Publishing, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

My summer at Muggle Hogwarts: Ainsley’s reflection

The people around me heard me reference my semester in Budapest, Hungary at least a jillion times, so it’s only fitting for me to mention it once more as I reflect on my summer in Three Rivers. While in Budapest, I made friends with fellow Calvin College students who worked at the Service-Learning Center back on campus. They essentially forced me to sign up for a Service-Learning spring break trip and I wrote my name down for “Three Rivers, Michigan,” when I heard the other, more far-flung and admittedly more exciting-sounding trips were full. So I spent my senior spring break in Three Rivers and realized I really liked it. Basically I hauled around large sticks behind Huss, weeded in some hot crusty soil, met community members, got the giggles around a dinner table heavily-laden with alarmingly good food, squirmed through the “strongly-encouraged” daily quiet hour, and took walks around the Rectory neighborhood. It was a genuinely good time. When I found myself abruptly unemployed (fired) and in need of a summer (or any) job, I remembered Three Rivers and its knack for welcoming students, thinkers, dreamers and even awkward post-Calvin stragglers. I was drawn to join *cino, knowing the people involved are working toward intentionality, health-full living and meaningful question-asking. And they’re fun and nice. Their food tastes really good. We can make each other laugh.

I came at the end of May ready to join in on the Huss Project, since I saw it as an artsy Muggle Hogwarts, and any Harry Potter fan can understand why that sounded good to me. I helped put on Family Fun Nights and loosely supervised many of the weekday lunches distributed to kids at Huss. My new friend Ginna taught me about permaculture and guided me in my first gardening experiences. I volunteered at World Fare and learned about fair trade while eating chocolate and drinking coffee — a prime way to learn.

Joys hit me like runaway filibuster fireworks as I listened to Ginna gush about goats and how to sew together trapezoidal fabric segments, saw Huss come brilliantly alive for Future Fest, watched Jonathan demonstrate his knowledge of the weirdly-good tight pants song, witnessed Rob bike over a child’s skate ramp, and walked in on David celebrating the completion of that kitten puzzle. Hats off to him for that.

It was tricky adjusting to a new pattern of eating and to the lack of formal structure of class schedules and a consistent job. I didn’t know what to do with certain produce or how I would pay my rent come September. The stress of the unemployed unknown was often dissipated by friendships — a wacky variety of them — among housemates and neighborhood kids. Chelsea and I spent a good amount of time with two kids in particular, and traded funny, funny stories (like when one kid thought his mom was an alien), blunt advice (we adults need to stop being so obsessed with our cell phones) and bewilderingly hilarious comments (“one time, I mashed up some flies and made them into a goopy paste”).

I remembered that I can live on far less than I think, that kids are smarter and wiser than most people give them credit for, and that concepts like “radical hospitality” and “faithful presence” will never become clear-cut directives for living, but will take daily thought, trial and error. I want quick answers and comprehensive understanding, but I learned to let go of that a little more. I learned that I need to be braver and take more initiative and I learned that when I put myself out there, it’s usually worth it. I learned that clover roots lock in moisture and aerate the soil and they feel awesomely soft on your feet, so don’t weed them out of your garden. I learned it’s imperative for me to drive less and take more walks and more bike rides because that’s how you find the cool stuff.

I hope *cino will continue to be a place that invites and welcomes new people and I hope that *cino will keep growing into a place where individuals of different ages, races and backgrounds can hang out in one room and feel truly comfortable together. I hope the Huss Project will continue to keep its doors open to children (and forgive them when they sprint through the halls and interrupt prayers), support neighbors and local businesses, and value learning and friendship above material gain and expediency.

I write this having just gotten back to my home in Grand Rapids. I’m going to do what I can to save some money (find a job — any job!) as I spend time with friends and family members and try to decide if teaching in Hungary and beginning midwifery school are life routes I will pursue next. I will also be trying to send snail mail more regularly, since I’d like to combat transience in small ways, because I have a box of totally fantastic envelopes from Harriet E. Jackson, and because I’m downright attached to the beautiful people who made these weeks so worthwhile.

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Publishing, Three Rivers

Lament and hope in Three Rivers and beyond

On Holy Saturday, many of us from the *cino community in Three Rivers joined in a service of lament and hope organized by The Hermitage Community, a Mennonite retreat center located just west of Three Rivers.  The service was prompted by the evolving news over the past several months that Enbridge, the Canadian energy transport company that was responsible for a nearby oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010, is going to be adding a third larger pipeline for crude oil to its existing right of way.  The portion of their line that extends from the Canadian border to a refinery in northwest Indiana cuts through the center of Hermitage property, as well as the adjacent GilChrist Retreat Center and St. Gregory’s Abbey.

We are grateful for the leadership of the Hermitage in choosing the way of honest lament and grief over the way of legal battles and enmity.  While it was encouraging to spend time with a community that hopes for a better future, it was also humbling to walk the very land that will be torn apart in the coming months and confess our role in the violence.  Coming out of the service, we decided to do two special catapult issues in an effort to honor this gratitude and further explore the many complex issues raised by our complicity in the destruction of creation through our consumption of crude oil.  The first issue will contain some of the written and visual elements from the recent service of lament and hope.  The second issue will poke at our assumptions about progress as forward motion.  See the catapult writer’s block for full issue descriptions.

