Slow Coffee

“I can’t believe it takes that long to pour a cup of coffee!” The words usually spill out with exasperation or frustration – and when shared on Facebook often include some suggestion that fast-food restaurant staff are undeserving of Ontario’s increased minimum wage.

Full disclosure: my wife, Rose works part-time for our local franchise of Canada’s coffee giant and, living in Ontario, we have appreciated the additional income that the minimum wage increase has brought into our home.

But this isn’t a post about minimum wage (which is still minimal!).

If you’ve ever been to one of the “fast” coffee spots that occupy seemingly every other corner in some of our urban centres, you may have noticed the timers that accompany every order placed by caffeine deprived patrons. Rose regularly comments on the pressure to decrease “times” — it’s a push from management as much as it is the frustration of the person at the counter or the drive thru window who expects to be in and out in under 30 seconds. I’ll admit, I have at times been one of those caffeine deprived patrons who couldn’t understand why it takes so long to pour my dark roast black coffee!

But it begs the question: Why are we in such a hurry? Is our hurry symptomatic of something else? Could it be that hurry a symptom of a deeper cultural anxiety?

Thomas Friedman writes, ““It’s no surprise so many people feel fearful or unmoored these days…we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history – perhaps unequaled since Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith and printer, launched the printing revolution in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation. The three largest forces on the planet – technology, globalization, and climate change – are all accelerating at once. As a result, so many aspects of our societies, workplaces, and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.”

Whether you agree with Friedman’s assessment or not, in many sectors and facets of our over scheduled lives an anxiety driven impatience pushes us to hurry. But what are we hurrying to? For?

A couple of months ago I had a significant kairos moment when I was invited to sit down for a slow coffee.coffee-cup

Rose and I were in Edinburgh this past June. A combination of our first time in Scotland and having minimal time between work commitments (yes, it was a work trip!), we had packed our schedule with places we wanted to see. But before we went site-seeing we needed our morning coffee. We had noticed a small french café across the street from our AirBnB – surely they would have strong coffee and a croissant that we could pick-up on our way?

Pushing through the glass door and stepping into the quaint space of L’etoile Salon de Tea, I knew our plans had taken a detour! The very kind maitre d’ — of course all of the staff had lovely french accents — invited us to take a seat.

I asked if they had coffee to take away.

The response was a very polite “yes” with yet another invitation to please take a seat. We sat down, but I could feel the impatience welling inside me. There in those minutes that it took for my steaming hot Americano to arrive, a question began chipping away at my impatience… “why are you in such a hurry?”

As my soul and mind fought a pitching battle between impatience and that niggling question, I came to the difficult realization that hurry and impatience were all wrapped up in my posture toward (or even against) the world around me. My hurry was self-centered, self-interested, ultimately aimed at self-preservation.

In those moments before my coffee and pastry arrived, somehow the Holy Spirit found a way to break in and remind me Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6 – incidentally, the pastors at our church have been sharing a great series on this text, I encourage you to give them a listen at this link).

In the days that followed, Rose and I adjusted our schedule (got up earlier) and made sure that we had time to sit and enjoy our morning coffee. We returned to L’etoile Salon de Tea most mornings (if you’re ever in Edinburgh, check it out!).

Near the end of our time in Edinburgh we discovered a Starbucks just a short walk from Central Church where we were participating in the Catalyse Change Global Community of Practice. Even though they made a quick cup of coffee and even served it in a paper cup, Rose and I had adjusted our rhythms…we sat down, watched the traffic and the people of hustle by and enjoyed a slow coffee.

 

 

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How comfortable are you with change?

How comfortable are you with change? Change seems to be the most consistent “unchanging” reality of our lives. We are always experiencing change. Thankfully many (or even most) of the changes we experience are small or gradual – like the steady change in my hair colour to ever more grey! However, from time to time life events or circumstances bring the reality of significant change to the forefront.

Earlier this year, the regular rhythms of my life experienced significant disruption. I had concluded ministry as pastor of Listowel Mennonite Church at the end of 2017 and anticipated beginning a new role with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, I was confronted with the disorientation of having no plans for the weekend! While many would relish the thought, as a pastor my weekly rhythm was always directed towards the culmination of sharing a sermon on Sunday, followed by a day off on Monday which would reboot the rhythm. Even now – 6 months later – weekend’s still feel strange. However this time of disorientation has also provided valuable reflection space (as an aside, I’ve also been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church which has been wonderfully helpful in the personal processing that comes with this space of disorientation).

In the course of a recent coaching huddle, I was challenged with the question: what would my life as a disciple look like if I wasn’t a leader in the church? Am I clear on the call to be a disciple beyond any ministry role?

