Monthly Archives: June 2016

Community – tbt

[This is a guest post from my teammate, Joshua, back from our first Come and See weekend in February]

I have been given the topic of ‘Community’ to speak about. If that sounds incredibly broad, it’s because it is. ‘Community’ essentially encompasses every experience I share with any or all of the 7 other people I live with; every conversation, every joke, every wish goodnight. And because even at work I am constantly accompanied by the members of my community, the reach of experiences shared with the people I live with stretches to practically every waking, and non-waking, moment of my life from September to this moment. Distilling the transformatism of such a wide array of experiences into a three-minute segment is even harder than it sounds, and I believe that, in the end, the best that I can do is try to communicate what my community means to me. I’ll try not to get too sappy. I’ll probably fail.
I lived, from the time I was 11 to the time I was 17, with a central individualistic philosophy: people were unreliable. People lied, people broke promises, people only really cared about themselves. And so, if no one was reliable, I would rely on no one. In October 2014, around the time of my 19th birthday, I discovered that although my philosophies had since changed, the scars left by living in this way for so long remained; there was not a single person in my life who actually knew who I was. I felt lonely for the first time in my life, and I could not even express how I felt to anyone effectively because they did not know me, and I did not trust them.
I realized with some irony a few weeks ago that it was at this time in which I felt so completely alone that I also felt unsure of my decision to jump headfirst into college, and was encouraged to consider taking some time off to pursue missions. It was at this time that I remembered the blind commitment I had made in the summer of the previous year to serve with some organization called Mission Year.
Prior to this year I had never heard of an intentional community. When I say I made a blind commitment to serve with Mission Year, I mean blind. Actually, prior to National Orientation in Chicago, I didn’t really know what the handbook was talking about when they said ‘intentional christian community’. It sounds so vague and overgeneral when you think about it; ‘intentional community’, literally, ‘living together on purpose’. And yet, amusingly, ‘living together on purpose’ is basically what it is. It’s very simple in theory, and almost revolutionary in practice.
When you live together on purpose, your personal barriers start to disintegrate. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Intentional Christian community blocks all other routes except forward, and everyone moves forward together. When you walk in a group, and someone falls, or stops, or starts walking in a different direction, everyone else notices. They pick them up, pull them along, call them back, and keep moving forward. This is how intentional community works.

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Under these conditions, one almost can not be alone. Under these conditions, one is shown time and time again that trust is both a necessity and an expectation. Even if you do not rely on others, they will call upon you to be reliable. Trust breeds trust; it is difficult to remain doubtful of people who are themselves putting their faith in you.
Slowly, day by day, week by week, I found myself learning to trust, learning to open up to these other people as they began to open up to me. Watching a group of people steadily grow in trust and closeness with one another has been a singular joy, matched only by the joy of discovering true community after almost a decade of solitude. Now, Rome wasn’t built in a day; these developments take time, but they are facilitated by simple, day to day interactions.
Wild laughter, walks in the neighborhood, sharing and expressing our passions, late night conversations, family meals, quiet evenings spent just being near one another. Moments like these are how a community is built, and that progress is maintained by a commitment to making these moments not the exception but the rule.
We aren’t even halfway through our year together. That means our community should be, at best, about half as good as it’s going to get, but I stand convinced that our community is going to get there. The ultimate strength of christian community is that regardless of the flaws of the individuals involved, as long as there is love and the will to move forward, a community can succeed. We aren’t perfect. Our community isn’t perfect. But our love for one another pushes us to do better and to aim higher, and as long as we hold on to that love,  I think we’re going to be alright.

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Justice (6)

Emancipation: An Exhibit

Early on in third trimester of Mission Year our team started discussing the looming Justice Project.  We knew of it from the beginning of the year, and I always thought it sounded rather intimidating.  What can my team and I do that will help combat/bring awareness to some injustice we have noticed in our neighborhood/community?

Living in Third Ward, Houston – our neighborhood comes with a negative stigma.  And with its location close to University of Houston and the Light Rail, is prime for gentrification. Our team decided to fight against gentrification by showing the value of our neighbors and community.

Since we all are co-creators, and we knew several of our neighbors were creative, we decided to host an art exhibit.  The question we posed to ourselves, our neighbors and eventually to all who came to the exhibit – “What does emancipation in Third Ward mean or look like to you?”

 

 

There was beauty in the process. My teammates and I had several discussions about how to get neighbors involved, where to have the exhibit, how/where to promote, what the event would look like, etc. It was tough at times, but forced us to share and communicate.  Each of us connected with a neighbor to get their input for the event… which my teammate McKenzie has already written about –

We had Marcelina, one of our few Hispanic neighbors[2], selling tamales that she makes. She had a statement about how her tamales are both her art form and her means of emancipation, and all the proceeds from the tamales went to supporting her family.

Ella was selling her cookies and signature Stuffed Cups, which are cupcakes with cookies baked into them (and believe me, they’re delicious).

Raul did a sculpture.  A neighbor named Franky contributed several of his amazing watercolors for us to display.  Josh created a video of Grandma Mae telling stories and talking about Third Ward.  Maggie made a window sculpture.  We had photographs of some of the inspiration graffiti around, as well as portraits of some of our neighbors.  We had written pieces, and in the center of the room, we had a large interactive table with butcher paper so that visitors to the exhibit could share what Emancipation for Third Ward means to them.

During our event, I couldn’t help but smile.  I watched as neighbors engaged with each other, conversations were happening between community activists, and people were sharing their opinions about what emancipation meant.  Maybe justice is about dreaming about a better future – sharing these dreams with others – moving forward to a more equal life for all.

 

 

Service

Our neighbor, Uncle Hosea, sits out on his porch. Almost always. This is great for us because we get to talk to him often, and on Saturdays can go there to take a break from walking… and maybe grab a quick nap?  In spending so much time on the porch, I’ve heard a fair number of stories from Uncle.  One issue he has talked about was the empty lot next his house that was overgrown – and the city hadn’t come to clear it.

One of the Mission Year values is service, so on the last weekend of May, our team participated in Green My Hood – a tangible way to serve out neighborhood.  With the help of a local tool bank, we gathered supplies to go and clear the lot.  The day was hot, but went to work – cutting a fallen tree, trimming vines, cleaning sticks & trash and mowing the lot.  Sporadically, we would take breaks with Uncle up on his porch.  At the end of the afternoon, we were able to to enjoy the view from the porch as we shared a spaghetti dinner with Uncle.

 

This was one day where service was at the front of my mind, but as I reflected, many other instances came to mind:

  • Tommy and I helping Mr. CIA with the community garden and other lawn projects.
  • Getting to walk with neighbors to their bus stops.
  • Sitting and sharing stories and time on Ms. Helen’s porch.
  • The additional tutoring for STAAR testing that Kelly, Maggie & I helped with at RYSS.
  • Neighbors and co-workers providing food/meals for us – individually and as a team

As I’ve thought about it, there have been so many ways that service has surrounded this year. And I suppose that makes sense, especially considering the words in Matthew:

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”