In the dark corners of the inner city, the most destitute people in society are searching for anything to numb their hurting souls. And there are some who display the most extreme mix of need and anticipation: the twenty-piece shuffle, a jittery walk marked by wide-eyed desperation, named after the street tag for a piece of crack cocaine.
But the addiction to whatever will numb a troubled spirit is not confined to the streets. Suffering is not bound by social class, and pain is not held at bay by white-picket fences. In a wealthy society that equates money with happiness, we often remain unaware of our own addictions -- the things we chase to sooth our spirits. And while our need may not be as visible, it is no less real.
Greg Paul believes that the rich, the impoverished, and everyone in between can learn much from each other if they're willing to walk together. Join Greg as he takes a look at a remarkable paradox, where the poor can miss their blessedness while the wealthy overlook their own desperate needs, and reveals why God has always called the wealthy and powerful to care for people who are poor or excluded.
|Publisher:||David C Cook|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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About the Author
Greg Paul is the founder of Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, the current director of the organization and pastor of the Sanctuary community. A former carpenter, Greg has been involved in inner-city ministry for over twenty-five years. In partnering with other organizations, Greg has developed the vision of building a community in which he and his family live, work and share the experiences of the people they are trying to help - and discover they are being helped in the process. Greg is the father of four children and the lead vocalist and keyboardist for Red Rain. To learn more about Sanctuary visit www.sanctuarytoronto.ca.
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THE TWENTY-PIECE SHUFFLE
WHY THE POOR AND RICH NEED EACH OTHER
By GREG PAUL
David C. CookCopyright © 2008 Greg Paul
All rights reserved.
THE LONG ROAD HOME
But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home....
I have to admit, I never liked Hanson much anyway, but I cared for him even less when he walked into a Sanctuary drop-in one perfect June morning and remarked, "Somebody better go check on Arthur. He's squirming around on the grass outside, and he says he's gonna die."
A few months ago, I'd had to escort Hanson out of the building and inform him that he'd be barred for a month or so. Our rules are few and simple. I don't recall what the infraction was—knowing Hanson, it likely had to do with him beating or threatening to kill somebody—maybe both. Hanson was a big, handsome Ojibwa guy with a broad chest, long black hair, and a picturesque scar at the side of his mouth. He was a bully and a poser who threatened people he knew couldn't or wouldn't respond. Once in a while, I'd find myself daydreaming about going toe-to-toe with him. It's a good thing my Christian principles kept me from following up. He'd have wiped the floor with me.
The day I ejected Hanson, he had been drinking mouthwash or rubbing alcohol, and he was raving. When I told him he'd have to go, I stood in front of him with my arms out wide so he couldn't go after whoever it was he had threatened (and so he'd know I wasn't threatening him). He stepped up to me so we were chest to chest and bumped me a couple of times, like baseball managers do to umpires when they want the folks in the bleachers to know they're sticking up for the team. His eyeballs were vibrating—yes, vibrating, as if he were a sugar-jacked ten-year-old with a new video game—and he was foaming at the mouth. He spit in my face once and took a little step back, waiting, I'm sure, for me to take a swing at him. I stepped right up close to him again, arms still sticking straight out to the sides, waiting for him to take a swing at me or head-butt me or, worse, ram his knee into my crotch; but he backed up. I stepped forward, we gained some kind of modest momentum, and in this herkyjerky two-step, I backed him up the length of the dropin room, up the stairs, and out the front door. He threatened me, snarling and spewing all the way, but never laid a hand on me.
Other people in the drop-in, particularly those who knew Hanson from the street, said the situation was virtually miraculous. Hanson, I think, was a little disconcerted. I was just plain grateful. After that, he treated me pretty well—at least when he was sober. When he was drunk, it was another matter.
The day Hanson came in and announced Arthur was dying, he seemed to be sober. I didn't doubt there was something seriously wrong, but Hanson's nonchalance and unwillingness to do anything about it himself bugged me—after all, Arthur was his older brother. I called for Keren Elumir, our parish nurse at the time, and the two of us rushed outside.
