Posted by: Adam Roper | July 3, 2009

The Art of Drinking Part 3: Yerba Mate

What is Yerba Mate?

Yerba Mate is a form of tea that is common in parts of South America- namely Paraguay. In these parts Yerba Mate is shared in community, with the passing of Yerba in a circle of friends- as common as meeting at a coffee place, or offering tea to guests at a dinner party.

I believe Mennonite culture had a lot to do with introducing Yerba to parts of North America. In the early 20th century a large number of Mennonites emigrated to Paraguay to escape religious persecution, and to establish farming communities (for more information check out this article). It makes sense, then, that Yerba Mate is easy to find in areas where Mennonite farmers hang out- like Manitoba and Abbotsford .

Finding Yerba Mate

One of the more well known companies that produces Yerba Mate is Pajarito, located in Paraguay. Another more available brand is Guayaki.

Finding places to buy mate might be a bit of a challenge at first. In Abbotsford there is a Flooring/Import Store two stores away from Thumper’s Patch on George Ferguson. In other cities you can try asking around at coffee or tea places that carry fair trade stuff. If finding it still poses a challenge, there is always the option of buying Yerba online.

Making Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate is traditionally served using a Guampa and a Bombilla, but is also available in tea bags. A Guampa is basically a cup, and a Bombilla is a straw used to drink the Yerba. Over time a Guampa absorbs the flavor of Yerba, allowing a more full bodied flavor every time you drink from it.

Bombillas are generally made with stainless steel, but I prefer using a Bombilla made from Bamboo. A Bamboolla, as it were, does not contract heat from the Yerba as much, and does not leave a metallic taste as it breaks down with use. A Bamboola, like a Gourd, also absorbs the flavor of Yerba, adding to the flavor considerably. When washing out the Gourd you should probably avoid using soap, as this might make the Yerba taste weird.

You could try making your own bombilla out of bamboo, and use a ceramic cup as a substitute for a Gourd, or you can order both of these online.

Preparing the Yerba is pretty straightforward:

  1. Fill half, or three fourths, of the Gourd/Guampa with Yerba.
  2. Pour hot, not boiling, water into the Gourd until it’s full.
  3. Insert the Bombilla (usually I put the Bombilla in before adding the Yerba, but either way works).
  4. Enjoy.
  5. After drinking all the water fill up Gourd again.
  6. You can repeat this 5-6 times, until the Yerba loses flavour.

As with coffee, the more you try Yerba the more you notice differences in flavor in different types. As well you might not like it the first couple times you try it, but once you get used to the initial weirdnesses in the taste (much like coffee) you might start to like the rich peppery taste, reminiscent of standing on a prairie farm just after sunset.

For further reading, these three blogs focus specifically on Yerba Mate:

  1. Yerba Mate Gourd
  2. Yerba Mate Tea
  3. Tea on Tuesday: What is Yerba Mate?

Cheers.

Next Chapter: Theological Reflections on Alcohol. Stay tuned.

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Posted by: Adam Roper | June 24, 2009

The Art of Drinking, Part 2: Tea

As much as I love coffee, and visiting the dark earth-toned designed coffee places of Vancouver, every so often it’s nice to appreciate the lightness and simplicity of a tea house. There’s a cafe on Commercial Drive called Prado Cafe that illustrates the difference between coffee shops and tea houses- a place on the corner of one of the streets with clean white walls, simple tables, and big windows. It’s the kind of place you could spend an hour or two resting in the more uncomplicated aspects of existence, away from the complex conversations and abstract considerations that coffee seems to bring (Though I guess this depends on the tea you are drinking. Some varieties of black tea, like Pu-Ehr, are darker and more earthy than other teas).

Tea is another one of those things that has existed for centuries, though recently big food companies have tried to make it seem more trendy and cool so they can make money off it. First it was Ginseng, then Green Tea, then Roobios. Now Yerba Mate is starting to make its rounds.

