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Crave Is My Church

 

My parents raised me in church.

Potluck Wednesday suppers where mayonnaise was the primary ingredient of every dish.  Ladies with big hats who smelled of rose water and hugged too tightly. Fearlessly exhausted Sunday school volunteers who tried to make ancient, strange stories relevant. Playground time, butter cookies in tin cans, and parents who talked too long in the parking lot.

Church was a gift. It was intimate, safe, and above all it was loving.

Thirty years later, I long for these gifts, but our fast-paced, YouTube soundbite, UberEats life enhancements are hard to enjoy served up with mass shootings, genocide (still), and a painfully polarized nation.

I don’t want to “go to” church anymore. I want to be church. I want my home to be church where we feel intimate, safe, and loved. I want our family to be a light to others — whether it is our neighbor, a teacher, an employee, a refugee from Venezuela, or a youth in Naivasha, Kenya.

Here’s the hard truth I try not to think about: I can’t give my kids the intimacy, safety and love of a faith community the way my parents did. I have to do it another way, because the very thing that grounded my being doesn’t seem to anchor us anymore.

 

Here’s what I do know we need:

 

Divine Wisdom and Experiences

Especially the miraculous life-giving and faith-developing stories of God and God’s people, contained in (especially for me) the Bible. Also, in equal measure and power, the Koran, the Torah, Harry Potter, Star Wars, This Is Us, Instagram posts from The Rock, and other inspired God-breathed art. Sunsets, walks in the woods, hope in the face of everything lost, puppies, babies, and really old people in love.

 

Real Community

The kind of community where people struggle with faith. People who lead incredible life changing projects and admit to having no idea what they’re doing. People who sometimes cuss at their kids and sometimes channel the Holy Spirit in perfect measure. People who are further down the road in work, marriage, citizenry, parenting, and caring for elderly parents. People who still struggle after all these years to really understand forgiveness. People who can patiently and vulnerably explain something I don’t understand. People who are willing to do the gut-wrenching work to mourn together when life royally inexplicably sucks and party together until the sun comes up when life is miraculously and inexplicably is amazing.


 

A Bridge

Without effort, I will live my life with people just like me and miss Heaven completely. I need to know others who make me nervous or scared or mad. Not just serve them, read about them, and pray for them, but have a relationship with them. This will allow me see and experience and believe that I am them and they are me and God is alive and working in all of us. Socio-economic differences, political differences, racial differences, generational differences, religious differences — there is a lot that may seem to separate us. But the whole world, not only who or what is in my immediate circle, is God’s creation and I need the courage and encouragement and introductions to be in and love all of it. I desperately want to learn that, do that, and most importantly model it for my children.

Attending church without these three things (wisdom, community, bridges) becomes poor stewardship and a waste of time. If our church isn’t doing these three things, then I don’t need to “go to” church. But, for the sake of my soul and the sake of the world, I do need to be church.

Crave is where this happens because these Leaders who join in share divine wisdom, engage in real community, and embody bridge work. They are connected to their source, to one another, and to their purpose. I am so grateful to be pastored by these young Leaders who have dedicated their lives to changing the world. By simply being in their company, God is changing me.

If any of this resonates with you, your life, or your faith journey, then let’s grab a cup of coffee and consider what’s next. God is obviously up to something good.

 

Michele Van Son Neill
Founder
Crave, Inc.

October 2018 – Dylan McCain Allen

 

Our home is vibrant as it is complex, which is why collaboration is necessary to get our neighborhoods ready for just about anything. The Pulse Nightclub Shooting and 2017 Hurricanes brought communities together like never before, but disjointed funding efforts and duplicated services made it hard to effectively align community needs with assets. A Gift For Teaching moved past its “business as usual” to elevate how the educationally-disadvantaged are supported and joined a growing coalition of socially-driven organizations and businesses, service-providing not-for-profits, and government agencies to coordinate grassroots-informed, regionally-strategized action plans that will quickly activate disaster restoration, convene philanthropic cooperation, and get our region back up to speed in any situation.

