Coffee Shops

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  I don’t look down my nose at Starbucks—I’m old enough to remember the world before they came along, when coffee sat in pots all day long just getting thicker. Nonetheless, I like to find local coffee places that are truly local. They have the color, the “taste” if you will, of their communities.
    In Santa Fe there’s one I always visit. Last week the clerk had something like a miniature horseshoe hanging from her nose; the posters and the restrooms were happily promoting gender fluidity; and a local artist’s work (montages of city scenes) was hung for sale. The coffee was high-altitude perfect, the granola homemade and heavily nutty, and the quiche fantastic. I luckily got the last slice.
    Some five hundred miles away, I have found a coffee shop in my old hometown. Out front it has a dinosaur—or, I thought it was a dinosaur until I read the signage. This, it says more or less, is a model of an animal that was alive about five thousand years ago somewhere in Asia. Alongside the non-dinosaur, I then notice, are the Ten Commandments. Inside, there are Bible books for children and self-help books for adults in various aspects of life, all sunnily promoting their Christian perspective. There are tables, free wifi, people talking and a few on their computers.
    And the coffee is perfect: every cup a “pour-over,” made to order, or one of the standard espresso drinks. It could hardly be more different than that coffee shop in Santa Fe, and yet the coffee is worth the even-higher price.
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    If you know me at all, you know I am not a relativist. The Gospel is the same in all times and for all people. Jesus died for the people in any town you might visit, and submission to Christ the King is required of all who would receive the Gospel, without exception.
    Still I find it amazing to think of the striking differences, and the equally-striking samenesses, of these two coffee houses. Each embraces its community with a certain affection, opening a common space that can be shared. And each offers quality.
    You can learn a lot about a community by finding a local coffee house. It makes me ponder how the Gospel—the good Gospel, the one that’s freshly poured-over just for you—how that Gospel can grow in any particular place.

The Tragic Flaw of Saul

    In 1 Samuel, there are many chapters about the failures of King Saul. He seems to be driven by madness much of the time. He also fails to have proper piety. In addition, there is a large question mark over the whole institution of kingship—he is Israel’s first king, and it isn’t clear that God wanted Israel to have any king except God alone. (Although it also seems clear that the book of Judges, which immediately precedes the books of Samuel in theme and chronology, is constructed as a dramatic arc whose point is the impossibility of Israel living without a human king.)
    Saul’s tragic flaw is manifested supremely in his obsession with David. He is utterly consumed with a desire to eliminate David.
    In 1 Samuel 23:19-28, the biblical author lays it out vividly. Some Ziphites go to Saul with information about David’s hideout. Saul gives thanks to the Lord for showing “pity” on him with this opportunity. He tells the Ziphites to make sure of David’s location, make note of his various possible alternative hideouts, and bring the information back. This is done. Saul goes out with his men to seek David. David, however, gets the news and moves to another place; Saul pursues him there. At the end Saul is shown executing a pincer move around a mountain to capture David. All this has taken eight verses—lots of words, lots of detail.
    Then we read two short verses: “Just then a messenger came to Saul, saying, ‘Hurry, and go, for the Philistines have invaded the land!’ And Saul turned back from pursuing David and went to meet the Philistines” (1 Sam. 23:27-28).
    What the biblical author leaves unsaid—it is the brilliance of biblical narrative to let the reader figure this out—is that the Philistines were the real enemy of Israel, and that as king it was Saul’s duty to protect the people from them. But instead of being a true king, Saul is consumed with a personal vendetta. And the people suffer.
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    It is a tragic flaw in a leader to elevate the personal over his concern for the people. In this we see how Jesus revealed he truly was (and of course, continues to be) a king. He laid aside all his divine prerogatives in order to effect the salvation of his people.
    Analogously, we too can share in Jesus’ royal office, when we so rule over ourselves that we are at his service, capable and ready to live our lives for others.
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    May I encourage you, particularly if you are an Episcopalian? We have a great gift (an Anglican distinctive, actually) in the Daily Office structured in Morning and Evening Prayer. At the least, let us strive to read the appointed Scriptures. For the past month or so, the readings have been taking us through Samuel. I have been reading from (and quoted above) the translation by Robert Alter in The David Story. It’s interesting, particularly for Alter’s literary insights as a Hebrew scholar.
    You can find the Daily Office readings here: http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/the_daily_readings.php?d=1&m=8&y=2017 (refresh the page if necessary to get the current day’s readings).
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    Out & About. Sunday, August 6, I will be preaching at St. John’s Church in Woodward, Oklahoma.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."