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.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sabbath Coffee Tour: Part III, Amethyst Coffee (11th and Broadway)

 For the third stop on my Denver Sabbath Coffee Tour, I checked out Amethyst Coffee at 11th and Broadway. This light and airy coffee shop (with a Scandinavian style, mid-century modern vibe) serves coffee from Commonwealth Coffee Roasters. I cajoled my friend Vince into joining me, as he is also a big fan of coffee.

This coffee shop is in the remodeled/reclaimed Broadway Plaza motel building which is now called the Metlo. It is a haven of shops and artistic spaces. The coffee shop is in the former front desk space. There is a small parking lot in front, metered parking available on Broadway and non-metered parking on the side streets.  Parking tickets are given in abundance along Broadway, so make sure you feed your meter or watch the street parking limits (usually two hours on side streets). The atmosphere is quiet and open.  There are plenty of tables, a couch, some armchairs, and a shaded patio. It would be a great place for writing or working.  There was no music playing, just the doors open to the patio, with ambient street noise, which I find preferable to loud music in coffee shops. The barista working was friendly and helpful, and patrons were hanging out on the patio with their dogs.

I ordered a cold brew coffee over ice.  Today's roast was the Ethiopian, a light and fruity roast. The coffee was smooth enough that I drank it without cream or sugar. Usually coffee is too bitter for me to enjoy without doctoring it up. There is a pastry case, but by the time we arrived (around 11:30) there were no pastries left.

This was delicious coffee!  I highly recommend this coffee shop both for its delicious coffee and for its comfortable atmosphere.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

It doesn't just stop with a free lunch…a sermon on John 6:24-36

A sermon preached at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO. 

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Triune God.  Amen.

I wasn’t originally going to preach on this text.  I was going to preach on a text from Ephesians that talks about unity in the Holy Spirit and I even went so far as to write most of that sermon. But this Gospel text from John, the bread of life, has not let me go.  The word “life” in this text seemed to really grate on me this week. As I read the texts and prayed, I also experienced one of the most challenging weeks in my career as a chaplain, bearing witness to 8 deaths in the last 48 hours, along with the trauma, illness and pain that happen in every hospital. I've not been thinking about life, I am thinking about mortality and death. I feel like the crowd, having a hard time understanding what Jesus is saying about eternal life. They ask, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we might see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” In my work, where I see so much suffering and death, I plead to God, “Give me a sign so that I can believe you when you say that death is not the end!”
I have been earnestly chasing Jesus for a sign just like the crowd that we hear about in John’s Gospel. The crowd followed Jesus to Capernaum because they witnessed a miracle in the feeding of the 5,000.  They want to make Jesus their king by force, because they were impressed with the loaves and fishes. When the crowd catches up to him, he says “I am giving you eternal life, my body and blood, and you don’t get it.  You are happy to just stop with a free lunch!”  Jesus tells the people, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life.”
The crowd was stuck in the broken time of now, unable to see the holy not yet. Their hunger, a sort of physical hunger that is hard for us to understand, compels them to have their stomachs filled and their hunger pangs quieted, and until the needs of the present are cared for, it is really hard to see the promise of what is to come.  While our stomachs might not growl with starvation in the same way as the crowd gathered around Jesus, we too are stuck in the broken time of now. We hunger for justice when we hear about yet another Black American killed by a law enforcement officer. We hunger for answers when we learn of stabbings at a gay pride parade in Israel. We hunger for forgiveness for the ways that we continue to oppress our brothers and sisters of color through systemic racism. We hunger for life and for good news and for the promise of the Gospel when we battle shame and despair and depression and addiction everywhere around us.
Jesus says to the crowd, consumed by their current hunger, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”  Do not be consumed with the brokenness that you see now, but focus on the promise of all that God gives you.  And the crowd asks, “What do we do to secure these promises for ourselves?” And Jesus says, “Nothing. The work of God is to believe in him whom he sent.”   
And the crowd says,  No, really. There has to be something. And give us a sign so that we can believe you about the whole eternal life thing.  What are you doing so that we can believe?  When our ancestors were doubting the presence of God, they were given manna in the wilderness by Moses.”  And Jesus says, “ It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but my Father who gives you true bread in heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  Still perhaps wishing for a nice sourdough or rye loaf, the crowd says, “Give us this bread always.”  Jesus proclaims, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
Jesus says the same to us, “Do not be consumed with the brokenness of the world, but know that God is among you, the bread of God has come down into the world.” We think are better off than the crowd because we know that Jesus talking about himself and we know the rest of the story, but we still struggle with believing what Jesus is saying.
Perhaps because we equate believing with intellectual understanding.  If we just had enough evidence, enough signs, if manna of some sort could be provided, that would be great. But having faith is not about comprehension and making a reasoned decision based on carefully considered facts.  It is about an encounter with Christ. It is Christ coming into the world for us, and saying, “Come to me, I will feed you from my very body.”  And it is about us bringing all of our broken pieces and our open hands saying, “I am hungry.”
What if believing that Christ is the bread of the world is not about understanding what it’s all about, but about a willingness to come to this table each week with our hunger? To say, “I have no idea how this works. But I am going to eat anyway because I am hungry.”  Our pastors declare each week during the invitation to communion, “Behold who you are, become what you receive!” We are all Christ’s body, we are all Christ’s beloved.  When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we share in his life and death and resurrection. We are reminded of Christ in us and around us. We are reminded that death has no dominion. THIS, the bread and the wine, THIS is the sign for which we cry out when we hunger, when we are surrounded by fear and shame and death.
Hunger is not the end. Pain is not the end. Fear is not the end. Even death is not the end. And because it is really hard to remember that, we get to be reminded each week when we eat the bread of heaven as we gather together around this table.  I am hungry to be reminded that death is not the end, even though it surrounds me everyday.  I need to be fed so that I might have the strength that comes from Christ to continue to do my work in the hospital. 

How are you hungry? How does this sacred meal feed you?