Coffee and Spiritual Formation

Coffee doesn’t taste all that good, but it is also delicious!

Coffee doesn’t really taste all that good. Before you close this post and say, “nope, he’s just wrong,” give me a moment.

Coffee doesn’t taste all that good, but it is also delicious! Beer is the same way, and so are Brussels sprouts. There are so many things in our lives that aren’t actually good, but we learn to live with them as either normal, or necessary.

When I first began to drink coffee, I needed a pick-me-up and so loaded my 12 oz cup of joe with sugar and flavored cream to mask the pungent taste of roasted beans. Still able to taste the coffee, I sipped through it anyway, ignoring what I could of the coffee flavor. It was disgusting, but I had some again the next day, and the next, eventually using less cream and sugar. I began to try different coffee options, lattes, americanos, macchiattos, and learned to appreciate the flavor of coffee. Now I drink coffee black. There is some difference brand to brand and roast to roast, but it was my taste that changed, not the coffee. Another way to say this is my subjective reality moved from coffee tastes bad to coffee tastes good and the flavor of coffee objectively stayed the same.

As I said before, there is a lot that is like this in our lives, from foods we eat, actions we take, things we use, and more. We have the tendency to “learn” appreciation or dislike of things based on continued use of them.

Obviously, this holds a profound impact on how we view life, especially life as Christians. Our cognitive subjective reality must match the objective reality of the foods, actions, and things that surround us. Coffee isn’t really that good, but I love it. Brussels sprouts are very good for you, but I hate them (I actually don’t, I love them, but I’m making a point).

Sin and righteousness are exactly the same way. We tend to think of sin as good, when really it is terrible, and righteousness, though good for us, we reject as tasting bad. It seems like this has to do with short-term effects of these actions; sin is usually great in the moment but regretful in the future, and righteousness requires a lot in the moment but is worth it in the future.

There are plenty of bad things we do because we have gotten used to them, things that in the long run challenge our ability to connect with others meaningfully and contribute to the world. Lust, anger, greed, sloth, envy, and other sins all interrupt us as we meet with our fellow humans and are barriers that come between us and them. Self made barriers, but barriers none-the-less.

Also, good things we ought to do we avoid doing. Giving our money to those who need it, stopping to help someone on the street, giving a kind word of encouragement, showing love, and many more things that do take a bit of extra time and effort on our behalf are avoided for those excuses. I can’t afford to. I don’t have time. I need to do this other thing. We could become beautiful examples of love and humility in our everyday lives, Mother Theresa’s walking around everywhere, but the initial taste of goodness turns us off.

It is interesting that not only does the initial flavor challenge us to do what is good, but our adjusted taste receptors make it hard to change. Once I have developed a taste for coffee, I don’t want to give it up! Likewise, once we have gotten used to the taste of sin, we do not want to give it up.

When we think about this from a food perspective, however, we may decide it is worth it to “train our taste receptors” to goodness. When I learn to eat Brussels sprouts, and other fruits and veggies and good food, I feel better. Putting good food in gets good results out. Adversely, eating take out, candy, and snacks all day makes us feel like garbage. We are slow, tired, and we can’t think well. It pays to eat good food.

And so, it also pays to train our taste receptors to like righteousness and dislike sin. It isn’t easy to give up the fast food we’ve grown so used to, nor is it easy to learn to enjoy things that do take extra time, and require more effort and money (and patience), but it is worth it.

It’s worth it because righteousness trains us to live well in society.

It’s worth it because we make positive impacts on all those around us.

It’s worth it because suddenly people want to be around us.

It’s worth it because we feel better about the way we are living in the world.

It’s worth it because one person will make a difference, and we should be aware of the difference we are making. (A entire post for later)

So if you are putting garbage into your system, sin that hurts those around you and separates you from the rest of society, it’s time to make a change. It’s never too soon to start helping those around you and cutting out of your life the anger, envy, lust and greed that create rifts. Learning to like Brussels sprouts can start today.

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