Thursday, June 30, 2011

still here

My life is a circle and I’m living here in this land that I love and hate and love and hate and learn to love again.

Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring. The best thing about Canada or Turtle Island is all these seasons and colours, I am always astounded.

How can one place have so many colours, so many different worlds to see when you look outside the window?

In the Fall I venture out like a traveller on a walkabout. I have a small bag of strategies and desires. God is the great wind Nodin, and she picks up along the way all my scattered thoughts and impulses and makes sense and motion out of everything. And everything is beautiful.

By December passion has frozen into cold resolve, as I come face to face with the reality of death. Death in the old and the gone. Death in the burial sites we trample on. Death in the living faces that stare back at me at the meeting downtown; death in the Toronto Stock Exchange, death trailing the late night news and then creeping into my heart. There are flurries of romance, parades and processions, but I am wrapped and bundled up in my own self- protective, necessary stuff. And but for the silhouette of now naked trees that stand as signposts and reminders, in Ontario’s winter I would be doomed to forget that once a colourful wind blew around me.

Spring is nothing that it claims to be. All I feel is awareness of all that went array. I want to heal so bad. I want to say I can hear a trickling of a brook or feel life in the crackling of melting snow. But the chilled brown street water is soaking through my salted suede boots, my toes are achy, and it’s an uncomfortable, humiliating walk up to the cross, where I sit alone and wait for my resurrection.

Summer is here and you catch me off guard; showing me that my growth is in your readjustment of my expectations. You go from nowhere to being everywhere. And you heal me while my hands are deep in the earth. My good God just like last year, you heal me. I can sit in the sunshine, and cry a bit at what is gone and the mistakes made, and tie up my apron and see what is here now. There is kale in the garden. There is a boy on my lap. My husband is home from work. Canada is still Canada. I can still dream of a Turtle Island Fall. I’m still here and you are everywhere.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Sweet water filling up between my ears
and spilling through my eyes,
sway my skirt close to the floor.

My skirt is made from patches of yellow
curtain cloth torn from the kitchen window
and white lace.

Dancing to the sound of ripples in my chest
and wet eyelids shut I let the tip of my toes,
carry me to the warmth of the quiet sun room.

Baby napping
Laundry hanging
Lavender drying

Sweet water rocking my soul
when your waves turn black and I can’t see
my embroidery stitch,
I’m learning not to cry.
I’ll lay down needle, cotton and thread
and wait for your sweet water
to pass me by

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Strong enough to wait on the one that has left you
In darkness and dust
You sit.

I travel back to where you would have been
With him close to you, eyes tired with hunger and not sleep


Strong enough to leave him long enough to let yourself cry.

Tell me your story.

Monday, June 20, 2011

trees planted by water, dark shredded bark, and beautiful immigrant men with silvering beards

A couple things happened these last few days that have been meaningful to me. I will only mention them and not tell the whole story here. The first was a conversation with a taxi driver from the former Yugoslavia, he used to be a corporate lawyer in his old country. After he shared with me a bit about his former life, I also told him about foreign trained parents and there experience getting work in Canada. We talked about the increase of immigrants and the lack of jobs. He narrated some stories of his experience first as an immigrant in Germany then in Canada. "In Germany they didn't like us, but you know they don't lie to you. If you make a deal with a German he won't break it". He said.

I loved the bluntness with which he spoke, he was a beautiful man perhaps in his late fifties with a silvering beared, and his manner of speaking, the honesty and feeling in his voice made me feel like I was in some wonderful old film. I have completely romanticized/dramatized the conversation in my head but that is what I do. Howerver I can't exagerate the purity of the incident that to me was a gift.

"I got into a fight with one of the German guys, you know I told him take your shitty job!" He turned around to make eye contact with me in the cab that was now parked. My passanger door was open as the conversation had continued on my way out the door. "sorry for language, but you know, I used to get into fights with those guys".

"No problem" I excused him with a waive of my hand, and then continued expressively. "But you get it, for me it's not about them liking us, we just have to survive, we just need to find a way to make a life".

"Yes but listen to me," he looked at me more intently and reminded me of an old sailor from a book I might have read, "Money is not everything, the German guy at the cleaning job used to tell me, I can take away your job you know. I told him: You take my country, you take my life, my home, you take my brother, what is this shitty job? But you can't take my soul eh? so you remember that".

"Can I shake you hand?" I asked him before our small encounter came to a close and I shut the door of the taxi. The thought crossed my mind as I walked away that perhaps I am really part of something, some collective stories larger than my own single life.

