Lent 2017

Are you suffering from hurry-sickness, power-browsing or fatigue of the soul? Watch this introductory video.


We invite you to slow down during the Lenten season (March 1 – April 24) and enjoy this very anointed Daily Lenten study from Biola University.

lent-family-calendar Might we also suggest this little tool from Loyola Press: A Lenten Family Calendar. Print and post it in a prominent place in your home to help you honor the season of Lent. With ideas for practicing the traditional pathways of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, your family can take simple steps to a meaningful Lent.

My Sustainable Faith Story


Hi! I’m Marty Boller.

It was only a few short years ago, I found myself sitting in the living room of a very nice lady who was hosting Dave Nixon and a Sustainable Faith Year One training cohort in Spiritual Direction. At the time, my life was in crisis. I’d been laboring long and hard at pastoring a small church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for nearly 15 years and was at a point of total burn out. My church was struggling at the time and though I’d successfully maneuvered through difficult times such as this before, I’d never reached a point of crisis like this. Sandy, who has graciously walked alongside me over my 30 years in pastoral ministry, was burned out as well, but was thinking clearly enough to encourage me to join her in this one year of hands-on training in Spiritual Direction.

My pastoral coach had suggested to me that I needed to slow down and begin to listen for the voice of the Lord once again, but as many of you who serve in busy churches know, it’s much easier to talk about soul care then it is to actually practice it. But with the encouragement of both my coach and my wife, here I was sitting in a lovely home in Minneapolis, MN, meeting for the first time a wonderfully kind and compassionate man named Dave Nixon.

Over the next nine months, Jesus began an open-heart surgery on this old pastor-heart of mine. Slowly yet surely, the Master dismantled the safety nets that I’d carefully constructed for myself and plunged me deep into the heart of God where I discovered once again (yet it seems like the first time) the amazing grace of Christ’s agape love. By the time we’d reached the end of the Sustainable Faith course-work, I was hooked! Totally addicted to God’s unyielding mercy, I was convinced that I’d never be able to go back to doing ministry the way I’d been doing it for the last 30 years.

You can read more about my radical transition on my website (www.pastorboller.com), but suffice to say that today, through the work of the Spirit that was brought through the capable hands of Dave Nixon and the ministries of Sustainable Faith, my life and work are now, once again, on track with Jesus. Our church in Cedar Rapids has survived my personal crisis and has now re-created itself into a church where the care and cure of souls has once again been restored front and center.

So today, without any hesitancy at all, I invite you to come alongside Sustainable Faith as we together take the ministry tools of Christ-centered Spiritual Direction and offer them to even more folks out there who are waiting for a fresh drink of water for their dry and thirsty souls.

Sustainable Faith is now growing at a phenomenal rate! What was once a small ministry geared at raising up a few church leaders in spiritual direction has now become a multi-dimensional, cross-denominational ministry that is touching thousands of people across North America and even Europe! One recent report has deemed us “the largest spiritual direction training group in North America!”

My goal here today with this blog is to tell you a bit of my story and invite you to prayerfully consider helping us with a financial contribution to this ministry. Your generous gift toward Sustainable Faith is tax-deductible and will go toward helping us continue our mission of training and equipping men and women in the ancient traditions of Christ-centered spiritual direction. Watch this informational video for more details…


And click here to find out more how to become a Sustaining Member of Sustainable Faith!

A Small Christmas Break…

DiscipleshipLogoFor those of you who have been reading along with us over the last 12 weeks, you know we have now come to the end of Section 1 of our Journey Into Christian Discipleship series.

Section 1 – The Spiritual Characteristics of a Godly Life. (39 blogs)

Being A Believer

Being Empowered

Being Victorious

Being a Warrior

This week  of December 5th, we’re going to take a short break from our series before we pick it up again next Monday, December 12. In the meantime, we have several special things to share with you during this Christmas/Advent  season…


Tomorrow (Tuesday December 6th) we will begin a short Christmas-time series (10 blogs published on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and on Christmas Day) we call: Joy Comes in the Morning. It’s an imaginative short-story I wrote a few years back and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the ten short chapters during the Christmas season.

