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Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

In Canada’s poorest neighborhood, a pastor serves mass and lunch

In Christianity, communities, Dialogue, Lutherans, Peace, Realtionship, Religion, Spiritual Practice, Urban ministry, Work, Working with the poor, World Work on November 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

Brian Heinrich

 
by Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

When I arrive at the Lutheran Urban Mission Society in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, Pastor Brian Heinrich offers me a seat underneath a verse from Scripture, I John 3:17-18: “… if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”

Heinrich puts the kettle on for tea and then goes in search of a guy who signed up for a yoga lesson with a teacher who is waiting in the chapel.

The walls are pale and fresh, the atmosphere bright and serene. In the chapel down the hall, I find icons of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; South Africa’s Steve Biko.

Heinrich comes back from the apartment building next door, having had trouble getting in to find the man he was looking for. “Security,” he says. “It’s not like they don’t know me. They see me every day!” The man spaced out the lesson. Heinrich apologizes to the yoga teacher and asks him to come back at two, when he’s sure the next person on the sign-up sheet will be here.

Once we are seated at the chapel’s oak table, Heinrich tells me that, in a real sense, Vancouver’s Lutheran Urban Mission Society was born in St. Louis. That’s where Heinrich, one of LUMS’ founders, went to seminary some 30 years ago. He was educated and inspired by a small group of progressive theologians who, having been censured by the Lutheran Missouri Synod, formed Concordia Seminary in Exile, or Seminex, in 1974.

“These were the bright young stars of the 60s and 70s,” says Heinrich, “many of them educated in Europe and trained in the historical-critical method, which put Scripture into historical context.” A method that ran counter to the thinking of Missouri Synod leaders.

After repeated reprimands and several failed efforts at reconciliation, 45 of the seminary’s 50 faculty members and a majority of their students walked out in protest.

“They left with the processional cross and the shirts on their backs,” says Heinrich.

By the time Heinrich attended Seminex, the seminary had established itself in a storefront on Grand Avenue and was operating under the auspices of the Jesuits of St. Louis University.

“A reversal of the Reformation,” says Heinrich, chuckling. “Lutherans are like Jesuits,” he explains. “We’re the protestant equivalent. Grounded in deep learning, with a commitment to theology—and action. Because they had been exiled from the church body and had no parishes, [Seminex students] had to develop alternative ministry styles. And that’s the direct link from there to here.”

After completing his studies, Heinrich was called to a church in Oliver, BC, a German community not far from Penticton. He was 29. The elders approached him, clicked their heels, bowed slightly at the waist, and addressed him as Herr Pastor. Heinrich was taken aback. He extended his hand and said, “Call me Brian.” The elders were bewildered.

Heinrich would write out his sermons in English, have someone translate them into German, and then spend three days working on his pronunciation. Though he’d been raised understanding German in his neighborhood in south Vancouver, he usually answered his grandparents in English.

“It was my first parish,” says Heinrich. “When I graduated, I was a bit rigid.” He was first and foremost a theologian. “Oliver was a good match for me. They loved me and took care of me. They taught me to be more pastoral, more human. Later, when I was in New York, they sent me boxes of Okanogan jams and home-knit socks. Many of them are still in touch 25 years later.”

From Oliver, BC, Heinrich was called to Manhattan, St. Luke’s Church near Times Square on 46th Street. “Everything in New York shocked me,” he says. “I was a book learning person up to that point pretty much.” Once there, he ran a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter at the height of the HIV crisis. “Men were dying every week,” says Heinrich. “They were like lepers. Everyone was afraid. We served meals with real utensils, nothing disposable. We were affirming their humanity, not just feeding them.”

Heinrich’s ministry grew to include hospice work. By the end of his time in New York, he served as the chaplain at Bailey House on Christopher Street.

As compelling as his work was in New York, Heinrich had always believed that he was called to serve the Canadian church. And yet when the first call came from a bishop asking him to come to White Horse, Heinrich declined. “I thought and prayed and said ‘no.’” Six weeks later, the bishop called, asking him to reconsider, and this time the answer was yes.

It was time to come home to Canada.

After a year or so in White Horse, he returned to Vancouver and settled in Strathcona. While working at a L’Arche community for the disabled, Heinrich noticed that there were no Lutheran churches in the downtown city core. “It’s not that the downtown eastside needed to be Christianized; it was that the church needed to be engaged.” When he mentioned that to the church hierarchy, they all nodded, and, as he says, “that was about it.

