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Coffee, Church, and Literature

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Looking back twenty years or so, I see three things about which I've made 180 degree turns. . .


Until a few years ago, I was never a fan of coffee. And this was mainly because I was used to the stuff my parents drank, which always seemed to exist in the crossroads of watery, bitter, and burned. None of those notes ever seemed to overpower the other. It was never so watery that you wouldn't notice that it was also bitter and burned. On the whole it tasted like boiling dishwater, only without the pleasant floral notes you might get from dish-soap. It was designed to function strictly as a morning stimulant and not as something that should actually be enjoyed.

Then one day about ten years ago, we were in Las Vegas and Shelly dragged my unwilling ass into a Starbucks to order me a "breve", which is Starbucks-ese for a latte made with half-n-half instead of milk. And it was downright decadent. It didn't taste burned at all. It was far from watery (although not so far to the other side that you felt like you were drinking a milkshake). It has a very mild bitter note that was counteracted with a hit of Splenda. It was fresh and hot and very very good.

And it had so much caffeine that it made my wrists sweat, a phenomenon that still occurs today when the Starbucks caffeine-pushers make me a drink.

In the following years I've jettisoned the half-n-half for skim milk, as the texture isn't affected all that much, but the calorie-count certainly is. I've also taken to drinking the stuff from the home mass-market drip-machine thingy that I so loathed as a youth, mainly because I discovered that the problem didn't lie with the machine but with the coffee. Costco buys fresh beans from Starbucks, roasts 'em fresh at the store, and sells 'em for about the same price as the burned-bitter-watery crap that I was used to seeing. We auto-grind it daily at home and brew some fairly passable stuff. It ain't the Starbucks Venti-nonfat-two-Splenda-latte that I order if I'm away from the office, but it's pretty good and doesn't require much effort and doesn't cost $3.75.


Despite pretty-much abandoning Catholicism 22 years ago and fully embracing a secular lifestyle about 10-12 years ago, I still felt that I should go through the motions of some sort of group meeting for spiritual matters (despite that the word "spiritual" no longer is meaningful to me). And I'd been to loads of 'em. Despite claims that we're in the Bible belt and such, there's still no shortage of church-type organizations that have no problems with non-superstitious types such as myself. We've got liberal congregations and humanist groups and humanist churches and meetups and unitarian churches of theological degrees ranging from "Baptists that don't condemn homos" to "Is there anyone in this room who ain't an atheist?"

But I never really felt that any of these groups (and this also goes for Catholicism) were filling any kind of void in my life. Whether it was Father Ralph Bauer back in Little Rock explaining the important theological matter of "is Beelzebub a greater demon or is he Satan himself" or it was a freethought-pastor droning on for 35 minutes about "Bioethics and Biodiversity", I wasn't feeling enriched or fulfilled or much anything else other than bored and frustrated.

Boredom aside, though, I felt that I wasn't the target market for what they were selling. In church I felt about the same way that I felt in the middle of a women's shoe-department of a department store. I wasn't uncomfortable being there, but I felt that there was nothing there of interest to me, and no matter how you try to improve the sales-pitch or adjust things to better attract me, I'd never be the target market for what they're selling.

Last Sunday Shelly and Maggie took off for church (Westside UU in Fort Worth) and I stayed back as I had for the past 3-4 Sundays. I spent the morning at Starbucks quietly sipping my latte, clipping the Sunday grocery coupons, reading the latest Harry Potter book, and watching other folks grabbing their morning coffees and donuts.

It was actually pretty nice. Fulfillment's in the eye of the fulfill-ee.


I lost interest in classical literature around High School. And this loss of interest can be placed solely at the feet of my school's English department. While I did very much value my first year of English-Lit, which concentrated more on the mechanics of grammar that was poorly taught to me in grade-school, the later years concentrated on classical literature, and they could only have been designed to wring out any enjoyment of literature that I might have for the rest of my life.

My high school (Catholic High School For Boys in Little Rock AR, if you're curious) treated literature with the same love that Lenny from Of Mice And Men gave small animals. We were given a work of classical literature, be it poetry or prose, and we would then dissect it under a microscope. We were expected to take apart every line, discerning and memorizing the "meaning" of lines or parts of lines, then writing down that meaning on an exam.

Case in point, we spent an entire period once learning about the possible meanings of the word "Alas" as used in the fourth line of "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot.

Furthermore, we were expected to memorize and recite poetry, an act that's only possible use is to give teachers time to catch up on their grading, as it requires quite a bit of effort on the part of the student and almost none on the part of the teacher. To this day I can still recite much of "Paul Revere's Ride" by Longfellow, despite that I thought it then and now to be a terrible poem. Google for it if you've never read it, but suffice it to say that it's stilted, obvious, reads like a long-form limerick, has the subtlety and nuance of a brick to the head, and (I later found) is laughably inaccurate!

Needless to say, this exercise cemented in my brain the clear fact that classical literature is not something to be read and enjoyed -- classical literature is something to be studied and revered and then placed gently back on the shelf lest its meaning be sullied by a luddite such as myself.

So when I went off to pursue my engineering degree, one which had English classes only concerned with technical writing and speaking, I avoided classical literature like Star Trek conventioneers avoid soap. And I've only been returning to it recently. While I'll keep reading the light stuff (I did mention a few paragraphs earlier that I was reading Harry Potter), I will punctuate it with the classics. And while I may miss out some 16th century nuance now and then, I won't fret over it. As long as I get the big picture, I'll be okay.

And I won't memorize it. Memory is intended to fade. The fact that I now remember "Paul Revere's Ride" better than I remember the plot of "Brave New World" is a sin.

Maybe I'll rent the movie :)
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I have to say I'd never have figured you for a Starbucks drinker.

I can't stand their crap; the black coffee always has the worst, burned beans with an insane price and a terrible general quality. Tim Hortons is much better, if I haven't made it at home already.

I guess if you fill it with milk and stuff it would be better, but I drink my coffee black because to do otherwise defeats the purpose of drinking coffee.

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Original post by Ravuya
I have to say I'd never have figured you for a Starbucks drinker.

I can't stand their crap; the black coffee always has the worst, burned beans with an insane price and a terrible general quality. Tim Hortons is much better, if I haven't made it at home already.

I guess if you fill it with milk and stuff it would be better, but I drink my coffee black because to do otherwise defeats the purpose of drinking coffee.

I'm inclined to agree. I never liked Starbucks coffee, they burn the crap out of the beans. I usually stick to Seattle's Best, or Dunkin Donuts coffe. Dunkin Donuts coffee is delicious.

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Totally agree about literature in school, after spending the best part of a year disecting Far from the Madding Crowd when I was 16 I haven't read any classical stuff since

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