Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday 2014: The Three Americas, and What Has Been Going On, and What's Coming Up Here

Palm Sunday: Occupying The Abandoned Temples of the American Dream Empire

First, before getting to the Palm Sunday message, it has been an exciting past month or so here in the 74126 area; we have become a center for service learning and missional trips lately. We are gradually becoming a center where people can “come and see” the effects of racism on many ethnic groups, economic injustice and classism, and the evil and suffering that happens when the marketplace is not tempered with the moral imperative, when government and other groups focus on numbers and not on need, on individuals and not on neighborhoods.

Already this year we have hosted groups working with us on Tulsa’s northside from Fayetteville, AR and Oklahoma City and Dallas area and from around the country during the Life On Fire event here, and from many places and schools around the Tulsa area who have not been familiar with our part of town. We just finished hosting three classes of graduate social work students from OU who have been working on research projects with us as well as doing direct help for us. We met a lot of people and made connection at the Tulsa Eco-Fest held near our area at the Tulsa Community College Northeast Campus. This past Sunday I made a presentation on our area and our work to the Adult Forum at Hope Unitarian Church in Tulsa. We were scheduled to host a big contingent from Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity during their conference recently but their schedule had to be changed, and we hope to connect in the future.

Coming up, On Wednesday afternoon, April 23, we will have a big group of volunteers from a Tulsa company coming to work at our gardenpark and orchard on N. Johnstown Ave. And just this weekend at the Global Society for Arts in Health convention held in Houston, a presentation on our area and our work was given and well received and more connections made. On Saturday, August 26, we will host a lunch for the Commission on Appraisal of the Unitarian Universalist Association as they “come to see” and learn about missional church manifestations in a progressive theological spirit.

And still so much to be done; figuring out ways to pay and staff and continue to reach out with our neighbors on projects even as we continue to go deep and grow our relationships and presence; funding the big projects we are nurturing (the closed Cherokee School reopening and repurposing; abandoned and neglected properties and low-rent “relocation” housing possibilities; organizing for justice with the Industrial Areas Foundation) are getting seeds planted but need a boost in effort and partners and money. And we still struggle to stay open month after month, still trying to build up the foundation of supporters who will give at least a nickel or dime a day to help us with the basics of utilities and mortgage which, because we put it all into mission and have not yet started any salaries, means every contribution is going to direct missional work of feeding and clothing people and growing their overall health and community.

We are also trying to get the word out about us better to more people and potential partners this year. If anyone is able to help us produce videos about what we do and why and with whom, please let me know. And we are hoping this year to begin the long delayed work of fixing up our community center and creating social events at the gardenpark and orchard. The more volunteers the more we are able to do. We would love for this year to be the year we get great signs up at the park, and great art at the park and outside the community center, as well as the new outside deck and benches at the community center, the new deck and stage at the gardenpark, and the big 20 foot table at the park.
And, before I print the message below, Here is the list of coming events planned so far for the next few weeks; your chance to connect with us:

Free Breakfast Second, Third, Fourth and any Fifth Saturdays 9 am, weather permitting, Welcome Table Community GardenPark and Orchard, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. Free Supper, First Saturday 4 pm. Growing your own food is like printing your own money. Get a Free Garden Bed. Just come eat with us and enjoy the gardenpark.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, 10 am to Noon, Free Food and Clothing and More On Community Days, Welcome Table Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave. serving the 74126, 74130, 74073 zips. Also free books, computer center, art studio.
Community Breakfast Second Saturdays, 7 to 10 am, $5 with Kids 10 and under free, Odd Fellows Lodge, 6227 N. Quincy Ave. 

We just finished our wonderful Community Easter Kids Celebration on Saturday with the local United Methodist Church, 6050 N. Johnstown Ave. including kid gardening at our gardenpark and orchard. It was so good to see the children enjoying an actual hunt for easter eggs and surprises instead of what happens at so many institutional egg hunts which are more like race and grabs as the eggs are just laid out in an open field.

Palm Sunday Worship with communion was held this morning at Turley United Methodist Church, 6050 N. Johnstown Ave. at 10:30 am followed by free lunch afterwards. One of our “rules of life” for our missional community is to eat together as often as possible, at least three times a week.

