When Coffee Gets Martyred

When Coffee Gets Martyred May 25, 2013
The first line of Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. In a similar fashion, the saints declare the true (and heavenly) end of humankind, and in so doing witness to the Christ who brings humankind to that end. As a direct result of that witness, a select few suffer at the hands of those who do not want to hear about that end, or even want to act in a way that obliterates the end to which the saints give witness.
Because the saints share a sacramental link to the Christ that they witness, their lives and trials can give us a way to read and gauge some of the manifestations of our culture.
Take coffee, for instance. Most urban dwellers would have had the experience of bad coffee, where the humble coffee bean, declaring the noble telos of coffeehood, has been rendered into a substance that can be described as less than optimal at the hands of a barista that does not fully know the full potential of the venerable bean. In those experiences where the bean suffers, one is still able to detect some vestige of the bean’s nobility.
However, there are baristas that go beyond the mere failure to realise the bean’s true end, and actively work against that end. Indeed, as the martyr is taken to the city limits and executed by those who reject the Good News, some baristas actively work to eviscerate any trace of coffeehood within the bean, silencing the good news that the bean sought to bring to its audience. In such cases, the bean can be said to undergo a process of martyrdom, in a way that faintly echoes the martyrological experiences of the Saints.
Readers might think such a reflection bordering on the blasphemous, but it is important to note that, in the writings of the medieval Church Father St. Bonaventure, the salvation that Christ brings is not only humanistic or spiritual, but also cosmological. The entire cosmos is brought to its full heavenly telos by the examplar, first of Christ and secondarily by His saints. Conversely, however, the extent to which the cosmos is not brought to its true telos, is the extent to which, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the whole world groans and travails (Rom 8:22). And we see countless examples in a profit-driven commercial culture where elements of creation are actively worked on and even against, to render products that declare little or nothing of the creature’s noble origins or heavenly end.


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  • If bad baristas could be described as martyring coffee beans then Starbucks is like Nero's circus.