

we promised we wouldn’t and shook hands to seal our new friendship with bill.

we veered left heading towards the dtes.  a few street girls were working on the corners as we passed.  they all looked like they hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks.  i felt a bit bad giving them sugary, innutritious food but it was all we had and they needed something in their bellies.  they were very grateful. we wished them a safe night and kept going.  their pimps don’t like you hanging around for very long, even if you are feeding them.

oppenheimer park was empty but the streets surrounding it were crawling with action.  drug deals were being done in the shadows of sunken door ways on the street corners.  a group of people were huddled up against one of the buildings have a bit of a party.  we asked if they were hungry, knowing full well what their answer would be.

‘yeah!  what do you got?’ came the reply.

‘donuts, muffins and other sweet stuff.’  i replied.

arms shot up like i was a teacher in an elementary school class room asking who wanted to go next for show-and-tell.  everyone was hungry.

‘why are you guys doing this?’

lou and i looked at each other and shrugged.

‘we had food and figured there would be hungry people on the street to share it with.  we also figured it would be a great way to make some new friends.’

‘well, i’m definitely your friend now!’

and with that one of the guys stumbled to his feet and threw his arms around us to give us a big hug.  a couple of others joined and the group hug got bigger.

donuts + conversation + late night walking in the ghetto = new friends

i love that kind of math.

we meandered our way on to east hastings where most of the action was happening.  a cop car races by on their way to something important as drug dealers offered us ‘some of their best stuff.’  persistent guys considering i’ve walked by them for the past 8 months having said ‘no, thanks’ every time.  we offer them some sugary snack but they wave us off.  they can afford better food with the money they make of selling crack to the addicts in the neighborhood.

part of me wants to drag them into the nearest dark alley way and beat the drug dealer out of them.  it might work but there’s too many of them and more waiting to replace them.  it’s an unending battle.  drugs kill here.  overdoses are far too common in this neighborhood.  and, before it kills you, it robs you of everything else you ever had, keeping you chained and in slavery to the poison that’s slowly killing you.

ugly stuff.

i hear some drug dealers carry guns.  at the very least they have large knives.  i’m mad but not stupid.

another cop car passes by us slowly.  their suspicious eyes are easy to spot.  i don’t like the police here and it’s not because of the way they look at me.

far too many of them treat the homeless and poor in the neighborhood as sub-humans.  i’ve seen cops do some pretty nasty things and get away with it.  the pivot legal society, an organization that tries to create social change by focusing on breaking down systemic barriers to the full realization of human rights, has their hands full with complaints against the vancouver police dept.  accountable policing is a serious issue here.

lou and i meet a young guy (i can’t remember his name) who is roughly our age.  he is partying with friends and heading to another bar when we cross paths.  he asks what we are doing and we tell him a bit about our midnight mission.  the look on his face visibly changes.  he tells his friends to go on without him and he will catch up.

he doesn’t.

he joins us and we continue walking down east hastings, feeding anyone with a hungry belly and a desire to satisfy their sweet tooth.

he comes from a good family but has been running with the wrong crowd for a while.  he knows he shouldn’t but the allure is too much for him.  he has a weakness for strong drink, cocaine and easy women.  he feels trapped.

we walk around for hours with him, talking life and becoming friends.

as he leaves us to head home, he swears our time together has changed him.  we hug it out and say goodbye.  we walk away hoping that

it really has.

lou comes back to my place and we debrief.  he falls asleep in the big, comfy chair in the corner of my room.  i grab a pen and paper to write down everything that happened.  i don’t want to forget this night.

i never did.

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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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