Wednesday, April 16, 12:30 pm lunch for seniors (55 plus) at our Welcome Table Center followed by trip to Aquarium in Jenks. 
Thursday, April 17, 6:30 pm free dinner and Maundy Thursday communion worship at The Welcome Table Center
Friday, April 18, Good Friday worship at noon with us at All Souls Church, 2952 S. Peoria Ave. and/or Good Friday service 6 pm at Turley United Methodist.
Sat. April 19, 10 am Our Area Public Forum, Rudisill Library, Pine & Hartford Ave.
Easter Sunday, April 20, Sunrise Prayer and Meditation Event, 6:30 to 7 am or so, on top of the hill at The Welcome Table GardenPark and Orchard; come feel the spirit of resurrection and renewal at our miracle among the ruins space,  followed by breakfast at The Welcome Table Center. Worship at 10:30 am at Turley United Methodist Church. Come for any or all. 
Earth Day Tuesday, April 22, Turley Litter Pick-Up and Free Dinner for volunteers who help, 5 pm meet at The Welcome Table Center. 
Turley Community Association, Tuesday April 29, 7 pm O'Brien Park Center, 6147 N. Birmingham Ave.
McLain/Turley Area Planning and Partner Meeting, Thursday, May 1, Noon with Free Lunch, The Welcome Table Center.
Mobile Food Pantry Day, Friday, May 16, volunteers begin at 10 am, food pickup at 11 am, The Welcome Table Center. Get vouchers at Wed. and Sat. community days. We eat lunch together with volunteers once the event is over.  
Community Picnic on the Cherokee School playground, Sunday May 18, 11 am to 1 pm. See below for more.
Every Saturday 6 pm 12 Step Recovery Group, at the Welcome Table Center.
Last Thursday at 6:30 pm, Turley Area Alliance Against Crime, at the Center.
Each Thursday, 7 pm, Turley Fire and Rescue Dept meetings, 6404 N. Peoria.
Our diabetes management class and free healthy lunch just finished up on Saturday its important six week presence at The Welcome Table Center and we have been glad to co-host that with the AreaWideAging Agency.

Palm Sunday Message: The Three Americas, or Occupying The Empire’s Abandoned Places To Remind The World That God Lives Here

This Sunday’s meal message was about how Jesus “occupied” the Empire’s Temple and mocked the false values of Caeser’s Empire when and how he rode into Jerusalem for Passover, with some street theater in the midst of a dangerous time and place to show both people and the powerful that another world was possible, not only possible but could begin right now, right here, with these people. Many of the most vulnerable had been left behind both by the occupying Roman forces and by their own leaders. Jesus was sending a signal to both the haves and the have-nots that the God of the most vulnerable was still with them and was full of hope love and justice.

In that spirit, I talked about how our tradition in our community was to spend Palm Sunday “occupying” one of our abandoned places. In the past we have done it at places we eventually came to own and renew, such as the block of abandoned houses where the park is, and the vandalized church building where our community center is now, and we have done it at the old closed Cherokee School and one of the first was when we put pots of flowers along North Peoria Ave. and at our on-going gardening and beautification project occupying 66th and N. Lewis intersection. We talked about the Palm Sunday that we finished worship by going to an abandoned building and sign out front, where a civic club had been that shut down and several restaurants had been in and shut down; we “occupied” the sign and put up messages of welcome that God is Love and that God Lives in our area, even in such places as ours that others fear to come to, or run down, or just neglect.

And though the weather kept us indoors this Palm Sunday, we decided to throw a picnic for our community and any who want to join us on the playground at Cherokee School, 6001 N. Peoria Ave. Sunday, May 18, 11 am to 1 pm. Bring potluck (no alcoholic beverages) and sports equipment, and for former students bring yearbooks photos; the playgrounds and basketball courts and tetherball and grounds are still there waiting to be used. It will be our delayed Palm Sunday event.

On a deeper level, with such events and with all our work in our four directions initiative of far north Tulsa, we are fighting against the division of what I call the burgeoning polarization into the Three Americas; what we see happening in our metropolitan area seems to be found elsewhere as well. There is a dominant (always with minority strains fighting against it) “big box store” culture in the surburban areas of individualism, libertarianism, consumerism, and uniformity of “red-state” politics and theology and culture. There is a growing dominant “urban cool” “blue-state”culture in the denser populated areas of downtown and various entertainment and restaurant and artistic districts with consumerism still strong but modified as consuming creativity, and with a stronger “tribal” than libertarian vibe. Both of these Americas are places where different forms of the American Dream might attract you, but they are places where people go to, in various ways, “make it.” They are places with growing numbers of people (but not “peoples”) and therefore they are the places where government and businesses--both run with marketplace mentalities--invest in with infrastructure, entrepreneuriship, and resources.

