Education, Organization, People

A good listener

This past weekend, Rob and I had the pleasure of reconnecting with old friends at the biennial Festival of Faith & Music at Calvin College.  Among them was our friend David Dark (above), whose book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything has been an anchoring influence for us with its prophetic reminders to just chill out and listen: to our doubts, to our neighbors, to our voices in the wilderness.  We returned to Three Rivers for some Sabbath rest and then, on Monday, we gathered for our weekly *cino staff meeting.  Thanks to another friend, Emily Ulmer, we begin each meeting with a centering reflection — usually a quote or a poem.  For this week’s centering, Rob shared a Merold Westphal quote that David used in his book and that previously appeared as a daily asterisk quote:

If I am a good listener, I don’t interrupt the other or plan my own next speech while pretending to be listening. I try to hear what is said, but I listen just as hard for what is not said and for what is said between the lines. I am not in a hurry, for there is no pre-appointed destination for the conversation. There is no need to get there, for we are already here; and in this present I am able to be fully present to the one who speaks. The speaker is not an object to be categorized or manipulated, but a subject whose life situation is enough like my own that I can understand it in spite of the differences between us. If I am a good listener, what we have in common will be more important than what we have in conflict.

Reminds me of something I heard this past weekend, from Chelsea McInturff of the organization Level Ground, which creates safe space for dialogue about faith, gender and sexuality across various divides.  Talking about getting someone who’s gay and someone who’s vehemently anti-gay in the room together, she said that their goal is not to change what people think, but how they interact with one another.  That’s something I’m going to think about for a long time — and hopefully practice, with *cino and otherwise.

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*cino Work, Education, Leadership, Organization, People, Three Rivers

Seeking 2015 Summer Interns!

“Living life well, and with intention.”
“A space to celebrate my own contributions and talents.”
“Honest, communal storytelling.”
“Working and playing joyfully together!”

These are just a few of the thoughts from former interns on their time spent working with *culture is not optional in Three Rivers for our ten-week summer internship. If these ideas pique your interest, read on: it’s still chilly out now, but summer will be here soon!

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 2015 summer internship runs officially from May 29 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 gardeningplanning special eventscommunications and promotion, or business support, read more about our intern positions! Do you have a different set of skills that you think would benefit *culture is not optional? Apply! Want to know more about what *cino interns actually do? Read these reflections from our 2014 interns Nate, Alexandra, Seth, and Kate. Wondering 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. Applications will be accepted through April 15, 2015.

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

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Education, People, Publishing

A letter from a daily asterisk reader

Note: We recently received this message from Seth Regan, a friend and former *cino intern, and were so touched by the depth of his compassion and thoughtfulness that we wanted to share it with you all.  The John Dear selection appeared as a recent daily asterisk, which is a quote the *cino community sends out via e-mail each weekday.

Yesterday (Sunday) around 4:45 pm, there was a shooting — two separate shootings, in fact — outside my house, targeted at my next door neighbors. They moved in two weeks ago. No one was hurt. The children upstairs thought it was fireworks. The boy who was targeted while sitting in his car was not hurt, though his car is… I saw it happen from my upstairs window.

So today I shakily brought over a box of cookies, baked by my girlfriend especially for them, and knocked on their door. I met a young girl, probably in her late teens. Her name is Hope. There was a young boy, too — Josiah. I introduced myself. We talked. It was pleasant and neighborly.

And then, after walking into my home feeling slightly more empowered, but still very violated and traumatized (and I wasn’t even the target!), I saw this:

God as nonviolent

Imagine God as nonviolent, and worship takes on the fragrance of peace. We enter a deep mystery and bow our heads in awe and wonder and finally, ever so gradually, in imitation of the God of love, evolve into people of nonviolence and peace. The culture of war discounts all this. Its grumbling takes a form something like this: “Such talk is tantamount to heresy. Let go of the vengeful image of God, and what becomes of boundaries? What becomes of order? Worse, such talk amounts to flagrant defiance, stubborn nonconformity, perhaps an act of resistance punishable by law!” The culture of war always tries to instruct us on the nature of God, the definition of sin and morality, the way to be Christian, even human. It knows only “sacred” violence and a god of thunderbolts and fury. And mushroom clouds. Thus the task at hand: to envision the God of peace. For our souls and for the world. The more we envision and grasp the image of the God of peace, the more we’ll fathom Jesus’ teachings, comprehend how to be human, become a peacemaking church of all-inclusive love, and come upon a way or two to help disarm a world armed to the teeth.

