Sunday, September 30, 2007

A BITTER CUP OF COFFEE

There is a fine line to walk as Catholics when it comes to protesting alleged cases of anti-Catholicism. At one extreme are those who bristle at every perceived slight. The danger in this is that one could be labeled an extremist rendering one’s message worthless. The other extreme is to remain quiet and passive no matter what, which is simply escaping from real problems. Nothing good comes from that. But there is an in between in which sensible people decide that there are hills worth dying on and who pick their hills with care.

I tend to give great leeway to people who like to knock the Church simply because we are the big kid on the block. Fr. Benedict Groeschell describes the Catholic Church as a hippopotamus. No matter how gentle it tries to be it is so huge people can tend to get crushed so I try to listen with a sympathetic ear. So when I do decide to make my voice known in defense of the Church, I mean it.

Last week Adoro invited readers to write to Starbucks concerning this article to tell them that their song by Joni Mitchell that mocks Catholics is offensive and that they should do something about it. I didn’t jump on right on the bandwagon. I looked into it a bit, prayed, and though that I would contact the company.

In my letter to them I stated that I was a Catholic priest and that I found the message of the song reprehensible. “Do you also have songs slandering Jewish people or Muslims or atheists or coffee drinkers?” I asked. “Even if you do, this is inappropriate behavior just the same. I am disappointed.” Why did they decide Catholics specifically were Okay to attack?

The return letter stated that, “We understand that our customers have diverse tastes and perspectives. In selecting music, we strive to represent the work of a variety of talented artists who reflect many creative viewpoints. Starbucks is an avid supporter of free speech and the creative process. When considering new projects, our primary goal is always to help our customers discover and acquire quality music.”

Now, I could care less about the genre of her music. If it were the case that I simply did not like the type of music I understand that that is more my problem than anything else. But this was not about liking or disliking the music. The letter brought to their attention the message of the view being presented by them. And it was most definitely not simply, “a creative viewpoint” or “free speech”, but a clear message that they do not want me or my parishioners or fellow Catholic in their store. "Free speech", which they invoke, means debating ideas, philosophies, presenting alternatives, and such like. I have no problem with that. But even in an artistic representations ridicule and unfounded statements are still slanderous, irresponsible, and reprehensible. And while it may be sad that a major company would defend an attack on their customers, it is a tragedy that those same customers would still gleefully enter and buy their product. Even had they said something like, “We’re sorry. We understand why you might feel this way and we certainly do not dislike Catholics but this was part of a larger project. In the future we will at least try to be more careful or more balanced” I would be happy. I would still drink Starbucks. But telling me (and you) in essence, “Get over it,” is unacceptable.

So what am I going to do? Apparently exactly what Starbucks want. As sad as it makes me, I will no longer be going to Starbucks. When I am with people who want to go, I will tell them this story. And in fairness this post will be mailed to the company.


This may or may not be your hill to die on. But make sure you have a hill. Being a Catholic is not something you do, it is something that you are. Take pride and dignity in that.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I refuse to buy anything from Starbucks - I found out a couple years ago that they give to Pro-Choice groups, which, being Catholic, I abhor. I have been telling everyone I know about this. This is such a sacrifice to me because I really like their Frappaccinos (double mocha!). But I have to do what I believe - and I can not support an organization that supports abortion. I've been sticking with the mom & pop shops, which are probably better anyway.

Anonymous said...

We used to visit my old harbor town, a huge attraction to tourists year-round, every weekend. We'd take the kids into the ice cream/good coffee/homemade candy shop--something for all of us (and if we go to the coast, I will be the one holding a hot coffee while others are eating fried clams). Anyway, after listening to the guy with the dulcimer with crowds of folks around him, and then having a young man try out his balloon act for us as we sat on the bus benches out front of the shop, I saw a young guy go by wearing a t-shirt that said, "F*** Starbucks." Hmm.. Well, darned right, because Starbucks is the Walmart bully of coffee vending! But why the immediacy of a t-shirt? We found out two weeks later, when we found the little shop closed forever, and a Starbucks on the corner in the Square.

And they can just keep their music, too. I hope music artists won't continue to pander to them anymore, especially those who entered music for reasons of making music.

Glad you wrote them. It doesn't mean it fell on deaf ears.. sometimes all we can do is plant a seed, and it will grow.

(JustMe)

Anonymous said...

Father,
This is such a relevant issue. In my opinion, it's politically correct these days to bash catholics and all we stand for. People who are ex-catholics especially have a good time ridiculing the Church. Determining when to take a stand is difficult at times.
You are right- being catholic is who I am to my very core. It's hurtful when companies like Starbucks think it's okay to play music which bashes my religion/me. I will write a letter as well, but I'm sure I'll get the same "form letter" in response.

Grant said...

To be "dark" and pessimistic is "in" in our culture. The cynic is, I think, often seen as someone who has it all figured out, instead of just another one of the masses who's lost the ability to believe in anything.. or anyone. And so that's the category in which I'd place Ms. Mitchell. Just read the lyrics to her song.. they're not at all extraordinary.

The only line in the song that really attacks us is, "Shine on the Catholic Church and the prisons that it owns." I'm not even sure what that means. I'm guessing the Church keeps us all "locked down" with "rules" that imprison us. So says she.

Every other line in the whole song screams out, "I'm angry, angry, angry.. at corporations, my neighborhood, all the humans living around me, etc." The only thing that's extraordinary is that Starbucks would consider hers a "creative viewpoint" and it's sad that today her ranting is considered "quality music".

uncle jim said...

