Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Observation (viii)

I am guest-posting on my own blog. I'm like that.

I am writing Adventy things on my personal blog that aren't so much Occupied. But a recent post about giving has stayed with me, and feels like a follow-up on my my last post here about Giving What We Have To Give. So I'm pasting in here too.

This is a bit related to a post I wrote last year about giving to people, not causes, so if this is a theme that you're thinking on, you may find it helpful to revisit that one too. The part I want my heart to remember in all of this is that Living Occupied isn't about spending my money in different ways that are "better" - it's about spending my life in way that is freedom-giving and life-making and that leaves the money question way far behind in like, millionth place.  Money-first decisions, about giving at Christmas or giving to charities - those decisions are going to be bad, heart-hurting decisions.  Life/Love-first decisions... those ones are the ones that will change this world and this heart.

This post is unapologetically Jesus-y (again) since of course, I'm all Jesus-y and all, but should Jesus really be a tripping point for you, well, maybe you'll still hear Good News in the middle of all this?

And so, a heart-first plea, In Defense of Giving:

Good (edit out bad word) am I tired of presents becoming either The Most Important Thing or The Most Awful Thing.  Either we're being asked to buy presents (new unwrapped toys only please) for the poor in our first world nation, or we're being told to give up buying gifts altogether and instead just buy chickens and cows for the nameless poor we've never met but for whom we should be feeling badly for the next few weeks. 

I am UP IN ARMS I tell you! Up. In. Arms.

Somehow we have forgotten what the point of it all is - it is not about the Gifts!! It is about the Giver! We give to each other to do our best imitation of the Great Giver, the First Giver, the Only Giver Who Gives Well. We do it to remember how hard it is to get it right, to remember how hard it is do it with a warm, generous heart, to remember how much pleasure there is when we do find a way to get it a little right and give warmly and generously. 

We give to our children so that they will learn how to receive.  We coach them to look for the love that the gift is given from - that's why all kids in all time have learned to say thank you for even the ugly hand-made sweater from whoever finds the time to knit one! Because we are being thankful that someone, SOMEONE!!! someone loves us enough to try to bring us delight. 

If we decide our children have enough stuff and instead ask them to give up receiving and instead be glad to give to the nameless poor a million miles away, we teach them not generosity, but pity.  We teach them that their own needs are silly and unimportant, compared to the REAL need  somewhere out there that they've not yet seen.  Does God ever do that? Does God ever say, "You, you well-off okay person who is sad and lonely - there is someone sadder and lonelier so I'll be giving my best stuff to them and probably you should stop your boohooing and give to them too."  Nope. God doesn't.  Not one time does Jesus say to someone who stopped him for help, "You? you've already got enough! I'm saving my miracles for someone who needs it more."  Not one time. 

Because it turns out we all need.  The reason why it is so hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven is because it is so hard for them to see that they need anything at all.  But in fact, as anyone who has ever not found what they were waiting for under the tree knows, we all want something.  We all need something.  And our need for whatever that thing is infinite and bottomless and the source of all pain. A need not to be filled in this life. A need Jesus sees in each of us.

So, I get it. That's kind of deep and not so helpful at Christmas:  your kid doesn't need anything.  They have more than enough toys. More than enough books and clothes and sports equipment.  But your kid does need to know that they are noticed. That they are known. That what feels important to them is seen and cared about by the people they are longing to be seen by.  

Now the trouble is that in our world, all the focus has landed on The Gift and I join in with all I have to say nope, that's not it.  My children will not receive The Best Gift Ever from me. Nor will they be overwhelmed by the Too Much I Can't Focus under a magically lit tree when they wake up in the morning.  But they will receive a few small things that we can afford that tell them that we've noticed them and care about the things they love and enjoy. We will point out the love that is behind each gift received from aunts and uncles and grandparents.  And we will celebrate the wonder of being worthy of all that love.

