Chicken, Coffee, and Gay Marriage

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This past January, Starbucks made a statement about same sex-marriage. This is from an executive vice president:

“Starbucks is proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples… It is core to who we are and what we value as a company.”

That caused a movement titled “Dump Starbucks” that created an online petition to boycott the coffee company. The result? After a few months of their campaign, they’ve gotten 47,144 people to sign the petition. At the same time, another on-line petition was created to thank Starbucks for their support of gay-marriage. The result? Over 650,000 signatures. Most analysts argue that Starbucks gained more business from the controversy than it lost.

In July, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A said the following:

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. …We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

I’m assuming you haven’t been living in a cave the past few months and know what kind of fallout that comment created. (But in case you have been living in a cave—go see the Avengers.) Former Governor Mike Huckabee declared August 1st as “Chick-fil-A” day and all supporters of traditional marriage were encouraged to support the restaurant that day. The result? Hour long waits and the company’s single biggest day of sales in their history. Two days later, some pro-gay groups tried to coordinate a “kiss-in” to protest Chick-fil-A’s statement. In comparison, barely anybody showed up.

In both cases, the boycotts backfired. Now that the dust has settled from the Chick-fil-A support/boycott I wonder, do boycotts even work anymore? So I asked a trusted source: Google. (See? I’m just like my students.)

Aside from the many bloggers who rant their own opinion on their subject (man, I hate those guys!) I did come across an interesting article from the Washington Post back in 2009 by Lawrence Glickman who has written a number of books and articles on economy and history. He wrote, “Despite their frequency throughout U.S. history, boycotts have rarely achieved their intended goals.” So it’s not that boycotts don’t work. It’s just that they rarely work, at least in economically punishing whatever is boycotted.

It seems the real lesson in all of this, no matter what side of the gay marriage debate that you’re on, is most of us would like to have our coffee and eat our chicken, too. Both boycotts were a bust. We live in a culture that would rather support than suspend, rather say yes than say no. It’s easier for people to buy than to boycott. Activists, take note.

But for people of faith I think there is a bigger issue than just the economics. In Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, he wrote that, “every economic decision has a moral consequence.” Where we spend or don’t spend our money is not about just about the institution we denounce/support, it’s also about ourselves.

I’m not convinced that sipping a Starbucks leads our country any closer to gay marriage than I think that eating a chicken sandwich keeps things “straight.” But I do think it’s important, if only for our own conscience, to financially support organizations that line up with our beliefs, whether they be religious, charitable, or even retail, as well as refrain from supporting those institutions that denounce those beliefs. The “fasting” of something is always harder to do than the “feasting” of something else, but I think both are in order if are to live what we believe and make a difference in the world today.

What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus geek?

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I am proud to say, I am a geek.

This should not be a surprise to any who has known me or read my blog. But in case those reading this might need proof of my geek cred, I offer the following for evidence:

  • I’m in a role-playing group two nights a month.
  • I have a replica Doctor Who sports coat which I will occasionally wear to my place of business.
  • I prefer bow-ties over neck ties and, if I had my druthers, would only wear bow-ties.
  • I play the accordion.
  • I use the word “druthers.”
  • I can be found most evenings lounging around the house in my Star Trek bathrobe.
  • I’ve read the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings numerous times.
  • I can quote most lines from Star Wars.
  • I’ve accumulated over 10,000 “geek points” at thinkgeek.com.
  • I read comic books and still have all the ones from my childhood.
  • Was the first point really not enough for you?

It seems silly to have to defend one’s geekiness, since normally admitting you were a geek was proof enough that you were one (just like a man who admits to being a bronie, a male fan of “My Little Pony.”) But apparently that’s not enough for some, or at least for one. Last week the geek world was set ablaze by an article that berated some attractive, young women who the author claimed were just faux geeks looking for attention. It’s quite a statement on the world that there might be women who would fake being into comic books/sci-fi movies/RPGs, etc. to look “cool.” My first thought: where were they when I was young?

My second thought: what does it mean to be a geek?

I’m not the first to ask or try to answer such a question. My usual operating definition of a geek was someone who was really over-the-top passionate about something that wasn’t mainstream. But John Scalzi, popular science-fiction author who has won a few Hugo and Nebula awards and hob-knobs with other famous stars in the geek universe, adds an important nuance to that:

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”
Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

Being a geek is not just over-the-top loving something. It’s over-the-top sharing about it as well. And that made me think: how can we be geeks for Jesus?

I’m not proud to admit I’m more familiar with the geography of Middle-Earth than I am with the United States. But can we get as excited and knowledgeable about our faith as we do about our fiction? I met a wonderful, faithful, young Christian who told me they’ve read the Harry Potter series three times over but, in further conversation, admitted to never having read all (or even most of) the letters in the New Testament. Why?

Let’s be honest, the first letter to Timothy isn’t as exciting (to most) as the first book of Twilight. The US Bishops commented on that in their national document on catechesis:

Most people today, but especially young people, expect learning experiences to be entertaining and tend to judge the effectiveness of those experiences on the superficial level of how entertaining they are rather than how humanly enriching or authentic they are. Young people are taught both by the excitement generated by technology and by the effervescence of popular culture to reject something if it bores them – and often the only things that do not bore them are those that seduce or titillate. (National Directory For Catechesis p.16)

Before we get into the deeper meaning of this quote, let’s first tip our hat to the US Bishops who found a way to use both the word “effervescence” and “titillate” in the same sentence. Double Word Score.

Now on to the deeper meaning: I think this hits a bulls-eye. We have been raised to be amused. In the 70s, Pope Paul VI said the following: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and to teachers only if they are witnesses.” But I think a more modern rendition can replace “witnesses” with “being entertained.” I know some brilliant teachers at my university who many students don’t like because they are “boring.” But those who pay attention discover how intelligent they are and really get a lot of our their classes.

I spend a lot of energy trying to make what I do to pass on the faith both educational and entertaining: short movie scripts, dramatic presentations, song-writing, and even some comedic things I do in class to keep my student’s attention. But if someone is to grow into spiritual maturity, they’ve got to go beyond only what “titillates” them. Falling in love with someone means going deeper than what infatuates us and often involves a struggle. It’s not always “entertaining.” It is so much better. But if our passion for Jesus Christ doesn’t surpass our excitement for pop culture, then our spiritual lives will be shallow and our evangelization ineffective.

Can we be as geeky with saints we are with superheroes? As knowledgeable of doctrine as we might be with Doctor Who? Are we willing to enter into the world of holiness as much as we are the Hunger Games? Or as devoted to prayer as we are to pop culture?

But here is the real challenge for an amusement-addicted culture: are we willing to allow times of “boredom” with God in our spiritual lives, as He detoxes us from the constant stimulation of superficial entertainment, so that He can lead us to a place of deeper intimacy? Of course, the spiritual life is not actually “boring.” As Fr. Thomas Dubay once wrote, “People who are in love are never bored.” But a life of prayer is not seductive, titillating, or entertaining. And if that’s all we’re used to, then spending time with God can be very difficult indeed.

A geek is someone who is not only over-the-top passionate about something, but also over-the-top passionate about sharing that with others. If that’s an accurate definition, then I think it’s appropriate to call the Apostles and all the saints as “geeks.” The question before us is, are we willing to be one as well?

If I can paraphrase the call to the “new evangelization:” we are all called to be geeks for Jesus. And while I don’t mind that people know I collect comic books, enjoy science-fiction, or play role playing games, what I really want to be known for is being a Jesus geek.