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Okay, so my first RAOK was a washout (although in the end I got to eat all my chocolates myself, so I was happy), but the next day I decided to bring joy to my workplace and take some yummy Green & Blacks chocolate in to the craft class I teach on Fridays.  The previous week there had been grumblings about our centre’s ‘rubbish’ healthy eating policy, which if truth be told isn’t very hard-core anyway.  So I took in the chocolates and watched the pleasure unfold.  The remaining chocolate was shared at the staff meeting and went down pretty well too (although some people discovered they don’t like ‘good’ dark chocolate, philistines…!).

Phew!  Just got to find the right recipients.

Other RAOKs this week have included giving away something I spent a long time making, which a friend coveted and I was glad to give to her. 

But there’s going to be more I’m sure. 

Anyway, this is the big week for The Art of Joy.  If you haven’t already had a look please visit theartofjoy.wordpress.com, and if you are anywhere in travellable (is that a word?) distance come along to the opening night of the exhibition this Wednesday night at The Lot, on the Grassmarket in Edinburgh.  It will be fantastic, the artwork looks great and The Lot is a great venue, a lovely building in it’s own right sat at the foot of Edinburgh Castle surrounded by the history and the hubbub of our capital’s heart.

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I didn’t manage to do it yesterday, but on my way home from work today I called in to a wee newsagents to buy a drink and some chocolate to sustain me until I got home.  As I chose my chocolate I recalled the RAOK challenge I’d issued myself with, and felt suddenly very foolish and slightly sick at the thought. 

All the same, I bought a packet of Munchies, figuring I could share them with the guys behind the till – one serving, one sort of hanging out.  Paid for my purchases, suddenly very aware of smiling, then, opening the Munchies as I picked them up from the counter I offered them each a sweet, murmuring something vague and ineffectual about it ‘being something me and my friends are trying to do’ (?).  The guy at the till looked dumbfounded.  The other guy looked sort of blank.  I rapidly calculated I’d need to up the charm offensive to get them to take a sweet from me, and simultaneously realised that I’m Not Very Good At This.  The blank and puzzled looks changed to slightly shy smiles, and sort of apologetic ‘thanks but no thanks’.

Never thought my joy-offensive would be turned down!  (I don’t think I was actually offensive)

Ah well, try, try again.  It has bought me some amusement and a nice line in gently-mocking interior monologues today, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. 

 

Told you we needed a masterclass in this stuff – I certainly seem to.  Maybe I need to be more circumspect in my ‘joy’.

I’ve been flicking through “Random Acts of Kindness” by Danny Wallace (and his Karma Army) on and off through most of this evening.  A bit rude actually,as it’s a small group night.  In my defence, since we were discussing The Art of Joy, I was contemplating how to do some guerilla joy-bringing, and remembered I had this little gem of a book which has some great ideas in it.

I like this one:

RAOK [that’s Random Act of Kindness, by the way] No. 264

Buy a chocolate and then give it back to the man who sold it to you

I like it because of the simplicity of the idea.  I imagine it would work equally well no matter what the gender of the sales assistant/shop-keeper! 

Might try this tomorrow.  Let me know if you do too, and how it went.

Well today (like many days in my life, it seems) I’m sick.  I think I’ve caught the bug my daughter was so poorly with last week.  After feeling a bit odd at various points yesterday and managing to dismiss them as the outworkings of a busy weekend and not enough sleep, I spent last night feeling increasingly yuck and then trying and failing to get myself functioning this morning. 

As is the way with these things, I find it’s often when I need the most sleep that I get the least.  So during my sleepless hours last night when I awoke feeling unwell I found myself ruminating on the kind of random tangents that the 2ams are so well known for.

One of the random tangents came from a conversation we’d had with a minister friend of ours who was round with his fantastic family on Saturday afternoon.  We’d been joking about my increasing interest in the idea of communal living and how this works itself out in communities we’ve come across.  After considering the areas we’d find most challenging about communal living (pretty much all of it) our friend said that they had approached it from the other direction and basically let people know they had an open house for anyone, whenever.  I wondered if this was an expectation of their role in the church he leads, but apparently not – so many of his congregation had never been inside the church manse until he took up post.  Marla has also spoken in various places on her (fantastic) blog about having doors open to whoever needs them.

As I lay tossing and turning in bed, head and body aching, mind whirring, I began to wonder how I would find communal living, or living with ‘open doors’ when, like today, I was unwell.

Would it be great to know that if I needed something there would likely be someone around to help me out?  Or would I struggle with feeling my space was restricted, that Iwould need to make conversation when I just wanted to lie or sit quietly?  And in terms of reciprocity would I be willing to go into someone else’s house when they were sick and be there for them? I would, but being the over-empathiser that I am, I tend to imagine others share the same feelings as me and wouldn’t welcome my presence.

I am full of admiration for those who open their homes to the world, and can see that actually the physical act of letting someone in the door is not always the big deal.  It’s the opening and sharing of lives which follows which is the real challenge, the real joy and the real act of servanthood and love.

I haven’t made any resolutions this year.  But this area is something I am challenged by and challenged into doing and not merely thinking about.  I intend to work on it this year.  I suspect it will be a lifelong project

About ten days or so ago I was listening to the radio on my way to work.  A reporter was talking about the latest financial crisis the economy is facing and discussing with a commentator how this is affecting families.  The commentator observed that, although the chancellor is encouraging us to spend (and I guess the cut in VAT was intended to encourage us in this), evidence was showing that in fact most people seemed to be reducing their spending and were thinking much much more carefully about what they needed, as opposed to what they wanted.

