Monday, November 21, 2011

Hold the Rope

I was recently talking with a mentor of mine, sharing with him about my mission adventure.  As our conversation was coming to a close, He ran into his office rummaged around and after several minutes returned with one foot length of white rope.  Handing me the rope, he must have seen the confusion on my face and began this story.

    “There once was a young missionary who left for a foreign field full of excitement, energy, and enthusiasm.  He told his church, friends and family that he couldn’t wait to come back and tell them all about the lives that were going to be changed. 
     Things didn’t go according to that plan for the young missionary.  Several years later he returned to the church that had sent him off.  He returned broken, a failure. His faith and love had been replaced by bitterness and resentment. In secret he snuck into the prayer and sat in the back unnoticed.  He remained there silently until one member of the prayer circle invited their “new guest” to share.
    Dejected but feeling spiteful the man stood and told his story.  He explained how his early ambitions had been blocked first one way and then another till eventually he lost all desire to minister.  He told of the human depravity and hatred that many had targeted at him.  These trials had beaten him so badly that he gave up on the mission, the church, the faith, and God.  Finally he close with this accusation, “You don’t know me, even now after hearing what has happened you don’t realize that I was your missionary.  When you sent me out, you said, ‘We’ll be praying for you.  We’ll hold our end of the rope and lift you up to the God.’ You dropped the rope.”

    My mentor looked me in the eye and handed me the rope.  “You go in God’s grace, and by God’s grace we will hold the rope.  You hold onto us and we’ll hold onto you.”   
    Interestingly enough, I was sharing this story with another friend and she resonated with it so much because of what God had been teaching her that she offered to write a post about it.  View what God has been teaching her here.                   
    My last post spoke of the chaos I feel I am going into, but it is supporters like him who give me confidence.  
    I know that I am held up by many with bowed heads and folded hands. If you would like to join that team and help hold the rope, send me an email or comment on this post.

Guest Post - @SMixRoss

Sometimes it’s really hard to understand what God has in mind when we face tough times. The Bible tells the story of a man named Job who God allowed to lose everything. In the same book, God says that His ways are beyond our understanding. God showed me this verse recently when I was going through something. My question was “Why?” and His response was Job 37:5:
“He does great things beyond our understanding”. I realized my question should not be “Why?” but rather “What can I do through You and Your great acts?”

God showing His greatness through suffering and perseverance is all over the Bible. And the greatest story of all, the story of Jesus, is about the greatest plan God had before our existence. A plan that would involve the greatest sacrifice, where Jesus would ask the question “Why?” But it’s a question that we will never have to ask. Jesus asked why God had forsaken Him as Jesus felt the weight of all the sin the world had ever committed, were committing, and would commit. Jesus was forsaken so that we would not have to be: the Bible promises in Hebrews 13:5 that we will never have to experience this forsakenness or abandonment. Our suffering, then, is experienced with God holding our hand, or carrying us through, or embracing us: we never have to go through these great things beyond our understanding alone.

In fact, the Bible talks about persecution for Jesus’ sake many times. It isn’t just the traditional thought of persecution. It could be laying down our own dreams and desires, letting go of relationships, saying goodbye to fortune and career success, and perhaps even choosing Jesus over one’s family. Here are some verses that speak to persecution and suffering:

It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9 – 10).

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:18-20).

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well- developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4)

“Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:7).

But my favorite of all the verses is found in Matthew 5 (The Message):

“You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Maybe your suffering is financial strain, fear of the unknown, rejection from friends and family, or even being called to a life that you know will be full of sacrifice. The easiest question to ask is “Why?” but it will hold the smallest reward. God promises great things through us, and sometimes the road to get there is paved with suffering and persecution. Do not be discouraged. Consider yourself blessed, even, for when we face trials like Jesus did, we become more like Him. When we begin to act like Jesus, we become more like Him. The more we worship Him, even during suffering, we become more like the One we worship. Our lives won’t be significant by default. I want mine to be significant because of the great things God does through me, knowing they will come at a great cost, comforted by the fact that I’ll never go through it alone. Hold on to the rope, because as long as He’s holding the other end, greatness for His name’s sake is ahead.


