Theological Bumper Stickers

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that I found quite intriguing.  I don’t seem bumper stickers very much these days.  I miss them.  Once upon a time it seemed every car and truck had a few stickers.  As I think about it, maybe bumper stickers were an earlier form of social media.  They have been made obsolete by Twitter, Facebook and the like.

The bumper sticker I saw was fairly elaborate---pretty wordy.  It said, “Try Jesus: if you don’t like him, the devil will always take you back.”  When I read it, I smiled.  There is a level in which I see it as a cute sticker.  I did not smile in the sense that I thought it was funny.  I did not see it as a source of humor, although I am sure many people would think it is a joke.  Rather, I see it as a kind of elementary pronouncement.  Although it is wordy, the point is simple.

I could imagine a couple typical responses by anyone who bothers to read bumper stickers.  On the one hand, I suspect there are a fairly large number of believers out there who would read it and nod their heads in agreement.  I will get into the theology in minute, but right now I want to state that I think there are many who would say, “Amen.”  And of course, there would be many others who would scoff and be utterly dismissive.  An atheist might well make fun of it, rather than think it is funny.  People with a more liberal theological bent might be a bit ruffled by it, maybe wishing the sticker would simply go away.

I am not in either camp.  I am fascinated by all bumper stickers.  This one is no exception.  Sometimes I try to imagine the guy or gal who saw this sticker and felt like he or she wanted it plastered on the bumper.  After all, it is an ongoing announcement of the perspective, indeed, theology of the person driving the car.

I pondered the meaning of the sticker.  Since I like to diagram sentences (thanks to a great elementary school teacher), it was clear to me the main message of the sticker is “Try Jesus.”  The rest of the verbiage supports this main thrust.  I can imagine the driver of the car actually chose the bumper as a point of evangelization.  He or she may not be a preacher, but he or she is preaching nevertheless.  It is a bold statement.  Sometimes, I imagine what the voice of the driver would be if she or he uttered the statement.  Would it be more invitational or more confrontative.  I hope it is invitational.

I find it an interesting choice of words: “try.”  More often, I have heard “accept” Jesus or, even, “believe” in Jesus.  Probably both of these are implied, but the verb, “try,” is interesting.  I also find it interesting that the sticker simply says “Jesus” and not “Jesus Christ.”  Clearly, there is some complexity in my distinctions, but it makes me want to talk with the driver to see what he or she thinks and wants to communicate.

To be personal, I can say that I have taken seriously the sticker.  I have tried Jesus and find him to be inviting, challenging and reassuring.  I assume anyone who claims to be Christian, as I do, in some sense has tried Jesus.  I have and still do find that Jesus is inviting.  I like that Jesus invited those early disciples by the simple verb, “come” and then he added, “follow” me.  I have tried to do that.  There certainly is theology that develops from this invitation, but basically his call to follow is not a challenge to become a theologian so much as an invitation into a particular way of life.

That way of life is a way of love, forgiveness, compassion and more.  That is why I find  “trying Jesus” is so challenging.  To do it seriously and as fully as possible is not easy.  It is counter-cultural.  We have to put our ego aside and put others at the center.  We say, “not my will.”  We sacrifice and, sometimes, suffer.  I wonder if the person in the car goes this far?

And I find “trying Jesus” to be reassuring.  It is a path that makes my life meaningful. It is reassuring that in the big picture of life, I have chosen a path that leads to the ultimately best things in life: peace, justice and love.  It is a way of life that puts me in community with other like-minded women and men.  It’s not a competition, but rather a communion---a communion of saints, as tradition would have it.  I am on the way…

Then there is the long remainder of the bumper sticker: “if you don’t like him, the devil will always take you back.”  That part did make me laugh a bit.  I do think there is an intentional use of humor---but it is humor with an edge.  It feels a little more like a threat.  Of course, it’s not a threat if you believe it to be truth.  Where do those words fit into my own experience?

I agree that some might “try Jesus” and not like him.  There are many reasons not to like Jesus.  Maybe it is not the right time or circumstance.  His way of life can be too hard; maybe it’s not enough fun.  Some think it is stupid or boring.  But if we “try Jesus” and not like him, is the devil there with open arms to welcome us home?

I don’t see a guy dressed in red with a tail and pitchfork waiting for me.  That’s the part of the sticker “that does not speak to me,” as my Quaker tradition would say.

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