Thursday, June 30, 2011

(Day 18) continued...

The morning was spent in meeting with Dr. Tom O'Connor and Dr. Dwight Cuff followed by a third meeting with Keith Jobling of Justice Reflections which works in partnership with IPCA Worldwide.

After lunch Peg and I did a run through of the workshop we were offering and all was well.  The rehearsal allowed us to refine our time and be clear in who was doing what.

Lunch was again buffet but rather than sandwiches and soup the offerings were Italian offerings: salad, garlic bread, tomatoes and cheese in olive oil and meat and vegetable lasagna and tiramisu   I opted for the salad and tomatoes and vegetable lasagna and while I enjoy tiramisu passed on it... my figure you know!!

Peg and I had 28 people show up for our workshop.  For comparisons there were four in each of the other rooms down the hall.  We were pleased with the turn out, the level of engagement and the questions and feedback that were offered at the conclusion of the workshop.  

As folk departed I shared in a significant conversation with a woman from Iceland who is a pastor in the Lutheran Church there, A conversation about the boundaries in depth of connection, self care and teaming dynamics.  As we left the room a woman from South Australia asked if there was a way that we could offer our presentation in South Australia!!  We encouraged her to speak to the Director General of Chaplaincy and see what could be arranged!  Walking down the hall we informed our Regional Chaplain of this request and tongue in cheek asked if there might be funds in the travel budget this year... in say, February or March... the response... deep laughter!!

With the workshop done I can really relax now.  This evening after supper we will gather in community for worship at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church where the Director General of Chaplaincy will be formally installed into the role of Director General and will covenant with the Chaplaincy community.  St. Andrew's is home to the Past-President of the Inter-Faith Committee on Chaplaincy, the Rev. Wil Ingram.  I hope I get to connect with Wil.  I so enjoyed his company while serving on the Inter-Faith Committee.

I am sure that we will find a pub to visit as we return to the Hotel after the Service...  I know where there is at least one!

Anyways... that's all for today.

...on the Sabbath Road...

(Day 18) On late nights and early mornings...

Following supper last night I convinced myself that it would be a quiet evening.  I went back to my room and finished an autobiography/testimonial book that I had purchased from James Cavanagh, a former inmate and PFI Board member here in Toronto.  James (or Jimmy as he was known to many) was an inmate with one of the old timers that I presently work with at Springhill.  When I approached Jimmy and informed him that I was the one who contacted him on behalf of this inmate he signed a copy of the book with a promise from me that I would see that it was shared.

The book was an interesting read.  I really appreciated the manner in which James shared his conversion experience and respectfully communicated his convictions but I was troubled by some of the turns of phrase that left me feeling that there were things that remain unresolved for James.  Caught: Never to Run Again is an easy read and a fine accomplishment and profound gift to others by one  ran at every chance and who struggled in school for so many years.

Upon finishing the book I came down to check email and buy a ticket for Saturday's Blue Jay game.  While doing so I was invited to join some folk for an night cap... remember the dead zone, be conscious of your choice... oh ok!!  Off to the Duke of Richmond pub next to Old City Hall where I employed the "dead zone" again when confronted with the beer memu: I asked for tasters of the two Muskoka Cottage Brewery products they were offering: Muskoka Cream Ale and Muskoka Summer Weiss.  After hanging for a moment and enjoying the taste of each I decided on the Cream Ale.  A very balanced beer with a pleasant finish.  A great end to the day.  Or so I thought!

I walked back to my room only to discover just as I was getting into bed that my iPhone was no where to be found.  Hmmm... It must be on the table at the pub.  I got dressed and hoofed it back the three blocks to the pub and interrupted the bartender just as he was about to call the number on the lock screen... I am not sure that Anna would have appreciated a call at 12:45 AM: "Hello is Lloyd Bruce there?  I am calling from the Richmond Pub in Toronto and I have his phone."  I am sure Anna would have been quite gracious and helpful, but would probably have enjoyed ribbing me about it for a while!

Phone safely in hand it was back to the room where Mike Dawson, my roommate was still awake, waiting for me... "Hi dear, I'm back again..."  (Such has been the banter between us this week!!)  We watched the news and shared some stories and then killed the lights.

It is now 7AM.  I've been up since 5:30AM and am hungry.  It's still another half hour before breakfast - but I have coffee!!  Today Peg and I offer our workshop.  The morning will involve a couple of private meetings and preparing for the workshop at 1:30 PM.

Anna sent me a nice note this morning that outlined the terms of reference for the Bud White Entrance Bursary that Justin was awarded last Saturday at the graduation ceremonies:

$1000 Bursary - Bud White Memorial
Awarded to a student who is involved in school activities, demonstrates exemplary citizenship in all activities, and works to his/her ability in all classes, has earned the respect of teachers and fellow students and will be attending a post-secondary institution in the fall.

Awesome.  Fills me with pride.  Apparently he found the above "somewhere in his room" (emphasis mine) and shared it with Anna.  Way to go Justin!  We know you are a great kid and it sure is nice to hear others say it too!!

That's all for the first portion of day 18... more later.  Maybe.

...on the Sabbath Road...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

(Day 17) On technical assistance and "dead zones"...

I spent the morning doing some work on the IPCA computer used by the President, Dwight Cuff.  He was having some trouble with Windows Live - the default email client on a new PC running Windows 7. He could receive mail fine, but he could not send any mail.  No matter what I did with the settings I kept getting the same error.  To make a long story short I installed Mozilla Thunderbird and he can now send and receive email without issue...  what a frustrating exercise though.

