Poem- The One Fruit in the Garden

           

In the garden, every delight and fruit stretches before you.

The Loving Gardener speaks: “For you, I give you all of the harvest you could ever need, ever eat,

            You can share, you can store, you can give to your village: no one should ever go hungry or be in need,

But there is one rule: you cannot eat this one pear tree.”

            But why?, you ask.

            “It’s flesh is poison, it’s branches withered, it’s stock is cursed, it’s fruit is socially offensive, it’s seed is a destructive weed, it’s smell is smothering, and it’s colour is blinding.

            Worst, it will ruin your life.  If eaten:

All love will flee your heart, every word you speak will turn to rats,

All steps will grow weeds, every look will burn the kindling around your gaze,

All people you touch will die, every whisper will become a malediction,

Elephants will trample you, wolves shall lick your bones,

Crows will cackle your demise, dogs will urinate on your remains,

Fungi will cover your eyes, mold will coat your tongue,

Worms will feast on your brains, and parrots will repeat your last wails.”

            But why?, you insist. 

            “Didn’t I just explain to you why this is such a horrible fruit?”

            But my rights!  I must have a freedom to choose something that can kill me horribly!

            “You can eat the fruit, I fear, but you must be warned,

I give you all of the fine fruit, FOR FREE,

            Just be warned- do not touch for death hovers-

            Tyrant!  You forbid me to eat!  Why give me this tree only to remove it! 

            “It’s here planted in a warning, it is even rotting on the branch,

But it is here, rights be overcome- with the gift of anything else being better

            than the poisonous bite of the fruit.”

            My freedom is essential and it will only be defined by the consumption of such a deadly fruit!

            “Really?  Have some dragon fruit.”

            I shall stand under this poisonous tree with the toxic shade cooling my individualism.

            “You are free to choose such a repose.” 

            I shall stand inches from the rotting fruit, allowing the sweet fragrance to entice me.

            OK.

            I shall pucker up, my lips on its skin with only a hiccup away from a bite.

            “That is, technically, eating the fruit and the warning shall be fulfilled.”

            Don’t boss me!  

Poem- A Rental Cabin By the Lake

The cabin still, clean, lifeless. 

            The lake still glimmers, the tree limbs still dance, the forest is still alive.  

But the cabin is set as it had been. 

Six days our kids ran across the decks, chasing pirates and toads,

            At night, the floorboards rocked and creaked us to sleep, the wind

howling lullabies matching our dreams,

            The beach’s sand brought onto the porch, the meal’s scent lingered in the air,

Games won and lost around the fireplace, the hot pine flavour lingered in every deep exhale,

The sun made her own signature on dusk’s front window,

            Naps long, Books read, Stories told, Treasures found.

Then the sixth morning came.

The bags packed, the car stuffed, the floors swept, the surfaces sprayed, the garbage stowed, the appliances unplugged, the windows cleaned, the furniture set back. 

The cabin empties. 

“As if we were never here,” I say to my wife.  “Not our cabin, but a cabin now.”

            She carries the bag of snacks to the car.

“This is the fate of all homes, isn’t it?  Footprints fade, life is cleaned away for the next family.”

             She tells the kids to get in the car. 

“Life is a rental.  Life is-“

            She then tells me to get in the car.  I do. 

Cabin by Crimson Lake, AB.

Poem- The Dangerous Insurrection of Sitting

Come and sit, right here,

           

Take a load off, slow down, I see you rushing

around this place, here and there-there and here. 

When you sit, visit- you stop, you slow yourself down.

            You don’t go and get busy and be busy and run ragged,

For I know the present world’s addiction: busyness. 

            A man’s worth is measured by how busy, how tired, how scheduled, how pulled in every direction, how ragged, and how spent he can be.

            In this world, only the important shoot themselves out until

they are spent casing.

Come and sit, right here. 

Sitting is the most dangerous and rebellious thing you can do today,

            Watch who turns read with those who sit:

The bosses, the billionaires, the nags, the bullies, the capitalists, the anxious, the demanding, the angry, the radicalised, the embittered, the mean, and the tyrants all hate those who sit. 

