An Extravagant God Who Formed an Extravagant People {Book Club}

Any chapter that is entitled “Drinking Tea” had me at hello. This is how I became a tea drinker:

Right out of college a friend moved to Scotland as a “short-term cross-cultural worker” with her denom. Part of her three-year assignment was to visit the elderly in their homes. She was my friend, it was Scotland, I had grown up hearing about my Scottish roots. Of course, I visited. Of course.

So, there I was in my first little old Scottish lady’s home and she asked if I put milk or sugar in my tea. I said, “Milk.” And that is the story of how Amy became a tea drinker. To this day, I love my friend, I love Scotland, and I love black tea with milk.

What I loved about this chapter is the ways that Warren understands and encourages savoring as a discipline. Because we are drawn to beautiful things, it is understandable that we respond to gorgeous images on Instagram and perfect projects on Pinterest. But the problem is, instead of inspiring us and pointing us to something bigger, something beyond ourselves, something of God, they point a finger at us and whisper “not enough.”

Warren reminds us that “Pleasure is our deep human response to an encounter with beauty and goodness. In those moments of pleasure—of delight, enjoyment, awe, and revelry—we respond to God impulsively with our very bodies: ‘Yes, we agree! Your creation is very good.'”

I love that our physical response is also a way to engage God.

Even though she is writing from a predominantly North American perspective, when she said, “Our culture’s relationship is complex,” she could have been talking about any culture. Since most of us are from Western cultures, I bet you could relate to the two extremes she referenced: pleasure and pragmatism. “We are hedonistic cynics and gluttonous stoics. We spend endless energy and money seeking pleasure but we are never sated.” And “Pragmatism, another powerful cultural force, can denigrate our desire for beauty and enjoyment.”

I wanted to clap when I read, “A culture formed by the gospel will honor good and right enjoyment, celebration, and sensuousness.” Over the past few months, I have developed a talk that’s been a hit at local writing groups where I’ve given it. In essence, we look at the tension all writers must manage, the tension between craft and heart. Too much craft (good writing) but not enough heart can result in writing that reads like a manual. Too much heart and not enough craft is the sappy (I want to say “crap” but I don’t want to offend) writing that is great for 12 year-old-girls, but not for the rest of us.

We Christians have not been managing the tension well when it comes to beauty and savoring either. But then I read a chapter like this and I have hope. I really do. I know I’m wired to be on the side of optimism, but seriously people, “Coffee [tea!] is born of extravagance, an extravagant God who formed an extravagant people, who formed a craft out of the pleasures of roasted beans and frothed milk.”

She goes on to encourage us that we have the muscles to enjoy life, but we need to use them or they atrophy. “As busy, practical, hurried, and distracted people, we develop habits of inattention and miss these tiny theophanies in our day. But if we are fully alive and whole, no pleasure would be too ordinary or commonplace to stir up adoration.” First of all, I love the phrase tiny theophanies! Second of all, if we have developed the habit of inattention, this gives me hope that we can also develop the habit of attention.

Warrens tells the truth that it takes strength to enjoy the world. It does, but I feel so much more alive on the inside when I do. My day may look exactly the same on the outside. People are annoying or thoughtless, the weather is not ideal, the house is a bit of a natural disaster, and I made another cultural blunder, yet. Yet when I enjoy the world, when I enjoy my world and see the tiny theophanies, I am more alive. I am more me.

And it is not just about me, it is about us. The communal us. I appreciated in this chapter that Warren made space of individual and corporate savoring. This week is American Thanksgiving and while it is rooted in one country’s history, the idea of thankfulness and feasting and savoring go way back.

Which comes more naturally to you, individual or corporate delight? Are you a tea drinker? Or coffee? How did you become one? And what stood out to you in this chapter? I know it may be a full week, but what better time to practice savoring good writing then by commenting and letting us savor your thoughts.

See you in the comments,

Amy

P.S. Reading Plan for the upcoming weeks:

Liturgy of the Ordinary— November 27: Chapter 11

December will be short, stand-alone reads and book list posts, so jump in when you can!