To go back to a PC is such a challenge having been using an Apple computer for almost two years now.  In my frustration I was glad that I had read some of the book I had picked up the other day.  I will insert the title later but it is written by Buddhist practitioner who is inviting the reader to live more fully present in the moment.  She gives the illustration of a trapeze artist and how the "magic" of the trapeze lies not in the strength of the athlete but in how the athlete uses the end of the swing - dead zone.  Recognizing the dead zone and utilizing it to its fullest potential allows the trapeze artist to excel.  She then goes on to compare this to life, how in each situation, each encounter were are presented with a "dead zone" a moment in which we have a choice in how we will respond...  Needless to say, in coping with Dwight's computer issues, there were times that I came to that "dead zone" and wanted to toss that laptop down on the lawn of Toronto City Hall - but I didn't.

I look forward to reading the rest of the book as the week goes on...  that's all for now.  1:30 its time to head back into a workshop: Security vs. Rehabilitation being led by my friend and colleague Hank Dixon, former inmate at Springhill Institution and now a Chaplain in the Praire Region.

Hanks workshop was engaging.  He used a phrase to describe CSC that I had shared with him - a phrase that was shared with me by Catherine Gaw: "anarchy of unstructuredness".  He offered some useful insights from his experiences about how we as chaplains can survive the squeeze that comes as a result of ever increasing security on rehabilitative efforts within the system.  Thanks Hank.

Supper was another enjoyable meal with colleagues from BC and Ontario, and it was around the supper table that I realized that I am not as engaged in this event as I could be.  The reasons are many, but prime among them is the fracturedness of the event - of trying to be part of two events, two communities and I am not in a space where I want to extend myself to such extremes.  By partnering with IFC to host the National Chaplaincy Conference I believe that the community of Chaplaincy has suffered.  We have not have opportunity for depth of connection.  There has not been space for organized dialogue about what is challenging us in our day to day work situations across the country.  It is almost as if there is a desire to just fluff the surface because monsters lurk below the waves.

I believe that this is so unfortunate.  We are at a juncture in the history of Chaplaincy when we need more then ever to speak prophetically with a unified voices.  Yes there is a "Declaration Committee" working on a declaration that will be issued following our gathering... but there has been no attempt, not one, to gather us all in one room and have us seek to work together on what it is that needs to be declared!  People are invited one by one to speak to members of the Declaration Committee (of which I remember the name of one...)

I'm not too sure what to do with these thoughts and feelings.  I have expended so much energy over the past three years on two different National Committees and I do not see that much if anything has changed... nor do I have much hope of anything changing anytime soon.  If anything I am in dread of how the Conservative government's Crime and Punishment agenda is going to further hinder the system in its work of assisting inmates in making changes in their lives.  In addition to this, I have an awareness that some people in Management see me coming and duck for cover because they know I will speak my mind...

I guess I am weary... and perhaps it is enough to enjoy this space, the company of colleagues and the opportunities that are afforded me in this event for relaxation "to hang in the dead zone" and discern the next right action.

... on the Sabbath Road...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

(Day 16) On a multi-faith, multi-faceted world...

View from my room!  Nice!!
This event I am attending is really two events running side by side - and I have a foot in each.  On the one side is the National Chaplaincy Conference (Correctional Services Canada) and on the other is the Prison Fellowship International Convocation.  There is some overlap but essentially for the most part the streams flow independently - this was very evident this morning during the beautiful morning devotional.

The gathering began with a video presentation of various calls to prayer from various world religions: bells, prayer chants and songs.  The group then sang together one of my favourite Taize pieces: Ubi Caritas and held silence for a few moments.  The service then continued with representatives from Wiccan, Buddhist, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Sikhism traditions each coming forward and offering a prayer or reflection from their tradition after lighting simple candle on a table.  I was so deeply moved by the commonality that was ours in that room as each spoke of the power of love, the mystery of that healing power that flows among us and through us.

The morning continued with a presentation by Dr. Tom O'Connor on what he calls the "$27 Dollor Solution for Transforming Corrections" touching on research that has led him to make connections between effective chaplaincy and effective relationships through a theory called motivational interviewing.  It will be interesting to see how the Management Team and other implement some of his ideas.

After lunch which was shared with delegates from the Prison Fellowship International Convocation we returned to a plenary session where the Enhanced Partnership Model was introduced.  As I was part of the development team I was part of the presentation and ensuing discussion.  Let's just say that reaction to the report was mixed and I am not one bit surprised...  Clarity remains elusive...

Following supper this evening there is the opening ceremonies in the Grand Ballroom... and I will not be there... I have put in my two units of work today and there are the bright lights of Toronto to experience and explore!

CN Tower from someplace on York St.
...On the Sabbath Road...

CPS: The evening found me enjoying walk with Margaret Hoyt, a friend from Moncton who is the Executive Director of CFCN Canadian Family Corrections Network) down York Street to King St. West, along King to Mountain Equipment Co-op where I did a little window shopping.  We stopped at one of the Jazz Festival venues for a few moments but the music had not begun so we continued to an outside patio where we enjoyed a a drink and some conversation.  As storm clouds rolled in from the lake Margaret headed to the nearest Chapaters Bookstore I returned to the Sheraton and enjoyed a soak in the hot-tub and a swim in the pool, followed by a beer with Kevin at Traders where we caught up on our respective families and work situations.

(Day 15) On airplanes, a very expensive convention centre and making connections…

A quiet Monday morning was spent with achieving some last minute tasks and the final little bit of packing – already thinking ahead to what would need to be done next week prior to departure on the bike. 

After waking both boys up and saying good-bye – and getting a mumbled, “Have a good trip. Love you” in reply from each Anna drove me up to the airport – a bit of a chance to connect in the midst of the craziness of the past few days.

