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The Lessons, a big table

In art,Bible,church,Community,devotional,faith,family,food,Fun,generosity,Uncategorized on April 19, 2014 by mstevensrev

BKP_0070There was one special lent and easter while I was a minister at All Nations Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.  I was responsible for the Sunday evening service we referred to as Tenebrae, it consisted of about twenty regular people that attended, we lit candles and used liturgical format that was more in line with high church when compared to contemporary churches.  Since we had such a small group we would regularly try to incorporate things into the service sometimes for the good and sometimes not.

During Lent one year we decided to create a banquet table at the front of the church during a time of reflection early in the service.  The table would be set in stages and at the end of it, at Easter, it would culminate in our Easter Service being a meal together.  The first week I remember the table alone being set out, then each week incrementally we added an element that would eventually be part of our meal including wine, chairs, plates, silverware, candles, napkins, and of course the food was amazing on Easter. The meal we enjoyed together at Easter was a joy and will go down as one of my favorite memories of my time as a full-time minister in Oakland.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_21r_The table was set in order for people to come and they did.  We had artist, software developer, gay, straight, white, black, Asian, religious and irreligious. There was room for all of us.  As I have reflected on this event biblically since one of the biggest problems the early church had was who you were allowed to eat with and who was invited to the table.  Peter got it wrong.  There is also a reading of the Older Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah that deconstructs the story being about sexual sin, rather this reading reasons the condemnation of  the city is because they were inhospitable to strangers that were not like them and lawless.

One thing I appreciate about my current job is the belief that when people eat a meal together there is a better relationship, trust is established at a deeper level, and in the best circumstances you enjoy each other more.  Jesus had the reputation of being a lush because of all the parties he went to and who he ate with, and who doesn’t want to be like Jesus. My table has expanded and I want many to eat and drink with me, my vision for the table is more grand then I ever expected.

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The (free-range) Chicken Theology of Work

In art,Bible,church,Community,culture,design,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,food,Friends,Fun,Japan,Localization,mission,movies,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 11, 2012 by mstevensrev


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My theology of work is forever changing and evolving, and one place that I journey with others on this path is at Kiros, once or twice a month depending on my travel schedule I attended the breakfasts meetings they put on where they often have a speaker share some perspective on living out their calling as a Christian in the marketplace.  As a side note I also had the privilege of speaking to the group last March, if you want to check that our it is here.  This last Friday Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary provided one of the best talks I have heard on the topic, his stories had us rolling on the floor, his theology was simple enough a child could understand while making thoughtful people think, and his love of the scriptures came through as everything was driven by the text.  The premise of Richard’s talk was very simple, you have been called by God to your work and you have the opportunity to examine that calling in this life to better understand your ‘responsibility’ to live out that calling in your fullness.

There were so many rich stories to share but my favorite was one Richard shared about a friend who is a chicken farmer who examined his role in the plan God has in raising chickens on his farm.  There is a tension when you come to farming or the role animals have on this earth and the tension is this: Animals are not people and animals have not merely been created to serve our purposes.  Another way to say this is a chicken won’t write Shakespeare, but a chicken is not merely a piece of meat.  Therefore this farmer thought deeply about the theology of raising chickens.  He came up with this, “God wants every chicken on our farm to have the opportunity to strut his/her chicken self infront of the other chickens.” In that theology I hear echos of the local farm movement as described to me by Mark Canlis, that the goals of these farmers is to have their cows (or other animals) only have one “bad day” in their life.  That day would be the day they are slaughtered. Though the image Richard provided me was so much more winsome because I see in my mind that chicken strutting around, rather than focusing on the bloody chopping block.

This can be a helpful premise for chickens, but I propose that people cannot think deeply about these issues because we don’t recognize that we have been created to strut the glory in which we have been created, theologians refer to this as being created in the image of God. Marianne Williamson was famously quoted in a speech by Nelson Mandela, she says,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measureIt is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The knee jerk reaction people, especially from my theological tradition have, to this kind of thinking is that we are sinful therefore pride and arrogance must be guarded against. This warning is fair but it sets up a false choice between humility and glory.  Jesus lived in the fullness of God and yet was extremely humble.  He accepted all people as equal, he did not use them as means to an end, the only part I would add to our responsibility in the area of humility is that we recognize that we are wrong intentionally because of bad motives and unintentionally whereas Jesus did not have this struggle because he was God…he was perfect. One friend of mine says, “I’m wrong 50% of the time, the hard part is that I don’t even know which 50%, but God is making me better.”  Live out in the glory that you have been created in, be quick to acknowledge when you fail at it, and in gratitude acknowledge that the source of every good gift in your life is not your own but rather a gift from God.

