Make love, not signs

by Kristin on December 10, 2008

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo of Ryan at Mike-n-Molly’s by Jason Berg

Yesterday I wrote one of my Christians Against Christians posts, about a sign in a vacuum cleaner shop that really enraged me. (God, vacuum cleaners and signs)

Later, that same night, I encountered another sign. Actually, I encountered a story—a real-life reaction to a sign—which is what it’s really all about in the end.

Jason and I were out hearing some local musician friends play a show at a bar. It was holiday-themed, so each of the four bands were playing a couple of holiday songs along with their usual stuff.

Ryan, a good friend of ours, played last. When he was ready to shift gears to some holiday tunes, he said something like this (I’m paraphrasing, and yes, he said I could share it here):

Almost every day I pass by the Presbyterian church, and on their sign right now it says “Is Christ in your Christmas?” Well, my grandpa, who was a Christian minister, was the biggest a**hole I’ve ever known. So I don’t really want Christ in my Christmas.

Ryan went on to say that he really resented that sign being there every day, in his face, trying to push something on him he doesn’t want, and tell him what the holiday season should mean to him.

The whole thing made me feel terrible. In a good way—not terrible about myself, but terrible for him. That’s compassion, I guess. Ryan is the most loving, generous, optimistic friend a person could have. He thinks a lot, he’s open and reflective, and he shares it all with others, through his music and in his life. He’s on a journey, just like the rest of us (and he’s much more actively on the journey than many people I know).

Then a stupid sign has to get all up in his face.

I don’t blame Ryan for a second, for feeling the way he does. I don’t know much about his grandfather, but I do know that some of the people I have despised most profess to be Christians (and, of course, some of the people I love and respect most are Christians, too).

I also don’t blame people—certainly not churches…but I’m not sure about vacuum cleaner stores—for wanting to share what they believe and urge people to think. Thinking is good. Especially during an over-commercialized holiday in a world that’s pretty messed up. And there are certainly plenty of signs out there that are far more aggressive than “Is Christ in your Christmas?” (The one I wrote about yesterday, for example: “Only Jesus Can Prevent Eternal Fires.”)

Where’s the compassion in a sign?

My point isn’t to blame or defend anyone. My point is that these types of signs—whether they’re more or less offensive—usually don’t point to Jesus, compassion or love. They more often point to judgmentalism and hypocrisy, and sometimes rely on fear mongering.

Too many Christians, it seems, are focused on the wrong things, and I think that stems from being too far-removed from the perspectives of others. What would Christianity look like if everyone was at least trying to imagine how their words affect people? What if everyone actually took the time to find out, by having real, caring conversations with as many people as possible?

I’m generalizing, of course. Plenty of people are having these kinds of caring conversations. And maybe (but I kind of doubt it) some of those same people are in charge of deciding what messages to put on the signs.

But in most cases, it feels like Christians who are putting signs up on the side of the road are just taking the easy route—the quickest way to check “Share the gospel with others” off their to-do list. And I honestly believe a lot of these churches, when they decide what to put on their signs, are shrugging, and saying “Who knows if it will help, but it can’t hurt.”

Obviously it can hurt. A lot.

Living like Jesus instead of putting up misleading signs

Jesus made love, not signs. The kind of love Jesus made, of course, was the Agape sort, and we’re never going to have much luck accomplishing love like that. We can, though, be more intent on living like Jesus than we are on talking about him. We can at least start creating honest connections with others, by being ourselves and being compassionate.

Personally, I would love to see all the signs just go away.

If you’re a church, though, and some kind of a sign seems like a good idea, how about communicating something like this: “Our doors are open if you need food, friendship, help, or just someone to listen.” Or maybe this: “We’re on a journey, trying to figure out how God is working in our lives. Everyone interested in this journey is welcome to join us.”

I realize they’re not snappy or clever ideas. They’re just more honest, and that seems like a good place to start.

Similar Posts:


  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Twitter
  • Arathi

    Great post, Kristin. Just finished reading and commenting on Part 1 of this as well….. I wish more people thought about religion this way. The world would be a much happier place.

