Seein as Good sees16th Sunday after Pentecost
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you today. The first time I was here was about 25 years ago when I landed on the Island, and never left, as so often happens. Well, left for bits and pieces, I suppose. My husband Reid is a Presbyterian minister and is working with Knox Sooke these days. Our kids, Clara and Simon, are both at Spectrum high school, usually playing soccer or basketball.
Clara is not with us today as she is on the Juan de Fuca trail with her Grade 11 class! And Simon is with me today. Reid is preaching in Sooke this morning.
Before I begin I want to thankfully acknowledge that I am speaking today on the lands of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, specifically the W̱SÁNEĆ and Songhees Nations. I always find, perhaps especially in the work I do each day in Victoria, that my relationships with Indigenous clients, partners and colleagues on our health team, are a different kind of enriching. There is a skill of listening and forgiveness that is more evident. This kind of grace gives me much hope as we daily seek what reconciliation means in the context of healthcare and in the context of our faith journeys. Hichka!
Please pray with me: Oh God who has knit us together, we pray that your message of grace will be evident in my words and speak to those gathered today. Clear our minds and open our hearts. We pray. AMEN.
So we pick up the Israelites in an interesting part of their historical drama this morning. They had asked for and been given a king. They chose Saul.
Their logic was clear to them at least – every other nation had a king, why not them? They wanted to be like everyone else. So, we enter Saul – handsome, tall (now, nothing against tall people) but he obviously possessed confidence both as a leader and a leader on the battlefield. But, on the whole, as you know well, his reign was an unmitigated disaster. He ended up not having military skill, did not unite people, did not understand his scope of authority and generally was a bully.
So, next up comes Samuel. God tells Samuel to go to Jesse in Bethlehem. Samuel was not exactly excited by this directive, as Saul would most definitely kill Samuel if Saul found out. Then, out came more handsome and tall men – confident, strong, ready to be King? Maybe just. But God reminds Samuel, “The Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord look on the heart”.
And, of course, finally David gets an invite to the handsome bro party and is anointed King. He is the youngest, what seems like the shyest, just out covering for his brothers in the field caring for the sheep. And, yet, Israel never saw another king like David – sure he had his foibles – but he rose Israel to new heights …
Israel had chosen Saul. God chose David.
When we see outward, and assume many things, we are then prevented from going inward, to see what God sees.
My role as Director of Health at the Cool Aid Community Health Centre is a dream job for me, and one that has daily tragedies. You are probably aware of the Victoria Cool Aid Society, which is a large non profit organization in Greater Victoria that has over 20 locations of health and housing – including shelters, supportive and affordable housing units. On the health side, we have a main clinic in downtown Victoria on Johnson Street and another one of equal size opening up near Mayfair next year. We also have an additional 30 sites where we either have a small clinic or provide medical services in housing sites or via our mobile clinic. The model of care at Cool Aid is the model of healthcare that I know works, especially for individuals who are marginalized, vulnerable and suffer from chronic substance abuse disorder and mental illness. They are also folks who have chronic conditions – just like all of us – but these conditions can be worsened from lives in inadequate housing, substance abuse, poverty and trauma. They come over to us for their primacy medical care – just like when you need to see your physician – those on the streets or who are living a marginalized life, need doctors and nurses too – to get their prescriptions for their safe drug supply, their antipsychotic injections, bloodwork, diabetes care, and just because they have a cold!
You have probably seen many of our clients – they are in the tents at Topaz Park, they used to form tent communities in Beacon Hill and by the overpass near Uptown. They are asking for change downtown and they are lining Pandora Avenue either hustling drugs, injecting drugs, selling stolen goods or grabbing a coffee at Our Place. There are others who are not living on the streets, are housed, maybe living on a low income. And, still others, who access Cool Aid for a life of wealth but do so because it is the best HIV care you can get in the Greater Victoria area. But, all need the kind of wrap around care that Cool Aid can provide.
However, this morning what I want to highlight is not the what or how we do care at Cool Aid, but the who. A huge percentage of our clients have suffered from trauma in their lifetime, been incarcerated, had severe brain injury from a violent or many violent interactions, have been in the sex trade, have a lower life expectancy because of the actions that they have put on their body as a result of the lack of supports for that disastrous and violent trauma, in the moments that it occurred.
I have so often heard and I know you have too – and maybe you have even said it – “well, they have just made bad choices”. But you know, Emma did not choose to get her head bashed into the cement wall because she was not going to have an intimate relationship with her father when she was 12. Bill did not choose to not have parents in his home while growing up. They were not around, suffering through the effects of residential schools, and admittedly did not know how to be parents. Alice did not choose to finally be granted a space in BC housing, which also happened to be on the same floor as her former pimp, a life she was trying to get away from, but got right back into to survive and it was convenient.
When I hear phrases like “they just made Bad choices”, “those people” “going nowhere”, – they are just so crass, and so unnecessary to move forward.
Folks continue to suffer trauma and often the only way to cover it up is to get another hit. It dulls that psychological AND physical pain. But, amidst that pain and tragedy there is goodness.