The second incident that took place in the last couple of days that also matters to me happened yesterday. My father, who earned his Phd in the 90s from a University in South Africa had a little car trouble and took the bus to his night shift at a factory the previous night. Unfortunatey, the morning bus on Sundays that comes out to this end of the city doesn't start till 10:00am and his shift at the factory was over at 6am. So he walked from the uptown bus stop, the many many city blocks on the morning of Father's Day. I don't have very much to say about it except that on Father's Day I when I heard this little narration from a family member I felt very proud of my dad who is approaching his mid fifties. While picking up some chocolate and a card with my two year old for his dad yesterday, Izaka also picked something small up for his Kuka, whom he closely resembles and loves deeply. Daddy if you are reading this we still have to drop off some chocolate before Izaka eats them all.

Learning to start with what I have. That is a lesson that came to me over the course of the day today. I haven't done a lot on my flower bed in the backyard because I want to lay some mulch. The grocery store that is a walking distance from us is out of mulch, I found out after pulling my two year old in his wagon up the hill, anxious to buy some bags of mulch. I had even called ahead of time and the employee said they had some bags of mulch left. So needless to say I felt a bit grouchy pulling the wagon back down the hill with a few groceries and a two year old boy sitting inside it but no mulch.

I have been daydreaming of a dark shade of shredded bark, how pretty it would make my young, not very populated flower bed look. I am the kind of person who needs to see the bag of mulch sitting beside me to motivate me to weed the garden and do some transplanting. I need to know that the outcome is close at hand. But I'm realizing that this way of approaching life is making weeds creep up all over because I'm overlooking the provisions that are already at hand.

Today I was also revisited by this verse from the book of Jeremiah 17:7,

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Circles, Stories and Processing Privilege

Privilege is not a bad word but a gift, I felt reminded today while I was vacuuming. I believe in “owning privilege” but probably don’t practice this very well; especially in the most recent season of my life when I have been steeped in some of the local realities of poverty and oppression.

Also I have felt a bit out of touch with the ways that I am privileged in recent months because of unexpected challenges in our day to day circumstances. The problem with being out of touch with my privilege is that it makes it harder for me to live in a place of gratitude.

I was confronted with my privilege this week when some of the work that I have been involved in was featured in a local newspaper article. It wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it made me think of people who work tirelessly for family and community and there work goes unnoticed, uncelebrated. I didn’t think of this immediately. My initial thoughts when the idea of having our work celebrated through a ribbon cutting ceremony was brought forward were of resistance. I felt personally that the goals of my participation in promoting community gardens as a space for meaningful engagement where yet still so far out of reach that such an event seemed like the wrong priority. I have a dream of engaging youth who are experiencing various challenges in urban agriculture as a way to increase wellness and success. With all the hard work that people have volunteered, I still feel that there is a long way to go.

How do you live in a place of gratitude while circumstances are far from ideal and actually very broken? I feel like this is Spirituality 101 in almost every tradition and belief system. But I think we all at least feel the tension in some capacity. In my faith tradition, we are taught that the starting point cannot be one of the condition or circumstance, but rather of the reality of a loving Creator that holds all things together.

Carl Jung is a teacher/thinker that I appreciate and he talks about holding together the “tension of the opposites” and uses the example of the mandala where duality is replaced and opposites are held in supportive union. I find myself and I’m probably not alone in this having to hold together many opposing “energies”/or strong feelings. I guess the temptation for me is to pick one over the other: Poverty versus privilege, rage versus love, anger versus peace, hate versus acceptance. The reality is that I am poor, enraged, experience hatred and anger. I am also privileged, in love, at peace and more and more moving into a place of acceptance.

I think when I have habitually chosen my poverty above my privilege, I feel isolated and undernourished. And I am less likely to do this in the season that I am living out right now, but when I pick my privilege over my poverty, I am likely to become judgemental, unintuitive and cold hearted.

We are all poor and privileged in different ways. But can I be both?

I don’t think the answer is balance, in fact I have come to hate that word, it is mathematical utopia and unnatural to me (just my opinion). What is balance? I cannot exist in a placid equilibrium, I can only exist here on this great garden called earth, a place of snow storms and floods, and sunny days, and gentle breezes, and only God knows which of those you’re going to get, depending on where you were born and where you travel to. My prayer is that in my joureny I would come across mandalas and the medicine wheels. That I would find a healing circle, and be reminded that the Creator holds all things together in the palms of his hands.

Not very surprisingly I am very experiential in my spiritual expressions and needs. And I tell you, I strongly dislike rows of pews. I love prayer circles and sharing circles. A circle means that we are all in this together, that there is no time restriction and that you can dance, cry and be seen and be heard.

