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livingwithintents

tents

“Where are you going to be living?”

Having just returned from 3 years of living in Americaland, this is one of the more regular questions we have been faced with, after ‘So how long are you here for?’ and ‘What are you going to be doing?’ or ‘So what church are you going to?’ [as if you could 'go to a church', but that's another series of blogs]

And the ‘Where are you going to be living?’ question is a big one for us.

KENSINGTON

philly

When we moved to Americaland in 2011 to work with ‘The Simple Way,’ we moved into a neighborhood called Kensington [the irony, as i grew up in a place called Kensington in Johannesburg in South Africa so in one way it was like returning home] which was a lower economy area than we are used to, with rowhouses so people living right on top of each other with a lot of life [both positive and negative] happening on the street in each others spaces and a real sense of community in different ways.

Kensington was a more violent area than i had ever lived in, but at the same time i, for the most part, felt safer than i had felt sometimes in South Africa as the violence was always intentional [so you pissed off this drug dealer or your family was fighting this family] and so that was an interesting dynamic to have going around us.

On the other hand, it was so great walking into 15 years of intentional relationship as the people we were working with had been there for so long and so there was a definite sense of trust that had been built up with many of the local residents.

Val and i both loved Philly and we also both enjoyed our time in Kensington in many ways. Definitely lots of stares and question marks when we were in the city and people asked where we were living in the Why-Would-Anyone-Choose-To-Live-There frame of reference. But met a lot of lovely people and some amazing children and were glad to be a part of their lives for the time we had.

OAKLAND

oakland

When we moved to Oakland [San Francisco] to help oversee the transition of Relational Tithe into the non-profit that Val continues to work for known as Common Change, we also moved into a lower economy area, but one that was quite different to Kensington. We lived in 61st Avenue and i would say it was closer to 80th to 100th avenues where it got a lot more violent and crime ridden. Although we did have our almost nightly game of Identify-The-Loud-Bang with me tending towards “Firework” and Val usually going for “Gunshot” and i’m sure both of us being wrong on multiple occasions.

We lived in a four apartment complex surrounded mostly by houses [with gardens and fences] and one very charismatic pentecostal church service right next to us which served as Val’s alarm clock on a Sunday morning [and not in a good way!]. Most of the people living around us were Hispanic, so while we had friendly neighbourly greeting type relationship with some of them, it was a lot more difficult to have conversations and enter into more meaningful conversation. We knew and loved our neighbour Will from downstairs and his two adorable children, as well as the boyfriends of the other women who lived in our complex.  Had we lived there longer, we would have definitely made an effort to learn Spanish so that we could have better connection with the people living around us. And for 6 months we had a really great couple living with us, and shared community in that way.

One incredible way Val connected with our neighbours was through flowers. She transformed the dry dirt patch beneath our apartment into a flower bed and added some barrels and drawers and pots with various plants in them to add some much needed life and colour to the complex. Also she wrote letters to the owners of the five most well looked after gardens that we passed on our cycle to work to thank them for the beauty they had created.

SOUTH AFRICA, CAPE TOWN, ???

And now we’re back and ready for a new season and exciting journey. And we are looking to be intentional about where we land. We want the place we choose to stay in be a more conscious decision than simply one we can afford or one we like or even simply where a place was available.

We are thinking lower income and definitely with a strong sense of diversity. Hopefully a place where people we know are already doing something or involved in some kind of intentional living into the community. And when i put a call out on Facebook the other day, we were given a long list of options, some that we are strongly considering. Places like Obs and Lower Woodstock and Manenberg. Also Muizenberg and Salt River are on that list. Places like Constantia, Meadowridge and Tokai are not so much.

What about you?? Are you living in the place you are living for any specific intentional reason? Or was it just because a place opened up in that area in the time that you needed it.

i am NOT suggesting for a minute that we are better cos we are choosing intentionally and you aren’t because you didn’t. What i am hoping to get some more people thinking about is the idea of choosing to move into an area for a specific reason [and many people do for a variety of different reasons] as opposed to simply moving somewhere because there is an opening. So the next time you move house/apartment what questions might you be asking?

i was probably 33 before i made my first location move for intentional reasons, when i moved into Kayamandi [aka 'The K'] just outside Stellenbosch, eighteen months before tbV and i got married. Just because i had never even thought of doing that before. Up til then it was let me find a place that works for me and go there.

