Jeff Haanen




The Way of Nature, The Way of Grace – Tree of Life

Recently I attended an event on faith and the arts. Erik Lokkesmoe of Aspiration Entertainment told a moving story. A secular journalist who had recently seen Terrence Malick’s film “The Tree of Life,” bluntly told him, “I call bullshit on all churches who don’t send busloads of their people to see this movie.”

We then sat, about 90 of us, in a small art studio in Denver and watched the clip above from the opening monologue.

Since then, I’ve watched it about 10 times. I pause. I listen. And I’ve been ruminating on the quote below. Do I live the way of nature or the way of grace? Do I accept slights, or do I look out for just myself?

As I repeatedly watch this, I feel something heal inside me.

I offer this clip and quote to you here for your own reflection.

“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

“Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

“Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

“They taught us that no one who ever loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

“I will be true to you. Whatever comes.” 

– Terrence Malick 

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Faith and Work Bible Study

Friends, a happy Labor Day to you!

To celebrate your work, I wanted to give you a gift: a free Bible study on Faith and Work.

The study is structured around people’s stories. In a series of articles, I highlighted the way people are living out their faith in the workplace.

Each study has a brief story Bible study participants can read at home. After each article, and before the study, we encourage you to Pause and Reflect on what the story might be telling you about God’s call for your own work.

The Bible study is structured around six sections: Introduce, Discuss, Explore, Apply, Closing Thoughts, and Prayer. It also has additional Resources.

Here are the weekly topics for “His Story, Our Stories: Encountering God Through Our Work”:

(1) “Light for Electricians,” (Creation)

(2) “Investments for the Kingdom” (Calling)

(3) “Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers” (Fall)

(4) “Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer,” (Witness at Work)

(5) “A Well-Designed Journal Can Change Your Life,” (Culture)

(6) “A Growing Charter School Planted in Rocky Soil,” (Organizations/Companies)


Looking for more material? Visit


“Wood and Nails” – Work Songs: The Porter’s Gate Worship Project


For the next several days, I will be featuring new songs from a beautiful new project I had the chance to witness in person recently in New York City: Work Songs: The Porter’s Gate Worship Project, Vol. 1 (Live)

Back in June 2017, a group of talented musicians, such as Josh Garrels, Audrey Assad, and Latifah Alattas, was convened by Isaac Wardell, the Director of Worship Arts at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. Wardell noticed a surprisingly lack of mainstream worship songs focused on the theme of vocation. So he convened a community of leading worship artists and the result was a new album that, in my view, is the finest musical contribution to the church on the theme of vocation since the era of the Reformation.   

The first song I’ll post here is “Wood and Nails (featuring Audrey Assad and Josh Garrels).” Enjoy – especially on your way to work this week. 



“Wood and Nails” 

[Verse 1]
O humble carpenter, down on Your hands and knees
Look on Your handiwork and build a house
So You may dwell in me
So You may dwell in me
[Chorus 1]
The work was done with nothing but
Wood and nails in Your scar-borne hands
O show me how to work and praise
Trusting that I am Your instrument

[Verse 2]
O loving laborer with the sweat upon Your face
Oh, build a table that I may too may join You
In the Father’s place
Oh, in the Father’s place

[Chorus 1]
The work was done with nothing but
Wood and nails in Your scar-borne hands
O show me how to work and praise
Trusting that I am Your instrument


[Chorus 2]

The kingdom’s come and built upon

Wood and nails gripped with joyfulness
So send me out, within Your ways
Knowing that the task is finished
The dead will rise and give You praise
Wood and nails will not hold them down
These wooden tombs, we’ll break them soon
And fashion them into flower beds
The curse is done, the battle won
Swords bent down into plowshares
Your scar-borne hands, we’ll join with them
Serving at the table You’ve prepared


O humble carpenter


Why Leaders Need Literature


5 Book Recommendations to Rekindle Your Imagination and Impact

When I walk through the door on Friday evening, I can usually feel a slight tingling sensation on my scalp. The speed of the work day – meetings, phone calls, emails, tweets, tasks, problems and exhilarating opportunities – is almost addictive. I can feel my heart rate slightly elevated and my words rushing through my house like a gust of wind. The pain of shutting down my smartphone for Saturday feels like I’m putting down the ring of power.

