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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Great Subtraction: The Travel Mug

Convenience is such  a double-edged sword.  In one way, convenience makes for time saving.  And everybody loves to save time.  Time that you don't use to wash dishes, you can use to relax with family. (At least that's what all those dish-washer liquid commercials seem to imply.)  But at the same time, we lose something in convenience too.  In a society drowning in consumerism, we are cursed with the add syndrome.  Add sugar.  Add water.  Add frills, lace, and bows.  Add another song to your itunes.  Add a friend online.  Add information.  It has to be personalized.  Add another app.  Another job.  Another flavor to your soda.  Another deal.  Another shopping center.  Another membership.  Another email.  Add, add, add, add, ADD!  (No wonder kids have attention deficit disorder...or ADD.)  But I'm starting to think that all our multiplication has added up to subtraction.  The world can't just add exponentially without losing something.  And maybe what we've gained is less valuable than what we've lost.  We've subtracted solitude almost completely.  Contemplation is a lost art.  Silence is non-existent.  Contentment was tossed in the same garbage bin as conversations that go beyond trivialities.  Maybe we've even lost our identity.  (Or did we hand it over?)  It's something that gamers and headphone addicts miss out on completely.  They've added virtual entertainment and lost the sound of the rain on the roof and the feeling of the wind on their faces.  They've traded the smell of the sea and the sound of the surf for the treble of unreality.  The loss is tragic.

And here I come to my greatest complaint which is symbolic of the problem.  The travel mug.  
Tea is not a drink, it is an experience.  (A lot of coffee drinkers feel the same way about tea's cousin.) However, we should look at the historical purpose for afternoon tea.  It is reported that the queens of Britain took tea in the afternoons for several reasons.  
First, out of hunger.  (A lot of people can't get from lunch to dinner without a little something.) 
Second, to relax.  (Seriously, afternoon royal obligations can be strenuous.) 
Lastly, to converse.  (Many British friendships were formed around tea.)  
And England wasn't the only country to form important relationships around tea.  One proverb from a people group in Pakistan was made famous by a recent book entitled Three Cups of Tea.  "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." 
Obviously, for most of the world, tea has important implications.  It's not just a drink.

So what's my point?  The travel mug has ruined all that.  Take afternoon tea and strip it of its leisure and conversation.  Smash the delicate teacups and rip up the table cloth.  Take the tea and pour it quickly into an insulated mug, tea spilling everywhere while you rush out the door.  It's just not the same.  Yes, we get to drink our tea wherever we are.  Yes, we get to enjoy whatever hot drink we want even if we are riding the subway to some unknown destination.  But if that's the case, let's not say that we are having tea.  Let's just say that we are drinking it.  

And if I invite you for tea, as I love to do, then let me set out my nice teacups and some flowers.  Let's sit down on the sunny side of the kitchen and talk.  Let's have tea.  Let's reject the subtraction of afternoon tea from culture.  Take tea by yourself if you wish...reclaim something of your British heritage.  (If you have no British heritage than reclaim something of mine.  Or chances are, that whatever culture you were from had or has a tea ritual...many countries do.)  Take tea daily, twice a day, three times.  And in some ways this will make us stronger people.  We will resist the urge to fill our hours with sound and our days with movement.  We will practice breathing and letting the silence consume us with peace.  We will become better listeners, because we will hear the clock ticking (and we will smile at it, knowing that it is no longer dominating us for a least a few moments every day.)  We will hear the birds singing or the rain or the wind or the world around us, apart from us, undriven by us, unaffected by our presence, unaltered by our brashness.  And in these silences, we will make room for thoughts and often, for thoughts of God.  I sometimes see my morning teatime as a conversation with God.  But of course, I didn't invite Him.  He invited me.  They are lovely hours that we spend in quiet.  Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes, laughter.  Always, I leave those times with a sigh and a feeling of utter completeness.  And that's not an app that can be downloaded.
So, trash your travel mug, friends.  You're invited to tea.  

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