What’s in a Name?

I’ve always cringed when people refer to praying as “petitioning God.” To me, it makes God seem like a governmental bureau that rarely condescends to pay attention to a matter unless enough people make a big enough ruckus that it can no longer be ignored. It reminds me of boycotting endeavors or protest rallies or […]
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Convenient Myths

A couple of years back, I gifted some select friends with an offensive-sounding book. “At the very least,” I smilingly assured them, “it will make a quite convenient coffee table conversation starter.” It wasn’t The Christian Gentleman’s Smoking Companion, though that book might be great for PC friends if you’re feeling tricksy. No, this one […]
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Food for Thought

Still_Life_with_Cake - Raphaelle_Peale

Still Life with Cake – Raphaelle Peale (1818)

“It tastes healthy,” my friend benignly replied to my increasingly inquisitive gestures in the church potluck dining hall. The substance before us had the color of chocolate mousse; it had the consistency of chocolate mousse; it certainly felt like chocolate mousse on the tongue, but upon taking a mouthful, it immediately introduced itself with that telltale vegan, no sugar added, and nutrients aplenty sensation. It wagged its tongue at the sweet sultry flavor that chocolate offers—no sir, this stuff boasted dates, avocados, and coconut milk!

Now, I actually have a pretty strong affinity for quirky health-filled kitchen concoctions. Pinto bean brownies, dessert hummus, beet breakfast bars with chilli peppers and cardamom, gingered lentil goji berry cereal: these are things that find their way into my edible creations. Someone might call my concoctions bizarre, but most nutritionally minded people I know would call them wholesome, or guilt free, or maybe even innocent: and they would mean it as a compliment. Still, though, there is no denying it, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free food generally has that healthy taste about it. And to be honest, as a metaphorical concept, the whole healthy food versus yummy food dichotomy deeply troubles me. I struggle against the thought because as someone who aspires to a spiritually enriched life, I feel that the polarization relegates my pursuits to the healthy tasting section of the potluck table: the brownish, runny bland dish in a homely, well-used crockpot that people look at probingly before quickly darting to the next dish.

Several years ago I found it quite convenient to partake in an exclusively strict superfood laden regimen. I had some spare time on my hands so I figured taking the effort to prepare really healthy stuff would be a good experiment in how it made me feel.  For months I ate sprouts, beans, kale, spinach and tofu—it was a banquet of nutrition packed awesomeness. And then a friend of mine, who happens to be an excellent cook, came to stay with me.

During the week together we feasted on homemade buttery shrimp bisque, Greek pasta salads that luxuriated in feta cheese and oil, crème brulee and cake so delightful that I could have written romantic odes to it. Meal after meal I quietly moaned to my friend, “I didn’t know food could taste this good.” Every meal was like a Dionysian festival betwixt my lips.

When my friend left and the culinary expedition ended, I felt as though I had two stark choices for restocking my refrigerator: sprouts or stroganoff.  I approached my food choices as I sometimes subconsciously approach life: I could make the healthy and responsible choice or the delicious and enjoyable one. My mouth, accustomed to the sweet joys of butter, sugar and cream howled for satisfaction, my body, slightly sluggish but staunch, quietly demanded some veggies. I had to make a choice, there was only room for one.

What I am seeing more of is that, as a general concept, enjoyment and responsibility are not necessarily as dichotomous as I sometimes have been led to believe though. Surprising as it is to me, my pursuits can’t quite be compacted down to the category of a vegetable or a cake. This is particularly applicable to a nuanced spiritual perspective. In an excerpt of Miroslav Volf’s book, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized Worldposted in Christian Century, he says:

In choosing between meaning and pleasure we always make the wrong choice. Pleasure without meaning is vapid; meaning without pleasure is crushing. In its own way, each is nihilistic without the other. But we don’t need to choose. The unity of meaning and pleasure, which we experience as joy, is given with the God who is Love.

This is truly magnificent news, for it tells me my dichotomy is off. Love personified has constructed a world in which, when approached from a spiritual lens, proffers things both beneficial and satisfying. Our spiritual awareness, far from making us and our world the unappealing undercooked onion puree in the potluck of life, enhances flavor.        

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What’s Success Got to Do With It?

Let’s take an imaginary trip to our local bookstore. Now, imagine having passed through the smell of wafting coffee and other tasty treats and seeing the most advertised and prominently positioned books in the store. You know the ones: they have gold stickers that say, “Over 1 million sold” or “New York Times Bestseller.”   […]
Source: Off The Page

How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God

I would never tell my grandmother, God bless her, but I quite abhor some Christian bookstores. When I step into them—big fancy ones anyway—I feel like I have suddenly entered a strange and airy world full of blinding blasts of plastic brightness. Posters of overly made-up faces with their gleaming peroxided teeth hound me across […]
Source: Off The Page

Guest: Limited Access

Flickr photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Flickr photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I have a friend who was once viewing an article on Mother Theresa. Somehow, the advertisements on the webpage were not set to “Catholic approved,” since, alongside the picture of the now saint, was an ostentatious full screen ad for Plan B. Seriously. It was a perfect example of “what’s wrong with this picture.”  Recently, as I was merrily skipping/clicking links that looked interesting, I came to a well-known religious leadership publication. Maybe it was the devil, because he knew it would assuredly annoy me, but the thing my eye caught under the name of the journal was the two words placed next to each other. It looked like this:


Now, I know this sounds prideful, but as someone who has a handy prime college access, one thing I rarely see when spending time in online journals is “limited access.” Mine isn’t limited, it’s full—at least in academic journals. And yet here I was being called a guest, with “limited access.” I was instantly offended. Then I felt guilty about being offended. Here is the thing though, nobody wants to be knowingly excluded to the outer regions of power. This got me to thinking.

I have for a while wondered over the seeming insatiable lust which seems to be incited over positions of leadership. Maybe “lust” is too strong a word; perhaps positions of leadership are more of a thing “craved” than lusted over … but that would be a hard call. It doesn’t matter what setting these leadership positions are in either: be they at a university, church, community, in politics or whatever, the desire to be in a location of leadership seems to be fairly intense. As if to confirm this, more than ever before, I am seeing leadership courses being taught at public libraries, colleges, universities, and even churches. They are popping up everywhere. You can take them in-class, online, or over Skype—whatever method is best for your busy schedule.  And such courses fetch good money, too. If you’re worried about your job, don’t; you can even get a Masters in Leadership while working full time!

Now, I am not dissing people in positions of authority at all: we need profs and pastors and presidents and prime ministers. Neither am I picking on leadership courses, from what I hear, they bring in much needed funding for places of education. However, I am curious: why the upsurge in interest over leadership? I wonder if the interest is driven by advertisers—like the craze over teeth whitening products. Or is it driven by average Janes or Joes who are suddenly realizing that they would like a title or a position of respect?

Here is the question churning inside my head though: are people becoming more curious about getting into leadership because they feel that it is the primary way they will actually be heard? I.e. that the only way to be listened to, in whatever place they happen to be in, is to be a leader? I realize that there are a few more possibilities than that, but I do wonder if being heard is one of the main reasons.

And if that’s the case, isn’t it saying something about our culture? Like, maybe we haven’t been willing to pay attention—literally!—to people around us because we assume they don’t have something of worth to say? And if we all think that, then one seemingly reasonable way to get other people to listen to us is not to be an everybody, but a somebody—specifically a leader. After all—leaders have to/must be listened to, right? Again, I am not implying that those in leadership don’t have worthy things to say, I just wonder how many times I have contributed to another person not feeling listened to, and thus unwittingly encouraged him or her to seek more formal routes to not only speak, but ensure being heard.

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