French Press and Innovation

Not long ago our Jura Capresso coffee machine died. It was a calamity on the scale of a hurricane or your washing machine flooding your house.

It hit us hard!

Those of you who know us, understand. The whine of our Jura is the town-square clock of our home.

Isn't it beautiful?

But Jura was gone.

Enter the French Press, which in our opinion is the second best coffee around. Sometimes, if we are honest and if the person making the coffee is skilled, it is the best coffee around. We pulled out our old burr grinder and prepared to wait out the two week repair hiatus.

A funny thing happened.

Coffee became an event in the house. The first person up “got” to make the coffee, and we would pause in the kitchen to time and press and pour. The smell of the coffee slowly worked its way into our sleepiness. In the afternoon the coffee being made became an excuse to stop our work and sit down for a few minutes. If we had visitors, we served them first and then chatted while we made a second pot.

It was…lovely.

Now nothing beats the push-a-button-and-drink-your-coffee convenience of the Jura Capresso. But I sure liked the party around the Press.

It is worth considering, I think, how many of our “time saving” techniques have robbed us of something precious. We may be hungering for an side-benefit of doing things the old fashioned way without even realizing it. Whole books have been written about our modern isolation and our desire for community. Two or three of the interesting ones are listed below.

Unintended consequences of innovation.

We’re back to pushing our buttons to get our brew around here. The days of the French Press are gone again, for awhile. But as I consider how to build community and touch people’s lives, the French Press comes to mind. It might be time to be more mindful.

Note: I don’t agree with everything in these books…I just find them interesting.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam

Suburban Nation

If we could only hear God!

“And these are but the outer fringe of his works;

how faint the whisper we hear of him/

Who then can understand

the thunder of his power?

— Job 26:14

I’ve seen God do some amazing things in the past few weeks. Perhaps my favorite is God’s total transformation of our friend Bob. Bob was addicted to pain pills and alcohol for 15 years at least — the growing-up years of his two precious daughters. The girls gave up on the idea of ever having their own earthly father in the way they needed and deserved. And God, the father of the fatherless, stepped in to help fill that need.

But there were holes left behind. Only Bob could fulfill his God-given purpose.

A few weeks ago Bob hit the bottom, and ended up in places he never imagined. They were not pretty places, but they were where he needed to be.

God sent John to Bob. John wasn’t afraid of those places. In fact, he revels in meeting the broken-hearted, like Bob. And through John, Bob saw God. We nearly keeled over in shock recently when we encountered Bob hanging around the lobby after church, clear-eyed and delighting in life out in the world again.

“What are you doing here, Bob?”

“Oh, John and I have a connection. He came when I was pretty low. What a great day! I haven’t been able to think this clearly for 15 years!”

I watched Bob’s daughter get  a hug from her daddy and I wanted to weep. It was so good! And it’s just a whisper of what God is doing all around us. Just a whisper! If only we could hear the thunder!

I know that Bob has quite a journey ahead of him, and he may slide back a few times before he gets it straight. But I also know that God is after his heart, and won’t stop until he has it. I can trust God.

As we were leaving, Bob casually mentioned that he’d signed up to be baptized. It was a perfectly normal, logical decision for Bob. For the rest of us it was a miracle.

Third Places are sometimes more churchy than church

It slips my mind, sometimes, that someone reading my posts may not know where they are written. With very few exceptions, most of my writing is done in Starbucks. If I didn’t write the actual post there, I at least scribbled notes to remind me later of the direction I’m going to take.

I don’t know all the reasons why Starbucks is my choice, but one of them is because it simply isn’t HOME. I can come here and focus, be myself, daydream and create. At home, well there’s laundry to be done, a new magazine in the mail, roaming dogs who terrorize me at every opportunity. The stuff of life. I connect with myself better — sometimes — when I’m not so surrounded by myself.

