broken glass

Our home church of First Baptist London has launched a new congregation based on contemporary worship and meaningful community, called Maitland Street Church. It has been a massive undertaking, and since the launch in November has enjoyed a great start.

This should be a major cause to celebrate. In spite of this, I find myself asking – why bother?

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been part of online discussions with other Christians/theologians around the church’s stance on LGBT, and have been deeply troubled by what I have encountered – ranging from perspectives such as “what science teaches us about sexuality doesn’t trump the fact the Bible says homosexuality is sinful” to appeals to “natural theology makes it clear homosexuality is wrong”, with one person saying the idea of a homosexual Christian is something they hadn’t even heard of until very recently, and they find very confusing.

Yikes.

There’s absolutely no way to persuade someone if (their interpretation of) Scripture comes before everything else. Modern psychology and genetics teach that sexuality is not a choice, which to me would indicate to me that the entire sexual spectrum is intentional, yet so many in the church continue to refer to it as a “sinful lifestyle”. The longer the church holds onto these beliefs, the further it drifts into irrelevance.

What does this have to do with Maitland? Very little. But as part of the global church it is part of the massive upheavals happening across the world in respect to Christianity, and religion in general. CBC posted an article today called “Rise in new city churches bucks secular trend”, reporting on the rise and fall of churches in Canada and the demographics behind it. As well, NPR posted this article, “Sunday Assembly: A Church For The Godless Picks Up Steam”. CBC reports:

“…in Australia where, in late December, one in five residents identified themselves as non-religious. New Zealand numbers are even more stark. There, two-fifths of citizens identified as non-religious, pushing Christianity out of its longtime spot as the clear majority.

In Canada in 2011, about 7.8 million people — 24 per cent of the population — cite no religious affiliation, up nine per cent from a decade prior.”

I found this interesting, especially reading it in conjunction with the NPR article, which reports how a non-religious church is gaining attention by giving people a place to meet, dance, sing and have fellowship without religion. This is how they describe it:

It sometimes feels like church in the auditorium of the Professional Musicians union in Hollywood. It’s a Sunday morning, and hundreds of people are gathered to meditate, sing and listen to inspirational poetry and stories.

But then the live band starts up — performing songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis. And instead of a sermon, there’s a lecture by experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Jessica Cail about the biology of gender identification and sexual orientation.

Churches across North America (and elsewhere) are tackling the massive question of how to keep people interested in going to church, and especially how to draw back the many people that have “strayed” – most churches see about a 1/4 rate of retention from youth to young adults/adult congregants. Reginald Bibby, a University of Lethbridge sociology professor suggests in the CBC article “…many churches need to rethink their roles and become more family-focused, something evangelical churches have done right for decades, leaving them as one of the few not experiencing substantial drops in attendance. Evangelicals take for granted that they need to have a top-notch Sunday school for kids so the little kids are going to look forward to coming to church,”.

To me, these kinds of suggestions skate over the fundamental issues plaguing the church by making it sound like something as simple as shaking up Sunday School is the solution. As a young adult in the church, I’ve heard many snide remarks from senior congregants ranging from bemoaning “the moral laxness of this generation” to how the entire world is going to Hell via the unbelieving heathens. Not new sentiments, but one that young ears are sharp to pick up, especially when pointing at issues youth tend to care deeply about – issues like LGBT rights/equality and reproductive rights. Why would we put up this?

I know that by stepping away from an organization I am stepping away for opportunity to add my voice, and only contribute to the monoculture with my absence. But, I find myself starting this year wondering if I am really changing anything by being in church, and if it would be better to step away from it, even temporarily. I have been a hesitant Christian/churchgoer ever since I started about 7 years ago, but I seem to be finding especially few reasons to go now.

Not that there hasn’t been liberal movements inside the modern church. Pastor Mark Sandlin has been instrumental in creating The Christian Left and The God Article, which among other movements have provided a liberal perspective in what is otherwise an oppressively conservative culture. Pope Francis has shaken the world since becoming the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming Time’s Person of the Year as he has challenged the Catholic Church to move in the world with compassion over condemnation, breathing fresh air into the church. Despite maintaining the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, the Advocate LGBT magazine named Pope Francis their “Person of the Year”. From the CBC article:

The Advocate magazine said it gave Francis the honour because, although he is still against homosexual marriage, his pontificate so far had shown “a stark change in [anti-gay] rhetoric from his two predecessors”. It hailed as a landmark his famous response last July to a reporter who asked about gay people in the Church: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

I’m grateful to have met other liberal Christians through resources like The Christian Left. I shouldn’t expect to surround myself only with like-minded people, but at the same time, it has been an enormous relief to find a wider of community that have similar struggles to me. And they have helped me continue to see the value of being part of a church community, though there are times like this that I still wonder.

So this is what I continue to struggle with. Should I keep with church and attempt to be a progressive voice, or decide that my energy, time and sanity are better invested elsewhere? I hope to remain and to be a positive influence in the church, and to challenge myself to read scripture, research further and work to expand my understanding of different theologies/philosophies in and outside the church. I believe that scientific and spiritual inquiry can and should work together, and I hope to find ways that this can work, and explore methods others use.

