Coffee Changes Things

Ruli

Coffee has changed lives. The ones who dedicate their lives to it, the ones who drink it on a daily basis and especially the ones who grow the delicious product. It can sometimes be hard for me to admit this, but coffee has completely changed my life. It’s hard because I never thought something that seems so simple could do that for me. I never thought that a beverage could have that effect; I never thought a tree could impact my life in the way that it has.

There is a wave of craftsmanship that is captivating people across the world. Hand crafting food and drinks is not just for professionals anymore. There is an elemental love of watching each particle extract from coffee that is fascinating to me. This combined with unlimited ways of making coffee taste different and I start to sound like a tremendous nerd. But what I’ve discovered is that I am definitely not the only nerd out there. Coffee is much like other things people can become passionate about and that passion can turn into great knowledge. In my life there are several ways I make what some consider a simple cup of coffee. Pictured here are a V60 pour over, an Aeropress, a Clever dripper and the most fascinating and frustrating: espresso. People looking to get more out of their morning ritual can look to methods like these to slow down for a bit and enjoy the process. The fun part is, it’s really not that hard.

 

There are certainly minor differences the sensitive palate will detect but I’ve experienced not only my taste buds rejoicing with manually brewed coffee, but my soul as well. First you have to start with ethically sourced, excellently processed, freshly roasted, high quality coffee. Next I like to decide what type of mood I’m in, often in the morning I’m looking for a hearty cup but still smooth so I go with a Clever, other times in the evening I’m in need of a really smooth cup with some oils still left in it so I use an Aeropress. No matter what mood you find yourself in, there is great satisfaction in creating your own coffee rather than allowing a machine to do it. It does take a bit more attention to detail but when you pour a cup of a Moka Pot, or sip on a Chemex life just seems richer.

For a lot of people coffee might not mean this much, you might not care where the coffee comes from or how it’s made as long as it’s hot and has caffeine. You might have no idea what an extraction percentage is or even what TDS means. But there is care in your coffee, not just to prepare it properly but to take a produce that is as delicate as coffee and create something life changing. Coffee addicts meticulously combine the science and precision of gram scales, thermocouples, and particle size with the creativity that was evident in the lives of Picasso, Robert Frost, and Walt Disney. Then, these coffee purveyors create something mind-blowing all in the name of perfection that is entirely subjective and probably impossible. Me, I’m going to keep trying and I’m not the only one. For you out there that might think what you do doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. You hold up high the torch for quality in all things even in preparing a customer’s coffee. You are the cultivators of culture ready to remind the world what love is like, in the form of beautiful liquid in a cup. Coffee will continue to change lives and when we give of ourselves to our customers in the perfect pour, in a smile, when we give of ourselves to the farmers we sometimes take for granted, this world is a better place. This world doesn’t need more mediocre. Don’t settle for allowing the waves of perfection to stop, this world needs you. Thank you for allowing me to join this journey with you. Now let’s make some coffee.

 

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Peace Be With You

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Peace is a foreign concept to many minds. Mostly for me it’s because I’m always trying to think 4 steps ahead when mostly that means acting 2 steps behind. When I think of peace especially during this lenten season I think of a calm almost meditation. Simply enjoying being alive for a moment. Enjoying the fact that God’s murdered Son paid for my resurrection. I think for a moment I should simply enjoy being, then a text messages is sent, a phone rings, coffee needs to be made and thoughts come flooding in like the dam I set up to stop them never stood a chance. This week along with preparing for Holy Week I’ve been reflecting a lot on the events that transpired in Rwanda 20 years ago.

