Coming to a City Near You: Not Catholic Beer Club

There has been a quite a stir around the nation with “Catholic Beer Club” taking root in many of America’s major cities. Bloggers for the CBC Times, such as Kyle Sellnow and Jacob Machado, believe that Catholic Beer Club has the potential to bring new people together and create foundations for strong friendships. See 4 Steps to Creating Community That Matters, 7 Ways to Start Having Conversations that Matter, Finding Community, or Building Community, and Love: The True Purpose of Community, amongst others. But many honestly believe that what the world really needs is Not Catholic Beer Club, otherwise known as NCBC. They think NCBC comes with more benefits and will more easily accomplish the goals of CBC.

When asked what sets Not Catholic Beer Club apart from CBC, Austin Martin, founder and president of NCBC, said “We feel like our club provides for a broader range of people, allowing for individuals from differing backgrounds to meet one another and build relationships.” He also expressed his desire to simply have a place where no one will ever ask hard questions or encourage anyone to become a better person.

NCBC’s vice secretary of social affairs, Victor Tracy, said that “setting up events takes almost no work due to the club pretty much having no motivations.” When asked about the club seeming to have negative vibes right in the name, Tracy responded, “Whatever negativity people might perceive in the name, they’re simply wrong. At NCBC, people have freedom to live by their own truths and think whatever they’d like about themselves and the world.” Tracy noted the great courage of one “fallen” brother who deeply believed he had wings and could fly off the rooftop patio bar. Reportedly, before he launched himself, the man proclaimed, “No one can tell me what to do with my own body.” The man is still in the hospital and now self-identifies as having a broken femur.

Shelby Womack and Ty Samson, two regulars at NCBC, both expressed how much fun they had at each of the events they’ve been to. Samson, who was believed to still be recovering from a hangover, said, “From what I can remember, it was a pretty good time.” Womack noted that NCBC is great because it provides opportunities for more than just beer. “President Martin believes that limiting people to only beer is not very inclusive,” she said. Martin confirmed this by telling us that “I believe that CBC is alcoholist. Not only are we not exclusive to only Catholics, we are not exclusive to beer.” Martin was emphatic that being alcoholist, the bigoted discrimination of certain kinds of alcohol, is extremely non-inclusive and prejudiced. “I’m definitely coming to this rather than CBC next month,” added newcomer Ryan O'Leary who hugely prefers whisky to beer. After getting in touch with club representatives, it turns out CBC does in fact welcome non-Catholics to their events. Though, as a beer club, they are still partial to beer.

While CBC has made quite a splash around the nation, President Martin thinks that within the next six months NCBC will be found in every major city in America and will most likely double CBC’s numbers. When asked about NCBC, president of Catholic Beer Club, Derek Roush said, “I don’t like it. It just does not seem like a sustainable model for a club. It is a club founded on absolutely nothing.”

Regardless, many people see Not Catholic Beer Club as a new and exciting way to meet a diverse range of people and to build and deepen friendships. So, if you are looking to make some new friends, look for the next Not Catholic Beer Club near you and check it out for yourself! NCBC will be meeting on exactly the same night as your local Catholic Beer Club events. You can find them at the bar directly across the street.


Denver’s Divine Mercy Fitness: A conversation on spiritual and physical fitness with owner, Steve Smith

We all know that physical fitness is important. Staying in shape (or not) can affect everything from the way we feel when we look in the mirror to how well we sleep at night. But how often do we think about the connection between physical fitness and our faith?

We hear often in Christian circles that our bodies are gifts from God, and therefore worth taking care of. But what about the way we take care of them? Do we glorify God in our manner of working out? Does our attitude at the gym honor the dignity of the people around us?

Divine Mercy Fitness in Denver, CO has taken a completely Christ-centered approach to fitness, and the results have been amazing. Not only have gym members found themselves in the best shape of their lives, but they have also grown in strength of heart and soul. I recently got a chance to talk to gym owner, Steve Smith about physical fitness, it’s connection to the spiritual life, and the beauty of working out in a Christ centered atmosphere.

According to Steve, there are lots of elements to general fitness. Many people focus on strength, or cardio, or stamina, but to really be in shape, your body needs some of each. Each area complements the others and helps prevent injury, not to mention helping to prevent boredom. Steve mentioned that since running became a big thing in the 1970s focusing on strength kind of went by the wayside, but people who don’t contribute to their cardio with strength training are prone to osteoporosis and increased pain, especially as they age. “When you are strong you feel more capable of interacting with the world and more confident. Both (strength and cardio) are important, but they need to be balanced out,” said Steve.

General fitness is taking care of our bodies as the wonderful gifts they are. It is enabling ourselves to be the best we can be, and to have the strength and energy to carry out our vocations well. But according to Steve, the connection between physical and spiritual fitness can run even deeper than that. Working out, especially doing something like Crossfit (Divine Mercy’s main type of workout) is tough. Sticking to a fitness routine is tough. Working on our physical fitness requires hard work, perseverance, and commitment through repetition. All of which are virtues necessary in the spiritual life. Even further, a solid fitness program teaches us to self-examine, create goals, and reflect on our successes and failures. “Physical fitness relates to the spiritual life in that we are constantly growing by doing the same thing, persevering, adjusting, changing, having conversations about how we’re doing. It relates to that continued process to be better, or more of what we are capable of being,” Steve said.

That being said, perseverance can be taken too far, self-examination can become destructive, and growth in physical fitness can be sought for the wrong reasons. Even when we are striving to just take care of our bodies, we can easily get caught up in pushing ourselves too hard, measuring our success on the way we look, or forget that we ought to seek fitness for the sake of loving and glorifying God. What can we do to keep ourselves in check?

