Posts Tagged ‘Risk of Belonging’


 What follows below is my speaking notes from this morning, the pdf is just below for the power point slides noted in the bolded brackets throughout.

Men’s Prayer Breakfast, Centennial Presbyterian Church January 26, 2019 

mens prayer breakfast january 2019

Good Morning. We are exploring some aspects this morning of mental health and belonging, as was advertised it is a personal and professional faith journey. In our time this morning we are by no means going to touch upon the entire spectrum of mental health concerns, diagnosis, disorders and spectrums out there. I am going to share a bit about my journey, and the ones that have touched upon me the most. Now I am sure you are probably asking well who is this guy? 

That’s a good question, short answer in my name is Ty, and I have lived in Rundle my whole life, my goal in life is simple to make my own corner of the world a better place. I am currently travelling through the echoes of a life spent fighting back the darkness of our world, and creating safe courageous space for all to belong, but more on that piece later. I am a pilgrim, the ad described me as a monastic-psychologist. It is true, I hold a Doctor of Psychology, I sought it out because I needed to skills to aid folks in healing. I have a Bachelor of Arts from Alberta Bible College, and my Master or Arts is from Canadian Theological Seminary now Ambrose Seminary. Each degree earned with classes that aided me in my goal of making the world a bit better, not for any other reason. I am monastic, because at the core of my journey is a formation in the Franciscan Charism. St. Francis of Assisi founded an order about 800 years ago of the open hand, those that embraced justice, simplicity, and living out the gospel message of love. Many believe it is an anti-educational-intellectual order because of a teaching of Francis that you first must learn the first scripture before going to the next. He was not counselling us to be the frozen chosen, but rather to so live into the scripture that we are living it without even thinking about it, it simply becomes part of our DNA. 

For me, the journey of learning has been centered on the scripture that brought me into organized church and ministry, at 19 years old I was contemplating my 6th attempt at suicide. I had gone through a horrendous time for that time of my life where my then fiancée had decided to abort our child, and re-enter the sex trade to feed her addiction. I was at home, quietly putting things in order, giving/selling things. When I stumbled across the little red Gideon’s New Testament they used to give out in grade 5. It was in the bottom of my closet and the spine was broken open, and these little red letters spoke to me: 

(slide of Great Commandment) 

Something shifted in my depression, and I decided to go see my Nan that weekend, and try out this church thing, and the tumultuous seasons of my ministerial life would begin, as I started to be like the lawyer. 

(slide of Good Samaritan). 

This led me to a life journey involved in many aspects of church ministry, continuing an active writing and activism career that was already in place, building ministries, writing curriculums, entering into service in the homeless sector during the darkest times of our province, as austerity measures created a humanitarian crisis in Calgary where threat to human life was imminent each winter. I would also serve during my time as a chaplain to those with dementia, childrens and youth pastors, pulpit supply, college and university instructor from bachelor to post-graduate courses in a variety of topics, practicum supervisors, mentor for at risk youth and re-integration mentor for youth re-entering society from the young offender’s centre. I would do outreach in many of the cities in Canada for those in need, aiding those camping rough to find safety, and if they could not the next morning aiding authorities in identifying the bodies. Publish a few books. Oh and in the midst, I would find time to run for office and shape many policies for parties at both the Federal and Provincial level, but hey a man needs a hobby. 

Throughout this I began to shape a concept of belonging. That it is about aiding folks in understanding who they truly are, how the experience the world, and how we as community can aid them in achieving wholeness. 

(slide on mental health) 

In my teens and early 20’s like many Albertans I struggled with alcohol. It would not be until later that I would find out about my family’s predilection to alcoholism. But I made a hard decision at that time, after my one birthday where I woke up sore and alone at home, alcohol was not a good thing for me, it made me violent, it needed to end: 

(slide of Dix) 

Addiction comes in many forms.  

(addiction slide)  

It is a form of self-medicating, a numbing agent, a replacement for authentic belonging and authentic self. The challenge in our world, is that so many things that become addictive can be seen as societally acceptable: gambling we use to fundraise for our schools and hospitals and other non-profits, alcohol you are seen as abnormal if you do not drink in social settings- try being politically active and sober? Or a writer; work or fitness or religion- all things that are acceptable, but can also so overtake our lives that we can no longer function. 

