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Fund for Theological Education, Volunteers Exploring Vocation Conference

Recently a few of our QVS cohort attended a Fund for Theological Education conference about exploring vocation. We all had different experiences I’m sure, so I’ll just tell you a little about mine. I was pretty wigged out arriving, honestly. It was hosted out of a fancy hotel and I felt out of place. I also felt like a bit of an impostor. Do I have to pretend to be confident about my faith to be here? Will they judge me when they find out my god doesn’t look like their God?

We began each morning and ended every night with prayer which was nourishing even when the structure was different from my familiar silent worship. I chose to take workshops on The Theology of Howard Thurman, the L’Arche Community Learning Vulnerability as a Way of Life, and Love Conquering Borders with the Alterna community. They were awesome. I also attend a panel discussion on Seminary and visited Mercy Community Church, which were both well timed adventures for me. Keynote speakers included Anton Flores-Maisonet about breaking cycles of violence, Leroy Barber about what we can learn from slave spirituals, Dr. Anna Carter Florence about teaching others to preach. Aspects of each of their stories spoke directly to me.

Some gems for me from the conference:

-The notion that boundaries need not be stagnant, that they can be fluid and used as a spiritual contemplative practice.

-Speaking to my living situation this year, that idea we as humans begin in community. That even before we experience a sense of self, we experience community.

-I was struck by Thurman’s affirmation of doubt as faithful, of asking as a way of praying.

-And also by the different ways that each of the presenters chose to meld their work and home life in a vocation of the heart.

None of us are finished ever. We are each constantly being shaped and transformed. The conference re-inspired in me a sense of following the divine, of learning to trust, of knowing that doesn’t mean I have to stop asking questions, and of loving my community for what it is. For that, I am grateful.

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Emotional Roots of Community Transformation

For my work here in Atlanta I am co-planning and co-facilitating a Community Transformation Training based on the methodology of Paulo Frerie, Brazilian educator and social organizer. Freireian methodology is about people connecting to their own emotions and using them as a vehicle for action. To that end, one of the first things we do with people is put them in small groups and ask them what they are worried about, what they are happy about, what they are sad, angry, and hopeful about. From those answers we listen, and we ask everyone to listen, to threads that run through many of their emotions as a group. It’s not all that different from listening for the sense of the meeting, and involves discerning what comes out of people’s hearts and what pieces are narrative from the mind only. Similar to listening through a popcorn meeting for the ministry that is stirring. Listening, no matter what vocabulary is put on it, is a powerful tool for human connection, which can lead to change making in the world. No matter what the generative theme (Freire’s words) of a group is, identifying it is the beginning of being able to identify useful and motivated action steps. So I ask you: What are you worried about? What are you happy about? Sad, angry, hopeful about? What would it be like if you talked to people about emotions and found that a group all had a thread running through their lives?

Clarkston Development Foundation newsletter article

Before I came to Clarkston I lived on the U.S.- Mexico border working to maintain water and medical assistance in the desert where many people die trying to cross to a new life. I stayed in the desert because it was all I knew how to do. I knew that when I left gallons of water in the desert or patched people’s blisters or wrapped people’s ankles it had small implications. Oh did I know that systemic solutions were needed. I knew that my work did nothing to prevent people’s needs to cross through a deadly desert. My work met people in the face of economic systems larger than either of us and paused with them for a moment. I didn’t know how to fix the system, all I knew how to do was to get up each morning and hike the trails again.

What if everyone stopped waiting until they knew how to fix everything? What if everyone just did, with love and humility, the one piece they knew how to do? We have developed traditions of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. by participating in a day of service. And how do our lives seek justice the rest of the year? I know that dropping bottles of water in the desert does nothing to address the systemic violence at hand. I also know that when I am in the desert and I need water, if someone gives it to me they have done something important. We are not, as individuals, capable of working from all angles. So we must come together. We must each work from the angle that we are able, in the communities where we are. We must notice how we grow from and with one another. We must get up each morning with humility and love the world all over again. This is the best service I know how to do.

“You do not need a college education to serve …you need only a heart full of grace.” (MLK)

-Kelsey McNicholas

 

Article written for CDF newsletter

http://www.clarkstondevelopmentfoundation.org/

Why I Keep Talking About Food

I woke up thismorning and ate three leftover brownies while sitting on the couch thinking. It was that kind of morning.

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.

Difficult things are often the most educational things. There is great learning opportunity in feeling worn down and tired (we’re getting back to those brownies this morning), especially if I ask myself lots of questions.

“Take it to the wall” is a phrase from the theater community I worked in 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.”

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 had to 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?

Reflection on Stewart Detention Center and SOA Protest/Vigil

    “God calls the unqualified to do the unimaginable.”

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The School of the Americas vigil was important for me to be at this year specifically because it grounded my spirit again in the relationship between my faith and the communal struggle for justice. It reminded me to be patient with myself and my community, helped me shift away from product-minded thinking and into process-minded thinking, revitalized my hopes, and reminded me of the context of faith leaders of all kinds stepping into committing their lives for justice. I am not alone, and neither is anyone else. The first time I went, the vigil impacted me the most. The solemn procession of white crosses and reading of names, the crowd repeating “presente” after each, and the image of thousands of crosses woven into the fence of the SOA. They are images that stick. This year though, it was the workshops. A storytelling session led by Christian Peacemakers Team spoke to something in me that knows physical accompaniment work. A workshop led by Imokalee Farmworkers helped me remember to meet people where they are and look at things one step at a time. On Friday, before we swung into gear for SOA there was a protest at the gates of Stewart Detention Center. A walk to the gates followed by presentations by immigration detainees and families of detainees, and a stop on the walk back for tamales at El Refugio, a hospitality house for families of detainees. It was a time of remembering work that I have stepped away from this year to develop mechanisms of self-care and sustainability. Remembering it was important. It was a covered weekend. Not every holy moment feels serene; many feel more like scraped knees full of gravel, dust in your eyes & lungs, and being disturbed in your own world. The humility of feeling no power but prayer, and having that prayer teach you only the next step, one at a time.
I often want to ring bells and call out to everyone I know about all of the injustices in the world and what I want them to do about them, but that is neither effective strategy nor my call in the world. So how to live my life as witness to what I see in the world? Workshops and time spent at the SOA vigil this year helped me stay centered while I continue to ask myself that question.

“To those who hunger give bread, to those who have bread give hunger for justice”

Why I Keep Talking About Food

“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?

Open House

 

 

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.

Kelsey’s Bio

Kelsey McNicholas graduated from Guilford College in 2011 with joint degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies, Sociology, and Anthropology. Her honors thesis was entitled, “On Stories and Authority, Narrative as a Form of Resistance to Systemic Violence in U.S. Immigration Policy.” While at Guilford, she was a member of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, she studied abroad in Mexico, she received the Newlin Award for Social Concerns from New Garden Friends Meeting, and she was a Bonner Scholar. She also organized an alternative spring break trip to the Mexico border with No More Deaths, and she interned in the immigration program of the American Friends Service Committee’s Greensboro office. She currently works as a legal intake volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia. She also participated in Pendle Hill’s Young Adult Leadership Development Program in the summer of 2011. Kelsey will be working this year at the Clarkston Development Foundation as the Community Engagement Associate.

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