*cino Work, Building, Leadership, Organization, People

Annual *cino retreat yields 2017 priorities

On October 7, those of us who currently comprise the core *cino community gathered at a retreat house near Three Rivers to spend time growing in friendship, sharing good food, and reflecting on the year past and the year to come. Like our past retreats, we enjoyed times of intense, meaningful conversation interspersed with rest and play.

This year, our time together helped us get organized around some specific priorities for 2017 and some new ways of working together to achieve our tasks and goals within those priorities. The four things that rose to the surface that we want to work on in 2017 are:

  1. Grow *cino’s food efforts.
  2. Grow our core community in both quantity and quality.
  3. Cultivate relationships—with our neighbors, city, downtown, donors, partner organizations…
  4. Make tangible facility improvements.

We’ve identified a number of measurable goals within these overlapping categories, including existing programs and new efforts, as well as discerning some things we’ll leave behind for now in order to make space to grow in other areas and be open to the gifts and interests of new core community members. We’ll continue to organize our work through weekly meetings on Mondays, and also to grow in relationship with one another and our neighbors through things like Monday nights at the Riviera Theatre Bar and Friday night potlucks. We’re also looking to support each other more as a community through collaboratively developing and sharing our own personal care plans for the coming year.

Forming the foundation for our work conversations during the retreat was a time of reflection on several readings that touch on the theme of work: how we do what we are called to do with deep joy and gratitude. The readings included a couple of essays from our online publications (one by Brother Abraham and one by Gary Guthrie), a poem by Marge Piercey, and a quote from Thomas Merton that I find to be particularly cautionary for our busy, committed group:

There is a pervasive form of modern violence to which the idealist…most easily succumbs: activism and over-work. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his (or her) work… It destroys the fruitfulness of his (or her)…work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

We also considered a quote from Kahlil Gibran that echoes Merton’s warning:

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is
better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the
temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter
bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you drudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge
distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing,
you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of
the night.

With this balance in mind, we reviewed a first draft of a design for the Huss Project property, sharing questions and feedback. We know it will take a lot of work to move forward with this design, but we’re excited about the prospect of seeing some major progress happening in the coming year. To learn more about the design, visit a more detailed post with an image of the first draft over on the Huss Project web site.

If this all sounds like something you’d like to get involved in in some way, please let us know! We are very open to the participation of more volunteers and new core community members as we head into a new year full of good work alongside our neighbors in Three Rivers.


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*cino Work, Leadership, People

*cino resident community prepares for 2016 retreat

Each fall for the past several years, the core *cino group has taken time out of our fall schedule to go away together to reflect on the year past, and imagine and plan for the year ahead. We began with a single night, but in our hunger for more time, we dedicated a whole weekend last year, and will do the same again this year from October 7-9. We’re fortunate to have an abundance of local retreat centers, practically in our back yard, and we’ve enjoyed spending time at St. Gregory’s Abbey, GilChrist Retreat Center, and The Hermitage Community for our annual retreats and other activities throughout the year. These places keep us anchored in so many ways.

This year, there will just be four of us participating in the full retreat, perhaps with a couple of others who are close to our work popping in for parts of the time. The small number was something we anticipated at last fall’s retreat, and this year will be an opportunity to discuss how we feel about where things are. We long to have more partners in this work on the ground in Three Rivers, but in the meantime, the work goes on, and we often feel spread thin. In thinking about this state of things, I’ve gathered a number of quotes, poems, and essays around themes of commitment, labor, busyness, and finding joy in our work. This material will likely form the foundation of our Saturday morning reflection time, with our remaining working hours dedicated to sharing where we are personally and how we feel about the past year’s activities, as well as our vision for the coming year, with practical action steps we can take coming out of the retreat. And we’ll be sure to take plenty of time to rest, walk, play, and, of course, eat good food!

We would all appreciate your good thoughts and prayers for our time together—for clarity, wisdom, vulnerability, listening, and joy!

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Organization, Publishing

Topology completes first two issues

When our editorial team for Topology Magazine selected margins and living with the seasons for our first two issue themes, we had a lot of hopes and theories about what to expect from our contributors. Now, two issues in, we must say that our writers are stunning us with the diversity of their creativity and wisdom! In case you missed them, here are links that will bring you directly to all of the content from the first issue on margins and the second on living with the seasons. Each issue features poetry, essays and images taking the themes in a variety of directions.

And if you like what you read, we have great news: there’s more! We’ve begun publishing daily content on our third theme of thriftiness. If you’re a writer, photographer or visual artist, please consider joining our contributor’s e-mail list to receive updates about upcoming themes and deadlines. We look forward to hearing from you!

