A Progressive Christian Blog

Jesus Stickers on a Hummer… Part Deux

Okay, so yesterday I posted this hastily written blog post where I stream-of-conscious’d my thoughts on to the keyboard.

I was in a bit of a hurry, both time-wise AND because I was planning to post my blog on to the comment section of my brother’s original post, as a way to interact with the commenters there.

Anyways, I feel like I did a poor job of, well, accomplishing much of anything. So here I offer three follow up thoughts to better complement (and clarify) what yesterday’s post was aiming to do.

1) Gut Reactions are Morally Neutral

Here’s the reality about gut reactions and initial responses to things: they happen. And generally, there is little we can do about it. And, for the most part, these gut reactions/initial responses/first look at things don’t usually have any sort of moral affinity to them. Meaning, they’re more or less neutral in terms of “good reaction” or “bad reaction.” At least, as far as I see it.

They just ARE.

The thing that matters (in terms of morality, that is) is what we choose to DO with those initial reactions.

An example from the world of sexuality: a beautiful woman walks in to the coffee shop where I’m reading. My eyes, which generally wander to every person that walks in to a place where I’m reading, fall on this beautiful woman. My first, gut reaction is, “wow, that is a beautiful woman.” The human brain is wired to notice beauty. So far you could argue this is a morally neutral reaction. But what happens next is entirely up to me, and THAT is where any conversation of “ethics” could be had. Do I choose to stare at her? Do I choose to look her up and down? And so on and so forth. How I HANDLE that initial gut reaction is what matters. (Admittedly it’s not a great analogy, but hopefully you get the point. There’s how we initially react to something, and then there’s how we continue to operate AFTER said reaction. And they are two separate realities.)

Initial reactions can be useful, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they say NOTHING, but rather we should be careful to not judge to harshly how a person first reacts to something. Our gut reactions may betray certain things about us; our preconcieved notions about a given thing, or how we were raised, or how we think about certain situations. So we can learn things about ourselves based on how we gut-level react to things, but what is more important is what we then DO with that information.

Yesterday, in my post, I simply typed out all the different things that came to my mind about the idea of a tricked out Hummer being covered in Jesus stickers. Some of these gut reactions were indifferent towards the whole thing, others were supportive, and others were negative.

They just WERE.

And, because I like to blog and stir up conversation and get people thinking, I thought it’d be interesting to share it with all of you.

But I did not, in the end, offer any sort of insight in to where I was GOING with those gut reactions. And so it ended up sounding like all 7 or so of those reactions were how I truly felt (which is funny, because many of them cancel each other out and are mutually exclusive. But anyways…)

The truth is, I don’t really know HOW I feel about the concept of slapping a bunch of Jesus stickers on an incredible expensive automobile.

2) Talking About Money is Dangerous

People do not like it when you talk about money. Specifically, when you talk about THEM and THEIR money.

As Pastors we know this all too well.

Which makes for a funky dynamic because, well, it was one of the things Jesus talked about MOST! So here we are, people who study the words of Jesus, and whose jobs it is to help communicate those words, and we end up avoiding or dancing around some of the most poignant sayings of Jesus.

Because it’s uncomfortable. And people don’t like it.

WE don’t like.

So yesterday, during my not-very-well-thought-out and even-more-poorly-executed blog post, I treaded into the murky waters of personal wealth. And that’s always going to unsettle people. And I know that, and I did not do a good job of navigating that.

I can be flippant about a lot of things, because a lot of people don’t really care deeply about Ray Lewis and the Super Bowl, or the Wild Goose Festival, or Where the Wild THings Are. But to be flippant and casual about the issue of money is a whole other ball game.

Which leads me to…

3) Judging Other People’s Spiritual Lives is UnCool

I don’t like judging. I think it’s generally a bad practice, and try to avoid it when I realize I’m doing it.

Yesterday’s post ended up sounding a lot like I was judging people that choose to drive expensive cars.

Let me be clear: If you drive a fancy car, or own fancy things, or make lots of money, I do NOT view you as a second-class Christian.

The very fact that I have to say that frustrates me, but I brought it on myself. So I NEED to say that, so that you all hear me.

Of course, in my own mind I didn’t feel I was doing that yesterday at all. Especially since I didn’t even SEE the original car, nor do I know anyone who fits that bill. But reading my post a second time (and hearing wise words from my wife) helped me to see that some people would certainly feel like I was “judging” them for driving fancy cars.

Not at all.

But (and this is a big but), this is NOT the same thing as saying, “I will always be about the business of challenging people to think through what it means to follow Jesus in their lives.”

Meaning this: I won’t judge you for owning a fancy car, but I might just find myself asking you if you’ve thought through all the ramifications of what it might mean to own something like that AND to plaster it with the name of Jesus.

