Monthly Archives: March 2012

Coffee and Basketball

Here are two things I love: coffee and basketball. That is: good coffee and college basketball. March has been a good month for both. My hometown team, the Kansas University Jayhawks, have made it to the Final Four in March, and I’ve cheered wildly (at times nervously) for them along the way. March has also been a spectacular month for coffee-tasting. I’ve enjoyed amazing drip coffee at some fantastic destinations in the L.A. area: Handsome Coffee, Portola Coffee Lab, and Primo Passo. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend all of them (as well as IntelligentsiaLAMill, Demitasse and Spring for Coffee).

I’m passionate about good coffee and a good college basketball game. For me, both of these things can, at their best, reveal the beauty of creation and the pleasures of God.

Some people are surprised when they come across people who care about the flavor nuances of a bourbon varietal but also the shot-blocking stats of a power forward. Some people are surprised that one can be intensely interested in the oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch but also the careers of hall of fame quarterbacks. But these are usually the people who make more of the whole “red vs. blue state culture” division than is warranted. In any case, it needs to be said that so-called “high” culture and “low” culture can both be engaged in profound ways, just as they both can be engaged superficially. It’s all in the way one goes about appreciating them.

I enjoy sipping single-origin coffee black coffee (the only way to go) in the same way that I enjoy watching a well-played college basketball game. Both are examples of excellence and complexity; the results of creativity, passion and hard work. They are both the enjoyable fruits of human capacity, having been concocted out of the raw materials of creation to be fine-tuned for maximum enjoyment. Who else but humans, created in the image of a creative God, would come up with a beverage based around roasting and grinding a little brown bean? Or a game involving an elevated basket, a ball, and dribbling?

I don’t drink coffee to wake me up when I’m tired, and I don’t watch basketball to relieve boredom. It’s not about what these things can do for me; it’s about aggressively pursuing them for their beauty, appreciating them for the mysteries of humanity they uncover. Coffee is more than just “fuel” and basketball is more than just a sport with tall guys running back and forth, amusing the masses.

Basketball is like life in microcosm: competition, striving, winning, losing, doing battle for every loose ball. It’s individual achievement and team dynamics. It’s momentum, upsets, emotion, strength, humility, and the glorious feeling of coming from behind to pull out a victory with a last minute shot. It’s an elegant sport, simple and yet complicated, full of intertwining narratives; like life.

Coffee, too, is more than meets the eye. It’s an incredibly complex, multi-faceted drink with near infinite flavor dynamics. Next time you brew your Folgers (but I’d really recommend some Stumptown), take a step back and think about how crazy it is that we have this treasure. A curious Ethiopian bush, whose berries/seeds were extracted by humans and (for some reason), dried, roasted, crushed, and used to flavor hot water for a beverage. Absurd! Sometimes when I’m sitting there, sipping a particularly fragrant cup of coffee, I just smile and marvel at the fact of coffee: that a plant God created could be turned into a drink that humans can so thoroughly enjoy.

I’m not trying to convince everyone to get on board with Third Wave Coffee or to embrace March Madness in the way I do. Not everyone loves the exact same  culture or sees the beauty and truth of existence in the exact same things; and that’s fine. We all have our tastes, our preferences.

We should like what we like; but we should like it well, and we should know why we like it. And we should be open minded in the way we engage culture and consume it, opening ourselves up to the possibility that lessons can be learned and beauty can be found in areas we might not have thought. Our society has very prescribed notions of consumer identity: if you are ___, then you will like certain movies, magazines, clothing brands. But to truly connect with culture is not necessarily something bell curves or demographic patterns can predict.

I love coffee, and I love college basketball. I also love Spanish cheeses, Mark Rothko paintings, Friday Night Lights and (recently) Downton Abbey. It doesn’t necessarily follow a rhyme or reason. I just find quality, truth, and loveliness in all of these things. I celebrate them.

