Sticks Stones Scones

“Years from now when you talk about this—and you will—be kind,” Laura was saying, softly.
— from the movie, “Tea and Sympathy”, 1956.

Or: When you talk; be kind.

[NOTE: A shout out to Jay Heinrichs for prompting this dialog I’ve been having in my head and heart the past few weeks. I’ve been re-reading Jay’s book, “Thank You For Arguing”.]


DECORUM: There’s something you don’t hear much anymore. Maybe it’s because there isn’t much of it anymore—the thing, not the word. Let’s break it down a bit, and to do that, it’s probably better to start one step back and consider the word: decorus.

Decorous Got Its Start With Etiquette

The current meaning of decorous dates from the mid-17th century. One of the word's earliest recorded uses appears in a book titled The Rules of Civility (1673): "It is not decorous to look in the Glass, to comb, brush, or do any thing of that nature to ourselves, whilst the said person be in the Room." Decorous for a time had another meaning as well—"fitting or appropriate"—but that now-obsolete sense seems to have existed for only a few decades in the 17th century. Decorous derives from the Latin word decorus, an adjective created from the noun decor, meaning "beauty" or "grace." Decor is akin to the Latin verb decēre ("to be fitting"), which is the source of our adjective decent. It is only fitting, then, that decent can be a synonym of decorous. —Merriam-Webster Dictionary

So let’s go with that: to have decorum requires decency, a willingness to adjust, to fit in, understanding and being appropriate. Here’s an example of this kind of decorum: Audi alteram partem; which means, let the other side be heard.

This idea has been a part of ethical conduct since The Beginning: man, woman and Creator. Adam and Eve engage in original sin, and what does God do? Audi alteram partem. He gives them an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

GOD said, “Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?”

The Man said, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”

GOD said to the Woman, “What is this that you’ve done?”

“The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.” —Genesis 3:11-13

The US Supreme Court gave the idea this endorsement:

"Audi alteram partem - hear the other side! - a demand made insistently through the centuries, is now a command, spoken with the voice of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, against state governments, and every branch of them - executive, legislative, and judicial - whenever any individual, however lowly and unfortunate, asserts a legal claim.”

Why is it so hard to audi alteram partem? Why must we have the final word? Why are we so defensive? Why are we so offensive? Why are we so sure we are right and therefore ‘they’ are wrong?

Is it politics that has damaged civility; or are politics the result of damaged civility? Maybe it’s TV “news” and talk radio. Is there hope for decorum, for civil discourse, for conversation that doesn’t end up dividing?

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.
— Blaise Pascal

I’m not looking for tea and sympathy—i.e., pity, but rather an exchange of empathy along with a scone and a nice cup of tea, or better yet; a strong coffee and hearty discussion sounds good, or a pint and pizza and good honest conversation.

HOW ABOUT MEETING UP? Not for something all fancy like Afternoon Tea, although that is civilized, but something earthier; but decorus. ARE YOU IN? Let me know at and I’ll let you know the when and the where of the next get together.

Magical Beans

CONSENSUS ON COFFEE AND ITS ORIGIN seems to be that the first cup was poured in the 11th Century AD.  I feel confident in saying, I bet the first beans were roasted, ground and combined with scalding water in the First Century.

Why and on what authority? Sixty-Seven years ago I was carried into a Baptist Church for the first of many, many times. One thing I know for certain about Baptists—coffee is the official drink and caffeine the permissible drug of Baptists. So, I can only assume that John THE Baptist percolated the first pot. If he was not the first Mr. Coffee he probably should be known as John The So-Called Baptist.

Coffee is much bigger than Baptists. Currently there are 27,339 Starbucks stores. (Statista: The Statistics Portal) According to  an article in Huffington Post, “America’s Coffee Obsession…”:

• Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world.
• Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States.
• The United States imports more than $4 billion dollars’ worth of coffee each year.

My amazing-missus enjoying a cup from the top of a double-decker bus

My amazing-missus enjoying a cup from the top of a double-decker bus

I am one of those who starts the day with a cup or so and later too, especially with the occasional dessert. Given a choice, I prefer a bold, dark roast, served black.

It seems to me that coffee is the best grease for the gears of social interaction. Anytime of day, we can meet for a cup. Even if we don’t actually all drink coffee, we can be open to gathering around the idea of it—“Let’s grab a cup of coffee and catch up.”

Years ago, I heard Nora Ephron speaking about her movie, “You’ve Got Mail.” She mentioned the idea of something called the Third Place. I was utterly intrigued. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as cafes, clubs, public libraries, or parks. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

In the early 70s, I played drums with a group that played at these little venues called coffeehouses: third places for people in their lated teens and twenties. With a little stage for music and poets, candles on the tables, posters on the wall, and lots of coffee. The pay was lousy, but the gigs were fun and relaxed. 