Even so, this doesn’t change the nature of tea in the way it brings people together, in the way it’s flavor can calm a person one minute and strir them the next. This is, perhaps, the reason some Middle-Eastern cultures have viewed the act of sharing tea as peace making. The recent bestseller Three Cups of Tea is, in fact, driven by this concept:

“The first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea you become family.”

Tea serves both aesthetic and deeply communal purposes. Drinking tea alone can inspire you as much as seeing red bicycles in Paris, or watching the rain for a few hours safe behind a bedroom window. In community the act of sharing tea of tea can dismantle bitterness and disagreement between people, given there are mediators and a willingness to change or resolve issues (which is maybe easier said than done. Who could have ever imagined, growing up, that the world would be so difficult to change?).

Now, the tea itself: When it comes to making tea there is not a mystical or complicated series of steps you must take, and there is no need to buy the latest fancy percolating tea maker promising the best possible infusion (I think infusion is just a word pretentious people use to sell things). Really it’s just a matter of getting the tea into the water. If you are using loose leaf tea you can:

  1. Use a handmade tea basket. These things are actually pretty cool, and they make me feel like a hippie when I use them. You can find them at any specialty tea store or fair-trade place.
  2. Use cloth tea bags. I’ve tried these before and they are interesting, though a bit of a bugger to clean.
  3. Use a tea infuser those metal ball-like contraptions that look like they could be used as a trap for very small mice.
  4. Just put the tea in the pot by itself. This works well with loose green tea. A teaspoon or two per pot is enough. I wouldn’t suggest this if you’re using a mug instead of a teapot.

Other teas, like chai or spice teas, taste good if you boil the tea first then add milk and honey, then bring to a medium temperature, making sure to strain the tea before serving.

When it comes to choosing which teas to drink, this also does not need to be a hugely complicated process. Some of the best teas I’ve tried are also the most common and inexpensive. My favorites so far are as follows:

Celestial Seasonings – For being a bigger company Celestial Seasonings has some really good tea. And the packaging is not too bad either, filled with fun pictures to look at and quotes to read.  My favorites are their Bengal Spice, Sleepytime, and Decaf Mint Green teas.

Yorkshire of Harrogate– Taylor’s of Harrogate has a tea called “Yorkshire” which is the best English tea that I’ve tried so far. You can drink it by itself, with a bit of sugar, or with milk and sugar. It’s great for afternoon tea dates with that special someone, or for a casual gathering of friends on a Sunday afternoon.

Mighty Leaf Tea – Most coffee shops will carry Mighty Leaf tea. This one is a bit on the expensive side, but it’s well worth the extra buck or two. Their teas also make letters to pen-pals all the more appealing. Their Vanilla Bean is pretty good, and they have a great Chamomile Citrus.

Just Us! – Just Us!, available at Ten Thousand Villages, sells great fair trade chai, green, and darjeeling teas. Next time you’re on Commercial Drive stop in and pick some up.

Market Spice – This tea originated in Seattle’s Pike Place Market- a place that everyone should visit at least twice in their lifetime. This tea is no different. If you get the chance to visit Pike Place try and track down the Market Spice store and pick some up.

If you want to think outside the tea box, you can try London Fogs and Chai Lattes. A London Fog is a bit like a latte made with earl gray tea and vanilla syrup, and a chai latte is a latte made with chai tea instead of espresso shots. You can usually tell a lot about how much a coffee place cares about their drinks by how well they make these two drinks, though they are on the slightly pricier side. If you have a milk frother, and a bit of vanilla syrup, you could save tons of money by making these at home.

Flowers / Herbs– You can pick up a good chamomile tea or a good mint tea anywhere you go, but if you really want to get fancy you can try planting a small chamomile / mint garden on your back deck! Nothing says “bah, I’m bored and lonely and have nothing to do this summer” better than planting your own small garden.

Cheers.

Next Time: Yerba Mate’. Stay Tuned.

Posted by: Adam Roper | June 20, 2009

The Art of Drinking, Part 1: Coffee

I thought it was about time to share with you my love for coffee, tea, wine, and every other drink that seems to inspire ones artistic side.

So this next short series will focus on drinks- how to enjoy them, and how they can inspire creativity. Rest assured, this will probably be the longest of all the entries in this series. If I come across sounding way too much like one of those pretentious chefs on the Food Channel who always, for some reason, wear white pants please tell me. That said-

Part 1: Coffee

Starbucks is like the MTV of coffee. Coffee has always existed, but it wasn’t a big deal until a big company came along and decided to make it fashionable so it could appeal to a large audience (the metaphor can go in any number of directions). Even so, the key thing that Starbucks did was bring to awareness the truth that coffee from South America tastes drastically different than coffee from Africa. Essentially they were the first big company to make a point out of telling you where the coffee your are drinking is from.

One simple truth- that can also be applied to chocolate and… everything really- is that when a corporation realizes they can get rich off a product they will do everything in their power to produce as much as possible, making the quality of a said product more of an afterthought than a priority. With chocolate especially, a product that should be savored as a luxury is mass consumed, and eventually the appreciation is reduced to a fast and easy consumption.

I say this because coffee is often written off as ‘just a product’ instead of being contentiously enjoyed. Coffee, like all other drinks, is a work of art in the way that it’s made, in the way it brings together community, and in the way that preparing it in the best possible way brings a warm roasted flavor specific to how, and where, it was grown and roasted. To never experience this side of coffee is to miss out on the very essence of coffee.

A Disclaimer: I don’t hate Starbucks, or the coffee they sell. What I’m suggesting is a slightly better, and more affordable, way to do coffee.

Here is some practical advice on how to enjoy coffee:

1) Use a French Press I have found, personally, that French Presses make the best coffee. I’ve also found that a smaller sized drip coffee maker (instead of the huge ones with the big glass pots) also make a good coffee. Just make sure to use acid-free recycled filters.  And if you can avoid coffee made in unholy giant metal urns! It’s ironic, really, that so many churches use these things. Bah.

1.2) Keep in mind that coffee starts to lose freshness a week after roasting, and even faster when it’s ground. So try to purchase whole bean coffee and grind it at home when you can. The exception is if you are making coffee for a large group, and the coffee will be used up relatively quickly. In that case buying pre-ground coffee makes things a bit easier.

2) Buy a locally roasted coffee. No excuses- every city in North America is sure to have a place that roasts coffee within a hundred miles from your house. And finding them should not be an exhaustive expedition.

3) Find a coffee company you like. My favorites so far, in British Columbia, are Level Ground Coffee, Salt Spring Island, Kicking Horse, and JJ Bean. Other companies I enjoy- which are more widely available across Canada- are Ethical Bean and Just Us! Coffee.

You can find these coffees at any local artsy coffee place, at Ten Thousand Villages, even at Safeway (which for me is a last resort, because they mark up the price of the coffees quite a bit).

3.2) Every city has its own unique coffee culture, with its artsy shops known only to the locals. If you are ever in a city (like Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, etc) try to find out where the good coffee is.

4) Insist on Fair Trade. In the coffee industry, for the growers specifically, the price of coffee is the difference between poverty and sustainability. If you want to get informed on how Fair Trade affects the farmers of coffee the best place to look is the documentary Black Gold.

Actually, you can watch Black Gold in it’s entirety on youtube, right here.

5) Enjoy. This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer- Drink one country at a time. To start, try buying one pound of coffee from a specific country and drink only that coffee for one month (or however long it takes you to finish a pound). After that buy a different country and drink only that coffee and so on.

With the act of drinking one coffee coffee at a time you can start to see what makes the coffee/country unique. As well, after doing this technique of coffee drinking it becomes easier to notice the unique characteristics of each coffee. A great place to start is with Level Ground’s Cafe La’ Paz, or their Cafe Mbeya .

