27 August 2017

What's Wrong with the Laundry Philosophy, Part 2

Yesterday, I gave one reason why the Laundry Philosophy is faulty as a mindset about life with regard to serving God. Today I want to name another reason.

The Laundry Philosophy is lacking because it ignores your passion, whether that's for meaningful work, a career, or even something as simple as volunteering.

If you don't find your fulfillment in changing diapers and scrubbing floors, the Philosophy says, then something's amiss. (With you, of course, not with the Philosophy. The Philosophy thrives on guilt.) In fact, better to nix the whole concept of personal fulfillment entirely; it leads to selfish ambition. You're not supposed to want anything for yourself. You are called to be a servant. Put aside your preferences. Die to self. (By the way, neither the words nor the concept of “die to self” appears anywhere in the Bible.)

I don't know why the dogma of self-abnegation sells faster than bake sale cookies among women in the church these days, but I do know that, like every other well-crafted lie, it has just enough truth to make it believable. The grain of truth, of course, is that the concept of servanthood is indeed all over the pages of Scripture, that we are to look out for the interests of others, that this does mean taking a pass on other things we would rather be doing, sometimes.

However, it doesn't mean giving up on your dreams and aspirations because you think you just aren't supposed to have any, or because the Bible commands men to be the sole breadwinners (it doesn't), or your kids will be scarred for life if you're not at home during all of their waking hours (they won't be).

Let's put a stop to this nonsense. What you want is important! (Oh yes, I really did just say that.)

I'm sure I just alienated a few people with that statement, so let me clarify something. I'm only inviting you to consider the possibilities. If home is your happy place, then by all means stay there. There's no shame in that.


If you ever wonder if you could be doing something else with your life (and not out of guilt or obligation, but because you genuinely want to do more), don't immediately squash that feeling with thoughts of self-reproach, that you should be content just to keep up with the laundry/scrub your floors/take care of your kids/fill in the blank.

God made you, after all, and He knows perfectly well what you want. Not only that, but it's entirely possible that the desires of your heart are there because He placed them there. He gave you talents, gifts, and opportunities that aren't quite like anyone else's (and, if I had to guess, some of them have little to do with unpaid maid duties). Is it so much of a stretch to believe that, after giving you those gifts, He might then call on you to use them? (On a related note, today's book plug: A Woman's Place by Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of Christianity Today magazine. Read it, and I guarantee that you will never look at this issue the same way again.)

Someone else (Frederick Buechner, I think) has already summed up this point better than I could: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Whatever you do that you love, that energizes you, that makes you glad -- if you can write, if you can do advanced math, if you can speak in public, if you have a degree in something, there's a place that needs you. Give it a try; you never know what good may come of it.

Either way, the laundry pile will always be there when you come back.

26 August 2017

What's Wrong with the Laundry Philosophy, Part 1

There's a philosophy about life and serving God that's very popular these days, mostly among women (although some men hold to it, too). It goes double if they're married women, and triple if they're married with kids. I call it "The Laundry Philosophy."

It goes something like this:

You don't have to do anything special to serve God. Anything and everything you do counts. Washing clothes, cooking, and mopping the floor are serving God. If you're taking care of your spouse/kids, nothing more is expected of you -- your home and family is all that matters. Don't bother to wonder if you're missing out. An ordinary, mundane life is as good as any other. 

(Of course, I'm paraphrasing a little!)

Even as I write this, I hesitate, because I know so many people find this idea comforting. In all honesty it appeals to me a bit, as well -- especially at this particular point in my life where I find myself without a good outlet for "ministry" as such. But I can't deny that something about it just sits wrong with me, and I've learned, all too often the hard way, that when I have misgivings about a certain ideology, sweeping my doubts under the rug and going along anyway is a sin that will find me out. Every time.

So, what about it? Is the Laundry Philosophy legit?

I want to say first of all that I think it was formed with good intentions, as a sort of pushback against the idea that there is "important work" and "not-so-important work" in the Kingdom. On the contrary, we believe -- and rightly so -- that all of our life's undertakings matter. When we do everything to the best of our ability, we are imitating God, who does all things well. So, if you're cooking a meal, take the time and trouble to make it tasty. If you're building something or crafting something or even just cleaning up a mess, don't be sloppy. If you have children, be the very best parent that you can be.

The Laundry Philosophy says that it's perfectly okay stop there, though, and I don't think that follows. Why not? Well, for one thing, the world that God has given humans to be fruitful within and have dominion over is a much bigger place than just the 2,500 average square feet that our house sits on. In that world, there are many more people beyond our immediate family who are in need of kindness and care. What kind of place would it become if everyone only took care of their own, and never reached out to anyone else?

For one thing, that throws an awful lot of the population under the bus, especially people outside of the nuclear family (singles, widows, divorcees, childless, and the elderly, to name just a few). With whom are those people supposed to find their "inner circle", if everyone else is too preoccupied with their own families to bother about them? What about the needy ones by whom Jesus Himself is represented in Matthew 25 -- those who are in prison, those who are sick, those who lack basics like food and clothing? How does the Laundry Philosophy take them into account? Simply put, it doesn't.

