Friday, April 29, 2016

Reflection: Visiting Fort Frederick's 22nd Annual Market Fair

Last weekend, Jamie and I had the privilege of traveling from Morgantown to Fort Frederick (near Big Pool, MD) with our friends Dan and Lori. The entire day was filled with memories to savor, and new ones to be made. There's something heart-warming about taking a road trip with friends in the first place, but this was the first extended period of time we had together for a long time. Dan and I grew up together, and so the drive was a mix of laughter over old memories and adventures, and in depth discussions about what is happening in our lives right now. An automobile, with no screens and no music is a great place for these types of discussions, but walking together in a park is even better, and that is EXACTLY what we did upon arrival at Fort Frederick.

Fort Frederick State Park has hosted Market Fair for 22 years, and I have probably attended about half of those years. My old chief used to love going to the event because the focus of the weekend was the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) era frontier. The event is a large rendez-vous and historic reenactment weekend with individuals donning the attire of British troops, militia, settlers, and some First Nations peoples wearing traditional regalia. Back in the 90s, going with my chief was like going with a celebrity. Everybody seemed to know him, and enjoyed having him stop by their weekend lodging. Hundreds of canvas tents scattered around the stone fort and these become the homes of participants for four or five days during the event.

Many of these participants are also artisans who specialize in various primitive skills. Every year when I go, I love seeing a variety of incredibly talented gunsmiths, knife smiths, blacksmiths, tailors, tanners, tobacconists, potters, silversmiths, and more. Some of the participants have spent weeks and months making absolutely beautiful quill work designs (they even dye the porcupine quills using traditional dyes). Still others make large belts of wampum, weaving the beads by hand.

In the early years of Market Fair, I remember my chief was brought in as a consultant for a group of Native American re-enactors who were interested in constructing a traditional eastern woodlands village. The photo above was taken at the edge of the woods where this village once stood--I participated in a wedding out on that. A number of native people from the region, including a strong contingent from our Native student group at WVU, would make the annual trek for Market Fair to trade, to find traditional wares, and to connect with other folks from various tribes as well as with other people who simply had a deep appreciation for history and simple living. For many years, this event served as an unofficial and unplanned reunion for many of us. We spent many evenings around the campfire swapping stories and drumming and singing very, very old songs and sometimes writing new ones.

This year was probably the busiest Market Fair I can remember. There were multiple overflow parking areas when we arrived at 1130AM. There's something to be said for perseverance, tradition, and time. This event has grown huge over the years. And, like every other time I have traveled to it, there was an unofficial and unplanned reunion. This year, it was with one of my former roommate's parents, Mark and Debbie Culp. Of course we had to take a group photo and send it off to their son Nic. We were able to enjoy a meal together, and I was able to introduce them to Dan and Lori as well as give them an update on the latest happenings with Nuru. Nic's parents have a love for wilderness, for traditional skills, and for history, but it was their first time visiting Market Fair--they LOVED it!

I highly recommend stopping by Market Fair if you find yourself near western Maryland in late April. The event itself has a longstanding tradition, and you never know who you might run into there. There's something really beautiful about meeting and connecting with individuals who are keeping old ways alive, and who are incredibly dedicated to their craft. There's also refreshment to be found by taking a step away from screens and devices for a few hours to breathe in the fresh air, and to engaging in the quickly fading art of conversation. May you find time and space in this hurried world to slow down and enjoy people and the beauty of the outdoors.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Reflection: Walking Through Muir Woods

Recently my travels took me to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley to welcome aboard Nuru International's newest team member, an amazing individual named Danny Perez. I had the distinct privilege of traveling to the West Coast to begin Danny's first week together with him, and start his on boarding and orientation process as he joins us in the fight to end extreme poverty!

