I’m currently studying abroad in Israel at the University of Haifa and have been here about two months. In that time I have seen where Jesus lived and died, visited sites holy to millions across the globe of many faiths, and experienced history stretching back thousands of years. It has been truly awe-inspiring.
Among it all, though, I believe the most memorable and impacting moments will still stem from the people I have met along the way and the profound conversations we have had. And for that, I need to thank Kate and LCM.
Within days of being in this new country, I found myself in deep conversations about religion, politics, identity, all extending far past the surface chit-chat that generally occupies the early space of acquaintances. I hadn’t realized the rarity of this until one of my roommates (from Boston) pointed out: “You ask the questions all of us are wondering but are too afraid to ask.”
I thought about that for a bit, then I thought back to one-to-one conversation training during LCM leader training a couple years ago. We learned there to take that extra step and ask the questions that might not be entirely comfortable. People are often very willing to descend past the surface level with you very quickly.
I no longer think of conversations in relation to this one-to-one training, but evidently it has become engrained in my manner of forming relationships. I have friendships here based in our ability to discuss our differing perspectives instead of acquaintances intent on skirting around them. I have learned about identities from Arab-Israelis, Jewish-Israelis, an American Messianic Jew, and a Guyanese whose family converted from Christianity to Judaism. And in the coming months I will continue to deepen these relationships and form new ones with the vast array of people this small country attracts and forms.
So this is my thank you to you, Kate, and to everyone involved in LCM for promoting such an open, curious, and respectful community that extends far beyond the University of Minnesota campus.
Cancun, Playa del Carmen, the Maya Riviera: all popular Mexican spring break destinations flooded by college students every March. So which Mexican destination did a few lucky LCMers choose? That’s right, Palenque, a rural town in the Southeastern state of Chiapas. Our experience could not have been further away from the resort vacations of our collegiate friends. Through the organization called Amextra, students spent a muggy hot week learning about Mexican culture through a variety of meetings with non-profit groups, locals from rural villages, and university students from a local college. In a week of amazing experiences, perhaps the most impressionable was a visit to the Immigrant House in downtown Palenque.
Immigrant houses, like that in Palenque, dot the railways through Mexico, offering refuge for Central American and Mexican immigrants alike on their long journey to the States. As a Midwesterner, I had never really been confronted with immigrant issues, and considered myself to be fairly neutral on policy. Yet on our trip to Chiapas I found myself immersed completely in the issues and people they involve. The nuns who run the house explained to us the tremendous violence towards immigrants and extreme danger each faces on their journey. These men and women ride atop passing freight trains, with the hope of finding a job in the States to make enough money to return and support their families. Only about 3 in 1000 actually make it to the United States, many are caught and sent back to their home country, or killed by organized crime. At this point in the conversation we found ourselves surrounded by every single person who currently inhabited the house. Young men, older men, a young women, first time immigrants, and men who had been in the states for years only to be deported, each with their own heartbreaking stories and dreams.
We were told the story of a man who had lived in Salt Lake City for 13 years and had been deported only 10 days prior to our meeting. The story of another man who left his girlfriend in Arizona after he was deported. The stories of others who only wanted to work for a strong American dollar in order to provide for their families. How many times had I heard that immigrants were in the States, taking jobs from hard working Americans? Yet here I was staring into the faces that so many Americans feared as job competition. And let me tell you, it was hard to keep any validity to this argument.
Hearing these stories I came to a simple yet profound realization. We are all people. All children of God. We all want the best for those we love. We all want to be able support and provide for them. Yet we put up so many barriers, ways to separate and privilege one person over another, when clearly the only difference between me and any of these people was that I was blessed to be born on the side of the dividing line that doesn’t require a life threatening journey to be hired. If only the citizens of our country could experience what we were blessed to experience, perhaps we could change the discrimination and danger that these men and women face. While policy is not always so black and white, the need for change and justice is undeniable. For equality among all of God’s children, whether they be born into a small Midwestern suburb or a village in Honduras, each deserves the opportunity to simply provide for those they love. By bringing back these stories we can put a face to the issue, combating an argument that paints our fellow human beings as competition. We bring these experiences back so the unfair barriers we put up between one another may begin to be broken down and change may come.
Change — something that I have never particularly been fond of. I’m a creature of habit and love the sense of security that comes with it. I am also very analytical, so when it comes to making a decision, my brain flies wild trying to factor in way too many things. Propagating potential outcomes way too far out for any accuracy — and continually converging to the realization that there are too many unknown variables!!
A few years ago on a LCM retreat, I don’t remember exactly who, but someone mentioned this phrase, and it has stuck with me ever since:
There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.
I have been coming to terms with the fact that in order for me to grow, I need to step outsize of my comfortable Minnesota undergraduate life and into a very exciting but scarily unknown California graduate life. I have explored lots of the possible factors (taken graduate courses, performed research, explored the city, visited the campus, met with students and faculty) but I am still hesitant to make it final. To sign the acceptance letter (yikes!). To move to California (so far away!) for 5+ years (really long time!). To pursue a Ph.D (really difficult!). It’s overwhelming to think too much about.
