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. 

One Comment

Devin Harvin posted on March 7, 2020 at 12:26 pm

Absolutely cannot agree more. Very powerful words, by a very powerful writer. Sending you lots of love.

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