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Gratitude

I have been processing gratitude, or thanksgiving, all day long. I wish I could say the reason for my thinking is other than the day of Thanksgiving, but to say it isn’t would be a bit dishonest. The fact of the matter is that for me, being thankful… truly thankful… happens less often than I am proud to admit. Sure, I am glad that I have certain things, such as a job, a clear career path, continuing education, friends and so on; but do I ever really pause to gratefully experience these blessings? Not really. But there does come a day, once a year, that I am given a prime opportunity to experience thankfulness and give thanks in return.

The big question is, “What have I been thinking about today?” I have to be honest, my experience of the holidays is always a bit difficult for me as of late. There has been a slew of changes in my family the past several years, and my holiday season just isn’t the same as it used to be. I think a huge piece of this time of year are the traditions and memories you build with loved ones over the course of your life. Each year, we are granted the opportunity to come together again to reminisce about years past and look forward to things to come. Thanksgiving operates as a kind of signpost; we pass by it every year and are able to recall a year of highs and lows. Yet, at the end of it all, we come back together around those we love, recalling that we are all in this thing together, that we care for each other and no matter how hard things may get, people gather around to support us and stand with us through thick and thin.

Good thoughts for sure. But for me, well, things are not necessarily that cut and dry. Sometimes things go south, and the community you thought would always be there, turns up a bit divided. These things pass through my mind this time of year. Bleak, I know, but just stick with me. These things pass through my mind, but what also passes through my mind is what I am thankful for, and I mean truly thankful for. This year one word sums it all up for me: reconciliation. Reconciliation is the one thing I pinpointed this year as what makes my heart swell with gratitude. Its what keeps me going through it all.

Reconciliation finds its root with my faith. The root buried deep within the soil of my faith, the soil that gives birth to my life, both within and without, is that of reconciliation. Christianity is the story of a people divided from God. Through sin, I have been found empty, broken, and separated from God, and the story of Christianity is the story of the Triune God reconciling people to himself. Division has occurred and instead of leaving us in our mess, God the Father sent his Son to bring us out of it through his death, burial, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is sent so that those who place their faith in the work of Christ might know their reconciliation is secured. He brings us the identifying marker of knowing God as our Father, one who cares for us intimately and pours blessings on his children at every turn. My faith is placed within this narrative, and I have experienced reconciliation first hand.

Reconciliation does not end with just a “warm fuzzy” in my heart however. It could, and no doubt does for some people, but the Triune God’s love and amazing gift of reconciliation brings hope to me that all of the strife, anguish, and pain of human relationships are able to be brought to an end within Christ, the one who came to reveal God to a broken, frail humanity.

I have relationships in my life that need work, and because God saw fit to bring peace between himself and humanity… himself and me, even…I am committed to seeking reconciliation between myself and with those whom relationships have been broken. Sometimes these shifts in relations with others are caused by them, sometimes by me, and sometimes by something else, but the strength, determination, and promise of God to bring peace between himself and humanity makes my heart swell with thanksgiving.

Like a balloon.

Reconciliation is powerful. It is one of the most important things that two people can share. Its not an easy road and its not a fun road, but its a good road.

The goodness of reconciliation is why its been on my mind all day and I want to extend an invitation out to you to ponder this as well. The holidays are full of relational strife, and the only way for relational strife to end is through reconciliation. Reconciliation brings me hope, and if you know certain aspects of my life, you know how hopeless things could get. But over the years I’ve seen progress. Its slow, its unsteady, and if I don’t keep my eyes open I miss it. But if I pause and look, I see a beautiful tapestry being woven. Time is often what allows me to see this in its fullness, but reconciliation is what keeps me moving. I look at my relationships and I know that with effort and humility, my relationships can and will be restored.

