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Recently, I’ve been trying little “faith experiments.”

You can probably guess, then , that I was raised Catholic, so I wrestle with what/how to raise my children spiritually.

Recently, I had been noticing that whenever I went to Mass, my thoughts wandered all over the place.  They floated into the past, into the future, around work, family, what the people in front of me were wearing…Essentially, my mind was on most everything but Jesus, God, or faith.

So I decided that one Sunday morning, I was going to walk to Divine Mercy on Taylor Avenue in Bellevue, and just read the Bible without actually participating in Mass.  My thinking was that I could still be present in the church of my upbringing, and practice mindfulness of spiritual presence without the distractions of the Catholic “rigmarole” of rote kneeling, standing, responding, etc.  (My friend Sonny says that the point of that “rigmarole” is to actually bring mindfulness, and he’s probably right in this, but it wasn’t working for me.)

Sacred-Heart-Church-Bellevue-KY

So one Sunday in June, I set out with my Bible and an article that a friend I respect and admire had emailed me a couple weeks prior.  I read his email briefly, and noted that the article he was recommending had something to with “Spanish Jesuits” and our shared work around inclusion.  It sounded interesting, so I printed it off and took it with me that morning, without having any clue what the article was about.

I got up and headed down Center Street, carrying my Bible and this article.  As I approached Taylor, I heard a man and a woman speaking loudly at each other.  As I crossed the street, I saw a man walking his dog.  He said “OK, 123 Taylor?  Jim?  Got it!”

I couldn’t see the woman at first, but as I crossed the street, saw that she was laying on the sidewalk, obscured by a parked car.  She was saying something like “I’m alright!  Just get my boyfriend, Jim, at 123 Taylor.  He’ll help me.”

The man tried to get her to sit on a nearby public bench, but she waved him off.As he walked toward me, I asked him “Is she alright?”

“Yeah,” he said, “She just tripped on the sidewalk and fell.  I’m going to get her boyfriend to help her up.  He’s at 123 Taylor.”

“That’s right up the street,” I told him.  It was just past the front doors of Divine Mercy.  We walked for a bit together, and he complained about the lack of maintenance of the sidewalks.

As we approached the church, I said “So, do you need any help?”

“No.  I got this.”  He said.

“Cool.  Well, thank you for doing that,” I told him, and peeled off into the front doors of Divine Mercy to commence my “faith experiment.”

I sat down in a back row, to minimize any distraction I might create by not participating in the kneeling, standing and responding.

DM-pews

Within the first few minutes, I noticed two things:

  • There is not really any way to go unnoticed if you choose to “not participate” in a Catholic Mass.  I felt sideways glances, and people looking at me, as I tried to read the Bible…and even if that was only in my imagination (quite possibly), the internal judgment, at least, was there.
  • Also, I literally couldn’t “not participate” in the kneeling, standing, responding of the Mass.  37 years of conditioning had me physically unable to “not participate.”  It was impossible to concentrate!

I finally quieted my mind enough to read a bit of the Bible, and finished a few chapters before I picked up the attached article that my friend had sent me.  As I read it, I discovered that it revolved around a terrific question:  How might we stand against these big systems that create so much misery for so many people?

The article went on to examine answers to that question, in the framework of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It described the “man half-dead” laying on the side of the road.  It described how the Levite and the Priest both took “a wide berth” around the man so as to avoid him and “preserve their spiritual purity.”  It was only the Samaritan who took care of the man, going to great lengths to ensure he was cared for, while other supposedly holier men avoided the situation altogether.

So here I was, coming to the profound, humbling and embarrassing insight that I was the Priest/Levite, while a woman –a neighbor– was laying out on the side of the road outside the church where I was sitting comfortably, surrounded by healthy and mostly well-off people.

But what if the man walking his dog had decided not to knock?  What if her boyfriend wasn’t home?  What if she passed out or had a concussion before anyone got there?

I could have sat with her or helped her to the bench.  I could have walked with the man walking his dog to make sure he connected with her boyfriend.  I could have done about 15 different things, but instead, I was sitting here, doing a “faith experiment,” trying to stick it to the Catholic Church!

I got up, and walked outside.  She was no longer on the sidewalk.  So I walked down to the address she had given the man walking his dog. There was a man in the yard, and I asked him if his name was Jim.

“Yeah,” he said.

I’m being honest here:  At first glance, “Jim” made me uncomfortable.  My judgment was in full force.  He was drinking a 40 ounce bottle of beer, a little unusual for 8:00 on a Sunday morning.  He had cutoff jean shorts on and wasn’t wearing a shirt, which showed off a lifetime of tattoos and big scar on his chest….And he had a mullet.

