Last week I met a women who was wearing a Boston Marathon T-shirt, so I asked when she’d run the famous race.
“Never,” she said, “my brother ran the race and gave me the T-shirt.”
“What a poser,” I jokingly thought.
There ought to be a law that prevents people from wearing event T-shirts or tourist T-shirts if they haven’t actually “been there, done that and then bought the T-shirt.”
Of course a law like that might affect people who wear faith-based clothing, too. You know the kind I’m talking about. I affectionately call the shirts “fish shirts.” They display the stick figure of a fish in recollection of Jesus’ promise that Christians would become “Fishers of Men.”
Now, centuries later, marketers have shaped every imaginable faith symbol into every conceivable marketing item. I’ve seen T-shirts that pun every popular advertising campaigns. I’ve even seen cross-shaped candy suckers. (I hope that doesn’t imply that faith is for suckers.)
We display our faith even on gaudy jewelry which seems contradictory to the poverty in which Jesus lived. The popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets beg the question — would Jesus spend $29.95 on a gold-plated bracelet?
Not everyone chooses to wear their faith on their sleeve. Others display their faith on their car with praying Precious Moments characters, or pithy bumper stickers, or fish-shaped outlines. My only concern is that I’m fairly sure God isn’t looking to publicize his views on a gas-guzzling Hummer or a speeding Prius.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve got a few “fish shirts,” but the problem arises when they don’t reconcile with how I’m living. For instance, if I wear a “Jesus Loves You” shirt, but lose my temper with a sales clerk, the T-shirt message is muted. Or in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”
The other problem with these commercial displays of faith is that sooner or later someone feels the necessity to express their counterpoint in the same way. For instance, have you seen the little Darwin fish symbols that eat the Christian fish?
And coming soon to the presidential nominating conventions, there will be billboards calling God “sadistic” and Jesus “useless” (portraying his image on toast).
The message is from the American Atheist group who believe that Christians have been intrusive about their faith for centuries, so now turnabout is fair play.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who warned against the cheapening of grace, so I think it’s worth reposing the argument — Do we cheapen and discount our faith when we become a sloganeer for faith? Do we subject it to ridicule when we plaster it on cars and shirts?
My thought is that sometimes we become confused between what we display externally with what we have internally. If we possess something, we can do whatever we want with it — sell it, alter it, display it and even hide it. But if faith possesses us, it becomes something we are, not something we wear — that’s a game changer.
I’m not saying it’s not OK to occasionally don a shirt that tells people whose side you are on. No. My biggest fear in public displays of faith is that we become like those people who wear shirts from places they’ve never been as we proclaim our faith by wearing crosses we’ve yet to be on.