(Bear with me, Dear Reader. These are not my most organized thoughts.)
I asked myself this question everyday for the my first month here. I honestly didn’t want to leave. Lakeland, while admittedly not my favorite place in the world, is a good place. I love the communities I shared life with. I love the ‘feel’ of smaller towns. I love the secluded parks and outdoor spaces, the coffee shops and conversations, the music-making and artistic communities, and the academic spaces that have shaped me. I miss being close to my family. I miss running into friends everywhere. I miss Jordan and Rob. Shoot, I miss parking lots… and Wawa.
But there are conversations I couldn’t have in Lakeland; spaces I couldn’t stand in as an ally; things I couldn’t learn.
I have friends in Lakeland that have to keep themselves tucked away for fear that the dominant group will treat them as hostile or other (and here I’m only referencing those of us who claim to be simultaneously Christians and Democrats ;) ). These are people that I love. Good people, committed to bringing about sustainable change in the world. I wish I could tell you that a commitment to the flourishing of humanity helps people treat you with dignity, but it doesn’t. Particularly not in religious circles. Some of my friends are kept from the table because of who they are.
I suppose now would be a good time to mention that I love Jesus.
What’s more, I believe in Jesus. I believe that Jesus shows people what God is really like. And, if I’m reading the Bible correctly, God is total, unconditional, incomprehensible love. One thing that really strikes me about Jesus is that he invited everyone to the table. After studying theology, I became really attracted to radical inclusion as an idea. But what good is an idea that never takes shape? I asked myself that question everyday after I decided to become an EUI.
Radical inclusion, or unconditional love, is something I want to model in my own life. Unfortunately, I found that hard to do in Lakeland. It’s not that I’m afraid to have difficult conversations (time is too short to continue avoiding discomfort because of my fragility). It’s that I need people to learn from. I find that, in order to be radically inclusive, I must immerse myself in community with people who are also radically inclusive. I must spend time trying to love those that are different than I am. I must listen. I must not insist on my own way. Because, if I’m honest, my natural ability to love – to extend myself freely in the direction of other humans – is quite weak. I think that’s how it works. The wine of love, it would seem, is always pressed by the often messy feet of a community. I need the pressing. I need the discomfort. Is it too trite to say that wine is not wine without the pressing? In a similar way, love is not love without discomfort. That’s why I came to L.A. To lean into discomfort and find the total, unconditional, incomprehensible love of Jesus. (Perhaps my song will help explain.)
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee's Urban Service Programs. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service.