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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Problems Find Us

by Lauren Van Ham

Invite the Wise Person out of someone.  Sometimes, we have to teach people to be where we need them to be.  - Sobonfu Some
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  Romans 12: 4-5 NIV
I was sitting in a circle with the wonderful indigenous teacher, Sobonfu Some; “In Africa, your problem is the community’s problem.  So we don’t say, ‘I have a problem.’ Instead we say, “a problem has found me.’”  Like lights sequentially illuminating a control panel, the implication of her words raced through my head and dropped down low, near my belly.  I tried a few on, just to see what it felt like….

The problem of alcoholism has found me…
The problem of bankruptcy has found me…
The problem of infertility has found me…

It feels very different to hold a problem this way.  I’m most struck by how the phrasing allows the problem both to be mine, and to not be mine.  In a culture that so often gravitates towards self-reliance or, “not putting anyone out,” what happens when I share with others that, the problem of unemployment has found me?  Or that, the problem of an autistic child has found me?

And in a society that emphasizes having “good boundaries,” and “not being a victim,” what happens when I hear from another that, the problem of an abusive partner has found me?  Or that, the problem of depression and homelessness have found me

Putting the problem within the community invites intimacy and risk (uh-oh) to say nothing of time and possible messiness.  I’ll begin with intimacy and risk.  When I have a problem; rather, when a problem has found me, and I bravely bring it to my community, I am taking a risk, hoping that this group of others will have what it needs to hold my problem (hold me?) in its collective wisdom and love.  Another outcome is also possible, of course, and here lies our BIG invitation.  It goes back to my mention of time and possible messiness.   

Consider your communities.  How well are you tending the problems that find your group?  Are you making and taking time?  When a solution is not readily apparent, is the group willing to allow for some messiness?  Is your community sharing and responding to its problem as a community; I mean, by truly tapping the collective wisdom, creativity and love of all its members?

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen teacher whose writing often compares the teachings of Jesus and Buddha says, “The Buddha of the future will be the Sangha.”  In Christian terms, this means, Jesus’s wisdom is the community.  As one body, striving for insightful, loving, skillful action, how are we making room for the problems…and for their collective solutions?

About Lauren: Lauren is an interfaith minister and lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

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