Monday, November 9, 2015

A Tempest in a Coffee Cup: A Four-Shot Brew on Starbucks's (Nonexistent) War on Christmas

Before and after: an image of a previous edition Starbucks holiday-themed coffee cup (courtesy of, and an image of the 2015 Starbucks holiday-themed coffee cups (courtesy of Huffington Post).

Can you spot the difference between the two different cups?  It's pretty obvious: the top one has explicitly holiday-themed imagery like evergreen branches, stars, and Christmas ornaments, whereas the cups in the bottom image do not.

And it has gotten the pantaloons of a number of Christians into a right twist.

To be sure, symbols like the evergeen Christmas tree and the star do have Christian roots--the Christmas tree can be dated back to the Reformation-era Germans, and the star of course is a hearkening back to the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Magi to the newborn Christ.

At the same time, evergreen trees began as a symbol of eternal life by the ancient Egyptians, and Christ's birth is by no means the only one that people have claimed was heralded by a star; most notably, the ancient Egyptians (again!) believed their god Horus's birth was heralded by a star.  And Santa Claus is simply a cuddlier version of the Norse god of war, Odin, who would fly around on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir (get it?  Eight reindeer--screw you and your red nose, Rudolph--one for each of Sleipnir's legs) to visit children to leave gold coins in their shoes or stockings at night.

So can we admit that this imagery we are rushing to defend is not the literal imago dei--the image of God--and is instead the images we appropriated and thus should not claim any divine inheritance for?

Because once we do, this really does become the most obvious tempest in a teacup--or coffee cup.

And because this is Starbucks, the coffee cup comes in four different, in honor of peppermint-everything being ordered this time of year, take a tube of toothpaste, squeeze it into your coffee mug, and take a big, airy slurp of your minty miasma as you continue:

(Five sizes, really: we'll set aside for a moment my astonishment that I'm writing about Christmas and the nonexistent "War on Christmas" before Veteran's Day has even come and gone, much less Thanksgiving.  Seriously, let's get a grip, yeah?  But onward...)

Tall: There are way more important things for Christians to go to the mat for

Food scarcity.  Climate change.  Equal rights for racial, gender, and sexual orientation minorities.  Slavery and human trafficking.  The Gospels weren't kidding when they quoted, "What you do to the least of these, you do to me."  What we do to the least among us is, I have to believe, of far greater import to God than what we do to our disposable, one-use coffee cups (again--climate change).   Heck, what about the conditions of the farmers who grew your coffee beans?  Were they paid a fair wage?  Can they put food on their family's table?  How is it that we care more about the whitewashed (or red-washed, I guess) outside of the cup rather than the contents of it?  It was the contents of the jugs of water that Jesus turned into wine at Cana that mattered, not just the jugs themselves.

Put another way, when we finally see God face-to-face after we leave this earth, what will be asked of us is how we changed God's creation for the better, not how we fought for the symbols on a paper coffee cup.  It's that simple and point blank.

Grande: This is so far from actual persecution, it's almost comical

I wrote this, verbatim, to a good friend and congregant on Facebook when she asked me about it:

I think we Christians have sadly become a whiny and litigious people, quick to complain and cry persecution at almost anything (coffee cups, teaching evolution, you name it), which trivializes both the very real persecution Christians undergo in places like North Korea or China and the very real persecution our ancient predecessors endured for the first 300 years or so of Christianity's existence before Constantine made it the state religion of the Roman empire. We need to step back, calm down, see the big picture, and get a clue.

The list of things we have gotten quicker and quicker to cry persecution over has only (disturbingly) seemed to increase over the past decade or so: birth control, school prayer, and more.  And those are important issues, even if I disagree with many of my Christian brethren on them.  But to be told that you must cover an employee's birth control as a part of their health insurance is *not* persecution.

Persecution is being fed to the lions.  Persecution is being unable to worship because government authorities would round up you and your fellow worshipers and ship you off to modern-day gulags.

Every time we claim persecution for something that does not directly inhibit our right to worship, we are trivializing the horrors that many of our fellow Christians--who we claim to speak out for--actually face and have faced.  And that is unacceptable behavior.

Venti: This is a horrible, horrible Christian witness

Christians, this is why non-Christians don't like us.  This, exactly this.  Behavior where we throw hissy fits like a preschooler who just wants to be able to take their pet fish out on a walk to the park with them.  It's that illogical, that nonsensical, and that irreconcilable for many people outside of our faith tradition.  Honestly, if I weren't already Christian, I'd see and read about stuff like this and it would not entice me to become a Christian--if anything, it would probably only drive me further and further away from ever taking that leap of faith.  And I wouldn't be alone in that.

I cannot tell you how many people I met in college (I purposely went to a college with a great many nonreligious students, and I don't regret it for a nanosecond) tell me how turned off and even threatened they have felt by the incendiary rhetoric we Christians use with abandon.  I had gay friends who didn't feel safe around me for months, even years, simply because I am a Christian and, as it turns out, one of the only Christians in their lives to affirm their sexuality.  I had Muslim friends who confided in me their own anguish over how they got judged by Christians for visibly being Muslim--wearing the hijab, observing the Ramadan fast, and stopping to pray in the direction of Mecca.

I mention all of these different, seemingly divergent, behaviors because they have a common core: we are increasingly knee-jerk and hostile towards those who are not a part of our tribe of Christians.  We boycott Starbucks over the holiday cups...wait, weren't we already boycotting them over support same-sex marriage?  We retain out-of-state law firms to sue our school districts over public prayer...wait, didn't that get decided over and over by the Supreme Court?

We're terrible losers, we Christians.  We're sore, bad losers.  And that needs to change.  Whatever happened to, "turn the other cheek" after all?

Trenta: God is so, so much bigger than a damn coffee cup

Want to follow God, the maker of heaven and earth, all that is seen and unseen?  God, who breathed life into Adam, formed Eve from Adam, and eventually cast divinity itself down to earth in the form of a mortal named Jesus Christ?

Then get out of your tiny shell.  Break your blinders, cast off your shackles that cause you only limited movement, that allow you only to see a limited field of vision, that point you only in one direction rather than in all 360 degrees of God's good creation.

God is bigger, better, and more profound than you, or I, or anyone else in our limited mortality could possibly begin to comprehend and imagine.  Can we not allow, then, for the possibility that God needs no coffee cups to have glory be given unto heaven, that God needs no religious ambiguous symbols to have praises shouted to the throne?  That what God desires from each of us lies in our heads and our hearts and not upon a disposable paper product?  Indeed, if that coffee results in a communion of sorts, of two people sharing their lives over that coffee, or of praying together over that coffee, does it even matter what the coffee comes in?  It has still achieved a magnificent ends that does far more to edify a great and glorious God whom you and I serve alike.

Thanks for reading.

Vancouver & Longview, Washington
November 9, 2015


  1. Thank you. That was a message inspired by the Gospel, served up warm and nourishing with no need for a cup.

  2. Hey Eric, thanks for getting worked up about this (!) You make some powerful points and express some of the frustration I have about what some of our Christian relatives get so out of shape about. Alas, it never seems to stop! Thanks for your words.