John Dear
Put Down Your Sword

Thank you for your work and steadfast commitment to peace. I’m trying to do the same.

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*cino Work, Building, Education, Event, Hospitality, Organization, People, Publishing, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

2014: Year in review

With hearts full of gratitude, we say goodbye to another year and anticipate 2015 with hope and discernment. Please enjoy this review, written by the members of our core community here in Three Rivers.  Thank you for the many ways you’ve supported *culture is not optional in the past year!  Our work is sustained by generous donations of all kinds and we thankfully receive your gifts of time, money, prayer and encouragement.  Please be in touch about how you’d like to be involved in the coming year, and if you’d like to make a financial contribution, you can do so here.  Peace be with you in the coming year!

COMMUNITY: Volunteer partners come and go, while friendships remain

by Jay Howard

The Rectory, *cino’s community house, was full of good food and laughter in 2014. Jay, Liesje and Deborah endured an exceptionally snowy, cold winter, looking forward to summer when four amazing interns joined the household: Seth, Alexandra, Kate and Nate. They were a wonderful addition to our group, bringing many gifts to the work of a prosperous community garden, exciting and creative Community Fun Nights, a glowing Future Festival and lovely Friday night potlucks. In addition, we hosted visitors from Project Neighborhood, a Calvin College spring break group and a service group from Palmerston, Ontario, who all helped out at the Huss Project and explored the Three Rivers community.  Now as we make our way toward the end of the year, the Rectory will be losing one its inhabitants as Jay is heads to Grand Rapids to pursue new adventures.  Deborah and Liesje, along with Rob, Kirstin, Julie and David, continue to gather regularly as a core group, sharing and discerning the focus of our work for the coming year.


SHARING: Telling tales and tasting treats

by David Stewart

Preparing and eating food and telling stories has become central to what *cino does. This year we hosted Underground Supper Clubs on monastery grounds at St. Gregory’s Abbey and in the heart of downtown Three Rivers in one of the beautiful storefronts along Main Street. We told stories about our origins, local haunts, our favorite books, and about our love of food during storytelling events at the Huss Project. We want everyone to experience these sacred acts as fully as we do, something that has become clearer to us over the past year. There are stories in food, and stories in turn are food for the soul. It is our hope in 2015 to make more stories and to find more amazing ways to serve excellent food to the people who love it.


PLAY: Growing friendships with our neighbors at Huss

by Liesje Brouwer

Once again in 2014, Huss served as a site for a summer lunch program in partnership with Three Rivers Community Schools. School-aged kids in our neighborhood enjoyed over 700 lunches throughout the summer, gathered around the new picnic tables we built in June. In addition, the Huss Project hosted weekly Community Fun Nights where friends of *cino gathered for baked goods, garden goodies, games and crafts. 40-60 kids, parents and other neighbors attended each week—more than ever before! *cino invested in flag football gear, which was put to good use every week as we worked together with our young neighbors on building respectful relationships. We cranked up our jammin’ play list and ran around with kids and had conversations with adults and basked in the sun and learned a little bit more about one another. On the final fun night, all the kids gathered around and held a string attached to a homemade piñata, then collectively pulled their strings to break it open. The most popular piñata find: bouncy balls! Community Fun Night and summer lunches help us to stay connected to the neighborhood, and our neighbors. A big thank you to everyone who participated!


