a personal collission of coffee, christ, and culture

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Latte Art? Really?

Yes. Really. Latte art. Those little pictures make your average barista giddy. Its a beautiful illustration that shows the barista’s skill within, dedication to, and understanding of his or her profession. It has a tendency to magnify who is the most accomplished. It also can give some bragging rights and credibility when it is performed with precision. It brings encouragement and builds community among like minded baristas because it shows that you are passionate and actually care about what is often viewed as “just a job.”

I have heard things like… “Making latte art shows that you have properly pulled your shot and steamed your milk. It shows that you know the dynamics at play.” I have also heard things like… “Latte art is cool I guess, but I am more be concerned with what is going into each cup.”

My allegiance lies with the first opinion, and my opinion on the second is that additional time could be spent forming it.

When I became a barista back in April of 2009, I thought latte art was so cool. All I wanted to do was get on that machine, steam that milk, and drop some mad art. Initially this is what my mindset was, and my growth as barista showed it. My milk steaming sucked… as did my shot pulling… as did my bar hygiene. All I wanted to do was make art, but as I soon found, its not that simple.

I think fear of this kind of barista drives that second opinion mentioned above.

Art is cool, but what about everything else? I couldn’t agree more, but art will come naturally when all that other stuff is in-line. Its the fruit of your labor and the proof of your love. As a barista, I have a lot of affection that pours along with that textured heart or rosetta. Those “cute little pictures” symbolize me giving my dedication and passion away to my customer. Sharing a big part of myself with others.

My latte art is the culmination of my dedication. The hours I have spent learning the dynamics of milk so as to steam it properly. The time I have invested in understanding how ground espresso responds to the demands I place on it. Increasing my understanding of dosing, leveling, and packing a shot and then taking that knowledge and making them a consistent practice.

All of this is expressed through my pours.

 

 

 

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Defining Ignorance

“Its not who you are on the inside, its what you do that defines you.” These words were spoken by Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, and thought it was a suiting way to start this post. I don’t intend to define the term “ignorance,” but rather show an ignorance that defines one’s character.

Ignorance is such a negative term in our culture. Even when used in a correct way, with no negative connotations, as meaning “lack of knowledge” its always taken in the worst possible way. People always get so fidgety around the term.

Been reading a book that I would like to pull a quote from. “These are people who do not have to invest a lot of reflection in doing good for others. Their deeds are ‘in secret’ no matter who is watching, for they are absorbed in love of God and of those around them. They hardly notice their own deed, and rarely remember it.”

Dallas Willard writes these words and is commenting on the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 6 in particular. Jesus remarks that when we do a good deed, we should not let our “left hand know what our right is doing.”

“‘Don’t think of elephants. What are you thinking of?’ ‘Elephants.'” This line from Inception illustrates the inability to not think of something by commanding it. Of course if you set out to not know, or be aware of an action, you must be aware of it on some level in order to “not be aware.”

Seems like there is more at play here than simple “rule following.” This is why I love the Gospel.

“The Gospel? You mean that whole Jesus died for people thing?” That is precisely what I mean. But to boil it down to just that I think is a disservice. Its a disservice because the thing that typically follows this is (solely) some kind of entrance into heaven following death thought. Again, something I do not push aside. But what if the aim of Jesus’ death is not simply for our “eternity” but our “reality” also?

Jesus certainly taught like our lives here are important. Going back, this is why I love the Gospel. It impacts everything, past, present, and future. And it aims at our character. The very depth of our being. The aim of Jesus’ teaching, and the life that he brings his disciples (and not just the 12) is to alter our heart so that loving our enemies, and praying for them too, is the natural outcome of the heart.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to love or pray for your enemies. Its tough. When we mention (or think of) loving our enemies, we usually get (or think of) 2 responses. (1) Why!? or (2) Yea… Thats a tough one… 1 reveals our unwillingness to love our enemies and 2 reveals our lack of belief that its really possible in a consistent fashion.

Can we really be blamed for these responses? This is the traditional Christian view, right? Well, no… and yes. I am not going to be so blind as to say “Yes, we deserve blame!” Of course we do. Be it an active “Why!?” or a passive “Yea…,” we still neglect loving a person, on some level at least. But, I also understand why we would say we do not. I understand the struggle to “keep our heads above water.” Often we just try to get by with the best we got. Our intentions are aiming for the stars, even if our actions sometimes fall short.

