Sunday, December 20, 2015

Are LGBTQ clergy fit to serve in the church?

Are people who as identify lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer fit to serve as leaders of the church in the world?

Before you stop reading because I am asking in this question, first know that I identify as a member of the LGBTQ community and as a member of the clergy of the ELCA, so for me, the answer is an absolute YES.

                                *******

But I am asking this question to try to get to some sort of understanding for myself about why the in the world we are still even having this conversation.

This post was inspired by some ongoing conversation in the social media world by other Lutheran clergy who note that it is still extremely difficult for LGBTQ folks to find congregational calls to live out their vocation to serve God and neighbor through the ministry of Word and Sacrament.  It is clear that the system is broken and undoubtedly favors heterosexual white men, just like nearly every other institution.

I am absolutely enraged that this is still up for debate. But in conversing with others online, I am beginning to realize that we are often not communicating about the same thing using language that both sides can understand.

First, I think it is important to begin with looking at what sexual orientation means.  For me, it is an immutable, unchanging, part of who I am and who I was created to be. It is "against nature" (my nature) to attempt to be heterosexual. I know this because I tried it and I was downright miserable for many years. Sexual orientation is not a choice.  However, much of this debate begins with a misunderstanding of this very critical point. In order to have a productive conversation, we need to begin with this mutual understanding. With this understanding, it is just as offensive to ask if an LGBTQ person is fit to serve the church as it is to ask if a person of color or a woman is fit to serve.  This is atrocious.

Next, is the sexual orientation of one's pastor a hindrance to completing the essential functions of the role of pastor? Does the gender expression of the pastor's partner have anything whatsoever to do with the pastor's ability to preside, hold the office of the keys, and tend to one's congregation in a pastoral way?  It seems really quite ridiculous to me to ask this question. My wife is an engineer.  She has received extensive education, passed several licensing examinations, and received training in the workplace to do her work.  The fact that she is married to me has no bearing whatsoever on her ability to be an engineer. I have received extensive education, completed the candidacy process, and completed an internship in a congregation. I have answered God's call to ministry and that call has been affirmed externally by a number of stakeholders including my congregation, my synod, my candidacy committee and faculty of my seminary. The fact that I am married to a woman has no bearing on my ability to serve God and God's people.

Also, is this a moral/theological/ethical issue?  Of course not.  But there are people out there who believe that I am living an immoral life, that I am living in such a place of sin that they cannot possibly hear the Gospel from me. I am living in sin, just as any one else is living in sin.  I sometimes hurt the people I love through my own stupidity or my sharp tongue.  I tend to think that I can fix everything on my own and I don't need help from anyone else. It is hard for me to admit when I am wrong. But what is not sinful is that I am in a loving, respectful, publicly accountable relationship with another woman.

So where does this leave the debate?  I find that most of the discomfort with a gay pastor can be reduced to what I will call the "ick factor."  For many people, it's icky to think about sex. This is a problem in our churches. And because of deeply entrenched heteronormativity, we don't automatically think about sex when we see a straight couple.  But same gender relationships are far too often just reduced to sex and this is beside the point.  What consenting adults do behind closed doors is no business of anyone else. How they live out their commitment to one another by being part of a congregation, by serving their neighbor, and how they live into the vocation of family is what is important.

Finally, the question of whether or not LGBTQ clergy are fit to serve the church is often based in fear of the unknown.  Public acceptance of same-gender relationships is still evolving, and same-gender couples are still working on feeling safe enough to be public about their relationships. Some people simply do not know any LGBTQ people (or perhaps more appropriately, do not THINK they know any LGBTQ people, but statistically they do).  There is fear that the gay pastor will shove some sort of gay agenda onto them.  That by calling a gay pastor, they get a one-person gay pride parade. That a gay pastor will be primarily GAY, and only after that, then a pastor. This could not be more false.


LGBTQ people are everywhere. We aren't scary. We aren't going to corrupt the children. We just want to live our lives in the way that we have been created to be.  We want meaningful work. We want to live and love and be part of our communities.  Some of us have been called to be clergy.

Of course LGBTQ clergy are fit to serve in the church.  And God has called us to serve one another and love one another, and we have work to do to care for our neighbors in need.

The tyranny of literal interpretation

NYC, 2014. A. Hanson
As I reflect recently upon the barrage of gun violence in the news recently and the varied arguments for and against control, I am struck by the comparison between a fundamentalist interpretation of the Second Amendment and the biblical scriptures.

The Second Amendment states, "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Being that I am not a constitutional scholar, nor an attorney or supreme court justice, this comparison is imperfect, but bear with me.

At the time the US constitution was drafted, there were a few    important contextual things of which to be aware.  First, the US was a country in its infancy and did not have its own organized armed forces.  A militia was necessary to defend the infant United States from the British Empire in the war of  Independence. Next, there was no possible way that those who drafted the constitution would have known about the level of sophisticated weaponry that we possess now. Guns at the time were muzzle loaders and the bayonet (essentially a pokey appendage off the top of a gun used for stabbing other people) was still a viable option for wartime.

It is dangerous and foolhardy to assume that the second amendment could apply categorically to every situation that we could encounter now.  We do not need a militia, because we have one of the largest and most well-armed military in the world.  The average person does not need military grade weapons. Also, the semi-automatic guns that can fire a barrage of bullets in seconds are in an entirely different universe than the guns that were possessed by the founding fathers.  It is just not  fair comparison.  The Second Amendment captures a specific need in a moment of time.

All of this fundamentalist interpretation of the second amendment got me thinking about the tyranny of literal interpretation of the Bible as well. The Bible also captures a specific moment of time and its directives simply cannot be directly translated into being applicable for every single situation that one might encounter many hundreds of years later.

It is my theory that a literal interpretation of scripture is usually rooted in fear. Fear that if some part of the biblical canon might not make sense anymore, it all suddenly falls apart. If some part (such as a discussion of how LGBTQ folks are portrayed in scripture) requires more careful scrutiny and midrash (imaginative wrestling with sacred texts to find a new faithful interpretation), those who would interpret scripture literally would suddenly lose their footing and everything they have believed is wrong.  This feels tyrannical, and in my opinion, not how God would have us live at all.

I think that a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment is also rooted in fear. Fear that rights might be taken away, that there would be no way to defend one's self from a vague and unspecified threat, and so on.  It is an interpretation that comes from an individualist perspective rather than a collectivist perspective. That if one small portion of the canon of laws of the United States was critically reexamined for contextual suitability, the tyranny of literal interpretation would predict that anarchy would ensue.