On Wednesday (December 7th), I want to share a special vision that’s on my heart and invite you to join Sandy & me in supporting Sustainable Faith, a ministry that God has used to change the direction of my life personally, and is touching many around the USA and beyond.

On Thursday (December 8th) and Saturday (December 10th), we’ll publish Chapters 2 & 3 of Joy Comes in the Morning.

Then on Friday, December 9th, we’ll get back to our Journey into Christian Discipleship and kickoff an introduction blog to Section 2.

Section 2 – The Personal Characteristics of a Godly Life. (37 blogs)

Being Physically Pure

Being Love Motivated

Being Extremely Valued

Being Christ-Actualized

So join us this week for a few surprises and may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!


Marty Boller


Giving Tuesday 2016


You’ve heard of Black Friday.

Small Business Saturday.


Today, Tuesday November 29th, is Giving Tuesday. A day set aside during the hustle-n-bustle of the holidays to focus on the truer meaning of Christmas. Today, we’re asked to focus not on getting, but giving; making a generous contribution to one or more of the many excellent non-profit organizations out there who are making a true difference in our world. 


Let me introduce myself.

I’m Marty Boller, newly appointed Development Director for Sustainable Faith. My wife, Sandy and I are teachers/trainers with Sustainable Faith, and along with Board Members Sharon Wada, Sara Carlisle, and Jared Boyd, we have been commissioned by the Board to invite you on this Giving Tuesday to join us as Sustaining Members of Sustainable Faith.

As I see it, Sustainable Faith is one of those non-profit ministries that is certainly worthy of your prayerful consideration on this Giving Tuesday. At this present time, there are approximately 20 individuals around the globe who are giving regularly to support the growing ministries of Sustainable Faith. One reason that number is so small is that our founders, Dave & Jody Nixon, never wanted this organiztion to be a ministry that’s all about raising funds. And to be quite truthful with you, neither do I.

But here’s the rub.

Sustainable Faith is growing at a phenomenal rate! What was once a small ministry geared at raising up a few church leaders in spiritual direction has now become a multi-dimensional, cross-denominational ministry that is touching thousands of people across North America and even Europe! One recent report has deemed us “the largest spiritual direction training group in North America!”

My goal here today is to inform you about the amazing ministries of Sustainable Faith and invite you to prayerfully consider helping us with a financial contribution on this Giving Tuesday. Your generous gift toward Sustainable Faith is tax-deductible and will go toward helping us continue our mission of training and equipping men and women in the ancient traditions of Christ-centered spiritual direction.


And click here to find out more how to become a Sustaining Member of Sustainable Faith!

60,000 Hits! Thank You, Dear Readers!



Today, The Contemplative Activist website (aka pastorboller.com) hit the 60,000 hit mark!

Thank you, dear blog readers, and those many other friends who have checked out all the happenings since January, 2010!


Many of you have heard the story, but for those who haven’t, let me give you a brief account of how I arrived at the beginnings of this website…

It was late in October of 2009 when I was awakened early one morning by a very vivid dream. In the dream, I was in my bed and suddenly in the darkness, right above my head and directly outside my bedroom window, an intense light appears. As I focused my eyes on the light, it turned out to be a very angelic-looking being. This angel was pointing to a very large book that was lying closed on a massive church lectern. The book seemed to glow with the same brilliant light that was surrounding the angelic being. At first I wasn’t sure what the book was. While now it seems so obvious that it was a large Bible, my first thought in my dream was maybe it was a ‘book of life’ or some holy book of some sort. The powerful glow coming off the book was quite stunning. As I looked at the book lying closed on the lectern, I heard the angel say just three words…”Open the book.” At that moment, I suddenly woke up and knew that I had just experienced one of the most vivid encounters with the Kingdom of God that I have had in years.

It was also during this time, I discovered a powerful phrase that evangelist Henry Varley used to deeply challenge Dwight Moody back in 1867. Moody, a successful traveling shoe salesman from Chicago, was visiting England, looking to learn from some of the great evangelists of his day (Charles Spurgeon, George Muller and others). Sitting on a park bench outside a massive cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, Varley turned to Moody, and said…

 “Dwight, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man who is fully consecrated to Him.”

