The church loves to talk about welcome. From evangelical mega churches that put coffee shops in the foyer to progressive experiments with the format of ancient liturgies, people from a variety of contexts are thinking about how the Christian tradition might best embody welcome. If we’re being honest, though, sometimes self-preservation is at the heart of the effort. How can we preserve the community we love by drawing more people into it?
“Everyone has a home to go to, except me.” The patient whose hospital bed I’m sitting beside suddenly speaks without looking at me. She’s been silent for the past half hour of my chaplain visit, refusing to speak but also shaking her head each time I offer to leave. I take a deep breath and let myself feel the full weight of her words. I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ words from Matthew 8:20. But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. “Tell me more,” I say, and we look into each other’s eyes.
Living with L’Arche this summer, and now living and working with a homeless community in Boston called MANNA, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the idea that ‘All are Welcome’. The Rev. Cristina Rathbone, head priest and founder of the MANNA community, explains what it means to be welcome in our community, and her words resonate with the welcome I experienced in L’Arche:
How often are you left waiting in your day-to-day life? If you’re like me, you might find yourself increasingly impatient when the doctor is running 15 minutes late or even when the Internet page is slow to load. Our interconnected, high-tech culture is one of instant gratification: knowledge on any subject is at our fingertips, people are immediately available to answer our questions, and any object we desire can be on our doorstep in two days. So when we have to wait, we question whether it is worth it, whether that person or thing will ever come at all.
My two years as a fellow with Life Together were an immersion in inquiry, reflection, and search for integrity. I learned for the first time about the practice of community organizing -- of strategies of public disruption of the status quo and of building power -- the practice of living in intentional community -- of trying in imperfect and temporary ways to share resources and to make collective decisions -- and the practice of contemplative prayer -- of knowing myself and God more deeply and intimately than I had known.
Hey Life Together fam! I'm writing this the day after it was due (sorry Sydney!), with 51 unread emails in my inbox and an ever-expanding to-do list. In other words, my life is the opposite of together. And as my housemates know, my stress management strategies of choice are cooking and cleaning. This weekend, I culled our impressive collection of plastic grocery bags and engineered a hanging dispenser for them out of an old tissue box. I spent my Sunday afternoon de-cluttering the kitchen counters, while rice and beans simmered on the stove. Just last night, I procrastinated writing this very reflection by boiling dumplings for my housemates.
When I introduce Life Together to others, I often mention storytelling as one of our key practices. If you’ve been a fellow, you know why: it wouldn’t be a Life Together year without multiple training sessions devoted to the practice of public narrative, where one shares a personal story that invites others to action. And if you’ve been to our annual celebration, Love Matters, you’ve heard many such stories of this community’s impact on young leaders.
Sankofa originates from the Akan in Ghana. The Akan believe in the importance of using history as a blueprint for planning for what is ahead. Sankofa for me is the way that my grandparents raised their children on a small island in the Caribbean and how those values moved through my mother and later through me. From my earliest memories, my parents instilled in me the importance of helping others. As a college senior, I was contemplating next steps when Life Together emerged as an opportunity. As an endemic easterner completing undergrad in the Midwest, I was thrilled to return to the East Coast even if it was an unfamiliar city. I did not know it at the time, but I now recognize that move as honoring my sankofa.
I have witnessed again and again the power of the question, “What are you reading?” to spark conversation and connection. Not surprisingly, this question turns out to be particularly fruitful when asked within the Life Together community, a place where so many gifts, interests, and passions meet and gather. It was through this question that I recently discovered Madeline L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.” Throughout the book, L’Engle explores the question of what happens to our creative impulses as we grow up into a world that so often prioritizes output and productivity over the meandering whimsy of the creative process.
Last Friday, I loaded with the fellows onto a small white school bus and headed through Lawrence to Esperanza Academy. Life Together is in its sixth year of partnership with Esperanza, where four fellows are placed as co-teachers at a tuition-free Episcopal school for middle school girls. We were there that training day to learn more about urban education. We observed classes taught by fellows, ate far better cafeteria food than I remember from my own middle school days, and then spent some time reflecting on the intersections between education and our own lives. "Where in your own work," the Esperanza fellows asked the rest of us, "are you an educator?"