I think that anarchy with regards to gun rights is already here. Even the smallest and most reasonable of restrictions (background checks or waiting periods for gun purchases) is protested vehemently. Even though a majority of citizens support such sensible gun control measures, a government propped up by funding from the NRA, completely ignores the will of the people and chaos continues.  If that is not anarchy, I am not sure what is. Killing one another in gun battles that play out in the streets or in schools or movie theaters or clinics is not how God would have us live.

Now is the time to critically reexamine literal interpretations of the Second Amendment. This charge can be led by people of faith who understand the importance of looking at things in context and who understand that we belong to each other in this crazy and broken world.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Not to Say: < awkward silence >

A.Hanson, Boulder, 2010
Today's phrase in the "What Not to Say" series is not saying anything at all.  I think we have all had the experience of not wanting to say the wrong thing.  So perhaps we think that the best thing is not to say anything at all.

One of the most hurtful things that compounds bereavement is when one's friends drop off the face of the earth.  Sometimes we don't want to exacerbate someone's pain unintentionally, by saying something wrong.  Or perhaps we are afraid of unintentionally unleashing a tsunami of grief by asking the wrong question. Or perhaps we just can't deal with other people's tears or pain.

I know from my own personal experience and from the people that I accompany through their own grief, saying nothing at all is painful.  There is a fear that if you should ask about someone's recently deceased loved one, you will cause them increased pain.  The pain exists whether or not you mention their loved one and one of the few things that can be balm to a grieving soul is talking about the person they love and miss and have lost. Telling stories of your wife or father or sister or son is a way of preserving their memory for just a bit. Talking about the loved one that has been lost is a way to make sure that they are not forgotten, which is one of the greatest pains for those who are left behind.

It is not likely that a kind and compassionate conversation will unleash a torrent of grief that cannot be stopped.  People who are in grief are already living in a place that is overwhelming.  Your reaching out might be a life raft.

I have almost nonexistent patience for people who cannot stand to witness others' grief. This is one place where it is really difficult for me to summon compassion.  You do not have to say anything profound, because honestly, there are sometimes just not words.  But showing up and showing that you care goes a long way, so try to get over your discomfort about tears and runny noses and pain, and meet your friend in your humanity. Because one day you are going to need the support of your friends too.

Here are a few things to say instead of saying nothing…

"I just don't know what to say, but I am here for you."
"I cannot imagine what you are feeling, how much pain you are in, but I love you."
"I wish I knew what to say. Would it be helpful if I walked your dog/babysat your kids/brought you dinner?"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Not to Say: "They are not suffering anymore"

A.Hanson, Boulder, CO. 2009
This is one of the trite platitudes that I have mixed feelings about.  It is not factually incorrect, but it is still not one of the better things that you can say to a grieving family.  When someone dies, after a prolonged illness, it is indeed true, their suffering is over. But the suffering of those they leave behind continues and intensifies.

This saying in particular is well-intentioned and comes from a place of wanting to offer care, but it is still one of those "What not to say" phrases. Saying, "they are not suffering anymore" is an attempt to erase the very real (and raw) pain and suffering that precipitated this death.  Death is hard work.  We all hope for a peaceful death, but in reality, that is only one potential outcome among many possibilities. To say, "they are not suffering anymore" denies the intensity and the rawness of what just occurred.

Death does not occur in a vacuum.  When someone that we love dies, that has ripple effects on everyone around them. A family system is disrupted. A way of life is over. There is suddenly an absence instead of a presence. A whole life of stories and experiences is just gone. And the suffering for those who grieve is just beginning.

So please, don't say, "they are not suffering anymore" when you mean "I cannot imagine how painful these last weeks have been while you watched your loved one slip away."

Say instead….

"I see your pain."
"I am willing to listen."
"Tell me about what hurts."
"Do you want to talk about it?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What not to say: "You can have other children"

A. Hanson Denver, 2014. Blue Christmas. 
Today's post in the series, What Not to Say is particularly heartbreaking.  I have encountered well-meaning people saying "You can have other children" to those who have recently experienced a miscarriage or to those parents who lost a child or children just before birth, during birth, or in infancy.

It is so heartbreaking because in saying this to grieving parents, you have completely ignored the reality of an already-loved and cherished child who is very real and a part of this world.

One of the most heartbreaking spaces where I find myself as a chaplain is the birthing room with parents whose child died in the womb, during birth, or shortly thereafter.  It is a liminal space in which life and death are so intricately intertwined, that it is impossible to distinguish one from other. The crushing reality of not leaving the hospital with a newborn is suspended for a short time. Parents will hold and kiss and snuggle their baby and say the things they need to say.  As hospital staff, we do our best to create memories with footprints and handprints and locks of hair. This space of honoring all the lost possibilities and potential of this child, THIS child, is so very necessary.

Saying, "You can have other children" ignores the child who has died. But it is also cruel because there is no guarantee that there will be other children.  Conception may have been difficult, there may have been complications that make future pregnancies difficult or impossible, or perhaps the grieving parents just cannot bear the pain of infant loss again.

The most painful thing is to pretend as if the child never existed, that a miscarriage or other infant loss is merely something to get over.  To be so scared and uncomfortable with someone else's pain that we cannot even bear to talk with them.  Please never say, "You can have other children" because those potential future children are not what we are talking about now.  We are talking about the beloved one who has been lost.

Try saying this instead…

I am here for you in whatever way is helpful.
I would like to hear your baby's story, if you want to tell me more, I am willing to listen.
I love you.

Or the ever helpful,
Here is a casserole.  Please bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: J & S Bean Factory, St Paul, Randolph Street

Today's stop on the Sabbath Coffee Tour is J & S Bean Factory in St Paul.  This is one of my long-standing favorite roasters in the Twin Cities.  My friend Jodi introduced me to their delicious coffee a few years ago.  The Bean Factory roasts their coffee on site, just on the other side of a window, where you can watch what they are up to, as well as come home smelling like coffee. They roast to order and provide beans for retail and wholesale purchase.

Each day they have two roasts and one decaf roast as the coffee of the day, and they can make a cup of just about anything for you at their coffee bar. They have 30 different roasts!  I had the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, an organic medium roast with a bright flavor. I put a little milk into it, no sweetener necessary.

There are pastries and other small snacks available. There is free wifi, but not that many outlets.  There are about a dozen tables and chairs, but it is clear that the Bean Factory is devoted to roasting beans, not necessarily providing a quiet work space, which is great.  I love that this place is an independent roaster who does all their roasting on site. They also provide space for local artists and space for community gathering.