The biggest thing, according to Steve is to work out in a community. This is one of the most important aspects of Christ-centered fitness, because when Christ is present, and the group acknowledges that “the community that forms around that is more wholesome and more true.” At Divine Mercy Fitness, the language is clean (or at least expletives are used in appropriate context), the communication and challenging of one another is more loving and authentic, and the vanity is much less. In many gym atmospheres, especially Crossfit gyms, vanity is a huge motivator. Many of these gyms are full of immodest clothing and encouragement through crude language or thinking about that bikini body. But in a Christ-centered community like Divine Mercy Fitness, there is a more respectful atmosphere, both towards the self and the people around you. “It creates a very authentic, human community,” said Steve, “It exposes our prideful selves, but doesn’t allow us to sit in our prideful self. It allows us to look at our vanity and realize it’s ridiculous. We can also keep vanity out of our fitness routines with simple things such as not working out in front of a mirror, wearing respectable clothing, and praying before and during out workouts.”

Christ centered fitness goes deeper than taking care of our bodies, and does more for our bodies than keeping them healthy. It instills a deeper sense of respect for our bodies and those of others. It reminds us that our bodies and the way we treat them are intricately connected to our soul and the way we care for it. It reminds us that we are capable of all things through Christ, and helps us to run the race that is set before us.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” Hebrews 12: 1-2


How an Infatuation with Evangelism Led Me Away From God.

This past Christmas season at a young adult event, I made the sly move of “stealing” a C.S. Lewis book during the white elephant gift exchange. The rules had been set, after two steals the gift was locked and could no longer be stolen. At first, I found myself with slight guilt for having secured the second steal from the young adult minster, but my conscience quickly moved on. The C.S. Lewis book was The Great Divorce, one of several C.S. Lewis books I had been wanting to read.  

Sometime after the first of the New Year, I found time to sit down with the book. Surprised the book was only slightly over 100 pages, I anticipated a short read. At first, the reading was brisk as a majority of the story seemed anecdotal - void of any “ah ha” moments. In all fairness, there may have been “ah ha” moments but my heart was too guarded to be receptive. However, around page 70 my heart of stone came to life. Unsure if I was encountering a moment of grace or an onset of sheer terror, my reading stopped. I saw myself in the story. I was caught between the touches of grace and the blunders of hell.

Without ruining too much of the book, The Great Divorce is a theological fiction in which C.S. Lewis writes about a bus traveling between heaven and hell. Citizens of hell can choose to travel to the valleys of heaven to “test the waters”. Spirits in heaven try to convince the citizens of hell to stay. While intrigued, most citizens of hell freely choose to return to hell having convinced themselves out of eternal joy.

In one such instance, a famous painter is on the verge of committing to heaven, but quickly turns back upon learning he is no longer famous on earth. He chooses to abandon heaven in order to work towards his own gain. The narrative between the painter and the Spirit of Heaven goes as follows, starting with the Spirit of Heaven.

“’Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.’

‘But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.’

‘No. You’re forgetting’, said the Spirit. ‘That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.’

‘Oh, that’s ages ago.’ said the Ghost. ‘One grows out of that, of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.’

‘One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.’”

A chord in me was struck and I sat reflecting on my own soul. For me to explain further, I need to share some background.

Several years ago, I found myself the sponsor of a close friend who had transitioned, first from an atheist to a Protestant, and eventually a Catholic. In becoming Catholic he secured my own conversion to Catholicism. While raised in the faith, I never took the time to learn what we believed. Once I began learning, my thirst for theology, Catholicism, and Christ became palpable and unrestrained. I started leading prayer groups and speaking on the nature of Christ and Catholicism. This enthusiasm was born of a genuine love for Christ.

Over the course of the next several years I dove deeper into what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. Sharing the Good News took root in my heart. I started a faith based blog and erected a routine prayer life. Eventually I was led to entertain the idea of the priesthood and left a good paying job to discern God’s will. As a precursor to seminary, I committed to doing a year of service at the same ministry where I sponsored my friend. The year of service started by attending an incredible retreat immersed in the mission of evangelization. It was life changing and I anticipated the remainder of my year of service to be just as enthralling. Long story short, it wasn’t. It was actually quite the opposite.

Upon returning from the retreat, I expected the idea of evangelism to be widely accepted and understood within my ministry. It wasn’t that the idea of evangelism wasn’t widely accepted, evangelism just looked a lot different in the ministry I was serving than it did on my retreat. I refused to accept that evangelism could look different to others than the way I experienced it. Armed with the right way to evangelize, I began a crusade to ensure hearts changed. A few months in to my year of service I grew tired and overwhelmed. Looking back, there were great people who loved Christ in the ministry and they had given the idea of a new way to evangelize much consideration. My heart was just expecting something different than what I got. I began to grow bitter, bitterness in the form of self-righteousness. “If only x, y and z happened… Catholicism would finally thrive”, became a popular narrative in my mind, heart, and prayer life.

It wasn’t long before I began to hurt those I loved and served. And even sooner, I fell into old habits of sin. This spiral continued until the end of my year of service. While a lot of good came out of this year and I saw hearts transformed by Christ, I could have composed myself more gracefully. My year of service ended but the bitter spiral in my heart did not.

No longer considering a vocation to the priesthood I headed to graduate school. Transplanted into a new community, I was no longer “the guy who is probably called to be a priest” or “the guy who knows theology”. I was just another guy in the pews - I preferred it this way. I wanted time to sort through my dissonance. Expecting my faith to heal without the formal responsibility of serving others, I was surprised when my faith actually suffered. It appeared I had fallen from grace and some of my choices were evidence of this. I felt I was hanging by a thread, but on the rare occasion I stopped to pray, I could see God holding me - refusing to let me fall. No matter how unfaithful I was to God, He was always faithful to me. Even knowing this reality, I still felt empty and my faith was dry. I could not figure out why.

Upon reading the quote I shared from C.S Lewis’s book The Great Divorce, I understood the reason my faith was faltering. I had become infatuated with the “paint” instead of the “light I was painting”. I was infatuated with the details of evangelism, rather than the God who was behind it all. So much of my faith depended on “being the guy who is probably called to be a priest” or “the guy with the theological answers”.  In the words of C.S. Lewis, I had become… “drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him”.

