Mystery All Around: A Beginning of a New Life in Houston.

20 September, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Most of the time we forget to notice this place where we live,” writes author and theologian Frederick Buechner, “because we’re so used to it, because we get so caught up in whatever our work is, whatever our lives are – but every once and so often, maybe we notice and are filled. “He restoreth my soul,” is the way the psalm says it. For a little while, the scales fall from our eyes and we actually see the beauty and holiness and mystery of the world around us, and then from even deeper down than our hunger, restoration comes, nourishment comes.”

Friends and loved ones, greetings from muggy, mosquito-infested, green, metro-tangled, colorful, pavement-packed Houston! For those of you who have been wondering if I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, I’m happy to assure you that while Texas is certainly a world in and of itself, I’m alive and well and flourishing in my new home in the First Ward. My year-long term with a creative arts team through a partnernship between a local church called Ecclesia( and Mission Year has started off with a bang since we have jumped into life here from the moment our feet touched the ground of our neighborhood, and while the newness of transition is slightly overwhelming at times, it’s also been beautiful to feel God’s peace and affirmation about the right-ness of this placement already.

Just a brief recap of the past several weeks: I’ve decided that my summer could best be labeled “Trains, Planes, Automobiles and Joe” — between moving out of my home in New York at the end of July, driving across the country with my family as they relocated to their new home in Oregon at the beginning of August, taking the train down the coast to visit my old college roommate and her husband in southern California at the end of August, flying to Texas at the beginning of September, and traveling to Illinois for a week-long team orientation with all the Mission Year folk, I covered more than 17 states and 9,500 miles of country in less than 2 months… o, man.  The chance to see new regions of the US, hike across beautiful terrains, dip my toes in the Pacific for the first time, bury my nose in books for hours on end, spend time with beloved people (not to mention begin to form friendships with wonderful strangers), nurture the dreads towards increased lock maturity and, as always, indulge in good, strong local joe (ie, coffee for those of you who aren’t tracking) throughout was a perfect way to transition from a full-time job in New York with all of its amazing but hectic responsibilities to a new life here in the hoppin’ city of Houston. 

In terms of service this year, many of the details are still unfolding in classic non-linear, relationship-oriented style typical of most non-profit organizations… but what I do know, I love. As part of Ecclesia’s focus on the integration of faith and the arts, myself and my team/housemates (including Zach from Georgia, Matt from California, Carter from Arkansas, Becky from Tennessee, Nicole from Michigan and Sarah from Tanzania) will be involved with the following:

– serving as baristas at Taft Coffee Co
– regularly interacting with the homeless through meals such as Sunday’s Simple Feast and more
– helping coordinate quarterly art markets which highlight local artists (such as our new “On the Road” friends, Don and Just John) and their work
– working in a community garden not too far from our house
– being trained in audio, video and editing programs in order to tell the stories of our neighbors and fellow community members
– collaborating on a multi-faceted project that involves poetry, song-writing, video and more
– volunteering at Non-Studio Studio, a common art and community centre downtown with space for everyone from the homeless to the urban wealthy
– … and other opportunities as they unfold

Shortly after our week-long team orientation ended in Chicago on September 11th, myself and the other six members of our arts team embarked upon a 6-week technology fast, including a cessation of all cell phone, TV, lap top and Internet acess (except for an occasional Monday hour at the public library downtown). While it has certainly been challenging to feel somewhat cut off from you, dear ones, it’s also been a huge privilege to choose to join in solidarity with the families in our neighborhood for whom the Internet or cellular services are an unknown luxury; similarly, the lack of media or technological distraction has enabled myself and my housemates to spend more time on the streets around our house, to strike up friendly conversation with strangers without cell phone in hand, and to invest in relationships with each other and with our immediate community at a real, personal and face-to-face level. In fact, it’s hard to believe we’ve only been living in our new home in the incredibly colorful First Ward, a predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood, for less than two weeks now because of how many hours a day we’ve spent walking the streets, hanging out in parks, serving at Simple Feast (a regular meal for the large homeless population in the Third Ward), plugging into Ecclesia, exploring artistic talent through the forms of poetry, creative fiction, painting, photography, song-writing and other outlets, sitting on front stoops, frequently navigating the Metro to the extent that some of the bus drivers already know us by name, cooking for a large amount of people on a daily basis, and so many more wonderful, challenging, eye-opening, heart-breaking, surprising experiences we’ve undertaken together… but it’s true.

Please join with me and with my team mates in praying that the seeds of friendship, community development and faith we’ve begun to plant in our neighborhood and in the surrounding First Ward community would be healthily watered by God’s grace, provision and strength.

Speaking of neighborhoods, relationships and solidarity, I’m very anxious to begin sending you all some more stories of our time in Houston so far, but that will have to wait until the technology fast is over… in the meanwhile, the pages of my handwritten journal are brimming over with snapshots of conversations and encounters and emotions, all of which are just waiting to be shared with each of you, so – look forward to more soon!

Rejoicing in this season of vision without scales,

By the way, if you do have the time and the inclination, I’d love to hear from you the “old-fashioned way” via snail mail.  My new address is 1201 Spring Street, Houston, Texas 77007 and trust me, the daily ritual of checking the mail box has never taken on such an aura of excitement as it has in the past 2 and a half weeks, so even a brief postcard or hand-written note would be a gift.


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