A week ago Mehrin and I got back from an immersion trip to Lake Mungo, which was offered through the Christian Brothers, an order of the Catholic Church. Muthi Muthi woman Vicki Clark (who was part of the working group that set up our household in 2001) invites groups to come on this trip throughout the year, and you can find information about it here.
One of the things I really appreciated about the trip was the opportunity to pay more attention to sunrise and sunset as bookends to the day. On one of our days at Lake Mungo, Vicki took us out to look out over the lake as the sun gradually rose and also as it set one day. But we also saw a lot of the sunrise and sunset on other days too, because in the desert there’s not a lot to block out the view.
It’s often easy not to notice the sunrise and sunset back in the city, but I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the sunrise and sunset since we got home. I’ve been going up the street to watch it go down, and making more of a habit of stopping work after sunset. (This is important because a lot of the time I can end up working from early in the morning until 9pm or later.) I’ve gotten up just before sunrise a couple of times, but haven’t remembered to go and watch it coming up.
I should know this! I’ve spent enough time recovering from overwork, including a month in hospital a few years ago. Old habits die hard. I’ve had a headache for over a month, which is because a month ago I had one week that was way too busy. Well, actually, the headache it is getting better. It isn’t all day now, but for the first four weeks it was constant. I haven’t been posting here as regularly as I’d like but I’m expecting that’s probably how it’ll need to be at least this month!
In March 2015 I started working as a freelancer. Today I sent off my 50th invoice. I felt like it was important to mark the occassion. At the beginning of 2015 when I started winding back my regular work I felt pretty nervous. Resigning entirely at the end of that year was fairly risky. While it is often much less certain, I really like knowing that I’m doing the work that I should be and knowing that I can find my own work. Thankyou to everyone I’ve been able to work with during that time!
When I was doing VCE, Mum went back to study, so I ended up cooking dinner some of the time. When I say ‘cooking dinner’ I’m pretty sure I was just boiling some pasta and heating up sauce from a jar.
That’s often what cooking was when I left home and went to Ballarat for university. I can remember getting a reputation as a bad cook because I had a friend around for dinner and I started heating up the pasta sauce, then added mince into the sauce to cook.
When I moved back into Melbourne and joined the community at Credo Café, where I learnt from Tomsy, Gin, Karen, Mel and Neil how to cook big meals. I really appreciated the experience of being able to learn from people who had a lot of experience and had the time to teach others. Each week we’d all be rostered on to cook at least once. Cooking for 50 to 70 people every week for a few years gives you the confidence to cook for large numbers. Some of the staple meals were spaghetti bolognese (also known as Tuesday surprise), beef stroganoff, red beans and rice (you’ll want to eat a plate twice), pumpkin lasagne and chilli basil beef.
Last night we were expecting to have a lot of folks around for dinner. We had some pasta already cooked in the fridge from earlier in the week and lots of beef strips in the freezer. So I cooked up some beef stroganoff, a Credo classic that I hadn’t cooked for a long time. I also cooked some pumpkin pasta, which one of my fellow residents at Credo had said was what he cooked whenever they had vegetarians around – although it ended up pretty different because we just need to cook with what we have available any given day. It reminded me to appreciate the time other people took to teach me.
Someone said something like, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’
It’s easy to think that being loving is just about having loving thoughts or feelings toward someone else – even if we’re in conflict, if we try we might be able to conjure up positive feelings toward each other. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to do that. I’ve sometimes found it helpful to be able to do that.
However, I think there are problems when we just think of love just about how you feel toward someone or how you think about them. This idea of love has often allowed people to say that they love their neighbour while at the same time trying to restrict their freedom. This idea of love has meant that people have not listened to their neighbours feedback about the harm caused by their behaviour, because they believe that they’re still loving their neighbour from the depths of their emotions. I’m thinking specifically here about how people from my religious tradition, the tradition that believes in ‘loving your neighbour’ have treated members of the queer communities in particular, but also other groups.
A lot of people think that because they’re directing nice feelings toward a person they’re not acting hatefully. If our neighbour feeds back to us that our behaviour or beliefs are harming them, we need to reassess how we behave and what we believe. Otherwise we are are turning our back on our neighbour, treating our neighbour hatefully.
On Friday night our household ran our annual trivia night, which helps us cover the rent for our guest rooms. (We host Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who need to come to Melbourne for hospital.)
I didn’t write this year’s questions, because I wanted to be able to be on one of the tables, but I’ve written the questions a few times. I thought I’d write about what I think makes for a good collection of trivia questions.
The first time I wrote questions for the trivia night, I didn’t do a good job. I thought it was a good idea to choose weird obscure questions. I thought people would find it amusing. It actually just makes people feel crap that they can’t answer the questions. It doesn’t make for a fun night. I wasn’t asked to write questions for a few years after that.
These are my suggestions for writing good trivia questions:
- Make sure there is only one correct answer, or a few correct answers. The reason for this is that you want to make sure it’s clear if people have the correct answer or not. If you have a question like, ‘Name three towns in South Australia,’ it’s going to be hard to assess the answers because there would be so many possilbe correct answers, and you couldn’t possibly know them all.
