Wishing and Celebrating

The Starbucks coffee cup reads,

We invite you to listen to your desires and to renew your hope. To see the world not as it is, but as it could be. Go ahead. Wish. It’s what makes the holidays the holidays.

Wishing, it says, is “what makes the holidays the holidays.” Try not to see reality, the world as it is. Wish for something else. That’s what the celebration is all about.

Doesn’t that seem sad to you? It does to me. Not bad, not evil, but sad. How does wishing help us to renew hope? Maybe by allowing us to imagine that things don’t have to be this way. Great reforms have been led by men and women who have said, “this is not good, and it can be changed.” These are dreamers, though—not wishers. They live their lives in pursuit of fulfilling those dreams. Wishes are passive. Without a wish-granter, like some lucky leprechaun or fairy godmother, they are poignant reminders that things are not as we would like them to be. Beyond that they do nothing.

But wishing is a child-like thing to do, and Christmas, they say, is for the children, so I suppose that’s why the coffee cup speaks of wishes. Maybe it’s intended to remind us of our wishes and hopes of childhood, before we saw the world as it was, or when we saw it for what it was but hadn’t learned yet that wishes by themselves do nothing. Except for this: when we were children, some of us discovered that expressing our wishes toward our parents resulted in our wishes coming true on Christmas morning. Parents can be wish-granters. If the wish-granter parent is wise, he or she will know when it is best to grant the wish and when it is best not to. And then if that parent has the resources to match the good wishes, children often do find their wishes come true.

Many of us experienced this kind of thing as children. Many of us wish we did. All of us would rather see the world as it could be than as it is, because regardless of where we came from, all of us have been disappointed with the way the world is.

Some have said Christianity is about believing in a magical wish-granter. Let us ignore (this time at least) the impact of such loaded language and simply ask, suppose someone has a wish and directs it toward God: is there someone there listening, or is God as unreal as the leprechaun? Could he actually be a wish-granter, in the same way the wise parent can be at Christmas? Is that such an outlandish thought?

Hope must have a real basis, or else it is empty wishing indeed. Israel’s hope for a Messiah was based on centuries of relationship with God, and on his promises. Celebration ought to involve something more than closing our eyes to reality: there ought to be something truly good and joyful to celebrate together. What has made the “holidays” the “holidays” for millions of people for many years has been that the “holidays” included Christmas, celebrating the fulfillment of Israel’s hope, and Christ as the basis for our own renewed hope.

My sadness is for those whose holidays are about what the coffee cup says they are: wishing the world was different. It is a cup that tastes of disappointments and empty hopes. In reality the holiday of Christmas is about God making the world different, full, and bright. It’s about hopes fulfilled and disappointments turned into joy.

My wish for you—my prayer to the really existing God for you—is that you will taste the reality of celebration. God has come to renew our hope, to begin to make the world what it really can be, even to make us what we really can be. And to show how great he is in doing so!

Don’t just “Go ahead. Wish.” Celebrate!

Comments 10
  1. jennypo

    Interesting – I was struck with the same sense of sadness when I saw this written on a sign outside my local Starbucks. Is that really all “the holidays” mean? Have our hopes been unfulfilled? Is empty wishing all we have left?
    Every morning I read that and I give thanks that Starbucks is wrong, after all, and that there is something far more beautiful and effective than “wishing” to brighten the holidays…and the everydays.

  2. Tom Gilson

    I should add that Starbucks seems to have exemplified the difference between wishing and dreaming in at least one way, even if their coffee cup sentiment is sadly confused. I looked at their website this morning and found that they have raised funds for 7 million days of AIDS medications for Africa. Kudos to them for that.

  3. brgulker

    I don’t really agree here. I get the heart of what you’re saying, as it’s expressed in the final paragraphs, but to be perfectly honest, I think your critique of Starbucks’ choice of “wish” is making a smallish mountain out of a molehill.

    I think there is something to be said in favor of the power of imagination. Imagination isn’t just limited to childhood fantasies; imagination enables us to envision a future that’s different from the past and present.

