Bumper sticker theology

The bumper sticker on the car in the Chick-Fil-A parking lot read: “Heaven has walls, hell has open borders.” Google tells me that sometimes the slogan is more specific, noting a gate and a strict immigration policy. Often a sentence at the end admonishes the reader: “Let that sink in.” Indeed, let all of this theology sink in. I am wary of any and all theology proffered on hats, mugs, memes and the like. In my experience, God’s will, character and plans do not lend themselves to being summed up in a sentence or two, especially ones we pen. If select and beloved biblical quotes don’t move us to ways of peace and goodwill, how could anything we come up with guide us to life abundant? As brief as the Greatest Commandment and that like unto it are, they take a lifetime of practice and daily attentiveness to God, self and others in order to occasionally – and through the grace of God and the gift of the Spirit sometimes, at least partially – follow. So why would we think we could wrap up the mind of God in a tweet, post or T-shirt?

What’s at stake is far too important to summarize on an adhesive sticker, no matter how satisfied or righteous we feel when we affix it to our car. I wonder what the driver wanted to convey as he went about his daily errands? Support for a wall on our southern border? Disdain for those naïve enough to believe that there are not insiders and outsiders? The claim to a higher, better knowledge of how life and life eternal should be ordered? Simply a provocative declaration certain to garner reactions from others? All of the above? None of the above? I can’t say with certainty. Herein lies yet another problem with flippant theology promulgated on merch and social media: It is the equivalent of putting our fingers in our ears and shouting “la, la, la, la!” at the top of our lungs. It neither invites nor offers thoughtful discussion, prayerful discernment nor compassionate conversation. The higher the shock value of such sentiments, the lower the loving, relational possibilities they provide.

We’re living in a time when we seem to want to outdo one another in clever, self- and other-defining slogans. We want quick litmus tests to define our tribe and delineate others. Rather than our identity being found in Christ, it is displayed on our swag or with a hashtag.

If I had opportunity to talk to the person proclaiming to know God’s heavenly boundaries, what would I say? How would I come to that exchange with an open heart and mind? I confess I would assume I already knew much about them without ever having met them. Yet one more barrier to genuine community.

Lord help us, as the presidential election grows closer, bumper sticker theology and policy and politics will proliferate. I know my maturity in Christ cannot yet overcome my lack of generosity of spirit with those whose mini, mobile billboards conflict with my own. I will want to engage in a war of short, clever, shut-down-my-opponent-slogans. I see your “Heaven has walls” and raise you a “Coexist” and “No human is illegal.” So there! And, so what? Do we both feel satisfied and righteous? All the while, people – real human beings – suffer despite our self-justifying indignation.

Imagine if instead of wearing our beliefs on the back of our cars or on the front of our baseball caps, we set out to try to discern together God’s hopes for one another, for the world, for all of creation? None of which can be contained in a few sentences of our own making. All of which demand our energy, intelligence, imagination and love — or, to put it succinctly enough for a bumper sticker: our lives, our all. Such deep engagement in such an angry time as this requires every ounce of Christian charity we can muster. Such deep engagement in such an angry time as this might be the gift of grace disciples of Jesus Christ can offer a culture enamored with not only winning, but punishing those we desperately want to see lose. Let that sink in.

Grace and peace,