chapter 1 of ‘The 9th City’

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So let’s get started on chapter 1.

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J is for Job: a man who suffered immense adverCITY not despite the fact that he lived in relationship with God, but because he loved God desperately.

I’ve been a smoker since I was sixteen. I don’t know why I started smoking. Maybe it was because I needed to be accepted & loved, even if I did not do everything according to my parents desire.

Maybe it was because I could not stand amidst peer pressure?

I was the headboy of our school, what you might know as ‘class president’ in your world. I was chairman of the SCA (student Christian association). I was the regional debating champion. I played the lead role in our high-school play. I was a member of a select orchestra, hand-picked from all the high-schools in our city.

You get the picture?

Over achiever. Ambitious. Chasing the next big thing. Feeding on recognition.

I enjoyed all these activities. Yes, I did. Leading. Influencing. Expressing creativity. Being noticed.

What I enjoyed most was the ‘love’ I received from my parents as I out-performed my siblings and ‘achieved’ in my little bit of world.

My parents weren’t very skilled at ‘unconditional love’. They ‘loved’ me and my brothers and my sister exuberantly when we ‘did well’, but shunned us when our marks weren’t up to scratch, our performance weren’t acceptable or we just generally disappointed them.

I remember the verbal lashing I received as a fourteen year old.

This one stands out from the rest.

It was always verbal, only physical in discipline.

In fact, in my life, everything was verbal. It wasn’t a very touchy feely environment.

‘Love’ was expressed with a ‘well done’ and disappointment was expressed with a little more verbosity.

I was fresh in high-school. I had gone for Rugby trials. Rugby was a big thing in the South Africa of my youth. Any boy who wanted to be a man played Rugby and played it hard. I got into the fifth team of my age-group. Which was a terrible disappointment for my dad. Especially since, just the previous year, I played in the first team of my primary school. He was convinced I did not try hard enough. So I tried harder. I played my first match in the fifth team. At the next practice session I got bumped to the fourth team. I played another match on the Saturday & after the next practice session I could go home & tell my father that I was now in the third team. He was impressed. He said now he’ll come to watch me play and cheer me on as I worked my way to the first team where I should have been from the word go, if only I put my heart in it.

It was a disaster.

His verbal abuse from the side of the field as the match went on for eighty minutes. His words as we drove home that day. ‘What a disappointment. I thought you were playing Rugby. I was ashamed to be there today. How could you do this to me? Did you want to shame me? Did you want to embarrass me in front of all those parents. This is ridiculous! If you’re going to play like that you might as well not play at all. You were like a donkey. An old donkey. Not just slow, but stupid.’

At the next practice session I thanked the coach for the opportunity to have played and told him I’ll be hanging up my Rugby-boots.

I’m a sensitive soul.

Fragile even.

I think it was in that experience that I first realized that something was amiss in my life.

I couldn’t verbalize it then.

I just knew I was ‘buying’ what was being sold as ‘love’.

And my buying power wasn’t enough.

But it is addictive.

Approval.

Love given in exchange for performance.

Or what seems like love to someone who does not know.

If you live in a house with two older brothers and a younger sister, you’re easily drawn back into the game.

So at sixteen I was playing Rugby again. Good enough for my father’s approval. I was achieving as a musician. I was one of only four non-seniors at our school on the student council. I was winning one debating competition after another. And I was getting ‘love’.

I knew it wasn’t love.

Not unconditional.

Not just because I am their son.

I suspected it was brittle.

And I had to test it.

And I did.

The leader & performer started smoking. Not the worst thing anyone could do, but bad enough for the son of a reformed reverend.

And the ‘love’ dissipated.

The apparent intimacy evaporated.

The approval was lavishly dished out on others despite my leadership & achievement.

At forty I’m trying to stop smoking.

I’m also trying to be a father in a different way.

