Black Eye #001 — Christian T-Shirts

Early on in my faith journey, I decided to step through the doors of a Christian bookstore for the first time. It was like walking into a time warp. Everything I might need for ‘daily living’ was in there–even food (well, if you call TestaMints ‘food’). The books on the shelves seemed to be custom-designed for me. I never knew so many Bibles existed outside of a church building. There were chrome-plated fish I could put on my car.  The music was ridiculously horrible, but I really didn’t seem to mind.  In the back, there was even a small selection of t-shirts emblazoned with verses, sayings, and designs guaranteed to stop people in their tracks and make them ask questions.  I grabbed one that struck me as being cool yet attention-grabbing and plunked down cash earned by mowing lawns in the sweltering South Carolina sun.

I acquired a few more t-shirts over the years and wore them whenever the opportunity arose (read: they were actually clean). But it was one morning in Chemistry class that changed my feelings about Christian t-shirts in general.

The shirt I had on that day had a traffic sign on the front with the line “Get right or get left.”  A friend of mine had attended a concert with me at the church earlier in the year and raised their hand when ‘the question’ was asked.  I saw some changes in his life over the next few months, but was asked on this fateful morning a question about the t-shirt.  This was odd, I thought, as I had prepared for over a year to say the right thing–and yet nobody had ever asked me about it.

What I said came out completely wrong.  In a spoonerism I haven’t duplicated since, I told him that he was supposed to get left, not get right.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I don’t remember seeing the same changes in his life after that.  I did apologize and corrected myself after the fact, but the damage may have already been done.

Is this the main reason why I consider Christian t-shirts to be a black eye–a mistake on my part?  Not at all.  Since that time, however, I’ve become leery of them and their effectiveness (implied or not). To this day, I’m not sure if anyone has ever seen a Christian t-shirt and came to faith on the spot (if you know of someone who has, I’d love to hear the story).  Can they be useful?  Absolutely.  However, they can be better–much better–than they currently are.

Here are three thoughts you should consider when making a t-shirt selection at your local Christian bookstore:

1) If you’re going to choose something, please be original.

For decades, corporations have created brands that are easily recognizable to the general public.  These logos and slogans are used on everything from television advertising to packaging to online media.  Yet, almost without fail, a person can find a t-shirt in a Christian bookstore that has co-opted a trademarked logo to something Jesus-related (a prime example of what blogger Jon Acuff calls the ‘Jesus Juke‘).  Reese’s peanut butter cups become Jesus-themed.  Coca-Cola becomes an ad for the Savior.  The release of  The Hunger Games in theaters provided an opportunity to showcase ‘Hunger for God’ shirts using similar fonts and styles. I personally get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I see a modified corporate logo being worn in public.  How the companies that consistently do this haven’t been sued is completely beyond me.

Cannibalism is *not* creativity.  Stop it and be truly original!

2) If you have difficulty in reading and understanding what’s on the shirt, others will too.

I’m surprised more people don’t say anything about this point.  In theory, at least, a t-shirt is supposed to catch the eye, make a point, and impress it on the viewer in about 2-3 seconds.  Sure, there are going to be occasions where a person has time to stop, read, and think about what a shirt says.  But that’s not the norm.  So why do Christian t-shirts feature verses written in 14-18 point font (or a little larger than the text you’re currently reading) that are more than ten words long?  It just gets lost on the shirt itself.  If the font is script or difficult to read, it just makes things worse.

In addition to this, a number of shirts feature verse references from the Bible.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do, provided people either a) know the verse by heart or b) take the time to pull out a Bible or grab their phone (or iPad) and look it up on the spot.  It just rarely happens in that 2-3 second window.  Some shirts I’ve seen also make it a point to link a reference to everything, offering 7-8 verses (or even passages) to consider. Besides, if the shirt is to be used as a witnessing ‘tool,’ a non-Christian isn’t thinking about finding a Bible. Their next appointment, a situation they’re dealing with, or beating their high score on Temple Run is of significantly more concern.  Why do we forget this?

Keep it simple, clear, and to the point!

3) Do consider the underlying message you’ll be giving off by wearing the shirt.

Wearing a Christian t-shirt tells people (if they can understand its meaning in that 2-3 second timeframe) that you’re a Christian who follows Jesus.  This is a good thing, but can also immediately stereotype a person as well whether they believe certain things or not: “Oh, they’re for this or they’re against that.”  “We know how they’re going to vote in November.”  “They’re part of that crazy group I read about in the news that…”  Those reactions may not be necessarily true, but why not allow one’s words and actions do the talking instead? Why not tell the truth without letting a potentially obnoxious shirt muddy the waters instead for you–as well as those Christians that person might come into contact with in the future?

