Mug - 16My dad really likes this mug. I’ll admit, The Beatles have never been my favorite band, but I do enjoy their timelessly catchy tunes as much as the next average joe. Of course enough has already been said about them and the deep imprint they have left in the history of modern music and culture–I couldn’t possibly say anything new about all that. But for me personally, when I hear The Beatles (or drink coffee out of their yellow submarine), it brings back memories of all the music my dad and mom listened to… Especially the music they listened to when I was a kid, and the stations they would tune into during long trips in our family’s old Astro mini-van. I remember hearing as much Elvis and Creedence Clearwater Revival as I did The Beatles. Sometimes my mom would bring her cassette tapes and Amy Grant would all the sudden find herself doing an encore for The Beach Boys. I was too young to understand or care about the differences. My parents’ music all blended together. One moment we’d be listening to John Denver sing “Rocky Mountain High” and the next we would be hearing tunes from the traveling Gospel quartet who had been visiting our church a week earlier, peddling their cassette tapes along the way. My parents religiously (pun intended) bought the tapes of every person and group that came through our church–I’m not kidding. A few years ago I found a box that had close to a hundred cassettes in it–all from people who had visited our church over the years to share their music.

The point is… My parents didn’t play music, and they didn’t sing either, but they loved to listen and they loved to collect it. And they taught me to explore the art form on my own, and to discover for myself what I liked and what I didn’t. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade when I started really getting into music enough to want to own the stuff I liked. My parents would buy me blank cassettes, and then I would record stuff right off the radio. I remember hearing the DJ on 99.5 WZPL announce a song that was about to come on, and I would dash across the room so I could hit Play & Record on the tape deck. And my older cousins had tapes that they would let me copy. My cousin Toby introduced me to Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” — changed my life. That was back when Jon Bon Jovi was an actual rockstar, before someone kidnapped him and removed all the testosterone from his body.

My early musical tastes were widely diverse. By the time I was in high school I was practically in love with Amy Grant, because I had been hearing her sing since I was in kindergarten. But that didn’t stop me from listening to Soundgarden or Metallica, and REO Speedwagon when no one else was around. I remember one time I was in an IRC music store with my dad, and he was letting me pick out an album for my birthday–I chose “Appetite for Destruction” by the infamous Guns N’ Roses. He just shook his head and said, “OK, but don’t show mom.”

Like I said, my parents really let me figure the whole music thing out on my own. When I was young, I heard what they liked, and as I grew older, they gave me the freedom and independence to decide what kinds of music I liked. Just because they didn’t like something, or because some dumb televangelist like Jimmy Swaggart said it was evil, didn’t mean they would stop me from listening to it. And I’m so grateful for that now. They never bought into all the crap about “christian” music versus “secular” music, and how non-Christian music was all from the devil. My youth pastor and his wife were the opposite of my parents when it came to music. They were good people, and I learned some good things from them, but their views on music were not among the lessons I chose to retain. I always thought it was kind of funny that they cared so much about it. I mean, at the outset of every trip we took, they would assign a student to go around checking everyone’s music to make sure no one had anything non-Christian with them. It was fascist and imperial. And we all know the proper response to something imperial–(thank you, Star Wars.) So I made it my mission to sneak as much non-Christian music as I could on board the church bus. And I was successful at it too. I was a supplier for the handful of other “rebels” as well.  How did I accomplish this? How was I so great at smuggling contraband past the music police? Simple. My parents would let me use the outer cases of their Christian music CDs and cassettes to camouflage my music on the inside. When they came around to check my music, they would just see Michael W. Smith, Carmen, and of course Amy Grant… Never knowing that inside was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Doors. Well, ok… Some of the Amy Grant cases actually had the Amy Grant cassettes in them.

Of course when I journeyed off to Christian college, things were on a whole new level. There was no actual rule against having non-Christian music, just a heavy fog of rampant judgmentalism toward those who did. I discovered this firsthand when the worship leader who lived next to me in the dorm almost had a stroke after seeing the Led Zeppelin poster on the outside of my door. I discovered it even more when during my second semester, my room was broken into and all the band posters (including a 6 foot Sgt. Pepper’s display) were all ripped from the walls and replaced with notes warning my roommate and I about our impending journey on the highway to Hell. But we had fun with that sort of thing. A few of my friends got together one night and did a live cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze for the entire campus. That didn’t go over too well. But anyway… “we all want to change the world.”

