Saturday, October 23, 2010


I ran out of beans last week so couldn’t make espresso for a day or two.  I missed the morning routine of standing at my “altar” and thinking and praying while I grind, tamp, pull, and clean.  I suspect that, if someone wandered into our dining room when I am alone at the coffee bar, they might be reminded of something liturgical theologian, Dom Gregory Dix, wrote.  I certainly am:

Yet it is an uncanny fact that there is still scarcely any subject on which the imagination of those outside the faith is more apt to surrender to the unrestrained nonsense of panic than that of what happens at the catholic eucharist. As a trivial instance, I remember that my own grandmother, a devout Wesleyan, believed to her dying day that at the Roman Catholic mass the priest let a crab loose upon the altar, which it was his mysterious duty to prevent from crawling sideways into the view of the congregation. (Hence the gestures of the celebrant.) How she became possessed of this notion, or what she supposed eventually happened to the crustacean I never discovered. But she affirmed with the utmost sincerity that she had once with her own eyes actually watched this horrible rite in progress; and there could be no doubt of the deplorable effect that solitary visit to a Roman Catholic church had had on her estimate of Roman Catholics in general, though she was the soul of charity in all things else. To all suggestions that the mass might be intended as some sort of holy communion service she replied only with the wise and gentle pity of the fully-informed for the ignorant  (Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 45).  

I share this quote mindful of Lutheran presiders that I know who clutter up their altars with stuff—we finally were able to move the stack of individual glasses to the credence—and their celebration with medieval ceremonial.  “But,” as Ambrose would say, “I digress.”  My point is that this is how I imagine I would look at my coffee bar and that, without coffee beans, I missed looking this way.

I also know that I get out of whack if I don’t preach often enough.  I miss the routine.  When I was recently away for a few weeks, my pastoral colleague talked about the grace of the weekly routine of preaching.  We agreed that it is easier to preach every week than once a month.  Just as there is grace in beginning each day at the coffee bar, there is grace in the discipline of weekly preaching. Taking a few days off from making coffee, I fell out of practice, had to familiarize myself with what I need to do, and learn to trust myself again.   Making coffee every day and preaching every week, I learn to trust the “method.”

So what does it mean that students can take preaching in the first semester of their middler year and not preach again until they begin internship a year later?  With the three or four sermons they preach in class, they are discovering a process and not developing a routine.  How might I help students develop the routine?  How might they preach every week or, at the very least, preach in the interim between finishing preaching class and starting internship?    

Learning By Hanging Out

We went to the Z & H MarketCafe ( on 57th Street today.  The espresso bar is especially neat because a “garage door” opens to the street and you sit “outside.”  The cappuccino I had was quite tasty, but not any tastier than the ones I am making at home.  I am learning and accomplishing!!!

I struck up a conversation with the barista about steaming milk and then pouring it, which is my next challenge.  She was making a latte so explained as she steamed and poured.  I learned a thing or two, which was really fun.  I explained my project and asked if I could come back and watch her work.  I suspect I will.  Learning by hanging out is a good avenue.

How do we do this in teaching and learning preaching?  I suspect this is one way internship is invaluable.  During that year in the parish, seminarians can (ideally) hang with a preacher and ask questions, observe, and converse.   I know this happens during the summer residency of the ACTS Doctor of Ministry in Preaching Program, between students themselves and students and teachers.

When I came to LSTC a decade ago, I attempted to set up a “preacher’s table” in the refectory one day a week over lunch, where I would discuss preaching, sermons, etc. with students in a “hanging out” kind of way.   Students would bring/set the agenda.  No one showed up so I  abandoned the attempt.   I wonder if I should try again.    

Friday, October 22, 2010

So Here's A Double Shot!!!

Today I learned to take and edit a video and upload it to You Tube and here. The aim of the Wabash workshop and grant is to help mid career professors incorporate art into their work. I never imagined that I would be fussing with a video recorder and enjoying it. I part of me wishes I saw as well with my eyes as I do through the high definition camera.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I knew I was getting good at pulling shots today when a double shot fit perfectly into the wonderful Mickey Mouse cup that my daughter brought me from Euro Disney.  I was so pleased with myself that I took pictures -- something that seemed really ridiculous for me to attempt, but it worked.

