For all things community, revolution, etc check out the Kitchen Sink blog at my new and improved blog site:
Thanks for coming to my blog; but as you can see, it's moved!
For all things community, revolution, etc check out the Kitchen Sink blog at my new and improved blog site:
Today is Thanksgiving.
As I reflect on all that for which I'm thankful, I find so much of it coalescing into one existential reality, like puzzle pieces coming together to form one cohesive image.
So I am thankful today just to be alive and to be joining God in the renewal of all things, on a daily basis. He has blessed and provided for me in remarkable ways these past three years and I'm sure I would not still be here were it not for God's guidance and the help that I've received through various communities in the city and especially the Heights.
There is one community in particular that I want to recognize today - my friends and comrades at Word Up Books in Washington Heights. As I mentioned in a recent post, I've been a volunteer with the WU collective since July last year and this thing has come to be a very important part of my life - even an important part of my plans for the future!
But our books were evicted at the end of August and we are now raising funds and seeking out a new location to base operations in Washington Heights once again.
Please watch the video below for a taste of all the greatness that is Word Up (and to understand why we, the volunteers, tear up every time we watch it!)
Perhaps you also see now why we are so desperate to open our doors once again! Our neighborhood needs a space like Word Up and we are chomping at the bit to bring it back to them.
Heck, who am I kidding? I need Word Up! It means so much to me that on this day, dedicated to giving thanks, I am blogging about Word Up and not about all the food that I'm soon to shove into my face!
So I do hope that you've gotten some idea of all the great work that we have done with our neighbors here in Washington Heights and Inwood, uptown Manhattan, and that you'll consider helping us along to re-open. Even if you can't afford to spare any donation, we would greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word. Share the story. Share your story (if you have one). Share the video.
Here's the link for the indiegogo campaign:
Here's the link for the youtube vid above:
Please post them on facebook, twitter, blogs, tumblr, pinterest, instagram, etc. And if you can spare a donation, please also know that you can get all kinds of great WU swag for your contributions. I mean, who doesn't want to be seen walking around the hood with one of these Ts?
Either way, you can help make it possible for me to write next year about how thankful I am for Word Up's new space and all that we've accomplished together in our neighborhood throughout year two. And that would be invaluable to me and the rest of our community.
Thanks so much for reading and caring. I also wish you and yours a weekend filled with thankfulness, community and contentment. Peace and blessings to you all.
As we're all well aware by now, on Monday October 29th New York City and surrounding areas were devastated by a super-storm-system named Sandy.
Though a relatively week storm, she brought much rain, wind, and sand into these densely populated areas which were totally unprepared. I was perhaps most unprepared of all, with no food or water stocked up in case of emergency, no plans for a loss of power or clean/hot water, etc. So I headed to the nearest evacuation center, just a few blocks from my apartment, to weather the storm. I would make do. I would survive. And I would help others however and wherever possible.
The photos below tell my story.
I took these photos on Sunday evening. The subways were going to be shut down in a few hours. This is always a little crazy for us New Yorkers who depend on the train system to get around.
After arriving at home I decided that I should devise a plan. I had not bought any food or water, so I filled all these liquor and soda bottles with tap water. My roommate was planning to spend the next couple nights at his girlfriend's apartment. Not wanting to remain alone at my apartment through a hurricane, I invited myself to join them. They bought me cheesy mac to eat and the little spice packet had a strange cautionary message.
The storm didn't really begin until Monday afternoon. I headed over to the shelter, a middle school located just a block from the apartment where I spent the night. There were very few evacuees, probably not more than five. There were far more volunteers! I ate lunch and played board games with other volunteers, including several friends from the Heights TGC.
In the evening, a few of us set up about thirty cots that had been provided by some city agency or another. There were three rooms for sleeping - one for single men, another for women, and one for families. We were told on Monday that forty people would be sent over from there, but in the end it was only about twelve.
I volunteered at the shelter for much of Monday and again on Tuesday evening, even though my neighborhood of Washington Heights was hardly affected by the storm. Nobody in the Heights, that I've talked to, suffered any damage or even lost power. Thus there were never many evacuees at the site - and I believe that those who were there had come from other shelters downtown that were without power and water.
