Stinky Kombucha & Emperor’s Clothes

My kitchen cupboard smells… fermented.

A few days ago we traded one of our snatched kitchens (they’ve caught three so far) for a kombucha SCOBY.

I’ve been offered a SCOBY before and I didn’t react well. In fact, I was pretty sure that friend was trying to poison me. One look at the booger blanket of yeasty probiotic was enough to ensure I was terrified to let any of the drink pass my lips.

Food poisoning is real, friends.

But I’ve grown and matured since then.

Enough to do a complete 180 and attempt to brew my own kombucha.

So I came home less a kitten and plus a bottle of kombucha and SCOBY and did massive amounts of research. In the process I decided I wanted to be adventurous and try to grow my own SCOBY… so now I have a number of half-gallon mason jars in the kitchen cupboard, emitting their stink and hopefully not enticing molds into their parameters.

While I was researching the tennets of home brewery on social media, my scrolling took me past a comment that went something along the lines of:

“I keep reading about these problems put forth by people who have left an organization, but I don’t hear about these problems from anyone IN the group. If these are real issues, wouldn’t I hear about them from the folks actively participating in the activities in question?”

That’s a valid question! Obviously, if something is messed up, wouldn’t the ones who are actively playing in the mess be the ones who start saying it stinks?

But that’s not what is happening in many areas. But the real question is why not? Why aren’t people speaking up?

I’ve spent some time considering this because it’s a tricky situation. I have a few potential reasons why the people sitting in the stink don’t see the stink and start looking for a way to wash their hands:

There is No Problem.

This, obviously, is a possible answer. No one is talking because there isn’t actually a problem. Everything is awesome.

Blind Trust and Ignorance.

This is the category I fell into personally. I never read my own contracts – either the ones I signed myself or the ones I issued. I asked questions but I never went digging to find answers… even when the answers weren’t fully logical or didn’t truly address the question. Because I believed I was philosophically on the same page with the organization, I never questioned whether the restrictions matched the rhetoric.

People are Tired.

Not all primary homeschoolers are mothers, but the majority are ladies who are constantly working. Every day in a vast number of homes includes cooking, cleaning, educating, managing, stewarding the well being of a mini-me… all before 9 am. And then there are at least 11 more hours of the same activities, on repeat. Most of the people I know fall into bed, exhausted, every single night. So the idea of choosing to investigate business practices, read contracts, learn the definitions of classifications, sort through the gray areas… it’s not something that they have to do, so they don’t do it. It’s easier to believe that someone else, with your best interests at heart, has done the heavy lifting for you. And since other people are doing the same thing too, surely the thing is a good thing. Right?

Fearful Self Interest.

There are those who have, and are, stepping out of liable situations and say not a word. I can remember my own fear when I realized that the grey area of misclassification of workers was coming into focus and it was far more black and white than I had believed. I had to go to the people I had asked to trust me, to follow me, and apologize while telling them that I had quite likely robbed them of benefits that they deserved. I had to calculate out how much I would owe if I had a ruling go against my business practices, and take that significant number to my husband – who had already been shaking his head about the income versus deductions ratio every year – and confess that, even though I’m competent in many things… in this area I’ve been fully incompetent.

My reluctance to pay an accountant or an attorney a few hundred dollars out of our budget at the outset of this business venture might very well result in a fine of many thousands of dollars upon exit.

As much as it’s liberating to be humble, it hurts to be wrong. It’s downright painful to see that your own failure to recognize you are a business owner might have a detrimental affect on those you love the most.

In order to go public with concerns, a leader has to be willing to pay the consequences if things go horribly wrong. BUT… if they stay silent and just quietly fade into the background, wait out the time limitations and don’t make problems… that might feel like the best way to protect their family.


At the core, associations are formed and strengthened by relationships. There is a distinct lack of desire to “throw someone under the bus” through exposure. There is a mob mentality that strikes out, hard, against people who choose to leave the herd. There is a Biblical Matthew 18 conflict resolution mandate that can be (mis)used to apply pressure to folks to keep them quiet – even to the point of telling people they aren’t allowed to speak to the ones they’ve been walking with in community.

The Emperor has No Clothes

All of this mulling of thought brought to mind the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about an emperor who pays a lot of money for some new magic clothes which can only be seen by wise people.

You know how the story goes… because the tailors have done such a good job in their sales pitch, going on and on about how special the clothes are, how the people who wear the clothes are validated that they are smart and worthy of leadership… even though the emperor doesn’t see the cloth himself he fears that telling the truth will expose him as an idiot. He allows his internal insecurity to guide his external actions.

In the fairy tale, the high officials go to check on the work of the tailors and, though they can’t see the cloth either – because it doesn’t exist! – they create an extensive dialogue about the beauty of the clothing, etc. so that their pride is preserved publicly among their peers… because they believe admitting they can’t see the cloth is an internal fault of their own, exposing their own insecurity and weakness.

The lie continues until a child, without any hesitation because they aren’t concerned with saving face, says that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes at all! Slowly, everyone who is watching the display looks at one another with an, “Oh! You can’t see it either?! I thought it was just me?”-sense of solidarity and starts to accept the truth that the cloth really isn’t there at all!

The moral of this story is that we can’t let insecurity and pride keep us from speaking up about truth.

I think there’s a chance that we need to revisit the lesson of the Emperor with No Clothes. Or maybe we don’t… remember, some folks are very happy and without issue… and I can only say that you can’t force an awareness, especially with issues that mess with self-identity.

But the seeds… they can be sown. They must be sown by people who choose to be brave, who allow for accusations to be lodged against them and are willing to appear foolish, contentious, divisive, and unsubmissive.

To speak up and expose your own ignorance is counter-intuitive, so most people don’t. It’s too risky. It affects one’s sense of identity. It’s embarrassing and messy and time consuming.

But I think there may be a spiritual consequence to choosing to say nothing if you do recognize something is stinky.

I came across a quote by Matt Redmond in an article about spiritual abuse this morning that I’m chewing on, so I’ll share it with each of you:

“You cannot ignore potential spiritual abuse, especially when you are made aware it is happening. To be silent about the abuse makes you culpable in the abuse.”

My kombucha brew… even though I can’t see it when the cupboard door is closed, still emits a powerful smell. I have to consciously decide that I want the benefits of the brew more than I mind the odor… but it doesn’t do any any good to pretend it doesn’t exist because anyone who walks in the kitchen can smell it.

And who knows, it might still be poison. That remains to be seen!

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