Saturday, July 16, 2011

(unexpected) Radical Simplicity: Losing Everything in a Fire

     Yesterday I had a conversation with my cousin Devin along the lines of life transitions and living in simplicity. i had just moved into the house on Fairmount street in Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh this past Wednesday, and despite my efforts of downsizing before i moved i had a lot more stuff than i had planned. I had been trying to step into some intentional spiritual disciplines one of which is a ever processing radical life simplicity. the fact was I had way more than i wanted and definitely more than i basically needed, but being an artist and a musician lends itself to acquiring a mass of supplies and instruments required for the fields. but i was determined to simplify all the more, feeling convicted that simplicity was a high goal of discipline to strive after. our conversation concluded shortly as we chatted on to other things
     It wasn't 15 minute later that i received the call that our house was on fire and we raced back as fast as we could. I prayed it was just something small and easily fixable, but as we came into the neighborhood i could see the pillar of smoke rising from behind the trees on the hill where we resided. we parked the car and preceded up the hill. 3 fire trucks, dozens of cops, 2 helicopters circling and teams of medics on the site didn't ease the surroundings. as the fire blazed upwards consuming everything on the 3rd floor and I knew I had most likely lost everything. i had just stored everything i owned in that room, with the exception of a weekend pack to Kansas City, which i was catching a plane that night. I guess life transition and radical life simplicity came crashing down harder and sooner than i had thought.
     I am surely counting my blessings; all six of us who lived there were alright, Colin, Carina, Morgan, Chris, Kyle and I. Morgan, who was at the house at the time of the fire, managed to get the 2 dogs out of the house off the second floor. The house was uninsured at the time and Colin was working his last day of work to take some time to work full time on the house. Colin had bought the house with his good friend Justin over a year ago after it had gone into to bank ownership by foreclosure. Justin got married this year and had sold his portion and moved out earlier this year. It needed a lot of work and over the coarse of the year had the roof patched, water pipes fixed, and a wood stove installed. thousands of dollars had been spent on building supplies and countless hours of labor all gone in a matter of minutes.
      we had all just started to shape and order our lives together as a house, establishing common chores, work days and weekly meals, making steps to intentionality and residential community living. we have a heart for hospitality to friends and strangers, simple and sustainable living, combating poverty locally and globally by imaginative peaceful means of action and involvement; we were just starting to collect these goals and put them together on top of already practicing these steps in small everyday ways. we were getting really excited and hopeful about the steps in the house project, and then came this wrench in the works, but we've got no plans to stop here; we're discerning what the next step is currently. I believe that God takes care of the sparrows and the lilies of the field and how much more does he care of His children. I've got faith that it'll work out for good, if we're open to the renewal to come. i guess it kind of my moto: sometimes things need ruined for a renewal to start in our lives. Lord have mercy as we step into this new chapter.
     We've been so blessed already, with so many friends and family jumping in with offers and supplying some basic, immediate needs, but the larger needs will be in the near future as we figure out what is next. to rebuild or relocate? how much is too much to invest? goals and vision for the future? and whatever else might be on the table. Colin has started a blog to keep all updated on the status of the 6 of us, volunteer opportunities, and the future of our experiment in community living. check it out at . if you'd like to make a donation to our cause,visit my donations page on the top banner, and all funds will go to our basic and longer term needs. there's a whole lot more work to be done and we are so thankful for all the care, prayer, and support we've already received. In the midst of severe trial, we are truly blessed by all of you. thanks for taking time to read, pray, and support. much Love!

(here's a video of the fire)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chiapas, Mexico 2011: Gratitude and Gift Economy


