A grateful listener
I was born in Saint John N.B. to a Lebanese father and an Irish mother, in a tight community where such marriages were not unusual. I grew up with great Lebanese feasts, Irish stews and boiled dinners, danced Dabke, (traditional Lebanese dance), listened to the high pitched ululation of the women when we partied, and then sang “When Irish Eyes are smiling.” I am deeply proud of my community and heritage.
For the past 40 years I have worked among various people whose lives are to a great measure marked by poverty and exclusion. I would like to think that in many meaningful ways I have been able to make positive contributions to their lives.
What I know for sure is that my life has been unmeasurably enriched by the very people I felt so compelled -even called – to journey with. From Coldbrook in Nova Scotia, to Saint John and Chicago and these past 30 plus years at Yonge Street Mission, I am the beneficiary of good and precious gifts that God’s people so freely bestowed on me.
During my term as the Mission’s CEO, through 25 years of teaching at Tyndale and in countless Sunday Sermons, conferences, consults and intimate conversations I have been expected to be the expert. Instead I found myself simply sharing understanding and insight learned from shelterless and homeless youth, Mission community members and more than one Melchizedek who has passed through my life.
I learned what I know from people who, in the midst of extreme need and even brokenness, find the capacity for love and grace, people who are as generous with the abundant wisdom they have acquired as they are with the little they possess. I can never find the language to express my gratitude to them and to God for the countless good gifts they have bestowed upon me.
The book of James boldly declares that “Every good and perfect gift” comes from God. Thus Tobits. In Hebrew it is ṭôbīyāh meaning God (is) my good. My name is a variation of the name; Tobias. In the Hebrew it is Tobiyah and means the goodness of God.
The Book of Tobit is part of the Catholic and Orthodox biblical canon.
It was one of the “undisputed” books that was included in what would become the Christian Bible and until the Protestant Reformation it was for all Christians “the Word of God.” Indeed it was included in the first edition of the 1611 King James Bible.
Whether it should be treated as scripture or not; I am not scholar enough to know. But I like the play on my name. I love the affirmation that God is my good and that God gives good gifts, the written Scriptures, and the people of God, the poor who inspire and enlighten me.
It is worth noting that I am a minister, a care-giver. Thus this will be the reflection, meditation of one whose life has been spent with people. While I teach, I am not an academic and when I address issues of Compassion and Justice, I speak simply as a practitioner who is still learning his craft.
My hope is that the good gifts I have received will come together in this blog and be helpful to others who journey with the poor, have committed themselves to justice and who seek to discover the abundant life that is promised to all by the Mighty God the very Creator of heaven and earth.
– Rick Tobias
“Banat Iskandaria” (Girls of Alexandria) from the LP Port Said: Music of the Middle East by Mohammed El Bakkar and His Oriental Ensemble (1957).