On February 7th, board member Frances Wood and community council member Paul Wood joined assistants Sophia Rice, Michelle Garofalo, and Moss Kane in attending the Interfaith Advocacy Day at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. Organized by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the advocacy day had its biggest turnout ever with over 450 people in attendance. Participants gathered in various workshops and learned about topics such as climate justice, health care for seniors and people with disabilities, gun violence prevention, housing, hunger, and wage theft. After the workshops, the group marched to the Capitol to advocate for these issues and the current bills surrounding them in intimate meetings with state legislators. Legislators were sympathetic to the topics raised and seemed to be in agreement with the concerns voiced. Frances was particularly vocal about making sure there is a cap on rent increases and that housing remains affordable. L’Arche assistants introduced themselves and shared their concern for the rights of adults with intellectual disabilities. Overall, the day was energizing and successful, and with such a big turnout, the event shows that there are many people who are committed to fighting for justice and fairness in our state.
L’Arche USA welcomes a diverse mix of human beings into its 17 communities, two projects and numerous emerging communities. Since 1972, when L’Arche was first established in the United States, thousands of Americans and foreigners – of many nationalities, religions, intellectual capacities, social origins, political views, racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and other real or perceived signs of difference – have experienced firsthand that unity, faithfulness and reconciliation are built and sustained when we befriend strangers.
In all these years, people with intellectual disabilities, who are marginalized more often than not, have taught us that our society can be truly human only if it is founded on welcome and respect for those who are most vulnerable and most in need. Women and men who experience an intellectual disability are valuable citizens of today’s world in part because of their unique capacity to teach this simple and yet compelling lesson of compassionate love.
L’Arche in the United States stands for the unique and sacred value of every human being. We stand for the values of welcome and respect. We stand for relationships across seemingly insurmountable difference. We stand for inclusion. We stand for hope, celebration and joy. And we stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized. As such, L’Arche USA joins its voice to all those who oppose fear and oppression, stigmatization and exclusion, discrimination and hate here in the United States and in this world.
The following is a recent blog post by Hannah Kunde, live-in assistant from her blog On the Road.
Visiting the Preacher
Yesterday morning, Rodney and I attended Ascension Catholic Church. It was the most laughter and joy-filled service I have ever attended. To the service, Rodney brought his charisma, love for singing and conducting, and laughter. In a setting that is normally contained “within the lines”, Rodney’s bright colors fearlessly shown wherever they landed. Rodney loves to sing and his repertoire are mostly old time folk, Johnny Cash, and Gene Autry tunes. During Mass, while old hymns were being sung, Rodney participated at the top of his lungs with his classic lines of “Yankee Doodle had a farm!” and “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’”. Times where liturgy was read, Rodney found quite amusing and shamelessly unleashed his deep belly laugh. My instinct to quiet him down quickly kicked in. Yet every time I looked over at him, his beaming, toothless smile overcame my socialized reasoning and I just laughed along.
At the end of the service, an upbeat, Gospel song began on the piano and Rodney immediately began his well-practiced conducting skills. He picked both hands up and forcefully moved his arms from side to side, up and down with his pointer fingers out “conducting” along to the music. The more into the music he is, the more forcefully and almost frantically he conducts, so much so that the movement of his arms were causing his wheelchair to roll ever so slightly back and forth. He was unstoppable and having a ball.
This is worship. Attentiveness and presence to the immediacy of the moment. Unrestrained joy. Expressions of song, laughter, and movement. I had a smile on my face for so much of the service that my cheeks were tired by the end. I think Rodney’s worship probably put a smile on God’s face too.
“Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual JOY. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live. Life in this world is full of pain. But pain, which is the contrary of pleasure, is not necessarily the contrary of happiness or of joy. Because spiritual joy flowers in the full expansion of freedom that reaches out without obstacle to its supreme object, fulfilling itself in the perfect activity of disinterested love for which it was created” –Thomas Merton
Upon reading this for the first time, I was utterly taken aback. Shocked, confused and humbled. Thomas Merton’s words deeply spoke to me in that moment and I continue to ruminate on them.