Now that i have met some other people who have made intentional decisions like this – the Viviers who i stayed with at first when i moved into the K, Nigel Branken and his family who moved into Hillbrow [who you can read some more about here] and Pete and Sarah Portal [whose story is going to be shared tomorrow] – i can see just how powerful the decision can be.

i believe that as a Christ follower, my decisions in life need to be more intentional. Not that God will necessary lead me into every decision i make [sometimes there are five good areas i could be living in and He just wants me to pick one and live well there] but i believe it is important to include Him in the decision making and say the prayer, ‘God if there is a specific place you want me to live, please let me know.’

 WHAT ABOUT ME?

What DOES this mean for you?

Really about Living With Intents [or for some of you i guess it could literally end up as Living Within Tents?]

For some of you who might be about to move to a different place, hopefully this will cause you to think a little more intentionally. Choose to live in an area for some reason and not simply because it was the one available to you or more cheap or less dangerous. Ask the question and see if God might want to lead you to a specific area, because He has a plan for you in that place.

For some of you it may even mean right now deciding that you need to make a move in the next three months or something like that.

For others it could mean simply looking around where you already live and seeing if there is some aspect of your community God wants you to be more intentional about. Have you met your neighbours? Have you had them around for a meal? What about that old lady that stays by herself – is it possible she has a room that needs painting or a lawn that could use a mow. Is there a family who could seriously use an anonymous envelope with some cash in it inviting them to go on a date night? Could it be getting involved in the local neighbourhood watch? Or writing a letter to the owners of the fife best gardens that make you happy and thanking them for the work and effort they put into them?

And a hundred other possibilities.

This is not something that is only for Christ followers so if you don’t believe in God i think it is still helpful and great if you are intentional in where you live, but for those who are it should really be a part of our DNA – living intentionally. Inviting God to direct and lead. Asking Him for inspiration. Loving our neighbours as we love ourselves.

I would love to hear from you in the comments section. Why do you live where you live? 

as a p.s. i guess the decision is made somewhat easier as wherever we live in Cape Town, we are likely to have some kind of a view of this beauty:

table

A few days ago i posted a link to an article titled, ‘Why Jesus wants you to stop spanking your kids’ followed by a link to this article, ‘When Violence hits home: “Sparing the rod”, spanking and peaceful parenting,’ which seemed to give a more cultural explanation of what the rod might be referring to [in the bible passage all the 'hit your kids' people rush to use in their defence].

My friend Leanne shared them on her page and the whole thing exploded with a variety of people jumping on with a diversity of strongly-held approaches to the topic of disciplining your child [with half of them advocating why that was okay to do with a stick, belt, spoon...]

Another friend, John Eliastam, agreed to take some time to share some of his thoughts which his did on his greatly named blog, The Dead Pastor’s Society, under the title, ‘More on “the rod”‘, which you can and should read over here, because it was great and super helpful. Not simply on the topic of hitting your kids [although it deals with that] but more largely on the topic of reading and understanding and knowing the bible in a way that is helpful and more true. i am hoping John will write a piece for my blog on that.

But that is not what really sparked for me in that conversation. Rather it was the amount of people responding and the time put into the responses which included a whole bunch of ‘read more’ tabs to click if you wanted to see all the many paragraphs of conversation people had for that topic. This was a topic people really were invested in.

I shared this quote as my status around the same time: ‘The poor don’t need soup or shoes. They need a place at your table for the next 20 years.’ [from my friend Portal Pete]

Two shares, couple of likes and a few comments. Did not need to ‘Read More’ on any of the comments.

major

In fact, if i was a being from another planet and observing the life and beliefs and attentions of people who call themselves christians, there is a huge chance i would be able to reach the conclusion that being a part of the church was mostly about defending the sanctity of spanking and hating “the gays”, or at least stopping them from committing “their agenda” or taking us over and making us all like them [or something].

And bigger and better church buildings and more expensive music equipment of course.

Is a conversation on how best to discipline your children important and worth having? Absolutely.

Is engagement with the LGBT community and seeking both God’s response [which above all, is ALWAYS going to first and foremost be love by the way] and ours an important and necessary thing? Of course.

But with a bible and christian handbook with less than ten references to disciplining your children and homosexuality and OVER TWO THOUSAND references to how we should be relating to THE POOR, is it possible that we have perhaps missed the point a little by spending so much attention and focus and strong opinion on the things that God seems to be spending less time on? And refusing to absolutely embrace and incorporate into our lifestyles the very things He seems to indicate are the most important.

scales

i remember when i was in Americaland following some of the story of a local pastor here in Cape Town, who launched a whole campaign trying to unite the local church congregations across Cape Town to rally together against ‘the evil of the government’ trying to make it illegal for parents to hit their children. That really made me very sad. Not because it is necessarily a bad thing to get behind your beliefs and do what you can to defend them where necessary.

