Editorial Note: Part 1 of this article, “Surprised by God at Tables: On The Eucharist as Mission (Pt. 1)” was posted yesterday. Today, Gino Curcuruto will explore what eucharistic mission looks like on a practical, normative level in our local neighborhoods. ~CK
WAITING FOR GOD WHEN I WANT TO INTERVENE
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I went to a busy neighborhood coffee shop to get out of the house and get some work done. My daughter, Ella, was a barista at this shop, and we had become friends with all of the employees. Ella happened to be working at the register that morning as I settled into a comfy chair near her counter. I had barely gotten my laptop out when I noticed some potential trouble. A man came into the shop without wearing a mask. At the time, Philadelphia was under a mask mandate for all indoor establishments, unless you were seated and eating. As he approached the counter, Ella politely asked if he had a mask, to which he gruffly replied, “No!”
Before Ella could finish saying, “I’m sorry sir, but you need to put on a mask,” this man, in a packed coffee shop, screamed at my daughter, “This is insane! You’re ridiculous! I can take off a mask while seated but not while I’m six feet away? You’re crazy!”
My fatherly instinct was to intervene, telling this man, “Please don’t ever speak to anyone that way, particularly my first born,” but the Spirit kept me calm and constrained me from any power moves. I knew my instinct was not the way to make space here, and I wanted to see how God might be at work in surprising me.
Ella sternly responded to the man, “I was trying to tell you that I have a mask you can use or I cannot serve you. There is a sign on the door that clearly states you must wear a mask and not to argue with the employees about it.”
She was poised and did not shrink back, but I know my daughter, and I know how painful it is for her to take this nonsense from a stranger. I was internally conflicted. I wanted to protect her, but I also needed to let her do her job. Being the young woman she is, she did not need Dad (or any other man) coming in to defend her. Additionally, I had a strong conviction to wait on the Spirit to show me what was next. At that moment, I imagined interacting with this man before I left. Maybe I could ask him what he had hoped to accomplish and remind him that he unloaded on an employee trying to do her job. However, that sounded more like piling on guilt than opening up space. So I continued to wait.
In a final act of defiance, the man put the gifted mask on only half-covering his chin, paid for his pastry, and walked back to his belongings. I barely had time to make eye contact with Ella because the next customer was already ordering. Seconds later, this same man stood next to me and asked if the open seat at my table was taken.
“No, it’s not. Have a seat. And let me make space for you at this table,” I said as I moved a stack of books over.
The tension and beauty of this moment were immediately evident to me. These two chairs and a small side table were placed alone in the corner of the shop, directly across from the counter. As he sat down, I physically had to make space for him at the table we now shared. I knew that Jesus was present in this place, at this small side table, among us. While I did not want to be at the table with this man, I desired to see how God might surprise me as I seek to find him over coffee and pastries with a stranger who had just yelled at my daughter.
Drew (as I later came to know his name) started asking me questions about the neighborhood and telling me a little about his story. When he discovered I was a pastor, he had many things to share and ask me. I was simultaneously surprised with how much personal information he shared and concerned as I saw the confused looks on the faces of Ella and her co-workers. Was I going to defend my daughter? Was I going to become friends with the “enemy?” As the Spirit opened up space here in the corner of the coffee shop, I sensed a new possibility breaking in. It was the presence of Jesus, and it would be an altogether different way of dealing with this particular conflict. I decided to not match Drew’s power move with coercive shame or aggressive blaming, but make space for another way of being in the world.
As our conversation continued, Drew went back to the counter and ordered a coffee from Ella. He apologized for his outburst in a somewhat sincere way.
She was incredibly kind to him and then wryly said, “I see you’re chatting up my Dad over there?”
Drew’s face turned beet red. “That’s your Dad?” he stammered.
She smiled and nodded. Without a word from me and in an instant, Drew realized what I had known all along. The look of utter surprise and confusion reminded me of the disciples in the Caravaggio painting.
