Friday, December 1, 2017

The Adventist Coffee Break

I've only played matchmaker once in my life, and when I did, I picked a big one. I gave my lifelong bff's phone number to a friend from seminary. It was really terrifying—said bff was dating someone else at the time. In apology, I tried to be as honest as I could with my “inside information” on him. He doesn't like onions, he wears too much black—oh, and I think he's a little too dependent on his coffee. 

They talked on the phone, and then Jim and I got to introduce them in person at Christmas. She decided to bring him a present—a coffee mug, and a jar of Roma coffee alternative.

It worked. Previous Boyfriend went the way of the dinosaur, and the next September I got to be matron of honor at a lovely beach wedding. The Roma, I understand, had a long life, surviving at least one move. I haven't tried it. But I always enjoy the coffee at their house.

Coffee showed up at our house along with our first child. It started at the hospital. It turns out that, while I had the advantage of contractions to keep me awake, poor Jim had to find some other means.

We'd had the baby home less than a week before my mom came to visit, and bought a coffee-maker to help her survive. We made no objection that she didn't pack it into her suitcase to take home later. We went from the adrenaline-high of the new baby to the bone-deep exhaustion of the not-so-new baby, and on into the sleepless grind of parenthood, and the coffee-maker came with us, and held our hands.

Two more kids later, we've moved on to bigger and better, and then smaller and better machines. We went through the Keurig stage, and out the other side, to a french press, and now a pour-over system. I'm a bit of an Other-Adventist hypocrite, I have to confess. I haven't managed to develop a coffee habit myself (mostly I drink it when visiting bff). But I am a good enabler. Frankly, I'm just happy to know I can always make Jim happy with a bag of whole beans for Christmas.

It's entertaining to drink coffee in the Adventist world. We have often packed our own supplies when going to overnight events for pastors. Sometimes there's coffee out with the breakfast service. Sometimes it's hiding in the back of the kitchen, for those who know where to look. Sometimes there is none, and we get to share out of our room.

Coffee is getting to be more mainstream in the church. I remember the first time we went to a church where one of the adult classes served coffee, guiltily, in a back room. Now I know many that serve it in the lobby.

A few years ago, a certain Adventist magazine ran an article on coffee, apparently trying to re-stigmatize it. It was a confession, written by an anonymous pastor telling his/her experience of having medically unusual withdrawal symptoms when s/he quit drinking it. The anonymity was more telling than the article's content--the intention* was evidently to tell us that coffee drinking really was something of which we ought to be ashamed, and hide back in the back room again.

I don't think it's going back. In fact, I think it's time to give up on debating coffee. As a church, it isn't worth our time anymore.

Medical research won't help us here. I know I've heard good and bad research, although only the bad gets shared around Adventist circles. I won't deny it's real, but I have to suspect it's subjective. Sadly, having a medical study is kind of like having a Red Book quote—it comes with a context (almost always to answer a specific question), it isn't the whole story, and it usually comes with interpretation supplied. It doesn't really end the discussion. 

It's a tough to live in a world with so much information (or to read from a prophet who has such a large body of work, from such a variety of situations**). It means, like it or not, we're going to have to use our own reason, make our own choices. It means that authority isn't as simple a concept as we'd like it to be.

It's hard, but we're going to have to navigate that reality somehow. Otherwise we find ourselves doing silly things. Things like pushing all manner of untested natural remedies because they're plants, so they must be safe, but then demonizing the one that does get studied. Or making life harder for one another.

At the end of the day, the reason we use coffee isn't really its chemical effects. For all the memes about how it prevents murder, the fact is much of the value is comfort, and ritual, and the social time it creates. The coffee break is about a lot more than caffeine. Coffee is just another tool for managing life. It works for many people. Not so well for others.

Yes, caffeine has an effect. Like any other self-medication, it has to be used thoughtfully. But experience says that's what most people do. We rest when we can, we caffeinate, we commiserate, we spend a little extra time together. And then we go back out and tackle life again.

Life is hard. The Christian life is complicated, and often muddled, and we can't afford to waste time making it harder for one other. Especially when we're following the path of a Savior who says it isn't what you put in your mouth that does the harm, but what comes out.***

My burden isn't for the coffee. It's for the church. We are all the church. Some of us reach for the coffee and some from the Roma (and some for an unsweetened herbal tea). But we are bound together by a faith that is much bigger than beverages. We worship a God who is greater than our differences, and we bear a message which is far too valuable to neglect so we can argue over food.

To my church I say, keep the faith. Drink the Roma, or drink the coffee, but don't drink the proverbial Kool Aid. Skip the judgement. Keep the faith.

