Coffee Shops

Third Places are sometimes more churchy than church

It slips my mind, sometimes, that someone reading my posts may not know where they are written. With very few exceptions, most of my writing is done in Starbucks. If I didn’t write the actual post there, I at least scribbled notes to remind me later of the direction I’m going to take.

I don’t know all the reasons why Starbucks is my choice, but one of them is because it simply isn’t HOME. I can come here and focus, be myself, daydream and create. At home, well there’s laundry to be done, a new magazine in the mail, roaming dogs who terrorize me at every opportunity. The stuff of life. I connect with myself better — sometimes — when I’m not so surrounded by myself.

The other day I listened to two guys do the same at Starbucks. One was a regular, Dan, and I never caught the other’s name. Let’s call him Fred. These two guys began jabbering, and when I got up to go, literally two hours later, they were still jabbering. In the course of the hours they covered politics (conservative, but Dan has a liberal bent that inclines him to social justice), chiropractic (Fred is a chiropractor, and was convincing Dan — accurately in my humble opinion! — that chiropractic care could help him recover from his recent shoulder surgery), the military (both served, one flew planes, the other loved them). They covered their families, their work habits, their Starbucks drinks. They circled back around to why character and integrity matter in politics more than party affiliation, though each were registered Republicans. In short, they connected.

It was a life group in action. What do you call it at your church? At ours, during various moments, they have been life groups, journey groups, small groups, affinity groups. Whatever your definition, these two men joined a small group.

But let me ask you this question: when was the last time you saw two men begin with a passing nod acquaintance and end up with an intimacy and a feeling of belonging to the same tribe over the course of two hours?

That’s the genius of living life out in the community, in third places, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors and strangers. Alan Hirsch, in his new book RIght Here Right now, says that “We have to be able to speak meaningfully into a culture, but in order to do that, we have to seriously examine a given culture for clues to what God is doing among a people….what is good new for THIS people?” My friend Dan was doing that. He was listening to Fred and conversing with him where he was at, the conversation meandering. And because it took place in this third place, others were welcome to join in or not. Some did, interacting as long as time and circumstances allowed. Others didn’t, living their own lives.

Either way, small group was had here in Starbucks, and a whole bunch of us got to join in.

I’m making the choice to go for community wherever possible. After all, I’m, pretty sure that’s where Jesus hung out. I just wonder if he’d have picked MY Starbucks!

Panera Bread and authenticity

Panera Bread is unsurpassed when it comes to defining a niche market. Think about it quickly: what do you think of when you think of Panera? Amazing food? Probably not.

I am sitting at Panera now. It is 2:45, a time when most lunch spot snare hunkered down preparing for dinner. They are usually barren. Not Panera. There are businessmen,students and retired people all over this restaurant. The common denominator? They are all on their computers, iPads and phones. Like me. Panera = free Internet. Perfect niche that fills the store all day long. The process, of course, builds community. There are regulars here as anywhere.

I am kind of melancholy today to tell you the truth. This particular Panera always reminds me of a conversation I had here years ago. His name was Joe, and we had gone to church with him for years. He was retired, and his wife was active in our children’s ministry. They were the friendly older couple always serving punch at every event, if you know what I mean. This particular day Joe was bussing our table. I looked up totally surprised.

“Joe do you work here?”

“Yep. For months now. I wouldn’t know what to do without the people here. They are like family. And I need the money.” This last bit surprised me, and something in his eyes made me wonder. I casually asked about his wife.

“Haven’t seen her. She divorced me four months ago. I am all alone.”

I was shocked. I KNEW these people well. I went to church with them, knew their family history. But in the environment of church, they had never reached out for help. In fact, as I thought about it, they had kind of dropped off the radar. It was a short conversation in Panera, but Joe was finally being transparent, honest.

That is the value of community third places like Panera, and why we need to be present in them. It is why the church — as glorious and life-giving as it is — can’t fill every need. Sometimes it takes a conversation in Panera.

