Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It's quarter to two in Saskatoon

I spent a fine day at the L'Arche Day Program today while some of the team did their first aid training update. We had musical morning prayer with shakers and drums, and Mariette* prayed for all her wonderful friends as usual. Then we had a seated circle game, passing a ball around with hands and feet, and our own special version of the Bird Dance. We played Dominoes (and made lines of them for Leanne to knock down), Connect Four (who can get their pieces into the stand the fastest?), and Kerplunk! with Thomas and Leanne, counting all the marbles. It was all great fun as I hadn't played some of the games since my kids were young, and to heck with the rules!

But the most enjoyable moments of the day came from Mariette and her cell phone. While we were having lunch together, she turned it on and announced quite authoritatively, "It's twelve-seventeen in Edmonton, and one-seventeen in Saskatoon." That made us laugh out loud, no one louder than Mariette. Then we got into a conversation about what time it was in Vancouver, and Brantford Ontario, where Mariette's brother lives, and whether we know people in all of Canada's time zones.

About a half hour later, Mariette was finishing a game of Ludo, Trouble, or Aggravation (one of those games that has different names in different cultures) and she suddenly blurted out, " What do you know? It's quarter to two in Saskatoon!" to more delighted laughter from those of us present. I guess it's the running joke at L'Arche Edmonton these days, asking Mariette what time it is in Saskatoon, because she loves to give the answer. She knows she's right.

Certainty can be a wonderful thing. And aren't we all happy to show off what we know? What's delightful about Mariette's announcements of the time in Saskatoon is that it's like a big joke with a punchline that's hers to deliver -- and she delivers it with gusto and a big laugh to boot. We can't prevent ourselves from grinning and laughing with her. Jokes don't really have to be funny if you deliver them with enough joy!

It reminds me of my kids' riddles when they were small and didn't really understand conventional humour. Lines like, "What did the table cloth say to the table? Oh, you need to be washed. Hahahahaha!"

I think everyone needs a Mariette, or a child in their life, just to remind them that punchlines can be whatever you want when delivered with enough enthusiasm and a belly laugh!

*I use pseudonyms for the names of all my L'Arche friends.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Even when perturbed, Benissez le Seigneur

On Friday night, I had a lot of dishes to wash, so I downloaded the Taizé podcast from www.domradio.de (thanks to my friend, Claudia) and got to work. It was uplifting to hear the community singing -- including two of my favourite frères -- and there was also flute, recorder and oboe, a trio I hadn't yet heard together on a podcast. In February, when pilgrims aren’t so numerous, it seems the musicians come out of the woodwork!

Toward the end of the podcast, the community sang the chant below, and I realized that this week, I was perturbed and weighed down by so many things that I kind of forgot to Benissez le Seigneur (Bless the Lord). Good thing God is compassion and knows exactly where I’m at -- with friends and family who have health issues, an unexpected cat-care regimen, my frustration with politics, and my worry-wart nature...

So I’ve decided to make up for my self-absorption by posting the chant with verses taken straight from the Book of Daniel (3:58 onward), sung in the many languages of the brothers at Taizé. Even if life seems a little bleak for the moment, it’s still important to Benissez le Seigneur – and it lifts the spirits, too. God is good, and continues to hold us and our beautiful world together even in our struggles!

All you peoples, bless the Lord -- benissez le Seigneur... Spirits and souls of the just -- benissez le Seigneur... and have a good week!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Simple Suggestion #261... Focus on one thing

These days I'm spending some time as a volunteer at our L'Arche Day Program, on days when the team has its meetings. What this means is that I arrive early enough to greet the gang when they arrive, to help with coats and pour coffee while the regular staff are elsewhere in the building.

Last week, Sandy* arrived early, even before I did, and I found her already "working hard." "Hi, Ria!" she said, and got up to pull a chair next to hers. Patting the seat so I would sit, she returned to her task -- she has playing cards from five different decks that she sorts while she drinks her coffee every morning.