The question that Richard’s (free-range) Chicken Theology brought up for me is, how do you apply this in the darkest valley’s of your career and work? In the past two years before my current job I walked through a few of those valleys, the struggle of broken promises that would not reward me for my work, getting fired, and having a job where I felt lonely and hopeless.  How do you strut your stuff in those circumstance? I asked the question and Richard’s answer was twofold as I understood it, in thinking about it I think there may be at least third option as I understand it.

Richard said first your current circumstances may be preparation for the next step.  This rang true for me because I look back on the last two years and acknowledge that I would not be currently living in such glory without all that I had gone through.  The experience humbled me, gave me fearful experiences that I persevered through, and provided tangible knowledge that assists me daily in my current job.  Learn everything you can if you are going through a hard time, examine your character, life and work for there could be something on the horizon you are completely unaware of that will be a blessing.  This answer provides hope, but the truth is like a chicken we are completely ignorant if our future date is the chopping block.  And yes I know that even for the child of God the chopping block is not the end of the story because there is greater glory beyond, but I still find this answer a part of the overall answer rather then complete.

The second answer Richard provided is that your vocation could be less then the sum total of your calling.  Our callings are greater than our work, I sell therefore I am a salesperson yet I am a father, husband, churchman, and the list goes on and on.  Perhaps your work is merely a platform that provides you the freedom to pursue the other callings in your life with greater glory. I have met many people in my life that this is the circumstances they live in, they are lawyers but their passion is to see the gospel forwarded in particular countries in the world like China.  The short side of this answer as complete is that we were created in a garden where all aspects of life were intended to work for God’s glory, so when we set create an arbitrary distinction between our work life and home life, for instance, it is impossible to live as God intended…as a whole person.  I know for me personally when my work life was hopeless it was very difficult to enjoy my time at the park with my children, most of my conversations with my wife were in tears clouded by depression.  This is why I contend again that work as a platform merely for the rest of our life falls short in allowing us to live gloriously.

A third option I want to propose does not answer the question fully either. As a matter of fact I sense that used incorrectly it could be the most damaging of the the options as it is the most deterministic and could create an undeserved heavier burden on someone already struggling. This option is the most Taoist or Confucius of the options, and because of that I think it is the most practical (in touch with how the world really functions and how our role relates to that functioning).

A documentary came out recently titled, Jiro dream of Sushi “by David Gelb takes a look at the work and life of Jiro Ono, a Michelin three-star sushi chef who, at 85 years of age, continues to work on his craft every day at his tiny restaurant in a Tokyo office building basement opposite a subway station entrance. His colleagues, his country, and at least one very knowledgeable food writer recognize him as perhaps the greatest sushi chef alive.” This description is taken from an article on Lifehacker by Maximiliano El Nerdo Nérdez.  In the article titled Lessons We can Learn from Jiro Ono, Maximiliano encourages readers as his first point to fall in love with your work.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Deciding on your occupation is a challenge for we live in a society that provides the opportunity to live in reasonable comfort regardless of your job or if it is in line with your calling.  The hard work is not finding a job, it is discovering calling…once your calling is discovered or rather accepted (if you are a Calvinist) then the path of occupation is more clear though it may be a difficult path.  Part of my calling is as an evangelist, meant that for a time my occupation would place me circumstances to lead people to a similar vision of my spiritual practice though for most people I talked with they would not share the same vision.  So I became a pastor of a church in Oakland, CA.  The church had financial challenges from before I started there, attendance was poor, and it was in a city that was not necessarily supportive of the entire scope of work we were pursing.  The path for me as an evangelist was not easy.  Now that I am in technology services my calling as an evangelist has not changed, but the path is much easier in many ways, and the path still allows me to live out my glorious calling while dedicating myself in excellence to my occupation.

Today I want to encourage everyone, strut your stuff in front of us other chickens. If you are in a dark valley, remember your current occupation (or lack of occupation) could be a learning step, a platform for other work, or the place you have been given to dedicate yourself.  Even as I write that I believe the answer is all three not merely one or another.  When I worked in a church we began each service with a call to worship, and I would frame the call to worship and the entire service with these words, “The good news for those God loves is that he has the first word to us and that first word is always blessing. God loves you and has made you in his glory! The good news does not end there rather God has the first word and the last word.  The last word of those God loves is also blessing, you have been delivered.” So regardless of your circumstance remember you have been created for glory and you will be delivered unto glory. Amen.

