Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's What I Do

From time to time someone expresses to me (or points me to a link) the extreme dislike among some in the Christian community, for all things "making merchandise of Jesus". Christian T-shirts, Christian coffee mugs, car accessories, etc., so forth and so on. Some have called it Jesus Junk. Challies calls it Church Merch, or something to that affect. While I am the first one to agree that if someone's motive is to make a buck off Christ, they need to repent big time, I'm not so eager to toss all Christian merchants (that sell such things) into the same category, and I'm going to tell you why. Partly, it's because I am one such merchant and there's another side to the story. This one's mine:

1. I like comfy fitting t-shirts and so do countless numbers of other Christians. I don't mind wearing t-shirts with someone's logo or whatever on it, but I'd much prefer to wear a t-shirt with something GOOD on it, like a Bible verse or a symbol that represents who I am and what I'm about. If I'm going to wear a t-shirt (and I am) why not wear one with a great message on it? If I'm going to have a license plate frame, drink coffee from a mug, or give them as gifts, or decorate my house with scenic artwork, send greeting cards, use fridge magnets or buy posters for my kids - and I am and do all of the above - then I want these things to have meaning, say something worth reading, or present an image that brings glory to God. I'm certainly not the only Christian that feels this way.

2. Like most people, the prices of Christian t-shirts in local Christian bookstores are insanely high, for what you get. Insert lame saying here - pay through the nose to wear it. I don't think so. I started designing my own Christian t-shirts with both of these factors in mind: price and quality. I figured if I could create a line of nice looking t-shirts and keep the cost as low as possible, that would work out well for me, and for others looking for a decent Christian t-shirt at a decent price. It's worked out rather well, I must say and I don't feel compelled to apologize one bit for it. I like what I do, it glorifies God and it gives other believers a nifty t-shirt to wear, or gifts to give.

3. The whole idea of making merchandise of Christ is a horrible thing to do. I recall a couple years ago an online aquaintance was venting to me about Christian t-shirt companies making a fortune off "selling the gospel" and he was not the least bit shy about expressing his extreme disgust toward them, to me. Then he asked what I thought. I agreed with him that if someone is "in it" for the money, then shame on them.

I remember dealing with a HUGE "Christian" bookclub once that tried to bill me for books I never ordered, nor received. When treated like a lying con man by their customer service department, and informed that collection action would be taken against me, I fired off a hand written letter to their corporate offices reminding them that they bill themselves as Christians, and the honorable thing to do in my case, since I certainly was not lying about the books I never ordered or received, was to cancel the bill and write it off as a loss. Of course I didn't have proof I didn't have the books (how can you prove that?) but I informed them that on my word as a follower of Christ, I did not order or have them - nor did I want them.

When I say this company is huge, I do mean huge, and being that big you know they make the kind of money in a year that many folks would gasp at, and they wanted to make my life miserable for a lost shipment of books totalling less than $60 bucks. As it turned out, a very apologetic customer svc. rep called me back in a couple of weeks (after the letter went out) and informed me that the bill was cancelled in full. I can only assume that at least for a moment, the first customer svc. rep forgot they were a Christian company, and was just acting on behalf of a big business - and doing business as usual. I'm pretty sure that's what $$$ does to people, but I wouldn't know for sure, since He's made sure I've never had enoug of it to find out. Now then... back to my venting friend:

After he blew his stack about Christian t-shirt companies & asked my opinion, then I asked him if he knew of my store Reflections. He didn't, and interestingly enough after he visited the link, he no longer had a word to say about Christian t-shirts. I can only guess he thought he'd stuck his foot in his mouth (and he did, but I didn't tell him that) and wanted to drop it. He made the mistake of lumping folks like me, in with folks that ARE in it for the money by selling the most outlandish nonsense you can think of at the premium price. There's a huge difference, I assure you.

4. While it is certainly a subjective experience, it is my own experience and that of many others, that a well designed t-shirt or bumper sticker will in fact at times open up an evangelism moment and/or cause some people to ask questions or think about what they've read. I don't know if there's any kind of scientific research done on this, but we all know that bumper stickers attract your eye. Cleverly worded ones stick in your mind and if you can create one that brings God the glory, why not create one!? It's an opportunity to send a message, so send it!

5. Do I think that by wearing a Christian t-shirt I'm making a bold statement of faith? Nope, I sure don't. In fact, when I decide to put one on that day, I do it because I like it - the same way anyone else decides to wear whatever they wear, every day. If it does open up an opportunity to discuss my faith then amen and right on!, and I only hope the Lord will be gracious to give me the right words to say to a complete stranger asking a question about what's on my t-shirt (He always has so far, and I have no reason to doubt that will stop). If it doesn't open up an opportunity, then I'm still going to wear it because I like it - just like anyone else likes what they wear, and what's more, people will see it when I'm out in public no matter if they ask me anything or not. I know for myself when I'm out in public seeing messages that say things like Girlz Rule or Drama Queen or some other self-indulgent, naricissistic, obnoxious saying on the fronts of t-shirts or plastered across the seat of shorts or yoga pants, it's sure nice to see a person with a hoodie that says I LIVE FOR HIM. We're bombarded in the public arena with an overwhelming amount of messages, so it's refreshing to see good ones, from time to time. It really is that simple.

6. Like I mentioned above in #2 (and these are in no particular order), I like what I do. I like taking a blank canvas and creating something that is a.) visually appealing and b.) has a Godly message or symbolism that brings glory to God. I'm a very creative person and I want to use my creative talents to bring Him glory. Whether that comes in the form of my photography that I turn into prints with a verse of encouraging Scripture, or simple text graphics that make a statement, or anything else I do in the creative department. He gifted me this way, and I only desire to point the observer of my work, straight back to Him. If what I do for His glory can put a nice t-shirt on someone's back or a stylish print for your wall, then I'm happy to able to provide that, and I'll always do it for the least amount of money I can. I'm not "in it" to make big bucks, and any profit I do make goes to buying school books or supplies for our homeschool. It's nice to be able to provide my customers with this merchandise, and in turn provide my kids with Christ centered books to learn from, in the process.

So there you have it. No question there is a "merchandising of the gospel" that goes on, but please remember that not all of us Christian merchants are doing that.

Some of us have ulterior motives that extend well beyond the cash drawer.