My first full day in Creston, I stood on the sidewalk and wept.
The day before, I had driven to Creston from the coast. It was a grueling 14 hour drive. As dinner time approached, I realized how very hungry I was and pulled over at the first roadside diner I saw. I purchased a deluxe burger with fries and a coffee to go, and climbed back into my car. I reached into the take-out box containing my dinner and pulled out the greasiest hamburger I had ever met. In the few short minutes between purchasing the burger and reaching for it, the bottom bun was absolutely saturated with grease, and totally inedible. I sighed, nibbled cautiously at the fries, and gingerly sipped my burnt tasting coffee.
The next day in Creston, as I drove to my new church office I became aware of a rather unpleasant odour wafting up from the take out box still perched on the passenger seat. When I arrived at the office, I tossed the offending package into the first municipal garbage container I saw.
The morning passed quickly with a whirlwind of new names and faces, lots of hugs and cheerful welcomes. When the initial rush dwindled, I glanced at the clock and realized it was lunchtime, so off to the bakery I went. The bakery is one door down from the church office, and enroute I passed the garbage container I had earlier tossed my hamburger into. The take out box was gone.
I cautiously prodded the top most coffee containers and disposable packaging with my pen, thinking … hoping … that the take out box containing my inedible hamburger was merely covered with other discarded items. The take out box was definitely gone.
I realized that the gaily printed packaging on the box would easily have attracted someone’s eye, and that the box was clearly a container for take out food. And I realize how very hungry and desperate for protein someone would need to be to see that box and identify its contents as a potential meal. With a heavy heart, I stood on the sidewalk and wept.
I realized the depths of my own privilege, driving across the province without a second thought. Casually stopping at roadside diners for food. Munching the food I liked. Discarding food I disliked so easily. And even as I stood there, realizing how I take for granted walking down the street to a restaurant of my choice for yet another meal.
Since that day, my heart has been lightened considerably as I came to know the depths of care and compassion in the hearts of my parishioners, their passion for justice, and their hot lunch, thrift store, refugee support and many other ministries created to create safe spaces for vulnerable people in the community.
Since that day, learning about the care and support provided by many other organizations, businesses and individuals in this wonderful community has also lightened my heart. In all my years in ministry, and being part of ministerial associations in every community I have served, Creston’s ministerial stands out for the wide scope of support provided to the community. The Christmas hamper drive, the choir performances, the year round outreach all combine to share love and light throughout the Creston Valley.
I am reminded of a quote from A.W. Streane incorporating a teaching from the Talmud(Ethics/Chapters of the Fathers 2:16) “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
It is both delight and privilege to be part of a community with such a clear intention to share the love. Some days the amount of work to do feels daunting, but if I close my eyes and imagine all the other helping hands and hearts around me, I gain new strength and commitment. We may not complete the work in our lifetimes, but I have no fear that it will ever be abandoned.
Opening to grace. Jan. 2015
A new year is so nubile and tender I can hardly stand to wake to it, part of the new beginning of things. Our Canadian season of winter, just revving up, is harsh and grating, part of the apocalyptic side of new life.
In our daily life we meet people who have been abused, degraded regularly even in their own families. We may not know how but most around us have known some kind of apocalyptic experience. We know people who have been raped, people who live in fear, people whose anger easily boils into fiery irritation. Some folks are jerked around by a their own bodies, mind or skin by disease, psychosis or rot. I live in amazement that human society flows along as smoothly as it does; surprised when everyday our banks don’t crumble, schools don’t fall apart and I daren’t say churches disintegrate, because being in one I know many are close to it. My fear sometimes makes me wish for a sense of delusion.
Meanwhile, I have talked through Christmas about the new life heralded in the Christ Child, then a few months later, in early spring, the horrific crucifixion of that grown child’s life, then the miraculous, awesome continuation , in fact, inspiration of Christ’s spirit in community. Am I silly to tell myself these stories, as I have again and again for almost 60 years?
I do see new life and resurrection. It is those same people whose bruises and wounds I have mentioned, who are the ones who not only carry on with jobs that “make the world go ’round but turn their hearts to the deeper work of healing the world; the ones who share their gifts selflessly; the ones who are poor, tired and worn out but who stoop to pick up another, smile, or sit and listen; the ones who find joy in spending time with those who cannot easily find social groups to belong in; the ones who understand pain, poverty or loss, and enter those places again with others to be a living witness to the possibility of life; the ones who have been maimed by life who though struggling still find some hope and share it. It is not just in the rich giving to the poor but in the many sharing life and the warmth of friendship and care. It is a vulnerable way to be; tender, like a new child; fearsome to enter, because it demands that we question the harshness, not of winter, but of ourselves and each other.
We have seen the Christmas story and the crucifixion among us, true. Lest we be deluded, Canadians are not the gentlest culture. We do not have to treat each other as harshly as we do on the street, school or in family. We can still keep reaching for more tender and caring ways to act and be. We don’t have to be Christian to do that, which may or may not help depending on the group, the persons in it, the practices they promote or do not question. Life does not have to be a battle ground of judgement about right and wrong. Can this be a compassionate place of curiosity, understanding, and courageous conversations? Courage means one can name offence without taking offence. Perhaps this is a child-like way to be …..not childish and harsh.
We are in the tender days of the new year, and it could be a gentle new time. It depends on all of us, each one of us, no matter what our circumstances, nor the harshness of the weather. Open to grace right where you are.
Blessing, Rev Shelley Stickel-Miles
Opening to Grace – Dec 2014
Can I invite you to think of the excitement of Christmas as an invitation inward, into the heart, and into the valuing of what you and your family really love.
There have been some helpful books about Christmas preparation to help guide us back to a simple, rich and delightful way of celebrating the spirit that has been born in us.
Unplug the Christmas Tree, by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppach Staeheli; You can Choose Christmas by Clyde Reid; and Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations that Reflect Your Values and Don’t Cost the Earth, edited by Carolyn Pogue
Jo Robinson says, four things children really need and want for Christmas are:
1. Relaxed and loving time with family
2. Realistic expectations about gifts
3. An evenly paced holiday season
4. Strong family traditions
Parents can think ahead about the gathering of energy during advent and talk to children about things they’d like to have happen. Joy is about being fully alive, so think ahead about how to eliminate the stress and pressure that can build and make you feel depleted instead. What simple activities like lighting candles, playing a game together, singing, or telling stories can you do together in this season to slow it down. Recall Christmas’s past, especially with grandparents.
Seniors and those who live on your own what one or two simple things might you take part in that are
special to the season and might give you a new perspective. Choose a night to sit with a friend and talk about your childhood Christmases, and what your heart yearns for now. Toast the beauty of the night.
When you think about gift giving is there any part of yourself that holds back. What is it that you want to say with this gift? Can you also say it out loud? Can you receive openly, and let your heart be thankful for the message of love and connection? There are many alternative gift options. You can get a card for a donation to hospice the hospital, or a child care centre, and many in Creston donate to the ministerial for the hamper program. The United Church takes donations for the new refugee family who will arrive this week, or bed kits for “Sleeping children around the world.” No matter who you are there is always a way to open your heart to another. What is it you really care about?
Anyone can have a special evening when they read a children’s Christmas book alone or together. My favourite is The Littlest Angel, a gift of story.
May you all remember the gift of the beauty of the spirit that is in your own heart this season. You are precious fire-light. Blessings from Rev. Shelley and Trinity United Church.
Rev. Shelley Stickel-Miles is an ordained minister who works alongside all the delightful ministers at Trinity United Church (beside the post office) in Creston.