Let me introduce myself
My name is Alene Young, and I’ve been a part of Circle of Hope for about 6 years. I serve as the secretary for our Compassion Core team. Normally, this spot is a chance for us to share all of the great things that that are happening with our compassion teams. I decided that this week, I’d take a more personal approach and share an experience that I had recently while running. It’s kind of memoir-esque and a bit erratic, but I hope I can shed some light on my personal journey with faith in my early twenties. I touch on how compassion has been key to keeping me on the boat, instead of hastily jumping off of it in search of a better, easier path. So, without any further explanation, here is the latest I’ve got to offer through meditation/prayer/running/dialogue/etc.
I’m running, and I’m thinking of all the people I love, especially the ones who are hurting right now. The burden is heavy, but I feel motivation to keep running to carry them. I hope I don’t sound arrogant. I don’t mean to because I know these same people have carried me through some of the most difficult seasons of my life. As I run, I decide to stop by the river and take a look at the skyline, to look through tree branches, to sit in the grass. Literally I’m sitting in the grass right now with sweat running down my face, interrupting my cardio to write this. If I don’t, I’ll get lazy and forget all the thoughts running through my head.
Why am I writing? Well, I’m actually thinking about Bill Clinton’s personal speech at the DNC about Hillary. He provided the public with a very intimate view of her in order to combat the untrustworthy persona she has created over many years. And in that speech, I nearly cried. It was the first time I’d ever felt ANY warmth toward this woman who I felt an obligation to support considering her gender and the uniqueness of this year’s election. A good speech can go a long way, it seems, and I’d argue that the intimacy he shared is the reason that I’m still thinking about it.
Like I said, this blog is a spot for our compassion team to update all the great compassionate things that are happening around our church network. And I could list a ton–just ask me. But this week, I couldn’t help but try to give you a piece of myself–a personal account of why in hell I am keeping my faith in 2016 when I have a lot of seemingly better ways to spend my time, i.e. NETFLIX. I’m hoping my personal story, or just my experience within Circle of Hope will give you hope and help you to see Jesus amidst all the distractions of your undoubtedly demanding life.
I remember the first time I came to a meeting at Circle of Hope. There was a speech (sermon, homily, etc), and at the end of it, Joshua, the pastor, asked the attendees to ‘talk back’. My opinion, at a church meeting? Huh? It was so confusing, but so refreshing — that my opinion was being considered at all. Somehow, these people already knew that I mattered, even as I sat with them for the first time. This was one of my first inklings that, if people I don’t know care that I have a chance to speak from my experience, Jesus must being among them.
So I kept coming around. And I am still doing that now. Many may wonder why faith is even relevant today, or why someone of my age would be interested in keeping it. On my run, this question seems to keep popping around. What follows is a plethora of different reasons, beautiful and challenging and hopeful reasons for why I keep running this race.
As the years have passed, I’ve talked back at many a meeting, contributing to the mutual dialogue that Jesus takes seriously and Circle is dedicated to fomenting. In those years, I’ve found a lot of things out about this body of people: they like women for more than their physicality and are dedicated to building them up as leaders and pastors. I’ve learned that money, a taboo point of contention in most churches, and most any organization, is all out on the table. You want to know where the money you give goes? Just ask. In fact, if you want to object, you can do that too.
I’ve learned that Circle helps people in their most basic needs and fervently tries to provide resources for mental health. Seriously. Circle of Hope subsidized my therapy during nursing school when I couldn’t afford it but desperately needed it. On top of that, we have a mutuality fund to close the gap for people who can’t make ends meet each month. We give a ton of money to relief initiatives each year through the Mennonite Central Committee. We also partner with community organizations (Tree House Books, local schools, community gardens) by donating money from our Circle Thrift stores’ profit each month. The list could go on….
I’ve learned that conflict is not something that causes schisms in the church, but a healthy dialogue and a commitment to taking each other seriously. Being a part of leading the church is a messy business–and it’s certainly not perfect. But I know the people I covenant with are lead by Jesus, and the work they do is NOT easy, but they do it nonetheless. As Bill Clinton said in his speech, making change isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I’ve seen that change in so many lives of people who are close and those that are only acquaintances.
I think what I’m trying to get at here is that this body shows me faith in action. Today in politics and in the capital C church, a lot is promised and not many promises are kept. Politicians say they can accomplish things that they cannot, and we find so much corruption seeping into the leadership running our society. Religious figures are speaking hatred for those they cannot relate to on the basis of race or gender or sexual preference or social class. Violence ensues, hatred seems to prevail.
How do we keep the dialogue going?
So why Jesus? Why associate with people who bring so much hurt? The simple answer is that I do not. My faith really has nothing to do with these agendas and these dogmas and various theologies. My faith is a personal and yet communal commitment that is demonstrated in so many tangible and hopeful ways in this city. In other words, Circle of Hope creates a third way, another economy, a wisdom that can’t be provided through lectures and a security that doesn’t come with promotions and advancements and higher pay. The American Dream that is preached doesn’t apply to every American, but the hope of Jesus does. And I see that ALL the time through my community.
I must say that I have had so many doubts. I have. Ask my friends, ask my people. Going with Jesus is not easy. Going with Jesus doesn’t make sense. And leading others to go with Jesus has it’s own frustrations. Leading in Circle of Hope does not come without misunderstandings and confusion and even anger and bitterness. But through it all, I have been shown that the love of Jesus is the bottom line and dialogue will continue until whatever needs figured is figured out. A mutual commitment to keep talking, and talking face to face is the basis of carrying out love. The people I do this with are undoubtedly in it for the long haul. I am humbled to be among them. Somehow, Jesus keeps showing up in the weirdest of ways.
What I’m saying here may mean a lot to you or may not. You might relate to me, and you might think what I’m saying sounds cultish or too religious or uninformed. That is fine. All I have to offer here is my personal experience living life among a people who care and who show up and do the things they say they are going to do. And when they miss the mark, they ask why and keep moving towards the goal–which above all, is to love. If you have faith, be encouraged that there are others who are trudging and fighting and doubting and hoping along with you. If you do not, you are welcome to be among us with your unbelief.
To close, I’d like to share some words from Andrew Sullivan from a recent interview on the Ezra Klein Show…
“Life is more like going to college. You’re there for a set period of time, you might be there for 3 or 4 years, [but] the key thing is what you do while you’re there. Instead of trying to live forever, why not try to live for now? … which is a different kind of forever. My mentor once said to me that he was interested in the concept of salvation which has nothing whatsoever to do with the future […] You live in the present, you live open to God’s grace, and you try and do what God wants you to do as far as you can glean it. And that’s enough. The truth is that living fully in the knowledge that we’ll die is the only way to live […] Everything changes. Anything can happen, anytime. I am not exempt.”
Alene Young, reporting