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Don’t let the bullies win

12 Nov

On Tuesday, as Americans went to vote, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend and our four children. It is an amazing space where children roam freely while parents sit and drink coffee.

As my friend and I chatted, a man (and he was a tall man) pointed at a young boy and shouted, “Whose child is this?” A granny responded and he loudly told us all about how this boy had hit his much-smaller toddler. He said that if it happened again, he would take discipline matters into his own hands and “give the boy a hiding”.

We sat there stunned.

Not content with his tirade, this tall man then went up to the much-smaller boy (who was no older than four years old), and repeated himself. This time standing over the boy, pointing at him and letting him know who was boss. “I will give you a hiding if you ever hit my daughter again”. 

And he stormed off, out of the coffee shop, leaving us all wide-eyed. And outraged. 

I must confess though that, despite feeling utterly indignant at the public bullying of a small child by a much-taller man, I did not say or do anything to intervene. The truth is that I was so shocked that I had no words. But that is not an excuse. I could have done or said something. And I didn’t.

The next morning, I woke up to the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States. I hungrily consumed social media, attempting to absorb this extraordinary news. 

A man with no political experience. 

A man who has never held public office. 

A man who called Mexicans “rapists”, boasted of his sexual conquests, demeaned the military, started the Birther movement, set up and bankrupted several businesses, promised to build a wall to keep Mexicans out and vowed to deport all (criminal) immigrants.

A man who fibbed his way through the election campaign.

This man was the President-Elect.

Again, I was stunned. Indignant. 

Outraged.

But this time, I was not lost for words. 

I ranted on Facebook, overcoming my usual fear-of-confrontation. Unable to contain my disbelief, I was particularly incensed at suggestions that aligned Trump-as-President with “God’s will”.

I have many, many thoughts about the phenomenon of Trump-as-President (here are just a few).

Church leaders who endorsed Trump (especially those who are white and male), I have a question for you: Do  you know how many people are terrified about what Trump-as-President means for them? As you sit in your position of white, male privilege and long to “make America great again”, do you have any idea, at all, what that means for people who are different from you? The potential victims of Trump-the-Bully? 

The gay community, the immigrant community, those with sick relatives who rely on Obamacare, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, women. 

Don’t tell them it’s “not that bad”, for it is. 

Take a moment to listen to those who feel vulnerable before you use your pulpit to celebrate the fulfilment of “God’s will”. 

As Van Jones said on CNN, “You have to hear the pain first, before you tell people it’s not alright to hurt”. 

Since Trump triumphed, there have been numerous reports that people of color are  being abused. Hispanic children have arrived at school to chants of “build the wall” from a group of white children. Children. At a university, a Groupme chat  added black students to chat about n****r lynching. Racist graffiti is found in universities and schools, as white people let others know who is no longer welcome in “Trump’s America”.  

This is the Trump effect. 

Potential victims include anyone who isn’t white/male/wealthy.

Anyone who isn’t like Trump.

The fear is real. The threat is real. Those (of us) who are privileged – who do not have to fear – cannot, and must not, capitulate. We must not “move on”. 

So many people are afraid. The colour of their skin, gender, faith or sexual orientation- the very essence of their identity – is being mocked and dismissed. They cannot be reassured, for the future is truly unknown. 

(We cannot even look at Trump’s political record to speculate about possible Presidential policies- for he does not have a political record.) 

We only have his rhetoric. Trump is a bully. And the fear is real.

I am ashamed of my silence on Tuesday as I watched a tall man bully a much-smaller boy (and his granny). I will not be silent, I will not allow myself to hide, as a President-elect bullies those he perceives as smaller than him. 

I am a card-carrying Christian but I cannot believe- as so many do – that “this must be God’s will” (it wasn’t God who was voting, it was American citizens). 

And I will not sit at my computer, blind to the huge-potential-hypocrisy of this blogpost.

For I am a Brit living in post-apartheid South Africa. I must confess my white privilege – for I am one of the powerful, the wealthy, the elite. I live in a nation that remains deeply divided along racial fault lines. A nation still in (slow) recovery from a political system that legalised and enforced separateness. A nation still in turmoil, whose scars are still raw.

I hate racism and yet I recognise the racist tendencies in my heart, I criticise those who only want to be around those who are “like them” and yet I confess my preference for my comfort zone. 
I long to be a bringer of change and yet I recoil at my oft-displayed unwillingness to engage in the painful task of dismantling this separateness. 

Today, we look back in horror at the evil of apartheid. We find it hard to believe that it was so widely accepted by those who were privileged. We find it hard to accept that Christians used the Bible to justify their belief in white supremacy and black inferiority. We balk at the premise that those in the Dutch Reformed Church truly  believed they were doing God’s will. 

And yet it was this belief – that they had exclusive access to truth – that justified the horrific behaviour that followed. 

Is history about to repeat itself? For this is the dangerous ground on which America now teeters. Has God blessed Trump to enforce the lies of white supremacy and black inferiority? Do Trump supporters want to Make America Great (Again) or rather Make America White (Again)? 

And yet. 

