Culture

March 24 2014
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I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a town almost as strange as Austin, but with a small-town feel. We’re a twist of academic and hippy, Bible belt and pagan, quiet faith and picket line. I have my poet friends, my BSF friends, and then every sort in between. We pride ourselves in the market on the square where you can come and hear our boys on the banjo, the girls clapping, women playing upright bass. Come and smell the peaches, blooms so pretty, the handmade soaps. Walk in our coffee shops and restaurants. You’ll taste earth. You’ll notice our care. Hear talk of both Farmer’s Almanac and priceless art. Come to Northwest Arkansas, and you can see Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter stepping on Mien Kampf, the prophetess she is.

Maybe you love your town like I do. Maybe you study your town and desire beautiful things for it like I do. Fayetteville fascinates me because the university affords many cultures the chance to mingle. I love the church here, too, and the endless way she serves here right where we are. I get to watch a lot of it happen at the table right next to me in coffee shops, how we minister and how the world sees us as believers. A coffee shop can be a little bit like a petri dish.

I’m not sure what I would do without these little thriving shops. There’s not a better place to people-watch or to learn the rhythms of dialogue. I meet dearest friends in a shop every Friday morning, and I promise you, glory comes down. We hardly ever connect there over our gorgeous lattes without true ministry going on. I have written chapters and blog posts there, and I have been given a safe place to actually read an entire portion of scripture and many other books without being interrupted by my four children. Coffee shops are for intimate conversation and for the space to breathe. I hear business conversations go down hard. We plot our social-justice documentaries and our spirit-filled books. We plant churches and lead younger generations from there.  

Recently, though, a dear friend who hasn’t been a church girl for a while shared her perspective with me about Christians in coffee shops. She’s a barista and had made some pretty startling observations about many of the people who came in to do “ministry.”  She’s the one who opened my eyes to the number of men, tables and tables of men, who come and sit the entire day at their tables. Many sit with their Bibles open, holding hands with parishioners in prayer, yet not having the social wherewithal to actually purchase a cup of coffee. Many come sit for hours and never purchase a single thing.

I’ve had my eyes open now for months, noting how often it happens, and it’s been long enough now that my friend’s observations have become my own. I’m most loyal to a place called Mama Carmen’s, a place whose proceeds go to support an actual lady named Mama Carmen in Guatemala and the house-full of kids she’s taken off the streets. Often I go in there, and no tables are available, and yet there are no drinks on the tables. I ask the baristas …

I owe almost every post I’ve written in the last year to the space in our good coffee shops, places where single moms wait tables so they can pay their rent. 

a revolution for authors, blog writers, and ministers who share office space in coffee shops.

So here are some suggestions, some ethics to consider:

Businesses don’t run for free.  Rent isn’t free.

A cup of coffee should buy you about 1.5 hour of table time at very most. If you buy a meal, I think you should get to linger for about 2 hours. Mind you, these aren’t rules. This is just how my brain has shifted after hearing the perspective of friends from multiple shops who have similar gatherings about the Christians who come in mooch.

Also, you daggum need to tip.

Consider the library instead.

Much of the Christianity I see worked out here in our American culture happens in coffee shops, where people meet for accountability and to discuss how God is speaking to their hearts. Dare I say that the places we gather during the week are the very places we’re showing Jesus to the world – Jesus, the God of Mooch, the God of public prayer. The left hand seems to know much about what the right is doing, yet it can’t seem to pay a buck 95 for a cup of joe.

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