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The Choices We Make

I saw something great today… though it definitely didn’t start out so well. A teenager, not realizing that the T intersection in front of our house was still icy, tried to make the turn too quickly, lost control, and smashed his truck into the water runoff drain. He wasn’t going that fast…just too fast to turn on ice.

The boys and I were outside playing in the snow with my neighbor, Chris, and his two kids. I don’t know about the other kids, but this was the first time my boys have actually seen a wreck as it was happening.

As auto accidents go, this wasn’t a bad one (thankfully). My 10 year old, however, was nearly in tears – “Dad, that was a car wreck, aren’t you going to call 911?”

He was fine once I explained that no one was hurt, but the 5 year-old was unconvinced. There was no “nearly,” for this one. With full-on tears, he said, “But that truck is hurt. Don’t we have to call 911 for the truck?” He was very upset about the truck…

Though the front wheel was down the sloped entrance to the drainage, I initially hoped we could pull him out with my own vehicle. But he was right in the middle of the ice – I didn’t have any ropes or chains long enough to reach the dry pavement. As Chris and I were trying to figure out how we were going to get the truck out of the street, a Ford F-250 passed us and then stopped on the dry section of the street. Without any hesitation, a young man (maybe mid-twenties) got out, pulled two, long towropes from his toolbox, and asked where the truck needed to go.

The front-end of the kid’s truck was totally jacked – he couldn’t even turn the wheels. Thankfully, the ice helped us “steer,” but it still took all of us working together to get it moved somewhere safe. (Which we were eventually able to do…it’s parked out there right now.)

After the initial fear of having seen “a truck get hurt” wore off, the kids had all gone back to laughing and throwing “snowballs” at each other. (Translation: nearly murdering each other with chunks of ice and sleet…) Meanwhile, in the backseat of the Ford, the young man’s two daughters had opened the back window and were pelting their dad with snowballs of their own, gleaned from the top of his toolbox. All of this definitely helped lighten the mood as I talked to the teenager about getting his truck fixed – or the more likely scenario that the repair estimates would be more than the truck is worth.

Before our Good Samaritan drove away he gave the kid his phone number and said that his company has a wrecker they’d be happy to bring by and get his truck to a repair shop – just call when he’s ready. It turns out that this guy’s parents live just down the street from us. His company works on oil rigs – and apparently they’re limited in what they can do until the ice melts. So for the past couple days, he and several of his coworkers have been driving around town doing exactly what he stopped and did today.

As I sat down at my computer later in the evening I saw a video posted on Facebook where University of Oregon students stopped a car driving through campus, pelted it with snowballs, and then stood in front of it while others covered the entire car with tubs of snow. Several of the comments were lamenting (or venting) about “young people these days.”

Yeah, the kids in the video were acting like jerks…and I’d bet that the driver of the car was pretty angry. I know I would be. But I hope that he (and the rest of us by extension) won’t let that event define our view of “young people.”

Today, in front of my house, we had many of the same ingredients present in the Oregon video:

  • Young people spending their day out in the snow
  • A motorist whose drive in inclement weather took a sudden turn for the worse
  • …We even had snowballs (well, sorta…work with me, this is Texas).

However, in our case it was the weather, not the young people or snowballs that caused the motorist’s distress. If anything, the snowballs thrown by the youngest people were a distraction from the distress. And this other “young person,” close to the same age as those in the video, chose to spend his day in the snow helping people he encountered along the way.

The choices we make impact those around us. And all of us, regardless of age, socio-economics, education, location, etc., etc., are going to make some bad choices as well as some good ones. Sometimes we (including “young people these days”) will even make great choices.

So don’t believe the hype – just because videos of the bad choices are more likely to go viral, or get reported on the news, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing things happening right now in the street outside your house.

And to further illustrate my point: I didn’t get a video of this young man’s choice… but my wife did happen to have her video going in time to record this not so good choice of mine.

… wait for it…

Boom goes the dynamite.

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Just Some Dude From The Neighborhood

This is part of an ongoing reflection and unpacking of our “Bret Sent Me” social experiment. If you’re new to the conversation, check out the original post here.


Almost as soon as I had the idea to get a bunch of folks to tip their baristas, another thought occurred…”Can I really expect to influence enough IMG_2592people in this area to even make a difference? I’ll end up looking like an idiot…again.”

Isn’t that exactly the kind of thought we’re faced with whenever we want to have an impact? How many transformative projects never even started because people were afraid of their own insignificance? 