Claudia from the Regional CSC Office had booked my ticket – thanks Claudia – a late morning departure just as I had asked for, and as a bonus she routed me through Montreal into Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island. A brief layover in Montreal allowed enough time to go to Moe’s and enjoy a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich. I learned my lesson last time… this time I did not have the Jumbo sandwich and passed on the fries as well. The sandwich and a glass of water with lemon made for perfect lunch as a watched the planes come and go.

Boarding the flight Toronto was a pleasant surprise, a new aircraft (to me anyways) a Q400 – prop plane with nice wide seats and I guess because it was part of the RapidAir link there was a free food and free beer offered on board. I passed on both. I have my figure to maintain you know!!

Coming into Toronto was a visual treat – seeing from the air, up close and personal, all the places that I used to visit as a child on the Lake Ontario Waterfront: the beaches, Ontario Place, the CNE grounds and of course the CN Tower. Billy Bishop offers great service: a pleasant passenger lounge and ferry service to the mainland every 15 minutes. It’s a long ferry ride… all of three minutes!!! Disembarking from the ferry, helpful staff directed me to the Shuttle Bus run by Air Canada and Porter Air. The Shuttle goes as a far as the Royal York Hotel, and from there I walked pulling my suitcase four blocks to the Sheraton.

After checking in followed by a quick shower, I decided to check email and do some writing on the blog… only to find out that this fine establishment wanted $14.95(plus tax) per day for internet service from the room! Not! That’s the price of two beers (in this place)! As a result I will be visiting Starbucks and using theirs and other free Wifi Spots. Yes, I’m cheap!  I get so annoyed because its such a money grab! $179+ per room per night and they can’t even provide internet service!!! End of rant.

Not being able to connect electronically I headed down to the registration area.  Going down in the elevator I was surrounded by five people all checking their iPhones, Blackberrys and whatever else!  I renewed a commitment to myself that during this week I would leave my phone in my pocket and not check for calls or messages while in the company of others. Anna, Justin and Zack know how much this practice annoys me! I think it could even be called a new syndrome: ADDGR (Attention Deficit Disorder Gadget Related). End of rant.

The next five hours was a time of connecting and reconnecting with colleagues and friends. Serious conversation in the Hotel bar over a bottle of Rolling Rock, Loud laughter filled conversations over spicy nacho chips and iced tea in the hospitality room, a quiet supper at a quaint café around a table laden with aromatic Thai dishes and a bottle of Steam Whistle, and boisterous evening reception with stories, laughter and hugs and laughter, delicious finger foods and liquid refreshments priced out of this galaxy: $9.50 for a beer and $6.50 for a pop and $11.00 for mixed drinks. Needless to the water flowed freely!!!!

Well that’s it for June 27th. Now I am off to find a WiFi Hotspot so I can upload this drivel for your reading pleasure.

On the Sabbath Road…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

(Day 14) Route Planning and Packing...

Anna left early again this morning to be with her Mom.  I was up and 6:15 and she was gone so... I went back to bed and slept until 8AM.  Not a usual activity for me!!

The morning was spent finalizing routes and loading the GPS for the trip that begins on July 5th and packing for the trip that begins tomorrow.  What road to take and what to pack?  The packing was easy.  Enough casual clothes for five days of luxury at the Sheraton in downtown Toronto: jeans, shorts, shirts and a swimsuit.  Must take a swimsuit.

I have some fond memories of the Sheraton.  As children, at least twice Mom and Dad took us to the Sheraton over the Easter weekend.  I remember the glassed in courtyard where the Easter egg hunt took place and even more then that, I remember the roof-top indoor/outdoor pool.  It was so amazing.  Swimming inside and then swimming under this glass wall into the outdoor pool where the snow was falling and accumulating on the pool deck.  You can be sure that I will be having that swim again while I am there this week (minus the snow on the pool deck I hope)!

With a suitcase more or less packed I turned in ernest to route selection and finally completed the westbound legs.  I tried to keep the mileage under 800 KM a day and to stay off the major highways, ending each day either near a family member or a friend or a campground.  For the most part I have been successful on all counts.  The challenge for me on this trip will be to slow down and enjoy the ride and not be so focused on that days destination that I miss something along the way.

The last time I drove out west on the bike I did two 1100 KM days.  Granted I had a deadline - I needed to be in Calgary when Anna and the boys landed... but I ended up being two days early and I was so tired when I arrived that I don't think I was much fun for the first few days... lesson learned I hope!

This evening Susan Mattinson, the woman who is filling in for me at the prison while I am away came pick up some items that need to be taken into the Chapel.  In spite of getting lost along the way and being a wee bit late, she shared supper and conversation with us for a while.  It was an interesting experience.  Despite having been in to the prison on Friday to sort out my office a bit, I am feeling really disconnected, and it feels good.  She mentioned a couple of guys and their situations I was able to listen without getting really involved.  A bit of a difference feeling for me - it felt good.

It feels good.  This morning at breakfast Zack was asking about some of my plans and dates and stuff and then he asked. "Are you excited?"  To which I replied, "What do you think?"  "No," he said, "you're not exited.  You are sad because you will miss your family so much."  (Please note: Zack and I both have streaks of sarcastic humour within us.)

My quiet reply was something like this, "Yes I will miss you all.  And I will worry about you as I know you will about me.  But I am excited too.  And it is possible to have both of those feelings inside at the same time."

