Not Drinking vs. Sobriety

In October, 2002, I quit drinking. But I’m only getting sober now. Let me explain.

Through a series of cataclysmic circumstances, I first came to sobriety while living and working in McMinnville, Oregon. It was a time characterized as much by chaos as it was possibility. I was in a personal Shangri-La on one level, experiencing life among kindred spirits, and hobnobbing with the Linfield College intelligentsia. I was making my mark in a town with an artistic spirit, positively electric to guys like me.

But, like many alcoholics before me, I stopped telling my story. Do that for any length of time and one grows smug. Over-confident. Or worse, blind. That most devious of all beliefs slithers into our thinking: “You know, I think I’m good, a drink or two would be just fine.”


Shock and Horror.jpg
The appropriate response should an alcoholic ever say he can drink.

To stop telling one’s story in the company of others, equally knowledgeable of your plight, is to let your story tell you. Stories are both descriptive and prescriptive. They narrate one’s past but shape one’s present, both of which promise a better future.

Dry drunks trade one addiction for another. Whatever “gets the job done.” Euphoria is still euphoria after all. It matters not from where it comes. Euphoric escape from reality into any available alternative is what we’re after. Booze isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end; for some, quite literally.

One of the most humbling undertakings of the recovering alcoholic is the more clear-headed journey back from foggy open seas to the shoreline, awash in all the stuff I threw overboard along the way. Regrets litter the beach of our lives. It is saying sorry to those I soaked in piss along the way. 

Yesterday’s kegger. Today’s shame. Tomorrow’s tattoo.

The return to more stable footing reveals just how many lives were impacted by my jaunty revelry. And, life is friendships. Friendships are the wheat of life, bread in the making. To damage them, even under less fretful circumstances, should be immensely concerning. Returning to those who have supported and trusted you, believed in you, walked alongside you when you least deserved it, is the best and worst thing imaginable.

Steps 8 and 9, respectively, of the A.A. program:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Shame and guilt are bed buddies. They intertwine limbs and sinew in an indivisible mess of carnage, stealing everything, giving nothing. They are also highly deceptive, rendering up the law of diminishing returns. The more shame one feels, the worse one’s behaviour becomes, leading to deeper shame, leading to a life in checkmate.

It is paralyzing.

It is also ubiquitous – the gift that keeps on giving. Guilt hides in every corner, shame slips in among the shadows where we can’t see things clearly. It guides our thinking, further clouding a brain still seeking a reboot.

But, to the recovering alcoholic, dismissing shame in favour of courage is our lot. It is, by far, the hardest work. Refusing to hit rewind and play all the old tapes for the pleasure of being our own whipping boy will always be in our job description. Those we’ve hurt, willingly or not, are seldom interested in adding any more pain, guilt, or betrayal to that which they generally feel already.

Some will applaud the new life of sobriety, the face a little less shiny and red, eyes more clear. Others may simply feel duped and deceived and happily dump us on the curb. The same fearlessness, directness, and gentleness will be received in any number of ways. Kick a hornet’s nest and there are always consequences, most of them unpredictable, all of them deserved.

A long-winded way of saying to any and all unfortunate enough to be in my addictive pathway…forgive me?tumblr_o2egg8N4BE1r83d7lo6_540.gifAnd, to my Higher Power, whom I call God…thanks for grace and the knowledge that you love prodigals. 


St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 4

St Placid Priory – Lacey, WA

Six miles of damp, spongy pavement pounded out this morning. Running – the healing constancy of deep, rhythmic breathing. So good in this environment. It’s little wonder that Portland, Oregon is America’s running capital. Every back road, trail, and alley is afoot with runners. It houses Nike corporation and its disciples, of which I am, apparently, one of the faithful. I’m a committed convert to the marriage of time, distance, and pain. 

Baffling to non-runners, it is, in its own way, contemplative space. And, these days in particular, as I struggle once more on the longest road, the one leading toward daily sobriety, it becomes apt metaphor in the slow process of change. 

