Over the years, John O’Brien, a friend and teacher of mine for almost 40 years, has introduced me (and so many other friends and colleagues) to poems that hold meaning and resonate. This year John shared a poem by William Stafford...
There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.
But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
Or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
I am 63 years old now. My body, with all of its changes over time, makes me aware of this on most days. But my mind feels very young, and connected to things that have been alive with me since forever it seems. Threads that go way back, and yet remain calling me into the future.
This vision of a “justus cafe”, is a call in me to make manifest something reflecting threads that have been with me for a very long time.
Justice...right relationship...“just us” sharing a home
40 years ago I sat in a workshop about restorative justice as it relates to the corrections and prison system in Canada. The man leading the conversation was a member of the Mennonite Central Committee who had deep experience with people in the criminal justice system. He introduced me to a perspective of “justice” that resonated and has remained with me all these years, a thread that I have not yet let go of.
He shared his understanding of how the ancient Hebrew people held a view that justice was the “state of right relationships”. And when we are in “right relationship”, we can feel it, in our bodies and souls. We are aligned within ourselves, and with each other, individually and collectively. He described the experience of this alignment as a sense of peace, “shalom”, wholeness, completeness. I am not Hebrew, nor have I studied this historical view, but there was something about this understanding that resonated and rang true.
Over time, I became aware of some world views of indigenous people in North America. I have heard elders speak about seven generations and our relationships over time, and reference in prayer of “all our relations”, a wider view of relationship going beyond human beings to include the animals, plants, land and sea, all recognized as fellow beings, kin, who we humans are in relationship with. We are all part of the whole.
It is “just us”, all of us, humans, animals, plant life, land and seas, sharing a home.
Doing justice, is the work of aligning in right relationship.
The arts of social change...making the invisible visible
I have been drawn to pay attention to certain artists and their work, fascinated by the practice of making something that is inspired by an internal experience of life and the world. I admire their daring to share the their internal experience and perspective, allowing us to see how it resonates with our own experience, or waking us into awareness that ours is not the only valid experience.
I am drawn to the ways artists make the invisible visible. I am particularly drawn to the work of artists who make the “whole” visible, our place in it, exposing choices we have to opt for wholeness, or dismemberment.
I am drawn to artists whose practice engages us in social change.
Cafes as community hubs
I love coffee, and in particular, I love the time I set aside with my morning cup at home alone in my reflective space, or enjoying it in the midst of others in a great community cafe.
In the 1990’s, inspired by John McKnight’s focus on the “associational life” that exists in every community, I became aware of the power of “third places” in communities, places that are not home or work, where people go as individuals into a shared space, or gather with others. Some version of these spaces have existed in communities forever. Cafes and pubs are among my favorite 3rd places.
In particular I love the attentiveness of cafe owners to the purpose of the space created. When I began imagining the justus cafe, I was inspired by cafe owner, Kalime DeSuze, who thoughtfully and intentionally established Cafe con Libros, in Brooklyn NY, to be a “great good place”.
The pandemic forced my wife Patti and I, to stay away from gathering places, even “great good places”(Ray Oldenburg 1999) like cafes and pubs, and explore how we could remain connected and engaged with people, friends and family, and those who held shared interests, while at a distance.
The experience challenged me to imagine how connection and inspiration could be experienced from a distance. There will not be an online experience that replaces local community gathering spaces. But my sense is that more is possible online than the structures of Facebook, twitter, instagram, Tik Tok, and other forms offer.
The justus cafe is a vision unfolding to create a space for connection and inspiration across distance, linking the threads that can bind us in pursuit of right relationships, among peoples, and the earth we call home.