Too important for humans

The International Panel on Climate Change has released yet another report, proclaiming environmental doom if big changes are not made in the way we live. This past Friday, in my city and around the world, people took to the streets to demand those changes and castigate governments of all stripes for not “doing more” to combat climate change.

There is an underlying implication that nothing is being done to combat climate change, but that is ‘way off-side. For the past half-century, people, organizations, private corporations and yes, even governments have taken action to save humanity from itself. Look at the neighborhood recycling programs, the lobbying for tighter pollution and emission regulations, the cleanup crews hauling trash off shorelines and out of waterways.

Look at the reams of treaties, accords and solemn promises that governments have made over the past 30 years. Heck: let’s go back more than 60 years, to the “ban the bomb” movement and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Look at the human cost: the thousands upon thousands of jobs lost — and families put into turmoil — due to industries closing.

(I remember hearing an Australian friend gush about the decision to close the Holden car-manufacturing plant in Australia: “That’s great for the environment! Maybe not so good for people losing their jobs — but great for climate change!” Hmm.)

Don’t tell me “nothing has been done”.

But have the actions taken been the right actions? They’ve certainly seemed like good ideas at the time, but as I mentioned on Earth Day earlier this year, even plastics recycling — that most basic of home-environmentalist actions — has not done what it was supposed to do.

The thing is. the IPCC reports — both the one specifically on rising sea levels and the one released just before Earth Day — are classic cases of science confirming the Bible. We’ve been warned about all of the events predicted in those reports — nearly 2,000 years ago and more. And you don’t need to be an end-times wonk (which I’m not) to see that.

Throwing people into a blind panic and stirring up anger because “someone else” isn’t “doing enough” to ameliorate the situation only distracts attention from what’s really going on and what we’re really supposed to be doing in this situation.

And what are we supposed to be doing?

  • Turn to God (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
  • Repent for our personal failure to “tend His garden” (Genesis 2:15) and move forward with new life (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • Love others unconditionally and stop pointing fingers
  • Minister hope to the poor
  • Keep asking God where He is in this (Matthew 7:8)
  • Learn more about what He says we should to for His creation. His Word actually has practical instructions, which we all can follow

Hope that human intellect, science and technology will save the earth is a false hope. This is too important for humans to tackle alone.

Climate change, racial tension, violent crime and earthquakes, are all products of human intellect. But more importantly, they are the symptoms, not the disease itself. The disease is the falling-away from God. Praise Him, there is a Cross-shaped door that is always open for us to come back.


Starting next Monday and over the next few weeks, this blog will run excerpts of a book I first published in 2008, and am now revising. A Very Convenient Truth — or, Jesus Warned Us There’d Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program! is what you might call a “Bible Journey” through the issue of environmental trauma — not denying the situation, but suggesting that we re-focus our attention on the root of the issue, rather than the symptoms. Edition #4 will be ready soon.

Gunplay and overcoming the fear factor

The big story out of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side has been three shootings in a 24-hour period. The shootings were “targeted”, one man was taken to hospital, and police have arrested two suspects.

I have a feeling my friends in New York, Toronto and Chicago would shake their heads at the idea that this is generating fear, but it is causing concern among residents and police. The news also comes at a time when rescue missions in the area are reporting a shortage of volunteers.

Coincidence? Or is it more like, this is just the way Satan wants it?

I keep saying it: the Downtown East Side — like any other area of urban poverty — can be scary. Yes, there’s an element of danger, but you keep your head up and make sure you connect with people who are experienced in the place, and know that as you are doing Jesus’ work — because this is exactly the sort of place where Jesus would go — you will be protected and given the wisdom you need.

Because Jesus’ work is all about hope, and hope is the commodity in shortest supply. Consider Mary Magdalene, weeping outside Jesus’ tomb when she discovers His body is not there. Sorry – did I say “weeping”? How about beside-herself-over-the-top grieving?

Consider this excerpt from my book, God At Work: a Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People amid Poverty.*

The word “maudlin” – meaning an over-the-top, almost embarrassing, display of grief – comes from “Magdalene”. It’s kind of a pejorative word now, but it gives you an image of Mary’s state of mind outside the tomb.

Her life has been gutted in the past couple of days. Jesus was the only man who saw her the way God sees her and treated her as a loved daughter or sister. She watched as He was brutally tortured and killed, nailed to a cross and left to die.

