Pickets

Marcella uses the hand shears rather than a power weed-eater

so the white pickets won’t stain green.

At dawn she is up watering the roses, red and white ones

in front of pink shutters.

Now, the sun rises in the late July sky

to wick the water from the soil,

drawing it up with an invisible straw.

You can only be so meticulous, then, once in a while you have to act and pull a weed, even if it uproots something nearby.

Her muscles tense, she bends, digs, tugs. She is strong today. The roots come clean.

She looks at the sun. “Scorcher,” she mutters, and drags out the hose for another round.

 

Then

 

Marcella gets on the bus and goes downtown

and stands and links arms with her neighbors:

African-Americans or girls dressed in rainbows.

She passes out bottles of water, reminds them to hydrate,

there is a chance of bloodshed so she is ready with a medical kit

in a fanny-pack, to keep the blood from staining

the streets. And even

when the sun goes down she stands erect, waves her carefully-lettered picket sign,

feels the burn on her shoulders, revels in the blisters on her heels

waits to go limp in the arms of an officer and (hopefully) a gentleman,

who will take her down to the station and book her. Meanwhile,

Marcella worries only about

the roses at home, red and white and

the people on the street, black, and blue, and LGBTQ.

She is strong today, but– did they get to the root?

Have they gotten enough water? Are they thirsty still for justice?

 

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Counterfeits

One way to look at authenticity is to examine what it is not.

In any sort of currency there is a potential for counterfeit. Something that looks like the real deal, but isn’t.

If you get a huge flood of counterfeit, then, society has two choices. First is to accept the counterfeit as indistinguishable and therefore equal to the authentic, so that it becomes immaterial. The second reaction is to become suspicious of all currency, meaning that not only do you not trust counterfeits but you also become wary of the authentic.

Counterfeits are wolves in sheepskins. Either way you react, they damage the authentic.

There are counterfeits in terms of more things than monetary systems.

Think about counterfeit love. (love on the internet)

Think about counterfeit community. (community on the internet)

I’m not indicting the internet on purpose. The results speak for themselves. The internet has some great means of sharing love and building community. More often than not, it’s used for counterfeit expressions.

Think about how counterfeit churches, false prophets, and other theological misrepresentations damage the authentic expression of a loving community. Jesus knew his own words would be twisted.

You have to be a judicious reader. You have to consume information intelligently. You have to look for underlying principles: are they real?

In today’s world there are more counterfeits than authentic connections. Scams-a-million.

How are you finding real gold? Where’s the silver you’re after? Is it real?

DSC Community in Thailand

Clockwise from upper left: 1) Jerome Y. cries when you ask him powerful questions. 2) Adam F. eating and jet lagged. 3) Ann figuring out her artwork stuff. 4) Glen and Christine help hang the show. 5) DSC leaders meet with Connect leaders. 6) Megan F. 7) Ben teaching. 8) Chris T. 9) Doug McG. 10) Karen Yoder assembles work by Christa Reuel.

Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand Blog #1

Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand, blog #1.

The beginning of relationship is recognition of the other.

There is a sense, when we have heard of someone else through a friend, of anticipation, so that when meeting that person in real life, we find an element of joy in recognizing someone.

I have seen this happen twice in the past 24 hours. First, M____ S_____ was introduced to me, and he said, “OH! You’re THE Adam Fleming!”

“The one and only,” I replied, feeling quite like Winnie the Pooh when Christopher Robin recognizes his endeavors. It’s a good feeling to be recognized.

This morning, I introduced my wife to an artist who hosted me in her home during my trip to Thailand last year. Megan gave her the same royal treatment. “Oh! You’re A____ P____! Can I give you a hug?”

It occurs to me now that there are various levels of recognition. I’ve blogged about artist John Koenig’s work on the concept of sonder recently, which is the experience of recognizing that each passerby has a life as intricate and complex as our own. Sonder brings us only to the beginning of recognition. Sonder is to notice those around you in a new way. Noticing is okay.

The desire for Recognition is one of sixteen core desires that Tony Stoltzfus identifies as key elements God has baked into each of us. But there are many different levels on which we can be recognized.

Sonder is the beginning, and the next level I’ll call “lineup recognition”. On the plane to Thailand I watched a mobster movie. At one point the loose cannon character walks into a bar and shoots someone in the head. Later, he’s in a police lineup and the barmaid is brought in to identify him. She’s been intimidated, however, and tells the police, “no, none of these guys is the one.” The lineup is one aspect of recognition. We either acknowledge or deny we can attach a face to a name, or a face (in the mobster’s case) to an action.

