OK, so maybe it’s bragging.

But I’d like to think of it as evidence.

How Do You Say "Twenty" In Italian?

So I’m at a national chain franchise coffee shop, located in a national chain franchise bookstore (I bet you can’t guess what franchise I’m talking about). I cautiously approach the counter, carefully examine the menu, and prepare to make my selection. The following conversation ensues:

Person Behind The Counter: May I help you?
Me: I’d like a medium cappuccino. (what can I say? It was after dinner...)
PBTC: You mean a Venti cappuccino?
Me: No, I mean a medium cappuccino. The one in the middle. I believe you call it a “Grande.” Venti is your largest size.
PBTC: Right...

I mean, come on, people! If you’re going to act pretentiously stupid and try to get me to use your national chain franchise trademarked lingo, at least try condescendingly to get me to use the right vocabulary.

The icing on the cake is that I overheard her “training” the “barista” on how to “properly” make a cappuccino. “Always use skim milk for a cappuccino,” she says, “Whole milk gets too fluffy.”

Entire generations of Italians are rolling over in their graves.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but this is the second time I’ve had a similar conversation with a similar PBTC from the same national chain franchise.

Coffee-in-hand: Cold, over-extracted cappuccino. Stiff foam, no body, paper cup. But it’s my own d*mn fault, I guess...

P.S.- Happy Birthday, Janine!

Abide With Me

Last night at our Lenten Vespers service, we closed by singing Abide With Me (CW 588). I’m guessing that hymn makes just about everybody’s top 10 hymn list ― everyone who actually has a top 10 hymn list, that is. It also happens to be one of my favorites.

My paternal grandfather, William Pluger, was a faithful churchgoing man who raised his children (and, by extension, his grandchildren) in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6). One of his many favorite hymns was also Abide With Me. As an elder in his congregation, he helped establish the tradition of singing it on New Year’s Eve. What a great hymn to sing as the old year is remembered, confessed, forgiven, and the new year is welcomed with all the blessings of God. I’m guessing he was especially thinking of the stanza:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Grandpa died in 1984. I was ten. At his funeral, my cousin and I made a deal that we weren’t going to cry ― for some reason, we didn’t think it was right to be sad. Maybe we felt it was inappropriate, considering he was in heaven. Whatever, we were missing the point, and clearly forgetting the example of Jesus himself. At any rate, I was doing OK through the entire service: Psalm 23, the sermon, Jerusalem The Golden, and all the Lutheran funeral stand-bys. Until Abide With Me. Grandma had explained to us how meaningful that hymn had been to grandpa, what an important part of his faith-life it had been. And knowing that made it impossible to sing these words without completely losing it (in a good way):

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Grandma outlived grandpa by a good number of years. She saw her little congregation through many ups and downs, the calling of another pastor, and about fifteen more New Year’s Eve services. And in her own faithful way, she upheld the memory of her husband and his belief in God’s faithful gracious presence by gently and quietly making sure that Abide With Me still made it into the service every New Year’s Eve. Grandma died in December of 2003, from complications following a heart attack she suffered while cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. When we buried her on Christmas Eve morning, Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church sang Abide With Me one week early.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

In the summer of 2004 I took six of the best students I’ve ever had to Peru. We spent 12 days driving around the Andes mountains, traveling from village to village teaching Bible stories to little children and old men, doing crafts, singing songs, and learning more about faith and hope and love than we ever could have possibly taught. (You can read more about our trip to Peru here.) It’s hard to have an experience like that and not be changed forever, but when you get back it’s even harder to pinpoint what, exactly, about the trip so affected you. One moment, though, stands out above all the emotions and experiences of that odyssey. We had woken up early on our “free day” and gone to climb a glacier. We rode horses. We climbed and climbed and climbed. I fell in a little. We made it to the top ― 16,886 feet above sea level (which is really really high). Then we walked back down, and ate the best sandwiches any of us had ever eaten. Then we drove about three hours down the worst road ever. We were all bone-tired but no one could sleep. So we sang. Lifetime Lutherans all, we knew our hymnody pretty well. We started at the beginning, Advent, and worked our way through the Church Year. We did a pretty good job (I could try to remember all the hymns that we sang, but it would spoil the moment). We could usually get at least the first and last verse of any hymn anyone could remember at least the first line of. Eventually (remember, it’s hymn 588) we got to Abide With Me. Everyone knew it, of course. The memory of a van full of tired, happy, young missionaries singing a cappella as the sun set slowly behind the snow-covered peaks of South America still brings a smile to my lips and puts a lump in my throat. Simply beautiful…

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Which finally brings me back to last night. The sermon text was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23). Jesus’ words from the cross, from his hours of excruciating agony, were words of pardon and forgiveness. We, who manage to be thrown into a rage at the slightest provocation, whose words are a rain of curses when being cut off on the freeway, could learn much from the words of the God-Man as he was being cut off from the land of the living.

But Jesus’ ministry on earth and his trip to the cross were more than just exemplary, to show us how to live. If Jesus’ ministry were primarily to give us an example to follow, “we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15), because no one could even come close to perfectly following his example.

No. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross were not exemplary, rather they were primarily substitutionary. Jesus hung on the cross so I wouldn’t have to. Jesus suffered the Father’s wrath so I wouldn’t have to. Jesus paid for my sins so I wouldn’t have to. Try as I might to do the right thing, try as I might to make up for my sins, the fact of the matter is that I “don’t know what I do.” It’s all Jesus’ work that I am saved. Salvation is completely outside of me.

“Father, forgive them,” Jesus said, talking about me as much as about the Roman soldiers who were nailing him up. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus said, talking for me as my perfect substitute. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus said, talking to me with words of promise that I am forgiven, because he lived and died for me. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus said, talking to all who would believe in him, calling out to us and looking forward to Easter morning. “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14).

And so our prayer, last night and every night until the end of the world, is the prayer that points us to Christ, always to Christ:

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

There Can Be Only One?

Last Wednesday night after Lenten service, I was out on my porch roasting coffee. It was beautiful, crisp and clear. The moon was almost full and huge in the night sky.

I always think it’s cool to imagine who else is looking at the moon at the same time as I am. Famous people, world leaders, long-lost family members, old friends. Lovers enjoy each other under the same moon that shines on the poor, the forgotten, and the persecuted. And me, roasting coffee, enjoying a gift from the hand of God.

There are something like six and a half billion people in the world. Only about half of them, I guess, can see the moon at any given time. Most of the people under Sister Moon are probably inside, sleeping or eating or watching CSI or enjoying their family or trying to scrape together some kind of existence on this often unforgiving planet.

Is this as close to alone as I will ever get? Is it really possible that I was the only person on earth roasting coffee under the full moon last Wednesday?

Coffee-in-hand: Colombian Popayan

The Two Faces of St. Patrick’s Day (part two)

This is a picture of a tombstone at the hilltop fortress monastery called the Rock of Cashel. The Rock was a stronghold of Irish royalty and Christianity from the fourth through the eighteenth century, and is now, like most of the history of most countries, relegated to the ignominious position of tourist attraction.

There is a legend about St. Patrick in connection with the Rock of Cashel. Once upon a time, Patrick was conducting a coronation ceremony for a king at the cathedral on the Rock. As part of the ceremony, he pounded his bishop’s staff on the ground (perhaps as many as three times, one for each member of the Trinity). At any rate, he somehow missed the ground and drove his staff into the top of the king’s foot. The king, however, took it like a man, assuming this was some sort of Christian ascetic practice, perhaps reminiscent of the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. Oops.

Anyway, here’s a prayer attributed to the “Apostle of Ireland.”

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Kinda gutsy, if you think about it. Quite a claim to make for one’s self. Appropriate for a man who got away with impaling a monarch’s foot, but not so much for the rest of us.

“Christ in every eye that sees me?” Hardly. The chances that someone is going to look at me and see something Christ-like going on are actually pretty slim.

“Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me?” Wow. I might make a good first impression, but I doubt that the lasting image I leave in people’s hearts is an icon of Christ.

But in a very real sense, St. Patrick’s adage is true for every Christian always. Not just when we feel like it, not just when we’re acting particularly holy, and not just the two seconds after receiving Holy Communion before we pump out our next sin. Every Christian. Always.

How can this be? “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, was made to be sin in our place. The substitutionary, vicarious death of Christ means, as the rest of the verse says, “that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus becomes our sin, and we receive his righteousness. Romans 6 explains that we who were baptized into Christ are alive to God in Christ. Galatians 3 says it even more clearly: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

“Put on Christ.” We are clothed with Christ. We wear him like a garment. He covers our life with his. We are “partakers in the divine nature,” as St. Peter writes. We are washed clean from every sin ― not just when we confess and receive absolution, but continually. A friend of mine says that God’s grace isn’t like an occasional bath that washes off accumulated dirt, but like standing in a rainstorm, continually being washed and renewed and refreshed. No dirt sticks to us; “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8).

So whether we preach to the Irish or punch a timecard, whether we drink a pint of Guinness or stab royalty in the foot, Christ is with us, before us, and behind us. Even more importantly, Christ was on the cross for us. He is in the every eye that sees me, and even more importantly, Christ is in God’s eye when he looks at me.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Coffee-in-hand: Java from Java (thanks, Aaron!)

The Two Faces of St. Patrick’s Day (part one)

This is a picture of my son’s first Guinness. It was taken at a pub in Blarney in March of 2004, just before his second birthday. Because Guinness is such an acquired taste, Sean didn’t much care for it. So his daddy bravely and selflessly stepped up to the plate and finished it for him. Aren’t I great?

Here’s to all the pints that will be hoisted today, and all those who will hoist them.


Lengthy Posts


One of my faithful readers commented today that blog entries don’t have to be book-length.


So this one’s for you, Andrew.

Café Diem: what’s in a name?

I titled my blog “Café Diem coffee philosophy” with great deliberation. Here’s a little explanation of the terms.

First, “Café Diem” is obviously a pun/play on the famous phrase carpe diem, which is supposedly Latin for “seize the day.” Actually, carpe is from the Latin verb carpō, which, according to Lewis’ An Elementary Latin Dictionary means “pick, pluck, cull, crop, or gather,” and a bunch of other harvest-related metaphors. It’s kind of like, “gather as much of the day as you can,” or, “get as much out of today as you can.” A Spanish-speaking janitor once told me, “Hay que aprovecharse del día.” That about says it.

Anyway, carpe diem comes from Horace (ode I.xi), one of my favorite Latin poets (mostly because he’s easy to translate). The key line is, “Even while we speak, envious time has passed: pluck the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow!” It’s rather Epicurean, if you think about it, and not quite synonymous with Jesus’ words, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6). I’m working on a novella that touches on this incongruity; stay tuned for further developments. But the phrase works, in a sense, as a good motto for some people.

The reference to carpe diem is supposed to make you think about “taking enough time to enjoy the coffee,” or “savoring the moment” or something like that, while at the same time suggesting the literal translation “coffee of the day.” Of course, café doesn’t mean “coffee” in Latin (at least not classical Latin), and even if it did, diem doesn’t really mean “of the day.” But that’s OK, too. I don’t mind the inconsistency, and neither do the people who have decided to name their coffee shops Café Diem.

Which brings me to the topic of originality. Back in 2001, when I first started work on the aforementioned novella, I thought I was being terribly clever when I invented the name Café Diem for the coffee shop at which the narrator stops in the course of his allegorical road trip. Back then, search engines weren’t what they are now, and I wasn’t the computer-savvy techno-whiz that I’ve become, and so a cursory inspection of the internet revealed that I had indeed thought of something original on my own. Imagine my chagrin when I found that other people have simultaneously come up with my idea! But for the record, I thought of Café Diem before I heard it from anywhere else, and even if I didn’t come up with it first, I at least did it independently. So there.

