Happy New Years! (One Day Early…)

I thought I’d blog tonight because I know I’ll be caught up in the festivities tomorrow. New Years Eve is always special – it’s the anniversary of when I met my soulmate, at a big crazy New Years Eve party 15 years ago tomorrow. I was smitten at first glance and she didn’t give me much notice while I followed her around all evening, until I spilt wine on her and professed my feelings…and the rest is history. After 15 years, we have so much to be thankful for – our health, our two beautiful boys, and our community of friends and family.
I do enjoy making New Years Resolutions, to commit or recommit myself to practice in my daily life. In the spirit of sharing, here are my resolutions for 2014, broken into Daily, Weekly and Monthly:
Be thankful
Be authentic – live my values
Be present  
Commit to family time, where we are all together without purpose but to simply spend time together
Be open to change and possibility
Eat more fruits and veggies
Move my body
Make a date with my guitar 
Consciously connect with a loved one who I don’t see often
Read a novel
Happy New Years my dear friends and family, and I look forward to all of life unfolding in 2014!

Reflecting on Christmas and Christian community…

I admit that I am ambivalent about the Xmas season. I struggle with some of it – the Santa stuff that takes over all other holidays at this time, the materialism and the happiness that doesn’t always feel genuine. My partner and I, being a Jewish/Christian combo, celebrate “Chrismakkah” with the kids – a mashup of Hannukah and Christmas, but we are still trying to figure out what our family ritual looks like. Before kids, we volunteered and went out for Chinese food on Xmas, and that was a fun ritual (see http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/53569/jewish-christmas for a great piece on Jews and Christmas). But with the kids, we’re still trying to figure out what it looks like (for this year – Sushi on Xmas Eve (yum!), staying in pjs all day and watching the Sound of Music and going to my Dads for Xmas supper, to hang out with family and cousins).  

But while I don’t identify as a Christian, I used to. And the Christian side of Christmas is my favourite part – the songs, the act of remembering a kick-ass guy who was born in a manger and lived to be one of the most inspiring community activists. Most people are surprised when they find out that I used to identify as a Christian, and that I actively lived in Christian community. I think that amongst the progressive lefty crowd, there is stigma and judgement, and usually an image of Christians being judgemental, nasty homophobic bigots. And while that type of Christianity is of course alive and well, the Christianity that I have known has been completely different. The Christianity I have known has allowed me to meet some of the most amazing community builders, taking the biggest risks in life and living a life of integrity, inspiring me to question the status quo. Here are just a few of the Christians who have inspired me:

1. Brent Hawkes – MCCT – My Christianity was formed at 13 years old when I started going to MCCT. My mother came out as a lesbian when I was three, and 10 years later, she found MCCT – a Christian ministry for the gay and lesbian community. We started going to this church when I was 13, and at that time, people protested outside of the church and even came inside to disrupt the service. We marched every year in Gay Pride with MCCT, and again, I remember protesters. Brent Hawkes is an amazing pastor – there is something truly magical about the way he speaks and tells stories, that is truly captivating. Brent and this church is amazing in their activism, being at the forefront of fighting for gay marriage, as well as being one of the only churches that states in their mission statement that they believe “there are many paths to God” – http://www.mcctoronto.com/

2. Mary Jo Leddy – Romero House – I read Mary Jo’s book “At the Border Called Hope” when I was in University, and was so inspired that I signed up to volunteer. I was a live-in volunteer at Romero House during the year of 1998/1999, living in Christian community with refugees, accompanying them. This was probably the most intense year of my life, at the age of 22, living with people who had experienced more tragedy and pain in their life than I would ever know. My learning that year was very hard and deep – learning how to listen, learning how to be with people in their pain and not have the answers but just to be there, learning how to deal with crisis (2 suicide attempts), learning how to take care of myself and the critical importance of community to keep yourself honest and focused and making the right decisions in the day-to-day.    

3. James Loney and William Payne / Dorothy Day – I met James and William on a 24 hour van ride to Georgia where we were protesting the School of Americas, and they blew my mind. I had never heard of the Catholic Worker Movement until that trip, and I couldn’t believe how hard core they were. Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker movement, and at the heart, they live in Parkdale and open up their homes to people who need to live there. Check out this interesting post about this –  http://ontario.cmha.ca/network/my-catholic-worker-community/. As well as Catholic Workers, William Payne and Jim Loney are “Christian Peacemakers” who literally go to places of violence and stand in the middle of it all, risking injury and death to promote peace. If that isn’t practicing what you preach, I don’t know what is.  

