Good Work Ends with an Exclamation

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Like many couples, my wife Wendy and I had a long-running disagreement about Starbucks. We live in Wheaton, in the western suburbs of Chicago, and when a Starbucks opened in our somewhat moribund downtown a few years ago, I was delighted. Wendy wasn't. She worried that this corporate giant would drive out all the independent coffee shops—places like the Perk-Up Café, just down the street from Starbucks, where the genial proprietor sold delicious sandwiches as well as mediocre lattés.

"But the coffee at Perk-Up isn't very good," I protested. "And every order takes forever." Wendy grudgingly admitted the coffee at Starbucks was better.

Not so long ago, it was hard to get a good cup of coffee, even in a large city. The astonishing success of Starbucks hasn't simply benefited the company's stockholders. It has helped to create a competitive market for excellent coffee. Today you can go into Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's and get better coffee than you would have found in an upscale restaurant ten years ago.

And far from being driven into extinction, independent specialty coffee shops have proliferated, especially in areas where Starbucks is strong. In the early years of the coffee revolution, skeptics ridiculed all the fuss over a cup of java. They were proud to swill the bitter brew they'd grown up on. You still encounter some holdouts, but they are outnumbered by the coffee savants, some of whom go so far as to roast their own beans. To these connoisseurs, Starbucks is decidedly inferior, and there are shops that cater to their expensive tastes. Still others attract the people who are allergic to corporate logos.

Not the Perk-Up Café, though. It has long since closed its doors, but on the same block as the Starbucks in downtown Wheaton there's an independent coffee shop, La Spiaza, with funky décor and lots of places to sit and talk. Wendy and I go there sometimes, though more often we go to Starbucks.

Our disagreement no longer simmers. After all, we both believe strongly in supporting local businesses. In season, we get a box of produce each week from a local farmer in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network. And on a typical Saturday in the summer, we'll walk downtown to the farmer's market, stop by Carlson's hardware—a fixture in the downtown, family owned—and head for the splendid public library, stopping at Starbucks along the way. The tomatoes and the bread and the apricots are delicious—and the coffee's good too.

What are we doing when we celebrate such excellence? We're doing exactly what God created us to do when he made us in his image and likeness. As Andy Crouch reminds us in his forthcoming book Culture Makers, "Creation, even on a human scale, is meant to end with the glad exclamation, 'It is very good.' " So says the farmer bringing in the harvest. So says the baker of good bread and the maker of good coffee. And Wendy and I say amen.