I worked from home on Wednesday and went back to work at Darling on Thursday morning. Broadway was unusually busy for 6:30am, teeming and gridlocked with taxis, buses, police, and ambulances. The subways were still out. In the afternoon, long lines of people waited to fill up at gas stations in the Heights.
I began to hear from friends in the Heights that there were still great needs at another shelter in the neighborhood, George Washington High School. So I went on Saturday to see what it was like. Similar to the other shelter, there were far more volunteers than needed. I was able to find a couple doors to guard for a short while. In the gym, a large group of singers came to perform for the displaced families.
I was very proud to see that many of the volunteers at the school were comrades from either TGC or Word Up. I heart my hood!
Speaking of loving my hood, local politicians and organizations (mostly Dominican) began planning an event to raise funds for relief efforts in Staten Island. On Saturday night I received an e-mail from an arts organizer in the neighborhood seeking local performers to join the event. I jumped at the opportunity. And with less than 48 hours to plan, a Spanish telethon event, Uptown Cares, was under way on Sunday afternoon.
I arrived late into the event, but waited patiently to be allowed on stage. It almost didn't happen and I had to really push forward and remind the production crew that this white boy wanted to play some music and support this cause! I awkwardly introduced myself in Spanish and rushed through my new song Sing At The Top Of Your Lungs.
The telethon raised about $167,000, which I'm sure I had nothing to do with whatsoever. Still, I'm proud to have joined my community in supporting the victims in Staten island. And somehow I doubt I'll ever see that footage, haha.
The more that I saw photos, videos, and news reports coming from the most-affected areas in the city, the more itchy I was to get out of uptown Manhattan and down into the trenches. Finally I had a day off yesterday, more than a week after the storm, and had a chance to go down to Far Rockaway, to help people clean up their homes and streets.
At 168th street I serendipitously met and joined a group from a Chelsea church called Dream Center. They were also headed to the Rockaways, where friends of theirs live and are coordinating relief efforst from their home.
It took almost three hours to get there by subway and bus; but once we arrived, around 11a, we got straight to work. I helped a family clear their possessions, covered with sand, water, and other debris out of a crawl-space basement. After completing this task, I sought out the YANA Community Center (You Are Never Alone), located just five blocks from the home that the Dream Center crew was based at. The YANA space is one of the main hubs for Occupy Sandy relief efforts. I found out about it when I stumbled across this heart-warming video.
The Occupy efforts were a bit disorganized, as should be expected, but I greatly appreciated the heart behind their work. I volunteered a bit of time by helping to order the aisles of this distribution center, where neighbors have been coming to find food, clothes, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and more.
Below are many more pictures from the past week, especially from my day at Far Rockaway Beach yesterday.
This is the extent of my help with Sandy relief efforts so far, but I will definitely continue. I'm working to organize a group to head back to the Rockaways next Tuesday.
Please bear in mind that there is a big storm coming in today and tomorrow. These regions are expected to be hit very hard again. Please keep these desperate and vulnerable communities in your thoughts and prayers - and once the storm passes, perhaps you can volunteer a bit of time and energy yourself if you are able.
Your help is needed!
For reasons far beyond me, it appears that I've not written much about Word Up on this blog (perhaps it just goes to show how negligent I have been about keeping this blog updated...) In short, Word Up is a collective of artists, musicians, dreamers, authors, actors, revolutionaries, photographers, poets, designers (etc!) that grew out of the fertile cultural soils of Washington Heights and Inwood. We began to meet each other and collaborate on changing the world after the first few volunteers, in June 2011, established a "pop-up bookshop" inside a storefront on Broadway and 176 street.
Out of this perfectly-located space, in the middle of the "book desert" that is uptown Manhattan, we offered new and used books (for cheap!) and provided a stage where locals could express themselves in almost any medium they could imagine! And I knew immediately upon stepping foot in the store that it was itself the NYC manifestation of the 3rd fold of my three-fold-vision for Chicago!
The store was originally expected to stay open for only one month, but due in large part to widespread support from the neighborhood, we were able to stay put for over a year! Higher rent costs finally pushed us out of the space by the end of August this year.