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*cino Work, Event, Organization, People

*cino fall retreat: Another year of transition

Each fall for the past three years, the core *cino community has taken a weekend retreat to examine the past year, look at the year ahead and create space for sharing.  This year, we stayed in a retreat house at GilChrist Retreat Center, where I work. Based on last year’s debrief, we expanded our time frame from one night to two, which meant we got to wake up on Saturday morning to one of the most beautiful first snows I’ve ever seen.

As the snow continued to fall, we began with journaling and sharing about where we are personally–what our significant experiences have been in the past year and what our questions are for the coming year. The space we created led to an important conversation about how at least two of our six members gathered at the retreat would be departing their work with *cino within the next six months, which was a critical realization for moving into planning *cino work realistically and with a clear view of impending change. Adapting on the fly, our Sunday morning conversation was an exploration of personnel, roles and responsibilities, and what kinds of people we need to keep moving toward the vision we have for *cino and the Huss Project.  We also talked about an article on the disease of being busy, which is something we all wrestle with in various ways, both individually and organizationally.

These times of intense conversation were punctuated by shared cooking and meals, games, rest and plenty of walks in the winter wonderland. At our debrief of this year’s retreat, several of us shared a sense of feeling lighter and more hopeful when we left the retreat than when we arrived, which is a good sign that we’re on the right track in some way, and that we’ll look forward to gathering again next fall for a time of reflection and renewal.

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*cino Work, Fundraising, People

Donate to *cino once…or monthly!

People often ask us how we fund all of the projects that *cino is involved in: publishing Topology, running a summer intern program, developing the Huss Project, running the community garden…  Well, we try to follow the good rule about having diversified funding sources, including fundraising events like our popular Underground Supper Clubs, produce sales at the Three Rivers Farmers Market, speaking fees and program fees for things like our college spring break trips.

But since the beginning over 13 years ago, we have always had a foundation of individual donors like you who have chipped in as they’re able to support the overall work of the organization. These periodic and monthly donors represent far more than dollars to us, providing a resource that is perhaps even more critical than money: encouragement. As you might imagine, there are many moments when we feel overwhelmed at the helm of a small non-profit seeking to do good work in a small town. Seeing a check in the mail or an online donation notification warms our hearts because we know that someone near or far has *cino in their thoughts and prayers, and decided to extend a tangible gesture of their care.

If you value *cino’s work, please consider giving a gift of support on Giving Tuesday (December 1) or anytime before the end of the year. You can give one time or monthly through our secure online donation page, or if you’d rather do things offline, please send us a message with your phone number and we’ll be glad to get in touch. Thank you for considering a gift to *cino amid all of the other wonderful, creative work in the world that needs your encouragement!

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*cino Work, Education, Workshops

A writerly weekend at Earlham School of Religion

A couple of years ago, Rob and I connected with Ben Brazil at the Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing. We were at the festival exhibit hall displaying for *cino and he was there displaying for the Earlham School of Religion’s Ministry of Writing program.

You never know how such encounters are going to bear fruit in the future, and this past weekend, we were delighted to participate in the Earlham Writing Colloquium. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet new kindred spirits, share about *cino and Topology Magazine, hear some wonderful words.  On Friday, we collaborated with poet Dave Harrity on a pre-conference for undergraduate students from Earlham College, and then on Saturday, we did a workshop on “Writing from your Watershed,” as well as a 20-minute talk on understanding our relationship with our places in terms of the covenantal relationship of marriage.

We entered the experience quite exhausted from a too-long busy season, and left refreshed, inspired and grateful because of all of the amazing people we met. What more could we have asked for? Thank you to Ben and Mandy for the organizational work, and to the other speakers and participants for the great conversations and storytelling.  We wish you all so much joy as you return to your places and continue to imagine how your writing can cultivate your inner life and the life of the world.

Thank you to Anne M. Hutchinson for taking the above photo during our panel presentation!

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Education, Organization, Workshops

*cino at Rooted & Grounded

During the first weekend in October, a collection of scholars, practitioners and scholar-practitioners gathered at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. For the second year running, AMBS played host to the Rooted and Grounded Conference, which is an ongoing conversation about the relationship between a commitment to place and the Christian faith, with a decidedly agrarian spin.

Rob and I were honored to be among the presenters for the gathering, which included many whose work in places throughout North America we deeply admire. Our topic was an exploration of the ways our commitment to our places is akin to marriage, weaving together biblical foundations, narrative examples and images of both faithfulness and faithlessness.

