Get a glimpse into the life and and work of a Community Organizer and church worker in the heart of the Jersey side of the NY metro-area.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Be Sent [Explicit]

Rev. Curtiss's big thing for the past month has been talking about God as a sending God. The old model for Christian thought was that God is already everywhere and that we are following. He has been expressing the opposite, that we are sent as disciples into our workplace, communities, and homes as a precursor to Jesus. Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him , as in Mark 6, to prepare the way for Jesus as he begins his ministry. What makes this so important is that instead of finding Jesus before us we are instructed to go before him to ready the places where God will move among the people. I find this fascinating, and more inspiring as it places the responsibility on people of faith rather than trusting that "everything will be ok." Because maybe, without us trying, it won't be.

But what is it to be sent? How do you know you're in the right place? Are we preparing where we'd like to see God, where God wants us, or is it more subtle than that? I've been struggling with this and other questions as I continue my own discernment process. Am I being sent to the Jubilee Center? Or to All Saints? Maybe Hoboken generally? And what about a year from now? (I know I'm to comfortable because the back of my mind is already readying dreams & schemes to stay in the area, but alas, this soldier probably has a lot more tours in a lot more places.) Where will I go to seminary, is that being sent there? And after that? It's frustrating sometimes, knowing that I may have to be a bit nomadic, but also having my own dreams of where I'd like to be.

Those who know me well know that I tend to listen to the same music A LOT, and one of those artists is Common. Off of his album "Be" comes the track "It's Your World," which while it includes the "n word" is truly one of the most uplifting hip-hop songs I've ever heard, in that it asks young black people to aspire to more and dream bigger than the circumstances they grow up in and what they see every day. I don't see that message as limited to anyone. [THIS IS THE EXPLICIT VERSION] (Couldn't find a clean version on youtube, sorry.)

This song has been one that keeps me ticking after I take a licking. The second half of the song features a voice that simply speaks different sets of "Be ____" statements, all uplifting and encouraging. If there is one recent addition I wish I could edit in I'd make it "Be sent."

As I've noted on this blog before, I would've never guessed from where I'm from I'd have landed in South Africa, then the NYC metro-area, and especially the city I've fallen completely in love with, Hoboken. It's my world, some days I feel I fell into it, some days I think I made it happen, and while it's probably a combination of both, I am also really taking to the idea that I was sent here as well. I call it the Holy Spirit.

The last 2 weeks I've been both so tired and energized. I love the work I'm doing as development assistant right now, knowing that there is a direct impact on the kids' standard of living and quality of education.
So, as I begin to get myself geared up for the next stage of life, prepping for the GREs, etc. I get anxious and excited about where I will go to prepare the way for Jesus. God moves. Be Sent.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Now it's not just a dream...

I've only lived in TheBoken for 3 days now but I'm already sad that it won't last longer than a year. My apartment is stereo-typically mid-20s male: awesome new smart TV, living room decked out with all the necessary trappings, starkly decorated (meaning nothing) and I sleep on an air mattress. My fridge has nothing in it because who needs food in your apartment when you're surrounded by awesome food in every direction?

I think my favorite thing about the 2nd photo is the pair of chopsticks still wrapped from my last order from the most reasonable sushi place nearby, Robongi; and one big thing of sea salt.

Anyhow, I've officially started my Development Assistant position at the Jubilee Center, something I think will be a major asset to my resume well into the future (can you say "Giftworks?"). While some of it seems like it will be tedious it is attention to detail that ends up being what can make the difference with state grants, I'm finding. I don't interact with the rambunctious young-uns' so much, but they are ridiculous to watch even from a distance, as seen down here getting their groove on to some pop-ballad.
And things are looking pretty good up at St. John's in my recently former home of Union City, where our Wellness Program is doing pretty well for a fledgling organization! And soon, NEWARK ACTS will have a new class of interns, and hopefully a better looking website as that is the other thing I'll be working on over the course of August.