Another place I see this in action is at my local coffee shop. One of the regulars, a man who was my landlord for a few months back in my college days, his name is Joe, came up to me a few weeks ago and said “are you Frank, the guy from Plymouth?” He was meeting someone he’d never met before. I said, “No…” and then Joe looked at me closer. “Oh, yeah, I know you,” he said, disinterest washing over his face. Yes, he recognized my face, we’re both in that coffee shop all the time. I don’t know if Joe even remembers my name, but once he looked closer he knew I couldn’t be Frank.

When we hunger for recognition, this is not the sort of encounter we hope for.

We’re much more attuned to the definition of recognition that means a celebration. This form of recognition says “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or just, “well done.” Some of us are attracted to trophies (If we as humans in general weren’t, we wouldn’t bother to make and award them to each other). Others of us would just as soon have a bonus, usually at work this is how we reward value, and trophies can ring hollow. Then there’s the recognition we are given when we don’t really deserve it. That can also ring hollow. So what about recognition from God? Do we ever really deserve it? Like children who draw drawings to be hung upon the fridge, we all (some of us more, and some less) hope that we will be rewarded with a recognition particularly when we’ve put heart and soul into a project.

Here we prepare art for a conference today. I assembled sixteen drawings on a 4×8 board for Jonathan Reuel, who drew them but was not able to come. Ben, who is leading the arts team, said to me, “good work,” when I finished, and I said, “No problem, it was easy.” Jonathan did the hard work of making all the drawings, and on top of that he had to include careful instructions for how to assemble his work, but all I really did was tape drawings to a plywood board. It’s funny, when Ben said “good job” to me, I still felt kinda good about it.

IMG_2786

(Photo above: Jonathan Reuel’s work assembled in foreground as Ann Metz works in mixed media.)

So as we begin this conference, we begin by recognizing each other: the names we’ve only associated through pictures, or friends, or the internet, people we’re excited to finally meet as well as the recognition of old friends walking through the door. Soon our friends Jerimae and Karen will arrive, and I’m excited to see them. But I also was welcomed by the leader of the organization which hosts this conference this morning. “Adam and Megan Fleming,” he said, “I’m so glad you could come. I’m sure we’ll talk more later, but I just wanted to tell you I’m glad you’re here.” That would have been so easy for him NOT to do. But this is a key leadership principle: you have to recognize people. You have to acknowledge sonder, you have to pick people out of a lineup, you have to rejoice in meeting people you’ve only heard tell of, you have to even more rejoice in the successes of others around you. Do this, and you’re on the way to leading.

This isn’t to say that you’ll ever fill the desire for recognition the way Jesus does, but you can stand in for Him when the chips are down.

We have asked our children to look for a few things as we’re gone. In a way, this gives them something to tell us about their day other than “fine” but it also gives us something to notice, recognize and celebrate. We’ve asked them to collect Sayings and Successes. We told them they can notice them about each other and remind each other about them when they Skype with us.

The ascending beatitudes of Recognition: Notice, and you will be noticed. Recognize, and you shall be recognized. Celebrate, and you will be celebrated.

Isolation, can you dig it?

The conversations you hear when you’re driving for a ride-share platform can give interesting insights into how people feel about being alone.

Last night, a young woman was talking to a young man in the backseat of my car. It was clear they had ditched their group to have some alone time together.

“I feel bad that we left Joe,” she said, “Joe will have to find his own ride home.”

“Nah, don’t worry about Joe,” the male replied, “He doesn’t mind going home by himself.”

Ah, loneliness.

I’m an extrovert and people like me really do NOT like going home alone, or at least, going home to be alone. Being alone is hard. Even for introverts (in a way that I can’t really understand completely) because introverts love having friends.

We’re all designed to be in community. I like to say that when I coach people in remote places, I’m “battling isolation.” But recently I read the intro to a book on isolation and realized that the author had found something beautiful in isolation. And that’s true, too.

But to really engage with isolation, we have to do that with purpose. Without a sense of purpose to our isolation not only do we accomplish very little during the isolated period, but we can turn to all sorts of false and twisted supplements to attempt to fill the void left by not having our community nearby.

Speaking for myself, isolation is easier to handle when I choose to disappear for a while so I can write. The hardest part of writing books may just be the intentional isolation required. I have a decent handle on that. The second thing is more important, and I’m not as good at it. That is the quest for God. The interesting thing is that we (people of the Book) say we believe that we’re made for this sort of community, to find and experience oneness with the Creator. Yet in practice we tend to be very bad at it, approaching isolation as a bad thing (which is still very much my initial reaction, usually.)

You have to be hungry for what you can get out of isolation and pursue it with purpose. If not, you walk into a dangerous desert filled with the scorpions of twisted desires.

