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This is why we tell our stories

Planning a conference is a lot like baking bread.

I’ve never actually made bread, but I’ve been watching Great British Baking Show, so I think that counts.

You start with the slow build up of planning months in advance. The hurry-up-and-wait period when your dough is proving and nothing feels too urgent yet. The week prior is a little hectic, like deciding when to take your dough out of the proving drawer. Then comes the week of the event when you knead out the minor details and get everything set up for the big day. Finally, it’s go-time. You throw it all in the oven and hope for the best. If you’ve adequately prepared, everything should bake evenly, but sometimes there are surprises. As long as you’ve used the right ingredients—i.e. brought in the right speakers, structured a reasonable schedule—your bread should, if nothing else, end up tasting fine.

At least, this is my experience as the intern for Missional Voices.

MV18

I’ll spare you the details of the months leading up to our Gathering, as we like to call it, but I want to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it all went down.

Let me start by saying I had no reference point for this Gathering, being that I just jumped in as the Missional Voices intern last year. But after hearing from the rest of the team and paying attention to the general vibe of things on our side, I definitely believe this Gathering went more smoothly than some of those in the past. I’d like to attribute a lot of that success to our fantastic hosts at Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, IN. Special shout-out to Dean Stephen Carlsen and Urban Missioner Lee Curtis for making us feel right at home and then some. Pretty much everything we needed to make our expectations a reality was on-site and ready to go when we arrived. I cannot thank them enough.

The Gathering kicked off with Eucharist followed by the keynote address from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry himself. This was the fourth time I’d seen him over the course of my internship, so I feel like we’re pretty good friends at this point. He set the tone for the remainder of the day, which consisted of a keynote panel conversation and a response from Andrew Waldo, the bishop of the Diocese of  Upper South Carolina, all revolving around the theme of racial reconciliation. The rest of the week was spent listening to stories about hearing God’s call and seeing God in action in a variety of contexts, whether it be through community organizing or planting a church or even throwing a party (thanks, DeAmon Harges, aka “The Roving Listener”).

I was a busy bee throughout the week occupying my time with taking photos and managing our Instagram, but I was still able to hear most of the talks. I’m especially grateful I was present for both Bishop Waldo’s keynote response and Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows’ (Diocese of Indianapolis) sermon at the closing Eucharist. These two events bookended our Gathering but, when taken together, provided what I believe was the most powerful and compelling connection of the whole week. In short, both of these bishops—Waldo, a white man, Baskerville-Burrows, a black woman—had been on opposite ends of the racial divide and shared stories of a pivotal moment that happened to them at the age of 12: Waldo had called a black classmate the n-word, Baskerville-Burrows had been spit on by a white man. Waldo’s keynote response by itself was a thoughtful and heart-wrenching retelling of a time when he, as a young boy who himself was bullied, knew the wrong he had done, the pain he had caused to another human being, and then went on to work through that on a journey of reconciliation, which cause him to write a letter to the girl he hurt. But when Baskerville-Burrows shared two days later how at that same age she had been on the receiving end of discrimination and hate, I was moved to tears. How incredible that she was there in the same place hearing his story, knowing how it feels to be that little girl.

This instance was no coincidence but rather the work of the Spirit that calls us to be vulnerable so that our human connections might be deepened and strengthened. Vulnerability in storytelling is a way in which we can participate in God’s work in the world. To be open and reconciled to one another and with God, that is God’s mission for us. How we choose to engage is dependent upon our spiritual gifts and our willingness to trust that God is good and continues to act in our world through us and with us.

-Katelyn, Missional Voices, 2017-18

Texas ESC: Recovery Corps

In response to Hurricane Harvey, Texas ESC will be partnering with organizations in Galveston County to aid in recovery, rebuilding, and reforming community. We believe that there is immense value in learning about what relief, recovery, and coping look like in the wake of natural disaster.

This is an extension of the service our members are doing in Houston and we are excited to see how this work shapes our ESC community. These service opportunities will begin in our 2018-2019 program year, starting in August. More information about our Galveston County partner sites can be found here.

If you or a young adult you know is interested in applying for ESC, our application can be found here.

Self Acceptance on a Budget

*Contents of this post include experiences with an eating disorder.*

I honestly couldn’t tell you when I first developed my eating disorder. I have a feeling that it all began sometime around the age of six or seven, but sometimes it seems as though I came out of the womb balking at the idea of being 7.2 ounces.

