Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Starbucks, Christians and Free Speech

Let me start this blog by saying, I love Starbucks. I know, I know, I'm a socially responsible left of Jesus liberal and I am professing my love for a corporation. To be an American who tries to put their ideals into action means you have to live with a certain amount of self hypocrisy. We all have what we politely describe as, guilty pleasures or, I know I shouldn't but I like it, habits. Civilization depends on it. I know friends who wear fur, but since they got it in a second hand store, thats OK. Some still smoke cigarettes, but its American Spirit brand, so somehow that makes it more acceptable to them.

My indulgence happens to be Starbucks. They make a good cup of coffee. More importantly, they allow me to make several minor choices at the cash register while people behind me get exasperated because I am taking my time doing so. In a world I scarcely understand anymore Starbucks gives me two things I desperately need to start my day; a sense that I can control something and caffeine.

When people tell me that supporting a corporation leaves them with a bad taste in their mouths I simply say, then your company doesn't make gingerbread lattes.

Do you know the secret to being a pretty good comic? It's not having a filter. We are trained since birth to not say what we are thinking. Lawyers make a living hiding intentions behind phrases. Poets convey meaning by coming at it sideways and anyone whose ever sat in a cubicle knows how often they have to swallow their words. I don't have a filter. It's what makes me a good comic but a lousy boyfriend. It also produces what can best be described as sit-com moments. I don't know why this stuff happens to me in Starbucks, but it happens to me there a lot. A stranger says something, other people look sheepishly at their feet because it was ignorant, hateful or just wrong, and before I realize what is happening, I’ve blurted something out that is causing some people to slap me on my back as they say, I wish I had said that, and others to look at me with undiluted hate steaming from their eyes. Partly, its just the hyper polarized, political mess of a country we all live in now. That, and as I’ve explained, I have no filter. I like to think of it as an allergic reaction to stupidity, speaking before thinking or, my favorite description, morally outraged turrets. Being in line at Starbucks can be a lot like being on Facebook, too. You interact with people who have different opinions you might not ordinarily interact with and occasionally, they poke you. I poke back.

A few months ago I was in Sacramento, CA. In line, in front of me, two guys were talking loudly. They looked like construction workers. One of them kept repeating a sentence over and over. "Can you believe it? A lazy fucking Mexican took my job!" it didn't matter that most people in the place were nervously avoiding eye contact, they kept looking around for people to agree with them. No one was. Finally, the guy whose been saying this turns to me and repeats it, "a lazy fucking Mexican took my job." I suppose he thought I should say something like, I can’t believe it!

Instead, I said "How good could you have been at your job if a lazy guy could replace you?"

That earned me my first round of applause at a Starbucks at a free coffee from the Hispanic guy working the cash register after they kicked out the two guys.

Score one for me.

Neutralizing ignorant bullies with comedic logic is something I have a black belt in.

Today, this happened to me in line at a Starbucks. Its Sunday before noon so the line is long. There is a large group of people waiting for their drinks as the Christmas music blares down on us all. In front of me are two well dressed woman in their early fifties. Leather boots, expensive hand bags and huge sun glasses on, they talk loudly to themselves. They have just come from church. They are talking about the sermon, Newt Gingrich and who Jesus would endorse if he could.

I am biting my tongue.

It's only when they get to the register that I notice the girl behind it is Muslim. I am presuming this because she is wearing a scarf on her head and she peers out at the two woman with large brown eyes and a dark face. One of the woman orders a drink and then says, " ...can I also get one of those low fat turkey bacon things?" The girl informs her they are out. "Are you just saying that because you don't want to touch bacon?"

Accept for the song, Here Comes Santa Clause, the room goes quiet. The woman laughs one of those socially awkward laughs and says, "I was just joking, dear."

Sure she was.