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 disciples with the instruction: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way…” The instructions continue from there and I invite you to ponder them with your family/community.

What continues to peak my curiosity about this text is that we know little about these 72 disciples whom Jesus sent to the towns and villages “where he himself intended to go.” The 72 were ordinary women and men who followed Jesus. They weren’t selected because of their particular giftedness or their future leadership potential – they were sent because they loved Jesus and longed for his coming kingdom. The 72 challenge us to realize that the call to grow as disciples – to make disciples – is the “ordinary” call of every follower of Jesus.

What does ordinary discipleship look like? Within my church context we are (dare I say) proud of our community ethic. We appreciate (and perhaps intuitively know) that discipleship flourishes in the context of a believing community. But community must mean more than the few hours I spend with a worshipping community on Sunday! I spend much more of my week with my family/household than I do with the worshipping community I’m a part of. As a result, ordinary discipleship invites our family to consider what it means to be on mission together. What is God inviting us to see, experience, or join in our immediate neighbourhood? Being serious about answering that question is a recipe for radical change.

(A version of this blog post appeared in Canadian Mennonite in April, 2018)

“Be still and know…”

The news is once again filled with reports of terror.https://media4.s-nbcnews.com/j/newscms/2017_12/1941066/ss-170322-london-attack-mn-01_c3bec6066d59b4903d60091b8465b6b2.nbcnews-ux-1024-900.jpg

A month has gone by since the United Nations named the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen as the situation of greatest need since the inception of the UN. And this alongside ongoing humanitarian need in Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia.

MCC AfricaDaily we hear reports from our neighbours to the South that impact our nations budget decisions and cause fluctuations in the price of everyday goods.

In defiance of the tumult around us, the Psalmist declares, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). In this season when it feels as though the “nations are in uproar” (v.6), the default position of the world around us seems to be an invitation to go deeper into fear, uncertainty, and nationalistic entrenchment. Crowds are worked into a frenzy at the mention of building walls. Individuals, as well as nations, look to separate themselves from the “other” (whoever the “other” might be for you).

However, the message of scripture – and especially of Psalm 46 – invites us to quiet the noise of the world around us and simply be still. “Be still, and know that I am God” (v.10). Certainly, there is a time to act, to engage the challenges of the world head on. However, the Psalmist invites us to begin our “action” by first becoming still…and in the stillness, to remind ourselves of the absolutely sovereignty of God. And there to know, even in the tumult of the nations, that God’s love for you never fails.

Optimism has been the Community of Character trait for the month of March. Resting within optimism is the defiance of hope! And within hope is the courage of faith to be still even in the uncertainty of the world around us because we know that “the LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (v.11).

 

(A version of this blog post will appear in the March 29, 2017 issue of the Listowel Banner)

The face of God

A thought provoking reflection from a good friend and colleague.

Ponder Anew

For the last twenty years as pastor at Floradale, I said the same benediction prayer at the end of the service. It comes from the Jewish Scriptures from the book of Numbers. It is the words given to Moses by God, but they were spoken by his brother Aaron. Moses had trouble speaking in public, especially in front of King Pharaoh, so he got his brother to speak some of the tough stuff for the Israelite people.

The words go like this, ? May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you ?? (Number 6:24-25 ). I would insert some other words for God, and if I forgot someone in the pastoral prayer earlier in the service, I would remember them as I spoke this benediction. There were other words I inserted like inviting God to envelope us…

View original post 577 more words

Courage

Courage – “the ability to do something that frightens; strength in the face of pain or grief.”

Psalm 46 begins with strong words of assurance: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (v.1-3)

And the Psalm continues by presenting the power of God over the nations and over creation itself. As the Psalm reaches its climax one would expect a noisy crescendo of power, but there in Psalm 46:10 the still, small voice rings out,

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

In Mark 4, after the storm had gone still, after the chaos of the waters had turned glassy smooth, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, “Why are you SO afraid?”

I hear that question with a voice of compassion and the deep concern of a friend.

To be sure there are many things that bring fear and anxiety into our lives. Too often I think we have given the subtle message that as Christians we should have banished fear a long time ago, as through the waters of baptism not only washed us clean but scrubbed out all fear.

I think the disciples help to bring us back to reality.

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was there in the boat with them.

Jesus, Saviour of the world, was asleep in the stern of the boat.

And still they shook him awake over the noise of the storm and cried out, “Don’t you care?”

In Jesus’ words of rebuke to the storm and his question to the disciples is the assurance we read in Isaiah 44:1-2 – “But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.”

It’s as though God is speaking to you saying, “You belong. I am holding you in my arms. I have this crazy world under control.” God declares to the thunderous applause of heaven: “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.”

