Study your Bible, But for Goodness Sake, Buy a Scone: Tasting the Good Life: Experiencing Truth, Goodness, and Beauty at the Bistro (A Spiritual Memoir of My Favorite Coffee Shop) – Part Two
Of the two main coffee shops in the Aggieville district of Manhattan, The Bluestem Bistro is the one that—for whatever reasons—attracts the most evangelical Christians. I am not sure why, since there is nothing inherently Christianesque about the Bist—except, perhaps, for the long, dark wooden bench that runs along the east side of the shop. Without a cushion, it looks a lot like a pew from an old Episcopal or Roman Catholic cathedral—a fact not lost on my Anglican friend Ron.
“It just lacks kneelers,” he says.
Nevertheless, on any given hour, especially during the school year, there can be found at The Bluestem Bistro small 6-8 person herds of Ovis Aries Christi. Little lambs of Jesus. Together, they read and study their Bibles.
Now, my genus is Christian and my species is pastor, so I think that reading and studying the Bible is a good and wonderful thing. It encourages me to walk by a group of people who are wrestling with questions of origin in the book of Genesis, learning to pray from King David and the book of Psalms, or beholding the glory of the Son of Man in the Gospel according to Mark. I do admit, however, that I am often somewhat amused—and, yes, flummoxed—by the massive variety of study Bibles that are sold in these United States: The Apologetic Study Bible, The Spirit-Filled Study Bible, The [Insert Your Favorite Preacher] Study Bible, and my favorites, The Fire Bible and The Green Bible. The former highlights and focuses on all of the occurrences of the Scriptural metaphor of fire (editorial note: ROTFL). The latter is printed on 100 percent recycled paper and the previously red-lettered words of Jesus are now printed in environmentally-conscience green. (One wonders if book overviews and line notes are supplied by noted theologians Ralph Nader and Al Gore.) All in all, the number of different study bibles available to consumers is legion.
Ah, do you smell that? It’s the sweet fragrance of evangelical capitalism.
All kidding aside: whatever floats your ark, dear Christian brother or sister. I suppose I would be even more excited about learning and living God’s Word if it was presented to me in a stylish, black leather-bound Karate Kid Parts 1-3 Study Bible, emblazoned with a bonsai tree and complete with daily devotionals by Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. As long as you’re Breaking Thou the Bread of Life together over a hot cup of Highlander Grog and a bowl of Linguini Bolognese—or even just nibbling on a lemon poppy seed muffin—I’m happy.
Except too often that’s not what happens. Too many Christians at the Bistro taste and see that the LORD is good. They just don’t taste and see that the food is good, too. Because they don’t buy anything. And to be honest? That bothers me.
I try to imagine the mindset that reasons thus: we need a place to hold our Bible study. Hey, the Bluestem Bistro is centrally located, provides a pleasant atmosphere, and has large tables where a small group of us can meet comfortably! As an added bonus, it’s free. Why would we have to buy anything? Never mind that we are taking up space for otherwise paying customers and, thus, essentially robbing the proprietors of the Bistro. What matters is that we’re studying the Holy Scriptures.
The good news: this unfortunate phenomenon does not happen near as much as it used to. This is, in part, because the new owner (justifiably) put the kibosh on anyone—Christian or otherwise—who was using the coffee shop as a free study space. But over the last eight years, it is not like the freeloading faithful have gone unnoticed by the less religious among us. I have, on more than one occasion, heard complaints that, with laser-precise accuracy, properly accused the bilk-the-Bistro-for-a-Bible-study crowd of doing something that is just. Plain. WRONG. Not to mention petty.
Which bring me to a truth learned from the Bistro: more often than not, we Christians can make or break our reputations, and thus attract or repel people to or from Jesus, not by how we perform the major obligations of the Christian life—like reading the Bible or praying—but by being mindful of the common sense courtesies and everyday ethics that are a natural part of our daily interactions with the world at large.
Do you get what I’m saying? Let me put it this way: if 1 Corinthians 13, Saint Paul’s great description of love, was re-written to address this issue, it might read something like this:
1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but don’t buy some food to justify the use of a coffee shop for my small group Bible study, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but I leave an evangelistic tract instead of a fat tip for my waitress, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but consistently need to get courtesy calls from the nice ladies at the City of Manhattan reminding me to pay my utility bill so my water doesn’t get shut off, I gain nothing.
Yeah. That last one was for me. Mea Culpa. Mea Maxima Culpa.
I suppose it is cliché, but that doesn’t mean it is untrue: it is the little, everyday actions of our lives that reveal our character. It is also those otherwise sideline actions that seem peripheral to the heart of our spiritual life that do much to shape our reputations and, by extension, lead others to either pass up or take a little sip of the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus.
So, all this to say: study your Bible. Drink some java. Eat a platter of barbecue ribs. Leave a wad of cash.
Evangelism doesn’t have to be complicated.
Posted in Memoirs, Stories, and Anecdotes