In the early morning hours, as I sip coffee before my children awake, I wonder who I’m becoming. I find it difficult to carefully listen to those whose lives are vastly different from my own. I find it difficult to consider the pilgrimage of my soul amidst the whir of leadership. I find it difficult to be dazzled by adventure as I was as a child; to laugh and to delight in the tall tales of giants and men; to find the emotional reservoir and depth of character my kids, my wife, and my co-workers need from me.

And I find it difficult to calm myself, and carve out the space, the silence, to read.

For years I’ve loved books. I became a Christian through reading, believing I had discovered a secret the world knew nothing about. But in my 34th year, pressed by responsibility on every side, on the weekends I find it far easier in my exhaustion to turn on the television, justifying that I have nothing left, even to pick up a book. Yet, when I choose the route of easy entertainment, I usually feel drawn out, thin, like “butter spread over too much bread.”

It’s tempting in positions of leadership to read the latest business book, or dilly over the latest news story. Everything is so pressing, so urgent. Yet over the last year, I’ve come to realize what’s most urgent is my own moral formation. It is goodness that my community needs most from me. Literature makes me ask questions about myself, my world, and my work that lean on my heart, and open doors to unforeseen countries of truth.

Here are five books I recommend that have found a home in my imagination, and perhaps can rekindle your own imagination – and leadership – too.

1. The Life You Save May Be Your Own, by Paul Elie

Paul Elie has crafted a stirring biography of four great 20th century Catholic writers: Dorothy Day, activist, bohemian, pacifist, founder of the Catholic Worker, and friend of the poor; Thomas Merton, rebel against the modern world, lover of literature, mystic, and Trappist monk; Flannery O’Connor, novelist of the Christ-haunted south, independent thinker, seer of tension between a longing for the Holy, and an ever-present secular doubt; Walker Percy, physician, melancholy novelist, and Catholic who found stability in faith amidst a family lineage that included generations of suicide.

Percy, O’Connor, Merton, and Day – all great readers before they were writers – became known as the School of the Holy Ghost, each learning about each other’s writings as they struggled to find faith in 20th century America.

The book is hefty, but it reads more like a novel than a biography, carrying readers from one episode to another. The value for leaders today is the book’s theme: “an American pilgrimage.” Each of them was on a spiritual journey, riddled not only with doubt but with illegitimate children, anti-war protests, the the pain of illness. Many of us long for the divine but find faith elusive. Day, O’Connor, Merton, and Percy are friends for the journey of leadership.

For me, spending time with The Life You Save May Be Your Own was not a journey of salvation, but it was certainly a pilgrimage toward sanctification.

2. Island of the World, by Michael O’Brien

Josip Lasta grew up the son of a school teacher in the remote mountains of Croatia. O’Brien’s tale takes the reader through World War II, occupying armies, the suffering and death of innocents, and a one man’s attempt to live a good, human life amidst the dehumanizing engine of the modern world. Island of the World is a story of the  courage, pain, and deep introspection of a man – and poet – not famous or wealthy, but whose journey from Europe to America formed him into a full, if bleeding, soul.

Literature, like Island of the World, allows us to feel, to weep, to mourn, and to see in character the moral conviction we long for despite the thousand miniature cuts we incur in life, family, work, and public life.

For O’Brien, the foundation of the world is not found in the city streets, monuments of steel, or, in our day, the cables of broadband laying on the ocean floor. The foundation of the world is love despite pain, hope amidst destruction, a God who suffers alongside side of us.

Leadership can be a lonely journey. After reading Island of the World, I felt a little less alone.

3. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

Vance’s “memoir of a family and culture in crisis” pulls back the veil of America’s working class, which has suffered since the 1970s, especially across Appalachia and the Rust Belt.

Vance’s odyssey sticks in your mind like a splinter: his beloved Mamaw (grandmother) who once taught her drunk husband a lesson by pouring gasoline him and lighting him on fire; his drug addict mother demanding her teenage son to pee in a cup so she could pass a drug test and not lose her job (after Vance refuses, she cries and begs: ‘I promise, I promise I’ll do better. I promise’”); the fierce honor code among hillbillies, demanding each slight be returned tenfold.

After reading Hillbilly Elegy, I felt covered in shame. A confession: I find it easy to look down on poor white people. When taking road trips from Colorado to Minnesota, I stop at gas stations in Nebraska and Iowa and quietly, smugly, look down on poor white people.

