Back From The Decaf World

Well, I made it. 46 days of Lent, without caffeine, and I survived.

I woke up early this morning and brewed a pot of coffee—REAL coffee, not the “decaf” stuff I’ve been drinking for the last six and a half weeks—and set about to enjoy my day.

And it’s a beautiful day. Life with caffeine seems so much more colorful than the decaf world.

And now, having completed the Lenten sacrifice—which was really more in the spirit of scientific experimentation than religious self-denial anyway—I think I’ll return to the world of “regular’ coffee, real tea, and an occasional caffeinated soda.

I won’t return to the same caffeine levels I was consuming before, though. By late last year, I was drinking a couple of cups of coffee at home before going to work, a few more during the morning hours, and then, after lunch, a Monster energy drink to get me through the afternoon. I may just say goodbye the Monsters forever now, and cut way back on those morning coffees.

Because, honestly, I found that I could get myself going just about as well without the caffeine as with it. I’m pretty much a morning person—a “lark,” rather than an “owl,” if you will—so getting out of bed is never a problem, whether or not there’s a pot of coffee in my immediate future. And to be honest, I think I was just as productive, if not more so, without caffeine than with it. Over these last six and a half weeks, I’ve:

  • Worked through six deadline Thursdays, including two oversized “special issues,” one of which kept me at work for 18 hours;
  • attended and covered a huge three-day industry conference in Louisville—and drove there and back;
  • conceived and developed a new writing project that’s going to keep me busy this summer;
  • had my best month of running since last July;
  • gave a speech at a Rotary Club; and
  • participated in a larger-than-usual number of meetings and other events, among other things. It was a very busy Lent for me.

…all without a drop of caffeine. There were a few cups of hot chocolate in there, which arguably might have a wee bit of caffeine, but I never really felt it.

And I managed to stay away from the “Starbucks decaf” option—on Ash Wednesday, a friend told me that SBUX’s decaf is less “de” and more “caf” than other brands of decaf; I kept that knowledge in my back pocket, knowing that if I ever got desperate, I could go to Starbucks and get myself a decaf latte and enjoy the benefits of that minimal caffeine and still claim that I was living up to the Lenten bargain because, after all, I’d ordered decaf. Fortunately, I never got that desperate.

What surprised me the most, though, was that the hardest part of it was the last couple of weeks. I had thought it would get steadily easier as Lent progressed, and in fact, I was pretty euphoric a couple of weeks in when I realized how well I was doing. For a while there, I was thinking I’d never go back to caffeine. But the last couple of weeks, I was really dragging, and looking forward more and more to this morning’s cup. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that that was the time after that awful 18-hour Thursday, which pretty much wore me out.

During that six and a half weeks, I drank an awful lot of herbal tea, probably five or six cups a day. That’s fine; it’s always nice to have a hot beverage nearby. But I began to feel like life without caffeine just doesn’t have the color, the vibrancy, the excitement of life after that first cup of black coffee.

IMG_1715As anticipated, this morning’s brew was a big ol’ cup of fun. Within a very few minutes, I was suddenly more alive than I’d felt since Mardi Gras. The second cup intensified that feeling. But after two cups, however, I was starting to experience the caffeine jitters; I was feeling like my body wanted to turn itself inside out. I stopped at that point, and enjoyed the rest of my day, with just one more cup of coffee with brunch. Sure, there was a bit of a comedown in the afternoon, but that’s all part of the fun. Nobody would ride a flat rollercoaster.

It’s good to be back.

Previous posts on this topic:

So Long, Caffeine

Day 3

The Lent Trap

Inspired By Mitt

 

Video credit: Michael Podrucki on Vimeo.

Two Easters, Far From Home

For a few decades there, I wasn’t much of a churcher. However, on two Easter Sundays during that time, I found myself at churches that were a long way—both geographically and ideologically—from home, and they were probably my most memorable Easters ever.

Easter 1987

It was Jean’s and my first Easter together as husband and wife, and we traveled to Provincetown, Mass., to visit my brother Jim. April is decidedly off-season in Provincetown; it was cloudy, misty and cool the whole time we were there—not to mention completely deserted compared to the other times I’d visited.

This sign on the bench outside the Universalist Meeting House reads: “From all that dwell below the skies, let faith and hope and love arise. Let peace, goodwill and truth be sung, through every land, by every tongue.”

Jim attended the Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown. In a way it’s a church, but for two people raised in Christian families, it was a vastly different experience, and for me, at least, a refreshing change from every other Easter service I’d attended. It was all  very casual. I don’t remember a whole lot of details about it, except that the minister, in her sermon (they probably didn’t use the words “minister” and “sermon,” or maybe even “service,” but those terms will have to do here) talked a little about the Rev. Oral Roberts, who had recently claimed to see a 50-foot-tall Jesus. She gently mocked him for that, as part of her larger point that we don’t really need spectacular displays like that to be good people. Was that her point? In the haze of the intervening 25 years, I can’t remember for sure, but that’s pretty much what I remember taking from it. Anyway, it was a fun, celebratory service, and when I walked out I felt like I was among a hundred or so new friends.

For Jean, though, the Universalist Unitarians didn’t really fuflill all of her Easter needs. So later that afternoon we went to Mass at a Catholic church in town. (Church twice in one day! It still stands as my personal record!)  Although the Mass was in English, it seemed like most of the other people in the pews were members of Provincetown’s Portuguese community. Now, I will admit that the Catholic church has some beautiful traditions, but this mass was one of the most soporific, lifeless Masses I’ve ever attended, and even more so in contrast to the festive service the Unitarians had put on earlier that day.

