Last summer, I partnered with a good friend, colleague and UMC minister in our community to facilitate a weekly conversation with six young women to encourage their leadership, voice and agency. We used a framework developed by Marshall Ganz called The Story of Me, Story of Us, Story of Now to guide our conversations. This six-week discussion culminated with the group sharing their individual and collective stories at a spoken word event in our neighborhood. It was powerful.
In nearly 35 years of working with urban youth, one thing remains consistent:
Young people see things that others cannot…
Particularly young people who come from hard places. They “see” injustice and racism. They “see” the disparity between the rich and poor. They “see” misogyny. They “see” their hopes and dreams. They “see” their strengths and potential. They “see” the hurdles and the particular burdens they carry for their families. In fact, after each of them narrated their personal stories (story of me), what they immediately “saw” as the common-ness (story of us) was this: all named the realities of living with the very real impacts of poverty as young women. At one point in the conversation, one of the young women said, “I bet if we had an after school club for poor students, it would be the biggest club in the school.” We laughed but I think she’s right.
I’ll not soon forget what it was like to listen in on their conversations throughout the summer. I was struck by what I “saw” as we sat in my office each week. My eyes were opened to the brilliance, passion and strength of these young women. My eyes were also opened to the pain they endure and that stays with them each day, and often goes unseen by the world. Cultivating the ability to see is paramount.
Seeing is actually a real thing.
“Seeing” is a prominent theme in today’s gospel reading. In 13 verses, there are 8 different ways that “seeing,” or the ability to “see,” to “look,” or to “perceive” are mentioned. It seems like something we should pay attention to… don’t you think?
At one point, Jesus asks his disciples, “What do you want?” (Some translations read, “What are you looking for/seeking?”)
The disciples answer Jesus with a question of their own. “Where are you staying?” This question isn’t about “location.” The verb “meneis” (to stay) is rather about a state that begins and continues, one that endures. It is about a condition of being — remaining, living, abiding.
“Come and see,” Jesus answered. Come and “see” where and how I remain, where and how I abide, where and how I live, where and how and with whom I endure.
Jesus says, if you want to know these things about me, “come and see.”
It is an invitation that points all of us to the incarnation.
The authentic work of Christ and the work of the church is hard to do, if not impossible, from a distance. An incarnational ministry prioritizes proximity in order to “see” God. It leads us to hard and uncomfortable and beautiful places; proximity to God often leads us closer to suffering and closer to grace. We will see where God stays and abides AND with whom God remains.
I “saw” Jesus in the lives of those six young women last summer: black, white, brown, immigrants, caregivers for ill parents and younger siblings, survivors of violence, harassment and discrimination. They are a testament of resilience, hope and fierceness. They are brave, smart, courageous and sassy.
Do I want to know where Jesus “stays”?
It is right here.