Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Vanilla Legacy

Did you ever hear about Edmond Albius? Yes, he had a name like a Harry Potter wizard, but he was more than just a name, and our lives would not be the same without him. Albius was born into slavery, but in 1841 he invented something that changed our world forever.

Before Edmond Albius changed things, Mexico was the only place in the whole world that could grow vanilla. There's a sting-less bee in Mexico that is the only bug in the world that naturally pollinates the Vanilla Orchid. Without pollination these orchids won't produce vanilla pods, and the pods are the tasty part. Sadly leaving Mexico means leaving the bees. No bees means no pollination and no pollination means no vanilla.  A Belgian botanist did invent a way to pollinate the orchid artificially, but his method was unusable and laborious.  Then in 1841 Edmond Albius took a stick and invented a simple technique to pollinate vanilla orchids. After over 150 years we still use that technique. Almost all vanilla on earth is pollinated this way.  He is the reason I get to enjoy vanilla. Oh yeah, Albius was only twelve years old when he figured it out.

This story stirs my desire to be remembered. Vanilla is grown globally because of Edmond Albius.  I may never do anything so globally important as that boy did.  This bothers me.

It's a basic human impulse: We want legacies. We want to leave something indelible that will be around after long after we're dead and gone. People build companies, challenge governments, break records and even wage wars with this end in mind. We do so in vain. This world is temporary. None of our legacies outlast us.  C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit, immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

I love this quote. It makes me question my longing to be remembered. I hope it makes you do the same because we are more permanent than any of our accomplishments. Our neighbors, enemies and friends are more lasting and valuable than anything we can build.


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
What do you treasure?  Is it of earth or heaven?  Lay down your worthless treasures.  Jesus is happy to forgive you if you have clung to the wrong things.  He is also happy to replace those old "treasures" with beautiful new ones, because he treasures you.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lovely And Excellent Vietnamese Coffee

 Photo by: Jean-Marie Hullot
I confess, I've turned up my nose at French Roast. I've just enjoyed every other kind of coffee more. There are so many stunning varieties of coffee that I've asked why “French Roast” is even a thing people drink. The answer is probably “The French.” Though this may be stereotyping, they're reputed to have some opinions about food.

Today I learned what French Roast Coffee is for. Mind you, I did not set out with the intention of buying or drinking the stuff. It sort of happened to me. A few weeks ago I worked a trial-shift at Zingerman's Coffee Company. It was great. I tried Liberica Coffee and Indian Coffee. I tried coffee's brewed brewed in fancy, simple and sciencey ways. I tried Vacume Pot, Espresso, Chemex and Pour over. I left with new knowledge and a notable caffeine high. Like coffee, new knowledge leaves me thirsty for more, so I went out and bought a Vietnamese coffee brewer.

I read articles, watched videos and determined that I had to buy coffee and sweetened condensed milk ASAP. The the tutorial that I found most helpful was by HighBeamFilms, but I'll give my recipe here. It is partially because I couldn't find brief instructions.

How To Make Vietnamese Coffee:

Start Boiling some water. 12 ounces is enough
Add 2-3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to a mug
Place your filter basket on top of your mug
Coarsely grind French Roast Coffee
Add 2 tablespoons of ground coffee to filter basket
Level out the grounds and tamp lightly
Splash coffee grounds with about an ounce of water
Wait 15 seconds
Fill basket with water
Put the lid on
Wait 5 minutes
Stir it
Love it

Come to my house and I will make you this coffee; the process is fun and the end product is sweet, creamy and strong.  

You may be wondering what this has to do with anything.  To which I can only say.  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" -Philippians 4:8


Find something lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and share it. Share it with your family, enemies and friends. Share it in real life. Share it online. Lets see if we can drown out some of the election-year negativity with some goddly excellence. Oh, and use the comments to let me know what you find excellent. Go!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God, Forgive High School Me

image by: Egan Snow
I fell asleep with the window open and woke up cold with the chill smell of leaves blowing through my room.  The particular cold botanical aroma of late summer awoke memories of Interlochen, the northern Michigan arts camp where I spent the last week of every summer for all four years of high school.  Filled with nostalgia, I also felt regret as I remembered those years.  I did not live up to the standard by which I judged others.  I was rude, fearful, and self-righteous.  Since high school, I’ve apologized to many of my friends for the person I was.  (If you feel you deserve an apology but have been left out, please let me know.)
I think I've improved as a person since then, but I don’t want to focus on that; it is unimportant.  Hopefully we do improve as we live life, but life isn’t ultimately about self-improvement.  Being better now doesn’t remove the consequences of my words and actions, not can it earn forgiveness. I personally must remember this or I fall back into self-righteousness.  Christianity doesn't smile on self-righteousness.
As I understand, teach, and live it, Christianity has little to do with good behavior or morals.  It can produce them, but at it's core Christianity is repeatedly realizing that our most heroic efforts to live holy lives have been unsuccessful (Isaiah 64:6), and finding that God offers his unconditional love to us no matter what we’ve done.  Regardless of how we've failed, God loves us more than we can imagine.  God readily forgives us, no matter how we embarrassingly we’ve behaved.


