I’m going to start by telling you a story. About 15 years ago, I was working as a bank teller at Bank One on Cedar and Fairmount. The teller staff consisted of five women. Four of us were twentysomethings: unmarried, college students, a couple of us were single mothers.
The fifth was Norma. Norma was considerably older than the rest of us. She had worked there for a really long time. It seemed like everyone knew her – the customers, the customers’ kids, the UPS guy, the mailman, the police officers- everyone. She just had this warmth about her. Norma didn’t speak much. She spoke through gentle nods and soft smiles. There was nothing wrong with her, it was just her way.
Every morning she’d come in early and make coffee for the staff in the basement. I don’t know how many pots she made a day, but there was always fresh hot coffee in the basement, whether it was 8 am or 3 pm. She never made a big deal about it. No one ever asked her, she just did it.
After some months passed, a Starbucks opened directly across the street from the bank. It must have been one of the first (if not the first) Starbucks in Cleveland. My co-workers and I were so excited to go and taste this new exotic coffee. So on opening day, we trotted across the street to be among the first to experience coffee, the Starbucks way.
After the first drop, we were converts. Somehow Starbucks changed coffee drinking into an event, an experience, a culture. Every day my little band of seekers and I would travel across the street to order our coffee concoctions. We were learning a new language. Words like venti, mocha, grande, and tall. We were a part of a new community. Suddenly we were a part of something that felt bigger than us. It was very exciting!
Somehow going there gave us the feeling that we were just a little bit better than non-Starbucks people. It was kind of like that book The Secret. We had a power, a status. Before Starbucks or (BS) as I like to call it, I might spend $ 1.00 for a cup of coffee. And it was just that coffee, meaning ground beans filtered through hot water. Making a cup did not require any special training. Anyone could do it. But after joining the Starbucks movement, I discovered that I had been drinking hot brown water. Real coffee, excuse me, “espresso” was a highly sophisticated product which can only be made by trained professionals. Not little old ladies in a basement.
Meanwhile Norma was still faithfully making coffee every day. We all asked her to come along on our morning meditations. She’d smile but shake her head “no.” We’d offered to bring her something back, but she’d shake her head “no.“
We actually started getting a little annoyed with Norma. Who did she think she was to ignore the call? We started making fun of her a little bit. What is with Norma and this ancient coffeemaker? Maybe they hang out because they’re the same age.
I tried to reason with her. I said Norma, you don’t know what you’re missing! The dark wood, the hissing of the espresso machine, the froth, the music, the mood, the mermaid. How could she not be seduced by Starbucks? No matter how many times we confessed and professed our love for Starbucks, she was unmoved.
One morning the ladies met as always to make our pilgrimage, but I couldn’t go. I didn’t have enough money. After weeks of existing in some kind of alternate reality where I was cooler, smarter and apparently rich, as a member of the newest, hottest, and most exclusive club in town, I had to come back to reality. I couldn’t afford to pay $4 a day for two ounces of coffee and six ounces of whip cream, froth, and sugar. That morning my co-workers went without me. As I slunk my way back to my desk, depressed and dejected, I caught the whiff of a familiar smell. I followed the scent downstairs to find Norma in the basement with a fresh, hot pot of free coffee.
Even today, I still love Starbucks. My favorite drink is a tall soy mocha no whip. If I am ever out drinking my tall soy mocha no whip and someone were to stop me and say, Shannon where did get that coffee? My first thought would probably be, are you crazy? How is it possible that you haven’t heard the good news? But with great joy, I would confess and profess my love for Starbucks. I would witness to its miraculous signs and wonders. I would lead them to its temple gates. Take them up to the temple guards (also known as baristas) who would explain these smooth, rich decedent signs and miracles can be theirs too, but you gotta pay to be in this kingdom.
But when someone asks me, Shannon, how do you balance work, school, and family? I say something like well, I have a wonderful family that supports me, blah, blah, blah…While this is true, it’s only a half truth. The reason I do anything at all, is by the grace of God. The reason I keep going when I have nothing left, is through the love of Jesus. Why am I so afraid to claim it? Why is it easier to evangelize for coffee rather than Jesus?
I know I’m picking on Starbucks but any major company would do. They prey on our insecurities and tell us we’re not good enough. They create a product and then create a need. They create fear and then create a beast. They create a sickness and then sell the cure. Then they get us to market and advertise for them. We perpetuate and evangelize the lie.
But we are all here for truth. We are all here seeking an authentic experience of the Divine. While we all seek, some of us have been shown. Some of us have touched God, some us have talked to God. Some of us have walked with God. Some of us have fought with God. Some of us have the limp to prove it.
Why can’t I be like Peter and John and speak with great boldness about what I have seen and heard? Why can’t I be more like Norma? Why can’t I tell people:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
I believe, do you?
Drinking from the well of Starbucks may satisfy my thirst, but drawing from the well of Jacob will end my thirst. One is shallow; the other is boundless. One will make a desert; the other will make a garden.
Right now, it’s not hip or trendy to be Christian. Maybe Christianity doesn’t have the mystique of Buddhism or the edge of Atheism, but truth is always true whether we accept it or not. Whether in a fountain, a well, or a river, the living waters still flow. It flows not in defiance, but in soft, gentle waves of love and grace.
The real good news is: no one is turned away and there is always enough. All you need is a cup. I’ll meet you in the basement.