My Zuko is pregnant with our fourth child, eight years after our youngest was born. It is a bit of a surprise. But a good one. We are more than happy. Having our children. Raising them. Being with them. Seeing them become. This has been the most meaningful thing of all the things we’ve done as adults.

I know the smoking is going to get me. I know it is going to affect my health. And if I keep at it, I might not get to sixty. I might lose my health & even die before this un-born baby can be brought to maturity.

That would be sad.

For me.

It would be the worst kind of adversity.

A kind I would be bringing upon myself.

Having to lose my health, my life & not being able to see this fourth child become more than I could ever imagine to be.

It would be unbearable.

At least the getting ill part.

The knowing I’m going & it could’ve been different.

Some adversity we bring into our own life.

Perhaps when I was sixteen I did not know any better.

I could not choose any better.

It is easier to look back & critisize your own actions & identify where you could’ve done better. Easier than being in it & making that choise.

Thank God that I chose smoking.

Not drinking.

And drunk driving or drugs.

Or losing myself in the accepting arms of teenage girl after teenage girl who is as desperate for acceptance as me.

And having to cope with the destructive emotions of uncommitted sexual activity.

It was safe, what I chose.

I think.

A lot of us seek to numb the pain.

In different ways.

Worn out by the absence of unconditional love we embrace the embrace of another. Thinking that this is real. Hoping that this would be balm.

And we end up in a worse place of greater rejection.

Greater loss.

Sometimes we create our own adversity.

Sometimes we are contributors to it.

Sometimes it just overcomes us.

Mostly, I think, it is a combination that could not have been prevented.

Adversity is not simple.

The worst of it is our searching for a reason.

Why?!

Why did this happen to me?!

Why me of all people?!

I’m a ‘WUS’.

A wimp.

I know.

‘So daddy didn’t love me as I wanted to be loved.’

That does ring in my mind from time-to-time.

At forty I am okay with that.

I think.

Okay, not entirely. I’m still dealing with it, but the home I grew up in isn’t really the worst of the adversity I have suffered.

And I know there are people for whom a worse kind of adversity is daily reality.

That does not take away from the fact that I have to deal with mine.

Make sense of mine.

And answer my own ‘why’ questions.

I too come from an interesting family.

We are physically and emotionally alienated.

It has not been easy being part of this family.

But I am still a part of it – and it is a part of me.


It is interesting that we can have many meaningful relationships. Relationships resembling something of unconditional love, or at least what we percieve as unconditional love, but somewhere inside of us a desire is hidden. An emptiness in the absence of exactly that in our families.

We are part of God, I belive, and God is part of us, but we are apart.

In our feelings and perceptions.

The truth is we can only really see things through our own eyes. It is physically impossible for us to see things through the physical eyes of someone else. We can only see it through their sharing of what they see and we can try move towards some common ground.

We are part of our family.

Our family is part of us.

But we are apart.

Apart in our feelings and our perceptions.

And we can only really see things through our own eyes

Perhaps I am too focussed on myself as I see my own adversity? Perhaps I am too bundled in my own desperate desire to be loved unconditionally?

Perhaps all love is conditional,whether given or received?

It may be that love as we want it is not love as it is?

We don’t love people who don’t love us.

It is very difficult. We see something wrong in them, but they see us rejecting their love. Or what they have to offer as love in all honesty.

And they see something wrong in us

Perhaps ‘love’ what we have to offer?

My older brother could not live with the physical and emotional alienation which typified relationships in our family.

So he ended his life.

My younger brother cannot live with it, so he fumes from a distance and refuses to speak.

And when he does it is volcanic blame.

My sister cannot live with it.

As soon as she could she put as large a distance as is possible between her and all of us.

Presently she is in Europe, the latest leg of a long journey she started long ago.

She erupts from a distance.

I too left home – even before I completed my schooling.

I tried to keep in touch, but I wear the battle scars.

It is not easy for any of us.

It is not easy for our parents either.