While doing all the evangelizing I failed to realize I too need to be evangelized. While evangelization may be the act of sharing the Good News, it is sustained by entering into relationship. Relationship with each other and relationship with God. Without this relationship, the Good News becomes empty air, something to be said rather than lived. Pope Francis recently shared this sentiment saying, “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”

It is cleaner and easier to serve ideas. Ideas are void of the emotions they evoke in people. Though not true, I tend to believe my ideas have never betrayed me, only the people I have shared them with. I may not like it, but those people hold the key to my salvation. For they instructed my heart more about faith, hope and love, than my ideas ever did. For my ideas were just a pallet and some paint, but those people were showered in reality and light. People give me the opportunity to act like a Christian and not just think like one. Lord lead me back to your love. Lord lead me back to you.


On Receiving Love

        There's nothing more awkward than a "backpack hug good-bye."  Backpack hugs good-bye happen at airports and other places, when for whatever reason, we don't have time to set down whatever we have in our hands.  The physical dynamics never quite work from any direction.  The hugs are lame at best.  As a single woman, I carry lots of luggage (thus increasing opportunities for awkward backpack hugs).  On a daily basis, I carry a backpack full of books, a medical bag full of equipment, a yoga matt, gym shoes, a mug of coffee, a water bottle, and a lunch box.  I look like I'm going camping for a week just walking into clinic.  When I travel, I fit everything in a carry-on duffle and backpack.  I pack responsibly, never carrying more than I can alone.
        Carrying my own bags, full of the things I need for adventures, makes me feel strong and ready to take on the world.  It's a symbol...dehydration...I've got water for that.  Late night...I'm armed with espresso.  15 minutes without a patient...I'm prepared with material to study for my boards.  Mass murderer on the loose?  I can outrun them with my gym shoes.  As Americans, we sometimes pride ourselves in how much we can carry (physically and emotionally) and how strong we are, but stubbornly carrying heavy loads out of fear does not prepare us to receive love from other people.
        For example, on the last night of one of my adventures, I stood at the base of a steep stair case, holding my duffle bag and backpack.  A friend tapped my shoulder and offered to help me carry my luggage up that last flight of stairs to my room.  I looked at him quietly and said sadly, "I have to carry everything on my own starting tomorrow.  I might as well start now."
        Why wouldn't I allow him to help me?  It could be argued that my refusal stemmed from pride, but more honestly, it came from fear that help might cause me to carry more than I could handle alone later...from fear that allowing someone to help me carry my load would make me weaker...from fear that if someone knew what I was carrying in my heart they might run away or drop it...because I need so much more than just someone to carry my stuff around for me.  It's as if because kind gestures will not perfectly, infinitely, and adequately to fix my situation, I refuse any form of help.  It isn't logical.  I desire infinite help and relief (everyone does), but this type of love only comes from God.
        I wish I could say this refusal was a one time occurrence, but the truth is, I'm not very good at receiving small acts kindness from other people in general.  I've walked home from the ER after a severe allergic reaction instead of calling my roommate to pick me up, wrestled crockpots full of chicken that were too heavy up flights of stairs, taken cabs late at night home from airports instead of asking for rides, and wobbled across the street with crutches to class the day after major orthopedic surgery.  I'm good at giving time and energy to other people, but I am not good at receiving kindness.  Christ teaches not just to give love to other people, but also to receive love as it is, in all its imperfections.  Even during His crucifixion, Christ allowed Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross and Veronica to wipe his face.  He did this even though he knew their help would not change the weight of his cross or prevent his death.  Allowing Simon and Veronica to help him provided no lasting solution to his situation, but it did change his journey.  It made Him more human and bettered the lives of those who carried his cross with him.
        A few weeks ago, I went back to Creighton for a wedding.  I planned to sleep on the floor that night, but when I arrived, Megan insisted on giving up her bed for me.  I resisted several times.  Calmly, she placed her hands on my shoulders and said, "Christian, let me love you in this way.  Go to sleep."  We all have our "backpacks."  They're heavy, and they make it hard to let other people love us physically and emotionally.  So sometimes, I think we are called to set them down so we can hug that person good-bye the way we mean to, so that others can temporarily help us carry our load.  Sometimes as Megan said, we must let ourselves be loved.  Setting down our "backpacks" may not lighten our loads or required sacrifices, but it will change our journey.  It will allow us to become more human while bettering the lives of those around us, and that is worth everything.

CBC Around the World: 5 Great Community Inspired Breweries to Visit in Vancouver, BC

If you plan on travelling to the Pacific Northwest anytime soon, and you should, there’s a city just a little further north that is worth checking out. Perhaps you’ve heard of Vancouver before, but what you may not have heard is all that it offers. Aside from containing hoards of friendly Canadians, Vancouver is a fantastic food and beverage destination much like its American contemporaries, Seattle and Portland. If you’re there for a night or couple days, Vancouver’s burgeoning craft beer scene is worth checking out. I thought that a quick guide to a few of our favourites would be a great way to introduce people to the scene, and send you straight to the local favorites..

Vancouver is home to a booming beer scene. Not only are the people of Vancouver embracing craft beer but the brewers who produce craft beer have been extremely creative, building a community of people inspired by one thing: beer. If you have the opportunity to visit Vancouver, I encourage you to check out these 5 community orientated breweries. You won’t be disappointed in the beer you’ll taste or people you’ll meet.

#1 33 Acres Brewery

Why I Love It: 33 Acres is one of the friendliest breweries in town with an extremely social tasting room. Featuring large communal tables, you’ll be sparking up conversation with a fellow beer lover in no time. Offering 5 or 6 different brews, they have something for everyone and the food truck parked out front changes daily. Join them on the weekend for brunch which is insanely good despite being limited in options.

