"All words are symbols that represent unspeakable realities. Which is also why words are magical." (Donald Miller tweet)

Friday, May 29, 2020

the air i breathe

I write this ... praying I don't say it wrong. 

I am a white, middle-class pastor, born and raised in a nation in which I was, until recently, part of the dominant culture. This has meant that for the most part, I have a voice. I have power. I can access my rights with relative ease.

The air I breathe is abundant, clear, 
and specifically designed for me. 

So I can only imagine what it is to live otherwise.

And I MUST do the work of imagining it. 

Countless times I have had wonderful people, good friends, male pastors, say to me, “Patti, I don’t think women-in-ministry is still an issue. I never see it.” And my (hopefully kind and gentle) response has been, “That’s because you are male. It doesn’t cross your path.”

They live in the same world as me,
but they breathe different air.

Years of ministry in “inner-city” contexts showed this small-town girl the unbelievable discrimination - individual and systemic - against people on the margins. Poor, less-educated, low-income. It’s real. What they deal with never crossed my path as a middle-class person. It is heartbreaking to see someone treated like crap because of their address (or lack of one). I’ve seen it happen. 

They breathe different air.

When I moved to Quebec (which I love), I began to experience, just the tiniest bit, what it is to live in a world where I am not the dominant culture. My voice is not automatically heard. I work much harder to gain credibility.

The air I breathe is still abundant - but it’s less clear.

It’s not quite designed for me.

I work with, live among, am friends with, people at various stages in the Canadian immigration process. It has been a shock - embarrassingly - to realize how little I knew of that process. How difficult it is. How stressful it is. It simply never crossed my path. 

Newcomers to Canada
breathe very different air.

Why do I say this?

Because it has become an important exercise for me to take these lessons and apply them to racism. I don’t see racism in my world, except when it explodes on my newsfeed. But why would I? I am white. It doesn’t cross my path. It’s not the air I breathe.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and probably closer than I know. 

So I MUST - I MUST do the work of imagining. Of listening without answering too quickly. Of learning without defending myself. I need to intentionally offer space to those who wonder if a white, middle-class, Canadian-born pastor might allow room for their story of different air.

My God -

Help me to make space for those breathing different air.

Help me to examine my own heart
with humility, courage ... and healthy uncertainty.

I can’t imagine. But I must. Show me how.


#icantbreathe #georgefloyd 

Monday, November 25, 2019

short, pale and ...

Last week, I was on vacation for several days.

And by "on vacation" I mean "at home". 

Because Spike (should we go back to this moniker for him? is this the one that sticks?) didn't have vacation time, so it was just me and Andie.

I've mentioned Andie, right?

So then, by "at home" I mean, "popped in once or twice to the office". 

So yes, I was on vacation. Yes, I worked a bit. But only a bit. And only on things I wanted to work on.

Anyhoo, on one of these pop-ins, I learned of something that had happened just prior to a previous pop-in.

Please note: I get to work with an incredible staff team, and I love every single one of them to bits. We have a standing "not-accepting-resignations-at-this-time" policy, that's how much we all get along. Please keep this in mind, as you read further.

The other day, Rob (second-in-command, and a hulking, football-player type, for what it's worth) and the rest of the team were sitting and having lunch. It was a rare, low-pressure kind of day, and so it was a pretty relaxed lunch. There was even a guest present - a new staff member at the organization that also uses our facility.

As the standard time neared an end, Rob cleared his throat, ever-so-gently hinting that it was time to get back to work. They laughed. "Oh, we know what that means." A few minutes went by, and Rob cleared his throat again.

More chuckles. "Rob, are you telling us lunch is over?"

He shrugged. "I'm just telling you, Patti's coming, and she'll be here in a few minutes."

And *apparently* ... this is what they told me ... they all jumped and within seconds were back at their desks.

The guest, watching all this was a little bewildered. "Patti? But I thought Rob was the one you were all afraid of?"

"Oh no," they said. "You haven't met Patti yet. You will. She's the short, pale one - she's the scary one."

Please note: You know that cartoon in which someone says, "Oh my goodness, you're so pale, are you feeling ok?" And the answer is, "I'm fine. This is just my face." You've seen that? That's my life. Also, I've been short my whole life, but I make up for it by walking faster than most and wearing heels.

So they told me this story the next time I popped in.

And I objected, strongly. "This is how you describe me to people?! The short, pale, scary one??!!! I keep telling you I'M DELIGHTFUL!!!! Why aren't you GETTING that??!!!"

And they laughed. And shook their heads. And went back to work.

Monday, November 11, 2019

trains, planes, and...

