Monday, March 14, 2011

Cheesy Bumper Stickers and Christian Irony

This is the 2nd in a series of 3 or 4 on Civil Discourse.

Anyone who knows me personally knows my affinity for sarcasm. It was a major shock to me when I studied in the South for a year that sarcasm was not the major mode of speaking for some people. I often use sarcasm to poke fun at things that seem ridiculous but are trying to be taken seriously. I run to it so often that people that don't know me well enough don't even realize that I'm trying to be sarcastic. I was recently referred to as “obnoxiously arrogant” for saying that I didn't like The King's Speech now that it was popular to like it. I was trying to make a point about the people that actually say that sort of thing but instead came off as a jerk. Oops!

I'm not alone in this love of irony, however. You only need to take a look at the popularity of things like The Onion or The Daily Show to recognize how irony has taken a hold of the millennial culture. Everything and everyone is open to ridicule.

Irony sometimes pops up when I don't expect it though. A group of us were visiting a church on the east side of Michigan last weekend and I found myself poking fun at some of the building setup by making jokes about Jesus throwing over the cash register outside of their gift store or cafe because it accepted Visa and MasterCard. I had to stop myself when I realized that if the pastor we were meeting was standing behind me I would have died. Literally.

Well, maybe more figuratively.

It would have been close.

The church in the 21st century has found a similar love for ripping on things with a sarcastic tone and the target is often the church itself. Just how entrenched is this attitude in Christians today? Brett McCracken writes in his book Hipster Christianity: “If you are a Christian of a certain age (let's say 21-50) and you grew up in the Christian church (especially in the eighties or early nineties), you probably love making fun of the evangelical subculture.” McCracken specifically points out that this is a trend in response to the commercialization of the Christian culture, especially as a “Christian version” of every popular area of pop culture hits the shelf of the local Christian bookstore. Recognizing how the consumer mindset turned Christianity into a profit margin has created a jaded generation towards much of the American Church in general.

Need proof? Just take a look at bumper stickers.

I can't tell you how many churches I've been to where the sermon apparently needed to be enhanced by dedicating a lengthy amount of time to making fun of Christian bumper stickers. Are we really helping anyone by making fun of these bumper stickers? Or making fun of chrome fish on cars? Or t-shirts that look like a corporate logo but say something spiritual instead?... or WWJD bracelets?

It's not wrong for us to try and be relevant but I'm really not sure that Jesus would be ok with us openly mocking the factions of Christianity that are less in touch with culture. Yes, the lame way that we often try to catch up with culture 10 years too late should be talked about. We should do our best not to hinder the Gospel with out of date methods. I'm not sure irony is the best venue to address that though. Here's why:

When we openly mock other parts of the Church we are mocking His Bride.

Some of the most mild-mannered of my friends have dropped profanities or taken swings when those that they loved were mocked. Why should be expect Christ to care any less for His Church? Brett McCracken writes that “The chorus of 'we want Jesus but not the Church' represents a trend in Christianity toward what one recent author called 'decorpulation'-- not the cutting off of the head (Jesus) but the cutting off of the body (the church).” We should try and be relevant to our culture but it can't come at the expense of neglecting or abusing the Body of Christ.

We are called to love the things that Jesus loves... and that especially includes His Church.

Even those who are unhip.

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