Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Deeper Level of Home

The other night Dan and I were on a date.  As we were leaving we ran into some friends who were also on a date.  They invited us to share a cup of coffee with them before they ordered their dinner. Two things stood out to me about this:

1. Being able to run into someone you know in a city of 1.5 million people is not an easy thing to do, especially when you're on the other side of town and you haven't lived here for very many years.  Meeting "old" friends and spontaneously going out for coffee made Pretoria feel so much more like home.  It added to our sense of belonging.

2.  Time alone with my husband is a precious commodity.  If we can get away from the kids, I don't always want to share that time with other people. The fact that our friends would invite us to join them on their date is a testament to the hospitality and generosity of the culture here.  I am still learning to put people ahead of tasks, and I am still "unlearning" much of my American-ness (which is not all bad, but there are strengths of the culture here that we wish to adopt and emulate).

It was a wonderful evening and warmed my heart tremendously.  Meeting our friends was the icing on the cake, or perhaps I should say, "Dit was die kersie op die koek."

Thoughts on Monotony

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."       - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More Thoughts on Being an Amateur

In my last post I wrote, "I realise that most of us have to earn a living, provide for families, etc., which usually takes up most of our time.  I do wonder, however, what it would be like if we pursued being an amateur at one thing..."  This makes the assumption that you don't love or aren't passionate about your occupation or providing for your family.  Bad assumption!

I thought about deleting the post but decided against it, just to show that I sometimes (though less often than I'd like) catch my mistakes.  It does seem, though, that for many people, what they do for a living isn't something they really enjoy; it's just "their job".  I know that for some, life circumstances have happened in such a way that it wasn't possible to pursue certain dreams... but what about now?

I don't want to reach the end of my life, look back, and have a million regrets. I want to use whatever gifts or skills I have, pursue that about which I'm passionate, and make the most of my life - of each day.  Tomorrow is not promised.

So once again, here's to being an amateur and doing what you love... whether you get paid or not.

A Little Etymology

noun. a person who engages in a pursuit, esp. a sport, on an unpaid basis.
ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from French, from Italian amatore, from Latin amator 'lover', from amare 'to love'.

In modern English we usually think of an amateur as a beginner, one who isn't "as good as" the professionals.  In its orginal meaning, however, an amateur was one who loved what they did so much that they were willing to do it for free - without pay - simply for the joy of engaging in the activity.

Is there anything about which you feel so strongly you would do it for free?  What would you do on a volunteer basis because you are that passionate about it? What engages you? I realise, of course, that most of us have to earn a living, provide for families, etc., which usually takes up most of our time.  I do wonder, however, what it would be like if we pursued being an amateur at one thing - just one thing!

Here's to being passionate about something, to pursuing an activity for the joy it brings.  I cannot think of a better way to honour God than by taking delight in a task.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Being a Student Isn't Such a Bad Thing...

"The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters." - Matthew 10:24-25, NIV

" 'n Leerling is nie verhewe bo sy onderwyser nie. 'n Slaaf ook nie bo sy baas nie. 'n Leerling behoort tevrede daarmee te wees as dit met hom gaan soos met sy onderwyser, en die slaaf soos met sy baas." - Matteus 10:24-25, NLV

I love the line, "It is enough for students to be like their teachers."  As children, we didn't have a choice as to who our teachers were.  As adults, we do.  Choose carefully.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Thoughts on Working Cross-Culturally

"In Christian mission the goal is not that some people 'out there' are brought closer to God by our work, but rather that we are all brought closer to God... How many of us have learnt too late that our initial idea, that by serving the world we will help bring God to others, has eclipsed the wisdom that in serving the world we will find God there." - Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God
I am horribly ashamed to admit this, but when I first moved to South Africa I thought I knew exactly what to do.  That idea was crushed fairly quickly, and thus began my journey of becoming a student of the country.  It is humbling to forever be in the position of learner - the one who does not know (yet!) - and to constantly have to ask questions, study language, feel confused, make mistakes, etc. 

