Living the Big Questions

a close up of a person's legs wearing rain boots with a reflection cast in the puddle on the ground, with an overlay of text that says

Living the Big Questions

 

This blog, updated weekly on Wednesdays through the summer, will offer reflections from current and former SU students at the intersection of faith, justice, and community. 

Did our parents feel this hopeless? Keeping our eyes open in hard times

Posted by Campus Ministry on August 5, 2020 at 8:08 AM PDT

a close up of a blueberry bush, with many ripe berriesI recently asked a friend, in all seriousness: “Do you ever wonder if our parents felt this hopeless about everything when they were our age?”

We both knew what I was referring to when I said “everything”: police and state brutality against Black and Indigenous people, the climate crisis, hunger, homelessness and impending evictions, mass incarceration, rampant anti-Semitism and white nationalism and Islamophobia, colonization and imperialism, homophobia and transphobia and gender violence, a global pandemic!

This isn’t a complete list, and it doesn’t make me feel hopeful. If I’m being honest (and I usually am), it makes me feel utterly hopeless. It doesn’t help that I’m observing most of this through a newsfeed that supplies me with a constant stream of terror and suffering, or that an ongoing pandemic is causing me to be online more than in community with others.

You might expect me say here: “Turn off the phone! Close Twitter! Don’t check Instagram! You’ll feel better.” And while I do think boundaries and limits and care for our psyche are vital, I’m wary of the idea that, in the presence of suffering, we should look away to feel better. That the solution to collective pain is for the individual to check out. That it is the responsibility of the individual to feel better rather than the responsibility of the community to take better care of each other.

My challenge to myself lately has been to embody a spirit of paying attention in a “both/and” way. To pay attention to suffering and lament oppression and mourn injustice. And also to pay attention to evidence of joy, resilience, and movement towards justice and to practice radical imagination of a world where everyone flourishes. The danger of “either/or” is too great: without hope, we will only know suffering; without lament, we will leave those who suffer behind in cheap pursuit of inauthentic “hope.”

My faith teaches that God is in all things, including suffering, and that resurrection and renewal are always possible. In this overwhelming time, I want to see God in spaces of both desolation and hope, and I want to remember that I, too, can reside in this liminal space.

 

~Olivia DiGiorno, Class of 2021, BA in Political Science and Theology and Religious Studies

How do I make my social justice Kosher?

Posted by Campus Ministry on July 29, 2020 at 8:07 AM PDT

An orchid sits on a window sill, framed by billowing white curtains

Recently I have been really puzzled about how to sustain authenticity. I feel the most authentic when I engage fully, 100%. In Judaism, there are Laws of Kashrut, which evaluate whether or not an animal is Kosher to be eaten. These laws help guide us towards the stuff that maintains our authenticity. As I seek authenticity, I notice that there’s an wisdom embedded in the Laws of Kashrut. In fact for a land animal to be Kosher it must not only have cloven hooves, but it must also chew its cud.

Rabbi Morris J. Allen teases out the need for the second test, the internal test. A pig for example has cloven hooves, it passes the (external) surface test, but the second test is needed as well to determine the internal nature. Because a pig does not chew its cud, it fails the second test and thus is not Kosher. “External appearances must be matched by internal consistency,” according to Rabbi Morris.

I notice the need for consistency in my own life: when I am acting in an audition I can easily show off “cloven hooves,” with a big energetic piece and impress the director. But if I do not follow through, if I am late to rehearsal and don’t put my full self into the work, I will not be Kosher, or authentic.

I see the same thing in my attempts to forward social justice. I can repost all I want, but social media is inherently performative action—solely external—and lacks substantive power. If I want to forward social justice and make the world a better place I have to think beyond the low-hanging-fruit of reposting and blasting the comments section. I have to engage in conversation with others and myself; asking how we are complicit in this horrid system of racism—a heavy task indeed. It would be very easy to back down and shy away from these tough conversations, but doing so would fail the internal test, I wouldn’t be Kosher.

To maintain my authenticity, I must be creative and adapt in my commitment to social justice, particularly as I engage with those I disagree with. I must be consistent, and committed. Instead of fiercely arguing my point, maybe I should listen closely and make others feel heard. Instead of forcing them to have this conversation right here right now, maybe I should invite them to join me when they feel ready. Instead of stressing that this must happen instantaneously, maybe I can remember that change takes time and I can be patient, remembering that social justice requires constant commitment for a lifetime. So, the next time I feel the conversation going sour and I want to give up, I will step back and figure out a healthier way to proceed towards justice—it’s the Kosher thing to do.

~ Daniel Anson, BA in Theatre, Class of 2022. 

How do I open my heart now? Reflections from the belly of the whale.