The other day I listened to two guys do the same at Starbucks. One was a regular, Dan, and I never caught the other’s name. Let’s call him Fred. These two guys began jabbering, and when I got up to go, literally two hours later, they were still jabbering. In the course of the hours they covered politics (conservative, but Dan has a liberal bent that inclines him to social justice), chiropractic (Fred is a chiropractor, and was convincing Dan — accurately in my humble opinion! — that chiropractic care could help him recover from his recent shoulder surgery), the military (both served, one flew planes, the other loved them). They covered their families, their work habits, their Starbucks drinks. They circled back around to why character and integrity matter in politics more than party affiliation, though each were registered Republicans. In short, they connected.

It was a life group in action. What do you call it at your church? At ours, during various moments, they have been life groups, journey groups, small groups, affinity groups. Whatever your definition, these two men joined a small group.

But let me ask you this question: when was the last time you saw two men begin with a passing nod acquaintance and end up with an intimacy and a feeling of belonging to the same tribe over the course of two hours?

That’s the genius of living life out in the community, in third places, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors and strangers. Alan Hirsch, in his new book RIght Here Right now, says that “We have to be able to speak meaningfully into a culture, but in order to do that, we have to seriously examine a given culture for clues to what God is doing among a people….what is good new for THIS people?” My friend Dan was doing that. He was listening to Fred and conversing with him where he was at, the conversation meandering. And because it took place in this third place, others were welcome to join in or not. Some did, interacting as long as time and circumstances allowed. Others didn’t, living their own lives.

Either way, small group was had here in Starbucks, and a whole bunch of us got to join in.

I’m making the choice to go for community wherever possible. After all, I’m, pretty sure that’s where Jesus hung out. I just wonder if he’d have picked MY Starbucks!

Happy Groundhog Day!

Now as far as national holidays go, I realize Groundhog Day may not rank at the top of your list. But it’s pretty close to the top of mine!

It all started, of course, with the movie, Groundhog Day, starring Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray. Poor Bill Murray is stuck in a loop of an endlessly repeating day, a day which he gets to relive in almost any way you can imagine. Some days he makes creative use of his time (ice sculptures, reading French poetry, learning the piano). Other days he rescues people who have the misfortune of getting hurt or dying on Groundhog Day. In one memorable sequence, he commits suicide in any way he can think of. Each morning, waking up again to good old Sonny and Cher singing Babe.

It’s your basic movie that some people love and others can’t stand.

But that’s not why I love Groundhog Day, it’s just the start.

Because Groundhog Day started and symbolized something amazing. You see, when we were first married we became friends with Danny and Kim Butler, 25 years ago. They were another young couple just starting out in the church we attended back then, and we began to do life together. Year by year, kid by kid we have piled up memories together. Some of the memories have been unbearably sad, like the night we were out to dinner and interrupted by my father-in-law telling me that my brother had just been killed by a drunk driver. Some memories are whimsical, such as the way their daughter Jessi could literally shimmy up a person and wind up in your arms before you knew she was even there. Some memories make us belly laugh, like the night Jessi and Kylie “cleaned” Jillian’s room for her so she could sleep in her new crib (at the age of two or three days old) by sprinkling her room with Comet.

In the same year that Kylie and Jessi baptized Jillian’s room and floor in Comet, we discovered Groundhog Day, the movie. And lo and behold, we all had the quirky sense of humor required to watch that one day over and over again. Our other friends did not share our delight. So each year the Butlers would pack up their teeny kids, we would pop a Sillyville video in the kid’s room, and then we adults would watch Groundhog Day as near to February 2 as possible.

We’ve missed some years due to schedules. We’ve reached milestones where our kids were allowed to join us for the “Grownups” movie. We’ve even reached milestones where our kids laugh at us for Groundhog Day, schedule an alternate date, and head out the door.

Now you should know me by now. This post isn’t really about Groundhog Day at all. It’s about how incredibly blessed and thankful I am, year by year, to know that I have friends doing life with me. When days of mourning come, they are there. When days of celebration come, they know what flavor of ice cream to bring. They KNOW us.

