Wednesday, August 26, 2015

pictures and highlights from orientation

This post is long overdue, but between wrapping up my year as an Americorps VISTA and preparing for my year as a YASCer (and a short and much needed vacation to San Francisco!), I've had a busy month! I hope you'll forgive my absence and promise to try to do better while in Cape Town.

In July all 25 YASCers met in New York for Mission Orientation. I can't emphasize enough how good it was. We stayed once again at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park. The monastery and grounds are absolutely beautiful, and it was a welcomed change of pace. Wifi access was limited at best so it was nice to have an excuse to unplug. We also got to spend a lot of time with the brothers there, learning from their wisdom and experience. If you ever need a quiet and relaxing retreat, you should visit them there. Not every YASC group has gotten to stay there, and I feel so grateful and enriched by that experience.

Naomi, Thomas, and me on the train to Holy Cross

Most of our time was spent in lectures and panels and workshops, learning about everything from cultural theory to the tedious but important logistics of health insurance. I could talk about Orientation forever, but I'll give you some of the highlights instead.

We arrived at Holy Cross on a Sunday and spent a week there. On the second Sunday, we all took a train to David Copley's church in Tarrytown, NY for the service and a luncheon. The service was bilingual - everything was translated in both English and Spanish - because of the large number of child refugees in attendance. It was the first time I've been to a service like that, and I was moved to tears at one point. We were also surprised to be called to the front to introduce ourselves and receive a blessing.

We then took a train into Manhattan where we checked into the Pod hotel to stay for two nights. They gave us the rest of the day free, and the Museum of Modern Art was conveniently nearby so Naomi and I ventured there. Art museums are always number one on my list of places to explore in cities, and this one was probably my favorite in terms of permanent exhibits - plus there was a special Yoko Ono exhibit that was as wonderfully weird and intriguing as I could have hoped.

Art selfies with Naomi and The Man in Yellow Pants
My favorite day of training was the multi-faith day we had in the city. We started the day by having breakfast with the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Meeting the presiding bishop, especially the first woman to hold that position, was basically a dream come true for me. I wrote down questions for her in advance because I like to be prepared when I meet my personal heroes. (I'm also preparing what I'll say if I ever get to meet Desmond Tutu). 

I obviously couldn't ask her all of my questions, but I did ask something along the lines of "From your unique vantage point as the first woman presiding bishop, what do you see as growth areas in the way the church relates to women? And, what can we as YASCers do to further elevate the status of women in the church?" She gave a beautifully thorough and insightful answer to both parts, pointing to some of the challenges for women in the Episcopal church and emphasizing the importance of modeling. She blessed us all before she left, and I made sure to ask for a picture.

Elly, Presiding Bishop Katharine, and me
We then went to an LDS temple and chatted with four Mormon missionaries who were placed in NYC. I wasn't sure what to expect since their concept of mission focuses on proselytizing and ours on building relationships. Ultimately I learned a lot about a religion that I didn't understand before. I was impressed by how respectful and interested they were, and I was struck by the sincerity of their faith.

We went back to the church center for lunch with Hanadi Doleh, the program coordinator of Park 51, dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque" in the aftermath of 9/11. Unfortunately due to reconstruction, we weren't able to visit the mosque, and while there are plenty of mosques in the city, the YASC staff wanted us to hear Hanadi's story. Hanadi truly has the gift of storytelling, and her poignant account of growing up as an American Muslim, age sixteen at the time of 9/11, moved me to tears. We asked her questions, encouraged by her candor and sense of humor. For instance, when one YASCer asked how she'd respond to accusations that Islam oppresses women, she gestured to herself and asked, "Do I look oppressed?" Short answer: no, she didn't, and she isn't. Religion doesn't oppress women; cultures do. Just as Westboro Baptist Church uses scripture to defend their despicable actions and beliefs, so do extremists within Islam. The unfortunate difference is that the media portrays those extremists as the norm, resulting in fear and ignorance. (I could write a whole post on this, and I probably should sometime.)

From there we went to the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a beautiful synagogue and museum interestingly located in the middle of Chinatown. I loved touring and learning about its history, and it featured some of the most gorgeous stained glass I've ever seen, including the giant pieces pictured below.

Another highlight of training was getting to watch two nuns make their profession of vows. It took place on the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene and was also the first service I've ever attended that incorporated inclusive language, which was really incredible. The best part was watching Sisters Shane and Elizabeth dance joyfully up and down the aisles during the closing hymn "Marching in the Light of God." I probably have never seen anyone filled with that much joy, and it was absolutely infectious.

Probably the best part overall, as I said in my previous post, was spending time with the other YASCers. I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with them this year, and I'm fortunate to be going to the same country as three of them. Team South Africa is comprised of Tim Hamlin, Thomas Balch, Jacob Nastruz, and myself. More on South Africa and my placement there soon!

Team South Africa

2015-16 YASCers, aka the raddest group of missionaries ever

Thursday, August 6, 2015

the danger of a single story

Chris Pullenayegem, the consultant who led us in our training sessions on all things related to culture, had us watch Chimamanda Adichie's TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story." I had watched it previously but found that it is just as powerful each time. It's shorter than a sitcom and much more thought-provoking so I highly encourage you to take the time to watch it now.