Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On My Bookshelf: Coffee and Truth

"If you grew up in the church, you might have been taught that passion is sinful. The spiritual passion that is evidenced by a consuming desire for God might have gotten obscured by all the warnings against lust, envy, pride, and greed, as if passion were concerned only with the satisfaction of sinful appetites. Don't lose the full meaning of this word. A driving hunger for God is passion at its best. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy the excitement and adventure of pursuing God with all your spiritual passion. "

-Leonard Sweet, The Gospel According to Starbucks

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

- Jesus, The Gospel of Mark

I stumbled across The Gospel According to Starbucks by Leonard Sweet at the bookstore where my son works. It looked like fun, so I gave it to my husband for Christmas. I was intrigued by the premise of the book. Apparently, I am not the only one. You can read a good review of it here.

The book ended up in my lap one winter afternoon. I was captured and held by Sweet's insistence on our need to experience God and engage in the life He offers us in a more active way. I am an evangelical, strong in the study of the Word of God, and careful to line up my thinking with the teachings of Jesus. Still, there is a lot that I miss.

Sweet uses the remarkable success of Starbucks to illustrate a point. They have effectively reached people. If we look at why, we see how people are designed. The life that God offers us is deliberately, thoughtfully, lovingly constructed by the One who created us and knows us best. He can satisfy our longings, but only if we fully engage in a life with Him. In reading Sweet's book, I could see that I have missed some things along the way, not only for myself, but for others with whom I might discuss my faith.

He uses the Starbucks strategy as a springboard to give us a fresh look at the life of faith. From there, he outlines a Gospel that is EPIC:

E -- experiential
P -- participatory
I -- image-rich
C -- connective

EPIC faith, he claims, is fully engaging and powerfully alluring to people. I think he has it right, even if I disagreed with him on some minor details. The book challenged me to think beyond inductive Bible studies and correct doctrine. Those things are crucial, but by themselves they are incomplete. God wants us to have more.

Most engaging for me were his discussions of adventure, passionate pursuit, beauty, the use of image, and the centrality of experience and participation. I don't agree with all of his statements. Some parts of the book read like a comercial for Starbucks. There are other spots where I want more clarity from him or I wish he would express his idea in a different way. But I found myself riveted by his fresh approach. He challenged me. I know I am going to read the book a second time, maybe even a third. That speaks for itself.

As Sweet says, "We can't help but seek life on an EPIC scale, because God designed us that way. The life God designed us for is experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connective. The life of faith, to fully qualify as a life of faith, is characterized by experiences that are meaningful; full participation in those experiences of meaning; a richness of imagery wrapped around those experiences; and deep connections with God, others, self, and creation. All four EPIC elements, enlivened and intertwined, deliver grande passion, the life we're all thirsty for.

"Don't wait until next week. Don't cheat yourself out of another moment of the EPIC life . . . Why put off grande passion when it's right there within your reach?"

Please note: I did not receive any compensation or free merchandise in exchange for my written review or my opinion about this book.


  1. I've often wondered if I have a grand passion. I'm not really a passionate sort of person. I'm more of a cheerful, ordinary person.

  2. There is passion in the devotion you show to your children by taking all the time to homeschool them. That's a lot of work, and the heart for it, the ability to persevere, comes from somewhere deep inside your soul. It's passion, although you may not think of it in that way.

    There is passion in the devotion you show to your husband. Let's face it, marriage isn't easy. It takes a passionate commitment to weather all the ups and downs, the challenges, of decades together. Although, in the every day humdrum life, passion seems to have fled, it's there underneath like a deep fresh water spring that is invisible to the eye above ground. That passion drives and sustains your commitment.

    There is passion in your efforts to obey and walk with God. Paul says that we are all in an intense battle, a wrestling match, as we seek to live out the truth each day. Staying in the fight takes more than a sense of "should" and more than obligation or guilt. Love (passion) for God sustains your drive to stay in the fight with Him. Although it doesn't always feel like passion, it is.

    If you are feeling that you don't have passion, it can just be that the noise of daily life is what is most apparent. It is still there, hidden under the surface of things. You may not be an intense person, but you care deeply about some important things in your life, and that counts as passion.

  3. I think perhaps I define passion differently. That might be the crux of the matter. Passion evokes wild emotion and the desire to jump off bridges.

  4. You are so funny! Jumping off bridges!

    Well, I did look up passion in one dictionary, and it does favor the "wild emotion" interpretation, so you are in good company.

    So the question is, can we talk about passion as a part of following God? And do we mean "wild, intense emotion" by the term passion when it's applied to our relationship with God? What does Leonard Sweet mean by what he writes?

    I doubt that wild emotion is the kind of passion that we should employ in following God when the scriptures also instruct us to be self-controlled.

    I think, and this is just my personal opinion, that pursuing God with passion is implied in the quote from Jesus about loving God with all our strength (above). I find a lot of this kind of passion in the Psalms in various places, too. David writes: "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." (Psalm 42:1). Could this be passion for God in it's essence -- a thirst, a longing for God that characterizes our life and propels us toward Him all our days? Could it be that we are actually designed to live that way, and we will be restless until we do?

    Don't get me wrong -- I am not saying that intense feeling isn't part of passion. I think it is. But few of us can live in a place of intense emotion all the time. And I don't think that Leonard Sweet means to suggest that God expects us to live there.

    I think he means to define passion as caring very deeply in a focused and sustained way that involves the devotion of our whole selves.


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