on this present discontent

September 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm (Poetry) (, , , , )

These are the years of my discontent

This is my consolation that leaves me disconsolate

This is my satisfaction that leaves unsatisfied

This is my rest that leaves me restless

This is the love that leaves me lustful

This is my struggle between running and staying

This is my sitting in cars in empty lots, all the words of your compulsion hanging (forbidden) between us.

This is my calculated risk; these are the consequences that catch me by surprise.

These are my rushing waters; this, the shore of my regret.

This present is the heart of all my misgivings

This, the tension between my anchor and my escape

This. Me unfinish’d, gasping in this breathing world; breathing in this gasping world.

This, my wandering tread, my sojourner spirit, my never-ending journey. My lost and never-foundness. My with but never of. My here but never now.

This is the whisper of my displacement

These are the years of my discontent.

[This wrote itself, months back, as I sat on the edge of this river at the Wild Goose Festival 2013.]

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on passivism, pacifism and peace

June 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

I buckle my helmet, check both ways, and pull out slowly into the intersection. As I do a car comes out of nowhere, breaks hard and I swerve. We miss each other and I pull around so I’m on the right side of the road. And then I am assailed by the swearing, the shouting, the angry words pouring out of the car towards me. I am called names and the driver threatens to kill me, moving to force me off the road as she does so. I pull onto the sidewalk and she gets out of her car. I keep cycling. She catches up with me at the next intersection where I wait for a red light. As I make to cross she whips her car in front of me, cutting me off. I avoid eye contact but the barrage of hate directed toward the “f-ing white bitch on the bike” crashes into me. I wait silently and as she pulls off she swerves in again to hit my front wheel. She speeds off and I cautiously cross. I’m shaking and a tear runs down my cheek. Once again I am caught up in the dramatic and chaotic fallout of an emotionally volatile and unstable community. Still, nothing prepares me for it. Nothing prepares me for the fight that breaks out in the street, or the sounds of domestic violence coming through the walls, or the mother telling her child she wished he was dead, the erratic discipline, the man who corners me and threatens me on the street, the gunshots, the threats, the hate, the degrading names and the aggression that permeates the fabric of these relationships.

Several weeks back I wrote on things I have confused over the last few years. Hidden in the middle of that list was this one: “I have confused Not hitting people with Non-violence”, a confusion which came to a head one day as I sat in my room listening to a neighbor’s misogynistic rap. At that time, my interaction with violence – or the ever-threat of it – changed. Non-violence, pacifism, and peacemaking become less theoretical and more personal; no longer abstract, because my relation to them had become embodied. So I asked, 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. Or my being white. Or my being young. Or my being out of place, a stranger, a foreigner. Or my living, walking and breathing in a violent neighborhood. Or my being hypocritical, abounding in wrath and lacking in mercy.

Here is the complexity of my interaction with violence and non-violence. I trick myself into believing that not raising my voice or my fists is a non-violent response to frustration and anger. I ignore the rage, wrath and fury that simmer within me. I don’t scream at my neighbor but I hate her nevertheless for the torrent of aggression she directs towards her kids from sun up to sun down. I think of the things I would do if I had the “courage” – I secretly hope she leaves so I don’t have to deal with the contradictions her violent stagnation causes in me. I come to believe that passivism (not doing anything in a violent situation directed toward me and not doing anything with the violence within me) is an adequate replacement for pacifism (that fundamental opposition to violence that reveals itself in demonstrative non-participation in violence and counter-commitments to establishing and maintaining peace.) I am caught in this hard space, somehow believing that not seeking retribution is the same as seeking mercy. Saying you are non-violent and lowering your weapons is dramatically and fundamentally different from disarming yourself, your attitudes, your heart, and your spirit. Not participating in violence is radically distinct from participating in peace.

How then do I practice peace and engage in pacifism? How do I make non-violence less a way of thinking and more a way of being? How do I ensure these things begin in me, but don’t end there?

How do I seek the peace (the shalom, the wholeness,the reconciliation) of the city (the place, the neighborhood, the community, the relationships) I am placed in, recognizing that my shalom is inextricably tied to its shalom, my peace found in its peace (Jeremiah 29:7 paraphrased).

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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 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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How to love your man better – “Just love him…”

February 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , )

A couple of years ago Brett ran a blog series called “how to love your woman better” and recently resurrected it on his blog (because it’s that good). To check them out go to Irresistibly Fish and explore or you can see the first one here. I contributed to some of the posts – which are as much lessons in how to love your boyfriend, husband, friend, sister, mother – but someone suggested I write some stuff on how to specifically love your man better (which will also probably apply to any relationship in your life). So here goes…

When Brett and I started going out and even for many months into our marriage there was one thing that he used to do that made me pretty darn mad. If we were having a fight or an argument or I had raised something that he had done to upset me, he would respond with three simple words: “Just love me.” Now this is what I heard when he said that:

1. Val, you don’t love me.

2. If you loved me you wouldn’t argue or fight with me.

3. Can’t we just ignore this stuff and “be in love”.

4. What you are saying is not valid. Just stop and say that you love me.

When he said those words I would get even more angry and say something like, “This has got nothing to do with love. This is just an argument.” Meaning, me being angry/upset or hurt by him was something completely seperate to the issue of my loving him. For me, the loving of him never changed. It was just held off to the side while I dealt with the issue at hand. It wasn’t till many months after we had got married and this “Just love me” thing was really messing with the way we did conflict, that I eventually understood what Brett was saying:

1. Val, I love you.

2. Val, this stuff is important and we will address it.

3. Val, in this moment of fighting I do not feel secure and safe in your love. I feel like your love has lessened or is conditional or is secondary to this issue.

And that really hit me hard – I suddenly realised that the way I was doing conflict made Brett unsure (even if for only a second) of my love for him! In that moment he sat wondering if we would get through this, if I loved him, if I wanted to be with him, if this issue was too big for my love. And the crunch was when he said, “I don’t feel secure in your love.”  When I realised this I knew that in any argument or fight or disagreement or issue, my first call is to make sure that Brett is resting secure in the fact that I love him. I need to do this with words – sometimes even saying it directly, “I love you and this thing you have done does not change my love for you”. I also need to do this with action – Brett is a pretty physical person and so just the act of reaching over and holding his hand, or sitting next to him, or making sure our legs or arms are touching while we talk it out maintains the physical connection and assures him that I am not going anywhere and haven’t rescinded my love.

If for even a moment your man (or woman) doesn’t feel secure in your love during an argument or disagreement then you have to look at the way you do conflict and change some stuff. Believe me, we have definitely not got this right yet. This blog was sparked by an issue we had just last night and I began to think again as we were lying in bed, “Is Brett secure in my love right now?” I thought of that verse from 1 John 4: 18 “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” And that song based on Psalm 36 “The steadfast love of the lord never changes.” Am I showing steadfast love? Is my love unchanging and does Brett know it to be so? Can he rest without fear, in such love? Then I thought about “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4: 15) – yes, things must be addressed, and frustration and anger and hurt needs to be talked through. But first it must be the truth being spoken. Secondly, it must be spoken “in love” – with words and actions and attitude that affirm love.

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on the honeymoon phase

August 31, 2010 at 9:31 pm (People I have known, Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

I hate the idea of the “honeymoon phase” in any relationship. It is one of the things that grates me most when people talk about marriage – especially people who have been married for many years. I especially hate it when people look at Brett and I – how much we like each other, love each other, laugh, touch, talk – and say, “ah, that’s cute, you’re still in the honeymoon phase…” and the dot dot dot they leave hanging at the end implies that it will all come crashing down and reality will set in and we will soon see what its really like. We will fall out of love and into “marriage”. I hate it.

That said. I wish people had talked a little more honestly about how hard marriage is and how much daily work it takes, in the months leading up to our wedding. They were very quick to tell us about sex, but not much beyond that.

I also hate it how people don’t speak honestly and truthfully about marriage and their marriages now. Especially people who have been married for years. I don’t like how there is no space for honesty, truth, for saying “it really is tough. so worth it but tough” or “we’re having a hard week and really need your guy’s support” or “B and I are struggling to find time to fit in all the people in our lives and we’re taking a hit” or the myriad other things that are never said, but should be.

B and I are doing marriage prep counselling with a couple in our church. As we were talking the guy used an analogy – he said, “Marriage is like a movie. You can tell us what it’s like and recommend it to us, but we have to go and watch the movie and experience it for ourselves.” Which is cool. And reminded me of another analogy.

Recently B and I went and watched a fun hip-hop/streetdance style play at the Barnyard Theatre. It was great fun and we really dug it, but there were one or two things that detracted from the greatness. So when we recommended the show to our friends we said, “It’s great, especially the purple crew dancing in the second act, but watch out for the narrator. We found him very annoying and mis-cast.” They went and watched the show and loved it, but thanked us for warning them about the narrator.

This is like marriage. We need people to highly recommend it, to rave about it, to build-it-up, to love it – but we also need those people to tell us “the narrator sucks, watch out”.

Pre-marriage counselling is great and highly recommended. But I think we would have benefitted a whole lot more from a monthly catch-up and re-cap with Mr Basson in the months following our wedding.  You see, the thing is, what happened with me is I got into this marriage thing and suddenly it was hard and tough and I thought I was doing something wrong, I wasn’t good enough, I was failing. At times I thought there must be something fundamentally wrong with our relationship. That’s lies. There isn’t. But if someone had been there and told us and shared their vulnerability and their falling and their learnings, it would have all made a lot more sense and been easier to get through.

So, marriage is wonderful, I love it, I love B and am always always glad and confident in the choice I have made. I highly recommend it. But let’s face it, sometimes “the narrator sucks”. Anyone for a little honesty?

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