Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ya gotta love good deeds done on the sly

I attended a conference with Brian McLaren on the weekend. Steve Bell was the musical complement for Brian's teaching sessions.

This story is about Steve.

I've got to start in the middle, because that's where it started, for me. After Saturday's morning session and lunch, I headed out to find a nice cup of coffee. Since my personal preference is anything but Starbucks (you know, big corporate giant, etc.), I looked for something different close by. A couple places were closed (must do most of their business with the office crowd Monday to Friday).
I remembered a place a block farther away, and headed over.
Nearly there, I come upon E, occupying a familiar doorway with her loaded grocery cart, and hat out for change. I stopped for a brief hello, telling her I needed to be on my way soon, to get back to my session. (Every time I find myself cutting a conversation short, I feel like one of the baddies in the Good Samaritan story--too busy to help the guy in need.)
Anyway, she says; "You mean the Steve Bell conference?" She had attended a concert of his several years ago, and is still a big fan.
I answered in the affirmative. (Actually, I guess it was a Brian McLaren conference, but why quibble?)
She got quite animated, and said; "He bought T and I coffee this morning! I didn't realize it was him at the time, but he looked familiar. I guess it's his new beard that kept me from recognizing him at first. I just realized a few minutes ago that that's who it was!"
Well, I figured that was quite something. She had talked to me previously about Steve, how she enjoyed him, how he was coming to town, how she wished she could go see him.
Now she added; "Can you tell him thanks again for the coffee, and maybe see if I can get a ticket for the concert?"
Well, I wasn't really too sure about hinting about free tickets, but I certainly thought it was cool that Steve had bought them coffee.

It was getting time for the afternoon session, so I headed back.
As luck (or whatever more spiritual word you might want to use) would have it, Steve was tuning his guitar or something, just kind of hanging out getting ready for the session. I approached him and asked him if he had bought a couple people coffee that morning. He was fairly shocked that I would know about that, but told me the story of how he and his manager had gone to Starbucks for breakfast, had seen these two people outside with their carts, and offered to buy them something.
When I told Steve that E had later figured out who he was, and that she really enjoyed his music, had seen him years before, and wondered if there was some way she could get to the concert, he immediately put down his guitar, headed back to his merch table, grabbed a couple tickets and a CD and asked if I could bring them to her. No questions, just another kind deed by a guy who obviously is used to doing kind things.
I hurried back the couple blocks, so that she wouldn't have disappeared, and I could get back for the session. When I waved the tickets in front of her, she lost it. She stood on the edge of the sidewalk and screamed in rapture. She's a pretty expressive person, but this was more than I have ever seen before. She was happy. She was extremely happy. I believe the word could even be ecstatic.
She was concerned about finding a spot at the church for her grocery cart during the concert, so I said I would try to find someone to be prepared for it.
Later on in the afternoon I was able to let Steve know how excited she was, and chatted with someone from the church about storing the cart during the concert. It seemed like things could be worked out for the cart somehow, and, as they say, the stage was set.

I ended up being a bit delayed coming back for the evening concert, so wasn't there when E showed up. Later she told me that the church staff had been very helpful, helping her squeeze everything through the doors, and finding a place for the cart. I saw her sitting near the back, and joined her for the evening. Even before the concert began, she told me that this was probably the best thing that had happened in 2010, maybe even 2009 and 2010 put together.

As the concert went on, she was very touched. Several of the songs moved her to tears. Obviously, there was a lot of emotional stuff going on, her heart was touched by his kindness, and by the presence of God through the music and stories. She lives a pretty hard life, but has a firm faith in God. This was one of those special moments when you know that God hasn't forgotten about you, that although life is hard, he is always there--and this time he brought a present!

Things didn't work out for her to chat with Steve after the concert, and she was a little disappointed about that. I suggested that perhaps he would be looking for her the next morning, to find out if she had made it.

When I got home after the concert and chat with E, I sent a message to Steve to let him know how the evening had gone regarding E and the tickets. Later Sunday afternoon he got back to me saying that they had driven around in the morning until they found her, and had a nice visit.

Now here's what I think is the coolest part of this story.
Steve didn't use this in anyway to blow his own horn. He could have mentioned it at the conference, or at the concert. He could have painted a pretty picture of how he had helped this lady. He is a great story teller, so I'm sure he could have found a cool place to just slide it in somehow.
But he didn't.
He just did what was the right thing to do, without planning on any pats on the back.

Now perhaps you might think that I am telling this story to somehow share in the glory. I hope not. I really had nothing to do with it.
But then again, Steve might say the same thing.
It was just being in the right place at the right time.
And being ready to do the right thing.

As I said, Steve is a great story teller. So, maybe sometime there will be a great place to tell this story. But somehow I have the idea that God will get the glory.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good words

Brian McLaren spoke at the 187 Commencement ceremony at Virginia Theological Seminary last week. Although delivered to a group of seminary grads, his words are encouraging for us all.

Here are his words...

Friday, May 21, 2010


What is the value of asking questions?
Is it only so we can find out the answers?
Or is there a benefit in moving from thinking we know the answer already to knowing that we will probably never know the answer?

