On Thursday night I attended a “meeting” in the Down Town Eastside (DTE). I have been once before and found an email about that visit which I will paste at the end of the report on this one. I arrived a minute or two before the start time, and on the sidewalk I spotted the two people I know (Murray and Wally) who go there regularly, who had just arrived. We exchanged greetings and updates as we entered the modified storefront where the meeting was to be held. They had been attending the Leadership Summit Satellite event in Vancouver so they had some neat inspirational stuff to report. Wally went to talk to someone, and Murray and I selected three seats and sat talking. The atmosphere was calmly chaotic. There was Christian worship music playing, and someone was setting up chairs and two people were tinkering with a laptop that was running the projector. The type of people here were not what you would expect to see in a worship service. The irony is that thinking that exposes your hidden biases. There were people of a wide variety of skin tones, ranging from never-been in the sun white, through in the sun a lot white, to native complexion and Asian and East Indian. Some were decorated with tattoos, some with piercings. Running shoes and caps or hats were common on the guys. Some averted their eyes if you looked at them, others caused my eyes to be averted when I saw them, for fear of them feeling provoked. I just can’t step out of my stereotypical white middle-class-suburban thinking very easily. Those who were not sitting quietly or chattingly waiting were milling about. Each chair had two sheets of paper on it. One was a page in a plastic sheath that had the Twelve Steps and Bible Principles on one side and the other the name of the organization and explanation of Christian 12-Step Meetings with 3 Life Affirmation Statements and the Serenity Prayer. The bottom of the sheet had a list of “Some areas of Addiction/Dependency”, a list that included things like “Control, illness (Hypochondria), Rage, Religion, Television, Abusive or Toxic Relationships, and Approval” among numerous others. The second sheet had the evening’s topic on the one printed side. We were told we could take that home. The Topic was “Facing Fear.” I joked about this with Murray a bit, because I had been struggling with fears this week, and that morning on my walk had listened to the next two talks I had downloaded onto my MP3 player, and they were both on dealing with Fears.
Someone came around and asked Murray to lead a prayer later, which he agreed to do. The person had a sheet with a pre-written prayer on it, but Murray said he would not need it, and some fun comments were made back and forth among those who were the organizers of this event, affirming that indeed Murray did not need a pre-written prayer. The organizer who asked Murray to pray, went around the room and asked various people to do various such tasks. One person was to read the “Welcome” and another a statement of guidelines or explanation about why they come together.
Then suddenly three people had Guitars they were strumming and we sang some songs, several of them quite exuberantly and expressively. The first was “Fear not I am with you” and another one was one we had sung the previous Sunday morning, the one with the phrases “you are my rock” and “an anchor for my soul.” I should be ashamed for thinking it, but I was astonished at both the familiarity with the song, and the enthusiasm with which it was sung. People kept arriving, and by the time the singing was done I guess there were about 30 people present. I don’t know if I”m supposed to count the person sleeping in the doorway.
After the songs everyone was welcomed the opening prayer was prayed, the two statements already mentioned were read, and we were asked to go around the room introducing ourselves by our first names. Then a list of Addictions and Dependencies was shown, with a logo of a fast food outlet shown in the middle. Many started joking about that, and the key organizer said there was a reason it was there, because she struggled with that area, and had broken down and gone there the past week, and had convinced others to join her. There was joking about her being a pusher, and enabler and a dealer. Then a big laugh went up when a lady came and made a quick presentation to the key organizer. She talked about how her daughter had met the lady for the first time recently and wanted to give her a gift, and it was coupons for that very Fast Food outlet. After that we were asked to take a few moments to ponder the list and have God speak to us indivitually about what areas we needed to work on. After that a few announcements were made, a styrofoam cup collection receptacle was passed around, and we moved to the topic. People read from the handout a paragraph at a time. I was surprised at the complexity of the language. Here are a few samples:
“Many of us identify a fearful person as a coward, someone who is not assertive, shyness or someone cowering at intimidation. But fear can also be expressed by unrealistic bravado, excessive talking, work-aholism” …” Three forms of defensiveness include: Denial – refusal to acknowledge…, Evasiveness, Reversal – we assume others are out to get us so we become offensive whenever delicate matters are mentioned.”
There were a few bible passages in the text (from Ps 27 and 56) and it finished with a description of what a God based self image was like. Then there was a list of 7 questions. The faciliatator drew our attention to the two she wanted discussed that night, leaving it open for any comments if people felt so inclined. She also mentioned this topic was very closely related to the Fourth Step.