The J & S Bean Factory is located on a mostly quiet residential street, with street parking.  It is a great place for enjoying great coffee.  The Bean Factory is part of my regular rotation of coffee shops.

What not to say: "This is God's will"

I put a picture of my bobble-head Jesus reading a Greek Bible as the graphic for this post, because today's post in the series "What Not to Say" is just as ridiculous.

"This is God's will" is another attempt at compassion gone horribly wrong.  Along with "God needed another angel", these trite phrases are an attempt to explain the unexplainable, to make sense of something senseless, and to apply reason to something that is completely unreasonable.

Theologically speaking, we cannot, in any way ascertain God's will, whoever or whatever that god might be. People who might self-identify as "Bible believing"Christians will tell you that reading the Bible will help you ascertain God's will, but this is simply not true.  Because the Bible is a composite document, there is not one cohesive picture of God or of God's will.  Furthermore, there is not a way to provide an answer in advance for every single contingency that might arise. The best thing that the Bible has for us to figure out God's will is a very rough algorithm.  We hear over and over again about justice and compassion and care for others as being God's will, so let's go with that.

Which is why this particular platitude is so very asinine. Because telling people that their loved one's suffering or death is "God's will" is just about the opposite of justice and compassion and care for others. Like most of these sayings, this one probably starts from a place of desiring to offer compassion, but the best intentions get lost in creating an image of a God who plucks people out of families and lives at will.

I have witnessed deaths of all sorts, those from traumas and cancer and violence as well as old age, and NO DEATH is God's will.  Death is a biological inevitability, it happens to all of us, and trying to blame a particularly tragic death on God's will just does not make sense.  It is God's will that we would love one another.

So therefore, what to say?  How about…

I love you
I care about you
I am sorry
Can I bring you dinner?
Can I watch your kids for you?
Can I walk your dog for you?

Friday, November 06, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: St Paul, MN. Quixotic Coffee.

My latest stop on the Sabbath Coffee tour is Quixotic Coffee in the Highland Park neighborhood of St Paul. I joined my good friends Heather and Jess here for some delicious coffee. Quixotic Coffee serves Blackeye Roasting  and Bootstrap roasters coffees, with a specialty of cold brews on tap.   Cold brew coffee is one of my favorites, and when served on tap, infused with nitrogen, it has a smooth and velvety texture, almost like a stout beer. Incredibly delicious. I would have normally stuck with my standard, dark roast with room for cream, but the novelty of cold brew on tap was too sweet to pass up.  It is not to be missed.  Quixotic also has pastries for sale, although I was there late enough in the day that the selection was limited.

Quixotic Coffee is warm and inviting.  There are plenty of tables, including booths, and a back room that can be reserved for meetings for a small hourly fee. There are plenty of outlets for working as well. Parking is on the street, and has an hour limit. There is parking enforcement on Cleveland, so be careful, as St Paul is serious about parking tickets. I have found this out the hard way a few times.  I parked two blocks away, on Highland Parkway, and did not have a time limit nor any issues with finding parking.

I will most definitely be making my way back to Quixotic Coffee!  Delicious nitro cold brew, inviting atmosphere, and friendly people.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

What Not to Say: "God needed another angel/heaven needed them more than we do/God called them home"

A.Hanson, Minnesota, 2014
Today's post in the series of "What Not to Say" looks at the phrase, "God needed another Angel" and many similar phrases including, "heaven needed them more than we do", "God called them home", "Jesus needed them."  This phrase is often used in the moments and days after a death, particularly a death that is unexpected or exceptionally tragic, like the death of a child or of a young adult.

In my work, I have found that parents who grieve the death of a child sometimes express comfort in thinking of their child nestled into the loving arms of a God in heaven. I support them in finding whatever means can bring them comfort in unimaginable moments of pain.

But linking the death of a beloved person to the activity of God by anyone else is problematic.  It places blame on on God for the death, and creates a god who takes people from their loved ones at will.  This particular platitude can absolutely ruin any sort of comfort that someone can find in their belief system in the arduous days, weeks and months to come. It opens a crack of disbelief in an already fragile grasp of meaning-making, and makes room for the intrusive thoughts of, "What is wrong with me that I don't belief God actually needed my child/sister/father?"

Saying, "God needed another angel" denies the very human needs of love, care, nurture, and relationship.  It implies that God's need for something (which to be brutally honest, we can never actually know, although God never NEEDS anything, that is why God is God) is greater than ours and that our needs should always be subservient to those of a temperamental deity off in the sky. This is crap theology.  Every single major world religion has precedent in their holy texts for arguing with their deities and for lamenting pain and suffering.

Finally this platitude ignores the experience of those who do not ascribe to theological systems that have a deity and an understanding of life after death. Or who are atheist or agnostic or have belief systems that are outside a very specific expression of Christianity.

Instead of saying, "Heaven needed them more than we do", say, "I can see how much you love them.  Tell me about your child/partner/parent."  Or share a story of why their life matters to you.

Or bring a damn casserole over and say, "bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes."  That's infinitely more comforting than claiming God swooped in like some vulture and took someone's beloved.


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

What not to say: "Everything happens for a reason"

A.Hanson, Denver, 2011
I stumbled across this really excellent article the other day, ""Everything Doesn't Happen For a Reason" by Tim Lawrence. It articulates the philosophy behind my care in chaplaincy.  I spend nearly all of my work hours walking alongside people who are living the very worst days of their lives. There really are not words for these moments, so most of the time I just stand or sit quietly. My ministry is one of presence.

But there are things that well-meaning people say that cause more harm than good.  I should preface that my patients guide their own care.  If someone expresses the belief that their illness or suffering, or that of their loved ones, fits into a plan that is meaningful or provides hope, I would explore that system with them.  I would never dismantle structures of meaning for someone.  This series of posts, "what not to say" is directed towards those who wish to support those who are suffering.

Platitudes like "everything happens for a reason" are misguided attempts at support that are much more like self-soothing on the part of those who seek to assuage their own discomfort.

Placing suffering into some greater plan is an attempt to push back the deep paralyzing fear that a crisis could happen entirely randomly. If we admit that someone experienced an entirely undeserved and random event, the unspoken corollary is, "It could happen to me too."

The task of placing meaning onto a random event, to find some greater purpose in suffering, is ONLY for the person for whom the suffering belongs.

Let me repeat that, ONLY the person who is experiencing the rupture of the fibers of their world can place meaning for good onto their suffering. 

