Throughout 2015, we are going to spend time learning and leaning into each of our core practices in Austin Mustard Seed: sabbath, hospitality, and vocation. We begin with Sabbath, which I kicked off yesterday with a survey of how it was developed in the Old Testament.

I didn’t start the Sermonsmith podcast just so I’d have an excuse to talk to friends, but it sure helps. Time spent with Jim is always well spent, and this conversation just proved to me that it’s the same over Skype as it is in person.

Seven Podcasts I Subscribe To

Six of them I'd recommend to you

alton_browncastAlton Browncast
Alton Brown is known for clever and thoughtful shows on Food Network, and his podcast is clever and thoughtful as well. It is primarily interviews, and most of them with people in a food related profession, but not all. But Alton is clever and thoughful enough that I enjoy listening to him to talk about anything, it seems. This is one of the handful of shows I’ll at least start listening to every episode.

cover170x170MacPowerUsers
I’ve talked to both David and Katie a few times though I’ve never met either in person. But listening to MPU makes me feel like I’m hanging out with friends who give me new ideas and knowledge at the same time. That’s time well spent.

podcast_methodPodcast Method
This is a new one by fellow Austinite Dan Benjamin. Dan is a regular old podcasting magnate, and he knows a thing or two about how to do it. If you’re thinking about podcasting, start here.

startupStartUp
If you’re already a podcast listener you might at least be familiar with Startup. It is an almost real-tme podcasted chronicle of a startup for a new podcasting company. I appreciate the narrative nature of it vulnerability of how the process plays out.

wtfWTF
I think the indie nature of podcasting means that we get to hear people talk about real things apart from the agenda or promoting such and such that comes in more mainstream media. This is as true with Mark Maron’s podcast as anywhere. I don’t listen to all, but if he has a guest I’m familiar with I appreciate the keen insight into what makes them tick.

holmesYou Made it Weird
I suppose Pete Holmes’ podcast is in a similar vein to WTF, though the conversations take a little bit different tone. Of most interest to my pastoral self is how Pete likes to explore people’s spiritual views and sometimes at least, how they got to them.

feederJohn’s Personal Podcast
You can’t listen to this one because it’s personal, but I’ll tell you about it so maybe you can have your own. I’ve long had a Mac app called Feeder that makes it easy to generate a podcast feed by dragging a file and pressing publish. It took a wee bit of technical setup, but it’s handy for other audio I find, whether captured recordings of lectures, audiobooks, or whatever else I find.

Years ago, I redubbed this site byJohnChandler with the intent it would be a place to gather both words and websites that I had created.

Between podcasts, speaking at Austin Mustard Seed, and writing a few other places, most of my words have been expressed elsewhere of late. So, while I still have oodles of intentions to do some longform writing here, I’m also going to start pointing towards some of the other things I’ve been up to.

The stuff I like anyway.

All this serves as a brief and unrelated introduction to the link above – my most recently posted interview on Sermonsmith with Brian Zahnd.

This Aeropress Recipe Is My Favorite

..and my best

Alongside sweet little baby Jesus, Christmas 2012 marked the arrival of an Aeropress in our home. It became my primary brewing method, and my old Starbucks espresso machine was downgraded to the bottom cabinet shelf. Sometimes I’d make a great cup, and the next time I might as well have gone to the 7-11 down the street and asked for the burnt crust at the bottom of yesterday’s carafe. I’d hear others talk about the great coffee they’d get from an aeropress, and I’d just get…angry(ish).

The following year, a few Christmas gift cards were applied toward a new Bonavita electric kettle and a Clever drip brewer. The Clever and I got along much better. My home coffee habit was trending up, though I’d still produce the occasional swill.

Last year, my Christmas spoils included a kitchen scale. Sweet little baby Jesus seems to really care about coffee. The meticulous measurements of bean and water have proven to be the most important piece and where I should have started in the first place. My Clever brewing leveled up, and I started working my way back to some aeropress expermimentation.

