Category Archives: Thankful Tuesday

Tuesdays are for Thanks: Coffee

It’s six o’clock in the evening, I look forward to what I want to accomplish before I hand over to God my meager offering of my efforts today, and retire for the night.

Making my way to the kitchen I set in motion a most wonderful ritual, the beginning of which releases a strong and rich aroma that fills the air.

Assembling my moka pot, I tighten the upper and lower chambers. Held within is the ground coffee which has been through so much over its lifetime: plucked from the branches which had given life, separated from its flesh, roasted, and ground. The final step in the lifespan of a coffee berry is contained within these two sealed chambers of aluminum.

Moka pot

Momentarily, a flame will be added to the bottom and the lower chamber will heat, build pressure, and force the water up through the perfectly proportioned ground coffee. This will cause the water absorb the flavorings which the ground beans so selflessly give up, and finally collect in the upper chamber.

While coffee is simple, it is also complex; while it is considered hearty, it is actually quite delicate.

Coffee requires a balance between water, ground beans, and time. All three proportions are important to ensure proper extraction from the beans to result in an aromatic, flavorful, and balanced beverage. If the water gathers too little flavor, the result is under-extracted: weak, sour, and tasteless. Conversely, if the water collects too much, the result is over-extracted: bitter and offensive.

*

I need to wait and watch so that it does not sit too long and spoil. As I watch the flame lap the bottom of the pot, and the water heats, I think about the pressure that is building inside. Pressure is crucial. Without pressure, the water will never ascend through the chambers, it will never finish its journey.

I wonder what the coffee grounds feel like. Having experienced so much already, I wonder if this searing hot pressurized water is even noticed. Perhaps it is so numbed by the many prior assaults that it is no longer able to feel anything. Perhaps it feels every step of the process, each experience etched into its body, concluding with this one.

*

I can hear the beginnings of the brewing process, and I slightly open the lid to observe the steady flow from the spout. The fruit of the union between bean and water begins with foam but quickly transforms to a liquid with a deep red hue.

Coffee

I think about pressure, about balance, about over- and under-extraction.

I reflect on my over-extracted life which results in a similar way, bitter and acrid, deeply longing for balance.

Before I drink, I say a quick prayer for life — for the vision to perceive balance, and the courage to seek it.

**

Today I am thankful for coffee — for the joy it brings and for the lessons it can teach.

What, dear reader, are you thankful for?

Tuesdays are for Thanks: Snow

Linking up today with Micha Boyett

I am a life-long resident of the north, and I still like snow. During the same time that seemingly everyone around me is pining for spring and swearing that they will move to a warmer climate by next year, I am basking in it.

I love many things about snow, and none of them are original. I like the way that the sunlight shimmers off of it, I love the way that it gets caught in my eyelashes. I love how it speckles my view as I visually take in my surroundings. I love how it crunches and squeaks underneath my feet.

In my second winter after moving from the west coast of Michigan to Milwaukee, I’ve become increasingly disappointed in the lack of snow that is seen on this side of the Lake. But now there’s snow on the ground.

Deciding to enjoy it, which as of late has been fleeting, I embark on a short walk to my favorite coffee shop (have I ever mentioned that I love the city?). I live on a residential street just off of the main drag through our neighborhood. Once I rounded the corner onto the more oft-traveled street, The roads were well-melted as salt, plows, and the warmth from moving cars has transformed the intricately woven lace that we call snowflakes, into an unholy intermediate state somewhere between water and snow.

Blocked from view by a building, but yet audible, I could hear a rumbling ahead of me. Before I could move out of the way, a bus, apparently trying to make up time from being off schedule, rushed past me, and in the meantime, sprayed the slush which was collecting at the side of the road, directly onto me.

At that moment, I declared to the universe that I hated winter, and snow. There was nothing beautiful or enjoyable about it.

Walking back home, I take a side street to ensure that I would not, again, get assaulted by slush-gone-awry. Just a block in my new direction and what I appreciate about snow and winter has returned in all of its glory, aside from my additional cold from being a bit wet.

Snow isn’t all good, that’s for sure, I thought to myself. But, in just a few minutes I have seen that it isn’t all bad, either.

Truly, it is much like anything else in the world. We need water to live, but too much of it can kill; we need heat for warmth, but too much of it can burn.

The world is full of this: good things which have a shadow side. This is what the world is like, as we all live east of Eden.

***

I return home, change into dry clothes, and make a pot of coffee to warm my frozen body from the inside out. I think about my call. My call has many struggles, but perhaps in all of these there is something wonderful about it.