Thank you @smixross, for sharing your heart with me and all of us. May God continue to "hold" us all in His great love.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Baby Steps

Baby Steps
   One of my families favorite movies is “What About Bob.”  In it Bob, played by Bill Murray, is a obsessive compulsive with a multitude of phobias and disorders.  Bob follows his psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin played by Richard Dreyfuss, on vacation trying to get the treatment he thinks he needs.  Dr Marvin gives Bob the advice that eventually cures Bob and drives Dr Marvin insane.  Baby Steps.  When Bob meets an obstacle he quotes, “Baby Step out of the office. Baby step onto the elevator. Baby step get better.” 

   Right now I feel a little like Bob.  Going to Africa on this Video Production Missions project seems too big of a task for me.  But God is faithful.  He has been showing me the Baby Steps I need to take.  Here are just a few that I’ve done the last few months.
           Baby Step…
             Set Up Budget
             Set up Housing in Guinea
             Set Up Timeline
             Make Equipment List
             Research Countries
             Call Missionaries in Guinea

What's Next?
   There are a growing number of tasks that I must be finished before I leave, but the next one I’m focusing on is building a support team.  That means asking you to join me in this adventure.  I would love to have you as part of my team.  There are a number of crucial roles that you can play.

   Financial Supporters – My monthly budget will be $3,800 per month, and one
   time outgoing expenses of $15,000.
   Prayer Partners – This project has a lot of challenges foreseen and
   unpredictable. Adedicated team of people praying over each issue is
   absolutely necessary.
   Distribution Partners – These videos are no good if no one ever sees
   them.  I need people that will share the videos I produce on Facebook,
   Twitter, YouTube. The more people that see the videos the more people God
   can impact. 

Please prayerfully consider how you can join the team. If you have questions, I would love to answer them. Shoot me an email, give me a call, send me a tweet, post on my wall or do all of them. Thank you for considering this opportunity and I hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Called To Chaos


Last Spring I attended the Mid Term and Short Term missionary training at World Venture Headquarters in Colorado. During the weekend of training, I had an experience that I have until recently been unable to express in writing. One of the sessions was lead by a counselor and the topic of the workshop was preparing for cultural transition and the issues that accompany Culture Shock. They explained the transitional process and what will happen to us as we move out of one place and settle into ministry in another. The five basic stages are Dis-Engagement, Leaving, Chaos, Entering, and Re-Engagement. Through out this session, I kept quiet. Knowing that my trip with the amount of travel and transitory nature of the project would have some unique challenges. It is possible that I could be in a different country every 6 weeks. So when the presenter opened the floor for questions I raised my hand. I explained a little about my project and then asked the question, “How do I expedite this process? How do I go through this these 5 steps every 6 weeks?” “You won’t.” She looked right at me and with tears in her eyes said, “You will spend most of your time in Chaos.” I was crushed. I had been hoping to glean some tip or trick that would make it easier to deal with the difficulties. Thank God there was a break, cause I had to leave the room and get outside. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Standing outside, looking up at the Rockies across the horizon, I cried out to God, “How can you ask me to do this? Do you really want me to leave my friends and family, my home, my church, all these blessings You have given me and knowingly walk into 2 years of Chaos, of loneliness, of stress, and trail, of homesickness, of darkness, and despair? Is that really what you want for me?” His response couldn’t have been clearer or harder to understand. “Yes. It will be the hardest trial of your life. You will experience hardships you can’t imagine. You will be in Chaos. But I will be there. Will you be with Me?” Tears were running down my face by now. There was no comfort in His words. No promise of His sustenance provision, or blessing. He assured me of hardship, pain, and suffering. Someone who doesn’t know Christ would think this trip fool hardy. That it is unwise to disconnect yourself from your support network of friends and family and knowingly place yourself in a place of danger, hurt, and Chaos. Why would I ever want to do any of this? The secret is in God’s question to me. “Will you be with me?” George McDonald’s poem Obedience beautifully expresses the struggle I felt and the decision I have made.

