or How I Sold My Faith For A T-Shirt
by Eric Lancaster
It comes in the mail every month or so, the catalog with lots of stuff in it. My wife buys out of it for the crafts are fairly inexpensive and the kids in her Sunday School class have fun putting them together. And as I was eating my Post Toasties this morning I was thumbing through it and one word came to mind... kitsch.
The voice of my old Youth Pastor echoed in my memory, "How do people know you are a Christian?" The 70's folk song told us "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love", referring to Paul's exhortation in I Corinthians 12 and 13 and John's eloquent and sometimes hard-to-swallow treatise on love in his epistles. But how do people really know we are Christians?
This question has bothered me because just looking at me (or you for that matter) it's hard to tell if I am or not. But if I'm wearing a WWJD bracelet, a T-Shirt that looks like it's hawking Coca-Cola but really isn't, or have a necklace in the shape of three nails, then you'll know I'm a Christian. I understand the desire to show off our faith. It's something we are proud of. We want others to know, without a shadow of a doubt that we are Christians. We put "Jesus Fish" on our cars. We put the little-boy-praying-under-a-cross window sticker on our mini-van. We put "Know God, Know Peace. No God, No Peace" license plate frames on the back of our four door sedans.
Somewhere the idea of showing you are a Christian got a little sidetracked. Let me give you some examples of what I'm talking about. Back to the catalog: Plastic "HE LIVES!" slinkies, "Jesus Is In My Heart" paddle balls, plush "I'm A Lamb Of God" stuffed toys, plastic Easter eggs full of "Testamints", plastic crystal crosses in day-glo colors, stretchable candy cross jewelry, cross shaped candy ring pops, Bible verse fortune cookies, and the list goes on. The folks at www.ship-of-fools.com have their "Gadgets For God" corner displaying some of the more "creative" ones. The Door Magazine features others in its "Truth Is Stranger Than..." section. And any search on Yahoo or Google will lead you to well-meaning (and some not-so-well-meaning) people who hawk this stuff.
It seems we Christians, in an attempt to spread the Good News that is Jesus Christ, have resorted to kitsch to sell the Kingdom of God. We've gone from a simple plaque on the wall that says, "As For Me And My House..." to a bowl full of "Cross Worry Stones", little, smoothed rocks with a black cross stamped on them. We've taken a talented artist like Thomas Kincaid and made it the only acceptable art to buy if you want people to know you are a Christian. The "Glass Praying Hands with Gold Trim" has replaced the flesh and blood, calloused and worn hands of real people praying. We "Honk If We Love Jesus" but we're quick to mutter "moron" when someone cuts us off. We give out Chick Tracts at Halloween instead of inviting the neighbor kids to our homes for fun and games. We've replaced taking a step of faith with a "Leap For The Lord! Potato Sack" complete with green frogs painted on the side. We've so separated ourselves from the world we've become a plastic-fantastic, good-time-Charlie version of ourselves, unable to relate to those who don't have the "We Love Jesus, Yes We Do! We Love Jesus, How About You?" bumper stickers.
In other words, we've become irrelevant to the world. We're like Masons; we can be identified only by our secret handshake, except our secret handshake is sold for $10.99 a dozen plus tax.
My beef is not with those who practice what they preach while wearing the "Jesus Beat Satan With a Big 'Ol Stick" T-shirt. My beef is with people who only drink milk from a Christian cow, buy only from the Christian Yellow pages, purchase their house from a Christian Realtor. (Did they get a "Christian Mortgage Rate"?)
My beef is with those who feel they must plaster the name of Jesus on something to a) make it palatable to the Christian marketplace, b) provide a cheap substitute for the message of Christ for those too lazy to make a stand, and c) make Christians a laughing-stock in the community.
Christ told us the world would revile us because of Him. He said in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me." John tells us the reason the world does not know us is because the world does not know Him.
If I'm truly to be known as a Christian by my love, then wearing a $15 t-shirt or owning the entire "Left Behind" series doesn't cut the mustard. The words of my mouth and the desires of my heart must match my actions. John said in I John 3:18, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue (or t-shirt or bumper sticker or...), but with actions and in truth.
Dear children, how do people know I am a Christian? Sometimes they don't. And for that I am ashamed. And yet, others will say there is something different about me. My martial arts instructor and others in the class call it "benevolence". Others know in any discussion in the marketplace of ideas, my thoughts come from a different set of beliefs. And yet others find out that my wife and I, or our family has done something, not so as to be seen by others and thus receive our reward from man, but because it is who we are.
I know there are others out there like that. I've seen them. They are the ones in the park not only feeding the homeless but giving them a hot shower and a new set of clothes before they drive them to the job interview. They are the ones who quietly go to the inner city, on their own dime, to give free medical or dental work. They are the ones who stop by and vacuum the house of the mean old lady across the street because she's bound to a wheel chair. It's the youth group who picks up the trash on the side of the freeway for someone else. It's the family who makes the little girl from their daughters school feel welcome in a home full of love because her own home is filled with a steady rotation of boyfriends for her mom.
They are the ones who follow John's admonition that we "must walk as Jesus did".