For awhile, I was using the wrong cup.  It was more a latte cup than an espresso cup, which led me to pull larger, weaker shots. Then I used a cup that measured out ounces -- an espresso measuring cup -- to learn how much a double shot should be.  I stood at the espresso machine with stop watch in one hand
and stared at the measuring cup, determined to get 2-2.5 ounces in 25-30 seconds.  When i got it down, the Mickey cup worked perfectly.

The cup, it seems, is the forms of the sermon.  In my introductory preaching class, I provide some examples of forms of sermons that, as Craddock says, have demonstrated that they can carry the burden of truth with clarity, thoughtfulness, and interest.  These include Inductive Reasoning, Deductive Reasoning, Definition, Moving from problem to solution, and Biblical “flashback.” What I need to add is some direction on how to choose the right cup.  For example, a sermon should "do" what the reading does.  Sermons on parables ought to be parabolic.  Second, as my latte cup taught me, the form effects how one experiences the gospel.  Trying to get the message to fit the form may weaken it.   Finally, just as the cup should not command more attention than the espresso, the form should not loom larger than the gospel.   So, if all people walk away from the sermon talking about is that the preacher used sock puppets, we cannot say that the form worked.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Espresso Beans I've Tried

Black Cat Classic Espresso, Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago, IL

Mighty Good Coffee, Ann Arbor, MI

Dalai Jave, Canandaigua, NY

Finger Lakes Roaster, Victor, NY

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Exegetical "Grind"

This week has been about grinding coffee. The rule says that a 2 oz espresso uses 14-16 grams of coffee and should take 25-30 seconds. Mine are running 13-15 seconds. I am learning that, if the shots are running too fast, the grind needs to be finer. If they are running to slow, the grind needs to be coarser. So my grind needs to be finer. I am getting to know my grinder to figure out how to do this.

It occurs to me that coffee is like the Bible and the grind is exegesis –- the process of analyzing and interpreting the biblical text. Relying too much on biblical commentaries is like using ground coffee. Much of the work is done for you but, like the coffee, the exegesis is dated. The best sermons, like the best espresso, require freshness.

Among preaching students—and preachers, I suspect—we can find two types of exegete. Those that enjoy exegesis produce a very fine grind. The message of the gospel gets clogged up in the exegesis. The preaching of those who are not exegetical fans is watery. Of course, the proper amount of exegesis depends on the discipline of the preacher and the expectations of the congregation.

So, the teaching question for me as a teacher of preaching is do I need to do more to teach this balance? I have trusted my colleagues in Bible classes to teach exegesis for preaching. Do I need to do something more or different in preaching classes? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Did You "Taste" the Gospel?

In preaching classes, one of the questions that I have always used with students in evaluating sermons is, "Did you hear the gospel?" Then, "What is the good news?" Or, "If you did not hear the gospel, what message did you hear?" Lately, I have been also asking, "Did you taste the gospel? If not, what taste did this sermon leave in your mouth?" Students know when they have tasted the gospel. I suspect parishioners do as well. Sometimes they say, "I may have heard the gospel but I didn't taste it." They are also more ready to say what taste a sermon left in their mouth -- guilt, shame, defeat, exhaustion, obligation -- than to name the non-gospel message of the sermon they heard.

A "Taste" of the Gospel

As I was making espresso today, it occurred to me that, at its best, preaching leaves people “tasting” the gospel. That's different from describing the taste or telling people what they should taste or how they should respond to the taste. If people don’t “taste” the gospel, the rest really doesn’t matter—you can’t satisfy someone by describing a good cup of coffee, convince someone that they had a good cup of coffee, or get people to respond to a good cup of coffee when we haven’t served one.

Another thing I am learning is that a goal of making espresso is consistency. We cannot tell someone, “Sorry your coffee isn’t good. The shot I pulled last week was excellent.” So a goal of preaching is consistently—as in every sermon—giving people a taste of the gospel.

I teach that preaching is “an event in which God speaks a word of promise to God’s people as the essential core of the gospel is proclaimed” (Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through You: How Faith Convictions Shape Preaching and Mission (Herndon: The Alban Institute, 2008), p. 61). My friend Chuck Campbell suggests that preaching is “a word that enables the people of God to step into the freedom from the powers of death given through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (Charles L. Campbell, “Resisting the Powers,” Jana Childers (ed.), The Purposes of Preaching (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), p. 29). In and through preaching, God brings people from death to new life; God releases people from bondage and empowers them to step out of the tomb and live the new life exemplified and inaugurated by Jesus. For more of my thinking on the sermon as an event, see Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through You: How Faith Convictions Shape Preaching and Mission (Herndon: The Alban Institute, 2008), pp. 61-64.

