The Pandemic and the Coffee Shop

What We Learn in Chaos

Bryant Trinh / 3.12.20

Things are getting gnarly and wild.

Owning and operating a small coffee shop during this coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing. Schools around the nation are cancelling classes and opting for online classrooms. Many organizations are cancelling conferences. Small churches are getting kicked out of the high school auditoriums they meet in. Even a coronavirus conference was cancelled. Oh the irony. Tom Hanks and Rita, his wife, posted on Instagram that they have been tested positive for the virus. After two players tested positive, the NBA suspended their entire season indefinitely; a close friend of mine mourns the decision as his team had a great shot at winning it all.

Not a day has gone by when I haven’t found myself wondering what will happen if I have to close up shop for a week, two weeks, or even a month. How will my employees, who are dear friends, get paid? Will insurance coverage be a viable option? Will customers come back when we reopen—if we reopen? Where will I get my caffeine fix? What am I going to do for an entire month without work?

And were I to catch the virus, another host of questions arises. Growing up in a Chinese-American household, it is typical that entire families live under the same roof for much of their lives. I am talking about grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, dogs, and sometimes uncles. I live with my parents and grandparents which means catching the virus puts them at a huge risk. The grandparents are obvious, but many years ago my father smoked packs of cigarettes a day and I am afraid his lungs are compromised to some extent.

It is one stressor after another.

Yet I am hopeful still.

I have been chipping away at Dr. Simeon Zahl’s work on the theology of Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, and a paragraph late in the book stands out to me in the midst of all this chaos. With Blumhardt’s theology, Zahl hopes to build a bridge between traditional protestant theology and Pentecostal/charismatic theology, as they relate to the Holy Spirit. One of ways that Blumhardt sees and experiences the workings of the Holy Spirit is through what is termed “negative experience”: “Blumhardt claims that the most reliable sign of the Holy Spirit at work in a person is ‘not so much divine peace as birth-pangs, the anxiety and unsettled feelings that accompanies profound change.’”

Towards the beginning of the First World War, we find Blumhardt in strong opposition to the war while most of his contemporaries saw the war as divinely justified. Dr. Zahl writes that “[Blumhardt] agrees that there is a divine purpose, […] But the similarities end there.”

For Blumhardt, by contrast, the divine purpose was not to be deduced from the experience of the war spirit, and certainly had nothing to do with a particular political or military calling on the German nation. Rather, he understood God to be at work in the outbreak of the War insofar as the sin of the world was revealed and brought to light through it. […] In this sense, and in this sense only, there is for Blumhardt a divine purpose to the War. In his view, the War, though “created” by sin and false national pride, is at the same time being used by God as a catalyst for “negative” experience on a massive scale.

Will the months to come be difficult? Chances are, yes; the virus will weigh heavily on the healthcare system and its providers. It will impact our families and friends, the economy, our businesses. Many more events will be cancelled or postponed.

But it is not judgment, and it is not punishment. That has already been dealt with on the cross. There is grace to be found in learning how anxious and afraid we actually are. It is a grace to learn how unkind and combative I’ve been with friends and acquaintances about the nature of the virus. It is a grace to learn how much of a jerk we can be to our neighbors when we fight over toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It is a grace for those that have been overreactive and also for those who have brushed it all off as not-serious.

The worst being brought out of each of us can be exactly what reveals our need for Jesus—the one person who really does save us from ourselves.