Tag Archives: intentional community

I’m a Downward Mobility Dropout–Guest Post by Stina KC

Stina and I are real-life friends (our babies are besties, too). We met at the little Mennonite church she talks about in this here essay, and I am so glad we did. Stina and I were recently talking about this Downward Mobility series, and I expressed my disappointment that there weren’t more posts about the struggle of it all. Oh, I can write about that, she said. And boy, can this girl write.

I’m grateful for her honesty, which is so hard to share in public. So often we just want to hear the stories of the out-and-out-successes. But I am drawn to the stories of hunger, of struggle, of inner conflict and even failure. Because there is a lot of “failure” in the upside-down kingdom, at least by empire standards. I am learning to make friends with it, however, one little day at a time. 






I’m a Downward Mobility Dropout

by Stina KC



When my daughter was born, we lived in the most diverse neighborhood in America. She learned to walk in the hallways of an apartment building filled with cooking smells from our East African neighbors. During that bleary first year of motherhood, I would pace the noisy streets outside our apartment building with my baby strapped to my chest, praying that the drone of cars and traffic would lull her to sleep. I would shield her little face from cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes as I walked by strangers on the street. People were often drunk at the bus stop one block away and prostitutes hung out at the corner when the daylight faded. I would keep walking, moving quickly to avoid contact with my neighbors.


My husband and I first moved to this neighborhood when we were recent Christian college graduates, young and idealistic about Jesus, Shane Claiborne’s “Ordinary Radicals,” and downward mobility. We didn’t make much with our AmeriCorps stipends and social service salaries, but we didn’t care. We shared duplexes with friends, saving money on rent to buy fixed gear bicycles and shop organic at the co-op. We belonged to a house church with other young misfits, going dumpster diving and holding clothing swaps. But even though we lived in the most diverse neighborhood in America, we didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t like us.

After our house church crumbled and our faith began its slow cynical drift, we started attending a small Mennonite church a few blocks away. On that first Sunday morning, a gray-haired man with kind eyes thanked us for coming and gave us a fair trade soup mix, a special gift for visitors. I knew we were home when, in our first hymn, we sang about becoming “midwives of justice.” During the sharing of prayers and concerns, a man asked for prayer for immigration reform. Another shared the news of South Sudan. I relaxed in my pew.


I listened to my voicemail message one evening in late October after putting my daughter to bed. Something about the lead test results. I should call this number, it’s urgent. I sat down at the kitchen table, hitting redial.

Someone answered: “Your daughter’s lead test came back elevated. Do you know how serious this could be for her development?” I didn’t know anything about lead. I googled it and a shot of fear like ice water raced through my body. Behavioral issues. Long term learning disabilities. Brain damage

As the man on the phone rattled off some tips for limiting exposure, I wrote manic notes on a discarded envelope. “What’s your address?” he asked. He looked it up on the city’s database. “Oh, yeah. You’re in a high impact area. You live at 2825 Park? I see cases of elevated lead at 2828 and 2830 and, wow, it’s all over the place. The blocks around you, too.”

The county sent over a woman with a smoker’s cough to test our floors and windows for lead dust. (“I love the fixtures in here,” she said. “We get to see so many old homes.”) We got the results a week later. Our bedroom window well, the same spot where our daughter loved to slap her hands while watching city buses and bike commuters, had lead levels of 38,700. Safe levels are below 400.

I thought about our neighbors on the third floor, the Ethiopian Pentecostals with two small children who hosted prayer meetings on Tuesday evenings, shoes in a pile outside their apartment door. I thought about the Mexican family who lived across the street in the house with the broken steps and abandoned toys in their yard. I wondered about the kids who get picked up at the bus stop on 28th and Columbus. Have they been tested? Do their parents know?

At first, my moral outrage fueled conversations about petitions and tenant rights and lawsuits. We could stay and fight. But then I started leaving the apartment for most of the day, camping out at my parents’ house so my daughter wouldn’t be tempted to play at the windows. Soon, we were apartment searching and then signing a lease and suddenly it wasn’t my problem anymore.

We moved two and half months later, in the middle of January. Our Mennonite church friends helped carry our craigslisted couch down icy steps and load it into a Ford pick-up. Three hours later we stood in our new apartment across town, surrounded by boxes and Rubbermaid totes from Target.