And what about the Great Commission? "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Go therefore. What does that mean? Well, we understand that it doesn't necessarily have to mean "Go overseas", but at the very least it should mean "Get out of the house every now and then", don't you think?

There's another saying of Jesus that I think is pertinent here: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them." There's nothing particularly remarkable about providing for one's own flesh and blood. Pretty much every species on the face of the earth does it. But when followers of Jesus go out of their way to care for others, including the ones who aren't particularly deserving, and especially the ones who can't repay the favor -- that speaks volumes to the world about Christ and His love.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of ways you can do this. (And they don't all require leaving home.) You can invite neighbors or friends over to your house. You can volunteer at a homeless ministry. You can sponsor a child or pack Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes (two of my personal favorites). I don't make book recommendations very often (choosing the books one enjoys is a highly personal activity, in my opinion), but this one is too good not to share: Don't Hide Your Light Under a Laundry Basket by Jenny Rae Armstrong. If you want meaningful but totally doable ideas on how to do more good in the world, this book is gold.

I have more to say, but this post is already too long, so I'll save the rest for tomorrow.

25 August 2017

Why Don't You Grow Up?

I know a lot of adults who wish they could be kids again.

I don't really understand this. I like being an adult. Being an adult is way better than being a kid.

It means I can drive

and vote

and travel unaccompanied

and order Sambuca with my espresso

and go to bed as late as I want.

(I also have to pay taxes and insurance and do jury duty)

For the most part, people take me seriously when I have something to say.

I don't have to ask permission to use the stove or the big cutting knife and I can reach the cookie jar without having to stand on a chair.

No one makes me wear Mary Jane shoes with lace stockings anymore

and I don't have to sit in school all day

(But I do have to work all day)

I don't have to listen to the babysitter anymore. I am the babysitter!

Adulthood brings some weird things your way, too.

Like some of the stuff you loved when you were a kid that, somehow, just doesn't do it for you anymore.

When I was in grade school, I wanted those sneakers that light up when you walk. I begged my parents to buy them for me, but they always got me the canvas ones instead because those were cheaper.  These days they make the light-up sneakers in adult sizes, but I don't think I'd be caught dead in them now.

I was also not allowed to eat sugar cereals like Frosted Flakes or Cocoa Puffs. (My cousins got to eat Cookie Crisp for breakfast, and I was green with envy.)  One time I saved up my money and bought my very own box of Lucky Charms. (My mom had some words for me when she found out about that!)  Then when I went to college, they had Lucky Charms in the cafeteria, so I could eat as much as I wanted -- and I discovered that I didn't like them anymore.  I actually found it gross, not cool, that those chalky marshmallows turn the milk green.

I even discovered that sliding backwards on your belly down carpeted stairs is the time of your life when you are two or even ten, but at the ripe old age of 24, it will jar every bone in your body and make you need to call the chiropractor's office to get the earliest possible appointment next day.

So much for any ideas about childhood or adulthood being idyllic.

Really, that's not as obvious to most people as it should be. Someone else said it a lot better than I could:

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

That's a little-known saying from a little-known book written by the wisest person in the world -- King Solomon.  He was speaking about the tendency of human nature to compare present realities with a rosy-colored (often largely imaginary) past.  And if he was the wisest person in the world, then chances are good that he knew what he was talking about.

If you could return to a certain time of life, you'd suddenly remember all the things about it that weren't so good at the time.  And of course, you'd be without the wisdom and knowledge you've gained over the years, and you'd still have ahead of you all those mistakes you've made and problems you've been through.  You might even find yourself wishing to be where you are now, the way kids wish they could be grown-ups.  That kind of wishing is useless, demoralizing, and even, as Solomon said, foolish.

If you're a kid, then of course you should enjoy your childhood; but if you're an adult, you should enjoy that, too.  Eat dessert first, if you want... no one can tell you not to!

[Originally published May 2012]

24 August 2017

How to Make Ice Cream

...without an ice cream maker.

You'll need:

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)

2 pints heavy cream or whipping cream (do not use whipped cream or Cool Whip)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk into a large bowl. Stir in vanilla extract. In another large bowl, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form, then mix it into the bowl with the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Stir the ingredients together until well mixed. (Do this very gently, or else the whipped cream will deflate.)  Pour into a large container (a loaf pan works well) and cover with aluminum foil. Freeze 6-8 hours or overnight.

You can adapt this recipe to make almost any flavor you want. Here are a few I’ve tried:

Chocolate: Add 5+ tablespoons of cocoa powder to the heavy cream-sweetened condensed milk mixture before freezing (more if you like it super chocolate-y). Make sure it’s well mixed so your ice cream doesn’t have lumps of powder in it. Hershey's syrup might work too, although I haven't tried that myself.

