The Coffee Experiment, Day 5

After yesterday’s run-in with completely nasty office coffee, I decided I would try brewing some better coffee up at home. While Jason and Daniel both suggested a french press, I decided that I should first make sure this coffee thing is gonna stick before I make the investment. So I pulled our drop coffeemaker out of the basement (where it is stored awaiting visitors) and set it up to brew this morning.

We had coffee stored from the last time we’ve had visitors, too, which isn’t terrifically fresh, but at least has been stored in the freezer. It’s a Starbucks dark roast. I set it all up last night and set the timer for 0500 this morning, which is ten minutes before my alarm goes off. I was wondering if I’d smell the coffee all the way back in the bedroom. I didn’t, though I think that is mostly because we have all the windows open and the ceiling fans on. I did, though, hear the thing start brewing just before my alarm went off to officially wake me up.

I poured a cup, splashed in a little milk, sat down with my breakfast cereal and the newspaper. It was really pretty good. Once this bag of coffee is used up I might want to try something a little lighter, but still… not bad at all, and far better than yesterday’s office fare.

I had been thinking that I had an insulated cup that I could take along to the office with me, but I guess we must’ve gotten rid of it some time ago. So, only one cup for me this morning. I’ll find a mug today and be able to bring that second cup along to work tomorrow. I’m starting to think this experiment might just be a success.

Scot McKnight’s “The Blue Parakeet” – a review

Blue Parakeet coverWhen Zondervan offered up free early copies of Dr. Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet for bloggers to review, I knew I wanted to get in on the action. I’ve enjoyed reading Scot’s (he won’t mind if I use his first name here, I think) blog for some time now, and while I knew he typically inhabits a spectrum of belief a little more emergent than I find myself, I looked forward to reading his thoughts on the Bible, or, as the subtitle of the book says, “Rethinking How You Read the Bible”. (Dr. McKnight is a professor of religious studies at North Park College in Chicago. He also wrote a volume on Galatians in the NIV Application Commentary series.)

Scot lays out his question in the first chapter: “how, then, are we to live the Bible today?” Sure, there are those folks who say that we follow all of it, but really, he says, we “pick and choose” what we live out. He knows that phrase will make us uncomfortable, but he does that to a purpose. We are so used to our denomination’s (or our own) interpretations of Scripture, which help us know which parts we follow and which parts we don’t, that we’ve often stopped thinking about how we go about that interpretation in the first place.

McKnight asks us to look at the Bible and first understand the whole sweep of history – from creation to the fall to redemption to the end. Within that sweep, then, we can start to see how the individual pieces fit. Just as we shouldn’t take a single verse out of context in a chapter, we shouldn’t take a single chapter (or a single book!) out of context of the greater whole. He also encourages us to distinguish between God and the Bible. The Bible is one way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us, but the Bible isn’t God. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship God. (This whole distinction is a useful reminder for those of us who have been in churches where precise, “literal” adherence to the Scripture (at least, the passages deemed “important”) has been given overly-high priority.)

I really enjoyed, appreciated, and agreed with the first two-thirds of The Blue Parakeet. Then Dr. McKnight, in a move he fully admits will not sit well with some, uses his principles of Biblical interpretation to argue for the acceptance of women in pastoral (teaching/leadership) roles in the church. And here is where I lose him. I know that this is one of his pet causes, but it just doesn’t work for me, I’m not convinced.

A few weeks ago on his blog, Dr. McKnight talked about his interpretation of 1 Timothy 3 (a passage that doesn’t get touched on in The Blue Parakeet), and argues it this way:

However, it is an inference to claim that only males can be elders or that all elders must be males. Why do I say this? Here’s why: Paul does not say “Elders must be males.” He assumes the elders to whom he writes are males, but he does not explicitly require that elders be males. Again: he assumes they are males, he says things that apply to males, but Paul does not explicitly say that elders must be males. [Emphasis in the original.]

And that just isn’t a convincing argument to me. You have to assume and read just as much into the passage to come up with his interpretation as you do to come up with the traditional interpretation, and, with McKnight’s position, you further have to ignore 2000 years of the church’s historical understanding of the passage. Furthermore, he argues that the list of qualifications in 1 Tim 3 shouldn’t be considered “rules for” or “qualifications of” elders – rather, that it should be considered “symptoms of virtues expected of leaders for Christians in the 1st Century”. And why? Because, first of all, the lists of 1 Tim 3 and Titus are different, and second, because “we know that many pastors/elders/deacons have children who don’t believe and who are rebellious, some are quarrelsome, some are not hospitable, and not all have a good reputation with outsiders”. In other words, because some who have held the role of elder in the church have failed to meet these standards, therefore they must not be “standards”. Begging your pardon, Dr. McKnight, but isn’t that like saying that since people break the speed limit that the speed limit must just be a “symptom of a virtue expected for drivers in the 21st century”? But I digress.