Read The Parable of the Prodigal Son today.  Did you know that “prodigal” means “Wasteful?”  Both boys were wasteful.  While one wasted his dad’s money; the other wasted precious time withholding forgiveness.  Which boy is most like you?  Whichever one you are, God welcomes you into his presence with open arms.  Jesus loves you relentlessly, with love you’re worst actions can never undermine.  Sometimes we struggle to accept this. We try to earn God’s love, but it’s free and can only ever be free.  When do you find it difficult to accept God’s love?  What wears down your resistance?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

For All My Friends With "Real Jobs"

Many of my friends wait tables.  One evening one such friend was serving a family that had an adorable little girl who, in the course of the meal, became fascinated and delighted with having a server. As my friend bid the family goodnight the girl told her parents, 

“I wanna be a waitress when I grow up” 

“Oh no, baby” her mom said, “You'll go to college and get a real job.”

It was a cold and tactless thing to say in front of a server with a four year degree.
Construction Worker by: wools

I currently have three part time jobs, one uses my BA.  These jobs probably wouldn’t fit that mother’s definition of “Real Jobs” But they're perfectly real.  They really take up time, really wear on my body, and I've really put up with some really rude people.  Yet as offensive as that mother was being, I’ve honestly caught myself using the same expression. 

When my friends and I use the expression “real job” we're usually daydreaming.  We’re talking about holding jobs that would only work us 40 hours each week, provide medical insurance, let us go to church on Sundays, and maybe pay enough to support a family. When we say “real job” we're fantasizing about finally and decisively breaking into the middle-class.  “Real Jobs” are something we search, pray, and wait for.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting those jobs, but I think we're mistaken to call them “Real.”  I have three real jobs now.  Real life has already started whether or not it's what we anticipated.

I am finishing up my last week in a professional ministry position and beginning a temp job at a mailorder company.  This is perfectly real, although it wasn’t a part of my plan.  Regrettably I’ve been letting the strain of circumstances dictate how joyfully I live my life.  Let me be frank: This is total crap.  Jesus didn't die for us so that temporal circumstances would get to tell us how happy we're allowed to be (Philippians 4:11-13).  Sure I’d like life to be better than it is.  Everyone wants that.

Literally every person in the world would like it if their life were better than it currently is.  This is important to remember because it shows that possessions, income, and status won’t automatically make us happy if we get them.  If they did then the rich people would all be happy.  They’re not.  With that knowledge in mind, we might as well find a way to enjoy life now.  If life improves, fine.  If it doesn’t we’ll at least have learned the right skills to deal with it.

Our joy in life is hugely affected by the attitudes we choose to practice.  My piano teaching mother taught me “practice makes perfect,” and though I didn’t quite believe her, practice did make “better.”  We can practice joy or we can practice grumbling, and we'll get better at whatever we practice.  If we wait for life to improve to practice joyfully thanksgiving, we won't have the skills to actually enjoy our success.  

So here’s my resolution:
I’m going to strive to thank God for every moment I get to be alive (1 Thess 5:18).  I’m going to work my heart out packaging delicious things at the mailorder company. I’m going to dance when I hear music.  I’m going to watch sunsets with my wife.  I’m going to smile at strangers and try to see the face of God in them.  I will forgive Ann Arbor drivers.  I will try not to one-up my friends when we vent about our hardships.  I'll brew beer when there is money and still share it when the money is gone.  I will go on walks this fall.  I will practice, and I will get better.


How do you practice joy?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's A Trap! Reflection on Psalm 43

