More than forty some years of sermons, of reading stacks of books on emerging and missional christianity, CARTS has changed my faith forever. I stand in the debris of rubble and deconstruction. Everything is still there, but, what was once neatly constructed is very messy.
The rubble of my faith, is much like the landscape we navigate each Sunday in the courtyard of Victoria Cool Aid Society’s Downtown Community Center.
I am more acutely aware of human fallenness and brokenness. I see the shards, the sharp pieces of a broken society; sex trafficking, addiction, exploitation, hate, injustice and indifference.
You add it all up, and it’s a pretty dark and grim picture. One has to continually clean their rose colored glasses to catch those rare glittering moments of optimism.
I’ve always been a huge believer in kindness, still am. There are moments when I to am mean, selfish, self righteous, self absorbed, wounded, sick or damaged...my kindness comes across as celebrating the Eucharist, or communion with moldy bread. The courtyard makes me acutely aware of my own rot, that I am as needy as everyone who comes through the line.
I’m pretty good at kindness, but I know I am as sick and twisted as the next guy.
And, yet my belief in God’s unconditional love and forgiveness remains undiminished. In fact it has grown.
Specifically, the grimmer the picture when it comes to humanity, the more radical and unconditional is my vision of the love of God. What happens every Sunday is like this cosmic eclipse of redemptive imagination. As darkness seems to grow in one direction, it appears to grow brighter and brighter in the other direction. The deeper we go into the pit of despair of broken lives the greater the scandal of God’s all inclusive, unconditional and never ending love and grace.
Morally and theologically my faith is becoming one of deepening contrasts. Darker night. Brighter light. It’s this sharp line between despair, brokenness and grace that has transfixed me.
Time, and time again this is the line Jesus seemed to find himself. That liminal space where his parables, like an earth quake fractured people’s landscape of certitude about God, good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. It was here where is actions blinded people, where peoples perceptions were revealed to them as illusions. People had to be blinded to see, and become deaf in order to hear.
It’s our prayer each week that CARTS is this line of contrasts, where people are blinded in order to see and experience the radiant beauty of God’s love for them. Where the are momentarily deafened from the haunting lies in their heads to hear the words that they are, “ God’s beloved child.” If we have done that, we have truly served God and man.
Compassion isn't just about feeling the pain of others; it's about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. 'Be compassionate as God is compassionate,' means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.
Gregory J. Boyle
I think I am right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all of this idiocy sky-high—like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind. The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this.
Forgive me for these rather personal ramblings, but they just came to me as I thought about our time together recently. And after all, we do have an interest in each other. I still have a hard time thinking that you really find all these ideas of mine completely mad. Things do exist that are worth standing up for without compromise. To me it seems that peace and social justice are such things, as is Christ himself.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter to his brother
This month is always a strain on our shoestring budget. We have insurance for the van this month, and liability insurance for CARTS. It will take a big chunk out of our bank account, making our ability to purchase much needed supplies a challenge.
We've always made it through these months, but if you'd like to help us out in any way possible, the link to donate is here. All donations are tax deductible as we are a registered federal charity.
Radical scandalous parables, like time bombs tossed into unsuspecting crowds to defuse where all their preconceived ideas about God are of no use...the bomb goes off, and shards of grace fly everywhere. Or more scandalous than words, Jesus lived the parables out, in shocking panoramic technicolor he changed people's view of the world. It was on earth, as in heaven. This kind of liberation theology, or " Good News ", will not die as long as there are men and women who are motivated by God’s liberating action and pursue—by the measure of their faith and by the drive of their social action—their solidarity with their neighbours who are suffering, their neighbours whose dignity has been tossed into the trash.
We had a couple of emails, with questions about donations, and how much of contributions actually go to help the marginalized on the street.
CARTS is a federal registered charity that issues tax deductible receipts. We are a small group of compassionate minded friends captured by the radical scandalous redemptive imagination of Jesus. We are all volunteers who contribute our time, and resources to serve the inner city community.
Every cent donated goes to helping out the marginalized on the inner city streets of Victoria. We have no paid staff. We have relied on the gracious donations of volunteers, supporters, friends and strangers. We have managed for almost 13 years on faith, a shoe string budget...and God who has faithfully sustained the love, compassion and hospitality which is the heart beat of CARTS.
You can find the details on how to support CARTS at the following link...
One of our peanut butter and jam sandwich makers commented one Sunday when I was picking up sandwiches, " Making these sandwiches every Sunday, kind of reminds me of communion."
He has never come out on the street with us, but, he knows from conversations and what he reads on the CARTS Fb page and website what unfolds in the inner city on Sunday afternoons. He and his wife used to go to church years ago, but slowly exited the back door as the institution seemed to loose its relevance to the world and life. But the profound redemptive imaginative act of communion seemed to stick to him. The scent, the touch and taste of bread flowed through his mind, with this profound connection and relationship between God and humanity. Humanity and God at the same table, pulling a loaf of bread apart with hands and feeding one another. There simply is no other experience more communal than eating, feeding one another.
It's profoundly beautiful when my friend tells me he and his wife pray over each peanut butter sandwich they make, say, " this is Jesus body given for you." Each and every sandwich blessed with those beautiful words and profound truth. Talk about " soul food."
Some more religious people might call that blasphemy, or sacrilegious. But, really, think about it. I'm sure the Pharisees thought Jesus had a big sacrilegious behavioural problem. He constantly ate with the wrong people. He broke bread with them, drank there wine. Heck, he turned water into wine. He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick and all societies lepers.
You see Jesus took the everyday things in life and restored them. Maybe we've turned communion into something less than Jesus imagined. Sacraments have a visible and invisible reality, a reality open to all the human senses but grasped in its God-given depths with the eyes that hunger, for love. When parents hug their children, for example, the visible reality we see is the hug. The invisible reality the hug conveys is love. We cannot "see" the love the hug expresses, though sometimes we can see its nurturing effect.
