Sunday, November 15, 2009

Urban Studies Journey: Part VI

During the summer I was posting, in segments, my Urban Studies Journey paper from my senior capstone for the Urban Studies certificate. I realized, for the few of you [if any] that might have been reading it, that I never finished. So here is the second-to-last installment. This is the part of the paper in which I analyzed the skills/thoughts I developed based on both the class and experiential learning that was a part of the program.

About halfway through the semester we participated in an issues spectrum in our Urban Theory class. I dread these sorts of exercises anyway, but to be required to place myself on a spectrum based on “the issue over which I have inwardly struggled for the past month and a half, the issue which we never cease[d] to discuss, the issue for which there is no answer, the issue which strikes me deep in my core and causes me to question my identity on so, so many levels” – was especially challenging. In retrospection, which is again always 20-20, that exercise helped me to understand approximately where I stood on the issue, not only in my own mind but compared to the positions of my classmates – people who drew their thoughts from the same set of experiences.

At the time I was uncomfortable with being forced to place myself on a spectrum, on which I found myself located at the “wrong” end. For, while there was no explicit discussion of the right and wrong opinions to have concerning gentrification – I definitely felt like I was on the wrong side, the na├»ve side, the not-yet-enlightened side. I’ll be honest and admit that I think the most challenging aspect of the exercise was realizing, after hearing everyone’s reasoning behind where they located themselves on the spectrum, that I might eventually have to change my opinion, that one day I might find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum. On that day I would have to concede that I had been wrong – that I had learned or experienced something that poked and prodded at me until I finally let go of my pride and came over from the “dark side.”[1]

I wrestled with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, frustration and despair for significant chunks of the semester. In no way was the WIC experience easy or unchallenging. But the program was not without its moments of joy, revelation and celebration. Of all the theorists we read I most appreciated the works of Jacques Ellul. In Ellul’s words I found the hope I was missing in the face of an endless barrage of reminders of “living in the tension.” The hope that Ellul offers is the reminder that we are not going to bring the kingdom of God to Earth. All we can do, and all God asks us to do, is to work within our own particular context to show those around us that the kingdom of God is indeed coming. Rather than succumbing to feelings of immobility and inutility we must place our hope in Christ, set our eyes on him and, as Paul says, run the race marked out for us. I did not find the answers to the issues of race and wealth with which I was struggling between last semester and now. But what I did find, and what Ellul offered, was the assurance that the kingdom of God is coming and I’m not expected to solve the world’s problems in my tiny little lifespan. I should, however, do what I can, do what God calls me to do with the gifts he has given me, and work to bring the love of God to his people on Earth, one step at a time.

All of this experiential experience wouldn’t have been nearly as influential as it was if it was not within the framework of the theorists assigned for the Urban Studies class. The field trips and readings were part of an attempt to help shape our disposition towards social justice, advocated by Wolterstorff to be the point of education. This disposition, he argues, would most effectively be cultivated through four means: reason, modeling, empathy, and discipline. I would consider the WIC program to have successfully incorporated all four means into its attempt to cultivate within me a disposition towards social justice. Dr. Toly, Sean, Andrea and Arloa, not to mention all of the staff at each of the field trip sites, were exemplary models of a disposition towards social justice. There were without a doubt enough experiences, both planned and not, that successfully induced a feeling of empathy, of confronting me with the faces of suffering. And finally, by the end of the semester and as I am reflecting upon the whole process I find evidence of an inclination within me towards the right way – a disposition for social justice.

[1] Funny enough – that moment actually happened, in environmental politics class the very next semester. It wasn’t nearly as mortifying as I would have thought. Then again, admitting we’ve changed is always easier when the process is so far advanced we’ve forgotten for a moment we were ever on the other side.

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