Vilified Time

2016 has been an interesting time to be a YAV.  While I’ve been trying to focus on serving in my small capacity, it seems as if much of the world around me has been corroding, shifting into utter tumult.

The joke that 2016 itself is the reason for our despair has received an ever-increasing amount of appreciation lately.  Many of us have been flocking to support the idea that this past year has been some sort of vile entity, feeding off the suffering of humanity.  And, strange as it may sound, it makes perfect sense that we like to think that way.  It gives us hope that in just four days, our oppression shall cease, and a new era will dawn.  If 2016 is a villain, it opens the door for 2017 to make way as a hero.  Everybody loves a hero, because everybody needs hope.

Furthermore, vilifying 2016 has allowed us to point our fingers at something, and direct all the pain-infused anger we’ve been harboring and conglomerating over the past twelve months.  It gives us an outlet.  Perhaps more importantly, certainly more specifically, it gives us an outlet that has no need to defend itself.  It is good and well that we should want to express our frustration, so it’s natural that we’ve decided to do it this way.  But we’re missing the point of being frustrated if we vent it all into a fake rage at an imaginary demon.  We’re frustrated for good reasons, and they deserve real outlets.

Many of us are frustrated and upset because we feel misunderstood and threatened in the society in which we live.

A little over half of US Americans, and most of the rest of the world (aside from Putin and Netanyahu), are frustrated and upset because we elected a president who poses a threat to things we hold very dear.

Still more of us are frustrated and upset because millions of refugees are still being oppressed and left without a place to call home.

The list goes on, but we’ve all heard it many times by now.  The problem is, all those feelings of frustration will be wasted if we target them at 2016.  We need to be frustrated, but we need to focus that frustration differently.  We need to aim it not at some entity we made up, but at ourselves, and not as a reason to harbor resentment, but as a reason to grow.

If we let something that doesn’t really exist take all the heat for what has happened this year, we, the people who inhabit this world, who do exist, will never learn; our pattern of suffering and indifference, which does exist, will never change.  2017 is not a hero.  It is the exact same thing 2016 has been, which is nothing but a concept.  It cannot save us, and it offers us no hope.

However, we can save us.  We, with God’s help and by the grace of God, are our own only hope.

So please don’t count on your New Year’s resolution to be the catalyst for humanity’s revival.  Those start too late and end too soon.  If we want to see things get better, there is no reason to wait.  Challenge yourself now.  It’s become a cliché, but  we honestly need to “be the change we want to see,” and we need to do it now.

So sign petitions.  Write petitions.  Read things you don’t quite understand.  Have conversations with people you don’t quite understand.  Be loving to everybody.  No really, everybody.  Vote.  Call your state representatives.  Don’t forget to be loving to everybody.  Give things away.  Be loving even to people with whom you completely disagree.  Teach people who don’t know the things you know.  Step in to defend people who are being attacked.  Be loving even to people with whom you agree, but you just don’t like anyway.  Be all that we can be.

And to those of us with faith: pray, but pray with your actions, not just your thoughts or words.

Do all these things, and more.  Do them always.  When it becomes so exhausting that you fail and stop doing them, take time to learn from it and recover, and start doing them again.  We will all fail individually, but if we all keep trying, we will never fail collectively again.  That is my resolution for the future.  That is where I find hope.

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“Set Apart”

I haven’t posted anything in a while, and the last thing I posted was incredibly bitter.
I wanted to post something just to indicate to anyone following this blog that, though I stand by everything I said in the last post, and though I certainly believe that there is a lot to be said and done in response to that, I am still moving forward and keeping busy with the normal parts of life too.

So here’s my most recent post for the Greater Indy Habitat blog.  Like the last one, this is not the version that’s ending up on the website, but it’s the version I like most:

 

In my previous post, I discussed the practical value of working alongside people from different backgrounds as a way of pursuing our Biblical conviction in learning how to “maintain constant love for one another.”

