Monday, February 28, 2011

Beyond The Story, Part Three: The Challenge Before Us: Why is our area the one of greatest health need and the fewest resources?

Read the posts below for the first two posts of this three post essay, from my lecture last fall at OU Norman, that goes deeper into our experience, history, and current actions here...

3. The Challenge of Collaboration and Hope: or, Why Is Our Area The Place of Greatest Health Needs, lowest life expectancy, and the fewest resources located within it?
Collaborations, especially when people into voluntary association with one another, are based on covenant, or promises, and not on contracts, which are set quid pro quo type agreements that guide much of the rest of our lives, such as jobs and sometimes where we live. To paraphrase another theologian, Martin Buber of the Jewish tradition, we are the promise making, promise breaking, promise renewing people. This means what we do isn’t easy, especially now. The kinds of collaborations that happened in the days of homogeneity and stability in the Turley area, the days of growth, those that some of us are tempted to recall with nostalgia, occurred under the best of social circumstances and with a culture that reinforced them. What we do now and attempt now together in this world of social fragmentation has echoes only in the faroff days of the early Builders generation, the frontier, when the community was first forming; but in fact, it is much harder even than that in many ways because there is not an empty canvas and because we must wrestle with the legacies, especially ethnically, of all that has happened since then, and without the kinds of commonalities that shaped the founders and their world, a world before television, when the most common communication mode for our community was only face to face, for all intents and purposes, since there was no local newspaper or mass media, it leaned heavily toward being an oral culture. And in oral cultures, where individuals are dependent upon one another for knowledge, collaboration is a necessity for survival. Contrast that, these 100 years later, with our electronic web culture, with virtually everyone having their own mass media carrying around with them, and you see why collaboration is itself so against the grain of postmodern life.

And yet, as mentioned, in the world of social fragmentation such as in our zipcodes, collaborating with others is also a necessity if another kind of world is going to be possible. The redeeming aspect, the gift we have been given, is that in such a world of abandonment and isolation, a little collaboration goes a very long way. Our initiative with A Third Place is a testament to that. When just a few people collaborate to plant a small wildflower bed along the bike path where strangers to our area ride through our area without riding just a block or two off the path into our area because we have no sidewalks, then such a small act of welcoming, or reminding the stranger that there is a community of people here, such a very small act really stands out in ways that would be lost if the same thing were done in other areas. So it is when just a few become the defacto city waste management and go pick up the littered furniture along the streets where they have been illegally dumped, when they are seen picking up trash along the street because it is their street and not because they have community service hours. Or when we throw free communities parties, offer free community meals, collect food from those who others think can only be given it, plant gardens at schools, organize public forums, keep an open place where people can come with their questions or offerings of help. Small acts of justice, of random kindness and beauty, done with great love, and hope, and faithfulness, done with one or two or more people, all of these change the world. At a time when so many people feel they have so little to give back, where they choose to give of themselves can make a big difference, and places such as ours are ripe for their investments.

Just know there will be setbacks and reactions to every transformation; and every collaboration carries with it the possibility, probability, of being hurt so that the doorway to cynicism and retreat back into the status quo of the fragmented world is always open and beckoning. Our challenge is to respond by living more fully in the “as if” world where each setback allows us to see the horizon clearer and more partners possible.

So, just as we are getting close to owning that new house of hope, the old abandoned church building, as a site of transformation itself, after all these years it was hit with extensive vandalism. It was a gut punch, but we’d been there before and it dawns on us that we now will need to rely on many others than we thought we would at first, just to do clean up and get the building back into the rundown shape it was in. We know the collaborators are there though. We set our sights higher. Just as when we were beginning to transform an empty vacant lot into a native plant nature trails area. This site is situated strategically by our gardenkitchenpark site, and in a bridge location between groups within our area, alongside where people walk quite a distance to school and stores. Just when we were about to unveil it, a new person mowing grassy areas nearby mowed it all down; but we know being native plants they will return in beauty, and this time we know we will be better prepared with better collaboration, and signs ahead of time, so it will be a new, easily maintained, site of beauty where before people would have only seen what was there as weeds, and waste. What a metaphor for our whole area. Just as when we decided to surprise our community on Easter Sunday morning with a row of flowers along Peoria Ave. in big pots, so that in the morning they would drive by and see these gifts of hope, but during the night, someone went along and dumped the flowers and dirt on the ground and took the pots, and so the residents were greeted with little piles of discarded dirt and trampled flowers; we learned from that we have a deep culture of kicking things to the curb in our area so people just think automatically they are there for the taking, and not for the giving (at least in our better days we give them such a benefit of the doubt); besides nothing like that, nothing like us, had ever happened in the area before. Out of that, came the Let Turley Bloom initiative where we would create such areas more securely by planting in the ground itself rather than in pots. And of course there are many more even smaller ways that changing the culture takes perseverance.

Our latest setback from collaboration itself, which we are using to help us to see wider and collaborate even more, comes from the presumed pending closure of our community health clinic which OU has operated with us as one of our first joint ventures. This past summer all of the similar clinics on the northside were closed; ours was the only one left open but our contract was redone for just one more year. We had gradually been reduced from up to three days a week at one point down to just one morning a week. Funders hit by the recession…Difficulties in getting people who aren’t used to preventive care as part of something one does or can do to take advantage of the clinic…turnover of staff…mutual lack of communication about needs…perhaps a concern about a duplication of services of primary care with other institutions? Only in areas of scarcity does it seem duplication of services is an issue; not in places of more wealth and insurance. For Still you come back to the facts on the ground that we have the lowest life expectancy; our residents, because they have been without health care, were sicker and so in more need of referrals and that costs more, and they did not have health insurance as they were unemployed. So there are higher costs and little income to care for them. Of course they are going to keep going to the emergency rooms for their urgent care and being admitted there and so the costs for someone is going to be even higher.

Our response could be, drawing from the history of institutions and our area, see, we shouldn’t have trusted in the first place; we are now losing something again, and literally nurse our wounds and grow our grudges. Instead, we choose the collaborative response and say how can we turn this weakness into a strength?