And through all of this Advent that brings us to that morning, I'll be saying over and over, Jesus is the Gift that we're really waiting for.  Every time.  No gift will be the right one the way Jesus is the Right One. But all this anticipation and excitement? That's meant to remind us of how we should feel about the gift God has given in the giving of His Only Begotten Son.   

So give your children gifts, small modest ones that are a joy to receive and that do not demand being a source of eternal fulfillment.  Help your children give what they have to give to the people they've been asked to love.

And then relax. Please, just relax. It's meant to be good news. Good News.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Idea #13: Give What You've Got

Oh gift giving.  So often, so fraught.  Or maybe that's just me who gets panicky and anxious thinking about either a) having to buy The Right Present for people or b) not getting The Right Present from people? It can be a drag, that's what I know.  But this year, I am kind of excited about it.

That may be strong. This year, I am kind of willing.  More willing.

I'm going to preach a little sermon now, because this little sermon is the reason for my willingness.  It's a sermon I've preached a lot of times (by "preach" I mean, said outloud to people who innocently asked a question, any question at all really) - it may be my go-to Jesus story for explaining what I believe about this life of ours.  Probably, if you've sat with me for more than an hour and chatted about life or faith or Jesus or density bonusing or the cost of rice, you've heard this sermon. But read it again, humour me, and see if you too find a new way of getting to gift-giving this Christmas.

(And here, a caveat for my not-Jesus-loving friends: Truth lives everywhere, and just because you don't dig Jesus doesn't mean there isn't a possibility that you'll trip across some Truth near where he sits. So be brave and read on.  Sarah.)

So, there's a story about a super-smartypants religious guy gets a chance to ask Jesus a question, and after pointing out how he's got most of this life thing figured out, including being extra great at all the rules of the church,  says, "To be clear, I'm following all the rules, but of all those rules, which one is the one that guarantees I'm in?"

Jesus answers, "Well, what do you think it is?" And the guys answers, "Love God and love your neighbour. That's the one."  I think he's waiting for a gold star, but as far as I can tell, Jesus just kind of nods and smiles and is about to go find lunch when the super-smartypants guy says, "But who is my neighbour?"

And then Jesus does that thing that Jesus does when people try to corner him into the corner of their choosing: Jesus starts telling him a story.  A story of how a guy gets beaten up and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. A story about how people who should have stopped to help him, don't.  A story about how a guy who isn't a religious leader and isn't from the other guy's town does stop, does clean him up, does load him into his car (donkey, it was a donkey...), does take him to an inn and says, "Here's some money. Take care of him, do what's needed. I'm good for whatever it costs."  A guy does all that.  Having told the story, Jesus asks his inquiring friend, "So, who was the neighbour?"

Variously, over the years, I've heard it preached where we should learn from this story that our neighbour is not just the people next door, but people from outside our church, or outside our neighbourhood, or a stranger, unless it's someone we know and as one kid at bible camp this summer said, It's Everyone!

I think maybe it's not everyone. If it had been everyone, I think Jesus would have said, Love God and Love Everyone Else.  But instead he's kind of specific: Love Your Neighbour.

It's possible that our neighbour is everyone. I just hope it isn't because I can barely love the people in my sweet, small world most days.  What I do wonder is if maybe our neighbour is actually anyone who we come across on our journey who needs what we have to give.  And then maybe, anyone who comes across us who has what we need to receive.

So, right, about Christmas presents?

The beauty of the story for me is that the Samaritan doesn't give the poor injured guy a pamphlet about how God loves him.  He doesn't heal him.  He doesn't bring him home and give him a home and food. He barely interupts his trip - he apparently stays at the hotel or inn or whatever it was just long enough to say, "Do something, I'll pay for it," before carrying on.  What he does do is give what he has:  time, some basic first aid, a ride and some credit at a decent place to recover.

And so as I think about giving this Christmas, I am realizing that in years past, it has been fraught and difficult because I kept making myself give out of what I did not have (namely money, and then maybe good ideas) and people often gave what I did not need.  And both felt empty and not-so-full-of-love.