As I write this follow up, I sit on the other end of that work.  The house is almost complete, and soon it will be dedicated and moved into.  I have had the opportunity to see and hear the process of its construction from beginning to end.  I’ve had the privilege to hear how people have reacted to it, and I want to talk about that now.  I want to tell you what we’ve created, beyond just the homes, beyond even the hope for a stronger, more unified Image of God in humanity.

I want to talk about the sacred perpetuity we found- the sense of eternal value we experienced through the work we shared, the time we spent, and the place we made.

At an interfaith discussion I recently attended, we focused on the concept of sacred space.  We took time to learn from one another, and pursue the various avenues of thought that led to what each of us understood of sacredness.  We discussed how we honored that understanding, individually, collectively, and cross-culturally.  It was a beautiful conversation, and it challenged and invigorated my thought processes in some wonderful ways, but it didn’t quite satisfy my personal relationship to what I hold as sacred.

The discussion focused on sacred space, but what I find equally important, and perhaps even more significant in my own experience, is sacred time.  The word sacred is defined as “set apart,” but how are we to know what to set apart in order to create or perpetuate that sacredness?  All too often, we find ourselves attacking one another’s deepest religious values, simply because of our misunderstandings on how to approach sacredness.  I believe we are called to set something apart, or hold it as sacred, when we find connection to God through it, or else that apart-settedness becomes entirely meaningless, and potentially dangerous.  However, living as imperfect humans in a finite world, it can be a struggle to know whether something actually provides connection to God in some manner, or if we just want it to do so.  In my life, I hold the things I take as most sacred that way because of their ability to tap into eternity; because of how the impact of the time, or place, that surrounds it is able to become eternal in the instant it happens.

…which is something that sounds cool, but doesn’t actually make a lot of sense.  I think that sacredness, because it is “of God,” in that weird, infinite/inconceivable way, is a real bear to try to understand- much less discuss in practical terms.

But I can say this:

What we’ve done through this Interfaith Build is sacred.  We set it apart, because the impact it has for Rapheal and Brittney, the homeowners, is too massive to describe.  We set it apart, because the way we were able to come together and complete the Image of God in our unity and service is too holy to understand fully.  We set it apart, because the understanding and love that was able to grow for one another there is too profound, and too vital in our efforts to further the Empire of God here on Earth, to put into simple human words.

We set it apart, not from one another, but for one another, and with one another, because it is of God, it is eternal and incomprehensible, and it is very good.

The work we shared; the time we spent; the place we made; is sacred, and the thing that matters now that it’s almost done, is to continue.  Let us continue building homes, let us continue to maintain constant love for one another, and let us continue engaging in this sacred perpetuity.

Late Night Lamentations of a Weary U.S. American

I am tired.  This post will not be eloquent, nor comprehensive of everything I want to express right now.  It will be terse and limited, because I honestly do not know what to say.  Emotionally, physically, and mentally, I am burnt through, and though I feel as if there is nothing I can say, I feel the need to say something.

I’m sorry.

I let myself down.

As a progressive, I played a role in the vilification of conservatives, and created an enemy I was not ready to face.

Donald Trump’s platform is one that holds the power to destroy everything that I cherish about this nation.  His presidency poses a threat to my very national identity, and I must admit that I am to blame for that reality.

I had so many ideas and hopes of my own in mind that I failed to pursue any understanding of my brothers and sisters who had different viewpoints than mine.  I failed to communicate.  I failed to learn.  I failed to receive and witness.  I failed to love my neighbor.

I should have done more to express my concerns in a way that wasn’t so polarized toward those who already agreed with me.  I should have done more to understand why people in my home country have different values than my own, and I should have put forth more effort in understanding the worth in those values.

I am the Levite who passed by the Samaritan as he lay abandoned, face in the dirt, unable to breathe in anything but the pain that consumed him.  I was distracted, and ultimately wrapped up in self-righteousness.  I passed by, thinking that my political and theological objectives were more important than his pain.  I failed to love my neighbor, because I was too wrapped up in understanding the enemy of my neighbor as my neighbor, and I became absorbed in the idea that ignoring one neighbor for the sake of another was my calling.

