On Mentorship

It was not without trepidation that I stepped into Marsh Chapel for the first time.

I was uncomfortable. Of course I was. The space is beautiful, but I’m a queer brown woman, so I simply did not know whether yet to trust this burgeoning interest within me that had called me here. The stained glass reflected the late morning light in rainbow slats across the floor of the nave. I didn’t yet know it was called a nave, but this blog post will be littered with its fair share of anachronisms. I peeked inside and saw a few young adults scattered in the pews, head bowed, deep in some personal meditation. I wondered, again, what I was doing here.

It was not my first time in a church, but I could count on one hand how many times I had dared to enter these Christian spaces. Growing up as a brown person in a largely white community, Christianity, to me, simply meant a host of people who saw my traditions as “exotic” and me as a body for what the students of color not-so-affectionately named “the diversity cam” – pictures on our school website. I fully admit that I equated Christianity with whiteness and whiteness with my own pervasive experiences with racism. I associated Christianity with privilege. And to some extent, in this country, I maybe still do. And that’s in part because in my country (if it can be called that) Hinduism is associated with privilege. So I know all about the lack of a separation between church and state. But that’s a story for another time.

I walked in. We’re still lingering on this moment. I’ll let you savor it with me: the fear, the whisper of betrayal I felt by simply being present in a church instead of a temple, a moment of awe for my own damn bravery. Hold these things with me.

I walked downstairs. The belly of the beast, I thought, so afraid, so aware of my own self-situating in a place of not-belonging. Shame bit at me again. 

It was in the midst of all these conflicting emotions that I met Br. Larry. 

White, I thought, when I saw him. It’s a white man. I don’t have a ton of great experiences racked up with white men. Oh, god. My first job interview in college is with a white guy. 

I rattled off my schpiel to him. I am curious, I said. I am brown and Hindu and exploring what faith is to me. I am a queer woman. (I am afraid, deeply, of religious institutions.) I want to be a part of your interfaith program. (I am also afraid to want to be in your program). I’m a sophomore in college. (I grew up in the aftermath of 9/11. You must know what this means for me). I want to learn. 

Oh, I learned. And I questioned. It is perhaps the most sacred thing I have ever done. To accept God without questioning is an unholy act, I think. The divine lies in the exploration of the relationship between the Self and God. Is India a theocracy? Who wrote the Vedas? What is culture and what is religion, and what rings true to me? What the fuck is going on in Kashmir and what do I do about it? The Partition – its own gaping question – how are my people and the Partition still interacting? What is queer theology? What does being queer and religious mean? How do I make my way in a world governed by institutions that I simply do not agree with? Who am I? What is God? What are we? Is there a God at all? We talked about privilege. We talked about colorism. We talked about racism and casteism. What it means to be brown in America. What it means to be brown in America after 9/11. What it means to work in an interfaith movement after 9/11. We talked about holding incongruous truths. What God is, again. What the divine is, again. Finding it, continously, through this work. We’re still talking. This is a discussion that will never end.

Unconditional mentorship is the greatest gift I have ever received. 

Marsh became my home. I’d laugh when I said it: Yeah, I work at a church. Yeah, I’m not Christian. And – I love it here. It’s a safe place, you know? A place of such joy, such unexpected and true joy. Being mentored by a person like Br. Larry means that first you do the work within yourself. I mean, you keep doing it. But that initial descent into understanding what is true for you? What is godly and what is divine and where you find light? That shit is hard. It takes a lifetime. Then, you do the work in the community. How am I going to spread this love that I have found to others? Not proselytizing, but simply being in community. You might think we’re in community all the time: we all live within a three mile radius of each other on this campus, after all. We share the same Allston rats and we shop at the same Star Market and we evade the same fare on the same B line. 

That’s not community. Community is intentional. Community is untangling the knots of what we have been taught and instead weaving a tapestry for ourselves. Community is finding meaning together. It takes radical joy and healing to create community – radical joy and healing a whole lot of mentorship. Which is not easy to find, by the way; you know this, if you are Generation Z and have a complete lack of regard for baby boomers. 

