Friday, January 4, 2008

What Would Jesus Wear?

This week, I ended up in the dreaded Sahara of retail. I am convinced that Walmart is where all bad items go to die. You know what I mean. The huge bins of 1.99 DVDs ranging from Denise Richard's workout videos to leftover copies of Edward Scissorhands, the rolled up shirt-and-cap combo screen-printed with the local AA baseball team's logo, and don't forget about all the marked-down left over popcorn barrels from Christmas. After experiencing the typical mayhem of a typical Walmart, I sometimes find myself on a cliff's edge revving my car engine.

This trip to purgatory-on-earth, however, was a little different in that the shopping was served up with a side of laughter and reflection. While walking through the markdown-littered aisle next to the men's clothing, my eye couldn't help but catch a display filled with Christian t-shirts. This shocked me for two reasons: First, I couldn't believe that Walmart actually sells blatantly religious apparel. Second, I couldn't believe how ridiculous some of these shirts actually were.

Unlike modern Christ-wear of the "Jesus is my homeboy" persuasion, this stuff was neither funny nor hip. "Jesus: Without Him, Life is Hell" and the classic "WWJD" placed second and third in the kitsch category, but got beat out by "House of Jesus"--a clear knock off of the "House of Blues" logo. (I mean, seriously, what does that even mean?)

Next to this aisle was a rack of a different kind--shirts much more vulgar, likely transferred from the Panama City store. Many of these shirts were too vulgar to even repeat in this forum (email me and we can have a good laugh), but some of them were just trashy sayings like "Beer...Cheaper than School."

As my mind began processing these two polar opposites, it occurred to me that both lines of clothing were no more than pop culture. One represented the redneck-who-buys-airbrushed-sandollars-on-spring-break pop culture and the other represents the Christ-versus-culture, Christian separatist pop culture. Neither communicates its message very effectively.
If followers of Christ are to live incarnationally, I don't think we need to chastise non-believers with bawdy, sarcastic billboards that are signed God but resemble a sarcastic old man more than the One found in Scripture. If we are living out our faith like Christ did, people will know we are set apart and we won't have to resort to cheeseball Christian t-shirts.

It is very difficult to imagine how Christ is exalted by kitschy, marketed, meaningless, awkward expressions of Christianity like "House of Jesus" shirts printed on a .40 Gildan. Why can't Christians just do what Jesus did and participate in culture like everyone else while letting our lives serve as an invitation to salvation? Wouldn't it benefit the cause of Christ more if we sent our people out into culture rather than retreating into an awkward Christian subculture like a turtle attacked by a toddler?

Are you a devotee of the crazy Christian sub-culture? If so, do us all a favor: STOP.


Garet Robinson said...

Worth checking out, I watched over the Christmas break. Intriguing and was well researched.

I think your point is valid and one which is seeing increased awareness in our society. The materialization of evangelicalism is a pox on the bride of Christ. The fact that you can buy toys that mock Christ like this:

How can we continue to legitimatize the commercialization of the sacred? The Talking Jesus Doll (available at WalMart) is a poor visage of the Savior.

If we are trying to acheive legitimacy to speak the Gospel with an increasingly post-Christian culture, this issue is paramount. Just like what we are saying, how can we continue to seek legitimacy with the materialization breaking out.

As an additional note, I think we as Christians need to be sensitive to attempts by corporate conglermates to steal the sacredness of our faith. One of the by-products of a rich free market society is that many of our values can be stolen by greedy corporations and people to profit from without them being responsible to those from whom they have taken.

Thanks for the article

Jonathan said...

I will have to check those links out.

Here is a follow-up question: Where does the line for Christian commercialization need to be drawn? Clearly, the stupid Christian T-shirts need to go. But what about Christian books and more common commercializations?



Heather Marie said...

Remember the old school Looney Tunes cartoones with Yosemite Sam? Those particular cartoons frequently depicted Bugs Bunny drawing line after line in the sand as Sammy boy inevitably stepped across each one. The final line was usually drawn at the edge of a cliff so that Y.S. would end up falling into a canyon as he crossed that last line. Well, Christianity is coming dangerously close to that final line.

As your comment pointed out, it goes beyond the ridiculous t-shirts, this commercialization pervades almost every aspect of our Christian culture. Music, movies, and books are marketed as Christian and designed for Christian consumption. That right there may be the biggest problem with all of this. We are not utilizing our gifts to share the goods news with others or even to introduce biblical themes to the world. We are instead using them to create a "Christian ghetto" by producing entertainment with Christian messages for those who already know what those messages are. Often this is done so that we do not have to interact with the "outside" culture. One of the reasons that many people today look at the church as irrelevant is because we have created a ghetto-like atmosphere that keeps us isolated from the rest of the world. We need to take our message to the world, not keep it inside our walls.

I could continue on about my belief that really is no such thing as "Christian music" (or books or movies), however, that is an entirely different can of worms -- and I need to get back to work -- so I will sign off by referring to my original illustration. The commercialization of Christianity crossed the line a long time ago, the question is can we stop before we fall off the cliff?

Jonathan Merritt said...


I love the illustration you used. I will almost certainly steal that for an article. Really great thoughts.



Abi said...

Jesus died for myspace.

An ex boyfriend bought me that shirt. I had a lot of the same shocked feelings...a lot like the "if you love Jesus you'll forward this email or repost this bulletin" things.

The bottom line for me is if you do love and serve a righteous and holy God your tshirt or bulletin on myspace shouldn't be the way people find out. It should be your walk, your testimony, your visible difference from the world of sin around you. Your passion for a higher calling. That should be much more blatant than your Jesus tshirt or your email forwards.

Margaret Feinberg said...

I like Walmart for Zone Bars (a personal addiction--the chocolate coconut ones are tops). That's the no. 1 reason I keep going back to Walmart.

As for Christian kitsch..(?sp), yes, it's painful, but for some it is the best way to express their identity. Which raises a thousand other questions...

Margaret Feinberg said...

Oh, and Garet, I watched the Walmart move and really appreciated it!

Jonathan Merritt said...


Thanks for the insight. Believe it not, "kitsch" is the spelling. But 4 consonants is too many to slap in row if you ask me.

The fact that it is the "best way to express their identity" does raise a thousand other questions. (None that I am brutal enough to put in type.)

Your point, makes me wonder:
If everything we do should best display Chrit so that others might be saved, is it really the best way? (In other words, best for them or best for Christ?)



Hannah said...
enough reason for me to stop shopping at wal-mart all together.