Engagement and Grace

Today, I walked into Marsh Chapel and practiced reading the reflection I wrote for the This I Believe service, where Marsh takes a few members of the graduating class from all around the university and has them reflect on their spiritual journeys. Among us were a wide-variety of different voices, perspectives, and personal narratives.

While these differences contrasted our reflections, there were also resonances between what was said.
We all wrestled throughout our academic journeys
with our place in this universe,
with our sense of God,
and with our sense of vocation.

We all wrestled with the idea of engagement and with the tensions currently facing us around the globe and within our own lives and communities.

In my eyes, this diversity and these resonances reflect the messy beauty that I think underpins this heart in the city that is Marsh Chapel, and it also reflects the wonderful messiness that is Boston University.

I am just a little more than a week away from officially graduating from here, and as I reflect on where I was, where I am, and where I am going in the context of my undergraduate career, two words come to mind: engagement and grace.

The common ground values of Howard Thurman demand engagement with our surrounding world. Holding to these values demand that we, as members of the university community, engage with those around us, with those whom we might call the other, and with those we might not agree. We must engage with the different cultures, contexts, and narratives that exist around our world. In our engagement, we might learn more about this world and – this is especially true – we might learn more about ourselves.

My journey through these last four years has been a journey of grace. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those initial emotions I felt while opening my acceptance letter to this school: at that moment, I felt immediate shock. When I submitted my application, I looked at my own credentials and at the credentials of the incoming class and thought to myself, ‘not a chance, but I’ll submit it anyways.’ The university had such a vibrant spiritual life; they also had a College of Engineering and a School of Theology. I remember thinking, ‘How cool would it be if I was there?’

When I was accepted, the school gave me an opportunity to attend and I immediately enrolled. I visited the school again just to feel what it was like to be there and I kept the hopeful warmth from that visit in my heart as I completed high school.

From that initial moment of grace, I can now trace a long line of people who got me here from all over the university. Throughout my undergraduate career, different people extended their hands to me and helped me along the way. When I was much younger, I never dreamed I could have ended up here. I did not think this future I am now living could have existed. I never thought I could have interned in ministry, or designed circuitry in a lab, or composed prayers to read to others. I never imagined I could have left a splash at all here on campus, and I never believed I could have impacted others in the same ways that people have impacted me.

I never imagined myself going to the School of Theology for graduate studies as it seemed like a distant, impossible, and idealized future. But thanks to the grace of those around me, I am proud to be going there to get my Master of Divinity.

So,
to those I met as an undergraduate student
and wrestled with challenging course material with,
to those I met as a student leader at Orientation
and set the tone of our campus’ culture with,
to those I met as an intern at Marsh Chapel
and engaged in spiritual life at BU with,
to those I met at SojournBU
and wrestled with my spiritual narratives with,
to those I met at EpiscopalBU
and had communion and a meal with,

To those I had the opportunity to share a meal – or a beer – with in conversation,

To those I laughed, danced, explored, inquired, and conversed with,

To those who were there when I needed a hand, an ear, a heart, and a supporting voice,

I say, thank you.

Thank you for the moments you shared with me,

for your impact on my life has been, still is, and always will continue to be
immense,
immeasurable,

And life-giving.

Thankful

I have been thinking about how Marsh Chapel has influenced me, and I think one of the many ways it has changed me is through observing how people interact. There is a sense of purpose and joy in people’s eyes. I have become a better listener, more self-aware, more aware of others. I still remember sitting in the lower level of the chapel as a freshman in Brother Larry’s FY101 class, writing a letter to my future self, hearing stories about BU, and exploring Boston. The choir at Marsh Chapel still uplifts my spirits every Sunday, but the feeling inside me has changed over time. I want to thank everyone that I have had the opportunity to meet and will always treasure the memories created during my time here.

Three Years Down

I’ve learned a few things over my three years so far. I hate goodbyes. The idea of having to say goodbye to someone who obviously means a lot to you is just bizarre. Sadly, it is that time of year where you have to say goodbye. Friends are off to new jobs, and new schools. Mentors are getting the recognition they deserve and taking steps to advance their career and the one constant in life continues to reign true. People leave. As I sit in the library writing my first of four research papers, I can’t help but think about two weeks from now. When I’ll be mostly stress free, but having to say goodbye to some good people in my life. In a year, I’ll have to say goodbye to an institution that truly is home. Individuals who truly are family and that is the scariest idea of anything.

