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

Welcome 2014 *cino summer interns!

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

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

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

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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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Education, People, Three Rivers

Project Neighborhood visits *cino

Part of what we do at *culture is not optional is to show people why culture is not optional and one of the ways we do that is by introducing various visitors to our rural city of Three Rivers.

This past Saturday, 45 students, mentors, and even a few children from Calvin College’s Project Neighborhood program piled in vans and drove down to Three Rivers for a day of learning and community. Project Neighborhood is a collection of living-learning communities of Calvin students who live in an intentional community for an academic year.  In many ways, the *cino intentional community in Three Rivers is another model for intentional community post-college, providing a basis for interesting conversation throughout the day.

Our day was divided up into segments. We began with an introduction to Three Rivers, to *culture is not optional and to the Huss Project. After lunch, we split into three groups. One group visited a Bluebird Farm, a small local, very organic farm replete with chickens, cows, sheep, maple trees, bees and even a few ducks. One group ventured to St. Gregory’s Abbey, to get a small taste of what it’s like to live a monastic life in rural Michigan. One group toured Downtown Three Rivers, learning about historic architecture and small, local businesses in the the heart of the town. All three groups also toured the Huss Project and were introduced to our current programming as well as our vision for the future.

We then convened everyone for a panel discussion with our intentional community members, specifically the ones living together in *cino’s community house — the Rectory at Trinity Episcopal Church. We finished up the day with an early dinner of soups, breads, conversation, and the feeling of having shared a good day with good people.

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*cino Work, Event, Three Rivers

Coming soon: student groups + justice films

The next few weeks will be busy for the *cino gang, with lots of good learning, sharing, eating, field tripping and film-festing!  Here’s what we’re looking forward to…

March 15: Project Neighborhood Retreat

45 students and mentors from the Calvin College intentional living communities will join us for a day-long retreat to explore community life after college and experience some of the things that make Three Rivers a unique place to live and serve.

March 22-29: Spring Break Service-Learning Trip

For the fifth year in a row, we’ll host a group of Calvin College students here in Three Rivers to explore themes like rule of life, place, contemplation, activism, agriculture, art, government, local business and more.  We’ll stay at the Hermitage Community, and serve throughout the week at the Huss Project, wrapping up our time together with a night at St. Gregory’s Abbey.

April 4-5: Rivers of Justice Film Festival

This annual event, organized by World Fare and a committee of volunteers, is expanding this year to feature three films over the course of two nights (plus a potluck and a reception with complimentary appetizers, of course!).  For a complete schedule and trailers, visit the film festival web site.

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Building, Event, Hospitality, Organization, People, Rectory Stories, Three Rivers

The end of another *cino summer

Summers are a busy time for *cino folks. We tend to cram as much as we can into the good weather, and this summer was no exception (or perhaps it was as we crammed in more than usual!).This is a short list of what we did during the hottest months of the year:

  • Paid off the mortgage on Huss, making it official *cino property!
  • Planned and executed Future Fest, our biggest summer event, designed to demonstrate what’s possible at Huss and build community through creativity and food.
  • Hosted Family Fun Nights every Tuesday from 6:00-8:00 p.m. to enjoy snacks, games and crafts with our neighbors.
  • Continued our series of Underground Supper Clubs, a brand new fundraising effort in Three Rivers that is definitely making waves.
  • Hosted storytelling nights for potential storytellers to come out to Huss and share their tales.
  • Added to our Huss Stories series, with pieces on Gail Walters, Carol Boulette and Luther Channey.
  • Worked on the school every Friday during the afternoon because there’s always something to be done.
  • Hosted school lunches four days a week in partnership with the local schools because kids need food!
  • Attempted to raise more money for the Huss Project through various grants and activities.
  • Hosted the Calvin College Service-Learning Center staff for a day of training.
  • And, of course, we continued to publish catapult magazine and the daily asterisk this summer before taking our traditional August publishing break.

With the end of summer upon us, we enter into a different phase of *cino’s work, one that is perhaps less stressful, but every bit as important. However, this particular year it is a bittersweet respite we face, as the end of this summer of 2013 has brought with it a host of goodbyes. The farewells began in the early summer with our first interns, Jonathan and Ginna, a pair from Costa Rica who came into the *cino community and infected us all with their enthusiasm and creativity. We then saw the arrival and departure of the other interns, Ainsley, Chelsea, and Jonathan (affectionately dubbed Jonathan #2), who brought with them new ideas and a willingness to explore the values and work of *cino. Interns coming and going is something we’ve grown used to at *cino, though we never relish the idea of their departure (and will often persuade them to stick around, if only for just a little while).

We also said goodbye to two longstanding *cino members in Stephanie and Chad, friends who have been integral to *cino’s development both as individuals and then as newlyweds. We know they will do great things in their new location, and their presence will positively impact all those they come across. Our final goodbye came recently, and it was with heavy hearts that the *cino moving crew packed up the belongings of one Emily “Battleship” Ulmer and docked her in her new home, where she will seek the degree she so richly deserves.

These are bittersweet farewells, certainly, but they are also hopeful ones because the connections we find and cultivate at *cino are the kind that last lifetimes, and we know that these goodbyes are temporary things. So we say ‘so long,’ though it may be with heavy hearts, and we take heart from a great human who once wrote, “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

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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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