Of Starbucks and Calvinism, The Difference Between What I Want and What I Need

Got this wonderful link from my friend Eric Dirksen on The Starbucks Lifestyle. It nicely illuminated the heart of the consumer mindset. It also struck me how badly I’ve wanted my church to be as welcoming, comfortable, popular, accepting, popular, profitable, popular, successful (did I mention “popular”?) as Starbucks.

I’m afraid it will never be. Why not?

  1. We’ve got the wrong pastor/leader for that (me).
  2. We’ve got all the wrong people for that. Our people are real and not always cool.
  3. We haven’t got the money (but maybe if we fixed #1 and #2…, remember “popular”)

As I mull over the piece I have to self confront on how badly I want what Starbucks has, and the grace of God that I’ve never been given it.

The Pusher of Fatty Idolatries

This piece notes that there is something deeply wrong with the customers of Starbucks, and while a coffee vendor really shouldn’t be in the business of intervention, Starbucks has instead grown successful on enabling.

I’m not picking on Starbucks here, although they are a very fat target (over-priced, over-sized, over-glitzed, over-caloried). They are part of our consumer culture. What the author points out is that if they were just a coffee vendor it would be easier to forgive. What they are is a pusher of an idolatry, and a very smooth one.

I wonder if the council of Jerusalem in advising the new Gentile Christians in applying Christ to their context might have admonished “and stay out of the pagan temples, including Starbucks.”

“No, It’s not You, it’s Me”

Truth is Starbucks isn’t even the problem, it’s me. There is something deeply, deeply wrong with me and Starbucks is just there to encourage me in it, and make a few bucks along the way.

Of course this notion that there is something deeply wrong with me is not a new one. It was part of the religion I was brought up in.

Those who know me know I’ve got as healthy an ego as anyone and in many settings plenty of self-confidence. I’m not someone who is wimpering about the fact that I didn’t grow up in a religion that coddled me, affirmed me, or told me I was wonderful, the center of the universe, or a being of infinite value and light. I grew up in a church that professed total depravity. In a strange way, however, you do have to have ego and confidence to face your own ugliness. The Starbucks Lifestyle just enables me.

My local church is nothing like Starbucks, and that is a good thing. My church doesn’t quite let me be the jerk I could be. People have their hard things to say and some of them are even right. Authenticity is opposite the Starbucks Lifestyle.

The truth is that I need to know myself better than my ego often permits and that means not embracing the Starbucks lifestyle, at least not at church. I’m not really going to trust my coffee vendor with my self, just my hot drinks.

The things around us are mirrors, opportunities to see ourselves. Starbucks is a lying mirror and I like the lies it tells me. It makes me cooler, better looking, more popular, more attractive, more social, etc.

What I need from my church is a much clearer, truer mirror, something where I can hopefully catch a glimpse of some of myself that I don’t want to see, and don’t want anyone else to see, yet it is something I need desperately to face.


I know churches that major in shouting things at people, often negative things. Most often what is shouted says more about the shouter than the shout-ee. I don’t need that kind of church either, partly because despite my ego and self-confidence I’m also vulnerable and defensive. I need a church that can show me the mirror in a way that my fragile self can dare to comprehend. I must see it, but it must be shown me in a way that I’m able to truly SEE it. Didn’t I mention that there was something deeply, deeply wrong with me?

The church is one of the very few places I find that hopefully can both have the courage to hold up a truer mirror, and perhaps do so with gentleness, love and kindness.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Culture commentary, Institutional Church, theological, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

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