Hanging like a shadow over it all are those who would pooh-pooh this whole sober-running enterprise, suggesting in my case that it is classic avoidance – the via negativa of the dry drunk. In this scenario, one merely transfers addiction from one thing to another, trading booze for the self-emasculation of hardcore running.  

“Well, he may be running,” say they, “but it doesn’t mean he’s dealing with anything related to addiction.” To such self-righteous do-gooders who feign any real interest in me preferring, instead, bookish platitudes I offer the following retort(s):

  1. Um, f*** off.
  2. Okay, that was overkill. Thank you for your concern, but…
  3. Do you think I am unaware of this?
  4. Despite the built-in danger of avoidance, is this not much better than alcohol-induced madness?
  5. Give me half a chance to work through this on my own terms, please.
  6. I’m back in A.A., working the steps. I’ve got this. Well, my Higher Power’s got me. So, relax. 

Phew, now that that’s off my chest, some brighter notes.

I’m awash in the effervescence of expectancy. The more I consider who God has made me to be, the passions that drive me, the skills that help me, the more I prayerfully consider my options. What doors and windows are availing themselves through which to move into bigger sky? What new field of dreams might await my conveyance? 

More every year, I believe that so much of this is more our decision than the theologians lead us to believe. Jesus tells us that we gain our lives by giving them away. But to give something away is first to own it. We cannot give what we do not own. Otherwise, it’s just passing something down the pipeline that found its way into our hands. Once we own ourselves, there is real sacrifice, but greater reward, in relinquishing ourselves to love and serve our neighbour.

God has given all of us a vocation. It is for us to discover it. Then, it is largely up to us how to fulfill it. For me, that may be changing. Imperceptibly at first, baby steps toward cave openings through which new shards of light are reaching out, tempting me in. Sitting here in this place, dedicated as it is to the rigour and welcome of the spiritual life, its delightful chaos, there grows in me a light. It is yet dim and inconsistent. But it grows moment by moment.

I want to do all I can to fan it into flame.


St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 3

In a time and place such as this one is gifted with a bird’s eye-view of the bigger narratives at work in one’s life. That has certainly been the case since getting re-sober and, specifically, at a nunnery where my overworked mouth must be silent.

St Placid Priory, Lacey, WA

I am further gifted with precious reading time. Double up the task of discerning the peaks and valleys of a life with a reading list and I find myself reading something I’ve not touched in years. Perhaps it is a page turner only to those like me, but I’d forgotten that fact about “the big book” as it is affectionately deemed by A.A. Equal parts childlike, level-headed zeal, and complete lack of pretension put it alongside other great spiritual works. 

Next to the Bible…this

And that is exactly what Dr. Bill and Uncle Bob’s magnum opus is. In the simplest terms of the novice, it is akin to Augustine’s Confessions or C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy or Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. As honest and probing as any other memoir-retrospective-guidebook, they have no other agenda than telling their life-changing story in a way that draws others like moth to flame into a message of freedom and sobriety. And, they roll it out like excited grade-schoolers at a show ‘n tell. 

But what a show ‘n tell!

I am so grateful to be, once again, sober. Well, on the arduous road of daily sobriety and the mindset required to fight the good fight of staying that way. I am equally grateful for the timeless stories of lives changed under the care of Someone higher and greater than we, Someone I call God.

And, to that God, on this day, I give thanks.

The Difference a Year Makes

This time last year, my wife and I were photo-whoring and shaking fairy dust out of our heads. We had just returned from a head-spinning trip to the UK, and readjusting to life squeezed uncomfortably into North American shoes. That, and relearning to drive. Five weeks in the UK had given us sore, flat feet from miles of trudging London’s pavement skeleton. It meant over-worked iPhones bulging with pictures, heads full of Skye and oddly named places like Tu-Hwnt-I’r Bont, Llanthony, and Beddgelert, many pages of writing, and the faces of loved ones.

