How do you participate in conflict?

In our household over about the last year we’ve spent a bit of time looking at how we engage in conflict. It seemed it hadn’t been something we’ve been all that great at so we thought it was important to learn to do it better. We’ve had our friend Shawn Whelan, who is a professional mediator and negotiator, working with us on that. My tendency has been to avoid conflict, or to try and manage people and environments so that conflict will not arise.

I was wondering, how do you participate in conflict? Do you get straight into conflict or do you avoid it?

How to manage stress when your work is an all-of-life thing

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I’ve always had some trouble managing stress. A few years ago it ended up leading to a fair bit of time in hospital because of stress. It is certainly something I’m still learning about, but I thought I might share some things that I have found helpful. I think my experience might be particularly helpful for others who have sought to integrate their work with everyday life.

It seems the way our society generally thinks about work is that work is something you don’t want to do and something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t being paid. It’s something that’s very separate from the rest of your life – family, recreation, neighbourhood. I suppose what has been different for some of us is that we’ve sought to integrate all these areas of life by doing things like moving into the neighbourhoods (our houses) where we’re working, so that our work with the community can be embedded in our everyday life. We’ve sought to develop a sense of community and friendship with the people we’re working alongside. What can easily happen though when we choose to live and work in this way is that we never stop working and never have a time when we can relax. (If we were participating in work the way that most of our society does, we’d have an opportunity to leave the work behind when we leave the workplace.) I think that when we work in this way we need to find other rhythms of work and rest that will help us to manage stress, and most of this post is about things I think think can help us do that.

Make a list
At times I’ve found that the tasks I have on my plate just feel like a big blob of stuff that is always growing faster than I can work away at it, and I can feel overwhelmed by the blob of work. The good think about blobs is that they’re easy to split up into smaller, more manageable blobs. If I can split the blob into smaller individual task-blobs (by making a list of tasks I can tick off) I can see how much I’ve gotten done. I find that making a list can make it easier to work out the order things need to be done and to make sure I haven’t forgotten something that I might not remember until the last minute.

Take a walk
Hey isn’t that cheating? Didn’t I say last week that you should take a walk to get to know your neighbourhood better? Some of the time that I was working in the city I found that I could get stuck in an office all day doing admin work – not something I got involved in the neighbourhood to do. It was easy to end up with so many things to do each day (and often into the evening) that it felt like I didn’t have time to go out and walk around in the street, even just around the block. But when I did take time to stop doing admin and walk around the city for a bit I found that I could relax into my work and think more clearly. I also found I had a better perspective of what was going on in the neighbourhood and where my work (even if I was stuck in an office most of the day) fitted in.

Leave a gap
Another effect of feeling like there was so much to each day was not leaving enough time between tasks. The result was often that I’d be beginning tasks and arriving at meetings in a hurry and with a scattered, unfocused mind. I found it was helpful if I took some time to not be busy (even just for a minute) in between tasks and meetings I could let go of the stress that had accumulated from the previous task or meeting. I could do that by taking a walk (as already suggested) or by having a cup of tea (which is also associated with relaxing).

Don’t take it home with you
This is a bit like cheating too, because it’s actually an extension of leaving a gap. After my time in hospital I found that I seriously needed to find a way to stop myself from taking stress from work home with me. I needed to be disciplined about not continuing to work when I got home, but I also needed to be disciplined about making sure I got rid of the stress of the formal work day before I got home because otherwise I’d be narky around others I was living with as well as guests we might be trying to host. I ended up making a practice for a while of meditating on the bus as I headed home, but also checking before I went inside the house where I had calmed my mind and my body. If I was still feeling stressed I’d take half an hour to sit on a couch in the carport or out in the front yard meditating for half an hour, so as not to bring an unhelpful presence into the house.

Tech sabbath
I’ve written before about how I’ve often found it helpful to take a decent break from social media, but I’ve sometimes also found it helpful to have a break from using a computer as well, especially when I’ve felt like I have so much admin work to do that it needs to be continued at home in the evening. When I’ve had an office I’ve sometimes found it a relief to leave the computer in the office when I go home, so that I can’t really continue at home. I’ve heard some households say that at a particular time of the evening all the computers and phones get put away, and I can imagine that being helpful too.

I’m writing this on Sunday night, but the odds are that most people will see this Monday morning. How about trying some of these ways of managing stress this week? If you give some of them a go, please let me know if they’ve been helpful or not.

‘Why don’t they check junkies’ tickets?’

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Yesterday while I was online I came across a post in a forum where someone asked the question,

‘Why don’t they check junkies’ tickets?’

They were pissed off that they had to pay for a ticket each day to avoid getting a fair evasion fine while people who appeared to be homeless or drug-dependent seemed to manage travelling for free.

The question took me back about thirteen years to a train trip. At the time I was living in Ballarat, but often travelling back to Melbourne during holidays. During one trip back to the outer eastern suburbs I noticed there was one guy sitting by the window, shaking, sweating and talking furiously to his reflection. I sat down opposite him and asked if he was okay and he said he just had to go and meet someone at Heatherdale station. I kept sitting with him as he ranted into the reflection in the window and when we got to Heatherdale I reminded him that this was his stop.

After he’d bolted for the door, and older guy in a business suit came and sat in the vacated spot.
He said to me, ‘You know that man was experiencing withdrawal from heroin?’
I hadn’t realised this was what was going on, but I also wasn’t surprised. I’d grown up knowing to stay away from syringes because it wasn’t unusual for them to be found on the grounds of my primary school, and my grandma has worked at her local information centre, which operated a needle exchange. But I didn’t know that I’d actually noticed the effects of heroin on someone before this stage.
The man in the suit said, ‘There’s really nothing anyone can do for him.’
I said, ‘We could pray.’
He raised his eyebrows and said, ‘I guess so.’
(At that time I’d recently read Jackie Pullinger’s book Chasing the Dragon, in which she claimed that heroin addiction could only be overcome by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully I’ve learned more about heroin since then!)

This story came to mind because it reminds me of my own ignorance. I appreciate that one of my fellow passengers took time to check in and see if I got what was going on, and didn’t make me feel stupid for my naivete. Unfortunately what I saw on the Internet forum the other day, when someone else was asking questions about addiction, was that the person asking questions was jumped on for being ignorant. I hope we can still have place for naive people like myself to be challenged and to learn rather than just being shut down.

A bridging space

Earlier in the week I posted a list of nine things you could do to get to know a neighbourhood better. A couple of things I mentioned were loitering and eating in public. I’m aware the the opportunity to loiter or to have a public meal depends on having a good space to do it. I can think of a couple of neighbourhoods that I’ve visited a few times where it’s difficult to find a place where you can sit down and not be busy, because the whole space is designed to promote moving people through quickly. I like to look out for spaces that could easily accommodate loitering

or have been intentionally designed for people to congregate, and I thought I would review one of those places today.

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My theory is that good places to linger, loiter and congregate are often liminal or in between spaces. These are the spaces where we move from once place to another like streets and laneways and doorways. In these gaps between places its not so clear who is in charge and I think that creates the opportunity for loitering. The bridge between Melbourne Central and the Emporium in Melbourne CBD is like that. On the bridge you’re not really in Melbourne Central or in the Emporium, you’re in the air above Lonsdale Street.

As I don’t currently have a desk or an office I’m always looking for public or semi-public spaces I can work from, and this is one of the places I’ve discovered. There are park benches all along the bridge, facing out across the city, so it’s a good spot to observe what’s going on in the neighbourhood. They can also make a good place to sit and work – although it would be more handy to have a table or desk. 🙂 However, another positive thing about the park benches is that they aren’t secured, so they can be easily rearranged to face each other, creative a good place to catch up with others. I’d be interested to see how this spot would work as a place to meet up with a few people and share a meal.

One downside that I see to this space is that the aesthetics are very modern and reminiscent of Ikea, which isn’t so much to my taste, but the view of the city along with the flexibility of the space make me thing that this is a good space for public loitering. 

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Where would you recommend as a place to loiter?

In between

In Celtic spirituality there is the idea of ‘thin spaces’ – places where the barrier between the everyday world and the otherworld are so thin than both are experienced.

In our own contemporary society some people talk about liminal spaces – places that are not quite one space or another but in between.

Tomorrow I’ll be publishing a little bit about a thin, liminal space.

How can you be a Christian but be okay with homosexuality?

