30 September 2017

A Guide to the Coffee Menu


In honor of National Coffee Day (a day late -- you have my insincerest apologies, as I was too busy enjoying my coffee to remember to post):

Some people find the array of options at the local coffee shop bewildering, so here's my handy dandy guide to help you figure out what's what.

Cappuccino -- Espresso with steamed milk and milk foam. Lovely with cinnamon or cocoa powder and sugar sprinkled on top. Beware of the molten hot espresso and steamed milk lurking under the warm foam; cappuccinos have burned many an unsuspecting tongue.

Cold Brew -- Not be confused with iced coffee, cold brew is coffee made with cold water instead hot. This is typically done in a French press. Cold brew is especially delicious because the beans have never come in contact with heat, so the flavor is less acidic and more mellow. It seems that not everyone is sold on this distinction, though -- my local coffee shop doesn't do cold brew, which I think is a terrible shame.

Red Eye -- Coffee with a single espresso shot. Make it a double shot for a Black Eye, or a triple shot for a Green Eye. (No, I don't know why they call it that. Do I want to find out? Unsure.) In my humble opinion, a Red Eye is even better than either coffee or espresso by itself. It's like a richer, more flavorful cup of coffee. I usually take my coffee with cream, but a Red Eye is so good, I'll drink it black. Preferably with cheesecake. Super delicious.

Cafe au Lait -- Coffee with steamed milk. It's nice enough, but it kind of just tastes like warm milk.

Cafe Mocha -- Espresso with steamed milk and chocolate syrup. A good mocha strikes just the right balance between the flavors of chocolate and coffee -- too much chocolate will make your mocha more like a hot cocoa. Not that hot cocoa is a bad thing, of course, but it isn't quite the same as a mocha, so they shouldn't taste exactly alike.

Espresso -- Not merely strong coffee, and prepared in a completely different way, the espresso-making process relies on pressure to force a small amount of water through finely ground, dark roasted coffee beans. Expect to see a bit of thin, slightly creamy froth called crema on top. This is your quality assurance. It lets you know the beans are fresh and the espresso was made properly with the grounds tamped down not too tightly or too loosely.

Americano -- Espresso with hot water. I'm not the biggest fan of this one; to me it just tastes like weak, watered down coffee.

Latte -- Espresso with steamed milk. The absence of foam on top is what makes a latte different from a cappuccino. Good by itself, but even better with a good quality vanilla flavoring.

Frozen Coffee -- This is really a milkshake that got lost and ended up on the coffee menu by mistake. Half the time it doesn't even have any coffee in it, as in the case of flavors like Heath Bar and Cookies n' Cream.

Iced Latte -- Iced lattes taste pretty much like milk with ice cubes, so if I'm in the mood for a cold coffee drink, I usually go with iced coffee instead.

Macchiato -- Espresso with milk froth on top. It's sort of like a mini cappuccino, for people who couldn't decide between a cappuccino or an espresso.

Flat White -- Espresso with steamed milk. Apparently, there is a difference between this and a latte, but I'm not sure what that is. I've also never seen it offered in any coffee shop I've ever been to that I can recall. Or maybe it was on the menu and I just happened to miss it. With a name that sounds like something you'd find in the paint department at Home Depot, I'm sure that's more than likely.

Breve -- Espresso with half and half. This is one I've not actually tried. It sounds like Death by Fat Overdose, but in reality I'm sure it's no worse than eating ice cream. And speaking of ice cream...

Affogato -- Espresso over ice cream/gelato. If you're in the mood for dessert, this is the one to have.

Keurig -- Just kidding. Keurig coffee will never be found on any self-respecting coffee shop's menu, and for good reason: it tastes like pond water.

27 September 2017

How I Became Egalitarian


Some of you may have noticed the "egalitarianism" tag under my blog topics, but it's likely that not everyone knows what this is about. I figure an explanation of what "egalitarianism" is and how I came to be persuaded of it is in order.

But first, a working definition of some terms I'll be using:

Egalitarianism: the view that God distributes His gifts and callings without regard to an individual's sex. "Biblical gender roles" are a man-made construct. 

Complementarianism: the view that men and women are assigned by God to certain respective "Biblical gender roles" in marriage and in the church. One's sex -- male or female -- is the sole determining factor in which role they must occupy.

I was raised in a church that, like many, espoused the complementarian view. Messages on "the women's role" were a staple in our weekly sermon subject matter. We were taught that women were supposed to be "submissive" (i.e., acquiescent, obedient) to their husbands, who were tasked with "leading their family spiritually" and "making the final decision" in a disagreement. Women were not permitted to speak in church or hold positions of authority, because the Bible expressly forbade it. Instead, we were to keep our heads covered and remain silent. Our natural and proper areas of service were the kitchen and the nursery, while the men were the leaders, decision-makers, and oracles of God in the church. Such were our God-ordained "roles."

The women were cautioned not to see this arrangement as unfair. After all, we were told, our seemingly inferior role did not diminish our personal value and worth; it was backed by the desire and design of God Himself. It would make no more sense for us to be dissatisfied with our role in the church and in marriage, than it would make sense for an actor to be upset with the director of a play because the director has assigned him to a part that is not a "lead role."

Well, even at the ripe old age of twelve, I knew this analogy was invalid. Being consigned to a "role" in life is nothing at all like being assigned a role in a play. For one thing, you audition for a role in a play because you want the part; you aren't born into it. For another thing, your role is temporary -- it only happens onstage, and it ends once the play is over. Also, a theater typically houses many different plays and you have the chance to try out for as many different roles as you desire. You aren't cast in one single role for your entire acting career.

I pondered these inconsistencies whenever the "role in a play" analogy was trotted out during a sermon, but as I was too young for marriage at the time and had no desire for any public leadership role, it didn't bother me much. Besides, my personality just happened to fit the mold anyway: I was terrified of public speaking, and I didn't sense any particular calling toward the spiritual gifts of elder, pastor, or teacher. Aspiring to marriage and homemaking came naturally; it was all I'd ever known. My mother never had a professional career, nor had her mother before her. I made it through high school, college, graduate school, and some years after that accepting my lot as a normal, natural way of life.

Then I got married, and all of a sudden, things began to unravel at warp speed. 

Marriage was where the rubber met the road as far as applying the "submission" teachings I'd been raised with, but I tried them and found them to be sorely lacking in every way. They were an insult to my intelligence as a cognizant human being, and practically, they just plain didn't work.

My suspicion that something was awry began to be stirred while reading Sheila Wray Gregoire's Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. I didn't know of her egalitarian leanings when I bought the book; I had simply gotten it because she was a very "common sense" type of person and I liked her style of writing. Her chapter on submission rocked my world. (I don't use that expression lightly, but in this case, that's literally what happened!) It was a completely brand-new idea to me that Ephesians 5:22-33 is not in fact a prescription for a hierarchical relationship in which "the husband is the leader; the wife is the follower." 