And it’s great, what kind of memories a coffee mug can conjure up.

Originally posted on Instagram @ajcoffman and Facebook on December 4, 2014


Mug - 12Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was a time, nearly thirty years ago when those words sounded like utter nonsense. The first time I heard someone say them, I definitely thought so, and I was only in the fifth grade–inhabiting a world where words like Ghostbusters and He-Man were almost sacred terms. And yet, here I am, all these years later, sipping from a coffee mug that has (at least one incarnation) of the TMNT plastered upon it. There have been many versions of the Turtles since their creation by comic bookers Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird back in good ‘ol 1984. That comic, which was more adult and darker in tone, was eventually translated into a kids cartoon that ran for 10 seasons, and into a mixed bag of 5 feature films–the first in 1990, and the most recent this past summer. That’s quite a bit of longevity in a society that is constantly churning up new ideas to market, devour, and spit back onto the ash heap of pop culture relics. But the Turtles keep getting recycled, and keep capturing the imaginations of kids… And grown ups. There’s no shortage of super heroes these days, but I think, when boiled down to the core, TMNT is just re-telling a much older story, a story that finds fans across all ages and cultures–the story of ‘the team.’ And the team that isn’t perfect, but striving to be, that argues with each other, but would still die for one another, that takes the cold corners of a sewer dungeon and makes it a home, and that ultimately look to one master for acceptance and guidance. That is the story of the team that is Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. –I’m still talking about them, in case you forgot for a few seconds. But that’s part of what makes them awesome. As ridiculous as they may sound to some, they represent what it means to be a team–a team that loves each other. And that’s something we all yearn to be a part of, or can be thankful that we already are.
Originally posted on Instagram @ajcoffman on October 14, 2014

Mom’s Mug

Mug - 15This mug has been in my parent’s house a long time. It was my mom’s mug of choice. I remember many Saturday mornings, waking up to cinnamon rolls, and mom asking me if I would make her some coffee, always in this mug. It’s a Longaberger cup, more popular for their handwoven baskets–which my mother collected for the last 25 years of her life, slowly filling the house with baskets of all shapes and sizes. I can’t believe she’s been gone for over a year now. Watching her die was the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced… Even knowing it was going to happen wasn’t enough to soften the impact of it.

Mom left us with a lot of stuff to sort through and box away and give away, but those are just physical things, evidence of her presence in a house that was made into a home by the kind of woman she was, and the character she had. Her kindness and her love were evident to anyone who knew her, or even heard her great laugh–a laugh that can still be heard from my Aunt Charlene–mom’s sister.

I have nothing but a brain full of great memories, and a heart full of the love she passed on to me. But when I try to pinpoint one specifically, I think back to about 15 years ago… I was in college at the time, going through a really rough patch. I had already dropped out once and then returned, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with my life, and the pressure was mounting for me to choose a path. Some people think Bible college is a safe haven of theological reflection and spiritual enlightenment. I suppose it can be that for some… But for me it was a crucible that tore me apart from the inside out and left me with more confusion and questions than clarity and answers. In the midst of one evening, feeling like I wanted to leave and drop out for a second time, I did what any boy would do in my situation… I called the one woman in the whole world who might have the answer–I called mom. And after listening to me whine and sob about the darkness and uncertainty of the world, she told me something that she never had before.

She told me that I did not belong to her. She said that when I was born, God spoke to her, and he said very simply, “this one belongs to me.” And she finished by saying that she couldn’t tell me who I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do, because I didn’t belong to her. She just told me to ask God. And my mother did many things for me throughout my life, but telling me that was the greatest gift she ever imparted to me.

Because asking God is everything.