 - By George MacDonald

I said: “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said: “No, walk in the town.”
I said: “There are no flowers there.”
He said: “No flowers, but a crown.” 
I said: “But the skies are black;
 There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back –
 “There is more,” He said; “there is sin.” 

I said: “But the air is thick,
 And fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered: “Yet souls are sick,
 And souls in the dark undone!” 
I said: “I shall miss the light,
 And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered: “Choose tonight 
If I am to miss you or they.” 

I pleaded for time to be given. 
He said: “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem so hard in heaven

To have followed the steps of your Guide.” 

I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?” 

Then into His hand went mine; 
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light divine,
The path I had feared to see.

I will be in Chaos. I will be with Him.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Spanish Guitar

While traveling through Spain this summer, I wandered upon these local street performers. I was struck by the thought that simple stories exist around us everyday. What stories are you telling?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Be On The Rock

  Yes, That’s me standing atop a 200 meter (600 foot cliff) at 2330 meters (apro 7000 ft) above sea level. This adventure took place in Leysin, Switzerland. You can see more pictures in my Facebook Album. I can imagine the question’s that my friends and family will ask me when they see this picture.
   My Mom, will say, “Are you Crazy? Why would you do that?” She questions my motivations and sanity. Dad will ask, “Where is that? When did you go?” He wants the story. My brother, “How did you do that? What gear did you use?” He’s a climber like me. My friends in Chicago will ask, “Where you freaked out? What was it like?” They can’t imagine it.

   The sport is called Via Ferrata (Italian for "road with irons"). It’s a series of steps and ladders drilled into the side of a mountain and it’s probably as close to real mountain climbing as the average person can get. Check out the Wikipedia entry for more details about this emerging adventure sport.
   It is an entirely thrilling experience to put yourself so far out on the edge of security and the limits of human ability. When I started to put on my harness and approach the cliff face, my adrenaline started to pump. With each step as I rose higher and higher up the face creating more and more distance between myself and the ground beneath, I could sense my mind quieting. My mind becomes so focused on the task at hand, namely staying safe on the rock, that all other thoughts silence. By half way up I was at about 2100 meters above sea level, and approximately 100 meters above where I started. At this point there was only one thought in my mind, “Be on the Rock.” The billions of thoughts that run through my mind all day, some conscious others hidden in my sub-consious, stopped. Every thought was the same. Be on the Rock, One step at a time. Next hand hold, Put your foot there. Be safe. Be on the Rock. I wasn’t thinking about camera angels and how to tell this story, as I’m apt to do. I wasn’t thinking about my family and friends across the world. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. My mind was clear, focused, centered.
   It wasn’t until I reached the Top, looking at the panorama of the Swiss Alps with Lake Geneva spreading out from their base, that I even realized what had happened. It wasn’t until the voices, the other thoughts started to rise again, that I realized how rare it is to have such moments of clarity and focus.
   Rock Climbers know this feeling well. I have several friends that say that’s the reason they climb. “When your on the Rock, nothing else exists. The stresses of work, life, responsibility all fade beneath the all important task of climbing, because if you don’t focus on the rock you fall.”
You can’t climb and be thinking about all those other distractions. If you do, you’re putting yourself and sometimes even others in danger. It’s that danger, that essential knowledge that if I don’t focus, I’m putting myself in harms way, which brings my mind to clarity, to focus on the Rock.
   Have you caught the spiritual parallel? Sometimes it takes hanging off a cliff, out beyond the limits of my comfort and my safety for me to focus. Out there, Christ clearly reminds me to leave all the noise of the world behind and focus on Him, To Be on the Rock. (Psalm 18)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Hood of Service