But before his on boarding began, I had an opportunity to visit Muir Woods National Monument. These woods are among the last uncut stands of coastal redwoods, and honestly being able to walk in this space was awe-inspiring. These woods were purchased by William and Elizabeth Kent in an effort to preserve them in 1905, and they are donated to the government. President Theodore Roosevelt used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim the area as a national monument. John Muir, when he heard that the couple wanted to name this monument after him said, "This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly found in all of the forests of the world." And all of this happened more than 100 years ago.
As I walked through this forest of ancient redwoods, I was overwhelmed by a series of emotions, the foremost being gratitude. Gratitude for these trees being preserved--trees that were older than the United States--trees that had seen empires rise and fall, and that had stood resolute for hundreds of years. There's a lot we can learn from an ancient grove of trees, waving in the wind but rooted deeply in the earth.
My gratitude spilled over into a more broadly experienced gratitude for the opportunity to experience ancient and sacred places like this one. There's something powerful about a walk in the woods. As John Muir once stated, "In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks." In my short time on this earth (particularly short when compared with trees that are more than a millenium in age), I have been able to witness some amazingly beautiful spaces. Many of which have been near home in West Virginia, but some in travels across continents. Beauty is all around us, but we rarely take time to soak it in. Dostoyevsky once wrote, "Beauty will save the world." In one sense, it already has in the beautiful life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but every time we are able to pause and soak in the grandeur of this beautiful world, our souls are the better for it.
Before I arrived in these woods, I was driving through rain and thick fog, and I was wondering if I would be able to see much at all, or if the rain and fog would negate majestic views. When I finally arrived, I realized that the rain and fog had probably discouraged others from traveling to these woods that particular day, and that they had granted me an opportunity to walk in this sacred space in solitude and silence. In fact, the park had set up signs along some of the paths encouraging visitors to walk quietly along and soak in the sounds of the wilderness.
My gratitude overflowed as I listened to the sounds of Redwood Creek churning along as it worked to make its way to the Pacific Ocean. It was actually kind of hard for me to grasp that these giant trees and stream were so close to the ocean. I made my way along these groves of trees thinking about the native coho salmon and steelhead trout swimming in this stream, and the many other wonderful memories I've had walking along similar streams back home in Appalachia.
I experienced gratitude as I walked for the rich tradition my parents and other ancestors had instilled in me and other Shawnee people to spend time walking in the creation and listening. Among the immediate rewards experienced on this particular day was the witnessing of a couple of deer crossing along the valley in which I was walking. In the silence and solitude, we can experience emptiness and boredom, or, more likely we can be filled beyond our imagination and comprehension with goodness, peace, and refreshment.
My walk took me meandering along a path beside these trees who had stood at the edge of this creek for centuries. Eventually, I was afforded an opportunity via footbridge to cross the stream and make my way uphill to another path that gave me a different view for the journey back to my vehicle.
When I made it back to the beginning of the path, I felt like it might be worthwhile to stop in the visitor center and gift shop to have a look around. When I was a kid, I always wanted to have a shirt or a hat or some remembrance to mark the experience that I had "been there," but as I have grown older, I have found that the best remembrances are the memory making moments themselves. But, I must admit I was tempted in the gift shop to spend $10 and buy a giant sequoia seedling. I recalled a poem by Wendell Berry about planting sequoias and investing in the millennium. The poem ends with the statement, "Practice resurrection," a fitting imperative at all times, but particularly in this Easter season. I didn't purchase the sapling, BUT, Jamie and I have been thinking pretty seriously about purchasing and planting one in our yard here in Morgantown, especially in light of Wendell Berry's encouragement. They grow about a foot each year once they have established themselves.
When I finally arrived back at my rental car, I felt energized, alive, and ready for a full week ahead. I was soaked from the misty rain, but even more fully saturated with gratitude. A walk in the woods, whether in a national park, or a local grove of trees or protected lands is good for heart and soul. May we each find frequent time to experience the refreshment that only comes from being outside and in this beautiful and majestic created world that beckons us to soak in its rejuvenating and healing power.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Reflection: Rend Collective Concert, Joy, And Music

Last Thursday, Jamie and I took an impromptu trip to Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, West Virginia to see a band that our good friend Hallé had told us about a few years back, Rend Collective. Little did we realize when Hallé told us about this Irish folk band that their music was already a regular part of our weekly worship gatherings among our local faith community. 
As we arrived, I found myself thinking about how music has changed over the last hundred years, and even over the last ten years. Thanks to apps like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music we can stream a wide array of music on our computers and mobile devices wherever we go. I remember when I acquired my first Mac, I was so impressed that I could take all of my compact discs and place them on my computer. I remember as a small child being tremendously excited about listening to eight-tracks with my parents at home, and by the time I was in junior high, I was able to listen to cassettes with my Walkman as I walked around the neighborhood, or even around the house. Mine was one with the ability to record, play radio music, and cassettes, and I can remember having a ton of fun listening to tunes.
But this wasn't always the way music was available. It's kind of hard to fathom because nowadays our favorite artists' music is readily accessible. But there was once a time when music could only be experienced live--our only way to experience music was to go to a concert, or to make it ourselves. As I listened to the band, they invited us to join in singing, clapping, snapping fingers and dancing. They were inviting us to experience the joy of music. Music is quite the gift!
As much as I enjoy listening to music of various genres, I tend to believe that music is best rendered as something we experience. I believe it was John Cage who said that once we record it, it ceases to be music--it is not able to be experienced in the same way as when it is live. It is the energy of a past moment that may be powerful as a memory, but it is a far different experience than making or creating music in the moment. 

