Month: July 2017

Finding Your Self in the Haze of the Mountains

The world we live in today is overrun by desires and notions that we must all live the perfect life and have everything figured out.  If we mess up then we become outcasts by our peers, our friends, the media, or even society. We are told that not reaching these goals are caused by not working hard enough, not wanting it, that we are lazy, or that we intentionally did it to ourselves. We have turned into a world where egocentrism thrives as a result of this. As a culture, we masquerade in cities where the facades are beautiful but all the while the interiors are crumbling. This is how many of us live our lives, lost in the haze of the mountain just trying to get through another day without falling apart. How then can we find ourselves if we don’t even know where we are?

Each week a new group of youth comes to Asheville wearing these lenses of this world. Many come in with notions that they are here to serve for others and to better the lives of our friends throughout Asheville. At first glance, they see the gardening at Emma Community Gardens, painting at the Veterans Restoration Quarters, or packaging of boxes at Manna Food Bank as ways of helping figure out the lives of the people of Asheville.  This is because we see these acts directly affecting the lives of those experiencing homelessness or poverty. We assume that “they” themselves are the ones lost in the haze of the mountains and that “we” have already made it out since maybe we have a little more money, a roof over our heads, or even a car to drive. However, as the days go by each week, I see a change in the young people.

As the youth begin learning the names and the stories of those experiencing homelessness or poverty in Asheville, the youth begin seeing “those people” for who they are: as regular people who are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers. At the Free Food Market, we run outside of Kairos West Community Center, a mother walked up with her two young kids. She kept telling her kids that this was an outside grocery store so that they did not realize that their mom had to get this free food or they would have not of had a meal that night. My group broke down after hearing this and talking with the lady. They found out that she works just over the max hours for food stamps even though she does not make a living wage for her family. They found out she was a single mother. They found out that because of that she had to move her hours around the times that her kids were at school so that every night she could tuck them in to go to sleep. They found out she is just a regular person, like each of us, stumbling through the haze of life.

At the end of the week, the kids come up to me and say how they realized it is ok to not be perfect and not have everything figured out. It is ok to mess up and that our friends who are experiencing homelessness or poverty are just like us. The kids say they see that they are not the “perfect ones” but are just as flawed as those they have met. Like Shannon at 12 Baskets always says, “We all come to these spaces not just as ‘haves’ giving to others that are ‘have nots.’ However, we are all, each of us, ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.” We all come to these spaces to have our needs filled.” We are all wandering through the haze on the mountain. The only way for us to find our way, in a world that roots against us, is through community. This community, I have learned, must be of different people because that is the only way we can all help each other. We all bring something different to the table as gifts and as needs. This difference can be through race, ethnicity, socio-economic levels, different backgrounds, and even different views on life.

This summer, I have seen our youth, and myself, be transformed by the new culture we are creating. This culture is a community of love where we all recognize each other and realize that we are all in the haze together. This love helps remind us time and time again that we are all the Children of God no matter who you are or where you come from. I have learned we are never alone, and that together as a community we can find our way down the mountain and out of the haze. Now the notions of  “having everything together” or “egocentrism” are not the center or a concern of our new community.  At the center now is a rejoicing and a passion for each other to live together in harmony and in peace.

Will DeLaney is a student at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC.  He is serving as a summer intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  

An AYM Participant’s Perspective: What are you hungry for?

The following is a reflection by an Asheville Youth Mission participant, Cate O’Malley, who came to AYM this summer with her group from Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church in Kettering, Ohio.  She shared this with her congregation after returning from Asheville. 

So, I’d like to start out with the question “What are you hungry for?” And I don’t mean what do you want for lunch after church today, but what are you HUNGRY for? Like you’ve heard already, one of the work sites we went to was the Lord’s Acre where their motto is “Everybody is hungry for something and everybody has something to give”. Some of us are hungry for new adventures and experiences. Some of us are hungry for assurance and affirmation from others. Some of us are hungry to get out there and serve.

This question was posed during our group reflection time after our first work day, but I didn’t answer because I didn’t know, what AM I hungry for? I had lots of different answers and ideas I thought I could say, but none of them seemed like they were REALLY it. As the week continued, the question kind of went to the back of my mind and I didn’t think about it again too much.

