There are lots of ways to assess who we are as a culture. One of my favorite is to walk into a Walmart. Big, wide open spaces, insane amounts of stuff, people walking around in their pajamas. It’s all there.
Or we can talk about cups. We really like our Starbucks and we really like our cups.
In the latest viral status update to annoy us all, there’s one really relevant observation we missed. The people we’ve been ripping up on for making it an issue… for all practical purposes don’t exist. Try to find them. Let’s face it, if they were the types to get that upset about a minimilist cup design they would have stopped drinking Starbucks a long time ago for any number of other reasons.
Which leads me to a pretty big assertion. By the time an issue or viral topic makes it to your newsfeed, it’s already been processed by an entire filter of incentives. This one got there because at least four different groups had their own reasons for making it a thing.
1) Joshua Feuerstein got lots of attention.
The guy who posted the trigger video got what he wanted and moved on. The currency of the internet is attention. Normal things, balanced things, helpful things don’t get it. If you’re trying to build a cult following or even just trying to make some money (videos with views move cash…) you have to be outrageous. Does he believe that what he’s doing matters? Probably so. Is he also happy to get the attention? Of course. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of traffic he got was from people who thought he was nuts. But he had his day of fame and he can go on now to do other things.
2) Starbucks sold a ton of drinks.
No particularly new or insightful point here. Starbucks hasn’t gone into defense mode. They don’t have to. This is the best marketing they could have asked for. As people rush in for their instagrams of cups with snarky retorts, they’re moving some serious stock. Who knows; maybe we’ll get this cup two years in a row.
3) Christian baiters in general got their laugh.
Another whole demographic is quite happy to see these things come up. The issue is obviously asinine. But if I wanted to out-argue Christianity in the public square, reducing them to such drivel would be an excellent strategy. Rather than have a somewhat reasonable discussion about the unintended consequences of abortion or gay marriage, let’s show that these people are nuts.
I don’t think it even has to be that cynical, really, as though there was a massive plot. Mr. Feuerstein, after all, completely handed it to them, and sociological phenomena never work like that anyway. But there is a perverse incentive to carve out one’s own identity by throwing mud at some other foil out there, whether it exists or not. Which points to the last group.
4) Us. We got to tell everybody we’re not one of “those kinds of Christians.”
In a certain sense I’m less annoyed by the incentives of the other three groups. Companies need to sell drinks, public debate and angst from the secular establishment is normal, and self-proclaimed “ministers” will look for attention. It’s all an old story.
More inscrutable to me is why any of us need to throw our hat in the ring. Social media, like all of life, is inseparably tied up with image crafting and establishing an identity. We post the pictures, comments and videos that seem to fit what we want other people to think about us. And I get the distinct impression that weighing in on an “issue” is less about the question and more about how I want to be seen. Let it be known that I’m not one of those extreme, rallying, bullying Christian types. I’m more thoughtful than that. I’m one of the “it’s just a cup” people.
Because if there’s any one group that really lost the 2015 battle of red cups and perverse incentives, it was us. By thoroughly thrashing a group that pretty much didn’t exist in order to show that we’re smarter than they, we pushed nobody closer to Jesus and made the gospel no clearer.
The harder to swallow reality is that sooner or later, you will be one of “those kinds of Christians” anyway. Hopefully not over red cups or whatever fatuous issue next rocks the social media world. But it will happen over something really substantive. In the new secular reality, people that are truly serious about living biblical Christianity are the “those kinds of Christians.” Having a solid moral stance based on the Bible, telling people they desparately need Jesus, living with a serious intent to follow Scripture, or ever mentioning the word “hell” is enough to brand you. No amount of image crafting will save us from it.
And so maybe the best thing to do is not image crafting at all. Maybe we do best to be like Jesus, follow His image and make that our thing. Then we can just let people decide what kind of Christians they think we are.