on washing hands

March 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , )

There is a darkness, deep and insidious in the story of Christ’s last hours. It is the darkness of the human soul come unashamedly and self-justified to the fore: the betrayal of Judas wrapped up in a kiss of false friendship; the denial of Peter as he lurks in the shadows around that early morning fire; the vicious mocking, insulting and beating in the courtyard of the high priest – at the very hands of the most piously religious; the crowd riled up to a feverish pitch – driven by fear, jealousy, pride; the lying of the false-witnesses placed in the crowd; the deep and heart-wrenching mourning of the women, powerless and voiceless in the face of the religious and social and political spheres in which this all plays out; and then the soldiers, dividing up his clothes even as he hung dying.

I walked the stations last night, entering into the story of each of these players and identifying their humanity in my own. I remembered times I had betrayed or been betrayed and even how some of those moments were prefaced with a kiss. I thought of how I deny countless times a day when what I profess and how I act doesn’t match up. Or even the moments when I downplay or disguise or sugar-coat my faith so as not to offend or put myself in the firing line. I thought about the times when my own piety is pushed viciously to the side and I become “other” – mean-spirited, mocking, pouncing on the weaknesses in others to raise myself. I thought of the places my fear, jealousy, pride and conformity have driven me to – the things I have done or not done as I’ve looked to fit into the crowd. I’ve lied, I’ve stretched the truth, I’ve been played by others more devious than me. I’ve certainly mourned and felt powerless. But sometimes I’ve hushed and pushed others to the silent-fringe so I could have my oh-so-important say. I’ve taken and divided up the lot, generously and evenly, of the poor, the outcast, the dying and the innocent. Countless times. And somehow I’ve managed to justify it all.

washing hands

But there is one whose actions came home for me in a powerful way last night. Pontius Pilate. The one who asked Jesus, “what is truth?” and when the answer came resoundingly back to him, even without a word being said, was compelled to say, “I find no fault in him”. He looked in the face of innocence and through the roars of the crowd knew, without a doubt, that this was a greater moment of justice than any he had faced. He knew this was a dramatic moment of oppression and injustice. He knew the good, knew the right thing to do and, more significantly, had the power to act on that knowledge. Yet he turned away and chose not to act. And then he sealed his guilt with the very prophetic act he intended to assuage it with: he washes his hands in front of the crowd saying, “”I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” In that moment the full weight of responsibility and blame falls upon his own shoulders even as he feebly tries to abdicate responsibility and acquit himself. His justification becomes his judgement.

Ah, how many times have we poured that same water over our hands which refused to act. How often have we had to cry afterward, “Out, out damn spot!” as our hands drip with the blood of the innocent, the abused, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the orphan. How often have we kissed and betrayed, denied and mocked, lied and allowed ourselves to be driven by fear, jealousy and pride, kicked to the curb, silenced and dishonored – and justified our actions with the washing of our hands. Abdicated responsibility, acquitted ourselves of guilt and turned in the same breath to divide the clothes of those we have thus betrayed.

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on being woman (explicit)

March 18, 2013 at 9:02 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

the lyrics slam into my bedroom, smashing into every crevice, every corner, crawling with its insidious fingers over my bed until the entire room seethes with the sadistic words. the words wretch, a hate-filled debasement of woman. this is no ordinary misogynistic rap. it is an intensely graphic description of rape and abuse. and a glorification of both. the words don’t seep. they rip through every part of my being.

my mouth fills with bile and i cannot take any more. i have had my fill and am sick to my stomach. my hands shake and all that fills my mind is “this has to stop”. i walk downstairs, my vision blurred and stand staring at my husband who looks up and asks if i’m okay. the words don’t even come out. it’s ripped through me and now it’s tearing at my skin, making me want to scream, to roar with primal fear STOP!