- Make sure the questions aren’t all on one topic. Sure, you might have a round of sports questions, but make sure the questions are about a wide range of sports. I’ve been to trivia nights where half the sports questions are about Australian Rules Football. This is great for people who like that sport, but it’s going to be incredibly disengaging for people who aren’t. If you do have a particular topic that you do want to be getting people thunking about, I’d suggest seeing if there’s a way you could put one question related to that topic in each round. Because of the nature of our project, we’ve wanted to have a focus on questions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture. (This isn’t about tokenism or political correctness. It’s about reshaping the way we think of our society.) I think the best way to do that has been to have one question in each round. So for the sports round there’d be a question about an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander athlete, in the music round there’d be a question about an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander performer, et cetera.
- Choose a lot of easier questions and just a few hard questions. Through the mistakes I made the first time I wrtoe questions for the trivia night, I learned that it wasn’t actually about writing hard questions. It was about testing each team’s knowledge. People are going to do better and have more of a fun night if they’ve had a reasonable challenge. So I try to choose questions that I can be fairly confident that most tables will be able to answer if they work together. I’ll still make sure each round has got one or two hard questions that only the best teams will be able to answer. But those questions should be the exception. When most of the questions aren’t too hard, there’ll be close scores. It will feel like everyone’s in the race until the end. There’ll be a lot of suspense around who will get the harder questions right, because that will be what makes the difference.
Our household, Indigenous Hospitality House, has just published a book. Tales from the Table gathers together a range of things that our household have been learning as Settler (non-Indigenous) people sharing our home with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, on stolen land.
While the practical part of our mission is providing hospital accommodation, we also recognise that we have a role to play in helping Settler people rethink Australian and Christian identity in light of our colonial history. We hope that this book can help extend those conversations into the wider community.
You can buy a copy at our web store here. If you want to drop in and pick up your copy you can save on postage. And you can stick around for a cup of tea and a chat.
Last week I wrote a bit about Henri Nouwen’s suggestion that we try to avoid recognising our mortality and our limitations by thinking of ourselves as immortal, invulnerable beings. (He wrote about this in his book Reaching Out.) If we trick ourselves into thinking we can completely control our environment and the people around us we end up doing violence to them.
I think the way we’ve often thought about prayer has been as a way to control things, like a religious version of the law of positive attraction. It can be just another way of pretending we’re in control of the universe. A while ago I knew a guy who repeatedly asked me why I prayed. He saw it as a selfish thing to be asking God for things. I think I get where he was coming from.
Nouwen’s challenge is to try and pray without an agenda. He describes this as waiting on God rather than rattling off a shopping list. It’s making space where God’s presence may (or may not) show up. He suggests paradoxically that we find God in God’s absence. Our experience of God’s absence leads us to search for God. That search for God is what prayer is. This approach comes across to me as a lot more humble. It’s not pretending we have God on call.
I don’t what to throw out the idea of asking God for thing either though. I think those kind of prayers do seem pretty selfish when if it’s a wealthy person asking God for more stuff, expecting the universe to revolve at our convenience. I don’t think it seems like that when people who are in serious trouble ask God for help (not knowing if God is even there) because there is no other option available. For those of us in more comfortable situations, we might find ourselves praying in that way too, if we open ourselves up to people who are suffering.
Earlier in the week I noticed Kaitlin Curtice’s blog post, ‘People Who Hold Space Will Heal the Church’, and I’m interested in what she says about holding space. She basically says that the church (and I think a lot of other institutions too) like to try and manage people rather than holding space where transformation could occur. (Reminds me a lot of the stuff I’ve been re-reading in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out.
On a similar theme, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be present to someone.
Sometimes it just means what some of us might regard as trivial bullshit. Talking about the weather, exchanging friendly banter, talking shit…
But we need to be alert to when that’s not what’s needed, when our guest has something deep they need to talk about – illness, love, death, family…
We’ve also got to be attentive to when someone just needs silence or space.
Sometimes presence means sitting with someone. Something it means banter. Sometimes it means politeness. Sometimes it means eye contact. Sometimes it means (thank God) no eye contact. Sometimes it means depth. Its just being present to the person and situation and responding as appropriate.
I’ve recently written a few posts about Henri Nouwen’s three movements of the spiritual life, as related in his book Reaching Out. In the third section of the book talks about our efforts to avoid death, pretending we can control of our life, that we have no limits. When we’re under this illusion, solitude and hospitality can become just achievements that we show off to others to show how great we are. Having an arthritic condition that’s previously put me out of action for a long period of time, I should be aware of my limitations, but I still fall for this illusion. At the moment I’m needing to let go of some of the things I feel like I could be doing (or should be doing). It’s about trusting that it’s okay to be limited and for some things to be undone.
This probably isn’t what we’d think of as prayer, because we’re used to thinking of prayer as a religious practise where we ask God for things. But Nouwen talks about this as a movement toward prayer.