Now for some other fun resources / further reading:

1) on their website JJ Bean has a section titled Coffee Basics– a fascinating look at how to enjoy the taste of coffee in the best possible way. The following is an excerpt:

A practical way to think of a coffee’s flavor is to ask “what does this taste like?” Here is a narrow sample of the types of flavors you might encounter in coffee:

Earth: Soil, Clay
Smoke: Tobacco, Charcoal
Spice: Pepper, Cloves, Pine
Chocolate: Cocoa, Dark Chocolate
Berries: Raspberries, Black-currants, Strawberries
Citrus: Orange Lemon, Grapefruit, Bergamot Orange

2) The website “Stuff White People Like” features an article on Coffee.  And “Stuff Christians Like” posted an article awhile ago on why Christians like coffee.

Next Chapter: Tea… Stay tuned.

Posted by: Adam Roper | June 15, 2009

Questions regarding Mewithoutyou

A couple nights ago a friend of mine, who works with a local Christian retailer, told me that Mewithoutyou’s new record, “It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, It’s All a Dream, It’s Alright” is not being carried or sold. The main reason for this, my friend mentioned offhandedly, was that the distributor of music for the said retailer thought the album was too controversial because of the closing track- “Allah Allah Allah” (you can listen to the whole song here).

I really appreciate this retailer because they have a full selection of great artists/bands, and they have a commitment to supporting smaller musicians, though I do have my critiques. I’m trying to understand the standard this song violated- what there is about the song that deems the album unacceptable.

So my question: What is there that is offensive in this song? To begin let’s take a look at the lyrics:

In everywhere we look (x6)
Allah, Allah, Allah
In everywhere we look

In everyone we meet (x6)
Allah, Allah, Allah
In everyone we meet

In every blade of grass (x6)
Allah, Allah, Allah
In every blade of grass

It doesn’t matter what you done
It doesn’t matter what you done
What effect is without a cause?
It doesn’t matter what you done
Now lay your faithless head down
In necessities cotton hand
There’s a love that never changes
No matter what you done

If your old man did you wrong (x3)
Well maybe his old man did him wrong
If you care to sing forgiveness songs
Come down and join our band
We’ll cut you like sword
And sing forgiveness songs

In what ways has this song crossed the line or failed to meet the standard?

Is this album not carried because the content would offend some Christians? This might be the response of a Christian retailer seeking to reach every congregation, disqualifying art that would appeal to one type of Christians though would offend another type. But why, then, does the retailer choose to carry books that support an Emerging/Emergent worldview which is criticized heavily by, among others, John MacArthur?

Is it because the song seems to support a worldview other than an agreed upon worldview? Does all this talk of “Allah everywhere we look” come with the danger of contradicting Christian theology?

I could talk for hours about this and give my opinion at length, but I would rather have a conversation. What do you think? Why is this controversial?

For the record I do recognize that this is not a big deal. You can still buy the album on iTunes, Amazon, and at HMV (hint hint) so why does it matter that one retailer doesn’t carry it? I could always buy it somewhere else (and you could also 😉 ). Maybe I’m just focusing too much on the negative. Yes, I am.

Even so. Let’s talk.

Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | June 3, 2009

dry seasons and grace

On this lazy afternoon, the 4 or 5th of many this past month, I thought I should sit down and explain the reason for the infrequency of writings and articles here as of late (how was that for a run-on sentence! ah ha ha!).

The reason I haven’t been writing much is that I’ve been pretty dry, artistically speaking, for the past two months. My thinking on the nature of art has been pretty drained, and I’ve only managed to write about 2 decent/publishable/readable poems. I am not lazy, contrary to popular belief.

This, again, begs the question: How do we, as artists, manage with dry seasons?

Dry seasons can be completely unexplainable- sometimes we just feel a general numbness and inability to be moved by beautiful days, cool nights, fresh mornings, new realizations, great music, etc. Even when we are moved by them our ability to transpose the effect of these beautiful things into an artistic form (a song, a phrase, a picture, a painting, a color, a tone or sound) feels bothersome and difficult.

