Things I Don’t Understand: Syria, the Pumpkin Spice Latte & the Immediate Response to Hate Change

A few weeks ago the military strike against Syria seemed eminent. Syria has been a violent mess for years and now we were calling it out. It’s been intense and heavily critiqued (as military action should be). Some have wondered why now? As others have pointed out, it’s an odd message to say, “You can kill your citizens with gunfire, bombs and knives but not with chemical weapons please.”

As you might know, a significant part of the Syrian conflict has to do with oil and Syria is in situated in a strategic place both geographically and politically. You can start figuring out who benefits if you follow the money and power. Applying the logic of who loses will help in our understanding of the interests of the US and other Arab countries. Yes it’s about money – otherwise why would Russia and Syria be allies?

This I get.

What I don’t understand is why things like money and power cannot be shared. Instead we learn from every corner of the world throughout all of history that in order for someone to gain, someone must lose. This happens everywhere including our country and among other reasons, the fact that it’s universal tells us this is part of the brokenness of the human condition, it’s a failing of our hearts. It makes for great drama in professional sports but it’s tragic to see in high schools, in families, in churches and in many other places in life.

I’m taking a day off from being cynical but why can’t things like money and power be shared? I realize someone will come along and say this is naive, fairly-taleish and the polite people will explain there is only so much money to go around and it doesn’t work that way, etc.


I get that the world is violent, I get the world is greedy. I get that it’s complicated and gray. I get the story of Cain and Abel. These days, like so many, are littered with so much tragedy, suffering, and hopelessness and so much of it is so unnecessary and senseless. Why do we settle for this?

I realize this blog post is not going to be an intelligent platform to find solutions to the crisis in Syria but I see no reason why we can’t be asking these questions. Practically speaking, why can’t multiple multiple pipelines supply Europe? If power and profit can be shared, violence be curbed, children educated and families nurtured – wow.

I know such idealism from a pastor writing from Starbucks is laughable but I think the solutions coming from the experts with military intelligence, security clearance and access to so much mental thought is just as absurd. I just can’t help but think the Christian narrative of peace, forgiveness, provision, loving the other can inform us when it comes to crisis like Syria.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Now from the extremely important to the completely mundane, I can’t get over the hype of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Every time I walk into a Starbucks, I’m just baffled by it’s over-the-top marketing and I say this as someone who has assumed to be generally desensitized to marketing.

If you haven’t heard, Starbucks is celebrating the PSL’s 10th Anniversary. Now even as a mildly obsessed coffee drinker, I find it hard to believe that we are celebrating the anniversary of such a drink. Second, I am still not convinced it tastes better than the Hazelnut Latte or the White Chocolate Mocha or anything with cinnamon (insert Seinfeld’s “People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh this is so good, what’s in it?” The answer invariably comes back, “Cinnamon.” “Cinnamon.” Again and again.”)

I understand that Starbucks needs to make money and the PSL has a bit of a sub-culture and we all like to get excited about something, preferably something that is non-confrontational. It just puzzles me. What also puzzles me is how I can sit here, read about Syria and my next thought be about the Pumpkin Spice Latte. This brings up two realizations.

The first is being reminded of Neil Postman’s words in Amusing Ourselves to Death. When talking about the television coverage of the crisis in Iran in the 1980’s he said something to the effect, “Do you know what you are planning to do about this crisis? Allow me to take the liberty in answering for you. The answer is nothing. You’re going to do nothing” (pardon the brutal paraphrase). Postman’s idea was to some measure, we watch the news to be entertained on some level (much more complicated than that but you get the idea).

Second was realizing the life of luxury I and so many enjoy – We can be critical of the marketing of a latte! Really, this is baffling.

Now I know I should not even admit to such a thing and worse, I know there are countless other meaningless things vying for my attention. Not only have I taken the time to wonder about the drink, I’ve spent time writing about how this is wasteful energy. The only gains were realizing that thankfully, I am startled by the attention given to a coffee drink’s 10th anniversary and the constant reminder of being more intentional with my time and focus.

There could be more of these lattes in other corners of my life that appear less obvious but at the moment I am perplexed by the attention given to this drink’s anniversary.

Resistance to Change
And as I take inventory of my thoughts, I am thinking about our reactions to change. For those of you nearer to me, don’t read too much into the timing of this post as I could really post any time. Over my 13 years of ministry, I’ve either observed or been part of a few changes. I’ve been on both sides, the leadership side and the non-leadership. I’ve had the news affect me positively and potentially negatively. And never once has any announcement of news been received well by all. Never once.

What’s confusing and interesting is that I’ve been part of many environments where people say, “It’s the same old, same old, nothing ever changes. There is no vision, there is no plan, there is no hope.”

I’ve learned if there is no change, we complain. And when there is change, we still complain. You’d like to think that it’s the different people complaining but in all honestly, many times it’s the very same people.

Now it’s easy to dismiss this and say unhelpful things like “Complainers complain” and “Whiners whine.” That is, if you care about those who the changes affects. In the church world, most changes intend to serve others, address blind-spots, find solutions to problems. So it’s best to not be dismissive as it hurts others and undermines the big-picture.

I realize change is disruption, I know we’ve all been betrayed by leadership types and some changes have brought us pain. I’m just always taken back by how fast the reaction is to hate change, even before understanding the reasons and potential good that may came from it.

So it’s easy to think, “Well, let’s not change stuff then. The headaches aren’t worth it. Just go on cruise-control and take the path of least resistance.”
But that is not good for anyone either. In church settings, the congregation (and others in the community) would truly suffer in the longterm from such a mentality.

The truth is I’m not in a bad mood, nor am I experiencing a doldrum in my spiritual life, or that one of my kids poked me in the eye to wake me up this morning and boobey-trapped my bedroom floor with legos. The thinking, journaling, blogging, teaching, well, I have come to discover this all connected for me (and I’d absolutely love more conversation from faithful readers).

I find a lot of goodness in these moments, reminds to be humble and not overestimate my problem-solving skills, it moves me to prayer, and helps me find focus on what’s not important and what is.


  1. I didn’t realize the PSL was on its 10th anniversary this year, but the marketing machine for it was starting to wear on me especially on Twitter. In the juxtaposition of Syria and today the Govt shut down the craze of everything Pumpkin seems insane, but I appreciate how you point out that we can criticize a latte, simply by the time and place of our lives.

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