Saturday, August 26, 2017

The First Amendment & Starbucks

In honor of my deeply felt hesitation over a no-brainer. *

(I wrote this 11 years ago. I feel more strongly today and so I'm reposting it.)

My local Starbucks is a small shop. For those with a few minutes to sit and sip their coffee, there are only 15 seats. I love to sit and read.

But a few months ago, the same three people always seemed to arrive just before I got there, and took up the letters of Paul in very insistent, self-assured voices: here’s what the Greek really says in this passage of his letter to the Romans. The three became 4 and then 5. The noise level of their conversation rose as they read, translated, discussed, and even sometimes voiced a slight objection. They also took my favorite chair in the corner, and sectioned off the comfortable corner for their dialectic.

At the time, ironically, I was rereading one of my college professor’s books on religious culture in the first century of the Common Era: First Century Judaism in Crisis by Jacob Neusner. He introduced me to the towering figure of Yohanan ben Zakkai, and the flowering of rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the second Temple. This was a great place to get another perspective on Paul, or Rabbi Saul. And as it turns out, the latest unpacking of Paul's letters, reveals a rather unyielding portrait of the apostle who had a nasty rivalry with the disciples who knew the Jesus who lived and preached his gospel, the Paul who pulled the message of Jesus out of the confines of the Temple in Jerusalem and introduced it to a far-flung audience in the Greco-Roman world, perhaps even setting up his soap box in the coffee houses of Corinth and Rome!

After about a month of trying to be as tolerant as I could of Paul’s disciples, responding politely to their overtures and kind hellos, pondering the extent of the First Amendment, I had had enough. I asked for the manager and complained. She said that it was a very difficult and sensitive situation but that I was not alone and she would see what could be done. (Nothing was done, but that is another issue. I am not the only chicken).

I could have just stayed away. I could have just cut short my malicious thoughts about the evangelical highjacking of the Jesus record. I could have stopped my inner commentary about the idiocy of their suppositions. I might not have been vocal to almost everyone about the inappropriate use of a coffee shop - what are church halls for anyway? – when out of the offenders’ ear shot. But I did not. I just complained, not quite anonymously, but quietly when their backs were turned.

Perhaps just this post is again some confirmation of my guilt at having breached someone’s First Amendment rights.

Nah, I don’t need to hard on myself. They may have the right to speak, but I have the right not to be forced to listen.

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