(Opioid crisis slide) 

Today we are in a crisis in Canada as a result of our triage and siloed method of dealing with people in health care. We are in what the media and health care have termed an opioid crisis, it is due to the prevalence of Fentanyl. A drug originally designed for end of life pain allevement. Now opioids, when used for pain relief within medicine are not bad, that is the all or nothing view of our world. What is wrong, is those using them to self-medicate their own personal pain. Pain caused by our own inhumanity towards one another. What would change with the crisis if we moved out of isolation and fear mongering, into authentic community? A courageous safe space where we understand pain, we understand the journey of healing, and we are willing to believe and help at a deeper level. We are willing to allow belonging, knowing that the greatest fear in belonging is that when the person is no longer there, we shall mourn.  

That is why we avoid belonging. Whether it is belonging in our own skin (Love yourself) or opening space for belonging for neighbour (love your neighbour as yourself). 

(won’t you be my neighbour slide) 

I have already touched on a bit of my own struggle with depression. Depression is a normal reaction in the grief process of loss, it can also be more than short term however, and that is okay. It is how some experience life 

(Depression Slides) 

It is ironic, as a child I had convulsions, they were so severe in my toddler years I am told there was multiple times I stopped breathing and was blue. In the late 70’s early 80’s the treatment for such a thing was an anti-psychotic- Phenobarbitrol. It is a harsh long-term treatment, but it saved my life and my brain. Many children who were put on it, lost their lives to suicide or addiction in adolescence, or dropped out of life. It is still used in short term cases for stabilization before another anti-epileptic or anti-convulsant will be prescribed. I was on it from roughly age 2 to 9 years old, my convulsions left my brain scarred, and unbeknownst to us at the time, the medication had rewired things significantly. 

As my Mum entered into the journey of Breast Cancer that would eventually take her life; I was the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries at a church; teaching and writing; working as a vocational coach for persons with disabilities; working on my Master’s oh and just for fun running for office while editing a political journal provincially, and a spiritual journal internationally is when the repercussions of what saved my life would hit. 

(I don’t wanna slide) 

Panic attacks. Tears or anger for no reason. Medication as my brain chemistry was out of balance. 

I was always and still am open about my own journey, if those who seek to facilitate healing cannot be open, how do we expect those seeking help to be open. There was a backlash, churches skittered away from me, as I transitioned back into a leadership role in the homeless sector I was abruptly informed that I was a weak leader for sharing my mental health with my team. That self-care and mental health care were not up to leaders to mentor staff in, it was their job to deal with the challenges of the job. 

Stigma. 

But through medication, self-care, what I termed soul work through spiritual direction and life coaching I emerged through that time on medication for a few years and things had improved.  It was also during this time that I lost my ordination by taking a stand that yes children with disabilities belong in God’s kingdom (but our journey of that is a tale for another time). 

As Shawna, my wife, is always proud to say, I taught many how to care for themselves, while caring for neighbour. Soul care, ensuring you can love yourself and are being the true you, while helping others become the true them. We did not expect what was to begin in 2016, but there are 4 scary letters out there that we need to remove the fear from: 

(PTSD Slides) 

Whether personally or professionally we as a family had created safe spaces for belonging, whether they found me through work, or showed up on our door step. Literally meals can be added to, coffee or tea can go on, kids can play, and life can happen as we just are: 

(Quote slide) 

I am going to share with you an article I wrote about what is happening in the now, it is the outcome of years of journeying in the darkness as the light, and taking a beating for views of belonging. A lifetime, as we spoke of before in a Franciscan way of learning how to live out the Great Commandments, and answer the question, Who is my neighbour? 

(PTSD-PNES Slide) 

613 is my number, what is yours? 

It is amazing the conversations one has as a parent, and then the journey it causes you to reflect upon. Before May 2016 sitting in an ER I never thought I would be here. See, growing up and throughout my life I admit to being socially awkward (to be kind), but there was something that always was wonderful, my mind. When it came to numbers it was something like Charlie on Numbers that the solution would come to me, but has no real idea what took me from problem to solution. My everyday mind would be able to focus on 3 or 4 tasks in front of me, while crunching solutions and dreams/plans for multitudes of other things (one of the main reasons I never took up this thing called driving). 