I’m heading to Toronto for a few days. It’s a twice-a-year, week-of-meetings thing. Pretty straightforward.

One of the things I love about where we live is how easy it is to get to the airport for trips like these. And by the way, straight-up Public Service Announcement - Trudeau airport in Montreal is a DREAM compared to Pearson airport in Toronto.

No offense. But I’ve timed it. I’ve gone from curb-to-gate in 12 minutes, which INCLUDED a stop at Starbucks. Granted, I had checked in online, and I only had carry-on luggage.

Curb-to-gate:  twelve minutes.


But yesterday (Sunday), a “weather statement” pinged into my phone. Gonna snow in Montreal. Starting Monday afternoon, and heavier into the evening. Note: my flight was scheduled for 6 PM, Monday. Tuesday morning commute would be awful, the weather statement said. I didn’t care about the Tuesday morning commute, because I would already be in Toronto by then.

Unless ... unless we were still sitting on the tarmac, de-icing for the 103rd time. It happens.


So I thought, hey, maybe I can change flights. But no. I had purchased the cheapest flight available, and there were no options. You have to pay ahead of time for options.

Oh, it will be fine.
How bad can it be?

I bit off a fingernail and started worrying.

To pass the time, I popped in on Twitter, where I saw another weather statement - this one for Toronto. Starting Monday morning. Snow. Gonna be awful.


Well that can’t be good. Because now even IF my flight takes off on time from Montreal ... will it land in Toronto? Personne ne sait.

More nailbiting.

Long story short, I got up early this morning, packed really fast, and hopped on a train.

Because as it turns out, it’s not only super easy to get to the airport from where we live. It’s ALSO super easy to get to the train station. And I know trains might get delayed by snow, but it seems to me that’s less frequent than planes. And ... there’s more legroom on a train. And free wifi.

Which means that instead of spending the day obsessing and worrying over weather developments and flight possibilities, I’m just riding along, with a giant window beside me, catching up on emails, blogging and working on some other stuff while happily munching on goldfish crackers and beef  jerky (I’m not buying train food, y’all, brought my own, thank you very much). Watching the various stops go by.


And you know what? I mean, it’s all pretty amazing. I live in a place with unpredictable weather, and even in that circumstance, my biggest question is literally which direction to go on the metro ... towards the airport or the train station.

So ... no complaints here. 

Friday, November 08, 2019


You may or may not know that last winter - New Years Eve, to be precise - I wiped out on the smallest bit of ice that has ever existed, and broke my wrist.

I was well cared for, grâce au système de santé du Canada.

As an aside:
I don't understand nations
that reject the idea of universal health care
for their citizens.

But that's OK.
Parce que je suis canadienne.

So there was a cast for six weeks. And then a bunch of physiotherapy de l'hôpital.

It still hurt. I told them that.

They wryly told me that I'm not 20 years old anymore, and I BROKE my WRIST. It would hurt for awhile.

Ok, bon.

But then it got worse, up in my shoulder. Couldn't put a jacket on without wincing. Woke up a few times a night because I was laying on it wrong.

I mean, I'm not 20 anymore, d'accord, mais je n'ai pas 100 ans!

Last week, I mentioned it to my doctor. She said, "You need physio. Go see Anna. She's on the sixth floor."

So today, I saw Anna.

And after just less than an hour with her, I would like to do a shout-out to les physiothérapeutes partout, because they are, clearly, miracle workers. Les anges du ciel.

"Do these exercises," she said. "Come back next week, and that probably will do it."

Merci beaucoup, Anna.

Also, I'm practising my franglais / frenglish

In case you hadn't noticed. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019


This is Stephen. 

I met him almost exactly four years ago.

On November 9, 2015,  I walked into my new job, new office, new life at Evangel. If memory serves, I was introduced to Stephen on that very first day.

"Stephen is one of our volunteers. He ... struggles ... sometimes, but we love him."

"It's ok," I said. "I get it."

Stephen would come and do a little cleaning at the church. Near the end of a day, if no one was on the office computer, he'd ask us to turn on a Jimmy Swaggart music video, and he'd sit and watch it at top volume.

Confession: I would then close my door,
because it was the same song, over and over again,
and I just couldn't deal with it.

Any time one of us walked past, he'd check to see if we were going to Tim Horton's.

"Could I have a coffee?"
"Sure, Stephen."

Jasmine usually made sure he got home safely at the end of the day.

Stephen struggled with his health sometimes.

"Can I have one of those candy bars?"
"Sure you can Stephen."
"But I have diabetes. I probably shouldn't, should I?"
"Well ... probably not."
"Ok. I won't."

He struggled with his faith sometimes too.

