More Than Facts
Honesty must include awareness and respect
By Norris Burkes
To be honest, I hate to hear someone begin a sentence with, “To be honest.”
The phrase seems to say, “Get ready, I’m really going to let you have it.”
Nevertheless, to be honest, I really hate coffee.
I know hate is a strong word coming from a spiritual columnist. But I think it’s best to be straightforward.
I’ll say it again: I hate coffee. I find the aroma revulsive. I won’t consume anything with coffee flavoring in it, such as ice cream, cake or tiramisu.
Yet recently in Jackson, Tennessee, I accepted an invitation for coffee from the Rev. Mary Beth Eberle, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church. Our meetup was a chance to get to know each other before my scheduled talk Saturday night.
I wasn’t forthcoming about my distaste for the bean. I accepted her hospitality because coffee shops also serve iced tea, hot chocolate or my favorite, a blended ice chai. And Mary Beth did say she was buying.
While waiting in line at the shop, I said I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. This news seemed unforeseen by my host since we were standing in a java joint.
“I assume they have tea, yes?” I asked Mary Beth.
“They do,” she said. Then she ordered coffee for herself and a black unsweetened iced tea for me. She paid for a refill in advance.
As we talked, I quickly drained the modest cup and signaled to the friendly barista for a refill.
A few minutes later, over the noise of a coffee grinder, the barista announced, “Iced tea refill.” Then he slid my cup across the counter to await pickup by the witless chaplain.
I grabbed the cold cup, but before sitting down, I took a giant gulp of something that was not iced tea.
“Coffee! Yuck!” My protests echoed off the stone walls, startling folks who were quietly working or visiting.
“I HATE coffee!” I said, spitting honesty with a rapid-fire “eww!”
The bitter brew was the most coffee I’d had since childhood. Back then, I spit it out. But there were too many witnesses this time.
I had no choice. I swallowed it. I’d have rather swallowed the backwash of my own heartburn.
The barista quickly rounded the counter, gushing an apology for accidentally giving me an iced coffee.
By then, I measured the embarrassment I’d publicly caused myself, and began my own apology for the scene I’d made, a grown man choking on coffee.
The barista replenished my iced tea.
“To be honest,” I said, “I hate coffee.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I gathered that.”
I’m glad we could be honest with one another.
But the incident reminded me that I can’t let honesty cross into rudeness. Honesty can’t be an excuse to slice and dice other people.
Honesty isn’t just the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. And it’s more than telling the facts.
It must include awareness of other people and respect for them. My outburst lacked both.
So the next time I’m tempted “to be honest,” I hope I’ll pause to consider the biblical advice of James 1:26:
“Those who consider themselves religious (or honest) and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
Easy for him to say. I’ll bet James never drank coffee.
Norris Burkes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento. Burkes is available for public speaking at civi organizations, places of worship, veterans groups and more. For details and fees, visit thechaplain.net.