But I still couldn't shake the feeling that marriage had put a wedge between God and me, because now there was a third party "spiritual leader" in the mix. My husband was next in the chain of command between myself and Christ, as per this illustration that sadly, so many of us are familiar with. The quality of my relationship with the Lord hinged on his spiritual fervor or lack thereof at any given time.

I couldn't help but feel something wasn't right with this idea. So I did what everyone who is confused in 21st-century America naturally does, I took to Google with my problem. There, among other things, I found "Demanding a 'Spiritual Leader'? Then 33% of You Will Not Marry." I don't know why this didn't occur to me before, but suddenly it made perfect sense: Not only was it unlikely; it was statistically impossible for there to be enough more-spiritually-mature Christian men to go around for all the marriageable Christian women in the world. This would leave many women with no logical recourse but to (a) stay single or (b) marry a less-mature man and prod him into leading her spiritually, which would actually be a contradiction as it would make her the leader and initiator.

Adding to this difficulty was the fact that, of the literally dozens of sources I poured through, NO ONE could positively define "spiritual leader." No one had any explanation as to why the fruit of the Spirit in a man's life makes him a Spiritual Leader, but in a woman's life it makes her simply a Good Christian Woman. 

At this point I was starting to have vertigo from cognitive dissonance. Intrigued by all the contradictions I was unearthing, I did some more digging and from there I discovered CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) International. I learned:



That Genesis 3:16 is an effect of the curse, not a command from God

That Galatians 3:28 ("there is neither male nor female") isn't just referring to salvation

Even with all of this mounting evidence to the contrary of what I'd always passively believed, what really clinched it for me wasn't the fresh perspectives on the "problem passages" of Scripture. It was noticing the progression of the whole story of Scripture from start to finish, and how it moves from lesser things toward greater things:

From enslavement to redemption,

from access to God being limited only to Levites descended from Aaron to all believers in Jesus,

from masters and slaves relating to one another as owner and what is owned, to a relationship as brothers in Christ,

from the recipients of salvation being only Jews at first, and then all people,

from an old covenant to a newer, better one. The general "trend" of Scripture (and especially the New Testament) is away from restrictions and limitations toward greater freedom. On such a grand trajectory, the belief that subordination to men is God's ideal for women, that women must never lead, teach, or speak seems... well, slightly out of place.

A year ago at this time, I couldn't have imagined that I'd finally be letting go of the idea that God has placed spiritual, ecclesiological, and vocational limits only on human beings with XX chromosomes. Of course, a paradigm shift of this magnitude doesn't happen without its challenges, but I wouldn't trade my newfound knowledge for anything.

The "role in a play" analogy I'd heard since my youth? This truth (tragically) took me way too many years of my life to realize, but here it is: If you are in a "role" in which an unchangeable, essential part of you (your sex at birth) determines how much spiritual authority and power you have over others, then that is not actually a role at all.

It's a caste system.

And I think I'm pretty safe in saying that there are no caste systems in the kingdom of heaven.

26 September 2017

Things People Say: Social Niceties Edition


1. "You've lost weight!" This is basically informing me that you thought I looked fat before. And it's super awkward if I haven't actually lost weight, or am not currently trying to lose weight. (This one is fair game among friends if we have discussed the topic of weight/fat/dieting etc. before. "You've lost weight" is mostly a problem when coming from random acquaintances who may or may not remember my name, but who for some reason have no trouble remembering that I used to look a bit more chunky.)

2. "You look nice today." It's the "today" that's the problem, people. Compliments with strings attached are no bueno. When you say I look nice today, all I'm hearing is that I looked like garbage yesterday.

3. "You look tired." Of all the crazy-making things that people say off the cuff, this one causes me the most utter consternation. Why, oh, why would you ever say this? Unlike #1 and #2 above, there's no possible way this one can be construed as a compliment.

Not only that, but it puts me in a bad light no matter what my situation is. If I really am tired, chances are I'm trying to get my mind off it, put my best foot forward, etc. and you're reminding me that I'm failing at that. If I'm not tired, then I'm thinking, gee, I thought I was looking good today, but I guess not... and now you've dealt a blow to my confidence.

4. "Does anyone want the last cookie/piece of cake/serving of mashed potatoes/etc.?" A show of false generosity, usually proffered while the asker's hand is poised in midair with the cookie halfway to their mouth, or as they are in the act of scooping the last serving on to their plate. At this point, there's really no sense in asking if someone else wants the last whatever-it-may-be. What are they supposed to say? It would be better just to pop it in your mouth before anyone has a chance to object.

5. "Let me know if you need anything." The most innocuous thing on this list, and I really do believe it's said with the best of intentions. However, be aware that if you're saying this to someone who is suffering a major illness or has just had a death in the family, they're probably overwhelmed. They're not likely to tell you if they need something, but believe me, they do need things! This is where you want to take a little initiative. Take them a meal or ask them when is a good time for you to watch their kids or run errands for them. Don't wait for them to ask you. If you feel you need to ask, say, "What can I do that would really help you?" This allows them to give you an honest answer without feeling like they're imposing.

24 September 2017

How not to be a Crotchety Old Person


While these suggestions can't make you any younger, they can be a tremendously effective immunization against the dreaded and highly contagious old-and-crotchety persona. Yes, I'm tackling this one from an outsider's perspective (the etic view, for my anthropologist friends). I'm going to make the argument that, instead of detracting from my credibility, the outsider perspective actually enhances it in this case. This is because "crotchety" is in the eye of the (usually several decades younger) beholder, so who better to let you know how it can be avoided?

1.  Don't complain about getting old. Discuss your aches and pains with your doctor, and your bingo group if you must. Resist disclosing details of a highly personal and sensitive nature to friends and family over dinner, or to random members of the general public within earshot at any time. Especially if colonoscopies, enemas, or flaky skin conditions are involved.

More importantly, the more you talk about being old, the more you increase the chance that people will think of you as "an old fart." They're not trying to. It's just one of those persistent nuisances of the human psyche, that our mental associations with certain topics tend to stick to whomever we hear discuss them the most often.

Instead, act nonchalant as much as you can. Don't bring up the topic of old age. If someone else does, pretend like the thought had never occurred to you. (Yes, even when your bunions are acting up.)

2.  Don't complain about the evils of today's young people. You were just as evil back in the day with your hotrod cars and polka dances, you whippersnapper you.

