This actually happened to me this week. I had just gotten on the interstate when I saw a bumper sticker that read, “I think. Therefore I’m a Republican.” Then, two miles down the road, the car behind which I stopped at the end of the exit ramp had a bumper sticker that read, “I think. Therefore I’m a Democrat.” Do you really believe that some Democrat/Republican driving down the road would read the bumper sticker that says, “I think, therefore I’m a Republican/Democrat,” and suddenly have a “eureka” moment? “Oh! THAT’S why I’m a Democrat/Republican! I don’t THINK! I’m really glad that bumper sticker enlightened me!” Obviously, this isn’t going to happen. But then, in actual fact, neither bumper sticker desires to engage the logical mind. Both simply attempt to deliver a clever insult.
Seriously. Has your mind ever been changed by reading a bumper sticker? More importantly, has your HEART ever been changed that way? I profoundly doubt it. We live in a world, though, that places a very high premium on staking out positions, whether political or religious, and we do this by proclaiming ourselves to be conservative, or liberal, or moderate, or progressive, or so on. Those become our “bumper stickers.”
In our world, things only make sense to the degree to which they can be expressed in arguments, written down in statements, proclamations, constitutions, or formulated in doctrines which define orthodoxy and heresy. We’ve produced a lucrative market in religious literature, thousands of journals from across the theological spectrum, innumerable websites and blogs (including this one – the irony is not lost on me), and broadcast and digital media, all in the interest of promoting one version or another of what God wants out of human beings. We use all of that to state clearly what makes our particular group different (in most cases, “different” means “superior”) from other groups to which we do not belong and with whom we disagree. Then we seek to express our perspective in easily expressed statements, our “bumper stickers.”
All this information, however, has not unified us. Acrimony infects the body of Christ-followers around the globe as much as it did in the first century when Paul begged Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in Philippi (Philippians 4:2) and appealed to the congregation in Corinth to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you. . .” Paul’s incredulity almost seeps out of the page when he says, “. . . some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you (I Corinthians 1:11).” Imagine that.
This is perhaps the saddest thing of all: the conflicted Christian community mirrors the conflicts in society in general. The intransigence of entrenched ideological groups among those who claim the “lordship” of Christ fails to offer a hopeful example as to how dialogue and cooperation might be achieved. Our bumper sticker sort of faith does not model how the wounds which these conflicts inflict might be healed. And we end up not winning many hearts.
Clearly, our wounds cannot be healed simply by blanketing our opponents with new information, spiffy ad campaigns, or clever bumper stickers. In fact, it seems all this information has only resulted in the various camps retreating more rigidly within their various boundaries.
Wouldn’t it be great if the various divisions of Christendom would simply leave off profuse speech for a while? Wouldn’t it be great if we quit slapping ideological opponents with automatic labels? What if, instead, we all devoted disciplined time to Silence, training the ears of our hearts to hear the “voice” of the One whom we claim to follow. If we would do this, it would go a long way toward unifying the body of Christ. It would produce an attractive and compassionate community of faith capable of healing humanity’s wounds.
What would happen if we refrained from struggling with how to express OURselves and instead, became sensitive to how the Spirit desires to express God’s self? What if we just shut up and listened? THAT would change hearts.
Maybe our bumper sticker should read: “I listen, therefore I understand.”