What is the dominant flavor (if there is one) in your life? In your church? Work? Family?

I had a minor theological insight while making my coffee today that I thought I would share.

One of the advantages of serving coffee for a living is that you get to try all sorts of things in your drinks and adjust them as many times as you want, as long as it’s slow. Today, I decided to drink soymilk in my latte because I had a sore throat.

I added a typical dose of caramel sauce to the as yet unflavored latte and tried it. I couldn’t even taste it, so I added more and more until I finally stopped when I could tell it was there at 2.5 times the normal quantity.

Now why should you care? Because I was experiencing the dominant flavor of the soy milk. No matter how much else I added, the character of the latte, and thus the overall sensation, centered around my choice of using soy milk. The same thing also happens with gingerbread flavor, for those who are curious.

The question this brings to faith and to congregations is the same thing I asked at the top of the post: what is the dominant flavor in your life?

Now, this flavor should not be confused with the flavors we “taste” from our experiences, even if they tend to be related. I’m talking about the flavor we produce, what Jesus talks about in terms of our saltiness.

For most of us, there are times our flavor has been a bit burnt, sour, or just plain bland. Particularly when we’ve been burned by someone else (to continue the analogy) we become a source of hurt in turn to others.

But unlike salt or burnt milk, we have the opportunity to be restored to flavorful goodness through a combination of the creative healing processes God has imbued in us and the true healing he has granted us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we are thus restored, we can live in newness of life.

That still, however, leaves the question of what a God-flavored person tastes like. This is what coffee roasters call the flavor profile, and is created (in coffees) through a combination of the characteristics of the beans (where they are grown, when and how they are picked, etc), how they are processed (removing extra parts, drying, etc), and roasting (how they are combined. And how long they are roasted at what temperature).

It’s easy enough to see the same type of combination in a person. We all are who we are through a combination of our inborn characteristics (what era we’re born in, our parents’ situation, our God-given lifelong strengths), our life experiences, and our current situation.

The most highly regarded coffees tend to fall into two categories, those with a characteristic and definite flavor (like a dark, smoky French roast) and those with two or more carefully balanced flavors (for example a Mocha Java). In the same way, exceptional lives have two basic kinds of profiles: people passionately dedicated to a cause or idea and people who just live life to its fullest.

It shouldn’t be hard to evaluate which of the two you might fall into: if you can answer without hesitation what the most important thing in your life is (honestly, not just what you think should be) then you probably are a single-source kind of person.

Most of the people history remembers fall into this category, because they are willing to take something and run with it. One danger for a person with this kind of flavor profile is losing sight of what is most important because they can get so occupied with another (also important) thing.

For example, my wife Alena used to be vegetarian because of the kind of treatment animals received. She not only abstained from meat, but talked openly about it with others and sought to convince them to be vegetarian too. It took a loving Christian brother to help he see that her vegetarianism had become more important than her faith, both in the centrality it held in her personal internal life, but in the flavor she offered to those around her.

It’s not that Christians should not be passionate about causes, but that those passions should be firmly centered within an understanding of God’s mission to save and bless the world. Less drugs, more green power, less consumer debt… there are countless worthy causes that can fit into the missio dei; the critical test question for single-flavor folks is what the hoped-for outcome is.

If our goals (as individuals or congregations) are simply to convince others of our way, make money, build power, or even just to generically “help people,” we fall short of what God intends. As Christians, everything we do should be “as unto the Lord.” If we do that, then our flavor will rise above grocery store coffee to truly artisan quality (which is only fair given that we are exactly that, the work of the supreme artisan).

On the other hand, those of us who like me fall into the blends category are often very good at the doing everything with good and even Godly intentions. The challenge for us lies more in sticking with things long enough to make an impact, standing up to systemic pressure to conform, and not letting the desire to be unobtrusive dis-able us from speaking difficult truth.

I rely overly on my wife to let me know when I fall into the pitfall of “just blending in.” For example, in choosing topics for both of my theses, there were a variety of good ideas I had, but I ended up choosing more difficult ones to study because they stood to have greater real impact on society. By studying the alternate track to ordination in my church, I provided hard data on how well it works which could then be used to help shape the future of the program and others like it.  Other options were available and I could have done well, but they would have “tasted” just like anything else.

We blenders are called by God to be integrators, spectacular through our dedication to one cause alone (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) and our connecting of other people and ideas in service to that cause.  If single-flavor folks provide drive and innovation, we provide the missing links that make things emerge in practical, usable, and high-impact ways and diffuse those innovations and that love throughout others.

So the challenge falls back to you and me: What is your dominant flavor (or your blend) and how does that specific combination impact your callings (vocations) as a Christian right now and in the long-term?

For me, some of my flavors are:

  • learning/teaching
  • understanding groups and types of people
  • seeing God at work in creation
  • being a helper or enabler (in a good sense)

Right now, serving coffee for a living, this means giving my best to take care of whatever needs there are in my store and to meet each customer and coworker where they are with empathy and honest understanding, whether they need help with ordering or language or just need someone to listen to them. It also means finding ways like this blog to continue my learning and teaching. And it shapes how I practice daily devotions, in my case by reading a combination of the Bible and nonfiction books and discussing and reflecting on them with others.

In the long run, I believe I will be helping people of faith (and likely others) express their passion and their callings in service of the Missio Dei through teaching and through working with new models of leadership that empower all people to really be a meaningful part of creating change and growth. My blend means that I will likely teach the pastors or organizers, not be them. It means that I will always be reaching beyond whatever discipline I’m studying and connecting it with others.  And it means that I will strive not to expend my life pursuing things that are merely interesting but always seek for that which builds up the city of God on earth.

Right now, your thoughts might not be that collected about this. I’ve spent a lot of time learning my gifts and seeking to harvest my passions, largely because of the good influence of my wife and some excellent teachers and pastors that challenged me. The same is true of congregations; they have personalities (flavor profiles) based on their history, their location, the collective passions of their members, and those flavor profiles impact how they can best be a part of the body of Christ here on earth. That’s why one size fits all leadership methods tend to fizzle after a while; congregations discover that while it may have catapulted another church into growth and missional service, it may serve as nothing more than a distraction when transplanted into a new setting.

But regardless of where you are as an individual or congregation, remember: God is our ultimate barista (just a slight twist on the Biblical clay in the potter’s hands theme), and whatever flavors he has given you are there to enhance the drink that you become – whether it is as a soy latte or a peppermint white chocolate mocha. His expertise will guide us when we listen to his call and we will become delicious and satisfying channels of his life to a world in need of love… and coffee.