“Unity,” she croons, narrowing her eyes with intensity, her Bulgarian accent lending effect. “That’s what we’re all about. You know?”
I nod and try to ponder unity. Are people really that divided… about coffee?
Petia, my friend, turns to run an espresso from the hulking red machine that dominates the counter. I watch her make my latte, how she enjoys the precise but simple ritual, how the afternoon sun streams into the front windows of her cafe. She smiles a little as she lands the wide cup in front of me, “Here!”
For a brief moment, I consider saying, “You could have named this the Cranky Cafe, and people would still come here for your coffee!” But I don’t because, honestly, I’m a little spooked.
This is the Unity Cafe.
Almost every time I visit, I end up meeting someone interesting. Once I met a film maker. A doctor in residency. A news man. A biologist. Some Mothman hunters. A musician. A very tall Viking. (Yes, a Viking.) All so different, all with one common interest unifying us: a darn good cup of coffee.
It reminds me of the church. (Not the darn good cup of coffee, but I’m sure some churches can crank out a fine latte…)
When the church is united, it doesn’t mean we’re all the same. In fact, we are free to be unique – utterly ourselves. There’s liberty to live the life we were created to live. Look at nature. The vast diversity of creation speaks of a Creator who revels in differences. Rather than one type of tree, we enjoy forests of incredible catalogs of species. Where there might have been one type of animal, we find a panoply of creatures.
Humans, though, have a hard time shaking the idea that unity means sameness. We think that to be truly united, we must all agree and approach problems identically. But I would suggest there is great strength in great differences.
Consider the apostles. Can you imagine brash Peter, loving John, explosive James, skeptical Thomas, and Matthew the crook even making it through a meal peacefully, let alone launching a movement that would change the world? Talk about supernatural.
Yet, imagine twelve men who were identical. What if they all were as impulsive as Peter? What could they have accomplished if they were all the same? In fact, a group that was highly similar would more closely resemble the Pharisees, right? Yikes.
Unity in the church depends upon and thrives upon individual differences. When you and I are confident in our own unique talents, gifts, and blessings, we’re free to unite together in our common purpose: to share the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We’re also a lot less likely to nitpick at others’ idiosyncrasies and preferences.
Petia told me once how her family left Bulgaria when she was a teenager. “It didn’t matter what you did, everyone had to be the same,” she said.
Her cafe has hints of the old country: a small Bulgarian flag tucked into a coffee mug, boxes of Turkish delight, jars of sweet pepper sauce. The door opens, and she greets a customer by name, asking if she should make the usual frappe.
Once, Petia told me a man visited the cafe. He explained that he was a minister traveling to a conference to speak on – yep – unity. He had been praying about his topic when he saw the Unity Cafe billboard. So he pulled over, bought a coffee and excitedly told her about the “sign” he’d received. Then he asked if he could pray with her.
“Wow,” I said, “that doesn’t happen every day.”
She shrugged and grinned. “It does here.”
Unity. It’s a good thing to aim at. When you do, spooky things happen.