Education, People

The value of radical hospitality

For our weekly Garden of Your Mind session today with *cino volunteer staff, we explored our core value of radical hospitality — a timely conversation as we begin summer lunches and Community Fun Night this week.  A past catapult editorial served as pre-reading, along with some relevant daily asterisk quotes about hospitality:

And finally this one from Henri Nouwen, worth quoting in full here because of its deep impact on the wording we chose for the *cino core values:

Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.  It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.

To frame our discussion, we read part of the chapter on welcome from Community and Growth by Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities.  As we read the selection paragraph by paragraph, we used a large sheet of paper to record the qualities of radical hospitality, as we were hearing them in this text, as well as the qualities of its opposite, which got summarized as “exclusion,” whether intentional or unintentional.

The conversation allowed us to visit some important themes as we get into gear for summer programming, including the hospitality of setting good boundaries, the need to balance identity and belonging, and how to cultivate relationships of mutual teaching and learning with each other and our neighbors.  Enjoy these images of our brainstorm, and come experience and share radical hospitality in person this summer at the Huss Project!


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Education, Organization, People

The value of compassionate listening

(Father Greg Boyle, Director of Homeboy Industries)

This summer, our volunteer staff is spending one hour each week exploring each of *cino’s ten core values in turn.  Last week, we talked about “experiential learning,” with reference to the article “The play deficit” by Peter Gray.  This week, in anticipation of summer lunches and Community Fun Nights beginning next week, we explored “compassionate listening,” which is also important to consider as we all get to know each other and prepare to give one another grace during a very busy season of activities.

There was no homework in advance this week, though Rob pointed out the relevance of the recent article on reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Instead, after reiterating the importance of inclusive conversation even as we explore *cino’s roots in the Christian tradition, we began with a quote from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint, and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple overflowing kindness.
This indeed, was a home, — home, — a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in His providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good-will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.

Next, we participated in an exercise to articulate our own interpretations of “compassionate listening.”  Without a cheat sheet to know what the “official” *cino statement is, the task was to write one to two sentences that elaborate on what compassionate listening has meant in our experience.  The group came up with such beautiful interpretations, I wanted to share them here:

  • Loving well by honoring the stories, struggles and suffering of those around us; hearing not just words but meaning.  Sharing in the experiences of good, bad and in-between of another in some mysterious way joins us together and removes “the other,” replacing it with “us.”Equalizing the plane between storyteller and story listener, being open to the story that each individual has to share.
  • We rely on our ears before our mouths, to discover what we share in suffering before daring a word of hope.
  • Listening deeply to the stories of our neighbors to step out of our own experience and into theirs.  Learning together with our neighbors how our stories are connected.  “We’re one, but we’re not the same.”
  • Take in the words of another person without judgment, giving them your full attention.  Respond when needed, but keep the conversation focused on their needs, not your own.
  • Compassionate listening is active and present. You should acknowledge your
    own privilege and let others tell their stories without interruptions, cast
    aspersions, or judgement. There is no such thing as a complete truth; even
    if you’re being as honest as you know how to be you can still tell a truth
    that I don’t recognize as truth. I can’t know your truth because I am not
    you and you cannot know my truth because you are not me.
  • Silence even when the companion is silent.
  • Sitting in the ashes alongside.
  • Attention without response planning.
  • Listening with a conscious ear to disregard social, mental, belief, and racial barriers.
  • Recognizing the crucial difference between a time for advice and a time for understanding.
  • Recognizing the protagonist of each life.
  • Giving one’s attention without expectation or agenda.
  • Creating space for empathy and understanding to grow within one’s own heart and mind.
  • Actively pursuing empathy and understanding.
  • Temporary submission of one’s voice to another’s.
  • Being present and still so one may become vulnerable to the words and stories of another; opening oneself up to the possibility of being changed by another’s words/stories.

It was fascinating to hear the intersections and complementary differences in our various interpretations — a concrete experience of why we need each other.  In the midst of the conversation, we looked at the actual wording included in the core values — “We seek humble kinship with those who are suffering” — and then watched a video of a talk by Father Greg Boyle, who has been a major influence on our notions of kinship (or friendship) as the basis for authentic relationship at the margins.

As both new interns and veteran volunteer staff members, it was wonderful to have this time of reflection as we head into the summer’s activities, imagining a circle of compassion, and then imagining that no one is standing outside of that circle.

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*cino Work, Building, Education

Healing ourselves by healing our places

Kind people are asking me how my time was in California and I’m not sure how to respond yet.  17 days of learning, sharing, hiking, field tripping, observing, storytelling, absorbing — it’s hard to sum up.  I am full of good things.  I am digesting.  I am grateful for new and renewed friends, new and renewed words.

