One of my pastors at Trinity Grace recently posed the titular question to our congregation, hoping for a flood of emails to his inbox. I didn't get around to it last week (and neither did most others, apparently) but I do think it's an important question to think about every now and again. It just makes sense to ask what an author is up to as we turn the page to a new chapter - especially when we ourselves are characters in the narrative!

I've already written about what I hope to happen this year as an extension of what I accomplished throughout 2011. But what does it all mean? WHY do I wish to accomplish X, Y, and Z? Is it only for my own sense of accomplishment and actualization or is it also to glorify God? Meanwhile, do I actually see God's hand moving in my life? If so, where? How?

There are at least two major ways that I see God at work in my life right now, patterns that I anticipate will be woven throughout the entire year.

The first actually is a sense of self-actualization - but for the glory of God, not the glory of me. That is to say: I know that God has called me to be a songwriter, a performance artist, an activist. I anticipate that I will grow ever more comfortable in these shoes as I break them in; that I will continue to improve my craft and gain in cultural influence as I work toward these ends. But God didn't call me to this life so that I might be glorified. It's for God's glory and God's kingdom, not mine. The artistic excellence and acclaim that I desire, the cultural influence that I seek is on behalf of God's kingdom. Indeed, I've been called a "voice in the wilderness" (alluding to John the Baptist), a canary in the mineshaft, a prophet. Lest such comparisons get to my head, I can only pray that my integrity in faith and obedience will stand the tests that God yet has for me.

Even the daily provision that I pray for, largely dedicated to my climb out of debt, is ultimately for God's glory and honor - that I might one day, in my abundance, give to the poor and bless the church with a generous heart. I believe that it is God's will that I be free from debt and I trust that God will provide all my needs and help me to reach this freedom soon!

The second thread that God is weaving into the fabric of my life is the neighborhood of Washington Heights. It all started just weeks after I moved to NYC in September of 2009. The Heights missional community took off at that point and I began to fall for the neighborhood, though I lived in Harlem at the time. I joined men in prayer at the 181 overlook, volunteered to teach music at the Operation Exodus after school program, and joined the Neighborhood Trust community development credit union at the GWB bus terminal. But I still did not realize then that God was clearly calling me to this neighborhood.

Perhaps that epiphany did not arrive until July of last year, when I began volunteering at the new "pop-up" bookstore and arts community center on 175 street and broadway. Word Up Books is committed to promoting literacy and the arts in a neighborhood that is vastly underserved. Though the Heights has the largest concentration of children in Manhattan, the school libraries are unkept and unused, public libraries are sparse, and we are the only bookstore within a thirty block radius! Great things have come out of our service to the neighborhood and we have had much favor and appreciation from our neighbors. Most importantly, it has provided a forum to really integrate into the life of the neighborhood, to meet many people who live and work in Washington Heights, including many local writers, artists, and musicians. And of course it's a great place to be a witness for God and the church, to show God's heart for the Heights and for peace and justice.

It is a great privilege to be involved in the work God is doing to bring peace and justice to the Heights and NYC through these various organizations. But I am especially looking forward to the great work God has for the new church plant in the Heights as we join Him in the renewal of all things. I currently and temporarily sleep in Inwood, farther uptown than I prefer, but I plan to move to Washington Heights in June with other folks from the Heights MC. By God's grace we will live together, intentionally, with emphasis on spiritual praxis, hospitality, and service to the church and neighborhood.

So... That's what I believe God is doing in my life. I've made some plans accordingly, though I suppose there's always the possibility that God has some dramatic irony up the sleeve! No matter. Whichever way God leads, I will follow.
 
 
I live in NYC. I moved here in September 2009 to get involved with Trinity Grace Church and learn the ropes of church-planting. I wanted to eventually utilize my own knowledge, skills, resources, support, and team to plant a church in the great city of Chicago. But I learned early on that my primary challenge would be simply surviving in NYC. I was told that if I could make it here, I could make it anywhere

In many ways, I've flipped the notion around and have even become (occasionally) the face of surviving simply: working full time as a writer, busker, performance artist, volunteer, activist, and freegan spokesperson. I live so simply, in fact, that I doubt I'll have the means to follow God to the Windy City any time soon. I don't really mind this, since I know that God is not leading me there yet anyway. There is still much for me to learn and experience in NYC (and elsewhere?) before that happens. Thankfully, God's work in and through me is ever-evident as I live missionally in NYC: molding my life, my story, the places I visit, the people I meet; teaching, leading, using me in ways that reflect and renew who I am, what I am good at, and what I am passionate about. 