My favorite beer: If you manage to stop in, give the 33 Acres of Ocean a try. It’s a west-coast pale and a real hit around the city. It’s a little bit hop forward but not overly bitter. It’s session-able enough at around 5-6% and was a real favorite of mine.

#2 Main Street Brewery

Why I love it: Main Street Brewery, much like 33 Acres, is in what is referred to by some locals as ‘beer town’. Main Street Brewery is perhaps on the edge of this ‘beer town’ and features a fairly small but extremely cozy tasting room. With a long bar at the front and communal tables scattered throughout, you’ll be met by a friendly bartender when you’re ready to order. Main Street is also known for its friendliness and is in the heart of the Mt. Pleasant community.

My favorite beer: They have a couple of rotating lines and then about 5 lines that remain fairly permanent. Perhaps most well known for the Westminster Brown Ale, it’s easy to know why as it’s malty and smooth flavor will have you coming back for more. You can also find this beer on tap at a few neighboring breweries including Craft Beer Market which is only a few blocks away, and offers 140 beers on tap.

#3 Four Winds Brewery

Why I love it: Four Winds is one of those breweries who relies on its community for inspiration into its brews. Not that the other breweries on this list don’t use local ingredients, Four Winds goes above and beyond sourcing nearly everything that goes into its beer from the local area. With a great tasting room, it’s no doubt why people go off the standard beer trail to visit Four Winds Brewery.

My favorite beer: For Four Winds, this is almost too difficult a choice. But perhaps my overall favorite was the Nectarous. A slightly sour beer, featuring heavy notes of nectarine, it’s gone from a seasonal to a mainstay throughout the city. Four Winds got so much flack when they announced that is was a seasonal they had to purchase additional kegerators just to keep it online.

#4 Red Truck Brewery

Why I love it: Red Truck is one of those breweries big enough that it doesn’t necessarily need to engage with its local community. But with a giant new brewery in the self-proclaimed ‘beer town,’ Red Truck has instead decided to completely ramp things up by offering all type of different events, including the outdoor concert series which they host in the parking lot of their brewery, with plenty of kegs mind you,  and is often times free! I was lucky enough to attend one of these parties and it felt more like being at a backyard BBQ as everyone had come together to celebrate great beer and great live music

My Favorite beer: I am a bit of a beer snob when it comes to IPA’s but I didn’t need to be snobby at all when I tasted the Red Truck IPA. Extremely well balanced, with a delicious hoppy flavor upfront, it had a smooth finish which allowed me to keep coming back to it throughout the night. A close second was the Red Truck Golden Ale which is a hoppy summer seasonal which is sure to impress as well.

#5 Big Rock Brewery

Why I love it: Another brewery, much like Red Truck, that embraces the surrounding community is Big Rock Brewery. The main brewery for Big Rock is a province over in Alberta but the Vancouver location has done some really cool things offering more of a brewpub setting as opposed to a tasting room. With live music weekly, the vibe on weekends is really fun and will likely have you dancing by the end of the night.

My favorite beer: By far the Big Rock Citradelic IPA. The name says it all as it features a citrus taste that can’t be beat (except by maybe Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed). Apparently there was a lot of worry that the Alberta based Big Rock Brewery was just going to be a figure piece, but they’ve done a nice job creating some locally inspired brews using local ingredients.

For those looking for a great time tasting new beers and meeting some pretty great people, I definitely recommend Vancouver, British Columbia. Home to a big CAMRA population as well, you’ll see quickly why the beer community of Canada is one of the friendliest in the world.


Love: The True Purpose of Community

Four years and two months ago I moved to Kansas City  from St. Paul, MN. In St. Paul I had the best friends I could have ever imagined. It was really hard to move away knowing that I wasn’t going to be easily and instantly surrounded by “my people” - people that knew me and really got me. And, worst of all, if you’re like me and have a propensity to tell really lame jokes, a new environment comes with many uncertainties. In St. Paul I had relationships that mattered to me: relationships where I could simultaneously just be myself and work on the more selfish and stubborn parts of myself. When I got to Kansas City, I didn’t know exactly what to expect and I spent the first few months just going to work and not really getting to know anyone else. After that, my life changed again when I started meeting in a small group with some guys and started getting really close to some of them. Now, once again, there were people who knew me, accepted me, but also challenged me to improve and wanted me to be the person I was created to be.

I bonded with these guys and eventually some really great girl friends and I started to experience the kind of community I left in St. Paul. Both the St. Paul community and the community in KC changed me and I encountered people - when I was vulnerable enough to have real conversations - that gave me new experiences and insight that I had never had before. Now in KC a lot of the friends I made at first have gotten married or our lives have taken us in different directions. But they still impacted and changed me nonetheless because I was vulnerable and accountable to real friends that truly knew and cared for my growth as a person and disciple of Christ. Over the past year, I’ve been getting to know a new set of friends that have become a new community for me. Every year continues to be the best year of my life because every year I know people that know me, accept me and my lame jokes, and want me to be better than I am currently. All of this is because over and over God blesses us with the people we need to have authentic community by giving us relationships that truly matter.

With relationships that truly matter comes a series of experiences we thought we could never have. We enjoy a new type of happiness that is ultimately satisfying a natural inclination found deep in the way we are wired. I’m not talking about the short-term pleasure-kind of happiness, but a deep and lasting sense of “this is who I am and where I belong.” In these kinds of relationships there is a peace that says “all is right with the world when I’m with these people.” Now, it is absolutely certain that - in this life - no one will ever experience that type of contentment all of the time. But, if we don’t have it some of the time, we may need to reevaluate the depth and significance of our relationships.

Without a deeper type of community, we are left to conversations with people that are simply a kind of fleeting pleasure in themselves. If you’re like me, it’s fun to enjoy a conversation that doesn’t really matter - that doesn’t actually influence my life or their life in any significant way. There are conversations to be had that are pleasant, but not important. Pleasant conversations are fine most of the time, and I am certainly not advocating for every conversation to be super deep. But if we only have pleasant conversations, soon enough we will realize that the true purpose of community is not being realized in our lives.

