“There is no need to search; achievement leads to nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy now! Love is the only reality of the world, because it is all One, you see. And the only laws are paradox, humor and change. There is no problem, never was, and never will be. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life, just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else, too! It’s all the marvelous Play of God. Wake up, regain your humor. Don’t worry, just be happy. You are already free!”
i will be going back for the third time. here is a paper i wrote about my service there so far.
you may be wondering why the hell i’m going to CAMDEN, of all places. well…
DeSales Service Works is located in Camden, NJ, which is often ranked as the most dangerous and impoverished city in the country. There is no denying the great need that is here- there are frequent problems with crime, poor education, chronic homelessness, and the selling and using of narcotics. Camden is also a place of wonderful hope and faith. The combination of Camden’s needs and faith is what makes this city such an interesting and dynamic place to live and serve. During your time here, you will be immersed in the culture and experience of serving. Camden is over 40% Hispanic, mostly Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Whether its attending Spanish Mass or serving the homeless, you’ll get to see the thriving side of Camden by living in our North Camden neighborhood.
Camden is a city rich in history. It is the home and resting place of poet Walt Whitman. The docks and shipyards along the Delaware River built many of the ships used to fight and win WWII. Many entertainers in the 30’s and 40’s, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, used to perform in this city on Sundays when the laws forbade performing in the casinos of nearby Atlantic City. Being the home of Campbell’s Soup and RCA, Camden also has other claims to fame. The first television, phonograph, ball point pen, can of condensed soup and drive-in movie theatre were all created in Camden, NJ.
Unfortunately, Camden began to experience a significant economic decline after WWII. New York Shipbuilding, RCA and Campbell’s Soup all moved their manufacturing out of the city. Within a 30 year period, more then half the jobs in Camden disappeared. That led to significant population loss and declines in income, city services and the housing market. Race riots in the early seventies dramatically accelerated the process of ‘white flight’.
Camden has a population of around 80,000. It is only a small city. However, it has the problems that plague a metropolitan area ten times its size. Things to know:
·Camden is the poorest city of its size in our nation. It is the fifth poorest of all cities. The median family income is $23,421, well below the state average of $65,370.
·Approximately 60% of city residents are supported in some way by government assistance programs.
·About 40% of the population is under the age of 20. It is a city of children.
·33% of families live below the poverty line. 45% of families headed by a single mom (more then 4200 families) live below the poverty level.
·Two out of 5 homes (about 6,000 in total) in the city are vacant. Many are burned down or boarded up. (Many organizations are now making an effort to address this issue).
·Of an incoming high school freshman class, statistics suggest that 70% will drop out before graduating. Only 4% will go on to a four-year college or university and less than 1% will graduate.
·The violent crime rate in 2001 was 21.4 victims per 1000 residents compared with only 3.9 victims for the state.
·The teen birth rate was 61.9 per 1,000 girls in 2000. Compare this to the county rate of 22.5, and the state rate of 15. Camden’s infant mortality rate is more then twice the national average.
·According to the 2000 Census, 53% of the population identified themselves as African-American, 39% as Latino, 2.5% as Asian, and 17% as White.
i have always struggled finding a church community that i’ve been able to relate to and become a part of. my family has gone to a number of catholic churches but i’ve had such a hard time really seeing Jesus at the heart of the Catholic masses. the traditions and decorations and social teachings have really just taken away from the experience of mass which is supposed to be an experience of God.
anywhere near a metro station around washington, dc, you’ll find men and women selling Street Sense,” which offers “economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness in our community through a newspaper that elevates voices and encourages debate on poverty and injustice.” anyway, there’s this man Tyrone who sells street sense outside the metro stop nearest to my house. every time i see him, he’s wearing a baseball cap that says “Jesus” and has a heart. and, every time, he smiles at me with a smile big enough to portray His heart and says, “you know you’re always in my prayers.”
and it’s not just me. he has this encounter with every single person who walks by him. he is truly living God’s love in the purest way. so one day i decided, this is a man who is worth getting to know. so i stopped. and we talked for probably an hour. by the end of the conversation, he had spoken the most beautiful words about the love of God, about his childhood, about his embracing church community. i asked which church he attended and he told me it was the one right there, only a few blocks from my house. he invited me to come that coming sunday.
and i did. when i walked in for the five o’clock service, tyrone’s eyes lit up and he greeted me with the greatest bear hug. then, i joined the community on their lenten series entitled “the road to Emmaus,” in which we look into the old testament in a different way than i ever had. we looked not for teachings on how to live our lives, or anything focused on us, for that matter. rather, we looked at what it really says about Jesus. and not just a foreshadowing of his coming—what does it really say about who Jesus is?
following the service, almost everyone in the congregation came up to me and welcomed me. i went out to dinner with a couple of the girls there who attend college in the area. they were so cool and in touch with their faith. because of the welcoming atmosphere and the loving message that was being preached, i knew i had to come back.
and i did. today, for the palm sunday service, continuing on the road to Emmaus. and everyone there remembered my name and who i was. for the first time, i feel like i really belong in a faith community, outside of my school. i really see God working through these people at Restoration Church. i am so thankful that Tyrone was able to lead me to them!
Tomorrow, I have a paper due regarding the community service I have completed throughout my high school years. In my paper, I reflected on one experience in particular—my work in Camden, NJ. If you would like to read it over and give me feedback, that would be absolutely amazing. (:
Although I don’t consider myself Catholic, but rather spiritual—a combination of many different faiths— I do like to do something for Lent. So for these forty days, I will write a post on this blog (fortydaysoflove) every day—sometimes every other day— reflecting on Love that I either see or show in my daily life, or just a reflection on a certain aspect of my spirituality.