As Moody returned to the States on a slow steamship, he struggled with Varley’s statement. As he stood on the deck of the boat as it pulled into the New York City harbor, Moody decided to take Varley’s challenge personally, asking the Lord to empower Him to be “just that man”…a man or woman who is fully consecrated, or set apart, for God’s unique call and purpose in his or her life. In response to that challenge, Moody went on to become a man of God who made a unique difference in his generation.

As I pondered my vivid dream/vision and reflected on how I might respond to Henry Varley’s challenge, I decided that I needed to get a bit more serious (and intentional) with my devotional studies with God and with my strong desire to write as I pondered on God’s Word. Since I needed some accountability in my studies and writings, I thought it best to commit myself to posting my writings regularly via the internet. I was intrigued, at the time, by the popular movie, “Julie & Julia” where one passionate person (in this case, a writer with one big love for Chef Julia Child & her famed French cooking) began blogging on her cooking experiences and found a true niche for herself and her writings. So in January 2010, I ventured out on my own with my “As I See It” blog series here on pastorboller.com. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Now, here we are 60,000 hits later…and the journey continues! Thank you to all who’ve taken the ride with me! I hope you’ll continue the journey with us as we trek onward to become Christ-centered contemplative activists in the midst of one of the busiest, loudest, and seemingly, most hurried times in human history!

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You

Marty Boller  A recovering 3-B pastor on his way to becoming a contemplative activist.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know…


So…if it’s proven scientifically that slowing down our bodies; practicing relaxation exercises which include meditation, can actually produce positive results in our body’s DNA, (watch this fascinating Fox News segment on the medical values being associated with the practice of yoga); then why would it not be of even greater value to us Christ-followers to take some of these same practices, re-work them into Christ-centered, Scripture-focused and Spirit-empowered tools and reap the great benefit of 20 minutes per day slowing down with Jesus?


In truth, many Christians are truly afraid of the exercises associated with yoga because of their origins in eastern religion. I like to kid folks at times and remind them that the Christianity we read about in our Bibles can easily be pegged as an “eastern religion” as well, because the last time I looked at a world map, Israel sure looks a lot further east than New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago! (But, we’ll save that thought for later posts!)

In all seriousness, however, I did find this very informative article in Christianity Today which addresses some of these legitimate fears that Christians have. Take a peek at the article, Yes to Yoga: Can a Christian Breathe Air that has been Offered to Idols? by Agnieszka Tennant.

So…here’s a thought to ponder. What if more and more of us fast-paced Christians began slowing down a bit, taking more time daily to re-focus our lives, giving our bodies, our minds, and our souls a bit of a rest? I wonder what benefits we might see in our lives over the years ahead? Science apparently tells us that even our DNA might change for the better! Looking for a way to start? Try these ten practical steps to slowing down your life, for the glory of God…

Here’s a good way to start slowing down. (via a blog post written by Leo Babauta)

1. Do less. It’s hard to slow down when you are trying to do a million things. Instead, make the conscious choice to do less. Focus on what’s really important, what really needs to be done, and let go of the rest. Put space between tasks and appointments, so you can move through your days at a more leisurely pace.

2. Be present. It’s not enough to just slow down — you need to actually be mindful of whatever you’re doing at the moment. That means, when you find yourself thinking about something you need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen … gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what’s going on right now. On your actions, on your environment, on others around you. This takes practice but is essential.

3. Disconnect. Don’t always be connected. If you carry around an iPhone or Blackberry or other mobile device, shut it off. Better yet, learn to leave it behind when possible. If you work on a computer most of the day, have times when you disconnect so you can focus on other things. Being connected all the time means we’re subject to interruptions, we’re constantly stressed about information coming in, we are at the mercy of the demands of others. It’s hard to slow down when you’re always checking new messages coming in.