I haven't had my coffee yet and I am just not going to get into it with two gold plated crucifix wearing cougars. And then, like so many other times, I hear something that causes me to speak before thinking. The two of them are speaking to each other again and I hear "...the republican party IS the party of Jesus."

I can’t help it anymore.

"Sure, the republican party is the party of Jesus if Jesus was a fat white CEO of a company taking government contracts to build bombs preaching about family values with his third wife standing next to him."

Incredulous and stammering, before the woman responds, the Muslim girl leans on the counter and says, "your coffee is free today, sir."

Score another one for me.

Now comes the aftermath. The drama of petty people whose egos have been dented publicly is practically our national entertainment these days. The women demanded to speak to the manager. Other customers rise to my defense. Others shake their heads at me. The woman, composed now and clutching her latte, demand I apologize for Christian bashing. I point out that I am not Christian bashing, I am, in fact, ignorance bashing. That goes over as well as you might think it would go over with them. Their voices raise. I smirk, and like playing their part in a script I’ve read a hundred times before, the woman says something like, you want to love people who will blow up your children and ruin this country, thats fine, but this is a Christian nation! I fire back with something like, its a nation of laws founded by people who made a separation between church and state. If you want to live in a country that has one religion you are welcome to but I doubt they will let you dress like a mermaid in heat or drive!

Now comes laughter, raised eye browns and the intake of shocked breath before they storm out. Mermaids in heat? I don’t know what that meant either but it put them over the top.

Lets review what might of missed your attention and certainly missed the two women’s.

  1. If its Turkey Bacon, its not made of pork. Its made of Turkey. A Muslim can touch it.
  2. At a time when religion and politics were the same thing, Jesus was killed for disagreeing with both. I doubt he would endorse a political party that just raised taxes on the poor but refuses to consider raising taxes on millionaires no matter how many times they invoke his name.
  3. Newt cheated on his wife while trying to get President Clinton fired for doing the same thing. That should be all anyone has to say to end his run for the White House.
  4. OK, he never took government money to build bombs. I was speaking pre-caffeine rhetorically.
  5. Dressing like Lindsay Lohans mother and coming from Church feels a little off to me.
  6. Muslim women are free to be wage slaves in America just like anyone else!

Thus concludes another thrilling adventure in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of coffee with a little bit of conversation. I'm not even going to go into what happened when I posted this on Facebook.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry/Happy Christmas/Holidays~

There is a war against Christmas. It's being waged mostly by the people who claim there is a war against Christmas. The AFA or, American Family Association runs a website, naughty and nice, that helps good Christians buy their Christmas presents from pro-Christmas companies. Companies that say merry Christmas in their ads get a green light. Companies that use Christmas in some of their ads get a yellow light and companies that use the term, happy holidays instead of mentioning Christmas, get a red light. No surprise that the AFA is at the top of the green light list with their on line store.

Isn't this beautiful? This year when you buy a present for the holiday named after a man who forsake all worldly possessions, you can do so at companies completely using his name to sell you stuff! Way to miss your own point that the message of Christmas is being drowned out by commerce.

Then again, maybe it was always this way. Even the three wise man showed up to Jesus's birth with gifts. Two of them had to be pissed when they found out that one of them bought gold when the other two had incense and body oil. Actually, for wise men, I can't think of three worse gifts for a baby. Maybe the term "wise men" was the first instance of the bible trying to be sarcastic. Maybe it's also the answer to Jesus and his selfless ways, too. Of course he could preach love, tolerance and embrace poverty when he had been given gold as a baby. Jesus was just another trust fund kid preaching against capitalism. Dirty hippy!

How did the modern republican party get to claim Jesus anyway? Seriously. How do fat old white dudes on their third marriage and a voting record against any humane public service for the least among us get to say anything as stupid as, there is a war against Christmas, when their entire public service has been a war against any of Jesus's teachings? If you are wearing a two thousand dollar gold cross around your neck, you don't get it.