CELEBRATION: Creative connectivity at Huss Future Festival

by Julie Keefer

The fifth annual Huss Future Fest on July 19 was a day full of activities that brought in over 600 visitors, community partners and volunteers — that’s nearly double the attendance in 2013 and it’s encouraging to see the festival grow as a fun, creative and safe place for neighbors to gather.  Future Fest is the pinnacle of our summer for *cino staff, interns and volunteers who put in countless hours full of blood, sweat and, yes, even sometimes tears to clean, plan, paint, fold, mow, imagine, and clean some more. A highlight this year was partnering with TRAFC (Three Rivers Area Faith Community) to host their annual Back-to-School Celebration.  We saw lots of families coming to the festival to join in the fun and get backpacks full of school supplies. In addition, volunteers from the Huss Project’s community garden sold quinoa salad and grilled veggies and brats, while the locally-famous Weenie King added his hotdog stand to our food options.  This year we hosted our second Coin Carnival partnering with local organizations: Three Rivers Public Library, Red Cross, Save the Frogs, River Country Resilience Circle, Congo Cloth Connection/Florence Church, St. Joseph County Department of Human Services, Pregnancy Helpline, St. Joseph County ISD/Great Start, Animal Rescue Fund and Flowerfield Enterprises.  Many local farmers also donated generous amounts of produce for our mini farmers market: Triple Ripple Community Garden, White Yarrow Farm, Bair Lane Farm, Corey Lake Orchard and Butternut Sustainable Farm.  Dozens of volunteers also helped coordinate many activities for kids, a rummage sale, art vendors, workshops, art installations, a bake sale and live music.  It was a joy to witness such incredible collaboration, which is a primary value we hope to cultivate at the Huss property.  At the end of the festival, our *cino community, friends and festival attendees took the opportunity to celebrate in gratitude for the Huss Project’s fifth anniversary with a five-song dance party!


FLAVOR: Sharing fresh, local food with our community

by Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Working alongside our neighbors, we continued to produce food at the Huss Project this year in our wild and wooly community garden. In June, we hosted a compost tea workshop where several of us learned how to create organic, nutrient-rich fertilizer for our gardens. Even as we struggled with a streak of vandalism, we distributed the garden produce to individuals and families in need through several agencies in our county. Beyond just our own garden, *cino helped publish a local food and recycling guide for our region.  We also partnered with several local farms this summer to sell their produce alongside our own at the Three Rivers Farmers Market. After the market closed for the season, we gathered additional farm partners and opened the Downtown Harvest Market in a downtown storefront on Saturdays in September and October. Through these efforts, we shared and sold fresh, local food to a wide variety of people in our community, raising over $3,300 for continued food production at the Huss Project in the future.


REFLECTION: Pausing to consider with catapult and the daily asterisk

by Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

The question has come up with increasing frequency: what happened to catapult?  With many changes in the lives of *cino community members over the past year, 2014 seemed like a good time to pause for a little while and re-imagine the function, look and structure of this longstanding online publication.  We initiated a survey that gleaned rich feedback from both new and veteran readers and contributors and we look forward to digging into those ideas in 2015 to see what seeds show promise of germination in the spring.  In the meantime, the daily asterisk has continued to be a provocative resource, drawing from many voices past and present, who speak insightfully to the pressing issues of our time with celebration and lament, encouragement and repentance, joy and critique.  If you’re not receiving the daily asterisk already, you can sign up for the e-mail list here and dig into the archives here.


CONVERSATION: Discussing our core values, our community, and our future

by Deborah Haak

For all of the hustle and bustle of the year, the *cino staff also made concerted efforts to sit, read, discuss, and dream. We gathered each week over the summer with interns to explore *cino’s core values, and that conversation has continued this fall and winter with a discussion of Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging. At the staff retreat this fall, we reflected on 2014, discussing *cino’s successes and shortcomings, evaluating roles and duties in light of staffing changes, and brainstorming where to focus our energy in 2015 and beyond — all while sharing delicious food and enjoying each others’ company!

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*cino Work, Education, Hospitality, People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

Space to celebrate: Kate’s reflection

I’m back in Maine for the final year of my undergraduate degree. It still seems to me that I only just left Maine for Michigan, full of the nervous excitement I felt about embarking on an adventure in a new-to-me place, with new-to-me people, doing who knows what.

I had very few expectations for this summer, which are not to be confused with low expectations. Having procrastinated on finding the internship that I needed to do before graduating, I took to the internet to find somewhere to live, learn, and love. *cino appeared ala le Google and I sent in a wordy application with fingers crossed.