The good side of all of this is that I have gained infinitely more than if I had maintained my "expert" status upon arrival in South Africa.  Most importantly, I have learned much about God through the peoples of South Africa - things I never would have learned in my own country.  This is not due to any fault of my home country, but rather because I believe God puts something of Himself into each culture of the world - some aspect of His character that makes each people group so unique and beautiful.  I never would have realised this if I had maintained an arrogant stance... 

For the purpose of learning (and hopefully stumbling upon more delightful realisations!), I've made peace with being the perpetual student, the one who does not know (yet!).  Humility - which I admit is an emerging skill on my part - is a good thing after all...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Maybe We've Gotten it All Backwards...

For decades, I've been taught ways in which the Bible applies to my life, but never has anyone preached on how my life applies to the Bible. In other words, Western teaching places the focus on the individual rather than on the Grand Narrative.

If the point is not how this story applies to me but how my life fits into this story - God's story - as an additional chapter or subplot, would I act differently? Would I be less of a consumer and more of a contributor? Would I stop praying as though God is a magic genie, there to grant all my wishes, and pray more as a participant (or even as a teammate)?

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Winter Africa

The sun shines passionately this afternoon, a rarity in this cold winter. I remove my shoes and socks and let the sun warm the soles of my feet.  It is a gift, this warmth, this freedom my normally-bundled feet experience.

I decide to take a walk on the grass. It is winter's grass - dry and yellow - and sharp against my softened soles.  A hundred thousand nerve endings scream in joyful protest - "Stop! (But no...) Keep going!" - for even they know what a precious gift this afternoon is.  They soldier through the prickly grass and in a moment are desensitised and able to walk more firmly.

Pause. Notice. Breathe. Be fully present to the moment, let your senses soak in all the stimuli. I take several photos and try to capture the moment, knowing it is futile. Can you capture the sun dancing on the water's surface in a million pirouettes? Can you record the sound of nature's symphony, the various movements and story lines? Can you bottle up the smell of the afternoon breeze that stirs up fallen bird feathers -  ethereal, downy wisps that float by gracefully?

The sun will soon set, taking this gift of warmth with her. The ducks seem to know this and play frenetically in the water - diving here, chasing there, skimming the water's surface in choreographed artistry. Oh, to be able to understand it! - and yet, I need not understand to appreciate the beauty. Indeed, the fleetingness of the moment begs my attention and respect.

 I walk back slowly, listening to my bare feet which have joined in the music and added their rhythm with every step - "I'm alive. I'm alive. I'm alive!"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Good Dose of Perspective

Ever have one of those moments when a good dose of perspective completely changes the situation?  I had one of those moments today...

Some kids were playing outside this afternoon.  Normally I love the sound of children playing, but one of the boys was standing outside of my house and screaming.  Happy screaming, but screaming nonetheless.  This went on for quite some time to the point where I was beginning to feel irritated. 

I debated whether or not I should say something.  I certainly don't want to be known as the grumpy neighbour, or the "mean" neighbour... but I was really beginning to lose my mind after an hour of screaming.  I decided to open the door and politely ask the boy if he could stop screaming for a few minutes.  And that's when I got a much-needed dose of perspective.

The boy standing outside of my house is a boy with Down's Syndrome.  He lives two doors down and normally he isn't allowed outside.  He is kept "hidden" by his family.  But today, here he was, happily playing in the street and screaming with joy.  How could I possibly feel irritated?  I was actually so glad that he got a taste of "freedom" that I suddenly didn't mind the screaming.  In fact, I feel a bit guilty for ever feeling frustrated.
 All of this makes me wonder... what if there is "a good dose of perspective" to all of the other things that cause me frustration in life?  I'm actually feeling a bit ashamed, wondering if I've been the "grumpy neighbour" more than I know, simply because I didn't know the whole story. 

I think I need to pause the next time I feel frustrated and try to see things from a different angle...