Greeting and Peace to you, friends and family,
            First of all, I would like to thank all of you for your prayers, thoughts, cares and support of all kinds and forms through all the crazy escapades and adventures life takes me on, but especially for your recent support of the trip I had the blessing of going on with a wonderful team from Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community to Chiapas, Mexico. I am always so blessed by the community that surrounds me to encourage, hold me accountable and challenges me to go the next step in life.  It will be so difficult for me to express the gratitude of my heart and the amazement of the trip as a whole, but I will do my best in this short report.
            After few troubles getting to Matzam and one piece of luggage missing somewhere between the U.S and Tuxla airport, we made it to our destination, the beautiful village of Matzam in Chiapas, the southern most region of Mexico right near Guatemala.  The people there are Tzeltal, descendants of the Mayans, and speak their own language of Tzeltal. This is the 5th year our group has returned to the Chiapas region to work with Pastor Pablo and his wife Jan who work with the Presbyterian churches in the areas surrounding where they live in the town Ocasingo, of which Matzam is one of.  The need there the last few years has been building a new church building around the old one, which they have outgrew. So when we got there this time the job before us was tearing down the old church with an arsenal of hand tools. With sledgehammers, digging bars, chisels, pick axes and plenty of bote’s (buckets) in hand, we started Monday with the week's work. We thought for sure that the destruction of the old church within the new shell was going to take most of the week itself, but with the 16 of us, and the 40-so Tzeltal men, who we were working along side of, we knocked it out in one day! So, the rest of the week was mostly hauling the rubble from the church and dumping it over a small hillside at the other end of the community compound, where they were using it to build a new foundation for a kitchen; they recycle everything! We finished off the work that week by laying over 2 tons of concrete, by hand mind you, on the ground so that the new church could be used as soon as it dried. With the old church out of the way, and new roof and floor completed, our week’s manual labor was such a feat looking back on it. Interspersed throughout the week were other adventures as well. We played and “taught” 100 some kids from the villages the first two evenings through a program they do through the church, and despite our lack of preparation and expertise, it was an amazing time with them; sometimes you just need an excuse to gather and share time together, I guess a bunch of crazy white people singing songs and playing silly games was a good one. On Thursday we visited a neighboring villages church and shared a meal with them before their service; they were so hospitable and welcoming. Nearing the end of our week, we embarked on our annual pilgrimage up one of the mountain peeks towering over the villages. with the village at it's foothills and already being above 7000 ft above sea level, it was only about a 3 hour hike up and down. i remembered vividly the beauty of the environment from my first trip in 2009, but no matter how amazing i remembered it to be, nothing compared to being there again; in the midst of the jungle foliage, on top of the hills, among the cattle, with wind ripping through your hair. After reaching the top, pastor Jeff lead us in a time of silence and prayer, and in that moment with a ragtag, eclectic group of Americans and two Tzeltal friends, i felt that still quiet voice whisper to my soul, "life is beautiful, don't forget"
It’s amazing what people can do when, out of love for one another, embrace a vision, work hard, volunteer time as a gift to one another. None of the workers were paid; we weren’t paid, they weren’t paid. On both sides, we sacrificed our own means of income for a week, and came together and gave what we could, no matter how old, young, rich, poor, American or Tzeltal. We shared our lives together for a week and when I think about it, it was really such a minimal sacrifice, but there was such a huge reward in our lives from that time. I really believe that when we as people come together, sacrifice ourselves, give of our resources, talents, and time for the sake of each other as a gift, we see something beautiful, we see the kingdom of God.  This idea of “divine gift economy”, which was rich in the New Testaments book of Acts as it describes the early Christian church, has been something I have been thinking about a lot lately and I was so encouraged to see it in action that week. It happened between people, who in ever other situation, have nothing to do with each other, but because we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, we bridge the gaps and tear down the walls that usually divide us. We surrender our previous affiliations and obligations to meet together in humility to learn from each other and work together, and this wonderful thing happens. The week ended with a church service we shared together in Matzam, outside as the cement was drying. Their congregation’s “presidente’”, who serves as a lay preacher, closed out the service letting us know that they pray for us throughout the year and truly consider us as part of they’re family; I was almost in tears with this revelation. We were family, despite all our differences and the thousands of miles that usually are between us, because family is love; God is love, and we together see this in each other. They handed out bread and soda for everyone at the end of the service and I couldn’t help but think, “this is communion”. We sang the doxology together all in our own language, some in English, Spanish, but mostly in Tzeltal;
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen”

the old within the new

sidewalk chalkin'

tearin' down walls

who needs power tools?

Matzam Hardcore 2011

breakin' hammers in the hot sun

mas mas refrescos!

reusing the rubble to build a new kitchen foundation of a hill side

the women graciously let us help with the corn

mixin' concrete by hand... a lot of it

just add water, it's that easy!
the men workin' hard on the roof before the rain comes


pastor Jeff learning Tzeltal numbers and teaching English

Playing some songs for the kids

the architects didn't have us in mind

yoga, doing our bodies good

week's work done! old church gone, new roof and floor!

time for a hike

such a beautiful place

breathtaking, the scenery that is

one of our lovely guides

the hiking crew

well... it rained on our way down

let's close out with a meal.