In any case, I'm in love with where I'm at, I love being able to walk EVERYWHERE since Hoboken is so cramped in and all of the wonderful options it has for everything, food, entertainment, scenic walks, beautiful buildings, and interesting people to hangout with everywhere. I only wish I had more than a year to be here :(

But I will not mope, I will get out there and soak up every single second of this amazing town. I realize how lucky I am, and to be here at my age doing things that I actually want to do that has a meaningful impact on a lot of real people, how can one complain? See ya around the block ;)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Here we go again!

It's good to be back, even if I'm not on the floor for this one! Congrats to my friend Scott Kirby for his election to VP of the House of Deputies!

Monday, July 2, 2012

See you in Indy

Tomorrow I head to my fourth General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and I'm very excited about it. I get to represent the Episcopal Service Corps, see old friends, and make swaths of new ones. Back in 2003 is when this segment of my journey began when I was able to join the General Convention Official Youth Presence.  It was then that my love for the Episcopal Church widened and deepened more than I could imagine. I sat behind Gene Robinson, who I spoke to and changed my perspective on human sexuality permanently, and for the better.

General Convention is a legislative and budgetary event yes, but more importantly to me it is a time to wrap yourself around the beauty and mystery of the Episcopal Church, it is a wider family gathering.

I attended in '06 and '09 as a diocesan deputy from Eau Claire, my beloved former home diocese. As I head back to it for round four, I am exhilarated to know I will see so many friends and reconnect with that which launched me into the church as not just a church but the basis of my life to this point.

See you in Indy ;-)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Living Life's Little Dreams: Moving to Hoboken

So, here's the plan for the coming year, at long last.


I've lived all around it, but this year I will be able to walk this tiny but mighty town and not have to go back up any hill to get home! Rev. Curtiss, who will be retiring after this year, has offered me a full time position that gives me housing in the middle of the city.

What I will be doing is a combo of working for the parish as a missioner and outreach person, as well as continuing my work at the Jubilee Center and St. John's. The Executive Director of the center, Armstead Johnson, has been kind enough to help make a new administrative role that I can fill, Development Assistant. Right now we are seeing it as a position that directly aids the Ex. Dir. in donor stewardship and creating our case for funding and grant management. This will be particularly helpful I believe in the professional life I am aiming to take on as a priest down the line. Being able to map the inner-workings of a nonprofit will be a great benefit to any institution I end up with on my journey.

As to St. John's, our community arts program, Arts at St. John's, is something I intend to continually bolster. We have had two successful events, The Revival Cabaret and Viva Italia! with Union City Opera. Over this summer we are doing a trial run with a group of local coordinators who are starting a Wellness Program at St. John's (everything from yoga to aerial acrobatics, seriously cool stuff!). Essentially, my position there is to monetize the building as much as possible while maintaining close ties to the community and the mission of the church. This will also mean continuing my relationship with people of our after school program Puerta Abierta, which I am thrilled about (one of the ladies, Aida, says I am her nieto, she's definitely mi abuelita de Union City).

What I'm most excited for is the time I will be allowed to develop new outreach programs for All Saints. I've convinced Geoff that doing a "theology on tap" is a good plan. Northern Soul on a Tuesday to discuss religion/faith/spirituality/meaningful things, anyone? Also I will be able to do some youth work with our middle schoolers, and I think I have a trip in mind for them, though it will take a lot more discussion and talking with the parents. What I'd really like to do is reshape the world for the kids in two ways: nature and poverty. I'd like to do an extended camping trip, location TBD, and take them on a mission trip to a foreign country. When I was 14 I was able to go to Haiti, and it changed the way I see privilege, blessing and responsibility forever; that's the kind of lasting impact the church needs to provide to young people, in my opinion. How realistic this is I do not yet know, but we will see what the possibilities are and move forward from there.

After this, it's still my hope that I would go to seminary, and again, most especially CDSP. But that's the fall of 2013, and I'm going to enjoy the ride there.

