So, I made it to Portland. I'm writing to you from Stumptown Coffee where I just paid a ridiculous amount of money for a cup of coffee that was grown in Guatamala and hand picked and roasted by farmers who were just here yesterday. It's honestly one of the sweetest cups of coffee I've ever had and I drink a lot of coffee. It is rich with meaning, warm with expression and it traveled to be here with me. One of God's perfect gifts when done right. Of course, it took time and intention. I know that's why I'm here in Portland - to invest in me - to put as much thoughtfulness into the story I'm writing with my own life as I do in the one I write for companies and non-profits in Madison.
So the journey begins....
This is a city of contrasts. As I look out the window, there is rain but the sun is shining too. My umbrella is naturally, back at the hotel. The hipster scene is alive and well - creativity and self-expression abounds.
Last night, I viisted former Blackhawk teacher and Hebrew scholar Tim Mackie's new church, Door of Hope. As I looked around, I said "It's just like Blackhawk!" and we both laughed because it isn't at all like Blackhawk. The people are young. The atmosphere is gritty - like the basement in that 70's show and the people - the people are earnestly seeking while living out loud. The music was like top shelf Whiskey. Raw, honest and loud. The spirit was invited in from beginning to end. The people were, well, cool.
The message wasn't safe. Tim's new counterpart here in Portland began by talking about C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. "Whatever their bodies do affects their souls", writes Lewis. Indeed. And then he carefully wove a message into the audience about how humanity is made in the image of God and our bodies are meant to be a living sacrifice to Him. "If the heart is wrong, the body follows", Josh said.
I also visited Imago Dei yesterday. I've been following Imago Dei here and there every since I read Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz. The "Rick" he talks about in the book wasn't teaching. Hugh Halter was on the stage. Hugh lives in Denver. He's published a number of books. He's candid, unpresumptious and unpretentious, intelligent but not genius. He's every guy but with a heart that beats for Christ.
He talked about a woman he met in a bar in Brooklyn or Manhatten. I forget exactly where he was at but I remember the story. Her name was Fiona. Hugh had kind of had it with organized religion. He had started a church but left to avoid a split. He was "consulting".
It was then that he met Fiona in an Irish Pub. He didn't even want to tell anyone that he had been a pastor or that he was with a bunch of pastors so he didn't when she asked. She eventually pushed a little and he told her and she came back at him with everything she had.
She had been from Ireland. She had seen so much in the name of religion. She had lost people she loved. Whoever this Jesus was, she wanted nothing to do with him.
He listened and then he talked - not trying to convert but to understand and share their common humanity. Before he left the city, he came back to say good-bye to her. When he walked in, she introduced him to about 15 of her friends and said, "You have to listen to him and what he knows about Jesus."
Truth transforms all of us. But first we have to care - sincerely care - about others. Hugh touched on 3 of the beaatitudes - blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the poor in heart and blessed are the meek. Pure heart. Dirty hands. Begin by listening. Then meet them where they are at with the heart of Jesus beating loud and clear. They will want to know more.
In about 90 minutes, I'm walking into the Armory with about 400+ other people who want to write a story worth living. I don't know what to expect exactly but I do know that God is here with me on this trip. Sometimes when I travel alone, well-meaning friends will think it must be tough. But that's the thing - I'm never alone because He is with me. He provides at every turn. I had dinner with new friends at the Living Room Theater. Two people from Wisconsin gave me a ride home from church yesterday morning. The woman sitting next to me on the plane is going to the conference too. That's our God.
Thank you for praying for me in this place though. He hears us and when you're on a mission or a journey or an adventure in His name, ground cover is esential.
I know that God makes each of us for a purpose much greater than ourselves. We are like the coffee I'm drinking if we choose to be. Our lives can be rich with meaning, bold with purpose and designed precisely and perfectly for a time such as this. The pen is in our hands though. What kind of story will you write?