We have become something of a bumper sticker society. We speak in marketing slogans and campaign sound bites. Just Do It* was great encouragement when my toddler was standing on the side of the pool being invited to jump into my arms, but not the solution to every single challenge we face. Often slogans are fun and endearing — “Proud parent of a kindergarten graduate!” or “UCLA All The Way” (or USC if you prefer). I don’t do bumper stickers but I’m often tempted to put an In’n’Out sticker on my car. Some things are really important.
I have two particular issues with bumper sticker language. First is that we too often use it as a jab or weapon against other people. We don’t want a conversation, we want to speak our mind and walk away. We judge others on their response to our words, without clarification, explanation or allowance for differences. I’m not talking literal bumper stickers now, but rather the way we talk to and about people on issues that matter to us. “Make America Great Again” might be a great campaign slogan but what does it mean to an individual? Does everyone who says it mean the same thing? Who decides what makes America great? When it was ‘great’ was it great for everyone? “Black Lives Matter” is absolutely the truth…they do matter profoundly. But does everyone who says it mean the same thing? “Love Wins.” I certainly hope so. But what exactly does it mean? Are you saying, “I’m tired of all the hate and anger; I think if we learn how to love others we can become the kind of people we want to be,” or are you saying “Don’t be bound by conventional moral boundaries…you can go love whoever you want, whenever you want.” And what do you mean by love?
We can’t possibly know everyone’s story and the hurt and trauma they’ve suffered. If a husband abandons his wife and kids for ‘love’ does love really win? You may respond, “That’s not what I mean.” Exactly. It requires a conversation. The bottom line is that these and others are complex issues and bumper sticker language can’t possibly communicate all of the nuance. I am not talking about acceptance of any form of abuse, violence or hate, but about how we as individuals and a culture learn how to communicate in helpful, healing ways.
This might sound like a tirade to you…and perhaps it is. But there is so much dissension and division fueled by statements made without openness or conversation. I assure you, I believe that there are issues that need a lot of attention and major change. What if we stopped using our words (whether spoken or written) to throw a punch, but rather used them to extend a hand. I’m not suggesting we come to common agreement on all issues, only that we learn to listen and communicate more constructively. A second issue I have with our bumper sticker culture is that we have begun to make it our identity. I’ve known people who could get in a physical fight over their college allegiance. Seriously, people, it’s a school! In 2011 a man was beaten almost to death by some Dodger fans because he was a Giants fan. Unbelievable. When our identity is derived from such things, we must seriously question who we are and what we represent. If being a Republican or a Democrat is the most important thing about you then I pray you find more for your life. If the way you look is the most important thing about you then I pray you discover what it means to be formed in God’s image – and realize that those who don’t look like you are also formed in His image. God has a very big image. If you are too easily offended by or defensive of someone’s ‘bumper sticker,’ you might have your identity somewhat misplaced. What is the most important thing about you?
I could go on about this but I think you get the idea. My point is simply this: we can be people who speak with conviction as well as grace and patience. Most of these issues cannot be boiled down to one statement and deserve more complex understanding. Take time to really understand — even the people that may offend you or threaten the truth as you see it. I’m not saying we all have to agree! That’s not even possible. I’m asking if we could begin to speak our heart and mind with words that truly reflect our thoughts and feelings. Resist the urge to slap a bumper sticker and an identity on anyone else. Consider who you are and who you want to be.
It doesn’t take a lot…it just takes willingness to allow for differences. Tempering our language, our heart and our thoughts can lead to peace in us and through us. Consider today where your primary identity lies…do you even know? Are you willing to reach out – even just a little bit – to someone who thinks differently than you do? The challenge is not just to speak our position but to listen toward understanding other points of view. It is in the exchange of ideas that we come to know one another.
I pray that you will first find the deep, deep love of God for you, and that in that love you will also find the capacity to love others. God’s love can heal, restore and shape your life. He truly is the Truth that changes everything.
*Nike advertising slogan since 1988
John 4:1-42 is the telling of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. Jews and Samaritans were at odds and did not like each other. Jews considered Samaritans ‘dogs.’ And yet Jesus engages this woman in conversation that leads her to faith, acceptance and even brings many in her town to know and accept Jesus. It was a conversation rather than dueling bumper stickers.
Luke 19:1-10 tells of Zaccheus, a tax collector, which made him utterly hated by the Jews. Jesus invites himself to the man’s house, much to the anger of the religious leaders. Jesus initiated a conversation that led to radical change and redemption.
Acts 15:8-11 records an issue raised in the first Christian church regarding what it takes to be accepted by God. Some early church leaders wanted to make Gentiles follow Jewish laws in order to be accepted. It took a prayerful and diligent conversation to arrive at a gracious plan.
Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.