Sanctuary is housed in a little old brown brick church building at the north end of Toronto's downtown core and just a stone's throw from Yonge Street, the city's traditional "Main Street." We don't have much space. Almost the whole front yard is covered with paving brick, and with some careful planning, we can squeeze as many as eight compact cars onto it. The grass Hanson had said Arthur was squirming on was (still is) really a small patch of hard-packed dirt with a few hardy blades poking through a fulsome crop of cigarette butts.
And sure enough, there's Arthur on his back amid the butts, with his head thrown back and his knees drawn up to his chest. Skinny, filthy fingers clutch his shins as he rocks back and forth, moaning. The cuffs of his jeans are frayed, and the legs are torn and dotted with cigarette burns. The rocking and moaning stop abruptly. His back arches, head lurches forward.
"I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die."
Keren kneels, lifts his head gently, and places it on her knees. She is trying to keep him from choking on his tongue or vomit. His eyes roll wildly up at her, disappearing momentarily behind the lids as if, once they're started in a given direction, he can't stop them. The pupils flutter back down into view, although they continue to dance and jerk around. His face twists and twitches. It is an ugly face—its nose poorly placed, the wrong size and shape, a wrinkled forehead, a wide, crooked mouthful of rotten teeth. The hair spread on Keren's lap is a mess of greasy black string, laced with monster flakes of dandruff that have come adrift of the islands of angry red psoriasis that dot his scalp. She gently pushes the hair away from his forehead and pats the sweat away with a wad of Kleenex.
"911?" I ask and, getting the nod, dial the number on my cell phone. Once I have navigated past the initial questions, I hand the phone over to her. Keren speaks calmly into the receiver and gently strokes Arthur's head each time he is hit with a spasm.
"S'wrong with him?" asks a street guy who has just arrived for the meal that is about to be served at Sanctuary. "Food poisoning?"
"Nope," says another voice. Turning, I realize Hanson has joined the handful of silent gawkers and is standing to the side at a respectful distance. His hands are folded in front of him as if facing a judge. "Arthur is dying now—from drinking the rubby."
Rubbing alcohol is what he means, or mouthwash, and he may be right. I kneel beside Arthur. Keren is relaying symptoms to the emergency operator as though dictating a particularly fussy recipe to a friend.
Arthur may be ugly, but he's a good guy—as decent as Hanson is nasty. Booze and street life have hollowed him out. His chest, almost covered by a ragged checked shirt crusted with what looks like dried excrement and blood and puke, threatens to cave in on itself. There seems to be no particular rhythm to its rise and fall. His arms are spindly, spotted with small scabs amid the blurry green jailhouse tattoos. The fingers that release their desperate grip on his shins to clutch his stomach every thirty seconds or so are discolored and split at the tips, like grapes gone bad.
"Hang on there, old-timer, the medics are coming."
A deep unnnh!, another rolling spasm, and his eyes veer away from me again. It sure looks to me like alcohol poisoning, which I imagine could kill him, given that Arthur's liver must be about the size and absorbency of a golf ball after the years of drinking. His brother Al died, just a couple of winters ago, stoned on cough medicine: a couple of quiet seizures in the middle of the night, while packed head to toe with a bunch of other men in a shelter. A week or two before he passed, Al had posed in the basement at Sanctuary to have his silhouette painted on the wall. He stood with his head cocked and hands raised, half reaching, half supplicating. He was asking the Great Spirit to receive his soul, he had joked, to carry him away from this hell.
Suddenly, I am pierced with sorrow for Hanson, still standing in quiet, impassive reverence, watching his brother's withered body and soul being wrenched apart. Two older brothers gone or going. He can't help but think that the prophecy of his own future is being played out before him. He stood exactly this way, at the back of the Sanctuary auditorium, throughout Al's memorial. At the time, his lack of emotion seemed callous to me. Now it seems impossibly courageous.
"Arthur." I place a hand on his weak chest and bend over his face, which is now the greenish hue of a tornado sky. "Arthur. The ambulance is on its way. Do you want me to pray for you?"
I know this is risky—most of my aboriginal friends have good reason to be, at the very least, suspicious of anything Christian. But most also have a strong sense of connection to the Creator. Arthur squeezes out a painful but definite "uh-huh."
