Event, Hospitality, People, Three Rivers

Final summer storytelling night

It’s been a week of closure for *cino and the Huss Project. Earlier last week we had our final Family Fun Night of the summer, this week saw a bittersweet farewell to our remaining summer interns, and last Friday we had our last Storytelling night. The final Storytelling in our series of nights at Huss drew quite a crowd. Some were there for the food, some for the stories, and all for the chance to be around others and engage in something unusual for Three Rivers.

One thing we pass along during each storytelling night is the reason why we do this: *cino is passionate about storytelling. “The stories we tell and hear teach us and shape us,” said Emily Ulmer, *cino’s staff coordinator for this storytelling series. “Stories can challenge us to empathize with people greatly different from ourselves and stories can give us comfort at the end of a hard day. We are so grateful for all those willing to listen to the stories of others and those who are willing to share.”

And we are grateful. People who we might never have expected to share have come out to Huss and allowed us to empathize with them. We’ve had poems and prose, tears and laughter, and plenty of food to absorb it all.

This last night of storytelling was a strange mix. We had long moments of pause, people deliberating on whether or not they wanted to brave the microphone. But we also had more stories than on any other night, to the point where it seemed like we might keep telling stories until the moon passed overhead. In some ways, that’s the best type of storytelling experience. Knowing that people want to keep telling stories and keep listening is magic in its own way. And it was a lovely send-off to a summer full of stories, both told and un-told, and we hope that we can do even better next year. There are always more stories to tell, and the story of *cino’s journey in Three Rivers, and that off The Huss Project, is only getting stronger. We hope to see you, whether or not you’ve joined us so far, at next year’s summer series of stories. Until then!


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Event, People

Summer storytelling: My neighborhood

The idea of a neighborhood can take many forms, from a dorm community to a country road to a typical suburban lane. We found all of these archetypes and more as we gathered on July 12 to tell stories at Huss, a building in its own neighborhood with its own neighbors and enough stories to fill even its cavernous halls. If you listen closely, preferably at night when the story ghosts are strong, you might even hear one or two. We heard nearly a dozen.

  • Our first story involved the vandalism of a street sign by a spelling-conscious young lady; a woman whose convictions to see words rightly displayed overcame any reluctance she might have felt at tearing down a piece of city property.
  • Next up was a visual story, a snaking map of overlapping roads depicting important neighborhoods in the artist’s life; a picture worth a thousand words and probably more.
  • The third story was about pranks, and how a good-natured prank can help build the bonds of community just as well as a meaningful conversation or a shared experience.
  • The fourth story was about a neighbor, an older man helping out a younger, less knowledgeable man with the vagaries of controlled burns; a cautionary tale that warned us to be wary when lighting fires because you might lose control and need to be saved.
  • Our fifth story took place in the past, or at least in a re-enacted past on the East coast where history can seem both richer and more cruel, a place where the history of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars is as every bit as relevant as it was in its own time.
  • The sixth story was about Three Rivers itself, and how important it is to come together and be neighbors, and tell stories and heal wounds. We learned through the storyteller’s eyes what it was like to grow up in Three Rivers, something the majority of us had never done.
  • The seventh story felt like something from a Murakami novel, a surreal look into the differences of people’s lives when viewed from the alleyways behind their homes. We saw the difference between neighbors in Tuscon, who are forced to remain sheltered in their air conditioned lives, and neighbors in Three Rivers, who can often be found strolling along sidewalks, enjoying the often moderate climate.
  • The eighth story told of a darker time in Detroit, when anger and heat came together to cause riots in the streets, fueled by racism and influential to a young man’s path to ministry.
  • Our ninth story related to days of youthful judgement, and how parental choices in where to live can often be confusing until later in life when we’ve seen more of the story and can find understanding.
  • The tenth story was one of loss, and how the absence of a parent can alter our lives and neighborhoods in incontrovertible ways. We saw in this story how even parents can be neighbors (particularly if they live in the apartment above your own).
  • The last and final story told of foreign neighborhoods, and how different neighbors are in Peru compared to neighbors in Three Rivers. We learned that sometimes it can take more than a freshly baked pie to crack the shell of American privacy.