It has been a hell of a three years, unexpected but forever grateful. I write to you now as the Student Body President Body of Boston University. Who would’ve thought that the kid who worked part-time at Jamba Juice after church on Sunday would end up here. I try not to dwell on my story too much, but lately I’ve had to tell it to more people than I ever have. I was telling my story one time and a wave of emotions just hit me. Not of sadness or triumph, but I felt a warmth around me. Embedded within my story is an element of the unknown, of somehow this happened, somehow Marsh saw something in me, for some reason Orientation chose to give this freshman a chance, for some reason Max Gonzalez trusted me with Brothers United. Ever since South Africa I have been battling with that idea of why me? I spoken to multiple individuals about this, but I’ve realized it’s not about me. Instead it’s about who I can help and who I can influence. Its never been about me. I’ve been blessed to develop a strong relationship with my best friend Jesus Christ since Senior Year of high school. For some reason he’s stayed faithful to me. I had never read the book of Esther before, but during FTE I finished the book. Esther 4:14 stayed with me and I can’t shake the narrative that is attached to it. A man speaks to a Queen and says “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I know for some reason I was meant to work at Marsh Chapel, it wasn’t coincidence that I lived with Nick my first summer here. I thank our current seniors for showing me the various ways in which you trust God. To Marrit, Nick, and Savannah, you will forever be family to me. I wish you the best in your future endeavors, and I know you will spread love. There is no doubt in my mind that you have come in my life for such a time as this.

Much Love,

 

Young Jedi.

Lost Key

Well I had myself a bit of a scare yesterday. After traveling back from the dry cleaners, I realized my room key was not in my left front pocket (where it usually lives). Luckily, I had left my door unlocked since the dry cleaners was only about 200 yards away. Upon entering my room and reaching for where my key should’ve been, I did what anyone would do. I blurted out, “Are you kidding me?” while turning around the room quizically, wondering where on Earth I could have dropped it. Then, in a flash, I was walking hurriedly back to the dry cleaners, scouring the sidewalk with laser-focus for any sign of that one single key. No luck. So, I did a double-check as I walked back, zeroing in on each slab of pavement for a possible sign. Once I got back to the room, I checked under the bed, on the desk, in the closet, on the mantle, by the TV, checked my pockets again, checked my wallet (yeah I’m not sure why), turned out my pockets(also don’t know why), and after 20 minutes, sat on my bed and said, “Yup, it finally happened. I’ve lost my key.” I dejectedly texted my roommate asking him to leave the door unlocked for the next day until it would somehow magically turn up. I left for CFA and had dinner with my girlfriend and accepted the fact that my next chapel paycheck would go towards a shiny new BU replacement key.

But then IT happened.54632262984__FB83F25D-7F0F-43E9-BE8F-EC98FACC7386-1 I received a text with this picture. YUP, MY KEY WAS FOUND. In an instant, I felt like the woman in the parable of the lost coin. Somehow my roommate had found the key sitting on the floor next to my bed. I thanked him profusely and now I sit reflecting on these past events in the Warren Dining Hall. A whirlwind indeed.

This year, I’ve been struck with many “Are you kidding me?” moments. Immediately following this questioning, I innately go into “fix the problem” mode, which doesn’t always help the situation. In short, sometimes I simply need help. In times of struggle its better to have an extra pair of eyes or ears to solve the problem.  I thank my chapel family for their love, care, and generosity this year. Thank you for helping me to realize that I can’t do it all alone, and that in community we can find peace.

 

 

Earth Week

This week has been absolutely wonderful with all the Earth Week events happening around Boston. It was such an honor to meet Reverend Mariama White-Hammond at the “Is it Bougie to Be Green” panel. She said that we should realize that we have power, to build relationships, to show up. She gave the example of aligning to the statesman’s interests to help put solar panels on the roof of her church. She said she is tired of only working on environmental issues, as she is passionate about finding communities that are willing to ask tough questions and support those that already live on the margins and gave the example of how the New Orleans flood presented the dilemma of how to evacuate prisoners who were forgotten.

