To be honest, I hate to hear someone start a sentence with “To be honest”.
The line seems to say, “Get ready, I’m really going to let you have it.”
However, to be honest, I really, really hate coffee.
I know hate is a strong word coming from a spiritual columnist, but I think it’s best to be frank here.
I repeat: I hate coffee. I find the aroma repulsive. I will not consume anything with coffee flavorings such as ice cream, cakes or tiramisu.
Yet last month in Jackson, Tennessee, I accepted an invitation for coffee from the Reverend Mary Beth Eberle, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church. Our meeting was a grip and a smile, a meeting before my scheduled interview on Saturday evening.
I was not immediately in tune with my distaste for the bean. I had accepted his hospitality because cafes also serve iced tea, hot chocolate, or my favorite, a blended iced chai. And she said she was buying.
So the next day, while waiting in line at this downtown cafe, I admitted that I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. This news seemed to him unexpected since we were in a joint java.
“I guess they have tea, don’t they?” I asked Mary Beth.
“They do,” she said. Then she ordered coffee for her and an unsweetened black iced tea for me. She generously paid a refill in advance.
As we talked, I quickly emptied the modest cup and waved to the friendly, not-too-busy barista to refill me.
A few minutes later, over the noise of a coffee grinder, the barista announces: “Refill iced tea”. Then he slid my mug across the counter to wait for the mindless chaplain to come get me.
I grabbed the cold mug, but before I sat down I took a giant sip of something that was NOT iced tea.
“Coffee! Yuck!” My protests echoed off the stone walls, startling people who were working or quietly visiting.
“I HATE coffee! I said, spitting honesty with an “eww!”
The bitter brew was the most coffee I’d had in my mouth since I’d tasted it as a kid. At the time, I spat it out, but there were too many witnesses to vomit again.
I had no choice. I swallowed it. I would have preferred to swallow the undertow of my own heartburn.
The barista quickly came around the counter, spouting an honest apology for accidentally giving me an iced coffee.
By then I had measured the embarrassment I had caused myself publicly and started my own apologies for the scene I had made, a grown man choking on coffee at a reputable java store.
The barista quickly restocked my iced tea, helping to quell my overflowing protest.
“To be honest,” I said, “I hate coffee.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I get that.”
I’m glad we were able to be honest with each other.
But the incident reminded me that I can’t let honesty turn into rudeness. Honesty cannot be an excuse for slicing each other.
Honesty is not just the absence of lying, cheating, stealing, etc. And that must be more than stating the facts.
It must include knowing others and respecting them. My outburst really lacked both.
So the next time I’m tempted to “be honest,” I hope I’ll pause for a moment to consider the biblical advice in James 1:26:
“Those who consider themselves religious (or honest) and yet do not hold their tongues in check are deceiving themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
Easy for him to say. I bet James never drank coffee.
Finally, if you want to taste some of the best coffee in the world, come to Honduras next year to help Chispa Project start a library. Our volunteers not only bring home a sense of satisfaction, but often a 50-pound suitcase full of coffee. See www.chispaproject.org/volunteertrip (February 12-19 or March 12-19, 2023).
— And if you would like me to speak in your city, please write to me. I promise to behave myself: [email protected] or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.