The Kitchen

Sharing a meal at the BVS house in Elgin

Friends share a meal at the BVS house in Elgin, Illinois

By Katie Cummings

In my house
When I want to be with
Someone
I come
To the kitchen
And I sit
At the kitchen table.
Organically people may
Emerge—
Stretching on the floor after a run,
Shuffling pots and pans for dinner,
Reading a book in the glorious sun.
It is the heartbeat of our home,
Thumping to daily rhythms.

In the midst of cooking,
The kitchen becomes—
A stage
Our impromptu dance parties
Filling the spaces between
Linguine and cheddar cheese

With a warm cup of tea
And a listening ear—
I’ve stepped into
A therapy session
The linoleum floor bouncing back
The sacred words of our hearts.

With a hefty bag of thrifted finds—
The fluorescent lights reflect
The dazzling uniqueness of
A fashion show that only cost
Ten dollars.

In the heart of our home—
The kitchen

Our dancing stage
Can easily deteriorate to
An arena.
With a warrior on either side
Poised
For a death match.

The vibrations of the floor
Reverberating
Angry words and weighty sighs—
Slammed doors and broken conversations.

The fluorescents illuminate
The cracking pieces—
Shining lights into the deepest,
Darkest,
Most selfish parts of
Ourselves.

And yet,
Those four walls
With open cabinets and an
Alphabetized spice rack—
Hold us—all.

As we come
To the kitchen table—
Angry with housemates.
Disappointed with work.
Fists clenched.
Jaw tightened.
Something—happens.
Our hands open,
Reaching across the table
To hold another.
Fingers unfurl—
White knuckles regain their color.
Jaws relax,
Exhaling prayers
And
Inhaling the love inside
Homecooked food.
Eating brown rice or white,
Coconut curries and
One-pot-wonders
We slowly find our way
Back
To each other
To self.

The kitchen holds us—
Maybe better than we hold
Each other
Because
The heartbeat of our home
The kitchen
Is that place that
Grace lives.

A Declaration of Love

Coffee Shop conversation

Katie Hampton (left) listening at Abrasevic.

By Katie Hampton

I spent three years and three months (2007-2010) as a BVS volunteer in OKC Abrasevic in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am still discovering all that those three years meant to me, but it is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life.

If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I freak out about the fact that I spent three years not earning/saving any money, or at the very least interning at some international organization which would look good on my resume. I spent a frantic year+ after BVS interning, working and not getting paid, job hunting, etc. During that time, Abrasevic, with its tiny budget, paid me TWICE! I was moved to tears by their solidarity.

But really, I would NEVER take it back. This is who I am. This is how I become who I want to be.

In Abrasevic, the most important thing is to show up and to be present. To talk to people. To make jokes. People are an end in themselves. When Arma stopped being a member of the management team, he spent even more time at Abrasevic than he had before (he had already been there ALL the TIME)—but now he was in the café talking to people, rather than up in his office working. (Nedzad, a longtime volunteer, took on his tasks.) Tina said, when we discussed it, “what’s important is being here; that’s more important than what you do here.”

[[I’m tearing up again thinking about all of them and longing to jump into a car right this minute and visit them!]]

Everyone in Abrasevic has their own artistic dream. Even the waiters are all DJs or musicians or doing street performances or graffiti. People are so supportive of dedication to artistic dreams. We’re always going to the concerts of Mostar bands to hear the same songs and going to the book promotions of Mostar (Abrasevic) poets. I also had a poem published in an Abrasevic literary journal (Kolaps) and showed my videos in the main hall.

One of the main things that I learned in Abrasevic is how important PLACES are for cities. It’s like “a room of one’s own” for urban spaces. It’s essential for Mostar to have an Abrasevic. It’s essential for every city to have neutral urban spaces that encourage people to come together. Like Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities” (which I studied in-depth in a video journalism course at Abrasevic), where Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan the stories of a hundred cities, only to reveal that “all cities are Venice”; now to me, “all cities are Mostar, and must contain an Abrasevic”. When I move to new places, I am always looking for an “Abrasevic”. Of course I can never find another Abrasevic, as it is irreplaceable and unique. But in my life I combine the elements which made Abras so dear to me (solidarity, creativity, espresso) to try to live an Abrasevicy life.

There’s nothing like putting a camera in the hands of a young person. So exciting to see what they come up with. I have to do this again! My life will not be complete unless I can make videos and help young people to make videos! About Roma, skaters, beautiful ramshackle monuments, artists, poets, musicians and activists.

I learned to film and edit video footage.

I also got some experience in grant writing.

I learned about challenges in project design and implementation.

I was so inspired.

I learned about the impact of political conflict on daily life.

I was filled with hope.