“Why are we doing this?” Sometimes there are questions that we respond to almost instinctually. Someone says, “How are you doing?” you respond with “I’m good,” even if you are sick and just got fired from a dream job after you girlfriend broke up with you and took the dog. But every once in a while we are presented with a question that knocks us on our heals, with the weight of it importance.
When Anthony asked me, “Why are we doing this?” it was one of those questions. We stood there in the quite sanctuary, waiting our turn to wash each others feet, and I struggled to answer. My answers didn’t seem to balance with the weight of those words.
Perhaps the question had added weight because of the way that Anthony asked it. His awkward bending teenage frame, trying to figure out how to hold itself to match the straight and formed d├ęcor of the stained glass sanctuary. His muscles pulling on each other trying to hide is sagging pants, oversized t-shirt, and general street thug appearance. Maybe it was because only a year ago Anthony prayed to have Jesus be the Master of his life and in the past 3 months had the Latin Kings, a local gang, try to recruit him. Perhaps the sincere and earnest way that he asked the question, truly not knowing and early wanting to, made me consider my answer more carefully.
The day, Maundy Thursday, could have added to the impact. We were participating in the evening service of prayer and remembrance of what Christ went through with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. We read the scriptures and sat in silence letting the memory of those events soak into us like drying laundry left out in the rain.
Maybe the question hit me hard because this was the second time in a week, I had knelt and washed some else’s feet. A week prior at the World Venture Short Term and Mid Term missionary training, I had the humbling experience of being taken out of the servant position and being served. At that same training, I heard this quote that as came crashing back to front of my mind with Anthony’s question.
“Servant-hood stems from a secure identity of who you are in Christ.”
“Why are we doing this?” It was almost as if Anthony had captured in his confusion the very heart of Peters protest. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Why are we doing this?
It is only now weeks later, as I try again to study the verses and understand Jesus’ answer to Peter that I know how to answer Anthony’s question.
Jesus washed his disciples feet because he “knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” (John 13:3) Christ was certain of His identity and out of that authority he knelt and served. When Peter protested that Jesus was too good to wash his feet, Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand… Unless I was you, you have no part with me… Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should was one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:7,8,14-15)
We serve one another because Christ has served us. If we are going to be part of the body of Christ we must follow his example and wear the hood of service.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Documentary Work in Africa !?

If you ever wondered what exactly Documentary work looks like in Africa, check out this awesome webseries.  It's a great Behind The Scenes (BTS) look at what Video Production entails.  I will be doing much of this type of work, and facing many of the same obstacles as I produce videos for my upcoming project.  Take a look.

Video Update #2

Check out these Links too.
Video Update #1:

NewsLetter - May 8

Courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

Let's Get Things Started

    I know it's been a while but I wanted to let you know about some exciting new things that have been happening in my life. God’s been doing so much in my life it's hard to know where to begin. I’ve been working as a Freelance Video Producer for the past couple of years but business has slowed in the past several months.  It’s given me the time to see how God has been preparing me for a new project.  I’m not sure if we ever talked about this, but I’ve always been interested in telling stories about what God is doing through missions around the world. About a year ago, I started playing with the idea of producing Videos in Africa that will engage the local US church in His work there. I began exploring the idea on the side and seeing what opportunities there were for me to do that.

Telling the story...

      Since February, that idea has formed into a reality.  Working with the mission organization World Venture, I’ve been able to plan a trip, really a 2 Year Project, to produce Mission Videos in the 15 different African Countries they are working in.  Specifically, I’m going to be traveling from country to country to tell the story of what God is doing through the missionaries and local churches; but also to visually explain the work that needs to be done.  I hope to show the opportunities that exist for people to be involved in that work. The big picture dream is that through these videos and by using social networking outlets that the people will be challenged by God's work and realize that they can be involved in it.  I believe that as we become engaged in mission work and service, that God will use each of us to impact change not only in the lives of those we serve but also in our own lives. That’s been my experience and I’m excited to be able to create this opportunity for you.  

Building a team...

