Every semester I am required to attend a 7-10 day residency for my Urban Studies program (affectionately known as the MAUS program) through Eastern University in Philadelphia. My concentration focus is Community Development, but like most students, I integrate youth development and the arts as well in order to best develop skills that will serve my community around me. It's hardcore. I won't lie. But a couple years ago I was searching (what seemed like uselessly) for 'the perfect program' that would help me build character and skills to live my part of ending the slave trade. Then along came the MAUS program at Eastern: "Faith.Reason.Justice." — need I say more?
The Island of Misfit Toys is a playful moniker a group of us christened ourselves as — the ones who come from far outside of Philadelphia. We stay for that 1 short week, study intensely, ask serious questions, get a grasp on thesis development, but most importantly, we take the chance of revealing the deepest parts of ourselves and our ministries that are broken, that are lost, or that are just plain tired out. For us, this residency is our retreat… our haven… our balm in Gilead. I'd say that sounds somewhat melodramatic, but after living through 3 such residencies thus far, I can assure you melodrama has nothing to do with it (unless you're springing a cookie off of your forehead, down your face, and successfully into your mouth). From the West Coast, mid-States, New York, and even Canada, we all congregate in a motely crew that seems would have been entirely unlikely to have gotten together on our own if we had been living side by side. Perhaps I'm wrong… maybe. But this vast, sprawling geographic distance between us weighs on our hearts and minds, and we know all too well that we have but 1 week together. Time becomes all the more precious. We come as misfits in our hometowns, crazy prophets of our times that people have blown off, as worn out ministers of the faith wondering "where's the love gone?", and pieces and parts of us simply don't seem to match the rest of us. Yet this is what makes us precious to one another and, as we discover through each other's stories, precious to God.
I was able to meet and interview Shane Claiborne this semester — a dream of mine for some time now. If I am to create intentional community for exploited youth exiting the slave trade (say THAT 10 times fast!), I felt I needed to start asking questions of those who live in IC. I'll be honest: I didn't get the answers I thought I was looking for. But if I had gotten some "1,2,3,4" answers, I think I would have come away far more disappointed in the formula than with the open-ended "hanging" respones I did get. Hmmm… still pondering that one. Stay tuned.
In this picture with Shane are three of the wisest people I've had the honour of meeting thus far in my life — Dr. Drick Boyd, Dr. Kimberlee Johnson, and Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt (from left to right). I say "wise" because while they teach as academics, they also live their faith… their justice… their reason. They are children of God first, and teachers second. They are not perfect (gasp!), but that makes their credibility as fellow sojourners all the more tangible. Not only do they want to see us succeed, but they take the time to get to know us as people and not only students or as numbers in a classroom. The fact that I haven't been booted out yet speaks to their patience (being ignorantly audacious with Dr.Campolo the 1rst semester, and then throwing snowballs in the 2nd… wow… feeling the need to straighten up and fly right). The program itself is not perfect either, I might point out. It doesn't claim to be, but sometimes I'll admit that I expect it to be. Prick the expectation, and my ego deflates back to where my perspective is a little more realistic.
Some of us are taking Applied Research and Evaluation (*shudder*… took that beast last fall!), and others are working on their thesis projects. Personally, I am taking Race & Ethnic Relations course that is putting me through the wringer. If you would rather learn your rhyme and reason of social justice nice and neatly, this program is not for you. Don't bother. If you want to dig to the core of life as it was and is and could be, live as a radical (from the Latin radix: to get to the heart of things), and be the change… take a chance. It will hurt. The questions asked of you will demand you take an honest and hard look inside of yourself to the point where you are bare, exposed, naked and raw. Raw is key here… to be naked and whole might speak to being able to endure the batterings of the truth. To allow yourself to become raw with the truth, the narratives of others, and of Christ means to be naked and pounded — entering into a mystifying transformation that I can't explain here. Black and white… red and white… yellow and white… anyone sensing a theme here? It's by far been the most spiritually and emotionally challenging course thus far in the program. Yet I wouldn't trade it for anything. Even in the bruising, there is love… fellow Misfit Toys are going through the same process, and we traverse the journey together from wherever we are.
Some of us have lived through poverty and are passionate about seeing homelessness end… others wish to see afterschool programs better engage local communities knowing it takes a village to raise a child… others want to see churches better engage one another as the Bride of Christ, and not destroyers of one another… and still others, like me, seek to engage the world as abolitionists and refuse to see any person or group sold for price anymore. This is my family — misfits, freaks, crazies, and wanderers. If you come to the program and sense you don't belong, you, my friend, might just be exactly where you're supposed to be.