Adventures in Recovery: They Will Know We Are Christians By The Fish On Our Car

(Thanks Dwight Parker for the title, friendship and inspiration. You are a Rock Star!)

by Calulu

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.

Read all posts by Calulu!

  • Wendy

    Oh, my, yes. As a resident of the bible belt, it’s just tiresome how often a Lexus with a Jesus fish is parked in the fire lane. And shouldn’t that WWJD reminder be inside one’s own car?

    Terrific post. “Prideful branding” is my new favorite expression.

  • http://padremickey.blogspot.com Padre Mickey

    One day a Very Important and Wonderfully Christian lady was driving on her way to a seminar. Her car was covered with fish stickers and “Honk if you love Jesus” stickers and even the popular “Follow Me To Church!” sticker. She stopped at a traffic light and there was a car in front of hers. When the light changed, the car in front was unable to start. She started honking her horn as she was in a big hurry. This made the driver in front of her nervous and he flooded his car trying to start it, so they were all just sitting there as the light changed again. This made our Christian friend so angry that she started hollering at the person in front of her, honking her horn and gesturing with her middle finger. Suddenly a police officer was at her window. She rolled it down and the officer asked for her license and registration. She gave them to the officer; he looked at them and then arrested her! He took her to jail. An hour later her husband appeared at her cell with the officer. The officer apologized to her and said, “When I saw all the stickers on your car and how you were behaving to that person in front of you, I was sure that you had stolen the car!!”

  • JEB

    LMAO!! That’s too funny. “I was sure that you had stolen the car!!”

  • Jenny Islander

    More crass than a Jesus fish on a car: A Jesus fish on an ad. It’s almost a sure-fire way to spot a sleazy, dishonest business owner. I have heard so many stories of people who put Jesus fish on their ads and then expected the rules to be broken for them because they were Christian. They demanded unoffered discounts, ignored due dates on bills, knowingly sold defective goods, etc., and when called on it, replied, “But we’re a Christian business!”

    Even more crass than that: Going into a restaurant in your church clothes, running the waitstaff ragged with endless demands and complaints, and then leaving a tract that looks like money on the outside in lieu of a tip. Do the people who do this crap realize that waitstaff are taxed on their expected earnings? Do they realize that their base wage is never enough to live on and they need those tips to get by? Or do they just not care?

  • http://www.normalisamyth.blogdrive.com Dee White

    Thanks for the plug and glad you didn’t preface “rock star” with aging or former. I had a neat experience last week that’s appropriately ironic in light of your essay. At home for spring break, I was preparing to do some writing for school. Dressed in old, “go the gym” clothes, I had just sit down when the doorbell rang. Yes, it was those wonderful representatives of the Watchtower. Taking a cue from my father, I invited them in with syrupy enthusiasm and gave them booming grenades of love. I even made a fresh pot of coffee. It was pleasant. I was my religiously aloof postmodern Red-Letter Christian self, and even threw in some quotes from Ghandi and Socrates. When they left, my final remark was ” I hope everyone you meet today will be as nice as I.” They chuckled. When I went back inside, saw my reflection in the glass and noticed I was wearing one of those Cult of Christian America “God Bless America” t-shirts, adorned with the Bible wrapped in the stars and stripes some well-meaning person had given me as a gift. (we can do kitsch, hallelujah) I almost laughed out loud.

  • Calulu

    Dee White, I cannot see you being smug and prideful like most sporting shirts like that. Glad those Watchtower folks ended up on your doorstep instead of mine because you’re way better at that sort of stuff than me. I got into a fight the last time the Mormons showed up. Kitsch is good, you should see some of the t-shirts I still hang onto. But I wear them in the yard or scrubbing the floor now.

  • denelian

    as a one-time member of those waitstaffs [and worse - a pizza delivery driver who delivered a dozen or MORE pizzas to various churches on Sunday to NO tips, EVER, and often a lecture on how it was wrong of me to WORK on a Sunday - no matter the fact that i was working so THEY could get their pizza!] i’ll say that, in general, they DON’T CARE.
    as far as they’re concerned [as far as i can tell] “money is Mammon” and tipping would somehow be “evil”. better for the poor waitstaff to starve to death or be evicted than TIP them!

    i could be wrong – i know, since i’ve been unable to work, i’ve been telling people all over the damned place that TIPPING SHOULD BE MANDATORY. sure, the signs say delivery drivers make “$13-17 and hour” but that’s WITH TIPS – most make minimum wage or a bit more, and “milage” – which is set by the fed rate and no longer covers the GAS, let alone tires, brakes and other wear-and-tear on one’s car.
    and that WAITSTAFF make $2.13 an hour! that’s *IT* – they’re expected to make up to minimum wage thru tips – and if they don’t, sometimes they’re written up and they STILL pay taxes as IF they’d made minimum wage.

    the answer is to start paying them what they’re worth, WITHOUT the tips, but that will NEVER happen.

    strangely, people [ESPECIALLY church people] who won’t tip waitstaff or drivers WILL tip bartenders.

  • Paula S.

