As of January 11th, I will no longer be at my crappy, crappy job. I am the new assistant director of a program downtown, which will take like 3 hours a day off my commute, and will save what is left of my vocational sanity. Woot!
"Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer."--Dorothy Day
As of January 11th, I will no longer be at my crappy, crappy job. I am the new assistant director of a program downtown, which will take like 3 hours a day off my commute, and will save what is left of my vocational sanity. Woot!
(1) Decided not to go to my high school reunion, without guilt or strain.
(2) Started teaching Sunday school. Granted most weeks there is only one kid in my class, but she is maybe my favorite kid so it's good. And it provides me with levity that my life is often lacking...and opportunities to sing 'the Noah Song' (as seen on Ugly Betty) at the top of my lungs and to discuss the actual location of Santaland (which is neither in Zimbabwe nor in New Jersey).
(3) Got the tattoo I've wanted since I was 20 or so.
(4) Found the job that is the reason I became a social worker, and it is nothing like I thought it would be. I am exhausted and at times overwhelmed by the gravity of it, but I know that I am doing something good and worthwhile.
(5) Reconnected with friends I have dearly missed.
(6) Made new friends who I adore.
(7) Celebrated a 10th Friendiversary (or friendship anniversary).
(8) Have fully moved on, and started over.
(9) Have begun to let go...just a little bit.
I've decided that 29 will be the year I become outwardly edgy. Don't ask why, as I have no idea. And I'm not sure yet what this will include, but I'll let you know as it progresses.
"The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist."
It's a sad, sad state of affairs when you have to subversively introduce your children to the Cookie Monster who is actually a monster with a great love of cookies, the Oscar who is allowed to just be grouchy without being diagnosable, and the Big Bird is allowed to have a very large friend who no one else sees. We miss you, Snuffy.
I have come to realize after doing this work fo a few years, that about every six months I hit a valley. It is what we in the biz call "Compassion Fatigue." Really, that's just the polite way of saying that I am so tired of being shat on from every direction (very graphic, I know). I am always hesitant to actually speak about the work that I do, because I feel there is a danger of making me look like a saint or a martyr. This is not what I want. I did not choose this work, I feel. It chose me. A friend of mine recently wrote to me (paraphrased and taken entirely out of context) "Casey, you've been through alot of shit in your life." I have, there's no way around that. And because of this, my head works in a different way than it otherwise would. I am ever-aware of the sadness and desperation around me and at times if feels like I am drowning in it. And I have used my work as a means to learn how to swim, or to at least tread water.
I wrote this a few weeks ago...
According to our friends at Wikipedia (who know everything) "[compassion fatigue] results from the taxing nature of showing compassion for someone whose suffering is continuous and unresolvable. One may still care for the person as required by policy, however, the natural human desire to help them is no longer there." I don't know if this actually describes what I'm feeling, but it's a bit of this. I'll give you an example, albeit an extreme example, of one of my days. A couple of weeks ago, I went to work at my full-time job and did that, openly discussed the perceived mental illness of a patient who I believe to have been manipulating me for weeks and others in the system for years, was told that the fact that I am reserved and not that social with my co-workers makes me a bad social worker, and then went home to take a nap before going to my second job. Then an hour later, I woke up and went to work. At work that night I picked up four people from the street and took them to shelters, some of these places among the most horrific I've ever seen. Then I went home and slept for a couple of hours, and as this was Saturday I went to work at my food coop. Instead of my office job, I ended up working at a soup kitchen which was drastically understaffed. After working two hours longer than I was scheduled to, I went to get on the train to go see friends in Hoboken to watch a football game that UT would then lose. As I was swiping my card to get on the train, a man asked me if I had a quarter. I did not and I said so honestly. He asked me if I had anything else, and I reached into my pocket where I had three pennies. I said "All I've got is three pennies." and I handed it to him. I do understand that three pennies is very little to give someone, and it really won't get you much of anything, but still it is something. But as I walked away, I heard the man throw my pennies on the ground and walk away to ask someone else for a quarter. I was furious. I may or may not have called him an asshole. I don't know if this is excusable or not, but that was my breaking point. I had spent roughly 24 of the previous 36 hours working with the homeless. I was terribly exhausted, as I had slept about 4 hours in that time. And I had more than once been told that what I was giving was not enough when I knew most assuredly that I could give no more.