2014

Can’t believe another year has passed already! 2013 was a very quiet blogging year compared to 2012, though we’ve had some major changes in our lives. By far the largest was Sarah becoming pregnant in the summer, due mid-April this year. The second half of the year has been a blend of anxiety, anticipation and excitement as we’ve prepared ourselves and our home for our first child. I’ve written a few posts about it, but despite/because of the rollercoaster of emotion I haven’t been really able to express all that I have been feeling about it.

The second has been a change in my work last fall. For about two and a half years I’ve been a self-employed CAD technician as an associate for a company in Milton, working from home. The summer was very stressful because my workload (always unpredictable) became very low, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue doing this work. Things picked back up in the fall though, to the point that the company offered me a full-time position with them, though thankfully still able to work from home in London.

Between these two things (and many others) I feel as if I’ve drifted somewhat from where I had been in 2012, both for good and bad. I feel as if I have life fairly together, but have stepped back from a lot of the things I enjoy/feel are important. Instead of setting extremely concrete goals (lose X lbs. etc.) I thought I’d make my resolutions a few major goals I can break down into single events/achievements.

So, here are a few of my goals for the coming year:

Reconnect:

  • I’ve been away from a lot of the great things happening in London in the past year. I realized last year that I was trying to take on too many things at once and became burned out. This winter I hope to reconnect with all the great things happening and all the people I’ve been able to get to know who make our city great, especially before the baby arrives. Speaking of…

Rest:

  • Not becoming overwhelmed again, and resting before the baby arrives is also very important. I hope to find a good balance between being active in the city/community and relaxing as well. I’m really not sure what to expect (despite reading a lot, while trying not to get too anxious about it), so I figure being in the best mental and physical shape I can beforehand is probably best…I’m told both will deteriorate rapidly after.

Stay active:

  • I hope to stay involved in the city and Argyle community once the baby is born, if nothing else than by being online and writing/posting updates through the community social media and website (we’re currently working on a big communication overhaul, I’ll probably write a separate post about it once it starts falling into place). As Sarah reminds me, babies do travel as well, so we may be out later in the year with wee Gibson in tow, as well.

Write:

  • This may be a tough one, but I’m hoping to write more often than I did last year, even if it isn’t all published here. Considering I meant to write/post this yesterday (have been caught up nursing Snoopy, who is sick with an ear infection and a GI stasis scare) this may not go so well. I realized last year that for some reason the enjoyment had been taken out of writing for me, and the thought of opening this to write seemed a lot more daunting than it should. So, I’m hoping to start the regular practice of taking time to write again, even if some of the posts are left as drafts, or revised repeatedly before being posted. I hope to write on London events and politics (specifically the 2014 budget and election) as well as life (especially our adventure through pregnancy and our baby), but as well I’d like to get back into writing fiction. I haven’t written much since high school, but always enjoyed it when I did…I may share some of my attempts here as well.

I hope 2014 will be an interesting and insightful year. I think it will be.

Wishing you the very best in the coming year, may we make it a good one together!

Can’t believe another year has already past! Here is a summary of the last year for my blog. It’s definitely been a quieter year than 2012, hoping to get back into writing in the New Year, though it may be frantically between baby naps after the spring. Hope that you have a wonderful end of the year, wishing you all the best in 2014!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

thames

I’m feeling very disconnected.

This has been a very strange, exciting and nerve-wracking year. My work flow has been a rollercoaster of busyness and quiet, changing massively as I’ve moved from trying to manage my own business to becoming an employee of the company I’ve been an associate with. Our family life has changed greatly as Sarah is now 5 months pregnant, and we ready our home, lives, minds and hearts for our first child. Our priorities and perspectives have shifted as we work to find balance to our lives as many things change, and I find myself struggling to stay both sane and living a life I can be happy with. I find myself dropping a lot of things I usually enjoy, hardly reading or writing in the past few months as I often find my mind terribly blank by the end of the day (my RPG gaming is however doing extremely well).

It was a hard decision to make, but as work and life has changed I’ve decided to step back from being on the boards of the Argyle Community Association and Strengthening Argyle. I am proud to have participated in these groups and to meet/work with the amazing people there, and am disappointed to have to step back from these responsibilities.

It also leaves me trying to find my place in our community of Argyle, and in the greater collective community of London. I’m so glad to have met (and continue to meet) so many people across the city working to make it even better, and it leaves me wondering where my place in that community is. I want to continue to participate, yet often find myself wiped out by the end of the day just taking care of home needs, wants and responsibilities. There are no words for how much I appreciate those that do as much or more than I do and yet manage to do so much for our communities over and above this.

So as I’ve stepped back from these responsibilities (while continuing to help manage the Argyle social media accounts) I try to imagine where I may fit, and continue to help even in my limited ability. If nothing else I’m hoping to re-connect with the Citizen Corps community through events like Pints and Politics (especially before our energy and time are devoured with our new arrival!). I am elated to see that this community seems to continue to grow and spread, each time I am sent a digital invitation the guest list seems to be even larger, and to be more names of people I’ve never met, and expansion groups have been meeting in other communities across the city.