As we enjoyed the evening with the band's performance, and as the members of the band switched rapidly among instruments that even included garbage cans, they were encouraging us to enter into the joy of song, singing praises to the Creator of the universe, and not allowing our cynic or our inner critic to rob us of laughter and joy. At one point in one of their songs, the lights went out and they were wearing panda heads. Later that evening they talked about how the Bible references both fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit and that seriousness does not make an appearance in either list. Making music invites us into the realm of joy, and they felt that panda heads while performing were a good reminder to the people who joined them at the concert to not fill their lives with seriousness. 

Growing up, even though I don't remember either of my parents playing an instrument, they encouraged us to sing, to play music, and to be joyful. It was never a command from them, it was more of a simple way of life for all of us. At some point in time before I was born, my dad and one of my uncles used to drive a garbage truck. They would regularly find treasures along the side of the road that people were ridding themselves of. One of those treasures was an electric organ. I have many vivid memories of plugging that organ in, and listening to a fan begin to spin; the keys on the organ forced the air through to create notes of music. Dad had also acquired a couple of song books for this organ that were numerically coded, so I could follow the numbers to play songs. This was before the advent of synthesizers and keyboards in the 80s. I don't believe anyone in our family ever became a piano player, but I can remember playing Christmas carols and other songs as Dad made home-made pizzas or Mom was making some meal for us all to enjoy. 
Even on my tribal grounds, we never really listened to recorded music. We made music. Our tribal drum was like a heart beat. Our ancient songs connected us with past generations, and brought forth traditions to a new generation. Every gathering had a time for music and a time for folks to circle around a fire as drumming and singing would begin and carry on often late into the evenings. Even during times of sadness, singing, drumming, and dancing, listening and creating music that echoed through the hills had (and still has) a power to move us toward deep joy, peace, and hope. 
Lots of memories came to my mind thanks to the experience of a concert with Rend Collective for sure. Music is such a huge gift, and, while Jamie and I definitely enjoy listening to music as we go through our days, there's nothing quite like experiencing it live with others, or creating music of our own. Even as I write this, I feel a tug toward spending a little more time during my daily and weekly rhythm singing, dancing, and playing guitar. Nothing like a little live tune amid the rhythm of life!
As we go about our days, our weeks, and our years, may we each take time to make music and invite others to join us in joy-filled songs. May we create, build, and share in the gift the King of the universe has given us in living amid music! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reflection: World Water Day 2016

This morning, I woke up after a great night of sleep on my good friend Sam's couch in Sunnyvale. I started my day with my usual morning routine of a time of quiet reflection, reading, and gratitude. Sam made some coffee for me, him, and his wife Truly and I hopped online to start my day. I started sipping water from a bottle that has traveled with me to multiple countries. I thought, "This bottle has kept me hydrated on so many occasions in so many locations, and it carries the logo of the ONE campaign, this really great organization that we have been privileged to partner with at Nuru International. And as I write this short reflection, my mind is running through a mix of gratitude, care and frustration about water.

Today is World Water Day.  It is a day to remember just how much of a gift water is. It is a day to think about ways to reduce the ways it is wasted, and to think of ways to conserve it. It is a day to consider that there are many in our world who do not have access to clean water.

Water is the universal solvent. Water is powerful--it carved the Grand Canyon and softens the edges of sharp stone. It provides electrical energy to whole communities. It can both give and take life with its power. 70% of our planet is made up of water. 60% of our body is made up of water. We need water to survive, thrive, and live. Each morning in the US, it is easy to take for granted that there will be water coming through the pipes in our homes as we take a shower, brush our teeth, shave, wash our hands, fix our coffee, cook our meals, clean our dishes, and And yet, many people in our world do not have safe, clean, water, coming from a spigot in their house. Many do not even have a spigot.

I remember spending two separate weeks in solitude and fasting in the Mojave Desert as I wrestled with a major life decision. I had to carry everything I needed in a large backpack. It included two large water bladders that comprised about 60 lbs of water. Water would not be accessible for me unless I brought it into the desert with me. Ironically it rained during one of these journeys and this desolate desert became abloom with life as vegetation soaked up the limited hydration offered by the clouds above.