I think of all this and I am thankful this year, but not for a job or money; these things I use without paying them any attention. They are taken for granted by me and to say that I am truly thankful for them would not be entirely accurate, not this year at least. But what I am thankful for is the process and reality of reconciliation. Friendships and relationships are what I prize and am thankful for above all else. So if you’re reading this and we work together, go to church together, are family, have a friendship, or interact with me frequently, know that I prize you and care for you immensely. I am committed to reconciliation first because my relationships are of value and for them to be broken is not worth it to me. Reconciliation is taught to me first through my faith; out of my assurance in Christ and his deep love in order to reconcile my relationship to him, I am assured that reconciliation is attainable across the board.

As this Thanksgiving comes to end, have a gratitude in your heart; love to you all!

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None Shall Pass

I read this really intriguing article on one of my favorite sites just moments ago, entitled “This Too Shall Pass” (http://artofmanliness.com/2011/10/09/this-too-shall-pass/) Obviously I couldn’t just rip them off for my title, so instead I ripped off Monty Python and the Holy Grail (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXY9TuuwyL8)

That article caught me because of its depth of simplicity. “This too shall pass.” After a really trying experience, how often do we tell ourselves this? Do we ever believe that things will pass? I, for one seem, to not think this as much.

In the above article a thought experiment is given involving the death of an eldest child. I think its pretty interesting in where it goes from there. The idea is put out there that most people, when given the possibility of losing something dear to them (in this case an eldest child), are very narrow in their conception of how they might respond to it. If you were to lose something dear, and then visualize how you might feel 2 years down the line, chances are you might not be able to envision 2 years of having new experiences but only 2 years of not having whatever it was you lost. We tend to not look months or years down the line and think, “You know, I might have lost this, but over the next 2 years, I will be traveling and sharing new experiences with friends and developing myself in my career. I will be jogging or riding my bike frequently and I will be reading new books and I will be going to a state fair.”

The article makes the point that when tragedy strikes, we think of our lives only in the context of not having whatever it was we lost in that tragedy. Visualizing 2 years and only thinking about being unfulfilled during those 2 years seems to be where utter loss places us.

This is too bad. Perhaps we should be borrowing a page from the Art of Manliness and remind ourselves that “this too shall pass.”

Those words really caught me by their simplicity. Its just a small, easy phrase to tell yourself, but the truth that it holds and the encouragement that it gives are, well, they’re kind of nice. Its a thing that I do not do often. As much as I would hate to declare such things, I think I may have some “worrier” in me. I process and think and really try to make good, informed choices and when tragedy strikes it seems as if all that time and effort I put into attaining whatever it was I was after starts to turn back in on itself.

That’s an interesting choice of words… “turn back in on itself.” Its like I can experience the joy of planning and preparation and feeling prepared but then when things don’t work out I can just as easily experience the pain of working my way back to the beginning, unraveling all my planning and preparation and seeing how maybe my choice or experience through that time was ill-informed.

Um, I am sure you don’t have to hear this, but that sucks. I am robbing myself of learning and growing from loss. I am robbing myself of experiencing where I am now. I am robbing myself of the opportunity to help and serve others during that time.

I stop placing one foot in front of the other and instead of knowing that I have a slew of new experiences ahead I just keep thinking things are going to be one big cycle of loss.

I think that so many people, too many people, are susceptible to this very thing. We go through a big loss and instead of progressing forward we freeze. There is so much more that will occur than just “open space without what we lost.”  I want to encourage you in this. Maybe things are peachy for you at the moment and if that’s the case, keep doing what your doing. But if you have gone through loss, of anything, regardless of the “value” (isn’t something only as valuable as what you think its worth anyway?) just gently remind yourself that “this too shall pass.”

Things move on always, but its not just into this massive void of unfulfillment, its a void that has not been filled yet. There are new experiences out there. There are movies to watch, sports to play, and festivals to go to. There are bikes to ride, friends to entertain, and food to eat. There is coffee to drink, paths to hike, and trips to take. All of these experiences serve us well in turning our future from an empty void to fullness.

Hope that serves you well, wherever you happen to be right now.


Trinitarian Practice

Trinitarian. Admittedly, this is a word we do not hear or use often.

