The Future of Development

Through my close friend’s recommendation, I decided to attend Harvard’s 24th Global Development Conference, as I have been interested in working for the UN since I first learned about UNICEF in my social studies class in middle school. I hope to pursue the International Planning and Development track for graduate school in Urban Planning at Columbia over the next two years.

The UN Development Programme’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), the goal of addressing poverty, of pursuing equity and sustainability and “leaving no one behind” is imperative, as Achim Steiner, the Administrator of the UNDP shared this morning. It is through collective security, managed risk, and a prevention-oriented lens in which we should make our investments. I went to three sessions today–Silicon Valley meets Philanthropy, Innovations in Financing for Development, The Future of Employment, and had the honor to meet Jenna Nicholas from Impact Experience and Siddhartha Raja from the World Bank. My key takeaway from today is that the private, public, and nonprofit stakeholders all have a role to play in making the world a more equitable place, through the use of diaspora bonds (World Bank), social impact and development impact bonds (Social Finance UK), the socially-conscious, devolved mobile workforce, total shareholder return / total societal impact over corporate social responsibility initiatives (BCG) … the list of possibilities goes on! Various questions brought up today still hover in my mind, and I cannot stop thinking about them– how can we address implicit biases towards minorities, women, and people of color as Jenna brought up? Who is left behind, who has access to technology and information, and how can we help people make more informed choices? What right do people have to intervene and determine who gets aid (what about benchmarks, metrics, the motivation of investors?)? How do we deal with uncertainty, reconcile with depressing but realistic facts and figures, the inglorious / unwritten histories of the past? How do we make time to spotlight the voiceless, to become informed citizens, to slow down, when technological advancements are advancing and fake news is spreading at an accelerated rate? I feel incredibly privileged to be able to think about these issues and pray that God will help sustain the positive momentum, to give me the strength and ability to comprehend what I learned in order to help advance the SDGs.

Finally, I was inspired by Tony Wagner (Learning Policy Institute), who drove home the idea that we must rely on intrinsic rewards, of play, passion, and purpose to shape our own career paths. Education is such a rewarding field! I aspire to become a practitioner and teacher in the future.

Although I feel an overwhelming sense of joy and hope from being exposed to the possibilities of improving the lives of people around the world, I have also been experiencing extreme pain and despair from understanding that a family member’s mental health condition has worsened. I was recently informed that someone I am close to has borderline personality disorder. Just trying to trace the threads of evidence, to comprehend the intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days someone I love is experiencing breaks my heart. It is the incomprehensible nature of mental health and illness, the complex and deep-rooted causes and effects that I do not have the power to change that bothers me. It is at times like these that I am reminded of the importance of prayer as I try to understand how I can best be supportive.

A Dinner with Two Doctors

Tonight I had dinner with my step-cousin and his wife at a dimly-lit French place in Cambridge. The food was both interesting and delicious. One memorable dish was a fried rabbit leg, for better or worse. However, our conversation over this dinner was all the more interesting.

Both my cousin and his wife are practicing doctors. Each time I see them I am reminded of what I call, “the doctor’s mindset.” There is a certain straightforwardness to their thinking. Clear reasoning. Concise simplicity. A purpose for everything. Yet, as I sat at this meal I thought about the mysticism of my life. What could I not understand? What did I think didn’t have “purpose?”

The first thing that came to my mind was my girlfriend’s cancer. What purpose does that serve? What purpose does tragedy serve in life. Furthermore, what purpose do I serve?

It’s interesting how these thoughts always come at the most unexpected moments.

I’m not sure how to answer the aforementioned questions. Yet, part of me is okay with saying that “I don’t know” or even “Perhaps there really is no purpose.” This question of purpose is a concept I am struggling with, and striving to give meaning to.

 

To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God

On Sunday, I wrote and delivered the prayers of the people for our service. I asked Soren to read over what I’d prepared and he said something that got me thinking. He’d made an edit and said, “I think that’s more in line with your personal theology, don’t you?” So after church, while I was walking home, I tried to think of what some aspects of my personal theology are. I kept coming back to a line from a musical I’ve loved since I was younger. At the end of Les Miserables, the company sings, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” This phrase does a pretty good job of how I view my relationship with the divine.