Working with Br. Larry also means advocacy. I had never in my life had an adult, let alone a white dude, advocate for me so furiously, so tenaciously. I am still so grateful for that. Br. Larry taught me how to advocate for myself, how to advocate for others, how to allow myself to be advocated for. Working with Br. Larry means learning about institutions. How they work, how to change them. How to work within them and how to work with them. How to find people like you who will uplift you and advocate for you just as much as you will for them. Because now you know how to do those things. Not that you didn’t before – but you’ve been mentored specifically in those skills. So you know, without a shred of a doubt, that you can absolutely do this.

It took so much for me to step into the Chapel that day. I felt it in that moment: I was teetering on the cusp of something, the maw of the unknown yawning before me like an abyss. And from that great and deep unknown a hand reached up to meet me. All I really needed to do was reach back. 

Faith Through the Seasons

As the warm weather fades from the rearview and the leaves begin to fall from the trees we can see the changing patterns of faith in our communities. No longer are we praying to find AC or shelter from the rays of the sun but instead praying for more sun as it begins to set sooner each day. We pray that gloves can remain in their drawers and that the first day below freezing is far off. In the fall, praying for optimistic weather is only part of the prayer. The fall ushers a change in attitude. The life of barbecues in the afternoon, sitting out by the water, and simply being fade away until the winter thaws. Fall is a season of memory where we celebrate many holidays integral to nearly everyone’s life. We have Thanksgiving coming up, a holiday centered around festivities, good food, and most importantly, family. It is a time of celebrating and embracing those close to us, both related and not. In college and among younger crowds, Friendsgiving has become commonplace to celebrate the great friendships that are like family. As we study far away or move into new environments where family isn’t close, our friends serve as an extended family. Faith also changes. It is a time of gratitude. Veterans day is next week. We take certain days each year to honor and remember those who have fought, served, and died for our country. Independence day is similar in that we celebrate our nation’s history and the enduring freedom sustained since that day, but it is filled with many events and food and festivities. Veteran’s day is a quieter day. It is a day of remembrance. On this day we pray for those who have risked their lives in the many forms that it takes and their families. This year, Boston University is celebrating its 100th anniversary of the establishment of its ROTC and the continued call of young people to serve in the Armed Forces. We pray for our friends and family who answer this call, that they may return safe and be with us once again. Our faith allows us not to forget all of those who have spent part or all of their lives serving so that we may be here safely. As we await the coming of Christ in December we pray for the Holy Spirit to be with us. Faith in the Fall makes me think of my high school’s football games, praying before the start, or praying before our races. We pray for God to be with us as we near exams, the end of the fourth quarter, and that we may survive the Winter. There is optimism in this knowing that Spring one day will come, when the gloves return to the drawer, our cars can start with no struggle, and the grass begins to turn green and soon enough we will be praying for AC again.

Thoughts on the BU Study on Sexual Assault

There were numerous statistics and numbers on the BU sexual assault survey that came out last week. The quantifiable measurements were innumerable. Many of those statistics were quite disheartening, shocking, and downright demoralizing.

One such statistic that I felt was missing was that of an emotional statistic. What is the response to such numbers by the BU community emotionally? How do people feel answering the study? What are the emotional implications of trauma? If each story is personal and important, how do we then move from a stat sheet to an in-person conversation?

These are questions that I’ve been struggling with after reading over the survey. As a member of the associate team at Marsh Chapel, I feel as though I have a responsibility to help those in all times of crisis. I seek to make people feel whole and valued. I look at these daunting numbers and I feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s hard to clarify a solution in my head about what the best course of action to take is. However, I do know that the quantifiable measurements of suffering will not fix a problem, but are the first step in answering the call to help.

Fostering an Environment of Care and Inclusion on Campus

University culture provides an environment that hosts room for under sight and it becomes the social responsibility of the community to protect one another. Regarding the campus survey of Boston University, the first part of the survey focuses on bystander involvement, intervention, and interaction. I am pleased to see that a majority of students who witness something they deemed wrong or inappropriate in public or heard something that is not tolerable towards another person spoke up or acted upon it. This statistic regarding bystander intervention brings some reassurance that the community of BU is looking out for each other.