I sat and marveled at her as she worked. She was methodical and unhurried, putting the cards into five different margarine containers according to the designs on their backs, and then starting over again and sorting them into suits in four of the same containers. She was so focused that nothing distracted her, and there was something very calming about the way she worked -- I found myself mesmerized -- and suddenly flashed back to the end of my first year of teaching, when I spent two days unwinding before returning to the city, doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and playing solitaire the old-fashioned way, with a deck of playing cards.

Sandy worked down to the last few cards, mostly spades, and didn't miss the fact that one of them was a club and had to go into a different container. She tossed it in with the other clubs, turned to me, and smiled, pleased with herself. I cheered and clapped, and so did she once all the cards were in the right place. "Yay!" she said. "I did it!"

There's something important about putting things in order, in finishing tasks, and in patting ourselves on the back. I'd recommend something like sorting with Sandy to anyone who could use a little break from our multi-tasking world's chaos. Focusing on one simple objective -- whether putting dishes away, straightening your desk, sweeping the floor, or playing solitaire -- is good for the soul somehow.

Thanks, Sandy, for the reminder.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All we need is radical love

After listening to the reading of the Gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) this morning, my mind went off on its own homily. I couldn't help but reflect on how Christianity is failing. And I think the reason for its failure is that too many of its churches have turned into tribal councils or morality police more concerned with ensuring that their "own flocks" follow the rules than with how we need to work together for the common good of all.

Of course, it's not Christ's fault, he who said that we need to live non-violently, go the extra mile for our sisters and brothers on the margins, love our enemies, be perfect as God is perfect and a few dozen other basic things that we seem to have forgotten in our relatively comfy, privileged pews. It's a rough, raw, radical love that Jesus expects of us, one that takes a hit without hitting back and still moves forward in humility, generosity, patience and compassion. It's how he lived -- his kind of radical love reaches through the centuries -- otherwise we never even would have heard of a small town preacher and healer from a backwater town in the middle East.

The word radical comes from the Latin word for root. Radical love roots our lives in the important things in life so that we can ignore the inconsequential ones and live simply, out of love. The only way our world will survive is if we return to radical love for our planet, for others, for creation, and for ourselves. We need to work for the common good, to turn the other cheek, to give our life energies to goodness, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and do all the other radical things that Jesus himself chose to do right to the end.

A tall order. But we're seeing far too much radical hatred these days, and it's clearly not the way our world needs to go.

What acts of radical love will you engage in this week? They don't have to be anything heroic, just rooted in love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A sun dog of a different kind

When it's so cold that the sun has little snatches of rainbow around it, we call those glowing prismatic spots sun dogs. But here's a sun dog of a different kind...

I'm so happy to see the sun rising in the sky. Every day, it gets a little higher, and Shadow has noticed, too. He's finally able to enjoy his sunbeam on the dining room floor again...

Mmmm, this is good...

Were you talking to me?

No? Oh, good.

Life's simple pleasures. Ahhh....

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Praying for so many things

This evening, we will have our monthly ecumenical prayer at Grace United Church (6215 104 Ave) at 7 p.m. Please join us if you are able. I find that I have so many things/people to pray for...

My family
A friend who is dying
Others who aren't well
Our immigrants and refugees
Wisdom in our political leaders
Peace in places where it is lacking
Care for our planet and its climate, in particular
The lovely Syrian friends I bowled with yesterday (their first time)

Just to name a few...

But really, God knows everything in my heart before I utter a word. So this evening, I will simply rest in God's compassion, without asking for anything, trusting that God is caring for everything without me saying anything. We won't be singing the chant posted below at this evening's prayer, but it's become the song that plays in the back of my mind every time I pray.

In the words of Brother Roger:

You love us. You love us.
Taking everything upon yourself
you open a way for us toward faith
toward trust in God who wants neither suffering
nor human distress. Spirit of the Living Christ,
Spirit of compassion, Spirit of praise
your love for each one of us will never go away.

Who/what are you praying for? If you feel like leaving a comment, I'll pray with you, too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Taking a chance on each other

My great-grandparents in Russia
October 2018 -- This post bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating. With war, dictators, famine, and climate refugees so much in the news these days, we need to remember our own roots, and the generosity of those who welcomed our ancestors when they arrived in Canada.

I’ve been noticing way too much anti-immigrant/refugee commentary here in Canada, and it’s really bothering me. Yesterday it reached the tipping point in my head and spilled out in a grumpy, miserable moodling that I’ve toned down a lot. Even so, this may get a bit messy:

With the exception of our Canadian-from-the-very-beginning Indigenous sisters and brothers (who are still handling the effects of long-term Canadian racism -- another huge problem that still needs to be addressed), we, the people of Canada, are made up of immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Most of us came from other places to belong to a country that wasn’t ours to begin with. None of us really own our homeland, but we have helped to shape it into a country that strives to be open toward and tolerant of our human differences -- with varying rates of success.

My own great-grandparents were Russian-German farmers and blacksmiths who left their land near the Volga river during the Russian Revolution in the early 1900s. They came to Western Canada simply because their lives had been caught between the Red and White armies battling for control of Russia after the era of the Tzars. Their homes and families endangered, my ancestors fled to safety in Canada. Eventually they learned English, though the punchlines of jokes were usually in German, much to the chagrin of my third-generation cousins and me!

I suspect that most Canadians whose ancestors arrived in the first quarter of the last century (or much earlier) would say that they are also descendants of immigrants who came to Canada for the promise of good farm land, freedom, and safety for their children. Yet some of the descendants of these same immigrants now self-righteously act as though they own Canada and have the right to determine who is a “true” Canadian.

How quickly we forget our own history!

My great-grandfather came across on a boat, praying with his family to survive the long ocean crossing. He stood in a line at Pier 21 in Halifax, like thousands of others waiting to be documented, and I wonder if he got down on his hands and knees to kiss the ground once he'd scrawled his signature on the dotted line. Then he and his wife and children boarded a train that took them across the country, searched the Saskatchewan prairie for the iron stake that marked their homestead, and built a sod house before winter set in. The new immigrants had to work hard physically -- longer, harder days than many of their great-grandchildren ever will. It goes without saying that we are grateful for the Canadian birthright they worked for and handed down to us.

In a similar fashion, today's immigrant or refugee may have been driven to put his family on a boat -- belonging to a human trafficker -- because it was safer than facing terror, genocide or war where he once lived. He and his family prayed to get across the sea safely, and arrived on the other side to be herded into a truck that took them to an overcrowded refugee camp where they waited for three or four years in squalor  -- with no school for the children, no privacy, no real healthcare, and nothing to call their own but the clothes they wore. They had to scramble for money to pay foreign people to fill out reams of paperwork so they could to come to Canada, where they now have to navigate a very complex and, unfortunately, racist society. And the worst of the racists are usually nth-generation descendants of immigrants from years past.

From conversations with my immigrant friends who have come to Canada more recently, I know that they are more than willing to uphold Canada's laws and support their new country in good and bad times, to learn a new language, and to contribute their many significant talents to society while working, worrying about family members back home who might also hope to come to Canada, and helping their children to feel as though they belong here. They just want to make a good impression, to be welcomed, to have friends.

So it makes me angry when some people -- who probably don't even personally know (as friends) any of these newcomers -- decide that our new arrivals to Canada don’t deserve to be here because they’re not adapting quickly enough. The thing is, life is so different now -- in many ways that we barely even realize. While it’s true that today’s immigrants and refugees don’t have to build sod houses or plow virgin prairie, they struggle like our ancestors did to build new lives, but in a world where land, home, employment and citizenship are harder and harder to come by for lots of different reasons.

And it disturbs me to no end that some of today's nth-generation children of immigrants use the "history" of their European ancestors' military service in fighting for Canada in the World Wars as an example -- to insinuate that recently-arrived Canadians are probably terrorists from other countries who would never dream of lifting a finger to defend the Canadian lifestyle into which they and their families have been welcomed. The critics are forgetting that many of the new Canadian soldiers in the World Wars (who fled wars in their lands of origin) were conscripted. And isn't it a bit unrealistic to expect people who have fled violence for peace and security in Canada to turn around and enlist in our armed forces? Most of the Canadians-to-be that I know are just struggling to understand and fit into their adopted country’s language, culture and traditions while still treasuring their own, just as my great-grandparents did. My immigrant friends have left war, desperation, hatred and divisions behind to fully embrace their new homeland with an incredible gratitude, even as many life-long Canadians take our country for granted.

