Monday, May 28, 2012


Here's my final personal statement I'm submitting with a culminating binder portfolio. Yes, I'm actually submitting this.

            When I began the BASW program at the University of Washington I was generally an optimistic, idealistic and na├»ve person. Now? Well, at least I’m still idealistic. Sort of. Being in the undergraduate program has been like opening up the stomach cavity of humanity and being forced to see and smell the pulsating entrails normally covered by flesh and skin. I’ve come to understand at a very deep level the mechanisms of oppression, the context of history with social problems and the seemingly insurmountable odds we find ourselves up against as social change “agents.” While the world may seem bleak at times, I’ve learned that because of my existence as a social worker, it is now and always will be marginally less so. Slow clap.
            As a result of being in this program, I’ve had to adapt and survive through self-care. In the morning I would learn about how black people were lynched and used as sex slaves. Then, I’d go to coffee with my classmates and try not to cut myself.
            The School of Social Work encourages students to think critically and independently. Well, in this school, I sure have learned how to do just that. While the school may imply that social workers are responsible for the fate of all oppressed populations everywhere, and that if we don’t do something, then no one will, I know in my heart that this is simply not true. I refuse to live in agony and misery, wallowing in privileged guilt and an unhealthily metastasized savior-complex. While I am aware of the plight of vulnerable populations, I as one individual, can only do so much. I will do what I can to address poverty, violence and suffering in the world, but once I’ve put in my eight hours for the day, I will surrender myself to a coping mechanism entitled fatalism.
            When I leave this place, the School of Social Work, I will forever have on my goggles of “awareness.” Trust me, even when I try to enjoy something as mindless and popularly entertaining as The Hunger Games, for example, I will end up writing a five-page analysis of its major themes with respect to power and oppression[1]. I will carry with me ecological-systems theory, empowerment theory, the ethnic identity development model, cultural responsiveness (the dialogic model, of course) and the strengths perspective. These theories have affected the way I interact with people, whether in my professional or personal life; I have internalized them that much.
            In terms of “staying current” with social welfare, I’ll always feed my insatiable compulsion to “be in touch” with the reality of the underclass, whether it be through the NPR public health blog (Shots), The Seattle Times, National Geographic, literary fiction or memoirs of people who have survived horrific circumstances (e.g. Strength in What Remains, Desert Flower, Persepolis). It is my duty as a professional social worker to stay informed, and informed I will stay!
            My strengths as a social worker are my ability to articulate forms of oppression, my critical thinking, my self-reflection and my ability to establish rapport with clients through genuine warmth and caring. Areas for growth would be maintaining professional boundaries with clients, political advocacy and research-informed practice.
            It has certainly been an interesting ride, this BASW experience. I’ve had my hopes crushed into a finely ground powder, then snorted through someone’s nose. I’ve learned to be much more realistic, to reject martyrdom and to enjoy life for what it offers. As a social worker, I may not be able to fundamentally change the structure of society to uplift the downtrodden and usher them into an age of triumph, true brotherhood and utopian parity. However, I’ll do my small part, quietly, without heraldry or accolades, humming a pop ballad from the 1990s.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
-Robert Frost

[1] Attached.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Who's Calling?

"Always hope for the best but prepare for the worst."
-the fortune of one of the most depressing fortune cookies I've ever consumed

As graduation approaches, I've been thinking and praying and thinking more and more about what direction to head in next. It was simple and easy to outright reject the option of getting a Masters degree in social work. (Gross.) Apart from that, though, I've really had to no idea about where to pour all of my energies. I would apply for something if I knew that's what I actually wanted or if that was what God wanted for me, but it's been pretty vague and the clock is ticking down. Three weeks and then---I literally have nothing lined up for me besides maybe possibly a Peace Corps assignment in a year.

So of course my first instinct is to get all introspective and pray about God's "calling" for me. A couple of weeks ago I received this word from God during a church women's retreat:
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. 
-Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Matthew 5:10 via The Message
HAH. Wow, thanx, God. You really know how to lift a girl's spirits. Anyway, it got me thinking about how I've been reluctant to really bear all and give up my entire future to God's hands because I am afraid to suffer for his sake. It actually makes me anxious and fills me with dread. Um, I've had a taste of what it's like to share Christ's sufferings and it was dark and icky and uncomfortable. Yuck. No, no, no, no, no, no, NO--THANKS.

So I'm trying to get "unstuck" from this mentality of resistance. This whole process has revealed to me how selfish my motives are in following Jesus (I'll take the peace, comfort, personal purpose and meaning without the cost and sacrifice) and I'm thinking to myself, "Wow, do I really deep down actually want to know who Jesus is?" Hah, because it's starting to become very clear that actual deep fellowship with Christ means sharing in his sufferings (see Philippians 3:10-11).

Waah, I just want to be coddled for the rest of my life. God, wrap me in a cocoon if ignorance from the tragedy, brokenness and evil of the world until I die, okay? I've had enough exposure to people's heartbreaking trauma. Nooooo, why did you make me sensitive so that I feel things???

I've been reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer lately and it's been a good wake up call from all of my inner musings, angst and evasion of confrontation with the living, terrifying, true God. ;) I've been thinking of complete surrender to God and letting go of certainty and control as submission to a life of intermittent misery and pain. Pretty bleak, right? But the thing about Bonhoeffer is that he keeps pointing people to Jesus Christ. Yes, there's a cost. Yes, there's suffering...yet it's all about Christ. That's it. Game over.
Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self denial can say is: "He leads the way, keep close to him" (88). 
So instead of agonizing over the specifics of my future, or trying to make comprehensive cost-benefit analyses of possible next steps, my focus of late has been to try and really get a better sense of who this Jesus guy is. Who is this Christ who is asking me to suffer for his sake?--who is inviting me into deeper communion with him through persecution?

Only in that context will I be able to hear his call in the first place, and then, hopefully, to obey.