So as I imagine what I can do and where I may fit, I have spent more and more of my time following the news from home, unfortunately without being able to gauge what people are thinking and saying except through digital interactions. I hope that it may be the peculiar amplification of moods and thoughts created through a digital medium that inhibits nuance, but what I am hearing is far less than hopeful, even from some of the brightest stars of engagement I know.

Even as I consider greater involvement and attention to events and politics, it seems that things are breaking down in our country at every level. Between the constantly changing narrative in Ottawa over the Wright/Duffy Senate/PMO scandal, the ongoing Ontario Liberal controversies or the daily international headlines over Rob Ford, something is rotten in the state of Canadian politics. And we’re all getting tired of it.

I think it is partially the deep need to be involved reawakening in me as I find a new normal as I prepare for my new life, but I am realizing that issues like this oddly energize me as I come to realize how badly all government needs to be closely monitored and corrected. Completely understandably, the more things go off the rails (especially at all levels, simultaneously!) so many Canadians are turning our backs on politics. Sadly, the more things like this happens, the more credibility there seems to be to attitudes like “they’re all the same”.

So, what is to be done?

This is the question I am nowhere near answering. I hope as I get back into writing, and being involved in the London community and beyond, I can read and think and share and discover solutions to this killer, poisonous politics atmosphere we seem so completely surrounded by.

Because the more things like this happen, the more we need to assess our choices as the electorate. We need to examine all possible candidates in all positions, and perhaps more so, we need to continue to hold those elected officials to account between elections. Every person we elect has a duty to represent us in their positions of authority, but we are also responsible for holding them to account.

In times like this, with politicians seemingly making up the rules as they go along, it can be far too easy to give up. But it is in times like this that we are more needed than ever, every one of us, to hold their feet to the fire.

In his latest blog post, Glen Pearson notes:

The simple reality is this: it’s not really about Rob Ford and his ilk; it’s about us, and how much incompetence we are willing to endure.  We got what we voted for and now we’re paying for it.  We need better politicians, but our only way of achieving that target is to be better citizens.

Maitland

This morning in church, our pastor Sheldon announced that he had accepted a position with a major church in Mississauga, which he will be starting in December. He somewhat tearfully told us that after 25 years of service to First Baptist London, he feels this new challenge and adventure is his calling and next step. This was not entirely unexpected with all the major changes happening this fall already in the church, as we launch Maitland Street Church with the associate pastor Dave next month. This revelation has got me thinking this afternoon of just everything changing/shifting in my life and the city this fall, including…

  • The new church: As we transition from services at First Baptist to Maitland Street, everyone moving to the new church will be taking on stronger leadership, administrative and community roles as we try to see our vision realized of a relevant, community service-driven church in London. I and the rest of the launch team will continue working together to find roles/niches we fit into, and to find ways we can collectively make it happen.
  • Personal challenges of church: I continue find myself working between desire to use my time and resources in the church to connect the congregation and community (nearby as well as London as a whole) even as I struggle with times of deep scepticism and doubt in the (global) church and my faith. I find this deepening as I think about my future child, how exactly to teach them in all things, and perhaps especially in faith when mine is so…fragile? Shakeable? I’m not sure if I am more doubtful than others, my suspicion is that most everyone has times like these, but we tend not to talk about them. But speaking of…
  • Baby on the way: Sarah’s progressing pregnancy and the growth of our child is of course forefront in my mind, though I am still feeling all the feels in all kinds of ways, perhaps most especially confusion as I am still unable to talk to many people about it. Our parents have been wonderful listening to all our thoughts and questions through this, and we’re increasingly anxious (as are they!) to share our news with the rest of our friends and family. In some ways I think it will be scary because it will make everything all the more real, but more than anything it will I think be a wonderful relief to be able to share our news, and freely talk about it. We’re coming up quickly to the 12 week mark and Sarah’s ultrasound, after that we will let everyone know…honestly, can’t wait!
  • Community events/obligations: As the summer fades, community associations and service groups are gearing up for another year ahead. The Argyle Community Association and Strengthening Neighbourhoods Argyle are celebrating all of the summer events (especially everything under the Discover Argyle umbrella) while looking ahead to what this fall has in store. As well as looking at bringing the two groups together into one unified body, Strengthening Argyle is moving ahead to fulfill its mandate to create and present to Council an action plan for the community. As well, Barry and I as the communications team are looking at how to best move forward with all of our social media and communication tools (website, Facebook, Twitter etc.), which I’m hoping will make our work much more effective, as well as efficient. This is something I really want to be a part of, but have been finding is already taking up more time than I can manage, so I am hoping that in investing this time now, we may after be able to spread the word of all the great things happening in Argyle and across the city much more efficiently.
  • Business: It’s both been a hard and gratifying experience to start my own business drafting, though it has been a struggle with varying degrees of work/pay and managing all my different life priorities while balancing work projects through times of both too little and too much to do. I hope that as I approach the third anniversary that I have it more under control and managed, and hope that I will be able to re-connect with many things I feel I have neglected as I’ve worked on this.
  • Online course: Tomorrow I start an online community development course that I’m hoping will inform and shape my understanding of community and strategies we can employ in London to better serve our individual communities, as well as create stronger/more efficient connections between the different communities in our city, and beyond.
  • Budget 2014: Although it seems in many ways that the last budget cycle is only just over, it really is that time of year again. Although the final city budget deliberations and decisions won’t be concluded until the spring, in the fall Council will set the goals/targets that staff will be expected to fulfill as they shape the budget for next year, and start public consultations into what citizens’ priorities are. In many ways this time tests the resolve of Council and the numerous city departments as they must make tough decisions as to exactly how much money they will request and what services to maintain, expand or contract. This is also a test of London citizens and their priorities/expectations, which may only be the start of…
  • Election 2014: This is still the somewhat early stages in some ways, but really, the election is only little more than a year away. This would be the first local election I’ve closely followed/been very aware of the contenders and issues, and am very interested and excited to follow the process with at least somewhat familiarity of the situation, although the actual election season cycle will be new to me. About a year from the election seems to be when candidates start to declare their intent to run, as yet there doesn’t seem to be major opposition against the mayor, I think many are waiting anxiously to see who might step up, especially with all of the issues/scandals plaguing Mayor Fontana’s first term. I also hope to both follow/write extensively about the election and participate in campaigning, though as of yet for who/in what capacity is still completely in the air. This of course may be overly ambitious with our baby expected in April when things will likely be really heating up, but I will push to do as much as possible in this critical time.