This Christmas, I am going to speand some time really thinking about what it is I have to give.  I'll think about my abundance, make a list of things I am thankful for, and really linger in the places where there is overflow.  And after I've lived there for a while, I'll start thinking of what I have to give out of that abundance, and where it will fit with what people need.  And where there is a match, I'm thinking there's also going to be some joy. Or peace. Or something else good.

What there won't be is guilt.  There won't be feeling badly because I've spent what I do not have to give what is not needed.  There won't be anger because having given what I could not afford, it is received with barely-disguised confusion.  There won't be debt - I will not owe anyone and I will not feel owed because I have given freely out of too much and so hey, that can be free!

There will be people whom I love who do not need what I have to give.  And so then I'll suck it up and try to give anyway, because that's what grown-ups do.  But I bet that won't feel so impossible after living and giving out of the big bucket of More Than Enough that I have.

Living Occupied means not agreeing with the onslaught of advertising that says that what must be given is a thing that is not needed that I can not afford. It means looking really carefully at the people we love to see what it is they need (hint:  I bet it's not always a thing) . It means paying at attention to who they are and not what they own.

So what do you have to give? Where is your abundance this Christmas?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Observation (vii.i)

Right in the middle, if you look REALLY carefully, you can see the ocean.
One thing about writing these things down and then telling people on Facebook that I'd like them to read it is that I end up a bit paralyzed with angst over being misunderstood.  And by misunderstood, I mostly mean, people not agreeing with  me. Because as my husband will attest, I am most often right, so if another does not agree with me, clearly, they have just misunderstood what I was trying to say because it goes without saying that if they did understand me, they'd agree.

And here's one thing I'm right about:  You're Rich Too.

My daughter thinks we're rich, but not really in the way I hope she thinks we are when she's a bit older.  For her it was a pretty simple leap: if rich people have more than they need, and she hasn't experienced any deep want, we must be rich. There isn't anything much attached to that yet - it's just a statement of five-year-old fact.

But soon, like all of us, she will start noticing what she doesn't have.  She'll see what her classmates bring to school; she'll start watching television when I'm not there to make sure it's of the ad-free variety (thank you lord for video-on-demand); she'll start spending time online and reading and being in places with her brain where I can not be and where the culture we live is constantly murmuring "you deserve this too..." 

And when that happens, she'll be tempted into some old-fashioned scarcity thinking.  And that will be a drag. I wish I knew what to do about that.

For now, I'm just working on my own No Way Jose to the culture.  I am practicing remembering I have more than enough.   When I forget, I do things like check the Global Rich List (I am the one percent!) or walk 3 blocks west and look at the ocean.  That I can see from the grocery story. 

If you are someone I know, it is most likely that you are rich too.  It is most likely that you don't feel like it most days, but alas, the reason the world needs therapy is that massive gap between how we feel and what is true.

We have to remember this part so that we remember our job: our job to share out of our abundance. 

As we move into Advent and Christmas, I am going to try to carry this abundance-heart with me so that I can give a bit more freely.

I think this is what it means to be occupied.  I think living in abundance and rejecting the whispering voice that says "you deserve this too...", I think THAT is where freedom is at.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Observation (vii)

I'm posting tonight's entry from my personal blog. I don't know if anyone reads this anymore, but as Christmas approaches, I am hoping to write a few reminders back here at ye olde "Occupy Me" about what values we carry into the holidays, a season that is meant to remind us of goodness, but mostly just asks us to live in our discontent.

This episode seems like a good starting point:

Today the kids and I stopped at our snack spot for some smoothie and banana bread.  I paged through the local daily and the boy asked what I was reading about.  As it turned out, the teaser was "The Vanishing Middle Class" and the article was summarizing a recent study that shows that since 1970, poverty and affluence have each and both deepened and moved, with poverty suburbanizing and affluence taking over city centres and of course, all the nice parts.

Once I explained what the word "vanishing" means, I then had to reassure the boy that we weren't going to disappear: no matter what, we're still visible, our little family.