“So I called a meeting with people in the community, and we founded LUMS as a separate not-for-profit organization—grass roots founded and supported. We were building out of nothing. I had to convert the churches: here was Lazarus at our doorstep, Christ clothed in the poor. I had to coax Lutherans who are internally focused into external, politically challenging situations. I went out to churches and took youth groups around the downtown eastside. It was intense and demanding.”

At first, LUMS had no office. Everything was on Heinrich’s cell phone. He worked part-time as a street priest for St. James Anglican Church Community Services until they ran out of funding. Next LUMS was invited to First United Church on Gore and Hastings, where they stayed for eleven years. Then came 18 months at Christ Church Cathedral. And then last November, LUMS moved to its own space at 360 Jackson Avenue.

LUMS is run on individual donations, not church structure. “Financial support for churches is shrinking,” says Heinrich. “The whole institution is in a huge recession. Some churches are closing.” So in a sense it’s good that LUMS doesn’t depend upon the church for its survival. “Individuals of conscience believe in our work, and this gives us broader support and keeps us truly independent. It’s the church as organic community vs. the church as facility,” he says.

And it’s this same community that helped Heinrich and his partner, Nathan, when their house burned down in February of 2008. “The fire has been very difficult,” says Heinrich. “The house was my place of refuge, its garden an immediate experience of life and breath. It was also a place of hospitality and welcome, with a chapel where I’d serve weekly Eucharist. Being in exile has connected me even more to the people in the downtown eastside. Your whole world is turned upside down. Where to sleep and do laundry? I have that much more understanding and empathy for challenges of the homeless.”

Heinrich’s passion for social justice is fueled by ecumenical impulses. He has always had close ties to Catholics and Anglicans engaged in the downtown eastside. He preaches regularly at the Anglican Cathedral.

Brian’s style is unconventional, more of a conversation than a sermon. He maintains that it’s not just his job to interpret biblical stories. “I speak freely,” he says. “It’s a dialogue. I’m not so much a preacher as the conductor of an orchestra—a living thing—the spirit is there. This is a living community, struggling with the text.”

From time to time Heinrich returns to preach in the church he grew up in, Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran at 46th and Fraser. It can be challenging. “The old German people tell me ‘we had nothing when we got here. We worked hard and pulled ourselves up. Why don’t those people just work hard and pull themselves up?’ It’s always dicey.”

Heinrich explains that the circumstances of life have so wounded the homeless, they don’t have the same choices.

“I don’t think the old people get it,” says Heinrich, “but they’ve come several times to put on the meal. And they see some of the same people and get to know their names and establish relationship—that’s the conversion.”

The fourth Saturday of every month, the Lutheran Urban Mission Society serves a hot meal at 373 East Cordova Street. Before the gate opens, Heinrich serves mass to the volunteers at St. Paul’s next door.

Today, the volunteers are from a protestant youth group in Burnaby, 15-20 of them, mostly Asian teenagers, and not quite sure what to make of it all. They are in unfamiliar territory—Canada’s poorest neighborhood, a catholic church—and before them stands the imposing figure of a pastor well over six feet tall, sporting a Mohawk, and with both earlobes full of cobalt blue spiral earrings.

Heinrich invites them to come closer, into the front pews.

“I need your help,” he says. “I’m not going to do all the work here. I want you to listen to the text. Then I’m going to ask you some questions.”

A boy gets up to read from Jeremiah.

“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, … then I will dwell with you in this place.”

Then a girl comes forward to read from Mathew, the parable of the man who sowed good seed and his enemy who came and sowed weeds among the wheat.

“What do you hear God saying to us?” asks Heinrich. “Come on, you have to help me.”

There’s a long, awkward silence. Heinrich can’t wait too long. There are people to feed.

“The stuff that we do in here in God’s beautiful house,” says Heinrich, “has everything to do with our everyday lives. If worship is separate from what’s happening outside, as if our lives have no connection to this source—don’t think God doesn’t notice that. Many say the church ought not to concern itself with politics. But Jeremiah says, act justly with one another. Do right things in the world. If we make war or take advantage of others—is that connected to what we do here in church? I think not.

“And the parable of sowing seeds—what’s that about?” he asks.

Again a silence, but this time one of the volunteers ventures an answer, and from that follows a bit of a conversation, though cautious.

“Does God want us to be fruitful?”

