on communion

July 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm (Poetry, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , )

This is how I want to take communion. I want to hold a loaf fresh from the oven, the dough kneaded by the rough hands of a friend, warmth rising, infused with its sweet scent. I want to take this bread in my hands and break it open with my fingers, releasing its aroma. I want it to leave my hands and fill the hands of the one next to me. I want to take my communion in chunks. I want to indulge in it. I want to fill my mouth with it and I want it to satiate me. I want to hold in my left hand this meal and, after the moment of its recognition, I want to keep dipping it into olive oil and a little salt – raising it to my lips again and again. In my right hand, I want to hold a glass of red wine. I’ll sip it and swirl it and savor it – drawing out the rich breadth of it before swallowing. I want it to be filled to overflowing. I want it, as it fills my mouth with its flavor to remind me that this is everlasting. That it is good.

This is how I want to take communion. In homes and before fires, on beaches before waves, on mountains before open skies, in fields before sunsets. Around tables and around friends. In crowded rooms filled with laughter and in quiet corners filled with tears. And even in churches.

This is how I want to take communion. With loaves of bread that fill me, not wafer thin crackers that remind me I am empty. With glasses of remembrance, not sips of observance. I want it to be abundant, not scarce. I want it to fill my being, not dissolve on my tongue before I can even taste its goodness. I want it to satisfy my thirst, not wet my tongue leaving me desiring more. I want it to be sacramental, not sentimental. I want it in sacred spaces and profane, but not in abstracted places. I want it to be intimate and accessible, not isolated and exclusionary.

This is how I want it to be when I remember. This is how I want it to be when I sit with that sacrifice. This is how I want to know those words. This conspiring; this breathing-together. This community; this gift-together. This communion; this sharing-together. This covenant; this coming-together. I want it to merge beautifully with my everyday, not stand apart from my lived-experience. I want it to fuse my laughter and my crying, my sacred and profane and profound, my before and my after.

This is how I want to take communion.

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on getting it wrong

May 31, 2013 at 3:40 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , )

Ask me in ten years time what I was doing in 2011 and I’ll stream-of-consciousness you out of your socks! You’ll hear of the things I loved about that year: morning prayer and rhythms of life, poker at O’Neals Pub, sitting on the steps in summer, chick-fil-a, house meals and cooking together, riding the El train into Philly city center, games nights with housemates, walking to and from work, late summer nights on the block, playing dominoes in the street, a barbecue on the roof of our house, kids playing in the fire hydrant into the early evening, pretzels and ping-pong at Frankford hall, and potluck meals…You’ll hear stories: a homeless woman bathing in our kitchen sink, hiding a turkey in the oven while someone went through my trash, a 26 hour roadtrip to Minneapolis, sheltering under a kiddie pool in the pouring rain during school supplies, a Minnie and Mickey Mouse dance-off in the street, Christmas dinners, sitting in the emergency room at 2am with a neighbor, knife fights and water fights, celebrations and candlelit vigils for the unknown woman and the young father who were shot…You’ll hear the things that were sparked in husband-man and I during that year and hopefully you’ll see how some of those have come to fruition in our lives. You’ll hear the things we learnt. And hopefully, you’ll also hear the ways we got it horribly wrong and the things we regretted and the things we would have, could have and should have done better. But in case you don’t ask, here they are…

* Talking less and listening more – Looking back, we went in guns blazing, quickly identifying and speaking into the areas we felt could use improvement, the values we thought should be prioritized, and the mistakes we felt had been made. Some of those things may have needed speaking into, and certainly we were honored by the trust (and the grace) that was extended to us to change and adapt and put new systems in place and impact the direction life and work took. But in all honesty, we could have done a lot better if we had taken the time to live in and into the community before speaking into it.

