All up to you?

Nov 3, 2017 by

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I’m sitting in Starbucks shivering over a latte while I get a new set of tires put on my car. Here in southern Alberta, we have been treated to a blast of winter worthy of mid-January. The scene is a pretty white one, which means, among other things, that, the Christmas orgy of advertising and consumption will soon be upon us. It also means that we can brace ourselves for the wearisome spectacle of (some) Christians complaining that their coffee cups don’t appropriately reflect their beliefs about Christmas.

Because, you know, it makes so much sense to expect that. And it’s such a weighty problem to address, particularly when the plight of others on our planet is considered. And because I’m sure God has strong opinions on the matter of whether or not a global corporate monolith gestures appropriately toward a holiday that may Christians already do a pretty decent job of dishonoring through kitsch and greed and nostalgia. Sigh.

At any rate, Starbucks has, evidently, decided upon a preemptive strike this year. While logging in to their wireless network, I saw a big bold picture of the very cup that was sitting beside my computer, along with the following caption beside it:

Good is in the air.


We know the holidays mean something different to everyone. And we want to celebrate all the unique things that matter to each and every person who walks through our doors.


This year, the cup is just the beginning. How you make it special is up to you.

Translation: Can we please avoid the annual ritual of Christians complaining that their Starbucks cups say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or have the wrong imagery or colors or symbols or God knows what else can be found to be offended about? What if we just let you all just get out your crayons and design your own cup? Will you stop complaining then? Can’t we all just agree that everyone is special and unique and worth celebrating and that lining up to cheerfully and dutifully pay five times what our coffee is worth is one of the best ways to express this? Just take your place in the diversity carnival we have benevolently provided for you and fork over your $7 for a crappy latte!

This puts the enterprising Christian culture warrior in a bit of a bind. After all, who would protest against their own specialness? You can’t very well criticize Starbucks for failing to legitimate your particular beliefs about the season when they’ve already said that you’re unique and creative and generally awesome. If you don’t come up with a cup design worthy of all of this goodness, well, you only have yourself to blame. You’re free to draw Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus all over your latte to your heart’s content. Throw in a few shepherds, maybe even a nasty King Herod. You can have the most religious cup in town! How you make it special is up to you, after all.

On one level, all of this is rather comically idiotic, and poking fun at it is a pleasant diversion while I kill an hour waiting for my tires. But underneath even the most laughable cultural trends are, I suppose, deeper realities. “It’s up to you” has well and truly achieved the status of “axiomatic,” and not just when it comes to coffee cups. Whether it comes to spirituality, worldview, identity, church, shopping for Christmas or pretty much anything else, the individual is gloriously sovereign and must be honored as such. The customer is always right.

Except, maybe, when the customer doesn’t think that everything is special and awesome and unique and worth celebrating. That’s not at all cool. If that’s you, then God… er, the universe, or Starbucks or… well, something help you! We have a plain black coffee cup for you to match the state of your intolerant, uncreative soul. If you can’t get into the spirit of the season by celebrating your own uniqueness and lining our pockets, then, well, quite frankly, we don’t know how we can help you.

I happen to like diversity, truth be told. But celebrating all of this uniqueness sometimes becomes a bit cumbersome. I’m not sure I’m up to the task of it being all up to me. And, I don’t know, I suppose I retain just a bit of cynicism about the “it’s up to you” as the pillar of our post-everything culture. As far as pillars go, it seems a little on the flimsy side. And, as someone with Genesis 3 whirring around in the background of my understanding and experience of the world, I am suspicious of what happens when we are convinced that everything is up to us. Worshiping the idol of me has a long and not terribly inspiring history.

Ryan Dueck is pastor of Lethbridge Mennonite Church in Lethbridge, Alta., Canada. He writes at Rumblings, where this post first appeared.

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