I have failed in that I have minimized the grace I owed to those with whom I disagree politically and theologically.  And it is because of people like me, who have polarized our enemies instead of reaching out to them, and loving them where they are; engaging in productive and mutual discourse about our different understands of God’s love, that a fear monger, someone who promises to attack the diversity and richness of my nation, has become president.

 

I’m sorry for my blindness, for my pride, and for my neglect.  I hope I learn from my mistakes.

Just a Funny Picture of a Dog, I Promise… (Subtitle- “No Politics Here!”)

Check out this picture of a dog with a punny caption:

dog-meme-20.jpg

Good stuff, eh?

What’s that?  My thoughts on the election? No, these good people only came here to see a funny picture of a dog; I could never betray them like that.

Oh you insist? Well if you insist, I guess I could jot down a few brief impressions (or post something I started writing over a week ago but only just finished) …

 

As I sit in this McDonalds, exploiting their public WiFi, and waiting for my live stream of the presidential debate to buffer (I told you I started this a while ago), a lot of thoughts cross my mind.  There has been a lot to take in through this campaign cycle, and as a young adult with that strangely dissonant combination of cynicism and optimism mostly found in recent graduates, I feel like I have a lot to say about all of it, whether or not that is entirely true.

These many thoughts and interpretations come from a perspective rooted, admittedly, in meager political experience.  My understanding of politics stems from a DeKalb Country public school education, complimented by the biases of my own life experiences, and the many conversations I have had with others to try to mitigate those biases.  It is a valid and reasonable perspective, but not without limitations.  Ultimately, I feel unqualified to submit a blog post centered only around politics to the public eye.  All this is aside from the fact that posting a politically flagrant blog post while representing a larger organization (such as the YAV program and the PCUSA, the views of which are not necessarily to be taken as the same as those held by myself, as presented here or elsewhere) can sometimes be somewhat problematic.

However, the political realm is not without its still all-too-murky areas of Jonathan-response-elicitation.  This perceived invitation to discourse comes to me lately in the form of something I will begrudgingly call “political theology.”  Politicians, particularly Republican politicians, have a penchant for citing theological grounds for their policies, as a sort of overbearing license for what would otherwise be misplaced zeal.  Sometimes even more noteworthy, though, are the more vociferous of the supporters of such candidates, who also claim to be acting out of theological conviction.  In slight contrast to my understanding of politics, my understanding of theology stems from a lifetime of discipleship, complemented by a Bachelor’s degree in Christian Education, and (again) the many conversations I have had to try to mitigate my biases.  This perspective is just as riddled with limitations as my political perspective is.  However, it is (for no clear reason) a perspective about which I feel more compelled and qualified to speak at this moment.  So here we are.

Because my understanding is largely a result of my experiences, this post will be centered around a recent experience I had in the world of theology and politics; namely, the time I went to one of Franklin Graham’s “Decision America” rallies with a friend from work.

Let me preface this by saying I did not go into this rally thinking, “I hope I can write an angry blog post about this later, detailing all the ways I think Franklin is wrong,” and I hope that that is not what any of you will see this as.  Honestly, I barely went into it with any prepossessions at all, having no clue until about an hour beforehand that it was happening or that I would be extended the opportunity to attend it.  My friend and I went there with only the desire to be able to “continue the conversation,” to borrow his phrase.  It was an effort to be able to understand better the ideas of those with whom we disagreed, and to be able to further productive discourse on such topics, apart from the anger and resentment which derives from an inability to relate to others ideologically.

So here is my continuation of the conversation Franklin Graham is having with the United States:

I agree.

I do not agree with the part where he said not to trust progressives, and tried to back it up with the claim that “progressive is a code word for atheist.”
Instead, I see no reason not to trust an atheist merely on account of their atheism, and I know many people from a variety of faith backgrounds, such as myself, who would claim the title “progressive.”

I do not agree with the part where he said secularism and communism are the same thing, “because they are both Godless,” or the part where he connected that into the idea that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we “let down our defenses,” and ruined America with secularism.
Instead, I see nothing as “Godless,” because I believe God is omnipresent, even in “unholy secularism,” or any possible governmental system, whether or not we acknowledge or react to that fact.

