The last couple of weeks my heart has been heavy. Whenever I see people set against one another my reaction is to somehow bridge the gap, to bring peace and resolve. Yet, this most recent issue, I wasn’t even sure what to make of it, let alone attempt to make peace between corporate America and my faith community.
Growing up as the youngest and only male representative in our small, and occasionally, dysfunctional family seemed to give me an outside perspective on family matters. (Man I miss Steve Erkel.) Making peace is [always] sticky because compromise is involved. It's even trickier when the controversy arises within your own family or tribe. If you haven't figured it out yet, I am referring to Christians boycotting Starbucks. I mean, coffee is a hot topic to begin with, but in the sub-culture of Christianity the reason it has taken off once again is over the announcement of Starbucks recent addition to their company values. It is weird how no one has petitioned boycotting Microsoft or Nike who made similar announcements. That would be a lot of computers and sneakers on Craigslist!
Some claim more than 80% of our tribe drinks daily the sweet nectar produced from this Seattle-based company. I, however, find this hard to believe because only 50% of our family does: June (+), Johnny (-). Unfortunately, Christians have a tendency to be either “straight-up” or with lots of “creamer” when it comes to issues. (Sorry for the bad coffee reference, I meant black or white. Another humorous coffee slur.)
Most often the hang-up for Christians happens over how we interpret and apply what we hold most central to our faith – the Bible. As a result, sometimes, a part of our sub-culture feels forced into accepting our society’s progressive egalitarian values. (Slightly sarcastic tone.)
My epiphany! (The liturgical way of saying Oprah’s “Aha! Moment") This morning I woke up thinking about wheat and weeds. I quickly grabbed the sword - Google's search engine - and discovered the passage in Matthew 13:24-30, which talks about wheat, tares, and the kingdom of God. This led me to Matthew 7:20 (not Googled).
The first passage in Matthew, the one about the wheat and weeds, explains how the kingdom of God works. (Not to be mistaken for a futuristic setting, as Jesus explains the kingdom of God is at hand, and was set in motion by Jesus’ life and was intended to expand on earth just as it is in heaven!)
Just to make it easier here is the Matthew 12 passage:
24 Another parable he set before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed good seed in his field: 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? 28 And he said unto them, An enemy hath done this. And the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn."
The closing credits of this passage would go as follows:
The Field….Whole World
The Good Seed….Born of the kingdom of God
The Weeds…..Not born of the kingdom of God
The Servants….Followers of Jesus (assumed)
The Harvest….End of the Age
(This is not my interpretation, Jesus explains the parable later in Matthew 13:36-43.)
Jesus is basically saying the kingdom of God is not a hydroponic box! We shouldn’t cut off, separate, or limit how God's love will impact others lives. Though wheat and tare look similar at first, by harvest time a person can identify the wheat from the weeds by their growth, or “fruit” (Matthew 7:20). Despite my gut reaction to this passage, the farmer (man) actually instructs his laborers not to uproot the wheat from the tare, but to let them grow side-by-side. Oh, how wasteful and extravagant is the love of God.
God’s love compels, forgives, and restores our lives. If it wasn’t for the "wheat" left to grow up alongside me, my life would have been forever "weedy." Fortunately, because of the timeless mercy of God, my story didn't end there. God is waiting for us, hoping we will all to turn to Him, and desiring that none should perish. The imprint of God’s mercy is the hallmark trait of those who love God and their neighbor.
I believe if we as Christians, our tribe, our faith community, chooses to "dump" Starbucks, then we are setting a terrifying precedent, inevitably having to remove ourselves from this world to escape the evil pushing back against the kingdom of God. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, therefore, we cannot resort to drawing lines between cultures, companies, or even activities. Rather, allow the Word of God to rend hearts open and divide their very identity until the kingdom of God takes root in their hearts.
What I fear by boycotting Starbucks...and eventually Microsoft and Nike, is how will others ever encounter the love of God? Worse yet, how will a younger generation of Christians, who strongly stand for social justice, support a faith whose actions contradict the Bible? Why insist on choosing a path that makes our faith irrelevant and causes doubt to take root in the lives of those who just started their faith journey?
After reading and hearing some of our responses to this issue it makes me wonder if we have forgotten how our hearts story started – weedy. We are sinners saved by grace – always. Why take a stand that communicates our faith is based on works? Looking at the history of our faith we see that using force (in whatever form) as a way of spreading our tribe's message has concluded in some of the most embarrassing moments in our faith's heritage (the Crusades, the Turks, and killing “heretics”).
How will our actions or reactions this day be read in our history books two hundred years from now?
It would be so much easier if everyone was a Christian. I wouldn’t have spent the last two years in seminary, the last two weeks dwelling on this, or for that matter, the last two hours typing this. (Okay, three hours. I don’t know why I just lied there.)
When someone comes across a person whose faith is so deeply planted in the love of Christ the overflow of their life, their “fruit,” becomes this inviting and intoxicating presence to them. Their view of life renews that persons perspective and potentially ends up altering the course of their life forever.
This is how I am going to respond to Starbucks, and, to life. By acting in response to the love of God, and allowing His love to be embodied in mine. God sometimes leads us as individuals to respond in very unique ways of obedience. For instance, Noah, go build the Titanic; Abraham, murder your son; old lady, keep pouring oil into random containers; and the list is could go on. However, God's personal call doesn't always equate to community wide mandates.
If you go back and read the Matthew 13 passage, Jesus is telling us the kingdom of God doesn't always match our gut reaction to a situation. It requires us to wait and see - a slow process. It involves seasons of breaking up fallow ground and pruning, a life of patient persistence, humility, and above all else loving-kindness. For many, this requires a daily cup of coffee. After all, the best part of waking up, is Starbucks in your cup!
[All credit for clear thoughts go to Martin Luther, William Willimon, Abraham Kuyper, a current NES professor, and the Bible. Remember this recent moment in Starbucks history? What a beautiful response by Bill Hybels. My hope is I was equally thoughtful and grace-filled.]