Thursday, July 22, 2010

Church of Sighs and Broken Alleluias and Mustard Seeds: Read When Your Heart Is Ready

Make sure, if you are interested in missional church and community renewing living, and I hope you are and will be, that you read this.

There I was this evening, at dusk, following one of those instinctual hunches, driving a different way home so I could go by our newly made just the night before Welcome Table Nature Trail, Exploration and Discovery Area, Butterfly and More Preserve here in our area where so little new has happened, here, well you know the statistics and the stories and the stereotypes...I was following a hunch. ...A few minutes later I was sitting on the ground by the trail we had just made, in tears; a moment later lying on the ground looking at the sky, thinking, reminding myself, that missional and community renewing work, especially grassroots and guerilla gardening style work, like so much, is not always easy for sure and full of hope. Sometimes, even to the most hope-filled among us, you get your wind knocked out.

For all of you who have followed my reports from the field here, this will be a different sort, not yet the followup I was intending to write today, the second part of what we told the medical students who have been out with us this month, the more hopeful part, after laying out all the little things that add up to big difficulties, I was, and still am, going to write about "Why We Wouldn't Be Anyway Else, Doing Anything Else" because that might have been the most radical part of what we shared with them during their time with us. But I am not writing that. Yet. Now when I do it will mean even more.

But let me back up to yesterday and today. Because it is all related and all connected to my lying on the ground this evening.

As part of the conversation with residents and medical students this month we have faced them with that stark opposition I wrote about before, that we are in the area with the greatest health needs and lowest life expectancy AND we have the fewest health care resources, that OU which has been so good working with us and we are so glad that they have brought a clinic here with us, has had cutbacks from funders and have had to cut personnel and, this is the real story, all the clinics except ours on the northside were closed and ours was put on a years notice, and ours was only mornings twice a week instead of Monday through Friday all day as in the OU clinics at other parts of town. Helping the medical students to analyze why all that is the case, and what the effects are, and how it is not really an issue with the university as much as it is about overall policy and history and people and institutions of all kinds turning a blind eye, was actually a spiritually uplifting encounter for all. And then yesterday we found out that although the clinic will still be here, it will have its already reduced time with us reduced even further, down to just one morning a week. The only one of its clinic on the whole northside now too.

Needless to say, it was a downer, but it spurred me on to contact partners and to begin figuring out responses for how we can become proactive and try to not only get the clinic funding from other sources but also to use it to spur on our emerging plans to create a revolutionary new way of providing health care and thinking of it, through creating a network of neighborhood health care associates working in their own blocks, decentralizing the whole notion of clinic and preventive care. And in other news yesterday we were in fact getting somewhere and working with OU on a grant to help us do just that, an idea that some of you who have been following our life here know dates back to our work with OU toward a ten million dollar X Prize. You can go to our and find the old posts on it.

And then yesterday evening, as we began to make plans for the Party Among the Ruins to support our dream of the Miracle Among The Ruins community garden kitchen park space, we also put together on our own in the prairie area across the street, near where we have our existing community garden plot, the Nature Trail and Preservation Area. We left late last night on a high seeing what we had accomplished making the trails, making a pleasant space right next to all the abandoned properties, right where people walk more than a mile to the elementary school and stores, where they push grocery carts of food and supplies up the hill back to their homes. Plants were in bloom, native grasses were beautiful, I posted some of the wonderful photos on We picked veggies and envisioned the line of folks coming to our Party Among the Ruins walking across the street and going through the trails. After the early bad news about the clinic, it was good to end the way we did.

All we had to do was get some signs and put them up directing people along the paths, and a big sign to let the public know what it was, and then eventually individual plant and grass signs to help them identify and learn from the area, especialy the school children we would bring for outdoor classrooms.

Then today sometime during the day the mower for the church property next door who had mowed an area next to the prairie area already but left it alone, and who might have been different from what we thought we had an agreement not to mow this beautiful area, did of course come in and mow it all down, over the trails we had made the night before. I had been planning to double check, I had been planning to get the signs, but all the other issues with the clinic and the school feeding program and with all the promotional work I sent out yesterday and especially today for the Party Among the Ruins and for that new trails area itself, working on the news released probably as the trails were being mowed down, plus my paid work, because all the local missional work is all done by volunteers, me included, it all took precedence. And so I turned to drive by it tonight on a hunch, that old hunch in the gut that says, I wonder if...

