Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Fires and More: Our Lives, Our Spirit, Our Mission

Hi to all. When you see the stories below you will know why we haven't written lately...But let me put it in a few words: Because You Have Been With and For Us, from wherever you are, near or faraway, We Have Been Here For Others The Past Few Days in a Deep thank you...

On Tuesday afternoon, when the temperature was setting record 115 temperatures, our community began burning from grassfires that spread to homes and several hundred were ordered evacuated. The fires were concentrated two blocks from the community center but were moving the other way so within an hour we were the first home for the first response with red cross and fire officials and others setting up in our community center; we helped supply cold water and a cool place for all, including the bedfast who were brought here too. One of our volunteers who coordinates the clothing room, an 81 year old widow, lost her home; the first fire trucks responding ran out of water and her house burned before other trucks could arrive; others had their endangered and worked with the firefighters for hours to keep it from spreading. We were here through the evening and held a board planning party previously scheduled even amidst the response; by night the red cross had moved to a church with shower capabilities we don't yet have, thanks Antioch Baptist Church; we had planned a catered dinner for our board members and other volunteers for that evening already and so, in loaves and fishes style, we offered it to all who were at the center; thanks to Elote Restaurant for catering our event; it went much further than we had intended. We supplemented it with a free pizza dinner we purchased from our local pizza place.

On Wednesday we took ice and water out to the burned home area where folks were congregating, and on Thursday we dedicated most of our monthly area planning group here at the center with State Rep. Seneca Scott and Fire Chief of our volunteer fire dept and others to the fires and response and to launching a community wide emergency response so we can do even better the next time this or something like it happens. We will be collecting food and personal supplies here at the center and coordinating more with the Red Cross for followup, especially in the weeks after the immediate emergency response is over....We also continued our planning toward a small area plan involving the community, and moving toward incorporation of our community to give it more of a voice.

But during all the emergency response of the first days, we also had people come into the center and unlock doors we keep locked and don't check as often as we should, and they came back in during the night and stole a volunteer's guitar and our computer center equipment and a phone. One of the things we were glad to offer people on the day of the fires was the ability to get on computers and communicate with others.
Also the constant use of the air conditioners during this heat wave now in to its third month has caused our airconditioning unit to break down this weekend. Thanks for our partners who helped us with big oscillating fans on the day of the fire for the areas of the center we didn't have ac yet. And thanks to all of those of you who were able to find ways past the roadblocks to get here to the frontlines and bring assistance.

Also on Thursday we were able to pause and celebrate up at the kitchengardenpark, where the orchard has been planted too, as we received our $25,000 grant for the park and our production and distribution of healthy food in our zipcode here which has the lowest life expectancy of any area, by a wide fourteen years, in the Tulsa area. We look forward to it also being an economic stimulus for our community as well as a place for community connections. Thanks to Channel 6 News for covering the event. Last summer we were furiously trying to raise funds to just buy the abandoned homes on the acreage; this summer we are celebrating having bought the land, having cleared the homes, having planted garden beds and an orchard and kept both alive and productive in the worst summer in a long long time, and now with funds to keep the transformation going, with more to come in what we rightly call our Miracle Among the Ruins.

This week we are also keeping going our summer free daily lunch program for all under 18 years old, being held at Cherokee School. It was scheduled to have closed down on Friday but the Tulsa Schools asked us to keep it going because we are serving more children than any other area, and have been throughout the summer and not just when school is in session as at most sites; so it is costing us extra but we are keeping the program going an extra week and will finish on Friday, Aug. 12, closing down the last program in Cherokee School, the historic school for Turley which dates back into the early days of the 20th century but has been closed by school officials. We should find out this week Wednesday or Thursday if anyone has made a bid to the school district to buy the Cherokee building; if so we will begin evaluating that bid and its positive or negative effects on the community; we also are hoping the school district will work with us to allow us to keep up the grounds we have planted at the school in hopes it will decrease vandalism as the school sits empty in the heart of our community. Three summers ago I was writing about how kids in our area were going hungry in summer because they received free breakfast and lunch throughout the year at school but without school their families were not able to compensate in budgets; now we are feeding more than anywhere else, and even with Cherokee School closing, we are hoping to open up not just one but two more feeding sites for next summer.