Some argue that expecting every sermon to be an event in which God speaks a word of promise is not reasonable; this high expectation causes both preachers and congregants to go away from the sermon feeling disappointed because, for whatever reason, the Spirit did not show up. A second concern about preaching as an event is the difficulty of translating the Gospel into a word of promise that means something to particular people on a specific occasion. Unable to find the words and committed to preaching the Gospel, preachers might reduce their proclamation of the Gospel to a formula or proposition, or simply mouth traditional language. A third concern about preaching as an event is that the preacher will alter, reinvent, add to, evaluate, or water down either the grace or the claim of the Gospel. A fourth concern is that people may mistake the preacher’s voice for the voice of God; should this happen, the pastoral relationship, and even the congregation, might be characterized by hierarchy and distance between the preacher and the people. Yet another concern is that this approach to preaching may become so focused on the individual worshiper, in order to facilitate a personal encounter with Christ, that it neglects speaking to the congregation as a community of faith and relating the Gospel to the world. Alternatively, people who do not feel individually addressed in the sermon may conclude that God has nothing to say to them.

And here’s where making espresso is helpful. Perhaps expecting preaching to be an event is too much, though as a hearer, I certainly hope not. But if it is, maybe we can leave people at least tasting the Gospel.

The Preacher and Teacher of Preaching as Barista

When I was doing research in Milan, time spent with the barista each morning, before heading over to one of the churches and baptisteries associated with St. Ambrose, was a “sacramental” experience for me. I believe the same can be said of preachers and presiding ministers, and ideally, those who teach them.
The best espresso should be extraordinarily sweet, have a potent aroma, and flavor similar to freshly ground coffee. The crema should be dark reddish-brown and smooth, yet thick. A perfect espresso should be enjoyable straight with no additives, yet bold enough to not disappear in milk. A pleasant and aromatic aftertaste should linger on the palate for several minutes after consumption. This wonderful drink is prepared and served graciously, welcomingly, and hospitably. As I reflect upon espresso, my mind immediately turns to the ways this description of espresso is a fitting metaphor for a good sermon. Simply insert “sermon” for “espresso” and “gospel” for “crema.”

Like preaching, espresso preparation is an art that demands the precision and dedication of science. Whereas the preacher must understand and balance variables including the preacher and the listeners, Scripture and the context, the occasion and delivery, and the presence (or absence) of the Spirit, and the teacher of preaching must teach students to understand and balance these variables, the barista must understand and balance the blend, roast, and grind of the espresso, the distribution and tamp of the coffee in the portafiller, the quality, temperature and pressure of the water, the timeliness of the extraction and the temperature of the cup. Factor in milk for cappuccinos and lattes, and things get even more complicated. Moreover, the barista is an artist like the preacher in that “delivery” is essential to the experience. While a painter is an artist whose finished product is evidence of his or her talent, a barista with great skills, one that is a real artist, is like a preacher in that it is difficult to appreciate her or his artistry unless you can see that person at work.


As a preacher of international reputation and an established homiletician, balancing the “variables” in preaching has become second nature to me. I expect that becoming a “student” of the art of making espresso will help me rediscover the complexity, uncertainty, and need for trial-and-error that my students experience. I post to my blog and invite reflections on what I write. In addition to rediscovering what it is to be a student, I expect that my “performance” at the coffee bar will lead me to reflect on my “performance” in the pulpit, at the altar, and in the classroom. An espresso prepared and served painstakingly, inhospitably, or tentatively diminishes the taste. This is equally true for preaching, presiding, and teaching. Making espresso, preaching, presiding and teaching are all “ritual acts.”

Initial questions for my own reflection and the reflection of others:

• In what ways is an espresso (cappuccino, latte) an appropriate metaphor for a sermon?

• How does a “method” of preparing espresso inform a “method” of sermon preparation, and vice versa?

• How does my experience of learning to make espresso inform my teaching of preaching? How is the experience of watching a barista prepare a coffee drink and then receiving it inform preaching and presiding and the way we teach it?