And then the valley got a bit deeper and I lost it a little. I yelled at my boss (my version of yelling, which isn't really yelling as I don't yell). I heaved and sobbed, within an inch of quitting my job. And then I started, once again, looking for new work. As I am a part-time worker at my second job, I am weekly meeting new people. I am a fresh set of ears to listen to the struggles of this start-up and of many of the young people that work there, and have heard the things that I feel almost constantly in my day-to-day job.
"This shouldn't be so hard."
"Why are social workers so crazy?"
"I can't really survive on what they're paying me."
"I don't know how much longer I can do this. I really wanted to help, but I feel like I'm getting no where."
And so now, this is what I would say if I were to speak to the NYU School of Social Work Class of 2008.
(1) Know that this work will always be difficult, but there are days when it is amazing. Store those up for when things seem impossible. But know that it's okay to move on to a different kind of work. Social work has a million different facets. Try something new, but don't give up. If you feel compelled to struggle on, the profession needs you.
(2) I have no idea why social workers are so crazy. I hope and pray that I don't turn, but think it may have already happened.
(3) I have decided, in my advanced age (I turn 29 next month), that there are very few people in the world who are paid what they are actually worth. Some are paid far too much for the work they do, but most are paid far too little. Know that you are in good company. And keep looking for a second job (or wealthy spouse) with which to pay off your student loans.
(4) As said in #1, know that if you feel compelled to struggle on, we need you here. When we stop feeling the need to fight back for the good of our clients, that is when we need to find a different career all together. I've met many people along the way who have reach this point and kept on going, because this is their chosen career and they are looking for nothing but security. They are the people who create the social work battlefields. All of us dodging the bullets of negativity, and distrust, the arbitrary choosing who is friend and who is foe. And making us all feel like we're going crazy. Know that you are not alone here. And that once I am a supervisor there will be a day of reckoning [=)], and you can all come work for me. Or for some of my wonderful social service friends and mentors. There are a few us left fighting the good fight.
(1) This week someone called me frivolous. They didn't really call me frivolous, but they essentially called me frivolous. I got mad. "How dare you call me frivolous?" I said. "There's no one less frivolous than me." And then I replayed in my head many of the conversations I have had with friends over the last few weeks, many of them about shoes, Britney Spears, and various pieces of TV drama, and thought "Whatever."
(2) I was reading an article today about how Watson, of Watson and Crick who discovered the DNA double helix, had been suspended from his job for some decidedly racist comments he made. At first I thought, "Wow. This is PC gone entirely too far. Just leave him alone. He's old." And then I read more of the article and thought, "Okay, so maybe he should watch what he says just a bit." And then I read more of it and decided that, though his belief that stupidity is a treatable disease would be a very funny SNL sketch, it's probably best that he just goes home.
(3) Did you know Crayola makes a color called 'Purple Mountain's Majesty'? I saw it today and was shocked by the nationalism.
Another part of the film is theologians speaking to the question of what the Bible truly says about homosexuality. Though they do not speak in the film, we hear the words of James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell, and Jimmy Swaggart. Awful, awful stuff not to be repeated here. But then you hear from Bishop Desmond Tutu. He says in so many words that we, when we focus so much on condemning people for the perceived sin of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, are going against the fundamental message of Christ. That God never condemned someone for being oppressed. That God did not condemn African Americans for being enslaved, or women for being subjugated, or Blacks in Africa for being crushed by Apartheid. And just the same, He does not condemn our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters either.