20 years ago, what can only be described as a horrible tragedy unfolded in a tiny country and no one thought it would survive. People went after each other with machetes and other deadly weaponry trying to completely eradicate a people group. This was done with no regard to the physical emotional or eternal consequences that would occur. Amazingly, by God’s grace this was not the end of their story. This country 20 years later has taught me more about forgiveness than I believe anyone has or could have since Jesus on the cross. There was no peace for those 100 days, there was no peace as people were murdered in the streets and in their homes. Even now peace is hard to come by, but people who admitted their wrongs are now going back to the families that survived and asking for pardon and forgiveness. Not only are they asking but they are also receiving holy pardon from the families they destroyed. One of the themes of many movies in our culture is revenge, often audiences cheer when the good guy gets his vindication against the bad guy. But in real life Rwanda the victims of these atrocities aren’t seeking to be vindicated with blood but seeking peace. I hope these events don’t just mark history but mark my heart.

I confess that this lent I have failed in what I set out to do. Taking time to intentionally create sacred space everyday, to read scripture everyday. Yet as Holy Week approaches I am reminded that Jesus still rose. I am reminded this time is about preparation. Preparation for the knowing that Jesus has conquered death for us, forgiven our minor and major sins when we come to him. From the washing of feet, to the agony of the cross, to the waiting on Saturday night, to the triumph and hallelujah of Christ risen from the dead. May we take the example of Christ washing feet, the example of saints like Francis who gave up everything to live in solidarity with the poor and lepers, and other saints like the ones in Rwanda that with God’s help have forgiven the unforgivable, and live in the peace of Christ. 

Random Thoughts on… Community

The Community of the Trinity – Father Son and Holy Spirit. as represented in the icon of the Trinity

There seems to be a change in the meaning of community for most people in the mosaic (also know as millennial) generation. Less satisfied with surface level conversations and desiring a deep connection of doing life together. There are signs of this seen in intentional communities in a movement named the new monasticism. Communities like The Simple Way in Philadelphia, Communality in Lexington, or Rutba House in North Carolina. Places people have been engaged with an ideal that is so old, it’s new again. Living together offering hospitality and community for the glory of God in everything. Inviting people from the streets, other walks of life, or anyone that wants to learn what it means to follow Jesus in the context they’re in. Places like these make me incredibly excited about the position the church is in to speak to a world divided. One of the great things I feel the internet has allowed us to do is expand our global consciousness. We can see people from all over the world and do more than just feel empathy. Empathy can allow us to see with the eyes of Christ the situation of people hurting and compassion is accompanied by a desire to do something about that suffering.

My hope for this blog post is not so much to bring things to a conclusion and have a final word. I hope with these feeble words of mine that we can start more words in hope of finding out what a community looks like. Churches I have noticed sometimes try to shy away from the word “church”. Even in the logo for Providence UMC (the church I work at) it doesn’t say that we are a United Methodist Church but that we are a United Methodist Community. Seeing this everyday since I have arrived got me thinking about what the connotation of community might mean and if we are accurately representing what God wanted out of His Church and the church community. So the first place I thought to start looking was in the book of Acts (the Bible is normally a good place to start in situations like this). This is what I found in Acts 2:46-47 “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

There is something unique about being received in a home. It’s not a neutral place like a coffee shop or a church building. There is a certain amount of vulnerability that comes with inviting people into your home. Our pastor says that he can tell more about a family after spending time in their living room looking at pictures and telling stories than in any other setting. I completely agree. This is why I think the new monastic movement can seem so appealing. People with a desire to live intentionally and transparently with fellow Christians as a way to build up the body of Christ, can’t hide or put up a front with people in which they live. So one of the first things I see is there is a longing for connection with fellow believers and a willingness to invite and be invited in the lives and homes of the people around them. There is grace in the hospitality of listening and meeting in homes and not keeping people at a distance in a neutral location.

Reading a little further I noticed this passage from Acts 4:32: “now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Most people I know enjoy their privacy too much to hold everything in common and that is okay. But what my mind can’t escape from was how they were so united that they had one heart and soul. With the amount of division in the church what would it look like to be of one heart and one soul? Reading though Paul’s letters I see him over and over pleading for the unity of believers. We need to rediscover what unity in professing Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and is Lord means for the world and not just for an individual congregation.

