God and Coffee: Local Justice

In my last post, I talked about how I believe that God cares about where we get our coffee from and how. In this post, I want to highlight some ways that I see God involved with what we do with coffee once it gets here. I see God on both sides of the supply chain, so to speak.

I want to emphasize that these are only a few examples that I am aware of. I would also mention that most of the things I’ll mention don’t have that much to do with coffee. It’s almost coincidental that they are coffee organizations doing these great things for the community. But maybe there’s something unique about coffee and the people it draws and the community it creates that lends itself to this kind of charity? That’s the topic for another post. I simply want to highlight a few really amazing ways that I have seen, in the world of coffee, people caring about things that God cares about on the local side of coffee.

The first time I really experienced this was when I wandered into a coffee shop after seeing the word “coffee” on a sign. (I was new too coffee then, and it didn’t take much to get me in the door at your shop.) Before long, I learned that this coffee shop was run as a non-profit in conjunction with a women’s shelter, that used the shop as a way to both raise money and provide income and job-experience for the women they took into their care. This was mind-blowing for me, and I admired the way this shop truly did good with coffee. I have no idea what the name of this shop is, if it’s still around, or if it was any good, but I remember it for what it, at the very least, tried to do.

Another tremendous example for me is also one of my favorite coffee roasters, MADCAP in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition to caring deeply about all of the sourcing and sustainability issues I talked about in my last post, MADCAP also decided to take it to the next level locally. To quote an article about them, “After establishing direct partnerships with international growers to ensure the harvesting of quality products, Madcap is now ensuring its practice of being socially responsible doesn’t just end once coffee reaches customers’ hands.” MADCAP did this by launching a Zero Waste program in their shop. This means that, instead of trash cans in their cafe, they have bus bins, which are sorted through by the staff and go into compost piles or recycling. They work with local organizations that are able to receive their “trash” and turn it into nutrient-rich compost or into future products, rather than ending up in a land-fill. Whether you agree or not, I actually believe that God cares deeply about the earth and has entrusted us to take care of it and not abuse it. In far too many ways, we as humans and Christians treat the earth as expendable and exploitable. MADCAP being willing to put in a bit of extra effort to make sure their coffee shop doesn’t do wrong by the earth and community that sustains it is amazing, and inspirational to us as individuals and other coffee shops. [Read more on this here]

As much as it pains me to say it, a recent move by Starbucks shows just how much good coffee companies can do in their communities. While the snobby, high-end specialty barista side of me hisses every time the word Starbucks is uttered, the news recently that they partnered with ASU to offer its employees the opportunity to go to college for free. This is an unprecedented move for the biggest name in global coffee, and silences the snobby barista in me long enough to smile and say, “God is good.”

If you read my post where I told the story about Tag and Dirty Water Coffee, you already know a little about what I have to say next. Tag inspired me to care about people and try to empower them with jobs and opportunities. In his honor, Tag’s dad is helping to start a shop in Oregon working in conjunction with a housing complex for homeless youth. This made it very easy to connect with him when I reached out to him to talk about using some of the equipment from Dirty Water to help an organization that I work with called Rose City Coffee.

Rose City Coffee is a non-profit based out of Rose City Church in Pasadena, where I attend. When the church reopened its doors under a new pastor, the pastor discovered that homeless youth had been sleeping on the property while it was unoccupied. Believing that a church’s mission should start with the needs just outside its doorstep, the pastor decided to invest in the lives of these youth and do everything he could to help them. Realizing that, on his own, this was too daunting of a task, he thought about what small part he could do with the resources he had at his disposal. Interestingly enough, the church building he inherited had a huge coffee cart in it, complete with all the fixings of many functional cafes. Putting two and two together, Rose City Coffee was formed, with the purpose of using the equipment to train the youth in how to be baristas, empowering them to find jobs in the ever-growing Los Angeles coffee industry. [Read more here]

I had the honor of joining Rose City Coffee some time later, stepping in to help with what I could, bringing some of my experiences and skills to the table of an already very motivated, talented and delightful staff. After a while in this capacity I stepped in as the director of training and got to lead three students through a training program and simultaneously write a training manual for the program. This experience was really eye-opening for me; I learned so much about the highs and lows, successes and failures, hardships and victories of doing that kind of work. It challenged me more than anything I’ve ever done. One of the students now works in coffee, and the other two are still looking.

Why do I tell you all this? I feel like I keep asking this question at the end of my God and Coffee posts. I’m very aware that these kinds of things are not that interesting to most people, and that much of this is so anecdotal to have little direct application to general life. I guess that if I’m trying to say anything overall in this “God and Coffee” series, it’s that I think God is in everything. Some theologians call it “general revelation”, some call it “prevenient grace”, and there are certainly differences to nuance between what different people call it, I think it’s important to recognize that most people of faith recognize that God is in the world outside of the church and outside of confessing Christians trying to set the world to rights. Christians would do well to recognize them in the world and call them what they are: God with us. This might actually be a way of telling the world what God is like, instead of screaming at them through bullhorns or pamphlets. I tell these stories to inspire, to persuade and to provoke.

And while I personally think that coffee culture is uniquely poised to enact justice in the world, the bigger truth I hope to point at in this series is that God can be found anywhere. Coffee just happens to be my passion. If you dug deep enough into the “secular” things that you are passionate about, I believe you would find God alive and moving. The walls between secular and sacred break down if you believe in the God of scripture.God cares about joblessness, homelessness, economic discrepancies, landfills and waste, and education. These are a few examples on the “home front”, so to speak, that remind me that being a barista while I’m in seminary are not two distinct expressions or experiences of my life, but both stem from the desire to know God more deeply and to join in God’s mission for the world.


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