Monday, September 24, 2018

Communities, Both Big and Small

Our latest blog post comes from Dominican Volunteer. Jake is a member of the House of Connections community in Chicago and reflects on his communities, both near and far.
Thank your for your service Jake.
DV Jake Moran

"Sometimes if you don’t take the time to sit down and reflect on life and experience, it seems that there’s nothing to say about it, nothing noteworthy about what has been.

That is exactly what I thought about my experience so far as a Dominican Volunteer before I sat down to write this post. Please, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done great work at my ministry site. I’ve loved getting to know those in my community, spending time with them, and praying with them. And it’s been exciting living in a new part of Chicago. But, I didn’t see any deeper meaning or deeper development in myself coming through this service, community, and prayer.

But there IS deeper meaning, deeper development. All that is needed is to scrape the grime of mundane regularity from the surface in order to see the impressive treasure that an experience really has been.

The House of Connections, the community house in which I live, is definitely one of those treasures. The two Dominican Sisters (Bernadine and Marilyn) and one other Dominican Volunteer (Lacey) that I live with are supportive, kind, funny, and caring, making living with them an enjoyable experience. We each bring many different experiences and identities to the community. For example, we are an intergenerational community: I am in my early 20’s, Lacey is in her early 30’s, and Sister Marilyn and Sister Bernadine are a bit older than that. We come from different parts of the country, different religious upbringings, different traditions, different house practices… and, yet, we have merged all of our differences to make this wonderful community. I would even venture to say that the differences between us are refreshing and bring value to our community.

And, I can definitely learn from these differences between us. Lacey very much values relaxation and contemplation. This directly transfers to her group prayer of choice - contemplative prayer. She will often play worship music and ask us to tune in to the music, relaxing in the presence of God. Marilyn can always find joy and excitement in every day life, even in the smallest of things. Bernadine possesses amazing courage and intellect. I often find that I lack these same characteristics and abilities that my community members exude. I find it hard to engage in relaxation or contemplation, I often get caught up in day-to-day life and miss the beauty of life, and I can lack courage at times. I have much to learn from them. Thankfully, the year is only just beginning. 
Jake, and his house of connections community, fellow DV Lacey Green, And Dominican Sisters Marilyn Derr and Bernadine Karge

Even though it has only been a month, and I am fairly new at my job at Sarah’s Inn and fairly new in North Lawndale (the Chicago community in which I live), I feel like I belong, I feel at ease. Since day one, my work and local community have welcomed me with kindness. I feel welcomed even though I am different than the average person in these places. At work, I am one of the only male employees, which is not surprising since I work at a domestic violence agency. In my Chicago community, I am one of the few white people that live in the community. Despite this, the members of Sister Marilyn’s parish, St. Agatha, were incredibly kind and welcoming when I first went to mass there. In fact, some other North Lawndale residents even say hello to me on the street or even strike up a friendly conversation with me (which is unordinary for Chicago).

Having lived in Chicago and the surrounding Chicagoland areas my whole life, I have always been told not to go to neighborhoods like the one I live in now. I was told that these neighborhoods are “bad” and that the people are bad too. But, having lived here and having talked to individuals from the community, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of the people living in North Lawndale, and in most other areas affected by poverty and crime, are kind people just trying to get by. There are a small number of people wreaking havoc in these neighborhoods. These people labeling North Lawndale and communities like it as “bad neighborhoods” have never actually lived in any of these communities, and may have never even been to any of these communities. They do not see the strength, kindness, or the beauty of these people. They only see the crime, the poverty, and the violence in these neighborhoods.  They refuse to realize and see that years of oppression and many current systemic inequalities have resulted in the current situations in these neighborhoods. They refuse to do anything to help these neighborhoods, keeping their consciences clean by dumping complete blame on those who live in these neighborhoods. They say that the people in these neighborhoods are lazy, corrupt, stupid… and that is what has lead them to their current situation and is what keeps them in their current situation. They could not be further from the truth.

I like to write poetry and decided to write a poem on my experiences in and my thoughts on North Lawndale. I figured I would share it with you:

“Bad Neighborhoods”

Trees defy gravity —

Horizontal to the sky

grow their branches, high

with absolute beauty, yet free of vanity

This community defies probability

Its character shrouded by lies

It gets by

On nothing, no resource availability

A tree flourishes here

The soil parched

Sunlight sparse

It grows taller with every drop of sweat, every tear

 I have learned a lot from the communities that I have become a part of because of my decision to do Dominican Volunteers USA this year. I have learned a great deal from both the community of people I live with and from my larger neighborhood community. But, community is even larger than just who we live with and what neighborhood, city, state, or country we live in. We, the whole human race, are all one community. We are all one in God, and, being one in God, we have the responsibility to take care of each other, to take care of every single person here on this Earth.
Jake And Sister Bernadine

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