Double decker copy.jpg
Red, double-decker buses. How totally London.
Trafalgar Square copy.jpg
In Trafalgar Square
St. James Park copy.jpg
St. James Park
Skye 57 copy.jpg
Into the mystic…Skye
Cuillin Hills 2 copy.jpg
The Cuillin Hills, Skye
Outside Tu hwnt y'r bont copy.jpg
Outside Ty hwnt yr bont
Llanthony Priory 3 copy.jpg
Llanthony Priory
Bedgellert 4 copy.jpg

Our hearts pulsated wildly, aglow in fresh memories. 

One is surely blessed to be found by adventures of this kind even once in a lifetime. This was our fourth trip, but arguably our best. Like the others, this hop across the pond had under it a built-in rationale to guide it. For Rae, it was largely book research – this bridge, that pub, this street corner, that tube station. For me, I was in search of something. I like to think it was maturity, but one can only expect so much in five weeks.

I had some vague notion that a trip of this kind was what I needed for my ongoing pursuit of an even more vague notion – home. No small feat for anyone, let alone one as prone as I to internal homelessness. My extensive writing on the subject had produced a better understanding, but few certainties. Frankly, it just whetted my appetite to learn more. Besides, it’s a high-sounding reason to spend thousands of dollars traipsing around Britain. Rather noble, don’t you think?

For now, at least, such interior matters can wait for another time. A much more ominous discovery needs some attention. With that primer, I’ll just put it out there.

After fourteen years of sobriety, Britain and I sat down for a drink, or ten.

Well before our trip, a wispy, but persistent voice, had begun planting a series of tempting ideas in my head:

“Rife, you’re not an alcoholic, you simply lack self-control.”

“It’s been fourteen years, that was then. This is now.”

“Dude, relax, you’re on holiday. Splurge a little.”

I’m generally a good guy (unless people tell me that just to get me off their lawn). But, annoyingly, a complex maze of dark veins courses through the ore of my otherwise rich life. I smile, knowing full well something isn’t quite right.

To be in Britain is to be awash in street-lit, woody pubs, full of friendly chatter, darts, and tumblers of frothy beer otherwise known as pints. Scotland boasts famous distilleries on every bank and brae, in which is made the amber dew that bears her name. It is woven into the very cultural DNA of the places I love most.

Community copy.jpg
So much community happens here

It proved too much of a temptation. And I dove back in, head first, into a world that knew me well and had, apparently, been watching and waiting for my return.

Duke on the Green pub copy.jpg
Could you say no? I didn’t think so.

It was simple enough at first. A gift shop on Lindisfarne sold various types of mulled wine, or mead. They handed out samples of the stuff like cocktail weenies at Costco. I would not discover until later how sharp its teeth would be as it slunk like a sweaty pole-dancer down my lusty throat. “See how I love you?” it said. “See how you’ve missed this?” it said. “See how you’ve grown?” it goaded, like the serpent from the tree.


Lindisfarne Luscious
Lindisfarne Mead

For an alcoholic, to say yes to the booze gods, is to remove one’s clothing of pride, oil up the pole of self-respect, climb on, and plummet to the bottom of the pit known as despair. Most insidious of all is that we won’t see any of it this way.

“No, it’s all good”, we tell ourselves.

“I’ve got this,” we say.

“I’m not ‘one of those’ drinkers,” we boast.

“I just need to be discerning and exercise self-control,” we convince ourselves.

And, the whole time, our pants are at our ankles and a noose tightly around our necks. Even as we speak the words, we choke them out, while losing all remaining respectability.

The days following our return were met with rapidly deteriorating self-control. Almost like magic, beer left the fridge faster than I could replenish it. I bought bottles of wine in twos and threes for ‘us’ to enjoy. How thoughtful of me. I began drinking before, during, and after routine tasks convinced that it was merely heightening my pleasure, or calming my nerves, or congratulating me on a work day finished.

I began losing any sense of appropriateness, propriety, reason, even common sense. I had jumped into a vat of snakes and looked up, smiling, as they coiled around me.