On a personal level I also have noticed this to be true. People are deciding not to book that holiday, not to spend beyond what is necessary this Christmas, to choose more thoughtful gifts rather than relying on a proliferation of gifts.

So this got me to thinking.  I don’t know that much about economics (can you tell?!) yet even to a casual observer it is clear that if our current economic system is struggling or even collapsing because people cannot afford to spend or choose not to spend, in other words if capitalism is failing, what then?  A system based on consumption and spending (based on universal debt perhaps?) cannot succeed when people lack the inclination or the means to spend, and have cottoned on to the futility and vacuousness of buying stuff for the sake of having stuff, no matter what the stuff actually is to them.

So then, what is the economy of God?  I have heard this phrase used in sermons, where it is used with the implication that God’s economy is based on love and justice rather than money.  But how does God want our world to be constructed?  How should we spend our money, and more importantly perhaps, what systems or structures should we sit under to encourage and reflect an economy that really is of God? 

It depresses me that I have over the years of my life spent money on tat, because it was there, or on buying a newer, shinier version of the thing that I already have (newer shoes, a more up to date coat, all the usual..).  And I’m not even a particularly materialistic person.

So this Christmas we, like so many others, have tried to think more carefully about what we give and who to.  We have made some gifts too.  We have asked for things we need or would really value.  However, I suspect that in the economy of God there would be little room for where a season where giving is so inequitable, where Christmas is both celebrated and dreaded, for a season of spending and not reflecting. 

Perhaps this Christmas is going to be the first of many where people find themselves contemplating what Christmas actually is about, if it’s not about seasonal over-consumption and over-spending.   And this, more than anything I will ever hear on the news, gives us all hope for 2009.

Peace this Christmas to you all.

My friend Brunette Koala is, and has gone so far as to forgo Christmas presents this year and instead is inviting people to give money to a couple of great charities. 

One is Edinburgh Sick Kids Foundation, which my own wee family feel very indebted to as our daughter has had two stays in there over the last 3 years, and the other is a pregnancy crisis centre, well worth supporting too and close to BK’s heart.  If you are feeling generous and would like to bless one or both of these amazing organisations go to brunette koala’s blog and follow the links on the right hand side.

I’ve been intermittently using a book called God360.  It’s a series of devotionals which I’ve dipped in and out of for the last wee while.  I’ve enjoyed the spirit of it although I’ve been pretty pants at actually doing what I’m meant to do with it, in fact the very thing which makes the devotional different.  They’re experiential devotionals which means I’m meant to do something each time I read one.  Hmmm, just as well I have a good imagination! 

Anyway.  A wee while back one of the devotionals linked with something our small group from church was doing, and it has really made me think about giving stuff up.  We got together a while ago and did a car boot sale to raise some money for a (as yet undecided) worthy cause.  The plus for all of us was we got a chance to get rid of some stuff which we no longer needed or wanted.  However, after reading this I got to wondering what I’d felt so good about…

What would I be willing to give up, that cost me something in the process?   Could I hold things so open handedly that you can take what ever you want – even what is most precious to me.

Don’t know.  I’m not even sure if I’m willing to try.

 

What is your definition of ‘blessing’?  Is it a verb or a noun (or both)?  Well, the other night we were blessed by a guerrilla gift from our wonderful friends.  I have to say this was a blessing in several ways:

  • It had been a looooong week
  • Friday afternoon had finished in a pretty pants kind of way (see previous post)
  • We have received this particular form of blessing from these particular friends before, and I have to tell you it gets better every time, cos we know how amazing what’s inside the box is
  • It was getting late and we had just been contemplating how best to round off an evening of relaxation
  • We also knew these friends have been working their wee socks off, and to know they had thought of us in the middle of all that was mind-blowing
  • And, not to put too fine a point on it, the box contains the two best and most delicious cakes yet brought to man – or woman -kind’s bellies.  And they are huge!
  • This was also sacrificial giving above and beyond the call of duty.  The question I’m left with is if I were in their shoes could I have given the cakes freely away or would I have kept them for myself? Well the answer, my friends, is between me and my belly.

The best bit about it all was how it was given.  We got a text message that said ‘Ding dong!’.  As soon as we saw who it was from we knew we had to go to the door (they’re parents too and know the horror of the door bell ringing late at night and rousing sleeping children).  So my husband went and had a wee peek and there, sat prettily outside our front door, was our Fisher & Donaldson box, containing two coffee towers.  I’m sure they make other delicious cakes too but these are the only ones we’ve sampled and they’re awesome. 

The thing that gives this kind of surprise gift a real edge is the element of risk (yes, I realise my concept of risk is very relative here, but if you’ve not tried the cakes you don’t know what’s at stake).  It was raining – the box could have got soaked, thus ruining the gooey delights inside.  It was dark – we could have gone to the door and not seen the cakes and just gone away confused (and they really need to be eaten on the day of purchase…).  We have a local fox and several cats in the area, as well as the occasional hedgehog – I’m certain if the fox had got there first we’d not even have known there had been a cake on the doorstep, and the others would just have tragically messed with the box rendering it unfit for human consumption.   (I’m sorry if this list of possible disasters is causing distress to other coffee tower consumers out there) But I do like the fact the cakes made it through that sort of challenge to find their way to our gratefully outstretched hands.

So this was an example of supreme guerilla giving.  I’m inspired to do try and do something similar.

And hey N & A – thank you again and again.  And not just for the coffee towers.  We’d love you even if you didn’t bring us cakes.  Probably.  I mean obviously.

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