Seeing Red [Starbucks Cups?]

Everybody knows “that person”. These are the people that got Kinder Eggs banned from the USA, because they were dumb enough to completely miss the entire point of Kinder eggs and, in the gluttonous haste to scarf down chocolate, choke on the toy inside. Even if you’re blissfully unaware of anyone fitting this description at present in your life, you can at least remember it from your school days, because there is always “that person” in school. You know, the one who caused so many problems with having [insert random item] in class that now NOBODY is allowed to have them? Or the one that verbally diatribes about how easy everything is for them and how they’re so smart and could really use a challenge for a change . . . so the teacher makes the test 200% harder for the entire class? Operating from a place of self-aggrandizement and absorption, these people (left unchecked) can have a terrible impact upon the world around them, skewing the image of any group to which they ascribe.

To my utter dismay, there is a group of self-proclaimed “evangelical Christians” currently acting as Exhibit A of What It Means To Be “That Person” directly in the public eye, as they raise their voices in consternation at the removal of a semi-religious symbol/words from this holiday-season’s Starbucks cup design. How is it that this silly cup-business, of all things, is the story listed among CNN’s top news links about what “Christians” are doing in this world? What a horrible testament to the God they claim to serve.

I am so disappointed at the level of attention being brought to their petulance, not only because their behavior reflects negatively on other followers of Christ, but because they have the audacity to claim that a quintessential First-World-Problem complaint is of import to their faith. In claiming outrage about such meaningless trivialities, these “Christians” are taking the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and warping them beyond recognition through the fire of self-involved entitlement until they resemble nothing but the pretext for an embarrassingly bratty temper-tantrum. While there are people who have been – and continue to be – persecuted mightily for their faith, these abrasively vocal Starbucks customers are not among them. I feel like this situation calls for an awkward parody of Matthew 7:5. . . You hypocrites! First evaluate the glaring lack of Christ in your actions, and then perhaps you can think clearly to evaluate the removal of vaguely christian symbols from your red cup.

Jesus came to earth to proclaim good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom from oppression (Luke 4)! Jesus lived and died to fulfill his promises and renew our ability to be in authentic and legitimate relationship with Him. Everything in the entire narrative of the Bible points to a God who is desperate to reconcile his beloved people to himself and redeem a world that is tragically lost (Luke 19) in order to MAXIMIZE our joy (John 10). If you even BEGIN to truly understand the gospel texts, you cannot deny the beauty and magnitude of a love that could motivate an all-powerful God to sacrifice himself on behalf of his creation. I don’t claim to know everything that there is to know about faith or Christianity, but the more I study and seek and research, the more I see that focusing on oneself is the antithesis of the truly Christian walk. Jesus was ALL about social justice and transformational love. When you lose sight of this, you make God’s beauty and goodness into something self-serving and miss the entire point. Rather than seeing the love, redemption, service, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and being motivated in turn to emulate him, people are choosing to insert him into their identity like they would slide a membership card into their wallets. Instead of seeking to be transformed into His likeness, they add distorted fragments of their perception of Him to their own likenesses and cross their fingers in hopes of club benefits. These are the people that completely miss the mark. These are the people that care about Starbucks’ branding choices more than they care about the person handing them their drink.

Rather than simply proclaiming my disgust and throwing my two cents into the online dialogue around this absurd social-media-spotlighted topic, I want to challenge myself and anyone who reads this (Christian or not, although I guess especially those who profess belief in Jesus), to talk more about issues that really DO matter. There are enough tragic needs in this world that it is shocking that people are collectively taking the time to talk extensively about some company’s seasonal branding decisions.  If anything, the sheer breadth of online dialogue has reminded me that human beings (whether they are “religious” or not) often spend their time and talk unwisely (myself very much included). In the same world where Starbucks’ new seasonal cups are solid red, hunger is the number one cause of death (x). Poverty is rampant; and while I personally spent $2.89 on my (relatively cheap) Starbucks coffee this morning, more than 1.3 billion people are living on less than $1.25 a day (x). When I pulled off the highway last night and walked my five-year-old niece into Starbucks to buy a bottle of water  and use the restroom, I did not even think about the fact that over 750 million people lack access to clean drinking water (x) or that about 1 out of every 5 deaths of children under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease from lack of proper sanitation (x). Rather than seeing some stupid branding decision splashed across our computer screens, imagine seeing ways to mobilize to make differences (even small ones) in these areas of need.

