First World Problems...

Illustration by Ken Davis

WHEN YOU WORK for a Christian justice organization, it’s hard to complain about your petty personal problems. Dishwasher leaving spots on the glassware at home? Don’t mention it in the office or you get called out for a “First World problem.” Not happy with your cable company? “Dude, First World problem!” retorts a colleague, pouring coffee into his Amnesty International mug before a meeting on income inequality.

I work with people who have traveled the world working for peace and freedom, who have spent time in jail for their beliefs, but who show no sympathy when L.L. Bean messes up my order. (I purchased the medium winter pullover from their activewear collection, but they sent me a small. And it pinches when I lift my arms to pray during chapel.)

In short, my peers are saints working for a better world. And fortunately for them, they don’t have to look outside the office to see what’s wrong with that world, for I walk among them. I am he (or maybe him), the self-centered manchild whose personal preoccupations give a counterbalance to the righteous intentions of my colleagues. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

And that somebody needs new kitchen cabinets.

In my defense—I hurriedly explain to officemates rushing to their next strategy meeting on climate change, this time carrying coffee mugs from Greenpeace—our old cabinets are SO last century. In fact, they were made in the same century as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, a minor monarch whose death prompted the conflagration of World War I. But back to my cabinets.

See how I did that? I shifted from one of the darkest periods of the 20th century to trivial thoughts about new stuff in my house. And from new cabinets to thoughts of kitchen paint schemes is but a short step down the sordid trail to shameless self-indulgence. But such is the thrall of the First World and its petty charms that one can hardly escape.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

10 Reasons Coffee is Part of My Faith Journey

Coffee grounds. Image courtesy O.Bellini/

Coffee grounds. Image courtesy O.Bellini/

Coffee — a seemingly small thing — has become a hugely important part of my faith life. It has helped me create bonds with new people and strengthen those with individuals I've known for years. Coffee has helped me build a stronger sense of community in my church in a fun way while seeking to fulfill the word of God by supporting those less fortunate than myself.

How has coffee had such a profound effect on my life? For the past eight years, I have headed the Lutheran World Relief Coffee Project at my congregation, Christ Lutheran Church in Whitefish, Montana. When we buy Fair Trade products, we are assured that the farmers who grew them are getting a fair price, and a chance at a better life. Lutheran World Relief, an international humanitarian organization, offers Fair Trade coffee, tea, and chocolate to Lutheran congregations through a partnership with the Fair Trade company Equal Exchange. Every third week, I set up tables at church, where I sell Fair Trade coffee, tea, snacks and cocoa product to my fellow parishioners. I enjoy and flourish in this ministry for many reasons. Here are 10 of them.

Smell. Sip. Sacrament.

Coffee ceremony at a restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Coffee ceremony at a restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Back home in California, we recently purchased one of those one-cup-at-a-time Kuerig coffee makers after running through two high-end traditional coffee machines in 18 months. (Two writers in one house equals a high rate of coffee consumption.) While I think it was the proper choice for us – we waste less coffee this way, and have bought one of those reusable pods so that we’re not always using recyclable-but-still-plastic-and-not-terribly-ethical disposable pods pre-filled with the coffee of our choice.

I brought home a pound or so of ground coffee from Ethiopia and we’ve tried to get the amount of grounds and water pressure just right to replicate the drink I’d had in Africa.

Nothing doing.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony a la Keurig is too fast, too easy, and much too weak in myriad ways. 

In coffee ceremonies back in Africa, the beans were ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. They’d be uneven. Chunky. When steeped, the coffee needed to be sieved over and over to make the final product perfectly potable. It took time, patience, and a practiced hand. It also required a different kind of regard for the act itself: the woman preparing the coffee wasn't simply making a drink. She was presiding over something humble and holy.

Even if I could replicate the grounds (I do have a Le Creuset mortar and pestle that mostly serves as decoration on my kitchen window sill), and sieved the elixir until it was just right, it still wouldn’t be.

Why? No frankincense and all the sacred intention that comes with it.

Imitation of Christ: Thomas a Kempis, Love and Learnin'

The manuscript of "De Imitatione Christi." Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Brussel.

The manuscript of "De Imitatione Christi." Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Brussel.

Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider,
nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth; 

for love is born of God, and can rest only in God above all created things.

And so my musings on Thomas a Kempis, for whom Jesus the Christ was Love Incarnate, begin.

Will it frame my day? Will it help me make sense of French class?

Simple Pleasures: Three O'Clock Lattes, Show Tunes

What's better than a piping hot, non-fat, sugar-free pumpkin latte right about now?

Sipping a piping hot, non-fat, sugar-free pumpkin latte while listening to Kristin Chenoweth sing "Taylor the Latte Boy," that's what.

Go grab your latte. Kristin and Taylor will be waiting for you inside when you get back.

Warning: Sing-along flash mobs may ensue. Use headphones as a precautionary measure.

10 Problems of a Dying Church (and How to Fix Them)

I recently wrote a blog about how to kill a dying church, asking questions about what to do with so many churches dying. I think the challenge is recognizing the signs that a church is dying. The problem is that churches tend to wither, which is a slow, gradual, and often subtle process. It is difficult to pinpoint when in the withering process it is time to take action, to make changes, and to make some vital decisions. While there are many reasons for a church dying, here are some practical observations that I have noticed in my experience. This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is also a list that my congregation has personally had to face, so I give examples of how my congregation has addressed these issues.