Starbucks brewing anti-God sentiments?

I am on record concerning my affection for coffee. Affection just sounds so much better than addiction. The truth is that when the Betty Ford Center opens the Java Wing I will be a candidate to cut the ribbon. So it is no surprise that I have frequented a Starbucks location or two over the years. A recent headline caught my eye concerning anti-God statements from the Seattle coffee giant. Let’s pick up the story from the Dayton Daily News.

Michelle Incanno was an admitted Starbucks addict. She’d buy the company’s coffee beans every week. Whenever she’d get the chance to drop by a Starbucks, she would, placing the same order every time: a large, house brewed coffee with nonfat milk and two Splenda. That was until she got an unexpected jolt last week from her coffee cup.

Printed on the cup was: “Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imaginations for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure.”

It is attributed to Bill Schell, a Starbucks customer from London, Ontario, and was included on the cup as part of an effort by the company to collect different viewpoints and spur discussion.

We pause the story for a quick reaction. I learned for the first time that Starbucks has “deep thoughts” on the coffee cups. Without realizing it I have always covered the pithy sayings with the paper jacket that keeps me from burning my hand. Whew…that little sleeve has saved me from subversive thoughts while I was innocently overpaying for coffee. But Michelle Incanno was not so fortunate. She reads her coffee cups and she did not appreciate the message. 

“As someone who loves God, I was so offended by that. I don’t think there needs to be religious dialogue on it. I just want coffee,” said Incanno, a married mother of three who is Catholic.

She wasn’t satisfied with a company disclaimer saying the quote is the author’s opinion, not necessarily that of Starbucks. Starbucks spokeswoman Sanja Gould said the collection of thoughts and opinions is a “way to promote open, respectful conversation among a wide variety of individuals. “

But Incanno said her Starbucks days are over. “I wouldn’t feel right going back,” she said.

My take on the story? I wouldn’t change my coffee fix habits over Mr. Schell’s comments. I would suggest that some better reasons not go back would be if the coffee is bad, the service is surly, or you need to take out a loan to buy the venti size. I believe that Michelle Incanno was genuinely offended that she was subjected to a non-Christian worldview on a coffee cup. Further research showed that Starbucks has printed a thought from Rick Warren in the series (The Purpose Driven Cappuccino?) so they have not ignored the Christian viewpoint. 

But is Incanno’s response the best way to deal with the issue? I would gently suggest that it is not. I believe that Paul gave us the roadmap on how to deal with such issues. Anytime we have chance to engage others in a discussion about Jesus in the natural flow of culture I think it is an opportunity. Paul went to the intellectual epicenter of his day and that visit is recorded in the book of Acts.

The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got–all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols. He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place.

Paul was ticked off about the idols that mocked his beliefs. Did he rail on the Athenians? Did he boycott the Greek Department of Tourism? Paul chose to use the proliferaton of false idols to open the door to dialogue.

These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway? Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything. So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with. (The Message – Acts 17)

Paul proceeded to lay out his argument and then the text tallies the results.

Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes; others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more.” But that was it for the day, and Paul left. There were still others, it turned out, who were convinced then and there, and stuck with Paul–among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris.

Maybe that is why we are often more comfortable decrying the culture instead of engaging it. Most of us don’t like being labled as airheads (The Message) or as a babbler (NIV).  I certainly don’t enjoy the very real fact that some will laugh at me and walk off making jokes. But perhaps some will want to hear more. And the reason for taking the chance is that some will be convinced. How do I know that such a strategy works? I look for stories that allow me to discuss spiritual issues. A failed TV show called “The Book of Daniel” was a short term goldmine. The “Lost Tomb of Jesus” that aired over the Easter season was another great opportunity. People were interested in the topic and I was interested in giving them my views. Isn’t it amazing what God can use for His purpose if we will just let Him?