Some days fear rears its ugly head and seeks to overwhelm us. Some days fear feels like an endless falling, like a deep threat, like rising water, like a ruthless wind. But Jesus is there – Jesus is with you.

Jesus walks the journey through fear with you, rebuking and silencing and ordering. And in Christ we find again the place of rest even in the very eye of the storm. This is what it means to put Jesus at the centre of our lives – at the centre of who you are. This is about coming to a place of surrender – the place of faith.

This is courage.

 

 

(a slightly edited version of this post is scheduled to appear in the Listowel Banner on November 9, 2016)

Empathy (Character Trait for October)

As the Gospel of John so eloquently presents – Jesus put on the flesh of humanity and took up residence among us. Jesus came and saw things with the eyes of humanity; he shared feelings and struggled with emotions; and he suffered the agony of having his body beaten and battered even to the point of death. God knows what life – and even death – is like, because God completely entered into the life we live. There is nothing remote, detached, disinterested, or even isolated when it comes to the lengths to which God went to empathize with us. It’s because of this intimate relationship of empathy that God is able to extend mercy to us, completely understanding what we are going through.

This is a huge claim in and of itself – there is no other world religion that makes such a bold claim. That the God who created and holds together the universe, forming the stars of the heavens and weaving together the smallest strands of DNA…this same God so desires to be in relationship with us that God chose the ultimate form of empathy in becoming like us to be able to feel with us.

And because God is a God of empathy, modeling in Jesus a way for us to live in the world as ambassadors/representatives for the Kingdom of God, the invitation and challenge of discipleship begins with empathy. By the love/empathy we show to one another people will know that we are disciples. By the love/empathy that animates the ministries of the church, our community will know we are disciples of Jesus. By the love/empathy that we show to “the least of these” as Jesus puts it in Matthew 25, the whole world will come to know the empathy found in the One who has offered to each of us the mercy and abundant grace of salvation.

Some further reading to consider: Hebrews 2:14-18, John 13:34-35

Abounding in Love

In his book Calloused Hands, Courageous Souls Robert Suderman shares the following story:

“There is a story about two farmers. One wants to buy the other’s mule. The owner exaggerates the mule’s qualities: strong, young, obedient, hardworking and always responsive to the owner’s commands. The other farmer is interested in seeing the mule and how it handles the plow. They go to the farm, and the owner gets ready. Before beginning, however, the owner takes a large stick and smacks the mule on the head.

stubborn mule “Wait a minute,” the buyer says. “You told me it always responds and obeys. Why did you hit it?”

The owner answers: “Of course it obeys, but I have to get its attention first.

Reading the story of Jonah – especially from Jonah 3:10 through 4:5 – while God doesn’t smack Jonah in any way, one has to wonder how frustrated God must have become trying to get the attention of his stubborn servant.

In the preceding chapter Jonah has finally done as God had asked, declaring God’s judgement upon the great city of Nineveh, warning that if they did not repent, God would destroy the city within 40 days. And to Jonah’s surprise the entire city repents of its wickedness, dresses in sackcloth and ashes and begins a solemn fast, all in the hope poured out in Jonah 3:9 that “God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that [Nineveh] will not perish.”

This should be wonderful news! After all, what pastor or evangelist would not be beaming with the success of leading an entire city to acknowledging their sinfulness and turning to God to seek forgiveness?

Except the reluctant prophet Jonah is angry!jonah_angry Jonah even has the gall to pray to God with the indignation of a stubborn child. As a parent, I can almost see Jonah’s pout as he whined to God “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

At first reading Jonah is being ridiculous! He has no right to be angry. And perhaps the best thing for Jonah would be for God to follow the lead of the farmer and smack Jonah on the head to get his attention. But at the heart of this story – right from Jonah’s retreat in the belly of the great fish, through to God’s forgiveness of Nineveh, and now to this final conversation with an angry Jonah –

…the tension between justice (what the people of Nineveh deserved)…

…and compassion (the gift which God extended to the city)…

…are brought into conversation so that you and I might wonder at the mysterious compassion, mercy and grace of our God.

The life of discipleship – the life of faith – is a journey that constantly holds this truth in tension. Each of us has been offered God’s ultimate gift of compassion, grace, and abounding love through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The story of Jonah invites us to take our place with the people of Nineveh…

…because that’s where we deserve to be…

…and marvel at this gift of abounding love, compassion, grace, mercy – or a host of other adjectives describing the unmerited nature of what God has offered to you and me, but a gift we have been given all the more.

If this is the God we profess…

…if this is the God we serve…

…then it stands to reason that this character of abounding love should animate our lives as well.