After processing my initial frustration towards the Red Cup Radicals, it is with an uncomfortable amount of conviction that I turn the microscope back on myself to evaluate the areas where I allow (or don’t allow) my faith in Jesus Christ to actively motivate my engagement with the world around me. Tonight I plan to do some more hard thinking about what things might be my proverbial “red cups”, the elements of my life that demonstrate focus that has moved away from the beautiful glory of a sovereign God and towards selfish pursuits. It is uncomfortable to realize that I can be perhaps just as wrongly focused as these face-palm-inducing Starbucks boycotters. So, here is my reminder to myself, and you, if you choose to take it. Maybe we (Christians) have a hard time consistently recognizing and remembering the point of our faith, but it is not (now or EVER) supposed to be a personal ego-booster or a step-stool for our pride. Christianity, real Christianity, is an I.V. drip of pure adrenaline-like faith that should propel us into joyful motion in the humble service, care, and love of others.

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Unpopular Opinion: Valentine’s Day is Awesome.

I love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love conflict. There are some opinions that I keep to myself in order to avoid conflict. This is not one of them. If you don’t love Valentine’s Day, I am writing this to you, and you are wrong.

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“But it’s so commercial.”

One common theme in the Hate-On-Love-Day Parade is the claim that Valentine’s Day is overly commercialized; exploited by corporations, both large and small, to make moola. I have several things to say in response to this…

  1. Every holiday is commercialized; we live in a highly consumerist/sales society. Shoot, Christmas is probably the most commercialized of all, but I don’t see people refusing to celebrate that!
  2. Feeding into the over-commercialization of holidays is a choice. Helen Fisher, a sociologist from Rutgers University, said it pretty well: “This isn’t a command performance. If people didn’t want to buy Hallmark cards, they would not be bought, and Hallmark would go out of business.” Helen is on point here, folks. If it bothers you that everybody is out to make money off of Valentine’s Day, then don’t buy anything. Refuse to feed the commercialist beast! Stick it to the man – just don’t stick it to Valentine’s Day! It’s a holiday to celebrate love and the people in your life who you care about – call up a friend and tell them you appreciate them! Is that commercial? No, it’s just nice.

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 “I’d rather do something when it’s NOT expected.”

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Oh really? How often does that actually happen? Sorry for my skepticism, maybe you are the king/queen of doing nice random things for people and I have misjudged you. If that is the case, then huzzah! But I still urge you to look at it from another perspective!

Impromptu and spontaneous acts of love are fantastic – but so is a holiday whose sole purpose is to perpetuate and promulgate planful and thoughtful acts of love! So, if you’re all about unexpected surprises, then this Valentine’s Day show your love and appreciation for someone who is NOT expecting it. Don’t want to be predictable with your sweetie? That’s fine. What about your cousins who you see once a year? What about your nice neighbor who helped you snow-blow your walkway that one time? Or the barista who knows your name? Or your old friend that you call up when you’ve had a crappy day? Those are the people who probably don’t expect anything from you this Valentine’s Day, but who would be delighted by an act of caring!

“I’m single so I’m boycotting Valentine’s Day.”

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ARGH! THAT MAKES NO SENSE!!! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that you had to be in a relationship to be capable of loving someone. DO YOU HAVE A MOTHER?! WHAT ABOUT A MOTHER FIGURE?! DO YOU LOVE THEM??? SO MAKE A POINT OF TELLING THEM THIS VALENTINE’S DAY.

*Deep Breath*

Clearly, this line of thinking turns me into a gigantic, Valentine-defending rage-monster. I shall calm down and try to respond with less of a knee-jerk-emphasis-on-the-jerk reaction.

Ahem. Oh, you’re single? Me too. In fact, I’ve never been in a relationship on Valentine’s Day. Unlike you, however, I don’t think your relationship status should dictate your ability to celebrate a holiday or not. Shockingly enough, there are still a lot of people in my life that I love and appreciate, despite not being in love with someone.

I remember the year that my brother, Nathaniel, and his college friends decided to boycott Valentine’s Day. They wore black all day, didn’t talk to any girls, and hung out and watched The Godfather that night. Funnily enough, they had it kind of wrong. By spending time with friends, they were sort of celebrating the purpose of Valentine’s Day anyways. Still, I can sort of understand, I’ve had those moments of single-blues on Love-day, but then I remembered that having a chip on your shoulder and taking it out on everyone else is an ugly character trait.

If you boycott Valentine’s Day because you’re single, then you are ultimately just being selfish. It’s not all about you, my friend. You’re glum because you’re single? Boo-hoo. Go show love to somebody else rather than wishing that somebody would show it to you or whining because nobody does. Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romantic relationships! It’s about love of all kinds. I challenge single-folk to make Valentine’s Day theirs just as much as it belongs to couples. You have to be the change you wish to see in the holiday.