And then there are the third districts, the abandoned places, the boarded up places, the no sidewalks and streetlights places, the places where post offices are closed and health clinics are closed (with kudos to those who are fighting against this in our area with health clinics beginning to open to reverse this trend) and schools are closed and with community centers and community pools closed or threatened to be closed and with shopping centers closed—even though there are the areas of highest need for these. This is a form of America that both of the other two zones turn away from. The Third America. While those who remain intentionally and would not live elsewhere, or those who can’t afford to live elsewhere and move here but are always hoping to “make it” by leaving, wrestle with growing lack of connection with one another and with those in power. And the land itself becomes disconnected with the people as its ownership transfers increasingly to those who live in the other Americas and as a result of the weakening of the power and voice of those who live here the land itself can be repurposed away from communal needs to the needs of corporations and businesses (where environmental injustice comes in to mirror economic and educational injustice, with landfills and salvages dominating the landscape) owned by those who live elsewhere, and the local businesses and nonprofits that do remain are often struggling against the tide, or are also in some cases adding to the blight.

On Palm Sunday, and as we move into Holy Week, with the simple meal fellowship of Maundy Thursday and the mandate to love one another, with the all too familiar abandonment and destruction of Good Friday, with the despair and sitting with grief of Holy Saturday and with its story of unseen forces still at work getting ready for renewal, with its story of Jesus relocating to Hell itself to turn it into a place not even abandoned by the love of God, and with the story of the unexpected life and the miracles of hope that Easter celebrates, through it all we seek to love the hell out of this world of the Third America, to connect the disconnected on a grassroots level and also to connect the other two Americas with the Third America, the Third Place so to speak. Like the disciples of old, we don’t do it well. But we too remain, or we return, or we relocate our lives because we have been the recipients of a grace that abounds that reminds us that Love overcomes death, injustice, neglect, helplessness, shame, failures. We do not know what the future holds; every month brings new challenges and the same old struggles, but Palm Sunday teaches us that the future of new life is already started. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Summary of Our History, Projects, Partners

The Welcome Table Missional Community/
A Third Place Community Foundation

Renewing The Far Northside: Volunteer Grassroots Response

2002-03 Epiphany Church began in Owasso, suburb of Tulsa
2004 moved to 6305 N. Peoria Ave. Turley/McLain School area
2005 became The Living Room Church and began partnering with Turley Community Association and Cherokee School on beautification projects
2007 Opened A Third Place Community Center at 6416 N. Peoria Ave. and moved in it and began working with OU Graduate Social Work program on community forums;
2008 hosted OU Health Clinic;
2009 created A Third Place Community Foundation and began demonstration gardening with Turley United Methodist Church and providing school gardens and landscaping for Cherokee Elementary School and helped form McLain School Foundation;
2010 bought a block of abandoned houses and trashed property at 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. to begin transforming into a community gardenpark;
2011 bought an abandoned church building at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. and moved the community center into it and planted the community orchard;
2012 created The Welcome Table Free Corner Store Food Pantry.

Area We Serve:
Primarily from 46th St. N. to 76th St. N. and from Highway 75 to Osage County Line; all within the McLain School boundary; far north Tulsa and Turley community area but our food store also serves the Sperry area. We are located in 74126, one of the lowest income zipcodes in the Tulsa area with a life expectancy 14 years lower than midtown Tulsa. We also serve 74130. 

Current Offerings:
Twice a Week Free Food Store;
4-5 times a year Mobile Pantry giving out 5 tons of food in one hour;
occasional Mobile Eatery from Food Bank
Computer Center/Free Wifi
Free Books
Clothes and More (take what you need; leave what you can)
Community Art Studio and Art Events
Washer/Dryer and Shower
Community Recycling Bin
Weekly 12-Step Recovery
Community Holiday Events and Festivals
Monthly Community Planning
Monthly Turley Area Seniors
Community GardenPark and Orchard and Free weekly meals at the Park

Current Community Projects
Abandoned Properties: Demolition or Upkeep
66th and N. Lewis Intersection Transformation
Welcome to Turley Sign Project
Roadside Wildflowers/Trash Pickup
Prairie Trails Wildflower Preservation Rest Area across from our park

Planting Project Seeds: In Conversation or In Vision
Cherokee School, closed in 2011, Repurposing
Scattered Site Low Rent Housing Program, plus “Relocation Homes” transforming abandoned homes
Osage Prairie Trail Awareness and Appreciation Event(s) and Community Info Kiosks
Far North Main Street from 46th to 66th St. on N. Peoria Ave
Community Lay Health Advocate Program (turning health clinics inside out)
Village Post Office to replace closed post office

Current Partners
University of Oklahoma-Tulsa
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
Tulsa Health Department North Regional Wellness Center
Tulsa Food Security Council
Tulsa Community Gardening Association
Tulsa Sponsoring Committee: Industrial Areas Foundation
McLain School Foundation
Turley Community Association
Turley United Methodist Church
Turley Fire and Rescue Dept
Tulsa County O’Brien Park and Recreation
Sarah’s Residential Living Center
Newsome Community Farms
Oklahoma State University Extension Dept
The LightHouse Charter School
Gilcrease Elementary School.