*I'll keep the name of the magazine anonymous. You know, to protect the guilty and all . . .

**As a general principle. I am not trying to imply there is more than one opinion on coffee in her work, only that we're forced, by seeing the whole of what she wrote, to understand that inspiration is more complicated, and more contextual than we would like.

***Matthew 15:11


  1. The following says it all: "I won't deny it's real, but I have to suspect it's subjective. Sadly, having a medical study is kind of like having a Red Book quote—it comes with a context (almost always to answer a specific question), it isn't the whole story, and it usually comes with interpretation supplied. It doesn't really end the discussion."

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good stuff! I'll take mine cold-brewed...

  2. You'll laugh at this, but as a lifelong Adventist who really tried to live by the health principals, I was always, shall we say, a little "plugged up". No matter how much water I drank, how much exercise I did, how many items I left out of my diet, how many fasts I went on, how much roughage I ingested, even all the antigas options (herbal and otherwise) I tried, I suffered with embarrassing flatulence and a feeling of constipation. This was made worse when I sang (often, as I was an Adventist music teacher for many years and participated in a couple of advanced church choirs in my area) or when I moved (also embarrassing, since when I wasn't teaching music, I was teaching elementary school, and you can imagine how that went over with the kids). It wasn't until I started drinking coffee as a first-time 40-year old mom that my digestive system began working the way it should. I'm not going back. And, recently, I connected with relatives on both side of my birth family (I'm adopted). It turns out that colon cancer runs on BOTH sides of the family. For me, coffee may a key factor in cleaning out my sluggish colon and extending my life!

  3. I never cared for coffee. To me it always tasted like the water you pour off burned pinto beans. My wife, however, was weaned on the stuff. She went from the breast to the coffee pot, literally. I've recently tried Roma when a sample was sent me by Atlantic Foods to test for my "Potluck Vegetarian" weblog. So we have a coffee pot - single cup style. Never saw the need for a bigger one, although the wife keeps lobbying for a coffee maker with a bigger pot. I suspect it's just in case we get visitors with whom to share a pot of coffee. Pots of coffee are deeply ingrained in her Louisiana cultural makeup. It's a social thing and since I've never developed the habit or the caffeine addiction, she perceives the lack of a coffee-drinking partner as an emotional loss. She is now on decaf when she isn't cutting it with the hard stuff or needs a boost and drinks it straight with lots of cream/no sugar.

    I like the Roma well enough but the hot beverage thing has never become a habit with me. I'm kind of ADHD and I don't get the buzz from caffeine that other people do. I once chewed up three No-Doze to stay awake while driving and when we arrived went straight to bed. I admit I tossed and turned for 10 to 15 minutes or so, but I slept like a baby. The fact that I never developed a taste for coffee is probably more about the lack of the caffeine buzz than it is about health-consciousness. Guys used to do Dr. Pepper by the case during late night study sessions before semester finals back in college. It never did anything for me. I never felt any effects and still kept nodding off. So I don't really get the effect that encourages caffeine addiction.

    That said, I avoid caffeine anyway. I'm an iced tea hound and even there I do decaf tea. Why do something that gives me no joy, no artificial buzz, and no commensurate feeling of camaraderie. Coffee is just something that stains clothes and for some reason is associated in my brain with the smell of cigarettes (Dad was a chain-smoker). I just never understood the fascination with a black, bitter, beverage that looks like it's got an oil slick forming on its surface.

    Not being judgmental here. As I said, we have a coffee pot and I'm the guy that usually makes my wife's coffee ever morning (I suppose that makes me an enabler). In fact, she's still trying to figure out why my coffee is better than hers most times.

    Still, there are counsels about caffeine. I admit to liking my monthly Diet Dr. Pepper from the McDonald's at Walmart. It's my reward for shopping day. When I can I get the caffeine free DP. The caffeine makes no difference. Caffeine is medicinal as far as I'm concerned. I just don't need the medication. I suppose you have to decide whether your coffee is medicinal or an addiction. My mother-in-law used to put away a couple of pots of coffee in the course of a normal morning and got the shakes if she ran out. The woman would walk ten miles in a snowstorm to buy coffee if she'd run out. I suspect some intervention would have eventually been called for, but she died before she hit 70 so it turned out that it wouldn't have done anything but make her last years miserable. I don't remember Jesus instructing us to make anyone's last years miserable so I didn't say anything about it. Just made a lot of individual cups of coffee in our palpably inadequate coffee-maker when she came to visit. I thought it was my Christian duty under the whole "honor thy father and thy mother (in-law) commandment.