Coffee Culture Is…

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My schedule has what some might consider odd hours. Wednesday I’m working until 9pm most of the time, Sunday’s I basically spend all day at work, and most other days I end up at home when the work is done independent from a clock. My wife and I are like most millennials in that we love to watch Netflix. We haven’t paid for cable in over 3 years and don’t have any plans to. Lately she has been super into watching Anthony Bourdain in The Layover. It’s a fantastic show. He quickly goes around to a bunch of spots in a random city. I learned a lot about food in Atlanta and I’ve lived in the city for 4 years. I also loved getting confirmation that some of the spots I love to visit were on his must hit list. The part that got me thinking and ultimately got me to write this blog was when Anthony kind of went off on Coffee Culture. For Anthony, let’s just say he’s not a huge specialty coffee fan. To him as long as it’s warm, dark, and has caffeine, that’s more than good enough. While I don’t want to make this into a tirade against the man. I do want to explain some of the things that I have noticed about the reality of coffee culture in this country and what the best attributes about it are.

There is no culture around coffee. Coffee is a beverage, not a culture. A coffee culture would be the shop owners banning together to throw these deadbeats out in the street. – Anthony Bourdain

Coffee Creates Community. This was the theme I took into competition at the 2016 US Barista Championships and it is the reason why I know there is a coffee culture. While working in a cafe I noticed the world will come to a coffee shop. Every age, race, gender, religion, and political view is represented by customers who come in to enjoy a beverage. There are plenty of people out there who don’t like coffee or don’t care about the sourcing, production, roasting, and preparation of it. And that’s totally fine in my opinion, but there is an undeniable fact that people come together at the modern day watering hole. Maybe it’s just an excuse to get out of the house, maybe people think it’s better than hanging out at a bar, and honestly, it’s cheaper too. Whatever the reason when you go to a cafe and truly look around at the individuals hanging out in a third wave shop, you see an eclectic mix of the world. It’s one of the greatest joys of being a part of the industry.

Coffee Culture is searching for excellence. There are plenty of coffee nerds out there of which I would consider myself one. People who are looking for the best way to extract the precise amount of total dissolved solids or looking for the perfect espresso ratio. They use tools like scales, tamps, refractometers, and their tasting palate to deliver something delicious. This pursuit of excellence I believe is a divine calling. Something within me won’t settle for mediocrity when it comes to coffee. Sure, I’ll drink waffle house coffee and sometimes I just want my coffee to be more like a dessert, but you can’t fault a person for doing everything they possibly can to be the very best at what they do. I love that their best isn’t even for themselves but for others to enjoy. When you make 100 lattes in a given day I’m going to guess you didn’t consume all of them. There can be days when customers are being a bit out of line and you might not be able to take the inappropriateness of their comments. Those days you might pursue excellence for yourself alone but even when you only do your best for the sake of doing your best it is other people who enjoy the fleeting delicious drink you prepare.

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Coffee Culture is a feeling. It’s that feeling you get when you wake up in the morning knowing you want so desperately to fall back asleep but the prevailing thought that keeps you awake is: “but I get to make coffee.” It’s that feeling you get when it’s just cold enough outside that you wrap up in a sweater, take your cup on the porch and are able to see the steam rising into the atmosphere as if it’s shaking hands with the world. It’s that feeling you have of turning off your brain for a minute, not worrying if it tastes like strawberries or walnuts and just enjoy the fact it’s smooth and delicious. It’s that feeling of being accepted when people don’t care about your appearance as much as they care about your heart and desire to share in something common. It’s a feeling of explosion when your mind is blown by a beverage you never knew could taste like this, feel like this, be experienced like this. It’s a feeling completeness seeing farmers meticulously caring for each seed all the way to a dark liquid in a cup. It’s a feeling of stillness, a peace in the thin silence of the world that often alludes us.

Coffee culture exists to combat the norm of people being taken advantage of and exploited to make cheap coffee the rule and expensive coffee the exception. Coffee culture is taking back the norm and working towards an economy of love in which the supply chain is treated with respect while being paid a living wage. These are just a scratch of the surface of what I know to be coffee culture. I wish I could explain to you the community and loveliness of a cupping, or the intensity of a coffee competition, or how serving others is at the heart of coffee culture. So I invite you to experience it for yourself. To have an open mind and see community blossom revolving around this complex and infinitely interesting product. Maybe I’ll see you in the shop one day, your cortado is on me.



Embracing the Hard Conversations

Being in youth ministry something that we talk all the time about is relationships. How to be a good friend, how being a good christian means that we love one another and what that looks like. Something we don’t always talk about are romantic relationships. There is an unspoken tension that exists where some youth pastors think that it should be a conversation that parents ultimately have and parents hoping that youth pastors will take care of it. Students are left in the middle most likely learning from the internet, television, movies and their friends. Personally, growing up I can’t remember too many conversations about the birds and the bees but I remember learning from my parents how to treat woman and how to behave in a romantic relationship. I’ve been married for over 6 years now and I’ll never be the perfect husband but I do remember the first time I knew I was going to marry my wife. I was living in Monessen, PA at the time and my wife was then a junior at Georgia Tech. Sounds kind of crazy to say that not that we were so young but it just felt right at the time. I was living in a church and when I walked down to the kitchen area and was greeted by one of our favorite community members, Jim Williams. I started to talk to him about visiting my girlfriend over Christmas break and how excited I was to spend some time with her. He hit me with this question: “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to love your wife liked Christ loved the church?”