The next morning I took my daughter outside, her snowsuit zipped up to her chin. As I watched her toddle along the sidewalks, I thought about my old neighbors and their kids and the lead dust they were breathing. I never really knew them, only a handful of names in my memory, and we were gone now.


This story is painful to recount. I have felt guilty for leaving, for not fighting my landlord like the “midwives of justice” that my church sings about. I know it isn’t God’s will for my daughter to breathe in lead dust. I also know it isn’t God’s will for any child to breathe in lead dust, to live in poverty, to attend crappy schools.

Jesus’ call to downward mobility felt so obvious when I was in my early 20s. But over the years, I never put in the daily work of building mutual relationships with my neighbors and so, when the crisis came, it was easy to leave them behind. Now I panic that I am becoming one of those wishy-washy Christians I always belittled, their faiths flimsy and fearful. I worry that my faith is drifting, that if it isn’t radical and downwardly mobile it’s just ash in the wind.

Still, I return every Sunday to my old neighborhood for church. I smile at the corner stores and familiar graffiti murals from my car window. I keep showing up, singing the hymns, making small talk over coffee cake. I keep leaning into the body of Christ, this holy community of which I am one imperfect part. And I pray small short prayers, asking God for more faith, another opportunity. Asking God for courage and obedience and grace.



DSC01407Stina is living up the last year of her 20s by doing things that scare her, like writing for strangers on the internet. She is an angsty Anglican/Anabaptist hybrid who likes to use words like “intentionality” and “marginalized” in everyday conversations. Stina lives in the American heartland with her husband and daughter.








For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

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The Rocky Road: Guest Post by Christiana

Christiana is a gem–sweet AND brilliant, she inspires me with her commitments to simplicity and joy (also, she sends me poetry magazines and homemade jam, so you know she is the best). I am so glad she chose to share with us some insight into her community, as we all have been called to the bruised and battered ones in some way or another. Be sure to check out her amazing sight for all things DIY and handmade (renew and sustain) and her lovely personal blog

The Rocky Road

by Christiana

We’ve lived in rural intentional Christian community for four years, which is long enough to have learned that while life in community can be filled with joy and celebration, it can also be a messy business. Imagine hippies, anarchists, back-to-landers, radicals, pacifists, new monastics, environmentalists, melancholics, and idealists coming together to agree on a common rule of life.

Sometimes the depth of our brokenness shows up in hurt feelings, disunity, disconnection, victimization, and blame.

Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have been abused, lonely, and neglected. A good number of folks are attracted to intentional communities like this one because it offers them a family that will love and support them. Much of the time, they’ve been through the ringer. Their family of origin was the opposite of loving; they’ve been dragged through hell but still find a way to worship a loving God in charge of the world.

While I’ve experienced a good deal of loneliness in my life, before I came to community these kind of deep wounds were out of my experience. And I’ll admit that it scared me a lot. I was used to the pressed starchiness of church, where we could pretend we were clean and wholesome, unspoiled by the wrinkles of pain and sin.

Here we worship in old T-shirts, homemade dresses, broom skirts, and ill-fitting thrift store pants.My brothers and sisters are dripping with authenticity. They weep openly in church. They share and sometimes over share. But they don’t hide their pain.

I struggle with a violence inside me that says to find the road to happiness, to find my bliss, to follow my dreams, to take the easy path. But a lovelier voice whispers that the path I need to take is the one strewn about with the pain of my brothers and sisters, with uneasy answers, with uncomfortable and awkward relationships, with inconvenience, with difficult people and choices, with neighbors I don’t like and enemies I don’t want to love, with the vulnerability and humility my brothers and sisters have learned through years of sorrow.

To many, this kind of path would seem to go in the wrong direction, deep into the backwoods, off the golden road that leads to health, wealth, happiness, convenience, and success.

To many, it is a foolish, naïve, quaint or even destructive way to follow.

But this is the path of love. And the truth is, anyone who follows this difficult road is radical whether they have eschewed modern technology, live in the suburbs, refuse to vote, own a home, live simply, have no home, buy organic, or use food stamps.

If we are to live as Jesus would have us live, we are probably in for a rocky road, one that may well take us into places that will stretch us, challenge us or even seem desolate. But the good news is that grace, joy, peace and a profound relationship with Christ abound upon this path. And that is more fulfilling than any label, possession or security we could ever find or create for ourselves.

