Tag Archives: comfort zone


8 Oct

I have a heart-longing this afternoon for a moment in time that embodies a lifestyle, a way of living and loving, a way of doing community and society that I doubt the Western hemisphere finds easy to come by.

I’m sitting here with Manzon’s attempt to outline The Construction of a Field, but my mind is stubbornly on a rickety bus whose seats are steadfastly warm from the sun. I’m on the bus with my mother, who is the perfect person to go out with on a lazy, laid-back expedition.

We’ve just been to the salon and gone perusing through bargain-hunter haunts. I’ve dragged her reluctantly from shop to shop, presumably. And she won’t refuse because I’m leaving soon. But she does really want to stop for food.

It’s easy to find some place to eat from bus stop to bus stop in India. It’s easy to eat out on your wallet too. It’s easy to choose from a variety of tastes. And it’s easy to treat yourself to a meal that is less easy on your wallet, but still doable.

And so it’s easy to change your mind. To decide not to go into a restaurant and find another one two street corners away. To ask the lady selling bangles why she won’t sell them cheaper and nearly have an argument with her but also ask her what her daughters are studying in school and listen to her tell you to get married soon. To turn around and say to my mum that I want to delay our plans by a half hour because… well, I want to get a henna tattoo on my hands. Mehendi is what we’d call it.

And I’m walking around with a blue umbrella, avoiding the sun, and I like the absence of heat beating down on me and the presence of prevailing warmth in the air. And this is fine. In India. It’s not weird. Nobody’s going to carefully keep their eyes off you so as not to look at you like a spectacle.

Also, just so you know, if it were a spectacle – they’ll look. You know? And you hate it when you’re there. But it’s a way of life. It seems to come with the territory. Passive-aggressive is just… less passive there.

So we step off the bus, walk into a restaurant, and my mother finds a table. I am less laid-back. I walk up to the counter and tell the guy that if we’re paying for air-conditioning (which you do, actually, in restaurants there), we want it on. Of course, he’s amused because I look as unlikely a candidate for independence as possible. I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, I carry a backpack, I’m shopping with my mum. I look like I’m in college – you know what I’m saying? 😉 I also look unlikely to be able to speak in any authoritative way in the local dialect. But I do. So he smirks, but I practise my stare and the A/C gets turned on. Stat.

And then we saunter over to the mehendi stand. Four youngish guys, all in jeans, in a mehendi stand. Daunting. One of them takes my measure. I take theirs. And then he nonchalantly asks me to put my hand on his knee.

I am a little less nonchalant. I’ve learned different social codes. My mother doesn’t care – she’s just encouraging me to tattoo both hands. But I gingerly lay my arm out and the man paints a tattoo on. And my mum looks on – and there’s love in her eyes and enjoyment of this time. A security I only know when I look for it. But it’s always there.

And they wait while we fumble with our many bags, umbrella and wallets to get the cash out. It’s always a struggle between my mum and me to get to our cash first. And they listen in to our banter. They’re not in the least uncomfortable. We know it’s banter they can listen in to, of course. It’s an allowed intimacy.

She pays. I am incapacitated by the wet paste on the whole of my left arm and hand.

And we hop on a bus again. We’re talking about the dogs and my father. I hope he’s waiting for us for dinner. If he’s been out, he’s probably bought something for us. And it’s okay to stick my hand out into the sunlight streaming into the bus. It’s not weird either. It’s not in anybody’s space because it’s not as crowded in the afternoon. And it’s okay to hide my really hot cheeks from the sun, and it’s okay to laugh with my mother and give her a hug if I can manage it with my bags.

It’s okay to change my plans, to delay things, to speed up things, to make something happen that I thought about ten minutes ago. It’s okay. And I miss it today.


Lessons from a father

24 Jan

Today is for my dad. You might already know that my dad and I have a fraught relationship. I have learned so much from my heavenly Father, that I sometimes forget what I have learned from my father. Growing up, he did love me… and I have learned good things, beautiful things from him. I will not show this to my father because although he has talked about our relationship to others and to me, he would feel it presumptuous in me to do so. He has said this before. But too often, I have held on to the barbs that hurt, the little lines, the marks of childhood, teenage and womanhood… because it was hard to forgive, but it is so hard to forget. Today, I’m ignoring the thorns that came with the plucking. And I am opening a box of pressed petals… birthday cards, lessons, laughs.

“Always read a chapter of the Bible in the morning, before you do anything.” That has come to be translated in my life as beginning the day with God, so you’ll get through it with Him. Every morning, to this day, I try. And if I don’t, I know nothing feels right.

“Keep your eyes on the ball. Don’t move them anywhere else.” Philippians 3: 13-14

“Got to put a shirt on to pray.” OK, this one’s funny. It made me laugh and it annoyed him that it made me laugh :). But it reminds me to give God my best and on the other hand, it reminds me of why I smiled too. I want to be naked before God, open to Him, vulnerable to His probing my heart and my hurts. But I also want to make every effort to give Him everything, to give Him my messy best. I don’t want to reduce grace to an excuse, but honour it as God’s greatest gift.

Generosity. My father never liked to be caught out without being able to give to people who asked. It irked him if he couldn’t, like duty undone! It has taught me to not be proud of my giving and let my ego be hurt by having less, but to trust God to bless me to give more. It has taught me also that giving is important. I have learned that giving is for closed doors, and that need is more obvious than we want to know. That not all who ask need and not all who need ask. Would that we did all ask our heavenly Father! I have learned more from his actions than my father ever sat down to teach me, but I have learned it well.