So I pray. Platitudes, mostly. Imploring the Creator to be with his child Arthur now in the midst of his pain and fear. To take that precious life in his hands. To protect his spirit. To be with Arthur in a way that he will know and feel, in a way that will grant him peace.
Although I believe that God is always close enough to touch, he never feels very near to me at times like this. And though I have known such prayers of mine to be, once in a while, comforting to the one being prayed for, to me in the moment they seem most often like empty, faintly silly words. Mostly they remind me of how completely helpless I am in any situation that really matters—and that, I suppose in my better moments, is the point.
The ambulance arrives with a skirl of sirens. One paramedic steps quickly from the cab, assesses the situation and the crowd of street people that has gathered, and turns back to get his gear. Two people appear, masked and gloved, and begin ordering people to stand back. Hanson is slow to move and receives a rude bark and a peremptory shove. He stumbles a bit but regains his balance and steps back, never taking his eyes from Arthur. Keren tries to brief the paramedics, but they aren't listening, and they clearly think the two of us should move away from Arthur too. Keren brushes the hair from Arthur's forehead and stays put.
I begin to stand up, but Arthur's eyes suddenly lock on mine.
"It took me two hours to get here," he says, clear as a bell. I nod and stand up.
Within minutes, the paramedics have bundled him onto a gurney and stashed him in the back of the ambulance. They motor off, no siren, without a backward glance. The crowd drifts off. Hanson is gone already. I catch a glimpse of him half a block away, turning onto Yonge Street, his black hair covering his proud shoulders.
I doubt that Arthur really remembers the event I've described here; he had so many others like it. For a few years, I expected almost weekly that I would hear that Arthur had finally died, but he's outlived several who seemed sturdier, less entrenched in the patterns of self-destruction. These days, when I ask his old street brothers how he's doing, they say simply, "Arthur's doing good," and change the subject. Arthur is sober and healthy, working for a center that provides services to the city's aboriginal street community. They keep their distance from Arthur, and he from them. This is the painful price of his sobriety. Although they honor it, they can't afford to look at it too closely.
* * *
It was only later that I thought about Arthur's "final" words to me. He and I both thought it was the last thing he'd ever say to me, and getting back to Sanctuary took everything he had. But what did it look like?
I imagine it like this:
Arthur wakes up in an alley somewhere. He is huddled in a doorway on a piece of soggy cardboard—he's pissed himself again—and his legs are tangled with those of one of his street brothers. Kevin, say. He can taste the bile in his throat, smells it in his hair, and thinks groggily, Whoa! Lucky I was lyin' on my side.
He lies there, looking at the empty Listerine bottles, remembers talking with Kevin about fishing back on the rez as they drank, but isn't sure who passed out first. He wonders why he's even awake, since the sun has not yet risen high enough to peek over the buildings.
A wave of pain rips through his stomach—the same pain that hunted him in his dreamless sleep and dragged him groaning into consciousness. He yelps and curses and wraps his arms around his stomach. The pain subsides slowly.
"What was that?" he croaks to himself.
Seizures he's had before. They're scary because you're so helpless, but they don't hurt like this. The thought is hardly complete when the pain attacks again, like an angry raccoon trapped inside his stomach. He kicks his legs free of Kevin's, wondering if they drank poison somehow and if Kevin is already gone. He struggles to his feet as quickly as he can, pushing his back against the brick behind him, and walking his shoulder blades up the wall.
"Kevin!" he shouts, but hears only a dry whisper. He boots the other man in the thigh, barely nudging him the first time, hard enough on the second try that Kevin rolls a bit. Enough to see that he's still breathing. He calls again, sure that he'll have another attack momentarily, but Kevin is comatose.
The pain returns and gets worse. Wave after wave, until there are no more waves, just one massive tidal rush of pain. He knows then that this is how he will die—here in this alley, amid fast-food containers and syringes. He has waited since he was a boy among drunken, dying adults for this drunken death to find him. He is only mildly surprised that it has appeared so soon: an invited guest who appears half an hour before the party is supposed to start.