Besides -- and this is a point not to be ignored -- young people of any generation who go astray (and I don't mean testing-the-limits teenager stuff, but, like, seriously off the rails) generally do so in large part because their elders have failed them. Kids don't just absorb the important lessons of life through osmosis. Someone has to teach and model good values. The key is, it has to be done with consistency and without condemnation. If the older generation disapproves of how today's young people have "turned out", it may be worth taking a collective look in the mirror.

Even better, find a kid or a young adult whom you can help and encourage. Believe me, this will make a huge impression on them, even if they don't let on. I'm almost thirty years old, and I can still remember the older adults who took an interest in me, paid me honest compliments, and went out of their way to be nice to me when I was just five or six. I also remember the ones who humiliated, belittled, criticized, and judged me. However you treat a young person, whether well or poorly, they'll never forget it.

3.  Don't tell hard luck stories. Especially not of the stereotypically embellished and exaggerated "me and my nine siblings walked barefoot to school in the snow for five miles, uphill both ways, and ate dirt for lunch, and it wasn't even warmed-up dirt, we had to eat it cold, but we were thankful for it and we didn't complain" variety. It may elicit some pity, but what self-respecting person really wants to be pitied? This won't resonate with a young audience anyway, since they have no frame of reference from which to relate to such a tale. Their world is completely unlike yours.

4. Try new things. This will stimulate neural pathways, which is healthy. It will also blow out of the water that tired theory that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Go ahead, prove them wrong. Who says you're a dog, anyway?

23 September 2017

Respect vs. Respect


Is respect unconditional, or is it earned?

The correct answer is: Yes. Both.

There's certainly enough confusion to go around on this point. Preachers, teachers, and seminar speakers hold forth on the importance of respect and we're still not sure exactly what our obligations are, based on what they're saying. Or we have a sneaking suspicion that those supposed obligations don't actually make sense. Or, the expectations vary depending on whom you ask.

We're not helped by the fact that, in English at least, we use one word in reference to two very different ideas. Two incredibly different kinds of respect.

Here's a basic primer on telling the difference:

The first kind of respect is simply human decency. When someone says that respect should be given unconditionally, this basic respect is (hopefully!) what they mean. The rules are pretty simple: Treat everyone with dignity and kindness. Express disagreement in non-hostile ways. Be friendly, cooperative, and considerate of others. We might simply call this good manners. And by "good manners" I don't mean knowing which fork is your salad fork at a place setting; I mean courtesy, like saying please and thank you and cleaning up after yourself. Basically, the things little kids are taught to do in kindergarten. Nothing must be done to earn basic respect; all humans deserve it because they are made in God's image.

The second kind of respect involves admiration and esteem. This kind of respect goes deeper than basic courtesy and assumes that a level of trust has been established. You will treat someone whom you respect in this way a bit differently than others. You might share your thoughts and feelings with them. You might seek their advice on a problem. You'll probably see them as a role model of sorts. This kind of respect absolutely, positively should be earned. It should be reserved for people who are truly good examples, who have proved their integrity, wisdom, and trustworthiness over a long history. Admiration respect also belongs to those who have done heroic acts, such as members of the military. Either way, it's merit-based. No one is inherently entitled to it. In fact, there will be trouble if it's handed out indiscriminately.

Some well-meaning folks grasp at this distinction with sayings like "Respect the position, even if you don't respect the person." This is often said in reference to persons in positions of authority (teachers, bosses, government officials, etc.) whose conduct we find odious but nevertheless whom we are not in a position to disobey.

I'd argue, though, that their position doesn't have anything to do with it. Authority figures, like everyone else, deserve (basic) respect for one reason and one reason only: because they're fellow humans. If their behavior doesn't inspire your admiration, there is nothing that obligates you to give it. The "authority position" is, either way, irrelevant.

To sum up, I believe it would be more helpful to think of these two kinds of respect as homonyms (words that sound the same, but have vastly different meanings) rather than the same word with variable connotations. And then to adjust our teaching on the subject accordingly.

22 September 2017

Brazilian Pan de Queso

1 box pan de queso mix
3 cups shredded mozzerella cheese
1.5 cups parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. The dough should be evenly mixed and fairly stiff. Shape into balls about an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. Grease enough aluminum foil to cover a 9x13 baking sheet and place the balls about 2 inches apart on the foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

This is an absolutely amazing snack that goes great with your coffee break, or anything at all, really. If you can get a mix that resembles the box on the left (or something comparable), I highly, highly recommend that you try it. I have made this for friends at church, for class, for my room mates, and have yet to meet anyone who didn't love it. A bonus is that it's made from manioc flour instead of wheat, so it's safe for the gluten-intolerant.

20 September 2017

5 Ways to Ruin Your Coffee


A post about how to make better coffee deserves a follow-up with some ways to avoid common pitfalls in coffee preparation. For those of you who enjoy reverse psychology, here are five of the best ways to ruin your coffee:

1. Store your coffee beans in the freezer after opening. Know how your freezer gets super dry to keep ice from building up in there? Think about what that drying effect does to your coffee. To avoid that, you should store it in a cool dry place (your counter top or cupboard is fine) in an airtight container, or in the original packaging sealed up very tightly. The less the beans are exposed to open air, the better chance they’ll have of staying fresh.

2. Assume that coffee lasts forever, like rice or sugar or dried beans. It doesn't. The aromatic oils are quite volatile, and as a result coffee tends to go stale quickly. In terms of perishability, think of it more like milk than like a dry good. This is another excellent reason not to keep coffee sitting pre-ground in a canister along with flour and tea bags (I'm looking at you, mother).

3. Leave the coffee sitting on the burner for a long time. Coffee has a mild, delicate edge of bitter-sweetness that's easily destroyed by prolonged or excessive heat. Fifteen to twenty minutes on the burner is all it takes to give you that nasty stewed flavor. This is why it's a good idea to use a coffee maker with a carafe rather than a glass decanter -- the coffee will stay warm for several hours without getting burnt.

Similarly, skip reheating cold coffee, especially in the microwave. Better to throw ice in and drink it chilled, if you must.

4. Use artificial sweetener or that fake hazelnut/vanilla/whatever-flavored non-dairy nonsense. That stuff contains contains about as much real food value as laundry detergent. A surefire way to ruin even the most exquisite cup of coffee. If you like it light and/or sweet, use REAL cream or milk and REAL sugar, and not too much of it. If you're brewing good quality coffee properly, there's no need to obscure its flavor.

5. Neglect to periodically descale your coffee maker. It makes a big difference, especially if you have hard water. The descaler will clear the water lines of calcium deposits, giving you better tasting coffee and a faster brewing time as well. (You can decide how often you want to do this. Some manufacturers recommend descaling once per 100 cups brewed, but let's face it, if some of us went by that, we'd be doing it every other week!)