Strawberry: Make the plain vanilla recipe, and add 1 cup finely chopped fresh or frozen thawed strawberries to the ice cream before freezing. (Mix it up a bit with some sugar first so that the strawberries make a sweet juice.) One caveat: the water content of strawberries and strawberry juice is very high and might give the ice cream an icy texture.

Mint: Add 1 tsp. peppermint extract or 2-3 drops of peppermint oil to ice cream before freezing; stir well. If using peppermint oil, be super careful not to overdo it -- it is extremely strong! (Chocolate chips or crushed candy canes are good in this one.)

You can add maple syrup, nuts, cookie dough, crushed candy, fruit - pretty much anything. Make sure to chop everything up small; big pieces will sink to the bottom of the pan. You might want to stir the mix a couple of times while it's freezing. Obviously, don't worry about precise measurements; go by your own taste and preference.

Warning: This ice cream is extremely rich. Seriously, it makes Häagen-Dazs look like diet food. But, it is really good. (And if you are on a diet, you can say goodbye to it now!)

Another Warning: This ice cream will freeze rock solid. This is because it's not full of guar gum and xanthan gum and carrageenan and heaven only knows what else, like store ice cream. (That's a good thing.) It will just need a few extra minutes out of the freezer to soften.

23 August 2017

The College Student's 23rd Psalm

The syllabus is my taskmaster,

I shall not relax.

It maketh me to stay up late writing papers,

It leadeth me to the library on weekends

It tireth my brain.

It causeth me to stress out over my professor’s grading scale for my GPA’s sake.

Yea when I walk through the shadow of midterms and finals

I find no relief, for deadlines loom over me.

Time goeth too slowly when I am in class

and too quickly once I get out of it;

My assignments never endeth.

Surely stress and procrastination shall follow me all the days of my life

And I will yawn and sleep in the classroom forever.

First semester of college ~ Fall 2006.
Don't worry; I have learned how to
properly interpret the Bible since then.

21 August 2017

Obnoxious for Jesus?

This week I had a bit of a run-in with someone in a Facebook discussion group. Now, right off the bat, I have to assume much of the blame for that. I mean, a bad experience on Facebook does mean I was on Facebook in the first place, and whose fault is that, right? I've since left that group, the best choice I've made all week (right after the choice to start buying coffee in bulk again).

Things got a little tense when I expressed a politically incorrect viewpoint on a certain controversial topic that's been getting a lot of media attention right now. Another member (who shall remain nameless, because I don't want to embarrass this person), made a reply that, in all fairness, did try to engage with the point I was making, but wasn't able to do so without slamming my motives and character in the process. When I suggested that this was perhaps a bit unfair, she excused herself by saying "Well, I'm a blunt person" and "I'm just telling you this for your own good" and even "You'll thank me later." (Not her exact words, but that was the gist of it.)

Oh dear. What do you say to that?

Umm... Thanks. That's... very nice.

Yeah, right. There's a whole heck of a lot I could say about the arrogance of presuming you know what's good for an internet stranger about whom you know literally nothing! What I'm more interested in right now though, is the "I'm a blunt person" remark. In this person's mind (and in the minds of many others I've heard make similar statements), saying "I'm just a blunt person" is basically a "get out of jerk free" card. It's essentially saying, "This is who I am, so accepting me as a person means you also accept what I say and how I say it. And you're not allowed to think less of me for it, either."

Oddly enough, I can identify with this just a tiny bit. I'm an INTJ -- for you Myers Briggs enthusiasts out there -- and although we're not the biggest chatterboxes in the world, we tend to be very matter-of-fact and sometimes we offend people when we do speak up. More than once after I've delivered the painful truth on a particular topic (or, my version of it, anyway!) I've been greeted with raised eyebrows and the rejoinder, "Well, you certainly say it like it is, don't you." And I've thought, Well, would you prefer that I say it like it isn't? Do you want me to lie to you?

I know, however, that that's a false dichotomy. We are not stuck between the choice of either callousness or dishonesty, and it would be disingenuous to frame the conversation that way. Otherwise how could Jesus have been both truthful and loving? And how could He expect the same from us? (As an aside: in my humble opinion, people get waaaaay too much mileage out of the notorious occasions on which Jesus was not mild-mannered and tactful, like tipping over the moneylenders' tables and His harsh exchanges with the Pharisees. This gives them carte blanche to run roughshod over their brothers and sisters because "Jesus did it." If you think that, then spend some time reading the life of Christ -- the whole story, because you're missing the point.)

Twila Paris in her book Perennial said: "I believe there is never any reason to be obnoxious for Jesus. We do Him no service when our personalities repel others. It is gracious speech without compromise that attracts unbelievers to the message of truth and love." I wholeheartedly agree, and I'd argue that this kind of speech is what attracts believers to that same message as well. I would also contend that oftentimes what we leave unsaid has as much (or more) impact than what we say.

I'll give you an example. Many of the most active and caring and giving members of my former church started out their time in the fold as young, new Christians who, at first, held some pretty unorthodox opinions and behaved in some rather off-putting ways. Things they said in the process of working out their beliefs sounded downright foolish to those who knew better.