The facilitator then spoke about how she had lived with fear, and how she learned to overcome it. Then she asked various others to talk on the topic or what they were thinking related to it. This again was the most astonishing and refreshing and convicting part of the meeting for me. One after another person spoke, not about the issue of fear, not about the idea of fear, not about how others have fear (or not solely about that) but about their fears, past and present, and how they were learning to trust God in them. I am not used to such refreshing openness and vulnerability, and I was not prepared either for how that kind of talk began to speak to my life, because as they spoke about them, they were speaking about me. And I began to wonder if they knew what they were saying! People were free to speak as long or short as they needed. People could pass, or ask to have the privilege of speaking back later if they got stuck in what they wanted to say.
There was a short coffee break, then the guitars started us on a song again, and there was a closing round of talking on the subject of fear. The 12 steps and their associated scripture sample were read one by one going around the room. We then stood, held hands and read/recited the Life Affirmations and the Serenity Prayer, and the meeting was over. It was refreshing, humbling, and somehow closer to how I feel church should be, an unpretentious and raw gathering of unabashed, unafraid-to-admit-it sinners in need of and receiving grace and grateful for it.
That was this past Thursday.
It is interesting to me that the only other time I had been there we had exactly the same topic.
On Friday, March 31 2006 I wrote this report after my first time there.
I attended a rather different service last night. The liturgy was deep and meaningful, but the most precious moments were improvised, as several people became astonishingly exposed and naked over the course of the night.
We came in to the ramshackle facility to find a few early birds hanging around, one or two were praying, one or two were singing along and or making physical motions that coordinated with the music that was playing from a PalmPilot connected to a BoomBox. Tables were set up in a U shaped arrangement, with chairs around them, and then another set of chairs around the walls. A background info sheet and a topic sheet were laying ready at each seat. The projector showed a calming water scene, with welcoming words laid over top. Several cultural backgrounds were represented, including native and Jamaican, and even the white folk were of diverse origin judging from a few accents. We were about 30 in number by the time everyone arrived.
Elsie, the leader, the key figure most say is who makes this meeting unique because of her way of connecting people with Jesus, was wandering around greeting people and making some last minute arrangements. Eventually she began, from a seat at the front, to speak words of welcome. Some there maintained conversations with their neighbour through this, but Elsie showed no disturbance about this whenever she was speaking. She eventually picked up her guitar, began playing, and a single mother who had brought the only present child – a boy of about 10 – began to arrange for the words to show up, doing her best to keep up with Elsie’s jumping around in the songs.
After a few songs (most of which I knew) sung with individual range levels of enthusiasm and familiarity which combined into intense, not necessarily melodic praise, a few liturgical pieces were read by pre-selected attendees.
Then the topic of the night was introduced. It was “Facing Fear.”
Appointed attendees took turns reading portions off the topic sheet, words which showed up on the overhead as well. They read about how fearfulness is expressed both by non-assertiveness and bravado. “Fear identifies itself by defensiveness” we heard, and defensiveness comes in three forms: Denial, Evasiveness and Reversal. Then we heard how God has something “richer and safer in mind for us” and quotes from Ps 27 and 56 were read. We heard how fear can be contagious, about the danger of having our emotions hinge solely on the opinions of others because “we can never be sure when we might be rejected or criticized or ignored.” Then we heard about what a God based self-image is like.
After that, Elsie posed this question: How does fear work in your life, and how does God help you in that?
She asked specific people to respond. Some declined, one said get back to me, but we heard three or four awesome, personal, vulnerable, nothing-to-lose-hearts-on-the-table responses. One responder talked about how he deliberately surrounds himself with God-connected people so that when a crisis of fear comes, he has someone near at hand. Another said “My biggest fear is a fear of actually being loved, which creates obvious problems between me and God.” The honesty and authenticity was awe inspiring, and it was very clear that God’s Spirit was at work. Also the room was amazingly silent and patient, though no one had commanded it be so.
We then had a break, after which we returned for more responses to the question, some more liturgy, some prayer and closed with a song.
One of the most inspiring services I have been part of in a while.
It was a Christian 12 step meeting in the downtown EastSide in Vancouver. My friend had invited me along to show my why he preferred this to a CRC bible study. I totally see why.