I've said it before here on these pages - yes, this trip is selfish.  Yes, perhaps with all that is going on, with Anna's mother's illness and her need for support and the projects that need to be done around the house and all the other things that I could do, perhaps I should cancel the cross country trip... fly out to Oregon do what I need to do and come home - three weeks there and back...

But I keep coming back to a phrase that keeps bouncing around in my head: "Its not about the destination, its all about the ride."  Don William, Jr a novelist and poet once wrote: "The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination."

"...our lessons come from the journey..."

There is still much in this life that I have to learn and perhaps this journey will have a lesson or two for me.

On the sabbath road...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

(Day 13) On accomplishments, celebrations, choices and disappointments...

One only graduates from High School once so it is important that it be a memorable event.  Anna went to some length to plan a day for Justin, inviting family from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to come for the graduation ceremony and join us for a BBQ after the reception at the school.  To make a long story shorter... Anna's mom ended up in hospital and was not able to come.  Lloyd's parents and brother and family could not stay past three o'clock as they had commitments on the Island... and unbeknownst to us, Justin and his friends had planned a beach party down in Murray Corner and he had to leave around 5PM.  That's the disappointing part...  Anna, Zack and I ate steak and baked potatoes and lemon pie and toasted Justin who I am sure was lifting a toast with his classmates!

Zack toasting Justin
Disappointments out of the way, it was a fine day.  The program while long was very engaging and I do believe that the guest speaker may have raised the anxiety levels of some parents as he encouraged the youth to follow their passion - to do what makes them happy - and that may not involve going to University or College...  The valedictorian spoke on behalf of the class lifting up their accomplishments and speaking of the value of community.

To say Anna and I are proud of our son would be an understatement.  Justin graduated with Honors and won the Tantramar Regional High prize for Journalism for his work with the yearbook.  In addition, to his surprise and ours, he was awarded the Bud White Memorial Entrance Bursary ($1,000.00).  Congratulations Justin!  Well done!

Choices.  We make a choice and it will please some and disappoint others.  A wise person once said, "You can't please everyone... so work on pleasing yourself."  Looking at all of those young people on the stage today I could not help but wonder what the future will hold for them.  So much talent.  So much potential.  So many choices.  To go to college or university? Or not?  To live at home?  Or not?  To stay in the relationship?  Or not?  Where to work this summer?  To travel?  What career path?  And so on and so on...

Anna, Zack, Justin and Lloyd
Sandy (Jake and Dusty missing from photo)
And I am remind of other challenging words, "To thine own self be true..."  But just how do you discover the self to which you are to be true?

The question is rhetorical.

How?  By living.  By making choices.  By putting one foot in front of the other and putting yourself out there to see what feels right, what works, what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning... and then do it.

Congratulations Justin.  Now comes the living.  Now comes making choices for which you alone are repsonsible.  Life in all its fullness!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

(Day 12) Errands and more errands... And, Happy Anniversary!!

Anna was in Nova Scotia to be with her Mom.  Zack crawled in after midnight after doing the music for the prom as part of SLAP.  Justin got home at 6AM from Safe Grad with welts all over his body from Rue Ball.

After doing yesterdays blog entry I headed in to the Institution and started unpacking boxes and trying to restore my office to rights for Susan.  I did what I could.  Have fun with the rest Susan!!!

A visit to the garage with the Terrible Torrent and was informed that it should be brought in again when the problem is occurring... okay... maybe it won't happen again!!

Shopping for supper.  Shopping for motorcycle maintenance items.

Motorcycle maintenance: install tire, change oil and install spare gas can mount...  A little ingenuity here with a nylon cutting board and some zip ties!  If you rode a KLR you would understand!!!

Cooking supper: bbq chicken breasts.

When supper is over and all is cleaned up (including me) I am off for a visit with a member of the congregation in hospital and a colleague for a visit... all in all a productive but not too profound a day!

The only event that might be considered profound is the fact that it is my Mom and Dad's 48th Wedding Anniversary.  Profound in this day and age that despite all the challenges they faced individually and as a couple they are still together.  Congratulations Mom and Dad.  A lot of hard work, forgiveness, laughter and love brought you this far and will see you into the next decade!

On the sabbath road...

(Day 11) On swan ponds and pomp and circumstance...

The long road of life lies before you!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
Shakespeare, Othello (Act III, Scene iii)

Like a proud music that draws men on to die
Madly upon the spears in martial ecstasy,
A measure that sets heaven in all their veins
   And iron in their hands.
I hear the Nation march
Beneath her ensign as an eagle's wing;
O'er shield and sheeted targe
The banners of my faith most gaily swing;
Moving to victory with solemn noise,
With worship and with conquest, and the voice of myriads.
Lord de Tabley's, The March of Glory

No entry yesterday.  I was too tired.  Errands in the morning.  Errands in the early afternoon.  A visit to the Swan Pond followed by the Grand March... I was asleep in the chair by 9PM...

It was a wonderful day for pictures and I took lots of them.  Lots because if Justin is anything like me 20 years from now, this event with all its pomp and circumstance will be but a distant memory.  Perhaps that is why so many go so far over the top these days?  To create a memory that will last in the midst of the thousands of other memories that will be created as a result of the myriad opportunities that the young people of this generation have?
Breagh and Grant
Some of the gang...

Justin and Kayla
Whatever the reason, I am glad there is a day between the Swan Pond, the Grand March and the three hour graduation ceremony that will take place on Saturday at Convocation Hall.  And get this... the diplomas a presented in order of the height of the graduate!  At 6'3" we will be there right to the end!!!

More of the gang...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

(Day 10) On hauling garbage, garbage cars and graduations... and time!

The day began with a plan.