But he will not die in this alley, he tells himself, hidden from the world and the sun, a human pile lost among the Dumpsters and stacks of plastic milk crates. The end of the alleyway seems far off. He does not yet know where he is going but trusts his spirit will lead him. He pulls himself along the length of a car, grabbing the door handles. He shuffles feet of stone through a cluster of used condoms, dry and wrinkled brown like shucked skin.
"Whoa!" he wheezes out loud. "Must be the Sacred Penis Burial Ground here." He laughs to himself but pays for it immediately.
Out of the alley, the sun is blinding, a white light that washes the people and buildings thin. He has no sense of where he is. Nothing looks familiar; nothing makes sense. Everything he sees appears to him as a bad collage of mismatched elements. Somewhere high up, a flashing message: 9:13, and a second later, 26°C. Strange faces looming in and out of view. Distant voices asking something unintelligible.
At one point, Arthur realizes he is curled up in a doorway and wonders if he has actually moved at all, but Kevin is not here, the sun is bright, the sound of traffic is only a few feet away. An ugly white woman holds her face a foot away from his, yammering some nonsense at him. After she goes away, he tries to clamber to his feet again, but the pain in his stomach has commandeered all his strength. His legs fold up, knees to his chest, under a power that seems to come from somewhere beyond his body. Some time later he finds he is up and staggering, bouncing off shop windows—Yonge Street?—but has no idea how this came about. It's as if this pain were a thick fog obscuring everything but an occasional and random sight or sound.
When it parts next, he sees his feet, at a great distance, shuffling along below him over reddish paving brick that is oddly familiar. There are faces, too, that he recognizes: street faces, not suits or shopgirls. They are smoking, looking at him but saying nothing. Beyond them is an arched limestone doorway, battered plank doors propped wide open. And he understands, then, where his spirit has led him.
He wants to mount the three steps to the doorway but finds he can't lift his feet far enough. Ah well. He has come far enough; this is close enough. His legs collapse, and he settles on a bed of hard-packed dirt and cigarette butts. Another spasm yanks his knees up to his chest.
A pair of formerly white cross-trainers stops beside him.
"Arthur? What's wrong with you?"
Arthur never liked Hanson much, although you're really not supposed to admit that about your own brother. Too proud, too disrespectful. Hanson is too strong now, too, Arthur admits to himself, thinking of the many nasty things he did to Hanson as a child and how weak he himself has become.
"I'm gonna die," he says, and saying it out loud sets free a fear that rides his pain like a boy on a wild horse. This is the place. He is terrified, but he is safe. He is finally home.CHAPTER 2
The home should be the treasure chest of living.
—Le Corbusier, recalled upon his death
Arthur's journey from alley to Sanctuary is, as I've related it, only what I have imagined, but it can't be far from what really happened. He woke up somewhere that morning in great pain, became convinced he was about to die, and spent the next two hours staggering his way to our front door.
"Imagine what I've been through just to find my way here, just to lie in this dirt with my head in Keren's lap and your hand on my heart," he said to me. It was only in imagining what the journey cost him that I came to realize how important it was and why he wanted me to know that it was important.
Excerpted from THE TWENTY-PIECE SHUFFLE by GREG PAUL. Copyright © 2008 Greg Paul. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Long Road Home,
Chapter 2: Defining "Home",
Chapter 3: Doing the Twenty-Piece Shuffle,
Chapter 4: Guides for the Journey,
Chapter 5: On the Way,
The First Leg of the Journey From Isolation to Intimacy,
Chapter 6: Intimacy and Isolation,
Chapter 7: From Independence to Communion,
Chapter 8: From Impregnability to Vulnerability,
The Second Leg of the Journey From Productivity to Fruitfulness,
Chapter 9: Productivity and Fruitfulness,
Chapter 10: From Accomplishment to Essence,
Chapter 11: From Wandering to Journeying,
The Third Leg of the Journey From Suffering to Glory,
Chapter 12: Suffering and Glory,
Chapter 13: From Anger to Sorrow,
Chapter 14: From Death to Resurrection,
Chapter 15: Arrival,
From the Giggle Shack to the Apollo in One Week,
By George, I Think they've Got It!,
Sanctuary ... A Place of Refuge,
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