Through my endless self-doubts and stressful decision making process, I still have had a great sense of comfort and support. And what ever happens tomorrow, a month or a year from now, I know that I will always have a little bit of my comfort zone with me where ever I go. God has brought such an amazing support system into my life (LCM, friends, family) that I know will be with me every step of the way — and words cannot express my gratefulness for that. Even in times of great change, I know that I can trust in the Lord to be that sense of security as I venture into the unknown.
The Prayer of Good Courage from Mountain Vespers (Kent Gustavson) has been a wonderful blessing to me to remember this:
Oh God you have called us | To ventures where we cannot see the end | By paths never yet taken | Through perils unknown | Give us good courage | Not knowing where we go | To know that your hand is leading us | Wherever we might go | Amen
This past week was spring break for the University of Minnesota –Twin Cities. Typically at this time many college age students flock to warm, tropical places like Florida or Mexico (not unlike some LCMers that went to Oaxaca). However, there were some students that decided to spend their spring break in sunny, warm Minneapolis, MN (not only did it snow earlier in the week, but it wasn’t all that warm or sunny…) to be a part of an Urban Immersion program through the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. Despite the lack of sunshine and warmth, the experiences had through the Urban Immersion program were eye-opening and thought provoking.
On the first night at Urban Immersion we met a wonderful group of Catholic students from St. Steven’s at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). We talked about service and justice, defined these terms, and applied their meanings in the world in which we live. One of the UNI students talked about the two-step approach to service and justice. It was explained something like this: in order to walk a person needs two feet, similarly there needs to be a two-step approach for justice and service in order for progress to be made. One foot is justice, which we defined as advocacy and fixing the problem that is causing the injustice, and the other foot is direct service, which is providing people in need with the services needed such as food, shelter, and in some cases home furnishings. Both of these “feet” are needed to help people in need so that the cycle of poverty may be broken.
The next evening we took part in a poverty simulation where a small group of students acted as a family of five. We were in charge of spending the parent’s combined salary of $3,000/month (the father made $11.50/hour and the mother made $10/hour –reasonable starting wages in the Twin Cities) to provide housing, transportation, health care, child care, clothing, and entertainment for the family. Throughout the simulation there were many difficulties that arose that emulated what life is like living in poverty, living paycheck to paycheck. At the end of the simulation not one group was able to break even although many cost saving techniques were utilized. This activity shed so much light on the brokenness within our current system – high costs of living and low minimum wages (it was calculated that an appropriate minimum wage should be $14/hour), poor transportation to the areas that need public transit the most, and inadequate health care coverage. This exercise made me indignant towards the injustices strewn about our system. How can a family that is doing honest work and trying so desperately to make ends meet not be able to break even?
Throughout this Urban Immersion experience we were in contact with individuals that live the life of the simulation family every day. We met people through Bridging (a home furnishings organization for immigrants and people with permanent housing), Loaves and Fishes (a community meal program at River of Life Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis), and St. Anne’s (a Hennepin county women’s shelter in North Minneapolis). In my mind, these people put a face and a life story to poverty. These are the people that need the system to change the most, but the system will not change unless there are people to advocate for system reform. To me, a few of the salient issues that need addressing include higher minimum wage requirements, access to more affordable housing, and better transportation to lower income areas such as North Minneapolis. However, these issues will not change unless there are people to advocate for them to change. After this Urban Immersion experience I am further convinced that advocating for others is how the cycle of poverty can be broken. It will take a lot of effort, time, and attempts to try to change a broken system and the minds of people, but ultimately this will result in a better quality of life for all, a healthier Minnesota, and potentially a healthier America. One footstep, followed by another footstep…
What is an angel? I recently had a lengthy conversation with my Lenten small group about what an angel is, and wanted to share some thoughts.
Growing up, I always pictured an angel as a glowing figure clothed in white, with a glittering halo around their head, floating up in the clouds as they delivered God’s message. If you asked me for an example of an angel, I would probably just list Gabriel, the angel that tells Mary that she will become pregnant. I might have also mentioned the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but I hadn’t thought much farther about angels than that.
We talked about how angels are messengers, and help people to understand God’s will. This description fits the angel Gabriel, as well as Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” but what if this is expanded beyond the bible, into our lives? Are there still angels today? I like the way that we talked about it in our small group. With this definition, there is nothing about wings or halos, which allows us to expand our understanding of angels to people that we meet in our lives.
There are so many people that I talk to, whether it be for a moment, or for hours, that help me to gain some clarity on the events in my life. I also have people who are by my side through the toughest times who have given me strength and helped me to see the light through the tunnel. I believe that these people are angels. They don’t need to be in a white cloak or shimmering, I can tell through their actions.
