Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It was a cool, crisp Friday night in October 1969. I was a young college junior who had just transferred to Wheaton College in the western suburbs of Chicago. What was I doing walking around by myself on these "mean streets" just a few blocks from the Cabrini Greens Housing Projects and not much further away from Old Town. Cabrini Green was a 4 square block area where over 20,000 people lived in cramped, run-down, overcrowded apartments. Gang violence, drugs, and crime were nightly occurances. Old Town was Chicago's version of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district. It was where run aways gathered, hippies stood on every street corner, tourists gawked and users bought and sold everything from marijuana and LSD to heroin and cocaine.

Just less than a mile to the east was the "Gold Coast" district - an area of expensive, high rise apartments, condominiums and exclusive restaurants, shops and businesses clustered along Lake Shore Blvd.

Here I was - a total neophyte to the big city, wandering around talking to strangers, inviting folks to come over to our coffee house ministry at the corner of Division and LaSalle. We called this practice "fishing." Unlike some other Christian groups who cornered people on the streets with tracts and hard-sell witnessing or else megaphone amplified preaching, our approach was to invite folks in for a warm shelter, a cup of coffee or tea, a place to shower, get fresh clothes, engage in conversation and listen to music. It was there that many, diverse folks were introduced to Jesus and found their lives changed.

That was a long time ago. We had Beatles posters on the walls, black lights everywhere. Wild, vibrant paint on the walls, bean bag chairs and pillows on the floor. For tables we used large industrial wire or cable spools left over from the public utilities company. The atmosphere was about as far different from church or traditional Christian hangouts as it could be.

Out in front, bikers parked their Harleys and on the corner of Division, the greasy but impelling aroma of Sammy's Red Hots was a magnet that drew people right to our door (I don't think it is still there but Sammy's sold the greasiest and best polish sausages in Chicago - smothered in grilled onions and dripping with grease from the hot french fries piled on top. MMM, I can still taste those - literally, I think I can still taste them 40 years later.

Anyway, those memories came flooding back to me as I was walking the "mean streets" of Enumclaw this morning. Funny you should ask "why?" Because I was headed to Lindon Books to meet some folks for coffee and to talk about the vision Calvary has for a coffee house ministry right here in our little town. Yeah, that's right, in this coffee-glutted area where Espresso stands are on nearly every corner and the 'green mermaid' seems to hold a monopoly over every other roaster and vendor of caffeinated beverages, we are joining forces with our local independant bookseller to create a venue for great coffee, good reading, authentic conversation, live music and much much more. It is the 2009 version of what I was doing back in 1969. Wow! Deja Vu all over again, huh?

So, this Friday night (May 15) is the unofficial grand opening and debut of WIRED and it features a group called the PHEROMOANS (I am as curious as you are) who describe themselves as a local, indy, acoustic folk band. In the mean time we are lining up groups for Friday nights during the summer. We also may do some open mike poetry and music. We very likely will have a trivia night or two. And everyday, there is free WiFi and fresh espresso from Longbottom Coffee out of Hillsboro Oregon.

It doesn't sound very churchy does it. It may not be as radical as my 1969 coffee house. But in the same vein, it will be a place where people can come, relax, have a good cup of coffee, and talk about important stuff; spiritual stuff; whatever. No preaching, no altar calls, no offering plates. Just the kind of place I think Jesus would probably hang out in if he were present on earth today. I think it is often in the market places where people gather - outside the sometimes closed confines of institutional churches - that people engage their minds and their hearts and meet Jesus. We are praying that people meet Jesus because they meet some people who are his followers who live out their faith authentically and are at ease talking about it naturally with others.

While we see the music and wifi appealing to some who are part of a younger generation, it is by no means closed to others who want to come in and browse the shelves, surf the net, share a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend or with a stranger, or simply have a few moments of quiet to themselves - away from the hustle, routine, and pressures of everyday life.

So come on out and get WIRED. Tell your friends and family about it. I had a great cappucino there this morning with my friends. I may go back for another cup this afternoon, just to try the wifi and outline my sermon. Maybe I'll see you there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Just another day

What do you have planned today? My guess is that, if you are like me and like most people, you didn't stop to think beyond the busy-ness of your schedule; the appointments you have to keep; the responsibilities you have to fulfill; the birthdays or anniversaries you can't forget; the bills that have to be paid. Daily life for most of us becomes a routine. We get into those routines and then seldom pause to think about what life would be like if that routine were interrupted.... especially by some life-changing event, phone call, chance meeting or profound spiritual revelation. If you are like me, you just assume that the plans you have made and the relationships that you have come to take for granted will be constants - maybe even things you take for granted.

"Now listen, you who say ' Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why you don't even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will we will live and do this or that.'" (James 4:13 -1 5)

Who are the important people in your life? Have you told them you love them and that they are special to you? Who, in your life, are you at odds with? Have you sought reconciliation with that person? What important tasks are sitting on your desk...not just the mundane, daily chores of everyday life... but the things that you really value and want to accomplish? Will they still be sitting there tomorrow, waiting for your attention?

Did you pause this morning to pray? Did you say thank you Lord for another day of life? Did it occur to you that perhaps you should submit your plans to God, realizing that in gracious providence, the Lord may have something different for you than what is on your agenda?

May 8th, for the last 12 years, has been the occasion for me to remember that I can't take a single thing for granted any more. It sounds corny, but the slogan seen on some bumpers which reads "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" is true. Each day provides an important reminder to reconsider priorities; evaluate activities; renew relationships and live life to its fullest because, in fact, our lives are a mist and we don't know what tomorrow will hold. In some ways, it could be just as accurate to say that "Today could be the last day of the rest of my life."

12 years ago today, I was living in the delusional bubble that I was in control of my life and that my daily routines, my plans, my goals, and my relationships were all on track and that I could assume I would have the next day, and the next day after that, and the day after that to do what I wanted to and what I had planned on.

So, I was going about my daily routines with that mindset. Getting ready to make a move from Las Cruces, NM to pastor a church in a new place called Enumclaw, Washington, I went through the paces of doing my usual stuff plus preparing for what I assumed would be a fairly non-eventful transition to a new pastorate. One of the tasks on my agenda that day was to show our church's bus to prospective buyers from a church in El Paso.

The appointed time - which I had entered into my infallible day planner - had come and past. Our buyers weren't there. So I was just leaving the parking lot to go home when they pulled in. I hesitated but then went back to meet them as had my friend Bob who was an elder and the mechanic who took care of the bus.

To make a long story short, 30 minutes later, I was being loaded into an ambulance to be rushed to Memorial Medical Center. Bruised, battered, partially paralyzed, and fighting for life, I came to realize that my closely planned schedules and plans for life were tossed into complete disarray. Fourteen weeks of hopsitalization later, several surgeries to mend broken bones back together, and hours of therapy, and I was a changed longer in control of my life.

I can't tell the whole story here. Perhaps if my book is ever published, you can read more about the events of that day and the ensuing lessons our family learned as a result. For now, just let me be a voice of reminder to you not to take today for granted.

The chance to play some jazz with my group for a Ladies' Tea this weekend seems like a great gift. Being able to go work out at the gym - even though I don't like spending 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer and stationary bike - is a special privilege I didn't think I would ever have. Just being able to walk downtown to hand out some posters and flyers for our church's new coffeehouse venture seems like a blessing today and and activity that twelve years ago, I would have taken for granted. The coffee I bought from Starbucks tastes just a little richer to me today. So, I think I will stop writing and finish it while it is still warm. Thanks Lord for the gift of life today.