"Jesus did not say, 'If I be lifted up I will draw some'." Jesus said, 'If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It's one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All."--Desmond Tutu
100. Properly punctuates text messages.
99. Not girly.
98. Recently tatooed.
97. Planning another.
95. Cries at commercials.
94. Cries at movies.
93. Cries at everything.
92. Hearts Neil Patrick Harris.
91. Not competitive.
90. Good at Trivial Pursuit.
89. Planning to go on a game show.
88. Writing a book.
87. Writing a play.
86. Prefers to take as few trains as possible.
85. Never leaving Bklyn.
84. Laughs loudly.
83. Involved in too many Internet communities.
82. Always capitalizes Internet.
81. Fiercely liberal.
80. A Straight ally.
79. Impeccable memory.
78. Messy bedroom.
77. Laundry procrastinator.
75. Texan Expat.
74. Random gift giver.
73. Has been known to expertly mime a colorguard routine.
72. Friendship maintainer.
71. Prefers to walk.
69. Starbucks Junkie.
68. Surprised at how many grown men play Dungeons and Dragons.
67. Obsessively informed.
66. Voracious reader.
65. Acupuncture convert.
64. Watches alot of crime drama.
63. Book snob.
62. Music lover.
61. Afraid of the dark.
60. Never left North America.
59. Understands, but afraid to speak, Spanish.
57. Carries a very big purse.
56. Enjoys the fact that the mullet is making a comeback.
55. Overwhelmed by noisy rooms, loud talkers.
54. Will judge a man by his shoes.
53. Loves Post-Its.
52. Believer in Revolution.
51. Hoping to someday have an FBI file.
50. Owns an eye patch.
49. Read On the Road while on the road.
48. Said to have entropic hair.
45. Types with perfect Jr. High typing class form.
44. Good listener.
43. Empathic heart.
42. Quickly frustrated.
41. Will listen to the same song over and over and over.
40. Goes to the movies alone.
39. Convinced that the Statue of Liberty (Joan) is wearing Doc Martens.
38. Bad with money.
37. Worries alot.
36. Great lover of dance movies.
35. Angsty in adolescence.
34. Nearly passed out when Sting sang Fields of Gold (in concert, circa 2000).
33. Surprisingly good dancer.
32. Not really a drinker.
31. Wishes smoking wasn't bad for you.
30. Has recently started wearing earrings.
29. In love with silver shoes.
28. Likes to wrap gifts.
27. Plans to buy a conga drum.
26. On Roommate #20.
24. Careful driver.
23. Enjoys seeing nuns out shopping.
22. Maker of a To-Do lists.
20. Does not believe in Hell.
19. Cold all the time.
18. Tries not to use staples.
17. Pen connoisseur.
16. Has lots of keys.
15. Names electronics.
14. Whistles well.
13. Gifted and talented.
12. Has four calendars.
11. Former temp.
10. Former copy editor.
09. Former secretary to evil.
08. Former medical records tech.
07. Former book shelver (not a librarian).
06. Former sandwich artist.
05. Is running for president.
04. Believes firmly in equality.
02. Best friend.
01. Child of God.
I had seen Rent three times before this, twice when it toured through Austin and once since having come to New York, and I was really overjoyed each time. But this time was something different. Aydrea knows the family of Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent. Mr. Larson died from a heart ailment one day before the show was to open Off-Broadway, but his family has remained close to the show and to its cast each time, as it is obvious this show has so much of him in it. Since the beginning of August, two of the original leads, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, have been reprising their roles, which is why it was such a tremendous deal for us to get tickets at this point. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It is so clear from watching them that their love for this work runs deeper than the beauty of the music and words. They knew the man who created it, watched it unfold, mourned him through their work. It was amazing to see something I know backward and forward become something new, evolve before me with greater meaning to I had ever known. It was an unbelievable, unforgettable event.