As a coach I help people address fears that are holding them back needlessly. In my Missional Imagination course, we focus a great deal of time and energy on developing a theology of risk and adventure. I’ve been a church planter for nearly 5 years for crying out loud! Even with all of that, this response of fear and insecurity was my first reaction.

I thought about all the commercials where famous people say, “Tell ‘em I sent you.” Powerful people, influential people, wealthy people. These are the ones who say that – people who’s names carry weight. (Unless the store is offering referral gifts…then we all do it.)

I’m not famous. I’m not wealthy. In the grand scheme of things I’m not really that influential even in my own town.

My friends know me. My family knows me. A good number (but not even most) of my neighbors know me. I have a modest presence on the web, but its a relatively small presence in the midst of a relatively small “niche market.”

But in the context of Burleson, TX, who am I? Just some dude from the neighborhood.

And maybe there is more significance in that than we give credit.

That was next piece of this experiment – the piece that has been most exciting to me throughout the past week. Part of the reason it grabbed me was the realization that after all I’ve seen, with everything I spend my time doing, it was still a message I needed to hear! And I don’t think it’s just me.

This is a lesson we must continually relearn for ourselves because we live in a society that pushes us toward mediocre lives of risk management. Over time we can begin to drift back toward obsession with the myth of comfort and security. We can allow insecurities and the fear of being confronted with our insignificance to slowly box us into self-imposed exile. Deep in our bones we can forget – even with the words on our lips – that we are made in the image of a creative, risk-taking, adventurous, incarnational God. The God who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. The God who walked in relative obscurity for several decades of human life and who called a few “dudes from the neighborhood” to participate in something far more significant than they would have ever imagined. A God who recognized the kingdom-defining significance of being a neighbor.

I often say that my church planting strategy when we moved here in 2008 was this: “Go to Denny’s. A lot.” It seemed to me that the most important thing I could do was to become a part of this community – for real, not as a gimmick or hook. So I became a regular at a few coffee shops, got to know employees and other regulars,  got to know the parents of my kids’ school friends, and just looked for ways to be involved around town.

Over time I began to realize, Burleson isn’t just where I reside, it’s my home. I am a part of this community. (Which didn’t really hit me until I got free ice at the gas station because they knew me).

I may be just some dude from the community…but we shouldn’t lose sight of how important and valuable that is. It’s so easy to think that because we don’t have positions of influence that we don’t have any influence, and that – at best – is short-sighted. In reality, this is exactly the context through which we are invited to join in God’s mission of reconciliation. When God chose to become human in the person of Jesus, it was a radical consecration (or perhaps reminder of the consecration) of the seemingly mundane experience of being human.

Telling the baristas that “Bret sent me” didn’t  mean anything to them initially. They didn’t recognize my name…until they did. This wasn’t about them figuring out who I am. The “Bret sent me” part was really just a strange – and thus memorable – group identifier. This was about a group of people rallying around a simple cause they perhaps only barely understood…and the impact that had on strangers. It was a simple (and yet, to me, very profound) reminder of what can be accomplished when we call one another to specific action.

In one week, with nothing more than a few blog posts, social media updates, and friends spreading the word, the phrase “Bret sent me” went from eliciting blank looks and polite, “Okay…tell him thanks,” to, “Everybody is saying that! Who is this guy?”

This experiment worked. It worked on something as “insignificant” as getting free coffee at a new store and leaving a tip. It worked with an unknown person’s name. There’s no reason to suspect that you, regardless of how influential you think you are or are not, cannot have the same or greater impact regarding whatever issue arises in your own neighborhood.

What’s the “tip your barista” opportunity in your neighborhood? Disconnected neighbors? A chance to encourage struggling single parents? Starting a community project, like a garden, book exchange, collaborative yard work / home improvement / spring cleaning?

Or what about more systemic issues like poverty? Injustice? Crime? Hatred? Loneliness? Lack of education?

Is there anything you can do about these things? I mean, seriously, in the face of these challenges and possibilities, who are you?

Just some dude/dudette from the neighborhood… Which means something after all.

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What Was the “Bret Sent Me” Experiment Actually About?

I’m glad you asked.

Over the next couple days, I’ll be addressing some of the different aspects and then later this week there will be a video that goes into more detail and also presents a major change and launch of a new era for Missional Monks. (If you’re just joining us, you can read the initial experiment post here.)

The idea for the experiment began with a simple comment. On the first night that Seattle’s Best was open in Burleson, my friend Ron and I went by for free coffee. As we were getting our drinks Ron (who was driving) asked the barista if they accepted tips. They did and so he did. As he was doing so he made a comment to me along the lines of, “Should be easy for folks to leave a tip when they didn’t have to pay anything for the coffee.” And that was the end of it.