So my friend the sandwich maker is not sacrilegious in his radical scandalous imagination of thinking his peanut butter and jam sandwich being a kind of sacrament, and seeing feeding the inner city community on Sunday's as kind of like communion.
Because sacraments in the deepest sense restore dignity and grace...the bread is a profound invisible truth that feeds the soul, and quenches hunger for love, and restores the human connection between one another, in the midst of God who sustains all life.
I don't think Jesus has any problem, with what many might deem as my friends sacrilegious behaviour. I think Jesus might be pleased, might even smile at my friends faith, praying over his peanut butter and jam sandwiches, " this is my body, broken for you."
Some how Jesus drew the line about faith being not what you say, calling Jesus Lord. But, by something profoundly more redemptive and lived out. " What ever you did for the least of these, you have done unto me." Profoundly communion is a sacrilegious act, and where we find Jesus in the most unlikely place...not on an altar in a church, but on the broken streets of humanity.
Week number three at the courtyard of Victoria Cool Aid Society's Downtown Community Centre and we are starting to settle into the ebb and flow life in the centre of the inner city. We put our new sign out on the side walk and Charon greeted and welcomed people into the courtyard area.
It all had that feel again of that scandalous story that Jesus told of the King that had prepared a feast, and wanted nothing more than to have his dining room table filled with guests.
With the initial guests declining the invitation with all kinds of excuses, the King sends his servant out again to every corner of the inner city, the back alleys, the gutters, skid row rooming houses and campsites in wooded parks. The servant went through all the broken land scape of the inner city bringing the unloved, the addicts, the disabled, the mentally ill, all the lives that society had thrown away deemed as worthless. The servant brought back this beautiful parade of broken humanity, guests grateful for the invitation. The King excited to have his table full. ( Luke 14, The Message paraphrase )
Troy and I headed out with invitations along the sidewalks, to the steps of Central Baptist where folks sharing the last bit of some rock, to folks pushing shopping carts on Quadra Street. With invitations in hand they flowed back to the courtyard.
We also had Penny and Gary join us tonight helping giving out hot chocolate, and also looking for their missing granddaughter.
By the end of the evening Alice and Klaas had served up 180 bowls of soup, before running out. You finally come to the conclusion that we'll never have enough. There will always be someone who has to go with out. But, we are always humbled by their profound gratitude. They never seem to get upset if the guy in front of them gets a bowl of soup and they don't. Always thankful, and grateful for what ever they get.
Like I say, we're getting used to the ebb and flow of life. It's like this sea of humanity, this sacred tide washing ashore. It's our lives interacting with theirs. It's a divine reaction, where I believe God is in the midst of all it.
We continue to pray for Penny and Gary's granddaughter, that they find her. But, more than that, that their granddaughter finds herself, finds who she really is, that, " made in the image of God." Sure, there might be the rare few that choose life on the streets, the lure of drug addiction...but usually it's broken lives escaping, pain and abuse, where the inner city has a way of claiming them.
We pray for all our inner city friends, for strength to get through days and weeks ahead. We pray they find the inner strength to fight their demons. And we pray for a society that sees its strength in living compassionately for the least of these.
And I'm truly thankful for my dear friends in CARTS, the volunteers that come out week after week. For the unseen volunteers, the sandwich makers, the cookie makers, for Kelly and her mom maintaining the beauty bar every Saturday evening. You all inspire me by your unconditional love, your grace and your generous hospitality.
Thanks to Sign Pad for giving us for some sidewalk guidance into the courtyard at Victoria Cool Aid Society's Downtown Community Centre.
I love the gospels, these crazy God-humanity infused stories. It's like striking a match, setting a flame the compassion in the human soul. It awakens the imagination to live more abundantly human. The feeding of the 5,000 is such a story.
Jesus lights a match, trying spark some human imagination asking Philip, " Where can he buy bread to feed these people?" Immediately Philip is doing some calculations in his mind, counting on his fingers and finally coming to the conclusion, " we don't have enough money." Not the best answer, but at least he's absolved himself, and the disciples of any responsibility.
There is a young boy in the crowd with his bag lunch of five small loaves and two fish that he sees as a possibility. But, like a flickering candle about to go out, Simon readily admits it doesn't offer much hope.
Jesus seats everyone on the ground and takes the bread, giving thanks passes it into the midst of the people. He does the same with the fish, and everyone ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
To often in this story we want to fast forward, and hit stop...satisfied with the obvious conclusion it's " all " Jesus performing some kind of God-magic in a miracle. Now, I'm not saying Jesus can't, and didn't do miracles. I'm saying maybe in the profound redemptive imagination of Jesus he doesn't want us to stop there. Maybe there is another kind of miracle going on...a kind of God-man collaborated miracle. Maybe it's that profound intersection when God and humanity merge as one, and in the fusion something heaven-on-earth shattering happens.
The young boy in this story ignites the redemptive imagination in my mind to a new generation that is not just on the fringe. But that they " get " Jesus and are close to him. They understand that Jesus was deeply and fully human more than he was religious. It's profound that the disciples didn't really grasp what was going on. But here is this young boy hovering close to Jesus saying here is my bag lunch...its not much, but I'm willing to share it.
Can you imagine the look on the disciples faces, " Are you serious kid...there is 5,000 or more people out there." That would be like sharing a " Happy Meal " with a small town. But more than that the young boy doesn't just want to share it with his family, his friends, his tribe or even his faith. He wants to share it with everyone..." you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike."
It is that profound mysterious intersection...if God is like that, humanity should be like that. It is when we live like that miracles are possible...heaven comes to earth, they become one.
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