4. Focus on people. Too often we spend time with friends and family, or meet with colleagues, and we’re not really there with them. We talk to them but are distracted by devices. We are there, but our minds are on things we need to do. We listen, but we’re really thinking about ourselves and what we want to say. None of us are immune to this, but with conscious effort you can shut off the outside world and just be present with the person you’re with. This means that just a little time spent with your family and friends can go a long way — a much more effective use of your time, by the way. It means we really connect with people rather than just meeting with them.

5. Appreciate nature. Many of us are shut in our homes and offices and cars and trains most of the time, and rarely do we get the chance to go outside. And often even when people are outside, they’re talking on their cell phones. Instead, take the time to go outside and really observe nature, take a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the serenity of water and greenery. Exercise outdoors when you can, or find other outdoor activities to enjoy such as nature walks, hiking, swimming, etc. Feel the sensations of water and wind and earth against your skin. Try to do this daily — by yourself or with loved ones.

6. Eat slower. Instead of cramming food down our throats as quickly as possible — leading to overeating and a lack of enjoyment of our food — learn to eat slowly. Be mindful of each bite. Appreciate the flavors and textures. Eating slowly has the double benefit of making you fuller on less food and making the food taste better. I suggest learning to eat more real food as well, with some great spices (instead of fat and salt and sugar and frying for flavor).

7. Drive slower. Speedy driving is a pretty prevalent habit in our fast-paced world, but it’s also responsible for a lot of traffic accidents, stress, and wasted fuel. Instead, make it a habit to slow down when you drive. Appreciate your surroundings. Make it a peaceful time to contemplate your life, and the things you’re passing. Driving will be more enjoyable, and much safer. You’ll use less fuel too.

8. Find pleasure in anything. This is related to being present, but taking it a step farther. Whatever you’re doing, be fully present … and also appreciate every aspect of it, and find the enjoyable aspects. For example, when washing dishes, instead of rushing through it as a boring chore to be finished quickly, really feel the sensations of the water, the suds, the dishes. It can really be an enjoyable task if you learn to see it that way. The same applies to other chores — washing the car, sweeping, dusting, laundry — and anything you do, actually. Life can be so much more enjoyable if you learn this simple habit.

9. Single-task. The opposite of multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back.

10. Breathe. When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause, and take a deep breath. Take a couple more. Really feel the air coming into your body, and feel the stress going out. By fully focusing on each breath, you bring yourself back to the present, and slow yourself down. It’s also nice to take a deep breath or two — do it now and see what I mean.

If you looking for more encouragement on becoming what we call Christ-centered contemplative activists…subscribe to our free website (www.thecontemplativeactivist.com). We’d love to have you join us in the journey!

marty  Marty Boller

Step Out Of The 3-B Traffic!


My good friends Dave Booram and Beth McLaughlin Booram, who oversee the Sustainable Faith-Indy Retreat Center, wrote recently on Facebook this encouraging (and strong) word for pastors/leaders who are feeling the tension in their lives between “doing church as usual” or “following Jesus where He leads.” I see these words here as an encouragement to step out of the 3-B world of church management, where (B)uildings, (B)ucks, & (B)utts in the seats are the measuring sticks of success! Take these words to heart, my dear pastoral shepherds, and step out of the 3-B traffic!   MB

Awhile back I (Dave) was meeting with a pastor from out-of-town who was telling me about a conflict he was having with his board over a building project. As he described it, he was tense and worn out. I’ve known this man long enough to know this was not a priority that reflected either his sweet spot or his true calling. As I gave voice to how he seemed to have lost his way, I said “You don’t really give a shit about this new education wing, so stop acting like you do. I know you well enough to know that what you really care about is shepherding these people. So be about that, whether the board makes a good decision or a bad one. Start caring about what you really care about, and stop trying to act like you care about what doesn’t really matter to you and your calling.” I could tell the words hit their mark and there was freedom that began to seep into his wearied soul and the corners of his mouth.