“Yes.”

“Do we want to be wheat, or do we want to be weeds?”

“Wheat.”

“Sometimes it’s too easy to say ‘we are wheat, and they are weeds.’ The truth is we are each both. It’d be easy to pull up the weeds and burn them. That judgment is not ours. We’re all mixed fields. The time we’re in is full of opportunity. Seize the time and be fruitful. The parts of us can be whole and integrated as we live out in the world.”

Heinrich concludes by acknowledging his listeners.

“This way of preaching may be different from how it’s done in your church,” he says. “Thank you for being gracious.”

Before serving communion, Heinrich says, “This is preparation for what we are about to do next door. Here we can practice generosity as we offer each other the body and blood of Christ.”

Next door, we take our places. Everybody has been assigned a role: food server, plate carrier, table wiper, dish washer. They need someone to circulate with coffee, so that’s what I’m assigned. I have two plastic pitchers, one for black coffee, the other for coffee with milk.

Heinrich opens the gate and lets in the first 43 people with free tickets in hand. It’s a bit chaotic at first—who to serve what first? I pour coffee into cups for people who really want juice. Some don’t speak English, so I lean over and let them look into the jug.

“Juice over here,” I call out. We are angling around each other and there are some near misses.

Pasta with meat sauce. Pasta without meat sauce. Juice. Coffee. A bag of three cookies. Ice cream in back and a small bag of fruit to take home.

“Coffee!” I head over to a table. “Not black. With milk.”

“Anyone for black coffee here?” I ask. “Yes? OK. I’ll be right back with the coffee with milk.”

“Where’s the sugar?”

“Already on the table. Right there.”

“Thanks.”

“More juice over here,” I call out and then head back to the counter to get the coffee with milk. But which table wanted it? And someone over there hasn’t been served a plate yet. Where’s a food server? Never mind. Not my job. They can handle it.

Not everyone is finished when Heinrich lets in the second group. Some in the first group have shoveled pasta into plastic bags they brought and are calling for more.

The pace picks up with each new wave of people. It’s hot. People are impatient. They’re hungry. Also gracious, grateful, and obliging. The kids from Burnaby are steady, unflappable.

Each seating seems a little more chaotic than the one before, and yet we begin to meet the increased confusion with a graceful rhythm in our bodies, as we learn to work together as a team by instinct.

“Hey!” a man shouts. “Hey. She’s had three meals! She’s stealing.”

When I go over to him, he grabs my arm and pulls me toward him.

“It’s those Chinese,” he says. “Rob you blind. Tell Brian to stop letting them in. It’s not right. It’s just not right.”

“I’ll tell him,” I say, and pour him a cup of coffee.

When I’m near the door, I peer out to see if the crowd is thinning. All I see is more people.

Then suddenly there’s no more pasta.

“We’re not out! We’re not out!” shouts one of the cooks. “There’s more cooking!”

A grim irritation settles over the room.

“Welcome,” I tell the newcomers. “Have a seat.”

I keep pouring coffee.

Someone brings out the new pot of pasta, and the servers are at it again until, after eight seatings, we have fed more than 300 people.

As the crowd thins out and we start cleaning up, a woman approaches me. She’s wearing a hoody and several bright scarves. She unwinds one of them, a fine, delicately coloured one made of something like silk, and presses it into my hand.

“Give this to Brian,” she says.

I thank her and assure her I’ll pass it on to him.

“Tell him it’s from Luella. He doesn’t know who I am.”

“He will, Luella. Keep coming back,” I say, “and he’ll know you.”

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Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult in the Workplace

In business, Dialogue, organizations, Realtionship, Work on January 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

Miriam Grogan, CPCC, ORSCC

A Guest Blog Post by Executive Coach Miriam Grogan

Does anyone like having difficult conversations?  After all, difficult conversations are, by definition, difficult.  (Sharing uplifting, positive messages with employees also seems to be difficult for most people, but that’s another topic.)

We may know something is wrong.  We may be able to define it and why we need to address it.  But ask “what do you want to be different?” and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare and long silence.

Three sub-questions can help you shape what you want to say.

After the conversation, what do you want the other person to

  • KNOW?
  • DO?
  • FEEL?

What do you want them to KNOW?

Sometimes, this is the easiest of the three, as answer is often written down somewhere, in a company policy or job description.  “Our workday begins at 9:00.”  “We’ve reassigned the taking the checks to the bank from Jane to you.”