But Word Up has always been much more than a space to meet in. We are a collective of kickass people. So as long as we continue to meet and change the world - particularly our neighborhood - together, we are alive and well!
One of the recent big projects was to organize the launch of a new arts organization in the hood, the United Palace of Cultural Arts. For one action-packed night, we pooled our collective awesomeness and splashed it all around the magnificent building just across the street from where our beloved store was once located. We even popped up a small version of the bookstore in the lobby!
The next big project is to raise funds for our re-opening. I will bring more details about this as soon as they are available. In the mean time, enjoy these videos with footage from the UPCA launch and the past year at WU!
In early August I began to notice a great deal of buzz regarding a popular restaurant chain for chicken sandwiches. Being vegetarian myself, I would not ordinarily care much for the debate; but this conflict had nothing to do with chicken at all. Apparently, the CEO of the restaurant chain had publicly announced his religious views on homosexuality, indicating that he believes in so-called traditional family values, as outlined in the Bible, and that he intended to continue managing his business by those same values.
The gay community and allies across the country were in uproar; and I was among their number.
Around the same time, there was some controversy regarding discrimination against gay Boy Scouts; a month or two prior, a vote against the legalization of gay marriage had gone through in North Carolina; President Obama then publicly showed support for the prospect of gay marriage - the first US president ever to do so.
The issues of gay marriage and discrimination were suddenly very prominent in my consciousness and something became very clear to me - there was a cultural war being fought all around me, between gays and Christians (I'm tempted to qualify Christians with nominal here, but let's go ahead and assume that many of the people on the Christian side are legit Jesus-following people. I know enough of them myself to confirm that they exist and that they are also wrestling with this issue and with their interpretations of the Christian scriptures).
Now I'm not gay myself, but I certainly feel a strong sense of solidarity with the gay community; and though I am Christian, I often find myself at odds with fellow Christians who denounce homosexuality as an abomination and appear to use their faith as a pretext for hate and discrimination.
As I worked through the aforementioned events myself, it was clear enough to me - we Christians need not worry so much about what others do with their personal, relational, and sexual lives. Rather, the scriptures instruct us not to judge others and instead to love them. Even our enemies! I wondered, if there's a war between gays and Christians, why aren't we Christians beating our swords into plowshares?
But perhaps I was over-simplifying matters. After all, shouldn't I also be concerned for the spiritual well-being of my gay friends? If homosexuality really is a sin, shouldn't I try to steer them toward righteousness? And if indeed there's a cultural war between gays and Christians, shouldn't I finally determine which side I'm on, lest I be helplessly caught in the crossfire?
Then, a miracle!
Many of the answers to these questions were delivered directly to my doorstep, couched in an advance proof of a new book by gay Christian author Justin Lee - TORN: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays-vs-Christians Debate.
Before even diving into the book, I was hopeful. It was clearly written by an author who is even more conflicted by this cultural war than I am - a man who actually is gay and devoutly Christian. And if the title should hold up, his primary objective is not to take a side in the debate - neither to defend his sexual identity/lifestyle nor the stalwart moral position of the Christian Church; rather, his objective is simply to rescue the gospel. Now this was something I could get behind!
The book begins with what I regard as Lee's reasons for penning it. In the first chapter he writes,
"The church pews are filled with Christians wrestling with these questions... These issues are varied and complex. Underlying all of them, however, is the essential question of how we Christians, having traditionally condemned homosexuality, should respond to a world that is increasingly accepting of it."
As the book proceeds, it reads as a memoirs. Lee reveals his struggles from high school, through college, and up to the present day to reconcile these two significant aspects of his identity. He loves God, the church, and the Bible on one hand, but finds himself inexplicably attracted to men (and not women) on the other; and to make matters worse, he's constantly poised between two sides in a heated cultural war.
As he walks us through his story, we are constantly challenged to ask ourselves, What is such a person to do?
Mixed into Lee's narrative, we are also treated to chapters covering the scientific perspectives on homosexuality, the failure and farce of so-called exgay ministries, and finally exegesis on every verse in the Bible that mentions homosexuality and/or homosexual behavior.