Mark 8: 34-37 (The Message)*

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (The Message)

“Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”


* Sometimes I’ve read or heard a passage from the Bible so often it’s memorized, but some of it’s meaning has been lost. I’ve found The Message to be helpful for blowing away the cobwebs in my spirit and making the Bible new again.











Christiana writes at both http://renewandsustain.wordpress.com/ and http://thebeautyofthishour.wordpress.com/.


For all the posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

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murals in the desert

“You may stand the strain of the most intense labour, coupled with severe suffering, and yet break down utterly when laid aside from all religious activities; when forced into close confinement in some prison house.”–Streams in the Desert

As I walked past the countless murals on the street, I recognized myself: a colorful, hollow attempt at redemption. Paint splashed on bricks to make it all seem new; wide-eyed, good hearted people bounding in to help. But murals don’t change neighborhoods; neither does my showing up.

I am reminded by Psalm 103 to remember the miracles that the Lord has done. In this lonely, awake place I remember what has pointed to the divine in my life. It is my family: my precious, baby-that-almost-wasn’t, my husband, so young and brave and handsome. It is my friendships, so surprising and challenging, with people so unlike me, my Somali and Bhutanese friends. It is the way I continue to plod along after this great love I have heard about and experienced in so many tiny ways; it is the way I feel relentlessly pursued by this love, how it has pushed and pulled me outside of myself. It is the way I have been brought to this place, outside of all of my religious activities, my labours and sufferings, and am finally alone enough where I can recognize how I am a colorful, painted tomb.

I don’t want this to sound depressing; I debated all day on what I should or shouldn’t share, on how honest I can be. I find this odd space, this time of complete newness and being emptied out, to be exhilarating in every sense. I am alive, I have eyes to see, and ears to hear. How often have I been able to say that? Recognizing my own flaws, be they a propensity for pride, self-righteousness, acedia, or melancholy, is a true and vital step in becoming whole. In living life awake, asleep neither to the realities of the world or the realities of my heart. This is where I am supposed to be, and in this moment I am holding it close.


Linking up with SheLoves Magazine today, for their synchroblog on the word “awake”. Come join us?

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Mutuality: Not Just a Buzzword!

So, part of my angst after the Justice conference spilled out into my newest column.

It feels good to have written it down, and to have a reminder of what my expectation vs. reality often is. But as I was writing, I started to get mired in all that is not right, I could feel the sad stories start to eclipse the hope. Then, the soul-crushing guilt comes rolling in, telling me I am not doing enough, that the good years are behind, that the future is always in flux, never in solid relationship.


And then, two nights ago, we left the door unlocked and the refugee kids creep in, looking for a friend, content to just sit and play for awhile.

Yesterday, we go to our neighbors house to have chai and delicious Nepali food, to sit and talk about babies and the sunshine and possible small business ideas.

Last night, a former student of mine, a sweet, nearly toothless Vietnamese man, brought bags and bags of food to school for me. This is the second time in a month; he never says much. Just smiles and shoves the beautiful, ornate, smelly food in my hands and walks away, takes the bus back to his house.


And all of this is so unexpected. Nobody wants anything from me. They want to be friends. I know this sounds strange, but this might be the weirdest part of my life right now. I feel uncomfortable with my friendship, like I must offer something more in order to be worthwhile. English class, small business opportunities, a play group. But my friends and neighbors just smile and nod politely and go back to cooking me food (I am racking up a delicious food debt so high there is no hope of ever paying it back–I must cut my losses right now and declare grace in the realm of cooking hospitality).

In a season of questions, I am being blessed by the people I thought somehow needed my help. It is blowing my mind, this mutuality, this risk in only being friends.



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Justice Conference

So, I had the amazing opportunity to go to the Justice Conference yesterday. Like most things in my life, I had no idea what was going on or even if I was going to get to go (the tickets are super pricey!) but in the end I was given 3 (!) passes, which I shared between the hubs and sis and neighbor. Thanks to Heidi and Cate for scoring the passes!

I had been in contact with some people from the Simple Way (the intentional community in Philadelphia that Shane Claiborne started) a couple of weeks ago to get permission to quote Shane. I casually asked if they would be in Portland for the Justice conference. They were! I ended up helping decorate the booth and got to have coffee with an amazing woman who has been living in intentional community in a marginalized neighborhood for 30 years (also, so random, she has been my editor for Conspire! magazine).


