Recently, a Starbucks opened close to my house. Now, it is not abnormal for me to venture to a nearby coffee shop to read and study. For me, the white noise of people coming in-and-out and espresso machines releasing steam creates a good environment for reading and studying.
Being the Millenial-ish person that I am, I do a bulk of my reading and studying with my computer. That being said, my computer is pushing the decade-old mark. It is old enough that I have gone through two batteries during it’s life-span. The current battery is almost useless as a battery. Relying on a computer for most of my reading and studying, a key aspect that I look for once I enter a coffeeshop is a place where I’ll be able to plug-in my computer. Most coffeeshops and restaurants, anymore, have ample amount of outlets for customers to plug in their variety of devices while they visit the establishment.
As the Starbucks store opened near my house, I was excited to start visiting it for a couple of reasons. One, it is closer than all of the others. And two, because it is in my neighborhood. Now, I am not planning on going to Starbucks everyday. I can’t afford it, for one. And, I have already been trying to spend time at theDunkin Donuts on the southern end of my neighborhood, which serves a quite a bit more socio-economicly diverse group of patrons than this Starbucks will. And, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I am convinced that the type of people at the Dunkin Donuts are the type of people that Christ would want me to spend more time around, at this time in my life. But, that aside, I will still occasionally visit other establishments in my neighborhood, like the new Starbucks.
This Starbucks will be, what some sociologists call a “third-space,” for people that I most-likely live nearby. It will be a space where I might see people in my neighborhood on a recurring basis. If anything, it will be a space where I might see the baristas on a recurring basis. When I think of, “Who are the people in my neighborhood (as the the Sesame Street song goes), these Starbucks employees would now be included in that list.
As I made my first venture into the new Starbucks to check-it-out, I quickly discovered that it does not have as many isolated electrical outlets as I have become accustomed to at many other coffeeshops. It has a long-table with outlets, and a bar with outlets, but not as many single-table work-spaces with outlets.
I get that the following is a “first-world problem,” but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed in the layout of the seating area and the amount of electrical outlets available. After all, I had put a lot of visioning into how I would be spending my time in this space in the future months and years. And, to find out that it wasn’t what I thought it should be, my vision was somewhat crushed.
That is, until I started thinking about our year-long ambition to be loving neighbors and to think more intentionally about our neighborhoods. As I began to reflect, I had a host of convictions. One of those convictions was how me-centered I was as a person — acting as if an entire Starbucks building would be built for my wants alone. A second conviction was how much I get sucked into thinking that I have control of everything that happens around my life — thinking that I’ll just complain, ignore, or ditch those aspects of my neighborhood that I just don’t like or am uncomfortable with. Lastly, and along with the above conviction is the oft view of life, in general, that I have through “deserving” eyes, rather than “privileged” eyes — thinking that there have to be coffeeshops in my neighborhood, rather than thinking that I am blessed to have coffeeshops in my neighborhood.
To some degree, I have had a similar attitude to the Israelites who were carried off to Babylon, that we can read about in Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7,
This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon… This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Leading up to their deportation, Israel was a self-centered, proud, deserved-thinking people — thinking that God HAS to give them a land, homes, and security in the land of Israel. But, they quickly find out that this is not the case, as they find themselves without all of those blessings in Babylon. As much as the bigger picture of this story tells us that God does long to give these realities back to Israel, he does not give them to them right away. But, while the people are in Israel, the prophet Jeremiah tells the people to accept what they currently have in captivity. They are to accept that they still have life, and are not dead. They are to accept that they have the freedom to build homes and settle-down in Babylon. They are to accept that they are under the current government system, which may not be perfect, but is providing an aspect of stability for the common good of Babylon — of which Israel is to contribute.
Like me, the people of Israel are called to accept their neighborhood for what it is. They are to receive the gifts that it offers. They are to receive it for what it is, without complaining about it, ignoring it, or trying to escape it. They are to live in and among their current neighborhood. They are to be present to it, and see where they might be able to contribute to it’s overall common good.
Everything in my neighborhood may not be as I would like. But, that does not mean that my attitude should be one of complaining, or ignoring it, or trying to escape it. Often, these all seem to be highly esteemed values of our society (look no further than news, social media, and talk shows). But, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, these are not our values. Our values as Kingdom citizens are to be “content” with the blessings that God has provided in our neighborhoods. We are to be “aware” and “grateful” for the blessings that God has provided in our neighborhoods. And, we are to seek ways to be “present” to our neighborhoods, which takes time, and is not accomplished by only living at an address for a short time. We also see all of these qualities in the life of Jesus, as he came to make his home among us here on earth. He did not complain, he did not ignore us, and he did not abandon us.
What kind of neighbor will we be in our neighborhoods? Through Kingdom eyes, what kind of neighborhood will we see around us?