– Katie Hampton, BVSer at Abrasevic from October 2007 to December 2010 (currently blogging at www.pilgrimography.com)

Shop till I drop

By Katarina Eller, Brot und Rosen Community, Hamburg, Germany

Katarina Eller in Germany

BVS volunteer Katarina Eller in Germany. Photo by Kristin Flory.


My days mostly consist of cleaning, chopping vegetables, and food shopping. Our day begins with devotions in the chapel, with a simple prayer-song-Bible-reading-silence-song-prayer model…. Like a sandwich, or an Oreo cookie. Almost all of the songs come from the Taize movement. (You know you live at Brot & Rosen when most of the songs stuck in your head are in Latin.)

Sometime after breakfast and light cleaning or email-checking, I might start with lunch prep. Leftovers from the night before are warmed up, and some type of salad is made. More often than not, it is a green salad. My favorite part of lunch prep is making the salad dressing (I never want to buy pre-made salad dressing ever again). And the worst is washing the salad. It is usually donated to us from an organic food store and can be very earth-filled and/or sometimes tiny-insect-infested. It can be the case that there is no green salad. But not to worry, other variations are possible! Carrot salad with grated carrots and apples, and oranges with oil and lemon juice for example; or red beet salad with chopped onions, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and caraway seeds. Or chicory salad with apples, oranges, bananas and a yogurt, lemon, curry dressing.

Katarina Eller

Katarina Eller at Brot und Rosen in Hamburg, Germany

I usually don’t cook dinner. Dinner is very intimidating. Often around 15 people show up, and the children don’t eat anything that might contain nutrition for healthy development. So I leave dinner to the professionals (unless of course they’re not around), and chop vegetables for them. We may be unofficially part of what is called the Slow Food Movement (correct me if I’m wrong). Since I’ve been here, I have made/or experienced the making of: salad dressing, bread, jelly, orange juice, tomato sauce, pralines, mixed drinks, pizza, vegan chocolate, vegan cheese, mashed potatoes, African chili salsa, guacamole, fufu European style, applesauce etc. I’m not gonna lie, one of my initial thoughts during my very first week at B & R was: uh-oh. Yeah, sometimes I still feel like that, but it’s all good, that’s why I live in community, so other people can take over when they see me start on a crazy culinary maneuver.

It is my job to buy everything that is not donated by the food bank, organic food store, or ordered from said store. So, a large portion of my shopping includes cooking oil, lemons, noodles, tomato sauce, and toilet paper. Sometimes I have to make more than one trip, even though I use a rolling shopping-hamper-thingy. (I don’t know what we call them, but they are all over Germany.) And sometimes the cashier is like, “Oh it’s you again!” and I think “Yeah, because if you only had a wheely cart and two little chicken-bone arms you’d be back again, too.” Then there’s the whole discussion of what we should buy fair-trade, regional, and organic. And, if organic tomato sauce from who knows where is worth the price, or even really organic, and whether it’s better to buy organic sugar or the normal sugar that says on the package that it’s made in northern Germany from sugar beets but is probably not organic etc. As usual with Brot& Rosen, as soon as I ask a question as to what I should buy, I get eight different answers. So as usual with Brot& Rosen, I just do whatever I want to.

That’s Christian Anarchy for you!

Find out more about Brethren Volunteer Service.

Hyper-real Unconditional Positive Regard: BVS Orientation

By Emily Davis

Perception of reality is often so subjective and inconsistent that it can subvert being present with others. That in conversation or from moment to moment there is a sense of surreal space and time, where situations seem distant, foreign or magnified; where waking consciousness seems more sleep-like. A friend recently spoke so eloquently of these dream-states it made me realize their rarity and that I’d been feeling them most frequently in my life during transitions.

I spent the last three weeks in one of those otherworldly states, in extended moments of fantastic and absurd loving reality at Brethren Volunteer Service orientation.

BVS orientation candle

Photo by Emily Davis

Twenty-four volunteers, making up BVS fall Unit #303, chose year-long, individual volunteer placements, each at a domestic or international non-profit organization focused on social justice and peace work. Together, among the picturesque rolling hills and corn fields of New Windsor, Maryland, we considered our vocational callings, attended training sessions, cooked for each other, worked in the community, sang hymns, threw dance parties, practiced devotional meditations, told nonsensical stories and played ridiculous amounts of four square.

Our group of uncommonly kind individuals opened up to each other relatively fast. We shared deep insecurities, hard pasts, and current joys so fiercely that we cultivated a strong sense of trust and connection. And some vocalized a feeling of being part of a magic bubble or alternative reality made of communal strength and safety.

Our last weekend we stayed at Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren and volunteered with the Brethren Housing Association. For me, and others I think, those few days gave a vivid example of what the Church of the Brethren is about. Although there are a small number of congregants, there is an enormous, humble partnership being built with that community; where structural impact can be seen in many small but persistent ways. On Sunday morning Pastor Belita spoke of a multifaceted faith in God that is planted in grace and personal relationships in order to serve others. In Harrisburg and later, I fell in love with those combined Brethren ideals: living in peaceful simple community, serving others together.

