*cino Work, Education, People, Three Rivers

Come and see: Seth’s reflection

The compost bins still need to be built. And the basil plants need to be pruned and weeded. The starter house in Huss needs to be constructed so seeding can begin this winter instead of late spring. And that food co-op we keep talking about hasn’t gotten underway yet.

And classes start in a week.

This statement sums up a portion of my emotions as I prepare to leave Three Rivers, MI for Grand Rapids, ending my summer internship with *culture is not optional. (Actually, at the moment I am sitting in a coffee shop in Kalamazoo, a momentary limbo between my summer and fall homes.) There is much to do — at the Huss Project, community garden, and the downstairs bathroom I forgot to clean — and just as I feel myself getting something of a grasp on my work here in Tres Ríos, it is time to move on, to turn the page and begin something new. On the other hand, these feelings of anxiety that are triggered by this sense of incompleteness — like planting, watering and caring for a garden, but leaving before the harvest — remind me of other lessons I’ve learned this summer.

On a sunny afternoon in early June, roughly a month into my summer in Three Rivers, I stood in the middle of the community garden behind the Huss Project staring tensely at the small space beginning to show signs of fertility. As the agriculture intern, it was deemed my responsibility to lead the caretaking of the community garden — now in its fifth year of production — and the weight of this duty was beginning to feel like an anvil on my chest. After expressing a mellowed-down version of this unease during a Monday staff meeting, my good friend (and boss) Rob put his arm around my shoulder and briskly walked me out to the garden just a few yards away. I sensed the urgency and deliberateness in his pace, but was unsure of what was coming next.

“Seth, look around. This garden exists as part of a gift economy. It is entirely the result of gifts from others. As a caretaker of the garden, you are in debt to no one and no one is in debt to you.”

This simple declaration was one of many pivotal experiences this summer that significantly shaped how I understand the world and our place in it as human beings. When most people ask what I’ve been doing this summer, I do a rapid mental fumbling for the most accurate description until I revert back to “community development in Three Rivers, Michigan,” a statement too broad and feel-goody to mean anything, at least to me. The truth is I can’t give a simple description of my experiences and work this summer with *cino; it would be like trying to recreate a Picasso using only the primary colors, and not being allowed to mix them. I am reminded, however, that there is great virtue in trying despite the knowledge that what one is undertaking will inevitably fail to achieve the expectations set for it.

Perhaps the most transformative lesson this summer for me has been experiencing the power of storytelling to change and shape us. To tell a story, especially a personal one, is to place oneself in a defenseless, vulnerable state. It is to bare a piece of oneself and open it up to criticism or comfort from another. Also, to listen intently and openly to stories of others also means to make oneself vulnerable, in this way by being transformed by the experiences — joyful and devastating — of the storytellers. Honest storytelling and compassionate listening are like flames that burn away our prejudice and fear, creating newly vacant space for empathy, understanding and love to foster.

My friends at *cino believe in the power of storytelling. I know this because they practice storytelling often, both formally and in the mundane of the everyday. They tell their own stories: of where they come from; of their fears, ambitions, desires, heartaches and joys. They tell the stories of others: those that have inspired them; those that have confronted and convicted their spirits; stories that make them laugh, cry or sit in devastated silence. And just as much as they tell stories, my friends intently and earnestly listen to the stories of others. They listen to kids’ stories of triumphs, failures, love and rejection. They listen to the stories of those outside of their supposed tribes: those who live in a different neighborhood or come from a different tradition; those who have more or less money than they do; and those who drink different beer than they do. Additionally, they make it a regular practice to listen to the stories of those they are closest to; as they have found, there is always more to a person than what we already know or think we know. They even go so far as to hold events during which they tell such stories, which always include good food, as is their style.

After three and a half months working with *cino, I hold many stories of Three Rives, MI and the people there I now call friends. The best summary I can give of these experiences is they have deeply rooted themselves in me and transformed how I live in ways I am tremendously thankful for. Because of my time with *cino, I find myself quicker to forgive and slower to hold tight-fisted grudges, both with others and myself. I have experienced good work as a joy in itself and have seen with my own eyes alternatives to consumerism, capitalism and monetized relationships. I forever will cherish the pure joy of good food grown on healthy land that has felt the care and attention of one’s own hands and is shared in the company of good friends.