It can be hard to see God. We can’t always escape to a marvel of nature or witness small miracles in our moments of doubt. We can, however, choose to be kind. If Kretzmer’s translation in the famous finale is true, we never exhaust opportunities to see God’s visage.

Dying Churches, Interpretations, Faith, and Waves of Energy

Recently, in my own personal research I was conducting surrounding churches and vocation, I stumbled upon a myriad of articles that posed similar data and made similar claims about such data. The data followed churches that were growing and shrinking, and noted that growing churches tended to be theologically conservative, while liberal churches – mainly what exists in mainline Protestantism – is shrinking.

To me, reading this was mildly terrifying. I grew up Evangelical. I used to, at some point, believe in many miracles and mysteries and exclusions and spiritual beings and much more traditionally magical ideas. I no longer do. And as I have grown in college, I could not find a home in the many churches connected to my childhood faith. I left them, conflicted, but found my theological home in many of the liberal Protestant churches in this city.

I did stay visiting a church that did not accept me theologically for longer than I would have because of the close people in my life at that time (it was toxic, don’t keep going to a church that won’t accept you if you have a deep appreciation for theology and find their theology to be dangerous). But, after some time, I found home and life at Marsh Chapel and, since, have continued to live here. It only took me 2 and a half years.

Anyways, the thesis of many of these article and many people – who, often stand in some form of perspective underpinned by a sort of modernism (some kind of Conservative Christian or not) where the world is neat and organized and perfectly understandable and totally not messy at all – is that it is the beliefs of this, often not-literal, sometimes very naturalistic, not exclusive, culturally-sensitive, pluralistic Liberal Christianity that is causing the decline in these churches and no other forces (perhaps the styles and methods of church that these communities exist in).

I cannot say I completely agree with such a sentiment. Does such a religious perspective [a liberal, maybe non-literal one] seize to be mystical, meaningful, or alive? In my opinion, the answer is no. My faith is alive and well – and grounding in my personal life. Every night I still pray and study and consider my faith. Mystical images still buzz around in my head – and the most significant challenges and drivers against my faith have not been the importance of it in my life or struggles with underpinnings of my faith or concerns of its relevance. No, like most people, all of the structures and systems and communities I build and sustain in my life are often challenged and slowly deteriorated by the heavy workloads in my life, challenges to my personal wellness, and the easiness of closing into myself with things like Netflix and technology. I am a human being, and so the narratives and communities that feed my personal meaning and sense of being are undeniably connected to my personal wellness. Each can easily sink each other in some psychosomatic fashion.

I can, in my own life, personally say that the two of the most significant experiences of my faith have occurred in the last two years, much after the religious naturalism that currently underpins my narratives and personal faith began to form in me.

One of these moments, I blogged about last year around this time and connected a bunch of theological reflections with lyrics from a rap by Watsky. I posted that blog before a period of the dark night of the soul I experienced that, honestly, was probably impacted by the weather – it’s dark and cold and wet in March and I missed the sun.

The other time actually occurred a year earlier than that moment, back when I worked in Orientation and was training. We were discussing Martin Luther King Jr’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail, where we discussed the various arguments that King made: namely, his pacifistic ideals that differed from some of his contemporaries and his understanding of the nature of human laws. I remember that specific day and the experiences that surrounded it vividly.

Our discussion was moderated by the Dean of Students, Kenneth Elmore, and most of my fellow Orientation Leaders were excited to talk with him.

As our discussion went on, we began to find that the Dean was pushing against various perspectives of my fellow leaders. The claims that the Dean made were in defense of many of the ideas that Martin Luther King Jr. held in the passage we read. Nonviolence resistance is powerful. These racist and oppressive people are not inherently and irreconcilably evil. Breaking unjust laws is an act that expresses a higher regard for the Law than simply following unjust Laws, because such actions show a regard and understanding of the purpose of the Law.

I cannot outline every counter-argument made against such claims, but I can tell you exactly what I remember feeling and then arguing near the end of the talk. Unfortunately, I was (and honestly still am) not the most outspoken individual and deferred most of the discussion to my colleagues throughout the conversation, but was energetically driven to speak near the end.

I saw, in the writing of Martin Luther King Jr., the relevance of the theological points held in my heart. I also saw in these writings a deep line of energy and systems reverberating throughout history from early ancient Judaism to myself seated there in that seat in the Metcalf Ballroom.