In November, I re-injured my back, which threw me into some of the most intense and persistent physical pain I have experienced yet. Seeing as the back is central to just about any motion or position of the body, it was impossible to do anything without exacerbating the place of original injury. Needless to say, I was living with severe physical pain on a daily basis. Being an active person, biking for transportation, and working a job that requires me to be on my feet all day, I felt incredibly inhibited. Looking back though, this injury and subsequent healing journey has proven to be a profound learning experience, especially as it parallels my time being at L’Arche.
One lesson is how interconnected my physical and spiritual being is. My own sense of connectivity with the Spirit has long been very much based on how well my body and mind feel. So in times of great pain I begin to feel distanced and lost. This is one reason why Merton’s quote spoke so powerfully to me! It helped me realize that the point of a Spiritual Life is not pleasure, or in other words, freedom from pain and suffering. Far from it! As I have been learning, pain and suffering only deepen my Spiritual Life and relationship with Christ, they no longer detract from it. When JOY is the point of a dynamic Spiritual Life, pain and suffering no longer hold much sway. Christ experienced death and suffering after having walked here on Earth. Christ turned things upside down when he declared that pain and suffering will no longer distance us from the Kingdom of God. On the contrary, they will escort us directly into it!
L’Arche is a place that embraces rather than denies pain and suffering. It is considered to be an integral part of community and individual life. As I have plodded along my own pain and suffering, it has been alongside a vibrant and honest group of people with whom burdens are shared. Many of the folks I have gotten to know at L’Arche have disabilities that manifest themselves more evidently to the outside world. Some have physical handicaps that I cannot imagine. The paradox is that what appears to be their inhibitions to others, actually equips them to live a life of radical freedom and grace which most people (myself included) are incapable of. It seems that their suffering actually thrusts them deep into the exact kind of Spiritual JOY that Thomas Merton speaks of. Indeed, it seems like no coincidence that my back injury in November coincided with a re-entry into this exceptional and blessed community.
Happy New Year! This year marks the 30th anniversary of L'Arche in Portland, and we will be celebrating the gift of our community throughout 2017. We invite you to join us at events and in prayer this year as we reflect on and honor our past while imagining what L'Arche Portland might become in the years ahead.
We will begin this year of celebration at our January Prayer Night with an evening of sacred story telling and the blessing those people and events that have shaped who we are today. We will hear stories from our founding years, how we became a L'Arche community, the building and opening of Neahkahnie, and more. Thank you to all of you who have played a role in these stories and to everyone who will carry us forward.
During this year of celebration and imaging a new future together, we invite you to pray with us for what has been and for all that will be. <See prayer below>
A Prayer for our Past, Present & Future
God of our hearts, and spirit of life,
We offer you our prayers of thanksgiving
for 30 years of L’Arche in Portland.
We pray for every person who called us into being
with their hopes and cries for community.
We pray for every person and group
whose support lifted our dream into reality.
We pray for every person whom we have
welcomed to share life in community over the years.
We pray for every person around the world
who has broken bread at a L’Arche table
and prayed together in candlelight.
We pray for every person with an intellectual disability.
Know that we value you and celebrate your gifts.
We pray for every person who currently lives
in the daily life of our community.
Trust in each other and remain open to the
transformational gifts of authentic relationships.
We pray for every person who walks with us today
and supports L’Arche with your friendship and gifts.
Know that we need you now more than ever.
We pray for every person who will carry us into the future.
Let us boldly follow our dreams and have the courage to
create a world where all people know that they are loved.
In your name, we pray. Amen
Community Council and former board member Peter Lax has cared for children with intellectual disabilities for his whole career as a pediatric dentist. Peter has also been a devoted Santa at the annual L'Arche Portland Christmas Tree Sale for years.
The Catholic Sentinel recently profiled Peter, his dedication to helping families of kids with disabilities and his involvement with L'Arche Portland.
"'[L'Arche] opened my eyes to the expansion of love that children with disabilities can bring to their parents or caregivers."
Read the story
In the face of threats of power outages and monster winds, our supporters braved Saturday's crazy weather to come through for L'Arche Portland's 6th Annual Benefit Celebration.
