I.am.indignant! It has been my word of the semester. This semester I have been taking a break from design school to participate in a program through the Higher Education Consortium of Affairs (HECUA) focusing on inequality in America. The curriculum focuses on a variety of topics from wage discrepancies, housing, race and class issues, and politics. During the course of the semester I have learned so much, but I have also become so very, very angry.
Take housing for example. Most of our housing issues today stem from legislation and practices from the 1950s. After WWII there was a housing crisis that prompted suburban sprawl. During this time banks and realtors would “red line” certain areas, marking where they would give loans based on race or class. Realtors would “steer” certain families into certain neighborhoods, increasing segregation. Exclusionary zoning limited who could live where based upon their ethnicity, creating pockets of race around the city. Over time these pockets have been allotted different resources creating inequality between them. Some areas were destroyed during the era of urban renewal, removing affordable housing all together.
Now you may think that these practices have been outlawed by now, and most of them have, yet they still affect us. We still making zoning laws that limit residents based on their income. Richer sectors require 3 car garages and certain lot sizes ensuring that only those who can afford such luxuries live in their community. Communities given different resources in the past still don’t have equal access. Many of our communities are still segregated. So here I am, indignant. How are such unfair practices from 60 years ago STILL impacting us? How are we still unwilling to live near the people we work with or shop with or worship with? Why can’t we strive for a more equitable distribution of resources? I hope that this makes you a little uncomfortable too; uncomfortable or angry enough to educate yourself, or your family, or friends, or faith community. After all, we are called to care and love those around us, to change the systems that foster despair, hate, and poverty. I hope that you too are indignant enough to want to make a change, to live in an equitable community with those around us.
The last semester of senior year is, to no one’s surprise, a stressful time. Not only are you juggling school, work and clubs, but also trying to figure out your next steps in life. Finding a job, figuring out your place in the world, it is all very stressful stuff! As I am currently in the midst of sending out applications and putting my next year into focus, I have found the beauty of tea breaks.
Having taken a number of tea breaks in my time abroad, I have tried to maintain that moment of breathing. There is something wonderful about realizing you are tired and doing something about it. My days have become long and busy, but realizing that I can and should take 15 minutes to just sip a cup of tea has been a joy. God has a way of making us realize our own limits and God also has a way of giving us small joys in times of chaos. So even when I feel like life full and my “to do” list is too long, I have found joy in my moments of pause. I truly know that God is with us through everything but it can be hard to notice God’s presence if we don’t take a moment to stop. To stop and breath. To stop and sit, To stop and drink a hot cup of tea.
For those of you who may not have heard, the LCMers took a pilgrimage of sorts to Holden Village over spring break. Holden is a Christian retreat center tucked away in the North Cascades in central Washington. The village receives most of its guests in the summer months, but a small community remains year-round to enjoy and maintain the village.
We spent our week at Holden helping out with whatever work needed to be done around the village, which included installing plumbing, doing housekeeping work, cooking, garbage duty, shoveling, peeling logs, etc.
In our free time, we ate, went hiking and snowshoeing, ate, worshiped, ate, enjoyed the sauna, and ate some more!
One of the unique aspects of Holden is the emphasis placed on rest, on leisure, on enjoying those basic things in life which are easy to overlook in today’s society. Many of us were reminded of how life-giving it is to slow down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the life God has given each of us.
After a few days of this relaxed, stress-free lifestyle, you can imagine how sad we all were to leave this sanctuary of tranquility. The idea of returning to our hectic lives as students was hard to imagine. How could we possibly leave this calm, restful place and go back to the stress of college life?
After about a week of being back on campus with all the bustle and obligations, I realized that the peace we experienced at Holden wasn’t locked away in the mountains. It wasn’t the physical environment, but rather the intention that allowed us to find rest and enjoy life. We can experience a similar – if not less extreme – life of peace simply by setting aside the time to do so. By intentionally creating a time and space for those life-giving, breathtaking moments, we can all experience life the way God meant us to.
This morning, like most Sunday mornings, I went to church at Grace University Lutheran Church, LCM’s home. It was a lovely walk over and a beautiful service. Today, we sang and heard Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd. This morning, one verse in particular stood out to me.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
It seems a little odd, I’ll admit, thinking about the shadow of death on such a lovely and sunny morning. The ice is melting and life seems to be returning. However, if I’ve learned anything at college, it’s that our world is entirely unpredictable. Heart aneurysms happen. Suicides happen. Accidents happen. Life is incredibly fragile and we never know when we’ll be walking through the shadow of death.
