Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Year After: New/Old Way of Church

Well, we have just passed the first anniversary of our grand opening of the community center called A Third Place here, beginning our transformation too of our church into one that incarnates itself, and our God, into the community, rather than expending resources to attract the community to a one hour time together called church. More on that below....

A few announcements first about ways we are this month engaging the world with God's transforming love and justice.

The OU-Turley project we started will be working on different projects here with us in the Turley area throughout the weekends in June (especially a BIG WEEKEND of projects and work here at the center and in the community on Friday and Saturday June 20-21. come experience the power of it with us); we had a great start this past Saturday as I took them on a "windshield tour" of Turley, just a glimpse really, but focusing on the boundaries of our area and on some of our long running "challenge areas' which we decided not to call eyesores but "hidden potential" or as I now like to think of them as "transformation sites".
So I hope all who can will come by A Third Place on the weekends, meet the OU students, and find ways to talk with them and meet with them and help.
We are especially focusing on wrapping up the photographing and documenting of our "transformation" and 'treasure" sites, which might become part of a multi-media presentation to show Turley, to service groups, to funders, to possible commercial investors. Nothing excites like a story and that we have.

Some OU students will be at the community breakfast this Saturday at the Odd Fellows Lodge and then will be helping us with our project to document and witness both the "transformation sites" so we can present them to the Health Dept. and county officials and protest for long-awaited action, and also and perhaps more importantly they will help us witness photographically also to the "treasure sites" those places here in Turley people don't expect to find beauty, interest, uniqueness. During our tour this past Saturday it was often remarked upon how beautiful is our land, some of its vistas here by Turley Hill to Bird Creek and parts in between and hills, but how it is often in those very spots where people have chosen to turn into illegal dumpsites. Just one month ago at the trash-off event we coordinated we concentrated on one dump spot on Utica Ave. that is in one of our most scenic spots, only to find this past Saturday it had become a dump site again, waiting of course not for any government officials to notice and do anything about, but for us.

This past Sunday some of us also travelled to the community garden in Brady Heights after worshipping with Church of the Restoration, to see how they have created a place to foster counter-agricultural and eating practices and to help feed the hungry in their midst; it was inspiring and we are continuing to look for sites where we can take over, as they did, an abandoned lot and turn it into raised beds with our neighbors. On Sunday mornings we continue to group as we can and worship with either our sister church Restoration or others.

And on Wednesday nights we are continuing our common meals, our conversation on Shane Claiborne's book Jesus For President: politics for ordinary radicals, full of stories both biblical and contemporary that are full of what we are trying to do to follow in the Jesus Way of creating alternative communities, counter attitudes, ordinary acts of generosity and trust in a place where others see scarcity. So many of our ideas and acts have been born out of reading the inspiring words of other small tribes like ours around the globe, and filling the spirit that filled that original tribe of early followers who met in homes, in shops, in public spaces, all as ways to live counter to the ways of the Empire, whose ways were glorified by all those in power.

And after last Wednesday's conversation, we have this week begun offering free peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches at noon, or whenever we are open and someone is in need; especially because at our local elementary school almost 100 percent of the children receive subsidized lunches, but the school is out during the summer. We are hoping people will sign up to take one day one hour and help us create this free feeding station.

But Back to One Year After: Just one year ago we celebrated our opening. Since then, the library has tripled, the donation room has tripled, the internet center has about tripled, we have a health clinic for those without insurance in our community where none existed before, we have helped spawn a local animal project that made the front page of the Tulsa paper again last week for its summer blitz of providing free spay and neuter of every animal in the Turley area, we have donated more than a thousand plants and trees and free seeds to folks in our area to help bring back beauty and hope and repopulate after the devastation of the ice storm, and....just recently, drumroll, this past week, we have begun a twice a week TURLEY RESOURCES CENTER here at the Center, on Tuesdays and Fridays, by partnering with the Univ. of Oklahoma to be the site of a graduate assistant program. Within the first hour the grad. asst. was here, we had people coming in to talk about housing issue for a local homeless man suffering from mental illness. We are working on ways to bring the presence of social service agencies here to Turley instead of our folks having to travel across Tulsa to get the services, especially given the poor access of public transportation. Within the past year we have helped host the group of folks who planned the Reunion at Turley/Cherokee that brought in almost 300 people two weeks ago. We had the first Turley Day at the ballpark. And of course we hadn't but barely dreamed of such an intensive series of community forums and leadership development as we had this Spring with the Turley Talks events, giving voice to those who didn't know the power of their own voice; helping people see that our area is more than the stereotypes and statistics, it is spirit, service, strengths, stories.