  1. Pick up borrowed trailer. (Thanks Ernie)
  2. Load construction waste.
  3. Drive to Moncton.
  4. Load scrap metal.
  5. Drive to metal trader.
  6. Return trailer.  (Thanks Ernie)
  7. Clean garage.
  8. Change rear motorcycle tire.
All was well until number three.  Got on the highway to Moncton, moving right along and all of a sudden red flashing light on the dash board and a beeping noise...  Oh great!  It's gonna blow up - just let me pull over here and get out of the way!!!

I was concerned.  I didn't know what the warning light was for.  I pulled over.  Shut the thing off and pulled out the owners manual.  That was no help.  I looked a little closer.  An exclamation mark in a circle surrounded by brackets... hmmmm.... brake....  I turned the key on.  No beeping.  No light.  Pulled up the parking brake... and there it was...

Brakes were working fine (I stopped didn't I?).  So I continued on my way up to Moncton.  $20 dollars worth of gas (and an yet unkonwn repair bill for the brake switch) and a $9.86 tippage fee at Westmoreland Solid Waste Corporation and all the junk was gone!

On the return trip the beeping started again and the light came on again.... thankfully I am deaf and the beeping only lasted 30 seconds or so... only to leave the evil red light staring at you!!

I loaded the scrap iron and hauled it off to Wheatons - thinking I might get a nickel or two for a coffee... no joy!  I guess I can just be glad that the old stair railings are gone and I didn't have to pay a tippage fee to get rid of them!

After dropping off the trailer I stopped into see Blair McDonald and left the Torrent with him (but not before I got a tour of his new motorhome, mobile shop and S/S Camero drag car... a sixty foot rig.  He's on his way to Quebec and Vermont drag racing this weekend... not sure that the $70 I paid him will get him many miles in that rig!

As Blair was working on the Torrent I came home and puttered in the garage, cleaning and sorting and once that was done I turned to the V-Strom and checked the brakes and the air cleaner and then I removed the rear rim in preparation for replacing the tire later this week.

In the midst of this, Anna came out and asked for the password to the Apple Base Station so that she could access the photos archives.  She wanted the picture of Justin getting on the school bus on his first day of school.

I could see the picture in my mind.  It seems like just yesterday he began school... just yesterday that he walked... just yesterday that he learned to ride a two wheeler... just yesterday that he that he was a "worker guy" needing over-alls like grampie... just yesterday that he drove that yellow tractor up and down the hall - and down the sidewalk picking up trash in his trailer... just yesterday... where does the time go?

Time, it passes... as we seek our way in the world.  Yesterday becomes the present, the gift that is today... and tomorrow lies before us full of infinite possibility... and in all the breaths between there is transition and transformation.

I remember at one of those transitional moments in our life as a couple Anna and I were introduced to the Indigo Girls by Marg Brown (formerly MacPherson).  It was during the summer of my second internship in Berwick, Nova Scotia.  Anna and I had been apart for most of the summer (that in itself was pretty transitional) and in the fall we would be entering the final year of our formal education.  And, in little more that a year from then we would be moving again... likely across the country and hopefully starting a family... during those months we listened to Closer to Fine over and over again.  I remember how this song spoke to me then - about the seeking, the journey of learning, loving and living... how nothing in life is certain... that in fact, it is only in living in the moment in all of its ambiguity that does bring us "closer to fine".

I offer the words below in tribute to my son  as he enters a time of transition.

Justin, may your journey, wherever it leads take you always "closer to fine".

"Closer To Fine"
I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore. 

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine. 

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free. 

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine. 

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
I went in seeking clarity. 

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine. 

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine. 

We go to the bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

(Day 9) On caring community and changing...

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
~ Trina Paulus

This morning saw me head to Springhill as if it was a regular workday.  Over the weekend I received a call from the partner of a man I had the privilege of working with over a number of years.  He was having a difficult time and needed some support and encouragement.  My supervisors within CSC approved my going to visit him so I headed to the Institution, did some paperwork and then headed to Halifax about 9AM.

Along the way I called Clarence Deschiffart who facilitates the Kairos Marathon program and inquired about meeting for lunch before my other meeting. Clarence informed me that he was meeting with Tracey Demmons, Director of the Charles Taylor Centre for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care and invited me to come along.  We had a delightful vegetarian lunch at Satisfaction Feast on Robie Street and Tracey and I shared with each other about our hearing impairments and some of the challenges we face in our work.

Change is difficult.  It is difficult for those of us with disabilities.  Getting used to new sounds and the difficulty in orienting the location of a sound or speaker, paying attention to where you are sitting so as to position yourself best to hear - doubly difficult when there are two hearing impair folk whose hearing impairment is in opposite ears and they are across the table from each other!  A little game of musical chairs in a small restaurant - people must have wondered what we were up to!!  Sometimes, as Tracey and I agreed, there is just too much noise, it gets to be too much work to cope with the change of hearing and it feels so right to just turn the hearing aid off and enjoy the quiet.

Change is difficult.  It can be especially difficult for those men and women who are released from prison - released with minimal assistance in dealing with what is oftentimes a history of abuse, neglect, poor choices and little family or communal support.   It seems like such a small thing, but it is huge step when one who usually just gives up and goes back to the "old way" takes that step and reaches out for help, takes a risk and opens up, gets honest with themselves and the ones they love.  It is an even bigger step when that same persons realizes at the same time that there are somethings that they need to give up in order to grow into all that they can be.

Creating community that fosters and nurtures change is one of the facets of this ministry that is so very rewarding.

On the sabbath road...

Monday, June 20, 2011

(Day 8) On Listening, Love and Lobsters...

