Loving My Roommates Intentionally: Wouldn’t I Do This Anyway?

One late night, about two years ago, I walked to the Middle Ground to meet up with a group of girls, most of whom I knew fairly well, to discuss the possibility of one day living in the Ruka.  I knew almost nothing about the Ruka – just that it was labeled as an “intentional community” and that living there would mean living with some pretty great people.  So I signed on.  I remember thinking during the fellowship application process that our goal to love each other intentionally was a funny thing to include in our mission statement.  While we would clearly have to be intentional about living sustainably and engaging with the Rhodes and Memphis communities, loving each other intentionally (because we were all already friends) would come naturally.  We would do that no matter where we lived – Ruka or no Ruka.  However, living in the Ruka Intentional Community for the past nine months has taught me that loving intentionally does not come naturally; it takes hard work, but it is well worth the effort.

I believe the Ruka experience is unlike most, if not all, Rhodes on or off-campus living options in that it has really challenged my housemates and me to reflect on what it means to love intentionally.  When I predicted that this would come easily for us, I did not account for how difficult communication might become during tough times.  Since the beginning of the fellowship, I have incorporated into my definition of living and loving intentionally the need to communicate jaded feelings or frustrations about something another housemate has done or said.  This sort of communication has never come easily for me.  I do not like conflict, and I would much rather sweep hard feelings under the rug in order to avoid awkward and potentially hurtful conversations.  However, living in the Ruka has helped me to understand that hard conversations facilitate loving relationships; dishonesty or lack of communication can prevent relationship growth and cause friendships to become stagnant or fake.  As I leave behind the physical structure of the Ruka, I realize that there is so much I will be taking with me.  No, I am not a master chef of home-grown veggies as I had hoped I would be by now.  And the sunflower seeds I so carefully planted and dutifully watered for several weeks last summer never grew.  However, because of my experience in the Ruka, I am better at communicating my feelings to others and listening to their needs and frustrations.  I believe that these lessons learned will continue to encourage me to love intentionally in the years to come.


Greencork and Self-Discovery

The Rukettes had such a fun time last week at Greencork with Beverly, the Assistant Director of Career Services!  (She was our first-ever Community Meal guest this year, so it seemed appropriate to close out the year with her as well.)  We met over wine samples, a picnic basket full of cheese and crackers, and some deep fried pound cake to discuss our results from the StrengthsFinder Assessment.  Abbey, Claire, Iris, Lauren, and I had taken the test individually the previous week, and so we were meeting as a group to find out more about our results.  According to how we answered the questions in the assessment, each of us was given a list of our top 5 strengths, some of which overlapped with others’ strengths and some of which were unique to only one of us.  My top 5 strengths, for example, are Achiever, Futuristic, Belief, Learner, and Relator.  I was really taken aback by how accurately I felt that my results reflected my personality, tendencies, and priorities.  But also, the explanations of my strengths surprised me in that they seemed to be able to pinpoint parts of who I am that I had never really thought about or that I had perceived but would have had a difficult time articulating.  It was very interesting, and I highly recommend the test to anyone who hasn’t taken it.  Although my psych professors have reminded me that the reliability of personality tests can be questionable, I think taking the test and then discussing our results was a really good exercise for the Ruka.  We learned a lot about ourselves, but even more about each other.  And since our discussion, I’ve thought frequently about my housemates’ strengths during our interactions.  I’ve realized that we each contribute something unique to the house dynamic.  The Ruka works so well, in part, because it’s made up of a diverse group of women with different backgrounds and different personalities.  While some of us are better at building relationships, others of us are better at executing tasks, influencing others, or planning strategically.  If one of us were missing from the Ruka, our group just wouldn’t be the same.

I hope future Rukettes have the opportunity to discuss their strengths and weaknesses earlier on in the duration of their fellowship because it proved to be a good learning experience for all of us.

P.S. If you haven’t been to Greencork yet, go!  It’s the bomb.


