For many years there has been a trend amongst churches to become a sort of “third place” (other than work or home) much like Starbucks. Starbucks revolutionized coffee as a sociological phenomenon by inviting people to take part in a culture away from the stressful side of life that included coffee but that was not limited to coffee. The coffee house has become a place to relax, to meet with friends, to study, and even to do business. Other coffee places have capitalized on this trend and the coffee house in the United States is different than anything we saw a few decades ago.
Now I have seen something interesting evolve. Our culture has had mixed feelings about tradition. Some think tradition matters; some thing tradition impedes progress. Many in the church have shared this concern. Yet it is tradition that many would say bring us a sort of stability, sureness, and even comfort.
The most recent marketing ad for Starbucks says, “Take Comfort in Rituals”. I find this ironic. For years the church has said, “Let’s be like Starbucks.” Now Starbucks is saying, “Let’s be like a religion!”
As I think about this I realize something odd. There is a comfort in ritual; there is a comfort in religion. There is a surety in act of worship (which is how James K.A. Smith would explain some of this). When I am at a mall in January through early November I want to finish as soon as possible, but in late November through December I kind of like being in the mall even though I wish I didn’t. I think this is because the ritual of holiday shopping creates a stability in life when the world around me is changing all the time.
This is why it is so hard to separate materialism from Christmas. I want to make Christmas about the birth of Christ and that alone, but my culture has made it so much more. To deny my desire to go to the mall, see the decorations, and experience the culture of it all is a difficult task at times.
That being said there has been a trend amongst many North American churches to be “less religious”. I think this is mistaken. We are religious beings. We take comfort in ritual. I know it is fall because of the leaves on the sidewalk and because the Pumpkin Spice latte is back. I will know it is almost Christmas, in part, when the Peppermint Mocha is a promoted drink on the Starbucks menu.
While tradition and ritual can be bad it can also be good. I like gathering together with other believers to sing songs, hear someone read from our script/story (the Scriptures), and observe the Eucharist/Communion. To some extent this is the value of liturgical calendars (though I don’t think my current fellowship observes this very closely). While there should be room for freedom of expression, flexibility, and cultralization, there should also be ritual. Ritual stabilizes us. Ritual brings comfort.