“There was a woman who fell on the sidewalk…” I started.

“Oh yeah!” Jim said, enthusiastically.  “That’s my girlfriend.  She’s OK, she’s right in here!  Come on in!”

“Oh, it’s alright,” I began.  “I just wanted to make sure she was OK…”

“Come on in,” he insisted, and walked me into their living room.

He introduced me to “Linda,” who was sitting on the couch with bloody knees and bloody elbows.  She was smiling and laughing about her misfortune, but insisted that she was OK.  Jim had put neosporin on her cuts and cleaned her up.  We chatted for about 20 minutes, and promised we’d continue to see each other around the neighborhood.

That morning was a gift to me.  I met two wonderful people in Jim and Linda, who my life would not typically overlap.  And I witnessed a man, who was just out walking his dog, take the time to take care of someone lying on the sidewalk.

But the greatest gift I received was more like a smack to the forehead.  I had been asking “where is my church?” and I found part of my answer in passing up my responsibility and opportunity to take care of a woman lying on the sidewalk.  I let the suffering of a neighbor play second fiddle to my desire to be “closer to God” or “spiritually strong.”

Hmmmm….I wonder how many other ways I do this on a daily basis.  I am often so preoccupied with what I think needs to change or get done, that I miss the good that I could be doing in the real, local and present moment.

The title of the article my friend sent me is “Taking stock of reality, Taking Responsibility for Reality, And Taking Charge of Reality” by Jose Laguna.  Click that link for a copy to read.  It’s well worth the time.

The title alone is provocative:   How often am I thinking about what everyone else “oughtta do” and neglect the reality in front of my face?  How many chances have I wasted to take charge of things in a tangible way?

I’ve since shared this story with a few friends, and we laugh over the timing of the article and the moment.  What a blessing.

And something helpful if you read the article:  replace “Global Resistance Movement” with “Local Resistance Movement,” so as not to get too lost in the politics, theory or “elsewhere” trap that accompanies big-picture thinking.

Otherwise, you’ll miss the men and women lying “half-dead” in your own life that are calling to you to take stock, responsibility and charge of reality.

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Much to Celebrate

photo courtesy of Starfire Board president, Jim Price

photo courtesy of Starfire Board president, Jim Price

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

If you missed last night’s gathering of hundreds of people celebrating an inclusive Cincinnati, check the stories featured last night over on YouTube.  If you missed out on getting involved this past year and are curious about how your wild and precious life can add something new, creative, and meaningful to Cincinnati, let’s talk.  Drop us a line or give us a call.

candice@starfirecouncil.org 513.281.2100 or leave a comment below.

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Annual Celebration!

Annual Celebration

Annual Celebration

Tomorrow, join us for our annual celebration.  We are excited to share the stories of the people who are making Cincinnati a better place. By attending this event, you’ll learn all the ways Starfire is making our city more inclusive.
Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, this event is free to attend, but you must RSVP so we can save you a seat!

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A Common Good

I have given up the idea of an ideal.

I no longer envision a moment
when I’ll slap my hands together
in a satisfactory clearing of the imaginary
dust of this “job well done,”
and plop down
in my easy chair,
feet up
drink in hand
and sip
as the world sings together
all the live long day.

Except every evening.

I once heard a sage on a stage say
we draw our strength from
a secret conviction:
“In the end, life wins.”

I don’t know which end he meant–
A day?
A career?
A lifetime?
A world?

But his words settle in my glass,
and mingle with the fearful swill
of other more present whispers,
shushing them into sleepy solace
that the coming day is nigh.

 

thanks to Mary Pierce Brosmer and Walter Brueggmann for the inspiration

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A boost for local Beatles club…

Here’s a story from Starfire’s April newsletter…

Image

Andy is a diehard rock fan. His earliest exposure to the genre came when his sister played the Beatles for him during a tough time in his childhood. Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan show, Andy wanted to start a project that would commemorate this anniversary, and help tie him into a group of people who also appreciate the power of rock and roll.

Recently he invited the Beatles Booster Club (or affectionately known as “The BBC”) to join his project committee. The “BBC” has been a Cincinnati fixture since 1996. Linda, the head of the group said she has loved meeting other Beatles fans.

 “By January of 1966, I was totally in love with the Beatles, especially Paul, and from that day forward my life totally changed. And then again it changed…when I met all my Beatles buddies because now I have Beatles playmates,” said Linda about forming the Beatles Booster Club. “The best part is all the friends I’ve made.”

