Love People. Love Coffee.

July 31, 2018
By: 
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

I like to write in coffee shops … some of you have even caught me doing it when you’ve called and I’ve had to apologize for the background noise. I’ve always like working in coffee shops. Most Saturday mornings while in seminary, I could be found writing papers at one of the three coffee shops I rotated through. I wrote my master’s thesis at a Starbucks in Colorado. It should come as no surprise that, while writing materials for General Convention, I spent a great deal of time at Durango Joe’s, the local coffee shop near my house. (I have to confess, I’m writing this at Durango Joe’s just days before heading to General Convention.)

At first, I wasn’t sure Durango Joe’s was going to be my coffee shop. The table height took some getting used to, but each time I waited for my coffee, I studied a sign on the wall with the motto, “Love people. Love coffee.” I remember thinking that this could also be a good motto for most Episcopalians, particularly myself. And then I remember wondering what that really meant to them. Sure, the baristas are super friendly here. But is that love? One afternoon, I was working away on the Gratitude Challenge and the coffee shop was completely empty. A man walked in with a huge tray of muffins. He asked the barista if he might be able to sell his muffins to the coffee shop for them to sell. I remember stopping what I was doing so I could hear her response. She thanked him for the offer. She explained gently that the health code requirements meant they couldn’t sell his muffins, although they look lovely. She then said she could give him a donation for his business and a free drink. He gladly accepted both and left. I’m sure this happens at other businesses, but I’ve never experienced this at a coffee shop chain. I was so surprised and overwhelmed because I got to witness someone loving a complete stranger by treating him with gratitude and respect.

Love people. It sounds so simple, especially when juxtaposed with loving coffee. Loving coffee is super easy. I have only had coffee betray or disappoint me when I have not treated it with the care it requires. (I’m looking at you, French press, and your desire to explode if I overfill you.) Coffee has never chosen to be cruel without reason, unfair, or biased. Coffee doesn’t care about your income, genetic makeup, country of origin, or skin tone. It’s easy to love coffee, even if we occasionally get a cup that has been sitting a little too long, has not been brewed as strongly as we would like, or is a little colder than we had hoped.

Loving people is infinitely harder. As some of you know, I try to keep my personal Facebook page personal and mostly focused on keeping loved ones who are far away up to date on the misadventures of the Melton twins (and the UTO page focused on UTO, gratitude, and the adventures of the UTO Board and staff). This means that I occasionally get in a Facebook fight, even though I know no one wins when we fight on Facebook. I share this because I think things like Facebook actually make it harder to love people. It’s easy to say all sorts of things without thinking about who might read them. When we have to say things to people directly, we’re often confronted with the reality that loving people is really, really hard. My husband and I keep trying to teach our daughters that there are no “bad guys,” only good people who make bad choices. Loving people is nothing like loving coffee. People make all kinds of decisions and choices that I find challenging. People operate out of their own brokenness, frustrations, anxieties, or fears, sometimes without even knowing it. Scarcity and entitlement are real motivators and have real impact on others. And Jesus requires us to love people – to love them even as much as we love coffee.

One way to get better at loving people is through gratitude. Practicing gratitude requires us to push through all of that brokenness to see the good in the world and the blessings of each and every person, and to truly believe that God loves all of us, there is enough of that love, and we have enough resources if we only would share them. Gratitude means finding the good, assuming people are doing their best, and looking for the blessings even in the bleakest moments. Fred Rogers described this as “always looking for the helpers.” Gratitude is always seeking out the helpers and giving thanks. Gratitude is a reminder to love people and to see them first as a gift before wading through the challenges of the interactions. The barista really demonstrated that by first thanking the man, and through her statement of gratitude, she recognized his humanity and the blessing that he is in the world. Gratitude does not mean that we do not expect people to behave better or differently; it does not deny the existence of sin. Gratitude simply recognizes that in the midst of the brokenness that people might be operating out of is the core of love that God created them to be, and they simply have forgotten it or the brokenness of the world has led them to believe that love isn’t real. Gratitude believes we are trying our best … gratitude helps us love people. This month, as summer begins to draw to a close, I hope you will join me in trying to love people, to practice gratitude at all times so that we can be signs of Jesus’ love in a broken and hurting world. I’ll be praying that we will all be strengthened to love people as much as God loves us, so that we might be able to love people as much as we (or at least as much as I) love coffee.

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