Joe isn’t here today, and I am fairly sure he has left the area. But for an half an hour years ago we took the moments to connect authentically.

I am glad I stopped in here today to remember.

Strangers in the coffee shop and lurking at Disney World

Walking down Main Street in Disney World is an interesting phenomenon. The quaint old street feels like every hometown I’ve ever dreamed about in my “place to call home” daydreams. Designed by masters at evoking emotion, Main Street is supposed to make you long to belong. And looking around at the other “residents” of Main Street, they seem to be at home. The laugh and talk and eat their ice cream cones. And somehow, I often feel like an impostor. I know I don’t really belong on Main Street. I don’t live here. I’m an alien, a stranger, in the midst of all the others.

It’s a lie, though, isn’t it? No one really lives on Main Street. It’s a facade to make us long for connection. I’m an alien, a stranger…yes. But so is everyone else.

I felt the same way in “my” coffee shop the other day, too. As I was sitting there I was watching everyone else, thinking about how some of them are regulars. I see one particularly lady — who I’ve learned is currently homeless when it comes to having an office to work out of — sitting in her same corner every day. I’ve mentioned the Rabbi before, too, counseling day after day. There are so many regulars in this Starbucks, I thought. I don’t know if I fit in here. Then I realized that to someone else, i was a regular too, even if I felt like a visitor myself.

I wonder if that isn’t what the Bible means when it talks about us being aliens and strangers in this land? Do you suppose that we all have that vague feeling that we don’t REALLY belong here? I think we’re perhaps hardwired for eternity, and the absolute knowing that we belong.

It’s also good to remember that the regular sitting next to you may be feeling like a stranger, too.

Snow in the City

We spent a great day in Boston today. We started off the day meeting with some of our Real Estate and Financial Advisors in this building:


This was mostly interesting today because there was a snowstorm coming in. This is the view we normally see out their windows…and I consider it one of the best reasons to meet with them downtown!


Today when my mind was numbing over with technical details, I watched the snowstorm swirl around us on the 25th floor. Did you know snowflakes swirl UP when you are that high up? It was entertaining. I also watched buildings and cityscape come and go, depending on how hard it was snowing. This made a long meeting thoroughly enjoyable.

By the time we were done, David and I drove to Newberry Street to kill some time.

First stop, as always, was Starbucks on Boylston Street. Love the interior of this Starbucks, as well as the very eclectic clientele.



We walked around this mall, located in the Prudential Center. It has the advantage of being interconnected to several buildings, so we could walk indoors.


Then we scurried back to Newberry Street, possibly one of the prettiest streets in Boston. Tonight, with snowflakes drifting down, it was beautiful. Cold, but beautiful. Obviously this picture was not taken tonight!!


When it was time time to eat we met our friend, Mark Orttel, at Pappa Razzi, one of the restaurants under his care. Mark is a good friend of ours. We’ve been hanging out with him for thirteen years now. Way back in the dawn of time, David’s Mom and Dad used to take the girls every Friday night for us, so we could have a date night. David and I would often end up at the Legal Seafoods in Boca Raton, FL, where we met Mark who was a new manager there. We chatted with him weekly for years. About the time we moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Mark was transferred to Legal Seafoods City Place, and the relationship continued. He did a jaunt in Aruba (right after the Natalie Holloway disappearance!), and then opened two restaurants in Palm Beach Gardens right near my favorite Barnes and Noble. Two years ago he ended up working for the Back Bay Restaurant Group, based out of Boston. Even though his district was based in New Jersey, we managed to connect once in awhile. Then Mark was given more restaurants in the headquarter city of Boston, and we saw him more often. Now we’re excited because Mark is moving to Boston to take up a new position with the company. Who would have thought that a relationship begun so casually, so long ago, would last so long! Anyway, we went to his restaurant tonight, and it was amazing. Loved the friendship.