BUT…

i’m not sure i have seen the same kind of passion and drive in action when it comes to the poor living among us, to the lines and lines of shacks you drive past on a trip to or from the airport, the homelessness issues we have in and around our city, the huge problem with children who are growing up without families.

Imagine that pastor took all his time and energy and resources and instead of campaigning for the right to hit his children, convinced his congregation to consider adoption as valid a form of parenting as raising a child who is biologically yours? Do those really seem like equal-of-importance things?

sheepgoat

“Jesus, what is the greatest commandment?” – Love God [with all your heart, soul, strength, mind] and Love your neighbour as yourself.

“Jesus, who is my neighbour” – responds with the story of the Good Samaritan which is about a man on a journey who comes across a man in great need and helps him to the point of it being of great cost to himself [time, money, resources]

‘If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person?’ [1 John 3:17]

‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’ James 2:15-16

‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ [Isaiah 1:17]

’41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”’ [Matthew 25]

… and about 1996 more or so…

Church, it is long overdue for us to stop majoring in the minors [that doesn't mean the minor things are not important and should not be focused on - it does mean they might be less important and require less of our time, money and engagement] and to start giving more emphasis to the things Jesus [and the whole bible] seemed to indicate were a bigger deal. Being known by the love we have for one another for starters. Looking after the least of these. Engaging with those who are not like us and who the rest of the world might not be super amped to spend time with.

Discuss. [but first GYHOOYA].

Oh wow, crazy busy posting day on the brett fish blog…

but yes, Brad Fish is back [inspired by meeting one of my 6 or so fans at dinner last night]

and in the dust of the referendum, it seemed appropriate and fitting to help the rest of the world know the truth about things we need to be concerned about:

 

 

[To hear Brad Fish on the Topic of Wedding Titles as Dangerous Things You may never have expected, click here]

[Turns out this Scotland episode was number 26 - to catch up on a theme by theme list of the first 25 episodes of DTYCLE, click here]

[This is also shared as a special shout out to my Scottish friends/family in light of today's referendum, however sad or happy you might be]

One of the members of my posse, known as the Four HorseDawgs of the Apocalypse, showed me this just shortly before i left Americaland and it was well funny.

A whole bunch of you would have seen it on my Facebook page already but as we head towards the weekend i thought it would be good to share some fun with those who maybe hadn’t.

If you know someone who is sarcastic, you should totally forward this to them:

By a group called Burnistoun…

If you appreciated this sarcasm, you will more than likely become fans of Pearls Before Swine strips which you can check out over here.

However you choose to live your life, refuse to settle.

As both just a person, but especially a Christ follower, this is something that i have witnessed in so many people in life over and over again. Not everyone, fortunately, and it is the ones who refuse to settle who keep me hopeful and energised and aiming at a thrive-filled life, but just so many people give up fighting or dreaming or pursuing passion or believing they can change any part of the world and this is so sad to me.

But i think i read something that makes it all make a little more sense.

settle

i have just finished reading Scott M. Peck’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’ and while the number of ‘L’s used in the word ‘traveled’ in his book title deeply disturbs me, i found it to be really interesting and helpful in many ways. Much wadier than the typical book i would give attention to, but well worth the pushing through. And i would highly recommend it.

This extract i want to share follows on closely from the really helpful posts i shared on mapping, which you can catch up on over here if you missed them [and seriously do, cos they could revolutionise your life] and looks at a Dedication to Reality:

The third tool of discipline or technique of dealing with the pain of problem-solving, which must continually be employed if our lives are to be healthy and our spirits are to grow, is dedication to the truth. Superficially, this should be obvious. For truth is reality. That which is false is unreal.

The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world – the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions – the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions. Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost. 

While this is obvious, it is something that most people to a greater or lesser degree choose to ignore. They ignore it because our route to reality is not easy. First of all, we are not born with maps; we have to make them, and the making requires effort. The more effort we make to appreciate and perceive reality, the larger and more accurate our maps will be. But many do not want to make this effort. Some stop making it by the end of adolescence. Their maps are small and sketchy, their views of the world narrow and misleading. By the end of middle age most people have given up the effort. They feel certain that their maps are complete and their Weltanschauung  [Yes, i had to look this up: A comprehensive world view created by the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point of view - Wikipedia]is correct [indeed, even sacrosanct], and they are no longer interested in new information. It is as if they are tired. Only a relative and fortunate few continue until the moment of death exploring the mystery of reality, ever enlarging and refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true.

