January 5, 2011
On Holy Ground at St. Arbucks
Reflections on spiritual moments at Starbucks.
**UPDATE...This just in...Starbucks unveils a new logo to coincide with its 40th anniversary. Check it out. -Url**
Like many pastors I know, I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks.
For seven years now, as I have labored to plant, grow, and guide a church, Starbucks has been my office, my meeting space, my cafeteria, and my retreat. I’m there most work days, and I’m even there most days off to get some reading or writing time in away from the house.
Yeah—if Starbucks disappeared, I’d notice.
As with anything, though, familiarity breeds contempt. The thousands of hours I have spent in Starbucks locations all over the Portland Metro area have left me feeling at times that I’d rather be anywhere else. Please, Lord, not another day on hard wooden chairs, sipping burnt-tasting coffee, and wondering when the employees will notice the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the safe that sets my teeth on edge every 20 minutes as it tells them it’s time to make another deposit...
And yet, week after week, I return. Occasionally I try new places, but nothing has ever stuck. Despite a certain weariness with the place, the convenience of Starbucks, the free Wi-Fi, and the ease with which I can meet people there all conspire to draw me back week after week.
But something else draws me back there. At times Starbucks has been more than a coffee shop for me. Much more.
I was in my regular Starbucks the other morning before sunrise, trying to get a little quiet time before some guys I meet with arrived to talk about Jesus, their lives, what they are hearing from God, and what it looks like to respond. Normally I put headphones on so I can focus. But this morning it was quiet and the house music was better than just good. It was Christmas carols, actually, and not the “Santa Baby” kind—they were playing the great robust hymns we get to hear each year at this time that invite us to hail the Incarnate Deity in whom God and sinners find reconciliation. Sitting there reading the Scriptures and praying, the words of those songs filtered in and through me and lifted my soul to worship Jesus, the coming King.
As I listened and worshiped, I found myself reflecting on all the spiritually significant moments I’ve experienced in what I sometimes call St. Arbucks.
At Starbucks I have prayed, alone and with others. I have read and wrestled with Scripture, calling on God to speak to me, in desperation, needing a word that I knew was from Him, both for my soul and for my community. I have laughed with friends and cried alone.
In Starbucks all over this city, I have had holy moments as I confronted others and been confronted. I have sat with men who were shipwrecking their marriages and with couples about to get married. I have dreamed big dreams, talked about mundane church administration details and occasionally even just put my head down on the table and grabbed a few minutes of much-needed sleep.
It was at a Starbucks seven years ago that I first began to hear the call to plant a church. It was at a Starbucks that I began to invite others along with me on the journey. At Starbucks I have turned strangers into friends, invited them into community and even had the break up conversation with various members of our community who were moving on.
I’m not alone, I think, in increasingly seeing this “third space” as something more. I sit and watch conversations and connections going on around me—deep connections—two men here, two women there sitting over an open Bible talking about what they hear God saying to them. I see the coffee dates that represent the start of new relationships and I see the old couples sitting across from each other sipping coffee quietly, content just to be with each other. For some it’s a place to escape from others and be alone, for others a place for community. For many it’s a daily ritual that in a favorite drink from a familiar face brings stability and sameness in the middle of an unsure and unsteady world
And in all of this, I realize, for one reason or another, God has regularly chosen to show up to, for, and even through me in this least sacred of all consumer temples: the corporate coffee shop.
Over the last decade I’ve seen many churches open their own coffee shops, trying to replicate what happens in these spaces. Many choose to do so in areas where the public already gathers, others on their own church campuses. And it’s that second option that often makes me wonder why they would want to pull their people out what God is clearly doing at the local, corner coffee shop and into their own “Christian” coffee shop? Why would they want to pull all of those deep conversations, bible studies, discipleship times and personal connections out of public space and into some room in their church building that they’ve done their best to make look just like the neighborhood coffee place…but isn’t.
On a missional level, do we not pray daily to see the kingdom of God increasingly come into focus not only in our “sacred” spaces, but in all our spaces, making them sacred, because in that space God’s will is being done and His kingdom is coming?
So yeah, the coffee tastes a little burnt, it’s often hard to find a table, and occasionally they play Willie Nelson. But I’m sticking with it, because for all the prayers I’ve prayed, the conversations I’ve had where I felt the Holy Spirit move, for all the significant moments on my journey that I’ve had and am yet to have at St. Arbucks, I’m grateful.