That was bad enough; but when she went to the tomb to minister to the body, it was gone. She couldn’t even look at Him one more time.

Had this all been a dream, or what? Had she only imagined being treated so well when the rest of the world had written her off? This link to God – her one chance at Hope – was gone and she was consumed with grief.

===

That pretty much sums up the situation for most of the people on the Downtown East Side. Their lives have been gutted, and in their grief, they reach out for something of the world to cling to – like alcohol or drugs. Making it worse, the world condemns them for being addicted, and then decides they’re only worthy of “reduced harm”, rather than the whole enchilada. It’s hard to find hope in that scenario – you have to encourage people to reach for the unseen and intangible.

Compounding all of this is that the building that housed Gospel Mission for over 70 years is gone. That’s one fewer beacon, one fewer place of refuge, one fewer place where people are treated as human beings, worthy of healing and hope.

To tell them, in short:

YOUR LIFE MATTERS!

“Your life matters to God, to Jesus Christ … and to me.”

Don’t you think the tendency to violence would be reduced if more people were to bring that message?

Gospel Mission Society/Carrall Street Church has a Facebook page; Street Church has a website. Those are just two missions in Vancouver which could use help. You’d be surprised how much you’d be able to do.


*Available through online booksellers, or click on the link and order directly (US $4.99) from Smashwords.

A few loose ends …

Some random thoughts, from the past few days: reading, football and elections …

1 “Why don’t people read their Bible?” my wife asked.

My mouth went into action before my brain was in gear.

“Laziness, I suppose.”

“You know you’re talking about me, right?” She freely admits she has not read all of the Bible. She has been baptized, has no problem praising Jesus in church and out, and puts me to shame when it comes to reading a situation and praying over it.

My point had been that when people read their Bible and get to know the Word of God, they’re less likely to get sucked-in by cults or get led down a garden path to spiritual and sometimes financial disaster.

But why don’t people read it? As I thought about it, everyone of my responses to that came out judgmental. Except for one.

“We all have our reasons.”

True. So the best I can do is reiterate my reasons for reading the Bible. God has given us His Word so that each of us can know Him, can get a glimpse of “the edge of His garment” and see the extent to which He loves us. He doesn’t keep things a secret or pop any nasty surprises on us, and we wants us to be protected against dangerous things other human beings might say in His name. We’ll know the difference between the Word of God and words of men; and between what God says and what we think He might say.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

— Hebrews 4:12

2 In last week’s piece about football and the walk with God, there’s at least one more observation, from the tale of “Wrong-Way” Riegels. When he grabbed the fumbled football and ran towards his own end-zone, his “enemies” — the Georgia Tech players — kept their mouths shut. It was his teammates and fans who were screaming at him. Roy thought they were cheering him on, it was his own captain who finally caught up with him and turned him around.

Need I elaborate? When we’re going the wrong way in life, people who don’t really care for us will let us go our merry way, heading towards destruction. The ones who love us will be screaming at us to turn around, and sometimes, we might mistake that for encouragement, as Riegels did. A good leader, though — a team captain in his case, a pastor or teacher for us — will be the one who chases us down and physically get us going in the right direction.

And part of the Riegels story is that he tried to shake off that captain, accusing him of trying to take away his moment of glory. So it is with us: we might accuse a pastor, teacher or really good friend of “hating” us because they’re trying to stop us from doing what we think is right.


3 In Canada, we are in the midst of an election campaign, and for the first time in my voting-age life, I have no idea whom to vote for. I take my vote very seriously, as if my single “X” will determine the direction of the government, and frankly, I think we all should do that. Vote for the person or party, not against. I don’t dig the idea of “strategic voting”, because that’s a very negative approach: it usually means you’re voting for someone to keep someone you don’t like out of office.

We have five political parties in Canada (well, 4.5, really), and I don’t cotton to any of them. I won’t go into particulars, and don’t say, “Well, you’re a Christian: vote for the party that espouses Christian values.”

Two things wrong with that. One, is that we’ve had governments in the past that have been led by professing, church-going Christians, and if anyone was expecting the “state of righteousness” to improve in the country, they’d have been sorely disappointed. Besides, as Rev. Billy Sunday said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”

Besides, many of the “Christians” in politics — on either side of the border — have not exactly followed what Jesus calls us to do, have they?

