Tag Archives: community

talking coffee

smiling coffee cup“FYI to Brands – Trust does drive sales. 10 mins of tweets will now lead me to try McD’s coffee. Simple example, but true.” @cc_chapman

“The real point of the coffee conversation? Coffee is relational.” @jnswanson

“It unites us.  Coffee can do that. What else can we talk about and be relational? @debworks

Some friends were talking about coffee, talking about what kind to drink, talking about how they like it fixed. It was, in a sense, pointless conversation. To anyone who doesn’t like coffee–or twitter (which is where the conversation was happening), there was little of value in this conversation.

Of course, as Deb pointed out from Iowa, it is a common denominator. It is a safer topic than religion and politics and the Red Sox/Yankees/Cubs. But I think it is something more than merely a safe topic. It is a topic which relates to a ritual with warm emotional attachments for many of us (pun partially intended). Many of us delight in the process of making coffee, of drinking it as we think, read, converse. A cup of coffee, for many people, symbolizes both contemplation and community.

I know that many of us also drink coffee for the perceived energy. It keeps us awake, alert, wired. In that, it is the antithesis of reflection. But such uses, if they were all coffee represented, would not be the source of a conversational culture.

Thanks for the conversation this morning, friends. And the relationship it both reflects and extends.

Give me a present, love someone else.

Jon SwansonIt’s birthday time again. I turn 51 tomorrow (July 10).

Last year I put up a list of 8 things to do for my birthday. It led to a number of really nice stories of people helping other people. So I decided that I want the same things again.

1. If you know someone who can’t afford to go out to lunch with your office group, slip them a $10 anonymously. Bring them into community. (If you don’t know someone, send something to the local rescue mission.)

2. If you know someone who is fighting cancer or Alzheimer’s or panic attacks or depression, sit with them, listen to them. (To know how, see Jim Hughes.)

3. If you know someone who locked up for something they didn’t do–or even something they did–send them a note. If you can, visit them. Talk to them. The people I know who have been on “ankle bracelets” could use someone being kind.

4. There are people who go shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army. They can’t afford more than the $2 for a pair of slacks. So pack a bag and drop it off.

5. Sometimes people get to demand your time (bosses in particular). Throw one of those people off-balance by offering to help on the next part of the project.

6. Shake hands with someone who no one else will touch. Or at least look them in the eye and talk to them.

7. Tell God that you can’t figure everything out yourself.

8. Find a little kid–a niece, a neighbor, your own–and listen for how they talk about what they believe. Listen to their trust.

That’s it. Do one of those things for me. Tell them Jon sent you.

(It will be easier to explain an internet friend than explain that Jesus said these things, too, in Matthew 25.)

What I learned from community

We went to commencement. We didn’t expect a speaker. When we looked at the program, we discovered that there was a speaker. E.J. Dionne.

I hear him on NPR. I hear him on TV news programs. Although we aren’t always in the same place, I always appreciate his thoughtfulness and balance.

His address was great. For the first graduating class of the new School of Communication at Loyola University, his balance of religion and journalism and communication was perfect.

andrew and allie celebrate graduation(In fact, it was the high point in a ceremony where the high point should have been the conferring of a degree on Alica (uh li sha)  Christine Markland. The name called was Alicia (uh lee see a)  Charlene. We were so confused, we didn’t clap. And Allie was our real reason for going to commencement. Allie and Andrew have been dating for more than four years.)

After the ceremony, Allie’s family and our family went to the reception. We talked and mingled and celebrated. After a bit, I looked up and realized that E.J. Dionne was in the room, having dessert and talking with graduates.

I thought about talking to him, asking for his autograph. And then I thought, “that is so uncool. Besides, why would he talk to you.”

And then I remembered my new friend Glenda. A week ago, Glenda and I were at the same conference in Chicago. The day before the conference, Glenda went to visit Oprah’s studios, just to see where they are. For Glenda that meant steering her scooter two miles on Chicago sidewalks in the rain.

All I had to do was turn and look in his face and say “hello.”

I turned and asked. We chatted. I have his autograph on a page of my little moleskin next to my notes on his address.

How is this about community?

Glenda Watson Hyatt and Jon Swanson

Glenda Watson Hyatt and Jon Swanson

Community is when you hear the voice of a friend, even a new friend, telling you to climb down off your silly false pride and say “hi.” (Though she would never say it that way. She would be far more gracious).

Thank you Glenda.

And thank you Robert for the invitation to write about what I learned from community.

Photo courtesy Chris Cree

8 ways reading a book together helps you learn

I meet monthly with a group of guys. We talk, we pray, we make decisions, we read a book. More accurately, we spend 30 minutes with one person leading the discussion of a chapter of a book. We’ve been reading the same book for more than 14 months. We finished it this week.