We can trace the origin of the term “trinity” to the years 160-220AD and geographically to the region of North Africa. Its architect was an early church father, Tertullian. Tertullian was a caught up in a debate with a man names Praxeas, who asserted that God the Father and God the Son had no independent existence. Praxeas taught that God the Father descended into the Virgin Mary, became the Son, and then suffered and died for our sins. Praxeas’ rampant heresy inclined Tertullian to think and write, and it is from this debate that the doctrine of the Trinity began to to take shape.

From this squabble with Praxeas, Tertullian gave us clear expression of (1) The unity of God (biblically found in Dueteronomy 6:4), (2) The Father and the Son being distinct (derived from 1 Corinthians 15:24) and (3) The terminology which the church needed to express its beliefs clearly and precisely. The words he specifically gave to us are Trinity (three-in-one), essence or being (the Father, Son, and Spirit are one in essence), and person (used to express how God can be united in oneness yet independent in threeness simultaneously) (Shared Life, Macleod).

The doctrine of the Trinity is a complicated one to say the least. Already I have used the words “unity” and “independence” in the same breath, and a good head scratch may be in order. I think when many people come up against the Trinity, they tend to react in 2 ways: confusion or apathy. Apathy may sound a bit harsh here, but stick with me. Does it really matter if we grasp this doctrine as long we hold tightly to our Lord, Jesus Christ? We have somehow placed this idea in the periphery, and concluded that it doesn’t really matter.

I would conclude that it does. God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. Matthew 28:19-20 reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Interestingly, the text does not read that we are to be baptized just in the name of the Father, or just that of the Son, or just that of the Spirit. We are to be baptized into each.

In his book, Shared Life, Donald Macleod shares that it is unlikely “that they were baptized into a name of which they were completely ignorant; implicit in the commission was the command to teach all nations about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

That thought strikes a cord with me, and perhaps it does so with you too.

I come out of an unabashedly Christocentric theological camp. This is not something that I would change for the world. Being centered on Christ is a necessity because the Gospel, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, is where our hope is at once derived and to be placed.

Aside from this, I wish to observe Christ’s relation to the Father for a moment. There is a uniqueness to God revealed as Christ that is captivating. Christ is one of us. Christ is also God the Son. John begins his Gospel by referring to Jesus Christ as the “Word”: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is human. Jesus is God. Jesus, and he alone, can teach us how to uniquely, and humanly, pursue God as our God. He does this because he is human. He does this because he is divine. He also does this because within the trinity there is community.

If Jesus is God and yet we see him searching God the Father out in prayer time and time again, this shows that within the Trinity there is love and community shared between the three. We can take heart in the fact that community and intimacy is not just something that we practice toward God or toward others, but community and intimacy are practiced within the persons of the Trinity toward one another. This should have far reaching impact on our understanding, experience, and practice of Biblical Community within the church.

How does our understanding of the Trinity shape our practice of Biblical community within the church? This is a difficult question to answer. I am unsure if I have ever really given any thought to this. But I can honestly say that my understanding of the Trinity is a bit thin. I already said that I am Christocentric. Identifying with that seems to already move me away from being Fathercentric or Spiritcentric. I am eager to delve into this deeper because I want to have an ever expanding understanding of the character of God. It seems that expanding my love, appreciation, adoration, and devotion to God, as he has completely revealed himself, will only serve to increase my joy and my ability to communicate these dear truths to my church and others.

 

 

 


Perseverance through Patience

I have been rolling patience around in my head for the past month or so. Its been a needed commodity in my life, and one that I wish would follow the basic rules of supply/demand. If your experience is anything like my own, your demand for patience is never meet with a steady increase in supply. It usually works the other way. If we are not careful, all of this works to our detriment.

You may be wondering, “But how can this not work to our detriment?” It seems not getting what we need rarely is met with positivity. Perhaps this is tied to our desire for fulfillment, which is often times met instantaneously. I am a person of little patience and sometimes I think this is tied to the almost instant fulfillment of what I need. The one thing that I absolutely despise is coming home from a long day and having to conjure up a meal in my kitchen. I would like to think this thought was absent to those hundreds of years ago. Preparation was just part of life, whether that was traveling to town, farming, or preparing meals.