Rick Perry released a YouTube ad where he starts out saying he isn't embarrassed to be a Christian. Why would anyone? I mean, Jesus was a man who preached love and tolerance. But then Rick follows that statement up with this nugget of compassionate genius "You don't have to be in the pew every Sunday to see that something is wrong with our country when gays can openly serve in the military but our children can't openly celebrate Christmas."
What. The. Fuck?
Singling out people for the way they are is in the Bible, but it was the Romans. I'm pretty sure that Jesus would be totally cool with gay people. Why? Because they are persecuted people. I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't be for the military. Why? Because he was for peace. Why are conservatives so afraid of gays? If gay people are so terrifying to them then we should just have an all gay military. Since the countries we invade seem to be as homophobic as the generals in the military, this should make them surrender before we send the "boys" in. And, we don't have to call it an invasion or regime change. We simply call it redecorating.

By the way, can someone show me the kids who, in their own homes with their own parents, aren't being allowed to openly celebrate Christmas? Is Obama sending secret service agents out to bust kids who were found to have a few ounces of tinsel on them? Give me a break!

Are you telling me FOX NEWS would embrace Jesus if he showed up again? I'm sure they would rush to the side of a long haired, middle eastern guy wearing sandals and giving away free health care as he talks about the evils of money. Are you kidding me? They would charge him for the cost of wood before they crucified him again for being against every single concept their hate filled little world is built upon while telling us how much they love him but not his lifestyle. Its what they say about gays all the time, right?

Happy holidays, merry Christmas and whatever. If you are buying presents on a AFA approved website, you aren't a good Christian. A good capitalist, sure. Part of why happy holidays has become the greeting of choice is the ever changing demographics of America. We are, after all, a melting pot. There are plenty of people who don't celebrate Christmas. As much as FOX NEWS wants you to believe this was a nation founded by Christians on Christians ideals, it's a nation of laws that specifically put in place a separation of church and state. Google it, for Christ sake!

Most of the founding fathers were Deists, too. That's a whole other blog. Point is, happy holidays isn't a war against one religions holiday it is an acknowledgement that other people have other beliefs, too. Then again, what can you expect when most paintings, statues and images of Jesus are of a white guy who looks more at home in a early 90's band?

When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, you would see manger scenes everywhere. In front of banks, DMV's, police stations and movie theaters. They are still very popular in the Midwest. Out here, in California, you don't see them too often. I took a friend who is Indian to a Christmas lights display. These are very common out here. Basically, a park covers every bush, tree and shrub in lights. You drive through with the lights off on your car listening to Christmas music. Its drive through, Christmas!

They have candy canes, elves, Santa clause, reindeer and almost every variation on the Christmas theme you can imagine made with lights. She saw four snowmen, made up of lights wrapped around steel mesh, standing between two trees. "Is that a manger scene?" she asked half joking. How would she know? She has only heard about them. It's now become a running joke between us. We will be driving, she will point to a group of people and ask, "is that a manger scene?" I will look. "ah, no. That's a bus stop."

I have to admit that when I see a news story about a manger scene being removed, it makes me a little sad. Not because of any religious issues, I'm smart enough to know that the founding fathers viewed religion as a corrosive element in any free thinking society, but because it makes me think of being a kid. That's when Christmas had the power to mean something. Not because it was the birth of Jesus or I was going to get presents, it was, for lack of a more cynical description, the holiday cheer. People were nicer, lights hung everywhere and my family was together. If Christmas means anything in our culture right now it means black Sunday, cyber Monday and half off. That, truly is sad. Buying a present on credit for someone you feel you are obligated to buy something for at a pre-approved Christmas friendly website is about as far from holiday cheer as you can get. What modern Christians seem to be confused about most seems obvious to me; you can't chase profits and claim to follow the words of prophets at the same time. Considering the only time your boy Jesus lost his temper was about money, just whose side do you think he's on in this age of protesting?

Merry/Happy Christmas/Holidays~