The Place.

Every day, and every night, I dream of this place.

I am the place and the place is me.

A place where we can all be together.

I am the place and the place is me.

A place with a table, around which we eat bread. Broken and shared, like our lives, in Him.

I am the place and the place is me.

I dream of helping others to lay down burdens and sorrows, of raising the dead, lifting holy hands, surrendering all that holds us to the earth, or binds us to our shame.

I am the place and the place is me.

I imagine a place where we speak “namaste” – the spirit in me sees the spirit in you – and we see, and are seen.

I am the place and the place is me.

I see a garden, an orchard, chickens and cows. Vegetables for our bodies. Fruit for our smiles. Eggs for new life. Milk for the children. Life, everywhere, eaten and celebrated and worked for and enjoyed. A place where things grow.

I am the place and the place is me.

I dream of laying down to sleep in peace, under the clear sky and the stars, with no fears to keep me from dreaming.

I am the place and the place is me.

I dream of growing old with these people, with the love returning to me again and again, with loving hands holding me as I lay down for the last time, in this place, my place our place.

I am the place and the place is me.

I seek you, my place. I’m becoming you, and you’re becoming me.

Love, Jo xxx

Lessons from homelessness.

One thing I’m finding interesting about being “homeless”* is the sense of insecurity it creates, not just the feeling of physical vulnerability, but also the sense you have no authority to speak or act. When you have four walls to your name, even when you’re outside of those walls, you feel like you’ve earned the right to say something about something. It’s like a whole dimension to your self-confidence goes missing, and you kind of have to pull it from somewhere else.

Even though our homelessness is intentional, it’s hard to find a certainty or place of confidence to think from. I’ve lost half a dozen frames of reference in my life. And I feel like I need to be really careful I don’t piss someone off. Because I’m probably going to need them. The bed I’m sleeping in tonight is under their roof. The plate I’ll eat my food from tonight belongs in their cupboard. I’m thinking the necessity for meekness could increase as the weather grows colder.

Also, I feel guilty. Dependance on others brings with it an overhanging sense of shame. As we potter about helping our hosts with household chores and yard work, waiting for the school year to begin (our son is enrolled in distance education and we are waiting for his work to arrive via mail), writing in blogs and talking about our tentative plans, there’s a creepy feeling of  “you really should be doing something to help yourself”. As if intentionally not living in a house and intentionally not having a permanent job were a kind of failure in and of itself.

And then there’s the politics around how much or how little you can really “be yourself” in someone else’s space. Your personality changes. And let’s not even mention what happens to sex when you’re staying in the spare room.

I thought this would feel like freedom. This doesn’t.

I think I’m learning more than I thought about what it means to live in community.

Cheers, Jo xxx

*We’re not homeless in the sense of living on the streets. We quit our lease several months ago and have been living with friends and relatives, ever since we withdrew our application to work at the rehab. We are exploring the possibility of starting up an intentional recovery community, while we travel and work itinerantly.

The Opposite Of Love

I remember a few years ago there was this discussion in Christian circles about exactly what the opposite of love could be, because there needs to be an explanation for all the terrible things people do to each other.  If they’re not loving, what are they doing instead? What do they need to stop doing so they can be loving, as God is loving? What are the things that stop Christians, and those who are not Christians, from loving their neighbours, and anyone else in their world, for that matter? What is this key that could help Christians carry out 1 John 4:7 (Let us love one another) potentially stop wars, cure poverty and just generally make people get along with each other?

We’d all been assuming for ages that the opposite of love was hate. But then someone pointed out that you can hate someone and love someone at the same time, and that you can demonstrate hating behaviours directly towards someone you profess love for and vice versa. And we knew it was in fact possible to hold onto ones hate for someone or something and give all the outward appearances of love, or even to love just one sort of person and hate another sort for quite arbitrary reasons, if there were sufficient incentive to do so. So we stopped saying love and hate were opposites anymore, and resolved to just accept that in certain circumstances sometimes hating was unavoidable, and love impossible.

So after that, they said the opposite of love must be fear, because we only hate what we are afraid of, and once we know all about something and don’t fear it any more we are able to love it. For example, Christians were encouraged to learn about and understand varying religious practices and sexual expressions in the hope that this would lead to greater capacity to love the people engaged in them. But unfortunately, ‘others’ remained ‘others’ despite everything we knew about them, the only difference being that Christians now knew more about the people they hated and could object to them in more personal and informed ways than ever was previously possible. Fear, it seemed, could not be eradicated by love, but fear could be useful in helping us work out who God’s enemies were.