At the same time the root of dry seasons are not impossible to trace: perhaps we become dry because of unemployment, because of periods of disconnection from community or other forms of intimate connection, because of depression, because the place called home feels disappointing, because of doubts and issues that can’t be solved in 5 easy steps; the reasons are endless.

For whatever reason, I am in a dry season right now. What can I do besides ride it out with the hope that my senses will wake up again, things will effect me in unexplainable ways, the reminders grace of everyday life that God places here and there will come into focus, this will not last forever. Sometimes we need dry seasons to remind ourselves that we are not indestructible, that we are human, that every act of creativity comes from the depths of our desire for acceptance and validation.

As I always say, if everything was easy life would be boring. If all we ever felt was good we would never feel the need to question, explore, or revist our assumptions about what being human means. If anything in dry seasons we learn that artistic inspiration (something not limited to “artists” in the literal sense”) comes to us when feel good and when we feel bad. It is in these places that the places that grace is hidden become more clear: in places we can only see when we stop to notice. The nature of grace is that it comes to meet us when we need it the most.

Where am I? And where am I going? These are the questions I have to ask myself in all this. Why do we have dry seasons? The same reason why we have seasons of inspiration: So new things can grow and become born in us, so we learn new things that could not have been learned any other way.

The journey continues. Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 27, 2009

How to write letters

In recent years writing letters has become a lost art form, placed on the back-burner in favor of more convenient and efficient forms of communication (texting anyone?). But I believe the more we give in to excess instant communication our ability to offer our simple everyday stories and experiences is lessened.

Sitting down to write a letter after writing countless messages online can feel awkward and uncomfortable, though it is a relationship with it’s own joys and insights. The pen pal relationship has it’s specific and interesting dynamics, in the same way that a close-friend relationship differs greatly from a room-mate relationship. To miss out on having a pen-pal relationship is missing out on something really beautiful.

Also, it’s just nice to receive a letter every so often from a friend. It comes with the thought that “someone stopped to think about me for a little while”. Knowing we are thought of is one of the greatest affirmations we can find- the sort that is offered instead of asked for.

So, to make a case for the art of letter writing I will offer practical advice on how to build, and maintain, any good pen-pal relationship:

1) Firstly, Find a pen pal: A pen pal could be any random person you can find to write letters to, from the girl you had a crush on in summer camp 3 years ago to the friend of a friend’s neighbor’s sister you met on facebook. You could find out the address of someone from your home town you haven’t talked to in awhile; you could start sponsoring a child through Compassion and write to him/her; or you could trade addresses with a friend who is traveling in a foreign country for a year (like Paraguay or Winnipeg).

Though in the end the best pen-pal relationships are those you stumble into randomly without trying.

2) Write a letter– If you haven’t written a letter in a long time this could be the hardest part. “What should I talk about???”; “What is interesting about my life???” are the initial reactions you may have. Start by just saying how you are doing, what things are going on in your life, what your plan for the next day/week/month is. Ask a few questions (avoid too many). If you’re still drawing a blank try describing where you are sitting, what the weather is like, what kind of tea you are drinking, what you’re listening to, etc.

If you find your first few letters feel you are grudgingly making your way through the writing process try journaling. Through journaling we find ways to articulate, in understandable terms, how our interactions with the world become the careful process of understanding. Once you have a good sense of  reflecting your thoughts and stories into a written form letter writing becomes a little easier, and way more enjoyable.

3) Creativity: A little while ago I started using construction paper to write because a) It’s cheap, b) It comes in lots of fun colors and c) It’s pretty easy to write on. As well it makes letters more interesting to open up and read. In letter writing you can try any number of things to make the finished product more intriguing for the recipient. Some suggestions:

  1. Use a square sized paper and write on the outside edges in a circle, writing in smaller squares until you reach the middle of the paper.
  2. Write a letter and fold it into an origami shape. Or if you suck at origami make a paper airplane.
  3. Soak some paper in tea, and dry it before using it to write.
  4. Go to a paper store and buy some hand-made paper… or learn how to make your own hand-made paper using recycled materials.
  5. Make your own envelope out of card-stock. Any craft store will have a wide assortment of card-stock with many artsy designs (As long as you don’t become one of those people who hang out in craft stores and own cats).
  6. Try writing a letter, or a poem, on a paper cup or a sleeve from a coffee place. You could even write a story about things you observed while enjoying the content of the cup. For extra measure you can seek out coffee places that use plain white cups instead of cups printed with inane logos and designs.

