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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Education, People

The value of Sabbath rhythm

The setting at which we at *cino gathered this Tuesday reflected the core value we intended to discuss. We assembled around our neighbor’s pool on a hot and sunny afternoon, cooled ourselves in the water, enjoyed cold beverages, and eventually made our way to dissecting what it means for us to live in a Sabbath rhythm.

The reading our discussion centered around was a piece done by Norma Wirzba entitled “Time Out” that was published in The Christian Century on July 12, 2005. Wirzba tells of his grandfather, a farmer in Poland, Germany and southern Alberta, a man who he remembers as always embodying a type of “Sabbath rhythm” that shaped not only when he worked and when he rested, but how he worked and rested. Wirzba writes that “Sabbath observance was not simply a moment of his week. It framed his attitude, focused his desire and helped him shape the pace and direction of his daily walk. It inspired and enabled him to greet life with care and delight.” This rhythm, this pace, that his grandfather practiced was done in the pursuit of menuha, an ancient Jewish term that can be translated as tranquility, delight and peaceful repose. One memory Wirzba recalls of his grandfather pursuing this menuha in his daily routine was the practice of hand-feeding the farm’s chickens freshly cut grass after lunch. The free-range chickens had more than enough grass to feed themselves as they roamed the yard, but this routine grew out of “his sense that they were creatures deserving of their own forms of delight.” He did not let the demand of work or pending danger of storms or droughts bully him into not showing care and attention to each creature on the farm, all of which he considered a gift.

The story of Wirzba’s grandfather differs sharply from many of our own experiences and understandings of Sabbath rhythm. For many of us growing up, Sabbath rhythm meant little more than taking a break from the tasks at hand, whether that meant not working (or working less) on Sundays or eating a snack after school. Wirzba’s understanding of Sabbath rhythm, which is shaped largely by his grandfather’s example, suggests a rhythm and pace that doesn’t merely re-boot us for the ensuing workweek, but transforms how we understand our week. Our time of rest is not merely a collapse on the couch; it is a reflection and celebration of the gifts always available to us. By slowing down during even one day of the week, we can train ourselves to intentionally slow down throughout the week: when doing dishes, driving to work, talking to a friend, feeding the chickens. Wirzba suggests that when we do this we open ourselves up to “the sort of attention and affection that would lead to sympathetic engagement with others,” a practice radically different from those of the profit-driven mindset of consumerism.

As our conversation came to a close, some of us hopped out of the water to grab another drink while others began an enthusiastic game of 3-on-3 pool basketball. Water and laughter flew through the air as the rest of us dramatically commentated the impassioned game, which ended with a beautiful game winning, behind-the-arc shot from David Stewart (“Ka-POW!”). As we sat (or swam) in each others’ presence, it became clear that this time together was not merely a break from checking off the endless to-do’s we all had on our plates. Rather, this was a time we worked for. No, we were not sending emails or organizing fundraisers or pulling weeds. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I consider it a gift — and essential practice to our culture — to sit in a peaceful place and simply enjoy the company of friends.

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Education, Organization, People

The value of unfettered imagination

This piece was co-authored by Nate Brees and Alexandra Harper.

The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated, and co-opted to do serious imaginative work. It could be, as is so often the case, that the only ones left who can imagine are the ones at the margin. They are waiting to be heard, but they have a hard time finding a place and a way for their voices.
– Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience

Armed with our recent Sunday night viewing of The Lego Movie, we gathered in the Rectory living room ready to do some serious imaginative work. Unfettered imagination was the produce of this week’s Garden of your Mind, our weekly discussions centering around *cino’s core values, and the newly released blockbuster was to offer a springboard for our thoughts.

Our conversation on unfettered imagination began with a tone of hilarity inspired by the film. We had, after all, also read a review of The Lego Movie by Jeffrey Overstreet as one of our correlated text and scenes, quotes, and one catchy song (“Everything is Awesome”) from the movie were present in our minds and ready on our tongues. Thus, the conversation began with more laughter and Lego-mimicry than serious-minded imagination analysis, just as it should have.

