by Patrick Hall
Outsourcing is a recurring topic every election season. Pundits and candidates for office score political points by pounding podiums and particleboard newsroom desks while belching vacuous indignation over the flight of American jobs to overseas markets. Yet, even as we ride the bump of righteous anger, we keep the focus narrow. Corporates, profiteers, fat cats – they are the outsourcers and we the deprived. We never allow the conversation to wander past the tropes of villainy that make glorious fodder for the televised drama of our political life. I suspect this intense focus is a subconscious reaction to a truth we all intuit, but would prefer not to acknowledge: we are ALL outsourcers.
We all delegate our daily problems to paid professional experts rather than muddle through, relying on our own wisdom and resources. The most tragic casualty of our rampant outsourcing is the vocation of parenthood. For a variety of reasons, some systemic and some cultural, mothers and fathers expect more from the people who care for their children than ever before. This parental outsourcing has become especially pronounced among the middle and upper middle class people who make up the bulk of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal parishes that provide Christian community for children and young families find themselves under constant pressure to accommodate demand-y parents who expect the Church to meet all their children’s religious needs with an hour of program on Sunday, and perhaps a couple more during the week.
The most egregious parental outsourcers are the Starbucks™ parents, who apparently frequent every parish everywhere, and commit the fatal sin of depositing their toddling issuance at the foot of some well-meaning Sunday school teacher whose name they don’t know so that they can zip around the block and indulge their seasonal addiction to pumpkin spice lattes (which I sort of totally understand because they taste REALLY REALLY good).
Among church-ers nationwide, Starbucks parents have become a symbol for the religious outsourcing that is putting such pressure on our Christian communities in a variety of ways that go far beyond our Sunday schools. Naturally there is much venting and grousing about Starbucks parents at staff meetings and curriculum planning sessions. Most biting is the sense that these parents have no genuine interest in actually participating in the Spiritual life of our communities. They view the Church as a service-provider whose task is to inculcate “good values” in their children, and nothing more. The Starbucks parents and their unrepentant outsourcing remind us that the Church finds itself in a hostile cultural environment, where the obstacles to genuine Christian Spiritual formation are proliferate and complicated.
But, taking a lesson from the vapidity and stuckness of our national political discourse, it would be prudent for us to make this conversation more than a bitchfest on the small-time villainy of religious outsourcers and Starbucks parents. These people incarnate an urgent challenge facing the Church in post-Christendom: How do we strike a proper balance between an evangelical welcome to all comers, and a passionate fidelity to our increasingly foreign Christian identity? The best answers to this question will be rooted in the Scriptural narrative and a THEOLOGICAL vision of Christian community – not some ridiculous “BULLETPOINTS FOR GETTING THE STARBUCKS PARENTS” that fits on a tacky power-point slide.
The Rev'd Patrick Hall is the Episcopal Missioner to Rice University in Houston, TX. He enjoys making ridiculous and obscure statements on twitter that arouse bafflement and consternation among his followers.