Truth in Contradiction
By Brendan Jones O'Connor, 2014-2015 Corps member
I am a dialectician. I don't generally mention this on the first date, but I perceive the world as a series of opposing ideas interacting in opposition, and eventual reconciliation, with each other. For me to process my experience and plan for the future, I need to bounce ideas, observations, and insights off another person, or work through them in a notebook, for me to feel like I've gotten a handle on a reasonable position. Seldom do I think I have reached a final position. Certainty can be boring, I have found.
This is why I decided to join the Deaconess Anne House; just like a bicycle, for me to be a stable person, I need to be in motion. Paradoxically, the great challenge of moving to a new city, living in an impoverished urban area with six other strangers, to work in a job field I had little experience, during the midst of an international political movement, has done wonders for my well-being. With no jest, I can say that I am happier now than any time since my senior year of high school.
A little background on me, I grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a conservative hotbed fifteen miles west of Milwaukee, and attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the great Berkeley of the Midwest. Continuing my theme of taking contrasting ideas and making them work together, I spent my college years in a tiny, residential Episcopal ministry while studying in a colossal, very secular school. I loved the contradiction, as it helped me re-frame the Christian experience as a commitment to justice, reconciliation, and community living. At the same time, Madison experienced the biggest round of protests and demonstrations in State history against the anti-union policies of the state governor. The conservatism of my home parish and my high school met a formidable challenge in the prophetic witness of Madison's faith communities. I knew something had changed within me when I realized that the salvation Jesus preached, that the apostles followed until death, and that the saints devoted their lives to, is something very real and achievable in this life.
Deaconess Anne House promised me something I needed, a community dedicated to both social justice, and intentional life together.
After two years past my graduation of failed situations and emotional fatigue, I wanted more than anything to be part of a supportive group, willing to do the hard work of bringing the Kingdom of God into the world, including ourselves. Especially ourselves. My job placement at Christ Church Cathedral as the digital missioner (social media outreach position) has challenged me to take social media very seriously as a way of fostering community. My housemates have allowed me to notice strengths and weaknesses I did not realize I have. For example, I'm a better listener than I knew, but I'm not especially playful or competitive.
Living in a co-operative, co-ed house has taught me patience, as we hold weekly meetings to evaluate what is working, and what does not. We constantly watch ourselves to avoid triangulation and other toxic behavior patterns that destroy communities. Still, it's never easy most difficult for me has been accepting that I will not be close friends with everybody in the house. And that's all right, we are here to love and support each other, but we are not required to be drinking buddies. This is hard work, and yet it is fulfilling work, especially as I see my home life and my work life as working together for the same mission this year. I want to emphasize to anybody considering applying for the Deaconess Anne House, or a similar program, that living with a unified purpose is a profound experience to hold for a year, especially in the formative time of one's twenties.
St. Louis itself is a city of contradictions, which was one of the reasons I choose to move here: A city whose design and cultural identity is rooted in a World Fair 111 years ago; a city named after a violent, antisemitic French king, but primarily occupied by Blacks and Germans; a city of 318,000 people, and a metropolitan area of 2.9 million; the highest crime rate in the United States next to three of the 25 wealthiest suburbs; an East Coast city that happens to be on the Mississippi; the starkest street divide between rich and poor (The Delmar Divide); the largest Bosnian population outside of Bosnia & Herzegovina; the biggest companies are Monsanto, Peabody, and Anheuser-Busch; and everything, yes, everything is made out of bricks.
I am so grateful for this ability to intern at Deaconess Anne House in the "Gateway to the West.” In all my confusion, in all my experience as a contradictory person, and active dialectician, the Deaconess Anne House leads me to believe in precisely one foundation: the salvific Kingdom of God. From the outside, it might not seem like much to be sure of, but I would not have it any other way.