Conversations trouble me. It is not that I do not like conversations. In fact most who know me would scratch their heads at the opening sentence. My wife would say I talk too much. Our worlds of words often seem more a jungle than an open plain. We who speak as part of our vocation long for "word pictures" to help convey an idea or give an explanation.
I read a recent review of Len Sweet’s, The Gospel According to Starbuck’s. Michael noted,
Underneath the pages of the book itâ??Ã?Ã´s not hard to see a writing style
that takes an idea, feeds it lots of research, and then pulls out as
many Christian applications as possible. Sweet is a learner who reports
his learning process in his books. His conclusions are not
pontifications, but observations and discoveries.
If you have read much of Len Sweet you know this to be true.
My recent encounter with Scott Hackman pressed me to think about issues of justice on deeper levels. Coffee served as the centerpiece of our conversation. We had some frame of reference as Jason, our former associate pastor, turned our attention to Fair Trade products a couple of years ago. Our folks consume a lot of coffee. In fact, coffee is one of the leading beverages of choice around the world. We decided we should think about our purchasing habits. One of our favorite "Bistro’s" is Cafe Bella. Bo at Cafe Bella sells Fair Trade Coffee. We have been buying most, if not all, of our coffee from Bo. Scott shared with me some of the realities of the Fair Trade label. Very few projects avoid corruption. According to Scott, Fair Trade labels are not immune. That is not an attempt to discredit "fair trade" but simply to note occasions where the label is for "sale" even to those who do not necessarily meet the criterion.
One Village Coffee was founded on the simple idea that businesses can do more than business; they can also support the communities they work with. In the coffee world, many of the places with the most need are typically communities of coffee farmers and growers. So we decided to put our simple idea to the test. We created a small coffee company with a vision based on cultivating a higher quality of coffee for our customers, and a higher quality of life for those who produce it.
The dream is not only to be sure small coffee farmers and growers receive a fair wage for their product but One Village Coffee intends to reinvest in these out of the way places like the villages they currently work with in Honduras. Our consumerist tendencies may stop at helping someone receive a good wage, but what about pressing further to help promote certain amenities we take for granted? This and other questions drive Scott and those who share his dream.
My long(ish) set up provides the backdrop for one of those conversations where it appeared the trees obscured the forest. Since I am not interested in calling any particular person out but to expose the general lack of depth in our thinking I will modify a very real conversation to illustrate how we get locked into our own world of words making conversation tedious and often impossible.
A group of employees enjoyed listening to classic rock music during their lunch and breaks in the community break room. They did not crank the volume on their radio to a shrill. It played without too much attention. One day a person whose tastes came from another era happened on these young people enjoying their break to some classic tunes. This Christian person believed "rock music" the "devil’s music" and inappropriate to play at a Christian business. Complaint reached the top a new policy enacted. Something like, "You may play your music in your cubicle wearing earphones, but we cannot allow this to continue in the break room." Rationale for the move came from Scripture where we are not to cause "another to stumble" and we should exercise our will to "live at peace with one another."
Now this place of employment takes in its share of coffee. In fact, they likely have a "coffee service." Few if any miss their cup. Some may arrive to work with their Starbuck’s cup in tow but be sure if there is need for a "warm up," it is easy to find.
My thinking about the matter tended toward a comparison. How do we compare the plight of the small coffee farmers and growers with the concern over music played at a given establishment noted to be Christian? The two matters seemed worlds apart. During an entire e-mail exchange a young supervisor could only fixate on pacifying a constituent and never once responded to the question of where they buy their coffee. Instead we toyed with stumbling and peace. Here is where our world of words came into play.
Matters of justice could not be heard because we live in a world where words find their place in pacifying the petty. Stumbling over music does not even fit the context of the passage from which the phrase is lifted. (Read Romans 14 again) Living at peace with all people does not pertain to musical preference when considering the passage from which that phrase is found. (Read Romans 12-13 again) I was left with great concern. Using Scripture to mold another into my image is manipulative. Experiencing the transforming work of the Spirit through the Scriptures, while unsettling, is freeing. When our world of words includes "inerrancy" we must be careful not to impose on those "inerrant and infallible" words our own penchant but rather be prepared to be confronted, subverted and transformed. (This is why I agree with Paul when it comes to the politically charged "inerrancy.")
So, I will continue to ask where my friends at this Christian business buy their coffee. One day they will hear the call of justice more than the cry of the petty. Then it really will not matter what kind of music is played. What will matter is just how we can contribute to the well-being of another – and in the end may well bring them Jesus.