This also means that there has to be an abundance of forgiveness. Not only is forgiveness hard, but it can be a form of suffering. This suffering in the Christ model of forgiveness leads to a death, a death of the thing that offended you, the thing that made you made, the thing that you couldn’t stand, and leads to a resurrection. Jesus prayed on the cross for those who crucified him to be forgiven and I’m sure that didn’t feel good. However, three days later it led to an empty tomb and life everlasting. Sometimes we need to let go by forgiving others, however painful, because we know that pain and death leads to resurrection and new life.

I say all these things as I desperately try to figure it all out myself. Wondering how my actions affect unity, forgiveness, grace, hospitality and community. I believe community is built into the fabric of the cosmos, we desperately seek for it. And at the center of our searching the universe is the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a constant state of self-giving love, grace, hospitality, forgiveness, and community. The three in one God knows why we seek for community and connection. He invites us to his table (literally at the Eucharist) and asks us to join Him: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as he writes a love letter to the world using our lives as His pencil.

 

Random Thoughts on… Encouragement

the connection between note writing and encouragement is?

It might not surprise you to know that I’ve been described as a social butterfly. In the same way that I love to interact with people in real life, I find a lot of enjoyment in social media. I know there are a lot of downfalls like becoming too addicted or attached, but if used properly this tool is an amazing way to communicate and connect. The “used properly” clause is the hard part about social media. E-mail is the same way. It’s a great way to communicate information instantly. The trouble is when e-mail or facebook, or twitter becomes your source or base of friendship or truly communicating worth or value to another person. As a youth pastor I recognize that there is pain and lives are being saved because of social media. Immediately when I step in my office some of the first things that I do when booting up my computers is check my e-mail, then facebook, then twitter. But the things that give me the most encouragement, the things that make my job worth doing, don’t happen in the cloud.

 

The other night I received a voice mail from someone I consider a role model when I become a dad. Sometimes when a voicemail is left after 9pm from a parent, I get a little nervous, was someone in an accident? Will I be driving to the hospital soon? But the voicemail I received brought so much joy to my heart. It had nothing to do with something I did wrong, it had nothing to do with issues they were having with their children or a tragedy. The entire point was to encourage and lift me up in prayer, making sure I knew what I was doing mattered to them and to our church. I will not ever be deleting this voice mail. Too often when we are in a hurry to try and add more “things” to our schedule we forget to encourage one another in the faith and the things God is doing in our midst.

 

I started talking about social media and e-mail because when it comes to encouragement and being thankful for people, this is a pet peeve of mine. There is something about receiving a mass e-mail thanking me along with many other people that I appreciate but don’t always feel encouraged by. When I receive things like a late night phone call just to say thanks, or a hand written note, it communicates a sense of worth that I don’t feel many places. In youth ministry in order to communicate about events we often do a “mass mailing” or e-mailing in order to get details to parents or students. But I’ve never felt comfortable about this. If we really have the desire to encourage kids to come to an event that we know God is going to show up at is this the best way of being a good steward of our limited time here on earth to spread the gospel? I can’t be satisfied with “it’s just the way we do things” anymore than Jesus was satisfied with the practices of the religious when he walked the earth. He was constantly challenging the accepted ideas of how things should be done and the spirit in which they were accomplished.

 

In the places we live and work, even if it might be considered a bubble, there is a need to be encouraged to do the right thing in the middle of a world that doesn’t want us to always follow Jesus. The early Christians did things that were completely counter productive to the ones who observed them, they spoke gently to those who persecuted them. Do we even speak gently to the ones who don’t give us the best customer service at a fast food restaurant? They gave ungrudgingly, and took care of those who were in need. I firmly believe one of the only reasons they were able to accomplish these things was because of the encouragement they received.