I was really bummed to miss out on all the good stuff on Friday, but I couldn’t get out of my classes. Then, I invited all the Simple Way people over for coffee and food today, but they could only do the morning and the hubs and I are working with the 2-3 year olds for the month. I was seriously feeling sorry for myself (I could have had coffee with Shane Claiborne!) but then I had to laugh: I was too busy teaching ESL and serving the church to have coffee and talk about justice. I think it is probably best this way.

I also met up with an old high school friend (which was magical), wandered the booths, soaked in the speakers, and saw a bunch of people I knew.

I totally thought I was supposed to go to this conference and God would tell me what is next. Our future has a giant question mark in it, and I feel like I am missing  a piece of that puzzle. So I went with high expectations (seriously, I couldn’t sleep the night before–I felt like I was going to Disneyland!).

So I was completely unprepared for what actually happened:

I sat in my seat and thought some bitter thoughts (the term “slackavist” may have rolled around my brain). I felt depressed, anxious, and rather like a failure. I felt cynical, and weird for sitting around talking about justice yet again. I couldn’t get over myself.

I had coffee with my editor from Conspire!, and she just listened to me talk for awhile. Then she reiterated what I had just said, which was basically that no one from our church lives in intentional community with us, no one is fully partnering with the refugees with us, we don’t have a parachurch organization, the hubs is not as involved as I am, and we have a demanding baby.

Yeah, I said.

She looked at me, and said: You know? That sounds hard, and that sounds lonely.

And as my eyes welled up with tears, I realized that is just what I needed someone to say to me.


I was talking with my old high school friend (still a soulmate) and I told her that I think I write so much because I don’t have any community in which to process things. And it clicked, and it made sense, and it also depressed me.

My sister wrote down a quote from John Perkins at the conference. He said (about working with the poor): “All you need to do is value the dignity of that person. The Holy Spirit will do the rest–convicting of sin and all that. All you have to do is affirm their dignity”.


I was affirmed simply by having someone say that sometimes it all seemed difficult. I left the conference being touched in a way that I was completely not expecting–and somehow more encouraged for the future.


Not to mention Francis Chan brought the house down at the end, bringing his hammer down full force on our pleasant and convenient interpretations of the Bible. I will probably have to process everything he said at a later date, but basically he reiterated the fact that there is a reason I feel like I am missing out– because I am!  Most of us are. God’s children are starving, God’s children are being prostituted, God’s children are in dire need–and we live like this doesn’t affect us. But it should.


I think that question mark in our future just got a little sharper.

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Sometimes, when you live in intentional community, you get dissapointed.

Like last week, when I slaved over  a bunch of indian food for a bunch of Bhutanese people and they didn’t show up (headaches and working and at their aunt’s house in Beaverton, respectively).


And sometimes, you are blessed.


It’s the strangest, littlest things. Like the hubs, making small talk with the big bear of a man in the elevator: “Nice haircut.”

“Yeah,” said the guy. “I was starting to look like an ax murderer.” [note: he really was] “I looked at myself in the mirror and thought: ‘that’s not who I am, man'”.

We all nodded in agreement. The baby blew kisses at him. Just making strange small talk, just making strange neighbor friends.


Or like the past couple of days, when some of our neighbor kids have started to come over after school, to hang out and ask all sorts of questions. They seem to delight in making my cranky baby giggle, and they even have contest to see who can clean up my living room the fastest. I know! It all started when we stopped remembering to lock our doors. It sounds so awful to type it out, but it is true. And I am loving the interruptions these days.

Yesterday, one of the kids hanging around asked me a question: “what do you feed chickens?” It was Ani, a feisty ten-year old Bhutanese refugee, who asked. I stammered out a reply about birdseed (?) and stale bread. “Why are you asking?”

“Oh,” said Ani, “because we have a chicken.”


“We have a chicken.”

I was floored. “A chicken? Where do you keep it? On the balcony?” (they live on the second floor).

Ani looked at me like I was crazy. “No, it stays in our living room. We tie a rope to its foot and keep it by the couch.”

I just stared at him. He went on. “We eat the most delicious eggs, and it is so great.”