Next was giving the preschool version of class divisions: the rich are the people who have more than they need and the poor are the people who don't have what they need and the middle class are the people who are just right.  And then I did my quick sermon about how the world works best when the people who more than they need can share with the people who don't have what they need.

And then my girl said, "We're rich, right mom?"


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Idea #2: Need Less, Redux 2.0

So there were two things I was going to write about last time, but I kind of got bored with myself and had to stop.  But the second one has been lingering around the edges and refusing to leave me alone, so finally, here follows more of me on Needing Less.

As I had mentioned, a friend had talked about how tired he is of his discontent, and how annoying it is that no amount of consumption seems to take the edge off said discontent and in fact, somehow seems to fuel it. 

This is the math at the heart of our economic structure: Earning --> Consumption = Stuff = Disappointment = Need to Earn More = More Consumption = Greater Disappointment = (insert infinity here). 

It's bad math, obviously.  Lots of studies like this one have shown that affluence and its attendant accumulation of stuff leads to depression and drug use in teenagers.  Earning more money generally requires time devoted to the earning of said money which generally requires time away from the people who give us pleasure and the things we've purchased with the money we earned to buy them.  It's actually most surprising that given how obviously stupid and backward it is, we all continue to participate in such a dumb system.  And yet...

And yet.

We all feel powerless to do otherwise, don't we? I can't really think of a way to undo our participation in it all - we do after all need somewhere to live, to say nothing of food to eat and perhaps an option or two for transportation. Opting out is unlikely.

But participating aware.  What if we did that? What if we undid the part of the equation where we add up a bunch stuff and wait for it to equal contentment?  What if we just stopped the math for a moment or two and wondered if maybe we already had what we needed?

What if we decided instead that we would only add to our lives things and people that leave us ...grateful?

Grateful.  Full of gratitude.

Not resentment. Not guilt.  Not ill-will or jealousy or dissatisfaction.

We have a boat. We have kept a boat through low income and infant babies and my inability to figure out how to dock it because we are certain that the cost is more than outweighed by the benefit of having a reason to be together, to learn new things, to explore, to meet people, to see our favourite part of this creation.

Last week we went to a social event with some other boat owners and it was so fun.  So much fun. I left feeling so thankful for being in a world I would have never known had it not been for my sweet sailing husband, so thankful that I get to meet so many other young families who think being together in damp, cramped corners and trying to anchor without tossing a spouse overboard is the stuff Good Life is made of.

But there was a moment or two when the joy could have been stolen. When I heard about one woman's much newer, bigger boat.  When I realized that one woman was so much braver than me, being crew for her husband racing.  When I realized that I was the only one who would have to have someone "catch" at the ladies' cruise...

But friends, Hell NO! I will not let guilt and jealousy and covetousness steal Joy! and Life! and Awesome! from me. I will not allow ourselves to believe that newer and bigger and better justifies giving up more of our life to earn more money to have more than we have so that I can....  so that I can what?  Feel better? Ha. I know the math and I know that's not how it works. Better is now. Better is already here. And if I'm not careful, Better ends up way behind me.

So I will need less.  Need. Less.  And then live with profound gratitude that what little I need has been provided so easily and that in fact, I live with more than I need most days.  And I will dance in thankfulness and insist that my husband dance with me and we will dance so often and so happily that we won't see the other guy's better sails or swishily kept bottom paint... we'll just keep on dancing in gratitude damnit.

In the new math, Contentment comes when we focus on Needing Less instead of on Wanting More. Rest comes when our eyes rest on that which makes us grateful.  Should a thing in your life bring you anything less than gratitude, give it away and let it distract you no more.  Life only with the things that make you thankful.

That's where contentment lies, I'm certain.

IDEA #2 (again!) Response: 
What do have that sometimes threatens to make you Want More and forget to Need Less? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Idea #2: Need Less, Redux

I should own almost all of these.
When this post was first written, it was the one that got us to Pay Cash.  It is the one idea that has stuck, that keeps the Occupy Movement top of mind for me most days. It has created a daily reminder of our limits. It is also a daily No Thanks to the banks and their fees and their not-so-great corporate structures that create a lot of not-so-goodness in our world. I like paying cash, a lot.

