A Letter to Starbucks
I'm sorry about the hostile response you have received for your simple holiday cups. I am a Christian, but when I saw the video Joshua Feuerstein made urging customers to respond in aggressive, immature manner, I was embarrassed and sad.
Of course some skeptics are saying the whole thing was just a brilliant marketing scheme on your part. Others are saying Feuerstein made the video to get attention. But you know, no matter what happened to propel this particular video into the world, I've seen his sort of attitude in other people I know, and it's not right. I don't agree with every stance your company has taken, but I do think it's possible for people (and organizations) that disagree to respect each other.
A lot of us are finding it difficult to stay human lately. There's so much fear and anger running through our culture's dialogue. Extreme conservatives are rebounding off of extreme progressives, and extreme progressives are rebounding off of extreme conservatives. Everybody seems to be making extreme mistakes. Regular, thinking folks get caught in the crossfire of all this.
Too little time is spent reading good books in quiet rooms, and too much time is given to television pablum and propaganda. We are addicted to the highs of hate and offense.
Every now and then Don Quixotes rise up among us, confused but wanting to be brave and do strong things for right causes, but they are not sure how to do them. Many haven't taken time to study history or culture, so they don't know where they are in time. Some have irresponsible leaders stirring them up.
In all sorts of belief systems we find radicals who live on the reactionary fringes of truth. Inside my faith, I see scattered ragtag, fragmented, aggressive souls who are doing more harm than good.
I don't think weird, mean Christians are the majority, because I have also seen good, solid thinkers in my faith ... people living beautiful, generous lives who care for the poor and tend the sick. They go into dangerous places for the sake of the needy, and they give money and time to help others thrive. They teach the illiterate to read; they redeem lives out of trafficking and abuse; they foster abandoned children who have nowhere to go. They cook meals for the hungry and give them places to sleep. They help people fight their addictions, and they are involved in the arts. So many therapeutic things are being done in the name of Jesus. Still, it seems like the confused and crazy minority is always loudest. It's harder for the nice guys to make the news.
I don’t mean that true Christianity is easy or pleasant. In fact, there are some ways it is inherently divisive and offensive. Certain aspects of my faith will never align with the humanism of a post-enlightenment world.
The idea that there is a dimensionality beyond the reign of our senses feels foreign and primitive to many of us, because after thousands of years of our culture passing through rationalism and empiricism, the zeitgeist has settled on a sort of existential materialism. Epistemologically, we've become land animals. Stepping back into the world of the amphibians, learning to breathe underwater in the realm of the transcendent, requires instincts and sensitivities our species has not exercised in a long time.
I would feel differently if Christians were making people uncomfortable because of these issues. There are good questions to ask, good debates to host full of questions that both secular and sacred thinkers have chewed on for centuries. But the battles waged in the name of Jesus right now tend to be smaller. They tend to be more about cultural power than faith. More about fear than about holiness.
I wish I could say I’ve never made mistakes like these, but I have. I'm a strong woman with strong ideas, and I can be passionate. Sometimes I can be myopic, too. But when I do mess up and react too strongly, I try to learn from what I’ve done wrong. I try to stay in the classroom of this life and reach for humility when pride threatens my vision.
I get scared of life sometimes, and spew, and roar, but as time passes, I am starting to see how the changes that are happening in our culture are helping me identify what matters and what doesn’t. My fingers are being pulled away from the peripheral stuff, and I am (slowly) learning how to drop my anchor deeper into the waters of a peace that isn’t rooted only in my circumstances.
As far as I can tell, on the first Christmas, the dark womb of the three-dimensional perceptibility split open, and an invitation asking the tired, heavy souls of men to be reborn poured down on all the earth. I don't know what it was like to be alive back then, but from the ancient literature that I have read, I don't think the essential nature of humanity was all that different from what it is now.
Last summer I read some of the works of Cicero, and I found in this wise man who lived 100 years before Jesus so many of the same struggles and feelings I have today. He seemed familiar and human, not stiff or distant. Since then I have read thoughts from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and in all of these I have found both hope and restlessness. Levity and a thirst for more. Humans are turbulent, beautiful creatures.
The German Romantic philosopher Novalis wrote a book about a protagonist who spent his life chasing a beautiful blue flower that he encountered in a dream. It was a symbol of the yearning we often feel, that sense that there is more beauty to be found just beyond our fingertips. It's Sehnsucht, and later C.S. Lewis would refer to this as "a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy," a trajectory we can follow from all familiar joys, because they are foreshadowings.
The Christmas story is a flicker of beauty that passes like a warm, sunny breeze on your arms. It is not militant. In fact, it is almost comedic, audacious in its austerity, meek as a newborn baby.
The culture to which Jesus appeared was hostile to many of his teachings, but it's interesting to think about why. Plato's Allegory of the Cave taught that someone who moves from the realm of shadows to the upper world of pure light, and then journeys back to share what he has found will often be killed. Jesus and his followers had seen a different realm, and the stories they told caused strong responses.
But the first Christians weren’t full of the selfish cultural bravado that we find in certain facets of so-called "Christianity" today. And when Jesus was offended, he was offended over things like charlatans, and hypocrites, and religious frauds. He was gentle with the thirsty and the broken.
Just like notes in a musical score run in major and minor keys and in time signatures, just like visual art is governed by various rules of composition and form, the will of God is harmonious. A soul is like a note written onto a line within a measure of a symphony, and it is possible for that note to be in or out of tune with the deep energies of the universe.
A sour note was struck by Joshua Feuerstein. I don't know why he acted the way he did, but his message is flat and off tempo. He is discordant to the beauty that God's people are trying to sing on this planet. I am sorry for his behavior.
I like the simplicity of your holiday cups because they remind me of a desire I have for my faith in this country. I would like a plain surface, a clean sheet of paper, a chance to begin this dialogue over again. There's too much noise. Too much shouting.
I'm sorry you have been mocked and insulted. The Jesus I know loved you enough to lay down his rights, his ease, and even his life for you. As I have prayed for your company today, asking God to give me his heart for you, I haven't felt anger. I have thought about all the people passing through your doors seeking solace and strength on chilly nights, and I have felt tenderness and compassion.
As you restore others, I wish I could give you a warm drink back, and fill you with good things in return. I wish I could give you lasting things that bring you a joy that is deeper than common happiness. I hope he will show me how to love you with his sort of selfless, generous love.
I hope you have a beautiful Christmas. Thank you for making a warm spot for the wanderers. Let heaven and nature sing.