Because I was leading the discussion this week, I asked whether the book had made any difference for these guys in their own lives. I asked whether it had made any difference in our organizational life.

I mean, we spend more than a year reading and discussion this one book. If it didn’t make any difference, why did we do it?

Here are things that they said.

  1. All reading the same book at the same time gave a common experience. It built unity.
  2. The slow discussion which dug deeply into our lives let three new people catch up on the depth of lives of the people in the group. Three out of 10 of us were new this year.
  3. The book gave room for conversations outside the group. A couple of people had talked to other people about what they were reading.
  4. Reading slowly forced everyone to take time reading, important for different learning styles. A couple guys said that this is the kind of book they would skim in couple hours and move on.  By working slowly, the book worked on them.
  5. Our format, which had everyone take a chapter (and some of us more than one) allowed everyone to teach/lead. I say allowed, I probably mean forced. However, we all were able to lead and benefited greatly from hearing each other’s voices.
  6. In a related point, this shared leadership showed everyone that they could. Some of us are teachers, most are not. But everyone learned that they can teach.
  7. The gradual nature of the book allowed the theme (sabbath) to work its way into our hearts by sheer repetition. Long-term change takes long-term exposure.
  8. Some change is not quickly identifiable, but we know that it is happening.

It took for ever. It may have changed forever.

8 ways to make Thursday better.

1. Put down the mouse. Pick up the keyboard.

2. You don’t get replies if you don’t ask or say something.

3. Gratitude takes actually noticing someone else.

4. Out of all the possible things to do, you have to actually pick one and do it.

5. Humans can get used to lots of things. That isn’t exactly positive.

6. Cynics have feelings, too.

7. The chorus isn’t the lead, but all of them are on stage.

8. Okay. Can we try that again? I think I see what I can do to help you this time.

sometimes music takes other people

I started humming the carol of the bells. You know the one: ding ding ding ding, ding ding ding ding.

Maybe it doesn’t translate to text so well.

I started humming it and then realized that in our living room we had, temporarily, a set of choir chimes. Choir chimes are what they have for kids to play when they don’t trust the kids with handbells. They sound a lot like bells, unless you compare them to bells.

I opened the case and started asking Hope what the notes were. She just happened to have the music and pulled out the three chimes we needed to play the first four notes. She took two. I took one. It sounded cool.

Then she handed me another and then we got Nancy and gave her two chimes and we tried to play. My part was too confusing, partially because I had never tried to actually play as part of music before. So I took Hope’s chimes.

Right left right hope. right left right hope. That’s how the notes go.

But I kept trying to do it myself. I would play right left right left. Wrong. I would play right left right and then point. But when you point with a chime, it rings.

I discovered that as much as I wanted to play the music, as much as I heard it in  my head, I couldn’t do it myself.

We couldn’t do it together either. We didn’t have all the music. But we laughed and we sometimes got eight notes in a row.

If you are playing choir chimes, you can’t get music if you do it yourself.

I think that’s what community is for. I think that’s how church is intended to be. I think that people are actually made to get the music by choosing to not play everyone else’s part but to play their part well, together.


Speaking of bells, hear that ringing sound? It’s my virtual Red Kettle.  If you are shopping for Christmas online, you can give online, too. If you want to.

Helen is being brave tonight

Tonight at Grabill Missionary Church a bunch of people are putting up trees. We’re putting up lights. We’re hanging wreaths. We’re putting poinsettias on the steps. We’re playing Christmas music. We’re eating pizza and drinking coffee.

Helen won’t be there. She does decorating all the time around here and this year, this Christmas, she’s not.

She made a commitment to NOT do it this year. She’s not quitting church. In fact, she is doing A. and B. and C. and D. Every Sunday she does E. But she committed to release the decorating this year.

It’s hard. Yesterday we walked around and she showed me where everything is stored and where it has gone in the past. Boxes are well labeled. Extension cords are even with the lights which are with the trees. She was kind of like Odysseus, lashed to the mast, listening to the Siren song of bells and balls and baubles.

I understand Helen. I understand what it is like to be committed to doing things, to feel a kind of failure when you don’t do them. But tonight, about 20 people are going to get together and figure it out.

These 20 people need this kind of event. It will help them to work together, to laugh together, to argue together (politely, I’m sure) about what color goes where.

By Helen’s commitment to release this piece for this year, she will laugh at Christmas and 20 other people will own Christmas. I don’t want to sound patronizing, but I am so proud of Helen.

It’s making me think as I write. What are the projects that I need to release so others can delight in the struggle?

What about you?