Shout outs: congrats to Alma Ghast for her endeavors in the West Bank this year, Mark Sharrow and his developing mission in SoCal/Tijuana, Anna Mellace and her ongoing adventure's in Indonesia, Will Hohmeister for being hilarious, James Morey just because he is who he is.

Questions? Comments? Hit me.

Much love all.

Friday, March 9, 2012

So I have a confession to make...

Yesterday I was supposed to be in Guttenberg, NJ, but my part-time employer told me that she was ill. So, having already announced that I would not be at the office, I decided that I would spend the gorgeous day out of the office since I was locked in all weekend with a nasty cold. And it was truly gorgeous out there. I wandered the length of Hoboken's (where I got to see my All Saints kids playing some basketball in the Steven's park area) and Jersey City's waterfronts. I was very much set apart from the suits and corporate types in my shorts and United Nations t-shirt, and those white and brown Adidases I love so much because they look like spatz. :-)
 Uptown Hoboken
View from Uptown Hoboken

Anyhow, I was doing my natural meandering, marveling at the NY skyline down along the Jersey City waterfront when I ran across a couple from the shelter I used to work at. Amid all the afternoon bustle in a section of Jersey City where I was not expecting to know anyone from Adam, a familiar voice called out, "Rich, is that you?" I was caught so completely off guard! I caught up with them both, and their new son, while the sun shone so brightly on our brief encounter.

This struck me because this passing week has brought a number of things to my mind that haven't been on the forefront of my thoughts in some time. Besides some of the things that happened in the shelter, my mind wandered into someone I used to drive door-to-door from Temba Home in Mthatha, ZA.

A small section Itipini (in Xhosa literally "the dump")

Temba Home was a facility for the most desperate cases of HIV infection. There must have been 40 people,  men and women, who were placed in a small compound on a southern hill facing Mthatha's downtown, which was actually a better view than it sounds. In any case, one man in particular needed a ride most days a week from Temba to an acute care station in downtown Mthatha. He was a walking skeleton, with only the grip on a cane to hold his wait down, otherwise I swear the winds would have taken him away long ago. His name no longer finds itself in my thoughts, but he does. He moved so slow the first time I picked him up. You could tell he was in agony, every movement an aching push toward another painful twist of muscles and tendons near the brink of total loss. His face was more skull than skin, his teeth larger than his shrunken lips, cheek bones like jagged outcroppings from his drained expressions.

But for many weeks we did our routine, and each week he picked up a little steam, looked a little healthier, and moved a little faster. He never lost the cane during my time there, but he definitely found some will to keep living, and it made him in part if not completely whole again. I do not know where the strength came from, but it was there. The memory of this man will surely live with me forever.

Sometimes it takes time, movement, and a slow, near silent friendship to see God out there, to see resurrection. If I ever saw it, it was with those individuals at Temba Home and the soot-red dusty hillsides of Itipini in Mthatha.

So as I bounce along whatever path I happen to be taking from day-to-day, I try to keep my eyes peeled and my ears open for the voices and faces that seek me out, so I don't miss these chances at real relationship and the hope of an even brighter tomorrow for all of us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Reflecting for the Longview

This week has been a great boon to me. Despite the cold and general yuckiness I'm fighting right now, I've been able to really sort through myself.

The first thing I realized is that not wanting to go back to school is neither a good reason not to do so but also lazy. No matter what, I still have to go through the complete discernment process (through which one becomes ordained in the Episcopal church) and then take the damned GRE, but I feel it's time to go for it. Why not live by the faith I already have been. At one point I actually put some of the pieces together, the sick and poor in South Africa, the homeless here in New Jersey and now trying to build and wield leadership in my current position here at St. John's.

There is an arc here, and I'm learning to embrace it. I want to become an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Few would be surprised by this, as it is not news that I have been considering it for nearly a decade. I've taken a look at it from so many angles, and I feel it is time to jump in and do it.

