Monday, November 29, 2010

On being at Iliff...

Maybe it’s less about searching for something new and more about discovering what’s already been laid out before you.

My paternal grandfather worked as an electrician here in Denver. He had spent his whole life on the farm in Northwest Iowa, but when my father became too ill with asthma and allergies, my grandpa Jean picked up the family, sold the farm and moved out to Colorado, a place he’d only seen once before in his life. If he hadn’t, it is more than likely my father wouldn’t have made it through that year of his life.

My grandpa maintained his farming roots with pictures of Farmall tractors and a wardrobe accessorized always by a seed cap, worn slightly askew. He wired homes and did odd jobs for people all along the way. He was an elder at First Reformed Church on Clarkson and Iowa. He wasn’t a fancy man, but he was a hard worker, a man who loved his family and who loved God. I lost my grandpa while I was in high school, but there are still many ways in which I believe he’s still been able to support me.

I was contemplating attending Iliff when my father told me this story. My grandparents lived on Birch and Iliff, so traveling east and west on Iliff was a normal occurrence. On one particular day, my grandpa, going through the intersection at University and Iliff got t-boned by another car, sending his light green pick-up spinning in circles, opening his back hatch and having all of the contents spew onto the lawn right next to the Iliff School of Theology sign. Thousands of nails, screws, wires, tools, switches, littered the lawn. My grandpa remembers with fondness the number of Iliff students that made their way out to the lawn and helped him put back together the many pieces of his life, back into that light green truck.

From there I realized that Iliff is just that: a place where people come together to fix the messes, the accidents and to serve in the unfortunate circumstances. It was that way decades ago, and it’s still that way today.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In light of the election and because I had to write a reflection for my Social Change course...

My Monday afternoon tea spot has just been overtaken by the local school children. Braces, sneakers, silly bands, body odor, cell phones, neon sunglasses, squealing. It's a terrible sight. I'm not the person who looks back on middle school or high school with sincere disdain. I didn't mind it really, I wasn't completely cast aside and never had to have braces. Sure, I made the perm mistake once and certainly had to deal with the fact that my arms and legs grew much more quickly than the rest of my body, but all in all, it was fine.

That was, until George W. Bush was elected. I had fit in quite well in my crazy Dutch town, I was tall and blonde, I have Van in my last name. There was no question Jesus loved me; I was, after all, a pastor's kid and religiously attended our youth group events weekly. No one ever questioned my morals, values or beliefs. Until I started talking about them.

That was likely my first mistake. See, 14 year olds don't talk about Meet the Press, or listen to Neil Young, or correct their teacher for using the phrase "pro-abortion". People started to look at me differently...they started to wonder.

Then we invaded Iraq. I was no longer just a tall, blonde, Van, pastor's kid....I was also a, gasp, liberal. I was a pacifist. I didn't like G.W. and I was pro-choice. I told people. I told people I wanted to educate them. I told people they were wrong. My second mistake.

It's easy to believe that your internal feelings and what you've learned at home is exactly how the world should operate. It's not even wrong to believe that, but there is a level to which you can adequately influence those around you. I, unfortunately, was the only one who believed what I believed. I became a heathen and people told me they were praying for my salvation.

It would have been easier to eliminate myself completely from the ignorant presence of those around me, but I recognized early on, that I would be a lot better off if I spent all the time I could around these people, my friends, but my political and theological strangers [enemies?!]. I endured their blank stares, their mocking, their laughter....I peeled the Bush '04 sticker off my car and replaced it with my Habitat for Humanity sticker. I let them be who they were, I listened, I disagreed and I never shut up.

It's so easy to surround ourselves with people just like us. People who worship like us, vote like us, listen to the same music as us. There is value in that type of community, but more than that, you've got to throw yourself into the most uncomfortable situations to gain your own identity. I loved all of Eboo Patel's book, but the section that spoke most to me was as he was trying to convince the leaders of various religious organizations to let their youth engage in conversation with youth from other religious backgrounds. Before Patel could explain his own reasoning, I was outlining what my own response would have been. I wouldn't have my own secure identity politically [and well, theologically] had I not exposed myself to the other side. I need the other to determine in fact, who I was. We need the other. We might not agree with the other, we might not even understand the other, but if we both agree that we need each other [or more realistically, that neither of us is going away], then we can better build a society based on community, conversation and mutual respect.

It took a long time for me to get my crazy Republican friends to respect me. I think they do now, but even when they make silly comments on the HuffPost links I put on my Facebook wall, I know they want my opinion, and hell, they need it. [Or at least that's what I'll keep telling myself.]