But that is not enough. There are still ongoing circumstances where obscene comments, gestures, and interactions occur and do not come to light. The Marsh community has the resources to help change this. While many students and members of the BU community may not be religious or engaged in their faith, the Marsh Chapel community is open and accepting of all and wants students facing these kinds of problems to come and seek guidance and counsel. Many people in the statistic regarded their unpleasant or unwarranted encounters as not worthy or important enough to be made a case of, however it claws away at their insides as they do not know what to do. This is a serious issue if it happens at all. While nearly 7% of students intervene as they see fit, the other 30% where it is silently observed and forgotten does not help those affected by it. It is in this manner that I think more members of the BU community should reach out to the proper care found in the Marsh community where the healing process can begin. I cannot recommend a particular way of getting people to talk or open up about the experiences they have had, but sharing the compassion to help someone in need is the first step.

Marsh Chapel should have an understood advertisement that it does offer counseling services. Students often think that BU behavioral health is not the only place to seek counsel. Clergy and pastoral counselors are trained in these matters and can help where other types of professionals may seek a different method. What pastoral counseling offers is someone who will listen, earnestly and with good intention. Clergy provide a different type of care than many health-based professionals are capable of doing or trained to do. As far as personal experience goes, word of mouth and recommending visiting Marsh is a great tool because it can help an individual based on an intimate system of trust. It doesn’t cast a wide net by word of mouth but if the person follows up on that recommendation it may be of great benefit.

Inclusive Faith

This semester I am taking an American Sign Language (ASL) class here at BU in order to more familiarize myself with that form of communication for my teaching years to come. That being said, one of the assignments for this class is to attend at least two deaf events in the Boston area. As a result, last Sunday I took some time to travel out to Newton Centre to experience a ASL Catholic mass. I initially went in order to fill the course requirement and to become more comfortable in a signing first environment. And while this was accomplished, I was surprised to find myself asking the question, “Why is there not a signing priest?”

This is not meant to be so much of a critique as much as an observation. The priest himself apologized many times for not knowing ASL but each time he did I wondered why he has not learned. Or why haven’t the dioses sent over a deaf/ signing priest to lead this mass more affectively? Surely there is a priest in Boston who knows ASL. And if there is not, then maybe that in of its self has to be addressed. Which leads me to a topic of recent discussion; inculturation. In short, inculturation takes on the idea that every congregation has one culture, and this is the culture that the church should address. However, the debate that comes out of this is that in most every congregation, there is no one culture to address. More often than not, a congregation is made up of countless backgrounds and traditions that may have different means of prayer and faith formation.

So to tie this back to my visit: the dioses may have sent one, English speaking priest to this congregation after seeing that most of the population is hearing. However, how can this system be improved so that the other families who are deaf, or who have cultural differences do not have barriers that make it difficult for them to more fully benefit from a weekly mass?

I also should also clarify that this is not subjected strictly to Catholicism so much as Catholicism is the only example that I have in experiencing this divide. But maybe this is something to be addressed in all religions. How can we make our faiths more inclusive to all? Not just in morality which has been a massive battle in the 21st century. But in accessibility which seems to be overshadowed by its equally important cousin.

Acts of Faith: Lessons from Las Casas

“El entendimiento conoce voluntariamente cuando aquello que conoce no se le manifiesta inmediatamente como verdadero, siendo entonces necesario un previo raciocinio para que pueda aceptar que se trata en el caso de una cosa verdadera[…] procediendo de una cosa conocida a otra desconocida por medio del curso de la razon […] El entendimiento es el principio del acto humano que contiene la raiz de la libertad […] Efectivamente, la razón toda de la libertad depende del modo de ser del conocimiento, porque en tanto quiere la voluntad en cuanto el entendimiento entiende.” (Las Casas, 1942: 81-82).

“Por el contrario, Las Casas se propone un doble acto de fe: a) en el Otro como otro (porque si no se afirma la igual dignidad del Otro y se cree en su interpelación no hay posibilidad de acuerdo racional ético), y b) en la pretensión de la aceptación por el Otro de la propuesta de una nueva doctrina, lo que exige por parte del Otro también un acto de fe.” (Dussel, 2008: 175)

A few weeks ago Br. Larry suggested that we write blog posts on NYT’s 1619 Project. As you can tell, basically nobody has done it, which I’m so sorry for – oops. Sorry, Br. Larry. But I’m finally doing it. I will admit that I was overwhelmed about it. I didn’t think I would be able to write about it at all, and hopefully everyone would forget the prompt was even issued, and then we’d just – move on. Because I don’t know how to write about the brutality and genocide of slavery. I am so terribly afraid of doing the great injustice of America even more injustice, even if through a singular blog post in this little corner of the Internet.

