It’s our crazy season here at the Center for FaithJustice. We’re in the fourth of eight weeks of summer ServiceworX and JusticeworX programs, with about 80 students spread out among four different program locations this week alone. Even though I’ve been involved in about 30 week-long sessions since 2005, each summer includes lots of new lessons. Here are five of them from this year.
1) Murphy’s Law is real, but we’ll make it work.
With about 900 student participants running around during the summer, the universe comes up with a bunch of creative ways to make things go wrong. I’m prone to worrying, but luckily, our Business Manager John Miller is not. His motto “We’ll make it work” calms me down, and our team takes on new challenges with creativity and patience. I’ve been praying with the “lilies of the field” scripture passage from Matthew recently, in which Jesus says (I’m paraphrasing), “Worrying doesn’t do anything, you dope.”
Corollary lesson: God is faithful and we are persistent.
When we made it through a particular snag two weeks ago, I turned that “God is faithful…” line into one of those “Keep Calm and Carry On” memes, and emailed it to our team. It seems that our programs survive and flourish due to this sort of divine-human cooperation. We keep plugging away, doing the best we can, and the Spirit enters and does the rest. Thanks, Spirit.
2) Everyone likes to be thanked.
Our Acting Executive Director Rocky Balsamo’s favorite way to start a sentence is some variation of “Let me tell you a story.” Sometimes, it’s not clear at first where he’s heading, but listen carefully, because BAM – a pearl of wisdom will ricochet off your forehead when you least expect it. I had this experience on the phone with Rocky a few weeks ago. The pearl: “I don’t care if you’re a priest, nun, atheist or garbage-truck man. EVERYONE likes to be thanked.” I have gone out of my way to thank our community partners since that conversation, and, as usual, Rocky is right.
3) If you are working with teenagers, your level of cheerfulness must be directly proportional to the number of times they roll their eyes per minute.
In the past, eye-rolling teenagers often got to me. I thought if participants rolled their eyes at me, it meant they were judging me as a person or leader, and I would usually respond with frustration. I am now rethinking this whole equation. Some teenagers seem to roll their eyes no matter what. The best way to combat this is with increased cheerfulness and affirmation. Catch them in the act of doing something good. Affirm them when they show leadership or contribute to an activity. Smile goofily and dance during the theme song, even if you’re exhausted. The eyes will keep rolling, but more often than not, these teenagers will proclaim at the end of the week their intention to return next year. This lesson could have been titled: Teenagers are mysterious.
Corollary lesson: Distributing hand percussion instruments is a good way to get teenagers to participate in the singing of the theme song, but if everyone has a maraca, that is way too loud – keep it to about three.
4) When asked how things are going, don’t say, “Busy!”
This essay by Tim Kreider made the rounds last week, and it’s a good reminder that living frantically isn’t the best idea. I’ve tried to avoid saying “Busy!” when asked how I’m doing, and it’s a major challenge.
5) Luck is the residue of design.
John Milton (not, as commonly believed, baseball executive Branch Rickey) first said this quote a few hundred years ago. I learned this lesson again Friday, on a trip to the United Nations with our LeaderworX community of young adults. After we finished a tour of the UN headquarters, we went outside, and prepared to split up and head in a few different directions. “Wait,” I said, “ we should probably reflect on today before we go.” This decision was a hasty design at best, but TS Eliot’s quote “We had the experience but missed the meaning” lurks in my subconscious. It’s always good to talk about what you just did.
So we stood in a circle on a little island of sidewalk next to a bus in the shadow of the UN skyscraper. After chatting for a few minutes, we had a moment of quiet prayer for the persistent pursuit of global peace, justice, and solidarity that the United Nations represents. Suddenly, serendipitously, church bells began to toll, mixing with the car horns and the chatter of tourists and diplomats. With the bells overhead and the United Nations behind us, we stood at the intersection of the church and the world. This meeting point is where we are meant to reside – the bells call us in to worship and send us out to work, and God’s Kingdom is slowly built.