I‘ve always been intrigued by ‘bumper stickers’ – those stickers, badges or dangly signs that people put on the back windows or bumpers of their cars to call out messages to anyone who is following them. I think this interest was probably sparked by the ‘I shot JR’ stickers, which you used to see everywhere, long after the joke had worn thin (and if you are too young to understand that reference then ‘lucky you’). The motivation behind some bumper stickers is obviously to try to promote positive behaviour in others or to promote a point of view, for example, ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’ or ‘Leave means leave’. However, the motivation behind some bumper stickers is rather more opaque. For example, I’ve never quite understood the intention behind those ‘Baby on board’ stickers. Is the driver simply wanting to proclaim to the world that they are a proud parent or do they imagine that I will somehow drive differently now that I have been made aware of their infant cargo?
A couple of weeks ago, I was involved in very minor incident of ‘road rage’. I live by a junction which people often pull straight out of without looking because they assume that nothing will be coming from my direction. However, people coming from my direction do actually have right of way. On the occasion in question, this exact thing happened and I had to stamp on my brakes to narrowly avoid a collision. The person in the other car, clearly unaware that the error was his and not mine, made various rude gestures at me and shouted a selection of imprecations (fortunately inaudible). As he drove off, I spotted one of those ichthus (fish) badges which some Christians proudly stick to the bumpers of their cars….Now I have nothing against these ichthus bumper badges but as with the ‘Baby on boards’ stickers, I’ve often wondered what the motivation behind them is. Are they simply a badge of pride, intended to announce to other Christians that ‘we are in the gang too’ or are they intended to let non-Christians know that ‘there are a lot of us about’? Clearly, whatever the motivations of the owner of the said car, they weren’t doing Christianity any favours by displaying this ‘badge of faith’ and then behaving in a rude and thoughtless manner.
Those of us who wear clerical collars in our day-to-day lives are very aware that this visible sign can serve as a proclamation of what it means to be a Christian in ways that aren’t always helpful. Perhaps the message for all of us is that ‘bumper stickers’, in whatever form, aren’t necessarily the best way to convey our faith. It’s in the smallest actions and exchanges toward those around us that the gospel can often be most effectively conveyed. If we learn to live the values at the heart of our faith then we will make Christ known to the world – even when we aren’t proclaiming the gospel intentionally. As St Paul says, ‘If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’
Rev’d Richard Wharton