Helping, ‘fixing’ or serving…

I read this today- to which I add a rueful ‘Amen’-

Fundamentally, helping, fixing, and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing is mutual. There is no debt. Fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.

 

Rachel Naomi Remen

Excerpts from the article “In the service of life”

 

 

Some incense, a black box, and friendship…

Last night our little housegroup met. It was nothing out of the ordinary- there will be small groups of people meeting like this all over the country. But this one was special- because it was mine.

We sat round the fire, and read stories about the coming of light. We sang, and ate food.

Then we shared gifts.

We had one of those ‘secret Santa’ things where each of us drew a name from a hat, and had to buy a gift for £2, and write a blessing for them.

Mine was simply brilliant. It was a gift for both Soul and Spirit.

For the soul- a little box of frankincense, along with some charcoal and an account of the uses of incense in the Bible. It is just the right sort of gift for me, from a dear creative friend who knows me well and it made me cry.

For the Spirit, a little black box, labelled ‘Chris’s survival kit’ containing 10 cards that made me laugh out loud.

Here is a sample-

(The last one is a little reference to my little swim last February!)

Brilliant!

You know who your mates are…

Ahhhhhhh- that’s me.

Off work for a week.

And boy was I ever ready. I had a day from hell yesterday, topped of with a migraine in the evening. I know myself well enough to understand when I need headspace on my own, and when I need to be amongst people.

But the fact is, to a various degree, we all need both. In particular, we all need to be with people who are willing to love and accept us as we are- in short, we all need mates. It is a physical, spiritual and emotional pull on the core of us.

I have enjoyed these adverts recently- and smiled ruefully- as a result of awareness of my own frequent failings, and the pain I have sometimes felt through a perception of others failing me…

And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. Greet one another with a holy embrace. All the brothers and sisters here say hello.
2 Corinthians 13:10-12

Curry, community and a bit of Rousseau…

Had a nice night out with some friends last night eating curry and drinking beer. Mmmmm.

There were six of there, all men- David for the first time- and as well as the usual man-talk subjects (mostly involving some kind of bodily function) we talked about our local community.

We are all ‘incomers’ to our town- one from England, one from Ireland, and the rest from other parts of Scotland. And like most incomers, our relationship to place requires a degree of negotiation- and it also inevitably means asking lots of questions about the nature and characteristics of the community we are part of.

It is a regular pre-occupation of mine, as regular readers of this blog will know well. The quality of our lives depends so much on the depth and degree of our relationships with others. This seems a lesson that we desperately need to re-learn.

Modernity taught us individualism- Post modernity hit us with its fluidity and disconnection. The internet added distance and diversity, and we were left with… what?

Empty village halls, clubs and churches that no-one belongs to any more. Family units who pass each other in the school yard.

Of course, I exaggerate. There are many thriving clubs and churches- including in our lovely little town. But the direction of travel towards social disconnectedness is well documented- as is the potential cost.

We Christians were shown a different way to live by Jesus. A way of life lived for the other. Forming Ecclesia’s who practice a form of radical community and out of this gathering seek to be a blessing to the towns they are part of.

I was half remembering a little bit of philosophy today as I drove around Argyll. It was that old rogue Jean Jacques Rousseau, and his own struggle to distinguish between the individual self, and the collective self.

Rousseau believed us all driven by two opposites- the Moi (me, or I) and the Moi Commun (the communal I.)

The first of these- the Moi fits well with modern enlightenment thinking- this from here.

The utopia of the independant, fulfilled moi is Rousseau’s most popular message to the modern world. It’s existence is so pervasive an assumption in western society that any educator who challenged it as an ideal would be forwith banished.

The Roussean ‘I’ is alive in the present day rhetoric of the search for identity, in a whole series of theses about self actuation from Marx through Maslow.

But Rousseau’s thinking did not end there- he remained convinced that our ideal as humans was discovered in collective with other humans- the collective I, or Moi Commun.

This collective experience is so much more than the subjugation of the individual will to the numerical superiority of the collective. It is the place where the Moi finds absolute fulfillment and identity.

These ideas became the seeds for ideological and actual revolution- as many ideas do.

Perhaps they are appealing because they are familiar ideas, to followers of Jesus at least.

Another one of what CS Lewis called ‘Christian heresies’ perhaps…

The curry was nice by the way- and indeed led to it’s own internal revolution.

Networking with alt. worship folk…

tautoko

We heard about this meeting of the Tautoko network and Michaela and I are hoping to go. Thanks for the invite Laura!

This is what it is all about;

It’s been too long but finally a weekend gathering has been planned for the tautoko network in July 2009 at the Coalbrookdale Youth Hostel in Shropshire. We really hope you will join us. It will be a relaxed weekend to chill out, catch up, share and cook some choice food and drink, reflect, worship and pray together, with plenty of space for conversation.

The tautoko network was originally formed out of friends connected with alternative worship, emerging church, or missional communities (funny old thing language eh?!). Why? Well mainly because we love hanging out together. The network was made a bit more intentional/formal recognising that there were plenty of others involved in the same kind of stuff who didn’t necessarily have the history of friendships but could gain a ton from being part of it. These were the words we put together to describe why it exists and they still seem a pretty fair reflection…

  • To share the journey with others who face similar mission challenges.
  • For mutual friendship, encouragement, solidarity, support, gift giving, discernment, resource sharing, ideas and learning
  • To see what emerges as creative people connect.