Your Community, My Community, Our Community

A friend recently brought to my attention that our community statement contains the word community five times – yikes!
We also do not define community. Hmm, this can get sticky/challenging/confusing.
I can’t clearly recall a time where we’ve, as a house, defined community. My definition is pretty broad: community is family, and family is community. It has been through my larger community that I have learned how a family is supposed to support and love each other. My larger community has always been there and has helped me through various stages of my life and has seen me grown up both as a student, as well as a professional. This I intentionally use “family” and “community” interchangeably because of the ways that I have come to this understanding of family. Imposing my definition of community/family on my housemates is not fair or just, which is why I encourage them to share their own definitions of community in the comments below.
Over the past months we have opened our doors to many guests: families, friends, classmates, partners, etc. In two weeks, we will open our doors to host an evening of merrymaking to fundraise for Caritas Village.
Last semester, we were able to partner up with Rhodes groups in order to fund meal vouchers to bring students to Caritas for the evening, and enjoy each other’s company over a Caritas meal and live music. Just as the RUKA, the Bonner Center for Faith and Service, and the Department of Modern Languages were able to fund meals for one evening, Caritas Village donates approximately $600 in free meals each week! We intend to fundraise enough money to alleviate one week’s meals and bring more attention to the great work and community work that is taking place at 2509 Harvard Avenue.
So, if anyone is able and willing to read this, I encourage you to share your own definition of “community” below in the comment section and share this.
Iris Ayelen Mercado
PS: Other community events coming up:
  • Gandhi King Conference @ LeMoyne Owen College April 10-11, 2015
    • Presenters from The Metta Center for Nonviolence, US Institute for Peace, Gandhi Global Center for Peace, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Healthy and Free TN, Center for Community Change, and many many more.
  • Immigrant Rights Presentation: Know Your Rights/Notario Fraud @ Belle Forest Community School: April 11-12
    • More dates on MSPJC’s public calendar
  • GrowMemphis: Plant Sale April 12
    • Proceeds benefit GrowMemphis
  • Rhodes Better Together Week: April 12-17
    • Join Rhodes Better Together for some amazing interfaith events April 12-17. You won’t want to miss any of our events!
  • Film Screening: Taken For A Ride: Friday, April 17th
    • The documentary is about how General Motors used their power to systematically defund public transit and lobby for highway expansion, leading to more profitable car-dominated transportation systems in America.

The “Needy” Roommate…

After living in the Ruka for the last (almost) 9 months, one of the biggest roadblocks to intentional living that I have found has come in the (often painful) realization that we all have different needs from this house.

What do I mean by “needs”? That word sounds pretty cult-ish, and since I spend most of my time trying to convince my friends and family that I do not in fact live in a cult/hippie commune/etc., I want to define it carefully. What I mean by “needs”, is our own specific reasons for joining the Ruka house, what each of us have hoped to gain out of living together, and where we have hoped to grow personally during this year.

For myself, I look to the Ruka as a home, a space where I can come to at the end of a long day and relax, a space where I can hide from Rhodes, from my job at Huey’s, and from my worries and be at home. I don’t need the Ruka to be my entire social circle (although it is since most of my best friends are my 4 roommates), and I don’t need the house (the physical space) to be an outreach of my personal ministry.

I can’t speak for Claire, Abbey, Iris, or Sarah, but I believe that if they were to answer this same question, they would each have a unique answer. They each bring a unique perspective to the house, of how they view their involvement, how they process the physical space, and what they need from this intentional community.

“Graduating” from the Ruka (as I refer to it in my mind), will for me be a launch into a completely different intentional community. I have signed up next year to be a part of the Episcopal Service Corps- Creation Care Program at Camp Mokule’ia in Oahu, Hawaii where I will be living (in a yurt!) with 4 other people in an intentional community for a year.

Preparing for this next step, I know that one of the first discussions I will have with my yurt-mates (seems more appropriate than the term “roommates”) will be over what we all hope to get out of our year together, and what we all need from the community.

Here’s to the last two months in the Ruka!


Life in the Ruka

By Claire Coulter

This post has been a long time coming.  But for all of you Ruka followers, here you go!

I was so excited to move into the Ruka, I mean why wouldn’t I be?  I had the chance to live with 4 of my closest friends and spend every waking moment with them.  What could be bad about that?  The first two months were hard.  We missed Lauren who was still studying abroad in Chile.  The rest of us were all over the place with our summer jobs.  Our schedules were crazy and we barely had time to hang out.  We were trying to live intentionally, but increasingly became aggravated with one another.

Soon enough, Lauren returned and classes started again.  In one of our meetings with Professor McNary-Zak, we decided to start this thing called ‘intentional buddies’.  This would be a time we would break into pairs for the week and spend individual time with our ‘buddy’ for the week.

At first I was somewhat skeptical.  How would this help?  Why would I need to spend an hour with one of my housemates?  I already see them all the time.  I don’t need this.  Oh I was so wrong!  The time I have spent with my intentional buddy each week has been the greatest blessing.  It forces me to take time out of my week to listen and hear what is happening in my roommates’ lives.  It causes me to not be completely selfish for once and really practice living in community. Sure we all live together and have meetings and such, but is it true community if you don’t take time away from yourself to care for others? Of course, these weekly meeting aren’t always serious.  I’ve had many a Frida’s date with some yummy margaritas to some late night pillow talks.