But now, after seeing Vance’s childhood, a sheep being raised by wolves (who in turn were also raised by wolves), I felt in my bones the enormous difficulty of cyclical and cultural poverty, and my own smug arrogance for not stopping to see and to know the American poor.

Hillbilly Elegy should be required reading for leaders who often have “hillbillies” working at the bottom of their organizations. This book gives the crisis of America’s working class a human face. And by the end, you come to even love Mamaw – cursing, violent, vulgar and all.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Much great literature is wasted on bored high school students; it is we adults who need it the most. After re-reading Harper Lee’s perennial classic, I was stunned. Stunned by the ability of a young author in the south to see the “other.”

Atticus Finch – old, scholarly, bright, humble – not only defended Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape, in court, but he could see his inherent dignity despite the swirl of racism in the South. Scout, Atticus’s curious daughter, defuses an angry mob coming to lynch Tom Robinson: “Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one time, remember? … I go to school with Walter … he is your boy, ain’t he? Ain’t he, Sir?” It’s as if Harper Lee can see the humanity in even the racist and bigoted. The hero of the story ends up being Boo Radley, the dark recluse thought to have stabbed his father. A strain of compassion and heroism existed even in his heart.

My life leading Denver Institute moves fast. And I love it. But when I move fast, I often put people into simplistic categories: “doesn’t get it,” rich guy, that’s a “get stuff done” person, ignorant, a “nominal” Christian. Harper Lee crushes my categories, and makes me take a second look at each person I meet.

If I have ears to hear and eyes to see, each person is a deep well, filled with virtue and stain, triumph and moral weakness.

5. The BFG, by Roald Dahl

Sheer delight. That’s how I’d describe my experience recently reading The BFG with my 8 year-old daughter.

“Human beans is not really believing in giants, is they?” Well, all of us should, because recovering a sense of wonder is right around the corner. Giants with names like Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater, and Childchewer (over 50 feet tall!) drool and gulp humans every night. But the BFG instead eats stinky snozzcumbers, drinks wonderfully delicious frobscottle (which bubbles downward and causes the ever-fun whizzpoppers to lift him into the air), and catches dreams, hearing them whizz through the air with his enormous ears.

Can you remember a time when both a little fear (could giants really be real?) and a sense of adventure (maybe I could be like Sophie and save kids from those terrible beasts!) were just as real as the dinner you ate last night?

Leaders need to laugh, to delight in words like Roald Dahl, and spend more time thinking like children. Children, in the words of children’s author Mo Willems, are not dumb. They’re just short.

Leaders could learn a lot from kids. After all, the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

This post first appeared on Photo credit



That Eye-On-the-Object Look: Finding Focus in a Distracted World


The world is a distracting place.

Email, Facebook, open office spaces, iPhones, and insanity-inducing apps with red pop-up bubbles nagging for my attention. What would the opposite of a distracted work day look like?

Check out this statement by W.H. Auden:

“You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his vocation, you have only to watch his eyes; a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon making a primary incision, a clerk completing a bill of lading, wear the same rapt expression, forgetting themselves in a function. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look.”

When was the last time you were working and you had that eye-on-the-object look? For me, at least, it’s elusive. So much clutter – mental, and physical. What can be done?

This makes me think about three things:

  1. Find Deep Work. Cal Newport’s book makes the case that unplugging from distraction is rare, meaningful and valuable. He also gives some clear tips on on how to work deeply in a distracted age, like quitting social media, embracing boredom, and “draining the shallows.” It’s the quantity of deep work – not the total hours in your day on your computer – that really matters.
  1. Serve the Work, Not the Customer. In her profound little essay “Why Work?” Dorothy Sayers says “If work is to find its right place in the world, it is the duty of the Church to see to it that the work serves God, and that the worker serves the work.” Here’s what she means: in an age focused on “customer service” we’ve lost a vision for the intrinsic value of the work itself. That is, we ought not to work ultimately for our customers or for our wages, but for God, and in so doing, our work reflects his beauty and creativity alone. Nuts to what others think about it. Do a thing well for its own sake. There’s your daily act of worship.
  1. Recover the Practice of Attention. Matthew Crawford has written a delightful book called “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.” It might be your iPhone’s fault that your distracted, or it may have deeper roots in Western culture. Crawford makes the case that hockey players, chefs and pipe organ makers need hours of undistracted focus – and that like them, collectively we could build public spaces more attentive to focus than frittering away our time.

