Only six days left until I leave for Costa Rica.
I won’t be back at Swat for awhile, but I did have the privilege of speaking at the Christian Fellowship’s student testimony night before I left. Rather than sharing a play by play of my life following (and often not following) Jesus, I decided to go the future elementary school teacher route. I read everyone a story called Something Beautiful.
It was a picture book I had originally picked out to read to three fourth graders for my Teaching Diverse Young Learners class. When I read it for the first time sitting on the floor in the children’s section of the Swarthmore Public Library, I started to tear up. Often times, as adults, we think that profoundness and complexity go hand in hand. We think that something is rich in meaning if it’s “deep” and requires multiple re-readings.
I would beg to differ. This book, and I feel like numerous picture books have so much richness to them that is indeed straightforward and simple, but still insightful.
I would encourage you all to get a hold of the story and read it because it is that good, but if you can’t, at least click on the link to the synopsis up above. And, without further ado, here is what I said to everyone once I had finished reading the story:
There is so much hurt and pain in the world. So much ugliness. So much disfunction. For me, the ugliness in my life is a lot of things. It’s the mental illness that has taken over my mom the past couple of years, robbing me of the woman who raised me and causing my dad to want to separate. It’s the crazy amount of educational inequality that still exists in the U.S. and stops students from fully achieving their dreams. It’s the way that people in white suburbia, the environment where I was raised, perpetuate residential segregation and don’t even acknowledge it. It’s the stigmatization that so many groups in the U.S. experience: folks who are homeless, folks who are openly queer and of faith, moms (and dads) who are welfare and raising their kids on their own. Ugliness is even just the fact that so many kids in Chester don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables with the nutrients they need to grow.
For you, the ugliness may be different. It may be a broken relationship with a parent or sibling. It may be the brokenness of our judicial system or the school to prison pipeline. It may be modern day slavery or the cost of war. It may be our destruction of the environment or mistreatment of those with disabilities. It may even be something more personal and less societal, like the way you see one family member treating another family member, or the way people devalue sex, or the way your friends (or yourself) act when drunk. The ugliness may even be the way that you think about yourself.
What’s important is that you identify and acknowledge that ugliness as being ugly. What’s even more important is that you find what’s beautiful. You find “what makes your heart happy.” You find what gives you a glimpse of God.
For me, beauty is found in the simple things, the everyday-ness of life. It’s seeing the young dad put his arm around his daughter on the subway. It’s walking down the street in Chester and having people say hello. It’s two homeless guys at Broad Street Ministry offering me half of their cupcakes during dinner because seconds on dessert ran out. It’s a hug from Jason. It’s smoothing my grandmother’s brow as she took her last breaths. It’s a made-up math game with Kaylee, a conversation with Isaiah. It’s Nikeria following me around the library as she reads aloud from an Amelia Bedelia book. It’s a whole family, mom, dad, aunt, and uncle, grandma, kids, and cousins getting on the 109 bus in Chester Thanksgiving day with plates wrapped in foil to go to a relative’s house. It’s my friend back home telling me I can’t just keep taking care of other people without taking care of myself. It’s yoga in the morning. It’s a run in the Crum. It’s a kiss from a significant other. It’s listening to a live jazz performance in the library, surrounded by six and seven year olds munching on cookies and swaying to the beat. It’s M telling me her favorite subject of all is “life!”
Beauty is all that is right and lovely in the world. It is what gives us hope. Beauty is what shows us God.
So while we need to see and acknowledge the ugliness, we need to even more importantly find what’s beautiful for us in this world. We can’t just stop here, though. We can’t just see what’s beautiful and ugly and leave it at that.
We’re actors. We’re creators in this mess of life. We need to see what has become ugly and make it beautiful again. We need to rethink oppression, rethink stigmatization, rethink corruption, and create beauty. How I’ve created beauty is through creating an afterschool program at the library in Chester, volunteering at SREHUP, and working at Chester’s Co-op. How you create beauty might be vastly different. It might be the camaraderie created on a sports team or hall. It might be the beauty of an experiment, a translation, or a piece of art. It might even be a paper you write for a class. What’s important is that you create that beauty and that we all extend grace and forgiveness to each other when maybe this beauty doesn’t work out the way it should. When maybe, rather than creating more beauty, we accidentally create more ugliness. When maybe things simply just don’t go as planned.
This is the lens right now through which I see faith. This is why I do all that I do. And this is how we create God’s kingdom on earth today.
P.S. Thanks to my lovely friend Sam, there’s a video of talk. It doesn’t include the story, sadly, but does have all of the stuff afterwards. If you would like me to send you a copy of the url for the video, let me know! I’d be more than happy to share.