And the ethos/values we try and shape the friendships around are…

Open set | Spin free | Generous | Vulnerable | Questioning

Sounds really good…

Said Michaela- ‘wouldn’t it be lovely to go to something like this that we were not responsible for?’ I think I know what she means.

Friendship and the internet…

boots

Friendship- it just might save your life.

Not just in the obvious roped-together-climbing-up-the-Matterhorn kind of way, but in a thousand more subtle ways.

I have benefited enormously from all this on-line networking and blogging. But have long been concerned that online friendships lacked something vital to human experience. For us, they were expedient- given our somewhat isolated geographical location, but in my mind can never fully replace flesh on flesh contact.

I would go a little further (although I am hesitant to be categorical) and wonder if the real community that Jesus called us to (and modeled for us with his traveling companions) can only be experienced in close contact. I say this with some trepidation, as this kind of community is rarely comfortable, tidy or easy. I liked what Mark Berry had to say here about this.

On-line communication seems to have something of the autistic spectrum about it. It allows for the sharing of lots of informational data, but for the most part lacks the nuanced, multi-layered complexity that characterises human face to face exchanges. to extend the analogy, people who have autistic spectrum difficulties can find techniques that might help manage some of the contradictions and complications life brings to them. They might also have real strengths that are revealed in a capacity to perform some non-social tasks extremely well.

In the same way, on-line networking (such a recent phenomenon) does some things very well, and might yet develop techniques that make the interface more human. Before we rush to condemn, we should bear in mind that each step-change in communication technology has been greeted with much suspicion- the printing press, the railroads, television. These things result in change and adaption as they penetrate deeper into the human experience.

But I remain convinced that communication at a distance will never be enough. At present, I think the autistic analogy remains a good one.

jordrel-bank-2

I came across an article from the journal ‘Biologist’ the other day, which was quoted by the Dranes on their 2churchmice’s blog. It makes some startling statements.

Britons now spend approximately 50
minutes a day interacting socially with
other people (ONS, 2003). Couples now
spend less time in one another’s company
and more time at work, commuting, or in
the same house but in separate rooms using
different electronic media devices. Parents
spend less time with their children
than they did only a decade ago. Britain
has the lowest proportion of children in
all of Europe who eat with their parents
at the table. The proportion of people who
work on their own at home continues to
rise.

Britain’s disinclination for togetherness
is only equalled by her veneration of communicating
through new technologies. The
rapid proliferation of electronic media is
now making private space available in
almost every sphere of the individual’s
life. Yet this is now the most significant
contributing factor to society’s growing
physical estrangement
. Whether in or out
of the home, more people of all ages in the
UK are physically and socially disengaged
from the people around them because they
are wearing earphones, talking or texting
on a mobile telephone, or using a laptop
or Blackberry.

Does this matter?

Well the study goes on to list the benefits of close human contact and friendship. Here are some highlights;

  • Measurable genetic and immunological benefits.
  • Biological changes as a result of physical contact- hugs for example.
  • Increased incidence of cardiovascular problems in people with lower amounts of social connections.
  • Lower general morbidity associated with higher amounts of social contact.
  • A study finding lower incidences of strokes on women
  • Lower blood pressure in men, and a faster return to normal blood pressure after stress.
  • Measured differences in the narrowing of arteries.
  • The unexpected fact that if you have contact with more people, you are LESS likely to have colds.
  • Memory loss in old age declines at twice the rate in those poorly integrated.
  • General links between enhanced cognitive performance and social interaction.
  • A reduction in mortality for those who attend regular religious services! (But not just to ‘warm the pew’.)

The review ends with a description of an old study (10 years ago) which may or may not have been prescient.

While the precise mechanisms underlying
the association between social connection,
morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated,
it is clear that this is a growing
public health issue for all industrialised
countries. A decade ago, a detailed classic
study of 73 families who used the internet
for communication, The Internet Paradox,
concluded that greater use of the internet
was associated with declines in communication
between family members in the
house, declines in the size of their social
circle, and increases in their levels of depression
and loneliness. They went on to
report “both social disengagement and
worsening of mood…and limited face-toface
social interaction … poor quality of life
and diminished physical and psychological
health” (Kraut et al, 1998).

So, what can we make of all of this? The study clearly takes the view that on-line contact is not enough, and indeed may be problematic.

I still hope however, that when used well and purposefully, on-line connections might facilitate community building. This is where I still place my energy, and why I started out trying to establish this ‘Emerging Scotland’ thing…

It is almost as if we humans were made to find our highest expression in community. As if we were wired and plumbed for this.

So for now, my own conclusion is like this;

The internet is great. It gives me access to loads of great stuff (and lots of rubbish too I suppose!) It also allows me to connect with others. But it does not allow me to commune with others in the way that I think Jesus intended. In order for this to happen, the whole of me has to be engaged in this process, in all of my contorted brokenness, aware that in the joys of serving and loving will also be pain and suffering.

There is no other way.

old-hands