Now I'm looking forward to discernment day here in the Diocese of Newark, and I really look forward to a few days following in which I hope to go to Berkeley, California to visit CDSP, Church Divinity School of the Pacific. The more I read about CDSP and the Graduate Theological Union the more I feel something in me calling out, and that makes me excited. Also, it reminds me of this song by Green Day, which is really written for the city of Oakland, but whatever.

The other thing that has been going on is that I have been reading Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. It is essentially Nouwen's attempt to articulate the paradigms of the minister that he felt the church needed then and into the future.

"But for a man with a deep-rooted faith in the value and meaning of life, every experience holds a new promise, every encounter carries a new insight, and every event brings a new message. But these promises, insights, and messages have to be discovered and made visible. A Christian leader is not a leader because he announces a new idea and tries to convince others of its worth; he is a leader because he faces the world with eyes full of expectation, with the expertise to take away the veil that covers its hidden potential. Christian leadership is called ministry precisely to express that in the service of others new life can be brought about." (The Wounded Healer, pp 74-75)

And that fits so much with how I view the idea of resurrection and my experiences in life so far. My deep-rooted faith has carried me through a number of dark and troubling places and situations near and far, and I've seen that the sun still comes up and the new day shines with forgiveness of forgetfulness and grace. So now I want to say that so you can see it, and then help you live it too. The idea of this makes me feel whole and in touch with myself, and it gives me such immense joy. What makes me very hopeful is that I think I see a way to carry all of it out. Between all of these mini-but-major revelations and what vision I have I feel more relaxed, confident and excited than I can remember.

I think I got my swagger back. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012

Well, it's Lent again, and we begin the long march towards Easter. This morning I got my coffee and decided to begin thinking about the past year, as well as the one ahead, and I have to note some things that have happened or just things I've noticed since Lent last.

1. This winter is not nearly as snowy as 2011's.
2. I love that it is not that cold at all, much to the surprise of a few. I'm done with the cold, for three years I have lived in what is a relatively warm place in comparison to where I come from in Wisconsin. I have become a total wuss, and I want more sunlight!
3. I miss a lot of people. Some moved, some I moved from, but there are a huge amount of people who I no longer speak to regularly that I wish I could. Life moves on, I just hope I catch up with some of yours eventually.
4. I still have little to no idea about what I'm doing. But the good news is that I have some possible safety nets, all here in Northern NJ, and that makes me happy. (Crossing my fingers that I can stay in the immediate Hoboken area.)
5. This Lent I will go pescatarian.
6. This will be a rolling Lent for me, meaning I will attempt to add stuff as things go on (I'm looking at you, my running shoes, and all the long stair ways down the Palisades).
7. As always, I have a lot to reflect on. I'm holding many of you in my thoughts and prayers. Peace and blessings to all.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why I feel like Jonah

So, it's been a while... As some of you may know, the last six months of my life can best be described by this piece, the Panic Song, by Green Day. All sorts of twists and turns in my personal life, from my dog's death to dying relationships combined with that impending sense of doom some in their mid-20s get when you suddenly realize you actually need to get your career together if you want to do anything meaningful with your short time on this planet (run-on sentences much?) has led me to this point: what's the next step?

For the longest time, I've been absolutely trying to weasel my way out of the path my life has been headed on. Much like Jonah, in his worst state in the belly of the big fish, I've been lounging in my own muck and lack of direction, seemingly willing to do anything but what I know I am led to do. But the fish is still headed to Nineveh, and I've had enough of the funky smell in this place.

Since October, I've contacted some friends and told them how and why I didn't want to work for the Episcopal Church any longer. My perspective was that I had to become some sort of miracle worker at a church with no real leadership and a dying community, the walls of the church quickly becoming a vast tomb for what once was on the corner of 16th Street and Palisade Avenue in Union City. I'm pretty good at leadership myself, but resurrecting Lazarus? The water into wine thing is a heck of a lot more fun than bringing dead things back to life, would that I could.

