the autumnal season passes into deep winter darkness. christmas creeps up and passes us by. the constancy of school considerations and assorted events/classes with refugees/asylum seekers keep us busy. and only mere days before the glorious, holy celebration, we realized how late in december the days had reached. and then a new year comes.
these months have seen us becoming involved in the functions of three churches, an integration network, and a night shelter. while i’m in class on tuesday, steph hangs out with asylum seekers and refugees at a church drop-in cafe, and helps with the charity shop afterwards. she is back there on wednesdays for a sewing group while i watch ivy, and i sometimes help out with an afternoon english class when schoolwork isn’t piling. thursdays sees us both out at parkhead nazarene to help with another english class. we share a meal with refugees and asylum seekers before the lesson begins. it’s a long bus ride, but we are growing into the community there to such a degree that we regularly contemplate relocating.
a couple weeks ago, one of my favorite musicians, local washingtonian john van deusen, released new music. after a decade of hearing him sing about relationships, nuclear war, and drug use, this album is a drastic change. he has often explored and struggled with religious themes in his music, but these songs are nearly church-worthy, born from his morning prayers, and very, very christian. ‘Jesus is alive, His reign will never end. oh hallelujah to my God and my friend’, is the line swimming about my mind recently, for an example. there is an honesty in this music that is almost awkward to hear, but such passion is striking, moving.
as i study community development in a secular environment, it is easy to get swept into a very secular view of the world. we toss around the weighty, vague terms like anti-discriminatory, counter-hegemony, criticality, praxis, problematizing, consciousness-raising, social justice, empowerment, etc., but the struggle to implement lasting change continues. i read book after book of how the people with power are slowly but surely making life harder for everyone else on the planet with tragic impunity. we want, and work towards, a different world than the one being made for us. but even when discussing the world we want to see it is easy to be hopeless.
i’ve been reading this season of God’s working in this world, and eventual workings. passages such as isaiah 40:4 (‘every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low’), or luke 1:52-53 (‘He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty’.) help me to remember that this desire we have in the community development world to work for a more just and equitable society is not just hopeful talking, or a good idea, but the very movement of the Kingdom. i think of what my friend grodya from kiziba once told me: ‘if it is true that the Spirit of God is in our churches, then we have to be changing our communities.’
i see too much correlation between the driving motivations for secular community development and the themes the gospels show us are important. such themes are what gave me passion in past work, though that passion sometimes seems lost in academia now. though i am gathering skills and tools with which to attempt to enact change, transformation, the problems in this world are still too looming.
yet, i was encouraged yesterday by friends speaking in church about God as refuge in the madness, about intentionality in the coming year. and when i settled down this morning, after coffee and bible time, to read of nicholas nickleby’s ongoing adventures, i read the following:
‘Hope to the last…Always hope, that’s a dear boy. Never leave off hoping, it doesn’t answer. Do you mind me, Nick? it doesn’t answer. Don’t leave a stone unturned. It’s always something to know you’ve done the best you could. But don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope, to the last!’
in someway i feel this sentiment reflects the call of the gospels. no, we won’t change everything, people will still be jerks, but for heaven’s sake, don’t stop!
a new year, friends. let us hope to the last.