Affirmation

As my football team was being slowly and convincingly crushed by the opposition my attention turned to the crowd of despondent supporters. Two things struck me.
At the very time the team really needed their supporters’ backing and encouragement there was silence. And where there was voice it was in criticism of the umpire or faint exasperation of their team.

I know what it is like to fall behind, to not be my best – to face defeat. And what I need is people who believe in me voicing their hope and affirming their love for me.

When I’m winning I don’t really need the affirmation – as nice as it is. The time I need the cheering crowd is when I miss the goal, or drop the ball or outright fail.

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Belief

The greatest threat to me is me.

There is always hope.

Perhaps everything that is important is cloaked in mystery.

I am individually known by God.

I am neither great nor insignificant. No one is more or less valuable than me.

I can through attention to my conscience, in prayerful reflection, by listening, in stillness and through action – with courage and humility – find an inner place that is sufficient for me to flourish.

I do no not need to understand Jesus. But I can elect to receive the mystery of his origin, life, death, resurrection, spirit and authority and in so doing obtain an enduring inner life and a more meaningful connection with creation.

I must bring myself to others because without them I am greatly diminished.

Others are known by God, and I must consistently and relentlessly searth for their beauty; receiving them with care, generosity, love, forgiveness and hope.

I need not come to a position or opinion on others – in fact it is better to not do so. I do not need to understand someone in order to love them. It is not for me to determine who is in or of God.

There is, nonetheless, evil – it is something readily discernible- and from it I must distance myself, unless there is a compelling inner conviction to step up to it in combat.

Rights fought for only have value when they have been won on behalf of others.

 

 

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A meaningful narrative

This evening I attended a talk by a philosopher. He had some interesting ideas and I think I liked him as a person.

But he did not engage me. He didn’t have a clear story arc and the thoughts were a torrent lacking punctuation. Consequently, I put all my effort into following him, with no capacity nor space to process and entertain his message.

My life can be a bit like his talk. I can lose a clear sense of my story arc. My activity can be a noisy barrage, lacking the paragraphs and chapter breaks essential for context, clarity, meaning and rest.

Time to clear up my narrative.

 

 

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Promise of wealth, and other thoughts.

Reading about Salman Khan, who is rolling out an accessible world wide online education network, and it had this to say:
“Usually when people come to a start-up there’s a promise of riches at the end if it, but at Khan Academy it’s world-changing impact, not personal wealth.”
The life I live seems to demand money at every step. It is difficult to imagine a life in Australia that does not require a lot of money, even to just feel like we are getting by. Of course it’s not true, plenty of people do, yet I confess my imagination can not extend that far at the moment.
There are many benefits in being middle class but how willing am I to face an alternative?
This lack of imagination limits both my capacity to dream and to position myself in the path of obedience.
What do I want my life to be about? What legacy do I want to leave? No, as i think about it that’s too individualistic. Rather, to what extent am I willing to participate in the work the Holy Spirit is undertaking to restore Eden?
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A Manhattan NY lunch club called Socrates in the City is driven by it’s namesake’s observation that a life unexamined is a life not worth living.
Can such an examination, one that makes life worth living, be done without discomfort and pain?
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The hurricane has really badly hit the NY area, our next stop. Working out whether we should change plans. Just trying to roll with it all, and to recognise the impact on Stacey has been horrendous for the many who have lost homes, businesses and loved ones.
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Being with friends and family has been just wonderful. There have been some great and meaningful interactions and i see times where God has been at work. I have though found these past couple of weeks I have not carved out time to pray and think as much as I had hoped. But I feel hungry now and motivated to carve again. Thanks for your prayers.

