Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hard To Know What It Is

Home... hard to know what it is if you've never had one
Home... I can't say where it is but I know I'm going home
That's where the heart is

And I know it aches
How your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on
- Bono, "Walk On", All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000.

Bono sings of those who are truly homeless for they have never had a place that was a home. They may have had a roof over their head, they may have had biological parents and siblings, but they have never known home. Brian J. Walsh, in his excellent book Beyond Homelessness, tells of volunteering at a youth drop-in centre in Toronto and how the kids all wanted to play Ping-Pong with him.
They wanted to play Ping-Pong with me . . . because I was an adult about the age of their fathers. Most of these kids had never, or at least very seldom, had this kind of experience with their dads. I was the dad-guy at the drop-in center. But not the dad who was responsible for their discipline. Not the dad they ran away from because of abuse. No, I was the rec-room, Ping-Pong-playing dad these kids, mostly young men, had always wanted.
Whenever I would talk to the kids in any depth, it became clear that even though “home” had been a site of such pain, such rejection, and such hurt, there was none-the-less a deep longing to go home. They still even referred to that place they had fled as home. And if they couldn’t go home there, they would long for experiencing home in some other place. (Bouma-Prediger 2008)

There is hope for a home for all. "I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home." We can hold out the hope of a true home for all who are homeless.

Bouma-Prediger, Steven and Walsh, Brian J. Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Lately, I have found myself reflecting upon the concept of "home." What does it mean to have a home? What does it mean to be homeless? Which aspects of home are transferable from one place to another and which ones are not? As I work through this I find a number of resources are part of the process. My wife, Maureen, and our three daughters are helping me to think this through, two books have been helpful, and the general plight of the poorly housed or non-housed people of Vancouver’s downtown eastside (DTES) has also been instructive.

About fifteen months ago our entire family experienced a change of home as we sold a house in Calgary. Maureen and I moved to a condominium in Vancouver. Our daughters were, at that time, in three different cities literally around the world and today the five of us are in three different provinces of Canada. I have been reading Brian J. Walsh’s book Beyond Homelessness as well as a novel by Tana French: The Likeness. Interestingly, both books deal with the concept of "longing for a home" and both books make reference to novels written by Barbara Kingsolver who also speaks to the concept of home with the following words.
I’ve spent hundreds of pages, even whole novels, trying to explain what home means to me. Sometimes I think that is the only thing I ever write about. Home is place, geography, and psyche; it’s a matter of survival and safety, a condition of attachment and self-definition. It’s where you learn from your parents and repeat to your children all the stories of what it means to belong to the place and people of your ken.*

Home is about so much more than a roof over your head; and some who have a roof over their head are more homeless than those without a roof. I have met people who live on a particular street corner and bed down under the stars that are quite at home in the DTES for they are part of a community of people. I have also met people who have one or more places to live but are largely disconnected from their dwellings, their neighbours, and even the people with whom they share a roof. Bouma-Prediger and Walsh suggest that these people are also homeless.# There is a great deal more for me to learn on this issue. I am sure I will return to this theme.

*Kingsolver, 2002, 195-197.
#Bouma-Prediger and Walsh, 2008, 1-5, and 28.

Books cited:
Bouma-Prediger, Steven and Walsh, Brian. Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.
French, Tana. The Likeness. London: Hodder and Stroughton Ltd., 2008.
Kingsolver, Barbara. Small Wonder. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flashes of Light (by Amie)

My friend Amie at "Musings of a Social Concience" has written a great blog. She says it so well I want to quote it here in its entirety.

Things have been getting to me lately.

Corruption. Lexuses & Mercedes. Politics. Ignorance. They always get to me…but sometimes they become really heavy. The weight of a hundred thousand thoughts cause despair. Trust me. And then in no time…Depression. Frustration. Anger.


And then I was reminded of the big picture once again by wise sage, Henri Nouwen. The following, an excerpt from Lifesigns, may be the most important thing for those of us who engage in social justice to hear.

"As prayer leads us into the house of God and God’s people, so action leads us back into the world to work there for reconciliation, unity, and peace. Once we have come to know the truth we want to act truthfully and reveal to the world its true nature.

All Christian action – whether it is visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or working for a more just and peaceful society – is a manifestation of the human solidarity revealed to us in the house of God. It is not an anxious human effort to create a better world. It is a confident expression of the truth that in Christ, death, evil, and destruction have been overcome. It is not a fearful attempt to restore a broken order. It is a joyful assertion that in Christ all order has already been restored. It is not a nervous effort to bring divided people together, but a celebration of an already established unity."*

That turns the table doesn’t it? Isn’t that a beautiful reminder? This allows me to let go a bit…and not feel like swearing at every luxury car that drives by me on Phnom Penh’s cluttered streets (as Cyclo drivers push quadruple their weight on bicycles down the road and still struggle to survive).

Jesus has won. His Kingdom is Here. He has already conquered the ugliness. And we spend ourselves on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, and we forgive our enemies, and we do beautiful things in the name of Jesus with joy. And as we do this, we assert that he has overcome and we reveal the truth – that He is working his mustard seed Kingdom of wonder, his Salvation, in and through us still.