This morning as I anticipated going to my own church, I thought about this again, and the pastors that are on staff and the challenges to care and shepherd their people. And I thought about what a good shepherd really does. And who they really are (or should be). So here’s my list, relevant to all of us whether we’re paid or unpaid to shepherd others. A good shepherd…

– teaches others to pray
– listens and asks helpful questions
– nourishes others
– offers presence and “withness”
– affirms and draws attention to the Spirit’s movement
– serves others
– welcomes and offers hospitality
– has a warm heart for God and a soft heart for the world and people
– is not the boss
– does not pose or pretend to be other than what they are
– is remarkable in their unremarkableness
– is a deep well of wisdom and insight as to how things work
– is loyal to what matters, and indifferent to what doesn’t
– can experience and move freely between joy and sorrow, hope and darkness
– will advocate for the weak, broken and abused
– is a non-anxious presence
– brings peace

Thanks Dave & Beth. I encourage you, my dear reader, to become a regular subscriber (it’s free!) to www.thecontemplativeactivist.com for more encouragement. There are many out there to stand with you as you transition from being a 3-B pastor/leader to becoming a contemplative activist!

Happy 71st Anniversary Mom & Dad.

March 17, 1945.

Happy St. Pat’s Day! My parent’s wedding anniversary…March 17, 1945…71 years ago today! My dad, George Boller, was serving in the Army during WWII at Heart Mountain, WY at a Japanese determent camp…my mom, Dixie Boyer, was a school teacher there working with the young Japanese-American students. A three-day pass to get married in Billings, MT! 

Below is the rest of the story…taken from my website: The Boller Family Story 1816-2016.

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad.

1945GeorgeDixiewedding 1945Honeymoon Photo 21200dpi

George & Dixie’s wedding & honeymoon photos!

“The service had its rewards, however, as it was there that George met his wife, the former Dixie Lee Boyer of Trenton, Missouri. A graduate of the University of Colorado, Dixie was teaching at a Japanese-American relocation center at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and George was a military policeman there when they met.” George and Dixie, took a quick three day leave from Heart Mountain and were married at 4: 35 pm in a Presbyterian parsonage on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1945 in Billings, Montana.

1945Dixie and George Boller Wedding License

George & Dixie’s marriage certificate.

In her wedding book, Dixie writes: “the bride wore a brown gabardine suit with matching accessories and a beautiful gardenia corsage. Rev. A.G. Adams performed the double ring ceremony in a mid-Victorian parlor. The tension of such a beautiful but critical moment caused us to review our vows later, because it was impossible to grasp them fully during the wedding. It was the most wonderful moment in our lives and may we never forget our promises of love.”

In reference to their honeymoon, Dixie writes: “In wartime, brides have short or no honeymoons. We were no exceptions. Following the ceremony we and our attendants (Sergeant and Mrs. Carl B. Reuscher) had a lovely dinner at Billings Bel-Nap Hotel. We re-saw the musical comedy, ‘Naughty Marietta’. It was an odd but lovely sounding name, this new Mrs. G. E. Boller. Attended the Presbyterian Church Sunday morning, had a luxurious lunch with just us two. Monday, after sweeping our rice and carton-decorated apt., we shopped in Cody (Wyoming) and spent the rest of our 3 day pass at home in 18-B, Heart Mt.”

1946Dixie and George 18 B

Dixie continues: “We were home exactly 8 minutes when Mr. & Mrs. Fayette Burton, Bonnie Braska, Larna Hill (Wyrough) and the Burton children dropped in. A bride’s first venture in entertaining! After the review of 18-B, we munched peanut salad and toasted cheese sandwiches, olives and coffee. I hope they enjoyed half my thrill in seeing my new trays and coffee server in action.”

1944Heart Moutain Winter

1943-1945  Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

In a sidebar here, I need to explain to many of you about the “Japanese-American relocation center” where George and Dixie first met. During the early days of World War II, immediately following Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) the United States government was very concerned about possible Japanese air strikes on the west coast of America. In order to “protect” the country from possible sabotage, a great injustice occurred in the early 1940’s. Nearly every American citizen with a Japanese heritage who was living on or near the west coast was ordered to surrender all their homes, businesses and belongings and be relocated to several make-shift interment camps set up in the western mountain states of the U.S.