They seem to be the ones who started it with us, but they too are also children.

They also had parents who started things.

They also had parents who started things in them.

Their conditions for love were clearly not met and they loved us as only they knew how.

Under those conditions.

And we love others.

And ourselves.

Under those conditions.

As we know.

If we could only get to better understand what conditions others are under.

What conditions we are under.

If they could only get to understand what conditions we are under.

Which brings us to Job.

For perhaps our adversity – and his – is woven into a single cloth along with the thread of our struggle and hope and desire for love under different conditions.

Or free of conditions.

It is said that God is love, but not everybody loves God.

We should ask ourselves, ‘is God a servant of our good feelings?
or is God simply God?

Can we take God hostage to our understanding of him?

This sounds ludicrous, but I believe this is exactly what we do.

I don’t think any of us do it intentionally.

I don’t think any of us do it to punish God.

But I think we all do it.

And as we explore adversity and how it is woven into a single cloth with hope for unconditional love we must be careful not to take him captive.

I do not think God takes us hostage to his understanding of us?

Job is a man who never had his ‘why’ questions answered.

Perhaps the story told to us is more about God and less about Job?

Or maybe it is more about us?

_________________________________

Now don’t forget to take part in this process. Tell us what you’re missing from this chapter. Or what expectations it creates.

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2 thoughts on “chapter 1 of ‘The 9th City’

  1. Maybe this loss, your loss, means God can make you different, because loss is emptiness waiting to be filled. Never got very far with why questions either🙂

    What I learn through the emptiness is just this. Daily bread is all I can count on, one day at a time, faltering steps, trusting that He will be where I am about to tread. That all my failure, rejection, harshness, sadness, all I do is kneel, no words and give it to Him. It is too heavy for me.

    His love, His peace in your writing.

    C

  2. perhaps all love is conditional
    whether given or received
    it may be that love as we want it is not love as it is
    we don’t love people who don’t love us
    it is very difficult
    we see something wrong in them
    but they see us rejecting their love
    and they see something wrong in us

    it is said that God is love
    but not everybody loves God

    is God a servant of our good feelings?
    or is God simply God?
    can we take God hostage to our understanding of him?
    this sounds ludicrous doesn’t it
    but I believe this is exactly what we do
    I don’t think any of us do this intentionally
    I don’t think any of us do it to punish God
    this also sounds ludicrous
    but I think we all do it
    does God take us hostage to his understanding of us?

    we are part of God and God is part of us
    but we are apart in our feelings and perceptions
    the truth is we can only really see things through our own eyes
    it is physically impossible for us to see things through the physical eyes of someone else
    we can only see it through their sharing of what they see
    and we can try move towards some common ground

    we are also part of our family
    and our family is part of us
    but we are apart in our feelings and our perceptions
    and we can only really see things through our own eyes

    this gift is a curse and this curse is a gift
    it may be that the sharing of the experience is what tips it either way
    it may be that the sharing of the experience tips us either way

    I too come from an interesting family
    we are physically and emotionally alienated
    it has not been easy being part of this family
    but I am still a part of it
    and it is a part of me

    my older brother could not live with this so he ended his life
    my younger brother cannot live with this so he fumes from a distance and refuses to speak
    and when he does it is volcanic blame
    my sister cannot live with this
    as soon as she could she put as large a distance between her and all of us as possible
    presently she is in Europe
    the latest leg of a long journey she started long ago
    she erupts from a distance
    I too left home – even before I completed my schooling
    I tried to keep in touch but I wear the battle scars
    it is not easy for any of us

    it’s not easy for my parents either
    they seem to be the ones who started it with us
    but they too are also children
    they also had parents who started things
    they also had parents who started things in them
    their conditions for love were clearly not met
    and they loved us as only they knew how
    under those conditions

    and we love others
    and ourselves
    under those conditions

    if we could only get to better understand what conditions others are under
    if they could only get to understand what conditions we are under

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