And as if that was not enough, due to Aydrea's friendship with his family, we were able meet the stage manager of the show who proceeded to introduce us to the entire cast. They were all so kind and appeared to be so humbled by this show. Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal stopped and said hello and spoke to us for a second but had to get away quickly to escape the throngs of screaming teenage girls who know them from the movie. But as the rest of the cast filed out each of them stopped and spoke to us, about the experience of doing the show, about the joys of their character, about how it's such an awesome experience to be doing this show at this time in its history. Tamyra Gray (who was robbed on Season 1 of American Idol) played Mimi and was truly astounding. A young man named Justin Johnston played Angel like I had never seen him played, and it turned out that I had seen him play Roger in the touring company when I lived in Austin. And then after everyone had left, the stage manager, John Vivian, took us on a tour of the stage. It will sound silly to anyone who has never been this in love with a play, or movie, or musical, but we got to stand on the marks the actors stand on when they sing Seasons of Love. We walked up Mimi's staircase, and sat on the platform where they sing Life Support. Truly unforgettable.
(1) Instant friends. (Bring It!)
(2) Austin Public Radio.
(3) The fact that New Yorkers enjoy wearing scarves in August.
(4) Having a lovely roommate who will gladly bring me my keys rather than expecting me to sleep in the lobby.
(5) New friends having finally made it to NYC after an arduous move.
(6) A new tattoo.
I recently had a man in my group who was very newly diagnosed with HIV. When asked how he was doing with it, he answered that he felt like he had overcome alot in his life, and that this was just one more thing that he would conquer. He had beat a brain tumor and cancer, watched a parent die of a terrible disease. This would not be his greatest challenge. The others in the group were encouraging, but anxious, let him know about many of the trials he will face. After the group, I sat and talked with him one on one. He amazed me. He is armed for battle. But he is also nervous, and anxious, and guilt-ridden. And this is sadly how it goes.
There is something to be said for being prepared for what may come. This is why we have insurance and savings accounts. But there also needs to be space to live in the moment. To appreciate time with friends when you do not have to worry about what to do next. To feel great without worrying about when this will go away, and what will come after it. To live in the now. It is a difficult task though. You have to learn to change the things you say in your head. I feel terrible must be followed by but only for a moment. You must strive to remember what how you felt before your diagnosis, because oftentimes people take better care of themselves, and are in better health in the long run, because of their illnesses. Mind over matter is an important tenet of survival.
And this is where I come in. I am there to arm you for battle. I am there to fill your head with as much knowledge as you can handle. I am there to be your guide, and your advocate. To keep you active in the fight. I leave a meeting like the one with this gentleman somewhat overwhelmed. I left that meeting in dire need of either a hug or a cigarette. "What if I told him too much?" "What if that does not work out?" "What if he is already too far gone?" But meetings like these are why I do this work. I have been sick alot, with many things on the spectrum from life-threatening to annoying, so I feel I have a good amount of perspective on being ill. For alot of reasons, with my most serious illness, I felt like I had to go through much of it alone. When I was younger, I spent alot of time being angry about the cards I had been dealt with regard to my health, and it caused me alot sadness because I had no way to really understand what it was that could come of the trauma I had suffered. I still have days when I feel like that. But then there are days when I know very well. People need someone to help them understand paperwork, to know when to fight back, to walk them through what their days may look like, to be unafraid of the illness they are carrying, to listen indefinitely to their daily struggles, to be there for them when no one else can.
I don't talk about my job alot, because it is a party killer. I say "Oh, I'm a social worker," and the conversation can no longer be frivolous. It has to be about what we doing for a cause, and how difficult is it, and many times how the importance of the other person's job cannot compare to what I do. But know, that I could not do any of your jobs either. I am bad with numbers, overwhelmed by bureaucracy and philosophy. I cannot do chemistry to save my life. I've taken four physics classes and still cannot do vectors. I don't wear the proper footwear for corporate America. I am not armed for that kind of battle.
As you can probably tell, I'm essentially a socialist. I do believe that it is our duty/privilege/responsibilty as human beings, let alone as Christians, to take care of one another. And we are clearly not doing this, as evidenced by our need for health insurance, and life insurance, and vast retirement savings, and by the fact that millions of people are homeless because their lives did not afford them the privilege of a safety net. I have spent alot of time thinking about this, as a large majority of the people I work with at my jobs have been homeless at some point. How is it that someone becomes homeless? You might say drugs, irresponsible life choices, or sadly, mental illness. But with all of these things what it boils down to is lack of a safety net. A job with no health insurance, so a minor ailment becomes a crippling one. A job that pays so little that they barely afford a place to live, let alone to save for a rainy day. Having fallen through the cracks so many times, that they are now senior citizens who cannot read or write, and do not have anywhere to turn to for help. In situations like these one thing goes wrong, and you are out on the streets, sleeping under overpasses, on doorsteps, in a chair at a shelter. But one of the most amazing things I have ever seen is how these people who have been let down by the system that is supposed to protect them then rise up to protect each other. Young, single mothers who babysit for each other so some of them have a chance to go to school or work. Homeless men and women who look out for each other, gathering information about what can be done to better their situation and keep them safe. Severely mentally ill people making sure that their neighbors, who may even be somewhat better off than they, are healthy and feel cared for.
I do realize that I am in a very easy position. I am not married, I have no children, so therefore there is no one counting on me for really anything. So it is not necessary that I set aside 15% of my income, or that I have comprehensive life insurance, or that I worry about someday buying a home, or needing a car, and it goes on and on. And thus I have room to think about the way things should be. And I, because of my aforementioned debt, don't do all that I could or should do. But I like to imagine what the world would be like if money had no power. If need always trumped want. If equality actually mattered. If every child was allowed a joyful and uninterrupted childhood. And I know how naive I sound. Please know that I am not naive, but simply hopeful.
This is what I told myself for a long time, and it mainly worked. I went to work, paid my bills, occasionally ran out of money before having paid all my bills, but this was the only way I knew how to live. It would occasionally overwhelm me, and I would call one of the friends who knew me well enough to know exactly how deeply mired in debt I was, and they would listen to my panic and my hopelessness at finding a way to stop it, probably growing tired of listening me over and over and over.
My best friend and I trade New Year's resolutions each year, as we have seen each other over the previous 12 months, and know what would be good for the other person. Most of the time. His resolutions for me range from clean out your car and be on time, to this year's be more proactive. Part of this proactivity for me was wrangling my finances. And another friend, in whose apartment I have had a financial melt-down, invited me to go with her to Financial Peace University, which was being led by a friend of ours from our small group at church. I reluctantly agreed, and here we are. I spoke in a previous post about the inner turmoil this class has brought to me, about my struggle to be someone focused on social justice and the needs of others, but to also be fiscally responsible to myself. I can't help but feel that there is an inherent element of selfishness in financial planning. It is a world of my needs first and then yours with whatever I have left. This is not necessarily the way of Dave Ramsey's program, but it leaves Giving to the very last lesson, and speaks very little to the relative wealth of even the most indebted American in comparison to that of almost every other person in the world.
At CCfB this week, we discussed Luke 12:13-21 and Mark 6:25-34, and the ramifications these scriptures should have on our lives. My minister/friend Joe put it up on his blog, and he and I have been e-discussing this a bit today, as he knows I am involved in, and feel extremely conflicted about, Financial Peace University. Dave Ramsey overwhelms me. Every week, I find myself shaking my head at so many of the things he says. But I also know very well, because of what I've watched many of my family and friends go through, that it is necessary to get all of this under control. While I sometimes find Dave greedy, and feel that he is often twisting the meanings of the scriptures he uses in the lessons, I can also see the good in the system he has set up for people. I have always been very open with those closest to me about my financial situation, and talking to many of them about this class, and my struggles with it has helped me to get some perspective on it, and to know that in the end, if I am able to find a way to pay off at least some of my debt, that it will be worth it. And with that I have had to find a way to do this without letting it change my priorities. While Dave Ramsey's goals may not be mine, his means to getting there can be helpful for my situation. And I am doing my best to look for ways to get ahead, but am trying to allow God to show me the way to do this without sacrificing my health, or my sanity, or my principles.