There was an older couple in the church who devoted a great deal of time to investing in this group of people, both collectively and one-on-one. They considered it their personal ministry, and it couldn't have been an easy one. I'm sure they heard plenty of off-the-wall statements that made them shake their heads. But not once did I ever hear them bash someone in the name of "truth" and then shrug it off with, "Well, I'm just calling you out because you're wrong. Sorry if that makes you feel bad, but you'll just have to deal with it. It's good for you." Believe me, there were plenty of times when I think they would not have been unjustified in doing that! But they were always gracious, humble, and kind. They usually held off on dishing out criticism unless it was in private and they had first earned that person's trust.

Nowadays, many of those young believers who were discipled by that couple have grown and are flourishing in their faith. Most have reached a point of maturity where they themselves can guide and teach others. But during the early days, if those older, wiser mentors had chosen to frantically clutch their pearls regardless of whomever they alienated in the process, they would have driven away most if not all of the ones they were trying to help. I know, because I was one of them.

Am I saying we should back down from the truth because we don't want to offend people? Absolutely not. But quite frankly, the times when it's really, truly necessary to "call someone out" are a lot fewer and further between than most of us "blunt" people would like to think. (Especially online, where the potential for misunderstandings and prejudgment of someone based on seeing only a piece of that person rather than the whole is ever so much greater.)

Actions will always speak louder (and clearer and better and more memorably) than words.

"But, but... how will they know the truth if I don't say something!?" Not to worry! Truth is powerful. It weathered the centuries just fine before you were ever around to defend it, and it's perfectly capable of vindicating itself without your help. If you're in the right, that fact will come to light eventually. And if you're wrong... well, you don't want to have opened your mouth and made a big fool of yourself in the meantime.

Sorry if this offends anyone. I'm just a blunt person, ya know.


20 August 2017

Life in Beaufort & the Five Stages of Grief

You know how some places in the world are really cool if you're passing through them as a tourist, but really suck if you live there as a year-round resident?

Beaufort is one of those places.

Having been firmly persuaded of this opinion almost from Day 1 of setting foot here, you can imagine my bemusement upon seeing Beaufort named as this year's "Best Small Town" by Southern Living magazine. (Never mind that getting an award for being the best small town in the south is, as Wesley is fond of saying, not unlike getting an award for being the smartest kid in summer school.)

The magazine write-up is charmingly deceptive. Almost all the photos are taken on Bay Street, a less-than-one-mile stretch of historic, scenic road when you first cross the bridge into downtown. This part of town is where you'll find the waterfront park, the boat dock, the old storefronts, the huge plantation houses. This is what people see first and they think, "Oh, what a neat little town!" As they say, first impressions are everything. And really, it's not a bad spot to hang out for an afternoon or a weekend.

But what Southern Living doesn't tell you, and what any honest resident of Beaufort will tell you, is that those photos aren't representative of the town as a whole. In fact, they don't show you more than a tiny slice of it.

Once you leave that stretch of road behind where the pretty magazine pictures are taken, there's little else to write home about. In fact, the rest of the place is downright depressing. Except for Marines stationed on Parris Island and retirees who buy up the big beach houses on the waterfront, there's little incentive to settle down here. The employment rate is on a steady decline, while the rate of violent crimes and drug trafficking incidents rival that of almost any major U.S. city. The fishing industry, once booming, is now virtually nonexistent. For all practical purposes, Beaufort seems to be on its way down.

But the gloomy statistics aren't what bothers me most about living here. No, it's more personal than that. Beaufort has almost nothing in a place I'd want to call "home", and lots of things I don't want. Like almost no opportunities to network and meet new people. A total lack of ethnic diversity. (This is a tough pill to swallow for someone who loved intercultural studies enough to get a degree in it.... twice.) The ancient telecom infrastructure that makes using your credit card at a restaurant or store a lucky occurrence rather than something you can count on. The fact that I felt safer on Los Angeles freeways at rush hour than I do on the roads around here...

The relentless gnats and mosquitoes.

The sewer-like stench of pluff mud.

The humidity that's so high, it's literally making our paint peel. I feel like I need gills just to help me breathe.

When Wesley and I got married, we knew we'd have to stay in Beaufort for as long as it would take to get on our feet, but now, we don't plan to stay here much longer. It does help to know that we'll soon be on to bigger and better things. But in the meantime, passing precious days of my life in a place like this is tedious at the best of times.

In fact, it's a lot like the five stages of grief:

Denial: Wow, this place is.... different. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I mean, it doesn't feel like home to me, but hey, whatever. I'm not going to live here forever anyway.

Anger: This place SUCKS.

Bargaining: Maybe if I go back up north for a visit every summer and Christmas, it won't be so bad. (I still haven't made it home for Christmas.)

Depression: I'm really stuck here.

Acceptance: There's something to like about every place. So help me, I will find that something here, or die trying.