If something becomes a hindrance or wall that keeps people away from Jesus, my first task is not to rationalize or defend the wall.  Instead, I get rid of the wall and keep the communication lines open.

Think before you choose!

What are people going to to know Christians for?  Hopefully, it’s not by giving Jesus a black eye in the form of the things we wear to ‘promote’ him.  Be an example to others in life, in love, in faith, in speech, and in purity instead.  That will speak more eloquently than a t-shirt ever could.

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What Does it Mean to Represent God Responsibly?

Responsibility
One of the great things about working with words is that a person has the opportunity to shape, to craft, to create thoughts and feelings about a particular subject. Just as pictures can say an incredible amount due to their richness, complexity, and various nuances, words can too–and you don’t always have to use 1,000 of them to make a point.

But with words comes an inherent danger–the issue of definition. In a dictionary, words are not limited to simply one meaning that is applied universally in all situations and timeframes. What one person understands a specific word as meaning can be taken completely differently by another.  To test this, all you need to do is ask your child to clean their room.  What you expect and what you get will often be totally different.

When I came up with No More Black Eyes, the goal was to encourage people to begin responsibly representing God in their everyday lives.  And yet the words ‘responsible’ and ‘represent’ are so fraught with meaning literally, culturally, and spiritually.  So, in order to be as clear as I can be on the issue, here’s what I mean by responsibly representing God:

Responsible — For a person to be responsible, they have to take appropriate, honest accountability for the lifestyle choices, thoughts, and feelings they face each day.  Making the choice to go to sleep instead of finish a term paper due the next morning, for instance, has a set of consequences that must be faced later on.  This isn’t responsible from an academic perspective and will more than likely earn a bad grade.  Likewise, the choice to finish the paper and get no sleep due to waiting until the last minute isn’t responsible from a health perspective (too little sleep can cause a wealth of problems, including copious consumption of energy drinks, weight gain from 24-hour eateries, and perhaps [if carried to the absolute extreme] death).  However, getting good rest because the paper was finished three days earlier is a responsible choice on both accounts.

Represent — For a person to represent something or someone, they have to embody the core characteristics of what that person or thing is.  For example, if a person chooses to represent Disneyland, a specific demeanor, style of dress, manner of speaking, and level of professionalism must be on display for all to see.  If something doesn’t fit the style of Disneyland (such as wearing your own mouse suit to a press conference), it is not considered a representable attribute.

When we combine these two and bring God into the equation, it looks like this:

Responsibly represent GodTo provide an honest portrayal of God by incorporating the essence of his character and qualities in a person’s lifestyle and actions.

Think about that definition for a minute.

Do your thoughts, feelings, and actions embody who God is to others?  You don’t have to see somebody in person to have God show through you–an email, blog post, Facebook comment, tweet, phone call, or (yes) letter will serve the same purpose.  A photo of you, an audio recording of a conversation you have with someone, or a video can do this as well.

This is why it’s so important to keep in mind that the Christian lifestyle is a 24/7/365/life thing.  There is no such thing as time off or a time out.  The microphones are still on.  The cameras are still rolling.  The online world is still buzzing.  The family is still watching.  Sure, we might make the occasional mistake (since we all screw up).  But that shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can to be a great ambassador.

We are Christ’s representatives–2 Corinthians 5:20.  It’s time to make these days count–and encourage others to do likewise.

When is Too Early Too Early?

These words, made famous in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, bring to mind a trend that has only come to light in the last year or so.

I pray it stops soon–and the sooner, the better.  Here’s why:

A few days ago (April 18), I was scanning my news feed on Facebook when I came across two requests from friends to pray for Charles Colson, noting that his family had been asked to join him at his bedside.  Seeing as both of my friends had worked for Prison Fellowship International, the ministry Colson had founded, I took their requests as legitimate (in comparison to some of the things that invariably get posted these days).

I was saddened as well, since I had directed an online survey on the viability of BreakPoint magazine for PFI while in grad school.  Sure, Colson made mistakes in the whole Watergate affair, but his later conversion to Christianity had transformed him into a man who had been instrumental in changing lives for Christ over the last three decades.

Later that evening, while gathering a snack, I checked my Facebook account again and noticed that one post made the point that too much death had happened that day (Dick Clark had passed away earlier that afternoon).  It included a link from CBN stating that Colson had passed away as well.

Having been fooled on many occasions before, I always go with a biblical methodology on these things–two sources before anything gets posted.  A quick Google search turned up the CBN link, but nothing else.  I waited about a half-hour, since this would be something the mainstream media would pick up on immediately.  A second search turned up only the one link.

