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:

Journey Through Advent, Day Four

usps_site_2012_christmas_2The other day I went to the post office to buy a lot of stamps. It’s the time of year when we send out a lot of cards, so I wanted to be sure we had the right stamps for each one. For our religious friends receiving a Christmas card, I bought the religious holiday stamps with the Holy Family on them. For our friends who celebrate Christmas, but only because of the secular connotations, I bought the Santa stamps. And for our friends receiving Hannukah cards, I bought Hannukah stamps.
I left the post office with three books of stamps and with no fear whatsoever that Christmas was under attack. This time of year the “war on Christmas” rhetoric heats up, and we hear that rallying cry of the concerned: “Keep Christ in Christmas!” And Christmas is about Christ to me. It’s a holy and beautiful time of year, and I feel my spiritual life deepen tremendously every December. But, my spiritual life does not dictate the spiritual lives of others. Each person celebrating Christmas takes their own path, and finds their own meaning. I may not agree, but I don’t begrudge them or try to make their season less joyous.
Likewise, as I affix Hannukah stamps onto cards, I wonder why I’ve never heard any of my Jewish friends decry a cultural “war on Hannukah”. Despite the fact that Jewish kids grow up having their holiday pushed to the back of public consciousness, no one is yelling about it on Fox News. That’s because the real issue here isn’t that there is a “war on Christmas”. The real issue is that we are starting to understand that this is a country with many faiths and belief systems, and we are starting to respect other traditions as well.
So what does that change spiritually for those of us Christians who are counting the days of Advent, and waiting for Christ? Really, not much. Our journey continues, and our joy can be multiplied by those who surround us, regardless of whether they believe as we do or not. But what can change is the way in which we choose to respond to the diversity of God’s people.
In the Gospel when Christ is arrested, Peter draws his sword and strikes the ear of the slave of the high priest who was doing the arresting. Surely, if there ever was a war on Christ, this was the time. But instead, Christ tells Peter not to fight. In the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, Jesus sings this line: “Why are you obsessed with fighting? Stick to fishing from now on.”
If Christians spend each Advent fighting against what they perceive to be an “attack” on Jesus, then we have missed the point, and we will never be able to do the sort of metaphorical “fishing” Christ was talking about. No one will ever be attracted to a religion that builds its faith on false calls of persecution and angry battles of words. But they just may be drawn to the sort of faith that calls us to something better, and that directs our attention to the hope that will change the world for everyone, and not just those who believe as we do. The Advent journey we are on leads only to hope, only to light, and only to a life of compassion. If what you’re finding is something different, you may not be on the road to Christmas after all.