            Pick your enemies well.   Sit…and watch the screams and find out who is really on your side. 

Come and sit, right here.

I tell you what, someone who sits next to me tells me something,

            You whisper that I’m more important than that thing you rush to,

You suggest that everything will get done a while longer,

            You intimate that my time is more important than time itself,

I am seen and heard and it is good.

The next revolution will be won not by guns or bombs,

but by park benches and fire pits and flasks. 

Fascists beware: here are two good friends, sitting.

            You just became a better friend because you just sat next to me,

You came and sat, right here. 

Poem – From a Friend of Mine’s Shopping Cart Who Lives on the Streets of Edmonton

Hey!  I caught you looking at my treasures, it’s all right-I have lots of visitors, you can look, it’s safe.

In the dumpsters and gutters and alleys and landfills is where I rescue my treasures.  They sing to me and that is how I know how to save them.

Here this one is red, found in the crystal that shines and dances in more and more red.  Behind the red, deeper red.  Behind the deeper red, crimson. 

This one looks like a mirror, but stare at it.  Go on, stare.  Gazing at your own reflection, suddenly you see another person’s face.  Who is that?  It’s a different face for every person, but the face of someone else that is behind your own. 

This glass is broke, careful: I don’t want it breaking anymore.  Look at the glass, look.  Blue and purple and then, when you stop looking at it, green.  How’d it get so green? 

This treasure is a doll’s head.  I’ll make something out of this one, for I don’t like the expression/I don’t trust her grin. 

Here’s a page out from a novel.  I wonder what the story was before this page, page 78 & 79?  Pages Preface-77?  Also, what happened after?  I just have this one page.  I’ll read it again and again until I get sleepy as I’m camped by the river, just below the gym’s parking lot.  I don’t so much worry about how the book ends, just how it starts.  I reckon I can dream the ending.

Here’s a comically large lighter.  What giant belongs to this smoking habit?

Go through my cart, I don’t mind sharing.  Take what you need, just don’t take everything: I need some treasures to get me through today.  Or tomorrow, that’s why I hold on to them.  You never know when your journey will need extra treasures. 

Can Heaven Be Now?

What if…

What if, from On High, the Great Voice speaks, “Christian,

Heaven has been cancelled.   When death comes, you sleep. 

You do not dream, you just cease.”

Question:

Christian, will you still follow your God on Earth?”

Would you, could you follow Christ without reward, without assurance, without promise, without forever in front of you? 

Would you, could you suffer the earthly withdrawals without the advanced payments of eternity? 

Or…

Is there enough here and now of Heaven for it to be worth it? 

Has Kingdom Come and Thy Will be Done at this present, fleeting moment?

Behold, is God now or is the only chance, the only glance is to see Him hereafter? 

Seeing visions and crafting dreams now? 

Is Christ’s face burned in this morning’s toast?  Or, simply, do you see the faciem Christi in your next door neigbour? 

Is the Galilean Sea’s scent in your carpark? 

Will the Land be loved, the neighbours served, the strangers welcomed, the widows restored, the poor cared for, the exploited vindicated, the family upheld, and the churches be strong at this day’s breadth or is that something only one waits for, like a late-running bus? 

Can Heaven be now?  

Poem- Digging Up Dead Writers

I dig up dead storytellers buried in my basement.

These bards go to sleep, resting in anticipation for me to bring my shovels.  I find them, dig them up, and watch them rise from the graves.  They sleep in the basement, like they had been buried there by two spinster sisters who told their half-crazed brother to dig another lock in the Panama Canal.  I come and work on the coffee bitter scent of earth being broken up. I dig, dig, dig…and release. 

The dead are eager to talk, berate, show, tell, tease, taunt, trick.  

Wonderous, ancient stories bubble up from their bones.  Some stories are songs, hanging in the air like wind-swirled memories.  Other stories are word for word, line by line revelations of some dark event buried in our world’s deep forgetting.  And some just make the darkness fill with light. 

When the excavation is complete and the stories spent, I place these ghosts back in their coffins.  The coffins, to most people, look like books; the tombs like shelves.  I do not dissuade anyone from this belief and know the secret: here are my friends, those souls who wrote in the past to find me today in my basement. 