I was reading about the history of African American Spirituals that were a way of worship during slavery. How the slaves would attend bush meetings and form circles where they would move and dance in spontaneous expressive worship. In an effort to de-Africanize slaves, they were forbidden to meet in circles and were forced to worship in pews to restrict movement. When reading these stories I felt that circles are for especially meaningful in seasons of struggle when the need for each other is deeply felt, and when you need to wail, and beat your suffering into a drum, wave your arms and speak in tongues. And leave feeling a sense of gratitude.

I have had the poverty and privilege of being involved in a community process that will hopefully promote much needed cultural circles of support in local African immigrant communities.

Anyway, while I was vacuuming, I fel awakened to my privilege. One of my greatest privileges is in my ability to tell my story. Here in this blog and in other spaces, it gives me voice and is empowering. On a global scale and even on a local scale I am relatively and incredibly wealthy. All my most basic needs are met and my son’s basic needs are met. I have a hard working partner. I have love in my life. I have inherited from my parents a love for scholarship and an ability to think well. What I lack in emotional regulation is made up for in passion. I have access to technology and feel empowered to create change in my community. I have citizenship in a stable country. I have an international upbringing and a good education, I have a patient and good Creator.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I’m one of those people who can’t remember where I place day to day things or memorize people’s names but I have a really good memory for stories and things people say to me. Like most people, I have received and responded to many “messages” in my life experience that have shaped me in various ways. I am sharing some of the messages I’m processing still from the last year or so that have some kind of imprint in day to day journeying, the way I engage the world, the way I think and feel….

Part of my life these days is about trying to find some kind of peace, resolution, or just a way to deal with or respond to these messages.

Many of the sources for the “messages” that float to me are from my environment but some come from some parts inside of me as well.

“I’m not saying that that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I’m just saying that’s how it is, there are just some tables that you won’t get invited to”

“Those “associations”, they say they care, they just come, they ask as questions, they say they will come back, but they don’t care”

“I want to do something about it, tell me what I can do. There are people in our community who know people, and those people know more people, they can do something”

“A Canadian, is a Canadian, is a Canadian”

“Let us talk to our youth from a position of strength”

“So educate me, what is cultural specificity? And if I support you, who else do I have to support?”

“Thank you for your pure volunteerism”

“This place is a colony, I woke up one day and was like, oh my God, we are living in Africa 1959. Where are the indigenous people? Out of site and poor! This place never went through any kind of independence and they are proud of it!”

“We must cut debt, we must care for the poor, we must do these thing simultaneously because of something we are calling intergenerational Justice”

“And please don’t bring food to these events, I tell you, it makes me sick, once you bring food that’s all they want to talk about, talk about the issues, and if you wear your traditional dress, it’s all over”

“Let’s not try to change each other”

“Here’s a radical idea, personal responsibility, if you want to work with youth, take responsibility and go work with youth”

“As a white person, I go through the same stuff! What about the rural poor?”

“Motion to adopt these minutes? Seconder? All in favour? Opposed? Okay done”.

“This is why I am opposed to personal stories, personal stories paralyze us”

“Well, they are not our children”

“We have found in the past that there are problems with that group, last time there was some drinking involved, perhaps you can find another venue? Maybe a Neighbourhood Association”

“They are known a problem gardeners”

“Make sure they will actually want to garden”

“If you find yourself repeating some of those unhealthy patterns that you grew up in, then you probably need to do some soul searching”

“The Camp Fanis! The Refugee Camp! There are no problems here, don’t talk about problems here in Canada”

“It was said at the meeting, 'she is just trying to get paid’”

“I was put in solitary confinement, I expected to find scary people in prison, somehow I would feel better if the people were scary and bad. It was just the mentally ill and people with substance abuse issues”.

“If they act like thugs, they will be treated like thugs”

“Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, those jobs are just for the white kids”

“Maybe you watched the Royal Wedding, it’s okay if you did, it is an important part of our culture”

“It’s not that they don’t hire minority youth, it’s the way they write their resumes”

“We heard that some employers were afraid of hiring immigrants, they were afraid of saying the wrong thing around the office, and getting sued”

“We are proud of our Fanis”

“You will hurt yourself”

“If I have to put this kid with me in a cardboard box, I am not afraid of poverty, I will see this thing through”

“They have no idea what I have already lost, they can’t starve me out”

“The Holy art of giving for Jesus’ Sake ought to be much more strongly developed among as Christians, never forget that all state intervention for the poor is a blot on the honour of your Saviour . . .It is perfectly true that if no help is forthcoming from elsewhere the state must help, we may let no one starve from hunger as long as bread lies moulding in so many cupboards and when the State intervenes it must do so quickly and sufficiently”