Deepest gratitude towards our community of supporters for opening your hearts and your wallets in support of L'Arche Portland. Your generosity yielded a record breaking night, bringing in over $76,500, including $2,700 in financial aid for L'Arche communities around the world. We watched three amazing videos to help tell the story of L'Arche, including "Joni", "Sharing the Journey: Ben and Ilana", and "Let the Birds Loose". Follow the links to watch them again!
Our deepest appreciation to the following:
On Thursday, September 29, our core members, assistants and office team gathered for a day retreat at the Loyola Jesuit Center. Stacy Cates-Carney, former community leader of L'Arche Tahoma Hope and member of the L'Arche International Spirituality Commission, led us in reflections on our experiences of Being, Belonging, and Becoming. It was a wonderful day of deepening our connectedness and experiences of sharing life together in L'Arche.
August and September have been full of transitions at Nehalem and Neahkahnie Houses. Here are the new amazing young people we are welcoming into our community:
I am currently 27 years old and grew up in a committed Christian family. My faith remains the most important part of my life. I studied philosophy and theology at North Park University in Chicago and was very involved in a student organization that sought out relationships with people living on the street. This experience changed the direction of my life from pursuing academia and intellectual dialogue to desiring to be transformed by the witness of vulnerable people. I grew up in Kansas City but have lived in Chicago for most of the past eight years. The last two years I have been living in a Christian community called Reba Place Fellowship, which is modeled on the church described in chapter two of the book of Acts where possessions are shared and no one is in need. For the past four years, my job has been to share life during the day with adults with developmental disabilities.
My hobbies and interests are as follows, in no particular order: geography, reading, craft beer, beatboxing, exploring, complicated HBO style TV shows, getting lost, civil conversations about theology, philosophy, or politics, eating good BBQ, singing, listening to NPR, hiking, watching college basketball, and listening to house/dubstep/trance music.
I hail from New Jersey but spent the last year as a JV serving in Seattle with Downtown Emergency Service Center. During my JV year, I serenaded my community to show tunes, learned what a spice cabinet is, and converted some community mates to Villanova Wildcat fans. I attempted to pick up the ukulele and knitting as hobbies but decided to stick with running marathons instead. During my time at Villanova, I participated in domestic and international service trips, led retreats, and was a member of Chi Omega sorority. In addition to running, my hobbies include hiking, backpacking, and watching "Friends." I also enjoy a good book and a cup of tea on a rainy northwest winter day. I am excited to explore more of the Pacific NW as the Inclusion Assistant at L'Arche Portland.
Sophia is from Baden-Württemberg in Germany and joins L’Arche Portland as an InVia fellow. Sophia recently graduated with her A-levels and enjoys swimming, skiing, jogging, cooking and baking. She has volunteered as a ski instructor, church youth ministries coordinator, and with a school for children with disabilities. Her long-term goals are to attend university and study social work. She is looking forward to helping others and getting to know herself and develop her character while at L’Arche Portland.
I recently graduated from Wheaton College where I studied Christian Education and Intercultural Studies. I am very passionate about the intersection of
Christianity and Social Justice, and those things motivate everything that I do. Learning is essential to me and I am always pursuing new teachers and experiences. My family and close friends are the greatest joys in my life. In my free time I love to live simply and invest in things that matter to me. Those include being active, reading, dancing, laughing, and communicating with people who are important to me.
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Sophia Rice grew up with Jewish and Christian culture and tradition, supported to explore diverse ways to connect to the spiritual world. In May 2016 she graduated from Ursinus College in Pennsylvania where she majored in Peace and Social Justice and minored in Politics and Spanish. At school, she participated in the Bonner Leader Program, a national anti-poverty and leadership organization. As a Bonner Leader, Sophia directed an after-school tutoring program and organized Ursinus College’s Diversity Monologues and an anti-rape/female body objectification demonstration on campus. Through these activities, coursework, and several internships, Sophia has developed a deep value of interdisciplinary problem solving as it pertains to the various types of oppression in this world. In her free time, she enjoys playing her cello, doing yoga, hiking, and spending time with friends and family. Sophia will be supporting L’Arche Portland as a Quaker Voluntary Service fellow.