It started last fall when I saw an announcement come through from our friends over at Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries: a permaculture design certificate course, combined with theological reflection.  I’d been interested in permaculture for some time, aware that it could, quite literally, help significantly shape the land of which I’m a steward, which includes the four acres at the Huss Project.  I’d dabbled in some of the foundational and peripheral texts in my work at a local retreat center.  I was already convicted of the reality of our interconnectedness with the natural world and our responsibility to tend and keep as humanity careens toward an unstable future, but I was hungry for more — more skill, more knowledge, more holistic understanding.

The course wove together so many themes, with a complexity akin to that of a thriving forest: restorative justice, bioregional discipleship, Sabbath economics, food justice, ecosystem regeneration.  We sang, we read the biblical narrative, we ate good food, we dreamed about a flourishing future for ourselves and our communities, and we began to learn about ways we could help make that future sprout in our places.  Imagine a world where none of God’s creatures go hungry, where soil is alive, where water is welcomed with the reverence of a people whose story began with a spirit, brooding over the deep.  Permaculture is not just a set of clever gardening tricks.  It’s not even a strategy for sustainability.  It’s a design discipline that reaches toward the flourishing — the shalom — of all creation, and I look forward to seeing how it will begin to regenerate my imagination and my land.

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*cino Work, Event, Three Rivers

Coming soon: student groups + justice films

The next few weeks will be busy for the *cino gang, with lots of good learning, sharing, eating, field tripping and film-festing!  Here’s what we’re looking forward to…

March 15: Project Neighborhood Retreat

45 students and mentors from the Calvin College intentional living communities will join us for a day-long retreat to explore community life after college and experience some of the things that make Three Rivers a unique place to live and serve.

March 22-29: Spring Break Service-Learning Trip

For the fifth year in a row, we’ll host a group of Calvin College students here in Three Rivers to explore themes like rule of life, place, contemplation, activism, agriculture, art, government, local business and more.  We’ll stay at the Hermitage Community, and serve throughout the week at the Huss Project, wrapping up our time together with a night at St. Gregory’s Abbey.

April 4-5: Rivers of Justice Film Festival

This annual event, organized by World Fare and a committee of volunteers, is expanding this year to feature three films over the course of two nights (plus a potluck and a reception with complimentary appetizers, of course!).  For a complete schedule and trailers, visit the film festival web site.

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A nursery for ideas

As we discern how to keep moving forward with *cino, Rob and I have embarked on our own informal leadership course, and as part of that, I’ve decided to start posting some interesting quotes and ideas related to leadership on the *cino site.

Leadership is a tricky thing for us, since much of the literature out there promotes a profit-driven, status quo model that feels antithetical to *cino’s jazzy, upside-down Kingdom, ridiculous joy motif.  In that spirit, here’s something that David shared as a centering reflection for our volunteer staff meeting last week:

If your meeting room, your board room, or your office (take your pick) isn’t a nursery for ideas, a rumpus room where seals frolic, forget it. Burn the table, lock the room, fire the clerks. You will rarely come up with any ideas worth entertaining. The full room with the heavy people trudging in with long faces to solve problems by beating them to death is very death itself. Serious confrontations rarely arrive at serious ends. Unless the people you meet with are fun loving kids out for a romp, tossing ideas like confetti, and letting the damn bits fall where they may, no spirit will ever rouse, no notion will ever birth, no love will be mentioned, no climax reached. You must swim at your meetings, you must jump for baskets, you must take hefty swings for great or missed drives, you must run and dive, you must fall and roll, and when the fun stops, get the hell out.

Credited to Ray Bradbury in The Leader’s Edge

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*cino Work, Fundraising

Finishing 2013 and moving into the new year!

To request a 2014 *cino sharing calendar, which is being assembled in the above photo, please contact us!

As we deepen into the season of Advent and anticipate the celebration of God’s great gift to humanity, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months of work with *culture is not optional, which has taken the form of publishing, community development, events and intentional community.

2013 has been a wild, wonderful year in which the members of our volunteer staff have pushed ourselves to grow individually and collectively.  Our community of supporters has responded graciously and enthusiastically, reinforcing our commitment to serve joyfully alongside our neighbors in Three Rivers, while reaching out beyond our small town through publishing and education.  We’ve said hello and goodbye to new and old friends, and closed out the year with a huge party.  In addition to hours and hours of volunteer time in the form of writing, organizing, playing, creating, welcoming, gardening, cooking and more, the Huss Project Brick Campaign has raised $77,100 to date to pay off our mortgage and begin funding renovations on our building.  What abundance!  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed feeding our friends delicious food at Underground Supper Clubs, Friday night dinners and storytelling potlucks.

Through a fall retreat, weekly staff meetings and monthly virtual board meetings, we’ve begun the process of setting goals for the coming year, which include:

  • Sustaining and growing our programming in Three Rivers: the community garden, Future Festival, summer internships, Family Fun Nights, service-learning trips, summer lunches, storytelling nights and art installations.
  • Continuing on the path of organizing, problem-solving and resourcing around occupancy for the old kindergarten room at the Huss Project.
  • Strengthening institutional partnerships with local organizations and regional colleges.
  • Cultivating supportive relationships with local businesses.
  • Growing our structure for leadership within our organization and with the greater community.
  • Increasing our monthly donations from the current level of $1,240 to $2,000.

