This past week has been one of transition. My work with Jonathan and School for Conversion officially ended and orientation for Urban Hope, the summer camp where I’ll be working for the rest of my time here, officially began. The days were long and the sessions intense, yet much joy was had with the other counselors and staff as we prepared the camp for the coming weeks. I cannot help but enter into a state of constant reflection as my summer slowly shifts gears and the next chapter of my work in Walltown begins.
Urban Hope is a summer camp for 5th-8th graders, mostly from Walltown, that takes place in a former church building down the road from where I live. The camp caters toward the youth of Walltown, striving to build upon the already strong sense of community felt by everyone in this neighborhood. The main goal of the camp can be summed up in it’s mission statement: “Urban Hope is raising up generations of young heroes—who are beating the odds by the grace of God—through creating safe places in our neighborhood to grow together into wholeness.” Urban Hope focuses specifically on business, structuring much of its teaching and activities around entrepreneurship. The campers take classes on financial literacy and participate in various challenges throughout the summer that teach them the basics of entrepreneurship, a skill-set that can make an incredible difference in their lives. To provide an example, one current counselor, a former camper, is now receiving his Masters degree in Business Education. This camp is a strong influence on the neighborhood.
As I move into this phase, a few specific thoughts are on my mind. I keep returning to the epilogue of The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day’s autobiography. I have been reading Dorothy’s diaries throughout this summer and have come across a theme to which she often returns: the breaking of bread. In the epilogue of The Long Loneliness, Day provides us with a good idea of what she seems to mean: “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.”
Dorothy believes that in order to fully know someone, whether God or a neighbor, we must break bread with them. Through this knowledge we are able to love, and through this love we move towards a greater companionship, a glimpse of that Kingdom that we pray comes every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer. By participating in a practice passed down from Jesus we are able to come together and, in the words of the Urban Hope mission statement, “grow together into wholeness.”
The actual practice of this tradition is, at least to me, somewhat ambiguous, and honestly I think that adds to its beauty. As I reflect on what breaking bread with someone could entail, I see two distinct possibilities: the sacramental practice of breaking bread, literally, like at the Last Supper, and also the broader practice of simply eating with others. The latter possibility is one that I have seen often so far during my time in intentional community. The Rutba House has family meals four times a week and all the members say repeatedly that it is one of the most crucial aspects of living life with others. Relationships are built upon and people are loved through these meals, as all the members of the community are able to come together around one table.
Jonathan planted another idea in my mind that I have been contemplating. He pointed out that during lectures and other formal conversations, there is always one person in a position of authority that dictates the flow and pace of the topics discussed, whether that’s a teacher, moderator, or organizer. At meals, however, we see a much different picture, one of equality. All humans have to eat; there is no way to sidestep that central human need. In shared meals it becomes impossible for anyone to elevate himself or herself above another human, as we are participating in a need of our common humanity. Furthermore, as anyone who has experienced a large family dinner can confirm, virtually everyone has the same opportunity to speak and engage the others in dialogue. It’s very hard to steal the floor as we all take inevitable pauses to sustain ourselves between our sentences. It is this leveling of relationships that I desire to see at Urban Hope, and it seems that breaking bread with the campers and counselors could help it be realized.
There is also beauty in the sacramental practice, however. In Jesus’ time, the breaking of bread seemed to have an incredible unifying effect. At the Last Supper we see a diverse group of men sitting together and participating in one of the earliest expressions of Christian community. Simon, a zealot, and Matthew, a tax collector, two very different disciples, were able to come together and truly know each other, and Jesus, in the breaking of bread. If one were to modernize that relationship, it could be an IRS agent and someone on the NSA watch list sharing in community; it seems highly unlikely it would happen. Yet something bound them together and breaking bread was the outward expression of that deeper connection.
It is this sort of community that I want to help foster at Urban Hope. Regardless of whether or not I get to physically break bread with these kids, I want to find a way to bring about its effects. I want to find a way to approach people who have completely different histories than me and ultimately know them well so that I can better love and serve them. As an outsider to Walltown, and more specifically these kids’ lives, I feel that getting to know the campers is perhaps the greatest task of this summer, and the positive nature of my role in their lives depends on it. It is this realization that pushes me to want to break bread daily with these kids throughout the summer and find a way to take part in the community into which I have entered.
The next sentence in Dorothy’s epilogue, following the one above, puts into words what we work towards by breaking bread as a community and what I want to see realized in my own time at Urban Hope. “Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.” I want to take that crust and see Urban Hope become that banquet, a place of celebration for the incredible work being done here in this neighborhood. I want to see that joy daily as I eat breakfast, lunch, and often dinner with these kids and the other counselors. And even more, I want to see the literal breaking of bread bring folks to the table that maybe wouldn’t have sat together before Jesus came and gave us the gift of unity in Him. And if breaking bread can do all of this, then let the bread breaking begin.
photo credit: http://www.urbanhope.us