Is it better to ask; “God, who are you, really?”, than to state; “This is what God is like.”?
Is it better to admit that we don't know everything than to organize all our knowledge into some wonderful system?
Do we really need to discover the answers?
Can we exist in a world where there are unknowns?

Does God promise to answer every question we ask?
Are we better off if we move from doubt to certainty?

Why do we seem to feel we need to have an answer when someone else asks us a question?
Why do we feel lessened by not being able to give an adequate answer?
Why are we tempted to give an inadequate or even wrong answer rather than admit we have no answer?

Why do we tend to jump into a conversation when someone asks a question?
Why don't we just sit and contemplate the depth and wonder of the question for a minute, and then perhaps admit that we aren't too sure either?

Is it inappropriate to ask questions if you don't expect an answer?
Is this one of the paradigm shifts in the world as modernity gives way to whatever post-modernity is?

Will the system break if we ask too many questions that society cannot answer?

Why do we expect 'FAQ's to always have answers?

Is “What is a rhetorical question?” a rhetorical question?

Are all of these questions making you nervous?
Are you worried about the state of my mental/spiritual health?
Do you think I am reverting to the young child who always asks; “Why?”?
Why might you think so?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It seems to me...

that it's the 'underdog' who really understands the inequity and injustice they are facing, and then responds passionately about it.

For example, doesn't it seem that more women than men talk about gender equality?

Or more gays than straights talk about the various levels of inequality faced by gays?

Or more ________(insert culture or color here) talk about racial equality than the predominant culture/color in the country?

In many ways, this makes total sense—how can I, a white male understand the depth of inequality that a non-white female has experienced.

BUT--and I think this is important--Why should it have to be the one being treated unfairly who has to stand up for his or her rights? Why should I be silent just because I'm in a pretty privileged position? Shouldn't I be willing to at least try to take the position of my brother or sister who has to deal with the unfairness of society? If indeed I have the 'privilege' of being in the position of power, shouldn't I use it for good?

But why is it that it seems (at least to me) that it is mostly women who are raising their voices about equality (and so on)? Is it that, no matter how hard he might try, a man will never really know the perspective of a woman? That a white Canadian will never understand the perspective of a First Nations Canadian? That a straight male will never understand the perspective of a gay male?

Is there, lurking somewhere below the surface, some kind of 'underdog mentality' that doesn't even want support from the 'upperdog'? A 'chip on the shoulder'?
Perhaps it feels condescending?
Perhaps it is?

But then again, perhaps the sense of condescension is only in the eye of the beholder.

I think we all need to stand against injustice, whether it is being perpetrated against us,
Or by us.

Monday, May 10, 2010

For Darcy

I'm enjoying Mother's Day sitting in Beacon Hill Park. The fountain in the middle of the pond is fountaining, the frisbeetarians are exercising the freedom of their religion, a baseball game is in full swing (as are the mini golfers), and some kids are getting a kick out of a soccer ball.
Families are enjoying the beautiful day. Mom pushes the empty stroller while Dad gives junior a bird's-eye view of things from atop his shoulders. Grandma gets a wheelchair tour, and the dogs are investigating every tree and rock.
A mallard is preening itself at the water's edge (until Grandpa and grandson come too close).
It's all quite idyllic, a perfect setting for a family values photo shoot.

But my heart is back at the memorial service for Darcy a couple days ago. Perhaps his liver gave out, but that was only a passing comment. If true, it would be a logical sign of the decades of street life and alcohol.
At the service in his memory, a number of people testified that he had been their best friend—and that would be no exaggeration. He was that kind of guy. He partied hard and often, but he also loved with the same intensity. Loyal, generous, experienced, protective.
The last time I saw him was 4 weeks ago at CARTS. I didn't realize then that his days were numbered. Looking back now, I am grateful for all the conversations. Love given, love received. By both of us. He cared, he cried, he loved. And over the years, we connected often through CARTS.

As I process my thoughts, a few things come together.
--Not everyone has the same idyllic life I can see happening around me here in the park. Many people have more painful memories of their childhood than happy ones. Physical, verbal, emotional and/or sexual abuse, missing fathers, stressed out mothers.
--A kid learns how to cope, how to bury the pain. But it is always there. So the cycles of self-medication begin. Something to deaden the ache. Alcohol or drugs become medicine, not just party or mood enhancers.
--Even though the troubled one recognizes the physical and mental effects of his substance use, what is he to do? When he isn't at least partly buzzed, it just hurts too much. So, even if he enters a rehab program, the pain probably remains when he comes back home.
--As Dr. Gabor Maté notes, every hardcore addict he has ever worked with has experienced some trauma/stress in their early years. In Dr. Maté's experience, it is the long-term, ongoing treatment of love, acceptance and affirmation that heals the inner pain. Sure, miracles can happen, but those are beyond our control. What we can do is play that loving and affirming part.

When it is easy,
when it is hard.

When our friend can articulate his feelings clearly,
and when he is so messed up you can only sit with him, hug him, love him.

--I don 't know if this was Darcy's story or not. Our conversations never really went to that depth. I only know that several times he and I did share some deep moments. Love given by both. Love received by both.

You are now at peace, Darcy. The pain is over. Rest in the arms of the one who has always loved you, always held you.
And I will go forward, endeavoring to be the arms and heart of Jesus to others whose hearts are crying for hope, and love, and peace.

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