Organization, People, Three Rivers

Beginning the conversation

Welcome to the *cino Talks blog! I’m Stephanie, one of several residents of the *cino community who live and work in Three Rivers, Michigan.

It feels quite remarkable to remember that just over a year ago, a group of college friends relocated from Grand Rapids to this rural small town in southwest Michigan and into the generously shared space of Trinity Episcopal Church’s rectory. Although many friends from this initial gathering have since embarked upon other endeavors, ongoing conversations have encouraged other college students and postgraduates to spend some time here in Three Rivers as well. I often recall the particular conversation that kindled this decision to join friends here in Three Rivers; a memory that includes the question, “What if a group of friends decided to move to Three Rivers this summer?”

It was springtime, and a pleasant enough day to perch piles of books on a courtyard table to peruse the themes of hospitality, imaginative living, and a faithful commitment to place. Yes, it was none other than Rob and Kirstin, leafing through pages and planning their first spring break trip — a foray into “art, agriculture, and development in rural communities.” Now, when you bump into such delightful friends and catch sight of the well-worn texts written by Cornel West, Wendell Berry, Brian Walsh, Kathleen Norris and the like, all collected together into an epitome of all that your college courses could explore, you get a little curious. And maybe a bit excited.

Rob and Kirstin went on to describe the spring break trip as both ethnographic and participatory, where students would traverse the rural small-town landscape of Three Rivers and visit local organic farms, learn from community members including artists, activists, historians, writers, and business owners, prepare shared meals with locally-sourced food, do service work at *cino’s Huss School building, and live and learn at the Hermitage, a serene Mennonite retreat center located in the hills west of town. This trip would encourage students to envision a community that is informed by a Christian “rule of life,” but also one that is learning-based, service-oriented, imaginative, and committed to the local culture and identity of Three Rivers and the other places we call home. As a student who was preparing to finish college with various opportunities pulling me in several directions, I was quite intrigued by this alternative vision for community. It was this very conversation, and many to come, that seemed to incite a small and ongoing migration of friends to Three Rivers.

Now why am I focusing so fixedly on such a memory? This memory reflection has recently served to unearth a period of questioning, the most pressing of which is the question of why I still believe in the work and identity of *culture is not optional. When I consider all that this past year has encompassed, I can undoubtedly say that it has indeed been a period of practicing hospitality, of striving to commit to this place, and of allowing our imaginations to shape the work that we do together. Sure, I cannot altogether affirm that our presence here has been characterized by an unceasing creative momentum and a clearly defined vision, nor did I ever expect for it to be so. But those initial conversations about how we are to live whole lives in this community still persist, allowing space to ask questions and work through the wobbles and gaps in my own understanding of *cino’s presence in Three Rivers and beyond.

As Kirstin introduced in the opening blog post for the *cino Talks, *culture is not optional, as an organization and gathering of friends, is transitioning into a period when we give greater attention to the mission and vision of this organization. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve most likely participated in some small or large part in *culture is not optional, whether it be living and working in Three Rivers, reading and writing for <a href=””><em>catapult magazine</em></a>, visiting <a href=””>Huss School</a>, or all the many other ways you’ve chosen to support this community. The *cino Talks is a dialogue where we hope to include your thoughts and observations regarding *culture is not optional’s organizational identity.

So, in a roundabout way, we’re asking if you can join us in reflecting on two questions for this initial phase:

  • Why is *culture is not optional important to you?
  • What limits your support of *culture is not optional?

These questions are broad, but your thoughtful and honest reflection is very valuable for *cino as we seek to move forward into a clearer identity and vision in the upcoming months. Answers can be <a href=””>submitted here </a> or via the comment section below.

So, again welcome to the *cino Talks blog. We hope that it can become a space where you can also reflect on the ways that *culture is not optional has become important to you and participate in the ongoing conversations about faith, community, culture, place and so much more.