They say it's normal to bounce back and forth among the various stages, and I know I certainly do. I've experienced all of them at one point or another (and sometimes all at the same time), but right now I'm still on the journey to attaining -- and maintaining -- Acceptance. Sometimes I think I've finally grasped hold of it, other times I realize I still have a long, long way to go.

But I keep trying.

Tomorrow is another day.

18 August 2017

The Time of Our Lives

I hear it all the time. People say, "Time goes by so fast." "Time flies." "Where does the time go?" "I can't believe it's been a year already; it feels like yesterday."

I must confess that this phenomenon -- the flight of time -- has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. I've been assured that it will go faster and faster the older I get. Well, I'm older than I was the last time I was told this, and I'm still waiting. To me, twenty-four hours feels like a day. Three hundred sixty-five days feels like a year. Ten years feels like.... well, like ten years. Neither more nor less.

Frankly, it gives me pause to hear people talk about time as if it were a murderer fleeing the scene of a crime -- but casually, as if what they're losing is of no consequence. It doesn't really matter to them that the thief is getting away even as they speak. I do wonder if this is actually normal. Would they be so blasé about something tangible -- say, money? For instance:

"Where does the money go?"

"My money is passing by way too fast."

"I can't believe I've spent $[X amount] already. It doesn't seem possible."

"I'm not even sure where my money is going. I can't seem to keep up with it."

Yeah, yeah, I know: college students, single income families, and people who just plain don't get paid enough do say things like this. But the point is, because it's money we're talking about now, it matters. If we heard someone make these statements carelessly -- that they don't know where their money is going or why they seem to be losing it so quickly -- most of us would consider that to be a red flag that something is "off" with that person's handle on their finances. We would say they should learn how to be better money managers. Money, most of us are aware, is a valuable asset. It should be budgeted, saved wisely, and spent thoughtfully. It should be used for things that are needful or pleasures that are meaningful, not wanton. It should be shared generously with those in need.

If our money seems to be passing us by so fast that we literally have no idea where it's going, it's likely that we're failing to account for it properly.

Couldn't the same be said for time?

Time is, after all, the only resource that is both infinite and extremely limited. It's free -- but priceless. It can't be earned or stockpiled, but it must be spent, either well or poorly. And someday it must be accounted for -- every last bit of it.

Can you really use your time well if you don't know where it's going?

17 August 2017

Gratitude Police, It's Time to Take an Early Retirement

The gratitude police. Maybe you know one.

Maybe you are one.

You've heard of the fashion police, who critique other people's clothing and style choices. There's also the tone police -- internet forum bullies who derail conversations by finding fault with the way somebody worded something, instead of engaging with the issue at hand.

In similar fashion, the gratitude police are those individuals who get bent out of shape when other people complain. They are the ones who, when you confide in them that work has been tough lately, will tell that you should just be thankful you have a job.

They also tend to be martyrs. They're the ones who are most likely to say, "Well, no one cares what I think anyway" in response to disagreement. (Dissent is a huge personal affront to the gratitude police.) If they do you a favor and you fail to thank them profusely enough, or you have the gall to ask them for something else, heaven help you. These people also love to nag incessantly on the topic of "respect" and in particular the fact that they do not get all the respect they feel entitled to.

Conveniently, though regrettably, gratitude policing is easily disguised as pious concern for others' spiritual welfare. After all, Romans 1:21 says that the ungodly people aren't thankful, and we all know what happens to them, so the sooner we shut down the complainers and get everybody counting their blessings, the better, right?

I wonder how the gospel accounts of Jesus' interactions with people might read today, if He had agreed with that line of thinking (this is from Matthew 13):

54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 
56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 
57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them.... 

"People, it would be nice to see some gratitude, here. After all this free healing and teaching I've done, not to mention the fact that I'm going to DIE for you, I think it's the least you can do. And, seriously? 'The carpenter's son', that's what you call Me? I'm GOD and I'm your King! I think I deserve a little more respect than that."

Jesus "reply" in my re-imagined version of this passage represents the typical gratitude police response. It's so far off from how we imagine Jesus responding (rightly so), that maybe, just maybe, we should take it as a hint that reacting this way is... well, somewhat wide of the mark, let's say.

"But people should be thankful," I hear you saying. "'Give thanks in all circumstances....'"

Well.... that's true. But here is food for thought: true thankfulness always develops naturally as a result of spiritual growth. And other people's spiritual growth is the Holy Spirit's business, not ours. "The kindness of God leads you to repentance", and, I might add, to thankfulness. We won't be able to coax or coerce gratitude (or any other virtue) out of someone by harping on how important it is, any more than we could force a plant to grow faster by tugging on its stem. So, we might as well save ourselves some frustration, and leave other people's attitudes where they belong -- in God's hands.

There's another reason why demanding thankfulness from others is a bad idea: when we do, we mark ourselves as hypocrites. We say we want our service to meet with God's approval above all, but the fact that we try so hard to get others to approve of it too sort of plants a big question mark next to that claim. If we're really only trying to please God, why do other people's reactions matter so much?

I think we should take our cues from Jesus in this regard.