I was a Micah Fellow from August 2013 through June 2014, at the South Coast site in Fall River. I shared a house with three fantastic housemates and have incredible memories of my year there! My work placement was with United Neighbors of Fall River, and my position was funded by Partners for a Healthy Community - one of twenty-plus Community Health Network Areas that cover Massachusetts. In this job, I got to be involved in local health initiatives, take on a project targeting homelessness in our region, and work with a myriad of community agencies every day.
Through her powerful and compelling poetry, Jacqueline Woodson began this school year for our sixth graders with this message: you will change the world, and there are many ways to do it. As she traces her own course of political action in her book Brown Girl Dreaming--whether to follow the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, or Ruby Bridges--she invites the reader to do the same. This prophetic imagination is vital to what James Baldwin characterizes as the very purpose of education.
"Joining the LT community has been such an honor, and it is a privilege to work for and belong to such a loving and supportive community. I am looking forward to working with fellows and assisting them with program issues, discerning for seminary, and financial planning. As the Development and Operations Manager, I take my duties very seriously and care deeply for the development and spiritual success of every fellow I come in contact with. Life Together has a great reputation, and I am happy to be part of the team and community."
Jerry Ellis is a leader in labor economics and poverty and an award winning teacher and researcher from the University of Minnesota, where he obtained his PhD in labor economics and organizational psychology.
It's a time for transition. The smells in the Northeast are changing from smoky bonfires and the scent of freshly cut grass, to pumpkin spice in every form and the crisp aroma of autumn. For many of the Micah (first year) fellows, the transition has been from college to work life. For a few, like me, the transition has been about career change. Before joining Life Together, I worked at the Boston branch of an international public accounting firm. Quite unhappy with my job and future prospects at the firm, I decided to seek a different path. Thankfully, this brought me to Life Together and my placement site, Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence.
Since my childhood, I’ve loved September. More than any New Year’s resolutions, the start of the academic or program year seems filled with promise: I loved getting that fresh syllabus on the first day of class in college, anticipating all the new worlds to which I would be introduced and the stimulating class discussions we would have about them. On that day, the long hours writing papers and the tough exams weren’t on the horizon… even if the syllabus clearly spelled out that they were coming.
We are so excited to introduce our next group of Emmaus (second-year) fellows! In their Emmaus year, fellows dive into a year of leadership development. They take on servant leadership roles during Friday trainings and other staff support responsibilities, all while continuing to serve at a church or non-profit site. Let's meet our new team!
On Friday night May 12th, in the midst of typical Boston spring weather (read: rainy and cold), I gathered with the Greater Boston Zen Center’s newly created Racial & Social Justice working group in Cambridge. We were, organizationally, babies: it was our third-ever meeting. And yet, we were already humming. The hospitality team had provided pizza; I had a butcher-paper agenda on the wall; we checked in; someone volunteered to be time-keeper; a member of the group shared her public narrative, and others responded with words of resonance; we went through a draft of the shared purpose; we silently journaled; we shared in groups of 3, then reported out; we reviewed roles; we had an evaluation at the end, complete with pluses, deltas and shout-outs. For those who aren’t familiar, all of these activities are classic Life Together.
When I came to Life Together I was wrestling with the multiple parts of myself-- how to integrate my emotions, intellect and body. My earlier years in the Church required me to sever these parts of me into nice little boxes-- some safe, some not so safe. First box was emotions, to trust my heart and the Holy Spirit. I learned that God was most present when I emoted out to Him (and make no mistakes it was a Him). However, as soon as I questioned or began to have criticism or doubt, the emotional box unraveled.
During a whole-group discussion in my 8th grade Reading class as we were discussing Romantic poetry’s central themes of God and nature, one of my students - who is certainly regarded as fearless and outspoken- asked with unprecedented fervor, “Mr., if God is real, and God controls nature, then why haven’t the people in Flint, Michigan had clean water in over two years? Why wouldn’t God fix the water so His people can survive?” As a teacher, a major portion of my job requires me to make judgments and formulate responses in a matter of seconds, without much time for planning or extensive pondering. Having been trained as a teacher during my undergraduate career, having worked in a number of educational settings prior to my time at Esperanza, and spending twelve-plus hours at Esperanza each day has resulted in me developing a deep confidence in my ability to formulate responses with little delay. In that moment, however, I could not respond. I had no idea what to say. And still do not.