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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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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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Online, People, Publishing

catapult editor contributes to Comment integrity symposium

Check out the Integrity and the Entrepreneur symposium over at Comment Magazine, which features stories from people throughout the U.S. and Canada. I contributed an account of how we dealt with a theft situation from our fair trade store World Fare in 2009.

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Winter 2010 road journal on its way

The Winter 2010 road journal is being dropped off at the Post Office today and will make it to your mailbox in a matter of days. This issue of our quarterly print journal features several great pieces by various *cino writers, plus a photo essay highlighting the Imagining Space project at Huss School. A special thanks to Julie Bouman for helping with the mailing; we couldn’t have gotten everything done without her!
If you aren’t on our mailing list yet, you can sign up now for a free subscription to the road journal.

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Clutching Dust and Stars wins best first novel!

Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Books recently named Clutching Dust and Stars the Best First Novel of 2009! Here is Byron’s review:

Rob and Natalie are expertly drawn hipster young adults, twenty-somethings who have been out of school for a few years and are “charting various paths of downward mobility.” This is set in Bellingham, Washington, in the early years of 2000s, where Natalie’s art studio behind the thrift shop is her place of canvas and paint. I can tell you ten things I liked about this well-written drama, and while not every reader will love every moment, this is a first novel by a very thoughtful Christian writer, published by an indie company that we are close to. I don’t award the book because of that, but thought you may know their e-zine (catapult) and may have seen it serialized there. We’re pretty excited to carry this book, with its allusive title drawn from The Kabbalah, despite its raw tale and deep struggles about faith and justice…no, it is because of this that we so affirm it. As the author puts it, “the story follows the tensions between various poles: dust and stars, apathy and idealism, love and sadness, disbelief and faith, graffiti and art, Rob and Natalie.” Best first novel, 2009!

Of course, we encourage you to check out all of the “Best of 2009” recommendations at Hearts and Minds; they’ve got a great end-of-year list! And remember to mention *culture is not optional when purchasing … we’ll get a 10% donation for sending you in their direction.

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*cino publishes its first novel: Clutching Dust and Stars

*culture is not optional is pleased to announce its first fiction publication. Clutching Dust and Stars is the first novel of Laryn Kragt Bakker and is currently available for pre-order at a discounted price; the book will be officially available on November 20. See the full press release below:

Non-profit begins publishing fiction in the midst of economic downturn

THREE RIVERS, MI – November 5, 2009
Despite the fact that the global economy is in shambles and doom-and-gloom abounds in the publishing industry, *culture is not optional (*cino) will be making a foray into the fiction department with the release of Clutching Dust and Stars, a debut novel by Laryn Kragt Bakker.
“Much of *cino’s work is about storytelling, which is a fundamental practice for learning and connecting as we all attempt to live into meaningful visions for our lives,” says Publications Director Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma. “Our focus until now has been on telling the lived stories of actual people, but I look forward to seeing how the fictional story of Rob and Natalie–two broken people searching for healing and acceptance–will invite our readers into a different kind of reflection about themselves and their communities.”
When Kragt Bakker began developing characters and writing first drafts nine years ago, he was a resident of Bellingham, Washington, and the story takes place in a fictionalized version of the city at that time.
“It’s gratifying to see this process so close to completion,” he said. “It’s been long, hard, and also quite rewarding. I wasn’t sure it would ever see the light of day at times.”
In the novel, a shadow of 1999’s “Battle of Seattle” can be felt in the streets of Bellingham in the form of protests and an anarchy collective. Natalie and Rob are twenty-somethings who have been out of school for a few years and are charting various paths of downward mobility. Natalie has retreated into the back room of a thrift shop with canvas and paint. Rob has abandoned his dream of edgy mainstream journalism and is trying to tap into the activist energy with photocopies and self-made stickers.
The novel will be released on November 20, 2009. See for more information and for high res images of the cover and the author.
About the Author
Laryn Kragt Bakker was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has a degree in graphic design and computer science from Dordt College and is currently living in the Washington, D.C. area with his wife and daughter. He painted the original cover art used for the novel. In addition to writing and art, he is a graphic designer and web developer for non-profit organizations. This is his first novel.
About *culture is not optional
*culture is not optional has been publishing online since 2002 when catapult magazine went live with bi-weekly, themed issues that weave together faith and everyday life with communal storytelling. The spirit of catapult has been embodied in print through the quarterly road journal and The Road Map Series, and in person through camping, conferences, workshops and, most recently, the purchase of an historic school building in Three Rivers, Michigan. With an off-campus program for college students and services for at-risk youth, the building will be a hub for imaginative, integrated personal and community development.
Clutching Dust and Stars is currently available for pre-order directly from *culture is not optional through the online store at

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Summer road journal mailed

It’s long overdue, but we were finally able to get the Summer 2009 issue of road journal in the mail. Some of you may have already received your copy! Though we’ve had it printed since August, Kirstin and Rob (*cino’s co-directors) have had a lot of personal obstacles that have kept them from being able to finish the mailing. Thanks to a number of helpful friends, we were able to update the mailing list, print a letter of explanation and stuff envelopes last week.
Hopefully the next road journal will be in the mail soon …

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Do Justice: #39

We just noticed that Do Justice: A Social Justice Road Map was #39 on the Top 40 sellers at Calvin College’s Bookstore. How cool is that?

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