    Back in the early ’70′s I was working in a pizza restaurant here in the Bible belt. When it got slow at night, the manager would send some of us home. Despite how bad we needed the money, on Sunday nights we got into arguments over who would have to stay at work and get stuck with the after church crowd. You know the drill, come in in a huge gang, rearrange the furniture, overwhelm the waitress and the kitchen with the huge order, leave several filthy high chairs, food all over the floor, make endless demands, and leave a small tip–if any. OH, I forgot the part about it being late and their party dawdling so we were late cleaning and closing up.

  • Paula S.

    My husband used to be in broadcasting. We find it so ironic that preachers preach against working on Sunday. Not only are THEY working on Sunday, but how do they think their broadcasts get on TV and radio, magic? And then half the church heads for a restaurant, nobody working there, I suppose.

  • http://padremickey.blogspot.com Padre Mickey

    I believe the Lord expects everyone to tip 20%.

  • http://padremickey.blogspot.com Padre Mickey

    And, yes, as an Episcopal priest I have to work every Sunday. And all Holy Days. I preach against working on Mondays, as that’s my day off.

  • Dulcie James

    i used to do this, too! i no longer identify myself as Christian, because i don’t want to be seen as a part of such a hypocritical group, but i try to practice what i see as real Christian values i.e. kindness towards others, charity, generosity, etc. when they (and there are several sects of assorted “them” around here) rang my doorbell, i’d invite them in, serve snacks, talk for an hour or more and when they would ask if they would be seeing me at their church, i would tell them no.

    ok, ok, so once i was crabby and tired and when the woman asked me if i believed in the life hereafter i said “no, i hope to be reincarnated as a pampered, petted, well-fed housecat!” and excused myself to go take care of my sick kids.

  • Flah

    My worst homeowner experience was with a “Christian” plumber who’s first words to me were, “Are you a Christian? Will I see you in heaven?” Then he proceeded to charge me $1700 for a $700 job. How do I know? We complained and got $1000 refunded. Now I know that if a service guy says, “Will I see you in heaven?”, the correct answer is, “Not if I see you first!”

  • Paula S.

    I’m pretty skeptical of people who trade on the name Christian. This cheapens Christianity. Better to run your business, and treat your employees and customers, as a Christian should, and people will know you are Christian by the way you live.

  • Maya

    “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”

    This is actually part of why I always wear a cross – not because I think I actually am a perfect Christian 24/7, but to remind myself I should be trying to be. I don’t think if you screw up that it makes your faith a lie, because the fact that we always screw up is one of the basic points of Chrsitianity, but you do have a point about it being a poor witness though.

  • Lisa

    That’s so disgusting. Here (Canada) minimum wage means minimum wage and that’s the bare minimum that everyone gets. If you get tips, they’re extra, bonus for a job well done, not required because your boss is a miser & the gov’t can’t be bothered to force businesses to pay a living wage. Last I checked we had one of the lowest minimums in the country and it was over $8/hr. Which is still too low, but at least it’s a lot closer to a living wage than $2. And patrons aren’t forced to make up for the business owner’s stinginess.

  • Jonathan Rice

    Excellent article! It brings back so many memories. Two of the cheesiest bumper stickers I remember from my Colorado days were the Promise Keepers-inspired, “Real men love Jesus” and “I love my wife.” That’s great if some guy loves his wife, but why does he have to put it on his pick-up truck bumper? Is the message supposed to ward off potential seductresses? Or is he so insecure about his own masculinity that he has to reinforce it with a bumper sticker? It’s all so whack…

    But I did see one really good bumper sticker in Colorado Springs: “Instead of getting born again, why don’t you just grow up?”

  • Jonathan Rice

    I had a friend who, when those folks showed up at the door and said, “Have you heard of the Watchtower?”, replied, “Yeah, it’s that song Jimmy Hendrix did.” They got all flustered and quickly excused themselves.

  • Elisabeth

    I live in Ontario, and here there is actually a lower minimum wage for “liquor servers,” which includes waitstaff. They get paid $8.90 an hour, whereas other people working at minimum wage are paid $10.25 an hour. It’s not a gigantic difference, but it still exists.

  • http://angieantitheist.wordpress.com Angie the Anti-Theist

    That is exactly why I didn’t wear a cross or WWJD bracelets or any other “Jesus fad” when I was a Christian. I’m an atheist now, but I still have more respect for reverence than showboating when it comes to worship.

  • Bill

    im just curious why so many people who realize that the brand of religion they were raised in is bullshit not have the same intelligence when it comes to latest brand of the faith they embrace? It’s ALL marketing and bullshit. Why do they run to just another form of the bullshit? That cross you now self righteously revere is still a meaningless symbol

  • Emmaline

    It really sucks that that will never happen. In my opinion, it is the business’s responsibility to pay their staff. Tips should be extra.
    I spent some time in England a few years back and the waitstaff thought it was strange that I was tipping them….but I just could not do it. It seemed wrong.

    But really, when I order pizza and pay 2.50 for delivery, it really is burdensome to also have to tip on top of that. (I do, but really, Dominoes should just pay their drivers correctly. It is the business itself that should have to pay their employees)

    Just my 2 cents.

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  • gabi532

    Amen says this one!

  • gabi532

    Tacky is tacky!


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