I’d like to re-emphasize that I don’t mean to demean any experiences, epiphanies, or realizations that anyone has had which were actually important to them. The reason I’m writing these posts is mostly because I think that certain reactions and observations tended to be overemphasized in the Christian circles I know best, and I want to explore what viable alternatives exist. I think that it would be best if several ways of encountering an adventure are represented and “modeled,” rather than only one, for the sake of honesty and helping people to process their own experiences more flexibly.
For instance, when I was in college, I went on an Intervarsity trip to South Tucson. ON the way there my acquaintance, leader of our dorm Bible study, gushed over things like how we weren’t given a schedule, and how that’s so important for learning to trust God. Well, if you’re really that agenda-driven, sure, fine, whatever. I mostly wanted to help some poor people, which was what the trip was supposed to be about. Then we had a prayer walk around town, with such tactics as babel prayer (I don’t think that’s actually what it’s called), where everyone prays different things out loud at the same time. That was kind of weird, and not necessarily in a good way. then we walked and popcorn prayed — the only place I remember going was to a parking garage. I had no idea why it needed special prayer. After a while we went back, ate beans and rice for dinner, to remind us of the poor people (we didn’t invite any to join us, however). The next morning we were instructed to buy breakfast from the local convenience store, and think of the plight of children whose parentts don’t bother getting them proper food, and instead just let them buy whatever they wanted. We were supposed to notice if the poor nutrition affected us. Mostly we bought things like protein fruit shakes, because we were college students, rather than poorly raised children. Then we went to the park and played Red Rover.
Our first service project was to help a woman weed her garden, but unfortunately she wasn’t there, and we didn’t have any tools anyway. So we hung out in front of her house for a few hours, trying in vain to pull up some bermuda grass lodged in calieche and cement. After that we had a workshop on how we ought to be more liberal concerning illegal immigrants. We made a lot of peanut butter and jelly lunch bags, divided into groups, and went out to look for homeless people, windows down, blaring some kind of Christian crump to show how non-stuck-up we were, and annoy the less cool people around us. At least that’s why I hope we were playing it; otherwise we were playing it because someone actually liked it, which would be unfortunate.
Eventually we got to a park. We found a homeless man. Unfortunately, he was mentally ill, and wouldn’t eat with us; something about conspirators poisoning the food. We sat down and ate anyway, and tried to talk with him. Unfortunately, being mentally ill, he only seemed to notice one of us, while the rest of us hung out and listened to conspiracy theories. Then we went back, speakers rattling, wind swooshing, nice old ladies wincing, for a workshop about something or other. We camped out in the church again that night, and in the morning we had fresh goodies from a local Mexican bakery, and a very loud, very participatory church service, followed by a wrap-up/de-brief.
All of that was amusing and enigmatic enough, as life and trips so often are. It was even charming in an epic fail kind of way, and perhaps even worthwhile, if only socially and to find out how it’s a lot more difficult than one might assume to find suitable methods of do-gooding. The odd thing, though not so odd that I haven’t encountered it elsewhere, and part of the reason why I still write posts like those this past week, is that nobody (and I mean nobody) who spoke up at the wrap-up session seemed to have been at that same charmingly misjudged outing as myself. They had learned Important Lessons, seen God at work in Big Ways, stepped out of their Comfort Zones, Trusted God with the timing, become more empathetic, and Made a Difference for South Tucson. Of course, there might have been people who had a similar experience to myself, but wouldn’t speak up for the same reason I didn’t — there was no place for that. There was no place for that not only because it would have been wet-blanket-ing, but also because we weren’t actually responding to one another; it was just a long parade of individual experiences, with no help for half-processed observations, and partly concluded conclusions. And with a wrap-up like that, they were unlikely ever to be concluded, because as quite a young person, my main thought was I don’t belong here, combined with the impression that I and those speakign had been to quite different outings that weekend.
That’s a bit of a shame. People like me benefit from hearing what people mean by what they say, the experience-having people might well benefit from having to clarify a little of what they mean, and the event leaders might be able to grow as leaders in hearing some feedback (not complaining, but honest) about the good and the less good.