We will soon tell more stories. Our next storytelling night will be on August 9, and our stories will revolve around the theme, “When I Grow Up.” Join us at 7:00 p.m., bring a dish to pass, and tell us what you want to be when you grow up. All answers are acceptable.

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People, Rectory Stories

Una despedida a nuestro amigo, Ginna!

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

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

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Organization, People, Three Rivers

Introducing our 2013 summer interns!

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

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

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

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

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

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Hospitality, People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

Homemade hospitality with Trinity Episcopal Church

On Sunday, April 28, members of the *cino community enjoyed sharing coffee, tea, juice and homemade cinnamon rolls between and after worship services with members of Trinity Episcopal Church.

Since the summer of 2010, *cino has been renting Trinity’s rectory to house an intentional community, which includes volunteer staff and summer interns.  The church has also graciously allowed us to use their basement for the times extra space is needed, including summer and various student groups who come to Three Rivers for service-learning, retreat, leadership training and just-plain-visiting.  Last year, Trinity applied for a grant to renovate the bathrooms in the basement and put in a shower, which has been wonderfully helpful for all of the hosting our group does.

Trinity will celebrate its 150th anniversary this coming September and we were excited to hear during coffee hour about some of the creative plans that are taking shape for that event.  True to their long legacy of outreach and hospitality, Trinity has not only rented space to the *cino gang, but they’ve also contributed in terms of furniture, housewares, encouragement, financial contributions and, simply, friendship.  (We greatly miss our Trinity friend Jeanette and her kind pup Larry — they appear around :33 in this video — who lived across the street from Huss until Jeanette passed away last year.)  In addition to all of this generosity, Trinity has also agreed to host a Noisy Offering next Sunday to continue their support of the Huss Project Brick Campaign.  Thank you, Trinity friends, for all you do to live out your congregational mission to be “God’s love in action” in Three Rivers and beyond!

Bring your loose change and join us at Trinity Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 5 for a Noisy Offering (coins in baking pans, although bills and checks are welcome, too!).  Special offerings will take place at both the 8:00 a.m. (spoken liturgy) and 10:00 a.m. (sung liturgy) worship services.  Trinity is located at 321 N. Main Street in Three Rivers.

Check out photos of *cino goings-on at Trinity:

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People, Publishing

catapult editor contributes to March 2013 Comment

Kirstin, *culture is not optional co-director and catapult magazine editor, has an essay in the newest issue of Comment magazine, which highlights persuasion. Her piece, entitled “Slow Organizing for Kingdom Come,” explores community development as learning how to listen, persuade, negotiate, compromise, and reconcile — all toward the common good. Unfortunately, it isn’t available online; but with contributions from Marilyn McEntyre, Calvin Seerveld (from whom *cino gets its name), Nicholas Wolterstorff, James K.A. Smith, Allison Backous and many others, this issue alone is almost worth the yearly subscription.

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Event, People

Jubilee 2013

Every year since 2004, Kirstin and I have made an annual sojourn to the beautiful city of Pittsburgh in February for the Jubilee Conference, an extraordinary gathering of college students, professionals and others interested in fully living into a Kingdom vision for all areas of life.  In past years, we’ve had a display table in the conference hall and we’ve given workshops about home economics (in the Wendell Berry sense of the term).  But this year we’re going without any official responsibilities; instead, we’re very much looking forward to spending time with the fantastic group of people who gather at this event each year and have become good friends. If you’d like to connect, look for us at the massive Hearts & Minds Books “table” lovingly curated and staffed by some of our favorite booksellers in the world, Byron and Beth Borger.

Above is a photo of Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center in Pittsburgh, who spoke at Jubilee in 2009. Hearing Bill speak about his amazing life story and the incredible work he’s doing in Pittsburgh was one of many catalysts that led *culture is not optional to move forward with the Huss Project.

Though we have a long way to go, some seeds that were planted along the way have already begun to sprout. Connecting with the many good folks at Jubilee each year is one way we stay encouraged to keep tending to the work ahead. And for that, we are grateful … and excited to be headed to Pittsburgh!