But the biggest problem of map-making is not that we have to start from scratch, but that if our maps are to be accurate we have to continually revise them. The world itself is constantly changing. Glaciers come, glaciers go. Cultures come, cultures go. There is too little technology, there is too much technology. Even more dramatically, the vantage point from which we view the world is constantly and quite rapidly changing. When we are children we are dependent, powerless. As adults we may be more powerful. Yet in illness or an infirm ol age we may  become powerless and independent again. When we have children to care for, the world looks different from when we have none; when we are raising infants, the world seems different from when we are raising adolescents. When we are poor, the world looks different from when we are rich. We are daily bombarded with new information as to the nature of reality. If we are to incorporate this information, we must continually revise our maps, and sometimes make very major revisions. The process of making revisions, particularly major revisions, is painful, sometimes excruciatingly painful. And herein lies the major source of many of the ills of mankind. 

What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful, workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that their view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn? The painful effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and almost unconsciously, is to ignore the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality. Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world tha would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place. 

[from 'The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth' by M. Scott Peck]

[To read the first part of these three pieces i shared, which introduces the map idea, click here]

SONY DSCAt two years old, after numerous visits to various specialists, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative sight condition. RP affects the cells of the retina and results in tunnel vision, night blindness, severe light sensitivity and consistent sight loss. In short, I was going steadily and irreversibly blind.

It has been quite a journey so far. Moving from sight to blindness brings with it a set of challenges somewhat different to those faced by people born blind. There is a constant need to adapt, to make another plan, to let go. Now twenty-six, I have had to adapt to my inability to read print, my growing need for mobility assistance (enter Panda the guide dog) and my increasing tendency to miss subtle visual cues.  More than this, I have had to adapt my identity. I have had to learn what it means to live with disability, what it is to take on the identity of disability.

The first lesson I have learnt is that denying disability has serious costs. I spent many years denying my disability. I refused to ask for help, I swore never to associate with other disabled people, I put myself in physical danger to avoid using mobility aids which would “mark” me as different. This only led to stress, intense anxiety, loneliness and strained relationships. When I first began studying at The University of Cape Town I used no mobility aids. My sight was very limited by this stage but I refused to identify as blind. Now it must be said that UCT (being built on the side of a mountain) is a death trap for the blind. The anxiety I experienced while negotiating stairs, bollards and bustling students caused me to feel constantly ill and exhausted. I reached a point where the cost of denial seemed far greater than the cost of revealing myself as disabled. When this happened I began, albeit tentatively, to self-identify as blind. I did this through accepting assistance, taking on the “markers” of blindness such as my guide dog. I began to form valuable friendships with other blind and disabled people while deepening my existing relationships, beginning to share the hard experiences with some trusted, long-standing friends. I began using the blunt, bold word “blind” to describe myself.

Through this process I learnt a very important second lesson. Disability cannot be overcome. I know that sounds controversial and maybe a bit negative. We all love to hear stories of the human spirit triumphing over the odds but I believe these are in the business of denying the realities of disability. Blindness is not the flu. The flu can be overcome with rest, medication and a “just get on with it” attitude. Blindness is about eyes that don’t see, eyes that don’t work in the way they are supposed and expected to. A “just get on with it” attitude, while it might inspire others to be better, more grateful, less selfish has the potential to mask the really hard things that disabled people experience. Yes, there are good times, good laughs and times to celebrate. When I received my Master’s degree I unashamedly threw a party to celebrate my victory. But there are also hard times. There are frustrations and disappointments linked directly to the fact that I cannot see. For example, I struggled when all my friends began getting drivers licenses because I knew that this experience of heady independence was never going to be open to me. I’m not suggesting that we all throw our hands up in despair and wallow in self pity (although a good wallow is sometimes required). I’m suggesting that we (and I include both disabled and able-bodied people here) make space in our relationships to share the hard stuff.

Of course, in order to do this, we first have to start these relationships. Once I was sitting at UCT reading a set book. At this time I was still able to read a little with the help of a magnifying glass which made me look pretty conspicuous I would imagine. This guy who I had met once or twice came and sat down next to me. He said, “So are you blind or something?” His tone wasn’t mocking or accusatory just frank and genuinely interested. “Yup”, I replied, not looking up from my book. “Okay”, he said, “What are you reading?” We became good friends and the openness of that first encounter set the tone for the rest of our friendship. There is a fine line between making disability everything and making disability nothing. In this encounter my friend didn’t make disability everything, he recognised that it was not my sole defining feature nor the only thing interesting about me. It didn’t dominate our conversation going forward. At the same time, he tackled it head on. He didn’t attempt to make it nothing by ignoring it’s obvious presence. That took a fair amount of courage because disability is awkward. It makes people uncomfortable primarily because no one is really sure what to do with it. Can I say that? Should I ask that? Can she do that? Will that offend him? There is simply no way to guess the answers to these questions because every single disabled person is a unique individual made up of complex experiences. For example, I personally hate the term “differently abled”. I think it smacks of empty political correctness. That said, I have a blind friend who loves this term and asks people to use it instead of “disabled” when referring to her.

