Recently I've started going back to church. No, I'm not talking about worshiping some invisible guy in outer space who hates homosexuals and dictates that we give our money to sex fiends and the Republican party... Sorry, hope I didn't offend anyone...
The girlfriend and I have been going to the Unitarian church called Micah's Porch, located in Chicago's Wicker Park. We've been searching for answers about the meaning of life, what our role is in the world, the other good things that actually come from the "church experience": community, service, discussion of meaning, free food.
The things I like: we drink coffee instead of harping on about drinking some dude's blood, God is a personal and different concept depending on the person, lack of dogma dictating who is "saved" and going to hell, services are held in a theater instead of some weird churchy place, and a rock band plays decent non-Christian music.
I don't consider myself religious, Christian, or atheist. I see worth in Christian compassion, but also Buddhist philosophy, Taoist rationalism, and progressive Muslim thought, and other parts of various traditions.
I told the pastor that I didn't know if there is a God. He responded that people all have to find what is authentic to them, on a path that is compassionate and mindful of how individuals impact the world.
With that in mind, I've tried the service thing that everyone claims to want to do to better the world and make a positive impact, feed the children, save the whales, etc.
Two strangers from the Micah's and I (most of the "parishioners" are under 30) carpooled out to a nonprofit called Bright Hope yesterday. The two strangers quickly became my friends, both interested in questioning government, the arts, politics, philosophy in a way with which I could engage.
Upon getting to Hoffman Estates-based Bright Hope, the more left-leaning folks from Micah's (us 3) came into contact with suburbia, Illinois, with Republican Christians, a girl scout troop, and possibly the random Americorps volunteer trying to pay back college loans. Our collective goal: feed Haitian kids.
We assembled into a warehouse and in assembly-line fashion, packaged bags with measured amounts of protein, dehydrated veggies, soy, and rice, something the organizers deemed a "scientifically-divined" formula to give the right nutrients to kids who would have otherwise eaten dirt to stave off hunger pains.
I handled the rice at first, pouring it after the protein, veggies, soy into a spout that filled bags. The bags were measured, pulled taut, sealed, boxed, and organized to be sent to rural areas of Haiti. I shifted from rice to veggies, from veggies to soy in my attempts to stave off the tediousness of dumping food product in a spout to save lives in Haiti, making sure to make polite small talk with my more conservative and Christian co-workers The Micah's group, all three of us, broke off to invade the Republicans. (note: I am not really a Democrat, but I do enjoy making fun of Republicans, in good humor of course.)
Though the work was very mundane in itself, (repetitive factory work for 2 hours what many people would consider the ideal way to spend the afternoon) the spokesman/organizer at bright hope reminded us of our important work. And it did feel good to help in my small way to feed kids who would otherwise go hungry, make new friends, work with people with which I might not usually find much in agreement.
We were informed that the warehouse group of about 40ish volunteers produced 21,000 "meals," filling 98 boxes to be sent to Haiti, with the ultimate possibility of staving off hunger for 57 kids for a year. All in all, I felt that that was a Saturday better spent than sitting in front of the computer.
While riding back to Chi-town with my two new friends, we talked about other ways we could help out, common concerns with the economy/politics, listened to good music. The whole experience helped me fulfill a need that many in my generation may have - a feeling of connectedness to the world.
Cheesy, but true. I recommend any volunteering that you think could make an impact. Take a flask along if you need a pick-me-up.