Finding Direction

The Presidents Interfaith and Community service Campus Challenge

Recently I applied to a journalism internship. For the application I wrote a personal bio on why I wanted to be a journalist. I find it fascinating that as we look back on our lives all the small turns, conversations, and moments add up to one clear direction. I wish it was as clear at the beginning as it is in retrospect, alas that would not give me the breadth of experience I need to discern. Sometimes we find out what we shouldn’t be doing before we find what we need to be doing. While each of these jobs and careers were what I needed to do at the time, it wasn’t what I needed to do for all time.

As I negotiated the changes of the last two years I have been reviewing my life searching for patterns, taking the next steps that presented. Working even if I wasn’t sure each step was the right one. This living in ambiguity has been hard and it is revealing an exciting and passionate focus I look forward to developing.

Below is the bio I submitted for my applications. 

The exhumed grave of a child killed at the Lukodi Massacre is an image that will never leave me. While in Uganda, I heard the stories, saw the scars, and visited the graves arising from the 20-year-old conflict.

Nearly 12 years earlier, just three months before the second intifada began in Israel/ Palestine, I visited the closed markets of Hebron. Learning about the history and current situation in Hebron, at 19 years old I became acutely aware of the power of American spending abroad. I also became curious about the role of religion in a conflict, traditionally characterized along religious lines. The next year, in 2001, I began university and a journey to understand the intersection of religion, politics, history, and the people caught in the crossfire.

After my BA in religious studies, still questioning the link between religion, politics, and conflict, I enrolled in graduate school in Northern Ireland. Determined to learn more about the elements of conflict and unwilling to join the vilifying of Islam, I wrote my dissertation on Islamic non-violence in Palestine. I discovered that the lack of evidence and understanding for the complexity of Islam and the Middle East was driving a dangerous rhetoric, which oversimplified and clouded the truth. Newspaper headlines and academia focused on the bleeding headlines and not on the large community of people working to bridge understanding.

I found that each question leads to another question, revealing layers of answers. Ultimately, this questioning and peeling back of answers lead me to believe that the smallest acts can change a world, and an opinion. I also discovered that it is often small acts built up over years that lead to huge changes, good or bad.

This realization is what led me to leave academia and engage in community development, first with AmeriCorps NCCC in Louisiana for hurricane recovery efforts, then in California working with teenagers at a local church. Working with people dedicated to the everyday struggle of doing more with less, I gained a deep appreciation for all that gets accomplished in this world.

I also discovered that time and again I was answering questions and translating for people the reality of working with few resources. After finishing my year of work in Louisiana, friends, family, and strangers asked me how much longer until the recovery would be complete. My response was that I could work my whole life and the recovery would still be incomplete. The problem was not the hurricane; it was a legacy of poverty and neglect.

The six years I spent working with AmeriCorps and other community organizations revealed that while I loved working in the field, I also relished the challenge of digging deeper into the questions surrounding issues. I found myself drawn back to the challenge of distilling large pieces of information to find surprising connections, all for the goal of providing a bite-size nugget to enhance understanding.

This drive brought me to the field where I stood beside the grave of a child in northern Uganda. I wanted to discover what was happening after the conflict was over, to learn how people were reclaiming their lives.

What I discovered was a community struggling to navigate development after the multilateral NGOs had withdrawn. Today, UN envoys use Gulu only as a quick overnight stay on the way to Juba. I saw Americans and others working on the ground to empower people through relatively small, daily acts. I learned how, in the midst of conflict, community workers reached across previously un-crossable divides to find safety for the region’s children.

In Uganda I learned that I needed to be part of the community who translates these events into stories; creating a glimpse of understanding that would otherwise remain clouded in misunderstanding. Bringing these small stories to the world can seem insignificant; yet revealing a new understanding is never a small act.

The Sarajevo Commitment, launched at the 2000 World Media Assembly sums up my professional aim: “We shall combine freedom with responsibility, talent with humility, privilege with service, comfort with sacrifice and concern with courage.”

Chasing the wild goose

Tapestry

Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit–An Geadh-Glas, or ‘the Wild Goose.’ The name hints at mystery. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surround Him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious, I cannot think of a better description of what it’s like to follow the Spirit through life. I think the Celtic Christians were on to something…

Most of us will have no idea where we are going most of the time. And I know that is unsettling. But circumstantial uncertainty also goes by another name: Adventure.

This introduction from Mark Batterson’s book, Wild Goose Chase, aptly describes the adventure called my life.  A year ago I started feeling a transition happening. The feeling that I was on the threshold of a new space, a new moment in my life.  I had been living in the same city for 3 years, which after 7 years of never living in one place longer than a year, was a huge change. There was no discernible event that was creating this feeling, no new job, no death in my family. The only event that I could point to was my upcoming 30th birthday.  Since this number has never held any significant value for me, I still do not feel like it was the impetus for my feeling of transition.

This threshold I could feel myself on was and still is a mystery.  I have seen new gifts emerge, and old ones be renewed.  Recently, I have remembered an old dream of mine.  A dream to create spaces where people can move through and experience a form of peace that is created, by the building, the selection of light, sound, scent, and the integration of natural elements in our urban environments.  This dream was tied to being an architect, because I loved beautiful buildings, especially ones that created a definite sense of peace.   Once I  began to study architecture that specific manifestation of the dream didn’t fit my ideals.  I really couldn’t see myself sitting at a computer all day. So, after visiting Hebron in the Westbank of Israel/Palestine,  I began to pursue a new passion to understand people, religion, and conflict.

Without diving into a long review of my academic and professional wanderings, I have found myself the Coordinator of Youth ministries at a church where I have been given incredible creative freedom. With this freedom I have discovered my new gifts for design of large spaces through the use of theological themes.  I have been able to co-create, with a group of people, several spaces that have engaged our community.

Through this blog I will explore the many manifestations of space that I have discovered. The space we create around us using the buildings and art we live and work in.  The space we create for the exploration and emergence of new gifts and blessings through our use of time.  And the space we create within ourselves to provide healing and growth for our souls.

I will share the examples of worship curation as myself and a team of people explore, experiment with and engage our community.  I will frequently ask guest bloggers to share their understandings and exploration of space.

Join me as we contemplate space and its many manifestations in our lives and our world.  Join me as we chase the Wild Goose on this adventure.