4) Tea– Keeping in mind that the letter writing process should have a fair amount of consideration for the recipient (writing a letter you know they would like) try including a few bags of your favorite tea with the letter. This will give the reader something to enjoy while they take time to ruminate on the contents of your letter.

5) Leaves– If you are writing a letter in the fall try collecting, and pressing, some red/orange/yellow leaves to send with the letter. If it’s spring time press and send a flower. Sending a bit of plant life with a letter gives the reader a sense of the season in which the letter was written, and the stuff that was growing around your house in the writing process. As well this adds to the aesthetic value of a letter.

For this reason I find the best time to write letters is in the beginning of summer and the middle of fall. Seeing the beauty of a season’s unfolding weather-changes always inspires thoughts worth sharing. Write on a rainy day, or write in place where you can see a lot of trees.

6) Photographs– If you have a spare photograph or two lying around that you have always wanted to share with a friend try sending it. Or shop around for an old camera in a thrift shop and experiment with taking actual pictures to go with your actual letter. It’s a bit more original than doing everything digitally.

7) Boxes– If you want to get really creative try spending the extra time creating a package to go with your letter. Usually this is reserved for moms who send cookies to their college kids, but whatever. Try finding a shoe-box and filling it with CDs, pictures, scraps from magazines, small paintings, poems, books found at a thrift store, etc. As well try and make the contents of the box special: Send fair trade chocolate instead of “chocolate bars”; avoid stuffing the box with too much weird stuff; Send fresh tea instead of that 4 year old box of Orange Pekoe in the back of your cupboard; Send stuff appropriate to the person you are writing to.

8 ) Honesty– Be honest with yourself in the letter. A pen-pal relationship, like all your other relationships, an actual relationship. In the same we that we try being present with a person we are having a conversation with we must try and be present in our letters. As I said in an earlier post, the conversation should never feel one-sided.

9) Finally, Etiquette– Do not be a letter stalker, sending a new one 4-6 times a week! Especially if the response you get is less than exciting. Sending way too many unwelcome letters is on par, in terms of creepiness, with stopping into a person’s house all the time even when uninvited. As with any relationship you have to have a realistic definition of what the relationship actually is- as opposed to what you would like it to be, or what you wish it could be.

The pen-pal friendship is a mutual exchange. If the other person who could care less don’t sweat over long over-worked messages.

Once you have developed a friendship with a person you write letters to try and stay in contact when possible. I usually wait until I receive a letter back before I write a new one (to ensure we are both on the same page). You have to maintain a relationship because losing a friendship is like losing a favorite shirt.

Cool. I hope you find much joy and affirmation in the art of writing letters soon.

Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 16, 2009

Summer Records

In honor of the fact that I’m broke, and that it’s almost summer, I thought I would take a minute to acknowledge some great new music I’m listening to. Most of these albums will most likely hold a special place in the heart of my summer-music collection (the stuff you listen to on a rainy day on the back-deck after a long day of work). In the next couple weeks I will try to work on some reviews for some of these records, and post them somewhere here.

Feel free to check out all of these in the next few weeks/ months/years thereafter of the summer.

Patrick Watson: Wooden Arms

Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career

Dark Was the Night

Mat Kearney: City of Black and White

The Tremulance: Polaroids

St. Vincent: Actor

Pilot Speed (formerly Pilate): Wooden Bones

Sheree Plett: Red Circled Heart and Eisenhaur: Time of Year (not pictured).

Jeff Hawker: Dark Before Dawn

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 15, 2009

Further Reflections on Vocations & Discipleship

Journal Entry 1: May 14th, 2009, 10:58pm.

