October 9, 2009
Enduring bumper sticker sermons
Preaching once was an art largely confined to the pulpits in the churches of this country. Now, some sermons have been reduced to sound-bite size and mounted on the rear bumpers and hatches of automobiles.
Just yesterday I pulled up behind a Volvo station wagon driven by a graying ponytail with wire-rimmed spectacles. As I glanced at the rear of the car, there were the sermons. I was first lectured with soaring statements of principle. "Peace" has apparently returned "by popular demand," and this odd assertion was emphasized by several prominent peace symbols. I learned that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. The "=" sign evidently speaks for itself.
Then there were those commandments where the stone tablets of Moses have been replaced by paper and adhesives. I was ordered "to think globally and act locally." I must "work for peace." And, of course, I really must learn to "COEXIST," the letters of which being composed of various political and religious symbols.
Any preacher must know his audience and the sermon must fit that audience. Thus, the message in the sermon can tell us much about how the preacher perceives or evaluates his audience. So, who will see and read the rear of this Volvo in central Ohio, and what do the messages tell us about this driver's perceptions?
The audience for the sermons of this driver, and for so many who carry the same messages, is Middle America. It is America that needs to be preached to and changed. It is America that fosters strife in the world. It is America that stifles expression and must be reminded of dissent's connection to patriotism. It is seething America that that must be urgently advised to coexist.
Those reading these exhortations for peace will not be those who are actually instigating war in the world. It will not be the Islamic extremists in various places around the world who will ponder these messages of peace. It won't be the Chavez-supported narco-terrorists in Latin America, or the perpetrators of genocide in Darfur, or Russian troops occupying parts of Georgia, or the Chinese colonialists in Tibet. The people who actually wage wars would be surprised, and possibly amused, by the idea that peace is back by popular demand.
The "COEXIST" commandment, of all of these banalities, is the most risible. Imagine this driver cruising down the streets of Tehran, Damascus, or Cairo with a bumper sticker that includes the Christian cross and the Star of David. The life expectancies of this driver and his Volvo would be measured in minutes before their incineration. Yet, he directs this commandment only to those who will see it; to the most free and tolerant people on the planet where co-existence is largely the rule.
The "COEXIST" sticker includes the combined male and female symbols. Other than the need for the letter, why direct this point to America? In our vast country there are undoubtedly a few misogynists, and there are those small bevies of angry women in the campus womens' centers. Otherwise, American men and women seem to be co-existing just fine.
There are those places in the world where women actually suffer, and the "co-existence" is of a particularly brutal kind. These are places where women are forced to endure genital mutilation, burkas, and the denial of education, all as a matter of governing principle. Those who impose these regimes on women will never see and would be impervious to this symbol of sexual equality. Yet this message is directed to what this driver no doubt sees as the great unwashed in middle America.
John Lennon's popular song "Imagine" is an anthem to the inane, where merely wishing can make it so, and where in an especially strange version of utopia, Lennon banishes all that makes life interesting. The mind that listens reverentially to Lennon's song is the same sort of mind that finds these bumper sticker platitudes compelling. This driver shares Lennon's indulgent and fashionable alienation against this country and all that made Lennon's life so comfortable. His is a mind that excuses the grim realities that burden so much of the rest of the world, while unfairly projecting those grim realities onto his middle American audience.
Although he slowly peeled back that paper that exposes the adhesive on his stickers, and he carefully attached these stickers to his car, one senses that these stickers are held in place by a repellent condescension. It is he who has undertaken the burden of enlightening the rubes who follow him in traffic; so far behind in so many ways. He also preens for the like-minded, seeking that quiet thumbs-up from those enlightened few in his midst. This Volvo is powered less by petroleum than the sheer force of his self-satisfaction.
Henry P. Wickham, Jr. welcomes comments at HWickham@LNLAttorneys.com