As I write this I think of everything I regret having to set aside as I’ve worked out all of these things happening, most especially friends I haven’t seen in far too long. I haven’t been out to Pints & Politics (one of the highlights of the month!) since the spring, and deeply miss all of the community there. I really hope that as these different parts of life somehow come together, I’m able to connect again with everyone, especially before next spring and our baby arrives.

After that I’m excited to see where our new little person will fit into all of these responsibilities. It will be fun to have a little one to take with us to Argyle events, to show off at community events. I’m sure they won’t be the only person to sleep in the gallery during city hall council meetings, though being an infant is a pretty good excuse. I’m excited that they’ll grow up in so many different communities of amazing people, and can’t help but hope they can absorb the energy of helping others and working for the good of the community from a young age. I’m grateful that this boom in my work is coming at the best time (before the wee Gibson arrives), and that we have a strong family support network.

panic about babies

Sarah and I started to try to conceive, and after a test in mid-August found that she’s pregnant!

So I’m very excited. And very, very nervous.

We’ve been married almost 4 years, and I’ve resisted the idea of being a parent for a long time, mostly through anxiety of all of the massive challenges of parenting, and plunging into the great unknown. We’ve both wanted to be financially prepared, and fairly well grounded in our work. While I’m still working from home contracting, we’re about as stable as we can be, and being in our late 20’s we thought it was a good time to start trying.

So I was technically mentally prepared when we started trying, but I’m discovering that no one is truly ready, perhaps especially for fathers. I’m trying my best to learn as much as I can before now and the due date (will likely be mid-April)…the hard part is parenting books are a sure-fire way to raise my blood pressure, but thankfully Sarah bought several (including the one above) that are a terrific combination of hilarious and informative.

The biggest thing is, I’m feeling all the feels. All. The. Feels.

Without being able to tell many people about it…

We’ve told our parents (though not first, our bosses were the first to know to give them as much of a heads-up as possible, followed by the Cheese Poet…because Sarah is on a sudden unpasteurized cheese hiatus), and am very glad to be able to share our joy/excitement/nervousness with them, but we’re also looking forward to being able to tell everyone else. We’ll aim to tell everyone by around the week 12-14 mark, but it’ll be tough to wait until October!

The strange thing is feeling so much, but not being able to even really place what the feelings are. I’m really looking forward to being able to share our news, and to talk to others about it, and ask for thoughts, experiences and advice. Some of the things rolling around seem to be:

  • Accepting that I’m entering a new stage of life, and to really face that I’m getting older, moving from being a young man only responsible ultimately for myself to a father jointly responsible for our child. I’ve heard that a man often doesn’t truly become a father until he holds his child, and all parents feel they won’t know what to do…but I often feel like I’m in over my head, I can only trust that when the time comes we’ll manage.
  • A new appreciation of all my parents did for me. I know this will only grow as we take care of our new child and see how much hard work and dedication it takes…
  • Concern for Sarah’s health, and for the baby. Concerned knowing that it’s not safe yet to assume the baby can be carried to term as Sarah is only about 7-8 weeks pregnant right now, so feeling like it isn’t really real, and yet incredibly real at the same time. Waiting with trepidation for when the baby is further along and more fully developed.
  • Strange sense that life is getting both smaller and bigger. I know that in the short term our life will shrink as we focus on caring for our new baby, but also have the sense that this new adventure will help expand my perspective and hopefully see the world through fresh eyes.
  • Being aware that we’re bringing a new person into the world, without knowing what they will be like at all. Sarah keeps reminding me that they’ll love us as their parents, and we’ll raise them sharing our interests with them, but it’s okay if they don’t share them, they’ll develop their own.
  • The sense that all of this is impossibly big, I don’t even know where to begin or what to think. I’ve been very preoccupied, and haven’t known what to write about. It feels strange as I write this to know that I won’t publish this for another month, but am glad to at least get these thoughts out in some way, and look forward to sharing them as well as writing more once we’ve been able to announce that we’re expecting.
  • Feeling a weird kind of stasis, in that our world has changed though everything around us goes on much like it has before, heightened by the fact we can’t yet tell many people that our life has changed.
  • I’m sure every parent goes through this, but I feel that since we knew Sarah is pregnant I have been following the news particularly closely, and as I watch things like the looming threat of military action/invasion of Syria, I wonder about the world we’re bringing a child into. I’ve often thought of resource shortages, overcrowding, mass starvation in a world of 7+ billion people and wondered about the morality of bringing another person into the world, but my hope is that our child may be someone that contributes greatly to the world, even as I still try to find what it is I can do with my life to make my existence worthwhile and meaningful.
  • All of this forces me to face and examine my life in a way I haven’t before. I feel as if my life, my priorities and goals are in a new light, in a good way. In many ways, I’ve lived contributing in ways I am glad of but without any long plans or aspirations, I hope that this may be prioritize and shape my life with new vision and direction, and make the best use of the time I have left.
  • I fear that I will be less physically/mental available for the next while, and hope to make the most of the fall and winter to spend time with friends and family. We’re entering an especially busy time as community associations and City Council start in earnest again, and we move into the Budget 2014 and Municipal Election 2014 year. Though I may not be physically available as much after the spring next year, I am hoping that I can continue to follow everything happening, and keep in touch with everyone involved, and to keep writing through the process.