I felt a heightening in my heart and in my senses – and a sense that it was no longer solely me speaking there in that room. I sensed in myself this energy moving like a wave, or a vibration within, stirred by words moving about in that room – the words of Martin Luther King Jr – that fed into another wave crashing in my heart that contained words of C.S. Lewis, and Rob Bell, and that preacher a few years ago in a stuffy hotel ballroom where this contemporary Christian church met, to words from mentors, to words from Rachel Held Evans and Martin Luther and John Wesley and Moses and Paul and Peter and Jesus buzz and immediately these words all crashed into and against each other and I saw the energy and life in the humanity of the stories of the Gospels and this sense that the vibrations stirring in my heart are drops of larger vibrations that reverberate throughout human history and, there, in that room, the vibrations moved through me, vibrations made by humans throughout history and words of sentiments that came from a human who, in death, in loss, in grief, in failure, and in ministry, modelled the New Being, the Christ. This individual lived in theological rawness and humanity – and in that showed a sense of the divine within this humanity.

And there, sitting in the back left corner of the three row circle of students around the Dean, the energy of these human stories short-circuited my lack of social courage and I stood.  Words on the purpose of the Law’s service to humanity mirroring words of sages exited my lips, to sounds of snaps. No, laws that oppress should not be maintained – even if for order. These laws should be broken – for Laws serve humanity. The breaking of these Laws, and the possibility to expose such injustice within shows a truer understanding of the nature and purpose of the Laws – the serving and flourishing of Humanity. I turned to another colleague who just criticized Pacifism. From within, words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn buzzed in my head and conversed with theologians and mystics over millennia. The songs of worship within me stirred in my heart. The liturgies, the stories, the narratives, the communities and the captured experiences of them reverberated through me and shook my being. I stood there and defended a perspective on humanity and a claim of humanity – one that I felt pushing through from within this large system I immediately felt myself become a small, ignited, part of. There is no one who is beyond saving – the divides within humanity are not within social classes, or ethnicities, or nations. No, they exist within every human heart. In those who stand for justice, there still exists a little bit of evil, and in those who fight to hurt and oppress, there stands a little bit of good. In nonviolence resistance, we can appeal to the better nature in our fellow humans, and not deny them their humanity…because nobody is so far gone that they can no longer change…..nobody is so far gone.

I sat down – and I honestly do not remember much more beyond that conversation other than some quick conclusions and some brief meaningful conversations after. I then remember walking to the dorm I had to live in at the time – during training we lived in Warren Towers for two weeks – and the entire time, as this connection I felt to the waves dwindled back down to the normal state I sense, I felt my internal thoughts constantly repeat: “These conversations, these stories, these communities and narratives matter.”  I sensed an urgency in the movements that stirred within me from the faith I carried. Like others, I am a human being, which means I am an individual carrier of stories, and of energetic waves that have moved throughout history – and I know and see these waves today as I did years ago and as I did as a child with different semantics and underpinning epistemological ideas about nature.

It’s Time Now

It’s been a while, thirty-nine days to be exact. I have taking on so much over the past month and a half that I have neglected something that has been a consistent for me for two years now. This blog. So I have so much to say about what’s been happening in my life and how I interpret this thing called life. I’ll break this blog up in three sections.

The first section is my campaign. I’ve decided to run for student Body President of Boston University. I’m running because I believe in the power of collective and I want to build a community. I think there’s something that makes me feel like I have to run, it scared me to run and so here I am. I’m a week in and the energy is everything I wanted it to be. I want to make change, I want to start doing. I’ve met with countless student groups, individuals, and administrators about what makes a good student Body President. I thank i was scared most of failing. I hate rejection, the feeling that people wouldn’t want me. That’s what losing this election would be for me, a university rejection. But I’m optimistic, I believe in the people here, I didn’t know i had made so many relationships. It’s amazing to see people supporting your dreams and I feel that on a spiritual level. People I haven’t talked to since freshman year, have reached out and supported. Brother Larry once told me that the greatest leader of all time was a listener. That’s what stuck for me. I’m ready to listen, I’m ready to find a way to make this place better for students.

