I recently told the story of my interaction with a man in an airport, and in that story I mentioned Dan Kimball's book They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations . Again, I want to stress as strongly as I can that you need to read this book. It is honestly one of the most important books that I have read in the last couple of years. Those of us in the church and especially those of us in church leadership would do well to read it. In one chapter, Dan discusses the need to get out of the church office...not for the sake of visiting church members, but with the intention of interacting with those outside the church. He explains that in the last few years he decided to start studying and writing his sermons in a local coffeeshop. Through this simple relocation...simply changing the "room" that he was doing his work in, Dan found himself interacting with people with whom he might not have ever had the opportunity to talk to otherwise. Moreover, his new conversation partners quite regularly turned the conversations to spiritual matters by their choice.
I'd like to say that I read that chapter and decided to try it. I'd like to...but I'd be lying. I started going to Panera Bread several months ago to do my grad school reading because I (for whatever reason) couldn't make myself do it anywhere else. I liked sitting in the big leather chairs by the fireplace and reading. It worked well for me. Like in the airport story, I unintentionally stumbled across this phenomenon. I began to know people...the regulars. I quite naturally wound up in Spiritual conversations that I always assumed would be awkward...by the choice of my conversation partners. It was when I read Kimball's book (which I started in the airport and finished at Panera) that I realized what was going on. So, I continue to do my Grad School reading there. In the breaks, I still go there in the mornings just to read my Bible (currently The Voice of Luke: Not Even Sandals (The Voice) from The VOICE translation), and other Theological books (currently The Powers That Be (Power) and Signs of Emergence: A Vision for Church That Is Always Organic/Networked/Decentralized/Bottom-Up/Communal/Flexible/Always Evolving (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith)). These interactions have revived my passion for the gospel (the real one, not the sales pitch) and my faith in the Way of Jesus.
One more thing: I was at the library with my wife (Dana) and daughter (Emma) the other day. As we were walking back to the car, Emma bolted down these steps right outside the library doors which seemed to go down into an unused area of dirt and bushes. I started to say something to stop her, but then I noticed that she was picking up trash. I turned to Dana and asked what she was doing. Dana said, "We always do that. People always throw trash down there and Emma likes to clean it up." Emma came back up the steps and started putting the trash in the trash can (which was approximately 5 feet from the stairwell.) Fearing that I had a developing Adrian Monk on my hands I asked her why she picked up the trash. My four-year-old daughter looked back at me with a mischievious grin and said, "I'm making the world a better place, Daddy." "Dear God," I thought, "help me be like Emma. Thank you for Dana, who is teaching her to be like you."