The next step in making this Video Project happen is building a team and support network. That's you. Having a solid team to support me is key to the success of this project.  I would love to have you be part of it.  Right now I need people who will give both one time financial gifts as well as commit to giving on a monthly basis throughout the project. If you would like to do that please follow the links provided on the side column.  I am also building a network of prayer supporters, those committed to seriously, and consistently praying on my behalf.  Besides these two there are wide variety of other ways that you can be involved. In the coming months I'll be sending you more information about those opportunities. Regardless of how you choose to be involved I would love to connect with you face to face and share some of those opportunities with you as well as share more details about the project.  Please let me know if you'd like to get together and we can arrange a time to connect.  Thank you for your time and for considering how you can be part of this amazing opportunity.  I am exited to see what God will do through this. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Soo... What are you up to?

 Perhaps you’ve had this experience and can relate.  You run into some one you haven’t seen in years, maybe at a coffee shop, church or maybe even the movie theatre.  The conversation goes something like this.
            “Hey, Wow how long has it been?”
            “Oh, I guess like what, since school right? That was 5 years.”
            “Man I can’t believe it.  You living in the area?”
            “Yeah, Just moved in to the neighborhood and am really loving it.”
            “Yeah, there’s a lot of great places around.”
            Then comes that inevitable silence as you both stumble for any info you’ve seen on your Facebook news feed about Jobs, Relationship status, or life changes you should have been aware of.  Eventually you ask,
            “Sooo… What are you doing now?”
            Most peoples answers are pretty similar work, marriage, church, finishing school, kids.  Mine goes a little something like this.
            “Wow, God’s been doing so much in my life. I’ve been working as a Freelance Video Producer for the past couple of years but business has slowed to almost a complete stop.  It’s given me the time to see how God has been preparing me for a new project.  I’m not sure if we ever talked about this, but I’ve always been interested in telling stories about what God is doing through missions around the world. In the last year or so, I started playing with the idea of producing Videos in Africa that will engage the local US church in His work there. 
              “Since February, that idea has formed into a reality.  Working with the mission organization World Venture, I’ve been able to plan a trip, or really a Mid-Term Project, to produce Mission Videos in the 15 different African Countries they are working in.  Specifically, I’m going to be traveling from country to country to tell the story of what God is doing through the missionaries and local church there, but also to visually explain the work that needs to be done.  I hope to show the Church the opportunities that exist for them to be involved in missions. The big picture dream is that through these videos and by using social networking outlets that the Church will be challenged by God and his work.  I believe that as the church becomes engaged in missions God will nurture and develop them into His image. At least that’s been my experience.  So I’m excited to be able to give this opportunity to other people.
“I could go on and on about this but, in a nut shell that’s what I’ve been up to.  Maybe we can get together soon and talk more. When are you free?”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Video Update #1

The first of many yet to come.  This is just a quick video about my Mission Project with World Venture.  More news and updates on the way.

Links As Mentioned
Uganda Video:​19586496

Leave your answer to the question below.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Motorcycles, Trees & Me

