Postcards from Danny, Irish & Buddy Boy

It’s 1995 and we meet at church.

I tell you my name is Danny. You came to my town to speak in my church.

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Well, it’s sort of my church. Fred, the minister, likes me and his wife brings me dinner sometimes. I don’t think the people like me too much but at least they’re not mean or anything. They just ignore me but that’s OK cause Fred lets me play the drums when nobody’s around. I tell you how I live with Mum and how Dad took off when I was little. I don’t remember much about him anyway. You’re OK. I don’t get all the stuff you talk about but you treat me OK, so I like you.

It’s 1999 and this time we meet in front of Evergreen.

You know my name but call me Buddy Boy. I think that’s ‘cause I’m from down east like you. I wasn’t sure I liked it but I guess it was OK and you were just trying to say ‘I know where you’re from.’ You tell me that nothing good is going to happen to me in Toronto, and that I should go home. I say I don’t know where ‘home’ is and you suggest I should be with my Mum. evergreen - halsBut she has a new boyfriend and they moved and forgot to tell me where they moved to. You remind me of the minister who befriended me but he moved too and the church people didn’t treat me so good after that.

You were kind of stumped then. I know you weren’t rejecting me. I guess you did want to help. But you didn’t know what to do with me either. Some of the things you suggested were lame. Us talking just kind of went flat and I moved on.

It’s 2003 and we meet on Church Street.

Now my name is Irish. It’s tattooed across my neck. It looks like the flag of Ireland and I like it a lot. You don’t mention it. I have a big white supremacist logo tattooed on my cheek. You try to ignore it but I know it bugs you – that’s the point. It bugs everybody, so people give me my space. You ask how I am doing and I tell you about the gang I joined and how violent we are. But you know I’m not tough and that without the gang I can’t even protect myself. But I tell you about how bad we are anyway. I don’t want you to think I’m weak.

Now it’s 2005 and I get you on the phone.

Not sure why I called. Maybe it’s because you’re from home or at least sort of from home and it’s been so long since anybody really talked to me.

I tell you I quit the gang. Truth is, they kind of let me slip. Everyone lets me go eventually. I tell you how good things are and about the great job I have and how great my place is. But you know I wouldn’t be calling if things really were good. I know that you know, but I tell you anyway and you pretend not to see through it, and you tell me “Good on yah!”

You invite me around and I say “sure!” but we both know it will never happen. You probably think I’m homeless but I got a place. Not so nice as I told you but it’s a place.

So why did I call you? Maybe ‘cause you’re the only person who knows about my life and I don’t really connect with anyone else. Maybe the closest thing to home is the times I see you every once and awhile.

I gotta go now. Things to do. Catch you later. Or not.

By the way, do you have any idea why God put me here?

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It’s 2016.  It has been a decade since I’ve had contact with Danny.

I think about him often. Is he dead, alive, in prison, gone back east?

Twenty years later, YSM’s Evergreen Centre now has more staff, they have more training and our programs are more sophisticated. If Danny arrived today, perhaps the outcomes would be different.

Like thousands we met, Danny was dispossessed (Hebrew: rush) – a term used to refer to a range of people who are poor, destitute, forced from their homes or otherwise dispossessed. To be dispossessed is to lose your stake hold, to have no place you can call home, nowhere that you belong. Imagine – if you disappear, no one knows you’re missing.

Danny was, in every important respect, an orphan, abandoned by his parents. The church had no time or aptitude for him. In fact, there is really no place for any version of  – Danny, Buddy Boy, or Irish –  in Canadian society.

So I often think of Danny, and of the Apostle James who wrote that “real” or “pure” religion “visits” orphans and widows – which at the least means that the faithful find ways to show hospitality, to include and to embrace.

Epilogue

The church that had no time for Danny now has no time for anybody: it closed its doors some years back. But some young innovative people got their hands on the building and have opened a center for homeless and needy individuals in their town. Impossible to know, but had they been there in 1995, Danny’s journey might have been different. To me it seems that in that space,  Jesus has reestablished “religion . . . pure and undefiled before our God and Father . . . ” – James 1:27.

 – Blessings … Rick Tobias

Georgia Lee

As a child, Georgia Lee Moses, of Petaluma, California, routinely fled a home that has been described as dysfunctional and abusive. Georgia Lee head-and-shoulders screen captureIn August 1997, at age 12, she disappeared. After eight days her naked and strangled body was found dead in a ditch. Her murderer was never found. Local firefighters built an angel memorial to honor her. Singer Tom Waits wrote this song to remember her. Her memorial was recently moved from the crime scene to a parkette by the Petaluma City Hall.  (With material from Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat, Nov. 2, 2012)

 

DOING THEIR PART

Doing their part is a way for me to show appreciation for people I’ve met who have been influential over me (and often many others), or who simply are impressively committed, insightful or effective in pursuing compassion and justice.

Julie MacLean

It is no secret that the single most effective way you keep youth off the street or out of gangs is early relational engagement. Julie MacLean, an extremely invested and caring community worker, created and leads Yonge Street Missions’ “Tree of Life” project. Here’s her commentary. – RT

My family and I are blessed to have been part of the life of the Regent Park community for 22 years. Eleven years ago I became the Children’s Program Coordinator at the Christian Community Centre which really opened the door into the splendor and chaos of Regent Park.

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Julie MacLean and young people from the Tree of Life program at YSM

When I started, The Centre provided a framework for the “Tree of Life” children’s programs; inclusive, fun and holistic learning environments incorporating homework clubs and summer camps. We have become a tight knit community of around 60 children and 30 “youth in training” who pour into the Centre to develop their talents, experiences and ideas. They bring the pre-existing values of Regent Park’s cultures with them; hospitality, respect, family, faith and self-expression.