He returned to our table and apologetically said, “So, that’s your daughter I barked at earlier?”
“Yes, I said. I saw the whole thing. I hope you took the opportunity to make things right,” I replied with a smile.
“I did, I gave her a 100% tip,” he said.
“Well, that sounds more like a guilt offering than an apology,” I smirked.
“It definitely was a guilt offering,” he said. “I served in Iraq and this kind of sheepish compliance is how totalitarian rulers come to power,” Drew said as his tone shifted to more frustration. “I’ve seen this before. It starts with the masks.”
Curious, I asked, “You think so? In a coffee shop? Drew, my daughter is a gracious and lovely young lady. She works hard to pay for her college. She is just trying to do her job and serve people.”
He cut me off, saying, “But she complied. Everyone in here is bowing down to it.“
“Wrong audience, man,” I replied, “I think you’re speaking to the wrong audience. It’s a city-wide mandate. If my daughter doesn’t wear a mask, she gets fired and/or the shop gets fined. Whether she agrees with you or not, don’t you think it would be more appropriate to aim your concerns to the city council rather than yelling at a barista? Your culture war isn’t going to be won that way.“
His facial expression shifted as he exhaled. “Yeah, she was right in correcting me. She did it well. You’re right. I am frustrated and that was the wrong audience,” he replied.
“Thanks for noticing that, Drew. There are better ways to communicate your concerns without hurting innocent people,” I said affirmingly.
Drew nodded in agreement, and he silently finished our coffee and pastry.
A COFFEE SHOP CHAPLAIN
This way of being present in the world is how change happens. As David Fitch has written:
“We participate in [Jesus’s] work in the world, and his presence becomes visible. The world sees God’s presence among us and through us and joins in with God. And the world is changed. This, I contend, is faithful presence. This is the church. And this is how God has chosen to change the world.”1
Into the local coffee shop (or any other public space) we enter as guests, unaware of what Jesus is doing in the world, simply seeking to tend to his presence there.
Incidentally, this interaction with Drew led to further discussion with Ella and the other employees of the shop. They witnessed a different way of dealing with conflict and demonstrating self-emptying power. While they may not have fully understood what happened, they were all glad that it did, and have jokingly asked me to be the chaplain of the coffee shop – a role that I have gladly stepped into. Into the local coffee shop (or any other public space) we enter as guests, unaware of what Jesus is doing in the world, simply seeking to tend to his presence there. Click To Tweet
THE WORLD LONGS FOR EUCHARIST
David Fitch makes the bold claim that “the world longs for Eucharist.”2 Yes, this has proven true in my own life, and I would add that the world responds to Eucharist. As we eucharistically extend the presence of Jesus into our everyday relationships, noticing God’s work over time through meals, coffees, and beers we share with people, we can boldly and empathetically proclaim that Jesus is here and that he is Lord. In breaking bread around tables, those who long for Eucharist – those who desire to be welcomed and wanted by God – find what they long for in Jesus.
As the eucharistic-shaped mission Jesus began and Caravaggio depicted is extended into our Post-Christendom cultures today, may those who have eyes to see be surprised by God.
“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio, 1601 As we eucharistically extend the presence of Jesus into our everyday relationships, noticing God’s work over time through meals, coffees, and beers we share with people, we can proclaim that Jesus is here and that he is Lord. (1/2) Click To Tweet In breaking bread around tables, those who long for Eucharist – those who desire to be welcomed and wanted by God – find what they long for in Jesus. (2/2) Click To Tweet
Gino Curcuruto is a bivocational planter/pastor of The Table Philadelphia. He and his wife, Jill, have started communities of people who tend to God’s presence in ordinary life. Additionally, he has equipped and coached leaders and lay people across the country to do the same. They have four amazing kids (Ella, Selah, Tim, and Nate) and two super-OK dogs (Mr. Tumnus and Lucy).
1 David Fitch, Faithful Presence (IVP: Downers Grove, IL, 2016), 26.
2 IBID, 48.