Coming back to this blog after a long absence always feels awkward, and for those of you who have read it for a while, you know there have been many long absences. But here I am again, trying to put words together. I’m not sure what brought you here in the past or why you’re here now, but I am grateful for your presence. I built this space over time on stories of my life with the kids, stories about food, family and faith at the table, devotional thoughts that were supposedly “authentic.” I’m not against that kind of writing, but I have to wonder how much all of us need more encouragement. Are we so over-encouraged that our own freedoms and comforts are the most important things to us now? I guess this is my way of telling you that this is not like most of the posts you will find in this blog.

I wondered whether or not I should write about children forcibly separated from their parents in the United States, I wondered if I should write about Australia’s policies about asylum seekers. I wondered if you care about these topics, I wondered if this would have any impact in your life.

It is only privilege that allows us to think about the suffering of others without doing anything.

This is not about you. It’s not about me.

But I don’t think any of us want yet another political opinion as we swim in a sea of outrage. How do we become more concerned about the interests of others?

How do we become people of action in an era of outrage?

I’m writing for those of us who live in suburbia, drive in rush hour, drink lattes, endure difficult bosses, go to soccer practice, mop floors, and fold laundry. What does the suffering of some at the hands of immoral legislation have to do with us?

I hope these words are not another bucket of outrage water thrown into the sea. I hope we can see the land, swim toward it and find a way out.  Here’s why this matters to me.

Thirty-five years ago in July, mobs of Sinhalese people wandered around the streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka burning Tamil homes, killing Tamil people, raping Tamil women, looting Tamil goods. They burned my grandparents’ home to the ground, the second time this happened in seven years. They stole my grandmother’s jewelry. They came down the street where my parents and I lived, and we jumped over our wall and hid in our Sinhalese neighbor’s house for three days.

I was under two and have no active memories of these events, but however hard I try, I cannot undo these threads out of the fabric of my life. I think it is why I write anything at all. So when I come here and try to write a devotional thought about how the falling leaves reflect the changing seasons in the world and in our lives or how patience is a good thing and we need more of it, well, I just can’t do it anymore.

Every corner of our world holds lives torn apart by violence – every corner of your community holds it as well. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking.

I need you to believe that the safe, beautiful life you construct for yourself and for your family, it is not shared by other members of your community.

Is this going to matter to you?

Will it matter to us that other kids struggle in under-funded schools while our kids thrive in a private school? Are we going to be bothered by a tax system that privileges some at the expense of others? Is it sufficient to be content with our children’s physical safety while kids on our street return to all manner of abuse daily? Is it enough to vote abortion out of our countries while ignoring the needs of young women and men in our schools? Are we going to be a people who stick to our three issues without looking to the myriad of other problems in our community?

Will it be enough for us to build a safe life for ourselves and the people we love?

For me 2018 has been the year when I knew that my answer to this question was a solid no. If your answer is no, please keep reading. These are the small ways that I’ve been moving toward becoming a person of action in an era of outrage.

Reject your privilege

What’s the easiest way to find our privilege? Whenever I think or feel, “I deserve this,” I know I’m looking at my privilege.

“My child deserves the best teacher.” “I deserve that parking spot.” “I deserve a break at the end of this hard day.” “Our community deserves a better playground.” “I deserve ___ because I pay my taxes.” “My church deserves protection from the legal system.“ “I deserve to receive my food when I want it.”

Deserve is the language of privilege. Checking where I believe I deserve something is becoming a source of freedom for me – freedom from my privileges, freedom to see what other people need, freedom to see what I need to do.

You could look at it another way. I’ve chosen to believe that I have everything I need. Everything I need. There is no lack in my life, so why would I spend my time, energy and money giving myself more? Voting so that I am safer and happier? Enabling organizations and politicians who want to work for me? I have everything I need. This means I look to the interest of others. It means I vote for what is best for others. It means I am looking for the protection of people in my community who do not have the security I do.

Meet different people, ask better questions

Many people who read this blog are from a Christian background, and it can be easy for us to be so planted in a faith community that we have no idea of what else is happening around us. It’s been crucial for me to engage with people who are doing different things – people in local business, council members, and program co-ordinators at a community house. When you meet people who are involved in a different part of community life from you, ask them questions. Ask them what they notice about your city, ask them where there are the most needs, ask them who does good work.