But the idea stuck in the back of my mind.

The next morning, Ron’s wife Shandy made a comment on facebook regarding the free coffee all week. And in that moment, I remembered Ron’s comment about tipping…and the initial idea for the experiment was born. Here’s a new store in our town and for this week, every single penny we give them (well, if we order the free coffee) goes directly into the hands of new employees. What if a bunch of people did that?

As often happens, the idea snowballed in my overactive brain and pretty soon there was a lot more to it. We’ll get to more of them later, but simply put, the first impulse for the “Bret Sent Me” experiment was an opportunity to extend hospitality to the employees of a new business in town.

The baristas are our neighbors. Our town is still small enough that a new business opening is a big deal…even if they hadn’t been giving away free coffee all week. New employees, in a new business, with lots of long lines – this had the potential to be an incredibly stressful week for the folks inside that little drive-thru coffee shop.

So, I thought we could not only practice generosity, but also include some light-hearted stress relief with mysterious “Bret sent me” comments coming in throughout the day. The barista’s comment to his coworkers on the first day was perfect, “Uh…Bret sent her. Who knows Bret?” The laughter in the background as we drove away gave the answer, “Nobody!”

We’d like to publicly thank the following folks who we know participated in the Bret Sent Me experiment – if you played along with us and we left your name off the list, let us know!

Those who physically visited: Rachel Wells (obviously), Robert Bishop, Jodi Bishop, Ron Myers, Debbie Myers, Seth and Beth Nichols (who visited Seattle’s Best in Burleson even though they live in Hillsboro!!), Chris Chappotin, Heidi Chappotin, Jamie Gonsoulin. I’ve also heard that friends of friends, people I don’t even know, started participating…but I don’t know who they are. If you do, please tell us!

Those who posted on the Seattle’s Best fb page or shared on fb: Ron Myers, Rachel Wells, Caroline Wells, Pam Wells, Anthony Parker, Ruth Ann Prude, Ross Callarman, Noel Hammac, Matthew Johnson, Jamie Dahman, Robert Bishop, Brandon Lazarus, Seth and Beth Nichols, Hallye Fletcher, Daryn DeZengotita.

I’m grateful to each of you for your help. This would have been really anticlimactic if you hadn’t taken the time to play along. But that isn’t what happened. Sunday morning, I walked up to window and said, “Hi. I’m Bret.” The barista, Elizabeth, said, “Hi Bret…Wait…You’re Bret? We’ve been hearing about you all week!”

For me, anyway, this was anything BUT anticlimactic. The experiment worked, and it helped confirm another, incredibly important goal of the whole project. More details and explanations are coming up tomorrow…

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Final Day of the “Bret Sent Me” Experiment

Here we are folks. Tomorrow is the last day of our experiment. I’m so grateful and excited at the response we’ve had – tons of people in town have gone by Seattle’s Best and told ’em “Bret sent me.” And so many of you from other places have left comments on the Seattle’s Best Facebook page. I hoped people would respond…and I guess that was part of the experiment as well. If so, it was a part which has been amazingly successful. And that, my friends, is 100% you. Thank you.

The question that barristas have been asking repeatedly is, “Who’s this Bret guy?

That’s really the question, isn’t it?

…But if you don’t know the answer, you’ll have to wait until next week to find out. 😉

However, the experiment isn’t over yet! One more day to leave a tip or a comment…and tell ’em Bret sent you.

This morning someone suggested that Bret should send Bret by as well. So he did…er…I did. And he…I…we are very glad he did. If you didn’t see on Facebook, here’s how it went down:

The “Bret Sent Me” Experiment Continues

We’re halfway through the week of free coffee at the DFW area Seattle’s Best Coffee. We here at Missional Monks – and at the Wells household in general – are big fans of free coffee. And we’re also fans of the opportunity to bless folks, cultivate community and reclaim the concept of neighborhood. So we’ve got the “Bret Sent Me” challenge in full swing at the Burleson store. You can read a slightly longer explanation in my previous post. But if you’re in or around Burleson, please go by Seattle’s Best, get some free coffee (or another delicious treat…or nothing at all), leave a nice tip and tell them “Bret sent me.”

If you aren’t in Burleson, and even if you are, you can also leave a message on the Seattle’s Best facebook page telling them that Bret sent you to the Burleson store – but DON’T TAG ME!

Many thanks to those who have already gone by or left messages – be sure and let us know if you do so that we can give you a shout out next week when we reveal the point of this little experiment. And if you are able to get a video of your trip, share it with us and we’ll make sure others see it as well!

Here’s what it looked like when Rachel went by….

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