And I return to my basement, for another round of stories.  

Poem- The Reading of Comic Books.

The Reading of Comic Books

A young man-early twenties- slumps into my office, slouches in repose over

University and important books and pretenses sharpened by losing arguments.

After speaking of Zizek and Kant and Plato, I warn him:

Someday you might be ready to read comic books.   Again.  

When he has gained a career only to see he can be readily replaced due too many sick days or arguments with the wrong people or the change of a hair style, he’ll be ready.  When his heart has been broken and redeemed and healed and hurt again and destroyed and burned and renewed all by the same partner, he’ll be ready.  When he abides with his pain being louder than his own status giving words- when crying is the only words given-, he’ll be ready.  When wonder and awe and bewilderment mean more than summarization and dismissal and making polite, he’ll be ready.  When not everything can be reduced into a camp, a side, a reason, a politic, and a nation…he’ll be ready.  When a Tardis makes more sense than a board room, he’ll be ready. 

Before then, read all of the important authors.  Win arguments, dazzle the girls with your post-literary structuralism.  Do the hard, hard work of reading the smart books that are written exclusively to smart people-to wit, you are one of them. 

The forests will but cut, the flower beds will be mowed, the land paved, the smart being outsourced for other outsourcing, the printers will grind, the empire will rise with its new and personal beast, paradise will become a parking lot, and the land will be nothing more than arrows and lines.  Worst, young man, you won’t be young anymore.  The Whiz Kid and the Whiz Man cannot share the same space. 

And you will inherit what’s really, really real.  The Keys to the Kingdom of Un-Ending will be yours.  Childhood will be the home lost and then found.  Superheroes and mutants and spaceships will make more sense, as if a new piece to the puzzle was found in the rug of an adjoining room.  A bit of madness will return. 

At that point, you’ll be ready; ready to read comic books. 

The Lessons of Losing Both Parents

Both my parents

My mother died June 22, 2019. We celebrated her life afterwards in a memorial service.

I say this more as a human being than as an Anglican Priest: you don’t feel people are truly gone until the funeral is finished. I know there’s several “what-abouts” and exceptions to what I’ve said, but there’s something about the true, healthy formality of gathering, saying good-bye, and then leaving their body behind in either the grave or scattered somewhere.

For my parents, we both scattered their ashes. My Mom’s ashes was scattered in a plane over San Francisco Bay, near the old TWA hub which was the airline that formed so much of her self-concept; my Dad’s ashes was scattered from a boat over the Santa Cruz Bay. Scattered from above and below was a fitting metaphor of their marriage, as they were both legally separated and still joined together…with their remains sharing the same ocean.

It’s day after the funeral, we know they are gone. For both my parents, they left me today- with the funeral still within a 24-hour time bubble of this moment.

Losing both parents is like losing a large story that shapes who you are and predicts the future, but you can’t tell the tale anymore.

Or like speaking a made-up language. My youngest daughter was recently inspired by the novel “The Mysterious Benedict Society” in which the heroes/heroines speak to each other in Morse Code.

“The Mysterious Benedict Society”

One morning, she greeted me slapping her side and stomping her feet. I told her I didn’t know what she was saying and she did the pattern again. “What are you doing?”

“I’m saying good-morning in my new language,” she said, getting frustrated. She wanted me to speak back to her in her new, made-up language.

“But no one has taken a class in your language,” I said. She then tried all of the other family members with her new way of talking and no one could follow her slaps and stomps. Angry, she recoiled into a corner of the house. We then struck a deal: instead of creating a new language, let’s all learn Morse Code together.

The Kregels are now learning Morse Code.

Losing both parents is like trying to speak a language no one else gets. I see my Dad in expressions I use or thoughts I try to get across, but now people think they’re original to me. Or that I’m just being quirky, slightly out of sync with the moment. I want to insist, then, “No, this expression is from my Dad! And it worked for him.” And I feel like I’m slapping my side and stomping my feet, speaking words no one knows because they hadn’t taken the class yet.

