tl;dr (short version)
Bridge is a 7-week immersive justice program including an internship (I taught tech classes at Year Up). I learned that serving people can also mean using the gifts God gave me, and doesn't have to be measured in a certain way. I identified some areas where I am self-righteous and became more conscious of what it means to truly love people and not just love part of them. I also realized I joke around too much when discussing serious topics, and I began to be more conscious of how my words affect people. I saw examples from community members and guest speakers of how the Kingdom of God is lived out. I came to a new understanding that loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving yourself are all interconnected and mutually necessary.
What is Bridge DC?
Bridge DC is a justice program run by the InterVarsity (IV) Christian Fellowship where students such as myself go to Anacostia, DC for 7 weeks of learning, discussing, and experiencing the issues that affect DC and how God is working in the city. As part of the program, students are paired with a volunteer internship site — mine was a teaching assistant position at Year Up, which aims to close the opportunity divide by partnering with companies looking for new employees and with young adults who can't afford college and are looking for a job. They teach business and technology classes in a 1-year program, after which the students receive an internship from one of the companies. I attended the program from June 13 to August 1, 2019 and learned a lot! The following are some of the areas of growth that I have reflected on.
Expanded Vision of Service
At Urban Plunge, a 1-week spring break trip with similar DNA to Bridge DC, I learned that service is not limited to physical service, but also includes relational service. Some examples are stopping to talk to a person who's homeless, visiting people in prison, being friendly to new neighbors and offering to support them if they need anything. Acts of relational service acknowledge the dignity in a person as a child of God and as a sibling in humanity.
As an introvert, I have a lot of trouble breaking the ice in conversations, and sometimes struggle with knowing what to say, so relational service (as defined above) is difficult for me. What I learned at Bridge is that service can take on other forms, and it can include things I am good at as an individual! A few mornings during the summer, I went to Our Daily Bread, which is a soup kitchen hosted in the basement of a Methodist church. Volunteers not only serve food, but also eat the same food themselves and stick around to talk. It's grown over the years into a supportive community for people who fall on hard times. (One day they even had a doctor come in and do check-ups for free for whoever needed them!)
One morning, I saw someone playing a piano that was over where I hadn't noticed it before, and I went over and asked if I could play when they were done. At the time, I felt like I was running away and avoiding talking to the people, but after I played, folks thanked me for playing and said that it brightened their day! It was a simple event, but it started a shift in mindset that service didn't have to mean doing things I'm bad at, but it could involve using the gifts God gave me to bring joy to people.
A few weeks later, St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, which we were attending for the summer, invited me to play the piano for their prelude, and the choir director told me afterward that I should find some outlet, such as a senior home, to play for people who don't get many visitors. Another example of relational service involving things I am skilled at and love doing!
Another thing I did this summer was an internship at Year Up, which teaches technology to people who can't afford college. I was a TA, doing grading and teaching a few lessons. Most days though, there was not much to do except hang around and answer questions that people had. Some people asked me questions about Linux or web servers, which I know a lot about and was able to point them to the right online resources. For example, one guy was creating a website for his friend's business. This is another example of how the pre-defined expectations I had for how I would serve (teaching curriculum, grading papers, etc.) were subverted and the more important thing was spending time with the students to answer questions.
To summarize, my understanding of service broadened: Before, it was just things like feeding people who need food or talking to people who most people pass by. After, it expanded to also include using the gifts God gave me, like playing piano for people or giving advice to someone about how to set up a website.
What is self-righteousness? In the past, I would have described it as “Feeling better than other people because you think you are inherently more right or moral than them.” (I also didn't view myself as self-righteous.) But it has a way of creeping in to my thinking, and this summer I learned another helpful angle to identify self-righteousness in myself: feeling the need to prove that I am justified.
Needing to prove one's self comes from the creation of an “in-group” and an “out-group.” Wanting to be part of the in-group, I realized I was trying to emulate characteristics of someone who cares about justice rather than being OK with looking dumb and focusing on the learning that Jesus is calling me into. I didn't consciously create the in/out groups, and in fact I disliked the us/them mentality. But, subconsciously I put people in the out-group if they were not accepting, not open, had an us/them mindset, etc. In this way, I had turned into exactly the thing I was trying to dissociate from!