I wanted to go check out this chicken situation, which is the stuff of refugee urban legend. But alas, it was not to be. Ani’s younger sister came over an hour later, and I asked her about the chicken.

“Oh yeah,” she sighed heavily. “We DID have a chicken. But he’s dead now”.


“Yeah, my dad put a big spike in his neck and there was so much blood in the kitchen and me and my cousins were screaming so my dad said we had to come to your house.” Her cousins stood behind, all little girls with thick black bangs cut straight across, nodding solemnly. “None of us will ever eat chickens anymore,” Ani’s sister said, sweeping her arms around.


It was all I could do not to laugh. I just counted my blessings, exalting in how strange they may be.

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Super Short

An update:

Since I wrote about the baby not walking here on the internets, she has decided to prove me wrong. For the past several days she has been taking a few steps every day. We are still not running around, but that image is now a distinct possibility. Yay!

Also, after I got all spiritual about our ghetto workout room, of course my Somali friend had to come and egg me on when I was running the other day. She stayed and talked to me for 20+ minutes, about anything that popped into her head. My favorite: “You are getting too skinny. Your husband is going to run away from you. You will get so skinny he doesn’t even know you, so that is why he will run away.”

Thanks, I guess?


All in all this has been a pretty anxiety-filled week. Which leads to sleepless nights and bleary mornings and possibly eating-entire-pans-of-brownies (I’m just saying). Our future is still as uncertain as ever, and I get a little despondent when I don’t know what it is exactly I am supposed to be dreaming about. 


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work it out.

ghetto. photo by the hubs, my favorite photographer.

This weekend I went to a missions conference here in the NW, which is always inspiring and overwhelming for me, a huge missions nerd. I have been going to this particular conference for 8 years (I might have missed it once or twice). In the beginning I went by myself, a lonely single girl with missionary dreams, wandering the booths and soaking it all in. Now, here I am, lugging a crazy toddler on my hips and stopping to visit with every other person, talking until I feel hoarse and worn out and happy.

The only workshop I made it to was one on relational apartment ministry–moving into apartment complexes for the express purpose of making friends and building the kingdom of God. This is ostensibly what we have trying to do for the past several years. The workshop was inspiring, of course, but I left assessing all the places I have not let my living be incarnational.

It made me think about what kind of neighbor I am. I am the keep-to-myself, pleasantly smiling girl. I have connections to many of the refugees families who live here, and I bend over backwards to talk to them whenever I see them. But everybody else . . . that is a different story. It is much, much easier to not get involved. To only live in the apartments, not to dwell there.

A great example of this is the “work out room” at our complex. I use the quotation marks because it is just a tiny, narrow room stuffed with malfunctioning workout equipment. It is on the third floor, right across from the elevator, with a big window so everybody can see you sweating and huffing. There is one tiny window with a view of the courtyard with half of the blinds stolen off. I have found lots of evidence over the years that makes me think people are doing a lot of stuff in that room, but they certainly aren’t working out.

I used to use the busted up old elliptical machine quite a bit when we first moved in. But I got tired of all the refugee kids spilling in and laughing at me, at the women giving me strange looks, of catching lurking teenage boys staring one too many times. I stopped working out, because I hated interacting with people. The Burmese mom who let her toddler tumble about the room. My Somali friend who wanted to discuss how fat I was as I was sweating away. The dude with the big bushy beard whose apartment reeks of weed who lumbered in to put money on his laundry card. The single mom screaming at her kids who were running down the hallway.  I didn’t want to talk to any of them. I just wanted to read my O! magazine and listen to my NPR podcasts and burn a few calories. I wanted to be separate.

I signed up to run my first race in March. It is a 15k, which is just far enough that it is scary, but doable. The weather in Portland has been almost Biblical as of late–snow, sleet, rain rain rain and now some flooding. So I have been forced to take my running indoors, back to the “work out room” where I must interact with people.

For me, it’s such a picture of my prejudice, my tendency to protect my privacy and individuality. It is a symbol of how different I feel that I am.

So here is my small change for the here and now. To use the workout room, and to redeem it. To engage with the neighbors, to use every opportunity for good, to not shrink into myself and my safe barriers (ipods, magazines, culture, closed apartment).

I can be a sweaty mess who still smiles and chooses to engage. This is the decision for even the ridiculous things to be intentional.

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