Our parents were the stories that shaped our story. These stories were full of settings: the home you grew up in, the work they did, the vacation places they favoured. Time-the great eraser- works first on the settings and then finally the story itself. What you are left with is this story you can’t reach but its effects are still on you, still whispering in your ear.

Whenever I see a flight attendant’s uniform, I think of my Mom; when I sit a read, I think of my Dad. My kids don’t know hardly anything about TWA or know the pleasure of spending an entire day reading, listening to classical music from NPR- but these two stories exist now only in those who knew well my Mom and Dad.

I am a graduate of John Steinbeck Middle School. Our mascot was a horse, which I always regretted because I thought our mascot should be someone dressed as John Steinbeck. It wouldn’t be a great way to lead cheers at a basketball with an introvert writer doling out quotes from “A Wayward Bus” and “Of Mice and Men”, but then again, as a 14 year old, I never liked basketball games anyway.

John Steinbeck, Author

We read “The Red Pony” and “Of Mice and Men” for 7th and 8th Grade Language Arts. No kid can get these books, but we kind of had to because they were written by Steinbeck. My 8th Grade teacher, Mrs. Griffin, pulled me aside and said, “Look, try Cannery Row. It’s at least funny.” She was such a nice, kind lady. And she was right: thank you, Mrs. Griffin.

John Steinbeck Middle School considered itself to be a good school. In many ways, it probably was. I struggled so much there but that was more because of adolescence than anything else. I feel that was one of the first places I stumbled onto my voice, something that had to grow through High School and College and Grad School and all through my adult life. But it started there.

The school is gone. If I were to return with my Canadian family to San Jose, California I couldn’t find this school. It’s gone and replaced by something else, something new. Mrs. Griffin doesn’t teach there anymore, so there’s no way she can meet my kids. The setting is gone.

My parents are gone, along with this school. At the time, they were so worried about my grades and my little rebellions and me not turning into what they expected of me: those are now just stories, invisible ones.

When I pastored up in the north of Alberta, there were five churches that ran a summer camp. The cabins, when first I first got there, were untouched, the chapel was as it was made back in the 1960s, and the campus has not been updated since the day it was established.

There was a struggle between the board and the churches: can’t we change something? For many (and I guess I was part of this group), the questions was put: Couldn’t we just update something? Add something? Build a new thing to do? A climbing wall? Redo the beach of the lake? Fix the chapel?

The other side was adamant: no. For this side, they remembered attending camp when they were kids and they stuck their memories to the wood of the buildings and the plaster of the walls. They now were grandparents and they wanted their grandkids to have identical experiences.

Change the camp; keep everything exactly the same.

I refuse to cite the reference of this movie.

Time favoured the former and, during my 9 years there, changes were made. Sometimes, it was because the buildings were falling apart and you couldn’t help but build something new. A rogue pastor built a climbing wall and that added life to the camp. Now, years later, that fight to keep the camp as it was forever has evaporated. The camp is doing well, with new things and new vision and new memories and new goodness.

I guess I could, like our summer camp friends, try to make my parents be exactly the same forever and ever. Not only does time and reality refuses this notion, but it wouldn’t be healthy or good.

Why? Because we are not one story, one setting but a series of stories, a series of settings. When one story ends, another begin. Or to quote Doctor Who: “Everything’s got to end sometime. Otherwise nothing would ever get started.”

Matt Smith, Doctor Who, A Christmas Carol

A story ends, another begins. We, then, are not a story but links in a chain of stories. And those stories will shape others we won’t get to see…until we’re on the other side of eternity.

I end my reflection with thinking about Wendell Berry. He uses the idea of “membership” as joining with the stories of the land. This idea is not passive, it requires choice and then followed up by an active love for one’s home, one’s land.

I read “Hannah Coulter” when I was ordained into the Anglican Church as Deacon. It was a weekend retreat and I decided to read the book on my off times. In it, the characters joined in membership with one another, a group of farmers who worked/loved the land. The farmers die throughout the book and there is but memory of this membership. But in the memory, is a formation of the good that is yet to come.

