on being critical

And this quote, standing out in my head at the end of my first semester of theological training:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

on who I am and why I am here

I wrote this reflection a couple of weeks ago for a class at Regent College, responding to the questions in the subject line of this post: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” It was a very good exercise (worthy to be written whenever entering a new season, or when questioning what exactly you are doing in life). Posting for the interested:

             I am a 24-year-old who was born, raised, and still lives near Vancouver, BC. After high school, I studied at Trinity Western University, a Christian liberal arts university, in Langley for one year, and then completed the rest of my B.A. at the University of British Columbia, where I majored in French Language and Literature. In 2010, my third year of university, I began an internship with a Christian nonprofit called Inner Hope, working with youth at-risk in East Vancouver. I completed my time with them in April of this year and began full-time studies at Regent in the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies track this fall.

            I begin this semester at Regent somewhat perplexed. Ever since taking Old and New Testament surveys at Trinity, I have been interested in theological studies. In fact, it was the thought of studying theology that motivated me to complete my B.A. If you look back on my old journals, class notes and sermon notes, Regent itself emerges over and over again, encircled by a heart, as I encountered books by Regent grads and heard Regent grads speak at church. Yet, beginning this semester has felt dark at times. I am unsure of what my questions are, and why I need to be here when I feel an awareness of the tremendous value of living and learning in marginalized communities, and working among the poor. The thought of afternoons spent reading Bonhoeffer and Merton is a delight to me, but I also experience tension with the feeling that I’d rather be learning from “the least of these,” and also resonating with the thoughts of Shane Claiborne, another very influential voice in my journey: that one of the great tragedies in the church today is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that they do not know the poor.

             Thoughts of solidarity with the marginalized were not always a part of my perspective, but developed especially in response to my time with Inner Hope Youth Ministries. Inner Hope developed out of the dream of two Christian women who “moved into the neighbourhood” in downtown Vancouver, and began inviting youth with difficult family backgrounds to live with them in their home, addressing the practical needs of laundry and homework help, but also developing a sense of community and support. The organization today very much resembles that original idea: developing mentoring relationships with youth in a home setting. I began working with Inner Hope in the summer of 2010 and found it challenging, but beautiful. I considered myself to be “taking up my cross” as I stepped out of my comfort zone to relate to youth whose backgrounds included addiction, neglect, and abuse, much unlike my own upbringing. Words from Isaiah 58 oriented me as I served. It seemed like I had figured out what it meant to loose the bonds, and break the chains of the oppressed; I sensed that I was close to God’s heart. One of my favourite authors became Henri Nouwen. I was compelled by his description of a life of downward mobility: choosing a way of life which radically subverts the status quo of our upwardly moving society through the release of power and material goods. Inner Hope became for me an image of what the kingdom of God looks like, especially the kitchen table, which brought together disparate members of the community in a sharing of a common meal every evening.

            As I continued working there, however, I started to take up big questions about the Christian life and ministry, and the example of Jesus. I wondered why more Christians weren’t involved in more “social service”-type actions (as I supposed that Jesus was: caring for the ”least of these,” ministering to the ”poor,” being among the ”marginalized,” advocating for the “helpless”). It was confusing to me that my “work” was “caring about the poor” while others went into law or business or teaching. I was filled with questions around imitating Jesus and seeing the kingdom of God as I lived out my weeks, which became increasingly crowded with “work/ministry-related” activities and people, and not enough “other” time. After two and half years of struggling with the work-life-ministry split, I burned out. I had battled with discontent over a way of life which chose always to sacrifice and still felt a desire to continue theological studies (I had actually begun taking one course at a time while working, beginning in summer 2012), and so I decided to take what I termed a “life-battical.” I had been serving for a long time in a context which I believed was good, but apparently not sustainable.

            So, it is a struggle to reconcile being in a classroom among peers with learning from living in community with the marginalized. As I live in a cozy bachelor suite on South Fraser on my own for the first time, I am certainly wary of being still in this student life, of not running to grab a drink for the thirsty, or a shirt for the naked, and instead using my hours to read or write. I am scared that I will miss some aspects of the life Jesus desires for us in this time I spend mostly alone, in my head, and not in community or solidarity. However, I take confidence in remembering that formal study has long been important to me, and will allow me to achieve the clear thinking that may be required of me in future roles (perhaps again in a non-profit or church administration setting), especially if I wish to be a person of influence.  In this coming year I look forward to growth in Christlikeness, and wisdom, and somehow creatively continuing to let the voices of the “least of these” influence my life as a Christ follower. I am confident that in this next stage of life, engaging in higher education at Regent is a wise course to take, as it is a vibrant place where I can come to deeper faith, access the wisdom of a community of diverse students and world-class professors who can expose and deepen my perspectives, and be shaped for my future life as a Christian and committed member of the church.