“Take it to the wall” is a phrase from the theater community I worked with last summer. What we meant was that when a youngster was being obnoxious, disrupting the flow of camp, or really challenging us staffers in whatever way (and oh did they have ways), we challenged ourselves to not disengage from them. We challenged ourselves to keep loving them and working with them beyond where we felt at the end of our ropes, and then beyond again. To gather as a staff to debrief, process, and together keep loving the camper all the way through everything, all the way “to the wall.”
Difficult things are often the most educational things. There is great learning opportunity in feeling worn down and tired, especially if I ask myself lots of questions.
My visiting sister commented on a quote in my bedroom, one that I posted recently. The page says “Justice is what love looks like in public” (Cornel West). The words are written in black sharpie, with red barbed-wire-like accents. I remember feeling angry when I posted it on the wall. Frustrated at how I had thus far failed to articulate to my housemates the crux of my faith, that love be followed to the wall.
As a house, here in Atlanta, we have been gathering to see how far we can push love. We are stepping on each others toes, pushing each others boundaries, and when we have time, getting into important conversations. “The wall” of loving the world is in a different place for everyone, we all have our own processes of loving the world.
I choose today to not go to meeting in order to catch some desperately needed alone time to figure out what’s going on in me. I want us to do more. I know that we are more capable of investing in justice in our daily living and eating. I also know that to me it is a consequence of living my faith. To see us invest as a faith community in factory meat industries and abusive labor situations breaks my heart. I see it as being just as hypocritical as the high & mighty Churches that I struggle so much with. Is one of the gifts I bring to our community, the gift of personal struggle made public? The gift of pushing us?
I was raised as a polite person; I am very good at reading people’s energies and giving them what I think they want. I am an unfortunately practiced people pleaser. It can be useful, but more often detrimental. I’m not accustomed to being the person that makes the whole community fidget uncomfortably, or who brazenly pisses people off. It may involve anguish as well, but only a process that moves forward in love can have a loving product. My question for myself then in this time of learning is this: how can I push my community further, in love?
The construction paper “Welcome Friends” bubble-cut letters are still taped up in our kitchen from the Open House we had for Atlanta Friends Meeting (AFM) last night. Potluck style, of course, dinner drifted into conversation, which carried on until the songbooks came out. There were Friends I’ve come to know quite well, Friends I was meeting for the first time, young Friends, older Friends, and even a Friendly dog. It was designed to be a gift to AFM; a way we could open our lives to those who put so much love into our program. To me though this morning, their spirits still linger here. The songs are being savored and re-sung in the wood floors, the kitchen table is warm with company, and unspoken about barriers in the house have been lifted. At a time when the QVS-ers were beginning to feel worn down and tired, AFM gifted us again by leaving our house feeling open and renewed.
I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since we all moved to Atlanta to start QVS. In some ways, it feels like we’ve been here forever–we have routines in place for cooking and cleaning, we’ve figured out how to get to work on time, we know which days to gather for house events–but at the same time we’re still learning how we fit into our new lives here. I don’t have a car, so I’m definitely still working out how to get around Atlanta.
At work, I am also starting to settle into a routine. I love my work at the Frazer Center, a community for adults and young children at all levels of ability and disability to “gather, learn, and flourish.” I spend my time in the children’s program as a floating assistant teacher. That means that every day, I show up to work and find out which classroom I’ll be assisting in. Classrooms are grouped by age, not ability, and we have multiple classrooms at each age level. On any given day, I could be working with infants (the youngest at the Center are six weeks old) to five-year-olds in Pre-K. It’s a great experience to get to know so many children and teachers and begin to develop relationships with them.
Just because I have routines established doesn’t mean that life is getting easy. I’m definitely starting to feel the physical and emotional strain of working a 40-hour week with young children who are sick with lots of different kid germs, while still trying to stay connected and engaged with the community that’s forming here as well as the community I left at home.
I was talking with Becca after work today about the kinds of challenges we’re starting to feel in a very real way now, and I remembered saying–before I started QVS, as I was thinking about the program from my home in Philadelphia–that this would all be an adventure. Moving far away
from my family would be hard, and living in community would be a rewarding but time- and energy-intensive process, and I just wasn’t going to know in advance everything that would happen.
I think of adventures in the abstract as exciting times of growth and change and discovery, and I had to some extent forgotten that my adventure wasn’t just going to be the highlight reel. Still, I feel like QVS was set up well to help us work through our challenges. There are a number of people who I think to talk to immediately–Christina, my spiritual nurturer, QVS Board members, my supervisors at work–but something that’s unexpectedly wonderful is the support of Atlanta Friends Meeting. Every time I come home, I see a physical reminder of the love and care with which they set up this beautiful space for us. Every time I go to Meeting, I talk with Friends who care about this project. I feel like I have a lot to grow into, but I am as excited as everyone else in our extended community to see how the adventure unfolds.