Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lord, please watch over my latte

For decades, my newspaper has published a daily prayer, usually a one- or two-line, non-denominational benediction that falls somewhere between a sermon and "amen." Not quite communion, but more than a holy hors d'oeuvre.

Well, our daily prayer was a victim of Hurricane Rita, which literally wiped out our paper-newspaper for 10 days and still echoes nastily through our pages, which have not yet recovered their pre-Rita heft. The page where our prayer appeared (along with lotto numbers, the weather and celebrity birthdays) remains storm-tossed, a shadow of its former self. Other features -- such as our daily stock pages, our non-Rita regional news, and weekly entertainment calendar, among them -- have re-appeared only in the last few days, almost a month since Rita raged.

But what do you think has generated the most reader complaints? Yep, the missing prayer. Some readers have even deduced our true decadence, pointing out we have lottery numbers but no prayer. Some have threatened to cancel their subscription until the prayer returns. (Actually, it has already returned, in a new incarnation, on our Editorial page.)

OK, this is the Bible Belt. It's to be expected. Now, Starbucks is hoping for such faithful consumers: It plans to print a new series of quotable go-cups with thinly veiled religious quotes, according to USA Today ... today:

"Coffee drinkers could get a spiritual jolt with their java in the spring when Starbucks begins putting a God-filled quote from the Rev. Rick Warren, author of the mega-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, on its cups. It will be the first mention of God in the company's provocative quote campaign, The Way I See It. Some mention "faith in the human spirit," but none is overtly religious. Warren says the idea of a grande pitch for God as creator came to him after seeing a Starbucks quote on evolution from paleontologist Louis Leakey."
Once upon a time, wearing religion on your business's sleeve was a negative, but the article points out that many businesses are less guarded about it now. For example, Hobby Lobby isn't open on Sundays for religious reasons. Is there anything wrong with retail evangelism? From a free-speech perspective, absolutely not. Commercially, however, one risks alienating sectors in a diverse religious landscape (Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and anyone else with spendable income, whether he/she wants a new hammer or a new home.)

But because a business doesn't broadcast its faith -- as if a bricks-and-mortar, non-human institution can be religious -- doesn't mean it doesn't have good community values. The problem is confusing the business's press releases with its provable, substantive contributions to the values of its market. Words are cheap -- and nobody knows that better than a newspaper editor -- but action is priceless.

1 comment:

LawdyLawdy said...

Good for your newspaper to devote at least a couple lines every day to a prayer, but you gotta wonder about people who need their local paper to tell them what to pray! Sometimes the shallowness of so-called faithful people amazes me!

Great blog. Keep it up.