(Thanks Dwight Parker for the title, friendship and inspiration. You are a Rock Star!)
When is a t-shirt just a t-shirt and when is it a smug statement in the face of the world?
Recently I wore my cross to church. That’s something I almost never do and it’s not because it’s ugly. It’s not because I don’t respect what it stands for. If anything I have greater respect for it than I did during my years drinking the kool aid and toeing the proverbial line at my old patriarchal church. I do not want to dishonor what the cross represents.
My cross is beautiful, platinum set with blue sapphires and tanzanites. But I tremble over wearing such an ostentatious symbol of belief around my neck for a variety of reasons.
Back when I was a new Christian attending Possum Creek Christian Fellowship many of the people there wore emblems, t-shirts, jewelry that proudly proclaimed that they were Bible-believing Christians, as if the world couldn’t tell by the floral print cotton jumpers the ladies wore and the polyester pants and button-down shirts of the menfolk.
The t-shirts were imprinted with slogans like “The Devil Is Ugly As Sin” or “John 3:16” or various pious scripture. Bumper stickers abounded on fleets of 15 passenger rolling scrap iron vans in local church parking lots proclaiming that abortion was murder or that you need Jesus RIGHT NOW! Sometimes you’re instructed to “Honk If You Love Jesus”
I remember that my best friend, Josie, had two crosses I envied. One was gold with a stunning number of large diamonds mounted in it and the other was also gold, but a more rococo setting with garnets like drops of blood. I started to save for my tanzanite and sapphire one after wishing for a beautiful gem stone encrusted cross like Josie’s.
Now I look back and it all seems so silly, like status symbols one needs in middle school, like gang affiliations, like ridiculous couture clothing. Instead of doo-rags and those pants that sag to the ground you can hide beers in we ID ourselves with all sorts of things to provide a cultural identity in the Church. I realize now how smug, how proud, how elitist we were in our badges of self righteousness. How unapproachable we must have been in our upright Christian gear, like well-scrubbed indoctrinated cult members instead of average people who believe in God and love others. False pride and we were proud of that pride. Like lemmings lockstep marching along.
I am not even sure what it is that drives people to do things like that, label themselves or put on a public show. A couple of months ago I saw Pastor Hilltop and his non-dancing minions bedecked in t-shirts that had the church name on the back and said on the front “Random Acts Of Kindness” He and his flock were handing out hot cups of apple cider in front of Wal-Mart as their random act of kindness.That really made me laugh, not only were they sporting matching Tees with their church name on it but they were deliberately giving people cider. Isn’t the whole point of random acts of kindness being that it’s random and you’re not shouting out to the world what you’re doing? I have to conclude this branding has more to do with “LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME I’M SOOOOOOO RIGHTEOUS!” more than any desire to ‘help’ others or show your faith.
Would any of that ever influence anyone with half a brain to join? ‘I wanna hear more about this Jesus because of your cool t-shirts!’ was something I never heard in all the outreaches I was involved in where we wore our totems of faith just like Hilltop Church. I think that prideful branding just drives others away and turns off most people.
The second part of the problematic nature of wearing things like that or putting a Jesus Fish on your car is that you better be behaving like a Christian twenty four hours a day or you’re making a liar out of everything you say you believe in. You cannot affiliate yourself with Christ so openly, so publicly and still behave like the village jerk. I think most of us, even with the best intentions, devolve into jerkdom at least once per day.
The church has been accused of hypocrisy many times through the years and the world perceives most Christians as big old hypocrites. It’s exactly this stuff that really shows that many are big old hypocrites. People like that holler about Jesus and believing while doing things in public that put lie to their words, not knowing that the world is judging them and saying something like “Look at those assclowns.”
I was reminded of this just the other day when a 15-passenger van filled with kids and covered with popular Christian bumper stickers and a Jesus fish on the back cut me off in traffic When I honked I got the middle finger from the driver for my efforts. I laughed at the freaking hypocrite. Great witless witness lady!
Now that I’ve been out of Possum Creek Christian Fellowship for years I can see both the harm to others this does and the bad example this sets. Let me take this opportunity to say I’m deeply sorry to anyone I may have harmed spiritually when I was participating in this cult behavior. I apologize also to those who’ve been offended by one of these less than loving Christians in fancy wrappers.
Branding yourself like that doesn’t do anything to increase your faith so why do it?
This is another one of those things that looks completely different after you’ve been out of the Patriarchal Fundamentalist movement for a time. You look back thinking how nice it is not to be engaging in such foolish things and to have the freedom to put subversive bumper stickers on your car or wear any t-shirt you want.
Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.