I draw a breath because I know this must be handled right. And so I reach into the deepest part of myself, walk across the street and knock on his door. He comes slowly, nonchalantly, and I look past him at his 2 year old daughter standing in the lounge. “I’m having some trouble with your music,” I say. I’m shaking and I cannot breathe. “I find the words really offensive and it’s so loud it keeps slamming against my house and filling my whole bedroom.” He offers to turn the volume down.

but his calm response masks the rage that i’ve incurred in him. it’s not only his music that seethes now. its fed him, wrapped him, rapt him, enclosed around him and he seethes. against me. because who am i, woman, to dare? i’ve shamed him. and he later tells my husband, she should never have said that to me. next time you tell me. but not her.

and i am positioned. framed within his twisted hyper-masculine culture as woman. he spits it out just like his music vomits it. i am positioned as the one his music rapes, his songs hate, his brother hits, his friend screams at and degrades and abuses night after night. i am positioned as nothing. i am nothing.

and i am filled with that primal fear of woman. that lack of power in the face of overwhelming hatred, of physical retreat in the face of a strong hand.  there are days i walk these streets isolated by the eyes following me. that do all the things to me my mind dreads. and i pretend not to see. to walk on by. voices call out to me – challenging, mocking, taunting. i pretend not to hear. because i cannot entertain the fears these things raise in me. daily.

today i am positioned as woman. as woman alongside the wife who was beaten, the girlfriend who was date raped, the teenage mother, the worndown, despised, degraded. today my experience of living in this neighborhood shifted. today my interaction with violence – or the ever-threat of it – changed. non-violence, pacifism, and peacemaking become less theoretical and more personal – my interaction with these thoughts and ideas and philosophies can no longer be abstract because my relation to them has become embodied. i do not interact with them from a distance, in an event, in a moment or in a experience; they have become tied to my being, my walking, my presence. how do i do non-violence, how do i practice pacifism, how do i be a peace-maker when violence – the threat, the call, the power of it – is tied inextricably to my being WOMAN.

today my experience shifted. all because i couldn’t hold down the bile as the words drove deep into my bedroom.

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on being my sister’s keeper

February 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , )

Perhaps the most profound question asked in the Bible, is the one Cain poses to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As I’ve been thinking this week about the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, this is the question I’ve kept returning to. Do we have a responsibility to watch out for and care for those around us? The answer for me is undoubtedly a resounding “Yes!” In the light of the many stories of violence against women this past week, I want to call us all to become – day-by-day – our sister’s keepers.

See that girl in the club, looking really uncomfortable as three guys come around her and hit on her? Move closer. Eavesdrop. And if need be, be ready to stand in and defend her.

The girl in the bathroom wiping mascara from her eyes? Ask her if she’s okay or if there’s someone you can call.

The little kid walking alone from school? Park your car discreetly up the road and watch over them til they reach a more populated area.

The girl bent over the toilet vomitting cos someone spiked her drink? Take her hand, sit with her, get her hydrated, walk her home, call a friend, hold her hair back while she’s sick in the bushes. Do whatever it takes. Keep her safe.

That single girl at the braai? She should never have to ask you to walk her to her car, and should never feel like she is being a burden. Take stock at the beginning of the night of who arrived alone and keep watch for when they leave and walk them to their door.

That group of 14 year old girls walking along Tokai main road at 10pm? Stop and offer them a lift. And if they decline tell them you’re going to follow them from a safe distance until they make it home safely.

The woman with the black eye and the cut lip? Ask her name and see if she needs medical attention. Open the door to conversation. Give her your phone number. Just in case.

These are all stories of times I’ve tried to “be my sister’s keeper” – in only one of these situations did I actually know the girl’s name beforehand. Sometimes people thought I was wierd, occassionally they may have been creeped out, often they were grateful. But maybe once or twice I even helped to save a life.

If I am not for them, I am against them. And woe that God’s reply comes to me, as it did to Cain: “What have you done?” [The echo in my head, “What have you not done?] “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

sister's keeper

 

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on doing something

February 16, 2013 at 11:33 am (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , )

In the wake of several highly reported rapes, the brutal attack on Anene Booysen and the recent killing of Reeva Steenkamp, many South African’s are asking themselves, “What can we do?” Wearing black, protesting on social network platforms, and even calling for higher penalties on convicted offenders all have their place. But how about we went a step further and started targeting the opinion-makers, the  places where mindsets and attitudes are being sculpted, the voices that are headline-by-headline daily erroding our country’s sense of value for life, desensitising us to violence and degrading women? How about flooding The Daily Voice and Die Sun papers with letters of protest around their irresponsible reporting, sensationalist stories and shockingly offsides headlines that devalue life and women and increasingly create spectacle out of tragedy?