But we never walk alone. God is with us through it all, although it’s easy to forget and oftentimes hard to see.
After Psalm 23, 23 read John 9:1-41, the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. Again, one line stood out to me.
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”
I don’t pretend to know why bad things happen. But in every situation, God is present and powerful.
Today, the sun shone and the birds chirped. At Grace, we celebrated Peg’s 100th birthday. God’s love is all around us, even when life is difficult and unexplainable.
This Past week, a small group of us from LCM joined the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition for their “Day on the Hill.” For this event we split into our districts and discussed the JRLC views on some of the hot topics being discussed this session by the MN Legislators. Some of the focused topics were those such as Pay Day Lending, Minimum wage, and housing. It was a very exciting experience to see so many people of different faiths coming together on issues of social justice in our community!
Thirteen years ago, a nine year old version of myself sobbed in an apartment in Paris after visiting Monet’s garden, which was something that I had been looking forward to for two whole years (which in my defense was over 20% of my life at that point). When asked why I was so upset I simply answered, “What do I have to look forward to now?” Because the truth of the matter is realizing your dreams is scary because what comes after that? In the movies there is usually uplifting music as the protagonist smiles to themselves or dances in the streets, the camera pans out and then the credits roll, and you as the viewer walk away also with a smile on your face. But in real life the credits don’t just roll, life goes on, and as the moment you were looking forward to is realized there is no momentous music, instead there is just confusion as you think to yourself, “So that just happened.” And I don’t say this to be a downer or point out the unrealistic expectations given to us by the media. Because we all deserve our momentous music and pan out shot (but you can make it happen, that is what iPods are for).
I say this because never has the confusion of reaching your dreams seemed more real than now, as I am 72 days away from graduating college. Because not long after that nine year old version of me wiped away her tears and returned to Minnesota she learned about college. In sixth grade I had a large book listing over 300 different colleges and their statistics. My goal was do well in middle school, so that I could get into honors classes in high school, and then do well in those classes and graduate from high school after getting into a good college. Do well in college, graduate and get a job. This list was long and had many things to check off and it spanned many years, but I am now 72 days away from completing that checklist.
Along the way I have had some, “so that just happened moments.” I got into college, I graduated from high school, I was fortunate enough at the end of last summer to receive a job offer from my internship, which was another large “so that just happened” moment. And I smiled to myself and imagined a pan out shot but part of me felt empty; because who was I if I wasn’t the person working towards having a full time job after college. The answer to that question was a person who still had two more semesters of college to complete. But as that part of my life comes to an end I am forced to face what comes after. Because according to many people I have consulted with life continues after college, many might say that is when it begins.
Because the things that have made up and that I have sought out in my life so far still will exist. An amazing community amongst friends, many of whom I know because of LCM, who make me feel like one of the luckiest human beings even when I am having a horrible week will still be there. I will still seek out success, it will just no longer come in the form of letter grades, which is a very freeing prospect. I’ve learned so much over the past four years about myself and how I want to live my life and be as a person, and I will continue learning even if I am not in school. New dreams will be made, and then will hopefully come true to make room for some new ones.
And hopefully I will have a lot more, “so that just happened” moments to come.
This semester LCM has decided to focus on hunger as an issue that faces the world and is in our heart as a community. As student leaders, we want to raise awareness within our community and put action into the conversations we have around hunger. When we first decided as leaders to focus on hunger as a justice issue in our community it lead me to reflect on my own experience witnessing hunger and poverty.
Describing my semester abroad in Argentina using a few words is close to impossible, but for the sake of this blog post, here’s what comes to mind: surprisingly spiritual, intense, growth, and community.
First of all, I saw some of the most breath-taking, absolutely stunning parts of the natural world that I never thought existed. Granted, I haven’t ventured much away from Midwestern US, but let me tell you… Argentina offers a lot in the department of natural beauty. Needless to say, I was spiritually moved at the mere sight of a lot of this beauty and was definitely able to feel God’s presence thoughout my travels
I was fortunate enough to volunteer in La Boca, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires known for its soccer team, poverty, and drug use among young people. In LCM, we talk a lot about where we see brokenness in our communities, and, at first, my volunteer organization was a clear example of brokenness. After getting to know the community members and the children, I decided to add ‘beautiful’ in front of the word ‘brokenness.’ God was clearly at work in this community, and although I said goodbye with a heavy heart, they left me feeling hopeful that poverty doesn’t have to be destiny.