I have a brother-in-law who served several tours of duty in the middle-east. I love to hear his stories about times spent at the little coffeeshops on the bases in the middle of nowhere. Third Place indeed.

How about coffee and solitude? You know the scene: a single man or woman sitting in a diner, a back booth or on a stool at the end of the counter, having a cup and probably a cigarette, maybe half looking at a newspaper or staring out the window. On the jukebox, Tammy Wynette sings:

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man.
You'll have bad times
And he'll have good times, 
Doin' things that you don't understand
But if you love him you'll forgive him,
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him oh be proud of him,
'Cause after all he's just a man
Stand by your man...

One of my favorite works of art is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. We can’t talk about hot coffee at the diner without a look.


In case you don’t still have your notes from Art History 101, my favorite commentary on the painting comes from that little nun with the speech impediment, Sister Wendy:

Apparently, there was a period when every college dormitory in the country had on its walls a poster of Hopper's Nighthawks; it had become an icon. It is easy to understand its appeal. This is not just an image of big-city loneliness, but of existential loneliness: the sense that we have (perhaps overwhelmingly in late adolescence) of being on our own in the human condition. When we look at that dark New York street, we would expect the fluorescent-lit cafe to be welcoming, but it is not. There is no way to enter it, no door. The extreme brightness means that the people inside are held, exposed and vulnerable. They hunch their shoulders defensively. Hopper did not actually observe them, because he used himself as a model for both the seated men, as if he perceived men in this situation as clones. He modeled the woman, as he did all of his female characters, on his wife Jo. He was a difficult man, and Jo was far more emotionally involved with him than he with her; one of her methods of keeping him with her was to insist that only she would be his model.

From Jo's diaries we learn that Hopper described this work as a painting of "three characters." The man behind the counter, though imprisoned in the triangle, is in fact free. He has a job, a home, he can come and go; he can look at the customers with a half-smile. It is the customers who are the nighthawks. Nighthawks are predators — but are the men there to prey on the woman, or has she come in to prey on the men? To my mind, the man and woman are a couple, as the position of their hands suggests, but they are a couple so lost in misery that they cannot communicate; they have nothing to give each other. I see the nighthawks of the picture not so much as birds of prey, but simply as birds: great winged creatures that should be free in the sky, but instead are shut in, dazed and miserable, with their heads constantly banging against the glass of the world's callousness. In his Last Poems, A. E. Housman (1859-1936) speaks of being "a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made." That was what Hopper felt — and what he conveys so bitterly.

Text from "Sister Wendy's American Masterpieces"

We have some dear friends who are opening a coffeeshop soon. As soon as we have a chance to visit, I’ll tell you all about it. Or, better yet; let’s meet there for a hot cup and catch up.

Oats 'n' Beans

MY FRESHMAN YEAR OF COLLEGE was at a Baptist university in Oklahoma. I won’t mention the name of it because my son teaches there now, and I wouldn’t want to embarrass him or the school. As a PK (preacher’s kid), I might have had a bag or two of wild oats to sew, and the freedom of being away at college seemed to be fallow ground. Thankfully though, my choices didn’t result in excommunication, disownment, shunning, or arrest.

Well, as it turns out, there are appartently a few oats left in my bag. I sowed a few this morning.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a Southern Baptist tradition. And while at times it seemed that fun in any form was frowned upon, I value those times. If the old axiom, “Boys will be boys,” is true, then it is also true that Baptist Boys will be too.

One of my first nights at the Baptist university, I heard a student come in to the dorm late one night singing at the top of his lungs, “I was sinking deep in sin. Wheeeee!” It dawned on me: you get a bunch of preacher’s kids, deacon’s kids, and missionary’s kids together, you might just have a bumper wild oat crop.

While the “sins” of my 60s are less daring and thrilling than those in the 60s, they are there nonetheless. Thankfully they are still forgiven—at least by God; hopefully also by those who have been hurt by my selfishness.

So today’s oats were sewn over a cup of coffee. Starbucks Coffee. I know, I know. Here’s the deal though: I will not let paranoid, fundamentalists shame me for drinking the only adult beverage I can enjoy guilt free.

Coffee is too important to American Christianity to slow its flow in any way. You want to see a church split and a pastor fired, try removing the coffee pot from the fellowship hall. You know that glimpse we get in the Bible of Jesus at the wedding feast? The only thing that would make Baptists love that story more is if Jesus had turned the water into a hot, never-ending urn of Folger’s coffee.

So, call me a rebel if you must, but I will dring deep from my dark roast Starbucks. I will drink it from a white cup or I will dring it from a red cup. I will drink it black and I will drink it up. I will not feel guilt, I will not feel shame, I will not boycot the Starbucks name. I totally agree it cost to much, but I don’t spend much on treats and such. So here’s to you my christian friend. Let’s raise our red cups, amen? Amen!