Lee then concludes the book, fittingly, with a way forward - seven things he recommends for conscientious Christians to do in order to rescue the gospel from this battle.
Without a doubt, the (seemingly) chance arrival of TORN was a huge blessing for me. I had so many questions answered and so many inklings confirmed. From the first page, I was filled all the more with love and compassion for the gay community, including my own friends; and I couldn't help but think of person after person to recommend the book to - Christians striving to understand homosexuality better, gay friends trying to reconcile their faith with their sexual attractions, and anyone else trying to learn what it means to express Christian love in a post-Christian world.
The book is most compelling to me because Lee amplifies the subject matter - it is no longer merely an issue; it's a person. It's a group of people. And they are among those whom Christians say Jesus loves.
Lee reminds us that if we, the church, are to be the body of Christ, we have to learn to love gay people as Jesus does. Perhaps, then, we ought to get started on those plowshares!
I discovered this video yesterday, of a pastor giving a speech regarding a law to curb discrimination against gays in Springfield, MO.
Most (if not all) of the speakers and pastors that take the microphone before and after him are staunchly against the ordinance. We have a lot of work to do :/
I have not had a job, even part-time, for over two years. Of course I don't mean to say that I've not worked. On the contrary, I've worked harder than ever these past two and a half years (and I plan to write more about the distinction, as well as my stint with "unjobbing" for the Matt 6:24 blog). I've frequently put in eight-to-twelve-hour days chock full of writing, busking, performing, recording, teaching, promoting, video editing, and so much more. I've even started and maintained five different blog sites, including this one - The Kitchen Sink.
I've written about the importance of washing dishes and I've tried to put my money where my mouth is in my various living situations here in NYC. For me, the dishes were always symbolic of the dirty work that we all have to do - yet nobody wants to do - when living in community. I, like so many activists before me, stood begrudgingly before the kitchen sink and washed dishes, regardless of whether they belonged to me.
"Everyone wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes," I'd remind myself.
But I still did not consider this task to be a job (I certainly wasn't paid for it), or even my work. I didn't include dishwashing on my daily schedule. And it never took longer than, say, fifteen minutes. It's another thing entirely to stand before a sink full of dirty dishes for eight hours a day.
Welcome to Darling Coffee.
When I finished recording the raw material for my new album #Heliotropism just a few weeks ago in North Carolina, I returned to the city ready to pound the pavement of Washington Heights, to seek out a job, to become gainfully employed.
A friend and fellow volunteer at Word Up told me of this coffee shop on 207th street that she worked at, mentioning that they were short-staffed and that I ought to apply. I e-mailed the owners, expressing my interest in dishwashing. They then invited me to come in for a couple trial shifts. Within a few days they agreed to add me to payroll.
The past week I worked five eight hour shifts and I've been telling people about my new work. "I'm a dishwasher…"
Almost invariably they furrow their brow in pity and disappointment. Even a co-worker came up during one of my first shifts, asking how it was going.
"Well, you know.. I'm washing dishes."
She suddenly looked very sad for me, like I was a puppy who'd just been run over by an SUV.
"What? Why are you making that face?" I asked. "I love washing dishes!"
She couldn't believe it, she said that I have "dishes zen". Sure, I've taken notes from Brother Lawrence, who I'll surely revisit and write more about. But it's truly a great honor to serve my neighbors and my co-workers in this way. There's no shame in the work I do - I hold it in high regard, as it blesses people that I care about, even if only in a small way and behind the scenes. Throughout my few days working there, I've already seen six different neighbors that I know from Word Up, TGC, and the Inwood Greenmarket.
Most importantly, I know that I've not made any ethical concessions. This coffee shop is incredibly conscientious - much of their coffee and food ingredients are locally sourced, they go to great lengths to recycle and even compost as much as possible, and the owners are a young married couple with a baby just hoping to support themselves and provide their community with a welcoming space to meet, work, drink, and eat gourmet food and drinks.
Though I worked a full-time schedule this past week, it looks like I'll be averaging twenty hours per week in the foreseeable future. This is a perfect schedule for me - I believe that I'll be making more than enough money to pay my bills and even begin to climb out of debt, while still allowing plenty of time to focus on my many creative pursuits. This job has already been a huge blessing to me and I look forward to dispensing the blessings back out to my community as I wash the dishes and keep the dance party going at the kitchen sink.