To be specific, I suffer from a disorder called “Orthorexia nervosa.” Unlike Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia, this disorder is marked by an obsessive concern with exercise and the perceived “cleanliness” or “purity” of foods. Basically, if I had all the money in the world, my pantry would look almost exactly like Gwyneth Paltrow’s. Now, one may wonder why this is such a bad thing. After all, isn’t it good to want to eat healthy foods and go to the gym?

Not always. At my worst, I will dream about healthy recipes, have nightmares about eating mountains of cinnamon buns (which sounds absolutely amazing now that I’ve recovered), and cannot for the life of me shut up about diet and exercise despite the fact that I can see my friends become bored, irritated, and concerned with my unceasing Women’s Health jargon. My body, for all intents and purposes, becomes the only part of me that I care about.

My last relapse was over two years ago now, and for a long time, I was too afraid to begin cooking. Too afraid to buy produce or bread just in case I began scouring labels for nutritional content again, or tried to purge all unhealthy fats from my diet. In order to avoid this eventuality, I decided to simply live off prepackaged foods, avoid exercise, and simply try not to think about my body. This strategy worked, though I felt more sluggish than usual, until I arrived in Houston, was handed my monthly grocery card, and was told that it couldn’t be used for pre-packaged foods. Crap.

For the first few months, I struggled. I ordered takeout on my own dime and struggled to decipher the loopholes of “prepackaged food.” If I bought my beloved Annie’s Mac and Cheese, was I exploiting the system? Was I really going to be able to last the year without either destroying my bank account or my sense of self-worth? Am I strong enough for this?

Spoiler Alert: I am! I’ll admit, it took some time, but with the help of my housemate, and lots of embarrassing internal pep talks, I’ve been able to incorporate both large amounts of produce, healthy fats, and goodies from the discount pastry section (the best section of all!) into my daily routine. By being forced to prepare my own food, and by building a support system to hold me accountable, I’ve come farther in my journey to self-acceptance and balance than I ever have before.

I’m able to go on walks and idly check my Health app on my iPhone without feeling the irresistible drive to add miles upon miles to the step-counter. I can gleefully purchase a tub of banana pudding without ever once feeling the desire to put it back on the shelf.

And let me tell you, I’m feeling pretty damn good.

-Valerie, Avenue CDC in Houston.

Community: the Catalyst to a Loving and Courageous Humanity

If you were to ask friends of mine what some of my favorite things to talk about are, I’m pretty sure that community would be one of them. Community is one of my favorite concepts. It is something that is not only meaningful to me, but that I am passionate about. When I look at the world around me, I wonder what could be the solutions to these distressing circumstances; I think community might be one of them.

My beliefs around community come from my spiritual practice. It actually is one of the pillars of my faith. One of Jesus’ main teachings I believe was around community, its importance, what it means and looks like, to understand that we are all a community, and that in loving, supporting, and taking care of each other we actually manifest God(dess)’s vision of the kin-dom on earth in the beloved community. This is also evident in other religions as well. Jesus was challenging the preconceived notions of who is our family, who are our neighbors. This is displayed in the way that Jesus interacted with people, in what Jesus taught, in the way that Jesus lived. Expanding care not only to our own but to others (consider the parable of the Good Samaritan), particularly in our current context where the emphasis is on the nuclear family being the main or only source of how we find and glean support, seems alternative. We have significantly limited ourselves in the ways that we can live more fulfilling, expansive lives without the support of a community to be present and journey alongside with us.

Community is about connecting with others in a way where there is investment and intention in the process of building relationships with each other. What if we did this more? What if we had a priority and deep value around creating and sustaining community? How differently would our world and society function? What challenges could be overcome, what ills would our world be healed from if we engaged in community? How would isolation, loneliness, stigmas, misunderstandings be diminished and compassion be manifested differently if we cultivated community and it was an integral part of our lives?

Community, if done well and in harmony with the positive aspects of it, can be powerful and radically life-giving. Enemies can even become allies through this endeavor. I believe that willingness to invest in a community is what makes a community, and seemingly disharmonious factors can develop positive outcomes. This mutual effort can make a big difference in how well a community will function and intentionality will determine its fruits towards the individuals that comprise it. Living intentionally and in community means vulnerability with each other and this invest of transparency can be greatly impactful. By creating safe spaces for folks to be themselves, we can encourage genuineness of self. I believe that change must have these components and come from such a place; it not only changes us, but it can in turn change the world.

Through my intentional community experience, I have learned much about other people and also about myself. I have appreciated the sharing of stories, backgrounds, and personalities. There have definitely been challenges but given the opportunity it has also been a safe space pursued, created, and valued by all to do the hard work of introspection and of genuine relating. I have been fortunate enough to have had wonderful communities in my life, from my friend community, to my faith communities, my learning community, to being a part of intentional communities. They have been what sustains me on this life journey and feel blessed when they are part of my life. I am not only who I am through of them, but it has allowed me to do better, reach higher, and dig deeper because of them.

As a year with another intentional community comes to a close, I reflect on the various factors and elements that have contributed to its success and its mishaps. I am grateful that I can live out my vocation of living in intentional community through this past service year and continue to learn what it means to be someone who comes alongside others as we individually grow and then extend that to create connections of support and care in ways that transforms us; may this continue to be the catalyst to a more loving and courageous humanity, where we are can fully embraced and fully known.

-Austin Corps Member

Little Things Add Up

My placement was nearly last minute and came out of the blue. St. Michael’s came on board to host me not two weeks before I was supposed to arrive in Austin. As a result, my job description was fairly loose and flexible. It made sense considering what my history of being a youth leader, a camp counselor, and a coordinator at a campus ministry. I looked forward to working in difference areas and going deeper into what it means to be church in today’s times.

It seemed everything fell into place. I was helping with Sunday School and youth group, helping form a non-traditional church, and coordinating an effort to help feed poor families on Thanksgiving (We raised upwards of $1000 which fed about a hundred families). I even got to preach twice. I was finding my place.

In February, though, everything changed. Our rector retired, we lost our communications specialist and our parish administrator (We hired another one soon after but we lost that person as well for reasons I won’t state). It was the four of us on staff shouldering a lot of the weight of those lost positions that kept the church running smoothly And…honestly…it involved a lot of things I didn’t like doing. Things like typing up newsletters, making sure thermostats are set, answering the phone and trying toprovide answers to questions I may or may not know the answer to, among some other things. Essentially, making sure the church ran smoothly largely depended upon some of my duties. I was working with a small margin for error.

It was and still is a bit draining, especially when it interfered with teaching responsibilities around the confirmation class I taught a few sessions of and the bible study I was leading that fizzled out as a result. But in the midst of transition, the best you can do is keep on with what you are doing. And there are some little things I was able to do that did some real good such as:

-Served at Community First Village with our confirmation class

-Set up our refugee ministries with an interview with a news reporter from Ireland

-Started making weekly orders for our Food Pantry

-And in a few days, I leave for a mission trip to Los Angeles, CA.

My main worksite duties were not ideal for me, but I gained some valuable skills that will help me greatly down the road. Things like learning how to budget my time, getting better with word documents, how to compartmentalize,  I had a few bad habits that I needed to deal with and I was able to correct them to a degree. I realized how much energy I had and what I was capable of. Then again, if it was easy I wouldn’t have grown and I’m always grateful for experiences that help me grow.

-Will, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Austin

Forgiveness as Radical Act?

I remember as a child being taught to say “sorry”, an important tenet along with with “please” and “thank you” in the mix of learning numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. It was something that was understood was needed to interact with others, even if superficially. As adults, we say sorry when we bump into someone or even slightly inconvenience a stranger. We may say sorry when we have wronged a partner or spouse. What we see on television are sometimes melodramatic scenes of intense emotions with begging, sobbing, and flowers. Though at times done in passing, apologies and forgiveness as a deeper concept is one that I think often eludes us. We understand its value, but are not quite sure how to navigate its messiness. It’s a deeply vulnerable act, one fraught at times with fear and anxiety and from a place of startling honesty. It seems simple enough: the idea is that we needed to be mindful of others, that we needed to own our mistakes and acknowledge them, and make it right with the person we have wronged, sometimes including ourselves. But like many good things, it’s easier said than done.

We have to come to a place of transparency with ourselves when we have done something that we know was not the best. There are moments when that comes on suddenly, like a pit in our stomach, other times it lingers and the realization comes after awhile, and then there are the situations when someone lets us know that something is not right. In all these instances, our sense of self is shaken. It is difficult to admit that we are not perfect or right; this is not only the case with ourselves but then to show that “weakness” to others feels mortifying, uncomfortable, distressing even.  Going through this process takes a lot of courage and even with repeated effort, each instance is a challenge.

So how do we integrate this into our daily lives when society talks about the need for forgiveness and the role it should play in our relationships, yet in our society when we look around we don’t see it really encouraged, supported, or even celebrated? We see these rare, magnificent instances where we are in admiration when someone or group of people participate in the work of forgiveness, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Quakers forgiving the perpetrator of a school shooting, or any other victims forgiving their assailants for tragic events expressed during press conferences. We live in a world that values retribution. If someone has done something wrong, they must pay the price and reap the consequences. Forgiveness is a tricky and complex thing.  Should there always be ramifications for actions and/or words of wrongdoing? Are there things that are easy to forgive or excusable or ones that are unforgivable? Do we forgive and forget? What does it mean to forgive and not forget? How does forgiveness or lack thereof impact us? Personally? Relationally? Spiritually? Psychologically?