I know that the Butlers — and a select handful of other friends — would be the first to ring our doorbell or barge in the house if David or I needed confrontation in any area of our lives. Should we step out from under the umbrella of God’s protection, we’d face their wrath. I also know that they would lay down their lives to bring us back into fellowship with God and with the family of God. I know this. I trust this.

Do you have friends like that? Are you willing to live your life in such radical, open transparency that words aren’t even necessary?

I hope the answer is yes. Because friends like Danny and Kim can make a holiday like Groundhog Day into a holy-day of knowing that life in the kingdom is meant to be lived with each other. In community. Together.

So…It’s Groundhog Day!!!!!

Missing shots?

It’s an old saying and you have undoubtably heard it before. I last heard it when my Pastor, at a leadership conference, was encouraging leaders to be BOLD in their choices.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

And it’s true, right? This sports analogy has encouraged us to be bolder in our decision to step to the line and shoot. Go out there and do the Nike thing…just do it.

It’s a great motivator, but I am just so not a sports-type girl. I get it, but I have no desire whatsoever to take any shots. None.

Yesterday, however, my friend Steve Helm, a pastor at Woodlands Church in Texas, put that quote into a whole new light for me. Retweeting my Pastor, he said this:

Leaders be BOLD! You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Espresso your life!!!!!!

Oh. Now this I understand.

Think about it: why in the world would you want to drink a Frappuccino without the coffee shots? It’s just a milk shake. Why settle for a weak brew when you can add some espresso shots and transform it into energy, depth of flavor, pure coffee heaven?

What would our lives look like if we “espresso our lives”?

Would we be so excited to get up in the morning and see what’s new in God’s kingdom?

Would we be unable to stop the flow of creative energy?

Would new ideas no longer seem daunting, but completely doable?

Would we have more depth and exhibit more complexity of character in our faith and our attitudes?

And what about those infamous missed shots? How many times have we been standing in front of an incredible opportunity and missed it just because of fatigue, fear, uncertainty or complacency? We have all had phenomenal works of God come about because of one teeny, tiny first step that we took. Chain reactions get started that echo from earth to heaven. I have a friendship that is becoming precious to me and it started because of a rainstorm and my husband giving up his seat on a boat to a soaking wet woman. My friend and I have now walked through an amazing adoption (hers! No new announcements!)  and are starting to dream about new ways to impact the kingdom. All because of wet jeans and a caring act of kindness on David’s part. An espresso shot.

So what will it be? A cup of Folger’s? Or are you willing to go for it.

Take an espresso shot.

Young Lady!

Gregory selling his copies of Spare Change in Harvard Square

As a sociological experiment, there is nothing like sitting in Harvard Square, in Cambridge Massachusetts. And if you can pick a day like I did last week, when the Square is bustling with new freshmen and scurrying students, so much the better. This spot sees constant international traffic, workers looking for lunch, alternative rockers (is that even a descriptive anymore?) and of course, its share of the homeless. In short, Harvard Square spans the spectrum from highest end intellectual professor to people fighting for survival. I love it!

On this day, I was watching a Spare Change vendor raucously selling papers to the lunchtime crowd. As you know, I am a big fan of the paper vendors. They have made a choice: they could be sitting with a creative homemade sign begging for donations. But they aren’t. They are trying to sell their papers. They pay a small amount for the newspaper — which focuses on issues pertaining to the homeless and is largely written by them — and they sell it for a dollar, or more if people feel so inclined.

Gregory is one of those naturally outgoing people. He compliments the passersby, who most often scurry away as quickly as possible. He calls out, “Oh young lady, you know I gotta ask.” A few people stop and chat. He gets a few buyers, and like any salesman he has his regulars. What amazes me, though, are the people who seem angry at Gregory. Why are they angry? He doesn’t touch anyone, or beg you for business or money. So why would the businessman spit out “Yeah right, buddy.” in that tone of voice that tells Gregory just where he stands on the social ladder? Does Gregory scare him? Remind him of good intentions not kept? Is he afraid of being Gregory?

