Coffee Shops, Vicious Bears, and Scandalous Stories

In Exploring Faith by Laura Buffington

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Laura Buffington

Laura Buffington

A few years ago, I decided to give up working at a desk in an office and to work more often in coffee shops. Here are at least three good reasons why I made the move:

1. I’ve always envied people powered by coffee and have made numerous attempts to develop an addiction. So far, they have all been futile. That stuff tastes gross.
2. The physical setting of a coffee shop connected me to the human experience in a way that a church office could not do. I love church buildings but I write with more awareness and empathy when I’m in public places.
3. I’m far more productive with only strangers around. While I might get distracted by the temptation to people-watch or people-eavesdrop, I get pulled into far fewer spontaneous meetings.

And speaking of eavesdropping, it’s not unusual for some coffee shop encounter to inspire or refine some piece I’m working on. So it’s less like creepiness, and more like research. (Maybe?) Allow me this example:

Last week, I landed in the dreaded MiddleSpace at my favorite coffee shop. It’s always preferable to be on the outside, near a window or a wall. You get a little more space that way. Also, when you’re in the MiddleSpace, it’s easier to become the Watched, rather than the Watching. (Wow, the more I think about it, the creepier it sounds.)

Anyhow, I ended up at a table right next to a man and woman who seemed to be on their very first “get to know each other over coffee” date. I was approximately 24 inches away from their date, effectively making me an involuntary third wheel to their already awkward bicycle. They talked about the typical things, their jobs, their likes and dislikes, how they were both too busy and too good to ever watch television. In classic first-date fashion, they agreed on everything, including where to place all the uncomfortable silences. Several times when their conversation lulled, I was at least a little tempted to jump in and keep things rolling. I really was trying to C-my way out of their A-B conversation (5th grade anyone?) but we were very close and my book was very boring.

They started talking about another guy in the coffee shop who was reading a Bible. Neither of them attached themselves to any kind of faith or religion. They both said they didn’t really see the point. Then she said this:

“The only thing I know is that there’s some story in there about a bald guy who calls on a bunch of bears to kill some kids who make fun of him for being bald.”

She’s right. That story is in there, in 2 Kings 2. And yes, it’s super weird. I stopped listening to them for a while and I thought about how faith, Christianity in particular, must look to people who only know a thing or two. I thought about all the things that have the potential to embarrass followers of Jesus in public places and public conversations. If I believed in destroying the barriers of a polite society, there are things I might have said.

I might have elaborated on that story and how Elisha had just lost his mentor and was stumbling around trying to stay alive when these kids mocked him. I might have noted how the Elijah/Elisha story is a beautiful picture of one generation giving power away to the next.

I wanted to say something about how the descriptive, imaginative work of the Hebrew people has always been a great gift to the world, from the poetry of the Bible to the movies in today’s theaters.

I might have confessed that I have adhered to the biblical story for most of my life and I’m still scandalized by certain parts of it. Some parts are too good to be true while others are too true to be good.

It’s the embarrassing parts that get me sometimes. The parts that we could take away if we wanted it all to be more credible. Adam and Eve wanting the only thing they couldn’t have. Noah passed out drunk and naked on the beach. God’s insistence on turning prostitutes into heroes. King David conspiring to take out his lover’s husband and still being called a “man after God’s own heart.” So embarrassing. Jesus going to all those parties. His trip up the mountain where he talks with dead people and shines like a light bulb. His trust in doofus disciples who only want to argue about how awesome they are and who’s the most awesomest. A guy who kills Christians one day and wants everybody to become one the next. The whole big idea that hate can turn to love and death can be life.

“It really is ridiculous,” I might have said.


Photo (Flickr CC) by 1Flatworld

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Laura Buffington

Laura Buffington

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Laura Buffington is the Spiritual Formation Pastor at SouthBrook Christian Church near Dayton, Ohio and an adjunct professor at Cincinnati Christian University. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio but spent some good years in Tennessee at Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary. In 2013, Christian Standard named Laura one of the “Top 40 Under 40 Leaders.” While "Christian" shows up a lot in her life story and résumé, she wrestles a lot with faith and loves good conversations with people who see the world differently.