It is indeed possible to get into a flow, as TED talk all-star Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it. It’s tough, but worth a try.

It’s high time each of us went back to the why of our work, and started to recover our vocation – and that beautiful eye-on-the-object look.


The Christian Retreat from the World: Chatting with Hans Rookmaaker on the Back Porch

Hans Rookmaaker - 1.001We all struggle to explain what we do. I’m no different. Actually, I have rehearsed a set of responses for when people ask the inevitable question: “What do you do for work?”

“I lead an educational nonprofit in Denver.”

If I can get them to bite with this amorphous answer, they’ll often ask, “Oh, really? What kind?”

“I direct an organization called Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We offer educational programming on how Christianity can shape and influence a wide variety of work we do, from business to law to art to education.”

At this point, they pause, tip their head sideways, and say, “Oh, how interesting.”

And…I lost them.

It’s not that they’re uninterested. But there’s really no category in most people’s minds for this kind of work. It’s just strange. Perhaps esoteric. Sheet metal manufacturing and folding clothes at The Gap — these kinds of work make sense. We need metal. We need clothes. But why on earth do we need Denver Institute for Faith & Work?

Fair question.

While sipping coffee this past week, I picked up Hans Rookmaaker’s slim 1970’s book Art Needs No Justification. After reading the second chapter, I thought to myself, “Maybe this is the shortest, easiest way to explain why we do what we do at DIFW.”

So, imagine the three of us, me, you, and Hans, are in my backyard, sipping a glass of wine after dinner as we watch the sun set. He starts right in the middle of a train of thought to explain the Christian retreat from the world in the past 300 years:

Hans: If, as we have said, in the 18th century our world began to change, as its inner direction was set on a humanistic track, where man is the master, and pleasure (through money) and power are the ultimate values, where were the Christians?

Jeff: Good question, Hans. You’re referring to that period in European history called The Enlightenment, when a small group of intellectuals declared a new age of reason and progress, in contrast to the tradition and faith of the Church. Man became the center of the universe and individual autonomy replaced God as the center point for all questions of society and meaning. But Hans, there were certainly many Christians at that time, weren’t there?

You: Of course there were! Wasn’t this the age of America’s Great Awakenings and John Wesley’s preaching and revivals throughout Great Britain? There were lots of Christians in Western society at that time, right?

Hans: They were not few in number, and some people even call that same period one of great revival. The mainstream of Christianity turned to a kind of pietism in which the idea of the covenant, as preached in the books of Moses and through the whole of Scripture, was by-passed. The Old Testament was often neglected, and the meaning of the Christian life was narrowed to that of the devotional life alone.

You: Narrowed? From what?

Hans: Too easily, large areas of human reality, such as philosophy, science, the arts, economics and politics were handed over to the ‘world’, as Christians concentrated mainly on pious activities. If the world’s system was a secularized one, missing true spirituality, the Christian’s attitude also became a reduced one, missing its foundation in reality and uninterested in the created world. It became sometimes a ghost-like spirituality without a body.

Jeff: Interesting way to put it: “a ghost-like spirituality without a body.” You know, you should come and give the introduction at DIFW events. I often struggle to explain that Christianity was once a cultural system, leading to everything from the birth of science to the concept of universal human rights. Today, so many of us Christians, especially Protestants, seem content to go to church, have “quiet time,” and let our public world be ruled by another set of values completely…

You: Not so fast. Christians even today are incredibly active in the world. We have mammoth para-church organizations like Compassion International or World Vision. We have churches who not only preach the gospel, but have cared for so many of the world’s most vulnerable. This is a huge witness – even in a secular age.  We’re still active today…

Hans: Christians have indeed been active. But they have often optimistically believed that it was enough to preach the gospel, and to help in a charitable way.

In concentrating on saving souls they have often forgotten that God is the God of life, and that the Bible teaches people how to live, how to deal with our world, God’s creation. The result is that even if many became Christians, nevertheless our present world is a totally secularized one, in which Christianity has almost no influence. Our society’s drive is determined by the world and its values, or lack of values.

Jeff: I see what you’re saying. It’s wonderful to preach a gospel of personal salvation and help charitably. But the set of values that shapes everything from art to science to politics to economics today, is now driven almost completely by another “religion,” namely, secularism. Or more accurately by millions of religions that go by the name individual choice and consumer preference.