Then I heard Jess’ sermon last week. She talked about how a mustard seed size of faith can uproot a mulberry tree and how doubt and fear are the opposite of faith and how the world is a terrible and awful place and it makes us feel small, but how the next generation of leaders, especially faithful and interfaithful leaders, is working hard every day to recognize the dignity and wellbeing of all people. And I thought: Damn Jess, how did you know I was putting off this blog post??

Then, also, I read a lot of Las Casas and Dussel for one of my Spanish classes. Las Casas says that understanding is the human action at the root of all liberty. Dussel says that this understanding is constituted by a “double act of faith,” and that Las Casas is the first criticism of Modernity and also perhaps the first real Modern philosopher.  It was Las Casas, after all, who grew up in a world that relied, both culturally and economically, on the commodification of humans. A capitalist society built on the exploitation of land and labor. And it was also Las Casas who took a critical look at his reality and chose to reject it. Talking about privilege is uncomfortable and hard and that takes faith too, because what you know does not manifest immediately as what is true. Las Casas had the radical faith to step into a world unknown because the known world is unforgivable. And, when you are in a position of power, it is a radical grace that allows you to grant all others equal dignity.

Implicitly, Las Casas suggests that truth and knowledge are two very different things. By extrapolation, I believe that to understand the real significance of one’s knowledge is a means to truth. Yet the threads of eugenicism woven into the very fabric of our society, the enormous brutality and violence born of a persistent and foundational racism, feel too great to be countered by the ‘double act of faith’ that Las Casas proposes. It’s my mustard seed size faith staring at a mulberry tree. It is through daily actions that faith allows me to step forward, foster understanding, reject the pieces of reality that I do not see fit to accept. The act of decolonization relies on the refusal of the status quo. The process of liberation relies on the construction of understanding.

Boat watching

A friend of mine told me that I needed to spend less time focusing on my future and to enjoy senior year.

 

College goes by quickly. Endless papers, social functions, catching up on sleep, people to meet, employers and recruiters to call. It all adds up and soon Nickerson Field will be covered with people in their gowns waiting to receive their degrees they have worked so hard to get. While I have enjoyed school and the City of Boston I cannot help but wonder what is next after I receive my degree from this wonderful school. As I have laid out the different plans I have in my head I realize that senior year is ticking and its ticking nonstop, 24/7, and its not gonna wait for me to hop on before it leaves the station. This past week I was catching up with a friend and mid conversation they told me to stop worrying about the next chapter. I think most college students are programmed to always plan for the next step so hearing this left me a bit confused. Then they went on to explain that my constant talk of tomorrow and next year and 5 years down the road was getting a bit endless and uncertain. While I plan on being around in the future, that is not the point of the now. They told me its more important to worry about the present and focus on today’s goals rather than planning the future and letting the day slip away. I have a lot I want to do this year. I realize after being stopped for a moment that there is a lot that needs to be done in the present before I worry about the future. President Eisenhower said that “plans are worthless but planning is everything” and this resonates with my temperament because I like to be prepared but there is no predicting the future and its circumstances. Another quote that sticks with me as the clock ticks on is ” don’t count the days, make the days count”. Muhammad Ali said that way before my time but he has a point. How can I make my days count here? What is the best way to spend my time? I sat in my apartment yesterday afternoon and watched a fleet of rowers, tour boats, and yachts coast along in the Charles River and all I did was sit there and watch. Our campus is always on the move and people have places to be but to take a step back and watch made me observe the amount of activity going on and where everyone else’s time was going. When you don’t stop and look around, time can go right by, but as I sat yesterday and just watched I thought about the seasons changing, my family, and all the other topics in my head. God can speak to us in any way He choses, but I like to think of my still moments as God moments, where He enters the room and is present with us and our thoughts. I want to share in these moments every day if possible. I encourage others to do the same. Taking the time in the morning or evening to enjoy coffee or tea or maybe the fresh air and just watch the boats or cars along the Charles and be present and still. I think that running around and being constantly being busy is one way to find answers to the famous “what am I going to do after college” question but I believe that being still and listening is a better guide than the constant hum of busy lives. Taking time this week to enjoy the shift to fall and being aware of God’s  presence helps to prepare for another busy semester.