It is the blessing of this mind, with my heart for changing the world that allowed the drive in school (and the multiple degrees earned and given honourary); building programs; running for office; editing and writing; book publishing; teaching; outreach work; mentoring; life coaching; spiritual direction; public speaking; pulpit supply; and the list can go on in my short life I had packed in multiple life times. Standing in the darkness and walking with those in the midst so they could come into their light. Discover who they truly were; teaching and facilitating others in discovering their passions and ways to make a living at it. I believe my life showed that you can chase dreams, and still hold true to your core values, not having to surrender who you are to make a difference in this world. At one point I looked back on my time in ministry and realized I had the opportunity to speak into nearly 1,000 young lives for the better. 

But it started to shift in May and then October 2016 in the ER with weird brain activity, memory loss, chest pains and left-hand tremors. But I was told I was normal and fine, so carry on at discharge, after a day or two at home back at it. Back at the work of walking with folks to create home and community. 

In the later part of 2017 as summer approached, professional and personal griefs/stressors were there. Waying on one’s spirit. I felt tired, and my brain was foggy. Like I had taught so many though, back to the daily practice, self-care, seeking out those who can aid you in debrief and carry forward, keep yourself healthy. And why wouldn’t I be tired? It was a phase, been there done that. My vocabulary, and understanding of some basic concepts began to fail me. Again, I looked back on what was happening with those in personal and professional life passing away, assumed it was a grief cycle (my son’s friends were passing away, always hard). 

But then my birthday hit and the game changed. 

Seizures (Grand Mal and absent), multiple in rapid succession. Lost memory and time. Not only in the now, but lost memories, I could not recall things. It kept happening, I became the ER’s daily flier if you will…and oh so cold, my body had gone hypothermic, in retrospect to protect my heart. Medical science couldn’t answer the question. Weird things being vomited out. Tests were toss ups. 

But when the seizures hit, and I would come back so would the pain. The life of being a light in the darkness, but only the darkness would come back. Decades of being in the pain, looking back and having my mind lie to me saying that I was a failure, had not made a difference. My memories that would reboot, it was like an old DOS computer with dust on the floppy, the self-care wouldn’t come with it. My healing and growing of scar tissue were gone, it was rapid succession of the pain that cut to the very core of who I was. I tried to work through, my agency was wonderful in their support. 

But I was not me. My beautiful gift, my mind, was failing. Things that I knew by rote, and was simple neurological muscle memory were gone, fog was constant, stabbing pains, tremoring arm, in ability to sleep, hypothermic and I won’t share how when I went down finally for health reasons the days of weird chemicals I had been exposed to expelling from my body (oh and the constant daily seizures, at one point almost 40 a day). Tests of the blood, body and brain, but the flashbacks persisted. 

It wasn’t something that was expected. I had learned to take care of myself, to rely on supports, to keep healthy, to use vacation time and to chase passions. This was against the narrative. But it persisted. Advancing from basic neurology to complex, in hospital observational stays, and all the epileptoligists/neurologists looking at my brain scans and medical files to reach a decision on what was happening. Finally, in the last month or two having confirmed diagnosis, PTSD-PNES, and now due to the Third Way boondoggle that was Klein’s legacy, I wait for the aid to cure and move forward. In the mean time the seizures are not epileptic but bring all the fears of those types of seizures with them everything from falls to sudden death, with no medications that can be prescribed to control them. 

With each seizure my number reminds me of where I have walked. 613 that is 613 in my life of family, friends, children, parishners, and clients I was unable to do more than journey with to the final transition to the next life. Most I was present for last rites or the passing or performed the celebration of life, if not all of it. In the travels I continue to use that which some may say is fruitless. Yet I persist. I pay the price for the persistence to keep going, I am not as good as I used to be, not even close…but I keep trying, working on myself while I wait. 

This time I feel like Alice having stepped through the looking glass, or Kirk into the Mirror Universe. I have seen what the darkness unchecked has done to my soul. I know what the light is. I struggle to believe in myself once more for with each reboot I still have to work through the lies my heart tells me that I am a failure, for even if it is a simple spark I need to hold to it…that I make a difference simply by being. 