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“It’s too expensive.”

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  1. Please go back and re-read the whole commercialism line of thinking.
  2. The Internet can give you all sorts of ideas for Valentine-y goodness, ranging from inexpensive to free.
  3. Money might talk, but Actions speak louder than words. Rather than buying something or taking someone out for a WAY overpriced meal, do an act of service for someone!
  4. Lots of wonderful caring activities don’t involve $$$. Make dinner, snuggle, read aloud to somebody, play a board game, have an indoor picnic, watch a movie, write a letter, shovel a walkway, take out the trash, fold the laundry, give a neck-rub, do one of the ickier household jobs that everybody avoids . . . you get the idea.

“Isn’t that a Christian Holiday? I’m not Christian.”

First of all, most of the holidays that are celebrated today have some sort of religious origin (again, Christmas comes to mind). I’m willing to bet that many, or even most people who celebrate those holidays aren’t practitioners. I doubt everybody who drinks a beer on St. Pattie’s is a devout Catholic. Similarly, people who eat Cadbury eggs are probably not all attending Good Friday services and celebrating the resurrection of Christ. People who celebrate holidays through the lens of their belief system may return to the roots of the holiday, but it is hardly the norm. You clearly do not need to be a Christian to celebrate a holiday of Christian origins.

Second, while there are some different accounts of St. Valentine and his execution being on February 14th,  the roots of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to Lupercalia, a Pagan fertility festival held in the ides of February in ancient Rome. As a non-believer, I think you can safely celebrate the day. I just wouldn’t encourage you to do it the way they did in ancient Rome, because sacrificing a goat and a dog, well. That’s just sad. And touching their hides (once removed) in hopes of fertility in the oncoming year? I think Science has brought us farther than that.

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Side-note, Valentine’s Day’s association with the idea of Love also has been linked with early belief in France and England that February 14th was the beginning of a bird’s mating season. If all else fails, I guess you can celebrate it for the birds.

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“I actually hate everyone, including myself.”

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That’s just awful! If all else fails and there’s nobody that you love, you should at least love yourself and give yourself a day of pampering. Try. Be good to yourselves, you are the only you this world has got. That makes you a very limited natural resource and a rare commodity. Appreciate that about yourself.

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“My entire family died in a freak pinecone incident on Valentine’s Day.”

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Okay. You’ve got me there. I probably wouldn’t feel very festive either. But, I mean, you could always make it a day to commemorate your love for your family, right? That’s what I would want people to do after I’m gone – not just sit around being sad on the day I went out, you know?

Have some other reason why you don’t like Valentine’s Day?

So, if you aren’t convinced yet, please feel free to go back and look at my older Valentine posts to hear some more of my strong opinions or get ideas for how to celebrate.

If you want to argue with me about it some more, please post comments. You are wrong, and I will fight you. For the sake of Love.

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My Extended Foster Family

Bethany and Julie

When my sister Bethany and her partner Julie decided to become foster parents, I wasn’t sure what to expect any more than they really were. I mean, I knew they would be great parents – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that two people willing to wholeheartedly pursue careers serving kids with severe special needs would be excellent at loving and caring for children. No, the unknown element of the foster-parent-journey had nothing to do with the parents, as far as I was concerned, but everything to do with these unknown little people about to enter all our lives. Little did I realize what little heart-thieves they would all turn out to be, and that being a foster Aunt would wind up being probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.

Note to self: I should probably thank my sisters for that at some point. 

I live about 20 minutes away from my sister, her fiancée, and their beautiful family, and their collective love and humility never ceases to amaze me. If I were to say something complimentary to them, they would brush it off (and have on many occasions done so), but they truly inspire me on a regular basis. I kind of understand their humility, actually. I mean, when you’re surrounded by rabid toddlers, inundated with poopy-diapers, and listening to the Frozen Soundtrack for the fifty-billionth time, I’m sure you don’t feel like a hero. Nonetheless, heroism has never been so concretely made visible in my surroundings as when I am with my wonderfully-extended foster family.