Hello, my name is Michael. I was raised in Olympia, Washington. I love being near water. I like insects and spiders and watching bugs do their buggy thing. I recently graduated from Eastern Washington University's MFA program in creative writing. Making poems is my way of more deeply inhabiting the gift of whatever experience I am given. I hope to someday live in another country for a long time.
Core members, assistants, and our leadership team celebrated with a day-cation at Wildwood Recreation Area on Mt. Hood on August 17. Thank you L'Arche USA Making a Difference Fund for this opportunity to break from daily routine and be together in the beautiful outdoors enjoying accessible paths, fish viewings, and wading in the wild and scenic Salmon River.
I consider one of the many gifts that L’Arche brings to the world to be freedom. After being with the L’Arche Portland community for a year, this idea has taken on depth and feels newly tangible and dynamic. Making space for the varying interests of each individual; interacting with, between, and among differing communication styles, and engaging places of growth, areas of conflict, or fears and anxieties rather than avoiding them. These are things that I have only ever experienced first hand in bits and pieces in the past, but are all lived out on a daily basis at L’Arche.
We inevitably live in a culture filled with fear and shame. We are incredibly individualistic, yet paradoxically expected to fit in a box. Mainstream culture pressures us to look, feel, and live a certain way-the way we see portrayed in TV, magazines, movies, etc (this is my sociology background firing up! I could go into a much more cynical societal critique, but will refrain. :) ). There is little to no room for people who have more visible or prominent disabilities-we are all disabled, broken, in some way-in this society that we have created. This is deeply saddening to me and I acknowledge that it affects me on a daily basis. It takes time, energy, hard inner work, prayer and the support of community to push back against this. L’Arche serves as a beacon of light, shining bright, offering a new alternative to how we might interact in a more loving and accepting way towards ourselves, others, and God.
It is amazing how growing this year has been for me. Freedom has been a recurring theme; deeply powerful. I find a new freedom within myself to walk confidently, slowly and peaceably. To live into my interests, hopes and dreams. To communicate my fears and feels. To acknowledge my failures and interact with them. To release fear of other’s opinions and comparisons. To push back against shame. To trust more deeply in the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit within and around me. To put my hope in a God that is much more diverse and creative than I could ever comprehend.
I am deeply grateful to know these L’Arche homes and the people in them. And I recognize this process of growth is never-ending. Here’s to freedom and growth!
On Monday, my dear friend, Rodney, and I had the opportunity to go on an outing for the morning to what has become my favorite coffee shop in Portland. Tabor Space Coffee House is located inside of a beautiful stone walled Presbyterian Church right next to Mt. Tabor. Apparently, the congregation is rather small, about 100 people regularly on Sundays. But the space is utilized throughout the week for group classes (church-related and not), children’s music lessons, and meeting spaces, among many other events and gatherings. There is a large, room adjacent to the sanctuary filled with chairs and large wooden tables where people go to meet, read, write and enjoy coffee and snacks. It is open, bright -with filtered light coming in through large stained glass windows- and overall very friendly. I consider it a place of peace and restoration and have had several deeply meaningful journaling sessions there this year. Sometimes, the organist is practicing which fills the space with a fitting, holy melody.
Rodney and I had a real joyous time there together. From the get-go, the wheelchair ride up the steep ramp into the entrance got both of us laughing (and me sweating!). Rodney ordered his usual Italian Soda, and a peanut butter cookie. We situated ourselves at one of the tables in the middle of the room; Rodney with his paper and crayons and me with my book. Between drawing, reading, chatting, and people watching, we were both quite content.
Two men in particular caught Rod’s eye. The first was an older fellow who strolled in with a baseball cap on his graying head and newspaper in hand. Rodney did a full 180 turn to look at this guy. Pointing and laughing, saying, “he’s got a hat!” and “there’s an old man!”. The gentleman looked up curiously a couple of times, but didn’t seem to make much of Rodney’s fixation on him. One things I’ve grown in from being this past year at L’Arche is to allow the core members to be themselves and not worry about how others will respond. Rodney brings a certain freedom wherever he goes that I have learned to embrace rather than try to control. Instead of getting uncomfortable or embarrassed, I turned to Rodney and joked, “you’re an old man yourself, Rod!”