On to Year Four

Boy it has been a hot sec since I did one of these. But to get right into it, summer was amazing but now it is done and my mind is getting itself ready for fall. With fall comes all new ideas given to me with the help of summer’s warm relaxation. I now find myself writing in a new home which is far more comfortable than the last and with my supports and motivations with me once again. With all of this in check there are three major goals that I have in this coming year: one, faith practice; two, work practice; and three, personal time.

In terms of my faith practice, this summer I had the ability to think and discuss what I value and dislike with my Catholic background. What came of this is a plan to listen to the part of me that longs for a more progressive view on the religion that I deeply love. Too long I have been tolerating groups that are too timid to discuss the past. I believe that this has produced a hesitation to change or in taking the steps that could to lead Catholicism to a brighter and more “love forward” future. Luckily, I have found a Parish that I believe supports these values and at the very least, provides an environment that is not just welcoming; but genuinely loving to all.

For my second goal of work practice, I simply hope to be more “on top of things”. I want to have the time in this last year to create incredible work in my studio, while also have the time to read and complete all other assignments in a manner that allows for my third goal to occur. This is my hope to enjoy my time with friends and loved ones more that I have been able to in past semesters. I know that this last year will go by quickly; however, after last semester, I also know that time can and should be made to take a day and go out on an adventure. Whether it be a hike or a visit home, it is this personal time to enjoy myself that I feel is crucial to fully enjoying my last year at Boston University.

All in all, I hope that these goals do not just prove to be aspects to reach for, but also guidelines that will lead to a healthy and meaningful senior year.

Reflection and Change

It has been quite a year of change and reflection. A year ago, I had no clue what the future held and to be honest, I still don’t fully know what the future holds. I do know however, that while change is a part of life and we must be prepared for it, we must also embrace it and welcome it because it could be what we need. Also, it is reassuring to know that even when life changes, and people come and go in our lives, Jesus is always there for us, as he has always been. Yes change is hard but we don’t have to do it alone. In times of change and transitions, it can be easy to lose direction or feel overwhelmed with uncertainty. I have learned in the past year that when life gets overwhelming and is filled with transitions and changes, I need to rely on the Lord to give me courage to continue forward every day, because I know He is with me every step of the way. It’s important to remember that God doesn’t forget you and will light the path and guide you when you feel uncertain. The Lord takes worries and fears away and helps us realize that the future is really not that scary when the Lord is by our side. Every change that we encounter, we must take time to reflect on because that is what the Lord calls us to do. Yes, change is sometimes inevitable, but if we reflect on it and know that God is with us, then we will no longer be afraid of life’s ever-changing course.

A Chilly Breeze

There’s a chill in the air again here in Boston.

Over the summer, I spent most of my time inside the semi-cool Green Line cars and indoors in office buildings, escaping the hot-humid air.

But upon the start of the school year, there is that, all too familiar now, chilling breeze, signaling the entrance of Fall as I watch the trees just begin to turn from green to yellow. Like any other year, that breeze has brought with it thoughts of the season to come. The cozy sweater season. The MOVE hot-chocolate giveaway season. The no more wearing shorts season.

Yet, there’s something unfamiliar about this year’s breeze too. It reminds me that this is the last cool season of my undergraduate career. The slight chill in the air mimics my minds wanderings, every now and then reminding me to check-in on what’s next for my future self. When I feel this tinge I often will turn from BU life and look at the LinkedIn page once more, read-over job climate articles, check how much graduate school costs, or simply dream of an apartment in New York City.

As I reflect upon these methods of calculation for anticipating the next season of my life, I recognize that I do not seem to be looking back too much, but rather looking immediately forward. I think I might need a bit more balance in this regard. Perhaps, it’s time to read across some of these old blogs, look through some old essays, listen to some old recordings. I feel as though it might be worthwhile to take account of where I’ve come, before looking too far into the future. Enjoy the chilly breeze, rather than be pushed along by it.

Balance. Balance.