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Doing things the right way, Caffe Torino Seattle

In business,culture,food,Friends,Fun,Localization,publicity,Uncategorized,work on November 2, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

ImageJust this week I was able to catch up with an old co-worker friend of mine Andrea Florissi, who I worked with for a number of years left his role as a Senior Project Manager to open a cafe.  The last few months have been amazing to see and a delight to hear the story of how Andrea took his time in this venture of a lifetime and his dedication to doing it right now shows!

Andrea told me it took so much longer to find the location the he realized.  One spot that he thought was ideal took a very long time and ultimately didn’t work our.  Now he has the newest cafe in South Lake Union, just a few blocks from REI, this could be one of the hottest areas in Seattle, and a great place to start a cafe.

ImageWhile I visited when the cafe was still under construction, Andrea mentioned to me the special drink that they would offer to make the unique in the city of Seattle.  Needless to say it sounded like the Italian version of voodoo and I was not a believer, especially since my favorite coffee shop is on block away.

So after stopping in to say hi a few days ago, I turned to the employees working that day and yell, “Alright hook me up with that secret drink!” which is called Bicerin.  The drink was described to me as a mix of Italian hot chocolate, coffee and cream.  I took one sip and it changed my life.  My favorite speciality coffee drink in Seattle has been a Vivace Mocha.  Generally I do not drink Mochas but the richness and bitterness at Vivace has made it my favorite drink for almost fifteen year.  Vivace has competition, the chocolate in the drink hangs on in an amazing way, needless to say I was blown away.  Only later did I find out that they use Theos Chocolate for the drink…amazing.

So if you want to try something new on the Seattle coffee scene go check out Andrea and Cafe Torino.  The food looked great and they have free wireless, so it has now become my shop for meetings in that area of Seattle.  Andrea did things the right way, and I hope you get to enjoy it! Check them out on facebook too.

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A thanks and what I learned from my first race ultra-running and how does it apply to the rest of life.

In Books,business,Community,culture,exercise,faith,family,food,Friends,Fun,humor,quote,Reading,running,Spiritual,Sports,Theology,Uncategorized,work on October 28, 2012 by mstevensrev

Yesterday I participated in a twelve hour race less then a mile from house called the Carkeek 12 Hour, which is marketed as the worst race in the world.  It is twelve hours of a two mile loop on poorly marked trails and approximately 400 vertical feet every loop.  You begin a six in the morning in the complete dark with headlamps and go until six in the evening.  And now the results, I WON, okay I didn’t win the most number of loops, I’m not even sure if I won the costume contest (I was Waldo from Where’s Waldo, pretty clever if I do say so because it was easy to run it).  I am certain I WON the prize for most smack talking in the race, I think I met every runner and had a blast getting to know them, in addition I accomplished my goal for the race and finished with a smile on my face, clearly I was the day’s winner.

Before I start talking about what I learned from the experience, I’m sure some of you have some questions:

Q. Did you run the whole time?

A. Depends on what you call running.  I averaged about 4 miles per hour over my race.  So my questions is how fast do you run? I kept moving and other then some adjustments to my costume throughout the race I kept moving, there were laps I completely walk these laps often were when I was eating.

Q. Did you say eating?

A. Yes, I ate good.  One of the sponsors of the race was Seattle Biscuit Company, @SeattleBisCo and it was amazing.  I did tell them if I had a Biscuit Truck I would have a picture of someone’s butt in the logo and an African-american woman named Flo serving them…perhaps for their second truck SBC will do this;)  
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They offered us food included in the cost of the race, so I took full advantage I 
had two eggs, bacon, and ham over grits, and two biscuits.  One biscuit with jam the second with Apple butter.  It was amazing, many runners stick with Goo and other sports products that make me want to puke.  The candy they provided was great initially but I noticed that I would crash from the sugar about in the second lap after eating it, so SBC was my savior and was one element of the race that made my experience unforgettable.  Very grateful for the amazing food and wonderful service from these guys.  They even laughed when I told them that, “If I crap myself or throw up I won’t blame you guys..” That is a line that could really be taken poorly by the wrong person.  So if you are in Seattle find this food truck, you will not be disappointed.

