In picking up Ed Cyzewski’s new book Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, I had many different expectations. Ed, Jim and I had exchanged several e-mails and I greatly appreciated Ed’s style and humor. I was looking forward to my first nonfiction read in a while and happily accepted Ed’s request for Wisdom & Folly to be included on his blog tour. What I didn’t expect was a cross-cultural experience.
One of my most convicting and enlightening experiences occurred immediately after I graduated from college. Why is it, by the way, those two so often road trip together? Just once I would love to have Enlightenment show up on my doorstep unexpectedly and say “Hey, I thought I would leave Conviction sleeping on the couch this time. How about some mind-blowing insights, just you and me?” Anyway, what was I saying? Ah, yes-mind-stretching and self-mortifying experience. I embarked on an overseas missions trip with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to Ukraine. I can’t really say why I went on this trip (it certainly wasn’t for any of the reasons one should), but I definitely learned a lot from it. I had traveled overseas before, but more as a sightseer and general laborer, never in a one on one situation, day in day out. Frankly, it was exhausting. As the days stretched on and I felt myself being drained of what little spiritual energy I had at the time, I found myself clinging more and more to anything American. I drank Diet Coke at every opportunity, gobbled candy bars like there was no tomorrow and wept at the sight of the American delegation making its way into the Olympics. I didn’t want to share my precious symbols of home with anyone, which very much went against the communal mindset of the Ukrainians. I was happy to buy you your own, but keep your distance from my Snickers, okay comrade? One day two friends and I had had enough of the boiled beets and hot tea for lunch and headed to the nearby village with visions of pizza dancing before our eyes. As we neared the village, our faithful leader came thundering down the path to stop us. We had unintentionally offended our Ukrainian friends by shunning the prepared food and showing off our ability to buy an alternative. With great embarrassment and not a little righteous indignation, we returned to eat lunch with the rest of the group. (I believe humble pie was on the menu that day.) It was then that I began to reflect on just how ingrained certain values were to me as an American: independence, individualism and consumerism, to name a few. Not all bad in the proper context, but they nonetheless placed me in a certain context both culturally and economically. If I wanted to minister to these students I had traveled so far to meet, I was going to have to check some of these values like luggage at the gate, knowing I might never see them again.
This is the challenge that Ed Cyzewski gently but forcefully issues in Coffehouse Theology. If we are to attempt to understand God and his inspired word, the Bible, we must understand ourselves and the context in which we live, because our biases and cultural beliefs form a lens through which we see the world and the scriptures. As Ed puts it “Once we understand where we come from and who we are, we can then step into the important task of knowing God through Christian theology.” For me, just as with my experience overseas, this book was an opportunity to be challenged by a different perspective and come to understand myself as well as others more clearly. I didn’t always agree with Ed, but I could certainly appreciate where he was coming from and also appreciate the magnanimous spirit with which he presents all sides of important debates. As Ed says, he isn’t so much interested in convincing you one way or another, but rather opening a healthy dialogue, and he does just this with a light and humble touch. (Plus, I must add, I greatly appreciated his somewhat random cultural references and the use of parentheticals.) I would definitely recommend Coffeehouse Theology to anyone interested in theology as a way of better understanding God in everyday life and especially within our postmodern context. Within its pages, you just might find Enlightenment hanging out all by his lonesome, ready to go wherever the road might take you.