Seeing ourselves as others see us

This is Dobri Dobrev who begged in the streets and churches of Sofia, blessing those he met with the words “Rejoice in the Lord!”. He raised thousands for churches and monasteries.

Imagine this.

“A formerly homeless theatre workshop participant searches out the right characters for his tableau; he scans the group, and points to me. He places me in the scene; he lifts my arms and shapes my hand into a dismissive wave; he adjusts my hips and torso; he sculpts my face with his fingers, gently, until I am scowling scornfully. He crouches low, cowering in front of where I stand, and we hold this image. I hold this stance, I become this character.

I feel in my body how he sees people like me, I feel in my body that I am this character. My arms begin to ache; I try to look for cracks in the mould to overwrite this position of scorn, but I am frozen in character before the group. I am implicated.”

That is from Emily Beausoleil’s book The Politics, Science and Art of Receptivity. It was brought to our attention by Al Barrett during a residential conference he facilitated exploring Theology post-Grenfell, post-Brexit (!).

Imagine that. Imagine being so contorted in the eyes of a brother or a sister – someone who is homeless. Imagine what we look like as we step aside, as we look the other way, as we pretend to search our pockets for “no change”. Imagine what we sound like with our feeble excuses and dismissive words. Imagine the ugliness of ignorance and arrogance. Imagine the ugliness of being too busy.

Imagine the hands sculpting our face into scowling impatience and our imposing presence towering over the cowering and crouching.

Then imagine those rough hands at our face again – this time taking our cheek for a kiss, and a “thank you, friend”. What change would there have been in our face, posture and behaviour?

Show me the way to go home.

The Negative Spaces We Forget

I didn’t know what “negative space” was until I joined an art class and discovered just how important negative space is. Negative space is the space that surrounds an object in an image. Negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition.

We highlight what we do. In conversations we talk about what we do, showing some things, hiding others. In our work meetings we report on what we are doing. But what is going on in the negative spaces? Do we get asked to share what we are conscious of not doing? What are the things that lie in the shadow of those things we highlight? What about those things we don’t have time for, or can’t find time for? What happens when we scrutinise the composition of our negative space?

When I think of my own negative space I am conscious of the thinking, the theology, the sharing I could be doing but can’t because of a mixture of my laziness and my preoccupation with other things. I also become conscious of the people I have forgotten and who have receded into the shadows, the neighbours I should know, the circumstances I should understand and empathise with.

It is not a pretty picture. Like many in pastoral ministry I am sure that I failed to take account of negative space. It was the people in front of me who got my attention – those who could talk, those who could demand a hearing. It was the people who were privileged enough, well enough to walk the same streets as me. The assumption was made that if you didn’t see someone they were OK. So we judged how well bereaved were coping from what we saw – the evidence before our eyes, sometimes forgetting that the very reason we don’t see some people is because they are hiding (or being hidden), because they are not well enough to be “out”, because they don’t want to be a burden or because they are shamed by a society that only seems to know positive space.

We forget that positive space is a privileged space, a space for those who are able to stand proud. Negative space, on the other hand, is a much larger space – a pit of not knowing, ignored and forgotten by those who don’t occupy such space. In the dazzle of positive space it is easy to forget God’s light shines in darkness. It is easy to forget that there is much love in that negative space.

The image of The Bomb, is by Israeli artist Noma Bar

Opening the community chest

la vagabondeuse

I love that tweet @la_vagabondeuse and know the feeling of opening up a box of treasures. There are so many jewels out there. Of course, this has more to do with la_vagabondeuse’s willingness to open her ears and heart to others. Twitter is just the means to that end – one of many social media and other means.

I spent an hour and a half reading through my Twitter feed this morning. Call it a birthday indulgence if you like, but I know it is something I should be doing more of (listening, that is). There are whole boxes of treasure and so many jewels. Here’s some of what dazzled me this morning:

  • John Sutherland’s robust response @policecommander to Daily Mail’s lazy front page report on the nation being hooked on happy pills
  • the recall by Michelle Eyre @MichelleDEyre of the 9th day of Christmas, her true love’s gift of “nine ladies dancing” and her thanksgiving for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • some lines from Hafiz relayed by Ramblings @ramblingsloa: “Ever since happiness heard your name, it’s been running through the streets trying to find you.”
  • a beautiful image of Naomi and Ruth shared by Jacqueline Durban @radicalhoneybee together with a simply three word sentence: “Love made rock”
  • a 50 second video @HSBC_UK with hashtag #togetherwethrive shared by Michael Sadgrove @sadgrovem in praise of the word “together” in the spirit of Bonhoeffer

I do realise that Twitter is a preserve of the chattering classes, but it is one way of listening to others. We can choose our newsfeed and who we listen to. I choose the twitterati who have their ear to the ground, the ones who are sensitive to the rumblings of down to earth living (over, for example, the Daily Mail and its presumption of daily fail). And I discover, through that listening, the huge amount of treasure in the community chest – treasure graphically portrayed in another tweet from Paul Wright @LeanLeft_Wright this morning.ABCD

This shows the energy bubbling under the surface of community making the point that community develops through the appreciation of its members. You have to live there to know that. It is about opening our ears to hear the voices of others, and opening our hearts to the passion of others and celebrating the community bounty – the treasures and jewels of the community chest, just like la vagabondeuse is trying to do. This is loving the voice of our neighbour and discovering our commonwealth. Put technically this is “asset based community development”. But for those who live there, it is simply the love that makes the rock on which community builds (to paraphrase @radicalhoneybee).