I found myself at a crossroad: the church next door a symbol of my inability to perform miracles on one side, and the promise of security and the chance at bigger paychecks lying in the promise of further education either in business or some sort of tech field. For a while, I seriously considered going back to Wisconsin, earning another bachelor's, and trying to hit the "reset" button on life and opportunity. My whole rationale was based along these lines: the church is dying, God doesn't care if God exists, life would suck continually working for the church, there's no money in it anyway, I have far too many skeletons in my closet to even begin the process, I want to have fun on Saturday night and not worry about early morning sermons and the like, this whole church thing is not for me in my professional life. Jonah blah Jonah Jonah blah blah.

So I tried to take another boat. I began applying for school, prepping for another quixotic charge at my hoped future. I even went as far as to talking to my parents about coming back to the MidWest, asking friends how much their apartments were costing them in Madison, searching out the best neighborhoods around UW Milwaukee. Things seemed so neatly able to fall into place if only I could reach the shores I was shooting for.

Ah, but for the storm. It wasn't a real physical storm as in the tale of our fish beleaguered friend from the Bible, but rather one that whipped up quickly within my own mind, and it all started with this: Wait a second... Where's your heart in all of this, and more importantly, where's your faith that lies within your heart in all of this?

That blew me away. It came, it got the water frothy, and the crew manning the new course for my life through me overboard... I chose that direction, and then all those real questions came up, those gritty questions where you have to stare into nothing for a while to really focus and listen and try to filter out all the world's noise so that you can hear what the birds and trees and critters are doing and breathe for a while those deep in-and-out breaths that cool the mind.

The belly of the fish is where you confront those things that the world has dumped on you: the American expectations of wealth and prosperity with the backyard three cars, the demand of the world for you to be productive, potential, your own fears that we wallow in and stop us from action and the stinky muck that is the dross of our lives, the things we'd like to take out and not claim. It's at those moments you realize you were never really in control of anything but you, and the blessings you've had are the things you must be grateful for, and wherever the fish dumps you out you just have to hope for the best, because that's all that was really ever happening anyway.

When things really came into focus for me was when Rev. Curtiss sent me to a week long seminar in mid-January on community organizing hosted by Drew University and ran by Metro IAF. The whole experience demands its own post, and I will write on it soon, relatively. What's important for what I'm writing about right now is that it showed me that I'm not the only one with these struggles. Pause was given to me, everything in this process is struggle and strife, and what you do with what you can control ends up being your life.

Then I realized something else: I love this part of the world, Hudson County and the NYC metro area is where I love to live. There's never a dull moment, for better and worse, and the whole world is accessible from here. Creativity, diversity, the clash of the sacred and the secular, cement and steel mountains overlooking a sea of humanity, I get big kicks from that.

Our NEWARK ACTS program director asked me to give the speech at Newark's Diocesan Convention, and the fish spat me out in a big way. I cracked, too much was falling into place on the path that I've been on already for several years. Here's what I said.

One correction from the speech, and it's a fairly major one; I do not know as yet whether I am going to do ordination track for the deaconate or the priesthood. I do know I want the backing of a sacred institution. In a day and age where I see fewer of my generation trusting in major institutions, I feel that still do and will continue to perform more change in the world than various individuals scattered here and there with their own agendas. We need these large groups, fallible as they are, to get numbers rolling as we confront the issues and adaptations that the world will need if humanity is to survive in any sort of meaningful way in the 21st century and beyond. I'm crossing the Rubicon, or rather diving into it face first. The Episcopal Church has been my home and family, and while it can be slow to move and awkward to navigate sometimes I feel I've been afforded too much by it and see too much good coming from it to walk away, and I want to help bring about some of the good things that it does give to the world.

So now my life is closer to this song by Common. Faith and dreams are propelling me to take my next step now, so I'm putting my foot out, closing my eyes, crossing my fingers, and learning to let go of what the world's standards are. What happens next I'm really not entirely sure, and you know what, I'm totally at peace with that. All you other Jonahs out there, I'm with you in prayer, please say one for me sometime too.