While letters to the Editor are certainly a start, I’m guessing we’re going to have to go a couple of steps further. Let’s be honest: folk who write a letter of protest against insensitive headlines are not generally the people who are buying The Daily Voice. With a daily readership of just over 500,000 even a deluge of outrage may not affect The Daily Voice. But hitting their bottom line will.  40% of the Voice’s content is advertising. So how about we call for higher standards of social responsibility from advertisers and call for companies to pull their ads from The Daily Voice and Die Son until such time as we see a marked difference in their reporting on women and violence.

Justice

Too often, South Africans underestimate their power to influence the media and public opionion and social norms. We can be activivists and advocates, reformers and revolutionaries – empowered to forge, and form, and frame. Instead, we become passive consumers of media and of mindsets. We become bystanders, then victims and, inadvertently, perpetrators.

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On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

March 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food  with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.

This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area.  No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…

Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.

See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we  feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these”  if I think they are.

Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.

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On wishing-wells (and the irony of pessimistic idealism)

January 6, 2012 at 6:09 am (People I have known, Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, a wise friend of mine spoke to me openly about her own marriage. She has been married longer than Brett and I. It was SO refreshing to hear her voice her own struggles, to hear her speak about some of the things most of us married folk never even voice out loud cos “how could we even be thinking that!”, and to have some of it comfortingly resonate with what I have felt and struggled with. So thank you to honest, open, say-it-like-it-is, older and wiser, married folk who debunk the myths of marriage without degrading its worth!

One thing she spoke about which really struck me is how sometimes we look at our spouse and are so easily able to spot the flaws and the weaknesses and even wish a little that they were “more this” or “less that”.  She has learned over the years that some of the things she wishes her spouse was “more of” do not exist precisely because of some of the other things she loves and cherishes and values in him.

I like this cartoon about Elly the Elephant because, as much as the last two frames of it kind of kick marriage, I think it drives home a hugely valuable lesson that “looking for a partner”, “trying to decide whether to commit to a partner”, and “learning to love a partner better” people can (and SHOULD) all learn as quickly as possible. Sometimes the very things we love in our partners preclude some other things. That is, exactly because they are one way, they are not necessarily going to be some of those other things we may also want/like.  I love that Brett doesn’t care about what people think about him. But I struggle to do the same. And so sometimes I get embarrassed when he goes to the staff party dressed in purple tights, with purple gypsy pants, a Madiba shirt, a Marvin the Martian tie, and dreadlocks under a standy-up beanie (for example, d; ). And I secretly wish he’d just dressed “normal”. But all those crazy clothes are part of the package of him not caring about what people think, and being fun and spontaneous, and making me laugh every-day-every-day, and always finding the good in people, and hoping, and bringing life into a room, and vibing with strangers and just generally not taking things too seriously (in a good way). And so maybe if he dressed more “normal” he would be a little-less all those things. And I would hate that.

So Elly the Elephant wants someone who is sensitive, but doesn’t want him to be “needy”…and one of the two has to go. She wants him to be dependable….but he might not be if he also ticks the wish-list box as “adventurous”. We want our spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend to be all things to us. See, it’s not a case of “simply learning to be happy with the few avocados we have” or “being happy with the crappy partner we have” (Stephan Pastis).  It’s about realizing that maybe we have some ideals that are just idealistic. That do not recognize that we are flawed and that any partner we end up with will be just as flawed. And that some characteristics which we highly value exist to the exclusion of others that we just slightly value. And that when we turn our attention to griping about the small-value things, we lose sight of the big-value things and devalue our partner. Or we sit alone.

Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy, have written a book which B and I are reading through and “studying” together. Here’s a little something about our expectations in potential (and actual) partners:

“Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searcher and the searched for…it would be wrong to pin the culture’s change in attitude toward marriage fully on the male quest for physical beauty. Women have been just as affected by our consumer culture. Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are all looking for a marriage partner who will “fulfill their emotional, sexual and spiritual desires”. And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry. This is the reason so many put off marriage and look right past great prospective spouses that simply are “not good enough.”… To conduct a Me-Marriage requires two completely well adjusted, happy individuals, with very little in the way of emotional neediness of their own or character flaws that need a lot of work. The problem is – there is almost no one like that out there to marry!…In other words, some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love, and consolation.” (The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller, pp. 33-35)

I guess to paraphrase John Tierney, so often in our dating and marriages we are “determined to get more than we deserve – and to reject anyone remotely like ourselves”. The problem with all of this – the pessimistic idealism in terms of what we are looking for in a partner; and the wishing for something slightly different which just doesn’t fit with what we have – is that it makes it extremely hard to find a partner, to keep a partner, or to be partner.

As for me? I am seeking, trying (and many times failing), day-by-day, to embrace all the facets (even the hard ones and the wishing-well ones) that are integrally tied up with some of the wonderful and marvelous and highly valuable things which are intrinsically who Brett is. I’m learning that “the basket can’t hold all the avocados” and I’m pretty sure I’m not “all the avocados” myself!

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On the corner store

November 29, 2011 at 4:26 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, )

Today I chose to “buy local”. I walked down Kensington Ave, a street just around the corner of my house, but a part of it I rarely see cos it’s the long way home. As I was walking I thought I should do this more often so that people along that street start to recognize me like they do on Potter and H. and so that I can start building relationships further afield. What a great way to do this by being “forced” to walk along here once a week to get to the local corner fruit and veg store. Yes.

I was looking for butternut squash to make soup for dinner. As I came up to the store I saw a pile of the BIGGEST butternut squashes ever (well, you know) all hanging out in a crate with a handwritten piece of cardboard saying “$1 each”. Seriously! I’m guessing they weighed at least 3 pounds which would have cost me $3 in a national chain store. Deal. Yes.

As I looked around for a couple of other things I needed I noticed one of the guys who sometimes comes for food or a blanket was working in the store. YAY! We chatted for a couple of minutes and he seemed pleased to see me. I told him I was glad he was working there. He smiled. Yes.

Before I left, I snuck a look at the flowers. $4 for a bunch of mums was a little out of my reach but the owner came out, saw me looking and said, “Take them for a dollar each.” Then he looked again and said, “Never mind, you can have all five bunches for $2!” WOW. So many flowers in my house right now. Also, I think God had a hand in that transaction – when I came home and heard that one of our neighbors just found out she has cancer, I had a bunch in the kitchen to take over to her. Yes.

I didn’t drive to the store. I’m told this saves on carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Also, I’m guessing the veg I bought was sourced from local farms. Again, yay earth. This diagram had some interesting stuff to say about the benefits of buying local.

As far as I can tell, there are 6 major benefits to buying from local stores: Non-profit organizations tend to receive more support from smaller business owners than they do from large businesses; it keeps our community unique; it reduces the environmental impact of getting food to big stores and getting to big stores to get said food; it creates more jobs (small local businesses are apparently the largest employer nationally); taxes are invested directly back into the local community;  local business owners tend to live in the local community and are more invested in the community’s future. (http://sustainableconnections.org/thinklocal/why)

Also, it is a great way to start building relationships – to know and be known. Today I became a presence in an area I don’t usually go to; I met someone whom I knew from a different context and got to have a conversation; I got good cheap produce; I saved on gas (that’s petrol for you Safas); I got many beautiful flowers for a fraction of their cost; and I started building upper body strength carrying all those bags home!

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On unglamorous redemption

November 14, 2011 at 3:07 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , )

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself standing in front of a heap of rubble – the burnt out remains of a once thriving garment factory in Camden, New Jersey. Recently classified as “the most dangerous city” in America – based on crime data in 6 categories (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft) – Camden is one of the many left-behind cities of America; literally burning up amidst poverty, high rates of unemployment, low graduation rates, crime, gangs, abandoned properties and extremely high levels of ground and water-source pollution. This neighborhood shares much of the same sociological pedigree as Kensington. This was once a thriving site of construction and manufacturing, with neighborhoods built up around factories so workers could walk to work. The collapse of that system of life is evident throughout these streets. Slowly manufacturing moved out of this neighborhood, becoming globalised as wages became ever cheaper with production outsourced to third-world countries. Left in the wake of this exodus of production was the waste of years of noxious chemicals and pollutants, which have seeped into the groundwater and stripped the land so that little grows here. Those with the social mobility to move out of Camden did so, leaving behind the poorest with none of the social support systems to raise them up. Standing in a neighborhood with nothing left to attract corporate America, a community filled with all the waste of the American dream and none of the means for its actualization, I picked up a piece of brick from the now desolate factory and placed it in my pocket – a reminder, a memorial.