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Adam

3 nights with Bob and Gracie Ekblad at Mt Vernon, Washington State has been refreshing and enlivening. Their love and hospitality so gratefully received.
One of the organisations they lead, Tierra Nueva, provides love and support to the marginalised, especially the Hispanic population. We have not got our head around all they do but some is reflected in Adam’s story.
Adam (not his real name) is a tall, muscular, white guy with a heavily tattooed body, neck and head which is clean shaved. A blue tear drop marks his left cheek. Visually he is very, shall I say,  imposing.
He has been in prison 7 times and put in a mental institution 3. He has tried rehab 13 times, I think.
The last two times he was imprisoned was for producing methamphetamine. His record spans multiple counties. He has 4 children from 3 partners and his wife found out she was pregnant 2 days ago. It’s great, but kind of a problem because she is the primary bread winner and much of her money goes to child support for 2 kids living away and raising 2 of his younger kids who live with Adam and his wife.
Bob introduced us to Adam in the basement of Tierra Nueva’s building in a poor part of town right by the rail line. Bob greeted Adam with a hug – and Adam just held on, tight. How moving it was to see a ‘hard man’ show such tenderness.
Bob ministers in prisons and thats where he met Adam 8 years ago.  When Bob goes in the warden allows him 30 minutes to “give a bible study”. He does about 4 x 30min slots a visit, last visit which was two nights ago it is a slot with sex crimes (peds mostly), people kept apart because of some involvement in a pending trial, and two separate gangs.
Adam told us most christian folk come in intent on getting their message across so they monologue for much of the time. But Bob comes and asks people how they are doing and after listening says, ‘well you know the bible speaks something to that …’
Bob’s love for people won Adam over. He received prayer, healing and support. That continues. Tierra Nueva gives him a coach, an accountability partner, an accepting community and a context for him to contribute.
When Adam got out he had a mountain of unpaid fines, court order costs and government charges against his name. He has been trying to pay these off (and been making some progress) but its hard to find paid work – looking the way he does and with the history he has.
Bob has arranged for Adam to learn how to roast at Tierra Nueva’s small coffee house. 3 paid days a week he takes orders from folk in the community, roasts beans from a single farm in Honduras, bags and distributes them. While roasting and bagging he talks with and cares for gang kids who come to the basement to hang out.
Adam volunteers at his local church to support people who have indicated they want to follow Christ.
He is off methadone but still on opiate blockers, owes about $15,000 to the government and struggling to hold it together, but he is determined.
As Adam talked with us his face was alive. His persona was safe and warm. We loved being with him. He told us that the phase prior to actual relapse is a out starts about 7 days before anything actually happens.
“Relapse does not begin with the first drink. Relapse begins when a person reactivates patterns of denial, isolation, elevated stress, and impaired judgment” (Gorski and Miller).
Off the back of my time with Adam I did some reading about addiction and relapse and was struck that he has a much better understanding of himself than I do. His problems are less hidden than mine so he is better able to face up to his failings and better placed to be clear about is path to relapse.
Adam says the 7 days prior to relapse corresponds to 7 stages and  if he can arrest things at stage 1 then he is sweet. Stage 1 is when we start to avoid people or certain conversations, avoid accountability, steer to superficial conversations, avoiding support, increase tv or entertainment , and some other markers. He meets with a coach and an accountability partner to help ensure he does not get to stage 2.
I think too that Adam had a better handle of his redemption than I do. He knows he has been saved from a life of hell on earth and although life remains a struggle, it could easily be a hell of a lot worse without God and the love of His children.
Adam’s life is raw. His wounds are raw, as is his faith and his feelings.
We asked him to pray for our boys, he did not have many words, just tears for how much God loves them.
Here is a man the Jesus of the bible would have gone out of his way to be with. Jesus would have walked past all the clean cut, distant hearted church folk and gone right up and hugged Adam. And Adam would have just held on, tight and long.

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Kindness

It seems there is a kindness and gentle politeness in inner Portland that I have not encountered elsewhere in any city. Here a sign on a dry cleaning shop right between where many homeless live and the reasonably affluent Pearl District.

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One more of many examples is that when we as pedestrians come to a curb, drivers will stop to let us cross. Sometimes the gesture is almost absurd. One time when Emma was crossing a 4 lane major thoroughfare and half way across a driver braked hard to let her pass but found himself a little too far and so stood right in Emma’s way. So he reversed!! to let her pass. A little crazy, and arguably dangerous, but coming from Sydney where even merging lanes is an opportunity for drivers to practically bear arms it makes me wonder. Has Portland done something particular and special to foster it’s startling civility? What does it take to create a culture of kindness? Or any virtue for that matter. Has Portland achieved something that school councils, church leaders and corporate bosses have failed to do?
I am at a loss as to how to ruminate any further.

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Brotherhood

Pádraig Ó Tuama’s song of lament is haunting. I can not shake it’s effect.  http://vimeo.com/18884039

In a world where success is lauded and the pursuit of happiness and validation is everything, where is there room for lament?  And where is the room for us to acknowledge and voice our imperfections and failures? Not from the standpoint of “I am a woeful worm”, but neither from some resigned yet haughty version of Popeye’s “I yam what I yam what I yam”. And if there is such a room, does it need to be solitary confinement?

One of my richest experiences is in gathering with true brothers in a spirit of lament. How good it is to have brothers who know, in the company of loss, how void unsolicited advice is, and how banal and addictive is the drive to keep things “up” and bright-sided.

Perhaps one reason for the lack of this kind of brotherhood is that when we are face to face with another’s sadness or pain it can resonate within us, calling us to identify with our own suppressed suffering, or at the very least our helplessness to fix everything. And if we cannot face that thing in us then what do we do?

Dispense advice? Advice helps us not have to stay too long in the shared pain.  It handballs the now trivialised pain (with an extra dose of loneliness) back to our friend. It is quite cathartic for us. Yet it circumvents a deep godliness that can only be discovered in the place of suffering and of coming to the end of ourselves. It is also deeply damaging to the one we are giving advice to. It thwarts an opportunity for true brotherhood.

Respond with humour? The humour might be a kind of honourable attempt to normalise the pain or situation but it also has the effect of trivialising it and driving my brother deeper into loneliness and from what is perhaps a (potentially) healthy melancholy into an unhealthy despair.

My friend Michael Martin introduced me to the writings of an Irish thinker named Peter Rollins, who says in a post: “…what if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge.”

Good question, eh. What if?

Faith can be misconstrued as a position from which any acknowledgement of negative thought is failure.  Its called faith, but its fear. Rollins here hints to the fact that our faith in God’s redemptive power gives us the freedom to lament, to feel the pain, loneliness and discouragement. Any shortcut to redemption that skips lament presents a risk to our soul – that it does not trust the redemption. A superficial redemption is probably just a mind game; a wobbly launching pad.

I am deeply grateful for friends who have given me the freedom to live in my sadness this year. They have sat beside me and let me be there without giving up hope for or belief in me. Rather than withdrawing, as is my want when discouraged or fearful, I have let people in. In so doing I have come to know much more than ever that my darkness is not insurmountable, and that I am loved, believed in and far from alone.

I am learning to have the faith to lament. I am learning to let people into my uncertain places. I am learning that my darkness is not as intense as I have feared it might be. In the room of melancholy and companionship to which I have entered, hope is being birthed.

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