18 September 2017

5 Ways to Make Better Coffee

For the coffee afficianados, connoisseurs, and otherwise who may be reading this, you can skip this one, if you wish, because nothing said here will be news to you.

The rest of you, listen up!  We're going to talk about important matters pertaining to the muddy brown substance you've been having the nerve to call coffee. No, put down the can of Maxwell House. You won't be needing that here.

There are a surprising number of you out there who are blissfully unaware of all that goes into making a real cup of coffee. We're going to rectify that today.

(I don't know why, but this seems to be an especially pervasive problem in small evangelical churches for some reason. There's a joke in my family about the three things to look for in a church you’re thinking about attending: solid Bible teaching, brotherly love, and terrible coffee. Because then, and only then, do you know you’re getting the real thing. How? Well, do you think you'll stay for long in a church whose primary attractive force is it’s coffee?  But I digress...)

Enough said.  Let's get down to business.

1. Buy your coffee in whole-bean form. Grind it (at home) no more than a few minutes before brewing. (If you buy it already ground, it will taste like potting soil in about three days.) A good rule of thumb is to buy coffee in vacuum-sealed bags only, never in cans whether metal or plastic. No need to break the bank, either -- there are plenty of good quality, moderately priced coffee brands out there these days.  I particularly recommend Eight O'Clock and Green Mountain, although there are others.

2. Use filtered water. Don't use tap water. If it doesn't taste good when you drink it straight out of the tap, you can't very well expect it to make good-tasting coffee, either. Although better than tap water, I'm told that distilled water shouldn't be your first choice either. Supposedly this is because it's missing the trace minerals and whatnot that contribute to a superior-tasting finished product.

3. Make your coffee at the proper strength. Although mostly a matter of personal taste, the "official standard" coffee measurement is 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water.  Regardless, if you can see through the coffee to the bottom of the cup after you've filled it, it's too weak.

4. Brew in an automatic-drip pot or French press. I don’t recommend using a percolator because percolators force water through the grounds over and over again, and the coffee tastes muddy and burnt after it's been through this ordeal.

Similarly, I don't recommend Keurig single serve pods for the best tasting coffee. They're convenient, sure, but convenience definitely sacrifices flavor in this instance. Not to mention, Keurig pods are as expensive as cr@p.

5. Serve the coffee in paper cups if you’re going disposable. I would generally discourage using styrofoam, even though it's cheaper. Besides the fact that it's flimsy and, well, not terribly classy, styrofoam has been known to leech plastic polymers into hot coffee, allegedly contributing to serious issues like brain cell damage and bad-tasting coffee. I want to have my wits about me well into old age, or at least enjoy what I'm drinking in the meantime, so I'd definitely give styrofoam a pass.

17 September 2017

J-O-Y

I'm sure you've seen it, the acronym and alleged formula for JOY: Jesus first. Then Others. Last of all, Yourself.

Here's the thing -- I'm not so sure the Jesus category can be easily disentangled from the Others category. Serving others is part and parcel of serving Jesus. Amazingly, He identifies so closely with us, that He counts service done for us by others as service done to Himself (which I think is really nice of Him, by the way, and proves how humble He is): "Since you did it for the one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." (Matthew 25:40) "Whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me." (Mark 9:37) "The one who receives whomever I send receives me." (John 13:20)

Some people say that "Jesus first" means having your quiet time or your daily devotions or whatever you like to call it first thing in the morning before you do anything else. I guess that sounds reasonable, although if Scripture reading and prayer is primarily a means of grace from God to us, it would seem that those activities are really more for our benefit than God's. This would make them likely candidates for the Yourself category as much as for the Jesus category.

Secondly, "yourself last" sounds noble, but honestly, it's a recipe for burnout. As selfish as it may sound, sometimes you really do have to prioritize self-care. This could be as simple as not saying "yes" to every task, project, and invitation that comes your way. It's the whole "put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others" idea: if your resources have run dry, you will have very little of value to offer anyone else.

Last but not least -- and so obvious that I hate to point it out -- this formula doesn't always bring me joy! Sometimes I do all the "steps" in the right order, but at the end of the day I'm still exhausted and fed up anyway.

In light of all this, I'd like to propose a new formula for JOY:


Java, Oreos, and You!

(It works for me.)

16 September 2017

God Wants You to be Happy


Does God want you to be happy?

(Well, of course He does! How else do you explain the existence of coffee? and chocolate? But no, really -- this is a serious question for many people, this question of whether or not God wants us to be happy.)

TV preachers say yes, and He wants you to be healthy and wealthy, too. The idea being smuggled in there, of course, is that you can't have happiness without money and pleasure.

Knowing that following Christ does not make for a life of ease, and wanting to affirm that one cannot serve God and mammon, some Christians have therefore been led to conclude -- and actively teach -- that God has no interest whatsoever in our happiness. At first glance, the evidence would seem to be on their side. Many of the trials and travails that befell our predecessors in the faith certainly didn't seem like occasions for happiness: Job suffered the loss of literally everything he had. Moses put up with the people of Israel in the wilderness for four decades. Ruth and Naomi endured the loss of their husbands and moves from their respective homelands. Nehemiah braved persecution and opposition for rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The Apostle Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, incarcerated, and finally beheaded. Then, of course, there were all the ordeals faced by the unnamed heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11:35-38, none of which likely made any of them very happy, and none of which God intervened to prevent.

On top of all this, they say, God said that we should be holy, but He didn't say much about making ourselves happy. Besides, bad things happen to us through no fault of our own, and God doesn't always stop those things from happening. This is proof positive that happiness does not matter to God.

Well, I'm just going to say here and now -- I don't have the answer for why God allows suffering. People have been puzzling over this question for centuries, so I hope I don't disappoint anyone too much by this admission. (Though I suspect it has something to do with God allowing people their free will.) I do think however that we can get around some of the confusion about whether happiness is in general something God approves of.

First of all, I think we have let the Happiness Downers get away with too much by allowing them to define happiness as nothing more than a mere emotion. They insist rather that God wants us to be holy. True enough. The root concept of holiness is "wholeness" -- wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. This means that you can't have wholeness without happiness following close behind. It therefore makes perfect sense to believe that as God wants us to be holy, so He desires us to be happy. And since no one is holier than God, I'd venture to say no one is happier, either. If holiness and happiness are inextricably linked, then the holiest ones are indeed the happiest ones.

We should also keep in mind that God created human beings for perfection in the Garden of Eden. I don't see how this could have made them anything other than happy. Likewise, the final destination of redeemed humanity is life in the presence of God, which is surely the very essence of happiness. The fact is that happiness bookends the story of humankind regardless of how much heartache and suffering occurs in between, which suggests that happiness was in fact what God wanted for us all along.