Another thing that tipped me off is that I have a problem learning from people when what they're saying makes me feel dumb. On several occasions (see the next section), I said something to offend someone, and it was difficult to admit that I made a mistake and hurt them as a result of my ignorance. (Thank God we were in a house committed to conflict resolution — we got through it!) It was even harder to listen to the person I hurt and accept advice and suggestions for change. It was also hard for me, and still is, to bring up controversial topics such as politics and religion, because I sometimes react badly to disagreement and conflict. As a result of avoiding having the hard conversations, I tend to build up a perception of someone's opinion or what they think of me in my head, which upon talking to them is completely overblown.
I'm still working on dismantling my self-righteousness that has built up unconsciously, and on being able to learn when I feel dumb or attacked. But because of Bridge, at least I am more aware of these characteristics of myself that are not so great, and not ashamed to admit my weaknesses and process them.
Joking on Serious Topics
My sense of humor has always been a way to bond with friends and family. I think I got it from my Dad (who tells some sick dad jokes), and his Dad (who knows some sick limericks that I was inspired by). I also liked to joke around on my high-school robotics team and generally have a good time. Coming to Bridge, however, I realized that I use joking as a coping mechanism for dealing with serious topics.
They say humor is all about timing, well, serious topics are definitely the wrong time to make a joke or jab at someone because they might be processing it in a different way. I ended up making some jokes that were hurtful to people and since our house was committed to growth and openness, I was called out (1-on-1, not in front of everyone thankfully). A verse from the Bible that has been relevant to this is James 3:1-12, which talks about how the tongue is a powerful part of the body for good or evil, and “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”
As I started to become more aware of my insensitive joking, I had to make the choice to continue to bring my whole self to the table, which was necessary if I wanted to deal with deep-seated issues that involved my whole self. I have become a lot more aware of how the things I say affect people, and I have gotten a little better at holding back and considering things more before I say them.
The Kingdom of God
This summer, I read “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne, which my grandpa lent me before I went on the trip. It's a collection of life stories from the author, for example, one time there was an abandoned cathedral in Philadelphia that homeless people were staying in while they waited for their applications for housing to go through (It had been months or years for some). The city wanted to kick them out, but a group of college kids occupied the cathedral and made it a media spectacle so that the city was afraid to kick them out and look bad. Multiple different groups got involved and helped out in different ways, and each time the city would try to kick the homeless people out, God would provide in some way to protect them. The book has a lot more stories like these, illustrating what happens when you follow Jesus in radical ways, living out the Kingdom of God with communities that are neglected. One cool idea from the book is that instead of just serving people in need, we should make friends with them and build community together. After all, Jesus was homeless, staying in other people's homes or in the wilderness while he traveled around healing the sick and ministering to the people. This book was really inspirational to me and changed how I think about faith in more of an active mindset. (If you want to borrow the book, contact me and I'd be happy to lend it to you if you are in the area, or I can send it by mail).
During the trip, we heard from many guest speakers who were also living out their faith in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Dawnielle discussed different types of prayer that are common in different church backgrounds and how we can learn from other denominations. Michael Howard talked to us about the fact that we only know the tip of the iceberg when we know someone and there are good and bad things about everyone. Father East told us about the history of St. Teresa of Avila, the Anacostia area, and some general church history. Branden Polk covered many topics: spending time with people you disagree with to move towards reconciliation; ignorance or pain leads to fear, hyper-vigilance, and control, while curiosity and awe lead to learning, growth, and collaboration. Kathy and Don chronicled their wild adventure in taking on multiple foster kids, and prayed for some of us individually. Pastor Lisa drew up a framework for incarnational ministry — a full picture of the Gospel including proclamation of the word and demonstration of compassion, but also restoration and development (e.g. helping establish grocery stores in food deserts) and confrontation of injustice (e.g. petitioning congress). It was great to hear and see concrete examples of how to live life differently, getting messy and involved on the practical level, and serving the Kingdom of God.
Loving God, Neighbor, and Self
This is a small, but important revelation that I had during a Bible study on the story of the good Samaritan. My mindset beforehand was that loving other people was a bit of a one-way thing, but rewarding because it's the right thing to do. However, the command in that story is not to love others and neglect yourself, but “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving God and yourself are also part of this command, and what I realized is that it is hard to love your neighbor if you don't love yourself, and vice versa. And if you don't put loving God first, you will not be rooted well and will not have the strength to support others.
- Continue to use the gifts God gave me for service
- Be conscious of my urge to prove myself
- Be mindful of how my words affect people
- In service to others, don't neglect to love God and myself
- Explore the intersections of Jesus, Justice, and Tech through a bi-weekly dialogue on my college campus (blog post coming soon!)