How my volunteer year taught me to resist

Jesuit Volunteer Corps Detroit 1999-2000)

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It’s been almost 20 years since I hurtled enthusiastically into my volunteer year. Fresh out of college, passionate about Jesus, and eager to make my faith manifest in my daily life, I stepped out of my parents’ car at the orientation of the Midwest Jesuit Volunteers. It was a hot August day in Iowa, and I was ready for anything. 

I didn’t know it at that moment, but my resistance had begun. After a lifetime of following expectations and doing what my culture found acceptable, I veered off the path beaten by other Midwestern, suburban girls I knew – to the Jesuit Volunteers. 

My JV year helped me pay attention to how our actions often perpetuate injustice, and I learned that sometimes the best thing to do is… resist. Step out of the game. 

I must stop and consider before chasing after that latest shiny thing, whether that be a job promotion or a new pair of shoes. The spirit of resistance calls me to pause, and to reconnect with capital-W Wisdom, that sacred Wisdom which is the heart of God. It makes me discern before automatically swallowing cultural norms and widely accepted markers of ‘how it’s done’ or ‘what makes for a successful life.’ 

I can imagine Lady Wisdom crouching just behind the seductive shouts of media, politicians, marketers, and even my own family and friends. She is smiling at me (maybe with a wink?) and whispering, “Resist.”

Like a muscle that I had rarely used before, at first it was strenuous to resist. And then, just like any muscle, I got more skilled at using it, it became easier, and I enjoyed using it. 

To me, resistance is a spiritual act. It’s a critical part of discernment. With which spirits will we cooperate? Which spirits will we actively resist? 

We see resistance all the time right now. It’s a hashtag in social media. It’s on t-shirts. It’s on posters. Resist is a buzzword right now, and rightly so. I’m thrilled to see resistance in the spotlight of pop culture and mainstream media. 

However, resistance has been part of our Judeo-Christian tradition for millenia – from Moses and the Israelites’ exodus out of slavery to Jesus’ refusal to play by the rules of the religious and secular authorities in his time; we have numerous models for resistance. 

We need to return to this ancient concept if we hope to move forward as a human race. 

My community and I spent much of our volunteer year discerning what was worth cooperating with and what called for resistance. 

Must travel by car? Resist. 

Must eat meat? Resist. 

Must wear new clothes? Resist. 

Must be right? Resist. 

Must be comfortable? Resist. 

I was not a perfect “resister” during my volunteer year. I’m still not. Submitting to the flow of White, middle-class American life is so easy and seductive. Nonetheless, I find myself still using that resistance muscle daily.

Had I not been a Jesuit Volunteer, I fear I might not have found it.

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