Sadly this is not something that can be fully delved into here but I want to remind us of the importance and how imperative forgiveness is. I believe that forgiveness, in its truest and most authentic form, is actually a radical act, that goes against logical or the mythical weighing scale of rights and wrongs, which is our natural tendency. It is the anecdote to genuine and transparent relationships, between ourselves and others. It is a powerful force. One of Jesus’ core messages was about forgiveness, and people either were in awe and scoffed at him for such an idea. How different would our world be if we actually prioritized and practiced forgiveness? What if we took the time to examine and forgive ourselves for the things that we regret and keep holding on to that impede us from moving forward, stepping out and living life more fully? What would happen if we were more honest and open with/about those who have hurt us? What if we could share/engage with our pain and then go through the process of healing from these wounds? …whether we ever talk to a person and get an apology? Forgiveness has the power to restore or to destroy us, if we choose not to be partake in it. It is not neutral. We must choose which path we will take, each day as we navigate the various relationships in our lives. We must make forgiveness truly a tenet in our lives if we wish to live in to the teachings of Jesus, if we want to live lives that are liberating, whole, and full of love. There will be challenges, there will be frustration, and there will be setbacks. But as we know nothing good comes easy. May we be given the grace, courage, and strength to pursue our calling to fulfill our life’s work of reconciliation.

-Austin corps member

Our Hearts Should Do This More

I sit in the streets with the homeless

My clothes stained with the wine

From the vineyards the saints tend.

Light has painted all acts

The same color 

So I sit around and laugh all day

With my friends.

At night if I feel a divine loneliness

I tear the doors off Love’s mansion

And wrestle God onto the floor.

He becomes so pleased with Hafiz

And says,

“Our hearts should do this more.”

~ by Hafiz, “Our Hearts Should Do This More”

A thought that I keep reflecting on and has been coming back to me over and over again lately is the human capacity for such love, compassion, generosity and but also that of such hatred, unkindness, hurt. My mind is boggled by the fact that such contrasting aspects can co-exist within us. Let me explain.

It would be hard to deny that the current larger narrative going on in our society that has been brought to the forefront and been filled with, at the root, is one of the struggle of creating and navigating the boundary/idea of who is our neighbor, who is in our “group” and who is “other.” This is not a new struggle but age-old and I think one that Jesus not only cared deeply about, but was one of the pillars of his message. However, an aspect that I believe is not as explored and is often unspokenly assumed, I would argue mostly subconsciously, is that something that fuels this process, is the belief that what distinguishes us/them is the belief that at the core someone else is inherently different than ourselves, that they are evil and we are good.

There is a psychological principle that has demonstrated that when we view someone doing something we disagree with, we often attribute this to someone’s character and personality, while if we were to do something of a similar vain, we attribute this to our circumstances and don’t see it as part of our intrinsic sense of self. If this is the case, we give ourselves grace when we mess up, but are less likely to do so with others. When we hear of others committing atrocities or read news about groups of people and deem them wrong, we are essentially saying that we are not like them at all, that we would never do this or that, or even have the capacity for such acts. Based on this conception and perception, we decide that there is a division between us and these other individuals and we start to categorize, using these as indicators of who is in and who is out, who we are like and who we are not like.

However, have you had a moment when you have wondered, “Why did I do that? This was not a stellar display of positive humanity.” I think we often forget these moments or minimize them. We often choose to not focus or give clout to these times or feelings and experiences. If we did, we would be reminded and realize that we in fact to some extent do have the capacity for things and actions that make us uncomfortable, that we are not proud of, or that we disagree with. The question is what we choose to do with this knowledge and realization. Will we choose to continue to negate the full spectrum of human capacity, whether positive or negative, or will we humbly acknowledge that we also aren’t always living our best selves towards others and ourselves? If we would do the latter, how would that change the way we interact with and view other people, would we change our views on who is like us or different from us? Are we willing to live in the murkiness of this truth, to struggle and constantly humble ourselves to engage and be aware that the lines are not as hard defined, not as clear-cut, not as definite, not only in regards to others, but also within ourselves? How would this change the way we discuss with other people we disagree with? Politically? Religiously? Socially?

May we give ourselves and others grace to navigate this journey of understanding that what seemingly divides us may actually connect us, and that in doing we are doing the Spirit’s holy work within us as well as creating the beloved community.