Today, about three and one half years after their first foster child set foot in their home, their family has expanded and retracted many times, fluctuating from one child to five and holding about seventeen different children throughout those few years. Watching my loved ones go through the process of fostering has taught me a lot about what loving children looks like. Love is letting your heart break into a million pieces when your beloved child is sent back into the full custody of a broken situation, but not regretting the time you shared with her in your family. Love is crying in the kitchen when the baby you have watched since birth is leaving to join a new family. Love is setting stern limits for a little boy whose angry outbursts could, unchecked, easily spiral him downhill to follow in the footsteps of verbally abusive birth-parents; Love is showering him with affection, regardless of the number of frustrations he provides; refusing to believe the worst of him. Love is wishing for more room in your home so that you could take more children. Love is hours upon hours of doctors appointments, early intervention, and holding your shrieking two-year-olds down while you nebulize them so that they will breathe better through the night. Love is keeping in touch with families whenever possible and developing friendships with birth-parents so that – even after their children have left your home- there is a strong relationship ready and waiting to support and care, whenever it is appropriate to do so. Love is being willing to lay down in front of a truck for any child under your protection, even knowing that you won’t have the opportunity to protect them once they leave. Love is searching high and low for enough car-seats (not to mention a large enough car!) to accommodate 6 children at once. Love is making sure that there are a few extra outfits and some spare diapers packed and ready to go with kids who are headed for homes where they will have less material comforts. Love is accepting a new child into your home because they need a placement, even though you lost a child just yesterday and your heart is still scattered in painful pieces at the bottom of your soul. Love is laughing through your tears. This is the kind of love I have witnessed in Bethany and Julie. Fostering is different from regular parenting. When you have your own children, most of the horrifically painful labor ends when you leave the delivery room.

Not that parenting, in any form, is easy. I am neither so naïve, nor so experienced that I could ever even think such a thing! Good parenting is a herculean undertaking on the best of days . . . but foster-parenting is revealing a whole new brand of beautiful. It makes me want to talk in the terminology of gemstones, however unbelievably cliché; how diamonds are only formed under obscene amounts of pressure, and how these women who I observe are truly jewels of the highest order in our society. 

Someday, when I have better software and a faster computer and more skill, I will make a movie that might do this family justice, but for now, here’s a peek into the lives I get to observe:

Bethany recently started to chronicle some of her fostering adventures in a blog of her own, which everyone should probably read. It’s a great glimpse into some truly great lives.

Fairy Tales

Everyone has their favorite kinds of literature. I think we all develop an affinity for some sort of genre as we begin to explore literature. As we grow up, we are trained to diversify. English teachers assign us novels, biographies, fiction, non-fiction, more novels, dramas, plays, novellas, historical fiction, autobiographies, poetry, historical non-fiction, etc. Before you know it, you barely have time for your literature-first-love anymore!

If you are like myself and YOUR first love was of the Fairy Tale ilk, take some time to be reminded: fairy tales ARE relevant!

For those who immerse themselves in what the fairy tale has to communicate, it becomes a deep, quiet pool which at first seems to reflect only our own image; but behind it we soon discover the inner turmoils of our soul – its depth, and ways to gain peace within ourselves and with the world, which is the reward of our struggles.

Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment

According to Bruno, fairy tales provide insight into the soul and its relation to the world . . . what could be more profound? But that’s not where it stops! Pardon me for sounding like a salesman, but everyone should remember the inherent view of good and evil that fairy tales provide. They depict the beauty of good and the lurid details of evil and they show the need for good to overcome. They’re sheer word illustration. Everyone should grow up with an awareness of the rightness and beauty of good as it overcomes evil.

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

G. K. Chesterton

When reading fairy tales, good fairy tales, something magical always happens. The events of the plot are so intense, the values so extreme and the stakes so high that we cannot help but tumble deep into the clutches of the plot. We feel cutting betrayal when Snape utters “Avada Kedavra”. We can’t stand how spoiled and selfish Edmond is to be blinded by a pittance of Turkish Delight (even if it was pretty stellar). We fall desperately in love with Peeta. We cry when Hedwig dies. We want to cheer when the wicked witch’s evil plans are thwarted. We sigh in relief when the prince wakes snow white with a kiss. Our hearts swell with each triumph of our protagonist, but break with the obstacles they meet.

Fairy tales are not a passive read. A real fairy tale does not allow you to be a detached participant. Instead, you are  passionately involved and you find yourself on one distinct side in a very high-stakes story. In the best of fairy-tales, we cannot see the ending, we cannot imagine how Frodo will possibly make it to Mordor. We cannot foresee the masterful ending that the author has in mind, but we cling to the characters that we have come to love. And we hope, as Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest, as Lucy and Susan accompany Aslan to the Stone Table, as Sam desperately carries Frodo when he can go no further; we hope against hope that some magic will intervene; that good will triumph. We wait with baited breath for the defeat of a seemingly overwhelming evil, trusting in the good we see in all that opposes. We wrap our emotions into those of our protagonist and we trust that they might, by some miracle, overcome the odds.