I started reading The Irresistible Revolution around the time I started this class, and while at first it was one of the things that made me want to chuck it all, after much thought it has become kind of a supplemental text to guide me--looking at Dave Ramsey's stuff through a lens of social responsibility in addition to personal/financial responsibility. There is something anti-consumerist about Financial Peace University, because every financial decision is to be made with much thought for the consequences/necessity of it. And if you look at wealth building as what you can give back rather than giving it all to creditors, it changes things a bit. So, all of that to say, I'm still trying to work it out. And to remember this:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.--Matthew 6:25-29
(1) Do you think it's cheating to read by audiobook? Answer, then read the article. It is not yet avaible in audio form.
(2) What, if any, are the ethical ramifications of non-profit organizations spending copious amounts of money on office facilities?
(3) Is it hypocritical to put a Fur is Murder button on your leather bag?
(4) Clinton or Obama, who can take it home?
(5) Does the risk of “[going] too far in federalizing health care” outweigh the benefits of insuring over 6 million children? I'm just saying.
(6) When will the TV world run out of things to make reality shows about? How far is too far (either in lameness, or in ethicality)?
(7) Is ethicality actually a word?
(1) Sometimes public transportation can be relaxing. I've been known to take the bus sometimes rather than the train, because I can see outside and it gives me time to read.
(2) There are friendships that can survive anything--distance, time, and every kind of challenge--and come out better and stronger on the other side.
(3) A very large purse can in fact carry most of the things I used to keep in the trunk of my car. I currently have in my bag two books, a notebook, a can opener, wallet, phone, iPod, a multitude of hair accessories, and a pair of shoes.
(4) Moving to Queens is the greatest thing you can do for love.
(5) A kind and sane roommate is a necessity.
(6) No matter how many times I've been down there, and despite the fact that I worked there for three months, I will always get lost in the Financial District.
(7) Being alone does not have to equal being lonely. I have over the past five years learned how to navigate this city by myself, and how to be okay being on my own. Though there are times when it is a struggle, I know that I am not really alone, and that I have a wonderful group of friends here and all over the world, and that I can be proud of all I have done here.
(8) Though it will become commonplace to see celebrities, you will still have a running list in your head. My list includes Bebe Neuwirth, Cynthia Nixon, Brook Shields, Adam Duritz (my favorite), Pat Sajak, and the dad from the Wonder Years. I won't brag about the time I talked to an Oscar Nominee about grocery shopping. Or the time I got the phone number of one of the contestants from the first Apprentice (while working at The Container Store).
(9) Even though you may have been flattered the first time someone on the street made a comment about your hotness, it will get old real fast (but depending how creative they are, it can still be amusing sometimes).
(10) As said by my dear friend Nathan, God works in powerful ways. The life I have here is unlike anything I could've ever imagined for myself. At times, it is so much more difficult, but also so much more amazing.
In Asia, the monsoon rains produced the usual floods, landslides, evacuations and loss of life. In China alone, more than 150 people were reported to have died in the last week and 3 million were displaced across vast tracts because of the heavy rain. (emphasis added)
For much of the last decade, most of the funding the United Stated provides for AIDS prevention has gone to abstinence-only programs. For a time, the current administration forced the CDC to removed information from its Web site that sited the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of AIDS and other STIs. Many states have started cutting funding for such programs, but the federal government continues to spend money on something that has proven ineffective and impractical time and again. The issue has now become another part of political debate in the upcoming presidential elections. And many researchers have found abstinence education to be the wrong direction to move in the future, and have stated that this is dangerous and "morally problematic", but it has persisted for many years against the better judgment of experts. Maybe now is the time to put a stop to it.