First, I am not 100 percent given up on the idea that some form of direct care providing can’t continue, given that other clinics in the other parts of Tulsa where there are more people and more insurance streams are still operating full days (maybe a bit of resource shifting is possible, in order to see and show that the patient you are caring for in community health is not just an individual, but is the community itself); and there are some developments through other institutions nearby which might over time open up some traditional care opportunities in our zipcode; we are hopeful….But beyond all this our attention is being drawn to how we can take a loss and make it a tremendous gain, how we can actually help form a new response to health care that will get to the root causes of what lands people even in primary care clinics in the first place; a new network of lay health leaders who live in the neighborhoods of need themselves, who can connect their communities with institutions of health, being two-way teachers, to providers about neighborhoods, and to residents about health literacy, self-care and monitoring, and when they do get to see doctors and providers how to be better patients and get the most out of those encounters. For we know that just getting persons and physicians together doesn’t magically make health happen. We are working on grants, and looking at somewhat similar models elsewhere, and hope that our area, even at a time of losing a modern-era medical clinic, can create a gift not only for our area but for others of a way of growing healthy lives and neighborhoods that is both post-modern, truly communal, and draws on the wisdom of the frontier…

.This vision had its roots in a collaborative brainstorming Sunday afternoon at A Third Place Center with various members of the OU community when we were looking at being a site for a competition known as the X Prize for Revolutionizing Health Care; we said then that if we didn’t win the prize, or as the case turned out, weren’t even eligible for it, that the ideas were too wonderful, too “disruptively innovative” that they would have a life beyond…And so they are again with these plans…And we know again that if the grants don’t come, that they will continue to find a way in our new place to become seeds of what can be created out of the heart of hope, the heart of collaboration, for the heart of the real issues that have kept us apart, kept us struggling, kept us sick.

I close with the full quote from theologian of hope Moltmann, who witnessed the destruction of whole communities in firebombing and other acts of horror throughout Europe during World War Two. He writes: “The ideology of “there is never enough for everyone” makes people lonely. It isolates them and robs them of relationships. The opposite of poverty isn’t property. The opposite of both poverty and property is community. For in community we become rich: rich in friends, in neighbours, in colleagues, in comrades, in brothers and sisters. Together, as a community, we can help ourselves in most of our difficulties. For after all, there are enough people and enough ideas, capabilities and energies to be had. They are only lying fallow, or are stunted and suppressed. So let us discover our wealth; let us discover our solidarity; let us build up communities; let us take our lives into our own hands and at long last out of the hands of the people who want to dominate and exploit us. (Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and The Theology of Life, Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1997; English translation, SCM Press, Ltd: London, p. 109-110.

Our hands, from many places, many colors, that do many kinds of work; Our hope, Our health, Our Community.

Beyond The Story: Part Two: Responding With Collaboration and Hope

See the post below for part one of this three part essay that goes deeper into our experience...

2. The Collaborative Response: Why and How?
Into the world of fragmentation, against the status quo, there have always been a few in our Far North area living and working against the grain of the culture. Starting a community association, or a local small business, or working within the parks or school system to be a voice for community, or just choosing not to move. When we began operating A Third Place Community Center and Foundation in 2007, there were people ready for a catalyst just about of any sort. I am not sure any were used to our kind of radical collaboration though. For the first thing we did, as an act of building trust and vulnerability, which are the key foundations of collaboration, was to collaborate with strangers, to turn our newly rented building and space over to neighbors whom we barely knew.

We few residents who created the center, created a library and computer center and clothing room and food pantry and community gathering and meeting space and meals out of our own combined resources. And we said come and take what you need, no questions asked, and leave what you can to help us support what we do. To help us make the rent and utilities most months. No one gets paid. We put it all into operations. We want to be broke at the end of the month, like most of our neighbors. We trust that we will have enough to go around. And we trusted people with keys. We had our bumps and our welcoming and safe and civil space culture to protect in its fragile stage, and still do, but we began by a radical openness to collaboration, even if you had a not so good reputation, even if you were just out of jail, even if you were homeless, even if you had a very different religious or political persuasion than we did. That is the mission of Third Places; vital to our lives are not only first places like homes, or second places like jobs or affinity groups or churches where we gather along some designated lines, but we need those third places of real trusting radical community where diversity can flourish and authentic community can find roots and begin to grow again.

With that culture beginning to be seeded, we began to collaborate with the University of Oklahoma. First to bring in health care providers. Then with the Social Work department, which had helped to bring in the health care providers, we began to collaborate on some of the Center’s mission to help bring residents together and in a safe space and structured way (which was unique for most in their experience with community gatherings here) for them to listen to one another and lament and to hope and to plan and to share ideas and resources. From these we began collaborating each semester with different classes working in different areas on the topics of interest that had emerged from the grassroots meetings: abandoned properties, blighted neighborhoods, food insecurity, poor health, fear of crime, youth needs, job needs, stray and wild animals, better schools and support for our schools and for our local groups. We began to see the overlap in many of those areas, resulting in one of our collaborative projects, The WelcomeTable Community GardenKitchenPark project where we, residents and social work students, identified abandoned homes in a block, purchased the block, and have a design thanks to OU Graduate Design Studio, for how to create a kind of outdoors A Third Place Center that can be beautiful, inspire community events, grow relationships through food production, and more.

Through first our collaboration with one another, with radical trust and vulnerability, which means we know we will fail each other and have our hearts broken, but will try again and show up with one another again;., this led to our second collaboration with OU and some of its varying disciplines and departments, and I know we could collaborate with so many more OU departments and classes that have a connection between their fields and the areas of our service; and this collaboration led to our third level of collaboration, our wider sphere, as we began to meet with other individuals and groups throughout our Far North area, what has been called From TU to Turley area, with community coalition meetings, with joint projects like the McLain High School initiative, the Food For Life initiative of the Indian Health Care Resource Center, and with other partners small and large who have a dream for making life better for our residents by growing the spirit of community and making it real through real collaborations.