I’d like to warn that in this post I’ll be talking about homophobic views that I used to hold, but don’t anymore. I’d like to apologise for the hurt that’s been caused by my own views on sexual orientation and by the teaching of the church.

In today’s blog post I thought I would answer a question I’ve been asked often, particularly in the last six months: ‘How can you be a Christian but be okay with homosexuality?’ When I’ve been asked this question I’m normally more interested in telling a story about how my ideas about sexual orientation have developed, rather than trying to argue my views. I just don’t think that arguing helps us understand people who think differently to us. I think it just makes us become more extreme in our own views and makes us hold onto our own views more tightly. So in answering this question I’d like to explain where I started and how my beliefs have changed.

When I left home in Melbourne and went to live in Ballarat I had fairly conservative Christian views on sexual orientation. I didn’t feel like I hated gay or lesbian people, but I believed God had a problem with them. When I moved to Ballarat to go to university started having more to do with gay and lesbian people (and some bisexual and transgender people, but not as many). I guess I was initially pretty confronted by the presence of so many people who were gay – I just felt a sense of revulsion by the idea. I started thinking, well I need to get over that if I am going to love people as a Christian, even if I don’t agree with their sexuality. So I just decided that instead of feeling revolted I was going to consciously choose to relax when I was around gay people instead of reacting with revulsion – even if it was just internal revulsion.

After I moved to Melbourne to join the community at Urban Seed I did a trip to Sydney, where I was visiting Hope Street. (Hope Street was an organisation doing similar urban mission work to Urban Seed, and a few of us were visiting to see what we could learn.) One of the neighbourhoods where they were working was Darlinghurst, where there is a large gay community, and they were planting a church in the gay community.

Mike Hercock, who was the pastor of the church was talking about how a big problem for gay Christians who they were coming across was that they split their life in two. He wasn’t talking about whether it was right or not for them to be in same sex relationships, but talking about them being able to be honest about who they were. In church spaces they couldn’t be honest about their sexual orientation and in the gay community they couldn’t be honest about their faith. Often because they separated it out (often trying to suppress their sexuality) they ended up doing things in their sex lives that they didn’t agree with like having random sexual encounters with various different people.

Mike was talking about trying to make a space where people could be honest about who they actually are and bring their whole self to God. He was also saying that we should be allowing gay marriages, because marriage was something that could help gay people to have stronger and more committed relationships, just like heterosexual people can. That was what convinced me about gay marriage, even though I still had a view that homosexuality was sinful. It was more about reducing the harm caused to gay people.

When I became more involved with the church community at Collins Street Baptist Church we had a number of people in the congregation who were gay or lesbian, mostly people who believed God had no problem with homosexuality. I started reading Biblical scholarship from people who thought that the understanding of sexuality in the ancient world was so different to ours that the Bible couldn’t be talking about contemporary homosexuality. It was being suggested that in the ancient world the understanding of sexuality was that it was about men dominating women through sex.

The way they thought about it was that a man dominated another person (whether male or female) by penetrating them. I think there is content throughout the Bible that undermines that patriarchal worldview, particularly in the dignity that Jesus gives to women. But if that is true, it’s likely that the Biblical authors would have thought of of two men having sex as one man dominating another man – like in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, where the locals want to rape the three angelic visitors.

I also think that the way Jesus and the early church responded to eunuchs is instructive, because they are a sexual minority that was known of in Jesus’ world. In the part of scripture where Jesus is talking about marriage, and saying that a man and a woman become one, he then goes on to say that there are exceptions to that pattern. (He accepts that some people will find it hard to hear this.) But he acknowledges that there are some people who have been born eunuchs, there are some who have become eunuchs because they’ve been mutilated by others, and there are some who live like eunuchs for the sake of their ministry. (I think here he’s putting himself in the category of eunuch, if as traditions suggests, Jesus was celibate.) He says this even though the Torah says that eunuchs have no place in the Jewish community.

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Later, when Philip meets a eunuch from the

Ethiopian royal court, that eunuch is reading a scroll where the prophet Isaiah predicts a time when there will be a place for eunuchs in the Jewish community. The eunuch asks if there is anything to stop him being baptised, and Philip baptises him right there.