* * *

Now, after much heartache, a shit load of counselling, a brief sojourn with friends, a lot of books, and a good support network, I am sober once more. And, in that sobriety, I gaze back into the past year and ache at the smouldering wreckage I’ve left behind. A wake of carnage, stupidity, and shame lays in heaps, along with my self-respect. And I begin again the arduous journey back to sanity; back to the reality of life without the crutches of inebriation and forgetfulness.

Despite my fallacious foray into the forest of dumb-fuckery, the shimmer of this journey has stayed with us, even if our feet feel a bit more planted on familiar, and yet somehow foreign, soil. Home is where the heart is say the poets. Home is where the mortgage is say the realists.

Home is your heart say the mystics. 

And that home for me must be a sober one. It is deceptively easy looking up at the sky for answers when the ground is quicksand. My attention has harpooned itself too quickly in less than helpful directions. What I think my heart wants is rarely what it needs. And, I guess, my heart has been my quest all along.

This receding shoreline of self-awareness can be wearisome at best, downright haunting at times. But, while we’re busy gawking at life through the viewfinder, the truly panoramic views are found in the small, easy to miss things. In the dull, routine things. The faces of friends. The laughter at one’s own shitty jokes. How watering roses in my garden can’t keep up with the raw heat of a Yakima summer. Or, just staying sober because you love all of it.

Now, I’m challenged to add my wilderness wandering to my expanding story and pray that it helps buttress my inner fortress. That it makes me wiser, a better man, a truer friend, a more attentive lover, a more insightful guide to others in similar peril. All this and more makes for the skeleton of a life. We get to place the meat on the bones with every smile given, every embrace, every mistake or triumph, every tear released to its rightful owners.

It’s all of a piece. And, some of the time, all of a peace.

Rob, newly sober 2.jpg
Rob, newly sober

Where earth meets sky – the beginning of the end of the beginning

It was quite possibly the longest, most awkward car ride either of them had ever endured. Pastor Kent drove him home from the conference and used it as an opportunity to voice, loudly and repeatedly,  his overwhelming sense of disappointment, hurt, humiliation, betrayal and just plain mess. Now, his would be the role of fielding nosy calls, inquiring as to the dramatic change in the music minister or “something I just heard.” His would be the task of chairing those ever-so-delightful follow up meetings with the church board at which his plan for healing and reconciliation would be mapped out. His would be the unwelcome experience of eating crow in the face of board members who were among those who voted not to hire him in the first place.

His anger was ripe, raw and very real. But, his victim willingly succumbed to the verbal whipping since he had already experienced life-changing realities too big to ignore; too broad to dampen his spirit. First of all, he still had a job. In spite of everything, he was returning to a place to call his own where he could begin working out the kinks of his new found sobriety. In community. With a paycheque. Secondly, for the first time in decades he had (re)discovered that he was actually gifted in his calling and that emotional resources already placed there by God were available on demand, without the added measure of drowning his desperation in drunkenness.

Like a heavy coagulation of rancid oatmeal, one thought remained in his psyche, however. He already knew to what he was returning. He was much less certain to whom. Would his wife and boys still be there? Had they chosen to jump ship, cut their losses and move back to Canada? Would he ever have opportunity to tell them of his first triumphant, alcohol free weekend? If so, would it make any difference this late in the game?

Though it was true that his situation hosted a complex set of factors that had contributed to his behavior over the years, insofar as the family was concerned, some key choices needed to be made. His lover had been the bottle, not her. His children had pop-tops and came in packs of six. His home was delirium and euphoria, not the cozy Oregon rancher that housed them all.

Her weekend journey had been anything but smooth or simple. There had been some resolution however to the gnawing questions she still harbored about their present situation. Although their lives outwardly were shrapnel, in order to have at least some peace of mind, she took Judy’s advice and drew up a family contract for him to read and sign when he got home.  The gist of it was simple. He could stay with the simple proviso that he must sign the contract stating his intention to change lovers. If he decided that alcohol would not be his mistress and willingly pursued every lifeline already tossed to him by family, colleagues and friends, then there was still a place for him. If not, then not. He would lose everything, including custody of their boys.

