to house indecision

March 12, 2014

Is it okay to feel safe? Is it okay to want to feel safe, to want to be comfortable? Do we always have put ourselves into the difficult situation? Is that better? What defines better?

Is it okay to want beauty, to want a nice house, bright windows, a space to feel at home in, an environment to uncurl and relax? Is that selfish? Or should we continually choose exile, difficult living arrangements, cardboard boxes, one-room lives, for the sake of the people in and around our small exile? Should we skimp to feel solidarity, or fear that we aren’t giving up enough, that we’re selling out too much? Can we want a safe haven, or is that just another name for a fortress to keep everyone else out?

should we feel guilty? is guilt a godly emotion to feel, when we look at what we have? is guilt a godly emotion to feel, when we have the chance for something more comfortable?

where’s the line between self-care and selfishness? what are the right reasons for self-sacrifice, and what are the wrong?


she said: missional is a way of living, and I’m trying to figure out how this works. I’m trying to decide between two flats at the moment. I’m in the first and I’m thinking of moving to the second, but recently a lecturer has been talking a lot about mission, and I’m twisting with guilt and indecision. The first flat I want to leave because of many myriad little things that make the place feel like a hostel, a temporary lodging in which I’m parked in alongside but not with a host of others. The only space here that’s really mine to claim is my bedroom, and even then– the landlord would like to advise me on when I should or should not use the lamp he’s given me as a replacement for the ceiling light he doesn’t seem inclined or able to fix. In order to save electricity.

The landlord and his family live here, you see, and we live in their house. It’s not stated, but it’s implicit. We rent rooms here, the other six of us, and use of the kitchen and a few cupboards. Half a fridge. All the common areas are implicitly theirs; there are three chairs at the kitchen table, wearing the remnants of their meal; the living area is strewn with the son’s toys and homework; the upstairs floor has a workspace and desk with the landlord’s things across it. This isn’t a flat so much as a hostel; we rent rooms and we live in them as whole houses. The only point of contact we share is the kitchen, where we linger, standing, to discuss food or countries or language or work or different customs, and by we I mean, commonly, myself and the Eastern European couple who live downstairs.

I like this couple. I think we’re friends, as much as you can be after a week and a half of brief encounters in the kitchen. We chat about what they do in their countries for Easter; she shows me the eggs she’s painted with delicate flowers made of candles she’s melted, drawn with the head of a pin; he tells me about the car he’s still working on, which is now at the mechanics and hopefully returned tomorrow. I tell them about Chinese New Year customs and yum cha and they are apprehensive about chicken feet. Tonight we shared some wine and I looked at their passports and the slight differences between their languages (Slovakia has St. Cyril on its passport, and a castle, and more es and ys; the Czech Republic bears the face of some lady in its pages they don’t recognise, and uses slightly more is). These two, too, note the lack of common areas and plan to fetch a garden table and chair set to plant outside, to create something that isn’t the landlord’s space.

The kitchen, however, doesn’t invite lingering. When the landlord or his wife comes to cook, the Europeans leave to eat in their room, and I eat mine standing at the bench until it’s gone. And then I wash my single bowl or plate or cup, and vanish too into my room.

Sometimes I chat briefly, brokenly, in Cantonese with the landlord’s lady who speaks mostly Mandarin; mostly we cook beside or around each other, silent, one or the other of us humming. Once or twice I’ve seen the Malaysian couple in passing as they head to and from their fridge with groceries. I’m starting to ask the landlord’s son how his day has gone; we chat briefly about P.E. and language classes and then I leave for my room and he goes back to watching television or doing homework. The landlord avoids conversation, although if I’m baking he’ll come curious to ask, and we halt and half-make language at each other. We’re all ghosts in the same corridors, separated by space and language and the customs of this living arrangement. Ships consigned to passing. I can live like this, but I don’t know if I want to. There’s the rub.

The place I’d be heading to, the second flat, is with a young Christian couple. My age. I’ve not met the husband, but he’s a golfer and is away often; the wife I met this afternoon and she studies theology and English. I could live with her, I think, although it’s hard to tell on half an hour’s chat; I don’t know precisely whether it’d be a similar issue of me living in someone else’s home, or whether it’d be a shared space I could be comfortable in too, but I’m leaning towards the latter. Hopefully.

I’m having guilt issues. That’s the problem. If I leave this place and head to the other one, will I be giving in to Comfort, the Dreaded Evil? Will I be walling myself up into white middle-class privileged suburbia? Will I be locking myself into the Christian bubble? I feel like I should see the place I’m in right now as a Missional Opportunity, but honestly, I’m wondering if that’s just the guilt and the lack of understanding talking. But I’m capable of creating or facilitating community; it’s one of my skills. Should I be seeing that as a thing I should do here? What on earth should I do?

She says: missional is a way of living, which I think means: God is working everywhere, and wherever you are is where you should look for where God is working, but does that mean I should stay for duty or service’s sake, or does that mean I’m free to go?

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