People gatherers

Feeding the 5000 by Eularia Clarke

Some people are just good at gathering people together. They call on people and the people come. This seems to be what leaders can do – or, rather, are those people who can gather us together our leaders? People gatherers have an attraction and an authority. Whether we call a meeting or throw a party, we are acting as people with authority, people able to call on others. Most people can grow that authority, usually by the attractive way that they gather people. Conversely, we have all been in gatherings which have been so carelessly organised that we have said “never again”. There’s usually a reason why “nobody came”.

Neighbours Table tells the story of a people gatherer. In an interview with Tammy Helfrich (available as podcast), Sarah Harmeyer talks about her recent life as a “people gatherer”. She adopts a word for the year. Word of the Year 2011 was “community” which brought a vision for inviting 500 people to her table during the year. At the point of the interview, she is nearing 1500 for the 3 year period on a budget of $75 per month. She started with an invitation to a “pot luck” delivered to her neighbours. Her father made a table to seat 20 – 91 came. She suggests that people are waiting to be invited, that whole neighbourhoods are waiting for such catalysts for change, for people to step forward.

Her “manners” can guide us all. “Plan ahead to be present with people”, develop a culture of mutual respect, interest and listening, introduce people to one another by saying what you love about them – all that makes for a good time gathering. So, pause for thought. Why do we call people together? Are they just instruments to our ambition, pawns in our little games? Are we prepared for them? What is our interest in their offering? Do we know them? Do we love them?

There is always a reason why “people come flocking”.

PS People gatherers are the image of God who gathers people like a shepherd, making of them a nation and a church. Eularia Clarke’s picture of the feeding of the 5000 is a celebration of God as “people-gatherer”, recalling the feeding of the multitude. The painting is part of the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © TMCP, and is used with their permission.

Generation chasm

You can tell a culture is in trouble when its elders walk across the street to avoid meeting its youth.

Quoted by Meg Wheatley in Finding our Way and attributed to Malidoma Some from Burkino Fasso and Parker Palmer. Meg Wheatley’s has written a very appreciative and moving essay Maybe you will be the ones: to my sons and their friends.

Holding hands and climbing

Exploring the habits of the heart crucial for sustaining a democracy Parker J Palmer, in Healing the Heart of Democracyhighlights this poem by Hafez, a 13th century Persian poet . The poem is called Out of a Great Need

Out
of a great need
we are holding hands
and climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
Listen,
the terrain around here
is
far too
dangerous
for
that.

All tweets great and small

bagels
“Best bagel ever this morning” (via Twitter).

That sums up a recent conversation thread I was involved with. There is a lot of chatter about the ratio of noise to significance in our social media.  The criticism behind the bagel reference was there being such little significance and too much noise in that sort of conversation. That was their excuse not to tweet. (Is it their excuse not to talk, as well?) It is strange how one tweet a winter of discontent makes.

Refuseniks are missing the party. Here are some of my (not by me) top tweets. @nancyWhite collected some from the Applied Improvisation Network Conference in a post that make me wish I had been there:

  • #AIN12 @brentdarnell Traditional training is a conspiracy create by sellers of 3 ring binders
  • #ain12 Matt Smith: “do what you can to get into a sense of gratitude before you perform” … or teach, or host, or lead, or ….
  • “You have to find people who are broken and help them heal. Laughter is my weapon of mass construction.” Genie Joseph #AIN12

Others are funny, like this from @theMiltonJones: Roman numerals to be phased out – not on my watch. (Retweeted 1467 times!)

Favourites showing when I wrote this:

  • From @alaindebotton: People who want to be famous generally had parents who took the media a bit too seriously
  • Again from@alaindebotton: How needlessly mean to buy only as many books as one actually has time to read

Without a tweet from @theosoc I would not have been alert to it being World Mental Health Day today, and there being a global crisis of depression affecting >350 million people. Without @first4LCFC I wouldn’t get score updates for my team.

Some tweets are profound and stimulating. They are clever. Other tweets are delivered without such pretension.

The taste of my bagel (in less than 140 characters) is not insignificant. It is a fact of life that some people do record their bagel consumption as a “status update” on Facebook. It is another fact of life that others give them their thumbs up because they care. Many do. They “like” it.

I wonder what it was like when there were other technological breakthroughs in social media. There have been famous letters. Some letters were kept, some thrown straight on the fire. But the triviality of some didn’t prevent people replying with “it was lovely to hear from you” and “please write back”.

We don’t always have something of earth shattering importance. I wonder, with the development of speech (early social media), whether Adam and Eve really did turn to each other and say “Just listen to you. All you go on about is your bagels. Can’t we talk about something more important? Just tell me, do I look big in this? And, how about this big apple?”

Conversations great and small build community and relationships. One of the reasons we go back to Patara for our holidays (maybe you’re not interested in that!) is the way everyone greets us with “gunaydin” (good morning). I would rather walk a street where people say “Hi” than walk a street where there is no expression because people think such apparently meaningless banter is beneath them. I am likely to go back to a cafe with waiting staff anxious to know whether I was pleased with their bagel.