These pictures of the Universalist Meeting House are not, unfortunately, from that 1987 trip. I do have one picture of Jim taken during that visit, so I know I had a camera there, but I can’t find any more from that roll. These pictures were taken when I visited P-town in September 2010.

Easter 2005

This time when Easter rolled around, we were halfway around the world in Prague, Czech Republic. “We” refers to Jean and me and Jim, but it was our son Jim, not my brother Jim. We were in Prague with Jim’s high school band, which took a week-long trip to the Czech Republic during spring break that year. The trip happened to coincide with Easter, and the band leaders organized a trip to St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle for Easter Mass, for those who wanted to.

I definitely wanted to. Even though I don’t always go along with all the doctrine, I love going into old churches to check out the architecture. And this one definitely qualifies as “old.” It was built beginning in the14th century, although it wasn’t completed for 600 years.

The enormous gothic-style cathedral is part of Prague Castle, which is also the home of the seat of the Czech government. The cathedral itself is amazing; long, narrow, and incredibly tall; I don’t know how high the ceiling is, but you can get an idea from the pictures here. (The “tallness” of the place is reflected in the fact that, as I look at these pictures seven years later, I notice that almost all of them are verticals.)

We arrived in Prague on Good Friday, and the cathedral was actually one of the first places we visited. After that, we walked down the hill to Old Town, and as we were crossing the Charles Bridge, we saw a procession coming the opposite direction: it was a re-enactment of Jesus’ last day, with Jesus, Roman soldiers, and the lot. Now, everything is strange when you’re jet-lagged as you visit a foreign country for the first time, but seeing that just added one more surreal note to the day.

On Easter morning, I guess we were a little late arriving, because we ended up sitting way in the back of St. Vitus’. Prague’s bishop is a Cardinal, and he said the Easter Mass, in Czech, of course. The sound wasn’t great, and the place was cold, but the experience was well worth it.

Here’s a gallery with these pictures and a few more: clicking on any of the thumbnails below should bring up the gallery view. Happy Easter!

As Lent Winds Down…

A few somewhat muddled thoughts on religion and church as Lent winds down:

*****

It’s been a fascinating Lent, which started, of course, with Ash Wednesday. We went to the service at church, which in included the solemn, sobering ash ritual. I’d never gotten ashes before, and hadn’t even known Protestant churches did that. Like everything else lately, it was a learning experience.

Pastor Dave put together a great Lenten series of sermons and discussions entitled “Lives of the Disciples.” His idea is that, rather than just the 12 disciples we commonly think of as being at the Last Supper, the meal would have probably have included a number of friends and family members, bringing the total to about 23 people. Over the course of the season, he examined each of the 23 in great detail, bringing them to life for our examination, 20 centuries later. The culmination of the series was the Maundy Thursday dinner, in which actors from the church performed a skit, which he wrote, portraying the 23 acted out their preparations for the meal.

During the Wednesday-evening discussions that led up to this week, the minister also shared dozens of artistic depictions of the Last Supper, many of them parodies of the classic Da Vinci mural. Like this one, for example. Many more are here.

*****

If we are to believe Monty Python, the Pope didn’t like the idea of having more than 12 disciples. I’m not sure we CAN believe them, though, because they thought it was Michelangelo who painted the Last Supper, not Da Vinci. In any case, here’s their take:

*****

On a more serious note, it’s been kind of a weird time for organized religion lately. I guess partly because it’s Lent, and partly because I’m paying more attention now than I did in previous years, it seems that there is a lot of questioning of the meaning of religious faith in the news and on the Internet in recent weeks.

Andrew Sullivan wrote about the “Crisis of Christianity” in a Newsweek cover essay this week. In it, he argues for a true separation between our religious lives and our political lives.

What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself? If we return to what Jesus actually asked us to do and to be—rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was—he actually emerges more powerfully and more purely.

It’s a great essay, well worth a read.

*****

One event that really shocked me was the recent episode in Gaithersburg, Md., in which a priest denied communion to a woman because she was a lesbian—and the denial occurred at her mother’s funeral. I can’t think of a more humiliating experience, and a worse setting for it to happen. I understand the priest was later suspended, but I haven’t heard more about it since then.

I contrast that episode with my experience at my own mother’s funeral, an absolutely 180-degree opposite from what that woman had to deal with. In retrospect, I realize that I was probably a lot more fragile and vulnerable than I imagined.  Fortunately, unlike the Gaithersburg woman’s experience, I got a brilliant sermon from a compassionate and decidedly non-judgemental minister, the first step in a process that resulted in my rejoining the church several months later, rejoining after 35 years in the wilderness, so to speak.

By the way, I don’t regret those 35 years, but I am very very happy to be a part of the church now. I’m still definitely in the process of sorting things out, trying to come upon a better understanding of what God is or isn’t … or maybe I should say IF God is or isn’t.

But for me, at this point in my life, the distinction isn’t critical. This is what I know: when I step into church, the feeling of peacefulness and optimism is almost palpable. During a worship service or even during a Wednesday-night discussion, I am completely rapt; it’s a time when I’m more focused than at any other time in my ADD-addled life. I take part in prayers, even though I don’t really have a target for my praying. It just feels right. And the feeling of peacefulness extends for the rest of the day after I’ve been to church. There’s never a bad Sunday.

At some point, perhaps I’ll figure it all out. But for now, I’m enjoying the ride.