One caveat, however: during the time we spend in that middle part of the story between Creation and Redemption, God's path to happiness will oftentimes seem long and circuitous and include detours through unpleasant times. It will necessitate growth on our part, and growth involves struggle. These things are necessary, not because there is something wrong with God's idea of happiness, but because we live in an imperfect world and also because we are fallen mortals who tend to try to take shortcuts to the goal.

This concept will be familiar to you if you've ever heard the idea that sin is just desire for a good thing wrongly obtained. Idolatry, for example, happens because people turn their inherently God-given desire to worship toward something or someone other than God Himself. Stealing and coveting happen because we desire good things, but we try to get them in wrong ways, or with wrong motives. Sins of immorality, both inside and outside of marriage, happen because we desire closeness, intimacy, and fulfillment.

Our own proposed paths to happiness usually end up either off a cliff or at a dead end, and this is why so many Christians think that God does not want us to desire happiness. What they should rather understand is that God wants us to desire His kind of happiness. This means we desire what He wants, and what He wants is a relationship between Himself and us, first and foremost. And I think that's really the best kind of happiness.

14 September 2017

Joy vs. Happiness


Today I need to pick on a favorite pet peeve of mine. It's when Christians say that joy and happiness are two completely different things: happiness is a fleshly emotion, and joy is a Christian virtue. Some even go so far as to say they have nothing to do with each other.

This is rubbish, and I can prove it.

For one thing, who are the Christians you know whom you would describe as having "the joy of the Lord"? Are they the grouchy-looking ones? The gloomy ones? No, they're the happy ones! You know, the friendly ones who smile, who laugh easily, who make others feel at ease. Their happiness is a proof of their joy.

If happiness isn't equivalent to joy, it would seem to be a necessary ingredient at the very least.

Besides, if there are no emotional indicators of joy, how will you know when you have it? It's no use giving the standard textbook answer that "God gives us joy in trials even though the problem we're going through doesn't make us happy." That still doesn't answer the question. Ask anyone who gives that type of answer what is the evidence of their joy in trials, and they'll give you a list of feelings: a sense of peace, a deep contentment, "assurance" that God will work everything out, etc. This proves that joy is indeed something one feels -- or, at the very least, it certainly fails to disprove it.

Even the esteemed Noah Webster offers us a decidedly circular definition of these two terms: "Joy: a state of happiness or felicity. Happiness: a state of well-being and contentment; joy."

Don't even get me started on the worn out platitude that "Happiness depends on happenings; joy depends on Jesus." This makes no sense at all. Why couldn't Jesus make me happy? Doesn't His presence and work in my life qualify as a "happening" of sorts, and would that be something that makes me happy, because it's a happening, or would it make me joyful, because it's from Jesus? (The yarn of coherence really unravels fast on this one.)

There's something else fishy about the "happiness depends on happenings; joy depends on Jesus" trope: it derives its catchiness from alliteration and word similarity rather than actual basis in fact. The close phonetic relationship between happiness and happening and joy and Jesus only works in English. Translate this saying into almost any other language, and the similarity evaporates.

We might ask, how does Scripture differentiate joy from happiness? Well, quite frankly, it doesn't. You could switch out almost any Biblical occurrence of joy or joyful with happy (or vice versa) and still get the same meaning. Note that in the instances below where "joy" appears, there are emotions present, which are of course dependent on particular circumstances, further undermining support for the happiness-happenings/joy-Jesus dichotomy:

"They observed the festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days with joy, because the Lord had made them glad" (Ezra 6:22)

"Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12)

"Because you made me glad with your awesome deeds, Lord, I will sing for joy at the works of your hands" (Psalm 92:4)

"Let your father and mother rejoice; make the one who gave birth to you happy" (Proverbs 23:25)

"When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy" (Matthew 2:10)

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are living according to the truth" (3 John 1:4)

By now you might be asking, why does any of this matter? It matters because human beings want to be happy. We were made for happiness (a point which I'll say more about later). Or, you may also say we were made for joy. Joy is simply a less frequently used word in our language which has, over time, grown to have more mystical connotations, but without any real justification. Either way, it's a poor advertisement for the message of the gospel when we make joy out to be some mysterious metaphysical state of being and happiness a passing whimsy. Neither Scripture, nor dictionaries, nor just plain common sense make any such distinction -- nor should we.

13 September 2017

5 Experiences that Weren't What I Expected

1. Working in a library. This was my job in college. When I first started, I thought it be boring. Actually, a library is an amazing place to play pranks. You can fill the printer with princess tea party-themed paper. You can slip random books with embarrassing titles onto the interlibrary loan shelf. ("Oh, you didn't mean to place a hold for Sex Positions 101? So sorry.") You can hide those little anti-theft strips in people's coats and backpacks when they're not looking. The fact that a library is supposed to be a quiet place makes a commotion all the more interesting.

2. Traveling abroad. In the church where I grew up (or, "the meeting", as we called it), short term missions trips were not all the rage that they are in larger denominational churches. In fact, I never heard of short term missions until well into my teen years. As far as I knew, missions was a thing you did for life, and it was mostly done by middle-aged and old people, not teenagers. They went packing off to Borneo or the Kalahari Desert and were never seen nor heard from again. Their photos hung on the big world map in the church hallway until they yellowed and dried (or until kids in the Sunday School had poked the picture so full of holes with thumbtacks that it wouldn't stay on the wall anymore). At prayer meetings, we prayed for them in their war-torn lands and spoke of them in hushed, funereal tones, the way you would speak of someone on their death bed. In a very real sense, I suppose many of them were.

With the concept of international travel always so cloaked in mystery and misinformation, I grew up being terrified of it. Upon learning that my undergraduate TESOL program required me to do a cross-cultural practicum in a non Indo-European language speaking country (no getting off easy going to Canada or Mexico), my first reaction was to feel sick to my stomach. This was it. This was the end of me. I should pack my worldly goods in my coffin and bid my family a final farewell.

Of course, it was nothing like that. I went to Japan (which, admittedly, made for a more comfortable first-time experience), and was instantly hooked. Not just on the country itself, but on life abroad in general. It wasn't scary at all. I learned a lot -- about myself, about my field of study, about other people. I discovered new loves: vending machine coffee, rice paddies, choux cremes, okonomiyaki. And the people, of course. I even had internet access now and then. All in all, a great experience.


3. Professional fireworks. I got two surprises out of this one. The first one is (contrary to popular belief), pyrotechnics is much safer than it sounds. My dad was into it for quite a few years before I came of legal age to participate, and many nights I went to bed worrying about him while he was off doing a show. I worried that something would blow up at the wrong time and place, that he'd come home minus an arm or a hand -- or maybe not come home at all. Then I began doing shows myself and discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that the whole business really offers little cause for concern. Fireworks, like all other good things, should simply be handled with care. And if a shell bursts a bit too close for comfort, you're probably okay. In most cases, some part of your body has to be touching it in order for it to injure you. But of course you won't be touching it, because you're a smart person.