Finally, we paused while driving to Storrow Drive and the road home to snap this picture of Commonwealth Ave, one street over from lovely Newberry Street. Doesn’t get much better than this!


So there you go. I shared my day with you because I just wanted to share the joy of hanging around in a walkable city with fun things to do! Now it is time to pack up and fly back home…and frankly I’m ready! Did I mention it’s cold out there?

If necessary, use words

This is a cloud based on the words found in Coffee Shop Journal.

This is a cloud based on the words found in Coffee Shop Journal.

Words have always defined who I am. I read them, I write them, I learn through them. Lately I seem to want to decorate with them. I love words.

So the St. Augustine quote “Preach the gospel always. If necessary use words.” never really resonated with me. Of course you use words!

But a few days ago I walked into my regular Starbucks to order my breakfast. I go there nearly every day to study, journal, write: all the things that are so difficult to do here at home! My barista, whose name I think I know but I’m not really sure, took my Starbucks card and said, “So you’re a Christian, right?”


I’ve never spoken to her beyond a “Hi” now and then.

“Yep, I am.”

“Thought so. Do you go to Christ Fellowship?”

It was a safe bet that I did go to Christ Fellowship. After that she talked about the “Atheist” I was chatting with last week for a moment (apparently he has a reputation with the ladies!) and that was the extent of the conversation.

I’m so glad that she knew I was Christian. I’m so glad that I’ve taken the time to sit in one particular Starbucks and begin relationships — however bizarre or minimal — with the Rabbi, the Atheist, and the group of senior singers that livened up the place two days ago. That’s life in the community, and I’m pretty sure it’s my thing.

Why I breakfast at Starbucks


I LOVE to have breakfast at my fave Starbucks, and do so nearly every morning. And here’s the reason why: you just can’t beat the company! In my house you will only find, at the breakfast hour, me. And David if he isn’t in his office. And Jillian if she’s not already full-steam ahead in schoolwork. OK, and Melissa if she’s working with Jillian that day, and Laurie if she isn’t off working. And yes, sometimes Kylie if she’s home on break. So on second thought, my house is too busy at the breakfast hour! No wonder why I pile my Bible and notebook into my bag and head out the door!

And there is that company I mentioned.

Today was a prime example. I’ve been hanging out at the same Starbucks for quite some time by now (and yes, it’s a different one than my afternoon Starbucks, in case you are stalking me or missing me!). The cast of characters is beginning to feel familiar. My friend R.G. Ryan from Las Vegas would love this spot. Not only are the baristas entertaining, so are the customers.

  • Brandon is my buddy from Christ Fellowship. I’ve watched him grow up, and now he’s the “cop on the beat” nearly every day. When he walks in I have to do a double take to realize that yes, he has a right to wear that uniform and he does get to drive the cool car parked directly in front of Starbucks.
  • The Rabbi: he is probably at the store four days out of seven. He inspires me with his ability to multi-task and schedule. It appears to me that most of his counseling sessions in his official capacity as Rabbi take place over coffee. He gives some pretty good counsel, too. I’m not trying to overhear, but they usually sit in the set of chairs next to me. Most of the Rabbi’s people seem to struggle with fitting in, feeling like part of a community. He tells them to come to synagogue. And the coffee shop. And he always ends — inexplicably — by telling them to learn to play bridge and join his bridge group. I’m thinking of learning.
  • The Old Guys: this particular Starbucks seems to have quite a few 60+ men hanging out escaping their wives. I overheard one conversation one day that kind of broke my heart. After listening to two guys discuss their business dealings extensively, one asks the other “Do you know anything about charitable giving and deducting charity donations?” The other answered that No, he certainly didn’t. First guy says, “I’m thinking of finding a charity to donate to. I think it will help on my taxes. I think you can just deduct it from your income.”
    I was amazed. These were two successful businessmen at the END of their careers, and they had never yet thought about donating to a charity. Ever. Wow.
  • My morning Atheist: This morning I had a great conversation with an 85 year old Atheist gentleman who wanted to share my seating area. Since I rarely turn down gentlemen of any age if they are carrying chocolate (and he was!), I kindly “allowed” him to sit down. That started a long, long conversation that touched on religion (“If you need a crutch like that, I guess it’s ok…I see no evidence of the big guy, though. Do you?”), marriage (married 23 years to his first wife, who died, and 34 years to his second. A pro at marriage.), politics (“So what do you think about our president? You like him? You like his politics?”). All this before my first cup of coffee. He asked about my family, my church, why I read the Bible every morning, and what the unit mix of our apartments in Boston was (engineer who designed multi-family back in New York in the day). Bob sure knew how to keep me on my toes. When this 85 year old spit-fire finally decided he should head back home, I was exhausted!
  • Mary: before I could relax, Mary, the partially deaf and over-enthusiastic sports fan, popped in to find out if anyone of her buddies was around. They weren’t, which was a little bit of a blessing today since Mary is a loud and exuberant talker.