To the uninitiated it might sound harsh. To the ears of a broken man whose feet still had the smell of prodigal pig shit on them, it was a symphony of grace beyond all reckoning. That day was Sunday, October 20th, 2002. It was the beginning of the end of the beginning. There are no old beginnings. Only new ones.

Today, slightly more than twenty years later, that man sits in sobriety before his laptop sharing a tale that never gets easier with the telling. He has never had a drop of alcohol since that hideous week, the week he almost lost everything. Instead, he gained the whole world.

And the world tastes good…

Hi, I’m Rob and I’m an alcoholic.

Where earth meets sky – a family on the brink

A bleak situation was rendered that much more so in the light of her frantic quest for answers. Anger and fear had morphed into a numbing pain. Like anyone faced with rocks and hard places, desperate measures become their moment by moment reality, and, caught in that place, she contemplated her options. “Do I stay with the boys but kick him out of the house? Is there a way for us to escape back to Canada where we at least know more people and have a support system?” she pondered fearfully.

She chose instead to call a counselor seeking…well, counsel. His advice offered a modicum of comfort. Their tenuous immigration situation denied quick and easy solutions, even in the face of such challenges as presently faced them. It was complicated. If she left and went back to Canada, she would throw away everything she had already endured through the whole arduous process.  Besides, “if I couldn’t return to see my Dad who’s diagnosed with cancer, I certainly won’t do so for a drunk” she agonized.

Some relief came by way of a phone call. Susie, his soprano confronter and close family friend called, offering her and the boys a weekend getaway to what she called, “Camp Susie.” It provided opportunity for long soaks in bathtubs of tears, still longer talks well into the night with an understanding soul. It was somewhere for their boys to play with hers blissfully unaware of the gravity of the situation.

* * *

Meanwhile, events were moving quickly for him. He had already met with his discernment team, was assigned a sponsor and, two hours later, still green and nauseous, sat in his first A.A. meeting. He would come to know that Methodist church basement intimately. There, in that cold but hopeful room that smelled of nicotine and bad coffee, he vocalized what would be the first of hundreds of similar introductions, “hi, I’m Rob, and I’m an alcoholic.”

He walked the twenty minutes home and sheepishly entered the front door. He showed her and his boys his first coin and then left for the conference he had been drinking all week to forget. Rather foolishly he had offered to sit on the steering committee in charge of his denomination’s annual regional gathering. It was his responsibility to organize and implement all plenary worship times complete with “special” music, technical requirements and liturgies. It was a job he knew well but with which he had never become totally confident. And, since Kent and entourage felt it important for him to carry on with present responsibilities as a path to healing, he turned and drove away. He had no idea what, if anything, might be awaiting him upon his return.

* * *

After a Friday evening drenched in heavy tears, she hauled herself reluctantly out of bed on Saturday in order for her to go home and check on their dog, Skittles. On the way, she discussed with Calum, their eldest, the very real possibility of them leaving the country, never to return.  She still waffled back and forth with what few options were available. As is so often the case, wisdom is held in the hands of its youth. Calum shared that he didn’t want to leave the country without paying a five-dollar debt he owed to a local record store merchant. She couldn’t help but think to herself, “wow, all this integrity from an eleven year old, in comparison to….”

As they walked into the house, she headed straight to the phone and called her Dad. The sound of his voice was more than she could handle. His strong and vibrant presence bespoke an unwavering commitment to her and hers, despite his weakened state. He sensed her call was urgent and paused to let her speak. He got tears instead. Lots of them. He knew immediately what was up and just let her cry. As her grief subsided enough to do so, he asked astutely, “it’s Rob isn’t it? He’s been drinking again.”  An overfull kettle of grief and despair spewed out as she retold the events of the last few days in wave upon wave of fresh tears.