*Nouwen, Henri J.M. Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective. Image Books, New York. 1990.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Henry David Thoreau said, “Things do not change, we change.” As I sit beside the pounding, surf at Cannon Beach, Oregon I see truth in these words. Things like the ocean do not change. The ocean on this portion of the Oregon coast has been roiling, churning, and spraying the land mass for hundreds and thousands of years. The ocean is the biggest influence on the weather of this whole coastal region. If all of mankind ceased to exist tomorrow the roar of the sea on this piece of beach would not change one note. The ocean is a good place to come to consider the constancy of things.

There are other things that do not change. The sun rises each morning and sets each evening; at least in these latitudes. Seasons come and go. The moon continues her orbit around the earth. Tremendous tidal forces shift the mass of the ocean in her boundaries like wine in a tipsy drinker’s glass. These high and low tides may appear random but in the big picture they are changeless and can be predicted many years into the future.

God does not change. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We change. We humans are constantly changing; sometimes because we want to change and sometimes against our will. And God, in His constant ability to come down to our level, continues to meet us where we are. The Holy, Creator, God always manages to stoop down and find His broken, weak, children wherever their journey has taken them. He meets us at our change-point.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Doug Koop is a guy I know about through an online community. He is a great writer and writes for I wanted to share with you his words about comfort.
On days like today I have an urge to go completely off the grid, to carve
out a sustainable life in the country without being dependent on computers,
or telephones, or electricity, or oil, or anything that someone else or some
faraway disaster can simply shut down.

Obviously, I'm feeling bad today. But it's really not about me. My own life
has some comforts and routines; in fact, it's full of them. There is a nice
bed to sleep in; a beautiful wife to wake up with; coffee on demand;
newspaper at the door; a comfortable couch to curl up in with a Bible; a bus
just down the street that arrives on time; a book to read and a neighbour to
chat with; a congenial coffee shop downtown with friendly people; a steady
job that provides meaningful work. Oh, I forgot to mention, the hot shower
with a turn of a tap. The picture is clear: my life is comfortable and

But much of that could disappear in a few instants. One day without Internet
access would create chaos in my workplace; one computer crash and many of my
daily touchstones would disappear. A power outage could make my home
unlivable. Face it. A lot of my life is heavily vested in a fragile web.
Circumstances beyond my control could change things irrevocably.

Why am I thinking about these things?

Today it's because of a place I've never been to and where I've never wanted
to go. Haiti. A terrible earthquake has devastated, decimated and destroyed
an already hurting country. I can't begin to imagine what now passes for
living in a place that was difficult enough to live in before the nation's
infrastructure was wiped out, its landmarks reduced to rubble, its people
killed and maimed, injured and suffering. No water; no hospitals; no
airport; no heavy equipment; no anything.

Help is coming. But the best efforts of generous people around the world are
like bits of confetti, bare flutters of compassion in a windstorm of need.
And I feel sorry for myself? Lord, have mercy!

Doug Koop

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Dumbfounding

My friend Jay Gurnett wrote an article in which he mentioned the poet Margaret Avison. I did a little research and learned that she is a Canadian poet who was given the Order of Canada for her poetry and yet not many Canadians have ever heard of her. I encourage you to grab a cup of coffee or tea and slowly read this Margaret Avison poem. We used it last night as a communion meditation for the gathering of the church in our home.

The Dumbfounding
(Margaret Avison; from: The Dumbfounding. New York: Norton, 1966. pp.58-59.)

When you walked here,
took skin, muscle, hair,
eyes, larynx, we
withheld all honor: "His house is clay,
how can he tell us of his far country ?"

Your not familiar pace
in flesh, across the waves,
woke only our distrust.
Twice-torn we cried "A ghost"
and only on our planks counted you fast.

Dust wet with your spittle
cleared mortal trouble.
We called you a blasphemer,
a devil-tamer.

The evening you spoke of going away
we could not stay.
All legions massed. You had to wash, and rise,
alone, and face
out of the light, for us.

You died.
We said,
"The worst is true, our bliss
has come to this."

When you were seen by men
in holy flesh again
we hoped so despairingly for such report
we closed their windpipes for it.

Now you have sought
and seek, in all our ways, all thoughts,
streets, musics--and we make of these a din
trying to lock you out, or in,
to be intent. And dying.

Yet you are
constant and sure,
the all-lovely, all-men's way
to that far country.

Winning one, you again
all ways would begin
life: to make new
flesh, to empower
the weak in nature
to restore
or stay the sufferer;

lead through the garden to
trash, rubble, hill,
where, the outcast's outcast, you
sound dark's uttermost, strangely light-brimming, until
time be full.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions or revelations to be from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the Devil. - John Wesley as quoted by J.K. Johnston in Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 102.

I have a friend who is reading a book called Hearing God: Developing A Conversational Relationship With God by Dallas Willard. I really must borrow this book from him when he is done. Perhaps Willard can shed some light on how we discern the voice of God from the other voices. It is a great challenge. So many voices compete for our attention. We have access to so much information that often our heads are full of a cacophony of voices, statistics, and words. And yet, I truly want to hear from God. I want to hear the voice of truth. I want to hang on every word He says. I want to hear and then act upon those words.
I'm looking past the shadows in my mind into the truth and I'm,
Trying to identify the voices in my head.
God which one's you?
Let me feel one more time what it feels like to feel alive,
And break these calluses off of me,
One more time.

'Cause I am hanging on every word you say and,
Even if you don't want to speak tonight that's alright,
Alright with me.
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit outside your door and listen to you breathing,
Is where I want to be.
Yeah. - LifeHouse, "Breathing"