Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Christian" License Plates (It Starts Judgmental, but Turns)

Apparently a few groups in South Carolina are trying to pass some of those specialty plates (or "tags") for cars. You know, the license plates that shout "I like this," "I support this," or, "I'm one of these." These tags beg people to judge you before they meet you. People already judge you by your car, but they have more matter for judgment if your license plate says "United We Stand, "No More Homeless Pets," "NASCAR," "Nurses Care," or "In God We Trust."

Oops, my bias is showing.

Really, these plates are little different from wearing clothes with words on them. Tacky or not, the plates are quite the rage among diverse peoples, many states having hundreds from which to choose. Recently a South Carolina vetoed a Christian plate, apparently similar to one a group in Florida also tried to pass.

As you probably know, these plates cost more and the extra money goes to some organization. I only read a few articles on the South Carolina plate and did not find out to whom the money would go. It sounds like the Florida plate would fund Christian schools.

In all three of the articles I read (Slow down your research Trevar! Three articles?), the slant was separation of church and state. A government plate with a religious message. Government funds side-by-side with religious funds. I do see a potential issue with separation of church and state, which is a good thing, if memory serves me correctly. My soap box has little to do with history and legislation though. I'll let you think about church and state before and after Constantine, before and after the protestant reformation, and before and after the settling of the Americas.

My beef (or eggplant, if you prefer) is with the plate and the people pushing it forward.

If memory serves me correctly, Jesus told us to carry the cross. He didn't tell us to put a small cross on wheels and lead it around town. He told us to carry it. And let's be honest, if we don't read that text metaphorically, then we need to be so religiously and politically revolutionary that everyone--not "the Jews," not "the Romans," but everyone--will kill you on a tree, lynched, crucified, or otherwise. Maybe this "less" metaphorical interpretation isn't such a bad one, after all.

If we put crosses or the "I Believe" message on our cars, we damn-well better be the best, most conscientious, and nice driver ever (please don't be offended by my use of "damn," I thought it a very apt word in this instance, drawing on the curse as referring to a judgmental God who damns people). Jesus didn't cut people off, hold people up by driving too slow, drive too fast because he was late, or fail to let people go ahead of him. And let's not even think about driving gas-guzzlers or a car so nice that it draws attention to our economic status. If the cross has anything to do with economics, it is not with privilege. Also, let's start picking up hitchhikers, offering people rides, and paying for all the gas when we let people borrow our cars.

And if we believe in the "cause" that plate would financially promote, why don't we just give money? We are asked to give without expecting anything in return (Luke 6:30-36 ... yeah, that's straight from the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible). We give time and money and don't expect t-shirts, license plates, or time and money. If we get those things, fine. Take them and be glad. But we do not need to be conned into giving money to a good cause if it is a good cause.

Separation of church and state is a good, big issue about which to be concerned, but it isn't the whole story. And even though I don't wear (what I judge) pithy sayings on my person, I am far from being the audience of this judgmental blog.

Buying Christianity cheapens grace. We all do it. I have a Project (RED) t-shirt. I give money to the organized church I attend--money that comes back to me in the form of comfortable chairs, air conditioning (and occasionally heat), electricity, water, soap, paper towels, a janitor, coffee and donuts, the upkeep on pianos and a beautiful organ.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21). For better or worse, our hearts are tied to our wallets. Sometimes we send our wallets to test the water. And perhaps our hearts never follow the treasure.

Sometimes I don't even send my wallet. I, too, cheapen grace, day by day.

Forgive us, O Lord, for we have sinned. Have mercy on us in the form of inspiration to jump into love with heart and wallet.


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