I do not agree with the part where he insisted that, as Christians, “We’re not gonna change our mind!”
Instead, I see the tradition of reformed theology as the constant reevaluating of our own understanding of how we relate to God and one another, and cherish the reality that, if I should grow to understand something that contradicts that which I previously believed, I should move into that more mature understanding faithfully, and allow God to use that to make me the man I am meant to be.

I do not agree with these, and many of the other things Franklin said during his speech.  However, I do still agree with his message, which boiled down to this one particular sentence of his:

“America needs the Christian vote!”

To be unhaltingly clear, America needs the Christian vote because it needs votes from every demographic, because Democracy- though I doubt that was what Franklin was getting at.  But as a fellow Christian (even though some people claim I’m an atheist), the Christian vote is particularly meaningful to me.  Here’s why:

As a Christian, I believe that it is our duty to love our neighbors around the world, and provide haven for refugees.

As a Christian, I believe that it is our duty to treat the impoverished and under-resourced peoples in our communities with the utmost grace, support, and understanding, because amongst “the least of these,” we will come to know and serve God.

As a Christian, I believe that it is our duty to play a part in revealing God’s Empire on Earth, by promoting the equality of all human beings, be they straight or gay, rich or poor, strong or weak, male or female, white or black, or anywhere on any of the spectrums between those two ends, because none of them are simple binary outcomes.  In every one of these humans is the Image of God, and that Image can only begin to become clear when we are together and equal.

And as a Christian, these beliefs will impact the way I vote.

I assume and respect that Franklin Graham said all the things with which I disagreed because he legitimately believes in them, and wishes to live faithfully into his religious convictions.  More cannot be asked of anyone in that sense, and less should not be asked of anyone in that sense.  However, I cannot do the same for my own beliefs while letting his words go unanswered as an authoritative Christian perspective.

Franklin said he would not endorse any candidate as part of his Decision America tour, which was not entirely a lie.  Though he never did say the words, “I endorse _____ for president,” he spent the entire time attacking liberal ideology, and making it painfully clear whom he supported.  I admit that though I, too, avoided the words “I endorse ______ for president,” I have probably also made it painfully clear at this point whom I support.  However, all it truly comes down to is this one meaningless line, which renders the preceding paragraphs entirely feckless:

I will take my most faithful mentality to the polls, and I can only ask that you do the same with yours.

I Hate Bikes and You Should Too

In my younger and more vulnerable years (when I was five), I vaguely remember my dad asking me if I wanted to learn how to ride a bike.  Being the borderline cynical realist that I oddly enough was at that age, I took a hard look at my life and weighed my options.  To me, the question wasn’t so much “Would you like to gain this skill which other people your age generally seem to value?”  It was more of “Is the opportunity cost of taking the time to learn how to ride a bike as an obese, clinically unathletic child, worth the amount of time lost, which could be spent playing Starfox 64?”

It seemed like an easy answer to me.  None of my friends lived in biking distance, so that perk was obsolete.  My older siblings both knew how to ride bikes, but I didn’t see them getting anything out of it really.  And to this day, I have no memory of either of my parents riding bikes.  I remember wondering rather conclusively, “Why would I ever bother to learn how to ride a bike?”

The answer to that question came to me seventeen years later, or three days ago, depending on your perspective.  It turns out I would, in fact, bother to learn how to ride a bike, if my new boss is a really great guy who, upon finding out I don’t know how to ride a bike, uses his connections to get me a bike for free, and even volunteers to help teach me how to ride it- all of this happening, of course, during a year when I’m intentionally pursuing new experiences and fleeing my comfort zone, in attempt to grow as a person and further my understanding of the world and my role in it.  It’s really a perfect storm.

I wish I could write something to the effect of, “Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t foresee it happening anytime soon.  Life is good.”
Unfortunately, as you’ve no doubt surmised by the fact that I’m writing this, all of those things have happened, and I am now in the process of learning how to ride a bike as a 22-year-old.

