Where do you go to read people?

Image: Sura Nualpradid

I love reading books. As a theophile, I could spent everyday reading something good, no matter if I’m vacationing or officially working. A good read for work becomes a joy to read when I’m “off.” I relish the challenge of, well, being challenged, and great thinkers lead my mind to begin to make sense of the world, which has been shaped by God’s Word. There’s never enough time to read a good book, but that tension leads me to engage, not escape, the world. So, I love reading people.

Twice a week I go to a regular “third space” (read: coffee shop) to read, write, think, plan, and meet with people. Usually the time connects to a meeting with someone, where the content of our conversation is okay to be spoken in public (otherwise we may meet in confidence at my office). It’s my office-away-from-the-office, and many times people see me and joke that I’m “always” there.

The baristas and I have a whole metanarrative of stories and jokes at play, and many of them have confided their hopes and dreams to the “digital pastor” who somehow has no set “regular” drink to order. In that place it’s fairly easy to notice some trends. While sitting for an hour nearby one can tell who the gracious customers are, and who is merely putting up with the whole production to get what they want. Reading people can be fun.

Of course, some people cannot stand the noise and prefer to get their triple shot venti mocha blah blah and drive away to the private comforts of their own space. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed a low rumble of noise around me, which helps me focus, rather than get distracted (no idea if it’s ADD or the total opposite.) A while back I did a quick calculation and realized that while studying engineering as an undergrad I spent more than 3,000 hours studying in a coffee shop. It was always noisy. Sorta like in that way.

On Fast Company’s Co.EXIST blog a recent feature noted the findings of researchers making sense of why ditching the office could help one be more creative. In the words of the researchers:

“A moderate distraction, which induces processing difficulty, enhances creativity by prompting abstract thinking.”

They noted that high noise levels make for a terrible environment (unsustainable even, I might add), and low noise can actually make you strain to tune out the whispers all around. There’s a “just right” level of distraction that helps us focus. As I have no problem thinking abstractly, I go to public spaces around people to help me think more concretely as well.

People animate the dreams, hopes, fears, and values they embody in their daily stories, which as a pastor I need to know. A lot can be learned by watching someone interact with others in even the most mundane setting as a coffee shop. Especially if you went there not so much to watch them (which could be creepy) but to watch God at work, and to join Him in that great work.

God knows, and has always known, everything about us. Yet, where did He go to read people? He came to earth, to live the life we should life and haven’t, and to die the death we all deserve, but don’t have to endure. Dare I say that Jesus was not content with reading people from afar? He desired to enter into their sufferings and their joys, to know grief and endure it patiently.

In the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see where and how Jesus went to read people. To that same place, and only there, we are invited to read God.