A couple days ago I decided to face the reality of my vocational existence. As such I decided that, though I appreciate these things, I will never pursue any sort of career in the following:

1) Publishing (including submissions to major periodicals)
2) The Coffee Industry
3) Photography
4) Music
5) Journalism
6) Videography / The Film Industry
7) Painting
8 ) Graphic Design
9) Body-Building
10) Public Speaking
11) Financial Planning

It may sound like I’m limiting myself completely here, but what I’m actually doing is allowing myself more room to stretch- as instead of trying to do ten different things half-assedly, I want to pursue my vocation (which, ideally, should flow naturally from a strong identification with my specific gifts and passions). When we are free from the illusions we have regarding better careers (some of which we hold onto our entire lives, always dreaming of “something better”) we can begin to face the actual reality of pursuing a vocation.

And with realizing which things I shouldn’t be wasting time on, I have much fewer romantic illusions regarding careers I really know nothing about. If I am honest with myself I can freely enjoy an art form instead of acting like I know everything about any job, making it frustrating for professionals committed to a trade.

So, basically, I’m trying to make a clear distinction between my Hobbies and my Vocation- so I can enjoy doing things like music and painting and photography, while actively pursuing a career in Youth Ministry (my chosen vocation).

Journal Entry 2: May 15th, 2009, 4:35pm.

Today I decided that, instead of pursuing a job aggressively, I will intentionally take the next two weeks to find some sense of perspective and healing. I think this is better in the long run. I’ve kind of been running away from the reality that I’ve been pretty broken for the past four months, and that I should probably do something about it instead of avoiding the difficult process of seeking help (while hoping all the difficult stuff will just go away, whether or not I care to admit it).

The wrong thing to do would be downplaying my personal issues, in favor of a “just get over it” approach. I think the only way I can really find healing is by admitting that I need healing. And sometimes such healing requires us to take a step back, trying to see things from a greater perspective.

I’ve also come to believe that healing is a long process. It’s a lot like the concept of discipleship. Instead Discipleship, much like vocation, requires us to form our entire life around actually seeking to do what Christ did (instead of having our faith be something we do on the side as part of the routine, like a “job”). Vocations, Healing, and Discipleship are 3 different concepts illustrating the same point.

I think this is why Vocation, and life in general, has it’s difficulties- if everything was easy we would never have any reason to take things seriously, and we would never have any reason to care about being human.

To conclude, I will admit that when things are difficult it’s easy to neglect our emotional/physical health, but we really need to stop and take care of ourselves every so often. Learning to love oneself  is the most unselfish thing we can do.

Hmm. Deep breath. Sigh. The journey continues…

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 14, 2009

Personal Finances: The Vocational Approach

Some concluding reflections:

I’ll admit that finances are not something I think extensively about, but rather only something I grapple with on a daily basis, trying to figure out the best approach. I suppose the same goes with anything in life- we can claim to understand a great many things, but only really understand one or two things.

So, my growing theory on finances has become similar to my growing approach to life itself: always changing and growing into the changes.

A little while ago a read a book that discussed the purpose of “Vocation” as an element of adult psychology. The author suggested that there is a difference between a person’s Career and a person’s Vocation. Pursuing a career is something you can do apart from life- as just another detail- but pursuing Vocation is forming your entire life around specific pursuits inherent to your growth, experience, and passions.

The reason why Finances are such a vague and unorganized concept for many people is that the culture they are growing up pulls them in a thousand different directions. Rather than pursue one vocation we are constantly barraged by the idea that there is something else, something better, than what we are doing. We jump from one thing to the next, never growing in one specific area, and our finances are dragged with us.

If we ever hope to become more intentional and capable with our finances, we have to approach them holistically. We have to form our entire lives around the idea of being more responsible with how we deal with our finances, as opposed to our finances being something we do on the side.

The reflective approach to finances could start in the most simple ways- by, each month, writing down on a piece of paper how much you earn, then subtracting how much bills/phones/food will cost. From there you can decide what else is essential to you. From there you can even budget in a certain amount to give to a charity each month.