I think there’s wisdom in what Chuck Klosterman says in Chuck Klosterman IV about how we enjoy culture:

“If you really have integrity–if you truly live by your ideals, and those ideals dictate how you engaged with the world at large–you will never feel betrayed by culture. You will simply enjoy culture more. You won’t necessarily start watching syndicated episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, but you will find it interesting that certain people do. You won’t suddenly agree that Amelie was a more emotive movie than Friday Night Lights, but you won’t feel alienated and offended if every film critic you read tells you that it is. You will care, but you won’t care. You’re not wrong, and neither is the rest of the world. But you need to accept that those two things aren’t really connected.”

So if you’re not watching the Final Four this weekend, while enjoying the mango and papaya notes of the Mpito bean, that’s OK. But I hope you are doing something you enjoy, and are enjoying it deeply, thoughtfully, appreciatively.

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In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

The technological structures of our Twitterstream, iPhone-ready, newsticker, push-notification culture have made “being in the loop” as natural a thing for us as breathing–and almost as important. These days, it’s seen as essential to know what’s going on in the world–what’s trending–and not only to know about it, but to comment on it. If something is being buzzed about or going viral, we must chime in: unleash a quick Facebook update, add a Tweet to the chorus, throw up a blog post with “Thoughts on ____” before anyone else can.

And it all must be done expediently, because to wait or be late to the conversation is to admit–heaven forbid–being somewhat out of the loop. You see this a lot when people post something on Twitter/Facebook with the caveat, “I know I’m late to the game on this, but…” Who cares if you’re late to the game? As if the quality of comment is less vital than its timeliness.

I’m troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to “join the conversation” doesn’t necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable. It’s no wonder no one knows what to think about KONY2012. Before I even saw the video, there were already a million wildly contradictory opinions about it being circulated.

The thing with KONY2012, though, is that its very existence seemed to discourage reflection. It urged people to watch a 30-minute video and then ACT! Tweet to Justin Bieber! Share the video on Facebook! Buy a poster kit! The uncontrollable social media maelstrom that followed happened because Invisible Children played right into the unreflective “quickness culture,” which worked at getting the thing viral but arguably did not work in cultivating a trustworthy/reliable/non-reactionary conversation.

Meanwhile, the same “tweet first, think later” impulse that propelled KONY2012 to its “explode the Internet” status, ironically, is helping to spread the Jason Russell meltdown news (and all of its iffy allegations) across the same viral space. Which is a shame, but not surprising. This is how things go in the quickness culture.

Let me be the first to say that I’ve been complicit in this culture and have often felt the need to add my instant reaction to some buzzworthy news. But the KONY2012 phenomenon has got me thinking anew about the value of slowing down and relinquishing my need to be so in the loop and real-time conversant. When KONY2012 broke, part of me said “you must blog about this!” When I didn’t do that, I felt the urge to at least chime in with endorsements of other articles, sending one of those “This is the best thing I’ve read so far on ___” tweets. But ultimately I came to see that perhaps the best thing to do is just to stay silent, live my life, let the dust settle and then comment (or not) on it much later.

Not commenting instantly on something like KONY2012 means there’s blog traffic I won’t get that I could’ve gotten; there’s a few Twitter followers I might have gotten out of it. Oh well.

I desire to be more out of the loop. I want to go a day without knowing what the Twitterverse is talking about. I want to let trending topics come and go without ever knowing they happened. I want to be like Marilyn Hagerty, who didn’t know (or care) that for the rest of the world, Olive Garden was “old news.” I don’t want to care about something just because it’s hot right now and everyone is talking about it; I want to care about something because it is interesting, important, worth thinking about. I don’t want to blog, tweet, or talk about things I haven’t mulled over or wrestled with first. I want to resist the idol of quick-to-the-draw commentary.