This meant the world to me because it was precisely why I became an Anglican. I wanted to be part of something bigger than just a smaller group of Christians who met, maybe, once a week. I wanted my ministry to be connected to the ministry of others, so I joined the “Anglican Communion”. My ordination was a culmination of this.

My story joined with the stories of other priests just like my parent’s stories join with mine and, someday, my kids.

Wendell Berry

To quote Wendell Berry in another book “Remembering”, he writes:

“That he is who he is and no one else is the result of a long choosing, chosen and chosen again. He thinks of the long dance of men and women behind him, most of whom he never knew, some he knew, two he yet knows, who, choosing one another, chose him. He thinks of the choices, too, by which he chose himself as he now is. How many choices, how much chance, how much error, how much hope have made that place and people that, in turn, made him? He does not know. He knows that some who might have left chose to stay, and that some who did leave chose to return, and he is one of them. Those choices have formed in time and place the pattern of a membership that chose him, yet left him free until he should choose it, which he did once, and now has done again.”
― Wendell Berry, Remembering: A Novel

To end with a quote from Doctor Who, “We’re all just stories, in the end. Better make yours a good one.” I would amend: “We’re all just stories in the end. Better make the next ones better than your present one.”

Thank you Mom and Dad, you will be remembered.

Re: Home. An Understanding of Homelessness in Edmonton

During a particularly wet spring, a young man in our shelter was trying to figure out how to keep his feet dry.

For those of us who have homes, this isn’t much of a big deal. We can go out into the rain, get our socks wet, and come home only to dry off our feet or get a new pair.

If you don’t have a home or an extra pair, you can live in those wet socks for days, weeks, and even months. When I first worked the shelters, there was a man who could barely stand on his own two feet…literally. One of our workers, a trained EMT, asked to look at his feet. The pink, purple, and black of trench foot coloured around his open sores and gashes. My friend bandaged his feet and told him to avoid puddles. “Really,” my friend said. “He should be in bed and off his feet for 2-3 weeks. But he can’t do that. And won’t.”

The young man didn’t want trench foot, which caused him to ask around for help.

An older man, also in the shelter, pulled him aside. He gave him two sandwich bags he pulled from the dumpster. “Put these on over your socks. My mom used to send me out to shovel around our reserve. Sandwich bags will keep your feet dry. A trick I learned growing up,” the old man said.

The young man applying the sandwich bags over his socks, slipped on his new boots we gave him from our emergency closet, and he was on his way.

Did this story happen? Not verbatim. It’s a composite of so many other stories and times as a chaplain with the Mustard Seed that it might have happened, could still happen, versions of it did happen to me, and makes sense in our world.

An often idea that is missing within working with the homeless is that, at one time, they did have a home. In North America, we are wealthy enough to where everyone starts with a home. Some radical exceptions (people are born feral), but even foster care systems or home displacement is anchored to some place, some start of one’s life. In other countries, this might not be the case. But in Edmonton, Canada: we begin with a home.

The journey from homelessness is not to find a new place with the new wonder of having a home for the first time; rather, to return to a sense of homecoming.

Home is where the heart is. You’ve heard that expression. And yet, we have heard it so much that-at times- we miss the meaning.

Home is where we “take off our boots” and “kick up our heels”. Home is where we exhale. When we call someone for business reasons, we hesitate to call them at home. “Pastor, I hate to call during dinnertime at your house but this is serious…”: I’ve heard as a priest. Home is where, if it is a healthy place, we can relax and be ourselves.

If we have our spirit-which I ascribe to that set of metaphysics- then we heard our own spirit the best at home. In fact, many of us work, labor, commute, toil, schedule, shop, consume, hustle, bustle, borrow, pay, clock-in, sign-up, charge, run, and flutter with our spirit-the real us- being strangers to us. And all of these activities happen out from our home. Home is where we go to listen to our real selves.

But what happens when we forget to have a home? Or forget our own home?

The writer Elie Wiesel asserts in “Longing for Home”, “Forgetfulness by definition is never creative; nor is it instructive. The one who forgets to come back has forgotten home he or she came from and where he or she is going.” (Wiesel, “Longing for Home” pg. 38).

