Coffee & Friendship: Explorations in the Value of Diversity

cup-of-coffeeYou can smell the variance in the steam pouring off the top of the mug. To the average consumer coffee is coffee, but to the connoisseur there’s a diversity of tastes, smells, and even beans. When you drink a cup of joe, you are drinking an array of cultures, soils, and philosophies. That cup of espresso I had in a café in Morocco was vastly different from the cup my wife and I shared in our kitchen, made from freshly roasted Indonesian beans. I still recall both cups with fondness.

The diversity of coffee isn’t simple either. It can depend upon the type of bean (usually either Arabica or Robusta), where and how they are grown, and the method of preparation (brewing, boiling, steeping, or pressurizing). Because of these diversities an attentive consumer will notice differences in body, sweetness, acidity, and flavor. He will be able to distinguish between good coffee and instant coffee. An experienced taster may even be able to tell the region in which the beans were grown. In other words, coffee is never just coffee, it represents the diversity of our world. It’s a good diversity.

It’s not just the coffee that inspires me to this eulogy. Rather, each diverse cup reminds me of a plethora of laughs, smiles, stories, faces, places, and conversations. A tall mug of Highlander Grog recalls morning conversations at Market Street Café discussing singleness within the church, female theologians, and Greek verbs. Cups of home-brewed Kona remind me of late nights laughing about my lack of sports knowledge and lauding great music. Give me a smell and I associate it with far more than a region, I associate it with deep friendships, with people I love.

Coffee and friendship have a long history together. There’s an old ceremony in Ethiopia that demonstrates the relationship. Green coffee beans are roasted in front of guests. The still smoking beans are then passed around so that each guest may fully enjoy and appreciate the aroma. A blessing to friendship is offered, and then the beans are ground and brewed. The cup shared together is an ode to the relationships shared by those who drink it. An old saying suggests that after three cups two people become life-long friends. The thought is beautifully striking to me this morning as I sit, alone, holding my piping hot cup.

Nostalgia is thick in the air, rising like steam from my cup. I am missing dear friends this morning. Friends, truth be told, with whom I did not share a lot of common interests. When I think about our relationships I am surprised that we were so close. We are, to this day, very different. Justin, Kyle, and Tony were avid sports fans, obsessed with baseball and Sports Center. They listen to sports radio and discuss Bill Simmons articles. The only reason I, on the other hand, even know the name Bill Simmons is because I listened to countless conversations detailing what he had to say about the sports highlights of the day. On the flipside, however, Justin, Kyle, and myself would sit quietly and listen to countless hours of indie folks music. Tony would always patiently listen and pretend to care. At one point we all went to the same church, but things progressively changed and we found ourselves, at different times, serving in different locations. We had even less to talk about when that happened, but you would never know it. There were three things that tied us together: Jesus, coffee, and care.

For all the diversity in our personalities, for all the lack of common interests, these three brothers and I found a deep bond. We were Christians and that, quite honestly, deepened our relationship beyond any other commonalities. We could rejoice in the gospel, the church, the truth of God’s Word. We can pray for each other, and pray with each other. We could encourage one another in the faith, and spur one another on to love and good deeds. Our faith united us.

Our mutual love of coffee was also a uniting factor. We would each mark favorite coffee spots we had come across in our various journeys, and then we would all pile into a car and take off for a road trip. We drove sometimes two hours away just to imbibe. It was absurd, but coffee was such a part of our friendship that it didn’t seem so strange at the time. Eventually what started over Americanos grew into a deep care and friendship. I love these brothers, and even as different as we are, and as far apart as we are now, I count them among my closest friends. Our diversity has actually made our relationships stronger.

The truth is that we understand individuality in light of diversity. That is to say, I know what certain cups of coffee taste like because I have learned to enjoy the differences it has to other coffees. It’s the wide-ranging diversity that makes the singular enjoyment of one coffee all the more rich. So, with my friendships, I understand myself and I understand my friends by our contrasts as much as by our shared interests. I have learned about Tony’s impeccable patience and his sincere interest in others by observing how he responds to our conversations about music. Though he doesn’t care, he listens and asks questions. I have come to learn more about masculinity through being embraced by brothers who know that I can’t hammer a nail to save my life. They don’t question my manhood for it. I learn to embrace who I am by being embraced by those quite different from me. C.S. Lewis wrote beautifully about this when reflecting on the passing of a friend. Describing how we come to know individuality within relational diversity, he said:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.

It’s the diversity that makes the individuality more clear.

Those seeking true friends shouldn’t look merely for those with whom they have some common interests. There is so much more to friendship than just our hobbies and musical tastes. In fact diversity is extremely helpful for friendships, because it exposes us to more. The friends who are unlike me cause me to wrestle with certain parts of my life, my heart, and my world that I would otherwise ignore. I need that diversity to better understand myself, and to better understand my context. Like a good cup of coffee, the diversity helps me appreciate the individual uniqueness more.

I think about my friends often, coffee is a reminder of how valuable they are to me. The cup in my hand is cold now, which is a sign that I should probably start my day. Instead I think I’ll freshen it up and be nostalgic for just a bit longer. I raise a mug to friends; I hope we can raise one together soon.

Trackbacks

  1. […] we are complicated individuals who need a diversity of relationships. To expect my spouse to meet all my relational needs is to expect her to be more […]

  2. […] We are complicated individuals who need a diversity of relationships. To expect my spouse to meet all my relational needs is to expect her to be more […]

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