Tests and Tents: Finding Grace in Life’s Challenges

For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,  who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry.  Today’s post is from Fernanda Belderol is a genderqueer, second-generation Filipinx-American, working as a Theology teacher at a Cristo Rey Network school in the Pacific Northwest. Fernanda received her Master of Arts in Ethics in 2014 from the Graduate Theological Union.

Today’s readings are Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10.  You can find the readings by clicking here

At some point in our lives, God indeed “puts us to the test,” as we hear in today’s first reading where God puts Abraham to the test by instructing Abraham to kill his only and beloved son, Isaac. Recently, I, too, have been going through “a test”: whether or not my vocation is to work with the marginalized, trauma-filled backgrounds of the young people I serve.

The story begins a year ago, when I was living in The Bay Area. I was in a comfortable place: I knew the mission and charism of the school for which I worked; I knew my colleagues and students well; I was finally getting into the groove of the art that is teaching. I felt rooted in the city to which I moved five years prior and was building a community and chosen family which fed me spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

At the same time, I had been discerning the idea of returning to my home in the Pacific Northwest.  I pondered the idea of working at a high school that is part of the Cristo Rey Network that serves low-income, urban communities and gives to these under-served young people an opportunity for a college preparatory education. Being a second-generation, Filipinx queer person of color that grew up in the evergreens and lush mountains of the Pacific Northwest, I felt a deep desire to go back home and give back to my community to serve and walk with the majority of students of color coming from low-income backgrounds, who live in a predominantly white city.

When a position had opened up at the Cristo Rey school, I felt tested. I took the leap, applied for the job, was hired, and accepted the offer. I have always felt a calling to serve the most marginalized in our world and society as my own lived experience is being marginalized as a genderqueer, second-generation Filipinx person of color not only society, but also in the Church.

I knew that the shift from my previous school to the new school would be a transition, but I had no idea how difficult of a transition it would be. The knowing versus the lived experience are two different realities. This population of students of color whom I serve do not see themselves in the majority of the community of which they live in. They come from backgrounds where their parents work multiple jobs to pay for their tuition and to even make ends meet in an increasingly expensive city. They come from broken homes, trauma, and abuse, where many of them are the first in their family to even consider college as an option after high school.

They know the societal risk it is being black or brown. Through social media and the news, they hear of their brothers and sisters who are shot and killed due to implicit bias for simply being black. These are the odds that are stacked against them.

Trying to teach theology to young people coming from these odds, and even more importantly, trying to help them find God in their everyday experiences or even to try to find something to be grateful for each day, can be a challenge. These students build such big emotional walls due to their struggles and lived experience outside of school.

My ministry work has also been difficult as these students do not know what to think of me. They see a visible gender nonconforming womxn of color as their Theology teacher and cannot make sense of why I would consider myself Catholic with an institution that does not want to accept me. They also see a lot of their teachers leaving their jobs becaue working with this population and not getting paid nearly as much as public school teachers has led to extreme burnout and turnover. These young people seek stability, predictability, and groundedness in all aspects of their lives, as many do not get that at home. Like Abraham, I am put to the test. I am being tested to show up, every day, with the intersectionality of my identities, and learning with them on how best to emulate and embody my faith.

In today’s Gospel reading, Peter, James and John join Jesus on an isolated mountain where Jesus becomes transfigured before them. I find it interesting that Peter wants to cling to this incredible moment by offering to build tents for Elijah, Moses and Jesus. I, too, want to build tents for those profound moments in my life where I feel the closest to God. I wanted to build a tent to forever stay in my comfortable home in The Bay Area, with my queer community and chosen family, and everything that was familiar to me.

But Jesus calls us beyond our comfort zones. If we are to follow him, we need to serve the most marginalized in our communities, society, and world. The transfiguration can be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection: in both stories, he tells his apostles, followers and family to not cling to him, as his mission is beyond that of our human comprehension.

Where in our lives do we feel like we are being “tested,” like Abraham? Where in our lives do we, like Peter, want to build “tents” so as to cement those special moments and hang on to them forever? Can we move to our growing edges in those moments and let go to lean into the mystery of connection with God, rather than grasping or clinging to our comfort zone?

For me to show up everyday to stand in front of my students, I am pushed to step out of my own comfort zone to live from a place of authenticity, vulnerability and compassion. This “test” has been both a grace and challenge. Brene Brown, a research professor at University of Houston, uses the language of “true belonging” as “a type of belonging that never requires us to be inauthentic or change who we are, but a type of belonging that demands who we are — that we be who we are — even when we jeopardize connection with other people.”  Perhaps part of our Lenten journey is about challenging ourselves to seek a “true belonging” with others in our community where we show up in our most authentic selves despite the risk of losing a connection with others.

Fernanda Belderol, February 25, 2018

3 replies
  1. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    What a beautiful, straight-from-the-heart discourse. Intelligence, compassion and authenticity literally flow from every line. Keep up the good work – your students need you and so do the rest of us.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *