Sunday morning: A person at church tells me that there’s some weird thing with Christians who are mad that Starbucks doesn’t have anything “Christmas-y” on their new red cups. I think to myself, “Not possible. No one is that ridiculous.” I laugh. She insists it is true. I cringe.
Monday morning: I see a video on Facebook with some guy who calls himself an “Internet Evangelist” telling Starbucks that he tricked them into saying “Merry Christmas” by telling the barista that was his name. Then he brags about wearing his Jesus t-shirt into the store because they “hate Jesus”. Then he adds to the plot by telling us he also brought his gun into the store with them because they “hate the second amendment”. I am puzzled. I cringe.
Monday afternoon: I am no longer puzzled by this, I am angry. So I write a little Facebook status like this:
Is the Starbucks cup thing a real thing for some Christians? Maybe we should be more concerned about, I don’t know…fatherless children, or hungry neighbors, or friends with addictions, or isolated elders, or loving our enemies, or like 8,459,345 other things that are more important to me than whether a coffee chain puts “Christmas” on its cups? Somehow I can’t imagine Jesus walking into Starbucks and demanding that they put “Merry Christmas” on their coffee cups. But maybe I’m wrong.
Monday afternoon and evening: Likes and comments pour in on the status update from people who are Christians and people who are not. I realize that somewhere I hit a nerve.
Let’s state the obvious. Christianity is no longer the dominant cultural force that it once was, especially in the northeast where I live. The influence of the church has been waning for years, and the trend continues. Sometimes well-meaning followers of Jesus bemoan the current state of affairs and long for the days when Christianity was privileged and the church was seen as the spiritual and even social center of many communities.
The path to relevance for the church is not, I’m convinced, paved with protests about coffee cups, or judicial decisions, or electoral decisions. The path for relevance to the church is paved with radical obedience to the message of Jesus, and nothing less will do. As I age I am more certain that people have not been turned off by Jesus followers who are too sincere, too intense, or too serious about their faith. They are turned off Christians living in a world who can make a big deal about a coffee cup and fail to care for their neighbors in need all around them.
The problem is not that the church has lost its privileged position. The problem is that the people who make up the church have forgotten that we were never meant to use our privilege for ourselves. Jesus was clear about this when he told his disciples that if anyone wants to be great in the Kingdom of God, then he should be willing to be the servant of everyone. Paul reiterates it in his poetic passage about Jesus’ mindset when he tells us that Jesus emptied himself and took on the form of a servant.
I want nothing more than to see the church returned to a place of importance and vitality in the lives of our communities. I am as passionate about that as anyone I know. I think the way we would see that happen is by putting aside these silly, trivial arguments and picking up the call of Jesus to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What if instead of tricking the Starbucks barista into saying “Merry Christmas” by telling her that is your name, you actually asked for her name, and asked where she was from, and what her hopes and dreams were, and maybe even what she was most afraid of? What if instead of hashtagging social media posts with #merrychristmasstarbucks so we could start a “movement” we just were part of the revolutionary movement of Jesus that loved our enemies and prayed for those who persecuted us? What if we cared for the orphan, or the widow, or the poor among us the way Jesus asked us to – as if we were doing it for him – instead of ignoring them while we protest a perceived slight.
One of my friends commented on the Facebook post and said this: “It’s so much easier to complain about imaginary problems than it is to solve real ones.” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think Jesus died to start a movement of people who got upset about a coffee cup. I think he died to start a movement of men and women who were ridiculously committed to living out his teachings in a broken, fallen world, and I think it’s time we lived up to that calling.