So it is more than due time that I write another blog post, considering all of the promises I have made to my friends at college and home to keep them up to date on my summer, and how much I hyped up my summer internship here and here. I’m four weeks into my internship now, starting my fifth tomorrow, and, since my program is only ten weeks long, it’s probably about time I start talking about it. So here we go… ready?
1) Service isn’t sexy.
Not that you thought that or anything, but quite honestly, pictures like this get to me:
Clearly, this random picture of Angelina Jolie “helping” children in Africa is problematic for numerous reasons (*cough cough* white savior complex), but I would like to focus on one aspect in particular here: her smile. Pictures like this, whether they are of celebrities or just normal folk going and “helping” people, give the wrong impression that when we serve people, it is all about our happiness, our generosity, our joyful acceptance of people’s gratitude when we help them. It’s all about positive feelings and feeling gratified. If we don’t leave a service opportunity or trip feeling that way, clearly something went wrong.
What a messed up paradigm and image to have. I think one of the reasons I have been reluctant to write about my internship the past few weeks is that none of the things I have done have looked like the image above. No children have run up to me and given me hugs, no lives have been saved, no babies have been born. Many of my days have simply consisted of making salads, chopping peppers, pulling up weeds, folding clothes, putting cans in bags, and getting children to read lines from scripts. So far I’ve worked at the Hyde Park Soup Kitchen and Food Bank, as well as helping with Vacation Bible School this past week, and doing odds and ends around the church. But the truth is, this is what service most often looks like. Before the hungry can be fed, the food needs to be made. Before the naked can wear clothes, the clothes need to be washed and folded. Before children can be taught, the lessons need to be planned (that’s coming up this next week). If there is any gratification in serving, that gratification will more often than not be delayed.
Service isn’t sexy.
2) Nonetheless, I am blessed.
I’m finding that the appeal of spending a summer doing community service, where ever it may be, isn’t in the generosity that I’m showing to others, but in the generosity that others are showing to me.
From Terry, one of guests at the Hyde Park Soup Kitchen, who took time everyday to talk to me and give me advice about living in the city, to the lovely grandmas at the kitchen who made sure we ate lunch each day we came, to the pastor at our church taking us to eat at a Costa Rican restaurant and paying for us to see a show, to one of the parishioners giving us her membership pass so we could see the Chicago Institute of Art for free, to where we are right now, on the 58th floor of an apartment in Downtown Chicago, staying with a couple from the church for two nights because of the heat, everyone has been so unnecessarily kind to the other interns and myself. God truly is a God who provides. I cannot say that enough.
Just as I am serving, I am also being served.
3) Chicago is fantastic.
I won’t go out on a limb and say it’s my favorite city (Boston is pretty great and I have a special place for Philly and the Twin Cities, of course), but I am impressed. The five things I have loved the most about Chicago so far?
- Running on the lakefront: I decided a week ago that I’m going to try to run a half marathon when I’m home in August, and I’m finding the lakefront the perfect place to train, even with the heat.
- Shows, shows, and more shows: So far I’ve seen the Blue Man Group for free because we volunteered to usher, saw Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind –thirty plays in sixty minutes and the longest running original show in Chicago– also for free (our pastor gave us money to see it), and just last night, I saw Wes Anderson’s new film Moonrise Kingdom, which, in my opinion, is even better than Fantastic Mr. Fox or The Royal Tenenbaums (I still need to see The Darjeeling Limited). I also saw a pretty classy drag show when one of the other interns and I went to Pride last week, and lounged on a blanket in the grass listening to classical music at Grant Park a week and half ago. So much free entertainment!
- Food: Ok, so I cannot fully say this yet since I have been pretty miserly in my spending and have yet to even try deep dish, but the small number of restaurants I have eaten at in Chicago have been quite delicious, from French to Costa Rican to Thai to a red bean bun from a bakery in Chinatown to lots and lots of free samples at high-end grocery stores (that’s my new summer hobby now: scouting out free samples at grocery stores #BrokeCollegeStudent), I am looking forward to trying a few more spots (and some deep dish) before I leave. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a homesick and make a trip up to the Northside to eat at a Scandinavian bakery.
- Public Transit: I realize this is kind of a weird thing to like, but honestly, how many people can say they have been stuck on a train in Chinatown for twenty minutes because the police were trying to catch a guy running around with a stolen samurai sword? Not too many… It’s also really nice to have so many options to get to and from the city from Hyde Park, and to not have to drive (I hate driving). While the public transit in the Twin Cities is getting better and better, it’s still unusual for a city in the midwest to have this useful of a transit system. With my unlimited transit pass, I’m loving it.
- And my church: Ellis Avenue is one of the most unique churches I have ever interacted with. The pastor wasn’t kidding when he said it’s diverse. The congregation is about 60% African-American, 40% European-American (my estimates), and has people from all different socioeconomic and denominational backgrounds. The pastor himself grew up Mennonite. The way a member stands up at the front and takes any and all prayer requests and praises during the service each week reminds me almost of Quaker meeting, and the retreat that we went on the very first weekend we were here reminded me, for better or for worse, of a very large family reunion. While it was difficult at first to plop myself right down in such a small congregation, slowly, but surely, I’m starting to feel more apart of this very unusual family. It’s making me see the Gospel, and the Church in general, in a whole new light.
This next week, I’ll be starting lesson planning for Strive, which is the summer tutoring program that happens at the church for the last three weeks of July. Then I’ll be tutoring, tutoring (yeah!), hanging out for a week, packing up, and heading down to New Orleans. God is good.