I don’t know the answer. But I do know — quite honestly — that I prefer Gregory’s light hearted and friendly banter to the cold shoulders and hurry and scurry all around. It’s human. And it is real.

Thanks for being in the Square, Gregory.

Embrace Me

Embrace Me, by Lisa Samson

The hidden secret, the one no one wants to talk about, is that we are all broken.

It’s true, isn’t it? Pick out the super star, the guy or gal or couple that seems to have it all. Find the person who, by whatever standard you can imagine, seems to be on top of the heap. Spend some time with that person. Spend good time, quality time. Begin sharing your hearts. And you will find that underneath there is a person who has been beaten up by the world in one way or another. Because we are all broken. We just don’t all want to admit it.

This summer I read a book by Lisa Samson that brought that truth home to me in such a beautiful way.  The story centers around the life and friendships of people who traveled in a side show (or a freak show, said less politically correct). Each of these characters, now enjoying their off season resting in a little bed and breakfast, are impacted by their individual oddities. Valentine is horrible burned and scarred, and now makes her living billed as the “Reptile Woman.” Her best friend Lella has no arms and no legs. Valentine tenderly takes care of her every need, while feeling unworthy of Lella’s frequent thank you’s. Rick is a contortionist. And all of them are discovered by Gus, a tattoo-covered missional monk who is living in a converted laundromat downtown.

The course of this book follows the awakening of faith in each of these characters, and the building of community out of the unlikely beginning of the freak show. It’s a beautiful picture of the church. Reading Embrace Me made me realize just how beautiful broken people really are. The skills, the wounds, the quirks and flaw are part of what make up the mosaic of life. If we can learn to appreciate our own brokenness as the journey God has brought us on, we can learn to appreciate brokenness in others. And it is in that acceptance that real community is formed.

Embrace Me is a fun story. It was just right for the back porch on a quiet summer day. But it surprised me in the end, when I realized that there is a deep longing in all of us for others to see our brokenness and love us unconditionally anyway.

The Third Place and Home


I got home this week.

It’s odd, really, because I’ve also been home all month. I’ve been home in our condo in Lexington, or on the lake in New Hampshire where I’ve spent nearly every summer of my life. I breathe in the fresh air of those places and my inner sense of being profoundly at home is magnified.

And then I arrive back in Palm Beach Gardens, my own home, my real home.

I love the process of wandering through my rooms to see the bits and pieces of my life. I enjoy seeing what has changed (lots of people in and out of our home, even when we are gone!) and what has stayed the same. I smell the scent of the air, which is a limited-time opportunity because I know my nose will habituate in an hour or so. And then — if schedule permits — I leave.

Because part of my home is the Third Place, the places in my community that feel like home to me.

Contrary to popular opinion, Starbucks is not my first stop. Whole Foods is. If I can cook a meal and know there are good things to eat in my kitchen, my little universe is set right on its axis. And then comes Starbucks. Yesterday David and I sat here in my preferred corner of Sbux and watched the regulars float in and out. I was particularly struck with the sense of community yesterday. We were greeted like old friends by staff and customers alike, and then we learned that a barista’s father had passed away suddenly. There were sympathy cards to sign, and the story to repeat. Everyone had time to hear the story and send good wishes to the grieving barista, who is due back at work today. She misses her support system, and working behind the counter is where she wants to be.

A few minutes later I was listening to a businesses woman who regularly sits in the chair next to the best electrical outlet talk to one of the more eccentric men who wanders in and out. He hums as he walks, almost involuntarily, and repeats every sentence at least twice. Conversations with him take awhile, but she was enjoying time away from her cell phone and computer.

“My baby girl, my baby girl, that’s her right there,” he said, pointing at a car pulling up outside.