Every time I go to Austin, I come back with no less than 5 new books. Part of my circuit there is the book stores, so I hit Book People (a wonder in itself), the Half-Priced Books on North Lamar and the Goodwill near my old apartment that has an impressive, but very unorganized library. This time I can back with Mrs. Dalloway, Franny and Zooey, The Corrections, something called Total Happiness (an independently published book that was quite good until the end) , The Irresisitible Revolution, and Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd (who is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times.) And now I am in the process of getting through all of them.
I had been told about The Irresistible Revolution by some friends, but am just now getting to read it. The author, Shane Claiborne, is part of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. He and several others have opened a community center and live there along side the residents of one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. In the book he tells stories of protests, and important trips to India and Iraq, and of using joy and love to show the world there is another way. That conflict can be solved without violence, that poverty can be overcome when we care for each other, that dying people can be given dignity even if they cannot be saved. This gives me hope that my generation of Americans is looking at the World differently and seeing what has to be done to make it just, and safe, and peaceful.
A few months ago, I heard an oldish episode of This American Life, that spoke of Carlton Pearson, a Baptist minister from Oklahoma, coming to the conclusion that there is no Hell separate from that we have created for ourselves (and others) here on Earth. This was what solidified it for me, but there much more to it. Here goes...I cannot see the point in living your life, working and loving, sleeping and eating, running and walking, simply to achieve a place in Heaven, and thus leave an empty spot in Hell. First, there is nothing man can ever do to earn a place in Heaven. And I do believe, that under this same umbrella of grace, there is nothing man can do to take himself out of God's favor. I don't believe that this is something we earn by being in the right place, at the right time and being given the gift of knowledge of God and Christ. For so many of us, our Christianity is merely happenstance. I was born into a family that for generations had been a part of the church. I lived in a community where church was cool, and thus we went. The church I went to in college was about a 5 minute walk from my dorm, so there was no excuse for me not to go there. And the people I met there happened to be similar people to who I was at the time, and some of them have remained so. Now I am trivializing these things to make a point, but I don't discount God's hand in any of this. I'm simply saying, what if one of these things had not been so, and I had never come to know God? Is the sum of these circumstances enough to make me worthy of Heaven? Or maybe it's just that we should live our lives in love, doing what is best for our fellow man, trying to live a good life, and hope for the best. Or maybe know for the best. That God is on our side. That He loves us wholly for who we wholly are. That He has prepared a place for all of His creation. And that we will all be welcome there.
Growing up in the Church of Christ, I always knew that I would never be called upon to lead the church anywhere. Even then, I didn't have very many close female friends and found it difficult to relate to woman on any level, and thus could never see myself as a teacher of the fabled Ladies' Bible study, and I am not patient enough, nor knowledgeable enough, to being called upon to mold young minds. I remember in junior high and high school there were months when the boys were separated from the girls during Bible classes, and we always wondered what the other was talking about. The girls in my youth group were close enough to the boys that we got the secret out of them. While we were talking about sex, and why we shouldn't have it, they were being taught to be church leaders. In the coming months they would do sermons on Sunday nights, and lead singing and pass communion, while we sat in the pews and remembered the reasons you should never touch a boy on the knee.
Upon moving to NYC, I had my first experience with a gender inclusive church, and found it slightly intimidating, but also so freeing. To sit in a pew and listen a beautiful, honest prayer given in an untrained female voice. To see my friend Laura lead singing while holding her little girl on her hip. And last night, to hear Jen speak with such great understanding, while periodically stopping to tell her daughter hello.
Yesterday, CCfB participated in the 22nd Annual AIDS Walk New York. The weather was beautiful despite the ominous weather reports, and we had a wonderful time spending the day together (which is always the case). We were 15 of the over 45,000 people walking that day. And we (with the other 45,000 or so people) raised $6,857,527. This is one of my favorite days every year, as it helps me remember why it is that I do the work that I do. But it was even more special yesterday, to be able to do this with some of my favorite people by my side.
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