To people complaining about our newcomers I want to say: Sure, immigrants and refugees might dress differently than you and I do, but that's okay, really, it is. Their customs and traditions might seem a bit unusual at first, but everything new takes some getting used to. Their skin might not be the colour we're used to, but they're just as beautiful if you really look, and though it might be hard to understand them at first, communication will become easier with practice. And I am almost certain that anyone who lives a week in their lives or walks a hundred miles in their shoes will have nothing but respect and admiration for them, just as they respect and admire Canada for welcoming them.

Diversity means resilience and strength in nature. And diversity in our country is one of our strengths too. So while our family histories as longer-term Canadians are something that, yes, we can be proud of, they are also a reason to cut our newcomers some slack, to give them some time to settle in without facing undue criticism or racism. We need to realize that offhandedly spouting racist remarks (or copying them on social media) about not accepting people different than ourselves isn't helping anything -- rather, it's increasing bullying, prejudice, injustice, and worse, creating conditions for violence.

Instead, let's make time and opportunities to get to know more immigrants and refugees and let them share with us their goodness, kindness, generosity and friendship. And let's reciprocate! We’re better off taking a chance on each other than ignoring or denigrating potential new friends. After all, we are brothers and sisters in one human family, and in this country, we are all on our way to being Canadians together.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sunday Remoodling: Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

I was recently reminded of this moodling from two years ago because of all my present moodling (musing and doodling) about truth during these days of "alternative facts." I think it deserves to be revisited:

December 2014 -- This week I paid a visit to my local library. It's been a few years since our family's weekly routine of hauling home a bag filled with children's books went by the wayside due to the onset of adolescence, but I'm still a sucker for great children's picture books! I brought one home called Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (2003, Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-32109-3), written by Douglas Wood, and illustrated with beautiful water colour images by Jon J. Muth (I'm a sucker for water colour art, too!) 

Old Turtle is a beautiful story about a truth (like a meteorite) shooting through the sky and breaking up before it hits the earth. Animals find the truth, but realize that it is too sharp, with a piece missing that prevents it from "working properly." Then people find it, and declare it to be the most beautiful truth ever, enshrining it in a special place and fighting to keep it from others, causing all sorts of bloodshed, hatred, anguish and pain.

But a young girl with an open heart and mind goes to talk to grandmotherly Old Turtle, who gives the girl the missing piece of the truth. Gratefully receiving it, the girl takes it back to her people, who discover that the two pieces fit together perfectly, revealing the whole truth: "You are loved / and so are they." Discovering the whole truth, the people begin to be able to look at others... and see themselves, too.

Since reading the book, which I recommend to anyone with children, and even to adults(!), I've been reflecting on places where love of the 'other' has gone missing -- in relationships between nations and races, in our abuse of creation, in our refusal to accept difference.

I am realizing how much God is needed in our world in the form of justice, mercy, peace, and love. There are so many places where the darkness is calling out for light. So, we can't just sit on our hands while we wait -- we need to let our hands be God's hands, our words be God's words, our actions be God's actions in love, peace, mercy and justice.

Come, O God,
light our darkness,
heal our lovelessness,
make us into your justice
and thus,
bring us peace.
Let us always remember that,
as we are loved,
so are all the others you have created.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to avoid cruel and unusual punishment

It was bad enough getting my teeth cleaned by a less-than-gentle dental hygienist, ouch. What made it worse was the television on the ceiling of the room that was playing the U.S. President's press secretary speaking to the media while my teeth were scraped and scaled. When I told a friend about this morning's experience of being a captive audience in a dentist's chair, she laughed and said, "double cruel and unusual punishment, for sure!"

