It’s awesome to be at a school with so many students involved in service projects. Whether it’s every week, during a retreat or on Community Action Day, Musketeers seem to find a hundred ways to give back.
This emphasis on service isn’t unique to Xavier, but it certainly seems like it’s difficult to get involved here without meeting someone who mentors at a local school, participates in alternative breaks or volunteers at a charitable organization.
Some of this service arises from a genuine love for the community. Some is born of a desire to be a good person. Some is done exclusively for resumes and LinkedIn profiles.
So what separates “good” service from “bad” service? When are we honoring the people we serve and when are we patronizing them? Does our motive for service matter? Is “service” even the right word to use?
You’d think with all the serving going on, we’d have this stuff figured out. But, like “justice,” service is a complicated concept with varying interpretations. Like “faith,” service grows and changes over time — it may take a lifetime to figure out what it truly means.
This Lent series, “Heart Space & Public Place,” gives us an opportunity for deep reflection on how we engage in service and what it means to us. It’s obvious that service without reflection can be dangerous, and Lent is the perfect time to take a step back and examine our ideas about service. A season in which we do less for ourselves can clear up some space in our hearts to dedicate to others.
Clearing this space isn’t always easy, however. Like anything worthwhile, service hurts sometimes. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. It forces us to take on perspectives that may be difficult for us to understand. It calls us to relinquish our privilege. It demands our time and our energy.
I have been guilty the past two years of getting greedy with my time and my energy. With 18 hours of classes, 4 hours of theatre rehearsal every day and the inability to sleep less than eight hours a night without acting like a jerk, when am I supposed to fit in a weekly service commitment? This attitude has made it so that the word “service” makes be blush — it reminds me of how self-centered I am.
Reflecting on service helps us see both where we are failing to serve and where we are called to serve. We all can see where our systems are broken. What if our soapboxes became our service commitments? I can rant about gender and violence all day, so why can’t I offer my time and energy to a battered women’s shelter or a mentorship program for young women? Identifying the justice issues that call out to us can be the first step in renewing our commitment to service.
While the brokenness of many of our societal systems is undeniable, service can also open our eyes to the places where love is at work and progress is being made. Service brings people together and has the power to transform, but it is not until we stop and examine how we serve that we see all the ways we’ve been challenged and changed.
I’m not much of a Bible-quoter, but here’s a passage that has always stuck out to me: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
This passage is pretty alarming. It says I can give every single thing that I have to the poor, and it hasn’t done any good. It says that our attitudes and motivations for service matter immensely.
On the other hand, this passage also implies that love can accomplish great things. The love that inspires us to serve may come from God, our value systems or our experiences. This love is something we can believe in even when we struggle with our faiths or get discouraged by the injustice we see.
I would end with something about how service teaches us this or that about ourselves, but service isn’t about learning about ourselves. It’s about learning about other people and deliberately shifting our attention from its usual object (ourselves) to others.
Like faith and justice, service is confusing. It can be intimidating and filled with doubts. This Lenten season, the CFJ wants to take to opportunity to critically examine service and what it means to us. Hopefully this will enable us to serve more effectively and love more fully.
Tatum Hunter is a Junior at Xavier double majoring in English and Theater and double minoring in Economics and Spanish. She is the Opinions and Editorials editor for Newswire and the blog’s editor as well.