No clergy-person or well-meaning friend or family member can assign a greater purpose to suffering.  Suffering is never part of God's plan.  It is not about drawing someone closer to the divine or reminding them to trust in God or turn their lives over to a higher power.

Meaning can be found on the other side of suffering.  I know many families who have found purpose in advocating for organ donation or financial support for disease research or have indeed found that their experience of suffering encourages them to draw closer to the divine.

But I also know people and their families whose lives have been destroyed. Who never recover.  Who never find meaning in their suffering.

Not everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes shit just happens.   By saying, "Everything happens for a reason" we refuse to see the person who is suffering. We do not see the pain right in front of us, instead, we jump forward to some greater meaning at the expense of the very real person who is living that pain.

Instead of saying, "Everything happens for a reason," say, "I can't imagine what you must be feeling. Can I sit with you?" or "I see you."

Or better yet, don't say anything.  Just be.  That's what I do a lot of the time.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

What did you want to be when you grow up?

A lot of the prompts that have been put forth by NaBloPoMo for the posts this month relate to thinking about the past.  Today I am thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was never one of those kids who had a specific idea of what I wanted to be.  I had some vague ideas, like I wanted to help people and something to do with health care.  I have been lucky to have worked in several fields that allow me to care for people: human services, case management, nursing, parish ministry, and now chaplaincy.

I think I have the best job in the world.  I get to spend time with other people for a living.  My work as a chaplain frees me to care for the souls and emotions and minds of my patients. I actually get to be a PERSON for a living. The greatest qualification for my work is to use all of the emotional intelligence and mental intelligence that I have to meet another person right where they are. I have been a master's degree, an Mdiv, and have been prepared in a variety of ways for this work, including 1600 clinical hours and approval by my judicatory.  I am currently working towards board certification in chaplaincy, a standard for any discipline in healthcare.

I think I am dangerously close to becoming a grown-up.  I am into my thirties, I have several degrees, including a graduate degree, and I am self-sufficient. I am also thrilled to say that my vocation, chaplaincy, is what I want to be when I grow up.  What a gift.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Minneapolis. Dogwood Coffee (E. Lake Street)

For today's stop on the Sabbath Coffee Tour, I stopped at Dogwood Coffee on East Lake Street in Minneapolis. This roaster is based in Minneapolis and in Winnepeg, Manitoba.  This delicious roaster sources their beans with principles of "quality, reciprocal relationships, and balance." They advocate sustainable practices and fair trade. There are two Minneapolis locations, one on Hennepin Street in Uptown and the East Lake Street location.

I sampled the Honduras-Belen Gualcho , with a bit of cream.  This roast is described as buttery with hints of cantaloupe and malted milk balls. I tasted a rich and smooth roast (I generally dislike lighter roasts, but this one was delicious.  It did not even need sugar!

Baristas were extremely friendly, and eager to talk about my experiences touring Twin Cities coffee shops.  They were able to recommend roasts based on my tastes, which I always appreciate. This coffee shop is light and friendly, and is attached to some sort home goods boutique. There are plenty of outlets, warm wood booths, and delicious looking baked goods (although none that are gluten free).  I particularly liked that each booth had its own lamp. Parking is on Lake street (generally two hour, some one hour) or on side streets.  I was there in the middle of the day, so I am not sure what it would be like at a busier time.

Overall, this is a coffee shop that I will frequent again and again.  There is ample seating, it is warm and quiet, the coffee is delicious and the baristas are incredibly kind. Great job Dogwood!

NaBloPoMo November 2015

NaBloPoMo November 2015
A few years ago I participated in National Poetry Writing Month, and during the month of November I will be participating in National Blog Posting Month. This is a writer's discipline, and encourages me to reflect upon something each day and post it on my blog.  Additionally, I will be engaging with others who are also doing the same.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Getting my feet moving again

So I know I don't live at near a beach.  In fact, I live pretty darn far from a beach, but I selected this photo because it shows my feet moving while running barefoot on the beach.

This last year has been not one that was particularly healthy for me.  I worked more than full-time at a Level 1 trauma center while completing my CPE residency.  Working at a hospital alone is stressful, aside from the constant critical self-examination of Clinical Pastoral Education. Additionally, I was in a long-distance relationship, and I got married two weeks before the end of my residency.  Needless to say, exercise was not a huge priority.

My health suffered.  I ate pretty much all my feelings.  I frequently felt tired and sluggish. My sleep suffered. My asthma was dangerously uncontrolled. I was in a car accident that injured my back and prohibited exercise for some time. I ate junk, with just the intent of filling my stomach and moving on to the next thing.  Lack of exercise also did no favors for my mental and emotional health, particularly while working in such an intense environment. And because your thirties are not the same as your twenties, I just can't do that sort of thing to my body anymore and expect to feel good and bounce back.

So, I recently got my feet moving again.  I joined a gym, and have been enjoying immersing myself into physical activity and in breaking a sweat.  I know that a gym is a luxury expense, but I am putting it into a "necessary" expense now, so that it does not have greater costs later in my life.  There is something about the ritual of the gym that helps me to keep regular exercise part of my life.  I have a yoga mat and hand weights and resistance bands at home, and yet, I always manage to find something else to do instead of working out.  The dogs love walking, but that is more of a leisure activity for us, because there is lots of investigating and sniffing that happens when we walk.

Another side effect that appears with exercise is that I feel more connected to my body.  Sometimes I feel like I am an extremely powerful mind unfortunately attached to a body. My mind seems to be running about 10 steps ahead of my body and I rarely connect with myself.  The pure physicality of exercise forces me to be in my body.  Because otherwise I might fall off the treadmill or drop weights on myself.

So here I am, back to slogging it out at the gym most days.  I am not approaching this return to regular exercise as a form of weight loss (although I certainly hope that happens), but rather as a way to return to myself. For the last couple years I have been part of an online group of clergy types and friends who work out and post our encouragement for one another and share our triumphs and our sorrows.  I have been thankful for this group of friends who celebrate with me as I make this return to health.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Minneapolis, Sovereign Grounds (48th and Chicago)

For today's episode in the Sabbath Coffee Tour, I stopped by Sovereign Grounds in south Minneapolis.  This coffee shop roasts their own beans on site, with the house speciality roast called Turkish Roast. 

I enjoyed a mug of the Turkish Roast (a medium dark blend) along with a gluten free blueberry muffin, made in house.  Both were delicious.  There are a variety of baked goods, as well as quiche, soups, and other light foods.

