Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Second Candle

Walking on my way to church last Sunday I found a “Private Jet Lifestyle” magazine tucked into a fence, discarded or lost and waiting for someone to pick it up. It was a special edition of the top 100 suites from around the world, some of which started at $40 000 a night. It was full of beautifully groomed and perfectly manicured men, women and lives, beside pages and pages of ads for watches and jewellery without price tags. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

As I neared church and was about to enter, a homeless man with blood on his teeth and cracked lips stopped me and smilingly asked me for some money, “I’m so hungry. I need something to eat.” And who am I to say no to a hungry man, especially one in front of my church? I invited him to come inside and assured him that we would be able to find something for him to eat in the kitchen. As I was telling him this, with India beside me holding my hand, an elderly man who also attends my church came blustering up to us and aggressively told the homeless man to go away and that he could not stand on our church steps. I tucked my chin down into my collar in embarrassment and went inside. As I was hanging up our coats the elderly man came up behind me and complained about, “Perfectly able-bodied men not working and expecting handouts.”

And I had a million things to say to such sinful stupidity, but said nothing at all.

Casper, the “able-bodied” homeless man, most likely has a history of abuse, abandonment and mental illness. Because he is a Native and living in Alberta he has most certainly been the victim of vicious racism and jealousy at the “handouts” he gets from our tax dollars. If his bloody mouth is any indication he is also physically sick and in need of care. Not to mention love and kindness and gentleness.

I flipped through the jet set magazine before bed last night and I had to put it down. I couldn’t make it through to the end of the best 100 suites. The people for whom these magazines are printed live a life so foreign to me that I might as well be named Casper. I am officially “poor”. The government has graciously acknowledged me as such and has made witty decisions on my behalf which send me crying because of their uselessness. Last week, for instance, I was denied funding for India’s preschool because I work four hours a week too much. If I had a husband who also worked and I could afford to stay home more, I would be eligible for the funding, but as it is, I am not. When I phoned to ask about the absurdity of the situation I was told that if I sent India to daycare instead of preschool I would be eligible, or, “Could you just work four hours less a week?”

“Thank you,” and “Good bye,” was all I could manage to say.

We lit the Peace candle in church this Sunday for advent. In preparation of celebrating God made flesh we are to spend this week thinking of peace, and it seems to me as if once again God has asked the impossible of his people. And yet it is what he has asked, and what he has promised to give.

Today is Wednesday. I have three more days of peace to go. The snow is coming down hard outside, but here on the inside the candles are lit, the furnace is blowing and India is singing and making paper dolls of Jesus and Mary and Joseph. We are as snug as two girls can be. I wonder where Casper will spend this cold night, and if the original owner of the magazine I found will be dropping $40 000 somewhere with lovely European tile work and private gardens, and if either of them have any peace, or what they think of Jesus and advent wreaths. My own heart goes out a wandering for peace this week, this season, always. What I know of peace is that it comes and goes, that it involves following stars instead of maps, and that homeless or home safe peace is all gift.


christy said...

This is beautiful. I don't understand this world.

Mike S said...

It's people like that that give Christianity a bad image. Sadly, that type has hi-jacked a good deal of the Democratic process in the USA.

Of the many plagues visited upon my people by Europeans; disease, addiction, loss of pride, and 'handouts' have had the most devastating effects on our present and our future prospects.

Being despised for what you are and not who you are destroys many dreams before they've begun to take shape. For every 'Old Indian' like me who's been fairly successful, there are at least 2 unsuccessful attempts at normalacy and one life ruined by addictions and disease.

Deanna said...

I appreciate what you said, what Mike said, and I could imagine being there in front of your church witnessing the unChristianity in someone who is part of your community, and being a limited being who can only do so much, hope so much.

Sandy's Notes said...

How sad:(

Cherie said...

You described the brokenness of our world in genuine human terms here, Angela. You wrecked me. And I needed it.

Peace is never so fully precious as when it's absence has been completely felt.

I'm so sorry for Casper - and even more sorry for the old dude at your church who doesn't seem to have a clue.

India singing and making paper dolls is good medicine.

Anonymous said...

Mmm that is beautiful. Thank you for helping think about the complexity of how peace can be found in such a broken unjust world.


Kimberly said...

I'm just now reading this... and it is beautiful... and India is blessed to observe her mother... and we are blessed to read your writing.

Angela said...

thanks, christy.

mike, thanks for your thoughts.It makes my heart so sad that even still, even now, there is so much ignorance roaming the streets and churches and businesses in our countries.

part of the problem is that i still feel so new to this church, so i don't feel as though i have the right to say to a very senior member what i think of his actions. which is lame, i know. sigh.

sandy, isn't it, though?

maybe it's because christmas can be such a tough time of year, but i've found even more than ever that india is my joy, joy, joy. nothing makes me happier than her.

you're welcom, karen. thanks for teaching my daughter every sunday (and thurs) morning!

oh! thanks, kimberly. that made me all happy.