Like the two greatest commandments, there are two places this deep and satisfying community is found: God and others. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.” What gives us rest? Going to Jesus and having communion with him. If we go to Jesus with our burdens, he wants to be our community. He wants to be the place we go to say that all is right with the world. At some of the hardest times in my life, I found this to be especially true about adoration. We were made for God’s love. Without Jesus as our first and most important relationship, we will always strive and struggle to find some finite thing to fill the void in us that longs for an infinite kind of community. In terms of others, we find that the deepest kind of community participates in and reflects our relationship with God. We get to know people that we share our lives with. People that, practically speaking, know everything about us because we become vulnerable with and accountable to them. People whose presence we enjoy and people who truly want what is best for us.

So what is the true goal of authentic community? In the course of our lives, community is important for many reasons. It’s a place where we find understanding, belonging, joy, kindness, compassion but also honesty, candor, and challenges from people that come from genuine concern for our well-being. But ultimately, the most important reason for community is love. It is a place we receive love, where we give love, and the primary school of formation for a life of love lived for God and others. In the context of our relationships, love - the true purpose of community - has a chance to be cultivated.

Because love is choosing the good of others even at the risk of our own detriment, we cannot grow in love without others. And ultimately this is important for our salvation because true holiness and sainthood is found in the perfection of love, first for God then for others. So how does community teach us love? It’s easy to see in the day to day course of life that our friendships give a chance to enjoy others’ sense of humor, abilities, talents, different ways of thinking, different unique purposes, etc. But what they should really give us is that place of belonging. But not simply in helping us be comfortable though. (Insert dramatic music in your mind here.The universe needs each and everyone of us to become who we were created to be. You are the only you in the world. You are the only you that has ever existed and will ever exist. There’s is something you bring to the universe that no one else ever has, ever will, or ever can. We do this by learning how to love with every fiber of our being. When we know ourselves: our gifts, strengths, our deepest desires we begin to learn our personal mission in the world, but no matter who you are the goal is to be truly you while learning to love to the best of your ability.

Since we all have shortcomings and failures and we all need to strive to improve, community is so important because it is our school of formation for the most important adventure of our lives. What adventure am I talking about? The key adventure of life: Learning to love. We all struggle to love God as well as we should and we all struggle to love others as well as we should. In community we have role models of love, we are challenged and encouraged to love better, but also we have relationships with the very people we are called to love.

In the end, there’s a difference between knowing that the point of community is love and actually choosing to live it. For me, the gap is often wider than I recognize. And I have a lot of work to do. Nonetheless, nothing less than heaven is our goal and, when we have true love in our hearts, we will want to bring as many people with us as we can. With love, we strive to become what God has created us to be, first for him and then for others. We often struggle seeing ourselves without biased, but you can bet your friends - the ones that truly know you - know some of your shortcomings even better than you. In my life, from St. Paul to Kansas City, I’ve had friends who see parts of me clearer than I do. The ones that truly love me challenge me to become better, and one day maybe even a saint. Looking around me, however, I see people all over who are deprived of true community that teaches men and women how to truly love. When you find yourself in this situation, take aim to find friends with which you can be vulnerable and accountable, friends that truly challenge you to better yourself become who you were created to be: a man or woman who loves well in every circumstance.

City Feature: CBC Phoenix

Catholic Beer Club. No agendas, Just Community and Relationship. We are built on this principle that while talks and bible studies are good and necessary things, sometimes young Catholics need a chance to hang out with other young Catholics, to encounter new people in an unscripted atmosphere. We need opportunities to meet people outside of our normal circles, to talk to someone about their interests that have nothing to do with our own, or even just to enjoy the company of friends we don’t see often. We need opportunities to build community in all its forms, from new bible study members to running partners.

Relationships are transformative by nature. Even the most surface level of our relationships have the power to affect who we become. The communities we build transform not only us, but the world.

In Phoenix, CBC co-coordinators Christian Andreen and Nathan Roush have created a space for relationships of all forms to begin—and people have responded. Because Phoenix is a place where people often move after college or for a fresh start, there is already a sense of openness about the city. Christian believes this also contributes to the success of CBC, because people come to the events with open hearts and minds. They are there to meet someone new.

The fact that the events are no pressure, and if you hate it you can leave, helps people to take the risk of showing up.
— Christian Andreen

The number of people who continue showing up, and even joining the group for country dancing afterwards, suggests that not too many have hated it. Christian and Nate make an effort to have different types of events—some with food, some with yard games, some at an ordinary old bar—making each month different, and enabling different personalities to shine. The heart of every event is still socializing, and Christian loves that when everyone is just hanging out and getting to know each other time just goes by, and people don’t even know it.

The events, however, are only the beginning. Christian and Nate both love that new people join them for country dancing after many events, even some who don’t love country dancing. They have gone hiking with groups of people they met at Catholic Beer Club, and even hosted screenings of Bishop Robert Baron’s Catholicism series. Christian has also had people ask to grab coffee when they just needed someone to talk to.

It was amazing that she felt like she could trust me. I think that since there is no ticket to get in the door, she knew I wasn’t going to be judgmental. We still keep in touch.
— Christian Andreen

Nate loves that the events have a very “disarming atmosphere.” You are invited to come and be as social as you like, to get into a debate, or choose not to, to play games, or to just chat with someone new. When people feel free to be themselves, the results are amazing.

As coordinators, CBC has challenged Christian and Nate in unique ways. “Being city coordinator has helped me to grow more bold,” said Nate. When he sees someone new, he want to make sure they feel welcome and try to help them meet someone they connect with, which has pushed him to start initiating conversations with strangers. Becoming more of an initiator has also been a challenge for Christian, calling her out of her comfort zone. But doing so, she says, “has taught me to trust, because people say yes! If you don’t ask, they don’t say yes.” After dragging her roommate to the first event, Christian was pleasantly surprised to find that people came. She said, “They were nice, and normal. And then they came again!”