We are into the thick of our efforts this summer for community based health in our area. We held our first focus groups this past Thursday, and this coming week we have three major events: Wednesday (note date change) Aug. 10 from 2 to 5 pm we will be doing our surveys on health with University of Oklahoma at the North Tulsa Farmers Market, inside at Tulsa Community College Northeast campus, giving our quick trip gift cards to those who participate; then Thursday, Aug. 11 we will have more focus groups at the Center (assuming we get AC fixed), and then we will finish with a Community Health FunFest of information and surveys and live music and garage sale and family fun and more at the center on Sat. Aug. 13 from 9 am to 1 pm. 5920 N. Owasso Ave. Come be a part of it, especially if you would like a table to set up info on a health related topic or group. Or to bring food clothing or donations. A year ago we were struggling to keep open our health clinic; now we are helping to develop and begin a radical health concept that will keep people out of clinics in the first based and use communities themselves again to foster health.

For the past few weeks we have been trying to let the public know that the Post Office is set on closing our local post office, even though it wasn't listed in the nationwide list of closures released through the media recently and which caused people here to celebrate falsely; finally the Tulsa World was able to track down a document proving the planned closure and stating publicly what had not been stated publicly before; only post office box holders had been made aware of,a possible closure. I had called officials in Oklahoma City and been told we definitely were being closed; the story that came out in the paper on Saturday seemed to leave open doubt or possibility they wouldn't be closed, but ours has been definitely determined to be closed on Sept. 10 regardless of any response from a community just now receiving media notice; just now has anything official been posted on the door of the post office about the closure for the community to see; we have already submitted 25 pages of petitions to the postal authorities and federal legislative offices protesting the closure on moral grounds and on the grounds that the government should help those who need help the most, not those who live in areas where they have the means to access alternatives and they have alternatives like computers and UPS and FEDEX which we don't here; there are no offices of those anywhere on the northside, especially not in our zipcode areas. To save funds the post office should shut the offices in Utica Square where people who frequent there have the means to drive here and who have other alternatives nearby, but folks here don't have the means to drive there, and it is going to be hard for them to even get the four miles to the nearest office on Apache. At the least we want the post office to talk with us and other community leaders about putting in a village post office at the community center and letting us staff it; we are exploring ways to designate a room for box offices too.

We celebrated all of this today in worship held up at the gardenpark because of the AC off in the Center; we broke the bread of communion into separate pieces, each piece stood for a spoken suffering, then we dipped each piece into the cup of hope and blessing during communion and named the signs of hope and thankfulness we have experienced too, and retold the story of Jesus walking on water, and how our community was entering into the chaos and storms of the world around us, called from our times of renewal and rest in summertime, how we were following a vision and trying to walk on water too and doing so, but also sinking down in the stormy waters, but how other hands were pulling us back up, back into community and out of our own separate egos and individual visions, restoring us with community, and we sang about putting down our burdens, and we sang about roses that will open one day, and we sang Dona Nobis Pacem, and Shalom Havyreem, and to Go Now in Peace, and we prayed the prayer of Jesus together, and then left our hilltop space around the picnic table and went to eat together and share more of our lives and our plans together for service together.

Social ethicist James Luther Adams wrote that the power of an organization is for the organization of power, to which I add, for the powerless. We are a pretty poor organization, in many ways here, but that vision of concentrating our abilities for the sake of those without power has shown itself lately to be a strong indicator of a strong organic community that exists not for itself but for its Mission, lifting up lives and neighborhoods, particularly those whom others have abandoned, and doing it through small acts of justice done with great love, all of which is how we strive to make visible in the world the spirit of the Sacred we find most definitely, though not exclusively, in the loving and liberating free radical Jesus way. We have so much still to develop here, in small and big ways, but we have been tested and we know the Spirit is deep and moving among us. And that each of you all is a part of that Spirit.

blessings, from all of us, and special thanks to the communities where I have been guest preaching lately, at Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, and Hope Unitarian Church in Tulsa; looking forward to preaching later this month at the UU Church of Stillwater OK, and to the start of a new semester at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, to a ministerial study group in the Dallas Fort Worth area next week, to friends from Pathways UU Church in DFW who came to help, to all those in my Missional Progressives Reimaging the World (and then the Church) workshop at the Southwest UU Summer Institute at Western Hills Lodge east of Tulsa, where next year I will be program director and where colleague Rev. Thomas Schade will be theme speaker, coming from First Church in Worcester, MA to Western Hills July 22-27, 2012, and where Rev. Tony Lorenzon of Pathways in DFW will be the Sunset Preacher. and as always, more to come,


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