There once was a field, and after the farmer had planted it, someone else came, who didn’t like the farmer and planted weeds in the field while the farmer slept. When the crop began to sprout, the farmhands saw that there were weeds growing up amidst the wheat in the entire field. The farmhands asked the farmer if they should remove the weeds. “Wait,” the farmer said, “let them grow together. If you pull out the weeds, you might pull out some wheat. We’ll separate them later.”

The common interpretation of this parable is that Jesus is talking about people, the righteous and the unrighteous in the world. But perhaps there is something else as well, that it is more broadly applicable. Maybe this is why bad things continue to exist, for in rooting out all that is bad, we also uproot what is good. It is possible that in our lives, some bad things still remain because there is good there that is anchored to it.

Working for justice can be tiring, and as both you and I know full well, we will never completely eliminate injustice. It can be easy to give up. Stop working for good and simply acquiesce to the way things are. But we continue working for good, in our lives, in our cities, in our world, all the while knowing that the bad will never be eliminated. Maybe some bad needs to remain, at least for now, because good is tied to it in some way that we cannot see or discern.

Perhaps I am like snow. I’m certainly not all good, I am full of failures, wrong turns, and unholy slushy messes. But perhaps I’m not all bad, either. And it is quite possible that this tension is a good thing and not something of which to be ashamed.

Today I’m thankful for the lessons that I have been taught by snow.

What, dear reader, are you thankful for?

Tuesdays are for Thanks: City Reformed Church

Walking up the several concrete stairs, I think of the songs of ascent, sung by the faithful of ancient times as they went up the steps to the inner court of the temple to meet God. I am not ascending the steps of the temple, these are steps to a Methodist church building — a space which is rented on Sunday evenings. Through the big red doors, and into the warm narthex — the steam heat warming my nose and ears, previously exposed to the cold Wisconsin wind. It is four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, and the sun is kissing the Western horizon as it treks to the other side of the globe to bring light and warmth to those in far away lands.

I take a bulletin from the bench ahead of me, and enter into the sanctuary. The musicians are beginning to congregate. The pianist warms up the keys, the acoustic bassist plugs in the cord which will allow us to hear the soft yet chest-vibrating bottom to the musical accompaniment of congregational song. The guitar player opens his case and fixes the strap to the two pegs on either side of the body. The violist tightly holds his instrument between his chin and shoulder, playing each note slowly and carefully, finely tuning each string, slowly turning the wooden friction pegs at the head until each note sparkles with perfection.

“Hey all!” my beloved calls to them. She pulls out music and heads toward the single microphone perched atop a stand on the floor right in front of the chancel steps. Here, everything takes place on the floor in front of the chancel. It provides a holy intimacy Word, table, and fellowship.

She is singing this evening.

As the musicians begin their rehearsal, I settle into my typical pew: far left section, third pew from the front, second space in. Close enough to the front for my beloved, who must travel there several times during the service, and far enough from the front to be comfortable.

It is not uncommon for me to be at a church building in preparation for a worship service, however, right now I am not the one engaging in this act of preparation. In the service that follows, I will not stand before the congregation, I will not speak to the congregation. I will not preach a sermon, I will not pray out loud, I will not even read scripture. This is not the church that I pastor.

When I am able to come to Sunday evening services, I am not a leader, I am not a pastor, I am no one special in particular. This is what is so life-giving about it. I come simply as one of the faithful who desperately desires to meet God and experience grace.

This is a gift which reminds me of who I am. Strangely, this can so easily get lost in the shuffle of pastoral work. I so often feel as though Christianity is my job, not my identity; as though scripture is simply source text which I examine and exegete, rather than a living message pointing me toward God; as though Jesus is a product that I sell rather than the one whom I follow. But on Sundays like this one, I am relieved from seeing religion as an object, and I am afforded an opportunity for subjective experience.

This wonderful, welcoming, and loving congregation has been a deep conduit of grace for me in the midst of many desert-experiences, many of which I have shared with you here. My beloved and I never cease to be amazed at how we have been enfolded into their community, knowing full well that I shepherd another church and that I will likely not be a permanent part of their community and ministry because of my own ecclesiastical commitments.

The ability to be a part of a community, the ability to be able to, as a broken person, stand shoulder to shoulder with other broken people, the ability to seek grace and the Divine without having to possess all the answers — all of these things are things which I am immensely thankful for.

I am thankful for City Reformed Church in Milwaukee.

What, dear reader, are you thankful for?