What if our actions always reached our aim? What if we could do away with our aiming sight altogether, so as not to aim at all? What if the striving to “keep our heads above water” was no more?

Maybe the whole point of Jesus life, death, and resurrection is to give us ignorance. To free us from the fight to be selfish or caring. To alter our character so foundationally, that love to God and love to people just comes to us.

Maybe he wants to make “the good” our defining characteristic.

I know that attaining this isn’t easy. It costs me daily. The more I seek this, though, the more I am pleased with the changes going on within my heart.

The cost is there, but its worth every penny.

Privacy Please

Discipleship has been on my mind as of late. This is one of the main things that we have been discussing at my church for the past several months, and something that fortunately is always progressing. What exactly is a fully-functioning follower of Christ and how is one made?

First of all I would say that community is a big part of this. Whoever came up with this “personal decision” stuff, well you gotta give it to ’em, it sure does sound nice. The thing is that our lives in Christ are never meant to be solely “personal.” The New Testament is full of stories of believers who are intimately, even dependently, connected to their church. There always seems to be a community structure to the Christian discipleship we find in the bible. I would contest that we must strive for this as well.

To do so though, we have to understand that our faith in Christ has a huge bearing on all other avenues of our lives. I see many folks compartmentalizing their lives, as if one area never intersects with another. Sure this keeps it nice and tidy, but I say screw nice and tidy. I want something gritty, something real, something I can touch and feel and share with other people. Something that impacts not only my small little world, but that has the capacity to expand out into the world of those I come in contact with everyday. The barista that gives me coffee everyday. The server at my local pub. My friends who I love and care for.

I don’t care for people just so that that I can share in their living and moving and being. Don’t get me wrong. This is a part of it. Rejoicing in the triumphs and comforting in the failures are some of the sweetest moments in life. But I hope that my life serves as a sharpener for my friends lives. I want to challenge people forward to excellence, and I want them to challenge me. If my buddy has an opinion I think could use some tweaking I want to challenge it. I say this only because I would want the same from my friend.

Do we have this view of others who share our belief in Christ? Would we welcome a challenging word or would we claim our privacy and shrug it off?

I admit, my idealism gets the best of me at times. I have said in the past that if folks are believers, if this belief is shared among two or more, then get close because encouraging and challenging relationship is at your fingertips. Don’t loose the opportunity to be sharpened, to be honed by a fellow believer.

The more I live, the more I see that intimacy is a big hindrance to this. Do we really want every person down at the church to know our business? Of course not. We reserve that information for a select few. Think of your 3 closest friends. You have shared things with these you haven’t with anyone else.

But 3 people? Lets assume those 3 are couples, at best thats 6. I choose the number 3 because that is about how many close confidants I have. I of course have others, but the closest? We are looking at about 3. We have to expand our possibilities. I have to expand my possibilities. Think of the resources that are out there, and we relegate the bulk of our best personal development to the opinions of 3 trusted people. Now those people I am sure are great, but we also probably trust their opinions because we have deemed there opinions closer to the truth, or what’s best for us, than everyone else’s.

I fear that what we do is seek advice from people who think and feel like us, who share similar value systems, who have a life that we admire.

But what about those we know who have nothing we admire, but are great people, with a love for others, and have wisdom to give away. Let’s assume that these people share belief in Christ and for good measure are committed to discipleship. Let’s also say their political opinions are not aligned with ours. We don’t particularly like the way they run their house, or manage their finances, or raise their children.

We can’t say that the way they do these things are wrong. We can even tell you that they are just as valid as our own. Their level of happiness and contentment is even on par with ours. We know that “results” and “success” are being born from their lives.

But because of our distaste for how their family, finances, household, and political views have been formed we will never, never seek their advice or opinion on anything of substance. Think of the treasures we have yet to discover that could be lying in what, in many ways, we may deem a wasteland. They share at the foundation a reliance on Christ and an acknowledgment of the kingdom of God, meaning that a striking similarity is shared between us and them. But because of this or that, we would never ask them what we should do with our money or seek understanding of a political stance or social stance.