            My time in San Francisco wasn't only spent becoming addicted to Caffeine.  Because my birthday was coming up my parents gave me a little money to play with while out there.  They don't condone my newfound love of motorcycles but they know I'm always safe when riding. So I didn't feel guilty when I used the money to rent a Harley 1200 Sporters.
           The morning of my rental, I rode the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the rental place and signed all the paperwork.  After talking for about 20 minutes about routes for touring, I headed out.  This was the first time I had been on a motorcycle on the open road.  I was really nervous, but pretty soon the exhilaration took over.  I cruised around downtown for a little just getting used to the bike and riding along the tourist locations that I had already walked early in the week, my smile growing along with my heart rate.  Even a short rain shower couldn’t dampen my excitement, though I did realize that at 45 miles per hour raindrops hurt.  
            The rain stopped as I made my way to Highway 101 and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I hit the throttle pushing the needle up past 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, and finally settling into traffic at 65. Rolling along the wind howling around me, attempting to use my jacket as a parachute and lift me off my bike, vehicles 5 times heavier than me and my bike moving along less than 3 feet beside me. I was on the GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE.  Riding across was pure exhilaration, my heart pounding the adrenaline into every nerve of my body.  I just had to yell, which is an odd experience inside a helmet.  Nevertheless I screamed at the top of my lungs, “I was born for THIS! This is what I was meant for.  This is LIVING! WaaHoooo!”  
            It is in moments like that when pain doesn’t exist.  Everything lines up, even if only for a brief second and you know that when God made the earth and you and me, this is what He had in mind.  You feel complete; some would call it ecstasy or joy. I call it fulfillment.  Every part of me was full and I know that if anyone could have seen through my helmet then they would have seen some of that spilling out in the form of a goofy grin.
            With my grin splitting my face, I followed the signs on the back roads winding their way up and down cliffside roads to my next waypoint.  Muir woods.  When I got off the bike my body was tingling with the residual adrenaline.  After paying the 5 dollars to enter and examining a trail map I started out along the walkway in to one of the last Coastal Redwood forest in the world. I wasn’t prepared.  John Muir, the namesake of these woods, said it best, “Big Trees …”  The scene leaves you speechless. Some of these trees date back to before Christ was born, so rightfully so they call it the Forest Pre-historic.  After the gray and bleakness of Chicago that I have had for the past 5 months, the vibrant greens of this forest astounded me.  Even with a stream running through the park and kids jumping around from one thing to the next, the place saturates you in what I can only begin to describe as the nature of these trees.  They are solid, permanent and certain, but they are alive.  
             As I walked under the bows of these massive giants, staring up in wonder while trying not to trip over the forest floor, I felt surrounded by an ancient and steady power. It made me think of the Ents of the Lord of the Rings.  They were always my favorite creatures for the same reason I was awestruck by this forest.  The Ents did things slowly, but when they decided to do something, nothing could stop them.  Their power was seemingly endless.  No rock or construction of man could stop their movement.  I sensed that the same vast, slow, unstoppable power existed here and yet there was peace here.  
             It was a complete contrast from my ride only a few moments earlier.  One area, is called the Cathedral Grove and they ask everyone to stop talking and be quiet as they pass through the grove.  The United Nations, when they first formed, met in this same grove.  I am sure that they all felt the same awe and power that I did.  As I moved through the grove, I chose a short mile and a half hike and started out.  About half way through my hike, I found myself atop a hillside not looking down on the trees I had just been walking in but still looking up.  It was here, standing in perfect silence amidst these primordial woods, that I again felt fulfillment.  Everything was in it’s right place, me feeling so small next to these giants, their presence and life impressing me with Divine Inspiration and Eternal power.  The same words came to mind, “This is Living.  This is what I was meant for.”  Again, I felt like I had experienced a glimpse of heaven, the life that God intended for us.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