Image By: Rishabh Mishra
It was recess and I was standing guard while the ladies were enjoyed the swing set.  I should explain.  I was standing guard because it was the habit of boys at my school to chase the girls during recess.  It was all in good fun, but the arrangement bothered me; to my superhero-loving 8 year old mind the boys seemed like bad guys.  So, as only an 8 year old can I resolved to oppose bad guys wherever they might be.  I declared myself the girl's body guard; when a boy would run at a girl I chased him away, kicked him, and yelled, “Don’t chase girls!”
While I stood guard that day a friend of mine yelled over from the play structure, “Hey David!  Come over here!”
“No!”  I had a job to do.
“I wanna show you something cool!”
This particular boy, we'll call him Jack, was good at catching cool bugs, however; I thought this could be a trap.  As I considered, he yelled, “I promise it’s not a trap.” That might seem a suspicious declaration to you, but it neatly dissipated my suspicions at the time.  I was not the smartest kid; I assumed he was bound by his promise to me.
“It was a trap!” Jack shouted once I had climbed to where he stood.  Two boys blocked my retreat route and four others came out from various hiding places.  I was surrounded.  No one hurt me.  This game was too fun for either side to ruin it that way.  I ran through the crowd and dove heroically down a slide.  Their plan was clever.  My escape was daring.  Everyone won.
            This is the greatest extent to which anyone was ever lain in wait for my blood.  I’ve been blessed; I have not been oppressed by an enemy, but sometimes circumstances can be bad enough without enemies.  I’ve hunted for jobs without finding them.  I’ve been hungry.  There have been difficult obstacles.  I’ve asked God what he thinks he’s doing much like David did in verse 2.  I love how the Psalms let us see the weakness of David.  Apparently it is OK to be weak sometimes.  Crazy right?  I think if there's a right way to deal with our weakness David nails it in 3-5.  He calls out to God; he steels himself against despair, and resolves to hope.  Sometimes that's all we can do.


            Call out to God today.  Whether you’re in a time of comfort or a time of hurt, take time today to ask God to guide you, increase your joy.  Praise him and resolve to hope.  Then, if you can, go hang out with someone who loves you.  God Speed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

This Man Does Not Represent Us

Today a dim and violent individual said some of the worst things a person can say (maybe don't follow the link. It's pretty bad.).  He insisted that he spoke in the name of Jesus, my God, and in the name of Christianity, my religion.  I have written about this before, but since horrible things continue to be said and done, I suppose God's people ought to keep on speaking and acting as well.  Most of what I want to say is this:  This wretched man does not represent me, my God, or my church.  I'm a minister in a Christian church and am personally acquainted with hundreds of Christians who posses widely varying opinions about homosexuality; some believe it is an abhorrent sin and some do not, but I cannot think of one person from either group who would fail to be revolted by this man's disgusting behaviour.  You read that correctly: regardless of whether Christians view homosexuality as a sin, we reject and deplore these hateful threats and violence.

Image by Sister72
I'm sad that this isn't the first incident, or even the worst.  Last year the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that more fatal hate crimes were committed against homosexuals in 2011 than in any other previous year.  People have been doing awful things.  An infuriating number claim that they do them for God, not just any God, for Jesus, you know, the God who laid his life down for his enemies.  The contradiction here is baffling.  These haters are not representing Jesus Christ, they are representing themselves and their own fear, insecurity, and depravity.  Jesus knows what it's like to be screamed down by a hateful mob, and he didn't seem fond of the experience (Luke 22:42). 

Jesus was someone who actually stood between a lynch mob and an notorious sinner (John 8:2-11), which is precisely the role Christians need to take up.  So called “Christian” bigots have been getting a lot of press, and we could  complain and call it “liberal bias in the media” or we could agree that such awful behaviour should be  denounced from as many venues as possible until it ceases.  We don't have to be embarrassed, these people don't represent us, but since they are acting so boldly we really must step up to act on Christ's behalf in our churches and communities.  We can't tolerate senseless hatred and pretend to serve the God of love.  If a Christian friend of yours abuses someone verbally because of their sexual orientation, call them out on it (Proverbs 27:17); that's not acceptable (Colossians 3:8).  If they won't correct their behaviour, and they insist on calling themselves Christian, part ways (1 Corinthians 5:11), you don't need that noise in your life.  Jesus was pretty clear about whether or not to remain on speaking terms with those who claim to follow God but who refuse correction (Matthew 18:15-17). 


Pray that God would change the hearts our enemies, silence false preachers, and embolden us speak the Gospel.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Suffering Builds Character

Image by ephotography
When the zombie apocalypse comes Michiganders will be fine.  While the world goes into panic mode and civilization ends, we'll continue to produce cars, cereal, and muffin mix as though nothing changed. This is not because of our active para-military organizations, well armed gangsters, or our fondness for roughing it. No, it takes more than weapons and knowledge to weather a zombie apocalypse; it takes grit, something we've developed in large supply. We've learned how to push forward when we feel there's no reason to hope. Economic trials and countless bitter winters have ingrained this virtue in our bones so that in the bleakest of circumstances we will not give up. We have been conditioned to suspect that we may lose everything at a moment's notice, to hope we won't, and go on with life anyway.

Paul writes about being content regardless of his circumstances (Philippians 4:12), and to some extent I think you have to face serious hardships in order to learn this attitude. James and Paul both promises us that suffering produces character, perseverance, and hope (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4). These verses do not always feel encouraging.  They feel like something Calvin's dad would say, but they're true. I know remarkable men and women of character, hope, and perseverance, and I've no doubt in my mind that it was their struggles that tempered them into the remarkable people that they are.