Did Joe make it home alone? Did he mind? I don’t know. But we can guess.

Who’s in your house?

How much community can you handle? Back when I was a young man our church identified the Biblical or Greek concept of oikos, a word which means, more or less, household. It annoys me to use Bible-sounding language when unnecessary, so I’ll just say house in italics to represent this concept of close relationships. I remember that the magic number for how many people you can reasonably have close relationships with at a time was 30.

We like to think we can handle more, but count out how many people you’ve had significant conversations within the last 21 days (since the beginning of the year, post-holidays).  Now look at how many of that group you have a significant conversation with on at least a monthly basis for the last year, or solid, tangible plans to do so this year. The number shrinks rapidly.

My house includes a wife and four kids. They are a sixth of my close community. After that, I had a meeting with my non-profit’s board chair (6). A small group that meets by phone, five more people (11). A significant conversation with one member of our congregation I talk to pretty regularly, on a deep level, oh, but he’s in the aforementioned small group. Nine coaching clients (most of these count as work relationships to some extent, but on another level my job is to provide a significant relationship in other peoples’ houses.) (20). Even though it is my job, I can still only participate in a limited number of deep relationships. I can build a bigger house by having this sort of “relationship hosting” as my livelihood, the money allows me the time for more than 30. At most, if I retain any sense of balance, the number doubles to 60. If i was meeting with three times more coaching clients per month, not only would I be maxed time-wise, I’d be falling over with relational exhaustion. And I’m an extrovert!

I have 899 Facebook friends. As if it is some sort of badge of honor, popularity, or marketing reach. It is, in fact, to some extent all of these things. But it should not be mistaken as part of my house.  

Think critically about who’s in your house. You need some who give something to you, a few you give to, and many who give a relatively even relational value exchange. If you get out of whack you start complaining on social media, because you’ve forgotten that the virtual world isn’t your house. It’s not pretty. Sometimes there are people like Goldy Locks Who are in your house breaking your furniture and eating your gruel. Get them out, unless you intentionally invited them and have some boundaries (Ok, you can eat the gruel, but no going into the parlor and breaking my china). Does this mean you can’t find a measure of community online? Of course not.

Think about it this way: coaches use a Wheel of Life to help you chart your satisfaction in a variety of areas, usually 8-12 areas like work, spiritual life, family, finances, health, marriage, and hobbies. Having at least one person you can share authentically with about your progress or failure in each area is critical. Perhaps your spouse is a great sounding board for work, your spiritual life, but tunes out when you bring up golfing. OK, find somebody else in your house to talk to about that. This is where the internet can prove handy, especially when you’re a Scrabble geek, or you like lengthy discussions about … community. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fusions in the Void #15

Rich and Poor: A living community.

I’ve been writing about community in another series, this piece sort of crosses over with that one.

The Fusions in the Void concept begins with the idea that when all seems dark and we’re not even sure where our next step will be, we feel that our world is falling apart, God is fusing things together.

One thing God fuses is riches and poverty into a living community. God’s confusing in this way. Some preachers notice that God has all material wealth in his hand, and so teach you prayers that manipulate God to give you stuff. On the other hand, there’s some truth to having a mentality of abundance and what your mentality can bring about in your life. It’s a subtle paradox.

God spends a lot of time in Scripture letting us know how much he loves poor people and poor things.

When I was in Thailand this spring, one missionary remarked that Jesus said: you will always have the poor with you. Another missionary immediately replied, “yes, but that doesn’t mean they have to go hungry.”

Scripture warns against giving the best seat in a banquet to the richest guy who shows up. Instead, Jesus suggests that you give the seat of honor to a poor person.

The first rich person who pops into my head is Donald Trump. You really can’t go anywhere in cyberspace without running into this really rich guy. And for the many who think what he says is golden, there are many more who despise him for his obnoxious and offensive ways. He’s a prime example of the hubris the United States far too often embraces.

In the Void, hubris goes out the window. The void is a lot like one of those swirling money machines where you have to grab as much cash as you can in one minute and then get out, but the air is blowing through so hard the bills swirl in such a way that makes grabbing hold of any of it nearly impossible. The air is full of resources, yet the void experience makes them all completely unattainable.

Yet, in the Void, God controls all those resources. God fuses the wealth with our spiritual poverty to make a wholeness within us so that we’re mature enough to be part of a thriving community. Rich as one may be, one needs a community to survive in this brutal world. So it doesn’t always mean money. A community, however, is a network of mutual support. There may be money exchanged, or there may be relationships which come together to propel you forward as you exit the void, but whatever God is doing, he’s putting rich and poor together for sustainability for His children.