And on this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you a safe and peaceful holiday. I leave you with my favourite Christian prayer – the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek; To be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Rob Ford does an excellent job in community engagement…

Don’t worry – I am not a Rob Ford supporter at all, and I am as shocked as the rest of you that he is still in office. However, amidst all of the controversy, this Toronto Star article on why low income supporters support him definitely caught my attention –  http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/12/06/rob_ford_lowincome_supporters_stand_by_their_mayor.html. I think this is a must read if we’re going to seriously strategize about changing the voting patterns in Toronto, and getting someone decent, who cares about people and social justice into office. What this article tells me is:

-Policies and politics are too far removed from the day-to-day life of many low-income people to matter. Education on civics is needed at the grassroots level for sure, but more than that, showing people the connection between their personal life and the policies that get passed at City Hall is critical.  Why are you poor, when others are not? What policies or lack of policies has caused you to be in this situation of broken down housing and social isolation? This conversation needs to start happening at the grassroots level, through community leadership, at the bbqs and through the youth centers etc. 

-Community based actions speak louder than words. It doesn’t matter what Rob Ford has said or reported to have said, he has showed community based action, in terms of fixing a wall or putting in a new playground. It doesn’t seem to matter that he voted to reduce social housing despite the years-long waiting list and clear dire need, but at the community level, Rob Ford is seen to respond to community calls for help. 

-Despite the fact that Fords rally to reduce taxes was aimed at the middle to higher income group, lower-income individuals are also enthralled with the idea of paying less tax. In my opinion, the tax system is a reflection of our communal values, and taxes provide a critical social safety net. However, on a personal level, it seems that most people want more money and don’t want to pay more taxes. I don’t think this perspective is only held within lower-income communities. I personally know several left-leaning friends who, while they vote left and believe in social justice, they still look for ways to get out of paying taxes. How do we change this?

-He speaks the ‘community talk’ – “He said to me that it only takes one person to make a difference in the community, and when he looks at me, he can see I’m going to be that person,” she recalls proudly. While we may talk this talk in our CD circles, how often do we say it to people when it really matters? Are we empowering enough? These community members feel empowered through Rob Fords words.

I think we need to seriously look at what Rob Ford has been doing right, and how he has strategically captured the votes of so many people, especially within the lower-income communities in the inner suberbs. If we don’t, we risk a repeat performance on voting day, and another 4 years with Mr. Ford.  


In the depth of winter…

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

I want to post this quote everywhere – on my computer, on my bathroom mirror, on my front door so I have to read it before I go outside. Every year, like everyone else (at least in Canada), I have to face winter. I need to remember the ‘invincible summer’ that is inside of me – the summer where the sun shines on me and I can visit our neighbors until 9pm, go swimming and running, and generally feel a lightness in my step and heart. I need to remember that the summer that will be here in 5 months (or less if it comes early!).  The changing of the seasons is a reminder that things are changing, that the only constant in life is change, and that we can’t be happy or healthy or ‘on top of our game’ 100% of the time. And that is okay. Not only is that okay, but it is necessary – bears hibernate and caterpillars cocoon and communities go through times of stillness. We need to give ourselves permission to slow down and take a pause. So on that note, I’m off, to curl up under a blanket with a warm cup of tea and a good book.


International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today, December 3rd, is recognized by the UN and around the world as the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”, and in that spirit, I want to share two examples of community based projects that I think are amazing, by breaking down barriers – both physical and attitudinal barriers. Both of these projects have inspired me:

1. The StopGap project – Luke Anderson, who is an engineer by trade and in a wheelchair, started making these cool ramps because he was frustrated by the inaccessibility of so many places in the city. He now has an army of volunteers and is giving out these ramps for free to businesses, so they can be accessible – see the StopGap website here – http://stopgapblog.blogspot.ca/. I love especially love this project for a few reasons: 1. It’s Toronto-based so I get the pleasure of looking out for and seeing these bright StopGap ramps in my city!, 2. It shows that a small piece of wood has the power to change our behaviors and connection to place – accessibility means that people make different shopping choices and may interact different with others in our community. and 3. Luke Anderson has not trademarked his ramp and is not trying to make money from his initiative. On the contrary, he provides a very detailed handbook on his website with instruction on how to build the ramps, as well as how to connect with businesses and recruit volunteers, so you can start this in your own community.

2. DanceAbility – http://www.danceability.com/index.php. I have a personal connection to this project, as I used to do Contact Improv and through that, participated in some DanceAbility workshops. I am not a very physically coordinated individual but I have always loved dance – not to perform but to experience it. Contact Improv really pushed me out of my head and into my body, and profoundly changed me in how I live in my body in this world. DanceAbility is about promoting dance for all people, regardless of ability or disability, and through this openness, danceAbility performances challenge unspoken societal perceptions of what people with disabilities should look like or should be doing or not doing. See this amazing video to see what I mean – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNS106c8iXw. Most of our interaction with others is through words – verbal, and now more and more, through written communication. DanceAbility provides a space for community interaction on a profound and transformative level, through bodies moving and communicating through dance.