Who has access, agency and free time to care about environmental issues when they need to work? This was also touched upon at the School of Public Health’s panel, and something that keeps bothering me– how to include the voices those who do not have access to information, and how to include them in policy decisions. Mariama, Kaio Thompson, and Alicia Velez Stewart also expressed concern about the commodification of cultures. How sustainable are the solutions that big companies advocate and how can we ask the right questions to help communities that are in need? Kaio mentioned that addressing science illiteracy is important, while Alicia prompted the audience to reflect internally. I have become more interested in the correlation between public health (even mental illness) issues and climate change. I feel optimistic that climate change communication will improve and I hope to understand and help inform people of the impacts that we are already experiencing.

Practice Makes Perfect

During Holy Week, the Marsh Associates wrote and delivered a sermon on rituals. Since then, I’ve been trying to closer examine the rituals I practice in my life, which ones are healthy, and where I need to improve. The first that comes to mind is my weekly hour spent in prayer on Sunday mornings. Worship at Marsh Chapel, whether I see it as a positive start to my week or a peaceful conclusion, has really given me a new appreciation for my routine. I turn off my phone, sing as if Wesley himself were listening, pray alongside my community and really try to let the sermon and beautiful music from the choir sink in. In this weekly ritual I’ve laughed, cried, made important decisions and participating in the service has given me more confidence as a person of faith. I’m proud to call this place home.

But I wanted to think smaller to find a ritual I can appreciate each day. Until recently, I hated putting on makeup. Recently, I’ve taken some comfort in taking some extra minutes each morning. There’s a method, well-defined steps, and it wakes me up. I listen to some feel-good music and stare into my mirror. I’ve found that on days that I don’t want to do whatever it is, this process serves as the equivalent of a pep talk. Sure, I don’t think it matters if I go into the day with the right amount of color in my cheeks or mascara on my lashes, but this little ritual makes every day feel like a special occasion.

As for what I want to improve on, I knew I was missing a few things in my routine. I wanted to remind myself of the things that I am grateful for. The past couple of weeks, I think I’ve found a practice that achieves this goal threefold. First, I’m grateful for creation. I love being outdoors. Fresh air really clears my mind, so I’ve made a commitment to walk instead of taking the train whenever possible. It also helps me stay grounded in my gratitude for the incredible opportunities I’ve been given. I never thought I would be living in a city like Boston, and walking home past Copley Square, Fenway Park or along the Charles reminds me how lucky I am to be here. Finally, I’m grateful to the people who made all this possible. So, as I pass the common I always call my mom and dad. I’m often catching them between meetings, but even our shortest conversations are helping me to better stay in touch.

I’ve concluded that our sermon was spot on. Rituals make us feel safe and strong. I feel ready to take on new challenges as graduation approaches because of the foundations I’ve built. My four years here have shaped me into someone who cares more about the world, my community, and myself. I know I’m leaving this chapter with so much more than a good education.

Am I There Yet?

Recently I was having my typical existential crisis on what I should do post-graduation. The obvious choice is wait for a reply from the Peace Corps, but they like to play the waiting game. My fiancé thought it would be a good idea to look for possible career opportunities I may be interested, as I do not want to attend Law School immediately after I receive my Bachelor’s degree. She decided to help me explore these options after we visited her parents in New York this past weekend.

On the bus ride home we decided to spend about 45 minutes searching on career choices that may be relevant to my degree and interesting to me. We searched through NGOs, research companies, the UN,the government, and  think tanks. Overall it did nothing for me. The purpose of it was to just get me thinking of what I want to do. I want to be a lawyer and a business owner. I want to be a good person and a family man.

As we spoke on the bus we eventually started talking about the Middle East and stories relating to the Quran and the Bible and the morals driven from them. She stopped me and said “If you know so much about this stuff, why don’t you just do something relating to that.” This was on Monday. It is now Wednesday and I’ve been pensive about what I can do relating to that. I don’t think I want to be an Imam because of the pressure or a professor because of the cost and amount of time it takes to go through the academia route. But I do want lead. I’ve been looking at places I can take courses in fiqh and Hadith and other Islamic topics to receive some sort of certification without a heavy sacrifice. I want to help people who know me better understand the faith and feel confident in asking questions and I want to feel confident answering questions. whether or not my kids decide to practice in adulthood (If I am blessed to have them in the future), I want them to grow up knowing about my faith in the household and to never be scared of other muslims or non-muslims that may judge them. I don’t think I’ll be an Imam, but I do want to help the American Ummah have more political representation and show that we want to live in a peaceful world.

Ultimately I just want to help my community.