Storm Over Vessy's
Friday evening brought some scary news to our home.  Mom had been taken to the hospital with an extremely elevated blood pressure.  Initial diagnosis was a mini-stroke and they sent her home.  Within a few hours of returning home her conditions deteriorated and she needed to go back to the hospital.  Dad and my brother tried to call an ambulance but she would have nothing of it.  Dad drover her to the hospital and there, after a CAT scan it was determined that she did not have a stroke but instead was suffering from very high blood pressure.  She was kept overnight for observation and released on Saturday morning with medication to control her blood pressure.

I went over to the Island on Sunday after Church and my brother Brian was still upset at Mom's stubbornness - she wouldn't listen to him and Dad urging her to go by ambulance - funny how the mother who used to urge us to listen to her "out of love" is hard of hearing when it comes to listening to others when they "speak out of love... " in your word's Mom: "You better smarten up!"

Listening to those who care for us doesn't always mean doing exactly as they suggest - but when it is your very health that is at stake, and when your health may in fact be impairing your ability to make a sound decision, well, perhaps it is an appropriate time to listen and let others care for you...?

Being able to go over the Island after Church on Sunday was a gift that this sabbath time afforded me.    I rode the bike over, fully packed for the trip west (I could have camped on their front lawn) and it was a good shake down run!
Breagh In Tutu
Fluffy Packed To Go

After a short visit at Mom and Dad's we climbed in the truck and went out to York and had a visit with Melissa's family including her 90+ year old grand-father Ira for whom I had worked one fall while I was in high school.  As that party broke up we headed over to Brian's place where we spent some time catching up and Dad tormented the cat and Breagh showed off her tutu.

On our way back to Mom and Dad's place we stopped for supper at Papa Joe's - and after a LONG wait we had a Father's Day supper sharing some memories and telling some stories which continued into the evening as we watched some reruns of the US Open.

Monday morning came with rain - but the day was brightened when Dad came back from a run to town with lobsters for lunch - just for me!!  We were going to have clam chowder (made with the bottled bar clams given to me by Brian) but that would have to wait for another day!  I cracked the shells and I am sure Mom is still smelling lobster juice!  I was good - I didn't eat one piece of lobster until all the meat was picked out and then a made a couple of lobster sandwiches.... YUMMMMY

Thanks Mom and Dad.  It was good to see you.
Thanks for the lobsters!  Thanks for the love!

Friday, June 17, 2011

(Day 5 con't) Of fathers, faithfulness and the future...

Horsing Around After Supper
I received a medal from my youngest son yesterday.  We had just finished supper and were bantering back and forth as to who would do the dishes.  The conversation went something like this:
Me:  Who is on for dishes tonight?
Justin and Zack:  You!
Me: I made supper!
Zack:  Want a medal?
Me:  Yes, I do.  You ate it and didn't complain - except for the peas!! 
Zack bolted from the table and returned with a Post-It note on which he had written "I made supper.  This is my medal." and promptly posted it on my chest. Justin encouraged me to wear it to town that night!!
I didn't wear it to town and the dishes didn't get done.  Before I had left Justin had agreed to do the dishes but his friend arrived to study with him just as I was leaving and that took precedent.  

The dishes were still there this morning when I got up... and I left them there, thinking I would do them later.  I must say, I was encouraged and pleased when about an hour later I heard the clatter of dishes in the sink.  Justin had made his breakfast and was doing the dishes.  Thank you.  Somehow your mother and I have instilled some values in you and I am deeply proud to call you both my sons.

Being a father is no easy task.  All the baggage of being male,  All the challenges of speaking in ways that allow you to be true to yourself and yet create space for your son to define his own self.  I remember one of the most important conversations I had with my own father.  Shortly before graduation we sat at the kitchen table to explore options for my future.  At that point in my life I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do next week let alone what I wanted to be when I grew up.  The options were threefold: buy a hog farm, get a rural route mail delivery contract or go to Holland College and take a trade.  Well, the Farm Credit Corporation wouldn't give us any money, and despite dad's connections at the post office there was no contract forthcoming... so... off to Holland College I went... and studied auto mechanics for about 5 months.  I don't know who was happier when I left, the instructor, me or the car I took apart in an attempt to repair it!!

All of this to say, my dad let me make my own choices.  And when I dropped out of Holland College and began to explore the possibility of ministry he quietly supported me then too.  I'm trying hard to follow my father's example, but it's difficult when your 17 almost 18 year old son is determined to make a choice that you don't think is in his own best interest.  

In my most recent conversation with Justin about his plans to go and work in Moncton for the summer and live with a friend he said, "Its up to you and mom.  You can stop me."  To which I replied, "No, you are past the age of us stopping you.  You are nearing the age when you are responsible for yourself and all your mom and I can do is offer you our insights and wisdom and hope that with your education and decision making skills rooted in the values and morals we have nurtured in you that you will make the best decision for you."  (Yeah, I am sure he thought it sounded like a sermon to.)  

And I am reminded of that story Jesus told of a son who went away and a father who ran to meet him when he returned penniless.

I don't know what Justin will decide.  I can only be thankful for all the goodness that I see in both him and his brother.  I can only stand in awe at their unique individual creative abilities and intellectual strengths.  I can only trust that they will each find their own path of faithfulness in the world and make choices that lead to abundant life - life that is uniquely theirs and a gift to the world of which they are a part.

As I write this, I offer gratitude for the ways in which my own father let me strike out on my own and is always there with open arms when I come stumbling home.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.  As I give thanks for the labour union that allowed for you to provide for us as we grew up - I can also say that it is because of them that there will be no father's day card in the mail this year!!!