Posted by Campus Ministry on July 22, 2020 at 8:07 AM PDT

view from the ocean floor of a whale swimming in deep ocean waters

Early in quarantine, I discovered a poem that astounded me with how immensely it resonated with my experience during this time. Titled “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale,” written by Dan Albergotti, the reader enters the deep and meets an unexpectedly calm Jonah. The whale in question is the Biblical one that swallowed Jonah after he ran from God’s call to him (Jonah 1-2). Before the whale spits him out right onto the shores of the city where God wanted him to visit in the first place, Jonah spends some time in the dark belly. He had no idea when it would end or if he would be stuck in the whale forever. There was no such thing as productivity, no money to be made, no one to ease the loneliness. So how did Jonah live without all those things? How did he find joy, or at least peace?

We have all been in the belly of the whale these last few months. At the beginning of all of this, “productivity” was still a priority for me: I still had classes to finish and tasks to complete to reach the finish line of college. Now, I have had the privilege to move back to Colorado and be with my family while I wait for my next chapter to begin in just a few weeks. In that waiting, I have felt a lot of discomfort. It has been a challenge to undo the desire to be productive and instead lean into what my body and heart want to be doing, minute to minute, with little planning.

That’s what this belly of the whale situation has asked of all of us; you can’t plan much when you’re inside the whale. And in asking our bodies and hearts what is important, I think it is beautiful that so many people are finding a desire to seek justice, to listen to themselves and others, to rest. We have all had to adapt to closeness at a distance, we have all had to unlearn and relearn what it means to be human and to value our neighbors. And in so many creative and imperfect ways, we are doing it! Together, despite all kinds of differences and our various positions in the world. Inside the whale, so much of what we thought was important is striped from us, often painfully and unfairly, but collectively we are recognizing what matters to our soft human hearts.

In a few short weeks, I will begin a service year as a Loretto Volunteer, working with youth experiencing homelessness in the Denver area. This poem and these reflections have made me think deeply about one of our community commitments: simple living. In so many ways — though we are all probably doing a lot of online shopping and it is a luxury to be able to work from home or, like me, live jobless for a few months without anxiety — this time has called us all to understand how we can live more consciously, gratefully, with less of everything we thought we needed. As I reflect on these past months, I feel challenged to embrace simple living in new ways in the year ahead. 

My favorite line from the poem reads, “Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope, where you can rest and wait.” Like the Jonah of the poem, I am doing my best to open my hands and heart to joy, rest and hope today, make life worth living today, rather than bracing myself for the hurt or disappointment of tomorrow. Even inside the whale, we can choose to make room for simple and small joys. And while we do that, we can also wait with radical hope that the whale will soon spit us back out into the warm sun of a world renewed.

 

~ Ali Alderman, BA in Interdisciplinary Arts Leadership, Class of 2020, Loretto Volunteers in Denver 2020-2021.

What will happen next? Prayers for the work ahead.

Posted by Campus Ministry on July 15, 2020 at 8:07 AM PDT

a blackboard in the background which reads What Is Next?. In the foreground is a teacher desk with a coffee cup, pencil holder filled with pencils, and a globe balancing on a stack of books

It has been a year since I graduated from SU. This past year has been filled with many defining moments of both struggle and growth; yet what we are all collectively living through right now has left me with more to process than any other experience I have had within this past year. Amidst a global pandemic and a revolution to end racism, I find myself asking many questions, including what will happen next? Most of the questions that have been circling in my brain have been there for a long time. As a Black, Muslim, Woman, I feel that I will do much of what I have always done, but with new resources. Last month, I completed my first year as a teacher, and while I do not yet know what teaching will look like in my second year, I do know that I will go into this next school year with new opportunities. I believe in the newfound power of being able to point to a national uprising to show my students the amount of passion and work it will take to do better, and I am encouraged by the hopeful reassurance that  sharing this movement for racial justice with young people gives me and others.

It feels like we are living in a time where we will finally be able to put into practice what we have always felt in our hearts and knew in our heads. This pandemic will end, and so will the spacious time that we had to reflect and process everything that is happening in our world. The urgent questions of justice will continue. Moving forward, we will have to choose between doing what feels comfortable or doing the difficult work that would make our communities anti-racist. I pray that when presented with these options, we choose the action that we know and feel is right, no matter how challenging. I pray that we never again question the collective power that we hold. I pray that people are as scared as I am of losing the momentum that we seem to have created in fighting against racism. When it feels impossible, I challenge us to think of those that are younger than us, not just the young people and children within our own families, but those in our greater communities. They are the reason why we will live in a more just world. I refuse to imagine a world that is anything less than liberating for all our children. I pray that we have the continued strength to struggle towards that world together.

~ Anab Nur, BA in Public Affairs Class of 2019, Member of Teach for America Corps in Washington State

 

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