Overall, I have begun to learn what it is like to live in community.  I’m not going to lie – it can be rough.  But the time we spend together as friends reminds me why it’s worth living with such amazing people.  I am looking forward to finishing out the year in the Ruka with all the blessings and struggles that brings!

New Semester, New Vibe

Returning to the Ruka during winter break set the tone for this semester. Although we had all moaned at the prospect of returning early as we planned for our Spring Semester Retreat, there was a definite peace that we all returned. Last fall and summer we had been adjusting to one another, Caritas, our busy schedules, and the impending uncertainty of what it means to be done with our undergraduate experience. There was a shift over break in all of us that has brought a different energy and joy to living in the house.
In our first meeting Sarah had set the tone by establishing the group norm of having fun together. From that moment all of our previous frustrations and stressful relationships have thawed out to present some hilarious moments, new found trust, and energy in this final semester. We mapped our life as the Ruka on a giant roll of butcher paper by drawing the events, food, and times we have shared. Some images include cupcakes, passive aggressive sticky notes, and bicycles to give you an idea of our collective artistic talents. After our retreat we were able to enjoy a meal together with BMZ and laugh. We Really laughed. Thankfully that laughter has continued.
This week we are facilitating story circles at Caritas as a part of the US Department of Arts & Culture’s People’s State of the Union. While in the past an event like this might have been stressful, under the current circumstances I am so excited to share this with other community members and do it as a group. Our relationships with Caritas are growing despite the cold weather.
It has occurred to me that every relationship we have has the capacity to get complicated and frustrating. As housemates, we have all hurt one another to certain extents and we have the option of letting that determine how we treat or think about one another. It feels as if we perpetually decide whether or not to forgive one another and choose to love. In spending time with Onie, and others at Caritas, it would be really easy to be overly sensitive to rejection when it is your mission to be present for a community. However, in this dedication to live together I have found it hurts to be in relationship, but by continuously electing to live in community we are dredging up a deeper part of ourselves that is both challenged and grown through the process. I am so thankful for these women, BMZ, and Caritas. I am learning how to love and care deeply.


Community around our table

This time of the year everything is running at maximum speed, our schedules, classes, jobs, and our appetites. I feel as if my own appetite for delicious food increases in proportion to the cold weather as the days get shorter and my desire for warmth gets bigger.

Warmth for me includes a busy kitchen and a house full of my roommates (and best friends) ready to be my taste-testers, critics, and supporters. As a Religious Studies major, I have been studying the intersection between food and faith for the last three years. I’ve always loved food (let’s be honest, who doesn’t), but after coming to Rhodes and learning about the problems and specifics of our food system in America, my vague interest in food became an academic pursuit. I was able to study things such as vegetarianism throughout the Christian church, the way that religious institutions use food in ministry programs, and most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to study life around the table.




A recent community dinner with some wonderful Rhodes professors: Dr. Thomas, Dr. Maddox, and Dr. White. (Anyone want to sponsor a GoPro, so we can take professional selfies?)


What a wonderful phrase, life around the table. This has been one of the most tangible ways that I have seen community acted out in our Ruka, as we have hosted friends, strangers, professors, and neighbors around our table. We have welcomed them into our kitchen, our dining room, even the coffee table in our living room, each time thrusting food into people’s hands, asking them over and over if they want more to drink, if they’ve had their fill of whatever we were serving that day.

There is nothing more satisfying than feeding someone. I’m not sure if that is the part of me that has always wanted to be an Italian grandmother, but to feed someone is to act out hospitality in a way that is tangible and accessible for the group of college kids that we are.

When my roommates wonder why I’m making another pie crust, baking another cake, or seeing how many vegetables I can use up in one recipe, what I have a hard time explaining is how giving food to them is a way I’m showing love, a way that I’m reaching out to them on the most basic of levels. To feed, and to have them enjoy it, is something that brings me joy; it feels as if I’m sharing with them something that goes beyond words. They get a glimpse into my day, aka why I chose to bake enchiladas/roast veggies/cook yet another serving of rice, or they might see that I’m stressed and resorted to chocolate for dinner. It’s a moment to stop in our busy days, and catch up, to discuss what’s going on in our lives and take care of our bodies at the same time. A way to share life.

So, here’s to many more moments of life lived around the table…or the kitchen counter, or the dining room, or the breakfast nook, or even the couch when all we want to do is curl up with a bowl of cereal and a friend to talk to. It is during the moments of sharing life in the kitchen, around the table, and in the everyday routine, that the hospitality of the Ruka is most visible to me, and I hope, to others as well.


Our recent s’mores night at the Ruka, Abbey and Sarah hard at work making some delicious noms. *Photo cred to Iris.

Much love,