Jesus in the flesh was God Almighty, King of the universe. If anyone had the right to demand respect and recognition, He did.

Jesus died for the sins of humanity, the greatest thing one human has ever done for another. If anyone had the right to insist on appreciation and gratitude, He did.

But He didn't. Should we, who are so much less than He is, insist on it for ourselves?

15 August 2017

The One about Privilege

As I write this, the country is still stirred up about the Charlottesville race riots. A terrible tragedy, and yet another display of just how low the depths to which humanity can sink.

I'm seeing a backlash of white guilt getting slung around on social media, albeit mostly by people who weren't directly involved in or affected by the weeks' events. Case in point, someone in one of my Facebook groups posted this rumination and immediately garnered a whole handful of thumbs-up: “I used to be SO LOST in my comfortable white privilege.” The post went on at some length, lamenting “my privilege, my disgusting self” and “how fragile white people are when others find fault with them.”

Name-calling and over-generalizations aside, I have to wonder what this type of self-loathing accomplishes, other than giving the poster the feeling of having the moral high ground. How exactly does that benefit people of color? Of course, wrongs should absolutely be made right, and unfair systems done away with, but I don't see that making a lot of fanfare in the meantime about how awful white people are, plays a constructive role in this effort.

Besides, I have to wonder if "privilege" is really deserving of all the hype it gets, anyway.

Now, before you stone me for that, let me say something. I am white -- for those of you for whom that matters -- but I am also a woman, a woman who was preached at in the church for many years about my inherent female inferiority and my "rightful place" as a subordinate to men. I do know, on some level, what it's like to be discriminated against. Hopefully my perspective will still count for something with some of you.

It's rather enlightening to consider how the Bible addresses those with “privilege.” In the Ancient Near East, it was men, and rich men in particular, who held most of the privilege. The apostles, under the Holy Spirit's guidance, attempted in several New Testament passages to equalize this unbalanced power structure within their Christian audience. Paul tells men to love their wives and sacrifice themselves for them (Ephesians 5:25-28). Peter exhorts husbands to show honor to their wives as weaker vessels (1 Peter 3:8). Their respective messages are not, “Husbands, shame on your for your male privilege!” but rather, “Husbands, use the privileges society has bestowed on you to build up your wives and raise them up to a place of honor.” Similarly, Scripture's instructions to rich people in general are not, “Thou shalt not have money or possessions”, but rather, “Use your money and your possessions to help others in need, and don't let those things control you.” In situations where one party has advantages that others don't, the onus is always on the advantaged ones to lift up the disadvantaged ones. Not much is said about how guilty the advantaged ones ought to feel because they have advantages.

I often hear people ask, "What would Jesus say about racism (or sexism, or bigotry, or homophobia, or any one of a hundred other issues)?" Well... to tell you the truth, I don't think He would have much to say that's different from what He's already said. "Treat others the way you want to be treated." Too simple? Or could it be that we haven't given it a fair try? Who knows what would happen if everyone actually did that -- personally, in churches, in schools, at every level of government? I bet I can guess. We'd suddenly be left without a reason for most of what we fight over.

There are two necessary conditions that make this idea unappealing to many people, though. First one is, the Golden Rule applies to everybody equally. That would mean that it's not acceptable to generalize about, insult, make fun of, or hate on anyone, period. Not even members of "the dominant group." Not even if you think they deserve it.

The other thing is, treating others the way you want to be treated is a highly personal effort. It doesn't entail policing others' behavior, or taking responsibility that doesn't belong to you. You can only control yourself. This means that if you've hurt someone else, you should make amends for that, inasmuch as you can (you can't apologize for the actions of an entire group). Decide that your own actions and attitudes will be different from now on, and make it so.

And then... get on with your life.

Will I share this on Facebook? Heck, no. I'm not ready for that big of a barrage of rotten tomatoes. You see, it being the middle of tomato season here, I already have more than enough tomatoes (and going-rotten tomatoes) hanging around. I don't need any more!

14 August 2017

5 Reasons Why Your Age Doesn't Matter

I'm celebrating a milestone birthday this year. I won't tell you which one, but it rhymes with "nerdy", if you'd like to take a guess.

A friend of mine is also celebrating a milestone birthday around the same time I am. I won't tell you what hers rhymes with. She'd kill me. She is convinced that this magic number means that she is now "old", a thought that puts her in an absolutely panicked state of mind. Whether her age makes her old or not I can't say, but I can think of a few reasons why the situation isn't as dire as it seems, so I made this post in her honor.

1. You're not alone. Unless you're over a hundred, chances are good that everyone you meet either has been your age at some point in the past, or will be your age someday.

Furthermore, every single person on earth is getting older at the rate of 365 days a year, every day, from the moment they're born. No exceptions. In our youth-oriented culture, we tend to forget this. We see a child getting taller and we think, "Oh, they're growing! How wonderful!" And then we see an adult -- perhaps ourselves -- getting gray hairs or wrinkles and we think, "Ick! They're getting so old! How awful!" But it's the same aging process at work in both of them, just at different stages.