Like many people, I'm trying my best to find some good in Donald Trump -- or at least trying not to get into rants about him. I grew up hearing Thumper the Rabbit's voice (in Bambi) saying, "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all," though I now temper that phrase with Edmund Burke's "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing." My best theory about this whole situation is that perhaps the Holy Spirit is allowing the present president to teach the world that we can't wait for presidents to make the world a better place; we also have to engage in improving ourselves and the situations where we can make a difference, and speak up for those without a voice.

So far I've managed to avoid signing the many on-line petitions of complaint against the man (what will they prove, really?) and I'm watching what I say about him because I believe that all the nasty badmouthing of both sides in the last year or so seems to be what got us here in the first place. But with all the negative and fear-based things happening in the first few weeks of this presidency, it's really difficult not to continually assume that the worst will happen, especially when so many lies are flying around (and so many refugees who have already gone through "extreme vetting" and have valid visas are waiting for the U.S. borders to reopen).

When I first saw the video below, I was put off by the negative and mocking tone of the speaker -- but a few days further on, I'm thinking he makes some valid points, especially after seeing this morning's press conference. If the President continues to use the media to market and push some of the lies he's using to support his agenda the way he has been, it's definitely within the media's rights to push back -- to "pause the tape" and do some fact-checking so that the truth may be heard (more than) twice as often as the lies. Some of the world's present problems lie in the fact that so many people accept whatever the loudest or most "official" voice says. We can't even hear the truth any more.

But truth, if it is true, doesn't have to be loud and pushy. It is clearly "official" because it manifests itself in beauty, goodness, generosity, kindness, and understanding. If we don't want to live with at least four more years of this "cruel and unusual punishment," of lies and the backlash they create, we need to move into a more positive place. So how do we convince each other of the truth? Not with the angry voices of the President or Keith Olberman in the video, but maybe with some honest facts coupled with a lot of compassion -- and plenty of action to reveal lies for what they are.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Listening to voices of love

I'm not a crowd counter, but I would guess that more than 4000 people gathered near the steps of the Alberta Legislature on Monday night, and thousands more continue to gather in other cities and towns across Canada to stand in solidarity with our grieving Muslim communities. Six of our Muslim brothers in Quebec City, members of our human family -- a computer programmer, a university professor, a pharmacist's aide, a Hallal shop keeper and two newcomers to Canada who were fathers and husbands and brothers and uncles and friends -- died when a university student shot them after their evening prayers on Sunday night.

It's not much of a stretch to link the events in Quebec to the fear and lies being spread by certain politicians in our midst who are focused on closing our borders to immigrants and refugees. It hurts to listen to them create undue fear and insult those who simply want to live in peace and security by insinuating that they are terrorists -- to the point that I'm finding it harder to listen to the news for all the political lies and finger-pointing we have to wade through to get to the real stories of families who are often fleeing terrible situations for a better life with us here. Perhaps you've seen this list from the American Centre for Disease Control already, the point being that terrorism is a poor excuse for closing borders:

Such stupid excuses to close borders are enough to make anyone lose heart. Thankfully, a friend of mine from work was doing a Toastmasters presentation last night and she reminded me why I need to continue to pay attention. We spent some time chatting about how a book called Becoming Human dragged her from her home in Aleppo, Syria, nine years ago to come to Canada and join L'Arche, a community that helps people with and without disabilities to belong with and to each other. She reminded me of the L'Arche dream to "build a world where everyone belongs," and in the process, she put the heart back into me. I realized that shutting out the world only allows the wrong rhetoric to gain strength. I need to be aware and to refute it every chance I get. Even with these moodlings.

I'm not sure how we can convince those who are living in fear of immigrants and refugees to believe that everyone belongs -- except to invite them into relationship and to treat them with such tenderness that their fear is banished. It takes time and effort, but most Muslim members of our human family seem to be more than willing to show us the way, laying down their own anger and anxiety to reach out and invite us in to be with them in peace and to pray with them. On my way home from work, I pass a mosque that has thrown up a sign since the shooting inviting passersby to get to know Islam. They are living proof of the words spoken by one Muslim man to our mayor: "We Muslims hear whispers of hate, but we just listen to voices of love."

Every single person on the planet is called to listen to voices of love and to build a world where everyone belongs. So what will you do to help?