In September 2010, about one year after my move to the city, I received a vision from God like a 10-second-old polaroid picture of my own kitchen sink, a place in Chicago where I could do the dishes:
  1. 24/7 house of prayer and worship
  2. Homeless kitchen and resource center
  3. Art community center and DIY showspace

The vision has since developed a bit and I just continue shaking it (in more ways than one) as I do the dishes here in NYC. I anticipate that my years here will help me to further develop my vision and prepare me to materialize and plant it in Chicago. In all its facets. At some point in the not-too-distant future.
 
 
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I recently finished a new album, an EP called Protest Songs (Are Dead) which is available for free download on NoiseTrade, a great resource for independent musicians such as myself who are trying to expand their fan base and get their music "out there".

The album is a cross-section of my oeuvre for the past 1.5 years and tackles some heavy topics. Be sure to wear your thinking cap!

Despite the ironic title, this album would likely be regarded "protest music" by most people, since it touches on a number of contemporary hot-button issues such as homelessness, immigration, consumerism, exploitation, war, violence, poverty. But it should be noted that the songs don't protest anything. They're not about issues or politics. There really is no social comment (excepting Protest Song and Pax Americana, but what we find there is still not quite protestant in nature). Instead, the songs on this album tell stories about people - a homeless man, an immigrant, sweatshop workers, civilian casualties.

As a songwriter I consider this my primary aim, to tell stories: fiction, non-, and perhaps mostly the space in-between. The songs on this album tell such stories - mostly tragic - of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, the people and stories that are all-too-often overlooked. 
So I consider it among my primary roles as an artist to hold a mirror up to society, revealing some of its faults, some of the places that we are failing to bring hope, peace, and justice to all, especially in times of such great economic hardship.

But holding up a mirror often leads to awkward situations. It's like pointing out when a person has a piece of something stuck in his or her teeth. Nobody likes having an ugly piece of something in his or her teeth, and they hate having it pointed out. It's embarrassing. But it's for this same reason that we are often thankful that a friend will point it out to us. We need to be made aware of the problem so that we can address it.

I've made a similar point about dishes: everybody wants a revolution; nobody wants to do the dishes. They just pile up higher and higher and we refuse to take care of it because "they're not all my dishes!" We fail to realize - or perhaps in our stubbornness refuse to recognize - that it doesn't matter whose dishes they are. What really matters is that there's a sink full of dirty dishes, they're piling over onto the counter and stove top. They are everywhere, they belong to everyone, and sooner or later, somebody's got to deal with them.I believe this is also true of addressing real social maladies. We all want a revolution - or the romantic idea of it - but we don't want to engage in the difficult and sacrificial actions that reconcile us to each other, those things which are truly revolutionary. We are often too lazy, ambivalent, stubborn, or sometimes downright ignorant of the real problems. So we never address them and we don't make any progress.

My new album is a picture of the sink of our society, flowing over with dirty dishes. It's a mirror showing us the broccoli stuck in our teeth. 

In Protest Song I invite my listeners to "boldly look the devil in the face and bring hope, peace, and love where there is violence and hate." In other words, we need to take a long hard look at the sink, put on our gloves, and get to scrubbing! We need to grab a tooth pick or brush and take that itty bitty bit of broccoli to town… except that it's more like we have a whole head of broccoli stuck in our teeth, some really monstrous problems to deal with! 

We need to be the changes in the world we want to see. This is what I hope to work toward as an artist and songwriter: to inspire and unite people under an alternative vision for the world and its future, a vision of peace, hope, and justice for all; then to empower them to move forward in solidarity.

I do hope you enjoy the album, always wearing your thinking cap, and beginning to dream up what such an alternative vision might look like! 

Looking forward to dreaming with you and as always wishing you
Peace,
Gio

 
 
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Thanks so much to everyone who has shown support for my lifestyle and my art these past couple days! It has been very very encouraging. But it also occurred to me today that nowhere in the Huffington Post article, or even in my own extended bio, did I mention the NAME of my solo music project (GioSafari) or leave LINKS for people to check out my music!

First things first, I want EVERYONE to download my newest single for FREE on noisetrade.com, it's called Vagrants & Vagabonds, Outlaws & Thieves

You may also leave a tip there if you feel so inclined. Some people have asked whether there are ways they can financially support my work. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! Here are links for mp3 downloads and/or support:

iTunes
Amazon


I am also more than willing to send you my music for free and/or for donations via paypal. Email or connect via paypal at giosafari@gmail.com.

Finally, here are links for updates, networking, videos, and streaming:

Facebook
YouTube
Twitter 
Last.FM
MySpace

Following the huffpo article, many questions have been asked on this blog regarding freeganism, busking, my faith, etc. I will absolutely respond to many of these questions in due time! Expect that blog entry within the next week. Thanks to you all for your support, I appreciate it very much!

Peace,
Gio

 
 
Great news! I was featured in this week's HuffPost Food Informants Series! Read about a week in the life of a freegan! 

