Santa Cruz 2: Different Languages

Chris and I stopped by the Coffee Cat again on Tuesday morning. This time, the barista was able to concoct the vacuum pot coffee I had tried to get the day before. Half the fun of this kind of coffee is the brewing experience, which involves one glass container with coffee atop another that is filled with water. Heat forces the water into the upper chamber, where the coffee brews. When the heat is removed, the liquid returns to the bottom chamber as some of the smoothest coffee that is to be had on earth. I asked the barista if he enjoyed this sort of coffee at home, and he confessed that he only brought out his vacuum pot when guests were over. It did look like a lot of set-up and clean-up work for a cup or two of coffee, so I chose not to purchase the equipment. I was pleased with the coffee, but I was disappointed that the process was more work than it was worth.

Our next task was to rent some boogie boards and wetsuits. Our plan was to spend some time on the beach looking for tattoo stories, and this equipment would give us an excuse to be there and something to do between conversations. We got a suggestion for a surf shop from the barista, and off we went to another interesting experience.

A salesman met us as we entered the shop. We explained, in what I believed to be clear, unaccented English, that we wanted to rent two boogie boards and two wetsuits. The salesman took us to the middle of the store, where he pointed out that they had quite a selection of surfboards for sale. Then he disappeared into the back room of the store. We never saw or heard from him again.

Eventually another salesman asked if we needed some help. Again I explained that we were looking to rent two boogie boards and two wetsuits. He responded that he would be available to take us out and teach us how to surf, and we might want to pick out a couple of the boards we had seen moments before. He also let us know that he could film the entire experience for us. While this was all helpful information, especially if we had wanted to be filmed while learning to surf on brand new surfboards, we began to wonder if some sort of recreational drug was taking its toll on this young man’s ability to discern what we were really after.

We decided to try again: “We’d like to rent a couple boogie boards and a couple of wetsuits.”

“OH! You want to RENT stuff? Yeah, okay, follow me.” We followed to room where they had one boogie board (“Oh the other one must be out.”) and a ragtag assortment of wetsuits. We asked if there might be another surf shop nearby, and he directed us to a spot closer to the beach. After some similar bidirectional conversation about pricing at this new shop, we were ready to hit the waves.

Which were awesome, by the way. But another revelation that I probably should have foreseen: It’s impossible to see tattoos on someone who’s clad in a wetsuit.

*****

The following day, we found a busy coffee shop in downtown Santa Cruz that has a lot of wide-open space, indoor and outdoor seating, and large tables that could be shared by multiple groups of customers. We spent the morning drinking coffee and playing several small card games that Chris designed. His new line of games is called Pack O Game, and each game is about the size of a pack of gum (hence the name). The idea was that the games we played at our table would draw the attention of other customers, and perhaps some might be sporting tattoos with stories to go with them. While our practice may sound a bit strange, Chris and I have found that people’s curiosity is naturally drawn to see what game is being played. We had a small amount of success: one fellow with a BAYER tattoo said that it reminded him of his home in Germany. Not much more than that, though.

When we broke for lunch, we walked down Pacific Avenue to a sandwich shop. We both ordered sandwiches, realizing afterwards that we probably could’ve done just as well sharing one of the humongous meals. As we were eating, we spotted the couple I mentioned in the previous post, once again looking forlorn and disoriented. I could see them outside the window, huddled together on a cement curb that separated the sidewalk from the landscaping. I ate half of my sandwich and then suggested to Chris that I was going to give the other half to the couple, who were half-heartedly panhandling the people who passed them on the sidewalk. I asked the woman behind the counter if she could wrap my leftover sandwich, and she happily obliged. Just as she handed it back to me, in walked the young man. He walked up to the counter and asked if he could buy a sandwich for four dollars, which was less than half the price of their cheapest sandwich. Without waiting for the employees to respond, I walked over and asked if he would like half of my sandwich. He thanked me and took the sandwich back outside and sat back down next to the girl on the curb.

I returned to our table inside the restaurant and continued to watch the couple outside the window. I guess one might think it was sort of a creeper or voyeur thing, but truthfully I was feeling more like someone who had given a wrapped gift to someone, and I wanted to see their reaction to receiving the gift. To be honest, I admit was feeling pretty good about myself and what I had done. I wasn’t expecting what was about to happen. First of all, it seemed like he wanted to conceal his gift from the girl he was with. Next, he unwrapped the roast beef sandwich and took a bite. Then he got up, walked over to the nearest trash can, and tossed it in.

He didn’t even offer it to his friend.

Some might react to what happened by disparaging the whole practice of giving to the poor: “See! It’s a waste of my hard-earned money. They just threw it away anyway.” True. That is what happened. Others might conclude that the couple wasn’t really hungry to begin with; that they were just panhandling for drug money. Not sure if that was the case, but admittedly,¬† it wouldn’t have been much of a stretch to reach that conclusion with these two. Because of this experience, I might be tempted to not make the same effort to make this offer in the future.

But then I thought about the Lord’s Supper.

Throughout the Gospels, especially the first three Gospels, the disciples are clueless as to Jesus’ identity, mission, and kingdom. Like our experience at the surf shop, they miss the point of most of what Jesus has to say, preferring¬† to hear something completely different. Several times in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus predicts his upcoming trial and death. Immediately following his pronouncements, the disciples get into arguments about who will be the greatest or who will have a seat closest to the throne in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus remains patient with them, repeating his words and making everything into focus as they travel toward Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will be tried and put to death.

Then, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus takes a loaf of bread, asks God’s blessing upon it, breaks it, and gives it to his disciples. One of these disciples will betray him. Another will deny him three times. Others will desert him when he is arrested. Jesus knows all this, and he’s already told them it’s going to happen. He knows they’re about to throw away the bread he’s about to offer them, but he gives it to them anyway.

So maybe it’s not about how my attempts at kindness and generosity are received; instead it’s about offering them freely, expecting nothing in return. I just read this morning that in God’s economy of abundance, we can give like this, expecting nothing in return, because there is plenty enough for all. So as a follower of Jesus, I’m not asked to evaluate the reception of my gift; I’m simply asked to give. And it is in giving–not in judging the recipient, or in refusing to give because the gift is refused–that I become more like Jesus.

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