“You can vent if you want to and I will let you do that, but we both know that you are going to keep going, that you are not done”

“I mean, I’m not sure how I would benefit from this”

“We are the one's we've been waiting for”

“So let’s build this thing from the ground up, nobody is coming to save us”

“Ignorance is a privilege”

“I mean, I’m sick of the complaining immigrant, there are a lot of opportunities here, the way I see it, there are no opportunities back in Africa, and then they come here and start complaining”

“I guess I’m trying to be independent”

“We’re getting cornered from all sides, they don’t want us to help ourselves, they don’t want us to ask for help, they don’t want us to speak out”

“We were brought here to work in factories”

“After all the shit I’ve been through, If I could choose a different life, a life of privilege with a functional family, and have all my primary needs met, and turn out to be an adult who has everything and whose eyes are closed to suffering around me, I would pick my broken life over and over again. It’s made me who I am. I would pick the same for my son. My biggest fear for my son is not that he be poor, or that he suffers but rather that he doesn’t know how to care and how to respond to suffering!"

“We have 300 of our boys from this community at Maplehurst Prison”

“Because of Slavery, some blacks of African descent experience a psychological barrier to farming”

“We are people of the land”

“Out of all the immigrants groups the African immigrants are at the bottom”

“Give the poor legal title to land so they can rise out of poverty”

“There is an unhealthy relationship between the system and the community, the system should declare a conflict of interest”

"The system should serve the community, the community should be self determining"

“I’m done trying to change people’s minds. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, if they waited for all the slave-masters to change their minds we would still be in slavery”

“I think the central question though, does the federal government have a responsibility towards the poor with regards to the alleviation of poverty? And once you have addressed that central question , what might that look like? . . .the key thing that we are saying in The Call is that the government does have a responsibility with regards to the alleviation of poverty. And I would say that the fundamental argument there is not a constitutional argument, and I say that with due respect to the American constitution because we live here under the Rule of Law and that what we do in this country must be constitutionally warranted… But I would argue that the claim that a National Government has a responsibility with regard to the poor is ultimately and Biblical argument and I think that tramps the constitution, so I think there is a clear imperative in Scripture that those who rule have a responsibility to establish justice for the poor . . .everything should be subject to scrutiny, but it’s not then some kind of blind hustice that you then apply, you have to apply laws, you have to make choices, you have to determine what the priorities are, our argument is that we should give a certain priority for federal programs that effectively address poverty, when those programs can be warranted in terms of this constitutional order, but that the ultimate reason for that is a scriptural responsibility. Rulers have a responsibility to do justice for the poor. I think we would agree on that. What neither the document says nor what I am in this setting wanting to elaborate is what that responsibility looks like, because I think that is indeed a prudential question and an extremely difficult question, I have spent now, what? 25 odd years studying this question: What are the responsibilities of government with regards to the alleviation of poverty? And what actually makes a difference? And after 25 years I have very little to say on that question, as does everybody else. We know it’s an imperative, we know we have to do something about it, and we know it’s one of the most difficult challenges that we face”.

“My parents came here as Dutch immigrants and they never worked in their professions either”

“Today when I got on the bus, I felt distinctly accepting for the first time of this place as my home. I mean Grand River Transit, and the bus drivers, they show the beauty of this culture, I am beginning to love Canada because of Grand River Transit”
“They feel entitled to everything that they have, they don’t want know”

“I don’t fit in anywhere, I don’t fit in with ignorant white people anymore and I am not black”

“We have never felt at home in their institutions, they are not our institutions, we can’t fit in, even Canada Day, there are fireworks, and we feel sad and out of place, what are we supposed to say? Happy Steal Our Land Day?”

“The only way to begin to contain this thing called European culture is to begin to name it, to other it, to put limits around it”

“Christian schools seem to be producing “salt of the earth” citizens who provide the backbone of communities, are the pillars of their churches, and are living lives of purpose and hope. Fears that religious schools are the incubators of social unrest, producing a generation of culture warriors, seem to be largely unfounded"

“We must cut debt, we must care for the poor, we must do these thing simultaneously because of something we are calling intergenerational Justice”

“Grant me an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray, an invincible heart that no disaster can overcome”

“I want to be like you and like the Church Fathers, I want to be like St. Francis of Assisi and to be fearless in the face of poverty, I want courage and faith. I want to be at peace with feeling misunderstood, but where I lose all hope, is times when I feel that you have left me, that you Jesus Christ have left my home and heart”

"Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your Law"