Some days we ask ourselves, “Are we just keeping people alive?” And some days we are. Then, there are other days when we see people choose treatment – and succeed – and people who write words of thanks for the care they receive at Cool Aid – while so often being judged in many other parts of the healthcare system. It is not a battle we are winning – the battle against homelessness and substance use – but it is a battle that we are all committed to and must continue to understand innovative ways of fighting for lives.
And, if our society cannot see past the crappy conditions, the fentanyl, the tents, the dirty needles and the growing number on the streets – we will not see the Davids in our midst. I am not saying that I think all 7000 of our patients could be King Davids – but I know there are many. And, we, not just Cool Aid employees – all of us, have to seek out how to see them. I know, it feels unsafe. It seems so futile. But, we are called…
Cool Aid’s tagline is “Everyone Deserves a Home”. Jesus reminded us that in God’s house there are many rooms. There is room – not only in heaven where all tragedy and trauma will be erased – but here on earth. I know, it is overwhelming – you cannot change housing policy to make more affordable rental housing, or create more spaces for more mats in the shelter at Rock Bay or at Sandy Merriman.
But… you can be peaceful in your relationships… you can work on communications with your kids… you can make decisions that build capacity in our downtown core, not hold onto the past. You can be aware of opportunities to learn about those that live in these margins – serving a meal, donating to a sock campaign, finding out more about the ‘who’ that died of a toxic drug overdose.
Support helps – for sure – Cool Aid, the Cridge, PEERS, Our Place – and there are more doing great work in our area – but money is really only meaningful with knowledge. Be informed, ask questions, and smile when you go by someone on the street. You just never know.
About a month ago, my friend Heather Follis texted me in a bit of a panic… She was grabbing a coffee, and went by an alcove in a boarded up shoppe on one of our first really cold days in December. She realized a head was poking out of the tarp.
Here is her text: I’m downtown and just chatted with a guy in a doorway that I was worried was unresponsive. He was totally awake but said he was freezing and had nowhere to go to warm up. I am picking him up some heating pads but do any of the outreach organizations walk around on cold days like this to collect people and make sure they don’t freeze?
When I got the text I looked up the warming centres that were designated for the day, and told her to put him in a cab and I would put it on our account. When the cab pulled up the driver saw Heather, but when the driver saw the guy, the cabbie took off.
Thankfully Heather is not one for taking that kind of ridiculousness, called the cab company and demanded (nicely I am sure), to send another one, and told them what happened.
Once the guy was off to the warming centre, in a cab that took him safely, I met her on the street and she collapsed into my arms for a good hug. How can people do this every day, she wondered?
We discussed how that situation, and so many you see, are often futile, But even though Heather had not realized it, she had no trouble just doing it. Instead of “Can I do it?, she asked “What can I do?”.
God sees not as people see. God sees not as YOU see. God even sees YOUR potential, your potential to be an agent of change more than you even can see.
Spend time in prayer seeking how the Holy Spirit can unlock your potential to love kindness and act justly. Spend time in prayer seeking to see how God sees – in those in downtown Victoria, in your own family, in your own environment, in your workplace. Do not ask if ‘you can do it’, ask ‘what can I do’ … For someone else, to further your faithful calling to walking humbly, to reach out in love. Jesse’s sons looked great – I am sure they could have put together a calendar with a month for each of them; but David, he did not make the cut. But God saw him.
Jesus promises that in God’s house there are many mansions – and he even added – and he promised this because otherwise I would not have told you.
Perhaps in seeing through God’s eyes, we can let go of stigma, assumptions of negative behaviours, and see ways where we can help those folks see themselves through God’s eyes.
David needed the coaxing. Heck even Samuel needed the coaxing to coax young David.
We all need the help, and I wonder if we could be the vessels whereby others will undoubtedly be welcomed into one of those glorious and heavenly mansions above, and all that unmitigated disaster that is trauma and self-inflicted physical and psychological pain – be erased and left on this earth – and washed clean in the redeeming blood of the man who came, dined with prostitutes, healed the sick, touched the inflicted and they were well.
Jesus would love this place, this sanctuary of worship. He would undoubtedly see it honouring his Father in heaven. But I also know he would love Pandora Avenue too. He would be able to decipher between that which harms, and that which heals. And, he would seek to relate, love, and just to be present.
My favourite Psalm is Psalm 139. It is majestic and yet goes down to the individual person. It is God fearing and God inspiring. God has searched us, knows us, knows our actions, knows our thoughts, knows what we are going to say… and the Psalm goes on. He knit us together in our mother’s womb.
He knit each person together. We are all precious to him – you, me, Samuel, Jesse’s great looking sons and David, Emma, Bill and Alice. Every. Single. One. So we need to see all through the eyes of the one who knit us.
Thanksgiving and Praise to the God who sees beyond our human comprehension, who prepares mansions of glory for all, who heals trauma, who removes pain, who binds up wounds. AMEN