April 14th

This week has been quite a whirlwind of experiences. On Wednesday, I stopped by the Women in the World Conference on Climate Change and Faith Community. I went to keynote speaker Dr. Rebecca Copeland’s talk about Stephen Cohen’s literal, interpretive, and implicatory forms of denial in relation to climate change. It was interesting to hear her perspective and I really do believe the faith community can mobilize people to take action. Dr. Copeland mentioned that someone said that all education should be about environment, and when we leave it out, we imply that it is not important. I have not thought about it that way, and do agree that it is important to critically integrate awareness on what nature provides and the vulnerabilities we are facing now, especially as weather patterns have been alarming.

 

On Thursday, I met Sid Handler the Holocaust survivor and his wife Claire through the “Memory in the Living Room” event held by Hillel in Marsh Chapel. I was reminded of reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel in high school. It was a life changing experience to hear his story of living in the Vilna ghetto, hiding in the floorboards of the attic for months, escaping from the HKP labor camp with his mother, and finally coming to the U.S., attending BU, working in real estate, and meeting his wife on a blind date. It was heart wrenching to hear that he still hears the soldiers’ footsteps when he sits alone in the car. I cannot fathom the atrocities of children being shot without reason and am in awe of how Sid and his mother carried on with life. The questions the audience asked were very thought-provoking as well. For example — how will we remember these survivors and their stories after their generation has passed away? I am grateful for the opportunity to have met these two lovely people, and I certainly hope when I am 80 years old, I will still be able of recall of sitting in the Thurman Room, listening to Sid recount of this piece of history and tell it to others as a witness.

Breathe, FTE, and a Trinity of Reflections

I have not really stopped to breathe since some unknown time before Easter. But, I’ve been here before and I am nowhere nearly as stressed and exhausted as I was back when I was a Sophomore where every class was very hard and there was no time to complete anything. So, I’ll just keep riding this out and weathering this storm, because the last of the big assignments are almost due soon and I will ideally be done soon as well.

Now then, onto some reflections. I recently went to the FTE retreat. FTE – also known as the Forum for Theological Exploration – is an organization that equips and engages with the next generation of church leaders across Christendom. It was a heavy retreat, and going to it after countless of sleepless nights in the lab was certainly not the healthiest choice – but I am happy I went nonetheless. Also, I got to use the sauna at the hotel I stayed at one of the nights, so that’s a win.

The retreat itself was wonderful, I met inspiring people who shared a diversity of perspectives, and I got to learn something from each of them. We talked about everything from how liturgy can be used in activism to change the narratives around issues of social justice, to how sustainable farming practices can be brought to urban communities to help bring healthier foods to poorer residential communities. I engaged in the Theater of the Oppressed, a practice in experience and using the body to feel out and change the perspective surrounding different social justice issues – this was led by a former Marshian by the name of Tyler which made the practice even cooler to engage in. I also learned about holy friction and how to more effectively be an agent who works towards common ground.

Since then, I have had a few reflections and have wrestled with different ideas in my own theological and philosophical perspectives.

First, a big theme at the vocational discernment retreat was to “Find your place, get in your place, and stay in your place until it isn’t you place anymore. Then you find your place, get in your and stay in your place until it isn’t your place anymore. Then you find…” and so on. The problem is, I am not sure if I have a specific place. I don’t know what, if any, particular issues of justice hit me hard. At the retreat this bothered me as I feel as though I am a little too academic about my faith which is perhaps hurting my vocational path. I also just don’t fit in well; I exist in margins, I grew up evangelical, found life in liberal Protestantism, and embraced a kind of Christian religious naturalism. I also am a first generation Colombian American, and spent the first 18 or so years of my life in a community that was majority white. I was the butt of countless, oftentimes annoying, racist jokes and offensive remarks. Then, I came to Boston, and I am often mistaken for not being Latinx, so there’s that. I understand that this partially is due to the inherent nature in being Latinx, in that we are all hybridizations of different cultures and ethnicities and so our shared heritage (if there is one) is not entire homogenous – well except maybe our shared history of being colonized by Iberian states centuries ago – and having cultures shaped by that history. Anyways, I hope to find better clarity about this, but I am sure I will over time.