    Or perhaps this is just one big game of semantics, because as I said, I completely agree with your concluding paragraphs, which in my reading begin here, with a statement I wholeheartedly affirm:

    Hope must have a real basis, or else it is empty wishing indeed.

  4. Kevin Mattson

    Long ago a wise old man asked me if I could play the piano.

    I said, “No, but I always wished I did.”

    “Not bad enough, though, eh?” he smiled.

    It smarted for a bit. But then, God could never speak through a bartender, could he?

  5. Holopupenko

    begulker:

    You appear not to understand the important difference between imagination and conception.

    Through the latter our minds (i.e., we) “see” that which is accessible to the five primary senses or that which we can “put together” based on sensory data. We can imagine [i.e., we “image” or “picture”] real existing things (our old home recalled from memory, our pet rock), we can imagine things that don’t exist anywhere except in our minds (a pentagon), we can imagine things that don’t exist in reality but are fully based on sensory data and that have natures (a mountain as I “see” it in my mind), and we can imagine things that neither exist in reality nor have natures (a purple people eater).

    To conceive of something is quite a different thing: we conceive of things that can never be accessed through our five primary senses but which nonetheless we know exist because we reason to their existence. Some thing are pure beings of reason (the scientific method, the rules of chess, etc.) that are human artifacts and hence in some way exist… but certainly not materially reducible to the materialism of the reductionists on the other side of the isle. Some things are universals (dogginess, catness, etc.) that exist in things but also in a very different sense. Some things, like angels, can be reasoned to and which have natures, but cannot be seen.

    One cannot imagine an angel, one cannot imagine a chiligon, one cannot imagine peace–one must conceive of all three; one cannot conceive of a purple people eater because it has no nature. When one says they “know” Obama’s “hope for change” or atheism are based on disordered understandings of reality, this person doesn’t “imagine” these truths but “has” conceptions of them. And, for among other reasons, that’s why John Lennon’s song “Imagine” is so childish and reflective of a disordered and ignorant mind–a mind that was based on “empty wishing indeed”.

    So, no, Tom is not playing a game of semantics: the distinctions are, in fact, extremely important. One need only dig deeper to uncover the real intentions of Starbucks (the telos) of what’s driving them: true concern for ailing people as called for by an understanding of their dignity as created in the image and likeness of God [quite doubtful], or for politically-correct reasons that take advantage of marketing tactics and benefits to them [quite likely]. My understanding is Starbuck’s “concern” for radical homosexual causes trumps their “concern” for unborn children, and that’s why their coffee “tastes” bad to me… which, according to DL, is the way moral categories ought to be.

  6. brgulker

    Holpupenko,

    So, no, Tom is not playing a game of semantics

    I never said he was. What I said was that perhaps the net result of my comment was me playing a language game, i.e., intending different meanings when using the same/similar words, all while affirming the central point of Tom’s post!

    As to your objection to me using imagination: you’ve assumed a definition that I did not intend. I did not elaborate on the comment very much; this is all that I said:

    imagination enables us to envision a future that’s different from the past and present.

    Here are some alternative definitions for imagination that get at what I meant:

    The ability to confront and deal with reality by using the creative power of the mind; resourcefulness:

    These nouns refer to the power of the mind to form images, especially of what is not present to the senses.

    the faculty or action of producing ideas, esp. mental images of what is not present or has not been experienced

    mental creative ability

    the ability to deal resourcefully with unexpected or unusual problems, circumstances, etc

    Reference: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/imagination

    So if I were to say something like, I can imagine a world without war, hunger, and violence, I would be using the word to describe a state of existence that is “not present [and] has not been experienced.”

    So in that sense, I don’t have a problem at all with how Starbucks puts it:

    We invite you to listen to your desires and to renew your hope. To see the world not as it is, but as it could be.

    I’m all for that! And I think all Christians should be!

    Sure, I’d want to add to it if I were going to employ a phrase like that theologically, but I don’t see it as categorically bad either. I certainly don’t understand the definition of the word “imagine” to be limited to “empty wishing,” as you seem to. I’m not alone in that regard either. At least one OT scholar that I’m aware of uses the term in a way similar to how I just did.