The second thing is, once you give it up, you'll never again go to a firework show just to watch. It's too unbearable to sit and be a spectator.

4. Skydiving. Frankly, I was expecting this to be more of an adrenaline rush. But in fact, it was nice and relaxing in a pleasantly boring sort of way, like spending an afternoon at the library. I think this was partially because I didn't have to do any of the work myself; I could just sit back and let it happen. (First-time skydivers are strapped, tied, buckled and tethered to an expert upon whom they must rely to execute every step of the process: the jump at 13,000 feet, the release of the rip cord; the instructions about what to do with your neck so that it doesn't break.) Although I had to sign a 37-page waiver promising that I wouldn't sue Skydive San Diego if I died, skydiving is actually a very low risk activity, statistically speaking. And partially, I think it was because working with explosives for half a decade had tapped out my adrenaline receptors just a little bit.

I would absolutely do it again, though, given the chance (and only if I happen to find a decent chunk of change under my sofa cushions -- say, about $250 or so).

5. Marriage. Now that I'm married, everything I was ever told about marriage makes no sense to me. It baffles me how the church manages to paint the holy estate of matrimony as both Shangri-La and the valley of the shadow of death simultaneously. On one hand I heard, "It's the best thing that will ever happen to you!" and also "It's the hardest thing you'll ever do!" So far, I haven't found either one to be true. Both the promised fireworks and the promised doom and gloom failed to deliver. Marriage, inasmuch as I can tell from only two years of experience, is simply learning to share your life with another person... all the time. Meanwhile, not much deep down at the core of you changes. The things that were true about you before you were married continue to be true afterward. You don't lose any of your quirks, fears, passions, joys, or irritating habits. You simply find someone else to share them with. (If you're a considerate spouse, you try to share as few of the irritating habits as possible.)

12 September 2017

10 More Things that Make No Sense

I wasn't going to make another "things that make no sense" post so soon after the last one, but what can I say, it's a crazy world. Lists like these practically write themselves.

1. Spray tans. I hear these are a lot better now than they used to be, but I think I'll take others' word for it rather than finding out for myself, just in case it's not true. I'm blonde, you see, and burnt orange isn't in my color palette.

2. The "This is a non-smoking flight" announcement on planes. Really? How do I get on a "smoking" flight? Does the airline industry have smoking or non-smoking sections, like in restaurants? If not, why do they bother to remind us ad nauseam of something that, after a certain number of decades, should be self-evident?

3. Nutrition label serving sizes. Whoever came up with these seems to have made a clean break with reality. Who eats only eats one half cup of ice cream, or 9 crackers, or 17 M&M's? How am I supposed to know how many servings I've eaten when the serving size is a metric weight measurement? And don't even get me started on the term "servings per container." When it comes to chips, ice cream, and Girl Scout cookies, it's not "servings per container", it's "containers per serving", amirite?

4. Those 1990's little girl dresses. It's one thing to suffer in high heels or a tight up-do if you at least know you look pretty. It's another thing entirely to suffer without the consolation of beauty. There's just way too much about this outfit that's prohibitive to either looking or feeling good: the square bib collar, the elastic sleeves, the pleated stitching on the front that made you itch and sweat, combined with tights and Mary Jane shoes that wouldn't slip off easily. Parents of the 90's (including mine), I know you loved your daughters dearly, but this was not one of your better ways of showing it.

5. Jury duty. It's the whole "trial by a jury of your peers" thing. Never mind that in no other place in today's society would the oddball assortment of individuals serving on a jury, from high school graduates to retirees, be considered "peers." Also, there's the fact that the state feels no need to properly compensate people for services they can coerce them into. This means that each of your "peers" is being forced to spend their day in a courtroom having committed no crime other than that of being a gainfully employed, registered voter with a valid driver's license. Because of this they are likely to be in a less than agreeable state of mind, and they don't necessarily have a vested interest in rendering a fair verdict. They might just say whatever they think they have to, to minimize the loss of money and time they incur by being there.

6. Pills with side effects that are worse than whatever they're supposedly treating. You know the ones I mean. They show up in TV commercials, usually accompanying a scene with a happy-looking older couple walking on the beach holding hands. A cheerful-sounding voiceover assures you of how much this blood pressure medication will enhance your quality of life, just before informing you that this medication "has been known to cause seizures, liver damage, brain tumors, and death. Ask your doctor if this medication is right for you." No thanks, I think I'll take my chances with high blood pressure. Seizures, liver damage, brain tumors, and death don't sound right for me. They've all been shown to decrease quality of life rather dramatically, in fact.

7. Throw pillows. I don't know what these are actually good for. You can't sleep on them, at least not the ones that are cylinder-shaped or have too many extraneous features like lace or tassels. You have to fuss with arranging them on the bed at the beginning of the day, only to have to move them somewhere else at night. I guess they're supposed to help your bedroom look like a Better Homes and Gardens photo, but in my case this is a lost cause, throw pillows or no throw pillows.

8. Automated telemarketing. Is there actually a real, live person out there who's responsible for those scammy recorded phone calls that wake me up at 3 a.m. to tell me I've won a free cruise to the Bahamas? If so, I have to wonder what on earth they're getting out of it, since I always hang up. So does everyone else I know.

9. Long range weather forecasting. It's almost always wrong anyway.

10. High School. Most stuff you learn after reading, writing, and basic math is a complete waste of your time, because you'll never use it in adulthood. There's a T-shirt out there and I can't remember exactly what it says but it's something like, "I never learned how to cook a meal, change a tire, file taxes, or fix a leaky faucet, but thank God I know the Pythagorean Theorem." My thoughts exactly.

11 September 2017

Letter to Garrison Keillor

Dear Mr. Keillor,

Once upon a time, a wise man told me I would enjoy your book Lake Wobegon Days. I wish I had listened to him sooner. I can't believe I spent so many of my literate years missing out on such a voice -- one that is, as The New York Times said, "equal parts alarming, heartbreaking, and funny.” So true on all three counts, and especially the last two. Some writers will make you laugh and some will break your heart; few can do both at the same time. What did it for me was the rather unflattering yet poignantly humorous account of your time spent among the Plymouth Brethren. "When kids asked what I was, I just said Protestant. It was too much to explain, like having six toes. You would rather keep your shoes on."

Sigh. For us PB refugees, there's no truth that hurts quite like this one does. I have been in that exact situation more often than you'd care to know.

