|by Tom Bohache|
Living in the Spirit involves not just individual consciousness but, more importantly, concern for the local and global communities as well. British social worker Ann Morisy, in her book Journeying Out (Morehouse, 2004), describes what she calls "playpen living"the move to the suburbs by many affluent citizens in order to flee the crime, drugs, and poverty of the city. She likens those who live in the safety of gated communities to babies in playpens: In a playpen, you have everything you need. You're not aware of what might be missing because you stay put. You are only focused on what is inside the playpenyou and your toys. But, when you venture out of the playpen, you discover a different perspective: There are other people besides you. There are other ways of living and believing besides yours. There are other misfortunes besides what you can and have experienced inside the playpen.
Morisy suggests that the solution to the malaise which comes from playpen existence is what she calls "journeying out" beyond what is familiar and beyond one's comfort zone. It can be a scary thing for those accustomed to the niceties of playpens and suburbs, but, in the long run, such journeying out changes and enriches both the journeyer and those on his/her ports-of-call. Two-way communication and sharing of information helps us to build a "story-rich life" because we begin to know more than just our own stories. Journeying out and experiencing other lifestyles, races, and economic levels gives us more information on which to make our choices, new ways of saying YES to Spirit's call. These choiceshow to live, whom to love, whether and where to give of our time and our treasurereveal the values we live by and speak of our character. Journeying out is so much more satisfying than simply sending off a check to a charity, as elderly women in a London suburb discovered when they decided to help villagers in Zimbabwe. At first, they gathered money to send overseas, but realized that this money might be lost or misused; so these senior citizens, who had never ventured out of the Kent countryside let alone the British Isles, decided to buy sewing machines and take them to Zimbabwe themselves! These women learned about life on another continent amid the scourges of racism and colonialism; they met women like themselves who simply wanted to be able to feed and clothe their families. The African villagers learned that their preconceptions of Europeans were not always true; they became aware of the struggles that the underprivileged in First-World countries experience, as well as common values and the desire for a better standard of living.
Journeying out from our comfort zone and embracing others' truth creates what sociologists call "social capital." Social capital is what keeps the human family alive. It is the interweaving of cultures and the reaching across of color-lines and economic barriers to bring forth empathy and compassion. Individuals, countries, and religious groups can be rich in material things but bankrupt in social capital. Those living playpen existence believe that they always have the truth and that they have all of the truth; but if you stay put and don't venture forth, you can't possibly have all of the truth or maybe any of it. Coming out of the playpen and building social capital exposes us to more truths as we get out feet wet in other peoples' ponds.
Social action is the key to keeping Spirit alive in today's world. The majority of the world's people are poor, non-white, and female. Weary from working too many hours for too little money, they spend sleepless nights wondering how to feed their children and, if they are not single mothers, how they might avoid their husbands' violence and rage at the family's plight. Those of us living privileged lives must ask ourselves how to use that privilege to create justice for othersracial, gender, political, sexual, and economic. As Ann Morisy says, "[P]reoccupation with self-interest hardens our hearts. Through the grace of God those of us seduced by playpen existence can, 'by proxy,' partake of struggle and the raw and abrasive aspects of life, and this awakens our imagination."
This summer, let's begin to ask ourselves: Is Rehoboth merely a big playpen, or can it be an embarkation point for journeying out? What kind of social capital do we possess? Are we rich in possessions but bankrupt when it comes to social capital? What sort of choices have we made, and what do these choices say about our character as individuals and as a community? Where and in what way can we journey out?
The Rev. Tom Bohache, Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth, is a speaker, teacher, and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 7 June 17, 2005