My project ended on Saturday with a VTGS class with a focus on addiction and recovery. The class was actually one of the most effective meetings of VTGS that I’ve been to up to this point. We had a panel with about 6 recovering addicts, did an art project, and then had a discussion/reflection in small groups. It was interesting to be the only Westtown student in attendance, since the underclassmen left for spring break on Friday.
This class was effective because of the delicacy of the topic. The personal testimonies we heard during the panel were really moving, because of the pure strength of the person sharing. To be so open with a bunch of teenage kids from privileged backgrounds about addiction and recovery, of all things, that takes guts. But the topic was also cause for a gap between the students and the people on the panel. It was hard for a lot of the kids to make sense of some of the stories, because it still feels so distant to them. This gap didn’t completely go away, but it was interesting to watch as kids started to grasp what addiction means on a personal level through the group discussions.
I think that it was good for me to be the only Westtown student at this class because of the nature of my work at BSM for the preceding two weeks. I was worried how it would feel to return to being a student in the class after having been an “intern,” and having people from Westtown with me would have made that difference larger. Instead I feel like I was able to hold my place well, and also take in what addiction/recovery means to me personally and be rather vulnerable in discussion. It’s always easier to be vulnerable when you aren’t surrounded by the people who you see every day.
Anyway, post-project life for me includes a vacation to Saint Martin. It’s been a culture shock, going from my Senior Project to this. If you’ve read my blog from the start, you might remember how I chose to stay in Philadelphia to avoid the feel of a luxe vacation. Here I am, on an extremely luxe vacation, and it’s made it difficult to keep myself in the mindset I kept during my Senior Project. Having been taken out of Philadelphia the day after my project ended has really blurred some of my initial reflections, and I wish it hadn’t been like that.
During the length of my project, Liam had me read 3 different books. I finished one before starting at BSM, read one during, and then lost steam and still haven’t finished the third. This third book, The Fidelity of Betrayal by Peter Rollins, is a theologically-based argument for the deconstruction of the church in favor of a church essentially turned on its head. Taken from the back of the book:
“It may be necessary to betray your faith in order to keep it.
What if one of the core demands of a radical Christianity lay in a call for its betrayal, while the ultimate act of affirming God required the forsaking of God? And what if fidelity to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures demanded their renunciation? In short, what would it mean if the only way of finding real faith involved betraying it with a kiss?
Employing the insights of mysticism and deconstructive theory, The Fidelity of Betrayal delves into the subversive and revolutionary nature of a Christianity that dwells within the church while simultaneously undermining it.”
So, I’ve been plowing through this, trying to make sense of a VERY different religious perspective than I’ve ever seen. I came into this project with a view of the church as a one-dimensional, negative thing. I whole-heartedly believed in individual faith, but I strongly felt that organized religion was just doing it all wrong. I’ve discovered that the power of faith does not lie in individuality, but really in the community’s celebration of each person and their own faith unto whatever it is they are faithful. Through this, people are able to simultaneously find strength in themselves and a support network, a family, in the people around them. I think that this is exemplary of one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from this project: it’s blasted multiple stereotypes that I would identify things by. Homelessness, addiction, religious faith. The world beyond Westtown is complex, definitely not one-dimensional, and filled with really fascinating people and ideas in places you wouldn’t always expect to find them.
One of the things I’ve taken away from this project is that in the world of social justice, it doesn’t matter so much in mission whether an organization is faith-based or not. However, BSM would not be the same place it is today if it was not. In essence, by being who they are and accepting all who come, by celebrating people, art, community, and culture, and by whole-heartedly engaging in not only the beauty but also the brokenness of Philadelphia, they are Christianity personified. And whether you are religious or not, this is something that is easily appreciated.
So, that’s the end! Thank you for reading my blog 🙂 And sorry I never got those pictures that I promised a while back.
Advice to next year’s seniors:
– Don’t even THINK about location before you understand what you want to do
– Try to find an organization, project, internship, etc in which you can really make a place for yourself, and have an impact
– Make sure you feel a little bit uneasy! Stretch your comfort zone and consider tackling something on an intellectual level as well as an emotional/physical level
– Don’t be afraid to ask an organization if you would be able to do something there if they don’t have a pre-made “internship” or something. Sometimes projects that have been self-defined and sort of made up as you go can be the most rewarding
– Don’t pay attention to the pressure that a project has to be mind-blowing or life altering. The larger picture doesn’t REALLY matter; it’s all in the details.
– Great projects can be free!