“Exegesis”, from the Greek “to lead out”: a critical examination and interpretation of, usually, a text, including investigation into the history and origins of the text, and study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience.

As we “exegete our neighborhoods” and our worlds, it is easy to become disillusioned and throw our hands into the air crying out “there is no hope”. But acquiescing to the desolation in our world denies the possibility of its redemption. If we sit back, overwhelmed by the social issues and their antecedents which we see all around us, we are saying redemption has no power, no hope. It is void. We cannot afford to deny redemption in our worlds since doing so denies its power in our lives. If we cannot hope for redemption in our streets we cannot hope for its work in our selves.

I don’t think many of us who have experienced this redemption would deny its work; rather, I think the answer lies in something Chris Haw said as he stood by the riverside talking of this place he calls home. In response to someone’s question of “What can be done?” he replied, “There are a thousand things that can be done, but none of them are sexy.”  There is little in the process of redemption that is glamorous or sexy or even attractive. But then again, neither was the act of redemption itself particularly glamorous, sexy or attractive. We hope for hope which looks like hope – bright-eyed and optimistic, happy-go-lucky and idealistic. Often the hope we get is the one which raises tired eyes and heads from the routine and repetition, and the messiness of human relationships and forces itself to look to the hills, from whence our help comes from. This hope is often unglamorous. It is tied in with shopping for groceries, and sweeping up trash only to have it reappear a few hours later. The redemptive process is undoubtedly restorative and powerful and can change our worlds even as it transforms our lives. It is the essence of our re-imagining. But it is process. Day in and day out. And it is rarely sexy.

“Christians get allured by the extraordinary: in mission, ministry, and witness the pull seems to be away from the ordinary towards the new, the exciting and the innovative. But maybe the real challenge of our times is to learn to affirm the ordinary things very deeply, doing our church and our theology and our praying whilst deeply engaged with these basic building blocks of life. This is a call for us to deal with the mundane things in our lives, but it is not a calling to dullness -it’s about discovering new possibilities of being creative, with the ordinary things of life.” (John Davies)

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On dreaming

October 30, 2011 at 4:38 am (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , )

It’s snowing today. This snow’s beauty lies in its falling down, reflected in the street lights. But that beauty fades as it hits the ground, mixing with the messiness of the lives which have passed this way throughout the day. Its promise dies as it becomes tied up inextricably with the dirt, trash and discarded mess which are mere symbols of structural inequality, poverty, cycles of abuse and destruction and violence, marginalization, and isolation from centers of power. The debris of the American dream.

I live in an inner-city neighborhood called Kensington in Philadelphia. Over 42% of our neighbors live below the poverty line, 46% have less than a highschool education, and most are unemployed. The neighborhood’s primary industry is the drug trade. Ours is a community full of violence and chaos, addiction, abuse and poverty – but it is also full of hope and beauty and good people trying to improve their own and neighbor’s lives. We are not naive about the challenges Kensington faces; nor are we overwhelmed by them. Fundamentally, we believe that another world is possible and that maybe it starts by dreaming, by relocating to the broken and neglected places of empire, by living with our lives what we speak with our mouths, by being good neighbors. We seek to re-spark imagination in our interactions. We have built a beautiful neighborhood park at the end of our street, and a neighborhood garden where folk can grow their own vegetables, we run a food distribution, and give out blankets and toiletries and bedrolls when folk knock on our door. We do homework help three days a week with kids from the neighborhood, throw holiday parties, hand out school supplies to over 550 kids, celebrate birthdays, put bandaids on scrapes, share our chocolate sprinkles, make popcorn, open up opportunities for summer camps, and play in the fire hydrant in summer. Most importantly we try to live our lives on our streets. And we always seek to dream.