See what I mean? How could you match such varied compnay for a morning outing?

On a serious note, I love the community. I love being out and about with people from all walks of life, Rabbi’s to Atheists. I love the opportunities to learn, meet, discuss and drink some good coffee along the way. Life in Starbucks is a fraternity of coffee lovers with little else in common except geography and love of the bean. But that’s enough.

Life happens at the Coffee Shop


The kid was a 20-something surfer dude with flip-flops and tank top. In South Florida he’s a pretty common sight. He was tan and fit and thoroughly enjoying his Sunday morning coffee with his companion. And he was obviously deeply head-over-heels for his coffee buddy. The Kid’s face lit up at every word. We watched them for maybe twenty minutes while we sipped our pre-church Starbucks at City Place.

What made this kid engrossing was his companion: a very elderly, very small grampa in a wheel chair. Grampa had bright yellow fuzzy socks on, with the side that should have been to the floor on the top of his foot. He had a lap robe, and a fun red baseball cap. The Kid wheeled Grampa in through the door of this very busy Starbucks and helped him get the coffee he wanted. Getting back out through the door was trickier, carrying coffee, but David and I helped hold the door and listened t0 The Kid.

“Let’s sit outside, today, ok? It’s awesome out.”

Grampa didn’t speak much, so outside they went. The Kid found them a table and began a running patter with Grampa. Now I’m pretty much an expert at playing word charades in order to understand an older person, so I watched The Kid try to understand what Grampa was saying.

“You have your drink. Oh, something to eat? Is that it? OK! What do you want?”

Grampa tried, using his hands. He seemed Italian: they talk with their hands.

“Is it hard, Gramps? Is it sweet? OK, sweet, then, not salty. Is it cake? Does it have icing?”

I looked away for a few moments, and when I tuned back in The Kid was wheeling Gramps back through the door to go buy the treat. Minutes later they came struggling back out through the door again and Gramps happily had a biscotti in his hand. I could have predicted that. The Kid settled them back at their same table and began to look over their biscotti.

“Let’s see, Gramps, what have we got here? Oh, 170 calories. Not bad. Hmmm…no protein, but we’re not working out right now…”

And so it went, this constant patter. Through it all, The Kid’s attention never left Grampa. He was completely, one hundred percent in the moment on this beautiful Sunday morning. David initially wondered if he was being paid to be a companion to the elderly man, but you can’t buy that kind of focus and love. Literally The Kid’s eyes twinkled when he looked at Gramps. None of us existed for those two.

It touched me, this moment of unbelievable companionship. It had depth and reality. It was as true a sermon as the one I was getting ready to go hear. And I may remember it longer (No offense, John Poitevent…it was a great sermon at Ascent CityPlace!).

What a gift, being totally in the moment with another person.

Just for fun, read this post from Coffee Shop Journal about our City Place campus.

