Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Worth it...

I wrote previously that I'm teaching a dear friend of mine and we had a bit of a discussion about whether she should pay me.

That brought a lot of things into focus for me in terms of how I look at money and time and work. I had a lot of talks with various friends in person and online, trying to figure out how to respond specifically and more generally. In the end I came to the conclusion that any money anyone gives me as a concession to the fact that I cannot live on air, rather than anything approaching fair compensation. Money is just not the motivating factor for my work, and I do work based on whether it seems fulfilling and worthwhile, not based on whether or how much I will be paid.

But with that said, with the establishment that money I receive from this student or from anyone is a concession, a gift, I should have been comfortable about it, yes?

What I realised is that I'm really not. It's a little easier to accept money from people I don't have such a strong fondness for, and from people whose financial situation is clearly much better than my own, but I still run into all sorts of internal objections about value and worth, despite the very pragmatic point that at the moment I am not yet earning enough to pay my own rent. That's partly about thinking it's impossible to put a monetary value on human labour, but it's also about thinking I don't deserve the good things of this world, rejecting the gifts I have been given. Since we need money to live in this society, it's in some twisted way a rejection of life. I was thinking about this over the weekend, wrestling with it really. How can I judge what is worthy and what is not, who is worthy and who is not? I can only experience the world as myself -- and that experience says the world has pain and joy, bitter and sweet. And there are people far more deserving of sweetness who only get the bitterness, people who should have only joy and instead endure terrifying pain. And as much as I yearn for joy and sweetness, as much as I have some human drive to meet my basic physical needs, I don't honestly feel I deserve them.

My refusal to engage with financial issues in a constructive way is either a rejection of the world or a rejection of myself. Maybe a rejection of the idea that I have any right to be here...

So, yesterday I saw a spiritual director. I met her a few weeks ago and we had a chat and some lunch and I decided that yes, this would be a constructive thing to try. It's not that I don't think God can tell me whatever God wants me to know about what I'm meant to do, but more that I have such difficulty listening.

I wasn't sure, on my way to our meeting, what I would bring up. So many of the things that were weighing heavily on me a few months ago are complete non-issues now, or issues I'm happy to just sit with and see what happens.

I should have known that the financial stuff would come into it. Really, I should have known. And in the meeting itself I didn't feel like we were getting anywhere. We discussed various social and professional issues around accepting payment for services even from friends, but I've been through those again and again, and they're clear enough, but they are of this world, not of God's kingdom. We talked about opportunity cost, about having finite time to do all the work we might feel called to, about not having the resources to "give to everyone who asks of you" let alone everyone you might like to give to. We spoke of the difficulty for anyone in deciding who is worthy, who is not. We touched of God loving people anyway, spent some time on dependence on God which means that we cannot save ourselves through works or faith or anything else but it is God who saves, but this doesn't mean we can just throw in the towel and stop trying.

It was good to air these things, to go through them yet again, but it didn't feel like there was any sort of breakthrough. I've not been for spiritual direction before, I'm going into this without an idea of what is "meant" to happen or how things work. It wasn't unpleasant, but I was still left wrestling with this idea of how to accept that even if money only seems relevant to me at the most unimportant levels, even if money can never be an accurate indicator of worth anyway, people pay me because they recognise some worth in what I am doing.

About five minutes down the road I thought, "hey, WAIT A MINUTE!... God thinks I am worth dying for, so bugger what anyone else has to say about it. The only one who can accurately judge the worth of any human being is God. The judgement has already been made."

It is late, and I am tired, and I don't know how much of that realisation will stick, how much of it I would have come anyway if I hadn't had yet another conversation about all those surface issues. I suspect this is something I don't get to learn once, but instead will keep tripping over.