Second, one thing that became crystal clear by the election of you-know-who Stateside is that you can’t legislate social mores. Suddenly, fifty years of lobbying, marching and fighting for certain social changes went out the window with the realization that nearly half the voting public of America had not gone through the enlightenment that the activists had expected.

That “enlightenment” can only come in the heart — not through the democratic process. It may take longer than some people would wish, but it’s complete and true.

One of the questions I ask myself about politicians is, “What directs their moral compass?”

What kind?

The young woman had just finished a presentation on empowering youth to be part of decision-making processes. Her CV made reference to her having an M.Div. degree — Master of Divinity, and I remarked on that.

“Well, I’m Christian,” she said, adding, “I don’t know about you …”

“Pentecostal.”

“All-RIGHT!” was her response.

But why did I feel the need to point out my particular “brand” of Christianity?

If I’m honest with myself, I’d say it would be because I wanted to show in as few words as possible that I believe the Bible, I’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit and look for ways to use that Authority to effect positive change in the world.

But isn’t that what it should mean, to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

… on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.

And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them, And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them,

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.

“For he who is not against us is on our side.”

— Mark 9:34b-40

And yet today, we have Catholics and Baptists and Mormons and Methodists and Presbyterians and Seventh-Day Adventists and Anglicans (Episcopalians) and Calvinists and Arminians and Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christian-Missionary Alliance and end-times wonks and Grace preachers and “word-faith” preachers and independent evangelists … and some of the denominations are divided, themselves ….

The different denominations seem to have emerged because someone (or some people) have a particular interpretation of the Word of God. Heaven knows, there are enough layers and nuances. That’s all well and good, but when those sects start claiming to be superior to others and using their interpretation as a club with which to hit people who don’t agree with them, that’s where you run into trouble.

That’s an offshoot of Pride — and we know what God thinks about that.

That’s what Jesus is warning us about. Anyone who is not against Jesus and His followers is on the same team. It doesn’t matter if they follow the same practices or have the same interpretation of salvation, end-times or whether the Holy Spirit still can heal in the 21st Century. You follow Jesus? That’s all that counts. Welcome to the lodge!

Notice, too, the context: John complains about someone who isn’t “one of us”, casting out demons in Jesus’ Name: yet the disciples have just had a blazing row over who among them was the “greatest”. Who, exactly, was that “outsider” supposed to be following, if the disciples can’t get together on whether it’s a nice day?

And so we come back to Thursday’s entry, that what we need is the Gospel – straight, no chaser. As we each discover the Word for ourselves, let our “interpretations” be for the betterment of those around us; let our minds be opened to hear other people’s interpretations and decide, based on our knowledge of the Word, whether they “work” or not; and if they don’t work for us, let’s not condemn the person, because we’ve been known to be wrong, too.

The Bible and the gridiron

Brother Juniper comic strip by Fr. Justin McCarthy
date unknown

For some time now, I’ve been convinced that football stands as a metaphor for our walk with God. Take a look at this, from a recent college football game:

Football is a game where each player on the field is a cog in the system. When a quarterback gets sacked, for example, the first thing you think is, “Who missed that assignment?” referring to whomever was supposed to be blocking.

Every player has to play his part, do his job to the best of his ability, in order for the full team to succeed. Whether a player is a flashy star, like the quarterback or the kick returner, or a journeyman on the offensive line, they are needed in order for the play or the game plan to succeed.

You can see that young Carignan fumbled outside the end zone and recovered it behind the goal line; being tackled in the end zone would have cost his team two points, so he ran the ball out and went 104 yards for the touchdown. But he did not do that by himself: his teammates made sure the opposing players couldn’t get near him, and at the 25-second mark of the video, you see #21 lay a key block on the UM-D’s last man back, which clears the way for Carignan to score.

In football, everyone has a job to do, using their individual gifts. It doesn’t matter if they’re a journeyman on the offensive line or the star quarterback: the success of the team depends on each player doing his job and knowing the playbook.

And as we saw in the video clip, even when there’s a “broken play”, everyone has to improvise, based on their gifts, and keeping their focus on the overall goal: in this case, the touchdown. And in the case of ministry, we know what the “playbook” is.