A highlight of the weekend was our visit to the Merry Lea Environmental Center, where our friend Jon has been working for a number of years. As an extension of Goshen College, Merry Lea serves as a site for ecological education and experimentation.  Touring their platinum LEED-certified buildings, market garden and woody perennial polyculture plot was greatly inspiring for our ongoing work at the Huss Project.  It was a multi-sensory experience that reinforced the many profound ideas we take with us from the weekend, including Ched Myers’ call to watershed discipleship and Sylvia Keesmaat’s reminder that each loss of creation is a lost opportunity to know the fullness of the Creator.

Photo from workshop attendee Hillary W.

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*cino Work, Publishing

Announcing…Topology Magazine!

Around 2001, an online discussion board grew up and we launched catapult magazine.  For 12 years, we published catapult every other week, with widely ranging issue themes and content stitched together with a single thread of a question: what does it look like to live out our deepest values in everyday life?

Over time, perhaps we’ve gravitated toward one kind of answer to that question, as we’ve become convicted that a good life must have something to do with living intentionally and deeply in the places where we find ourselves.  Thus, after a publishing hiatus and a bit of dreaming with a new editorial board, Topology Magazine was born durn near midnight on the very evening of a blood red harvest moon and a total eclipse.  It’s just a little fella at the moment, but we have no doubt it will grow quickly as we continue to explore diverse topics through the lens of place.

Check out our inaugural editorial here, and if you like what you read, consider liking our Facebook page or signing up for the weekly e-mail digest on the right side of the home page.  If you might be interested in contributing essays, poetry, artwork or photography, sign up for our contributor’s list.  We look forward to hearing from many corners of the world with this new publishing venture, even as the stories we collect inspire us to more deeply rooted lives where we are!

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Event, Fundraising, Hospitality, People, Three Rivers

Creative collaboration at Harmony Fest

Each Labor Day weekend for the past 22 years, citizens of Three Rivers have been coming together across all sorts of boundaries to enjoy Harmony Fest, a day of live music in the historic downtown district.  For many years, World Fare, a fair trade store that *cino collaborates on, has been celebrating its anniversary during Harmony Fest.  This year was no exception, with the store celebrating 12 years in business.

But this year, we entered a new collaborative venture by helping launch Harmony Fest’s first ever beer garden.  For weeks leading up to the festival, *cino staff scavenged and hauled and strategized and painted to craft a beautiful environment that would encourage good conversation and responsible enjoyment of a great variety of Michigan microbrews.  We wanted to create a fun space that would honor the incredible legacy of Harmony Fest in bringing community-building art to our great city. The result was a 5,600 square foot garden featuring locally grown mums, handmade picnic tables, reclaimed pallets and fair trade planters.  Catch a glimpse by checking out our photos.  Our participation in designing and building the environment and recruiting volunteers earned a portion of the proceeds for the Huss Project.

Congratulations to the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and the Harmony Fest committee on another great event, and thanks for letting us be a part of it!

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People, Three Rivers

Helping hands for summer 2015

The summer of 2015 has proven to be an unusual but rich season for the core *cino community.  Instead of our usual collective of summer interns serving a term from June 1 through August 15, we’ve ended up with a different assortment of helpers, each of whom has brought heart and skill to our shared work.

Joel Altena was the first to move into the Rectory at Trinity Episcopal Church, which has served as our *cino community house for five years now.  Freshly graduated from Calvin College, Joel is taking a year before he begins seminary to explore ministry on the ground in a rural setting.  Serving part-time with Three Rivers Christian Reformed Church and part-time with *cino, Joel has been readily sharing his abundant gifts of enthusiasm, curiosity and humor.

About a month in, Joel was joined at the house by Ryan Weberling, a long-time friend of Rob and Kirstin who has been wanting to spend an extended period of time in Three Rivers for a while and things finally aligned for him to do so.  Also a Calvin graduate from several years back, Ryan is working on his dissertation in English Literature at Boston University.  His culinary skill, reflective nature and vision for community have been great gifts to all of us in his short time here.

And finally, an unexpected U-turn led Daniel Ferrell to the rectory as well.  A former roommate of Joel, Dan arrived just in time for the controlled chaos of Future Fest preparation and he willingly jumped in to help with whatever, whenever — including an array of outdoor tasks on the hottest day of the summer.  Where Dan’s gifts truly shine, however, are in media production, and in the post-Future Fest lull, he constructed a beautiful collage of footage from the festival that almost makes us want to do it all again RIGHT NOW.

We weren’t sure what this summer was going to hold, but we are truly grateful that it turned out the way that it did, with local and non-local friends pitching in on our common work at the Huss Project and beyond!


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