Tag Archives: community

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.

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Non-coping strategies

1 Feb

Well, it’s almost the end of January, only a few more hours until we start afresh with a new month. I am not at all sad to be moving on – I tend to struggle in January with the darkness, the cold and the short hours of sunlight. I find January a bit depressing and, if I’m going to be honest, it often finds me a bit depressed too. Sometimes it seems that no amount of good news can shift the (January) blues.

This morning, I was thinking about how so many of us only survive the harder times due to some well-tuned coping strategies. We work hard, we play hard, we eat more, drink more, eat less, drink less, we cut ourselves off from others, we attach ourselves to others, we spend more, buy more, dream more, stay in bed longer, sleep too much, struggle to sleep at all. As a race, human beings have become adept at avoiding the real issues – using these and other ways of coping with the stress, sadness and solitude. We’ve become so sophisticated at it, that many of us no longer recognise what we are doing – we deem it “normal” and carry on with our busy lives.

What are we hiding from? What is the “pain behind the problem”? What are we so afraid of? Why am I (and I can’t be the only one!) so afraid of exposing the “real me”? So intent on hiding it and covering up my fears through food/fake smiles/frivolity? It seems as though we live in a world intent on keeping the “real me” (or the true self) in the corner; somehow we think the world requires us to be busy/stressed/multi-tasking/thin/beautiful/clear-skinned/self-disciplined and able to let our hair down and party hard when needed. What are we all hiding from?

Sometimes I think that those least able to hide their pain have something to teach the rest of us. Those who have been through the gutter and managed to climb out the other side. Those who have developed “non-coping strategies”, giving them a much healthier, more balanced perspective on life. Those who have recognised their own weakness, flaws and messiness – and realised they cannot overcome them on their own.

An (ex-)alcoholic, an (ex-)addict who has found support and strength through AA or NA has thrown out his or her “coping strategy” and found a “non-coping strategy” instead – where relationships and community are vital, where a sponsor is available 24/7, where reliance on a “higher power” is critical to making it through the next day. Where days are lived not in a blur of busyness, but mindfully, thoughtfully – literally one day at a time. Where the power of temptation – and the addict’s weakness in the face of such temptation – is not seen as minimal and overlooked, but rather recognised as the behemoth it really is – and avoided at all costs. Where pain must be confronted, rather than drunk away. Where bad days lead to reflection and asking for help, rather than another drink, another bet, another (three) slices of cake. Where identity is always constructed around “the great weakness” so that the addict remains humble and contrite, rather than giving in to pride and self-sufficiency.

I would like to be less private and “independent” during my own bad days, my own darker moments. Rather than hiding away, turning to chocolate or other escape routes, I would like to call up a friend and ask for their support. I would like to constantly remember my own fallibility and need for strengthening from a higher power. I would like to face the pain head on, rather than smother it in comfort food/drink/busyness/deadlines. I would like to develop a non-coping strategy that actually works! Throwing away – onto a massive burning pyre – every single friggin’ “coping strategy” that has let me down, time and again, and so predictably, over the years.

Maybe a few of us could get together and discard our unwanted coping strategies on a huge bonfire all together – recognising the truth that we all need each other anyway. Maybe we could build a new community – not defined by success/outer beauty/achievements/serenity, but instead constructed around the human need for true love, empathy and acceptance. Surely it’s got to be better than what we’ve got right now?

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