Which has led us, after just three years, into our next phase where we will create a house for these collaborations, a house for hope itself. We are in the process of buying that old abandoned Turley Methodist building that has stood at the center of our part of Far North Tulsa since it was constructed in the 1920s. We are doing so, I am pleased to say particularly here and with you all, with the kind and generous help of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation. It will allow us to expand three times our current size. Our vision is that one third of it will be a Community Academy space, a hub especially for new visions of community health and nutrition, a place for classrooms and group clinics, a specialty library, for partners like OU and many others to do service learning in the neighborhoods of most need, to connect their students with our residents for the mutual transformation of both. Another one third of the space will be a Community Center with many of our current services plus an expanded Food Justice Focus, and one third of it will be a place, a quiet chapel, for individual and group meditation and prayer and spiritual renewal. And an adjacent building will be a Center for Community Gardening and Sustainability. And someday in many rooms in the basement we hope to provide spaces for people to sojourn with us temporarily as they serve with us at the center and out in the community. Our vision is also that even this new bigger building won’t be the end, just as the outdoor garden park won’t be the end, but that all across our area, in what we call our Four Directions Initiative, we will find a diversity of ways to create “third places” in every neighborhood.

The social fragmentation described at the beginning of my talk was the byproduct of the abandonment of institutions and neighborhoods in our area, along with the general cultural changes of wider society, in the last few decades of the 20th century. In these first decades of the 21st century, to change that, we can’t jump straight to bringing back or recreating new institutions and thriving healthy neighborhoods in our area. We must first address the result of social and community fragmentation, isolation, fear and mistrust of one another, and of others, especially in ethnic relationships. And only then can we have the soil full of life in which all the surface level things like businesses and civic groups can grow. I have often said that it will do no good to have an official incorporated town for Turley unless the values of community, of collaboration, are what first are incorporated.

Beyond the Story: A Three Part Essay on life, death, and resurrection in the 74126, Part One: Why Us?

The following three part post is from a lecture I gave as the keynote last fall at the Social Work Day held at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. To go beyond the recent cover story about us in the UU World, this essay is a good place to start.

Part One:

The first question for us today will be why talk about the Turley, Far North Tulsa, Oklahoma area? The quick answer, and it is fitting for the place we are gathered in or coming to you from today, is that there has been “a perfect storm” that hit our edge community, where urban and rural and small town literally bleed into one another, and made it a shadow of a community, fitting for the downtown skyscrapers that you can see off and on from our place.

This collision of forces and events over the course of little more than one generation turned the area from a mostly blue collar working class fairly cohesive and fairly homogenously ethnic community with a culture of collaboration and a core of social groups, into a place of great social fragmentation, where our main zipcode of 74126 has the lowest life expectancy in the wider area, 14 years lower than a zipcode just six miles due south of us on the same street. There has been a great emptying out of both people and places for community to happen. So much so that we used to think of community as a simple noun, as a thing. Now we are learning to think of it as a verb, as something that must be continually enacted for it to actually exist. We will look at more of how this happened. But keep in mind it is not a case of the past was better and something we want to get back to—not at all; and likewise we will see how the current state, the real and perceived weaknesses and scarcity, can actually be an advantage for creating the kind of community that our emerging future will favor.


Why talk about the Turley area? I believe nearly every metropolitan area has a two mile radius area like ours, but we are especially representative of a perfect storm of cultural forces that make us a teachable place, at this teachable moment. For me, as for the Community Services Council in Tulsa, Turley is a part of Far North Tulsa. Turley is the unincorporated, past the end of the sidewalk,literally, part of Far North Tulsa.

Once upon a time, when I was very very little even before starting school, Turley was for all of Far North Tulsa the closest concentration of businesses including movie theater, pharmacies, several groceries, a doctor and dentist, homes, civic groups, churches, schools up to ninth grade, park, small airport, children’s home, water department, fire department, community center, merchants association, rodeo grounds, skating rink, and small farms. There was at this time before the building of McLain High School in the late 1950s a few miles of relatively undeveloped land between Turley, which was mostly white and American Indian, and the other parts of North Tulsa, primarily the segregated African American section closer toward downtown and the wealthy white Reservoir Hill housing community, and then toward the other working class white neighborhood to the east called Dawson. Dawson was in the city limits of Tulsa where Turley was not. Nor was Turley, like the other fairly separate towns in north Tulsa County like Sperry and Skiatook and Owasso, incorporated as its own town though it was as large or larger than they were. Also Unlike them, and unlike the other unincorporated neighboring community to the west over into the Osage County called Barnsdall 55, which kept its own school district until it closed, Turley had ended its independent school district back before World War Two and became a part of Tulsa Public Schools. I would love to have time to do some historical research into the discussions that went into that decision, and into the decisions about why Turley never incorporated in its formative and growing years.

I have been told by family that there was fear from merchants that taxes would be levied to support the school in the future and for the growth like for a football stadium that would mean taking land from around the school to expand it. That would mean there was in the town’s DNA, and this was just coming out of the Great Depressioin, a sense of scarcity or fear, of collaborating for greater community benefit. It might have been part of the reason for not seeking to incorporate the town, though of late when community association members sought to incorporate it took them three times through the state legislature to get the approval because of the nearness of the boundaries of existing cities and towns. I have a hunch that in the past my ancestors simply felt that it was too much bother for too little gain given that the town looked and acted like a self governing community. They had no idea of the changes that would come that would begin decimating all the community social capital and infrastructure and connections that they took for granted.

So coming out of World War Two, and with the rise of the baby boom population, the community had no local self government and no local control of its schools. But the business owners lived in town; the churches were full and ministers lived in town; the schools were full and teachers for a large part lived in town or nearby; the Sheriff’s deputy lived in town; the fire department volunteers worked and lived in town; and the children of the area by and large went to school together and to churches in their areas and played sports or were in scouting groups in after school leagues and groups with their classmates who lived within walking distance of one another. All of that is now gone.

