Monday, January 12, 2009

What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Catholic Church?

Let's take the video from yesterday's post and reimagine it, shall we? The couple, going to a coffee shop for the first time for reasons unknown, walks into a large Gothic Starbucks. They sit on one of the long benches while, around them, various "cradle coffee-drinkers" meditate on the Mysteries of the Goodness of Coffee.

Finally, the ritual begins: The barista enters and processes solemnly to the altar where he begins preparing the sacred drink. He holds up a bag of roasted coffee beans and intones, "We thank thee, oh Starbucks, for the gift of this French roast. Bean of the tree and work of human hands, it will become for us our caffeinated drink."

Then he begins working an Espresso machine. After producing a shot glass of Espresso, he elevates it and proclaims, "This is the cup of joe which takes away the sleepiness of the world." Then those gathered recite, "Java, I am grouchy in the morning, but only enter my cup and I shall become perky." At last, everyone lines up and proceeds to the front of the room to get his coffee.

The ceremony ends, presumably, with the prayer of St. Espressus of Java.

Through it all, our bewildered protagonists are checking their watches. No doubt, the inquiring couple leaves just as put-off as in the original version. This is why satires, fun as they are, can never bear close scrutiny: you see, a Starbucks and a church are two different animals. There's no good reason why either should work like the other. Starbucks ought to "market" like a business, not like a church--any kind of church. But as soon as we start talking about "marketing" Christianity, we're probably already in trouble, because we are already thinking of our religion as if it is a Starbucks. That's how we get trapped trying to make our churches relevant and end up making them look foolish, gimmicky, and as a result, entirely irrelevant. The problem with the Starbucks-church of the video is not that it works like a church, but that it is a religion (albeit a religion of coffee) trying very hard to look like anything other than a religion.

And really, do we want to serve religion like coffee? Think of what the young man says in the video as he approaches the barista: "I just want some coffee." He doesn't know a thing about the religion of Starbucks, and why should he? He's never been to one before. He has not been washed in the java. He has not tasted of the divine bean. He is an outsider, and yet the video suggests--whether it means to or not--that the barista ought to quietly give him his coffee and ask no questions. Is that how we want to treat our religion? Should we shuffle anonymous attendees through as rapidly as possible, handing out Jesus like cups of joe? Of course not. That works fine for a coffee shop, but it's hardly the way to operate a church. Instead of being so seeker-sensitive (and thereby driving away the seekers), this Starbucks ought to focus its liturgy on those who are already dedicated coffee-drinkers; they're the ones who are addicted and need their daily dose. This seeking couple, on the other hand, hasn't even converted yet. What they need is not a liturgy geared toward them, but coffee drinkers who will explain to them the benefits of the divine drink and possibly convert them. Only then can they truly share in and experience the divine mysteries of that oh-so-bitter but oh-so-good beverage.

"And I took the little cup out of the angel's hand, and drank it up; and it was in my mouth bitter as coffee: and as soon as I had drunk it, my brain was wired."

Can I get a javalujah?

Okay, but none of that really expresses my discontent with this incredibly well-made little satire. My first complaint is this: I want one of those "Where coffee flows through people" posters in the worst way. That's freakin' hilarious. But my other complaint is this: In my many travels, I have learned there are three places where one can infallibly find incredibly attractive women--Mennonite churches, Charismatic churches, and behind the counter at Starbucks. This video promised me that it would feature a church-like Starbucks--which means, of course, the possibility of gazing on a Charismatic Mennonite barista. But then the barista turns out to be some...some...some dude. It's like a big tease.
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