As the week progressed, we learned more about the theme “Spaces”. We learned how people have a 1st space, 2nd space and 3rd space. A person’s first space is like their home and the environment where they live. A person’s second space is their school or their job. Lots of people we met and served during the week didn’t have a first or a second space because they were currently experiencing homelessness and were out of a job. That left them with only their 3rd space, the space where they could feel comfortable and at ease in a life otherwise filled with chaos. For us, our 3rd space might be a bookstore, a café, or a certain coffee shop. But in a lot of cases, these people that we met would be unwelcome at our 3rd spaces. They had their own 3rd spaces on Haywood Street and in 12 Baskets Café. These particular spaces built a community within them by giving out food and welcoming anyone and everyone who came. See how open and welcome people were to share their 3rd spaces with us when that openness was not always reciprocated to them made me kind of wonder, “How is it that I can be so judgmental and not very welcoming sometimes when these people experiencing homelessness, unemployment, and many other social injustices can be so welcoming, and open to share their special spaces with us?” Jesus tells us all the time in Scripture to love one another and welcome each other like in John 13:34 when he says, ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ I think working at ll the different sites we did allowed me to try and put that Bible verse into action.

At the end of our week, I was thinking about all that we had done and all that I had learned when the question “What are you hungry for?” popped back into my head again. After thinking about it a little more, I finally knew what I was hungry for! I’m hungry to create more space! I want to create more space in my busy life where I can slow down and remember how good God is and how thankful I am for all that I’ve been blessed with, because I often forget that. I am hungry to create more space for god to use me and work through me by praying more and reading my Bible more. And finally, seeing how welcomed we were at these peoples’ 3rd spaces made me hungry to create more space in my heart to love everyone and treat everyone with humanity.

I don’t know how much passing out bags of fruit or making friendship bracelets or trying not to fall out of canoes while cleaning up a river has really impacted someone else’s life, but I know it impacted mine. I know more about myself, the passions that God has put on my heart, and the ways in which I can grow my faith. I’m so thankful that I was able to go on this mission immersion experience and I’m already excited for what next year’s will hold.

So, I said that I’m hungry to create more space in my life for God and in my heart, but now I will ask the question one more time…What are you hungry for? To stay on this analogy, once you find what you’re hungry for, whether it’s a desire to be more patient and kind or a hunger to serve more, don’t just stay hungry. Fill yourself up and satisfy your hunger so that you can then go out and help feed others who are hungry for the same thing.

Cate is a junior at Fairmont High School and lives in Kettering, Ohio.

Whoever Welcomes You, Welcomes Me

Here is video and spoken word poem written, performed, and produced by one of our Memphis Youth Mission interns.  May these words and images inspire all of us to be more welcoming and open to where God is calling us to be.

Courtney Henry is a summer intern at Memphis Youth Mission.  She attends Georgia College. 

Blankboards

Imagine a whiteboard. A big one, extending far beyond the limits of your sight. Just a big ole blank white board, waiting to be filled in. Zoom out, and see all the whiteboards, exactly the same humongous size as the first, filling up space in a grid of colored marker and explosions of thought on erasable canvas. Whiteboards as far as you can see, with words and symbols and blobs, some with moving pictures, others playing music, some connected by strings of yarn and others covered in sticky notes. And one, off in a corner,blank. A marker sits on the tray, uncapped. But nothing is drawn.

I won’t say I’m used to having all the answers (we all know how feisty faith can be), but in school I can usually sit with a difficult question and find words from a fleshy fold of brain matter somewhere in the cavern that is my skull and speak to the question, providing some form of answer. Sometimes that looks like a lot of external processing (read: talking to walls and other inanimate objects); at others, it’s headphones in and jamming out. Sometimes showers, sometimes bike rides, sometimes staring at pine cones, sometimes lightning-quick flashes of inspiration in class. I’ve even written all over paper on the walls. Even with the tough questions, my brain is running full-speed most of the time, drawing strange connections and ready as often as possible to spit back an answer half-formed of precise thought and half of blob-like shapes and colors. As you can imagine, whiteboards fill up fast that way.