FYI - I linked to this article at my site

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Father: Sounds like you got the same form letter I did. I don't go there all that often so it's not a hardship for me to quit going. But, I'll never be going there again-nor, buying their products in the grocery stores.

Rich said...

“We understand that our customers have diverse tastes and perspectives. In selecting music, we strive to represent the work of a variety of talented artists who reflect many creative viewpoints. Starbucks is an avid supporter of free speech and the creative process. When considering new projects, our primary goal is always to help our customers discover and acquire quality music.”

Nonsense! They are a corporation and their bottom line is...well, their bottom line. Once they see that they have hit a raw cord and their profits are tanking, they would consider chanting monks on the next release if needed.

It is my contention that anti-Catholic bigotry is the last acceptable bigotry in this country.

Besides, aren't we the Church "militant?" ;)

tara said...

Hi Father,
You, me and cathy of alex--got the exact same form letter--I posted it on my blog if you want to compare. And Starbucks says they are concerned about our opinions--yeah, right.

My daily coffee from the grocers was Starbucks Gold Coast Blend--it was good--but I have since found a new even better brand--Peerless--they even do fair trade. Good, I like the one with cinnamon. Also, where Iive we have the store Grounds for Coffee--so if I want to pay four bucks for a great latte--I'm going there--No more Starbucks for me!

UniverseGrrl said...

Fr. V ~ I totally agree with you ~ I'm Catholic to my core and though I was previously a Joni Mitchell fan, I can be that no longer. I stopped being a Starbucks customer two months ago when the cute little boy behind the drive-up window couldn't do the math to make correct change, couldn't get my order right, and couldn't affix the top on the coffee, so it spilled all over my car. I went to McDonalds, it was cheaper, they can subtract, and they have better manners. I kept saying, "I LOVE MCDONALD'S. You guys rock!" I'm sure they thought I was crazy. So let's stand up for what's right. Slamming the Catholic Church? Not cool, not right. Sit down, Joni, we're not asking for a religion lesson. From YOU, anyway.

Genna said...

Hi Father,
I think you should tell EVERYONE this story. I will forward this on too. And not go to Starbucks.

JustMe said...

Well, I'd never read the lyrics before, but they're awfully sad, aren't they? Another victim falls to the nihil, and the light she asks to shine is a flashlight. Folk singers and many others who consider themselves social justice activists have rarely been my cup of tea anyway. Some have always been hope-less, which is tremendously self-ish. It becomes readily apparent to me as an older woman that Joni is hurtin'; I'm moved to pray for her. (StarBUCKS is on its own, tho'. It has no soul.)

In all the anti-Catholicism that is rearing its crazy/ugly head, one thing is made clear: The Church has an impact. That's not bad news. But indeed, there are more hills than ever to die upon, and Jesus knew it was coming.. He addressed it long ago. As did JP II: Be not afraid.

John14:15 said...

Is that all the lyrics say about the Church? I think it is laughable and negligible, and not a reason to boycott Starbucks. Their support of abortion, I think that is a reason to boycott them. The high price of refreshment when so many are starving? That is a reason to put our money elsewhere. I think these insipid lyrics merely expose the lyricist's and Mitchell's angst from seeing the state of the world without benefit of God and His Church. Of course it is also possible they don't care about any of the world's troubles at all, but just figure these lyrics will sell CD's. Words are cheap.

Fr. V said...

John - Now that I am not so hot I read your comment and think you are right. There are much bigger issues at stake but it took being rebuffed at this RELATIVELY minor thing for me to act against this company.

You and many of the other commenters have made me see what more is truly at stake - and thank you all for reminding me to keep such people in prayer.

BUT - Universsl girl - your post comment gave me a good laugh - but unless I was starving to death and the corporation gave me a sausage egg mcmuffin with cheese, I can't see myself ever saying, "Thank you McDonalds, Thank you McDonalds!" ;0)

Fr. V said...

John - Now that I am not so hot I read your comment and think you are right. There are much bigger issues at stake but it took being rebuffed at this RELATIVELY minor thing for me to act against this company.

You and many of the other commenters have made me see what more is truly at stake - and thank you all for reminding me to keep such people in prayer.

BUT - Universsl girl - your post comment gave me a good laugh - but unless I was starving to death and the corporation gave me a sausage egg mcmuffin with cheese, I can't see myself ever saying, "Thank you McDonalds, Thank you McDonalds!" ;0) (Just kidding)

John14:15 said...

Wait, this wasn't a rebuff, only my take on this. But I guess it comes across as that -- I am sorry. As soon as I posted I knew my comment really reflected misplaced heat about other news on the blogs:
the recent actions of the Connecticut bishops w/re plan B, the Pittsburgh Diocese public endorsement of the Bodies Exhibition, and the recent decision of Georgetown Univ to fund internships to pro-abortion groups, My angst came out in my hasty review of the Starbucks deal. Our own people are killing us...I just can't laugh at them, but at others' antics I can. Sometimes. But a rebuff of your post? No, none meant. Thanks for posting, thanks for the blog.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking over this blog for about 30 minutes now............ Fr. Valencheck you are ridiculous. Instead of sitting at your damn computer all day, why don't you get off
your butt, and minister to the people of God like you should - - feed the poor, clothe the naked, give food to the hungry, and bury the dead."

If people want to protest Starbucks because of a song played in their stores---that's there choice. There are so many organizations that all of
us partake in that most likely funnel money to organizations and places that we wouldn't approve. The world has to go on, not that we should be oppressing people. However, I don't see how this song is oppressing people.

Oh well, that's my take on it!!!!!!

Fr. V said...

Wow! 30 minutes! Even I don't spend that much time on my blog every day! Thanks for stopping by and for the kindly advice.