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Organization, People, Publishing

*cino 2012: A year in review

Left to right: Rob, Chad, Deborah, Liesje, Kirstin, Jordan, Stephanie, David and Emily

Happy Advent!  Even as we set aside time for expectation for the future, we thought we’d take the opportunity to look back at what the past year has been like for the folks connected with *culture is not optional.  There are about a dozen of us now in Three Rivers who participate in various aspects of community life on the ground here and there continues to be an international community of *cino followers who regularly participate through reading, encouraging, donating and visiting.  We are so grateful to experience God’s abundance in the form of all of these wonderful people!

With love and hope,
The *cino community


Winter is a quieter time for the *cino community as we honor the rhythms of creation and spend more time reading and reflecting.  That said, Rob & Kirstin taught on popular culture, the empire and the Kingdom of God at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is always sort of a whirlwind!


Rob & Kirstin attended the annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh.  Several of our folks also helped support the annual Chocolate Affair, which is a fair trade bake-off (and, this year, brew-off) that happens at World Fare.


During two different weeks, we hosted service-learning spring break groups from Calvin College and Geneva College on themes of place, contemplation, activism and storytelling.  We also got a ton of demolition and clean-up work done at the Huss Project.  During the Calvin trip, we hosted David Bazan for a house show and packed out the VG-R living room.  On the last weekend of the month, we invited a group of Calvin students to come for a day retreat on the relationship between hope and cynicism (and also experienced the annual AYCE pancake breakfast at the Volinia Outcomes School maple project, which gives us hope for the world, indeed). At the end of the month, we helped organize the third annual Rivers of Justice film festival, which featured the films Last Train Home and Miss Representation.


Several of us began our Easter celebration at the St. Gregory’s Abbey Easter vigil and then Emily hosted quite a gang, including her parents who were visiting from Maryland, for Easter dinner at the rectory.  Later in the month, we displayed for *cino in the exhibit hall at the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, connecting with new friends and old and introducing the wonderful Eat Well study guide, created by Deborah!


We held our annual face-to-face *cino board meeting in Three Rivers and also had a table and painting project at the Spring Arts Festival at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.


We began June by hosting a storytelling night welcoming Jay, Kyle, Hannah, Margaret and Christopher as our interns for the summer!  Their very first official task was to participate in the local Stand for Children Day event and we were all blown away by the creativity and attention local kids showed with our painting project.  The *cino gang also joined Trinity Episcopal Church, which hosts our resident community in their rectory, for their annual spring clean-up and potluck.  With everyone’s help, and especially Hannah and Christopher, we launched Family Fun Night, a weekly gathering at the Huss Project featuring snacks, games, crafts and conversation.


In July, we hosted the third annual Future Festival at the Huss Project!  Visitors from near and far enjoyed food, crafts, games, a farmer’s market, a book sale, a community garage sale, art vendors.  Future Fest was also the launch date for a gallery at the Huss Project featuring a series of art installations, including an assembly of the painting projects done earlier in the year by Calvin College students and local kids.


We regretfully cancelled the Practicing Resurrection conference in August due to low numbers and late promotion, but we had a great weekend with visiting friends anyway, with plenty of shared meals and music. We also hosted a group of RA’s from Calvin College for service-learning, exploring how several of *cino’s core values play out in our work in Three Rivers and their work as dorm leaders.  August was also the big wedding month for Chad and Stephanie, and we all enjoyed pitching in by baking pies, assembling terrariums, playing music and taking care of the many fun tasks required by such a meaningful outdoor celebration.


If you look back at our staff meeting notes, you’ll notice that in February, an item appeared on our calendar: “September vacation?  Yes, please!”  Well, we honored the need to rest after a busy summer by taking a break from *cino activity and several of us headed out of town for extended periods of time, while others stuck around and enjoyed the late summer in Three Rivers.  *cino folk also pitched in to help coordinate a big off site sale for World Fare while Rob and Kirstin enjoyed three weeks in Europe. We also celebrated ten years of publishing catapult magazine this fall!


October was mostly spent catching up and regathering after weeks away, including reflecting on the many experiences from our travels that made us see our work in Three Rivers in a new light.


