Sunday, July 12, 2009

the promise and power of grace...

so, this weekend, i was chatting with my friend Alex and he gently chastised me about my use of the term evangelical. i tend to use it in a negative context, since i associate it with yelling. but more specifically (or more broadly, I guess) it's an ability to channel the Holy Spirit into your words and actions. which is what just happened to me on a plane.

i promise i will update everyone on how the trip went (complete with pictures of our potential new place and rave reviews of my new apartment mate, Chrissy, who is GLORIOUS!) But, more for myself than anyone else, I want to write down what happened to me.

I borrowed Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith ( for more info on Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core, visit their homepage) and began reading it on the plane. At the same time, I was listening to K'Naan sing "I Was Stabbed by Satan" and then I got to a point where the song and the book coincided in their message. And the message was this - there are so many forces arrayed against the youth in our world. Some of them are overtly violent (Al Qaeda, the KKK, gangs, child soldiers) and some of them are insidiously violent (overt consumer culture, our violent language, cliques). But Eboo Patel talked about how utterly normal the Muslim youth responsible for the London bombings had been. They grew up admiring Western culture, did well in school, etc. But they got taken in by a rabidly anti-Western cleric who knew how to target their struggles and to slowly pull them into this movement by pretending to offer a solution to the angst and alienation of the teen years, especially for teens who do not fit in. Eboo Patel's point is that we've failed youth, because there is always someone out there who makes their money or their ideological point with youth that are ignored other places. Patel says "Every time we see a teenager kill in the name of God, we should see a pair of shadowy hands behind him, teaching him how to build the bomb or point the gun, giving him a manual with the prayers to say while committing the murder, steadying his shaking hands with callused, steely ones..."

K'Naan (a Somalian rapper) wrote the song "I Was Stabbed By Satan" about the folklore idea that children cry when they are born because Satan pricks them to bring pain and welcome them to the world. He expands on this idea by listing the ways that children and teens in Somalia and in the US are subjected to violent systems and often face few positive choices for their lives.

So, anyways, I was all of sudden flooded by grace and a vision. I am called to work with teens on issues of violence, oppression, and faith. Which is weird, since I don't know a lot about any of those things right now :) But the idea of doing that for the rest of my life, knowing there will be struggles, knowing that I will fail perhaps more than I succeed, knowing that it's not a Hollywood movie and many teens live lives that will absolutely break my heart with no recourse for action - it all melted away and my heart was filled with God's love and certitude. It was so overwhelming - I felt my momma's approval and my Savior's and a kind of liveliness - that I started crying. Did I mention I was on a very, very full plane? Cuz I was...I may not be the most enjoyable seatmate.

I know I will go through periods where I will question what I felt and what I know about my vocation. Which is why I raced home to write this down. Because I want to be able to remember this. And I want to be able to say to people who might question it that I finally believe in a personal Jesus who cares for me and has a plan for my life. And, frankly, I'm sick of being ridiculed for being optimistic and hopeful. I think irony and detachment are dreadful things (though I'm still relatively sarcastic) and I know that it will strike many people I love dearly as odd, anachronistic, or outright crazy to say that on the plane, I felt the love of God and feel like I have a mission in my life. But I am just so not able to lie about it right now.

This may have been the first enjoyable plane ride of my life...


  1. Cat - Awesome sharing. Do you own this book? Can I borrow it when you get here? Do you have any idea where you want to work, or specifically what you want to do? Because if not, I may have a hook-up for you. My church, the United Church of Rogers Park, is wanting to focus on these issues. It's a pretty new thing in the church and so if had ideas, we'd love your input and passion. Reducing violence is one of the major goals of our afterschool program that I'm working in. We're always looking for new ideas and projects and if you want to do something, I"m sure you could work with us. (We also have connections to some other orgs doing work in the city). Check out this link to see one of our recent events on this issue. We're trying to figure out more of what we can do.

  2. Breanna,

    I borrowed my copy from Alex but for sure plan to buy a copy. There's so much in it that I want to have it as a reference and to loan out to awesome people like yourself. I'd love to sit down with you and talk about that. I want to be cautious, since Chicago is so unfamiliar and I don't want to drown out the authentic voices of people who live and work in that city. But I'd love to be an extra pair of hands. And, hey, if there was a way to maybe get paid for it, that'd be super! Alex gave me the names of Interfaith Youth Core and another Southside group that does community organizing with teens (whose name I forgot). I will definitely plan to touch base with you about this! Thanks for commenting!

  3. AHH!! I love it! I spent a year in JVC working with teens, thinking about a lot of the same things, and wondering how on earth this expereince would shape me as a person. I really love working with teens and I think that we as a society see them as little cash machines or vandals...but never as the little pieces of souls that are just starting to open up and step out into the world that they really are!
    I'm grateful that you want to work with them!