All in all, I’d recommend Dr. McKnight’s book for a good fresh look at how we interpret Scripture. The degree of “groundbreakingness” (surely that’s not a word, is it?) you feel when reading it will, in large measure, depend on what Biblical tradition you have grown up in and/or studied. Be cautious, though, when you reach the portion that’s interpretation; the quest for “rethinking” needs to continue to be guided by wisdom and historical perspective.

The Blue Parakeet will be released on November 1, 2008, and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

The Coffee Experiment, Day 4

I’m not sure whether to call this Day 4 or Day 6 of The Coffee Experiment. Do I count the weekend where I didn’t drink coffee? I guess I’ll be conservative and call this Day 4.

The office coffee, to this point, has been palatable. While being Folgers, which Allie assured me Saturday night isn’t really coffee, it has been drinkable with a bit of powdered creamer added for good measure. This morning, though, is a different story. This morning the coffee is bitter and nasty. Glad I got some sleep last night because I’m not gonna be getting any caffeine assistance this morning.

Daniel noted that for this reason he takes his own coffee to work. While at the grocery store yesterday I was contemplating picking up some coffee to brew at home, but thought I might wait a few more days to see how The Experiment pans out. After this morning, I’m thinking I might accelerate that purchase schedule a bit.

The Coffee Experiment, Day 2

For 31 years I have professed to very much dislike coffee. If in need of caffeine to keep me going, I will resort to a diet pop of some sort, or, in extreme cases, Red Bull. However, my Diet Pepsi consumption levels have been high for the past month, and given the cost of Diet Pepsi and the knowledge that even diet pop has been shown to be not-so-good for you in studies, I figured it was time to give the coffee a shot. We’ve got a communal coffee pot here in the office where Folgers is brewed for donations.

Yesterday was day one. I took my coffee black and it was not too bad. The caffeine did its job just fine, and I didn’t find myself craving the Diet Pepsi for the buzz… only for the sweetness. I had brought a Diet Pepsi along and went ahead and drank it for lunch.

Today is day two. I started the morning with two cups of coffee, this time using some non-dairy creamer, which I found helped things out quite a bit. And today I haven’t craved Diet Pepsi at all. Coffee also seems to fill me up less than the pop did; it feels more like I’ve just drank lots of water.

Anyway, I don’t know that I’d consider myself a total convert yet, but two days in I’m appreciating the concept of drinking coffee. Next stop: brewing it for myself at home in the mornings. I’ll wait a bit for that one and see if the habit takes.

Good free music

OK, so I’m biased a little bit. I really like Andy Osenga’s music. I run his fan website. I drive for hours to see the guy play shows. But all that aside, yesterday Andy put out Letters to the Editor, Vol. 2, and it’s definitely worth a listen. Or multiple listens.

As the “Vol. 2” would indicate, this is the second in what I hope will be a long-running series of EPs from Andy based on inspiration sent in by his fans. His fans are all over this album, really – in addition to the song ideas, they submitted pictures, which he uses in an extensive “album liner” PDF file, and recorded “Webground” vocals and instrumentals, which he mixed into one of the songs. (I am kicking myself that I didn’t find time to record my own Webgrounds. Next time.)

And the best thing: it’s free. That’s right. Click on the picture below and you can download the 6-song EP gratis. If you like it, head over to his site and donate something to the cause.

My Genius playlist for this afternoon

I mentioned before that I’m enjoying the iPod’s new Genius playlist. I hit on a really good one this afternoon, and at Hunter’s request I’ll just post the whole thing.