But it means I can perhaps put aside my own evaluations of worthiness and my concerns about whether it is right for me to accept payment. The judgement has already been made, and here I am in the world, and let's deal with the pragmatic stuff, like getting to the point where I can pay my own rent. I'm not going to take any money dishonestly and I'm not going to chase after it and abandon my standards of what my housemate has called right livelihood, but I can perhaps accept it a little more lightly, not get so worried about whether I really deserve to be in this world. I can get on with doing the work, even if people insist on paying me. It doesn't have to be an argument, it doesn't have to be turmoil. I have already been judged worthy. So has all creation.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Running, but not really catching up

My computer is back, with a shiny new hard drive. It'll take me a while to finish getting the software I need onto it, but it's very good to have my own machine to work on again, at least.

I've not had much time or energy for else but work, online. I could make my excuses but you'll have heard it all before -- lots of work to do, performances, joint problems making me tired, students requiring extra care and attention at the moment. I started this blog in the last half of the last year of an intensive performance-based degree. I've only ever blogged when I don't really have time!

I'm still thinking of you lot. I'm still playing, praying, singing. Still throwing myself into hymnody, still getting a drip feed of psalmody from the Daily Office, still taking Communion.

Morning Prayer (or is it Evening?) has had lots of the book of Revelation in it recently. I have to say, I know it isn't meant to be literal, and there's all sorts of rich and beautiful symbolism, but this lampstand thing is a bit weird. I kindof like it, even as I think to myself, "Well, you might remove my lampstand from its place if I don't repent, but if I don't repent then surely the only reaction I'd have to a mis-placed lampstand is to put it back again or go to IKEA and get another one... I wonder if the instructions for assembling flat-pack lampstands are as convoluted as all their other ones?" and so on.

I'm loving bits of the daily prayers for between All Saints' Day and Advent. "In the darkness of this age that is passing away may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy surround our steps as we journey on." Only it just sounds wordy when I write it out like that... but when I'm praying it's all about the light.

A dearly beloved friend wants some music lessons, and naturally I volunteered my services. She asked about my rates; I hadn't intended on charging her anything, not a single penny. She isn't comfortable with that, so we'll work something out... but in thinking about how to approach it I've figured out a little more of how I relate to money. See, she said it "wouldn't be fair" not to compensate me for my time and expertise. As a musician, my work doesn't work that way. My life doesn't work that way. If I were to get up every morning and thinking "I'm only going to do any work if I know I'll get fair compensation for it", I would do no work at all. Being a freelance worker means that I have to accept that much of my work is not going to bring me any obvious or direct financial reward; being a musician means I have to accept that the work is worth doing anyway. So I do the work, and see any money anyone gives me as a concession to the fact that I cannot live on air, rather than anything approaching fair compensation.

I'm looking forward to teaching this friend. I've heard some of what she can do... but she gave up participating in music almost entirely a very long time ago and has only just recently started to engage with it again, to practise and even perform a little. She notices the problems, the rusty skills, the uncertainty, and the years of silence weigh heavily on her. I see and hear a musician waiting to grow into who she is, and needing a little help and encouragement -- not a lot -- to get there.

I found an orchid, in a big glass pot. Someone had left it by the rubbish bins. I brought it home, cut back the spent flowering stalks, gave it some water and a nice windowsill, and we'll see if it blooms again.

Hope! saith the holly.

Monday, 2 November 2009

is there a patron saint for hard drives?

Apologies for recent radio silence. My computer broke, on my birthday, no less. This is making it hard to keep up with my usual reading and commenting, which has already been much curtailed because of a busy musical life.

It's going to be around 2 weeks before I get my computer back, I'm told. Thankfully it is still under warranty and so this is costing me nothing.

Yesterday I spent at Leafy Suburb Church. It was wonderful to spend a day singing and visiting with much-beloved friends. As two weeks ago when I was there for Evensong, I was very aware of how much the sense of open acceptance and welcome I have felt there has influenced my journey toward Christianity.

I guess that's part of why I feel so strongly about invitation and inclusion.

There's an entire world more to write there, but I have teaching to do.