To go deeper, to be reflective with money is to, eventually, lose your dependence on your money. If you, like me, have become dependant on buying coffee, CD’s, concert tickets, etc. for a primary source of fulfillment, you have to re-think things.

The reflective approach will, eventually, require you to ask who is dependent on your money. When you shop for food will you choose to buy the cheapest item, which is probably shipped from other countries, or will you seek out places that sell locally. If you have a passion for organic foods and find them horrendously expensive- which a lot of them are- … well, the answer isn’t easy. If you want to support local or organic you have to decide to form your entire approach to food and eating around being able to afford to support ethical food sources. Maybe this means buying less snack-food? Or buying bulk and re-using the same packaging?

That said, there is also a lot of organic food products that are more fashionable than practical… these you can disregard. I’m not suggesting we should all start buying only soy-bacon, and shopping only in the organic section. What I’ve found to be effective is forming a diet around actual food, like produce and fruit.

It’s actually pretty amazing how much money you can save buying vegetables and fruit in season, rather than buying dinner in a box/can/bag. This might even mean learning how to can food, so you have a readily available supply of food that is in season. If you are too lazy to do this, consider joining a co-op, or starting one.

Supporting local merchants is vital in the current economy. To return to my “buying local” idea, I fully understand that items like coffee and tea are impossible to grow locally.  So my challenge, then, is seek to purchase things that are fairly traded- like coffee. And purchase coffee that is roasted locally. Many farmers are as dependent on our support as local people selling that coffee.

With all these things said, my confession stands. I am one of those people that tries to understand everything but only really understands one or two things. If you want a more reliable approach to beginning to become better with finances, or with becoming responsible with purchasing, you can look into these resources:

Alan Schram – I can’t say enough good about Alan’s “Saving For Serenity”  blog. If you ever need practical tips on anything pertaining to finances, or life in general, this is as good a place as any to start.

Michael Pollan’s Blog– Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” offers his reflections on establishing a lifestyle around choosing more ethical food sources.

I still have a lot to learn, as it turns out. Let’s continue this conversation.

Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Roper | May 11, 2009

Personal Finances Part 3: Contentment

(a brief aside in my conversation on finances).

I have a confession to make: when I’m depressed I buy things.

The story that brought me to this realization goes like this: A couple days ago the camp I applied to work for called and and said they were unable to hire me, which made me kind of down. Later that day, after biking to a tea-shop with a friend, I stopped into future shop and bought some new CDs. A couple of the CDs were slightly overpriced, and I could have shopped around for them, but I didn’t care much. I just wanted something new to hold in my hands, something to distract me from from current job situation.

On the bike ride home it occurred to me  how dependent I have become on my spending habits as a source of joy and- dare I say- validation.

The truth is for many, myself included, shopping can be therapeutic. It can also lead to carelessness with our finances. So, a key aspect in a reflective approach to finances is asking what effect my spending habits have on my emotions/ how my emotions effect how I spend.

The love of music, and the desire to purchase it is fair, but I believe there is always a better way we can treat our desire. When my friend Jeff came to visit he suggested that I wait to buy CDs- buy one CD a month, enjoy it thoroughly, then next month choose to purchase another. In any given year there are 5-10 albums that I discover which are must-owns. So instead of buying them all at once, why not just buy one or two at a time and choose to be content?

Contentment is a guiding factor in many of the purchases we make. Lack of it leads to carelessness, and a greater amount of it makes careful consideration more imaginable. Sometimes we have to stop and ask the question  “Where will I look for my contentment?” Will I find my contentment in things that are free- conversation with friends, bike rides, listening to music- or will I find my contentment in needing to own new things constantly?

Really what I should be doing is learning to be content with things I have, and learning to love things I own in completely different ways, while still being able to enjoy the occasional joy of holding something new in my hands (in this case, paper CD cases). And with the money I save spending less I could choose to give more. There are a lot of causes in this world that probably need my money more than I need ten new CDs.

To be continued…

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