Monday, November 30, 2015

Apocalypse Now?

Have you ever been to Venice? Such a beautiful city… But the combination of heavy buildings and rising sea levels mean that this beautiful city is regularly inundated by acqua alta. The waters rise, the sirens sound, and out come the duckboards so the people of the city can walk around. Maps of the projected effects of rising sea levels make the long-term future of Venice look very bleak, indeed.

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(Picture from,water/Recent)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Greying, lined, direct, and doing the work of love

Some people I hadn’t seen in a long while came for dinner. “Wow,” said one, “You look so different from when I last saw you. You look so … so … old!”

“Maybe it’s my grey hair?” I suggested.

“Well, yes,” she said, cocking her head to scrutinize my face more closely, “but … it’s also the lines around your eyes.” And then the subject changed and we headed into the kitchen for a drink.

I’ve told the story a few times now, and the response is always the same. “God,” said one friend, “did you poison her dinner?” “What a bitch,” said another. Meanwhile I still think the exchange is hilarious. I do look older than when I last saw her. My hair is turning grey, I do have lines around my eyes. For that matter, I creak when I stand up, my back hurts, my skin is thinning, and hair is beginning to sprout in unfortunate places. So I tell the story because it makes me laugh, and I reckon it’s good to be reminded of my mortality.

I also reckon the story is a good gauge of hospitality. Were my guest’s words such a deadly insult that I should have met them with cold fury? Am I really so needy that everyone must forever pretend that I am young and beautiful? Am I really so important that I should be treated with infinite respect? Well, to all three questions: no, not at all, which is why, when it happened, I laughed. The words weren’t meant as an insult; we don’t need to pretend I am young and beautiful; and I’m not so important that anyone should ever pussyfoot around me and play nice.

Why is plain speaking so rarely acknowledged as a gift? This dinner guest is a dynamo, and has always been blunt. She has spent decades advocating for survivors of sexual abuse, and has regularly crossed swords with the most closed, patriarchal, unresponsive institutions in town. Over time, her words have shaken them up and made them more accountable, and have led to healing processes for survivors. But she has spent so many years talking back to stubborn powerful men on behalf of the marginalised that sometimes she forgets to sugar coat. If that is the price we pay for her to do a heap of thankless, costly, necessary work, then I for one am willing to take it on the chin.

I’m proud to know our dinner guest, glad of her work and plain words, grateful there are people like her in the world. And I’m proud of my grey hair and the lines around my eyes. They’re a record of years lived and babies born and stories told and laughter shared and good work, and she understands this. Like her, I’ve earned my grey hairs, I’ve earned my lines; I don’t need to hide them. And I don’t need my dinner guests to be nice. Instead, I like my guests to be big-hearted people, who are doing the work of love.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

With Open Hands

I would be ashamed to admit just how often I sit in the silence before the sermon and contemplate shoes or ‘shoulds’ or shopping lists. I love shoes, and think about them often; and what with three kids, I am forever making shopping lists. As for what I should do – exercise more, pray more, give more away, call this person, email that person, weed the garden, clean the house, radically change my life for the sake of the gospel – well, what I should do is endless. I will never, ever get through the list of things I should do, no matter how hard I try...

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