This coffee shop has a very large indoor playroom, with the intent of being Minneapolis' only family-friendly coffee shop.  It is filled with toys, and seemed to draw a ton of families into the coffee shop.  The coffee shop seating side has a few tables and some armchairs, although not as many as the playroom side. There is free wifi available, although I did not spot any outlets.  Parking is street parking  (can be crowded along Chicago) and mostly one hour.  I parked one block off Chicago, and did not have any issues finding a spot.  Additionally, this coffee shop has a $5 minimum for credit cards.

This coffee shop is quieter than you would think with an indoor playground, more pleasant than blaring music.  The Turkish roast was delicious and I enjoyed my gluten free muffin.  This is an enjoyable place for coffee with a friend, but I would not recommend it for working or quiet time, on account of the playroom, few tables and lack of outlets.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Minneapolis, Five Watt Coffee (Nicollet and 38th)

Today I embarked on a another stop on my sabbath coffee tour. I visited Five Watt coffee in south Minneapolis. This charming little shop is located at Nicollet and 38th street. Five Watt roasts their own brews at a St Paul, MN roastery as well as Kickapoo Coffee.

I enjoyed The Residency, the Five Watt house blend.  It is a medium roast with a deep flavor, doctored up with some milk and raw sugar. All brewed coffees enjoyed in house are bottomless, which is an added bonus! There is food available (including gluten free!) and an apparently legendary oatmeal bar on Sundays.

The coffee shop was extremely crowded this morning, I was lucky to find a stool at the counter. There seems to be ample outlets, but those seats were all occupied.  But the baristas were extremely friendly and made me feel welcome in the shop. Parking is street parking (a bit tricky along Nicollet) but ample on the side streets.

I spent a pleasant couple hours coloring mandalas while drinking bottomless coffee, and I fit right in among others who were knitting, writing, and drawing.

Five Watt coffee is an unexpected gem in a fun neighborhood.  I will be back to check it out!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world…have mercy on us.

A.Hanson, Minnesota, 2013
I am finding myself singing the Agnus Dei this morning, "Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us…"

This morning at approximately 12:21am Eastern time, the state of Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner.  

Lord have mercy on us all.

My first experience with hearing about the death penalty in my life was when the state of Montana executed a man in 1995.  I remember being horrified with the sensibilities of a child that someone could be put to death by the government for killing someone else.  It just did not make sense to me then, and it still does not make sense to me.

A friend of mine was murdered in 2007 by a random stranger in a suburb of Minneapolis. I was devastated and outraged.  But I did not want her killer put to death, because that was not going to bring Katherine back and it would not honor her memory. The death penalty has tremendous costs, and they are not just financial.

I think about the people who are charged with carrying out executions. The wardens and guards and nurses and techs. The medical professionals who put an IV into the condemned person's body. Who are using the training that was obtained with the intent of preserving life and using it to end another person's life. I think about the person charged with pressing the button on the other side of a wall that will transmit the lethal drugs into the veins of the one being executed. The executor does not see the executed, because if they saw what they were doing, one would hope that they would not be able to do it. I wonder how those people feel at night when they go home from work and caress their spouse and hold their children. If their hands carry the blood of another. I wonder how this weighs on their hearts.

I wonder how the legal team feels and how the judge feels and how the supreme court felt when they denied Kelly Gissendaner's final emergency appeal. How they must feel when upholding the law of the land which is so senseless and horrifying.

I wonder how the family members of the victims feel as they watch an execution. Do they feel relief?  Or do they feel lingering hurt? Are they happy to put this chapter behind them?

I wonder how the family of the condemned person feels.  Do they feel relief as well? Are they weighed down by shame? Do they bury the memory of their once-loved one?

I would not say that I am "pro-life" because that is so politically charged.  I am PRO-HUMANITY. I am in favor of anything that reminds us of how we are all interconnected. I am in favor of preserving life. This extends to abolishing the death penalty, but also addressing the systemic racism and injustices inherent in our legal and penal systems.

Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong? 

I also remember when I signed my first petition against the death penalty (an Amnesty International petition) at a church event as a high school senior.  And the many that I have signed since. Some days I feel hopeless.  Today is one of those days.  I am inspired by the ministry of Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic sister who has dedicated her life's work to speaking out against the death penalty.

I understand anger and the desire for revenge. I understand deep grief and hurt. I understand wanting vengeance for death.  But in the end, if death wins, we all lose. And that is why I am singing the Agnus Dei so fervently this morning.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world…have mercy on us.  Mercy on us.  Mercy on us.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Stories from Chaplaincy: Warm and Dead

Late in the afternoon on a winter day a "trauma code" came overhead and through my pager. This case is the singularly most horrifying case that I experienced during my year of residency.  It still haunts me.

A patient was brought in on a search and rescue stretcher.  The EMS team tracked tons of snow into the trauma room. There was so much snow and ice brought in on this patient that the social worker and myself ran to the blanket warmer, grabbing stacks of blankets to place over the floor to prevent the team from slipping. The doors of the trauma room were closed.  Maintenance was notified to crank up the heat to over 85 degrees.  The team who was performing CPR was sweating profusely. I wrapped warm blankets around tearful firefighters and EMTs who were shivering even in the heat of the ED.

They needed to talk.  The patient was found in the water in the mountains. Clothes were frozen. Shoes were frozen. They didn't know who this person was or where they came from or how long they were in the water.

The Emergency Tech came out of the room in tears.  She couldn't start an IV.  She couldn't draw blood. The patient's veins were ice. She laid her head on the counter. A nurse came out of the room.  He said, "the patient isn't dead until they are warm and dead.  The patient isn't warm yet, so they aren't dead."

Warm and Dead.

And so for the next hour or so, rounds of CPR continued on the patient with ice in their veins. It is heart breaking to watch such fervent life-saving efforts. It is heart breaking to watch people who have dedicated their life's work to saving lives to be trying to save an impossible life.

Once a warmer body temperature was reached, resuscitation stopped.

I still don't know how the patient's family knew to come to our hospital. I know I didn't call them, and that was usually my job. I looked for a wallet, but there was none. I think the state patrol somehow notified them.  And also notified a victim's advocate who came to the ED covered in freshly fallen snow.  Such pure snowflakes amid such unrelenting horror.

From the family we learned that the patient disappeared after a call made several days earlier.

But after that, we don't know. Only that the patient was submerged for a few days and somehow their family ended up weeping into my arms.

When I thought of this patient, I could only think of white skin, the color of ice, frozen solid. And of ice in veins. And I would weep for the senseless and horror and aloneness of this death. And I would pray that this person knew some kind of comfort in their last moments out in the elements. And that when they were declared warm and dead, they might know how many techs and EMS workers and nurses and chaplains wept for them in a fluorescent ED.