Rather than delve further into how *culture is not optional and the community of Three Rivers, Michigan, have changed me, I instead extend an invitation to you that my friends at *cino have adopted as a type of pedagogy for inviting others to experience a life of abundance and peace: Come and see.

Above: Seth plays soccer with neighbors at Community Fun Night.

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*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.

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*cino Work, Education, People, Three Rivers

Three Rivers and roads: Nate’s reflection

Just over two months ago I stepped out of my car into the town of Three Rivers for the first time. To be honest, I didn’t really know why I was here. Yes, I was here to be an intern for *cino, but the reality was that I had little idea what that meant. I hadn’t even applied for this internship until the very day of the deadline and even after that I spent another weekend deliberating before finally accepting the role. I knew coming in that my soul was tired. I needed to learn how to live sustainably, environmentally yes, but more crucially with a lifestyle that wouldn’t drain me. When it really comes down to it, I came to Three Rivers seeking renewal and rest.

What I found was so much more than both. I found a rest that was not just restful but active and productive, and renewal that didn’t demand lethargy or apathy. I found a community of people that really desperately wants to know how to live well, and seeks each day to live better than the last. Before I arrived I struggled knowing what to tell people who asked about my summer plans. “I’m interning for a non-profit,” I would tell them, and invariably they would ask, “Doing what?” That was where I usually got stuck. “Well, kind of just living mostly” was often my reply. Yes, I would tell them about planning for our weekly Community Fun Nights, but I didn’t really know what that entailed then, and I would tell them about Future Festival, but I had only a shadow of an idea of what that looked like, and really, when I look back on it, I think I like my first answer better anyway. Describing the tasks I did falls far short of understanding what this experience was about. It was not just a list of things to get done, a manner of being productive, but rather a shift in paradigm. It’s really about living, not doing. A better question would be “How did you live?” instead of “What did you do?”

So how did I live? I lived with six amazing people, each uniquely gifted and beautiful. We cooked and ate together each night, sat together on the porch laughing, enjoyed beers together at the bar, played together, cleaned together, and cuddled together (all seven of us at once). I worked as a grounds-keeper at Gilchrist, a local retreat center, drinking in beauty and peace each morning as I arrived to bright flowers glistening with dew. There I learned the meditation of weeding, contemplating life as my hands sifted through dirt seeking out roots to remove. I spent hours at the Huss Project fixing things, cleaning things, sorting things, organizing things, making things. There my imagination felt free: free to take risks, to create, and to permit myself to be artistic. I visited downtown, regularly patronizing the Riviera Bar and Theater, Up in Smoke, and Main St. Café, loving the feeling of being a regular after showing up the second time. I went on adventures to Lake Michigan, to the hidden marsh, down dirt roads, and onto the swings of a playground. That was life: an exhilarating mix of order and spontaneity, responsibility and whimsy.

Now I stare at the end of my time here in Three Rivers and a long road beckons me. I’m leaving to begin my student teaching experience in New Mexico, a new space, a new way of life. The road is simultaneously incredibly cruel and wonderfully kind. Cruel because it takes me away from this life I have grown to love so fully and richly in such a short time, and yet kind because it brings me to a new place that is bursting with life and possibility and the road lets me bring along the lessons of my summer here. I also take comfort in the fact that as the road carries me away, the rivers here keep flowing. Others remain, continuing the life that I was privileged to be a part of, and maybe someday my road will cross these rivers again.

Rivers and roads,
Rivers and roads,
Rivers ‘til I reach you.

Above: Nate helps a neighbor pick blueberries during a Community Fun Night at the Huss Project.

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*cino Work, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Welcome 2014 *cino summer interns!