Until Monday... On the Sabbath Road. 

(Day 5) On Wondering, Wandering and Worldviews

Precarious Life in Abundance
The most significant gift of this sabbath time thus far is the gift of time to wonder.  Each morning I am presented with a blank slate: no fixed agenda, no list of needs, no worries about what challenges will await me at the prison and I have time to wonder... and I did a lot of wondering yesterday:

  • I wondered at the curious mix of ingredients and chemical reactions as I ate that guilt ridden piece of banana bread, 
  • I wondered how I could be so stupid as I waited for gas to be delivered after running out on the way to Amherst, 
  • I wondered at the complexity of the automobile and my past ambition to be an auto mechanic as I waited for the car to be repaired, 
  • I wondered about what I would see and who I would meet as I looked at maps and route suggestions on the GPS,
  • and, I wondered about the mysterious change that occurs within as I sat on the back step and watched the sun peek through the clouds for the first time in five days!

Much of my wondering was focused on my soon to be wandering across the vast continent that is North America.  Do you know how many roads there are that run east and west across the United States!  Wow! How to choose?!?!

And when I wasn't thinking about what road to choose I was pondering the theme for this Sunday which will be my last preaching engagement for three months: Trinity Sunday.  The Gospel passage for Sunday is from Matthew 28, commonly known as the "great commission".
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
I have long struggled with this passage: struggled because I have not understood the Christian faith to be about proselytization - about converting other persons to the faith that helps me find direction in life.  John Maynard, a colleague I interact with as part of an on-line forum offered the following translation thats seems to fit better with my wondering:
Go forth and draw all people everywhere into the faith and family of God, baptizing them, teaching them, and giving them the assurance that I AM with them to the end of all time.
Draw all people everywhere into the faith and family of God... that fits with what I understand to be the ministry of Correctional Chaplaincy, and at the risk of getting too technical, let us remember that Jesus never performed a baptism, at best the baptism that he spoke of would have been the baptism as performed by the likes of John the Baptist: a ritual cleansing, a purging with the water of life, a shower of blessing to remind the person of the goodness of God...

Faithful living is not about believing the "right" things and being "initiated" into the community, it is instead about living in and into the mysterious assurance that I AM, the Spirit of all that is Holy, which is as present as in the wind that moves among us all.

Which brings me to the other facet of my wondering: the doctrine of the Trinity.  For this Sunday I chose to reuse a number of prayers and liturgical elements from 2005 where I did service with a Celtic theme.  The Celts were big on the concept of Trinity, the connection to nature and relationships between the two.

That the Trinity became a doctrine of the Church is I think a failure.  A failure inasmuch as it limits human imagination and seeks to define that which is by its very nature undefinable.  "I AM."  "I AM WHO I AM."

I believe that the concept of the Trinity can be helpful for some as a means to explain their experience of God, but I am convinced that God is not a "triune God" a "three-in-One".  As says Andrew Prior, another colleague from Australia in his sermon for this Sunday, summarizing Thomas Aquinas:
The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  The Son is not the Father.  The Father is not the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not the Son.  There is only one God.  (Impenetrable, yes, but what can one expect?  The subject is God, after all.
The subject is God, after all.  The God WHO IS.  The God who says, I AM WHO I AM.  The God who fills my sail and moves me to engage the world with the best I have to offer.  The God who blows over my ever receding hair line and sends chills down my spine when I stand in awe of creation.  The God who dwells within humanity and calls us into deeper relationship with each other.

And if all this wasn't enough to wonder about, later in the day while reading Sojourners Online and a review of Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, a book that I had recently read (I wanted to see if my views of the book held any water) I came across an e-book that I just could not put down: The Knight and the Gardner by Cassidy S. Dale.  The opening paragraph hooked me:
Have you ever considered how you see the world? Why people disagree over what is moral, heroic, loving, or holy? Why you team well with some people and conflict with others? Why two people sitting next to each other in the same church can read very different things in the same Bible? Why people disagree about politics and war?
 On page 119 he writes,
When a Gardener’s faith is shaken, he or she wonders AM I doing the best thing? Have I grown an unneeded or wrong crop? Have I built the wrong thing? Have I wasted my time? Have I grown a monster?

I realized quickly in my reading that my worldview is that of a Gardner.  But when I read those words above, in the midst of my wondering I noticed a connection between the "I AM" of God and the personal question "AM I".  And it dawned on me as light blinking through yet another facet of a complex diamond: it is all about relationship.  God is fundamentally, inescapably, invested in relationship with creation... and calls us to the same.

Dale ends his book with two equally challenging and hopeful statements: "There are more Gardners in the world then knights."  And, "There are many wars; there is one Garden."

Take a little time today to do a little wandering and wondering yourself and ponder whether you are a Knight or a Gardner...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 4: Church Meeting or Banana Bread?

Guess you know now which I chose??
Yesterday was the regularly scheduled meeting of Chignecto Presbytery, a regular gathering that I am obligated to attend as a member of the Order of Ministry of the United Church of Canada... and I had planned to attend!  I did!  Really!!  But as the day progressed my focus changed.

First off I went to Amherst to get the car aligned and was informed that a tie-rod end would need to be replaced.  So... the appointment was rescheduled to the 16th.  With a morning to myself I decided to go shopping.  I needed some personal care items for the trip and wanted to get a couple of light moisture wicking t-shirts.  For the first time in months I set foot in Wal-Mart and was quickly reminded why I hate shopping!