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Making Boo Radley come out

If you were to travel north or south along highway 131, you would transect a patchwork of farm fields and a series of small towns that dot southwest Michigan, and one particular whistle-stop by the name of Three Rivers. As I hail from the city of Pittsburgh, whose claim to fame is the presence of three relatively large rivers, I was delighted to move to the quaint town nestled around the St. Joseph, Rocky, and Portage riverlets. Reorienting myself around the presence of water feels rather familiar.
As a recent arrival to the Rectory, the *cino intern house (still in need of a more charming title), I find that I’m settling agreeably into what has already been comfortably inhabited for most of the summer. Yet the local foot-traffic of Main street still peers curiously at our twentysomething gaggle as we eat curries and project strange sounds from the front porch, and the question, “So what exactly are you doing here again?” seems to arise daily. Yes, our presence here as “interns” or “the people who work at Huss school” is rather ambiguous, but we are noticing a growing conversation percolate as the events of the past month unveil an active and imaginative vision.
Daily life in the rectory oscillates between peaceful mornings reading poetry and haphazard and chaotic cooking explosions lasting well on into the evening. An unpredictable rhythm indeed, as our living dynamic shifts slightly with the ebb and flow of interns, visitors, and dinner guests. The stereo seems to be the central locus of the abode, where eclectic and familiar sounds accompany dinner preparation, work at the dining-room table, and most any moment where someone occupies the first floor. We’ve stocked our cupboards with bulk flours, oats, and grains from Miller’s Discount Store, locally referred to as the “Amish Shop,” and have found time to knead yeasty loaves of bread, frost vegan cupcakes, and enjoy fresh-pressed peanut butter. Tomatoes are reddening on the window sill and a great bounty of vegetables fill various nooks and crannies, giving way to collaboratively crafted summer soups, pesto’s and salads–enough for 5, 11, or 14 gathered ’round. Yet there always seems to be time for sprawled-out crafting and letter writing. Needless to say, my transition here has been pleasant, accompanied by a conscious desire for simpler, more holistic, and communal ways of living.
Why not start with homemade granola?
I have begun the quest to bake a crunchier chunkier and delectable tasting granola. Thanks to Kirstin’s suggestion, we look no further than the Mennonite (Central Committee) cookbook, Simply in Season:
Chunky Crunchy Granola
3 c. rolled oats
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 ½ t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/2t. ground ginger
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. milk
½ c. raisins, other dried fruit or nuts (pecans are good)
1. Mix together dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center.
2. Pour oil, honey, milk, etc. into the well. Mix thoroughly , making sure all loose flour has been incorporated.
3. Spread in 9 x 13″ pan and bake at 300°, stirring every 10 minutes, until light brown, 50-60 minutes.
After many critiques and grumbles from past attempts, the drowsy breakfast eaters now declare, “Yes! We’ve found it! So chunky! A perfect combination of salty and sweet!”
Through the small tasks including washing clothes by hand, baking daily bread, and making delightful meals from the bounty of Michigan produce, the pace of the day has elongated into calm productivity with the occasional disruption of swooping bats or spontaneous dance parties.
So what does this all have to do with the title, “Making Boo Radley Come Out,” anyway?

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop . . . somehow it was hotter then . . . bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. . . . There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

This excerpt is from the first chapter of the southern gothic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee. The interns have decided to revive this classic story while reading aloud after our evening meals, and though the historical setting of the novel contains many contrasts to today, the themes of this story seem to take on a new meaning for those of us dwelling in Three Rivers. The sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama is set in the thick of the Great Depression and the early outcries of the Civil Rights movement with Harper Lee addressing issues of racism, class, inequality, economic hardship, and gender roles in the American south. While I hesitate to draw broad generalizations from this novel, this short time in small-town Michigan has reminded me that many of these issues (economic recession, racism, classism, etc.) are more than present today.
In addition to learning to live simply and imaginatively in this new home, we spend much time at Huss School–a building rich in memory and history. Afternoons at Huss usually include visits from neighborhood kids, some of whom are rather mischievous and rambunctious boys eager to wrestle and skate and bombard each of us with curious questions. These boys, who seem to teach us about both lived experience and local myth and lore of the neighborhood, remind me of the characters of Lee’s novel; children who believe that Huss School is haunted and who have rather precocious perspectives into the lives of their neighbors. Yet these kids have a fascination with the *cino project and changes happening at Huss, and, as though out of a novel, jump and cheer and chase our bicycles as we ride down their streets. These children certainly experience the inequalities ever-present in our communities, and their stories often reflect this. Yet they are eager to be involved–to help and explore and imagine this renewed space.
So while our familiarity with Three Rivers continues to grow, I am challenged by these connections, reminding me of subtle and blatant examples of injustice and social and economic hardship, but also of the hope, joy, and creativity occurring here. Through reading the story of the sleepy and tired Maycomb and the characters who seek peace and justice, there is certainly and undercurrent of optimism also found in the narrative of Three Rivers.

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