  • Mark

    Crap. I wrote this lengthy comment after yesterday’s post. And now just read today’s entry. I am putting it down anyway…since I took the time to write it even though it seems redundant. Did you already have today’s written and waited to post today as a hook? Please say no!

    From yesterday’s post:

    KT, I want to preface that, in the end, I probably agree with most of what you said and maybe I am just being argumentative.

    Of course “Pretty much everything is bound to be misunderstood by someone” that’s not really the point is it? If so, why bother writing the post? I have heard Rob say and maybe write in one of his books that he doesn’t consider himself a Christian, rather a follower of Jesus. I haven’t read his latest book so maybe he develops that thought. My point is that the word “Christian” is corrupted. The ichthus on all the cars is no longer a secret sign–it’s a club sticker (and your shirt is real, whether it’s on fabric or not).

    [A quick sidebar, have you read Phyllis Tickle's "The Great Emergence?" I am still finishing it but it talks about the watershed moment Christians (or followers of Jesus, etc) are facing at this time.]

    We seem be at a time where we need to find a new way to focus on Jesus and his sometimes uncomfortable, unconventional and unfathomable measures of grace and love. Maybe “Christians against Christians” is one way to get people like Ryan’s attention. Maybe it’s clever for some and offensive to others. I guess you can’t avoid that. It just seems too clever to me.

    What do you think would happen if you wore the theoretical shirt into the vacuum store? I bet if you actually talked to the owner of the vacuum store you would agree on many points concerning Jesus (i.e., he is love, salvation, grace etc). Maybe that is a pointless exercise anyway. Regardless, without dialogue, signs probably offend a far greater number than they reach.

    How can anyone begin to think differently unless we engage them in dialogue instead of with signs? Maybe it is the signs, clever or idiotic, that get us to the dialogue. I guess that has happened here. Wow, I guess I just talked myself in a circle.

  • Angela Harms

    I love this post *so much* that it has it’s own spot on my bookmarks toolbar, so I can read it again and again. Srsly. Thanks very much. So glad to have discovered you.

    BTW, shouldn’t it be Christians against Christianity?


  • Kristin T.

    Arathi, thanks again for your perspective on these two pieces. I’m just curious–do Christian churches in India try to share their beliefs on signs?

    Mark, I did write both posts at once, but not for the purpose of being a trick or hook! I just tend to write really long posts, so I decided at the last minute to split the one into two. Thanks for sharing your thoughts again, though. Obviously, I think dialogue is the important thing–we just need to figure out the best ways to get the dialogue started. If there was someone always standing by every sign, ready to have a conversation, that would be one thing. Maybe that’s one of the problems with signs, along with the fact that there’s not much room for explaining yourself. Blogs seem to be a good alternative, eh? The right people just need to find the right blogs.

    Angela, I’m so glad you found my blog and tracked me down on Twitter! Regarding Christians against Christianity, hmmm…that’s very interesting. It depends whether you’re talking about generic Christianity–what most people today tend to think of when they think of Christianity–or if you’re talking about the ideal Christianity–what it really means to follow Jesus. I wouldn’t want people to think I’m against that. I’m just not right in step with everyone who claims the faith, I guess.

  • Arathi

    You know, I never noticed…. I’ll have to pay attention when I head over there later this month. I went to a Catholic, all-girls school too (in a primarily Hindu country!) but I don’t ever recall feeling forced about any conflicting beliefs.

  • ejly

    thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing. I do wonder if, in Israel one could wear a “Jews against Jews” shirt or if in India one could post a “Hindis against Hindis” sign. The idea of an “Atheists against Atheists” calling card does strike me as pretty funny, though.

  • Kristin T.

    ejly, these are very good questions (and the mental image of all these t-shirts being worn around the world is very amusing). It seems like one of those things you can only do if you ARE that thing. It’s sort of like how Rev. Lowery, at the inauguration yesterday, could make references to race that a white person wouldn’t be able to get away with. We have to claim something as ours before we can start challenging and altering it.

    I am a Christian, which is a label, so I feel like I’m “allowed” to mess with that label and make sure it’s one I can feel good about using. I imagine anyone who identifies with any certain group feels partly proud and partly embarrassed, because there are always going to be people who fall in the same category but have approaches and perspectives that feel very different from yours.