The community had been built by those of the Builders generation who had a forward looking frontier settling vision, sustained by The Greatest Generation that went off to fight World War Two and Korea or to maintain homes and community during it. And then came Television, and our world got both bigger, transporting us to so many places—Vietnam, Watts, the moon; and smaller, making us feel attached to those places, all at the same time. Communication changes precede culture changes and worldview changes. As we know there soon became with the Baby Boom generation, my generation, a preference for all things bigger and bigger and bigger: schools, rock concerts, churches, stores. Small communities were dissipated in the wake. Dislocation, meaning our sense of community was no longer what it had been, happened first to us culturally and then to us physically. Everything began to get bigger, to inflate, right before all the air went out.

The Turley Methodist Church, the first Turley church, grew so much during this time that in the early to mid 60s it moved out of its place in the middle of the community where it had begun and moved halfmile west to a hilltop where a new building was constructed with a great view near a newly built subdivision. It could assume that everyone would still go out of their way to find it and the folks in the new housing edition, which was annexed by the city of Tulsa by the way, would flood into it. Which they did at first. And then, the year after the new church building opened, probably the largest square foot building in the community, the Tulsa Public Schools integrated. Began, I should say, to integrate the far northern schools as the first areas.

The perfect storm hit. Integration was good, long overdue. But Racism created the phenomenon of white flight as residents fled to the other parts of Tulsa and especially to the suburban towns which began their great rise in population at that time, and concurrently with that as more families of color moved nearer the schools where their children could now attend, few new white families moved into the area. Between 1960 and 2000 the white population in North Tulsa declined by 50 and 60 percent or more; the black population in some segments of North Tulsa, particularly the old north or previously segregated area, also declined by fairly similar percentages. Along with this occurred the departure of the major oil companies from Tulsa to Houston and elsewhere, and with them the trickle down to the blue collar jobs of the ones who lived in the Turley area. And the pressures on working class families became more intense as prices rose, salaries didn’t keep pace, unions were marginalized, the gap between those with “just” high school education and college education grew wider, as a culture of consumerism and acquiring stuff grew dominant, and in part as a result of those pressures addictions of many kinds, and gangs, increased. And other companies as they grew began to move farther away from downtown and near Westside and further out on the edges of Tulsa making the commute harder for those remaining in Turley, and for all the kids who grew up and went to school in Turley their jobs were elsewhere for the most part so they went where those were, and as they had young families too at that time, they also succumbed to the white flight and new places to where the new schools and money was flowing. It was both the American Dream, and its shadow side. I think of the Perfect Storm forces as a kind of collaboration itself, like that between low education unemployment addictions and gangs, that fed the abandonment of our place; and why a kind of collaboration that puts communities, neighborhoods and land and people first is the antidote.

Even as my wife and I were finishing up at McLain High, the college prep classes of advanced science and math and other advanced courses were being cut from the curriculum. And soon after we were graduated, and our senior school year was the first for McLain to have a black homecoming queen (just about all after that were), and we had at the time a fairly well integrated school, by the numbers if not by the spirit, but soon after that the school system transformed the historic segregated black high school in town also on the northside into a magnet integrated school that attracted many students with the best grades and discipline records to it, both black and white, many that would have kept going to McLain and to other schools in the area. The magnet high school had white students from all sides of Tulsa attending it along with core black students from the local area, but, of course, the white families who sent their children to school on the northside did not move to the community surrounding the school, nor invest in it. So the communities continued to decline.

Pretty soon you had a situation with McLain High School where at one time when it was founded in 1959 it was virtually all white, and American Indian; and by one generation later, it was virtually all black and was being treated in large part as a glorified technical school, not bad in itself of course, but it was not all that different from the way the previously segregated black high schools had been treated in cities across America. McLain even lost its name for several years; becoming the Tulsa School For Science and Technology; not it has the McLain name back, but alone among the Tulsa schools, all of whom like it now have some form of magnet programs, it still has the added on descriptor of Science and Technology.

This has lasting effects. As at McLain we sometimes have reunions for the same class years with black alumni and white alumni meeting and celebrating separately, and little connection between the grades from the years when it was all white to all black; with just a few of those years such as in my time when it had a nearly equal mix of students based on ethnicity. McLain was the last school in the Tulsa system to have an alumni and community foundation, and it just got started this past summer, in an effort to begin the slow process of reversing all of this disconnection. McLain is the high school for our area; there are no private high schools in the area unlike in other areas. The school has a real and symbolic effect on the life of the community and down into the elementary schools in the neighborhoods.

The re-segregation of our schools and area is both real and an illusion. When people think of North Tulsa they often think Black Tulsa and only of that which is in the city limits. But North Tulsa has always been, as we have seen, a place of great ethnic diversity, at first a segregated diversity, but now you will find all races in the section 8 housing, the neighborhoods, the stores, and some of the schools. When people think of Turley they often think of Poor Whites. But over the years more and more black residents have been moving in and staying in all of the neighborhoods. And we have always had sizable numbers of our original American Indian inhabitants. These stereotypes, rooted in some real statistics, are held by people within Far North themselves, both white and black, both in city limits and outside. The other night I was at an event at McLain and met African Americans who thanked me for coming across town to support the school; I set them straight and that confounded them even more, I think, because, to their defense, there has been a real lack of support, or collaboration, between whites and blacks who are both living in Far North Tulsa. This is embedded early in life. For example, the students who begin school at the elementary school in Turley’s unincorporated side, a majority now of white students, will not go on to the predominantly black middle school and if they do they won’t by and large go on to McLain, predominantly black. In fact many of the white children who live in the Turley area transfer now to nearby Sperry public school, or to private schools, or charter schools and never enter into the traditional Tulsa public schools that are feeder schools to McLain.

Between 1960 and 2000: the population of Far North in general declined 15 percent, but the population of those under the age of four years old, young families, fell 53 percent; the population over 65 percent gained 205 percent.