“She’s your girl? I know her!” business woman says. “Hey,” she continues, poking another regular who uses headphones seemingly to drown out conversations like this one. “Hey, you know that mom with the kids that come in here all the time? She’s his daughter!” The two of them remarked over this for a few minutes, to the joy of the proud papa.

“She is all I have left in the world,” he said. He went on to describe how his wife of 38 years had died a year or two ago in a horrible, quick death. He sat and mumbled “Unbelievable” ten or fifteen times while the two regulars said how sorry they were, but how much they always enjoyed his grandchildren when they were in the store. He brightened again, and stood up to hug his daughter.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about Third Places in the community, and the need for the missional-minded among us to be out and about in the community. Yesterday I realized that “out and about” can also feel a lot like being at home. And at least for a few minutes, this Third Place felt as if it were functioning an awful lot like the body of Christ, rejoicing and comforting and being there for life’s journey.

Even if it’s only for a short time, it sure felt good to be home.

Steps of Justice

Even on vacation the journey that the Q conference and Radical (the book by David Platt) began continues. Months ago God impressed Isaiah 58:12 on my heart: that we are to be called repairers of broken walls, and restorers of streets with dwellings. This morning I read a few chapters in Ezekiel that reminded me of the mission. Ezekiel 13:5 pointed out that it is possible we have stepped up to broken walls and repaired them into flimsy walls covered with whitewash to make them look good. But in the day of battle, those flimsy walls will fall down, and no one will ask us about the whitewash!

There is a truth there not to miss. When trouble comes, real trouble, we aren’t worried about the outfit we are wearing or the decor of our homes. Flimsy walls just won’t cut it.

Later in today’s reading from Ezekiel I read about the sins of Gomorrah. Know what they were? She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and ignored the poor and the needy. Ouch. I never thought about having the sins of Gomorrah before!

Trying to figure out how to incorporate social justice into your everyday, walking around and running errands kind of life? Check out this resource I also found today from a Twitter friend. It is called Steps of Justice, and it is a great resource to incorporate mindfulness into your day. It has a thirty day prayer journal with small and large action steps to consider. Thank you Jamie Arpin-Ricci for this resource!

(I am writing this on my iPad and have no idea how to turn that into a link yet…you will have to type that in! How old school! I will figure that out soon!)

Panera Bread and authenticity

Panera Bread is unsurpassed when it comes to defining a niche market. Think about it quickly: what do you think of when you think of Panera? Amazing food? Probably not.

I am sitting at Panera now. It is 2:45, a time when most lunch spot snare hunkered down preparing for dinner. They are usually barren. Not Panera. There are businessmen,students and retired people all over this restaurant. The common denominator? They are all on their computers, iPads and phones. Like me. Panera = free Internet. Perfect niche that fills the store all day long. The process, of course, builds community. There are regulars here as anywhere.

I am kind of melancholy today to tell you the truth. This particular Panera always reminds me of a conversation I had here years ago. His name was Joe, and we had gone to church with him for years. He was retired, and his wife was active in our children’s ministry. They were the friendly older couple always serving punch at every event, if you know what I mean. This particular day Joe was bussing our table. I looked up totally surprised.

“Joe do you work here?”

“Yep. For months now. I wouldn’t know what to do without the people here. They are like family. And I need the money.” This last bit surprised me, and something in his eyes made me wonder. I casually asked about his wife.

“Haven’t seen her. She divorced me four months ago. I am all alone.”

I was shocked. I KNEW these people well. I went to church with them, knew their family history. But in the environment of church, they had never reached out for help. In fact, as I thought about it, they had kind of dropped off the radar. It was a short conversation in Panera, but Joe was finally being transparent, honest.

That is the value of community third places like Panera, and why we need to be present in them. It is why the church — as glorious and life-giving as it is — can’t fill every need. Sometimes it takes a conversation in Panera.

Joe isn’t here today, and I am fairly sure he has left the area. But for an half an hour years ago we took the moments to connect authentically.

I am glad I stopped in here today to remember.