I am trying my best to see this as a new adventure, and look forward to being able to share it with everyone!

I’ve always been a nervous and anxious person, as long as I can remember.

Sometimes I wonder about how exactly I’ve gotten to where I am today, allowing to continue on as I have, but often simply thinking about being anxious…makes me anxious. It’s a vicious cycle that I’m realizing I’ve been inside for so long, it’s taken me this long to entirely realize I’m in it.

Instead of facing the issue head-on, I’ve created elaborate coping mechanisms that shield me from the types of situations I find most difficult, which have built up over the years. I’ve been fortunate to be able to lead a fairly normal life despite this, but it has also insulated me from facing my problems, and living my life to my full potential.

Even writing this has made me very anxious, anxious about what people reading this will think of me, anxious that it isn’t wise to talk publicly about my mental health issues when my work is so precarious etc.

But in going through this journey, I’m starting to see just how important it is to be talking about this, for everyone to be able to talk about their mental health issues publicly without fear of recourse.

Because so many people have some kind of mental health issue.

When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed as being depressed. I thought that it was only because we had recently moved (the first of my life) from my hometown of Wiarton to St. Thomas, combined with assertions that every teenager feels “a little crazy”. I fought against treatment, particularly against any kind of medication, and imagined in time that I was getting better.

And I did, more or less. But it was only in time that I realized that I hadn’t been really myself long before we moved, and that there were still periods of great darkness, though less extreme and less common.

One of the big problems I’ve come to find in myself and seems common for mental health issues, is how we understand “feeling myself”. As a teenager, with my self-esteem, self-worth and identity so fragile, I was scared that medication would make me “someone else”, someone I don’t recognize. But in times of terrible darkness my parents tried to convince me that the depression wasn’t me, that the son they knew was inside, and that medication and/or counselling could help me become myself again.

Looking back, ten years later, I’m wishing I had listened.

But another important lesson I’ve learned from this is, it’s never too late.

Two weeks ago, after years of wondering and anxiety about wondering, I went to my new family doctor and told her my fears. After a long discussion and a few quick written tests, she prescribed a very low dosage treatment for a combination of general anxiety and depression.

I’m still hesitant about medication, but wanted to give it a chance. I realized that no matter what I’m doing, I don’t tend to fully enjoy it, because I’m too nervous thinking about what could go wrong with plans etc., or once plans are carried out, what could continue to go wrong. Instead of anticipation of fun events, I’m often filled with dread, to the point of wanting to cancel out of them entirely, and feeling a sense of relief once they’re over. I’ve come to realize how abnormal and detrimental this is, and have found a determination not to continue living my life this way.

It takes patience. Since starting treatment I’m taking each day one at a time. Depending on treatment it can take a long time to feel any real change, and I imagine it will take even longer to come to accept how I start to feel as a new normal.

I hope to continue writing and sharing about this as I go forward. I’ve been less social this summer as I’ve made the decision to seek help and start treatment, I hope to get back out more and reconnect with friends soon.

The biggest thing I feel from this is, if you have any questions about your own mental health, please don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or even reach out to friends and family to talk about it.

Sarah notes:

There are tons of great resources online too:

  • MindYourMind.ca is a fabulous mental health website that is designed with young adults in mind, but I would recommend to adults as well. Their London team works out of Citi Plaza, and they’re active on Twitter. The website includes useful toolkits, activities, and is a very low stress way of educating yourself on mental health issues. This is my go-to mental health website at work at the college.
  • The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) provides a wealth of information on local support, information, and resources.
  • Mentalhealthfirstaid.ca provides training sessions on recognizing mental health issues and providing critical skills and information for helping others with mental health issues.
  • iCopeU is designed to provide information to students of Fanshawe College on campus resources available for mental health issues, but it’s a well-designed website with some cool stress busting/coping skills games that anyone can play (Gambling Zombies anyone?)