For years, on my tribe's land in western Maryland, we would rely on a local spring to provide water for cleaning dishes and washing hands, a local stream for bathing, and bottled water for drinking because we had no running water.  

Back home in West Virginia, there are whole communities near where my wife grew up who are having water shipped in because their water local water has become contaminated. Two years ago a chemical spill contaminated the water supply around my beloved home state's capital. I remember being in that town to support a dear friend who had lost her father. The water fountains in the funeral home looked like they had not been used in weeks (they hadn't). People were skeptical about drinking coffee at the viewing, and friends and fellow mourners were bringing in cases of bottled water.

Just a couple of days ago, I was walking through the John Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. It was rainy and foggy, and my ears were filled with the sound of water flowing rapidly along Redwood Creek to the Pacific Ocean as a forest full of redwoods drank their fill and continued growing and standing strong as they had for centuries. As the rains fell heavily, I thought not only about this ecosystem, but also about the farms and families who would have a good crop thanks to this rainfall. The area was alive with greenery because of those rains.

And when I think of farmers, I find my thoughts going to our farmers in Ethiopia, and even to communities around the world who suffer from a lack of water. Two weeks ago, I was in the southern highland of Ethiopia. I saw crowds gathering with large buckets and jerrycans in small communities where there had been drought conditions created by El Niño weather patterns. People were standing in line for an opportunity to gather water from a source that may have been contaminated. They were not only wanting water to meet their immediate need, but they were also praying for rains to come so they could address hunger in their community and in their country. In fact, as the rains started falling heavily in Zefine, Ethiopia during my visit, the entirety of our Ethiopian staff team began to shout for joy at the gift of the rain, and what it would mean for our farmers.

As I look back across these myriad memories, I'm grateful for the gift of water that I have been able to enjoy and appreciate more deeply, and I'm hope-filled that days like World Water Day might nudge each of us toward a deeper sense of appreciation, and motivate us toward tangible actions that will help others enjoy the gift of clean water. As you go through your day today, each time you take a drink, enjoy food, wash your hands, shower, go to the bathroom, and witness growth around you, will you join me in taking a moment to express gratitude for the gift of water?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Review: Mountain Harvest Farm LLC (Community Supported Agriculture)

For the last three years, Jamie and I have been privileged to be able to be shareholders in a community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative with a couple of farmers who live near Morgantown. Their names are Mary and Chico and their CSA is called Mountain Harvest Farm, LLC.
I first discovered their CSA in winter 2013, when I saw a signup sheet posted in a local coffee shop, The Grind (which is a pretty fantastic place itself!). I sent an email to express interest to them and received a quick response, and began the process of investing in local agriculture.
Jamie and I have a small truck patch at the house, and we have been able to produce a decent amount of corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes from this little corner, but we had been reading and hearing a lot about community supported agriculture, and we regularly consider ways we can lower our footprint and invest in the local economy. Of course, we can always do better, but I think every one of us can benefit from taking even a small step. When we can, we strive to support local businesses, and buy food from local farmers markets. Investing in a CSA was yet another concrete step in the direction of investing locally. 
Mary and Chico, Mountain Harvest Farm's proprietors, have been renting and farming land just outside of Morgantown for a few years now. They offer their CSA members a weekly or biweekly share, and shareholders can choose between two convenient pickup locations. We chose the location across from Zen Clay Pottery Studio because it is in the middle of town and walkable from our house to pickup. The first week I went to pickup our share, I started chatting with Mary about what got her and Chico into this venture. She had been a Peace Corps worker in Honduras and that was where she had met her husband. 
Our conversation turned from local farming to international development, and she was a bit surprised at my knowledge of development. She asked what I did, and, thinking that I probably already knew just about everyone in Morgantown who knew about Nuru, I told her I worked for an international development organization. 
She asked, "Which one?" 
I responded, "Well, it's pretty new so you might not have heard of it but its called Nuru International." 
She looked at me with a grin and said, "I have a good friend who works for Nuru."
I was a bit shocked and asked "Who?" I thought I would have a really good handle on people in my part of the country who knew someone on staff. 
And then she told me that Matt Lineal, our Impact Programs Director (and previously Agriculture Strategic Advisor), had worked with her in the Peace Corps in Honduras. What a small world! And, it was the first time for me to have someone in Morgantown who knew about Nuru through a staff or board member who wasn't from West Virginia! When I told Matt about meeting Mary he was blown away by the connection, and excited that she and Chico had started the farm, and further, that Jamie and I were able to invest in this CSA with them. 
After that conversation and enjoying our first week of fresh produce from Mountain Harvest Farm, I was simply blown away by how much more our world is intimately connected than we realize. 
For the last three years--for 20 weeks a year, Jamie and I have made the short Wednesday evening walk to pick up our veggies, connect with Mary and Chico and their family, and get updates on how the weather is impacting how our crops are doing. They are wonderful people, and we are proud shareholders.
Recently, Jamie and I signed up for our fourth year as shareholders. And, if you are a Morgantown local, I wanted to encourage you to support these two West Virginia farmers by becoming shareholders too! You can sign up online by going to their website, and if you have more questions about their CSA shares you can ask them directly or just talk to Jamie or myself. You will love it!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflection: The Bridge