And THAT is a conversation NOT about you and your spirituality, but about things like values, and priorities, and perceptions, and so on.

Can we have a meaningful conversation about our  money and our spirituality, and how they intersect, without feeling personally attacked?

I wonder if, instead of posting what I did yesterday, I would have simply blogged an innocuous post with some of Jesus’ sayings about money:

“blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” -Luke 6:20

“if you wish to be complete, go and sell your possesions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” -Luke 18:22

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  -Luke 12:33,34

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” -Luke 18:15

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” -Matt 6:24

And so on and so on…
But the point being, if I would have JUST POSTED THAT, I wonder if anybody would have reacted. If anybody would have felt like they were being judged.

Do those words alone have any sort of pause-and-consider power to them, anymore? Or have we grown a bit calloused to them. They’re too familiar, and we’ve decided long ago that they don’t apply to us.

Jesus said some harsh things, and I believe it’s worth our time and energy to dive in to those at times and see if they might say something to us, here today.

Is there a way to contextualize those sayings.
To place them in today’s world.
To re-package those words in such a way that steals our breath… that speeds up our beating heart… that opens our ears to wonder, “wait, WHAT are you saying?!?!”

Does a vehicle that screams “I cost a lot of money” covered with stickers declaring an allegiance to Jesus stir up any of the things Jesus was getting at in the above verses?

Maybe.
Maybe not.

But I think it’s a unique enough juxtaposition of commerce and spirituality to, in a fresh way, talk about Jesus and money.

Of course it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about the owner of the car’s spirituality.
That’s beside the point.

But I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Jesus might have been walking by the equivalent of a Hummer/Jesus mobile in the first century and took advantage of the illustration to say, “no one can serve two masters… you cannot serve both God and Money.”

On this blog I like to get in people’s kitchens from time to time. Not in a way to judge or condemn (for who am I?), but in a way to get people to think about things they might not normally have thought about.

Even if it’s difficult.
Especially if it’s difficult.

In conclusion, I want to apologize for yesterday’s post, because it was hasty, poorly written, and did not accomplish what I think I hoped to accomplish.

I wanted to simply share my gut reactions to the situation, and be fully honest (even if the honesty was ugly… which it was in part). But I should have clarified to say that.

I wanted to suggest that this unique juxtaposition of commerce and spirituality could be a springboard to look anew at Jesus’ perspective toward material things and money.

I did not want to alienate readers and make them feel like I think less of them or their spirituality if they choose to own nice things.

Thanks for reading this follow up.
I welcome any and all questions or comments below.

—–

Now… let’s talk about Bumper Stickers in general, shall we???
;)

10 Responses to “Jesus Stickers on a Hummer… Part Deux”

  1. Eugene

    I’m not going to start an argument but just as the Bible talks about the dangers of loving money – it also talks about God’s blessings, hard work and “The Lord…who delights in the prosperity of His servant.”

    Proverbs 21:5
    The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenty; but the thoughts of everyone who is hasty only to poverty.

    Proverbs 24:3-4
    Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms shall be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

    Proverbs 10:4
    Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

    Luke 16:10
    He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

    3 John 1:2
    Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.

    Malachi 3:10
    “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”

    Psalm 35:27
    Let them shout for joy and rejoice, who favor my vindication; and let them say continually, “The Lord be magnified, who delights in the prosperity of His servant.”

    Reply
    • colbymartin

      I’m not sure why this would “start an argument,” my friend!
      Thanks for adding your perspective.

      I’d push back, however, and suggest that none of those verses you listed are about a connection between loving God and being blessed in return with financial blessings. I don’t know if that is your proposal, because you’re sort of vague, but that’s the assumption I’m making (since you offer those verses to counter the love of money verses).
      But if you, or others, find encouragement and value in these verses, and it spurs you on to work hard and be prosperous, then blessings on you brother!

      I know you are a generous man, of that I have no doubt!

      Reply
      • Eugene

        I’m definitely NOT suggesting or implying that loving God = more financial blessing. All I’m saying is – just as the Bible warns us about the love of money and what it can do – it also advises us that hard work, wisdom, knowledge, being faithful with the finances already entrusted to us, tithes, etc. generally yield financial blessings.

        I look at Job, Abraham, David, Joseph (in Egypt) – all extremely wealthy men and everyone in the land knew they were God’s people. I’m sure if they had stickers then – they would plaster them on their camels, donkeys and all of their most extravagant possessions.

        What do you think?

      • colbymartin

        I know that many people have (primarily in the past 40-50 years or so) seen the sorts of principles in the Scriptures that you are referring to. And sometimes I find the cases for those sorts of principles compelling, but most of the time I do not. But that’s just me.