The seed song was Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal. The playlist it turned out (from the 7 GB of music on my iPod, not the whole library I have at home):

  1. White Winter Hymnal, Fleet Foxes, from Fleet Foxes
  2. Chinese Translation, M. Ward, from Post-War
  3. Impossible Germany, Wilco, from Sky Blue Sky
  4. Boy With A Coin, Iron and Wine, from The Shepherd’s Dog
  5. Can’t Go Back Now, The Weepies, from Hideaway
  6. Smokers Outside the Hospital Door, Editors, from An End Has A Start
  7. Glosoli, Sigur Ros, from Takk…
  8. Everybody Knows, Ryan Adams, from Easy Tiger
  9. The Golden Age, Beck, from Sea Change
  10. Falling Slowly, The Frames, from The Cost
  11. Ragged Wood, Fleet Foxes, from Fleet Foxes
  12. Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love, Coldplay, from Viva La Vida
  13. Half Acre, Hem, from Rabbit Songs
  14. Lovesong of the Buzzard, Iron & Wine, from The Shepherd’s Dog
  15. Casimir Pulaski Day, Sufjan Stevens, from Illinois
  16. What Light, Wilco, from Sky Blue Sky
  17. Post-War, M. Ward, from Post War
  18. Bones, Editors, from An End Has A Start
  19. Orbiting, The Weepies, from Hideaway
  20. The Limit To Your Love, Feist, from The Reminder
  21. Missing, Beck, from Guero
  22. Goodnight Rose, Ryan Adams, from Easy Tiger
  23. Blue Ridge Mountains, Fleet Foxes, from Fleet Foxes
  24. That Dress Looks Nice On You, Sufjan Stevens, from Seven Swans
  25. Strawberry Swing, Coldplay, from Viva La Vida

Why I dislike salespeople – or at least their tactics

Update: I received a response from Rainsoft of NE Iowa that very much helped to resolve the situation. Click here to read about it.

Last week while shopping at Home Depot, a nice lady struck up a conversation with us, and proceeded to ask if we’d ever had our water tested before. Would we be interested? It’d take about an hour, and Home Depot would give us a $20 gift card for our trouble.

Oh sure, we figured, we’d not had our home water tested before. And yeah, we expected a sales pitch about some water treatment system, but whatever. And we can always use a $20 Home Depot card.

The night before our scheduled appointment we got a phone call from a call center confirming our appointment, making sure multiple times over that yes, both Becky and I were going to be home at that time, and then asking a series of questions that really didn’t have anything to do with our home water solution. Becky answered as few as she could and then hung up the phone. We ended up having to call back to reschedule, and we ended up on the calendar then for 4 pm Monday.

At five minutes until 4 the lady we had met at Home Depot knocked on our door with her three briefcases of equipment. Guess we tried to cut it too close by giving the girls a bath, but hey, who ever shows up early for an appointment? So, we rushed the girls out of the tub and set them up with an hour-long TV show.

We sat down at the kitchen table and she told us briefly about her company, RainSoft. Then came the water testing. The kitchen sink didn’t quite work to hook up her little mini-water-treater, so we all huddled in the bathroom as she ran a battery of tests. I knew she was getting verbose, but next thing I knew we were still running tests and it was 5:30. That’s right, 90 minutes, and we weren’t even close to getting the sales pitch. She did let us taste a bottle of their tasty drinking-water-treated water, though.

Finally the tests were nearing completion, so she set us down and worked us through her little notebook-driven pitch, warning of bad things like acid rain (didn’t that get debunked at least a decade ago?), chlorine (“many water systems have more than is safe for a swimming pool!” oh, guess what, we don’t have any in our water), and other nasty chemicals that can cause bad things. (Guess what: we don’t have those, either.) Her sources were as reliable as Women’s World magazine articles from the late 1980’s can be. Eventually we found out that our water is very hard (which we already knew), but otherwise safe.

So then it was time for the sales pitch. It was as bad as a TV infomercial. Guess what? They normally charge $300 for installation. But they’ll waive that today. Then the price of the unit is $4000. And, oh, by the way, you don’t really need the drinking water filter, so how about a home air filtration system instead? Normally it’s $2000, but how about today’s special deal: it’s only $1000! What a great deal! (I would’ve really liked the air filtration system about the time she walked in the door – she must’ve been smoking in her car all the way here. The dining room smelled of smoke for 30 minutes after she left!)

Then she “ran the numbers”. Here’s what a typical family spends on cleaning supplies. You won’t need to spend that much at all because of your soft water. Oh, and we’ll give you a long supply of soap so you won’t need to buy any at all. Here, Chris, you run the calculator. Are you with me on these numbers? They make sense, right? Here, so see? You can get our deal for only $99/month. You’ll actually be saving money! Don’t believe us? We have this free coupon program we’ll toss in free for 5 years, too! Just as a special gift!

It was nearly 7 pm when we had finally convinced her it didn’t matter how rosy her numbers were, we weren’t about to open up a $5000 line of credit to buy the thing tonight. She sullenly packed her bags and audaciously asked for the names and phone numbers of 5 homeowning friends who she might be able to contact. “As a favor to” her, she said. She’d get a gas voucher if we gave her names. We declined.