My role has been to encourage our children and youth in their gifts and provide opportunity for growth and leadership. Longevity and the creation of safe space have been key to the healthy growth and development of our children and youth. So strong are the community ties that our alumni still visit frequently and many have begun their own community development projects such as overseeing the new community garden, running fitness classes for people with diabetes, and working with other community based agencies.

One of our youth blossomed this fall when we started a project to help children and youth to choose a short term goals. His goal was to get a “six pack”. The boy who struggles in school wrote out a detailed five-part plan, enlisted six of his friends to approach the manager of a gym to see if they could use the treadmill, found a gym supervisor to run an after-hours training program and helped all the other children in homework club with their goals. He managed all this despite being bullied and threatened at school and battling family problems that have resulted in him being removed from his home.

This is not the end of the story. I believe that his resilience, strong bonds with friends and multilayered support and love from YSM will see him thorough this challenging time. And beyond that…..I believe God has his hand on this 11 year old.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Beyond the Elders’ Wisdom

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The young must assert their vision and claim today

For a number of years I have advised students in my classes that they have a responsibility to think past their elders, teachers and leaders. I believe that each emerging generation is responsible for moving their society or group beyond its status quo, to see the new and the innovative, to envision a different future and move towards it.

Young leaders must think more deeply, higher, further and more broadly than their elders. Without that progression, societies, organizations, faith communities and cultures stagnate. We become “freeze-framed” in a particular space and time, and relegate ourselves to museum status. Not unlike medieval monasteries, we may be the keepers of valued truth and relics while also losing connection both to the culture about us and to God’s ever progressing revelation. Indeed we fall behind.

As well as thinking past its elders, each emerging generation must give birth to its own visionary leaders, prophets who clearly see what is shadowy or invisible to the rest of us: such leaders move communities and cultures in fresh directions.

Coldbrook church plan
In 1973 Charis and I began a church plant in Coldbrook, NS, meeting in this building, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Hall. It was a wonderful time in our life, but a long way from Toronto and YSM.

I was a 27-year-old rural-oriented pastor when a friend introduced me to a group of young urban pastors, educators and poverty workers who viewed the world in ways I had not imagined. Like most Old Testament prophets they are mostly unknown beyond their circles. I’m thinking of people like Doug and Judy Hall and the community around Boston’s Emmanuel Gospel Center; the SCUPE consortium in Chicago; Gipp Forester in Western Canada and Dan Dryer in Atlantic Canada.

Collectively, they and others created a counter-cultural movement which re-visioned the place of the church in the inner city. While North America embraced all-out consumerism and a “me-centeredness,” they fostered a vision that was more grace-filled, generous and inclusive. Their insights and convictions changed how many of us engaged our world: we became more compassionate towards the homeless, the poor and marginalized; we became a more inclusive people.

My life was transformed. My focus shifted from rural to urban, and then deepened to truly see the urban poor, to question accepted truisms about poverty, to revisit what we meant by care of the poor, and then to recognize the centrality of justice.

But it began with young leaders who dared to see things differently. I believe that in spite of the many wrongs we see in our society, North America is in significantly better shape because those who influenced many of us dared to think beyond their elders.

Youth are not automatically smarter or wiser. Nor is something inherently faulty with elder-think: the wisdom of the elders is usually foundational for new wisdom and insight. Elders mentored me and taught me how to think beyond them. On the shoulders of people who precede us, we occupy new realities.

Sometimes older leaders say “The future belongs to the youth!”  What goes unsaid is “Leave the present to us.” Yet the young must assert their vision and claim today: otherwise their future is determined by people who will not have to live it.

That’s how God calls us forward: the great issues of my life will not be the great issues of my successors. But my successors and their peers must grapple with that reality and come to a fresh and maybe ground-breaking understanding of the world and what God is doing. They must do the work to choose a future that is fully theirs, and commit to a path that will get them there.

“As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,” youth must do more than simply claim their inheritance or manage their birthright: they must envision and create the future.  In the words of Lauryn Hill:

I hear so many cry for help
Searching outside of themselves
Now I know his strength is within me
And deep in my heart, the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to define my own destiny

 – Blessings … Rick Tobias

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Doing Their Part

Doing their part is a way for me to show appreciation for people I’ve met who have been influential over me (and often many others), or who simply are impressively committed, insightful or effective in pursuing compassion and justice.  

Carol Ann McGibbon

Carol Ann and I worked together in Saint John creating a community based ministry in the south end of that city. Later we attempted to create a program to Carol Ann McGibbon croppededucate urban leaders in Atlantic Canada.

Carol Ann went on to become the Program Director, a faculty member and ultimately the Executive Vice President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE). She has served at SCUPE for more than 30 years and has been responsible for training hundreds of young urban leaders and influencing urban ministries and community development activities across North America and around the world.

More recently she and David Frenchak have formed Educational and Leadership Design Consultants, Inc. While I could focus on Carol Ann’s involvement in designing curriculum for Community Development Degrees or her current work with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary around “public theology” I like this story from her early years when she was trying to break into the Saint John Jail.

“One memorable moment was that first summer when a guard released about 15 women to go to the church service at Germain Street Baptist Church. He forged my signature stating that I had picked the women up, and when I arrived to get them, they were gone.

“The guards were smirking. They really disliked my taking the women out for nutrition, cooking and GED classes, or to church on Sunday. I panicked because if I lost one I could be tossed in jail and charged with being an accessory to escape. I drove to the bus station, the train station, and finally to church to ask the church to pray. The Pastor greeted me at the door laughing and saying the ladies were wondering why I was late. They knew the guards were trying to sabotage the program and both them and me.

“So they walked to church and were sitting in the pews waiting for me. It was a miracle.”

– Rick Tobias