Thursday, August 05, 2010

Board to Death

Last week I went to Dinner for the first time in two months.

They recognized me, which was good.

In the interim, I have:

- sung a couple of my songs at a moderately prestigious Folk Festival songwriting competition,
- started reading a couple of books (Entertainment Theology and Musicophilia) and writing a few things,
- watched Doctor Who and The Second Chance (again),
- played Portal (really good) and Doctor Who - The Adventure Games (meh),
- swum in a rambunctious river at the foot of a water fall,
- traded in some points for a new camera (the only thing better than a new toy is a free new toy) and taken a bunch of pictures,
- had lunch with one friend and coffee with another,
- finished a wood working project,
- started working on a bass uke.

Visited a couple of times at thechurchiusedtogoto. Not sure what to do about that situation. Exile sucks.

As far as the corp goes, we've been adopted by a local service organization who are doing the paperwork and looking after the bills. Which means, effectively, that the project we've got money for is now their project. Whatever. I'm back to being a figurehead, which is just so freaking OK. And that just until December. 5 more meetings and I'm out. Booo-Yaaaah! I can count that on one hand. Or foot. Heck, that's less than the number of ukuleles I own.

In the last two months, some stuff's been done. The carpet's been cleaned, reducing the raccoon smell by several powers of ten. The old stage has been taken down. The office space is being worked on.

The nurse practitioner who's been coming courtesy of the local Community Health Centre has had no lack of customers.

The roof still leaks (I counted 4 buckets catching drips on Wednesday), the juice table's been moved to the other side of the room and the old bar's been removed.

But whatever little things have changed, the people haven't. The stories haven't.

The hearts haven't.

One woman was looking for help to get rid of a couple of squatters in her apartment. She took them in because they had no where else to go, but they're endangering her lease. The team was on that.

SW had decided that it's just too hot for jeans anymore, so he's opted for a shorter hair cut and skirts.

CL was happy because she'd had a visit from her grandkids, but she's not happy at having to move from one unit, near the front in the 'quiet' section, to one near the back where there's more drug use.

CCL will be playing the piano for a church down the highway for the month of August. They have a modern worship band and she enjoys that.

And W was very glad to see me. I think. Either that or she was mad at me for being away for so long. She'd had a rough day. Been bitten by a small dog, and told off for something I didn't quite understand by someone whose name I didn't catch.

After Dinner, I got up to leave and from her seat she grabbed my arm and pulled me down for a hug. A heavy duty hug. The words "vise grip" come to mind. She wrapped her arms around my neck and held tight. I just stood there bent over halfway, my cheek pressed against hers so hard it made my jaw hurt.

She whispered, "I don't want you to go."

In my left hand, I was holding half a cup of cold coffee that I really didn't want to go down her back, so BL, watching, took pity on me and took it from my hand while I stood there for... I don't know how long.

Finally, I said to her, "Know what?"


"You're a good woman, and I like you."

"I like you too."

She let go.

I promised I'd see her next week.

And I will.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why I Haven't Written Anything In Over A Month

There's been a lot happening at the Motel.

Sometimes the happening takes the form of stuff that's going to happen, then isn't happening, then we're wondering why it didn't and either wishing it had or sighing with relief.

Sometimes the happening is stuff we didn't expect, but it happens and we react in the moment and then discuss it at length afterwards.

And occasionally, we plan something and it comes together the way it was supposed to.

There's been stuff happening on a small scale - like new friends and team members - and on a larger scale - like a tax increase that's going to affect the marginalized.

Stuff on the Dinner front, and stuff on the Not For Profit Corporation front.

I haven't written about any of it.

I get ideas for things I want to write about, but after they bounce around in my head for a while, they end up sounding like whining.

Problem is, the corp has been dancing in my scalloped potatoes.

Through a series of unfortunate events, I've been shanghai'd into being chairman of the board. Rather against my will. And, I've made it clear, only until December 17 at the outside. Mark your calendars. I have.

It was kind of funny - absurd - for a while, but not for long. It's a job that I can do, yeah sure, but not a job I would ever choose to do.

It requires a kind of energy and a kind of thinking that I'm capable of marshalling, but that's physically exhausting. Being an introvert, I go home after board meetings, wait until the adrenaline twitch has subsided and lie down for an hour.

And lately, when I go to Dinners, I find my mind orbiting all that Chairman stuff instead of enjoying the meal, and listening and contemplating and relaxing. I've reached the point where I resent it. Which is bad.

A kindred spirit, who joined the Board for a time and recently resigned, put it this way: "My prayer life goes on the fritz when I get frustrated and I see anger in my speech and I do not like it." Bingo.

So I haven't been going to Dinners the last few weeks. My husband talked me into going about a month ago, but we left without eating because I just couldn't stay.

That's why I'm not writing much.

I know the corporation is, fundamentally, a good thing. That the people on the board with me are good people - intelligent, passionate, caring. I know that in time, good will come of it. But it's cost me quite a lot.

Which sounds like whining.

