Croissants are a Sham and Other Things I Believe Without Evidence

When I moved to France for a year, I had a splendid going away party, for which I attempted to order a large number of croissants from a local bakery. The baker was lovely, but he said he didn’t make croissants in his bakery, because they are hard; they require a lot of time and energy, and don’t always come out very well. Since he was not going to make his own, he didn’t want to sell them. He said the bakeries in the area that did serve croissants almost all purchased their dough from a single source and passed it off as their own–in other words, I’d do just as well buying grocery store croissants as going to any bakery in the area. An industrial bakery was making pretty good (or, at least, extremely consistent) puff pastry, selling it to smaller bakeries, and we all got to eat pretty good croissants as a result.

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A photo of me at my Bon Voyage. Croissants not pictured. I believe they came from our local Rainbow, RIP.

I can’t say I have a reason to disbelieve this information, but it was passed off to me twelve years ago (and memory is finicky), and I have not done any research whatsoever to verify this claim. However, every time I have a sub-par croissant in the Twin Cities, I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.” Also, every time I have a perfect, to a T, honest to goodness, French croissant in the Twin Cities (I have only ever had one at Patisserie 46), I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.”

I sometimes make similar assumptions based on the quality of croissants in other cities, guessing that the croissant racket it more or less the same throughout the country.

I did defer to an expert on this subject for the purpose of this post, and a former Patisserie 46 employee says that they do make their own croissant dough, further enforcing my bias.

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In preparation for my honeymoon, I messaged my host families that I would be visiting, and they asked me what food I wanted to eat. I told them I wanted Belcastel bread, Marcillac wine, and Aligot.

I have a very clear idea of this bread. It comes from a gigantic, round loaf, maybe 2 feet in diameter. I remember my host dad, Pascal, sending me into a bakery to order it on more than one occasion–instructing me on how to order just a section of it, instead of the entire, giant loaf. The crust is so dark, it is nearly black, and thick; thicker than any crust you’d see in the United States. The middle is spongy and nutty in scent and flavor. I imagined its size was due the medieval practice of villages having one communal oven. If you have to share the oven, why not just make one loaf and share it?

The bread Belcastel does not exist. There may be such a bread, as I have described, but it is not called Belcastel. There is no bread, nor any other food (not even wine), in France (or anywhere else) called Belcastel. There is a town by that name, in France, near where I lived.

Memory is finicky.

It appears I may have to abandon my belief that my favorite French bread is called Belcastel. Then again, the bread my host sister found, while similar, was not two feet in diameter and didn’t taste as good as I had remembered. So maybe my favorite French bread is but a memory, and I can accurately say, that Belcastel is still my favorite.

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At summer camp, a counselor once said that mosquitoes are attracted to people who eat bananas more than people who don’t. Friends, I no longer eat bananas. Also, I don’t like bananas, but like, what if she was right? I’m really avoiding two evils, the taste and texture of bananas and mosquito bites. If I do eat a banana, I eat it only when the last mosquito of the summer is dead, and the first mosquito of spring has yet to hatch.

This is convenient-to-believe pseudo-science, rather than something I wholeheartedly believe, but that doesn’t prevent me from acting on it and, occasionally, sharing it with others, despite doing so with caveats, like this.

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We make assumptions and believe things all the time with little to no evidence. While the word of the baker (someone who is probably an authority on the industry he works in) can be presumed to be reasonably correct, my memory of it, or even initial understanding, may be flawed to the point of misrepresenting it to myself and others over the course of more than a decade now. How many people have I told that Belcastel is my favorite French bread? Dozens. While I now understand why, even 12 years ago, my host brother Julien gave me a quizzical look when I told him that was the best bread, I never investigated further at the time. I told myself that I had pronounced it wrong or that it was not very common, but never-ever had I imagined that I simply got the name wrong. Had I never returned to France, I could have gone on wrongly telling everyone about a bread that didn’t exist.

These are inconsequential examples, amusing, even. At worst, they misattribute the work of a few dedicated bakers in the Twin Cities Metro Area, deprive me of a source of potassium, and make me look silly in front of my friends. There are a lot of other things we believe, spread, and act on that are of greater consequence. They might malign entire continents, races, genders, etc. They lead to job discrimination, alienation, and even cruelty from others.

I was able to challenge my belief about Belcastel, because I talked to some of the only people on the planet who would know for sure, a few people in France who live near the town of Belcastel. It’s a lot easier to tell if your socio-political convictions are true–things that are measured regularly, to a great depth. Use google. Read broadly. Meet new people. Ask yourself “does this opinion hurt someone in power or someone disenfranchised?” The answer will tell you a lot about how true it is as well as how harmful or harmless it could be.