So there I sat and laid on the ground by all the mowed down beautiful native plant and grass area, and I thought of course about the disparities in health care and life expectancy and the disparity in the clinic hours and the cuts, and about the way the county officials had done the same thing to our transformational gardening work and beautification at the 66th and N. Lewis intersection that is routinely neglected and trash filled until we worked on it only to have them come by lately and mow down the plants; and how the work we had done beautifying the entrance with plants at O'Brien Park Center, the real center for the community at that park and not the ballfields for people in other areas, had been killed by workers salting the garden during the winter, and there was the bed we did for the barbecue restaurant that is now closed and the bed we did for the hamburger restaurant, two of the few, and how it had to move, and how the plantings we did at one of the welcome signs was mown down in the peak of its beauty, and how the Dept of Transportation had taken our match money and not seeded wildflowers along Highway 75 as planned in a grant we received and how even the ones that came up on their own had been frequently mowed down instead of letting them bloom and spread, and I thought again in a flash about all those little eat away at your soul things I had so recently written about....and how I had just come from a couple of meetings with OU this very evening where we were making such good and necessary plans for producing seeds of hope, and how we have to focus on them and not the seeds of despair, and bam I had to practice what I had just been preaching, and it is never easy to do that...

And so I finally got up, worried someone was going to call 911 if they drove by and saw me sprawled out on the ground in the middle of a field just mowed looking up at the sky as it darkened, especially worried if they recognized me and knew it was just a year ago I had a heart attack :)...and so I got up and looked at the area a little closer...I saw where the trails we made could still be made out through the cutdown parts made by the tractor...I knew that this beautiful area had been mowed before, year after year, pointlessly, but it had been and each year most of what had been there managed to come back up and bloom and attract all the butterflies that we had seen there just the night before that aren't there tonight...I knew, I know, that it will all come back again...And I decided that come the morning, and I have already contacted a few of the folks who worked on the trails the night before, we would go to Cullison's Hardware Store, our gem on North Peoria Ave., and we would buy metal stakes and nylon rope, and we will mark out the paths, and we will look for signs, and we will try to find the money to get the signs made (the one made before was wiped out by a car coming around the curve) and we would identify the area and we will even save some of the seeds that have been scattered and sweep them into the places we want them to ideally be, and we will wait for everything to grow back. And we will work again, and take time again, to make sure we have everyone on board and hope again.

Next Wednesday during the Party Among The Ruins, instead of walking across the street and going through the trails and marvelling at the beauty that is right in our midst, even here in the midst of abandoned neglected properties and violence and scarcity, there is so much abundance; instead of looking at all of that and what we can see all around us, we will walk through the trails marked off and we will know that the path of hope truly does come through despair and that our experiences are just a small glimpse of the huge despairs and tremendous hope that we live in and through in our lives and what our neighbors here, with homes and without homes, go through. And it will be a symbol, for those who read this especially and know the story or glimpse it from what they do see, a symbol of faith, of hope, and of love that can't stay dead. And I know that applies to for our clinic's future, too, and to our whole Four Directions Initiative, and to whatever happens with the Miracle Among the Ruins, and with our dreams to get the old church building to expand and grow and transform into.

I lay on that ground and then walked through the mown area, tracing the paths we had made that are now only marks on the ground of a different color, and I remembered, and maybe some of you will too, that our whole Let Turley Bloom project grew out of an Easter morning experience back in 2005 when we had prepared and placed beautiful flowers in big pots and during the night of Easter Eve we put them up and down along North Peoria Ave., hoping to surprise people the next morning, Easter morning, with the bits of beauty right next to the ugly abandoned and neglected areas of our main street; only to find, when we awoke, that vandals or others had dumped out the dirt and flowers on the ground and taken the big flower pots. Where we had wanted to surprise people on their way to church on Easter with beauty, we showed them only new mounds of dirt and debris along their route. We decided then to begin our guerilla garden planting in the ground in our beautification projects. And out of that has come so much from so few for so many.

Tomorrow afternoon also because we are here there will be a poverty awareness workshop for incoming OU social work graduate students that will actually involve local community residents as teachers and will be held away from campus here in our community; what the students will experience will of course be only symbolic for them, but it will be a seed that will help them see others in a different light just a little. And what the Welcome Table Nature Trail and Exploration and Discovery Area Butterfly and More Preserve will also show, both to those who see it even now and in a few days, and when they see it once everything grows back and is even more beautiful than yesterday, will also be a symbol. A symbol of how God works in the world, in our hearts and communities, always like a mustard seed, one that shouldn't be there in the eyes of many, but that can't be stopped. Symbols of a very real life, for all those with eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to break open so they can hold even more.

Sighs and Alleluias all at the same time.

Meanwhile, :) if you can donate for signs for the Trails, or of course the miracle among the ruins project, or all the center endeavors, there is a button for it at, and if you really can't donate funds please keep us in your prayers and pass along our stories, even this one, and come see us when you can. And stay tuned...I still have that followup coming on the rest of the story of what we told to the medical students about why we sold our big new house in the new subdivision in the fast growing suburb and moved here with our teenage daughter.

blessings, thanks, and more soon,

1 comment:

jbowerman said...

I am so glad that you can let go of the pain of today to see the joy of the future.