The editor did use a bit of editorial license with my diary, which I'm fine with. And they've tried to represent my motivations in the introductory bio, but there is much more that could not be included in its entirety for sake of brevity. So I do hope you'll read below the full bio that I sent the editor. It paints a more complete picture of how and why I came to busking and freeganism in NYC... Check out the Kitchen Sink plug towards the end!!!

I'm a writer, artist, musician - this is my existential calling, what I was born to do, so to speak. As a Christian, I believe God has given me the special ability, skill, passion to do this and it would be downright disobedient for me not to do it! 

Unfortunately in this society (in every society?) artists don't get paid much. It's our job to show others how sick, twisted, and depraved society has become - we have a special eye for this - and also to offer better alternatives, to show the way things could be. The problem is that the people who have power and money are precisely the ones who do not want anything to change! So you may call me a conspiracy theorist if you wish, but I doubt it's a coincidence that artists like myself have a difficult time surviving in a society such as ours, despite the great amount of labor, thought, and love that we put into our craft. As a society, we are conditioned to believe that artists are just fantastical idealists, unrealistic weirdos; and that our work, our art, is worthless on a pragmatic level - why would anyone financially support that which they perceive as worthless? Indeed, why would governments support art programs in schools over worthwhile and pragmatic pursuits like math and science?

Since I refused to compromise my calling and my time (by, say, getting a crappy part-time job), I had to find alternative ways of living. I became freegan. 

I believe I'd always been a freegan in ideology, at least since high school, but I sought a community of people with whom I could practice this alternative lifestyle. I was involved with the radical freegan group Food Not Bombs in Orlando, where I first dumpster dove and began to see the waste in our economy and its backwards priorities - profits over people. Indeed, OFNB has been in a long-standing legal battle against the city of Orlando which illegalized the sharing of food and feeding homeless people in a public park, hoping to quell the fears of classist and xenophobic business owners and upscale residents in this heart-of-downtown neighborhoodI recently wrote a song about the situation as 30 of my friends have been arrested in June and July for doing nothing more than feeding the homeless. Here's the link for that poem: http://gandollo.weebly.com/1/post/2011/07/lightweight.html

After a few months of living in NYC and seeking part time work, I decided to pursue my music and art wholeheartedly. I would have to take freeganism much more seriously! So I attended a freegan.infomeeting in December 2009 and I've since grown in sympathy with the Freegan cause, especially its concern for the abuses inherent in current economic systems: waste of resources, exploitation of people, degradation of the environment, calloused treatment of animals, commodification of time, labor, even war (thus human life in wholesale). Of course I write songs about these issues, among many others; I also write blogs.

The one I most prioritize currently is my personal blog and portfolio at gandollo.weebly.com. In it, I document almost everything that I'm doing in my life - past and current projects, GioSafari (my solo music project), new poetry, videos, updates, powerful quotes, and more. Another blog is atfreenyc.weebly.com, which is all about how to live on a shoestring in an expensive city like New York. I talk about dumpster diving, busking, living hand-to-mouth, the financial struggles that I face on the day-to-day; but also about the joys I find in experiencing nature, determining my own schedule (including waking up at 6am), bartering and volunteering, and freedom from running the hamster wheel of capitalism. 

I have a third blog about washing dishes (dishesdance.weebly.com) called Dance Party At the Kitchen Sink. The name comes from two popular quotes regarding revolution: 1) Everyone wants a revolution but nobody wants to do the dishes; 2) A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having! I hope to plant a church in Chicago some time in the future. That is my kitchen sink - I want to build a community that is passionate about justice, that is willing to get its hands dirty and wash the dirty dishes of our society - violence, racism, homophobia, sexism, socioeconomic inequality and injustice - but is also going to do so with a hop, skip, and dance in its step! Activists tend to take their work very seriously, to the point that their work becomes very serious. We must always remember that we are not only fighting violence and injustice (fighting - such a violent word!), we are also constructively working towards a world of peace, joy, compassion, equality, and sustainability. That's why I'm perpetually hosting a dance party at the kitchen sink!
 
 
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These are my prayer beads, introduced in the previous entry. Below are the names of the beads and/or what they represent. Some of these won't make much sense just yet. But... oh well. Stay tuned to learn more.
1) Dawn (Psalm 57)
2) Trust, Obey, Abide
3) The Lord's Prayer
4) The Clown of God
5) Family
6) Edgecombe House
7) The Heights
8) TGC Leaders
9) Won
10) TGC Peeps
11) The Kitchen Sink
12) Red Moon Rising
13) Good Morning Joe
14) The Black Box
15) Two Loves
16) Trinity
17) Nantakarn
18) Other
19) Freegans
20) Musicians
21) Dreams
22) Shalom
23) Plans
 
 
I've been meeting with the Trinity Grace worship team on Tuesday mornings for well over a year now. We spend the bulk of the time in prayer and worship, but it is also a time for us to learn and grow together in these disciplines. To this end the worship pastor, Alf, often teaches us what he has been learning himself.