And yet, how easy it is to comment, and be outraged, at what is happening in the USA. It is much harder to engage with the injustices all around me. Much harder to stand up to the bullies standing next to me, as I discovered again on Tuesday. 

How easy it is to be brave from afar. 

How tempting to simply sit here, phone in hand and critique only on social media. 

How much harder to stand up to the much-taller bully in real life. 

And yet we must commit, again, to both. 

Let us not be silent in the face of oppression. 

We cannot allow the bullies to win. 

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You can run…

28 Apr

I’ve always been a bit of a nomadic soul. For many, many years I moved house about once a year. I enjoy change. I get bored quite quickly. I like “new”.

So, whilst most of my friends and peers seem established – with a family, a mortgage and steady employment – I find myself two months into a three-month trip to South Africa. And with no home to return to.

My hubster and I decided to come out here to volunteer at a project and explore future possibilities in Durban – a place very close to my heart. I love South Africa – the people, the sunshine, the optimism and opportunities. I love it, and yet I find myself feeling strangely displaced. Not-quite-at-home.

It’s a feeling I am accustomed to.

I tend to gravitate towards the periphery, towards the outsiders. I often feel not-quite-at-home.

I am realising, however, that being-at-home is much more about the inside than the outside. Much more about feeling at peace and settled in myself than whether I live in Durban, London, Mumbai or Texas.

I can “move home” as many times as I choose, yet one thing remains constant – me. I can relocate anywhere in the world, but I cannot escape from “Becca”. I cannot hide from the flaws, doubts and insecurities; they refuse to stay in the garage with my belongings.

Being away from the life-I-got-used-to-in-London has taken me out of my comfort zone. In some ways, there are less distractions here – no internet in our home, no TV, fewer phone calls and text messages. This makes it harder to hide from myself.

So I find myself searching for definitive answers and, as yet, uncovering frustratingly little that is certain or absolute. I am desperate to know what is next – to find some comfort and security – and, yet, this is eluding me right now.

I am learning, once again, that maybe it’s not “what we do” that matters most anyway.

Maybe a better question is: “who am I?”. It requires more soul-searching and wrestling, but the discipline of facing ourselves – looking in the mirror – is far more important than “what we do”.

This is a hard lesson for me – I am, by nature, an activist, a doer. I like to be busy, to feel productive. I find it hard to just sit and “be”.

All the running, though, has made me tired.

So I am choosing, once again, to look in the mirror, to face the deeper questions and doubts, and ask again: “who am I?”.

It is, I think, only when we choose to move on from our futile attempts at hiding – from myself, from others and from this world – that we will find “home”.

Under the cloud

9 Nov

It’s been one of those weeks.

I saw the dark cloud approaching, hovering on the horizon, probably about ten days ago. I spotted it and I ignored it.

For some reason, I thought that denial might work – this time.

And as the cloud approached, I remained naively optimistic. It will be different this time. I can do this. I can win this battle.

I started feeling slightly disconnected – from those around me, from conversations, from life. And I still carried on thinking I would be ok.

Then. Then – the crash. Unable to get out of bed. Unable to answer my phone. Unable to connect – with anyone, anything.

The cloud had enveloped me. I could no longer deny its presence. I could not fight, I had no resources or strength. Nothing.

I felt so sad. Overwhelmed by disappointment. A sense of loss. A sadness at the world we live in, at the suffering of those I love. A sadness and a questioning – of the path I am on, the world I occupy.

I could no longer see, enveloped by blackness. Bleakness.

I have been under the cloud before. And it is horrible. Awful. It is lonely, isolating, enveloping, all-consuming.

No-one should ever have to live under the cloud.

And today? Today, the cloud is still there but there are some rays of light too.

So please don’t worry. I write these words not to alarm anyone, but in the pursuit of honesty and truth. Of vulnerability.

For I spend many years pretending I was strong. And I am not.

I cannot do this on my own.

And I cannot pretend anymore. It’s been one of those weeks.

Moving up, moving down

1 Nov

I often hear talk, amongst Christians, of the desire to “be countercultural”, articulating an attempt to live differently in a world that is, in the West at least, marked by individualism, independence and financial aspiration.

And yet, the more I think about it, the more clearly I see: how little difference there is – in terms of every-day, nitty-gritty living – between those of faith and those of none.

For many middle-class Christians have embraced a middle-class faith.

A faith that allows for upward mobility, financial security and “confort zone living”.

A faith that, it would seem, talks about “going the extra mile” – yet rarely leads to worn out shoes.

A faith that ticks the “giving box” through impersonal direct debits, and avoids the command to “give away an extra coat”.

A faith exhibiting a reluctance to give-til-it-hurts.

A faith that has failed to truly cross the boundaries of wealth, class and background – so the rich get richer, the poor stay poor and we inhabit two separate worlds.

I write this not to judge, but as a confession. An admission that I, a fully signed-up Christian, am comfortable  in my comfort zone. I make choices that benefit me (and those I love) and I get caught up – day by day, week by week – in an aspirational, “upwards” mindset – bigger salary, bigger house, bigger cupboards. More. More. More.