Those values provided a framework of thought and action that was a central part of the mystical-community-reality of orientation. In that space I was hyper-sensitive to past feelings, present thoughts, and future expectations, and immersed in thinking about how to use my particular passions and gifts to serve.

Domestic volunteers from our unit moved to their placement cities and started work this week. Going out into the world where Brethren ideals are not the norm or structure of thought and where those expectations or intentions are not necessarily clear, is daunting. The task seems infinitely lonely and substantially more difficult without intentional community, where a winking smile, compassionate hug and true support were easy to find. It was a magical, surreal place because trust, acceptance and love were abundant.

I leave for Hinche, Haiti in early November and I want to stay in that dream-state of mindful reality during my service. Where moments may seem subjective, raw or strange but they’re hyper-real and CLEARER because I’ll be questioning my faith journey, vocation, power, paradigms of thought, and intentions; and actively working to make meaningful connections with those around me. I am SO thrilled for these two years of Brethren Volunteer Service because I get to work through the model of loving kindness and pragmatic solidarity, spreading and emanating that energy I found at orientation of cosmic unconditional love.

Find out more about Brethren Volunteer Service.

Bread that gives life

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE

 

John 6:52-59

Prayer for the day:
Listening God,
Help me to rise to the challenge of following you. May my commitment to you grow like leavened bread rising on a warm day.

Question for reflection:
What are areas in your own community that could use leavening?

~ Katie Cummings, National Youth Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

 

 

No time to be alone

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGELuke 22:39-46

Prayer for the day:

For our frailness and for our strength, which are so intertwined, we give you thanks, Great Comforter. Work through us to touch the lives of others, even when we are completely unaware of your movement. Help us to help each other, Lord.

Question for reflection:

Think of a time when someone unknowingly said just the thing you didn’t know you needed to hear. What did that feel like? Once you became more aware of the burden you were carrying/your own humanity, was Jesus present to you in that moment? What did that feel like?

~ Becky Ullom-Naugle, Director for Youth and Young Adult Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

 

Significant sacrifice

2013 Advent good_news_hi_res  Matthew 2:13 -15

Prayer for the day:
God of us all, open my eyes and heart to those near neighbors and the wider global community to those who are building new lives for themselves among strangers –as immigrants, refugees, travelers, and searchers. May I welcome them as you have you have welcomed me.


Question for reflection:

Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for generation after generation of a family to live in the same town, surrounded by the same neighbors, extended family, and attend the same church or temple. However, our modern society is much more transient as we travel for education, jobs, and other opportunities. I cannot help but imagine Mary and Joseph, parents of a newborn, in a new neighborhood, and missing home. They were probably in desperate need for a casserole. It is easy to remember to give to soup kitchens, family shelters, and gifts for children programs during the holidays but the need is year round. Who is new in your neighborhood, sacrificing the familiarity and safety of home for their children? How can we support them through our congregations and charitable donations?

~ Gimbiya Kettering,  Intercultural Ministries Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Tim’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Mutualizing

Lent 2013 Cover    Hebrews 10:19-25

Question for reflection:
Who do you worship with? Who do you gather with to play? To eat? To work? Who is in your community? Who would you want to welcome into your community?

Prayer for the day:
O God, your faithfulness and forgiveness extends to me, to my family, to my community – and beyond. Enable me to see those I meet as You would see them and to welcome them as You would welcome them. Amen.

~ Gimbiya Kettering, Intercultural Ministries Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten devotional, The Practice of Paying Attention, written by Dana Cassell, Minister of Youth Formation at the Manassas Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Dana’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Lift up your hearts

Lent 2013 Cover   Romans 2:12-16

Question for reflection:
Who do you know that lives outside of a faith community but seems to follow the ways of Jesus better than many Christians? How might you develop a relationship with them?

Prayer for the day:
God of mystery, you often choose interesting people to do your work. Help me to see you in everyone, to hear your voice in places I don’t expect it.

~ Donna Kline, Director of Denominational Deacon Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten devotional, The Practice of Paying Attention, written by Dana Cassell, Minister of Youth Formation at the Manassas Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Walt’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

The heavenly host: Waiting in the wings

Luke 2:10-14

Question for Reflection:
How/do you expand your community during Advent and Christmas?

Prayer for the day:
O God, you who created us to be in relationship, help us to feel the joy found only in community. Encourage us to join in with the multitudes singing praise to you, and to invite others to sing along.
Amen

~ Donna Kline, Director of Denominational Deacon Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Walt Wiltschek, campus pastor of Manchester University. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Walt’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.