Leaning into the discomfort of not having answers, of not knowing the plan, has been the great struggle of my life. Fear, in so many forms, has taken over my mind more times than I can tell you.
Making friends with fear while distancing myself from it is a contradiction that can sometimes take all my energy and willpower.
I’m currently on a plane from Philly to New Orleans. Flying is terrifying for me. Fearful, intrusive thoughts begin days before I board the plane. It happened before orientation and during orientation, as I anticipated the flights to Stony Point and then back to NOLA. The thoughts would arise, especially during vespers at night, and I would resent them. If my first instinct was resentment, my second was acceptance. Every time a thought came up, I tried to remember Jesus saying, “Peace. Be still.” Be still and know that I am God. With all that said, I’m proud of myself. And so damn grateful to be alive.
I’m flying away from an intense week of YAV (dis)orientation in Stony Point, New York. I’m leaving with 68 new friends and, more importantly, a supportive and loving community. The unity we cultivated and the bonds we forged are beautiful. I am incredibly thankful for this program and the investment they and many others have made in us. We go forth to do the best we can with the tools we have.
YAV brought 68 of us, from many different parts of the country, to a common space and assured us: you are not needed. When we arrive at our placements, we are not needed. They are already doing good work; they’ve got it covered. This reminder is not what most “missionaries” keep at the forefront of their minds during their service. But I appreciated the truth. The charge for us to remain humble enough to realize they we are there to learn from our new community. Whether we like it or not, we will be consuming their precious resources. Training us takes time and energy. Each clarifying question takes focus away from the work being done. My presence for a mere year doesn’t make much of a dent. I get to walk away. Most of the adult students I’ll be tutoring this year do not have the freedom of movement that I possess. The ability to step out of a life and into a different one.
This week was intense. Our days were long and packed with information. The week started out with a day and half training session called Critical Cultural Competency. It was an anti-racism training that focused mainly on white supremacy and power arrangements in the US. The content was intriguing to me as I’ve been so interested in this topic anyways, but it delved deeper that I realized it would. I’d like to share 10 main takeaways from the training that I found valuable:
1. My liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people. Until all people experience equity and live a life that preserves dignity, I cannot live in integrity with myself.
2. Colorblindness is dangerous. In order to heal, you must become conscious of race and your thoughts surrounding it. We are complicit if we cannot see someone in their full identity.
3. I know nothing or very little. Assuming I know more is to blindly use my privilege. Always assume a learning posture.
4. Live in the discomfort of knowing that you can walk away at any moment. Become uncomfortable with this privilege and learn to be okay with being uncomfortable.
5. Let other people share their truth without inserting your own “understanding” or comparable story.
6. Be okay with no answers or resolution.
7. Be aware of the space you occupy in a room; ask yourself “Am I pushing my own agenda or can I step back and let someone else lead the way?” Practice analyzing your impact in a room.
8. Work on being a co-conspirator rather than an ally; an ally says, “I’m not that, but I’m still with you”, while co-conspirator says, “I have skin in the game and I’m willing to risk with you.” Bear the weight of your whiteness.
9. Practice WAIT: Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself, “Am I improving upon the silence or can I simply listen?”
10. Do your own internal work and practice following the leadership of people of color. Practice coming to the table rather than setting it.
I’m walking into my YAV year with these tools in my pocket and I hope to be intentional enough to use them every day.
As I sit here, I’m not quite sure how to name my current state of emotions. Like I said, the week was a lot. I’m messy and disoriented and I think that was the point. I can say I’m excited to be in New Orleans; every time I think about it, I get an electric shock that radiates into my gut. It’s visceral and real. I’m feeling a little anxious about walking into our home of seven, meeting three new housemates, and beginning our life together. I leaning into the anxiety because if I wasn’t nervous, it would mean I didn’t care.
I’m all in this thing. I’m showing up with my whole self, fears and insecurities still there, but not in control.
I want to end with a definition of “mission” that Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission Agency, gave us this week:
Following the border-crossing God in weaving mercy, peace, justice, and love in the common life of a God’s people in the way of Jesus Christ.
I am not going to New Orleans to save anyone. I am not going with new ideas. I am following God into this city to weave mercy, peace, justice, and love into the lives of all people because their liberation is bound up in mine. As I do this, I am actively trying to act in the way of Jesus Christ. Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director at Stony Point, said this week, “The act of trying is the most faithful thing you can do.” I fail over and over again, but I hold onto grace.
When I figure out how I’m feeling and where I am right now, I’ll get back to you. For now I bask in the light of love and grace.
“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
– Micah 6:8