Sometimes you just want to be around people who are with you on the big issues in life. Sometimes we get into debates, sometimes we don’t. It’s just good to be together.
— Nate Roush

Community and Relationships. There are many ways to go about forming them, and many different elements of each to foster. The simplicity of Catholic Beer Club has allowed multiple types of relationships to begin. The results, however, still defy the odds. The city coordinators create a space, and budding communities across the country grow and flourish out of them. “The whole thing is really a miracle,” Christian said, but it makes perfect sense when we have a God who loves loving us through each other. “I think God really wants Catholic Beer Club to be welcoming,” she said, as we learn to trust along with her that so long as we are, he will take care of the rest.

Avoiding Frenzied and Lonely: Investing in Community Simply and Wisely

In a world that often has us running around from one activity or event to another, we sometimes become overwhelmed trying to be in the right place at the right time. When it comes to finding solid relationships and a community that really gives us a sense of belonging, we can get exhausted by simply the thought of where, when, and how often to invest. When we’re feeling drained and don’t know what to do, it is always important to remember that we are creatures built for relationships, but they need to be the right kind and not haphazard. They are vital not only to our physical, emotional, and mental health, but also our spiritual health.  With that, I’d like to propose places we can aim to build community as a reminder to keep things simple so that we don’t find ourselves simultaneously overwhelmed and lonely.

#1: Our Families

The family is the first and most foundational community anyone will ever experience. One of the many benefits of the family you were born into is that they “get you” on a different level than any of the relationships you develop later in life. They’ve seen you grow up, they’ve seen you struggle and thrive, your failures and successes, they are similar to you genetically, and you have a vast array of shared memories that begin to tell the story about who you really are. Whether we are on the same page with our families on everything isn’t the most important thing for community. It is a place where, if you continue to invest, you will find a community that understands you and relates to you in a way that is authentic to you at your core and foundation and that you can find nowhere else in the world.

When feeling wiped out by the busyness of life, it will be important to slow down, and simplify at times so that we don’t put our families second to career goals or hobbies or other relationships. Our families are so integral to who we are that we should stay connected with them through every stage of life, starting with ordinary ways. Just by simply having dinner, watching a movie, or playing a game with family, we create opportunities for conversations about things that are important. In these things, we will be reconnected with our foundation with the people who have been with us from the beginning. This point becomes all the more important when we have families of our own. If you are a mother or a father, your family is your vocation. It is your way to heaven. You don’t get to make anything more important than that. Family time shouldn’t have to be elaborate. In fact, the strongest families are the ones that relate in simple, stable ways. You should find routines and recreation with your family that builds everyone up and puts the focus back on them. Everything else—your job, your hobbies, your friendships—comes after you find ways to consistently and healthfully relate with your spouse and children. You get to experience to beautiful struggle of family life that will bring up a new, healthy, and hopefully faithful generation!

#2: Our Workplaces

Hopefully your job isn’t everything to you. Hopefully your identity isn’t defined by what you do for a career. That being said, we all need jobs and most of us have a long time left before we can even dream about retirement. But, these are still important relationships. In a certain sense, they have built in strength because you are on some sort of mission together (and hopefully it’s meaningful). Because you have to go there every day and most likely over the course of many years, the way you invest in relationships with your fellow workers is really important. Some of your coworkers may become your natural and eventually intentional friends, but that doesn’t make your relationships with the rest of your co-workers unimportant.

In Romans, Paul says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:17-18). In your relationships at work, do the right thing and relate in ways that lead to peace and not conflict, neither external nor internal. As I said, we have to go to work every day for years. If work becomes a place of distress and resentment, it will seep into all areas of our life and become a poison on all of our relationships. So here some thoughts to help with our relationships at work: First, bring joy into work with you and, if possible, laugh with your co-workers, especially your “non-friend” co-workers. Next, communicate things you feel are unjust with those who can change it, especially the person you believe is being unjust. Learn to forgive; holding resentment will be a poison beyond the walls of the workplace. Get to know more about your co-workers. Perspective on their lives will help you understand their idiosyncrasies and may help you be more empathetic. Lastly, as in all places, aim to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. I’m not saying we should all be superheroes for others and bring them to salvation in one emotionally charged encounter or something like that, but we can do little things that make a difference for each other. Sometimes, because we’re human, our perspective is only focused on ourselves. Everyone should want to work in place where we are mutually concerned for each other. When we notice someone is overworked or has a lot going on in life, even though we might not be natural friends, we can step in and be merciful.

#3 Our Friendships

For many of us, this is the sweet spot. This is easy, simple, and routine. But then again, maybe not?! There are people that you get along with for recreational sorts of things like conversations, laughter, wine and painting, beer club, playing sports, or maybe you share mutual hobbies like fishing, woodworking, parkour, martial arts, or noodling. That’s awesome. Most people don’t have a hard time building friendships like that. When it comes to these kinds of friendships, the problem generally lies in answering this question: how many of such friendships can I handle? When is the last time you hung out with all the people you consider to be your good friends? We only have the capacity to share ourselves with so many people. We live in a time where friendships are easy to come by and maintain, on a surface level, at least. But at some point, our natural, light-hearted friendships will need to deepen. Life will happen. They will need someone; we will need someone. We will all need people who mean more than beers and laughter (although, it’s a fine place to start!).