So, if you’re our salesman reading this, here are some helpful tips for how to make a sale to this cynical engineer next time:

  • Be on time and don’t go past the time you said you’d take. I have three hours between the time I get home from work and when my kids go to bed. Don’t take all of them. Did you ever wonder when we were going to eat supper?
  • Don’t make us feel like we’re doing you a favor by listening to your pitch. We don’t owe you anything.
  • Don’t use the old bait-and-switch. Sure, the nifty specially-filtered bottled water tastes good. But then you didn’t recommend it for us. And you didn’t let us taste the normally-filtered water. Tsk tsk.
  • Be up-front about the costs, including the financing. I’m a pretty sharp guy, I know how the numbers work. You preach $99/month up front, but when I ask “for how many months?”, you finally admit that it’s just a $99/month minimum payment on a line of credit that charges 17.99% interest. That’s 8 years at $99/month. Ouch.
  • Don’t try to rush me into a sale. Seriously, you’re asking me to make a snap decision, without doing any other research, on a $5000 system? In 10 minutes while you’re here staring at me? If it’s a good value today, it’ll be just as good a value tomorrow. If not, you’re trying to pull one over on me. For shame.
  • Don’t try to talk circles around my wife. Yeah, she was struggling trying to verbalize her objections to the deal. But making her feel stupid because she doesn’t see it your way? Bad form. A little hint: if I have to choose between my wife and you, she’s gonna win every time and twice on Sundays. Be glad it wasn’t a Sunday.
  • If you’re really trying to sell a product, leave some literature behind in case I change my mind. You didn’t even leave as much as a business card tonight. That gave me the idea that you were only in it for the quick sale tonight, and not interested in the long-term cultivation of a customer.

Now, what have I learned? Maybe I should’ve just turned down the test in the first place. But really, is there some unspoken social contract that obliges me to purchase the product because I invited the salesperson into my home to make their pitch? I didn’t think so. In the future I’ll stick to doing my research on the internet and proactively contacting vendors when I want to make a purchase, thank you very much.

Adventures in Genius playlists

I’ve quite enjoyed playing with the new Genius playlist feature in iTunes 8.0, but found out yesterday that it makes some interesting choices when it’s limited by the subset of music I have on my 8GB iPod touch.

(To make sense of this for my mom and others who might read this who have no idea what the Genius playlist is – basically you give it one song, and it generates a playlist of “similar” songs from whatever you have on your iPod. It works really well with my full music library.)

Case in point: I asked it to generate a 25-song playlist based on Simon and Garfunkel’s classic Mrs. Robinson.

Near the middle of the playlist: John Williams’ Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back.

I don’t even wanna know how it made that leap. (Well, I sorta do…. but not really… but yeah.)

Changes Coming

Tonight after the service at Imago Christi, I read this brief letter to the congregation:

It has been a blessing to be at Imago Christi this year, to serve as an elder and as worship leader, and to help plan and organize a church in its very first days of existence. It is therefore with sadness tonight that I come to tell you that my family and I will be leaving Imago Christi Church as of the end of this month.

Why are we leaving? Like any decision, there are a multitude of reasons each having a small part in the big decision. Primarily, though, it comes down to personal and family needs, and the conviction that I need to reprioritize my life with family in mind first. Some have already asked “well, can’t you stay at Imago and just reduce your responsibilities?” and believe me, we have wrestled long and hard with that question. I have had something of a pattern of this my past several years in ministry – needing to recalibrate, trying to reduce, finding it impossible to effect permanent change. It is that history, as much as anything, that has convinced me (and Becky, too) that bigger change is necessary.

In case I haven’t been clear about it already, this isn’t a case of anyone being forced to leave or asked to leave or pushed out – quite the opposite, I have been pleaded with at length to stay. We are still very much behind the mission of Imago Christi, and our prayers go with you. I know that some of you do not or will not understand quite why we made this decision. And that’s OK. If you have questions feel free to talk to me afterwards. But please know that we have prayed much about this, and really feel like we are following God’s leading here. So we go. And so we trust, and pray that you will, too, that God is at work in this, both for our family, and for Imago Christi as a church body.

This has been a very difficult decision for us over the past couple of months. In the end, though, we feel like this is where God is leading us – to make a break and try and re-form things in a way that works better for our family. We don’t know where we’ll end up for church, but we’ll be looking around. That’ll feel weird after nearly 10 years with mostly the same folks at Noelridge and Imago.

One day at a time.