The part of me that grew up in church, always pretending everything was fine, hearing stories of success upon success, thinks that I should just shut up and smile. But what does that accomplish?

I have to believe that honesty is better. That maybe someone can learn from my adventures and misadventures. So I should whine, occasionally. Whining for the greater good. I'm a hero.

I expect that soon, once the Chair is either under control or passed on to someone better suited, I'll be back to enjoying Dinners and my friends there.

I'll let you know.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Good News. Bad News. Rumors Are More Fun.

Good news: We had an announcement this week at Dinner. One of the churches in town is starting up a lunch. Each week on Friday from 11:30 to 1. The point people are a young couple, J and K, who are part of the Dinner team. They started talking to their pastor a while back about the idea and it's going to be up and running this week. Nice.

I got to make the announcement, which is always fun. I stand in the middle of the room and yell, "Heeeeeeeeyyyyyyy" until everybody stops talking and looks at me. I can hold a note for a long time.

I actually wasn't supposed to be there this week. I'd even sent a note to the others on the team to say I wouldn't be, because I was booked into a meeting with the 'hiring committee' of the corporation. We've got a government grant to hire a part time, acronymically problematic Community Outreach Worker to work until the end of the year. Now we've got our act togetherish, we can do the hiring.

So I figured I'd miss Dinner this week, which sucked. I'd much rather go to Dinner than a meeting.

Which is why I wasn't entirely crushed to get a 4:30 phone call from the Amazing J, saying that CL had left a message on her machine that 'the church' was still locked, there was no one on the property who had a key, and she couldn't get in touch with the crew boss.

I wrote an email to the people I was supposed to be meeting with, to let them know I might be late, and drove to the Motel.

Fortunately, the weather was good, hot and sunny, so we started rounding up disused plastic patio tables and wiping off the gunk with the newspapers that have been piling up in their pink plastic bags on the porch of a part of the main house that nobody ever uses. Months' worth. I guess if you're getting paid to deliver them, you deliver them.

A couple of guys went off to collect chairs, J had brought a couple of stacks of styro plates from our stash in her garage and was about to drive to the store down the block to get cups, cutlery and napkins when somebody hollered, "They're here!"

Sure enough, the guys with the keys pulled up in front of the house, pool noodles and boogie boards in tow. 5:20. Sheesh.

They said sorry, they'd been caught in traffic, and unlocked the door.

The patio furniture went back where it belonged and we started setting up.

Half a dozen of us worked at putting out the freshly laundered table cloths, laying out the bins of knives and forks and spoons. CL was teaching P from the health centre how to make the coffee. BC had brought a jar of pickles and scooped some out into bowls. Another guy was playing solitaire on one of the tables.

The Toggery Crew were at work, hanging up this week's clothing donations so people could browse. Since all of the other "donations" had been tossed by the new owner, BG and the Amazing J have been bringing a few bags of things every week, putting them on hangers hooked over the now empty curtain rods. BG is a wonderful woman with a big smile, a full open laugh and a penchant for dirty jokes. My favourite Catholic. She and J unpack the things, put the women's on this side of the room and the men's on the other side. After Dinner, they pack it all away again. Anything that comes back for a third time gets bundled off to a local charity shop. Much more organized than the piles of stuff.

It was all so cool. I knew I couldn't stay long, what with the meeting and all. It was like playing hooky.

Before I left, I saw the crew boss and the other guys standing in line for Dinner. They do that every week.

Which is fine, except there's conflict brewing. Between the old guard and the new crew.

The old guard at the Motel, while freely acknowledging (shaking heads, saying, Ohmygawwwwd) that the previous management was a problem, are not happy with the new one either. I keep hearing that now they've got all the junk hauled away, no more work is being done. The roof that was patched just weeks ago is leaking again and there seems to be no interest in getting it done properly. A ceiling tile fell on a woman's bed and nobody's fixing it. There are problems with the mail because the office is unmanned.

This week was the second time we've been locked out until almost too late to set up for Dinner. The office space we understood was to be ours has been put on hiatus and we don't know what we'll be able to use. And to complete the picture, when P went to make the coffee yesterday, we found out that the water had been turned off again. Fortunately, W and her man had a couple of cases of l'eau in their van (the new (old) one sans ramp) and they donated one to the cause.

But I'll tell you what I did. Or at least, what I'm told I did. Because I wasn't actually there when I did it.

Apparently, once the crew boss was seated at his table eating Dinner with his girlfriend and buddies, I marched right over there. Apparently, I got up in his face and said, "Look here!" I said.

I said, "Look here! Dinner is at 6 o'clock every Wednesday! We need those doors unlocked by early afternoon!" I said. I spoke with a lot of exclamation marks, or so I'm told. I may have even waggled my finger.

It would seem that I then went on to threaten his life and limb if he should ever - and I mean EVER! - fail in this duty ever again and that he'd be banned - BANNED! - from coming to Dinner. And your little dog, too!

CL told me I did this. I don't know who told her. She didn't say when she called to confirm my version of events.

I don't actually remember doing it. But I'm not a reliable witness because, like I said, I wasn't there at the time.

