Dwelling on the positive

It is so easy for us to focus on the negative, especially at this time in history. The news headlines grab our attention with words that play into this human habit and feed our fears: “Jobs bloodbath”, “emergency budget”, “decimating and devastating storm”, “lockdown dictator”, “Eastern Cape battles shortages”.

We also have a tendency to replay our blunders from different angles and regurgitate our mistakes.

Pleasant emotions seem to be so much more subtle than negative ones. Our attention is arrested by numbing anxiety and we hardly notice the passing potential of the positive experience.

According to research in the field of positive psychology, pleasant incidents are more frequent than negative, but it is a choice to let those positive events become positive emotions by giving them more attention. Apparently our perspective is broadened and we become more creative when we are positive. I could certainly benefit from a broader perspective and more creativity right now!

So, I have decided to pause and prioritise those fleeting experiences – the fresh taste of the juicy grapefruit, the warm comforting glow of the open fire, the contagious belly laugh of the toddler, the colourful flower conquering the cracks in the pavement, the smiling eyes above the mask, the polite gesture from the stranger, the effort made by shop attendants to communicate despite the PPE barrier, the reassuring hug of a close family member. Let’s linger a little longer as we think upon these things…

 

Privilege 2

(A poem from the book “Dwelling in Dissonance)

Not an accusation
No verdict expected
Not an attack
Defense inappropriate

A historical fact
A present reality
Uncomfortable awareness
Given responsibility

Humble agency
Social leverage
Powerful potential
For participative change

I wrote this poem in 2016 in response to many conversations I had witnessed about privilege, where there was a lot of blaming and shaming going on, and the term “privilege” had become a heavily loaded label, which many people did not want to be associated with. Writing the poem was part of the process of grappling with my own privilege and what I could do with the privilege I have been given. In many ways, things have changed, and yet they have stayed the same.

Given the effects of the pandemic and world-wide lockdowns, and in light of the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the division between privileged and disadvantaged has become even starker and I find myself exploring this idea of privilege once again.

I can count myself privileged if:

I am not re-traumatised by the videos that have been circulating for the last few weeks because I do not have previous experiences of racism or abuse

I think I can have an objective or intellectual discussion around Black Lives Matter because it does not emotionally trigger me

I have had the option to ignore these events because they did not directly connect with my world

I take certain things for granted – that others will have the same accessibility to things that I do – language, data, transport, networks, education

In the broader context, am I aware of the fact that my presence changes the atmosphere in a room (physical or virtual)? On a personal note, am I aware of the cost that a friendship with me might mean to a black person – do I know how my black friends’ families and other friends react to their friendship with me, a non-black person?

I may feel overwhelmed by the ongoing presence of systemic racism in South Africa and may think that I am not in a position to make much of a difference…but I (with whatever abilities, skills and personality I have) am placed in my specific setting with a number of people I come into regular contact with. How can I use my privilege in practical ways to move towards a more equal society here so that everyone can flourish more where our circles of influence intersect?

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God with us

It starts with a genealogy going back right to the beginning, to the first man, fallen.

The fallenness is evident in the list of real people

God has chosen to be part of his son’s very human ancestry:

The venerated patriarchs – who paved the way for those behind

but stumbled over their own lies, cowardice and cheating.

The kings – some men after God’s own heart but also adulterers, murderers and idolaters …

even upright leaders of society had their hidden sins exposed by God’s Word.

Women are mentioned – a prostitute who saved Jewish spies,

a gentile widow who followed her forlorn mother-in-law wherever she went,

a multiple widow who tricked her father-in-law into donating his sperm.

All are mentioned by name, known completely in their complexity by their creator,

who majestically stands outside and beyond.

 

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The Peacemaker

(A poem from the book Dwelling in Dissonance)

 

I see you

moving forward

to the frontline,

labelled traitor

by those who shield

behind you,

protecting others’ bodies,

absorbing attacks in your back

that are not aimed at you.

 

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Graffiti

(I wrote this poem in 2016, it sadly seems just as appropriate now … )

Ugly

Stark

Hurtful

Words

Printed

On white wall

Magically

Erased

By the forgiving paintbrush

Of a required re-

painting

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Restful Respect

(A poem from the book Dwelling in Dissonance)

Thinking

Recognised,

Understood,

Encouraged

 

Heart

Open,

Serving,

Pausing

Introspection,

Transferring

Attention,

Listening

Intentionally

To

You

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

We often talk about offering hospitality in our homes; I believe we extend true hospitality of time and space to people when we really listen to them  in conversation with us. I have often been convicted in this area – How are my listening skills? Do I listen to understand the other person, or with a view to finding a gap to share my perceived wisdom? 

Freedom

(A poem from the book Dwelling in Dissonance)

I wrote this poem after driving into Tembisa to facilitate a dialogue there…) 


Here

We live

in sanitized suburbia

Oblivious

to the many freedoms

we take for granted every day

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Dis-Union

(A poem from the book Dwelling in Dissonance)

Dream world

privileged world

everything ok world

people carrying on obliviously

with what they call normal life

in their urban utopia

Read More

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