2. Perception is everything. In Western countries, people regard arbitrary future age numbers as mysterious horrors waiting to grab them, the way small children fear monsters under their beds. In many non-Western countries, however, advanced age is a privilege, an occasion for honor and deference. People ask for your advice and trust your opinion for no reason other than that you've lived longer than they have. (This is a golden opportunity to "get away with murder", if you're the scheming type.)

3. There's nothing magical or evil about particular numbers. The big fuss surrounding "milestone" birthdays such as 18, 21, 40, 65, etc. is, by and large, a social construct. While it's true that turning eighteen is an automatic free pass to certain civil and social privileges, the fact is that most people aren't likely to be much different at age eighteen than they were at seventeen and a half. There really is no qualitative difference between ages 29 and 30, or 39 and 40, either. You don't become a different person overnight, either for better or for worse.

4. In fact, your numerical age is nothing but the number of times you've traveled around the sun. A 40-year-old on planet Earth is 65 on Venus, which completes almost two rotations around the sun for every one of Earth's. The same person would be 166 on Mercury, and only 21 on Mars, but wouldn't celebrate their first birthday on Saturn for almost another two decades.

5. At least you're not dead. This may be a hollow comfort, but it is worth mentioning. At the very least, the fact that you're having another birthday means you're still living above the ground and not six feet under it. There's something to be said for that.

13 August 2017

Coffee ABC's

Disclaimer: Okay, I admit it -- this piece is old and has made the rounds among friends, family, and fellow coffee lovers quite a few times since it was first written. But still, I think it belongs here. If I were to rewrite this now, I would probably change a few things (like Z, for instance!), but I know this is a classic, so I've added edits in favor of redoing the original. Enjoy...

Coffee ABC's 

A is for Arabica, finely roasted.

B is for Bunn–the best and fastest coffeemaker I know of. (2017 edit: My current coffee maker is a Bonavita 1900TS, and I love it. I think it's better than Bunn, since Bunns sometimes push the water through the grounds too hastily to extract the full flavor. The Bonavita is simple, but it brews a darn good cup of coffee. For $189, I expect nothing less. (Aren't wedding registries the best?) 

C is for caffeine–if it doesn’t have caffeine, it’s not coffee as far as I’m concerned. (Still true.)

is for Dunkin’ Donuts!!

E is for espresso MMMM (and Eight O' Clock, which is going to be your best bet when searching for decently priced, good quality coffee you can find at pretty much any grocery store.)

F is for full-bodied flavor

G is for Gevalia, which in my opinion is not half bad.

H is for half-and-half: a coffee essential.

I is for instant. Don’t ever be confused; it’s not coffee!

J is for nicknames of coffee, like “java” and “joe.”

K is for Kona coffee. (The gold standard. Accept no substitutes, like "Kona blend" or "Kona style.")

L is for large. Don’t get your coffee in any other size. (Unless, of course, you're ordering at Dunkin' Donuts; then it behooves you to order a small. The reason for this is that their small size cups are made of paper, whereas the mediums and larges are made of styrofoam. I can't be the only one who doesn't care for my coffee finished with plastic aftertaste.)

M is for morning coffee. Better to leave for work in your pajamas than without the morning coffee!

N is for No Sugar, it kind of ruins the flavor.

O is for the best time to have coffee–often.

P is for pie. Never have it without coffee.

Q is for quakers: unripe coffee beans

R is for robusta, which allegedly has half the quality but twice the caffeine of arabica beans

S is for Starbucks and I recommend it. (I'm going to have to retract this one, people. Starbucks coffee tastes like bile. I can still recommend them for a vanilla frappuccino, but that's about it.)

T is for tar. You could fill potholes with the strength of coffee some people make. (However, weak coffee is a far more common occurrence. This is unfortunate, considering that one can add water to strong coffee, but there's nothing you can do for a brew that's too weak.)

U is for UGQ, or Usually Good Quality. I heard somewhere that this is a widely-used coffee term, but who knows? They might have been fooling me. (I think they probably were.)

is for variety. I have a lot of old favorites myself, but it is always good to try new coffees and see how you like them.

W is for whole-bean, maximum flavor.

X is for xanthic–a color your coffee should not be. (I couldn’t think of anything else for this one!) (And I still can't!)

Y is for Yemen Mocha, which I’ve never had but sounds interesting–and is incidentally the only thing I could come up with for y.

Zzzz’s are what you will most likely not catch after having coffee, so the rumor goes. (And it is only a rumor!)

Originally published July 2003

12 August 2017

3 Things about Me

It occurred to me that I probably shouldn't assume everyone who's reading this knows me in real life, and so I might want to say a few things by way of introduction...

