Tag Archives: Hospitality

Eventually, All Things Merge Into One…

This week we welcome our inaugural Guest Blogger, Sarah Forbes.  Sarah resides in Melbourne, Australia, works with individuals labeled with disability, and is equally curious about the idea of connection and kinship.  Sit back and enjoy her contribution…

 

“Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes and indirect boast”, Jane Austen.

I’ve often found myself living across two worlds, two groups, two ways of thinking about life. I grew up in a home where conflict was common and money was scarce, particularly during my adolescence. I also went to a well-performing private school, thanks to my grandfather’s generosity. I became good at covering up our family’s poverty, trying to fit in with well-off and wealthy students, but remaining in an existence between the two. On weekends I tried to fit into our rural community, and on weekdays with my suburban school friends. At the church our family attended, I was the one asking questions of leaders who didn’t welcome questioning. I’m also a person who is adopted, straddling two families where I am both citizen and guest. Many times growing up I felt like I belonged nowhere which grew my motivation for living in ways that might help others feel more included.

Almost five years ago, my husband, new baby girl and I moved into a neighbourhood known for its poor, troubled, unemployed and disrespected people. The location is beautiful and the price was right. Our home perches on the edge of the Yarra River, which runs from the mountains near our home all the way through Melbourne and into the ocean. On a hot day, after rain, the river smells of eucalyptus, native mint and, like home to me. On a very hot day, people from all over the neighbourhood congregate at the river to occupy the best swimming spots, enjoy a beer and a smoke and catch up with new and old friends. People share their food and their belongings, they check up on one another, they know each other’s business enough to enlist the help of others when someone is sick or broke.

Elizabeth, Val and the Yarra River

Elizabeth, Val and the Yarra River

We have friendships with neighbours who have a variety of labels, particularly ‘bludger’, ‘alcoholic’ and ‘bad news’. Our closest neighbour Mark is dying from asbestosis and is known to some by at least two of those labels. He has lived a life of unrequited love and the worst kinds of loss and violence. Many of our friends and family have questioned our friendship with him, simply because they don’t yet see him for what he offers but rather for the trouble he might make for us. Yet he is the person I would call on when I need gardening advice and the person my children know to go to if Mummy falls off the ladder and Daddy isn’t home. He offers counselling, advice, explains to me how social situations work and he looks after our pets when we are away from home. He sometimes takes my washing in because rain is imminent, and he waters my plants if they look droopy. He reassures us that we’re good enough parents. We worry after him, and he worries after us.

tim and mark at valentine's first birthday party, January 2011

There are many others in our neighbourhood who have suffered unrelenting abuse, who use drugs too often, who are often without food in the house because they trade off the grocery budget for prescriptions or beer or petrol for friend in need. My husband Tim remains their preferred confidant, because they see in him a worldliness that they don’t see in me. Despite all my efforts, people who have experienced desperate suffering typically see through my tough exterior to my naivety about what it is like to be the object or perpetrator of human violence, of what it takes to cooperate with child protective services enough to prove that you deeply love your children, and they protect me from their reality by keeping the worst of the truth from me.

It is sometimes hard to see what I have to offer in the midst of people who understand the world in ways so differently to me. The challenge is to see my talents and skills as useful in their context, and to see in others the same. The greater challenge lies in both offering the space for people who experience deep disadvantage to contribute to my life, and for me to take up that space in the lives of people who might welcome me in when my skills seem useful to them – to offer equal exchange. The deep question for us is: How can we be sure that all people are welcomed, even people who are known for violence, people who sell drugs to children in our neighbourhood, people who might steal from us, even people who might mistreat our children given the chance? The answer comes from figuring it out one day at a time, in concert with people who care enough to ask the same question.

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Sacred Space

Lindakirk

Bloggers unite…

We have mentioned the Toronto Summer Institute a few times on here, perhaps partly because it is where Kirk and I first made a connection and this blog was born. It has had a profound impact on our lives; we would both say it sustains our passion, nourishes our commitment to our work and to our community-building, and has been the birthplace of many important friendships.

Peter, Beth, Kirk and Linda

Peter, Beth, Kirk and Linda

The friendships are the piece that I am interested in today. Continue reading

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Be the yeast…

A while back, I shared with you an open letter to my church community…an invitation to begin  learning about who we are as individuals and as a community of people.  Having been immersed in this practice now for a couple months, I checked back in with people via our newsletter…and as promised, I’m using this space to keep you abreast of how things are going.

Breaking bread together…

As we move forward with our learning conversations, the process of getting to know each other as a means of fostering deep connections, we begin to realize the power that exists within ourselves, and our relationships with one another.  Continue reading

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Rhiannon’s gift…

 

Rhiannon and her two bags…

On our way out the door on Halloween evening for our trick or treating, I spotted what appeared to be an over-zealous Rhiannon carrying two bags.  While I admire her vision, I approached her and said “Sweetheart, you only need one bag.”  She looked up, her big blue eyes looking at me as if to say “Why would you get in the way of what I’m about to do…”  It wasn’t until Jody, her mother, my wife, came up to me and told me what was in one of the bags. Continue reading

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Not Your Ordinary Suggestion Box…

Joy’s suggestion box…

I have the pleasure of collaborating with amazing people from all over the world.  We all share the desire to understand our communities in ways that will enrich our lives and the lives of our neighbors.  Today I’d like to introduce you to Joy Boe, someone I don’t travel far to collaborate with.  Continue reading

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A Learning Conversation…

…in conversation.