However, the title... the title haunts me.  Need Less.  I'm not sure that we need less yet. Certainly we don't want any less.

Two things are making me extra thoughtful about this this week. One was a post by my friend Rory where he differentiated between having a social conscience and doing social justice. The other was a conversation with a friend about how useless consuming is to fend off discontent. (I realize by the end of this post that I can't do the second part, so I don't, so probably that will be next week's effort... maybe.)

By Rory's definition, the ideas that I've come up with here are, for all intents and purposes, merely the outcome of a social conscience and while sweet and thought-provoking, they are ultimately useless (I should clarify here, Rory didn't actually say this - I am wondering if I think this after reading what he's written). Social justice on the other hand, is the part that actually matters, that actually ends with something different and new and Socially Good.

The thing is, I've done a bit of the social justice gig - I've put my body where my mouth is, and I've walked the walk and (insert cliche about not just talking here).  And while that was good and right in the moment, and while there is probably somewhere in the great state of New Jersey, something a bit different or new or Socially Good to show for my efforts, there is very little of it.  Now of course, that probably speaks mostly to my own personal  ineffectiveness and not to the global worthiness of pursuing Social Justice. 

And yet. 

And yet, as I think about the great Social Justicers of our time - how much better and different and new is anything? True, black men and women can vote in the United States now, and eat at any lunch counter they want.  But is Dr. King's dream realized? not so much if you read up on prison stats, or poverty stats or any other quality of life statistic. I could go on and on about the Great Fails of Social Justice, just because today, despite the best efforts of so many, the world remains so deeply, truly, appallingly Injust.

This sounds a wee bit cynical eh?

But less than you think - because I think one thing I need less of these days is success.  Less success at getting it right, less success at creating justice, less success at making a difference.  Success for me must remain a distance away I think.  Having a social conscience? it's less pressure. Maybe I'm a cheater - in fact, it's likely.  But the goal for me can not be to Succeed and Change The World.  It remains only to change me a tiny bit. Small acts in a slightly new direction will have to be enough.  I can't help but think that if there are enough of them, they might create some kind of critical mass that looks like Real Change this side of heaven that would be worthwhile.

Needing Less.  Less Success.  That's what I'm thinking about today.  Needing less success makes it easier not to quit oddly enough.

And you? three months after the initial Need Less post, what are you needing less of?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Observation (vi)

So that Christmas was something huh?

Christmas was what Christmas is: full and busy and contradictory and painful and wonderful and sometimes even joyful. It was family and friends and food and outrageous demands borne of outrageous expectation that is beautifully enough, borne of The Hope that started the whole thing.

That we all join in and do it over again in another year is testament to the Goodness that must lurk at its centre, surely.

The New Year has begun with a bang for my little occupied family and so we will call this (Pre)Occupied 2012, where we see what of our occupied living can survive the stormy seas that are our life for the foreseeable future. Because most certainly this much is true: true change is only that which remains changed through every season.  It is easy enough to be People Over Profit and fix instead of replace and take an extra three hours to shop locally in independent stores to get a week's worth of groceries when life is otherwise possible.

But when life takes a turn for the Impossible as sometimes it does, the unnecessary and unlikely are quick to be dropped in favour of the I Guess I Cans.  So far, we can still pay cash. We can still choose the preferred grocery vendors. We can tip well and be kind to workers doing work we would prefer not to do. We'll see about the rest.

I'm not sure what that means for writing here. I have commissioned the Occupied Investing post and hope to have it here soon.  I don't know what it will say, but I won't lie: I really liked my introduction for it. I am also planning to continue my revisiting of the original ten or eleven ideas to see how they're working out a few months later.

If you have any other ideas, please send them. Oh, and this: please send your own stories of Occupy You and maybe we can post those? If you don't have my inbox deets, leave a comment and I'll track you down to send them.  I'd love to have a few other versions to read of this story.

(Pre)Occupy Me.