You: If Jesus is Lord – really, Lord of all the universe and the earth – then what would it look like to infuse our work and our culture with the divine life of Christ the Savior and Redeemer of all things?

Jeff: Another good question. We should start an organization in Denver to address just that very question…

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Announcement: Launch of the 5280 Fellowship

Today is a big day.

Today my colleagues and I at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, in partnership with Gordon College, announce the launch of the 5280 Fellowship, a 9 month experience for emerging leaders beginning in the fall of 2016.

After years of planning, design and forging partnerships, each element of the program has fallen into place. And now what we are now offering is, I believe, one of the best faith-based fellowship programs in the US, and perhaps Denver’s premiere leadership experience for young professionals.

I know those are big claims. But I believe the 5280 Fellowship has the potential to deeply impact Denver for generations to come. And I’m not alone.

Some of Denver’s finest pastors – like Robert Gelinas (Colorado Community Church), Brad Strait (Cherry Creek Presbyterian), Rob Brendle (Denver United), Brian Brown (Park Church) and Hunter Beaumont (Fellowship Denver) – believe the Fellowship can be a life-changing experience for young professionals who want to deeply engage themes of calling, work, and culture.

Young professionals like Steven Strott (Cool Planet Energy Systems) and Amy Wofford (The Commons at Champa) see the value of connecting to a community of faithful leaders in Denver and articulate how important work is to the flourishing of a city.

And Dr. Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College who has deeply studied the world’s most effective leadership program, the White House Fellowship, believes this program, which has been modeled largely on his research, will give young professionals:

  • “deep relationships that span the city,”
  • a vision for how “the gospel provides a kind of connective tissue, helping us to see how does science and technology relate to the arts and entertainment,”
  • and a “catalyst in your career for the prospering not only of the wider culture, but also your life.”

Needless to say, if you’re asking big questions about the role of Christians in culture; if you’re interested in the relevance of the gospel to all of life; if you’re wondering about your own calling; and if you’re up for a challenge that could catalyze your career — then I encourage you to learn more at an upcoming info session.

Some of you may also be interested why we built the program as we did. On this blog, over the next several weeks, I’d like to peel back the veil on the principles underlying the Fellowship and why we built the program as we did. Blog posts will cover topics like:

  • Why Some Doctors Read the History of Opera: Leadership and Liberal Arts Thinking
  • EQ: Why Being a Good Conversationalist Might Be More Important Than an MBA
  • Why Nothing Before Age 20 Matters (And Why Your 20s-40s are the Most Critical to Career Success)
  • Calling: Learning to Listen to the Caller
  • Spelunking, Cave Formations and Culture Change
  • Our Common Longing: Meaningful Work
  • The Church in the World: Reformation, not Revolution
  • The Future of Higher Education: Friendships and the Information Deluge
  • The Golden Web: Mentors, Networks, and the Hidden Leadership Curriculum
  • Mission: Larger Than A Two Week Trip Overseas
  • Scattered: Being the Church Monday-Saturday
  • Significant Work: Developing a Taste for Tackling Big Problems

The launch of any new educational experience is really just the beginning of a conversation. This is a conversation on what it means to be fully human in this time and this place. I’d like to take the chance to invite you into this community.

I’d love to hear any and all feedback as the conversation grows. I hope you’ll consider joining me on this adventure into our own souls, the life of our city, and the heart of God.


The Calling of Jayber Crow

“It seems to me,” David Buschart told us over one dollar beers at Old Mill, “that the idea of calling depends on the doctrine of God’s providence.”

The four of us had invited David, a theologian from the seminary, to help us make sense of Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Of course, the book was just an excuse for four guys in our twenties to get together, look smart, and talk about our lives, wives, and jobs. And by choosing Old Mill’s cheapest possible beer, we confessed to the world we were both woefully ignorant of the what a beer should be—and we were utterly broke.

That night I was intent on trying to figure out my winding, seemingly aimless, career path. I got my master’s degree, now had a job in a completely unrelated field, and could barely support my wife and newborn daughter. In my head, the script was never supposed to work out like this. And so when the local wiseman tells me the key to understanding my work was to trust in the sustaining, providential hand of God, I wasn’t sure whether this was just I’m-here-to-make-you-feel-better counseling or if I should pay closer attention.