Andy has joined the BBC and will be attending their future events. On top of that, he hosts monthly rock music trivia nights (pictured above) at Everybody’s Records in Pleasant Ridge, where he has been a crew member since 2009. Next weekend, he will also be helping run a Beatles Merchandise and Memorabilia Gala with his committee. There people can sell, trade, or display their collectibles of with other Beatles fans. The event is taking place NEXT SATURDAY April 19th, from 6-9pm at Japp’s downtown.

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April Learning Labs

 

Local Learning Lab

Local Learning Lab

*What is a Local Learning Lab?* Monthly meet-ups to learn from local citizens. Always FREE and always open to the public!

*Why should I be there?* To learn something of interest to you, or just to meet your neighbors!

*What’s the night look like?* We’ll start with a potluck! Bring a dish to share!  Then we will break out into FREE classes (did we mention they’re free?). You can choose between any of the offered classes! Afterward, we will join back together and hear any ideas for the next Learning Labs.

*What should I bring?* Just a dish to share for the potluck!  Our meal is made up of whatever shows up.  Bring something you like.  If you’re working on something (a project, an idea) bring it along!

*How were these classes chosen?* We let YOU decide them at our monthly gatherings. We then go out in search of the best people in Cincinnati who will teach these topics!

Here are April’s offerings!

Price Hill

Price Hill

Tuesday, April 8th
at Heritage Community Church in Price Hill
(4431 Glenway Ave, 45205)
6-8PM Potluck & Learning Lab.
Bring a dish and jump in a class that interests you!

Northside

Northside

Wednesday, April 16th
at McKie Community Center in Northside
(1655 Chase Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45223)
6-8PM Potluck & Learning Lab.
Bring a dish and jump in a class that interests you!

Catch the Silverton Learning Lab back in action on May 15th…

*Who can I talk to to learn more?*
Northside: Sarah@starfirecouncil.org
Price Hill: Danyetta@starfirecouncil.org

 

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Legitimacy

As 2014 projects are well under way here, the need for legitimacy, and to be taken seriously as “real events” and not “special” in the sense of specifically for people with disability is a consideration each year.  (You’ll remember the debate around Brew Review logo design and why image is so important).  These events are designed to be inclusive for sure, working with one person at a time to support a passion, an interest and building a committee, a community, or a niche following. Here are some of this year’s best posters, flyers, and event promotion materials.  You can feel the cool factor, can’t you?  These are things you’d want to attend, you’d see in your local events page, and things that attract a wide audience of those curious and interested.

Dreams final poster

10 Powers of Dreaming

Natural Laws of Luck

Natural Laws of Luck

Blue Ash Music + Meditation

Blue Ash Music + Meditation

cincystory1

 

Sing Cincinnati

Sing Cincinnati

 

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Storytelling and “documentation”

One of the things we do to track outcomes at Starfire is to document the day in and day out. Just like a lot of places that serve people with disabilities do (and are required to do), we complete these logs as part of our job description. We are paid to do it. I’ve had to consider many aspects of documentation, as my role has been to report on effective outcomes. I’ve tried to design documentation forms that take into consideration staff time, how it aligns with our work, and perhaps most importantly: the value of these logs to the person they are being written about.

Documentation historically tells very little of the actual story, due to these considerations of convenience for staff and the need to just get it done. Typically, the most amount of writing you’ll see in logs is when something goes wrong. That’s when the full story comes into play. But on “good” days it might look as simple as this: “5pm: John sat on couch watching TV. 6pm: John got up to microwave dinner and took medication. 7pm: John sat on couch watching TV. 8pm: John took a bath. 9pm: John prepared for bed. He had a good day!”

I have to say that after months of reading logs like this at a previous job I had as a caregiver, nothing I read made me proud to work at the agency. Things began to feel flat, the exact opposite of why I got into this work to begin with. People’s lives aren’t supposed to be flat, and we work with people! Another unsettling part was how the person being written about never read their own logs, or contributed to the narrative in any way. For some people, staff were even instructed to wait until they were in bed or out of the room to write the logs (as it would upset them to see staff writing about them).

Harkening back to our March newsletter post, I’d like to share some of Starfire’s documentation. This was written as Megan’s journey to a life she imagined (the first story in the newsletter) began to unfold. Michelle, a staff person at Starfire wrote these (MR), and you can see her enthusiasm and support for Megan as she and Brenda (Megan’s “connector” or bridge in the community) work to find a food pantry near her home where she could volunteer, to find work with the elderly, and continue making friends at the Rec Center near her house where she takes Zumba classes.