I've always been right on the edge of straight edge. I didn't drink until after I was 21 or smoke weed til much later than that. I've never smoked cigarettes or cigars and I avoid all kinds of drugs and foreign substances other than food and water. This generally includes caffeine, prescription medications and high fructose corn syrup as well.
Still, I was sure that when Mike, one of my friends and mentors at TGC Washington Heights, suggested I was an "edge piece" in the community, this was not what he had in mind.
He first mentioned it in December last year, hoping to keep me in the Heights for the foreseeable future. He explained that the church community counted on me, they needed my voice and vision for the church and for the neighborhood.
Nobody in my life - in church or otherwise - had ever expressed this need to me. That is, the need of... me - who I am and what I bring to the table (freegan food, haha!). I was flattered and stunned. And I also understood the need of community in my own life, as I'd experienced the reciprocal void over the course of my Zombie Music Tour (from which I had just returned). Still, I was already planning to head to Florida for the holidays and hoping to hit the road again in the spring. I felt that I ought to take this opportunity to take my show #ontheroad one last time. "If not now, when?" I asked.
Mike encouraged me to think more about the tour over the holidays and to make a list of pros/cons to discuss in January. A few weeks later, I met with him and Gary, the pastor of TGC Washington Heights, to present my list. Needless to say (perhaps), I was soon getting my ducks in a row and #ontheroad with the blessing and support of my church community and leaders. I'd travel and play my music throughout the southern and midwestern US over the better parts of both April and May.
After I returned from the tour in late May, I went with Mike to Manolo, a neighborhood tapas restaurant, to talk over some beers (I had a Czechvar, the best beer I've ever had!) This was - ironically? - when he expounded on what it meant that I am a so-called straight edge piece.
When you're building a puzzle, you want to put the corner pieces down first. In the church, those are the people who will have the most influence over the direction of the church. Gary and Mike are certainly corner pieces at TGC Washington Heights. Next, he said, you put down the edge pieces. These are people who live into a consistent narrative and ethic, people who will help frame the development and progress of the church. According to Mike, I was one of these straight edge pieces. And every time I left, I was that annoying edge piece that goes missing (my words, not Mike's).
My absence made it that much more difficult to see how the puzzle of TGC would come together in the Heights; but now that I'm back (and back for good) I'm locking in with my fellow straight edge pieces to outline the future of our church in this neighborhood. It's an honor to be a part of what God is doing - to take my place in the puzzle God is building here in the Heights.
For the past three years, I've posted a blog entry for Memorial Day, to remember and honor all who have died for military violence - US soldiers and otherwise. This year I included a video of a 13 year old girl giving a speech at some energy summit in Rio de Janeiro. I believe that the speech was given in 1982.
The video was indeed inspiring, but I was so discouraged by how little progress humanity has made in the past thirty years. While the video was inspiring to me, I bemoaned that it was not also inspiring to the diplomats in the room; that the violence and injustice in our world were so clear to a 13 year old girl from Vancouver but her eloquent pleas for a peaceful and healthy planet, for sane governance and environmental policy, fell on the deaf ears of a whole generation of diplomats.
I posted the video on facebook, saying "if we think reform is possible, we're kidding ourselves." This comment led to a discussion with a close friend - my own personal agitator - who took issue with what he perceived as pessimism on my part. I then clarified "my rejection of 'reform' simply implies my endorsement of 'revolution' as an alternative... don't wait for Obama, politicians, 'the man', religious entities, or any such nonsense to tweak the system here and there (that would be reformist). Just BE the change you wish to see. That is revolution."
After some more interchange, my agitator posed a few questions that I felt compelled to answer for this blog. Here they are with my brief answers.
1) If you had absolute power, wealth and influence in the world what would you do differently than those currently in charge?
I would share my wealth and power so that nobody would have need and so that everyone could join my work to build a peaceful world. I would also buy another planet. Just in case this doesn't work out.
2) What is the greatest struggle you face in your daily life?