Recently, though, my hubster and I made a different choice. You could, I guess, call it a “downward decision”. We had to move house – and so we left our lovely home with a big garden and moved into our friend’s spare room. We stepped off the up escalator and started exploring a different path. We are students of an alternative trail.

I know that some of our friends find it weird. After all – who would choose shared space instead of privacy? Which married couple would move in with others, except in an emergency? In a country obsessed with land ownership, why would anyone aspire to “shared space” over “my space”?

Then, this morning, I read these words:

“The rampant individualism of Western society is a relatively new thing, and its emptiness is increasingly evident … We are wealthy and lonely…”

We are lonely. We live in a world that is more “connected” than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, BBM. Instant access to others. And – if the phone doesn’t buzz or beep – instant loneliness.

We are wealthy. And the more money we have, the more we isolate ourselves from others.

We are strangers. We bump into others, for we share the same public space, yet we rarely know each other’s names.

We are upwardly mobile, educated, financially secure and full of aspiration. We are middle-class Christians.

And we are missing out.

Missing out on the wonder of hearing the life-stories of those with journeys very different to ours, and the indescribable joy of the friendships that can emerge. Missing out on the laughter, and tears, of living-entwined-lives, and not solely with “people like us”. Missing out on the reward and challenge inherent in a risky “no” to cultural norms and a “yes” to downward mobility.

A guy called Shane Claiborne said, “we live in community and among the suffering because it is what we are made for”.

I love that. For it is truly counter-cultural. And it doesn’t sound very middle-class to me.

The savagery of schizophrenia

22 Oct

I recently wrote a blog post on Elyn Saks’ TED talk about living with schizophrenia.

Here are some truly beautiful, sad-making and true words about the same condition. This is a must-read article by Caitlin Moran (and – if you are in a rush, read anyway for it won’t take you long).

I love how words can be a force of life: a rampage against darkness or an acceptance of this darkness, an articulation of truth or its denial.

Words can heal. And hurt. Encourage. Or destroy.

Words can create. And they can shut down.

I love reading the words of true wordsmiths. These ones made me want to cry. And that is good – for they reveal truth, love and life in all its messiness and ambiguity.

Thank you Caitlin.

Letting go

1 Oct

I am surrounded by boxes, piles of paper, chaos.

We move house this week.

I’ve moved house almost every year since I was 18. I am used to it.

Or not.

If I am honest, I may never get used to it. Isn’t it only human to want to be settled? To long for a “safe space”?

Each move necessitates some refining-downsizing-letting go. Each move requires me to remove my tight grip on that which I own, those things I tend to call “mine”. Each move challenges me to loosen my hold. To let go.

So I try to let go. And in doing so, I start thinking that life is a constant journey of acquiring and letting go. Embracing new possibilities. Letting go of old dreams. Purchasing new things in the belief they will make us happier. Then letting them go when we realise they are only things. Making new friendships, and letting go of those who were, it seems, never really “friends” after all.

I must let go. Whether of things, people or hopes. You see, I get weighed down when I don’t let go. I carry my baggage, I carry my “dream future” and in doing so, I cannot make space for the unexpected, the surprises.

So I let go. And I may weep as I do so. For life does not often turn out as we expect. Instead it brings unpredicted joy. And little sadnesses too – which sometimes mount up and merge to create a big sadness.

I let go. I say goodbye. I pack my life up once more.

And as I leave – with fewer boxes, I feel lighter somehow.

Summer, do you have to go?

20 Sep

Yes, I know – the blog has been somewhat dormant over the summer months. I guess it’s the opposite of conventional hibernation. I took some time out to reflect on why I am writing here. I was busy (it was indeed a fun-filled summer). And I had a little holiday. But, I am back in the world of blog once more and I hope that my writing will appear more frequently than it has of late.

Books I have loved this summer include:

Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Won’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain) – this deserves its own blogpost (one is on its way). Absolutely brilliant.

Stone Arabia (Dana Spiotta) – original, intelligent fiction. Really makes you think about memory. Fascinating.

Ten Letters: To Be Delivered In The Event of My Death (Chris Russell) – there is so much goodness in this that I am reading it very slowly. Much to absorb and think about.

Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy – I read these earlier in the summer. I became obsessed. More than I ever have been over books. Utterly compelling, clever and creative. So sad that he died before he could write more books. I am now officially a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction (never thought I would utter those words!)

Blogs I have discovered:

Grief, 3 little girls, and God somewhere – http://deeperstory.com/author/guy/

Anecdotes of a manic mum – http://manic-mums.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/dear-alex-no-matter-what.html?spref=fb

Very powerful blog on depression (and absolutely brilliant writing) – http://tamaraoutloud.com/2012/09/14/the-longest-way-back-home/

Favourite summer moments:

Going to the Paralympics

 –

A little holiday in Greece:

Getting completely and utterly, totally obsessed with the Olympics

The launch of LIV UK – an extraordinary charity that is building children’s villages for South Africa’s 5.2 million orphans. I am thrilled that I will be working for LIV UK over the next few months.

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