One such location was Heart Mountain, Wyoming, named for the heart-shaped mountain peak located in the plains of Wyoming directly east of Yellowstone National Park. Where once there was nothing but flatland and brush, quonset-huts and barracks quickly sprang up that eventually comprised during the war years (1942-1945), the third largest city in Wyoming. Thousands of Japanese-American families flooded into Heart Mountain, setting up their “temporary” homes for the duration of the war. The U.S. government brought in soldiers, like my father, to “protect” and administer over this growing community. My father occasionally laughed about how he was called to be a military policemen, since only a few hundred were assigned to Heart Mountain to oversee literally thousands of Japanese-Americans. He joked that the was very little he could have done, if the people decided they no longer wanted to live in such a “hell-hole”. In a letter he wrote in 1994, George described his experience this way, “It was a shock to me. There were tar-papered covered barracks, central dining areas and latrines.”

Sentinel page 1 600dpi copy

In an effort to make this atrocity in American history more palatable to the public, other American citizens were brought in to make the community more livable. One such person was my mother, Dixie Lee Boyer, who after graduating from the University of Colorado in the spring of 1943, was offered a teaching job that paid $2,400 (plus room and board) per year, working with hundreds of young Japanese-American children. My father who was earlier stationed at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri, was transferred to Heart Mountain in September, 1944. It was in this environment where my mother and father first met. As the story goes, my mother (Dixie) “knew” that very first moment she laid eyes on that handsome young soldier (George) in the PX (the army recreational center located on base) that she was going to become “Mrs. Boller!”


Love letters between George & Dixie.

Some of our most enjoyable records are the series of “love letters” we have between George and Dixie as they were preparing for their marriage. It seems that George had returned to Wayland on a two week furlough just about a month prior to their marriage in March of 1945. One letter typed to Dixie (Darling) on George’s Corona typewriter on Valentine’s Day eve states: “I’ll probably go to Washington (Iowa) Saturday and get the ring. I picked it out Friday and they were getting it mounted for me. Do you know that you wear a size 4 1/2? Gosh, baby, you have a small dainty hand…It’s nice to be home, darling, but honestly, bunnyduck, I miss you so-o-o much. I can hardly wait to put that lil’ ole diamond on your third-left. Gosh, I’m going to be proud of that!…Write again, real soon, honey, and we’ll soon be seeing each other again. The days are flying by, and it’s less than a week, before I’ll be boarding the Zephyr, west-bound.”

1946Dixie 18 B 1200dpi

This story is taken from my website: The Boller Family Story 1816-2016.

Contemplative Activism in Chicago!

 Overflow Coffee Bar has built a loyal clientele over the last five years.

SOUTH LOOP, CHICAGO, IL — Brew it, and they will come.

Overflow Coffee Bar, which started out as the lone independent coffee shop in the then-burgeoning South Loop, celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. Working from the motto that it’s “changing the world one cup at a time,” it’s finding that it just might be changing the neighborhood as well.

Taking a “think globally, act locally” concept that might have been more stereotypical of a coffee shop in Wicker Park or Rogers Park, Amanda and Brandon Neely instead located in the South Loop at 1550 S. State St.

“I fell in love with this neighborhood,” said Amanda, a University of Chicago alumna who found herself traveling what she now calls the “college corridor” from Hyde Park to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Bronzeville to Columbia College and the DePaul campus and others in the Loop and South Loop.

In 2007, the South Loop seemed on the verge of exploding with business opportunities. “But there weren’t a lot of businesses following suit, and there was no independent coffee shop in this area,” she added. “We saw the potential that we could anchor ourselves here and further that development.”

They eventually found space in the Daystar Center, a like-minded collective committed to “building community through culture and the arts in the South Loop,” for which Amanda now serves as director.

 Overflow co-owner Brandon Neely (c.) works behind the counter.

“This location was kind of serendipitous,” Brandon said, in that the disparate array of tenants actually wound up functioning like “roommates,” lending support to one another.