I think about this, and you know what I come to? Maybe our understanding of the kingdom of God and dependency on Christ is so small that we think that it only produces one kind of mindset. And this kind of mindset is unable to learn from and glean from a person whose experience and faith has shaped them in such a different way as our own. Maybe we have been the ones compartmentalizing all along. I think this kind of mental and political rivalry is a severe detriment to the unity and love of a community’s shared life in Christ.

I remember my first philosophy course in college and the sheer joy I felt in giving and receiving such a vast amount of knowledge. The fun thing was that we all disagreed with one another. There was cursing and arguing almost everyday, but we never left with a stick up our rears or with bitterness toward one another. We at least heard each other out, and found that thoughtful, intelligent, caring people came to some pretty screwed up conclusions.

That last bit was a joke if you missed it.

I pull this experience out because it is very similar to the church, the only difference is when believers are together we know that there is a shared faith in Christ and a shared longing for the Kingdom of God.

Ideally, these two facts should form the foundation of all our pursuits. Assuming this were true, what if we came to fellow believers with this, trying to share with each other how we came to view finances this way, or child rearing that way, in light of Christ and the kingdom of God. If we are so different, but are all striving to the same goal, think of the opportunity for personal and corporate development at our fingertips.

I personally feel that all this privacy can get a bit lonely at times.

Brew-ha-ha!

Found this nifty site on brewing methods last evening:

http://www.brewmethods.com/

Check it out!

Systems are down!

The more I work behind a bar, the more I am convinced that systems are important. What do I mean by systems?

Say you have 2 folks on duty for the morning: one on register, one on bar. Say register is in charge of food prep and bar is in charge of drink prep. Systems are the rules in place for these 2 people, such as register does not get on bar and bar does not get on register. Register does not prep drinks and bar does not prep food.

I have seen so much unnecessary scuttling due to systems not being in place. I feel that a bar runs smoother, quicker, and more efficiently when systems are utilized.

I have heard critics of this say that the customer comes first, that if either register or bar is free they should just hop on over. In theory I think this is good, in practice maybe not so much.

If both employees bust their butt to do their job optimally, will there really be lag on either end? Now, of course the bar may have to rinse a blender or pitcher, leaving the bar unattended for 30 seconds. Yes, this is enough time to prepare a drink. And it could be easily done by the register during this 30 second lapse. I personally feel that the loss in organization during this time is a much stronger hit than a person having to wait 60 seconds as opposed to 30 for their drink.

Systems, although not perfect, I feel beat the alternative. There are so many facets to bar maintenance that culminate in smooth operation behind a bar, examples include brewing and switching new coffee, refilling half and half pitchers, grabbing additional cups.  All of these do not result in immediate satisfaction for one customer, but instead serve a wider audience of customers over a longer period of time.

I would of course apply this same logic to slower times such as in the evening. Now certainly use your better judgment and I assume that if you are behind a bar without a manager on duty you have been deemed competent enough to deal with these issues.

On a more practical note there is no guess work involved here. Everyone knows their jobs at that particular time and if someone is a bit slow on the uptake, they will speed up after a few missteps with clear Systems in place. One has no one to blame but themselves for shoddy bar upkeep.

Feel free to leave your comments. My opinions on this are not completely concrete, but based on my observance of other bars as well as reading some books, this is where I stand at the moment.

New Blog much?

Folks,

It looks like the times are changing. I was spending time in my shop today just thinking during some downtime and a thought passed my mind. I know I care about some things more than others, namely what you see underneath that title… Coffee, Christ, and Culture.

A love all 3 and at least 2 of those need some melding, or at least aspects of them. Many know that I work as a barista. Fewer know that I work as a pastor. These are what need melding, and to begin that process I thought this blog may be a good start. I want to be involved in both worlds, the church and the coffee industry, a long time from now. Learning to work in and be passionate on both fronts is where things are heading.

“Barista Seeking Understanding.” Those with a background in philosophy may hear the echo of 11th century philosopher and theologian Saint Anselm, who coined the phrase “faith seeking understanding.” To Anselm, I believe the path of faith forever required understanding.

Seems my own path requires due diligence.