        Your four examples are interesting to me, because how could one begin to make the argument that their financial prosperity was a result of “hard work, wisdom, knowledge, being faithful, etc.” The text, as far as I know, does not indicate such things. I don’t know the story of Job well enough, but does it say how he acquired his wealth? (Plus, in all likelihood, Job was not a historical person.) Abraham was about 75 years old when he appears in the bible, and it just says “he had a lot money,” but it doesn’t say how or why. David became King through a variety of circumstances, and presumably any wealth he had was acquired simply by wearing the crown. (Furthermore, we can’t overlook the reality that BOTH these men, we are told, were clearly chosen by GOD Himself for their respective positions. And this was a unique calling for both of them. We can’t all be so lucky! ;)

        And Joesph’s rise to fame and prosperity is pretty fascinating, but again, can we really presume that it was because of hard work, wisdom, knowledge and being faithful? Or because his brothers sold him to slavery, because he interepreted dreams, because he refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, and so on.

        So yes, those three men seemed to be very wealthy at some point in their lives. And maybe they DID put some “YHWH Rocks!” stickers on their camels! And, for the record, no one ever suggested that this is an inherently inappropriate gesture.

        Anyways, I appreciate your pushback. And clarification (I didn’t THINK you were advocating for a prosperity gospel, but I wasn’t sure).
        And though I may not be as convinced as you are about some of the above Biblical Principles, without a DOUBT I think that ALL those sorts of virtues are absolutely the right way to live! And people who find success should be proud of themselves and grateful for the opportunities that life gave them (and for the ones they created for themselves).

      • Eugene

        Those examples aren’t meant to be analyzed that deeply :) the reason I picked those people was because they were wealthy and they were known to be people of God. That’s it. Just as we don’t know how that owner of the Hummer reached his/her wealth, we aren’t sure about the origin of wealth of these examples.

        I definitely do NOT believe the prosperity gospel however I do believe that if you are financially successful – there is no reason not to enjoy the fruits of your labor and proclaim your faith of Jesus – at the same time. Wealth is very relative and for some a Hummer is an extremely expensive purchase – for others it’s not…it’s all relative.

      • colbymartin

        Me? Analyze something overly deeply? Never!! ;)

        I’m with you 100% that “there is no reason not to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
        I wonder if/how I’ve communicated differently?

      • Eugene

        The sense I’m getting from this entire topic is one of 2 things – that you think that if a person is wealthy – he/she need to live “modestly” (whatever that means) and give money to deserving causes rather than splurging on luxuries OR that if you do splurge – don’t connect Jesus to it because it could send the wrong message – although I don’t know what that message could be.

      • colbymartin

        Huh… fascinating.
        I don’t see it that way at all.
        But if that’s how it spoke to you, then I hope you found it engaging on some level.
        I know I’ve enjoyed our little interaction here.

  2. Eugene

    This was the phrase that made me think that: “I wanted to suggest that this unique juxtaposition of commerce and spirituality could be a springboard to look anew at Jesus’ perspective toward material things and money.” Suggesting that Jesus had a perspective towards material things and money that did not match up to the perspective of the Hummer-owner. Maybe it was my gut reaction – if it was incorrect – noted…but I also enjoyed our interaction. I like debating and exploring questions like these even when the end result it a stalemate.

    Reply
    • colbymartin

      Gotcha. That helps. Thanks.

      I don’t think I’d call your gut reaction “incorrect.” It was YOUR reaction. It was how YOU read and interpreted it.
      If I fleshed that out further, I might say,

      “this moment here (a Jesus sticker on a Hummer) is a striking image of Jesus-attached-to-wealth. In and of itself it has no moral attribute. Like the very next line in the post says, “Of course it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about the owner of the car’s spirituality. That’s beside the point.” (like Jon Stewart says, “Damn you, next line!!”). I think it’s absolutely accurate to say that Jesus had feelings about money, and no one with a straight face would argue otherwise. But one is certainly entitled to feel like “a sticker on a Hummer” does NOT make “me” think about Jesus and money. Like you said, much of it is relative. For some, a tricked out hummer doesn’t say “extravagance.” For others, it does. But the point is, here is a real world/modern day illustration of “when Jesus meets commerce,” so let’s use that to talk about stuff. Any sort of “judgement” towards the owner of the Hummer would be misguided (as I clearly stated in the post: “Yesterday’s post ended up sounding a lot like I was judging people that choose to drive expensive cars.Let me be clear: If you drive a fancy car, or own fancy things, or make lots of money, I do NOT view you as a second-class Christian. The very fact that I have to say that frustrates me, but I brought it on myself. So I NEED to say that, so that you all hear me.”). But if that’s how some people took it, then that’s how some people took it. Even though I went to great lengths to demonstrate otherwise.

      I appreciate that you were honest/interested enough to push back, seek clarity, and offer your perspective.

      Reply

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