Following the ideas of Collective Impact, purposeful collaboration can transform the way human services tackle some of the other extremely complex challenges in our region. Rapidly growing homelessness tied to low wages and an affordable housing crisis, health disparities tied to economic inequities and racial biases, and devastatingly-high rates of human trafficking underscore that Central Florida’s greatest problems are far worse than traffic on I-4. Collective impact provides hope to communities that have been swamped with philanthropic dollars yet seen little change or neighborhoods that have accepted outside support and received emigration-forcing gentrification. If the social sector can move towards organizational alignment (rather than programmatic partnerships) and focus on ultimate outcomes (for example: end food-insecurity rather than hunger), then our everyday lives will be dramatically transformed for the better. However, this requires immense change by the leaders.

One unique thing about Crave is that it’s already full of inspired and activated individuals. The need isn’t to show its participants the possibilities to find their Ikigai because they already have the idea—they see the light at the end of the tunnel. The challenge is navigating the labyrinth. The other unique part about Crave is that is transcends leadership and skill development to also incorporate the person and their spiritual motivations as the driving powers of the operation. Unveiling the internal, hidden, and powerful forces that guide our raison d’être sets us free to see our missions in a more universal truth that is grounded by what makes us who we are. Leveraging my strengths in connecting seemingly-disparate people and ideas, learning everything I can about the world, ideating new ways to solve complex challenges, arranging processes into a better flow, and an admiration for mental exercises and intellectual pursuits will augment my ability to bring a community together and target its assets towards greater impact. Let’s work together, Central Florida—strategically, meaningfully, and sustainably.

A special thanks to the Central Florida Foundation, Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, and the Donors Forum of Central Florida for being the catalyst of coordinated disaster response. Also a special thanks to the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and the Crave team for this opportunity not just given to me, but to Central Florida.

Dylan McCain Allen
A Gift for Teaching, Orlando YNPN

Crave II Orlando Kickoff

 
Crave II Orlando has begun!

As strangers, Orlando-based social innovators gathered for an overnight retreat to begin the work of vulnerably sharing our stories, hearts, and dreams with one another. Desire for belonging and safety produced regular laughter, connection, and collective contagious creative hopefulness. The new Crave Leaders’ courage and passion made that Something More (God, Vibration, Source) so undeniably palpable in our shared experience and space.

After learning our strengths, identifying our values and expectations of belonging, and selecting our learning opportunities for the year ahead, the Crave Advisory Board began to arrive for our shared feast.

Among the 17 of us (Crave I & II Orlando and the Advisory Board) the room oscillated between raucous laughter and intense conversation about the new projects for the common good which are at the heart of Crave.

Education, LGBTQ+ advocacy and support, life skills, and community impact are the primary mission areas of focus for our Leaders this year. There is so much to discover and develop together. We hope you will journey with us throughout the coming year by reading our blogs, following us on social media @CraveFLA, and getting directly involved by reaching out to me michele@cravefla.org.

Light always and ultimately overcomes the darkness. Crave exists to nourish and spread that Light.

Michele Van Son Neill
Founder
Crave, Inc.

Class of 2018 Leaders Graduation

 

With the graduation of these remarkable leaders, Crave has begun! The celebration was a lovely gathering of open-hearted and supportive friends, family, and new supporters. Time, money, and décor was donated by the Board Members. One Board Member even flew from Vermont to attend! Each Crave Leader added to our merriment with the addition of parents, employers, roommates, co-workers, and friends. These folks filled the room with joy and excitement as they heard the Crave Leaders each share their growing projects and how their year together has grounded, formed, and bonded them.

Ashley Vann, Founder of the Victory Cup Initiative and President of Vann Strategies, was our keynote speaker. She inspired the Leaders to focus on their integrity, vision, and outreach financiances. The radically inclusive love expressed along with the critical values of leadership, faith, and the celebration of active citizenship were palpable throughout the evening.

