Coffee Matters

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I’ve been waiting for ages for the release of the film version of The Shack. Not to worry, no spoilers here. I have read that book at least twenty times, if not more. I can recite most of the major conversations from it. And knowing the film is never quite what the book is, I can honestly say I was not at all disappointed in the movie and I’m hoping to catch it again while it’s still in theaters.

That being said, as I was driving home from the theater, there was something nagging at me. Like there was something missing in the film version that was vital and yet, I couldn’t quite place it. I knew what conversations were in it or not in it and what things had been changed even slightly. But this was different, more subtle. It wasn’t until I walked in the house and smelled the pot roast my mom had simmering on the stove that it hit me.

Much like the book, the focus of the movie centered on relationships and those relationships were framed in conversations. Mack was often split off talking to Jesus or Sarayu or Papa one-to-one as he established some sort of working relationship with each but the overall mealtime camaraderie of the book was lost. The lack of time that Mack and his hosts spent around the table gnawed at the back of my brain. Very little of the playfulness and love shared amongst the Trinity over meals made it to the big screen. In addition to lighthearted flow of love within the relationship of the Trinity and also in their love for Mack, there also was a deeper level of kindness and thoughtfulness that went into something as simple as a bag of sandwiches. While I wouldn’t say the movie faltered for lack of a bag lunch or a cup of coffee left on the bedside table, those small acts of love demonstrated a deep level of intimacy and care for Mack and an anticipation of his needs that are an important piece of the story. It’s one thing to tell someone you care for them and another thing entirely to know exactly how they like their morning coffee.

In an odd sort of way, I was kind of glad those details were missing because it forced me to really focus on what I was not seeing rather than what was right in front of me. For all my bluster about wanting God to be a little – okay, a lot – more direct, I can’t point to a single time in my life that I didn’t have exactly the right books, the right music, the right poetry, or the right scenery to show me that God is present in all those little details that make me so happy. It’s still not easy for me to accept that such little things about me would matter to God and yet if I’m being really honest, I have to say God knows how I take my coffee. And that matters.

“…if anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will be the same again.”

Wm. Paul Young

The Shack

Connect or Dig?

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“One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of men one on another, a development promoted chiefly by modern technological advances. Nevertheless brotherly dialogue among men does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person. Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into man’s moral and spiritual nature.” – Gaudium et Spes (December 7, 1965)

Reading this document, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written a month or two ago. The understanding that dialogue isn’t improved by technical progress but by deeper interpersonal relationships is a frequent discussion in news articles and blog posts. In this time of text messages, emails, and social media, we can certainly say we have progressed in terms of technology but have we progressed in interpersonal relationships? I’m not so sure. I see many people who engage in monologues on social media, whether it be for political or religious purposes. People spend more time defining and defending their views than listening to others, which essentially eliminates the social from the term “social media.”

This climate of the monologue can lead people to surround themselves with only likeminded followers. The danger in this is that such behavior has the potential to amplify selfishness, racism, classism, homophobia, anti-religious attitudes and xenophobia. I’ve seen families and friendships torn apart by political arguments that started online. I’ve seen religious apologists who, rather than offer education and/or gentle repudiation of error, choose to condemn and demean those who have differing views, thereby all but guaranteeing they will win few new followers to their cause and more likely will alienate many.

At the same time, social media has the potential for good. I’ve seen GoFundMe accounts raise money for cancer treatments and other medical bills. Acts of kindness campaigns have taken off. Grass roots campaigns that would have had a much harder time spreading the word now grow overnight. I’ve also seen religious figures use social media to educate, encourage and start open discussions. The Slate Project’s #SlateSpeak is a personal favorite of mine for asking tough questions, sparking social justice discussions and encouraging action.

So how does all this digital interaction impact the dignity of the human person? It is possible to use social media to build the kind of interpersonal relationships that deepen our appreciation for other points of view and for social groups other than our own. This is the kind of deeper understanding that can overcome discrimination in all its forms. This is what can lead people to move beyond online posturing to actually working within their communities to meet the needs of the most vulnerable amongst us. Online connections can lead to in-person connections. In this way, the barriers, both real and imagined, between “us” and “them” can crumble. Granted, that is a hopeful, some would say idealistic, outlook. The same digital interaction can deepen paranoia and radical views of all types. It can spread hate and violence just as easily as love and understanding. It will depend on whether we choose to deepen the sense of brotherhood of all mankind or dig trenches for our own like social group. If we’re going to reach out to others, we have to put down our shovels first.