I found out that our city has the highest rate of domestic violence and suicide in our region of Melbourne. I found out that there are many organizations already doing great things here. (Do not be so foolish to think you are the only person who can come up with good ideas. I’ve been amazed at the wonderful things already going on where I live, and the many heroes who have tirelessly served behind the scenes.) I am beginning to find places where I can take my skills and hopefully put them to use for the welfare of our city.

Make the big issue a local issue

We’ve all seen those Facebook posts asking us to sign a petition or giving an opinion about the latest even in the news today. The big issues can get us angry, but does it make us active? For me the answer is no. Yes, I’ve called my local and national politicians and given my opinion (we all should), but turning my eyes to our community has given me things I can do. Are you disgusted by your government’s policies on refugees and asylum seekers? After you call your representatives, find out who works with migrants in your community. Involve yourself there.

The key here is who do you know? Maybe you need some new people in your life – people who can draw you out and into different corners of your community.

Take small steps toward involvement 

Every movement I’ve taken in 2018 toward my community has been small. It’s been a conversation with a woman about her indigenous heritage at an event at our local kinder. It was a meeting with a project officer at a community house. It was asking a local council member a question about what most surprised her in our community. Small conversations, small steps. I still don’t feel like I have “done” much, but I’m moving toward something. I’m choosing to believe that these small steps will lead to finding my place in our community. But most importantly it has given me a bigger, deeper vision and love for where I live and what is going on around me.

Whatever the rest of 2018 holds for you, I hope that somehow you can take one step toward someone else in your community. Believe that you have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. Believe that there is a better life than simply being angry and outraged. Believe that there is a life for you outside of your privileges. Believe that you have something to give. Let’s do this together.

Now it’s your turn: I would love to hear your thoughts about community engagement – do you consider yourself involved in your places? What have been effective tools in getting involved? What keeps you from being as local as you can be? What is a corner of your community where you could be involved? 

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I was born into an island nation that knows the pain of the pulling apart, and the standing against each other.  The short version is that there are two major ethnic groups (there are others as well), Sinhalese (the majority) and Tamils (the largest minority). While most of the time, both groups co-existed peacefully, there have been pockets of violence, systems of discrimination and then an eruption of sadness beginning in 1983 that would continue as a civil war for over 20 years, and some would say the sadness continues today. The history of hate in Sri Lanka is thousands of years old and complex, and I am unqualified to write the details, but this is part of my story.

We are Tamils, and it was 1977 when a mob of Sinhalese people came down the street to my grandparents’ home and burned it to the ground. My father, 25 at the time, and his family escaped with the clothes on their back. In 1983 it was time for round two. Only my grandparents lived in the house they rebuilt after 1977, my grandfather fighting cancer in what would be the last weeks of his life. A mob burned their house down to  the ground again. My mother, father and 17-month-old me lived in a different part of Colombo, and a mob came down our street. Our house and the one across the street were the only two Tamil houses on the road, and they were coming for one of us. We jumped over the back wall and hid in our neighbour’s house for three days.

By the end of that year, we were on a Korean Airlines flight the United States and the rest of my life would be spent as a missionary kid mostly in the Philippines and also in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

We didn’t talk much about the wounds of our racial history. We ate curry every now and then, but I grew up as a woman with no ethnic identity and with no understanding of the past other than these simple stories. I didn’t understand that there are more stories left untold, that the men and women who experience injustice need to know that their experiences matter.

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Forty-nine people died half way across the world from us while my sons and I read and played our way through late Sunday afternoon last week in Australia. They were members of the LGBTQ community, targeted by a madman. Fifty-three others are injured, a city torn apart.

There is a fracturing around us, you feel it everyday in your bones. Maybe it’s not new or worse than it was hundreds of years ago. But it is more real. Where once we would only know about the suffering of our community, today we know what happens in the cities of Mexico. We hear the stories about huddled refugees on Greek islands. The plight of the orphan, the widow, the assylum seeker, the victim of human trafficking, it draws near to us from the corners of the world.

We know within hours of shots firing that there are dead bodies in a nightclub in Orlando. We take it in from one side of a lit screen, tweets, images, reactions, reactions to reactions. It will only take a day for the soapboxes to come out, for fingers to be pointed at guns, at people, at theology, at public policy.

I’m guessing you have beliefs. I do, too. But after people are ripped from the earth through violence – in Sri Lanka, Syria, Falluja, Venezuela, and Orlando – I find little comfort in my opinions. I want to reach for the truth that I teach my sons every day when they hit each other with fists and cars and trains. He’s made in the image of God, all people are made in the image of God, you are never allowed to treat him that way. 

