Tag Archives: interdependence

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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The Other

6 Jan

The need to belong is a powerful one, maybe as visceral and “human-y” as the need for love. Each of us needs an emotional home, that safe place where we are accepted fully, where we belong. Yet belonging is, by its very nature, about differentiation and preferences. I cannot be friends with everyone, therefore I choose some. I cannot help everyone, therefore I prioritise some. Such differentiation, “tribe creation”, seems to be the way of human beings. We create social norms, standards by which “normal” people live, and those on the outside are invariably marginalised, isolated and pushed to the periphery. Playground cliques do not, it would seem, end when we leave school.

So then, what does it mean to be “the other”? The one on the periphery? The one marginalised by depression? The one who is homeless and losing hope? The one with HIV/AIDS? The one with a disability? The one working in a brothel? The one with an unexpected teenage pregnancy? The one longing for a baby, yet unable to conceive? What would it be like to not be in the majority? What would it be like to carry the invisible stamp of differentiation?

Many of us in the West live lives that are impoverished by their homogeneity. Our friends, colleagues, community are “like us”. We have not heard the stories of “the other” and we are encumbered and enslaved by our own presumptions. The homeless became a sub-tribe of addicts, the mentally ill become “those we avoid”, street kids become criminals. We do not understand, and so we create boxes and confine individuals – each made in the image of the divine – within bland, beauty-less boxes. And so we lose out. We create an impenetrable chasm between “them” and “us”. We fail to enrich our lives because we do not acknowledge the worth of someone else’s story, the worth of someone else’s life.

And the reality is, that for many of us, “the other” makes us feel better about our lives. We are more together/successful/wise/normal than them. We have made better choices. “They” confirm our place in the centre, where we need only occasionally glance at the unfortunate souls on the periphery of society. We remain “normal”; “they” remain marginalised and misunderstood.

Could 2012 be the year where we seek out the story of “the other”, giving dignity and worth to those silenced and overlooked because they are “different”? Could it be the year we seek to understand and know – truly, not superficially – those who are not like us? “The other” is, after all, simply another one of us – a fellow human being with unique emotions, hopes and desires. A unique individual who shares our intrinsic human needs for love and belonging.

A New Year: An Unknown Path

3 Jan

Happy New Year! On NYE, my husband and I spent some time reflecting on 2011 and dreaming for 2012. 2011 was, in many ways, a year of trials and tribulations for us. A year of disappointments, loss and having-to-persevere. I lost my job. Tim’s new job – the dream we had been working towards – fell apart. We were burgled and lost, amongst other things, the watch I gave Tim as a wedding present. The dark night of the soul hovered over both of us. Yet, as we wrote down our highlights and lowlights, we found there were more positives than negatives. Not because we were trying to be super-positive but, actually, because we remembered how much we had to be thankful for. Our holidays in Normandy and Jersey. Having an article published in the Guardian. Tim’s new course. The arrival of another nephew. To name just a few.

I ended the year profoundly thankful that, in the midst of the storms, there were oases of joy, peace and laughter. I ended the year committed to not-making-all-the-same-mistakes-again. The future is uncertain for us – we have to leave our home in August, Tim’s role in the church ends then. I still don’t have enough paid work. Money is tight. We cannot buy our way out of uncertainty. Yet trying-to-control-what-happens-next is no longer of interest to me. Last year, we tried to mould our own future. This year, we are, in essence, going to let the future (and the present) mould us. My hands are cupped around my ears now, rather than tightly on the controls. I am not abdicating all responsibility; rather I am trying to let someone else sit in the driving seat. And this is hard for me – I like to know what is happening (also known as being a control freak); I like a plan and I like it to be my plan. However, I have learnt – the hard way – that it’s better to allow my faith to drive my decision-making. Much better than relying on my decision-making. Much better to be open to the bigger picture; open to unexpected detours, new paths and divine possibilities. Much more exciting.

So, at the start of this New Year, why don’t you join me on the unknown path? You see, the reality is – none of us can control the future anyway. It doesn’t matter how rich/talented/beautiful/organised we are – we are still at the mercy of the uncontrollable, unknown future. We cannot organise our way out of possible failure; we cannot control our way to success (it’s all an illusion if you think otherwise!). We can only choose how we show up each day. We can only take small steps on the unknown path. We can only choose to walk this path with others (or on our own, if we prefer). We can only extend a hand to those who are in need as we walk. We can only get up when we fall over. Who knows where we may end up?

Asking for help

21 Nov

An insecure economy, an insecure job market, rising unemployment… none of which are ideal for someone trying to make it work as a freelancer. My last job ended rather suddenly in September and I was left flummoxed and in shock. My husband had just started a one year course, we had just been burgled and now I didn’t have an income either. Whilst looking for other jobs still, I am attempting to launch on my own. Except it’s not really ‘on my own’ at all. Life just doesn’t happen ‘on our own’, or – if it does – it’s not that much fun.

I know that collaboration is the way forward (but still I am conditioned to try first on my own). I recently took part in a course on missional entrepreneurship where, at one session, we talked about ‘skill sharing’ – times when mutually exchanging skills may be more important than exchanging money for skills. In other words, I write your fundraising & communications strategy and you help me develop my website. I love this idea. Yet I know that there are times when good old money is what is needed too.I currently find myself in that place – urgently needing more work that pays!

So I decided to send out an email to some friends this morning, asking for their help. Which is actually harder than it sounds. I swallowed some humble pie in the process – you see, I don’t want to be seen as a ‘failure’. Someone who can’t find work. Someone who isn’t self-sufficient enough to make it on my own… except I am not. I cannot do it on my own. Somehow it is still quite difficult to admit this. To become vulnerable enough to ask for help.

But I bit the bullet. And am waiting to see if it yields any fruit.

I feel challenged by how difficult it was to write that email. Challenged to remain interdependent, to foster interdependency rather than join in our cultural worship of independence. Maybe all of us need to be more willing to ask for help. For as the great Bono once said, “Sometimes you can’t make it on you own”

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