 

Acts 15: 31 describes the reaction of Christians in Antioch after reading a letter sent from the apostles and other elders of The Church: “and when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.” I have taken up a challenge for the month of August to write at least one note everyday. It is my hope that when others read the words that I write they will rejoice because of its encouragement to go and be more like Christ. Note writing is obviously a lost art for many people, which is why it’s so surprising when we receive them. They are memorable, you read them over and over again sometimes never throwing them away. They communicate value in that a person would take time and care enough about you to use their own hand, at risk of getting a writing cramp, and put ink to paper. When you receive hundreds of e-mails in a given time period, a note stands out. May we all feel more encouraged by the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead living within us! Amen.

 

Random Thoughts on Community Gardens

I’m not exactly sure when it happened but over the last few years I have come to absolutely love cities. The first time I lived in a city environment was in Kansas City when I worked for a summer missions organization called YouthWorks!  One of the most fascinating features of that city was their ability to grow food for those who were hungry in the most random places. One of the ministries we worked with was the Kansas City Community Gardens. If you allowed them the smallest plot of land they would find a way to grow food there to help alleviate the massive amounts of hunger in their city. They would send part of our group to an elementary school play ground where they set up a small plot to grow delicious food, or maybe on the side of the highway, it was incredible. Recently on one of my many walks around the city of Atlanta, my wife and I went to Piedmont Park for a stroll. In a similar fashion there is an educational garden tended by children in Atlanta to grow vegetables and fruit trees to educate and inspire a self sustaining food source for families.

When I first came to Providence UMC in Fayetteville, GA, God quickly gave me a vision for a ministry in what I call the backyard of the church property. The Jubilee Community Garden came to me in a time of prayer when I was wondering how we could both be faithful to the resources God has given us on the vast church property as well as something that could be a year-round missions project. There is a necessity for short term missions, the youth program has both a middle school and a high school mission trip each summer both of which God does amazing things through, but I wondered if there was something we could do year-round that could proclaim good news to the hungry in our community. The Jubilee Community Garden is what I believe was God’s answer to my prayer. The word Jubilee has a different connotation in our modern context than what I am hoping to communicate by giving away food. Most people hear the word “jubilee” and think of excitement and happiness. I wanted to communicate those emotions, yes, but more so the Biblical definition. In the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, debts were to be cancelled, indentured servants set free and the ground would lay dormant. The ironic thing about our Jubilee garden is that the point of it is not to let the ground lay dormant but to trust God to give us enough food to help those in need.

I believe God wants us to communicate freedom to those who are held captive by poverty and hunger while also growing community. Families within the Providence family and outside of it have been growing food of their own, some for the first time ever. There is a joy I have received when pulling weeds, watching tiny seeds grow into food, seeing God provide so many volunteers to work the land to alleviate hunger. I pray so often for the amazing people that have made this project possible. One of the reasons I knew this vision could have never come from me is because it was way too big. Money was donated by the missions committee, the electric fence to keep out deer was built by John Mark Wood and the men’s ministry, and a water line was trenched and hooked up by Brett Vincent and David Villars. Mitch Fralish used his eagle scout abilities to build plot boxes. Paul, AJ, Hannah, Ryan, and Karen Post have been there to do whatever necessary to keep it looking beautiful and safe. John Lacy chipped in to help get rid of weeds plaguing certain sections. Gardening advice and labor were provided by Katy Trietsch, Kimberly Beatty and family, Chrissy O’neal and family, and we also had tremendous help from farmer Jack Clower. Others have volunteered to cultivate food to donate from their own plots like Fiona Dennis. I have been overwhelmed by God’s Spirit moving among so many people in this community.

The call and mission statement of Jesus in Nazareth that he had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives still applies to us today. It doesn’t matter if it’s planting an extra row of veggies to be given to a local food pantry, volunteering time and talent at a homeless shelter or children’s home, donating blood to the Red Cross to save lives. I know that our God is still alive today working in the hearts of many who can help fulfill the good news preached by Jesus. What are some other ways that you are trying to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

Here are some pictures of the Jubilee Community Garden from empty red clay, to a prayer-filled garden space.