When I heard it I knew that I had no idea if I could ever do that, but I knew I wanted to try and I needed to try with this amazing girl. It’s that type of seemingly random question that doesn’t end up in conversations with youth a lot. Students are trying to live what they consider a good life. Their definition of good might vary from self satisfaction to living to love others but I truly believe no one sets out to be an evil person. They want to be a good person and have a good life. In these talks we often leave to others I wonder how I will talk with my children. I know that scripture says that we should train up a child in the way they should go and they will not stray from that path so I hope that I can set a precedent of having those awkward and tough conversations from the very beginning. This way, it’s not weird or awkward for them to ask me about sex, dating, God’s plan for romance, why bad things happen to good people ect…

As a youth pastor it is part of my job to have these tough conversations. To teach God’s plan for sexuality, to talk about the eschaton, and even the all powerfulness of God in a broken world. While living in an increasing world of information, internet deep dives, and an increased sense of never being shocked by a crazy story I see in the news. So as I randomly think about things I wonder about these conversations. In my head I can see myself with my future teenage son or daughter sitting on the edge of their bed giving them a look like, hey, you know what we have to talk about now. But does it need to be this way? I can imagine a time when these conversations aren’t difficult but come about naturally in everyday dinner conversation. I imagine not being shocked to hear shocking statements in a good way.

I have no idea how to be a parent, I’m not sure I should be giving advice but working with students I know that all the work that I try to do to bring them closer to Christ, to point them in the direction of the cross means that a lot of the time I need to embrace hard conversations. Jesus didn’t shy away from these, in fact he started many of them. From romantic relationships, to what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself. These hard things are to be embraced not avoided. Obviously this is easier said than done. There have been plenty of times that I have all the intention in the world to suck it up and talk about the hard things only to have last minute nervousness have me bail on the topic. What I’m hoping to bring out of this post is an embracing of the idea of the hard. To never offer simple answers when the questions are complex and to explore what it really means to love. When real love recognizes real love the only reaction can be to produce more of it. It can be difficult, awkward and weird. But so am I and these conversations can’t be avoided when the stake are this high. We know that as Paul says: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

Presenting an Image

I typically don’t spend a lot of time getting ready in the morning. I’ve gotten to the point that I can get up, do a quick routine of brushing my teeth, letting my dogs out, getting dressed, whatever else I need to do, and I can get out of the door in about 20 minutes. Typically I just throw on a hat, think about the fact that I’ve worn the same t-shirt way too many times and then head off to work where I’ll make some coffee and continue my routine. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the image I’m presenting. Or at least that’s what I thought before I noticed something a few weeks ago. I was in a wedding for an incredibly good friend of mine in Virginia. I was excited for him and I was pumped to be with my brothers from my college baseball team. We’re family and always will be. I found myself constantly wondering if I was looking right. If my cufflinks were on the right way, was my tie fixed like everyone else, should I button my jacket or just leave it open? All of these questions made me analyze the image I created and presented to the world more than I realized I did.

I’ve always tried to be a good observer. I feel like a lot of times if I go to a restaurant or a coffee shop all I need to do is see what others are doing and that will teach me the proper protocol of putting up my dishes after I’m finished with my meal or if I pay at the table or the counter that type of thing. Yet I didn’t realize just hot much I tried to present myself in the perfect light in what I would do and how I would look. It’s no secrete that most people present their best self on social media. It’s what we do. We take silly, beautiful, and random photos. But it’s only the best pictures that make it online. It’s never pictures that present us in a bad light that we post. In an attempt to be real you might hear about someone’s struggles or something they might want prayer for.

I recently organized and executed a training session for adult and student leaders for our small group program we call Life Groups. We talked about what it means to create and facilitate authentic community. To be real and vulnerable with the people we have around us, to be able to ask and answer the question: “How is it with your soul?” It’s a tough question when you think about it. I can remember having an exhausting week, working long days, yet at the end of the week it was well with my soul. On the other hand I’ve had really easy weeks but my soul has been wrecked with anticipation and restlessness. When I think of authentic community the words Facebook, twitter, and instagram never enter my thoughts. I’ll be the first to admit that I love how social media connects us. One of the first things I did when I started my new job was to take over social media because we all agreed that it was important but at the time it wasn’t executed to the best of our ability.

I want to fight back against the perfect image society and yet one of the ways you can tell that my life isn’t perfect is by the fact that I’m not posting any pictures. So that’s the question I’m left with and the one that I hope you’ll explore within yourself and with me. What does it mean to be in authentic community? What does it mean to do Life Together as Bonhoeffer wrote about? Whenever I go into a new context and meet new people I know that I can be a different person. I can completely recreate my personality to fit whatever narrative I want because these people don’t have any preconceived idea of who I am and what I’ve done in the past. I seem to never be able to do that though. I’m never able to change who I am. I hope I never do because God has created me in his image to walk the path I’m on. I hope I can remain true to that and stop even for just a few minutes analyzing what I’m doing in reference and comparison to others but I am able to love in the unique way God has called me to love. That I can find and be in authentic community. I hope to be able to teach that to others and model that through social media and my daily walk so that my children can see I’m real, I’m not perfect but I’m striving to take hold that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.