Nectar of the Gods: Theological Reflection on my Favorite Coffee Shop, Little Amps

Little-AmpsThere is a small place at the corner of Green and Muench Streets here in Harrisburg that makes coffee that, in my humble opinion, is the Nectar of the Gods. The owner roasts his own beans and pays above fair trade price for them. He sells records from a small bin at the back, ranging from indie to jazz to a section called “Sounds from Iceland” (they’ve even got a copy of Death’s first album that I want to pick up once I have some cash) The employees are always friendly, and it’s rare to enter the place and not find quite a few people in there already, drinking uptown ginger browns (one of my favorite coffee drinks there when I can afford it) and “Cold Jars” (coldbrew coffee in a mason jar; I call it Nectar on Ice), especially on a summer day. That place is called Little Amps, and it is my favorite place in Harrisburg to get coffee.

I certainly don’t mean to insult the other coffee joints around the area, such as St. Thomas Roasters in Linglestown, or Agia Sophia on Market and Third Streets (right across from the Whitaker Center), but with its utterly delicious coffee and proximity to my job, Little Amps has pretty much taken the top spot on my favorite coffee place since not too long after it first opened (I think in 2011). It’s just an awesome place to sit down with a book and sip on a cortado, or chat with friends over cold jars.

It’s also one of the most theological coffee shops in the area, even more so than the aforementioned Agia Sophia, which the Orthodox Church runs.

Now, far be it from me to stake a Christian flag (God, I hate that those exist) through Little Amps floor; the fact that there is no religious affiliation attached to Little Amps makes it all the more welcoming.  It does, however, seem to attract a crowd willing to talk about matters like religion (or irreligion) and philosophy and culture and how those things can make Harrisburg better. All walks of life come through their doors.  At one time, you can see doctors, businessmen, artists, skaters, single moms, and young professionals all coming in for a cup of joe, and everyone’s just pretty cool to exist in the same space.  What exists in Little Amps is something that just isn’t present in other shops: community.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The owner, Aaron, very much loves his customers, and is wiling to go out of his way for them.  I remember coming inside on a spring day and having allergy issues. He asked me about my day, and I said, “Good, but I’d be doing better without these allergies.” On the spot, he offered me some Sudafed.  He’s ordered pizza and everyone in the shop got a slice for free. He established a hook-up board, where the shop promotes people buying things for other people. As I mentioned before, he pays above fair-trade prices for his coffee, and he roasts them meticulously to get the beans just right so his customers get a good product.

The people in Little Amps are generous and friendly as well. They don’t mind sharing tables, even striking up conversations with new people.  Coffee hook-ups abound every day, and people bring in their own food and share it all the time. One guy happily gave me a slice of pizza out of the box he brought in because he happened to have a spare.

All of this pours out of what appears to be a simple, but genuine love for the people that come into the coffee shop, be they customer, employee, or owner.  They do unto others as they would have them do to themselves. They love their neighbors.  They exhibit many of the things Jesus told us pointed to the Kingdom of God, and yet they are entirely unconcerned with advancing such a thing.

Jesus said in more ways than one that God’s own people would effectively miss the Messiah completely, but that the Gentiles would see the Messiah for who He was and follow Him (the whole book of Matthew runs with this).  Again, I’m not attempting to project religion onto an otherwise unaffiliated establishment, but it is much easier to find hints of the Kingdom outside the walls of the church than it is inside its walls.

I’m certainly not saying anything new, but this is something that hasn’t caught on in my area much at all. Church has tried to replicate what they see in coffee shops and bars by having their own coffee shops (but not their own bars) and trying to look cool and edgy, but where they fail is loving their neighbors.  I say this as a member of the church who also fails to love his neighbors, but who has found better examples in the world of what that looks like than he has in all the churches he’s attended.  We are failing the two greatest commandments, and we can do better.

We would do well to learn from Little Amps and many other fine establishments here in Harrisburg about loving our neighbors, not by new programs or coffee bars, but by putting our neighbors ahead of ourselves and caring for them.

You know, like Jesus told us to.

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