Going to bed by 11p every night and waking up by 6a. Quitting my terrible nail-biting habit, which I've had since I was a very small kid. Also, diminishing my body odor without using deodorant.
3) In your opinion who is to blame for all the sadness and sickness in the world?
Well. Lots of people. But I'll go ahead and blame the people who are responsible in a most indirect (but still incredibly substantial) way: folks who are apathetic, complacent, ambivalent. Also Ronald McDonald.
4) What is the single greatest gift that you can offer the world?
I'm going to go with: time. Music is a close contender.
updates sure to come, haha.
In the past month or two there have been many new developments on the community front. I feel terribly guilty that I have not posted here more frequently, but I assure you I've been very busy with other very important matters - I'm in DC now, #ontheroad, and this sort of trip takes a lot of work!
As I mentioned in the last entry (posted February 1), the Heights church was to launch by around Easter time. It was already looking like we would be meeting on Saturday evenings, but that would totally depend on the venue, should we ever find one. Gary, the pastor of our fledgling body, went all around our Heights neighborhood for months, in search of a venue that would suit our needs. Finally, less than two weeks before our hopeful launch date of Saturday, April 1, he confirmed our venue - a United Methodist Church on Broadway between 173 and 174 streets. As Gary would repeatedly joke, we might be the first Trinity Grace Church to make it to Broadway (it never gets old :)
Our launch service was a time of great celebration. Many pastors and laypeople from other TGC parishes came to support us on our special day. The symbolism of the triumphal entry helped to bolster our spirits, as our launch date was the Saturday preceeding Palm Sunday. And thankfully - surprisingly - everything went off without a hitch (which is more than I can say about our second gathering, lol). The pastor of the Methodist church even gave some encouraging words toward the end of the service. He said that we were an answer to his prayers and that he was not threatened by us but was rather excited to see how God might use our partnership to further God's Kingdom.
This new church in the Heights is very exciting to me, for several reasons. First - I've found that over the course of these 2.5 years in NYC, my energy, time and focus have coalesced in Washington Heights. The new Heights plant is just the most recent and significant manifestation of that. Secondly, I've come to see that the Heights church is a testing ground for me, a chance to see and learn first-hand what church planting is all about - the joys, frustrations, celebrations, challenges, etc - so that I might be better equipped to do it again in Chicago, some time in the distant future. I can't wait to see how this new church develops and flourishes, to be a blessing to our neighbors and our community; it has already been such a great blessing to me.
Last fall I began seeking out people with whom to live intentionally in the Heights. The only opportunity that presented itself at that time was a barter living situation with a fellow volunteer at Word Up - he offered for me to stay with him rent free in exchange for 14 hours of work around his apartment per week. I don't wish to be too specific about what happened at that apartment during the few months I was there, but sufficed to say I found it to be extremely challenging. There were certainly aspects about the apartment itself that made things rather difficult, but the greater challenge by far was to share the small space with another person who was quite different from me in many ways. Perhaps our personalities simply did not jive. For whatever reason, I was asked to leave by the beginning of April.
I knew that I would leave town by April 12 so I figured it would be easy enough to store my few belongings some place and find couches to sleep for just the first week and a half of April. I started by asking my brother Mike whether he could hold onto my stuff while I was away. Before I could even finish the question, he said, "done, you got it." I could stash my things at his home in Jersey, in his virtually empty garage. He also welcomed me to stay at his place for my first night out of the old apartment and he made me a killer omelet in the morning.
To find accommodations for the rest of the nights, I reached out to the rest of my church community. A handful of people promptly replied, each willing to host me for a couple nights.
There was one night that - due to a miscommunication on my part - I didn't have a place to stay. When I talked that night to my friend Annie, she put me in touch with the pastor of her own church, Saint Mary's Episcopal in Harlem. She said they would likely put me up in the office or on a couch. I arrived at the church with a large, heavy bag rescued from a nearby Dunkin Donuts and handed it over for any community meals taking place at the church the next day (it is my understanding that they host regular meals and even a shelter for the homeless). The pastor then led me to the sanctuary, where I could sleep alone and in peace, with a sleeping bag on the carpet floor throughout the night.