That said, this question can be difficult to answer, if what you want the listener to KNOW involves the impact on others.  “You have a lot of good things to say.  But you say so much, people are tuning out everything.  Your good ideas are getting lost.”

What you want your listener to KNOW is a critical building block for framing a conversation.

What do you want them to DO?

What action do you want the person to take as a result of the conversation?  What do you want to start, stop, increase or decrease?

“Our workday begins at 9:00” may be important to know.  But it doesn’t necessarily lead to an on time arrival.  “Please make sure you’re at your desk ready to go, coffee cup filled, good mornings completed, by 9:00” has a better chance.

In the second example, only pointing out what the too-talkative employee is doing wrong leaves her hanging.  (She might even talk more because now she’s self-conscious and doesn’t know what else to do!)  Give her something to do.  Consider, “When John asks a question in our staff meeting, count to three before saying anything.  See if anyone else has an answer before you jump in.”

How do you want them to FEEL?

This is often the hard one.  The good news is, you often don’t need to, or even want to, articulate a response to this question.  But you cannot skip over answering it for yourself.  In Difficult Conversations, Stone, Patton and Heen write, “difficult conversations do not just involve feelings, they are at their very core about feelings.”  There’s no substantive conversation if you skip over the very core.

How do you want the person to feel?  Sorry?  Inspired?  Appreciation for the gravity of the situation?  You may or may not say it explicitly, and the person may or may not feel the way you hope they will, but choosing a “feeling outcome” will influence the conversation as much, if not more, than your words.

Using the examples above, let’s say you, the supervisor, want the person to feel

1.     On notice!!  You are sick of this behavior.  If it doesn’t stop – NOW – they’re cooked.

2.     Inspired.  You like this person, want to see them fix the problem and soar.

Read the sample sentences out loud from each “feeling.”  Different, eh?

Know, do, feel.  Clarifying what you want may not make the conversation easy, but chances are it will be less difficult.

To find out more about Miriam Grogan and her work, visit: http://www.stellarcoaching.com/pages/about.htm

One Million Pounds of Fish

In Ecology, Work, World Work on October 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Chris Causey

Guest Post by Chris Causey, a professional mediator in Portland, Maine.

It is hard for me to imagine a world without fish.  I wish I could say that statement was linked to some scientific truth or recent data supporting the incalculable bounty of marine life but neither is true.  In fact we all know the seas are in trouble.  My relationship with fish and the sea itself has more to do with the nature of my imagination—the nature of my very soul, which is a watery place inhabited by sea creatures.  As a boy, I both loved whales and imagined I worked on tall ships hunting them.  At once I read about and studied various types of whales and also kept paintings of 19th century whaling scenes–gory scenes of men harpooning whales from open boats.  It was probably no mistake that in my young manhood, I worked as a commercial fisherman in Kodiak, Alaska–fished for six years and made my living as a deckhand on salmon, halibut, herring, crab and trawl boats.  I don’t know how many fish I contributed to killing, but I do know how exhilarated I was to participate in the hunt, the acquisition and the kill of those fish and crab.

Yet, even as I worked and made my livelihood on these boats, I related to the sea and its inhabitants in other ways, too.  The sight of porpoise dancing beneath our bow or a gray whale breaching in the distance used to fill my heart with such gladness, it’s hard to describe without sounding foolish or daft.  Once, when working on a salmon seiner, I watched two sea otters mating in some drifting bull kelp in the early morning, and was nearly beside myself.  They sort of rolled around, and I thought at first they were wrestling, then I saw the male’s piston thrust, the female’s smiling face, all in the rising and falling waves near the rocky shore, and I couldn’t help laughing.  I wished that I could turn to the multitudes and say, look at them making more otters–isn’t that the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your life?  Any time something from below showed itself on the surface, whether shark, seal, or jumping salmon, my heart leapt for reasons I cannot entirely express.

So the idea that somehow the oceans are becoming sterile means for me, a loss that reaches to the very depths of my experience as a human being and a loss that transcends human experience.  Although I no longer make my living from the sea, my soul, my imagination and the oceans are somehow inextricably linked.  My shore for where the human meets the non-human is literally and figuratively where the sea meets the land.  It has taken me a long time to realize that what’s down there beneath the waves is both me and way beyond me, and for that, its remaining rich, fertile, diverse, and thriving is a calling of the highest order.