"Pastor Patti, I think God might hate me."
"He doesn't hate you, Stephen. God loves you."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely sure."

A satisfied smile and a fist bump.
"Ok. Thank you very much."
"You're welcome."

Sometimes he would eat lunch with all of us. Sometimes he needed some alone time, and sat in a room by himself. Sometimes we wouldn't see him at all for awhile, but eventually he would pop by again.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Jasmine put in a call to his worker, just to check to see how he was. There was a painful silence, and then the worker gently told her that Stephen passed away a couple of weeks ago. It happened very quickly, very unexpectedly.

So that hit us all, in the middle of a Tuesday, in our church office. Can't quite believe he's gone. We're going to miss him.

But I'm comforted by the thought that he knows - he knows now - how very loved he is by God.

Until we meet again, Stephen.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

an anglophone in Québec

Scanning my newsfeed this morning, I see our provincial government is again getting ready to put measures into place "to protect French language". The measures are aimed at newcomers to Canada, but they'll affect all of us.

My immediate reaction: "Personne n'attaque la langue française. / No one is attacking the French language."


When I was in university a few years ago, I wrote a paper about Ukraine and its nation-building process. I remember learning that you can't build an identity without defining an "Other". Ukraine had often been intermingled with Russia, and if Ukraine wanted to have a strong national identity, that identity needed to include "not Russian".

Four years ago this week, we moved to Québec. We love it here.

Love. It.

But ... one of the things that surprised me was learning how often the rest of Canada ("ROC") seemed to be "Othered" in Québec. There seemed to be a stream of news headlines frequently suggesting that Québec's identity was under attack from the ROC.

I remember trying to respond to new friends, a little bewildered ... "I don't ... we hardly ever ... in Ontario, we just didn't talk much about Québec at all. Like ... the rest of Canada is not spending its time in coffeeshops, talking trash about Québec. We're ... we're not talking about Québec at all."

(Politics excluded, bien sûr.)

But it's part of protecting identity here, and not just in politics. In all of life.

And I get it, I guess. Identity must be intentionally maintained; and you need an Other to do so. The rest of Canada uses the US as its Other. How many times have you heard, have you said, Canadian identity is "not American"?

I'm just sad that the Other is within our own nation. I spent most of my life living outside of Québec, I was one of the "my Canada includes Québec" people. I thought Québec was pretty cool. I didn't know that Québec thought I was out to destroy their identity.

I love being Canadian. And I love being a Québecer.

But it's a weird vibe, sometimes. I'm a minority here - and that's probably good for me, learning how that feels. I'm settled in, feeling like I belong, and then the government releases another statement that makes it clear I don't, not quite.

When we moved here, we were told, "The people are wonderful. The politics are just awful. But the people are wonderful."

And that about sums it up.

Friday, November 01, 2019

pastor puke

I'm chatting this afternoon with a seminary class about "Staying Healthy in Ministry". (Pastoral ministry, that is, for those outside my world, and thinking this has something to do with the government.) "How To Stay Healthy in Ministry" - that's my topic.

Which is a bit weird,
once you get down to it.

Because there are two awfully big assumptions attached.

First assumption is that I AM healthy in ministry. 

In reality, I think it's more of a spectrum than an either-or category. I also think I've moved back and forth on that spectrum countless times. Aaaaaaand ... um ... sometimes you're just not healthy through no fault of your own.

Like ... sometimes you take your multivitamins and get enough rest and even a flu shot, and you STILL get the flu. No point in pretending you don't have it. Here you are, feverish and pukey and whiny (that last one might be just me - I'm terrible at being sick) and NOT the picture of health. Just go to bed, take some Tylenol, drink some flat ginger ale, and get yourself better.

Sometimes pastoring is like that. Sometimes you get beat up and worn out and hurt really badly, and it's just lousy. No point in pretending it's not.

I guess in those times, pull back a bit if you can,
and try not to vomit on people,
you know?

Second assumption is that I know HOW I got there.

And I do have some principles, some practices, some ideas about how I've managed to be relatively healthy, 25 or so years into this pastoring thing.

But that being said ... sometimes I hear other people's stories, and think, "Oh dear GOD, I have NO IDEA how I would survive that." Stories like this one. And I think that's all well and good that the person and family survived and made it through, but I also want to go and *ahem* have a word with some of the people in their churches who were just ... uh ... SO AWFUL.

But then I think back to some of my own stories and think, well, I mean ... we all have our stories.

None of my stories are about you.
No worries.
YOU are delightful, always have been.

So ... we'll see how it goes this afternoon.

(PS Hands up if the title of this post is what caught your attention. Lol. Too far, maybe...?)