I remember my first Love Matters, two days before I started working at Life Together. I remember the warmth and laughter that greeted me as I found my way downstairs, the familiar faces of Life Together friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I remember nervously meeting the community of fellows I had been called to serve. And I remember the stories of fellows, challenging me to live into my deepest values, inspiring me to seek transformation and new life. Above all else, it is the stories I hear at Love Matters that stay with me, that help me lean into this work alongside our community.
In anticipation of our annual gala, Love Matters: Rivers in the Desert, we're asking alumni, "When in Life Together did you see a river in the desert?" We added an additional challenge: respond in 1,000 characters. Alumna Liz Marshall's stirring response is below. If you'd like to respond to the Rivers in the Desert prompt, email firstname.lastname@example.org
It is 7:30am and I climb out of bed after double-snoozing my alarm, I haven’t quite mastered becoming a morning person just yet. Dream walking downstairs, I find myself in the meditation room of 40 Prescott. For the next half hour or so, my three housemates and I will sit in contemplative practice as bold rays of sunshine contrast the small flicker of candlelight flames on the ground around us. It is in this silence that I’ll hear God’s quiet movement of paradoxical clarity move with tip-toed steps. It is the friend I have been waiting for.
I’ll start with a confession about my year as a Life Together fellow: I never lived in intentional community. No community nights, no shared food budget, no Friday Prayer Partners, no tense house conflicts. At the end of a long day at my site placement, or a particularly intense Friday training, I would go home to peace, quiet, and the sympathetic ear of my partner. There were days when I counted myself lucky not to be sharing a house with six strangers.
My worksite is completely secular. But I am a self-proclaimed “church nerd,” and so I do a lot of thinking about the Church. In this tumultuous time in our society, I often wonder what role the institutional Church plays in our culture. In my generation, Church isn’t “cool.” To be religious is to be outside the norm, separate from what your peers do or stand for.
In anticipation of our annual gala, Love Matters: Rivers in the Desert, we're asking alumni, "When in Life Together did you see a river in the desert?" We added an additional challenge: respond in 1,000 characters. Alumna Libby Gatti's moving response is below. If you'd like to respond to the Rivers in the Desert prompt, email email@example.com
I spent part of last Sunday in a little Western Massachusetts town called Shelburne Falls, where my family and I had come to see the waterfall for which the town was named. Warm temperatures had caused the mountain snow to melt, and the Deerfield River plunged over boulders and through glacial potholes in a torrent of foaming, muddy brown-and-white water. Its power evoked the words of the prophet Amos, where “justice roll[s] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
In anticipation of our annual gala, Love Matters: Rivers in the Desert, we're asking alumni, 'When in Life Together did you see a river in the desert?'" We added an additional challenge: respond in 1,000 characters. Continue reading for alumna Hannah McMeekin's beautiful response.
I have been lucky enough to be accepted to this program and placed at the Esperanza Academy in Lawrence to be a full time teacher, coach, advisor, mentor, support system, and most importantly, friend. In other words, I have essentially adopted 60 new daughters. I use that metaphor because in the few short months that I’ve been here, they have already lodged themselves right into one of the most sincere parts of my heart.
When I think of contemplative practice here at Life Together, I often imagine spacious silence. So our January Third Friday training around contemplative practice, held this year as our nation inaugurated its 45th president, became an experiment of sorts. The trainers that day, LT alumni Lydia Strand and Yani Burgos, decided to focus our contemplation on the forgotten spiritual practice of lament.
I was baptized Catholic by blood, Buddhist by fire. In the summer of 2015—immediately following my time with Life Together—I traveled to China to participate in the Woodenfish Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program, a month-long immersive Buddhist studies/monastic living program for Western students led by a Taiwanese Buddhist nun. After a month of a shaved head, white robes, and meditation and tai chi daily, we concluded our sojourn with a silent retreat at a nunnery on Mount Wutai, one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains. After an ascent of 108 full-body prostrations in a climb to one of Wutai’s plateaus, bowing into stones gritted with incense from the fires of offerings, I participated in the ritual of taking refuge—the Buddhist equivalent to baptism. Among the fires of the shrines and the murmured sutras of old pilgrims, I took refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha (the teacher), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).