* Avoiding spirals of negativity and gossip – That stuff is like yeast; it insidiously creeps in and grows and expands and thrusts itself into relationships and friendships and spaces of your life its not even related to. And all it takes is three simple conditions to thrive: 1. not addressing things quickly and conclusively with the person you have issue with, 2. spreading the issue to other folks by venting, telling stories, or “asking for advice” and 3. the receiving person saying “Yes….and….” Ah, if we could just stop things at that “YES…” cos it is Toxic. What it does is affirms the person’s experience and associated anger/frustration/disappointment/hurt and says “You are entitled” to feel like that. And then it adds fuel by sharing its own experience, fanning the flame of broken relationship. That “Yes” does not seek to reconcile – it seeks to justify, affirm negativity, identify with it, and widen the rift that exists. Looking back, I would have sought to address things quickly and directly, not shared it with other folks (outside of my safe person – husband-man), and when I heard negativity and gossip I would seek to say “Yes…and….” less.

* Connecting more diversely – Ah, this is the big one! Only toward the end of our time did we start to make connection with some of the absolutely incredible, inspiring, insightful, wise and honest leaders that had lived in the neighborhood and invested themselves fully into it for years! I believe that in any neighborhood there are phenomenal leaders already embedded whom we should seek out and learn from. For us, in a diverse neighborhood like Kensington, we should have been seeking out and sitting at the feet of, listening and drawing alongside the strong Hispanic and African-American voices and leadership all around us. This would have saved us MANY mistakes, misunderstandings, miscommunications, hurt, pain, frustration and puffed-up mentalities we, and others, experience when we don’t intentionally Stop, Collaborate and Listen.

We do not hang our heads in shame over these things, but we do recognize where we fell short. We do not get tripped up by regret, but we do repent. And we put in place strategies that help us do better next time.

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on learnings

May 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Sometimes you learn things and know them only as long as you need to – until the exam. Sometimes you learn things and you get lazy about remembering them because we all know Uncle Google can help with a casserole recipe, or working out what percentage 20 is of 85 or how to spell wierd/weird. Sometimes we learn things and only remember them when we suddenly really need to know that thing – our learnings lie dormant beneath the surface, but not forgotten. Sometimes we learn things in such quick succession that we never really integrate those learnings into informing our actions, beliefs, or attitudes. And sometimes we have to keep reminding ourselves of the things we have learnt, and to re-learn them in each evolving season and context, for them to really stick. For them to move from things we’ve learnt to things we KNOW.

The last two years have been the steepest learning curve of my life. Recently, Husband-man and I carved out some time to reflect on the myriad things we learnt during our time with The Simple Way. Here are just a few:

1. We learnt how to Live Present. By the time my parents had been married for 21 years they had already moved 27 times! I am a child of the diaspora – used to uprooting and moving and forming quick (if often shallow) relationships.I am prone to boredom which rears it’s ugly head every 6 months or so – sometimes the fix is easy: move all the furniture around. But I often find myself caught in a chaotic struggle, wrestling within myself to stay put, sitting on my hands even as my legs twitch to be up and out, to be PRESENT even if only for today. For me, Learning to Live Present had to express itself in tangible and intentional acts – painting our bedroom even if we were only going to be in it for 11 more months; gathering beautiful things even if I had to get rid of them again; and investing in friendships even if only for a season. My greatest learning in this regard came from our boss-man, Darin: “Always unpack your suitcase at a hotel, fold your clothes, and hang up your jacket, even if you’re only there for one night. Be fully present where you are”.

2. We learnt how to Make Space for Interruptions and Disruptions. Husband-man wrote a bit on this one here and here. Our days seemed to be full of Interruption – folk knocking on our door needing everything from lifts to a blanket to food. Children stopping by to borrow the bike pump or sidewalk chalk or just to chat. A friend needing help getting a family member into rehab. Interruptions were those things that gave us temporary pause – required us to lay down our forks or our books, to get up from our sleep, to close our computer for a moment. Once dealt with though we could generally pick up where we left off and continue on our previous path.

Disruptions were a whole different game. These were the things that threw us into confusion or disorder, impeded what we were doing and threw us off course – redirecting our energy time and resources into fundamentally different directions. Disruptions took us to places and situations we often didn’t know how to deal with. Fights broke out and we stopped what we were doing to call the police or pray or intervene or stand helplessly by. Emergencies reared their head periodically. I found myself on the way to eat lunch one minute and chasing a friend down the main road after she jumped out of an ambulance the next. Disruption was the drugged, beaten and abused woman sitting on our front step – interruption would have been cleaning her up and sending her on her way; disruption meant figuring out how to care well for her today and tomorrow and next week because now she was a part of our lives. I like to think of disruption as the face I haven’t prepared my face to meet.