But then someone else said, no, it’s not fear that’s the opposite of love, it’s is actually indifference. And we all went “yeah…”, because we could all relate to being on the receiving end of someone else’s total lack of positive regard, or any regard whatsoever, be it positive or negative. We appreciated that what people aren’t aware of, they can’t have any feelings toward – they can’t love what they don’t acknowledge. Christians understood indifference – we experienced it when we tried to tell the world they were all dying in their sin and going to hell, and then refused to come to church or know and appreciate our Lord and Saviour. We were also well versed ourselves in demonstrating indifference toward people or issues we had no vested interest in changing or improving, or where we could effect no change favourable to our cause. We all agreed indifference had to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from love. The absence of any feeling or sentiment, empathy or interest in the other, whether feigned or inadvertent, surely had to be the opposite of what Jesus had in mind, except in the cases where one deliberately maintained one’s innocence, ignorance or naivety for reasons of maintaining good mental health or physical safety. We couldn’t be held responsible for loving those we went out of our way to avoid ever coming across in the first place.

Time has passed. The world is changing. Love in all it’s forms is needed now more than ever before. The older I get, the more I understand that the world, and by the world I mean the earth and all the people on it, has some fairly significant problems, and that I am one of them. I can tell you what I hate and what I’m afraid of, even though I know Christ teaches me to love, and tells me that love comes from God. I think about the pressing social issues in my part of the world and wonder at my own capacity for indifference when it comes to solving these issues, or even being part of the solution. I search for smiles. I stare into the blank expressions of the people around me in the street, and I think, surely, we are all as capable of love, even small expressions of it, small acts of kindness, as we are of indifference, of fear, of hate?

We are. But we don’t.

There is no opposite of love. There is love, and you do, or you do not. It’s within us to do it, all the time, to everyone. It’s how we were made. When it comes to how we were made to love, the gears work only in one direction, but at various speeds, including not at all if we so choose. They don’t go backwards. There’s no opposite to love. Hate, fear and indifference are different sets of gears, and let’s face it, running all your gears at once is exhausting; no wonder we pick only the ones that require least resistance. Hate and fear pull from their own momentum but move quickly once they get going, they feed off each other. Indifference gets busy and greases those gears. But love needs someone out front to throw the propellor before it can even get off the ground. With love, you’re the mechanic, the pilot the navigator and the passenger. Love is harder work, but takes you much further, and the view is better.

Why do we overcomplicate things? Does it help us in actually practicing love to think love has opposites? Or does it merely justify our own reasons for not doing it, or provide the ammunition to aim at someone else we think should be? I have been the recipient of an act of love perpetrated by someone who lacks the capacity to tie their own shoes, directed at me for no other reason than I was present in the room. Love is not quantum physics.

If fear, hate and indifference are anywhere in the equation, its perhaps only to demonstrate what poor excuses they make. The propensity for fear might not indicate a lack of love on our own part, but perhaps where there is a lack of being loved on someone else’s. If the fearful person were properly loved, would they be so afraid? Our tendency to hate stems less from our incapacity to extend regard than it does from our wish to keep the unknown far away from us. If a hateful person were properly loved, might they be less threatened by the society of others? Indifference comes not from inadvertent ignorance, but from deliberate self-centredness. If an indifferent person were properly loved, might they be more willing to see the world through others eyes, on purpose?

Love, therefore, is not so much the opposite of fear, hate and indifference as it is the cure for it. People who are properly loved will not be afraid, hateful or naive, and it’s our mission as Christians to love one another, because love comes from God.  When we have learned how to be loved properly by God ourselves, through Christ, we will release love’s alternatives, and seek to practice it at every opportunity. Our mission surely then as professors and disciples of Christ is to do what He did. Love people. And do it properly.

 

Time Life – The Creative Life Has Time For Dreams

Blaine Hogan has written this great blog about the attitude we as artists, and as humans, have to time, and its relationship to the creative process.

Blain Hogan – It Takes Time

I know what he means, and so do many of you, if the responses I have recieved via my Facebook link to Blaine’s post. It seems the idea that we could possibly leave time in our busy, structured lives for any meaningful kind of unintentional reflection, introspection or creative process is pretty much anathema to us.

Since I stopped doing paid work a few months ago, I have struggled to define myself in my interactions with other people. “And what are you doing with yourself?” is the standard salutation when you meet a friend or are introduced to a new aquaintance. What do you say when what you do has nothing to do with the attainment of money or a degree of some kind? What do you tell people when for the most part what you do, besides the minimum amount of housework possible to maintain good health, is sit down and write stuff no one reads and no one pays you for? This is the first time in my adult life I have been able not to work, other than when I was heavily pregnant or just had a baby, and it’s only because my husband has released me to not feel I have to. I wanted time to just…..breathe.