The second fellow towards whom Rodney directed his attention appeared to be a working business man. Between typing away on his computer, jotting in a notebook, and taking phone calls on his cell, he appeared busy and almost frantic to me. For some reason, Rodney kept staring at this man from across the room, only to be received by slightly unsettled glares back. As we were packing up to go, Rodney stated that he’d like to give the drawing he had been working on to the guy. We made our way over there and Rodney handed the paper to this guy stating excitedly, “you keep it!”. Taking his reading glasses off, the gentleman looked up at Rod with an almost resigned look in his eyes and said a short, “thank you”.
Who knows what that man did with the drawing, but this seemed to me a powerful moment of connection that Rod forged by his thoughtful offering of sharing a piece of himself with this complete stranger.
Robyn has been teaching me a lot lately. Yesterday, I spent a good 20 minutes trying to reason with Robyn why she should come inside from digging in the garden (an activity that she loves!) to come in and shower before dinner. We both inevitably found ourselves very frustrated. She was close to tears and saying she needed time alone. I was feeling discouraged, frustrated and at a loss for words. So I went inside and began working on other tasks. I asked Nicole to perhaps go outside to see if a fresh face would be encouraging, and she agreed to once she finished cleaning the bathroom. In that time though something else came up unexpectedly that quickly grabbed Nicole’s attention. In the instant Nicole left, I heard the side door open and Robyn came in looking for “that girl”. Not “Miss Cole”, or “Belana”, but Hannah! She walked in with her shovel in hand and had a small worm she wanted to show me. I was overjoyed to see that worm. We examined it, celebrated it, then went out to the worm bin and re-located the worm to be with other friends. Afterwards, I looked at her and asked, “would you like to shower now?” “Yeah”, she said simply. And we walked back inside.
A peace offering. A small, dirty, wriggling worm that spoke volumes without the use of words. Robyn is teaching me a lot indeed. She demonstrates to me how to listen and speak with heart, emotion, and gesture, rather than what I tend towards – wordy explanation or intellect. Once again I find myself humbled and amazed by how much I have to learn in this world!
Going on bike rides with Adam is one of my favorite things in the world to do. We had the privilege of doing this together one warm, sunny afternoon recently. Adam was hoping to get a treat somewhere, so we biked down the road to a nearby coffee shop that sells tasty cookies in addition to coffee. As we locked up our bikes on the rack, a gentleman sitting outside looked at us and asked, “You two must be from that home down the road?” We said, yes, we are from L’Arche. “Come on in! Let me buy you your treat” he exclaimed without hesitation as he motioned us inside. The look on Adam’s face when I explained to him that he could put his wallet away and didn’t have to pay radiated exuberant joy. So much so that when he entered Bipartisan, he began applauding, his hands held in the air above his head, drawing the quizzical and amused stares of every single person in the café.
Before ordering his cookie, Adam walked up to the kind man, a complete stranger, and gave him a bear hug. The baristas were smiling by now, patient with us as we picked our treats: Adam a molasses cookie and me a gluten free chocolate chip. The gentleman laid a $20 on the counter and told the lady behind the counter to keep the change. The three of us proceeded outside with our snacks. In conversation, it turns out Matt has a sister in Chicago who experiences down syndrome. They had visited a L’Arche home before and the community holds a special place in his heart. It also turns out Matt used to teach at George Fox. The beautiful, interconnected surprises of life demonstrated through simple and random acts of kindness astounded and humbled me that day. Thank you, Matt. And thank you Adam for sharing that sweet moment with me and in doing so, inviting the whole of Bipartisan to partake in our surprise and joy.
An Archival Print
God snaps your picture- don’t look away-
this room right now, your face tilted
exactly as it is before you can think
or control it. Go ahead, let it betray
all the secret emergencies and still hold
that partial disguise you call your character.
Even your lip, they say, the way it curves
or doesn’t, or can’t decide, will deliver
bales of evidence. The camera, wide open,
stands ready; the exposure is thirty-five years
or so-after that you have become
whatever the veneer is, all the way through.
Now you want to explain. Your mother
was a certain- how to express it?-influence.
Yes. And your father, whatever he was,
you couldn’t change that. No. And your town
of course had its limits. Go on, keep talking-
Hold it. Don’t move. That’s you forever.