In one of my favourite novels “Remembering”, Wendell Berry writes about the main character, Andy Catlett, who is a farmer and watches the farms of his youth no longer become homes. Instead, they became places of industry and making a home with the land you farm on being forgotten.

Berry writes: “…that bigger was better and biggest was best: that people coming into a place to use it need ask only what they wanted, not what was there; that whatever humanity or nature failure before the advance of mechanical ambition deserved to fail: and that the answers were in the universities and the corporate government office, not in the land or the people.” (“Remembering” pg. 72).

Lastly, I’m reminded of the seminal fantasy work “Tigana” written by Guy Gavriel Kay. In this novel, a kingdom is captured and the very name was impossible to be remembered (through magic). The former citizens of this kingdom are scattered, unable to say aloud the place they came from. Home was lost.

The great, 21st century sin-I argue- is that we have viewed achievement in terms exclusively as industry and not what is good for our spirit or what our Creator wishes to say to our spirit. When we view life only as industry then the first thing to go is our sense of home. We are not defined by homecoming, sabbath, rest, or our spirit but how much we do (or don’t do).

The wages of sin is made acute when we think of those who have never had a choice to be homeless. For many, they had a home and lost their homes.

All of us have a sense of a home we need to get back to. Homes-not just houses- is us getting back to the glory, dignity, and harmony we once had with our setting.

I have a friend who we will name Brian. About a month ago, Brian showed up to our long term shelter out from nowhere. He said that he quit drugs cold turkey and needed a place to remain sober. We took him in, giving him a cubicle, and decided to have him stay.

Many of our staff meet with our clients, asking them what their latest goals are. Most goals are to get housed, to get back to some sense of home. With Brian, his was simple: remain sober and get his thinking back on track.

Brian would then wander our parking lot, looking for a listening ear. He would get many ears, from staff or clients, as his body was recovering from 20+ years of dependency.

His words were unique. Most recovering addicts usually take the time to complain about the symptoms of their addictions. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY FAIR! The symptoms are BAD and to get through them, one must use colourful, descriptive, and evocative imagery for the sole purpose of reducing their pain. But not Brian.

He kept talking about the kind of person he wants to be, the kind of life he likes, and how the Creator fits into that. When I used the word “harmony”, he said he loved that as an expression of his new life. Soon, when the first week of physiological changes settled, a new spirit came out in Brian.

He was this quiet, thoughtful presence in the shelter. The only way I could describe him was he reminded me of what I think of when I read about a Russian mystic, living in the forest and offering prayer whispers to the birds and trees.

Or, for those who like Steinbeck, the character of “The Seer”(Sunshine Parker) in the book “Cannery Row”.

Or, back to Wendell Berry, our friend “Jayber Crow”.

Buried deep in this man was a true mystic. It never came out until he had a place to settle down his addictions, to find a place to call home, and to “Re:Home”.

His chats and talks was making a new home for himself and a home for others.

From this sense of home, my friend Brian then wanders around with this peace and offers it to others as they work on trying to get housed. From this peace, that was the thing he hoped to take with him when he gets housed.

The greatest gift we can give someone in the 21st Century: Re:Home. It is the goal of creating enough relational space, time, setting, comfort, and grace to where they feel a sense of immediate homecoming and, from there, listen to their spirit and what the Creator of that spirit has in store for them.

The way back home is, most often, a broken trail. Our greatest wounds come from our original home. This is the resistance many of us have-why go back? And yet, I am not saying “Re: Home” is a return down that broken trail…a trail that might not exist anymore.

I have a friend of mine whose childhood was spent in a mining camp found in the Yukon Territory. When he was a teenager, the camp was broken down. The houses sold and scattered throughout Canada, the Baptist Church dismantled, and the roads-gravel and natural, were replanted and lost. To this day, my friend has looked for the location of his childhood home and can’t find it.

Re:Home is not a call to our original birthplace because, for many of us, it might be lost, gone, or full of pain. Rather, it is to find a home now. This might call us to look backward, but it is not an insistence for nostalgia or even time travel. Rather, it is a call to build homes where we live now.