We learnt the value of making room for both of these – and we recognized a key dimension of Christ’s interaction with those around him. He was constantly being interrupted and disrupted – the running refrain seems to be “He was on his way from a to b, when…” We learnt to leave home earlier and walk slower – taking 20 minutes to walk the 2 blocks to the office – to create space for the interruption. We learnt to only answer the door when we felt able to respond with love and grace to whatever was on the other side – and if we couldn’t, to rather not open it at all. We learnt to invite someone to walk alongside us as we navigated the disruptions. To invite an extra set of eyes and wisdom. I am still learning how to let go of the disruptions at the end of the day because they can be heavy and burdensome even in their richness and opportunity.

3. We learnt the value of Rhythms. We learnt that rhythms are a great way to establish habits of presence – ways of being rooted even during chaos and transition and in spaces that are temporary; and that rhythms are a great way to sustain healthy interactions with interruption and disruption. Our weeks followed a similar pattern of morning prayer; work; connection with neighbors; spiritual formation; connection with housemates through shared meals, games, and house meetings; date nights; play and rest. No, we didn’t stick ritually to these; but we did find that carving out specific times for these things meant that they happened and didn’t get consumed by the ever present interruptions or derailed by the periodic disruptions or overlooked by a sense of finite presence. These things helped us to Live Fully Present and to Make Space for Interruptions and Disruptions. They kept us grounded, kept our focus and priorities straight, and allowed us to invest deeply in relationships and experiences and life in Kensington.

I know there’s no exam on these, and Uncle Google wouldn’t be able to help us if we forgot them. So all that is left is to keep reminding ourselves that we learnt these things until eventually we KNOW them.

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on remembrance

May 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

I do not end seasons of my life well. I either miss them, like I did for both my graduations. Or I pass so quickly onto the next that I fail to close and integrate the last well. I don’t take the time to sit and breathe, to remember, to gather stones and build an altar, to write obituaries or sing songs of celebration. And so I hold in my hands a life of disconnected memories, of events that exist in isolation to each other, of learnings and pain and growth that has never been well-integrated and assimilated into my very sense of self. My life lacks closure. My life story doesn’t follow a logical timeline – in the telling of it I draw together strands and feelings and impressions that never quite coalesce. There are years of missing data. Gaps in my memory and consciousness. I found myself with losses that I’ve never mourned, pain that I’ve never integrated, questions that were never resolved that I don’t have the ability to accommodate well. My history is adrift.

These past two years I have been learning how to pause and MARVEL and how to stop and MOURN. I have learnt the value of a drinking a glass of red with friends and remembering what our lives held in the vintage year. I have learnt the value of gift-giving to mark an end and how words of affirmation and appreciation can release someone to the next journey. I have learnt the value of showing photographs and telling stories to mark births and deaths and weddings and graduations and celebrations. I have learnt the value of return and how powerful the little act of remembering can be in releasing us to live fully present. I have learnt the value of attaching physicality – a picture, a gift, a retelling, a token, words written, a stone picked up from the road – to remembrance. I always thought of memories as anchors – “don’t dwell on the past”, I remind myself. But indeed there is great value in returning to the past periodically; not to be consumed by it, but so that it doesn’t drown us. I am learning how to end seasons well and how to return to them rhythmically.

Husband-man and I were privileged to have time while back home to sit and pause and remember and reflect and debrief our time at The Simple Way. As we cast our eyes back over our time, we hold in tension how incredibly rich and beneficial it was with how hard and challenging it was. It was one of the steepest learning curves of our lives and there is much we have grown from and in, learnt, and new things that have been sparked in us (or old things that have been fanned into flame). We carved out space and sat in beautiful places and drank coffee and jotted thoughts and names and stories down. We asked what did we learn, what could we have done better, what do we miss, what’s sparked in us, who are the people that shaped us.