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,

so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith;

or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching;

he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

— Romans 12:4-8

No job is more important than the others, if they involve the gifts we have. “Menial” does not mean “meaningless”; and being in a high-profile position does not make you the star. (Something worth remembering, if one starts to reach the status of “celebrity preacher” or “celebrity worship leader”.)

And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.

— 1 Corinthians 12:21-22

And that’s what makes football an ideal metaphor: our gifts all come from God, and our job is to use them for His glory, knowing that as others do the same, our team reaches its goal.

Straight, no chaser

Love your neighbor.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation: old things are passed away; all things are become new.

Jesus has come that we may have life and have life more abundantly.

Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The righteous cry out and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

God is Love. We love Him because He first loved us.

That is the Gospel. What could possibly be wrong with it? Why hasn’t the whole world rushed to embrace it?

Because we, as humans, keep adding “mix”. Right from the early church, when some converts argued that Gentiles still had to be circumcised and submit to Jewish rituals in order to be saved, through the granting of indulgences, to schisms over interpretations of salvation and the “litmus tests” some denominations require today to determine whether a person is “Christian enough”, we have added mixer to the “good stuff”, as if the Word of God is not sufficient.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

— from 2 Corinthians 12:9

When non-believers say that “the Bible is man’s way of controlling other men,” the first response needs to be, “No – religion is man’s way of controlling other men: the Bible sets us free from that control.”

Sometimes, too, we humans water-down the Gospel, like the “affirming” churches that leave out those messy bits about repenting — thereby denying the power of the Cross and preventing people who have been living in a sinful way the joy of that same freedom.

Many of the people who came to Gospel Mission had questions and concerns about the Word, which were largely due to their religious upbringing. Somehow, they knew there was still truth and hope to be found in Christ, but things they had heard or experienced still resounded in their minds.

The Gospel is simple. God wants it that way. He really doesn’t want to make it hopelessly complicated for us to spend eternity with Him — that’s how much He loves us — and I believe He certainly doesn’t want our salvation to depend on anyone else’s estimation (a Noel Jones-style rhyming couplet that I heard in the Spirit right when I needed to, all those years ago).

The Gospel – straight, no chaser – is the enduring promise of God’s grace. When we minister to others, when we share what we believe and how our lives have been changed since meeting Jesus Christ, that is all we need.


*And now, having used that title and because I dig it, here is Thelonious Monk with “Straight, No Chaser“. (Milt Jackson vibes, Sahib Shihab sax, Art Blakey drums.)

Relevance?

In this “post-Christian” era, a criticism one often hears about the Bible is that it’s not “relevant”. It’s as if concepts like “love your neighbour”, “don’t steal”, “don’t kill”, “use fair weights and measures” and “don’t sleep with someone else’s spouse” are out-moded and that we’re far too intelligent to believe that there’s a Higher Power that creates things and loves us all to death — His death, by the way, not ours.

And so, as we live by the principle of “if it works for me, it’s got to be”, our “relevant” world is full of war, manoeuvring for control of others, and inter-tribal hatred, while our environment is spinning out of control like a border collie on a triple espresso.

The job of the preacher, pastor or evangelist, then, is to keep pointing people to ways that the Bible is relevant: anything from the way Jesus foretold the events that would precede His return; to condemnation of sectarianism; to the ways the ancient prophets called out not just their societies centuries ago, but our own today; to ways that the Bible confirms science. It’s one thing to dazzle people with scholarship; it’s another to make people see how it applies to them.

In my book, God At Work: a Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty*, I write about that revelation.

It was a steep learning curve. Before I left Victoria, one of the pastors at the Victoria Miracle Centre, which had played a huge role in my personal turnaround, prophesied that he saw me as a miner, digging up nuggets of gold from Scripture. It was certainly happening: as I read my Bible, I found all sorts of lessons and tidbits that were helping me understand God, the world and myself (generally in that order). But one of the first things I learned at Rainbow Mission was that “the guys” – it was primarily men who came in – didn’t have much use for my “scholarship”: I realized I had to focus on giving them a message they could relate to, something that would encourage them and start them realizing they didn’t have to live the way they were living.

So after a few weeks of expounding on the Apostle Paul’s letters (for example) to blank faces and loud, elaborate yawns, I shifted the emphasis. I didn’t get the “amens” I thought I might get, but people came up to talk afterwards, which hadn’t happened before.

Two things I learned early on.