In just the past ten years The elementary schools enrollment in our area declined 31.5 percent; the two closest to us declined 55 and 42 percent. In just seven years between 2002 and 2009, the two elementary schools closest to us drifted apart in ethnicity; at one school, Cherokee, the historic Turley school, black students declined in this period 52.9 percent having 65 such students out of a total 221; however, school officials tell me this year the figures have changed a bit again and there is a more equitable balance and the school is one of the most diverse in the system with a third white students, a third black students, and a combined third Hispanic and American Indian; during the past ten years the other elementary school, the newer one built in the late 60s early 70s to handle that growth that had just occurred but was about to bottom out, retained an overwhelming black student population with just 12 white students out of 147. In the middle and high school level, the racial and ethnic concentration is also evident: In 2009 there were 523 students at McLain, 27 of whom were white. Compare that with the historic black high school Booker T. Washington, an academic magnet school that draws from all across the city, which had the same year 1270 students, 515 of whom were white and 512 of whom were black. Adding in the far north public middle school with its 379 students, of which 46 were white, and for the two Far North schools in our area sixth grade to twelth there are 902 students, of which 73 are white students.

The upshot of this, of all this, is the continuing deepening fragmentation of all parts of the surrounding community from each other. And that race and class issues are a part of it, but not all of it. Still, we will not undo what has been done until we can, in the spirit of abundance, talk about race and class. For what keeps much collaboration from happening among residents who remain is the old shame that we have missed the boat of the American Dream; as civil rights leader John Perkins of Mississippi has described it about the areas he lives in, among blacks and whites, if we are still living here, we begin to think that there is something wrong with us; otherwise like other whites or others of color with money and education we would live somewhere else; and if there is something wrong with us than we must deserve what we get, or rather what we don’t get, for living here. We embed shame and that keeps us silent and silence preserves the status quo.

So, that Methodist Church I was telling you about, the harbinger of the growth in the area after WWII and up to the mid Sixties? As the neighborhoods changed ethnic makeup around it, and as the culture of church going shifted, it began to shrink in numbers as soon as it hit its peak; now in its big building, few attend on Sunday and some of those drive back into the community to do so. And its building from the 1920s that it had left when it had outgrown it? Well it housed different ethnic oriented congregations for the next forty years then has sit empty for the last few years, a kind of ghost witness to all that used to be growing and thriving around it but which has also been abandoned and in many instances demolished so there is no physical trace of what once was. This includes one of the original Turley High School buildings, the tallest building in the area for years and years, built in 1920 and demolished in 2005, with, I must add, a lot of wonderful architectural elements and history and even school books still inside.

When my wife and I moved back in 2005, though we had been back all the time with my extended family having remained in the area, Gone were the local owned groceries and lumber companies and most cafes, movie theater, pharmacies, doctor and dentist, gone were the civic groups (except the odd fellows lodge which still meets but most of its members are from elsewhere), the churches as noted were struggling, other churches mostly African American in culture would rent storefronts or buildings in the area for the cheap rent but as they grew they moved into the city side of the area to be available for community development block grants and to be closer to where the ministers lived; the schools were now down to the fifth grade and each year enrollment was a challenge and attendance maintaining a chore; when we moved back there was a 80 percent mobility rate for the elementary school during the year; gone was the community center, airport, the children’s home was a correctional facility privately owned, no merchants association for decades and only a small few who supported the community; the water department and fire department continue but continue to struggle. The rodeo grounds continue but for those who live outside the community mostly, just like the county park has been gutted of shelters that were attractive for local area families and in their place were put larger sports complexes that draw in people from the suburbs; the youth have to leave the area to be in sports leagues now and to play outside of their community; and the small farms have been changed into auto salvage yards. The post office in Turley moved from near the school to a small strip of businesses and is threatened now with closure. And as I like to mention there is no pizza delivery for most of the northside just a few miles away from downtown in Tulsa, one of those taken for granted community building especially for youth aspects of life. Such a small thing, I know, but related I believe indirectly to a very big thing. That just between May 1 and August 4 of this year, there were 311 reported shootings, the bulk of them in or near our zipcode. That doesn’t count the ones on the unincorporated side; and doesn’t include the unreported ones.
This is why our zipcode has the lowest life expectancy in the Tulsa area, fourteen years lower than that of the zipcode with the highest, just six miles south of us, right along the same street.

So all that history to give you a sense of the place as it was and as it is. A perfect microcosm of the cultural changes and forces that have created the fault lines in community. And remember, as the theologian Jorgen Moltmann puts it, that the opposite of poverty is not property, but the opposite of both is community. ….

To Learn More about Us, Planting New Churches, UU Growth, and Going Missional

If you are just finding out about what we do here, welcome, and here are some links from previous posts, a kind of best of, that will explain more about why we are doing what we are doing here...go to for more recent updates.

Here is a post of posts that includes commentary on us, growth, church planting, missional church, and more: Don't forget to go to the commentary on the UU Growth Summit in Denver last year.

To learn more about the Three R's, relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation, check out and the powerful story about Civil Rights activist John Perkins...

To actually go deeper with us, check out some of these books that have inspired us:

Also, check out some reasons for using the words we use and common misperceptions at

A shorthand summary of where the "missional church" as a new movement has come from most recently, check out this description at my:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Want to be a part of our Ministry in Abandoned Places?

We appreciate every bit of support we get from others in our community, surrounding area, and across the world. We are living proof of miracles among the ruins. And we are just beginning. Amazing what has happened in only four years and now in our new place of our own so much more is blooming...Look at this list, check back as we update it, and thank you for your support. If you are just finding out about us from publicity articles, please explore our website here to learn more about us.