Debrief

The next few blogs will be on some of our reflections. As we have launched into this new season, these are the things that we hold to, some of the many things that have been (re)sparked in us:

We long to continue to do life through regular community connection with like-hearted people – Christ-followers and disciple-makers.

We long to be in a place where we can continue to engage well with our surrounding neighbourhood.

We long to have a space where we can practice hospitality.

We long for opportunities for Brett to operate in his primary gifting – speaking, writing, and online ministry.

We long for stability and healthy balance in our life-rhythms.

We long to say “Yes, lets!” more to opportunities and experiences.

We long to have married couples and culturally diverse individuals speaking into our lives and journeying close to us.

We long to learn how to be more open-handed with our time, our energy and our resources – and to encourage others to be likewise.

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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 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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On bearing one another’s burdens

February 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , )

So I have been reading Generous Justice (Tim Keller)  and really just been challenged by this one section on the Good Samaritan. I will copy it out here:

“Another objection [to the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor] comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone” you usually mean “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Bibilical love requires. He writes:

We in many cases may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . .If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not likely to be releived, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?”(Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p. 70)

I feel quite convicted by this. Two other scriptures spring to mind:  “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality…” (2 Cor 8:13-14).

I know many many times I have said to beggars at street corners, Big Issue sellers, car guards, and street children, “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything.” or “I don’t have anything today.” Those are lies. Because I do have; but the truth is in those times I cannot give without taking a hit myself – without burdening myself and cutting in to how I live.

The really hard-hitting thing is that when there have been brothers and sisters, fellow Christians, even friends, who I KNOW are in a tough spot or are really struggling, I have used the exact same rationalisation. I have not helped because doing so would burden me and cut into my tight finances. I have given when I have had excess, but really, how often have I given when doing so would have meant me sharing their burdens?

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on poverties..

August 5, 2010 at 9:02 pm (People I have known, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

“…the material, economistic perspective on poverty is only one way of framing the subject… there are many forms of poverty, economic poverty being only one of these. And the question arises as to how much other poverty we create when our goal is narrowly defined as the alleviation of economic poverty. When all values are subsumed to the economic, as they increasingly are, particularly within a conventional development paradigm, how much do we lose with respect to social values, to artistic values, to cultural and language diversity, to bio-diversity? We must surely recognize by now that the world we are creating with our fixation on the economic is becoming immeasurably poorer with respect to everything which lives outside of the economic

(Kaplan, A. (1998). Crossroads: A Development Reading. Extract from the Community Development Resource Association’s Annual Report 1997/1998. Cape Town: CDRA. pp. 11-12).

I am a trustee at a place of safety which myself and a group of friends started 3 years ago. The House takes in abandoned, abused, neglected, orphaned and vulnerable children. Currently we have two children in the House who have been living on the street for several months. The courts decided that it was in their best interests to be in a place of safety.

I live in Stellenbosch. There is a park opposite where I go to church and a group of people frequent it. They are dirty, some have dreadlocks, they wear old torn clothes (not enough). Sometimes, they come and beg outside the church – invariably they reek of alcohol. They often sit on cartons in the middle of the field until late at night, talking. Sometimes they have a little fire going in a tin. As far as I am aware they sleep out there. Except when it’s raining; then they bring their blankets and plastic bags and lie under the eaves of the building. There is a little girl who lives with them – about 7 years old. I have been grappling with whether to approach social services with an eye to getting her removed and placed in a warm, safe home. But I have hesitated because of exactly that which Kaplan writes. I have always, unconsciously, preferenced economic wellbeing. But removing this young girl would take away her family, would divorce her from a sense of community which clearly exists around that fireplace, would isolate her, would perhaps even annihilate the good values which maybe that group is inculcating in her. Who am I to say? See, this girl is clothed, and runs around happy, and looks well-fed – she is not emaciated and does not look sick. The group talk to her and laugh with her and look out for her. But she does not live with a roof over her head. And my developmental paradigm says this is wrong.