One day, when I was 15, my father said he was sorry… to me. That was the only time. I asked him not to, and we both cried. That wasn’t the end of our fraught relationship – I’ve said ‘sorry’ too for unthinking, reactionary words but it wasn’t. Yet it is one of my most precious memories.

It has taught me to say sorry, even when it is such a bitter thing to do. It needs to be said, and if you were wrong or unloving, you need to love again and seek peace. It. IS. Necessary. Even after healing, sometimes not always, hearing someone say that they know you were hurting is comfort. And you could give that to someone.

What is wrong with this picture? – Thoughts on Christ, Context and Identity

5 Jan

I am always here because something has blown me away. Always it’s God. Often it’s for world missions. Today, anyway, he’s done it with a Chinese guy singing in Tamil. Kinda related, right? 😀 In my limited experience, I’ve never seen the two ethnicities (yeah, yeah, social scientist) have much to do with each other in homelands. So this was special but also sad – that it was special, I mean. Tamil is a language spoken by … well, the Tamils in India but also in Sri Lanka (yes, that Tamil), Malaysia and some parts of Singapore. I think this video was from Malaysia. For some time recently, our perceptions and prejudices of differences has spoken to me often and unerringly.

I once walked home to my little sub-let in a friend’s home, on Coed Mawr, a council estate in Bangor. This was the slightly better off council estate. Fewer at-risk kids, and fewer kids that we worked with through the church. It was dark, in the way that late afternoons can be dark only in the UK. Dark, wet, and ever-reminiscent of the snow-capped mountains in the near distance. This evening was no different.

I liked it, you know. I think I went and fell in love with Wales. And Welsh people. And Welsh accents. And the church family there. I had only recently moved to this neighbourhood and I was enjoying the house. But always when I walked without my housemate or friends, I had the sense of being seen. I didn’t feel different – but to the kids, and probably to their less-unequivocal parents, I seemed different. I was ‘foreign’, but I didn’t look typically ‘foreign’. And by look, I mean dress or talk or eat. I lived with a definitely Welsh friend, and most of my friends weren’t necessarily like me in the way they’d expect, perhaps. They were local, or from the university. So I was so different from them that perhaps I seemed less human. We define ‘right’ and ‘humanity’ by our own measures. I was different but not in the way they thought.

As I turned the corner into our street, I saw the kids from the estate laughing secretively, a boy teasing a girl as if he wished he could do something else instead, a couple of kids on the swings. I knew they would comment on me, but they were teenagers – they would comment on everything and everyone passing by. Instead this time they decided to address me. With animal noises.

I am not all that nice, you know. Really inside of me, I wanted to put on my best upper-crust-can’t-touch-me face (yes, I can do this sometimes but y’all reading this don’t know me so my secret’s safe ;)) and I wanted to say to them: “I’m sorry? I don’t speak Welsh!” Not because I don’t love Welsh because of course, I do, and I had spent a good part of the previous week learning the national anthem in between times! But because I knew that it would hurt them. There – ugh, confession, there’s my mean streak. I thought to myself that it was a good lesson for them to learn. But I didn’t. Aaron told me later that he would have paid me to say it, if he’d been there. He’s Welsh. What I did though was talk to God.

How do we perceive difference? Those kids didn’t know better. I think I might have even had conversations with them later. They didn’t know I would recognise them. But if you are reading this, and you know the Lord Jesus and love his word, then how do you see the meaning of difference?  – Selah, and I mean it. –

Is your identity in being Welsh, or American, or European, or Indian, or Asian, or English, or African? I struggle with this because people might argue that part of our identity does come from these things. From our language, from our colour, our ethnicity, our jobs, our educations and our nationalities. Our identity is a bricolage of influences – think post-modern theory, Strauss, Derrida, even Eckert and others. But what is it built on?

In our first-grade classes, we’re making quilts. We have dozens of little squares, triangles and a few more quadrilaterals because, of course, we’re learning geometry. Every little child gets a certain number of little coloured pieces of paper. Each of them makes a pattern. And then all those little patterns of squares (so far) go on the base white sheet of construction paper. One big quilt. Different coloured little patches, all out of paper, all stuck on one paper. Even that’s not analogy enough.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (emphasis added, KJV)

Get that? Really? All of these influences, every memory, every whisper, every laurel, every pain is subsumed into this one saving identity in Christ. My parents, my education, the good and the bad – they don’t define me. Christ does. He might use these things and he will. But it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. It is not incidental that that whole chapter is talking about Jews and Gentiles.

Does it make you uncomfortable now that we marry, eat, laugh, pray within our own races? Does it make you uncomfortable counting the Christian friends on your Facebook list and realising they have comparable incomes, literacies, families and (this sickens me because after all the struggle against it, it has no excuse) ethnicities? Remember, I’m only talking about Christian friends – we haven’t even started on going out of that box and taking Christ to the world.

How many of them disturb you at all? No, they don’t have to be scandalous and no, they do not have to sin to disturb you. Can they afford pizza at home? Do you know anyone who cannot? Because the whole problem is this – if it makes us uncomfortable, we’re forced to do something about it.

Do you know anyone outside your community, your race, your ethnicity, your settlement, your clan, your club, your caste, your tribe? Are they token people or can you really relate?

Has it surprised you that someone of a different race had a similar emotion to yours? I’ve heard it often enough. Think again.

Who defines you? What defines you?

If this doesn’t make us uncomfortable, then there is something deathly wrong. And we’ve got to change it.

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