I think something deep inside cries out to the concepts upon which our fairy tales are based. I like how Hans Christian Andersen put it:

fairy tale

Now, as I am sure you have already discovered/deduced, I am an unabashed lover of The Harry Potter Books.

BUT, before there was Harry Potter, I had an abiding love of all-things-fantasy, and you can absolutely bet that there are some books I will be giving to my children (if I ever have any) to get them ready for the journey that waits for them. SO, without further ado, I want to share with you 10 books/series that I plan to share with any children I can  get my influence on (or Adults, for that matter). These are the books that you may not see made into major motion pictures after The Hobbit comes out, nor will they be topping the new release charts (unless you time travel), but they are books of quality, and I hope you read them all!

#1: The Fairy Books by Andrew Lang

I used to be obsessed with the Fairy Books.There are twelve, you know. Red, Green, Pink, Olive, Green, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Violet, Crimson, Grey. . . and. . . oh shoot. I alway forget if there is an orange. Anyhow, I think they went out of print before I was born. But who needs contemporary fiction? The best fairy tales have been around for centuries, right? These books are incredible compilations of fairy tales from around the world . . . and I used to read them over and over and over again. Growing up, I would haunt the library book sale every spring to see if anyone had tossed another battered old copy. These books are a treasure.

#2: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

If there was ever a series which I could have everyone read, it would be this one. Four books of pure magic. From the moment Princess Cimorene volunteers to be a dragon’s princess, the adventures just don’t stop! With buckets of cherries jubilee, intelligent magic and magically messy devious wizards, this book is just sheer original. My sister Sarah read me this book when I was little and I loved them so much that I read them to my little brother a few years later. He loved them so much that he has re-read them a gazillion times since… in fact, for his 20th birthday, the only thing he asked me for was a copy of each book.

#3: Everything by Edward Eager

These books are absolutely classic.

Perfection.

Find a castle in the attic? Enter a magical world.

Have a garden where thyme grows? Use it to travel through time.

Find a random talisman? Have HALF your wishes come true.

Vacation by a magical lake? Meet the talking turtle and chill with Ali Baba.

Read one of these books? ADVENTURE.

 

#4: The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks

What happens when there is a tiny little fairy with hott pink hair who bumps into a sad childless woman in her flower garden? I used to listen to this book on cassette tape (man, that makes me feel/sound ANCIENT) while I played in my room and I was spellbound the entire time as Lynne Reid Banks described the incredible world of the little rebellious fairy!

#5: The Wonder Clock is another compilation of beauty…

It is laid out as a story (a fairy tale)  for each hour…

#6:The Seer and the Sword

This story was badass fantasy before The Hunger Games was even a twinkle in Suzanne Collins’ eye. With enough cunning and heroism to last a lifetime, I have probably read this about a million times (as you can see by the crease in its cover!) and I still don’t get bored with it. Sometime soon, I plan to find myself a snazzy hardcover copy, but until then, I plan on wearing this one out completely!

#7: Melisande

This is like a picture book for grownups. . . at least nowadays. It’s probably at an 8th grade reading level or something, but what a stunning story! Ask yourself, what happens when a little girl is born with the curse . . . of being bald, but then is cursed too much hair? So much that she can’t even fit into a house anymore?   Melisande learns the dangers of what happens when you get what you wish for. . .

#8: Court Duel and Crown Duel by Sheerwood Smith

These stories might’ve been my first favorite somewhat-romantic fantasy series. They are stunning in every way. Seriously, I judged them by their cover and never looked back.

The second book was even better than the first!

#9:  The Chewing Gum Rescue & Other Stories, by Margaret Mahy

My favorite story from this book is all about a family that moves into a house that once belonged to a Giant. Everything in the home has been remodeled except for the bathroom, which is in possession of a gigantic bathtub. The quirky family takes an adventurous dip down the drain one day and, without spoiling anything, I’ll just mention that I still remember it years and years later, after reading it as a little girl! I am happy to say that I own my very own copy (thank you thriftbooks.com) but it is on loan to some friends, so I am sadly sans photo. But trust me, it’s fantastic!

#10: The Search For Delicious by Natalie Babbitt

What IS delicious?

What really IS delicious???

As in, if you looked in a dictionary, what would there be a picture of next to the word “DELICIOUS”?

I could go on, but this seems like a lovely list to start. Do you have any favorite stories that you plan on having your children read? Any suggestions for me?