A few short weeks ago, I thought that most of our neighbors had lost their imagination, their ability to dream of a different way. Many have. In places of violence, war, conflict, poverty, destruction and despair the privilege of dreams is often secondary to the necessity of survival. For others, years of walking a trail of broken dreams has only served to crush any hope for a future. I do not doubt that there are many in my community who have lost their imagination, their daring to hope and dream.

But I have also learnt that I have not had ears to hear the many dreams that do exist on my block. These are streets of pain; but they are also fields of gold. Some are dreaming of an orchard at the end of our road. Another longs to see an aquarium where children can learn to run their own businesses. Someone wants to paint all the post boxes on the block. There are dreams for a compost business which will serve Kensington, a vegetable garden which will feed our block and provide low cost healthy food to our broader community. A neighbor has a file full of contacts for emergency services, heating, food, jobs and education which she pulls out anytime anyone is in need. Someone else has a file full of clippings from magazines and printouts from online – of fences and parks and benches around trees. Someone sweeps our streets each morning – and each day it fills again with trash. But for those few hours this is another world. And slowly others are joining in.

I dream of the day when these dreams become stories celebrated not regrets mourned. I pray these dreams breathe life into the here and now, in the time when these dreams are not…yet. I dream that the debris of the American dream can be swept off our block so that the snow can fall, creating a new world on our streets.

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On stories

July 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , )

These are not the answers. I’ve only been here a month. Inserted myself into someone else’s story. HIS and all those who came before me. All those who walked these streets. Slept in my room. Wrestled. Cried out. Toiled. Built relationships. Broke relationship. All those who sought to change and were changed and all those who somehow managed to bring change to others. I’ve inserted myself into a story that dates back 13 years. And further. Back to the days when this area was vibrant with factories, business’, jobs and families. A little further on to the “white exodus”: the years when factories closed, businesses relocated, jobs were cut off, and families drifted on and apart. I don’t understand this part of the story. I don’t even understand or grasp the part of the story that begins 13 years ago. I certainly don’t understand in its fullness the part I find myself immersed in now. So these are not the answers. Not after a month. As if a lifetime could give them.

No, these are the questions. My thoughts. My struggles, my dreams. My wrestlings and crying out. My toiling, my seeking and my changing. I tend to write romantically. I live practically. Immersed. The writing is the listening to Josh Garrels through my earphones. The living is the hearing fights and children and police sirens and drug dealers breaking through. Hear them both; they’re both important. I must live as though I am here. Present. I must dream as though I’m not. Future. I must understand as one who was. Past. And I must hope that Christ breaks in. On me. On this neighborhood. On our lives. Present-continuous.

This is the story. About liturgy in the morning with visitors and community and strangers. All of us with one thing in common: Jesus Christ. About evening prayer in the basement. Surrounded by clothes and food and tools and toys and stationary and ice-cream and prayers which span 13 years and beyond – deaths and lives and addictions and marches  and subversion and holy mischief and small acts of great love. It is about living intentionally in a community house with 4 other people. About frustrations and different interpretations of cleanliness and moods and personalities and strengths and weaknesses and how to share the bathroom in the morning and the washing machine in the afternoon and graciously accepting tofu. It is about intentionally living in geographic community in a neighborhood that is loud and many times angry. Where children and people in need and pilgrims knock on our door – seemingly unceasingly. It is about learning to live and most especially to live well amidst drugs and addictions and anger and hurt and seeming confusion. It is about boundaries. It is about realizing that we are not the only ones who bring good here and recognizing it in the lives of our neighbors and friends – not our social “projects”. It is about struggling with how best to relate to the drug dealers who sit on our step turning thousands of dollars of despair a night. It is about how to maintain a marriage amidst competing demands and other covenant commitments.

It is about making sure to place Jesus back into the center of the gospel of social justice every time I am tempted by my own pride and naivety to relegate Him to the back seat.

It is about going about our daily lives aware, intentional, full of grace and mercy and love. It is about not just going about.

“I read in a book that a man called Christ went about doing good.

It is very disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just going about.”

Toyohiko Kagawa

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