In an ancient Hebrew text (IE. The Bible), the character of God speaks to the characters of the Israelites. God informs them they will be captured, made into slaves, and have to live in a foreign land. He gives them this instruction:

“4This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:5″Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.6Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.7Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29: 4-7)

God’s call to the Israelite’s were simple, to Re:Home.

Chalk Lines on the SideWalk: Homelessness, Shelters, and Doctor Who

“If someone explodes because you set a boundary, then that boundary was important to be set in the first place.”  

            I am a chaplain in one of our city’s homeless shelter. 

            We were in the 2nd month of our new location.  We were using a basement in a church for one of our shelters when we started seeing a crowd outside of our parking lot.  First, it was a group of people setting up in encampments on the other side of the train tracks.  Then, on one hot, spring day, we saw groups of two circling our building.   Finally, there would be a large group of folks staring at our front door, two blocks away, waiting for something to happen (although I’m not sure what).

            This crowd got me curious, so I started hanging out in the parking lotthat faced these crowds.   At first, I thought of myself as a spy: studying the comings and goings of these crowds.  However, I found out I couldn’t really lurk: our community members staying at the shelter would come find me and we’d start talking.  I had some great conversations; learned nothing. 

            The local police came and, along with talking to some of our neighbourhood experts, we learned that the people who lounged around our shelter were from a gang local.  They would wait for our people to leave for the day and try to sell them drugs.  Some of our folks refused, but others were really tempted and gave in.  One of our community members told me, “They are the devil!  I tell them that!  Devil!!!”   A few weeks afterwards, he stayed sober and was housed.  One of our community members purchased drugs and OD’ed in our parking lot, revived by our staff and his life was saved. 

            The tent encampments were a bit different.  Some were for those who wanted to use (we’re a drug free zone and so they couldn’t in our space) and others just wanted to camp, be independent, and then visit their friends who were utilizing our services. 

            We then existed with this firm line drawn.  We couldn’t do anything about the encampments or the wandering gang members because they were always off our property (they were firmly away of where we our authority ended and theirs began), but the moment folks crossed into our area, we could help: provide housing solutions, food, clothing, and so forth.

            As well, we created a team that wandered the neighbourhood, handing out water and food and providing other resources for our street people. 

            But the boundary was there, firm and felt if not invisible: this is our shelter and this is the neighbourhood. 

            One morning when I saw the crowd gathering on the other side of the tracks, I quoted a line from one of my favourite movies to a 20-something shift leader: “The Mission”.  

            “I see your working above the falls now,” I said to the group two blocks away.  They couldn’t hear me.  “We intend to make Christians of these people!” 

            The 20-something leader had no idea that I was quoting Jeremy Irons in an exchange with Robert De Niro.   In the film, Jesuit priests were forming missions in Latin America as havens for indigenous people from Portuguese slavers. 

            I tried explaining the quote, but it was lost on the fact that it was a 30-something year old movie. 

            Boundaries.  We run three to five shelters.  Most of them, anyone is welcomed inside as long as you follow certain rules (EX. No using while in the space, no violence, no gang colours, no threats, etc.).  However, the one with all of the crowds is the one that is different.  Our community members are promised a bed every night, they have their own space, and they are promised food and snacks and everything.  However, we work to help them set goals and plans- eventually leading towards getting some kind of housing. 

            The church’s basement is the one with the most boundaries than any other shelter.  Even the space looks different: rather than mats on the floor, there are small walls in a cubicle style for each space.  Many community members decorate the walls with sayings, art, quotes, and/or phone numbers.   The rule is we can talk to people outside of their space, but we don’t come in unless a life/death situation.  This space, when respected, actually allows people to be way chattier than if they were just on mat. 

            Why?  Boundaries.  

            And with this, there are those who remain on the outside.  Like a force field from a space opera, there is a wall that is more felt than seen.  Some have broken through this wall, only to be told one cannot come in for the safety of our guests.  Some have made threats, thrown insults, and fled.  Sometimes, we’ve had to call the police.  Rarely, though. 