    Anyway, I don’t know why you chose to immediately blame me for misunderstanding (I’m not going to take it personally) when you’re the one who’s misunderstood what I meant by the term imaginary. I also don’t understand why you chose to engage in a game of semantics (conceive vs. imagine) after I freely admitted that my objection to Tom might boil down to different usages of language in the first place.

    You ought to check your tone, frankly, because twice now you’ve come across as grossly condescending to me, and both times, completely unprovoked.

  7. Holopupenko

    That I don’t rely on non-rigorous sources such as thefreedictionary.com or Wikipedia (because nuanced technical distinction are important) is not to be interpreted as “grossly condescending”—provoked or otherwise… although you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Some of the “alternate” definitions you provide are not only non-rigorous but incorrect (“the faculty or action of producing ideas”—an idea is not an image). I realize you employed the term loosely—that’s clear… but it might have been better had you stated explicitly your intention to employ a poetic (in the logical sense) approach. (“Theological”?!?) The poetic approach is valid and important, but it can also be misused or abused (again, Lennon, Starbucks, etc.)… and, I would hasten to add, the problem with the liberal theological interpretations of Scripture of Brueggeman, whom you reference… and hence, again, why distinctions are important. If that’s “provocative,” then perhaps I’m not the origin of said “provocation.”

  8. brgulker

    That I don’t rely on non-rigorous sources such as thefreedictionary.com ……

    Give me a break. I’m at my desk at the office; forgive me for not getting out my Encyclopedia Brittannica.

    Some of the “alternate” definitions you provide are not only non-rigorous but incorrect

    Prove it! If you are going to 1) claim that the way I’m using the word is “incorrect and 2) claim that the source for my definition isn’t “rigorous” enough for you, then at least don’t be a hypocrite about it. If you’re going to play the “rigorous” card, then you’re obligated to offer your own “rigorous” response to my objection.

    So prove to me using any widely accepted dictionary that the way in which I used the word “imaginary” is incorrect — especially after I’ve gone to great lengths to explain to you what I meant by the term in context.

    but it might have been better had you stated explicitly your intention to employ a poetic (in the logical sense) approach.

    I wasn’t trying to be poetic, and I wasn’t trying to be theological. I said if I were to try to employ the phrase from Starbucks, I would want to add some of the exact same content that Tom did in his opening paragraphs.

    But more to the point — I used the word as it is literally, not poetically, defined.

    The poetic approach is valid and important, but it can also be misused or abused

    Again, I would say, prove it. I don’t see any abuse in the Starbucks comment (and I don’t care about Lennon, no offense). From a Christian theological perspective — whether liberal, conservative, or anywhere in-between — the statement is incomplete. Yes, it’s missing something. I don’t dispute that. But I hardly see it as an abuse, as you’ve called it without making a case as to why.

    I would hasten to add, the problem with the liberal theological interpretations of Scripture of Brueggeman, whom you reference… and hence, again, why distinctions are important.

    Um, okay? I personally think Brueggeman is more centrist than you appear to, but that’s beside the point. Again, an assertion without any support. Prove it.

    I stand by my original statement. There is something to be said in favor of the power of imagination. We experience the world, and it feels broken; things do not feel as they ought. We have the capacity to imagine something different, wholeness, peace, shalom. And we have the power to do something about it — we can participate in God’s mission to the world through loving and serving others.

    If you want to object to any of that, then fine. But be rigorous! I don’t expect any non-scholarly or internet sources in your response. I want a Webster’s definition, with page number, of the word “imagination” that directly rules out the definitions I proposed earlier. I want a theological refutation of how I’ve described the human experience of a fallen world, as well as thorough critique of how I’ve presented the Christian call to service in the world.

    If you don’t do those things, then I will know that you hold others to a standard to which you are not willing to hold yourself. If that happens, then you’ve acted hypocritically, and I will feel justified in parting ways.

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