One, was that – as I implied earlier — the notion of “harm reduction” is a crock.
Reduced harm is still harm.
Drugs still kill.
Any questions?

Two, was that the biggest problem on the Downtown East Side or any Skid Row is not homelessness, but hopelessness. Whether they were on drugs, booze, mentally ill, or caught a few bad breaks and weren’t able to deal with them, the loss of hope is what lands them on the street, sleeping in shelters or in bedbug-infested single-room hotels or out in the open. Booze and drugs are not the problem, but the solution. While providing food, clothing and other necessities is a “must” for Missions, undergirding it all is the provision of hope.

It’s quite fun, really. Sit down with the Bible and before you start reading, ask the Lord to show you something. Then, when He does so, look for opportunities to share it, especially with your NBF**, so you can demonstrate that the Bible is really the most “relevant” piece of literature out there.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

— Luke 21:33

*Available through online bookstores, or just click on the link to place your order.

**Non-Believing Friend.

Fear of forgottenness

Walking in downtown Victoria last night, I saw a man, standing in a doorway out of the rain, talking on a cell phone. He was scruffy, with the reddish cheeks of an alcoholic, and he was evidently talking to a child. I picked up snippets of his words as I went by: his speech was slurred, and he was exhorting the child to listen to his/her mother and be good.

In my mind, I thought through the scenario: he was separated from wife and child, and occasionally got to talk to the child by phone. Maybe he was in a completely different city. Maybe he was slightly drunk and very depressed, trying to maintain contact with the child so that he or she wouldn’t forget him.

The 1936 movie, “My Man Godfrey”, with Carole Lombard and William Powell, introduced me to a term I hadn’t heard before: “forgotten men”.

Carole plays a spoiled socialite who goes on a scavenger hunt with some friends. One of the “items” she is required to find is a “forgotten man” — the 1930s term for “street person” or “homeless guy” — and then introduce him to her social circle.

The forgotten man in this case is Powell, and in the course of what some might categorize as a “screwball comedy”, we get a glimpse of the lives of the homeless men in New York City during the Depression. Indeed, the stark contrast between wealth and urban poverty applies today, just as much as it did over 80 years ago. (The movie, by the way, is worth watching.)

One of the worst, most soul-devouring things that can happen to a person, I believe, is the sense that they have been forgotten — that nobody knows they’re alive, and nobody would care if they weren’t. It’s a real fear, and you can see it, sometimes, in the people you meet in areas of poverty, like Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. That’s why so many people are on that self-destructive path of drugs and alcohol: why bother going on?

And that’s where we come in.

It’s a function of what we might call “Commandment 1.1 — Love your neighbour as yourself” (or, as I like to render it, “love your neighbour the way you, yourself, are loved by God”) (Matthew 22:36-40). Find such people and reach out. Say “hi”. Find out their name. Get past the “fear factor” of people who look weird or act scary. All it really takes is for you to take that step, and let the Holy Spirit do the talking.

It’s as we’ve said before: even if you don’t feel like loving someone, act as if you do, and the more you do that, the more you’ll find your feelings come in line with your actions.

And in the process, you’re letting a forgotten man — or woman — know that they haven’t been forgotten, after all: not by you, and hence, not by God.

… which brings us back to …

The last couple of posts have related to my recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, but they reinforce one of the points in my book, God at Work – a Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty.* That is, scenes of urban poverty may seem scary, and that fear factor can push one away and keep one from ministering to people.

Yet all it takes is a couple of conversations with people to realize they are, to use a word John Fischer’s wife, Marti, coined, undifferent.

So here’s an excerpt from the book, to introduce you to …

RICHARD THE ARTIST

Here’s a scene the played out on many a morning at The Lord’s Rain.

ME: (Gesturing towards the tray of scones, cinnamon rolls and other breakfast treats) What will it be, sir?

RICHARD: (Shrugs) Surprise me.

ME: BOO!

That one never got old. Never got funny, either.

But if we didn’t have that banter, something would have been wrong. If it wasn’t the “surprise me” routine, he would say, “Have some coffee, Drew! It’ll wake ya up!” and laugh. He would say it regardless of whether I had just arrived and hadn’t had my first cup, or if I was on my third.

Richard is one reason why the Downtown East Side can be scary: he’s tall, gangly, and perpetually sways back and forth. To see him from afar, you’d figure you should give him plenty of space.