For many months now we've been talking about ordering our prayer lives: what, why, how. The basic idea is that God has given each of us a little bit to steward. He longs to give us more but first we must show that S/he can trust us with a little. We should be praying and interceding on behalf of the people, places, and promises that God has entrusted to us already. 

Alf recommended that we make a list and encouraged us to send it to him. I made my list a few months ago but still struggled to be disciplined about prayer. I don't think I was alone.

We were amused when Alf responded to this common struggle, showing us a tool he had recently implemented in his prayer life - a string of prayer beads that he had selected himself at a nearby bead store. I wasn't so much amused at the idea as much as his self-consciousness about it. It seemed like a great idea to me, something that would be very helpful in my own prayer life. He wrote three words on the board, emphasizing the importance of ordering our prayer lives, of doing whatever it takes to make that happen:

ORDER BEFORE DISCIPLINE
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Finally I made it down to the bead store on 37th and 6th, spending over $40 on about 60 beads (bad freegan!) - each representing a person, place, promise, idea, or Bible verse that is important to me or my story. I've been using it to guide my prayer for about a week now and I'm finding it to be very helpful! 

I wish to share with others what the beads represent, in hopes that it might help them order their own prayer lives and even get their own beads, should they find this tool to be as helpful as I do! Stay tuned for future posts, as I explain each bead or set of beads - the many great gifts that God has entrusted to me!

 
 
My abuela Angela passed on Good Friday, almost a week ago. I'd anticipated her passing for about two years, since I first recognized that she was slipping. Immediately following that occasion I wrote:

When she finally succumbs to the death inside her
and shakes his selfish hand,
the world will lose among its most precious gems.
The total beauty of this world will diminish,
perhaps perceptibly.


And as my sister recently commented on facebook, many of us will have to take to our knees more often to make up for the loss of a faithful prayer warrior. On that same day, my grandmother charged me with a new name, a new mission: nuestro músico especial.

I will certainly continue to write and play the music that God has put on my heart and conscience. But I am also compelled to take up the baton of prayer, to dedicate my life to both prayer and worship just as my grandmother had done.

Though her body may die,
her voice never will.
I will carry it forever, until in my last days,
I can hold hands with Life and christen
a new singer to carry on this legacy - 
a legacy of beauty and love that has been carried 
since the beginning of time,
to be carried forever and ever.
In the mean time, I'm assembling a choir to sing her song -
an ode to joy,
but also to peace, love, life...
and life abundant.


Click here for the complete poem.
 
 
I will periodically post excerpts from the 1967 ed of Spire Books', "The Practice of the Presence of God," by and about Brother Lawrence (c. 1614-1691). Perhaps they'll help put kitchen "business" in right perspective. The following are from the publishers' Preface:
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Fame and greatness are relative values and often a delusion and a snare, depending upon circumstances and an attitude of mind. Napoleon was famous to some and infamous to others, and Jesus, crucified in his day, is greater with the passing years. Perhaps the greatest of men are those who never seek greatness at all, but who personify the virtues which posterity calls great. Such an one was Brother Lawrence... with a mind so like the mind which was in Christ, he lived so abundantly in the presence of God.

No conceited scholar was Brother Lawrence; theological and doctrinal debates bored him, if he noticed them at all. His one desire was for communion with God. We find him worshiping more in his kitchen than in his cathedral... and he could say, "the time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen... I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament."

A wholly consecrated man, he lived his life as though he were a singing pilgrim on the march, as happy in serving his fellow monks and brothers from the monastery kitchen as in serving God in the vigil of prayer and penance. He died at eighty years of age, full of love and years and honored by all who knew him.

 
 
Check out this load of dishes!
They've been piling up since I didn't get to them right after cooking about a week ago. My roommates have since helped to add to the clutter. 

There are dirty dishes. Somebody's got to do them.

There's a saying that spins around anarchist circles, "everyone wants a revolution but nobody wants to do the dishes." Nothing could ring truer in describing my years of living in community. And in a way, the same could be said about society in general. 

People use dishes without washing them. Dishes pile up. The sink overflows with dirty dishes so they cover the counters and stove. Nobody wants to clean the pile because "they're not all mine."

We sometimes approach society similarly. Poverty, inequity, homelessness, hunger, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, heterosexism, xenophobia - these all exist, we see them all around us, overflowing the kitchen sink of our world, piling up on the counter and stove tops. So they are rare souls who confront this pile, sponge in hand, ready for the long, hard, dirty road ahead. Indeed it would seem as though cleaning dishes is the most revolutionary act of all! 

I hope to find myself in good company as the years pass, as I draw into community with fellow dishwashers, as I pursue the vision God has given me for the city of Chicago. Imagine...