I am immensely grateful that God has blessed me with these angels in my life, and hope that I can be as instrumental in the lives of others.
The words of Francesca Battistelli’s song “Angel By Your Side” come to mind as I reflect on the angel’s I encounter daily:
“I’ll be the angel by your side
I will get you through the night
I’ll be the strength you can’t provide on your own
‘Cause when you’re down and out of time
And you think you’ve lost the fight
Let me be the angel
The angel by your side”
College is a time in which we choose our identity; or so society tells us. After all one of the first questions a student is asked is ‘what are you studying?’ The reason for this being that the answer to this question is meant to indicate what you want to do with your life. And for the longest time, this question and my answer to this question infuriated me. Because aren’t I more than my major?
The answer to this question for me is that I am an Electrical Engineering student. But I am also a musical theater lover, which doesn’t quite go along with Electrical Engineering. But alas I am a musical theater lover and have been completely enamored with Broadway since I saw my first Broadway show when I was eleven. But I have a ‘problem’ in which my skill level and passion level are completely disproportionate as shown in the figure below.
For the longest time I have been upset with God because why would he give me something that I was so passionate about but no skill. I felt like a kid being paraded through a candy or a toy story and being told to look but not touch.
I was reminded of this fact this past January when over break I went to New York City with my Mom. One of the things that we did was a tour about Broadway, walking around and learning about the theaters and their history, which I just loved! But at one point during this someone asked, “so do you study theater?” and my mom answered for me, “No, it is just a hobby.”
And although these words were 100% true and meant in no maliciousness, I kind of felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Because a hobby is something that is off to the side. It is separate and not as important as your ‘real life.’ But musical theater is my passion. So then once again I found myself asking, while smiling and nodding, “Why God Why?” (and yes that is a reference to a song from the musical Miss Saigon).
And it wasn’t until last week at Pause and reflecting since then that I realized why. A hobby isn’t a little thing, it is our passions, and what we choose to do outside of what we have to do. If anything they define us more than anything else. God gave me the mind of an engineer (after all not many people use graphs in their blogs). But God also gave me something to love, something to be passionate about, and something that gives me joy. And for that I thank him.
So let’s start with the back story: I was blessed last semester by the introduction of a new coworker to my store. She was only with us for 8 months, but in that time she became a very big, positive part of our Starbucks family. She transferred away last week and her absence was instantly felt, but one coworker formed the perfect description of her while discussing how we missed her: “She’s the ‘goodest’ person I know. Everything in her is good, all the way through.”
This idea of being ‘good all the way through’ has been on my mind a lot lately. Especially in this time of Lent when we’ve been talking about this 180 turn. Turning 180 degrees, looking to God, and looking at ourselves. Examining who we are, who we strive to be, or what’s getting in the way of us being that person we want to be? What can we siphon out or factor into our lives to help us live out that good person inside us?
Well…tonight at Pause when everybody broke into stations and music began, my contemplation on this ‘good all the way through’ thing took a turn. As I picked up a matchbook to light a candle,I realized that Take Oh Take Me As I Am, was being played on the piano. It hit me with memories of LCM friends that are now, maybe forever, far away. So I lit my candle, the thought of blessed friends on my mind, and I looked around. I looked at all the people around me that have come to mean so much. The group of students that has grown so much- full of people that are willing to love from the inside- out, be vulnerable, be honest. Students, new and old, making honest and brave attempts to form intentional relationships with new people….this is where I see God. I was struck, sitting there, as I realized that I was surrounded by GOOD. So. Much. Good. All the way through.
So this is one of the best things I’ve seen in this 180 Lenten turn around- my immense gratitude for the group of people around me, for the space that has been created for us in this church, and for the realization of all the goodness that lives in the people around me.
So it’s getting to be the middle of the semester, about the time I start to get stressed. Between schoolwork, planning for summer, figuring out living situations for next year, applying to scholarships, and all the other hustle and bustle of being a student, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Just a tad. Or a lot.
At pause this week, Pastor Kate asked us to think about what things were separating us from God and from the person God made us to be. And I realized that I worry about a lot of things. And that this worrying is keeping me from living my life in the fullest, like God intended. My home pastor once described worrying as a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Which is how I’m feeling right now. Worrying is keeping me busy. But it isn’t taking me anywhere.
And while I realize this, it’s really hard for me to give up worrying. Believe me, I’ve tried! I try to remember Matthew 6:25-34, the lilies of the field passage.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his ispan of life?28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
But then I get to thinking, that’s fine and good for those lilies, but they don’t have student loans! Or exams! Or papers! Or friendships that need tending! It seems like an unfair comparison.
I guess I don’t actually have an answer to that one. As I say all the time at work, “I’m just a student. I don’t actually know what’s going on.” I do know, though, that I always come back to this one line (maybe because it’s the last one). “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” So for this Lent, I want to make a better effort to turn away from worrying. Because rocking chairs are inefficient forms of transportation.
-Meghan with the H