As I was saying, this year I’ve had a number of conversations with other Christians on this topic, normally with people who still hold the more conservative views on sexual orientation. What I’ve found is that when we’ve been able to have a talk face to face, over the phone or in a private chat we’ve each been able to better appreciate where the other is coming from. In the public forum of Facebook or Twitter I think it is a lot easier to just get into arguments. So if you disagree with my views and would like to chat with me about this topic and how my views have developed, feel free to let me know.

Nine ways to get to know the neighbourhood

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It seems like it’s much harder to get to know a neighbourhood. I remember as a kid growing up in Noble Park, a multicultural, working-class suburb of Melbourne, my family knew lots of people in our street. My brothers and I would often play soccer, cricket and other games in the street. A few decades later I’m living in the inner city and it seems much harder to get to know the neighbours. Maybe society’s changed, maybe I’m seeing my childhood through rose-tinted glasses, and maybe its just easier for kids to make friends than it is for adults. Either way, many of us find that we’d like to get to know our neighbourhoods better. Here are nine ways to do that:

  1. Routine
    If we have a routine (going to work, going to the gym, going to the shops at the same time each day or week), we’re more likely to run into the same neighbours and gradually get to know them.
  2. Walk
    If we take time to walk around the neighbourhood instead of driving we’re also more likely to run into neighbours and we’re more likely to notice what’s going on around us.
  3. Loiter
    If we can slow that walk right down and take some time to sit on a park bench we’ll get an opportunity to observe what’s going on in the neighbourhood over a period of time. We might get to know when the neighbourhood’s busy and when it’s quiet. We might get to know who is around when. We might get to notice the birds, insects and other creatures that we share the neighbourhood with.
  4. Eat
    Eating together in public is another great way of getting to know the neighbourhood. You could have a picnic with some friends at the park, or you could drag some old couches and a coffee table onto the median strip to share a pot of tea. I’ve found that when we do this in public space with our friends we often also come into contact with other neighbours who are around – especially if we’re eating toegther in a place that seems a bit unusual like a median strip or a roundabout. Public barbecues are also a good because we have to work out with others how we’re going to share the barbecue.
  5. Shop local
    Things are difficult for a lot of local businesses like milk bars, green grocers and cafes. They’re often having to compete with bigger businesses outside the neighbourhood that can offer a cheaper but less localised range of product. If you make a routine of visiting a local business each day or each week, the owner and the workers will notice and they’ll appreciate your presence. You might become familiar with other regular customers too. You’ll also be helping to maintain a space in the neighbourhood where neighbours are constantly interacting.
  6. Pay attention
    As we’re following our routine of walking, loitering, eating and shopping around the neighbourhood it’s good to look out for things that pique our curiosity. We might notice a pattern in the street names of the area, or we might notice that there’s one kind of business that is very present in the area or another kind of business that’s absent. If we’re getting to know others around the neighbourhood we can talk together about what we’ve been noticing.
  7. Research
    As you were paying attention to your neighbourhood and noticing what makes your neighbourhood unique, you might start to wonder, ‘Why is it that our main street has so many bridal shops?’ or ‘Why are all the street names named after native flowers?’ Finding out more about the history of the area and how it has developed will give you a deeper knowledge of your neighbourhood as a place in history. 
  8. Join something
    If you’re wanting to research the local area, joining your local library is a no-brainer. It’s also another place where you’re likely to run into other people. Libraries also often have groups that meet to talk about what you’re reading, to read together or to research local history – another opportunity to get to know your neighbours. (I’m actually writing this at my local library.) If you’re not so interested in joining the library you could join a gym or a sports club or a neighbourhood house – all these kinds of places are spaces for mediated interaction with neighbours.
  9. Fight
    This last one is a controversial one – and I’m not totally sure I agree with it – but I think it is still good to offer in case someone finds it helpful. Everyone knows that neighbours don’t always get along, but I wonder if that’s a good thing? The fact that next door’s kids were playing loud music until 2am on Tuesday morning before I had to go to work is a pain in the arse. I normally feel like it would be impolite to say something, but I’m challenged by the fact that some of the neighbours I know best are actually people who’ve complained to our household about things!

So those are my nine suggestions about how to get to know your neighbourhood. If you try any of these out, let me know how it goes! Also let me know if you have a tenth suggestion.