This undertaking has proven to be one of my most frustrating to date, for a number of reasons.  A few years ago, I felt deeply ambivalent about bikes.  I had no relationship with them whatsoever.  Now I do have a relationship with them, and it is one of heated mutual animosity.  That’s not what I wanted to write about though.

In previous conversations I’ve had with friends about learning to ride a bike as an adult, many of them have conjectured that it would be much easier to learn as an adult than as a child, and I could probably figure it out in less than half an hour.  As of today, I can firmly say that I’ve done the science, and they are scientifically wrong.

Obviously, I will never know how difficult it would have been to learn when I was a child.  The only thing I can say with any real certainty is that it would have involved much less profanity, because my vocabulary wasn’t yet up to snuff at that age.

But I can also say that being tall enough for my feet to reach the ground quickly makes it incredibly difficult to resist the urge to step off the peddles every time I start to fall.  I am completely capable of maintaining a sense of comfort, and rather than controlling that, I’ve found it almost impossible to stop myself from returning to it.  For so long, I’ve been comfortable in my inability to ride a bike, and now that I’m ready to leave that comfort, my reflexes are fighting against me on it.  At the age of 22, I’ve already become infallibly comfortable, and I’m finding it hard to learn new tricks.

I’ll tell you right now that this blog doesn’t end with me learning how to ride a bike in one, arduous, but remarkably successful afternoon.  It doesn’t even end with me finally being able to peddle ten feet, after accruing a number of cuts and bruises, but feeling proud of my accomplishments.  It ends with me sweaty and bruised, unable to peddle for more than a few quivering moments, angry at myself after hours of fruitless work, finally walking home with the bike at my side, all the while muttering profanities to myself.  It ends with me standing in the shower for too long, trying to think of a positive spin to put on this story so the people who read this blog will be happy for me.

It ends with me finally giving in to the fact that I am frustrated and unsuccessful.
Looking for the silver linings won’t change that.  Neither will complaining, nor giving up.  In the end, I went back to the library parking lot where I’d just spent hours of frustration, sat down in range of the free public Wi-Fi, and watched an episode of Veggietales on my phone.

It was the episode modeled after the good Samaritan, where Junior the Asparagus helps Larry the Cucumber, even though Junior has a pot on his head, and Larry has a shoe on his.  The silly song is “Oh Where is my Hairbrush,” which I think we can all agree is one of the great classics of my generation.  None of that has anything to do with riding a bike, or not riding a bike, or any of that.  It just made me feel good.  It was a dumb kid show, and I enjoyed it.  I feel like that’s relevant to telling this story, but I’m still not sure why.

Tomorrow, I’ll go back to the library parking lot, and I’ll try again.  Tomorrow night, maybe I’ll write another blog post about how much I hated it.  Maybe it will have a more blatant theological lesson in it that time, but maybe not.

If you ever want to have a full-fledged conversation with me about every reason I think bike-riding is a stupid thing to do and I hate it, hit me up and I’ll be happy to walk down that road with you.  But for now, all I have to say is this-

I am a man deeply rooted in a lifestyle of comfort.  I’ve never thought of myself as someone who shies away from difficulty, but maybe that’s just because so much of my life has been made so easy for me.  As I continue to try to learn to ride a bike, the hardest part will be learning to keep my feet on the peddles, even if it means I’m about to fall.  22 years of privilege and comfort had made me weak in that aspect, and in this, and every other aspect of my YAV year, I pray I will find the ability to fight against that habit.

“For One Another”

One of my assignments with Greater Indy Habitat is to keep a blog about our Interfaith Builds- the very thing that drew me to this placement.

Over the course of participating in a few of the builds, discussing it with a few coworkers and covolunteers, and attending an interfaith dinner, I compiled what eventually became my first draft of my first blog post for Habitat.

