Coffee When It Is Black

The whole problem with our culture can be summed up by the coffee we drink. The science, nay the art, of drinking black coffee revolves around enjoying that which is not enjoyable. The phrase “acquired taste” means just that – the acquisition of tastes we do not have: the taste for bitterness, the taste for harshness. Learning to love a dark cup of coffee means loving the unlovable, which is the definition of Christian charity. It does not mean ignoring the bitterness and choking the stuff down. That’s the mere toleration of the unlovable – which is the definition of cowardice, lameness and current American liberalism.

Our culture has worked to eradicate the cup of black coffee. Before there was a War on Christmas, before there was a War in Iraq, there was the far greater and far viler War on Joe. Lead by the hulking behemoth of diversity-in-coffee, Starbucks, the virtue of bitterness was all but spat upon. There is no end of foam, chocolate, corn syrup, chipped ice and vanilla cream you can drown a noble quarter cup of coffee in. There are, as we speak, growing mountains of plastic cups smeared with the remnants of whipped cream and flavor shots — stuff used to hide the bitterness of coffee.

In this sad state of affairs, people are less than likely to learn to love the unlovable.

Is this not a perfect parallel to our world’s view of suffering? Suffering is evil, it is confusing, we’ve no taste for it, so we do whatever we can to disguise it, to hide it. Oh, to be sure, there will be the broadcasting of well-dressed celebrities telling us to aid those suffering, but our slums will remain as far away from our suburban developments as we can get them. There will be laws passed to ensure that the homeless cannot beg where we don’t want them, or sleep where we can see them. When entire nations fall to the grip of AIDS epidemics, we haven’t the taste for walking among them, but we’ve enough moral fiber to send them billions of condoms with a “Hope for the Best!” card attached. We want the sweetness of sex without the reality of children. We want good health without having to diet and exercise.

Into all this cowardice the Catholic Church speaks a word so earth-shaking that it is a word often misunderstood: “Suffering is good.” This is not masochism, it is honesty. Suffering gives birth to charity and brings all men, rich or poor, to their knees. Suffering binds us together; offered up it gives spiritual strength. But more than all that: Suffering is the means by which the world is saved and reconciled to God. Without suffering there could be no sacrifice, and without sacrifice there could be no love.

Black coffee is good. It does not taste good, it is much too important for that. It is good. That’s why I compare it to human suffering. As Catholics we need to learn that sweetness is not the heart of life. Love is. And in Heaven, the line between love and suffering will be blurred and erased, for glorified, they amount to the same thing.

So what am I saying, ditch our frappuccinos? Ummmm, yes, sorry. Just walk into your coffee shop tomorrow morning and inform your barrista, “In the interest of defying the culture’s inability to embrace suffering as the means by which Man is restored form his fallen state, I’ll take it black.”

Some nsfw but relevant augmentation:

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  • Sean

    You continue to astound me, Marc. This is a stunning analogy that cuts to the quick. This something people can relate to. Thanks a million.Have you read The Republic by Plato? At one point in the book, the idea comes up that a man who has taken too much music and poetry, and not enough is too soft in his soul.Could you apply this to American society?

  • Nanette

    Excellent post…what a great comparison. Thanks for the thought-filled insight. I know so many people who cringe at the word "suffering" and believe that it should be banned from Christian thought! Will visit again, (not so) Bad Catholic.

  • The Ranter

    I would add that we are drowning in sweetness and light in our culture – too much pc-ism, not enough Truth being boldly proclaimed. And when we do have to take a drink of something strong and bold (like black coffee), it almost sickens us, because we are not used to Truth. It reminds me of St. Paul's words to the Corinthians (first letter, chapter 3, verses 1-3): "Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now, for you are still of the flesh." We have to be formed correctly, and so many of us are not being formed in Truth.

  • Jack V

    Sweet analogy. (Ha ha ha!) Two things that I find intertwined:suffering's derivation is correlated to one's wealth, which is inevitably fueled desire, suffering's opposite. The reason why charity is still a grassroots movement, may it be Christian or non religious, because it fails to be categorized under the money laundering that we capitalists get so caught up in today. Due to this motivation of getting cashmoney,this desire (tanha), people are too selfish to care about charity. And I'd go as far to say, once people have obtained a certain wealth, they're only going to be driven to gain more of it rather than disperse it amongst the poor. So I totally agree that suffering levels the playing field.

  • Marc

    Thanks so much for your comments!@SeanFirst of all, I am foreseeing a meeting in the future sometime. Perhaps with beer and pipes. And Chesterton. I HAVE in fact read The Republic; I do not recall that part, I will have to find my copy. But I agree. American society – and I use the word lightly – has an intense fear of pain that we are scared to admit. The irony is, if we saw pain and suffering as a good and met it head on as such — there would be less pain and suffering.

