The Brew of the Soul
Your Spiritual Life on Drip
ow do you take yours?
Chances are that you take it some way. I know I do. I’m an eight-aday “cupper.” And even at that, I’m a wuss in my “attachment” (a Buddhist usage that I feel works much better than addiction
). At least when my habit is compared to the eighteenth-century composer Johann Sebastian Bach, the eighteenth-century philosopher Voltaire, and especially the nineteenthcentury French novelist Balzac (called by Baudelaire “the novelist of energy and will”),who drank more than fifty cups of coffee a day. (He died at age fifty, some say from caffeine poisoning.)
People around the world drink more coffee than any other drink besides water: four hundred billion cups a year. And more people are drinking more coffee more frequently with every passing year. Second only to oil as a USAmerican import, coffee is the drug of choice for the majority of North Americans, with 167 million USAmerican coffee drinkers alone quaffing five million tons a year in this nineteen-billion-dollar industry.The average coffee drinker admits to 3.4 cups a day. But remember: a “small” Starbucks cup is “tall.”
Looked at another way, every USAmerican over eighteen years of age swills one and four-fifths cups of coffee a day.But compared to either the Viennese or Swiss, we’re teetotalers. Our per capita consumption of more than ten pounds of coffee beans per year looks puny compared to the Austrians
(14 pounds) or the Swiss (15.5 pounds). In the Netherlands, each citizen (birth to nursing home) downs on average an amazing four cups a day.
A HEALTHFUL JOLT OF JAVA
Of course, coffee consumption in USAmerica pales in comparison to soft drinks (70 percent of which are carbonated). Soda pop and other such beverages add up to 574 cans for every man, woman, and child. But unlike soda’s sugar high, java jolts are actually good for you. Historically, physicians have been of two minds about caffeine. When they were not warning of its harmful effects, they were prescribing coffee for healthful impact on an astounding variety of diseases—from kidney stones and gout to smallpox, measles, and coughs. Now that sophisticated studies are being conducted to find out the real impact of caffeine, it seems the harder researchers work to detect the bad things
coffee does to you, the more they unearth coffee’s health benefits.
It is known, for instance, that coffee delivers more health-giving antioxidants to our diet than fruit, vegetables, and nuts. At six cups a day and under, coffee reduces your chance of getting Parkinson’s disease, liver and colon cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, Type 2 diabetes, and, if you are a fast metabolizer, heart disease. As a bonus, coffee improves male fertility. Caffeine can also protect you against skin cancer—but you’d have to smear it on your body for it to work.
COFFEE AND YOUR SOUL
Unlike soda, coffee improves creativity, fights fatigue, and has a long half life (six hours). Just ask a college student. Also unlike soda, coffee is a hospitality drink, a sign of welcome and openness to sharing. There are few things I enjoy more in life than what I call soulcafés: sharing good stories over good coffee. I’ve had my share of bad stories over bad coffee too. But either way, a soulcafé represents some of the most memorable moments of my life. I’ve had soulcafés with mysterious brews
I call airport coffee over vinyl tablecloths, hospital coffee over waiting-room chairs, cowboy coffee
over bare picnic tables, and thermos coffee over workshop benches. My favorite soulcafé is communion coffee, which fuels passionate brainstorms with other dreamers and schemers. Coffee talk makes the best God talk.
It will come as no surprise that my coffee of choice is Starbucks, not just because they brew a superior variety of coffee but because of the experience that comes with the drink. You can enjoy Starbucks alone, but it’s preferable to go there with a friend.
Starbucks Coffee Company is arguably the number one corporate success story of the last quarter century. Its stock is up 5,775 percent since it went public in 1992. Some call Starbucks “Fourbucks” because that’s what they usually end up spending there. But customers flock to Starbucks not to stand in line so they can pay three or four bucks for a cup of coffee. They pay so they can enjoy the Starbucks experience. The value comes with the experience that surrounds the cup of coffee. Starbucks lovers connect with the warmth of friends as they enjoy the warmth of their favorite drink.
A SENSORY FEAST
If you’re a fan of Starbucks, you know what I’m talking about. You walk in and are greeted by rich, opaque colors from every angle. In the background, appealing music thick with atmosphere refrains from masking the almost whistle of the espresso machine. Dim lighting keeps the mood relaxed but suggestive, and a medley of complex coffee smells ooze from every surface you touch. In a number of ways, Starbucks is a three-dollar sensory feast. In this book we will examine the Starbucks experience not simply so we can talk about coffee or the four million coffee drinks that Starbucks sells daily in USAmerica, but so we can learn what Starbucks has come close to perfecting—that life is meant to be lived with passion, and that passion is found and practiced through experiences, connection, symbols and images, and the full participation of every part of your being. Not only do these simple truths explain the phenomenal growth of Starbucks Coffee Company, they also point out the blind spots, weaknesses, and failures of the church to serve people at the level of life’s bottom line: passion and meaning.
Let’s be honest: life
is a loaded word. It can mean everything from resignation (“Well, that’s life.”) to exhilaration (“I love life!”). The ancient Greek language helps us here. Like the four Greek words for love,
Greek also has many words for life.
In this book, we’ll examine what I have coined the EPIC life, which in Greek is the word zoe.
(We’re not concerned here with the life of mere existence, bios.
) Zoe means flamboyant, passionate life. Or in the words of Jesus: “I have come that they may have zoe,
and have it to the full.”
Jesus recommended that his disciples learn something from the wisdom of the world. He observed that “the people of this world” pursue their dreams with greater passion and intelligence than “the people of the light.” One of my favorite theologians, Augustine of Hippo, made the case for finding bona fide beauty in the world (forged in the light of his own struggle with Manichaeism), all of which underscores the wisdom of keeping our eyes open to the truth that surrounds us.
A DRINK OF PASSION AND A PASSIONATE FAITH
With almost every study, it seems, we are discovering that fewer USAmericans than was previously thought attend church. Organized religion has been assuming that because it has a better product—namely, God—that it simply needs to open the doors and customers will line up. That assumption no
longer holds. Christians have much to learn about faith as a lived experience, not a thought experiment. Rational faith—the form of Christianity that relies on argument, logic, and apologetics to establish and defend its rightness—has failed miserably in meeting people where they live. Intellectual arguments over doctrine and theology are fine for divinity school, but they lose impact at the level of daily life experience. Starbucks knows that people live for engagement, connection, symbols, and meaningful experiences. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that the people of God throughout history have known the same thing. Life at its very best is a passionate experience, not a doctoral dissertation. The problem is not that Christianity can’t be believed, but that it can’t be practiced because of its lack of lived experience. And it can’t be observed by others because there are too few Christians who are radical enough to manifest what the gospel really looks like. The church has not always been so disconnected from the raw elements of life. And it’s entirely possible for people of faith to get back to the elementary,
elemental aspects of their faith, their spirituality, and the gospel they proclaim. The question is, How?
As a beginning point in answering that question, let’s examine a tangible and compelling example: the philosophy and practices of Starbucks Coffee Company. Let me issue an invitation to learn (or in some cases, to relearn) how to meet God in an irresistible experience, how to trade religious duty for spiritual passion, and how to engage in the life of faith in close relationship with other wayfarers. It’s time to take seriously the first and last commands of the Bible: eat freely and drink freely. If you can wait until I pour myself a fresh cup of Christmas Blend (my very favorite), we’ll begin to do just that.
Excerpted from The Gospel According to Starbucks by Leonard Sweet. Copyright © 2007 by Leonard Sweet. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.