What is your number? 

 (Authentic you slide) 

The Great Commandment lays out a challenge for us. It is about realizing that we are created in God’s image. As such we cannot say we love God with our everything, if we do not love ourselves. To love ourselves speaks of belonging in our own skin, having our purpose, it is not about jobs, it is about knowing why we are here and having a means to live it out. It is also understanding we need to love our neighbour who is also the image of God. Creating the courageous safe space for belonging so they can discover themselves. Within that space journeying with one another in the same vein. 

People constantly ask me what’s next? I honestly do not know, step one is to get the healing work done, then look at a return to work. What will that look like? I do not know. In the mean time I have purpose, I write, I teach when I can, I do some research and writing for my Dad and his wife’s project, Countess Country Musuem. I am beginning to work on a family memoir on the topic of mental health and belonging to remove the stigma. Most importantly though in this time of healing, I am a husband and a Dad in an amazing loving family. 

I leave you with a question to mull, 

What’s next for you? 

(Christian Counsellors slide) 

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Celtic spirituality speaks of their being 300 feet between physical life and spiritual life, that there is a thin space between where they can intersect. This is where love/belonging truly happens. Within the Belonging Pyramid, this is the heart that supports the inverted pyramid shape- Agape.

The thin liminal space. Are we ready to exist there as communities? I will take you through an exercise of Orthodox theology (those who like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, or are familiar with the marriage equality discussion documents from the Orthodox to the Anglican Communion, they were written to the Roman Catholics). It becomes a parabolic discourse to a third party so the other can look in.

For the Canadian Church (and communities) this can be the Trump-Southern Baptist conversation (great article here ). Where even Pastor Crum began resonating within the Thin Space, and knew something needed to be said, yet as many, Not time yet.

It is the same argument within dying congregations around the belonging pyramid and drive not to be open as it was with these dying congregations of the Southern Baptist convention that rallied around Trump. Creating the closed huddle, allowed for a theology of survival and rallying to something.

If we cannot afford a pastor, and our fear is the cost to retro-fit the building to be accessible for all members, renters and welcome to the community, then perhaps we should give up the building and partner with a community centre so we can ensure at the least accessibility and inclusion.

-Me, as an associate pastor at a congregation meeting, tenure did not last

The song of survival is often heard. It is a common one. Regardless of how much money is coming in, there is never enough, nothing can change, must maintain donations or we will not survive. There is always another project that crops up to fundraise for that takes over any (if there even was) thought for basic accessibility. See churches get away with even the top portion of the pyramid for the simple fact their buildings fly under the radar the most. They come up to the letter of accessibility code when renovations are undertaken but rarely will go beyond because of “cost” they say.

What is hidden in that statement at the accessibility level is: your need (not want, NEED) does not override our privilege to preserve our bottom line.

Like the pastor in the article struggling with delivering a true message knowing it would cost, the church does not want to hear the truth of those in their congregation. This is not just about persons with disabilities– oh wait it is. For elders, youth, okay across the lifespan are using mobility devices and need accessibility.

Yet, we may make noises at national levels, but trickle down to the congregational and very little change happens. Due to one fact, tradition of reading. The Bible stories are all read as very black and white. Jesus healed the (insert descriptor of differently-abled here) and then they were included in the community. Full stop, medical model, something is wrong with the person so it is okay, because they must earn belonging, inclusion, even prove the case for accessibility beyond an archaic ramp at a side with a door not even grown to allow ease of entry.

I fall back to John 9:1-12 a lot, because it is so clear on this issue in showing the pyramid:

Verse 1 identifies the “disability” (blind). Which is what accessibility is about. What is wrong, how do we remove some barriers.

Verse 2 identifies the question- what is wrong with them? (Inclusion) it is trying to understand how to keep someone out. Yes, inclusion has become that kind of word in our 21st century. What are grounds for exclusion? How can we look like we have drawn the circle wider, but in fact are strategically shrinking it so the bottom line, old guards belief system is not challenge. This is the type of question that allowed the person to be “included” in the wider community as a beggar, seen as a burden, and allowed to hear teachings, but not fully participate within Temple life.

