The Zone; One More Time Around

A2J Garden, 3 Blocks from The Zone.
A2J Garden, 3 Blocks from The Zone.

We’ve been rolling around this country for a few years now and Phoenix is one of our original stops. It’s a place that holds so much in terms of learning about faith and humility. Which I guess makes sense, seeing as it is the desert.

The first time we showed up Phoenix we had about $50 in our pocket, which we have found isn’t that unusual. But, two years ago when we were really just getting a taste of the nomadic life it was extremely worrisome. We still drift into the anxiety that comes when we are down to the last cent but we have always made it to the next stop and remembering that gives us faith.

That shift in perspective came the first time we visited the Zone. I’ve written about the Zone before but for those who are new to our travels, it’s a place similar to Skid Row. It is a place where physical, mental and spiritual afflictions really stand out because there are no pretenses to hide behind. It is where the rawness of humanity is found and where we are confronted with the core of our being. It is in this type of environment that texts like the ones found in Matthew or Luke make so much sense to us.

“You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.”

And so, here we were a few visits later, down in the Zone with Dave, Amber and a few other from the A2J community. This time around there was a warm breeze and folks were in relatively good spirits. In fact, if you didn’t know the harsh reality of where we were you might think we were at an outdoor music festival. We gathered in a circle and played all sorts of old timey tunes, hymns and later a fella named Nick showed up and lead us all in a few Motown songs. I met a homeless woman named “Little Mar” who was about my age. She was clearly mentally ill, professing to be the Princess of Persia, as well as, one of the best crime stoppers on Americas Most Wanted. She had a strength about her, and although she was skittish, she had a generous in spirit.

"Little Mar" is sitting in the blue tank and hat, to my right.
“Little Mar” is sitting in the blue tank to my right.

As we sang “Tis So Sweet,” I began to watch her more closely. I tried to imagine what her childhood was like, did she have children, how did she get here, what did she do if she had to use the bathroom, what about when she was thirsty? I didn’t find any answers but I was in awe of her resilience and stamina to face the elements and oppression of a world that was whizzing around her at a frantic pace.

IMG_7397The added bonus was having so many other kinfolk there with us, sharing in song, listening, being present and bringing peace to a people who are constantly living in survival mode. The healing nature of the arts and music provided the space for creativity, unity and understanding.

We believe it is important to care for the widow, orphan and poor, but have learned that doesn’t always mean meeting physical needs. Sometimes, we need to go deeper and offer something of our selves. When we go to the Zone it isn’t because we feel superior or desire a pat on the back for serving the homeless. We go to the Zone to find ourselves, to look in the mirror and see that we are all made of the same mud. We go to the Zone to bring and receive healing.

And so, when that spirit of anxiety or striving tries to steal our joy we remember. We remember that day we sat and sang and shared in community with the Princess of Persia and her court.

Sentrock

SentrockJoseph “Sentrock” Perez is from “Bird City” a.k.a Phoenix, AZ. His family of origin came from Central America before Arizona was ever a state. Sentrock grew up on the west side of Phoenix and much of that culture has played into his current artistic perspective. He began by working solely with graffiti, but is evolving into a world-class muralist and gallery artist. He now lives in Chicago, IL and is studying art and design at Columbia College.     

This past weekend we had the opportunity to meet and experience his work. He laid down a fantastic mural behind the Geer home in the North Lawndale neighborhood, South Chicago. The theme was “From struggle comes strength” which was an inspiring message to a neighborhood that has seen much struggle. His offering was personal, vibrant, and we were taken with his humble spirit.

Typically we humans tend to clump into scenes, cliques and hang with people who have similar backgrounds or preferences in life. That isn’t a bad thing but it does limit the creative possibilities. To me there is something exciting about the union of differing cultural, creative and philosophical ideals! So, when we heard about Sentrock we were eager to meet him, hear his story and share ours. My hope was that there would be a connection and an opportunity for our creativeness to collide. My hope was that just as we were inspired by Sentrock, that he would be inspired by our family and desire to share his talents by painting a mural on our bus.

Sentrock and The Hollands! We put it out there. Sentrock responded graciously and with enthusiasm that he would be keen to paint a mural on our bus. He came by to visit our space, took home our CD and is using all of it to source inspiration for the design.

We will continue a relationship with our new friend and are excited to see what inspiration comes from the urban, folky connection.