It seems that there is a deeper truth here though: the need for perseverance. I have learned that in order to persevere, whether we are just going through a difficult emotional time or trying to establish a new discipline, patience is needed.

This thought was flooding my mind this morning particularly. I recently began jogging several times a week. If you know me, you know that I have cursed jogging countless times before and it was an activity that I found little to no merit in; oh, how we change. I have been jogging for about 2 weeks and at the end of my morning jog there is this hill. Its not a mountain by any means, but to come at the end of my jog, it sometimes feel like such. The first day I encountered this hill, my legs began hurting quickly, so I walked the remainder. The next day I didn’t fair much better. I then got midway, and resorted to walking.

“Slow and steady, Thomas.”

Finally, this morning I did not stop at all. I jogged the whole hill and upon reaching my house, well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt good. I owe this perseverance to nothing other than patience. I did not try a new tactic to conquer the hill. I did not change my speed. All I did was the same thing I had always been doing, day after day after day. Through patiently pursuing my goal, perseverance was the result. I think these little example from life point to such grander concepts than we give them credit for.

This past week in church, I was up to bat (meaning I was preaching of course!). I pulled from Galatians which is about patiently waiting on Jesus Christ to form habits, practices, desires, concepts, etc. in us by walking by the Holy Spirit. I am a believer in pulling from the everyday to better explain and give some flesh to our concepts, particular within my life of belief, faith, and dependence on my Lord, Jesus Christ. My morning jog this morning caused these ideas to start swirling around in my head and all I was left with was gratitude for my perseverance within my life. It could be watching and experiencing love form in you for someone you honestly couldn’t care any less about. It could be watching your thoughts, demeanor, and emotions mature through a struggle you are caught in. Whatever it is, patience is the key to perseverance.

I was struck with the beauty of waiting. Waiting gets a bad rap often because we are so active. Isn’t waiting, and I guess patience too, defined by staying put where you are until something happens. Yes of course. But to to chock this up to inactivity is mistaken. If I were to throw in the towel after day one, I would have fell into the trap of impatience, and never conquered that hill.

“My legs hurt. This sucks. I will never reach the top.” That would have been impatience taking effect. But I just patiently pursued my goal. Do my legs still hurt? Yep. Does it still suck at times? Yep. Did I reach the top though? Yep. Of course my legs would have stopped hurting if I stopped running, but then my goal would not have been reached. I want to be careful to not just place importance on the goal. The journey to the goal is where all the maturity is developed.

Are you actively participating in your times of waiting? I guess that’s what I want to ask you. I want so many things in my life. Some of those are mine now. Some of those are not yet mine. Some of those will never be mine. But in the interim are we paying attention to who we need to become in order to claim what we want? If you have pursued something and it didn’t work, it could be because you were personally not prepared to take on the responsibility and privilege of holding it.

Paying attention to the goal but never taking heed of the journey, and the patience we must practice to persevere, often oversteps this practical, very active part of waiting. Its where we become the person we need to be so we may lay claim to what we most desire.


Slow and Steady Wins the Race…

2 weeks ago I left my coffee job of 2 years to pursue a new venture with Steady Hand Pour House here in the fine city of Atlanta, Georgia. Ever since then I have been wanting to sit and jot some ideas down about the shift but have not had the time until practically right now. I am sure we all know what it’s like to shift out of our routine. It kind of shakes things up and it can take a minute to get back into a routine.

Even though I would not say my routine is set by any stretch of the imagination, I would say that I am getting a better idea of what I need to work on with my new barista position at Steady Hand. I am finding that my habits of commanding a bar are being put to the test, and many of those habits are being replaced with new ones.