Then Judy, his wife and their step Mother-in-law, on speakerphone prodded gently, “if alcoholism is really a disease, would you leave? If he had cancer would you leave him?”
“If he had heart disease would you leave?”
“No”. If indeed it was true that this alcoholism was a disease, she couldn’t possibly leave one who is sick, even if every cell in her weary body begged otherwise.

Following an exhausting but cathartic conversation, the three of them arrived at some conclusions. Perhaps A.A. was the first time he would turn to honestly face this disease with some prospect of healing. Her Dad made it clear that they were always welcome home but strongly urged her to carry on. As an immigrant himself from England many years earlier, when Rae was four years old, no one understood better than he the high stakes of immigration.

That night, Rae and boys all slept together in their bed, she hurting and afraid but with a heightened awareness of grace, they with limited understanding and heightened need for a good cuddle. Graeme, their youngest, had overheard some of her conversation from earlier, something about Daddy lying. As she turned to kiss him goodnight, his words, revealing complete trust in his father, reopened the argument between her head and her heart. “Daddy would never lie to us, right?” he asked innocently. She thought it best not to answer and they fell fast asleep, exhausted.

* * *

He was discovering something as if for the first time. He could function at very high levels of wit, competence, creativity and responsibility…without alcohol. For most, this was called normal adulthood. For him, it was a welcome epiphany. He was flying, for completely different reasons. It felt like being born again. Again.

Where earth meets sky – into the tempest

To tell a tale of someone’s headlong rush into chaos is to open many doors at once. And doing so acknowledges the many conflicting winds that come from every direction upon a person; winds that create a chaotic, heady mixture of life lived in fear, doubt, suspicion, anger and pain. He had come to this one point at the convergence of many others. He was now the fly caught at the center of a complicated web of childish misfires. The swirling tempest that was his head found its root not so much in a life mis-lived, but more perhaps a life under-lived.

Adult life had never been especially easy for him. He took his cues from whoever was the most influential or interesting person in the room. This made him good at any party since he had already lived everyone else’s life and could draw on his social chameleon talents to woo and entertain. He had little to no knowledge, however, of his own. Such is a dangerous vacuum within one so predisposed to the inoculation of pain, the euphoria required to feel normal in a large, scary world.

Meanwhile back at home, pieces of an already piece-meal existence lay in shattered reminders on the kitchen floor of his inability to face his own reality. His wife had little reason to believe that hope was anywhere near this debacle. They had stood at this crossroads before. He had already been through at least one bout of drink, repent, drink, repeat. The incision of betrayal left on her soul was still red and raw. This, however, was a whole new level of betrayal and gut level disruption.

Her head spun round in a veritable tornado of disbelief and emotional turbulence. What now? was the question pounding in her mind so unrelentingly. She knew how tenuous was their circumstance here in Oregon. They had moved to this town one month before the horrific events of 9/11. And now, with American and, by association, world events in such turmoil, those poor bastards seeking permanent residency were indefinitely put out to pasture.

They were no strangers to upheaval having moved a total of eight times in just over fifteen years. It seemed the dust rarely settled, boxes remained packed, trinkets still stored was a family pattern. It had bored a restless hole in the center of things and left them feeling unmoored and afloat somewhere in the open ocean of discontented homelessness. The stakes were high with this one, and they knew it.

The move from Kelowna to McMinnville had been expedited the quickest by means of a Religious Worker Visa. These are considerably more rare than other more conventional ways of moving into the country. Hence, on advice that could never have been informed enough to provide adequate shelter from unforeseen events they drove their two busted down vehicles, their dog and two sons across the border.

Within three months of their arrival, his father-in-law had been diagnosed with colon cancer, his brother-in-law, an Edmonton city police officer, had sustained serious injuries in a foolish dive into his pool from a third story balcony leaving him a quadriplegic and planes had flown into buildings that crashed to the ground. They were living their own ground zero with no recourse of leaving the country for the comforts of extended family, now in profound suffering. To leave would mean forfeiting any hope of permanent residency. And too much was riding on this gig.

