A few years ago, I wrote an essay about a unique coffee shop I visited and I thought you might enjoy it. It comes from Common Grounds: Contemplations, Confessions, and (Unexpected) Connections from the Coffee Shop.
This coffee shop is in the part of town where art meets dreamer meets poverty. If you visit, you’ll find learners here—people who are digging deep into a book to talk about it with another learner. The last time I was here, a man read a portion of his Bible aloud and then he would stop every once in a while to ask a question or to hear some insight from the man who sat across the table from him. It appeared to be a one-on-one discipleship relationship, and it was sacred.
Tonight, I had to go up into the loft to find the only remaining open table. I ended up sitting above an older African-American man who was in the middle of discipling a considerably younger white woman. As I sat down, they were dissecting the Greek word kronos.
“He is the timekeeper,” the man says. “He controls everything. He controls the stars. He controls time. He controls light.” His voice rises with each statement, as if he were behind a pulpit. He easily transitions to quoting the book of Enoch, saying Christians were the keepers of the book, and even quoted from it. “Enoch is like the angels. God has chosen him to do something special. We can get the truth about things from him.”
I have no idea which religion the man adheres to, but whatever it is, he believes it with all his heart. He went on for another twenty minutes giving her his opinion about how Jesus and Enoch could be one and the same. After he finishes, she tells him she follows a blend of Christianity and Judaism, and that she appreciates studying the original meaning of the texts.
A couple of middle-aged women sit behind them. Again, it is one African-American woman and one white woman. The African-American woman is reading from her laptop screen and the white woman is busy scribbling notes.
Two men near them are talking about Johnny Cash, while playing a game that resembles checkers, except it has more (and smaller) squares and more pieces.
Next to them, two men sit with one woman—all of them are reading. One of them is reading a book, and the other two are reading something on their laptops.
The man who is reading a book looks up at the two men who are playing the checkers knockoff game. “What are you guys playing?”
“It’s called Joe [I’m relatively certain that I’m spelling it incorrectly, but that’s how it sounds], from the Chinese ‘ego.’ It’s like a farm game, you try to protect your territory.”
“When does the game end?”
“Usually when Pete resigns.”
“It ends when neither side has a good play.”
The sensei, who is wearing a tie, spends the next ten minutes describing the game to the book-reader and a couple who walks up and introduces themselves to him. The man in the couple says he knows the basics of the game, but wants to know more. He’s come to the right place—the place of learners. The sensei takes him under his wing and begins to explain the strategy. Ten minutes later, everybody exchanges names and numbers and plans their next game for this coming Friday evening.
I haven’t heard a single mention of the Kardashians or The Bachelor yet, and I have to say, it is refreshing. I’m not anti-Bachelor as much as I am pro-going deeper, no matter the topic. I know they are not mutually exclusive, and I have my own guilty TV pleasures, but being around people who know how to go deep is inspiring. It’s one thing to get excited about who Juan Pablo is going to choose, and quite another to get excited over a game that taps into political philosophies and personal worldviews.
Mini-communities are forming before my eyes. It makes me want to want to lay aside a higher percentage of low culture to engage in more high culture. Again, I don’t believe they are, or need to be, mutually exclusive, but too much low culture has a negative effect on my soul. It makes me long for what I don’t have (a spouse, money), rather than inspiring me to consider deeper concepts (what I believe, why I believe it). Conversely, I have to admit, too much high culture gives me a headache. So I guess I need to find the proverbial balance.
I look over and see that the other readers have pulled their table over to join the Joe players, making them one. Most of the rest of the crowd has turned over. The twenty-five or thirty people who are here are creating a gentle hum of conversation. Other than one woman, nobody is locked into his or her cell phone. Instead, they are locked in with one another.
It is a Tuesday evening, and they could be watching a television show about relationships. Instead, this crowd of people from every walk of life has intentionally sought out a place that is out of the norm—one where they can experience genuine relationship with some people who are like them, and some who are not, knowing they would find more satisfaction. And I suspect they did.