I do not believe in “heaven versus hell.” I think that the after-life as a “reward” system is something completely human and whatever higher power there is (for this post I’ll just refer to this being as God and refer to God as She) exists on a much higher level than that. I don’t think that “heaven” is a place, as it is commonly interpreted. This question is going to take a lot of explaining that will take you through a lot of my beliefs on God, so bare with me.
I believe that we were all made in God’s love and that, by giving us Life, She promised us Her Unconditional Love. The Love She has for every person far exceeds anything we have ever—or can ever—experience. She would not “damn” someone for any reason, whatsoever.
Aristotle believed in a “Final Cause,” in which we would be united with what he referred to as the Unmoveable Mover. Here, we would experience pure and complete Happiness. Aristotle defined Happiness as something completely different than what society expresses. His concept of happiness is not subjective (so, pleasure is not happiness), but rather objective in that we are only truly happy when we experience eudemonia, or “soul-flourishing,” which occurs when one acts virtuously and engages in actions that bring one in the right relationship with others and the Unmoveable Mover. Eudemonia also brings us closer to the Unmoveable Mover, while its antonym sets us back. To determine whether or not an action is virtuous, Aristotle employed the “Doctrine of the Mean,” which invites us to stray from extremes. For example, one must neither lack confidence nor be overconfident, but rather one must find a centered place in between. (Fun fact, St. Thomas Aquinas agreed with Aristotle, however he viewed the Unmoveable Mover as the Christian God.)
I also agree. I believe that we are all set in motion to eventually be reunited with God, and we are to use our time on Earth to find ways to bring us closer to Her. However, I think we do this by putting ourselves in the right relationship with ourselves and this is our only way to truly connect with God, because we are connecting with the one thing She gave us to have for our entire Lives and therefore we should value it the most, never taking it for granted. This includes Our Body, Our Mind and Our Soul. Going along with Aristotle’s teaching, I think that the only way to be in a right relationship with ourselves is to be in right relationship with other people and following something like the Doctrine of the Mean. The theory I use, however is much simpler than Aristotle’s Doctrine.
I use my own Theory of Love. I believe that, if we are acting through pure Love, we have found the Mean and this action will put us in a right relationship with ourselves and those around us. Similarly, I think that God is this theory. I believe that God is synonymous with Love. And, as a result, God cannot act in any way but Love. Therefore, God would never damn us or desire not to have a relationship with us. She wants to bring us back to Her at the end of our Lives, healing every wound Life gave us, and Forgiving every Earthly mistake we’ve made—Embracing us and filling us up entirely with Her Love. She knows we are more than these Earthly things because She is more and created us as more. But this world is hard and it has many undertones of hate that are easy to get swept up in. She knows this, She understands this and, as a result, I don’t think She punishes us for this. She knows we are more, however, and She Loves us so She wants us to be the best person we can possibly be.
This said, a lot of people view the lack of a belief in “hell” as a reason to do whatever you want. However, I completely disagree. It’s all about intentions. I don’t think someone should decide to do something because “this will prevent me from hell and send me to heaven!” That is so selfish, so solely about personal gain. God doesn’t operate on such a human level. We should do the “right” thing, because that’s who we are, that’s what we want to do—for no ulterior motives. This is what brings us closer to our True Selves and, as a result, closer to God.
I would like to clarify something in regards to my view on God. I don’t see God as a person. Or a force. Or a feeling. Or anything we have a word for. I think God is above language in that She cannot be described in Language. She is not something the human Mind can ever truly and fully comprehend. I think that every Religion grasps an incredibly small segment of who or what God is. All Religions hold up different images, teachers, social teachings… but despite all this differences, there is one unifying concept- Love. This is the only word that has come close to grasping God so far. I don’t assign myself to one group of organized Religion. Rather, I’ve grasped onto this one word and am slowly but surely building my personal beliefs around it. I incorporate the concepts and ideas of different philosophers and religious leaders, but I feel that the Soul God gave me should stay the center of my Spirituality. As I’ve been learning more and more about what this Spirituality is, I have come into such closer contact with my True Self— who I am and am meant to Be. It is a struggle, but I am trying to live my life in a way that every action matches up with these aforementioned beliefs that make up Who I Am. Bringing Actions together with Beliefs is unifying My Mind, Soul and Body so that every part of myself, everything I do, is one-hundred percent me. I make mistakes, but I think I am well on my way.
beauty is not visible by the bare eye, but rather is felt within the heart. one cannot look beautiful, but rather can be beautiful through his or her actions. this draws the conclusion that beauty - true beauty - is a state of being. it occurs when someone lets beauty take hold of them from the inside as they let love into their hears, allowing their passion, experience and creativity to flow from their essence of being. this inner beauty results in the creation of artwork described as “beautiful” even though its true beauty is merely within the artist - its creator. similarly, the world - nature and its components - are not beautiful in themselves, but rather are beautiful because their creator is the most beautiful of all beings, his beauty portrayed through the love we share and the colors in the as the sun sinks below the ocean. similarly (again), all of mankind is beautiful because we are his creation. one individual is exactly as beautiful as the next - we are all equal in beauty. this has nothing to do with the shape of the body or the size of the nose. each individual may choose whether he or she wants to project beauty from the inside, which is why some individuals may seem more beautiful than others. beauty is innate of humankind, but portrayal of beauty is a choice.
open your eyes and observe everything. open your ears and listen to everyone. at night, listen to the silence. open your heart and leave it open. open your mind and think. then open your mouth and say what you will. - EJM.