I have always been a super-busy person. I have always has at least ten things on the go at once. I have worked and volunteered and had babies and homeschooled and run my own businesses, and in between that I’ve had health problems including cancer, my marriage broke down and my husband had a breakdown and went away to rehab for six months. It’s been a busy twenty four or so years since I joined the world in it’s obsessive mania of accumulation, consumption and production. And what have I to show for it all?

We don’t own our own house any more. We had a house once, but we were so incredibly stressed trying to earn the monet it cost to pay the bank for it and actually keep it properly that we sold it. Even if we had held on to it, we’d have lost it at least twice since. Not having a mortgage probably saved us from bankrupcy a couple of times. We have a car, some furniture and some cash for emergencies. I don’t know what we’ll do when we can’t work any more. Probably buy a tent and live in one of our kids backyards. There already fighting over who gets the crazy old lady…none of them would mind having their dad. He’s the quiet one.

I have tried to be the good little capitalist my country and my community would like me to be, but I’m not good at it. Someone wise once said to me that you may win the rat race, but you are still just another rat. It’s taken nearly dying for me to realise I need time to live. I need time to create, and write, and think, and read, and talk to my kids, because that is living, that is life. I have no idea how long I have left, and I mean that most sincerely. I am living on borrowed time now… I have been on my second chance since 2004 when i went tino remission…and I am not going to waste any of it racing on a wheel of someone elses making.

Art takes time. Thought takes time. Beauty takes time. Inspiration takes time. Love takes time. You can’t make time, or even take time. It just has to be there. You have to leave it. You have to wait, and not fill the waiting with anything else. You have to resist the urge to stay busy so others will think you’re productive, prolific, useful, worthy. You have to just have big swathes of emptiness and nothingness and peace for life to come and fill you up. Life is what we were made for, not to make a living. This is the abundant life Christ speaks of – a life where we are relieved from the pressure of being full and needing to be filled, a life where we are prepared to be empty to allow something to come and fill us. We are so busy stuffing ourselves with information and experiences, we have lost the ability to imagine and to dream for ourselves. Art comes in the void…..in the beginning was the void, and God made from the void….and He saw that it was good.

The rest is not just for the time after the work. Sometimes, the rest is the work. When people ask me what i am doing, I don’t know what to say, so now I am just telling them “Nothing!” Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go from there, but it is the truth. I don’t know if I will be able to create my magnum opus in this time I have, and I have no idea when it will come to an end. Perhaps it won’t. I can only hope.

Leave time, leave space in your life for your own thoughts and imaginings. I know it feels like fears of being poor or bereft or stupid will come in and overwhelm you, and you will need to get up and start producing again, but I promise you, the fears pass. You come to a place of seeing yourself as more than merely what you can produce. Hebrews were only of value to the Egyptians because they made bricks the Egyptians needed to build their monuments. The abundant life we are promised by our Maker is release from the indentity this Egypt has fashioned for us; fit only for producing consumables. But you, you, are an artist, you are a work of art. You were made to create, not just to make. You were created from an idea, not from a brick-mould. You are more than what you produce. Leave time. Time is where your dreams lie waiting to be realised.

Why It’s So Hard To Love Others

I used to think alcoholics lay around on park benches in trench coats with brown paper bags clutched to their wheezing chests. Or that they teetered on bar stools until closing time while their wives, vacantly clutching a cigarette and staring at an empty dining chair, explained to the children daddy is working late again. I saw all this on TV, so it must be true. Alcoholics were not us; they were others. That was until my husband became an alcoholic.

My husband didn’t frequent bars or park benches. My husband did not even think he could have been an alcoholic before he went to an AA meeting. There he met people who were not park bench dwellers or bar stool teeterers. They were secretaries, real estate agents and builders with careers, families and home loans. They were not others. They were just like him.

We would all like to think we are not one of those “others”. But we are all others to someone. We all are good and bad, strangers and friends, aliens and natives. And because we all are others, when we judge others, we judge ourselves.

