Tempest in a Coffee Cup?

I am admittedly weighing in late on this one. How can I possibly add to the brouhaha about Starbucks? And yet I cannot resist writing at least something about the Christmas Coffee Cup Commotion. If I have it right, most of the stuff about this falls into one of three categories: protests about taking the religious meaning out of Christmas, protests about the protesters, and making fun of the whole controversy as just silly.

I am not quite sure where I will land in the mix. I do find some whimsy in the intensity of this debate about a paper cup. But at the same time, I think there is a significant social and religious issue somewhere beneath all the static. To some, the point seems to be that Starbucks is taking Christ out of Christmas. Seriously? By redesigning a coffee cup? And was He ever on the cup in the first place? The previous designs were more seasonal than spiritual. And why not? Has anyone ever taken a Starbucks for a church? Of course, the word “Christmas” does contain “Christ.” But as a holiday, the word has come to conjure up snowmen and mistletoe and presents at least as much as the birth of someone whom the adherents of one religion believe to have been the Messiah.

And there it is. The real issue. Is Christmas a holy day for one particular religion, or a holiday for a whole nation? The answer, of course, is “both.” Christians will continue to celebrate it as a religious practice, and as such it deserves the respect of all, regardless of their own religious affiliations or lack thereof. At the same time, for many others this holiday will continue to be a celebration of winter, family, friends, generosity, and good cheer. People will continue to gather together to enjoy this special time of year, sometimes in churches, sometimes in living rooms over a glass of eggnog, and, yes, sometimes at Starbucks over a cup of coffee.

I guess what I am really getting at is that I would rather see Christmas as a time for bringing people together rather than separating them by religion. Of course it has religious meaning for many, as well it should. But that need not make it divisive. I am convinced that religion should be more about the shared human experience of searching for meaning and fulfillment than about the differences among the ways in which the search is conducted. We can celebrate the differences as manifestations of the diversity of our paths while simultaneously celebrating the commonality of our journey. And have a cup of coffee together while we’re at it.


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