---Plumbing or money for plumbing as we get the first phase of bathroom repair underway.
---Computers, desktops or laptops, for the Computer Center, or money to get some refurbished ones
---Electrical or money for electrical work anticipated to handle the increased computer center
---Food for pantry
---Website and Facebook Site Creation
---Libraries Set Up Help
---Musicians for our Coffeehouse Concerts
---Paint and/or painters to cover over the vandalism we suffered
---Landscape and grounds work to do French Drain, etc. Or adopt a bed at our community gardenkitchenpark (which will have its own wish list soon)
---Picnic tables for our outside welcome areas
---brochures for all sorts of community resources and put together our info kiosk
---children's library, beanbags, playspace for inside and outside
---Artists for Community Art Day Mar. 25 and for other art days
---Stained glass artist to help repair vandalized windows in main room/chapel
---We have a sign place for a permanent electric sign naming our space; sign work or money for sign work
---People to lead book or movie or game nights or crafts coop
---People to lead workshops on relationships, healthy living, neighborhood safety
---Coordinaters for Job Fair
---Buy Ads for Us or Help Promote Events and Resources
---Adopt Us For A Month: $350 for mortgage, $230 for insurance, $400 utilities, or Pay for a newspaper or magazine subscription
---Equip our New Kitchen.
---Contribute to Roof Repair
---Come to Work Day
---More To Come
Use Donate Button or contact information above, or call with ideas or other ways to help which you may think of.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Greetings To Visitors From UU World

Thanks to all who are finding us from this magazine article: and thanks to the writer, editors, and photographer. This is my chance to give some acknowledgments to others.

Thanks to all who live and serve here with us who are an inspiration to me by their large heart for our neighbors and their passion for finding God and embodying Jesus in ways that others find foolish, un-cool, and dangerous. We know that even though the Empire, and those who choose it, have emptied and abandoned the area (as so many similiar areas in so many cities and even small towns), that it is never truly abandoned as long as love is incarnated through small acts of justice. Thanks to all who have remained here through the years, all who have returned here, all who have relocated here, all who are finding ways to spiritually relocate here. For more on us and current plans and projects and presence and to donate to support us, which is so needed now in our transition, go to You can also read more at this site you are on. For more on the missional ways of being church and being progressive go to my

Thanks for those who have helped guide us to this still emerging point: especially to those who have shaped the UU Christian Fellowship where I have been privileged to serve as Executive Director nationally while working locally in this ministry. How did you get the idea to do that? I am often asked. It's all about Jesus, I say. What I mean is at And as I have also said, my following Jesus and learning to apply theology to daily life was and continues to be inspired by my connection to Phillips Theological Seminary, an amazing place, welcoming home now for more than a generation to Unitarian Universalists, as students, staff, and faculty, for preparing for ordination or for theologial studies, and where I am also honored to be serving as adjunct faculty and director of minsterial formation for UUism. Check it out, and the online courses, at I encourage people to support both institutions and consider ways they can walk with you spiritually too.
Thanks to the colleagues here in the Tulsa area: Hope Unitarian and All Souls and First Unitarian OKC have supported us with their outreach funds and in other ways. I will be speaking at All Souls Emerson Hall Forum on Sunday, April 3, at 11:30 am on "Life and Death and Resurrection in the 74126." And thanks to my missional cohort of colleagues here from other denominations as we figure out ways to network and collaborate, and in that vein thanks also to our social justice and educational partners that have taught us too, and let us teach them, especially the faculty and students at the OU Graduate School of Social Work in Tulsa and Norman.
A little background on that cover shot: It was taken in the old parsonage next to the old abandoned church building we purchased and are transforming. It is still like it is in the picture. It is very typical of the many such houses in the neighborhoods surrounding us where 40 percent of all empty homes, and there are vast numbers of them, are no longer trying to be sold or rented. Our other recently purchased property nearby for our emerging GardenKitchenPark had similar houses we had torn down to make room for the gardens to come. This building we hope not to have to tear down, though it is severly damaged and vandalized throughout, but to turn into a garden center, recycle center, tool lending library, and demonstration of how native plants can transform an area with low maintenance. Oh, and the photo was taken on a Sunday after worship had been finished back in our former space we hadn't yet moved from, but after we had come to the new grounds to plant a tree. It has me thinking we need to hold a worship service directly here in this damaged place too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Building The Future: Latest News and More

Hi all. Please share this with others in your institutions and personal social networks who might find common cause with us.

Quite a few weeks we have had: After the blizzard and then the great freeze, then my father's heart attack and hospitalization (he is out and well and beginning his recovery) and meetings with my mother's hospice team, the move into our new The Welcome Table Community Center is picking up again. We got everything out of the former rented space just as the blizzard hit; now we are beginning to unpack and already are having some community oriented meetings as we start to embody this new space, reclaiming an abandoned building and its grounds just as we have started on The Welcome Table Community Garden Kitchen Park nearby too. A lot of Miracles Among The Ruins continuing. Hope you can support us with your presence, volunteer help, or donations at

This Sunday Feb. 20 we at A Third Place Community Foundation will host a Vision Retreat for the New Building. Even as we are temporarily getting the old sanctuary space set up and are now using it, and the food pantry room, and even as the vandalism still needs to be fixed and painted over, and the plumbing isn't working, we want to keep our eyes on the horizon and be focused on why we are going to be using it in the first place, and how to best serve all our community for which we exist. We will meet at the Turley United Methodist Church, 6050 N. Johnstown, at noon for a meal and introduction and background from me, then we will go tour the new building and grounds at 5920 N. Owasso, then we will return to the Methodist church where Adriane Jaynes will lead our vision retreat. Come for as much of it as you can come. We should be finished by 4 pm. RSVP if you can make it.

