Today's ServeWell post is by 2014 Krista Colleague, Janjay Innis. As a child in Liberia, West Africa, Janjay lived in a community that even in its imperfections, she says, "mirrored the kingdom of God as I envision it." In this post she reflects on the June 22nd "Service in Perspective" event which explored the recent conference theme "Going Public: Complex Faith within a Complex World." Her insights are richly informed by years of bridging cultures, working in conflict transformation, a MA in Divinity from Boston University and most recently as a Social Justice Advocate at her volunteer service placement with Tacoma Community House. Thank you for sharing Janjay!
Between Opportunity and Risk (It's still all Good)
Values ground us. They orient us into the world in ways that are uniquely ours and when they are rooted equally in the love of self and neighbor, they help us embody and become love. At this intersection, where our love of self ( the realization that we are exceptionally and wonderfully made in the image of God) begins to inform our love of neighbor ( the realization that everyone else is also exceptionally and wonderfully made in the image of God) is where the Krista Colleague Program has intentionally positioned itself as a resource to assist young adults as they maneuver through the tensions that arise on their journey to authentically accepting and living the truth that we all have a common humanity and that irrespective of the things that stratify us, all people want to be loved, respected and have their personhood affirmed. I am grateful that the Krista Foundation not only states its intention to help its Colleagues process the happenings along this journey, but creates spaces for that processing to take place.
Based on the Krista Foundation value of "mentoring community," defined as "investing in future leaders by recognizing and leveraging peer and intergenerational wisdom and experience," colleagues gathered on June 22nd to discuss what about the 2014 Krista Conference theme, " Going Public: A Complex Faith in a Complex World," excited us and what about the theme challenged us. As Colleagues old and new and Krista Foundation staff shared their thoughts, the resounding conclusion I gathered from this conversation was that we all desired two things: to be our authentic selves when talking about our faith whether we were unwavering, questioning or uncertain about our faith and to actively make room for and be in conversation with those who think and believe differently than we do.
In my own reflection, I expressed to the group that I saw the theme as an opportunity to reclaim and redefine my faith tradition (Christianity) which for valid reasons has been pushed to the sidelines as it has been interpreted in a plurality of ways that have done more damage than good. I believe the dominant voices who have spoken on behalf of Christianity have distorted its true value and I want to be part of a new cohort of leaders who will reintroduce Christianity as a tradition rooted in love. This age-old tradition, which has its foundation in Judaism, is the story of a people who attributed all of their triumphs to an invisible, but omnipresent God and made a bold declaration that this God was also with them, accompanied them and held them in their most trying times. For me, what makes the story of Jesus (a particular interpretation of the Hebrew people's story) so compelling is that Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate (in the flesh) and walked on the earth just to be in solidarity with us in joy and in pain. That is love and it will give my life the utmost meaning to be part of telling this story in the face of injustice and oppression that God is present and because of this divine presence, we can join in loving the world into a new reality where we aren't merely tolerating difference, but building and crossing bridges amidst difference.
My challenge is to live into and audaciously act on this value, especially in spaces where my opinion may not be popular and might even be scrutinized as overly sensational. I believe my opinions about the relevancy of faith in our world to be as much intellectual as they are emotional, but I admit that there have been many times that I have been silent, unable to find the words or speak in the midst of my peers. Perhaps I've made a premature assumption that my peers don't want to hear about faith (especially as it's expressed in mainline traditions) because of the judgment, exclusion and stifling ways its attempted and sometimes succeeded in policing people's lives, but I'll never know if they are truly disengaged until I engage. I'm at the juncture of opportunity and risk and I am certain that it is the right place to be. For this reason, I vow to bring faith into the conversation whenever I see fit -- faith that offers models of hope, peace, reconciliation and community. I'm sure there will be times I'll fall flat on my face, but I even more certain that there will be times that my opinions will be a refreshing approach that will illuminate conversations and real life situations. In all of it, I trust that God will give me lots of grace to stay in the conversation.