Jesus told us to love other people in the same way we love ourselves. When we do this, they stop being others, and start being one anothers. This phrase “one another” appears 43 times in the New Testament. One anothers are not the same thing as others. The very word “other” denotes difference. “One another” means simply another one of what ourselves are. If we can see everyone else as we ourselves are, in fact, as God sees us all, then it becomes much harder to judge who is worthy of our preference and regard and who is not.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to love people. It’s that we have this others mentality in the first place. Others has come not to mean other people, it has come to mean other sexual preferences, other religions, other genders, other ways of seeing and being which are different from our own. We look around us and see not one hundred people who need love and regard, but one hundred reasons not to love or regard people.

Why wait until people change to be more like you to love and regard them? Why wait until they put more on or take more away? Why wait until they walk your way or talk your way?

Jesus didn’t say “love others as I loved you”. He said “love one another as I have loved you”. In Jesus eyes, there were no others, only people, just like himself – one anothers.

Who are the others? In fact, we see people as we are, not as they are. When there is a mote in the eye, it makes the seer think the problem is a beam floating out there in space. No wonder the world looks like such a mess.

From Burial to Banqueting Table.

I want to tell those of you who don’t believe a person can be transformed, or that people don’t or can’t change, you need to come and see what God has done at my house.

Point in case; on Tuesday night, we had six adults besides ourselves, two teenagers and four children at our house for dinner, and my husband Ben was there the whole time. You would have to know what life was like before to understand how this is different. We didn’t have folks to our house for dinner before, because Ben would be present with us for about one minute and forty five seconds total. He would be a no show at his own dinner party.

As we were getting ready for bed after Tuesdays dinner, Ben congratulated me on successfully cooking a lamb roast for fourteen people, saying, “Well, that was a success!” I froze. A success? Since when did you consider having a dozen people in the house would constitute success? Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?

You see, Ben once was a master of the duck and weave. He was, as we used to joke, a professional skulker. He was in hiding. God was looking around, calling out to Ben for a long time, just like He did Adam in the Garden, “Where are you?” Ben, like Adam, did not want to be found.

Adam hid because he was ashamed. Shame will drive a sane person underground, and have him behave like a mad recluse. The shameful hide from any situation where they are forced to pretend to be anything better than the filthy, helpless sinner they know themselves to be. The will sabotaged by secret sins, they know their facade will not hold up under the scrutiny of accountability, or friendship. Those filled with shame avoid relationship, for fear they will fail others the way they have failed themselves.

What cured my husbands’ debilitating shame? He stopped hiding and allowed God to find him. I know it was frightening for him. Ben was trained to believe that God is an iron-fisted Father quick to anger and slow to forgive. Ben knew He could not pay the price he believed God would exact for his wrongdoings.

The thing is that Ben is not a bad guy. He never robbed a bank, or killed a man. He has been a faithful husband and gentle father. Ben’s wrongdoings were no worse than any mans; merely springing from an inability to deal with his own weaknesses and shortcomings, and which brought him undone.

When I became ill with cancer, Ben suffered terribly with anxiety and guilt because of what our family went through. He hurt. And he had no way to get God into that hurting part, or draw on God’s strength to get him through it. He believed God was waggling his head, telling him to smarten up and get a backbone. He was ashamed of his own weakness, and he hid. God said “Where are you, Ben?” and Ben couldn’t hear Him, because he was down the back yard with a cigarette and a six pack of beer, medicating his shame.

In rehab, Ben learned to hear God’s voice. He learned to put out a hand and draw on God’s strength when his own failed. He learned to stay in the room, even with the shame, until he was loved enough to know it was okay, God wasn’t going anywhere. When Ben finally peered out from between his fingers he found God waiting for him. Here, Ben, this is some righteousness Jesus organised earlier, I think this will fit you fine.

I have seen my husband rise up from a long sleep of self-hate and humiliation, and sit up to God’s banqueting table. He is making a pig of himself I can tell you. The empathy I see in my husbands’ eyes as he tells me about the people God brings across his path makes me fall back in wonder. How God can take a man who emptied himself out in self-disgust, and fill him with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.

A pastor once told me, “People change, but not that much.” Sorry, I don’t believe that. Fear and guilt stunt the soul – but mercy draws the withered ones stumbling forth for their healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, but God wants us free in the light.

Change is possible. It can happen. A man can come back to life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Don’t give up hope. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. The good thing about this was that I truly let him go to God. I was prepared to be an Abigail before Him. Ben was lost, but was also beyond the reach of my rejection, hurt and demands for restitution. But he came back. He was truly raised from the dead.

Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I can’t help myself. Those friends and family who saw me last year will understand how what we now call normal around here is such a miracle. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any idea why I was staring at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband.

You can read Ben’s own account of his journey through alcoholism and recovery here.