San Francisco Coffee Tour

The Coffee Tour:
            I love coffee.  Any one who knows me knows that I enjoy a good cup of coffee.  I’m quite serious about it and anytime that I can enjoy a smooth cup I jump at the opportunity.  As part of my vacation to the San Francisco Bay area, I set up a coffee tour stopping at the best places in the Mission District, world renowned for their joe. 
During this tour, I rated each local on a 1 to 5 cup scale in 5 different categories. Atmosphere, Cost, Menu, Coffee, and Technique.  Atomosphere rates the decor, music, patrons and general vibe of the space.  Cost would look as the price of standard cup of Joe, but would also take into consideration the cost of other items on the menu.  Menu evaluated the types of coffee served, variety of specials as wells as other items served.  To rate the Coffee I considered the flavor, warmth, richness, strength and aroma of each cup.  Technique looked at how each coffee house made, kept, heated, and served their brews.
I started my adventure by filling my stomach with a crepe at the Crepe House, downing almost a gallon of water to combat the diaretic effects of caffeine and then strolled down Valencia Ave to my first stop, Ritual Coffee Roasters
Atmosphere – Ritual offers up a clean simple modern look.  No art on the walls or unique character defining elements.  The space is open with plenty of tables and seating for Conversations and Studying.  The first occupied a majority of the patrons, and their conversations were load enough to cover the Indie World Music.  At least I think that’s what it was, I admittedly couldn’t hear it.  3.5 cups
Cost – They were celebrating Brazil week serving up a variety of Brazilian Beans for Drip Brew.  I ordered a Serato for $2.25, a good value for the quality of this coffee. The other options were starkly higher, but on par with most coffee shops today.  5 cups
Menu – The focus here is on Coffee and the Menu proves it.  The non Coffee options where pretty standard with the typical array of pastries, deli style cookies and sweet breads.  The coffee Varieties were extensive.  Beside the 6 different weekly special Brazilian drips, they served a vast of array of mochas, lattes, and espressos though they failed to post those for easy ordering.  3 cups
Coffee – Simply put amazing.  The Serato offered a strong aroma, delicate flavors of roasted nuts, citrus, and a smooth note that extended to the caramel finish. A great cup of coffee made very well.  The flavor lasted from the first sip to the much cooler last drops.  I enjoyed every one of them.  5 cups
Technique – These people are coffee snobs.  They breathe beans.  From the way they freshly steam milk for each drink, meaure the temp of the water used for brewing, they revere the bean.  It is their master and they serve him well.  Unfortunately, the customer doesn’t get even half the same attention.  I hardly received a smile from the 3 different people it took to order, make and pay for my coffee.  Would I change it? No.  Serve thy master and let me sip on the sweet aromatics of thy ritual blend.  4 cups 
         A short walk down the street and a couple of visits to the used books stores along the way and I found myself at the next stop.  Four Barrel Coffee Company
Atmosphere - This is the way a coffee house should feel. Dark warn wood counter tops, Bare industrial floors, and an industrial size and functioning coffee roaster in the back.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t here on a production day, but the aroma of freshly roasted coffee settled on everything like a fine layer of magic pixy dust.  Even though the place is large, boasting 3 separate coffee bars and one dedicated to just specialty Pour Over Drip Brew Coffee, it has limited seating. This doesn’t take away from the warm and welcoming feeling here.  The fact that the employees are smiling and jamming to the classic rock played via LP doesn’t hurt the vibe either. 5 cups
Cost – For just 2 bucks you can enjoy their in house roasted coffee. I chose to indulge and get a specialty Pour Over Brew.  The Ethiopian Tekka Wato was $3.50.  4.5 cups.
Menu – As is expected in a Coffee House that puts their roasting facility on display for all to see, the Menu focuses on the Joe.  A few pastries behind the counter, pale in comparison to their drink selection as well as fresh roasted bean selection.  With 15 varietys of Beans roasted in house, you can sniff and smell to your hearts content and either have them make you a cup on the spot or take it home to share. 4.5 cups
Coffee – This cup was a very rich and strong brew.  Dark color with earthy tones and flavors, it finished with what I’ll try to describe as the smoke of a burning oak wine barrel.  None of the unpleasant choaking or tear jerking responses, just the sweet smoky flavors of grape and oak blended perfectly together.  The flavors float through you mouth like wisps of smoke and settle on your tongue.  5 cups.
Technique – It’s evident that Four Barrels views Coffee as an Experience. They set up everything to allow their customers to enjoy the moment of relaxation and calm that good cup of coffee offers. From the moment they ground the beans for my cup, allowed me to smell the fresh grounds before brewing, the 8 minutes it took to slowly pour the water over my the delicate grounds, to the friendly conversations I had during that time, Four Barrels gave me an experience I will not soon forget.  I left here relaxed and warmed to my heart.  5 cups.
After walking past what I had intended to by my 3rd stop, I moved onto the quirky, fun and vibrant Philz Coffee.
Atmosphere – This is a hip hangout for the contientiously eclectic crowd that populate the streets of the Mission District. The overall vibe created by the murals, random postings, and abstract art of the Proprietor, Phil, was the same feeling you get after having one too many cups of strong coffee, slightly over caffeinated.  This is a place on the go.  Grab your coffee and head out or take a seat on one of the couches, which look like they were found on Craigslist, and get some work done.  The people behind the counter move about with a smile on their face, jumping from task to task like an oversized flee circus.  The Simon and Garfunkel playing overhead adds to the hippie vibe, but not the mellow stoner hippies.  These hippies, now fueled with Philz best, are headed out to protest.  3 cups