But now he knows I am not to be trifled with.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Backs Against the Wall

Excerpts from "Jesus and the Disinherited", by Howard Thurman

"The significance of the religion of Jesus to people who stand with their backs against the wall has always seemed to me to be crucial. It is one emphasis which has been lacking - except where it has been a part of a very unfortunate corruption of the missionary impulse, which is, in a sense, the very heartbeat of the Christian religion...

This is the question which individuals and groups who live in our land always under the threat of profound social and psychological displacement face: Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice...? Is this impotency due to a betrayal of the genius of the religion, or is it due to a basic weakness in the religion itself? The question is searching, for the dramatic demonstration of the impotency of Christianity in dealing with the issue is underscored by its apparent inability to cope with it within its own fellowship.

I do not pretend that I have found an answer [in this book] but I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men may find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel."

"Many and varied are the interpretations dealing with the teachings and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But few of these interpretations deal with what the teachings and the life of Jesus have to say to those who stand, at a moment in human history, with their backs against the wall.

To those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail. The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and vague. Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.

It is not a singular thing to hear a sermon that defines what should be the attitude of the Christian toward people who are less fortunate than himself. There is a certain grandeur and nobility in administering to another's need out of one's fullness and plenty.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I have heard a sermon on the meaning of religion, of Christianity, to the man who stands with his back against the wall. It is urgent that my meaning be crystal clear. The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them? This issue is not what it counsels them to do for others whose need may be greater, but what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life."


Thursday, May 13, 2010


Last night's memorial service went rather better than I'd expected.

We've got a new team member these days, a retired United Church minister I'll call FL. When I got there he had things in hand. He'd recruited CCL, the piano teacher, and talked to a few people about what would be good to do. Amazing Grace was requested, and CCL had found Kum By Yah in one of her song books, along with Morning Has Broken.

At around 6:45, a dozen or so of us gathered at the far end of the room, chairs on the dance floor, and FL led the service. A short eulogy, some singing, a poem, some memories shared (the tray!) and a framed picture of our friend smiling down on us from the piano top. Tears and laughter and honour.

We've had memorials of a sort a few times in the past, led mostly by a certain well intentioned person (yes, he was!) either while people were standing in line waiting to eat, or while they were eating and chatting. It wasn't possible for us to intervene on these things, but we found them very... um... very... Suffice it to say that one event featured this guy, apparently because it's what our deceased friend was singing in heaven now.

'Nuff said.

But on this occasion, time and care were taken. Space was set aside. The people gathered who particularly wanted to, nobody was waiting for it to end and it was right. Our friend's relatives might not be having a service, but that's OK. His family did.

My husband wondered on the way home what Robert would have thought if he'd known, sitting in that room last week eating his Dinner with friends, that one week later we'd be sitting a few feet away having his memorial service.

You just never know.

We're feeling more and more how important it is to bear witness to the passing of people. What an obscenity it is to just let them die and bury them in the ground nobody else wanted at the Community Cemetery, unremarked and unremembered.

How important it is to say, "He was here, and he mattered." Even if that's all you can say.

Last week, a bunch of us had a meeting in a church basement, to share a meal, talk about stuff and to hear from a speaker who works for an organization we hope to learn from.

Before he spoke, I said a few words. I didn't prepare well, and it was a bit rambling, but I talked about different kinds of poverty.

I just finished reading "When Helping Hurts", and the author works from the premise that all poverty is the result of bad relationships. And since there are different kinds of relationships, there are different kinds of poverty.

Our relationship with God - When we've lost our childlike understanding that God is there and he's good and he can be heard. When we don't understand who Jesus is and what he's done for us, we can fall into confusion and materialism.

Our relationship with ourselves - When we see ourselves through a fog of what's been said to us and about us, been done to us and 'for our own good' and we forget that we're worth something. We can lose courage and hope and dignity, or fall into the traps of low or inflated self esteem. We start thinking that we've failed, so there's no point in trying.

Our relationship with others - When we've been hurt, disappointed, abused, abandoned. Or we have hurt, disappointed, abused or abandoned people who relied on us. We find community with people who are harmful to us and to themselves. We lose connection with the people who ought to be our family and our neighbours either through their fault or our own.

Our relationship with the rest of creation - When we don't fit in with the world around us, don't belong, can't function healthily in society. When we don't have enough money, can't read, are mentally or physically ill. When we reject it all, or are rejected.

It's easy to see at least two, maybe three of these in our friend's death. I can't speak to his spiritual state.

But his financial condition, his isolation from all but a few, the absence of his family, his relatively young death, all speak to a variety of poverties in his life.

Which can seem really sad. But if you think about it, it's actually very freeing. A variety of opportunities.

Nobody is good at everything, and nobody can respond to all of these poverties at once, but all of us can respond to one of them.

We all have something to give, to receive, to teach, to learn.

We all can help. Somehow.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Tonight at Dinner, we'll remember our friend Robert with a poem and a moment of silence.

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?
Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.
Not what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with word of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away?


1943 - 2010

"Peace to you my friend. Deep peace."