Almost every book I’ve read in the past three years had a subtitle, and I thought my blog should be no different. I was playing a silly truth-or-dare-style game a while ago and the question was, “If you could have any job title printed on your business card, what would it be?” I picked coffee philosopher. I think it has as nice ring to it, and it sort of stuck. So this blog won’t always talk about coffee (although sometimes it will). It won’t always be philosophical (although occasionally it might be). And every once in a while it might have some coffee-related philosophical thoughts (although usually I’ll save those for my column in Coffee Magazine). Nevertheless, since I can’t think without coffee, the drivel coming out of this blog is probably aptly subtitled “coffee philosophy.” Consider it giving credit where credit is due.

So, there you have it. A wordy and overbearing explanation of the title “Café Diem coffee philosophy.” Someday I hope to open my own coffee shop and name it Café Diem. I hope no one will have stolen my name by then, at least in Dayton.

Then I’ll finally have time to stop and smell the beans.

One Tree Hill

File this under, “You learn something new every day,” I guess…

It bugs me that this show that all my kids seem to watch (for some reason) is named after a U2 song. But I also assumed that the U2 song is named after something else, too, a little deeper and more significant. So I Googled “One Tree Hill.” After wading through dozens of pages of WB schedules, fan sites, actor biographies, and various pop-culture tripe, I discover that One Tree Hill is a place in New Zealand, a volcanic mountain outside of Auckland that is/was sacred to the indigenous Maori. There’s some interesting history here about how there used to be one tree on the hill, and then there were two, but now there aren’t any. But it’s still called One Tree Hill.

So far so good. But what’s the connection between the song and the place? Turns out that Bono wrote this song, and dedicated the entire Joshua Tree album, to a close personal friend of the band Greg Carroll, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1986. Carroll was from Auckland, and a Maori, and met the band in New Zealand; hence the close connection between One Tree Hill, the band, and Carroll.

Let’s take a look at the lyrics:

And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang - his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground.

Bleeding poets? Jara? Song a weapon? Hands of love? What’s that all about? The answers surprised me. Victor Jara was a Chilean poet and folk singer who was arrested by Pinochet. Different versions of his death abound, but the most poetic version is this: put on trial/exhibition in a soccer stadium, Jara refused to silence his protest song. His torturers had his hands cut off and he bled to death, a witness to the cruelty and tyranny of Pinochet’s regime.

A witness…a martyr. In the Bible, Genesis 4, God reproves Cain for the slaying of his brother Abel. How does God know that Cain has done this? “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground” (verse 10). Abel’s blood is the witness against Cain. Jesus himself calls Abel the first martyr as he speaks against the Pharisees in Luke 11.

And what about the blood of these martyrs, these witnesses? To whom are they witnessing? The writer of the book of Hebrews explains it like this (Hebrews 12): they are witnesses of Jesus, who was not a martyr but a victim, a spotless Lamb who was killed for our sakes, murdered like Jara in front of hundreds. Jesus’ blood cries out to God from the ground as well, but it is not a cry for vengeance like Abel’s, or a voice of condemnation like the words against the self-righteous legalists. Jesus’ blood cries out to God for our forgiveness, to write our names in heaven, to enroll us as members of the new covenant of grace. Jesus’ blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, the words of Jara.

And speaking of heaven, look at the last verse of the song:

I'll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill

When will the stars fall from the sky? When will the moon turn red? Bono knows what St. John saw revealed to him by God ― these things will happen, literally and figuratively, on the last day. The full moon will become like blood, and the stars will fall to the earth like leaves to herald Christ’s coming (Revelation 6). Remember that this is a song for Bono’s friend, who preceded all of us into death. Abel, and Victor Jara, and Greg Carroll are not gone forever. We will see them again, when we see these signs, and more. When we see a new heaven and a new earth. When we see Christ himself, descending from the clouds in glory.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he. (Zechariah 9)

Maybe you already knew all of this. Maybe, like me, you didn’t.

But even if you did know this already, isn’t it nice to be reminded?

Coffee-in-hand: Faculty Lounge Swill.
Isn't this one of the most beautiful things you've ever seen?

I took this picture to have something to include with my article(s) on coffeegeek.com, but it turns out they didn't need it. So here's to all the potential of a full pot and two empty cups...


Welcome to Café Diem.

"Spend an hour, spend the day. Don't forget to stop and smell the beans."

Coffee-in-hand: Ethiopian Yrgacheffe