Recently I’ve been rattling off phrases like “The learning is in the doing…” and “The answers are in the questions…”  I’m not sure this makes a bit of sense to anyone, myself included, but I’ve been really trying to stop thinking so much about stuff and just simply DO.  And so this past Thursday, I found myself driving to the residence of Barbara Workman, a woman I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through my open letter to my church community.
Ever since I wrote the letter, Barbara has been diligent in making sure I knew that she wanted to be a part of moving this idea of connecting forward.  Continue reading

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An open letter to one of my communites…

This appears on the front lawn of our church…

For this week’s post, I want to share with you an open letter I wrote to my church congregation.  I’d like to point out that this post is not a testimony about my particular faith, rather, it is simply an invitation to a group of people that I am in relationship with, to start to think about who we are as a community and how we can become better connected with each other. Stay tuned to this blog in the future for updates as to the progress of the project I invited people to participate in below…

“A community filled with gifts, talents and capacities is only vibrant and abundant if those gifts, talents and capacities are visible.  St. Marks is a community of inherent warmth.  It is a community of welcome.  When my family walked through the doors 3 years ago, we remember being greeted with open hearts, open doors and open minds, just like the United Methodist Church slogan reads.  Continue reading

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Only three percent? It’s a start…

What I know about myself is that I am immersed in this search for connection, a feeling of true belonging to my community and neighborhood.  In my everyday work, I teach of the values of connection, community and inclusion. Yet, in my own neighborhood, it is clear that I lack these things.  So I suppose this will out myself a bit, but alas, this is a place of learning and sharing.

I’ve begun the process of getting to know my neighbors.  Continue reading

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Tell me your long story…

What risks being lost in our fast-paced culture today, is the art of storytelling. The meaning behind a story is in the telling itself, which is to say a story isn’t a story if it isn’t told. But why aren’t we telling our stories? Well, life moves fast. We are all busy. We want to get our information fast and we want to give our information fast. Texting and emailing have become the norm, while a good old-fashioned letter has pretty much gone the way of the buffalo. The consequences of these trends are visible in our lives: fewer neighbors truly getting to know one another; fewer block parties and phone trees. We could lose our sense of community, as it exists in the purest form. So what do we do about it? Continue reading

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The best welcome I ever got

My sister Jenny has lived in London for the past seven years. When she first moved there she lived in a big shared flat with her partner, a couple I had met in Edinburgh and a couple I hadn’t ever met before. All of these people were part of a large and tight-knit group of friends, most of whom I didn’t know. The first time I visited there was a party at their flat, already in full swing when I arrived.

When I turned up, a bit weary after a full working week and a five hour train journey, my spirits were immediately lifted by the welcome I received. I know it sounds unlikely, but a group of her friends actually cheered when Jenny brought me through to the living room. They love my sister to bits and know how close we are, so people were very ready to accept me as part of their ‘family’. Throughout the evening I was given the message, over and over again, “We are glad you are here”.

I was offered a drink and food the second I had put down my bags. Several people immediately introduced themselves, taking a moment to really connect with me and acknowledge my arrival, even if they were mid-conversation. I was told, “I’ve been so excited to meet you!” more times than I could count. In a group of friends as established as this one there is inevitably a lexicon of inside jokes which could potentially alienate a newcomer, but this group of folk made sure I was included. I have to think hard to work out how they did this, but I believe it is worth figuring out… I think there is something about strong eye contact that is very inclusive. If people are laughing together about an ongoing joke, it doesn’t always work to spell it out (what better way to ruin humour than to dissect it?). But if a group of people are laughing at something you don’t understand and one of them continues laughing and makes eye contact with you – doesn’t it feel like you are allowed to join in? Even if you don’t ‘get’ the joke?

This is the part that is worth dissecting. If we can figure out what we, or others, say or do to make one another welcome – we can do it on purpose. We can use our observation and empathy to realise that somebody might feel they are on the margins of the group. And we know what to do to make them feel welcome, to make them feel part of the whole.

When I started up a new community group (a community circle, of which I will write more in  later posts), I asked the founding members in the second meeting: “What was the best welcome you ever got?”. I then invited people to really dissect the subtle yet tangible things that people said or did to make them feel so welcome. I would love to say that I was clever enough to anticipate the impact this would have on how welcoming that circle would become, but really I just lucked out. We ended up with a list of things we could do to make new members welcome, and it happens at every meeting.

There is a process at work here. Experience welcome. Reflect deeply and specifically about what happened. Call upon the ‘welcoming tools’ to make others feel wanted. You don’t have to be the heart of the group to do this stuff. You don’t have to be gregarious or even confident to extend the welcome. You just need to pick the tools that work with your personality and use them. Relentlessly. We can do this for each other. It works for everyone, even the people who seem ‘different’ to you – especially the people who seem different. Because if we all figured this out there would be no more exclusion. There would only be Welcome.

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