There are so many more awesome websites about mental health out there, and if you know of more good ones please share them with me. The day is coming when mental health issues won’t be enabled by stigma. We won’t second guess going to the doctor for depression, we would go as if we had a broken leg. We won’t second guess lifesaving medication, we would take it the way we would as if we had cancer. We won’t isolate those suffering, we will surround them with the love, care, patience and support they would get if they had any physical illness. Mental health issues are curable. Mental health shouldn’t dictate who we hire, who we date, who we hang out with, or who we love.

If none of this helps, try reading more Hyperbole and a Half. Kenny Loggins.

pride flag

Right now is an exciting time in our church community, as we launch a new church from First Baptist Church London, called Maitland Street Church.

The team that is dedicated to the launch is meeting several times a week in a flurry of enthusiastic activity to iron out details as well as prepare the building (819 Maitland Street) for services starting in the fall. When I first committed to the project, I was likewise excited at the prospect of starting a new church founded on a philosophy of community, relationship and service.

But I’m struggling to remain excited, at no fault of the church or the people there.

I’ve always been hesitant in my Christianity. I came to faith in my early 20’s despite strong misgivings with many aspects of the global church and my experiences growing up (I wrote about it in more detail in my post What I Believe), and am always conscious of the associations that are created by saying I believe and attempt to follow Jesus Christ.

Even as we prepare for our new church, one that may be the closest thing I’ve found yet to a church I may be truly comfortable to call home, I feel more conscious than ever of how much Christians are in the news, in my mind, for all the wrong reasons.

This summer a debate has raged in Texas and elsewhere in the United States over female reproductive rights, with conservative Christians leading the charge for draconian measures that will put many lives in jeopardy. Even as a major victory for equality and civil rights was won when DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional, conservative Christian groups across America continue to push to keep the definition of marriage only one man and one woman. Though it is absolutely no cost to them or their relationship, these conservative Christians are working to continue to deny thousands of homosexual couples the rights heterosexual couples enjoy.

Closer to home, the news isn’t much better.

Metro News reported recently that despite dropping levels of hate crimes in London, not all the news is good:

The bad news is that hate crimes against the LGBT community across the country rose by 10 per cent in 2011 after an increase in 2010 as well.

Local numbers weren’t broken down by race, religion or sexual orientation, but Pride London Festival president Andrew Rossner believes the local LGBT community is still too often the target of abuse.

Far too often the Bible is wielded by ignorant minds and inept hands as a cudgel instead of a message of support and encouragement, and Christians the oppressors instead of allies. In a Metro News article written yesterday on a Pride London event called Ignite Pride (hosted by Aeolian Hall, mirroring other successful events such as Ignite London and Ignite Health), the one commenter chose to quote Romans 1:18 as a Biblical example of why homosexuality is apparently sinful. Pastor and author Mark Sandlin has written the best commentary I’ve read about this kind of misappropriation of scripture, calling such methods “Biblical” gay bashing. I also wrote this post last summer on sexuality and scripture, and why methods like this of lifting text in an attempt to make a point not supported by the entirety of the Bible does a disservice to God and to scripture.

When I marched in the Pride London parade last year, the only mar on an otherwise great day was the clusters of people holding signs along the parade route with scripture similar to Romans 1:18. Unfortunately, so often when I think of Christians, this is what comes to mind: people that worship the same God I do, but (in my mind) doing it so very wrong. What I struggle to accept that we are all part of one broken, splintered and diverse church. And, there are many that are just as unhappy that I’m part of the fold.

What I hope to remember instead as I reflect on my belief and my faith is people like this I met at Pride, instead:

Pride London sign

I discovered that day that there are many people that believe like I do, including the directors of a London “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. They conducted a church service in Queen’s Park before the parade got underway on the spirituality of sexuality and on how we are all God’s children. I’m so glad that I happened upon the gathering that day, in doing so I’ve made new friends, and found much needed renewal of my faith.

It also helped me to reconfirm my commitment to the church and the community, something that in writing this I hope to do again. I struggle as I see so many Christians doing what I see as so much damage to the world and each other, but have found that there are others that think as I do, and are willing to remain in the church despite so much pain, knowing that it would be much easier just to leave, knowing what is easy is almost never the right choice.

I know that we need to be the change that we want to see, and that if I were to just turn my back on the church, it would only become even more of what I despise.

And we all have so much we can give to the church, and there is still so much the church can do for the community. Churches continue to be one of the foundations of many communities, supplying counseling, support, encouragement, food and shelter to those that need it most.

This is what I want to focus on as I think of the new church we hope to build. The goal is to create a church founded on community and support, being a relational centre where the members are there for each other, but much more importantly, are there for their community at large. My hope is that I participate in this church by connecting with the community associations in the area and finding ways that we can support each other, while drawing further experience that may assist the Argyle Community Association as well. There are brief moments (including the Awesome London pitch party this week) where I see and feel the power of collaboration and what people can do together when they share experiences and assets to the benefit of all. I hope that as our communities and L0ndoners in general discover their strengths and those of the people around them, these experiences will only grow.

It can be daunting, but it is so important to stand up for what we believe in, and surprisingly community connections can be made when we do. I can’t wait to celebrate Pride London again this year, it is so important to stand up and be seen as an ally, and to celebrate our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you’ve been out to Pride before, I hope that you’ll be there again, and if this is your first time to the event, I especially hope that you’ll come and see what it is about!