Also, eat your bananas.

The Girl Who Built Walls

In the last few months I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the damage evangelical Christianity is doing. I’ve even talked about it. For better or for worse, I don’t intend to add to any of attacks concerning recent issues. I can’t clear up any of the pain people are experiencing from the evangelical culture wars, interpretation of scripture, or purity culture. I can’t talk committed evangelicals out of their beliefs, or liberal Christians out of theirs. In fact, I don’t want to. While I no longer participate in evangelical culture, I deeply value the experiences I had because they inform who I am today.

Would it have been freeing to grow up without a constant and deep fear of the Other?

Would it have contributed better to church flourishing to view scripture in the context of Christian community and tradition?

Would it have been healthier to view sexuality as an integral and biological part of humanity, rather than a source of shame?

The answer to all these questions is yes. Of course, a thousand times, yes. But I didn’t, and maybe you didn’t either. In fact, evangelical or not, a lot of us can relate to the misguided, well-meant shortcomings of our childhoods.

But I can’t change what you think. I can’t fix any of these problems. I can’t make World Vision reverse its reversed decision.

I can tell a story, though. I can tell you about being broken, not by the crushing weight of evangelical normative pressures in my childhood, but by compassion and by stones.

I can tell you about a dark sanctuary where the only light shines on a band playing a song about God’s goodness, love, healing, or friendship. Whatever the lyrics are, no matter how redundant the chord progressions, the music invokes more emotion in you than you’ve experienced in the last three months combined. You feel empty and full all at once, and before you know it you are having an experience, even if you walked in with a complete reticence to God, the church, or Christians.

In high school, I was a star evangelical, the kind that carried my bright pink Bible to class and sat up front at all the youth group functions. I refused to date anyone until I had graduated. And I was so sincere.

There I was, at the front of a sanctuary, steeped in the synthesized emotion of the moment, kneeling, praying, contemplating. I didn’t respond to whatever version of an alter call that had been given that night (even at the time, I didn’t think it was a good idea to respond to every single alter call), but the girl on the floor just a few inches in front of me did.

I had just met her the day before. She was closed off, rebellious, and, to me, rather mysterious. I felt like I should pray for her, so I did. When one of the adults came over to pray for her and talk her through a commitment to Christ, she said she didn’t want any of it. What was she doing at the front of the church, then?

She said she didn’t want God’s love or anyone else’s. She talked about her mean step-dad and cruel people at school. She said she didn’t have any friends. She wasn’t the first person I had heard say things like this. A lot of teenagers feel that way. A lot of teenagers struggle with feeling accepted and loved, and they are, on average, a lot more volatile about it than adults who struggle with the same things.

She said she had built up walls around her heart, and it had turned to stone. That was exactly how she was going to keep it. She said that if she let God into her heart, if she let herself feel loved and connected, she’d have to take down the walls. If she did that, her mean step dad and the people at school could hurt her. She’d have to feel that too. All of the brokenness in life would get in if love got in too.

She wasn’t talking to me, but I heard everything she said. Then I began to weep. I was overwhelmed with compassion for her. I couldn’t imagine damage so permanent that God couldn’t heal it. I also knew that her heart walls would get in the way of loving others. Nothing gets in, but nothing gets out, either. Her pain was so evident, but her voice and face were so calm. As she recounted the frustrations of her home and school life, she was calm. Her walls were working well. They were not poetry.

The baffled adult left to get reinforcement. I continued to weep, to long for her to know love and let that be her strength in the face of her suffering. A second adult came and asked her how he could help. The girl said she didn’t need help. Then, pointing at me, she said, “Help her; she’s the one crying.”

Through my tears I said, “I’m crying because I love you.”

I think we were both genuinely surprised.

“You don’t want to love me,” she replied.

I grant that this was an exceptionally odd encounter to have with a near stranger. The adults didn’t get any further with her. She was present. She wanted someone to break down her walls, but she knew it wasn’t safe. I don’t know what happened to her after that weekend. I don’t even know her name.

However, this moment has stuck with me. I don’t know what song was playing or what the take away message of the evening was supposed to be. I remember this wounded girl who understood and expressed what I spend so much of my time struggling with. This stone-hearted girl understood vulnerability—well, half of it. She was right; letting herself feel loved in the safety of our weekend away from the world was easy. We had a band adept at evoking very positive emotion. We had adults around us whose mission was to love and cherish us, and we all had homes with plenty of dysfunction to go back to. So this girl knew that letting love in meant letting pain in. It’s what loving in an imperfect world is like. I think what shook me up, beyond her account of painful life experiences, was that while she had the premise right, she had drawn the wrong conclusion. She treated pain like a heavy weight when love is the proven champion. And that is what broke my heart.