I thrive on extended metaphor. My favorite way to write is to take a metaphor and meditate on it, pursuing the fleeting images wherever they might lead me, capturing their essence in a free-flowing dialogue of pen and paper. The idea leads me; I do not control it. I think this is why I see connections well, why I see whole systems and individual moving parts, why a peculiar song lyric reminds me of a movie which in turn draws me to a book or a story of my grandfather’s. I’m willing to let things go where they will, to spread and adapt and change to the day, the space, the mood. Rarely is there something that leaves me entirely speechless, without existing connections to draw on or thoughts to explore. I know I’m young, and there is certainly a lot out there that is unfamiliar to me firsthand. But we understand the unknown via the known–we incorporate new knowledge in the context of older experience. In other words, we as human beings *connect*. Everything is a network of emotional memory and half-remembered facts and midnight-snack-induced dreams. So when something doesn’t immediately become a new branch of my worldview, I am reminded of how much I don’t know and how difficult some experiences can be to incorporate. And that can be breath-taking.

Imagine then, my spiritual journey in Raleigh this summer. I am confronted daily (thanks to my boss, Katherine, our agencies, and our community members) with issues that leave me at a loss for words, poetic or otherwise. Often, I am simply pensive, leaving the office concerned that I am “broken.” I reflect and wonder and wait and throw spaghetti-thoughts at the wall, and it seems like nothing sticks. For someone generally ready to reply, someone like me, it can be frustrating. At first, it’s just a reminder that I ought to pause before responding and organize my thoughts. Then, it begins to feel like I’m searching a haystack for a needle. And after a while, the void really starts to feel empty, as words like “toxic masculinity” and “welcoming spaces” bounce around without company in the walls of my skull. My whiteboards of ideas and thoughts and connections have remained mysteriously, frustratingly, quietly blank. And not for lack of trying–we are pushed constantly to reflect on difficult experiences, to ask the hard, deep questions, to find words in the deep dark void that we call ourselves. And sometimes all we can do is sit and say, “I don’t know.”

Before this summer started, I would have said that it’s alright to admit to not knowing, that I’ve done it before and that I was comfortable not having all the answers. And on some level, that was true: I don’t mind not knowing what dinner would be, what class would look like in a few months, or what life would bring in just a few short, sweet years. But I never realized I wouldn’t be comfortable drawing a blank when faced with tougher questions of who we are and who we are called to be, of where I might be welcome and where I might not be, of just what social justice issues might look like. I sit and sit and sit and wait, staring at the inner-most recesses of my brain, repeating the words over and over to myself, hoping desperately for a bolt of connection, for anything I can draw on as background, for even a solar wind to stir the cosmic tides and shift my perspective. And that lonely little whiteboard, it just sits with me. Waiting on me to pick up the marker and write *something*. It sits, blank. And so I sit, uncomfortable, pensive, deep in the trenches of my brain, but unable to fight off the pressing silence of thought.

And pre-summer me is almost right: it *is* alright to not know. It’s needed and necessary and important and *healthy*. When was the last time I really found myself speechless before I started at RYM? When did I last find myself wrestling with some big question and unable to formulate the beginning of a response? When last did I sit, wordless in the face of the universe, struggling against silence and open to the possibility that it is beyond me? But I am not *comfortable* with it–it is intentionally uncomfortable space, space in which we push ourselves to the limits and find that, with all barriers removed, we don’t know which direction to go in. That confusion, that lack of direction, *that* is our struggle with the unknown, with the deeper questions of faith in a modern setting. What are we going to do?

I reflect on our theme for the summer of 2017, and I am reminded that even as we are looking at creating space in our communities, we should also look inwards. We should explore how we create internal space to wrestle and struggle and be *wrong*, how we can as a community open up that space to asking tough questions. We should make sure that, amidst a sea of busy thought and faithful action, in a storm of colors and blobs and sticky notes, we leave open in a corner a whiteboard, blank. Empty. Silent.

 

David (Ben) Knoble is a summer intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  He attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.