Friday, September 09, 2016

Coffee and Resistance

One of the perks of serving a church in metro DC is the need, time to time, to meet a colleague for coffee on Capitol Hill. Today I got to the coffee shop way earlier than scheduled. I could have spent the unexpected free 45 minutes strolling the historic grounds, but it is just too damn hot here to be outside more than absolutely necessary so I hung out in the air-conditioned space.
I found a nice space next to the windows opposite the counter and just past one of the big tables around which were gathered earnest young adults tapping away at their laptops.
Most of the time, under such circumstances, I’d have been right with them, whiling away the time on line. There’s Facebook to check, news to read, baseball scores to check on, but the shop where we met required a password to log into the wifi. That’s practically un-American in my book, but it’s their shop.
So I had some time to read and write. I’m carrying around Rick Ufford-Chase’s recently published Faithful Resistance and reading it in small chunks. Any collection of essays (and responses) that wants to proclaim a gospel vision for the church in a time of empire merits slow and careful consideration.
As Rick notes in one of his response pieces, “the church of tomorrow will have to look remarkably different than the church of today, and getting there is likely to be an enterprise that involves a great deal of daring behavior.”
That observation begs several questions:
  •       What are these differences?
  •       Where is “there”?
  •       What kind of daring behavior?

The coffee shop that I was waiting in is a church-based operation. I know nothing about it other than that, but, as Fozzy Bear said when he and Kermit walked in a band rehearsal in an old church (in the original Muppet Movie) “they don’t look like Presbyterians.”
Which is not to say that we Presbyterians don’t love our coffee. Surely we do, but could we be the church as a coffee shop, could we do church as a coffee shop? More to the points pressed by the various contributors to Rick’s book, how would church as coffee shop (or coffee shop as church) be a form of faithful resistance to the culture of the empire?
I’m not trying to be critical of the coffee shop where I was today (other than the wifi password thing; seriously, if you’re going to insist on a password, as a church-based one the least you could do is use “shibboleth”). But a church of resistance has to get at least one part of Dorothy Day’s famous admonishment: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
From what I saw today, this shop does a bang-up job of comforting the comfortable. As one of the comfortable, I appreciated it, but I didn’t feel particularly challenged by anything I saw or experienced in the shop.
As I noted, I know nothing about the overall operation of the place (which is why I’m not naming it), and they may do lots of lovely things. But lots of churches do lots of lovely things: we feed hungry people, we send bandages to bind up the victims of disasters, we fix up housing for folks who need some help.
Alas, we don’t do nearly so much to change an economic system that confines so many to hunger and poverty. We don’t do much to challenge that economy’s fossil fuel foundation which is changing the global climate and spawning so many of the storms that become huge disasters. We don’t do much to transform a system (and, let’s be honest, a mindset) that refuses to consider that housing might just be a fundamental human right.

Can a coffee shop be church? Can church be a coffee shop? It seems to me that those are the wrong questions. If a coffee shop can be a center of resistance to the values and practices of empire, then sure, it can be church. But it’s wifi should be as open as the table that sits at its center.