Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Questions, Answers, and More Questions - The Tale of Orientation

My YAGM doodle - a body of
interconnected members.
     In T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, Eliot writes that:
...every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been
(East Coker, II 86-87)

      If I could pick a set of words to describe the last week of my life, those would be the ones. Since Wednesday, August 14th, the official crew of YAGMs (Young Adults in Global Mission) have been gathered at the University of Chicago and Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago preparing for our coming year of service in Global Mission with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America).  This time, for me, has already been transformative. Each day of this orientation week the sixty-five of us participating in the YAGM program have encountered new theological frameworks, models of mission, concepts of power and privilege, perspectives on interfaith dialogue, and people (each other and guests) who have challenged "all we have been," forcing us into "new and shocking" reevaluations of our selves.

     Coming into this domestic orientation week, I was full of questions.  Since the last time I posted anything, I have found out that I will be serving in Mexico City this next year, working at Tochan, a shelter for migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced peoples.  However, I am still unsure of a multitude of details about my life this year:
Where, within Mexico City, will I be living?  What will my host family be like?  Will I have stable internet access?  What will my job description be?  Who will be my coworkers?  Will I make friends?
You get the idea.

     Orientation provided me with some answers. I now know that once I arrive in Mexico at 2:00pm today, the six of us serving in Mexico will begin a 17-day in-country orientation to familiarize ourselves with Mexico, Mexico City and Tepotzlan, and the Spanish language before we begin our years of service.

     However, orientation also managed to dislodge some of the comfortable answers I thought I had.  As a graduate of the Sociology/Anthropology, Women’s and Gender Studies, American Racial and Multicultural Studies, and Latino/Latin American Studies departments at my college, I went into sessions like “Power, Privilege, and Identity” expecting to be the one with all the answers.  However, I was bluntly confronted with the limits of my expectations and the one-sidedness of my philosophy.  One of the first questions Sunitha Mortha asked was,

“Diversity is fine when it’s someone who agrees with you, but how do you react when someone you are accompanying holds profoundly different political views than your own?”

That was all it took to send me reeling.  How can I accompany people, be they my friends, family, coworkers, fellow YAGMs, or perfect strangers, who might think that the ideals to which I have dedicated my education and work are inherently wrong?

My Accompaniment doodle -
an endless give-and-take
     Accompaniment, the ELCA’s model of mission is the idea that we do God’s work in the world by “walking together in solidarity, characterized by mutuality and interdependence.”  And I suppose that is my tenuous answer: I am called to depend upon, be dependable for, reciprocate, and stand with the people I serve.
     Right now all I have are the words of this answer.  Words that are beautiful, meaningful, and powerful certainly, but words nevertheless.  And, to again quote Eliot’s Four Quartets,

…Words strain
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
(Burnt Norton, V 149-153).

     They slip and slide, crack and break, under the pressure, under the burden of preparing me, preparing us, for the next year of our lives.  A year where we won’t have simple answers, where we won’t know what’s happening next, perhaps even what’s happening in the moment.  But then again, do we ever really know?  Is this year so different, or is it just more apparent?  I don’t know (a common fact of my life right now), but I will find out.

     Just like with orientation, I go into this year with many questions, some big, some small.  And I expect that I many of those questions will go unanswered for a long time, perhaps forever.  As I search for answers I remember the advice that Janelle Newbauer lifted up in the YAGM community on day one of orientation:  “Lean into the discomfort.”

I am leaning in; who will catch me?