Friends you can have conversations about the things in life that really make a difference keep us grounded in reality and not just jumping from one event or activity to another. If you find yourself with frequent #FOMO, you’re probably lacking these kinds of friendships or not thinking about them in the right way (this is definitely true about me at times). You don’t always need to be out at the party. In fact, there are more important depths of community and relationships than the party allows. Language is a gift from God designed to help us externalize what is in our hearts. God gave us this ability because He knows we need to do just that at times. Find friends to discuss life with. I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about talking about your life. People you can go on the adventure with. For example, instead of talking about poverty or evangelizing or being a holier person, get into conversations with people that lead you to actions in those areas and the areas of your life that make your life the adventure that it is. Our friendships are the community we’ve chosen. There’s a special power there because, unlike our family which is often a place of great similarity, our friendships are a place of abundant variety. And when we invest deeply in a few people, we will find that their perspective will be of great assistance to us as we traverse through life. Generally speaking, our families are our foundation, and our deep friendships help us become uniquely who God created us to be.

In the end, this article is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the places to find community. Our parishes, community groups, and even our prayer life are also important areas for maintaining sensible relationships. The key I wanted to point out in this post is that by making these three areas consistent and routine we do not have to wait until life blows up. Just by being present to these people, we can build regular and healthy community. Keep it simple all year round, each month, each week, every day.  Maintain happy relationships with your family (the ones who truly get you), your co-workers (the ones who don’t always know us, but who we spend a lot of time with), and your friends (the ones with which you’ve chosen to live the adventure of life). Building authentic community will keep us at peace with ourselves, others, and with the individual call God has put in our lives.  This may not be major news, but I hope that next time life gets a little chaotic or you’re feeling busy yet lonely, you will be reminded to think about how wisely you’re investing in your family, friends, and coworkers.



7 Ways to Start Having Conversations that Matter


Kyle Sellnow recently wrote "4 Steps to Creating Community That Matters". If you have not already read it, I suggest you do. The first step was "Have conversations that matter." This is my continuation: 7 Ways to Start Having Conversations that Matter.

Small talk is essential! "What?" you might say. I get it, you may have complained before, and I definitely have, that small talk is so boring! I used to blame everyone else for boring conversation; it was their fault the conversation wasn't better. The reality is, it was mostly my fault. I wasn’t good at small talk. Every conversation with someone new has to start somewhere. If a conversation is only about the weather and where you are from, it will be boring and painful for both parties. However, you generally can't jump right into a conversation discussing the merits of a theological interpretation of Taylor Swift's lyrics in light of Plato's Ethics. Launching into such a deep topic without knowing if your counterpart loves or hates T-Swift’s music or if they have read Plato’s Ethics is a recipe for disaster. Small talk is the building block of conversation and it is from small talk that you are able to find threads of common interest for deeper topics to follow. Don’t fear small talk.

You can't expect the other person to be intriguing and passionate about a conversation if you ask boring questions. The trick here is to ask broad and basic questions in a more intriguing and open-ended way. Instead of asking, "Where are you from?" (A question that can be answered in one word), ask "Where have you lived prior to moving to Colorado and what brought you here?" This can be answered with their journey from childhood in Virginia to their college days at LSU. They can talk about their job, or their love of the mountains that brought them to Colorado. By giving more ways to respond, you allow the answer to be steered toward something your counterpart wants to talk about, and better conversations happen when people want to talk. If all else fails ask something intriguing and outlandish like, “If you had the choice, would you rather ride a unicorn or a grizzly bear into a battle?” Who knows where that conversation will go but it’s already interesting!

This is a lot like the second step but reversed. If your counterpart asks you a simple generic question, instead of answering with one word answer creatively and leave multiple topics open for your counterpart to pick from for a follow up question.

In any conversation there needs to be a balance of speaking and listening, as a general rule try to listen more than you speak. We all like to talk about ourselves, so when we try to listen more than we speak we will probably speak about equally. Don’t be afraid of silence. If you ask a question and someone gives a brief answer and you think there is more to tell, let the silence sit, people naturally want to fill silence and they will typically extrapolate their own answer and further the conversation.

This is a simple trick but it is very helpful. It helps you remember the other person's name and it engages the other person on a personal level, it shows your interest in them and their story. It is a subconscious reaction, but simply using a name can go a long way in building trust and deepening the conversation.

Community depends on people, so we need to engage people, as people. Therefore, when you are speaking to someone, be present to them! All of us have found ourselves wishing we were talking with someone other than the person we are talking to, but nobody likes to feel like a filler conversation while you wait to talk to the person you keep eyeing. Focus your attention toward your current conversation, don't dart your eyes around looking for an out and turn your body to block the conversation. To build community we need to treat people like people, the conversation doesn't need to be long, and you can excuse yourself nicely, but when you are speaking with someone, remember they are a person and they deserve your respect. This brings us to our final step.

Whether it was a wonderful conversation and you have made a new friend with similar interests, you met someone “totally dateable,” or the conversation was difficult, you should always strive to end the conversation well. If the conversation is through but you want to continue the conversation at a later date make that clear. End by saying, "It was so great talking to you about Taylor Swift’s Red Album, I'd love to hear more about your music taste soon. Can I get your number so we can set up a time to get coffee?" or "Jeff, it was great hearing about your trip, I'd love to go rock climbing with you soon, I'll call you to schedule something." (Be sure to follow up if you say something like this). If the conversation isn’t ended by an interruption or some other factor out of your control, thank the other person for their time and mention something you enjoyed from the conversation. This will go a long way in making another person feel heard and valued. That will build community! Finally, if you want to excuse yourself from a conversation to go speak with that old friend, that cute guy or that pretty girl, do so, but be friendly about it. While being attentive to the person you are talking with, wait for a natural break in the conversation and then politely excuse yourself. Don't be deceitful, but give yourself a reason to step away from the conversation. If someone is excusing themselves from your conversation, be polite and let them exit. For conversations to thrive people need to feel comfortable, feeling trapped in a conversation is never comfortable, so let the conversation end well.

That being said, I've really enjoyed this one-sided conversation, thank you for listening and letting me talk so much. I'd love to continue this conversation at the next Denver CBC, so come and find me if you are there. For now please excuse me I want to go talk to that gorgeous girl over there, I wonder if she secretly likes Taylor Swift too. Thanks for understanding!