Third Places: Why “MY bookstore cafe nourishes me


Today I noticed the magazine rack, just over the top of my book. When I would pause my reading and look up, the headlines popped out at me and made my mind spin in a thousand different directions. It’s this burst of stimulus-induced creativity that keeps me hanging around that cafe. This is what I saw, and subsequently what went through my mind today.

  • Newsweek Magazine: with its headline “Finding the right college for you.” This sent me off thinking about Kylie, away at Toccoa Falls College, and how happy I am with where she is, how happy I am with her class schedule, and how uncertain I am as to Jillian’s future plans. But that’s OK, too, because Jillian makes her own way in life most of the time.
  • Writer’s Digest: “Get an Agent!” I begin to ponder writer’s agents, and if I get my book nudged further down the road (OK, if I write it) should or would I search for an agent?
  • Digital Studio: The entire magazine, the fact of its existence, made me think about the transition from hand drawing to computer art, and the unique blend of the two that my friend Spring accomplishes. I also thought about my blog and how it needs to “coffee” itself up, but I have no skills in this area.
  • Make: Yes, people spend inordinate amounts of time making things. Things like robotic hands and solar ovens from cardboard boxes. And the fact that they do makes me inordinately happy!
  • ShopSmart: Supermarket Savings. This makes me remember real life, and the fact that my energy level is too low to cook tonight. I ponder what leftovers we have (lots) and the chances of getting David to take me out to dinner (excellent).
  • Consumer Reports is buried beneath “The Best Alternative History Stories of the 20th Century,” left by a lazy hand. This makes me smile. Most of us spend far too much time worrying about Consumer Reports and far too little time reading any history, alternative or otherwise. Which means, of course, that we are doomed to repeat our history. Somehow hiding Consumer Reports feels like someone’s oddball revenge. Good job!
  • 2nd Coming! reads the headline on some newspaper-like magazine folded in half. I can’t see the picture or the name of the magazine, but the picture appears to be of a contemporary man, making what I was imagining immediately seem archaic. Still, I wonder about the sheer audacity of using such a headline, and wonder if I’d be watching for lightning bolts were I the one who wrote it.
  • People Magazine: Kate Strikes Back! Yes, I’ll admit it…I wanted to go read it. I do wonder about Jon and Kate, having loved their children from the first. I don’t know whether to cheer for Kate or pretend I didn’t know what it was referring to. And it made me miss Kylie, because she would have shown up with that magazine at home where I could have snuck a peak!

All of this serves as a subliminal fodder for my brain, my creativity, and even my to-do list. It is what makes me happy to sit and absorb. And it made me wonder.

Do we sanitize our Third Places so much that they lose their soul? Doesn’t something about a neat-as-a-pin coffee shop make you nervous about your messy thoughts? And for church coffee shops and Third Places, shouldn’t we provide jumping off points for creativity, deep conversations, and even quiet thought?

It’s all about going local: 15th Ave Coffee and Tea


photo by joshc: see link in text body!

photo by joshc: see link in text body!



Check out the 15th Ave Coffee and Tea on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The coffee shop opened on July 24th, and represents a new wave of concept in coffee shops, a concept that readers of Coffee Shop Journal will recognize immediately: local coffee shops built around community. The only surprising thing? 15th Ave is actually a Starbucks store. 

Normally, if  it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we assume it is a duck. In this case, there’s not a whole lot “duck like” about the new concept. It doesn’t look much like a Starbucks, except in that family-resemblance kind of way when your great Aunt tells you all the cousins look alike. There is a great flickr photo slideshow here that gives some detailing in the new store.

So what makes makes 15th Ave different? Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  • The concept of “local” resonates with all of us right now. We want to now and be known, and Starbucks is working to understand that concept.
  • 15th Ave can offer smaller batch coffees, different brewing methods and new selections without alienating the Starbucks audience.
  • 15th Ave can offer local pastries without worrying about the “keep in consistent” cry from customers. They can offer new choices at will. They can experiment with offerings that Starbucks can’t touch, such as beer or wine sales.
  • Local musicians and groups will be more likely to play in and patronize local shops.

