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The Dancing Goat…um…Controversy?

(a Steve Orr Scripture Reflection)


Some goats are at the heart of an oft-told tale of coffee’s discovery. 


Location: Ethiopia. 

Time: Morning; mid-fifteenth century A.D.

Scene: A goat-herder searches for his flock that failed to return home the night before. 

Story: The goat-herder finds his missing flock and takes note of some strange behavior. They are dancing! At the center of this dance is a shrub sporting red berries. Observing the goats eating the berries, the lowly goat-herder does the same. Soon, he too is dancing.


There are many versions of this tale. In some, it takes place in Arabia Felix (Yemen). In some, the goat-herder is observed by a Sufi or a Monk who takes some berries back to the monastery. He performs experiments on the berries, eventually arriving at the liquid we call coffee. 


Like most legends, there is probably some truth in there somewhere. But the part about the dancing goats is unlikely. Experiments near the end of the Twentieth Century with actual goats and actual coffee berries produced problematic results. The goats almost always chose dried grass or other options over the coffee berries. This, even when swapping out Yemeni goats for Ethiopian goats. In one instance, the Ethiopian goats did eat coffee plant leaves when hand-fed them by a local woman. Was that a vote for the Ethiopian origin story?


Let’s stop right here. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this “controversy” doesn’t seem all that controversial to you. Am I right?Most actual coffee drinkers have never even heard any dancing goat stories, much less any controversies tied to them. They almost certainly don’t care. And non-coffee drinkers? Nope.


For most of us who do have a relationship with coffee, the fact that its origin can’t be proved, or even successfully tested, is not make-or-break. We love coffee for the role it plays in our lives, now. The question is not so much who, what, where, or when. It’s, now what?


That’s where we are with this week’s scriptures. The baby is born. He spent a portion of His young life in the animals’ food trough. The shepherds have come—and gone. The sun is up. The “star” is no longer visible. 


So ... now what?


I imagine Joseph and Mary were hoping for a little normal parent/child time without all the visitors and drama of the night before. But was that likely? Being observant Jews, the “next thing” for Joseph and Mary was taking their child to Temple in Jerusalem. The Law required the first-born be dedicated to God. And that’s where this week's scripture from Luke takes us. But there was nothing “normal” about it. 

So, what about us? Christmas is over, right?


No. No more for us than for Joseph and Mary. The shepherds are gone and the baby is out of  the manger, but Christmas—the real Christmas—is only just beginning. The miracle of that night was just the start of something beyond belief, something we can’t actually prove and can only partially understand. 


It is entirely appropriate to ask: So, now what?




21st Century Coffee, Kenneth Davids: 


Mary, Did You Know? (Pentatonix cover):


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