Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Brief Polemic Against a Bumper Sticker Faith

Beware the bumper sticker faith, my brothers and sisters.

You know what I'm talking about. There are lots of different types: those who prefer icthus fishes to express their faith for them (and those who go one step further, in case anyone didn't get the picture), and those who prefer hellfire and damnation stickers; there are those who choose cutesie stickers with theologically shallow messages, those who prefer theological stickers with thinly veiled political agendas, those who prefer political stickers with thinly veiled theological agendas, and then there are those of us that just prefer stickers, period:

(This is my own truck, by the way)

I say again: beware of this, my friends.

Admittedly, I am just as guilty of this as any. And it's pretty easy to see how others derive satisfaction from the lazy activism that bumper stickers afford. I enjoy waiting at the millions of stoplights on the main highway that runs through my town, watching in my rear-view mirror the expressions of unsuspecting drivers who pull up behind me as they read the stickers that plaster the backglass of my camper shell. These looks are extremely gratifying, ranging anywhere from, "Ugh. He's a Christian with a big mouth," to "Hooray! He must be a liberal!" to "What the hell does that even mean?"

But we must realize that a bumper sticker faith—like a faith that relies on so-called "contemporary worship" songs to emotionally stir the person singing them—often says more about the person who shows them off than it does about the causes they represent. Telling the world that you are against abortion or the death penalty is the bumper sticker equivalent of bragging to your entire congregation, "I could sing of Your love forever!"

When we begin to let our catchy slogans speak the truth of the Gospel for us, we're just being lazy, or clinging to what we know is safe when we know that we should be sticking our neck out. In a video interview made for Alter Video Magazine by The Work of the People, Phyllis Tickle says this on the "politicalization of spiritual virtues":


We have our liberal or conservative niches (or even moderate niches, I'm now finding), where we titter and gossip about what our niche is doing right that the the other niche is doing wrong. We get angry at the injustice of the world and pound our fists and get red in the face—but none of this really does all that much. We convince ourselves that we can't really do anything where we are at the moment—or worse, we erroneously try to convince ourselves that we actually ARE doing something where we are at the moment—but that's really just a cover for our own shameful inactivity.

If all you're doing for the Kingdom is talking about it, or blogging about it, or tweeting about it, you're not really doing anything at all for it, are you? It's much easier to do these things than to actually commit to some level of activity. To paraphrase Tickle, your activism and "noise" should only arise from the experience of serving others. I know that I often try to do this the other way around, and it just doesn't work. If you really want to "be the change you wish to see in the world," it begins with love, and it begins with the simplest actions born out of love: Feed a stranger. Stop when you see someone stranded on the highway, no matter how much of a hurry you think you're in. Give money to those people who wait at the interstate ramps, even if you are assuming they will use it to buy drugs—a radical idea, right? Better yet, pick one of them up and take them out to lunch.

I'm gonna get off this stinkin' computer and go do something.

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