I’m glad to answer any other questions related to the race, my experience, and my training for it (actually I didn’t train specifically for this race, I’m currently preparing for my triathlon season next year…this race was just for ‘fun’).  As I ran there were a few things that came to mind that I wanted to share, principles that I applied that I thought applied to both my personal and professional life, check it out.

The Plan

Going into the race I spent a good amount of time mentally planning, I don’t just hop out and try to go running for twelve hours without thinking it through.  The course record was 33 laps, approximately 66 miles and 13,000 total vertical…keep in mind Mt. Ranier and Pike’s Peak are 14,000 vertical feet.  I knew if I ran the race of my life the best I would do is 30 laps, so while that was in the back of my mind it was not reality.  I set an achievable goal of running 15 laps (30 mile), which would be the longest distance I have ever run (6,000 vertical feet which is two trips up to Snoqualmie Pass) this was a goal I would be completely satisfied achieving.  Since the trails are only .5 mile from my house I spent many training runs exploring and enjoying the trails so they would seem familiar to me for the race, I did not run more then two laps for any training run because I didn’t want to get sick of the course before I even got to the time of the race.

During the race I executed my plan.  Some ultra runners are so remarkable they can push their bodies to run an entire course like this one for the entire distance of the race.  That is not me.  I knew for me to survive the day walking was important.  The course was marked the opposite direction of what I had trained and there were a few areas that I had never run and was unfamiliar with.  Thankfully at the start of the race in the pitch black I was able to run the first lap with a few people including ‘Big Bird’, an extremely gifted woman ultra runner who had completed the race the year before.  This lap was much faster then I had anticipated starting but it was worth it just to have someone take me through the course, honestly it was tough for me to keep up that first lap but I knew in the long term for the race it would be to my advantage as getting lost would have discouraged me from the start.  After that lap I was able to reorient my mind going the opposite direction from what I had anticipated, the parts that I thought I would run downhill now became areas to briskly walk, the hills I anticipated walking now were opportunities to bomb down, within the first hour of the race I had completely adjusted my thinking and honestly I think it is one of the factors that kept me mentally fresh.

Most of my life I have lived without a plan, only in the past five years has planning enter the equation.  Having a plan with stretch goals and achievable goals is important, otherwise as Yogi Berra famously said “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you going, because you might end up there.”  This applies in my personal and professional life, plans for the next month, year, and years into the future are important.  These plans are not set in stone but they are the maps for the trails of my life, I can always vary from them if I want to see a view or if a hill seems too difficult to climb at the time, but at least I know (on some level) why I am where I am at in any given moment.  Even when wandering because as someone once said, “Not all who wander are lost.”

Winning and being competitive

The reality is there are amazing ultra athlete’s in the Pacific Northwest, I got to witness these men and women first hand yesterday.  And yes I’ll admit many times during the day I fantasized about what it would mean for me to finish with the most numbers of lap, and in my fatigued state I may have even thought it was within my grasp.  So I ran competitively, at the point in the race when these amazing athletes began to pass me I played a game with them, though they had no idea.  They would come up behind me and as they got closer I would incrementally speed up, this had two advantages as I saw it.  Here were people already working harder then I was early in the race, this meant they would have to work even harder perhaps even harder then they had anticipated.  Once you see someone often you determine regardless of your pace to pass them, so you do what is necessary to get by, this meant I could ‘fool’ them into using more energy then they would prefer.  Also it improved my time, even though I was not racing at the same level as these folks I was able to benefit myself and my time by being competitive with them even if it was only for five or ten minutes while they passed me.  Again this was a complete personal secret that improved my time and kept me mentally fresh, it also made me better.

In life there will always be someone who is better then you.  Your chance of winning often is dependent on whether they show up to the race or not, because you have no chance of beating them head to head.  Whether they show up is not in your control, but if they do show up it is an opportunity for you to personally improve.  Take the opportunity to make yourself better and perhaps one day you will end up being the person that everyone hopes doesn’t show up to the race.

