You’ve seen it. In rush-hour traffic or the drop-off lane.
Bumper Sticker Theology:
Big letters. Bright backgrounds. Bold and brief statements . . .
A precursor to the Socials’ holy eye candy, Christian bumper stickers pack the one-two punch of VISIBILITY and IRRITABILITY for captive audiences. Like their political counterparts, critics have responded in (humorous albeit sacrilege) kind. Let’s be honest. We sorta asked for this:
“Jesus is the Answer” morphed into “Trees are” and “What’s the Question?”
The iconic *evolving* ichthys (fish) grew feet.
The classic “Honk if You Love Jesus” bumper sticker (Jump-scare, anyone?) morphed into “Honk if You”:
“Love To Honk”
“Think I’m Sexy”
and my personal favorite,
“Text if You Want to See Him” was Christian culture’s retort to these variants, resulting in untold thousands of converts . . . to be sure.
“Digital dopamine,” it turns out, comes in all shapes in sizes . . .
. . . including the form of a fish.
“Digital dopamine,” it turns out, comes in all shapes in sizes, including the form of a fish. Because Bumper Sticker Theology and its upgraded digital social media counterparts—with their power-words and two-sentence truths—best speak to the complexities of a world in pain.
So “Smile, God loves you!” 😊
BECAUSE (to juxtapose the two): “YOU are enough!”
My friend Lilly and I would settle for all of the above, as we trace a river through the canyon—life imitating art. Clear Rocky Mountain mornings are rare anymore. Western wildfires burn, but today cotton clouds dab the sky azure-blue. I grip the wheel tighter on the hairpin turns and wish for a trailblazer or forerunner (uppercase or not) to lead the way, set the pace, or even sprinkle a bit of bumper sticker fairy dust on our souls.
We find none.
Our phones betray us, too. They lie idly by in cup holders, data-less and disconnected from the outside world.
There will be no screen morphine today.
Instead scorched aspen groves cling to charred hillsides reminding us of what we want to forget:
All is not right with the world.
Last summer’s fires lapped up thousands of acres across the state. Snow fell in the form of pine needle ash, peppering our yards and hair. Literally and metaphorically, our world burned. “This too shall pass,” we comforted one another in the flames and naively held our breaths.
One year since, haze still hangs here on the horizon most days. Fires again rage as does the pandemic. Cain will tell you that Rage has a twin brother too: His name is Loss. In Life B.C. (Before Corona) they were just our acquaintances. Now? They’ve forced their way into our respective inner circles.
We’re officially in the fray, Lilly and I.
We drive on, taking in the pine-scented air, and sit with the question that Frodo (Return of the King) so eloquently asked but we’ve so far failed to answer. God knows, we’ve tried. (He knows.)
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.”
We pull off at a river bend and sit on the smooth rocks she’s tamed over time. We’re hoping, as we plunge our bare feet into snow-melt water, that she’ll smooth our rough edges too. At least she might numb the pain. But the river (as always) will have her own way, and today she tickles our feet with currents more cool than cold. We let our feet sink into the sandbank, barely noticing its blackened hue. Momentarily puzzled we move on to the greater life-mysteries we’ve yet to unravel. At least we’ll try; but Lilly and I both know better.
If the last 18 months have taught us anything it’s this: In the fray we are, to quote Gandalf completely out of context, “NOT nearly enough.”
There are no elvish boats left to fairy us away from the war-scorched wounds of Middle Earth. No clickbait Band-Aids, theological soundbites, or Insta-mantras will do when dry twigs meet a million-acre wildfire.
When the devastation runs this deep,
we can only sit and smolder from the burn.
So we sit at the river’s edge with only her to hear us whisper our orphaned questions without answers. When the sun dips below the canyon walls, we pry our feet from her bank and watch as she loosens the black sand between our toes.
“Sometimes,” says Lilly, “You just have to let the pain wash over you.”
But there is, strangely, peace.
My Dad calls later and I relate our canyon drive. He listens and asks,
“Was the river darker in color?” “Any debris?”
“Darker?” I query back.
“From the flash flood in the canyon last week. It pushed a lot of soot and fire burn into the river. Several homes swept away.”
I am stunned. Black sand. I think back to toes embraced by the riverbank.
And then I remember Jesus,
with a towel tethered to his waist and the basin below. I see him wash dirt and debris off disciples’ feet on the eve of humanity’s darkest day.
When he finished, Jesus reclined with them for the Passover meal. Lying next to them, he offered no easy answers to their questions. No dopamine escapes, pop-psychology pep talks, or secrets to unleash their authentic selves—because he knew as twigs in a million-acre blaze (Peter, et al.), they would never be enough. Not nearly. (John 13).
But he was,
and he offered them that.
Not words but The Word.
Not self-knowledge but Himself.
Not escape from the pain but peace in the midst of it.
Not the easy answer but the flesh and blood Answer.
Last week I strained my eyes to read a bumper sticker on the car just ahead. “Jesus Christ” were the only words legible through my dirty windshield. Undecipherable mysteries like this typically leave me annoyed and dissatisfied.
Not this time.
Somehow this time, strangely, it was enough.