Building the Future:
Visioning Session For New Building Use
Sunday, February 20, 2011
1. Lunch
a. Introduction/Overview – Ron
2. Tour of New Building
3. How can this space serve the community?
a. What does the community need that could be provided here?
b. What partners could we bring along to help?
c. What values do we want the building and the grounds to represent?
4. What have we done that we want to keep?
a. Programs?
b. Activities?
c. Building usage?
5. What have we not done, that we would like to be doing?
6. Sharing our big dreams

We have many project going on now: work on grants and work days for the Garden Park and for Cherokee Elementary School, and for the Safe Routes Sidewalk Project, and for the McLain High School Initiative, and for the community forums for the OU Specialty Health Clinic, and for our leading role in the developing Community Health Workers Project, in addition to the building and Center work. Already we will soon have the food pantry up and running and a little library and a computer center and coffee and chat and game space and our chapel space, and hope to get the recovery group meeting again with us soon, most of which is all in the original sanctuary part of the building. It is a small version of what will come, and we still have the walls with graffiti and broken windows and busted doors and no plumbing and are a little more than broke at the end of each month. But like the seeds under the several feet of snow this past week, things are germinating under the surface. See how far we have come by visiting

And the gatherings for The Welcome Table Church continue too; we are looking forward to hosting a Lenten and Easter DVD series on the Economy of Love from Shane Claiborne about the need and ways of supporting one another and building an economy that benefits the least and supports community instead of breaking it apart. We will be scheduling our Movie of the Month for Black History Month. We hold our weekly communion worship and common meal. Read more about the spiritual side of what we do and why at

Plus check out the ministry I am privileged to be serving as Executive Director at; our plans for General Assembly and the Revival in Washington, D.C. are underway and we have weekly bible reflection on our Virtual Monastery site and work with small groups around the world. And this semester I am teaching and online Supervised Ministry course and also a UU Practical Theology independent study and am director of ministerial formation for unitarian universalism at Phillips Theological Seminary, I hope you will find ways to support both the UU Christian Fellowship and PTS for the great work they are doing; none of what we are involved in here now would be possible without the learnings I have had through both of these institutions.

Come be with us during the week and look for ways to partner with us. We can always schedule volunteer work days with groups to meet your schedule. Worship is held most times for the time being on Sundays at 11 am at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. Visit our websites for updates or call 691-3223.
Thanks and blessings,

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Moving Day Worship

Last Sunday's liturgy for worship started in our old space we moved out of and then finished in our new building.

The Welcome Table Church
A free universalist Christian missional community

About Us:
Simply and Freely Following Jesus in the Spirit of Love and Justice For All. Non-creedal. Believing God’s love is for all, for all time. A missional community dedicated not to ourselves and our organization or our building but to acts of service creating a better life and world, especially for and with those most vulnerable—the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the oppressed.

Here, and wherever two or more gather together in this spirit, we become a part of the church, a people of God seeking to make the loving and liberating spirit of Jesus visible in the world. Our Welcome Table is open to all regardless of church affiliation or beliefs, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, economic status, or political persuasion—we welcome all who respect and welcome all and wish to refresh their souls for the service of God.

Today is the day which God has made: Let us rejoice and be glad therein.
What does the Eternal require of us? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Chalice Lighting Covenant
This is our covenant as we walk together in life as a people of God seeking to make the joyful radical compassionate Jesus visible in the world: In the light of truth, and the loving and liberating spirit of Jesus, we gather in freedom, to worship God, and serve all.

From Psalm 92
Morning Songs: Dona Nobis Pacem 388, Find A Stillness 352, Spirit of Life 123, Tis A Gift 16
Readings and Reflections: 422, 435, 685, 696, 698, 704
Songs of Moving: Love Will Guide Us 131, One More Step 168, Guide My Feet 348, There Is More Love Somewhere 95, I’m On My Way 116
We are going, heaven knows where we are going, We'll know we're there.We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, We know we will.It will be hard we know, And the road will be muddy and rough,But we'll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, We know we will.We are going, heaven knows where we are going, We'll know we're there.

Picking Up Symbols and Moving To New Building

Reassembling In New Building

Candles For Prayers, Blessings
O God help us to be instruments of Thy peace. Where hate rules let us bring love;
where injury, pardon; where discord, union; where doubt, faith; where despair, hope;
where darkness, light; where sorrow, joy. Let us strive more to comfort others than to be comforted; to understand others--than to be understood; to love others--than to be loved. For it is in giving, that we receive, and in pardoning, that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life.

Songs of Prayer: Amazing Grace 205, Precious Lord 199, Glory Glory 201

Please share prayers and blessings, joys and sorrows, as we light our candles of community.

Now we join in saying the prayer Jesus taught for all those who would follow in his way of radical compassion, courage, conscience, commitment, and community.
Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Communion Homily: Inheriting The Voices and Visions of those who have come before us in this building, a diverse group beginning with those who founded the first church in our area here on this spot in 1909, Turley Methodist Episcopal, then the Witt Memorial Indian Methodist, then the predominantly African American Zion Baptist. They will be here with us, as are all those who have been with our community in the past who are not with us now, and those who are with us now but could not be here today, and those whom we will meet here for the first time. We inherit this vandalized space, incomplete space, and let it stand for all the brokenness of our lives and our world, as we break the bread of life, but in sharing it become whole, and as we pass the cup of hope for the new spirit of this place and of this people.

Let Us Break Bread Together 406
Passing the Bread of Life and the Cup of Hope
We’re Gonna Sit At The Welcome Table 407
Benedictions Shalom Havyreem and Go Now In Peace 413
Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
6514 N. Peoria Ave. and 5920 N. Owasso Ave., Turley, OK 74126

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Abundant Community: A Vision For Our Future

Hi all. It is no surprise that our activities as a community, official activities anyway, have come to a standsill because of the blizzard. It is good to hear of folks checking in on folks, though, and I am sure all are finding ways to "make Jesus visible in the world" where and how you can, and that is the definition of the church. It looks like we will not be gathering for worship in the new space this Sunday because the roads are just still too bad and getting worse again. But if you can get on to Facebook on Sunday at 11 am we will again have some of our Virtual Church Time together.

We had a great past Sunday beginning in the old space, singing and blessing our time there, and then processing with the cross, the last object to leave the old space, to our new building space where we finished with more singing, prayers, and communion before going out for lunch together. We look forward to many new ways and times to gather together and offer worship opportunities in our new space along with our many opportunities for service too.

We are still hopeful of having a Community Building Vision Retreat on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 13, to dream of ways to serve our area in and through our new space; and we are working on rescheduling a planned budget meeting planning for grants and next phases of The Welcome Table Garden Kitchen Park; and we will be following up our series of DVD discussion of Justice For The Poor from Sojourners with a special workshop day, it is hoped, on Sunday, Feb. 20 to see and discuss and plan based on Shane Claiborne's new DVD and book, Economy of Love. As soon as we can get back to the building we also will be doing more remodelling work, and setting up the expanded Food Pantry room.