December 4th — A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

December 11th —The House of The Seven Santas (to read online go here, for free on Kindle go here) by John Kendrick Bangs

Photo by Emily Rudolph on Unsplash

22 Comments

  1. Spring November 19, 2018

    I really liked her thoughts and her approach to the culture of pleasure. I agree that that appreciation vs addiction crosses into many cultures. Where we live they tend to believe that my passport country is the ideal. They also tend to think that simply by my ethnicity. At the same time I am aware that I have “more” than most around me. It’s a fine line we walk.

    I do believe corporate delight comes more naturally to me. I am in the habit of denying personal pleasure toward guilt, but if I am enjoying in a context with others, I can savor.

    I am very much a tea drinker. Funny my mother started me on coffee in high school. By coffee I mean the instant kind, which many call imitation coffee. She stopped in my late 20’s claiming that she heard it causes more wrinkles. I am not sure if it was that or the fact that while breastfeeding my first daughter she couldn’t tolerate me drinking coffee. I had been an occasional coffee drinker, but really in the last 5 years or so; I almost never drink it. I stopped taking sugar in my beverages around that time. Coffee to me isn’t tolerable without sugar.

    Tea though, increases in flavor without sugar! I just love a good cup of tea, even in the heat (which is good because where I live it’s pretty much always hot) My mother now also drinks tea, but she can’t drink it without sugar.

    I agree that there is so much hope in the giving attention and giving of thanks brings us to a better understanding of the way pleasure was intended to be practiced.

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      More wrinkles . . . never heard that :). Now I’m super curious.

  2. Marlene November 19, 2018

    This is way off the subject, but as someone who is preparing to teach a writer’s workshop in the spring, I’m impressed with the truth of your words about craft and heart. Any chance you have more good advice for me? You can reply to my email address. Thanks!

  3. Abigail November 19, 2018

    I like this chapter! It goes along with some life-giving things I’ve been reading the past 2 years from a like-minded Holy Yoga instructor. For me, coffee and tea. I didn’t drink coffee until I was in a beautiful rice-terrace Philippines village, where they wake up really early and drink locally grown hot coffee in those small camping tin mugs. They brew it with brown sugar, and there’s nothing like it. Now I make coffee with my Brazilian friend’s special filter, after heating the coffee on the stovetop. I’ve really noticed how in many Western churches, in the goal of protecting from all the harms around sex before marriage, we have run to the opposite extreme where after avoiding anything in any way sexy, women are expected to change instantly upon entering marriage. We avoid teachings on pleasure, and can feel like if anything makes us feel good, it must be somehow wrong. It takes 15 seconds for our brains to register delight, so even spending 15 seconds savoring with our 5 senses (just noticing the smell, warmth, and taste of a cup of coffee/tea) can really help embody gratitude.
    (If anyone is interested, I’ve found what the Holy Yoga instructor shares very helpful before I met my husband. https://youtu.be/GHO6Rc4d8Nk) 😊

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Thanks for the video! I agree that pleasure, when it comes to sex, is often talked about in language that is meant to be helpful but can cause as much damage as it is attempting to prevent!

      And while I’m not a coffee drinker, I LOVE the smell and wish I could visit and have you brew some coffee and I can breathe in the deliciousness 🙂

      1. Abigail November 20, 2018

        You’re so welcome! 😊And for years I only enjoyed the smell of coffee, so there’s still hope for you, lol. ❤️

  4. Michele November 19, 2018

    I’m actually not reading this book, mostly because it was started at such a crazy busy time for me. But I have still enjoyed the posts and can’t resist commenting on this one. It’s just so in line with what God has been speaking to me the last couple of days. I just moved after six years (same city, new flat and area), while also having hosted a team and my mom. I have been frustrated that it’s taking so long to finish things and settle in so I can focus on prayer and ministry. Yesterday morning He spoke to me about slowing down and just enjoying the new place, how enjoying making it the place of prayer I know He wants it to be also glorifies Him.
    I read this savoring a late breakfast and coffee. I started on coffee in high school Sunday school. I would come sooo sleepy and a friend told me coffee helped. The taste grew on me quickly, having grown up in a family where I’d smell it brewing every day. It was probably sometime in college it became an addiction. I was convicted of that and quit cold turkey my second year in Asia, actually dumping out the remains of a cup on the spot. I didn’t touch it for eight years, but on my first trip to India I was served it in a context where it would have been rude to refuse. That was also sweet and mostly milk whereas I’d always had it black, no sugar before. For a while I avoided black, fearing addiction again, but that’s what I’m enjoying now. I’ve been afraid of addiction off and on since I started drinking it again, but one of day a couple of years ago as I prayed about that, I heard God whisper that it was okay, it was His gift to me, and I think I really do savor it since then. I love the idea that coffee and tea (which I also really enjoy) show His extravagance. That thought makes me all the more thankful!

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Michele! Please always jump in when you have a thought or something to share. Even if you aren’t reading the book, you are wise and I enjoy hearing your thoughts :)!!!

      And I love how you were savoring breakfast and coffee and reading this post. God loves to be extravagant :). I need to remember that. Are you moved in now? Settled?

  5. Rachel Kahindi November 19, 2018

    I’m a coffee drinker. I became one in college. I got a part time job, and I had to work in the mornings because I mostly had afternoon classes. I needed a dose of caffeine before work… I usually turned to Dr Pepper, but one morning I was out. My roommate had bottled frappuccino, so I grabbed one, and I liked it. Then there was a slow progression over the years, from syrupy sweet coffees to black coffee.

    I like tea, too, especially Swahili spiced tea, when it’s very strong. And in Taiwan I started drinking bubble tea, and I love it but, you know there aren’t any bubble tea shops in this small town in coastal Kenya. I enjoy many drinks.

    I savor differently individually than I do corporately. I really love watching other people enjoy something. But I am also the one who will walk away from the group at the overlook to savor the view of the canyon on my own. And from there, I may still peek back to see how everyone else is enjoying the view.

    I appreciated the part about our enjoyment of pleasure becoming disordered. “Our ability to enjoy something is diminished to the extent that it becomes a false god. God alone can be both worshipped and enjoyed. All lesser things are meant to be enjoyed in their proper place, as they flow from the God who deserves all worship… Enjoyment requires discernment.” It’s good and important, but let’s be wise about it.

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Swahili spiced tea sounds amazing :). And bubble tea! Yes! So many wonderful things to drink in this world. You’ve actually inspired me that maybe I’ll get a bubble tea later this week as an act of savoring.

      Rachel, thanks for fleshing out what savoring individually and corporately looks like. Now you’ve got me reflecting on my own savoring — I need to think about this some more 🙂

  6. Suzanne November 20, 2018

    I am typing while sipping a cup of fragrant coffee. I knew that cappuccinos were named for the monks that developed them but never thought about it in terms of a God-given pleasure.

    Have you heard of the ‘indulgence’ category fairly recently added to the general descriptors of cultures in the Hofstede measures? My country, Australia, scores quite high in indulgence while my host country in Asia scores much lower. I bet that’s also why I savour God’s good gifts too while Korean colleagues are more likely to fast often and pray very early in the morning. Both have value. If you’re interested, check out country comparisons in the Hofstede thingo: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Suanne!!! I just went down a rabbit hole typing in countries and comparing them on the Hofstede site (thank you — mostly :)! for including it, that was a rabbit hole I didn’t anticipate, but I enjoyed. And I need to visit the site again!!!

      1. Suzanne November 21, 2018

        It’s a great rabbit hole, isn’t it. And quite useful.

  7. Maria Mullet November 20, 2018

    First of all, I was completely distracted by Amy’s friend moving to Scotland with her “demon.” That’s how I read that sentence and I was trying to figure it out – finally noticed the N and M were switched. Important switch. 🙂
    This chapter almost made me laugh – last night I decided to take this afternoon off – to splurge and go buy a Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks and pretend the rain is snow. I felt a bit guilty about it, but knew I needed some time with the brain in OFF mode. I sat down and pulled up my kindle app to read this week’s chapter —- really? Savoring? You mean I can lean into this moment and find something about the beauty of Jesus right here? So, so good.
    So many quotes by so many greats – I was so struck by the Chesterton quote “for we have sinned and our Father is younger than we” the Lewis quote to let my mind “run back up the sunbeam to the sun” and the Dillard quote “creation need not play to an empty house.” So asm I sit here and savor right here right now, I am trying to “read” this pleasure. What is God saying to me in this?
    I wonder if I become too careful about pleasure because I want to avoid addiction – I’m afraid of the tension. I think that could be a reality for me.
    Anyone else really sad for this book to end?
    And I’m definitely a coffee drinker – but I love me some tea too! I pretty much love all drinks…

