I come from a long line of coffee-drinkers. My parents drank coffee with every meal and frequently in between. At age 16 I started drinking it too, following my mother’s advice to forego any sweetener. Coffee-drinking is a lifetime activity so its best to fend off those spoons-full of sugar.
For decades the earthy aroma and flavor of coffee has provided my life a smell-track and taste-track. The activity of brewing and drinking coffee has provided a rhythm — as a waitress pouring at breakfast restaurants, as a pastor sipping at kitchen tables, as a writer with a cup perpetually cooling beside me.
Only recently did I notice that my heartbeat had become erratic at times, speeding up for no apparent reason and sending a tingling sensation down both arms. It scared me. I looked up the symptoms of heart attack, then made a doctor’s appointment. Just a few minutes on WebMD confirmed what I suspected — that the doctor would ask about my caffeine consumption. Would I tell her the truth? If I did, I knew what she would say. So I decided to take her unspoken advice preemptively, and on a Saturday morning (July 8 if you want to keep track for my 30- and 60-day chips) I quit cold-turkey.
The headaches weren’t as bad as I recalled them from my pregnancies — those two caffeine-less stretches that tested how much I loved my unborn children. This time around I was able to take painkillers, but was surprised that I only needed them a few times those first two weeks. I did, however, find myself napping in the late afternoons. I simply didn’t have my friend to convince me to keep going. Most importantly however, there was an immediate, and noticeable, reduction in episodes of heart palpitations.
Almost six weeks later, I can say that I’m officially decaffeinated. I do drink three cups of decaf throughout the morning, so a purist might quibble with me. (If you’re a purist please do not contact me.)
But here’s what’s interesting: I still get heart palpitations, though less often, and I’ve realized that they’re my body’s way of saying: I’m upset and/or anxious. Having stripped away the defense of caffeine, I hear the message more clearly.
Unfortunately, the news cycle of the past 10 days has been particularly full of upsetting and anxiety-producing events — the evidence of collusion with Russia, the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, the intentional undermining of healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, the chaos in Venezuela — all trumped by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists terrorizing Charlottesville in my own state of Virginia. Each event is palpitation-worthy. Palpitation Plus.
As a pastor who prizes leadership, the absolute moral vacuum from our nation’s highest offices — to say nothing of the president’s evangelical advisors — has been deeply upsetting.
When authority structures fail, the people must rise up. And so it is happening –people everywhere are rising to the occasion and I’m grateful for their voices and their activism. We all need to harness our moral courage and stand up. Thank goodness my week of napping is over — there is work to do.
Right now I’m going to pour my second cup of decaf and write a sermon on Matthew 15 — Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Remember her? She was the person Jesus felt he could disregard because she was the other — until she pierced that facade. She called him to go beyond his comfort zone, and to mature in his mission and sense of himself. We don’t know what tone she used, but we know her words were skillful. We know she was driven by her love for her daughter. Prophetic words from an outsider, and a Lord who could listen and hear. That oughta preach.
What work will you do today, and what will drive you to do it?