Almost two years ago when Amanda and I set out on this journey to create the Village Exchange Center, among the first we talked to was Joe Horther who generously welcomed us and shared his wisdom and support. Joe talked about creating a space of belonging. Then and now, it could not be put more simply and be more comprehending, a space of belonging.
VEC’s mission and our motif tonight of “I belong and I am powerful” is all about the power of a human being, a power that is birthed only from within genuine relationships in the life of community, the life of belonging, and it is a power whose homeward direction is oriented for the life of community to create belonging for others. The true power of each person, each community and culture and faith, is unique and unrepeatable. And because we belong to one another, we need one another, and we are mutually enriched by one another. We learn from the other what we could not have known if we had stayed walled up in our isolation. Our understanding is, unshakably, that our unity is precisely in our diversity. It is the other, as other, who nevertheless belongs to us, and thereby blesses and enriches us.
Our blessing this evening is characterized by this space of belonging. There is a beautiful spirituality behind the traditions of blessing. Blessing first of all calls us to mindfulness and awareness, to a shared recognition of something good, something giving life, which we affirm and ask to continue in our midst, into fruition. Blessing engages us to the substance of what we hold most precious, and so it is an expression of our freedom which also releases our freedom, orients and secures it, and grows our freedom. In that way engaged, blessing births the goodness and grace in our midst.
And so tonight, good people, let us seek blessing, and ask God to bless all of us, all the communities represented here, and to bless the Village Exchange Center, to continue to grow the good things in this space, to bless our unity and to bless our diversity, to bless all our accompaniments with one another in all things human, in our joys and celebrations and in our sorrows and struggles, that we may ever grow in the sources of grace given in our belongings and empowerments. God bless our time together, for the life of the world.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Director of Multi-Faith Services
Village Exchange Center
I felt a playful tapping at my waist as I stood in line at McDonalds. I turned, no one there, but on my other side, giggles. It was an impish, gleaming Sam, one of our boys from the Center. “What are you doing here Sam? Are you getting a burger?” “No, I just get water.” “Are you hungry?”
As we sat eating our burgers, Sam became serious and asked if I had ever shot a gun. “No, not really, BB and pellet guns when I was a kid.” With a bit of an awkward urgency, he looked at me, and said, “I was shot. When I was four years old, I was shot.” He pulled up his pant leg, “See, here’s my scar.” He told of that moment, the growing pain, and the blood, the eventual doctor, and his mother’s care.“Who shot you?” “Some gangster. My family was in danger.” “Is that why you left Tanzania?” “Yes.”
Later that same day we took the kids from our after-school program to the local community pool. There had been a week of joyful anticipation and the hour and a half did not disappoint as gleeful faces swirled through the whirl pool, the mega-slide, and lap pool. When it was time to go,herding our kids out of the water was not unlike my recent attempt to bring my Samoyed indoors with the first big winter snow. Playfulness continued into the locker room,and after all the boys were nearly dressed, Sele stood apart, unnerved. He was missing one tennis shoe. We searched every nook of the locker room and the checked the lost and found, but no success. Sam left without a shoe. When I drove him to his family’s apartment,the usually gregarious and friendly Sam was silent and somber, his countenance too heavy than of a child from a secure environment who loses a shoe. I imagined he was anticipating some difficult encounter as he walked through the front door with one bare foot.
On this day, an 11 year old boy presents an instance which is the face and circumstance of many,the stories and struggles of our refugee and immigrant communities, the experience of leaving homes and cultures because of situations of violence, then to struggle to survive and thrive in a foreign culture. At a minimum, I can listen, empathize, walk with, and replace tennis shoes, and that is a genuine start and path. But more is involved here. There is a summoning, a purpose, a direction of life, for life, for all of us.
The following day, with the preceding day pressing, I approached Walid, an Iraqi refugee who is a navigator at the Center and works full time as a resource and general helper to refugees. I asked him how he is able to cope with all of the stories and pain he encounters. His gaze quickly turned introspective and he said calmly and confidently, “It is difficult, and I sometimes feel helpless, but when I open myself to other people’s pain, I find the strength of God.”
Walid’s affirmation rings true to the human experience and is the experience and promotion of the major faith traditions. We find God, we find the life of our life, in the space where we open ourselves to the other in a shared vulnerability. My Muslim brother, you express a truth which says that everyone is my brother and sister, and when I open myself in vulnerability to be with the other, especially in arenas where human dignity is diminished, I find a strength, a depth, and a bubbling up of new of life. Thank you for reminding.
The Center holds.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Village Exchange Center