But it is no surprise that as I write this about abundant community that we are now in day five of the blizzard in Oklahoma and its continuing effects, day five with more forecast of being cut off from our community, except through technology, and one of the lessons learned from this week is that no matter how wonderful being online is, and it is in its manifold ways, it is not the same as being with others in person. It is in fact others which make us into something other than an individual, and that something is called a person.

And so while I can't wait for the snow to take a break and the roads to become passable enough to return to feel the presence of our new community space, can't wait to actually go inside those cold walls where we had just moved everything into when the blizzard came, can't wait to actually begin opening up what the blinking sign outside the historic and no longer abandoned building at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. already proclaims is coming soon---The Welcome Table Community Center---until then I want to pass on to you some ideas from a recent book called The Abundant Community. This book, subtitled Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, is by John McKnight and Peter Block. Mcknight's previous book called Building Communities From The Inside Out is one that I discovered as a text in one of my seminary classes and discovered later was also used as a text in one of the social work classes that were doing service learning with us here on Tulsa's far northside.

These excerpts from The Abundant Community are all another way of expressing and explaining what we do, fail to do, try again to do, and keep finding ways to do at The Welcome Table. It is a good primer for anyone interested in missional ways of being church too, even though, or maybe precisely because, it doesn't use theology, church history, or scripture. Consider it my homily for this Sunday's worship.

The book ends with a quote from Lois Smidt of "A great community creates conditions where people can fall in love. It is a place where we can make a fuss about one another. A place where we can ask, "How did I ever live without you?" I can truly say, in both of my church plants, that I could and can ask that question, directed to the ones we journey with. What this time in transition for the community center as we move, and what this time away on top of that due to the blizzard, has taught me is how acutely I feel that question. It is a good benchmark for all our communities. It is not about being co-dependent or needy, which is self-directed, but about being so other-directed that it comes to shape our own selves.

The book begins with the three points of awakening that lead us to an abundant community:
1. We see the abundance that we have, individually, as neighbors, and in this place of ours (that is what we did along with the OU Grad Social Work students in the very first community gathering and all since then through what they called strength and asset based mapping; what I call reminding people of our Imago Deo, our likeness to God, the Whose We Are and How We Are Loved that provides an inherent blessing from which all else flows).
2. We know that the power we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have (this is a key place for churches too who begin to imagine themselves as missional in their essence, because it asks them to become something deeper within themselves by getting over and beyond themselves).
3. We know that these connections are no accident; they don't just happen by themselves. They have to be nurtured. They call for leaders who will call others.

The authors go on to say that they know too that each of these three steps are fragile ones, as they can become undermined by institutions, marketplace, culture that says to us the false words: "You are inadequate, incompetent, problematic, or broken. We will fix you. Go back to sleep." And they say that another hindrance is that many people think strong local community is simply nice if you have the time and money to focus on. However, the opposite is true:

1. Our very health depends on our neighborhood and community health. That is why we are here heavily involved with OU Community Health and OU Social Work in the new community health worker program for north and west Tulsa you have read me write about before. Medical institutions, as the authors say, are realizing their own limitations now at changing and growing healthy folks especially in the poorest areas; it is through building up community and relationships that health becomes both a goal and a possibility.
2. Our safety depends on our neighborhoods; the more we watch out for our neighborhood in many ways and watch out for one another, the safer we all become. Police and other resources, as we discover in times of emergencies like the blizzard, are likewise limited in how safe we really are.
3. The future of the earth is actually in the hands of local neighborhoods, not only in how we green our properties and our lives, but how we move from being consumers to citizens.
4, Our economy is most resilient at the most local level as possible. We have seen the effects of globalization, outsourcing, economies based on paperwork and projections instead of productivity; we have also seen the examples of microlending and other ways of pooling our resources in our main streets that can withstand the vagaries of Wall Street.
5. Connected to the first point about our health, we have come to see that the very food we eat is best sustained on a neighborhood level.
6. The individualization and professionalization of our childcare, removing youth from a connection with their neighbors and neighborhood, results in later "youth problems" which are instead adult abdication of caring for our neighborhood children. Our children are a wealth to be shared as well, strengths to give to others.
Finally, seventh, it is locally in neighborhoods that the major difference is revealed between "service" which outside institutions and professions provide, including in many ways churches based on a consumer model, and "care" which is "freely given commitment from the heart of one to another.

These are the Seven Responsibilities of The Abundant Community: health, safety, environment, economy, food, children, and care.

It is interesting how we through our The Welcome Table Church and a third place community foundation, and our projects The Welcome Table Center and The Welcome Table GardenKitchenPark and our various partnerships and initiatives are beginning to plant seeds of growth in each of these seven areas. As we look at how we can envision relating to one another and our various neighborhoods through our new building, and helping others to do the same where they are, it is these seven areas where we hope to connect people's passions. Imagine what we could transform with a small group team of folks focusing on each of these areas. Which of the seven areas calls to you? How can we help connect you with others who have a similar passion? By bringing your gifts to bear in any one of these areas you will be affecting the abundance in the others; but we know that if we try individually to do them all, nothing will get done; we need to create all the spokes of the wheel for it to turn. Imagine us growing each of these areas into fully supported areas.

This will be our amazing vision for 2011. We have already begun in so many ways; the model of The Abundant Community will help us to shape and show and sustain what we have started. Whether you are living here now or not, there is a place and a way for you to receive from the revolutionary abundance beginning to be revealed here in a zipcode where only scarcity is so often portrayed and lived out. The rest of McKnight's book is about those seven areas and the ways that simple families and neighbors and community groups like ours and others here are actually shaping another world possible. I will be posting more from the book and giving some of its links to connect with others engaged in the same struggles as we are.

And if you are interested in how to grow an organic missional incarnational church as well, and have the impulse and the instinct and the faith, this is a good book to start with too for how to actually implement it and inspire others.

Thanks, blessings, and more soon, Ron