People Will Surprise You

I am always surprised when people are given permission. 

When we ask people to speak and we open our ears, they say the most amazing things. When we give a platform, we discover latent talents. When we listen first, we hear what we've been missing.

It's Saturday night. I am hosting at Open Mic at The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse. This is no ordinary open mic. There is brittle discomfort. An palpable air of sorrow. Smiles must push through tension. One of our community died last week. I imagine that when I share this news, many are hearing it for the first time.

Bill was a regular. A host, in fact. Bill hosted just last week. He hosted, in this room with these people, and then he died quiety at home. His death was sudden and surprising and we still don't know what to do with the news. Like the flick of a switch, Bill's light is no more. Now we gather here at a favourite spot somehow shrunken by his absense. We are here because it is Saturday, and we must perform. 

The show must go on.

I am afraid of how this night will go. I confess this to my wife before leaving home. I worry about how people will respond. I fear carrying the weight of this as I approach the microphone. I cliff jump into the deep end and start with Bill's news. I don't know what else to say. I didn't know Bill well. I share some kind words and then pass the torch. It burns all evening. 

We dedicate the night to Bill and throughout the night people share stories. Bill was kind and gentle. Bill told jokes that made you groan. If you got them. Someone shares one of those jokes. Others sing Bill's favourites from their repetoire. 

One by one this community approaches the microphone to give something of themselves. An offering to Bill's memory. Bernice shares a poem she has written for the occasion. She has also created a picture of Bill for all to see. A memorial. Others sit and take it in. We are all blessed.

It is a good night, really. Bill would be smiling. I had nothing to fear. This community has so much to give. We just need to set up the mic.

The next morning I'm at church, and another mic is set up. One by one, this community comes forward to share a scripture that means something to them. Something encouraging. Something that speaks to them of God's good desires for their life. One by one these brothers and sisters give us something of themselves.

As a communal act we've written these words on one of our palms. On the other palm we've written somethign that we long for. A desire of our own. Now, at the end of the morning, we approach the front to have these palms photographed.

Now, two days later, I am reviewing those photographs, taken by Aaron Vanimere. He's also a member of the Urban Bridge Chruch community. These photos are his offering.

He took these photos because he was asked. He was invited.

So seldom do we ask. Too rarely is the mic left on and open, ready for the gifts our community may bring. We can all share stories that are uniquely our own, until we open them wide to others.

There are riches in these offerings.

When we listen first, there's no telling the music we may hear. There's no guessing what lies waiting on the tip of our neighbour's tongue.

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