Of late, most of my home brewing is coming through my Aeropress. I’ve settled on a recipe that mixes some methods I’ve explored across the internet with some fine tuning of measurements from my friend Daniel – one of the coffee masterminds at Houndstooth Coffee and our primary song leader at Austin Mustard Seed. Here’s how it looks:

aeropress

  1. Heat just over a cup of water to boiling.
  2. While the water heats, measure 17 grams of whole beans. I’m mostly stuck in a rut of whatever the latest roast of Kenyan or Ethiopian beans is available from Counter Culture. It’s a good rut to be in.
  3. While the water cools, the beans are ground right at the middle setting on my burr grinder. The setting is meant for drip coffee, but I think my burrs are worn down enough that it’s a little finer than that.
  4. The freshly ground beans are dumped in an inverted aeropress on the scale, which should then be zero’d out. If you’re not familiar, this means the plunger is in the aeropress but pulled out as far as it will. The aeropress is, you know, inverted so that the plunger is on the bottom and receptacle faces up so that the filter can be attached on top.
  5. Put a paper filter in the top and wet it with a little bit of the 209.8(ish) degree water. And be quick about it because those already ground beans are losing flavor by the microsecond.
  6. Set a timer for 1:15 and start it. Pour 255 grams of water into the aeropress taking care to wet all the beans. Houndstooth’s non-inverted recipe is 18 grams of beans and 270 grams of water, but I’ve found it’s a challenge to get that much in when you are inverted.
  7. Attach the filtered cap and turn the whole thing over on top of a cup. No need to stir. The pour, plus the act of turning the aeropress over gives the beans the right amount of agitation.
  8. When the timer goes off, press it all out. I don’t time my press, but I give it gentle force, taking about 20 or seconds to press it out. And stop pressing when is starts to pfffft.

Well done, you! Enjoy your lovely beverage. If applicable, brag to your children about it and soak in their admiration of your expert coffee brewing skills.

When Good Intentions Collide

A workflow for writing and thinking and stuff.

Let me tell you about a few good intentions that are ever present in my life:

1) I think it’s a good thing to write words, sentences and paragraphs everyday. That’s not to say I do it, but I have good intentions about it. A few years ago, I even started a website called 501Words which was a shared writing exercise to produce a manageable 501 words everyday. The website launched with a fair amount of interest, and good intentions, from others. The interest didn’t sustain and after a year, I killed it. My good intentions, however, survived.

2) I have long had an ‘incubator’ of ideas that I want to develop or think more about. The tools have changed over time, but I’ve always found ways to quickly and easily store ideas that come to mind. Most have stayed the original few words or sentences that I first captured, never growing any further. Occasionally I review them, and admire how clever I was to think of such things. Or delete them.

Something fun happened with these intentions last year – they got married. It seems obvious now, but in mid-2013 it occurred to me that my daily writing would be a good place to work out all of these stymied thoughts. I have a folder in Dropbox1 where I now put ideas I want to explore. When I have a small block of time to write, I settle in to that folder, open up one of the ideas, and start building it out. Sometimes these are initial thoughts about a sermon I’m going to do, a concept I want to understand better, a conversation I’m going to have, or maybe even a blog post to draft (though that doesn’t seem to be the case of late). They can be anything – the ambition is that I want to write interesting words and think meaningful thoughts. This has me doing both.


1. I’m leaving out details of the technical setup on purpose. Maybe that’s a post for another time, but this is meant to be about the heart, and not the how-to, of the workflow. My guess is, if you have the same good intentions I do, you don’t need another post about nifty writing apps and setups.

Getting Started with WordPress

Read to the end if you like free stuff

A few months ago, the ever talented and tall Ryan Irelan reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in creating a screencast series for Mijingo about WordPress. I’d already watched a few of the OmniFocus related screencasts that Ryan himself had made, and I recognized he was putting together quality work. I also recognized that if I said yes I’d be working on a project far above my paygrade.

I said yes.

Learning wordpress by mijingo coverOutlining the course was fun, and the hours spent recording it were tolerable. Reviewing the videos for edits while my own voice clawed at my eardrums was awful. Seeing the screencast series go up for sale on the Mijingo website last week was a delight.

If you’ve wanted to learn more about how to create your own custom website with WordPress, I hope you’ll give it a look. No, I hope you’ll buy it. And if not, could you please tell at least 372 other people about it?

I have a few download codes to give away. If you’d like one, leave a comment or send me a tweet. Early next week, I’ll draw winners from the names that have shown interest.

Lonesome Dove

A review two years in the making

I finished Lonesome Dove this weekend, and it may be the first Western I’ve ever read. I have a vague recollection of Little Britches as a kid, and I vaguely recollect that it would count as a Western. I’ve heard of Louis L’amour. Westerns aren’t my go-to genre.

My favorite Cultivator of Local Relationships and Good Will (may not be his actual title) at my favorite coffee shop had recommended Lonesome Dove to me. He’s a thoughtful, likeable guy, and we can only have so many conversations deconstructing Mad Men and Josh Hamilton, so I thought I’d give it a go. Also, Amazon put the Kindle version on sale for $2.99 a few months after he first recommended it, so there was that.

I knew this book would be an investment based on it’s heft. By heft, I don’t mean it’s weight – this was an ebook. No, heft in the Kindle world is recognized by a 5 digit location status, and Lonesome Dove weighs in above 15000, or 896 pages. I’m not scared of long books, but since I usually only read fiction as I wrap up the day in bed, it’s not uncommon for me to fall asleep after 2-3 pages. You know, about 30 locations. I was in for a journey. He recommended the book two years ago, and I’ve just finished. There’s been lots of Mad Men talk and Josh Hamilton has jumped from his favorite team to mine in the meantime.

I can summarize three typical experiences I have with fiction:

  1. There’s the kind of fiction where I never come to care about the characters, and concern for what happens to them is absent. These are the kind I often give up on, unless the storyline has some degree of intrigue. Or because of that self imposed guilt I have for not finishing something I’ve already invested so much time in. The Robert Langdon books, by Dan Brown, fit this category, and I’ve read each of them. I usually feel empty after reading such books, which leads to an unhealthy need for my children to express their love and admiration for me.
  2. There’s the kind of fiction where I not only care about the characters, but feel like I know them. Usually, that means I root for them, even the bad ones. When I finish a book like this, I feel like I just ended a long journey with a troupe of friends, and wrapping up the last page is like getting dropped off at my front door after a rich road trip. When the characters seem real, I can stay connected to just about any story.
  3. Then, there’s this third, and rare, kind of fiction. Not only do I care about the characters, but I start to see myself in them. Or maybe through them. When all is said and done, I’m not only evaluating their lives, but my life as well. I compare their foibles to my own, and I end up wanting to be someone more. Lonesome Dove left me feeling this way, except for the sleeping on the ground part.

So maybe you would enjoy Lonesome Dove too. It’s a Western, sure. But it’s an epic, co-mingling of broken lives making sense of love and loss in a way that you can see yourself in. And it won the Pulitzer, so…

So I Had This Idea…

and its about to ship.

There is tragic flaw of ambition that I share with many others. It leaves my own ideas lying dormant while squashing the dreams of others. Based on my highly scientific rough guess, it plagues 39% of all regular internet users. For readers of this blog, I would estimate it (highly scientifically) to be much higher.

It is known as Dormant Domain Syndrome – DDS for short, with all apologies to the dental professionals in my life, former and current.

Dormant domain syndrome begins as a spark of an idea for the next website we will create. Once it comes to us, we can do nothing else. We pour through potential domain name options, neglecting our jobs, families and good hygiene until we find just the right domain. Often, it involves ill will toward some other sufferer of DDS who long ago began their own squat on our first, second and third domains of choice. But we are not abated. We thesaurize until we find just the right domain and we pounce, racing through the registrar’s upsells until we get verification that it is ours.

A week later, the idea seems silly, stupid even. A year later, we renew the domain anyway, because…you never know. But there is one thing I know you know, right now. You know what I’m talking about.

A few weeks ago I had such an idea, and as I logged into my vault of DNS dead ends, I saw an autobiographical sketch of ideas past. It led to this tweet, the response to which only served to affirm that I am not alone:

But I forged forward that day, scrambling through possible names lest someone else be experiencing the identical serendipitous brilliance at that very moment. I landed on a domain I loved, completed the registration, secured the twitter name and imagined the glory to come.