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We need connections created, restored, renewed, where people are not photos we scroll past on social media, but living, breathing, sitting at our table, eating in our homes, churches and communities. Our shoulders are touching theirs, we are asking questions, listening, sharing our lives, we are offering our presence. Our one life in this window of history. These kinds of tragedies don’t happen all the time, and our response says something about our heart.

Will it break? Will it move? Will the blood pulse through our veins, into our hands and feet and make us move in the direction of community and people?

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In my years of returning to Sri Lanka, we shared meals with Sinhalese Christians all the time, we still do. We were in their homes, we hugged their kids, on the vast majority of theological points, it is likely we agree, and in many ways it was like we were no different from each other. But never do I remember someone asking my parents, What was it like for you? What happened? I know we live in the same country, but what is it like to be here and be you? 

It is easy to shy away from conversations about pain when it didn’t happen to you. We feign a lack of curiosity for the life that wasn’t ours, for the cost we did not pay.

It is not easy to reach for people whose lives are foreign to us. Our natural instincts will always be to surround ourselves with people who mirror to us a life we want to have or the life we have. It is easier this way, it requires nothing of us.

My little family of four has only been part of our community in Melbourne since December, and our calendar slowly fills with dinners, brunches and playdates. With people who believe what I do, with those who sound like us, where there is little translation required because we are speaking the same language and sharing similar experiences.

What am I telling myself? What am I suggesting to you?

Have dinner with a gay man. Invite a Muslim for dinner. Have a playdate with a family that does not resemble yours. Open your home to people who do not believe what you believe, share your food with a community you fear, let their children race through your home and make a mess in the playroom.

Not as a project, not to tick your outreach box. Just because you can. 

Ask them questions. What does it look like to have your life? What did your family say when you came out to them? How do people treat you in the grocery store? What do you fear most? What makes you happy? What would you love to do when you retire? What do you do with your kids on the weekend? What are your traditions? 

Listen. With your ears first, then with your heart. Resist the temptation to form an opinion when you hear the answer. Concentrate on the hearing, the absorbing, the receiving of their human heart. Let their stories sit sacred on the hallowed ground of shared humanity. Dare yourself to see the similarities.

Not your similarities of belief.

The similarities of life, the places where your humanity intersect with hers, the space of connection with his present.

These corners mean something. 

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You will carve it out one conversation at a time, one dinner at a time, one playdate at a time. The more your heart opens to let people in, the less interested you will become in winning arguments in part because you will see that winning arguments is not winning people’s hearts.

We keep ourselves from connection because we think it means giving up territory. We fancy ourselves as soldiers on some ideological frontline, guarding our boundary line, thinking that if it moves an inch, we have lost.

Winning and losing is the world’s idea, a system created to put us against each other, a scheme that keeps you buying more and padding your life with degrees, homes, clothes, work, communities, religions and people who will make you feel like a winner. Its promise is, Buy me, take this, believe me and I will keep you from losing.

Are we soldiers with a territory to lose or are we neighbors with people to love? Women and men, children and teens, babies and preschoolers cobbling a life together in a broken world, picking up the pieces of our own mistakes and failures of others, clay spinning on a wheel in the hand of a potter who is forming us, shaping us, creating a piece that will be unrecognisable to our eyes when he is finished.

We don’t get to decide what he will do with someone else’s life. We don’t get to decide what he will do with ours.

Making our table a place for all to gather and for all lives to be shared, acknowledged and honoured tells a better story: God is in charge. He is working his way through human hearts, he gets to decide how the clay spins, he picks where to smoothen out and where to stretch. He decides what needs to go and what needs to stay.

We get to open our homes and our hearts. We get to set the table, pass the peach cobbler, and raise our glasses. We get to bow our heads and pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done.

On earth.

As it is in heaven.

Now it’s your turn: How can you connect with someone outside your circle of comfort? What keeps you from doing it? Could you call or email someone today? What questions could you ask them?

Welcome to My Daily Bread & Butter, I’m Devi, it’s great to “meet” you. If you’re new here, this page will give you a bit more information about me and browse the archives to read more. I love to write about food, family and faith at the table; hopefully what you’ve read today was food for your mind and heart. I love to hear from readers, so comment away or email if you prefer. If you want to receive these posts straight to your inbox, just scroll to the very bottom and subscribe. I’m more active on Instagram, so follow me there if it’s your thing. And if this post resonated with you, there are a few others of its kind in The Table archives.