Pastors often say that to be truly living a Christ-centred life you need to follow God out of your comfort zone. As a Christian, I feel that it is our duty to give voice to those who are marginalized, to be an ally to those who need support, and to remember that the most clear instruction we receive from Jesus was to love others and love God. If we start looking at the world through the lens of love first, everything else second, it becomes absurd to say my books says you and your partner should have different chromosomes to be together.

Step out of your comfort zone, and love extravagantly. That, to me, is the real purpose of the church.

gathering discussions

Previous posts:

I’ve been trying to grapple with everything I heard at the Tamarack Institute gathering in Kitchener, and figure out ways this information can make me a better participant and member in my community and the entire city. One thing that has helped has been reading though books by two of the speakers, “Community Conversations” by Tamarack president Paul Born and “Neighbour Power: Building Community The Seattle Way” by Jim Diers.

Jim’s book in particular has helped me understand what his city of Seattle has done, and dream of what is possible in London. The following quote is quite long, but please take some time to read and consider it, it is a terrific condensing of the spirit of the Tamarack meeting:

Perhaps more important than the financial and other material benefits of civic engagement are the social benefits of a strong sense of community. No amount of public-safety spending can buy the kind of security that comes from neighbours watching out for one another. Similarly, neighbours supporting latchkey children or housebound seniors provide a kind of personal care that social service agencies can’t replicate.

There are other things that communities can do better than government can. Community members have local knowledge and can provide local perspective. At the same time, they think more holistically than governments that tend to specialize in specific functions.

The community is often more innovative than the city bureaucracy and can constitute a powerful force for change. When the City of Seattle planned to build incinerators to deal with its garbage problem, the community demanded a recycling program instead. When electricity rates escalated after the city bought into a nuclear power project, the community pushed for a model conservative program. It was the community that introduced the Seattle Police Department to community policing and insisted on its implementation.

None of this is meant to suggest that there is no role for government. While the community provides a local perspective, government must look citywide to ensure that neighbourhoods are connected and that each is treated equitably.  Community innovation needs to be balanced by a certain amount of government standards and regulations. My point is simply that cities work best when local government and the community are working as partners.

True partnership requires government to move beyond promoting citizen participation to facilitating community empowerment. Citizen participation implies government involving citizens in its own priorities through its own processes (such as public hearings and task forces) and programs (such as block watch and adopt-a-street). Community empowerment, on the other hand, means giving citizens the tools and resources they need to address their own priorities through their own organizations.

In his book, Jim outlines many methods Seattle has used to empower communities across the city, and bring them together in sharing goals, aspirations, dreams, people and projects so that they can move the city together more effectively instead of overlapping.

One particular example that jumped out at me was the city’s Neighbourhood Matching Fund (similar to London’s SPARKS Neighbourhood Matching Fund, though larger in scope), where communities could bring forward proposals to the city with requests for money, resources and city personnel the community have identified as needed to see their project into reality. The projects are ones identified as being high priority by the community, instead of from the tradition where the priorities are identified by the city, often with little or no community consultation. The matching comes from an expectation the community would include in their proposal their “share” in the project, where skilled work by community members and donated materials would be valued and added, making the proposals more accessible to lower-income neighbourhoods.

It also challenged communities to assess their assets, a key component to the community philosophy of the Tamarack Institute. Jim tells countless success stories in his book, highlighting that communities identified as “high-risk” or “struggling” in city assessments were some of the most mobilized by the matching program, allaying initial fears they would be ignored against better presented and argued proposals by affluent neighbourhoods.

The part I’ve been struggling with since returning to London from the conference with a head full of great information about what other communities have been doing is trying to condense it down into easily actionable projects and events in our city.

So what can we do?

Here are 3 online resources that are great starting points:

Urban League of London @ULld

The Urban League describes itself as “an umbrella group whose members include a number of neighbourhood and ratepayer associations in the city of London, as well as a smaller set of (primarily) environmental or heritage community organizations.  Individuals with an interest in urban or civic matters may also become individual members of the League.” Their website provides a number of terrific resources, including a listing of all registered community organizations and neighbourhood associations with a search that points you to the closest association to you, planning notices in the city, information on how to get involved with the League and other helpful links.

The NeighbourGood Guide @LDNeighbourGood

This website allows Londoners to “like” and share their favourite gems in their community, helping communities promote their favourite places and find out the great places to go in others. As an awesome bonus, the community with the favourite gem is eligible for a $5,o00 neighbourhood enhancement project! The website lists all communities (such as Old East Village and Argyle) for easy searching to see the gems by neighbourhood, as well as providing tons of other links, including 2013 community initiatives and community news in London. The site is fun and interactive, allowing anyone to mark new gems not yet identified, so the content is built by users. Spend some time on this website, I guarantee you’ll find new great places to explore all over the city!

Better London @BetterLondon

Better London is a terrific forum for sharing ideas on how to make our great city even better. You can share brief ideas on the site to be discussed by users and given priority based on how popular the concept is. Other social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to further the audience reach, often sparking great conversation on the merits and drawbacks of different ideas. Better London allows Londoners to connect with others in their community, dream together what can be done to make our city and communities better, and work out goals and actions that would make these ideas a reality.