Recently I returned to Kodiak for a short visit.  There I met a man and his son, also visiting, who were looking for a place to spend the night.  I shared my accommodations, and the man, call him Tim, told me about his former work as a boat captain in the Bering Sea.  Now the vice president of a software company, he was then one of the first captains to explore the cod fishery in the western Aleutians.  He said he convinced a fish processing company to have one of its processing ships follow his boat, and there was a lot of risk in that, not knowing whether there were any fish out there or not.  One day, as the cod were schooled to spawn in Nazan Bay off Atka Island, he caught a million pounds.  One day.  He said he had to drag a net full of codfish behind his boat through the treacherous Amlia pass to the processor because the processor’s captain would not take the vessel through the pass to meet him.  He also said it was the eeriest day he had ever fished.  The Bering sea, which is hardly ever calm, was like poured lead and the comet Hyakutake was in the sky.  He’d seen wind clock at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour, wind that you simply can’t believe is being churned up by nature, but that day the wind and water were so flat it made him suspect something horrible might be coming.   We stood shoulder to shoulder in front of a huge map of Alaska, taped to the wall.  “I plugged the processor,” he said smiling, but without pride.  “One million pounds in one day.  There was nothing left for us to do but start back to Seattle.  My deckhands put a charcoal grill on the back deck.  They were bowing to me and saying “not worthy not worthy,” because I had just caught a million pounds and we all had made a ton of money.

The grill was going and that comet was in the sky and I’m feeling about as great as I can feel, looking out at the sea, which can tear you up, and then to top it off, as it grew darker, Korovin Volcano on Atka began erupting just enough to see sparks of orange shooting out of it.”

I knew what it was like to watch a net or a crab put come up from the bottom full of fish, the sense of wonder and acquisition, the absolute jubilation of catching so much fish.  I knew if I were a deckhand on that boat, I would have been bowing with his other deckhands, celebrating, and I know too the sense of loss I felt, knowing that in one day one boat took a million pounds of cod fish from the sea.  I don’t consider my position ambivalent at all.  I am a predator, the most capable of all predators but recognizing too that is a grave responsibility.  I have used the words stewardship and heard it used in many contexts and understand that stewardship for hunters and fisherman cannot be a smokescreen to hide some shadowy need or hidden agenda.  It means recognizing our primordial desire to hunt and fish and take and kill and be absolutely successful doing so and looking at that closely, reconciling our need to prove ourselves and provide with a greater sense of confidence that we need not actually catch or kill the fish and that there is more than a game of chance, drive and desire as the biomass shrinks

In his book, The Gift, Lewis Hyde wrote the following: “Ecology as a science began at the end of the nineteenth century, an offshoot of the rising interest in evolution.  Originally the study of how animals survive in their environments, one of ecology’s first lessons was that, beneath all the change in nature, there are steady states characterized by cycles.  Every participant in the cycle literally lives off the others with only the ultimate energy source, the sun, being transcendent.  Widening the study of ecology to include man means to look at ourselves as part of nature again, not its lord.  When we see that we are actors in natural cycles, we understand that what nature gives to us is influenced by what we give to nature.  So the circle is a sign of an ecological insight as much as of gift exchange.  We come to feel ourselves as one part of a large self-regulating system.”

Science is about not knowing and wanting badly to know.  Fishing is about pursuing and wanting badly to acquire.  The two share similar emotions of passion and drive and the limitations of where we are now vs. where we want to be.  The deadliest catch is so popular in part because of mysterious acquisition and part because of what the men on those boats endure as they go after crab, but its flaw is that it is shot produced and shown in order to appeal on a completely human scale.  What is missing is a moral vector, the perspective that includes the non-human and beyond human, the awe and humility and veneration owed to nature because it is our source not only to what we know, but to what lies beyond our knowing.

When asked if he were a religious man, Albert Einstein answered as follows:  “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that behind all the discernible laws & connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.  Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.  To that extent, I am in fact, religious.”

My concern lies somewhere at the heart of what Lewis Hyde and Albert Einstein are intimating.  We are part of something, not lord of it, and our connection to this something (nature) is also our connection to all the mystery that lies behind it.  It includes hunting, taking, and killing and acquiring, but it also includes relating in a way that guards against arrogance, mindless consumption and exploitation.  Otherwise the watery part of the human soul is apt to become dry and brittle.

For more information about Chris Causey and his work, visit: http://causeymediations.com/about-chris-causey/