Theology of Pastoral Care…an ever-evolving project

A.Hanson, Denver, 2015
At the start of my year of residency, I was quite timid in my pastoral caregiving.  I did not want to be too Lutheran or too Christian or not Christian enough or step on anyone’s toes or assert authority that I did not have.  I struggled a lot with the question, “what does a chaplain do that is different from a social worker or a particularly compassionate nurse?”

While still evolving, my pastoral theology centers around the conviction that pastoral care is an essential part of reuniting the whole person who is experiencing un-wellness with the social environment of which they are a part. Our discipline as chaplains is not concerned with treatment or therapeutic support, but rather, to meet another person where they are, using all of our humanity to meet their humanity. We have tasks that are therapeutic and we have tasks that are supportive of wellness, but our primary role is not wholly that. Perhaps more than anyone else in the hospital, chaplains are a link to the outside world and to a world of health and wholeness and a reminder of the hope that a person will rejoin that world outside the hospital. In the case of a patient’s death, we serve that function for family members.

Another core aspect of my pastoral theology is incarnational. I believe that God is in all people.  This might be seen as foolish, because it means that I tend to see people in the most affirming way but I think I will go on celebrating it because I would rather be foolish and see people as good than be suspicious and always be looking for evidence to the contrary. With this aspect of my pastoral theology, I do not think that I “bring God” to my patients, but rather, because God is in both of us, our time together is a fuller realization of the Kingdom of God. I view the hospital as a sort of communion table. We all bring ourselves to the table, we are broken and Christ is broken for us. The Lutheran understanding of the sacraments is that the most ordinary of things (such as water, wine, and bread) can carry the presence of God.  So the most ordinary of things in the hospital, one person sitting with another, already carries the presence of God.  Pastoral visits are sacramental and sacred.

One of the parts of my theology that has been challenged is my conviction that “God is always present.”  Because there are many, many times where I feel like this is not true. I have not found an answer for this question, and why my greatest discovery in my work as a chaplain has been the depth of mystery that exists in this work. Why bad things happen. Why patients with the same condition have vastly different outcomes. Why children die. Why parents die. Why sheer luck saves someone when all the knowledge in the world cannot. Why prayer seems to work. Why prayer does not seem to work. Why it is possible to feel the presence of God so clearly at times, and yet, at other times, God is so far away. I have no answers. When I started this residency I was searching for answers. I knew that explanations of faith healings and miracles and fervent prayers did not hold for me, but I was searching for the elusive answer that would somehow tie it all together.  And the answer has been revealed, and it is, “trust the mystery.” Patients frequently ask me what happens after death, and express their existential anxieties about what will happen to them, and the most truthful answer I have is “I have no idea.”  And I am settling into being okay with the mystery. My progressive Lutheran theology does not have the answers, neither does Christianity, nor does science. The only answer is, “I am willing to be with you in your suffering as you ask those questions.” Where I have landed in this particularly difficult part of my pastoral theology is to come back to Christ as seen on the cross, and God being willing to descend to hell and death, and I come away knowing, “There is no place that God is unwilling to go.” 

A final conviction that shapes my pastoral theology is that of, “I see your suffering and I am not repulsed by it.”  I do not take a medical model approach to suffering (diagnose and cure) or flee from suffering as the world is wont to do, but rather, an accompaniment model. I stand alongside my patients in their suffering and bear witness to it and provide a hand to hold and an ear to listen and a mirror to reflect.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Keen Eye Coffee (38th Street and 28th Ave, Minneapolis)

Credit D.Gayman to Keen Eye Facebook
In my ongoing quest for coffee, I explored Keen Eye Coffee in the Standish-Ericcson neighborhood of south Minneapolis. This small neighborhood shop brews coffees from local roaster B&W Specialty coffee which has a roastery off Hennepin Ave in Minneapolis.

It was a cloudy and drizzly day, so I decided to have a little extra caffeine. I ordered a depth charge (shot of espresso dropped into brewed coffee).  I had the Columbian dark roast with a shot of house espresso. The Columbian was rich and deep, with no acidic aftertaste. The barista provided fresh cream in a server directly out of the fridge (no room temperature nastiness here!).

The space was welcoming and great for working. A bar along one window, with scattered armchairs and tables.  Free wifi is available, along with outlets. I spent about 90 minutes working on my mandala coloring book, enjoying my coffee and the quiet of the space. There was music playing, but it pleasant and added to the ambiance. Baristas (I think one might have been the owner) were friendly and welcoming to all customers.

There is food available as well, although I did not have any on this visit. There seem to be a variety of baked goods (with a note online about gluten free available) as well as soup and other lunch foods.

I walked to this coffee shop from my home, but there is street parking available. This coffee shop is located near the bustling brewpub Northbound Smokehouse, and the Hiawatha rail line, so happy hour and dinner time parking might be a challenge.

Keen Eye Coffee was a welcoming and cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I can't wait to go back and try their soups!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Stories in chaplaincy: Miscarriage

Miscarriage. It drops into conversation like a bomb and silences everyone. It is a source of silent shame and deep pain. It is the death of hope and potential. It is a "personal problem" and a "woman's problem." It is tremendously common and yet deliberately hidden.

I was called into one of the small Emergency Department rooms early in the morning. My patient was lying in bed, covered in warm blankets. She was pale and tired. She had been there all night. She asked if I would hold her hand. She was alone.

We sat in silence for what seemed like hours. She said, "I didn't even really want it, you know. I was still trying to decide what to do with it."  I waited in silence.  "But its even more confusing, now that it's gone. I feel like I should be happy or sad. But I don't know what to feel."

I continued to hold her hand. I said, "What are you feeling?"

"Like I am missing part of me."

I decide to take a risk, saying, "Do you want to say goodbye?"

She started to cry and nodded. I stepped out of the room. A small specimen jar at the nurse's station contained the products of conception. I wrapped the jar in a towel. I cradled it gently in my arms as I walked back into the room and handed it to her.

She cradled the bundle and wept over it. She whispered for a few moments and then handed it back to me. Still holding the bundle gently, I left the room and returned it to the RN. I returned to the patient who was sleeping now. I stroked her hair off her forehead gently and turned to leave the room.