My developmental paradigm says she must be sheltered and in an economically stable environment – not merely a loving one where material goods take the back seat, although community is valued. In my paradigm, the ‘best interests of the child’ are often economically defined (although not solely for sure). I would risk losing all those other values, in fact introducing various other poverties into her life for the sake of alleviating this one poverty (and a relative one, at that).
Of course, I infer that the environment she is in is safe and loving and community-based and provides her with warmth and sustenance. For the sake of illustrating my point. She may in fact be hungry always, be sick, be cold, be abused – physically, sexually, emotionally. The affect of alcohol on that group and on her may be huge. And this is the dilemma. But my point is that in the past I would have run in with guns blazing. I would have recognized a situation of injustice – ill-defined though it is – and done everything in my power to right it. My point is that now right is not so clear. And I think that increasingly an awareness of the trade-off between economic poverty and other poverties will play a part in how I approach individuals and situations.

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on catching rides on dark nights

June 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

and other stuff.

I generally don’t stop for hitchhikers. Brett and I picked up a guy on our way back from J-Bay to Knysna one night on our honeymoon. His name was Ray and flip he had a hectic story… just the week before, while driving home from Grahamstown festival he was hijacked by some guys asking for directions, tried to escape and ran his car off the road and lost control, had a gun put to his head, and ended up literally running for his life! Turns out he used to go to a church in Knysna and knew the pastor who brett knew also. We prayed with him and he offered us a place to stay anytime we are next in the area.

So as a rule I don’t often stop for hitchhikers, but I have recently started stopping when I see a girl walking along the road at night alone. This happens a lot in Stellenbosch and while none of them have taken me up on offer for a lift yet, I will keep asking.

Last night at 11pm I was driving along Tokai Main Road on my way home to Stell. I saw four young girls (all under sixteen) running along the side of the road. They were dressed pretty scantily. I pulled over and asked them where they were going and when they said “just down the road”, I told them to cross the road and get in the car and I would drive them. Which they did. We drove a way down, took a right, and into a dark hardly lit neighborhood, passing a lonely park, and then down to some house. I dropped them off and waited, surprised that they didn’t ring the bell. One girl came back to say they were fine and I could leave since their parents were coming in 15 minutes. I said I would wait. I ended up following them as they walked to the next party, where I handed them over to the mother in charge there. I also told them they were incredibly stupid.

The point is this: I think more people need to take more responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of other people. Those four girls were in an incredibly stupid and dangerous situation and I cannot imagine if I had driven past them and read in the papers this morning that they had gone missing or something had happened to them. So i took the time out of my night, went out of my way, and made sure they were safe – way beyond what it was even reasonably my “responsibility” to do.

I generally don’t give lifts to men ever. Except for one night after theatresports in kalk bay where I offered the car guard a lift back to retreat. He works everynight in Kalk Bay, taking hours to walk to work and back in the early hours of the morning. He earns, on a good night, 50rand. Giving him a lift was a tiny thing I was able to do for him.

I know a lot of people will think this is stupid. Maybe it is. I have a couple of rules about offering people lifts – little things that I think minimise the risk of things going bad. 1. I generally don’t give men a lift at any time of the day or night. 2. I generally don’t give more than 1 person a lift at a time so that there isn’t someone sitting behind me where I can’t see them and where I have no control and am outnumbered. 3. I generally don’t give lifts on lonely roads, at night, or to areas I don’t know. 4. I always let Brett know when I am thinking of giving someone a lift or if someone is in my car. I tell him what kind of person it is, where I am, where we are going and how long it will take approximately. I think calling him is a good idea so that the person hears that I am telling someone who knows where I am.

It’s a really little thing to be able to do for someone. Whether it’s someone desperately trying to get to work on time when the trains are on strike so that they don’t lose their job. Or four stupid little girls who are completely naive and oblivious to how unwise they are being. Or some guy who works longer hours than you do earning what you probably earn in an hour. Or a mother walking with her kids in the rain back from school. Cos yes, there are bad folk out there but there are a lot more good folk who are genuinely just in need of a lift or someone to be watching their back. So take the precautions, definitely. Don’t be unwise. If you are christian, be extra sensitive to the Spirit. Tell someone what you are doing. Pray. But let’s start looking out for people more….

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