The movie portrays a surprisingly well-thought out approach to the necessity of imagination, centering around Emmet, a very-average-man construction worker, in a worryingly-cheerful lego world. When Emmet accidentally fulfills a prophesy and is thrust into the role of liberator to the entire lego universe, he has to choose whether to use his seemingly average but kooky mind to help the oppressed peoples of the Lego Lands or the expose himself as the false hope he believes himself to be. Though we at *cino went into the film with varying levels of skepticism, we all came out with a relatively common conclusion: the film does a brilliant job at taking a multifaceted view on imagination (it supports both teamwork and individuality, “coolness” and “weirdness”, and the importance personalities both upbeat-and-centerstage [Emmet] and introspective-and-chill [Lego Batman]). We also all agreed the film was hilarious.

However, the conversation did inevitably broaden to include facets of imagination outside of the assemblage of Lego. For instance, we discussed *cino’s imagination as it manifests in the Huss Project, most notably in Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma’s article “Ten Things We Imagine at Huss School.” We were reminded of the necessity for community imagination and as we checked off 9 of the once-envisioned 10 imaginings for Huss as now completed, we were struck by the power of communal imagination. We also read two other catapult magazine pieces by Kirstin about the sequestration of imagination and recovering imagination.

Imagination is at the heart of change and, as The Lego Movie eloquently demonstrates, whether you are a master builder or an individual who has never had an original idea his life, your mind can be the birthplace of that imagining. We at *cino encourage you to take some time to invest in some serious imaginative work wherever you might be. To help you get started enjoy this snippet featuring Benny the 1980s-something space guy.


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Education, Organization, People, Three Rivers

The value of abundant simplicity

With Lehman’s catalogs on the center of the table (“simple products for a simpler life”), we embarked on this week’s core values conversation around “abundant simplicity.”  Our first exercise was to picture and do a bit of writing about someone we know whom we admire as living “the good life.”  After sharing about some of the people we chose and why, we entered the next level of questioning: how does that vision of life compare with the vision we were raised with?  All of this was to help us remember that our vision of the good life — what kind of home, shared with whom, what kind of food, how we spend our time and money, and so on — comes from somewhere.  It’s culturally formed (see the Ched Meyers’ article we read in preparation).  And a desire for “simplicity” can easily become as materialistic and stressful as a life of unfettered consumerism (see one of the articles we read for today, “Beware of toilet envy”).  Simplicity is about stuff in some ways, but it’s more about the purity of our hearts and the values that anchor all of our choices.  Meister Eckhart provided a good reminder of this, as we read the following quote that appeared in a back issue of Geez Magazine:

Asceticism is of no great importance. There is a better way to treat ones passions than pile on oneself ascetic practices which so often reveal a great ego and create more, instead of less, self-consciousness. If you wish to discipline the flesh and make it a thousand times more subject, then place on it the bridle of love.

*cino’s core values expression of abundant simplicity is this: “The good life is characterized by sharing, resourcefulness and eating together often.” Basically: we need each other, we are better together and we reject the myth of scarcity that is so often used to manipulate us into acting out of fear for the sake of our own self-preservation.  There is much abundance in living simply in order to live generously, in finding creative ways to connect and thrive that don’t involve excessive amounts of money.

But the good life, we we’ve come to experience it, is about more than just abundant simplicity; it’s about all of the core values we’ve been studying together — experiential learning, compassionate listening, radical hospitality — and about being part of a community of people who wrestle with these ideas and practices together, in the midst of brokenness, around a kitchen table.

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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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Education, Publishing, Three Rivers

*cino co-publishes River Country Local Food & Recycling Guide

In 2008, a group of local folks — including *culture is not optional Co-directors Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma — interested in eating food grown locally started publishing a local food guide with listings of local food producers. The Food Group, as they were colloquially known, published the guide for five years before disbanding.

But we didn’t want to see the guide fall by the wayside; it was a great tool to connect eaters with local farmers.

So this year, *culture is not optional partnered with the St. Joseph County Conservation District to publish the 2014 River Country Local Food & Recycling Guide. We’ve printed 7,000 copies and are working to distribute the guides throughout St. Joseph County, east Cass County and south Kalamazoo County. They are currently available in several businesses and other establishments — including the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce (please contact us if you’d like guides to distribute at your business).

We also built a handy web site with all the listings, complete with Google maps and reviews. We’re still developing the site, but there’s a lot of information online already!

Thank you to Carol Higgins, the Chair of the St. Joseph County Conservation District, for all of her hard work in gathering listings for this year’s guide.

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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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