I said very little words in this interaction, but I made deliberate choices as pastoral interventions. I carried her fetal remains as an infant, wrapped in a towel, and handed them to her as such. I recognized the need for a small memorial service of sorts. This moment of ritual and of saying goodbye was just a few moments in the timeline of her hospital stay, but I hope that it made a difference. I hope that she had the time to say what she needed to say to her potential child and that moment, while filled with pain, was filled with humanity.  A fetal demise is not just a biological process, it is a death and requires ritual and attention.

Stories from the ICU: Minimally Acceptable Quality of Life

One of the situations where I often found myself called into in the ICU was when families were attempting to make difficult decisions about the future for their loved ones who were under our care. These were nearly always dire decisions. Patients were on life support, which works for awhile, but the longer someone has a ventilator or trach, the greater the likelihood of infection or hospital acquired illnesses. Sepsis was a constant and deadly threat. Nurses would balance the patient's body processes for them, with dialysis and mineral replacement and dietitians would balance artificial nutrition and fluids. Sometimes there is a possibility of recovery, often there is not.

One of the questions that is asked by critical care physicians or palliative care physicians is, "What is your loved one's minimally acceptable quality of life?"

It is not really enough to talk about "being alive."  Because "life" can mean barely hanging onto a grasp of this world. It can mean being in a coma, tethered to a ventilator and catheter and central lines, with machines and nursing staff taking care of your body's every function. This is enough for some families. Just the possibility of knowing that their loved one is still present with them.

But quality of life is different than being alive. We talk about being able to communicate and recognize our loved ones and care for ourselves and engage in meaningful activity. I spend a lot of time thinking about what meaningful quality of life would be for me. I would want to be able to communicate (whether or not that involves speaking or another tool for communication) and recognize my spouse and my family. I would want to be able to engage in the meaningful activities that I enjoy such as reading and writing.

For some people, minimally acceptable quality of life includes such things as maintaining hearing and sight, the ability to walk, and being able to complete all their own activities of daily living. These things are not at the top of my list, because I know people who are able to thrive even with these limitations.

But minimally acceptable quality of life varies for everyone. And it is the role of the chaplain in these conversations to be able to help families name this. We would gather our ICU families into a conference room, with social workers and nursing staff and chaplains and physicians present. The doctors would present the medical situation, and other team members would share insights. The family could ask questions, and then attempt to make the decisions that no one ever hopes to make.

Sometime last year (details deliberately obscured) I found myself in one of these family conferences. The patient had suffered a catastrophic brain injury as a result of an extreme sport. The neurologist was mostly confident that the patient would survive, but with significant impairments that would require ongoing medical support and would never live independently.

The family decided to proceed with transitioning to comfort care. To extubate, and remove all medications and interventions except morphine for pain relief. This decision was not made lightly, because this patient had another family member who had experienced a traumatic brain injury and had made it known that they would not wish to be kept alive in that situation.

This was a point of friction with doctors, who often had to persuade families to transition to comfort care after stopping non-beneficial medical interventions. The family's idea of minimally acceptable quality of life was different than that of the medical team. But in the end, it is the patient's decision (or in the absence of decision-making capabilities, the proxy decision maker). And as the chaplain, I accompanied this family through the worst days of their life, made a little bit easier because the patient had made their wishes known about their minimally acceptable quality of life.

It is my prayer that everyone who reads this post would think through what "life" means to them, and share that with family members and close friends. Don't make your family guess. Give them the gift of sharing your wishes.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Spyhouse Coffee Roasters (Nicollet, Minneapolis)

For today's coffee adventure I set out for Spyhouse Coffee in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. This coffee shop had come recommended by several friends in Denver and it did not disappoint.

Spyhouse has three cafes (Broadway, Hennepin, and Nicollet) in Minneapolis. Beans are roasted at the Broadway cafe. I selected this location because it is relatively near my home. In terms of parking, Nicollet has one hour parking on the east side.  There is longer-term street parking west of Nicollet on side streets. The coffee shop itself is decorated in sleek mid-century modern design with plenty of tables and seats at the bar. There is free wifi and abundant outlets.  The espresso bar is expansive and you can easily watch your coffee being made. The downside to this coffee shop is its blaring music. It is too loud for conversation and WAY too loud for working. I tend to dislike loud music, although that may not bother some other people.

I had a mug of the Ignacio Gutierrez of El Salvadoran origin. It is said to have notes of "blackberry, allspice, and chardonnay."  I put a bit of cream and a small amount of raw sugar in it. This coffee had a rich depth to it and I could note a bit of spice.

The coffee was delicious and the space was welcoming, but the blaring music was too much for me.  I will give this coffee shop another visit to see if today was a fluke, but its just too loud for comfort.

Stories from the ICU: I see your suffering and I am not repulsed by it

As I unwind from my CPE residency, I have decided to share some of the amazing stories from my time as an ICU chaplain.  These are my best attempts to capture some of the fleeting and complex moments of those sacred hours.

This story comes from a night shift and from a call to the Cardiac ICU. I arrived at work to utter chaos. A patient had come into the Emergency Department in cardiac arrest. He coded twice in the ED, and much of the day chaplain and social worker's work that afternoon had been to find his family. There was one daughter who was camping in the mountains and unreachable by phone. Upon my arrival, the patient's son and daughter in law had been located and were at the hospital, although not in the patient's room.  The patient coded again and the physician begged me to locate the family. The patient was dying in spite of our best resuscitation efforts and chest compressions and intubation were non-beneficial. We tried never to have a patient die with a tube in their throat, it was distressing and traumatic for the family and uncomfortable for the patient. I tore off running to the family waiting area. Then the cafeteria. Then the chapel. And the parking lot. The family was ultimately located in their car outside the ED by an emergency nurse. We jogged to the CICU to what had to have been a horrible scene. Sometime in the course of the code blue, the patient had started bleeding and blood surrounded him on the bed, on the sheets and pillow and the floor. To someone accustomed to such things, it simply means putting on PPE, including plastic booties, a gown and gloves. So I did so. But to a family who belonged to that patient in the bed, it was devastating. The family was unable to bring themselves to enter the room.

The physician spoke with them in the hall and indicated that the patient was dying. The physician requested to extubate the patient and stop all heroic measures, as they were non-beneficial. The family gave consent. I stood with them outside the room as the patient's RN and respiratory therapist removed the tube. I warned them of the disturbing sound of suction. I stood with them in their suffering.

The patient began agonal breathing almost immediately. He was alone in the room and I went to his bedside. The family was frozen in the doorway.

Holding the patient's hand, I turned to them, saying, "He is dying. I will stay here with him and hold his hand so he is not alone. You do not have to come in if you do not want to, I know this is not how you want to see your father.  But I will stay here."