The swaying, though, is a nervous condition. He seems slow-witted, but that’s the result of fetal alcohol syndrome – a literal hangover from his mother’s alcohol use. In his mid-60s when I came to know him, he has long black hair with increasing strands of grey, and a capacity for coffee that astonished us all.

One Christmas, we got a couple of large greeting cards to send to Waves Coffee and Cobs Bread, to thank them for their contributions to The Lord’s Rain. All the people who came in signed it. I looked at the card, and one signature stood out, for its immaculate, almost artistic penmanship. It was Richard’s.

“I’m a artist,” he said.

But his nerve condition had robbed him of the ability to draw properly.
He would often come into The Lord’s Rain and get two cups at once – “One for m’ol’ lady,” he’d explain. For years, we didn’t know who “m’ol’ lady” was. We started to wonder if she existed at all, or if she was like Maris on “Frazier” or Howard’s mother on “The Big Bang Theory” – spoken of, but not seen.

Then one day, Richard did bring his “ol’ lady” into The Lord’s Rain. To my surprise, it was a woman I’d seen and been aware of for a few years. I had no idea that she and Richard were an “item”, but I couldn’t help marvelling at how much Richard cared for her: even in an area as chronically nasty as the Downtown East Side, you can still find that kind of caring.

She had a name — besides “m’ol’ lady” — Brenda; and she would often be seen, wandering the streets, begging for a buck here, a toonie there … or food, or a cigarette … the last time I saw her, she was sitting at a table outside a little storefront coffee-and-smoothie place on Carrall Street.

“Can you help me get in there?” she asked, pointing to the Rainier, a recently opened single-room-occupancy hotel across the street. “I don’t like the Portland, where I am now. Can you help me get in there?” I told her I understood the Rainier was run by the Portland Housing Society too, but I’d see what I could find out and get word to her through Richard.

“OK. Do you have a loonie or a toonie?”

I didn’t.

Before I could look into the Rainier, though, Brenda went into hospital. I found out about it through Richard. “She’s got stuff in her lungs,” he said.

The next Saturday, Richard was already in The Lord’s Rain by the time I came down from the Mission upstairs. He was wearing sunglasses, which I thought was odd.

“We gotta pray for Richard,” John began. “His ‘ol’ lady’ …”

“I heard,” I said. “In hospital.”

“She died last night.”

“’bout 6 o’clock,” Richard said. “I was with her in the afternoon. Then she died. I saw the body. I’m pretty much all cried-out now.” Hence, the sunglasses.

“You know we’re here,” John said. “You wanna talk … you want anything … we’re here — you know that.”

We prayed over him — to have strength and keep seeking God through the bad as well as the good — and we just stood near him.

Suddenly, he flashed a grin. “Have some coffee, Drew,” he said. “It’ll wake ya up!”

It wasn’t long before Richard was moving on – not in the sense of finding another “ol’ lady”, but that he kept showing up, smiling and kidding around, declaring he wouldn’t get into another relationship. Maybe when you’re sixtysomething, have fathered seventeen children “that I know of”, and spent your youth working in logging camps in northern Saskatchewan, spending your paycheck on booze and a car and then crashing said car shortly after, and have contracted HIV through drugs, it’s hard to get worked up about some things.

Then there were the residential schools. Pretty much everything you see involving Indigenous people in Canada – from the poverty, the suicide rate, the drug and alcohol use – is traceable to the abuse suffered by several generations. They were heisted from their families and sent to
live in schools, often run by churches. They were punished for speaking their native language, forced into Whitey’s ways and told repeatedly that their traditions were evil.

It was rarely talked-about around the Mission or The Lord’s Rain, but you knew it was hanging over the scene. The first I heard about the “Sixties Scoop”, where children were removed from their families and placed with white families, was through another Native man, Wes, who was one of them. It appeared he had gone past being bitter and was looking forward to getting a cash settlement and connecting with his natural family.

Richard wasn’t part of the Scoop, but had been in a residential school. One day, John asked Richard what it was like.

Richard shook his head. “Unspeakable,” he said. And then, as if it were two words, “Un. Speakable.”

And that was it.

When the Government of Canada announced substantial payouts to victims of the residential school abuse, Richard found out he was due for about thirty thousand dollars.

