By Norris Burkes Nov 6 2022

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, really hate coffee.

I know hate is a strong word coming from a spiritual columnist, but I think it’s best to be straightforward here.

I’ll say it again: I hate coffee. I find the aroma revulsive. I won’t consume anything with coffee flavoring in it like ice cream, cake or tiramisu.

Yet last month in Jackson, Tenn., I accepted an invitation for coffee from Rev. Mary Beth Eberle, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church. Our meet up was a grip-and-grin, a get-to-know each other before my scheduled Saturday-night talk.

I wasn’t immediately forthcoming with my distaste for the bean. I’d accepted her hospitality because coffee shops also serve iced tea, hot chocolate, or my favorite- a blended ice chai. And she did say she was buying.

So the next day while waiting in line at the shop, I allowed as to how I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. This news seemed unforeseen to her 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 generously paid for a refill in advance.

 As we talked, I quickly drained the modest cup and signaled to the friendly and not-too-busy barista for my 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 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 in my mouth since tasting it as a child. Back then, I spit it out, but there were too many witnesses to do the spew again.

I had no choice. I swallowed it. I’d have rather swallowed the backwash of my own heartburn.

The barista came quickly around the counter, gushing an honest apology for accidently giving me an iced coffee.

By then, I’d 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 inside a reputable java shop.

The barista quickly replenished my iced tea, helping me squelch my overflowing protest.

“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 over into rudeness. Honesty can’t be an excuse to slice and dice one another.

Honesty isn’t just the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. And it has to be more than telling the facts.

It must include awareness of other people and respect for them.  My outburst truly lacked both.

So the next time I’m tempted “to be honest,” I hope I’ll pause a moment 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 had coffee.


Finally, if you want to taste some of the best coffee in the world, come to Honduras next year to help Chispa Project start a library. Our volunteers not only carry home a sense of satisfaction, but often a 50lb suitcase full of coffee. See (February 12 – 19 or March 12 – 19, 2023).

And if you’d like me to come speak in your town, please email me. I promise I’ll behave. or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.