So here we are, a month into term and into ‘busy season’ at Dock cafe. While the numbers of customers calling into the cafe have been increasing week-on-week ever since we opened the doors back in March 2012, the start of term-time at the Belfast Metropolitan College campus across the road is probably the biggest single factor affecting the daily tally.
These days we’re regularly welcoming 300+ per day – a tremendous privilege. Seeing a space as big as Dock Cafe full of people and conversation and noise and life in every single corner is quite a sight!
Of course that means that we’re constantly ramping-up every single aspect of the Dock activity. More customers means more volunteers are needed all the time (spread the word!). More dishes and mugs and plates to be washed – Doris The Dock Dishwasher didn’t know what she was letting herself in for… More chaplains (hurrah!) for more conversations, more prayers in the prayer garden, more strangers welcomed, more friendships founded, more lives touched and changed and inspired by the daily life of one wee cafe.
And one big question that people constantly ask – more money? Is the Honesty Box still a wise foundation for a project that is growing so fast?
To which the simple answer is – Yes. The straight financial truth is still that, on balance, the honesty box covers the daily cafe costs of coffee, tea, buns, scones and soup. A tremendous good news story and one that constantly surprises and inspires everyone who asks… Dock Cafe is statistical, empirical proof that people are decent!
But then the slightly more complex answer is… Not always. There are days when the Honesty Box looks a bit sorry for itself at the end of the day, filled with coppers and loose change and the occasional piece of chewing gum. Within some weeks (or even some days) of cafe life, it’s pretty obvious that a few generous customers are supporting a few stingy ones. And I’ll be honest – those can be discouraging days, and the questions start coming – are we crazy to be sticking to this Honesty Box idea?
Those are the days when it’s important to keep praying and believing, and remembering that The Dock is not about money but people, and conversations are more important than contributions. And when I’m getting back to first principles I often think of this video which I saw as part of a Ted Talk. It’s a beautiful, short, sharp reminder of the importance of believing the best of people – from a man who, amazingly, had seen some of the absolute worst (Viktor Frankl lived through the holocaust).It helps that he is a fantastic communicator, and sounds like a mad scientist who accidentally has just solved the theory of relativity while inventing a device for darning socks. But his core argument is an absolutely fundamental value of The Dock, expressed best in the Honesty Box. Even if you don’t tend to click on these little Dock videos, watch this…
“If we take man as he is, we make him worse
But if we take him as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be”
Or as C.S.Lewis puts it, “Aim for heaven and you get earth – aim at earth and you get neither.”
That’s the core value behind the Honesty Box, and I love the way it chimes with the example of Jesus. He encountered loads of people of whom the worst was expected. An unnamed woman caught in adultery is dragged before him expecting to be stoned in judgment and condemnation; Jesus frees her from her captors and her guilt and expects the best: “Go and sin no more”. Or Zacchaeus, hiding in a tree, looking down at the people who look down on him (suspicious that as a tax collector he lines his own pockets). When Jesus calls him down from his hiding place and invites himself for dinner, Zacchaeus is so overwhelmed that someone is believing the best of him that on the spot he gives half his wealth away to the poor and repays his debts four times over.
I’m not saying that anyone has given half their wealth to the Honesty Box (although, y’know, that’d be nice) – but there’s something important at the heart of this. The world is set up on the suspicion that if left to our own devices we’ll do the wrong thing. When someone takes a chance and believes the opposite – and puts their money where their mouth is – the world tilts on its axis just a little bit.
And countless responses in our comments cards and visitors book suggest that people are hungry for the simple dignity being trusted – glad that someone is aiming high.