Megan’s goals for November: Sort out Connector arrangements

  • Dec 9 Brenda has decided to be Megan’s connector! – MR

Megan’s December goals: Explore volunteer opportunities with Brenda

  • Dec 11 Spoke with Megan’s mom about her opportunity volunteering @ the community rec. center –MR
  • Dec 12 Megan showed me around her neighborhood. I saw her house & where the rec center is. She will be able to walk there once the weather warms up! – MR

January goals: Set up time and day for Megan to volunteer at the rec center. Make driving arrangements

  • Jan 8 ** New Connection: Judy at the neighborhood food pantry. ** Brenda, Megan, Becky & Matt explored Megan’s neighborhood and came across a small food pantry. The lady there showed much interest in Megan, saying she’d like to “pick her brain” on her experience working at CAIN! Megan is on board for working there every week if it can be worked out with her mother & her service facilitator. I see GREAT things coming her way. –MR
  • Jan 14 Megan will be volunteering at the community rec. center every other Tuesday assisting with chair Volleyball. Today was her first day. It went really well! Between the food pantry & the rec center, Megan has the opportunity to make some WONDERFUL connections, right in her own neighborhood. Excited to see everything unravel! – M
  • Jan 30 – It’s been arranged for Megan to do a three week trial of volunteer work @ the food pantry. A woman will be picking her up & dropping her off each week. If she enjoys it enough, she will no longer be in program at Starfire that day each week & will take on the volunteer position there! – MR

I love this part: “I see GREAT things coming her way,” and all the little steps taken as they do come her way. She is “getting out” of the day program Starfire has, and finding her place in community beyond her label of disability. Megan dreamt up this life. She told us the narrative, and we supported her in living it out. Things don’t always happen this fast, or go quite as smoothly, but the important piece is still there: we are supporting people in a story that is of value to them. There are lessons along the way, roadblocks, wrong turns. But it is valuable.

I should mention here too that around the same time as all of this was happening, Megan got engaged to her long time boyfriend. We can’t take any credit for that though. Congratulations, Megan!!

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“Community…that’s what it’s all about!”

Heather recently posted to Starfire’s Facebook wall this wonderful reflection about community after attending a Learning Lab in Price Hill and recognizing a neighbor at a local grocery store.

Learning Labs are monthly meet-ups to learn from local citizens. Always FREE and always open to the public!  They’ve been designed for you to learn something of interest to you, or just to meet your neighbors.  Thanks Heather for sharing your neighbor-run in story with us.  We like hearing good stuff going on in Cincinnati!

"Community! that's what it's all about!"

“Community! that’s what it’s all about!”

If you’ve attending a Learning Lab in Price Hill, Silverton, Northside or the newly formed Bellevue, what has been your experience?  What do you want to learn in the next couple of months?  Who do you know that would make an excellent teacher in your community?

Interested in starting a Learning Lab in your neighborhood?
Drop a line to Candice@starfirecouncil.org

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March Learning Labs

northside lab

Wednesday, March 19th

at McKie Community Center in Northside
(1655 Chase Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45223)
6-8PM Potluck & Learning Lab.
Bring a dish and jump in a class that interests you!

Wednesday’s offerings:
-Shadow Puppetry with Christine Langford
-Walking Tour of Cincinnati with Christopher Luessen

silverton lab

Thursday, March 20th

at Women Writing for a Change in Silverton
(6906 Plainfield Road, 45236)
6:30-8PM Potluck & Learning Lab.
Bring a dish and jump in a class that interests you!

Thursday’s offerings:
– Arts & Community: A Kennedy Heights Story with Eric Bertelsen
— Empathy & Compassion Workshop with Jennifer Wells
— Beginner Pilates with Tara Steed (bring your own mat if you have one!)
— What to Wear for Spring with Allie Harsacky

*What is a Local Learning Lab?* Monthly meet-ups to learn from local citizens. Always FREE and always open to the public!

*Why should I be there?* To learn something of interest to you, or just to meet your neighbors!

*What’s the night look like?* We’ll start with a potluck! Bring a dish to share!  Then we will break out into FREE classes (did we mention they’re free?). You can choose between any of the offered classes! Afterward, we will join back together to talk as a large group and wrap it up, and hear any ideas for the next Learning Labs.

*What should I bring?* Just a dish to share for the potluck!  Our meal is made up of whatever shows up.  Bring something you like.  If you’re working on something (a project, an idea) bring it along!

*How were these classes chosen?* We let YOU decide them at our monthly gatherings. We then go out in search of the best people in Cincinnati who will teach these topics!

*Didn’t I read that this is happening in Northside/Price Hill/Silverton?* It sure is! We have three nights dedicated to free Learning Labs with different offerings. If you’d like, you can come to all of them, whichever is closest to your house, or whichever date fits into your calendar!

*Who can I talk to if I want to learn more?*
Silverton: Candice@starfirecouncil.org
Northside: Sarah@starfirecouncil.org
Price Hill: Danyetta@starfirecouncil.org

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