As it oh so occasionally happens, the dreams gave way to details as I began to pull the direction of the new project together. I coded away while kids drifted into dreams and my wife depleted another box of tissues on the couch beside me during Call the Midwife.

I recognize I am well past the standard 140 character attention limit of our time, so if you are still with me, thanks for reading. And all this serves only as an introduction to tell you that I have put together a new project that I’m excited to share with you.

Next week I will be launching Sermonsmith.com: a podcast of conversations about the craft of sermon preparation. Twice a month, I will publish an interview with a church leader who regularly engages in the creative and sacred act of preaching.

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I’m enamored with the creative process. I’m interested in learning about the tools, rhythms, workflows and soul care that goes into any process of making stuff. For me, and many others who I’m honored to journey with, a primary creative expression is the act of preaching. And while the creative process has been a popular topic for many years now, there hasn’t been much of that talk particular to art of writing sermons. So, I’m going to start.

I’ve been initiating conversations like these for some time, so it makes sense to start setting up a mic and share what I learn with others. Later today, I will be recording my first interview with my good friend J.R. Briggs. Assuming all goes well, it should be published early next week, and we’ll be off and running. The next two interviews are already scheduled, and I won’t run out of interesting interviewees anytime soon.

Whether you preach or not, you’re welcome to listen in. The site is already live, or you can subscribe through iTunes, RSS, Twitter or Facebook. Fax subscriptions are not available.

Five Things

June 2013 Edition

Five things I’m into right now:

Dispatch app for iPhone:
I’ve tried some of the alternative mail apps that have made their way to iOS — Sparrow, Gmail, Mailbox. In each instance, though, I’ve find my way back to the built in Mail app. But after a week of trying Dispatch, I think I’m making a change. I like the simple and clean design, but most of all, I love the functionality. My main tasks for email are archiving, replying, filing in Evernote, or creating a task in OmniFocus. Dispatch, for the first time, allows me to do the latter two well, and especially creating a task in OmniFocus. I didn’t think it possible on iOS, but Dispatch creates a link back to the message, so I can archive it on my phone, and then click the link to pull it back up for a necessary reply. I’m finding that I want to do an initial sweep of all email on my iPhone before anyplace else.

The National | Trouble Will Find Me & M83 | Oblivion Soundtrack:
These two albums are getting a lot of play. The National album I liked from the start, though I’m not finding that it has a slow and steady growth curve of deeper appreciation like their last few records. We’ll see if it’s still getting a daily play in a month or so. I’ve appreciated M83 from afar, but never been a consistent listener. I enjoy soundtracks though, and M83 proved a great match for the visuals of Oblivion. I’ve been listening to this one a few times a week since it was released, and I’m not close to tiring of it.

Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee Beans:
I like to mix up my home coffee brews, buying something different from my friends at Houndstooth Coffee each time around. But I keep going back to these beans, only varying between the PT’s roast and the Coava roast. I brew at home with a Clever, with generally good results. But these have been the most forgiving beans I’ve ever brewed at home, offering a good cup no matter how much my attention to the details of the brewing process is distracted by my young ‘uns.

Call the Midwife:
I started watching this with my wife on the same night I watched the first few episodes of the resurrected Arrested Development. At my current rate, I will easily finish two seasons of Call the Midwife before I finish the new season of Arrested Development (if I even finish it). Season 1 is available on Netflix streaming, and season 2 can be watched on the PBS iOS app. Seeing how these midwives care for the pregnant and newborns in the East End of London in the 50s leaves me pondering the parallel of how a church is meant to care for the souls in their own neighborhoods and parishes.

Manage Your Day to Day:
This is a collection of essays about doing creative work. It is broken into four sections: Building a Rock-Solid Routine, Finding Focus in a Distracted World, Taming Your Tools, and Sharpening Your Creative Mind. I don’t know that there was much new ground broken for me in reading it, but it served as a helpful reminder and re-evalution of my own rhythms. I picked up the Kindle version on the cheap, but based on the photos in Blaine Hogan’s review, the physical book looks mighty nice.