And while I’m at it, I want to focus more on my own challenges: the right-in-front-of-me conversation, the local issues, the everyday battles–rather than injecting myself into the global so urgently and ignorantly. Sure, I want to care for the world. It’s important to know what’s going on. But it shouldn’t take precedence over being present in my own life, and being attentive to the needs of my own community. I’d rather be out of the loop than disengaged from the world right in front of me; though I suspect (and hope) there’s a way we can balance both: being plugged in to there and present here, and thoughtful in each sphere.

31 Best Films Directed by Women

March is Women’s History Month, so to celebrate in a small way I thought I’d list my favorite 31 films directed by women (one for each day in the month of March). If you haven’t seen these, I recommend it!

31) Little Man Tate (Jodie Foster, 1991)
30) Children of a Lesser God (Randa Haines, 1986)
29) Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001)
28) Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)
27) Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)
26) Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, 2008)
25) Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, 2003)
24) The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)
23) White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
22) Walking and Talking (Nicole Holofcener, 1996)
21) Big (Penny Marshall, 1988)
20) The Cool World (Shirley Clarke, 1964)
19) Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)
18) Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham, 2010)
17) Brothers (Susanne Bier, 2004)
16) Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
15) Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
14) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (Jill Sprecher, 2001)
13) Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
12) Personal Velocity (Rebecca Miller, 2002)
11) Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006)
10) The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
9) Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)
8) The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
7) Harlan County U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
6) 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008)
5) Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)
4) We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2012)
3) Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
2) Cleo From 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
1) Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

Brokenness Equals Authenticity?

There’s no getting around the fact that we’re all broken. Every last one of us. Hurting, insecure, awkward, prideful. Ruined by illness, ravaged by divorce, raging against the self and the system. It’s true: we are fallen. We are screw-ups, messy and wayward. To know thyself–or to know anyone–is to see that this is true. No one is righteous; no not one.

Christians have sometimes tried to hide from this fact–putting on fronts of perfection, perpetuating false images of churches as polished, squeaky-clean country clubs for classy, happy saints… rather than hospitals for the damaged, ailing, addicted, recovering.

Which of course, is not good. The church, and the Gospel upon which it is founded, is not about perfection, but redemption; it’s about grace for those who don’t deserve it, hope for every single screw-up among us.

And yet I’ve wondered recently if the church–in reactionary efforts to purge itself of a “perfect/polished” veneer–might be turning “brokenness” into a bit of a fetish: focusing on it ad nauseam, touting it in the name of “grit,” “reality,” and “authenticity” to the point that the state of being broken is becoming its own sort of works righteousness.

It seems to me that in many churches today and among many evangelicals (particularly edgier Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, emergents and others who’ve been around the church for along time and are kind of sick of it), “being screwed up” has become something of a badge of honor. “Authenticity” (that is: being upfront about one’s messiness) is becoming a higher value than, say, “holiness.”

And this kind of saddens me. It saddens me when those who are “messier” are de facto the more “authentic,” somehow more believable or relatable than Deacon Joe Straightshooter, who has a solid marriage, is a good family man and doesn’t curse in casual conversation (how legalistic!). Why is it that the “I’m not churchy; I’m real!” folks with tattoos and flasks get more airtime these days than the churchy, pleated-khaki wearing, rule-keeping nerds?

It’s not that Eddie Edgy and Betty Broken shouldn’t be leaders or role models in the church. By all means, they can and should be. But for young people, new Christians–all of us really–I think we also need models of virtue and examples of holiness. We need to be able to see “authenticity” in Straightlaced Stanley and Angelic Angie. We need to be able to see the nice guys and the sweet old church ladies as role models. We need to recognize that goodness is as “real” as brokenness.

We’re all broken, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back about it and languish together in stagnant waters of self-satisfied imperfection. No, we must always be striving for better… moving toward righteousness, in a positive direction from broken to more whole, from screwed-up to less screwed-up, by the grace of God. To be a Christian is to follow Christ, to aspire to be like him (i.e. holy). For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16).

Brokenness and sin may seem the natural or more “real” state for us, but it’s not the ideal. We were made for more, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice allows us to become more human. That is, less broken and more healed. More together; not less. In Christ, more complete.