Stay tuned for what may come as we wait with anticipation for the creativity to flow.

The Process of Communal Creativity

We met Joel Pritchard on a warm Sunday evening in Feb, 2012. Actually it was my birthday, but after hitting forty, I had lost the appetite for big celebrations. We were performing that evening in the court-yard of a big suburban church in Phoenix, AZ and Joel was there because he was the young, hip art director at the church and friends with the opening band. After the show, we went back to the bus, which was parked in the lot adjacent to the court-yard, and planned on heading to bed. As we were winding down, a knock came to our door and Joel and a friend asked Craig if he wanted to go out for a drink. Always up for a party, Craig said, “sure.” I was a little miffed because it was my birthday, but honestly, I was tired and happy to have some alone time. They left, the kids went to bed and I relaxed with my glass of red wine and a book. I was lulling to sleep when the phone rang. It was Craig. He asked if I was still up. I said, yes, but just about to sleep. Inconspicuously, he asked me to stay up. I questioned but said, OK.

IMG_2971About 15 minutes later the fella’s arrived at the bus with gas station ice cream bars and big smiles on their faces. “Happy Birthday!” they exclaimed. I started to giggle and blush at their spontaneity and thoughtfulness. We ended up staying up sharing life for another two hours.

We kept in touch with Joel over the course of the year. When we visited again this January, Joel asked if we would lead a workshop at an art event he was hosting. We were delighted to be included. We had just finished laying down the base tracks for our CD and beginning to work on ideas for the CD artwork. I had a concept but am no visual artist. We had been keeping an eye out for an artist to partner with and Joel came on our radar after we saw his work at the art event. We were really inspired by it and by him. He was prayerful, had technical knowledge and most importantly he was a friend. So we asked if he would be willing to work on our project. He said, yes. We didn’t have any audio files to send him yet but he was happy to work off of the premise of the album and the lyrics. It was exciting waiting to see what inspiration he would have from our thoughtful words.

565618_590049887672574_1743006125_nHis first draft of an idea arrived and I have to admit, it wasn’t exactly the direction I was anticipating but I did like certain aspects. I shared my feelings gently and He assured us it was only a starting point and that he was going to spend more time contemplating ideas. I trusted him.

579102_591322334211996_892571188_nFast forward, we were three days before the artwork had to go to print and Joel sent me a sketch that diverted from his original work and mentioned a caricature drawing of our family riding a turtle. Parts of the sketch resonated with me,  I let Joel know I really liked the eye with the house but was struggling to find connection with the rest. And, the turtle idea was a bit cheesy sounding but I was happy to take a look. Over all, I was feeling a little panicked and unsure of how the piece was going to come together. However, I  continued to wait, pray and trust.

Meanwhile, we were parked in Lafayette, LA with the Campbell’s aka the”gift givers.” We were connected with them through our friend Chaz, who is mentored by them while attending school in Lafayette. Their home was buzzing with students coming and going during the three days that we neighbored with them. It was life-giving to be around so many young minds, all longing to grow and express themselves as spiritual beings.

20130421-200242.jpgAt one point, Kari Campbell spontaneously pulled out a few art supplies and five or six hands began to craft a piece of artwork. Chaz, a gifted artist, took the piece and added the final touches to create a colorfully, dynamic hot air balloon.

At first glance I knew it was meant to be included in the CD artwork. However, I hadn’t heard from Joel and didn’t want to undermine the hard work that he was doing. So, I called him just to see how he was coming along and he responded that he was really stumped and hadn’t been able to move forward. I told him about the inspired piece and asked if it was possible to include it or at least the concept in the CD artwork? He was keen to give it a go.

Thirty two hours later Joel sent me the draft for the final product. It was perfect! Everything about it was amazingly perfect.

Hollands_Over-Lands-&-Leas 908285_592422774101952_546274192_n

We have the original balloon piece displayed in our bus as well as the most thought-provoking artwork on our CD, including the turtle drawing which we have fallen in love with, and a phenomenal sound track that encompasses everything our family has encountered on this journey. Whatever may come, Over Land and Leas will be a treasure that will be passed down from generation to generation. It is a deep refection of community and connection, beauty and trust. It is a gift to have met so many precious souls along our way. It is a gift to have had the opportunity to create in community. It is a gift.