I wish I had a free cup of coffee for every time I saw a picture of someone with a Bible and a cup of coffee.
It has now become a staple of Bible study in America, reaching beyond just millennials, white girls, hipsters, preachers, or even the middle and upper class. Sometimes it seems that everybody except the Mormons is taking their daily coffee with their daily (or at least periodical) Bible reading. If you notice the images in blogs, websites, and posts. Can you drink of the same cup I drink of? Apparently, we all are.
Coffee and short readings go hand in hand. Coffee may have appeared to some Christians in medieval times through the Arabs who bought it through trade, but it was around the time coffee came to Europe (in the 18th century), that people started reading digestible writings like newspapers and essays, accompanied by coffee. Newspapers allowed the literate to catch up on recent events and discuss them, and pamphlets by philosophers and scholars shared views and ideas about society. Coffeehouses were a new kind of place where people sat and discussed culture and politics around a warm, lively beverage (just like today, only without wifi).
Coffee has served as an appropriate fuel to push us through the day and boost our neurons through reading and discussing ideas. Maybe several factors have led to coffee and Bibles becoming such a pair in stock photography: More relaxing coffee cafes (like Panera), mobile web devices, blogs, specialized Bibles—now it seems coffee, computers, and Christ are a cultural combination.
Others have noticed this trend, like Tim Hawkins and his puns on church coffee shops with names like “Holy Grounds” and “Jehovah Java.” We could also add “Cup of Trembling” to the list. Radio Free Babylon even has a popular series of Coffee with Jesus comics meant to engage us subversively. All jokes aside, it’s a rich reservoir for Church marketers to tap into. You can even buy coffee cup Bible study books. In his ministry, Jesus fed five thousand with bread, an essential food. Man cannot live by bread alone—In our time you draw crowds to Jehovah with hot java. Many churches offer an explicitly labeled “coffee break” Bible study.
On her blog Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray has ventured to (humorously) guess what kind of Bible reader you are based no how you like your coffee. According to her, reading scripture requires a quiet, relaxing space. Especially in our fast-paced world, we can let such a quiet, peaceful time of day become a luxury, just like sitting down with a cup of crafted coffee.
Perhaps this is part of the allure of having coffee with scripture. Maybe we need a visual reminder that Bible reading isn’t some chore, but a sacred time, one we should look forward to drinking up. God’s word rejuvenates us, and has a pleasant aroma, although sometimes (necessarily) bitter. Like coffee, it should be something that buzzes in our brain when we meditate alone, as well as share with others in conversation. Bible studies that used to be conducted at church buildings or in homes have moved to coffee spots, a public space that allows us to start conversations with seekers and show the world we’re not ashamed of the Word.
It could be—I haven’t seen any studies on it—that this phenomenon has increased Bible study in America. If we have extra time for coffee, we should have extra time for prayer and scripture. If we are going to gather with other people over casual talk, surely spiritual topics can fit in. Coffee time may function for some of us as a kind of “sabbath,” a time when we sit and relax. It is (or can be) a cheap drink. Communing over food is a vital imagery in Christianity. A cup of coffee is inviting, and serves as a potent symbol of communicating with God and starting the day with him.
I have to admit, however, that sometimes it seems so saturated that it gets annoying, turning Bible reading into the same casual luxury that coffee is for many people. It can disable our outreach as much as increase it. It can also affirm our inclination that religion should be comfortable and self-gratifying.
Consider this: When coffeehouses and newspapers came along, it was mostly the middle and upper class who could enjoy them. They had the expense and time. How many working class Americans, especially those with kids, have a good 30 minutes in the morning of uninterrupted sitting time with something to read? How many of the women at your church can afford that weekly girls’ coffee/Bible hour at your favorite cappuccino spot? When you invite someone to a Bible study, can they afford it?
And if you are in the habit of buying a cup or more of coffee a day–especially the expensive kind–how much money could you instead be saving to give back to God and serve the kingdom?
Don’t let our notions of comfort and convenience direct our pursuit of The Word too heavily. I shouldn’t be so reliant on caffeine that it’s the only reason I wake up an extra 20 minutes earlier than I need to so that I can spend some time with God’s Word. I shouldn’t think I have to cultivate a high-maintenance “holy place” for Bible study that serves my desires more than my needs. If I want to read my Bible with a latte and my snuggy on my soft couch, fine. But I should also be able to focus on God’s word when I’m cramped on the bus to work after missing breakfast. I can be a good Christian in my safe spaces with my Church family, but I should also try to venture outside my comfort zone for the kingdom, or on bad days when I haven’t had my fix and I’m out of my element.
Sometimes my Bible study leads me to smile warmly at God’s blessings and the art of his order. But sometimes my Bible study will lead me to godly sorrow and repentance. Sometimes I must drink of a sweet cup; sometimes I must drink of a bitter cup. Don’t let your Bible study turn into a permanent Starbucks kick–nothing but froth and sugar every day.
Christianity was never meant to be a convenient Way. A cup of coffee can symbolize warm, active, thoughtful communion. It can also represent idle, insulated, self-serving culture. Just as we should look more forward to the Bible study part of a coffee/Bible hour, we should not let our imagination for the kingdom be defined by our tastes.
Sip at the deep theology of the Word. Move beyond the artful foam of the surface. Let the kingdom buzz in the streets with talk of the Messiah, who has awakened us out of sleep.