Mentorship and Friendship Intertwined

Though we were both living in Toronto, I met Rick Tobias in the 90’s as a young and very new street ministry worker in Calgary at a conference he helped birth. I remember seeing him surrounded by people eager to connect. So many would take note when he entered any room. I attended a workshop that he helped lead, the content of which had me spinning for days. All these years later it remains amazing to me that I can now count Rick a dear friend.

In addition to being a friend, I also consider Rick a mentor. Though we’ve never had a formal mentorship plan, he has certainly functioned as an experienced and trusted advisor. When I took the scary plunge into my current role at The Dale, Rick offered me advice that has stuck with me and I still tell people about. Over the years I have taken challenges to him that I couldn’t see a way to overcome, and together we would formulate a plan for next steps.

Over the years I have been greatly influenced by Rick’s commitment to both compassion and justice. He talks a lot about how there are 2,000 texts in the Bible that address poverty and “the poor”, and how the weight of this Scriptural evidence strongly favours the people who are poor. The vast majority of these texts talk about the wider social issues that contribute to the creation of poverty. He invites people to see that compassion (though good) is not enough- we must move to justice.

Rick has a lot to teach about this move to justice and being compassionate caregivers. As a mentor, Rick encourages and enables my own development. He helps me focus by setting goals and giving feedback. My confidence has grown because he always gently and directly speaks of the strengths he identifies in me. He listens. He does all of these things as a friend too. When crisis struck last August, he and his wife Charis (who I also hold in very high regard) took the time to be available even while enroute back from their holiday. I trust Rick, which I know is a core element of any relationship.

After a recent social visit with Rick, I commented that I should have been taking notes throughout our conversation. He has a way of dropping truth bombs in the middle of a great story. I also love hearing about his motorcycle days, his visits to New Brunswick, his beloved family, and his many years as CEO of Yonge Street Mission. That he is my friend AND mentor is a gift. At the end of our visits I have usually laughed and cried. Sometimes I have a new joke to share. Always, I feel grateful for the time.

Disruptors of Injustice

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to an interview with an American lawyer on CBC Radio. He was introduced as a “disruptor of injustice”. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that title since first hearing it.

I am in relationship with so many people who face oppression and injustice on a regular basis. Admittedly, I cannot claim to know oppression in the same way: I am a Caucasian Canadian (a country that was colonized by people in my ancestry) who has a paid job and lives in a house. However, when I see people being treated unfairly I can feel it in my bones. I’m told that my generally calm disposition takes on a different quality: I become fiercely determined.

I also become weary. Which is why hearing the story of the lawyer was a timely encouragement. To date he has helped exonerate 156 people who stood on death row. That means he proved they were actually innocent of the crimes they stood to die for. He also spoke of the people he couldn’t manage to save in time. His job is not an easy one. Martin Luther King Jr said that, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals”.

Every time I have shared about situations that need addressing at The Dale or in my own life, I am struck by the overwhelming response of people who want to help. The question is never how am “I” going to speak out, but how can “we”? The prophet Isaiah said, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow”. We need to do this together. I think that the goal of justice is most often met when a committed group of people, whatever size it might be, show their collective passion for it. 

We each bear witness to a variety of injustices every day. None of us can fight every battle. I will likely never be involved in seeing people released from prisons in Alabama. I am however going to be involved in standing up for my friends who are marginalized due to poverty in Toronto. And you? It could be something entirely different. Together let’s be disruptors of injustice.

PS Your eager desire to help my Mom has not gone unnoticed. She has asked me to communicate that she is feeling much better, largely in part because the hospital is not going to force her to accept a facility just because it has a short waiting list. Stay tuned for more information as we become free to share it. 


“Kiss the World Beautiful”

Last night Dion and I joined friends at a concert. We were introduced to the music of Martyn Joseph many years ago and felt pleased to hear him live. The last song of the evening was “Kiss the World Beautiful”.

I have been thinking of the lyrics as I recall a conversation I had with a longtime friend yesterday at the drop-in who talked about how his desire to stop drinking can’t compete with his need to numb the pain. While I know I can’t, all I want to do is make it better.

I sang the song in my head this morning as I somehow managed to be present while someone died. I’m grateful to have been there, mindful of those who couldn’t be and quite honestly feeling as though I didn’t deserve the opportunity and experience. Gregory “Iggy” Spoon was absolutely surrounded by family and friends as he peacefully breathed his last breath.

Psalm 85 promises that one day “love and faithfulness [will] meet together; righteousness and peace [will] kiss each other”. I wait in hopeful expectation for things to be made right. I also acknowledge the beauty that was born yesterday and today: my friend chose detox and Iggy left this world loved and is now whole. Almost inaudibly i sing:

I want to kiss the world beautiful
I want to kiss the world fine
Shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek
That don’t sound much like a crime
I want to kiss the world beautiful
I have no name for this desire
I believe in light, but don’t know what to write
With the darkness drawing near
I want to kiss the world beautiful
Lay down this life I think I would
Give up my shoes and all of my views
Don’t know why just think I should
I want to kiss the world beautiful
Under the weight of all this earth
Sometimes it takes someone else’s life
To make us see what we are worth
I want to kiss the world beautiful
Dream but never fall asleep
Go up to God and say, do you have plans today?
Are you walking down my street?
I want to kiss the world beautiful
And not forget from where we came
There are losers and winners, saints and sinners
I hope we all end up the same
I want to kiss the world beautiful
I want to kiss your lips tonight
Sometimes it’s just more important to love