The Gospel According to Starbucks, Len Sweet notes- part 1

I’m finally getting a chance to read The Gospel According to Starbucks by Len Sweet. I normally have to keep notes when reading Sweet’s books… too much to try to remember.

“Organized religion has been assuming that because it has a better product- namely, God- that it simply needs to open the doors and customers will line up. That assumption no longer holds.” (5)

“Christians have much to learn about faith as a lived experience, not a thought experiment… Starbucks knows that people live for engagement, connection, symbols, and meaningful experiences… The problem is not that Christianity can’t be believed, but that it can’t be practiced because of its lack of lived experience. And it can’t be observed by others because there are too few Christians who are radical enough to manifest what the gospel really looks like.” (5)

“Starbucks views its brand as a kind of cultural portal.” (8)

“Today, too many Christians line up to follow God out of duty or guilt, or even hoping to win a ticket to heaven. They completely miss the warmth and richness of the experience of living with God. They fail to pick up the aroma of what God is doing in their part of town.” (9)

“The refrain is real: ‘distance is dead.’ Any place can be every place.” (11)

Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) sees himself as a “Chief Evangelist Officer”, one who is a coffee evangelist. For years, the church has been stealing concepts from the business world. Why is one of the world’s best companies stealing lines from Christianity, namely evangelism? (13)

The church needs to regain the ability to teach “old dogmas new tricks.” (14, Bruce Sterling quotation)

The point of evangelism, according to this school of thought, is to win an argument. Evangelism also has been taught as a spiritual sales pitch, more nuanced perhaps than a religious argument but still relying on high pressure and ultimately committed to closing the deal. And if not an argument or a sales pitch, the gospel is neutered and reduced to an objective, nonrelational exercise in logic.” (14)

“I’ve never met anyone who was energized by cliche one-liners and subcultural kitsch. But offer people a meaningful, earth-changing mission and then just try to hold them back!” (15)

Sweet’s model for an evangelism experience is: “E.P.I.C.- Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich, Connective.”

“An EPIC faith is an upside-down, topsy-turvy faith that shows that God can turn buried trash into treasure. The Hebrew word for “Hell” was Sheol. Heaven was Shiloh. God can turn any Sheol into a Shiloh if you will let God take that pain, suffering, and ugliness and let God’s Spirit turn it upside down. Treasure chests can be hammered out of trash cans… The dominant story of the Scriptures, from Genesis to the maps, is the story of how God takes what is worst, least, and most contemptible and does what is greatest, best, and strongest. It is nothing less than the EPIC story of the gospel.” (26)

“Whenever I am interviewed, the question I’m almost always asked is this: ‘Dr. Sweet, do you believe in absolute truth?’ There is only one answer: ‘I more than believe in it. I know Absolute Truth personally.’ Absolute Truth is Jesus. The word absolute comes from the Latin absolvere, which means to ‘set free.’ Jesus said, ‘I am the… truth.” (30)

24% of Starbucks’s customers visit 16 times per month. No other fast-food chain can claim that success. (31)

“The shunned middle teaches us about authentic experience and tis irresistible attraction in the twenty-first century. Authentic experience does not flourish in the trampled soil of the anonymous masses. It grows instead in the rarified extremes, in the fertile mulch that’s building at the two ends of the well curve. (That’s not a typo. I wasn’t going for bell curve and missed the b key.) Avoidance of the middle explains why Starbucks does not sell a size called medium. Medium is not a virtue. What is the emotional strength of being not large but not small either? Just sort of there in between… a medium. The strength has left the middle. The Via Media has become the Via Mediocre, especially in a well-curve world, which is the land we live in, the post-bell-curve, world.” (38-39)

“Today, no company in its right mind would name itself General Motors or General Electric or General Foods. There is no general anything, no happy medium anymore. Both ends now play against the middle. In this mitosis of the middle where the ends are getting stacked, the liposuctioned middle is creating an hourglass society.” (40)

“The basic question of the Christian life is this: is Christ a living force to be experienced or a historical figure to be reckoned with?” (45)

The holy trinity of authenticity is provenance, beauty, and rarity. (47)

“If faith is not both an engagement and an experience, then it’s little more than a good idea. If faith is not beautiful in its practice, then it can easily devolve into an argument and a polemic. And who is looking for another argument? Did Jesus die to win an argument? Did Jesus die to give us a better position paper?” (47)

“Provenance- the process of growing a soul that radiates such beauty that it bears the Maker’s mark and bares the Creator’s signature. Most people today don’t fret over whether Christianity can get them to heaven. They want to know: ‘Will it make me a better person? Jesus did not call disciples so they could become Christlike. He called them so they could become ‘little Christs,’ or what I like to call spittin’ images. Some linguists argue that the phrase spittin’ image derives from the Southern dialect where spirit and image were contracted (some say corrupted) into one. To say that you are the spittin’ image of your father is to say that you bear both his spirit and image. You bring together the visible and invisible, the tangible and the intangible, of your parent. Jesus enables us to be his spittin’ image in both body and character.” (48-49)

“The world is not impressed that people attend church on Sunday morning. If anything, such a habit is viewed as a quaint waste of time. But imagine if every Christian in the world were living as a little Christ. Such provenance is not just a passionate transforming experience for the Christian; it’s also a tantalizing expression of the gospel to the outside world.” (50)

“Experiences should lead us to become expressions.” (51)

“Your body is meant to do more than carry your head around. To bear the Creator’s signature stamp of YHWH, you were designed by God to experience life with all of your senses until you become an expression of the divine. For a God who threw the divine bodily not our midst, for a God who knows what it is to be human, divine provenance requires that spirituality not be divorced from materiality. (51-52)

“To experience faith is to process what is received using the senses in both its ‘making sense’ (thinking) and multisensory (fivefold) meanings. You can’t truly experience something without thinking.” (53)

“Totally missing from the church today are the fossores, the professionals who dug the catacombs with picks and shovels and lamps, carved the inscriptions, decorated the graves, painted the walls, and presided at anniversary rituals. Fossores were part artist, part architect, part laborer, part clergy, part gardener (keeper of the cemetery). The fossorian combination of three basic functions- laborer (ditch digger), artist (painter, sculptor, architect), and priest- speak to our ancestors’ need for leaders proficient in the three transcendentals of being: beauty (create works of art), goodness (willingness to dig graves and carve stone slabs), and truth (ritual practices of formation and communion). (55)

All for now… more to come.


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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