1. I live in Beaufort, South Carolina, on the set of Forrest Gump.
Well, on part of the set. The movie was shot in various locations in the south, but South Carolina accounts for the majority of it. Some very memorable scenes were filmed right in my neighborhood, including the one in which Forrest runs across a bridge over the Mississippi River. This bridge actually crosses the Beaufort River just a few blocks from my house. It's a swing bridge, and it opens several times a day to let boats pass through. Parts of the Vietnam scene were filmed at Hunting Island State Beach (we had our engagement photos taken there), and the scene where Forrest names his boat Jenny happened on the dock at Gay Fish Company, which is owned by my husband's family.

I've also lived in southern California near Los Angeles, Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, where I was born and raised.

2. I'm a Beaver.
If you're picturing me using my buck teeth to gnaw on wood, stop it! "Beaver" is my result from the "Lion Otter Beaver Golden Retriever" temperament test, which, as far as I can tell, is a ripoff of the Four Humors test (Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic, Phlegmatic). Beavers, or Melancholics, are thought to be creative, analytical, detail-oriented, and moody, among other things. Supposedly, they're also perfectionists. No one who has ever seen my desk/work area has ever accused me of that, though. Wonder why?

3. At the moment, all my close friendships are long distance.
Seriously, the rural South is a terrible place to meet new people. It's even more terrible when you're a twenty-something who is either (A) single or (B) married without kids. (I'm in Group B.) To be fair, there isn't much in the Beaufort area that's attractive to this particular demographic. The primary industries are tourism and the military -- slim pickings for the upwardly mobile. (Retirement communities are a huge thing here, as well, but I'm not sure those count as an "industry" per se. Nevertheless, it's a big part of what makes Beaufort the kind of place it is.) And, as I said, it's harder if you don't have small children. If you do, you only have to look around for someone else who also has small children and, voila, instant connection. Those outside of this circle have to find their common bond based on something else. In a non career-oriented, mostly geriatric community that rolls up the sidewalks by 9 P.M., this feels like an exercise in futility if ever there was one.

I'm blessed to have good friends, though, even if they are scattered abroad in Connecticut, Canada, and even China. Thank God for Skype!

11 August 2017

Making Up for Lost Time

Hi, everyone. Thanks for showing up to The Daily Coffee.

If you were at my house right now, I would pour you a mug of fresh coffee. (Or tea, or hot chocolate, whatever you prefer.) But I am here, and you are there; a fact for which we are all grateful, considering the current state of mess in my house just now. So, you will have to make do with whatever you happen to have on hand whilst I chat with you.

This blog represents an attempt on my part to resume some creative activities that fell by the wayside when I enrolled in my M.A. program back in the fall of 2012.

Now, I enjoyed graduate school. I really did. As well as training me in my field of study (linguistics), it was very personally enriching. For one thing, a grad program is a wonderful cure for procrastination. This is a decidedly positive thing. (Industriousness tends to come in handy later in life.) You become a disciple of the saying "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today", because you know you can't half-ass your way through grad school like you did through college. (Don't ask me how I know anything about that, please.)

Grad school is an equally wonderful cure for hobbies. The aforementioned wise saying becomes "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow" where leisure activities are concerned. This is especially true if your hobby has anything to do with writing. The copious amounts of reading, writing, proofreading, and editing swiftly burn through your daily allotted brain bandwidth until, at the end of the day, sometimes there's barely enough left to form a coherent sentence to order pizza.

But I survived this blessed ordeal (mostly) none the worse for wear.

Then, in 2015, I got married. Much to my chagrin, I found myself a one-way ticket holder on the Suzie Homemaker Train, where intellectual pursuits like writing are very much an afterthought, if they ever occur at all. (More on that later.)

I had a revelation one day, while elbow deep in dishwater, that I missed writing -- as well as quite a few other things I had once taken for granted. It was more than a creative outlet; it was my way to communicate with the world, to say things that mattered. By then, though, that part of my brain had been on vacation for so long, I wasn't sure exactly how to go about getting it back. (Plus the domain name of my old blog had long since lapsed and gone off into the wild blue yonder.)

I realized I wasn't ready to let housewifery hold that meaningful part of myself hostage. Besides, I'd just read a rather worrisome health news article (aren't they all that way?) that reported on multiple studies demonstrating a link between lack of cognitive stimulation and early onset of dementia-related illnesses such as Alzheimer's. All the more reason to halt the progress of my mental rut digging itself ever deeper.

And then there was the Parable of the Talents that kept coming back to haunt me: if the unfaithful servant was cast into outer darkness for burying money -- cold, hard money -- what would become of me for burying my living, breathing brain under day after day's worth of laundry and dishes? How ever would I explain that on the day of reckoning?

But all these woes and worries notwithstanding, believe me when I say that it isn't fear that primarily inspires my writing. As with anything worthwhile, Love is the motivation. Love of God, who freely gives us all things -- including letters and sounds and words and a mind to put them all together in meaningful ways (and multiple second chances to get it right if we screw up the first time). Love of my neighbor, who may find something I say helpful. And -- dare I say it -- love of myself as a worthwhile person who hopes to share through these words, if not wisdom, at least a smile.

In this endeavor, as in all things, I'm stepping out in faith.