  • Marc

    @NanetteFirst of all, I love your blog, I am now following it with rapt attention. :)Have you read the book Death on a Friday Afternoon by Richard Nehaus? In it he describes a preacher who would not have a cross in his church, because their was nothing "downbeat" about his Christianity.Nothing Christian either, it seems.

  • Marc

    @The RanterI tried to post your comment as the facebook status of BadCatholic, but it was 300 words too long. : (

  • Marc

    @JVIEREMy man. It's true man, rich or poor, we all break the same (in the immortal words of mutemath). I was actually thinking about posting on something like that.

  • geeklady

    The only problem with this analogy is that properly roasted and brewed coffee is already delicious without any additives.Although I'm sure there is analogy of merit in the fact that Starbucks deliberately burns and ruins their raw coffee, then covers it up with sugar and artificial flavors. I just can't dig it out.

    • Marc Barnes

      Oh don’t get me wrong, I think it is absolutely delicious. But it is delicious *in* it’s darkness, bitterness and strength, in the qualities we don’t usually associate with “yummy.” Coffee’s deliciousness is an exquisite pleasure that moves beyond the tasty, sweet, and salty, beyond what we immediately associate with good-tasting in our culture.

      It’s precisely in the qualities that Starbucks ruins or avoids — with their candy-store-in-a-cup-mentality — that coffee is its best. In short, coffee is good as it is, as coffee itself, and should be accepted as such.

      So to with suffering. Suffering should be loved, and *is* — if you will — delicious. But it is delicious in what it truly is — the method by which we are saved. Suffering is not good because we change it, grin and bear it, or avoid it. Suffering is good because it is suffering — dark, bitter, and damn hot.

      • thetrog

        In short, coffee is good as it is, as coffee itself, and should be accepted as such.

        Amen. My response when people are incredulous that I take it black: “Why would I ruin a perfectly good bean?”

  • Marc

    geeklady,I most certainly agree that black coffee is delicious. But I don't believe that we immediately find it so, hence it is called an acquired taste. The dark, wonderful bitterness I love so much is something I taste as a "poison warning" from my body. We're not supposed to like it, but being awesome human beings, we do. Somehow I doubt animals would enjoy a dark roast…maybe?

  • The Ranter

    @JVIEREI have been thinking a lot about how many Americans take for granted that the "guv'mint" will help people out, instead of realizing that Christ called US to do it, individual and as a church.@MarcI do have a problem with being short and pithy. Dang.

  • Amanda Borenstadt

    Great post! I drink my coffee black, but I never waxed so eloquently about it. :)

  • KathleenLundquist

    I have enough effing suffering in my life right now – I just can't take my coffee black on top of it. My morning latte is about the only bright spot in my day.But I get your point.:-J

  • Marc

    @Kathleen LundquistHaha, point taken. Black coffee is a reminder of suffering, not a supplement. Enjoy your latte!

  • Brian

    "Granted, there was no suffering before the Fall of Man"Wasn't the willingness to suffer or sacrifice one's self one of the causes of the fall? Adam remained silent and put himself before his bride and more importantly, God. He refused to suffer, but the second Adam, Christ, embraced it fully for his bride.

  • Arkanabar T’verrick Ilarsadin

    @Brian: Really? Genesis 3:6-13 readsThe woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 2 When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself." Then he asked, "Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!" The man replied, "The woman whom you put here with me–she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it." The LORD God then asked the woman, "Why did you do such a thing?" The woman answered, "The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it."In other words, Adam punked out. He made no attempt to provide moral guidance to his wife, and when the chips were down, he passed the buck.Oh. It occurs to me you meant for the third word in your post to be, "unwillingness."

  • Craig Nessel

    I like my coffee the way I like my women…bitter.

  • courtney

    This is why I French Press.

    • Marc Barnes

      ( :

  • Laurie Schultz Bucciante

    what if you don’t drink coffee at all??? ;)

  • Elizabeth

    This is SO TRUE, it gave me chills.

    (Not crazy about the video clip, though–you couldn’t find one from Twin Peaks?!?)

  • Alex

    a nice analogy, but I’m still going to put milk in my coffee :P

  • Rose

    Yay – I agree. In my youth I found myself a literal “slave” to the right creamer, the perfect sweetener, and woe if the restaurant did not have it. Now I’m free and I can actually taste the variations and subtle nuances of brews which I before thought I had to choke down.

  • Denise

    I just watched There be Dragons last night and it speaks the same language.

  • MK

    When I grow up I want to think like Augustine, sing like Bette Midler and write like you! Awesome, once again!

  • Mary Liz Bartell

    Glad to have given up sugar in my coffee for lent! It really puts this in perspective.
    Harder still to give up facebook games for lent.

  • Timothy Ephesus

    The Battle of Vienna.

  • Maggie

    I browsed through some of your old stuff this week since there was nothing new on the blog. I really liked the simplicity of the analogy in this post. Thanks for going strong for almost 3 years now!