As the Crave Leaders were taking photos and excitedly planning our first Alumni Retreat to the beach in July, one of their fathers pulled me aside. It was obvious he had something important to share. He cleared his throat and stared at the ground in silence, hands on hips bracing himself for unprecedented vulnerability with me, a stranger. He finally looked right at me, tears tipping over his eyelids. “Before…” looking at the ground again, wiping his tears. “Before this,” he motioned with his chin toward his daughter among the laughing Crave Leaders. “She was really lost. Not okay, you know?” I didn’t know. His daughter is remarkable, wise, and now actively uses pain from her past to change people’s lives for the better. He started again. “From an old Presbyterian like me, I want you to know I’m real glad the church is paying for you to do this. I guess what I’m saying is… please keep going.” His daughter will not return to his church. She’s learned and embraced that she is building church right where she is among the folks she’s healing with her loving touch, deep well of wisdom, and clarity of purpose. She is not someone I’d describe as lost. In fact, she is quite “found.” And that is the Amazing Grace at work through Crave.

The Holy Spirit, the Great Mystery, Love (with a capital L), the Power of Nature, the Juice, that Something More emerged when we were together. We named it, tapped into it, and are now deploying it in our relationships and work. It has propelled us all to the next step of our projects for the Common Good. And amazingly, it has united us so strongly that we’re ready to share it with the next group of Crave Leaders in Orlando. We invite you to be a part of that next group by applying here by July 1st. Crave has begun. Please join us.

Michele Van Son Neill
Founder
Crave, Inc.

May 2018 – Katy Cuthill Steinberg

“I’m a part of this cohort of creative entrepreneurs doing spiritual formation in unique containers.” There’s nothing official about that statement, but it’s how I’ve been describing Crave over the last year. Generally that statement is followed by an explanation of the surf school owner, yoga guru, skatepark developer, and all the others who are doing this impassioned, unique work with an understanding of “something else” going on here. That “something else” has become a buzzword for us as we’ve tried to describe, but not box in, the sense of something bigger, more meaningful, something connective of all people and all of creation… some might say God… at work in these unique endeavors.

Personally, I have been encouraged in my own work of developing a unique, nomadic spiritual community with Missing Peace by the fresh and exciting work of this talented group of people. They see the possibilities, instead of just the obstacles, to developing truly unique opportunities for people to engage in what’s most meaningful in themselves and most meaningful in the world. They see possibilities in my blind spots and nudge me toward resources and ideas I never thought of on my own. Add to that the gifted leaders that make the CRAVE machine run, and one might begin to feel unstoppable.

Catherine Matthias was my assigned liaison from the leadership team. She brought her well developed and exceptional gifts for strategic goal setting to Missing Peace. We flourished under her guidance developing our own leadership team and the concrete goals we hoped to accomplish together. This was a huge step for our group, and has given us a pattern we can continue to use as we equip leaders and do innovative work. Thank you is not nearly adequate.

If you’ve been following along, you no doubt know that the CRAVE journey is nearing its end for this cohort. Though like the best things in life, there’s no real end. Each of us will go on to do the meaningful, inspiring, “something else” work we’ve nourished in our CRAVE experience, and a new cohort of creatives will come through and be nurtured into their next phase. It’s more of a cycle than a clear beginning and end. And CRAVE is helping to turn the crank in this beautiful machine of hope, and goodness, and light being launched into the world. This is not a product or a business or purely a leadership training. This is a movement being nurtured into existence, partnered with “something else,” and set for powerfully changing our world for the better.

So while “thank you” is inadequate to express the deep gratitude and appreciation I feel for CRAVE and its founder, Michele Van Son, it will have to do. But more than the thanks of this program’s direct beneficiaries, I hope you will bask in the glow of the movement you’re creating, empowering gifted and good people, and giving hope through all the things they create at your encouragement. It is truly a gift.

Katy Cuthill Steinberg
Missing Peace