If you've read The Return of The King you remember how awesome the scourging of the Shire was. The Scourging of the Shire was a book-only adventure in which the hobbits returned to the Shire to find it overrun and enslaved. Merry and Pippin lead a revolt so swift and sudden that it barely occupied an afternoon. They wrecked their enemies in an instant, because after what they've been through there was nothing in the world that could have plausibly stood against them. This is what our hardships do to us, they build our character and turn us into warrior hobbits.


2 Corinthians 1 says that our suffering enables us to comfort others when they have trouble. Take a moment to consider that this is true for you and your own hardships. What trials are you facing today? How will God use those trials to produce character and hope? Know that God sees you in the midst of your hardship and is working it out for your benefit and his glory (Romans 8:28). Praise God for life's difficulties today; God loves you enough to turn you into a hero.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dropping The F-Bomb

“I’m a Feminist” said a pastor to a classroom of sheltered churchgoers.  He waited while his students laughed.  It took a few moments for them to realize he wasn’t joking.  They began to look curious; some even looked scared.  They had never heard a feminist talk about feminism.  He had their attention, and that was just what he wanted.  In the tradition of that fine professor, here it goes:

I am a feminist.

When I use the word “feminism” I am referring to the belief that men and women are equals who ought to receive the same political, economic, and social rights.  Feminism acknowledges and denounces the institutionalized sexism that has hurt and hindered women throughout our history.  These are perfectly Biblical ideas, though not all Christians embrace them.


Fans of gender roles often argue that the Old Testament law did not establish a society with equal gender roles.  They are correct, but the Old Testament also made provisions for slavery, demanded blood sacrifices, and had rules about how far one could walk on a Saturday.  These Old Testament practices are not a part of Christianity, not because they are culturally abhorrent (they are), but because Christians don’t follow the Law of Moses.  We don’t even pretend to follow the Law of Moses; that law was the old covenant.  We follow Jesus now.

We follow Jesus’ New Covenant, precisely because no one was ever able to follow Moses’ Old one.  Read Hebrews sometime and you’ll see that the purpose of the Old Covenant was only ever to point us toward the new one.  In this perfect New Covenant Jesus Christ has invalidated those sad divisions which once set one human being up as inherently superior to another.  Doesn’t it say in Galatians that there is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28)?  The kingdom of God doesn’t have room for gender hierarchies any more than it has room for apartheid.  Which is to say we’ve tolerated far too much of both and it’s time we said so.

Straw Womaning

I hear a lot of complaints about feminism, but most are not complaints about feminism at all, but about individual persons claiming to represent feminism.  Opponents of Christian-Feminism point to the most verbally abusive persons who happen to wear the title Feminist and argue that Feminist ideal must logically conclude with becoming such a person.  This is ludicrous.  If someone were to point at Rush Limbaugh and warn me that Christianity would turn me him, it would be all I could do not to laugh.  (We make a point of not judging on this blog but I will say that Rush’s words do not appear to fall in line with Christ’s promise that we can recognize Christians by how they love; however, only God knows the heart)

Biblical Relationships Don't Have Ranks

Ephesians 5:22-33 are often cited by proponents of male superiority.  Well no, actually 22 and 23 are often cited and the rest are left off and ignored.  These more popular verses are the ones which demand a wife submit to her husband.  Now those two verses are completely biblical, and useful for teaching, rebuking, and encouraging, but they are an incomplete picture, like any two verses of the Bible. In reality the command for women to submit to their husbands is coupled immediately with a command for husbands to love their wives with the love Christ has for the church.  This might seem lopsided, in one direction or the other, but wait a second.  In Ephesians 5:21 All Christians are commanded to submit to one another, which means submission is as much a husband’s job as it is a wife’s.  Submission is a Christian trait, not a female one.  John 13:34-35 is explicit that we must all love one another as Jesus loved us.  This is not a man’s unique call.  We all, every one of us, are called to love with increasingly perfect love.
It is so sadly human of us to turn these commands to love into arguments about who needs to do more.  The truth is that we are each asked to love our spouses, our brothers, our sisters, and our enemies with more love than we could possible muster on our own.  Nothing good dwells in us (Romans 7:18), male of female, we need Jesus in order to love.  We need his forgiveness, spirit, and power.


Ask yourself: How does gender influence how you view others?  Is that fair?  Is it Christian?  Whether or not you wear the name Feminist, all Christians are called to consider other’s better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  Pray today that God works this change in your heart, God is eager to forgive and to pour his love out through you.