Thursday, October 24, 2013

Life is a Prayer

Our faith must be alive. It cannot be just a set of rigid beliefs and notions. Our faith must evolve every day and bring us joy, peace, freedom, and love. Faith implies practice, living our daily life in mindfulness. Some people think that prayer or meditation involves only our minds or our hearts. But we also have to pray with our bodies, with our actions in the world. And our actions must be modeled after those of the living Buddha or the living Christ. If we live as they did, we will have deep understanding and pure actions, and we will do our share to help create a more peaceful world for our children and all of the children of God. 

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Faith in action.

I wake up at 7am Monday through Thursday to have devotionals with all my sleepy housemates. At 8:45am, Charlie, Taylor, and I head off to work at the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Center where we sometimes do simple office work like data entry and filing. Other times, like today, we work on projects, brainstorming with friends on how to grow aeroponic crops and temperature controlled mushrooms, build shipping container cafes, and create local farmer's markets.

This is faith in action. Every day.

Do everything as a prayer. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Short Glimpse of Many Things

While I have internet on my Sabbath, I wanted to share a bunch of photos that reveal glimpses of my life here in Houston.

My roommate Taylor and I have beautified our room, making it into a sanctuary for late afternoon naps, craft sessions on the floor, late night bunk bed conversations, and a hub for incense and fresh scents of lavender and earth.

Our balcony garden grows and thrives, teaching us to be patient with growth, to tend and care for the little that we see. The balcony garden looks much better than this now, but I haven't had the chance to take a picture since we've been on our tech fast. Hopefully when this fast is over in a week, I'll be able to post some better pictures.

This is the awesome Last Organic Outpost Garden that we'd love to imitate in small scale form ;)

Riding the bus is a regular part of my week. I'm learning to cherish my time on the bus as moments of solitude, reflection, and sometimes, conversation with folks who sit next to me. 

And today, I get to rest at Agora, a sweet cafe that brings me life in the form of tea and internet...

Fridays are refreshing. 

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Meet The Family

"If you really love one another, you will not be able to avoid making sacrifices." - Mother Teresa

As we dig deeper into what it means to be a community of people who love God and one another, my teammates and I have struggled through conversations and experiences trying to figure out how to relate to one another, deny ourselves, and sacrifice for one another and our greater Fifth Ward community. 

Recently I have found myself understanding the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi in a new context:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; 
to understand, than to be understood; 
to love, than to be loved. 
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. 
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. 
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

Dying to the false self fabricated by social compulsions and awakening to the true self completely enmeshed with Divine Spirit is a mystery I will never fully grasp. But being here, being challenged to love and serve in new ways, leads me to a deeper understanding of St. Francis' words and their relevance in my life.

I have also been ruminating on a thought from Henri Nouwen for the past few days: "What else is anger than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived?" A friend rephrased this last night when he told me and my friends something to the effect of, "I pray to not feel entitled. Then I realize how angry I get when I am not getting something I feel entitled to: quiet time, certain foods, time being used in the ways I want." As an exercise in self discipline and self analysis, whenever I am angry, frustrated, or annoyed, I am asking myself, "What do I feel entitled to right now? What do I feel I am being deprived of?" After stepping back from the situation, looking deeply at my own motives and reasoning,  I can then make a decision to respond. 


I would love to introduce you to the team that challenges me and grows me, helps me love, and helps me learn:

In the back row, from left to right: Caleb Groth, Heather Chappelle, and Charlie O'Connor. In the front row: Kira Echeandia, Rediet Mulugeta, me, and Taylor Burch.  

You can click on each of their names to read a little bit more about them and, if you'd like, to donate to their Mission Year funds. Each of us has a goal of $12,000 in order to get us through Mission Year, and we're doing it together! If you feel led to love on one of my teammates by providing for them financially, it would be such a blessing! I am also still in need of financial support, having raised $7,500 out of the total $12,000. If you'd like to support me, you can donate directly to my fund HERE.  Or by clicking on the donate button on the right side of this page. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Being the Community Backbone

I have begun interning at The Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (FWCRC), a non-profit organization that reaches out to the community through real estate and home development, home loan and foreclosure counseling, and community organizing. Ok, this all sounds pretty boring, but it’s actually really awesome! There is an entire world behind community development that sits at computers, planning, organizing, finding resources, and writing grants, being the backbone of development that then allows others to go out and do the work: constructing homes for low income families, planting community gardens, building parks and recreation areas, and helping folks maintain their properties and businesses, all of which promotes neighborhood economy and sustainable quality of life for folks living in low income areas like the Fifth Ward.
This mosaic was created by folks at the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston (MOCAH) Click on the pic!
I love learning about all of this behind the scenes stuff. I have always wanted to make my community a better place, so I started food ministries, handing out bagels in Phoenix’s ZONE downtown then joining up with people who were meeting the immediate needs of folks on the streets.  As I’m soaking in all this new information at the CRC, I’m beginning to understand that while immediate needs must be met, there needs to be a plan to build and sustain neighborhoods that foster relationships among neighbors and help meet residents’ long term needs such as affordable housing, access to affordable and high quality food, financial counseling, spiritual mentorship, safety and security in the neighborhood, high quality education, and common
gathering places that foster greater relationships. 

I suppose these were things I knew were needed, but I didn’t know where to start. I had no idea how to write grants, build parks, or start food co-ops. But now, God has placed me in the CRC to develop these skills, learn how to create truly sustainable community and then go back to Phoenix to find folks who are doing it there and join them to implement it all. And doing it all without gentrifying the neighborhood.

One project that my teammate, Charlie, and I are becoming heavily invested in is a project that focuses on the Fifth Ward as a “food desert.”  There are two grocery stores in our area. One is a market across the street from our apartment complex with extremely high prices and terrible quality food, more like a large gas station convenience store.  The other is called Fiesta, a market mostly catering to the Hispanic community, but which also includes many other every day food items.  This is where my team shops every week for our groceries.  As I am reading studies and getting a grip on the area, I have discovered that the African American population of the area (about 50%, while Hispanic folks comprise the other half) does not feel that their needs are being met by Fiesta.  Nor does Fiesta offer a variety of health conscious food (a much needed section for the obese and diabetic population of the community). 

We have discovered several community gardens in our area, some of which are currently fully functional, others that are dwindling because of a lack of gardeners, and others that are completely run down because they have not been maintained. Our idea is to create a food co-op between all these gardens, building relationships between all the gardens and the folks in the community, allowing access to affordable healthy, fresh local produce. This is quite a big project, and we are still working on what exactly it is we want to achieve, but we have an idea and it’s growing bigger every day.

We are going to be learning from Gerald at The Last Organic Outpost. We visited Gerald's farm last week and were blown away by how well his farm was flourishing. He not only grows fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs, but he also has a Tilapia pond, a bee farm, and is making plans for a crab hatchery! They host several local events such as concerts, farming classes, community dinners, and, my favorite, yoga! This place gives me so much hope for what a farm can look like in the middle of an urban city. Click on the picture to check out the website! 

We are also partnering with Alesia at Cane River Gardens to begin plans to create a food co-op and build a coffee shop out of shipping containers on the garden property. Click the picture below to find out more information about cane River Gardens. 

I am so thrilled to be a part of what God is doing in Houston's Fifth Ward. It's a beautiful place with beautiful people reaching out to one another to build relationships and lift one another up. There are continuous lessons to be learned, and I pray to be open to all of them.