*cino Work, Education, People, Three Rivers

That good old way: Alexandra’s reflection

Nine months ago, someone asked me if I’d always been a drifter. I didn’t know I was until they said it. But once they did, I knew it was true.

Arriving in Three Rivers, three hours from my childhood home of blink-and-you-miss it Maybee, MI — a home I hadn’t stayed in for more than three weeks in almost three years — I knew two things: my soul was beaten and tired, and yet some Elpis at the bottom of the Pandora Box of my heart was hungry for a meaning. It was begging for some new definition of purpose, because I’d burned up all my first drafts to that question in a recent bout of situational depression. I’d played the Divine Comedy backwards, finding the Woods and a personal Hell after leaving Paradise. Or at least my semester abroad  in England had felt like paradise (semesters abroad always do). So there I was: weary, wandering, not having stayed in one place for more than five months in four years, with half a heart left in Oxford and hauling the other shabby half out of my significantly dented 1997 Pontiac Sunfire the day I arrived at the Rectory.

The *cino application had asked “why here?”, “why choose *cino to for your summer?” I’d been devouring writings on the Slow Food movement and sniffing around the works of Wendell Berry, so the topic of agrarian ethics was in my head and I said I wanted “definitions for the good life I thought I was starting to form a rough outline on.” I thought I’d get some hippy wisdom here, a hipster blog post there, it’d be a good time. The thing is, most of us interns said we didn’t really have an expectation about the summer because we had no idea what we were going to be doing. And that’s not a critique of the intern program, it’s a comment on the nebulous nature of *cino’s vision. Now, that’s not a “we have no real vision” kind of nebulous nature. The Huss Project is 27,000 square feet of solid vision. World Fare = serious, definable, fair-trading vision-ness. School lunches, Community Fun Nights, storytelling nights, Future Festival:  all solid visions and measurable in smiling faces or full stomachs. And yet *cino’s vision is nebulous, its work hard to define. We often toss around the words community development, but for me, describing *cino as that would be akin to defining a mother simply as “a woman who has birthed a child.”

The vision of *cino permeates everything. Yes, we all work, live, and play together. And yes we’re all working under the same general goals and similar drafts of a life vision, but the sole thing that appeared to me to unify everyone under the *cino banner was the question “how do we do life well?” Not right or correctly, not successfully, just well. As a quote from the homesteading, self-sustaining classic “Living the Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing goes: “There are several ways to perform almost any act — an efficient, workable, artistic way and a careless, indifferent, sloppy way. Care and artistry are worth the trouble. They can be a satisfaction to the practitioner and a joy to all beholders.”

That’s *cino to me. It’s a bunch of people asking  the “how do we do life well?” question. How do we do it beautifully but not superficially? Practically but not soulessly? How do we create something sustainable, relational, genuine, joy-filled, and healing? How do we love through how we live life? Because it’s the mugs on wooden s-hooks for the public to drink coffee of freely at World Fare. It’s the home-planted, home-grown, and home-made food of Community Potlucks. It’s the talk and the stories and the no-there-will-not-be-money-in-this-and-yes-it-is-important attitude. It’s the spontaneity and the play. It’s the dedication to the local, whether in food or friendship. It’s life. It’s love.

Is it perfect? Never. But being alive necessitates imperfection.  *cino did give me definitions. More than I was looking for. And  I’m an unabashed fan of the *cino core values and all they represent. And they helped give my own self a few new definitions. I’m a dinner-party addict. An insatiable cuddler. I’m very aesthetically-oriented and I tend to romanticize most things. I’m also a drifter. Just taking it one thing at a time.

So the summer? It reminds me of that ancient al rustica hymn of Americana, “Down to the River to Pray:”

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way…

Above: Alexandra and Seth work the Huss Project table at the Three Rivers Farmers Market.

Read More →

Education, Organization, People

The value of unfettered imagination

This piece was co-authored by Nate Brees and Alexandra Harper.

The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated, and co-opted to do serious imaginative work. It could be, as is so often the case, that the only ones left who can imagine are the ones at the margin. They are waiting to be heard, but they have a hard time finding a place and a way for their voices.
– Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience

Armed with our recent Sunday night viewing of The Lego Movie, we gathered in the Rectory living room ready to do some serious imaginative work. Unfettered imagination was the produce of this week’s Garden of your Mind, our weekly discussions centering around *cino’s core values, and the newly released blockbuster was to offer a springboard for our thoughts.