While watching The Good Lie on a Delta flight last year (highly recommend that film by the way), I started thinking about my friend Pavi and some incredible work that he and a group of friends have commenced in one of the most crime-ridden and poor communities in Columbus, Ohio.

Pavi has always exemplified a passion for serving international communities in the United States. While completing his PhD at Ohio State University, he launched an international student ministry that had hundreds of students participating. But what he started at The Bridge was very different.

Columbus has an incredibly huge Somali, Iraqi, and Cambodian refugee population. Refugee housing places these groups in one of the mostcrime ridden communities of Columbus, Hilltop. Most of these refugees do not speak English, and they are trying hard to adjust to the American way of life while working incredibly hard to maintain their traditional culture. They are outsiders in the greater community and have been made to feel largely unwelcome by many locals because they are so different. They have difficulty getting jobs, and not many roll out the carpet to welcome them.

So Pavi decided to create a community center that is specifically dedicated to helping these refugees develop critical skills to adjust to life in America. They express an interest in classes and then the classes are formed and taught by volunteers. The Bridge has a community garden where people can learn about the soil and gardening, and it also has a soccer field for the kids to play in. Some of the top classes requested by these refugees are English classes and math classes. They want to know how to count American currency and how to purchase groceries. They want to be able to exercise and not get ridiculed for their traditional clothing, or lack of understanding of American culture.

And the results have been incredible! Classes are full, and people are feeling a sense of community as they gather from myriad points around the globe to chart a new life in the United States. And Pavi and his team are incredibly excited by what they are seeing.

If you live in or near Columbus OH and are looking for an opportunity to serve neighbors from around the globe, I highly recommend you check out The Bridge. And if you don’t live in or near Columbus, I encourage you to make it a point to reach out to welcome our global neighbors who are working hard to chart a path toward a better future here in the US. Or just reach out to your neighbors in general—folks just don’t do that much anymore.

May we all grow in our commitment to serve and practice hospitality to our neighbors, whether around the block, or around the globe.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reflection: Meeting Mac At Lake Floyd

During summer 2014, while enjoying the annual fourth of July celebration at Lake Floyd with Jamie and her family, I had the pleasure of meeting Jamie’s parent’s new neighbor, Mac. Mac is a business professor at FairmontState University, and is originally from Liberia, a country on the west coast of the continent of Africa. Liberia has gone through some incredibly challenging times in recent news including incidents of Ebola, a leader who was tried by the International Criminal Court, and uprisings and civil wars initiated by militia groups.

Les, Jamie’s dad, invited Mac over to hang out for the afternoon and have a meal with the family. Mac came over and we began talking about life and our experiences. Les told him about the work we have been doing with Nuru and he applauded our efforts. He said that based on my experiences of living and being in ‘the bush’ multiple times for short stints over the last few years, I was "more African than he was," but in all seriousness, he grew up in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia. After some laughs about my “African-ness” as well as some serious conversation about lasting impact in addressing global extreme poverty, he shared something with Les and myself that was jaw-dropping.

He has been in the US for more than 20 years, and July 4th, 2014 was the first time an American invited him into their home, and invited him for a meal at that! He confessed to us that he was not sure what to do because he knew that Les was not just politely inviting, he really meant for Mac to come hang out. What started as a fun conversation among neighbors had taken on an unexpected additional layer of depth. Mac described experiences in the past where people in the US had made him feel unwelcome, uninvited, and even had sent falsified paperwork to his home encouraging him to leave.

We never really know the experiences, pains, and challenges of those who are around us. And for that reason, I think it is really important that we practice hospitality, and really strive to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Mac has been an incredible neighbor to Les and Kim, and vice versa. And none of this would have been discovered without hospitality.

May we each make the places we inhabit a welcome place for hospitality, conversation, laughter, and healing. The world needs it, and, truth be told, we each need it too.