    1. Sarah Hilkemann November 20, 2018

      Maria, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who read it as demon first too. Haha. 😀 😉

    2. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Maria and Sarah! Ha :). What’s super funny is I told the Instagram team last week that I have a mild reading disability and normally I can work around it, but every now and then it messes with me. Last week it was pretty funny :). I was reading in 1 Corinthians and read that Santa is an angel of darkness. I thought, “Wait, that doens’t seem quite right. What is Santa doing in the Bible?” HAHAHA — Satan is an angel of darkness. My brain switched the letters :).

      And I’m sad for the book to end.

      And I love how you are listening to what God has for you when it comes to pleasure and tension!

  8. Camila November 20, 2018

    I’m really enjoying this book it has spoken volumes to me. I enjoy coffee and tea… I remember drinking tea at school. We would have to take a cup from home and a snack they would give us sweet milky tea!
    At the weekend I was at an art gallery with my two children and there was a quote above the paintings that captured my attention and echoed this chapter:
    ‘Blessed are those who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’ Camille Pissarro.
    I really liked it!

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Wow! What a great quote Camila. I liked it so much i shared on instagram and gave you credit for sharing it 🙂

  9. Sarah Hilkemann November 20, 2018

    I loved this chapter! I’m not a tea drinker but have always wished I could like it. I am a slow coffee drinker though, and this morning I was reading the chapter (a tad late) as I enjoyed a creamy cup of 1/2 Gloria Jeans Butter toffee and 1/2 dark roast decaf with half and half. It was the perfect companion for reading about delighting and tasting God’s goodness. This year I read the book “What’s Your God Language” by Myra Perrine, and mine is loving God through my senses. I thought this was really strange at first, but realized that some of the moments where my heart was stirred, where I felt God’s presence so keenly, were in gorgeous European cathedrals, or at musical performances, or feeling warm sunlight while sipping coffee. It was so good to read about delighting in these things while not going so far as needing more and more, overindulging and heading toward addiction.

    This was probably the quote that resonated with me the most: “I have to learn to surrender, to give up my flimsy illusion of control, and relax into beauty.”

    1. Amy Young November 20, 2018

      Ohhh that’s good Sarah. “Relax into beauty.” So life-giving and challenging because it is deceptively simple and complex 🙂

  10. Felicity Congdon November 26, 2018

    I enjoyed this chapter also. It has caused me to slow down and savor moments with people I love. Realizing each moment with these people is a gift to savor. Especially with my kids, on this Thanksgiving…the only Thanksgiving when they will be 4, 6, and 8. Life is ever changing and I want to savor moments with them. Especially when they want a hug or want to cuddle. I’m not a physical touch person so I often rush through those moments and miss them, but this chapter has helped me to slow down and enjoy them.

    I also appreciated Tish’s pointing out how the Church, universally, has created and enjoyed extravagant things. I loved hearing about the East African church where they served coke for communion because wine nor grape juice was not available, but coke was the most extravagant drink available.

    I think corporate delight comes more naturally for me. Maybe it’s because for me many of my most memorable extravagant food moments were experienced in the context of Christian community–an amazing Christmas dinner with a huge family in the snowy mountains of Slovenia when I was a young college grad, an delicious Easter brunch prepared by a friend a few years ago, my first bubble tea with friends in China. It can me hard for me to savor things on my own. When I have a yummy snack, I tend to save it for “just the right moment.” Sometimes the moment never comes and my husband is ever reminding me that if I don’t eat the special snack it’s going to go bad and he would be happy to eat it for me.

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