Random Thoughts on… Compassion

I was wandering through the internet, scrolling through some tweets, when I noticed this video and people were asking questions like, “What if we had as much compassion as this 9 year old?” and it got me thinking (as is the point of this blog, to tell the internet my not so random thoughts) about compassion. I can think of several passages from the gospels where it states Jesus was filled with compassion. The first thing people often think of when they hear the word “compassion” is feeling sorrowful. However, there is more to compassion. The dictionary defines compassion as: “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” If we are going to be filled with compassion over anything in this world, we need to go beyond having our heart break and move into action.

This Charity Water video explains how the compassion felt by one 9 year old affected over 60,000 people in places she probably never could have imagined. My hope and prayer isn’t necessarily to make you aware of the amazing ministry and mission of Charity Water (but that might be the reason why you are reading this post, and if it is, STOP READING AND GO DONATE). My question for all of us (myself included) is: does my heart break for what breaks the heart of God? If it does, then what should we do about that? A question I like to ask my students during or after a missions experience is simply: “what broke your heart on the trip?” If we are to be about helping to create God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, being instruments of God’s social justice, then there needs to be redemption in the place we go on mission. Often what I have found is I agree with Mother Teresa who said: “loneliness is the leprosy of modern society.” The work I have seen done by teenagers is incredibly important, houses need to be painted, yards need to be cut. However, the paint will fade, the grass will grow, but the love that is expressed in listening to stories and alleviating the loneliness while doing the mission work is what lasts forever.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, an affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

Pray for God to break your heart for what breaks His, but don’t let the feelings of sympathy and empathy stop there. Accompany those feelings with a desire to alleviate that suffering and do something about it.

Random Thoughts on… Creativity

My discovered creativity, spoken word poetry

Growing up, one thing you would never hear me describe myself as is creative. I was never able to really color between the lines, my art teacher always had to spend extra time on my projects, and I don’t ever notice if my color schemes match. Until recently I have always had the impression of myself that God has just never gifted me with anything creative. I’ve read and heard messages about how God is incredibly creative, looking at the mountains and the oceans it isn’t hard to figure that out. But if we are all made in that same image, then shouldn’t I presume that God has gifted me with a form of His creativity? What I have learned from the ministry of listening is that creativity can never be limited to what we can see. Creativity can be in the way that we teach, it can be how we form words into sentences creating meaning and truth from our vocal cords. Creativity can be in the way that we worship. It’s an old concept to some, but when I enter into the sanctuary of God I know that I enter into holy ground. I’m not exclusive in this knowledge and while others acknowledge the holy ground they walk on but making the sign of the cross, or raising their hands in worship to God I’ve been known to take my shoes off.

I’ve heard it said that the creation gives great insight into the creator. We can look at the natural world with the simplicity of a beautiful sunrise, to the complexity of cell division or photosynthesis and we can gaze into the magnificence of our awesome Creator God. About a year ago, I started as a youth pastor and quickly learned that if I wanted to, I could work 24 hours in a day. My wife being the amazing woman of God and who I can only describe as wonderful, told me that I needed to get a hobby. I played baseball in college so finding a hobby was actually something I never thought of before. After seeing a Youtube video of spoken word poetry it unleashed a creativity within me that lay dormant for over 26 years. God began to use this creativity to connect with a community I never even knew existed. The poetry that came from the Holy Spirit within me has brought me into a new definition of creativity. God can and has used the arts to communicate His love to His children. From the poetry found in biblical texts, to breathtaking starry nights it’s important to take time to recognize God’s creativity in the world and the image He created us in.

In everyday life, I don’t think about painting pretty pictures, drawing portraits without stick figures, or how I can create a functional and wonderful-looking living space. But I do recognize the creativity in the Body of Christ working together in poetry, paintings, stained glass, technology, what seems like unlimited outer space, rolling hills, words speaking truth in melody, or even a newly created logo design. As we continue to walk through life with traditional creative gifts like painting or unconventional creativity like spoken word poetry, our witness can be in using the creative gifts of our creative God pointing to His glory.