My early morning coffee stop gets it. They are open when I want; they know what I want without asking (skinny latte, no sugar); they keep my rewards card and tell me when I have a free coffee. And they know my name!
This isn’t a sit down, take out your laptop sort of coffee shop. It’s not your “let’s go out for breakfast” muesli and fresh fruit coffee shop. There are no yoga moms with their chai lattes or hipsters nursing their black coffees. This is a coffee shop for tradesmen – mechanics, air conditioner repairmen, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, sign painters, house painters, concrete pourers, door hangers, tile layers, carpet layers, welders, metal workers and miners. On the outskirts of Bendigo, my coffee shop specializes in fuelling up tradies. It does a brisk trade from 5.30am and has everything a tradie on the way to work could want. Fresh toasted egg and bacon or ham and tomato sangas, cold drinks and sandwiches in the fridge, good coffee, papers and magazines and friendly staff.
When I come in for my coffee 15 minutes after tumbling out of bed and the sleep barely out of my eyes, wanting to get back to the vineyard before the kangaroos are too active, to be cheerily greeted by name, have a quick chat about this and that, get my coffee just the way I like it and be on my way is not a bad way to start the day. Living in a small rural community, I’m used to people knowing me and calling me by name but this feels special because I’m not that regular. I call in maybe two or three times a week and it’s not my home turf. The staff have to make an effort to get to know their customers’ names and regular orders.
The power of naming is well known to Christians and the idea that God loves us as individuals is a recurring and central theme in the Bible.
“…for I know you well, and you are special to me. I know you by name.” Exodus 33:17
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine.” Isaiah 43:1
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” John 10:14
So much of our dealings with businesses have become impersonal and often it is not possible to know who is fixing that computer or appliance we sent off under guarantee or who the x-ray technician or pathologist was who processed our medical tests. Despite this, we can still acknowledge that there are people behind these seemingly impersonal transactions. A personal gesture goes a long way. It’s been suggested that putting a few lollies or a personal note into the package with the broken item both acknowledges the anonymous anonymous technician in a lab way off in the middle of nowhere and results in better service (Swedish Fish Theory).
The challenge for our growing communities and our increasingly complex and remote interactions with people and organisations is to recognise people’s humanity. If we treat the person on the end of the phone as a nobody we sow the seeds of a diminished common life.
We can’t always know and be known by name but we can treat people with kindness and respect. It is after all the way we would want to be treated. It was Jesus who said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12) It’s called the Golden Rule for a good reason.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister