Category Archives: Church

What the Christian Response to Merry Christmas Starbucks Is Missing

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If you have been on social media over the last week or so, you’ve no doubt heard about the Starbucks Red Cup Controversy.[1] In a brilliant piece of faux-outrage social marketing, a would-be Christian Internet Personality put together a video complaining that Starbucks had removed Christmas from their cups and asked people, when ordering their lattes, to say that their name was “Merry Christmas”, so that baristas would be forced to write it on them. This video describing the latest Secular Depravity Ruining Our Country, which conveniently has absolutely no basis in reality, got over half a million likes, the endorsement of a particularly famous toupeed troll-like creature, and was breathlessly picked up as a national “news story” by a lot of journalistic organizations that apparently have nothing better to do with their time.

The Christian internet responded by furiously disowning the controversy, with posts like this or this or this. However, in this rush, there is one question that I have not heard any Christians asking of themselves.

What does it mean that most people think it’s entirely plausible that Christians would be outraged by this?

To be more blunt, isn’t this sort of huffy freak-out perfectly consonant with our pattern of behavior as a people?

Here’s what I mean:

Every year, a large, visible group of Christians violently frets about the “War on Christmas[2]”, which somehow, is not about people going hungry or rampant consumerism, but about whether or not people will say “Merry Christmas” to you.

Anytime a controversy erupts on the internet, Christians are often first in line to virulently attack each other’s personal and spiritual integrity. (Don’t believe me? Talk to any author or speaker who steps outside the theological or political orthodoxy of their particular Christian tribe.)

Anytime someone tells a joke about Christians on Facebook, there are at least three aggrieved comments from people that prove that utterly lack a sense of humor about themselves.

If they visit many of our churches (yes mainliners, I’m looking at you), they will inevitably encounter several people who are determinedly angry at families for doing soccer on Sunday, at projectors over hymnbooks, at pastors who wear jeans, or people in general for not being as good as they are.

If they regularly visit other churches, they may regularly encounter Christians who are so methodically mechanistic in their relationships that you really believe that they’d do or say anything to get you in the doors of a church, even if that means lie, cheat, or demean others.[3]

All our “That’s Not Us!” defenses don’t account for much when for many people, the entire witness of the rest of their lives suggests that Christians are, in fact, people who will get quite angry over something as stupidly trivial as the logo on a Starbucks cup.

What if rather than arguing with other Christians about this controversy, or yelling, “That’s not us! That’s not us!” we were to say something like this:

   “To all the people out there who believe that Christians get outraged over things like coffee cups: We are sorry. We are sorry that we’ve acted in ways that make you think this type of behavior is something we regularly engage in. We will try to do better, so that when the next faux-religious controversy comes around, you’ll be able to honestly say, “that doesn’t sound like any Christians I know.”

 

 


[1] What, you haven’t heard of it? Good for you. However, if you’re feeling a little masochistic, you can find out more about it from the Atlantic, from Eater.com, or Christianity Today.

[2] While quite visibly not freaking about issues like hunger, poverty, or violence, which it seems quite likely Jesus cared a lot more about.

[3] Or give away guns. Seriously, multiple churches have done this.

Church Is As Simple As…

I asked people on facebook to finish the following statement:

“Church is as simple as….”

Here are the responses I received.

  • …Offering a meal, hospitality and good discussion.
  • …Modeling Jesus
  • …Building for Christian worship or whole body of Christians.
  • …Kindness. Service. Hospitality. Empathy for others.
  • …A dinner for strangers.
  • …Love
  • …..Loving God and your neighbor.
  • …Joy
  • …Loving your neighbor
  • …Following Jesus together
  • …Being together in the presence of God
  • …Conspicuous love
  • …A thing you do, not a place you go
  • …Dignity
  • …Being present
  • …Fellowship
  • …Believe
  • …A walk through the woods
  • …Love, but what a devil love can be!
  • ….Family
  • …Worshiping on a regular basis because of what he’s done for us
  • ….Being with Christ at the center
  • ….Fellowship
  • ….Agape
  • ….Breathing. Learning about, sharing and praising God and Jesus is life.
  • ….Ubuntu
  • ….Breaking bread together on our knees
  • …Jesus, the people and I, changing and growing and becoming
  • …Accepting God’s love
  • …The believers coming together and living like Christ

I was struck by the simplicity of everyone’s answers. Virtually none of them had anything to do with buildings, professional clergy, worship services, charters, committees, polity, theology, or any of the other  markers that we typically use to identify our faith communities.

It’s easy to make church too complicated.

I certainly did.

Even without a building or weekly worship, complexity is an easy trap to fall into. It may not have seemed this way publicly, but for me there was always a set of overlapping, sometimes contradictory set of missional models, grant-oriented benchmarks, theological convictions, and structural concerns that overlaid how I interacted with almost everyone. It was hard to keep track of all the important complexities that I added to my work.

If I was to do it over again, I would have closed most of my books, burnt my organizational flowcharts, and sprinted towards simplicity.

If church is complicated because…

You can’t find consensus on the right worship style or hymns,

You can’t figure out whether your vision fits into your denomination’s rules,

You can’t agree on a set of doctrinal or political statements that define who you are,

You can’t figure out how to successfully inhabit a committee structure,

You can’t decide on the best ways to keep your building open and your pastor paid,

That is the wrong type of complicated.

It’s the type of complicated that leaves everyone so busy, worried, and paralyzed that they forget to follow Jesus.

It’s the type of complicated that turns molehills into mountains. (Do you think anyone really cares whether you sing or don’t sing a praise song from 1996 or that you decided to rename all your committees?)

It’s the type of complicated that prevents the church from being the church.

As a couple people also pointed out to me, church is not always simple.

There’s a right type of complicated as well.

If church is complicated because…

You are struggling with how to forgive the person who wronged you,

You are still learning what it means to see those who are different than you as your brother and sister,

You are still discovering what it means to serve people before you expect them to serve you,

You are seeking to move from religious obligation to spiritual transformation,

That’s the right type of complicated.

It’s the type of complicated that makes you consider all your personal growing edges before you judge someone else’s.

It’s the type of complicated that draws you further into living a life that looks more like Jesus.

It’s the type of complicated that makes the church more the church.

It’s also the type of complicated that requires a lot of simplicity in order to embrace.

Here’s hoping that your faith community is simple (and complicated) in all right ways.

What Do You Think?

1) Complete this sentence! Church is as simple as….

2) Where should simplicity be embraced in faith communities? Where should complexity be embraced?