Second, I do not think human identities can be defined primarily by essential qualities. And yet, I think a lot of people do this – and I think it leads to a significant amount of toxic behaviors and perspectives. My reasoning for this claim is that, in reducing human identities to qualities, one is creating a binary that doesn’t exist (for example, a scientist is rational – would that then make an artist irrational? Or to be masculine is to be principled. Does that now define femininity as unprincipled? [further, could one even be able to truly make the claim that the previously stated identities are even opposites of each other?]) which is dangerous. I do not think the qualities that are often associated with an identity is their essence. I would argue that qualities can be shared between contrasting and differing identities, and that the true markers of identity come from narratives and tradition. Identities are intimately tied to human experience and storytelling – and the qualities of character and identity are expressions of these narratives – but it is the narrative or cultural history itself that defines the human identity. I think this is an important clarification to make as it allows us to better understand the identities we hold to and distill what these identities mean to ourselves and also how they fit into the larger communities, narratives, and contexts we find ourselves in. Further, it also forces us to be a little more respectful towards people who do not share our identities – which will hopefully force us to better engage with and give justice to those who do not share our identities, or stories or narratives. For example, this may force a Christian to take a step back when talking about another religion, because this Christian might not have the full context or narrative that underpins this other identity. This Christian might even go and try to ask an individual of this other religion to explain what their religious identity means to them – and hopefully be able to sit into this other experience a little better. Hopefully, this leads to less hate, a little more respect for differences, and a little healthier dialogue.

Third, I feel like I am flying towards a brick wall: graduation. As my time here as an undergraduate slowly comes to a close, I cannot help but feel that I am not taking enough personal time to reflect, to enjoy the time, and to conclude healthily. There are so many people I need to thank for what they did for me on my undergraduate journey, from mentors here at Marsh Chapel, to professors in ENG, to colleagues and leaders when I worked at Orientation, to classmates who lent me a hand whenever I fell down, to friends who listened to my stress, my struggles, and provided presence and community. I remember when I applied to Boston University, I concluded I had no chance. When I got accepted and was offered the ability to study here, I considered it an act of grace. And where I am now, I also consider an act of grace. I would not be here if it was not for the wonderful people in my life – and I really hope I can genuinely explain this to everyone, instead of simply just thanking God for the people in my life every night as I get ready to go to sleep. On top of all of that, I also am just not really that happy right now. I know why: I am exhausted, I am stressed, and I have not had serious rest in months – but sustaining this is not healthy and it starts to take a toll over time. Hopefully, I can take a break soon.

Commemorating MLK’s Legacy

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (August 28, 1963)

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. I am deeply moved by Dr. King’s legacy, as I still remember learning about him in middle and high school in Shanghai. I believe it is our generation’s duty to carry on his vision of giving voice to those who are not heard.

Marc Draisen, the executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council where I work, posed two questions during a lunch meeting on Wednesday to commemorate Dr. King:

1)      What does MLK’s legacy mean to you and to your work in the world?

2)      How can we at MAPC continue to honor his legacy through our work?

This discussion has been one of the most eye-opening meetings I have had the opportunity to attend. It was insightful to sit in as an outsider, to hear of the challenges and opportunities faced by a majority-white governmental agency such as MAPC. Some things I learned:

  1. Pursue justice through all opportunities presented (eg. Marc supporting the Great Neighborhoods Bill on affordable housing)
    1. See Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1968
    2. Land use bills and systemic racism
  2. Prepare three agenda items to ask for after demonstrating (eg. Jesse Jackson and Mayor Daley in Chicago)
  3. Remember how radical Martin Luther King Jr’s stance was and the fact that racism still exists today (i.e. JFK was not aligned with Dr. King’s stance)
    1. Consider definitions and manifestations of racism
    2. Address fear of poor people
    3. Think about how to include faith-based social justice communities and their work to help immigrants and others
  4. Consider how social justice fits into MAPC’s State of Equity report and extend into work of other departments
    1. Always use a lens of social justice + equity in work
  5. Explicitly state how to include minorities
    1. Rethink hiring practices 
  6. Seek out partnerships
    1. Seek out executive director (Marc) and others who may have more power to implement change
    2. Connect to those who knew MLK personally
    3. Look around the table and see who is talking — include people of color in the conversation, listen and be aware of one’s privilege
  7. Commit to upfront investment to include social justice issues, seek out clients & funding to address these issues
  8. Benchmark progress, have faith in pursuing a vision of addressing social justice
  9. Invest in training, retention and advancement for people of color
    1. Extend access to audits, ownership of home, jobs

It was quite an emotional and uncomfortable discussion, and I did not understand everything. However, I hope to continue talking about these issues and help to make a positive change.