I am intimately acquainted with the Brethren idiosyncrasies, having been part of the group myself. The un-upholstered chairs, the "mournful dirges", the doctrinal quarrels. I have sat through all the meetings, and I know all the language. (Yes, the word "vouchsafe" does just slip out of some people's mouths.) You said once that if the Pharisees were to come back, they would come back as Brethren. This, I'm afraid, is not quite true -- the Brethren would probably find the Pharisees a bit too "loose" for their liking.

Even more saddening than this unfortunate state of affairs is the picture of God that it painted in your mind at an early age -- God as stingy and harsh, who placed the same value on your talents that your parents did (none at all) and, most of all was dead set against having any fun.

As if that weren't bad enough, then there was the Washington Post op-ed earlier this year in which you declared that you were in the market for a new religion, and all because some Christians voted for Donald Trump. (Never mind that Donald Trump and religion have as much to do with one another as pickles and ice cream.) I'm a bit puzzled by how you got from Point A to Point B in this line of reasoning. You wouldn't stop using money just because you disagree with how some people spend theirs, right? Why would you give up on your own faith because you find unsettling what someone else's faith (or lack thereof) led them to do?

I wonder if it's possible that you could be confusing the ways of God with the ways of humans -- in particular, those ways that reveal themselves as legalistic fundamentalism or certain political persuasions. This is a point that seems to have tripped you up time and time again.

The truth has been right in front of your face your whole life; how have you missed it? Christ as He truly is, and Christ as He is made out to be by His followers -- both real and imaginary -- are often two completely different people. It seems you have yet to get to know the real One. I wouldn't waste any more time on that if I were you. Not just because every minute brings us closer to the day when all social, political, and cultural stand-ins for true faith will be exposed as such. But because you're missing out on the chance of a lifetime, the chance to walk hand in hand with the Person who gave you your life and every good thing you have.

He's been a good friend of mine for some time now, and I can tell you for a fact that He is actually quite delightful and not at all like any group makes Him out to be. He is more righteous and more gracious than you ever dared to imagine. He's not the least bit interested in your ideas, or mine, about what the ideal American social order looks like; in fact, He's notorious for not taking sides in such debates. His kingdom is not of this world. This point will come as either a tremendous relief or a tremendous disappointment, depending on how dearly you cherish your political views.

Either way, you do certainly seem to have taken in the broad spectrum of ideas about Him, from the Brethren to the anti-Trumpers and everybody in between. Yet when it comes down to it, even the noblest notions about God and what it means to live by faith are merely shadows. I suspect you know this, because you've made a living -- and a life -- poking fun at those shadows. But they will melt away and leave you empty handed, and then what? What separates shadow from substance is a point that is literally of eternal consequence. I suggest you learn to distinguish between them while you still have the wits about you to tell the difference.

Stop chasing after shadows, and take hold of the Real Thing.

10 September 2017

Things People Say: Tiresome Cliche Edition


Platitudes are irritating and unremarkable as a general rule, but some are just so bad, they deserve their own feature. Here's a sampling of the best. I mean, the worst.

1. "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence/You always want whatever you can't have." Sorry, but no. This is not only overly simplistic; it's inaccurate. If I want something, I desire it based on its perceived benefit to me, not on its relative scarcity. I can think of many, many things I don't have that I also don't want: Warts. Head lice. Food allergies. A pet tarantula. Turtleneck sweaters. Vermilion wallpaper. A mustache. Eyebrow piercings. A lifetime pass to the opera...

2. "There's no such thing as a coincidence." Considering that a coincidence is simply when two things happen at the same time, I doubt any intelligent person is seriously prepared to stand by this argument. The world is a big, busy place. There are always multiple myriads of things occurring simultaneously. What they probably mean is, "There's no such thing as a coincidence devoid of significance or divine purpose." Even this clarification doesn't solve everything, though, because then you've opened up the gallon-sized can of worms labeled Determinism -- basically, whether or not God micromanages all the details of our lives.

3. "Is your glass half full or half empty?" Wrong question. No glass is "half empty." Much like saying a dimly lit room is "half dark", you can't define something in the negative, by what it lacks. Not to mention that the half-full/half-empty dichotomy is an annoying and ill-fated attempt to put others into a box based on extremes caricatured from the likes of Pollyanna and Eeyore.

4. "It could be worse." The only place in the universe where things couldn't possibly be any worse, is in hell. So in terms of helpfulness and relevance, this one ranks right up there with statements like "Water is wet." The mere fact that it's true doesn't mean it adds to the conversation in any meaningful way.

5. "Money can't buy happiness." (Well, I can't say that poverty does much for happiness, either!) This statement is technically true, if you are presupposing that Happiness is something you find in a labeled container on a store shelf. But who actually believes that? No one, and that's why this saying rings so hollow. The glaringly obvious truth is that money can -- and, indeed, is the only thing that will -- buy things that contribute to happiness, such as a house that we can relax and rest in, food that affords us leisure and social time as well as nourishment, plane tickets to go on vacation or visit loved ones, and medical bills to eradicate or alleviate health issues. (And to all you dear, well-meaning folks out there who are fond of saying things like, "All I need to be happy is Jesus," or, even better, "Christians need joy, not happiness" -- a separate post is coming for you at a later date!)

6. "It is what it is." This is usually a cop-out, an excuse not to make a change that desperately needs to be made. It's better to ask, "Is this what it could be, or should be?" Then act accordingly.

7. "This too shall pass/It's temporary." Another cop-out. Often said to people who are exhausted, worn out by unfortunate circumstances or even just the general demands of life. Think new moms with a colicky infant, a chronic illness sufferer, or an under-employed worker or college student living hand to mouth. In almost every case, the innocent victim of this platitude is someone who could really benefit from a friend coming to their aid with practical help or wise advice. But hey, talk is cheap. It's easier and faster just to tell them to keep their chin up. But the next time you catch yourself saying "This too shall pass", remember the person on the receiving end could very well be thinking the same -- about you!

09 September 2017

Funeral ≠ Celebration


A friend of the family passed away recently. A day or two after his passing, another friend forwarded me an email containing a newspaper article with his obituary and information about his "Celebration of Life" service.

It may be none of my business what people want to label their significant life events, but calling it a "celebration", instead of a "funeral" or "memorial service", just sits wrong with me for some reason.

It makes little sense, in my mind, to link the word "celebration" with the thought of losing a loved one. It's a sad thing. It's not something we celebrate, if we're going to be honest.  When I think of celebrating, I think of anniversaries and graduations and weddings and especially birthdays. Old-age qualms notwithstanding, a birthday is a happy occasion. That seems to me like the right time to celebrate someone's life (or at least their life so far). Why wait to do it until after they've died? Shouldn't you do special things for them that they'll enjoy and appreciate while they're alive? ("Don't send me flowers when I'm dead", the song says.)

