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Two Cups, Two Cultures

By James Donlon   
March 07, 2014

Compare these two pictures and see how different they are. The one on the left is quite pleasing to look at. The cream color of the porcelain cup is trimmed with gold accents that decorate the rim, handle, base, as well as the rim of the saucer, with intricate designs.  The way the cup widens as it reaches the top resembles a flower.  The saucer, being wider than the cup itself, gives the impression of being a pedestal for the cup. It can be considered a “servant” of the cup. It knows its place and fulfills its duty.


The gold trimmings on the handle, rim, and base of the cup and the rim of the saucer act as very subtle transitions, delighting the soul, as the distinctive patterns reflect the transitions in life and nature. The overall presentation is refined and uplifting. Whatever beverage is served in this setting promises to be delightful, whether fine tea or robust coffee.

Now let us consider the second picture.  It is a bland, sterile, hospital-white mug that is most noticeable for its Krispy-Kreme logo.  This mug has no transition, no ornament, no color, except for the advertisement, and barely any shape. It looks heavy, without any kind of elegance. This cup was made not for beauty, but for practicality. The thick mug was mass-produced for a standardized culture (probably in communist China) to survive the typical industrial dish-washer. In addition to emphasizing practicality, this mug brings the advertisement for a brand right onto your breakfast table.  Where is the saucer?  It has vanished. There is no practical place to rest the spoon after stirring the coffee or tea.

While the first cup is beautiful and refined, the second is bland, ugly, and made to look like a workshop tool.  The first cup inspires good, elevated conversation, while the second broadcasts its larger volume capacity, and its advertisement.  The two cups stand as symbols.  The first represents quality: It serves its purpose, is refined and beautiful, and helps a person consider higher things. The second, the mug, symbolizes quantity: It holds more liquid and is simply a container for carrying coffee. The mug is indifferent to the quality of the beverage it holds.

Which of the two reflects a more inspiring and elevated culture?

Modern man boasts of progress. However, is a culture that chooses a lesser good (the practical mug) over a higher good (the delicate cup and its saucer) really an example of true progress?  Is this a culture that ascends toward perfection?  Or is it rather a culture that is descending to ever greater and more widespread vulgarity?

This reflection is not a condemnation of those who use mugs.  But maybe it is time to bring the porcelain tea cups out of the china closet and rediscover the cultural benefits they exert on the mind and soul.

Please feel free to leave your own comments below.

 

 

Comments  

 
-5 # Freethinker 2014-03-07 16:36
Are you really judging our culture by our choice in cups? Why not look at actual issues in society that provide legitimate evidence for how culturally advanced we are? But no, you decided that cups we use are a good representation of our culture. This really just seems like a waste of a post.
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+6 # Joseph Petersen 2014-03-08 02:33
In Saint Augustine's opinion, in his City of God work, he saw that in creation, between practicality and beauty, God appears to lean towards beauty, as there are things in this world which have no practical purpose other than beauty. He uses beards on men as an example to demonstrate his point.
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+4 # Jack 2014-03-12 09:33
"freethinker" is not favoring the freedom to make articulate and reasonable commentary on culture. Interesting.
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+3 # Kenneth 2014-03-13 14:41
"No country can consider itself to be making real progress in culture until the very utensils in the kitchen are beautiful as well as useful." - Yeats
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-3 # Eli 2014-03-24 05:57
That's not what I think about the supposed bland mug at all. The plain mug represents living life every morning with your family, pouring yourself a cup of coffee as your kids run downstairs, late as always. Sure it is for quantity, but you have to look deep in what they objected across the board as their symbol of beauty and quality.
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0 # Paul 2014-04-11 21:48
What comes out of man is a reflection of his soul. Modern culture, in many ways, is not progress but regression. As we move further from God each decade focuses more and more upon lower goods instead of higher truths. Truths which man's soul was made to contemplate and be part of. We are trading in the effort which leads to beauty for the laziness which leads to instant but banal pleasures. A great example of the deeper decline within modern culture.
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0 # Nancy Stringer 2014-04-18 22:17
The two cup illustration is not exactly linked to another illustration about choices we can now make. -- Let us consider two different drinks. One drink is any wholesome beverage but the other drink is a toxic drink. Remaining sexually pure and then getting married is the wholesome beverage. The marriage bringing forth beautiful children is wonderful. The toxic drink is reckless sex that results in an abortion. Having innocent babies end up in abortion clinic garbage cans is as toxic as you can get. In my opinion, there will be accountability to God for the church leaders who won't attend anything pro-life their whole careers.
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