And a bonus fourth! Shameless community plug time: Discover Argyle @DiscoverArgyle

Discover Argyle is a summer-long project launched on Canada Day in East Lions Park that highlights events, places and spaces in the community. The program includes a personal “passport” to Argyle that participants can get stamped at the destinations. The website link includes a full list of events in the community, places passports can be picked up and dropped off, and a blog that will be written over the summer on everything happening.

Over the summer, many community associations are on a break to participate in and enjoy the many events happening in their communities and throughout the city. Events are a terrific way to meet with others, get to know your neighbours, and sew the seeds of further participation. This summer I hope to be in the city as much as possible, hear and see what others are working towards and hoping for. I ask that this summer you may do the same, learn about some of the great things happening in our city, and dream with others of what can be while looking for ways to make it happen!

downtowrooftop2

I’ve struggled to complete my series on my experience at Tamarack, as the concluding day tackled deeper issues. These included what a strong community looks like, and how we can each return to our own communities with renewed purpose and energy to make the community visions a reality.

As I’ve reflected on community and what we can each do to grow a vibrant and caring city, two major developments passed the city’s planning committee, despite the protestations of both planning staff and many concerned citizens. The mayor has touted the construction developments in environmentally significant areas as a major win for our city because of the potential 1,200 jobs they will bring. This is against concerns that this growth further spreads the sprawl already too typical of London, the fact that the jobs would be mostly minimum wage jobs to multinational corporations not invested in the best interests of our communities, and that it would draw opportunities away from neighbourhoods across our city that are already struggling.

I was motivated to write this letter after reading Shawn Adamsson’s letter to Council expressing his concerns about the direction these developments will take our city. Please consider writing a letter to Council (wards and contact information available here). The more people who are sharing their thoughts and opinions on important civic issues, the stronger our city becomes. Please feel free to use this letter as a template if it helps to express your thoughts on this issue.

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To Councillor Armstrong, Mayor Fontana and members of London City Council,

I believe the two developments approved by the planning committee this week are the wrong direction for our city for several reasons.

As a student of urban planning and a participant in the highly successful ReThink London process, I’m concerned that these proposed developments are contrary to the public will and the wisdom of the city’s planning staff. The recently published ReThink London discussion papers and specifically the paper Creating a Mixed Use, Compact City demonstrate the public will to utilize our existing lands more efficiently and creatively, instead of the further hollowing of the core these developments would represent. If Council opts to ignore these massive citizen engagement initiatives, to ignore the advice of their paid professionals and instead to side with furthering urban sprawl for very little net job gain for our city, we risk further disenfranchising and losing valuable London citizens.

As a member of the Argyle Community Association board and a member of the city-led Strengthening Neighbourhoods Argyle initiative, I am very concerned about the impact these proposed developments will have on our community. Strengthening Argyle has worked diligently to survey the community to understand their priorities, with the ultimate goal of creating a vision statement and action plan for citizens to see their desires realized. One of the underlining goals for the community is jobs, especially jobs that provide a living wage that allows Argyle citizens to live comfortably and be contributing members of the community. I am deeply concerned that these jobs will do very little to provide new net jobs to our city, and only further drain opportunities from communities already struggling.

I recently had the opportunity as a member of Strengthening Argyle to  join the Tamarack Institute gathering on neighbourhoods and communities in Kitchener with many City of London employees. One of the key features of the gathering was walkabouts in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge communities to hear their success stories. One of the walks we were able to take was to see downtown Kitchener, featured as “The Revitalization of an Urban Core”. In it we saw many repurposed buildings (most notably the extremely successful Tannery District) and infill developments, making the most of existing sites. The planning staff that guided the tour noted that these kinds of projects help save the city money by slowing the need for expansion, reducing strain on public utilities and infrastructure.

As a previous employee of London Hydro working in the engineering office (2010-2011) and as a current contractor to hydro utilities, I see first-hand the costs of expanding developments into unserviced areas. On top of the massive environmental impact of clearing and developing an environmentally significant woodlot and wetland, the city needs to consider the burden servicing these developments will have on the citizens and infrastructure of London.

As a family that depends on public transportation to get around the city, we are concerned that these developments would either be unserviced by the LTC and therefore costly to reach (especially by the minimum wage employees of that site), or by being serviced by the LTC, would further strain an already over capacity and underfunded public service. There are many routes in the urban core that are unable to deliver sufficient seats to people that depend on transit (including students who pay for a bus pass as part of their tuition), and the LTC hopes to keep up with neighbouring cities by introducing express bus service. Furthering our urban sprawl will sacrifice these kinds of ambitious projects, and put us further behind the kinds of innovative communities we must compete with for our post-secondary grads.

As we struggle with 9.8% unemployment and the continued drain of our younger generation, these new developments may seem like big gains for our city. However, the generations of young educated professionals we want to keep value the environment, value having efficient public transportation, and recognize that a city with long strips of vacant commercial space (like the Pond Mills area, or McCormick area) already being serviced is short sighted to abandon that neighbourhood to decay for the sake of the appearance of progress (shovels in the corn fields).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Brian Gibson, Ward 2