After speaking with dozens, maybe hundreds, of men and women about their lives and career paths, I’ve now come to think that my winding road may be more the norm rather than the exception.

I think Jayber Crow, the narrator of Wendell Berry’s great novel, understands us. As a young man, he thought he was going to become a pastor, but as he grew older (and wiser) he understood he was called to be a barber in Port William, Kentucky, the smallest dot on the map. Looking back on his days, here’s how he put it:

That is to say that I know I’ve been lucky. Beyond that, the question is if I have not been also blessed, as I believe I have—and beyond that, even called. Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber…in spite of my intentions to the contrary.

Now I have had, most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led. I will leave you to judge the truth of that for yourself; as Dr. Ardmire and I agreed, there is no proof.

In the moment, when Jayber was a young man, going to school, then traveling, it seemed like he was “wandering in the dark woods of error.” But as an old man, he now has the feeling “which never leaves me anymore” that he was being led, that the wandering path may have actually been the straightest path laid out for him.

Who of us haven’t doubted whether we are on the right path? And who of us has had a perfectly linear path from college to success to the Heavenly City? Later in the book, here’s again how Jayber explains his journey:

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line—starting in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked.

(Did John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress only tell us half the truth? That we are indeed pilgrims, but life hardly ever feels like progress?)

Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The name of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there.

I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet, for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will. 

I think of my own journey, wandering and unmarked. A waiter at Popolano’s, a family restaurant in Valparaiso, Indiana, learning to balance trays and decorate desserts; a missionary in Latin America, which mostly meant trying to get people to teach me Spanish while crammed into a diesel spewing bus; teaching kids to play lacrosse in seminary (I have no idea how to play lacrosse); leading worship with eight Mexican teenagers at a church in northern Denver, while massacring the Spanish language; the failure of having almost worked at a high-paying, highly respected church in Minnesota – until they said it just wasn’t a good fit; sitting in an an admissions office at a tiny school in Littleton trying to learn what a sales funnel is, and wondering why I had spent three years getting studying biblical Greek, philosophical ethics, and “big idea” preaching.

Yet looking back, I too can’t shake the feeling off that I’ve been led. 

My pride while in graduate school was gargantuan – just ask any of my professors. (It now is merely enormous.) My skill set and experience was painfully narrow. I expected the world to be like PowerPoints and writing term papers – and I expected to be handsomely rewarded for getting good grades. My ability to listen to others was dormant, until I was led to a job selling private education, where 90% of the school tours I gave were simply listening to the honest hopes and fears of parents for their kids.

Pilgrim indeed.

How easy it is to forget that pilgrimage includes suffering. Yet in the suffering, the wandering, it may be that we are being led – shaped, formed, refined – for a purpose that we cannot fully see right now.

Perhaps those of us who desire a “call from God”should first open our hearts to God’s providence, God’s provision, and to simply trust that He is there and leading me right here and right now, in this less-than-ideal situation.

And perhaps like Jayber Crow, looking back on the journey, I might come to see that He’s been there all along. And on the journey, Often I have received better than I have deserved.

Photo Credit: Wendell Berry


David Lopes: Facilities Manager, Artist


[Editor’s Note: This interview tells the story of David Lopes, a Facilities Manager at Colorado Community Church and an artist. David shares his theological vision for both art as well as his daily work of cleaning and maintaining the facilities.]

Jeff: Tell me briefly who you are and where you come from.

David: I’m originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I have two brothers and two step-sisters. Growing up in Cape Cod was really nice. My dad ended up working at the air force base there. I grew up there till I was about 12 or 13 years old until I moved to the suburbs in Rhode Island. I graduated from there and joined the Navy for four years. After I got out of the service, I went to Florida for construction but I met a girl who lived in Denver and so that’s how I ended up here. I’ve been out here for the last good 20-30 years.

Jeff: What have you been doing out here in Denver since you’ve been here?

David: Mostly I did restaurants and construction as far as work was concerned. Art really started coming back here in Denver. I was always good at art; my dad was an artist and both my brothers.When I came to faith in Jesus Christ, which was probably around the early 90’s, that’s where my life started to change. I was around 30 years old. I just really had no direction. I came from a drug and alcohol background, and then God met me. That’s when he started cleaning up my life.  And that’s when I started really picking up the paint, going back to art school for a couple years and getting that gift back in my life.