Cost – I grabbed a large PHILTERED SOUL for $3.75.  The average cost for one of the 19 different variety of single cup Pour Over Brews.   A little pricy considering the cramped space and quality of the coffee.  3.5 cups
Menu – Phil offers his guests 19 different blends of beans, “one cup at a time.” He and his son have hand crafted each blend. One blend took 7 years to get just right.  Along with the standard pastry display, Burritos, Sandwiches, and Bagels are available, but they aren’t made on the premises and simply thrown into a wicker basket for the guest.  I passed on this game of culinary rullete, but I did get a cheese Danish to take the edge off my hunger.  Is “’Blah’zaise faire” a term.  3.5 cups
Coffee – Not the best cup I had today, by far.  It was a medium roast and according to the definition has a sweet hazel finish.  I missed both due to an overpoweringly strong bitterness, which came across as a burnt flavor.  Admittedly, this could have been the intended flavor, but it left me with anything but a Philtered Soul as the title suggests.  Instead I had a bitter acidic after taste left in my mouth.  The aroma did help this cup.  It gave me a sense of the sweetness that the definition promised and failed to deliver.  2.5 cups
Technique – In one word, Rushed.  There is no way to make a good cup of coffee quickly, but as they try to speed things along that rushed attitude steeps into the drinks.  To their credit, they do make each cup one at a time and even aerated my drink before handing it to me.  The temperature was hot enough to make my hand start to sweat through the cardboard sleeve, and I can only imagine that the violent temperature didn’t help the coffee any.  The baristas or servers were very friendly and seemed like they really enjoyed being their.  They add to the funky, fun, if a little frantic environment of this Mission District institution.  4 cups

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What If ...

            I found myself walking through the snow one evening, the gentle flakes falling slowly and dancing in the street lights.  The city sounds were dampened by the snow and even my footsteps seemed distant.  My friend and I had just left the movie theatre and had the pleasant sensation of seeing the world entirely changed.  The street we had seen only a few hours ago had been covered by this ethereal white blanket.
Still warm from the theatre and the joy of our winter surprise, my friend turned to me and said, “You know, if the zombie apocalypse came in winter we’d all be screwed.”
We spent the next hour planning our Winter Zombie Survival Strategy, which for your information involves a snowplow, TJ Max, and Wal-Mart.  I know it seems ridiculous.  Well actually it is.  This wasn’t the first time that I’ve debated with my friend about zombie survival strategy and I would be surprised if it was the last.
Whether the undead are going to come and eat my brains tomorrow doesn’t really change much about my life today.  I still have work to do, friends to meet and blogs to write.  Trying to plan for the theoretical attack of a mythical creature is…well…absurd.
But the same logic applies to other areas.  I like to plan.  That’s a nice way to say that I worry and obsess.  If I do or don't do this how will they re-act?  What did she mean when she said that?  If I change this to that what will be the effect? What should I say?  Why did this happen?  What will happen tomorrow if they do?  How am I going to make this happen?  What if?  How? Why?
At the beginning of every summer camp session, they give a short talk about emergency procedures.  In the event that this building is on fire meet here.  If a tornado comes don’t go outside.  If someone is bleeding get help.  It’s all common sense really, but then they always ask, “Are there any questions?”  Without fail someone asks something along these lines, “If the building we are in is on fire and we go to the safety spot and then a tornado comes and makes us go to the secondary safety building and then a purple dragon comes and sets that building on fire and then that dragon starts wrestling with the lake monster and destroys the third safety spot where do we go?” 
Most of the time, the questions I obsessively try to answer aren’t answerable.  Not only are the questions impossible to answer, if I did have the answers they would have very little affect.  I can’t predict the future and trying to answer what will happen tomorrow or interpret the motives of others and their consequences is …well...
…like planning for the Zombie Apocalypse…in winter.