The second section is dedicated to community service and specifically my trip to South Africa. I fell in love with the country of South Africa, the history of racism personified through apartheid is so clear and the effects are so evident. I’ve been thinking about effective community service lately and what does that mean. Do these spring break trips matter, is it service tourism? I shy away from that idea because of small town in North Carolina called Louisburg that I’ll always hold close to my heart. But I think we have to find ways to have effective service. I’ve always learned more than I have given on service trips. This trip was even more unbalanced. I learned so much but what did I give? Why didn’t I push to give more? I hate the feeling that we didn’t do enough when the opportunity was there. I hate people checking their privilege because it’s the new normal. I’m seeking to be more genuine.

Lastly I need to address myself. I think I’ve taken this blog for granted. You don’t realize what it means to write and release once a week means to you until you don’t do it. I think I’ve grown and continue to grow but ultimately I want to figure out what people see in me. I’ve been told for years, “your special” and “you need naturally” but I’ve never seen it. I think that’s what I want to know now. Everything I’m doing is an attempt to know myself better. Forget not winning this election, not being effective changes everything for me. I can no longer say I’m special. Who I am has to change.

Rebirth

I have been reading about incarnation and reflecting on what it means. The question of how a good God could allow inexplicable suffering is one that I think about from time to time as I witness injustice. As Tim Keller writes, embracing the doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation to the suffering, and I think that is what drew me into Christianity — the fact that Jesus walked with people. Keller also writes about the palingenesis (palin: again, genesis: birth in Greek), in which the universe would wind down, history would be purified and start over.

Dostoevsky wrote:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

C. S. Lewis wrote:

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. 

However, I cannot fathom what it means for Jesus to return and purge the universe of all decay and brokenness. I wonder how people have interpreted these texts in history, how they think about them today, and what it personally means to people as they go about their daily lives.

Community on Campus

During Spring break I was fortunate enough to go back home and participate in and event by the David Project called “Latinos and Jews United”. The David Project isa Israel advocacy group that works on campuses to promote Israel, but I didn’t really see any heavy right-wing Israel propaganda on the trip to Israel in January. However, this project in Miami had a bit more bias in it and excluded the other side of the conflict, while holding tighter t their narrative than usual. I wasn’t offended or disappointed, but I was actually trying to gauge why this was happening and the reason for it was because some students in this cohort did not go on the trip to Israel and the David Project always has to mention Israel because that’s what they try to represent on campus.

The conference was basically a way for members of the Jewish and Latinx community to share activities to have a bit of a cultural exchange, but there were always Latin Jews who were part of both communities who were well aware of the other. In my opinion it was a great conference where we all learned a lot, but there aren’t really any examples of Jews and Latinos against each other on the media (Although it does happen from time to time). It got me thinking that on an American campus members of the Latino community don’t have anything against the Jewish community, but sometimes members of both the Jewish and muslim communities refuse to meet because they see the other as an enemy. Because of this I am hoping to have a cross-religious event between Jews and Muslims at the end of April and hope to work with some of the people that have made it happen on our campus before.

I also started thinking about BU and some other college campuses and how members of mainly the christian and Jewish faiths have more representation than other religions. One thing I love about Hillel and Marsh on BU; however, is that they are open to accepting all and that is something that matters. I hope that one day we can all come together peacefully without preconceived notions of what others think about us or what we believe about them and I also hope that I can help start an organization that caters to muslim students on campuses throughout America such as Hillel.

Dark Nights, the Human Condition(s), and Lenten Seasons

One of the most personally defeating feelings is not exactly a sense of failure, but a sense of meaninglessness. Even in the midst of plans and assignments and future hopes and goals, I have recently begun to feel like my march towards graduation has, while maintaining pace, changed from a march to a painful trudge. Personally created existential tensions, seasonally-caused exhaustion, a withdrawal from social supports, habitually-created restless nights, week-long illnesses, and spiritual burnout has led me towards a state of unbalance in the midst of a time when I feel, or at least sense, I should be happy and driven.

But, it takes courage to keep trudging, to take a breath every morning and conclude that the stories we tell matter, our stories matter, the work we are doing matters to at least ourselves. Further, there are reasons why we value our values, and why we do the work we do. Ideally, it makes us come alive. And overall, our actions can impact those around us. It has the potential to matter to more than just ourselves. Our work has the potential to matter to somebody. And arguably, the impact on others should matter, because those around us matter. I am not the only one who breathes, who cries, who laughs, who thinks, who cares, who loves, who fears, who tries, and who has doubts and convictions. Others do that, too.