Our rest must have worked its magic, because November was an explosion of activity!  Jordan moved in and became the newest resident of the rectory in the middle of it all.  We’d been talking for over a year about launching a fundraising campaign and the time seemed right to pull together and do the background work that needed to be done in order to begin the campaign.  We wrote web site text, designed logos and prints, brainstormed ideas for special events, collected poems and got organized for the …


Brick Campaign!  December has been a delightful month of giving and receiving as support has begun flowing in for the Huss Project, as well as for the work of *cino that goes beyond the bricks and mortar at 8th and Broadway in Three Rivers.  Throughout this full year, we’ve also continued to publish issues of catapult and keep the conversation going near and far about what it looks like to be a people of justice, love, peace, simplicity, joy, hospitality and generosity in our world today.  May you experience all of those things and more as we re-tell the story of humble beginnings in Bethlehem over two millennia ago!

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Building, Event, People

Family Fun Nights: Ceremonial Play

This summer, *cino has been hosting Family Fun Nights every Thursday from 5-7 pm at the Huss Project in Three Rivers, Michigan. Attendance was a bit sparse the first couple of weeks, but over the past month we’ve managed to attract a fairly consistent group of folks from the neighborhood for crafts, gardening, snacks, and sports. It’s been a great addition to our weekly schedule, and (I’ve found) a time to be re-energized by the Three Rivers community.

While lots of activities take place at these events, kickball is undoubtedly the favorite–for our guests and *cino staff, alike–whether playing or watching. I’m pretty terrible at it, but every week I look forward to running our homemade carpet bases on the crunchy grass behind Huss (especially when my team conquers!). I know, I know…it’s “just a game,” but it’s slowly becoming the place where I remember how to be a kid. I like to think it means something like that for the rest of the *cino folks, too.

Of course, remembrance is a funny thing these days. As many who are reading know, *cino recently made the difficult decision of canceling Practicing Resurrection due to a lack of registered guests. We’ve scratched our heads and asked the obvious questions–did it cost too much? did we advertise enough? are others as excited about this stuff as we are?–only to find ourselves empty and waiting for answers that aren’t coming. Over the past few weeks, silent waves of disappointment and frustration have occasionally reminded us of our story, our attempt and our lack of success. Perhaps the situation isn’t as traumatic as varied vocabulary makes it sound, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset about this inevitable choice.

Even so, I’m equal parts reminded of *cino’s mission as an organization attempting to exhibit qualities of the coming Kingdom–ideally, a taste of what is “already, but not yet.” While part of me definitely and concretely laments our situation, the other asks: “how do we respond faithfully in this Christian community?” I don’t have all the answers, but I am hopeful that together we will continue (attempting) to foster an atmosphere of ridiculous joy because of our faith.

Indeed, the Hauerwasian ethic — “the faithfulness of doing nothing” — rings truer than ever in times like these. And while I am well aware that there is an apprehension to accept such “quietist” perspectives, particularly among those of us who desperately desire to make good culture, I still believe there is a place and time for such perspectives and reflection; perhaps, even, a place and time much like this…

¨In the wake of this story of “failure,” we’ve continued our Family Fun Nights (and lots of other events, too). Appropriately, we’ve had a lot of fun at them. We’ve made new friends and walked through misters. We’ve sat in the shade and chatted in the garden. We’ve drank from the hose and completed puzzles with missing pieces. Again, we’ve smiled, and it’s been great.
Thus, weekly we return to kickball liturgy: the joy of a game for it’s own sake, a score that never get’s counted, and a time that asks to be wasted on something as precious as childhood. Together we stand in the sun, watch in the shade, and (sometimes) feel the breeze: a whispered reminder that another story–a story of hope–continues to unfold in our midst, even in the hot heat of this extraordinary summer.

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Event, People

Summer storytelling and potluck

Join us at the Huss Project this Friday, August 10, for our third storytelling night of the summer. We’ll start with a potluck at 7:00 and then start telling stories at 8:00.

Our theme for the stories is Ordinary Radicals. Join us as we share stories of our heroes — not the heroes we see on TV, but the ones we meet on the street. Stories of the people who taught us and inspired us to be better neighbors, mothers, gardeners, and citizens. If you would like to tell a story, we ask that it be 3-7 minutes in length; however if you would just like to come and listen, you are welcome to do that as well.

Bring a dish and a story to share … all are welcome!

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