An intermission report: Perennial Church, part two. One of the reasons I didn't send this report out last week was because the storms knocked power out just as I had written it and not saved it, of course, but also because if you remember I was talking about the story of the flower bed we planted by one of the Turley Welcome Signs, and how just as someone was about to mow it down who lived by it because all they thought it was was weeds, it bloomed so beautifully and brightly and large; well, they mowed it down anyway; it took some of the spirit out of us, even as we had been dreaming of better welcome signs in better places and places where we wouldn't have to risk as much the neighbors mowing. Since then I have been reminded of the account of Moses coming down Mt. Sinai after the encounter with the burning bush, and how his face was burned from the transformation, and how that look of wonder and awe changed his look so much so that he scared those that saw him and remembered his old look; transformation gets reactions. But now we may be more determined not only to replant there, but also to look for those more permanent sites where even more people will be directed to us, and have a first image of caring not neglect. Those who remember how the whole Let Turley Bloom got started will know we have been down this road before, just a few Easters ago that our potted flowers dotting Peoria Ave. had been stolen or vandalized or dumped out that Easter morning which got us interested in the in-ground plantings to begin with.

Anyway, back to the main report of this first year: I am leaving out so much, especially the day to day ways that people come in, meet others, find ways to serve. We have one recent person new to our area who came in to spend time on the free internet trying to get documents from where he'd come in California, and through his time here met and shared with others, and the other day came out of our poor little room we call a restroom and said he could fix that handle problem, and ten minutes later it was done. People come to us often to receive and then move into relationship with us, and then they become givers. "Rise. Take up your mat. And Go." is how Jesus once put it. There's the "cannas man" who brings by plants to give away, and stays to share stories and become a leader with the OU students. If you have been reading this letters this past year, you know how much I leave out of stories like this. Every day people are helping others and the word is spreading that there is a different thing going on on N. Peoria, and something good happening in Turley. There is no way we could have done what we have done, with such a few people, if we had limited our sense of church to our old smaller, albeit less expensive building, with the church signs out front; so many people we never would have met, especially as we meet them now, not as potential members but as immediate partners.

What a year it has been. Exhausting. We, well I, have failed at so much, or still have so many loose ends to work on so we can keep creating loose ends. One of these posts this summer I will try to set out how many things we have wanted to do and haven't gotten to, or been sidetracked from, as well as all the personal encounters that only hit me as sacred ones after I have left them and had the Spirit hit me upside the head. I was asked about what our greatest success has been and I said without a beat that we keep trying to fail at more and more things, reminding ourselves that it was to the world, and I believe even most likely according to the Gospel of Mark to Jesus himself, a failed Messiah on the cross. But it is from such failings that the world is re-made. We have so much still on the horizon. Free music coffeehouses, workshops on life skills, lectures, and also the intentional creation of an altar and prayer and meditation right here in the center in the midst of life, where we can begin moving more toward being an urban monastery without boundaries between sacred and secular. This past year we have focused on the study and service and some of course the social; now we need to cultivate and spread the seeds of that spiritual force that sustains us and is the reason we do all we do; now, only now that we have done all we have done this past year, can we begin to provide such resources to our neighbors; only now, now that mission is supreme, can worship help it continue, but worship that is decentralized, anytime, anywhere, with anyone. I still dream of recreating what once existed for awhile years ago in Turley, where off of the Turley methodist church there was a little prayer room that could be accessed 24 hours a day by those in need, with no staff needing to be present; of course it was vandalized, and was locked, and became open to insiders only, but the dream is still there and I know there is a Way. I dream of opening the center occasionally and more often in the middle of the night, beginning at midnight, or 3 a.m. for those who get off work; I want us to become 24-7 and to become not just one place, but a hub of places in the community, continuing to reach out and meet people where they are, not expecting them to come where we are. And we may even find ways to continue expanding and moving and growing here in Turley in ways we can only barely begin to glimpse now. Who knows what another year will bring. Meanwhile, we the storms continue to come in and knock our power off and meanwhile we continue to end each month at zero or below in the bank account (a sign of success, though a constant lesson of the spirit for me, at least, to learn over and over again :) ), and still we open our doors and miracles walk in to greet us.

It is summertime; who knows when the next one of these reports will get out; it is sabbath time for sure, summertime the time of letting drifting billowy clouds come into our souls and we look up and once again try to discern what shapes there we see, clouds that offer cover and shade from the sun of reason and work and all that righteousness jazz; clouds that bring healing rain to our gardens of the earth and soul. Wherever you are know when you are, that it is summer and it is okay to vacate your daily dreads and fears and struggles and look closely at the world that graces you with an overwhelming presence.

blessings and thanks for sharing this year's journey, Ron

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