Our conversation on unfettered imagination began with a tone of hilarity inspired by the film. We had, after all, also read a review of The Lego Movie by Jeffrey Overstreet as one of our correlated text and scenes, quotes, and one catchy song (“Everything is Awesome”) from the movie were present in our minds and ready on our tongues. Thus, the conversation began with more laughter and Lego-mimicry than serious-minded imagination analysis, just as it should have.

The movie portrays a surprisingly well-thought out approach to the necessity of imagination, centering around Emmet, a very-average-man construction worker, in a worryingly-cheerful lego world. When Emmet accidentally fulfills a prophesy and is thrust into the role of liberator to the entire lego universe, he has to choose whether to use his seemingly average but kooky mind to help the oppressed peoples of the Lego Lands or the expose himself as the false hope he believes himself to be. Though we at *cino went into the film with varying levels of skepticism, we all came out with a relatively common conclusion: the film does a brilliant job at taking a multifaceted view on imagination (it supports both teamwork and individuality, “coolness” and “weirdness”, and the importance personalities both upbeat-and-centerstage [Emmet] and introspective-and-chill [Lego Batman]). We also all agreed the film was hilarious.

However, the conversation did inevitably broaden to include facets of imagination outside of the assemblage of Lego. For instance, we discussed *cino’s imagination as it manifests in the Huss Project, most notably in Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma’s article “Ten Things We Imagine at Huss School.” We were reminded of the necessity for community imagination and as we checked off 9 of the once-envisioned 10 imaginings for Huss as now completed, we were struck by the power of communal imagination. We also read two other catapult magazine pieces by Kirstin about the sequestration of imagination and recovering imagination.

Imagination is at the heart of change and, as The Lego Movie eloquently demonstrates, whether you are a master builder or an individual who has never had an original idea his life, your mind can be the birthplace of that imagining. We at *cino encourage you to take some time to invest in some serious imaginative work wherever you might be. To help you get started enjoy this snippet featuring Benny the 1980s-something space guy.


Read More →

Building, Hospitality, People

Our new friends from Palmerston, Ontario

During the week of June 30, the walls of the Huss Project buzzed with the sounds of hammers, nails, laughter, and good-natured Canadian “eh’s?” as a service group from Palmerston, Ontario provided some much-appreciated labor and much-enjoyed friendship to the *culture is not optional team. In partnership with Three Rivers Christian Reformed Church, who arranged the visit and hosted, Huss served as a work site for the group throughout the week.

The Palmerstonians worked long and hard to move Huss a large leap closer to being Future Festival-ready. Some of their hard work went to projects for general Huss improvement, such as removing the fence along Broadway, removing the ceiling in one room, sealing the roof against future leaks, cleaning out debris from the roof,  and clearing the lawn from branches. Other work went specifically to getting Huss prepared for Future Festival, such as weeding and mulching the garden, edging the lawn, removing collected debris, moving lumber and chairs, sorting donations for the Future Festival rummage sale, cleaning the hallways, and cutting decorative bunting. Some work was just part of our weekly maintenance and activities hosted at Huss, such as mowing the lawn and planning that week’s Community Fun Night craft.

All in all, there was a lot of hard work accomplished and a lot of fun had. Our staff learned the lyrics to the Canadian National Anthem (on Canada Day), and some of the Palmerston students were introduced to kale for the first time. Children from the community enjoyed having extra people to play with during community fun nights when our Palmerston friends joined in kickball, crafting, and even teaching the kids basic gymnastics. Some of the Palmerston workers noted that there was a lot of physical labor to be done at Huss, but that they enjoyed it because of the tangible difference they could see was being made. Multiple team members noted their visit to Huss to be their “favorite service project ever!” And we couldn’t be more grateful for their hard work and kind company.

Several teenagers from Three Rivers CRC integrated with the Palmerston group and served alongside them all week. *cino co-director Kirstin Vander Giessen-Retisma noted, “I really appreciated seeing local teens I know from other contexts taking on roles as leaders with the out-of-town volunteers. They did a great job of making their new friends feel welcome here in Three Rivers. Each person’s unique gifts and passions emerged throughout the week — some dove into physical labor, some were patient with tedious tasks, some brought their creativity and friendliness, some entertained the crowd with jokes or dancing or singing (sometimes all at once). Overall, everyone contributed to making the Huss Project a beautiful space for play, hospitality and neighborliness.”

Thank you, Palmerston friends!

Read More →