That draft ultimately became two different versions of the same post.  One will get uploaded to the Greater Indy Habitat website at some point, and the other is what follows:

 

The peoples of this world are not at a lack for vulnerability.  Our propensity toward apprehension, segregation, and self-isolation is as densely embedded in our personal structures as our own DNA, and though we most often build up these entities of separation and fear as a defensive effort to protect our individual identities, they only ever actually serve to weaken our collective humanity.  Our worries about our vulnerabilities push us into creating further vulnerability for ourselves.  We let our fear of others manipulate our judgment, and create barriers to distance ourselves from one another, chopping off the pieces of humanity that were meant all along to be together as one body.

That was probably a bit too dark of a way to introduce my first post on this blog, so let me change the pace pretty drastically here with what I consider one of the most overarchingly meaningful Bible verses I know:

“Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
-1 Peter 4:8

“Love covers a multitude of sins.”  That idea is crucial to my understanding of the Christian faith.  Jesus’ death is swathed in that theology, and it is paramount to how I believe we are to respond to that sacrifice.  “Above all,” this is how we are meant to act.  “Above all,” this is how we are meant to think.  “Above all,” this is how we are meant to be.

But there is discord within us.  We dissect the verse and its intentions, consciously or otherwise.  We neglect or misunderstand the motivation, and we question entirely the definition of “one another.”

This compelled me to look into the etymology of the phrase “one another.”  For me, that ultimately meant clicking on the first few links, and checking a few links within those links, after googling the phrase, “’one another’ etymology.”  I didn’t find much, probably because I obviously didn’t try very hard, but one thing that stuck out to me through it was the juxtaposition of the two words involved.  “One” implies unity and similarity.  “Another,” being an early 13th century merger of “an” and “other,” implies separation and difference.

However, when you put these words together (which I just learned started in the 1520s CE, if that’s interesting to anybody), you get a profoundly meaningful combination which often goes overlooked.  Though we are “other,” separated by faith, ethnicity, race, sex, or anything else, we are ultimately still “one.”  We are unified because we are all human.  We are unified because we are all made in the Image of God.  We are unified because, only when we are unified, do we begin to see the full Image of God that is present within us, through us, and between us.

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter ten, the parable of the Good Samaritan perfectly illustrates exactly how we are meant to “maintain constant love for one another.”  Though the Samaritan was of a culture which regularly found itself in harsh conflict with the Jewish man’s culture, he loved him well, and saved his life in doing so.  That is the definition of whom we are to love, and how we are to do it.  That is my theological understanding of Peter’s usage of the phrase, “one another.”

The verse in 1 Peter also points to what happens when we fail to love one another though.  The multitude of sins, the thing that separates us from God, distorting the Image of God in us, and drawing geopolitical and cultural borders that get used to define humans as “other,” rather than “one another,” becomes uncovered.  The darker aspects of our humanity, the pieces of us which are overrun by fear and mistrust, are empowered by it.  We see the apprehension, segregation, and isolation I mentioned earlier begin to take hold, and everything that comes with that.

We see men in turbans, getting frisked at the airport and catching glares of mistrust on the streets.  We see women in burkas, forced to change from the emblems of their faith at the beach.  We see people of color, being shot, strangled, and abused, often killed, for no reason, every time we open an internet browser.  We see refugee children, their bodies washed up on the shores of lands that let them die.

But that’s not all we see in this world.

A few days ago, I had the privilege of witnessing and participating in an Interfaith Build with Habitat.  I saw people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs come together in service to their fellow human.  I saw them learn from one another, as they began to grow in understanding of one another’s belief systems, and respect for one another.  I saw people recognize and cherish the similarity in values across faith backgrounds, and I saw them appreciate the differences, without ignoring them, or fighting over them.

Most of all, I saw them build.  I saw people coming together around a wooden frame, and pouring their sweat, energy, and time into making something out of it.  They did it together.  They did it with one another, and in many ways, for one another.

Habitat has found a powerful and radical means of service in these Interfaith Builds.  It’s not just about building houses for people who couldn’t otherwise attain them, though that would be enough.  It’s not just about providing an effective and meaningful outlet for people to serve one another and express their deep-seated values, though that would be enough.  It’s about bringing people together.  It’s about learning from and sharing with one another.  It’s about maintaining constant love for one another, and it has the potential to be the most beautiful thing Habitat’s ever done.