Verse 3 is about belonging. Jesus gobsmacks his followers and the people. The glory of God. That is belonging. The cosmic dust, life spark within each of us. The spirit that connects us with everything and everything with us within the Holy (that really is a puzzle created through and with the Thin Space tapestry of all creation). That is right, Jesus is showing that part of that tapestry is diversity within all its forms (other times he showed it through acts of kindness to Samaritans (traitors); and Romans (occupiers)).

Ahh but then the challenge for the listener where this might resonate. For Jesus does do a healing. This collapses the theory one would say.

NO!

It strengthens the theory. Look at the journey/ritual this man went through. Publicly to show the whole community that there was no turning him away any more. It was not only about vague inclusion. Jesus realized people could not understand belonging and agape. He short circuited it, much like his own transfiguration story. Jesus gave this man a ritual of transfiguration to reveal the living cosmic dust within to all.

Love illuminated.

2,000 years on (in some cases over 4,000 years) from the stories within the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament. Meaning and understanding has shifted and changed throughout time EXCEPT for those around healing. Why? Simple, we do not want to understand what is a disease and how someone is specifically created. Anything that is outside what we want to see as “typical” we want to demonize.

I can’t wait until I am in heaven with your son so I can hear him speak and see him run and dance. -“Well meaning” congregant.

That needs to end. At the current General Council 43 of the United Church of Canada there is a gent with disabilities up for moderator. I would love to see him elected. Yet I know the church is not ready for it. It would cause each and every congregation to confront authentic accessibility, inclusion, and belonging sourced through agape and not lip service. Much like a small Southern Baptist congregation of Trump supporters in their pews on a warm Sunday morning as the pastor opens to preach about the 7th Commandment (thou shalt not commit adultery) and backs down because they are not ready yet for the full implications of faith.

So is spiritual life that does not see the beauty in the diversity. The belonging of the person in full person-hood, or as Brother Jesus said, “Glory of God”.

It is trite, but it is true. We are all created in love just the way we are.

But are we ready to hear the full implications of our beliefs?

Are we willing to step out of the physical, and into the Thin Space of resonance?

To live, unreservedly out of love for OUR NEIGHBOUR?

 


I have been on a journey…quite a lifetime of a journey…on creating space for persons to belong. It is why some have read previous posts and have blatantly stated that I do not believe in inclusion, accessibility and/or affirming ministries.

WRONG!!!

I am a 21st century Canadian. I believe this is where we should be resonating and existing at as community already. Accessibility is a need, but is a physical transformation of space, that can be forgiven if there is a plan to move forward, or allowances and aids to help. Inclusion means that the circle has been drawn wide enough so that regardless of label there is a space for you, and affirming is the simple act that you deserve to exist with the same dignity, rights and privileges as everyone else, because, well you are a human being. The fact we allow ourselves to backslide back into these old debates is astoundingly annoying, hurtful and a waste of time.

Where the conversation, and behaviour needs to happen in community, but especially within the Christianities is within belonging. Belonging is messy, because the first three are the starting point so it is no longer the person’s label at play. We seek to understand how they experience the world, and what is needed for their full vocational fulfillment within our world.  It is the calling Brother Jesus laid on our hearts/souls/beings with his teachings out of the Shema (the great love commandments of God, Neighbour and Self) that he then reflected in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the legalist (read we will keep arguing inclusion, accessibility and affirming just because we are scared of change and sharing power) who asked him “who is my neighbour?”.

The risk of knowing neighbour, and of belonging as written of earlier is that we risk missing the person or being missed. BUT…there is more.

When one truly belongs. One takes ownership of the 5 W’s and H of the belonging. You will hear phrases of “This is my home” or “This is my community” or “My crew/group/residents/patients/clients/customers/students” or “my team” or “my church”. Why? Because they are resonating in belonging to something they were meant to be a part of. It is not about prestige, titles, or money (or anything else to feed ego). It is truly doing what one is meant to do. Being where one is meant to be.

Notice the words: being, be… B-E-L-O-N-G.

Take time in your life, what do you take ownership of authentically?

Why do you take that ownership?

What does this say about what your values are?

If the legalist came to you and asked, “who is my neighbour?” what is your story of ownership? Of Being? Of belonging?