Originally shared on Facebook on May 8, 2014

Spider-Man Mug

Mug - 14While on a family vacation one winter (I think it was 1989) to Arizona, we had stopped at this little gas station somewhere in New Mexico. By that time we had been on the road for a couple of days, Mom, Dad, my sister Emilie and I all crammed into the Astro mini van. I had exhausted all forms of entertainment available, including the new Nintendo Gameboy I had received for an early Christmas present. Moping around that gas station/convenience store, I came across a small rack of comic books, new ones by the look of them. Dad must have noticed, because I heard him yell over to me to go ahead and pick out some to read–that it would keep me occupied. There were several to choose from, but I went instinctually for the Peter Parker: Spider-Man #6 (a Todd McFarlane reboot of the time), as well as a Batman title that was in the 300s I think… (Tim Burton’s movie had just come out that previous summer, and the Dark Knight was in the midst of a renaissance.) I had never read an actual comic book before. It was awesome. It instantly caught hold of my imagination and launched an endless desire to read more. Spider-Man was different in those comics… He wasn’t as cartoonish or as silly. The artwork was the most detailed I had ever seen, and the stories were dark–Spider-Man actually had blood on him. I’m not sure what it was that pulled me into those stories, but Peter Parker, it seemed, had been there my whole life, at least in some form, not too far away–almost like an older brother–he was, of course, always around on Saturday morning with his amazing friends, and I even had a pair of Underoos pajamas that mimicked the red and blue costume. Later on, as a teenager I saw him as a nerd, off in the corner, interested in science, not very good at sports–and boy could I find some identification in a super hero like that.

Nowadays, all these years later, we’re seeing these incarnations of the heroes that have been around for decades, being reworked and refitted for a new generation. And as I get older, I appreciate this, and I realize that fictional heroes have to change, and they have to be retold and molded to fit the times and the cultures that bring them to life. But I also realize, conversely, that the real heroes–the non fictional ones that are sometimes easier to forget–they do not change. The real heroes are always the same… Yesterday, today, and forever.

Originally shared on Facebook on May 7, 2014

Giant Mug

Mug - 11This mug is really fun, and really huge! I keep this one in my office/classroom at the church and it is usually stocked with mini Reese’s Cups for the kids. To provide some scale for this pic I put my Ninja Turtle action figure inside it–that’s good ‘ol Leonardo peeking out over the rim there.

This colossus was another gift–as you might have discovered by now, I really like coffee mugs, so people who get to know me often figure out that they make great gifts for me. This was given to me by some good friends from Taiwan who, if memory serves, found it for me while they were visiting Disney World. I met several Taiwanese friends while I was living in Findlay, many of whom were graduate students at the University of Findlay. I met a lot of students there while sailing on the U.S.S. Curry House, and while serving through the church we planted in our house–called Night Church. But looking back now, some of our closest relationships were with the Taiwanese… a couple of them even lived with us part time, unofficially… And I really miss their sense of humor, their humility, their willingness to just jump in and help us cook or do dishes or clean the house, and also the way they would take to the kitchen and display their mastery over authentic cuisine with mighty elegance. Our church even had a softball team, of which they made up about half the roster.

So this mug entry is for them… Dennis, Beck, Ya-Lan, Ching-yi, Mo, Tracy, and the others… I miss you all, and your awesomeness will not be forgotten!

Originally posted on Instagram @ajcoffman on April 23, 2014

Dad’s Mug

Mug - 10This small mug has been in the Coffman house for the last 30 years or so. It was a gift to my dad from the rest of us in the family. Being 35 now, and ministering to kids in an urban poor area of Indianapolis, many of whom do not live with or even know their dad, I realize how much of a blessing it is for me to be able to say that, in my life, the words on this mug have rang true. My dad has always been there for me, and has never failed to encourage me at my weakest points, and challenge me at my most stubborn. Of course as a kid I took him for granted, argued with him about almost everything, and probably gave him more than any man’s reasonable share of headaches, ulcers, and gray hairs. 

My dad and I did many things together as I grew up, and while I remember things like collecting basketball cards, taking trips to the comic book shop, him volunteering as a sponsor for some of my grade school class field trips, being a youth sponsor at our church, setting up our household aquariums, the fact that he let me watch and record The Simpsons on VHS tapes when they first came out (most of the other kids at church weren’t allowed to watch it) getting season tickets to the Pacers, and going fishing at the lake across the street… But what I remember most, is that my dad just spent time with me.

Now I’m not a dad myself, and I’m sure there are plenty of things I’m terribly clueless about, but I think my dad did it right, and I’m glad that he is, and always will be, my best friend.

I love you, pop!

Originally posted on Instagram @ajcoffman on April 22, 2014