Last week we held our annual Watty Bowes Society reception. Named after Watty Bowes, a long time supporter of our program, the Society consists of JSC’s leading donors and supporters. During the reception current corps member Reid Russom offered the following reflection on his time in the program thus far.
When people ask me what exactly it is that I’m doing this year, I always have trouble coming up with an elevator pitch that can explain why I am a part of Johnson Service Corps. I tell my friends that I wanted to move to a new city and try something new. I tell mentors that I’m taking a year for personal growth and spiritual exploration. I emphasize to my mom that the internship will look good on my resume, even if the paycheck doesn’t look as good in my bank account.
But all of these explanations feel deeply inadequate, since they’re missing the core of what it has meant to be a Johnson Service Corps Member so far. To me, JSC is unique because its concept of community not only serves as a model for service year programs, but it also represents an alternative way of life that has the potential to heal many of the wounds that scar our culture today.
Now, I know that I don’t have to sell the concept of intentional community to this room, but it is a big claim to say that JSC’s model can be an instrument of change in our culture. And certainly on days when the dishes are piling up in the sink or our community meetings stretch past my ideal bedtime, I doubt whether this intentional community thing is anything more than a way to get eleven strangers to put up with each other for a year. So, let me explain myself.
The dominant culture and the people currently in power benefit when we are afraid of engaging with each other and when we are distracted from the present moment. This is so pervasive we hardly notice it happening; at times my constant urge to check out and coast through the events happening around me – to stop noticing and to stop searching – overwhelms me and I can’t be in the present. This happens when I have a project coming up at work or when I show up to Friday morning Formation running low on sleep and patience. But this year has taught me to push back against that urge, to look deeply and intentionally at my life and the world around me and to find ways in which I can engage with the inner light of the people in my life rather than blind myself to it.
I’ve been sitting for the past few weeks with the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, which a friend of mine has on their desk and to which they return in moments of stress. If I can paraphrase the prayer for a moment, it goes a little like:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury; pardon;
where there is sadness, joy”
And, perhaps most importantly,
“Where there is despair, hope.”
Through our year of intentional community, my fellow Corps Members and I have been put in situations time and again where we can be instruments of peace, whether that is in our houses, in our job placements, or in the world outside our program. Sometimes these moments have been small: a Christmas gift exchange where we were forced to get creative with a $10 budget, but still gave deeply personal and thoughtful gifts to each other. Others have the potential to be much larger, such as our upcoming Praxis service project, in which we’ll aim to impact a community in the Triangle.
Board members, JSC alumni, donors, and JSC Staff: each of you is here because you have chosen to be a part of this unique community. So, in the same way that all of you have so generously welcomed us to the Johnson Service Corps community this year, I extend the same invitation back: join us in building a community that pushes back against the hyper-individualism, the distraction, and the ladder-climbing obsession of our culture. Help us build a community that finds the Divine light in each of us. Help us be co-creators of justice and reconciliation in the world around us. Share in this journey with us. We can’t do it without you.
In that spirit I’m reminded of the final words of St. Francis’ prayer:
“Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
That is what this community means to me, and that is what I hope each of you can find here.