Weeks later, I was welcomed to Three Rivers with radical hospitality. I arrived road weary, frazzled and a day earlier than anticipated and the Rectory folk cleared me a corner, found me a bed, and fed me; they took me in and gave me space to rest and settle. I was quickly swept into the rhythms of the work we do here and the embrace of the communities we’ve built.

In the ten or so weeks I spent in Three Rivers I helped *cino host the Meet Up Eat Up lunch program (daily lunches for school-aged children), co-created new signs for the garden, planned Community Fun Nights, and organized and created signage for Future Festival. I was the million-questions, bread baker, granola maker, laugh generator. Through the fast paced groove of this summer I was a friend, a listener, and a dish-washing tune crooner.

It took me a while to adjust to my new environment. I had come from the location of the earliest sunrise in the U.S. and found a place where our mosquitoey, wonderful porch dinners were lit via that same sun until ten at night, but soon I was nestled into life and work with *cino.

That summer sun watched over me and kept me warm all throughout this “thinking” summer, as one new friend called it. It was a relatively cool Michigan summer versus those summers we all dread where the sun beats down as we struggle to even gather our thoughts. As I reflect on the ten weeks I spent with the *cino gang, I struggle to articulate how much I’ve learned this summer and how it’s changed my idea of what I’d like to see in the future for myself and the world I inhabit and how to get there.

Those mosquitoey dinners eventually moved indoors; I was welcomed by a web of wonderful new friends who made me feel loved  and appreciated; we had long, rich conversations on how to live the “good life” and what cartoon hottie captured our adolescent hearts; and I found a space to celebrate my own contributions and talents: I have lived, learned, and loved this summer with *cino.

Above: Kate working t-shirt stenciling, one of the many projects she took on this summer in her work with *cino.


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*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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Education, People, Three Rivers

The value of ridiculous joy

We scheduled our Garden of Your Mind conversation on our ridiculous joy core value (“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts”) for the week of Future Festival intentionally. At the time we were planning the summer, it seemed like a great idea to experience this value by taking a break for ice cream in the middle of our busiest week of the summer. But during Future Festival week, when it came time to head out to Sand Lake Party Store to indulge in their insanely sized ice cream cones, it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. We were incredibly busy with last minute details and we were stressed out in various ways about all that needed to be completed by week’s end. Taking time off for ice cream seemed like the last thing we ought to be doing.

And then … we did go out for ice cream and we had a great time and it was exactly what we all needed. In the grand scheme of things, this is a terribly flippant example of what Wendell Berry speaks of in his “Mad Farmer Liberation Front” poem; however, if we don’t practice ridiculous joy in small things, we’ll never be prepared to do so when we desperately need joy in the middle of far more difficult experiences.

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Education, People

The value of creative collaboration

The Save the Frogs tent at Huss Future Festival on July 19, 2014.

Our continuing exploration of *cino’s core values took us to a discussion of creative collaboration during our weekly Garden of your Mind session. Our text for the dialogue came from Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. The book opens with the following statement about community:

The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole. The key is to identfy how this transformation occurs. We begin by shifting our attention from the problems of community to the possibility of community. We also need to acknowledge that our wisdom about individual transformation is not enough when it comes to community transformation. So, one purpose here is to bring together our knowledge about the nature of collective transformation.

Huss Future Festival is a prime example of the value of creative collaboration at work within *cino activities. Future Fest brings together numerous organizations and individuals from around the Three Rivers area, from organizations that participate in the coin carnival to artists selling wares, from local folks working on frog extinction issues to Speaking Stone Cafe, and, this year, working alongside the Three Rivers Area Faith Community (TRAFC) for their Back-to-School backpack distribution. Each of these entities brings something unique to the event that otherwise would be absent, and together we are able to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

That is one of our small offerings towards the collective transformation of the Three Rivers community we seek to be a part of. Our own *cino community has individually made commitments towards a certain kind of life, but we recognize that those decisions alone do not add up to community transformation. For that, creative collaboration is an absolutely essential component. Sometimes collaboration requires the type of creativity that figures out ways to bridge the gap — what Block refers to as bridging capital — between parties who disagree. That is the sort of creativity that breaks down barriers pushes through stalemates, and that is the sort of collaboration that can change the world.

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