            The boundaries are felt: if one wishes to get off the streets, you can come in and enter into the world of boundaries.  If you just want help, we’re do what we can. 

            Boundaries. 

“This is where I end and you begin.”

            “Boundaries define us.  They define what is me and what is not me.  A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.  Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom,” Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend writes in their book “Boundaries”.[1]

The simplest definition of boundaries is the image of a castle.

            What happens inside the castle is up to the kings and queens and knights and barons and dragons and all of those who live within the castle.  The walls are firm and empower those who are inside of the castle to respond to the forest and wilds outside of the walls. 

            They can respond to the outside world, but they are not responsible for the outside world.  They, instead, have the rules and culture and structure so the castle can be a castle. 

            Without walls, the castle is no longer a castle; instead, it’s a set of ruins. 

            The rules can be adjusted and changed and re-configured, but it is up to the residents within the castle rather than those who live in the forest.  Those in the forest can be helped by the castle and its good for the castle to help other people; but the castle is not ruled or governed by the forest. 

            This image of boundaries can be understood interpersonally (EX. “I am responsible for my actions, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.   I am not responsible for your actions, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.”).  It also can be something a parish or church can experience (EX. “We believe in God, the Father Almighty…”).   Families can be castles (EX. “We don’t yell in this house.”). 

            Boundaries is like chalk lines on the sidewalk.   Inside is me; outside is you.  

“Those who say ‘no’ can give the strongest ‘yes’.”  

            Boundaries is a way of aiding in identity and, I argue, establishing a “home”. 

            This is best described by the “TARDIS” in the great show “Doctor Who” (sorry, but for those who have read my blog enough know that all roads lead back to Doctor Who).  

            In this, the blue-now defunct-police box is bigger inside than on the outside.  One can enter and this police box will take them to any place, any time, and any dimension.   The TARDIS is more than just a time machine, it is the Doctor’s home.  The interior changes to match the Doctor’s personality and incarnation so it’s safe to say that as the pilot grows, so does the craft.  

            The Doctor has many, many companions.   They can live within the TARDIS with the Doctor, but they must obey certain rules.  

            Here are some rules:

 

      When one hears of “rules”, they think limits and yet the TARDIS, by all storytelling measurements, is limitless.  The boundaries of the TARDIS actually allow the Doctor and the companions to travel, get into adventures, help others, go places, and be safe.  By the “No” of refusing certain things within (IE. Daleks, Cybermen, supernovas, The Master, etc.), it is empowering for several moments of “yes” (IE. Saving planets, defending the weak, exposing exploitation, causing revolutions, etc.).  

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor – Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Ben Blackall/BBC Studios/BBC America

            Plus, the TARDIS gives the show an identity.  Everyone who has seen the show, knows what the sound it makes.  What it looks like.  And even, it’s unique shade of blue. 

            Back to our friends on the street. 

            Christine Pohl asserts in her book “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition”:

“Hospitality is fundamentally connected to place- to as space bounded by commitments, values, meanings…Boundaries are an important part of making a place physically and psychologically safe.  Many needy strangers (e.g. refugees, homeless people abused women and children) come from living in chronic states of fear.  A safe place gives them a chance to relax, heal, and reconnect their lives.   If hospitality involves providing a safe place, where a person is protected and respected, then certain behaviours are precluded and certain pragmatic structures follow.”[2]

            I once heard a Christian leader bristle at the idea of hospitality.  “I don’t believe we should worry about hospitality in our church.  Now does that make me inhospitable?” 

            I really didn’t want to answer that question.

            But hospitality is linked to care, linked to the “love one another” lines that keeps popping up in a pesky way around the Scripture.  However, this care is rooted in the strength of identity.   Of convictions.  And of a firm sense of home. 

            When one has more and more of a home, then one has a shot at caring for their world.  This is why, I think, the Hebrew Scripture uses the idea of home to describe health, wellness, and growth. 

            When we make home through boundaries, we empower care.  


[1] Cloud, Dr. Henry.  Townsend, Dr. John.  Boundaries.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1992.  Pg. 29. 

[2] Pohl, Christine.  Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, Pgs. 134, 140.