With sun-screen and other non-essentials (as per our current weather) purchased I returned to Sackville and stopped to visit a few colleagues and was invited no less then three times to travel with them to Moncton to the meeting.  At the first invitation I decided not to go.  The two subsequent invitations confirmed it for me and I began to think: If not Presbytery what would you do?  Hmmm.  Bake banana bread!

Why make just one?  I doubled the recipe!  Flour, sugar, bananas... sugar... off to the store... eggs, baking soda and baking powder, all mixed together into a gooey mess!  Into the oven it goes and the aroma was awesome!

Banana bread vs. Presbytery Meeting

  • Banana Bread: Left over fruit is utilized.
  • Presbytery Meeting: Past decisions get revisited.
  • Banana Bread: Good aroma fills the house.
  • Presbytery Meeting: Tense energy fills the room.
  • Banana Bread: A feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.
  • Presbytery Meeting: More demands placed on already overworked volunteers.
  • Banana Bread: Tasty sweet bread.  One for now and one for later!
I'm glad I chose to stay home and make banana bread!

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that the way we "do church management" in the United Church of Canada needs to change.   Many congregations are unable to secure a full compliment of Presbytery Representatives.  The representatives from Congregations and Pastoral Charges that do attend have an ever increasing average age.  Add to this the ever increasing volume and complexity of responsibilities that Presbyteries are being tasked with... and... the increasing need for Congregations, Pastoral Charges and Ministry Personnel to focus on in house matters for their very survival... there are days when I wish we had Bishops - managers who could more effectively make decisions and implement polity.  If this were the case, perhaps I wouldn't feel so guilty eating the banana bread that sits  on the plate by my second cup of coffee this morning?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 3: The Pre-Departure List...

There is a list (inside my head) of things needing to be done prior to departure.  I am thinking, "If I can hammer this list out here - and tick of the things that need to be done - perhaps it can be the last list until I return?  I have already arranged to have the chimney repaired (mid July), and to have topsoil delivered (next week) and booked my flights to the Conference and back... but the list remains:

  1. alignment on car
  2. purchase oil and filter for bike
  3. change oil and filter on bike
  4. write a service for Sunday June 19th
  5. do a 2nd dry run pack on bike
  6. finalize presentation for PFI Convocation
  7. get ready for Justin's graduation celebration
Pam Bowman and a number of other colleagues are attending the Atlantic Seminar in Theological Education where Miriam Therese Winter and Micheal Morwood are leading participants in exploring the theme "Let Us Pray..."  As I was reflecting this morning on some of the words shared with me from that conference I was reminded of these words from Henri Nouwen in his book, With Open Hands:
[Praying] demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and your [fellow human]. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh." 
Yesterday a colleague at the prison commented on the "boyscoutness" of doing dry run packing.  I laughed with her at the time but as I think about it, this is one of the attraction for me of travelling on a motorcycle - travelling with little - or as Nouwen suggests, travelling in poverty.

With limited space it is essential that everything that is packed on the motorcycle have a purpose - and if possible two purposes.  Each day of travel on a motorcycle is beginning afresh: new sites, new sounds and smells, new people to meet, and a new place to lay your head to reflect on the day past and contemplate tomorrow.

The sabbath road...

Day 2: Preparing to Leave

“…I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” – a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself…. then truth will not be withheld from you.  Or so I’ve come to believe.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love.

I watched the movie Eat, Pray Love a number of months ago and quite enjoyed it.  I remember being struck by the words above - “The Physics of the Quest” and put them in the back of my mind as I began to plan for this time of sabbath. 

I went searching for them this morning... thinking I’d be inspired by the words again - inspired to finish the route planning and start the packing list - and instead I am drawn to the last sentence “to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself... then the truth will not be withheld from you...”

I wonder, as I set out on the Sabbath Road, what are the difficult realities about myself that this time away might invite me to face (and forgive)?

The picture above was taken at dawn from our back door step looking east into a new day in the very early spring of 2010.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 1: I'm Officially on Sabbatical...

Yesterday was the first official day of my sabbatical.  The morning was one of contrasts.  For me there was no rushing out the door to the prison.  However, Anna was stressed and rushing to get away to be with her mom to offer support as she waited for a procedure, the boys were writing their first exams of the week, Barb and Jerry Wittstock’s (friends of ours visiting from Alberta) were packing to return home and I had no plans... well... I had lots of plans but they were washed away with the rain!

Anna got away.  The boys got off to school.  Barn and Jerry were gone.  And I was alone.  I read.  I did some mapping.  I read some more... and I spent some time reflecting on the pictures above the Justin shot over the weekend (the sun did shine for two days).

“The grass withers... and the dandelions are scattered...”  My paraphrase of Isaiah 40.  

A wise person once said to me about ministry, “Put your hand in a bucket of water and take it out... when you are gone that is about how much you will be missed.”  But we keep putting our hand in the bucket.  Keep trying to make a difference in the waters of creation.  Keep trying to speak to power and offering hope to those who are despairing.

Some days it feels as if it is all futile.  Life dries up and all that is left is a puff-ball... a big wind comes along and all is blown away... only the stalk remains and the invisible roots sunk deep into the ground.

And then there is a a glimpse of one of the seeds bringing a splash of colour to some distant corner: a call from young person, connected to a former pastoral charge who is training as a social worker and speaking passionately for justice, a visit from a former inmate and chapel participant who speaks with such joy of his wife and daughter and new job, a lasting relationship with a family of which you baptized three of their children... and the realization comes in a new way “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven”.

The theme for this  time of sabbath is integrated with the theme of the National CSC Chaplaincy Conference: Connections That Make A Difference.  Perhaps part of the learning for me is the acknowledgement of the difference that I have made in the lives of others?

On the sabbath road... soon!