A border that had always meant freedom of movement and welcome was to become for a time a three thousand mile prison wall.

Where earth meets sky – looking for God in all the wrong places

His was to be a long and heavy road. But all roads that lead to healing places necessarily pass through fetid gardens of defeat before arriving at redemption’s fresh air. His head pounded with that most precise of head pains otherwise known as the hangover. His drinking had become so bad in recent months that such things were unheard of in his experience. Why “hang-over” when one was already leaning over the edge of insanity?

He met with Kent, Roger and Reed for what seemed like hours, his stomach and his head reminding each other of their shared misdeeds. Soon, a sense of clarity began to come. They would determine an appropriate date when he would tell his story to the church board. Later, with the board’s direction, he would do so with the congregation. In actual fact, the board later decided to deal with it behind closed doors rather than alert the whole congregation of his woes and perhaps deepen rather than lighten them. Just as well, since the very thought of pursuing such public exculpation was more than his fractured conscience could bear. There was to be nothing delicate about any of this. It was without opportunity to either titivate the sad truth or remove himself from its consequences. His mind reeled and boiled and he was drowning in the stew of his own making. And yet, on another level, he had secretly hoped for this. It meant freedom and, if he still remembered anything from theology 101 it was that true freedom comes through the shame of another.

Since beginning his ministry at the church slightly more than two years earlier, he had immersed himself in the work. Mostly, it helped remove him just a little from the overwhelming sense of exile and loneliness that had stormed his consciousness. It was an Apollo sized burden of inner cataclysm that had taken him quite by surprise. He was a Canadian boy through and through. He bled white and red, knew the ethos of the place by heart, understood the bad inside jokes, stupid politics, heady talk shows, social pariahs, and art house music scene inside and out. Often had he quipped, “you can take the boy out of Canada, but….”

He knew her and she knew him.

So then, why the hell had he thought it a good idea to pack up and leave for a call in Oregon? For years, his spiritual journey had been tottering on the brink of collapse, built on a thin, wispy and kitschy evangelicalism that no longer supported his increasingly dangerous questions. Or, at least, the shoes didn’t fit anymore. He needed to stretch his theological arms, raise his head above the crested waves in the wading pool and look for deeper water, or else find land and toss the whole thing.

But other voices had grown louder in him. Subtle but insistent voices calling him to dig deeper, or in other places more suited to his shovel. His was a spiritual spade meant to dig from the left that had been tending garden from the right. They seemed incompatible, at least from where he was then. His limited vantage point disallowed view of the whole garden in all its expansive glory. He had grown tired of snap peas and longed for the bitter taste of something new and fresh but still excitingly foreign to titillate his bone-dry palette.

For as long as he could remember he yearned for all things ancient, dark and mysterious, thoughtful and mystic; a poetic theology wed to an older spiritual language better fitted to who he had always been. That yearning had drawn him into the heady confines of orthodox and catholic spirituality which offered a context for a more sacramentally nourishing, liturgically demonstrative faith. It drew him to places where matters of social justice and peace-mongering weren’t just hip, new phrases but built in, irrevocable realities. It meant moving to live and work among a church community whose notoriety (accursedness to some) was for its inclusivity. More intriguing still were the twice yearly worship services with the local Catholic parish, Ash Wednesday and Pentecost.

He was hooked.

The diverse little community in this quaint Oregon college town, pastored by the man now sitting to his left (pun intended) had been that place; the only place whose centripetal force had provided sufficient gravitas to pull him out of his home and native land. The journey however would prove much more perilous than either of them could have imagined. The stress of that journey, coupled with a DNA predisposed to narcissistic, alcoholic self-destruction provided a primary reason for why he sat in this very room under such horrid circumstances. A long, serpentine road lay ahead, the end of which, only God knew.

For him, right now in this room, that was enough.