Toward the goal of increasing monthly donations as well as continuing to foster a sense of sharing among our community of supporters, we’ve created a special sharing calendar for 2014.  Please get in touch if you’d like us to send you one.  Calendars feature *cino-ish quotes for each month, along with a short description of what our work consists of at that time of year.  You can use it however you like — as a reminder for a monthly gift, as a suggestion of what to hold in prayer, as a source of ideas for offering skills or resources, as encouragement for your daily life.  We would also welcome a special end-of-year donation for 2013 if you are able, which always goes a long way in helping sustain our work from one year into the next.

Thank you for continuing to hold *cino’s multi-faceted work in the light with your prayers and generosity.  May you be surprised by joy in this season of expectation and wonder!

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Building, Fundraising, Organization, Three Rivers

The Huss Project wins $1,000 grant

Wow!  We were so encouraged by all those who voted for the Huss Project in the recent Facebook contest run by the Three Rivers Area Community Foundation.  Over 100 of our friends voiced their support on the TRACF page!  We’re looking forward to dreaming with our board and volunteer staff about how to direct these special funds in a wise and creative way that supports our current strategy to get a room at the Huss Project up and running by December 31.  Thank you to all who voted and spread the word, as well as to TRACF for the generous gift toward *culture is not optional’s community development work in Three Rivers!

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People, Rectory Stories

Una despedida a nuestro amigo, Ginna!

We bid our friend Ginna a fond farewell on Monday as she headed home to Costa Rica via California.  Ginna served as a *cino intern for two months and did a ton of work to help get Triple Ripple Community Gardens up and running for its fourth growing season.  But much more than the sum of her hard work, Ginna was a joyful, affectionate presence in our community and we all miss her greatly already.  We wish she could have stayed longer, but certainly understand the pull of home on her heart.  Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo, Ginna!

For a more complete picture of Ginna’s time here, check out what she wrote for the Huss Stories series.

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Organization, People, Three Rivers

Introducing our 2013 summer interns!

(Left to right: Chelsea Tanis, Ginna Quesada, Ainsley Rynders, Jonathan Huang)

This past weekend, we officially welcomed our 2013 summer interns to Three Rivers.  This will be the fourth summer that we’ve had a group of interns join our year-round resident community to help support *cino’s work during our busy season.  That said, we welcome these new friends not just to share in the work load, but to offer a fresh perspective, join in hospitality and engage in mutual learning.

Our series of orientation activities began on Friday and continued through the weekend, including a bike tour and overview of Three Rivers, a welcome dinner and conversations around *cino’s history and core values.  Last night, the group gathered for a house meeting with the residents of the rectory to begin exploring the logistical details of living in intentional community.  We’re also in the process of assigning specific tasks for the summer, which is always a welcome challenge — we want to honor each person’s gifts, while also pitching in as a community to share in the nitty-gritty tasks.

This summer, we’ll be hosting weekly Family Fun Nights, lunches four days a week, a community garden, three storytelling nights, two Underground Supper Clubs and one big annual Future Festival — all on top of our usual publishing and community development work!  It will be a busy few months, but we look forward to working hard side by side, and then playing hard side by side to rejuvenate ourselves and weave a resilient, joyful community.

Thank you, Chelsea, Ainsley, Jonathan and Ginna, for giving yourself so generously to this place for a season!

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*cino Work, Building, Fundraising

Will we lose our building June 15?

Last week, we announced a change in the goals for our Brick Campaign, which is an effort to raise $100,000 for *cino’s Huss Project through the sale of 1,000 bricks for $100 each.  Essentially, we’ve extended the timeline to reflect our actual progress and prioritize a critical deadline: we need to raise $50,000 by June 15 to cover the balloon payment on our mortgage.  Many generous donors have helped us reach our current status of $35,800 — amazing!  We’re well on our way, but certainly not out of the woods yet.

While the Huss Project is just part of *culture is not optional’s work, it’s a project that’s really been growing and thriving in interesting ways over since we purchased the historic Huss School in 2009.  The Huss Project sprouted out of a desire to practice — on the ground, in a place — the ideas *cino has been talking about through conferences, an online magazine and other publishing efforts since 2001.  As such, the Huss property and the surrounding community of Three Rivers, Michigan have provided fertile soil for exploring what deeply rooted values of love, compassion, justice, hospitality, imagination and peace might look like, lived out in a specific time and place.

There have been abundant joys and challenges in this journey of the past few years, and the looming June 15 mortgage deadline is certainly the challenge we are most conscious of at the moment.  But the joy is present there as well: if we reach this deadline, we will own the building outright, freeing up $500 a month to begin investing directly into infrastructure improvement and even more programming.  We hope you will join us at this critical moment in our efforts to practice resurrection in Three Rivers and beyond!

How you can pitch in:

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