They started rolling in in May.  First, Seth arrived to begin working at a local farm and help get the community garden started.  Then, Alexandra moved in and promptly began pitching in on our Farmers Market table.  Nate was the next to arrive and it wasn’t long before we were briefing him on Community Fun Night and handing him a paint scraper.  And finally, after driving 30 hours straight, Kate joined us, willingly diving in to the many tasks that need to happen here at the Huss Project before special events.

This summer, we welcome four interns who have agreed to add their talents, stories, creativity, humor and heavy lifting power to the *cino team for a season.  Interns volunteer 20+ hours per week to help out with whatever tasks need to be done.  This work includes plenty of physical labor — mowing, weeding, cleaning, deconstructing — but it also includes responsibilities coordinated specifically around each intern’s skills and interests.  Seth, a student at Grand Valley, will be serving as our agriculture intern, overseeing the community garden and the Farmers Market.  Alexandra comes to us from Spring Arbor and will put her editing and design skills to work on our communications and promotions team.  Kate, who attends College of the Atlantic, and Nate, who just graduated from Calvin College, will be helping out with our special events, including summer lunches, Community Fun Nights and Huss Future Festival.

Each summer group has a unique dynamic, and we are already thoroughly enjoying this particular group’s playfulness, curiosity and easy-going willingness to pitch in and help.  We look forward to continuing to get to know each other as we work side by side in partnership with our neighbors toward the flourishing of Three Rivers and the self-fulfillment of serving and learning in community.

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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, Building, Education, Hospitality, Organization, People, Three Rivers

College spring break group visits *cino

Last week, we were joined by nine students from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI on a spring break trip in partnership with Calvin’s Service-Learning Center. We had a wonderful week exploring the idea of committing to a place and considering the practical outcomes of place-based living. To that end, we enjoyed tearing up carpet and re-purposing materials at the Huss Project, meeting with so many of the great members of the Three Rivers community, and following a rule of life together at the Hermitage and at St. Gregory’s Abbey. Delicious meals, stimulating conversations, and a respite from the hectic nature of everyday life were savored by both students and *cino staff members. Find more pictures on Flickr, and check back here soon for a full recap of the week!

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*cino Work, Organization, People

Internship application deadline

We are quickly approaching our 2014 summer internship application deadline:  April 15.  If you are still interested in joining the *cino intentional community for this summer, please get your application in as soon as possible. We’re getting excited for all of the new energy to join us as we prepare for summer programming!

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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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*cino Work, Organization, People, Rectory Stories

Seeking 2014 summer interns!

Although I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into when I moved to Three Rivers as a *cino intern, I had a good feeling about it: I had spent a week in Three Rivers a few months before, and I had gotten a glimpse of what this whole *cino thing is. I saw people doing their part to live simply and to work in community with each other, with their neighbors, with the earth, and with God. I got hooked by the compelling vision and values of the organization.  I was invited into those moments that every non-profit experiences — moments that make the heart sing and moments that make the stomach turn. I’ve been able to utilize my gifts, and I’ve been challenged to improve my weaknesses. I’m happy to say that, over two and a half years after moving here (and after graduating from “intern” to “volunteer staff”), that good feeling remains.

We welcome flexible and committed individuals who wish to embrace community, simple living, social justice and spirituality in everyday life. Interns who are independent self-starters, have some experience living independently away from their parents’ home and work well under little supervision are often best suited for *cino internships. The 2014 summer internship runs officially from June 1 to August 15. Interns live together in a house, alongside the more permanent resident community of the organization, and are asked to contribute an average of 20 hours of volunteer work per week for *cino. Interns can also look for part-time employment in the community if necessary.

If you have an interest in farming and gardening, planning special events, or communications and promotion, read more about our intern positions! Do you have a different set of skills that you think would benefit *culture is not optional? ApplyWant to know more about what *cino interns actually do? Read these reflections from our 2013 interns GinnaJonathanChelsea, and AinsleyWondering what you’ll get out of the internship after two and a half months? Glad you asked! What about jobs, loans, fundraising, and other details? Find the answers to these questions and more here.

If you know someone who would be a good match, please pass along the encouragement to apply!

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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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