The end of the year is careening to a halt. It’s easy to forego reflection, especially when there is so much cooking and travel and gifts to buy. But because this year’s theme seems to have been the call to plant deeply rather than scattering broadly, I haven’t let myself off the hook entirely from looking back and considering how this last year was spent. I think that’s part of the deeper life I want to be living: not just letting the days drag me along but exerting some resistance to the rush of life. I know the ultimate question in thinking back on the year isn’t, “What have I achieved?” so much as “Who am I becoming?” Importantly, there’s the weighty sense that the only person to whom I ultimately give account is God. Am I, like Jesus, seeking to please him alone?
Allen called me back yesterday afternoon, and we spoke for fifteen minutes. “You’re easy to talk to,” he tells me. “And you’re easy to talk to,” I tell him. We agree to meet at the open-house event that our church is hosting this coming Thursday evening, November 16. He promises to bring me samples of his work, and I promise to make time to look at them.
In this phone conversation in which I try getting a quote from Allen to hang alongside his portrait for Thursday’s gallery event, Allen describes himself as the “disability photographer” of the neighborhood. He means, of course, the neighborhood into which our church has just moved. This is why I phoned Allen, why we’ve taken his picture: we’re neighbors of sorts. For the photography exhibit on Thursday, a team of photographers has scattered on local streets throughout the course of many months to meet people just like Allen — to hear their stories, to capture their faces, and to begin practicing the neighbourliness to which Jesus calls his people.
This is the cover of the most recent Imprint published by Grace Centre for the Arts, a ministry of Grace Toronto Church. After we began attending Grace Toronto in 2011, they released an issue of Imprint, and I remember being incredibly impressed. It was legit: the content, the photography, the design. I didn’t know that churches could produce real magazines. In my experience of church publishing, they were only good at lightweight evangelistic tracts, and even these were ordered by the case, not produced in-house. But I was to learn something about this new church we were attending, something that would prove invaluable to my own writing life. They valued art of all kinds. They even believed God valued it.
I’ve collected all the miscellaneous blankets in the house to wash and fold them. I’m on my third load now. Every time I take a load from the dryer, the world is fragrant. Every time I fold another blanket, taking great care that the ends meet, the world is well-ordered. That small tower of blankets gives me a sense of control in the world. And it’s the illusion of control that stays the anxiety. The blankets are a shore for my spilling ocean of responsibility.
School started just a couple of weeks ago, which means I started back, in earnest, to meeting my deadlines. I knew that the fall would be busy. I’m leading a large project at church, which is lots of fun if also lots of work. The mid-week meetings and phone calls are a welcome break from the reclusive work of writing, and the challenge of leading others, rather than simply leading myself, is an important point of personal growth. (As I’m learning, doing the work is hardly the same thing as leading others to get it done.) The project, which involves both the publication of a magazine as well as the coordination of a large event, taps into all the things I really love to do: connect people to each other and to a larger contribution they can make; think creatively about the work of witness; write and research; vision and execute. The project, inspired by the book, Slow Church (C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison), is meant as a community outreach and marks an important event in the life of our church: the renovation of the 1878 historic Old St. Andrew’s, which will be our church’s new home. I’m excited about everything I’m doing, convinced that the vision truly was God-given—and simultaneously unraveled by the amount of work. On the outside, I may seem unflappable. On the inside, I am crushed under the weight of to-dos and timelines.