The Neelys sought to pitch what they called “ethical economics” in each cup of coffee.

Overflow gets its coffee from a Bucktown roaster who deals directly with growers.

“We get it the next day after it’s roasted and use it within two weeks,” Amanda said. Where they say the average Starbucks or even a so-called Fair Trade coffee shop uses a handful of middlemen in the process, for the Neelys the coffee goes directly from farmer to roaster to shop to customer. The farmer gets a better deal, and the customer gets a better cup of coffee.

“We didn’t focus on the profits or the money side,” Brandon said. “We just wanted to make a difference.”

Amanda said she and her husband are “activists first and business people second.

“We need to grow the business side of ourselves,” she said. “It’s not just about making a quick buck or promoting our cause. It’s about learning and growing together.”

That learning and growing came in ways not even they imagined at first, although consistent with their prevailing method of learning things for themselves and then passing it on to others.

After years of planning and then one last snag in the form of the “Snowpocalypse” blizzard, Overflow opened on March 18, 2011.

“The day after St. Patrick’s Day, the best day to open a coffee shop,” Amanda said. “It worked out well for us.”

Almost five years later, the couple has proved their staying power, even as South Loop growth has been a process of fits and starts.

“We thought we were really on the cusp of something huge. But it hasn’t happened yet,” Amanda said. The South Loop has seen “a little bit of growth, then some places still close.”

Even though population has grown, residents still tend to be tied to their cars, she added, not producing the foot traffic that helps small businesses survive in other neighborhoods.

Yet with the upcoming addition of several new glitzy high-rises, as well as the DePaul arena at McCormick Place, “maybe we’re finally on the cusp,” Amanda said. “There’s a lot of potential. It’s just how are we going to maximize it?”

The answer, they decided, was to create a South Loop chamber of commerce — in marked contrast with the existing South Loop Chamber of Commerce, which actually serves Bridgeport with offices near 35th and Halsted streets. Similarly, neighborhood groups like the Greater South Loop Association and the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance have tended to serve residents, not merchants.

So the couple launched what they’re calling the South Loop Alliance in September, with more than 40 members signed up so far. Just as Amanda learned the coffee trade with what they term a “mentorship” at the Common Cup in Rogers Park, they’ve looked to groups like the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce on how to organize merchants within the neighborhood.

 Overflow Coffee Bar owners Brandon and Amanda Neely say their success is more than just running a coffee shop, not that that isn't hard enough.

“We didn’t think we’d actually be starting a chamber of commerce at all,” Brandon said.

Amanda added that they’re advocating an “inclusive approach,” not benefiting businesses alone.

“We don’t want just the businesses to win,” she said. “We want the whole neighborhood to win.”

Key to that will be the South Loop defining itself, much as Andersonville is already defined as a historically Swedish area with a concentration of businesses going back to the ’20s.

The South Loop is more of a blank slate, with what Amanda called “a hodgepodge of different things,” which creates difficulties but also presents opportunities in trying to construct an image that encourages visitors from the nearby Museum Campus and Soldier Field, as well as welcoming the students in the area and, of course, the residents.

Amanda pointed to how, with so much new construction in the neighborhood, it’s actually a city leader in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design buildings.

“What if we became the most environmentally friendly neighborhood?” Amanda said. “Would people buy into that vision? Probably. Maybe.”

The goal, however, is to make it “sustainable,” she added, “so this neighborhood thrives for generations to come.”

Again, the process is to take what they’ve learned and pass it on, just as they’ve taught others about the benefits of being an L3C, a low-profit, limited-liability company, one step up the capitalist ladder from a nonprofit. Overflow was among the first firms in the state to become a licensed L3C, and since then the Neelys have told others how to go about it and what’s to be gained.

That collective approach even extends to the shop’s fifth anniversary, as the Neelys are planning a five-year party April 2.

They’re actually charging for it, $25 in advance and $35 at the door, but that will include the Neelys and others speaking on the challenges of running a responsible business, along with free chair massages and other treats. They’re shooting for a turnout of 250 people, all of them prepared to think globally and act locally where the South Loop is concerned.