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? 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.

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 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.