Tag Archives: risk

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.


Who am I? Where am I? Part II

11 Jun

What did the clever man think? He liked it.

And I liked that he liked it. It felt redemptive somehow. Redemptive – yet confusing.

What should I do with that which has been salvaged? Plucked out of the dark and brought into the light? For that is how it felt – as though part of me long locked away was being released, allowed to re-emerge. “The failure” may not, after all, be the end.

Can failures be rescued, re-imagined, resurrected? What can we do with the remnants?

In Mozambique, several years ago, I visited a rubbish dump known locally as the bocarria. There lived the scavengers, those who made a living from others’ waste. Those who were so poor, so desperate, that the unwanted remnants – discarded by fellow human beings – became their livelihood.

These entrepreneurial rescuers knew instinctively that worthless things may actually be deeply valuable. That life is often found amongst waste, that hope often dwells in unusual places – and can be buried within a smelly, forsaken mountain of shit.

Many of us in the West never get anywhere near the shit. We live complacent, comfortable, there-is-always-enough (or there-is-always-too-much) lives. We throw away that which is valuable – both literally and metaphorically – because it’s easier, more convenient, than salvaging from the rubbish. We put the rubbish in the bin automatically, and we lock our failures in the cupboard in the same way. We discard that which may, sometimes, need to be salvaged.

And so we miss out. On redemption. On hope-restoration. On real-life resurrection.

We miss out because salvaging is hard work and costly. Painful. It takes time. And it rubs your hands (and heart) raw.

I – like many – often make the easy choice: sanitized living – clean, safe and predictable. I prefer order to mess. Hygienic surfaces to those strewn with waste. And yet, occasionally, in the midst of my need-for-order, the unexpected occurs. Scavenging – whilst terrifying and confusing – becomes the best choice. And so I choose it. And there, if only for a brief moment, is the sweet aroma of redemption.

In or out?

7 May

Who are you?

Now, there’s a question (something light for this Bank Holiday Monday perhaps!?)

I guess what I am really asking is: how well do you know yourself? And does it matter?

Personally I love a bit of self-reflection. Working out how I work. And why. And I hope it makes me a better friend, a kinder wife, a more thoughtful human.

But there are times when difficult questions must be asked. Why do I believe that? What does that attitude/behaviour say about me? Am I the person I say I want to be?

Sometimes it involves going there, to the difficult places.

You see, it’s far too easy in life to just go along with the crowd (whoever that crowd may be). It’s far too easy to think that “our crowd” is “going against the crowd”, when all we are doing is “going along with our crowd”.

And, within this crowd, we are no longer challenged, no longer self-reflective or willing to go there. Instead we grow comfortable. And safe. And warm. And our old motivations and values – to “make a difference”, “treat others well”, “make a mark” – simply get watered down. Again. And again. And again. Until they are no longer recognisable.

The thing about these crowds is – you are either “in” or “out”. You either belong or you don’t. You can’t be a half-member of the tennis club or book club or women’s institute. You either belong or you don’t.

And this is why I have been thinking lately about crowds and belonging. Where do I want to belong and where I do, in fact, belong right now? Have I stopped questioning of late and now simply find myself caught up in the crowd? Dare I ask myself if life has got too comfortable and safe (for I may not like the answer)? Dare I step “out” and relinquish being “in” in order to grow and live life to the full?

Changes are a-looming for my husband and I. We have to move out of our home this summer. And need to decide where to go next. This is, for us, completely tied up with jobs and income. What will we choose? Comfortable or risky? Safe or unknown? As we enter the decision-making process, will we dare to ask ourselves the difficult questions and potentially go against the crowd? Will be stay “in” or risk going “out”?

What about you? Who are you? And where are you – in or out? It’s your choice.

Another untold story – real heroes

13 Feb

Here is an article I wrote for the Reject Apathy website about the incredible work of Tich & Joan Smith in building villages for orphans in SA – Preparing the Way for Hope

I love telling untold stories – this is one that must be told…

Swimming through jellyfish

24 Jan

This is an absolutely fantastic TED talk by Diana Nyad. Approaching the age of 60, she felt profound regret at the regrets that had dominated her life. Not wanting to live the rest of her life in submission to her fears, she decided she was going to be the first person ever to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. No small feat!

Despite all her training, mental focus, physical fitness and determination – she came up against a formidable opponent, only two hours into her swim. The box jellyfish. One of the most venomous creatures on the planet. Diana was stung multiple times, yet kept swimming as treatment was administered. She could hardly breathe and was in agonising pain. Yet she kept swimming. The following day, she was stung again. She kept swimming. But on day three, her body gave up. She had managed to swim for another 38 hours following the initial attack (an extraordinary feat in itself), but now her body was giving up. She had no choice but to abandon her swim. Abandon her dream. As she says, “the dream was crushed”.

One of the reasons I love this talk is that Diana’s “failure” took place only one month before she stood on this prestigious stage, talking about her defeat at the tentacles of the box jellyfish. She was not standing there in victory, having subsequently conquered this swim, having conquered (or avoided!) the jellyfish. Instead she stands in front of her (potentially global) audience in humility, in defeat, in grace. She has no easy answers. There are no easy answers. No quick retorts to life’s deepest disappointments.

Following the crushing of a dream, there may never be a later “success”, a moment where disappointment fades away in the face of subsequent joy. Hope may never be resurrected. The dream may never become reality. This is the painful, often humiliating reality. Well-meant platitudes – “maybe it was never meant to be”, “something better will come along”, “one day it will all make sense” – are often just annoying, sometimes jarringly insensitive. You see, there are no guarantees in life. No certainties that one day life will bring victory, rather than defeat.

How do we respond to the death of a dream? The sense of failure? The loss of meaning? Well, one day, we might come out fighting. As Diana said, “the ocean is still there”. But maybe we won’t. Maybe we will never truly know “why?”, maybe we will always feel a little bit disappointed. And that’s ok. Is is possible to “find grace in the face of defeat”? To embrace grace rather than bitterness (although it’s ok, and probably healthy, to be angry for a while); grace rather than fear (although we all get afraid sometimes); grace rather than a need to succeed. Grace may mean trying again, or it may mean letting go. It will probably mean embracing failure. It will probably mean allowing the dream to die, whether for a while or forever. It will probably mean finding enough grace to continue pursuing grace, whatever may happen next.

Vulnerable moments

9 Nov

This morning I had to do something a bit scary at very short notice. Standing up in front of 18 pioneers to talk about fundraising and strategy. With one hours notice! They were all very friendly but I felt pretty vulnerable, especially after it was over. I guess I wanted people to rush up and tell me I did great. And that didn’t really happen.

Sitting with feelings of vulnerability can be a difficult thing to do. Choosing to be vulnerable, and so to risk failure, is a courageous choice.

I was inspired by this brilliant TED talk by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability. It’s worth putting aside 20 mins to hear what she has to say, her findings are counter cultural and surprising. And good news for all of us who sometimes find things in life a little scary.

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