Breaking the Starbucks Cycle

10 Nov

The Christian culture of Christmas grievance has started early this year, with a spat over Starbucks coffee cups being de-Christmasized to a generic red cup for the season. Seems some Christians are up in arms over this change, just another sign of cultural decadence in a world gone wrong.

Now if holes opened tomorrow morning all over the world and every Starbucks in the world fell into the ground I wouldn’t bat an eye (provided there were no people inside). I have no use whatsoever for 16 ounces of scorched bean juice with a fancy flavor additive all for just $5.95. And any place that just won’t name their sizes Small, Medium and Large lost me before I even go in the door anyway. So putting aside all the faux corporate hipsterishness of Starbucks, and my general crankiness about faux hipsters, what does this latest dustup teach us?

I believe what it teaches us above all is that the culture war is so out of control that we have lost all ability to reason. I love Jesus and reason. That sentence is not a contradiction. I believe reason is a gift of God. Our popular culture has lost it.

Here is an analysis of any Christmas dustup in a few simple steps . . .

  1. Some Christian somewhere objects to something a business or government entity does to shut down the full expression of Christmas sentiment.
  2. The objection gets picked up by social media, Fox News, etc.
  3. Christians respond on social media by either 1) agreeing with the objection or 2) telling everyone to lighten up or 3) telling everyone to stop nitpicking and get on with serving people and sharing the gospel.
  4. In almost every case, the overwhelming majority of Christians online voice either sentiment 2 or 3. And I mean overwhelming. Like 95% overwhelming.
  5. Despite the truth of #4 above, some on the other side of the Christian fence take the opportunity to bash all the Christians for their hatred and intolerance and general uptightness, missing the irony of their own uptightness at being outraged over someone else’s outrage.
  6. Further, some who oppose Christianity take the opportunity to rail against Christians for being obsessed with cups when they could be out feeding the poor, clothing the homeless, and generally doing good (conveniently forgetting the fact that much of the good that is done in communities is done through churches and other faith-based organizations).
  7. It all ends with everyone getting mad, being further entrenched in their positions and waiting for the next big controversy and of course the predictable, “See, this is why young people aren’t coming to church.”

How can we break this cycle?

Don’t go to Starbucks. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Seriously, for all the talk in our culture of tolerance, there is precious little of it anywhere to be found. Why are we so threatened by people who have different opinions than ours? Why do universities set up “safe zones” for students when Christian or conservative speakers come on campus? Are we really so weak? There are more opinions today than ever, and less real conversation. When did disagreement become so distasteful? When did being wrong become such a sin? When did acknowledging that I am not omniscient become such a scarlet letter?

So we can break this cycle in two ways . . . by really knowing people and by focusing more on a micro level than on a macro level.

I believe we are more connected and less relational than we have ever been. The Information Age has made us curators of information with empty souls. We now have unparalleled capacities to produce and consume information but so often this process is devoid of human contact. We need to look each other in the eye again, across the table. Do you know, really know, anyone? Do you have friends who are different from you? Christians, do you have friendships with anyone outside your denominational or theological bubble? Do you have friendships with any non-Christians? Just friendships, not projects? I could ask the same questions of the non-Christian.

I do not believe that if you develop friendships with people who think differently than you that you will lose your faith or your worldview. I do believe you will be kinder and more thoughtful in the expression of your worldview, which will actually serve to give it greater power in the long run. Shrieking bombast has an immediate effect, like yelling “fire!” in a crowd, but used too often it becomes easy to ignore. If I am aggrieved by every little thing my ideological opposites do, eventually I just become a bitter, mean-spirited curmudgeon making little positive impact on others around me.

Apart from relationships, we would also do well to bring things down to a micro level rather than a macro level. What I mean by this is that we so often want to solve the problems of the world or get consumed with things happening thousands of miles away while ignoring the bigger problems in our immediate sphere of influence. If Christians and non-Christians alike would simply focus on how they can bring blessing to their particular place in the world, we’d be a lot better off. There’s a place for tackling macro issues (like how to break the Starbucks cycle) but macro people who are not also micro people become clanging symbols in a stressed out world that needs to hear the gentle strings of love. It is harder to live on the micro level. No one is going to think you’re smart. No one will give you a “like” for changing your elderly parent’s diaper. But in the end, real life is always found here. The big ideas, the great conversation, it’s all good. But if it doesn’t touch who I am on the ground, it’s a waste, an exercise in pride and futility.

“Good will to men (and women)” is God’s gift at Christmas time. Seems like if we could regard each other with good will it would go a long way toward making this season (and all year) a lot better.

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