After a few minutes, the patient's son came to the bedside. He still was not touching his father. I said, "The breathing pattern that you hear is common for someone who is dying. He is not in pain, it is reflexive. Eventually there will be longer and longer pauses between breaths and then there will be a point where he will not take another breath."

The patient's son said, "Is it okay if I touch him?"

I responded, "Absolutely."  We each held one of the patient's hands, looking at his face, watching his chest rise ever so slightly. Until he was not breathing anymore.

Chaplaincy is standing in suffering. It is seeing suffering and not being repulsed by it. It is seeing the love and connection between father and son. It is about marking sacred moments. It is about bearing witness to love. For the opportunity to stand in a blood-spattered room and hold an elderly man's hand as he passed from this world to the next. To bear witness to suffering and not walk away. This is chaplaincy.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour (Minneapolis): Blue Ox Coffee (Chicago and 38th Street)

I recently moved to Minneapolis and decided to continue my Sabbath Coffee tour here.  The first stop in the Twin Cities is Blue Ox Coffee Company.  This is within a short walking distance of my home, so it seemed a natural place to start. Parking is available in limited quantities along Chicago, but traffic is always a nightmare and the corner appears to be a major interchange for several bus routes. So in other words, be patient with parking.

The coffee shop is large and well-lit.  There are plenty of tables and outlets along the walls. There is free wifi, and board games for entertainment. There is a full espresso bar, as well as about a half-dozen roasts of coffee that can be brewed in a Chemex or a pour-over.  This coffee shop gets their beans from Madcap Coffee, a roastery in Grand Rapids, MI.  There are pastries and other foods available (and gluten free pastries available on the weekend!).

I had the Ethiopian Reko roast, which was a savory and bright (almost citrus) flavor, with a little bit of milk and raw sugar. It was delicious.

Because this is my neighborhood coffee shop, I will definitely be making my way back to this coffee shop again!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Living with Intention

A.Hanson, Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015
I am just a few short days away from fulfilling my contract as a CPE resident here in Denver, and then I will be embarking upon a drive to Minneapolis, where I will be settling into newlywed life. I have a part-time job awaiting me, but otherwise, my days will be mostly blissfully unscheduled.

My soul is crying out for Sabbath. I have been pushing my mind, body, and spirit to the breaking point for about eight solid years now.  I have made ten moves, lived in three different states, finished grad school, finished a pastoral internship, finished a residency as a chaplain, came out, and also got married.

As I was reflecting on what is next for me, the one word that is sticking with me is "intentionality." I am tired of living in a place of reaction instead of intention.  I want to be in a place where I consciously make my decisions instead of life making my decisions for me.

Part of this sabbatical is to care for my body in gratitude for all that it does for me. At times I feel like I am an extremely astute mind rather unfortunately attached to a body that needs to be feed and receive rest periodically. I push my body to the limit on a regular basis (forcing it to go without sleep, subsisting on coffee and whatever food I can shovel into my mouth to make my stomach stop growling, and not exercising), and I know that I am relatively young, and this cannot go on forever. I have already seen the effects in my thirties and I am not interested in living like this anymore.

I will rest when I need to rest. I will stop going to bed with my phone and having a frenetic looping between social media sites be the last thing I do before I go to sleep. I will eat good food (and perhaps kick the sugar addiction that has been my nemesis for years) and drink more water than coffee. I will get exercise in a way that cares for both my body and my soul. This means not falling prey to the trap of having exercise become another obligation or another obsession. I will not punish my body into a running program or a weightlifting program, unless that is what it wants.

I will work on noticing things around me. Things that are growing, things that are changing. My wife and I have two dogs, and dogs are just about the best creatures ever at reminding us to live in the moment. I plan on walking these two adorable little crazies as often as I can.

I will work on creating things. I have always been a creative person, and somehow that got lost in the shuffle that is paying bills and going to school and being a grown-up. Somehow creative pursuits are just not as valuable as some other things. Which is a lie that the world tells us. Creating things is about the only antidote to the stress of being human. A life without a spark of art is not much of a life at all.  I love music, particularly creating choral music together with others. I threatened to take up trombone again (my instrument until 12th grade), and my wife suggested that while I was welcome to do so, it might hurt the doggies' ears. In the past I have also loved watercolor painting, quilting, knitting, felting, jewelry making, pottery, and screen printing. I am looking forward to making some improvements to our backyard and to doing some maintenance inside the house.

I will work on meditating, before it becomes critical. Meditating can be sitting quietly, walking, writing, prayer, or some sort of devotional. There have been way too many occasions recently where I have had to set a timer for myself and force myself to sit still in order that I might not jump out of my skin. I will settle deeply into my own soul and actually be present with myself. In other words, actually do the things that I counsel other people to do.

I will live with joy and intention as a newlywed. I will live life abundantly as I continue to be a part of a community of friends and people of faith in Minneapolis/St Paul.

Above all, I am making an intentional decision to realize that I am a person with a mind, body, and spirit, and I need to care for all those things at once. Come, eagerly awaited sabbatical. I am ready for you!

Sabbath Coffee Tour, Part IV: Huckleberry Roasters (Pecos Street)

For Part IV of my Denver Sabbath Coffee Tour I visited Huckleberry Roasters. This local roaster has a roasting room and a cafe on Pecos and 43rd (in the Highlands neighborhood) and a cafe on Larimer and 25th street near downtown.

This part of Denver is mostly older residential homes and this coffee shop occupies a corner of the block. There is a shaded patio, and a big front window open to the outdoors. There a few big tables (encouraging patrons to share), a couple small tables, and a bar. The space is open, minimally decorated, and seems to draw a large number of people from the neighborhood.  There is wifi and plenty of room for enjoying coffee and pastries while you work. Donuts appeared to be a big hit with everyone who was coming in.  Parking is available on the street, and is ample.

I was greeted warmly by the two baristas working when I arrived. The warmth exuded by these two made the experience truly wonderful.  I ordered a pour over, today's brew was the Rwandan Kibuye Gitesi, a bright and sweet roast. I just needed a little bit of cream. Once the coffee cooled a bit, it mellowed into a rich and full blend.

I mentioned to one of the baristas that I was engaging in this coffee tour, and he suggested several other coffee shops to visit. He also suggested some roasters in Minneapolis/St Paul to check out while I am there.

Huckleberry Roasters has been my favorite experience so far on this coffee tour.  The coffee was delicious and the warmth and community created by the baristas and patrons made this an excellent stop on the coffee tour. I will definitely be making my way back to Huckleberry Roasters.