I was absolutely blessed with a wonderful host family that was full of life and as much love as a cheesy sitcom. My host dad, Carlos, got sick at the end of October and was in the hospital for the remainder of my stay until he passed away the day before I got on my flight back to Minnesota… this is where the word intense comes in. Being present for such an emotionally intense experience in a family that wasn’t biologically mine took a little bit of patience and a lot of extra love.
The culture and lifestyle in Buenos Aires is something that I still find myself missing each day, but I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to spend an entire semester in such a surprising and alive city. SO THANKFUL. Because of these experiences, I had quite a bit of anxiety returning back to the US. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to bring my experiences back to my life here in Minnesota.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Returning to Minneapolis and to ‘real life,’ the LCM community has been my trampoline… bear with me here. Picture a crazy girl falling in slow motion down a waterfall, asking questions about God and life, yelling stories, and being frazzled (that’s me). The girl gets to the bottom of the waterfall and gracefully bounces off of the trampoline (LCM) back in to the questions, stories, and state of frazzleness. The girl feels encouraged to ask the questions, tell the stories, and be okay with feeling frazzled. She’ll keep bouncing up and down, trusting that the trampoline will let her rest for a moment before sending her back up… supporting her and being present the whole time.
Before going back to school for spring semester, a handful of us went on a retreat to Urban Immersion which is an organization based out of Minneapolis that provides volunteer opportunities along with learning about poverty all around us. This was a great experience for all of us because it not only brought our group closer together but also showed us how much work there still is to do in helping others acquire basic needs. It was really cool meeting people who were involved with volunteering and doing their part to help others, it was clear that they had a real passion.
One of the big things that struck me was how difficult it was to support a family with a low income. We did an exercise that simulated what it was like in different scenarios that many people that live in poverty face and it was not easy. It’s amazing how much money goes toward just the essentials, and then with unexpected factors such as illness, job loss, medical care, it seems like the problems never end. People who are poor often get the negative stigma that they are lazy, but I do not think that this is the case at all!
When many people think about hunger they think about third world countries but the reality is that it is in our own backyard. While we are worried about all the stuff we need to get done and homework that needs to be completed, there are people around us who are less fortunate and are suffering from hunger. It felt great to help out these organizations that do great things for people in need, but it is clear that there is much more that needs to be done.
Recently I have been thinking about vocation and what this world has to teach me after leaving the comfort of school. I’m hard pressed to think of a day in which the thought “what am I going to do with my life?” hasn’t crossed my mind. The realist in me refuses to fall into the romantic state of naivety in which I can leave college, find a job that will make a big difference in the world, and live happily ever after. I want to believe that it will be this easy, yet deep down I know that there is much more to be done. That change takes time and effort and can be incredibly draining. Yet all I want to do is follow this path. To change the brokenness I see around me.
This is part of the reason I participated in an Urban Immersion put on by the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches over winter break. During our few days there we were confronted with staggering statistics of poverty, hunger, and homelessness and taught about the current systems that cause such symptoms. When confronted with so many barriers it is hard not to be intimidated. After all, the easier path would be to ignore such things and go on with our lives. I came away from the experience with a lot to process which was immediately followed by a LCM leader retreat. It was at this retreat I was blessed with the prayer for discomfort (which you can read here). I was struck by one line in particular:
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world
There is so much power in this line, in this idea that foolishness is a valuable attribute. Often we are taught that foolishness has no place in the road to success, that it is in fact a distraction to be avoided. Foolishness more often than not connotes idiocy, rather than being seen as a catalyst for change. This prayer reminded me that in a world where brokenness is commonplace, a cure can be found in foolishness. The foolishness to overcome great struggles though the reward be small. The foolishness to fight systems deeply ingrained in our culture, to make them change despite great resistance. I like this idea that in the setting of academia and intellect that surrounds us at school, that perhaps the most useful attribute to help us find our vocation and direct our future is some simple foolishness. It is comforting to know that wrapping myself in naivety, when paired with hard work can yield a direction and hopefully change that if not meaningful on the large scale, will be meaningful to someone.