Jeff: You said that after you came to faith you went back to art school. Were those connected somehow?

David: I would say yes in that what I enjoy most about art is that you’re creating something out of nothing. You have a blank canvas. You can even take an old canvas and start over.  You know, sand it down, take the old and just start over. In that aspect, I see my connection with God and with Jesus through my art in that He’s given me the ability to create something out of nothing. Does that make sense?

Jeff: Yes. What influenced your art? Earlier on, and even today?

David: I would say some of the old masters – I really enjoy Vincent Van Gogh’s work, his colors and his boldness. Also, Salvador Dali. Just how they can capture the light and put it on canvas – that’s what I really enjoy whenever I look at some of the old masters. I’m looking for how they can play with light and make it come to life off of the canvas.


Jeff: So have you primarily painted jazz musicians?

David: Yes. My family has a little bit of a music background, playing guitars and piano. Myself, I dabbled with the guitar a little bit but I’m really not that good at it. But I always enjoyed music and I like listening to jazz. But what really captured me about jazz is the horns and the saxophones and how the light reflects off of the metals. And just really trying to capture that on canvas. That’s my biggest attraction to jazz.

Jeff: Did Colorado Community Church have any influence on that or Robert Gelinas?

David: Yeah, it kinda all fell into place before I started working there actually. I started this jazz piece, and with Robert’s love for jazz, you know, this place just seemed like a perfect fit for me and how he interpreted the jazz motif. How one person plays off another and, how he explained it, how they culturally shaped it into the Gospel message. That was really intriguing to me also. So I’ve felt really at home here as a member since 2000.

Jeff: Tell me also about your work as the facilities manager. Is there a connection between your faith and the work of upkeep of the building…as well as that of an artist? Is there a connection between those?

David: One of the first things I do in the morning is I’ll check my emails and see if there’s anything that needs to be taken care of, or if anybody is trying to communicate with me. But once I check that I’ll go outside and I’ll start picking up the trash around all the outside common area and as I do that, I meditate and spend time with God, and for me it shows me the sins of the world and how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for our sins. But they’re continual – they’re always there before us even though the debt has been paid. And so as I pick up this trash, I just see God cleansing me, or the world. It’s kind of a strange analogy.

Jeff: No, that’s cool. Tell me more.

David: Yeah because you know, at first, most of the time you’d look at picking trash as being a negative. It’s like, “do I really have to do this? This is the worst part of my job, I hate doing it.” But as I spend time with God meditating, worshipping and thanking him, that’s what he revealed to me.

So after I do that, I come back upstairs, I get online, and I look at the calendar and see basically what God’s doing. All the different groups that are putting on different events, our regular events, new events, the honor and privilege of being at a place where you’re a part of something that is so beneficial, or a greater good and just being community. Going through the calendar, making sure people have exactly what they need, getting my staff together, checking the day, the to-do list and everything I need to get fixed. And again just applying it to our worship aspect.

Because we’re all broken people and I deal with broken things every day. So I say, “Lord, let me be your hands, let me be your feet this day. Help me to do the things that I need to do.” And quite honestly I couldn’t do it without Him anyway. It’s a lot of building to take care of and with my staff I’m relying on people and I try to make time every day to build relationships too. That’s something I’ve never really taken the time to do in the past in a lot of different jobs I’ve had – always so focused on hustle and bustle and trying to perform, trying to be something good. And He just shows me it’s about relationships too – it’s not always about doing this and that. It’s about building relationships and getting to know people.

Jeff: Yeah – that is easy to do. So task-oriented that you forget about all the people around you, right?

David: Yes, exactly.

Jeff: You said in some of your artistic works that this idea of light was pretty important. Jesus is the Light of the World. How does that influence your eye for light in your artistic work as well?

David: It’s like the constant battle of the gospels. Darkness and light – and struggling for who’s going to win. Of course we know who’s going to win, but we have to be light in this dark world. And so it just solidifies my faith in that wherever light is, darkness has to flee. But light shines brightest when there’s much darkness.

Jeff: You can see that contrast in your art. Between the dark and the light.

David: Yes, exactly. I love the play on the two: I have to have the dark in order to make the light shine as bold as it can. And in a strange way I think it’s God’s master plan. You know, man has to come to see that. We have to come to that realization that it’s darkness that really leads us to the light.

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