#3 Coffee, Ethos, and Mythos

coffee peace

I am struggling to start writing today. Today has been much different. It has felt much less like Spring Break. I did not enter a coffee shop. That is a bad feeling. I used to feel out of place at a coffee shop. I would awkwardly enter, not knowing what anything on the menu meant, and order an ice water or a smoothie. I did not start drinking actual coffee until about 2 1/2 years ago. I only stumbled upon my love of this caffeine infused gift from God because my wife and our best friends wanted to do “Whole 30” – ugh I remember that month with pure disgust. I was told that by day 30 I would feel like a whole new person, full of “pure” energy and ready to conquer the world. I developed an unbreakable bond with pure, black coffee. It is there where I found “pure” energy. I lost a bunch of weight and developed a coffee habit – Thanks, Whole 30!

Anyway, I am interested in this idea of feeling awkward somewhere in which I have no connection – how I used to feel at a coffee shop. This idea of being an outsider. A foreigner. An alien. I formerly had a disdain for coffee shops because I was the outsider who did not understand the ethos or mythos of the place. It made me mad to feel like I did not belong. I thought for the longest time that I felt this way because my clothes were not cool enough (this is entirely true). I was the dude in tennis shoes, jeans (from Old Navy if I were feeling fancy), and my most recently washed t-shirt. At the coffee shop, everyone had their own unique style. Their own brand of shirts that I could never find. Their own cool shoes – definitely not Adidas or Nike (unless they were specially made).  Everyone was drinking something fancy like an “Americano” or “Cappuccino.” I would think, “I’m not Italian, I don’t know what that is or means!” I would try to sit down and work on homework, or whatever it is college students do at a coffee shop – scroll on Tumblr or Twitter (definitely not Facebook). Give or take 3 minutes and I would be packing up to leave.

I think this would happen because when all you can think about is what everyone else is thinking, it makes it impossible to be yourself. This same thing used to happen to me in a few places: 1) Coffee Shops, 2) Weight Rooms, 3) Churches, 4) Any store that sells clothes

There is something about these places that caused me to feel out of sync with everything and everyone. I was not the right type of person. I did not have the right clothes, hair, shoes, muscles, prayers, or money to be in the group. The places like this that find success have similar things in common. Either their model fits a very specific type of customer (i.e. Gold’s Gym) or they have broken the threshold to make outsiders feel welcome (i.e. Starbucks).

I mentioned the words Ethos and Mythos earlier. These words have become important in my life. I now realize that I did not feel accepted at the coffee shops because their Ethos (underlying culture) was one that I was not accustomed. I had no context to understand it. Thus, I relegated myself to being an outsider. The word Mythos is one that I find more foundational. This is the story we tell each other about a place. So, Gold’s Gym tells each other that they are the strongest people on the planet. Whereas, Starbucks tells each other that their coffee ought to be a foundational narrative in everyone’s life and thus they broke the threshold of who belongs.

I work in a church. Out Mythos has always been that we are a “Grace Church.” At least that is what we say. I have experienced this to be true the entire 3 years I have worked with this congregation. Our problem is that our Mythos has not changed, but our application of that Mythos might need to shift. What I mean is this, 25 years ago, we were one of the largest churches in Nashville and we were continually growing – it looked like there was no stopping it. It started by being the church that loved and cared for people walking through a divorce. Other local and national congregations “Blacklisted” our church for this. Ironically, we are a “Church of Christ” which means we are entirely autonomous. There is no hierarchy holding our churches to a certain teaching, idea, or theology. Thus, their blacklisting probably only made us more attractive to people who had felt burned by church previously.

Today almost every mainline church is willing to love and care for divorced people. My church was just 15 years ahead of the trend. The Mythos we tell each other is the same today as it was then “We are a Grace Church.” It is just as true as it was 20 years ago. The difference is that there are multitudes of other churches preaching and teaching the exact same  Grace for the same group of people. Thus, the Mythos that caused us to be “Blacklisted” is no longer a hot-button thing. So, our application of being a Grace Church might need to take on a new form, but only if we wish to keep the same Mythos.

This word Mythos has changed my mental world. When I first heard it being used, it was being used in the context of teaching about the Genesis Narrative. I was astonished and taken aback. I then realized the power and importance of the Genesis Narrative keeping a people together as the story they told one another to counter the story of Marduk and Babylon’s own creation narrative. The Israelite people needed their Mythos to tell each other and the world that YHWH created out of love, not violence.

What is the Mythos you tell yourself? About your family? About your church? About your nation?

What are out connecting stories? What holds us together? What needs to change in our Mythos to bind us tighter?

Don’t be Sisyphus today (see yesterday’s post to understand this).

I hope you have a great day.

Grace and Peace,



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