At my past coffee shop, the behind the counter space was easily 3 times the size as it is now. Some may view this as a bad thing, but I am huge fan of limitations. Limitations cause you to excel because your creativity is pushed to the limits. I know that some are not privy to the idea, but I always love the thought of doing more with less. Not only does it make you more creative, but it increases confidence and builds resilience. Getting by on less can make you stronger. Often I find this to be true.

However, my enthusiasm is not readily apparent when old habits are confronted and I know I must change them. After I have done something one way for 2 years, it pains me a bit to have to revamp and retool. But isn’t this what we have to do often? Whether its our finances, our exercise, or our relationships (or any number of areas!), always examining things and keeping up with changes around you can not only keep your head above water, but give you confidence so that you can dive below the surface with ease.

Sometimes I don’t always show it in the moment, due to fear, hesitancy, or nervousness, but I am truly thankful and excited to be guided in a new and, I believe, better direction at Steady Hand. If I am not progressing, whats the point? If I am not constantly changing, constantly improving maybe the towel just needs to be thrown in.

I think these small examples from our lives apply across various disciplines too. I know that all analogies break down, but let us try to at least be humble at times and understand that at no point will our perspectives be perfect. Some may be close, but even those can get closer. I think we know those positions we absolutely will not back down from. Those positions that burn within us, and leave their mark on others. But sometimes, myself included, we hold stringently and ardently to things that could use a new perspective.

Just like when I go into the coffee shop to work alongside people to learn and grow as a barista, we are alongside people all day, and I think one of the reasons for this, is to learn and grow as a person. I believe that a community’s capacities can, in many ways, outweigh that of the individual. A collective of individuals bring strength, solidity, and a combined wisdom that sometimes exceed that of the individual.

For these reasons, I am truly thankful to be surrounded by a collection of people who challenge me, who encourage me, and who place me within the limitations to excel.


A “Win” for Westboro

So, just checked my twitter timeline to see the news and happenings and found an interesting tweet by NPR: “Supreme Court Sides with Westboro Church on Funeral Protests.” My mouth fell to the floor and my mind starting churning. I read the article and my heart began hurting; my eyes started watering.

According to the article, the case was a landslide victory for Westboro: 8-1. Seriously. You read that right. 8 for and 1 against.

The reasons for the courts decision were many: free speech was adequately observed within a public space, without disrupting the funeral, with the help of law enforcement, without using personalized attacks, and in a calm and peaceful way.

The lone dissenter stated that the church “launched a malevolent attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability,” of which more can be seen here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/03/02/134194791/supreme-court-sides-with-westboro-church-on-funeral-protests

This truly is a prickly situation. Now, based off of discussion I have had with many people, the overall view toward Westboro Baptist is dislike. Hate would probably be a more accurate term. Everyone, save for a select few, seem to be on the same page about these folks. What they do is said to be terrible. Many would even say inexcusable. It seems devoid of care, concern, respect, sympathy, empathy, and understanding. There is no patience for others in their actions. There is a tremendous amount of ill will present.

I read about this case a long time ago and have been interested to see the outcome. I somehow knew it would not be triumphant. But now we are in a situation in which a precedent has been set. Can anyone try them again on these charges? Not sure. Allowance has been given. Its hairy.

Henceforth, the rules have been laid down. Given, its nothing that was not known. If I recall there is a collection of lawyers in the Westboro congregation. I am confident there is a fair amount of intelligence there. But its difficult to imagine anything being done about this from here on out.

But you know, it just makes me hurt. Yea, these protests will continue just as they always have. I have been following these folks for 6 years or so. They make me sad. They make my heart swell. Hate is horrendous. Whether physical, verbal, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or sexual, its horrendous. And I wish something could be done about it. Just to stop it.

“God hates fags.” That is a sign that is prominently displayed at the protests. In my mind you are bringing one of the most unacceptable terms into a public view with all kinds of people present. Its infringing on a person’s sense of security and safety when you do this. I mean, just think about it. You are taking a public, safe space and turning it into a hostile one with the flip of a switch. I think of the parents with children in the vicinity who are charged with explaining such a complicated, and hurt-filled, idea to their children. Heck, I think of the families of the funeral. Its an attack on them. Doesn’t intention even matter anymore? Yea someone may do action “A” or “B,” but when these actions or organized as to explicitly correlate with a funeral… I mean…

That is what I don’t get. I also have a vested interest in these folks because they represent me to an extent. They are a church, of which I attend and work at. They are a baptist church, of which I…wait for it… attend and work at. They are reformed in their theology, of which I also am. They claim love for Jesus I am sure.

It is such a tough, complicated scenario, one that has no easy answers. According to our nations highest court, they are protected… perhaps even allowed.

To see these folks… well it just hurts.


Barista…Maturity…Progress…

There is this feeling that we get at times that hits us hard. Its a feeling of development, maturation, and continuance. Perhaps continuance is a little off. Continuance signifies an “ongoingness” but what I want to convey is growth; suppose the best term to use is progress.

That’s a bit how this past week has felt as a barista. Its kind of fun to talk to people about what I do. The question is posed, “What line of work are you in?” I shoot back, “I’m in the coffee industry. I work as a barista.” Sometimes I get a chuckle. Sometimes a cute little stare. Sometimes a blank face because the term “barista” is not well known. Even now, spell check tells me that it is not correct. So I explain that I am a coffee maker. Lattes, cappuccinos, and the like. I work behind a bar and make drinks for people.

Beneath those stares, and chuckles, and blank faces, I often get the idea that there is not a lot of respect being shown to my line of work by the general populace. I was there too once. Often you find baristas working behind the bar, who also have their hands in some other jars as well. I, for instance, am a pastor at a church. I think that “other” occupation gets the bulk of attention from our customers.

“Gotcha. So you are a pastor who makes his money by working at a coffee shop.” The sentence itself is a bit misguided. It assumes that even I disrespect my role as a barista in favor of my role as a pastor. Not only that, it assumes that I do not have a role, I just “work at a coffee shop.”

This past week the SERBC was in town. That’s the Southeastern Regional Barista Championships for all you non-Coffeephiles. I attended some events associated with it as well as the competition itself. I was astonished by the entirety of it all; the passion, the commitment, and the professionalism.

I say bravo to all industry professionals that were in town. Seeing competition is great. I love competition. It always improves you and causes you to excel. But I really wish people could come take all of it in. Normal people. The customers that I serve daily. To many, I am sure, it just looks like a competition; a chance for coffee shop employees to spread their wings for a weekend and add some undeserved gravitas to their position. But seeing the dedication and genuine care that baristas, shop owners, and roasters show for their industry, an industry that they believe in, is wonderful.

I have seen it in how they carry themselves. I have heard it in their speech. Most of all, I have felt it through being around so many people that are drawn to something larger than themselves.

They are drawn to the coffee industry. Its an industry made of people. Yes, there is espresso. Love it. Prize it. There are lattes. Incredible. But before all that there are people. There are farmers all over the world. There are people who work directly with them to understand their work and facilitate harvesting their crop. There are buyers and coffee companies. There are roasters. There are baristas. There are customers. There are so many people connected.

Its an industry full of humble people who love excellence. That is such a powerful force. I think a passionate driving towards excellence is often attributed to the prideful. But excellence driven by humility… that is a site to see.

I hope that humility defines my pursuit of excellence also. I know that I can get proud at times. I know where I excel and I know where I want to excel. I had a conversation this week that ended like this: “There is no room in this industry for people who are only concerned with their own little slice of the pie. If you do that, your slice is gonna go stale.”

I don’t want my slice to go stale. I don’t want to be driven by an understanding that I am better than everyone else. That I know more. Of course there will always be times when I know more than someone else about a subject, but in no way does that necessitate that I feel better, or more deserving than someone else. Humility trumps pride. It comes out on top because it invites others to the top. It has room for more. The pie always expands. You know that when more people get to the top, if more people succeed, then the pie expands along with them.

Maybe through the pie expanding, our individual slices will expand also.