I wrote and delivered the following as a 9 minute talk at Q Commons in Nashville hosted at Lipscomb University, February 26, 2015.
I once convinced my children that I lassoed the moon. Oh, the beautiful power of imagination. It was the perfect night to pull off such a caper. Windy, partly cloudy, and the illusion of a full moon racing across the sky. Inspired by my favorite movie character, George Bailey, I stooped down, picked up an invisible “magic” lasso and said, “Hey kids, watch this!” as I flung it skyward, capturing not only the moon, but the imaginations of two wide-eyed children who dared to imagine with me. And though it defied all logic, they dared to believe.
A few short years ago I dared to imagine how love could be embodied as business. Not just business on a mission or for a mission or even with a mission. But business as mission. Business as a vehicle for the advancing kingdom of God. Business that invited the consumer to be consumed in a bigger story.
But I had no business starting a business. I didn’t have the training, the education, or the experience in business. My limited business experience came from selling golf balls as a kid growing up near a golf course. (That story is here.)
Even so, I dared to imagine. And that imagination turned into creation as I co-founded The Well Coffeehouse as a way to participate in the kingdom of God. The Well was designed as an intersection of business, faith, culture, and community.
Imagination often seems to arise out of pain in two ways:
1) that which has broken our heart in the past
2) that which breaks our heart in the present
Behind almost anything beautiful, there is pain. And that is what makes that thing so beautiful. Because redemption is indeed the most beautiful of things.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.” – Michelangelo
David had always been in there. Michelangelo just had to let him out. And it would take a chisel.
Earlier in my journey I experienced the painful “chisel” of exclusion from community. It hurt. Deeply. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I dared to imagine a community created through a “third space” business that would relentlessly love, embrace, include, and invite all who are thirsty for acceptance and connection. And I had felt the pain of the present fallen world crying out in thirst. Those 6,000 voices every day crying out for water only to fall on deaf ears as they go to their graves desperate with thirst.
Where do we start? As you look to participate in the advancing kingdom of God and seek to find your place, your pain is a good place to start.
That pain helps us to come alive. And once we come alive, to imagine and to create. There’s no formula for that. But our pain reveals within us a passion that drives us. That passion leads us to discover our design. And that design reveals our destiny.
But this is not simply a duty accomplished out of a sense of guilt or obligation. This is life that we have been given. It’s who we are and what we do and it is deeply embedded in each of us. As theologian, author, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman said so well:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
These powerful words echo the psalmist who said, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). When God is our greatest delight, we naturally see the desires he has embedded deeply in our hearts. Those desires compel us to love.
What is it that we delight in that can truly make a difference in the world? People. Meeting them where they are. Embracing them. Serving them. All to love them toward the kingdom of God.
There is power in a community that always has a place at the table for others. A community that participates with Jesus not only in sitting at the table but doing something even more radical . . . going out to where they are like a shepherd goes to a lost sheep . . . putting them on our shoulders . . . bringing them to our table . . . and celebrating over them in community.
In doing this we become co-creators with God. Co-creating a redemptive community without walls and borders.
In community there is always the option of building walls and trying to fence people in. But there’s a much better way. Illuminate before them a source of life that will fulfill them and satisfy what they thirst for, and they will come back again and again. No walls. No borders.
The Well has been our way of illuminating that source of life and inviting others to drink deeply. It is business as mission. We make money. We give it away to the most thirsty people in the world. We create community over coffee and we love the thirsty people.
We try to do that with excellence, working with all of our hearts and giving our best. We do it with creativity and hard work.
As a business we’re not afraid of often forgotten Jesus-words like shrewdness as we seek to leverage the caffeine addictions of Americans into hope for the impoverished by filling their cups. We’re not afraid to live out parables in which Jesus spoke of money and “putting money to work” as a way of investing in an unfolding kingdom at hand.
And that is our task at hand. We want to engage with all of our hearts. We don’t wait for someone else to do it. We open our eyes to the passion he has placed deeply within us. We respond to the pain around us in the world. We co-create with God in a broken world as we too become a work in progress.