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It feels like warping worlds in a 20 minute bus ride from downtown to east town. The houses stand taller, prouder, the paint doesn’t peel and the cars shine. The architecture arches, stretches, prods the sky with turrets and ripples with vibrant hedges.

I admire the disheveled bricks of older buildings downtown. They might look like someone set them up for a quick game of Jenga. But in reality, decades of lifetimes lean heavily upon those bricks. They boast the faded names of furniture companies. Now coffee brews in their storefronts and young people in stylish Dr. Martens marvel over the uneven factory floors while they sip chai lattes.

When I board the bus my smooth plastic card dings merrily against the card reader. It sounds like a modern time machine, ready to whisk me away to a different reality.

Healthy Dissonance

Working with people experiencing homelessness at Heartside is probably the most down-to-earth job I’ve had so far. Someone has a practical need. You try to help them.

My current internship is wonderful. Being a student at Calvin University is wonderful. I have the agency to navigate towards classes, projects — even entire career paths that will rarely require me to be as hands-on in a physical community.

There is a dissonance between those two worlds that I think is challenging, but healthy for me.
It’s so easy for me to overanalyze the Bible up until it’s out of touch with real, embodied human experience. I don’t want that to happen.

One of my biggest frustrations with myself over the past year in having conversations about race, was how easy it was for me to get caught up overanalyzing and abstracting Black grief. Instead of simply lamenting. Instead of giving space to the emotions I was feeling. I spent way too much time trying to find a way to talk about it authoritatively. Instead of just living it.

Something about how raw and straightforward Heartside Ministry is, is good for me.

Dualistic Thinking

Randy Woodley

I’ve had trouble putting words to this for a while now, but Randy Woodley’s explanation of dualism helped me out. Dr Woodley was featured on Brandi Miller’s podcast “Reclaiming my Theology.” He defined Dualism as “a division of reality”. He explained,
Platonic dualism creates a worldview that invests itself more in the abstract, ethereal, mind, ( or in Christianity it’s like the soul or the spirit) more than the physical realm. The body. The earth. All of the things that are tangible . . .Products of the mind become more important . . . anytime that these things take precedence over people – that’s dualistic thinking”.

Product of the Mind

I am very, very much a product-of-the-mind kind of person. I am writing, drawing, designing, creating, learning wonderful things in class that might never apply to the people I work with, even though I desperately love learning these things.

I’m so caught up in my world, that making time for things like sleep and proper meals feels borderline unproductive. It’s not the same as creating.

In today’s world, I can easily put all my energy into non-physical spaces. In a phone. In my head. In my imagination. On my computer screen. I should be doing meaningful things – meaningful to me – in the real world, not just functioning in the real world as a means to a digital end.

I don’t think a focus on the spiritual and/or abstract is bad. It’s crucial to my faith. But with a creative, busy mind like mine, I know I can abstract things to a fault. I need to make sure I can create things that meaningfully engage with the lives of others. Even lives that are much different than mine.

Staying grounded in everyday life

One small thing I can do is spend time with my plants.

They force me to slow down and simply nurture something tangible. My entire interaction with my plants (besides fawning over them) is caring for them. I meet their physical needs in my daily routine. As someone who is always deep in her own worlds, drawing and reading and writing, it’s one of the most grounded – body aware, embodied, steward-like hobbies I’ve had.

Staying grounded in my career

One big thing I can do is evaluate my career choices. This weighs on my soul now because I am starting my career now. I wonder if this ever shakes anyone else up when they start planning out their career.
It seems so heavy to me, at the beginning of my career journey, to know that ascending through the ranks of any power structure makes it difficult to see the world clearly.

I’m realizing if I want to be able to serve the practical needs of a community, I should be selective about where I put my time and energy. I’m not sure how to do this yet. But I’m grateful it’s on my mind. I don’t want to get too far into building my own dreams. I’d be sad if one day the delight of everyday tasks was gone.

As the noted sitcom psychiatrist Frasier Crane wondered aloud in his luxurious Elliot Bay Towers apartment, holding a glass of sherry, while sitting on his imitation Coco Chanel sofa: “Have I lost touch with the common man?”

Olivia Mason

Olivia loves the creative process, so she studies graphic design & writing. It is why she is so curious about the artwork & designs made by others. She loves the fresh smell of soil when repotting her plants, the crisp smell of paper when reading, and the sultry smell of smoke from a campfire. She enjoys hands-on artwork like collage or painting and listening to 50s jazz ballads and lo-fi mixtapes while she creates. Currently, Olivia is working in Grand Rapids, Michigan while she finishes her degree at Calvin University.

4 Comments

  • Sounds as though your analytical mind is helping you integrate all the parts of yourself. The Spirit loves to do this in us if we allow it to happen. Thank you for such a good essay about one of the pitfalls we often fail to recognize.

  • Jill C Fenske says:

    Those first two paragraphs: WOW! Elegant phrasing and rich use of the language. Poetic to be sure.

    Just be careful on the road to your career that you don’t lose sight of the wanderings of the Spirit. If anyone had told me in college that my life would have unfolded the way that it has I would NEVER have believed them. But I am where God’s Spirit has invited me. I am a long term small church pastor, divorced, eschewed power, turned away from most of the institutional bologna, in deference to relationships with human beings. It has been a glorious ride, and I look forward to where this magical mystery tour of God will take me next.
    Don’t lose sight of your dreams, but also remember that God’s way is not always our way.

    • Andrew Rienstra says:

      Like the way you put that Jill. It reveals that you know who you are and am comfortable being you. keep on that tract!

    • Olivia Mason says:

      Thank you for sharing your journey! I already see the Spirit nudging me in small ways away from the path I had envisioned, so your encouragement is quite timely.

      Blessings,
      Olivia

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