 


Please note: like with other resources I have pointed out the population touched upon can be transitioned to any group seeking belonging, for this article and from my reflections it is persons with disabilities. But it can be the experience of anyone physically or linguistically included, but not belonging.

On March 13, 2018 news broke that Stephen Hawking had passed away. What his passing on the surface revealed is the shallowness of inclusion/affirming culture as the tripe and trout statements for a person with disabilities who had passed were drawn out. “he is finally free of his wheelchair” was one “winning comment”. Showing ableism at its finest. accessibleIt is the type of world where it is okay to still see those who are differently abled as less than; allows the Calgary Board of Education to scape goat children with disabilities for their institutions inability to manage money or tell parents from administrators that there is only stress because you chose to bring THAT life into the world. It is the world where Christianities and other religions easily peddle ideas of “wholeness in heaven” or “if only you believed harder there would be healing”.

These are ideas in inclusive (read—you are welcome, if you do not challenge our notions) and accessible (that is there is adequate close parking, ramps and bars as coded by law) communities. Ones that still allow for the idea that persons with disabilities do not speak; or how wonderful it will be to see them in “heaven/paradise” (pick your form of afterlife) so they will be whole, able to talk, and run freely and really see who they truly are.

This is not belonging. As written about in Risk of Belonging and Risk of Belonging 2 it is about moving beyond these spaces that allow for bullying, allow for entrenchment of us and them. Moving to an understanding that each and everyone of us is different, and as such to fully participate within community as we are called/created to be, means that we need different supports/encouragement/aides. It is belonging by putting value on what the person brings to the community by being there, being apart of, their intrinsic worth and goodness as a person (personhood if you will), and the riskiest of all…that when they are not there…they will be missed.

Missed is the part that creates messiness and awkwardness for human beings. It can be as simple as someone leaving community to join another, moving, or transitioning. When they are an older person struggling with health and a transition to the next life or a new facility happens it is hard, but reconcilable in the lifespan.  Still we are called to allow for humane treatment, and belonging to still exist (something our world needs to work on, check out further thoughts section at the end).

The missing person is grieving the change of their world and what is known, whether our abled world and coding systems state they comprehend or not. The human spirit enters the grief cycle; whichever one your stead fistedly holds to in your theory of change—Kubler-Ross; U Theory, etc. there is a presence on the journey of new and different we have felt the need to quantify. It is hard enough to do when you are adulting. But it becomes even messier when we move into the broader spectrum of family (chosen or blood).

But this is going to hit hard and personal for those families seeking belonging where their child with medical complexities/disabilities/differently-abled is accepted for being a kid. When you have finally found that blessed place. The dramas of driving out the child before belonging because inclusion was enough of a risk… why is belonging riskier? Because you may miss.

How do I know there is a fear of being missed that stops belonging? Simple. To belong, means that individual will be missed. With someone who may not live past toddler years, pre-school, elementary or adolescences it challenges a community’s concept of justice, rightness. It challenges our entire societies basis of quantity of life over quality. It also challenges the ideal that quality comes from being life everyone else in what is termed “typical”.

Even more in our entrenched world it removes the ability for the community to have “the answer” or “the truth” about what happened. For the Christianism (or other forms there of), “well God needed them more than you.” Is going to be vocally called out as “BULL SHIT” whether it is by the family grieving leaving, or fighting back.

Belonging is messy because we risk missing the person who becomes part of our world. That risk of missing means we must be comfortable with having aspects of our world that cannot be explained. We must be comfortable with understanding persons for persons and labels not as defining personality and personhood but rather explaining how the experience the world and what is needed for a strong quality of life. And the greatest fear for those who are spiritual or religious we are confronted with something that conceptually does not make sense, and no one should be able to provide an answer for.

What is the risk of missing?

It is risking being human. It is risking being able to accept tears heal. It is being able to accept that all will morn the empty space in the community regardless of the missing persons age, because damn it, they were part of us.

      AND IT IS BEING OKAY with being in the pain of the unknown.

To risk belonging is hard, because we must risk missing and being missed by one another.

 

Further thoughts from others:

John Swinton interview with United Church Observer

The Solution is Assisted Life

Sharing a Story about Bullying