Our stories, ideas, and personal actions have the ability to impact the human condition(s).

So, my only conclusion as to a course of action in the midst of a darker, gloomier personal season such as the one I am in now, is to clutch closely to my personally meaningful stories – and know that these stories include people who felt this way before over millennia – and to hold onto those close individuals in my life, pushing my personal boundaries against personal withdrawal. This is because while interacting with my close friends and communities scares me, my communities balance me. Finally, perhaps my trudge needs a slight change of pace and my nights can use a little more rest, and a little less technology. While I have the assignments I need to complete, I am sure resting might actually improve my abilities to effectively complete them.

And again, I can assure myself that I’ve been here before, people before me have been here before, and my God is found in the deaths of God and of Meaning, for it is within the season of Lent that Easter springs out.

Budgeting

Over Spring Break I had an assignment. Partially because someone I cared about told me to do it, but mostly for myself. The aforementioned person pointed out to me that I like to be in control and know what’s in store for me and that maybe the reason I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately is that, as a graduating senior, a lot of things are unknown. He suggested I make a budget, not the most fun task, but an important one that would perhaps bring me some peace of mind. I sat down with my mother, an accountant and we got to work. We looked up the salary ranges for the types of jobs I’ve been applying for, calculated how much I usually need to spend on food, household supplies and still have some left over for leisure and finally, the part I was dreading, what paying rent in Boston would look like. It was a slow start where I was barely able to locate a tiny studio in my price range, but my mom is wonderful and even as I started to resign myself to anxiety, kept searching. She showed me several places I could see myself living and we could see me being able to afford. I was renewed with a new sense of hope, which actually made me apply to MORE positions than I had been when I was just freaking out. In short, the budget was a good idea.

I spent some more time reflecting on budgeting and how much time we spend on the concept. Humans budget everything— money, time, energy, space and calories. How much can we do in a day? How much can we spend in a weekend? How much can we stray from routine and still be on track with our goals? Then I remembered that there is one resource we never run out of, for God has granted us an infinite supply. Love. No matter how tired I am, or busy my schedule gets, I still have an infinite supply of love for my family, my friends, my faith and my vocation. In that moment I felt that even if I run out of time or space in a day, or have to postpone my goals, that reserve of divine love will still be within me and sustaining me to get past any obstacle. Of course, in moments of stress, I’m apt to forget, but this week I’m committed to reminding myself to breathe, meditate on this infinite love and know that I’ll be ok.

Privacy of Religion

I have been thinking about my faith more seriously recently, and am slowly reading The Reason for God by Tim Keller with my friend. I have wanted to get into this book for a year now, and am really glad to have finally started reading it! One discussion on the divisiveness of religion and how people may be inclined to keep their religion out of the public sphere stood out to me from the first chapter. To what extent does the division between church and state extend to? How does religion influence public policy? How do we engage with people of different faith backgrounds? However, Stephen L. Carter of Yale responds that it is impossible to leave religious views behind when we do any kind of moral reasoning at all:

Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider the most vital. 

Keller continues on to discuss marriage and divorce laws as a case study:

Is it possible to craft laws that we all agree “work” apart from particular worldview commitments? I don’t believe so. Your views of what is right will be based on what you think the purpose of marriage is. If you think marriage is mainly for the rearing of children to benefit the whole society, then you will make divorce very difficult. If you think the purpose of marriage is more primarily for the happiness and emotional fulfillment of the adults who enter it, you will make divorce much easier. The former view is grounded in a view of human flourishing and well-being in which the family is more important than the individual, as is seen in the moral traditions of Confucianism, Judaism, and Christianity. The latter approach is a more individualistic view of human nature based on the Enlightenment’s understanding of things. The divorce laws you think “work” will depend on prior beliefs about what it means to be happy and fully human. There is no objective, universal consensus about what that is. Although many continue to call for the exclusion of religious views from the public square, increasing numbers of thinkers, both religious and secular, are admitting that such a call is itself religious.

I am really interested in how different religious views have impacted the formation of laws and beliefs in the public sphere. This prompts me to reflect on how I have shared my faith with others, and what I can do as an individual. In addition to questioning my beliefs, I am also wondering what my friends and family, my ancestors consider the purpose of marriage to be.