About Presently Engaging

I am a Chrisian woman, who, with my husband is following a calling from God to live and work incarnationally and with intention in a multi-ethnic inner city area of Britain. Skilled and with long experience in cross-cultural communication l am particularly interested in making meaning clear. Much of the activity with which I am involved, through both paid work and ministry has that focus. However, I am learning that it is perhaps in the ' being with ' that most is understood. As a fan of the Presence and Engagement ethos championed by the Church of England, I hope to use this blog to explore ouloud what it takes, what it looks like and what it means to be presently enagaged in a place of considerable diversity. The invitation is there for you to engage constructively with me ...

The Choice

As the nation casts its vote and the majority choose to protect their own I’m heartened by the reminder that this evening, in pockets all over this land, people of difference are meeting over food.

A seemingly innocuous invitation and the act of accepting that invitation to join together in an Iftar meal suddenly holds layers of meaning as we sit to share in a welcoming of the other.

Together we make the choice to share the same space, to hear each other’s stories; to taste new food – the smell of which surprises, delights and even confuses; to touch each other’s hearts and to see an alternative horizon. Is it too much of a leap to see in this radical hospitality traces of the Kingdom here embodied?

 

The Word on the street

There’s a new arrival on the scene, the new comer who is causing a bit of a stir locally. A little mysterious about His origins, (although there has been talk of him having had refugee status in his early life), his presence with us is proving more than a little controversial.

He flouts the rules of convention regarding keeping women and the poor at arm’s length. He reminds us of the simplicity and beauty of children and the value of giving them time and attention. And as for what is acceptable to do on high days and holydays – well, there appear to be no boundaries!
He has challenged the system through his stories of a foreigner stepping up to care for a victim, of an employer who pays a fair wage, of a father who runs , yes runs to embrace his foolish, wayward son.

He casts a vision of a new order, different to the values of the world we live in – a place where the least and lowest are feted; where the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed; where the Welcome is whole-hearted and there is Shelter.

He’s had friends, close friends, by all accounts but he’s been badly let down by them. Those who had previously expressed support couldn’t stay awake to ‘watch’ with him, pray for him when he most needed it. When the officials came to detain him, I hear that he was deserted. Silent when faced with the usual taunts of verbal abuse and physical attack a new arrival gets, the only time he spoke was to talk of ‘a kingdom not of this world. ’ What could he have meant?

A lethal cocktail of false accusations, indecision and duplicity has raised questions as to where the truth lies. Now, events seem to have overtaken us and I fear he’s been subjected to an unfair trial where the political expediency of the day has prevailed. It’s all so unfair and so confusing.

The scene is set for his incarceration tomorrow and his name is on the list. These occasions are always a spectacle but somehow this time there’s a huge sadness, too. Nobody likes to see a good man die. I notice this evening, on my home that an inscription is being prepared to have put above his place of suffering. It’s a sign which will speak to everyone gathered as it’s been translated into several languages.

This lifts my spirit a little. After all the events of recent times, when there’s been so much divisive talk, fear and even hatred could his death unite us in helping us to make sense of it all?
Could his vision of a new way of living be true?
And will there be room for all of us as citizens in this kingdom of mercy, compassion and Love?
Hope rises as a whisper in my heart.

Priorities

This afternoon was time I had set aside to catch up on paperwork and do some emails.

I hadn’t counted on the stream of friends and neighbours – Pakistani, Moroccan and Somali knocking on the door for a range of reasons. One for a chat, another for some help with navigating the ‘system’ of life in this country, and another with food and with friends to join us in eating the food!

A little disgruntled when after only 2 emails had been written and 3 hours had passed in drinking tea and sharing burdens I answer a 4th knock on the door.  Hold on, what am I complaining about? Being part of the community is my work here…and perhaps more important , at times, than emails!!!

“Absence of presence is not evidence of absence.” *

The lack of posts on this blog for over a year would appear to indicate an absence of presence and engagement – far from it!

Praxis requires such a focus, at times that opportunity for written reflection is limited – whether  through scarcity of time or through the diversion/concentration of all one’s creativity demanded by the task in hand.

The dictionary tells me that the term ”praxis” is the word used to describe the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” , it goes on to explain, may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. It has meaning in the political, educational, and spiritual realms.

It is not simply action based on reflection. It is action which embodies certain qualities.  What might these qualities be, I wonder, in this place of cultural, faith and economic diversity in which I live? Respect for others; Empathy: Hospitality of space, conversation and spirit, which reaches beyond the comfortable and the known; Humility; and a Commitment to be consistently holding out Hope for all.

It occurs to me that praxis, in this context, involves an element of risk: the meeting people on the margins; the possibility of rejection; the crossing over borders/boundaries of experience and ideas; the stretching beyond ones own horizons hitherto met; the reaching forward to the possible/projected  future – which attempts to inspire new ways of thinking, doing and of being.