I then made a quick comment to my friend (a different one than the first two) about her source.  She noted that she had heard it on a Focus on the Family program that evening.  I then went to the CBN link and saw the following:

I went to bed praying for health for Mr. Colson and that somehow the article was wrong.  The next morning, I did another search and this time found zero mentions of Colson’s passing.  The CBN link was gone.  Prison Fellowship’s website had an update, but simply said to continue praying for him in his illness.

As of the typing of this post (April 20), I’m happy to say that Mr. Colson is still alive and CBN offered an online apology for the whole situation.  Keep praying for his continued health in the meantime.

So here’s the question: Why is there such a need to be the first one to make note of a key figure’s passing (besides money, fame, and notoriety)?

Ethically, what CBN did was exactly what a blog site did regarding the passing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno back in January.  They jumped the gun, the rest of the media caught on, then everyone had to back off and apologize when it was discovered to be false.  The site’s managing editor paid for it with his job.

It just makes you wonder why waiting a half-hour wasn’t an option.  We all don’t have to be the next TMZ. It’s better to be safe than have to say you’re sorry.  And it gives Christians (who are supposed to be better than this), as well as Jesus, black eyes.

One verse that has struck with me over the years has been Proverbs 3:27–“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.”  My hope is that CBN–as well as anyone in the media field that reads this–will take this verse to heart and consider the ramifications of their actions.

May this lesson be learned and applied–soon.

UPDATE (April 21): Mr. Colson just went to be with the Lord. Prayers go out to his family in this time. Thanks for your service and faithfulness to the Kingdom, Chuck.

Global Warming, SUVs, and Mars?

I’m sure Mr. Robertson is a nice guy and all, but somebody needs to cut him off when he makes incredibly ludicrous comments like at the end of today’s episode of The 700 Club (start at 4:12 if you want to skip the news article).

His quote to shake your head at:

“Do we think that we have sinned and therefore we have destroyed our planet and therefore we’re going to get it in the neck?  Just keep in mind that Mars, and say, ‘How many SUVs, how many oil refineries are there on Mars?’ And yet, it’s the relationship to the sun that is affecting the climate on Mars.”

The video link:
http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201204170010

Signs of Life? — #001

You did ask for a sign...There’s a lot of regrettable theology that can be found in the world today.  Not all of it can be found in heavy books with academic-sounding titles.  A good bit of it comes in Twitter fashion–that is to say, 140 characters or less.

In order to stop the black eye epidemic, sometimes we have to be made aware of what’s out in the world.  This is what Signs of Life? is all about.  Whether it’s quotations, Facebook posts, Tweets, Tumblr entries, church signs, or anything else that comes in bite-size forms, that’s what you’ll find here.

Comments and contributions are appreciated.  Just send your links to nomoreblackeyes (at) gmail.com–we’re in this together, after all!

Here’s your first entry (of many) to consider, cringe at, or contemplate doing something about:

Movie Review: Blue Like Jazz

A number of years ago, I had a few friends extol the virtues of Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. Once I actually found time to start reading, it was difficult to put down.  The characters were vivid, fresh, and seemed more human than in most Christian books I’d read.  There were a lot of messy situations and a lot of messy people and a college campus that seemed to promote messiness.  I liked it a lot.  Besides, it provided a raging stream of quotable dialogue guaranteed to elicit likes on Facebook.

I shared my enjoyment of the book with a number of folks, hoping (as I always do) that they would reciprocate my feelings about it.  Alas, they didn’t.  It was too out of the ordinary, too loose, too philosophical, too secular. My disappointment was palpable.

When I learned that Steve Taylor was going to direct a movie version of the book, I was hopeful but quite concerned.  Hopeful because films such as Fireproof, Courageous, Soul Surfer, and October Baby have seen modest success in the general box office recently. Concerned because faith-based films of this nature have often involved poor production values, actors staring into the camera, force-fed versions of the Gospel for the whole family, unrealistic stories, and a stubborn refusal to try anything new.

But don’t necessarily take my word for it–the executive producer of the sitcom “Home Improvement,” David McFadzean, has gone so far as to compare faith-based flicks to porn – saying they‘re poorly lit, poorly acted and [one always knows] how they’re going to end.

If that last statement caused you to say “Whoa!,” then you understand the problem.  If not, then you’re probably not going to want to see Steve Taylor’s on-screen adaptation of Blue Like Jazz.  It’s not what you might expect.

And that isn’t a good thing.

It’s a great thing.

Read the rest of the review at Hollywood Jesus.