Up to this point, Annie and I had tossed around the possibility of her joining me for part of the tour but we had yet to seriously discuss logistics - how we might afford to buy bus tickets for the two of us, the role(s) she might play as we bounced around the country, how she might help me get my merch together before we shoved off, and whether, finally, she would actually come.
We discussed all this over the phone, deciding to put off that final decision til the following afternoon. Once our conversation had ended, I marveled at God's always miraculous provision for me as I laid myself down to sleep in the sanctuary of this old church in Harlem - but not before taking photos!
The next day was Thursday, April 5th, the date I had planned to hold my tour kickoff show at Word Up Books. By this point I had also decided to postpone the event, since only one person had RSVP'd on Facebook and none of the local supporting acts had come through either. Shortly after I sent out the sad message to my friends at the Heights church and Word Up, I received a message from my brother Elam, "Do you want to have a private performance-celebration in my living room instead?"
I was so thankful for his willingness to host me on this date, but I was doubtful that many people would come. The date was also Maundy Thursday, in the middle of Holy Week, and I knew that many people from the Heights church would be headed down to Chelsea for the service at St Paul's. I figured this was likely the reason that none of them had RSVP'd in the first place. But Elam assured me that they would come.
Sure enough, when I arrived at Elam's apartment, there was already a nice-sized group of people, an audience that only grew as more and more people from my newly-planted church congregation, trickled into this beautiful makeshift venue. Folks munched on bread, cheese and wine as I warmed up for my set and began to play. Still more people came in, finding their seats on the floor or standing in the hallway across the room. I played for maybe an hour and a half, including a few cover requests, and everyone seemed to have a great time. This was later reflected in the donation bag, where the generosity of my church family was revealed in spades.
I would have enough to buy bus tickets for two after all!
It has been a week now since that amazing night of music, food, and fellowship. I'm typing from the lobby of Union Station in DC, still reeling from the grace and provision of God in my life over these past couple weeks - another friend allowed me to stay at her apartment for all of Easter weekend (she was out of town herself), I celebrated Sabbath on Easter Sunday by sharing brunch and dancing with my TGC Heights friends, I had a last supper of sorts with my brothers (single men) last night, where they prayed for me and sent me out with their blessing. The Kingdom of God is indeed coming to the Heights, on Earth as it is in Heaven, and it is such a great joy to be in the midst of it, to be a part of it myself. I can't wait to be back in the Heights, to partake in fellowship with my church family, to be grafted again to the body of Christ, joining God in the renewal of all things.
I plan to be #ontheroad until May 22. Please see the gandollo blog for itinerary and details, as I'll be updating there somewhat regularly. Please also pray for traveling mercies as I move about the country and I'll be back in NYC in no time!
I love Chicago.
I've felt called to that place ever since I visited on a mission trip in 1999. And when I saw Jon Tyson, along with a team of leaders from Discovery Church in Orlando, pack up and move to NYC to plant Origins Church, I knew that I would one day do the same thing in Chicago. But I was also convinced that I had much yet to learn, grow, and experience before I could attempt such a feat. So I moved to NYC in September 2009 and immediately plugged into community at Trinity Grace Church (formerly Origins). I wanted to learn and be involved with church planting and I suspected that Trinity Grace would provide the right opportunities.
In October that same year I attended the first meeting of the Heights Missional Community, a medium sized group that meets weekly and is organized geographically, by neighborhood. I stayed involved with the Heights MC ever since and have sought out ways to serve the neighborhood with particular focus on the three-fold vision God gave me for Chicago.
Now there is talk of planting a church in the Heights, from among the same community that has been living and serving with me here for well over two years. The launch is likely to take place in early April. Tonight was our first gathering to discuss and ask questions about what the church will look like come April. There are still a lot of question marks, especially in regards to when and where we'll meet, but we are moving forward in confidence that everything will work out.
As for me, I am grateful for God's faithfulness. I know that God is leading and teaching me throughout these experiences and my time in NYC to ultimately draw me to Chicago. It's already been a pretty wild ride, but I look forward to everything that is yet before me - I get the feeling that I've only seen the tip of the iceberg here in NYC.