Praxis is creative, it is other-seeking and dialogic – and in these characteristics, as well as in the qualities and the risk entailed I see something of the Godhead displayed.

 

*Title quote Carl Sagan

.

 

Who’s not integrating?

Seeing a new fast food eatery opening in our street, a friend and I chat stop to chat to the new (Somali) owner who tells us a little about his dream for the place:

” We want to make it so that ladies can come in as well as the men and so we’re going to have a coffee machine and serve fresh cakes, too.”

We make encouraging noises and promise that we will come to sample the              ‘ladies’  wares’ once they are on offer. We agree, the street has no shortage of coffee shops for the men to frequent, but there is very little public space for the ladies. This can make it quite an intimidating street to navigate at times. The owner warms to his theme of creating a new kind of meeting place and describes a venue which will attract a wider, more diverse clientele.

” The trouble is, the white people are just not integrating into this area” he says               ” so anything we can do to change that will be positive.”

Saying yes

One said yes to staying engaged.
A couple said yes to remaining present.                                                                           Others, grappling with the fall out which comes from conflicting approaches said yes to negotiation and peace-making.                                                                                           Another, shy and retiring said yes to stepping up into supporting leadership.
A woman said yes to the whisper of God in her ear on a commitment to care –
All not without struggle and not without prayer.
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground…

As shoots begin to push through, other shoots dare to follow.
Plans for meeting monthly to share lunch together are mooted
and community starts to develop.
Resurrection hope comes to this inner city church.

 

 

 

 

Welcome home!

On my return to the house having been away for a few days I pop out to the shops to get bread and milk.

At the end of my road I meet and am embraced by an Iraqi friend who lives a few doors down. We’re joined by an Indian couple who also share our street. Out onto the main road, the Pakistani Butcher waves as I pass his shop window, the Somali bakers raise their arms in acknowledgement and the British fishmonger gives me a smile. The Syrian guys in the newly opened falafel shop ask me when I’m going to try a chicken shwarma  and the shopkeeper in the An Noor supermarket asks if I’ve had a good break.

Who says life in the inner city is soul-less and unfriendly?

World community is right here on our doorstep.

 

Neighbourhood

Any language learner will know that language mirrors culture and often belies the values which underpin the life of a group.

I had a fresh insight of this when I wrote in my Arabic homework that my neighbourhood was friendly. My teacher said that the adjective friendly isn’t needed in the Arabic because the word neighbour /neighbourhood implies friendliness within it.  So the concept of a neighbourhood as unfriendly is an oxymoron in the Arabic…Neighbours are to be known, to share life’s ups and downs with, to work together with for the sake of each other , to ‘be friendly’ by definition.

It adds meaning and challenge to the thought that Jesus, in the incarnation, chose the friendship method by  ‘ moving into the neighbourhood ’ in order to make God fully known to those in His community.

Confusion

Waiting at the crossing for the lights to change a man extends his hand in greeting: : “Good morning.”                                                                                                                 I return his handshake and respond in like manner.
Suddenly his face darkens and his demeanour changes to one of aggression.              He punches me in the arm and shouts: “Do you wanna fight?”                                         I assure him that I don’t.                                                                                                  With his face right up to mine he breathes: “Asalaam alaikum”                                Somewhat shaken and not a little fearful I step back and away and call out:                   “Alaikum asalaam” ”                                                                                                          He waves at me good-naturedly.                                                                                    The fug of trauma                                                                                                             with which so many in our cities are plagued                                                                has lifted…for now.

 

 

 

 

Plain English please!

I take an Arabic speaking friend to the hospital for her pre –op appointment where she is checked over for general good health. The procedure she is about to undergo, the risks and the aftercare are explained. Despite obvious evidence that my friend’s grasp of English is rudimentary, the admitting nurse turns to her and begins to speak hospitalese:

” As soon after recovery from anaesthetic as is feasable you will need to minimise the risk of developing a DVT by maximising your ambulatory capacity. You’ll also need to maintain hydration by taking fluids. Prior to the surgical procedure we’ll apply TED stockings to your lower limbs and your bed will be fitted with a ripple mattress.”

My friend looks at me quizzically. I explain that after the operation she needs to walk around the ward rather than stay in bed and that she needs to drink a lot –water ,juice, tea, coffee even if she doesn’t want to eat. I also demonstarte that she will be asked to put on special white stockings on her legs to help the blood pump around her body and that the matress on her bed will have an electric pump which will pump air around the mattress to keep her both comfortable and safe.

My friend smiles and breathes a sigh of relief. ” Ok, no problem, thankyou.”