“That’s goin’ right in the bank,” he said. “But I’m gonna take some of it and go find my brother. I haven’t seen him in thirty years.”

“Wow. Where’s he live?”

“Calgary.”

“Whereabouts?”

Richard shrugged. “I’ll find him.”

It was a few months before the payout came through. When it finally did, Richard was ready.

“I’m goin’ to Calgary,” he announced calmly. “I’ll get to see my brother.”

“Do you know where he is?”

Richard shrugged. “I’ll find him.”

He was gone for two weeks. When he came back, we all wanted to know what happened.

“I found him,” he said.

“And …???”

“I found him.”

And there ended the discussion.

There are so many “Richards” in areas of urban poverty. They may look forbidding — even dangerous — but they think, and feel, and see death and experience tragedy. They also laugh and kid around and wonder how the Canucks did last night. As building contractor Murray Scott, who helped build The Lord’s Rain (the subject of God at Work), said, “They’re ordinary people — just in a bad place.”

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

— James 1:27

*Currently on sale (US $4.99) through online bookstores, or by clicking on that link and ordering directly from Smashwords.

Faith plus … signals?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

— James 2:17

There was a glaring irony in the encounter I told you about yesterday with a homeless woman in Charlotte, NC — and regarding the other homeless people I saw on the streets. They were sleeping on the sidewalk — surrounded by the signs of tremendous prosperity — or had staked out spots in bus shelters or on the rocking chairs placed randomly throughout the Uptown section of the Queen City.*

Nearly all of them were black, and I reckon 90% of them were within three blocks of a street called Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Now, this observation isn’t about Charlotte. My professional dealings during the trip were pretty much color-neutral: black, white, Latino, Asian – no difference. But I got to wondering how many other US cities have honored Dr King in a public way and how well their black residents are doing.

Seattle, for example, not only has “MLK Jr Way”, but the state officially declared in 2005 that its county, King County, would be named for Martin Luther King, rather than William R. D. King, who was vice president of the US under Franklin Pierce. The older King was a slave owner.

A 2018 news feature suggests that many long-time residents of Seattle, who are black, feel they’re being pushed out by gentrification.

In Canada over the past decade, there has been a series of apologies and official soul-searching over the maltreatment of First Nations people. The City of Victoria removed a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, because of his connection to the oppression of native people in the early years since Confederation*. Some historical place-names have been re-named with Aboriginal words.

And yet, the preponderance of drug addicts, people in prisons, and those living in squalor on and off the reserves are Indigenous. Countless reserves across Canada are without drinking water, despite announcements of millions of dollars in spending on the issue.

In other words, official “signalling”, like apologies and street re-naming, isn’t worth a plugged nickel when it comes to improving people’s lot. Thoughts and prayers only go so far. Faith needs action for results to be manifested.

So what can we do?

A lot depends on how you’re led by the Holy Spirit. But here are some suggestions of mine:

  1. Be aware of Divine Appointments. I met Alicia (that’s the name of the woman in the power-chair) while I was doing a coffee run for a meeting, and there had been a lineup at Starbucks. As I left her, I realized there was a reason why I had been delayed in that lineup.
  2. Carry some cash. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a great way to engage with someone. (Be surreptitious about giving it, though: every fibre in your body may want to scream, “Look at me! I’m helping out a poor person! See how holy I am?”, remember what Jesus says about your Father who sees in secret ….)
  3. Don’t be in such a hurry that you can’t stop to talk. I’ll probably never see those people in Charlotte again, but deep down, they’ll remember that someone cared enough to talk. That may be all they need to keep going.
  4. Find out their name.
  5. Pray over them, for them and with them.

The fact is, the social situations we see around us are too important to leave to government. Governments change and we know how those in government operate. But God is eternal and the Holy Spirit lives inside us so that we can do His work and follow His leading.

And by the way, I can’t begin to describe the sensation of peace, love and blessedness that comes over you when you do it. You can almost hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”


*Uptown includes a section of Charlotte formerly known as Brooklyn. It was traditionally the African-American neighbourhood until the 1960s, when it was razed to make room for Bright New Development — otherwise known as “urban renewal”. When I read about that, I was reminded of a feature on an old Public TV series (when it was still called National Educational Television), “Black Journal”: the feature asked the question, “Does ‘Urban Renewal’ mean ‘Black Removal’?” Apparently, it did.