4 Steps to Creating Community That Matters

Recently a close friend was helping with a retreat at his parish. He told me about two old friends of thirty years who have been in the same parish and who have even been members of the Knights of Columbus for longer than I’ve been alive. On this retreat, he witnessed these two friends discover things about each other’s past that deeply affect who both of these men have become. Neither one had ever known these things before. Good job, Parish Retreat! But what ever happened to real life?! Deep friendships and relationships are difficult to find and maintain in a world that settles for such quick modes of communication. Like the ones that involve fleeting forms of affirmation via a “like” button or “thumbs up” emoji. I know it is definitely true for me, and I think most people can relate. We have friends, but those deep, authentic friends that really make a difference in our lives and the lives of others are scarce today.

Imagine a world, a community, a Church where people know each other a different plane, maybe even one we have yet to envision. Imagine knowing someone’s important life events, aspirations, and abilities so well that you can begin to predict their choices, successes, and failures. Imagine someone who will open up to you in an instant and lean on your listening, love, and insight because they know you and they know you care deeply. Imagine always having people that you can also lean on in all kinds of ways for every circumstance. Imagine living a life of adventure and significance, a life that matters in this life and even into eternity alongside people you’re this close to. Imagine a Church with communities of deep friendship that reach out to more people and draw them into this deep community of authentic love.

Granted human realities are messier than what has been described above. Still we cannot neglect the fact that our nature, described all the way back in the philosophy of Aristotle, is imprinted and inclined to have this kind of friendship and community. We settle, not just in packs like wolves, but in great big cities, and even small towns, alongside people totally unrelated by blood and depend on each other for our physical needs, emotional cares and concerns, for laughter, entertainment, and love. In the end, even if we don’t create perfect communities and friendships, having 3 to 5 deep, meaningful—though imperfect—friendships will be much more fulfilling, and hopefully adventurous, than having a hundred shallow friendships. The point of this article is not to present anything new, but rather to demonstrate that authentic community is very much possible if we apply ourselves to some basic principles that are really natural to everyone. So, with that, here are four steps to getting the ball rolling on community that matters:

1)     Have conversations that matter 

I made the mistake the other night of coming up to someone and asking them, “Hey, what’s new?” Even before this conversation, I’ve catalogued in my brain that this is not a good question to initiate worthwhile conversations. The problem is that it is too generic and broad of a question. A better, more simplified starter question is the more specific: “How is your day going?” or “How has your week been?” These questions are more important because they are specific and they get people thinking about the present; they open the door to the here and now for you and that person. As they are answering, listen for either what the person is passionate about or for what challenges or struggles they may be encountering recently. Talk about what really matters to that person and be vulnerable. One reason people feel alone today is because there are so few people in the world that actually know who they really are. It’s not that you have to open your heart to everyone you meet, but being willing to share things that can be disagreed with or things you are feeling is necessary to having relationships that matter. That is truly the starting point to creating community: genuine people having genuine conversation. The point of this step isn’t so much how to have these conversations, but it’s more about being open and ready to have conversations that matter with people more often. Granted there will be times when we are not capable of these conversations because we are exhausted or emotionally compromised for whatever reason. In the end the reality still remains that we won’t have community that matters until we begin to have more conversations that matter.

2)     Establish relationships that matter

Having a conversation that matters should lead to more conversations that matter. Multiple significant conversations lead to the beginning of significant relationships. These can be with coworkers, parishioners, friends of friends, anyone we encounter regularly either naturally or intentionally. At some point, to be a friendship or relationship that truly matters intentional encounters will take place between you and the other: grabbing coffee, lunch, dinner, a beer, taking a road trip, getting together for some good opportunities for conversation on purpose. This is the natural next step from having some good conversations. If you make a habit of having conversations about what you’re passionate about, what a life of adventure looks like, and what failures and struggles you’ve encountered along the way, you are on your way to becoming friends.

3)     Do something that matters together

A word people sometimes find “cute” or kind of “fun” is the word adventure. Like, “OoooOOOOooh! We’re going on an adventure!” It is a word I’ve used a number of times in this post already. A lot of times when we hear that word we think of doing something adventurous like hiking through the mountains, skydiving, cliff diving, bungee jumping, swimming with sharks, spelunking, or parkour. But when I use the word adventure I mean the adventure of your life in its entirety. All of the things in the above list are just small possibilities of the macrocosm that is your real adventure. Your life is meant to be amazing. You are the only you to ever exist and who will ever exist in the history of the universe. You were made to be something that matters. You were meant to have authentic friendships that matter to others, and even change their lives. You were made to be a part of a community that matters. “Doing something” that matters doesn’t necessarily mean a certain activity. It could just mean being that real good friend, talking in depth about reality, and perhaps inviting others into those relationships. These kinds of relationships bring authentic joy and that kind of joy is contagious. People will see how you joke and laugh but also how you deeply care and appreciate each other. This step could also mean literally “doing something” that directly makes a difference in people’s lives, both for this world and the next. In the end, true community will be solidified when we choose to live the adventure of our lives alongside others.

4)     Always being open to new people and new relationships

Once we have friendships that really matter to us, sometimes it’s easy to want to cling on to them as firmly as possible. One thing that will always make for an adventure is realizing that your friendships will change. Even if you stay in the same city your whole life, the people around you will change. We should be always open to starting at step 1, having conversations that matter, whenever it is possible. You never know whose life you change or who will change your life. Your life is an adventure. I know we can’t always be open to others, but being open to others as much as possible will increase the experience of our life’s adventure. We live in a world that is so quick in its modes of communication (and trust me I’m the #1 user of my phone for these modes of communication), but sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that building relationships and community can be simple. We just have to put in the work of having real conversations and being intentional about pursuing friendships instead of just waiting for them to happen to us. We can become the kind of people that make friendships happen. We can offer the gift of friendship to others around us. We can live lives of adventure for others. Simply invest in real conversations, be willing to be vulnerable, and let who you are be a gift to others in the world around you.