I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.*
“You wanna meet for a cup of coffee?”
Many of my friendships have blossomed over coffee; sometimes I was the inviter, sometimes the invitee. As a pastor the coffee shop was where I frequently connected with people in a relaxed, neutral environment.
A friend from years ago would invite guys from the church to join him later in the week for coffee at his ‘office’. His office was a corner table in the nearby Baker’s Dozen donut shop. Another long-time friend (hi CM) has the wonderful gift of friendship and through the years much of it has happened over steaming cups of tea. Yes tea.
I admit it never occurred to me that tea could be a substitute for coffee but I suppose any drink can serve the same purpose. When people ‘go out for a drink’ it is simply a euphemism for, “Let’s use a delicious beverage as an excuse to get to know each other better”.
Our world needs more of that. You and I need more of that. Lots more. Safe, honest, friendly talk while nursing a drink. Yes I know covid has complicated physical connecting but don’t forget to restart when it’s safe again.
Anyway, the principle is still important: we can best understand a person when we look in their eyes, learn who they are, breathe the same air. The give-and-take of presence.
When we see each other through the internet – even on Zoom – we become mere digital words/pictures and it is easier to be dismissive. Reducing ourselves to nothing more than pixelated ideas has the effect of dehumanizing.
warning: stunning insightfulness ahead
So here’s my stunningly insightful point. Are you ready?
We are all just human beings.
I told you it was going to be stunningly insightful!
We all have history. We all have influences. We all want to be heard. We all want to be respected. We all use a toilet.
Yet sometimes we act as if everybody else is ignorant and wrong. When we refuse to listen, the loudest voices on both sides define their own truth and unleash resentment. We forget the old adage, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
It’s easy for me to dismiss sexism until I talk to women who have experienced various forms of it.
It’s easier to judge law breakers or people with addictions, than to try to understand the pain in their lives.
When we talk, we can discover there are hunters who love nature more than some vegans or environmentalists. And vice-versa.
I don’t know what it’s like to be poor, discriminated against, or hopelessly underemployed until I talk to people who are trapped in those systems.
We ask victims to ‘forgive and forget’ without understanding how deeply they have been scarred.
Shouldn’t a WASP Canadian man like me be cautious about commenting on what inner city black men experience? Shouldn’t I be careful about dismissing ‘white privilege’ until I hear what it is from someone who isn’t white?
My ideas about people who are gay changed through shared time and friendships, especially as I often sensed a faith that was deeper than my own.
How can we question the quality of someone’s faith without knowing who that other person is beneath their skin?
I could go on. But shouldn’t we all give the same patience and understanding that we expect from others?
The truth is that I’m no different than millions of people, both christian and non, who are exhausted from all the preaching – all the preaching aimed at us by people who have never shared a drink with us.
let us pray
Healthy relationships always require communication, compromise, consensus – a united vision of what is true. Why? Because, to quote Carole King, one of my favourite songwriters, “We are all in this together”.
Take a look at the Lord’s Prayer, the template Jesus gave us for how we should think and pray. The words he left with us speak only in shared, communal language; you won’t find ‘me’ or ‘my’ anywhere in it.
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
That prayer. It’s so pure.
We make it self-centred but it actually leaves no room for self. Instead, it enables us to unite our voices for the things that matter most for all, and for the kingdom of God. It is a prayer that is best prayed together in church, at home, over a brewed cup of something.
I’m not exempt
This blog typically gets created while I sip coffee from my side of the table – opinions formed from a journey of thinking, reading, experiencing. However I am as intentional as possible about understanding the viewpoints that might be represented at the other sides of the table.
For example, I have a friend on Facebook (surprise) who is very opinionated. From his comments online it seems we disagree about nearly everything. There are times when I just want to tear his ideas apart or attack his attitude or educate him in some way.
The problem is, he is the nicest guy.
I mean it – he is successful in all the right ways. He’s a hard worker, loves his family; he’s a person of loyalty, discipline, faith, generosity, and integrity. He has always been kind to me, and every time we talk our conversation is light and cordial I find myself liking him all the more.
So whenever his Facebook rants make me angry I just stop and think of the friend I know from personal experience. I remind myself that my anger needs to be tempered because he is a good person.
I actually use him as a reminder whenever anyone else frustrates me online. I think of him and I am prompted to be patient with others because my relationship with him has taught me the benefit of conversation and friendship.
it is advent, after all
If you glance at the Psalm at the top of this blog you will notice that the writer is confident he will see goodness “…in the land of the living.” Even as he writes, I have the impression that the Psalmist is looking around for the goodness that he believes God has provided. This isn’t typical christian talk – day-dreaming about heaven – it is a very current outlook that should also be our hope and our effort.
I am hopeful for the world and for the crowds of cranky people who inhabit it. I am hopeful because I believe most of them would be good and reasonable if we had time to share a few cups of coffee.
I’m hopeful because the Bible is hopeful. From Genesis to Revelation is a history of the ugliness of human nature and the goodness of human beings who respond to the grace given them.
I am hopeful because this season of Advent reminds me of a God who brings divine redemption through human bodies.
And I am hopeful because I believe that simply sharing coffee (or the beverage of your choice) is the best place to start.
* Psalm 27:13, (NIV)