I’m Not Needed

Currently, I am sitting in my new room, in my new home, in a city that’s in a state in which I’d never been before.

Eight days ago, I was sitting in a different room, in another city I’d never been to before.

These two novelties form the bookends of a week of disorientation that will shape the rest of my life, and in particular, my year of service in Indianapolis.

 

Over the course of my experience at Orientation Week (in Stony Point, NY), I heard a number of quips from YAV Alum (YAVA) which could have made great titles for this blog post.  “Screwed Up for Life,” and “I Promise, You Are Not Actually a Good Person,” were top contenders for obvious reasons.  In the end, though, I felt like they were slightly too contextual for the average reader of this blog (my mom and dad).  But when I heard one of the YAVA talk to us about his experience when he arrived at his site, and the first thing he heard from one of the people alongside whom he would be serving being the sentence “You are not needed,” I knew I’d heard one of those rare, encapsulating phrases that meant everything I was trying to learn.

Let me explain.

For as long as there has been Christianity, there have been missions.  These come in many shapes and sizes, and occur in all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons.  And for the entire history of the Church, many, if not most of them, have been catastrophically poorly executed.  Sometimes people go for the wrong reasons, sometimes they go and do things that leave the communities they touched far worse off than when they arrived, and sometimes they come home without gaining any understanding of the community where they served, or why that even matters.

While at Orientation, we focused on a number of vital aspects of the coming year.  We had intensive racial sensitivity training, some professional/personal boundary training, and a number of other sorts of training relevant to entering a “year of service for a lifetime of change,” as it says on the back of the shirt I got there.  What I want to focus on for this blog post though, is what we discussed about the purpose and definition of missions, in the context of the Christian Church.

One of the first things we established is that missions are done with, not for.  I am not here to be a hero for people; I am here to let go of some of my privilege, and walk alongside people.  I am here to be a part of a community, to learn from the people who compose it, and to follow their lead in serving that community.  Anything that unjustly promotes, demotes, or excludes anyone is not a part of the mission of Christ.

Eventually, we were given a definition of mission originating from a Congolese pastor whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, which says that mission is “following the border-crossing God in weaving mercy, peace, justice, and love into the common life of all of God’s people, in the way of Jesus Christ.”

That definition is strikingly beautiful, honest, and accurate.  It emphasizes God’s movement, not our own, and displays poetically the vitality of peace and justice in mission work.  Unfortunately, anyone reading it who has taken a class taught by Dr. Rebecca Davis, my college advisor, cannot help but notice a few things it’s lacking.  Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to add a bit, making it a definition with which I hope Becky would be satisfied:

Mission work is the divine call of the Christian Church to follow the border-crossing God in weaving mercy, peace, justice, and love into the common life of all of God’s people, by meeting people where they are, joining them in service of the community, and loving them in the way of Jesus Christ, so that we may live out Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, and therein be instruments in revealing God’s Empire on Earth.

 

So that is a taste of a piece of what I gained from Orientation.  I’m going on this “mission” to join the people of this community in our mutual effort to understand and contribute to God’s Empire.  As Lilla Watson puts it,

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

 

So as I sit in my new room, in my new home, in this new city, preparing for my new job (though I still don’t know what that will be*), I reflect on the fact that I am not here because I am “needed.”

I am here to build relationships.

I am here to learn.

I am here to teach those who could not go with me.

I am here to serve with, and not for.

I am here to love others well.

I am here to experience the love of others.

I am here to let go of things.

I am here to find new things to hold.

I am here to be an instrument for the architect of God’s Empire.

I am here to become whatever I was meant to be.

 

In a sense, I hope never to go back.

 

-Jonathan

 

 

*- When I wrote this, I still had not received my official placement.  I now know I will be serving with the Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity, specifically in expanding their interfaith efforts hopefully.  More on that to come, but here’s a link if you want:

Home – Habitat Page