"Well," you say, "but the funeral or memorial service isn't really for the person who died. It's for the loved ones who remain, for closure and the support of their family members and friends and all of that."

To which I say, true enough. And in that case, I see even less of a reason to call it a celebration.

Not that I don't understand the reasoning behind it; I do. We want to keep the focus on the good thing that we had -- the person's life -- instead of mourning what we've lost. Those of us who are believers in Jesus take it one step further.  For us, the celebration aspect encompasses not only the person's life on this earth, but also the new life they've entered into in heaven.

And yet in all of this I wonder if we have taken the apostle's admonition "Do not grieve as those who have no hope" and turned it into "Do not grieve." Or, if you must grieve, then do so as if you were ashamed of it, with lots of disclaimers to the effect that "this is also an occasion for rejoicing" and so forth. No, take the time to actually grieve, and be real about it. Some stories end sadly, and so do some chapters (and people) of our lives. Acknowledge that. Feel it; express it. And if it really helps you to think of the memorial service as a celebration, then go ahead and do that.

But for heaven's sake, please don't put that in the newspaper.

[Originally published May 2012]

06 September 2017

10 Things that Make No Sense


1. Decaf coffee. Normally in my house we don't say the d-word, but decaf really doesn't make any sense, people. It's all about the caffeine. And the flavor. And without caffeine, no flavor. If you just want a hot beverage vaguely reminiscent of coffee, drink chicory. Or Cafix. Or, whatever, heat up your old used dishwater. It all tastes about the same.
2. Fast-talking disclaimers. “New, Amazing, Limited Time Offer!! …Offervalidatparticipatinglocationsonlysomerestrictionsmayapplyseeinstorefordetails.“ ....??!!?.... What?? I CAN'T HEAR YOU! ...yeah, I know, that's the whole idea in the first place. You just don't want to get sued. Why saying stuff too fast for me to hear safeguards you against that, I'll never know.

3. Ear-splitting loud fire alarms in public buildings. It's a well-known fact that the ones who panic in an emergency are almost always worse off than those who stay calm. This is just a guess on my part, but I do wonder if having their eardrums ruptured isn't bound to make most people feel a little panicky.

4. Keeping books and magazines in the bathroom. If the time it takes for you to do your business is so long that you need reading material, see a doctor.

5. Bringing your phone, tablet, or TV into the bathroom. See #4.

6. Modern art sculptures. I knew a guy who left a heap of scrap metal and rusty bedsprings right in the middle of the town green, and he paid a fine for illegal dumping. Another guy did the same thing, but he said it was art, and now tourists stop and have their pictures taken next to it.

7. Memorial highways/bridges. People, whatever you do, make sure you do some kind of honorable and very publicly visible civic duty in your lifetime. Ensuring that an unsightly, hazardous, air polluting stretch of traffic jam will someday be erected in your memory is an opportunity you must seize while you still can.

8. Wisdom teeth. What other part of the body serves no purpose whatsoever except to necessitate an expensive and painful operation at one of the most financially vulnerable times of life (your teens and twenties)? There's no wisdom in this that I can see.

9. Childproof caps on medicine bottles. Most of the time these end up deterring the person for whom the medicine is actually intended, usually the elderly and the disabled who might very well have enough trouble opening a non childproof bottle.

10. Blonde jokes. These are actually "women jokes" in disguise. It's not really about hair at all. I mean, when was the last time you heard a joke about a blonde guy?

05 September 2017

Stormy Weather

Matthew on his Caribbean/East Coast tour last fall.

It's been a tense weekend watching the weather maps as Hurricane Irma makes its way toward the East Coast. As of today, the time and place of its landfall remains only an educated guess. One thing seems certain, though -- whichever unfortunate island or state Irma chooses to be her host will have quite the mess on their hands. Florida is looking more and more likely to be the unlucky winner, although the Carolinas are not outside the realm of possibility.

With Hurricane Matthew still relatively fresh in mind (there are still telephone wires down in front of our house), the thought of riding out yet another major storm leaves me rather vexed. Even so, I don't like to be someone who dreads bad weather. Technically, a true optimist doesn't even subscribe to the notion of "bad" weather. It was a true optimist who said, "There is no bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." I have to wonder if the residents of Houston, who are still digging themselves out from under the handiwork of Hurricane Harvey, would agree.

Of the natural disasters I've experienced, hurricanes are, hands down, my least favorite so far. They're pure evil. They stubbornly refuse to be ameliorated by a lot of the preemptive measures you can take in other kinds of disaster. In a hurricane, you can't just hunker down in your basement and hope for the best like you can in a tornado -- you'll drown. Nor can you suppress a hurricane like you can a wildfire. No, with a hurricane, you are at its mercy. And hurricanes are not known for mercy.

Blizzards are the resident natural catastrophe where I come from. But blizzards not a big deal. In fact, they can be a lot of fun. School gets cancelled for days, and you can stay at home and go sledding once the snowfall is over. You can get things done around the house you had been putting off, like cleaning out the freezer. You have absolutely the best excuse for not being able to go anywhere; you're snowed in. It's an introvert's dream come true. As long as you keep the ice off your roof, you'll be okay. Of course, there are always a few boneheads who manage to get themselves killed, but this happens even when the weather is 70 degrees and sunny.

Earthquakes are also not a big deal. I do realize the Really Big Ones can be devastating, but those are few and far between. Earthquakes can't be anticipated, and this is what I mean by "not a big deal." You don't have days and weeks of nail-biting anxiety and media-induced frenzy leading up to an earthquake, because they can't be forecast. They simply happen when they happen, and then they're over. You put the pictures back up on the walls and go about your business.

Fire is somewhat more concerning, and I admit the prospect of losing my life and property in an inferno isn't an attractive one, but you never know, maybe it's a fear based on ignorance. I came to this conclusion because -- for whatever reason -- the residents of areas that routinely face the threat of fire seem unperturbed about it.

While living on the West Coast, I woke up one morning to a sepia sunrise. The whole sky, from one horizon to another, was brown with the smoke of a huge fire in a neighboring city. Naturally I found this unsettling, and wondered what we should do. But the native Californians to whom I posed the question of evacuating reacted as if I'd suggested building an igloo in the Sahara desert. Clearly, a fire burning out of control a mere several miles away was no cause for alarm.

Of course, one always has the option of evacuating from a hurricane. If Irma gets too comfy here, maybe that's what we'll do. Maybe we'll go to Iceland, where they have volcanoes, which are, at least, interesting to look at. After all, the saying goes, "He who packs up and runs away, lives to fight another hurricane another day." Or something like that.