All of this, of course, does not go down easily with the skeptical coffee-drinking public. Some naysayers refuse to consider 15th Ave a local shop if it is “inspired by Starbucks” (which is what its signage says). There is some question as to how Starbucks can translate the local concept into other local venues. And of course, there is that family resemblance that people will notice.

In the meantime, I guess it’s back to Seattle I go again!

How to choose where you live


I couldn’t sleep last night, and this is what I was pondering! Which is an odd glimpse into my strange mind, but never mind that right now.

As regular readers of Coffee Shop Journal know, I am in a constant battle with my sense of “place.” South Florida is a hard spot to be. Now before you rain-soaked, snow-weary northerners jump all over me, this is what I mean: South Florida residents are usually bent on pleasure. They’ve retired, they want to play, they have all the relationships they want. Or they were raised there, in the midst of sunny suburban sprawl with no sense of permanence or home town. Obviously you can make a home there, work for the kingdom there. I have and will. But it isn’t the easiest place to establish community and community relationships. On the flip side, I love the little community in the Boston area where we hang out, and I love the lake community up here in New Hampshire. So when I come up here I always ponder what it is that I’d love to have in an ideal situation.

Here is the list — in no particular order — of the characteristics of a “place” that I would pick if I were just starting out in my life. If my roots were shallow and I was wondering where to go in the kingdom, these are the traits I would look for in picking a community.

  1. Walkable! Yes, I said  no particular order to this list, but even so having a walkable place tops my list. I would like to live in a neighborhood — whether urban or suburban — where at least some of my day could be spent walking on my way to errands. So many serendipitous relationships are formed when you bump into your neighbors. In Lexington, where our condo is located, we add 10 minutes onto our time frame every time we step out of our doorway, because we bump into our neighbors and chat. And these are neighbors I hardly know!
  2. Demographics. It doesn’t matter what your demographics are, as long as you are aware of them and choose them. If you prefer a more diverse population, don’t live outside a suburban town. On the other hand, if you seem to resonate with a particular group of people, find where they cluster.
  3. Services. Sort of related to the walkable issue, find a spot where services can be obtained locally, preferably within walking distance. Those service relationships are often the start of meaningful friendships.
  4. Culture. Choose your culture wisely. If you are an intellectual, find a place near a college town or an urban center where you can engage in meaningful discussions with others who are also interested in the same topics. A farming community is probably not for you! If you are eco-minded, find a green city so that you have a common bond with your neighbors. We underestimate the value of common interests with the people we live near.
  5. Faith communities. How and where we worship impacts everything. David and I have always attempted to live near our churches because we want to be part of a community, and we want our faith integrated with that. Take some time to find the place you belong, before buying your spot in the community.
  6. Pace of life. Finally, be realistic about your own pace and energy levels. If you are an early to bed, early to rise person, you may not want to live smack in the middle of an urban center. Paces of life vary from region to region, town to town. And I firmly believe that there is no one better way to live: you just need to know yourself.

So just for fun, if I were evaluating these qualities, I’d probably live in a mid-sized city environment at this phase of my life. My children are grown, so we’ve outgrown the yard and pool stage of life. I love to interact with people, sit in coffee shops, walk to entertainment and engage in people watching. I enjoy “culture” but not particularly college/university life. I’m a night owl. I recharge by dipping in and out of people (please give me alone time to read and think, even if it’s in the middle of a coffee shop). I enjoy contemporary worship styles and gatherings of fairly large people. And to me, the ideal escape from all of that is time sitting at the end of my dock on the lake.

Wow. Kind of a revealing exercise for me. I think I need to live in a condo on Newbury Street in downtown Boston! Next to a Starbucks with a Clover coffee machine. Now how does all that fit with South Florida? That’s the mystery and delight of the adventure.

Where would you live?