There were two ‘official’ ways to win at the Carkeek 12 hour, most number of laps and the costume contest. While I would have loved to win both or either of the honors, I created a third way to win “Best Trash Talker”.  For me this meant that I would talk with anyone where every on the course regardless of how bad or good I was feeling.  While alone on the course I would imagine what fun conversations to have with others and I created a catch phrase that I stole from work “Gitty up!”  When I would be passed by the most serious of runners for the second of third time I would accuse them of using their car or cutting the course short. Knowing the truth, that they were just better then me, I didn’t let a little truth get in the way of me connecting with others on the course;)  This created a bond for me, one that I began to enjoy seeing these folks even though they were kicking my butt, and my hope was that they were enjoying seeing me because they knew they would get some entertainment value when they passed the guy dressed up like Waldo. At one point I came upon the aid station and said to the crew of people who were assisting us, “I don’t want to be a tattle-tail but unless Hippie Runner is a costume I don’t think anyone ahead of me in the race is actually dressed up in costume, can you disqualify them so I can win?”  It lead one runner who overheard me say this say that he was dressed as Lance Armstrong and has a blood bag full of horse blood that he was going to run with later in the race.

Chris McDougall in his epic book Born to Run, discuss the evolutionary theory that humans were pack animals and each member of the pack plays an essential role for survival.  At the core of the ‘pack’ theory is that we are created for connection with each other, frankly I believe connection is key for our existence as a species.  Yes, my trash talking talking was a means of connecting more deeply with my pack yesterday.  One more popular example I relate to this has to do with trash talking and the NBA.  Rumor has it that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were/are two of the greatest trash talkers in the history of the game, not only two of the greatest athletes every to play basketball.  I draw a connection here to their athletic performance and their connecting with people.  Just to clarify, trash talking is not merely swearing at people or telling them the are worthless pieces of trash.  Trash talking is connecting more along the lines of “your mother dresses you funny”. Clever thoughtful words used to engage your competition mentally.  You don’t have to be a great athlete to pull this off, you have the opportunity even if you are average to make a deeper more ‘human’ connection.  Since none of us are machines operating through life we have the chance to enter into another reality through engaging conversation with people. Take this opportunity today, if you have the skills in an area to back it up then the world is your oyster.

Gratitude

A few months ago I read with a book club Chris McDougall’s Born to Run, and it was the inspiration to participate in the Carkeek 12 Hour. I am grateful both for the book club and the book itself to have provided the soil for me to grow as a person, I could not and would not do something so insane without others.  We do not change the world (or ourselves for that matter) alone.  I have hard people say, “Even the lone ranger had Tonto.” Yesterday the people that made the race possible were the race organizers (Sam and Brock) and the folks that volunteered to run the aid station.  Many of these folks probably would have preferred to be running the race themselves and instead they made it possible for me to enjoy the day and have an experience of a lifetime.  During the race my goal was to show my gratitude by keeping these folks entertained.  Somewhere around my seventh loop I came by the aid station to check my time and laps.  When they told me how many I had run I said, “Crap I am going way too fast, if I keep running this fast my intestines will fall out my asshole.” While they were still laughing I added, “I know because I’m a doctor.”

Regardless of where you are in life you did not get there on your own, I don’t care what any politician tells you.  People help people and often especially as Americans we forget the fact and continue to move forward.  Make sure that you find someway to say thanks, a grateful heart leaves no room for bitterness.  I am so thankful for my family, friends, co-workers, race organizers, and crew that made yesterday possible and make everyday of life possible.  Each one of us has dark seasons, during my darkest times I have taken to the intentional practice of gratitude.  At the end of the day I will light a candle and reflect on all that I am thankful for starting with the beginning of my day and working through until the end, often I will do that twice because it is very hard for me to think in a linear manner for any length of time.  Once your mind is oriented in this way go out and practice acts of gratitude.  In our family we emphasize saying the words please and thank you, showing others their proper value.

C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, is fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  Yesterday was not without me being flippant or superior toward other, therefore I know I have a long ways to go before ever achieving this goals.  Regardless I am grateful to Sam and Brock and the crew who made such a wonderful event possible.

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>Have been cooking

In family,food,Fun on November 1, 2007 by mstevensrev

>Since Taitum has been born I’ve been in the kitchen! It has been great because normally working late prevents me from making any sort of meal worth talking about But these last few days I’ve really gone all out and Karin and I have enjoyed it. Karin said to me we should think of opening a restaurant, which I think she just said to be nice and because some good friends of ours are talking about it. My thoughts on it are this, it is the rare restaurant that makes lots of money. So it would not be the best investment. Also I don’t really love cooking that much or serving people. What I love is to eat! Eating is what motivates me to throw down in the kitchen. And I often prefer to eat things others have made me! So perhaps investing in a restaurant would be the way to go…only if it is close to my house and I could eat there regularly:)