Christians and Coffee Cups

It’s early November and already this year’s installment of the so-called “War on Christmas” has begun. All over social media I’m seeing rants from angry Christians who are trying to “Keep Christ in Christmas”. And the first volley of shots has already been launched against an unlikely target: Starbucks.

Apparently people are mad that the seasonal cups at Starbucks this year are just plain red. No mention of Christmas or Jesus at all. And, clearly that means that Christians are being persecuted. I mean, my faith is just destroyed if I don’t get my venti blonde roast with room for milk in a cup that features the name of my Lord and Savior.

So, obviously I think this is a little ridiculous. Because, Christians, I promise you that Starbucks red cups are not going to destroy the Christian faith. Seriously, the Roman Empire couldn’t do it, and they could kill you with lions. And I don’t think Starbucks has the death penalty. Yet.

IMG_5531But it’s even more ridiculous to me because of the timing this year. I’m kind of baffled because it’s early November. And it seems to me that people of faith, people who should be keenly aware of the grace God has given us, should be focused on the holiday that is coming up in just a few weeks: the one where we say “thank you, God”.

When Christians start to lose sight of gratitude and instead develop a major persecution complex then we have a huge faith crisis on our hands that is far bigger than whether the red cups at Starbucks make any reference to Jesus.

This year we didn’t even wait until Advent to start claiming persecution. We are joining the rest of the world in skipping right over Thanksgiving, and we are joining the Christmas rush. We are spoiling for a fight and those red cups are just the thing to give it to us.

We’re kind of like the religious equivalent of those Black Friday shoppers who trample other Black Friday shoppers in order to get a good deal on a flat screen TV. We are so incensed by any perceived omission of our personal faith from the public sphere that we go on a rampage. Except instead of other shoppers, we just trample things like inclusivity, diversity, tolerance, and pluralism instead.

And you don’t get a TV in the end either. In fact, now you can’t even get a latte. (Not if you are boycotting Starbucks, anyway.) Really, all you get is the smug satisfaction of knowing that you are part of a dominant faith that can try to impose its religion on coffee drinkers everywhere.

This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your neighbors as yourself,” right?

But maybe, for at least some of us who are Christians, there’s another way. One where we don’t overlook the celebration of gratitude that comes later this month. And one that doesn’t overshadow the season of Advent, a time when Christians are asked to prepare their hearts that Christ may be born in the anew. One where we are asked to focus on hope, peace, joy, and love.

In a world where so much pain exists, that is hard to do. And that is even harder when we focus our energy in the wrong places. If we are outraged, we should be outraged at a world where violence is rampant, where children still starve, where people are displaced from their homes, and where veterans are homeless on the streets. We should be taking Jesus’ command to love every child of God seriously. And we should stop wasting our time complaining about coffee cups that don’t acknowledge his birthday.

Because, seriously, do you think Jesus would rather we remember his birthday by putting it on a coffee cup that’s going in the trash? Or would he rather we remember it by no longer treating one another as disposable?

Maybe this is the year that we can shift our priorities away from what doesn’t matter to what matters more than we know. Maybe this year we can set our sights a little higher than changing red cups, and instead try to change the world. And maybe this year we can stop yelling at others to “Keep Christ in Christmas” and instead focus on being Christlike ourselves.

So, here’s a suggestion of how to start: buy someone a coffee. In one of those red cups. Seriously, you will not go to hell for going to Starbucks this Christmas. But if you look closely enough, you just might find Jesus in the guy behind you in line. Because Christ is already at Starbucks, just as Christ is everywhere.

I don’t need his name on a paper cup to tell me that.

Note: did you like this blog post? Then you’ll probably love Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity. It’s out now from Pilgrim Press and available here: https://www.amazon.com/Glorify-Reclaiming-Heart-Progressive-Christianity/dp/0829820299/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453486699&sr=1-1&keywords=glorify+emily+heath

Questioning Advent: Day Seven – Breaking In

IMG_1926Several weeks ago I went to bed after a long day. It didn’t take me long to fall into a deep, sound sleep. But not long after that, I was awakened by a voice coming from someone standing next to the bed.

“Get up,” my wife said. “Someone is breaking into the house.”

Half-awake I turned on a flashlight, debated grabbing my heaviest putter, bounded down the stairs and, because I would be the first person to die in a horror movie, opened the front door and called out, “Is anyone out there?”

No one was out there. As we sat on the couch we heard the same noise my wife had heard a few minutes before. It was so windy that night that the storm door was blowing open and the doorknob was doing something that made it sound like someone was trying to force it open. I would have thought someone was breaking in too.

In this past Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24)

I was reminded of that passage this week while watching yet another yearly round of anger about the “war on Christmas”. Here’s my short take: Christmas is not under attack. Not from outside the church, anyway. People who say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are not killing the baby Jesus. Really. (For more on this, see this piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/on-keeping-christ-in-chri_b_1152761.html)

But, that’s not to say that we who are Christians shouldn’t be a bit concerned. I’m not talking about outside attacks here. They are as imaginary as the person I was sure was breaking into my house the other week. I’m talking about the way that in the Christmas season we Christians sometimes become so short-sightedly focused on perceived threats outside of our doors that we don’t see that Christ has already broken in to the world around us.

When Jesus said that the owner of the house wouldn’t know when the hour was coming, he could have been talking about us and our misguided anger over those who fail to “keep Christ in Christmas”. What if, instead of getting mad at every cashier who fails to wish us “Merry Christmas”, we looked around and saw the places that Christ is calling us to make Christmas merry for others? What is instead of growing angry over “holiday trees” we instead planted the seeds of peace that this world needs? What if instead of waging wars about nativity scenes on public lands we instead opened our churches in new and radical ways? What if we stopped charging after invisible intruders at the door and focused on looking instead for Christ’s coming?

This Christmas season there are signs of Christ’s coming all around us. We just have to pull ourselves away from the distractions long enough to look. And when we do, we just might find that life is a lot less scary, and a lot more joyful. A lot more like Christmas ought to be.

Question: This Christmas how are you living out the Gospel in ways that attract others, rather than attacking them?

Prayer: Holy God, help us to always be ready to greet you when you come to our door, and teach us to welcome others, whether they will ever believe like us or not, and to invite them inside our hearts. Amen.