So how, you ask, am I ever going to be able to feel comfortable in the knowledge that I’m going to say the right thing? Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you, but you won’t. So, I hear you ask, am I just supposed to start talking and hope for the best? The answer is, with help from a little empathy and common sense, yes. The real challenge is not to always say the “right” things but to build relationships tough enough to handle the saying of “wrong” things. The key word is “relationship”. We can’t know people’s stories unless we begin to grow friendships. Messy, complicated, time-consuming, hard work friendships of trust, honesty and empathy are how we enlarge our worlds and begin talking about the hard stuff.

[To read other stories from some incredible people living with different disabilities, click here]

uel

Hi, my name is Uel and pre-December 2011 I was an avid rock climber, swam in the sea a lot, gymed, organized adventure camps and helped out at church.

But in December 2011 i dived into a river and well, i didn’t end up winning any medals for my attempt but did unfortunately break my neck leaving me paralyzed from the chest down…..

I was air lifted to hospital where I spent 100 days, eish. The doctors didn’t have much hope for me regaining any movement below my shoulders and classified me a quadraplegic.

2 and a half years later I can now move my arms and my wrists, i have sensation in some of my fingers and recently my stomach muscles started working… hey, gotta do some crunches for summer.

Life is obviously more difficult now. I can’t brush my own teeth, I can’t scratch my own shoulder, i can only feed myself certain foods if I’m in a specific position, I can’t hold a glass, I constantly fight with my duvets (and they win) if my arms get tangled, I can’t speak for too long without getting out of breath as my diaphragm is weaker, I can only swallow food with my head in a certain position as my throat muscles are stronger on 1 side (weird right?), I pee in a bag cause I can’t walk to the bathroom, I can’t fight off spiders, I can’t stop myself if I fall over, I can’t brush my hair…cause my head’s shaved so I ain’t got any! HA! And the list goes on…..

I’m 6ft2 and so getting me into a car is super tricky and we don’t have a wheelchair friendly car. Because of that, I don’t leave home often but even when I do, after a couple hours my body is tired and I need a bed.

Going out to familiar places and not being able to do familiar things is tough on the soul. Like flying to Hawaii and staying in the aeroplane while everyone else disembarks.

Though going out is good at times but my parents need to carry snacks to feed me regularly so my blood pressure doesn’t drop too much cause then I faint. Oops. I’m not some strange hybrid Transformer creature with wheels glued to my behind. I’m just a guy sitting down in a wheelchair….for now so I’m not quite sure why some people stare at me like I have coodies and they may catch it?

Perhaps in this performance based world where in many countries, if anyone has a disability; they are left to die as infants, or cast out, or put in homes, or even hidden from the public as I recently found out happens in my own back yard just outside Cape Town. But I come from a loving family with the most wonderful people in my life so luckily I’m allowed out into the open and don’t have to live in a bell tower.

In my current condition, when I go out, I’ve noticed 4 types of people:

1) those that try to ignore you so hard that it becomes awkward (like people trying so hard not to look at a beggar).

2) those that stare and gossip.

3) those that act over friendly as a type of over-compensation.

4) those that act normal.

Just to let you all know, number 4 is the winner, do that more and it boils down to education. Not the school/university type of education, but just people skills and realizing that this is what life dealt us. Some are paralyzed, some are born that way, some have an extra chromosome, some catch a disease, some have a chemical imbalance and for some it was an accident but NOBODY chose it so let’s have a little compassion….not pity but the greatest of all – Love.

I think that all kids/teens (and adults) should be exposed to orphanages, homes for mentally disabled people, old age centers, cancer wards etc etc and you know what, you may just be surprised at the wonder and beauty you find there. Let’s stop aiming at producing *celebrities and pro-athletes but start aiming at creating caring people.

Many people in the conditions mentioned above don’t have the most love and support because they often get labelled as outcasts. So be a light in their lives and add a little more shine to this world.

Much love – Uel

*Disclaimer: I don’t have anything against celebrities or pro-athletes and none of them were harmed in the making of this

[To meet Michelle Botha and hear some of her story of dealing with a degenerative sight condition, click here]

[To return to the Intro page and read stories of other people living with disability, click here]

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