My favorite coffee has always been Dr. Pepper. While others sipped on their Folgers, I would drink a nice cool Dr. Pepper straight from the can; there’s less dishes to be washed that way.
But one day in community college sometime in 2014, my friend Taylor asked me if he could fix me a coffee. I doubted his ability to make a coffee that I’d actually like, so I looked on with a great deal of skepticism as he mixed in like 6 cups of sugar and a gallon of creamer into an 8 oz cup.
After I tasted his concoction made to impress even the most avid coffee avoider, I knew I was hooked.
Eventually, I found the mix that was right for me: two cream and two sugar. Or as the Beastie Boys say, “I like my sugar with coffee and cream…”
Over the next few years I found myself doing things that I never thought possible. I’d order coffee at breakfast restaurants and make coffee for the break room at work. In 2017, I found myself speaking at a conference, and, of course, they served coffee, so I grabbed a Styrofoam cup, a couple packs of sugar, the creamer, and went to work.
As I stirred the ingredients into the dark brown drink, I heard a voice off to my right, “What are you doing to that coffee? You’re ruining it, young man!”
That’s when I learned that some crazy people drink their coffee black.
Of course, I knew of this legend, but I didn’t think they actually existed. Yet, there one was in the wild.
The next two years, I spoke at the same conference and made my coffee at the start of each day, but each year, whether anyone noticed or not, I added a little less cream and sugar than the year before.
Eventually it happened one day at a diner.
“What would you like to drink, sir?”
“I’ll take a black coffee please.”
As I waited for the cup, the tension mounted. I started to break into a bit of a sweat. Will I like it? Will it be too bitter? Why didn’t I try this in the privacy of my own home?
She came back.
“Would you like any cream or sugar?”
The restaurant went silent. Everyone turned around and looked at me in anticipation.
An old man put down his newspaper, and his wife gasped.
Nothing can make him put down the sports section I later learned. That was the first time in 32 years it happened. He didn’t even put it down the one time the Waffle House got robbed in the Winter of 1996.
But this night, the paper hit the table as I brought the cup to my lips.
The waitress stood by the table with one hand on the sugar and another on the bowl of creamer she held behind her back just in case I changed my mind.
But as the liquid poured over the edge of the cup, filling my mouth and alerting my taste buds to the challenge at hand, I swallowed, said, “Ahhh, now that’s some good coffee” as if this was something I just regularly did.
The silence following the first sip was deafening. Though it only lasted a second, it felt like an eternity. Everything was moving slowly. A fly that had been whizzing around my head since I entered the restaurant flew just inches in front of my eyes at such a slow pace that I could have plucked it out of the air with chopsticks like another Daniel I know.
And then… applause.
“Celebration” by Kool & the Gang came on the jukebox, and a seasoned man with a bowler hat patted me on the shoulder and said, “Now that’s a good lad.” Another fellow paid for my breakfast.
Since then, I’ve never gone back. With the occasional exception of getting a vanilla iced coffee in the drive thru, I order my coffee black. When servers ask me if I would like cream or sugar, I laugh and say, “Don’t you know who I am?”
And they do.
But the point of all of this is that it took time. A lot of time. I went from never drinking coffee at all to discovering the definition of superfluous by using as much cream and sugar as I could find. Every time I decreased the amount of help I needed to bear the coffee, there was a little bit of anxiety, maybe some fear, but eventually I did it.
Of course, by the time I finally began to enjoy black coffee, the conference was canceled because of COVID and hasn’t started back yet, so I haven’t had the chance to strategically wait for my friend to approach the breakfast bar so I could quickly grab a black coffee, take a sip and say, “Now that’s some good coffee.” But I’ve learned now that I did it for me, not him or the the man with the paper in the cafe.
But this is how change is, right? We want it to happen overnight, but we just can’t. We have to sit there with the tension of wanting the thing now and waiting until we can actually enjoy the thing, which may come way later than we want. We have to patiently work the ground until it’s ready, and it may never even be ready for us; perhaps our work is preparing it for the next guy or gal to come along and water the seeds before God gives the increase.
Bit by bit, piece by piece, cup by cup, but eventually we are there, and when all of the people we thought we were doing for don’t show up to celebrate, we realize we were doing it for ourselves the whole time. We were doing it because we needed it, not anyone else. Yes, others may enjoy the benefits of what we do, like not having to purchase cream and sugar at the grocery store, but ultimately, it’s to become a better version of ourselves.
As I think about change in church culture, I think about my friends who are struggling because they’ve tasted the fruit of the world to come, as the writer of Hebrews would say, and want their congregation to move into that new world with them, but they also have to deal with the truth that people are people, and not everyone can drink black coffee or maybe even coffee at all… bless their hearts.
It takes someone brave enough to take a little more sugar and cream than usual to convince their friend to try a cup. And then it could take years to wean off of the help.
But with enough time and a lot of love, transformation is possible. Like John the Baptist, you might not be able to see the fruit of your labor firsthand, but that doesn’t mean you have failed or that change isn’t possible.
These things just take time, and sometimes they take more time than anyone wants it to take.
So this blog post is about coffee, but it’s also not about coffee.
Here’s to your next cup.