Archive for Saturday, September 13, 2003

Bumper sticker value

Pastor decodes what symbols, slogans say

September 13, 2003


The Rev. John McFarland takes bumper stickers seriously -- even the funny ones.

McFarland believes the slogans that people put on their car bumpers actually say a lot about themselves, as well as the culture we live in.

"I had noticed a lot of bumper stickers in Southern California," says McFarland, who in June moved to Lawrence from Anaheim, Calif.

"Some of them make you laugh, some of them make you think. In Southern California, if you're an atheist, they want you to know it. If you're a vegetarian or anti-gun, it's right out there."

Seeing all those bumper stickers gave McFarland an idea. He decided he could use them as a way to illustrate certain points about secular culture and biblical faith, as well as stimulate conversation among members of his congregation, Christ Covenant Church, 2312 Harvard Road.

That's how McFarland came to put together a new discussion series called "Bumper Sticker Worldviews," which he's leading at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at the church. The subtitle of the series is "Living for Christ in a Bumper Sticker World."

"I want people to be noticing what the world around them is thinking these days," says McFarland, 39.

"I think Christians often get very insular. We tend to hang out with people just like ourselves, and once in a while we pray for the lost world out there, but we don't know what it's like. We feel like we should be having an influence, but we're too scared to re-enter the contest of ideas."

JOHN MCFARLAND, pastor of Chirst Covenant Church, is leading weekly
discussions on bumper stickers. The discussions are 7 p.m.
Wednesday at Christ Covenant Church, 2312 Harvard Road.

JOHN MCFARLAND, pastor of Chirst Covenant Church, is leading weekly discussions on bumper stickers. The discussions are 7 p.m. Wednesday at Christ Covenant Church, 2312 Harvard Road.

Each time participants gather, McFarland will bring up examples of bumper stickers he's seen, talking about what they really seem to be saying -- and what the implications are for Bible-believing Christians.

The first meeting of the series, McFarland used a slogan he'd seen before on one bumper sticker: "The One Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins."

"The idea is that only material things are real; therefore, I'm going to pursue as much stuff and satisfaction as I can," he says.

"Sometimes to see a bumper sticker like that, it kind of catches our attention and we say, 'I guess I've been living that way, too.'"

Battle of the fish

The first time McFarland took the time to notice what people put on their bumpers or cars was when he began to observe what he calls the "fish war."

"For years, people have used this harmless little (Christian) fish symbol. All the sudden, we start seeing the 'Darwin' fish -- the fish that has sprung legs and is crawling out of the sand," he says.

The Rev. John McFarland, pastor of Christ Covenant Church, 2312 Harvard Road, is leading a discussion series called "Bumper Sticker Worldviews" that meets at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at the church.The series, which looks at the deeper meanings behind symbols and slogans found on bumper stickers, is free and open to the public.For more information, call McFarland at the church at 842-5797.

"Well, Christians weren't going to take this lying down. Now there's a Christian fish that looks like a shark, coming up behind the Darwin fish to eat it. So there's a battle going on here, and we're all doing it on bumper stickers."

He started giving some thought to the deeper meanings behind bumper stickers while he was living in California.

"We were the commuter society like crazy. You spend one hour every morning with 10,000 people, but you never talk to them. Yet a few of us are talking to each other through our bumper stickers," McFarland says.

He's been keeping track of some of the more creative or provocative ones he's seen, writing them down on a notepad. Participants in the Wednesday discussion series are invited to bring in examples of bumper stickers they've noticed, too.

One such slogan was "Keep Your Focus Off My Family," a play on the name of an influential Christian organization.

"I think there's plenty of Christian bumper stickers, too. But the ones that catch my attention are the ones that jab at people like me -- I'm very conservative," he says.

"One bumper sticker said, 'God, Save Us From Your Followers.' That's just saying that a lot of non-Christians feel under attack, they want to vent."

Ideas are important

McFarland's series is getting a good response at the church.

"I think it's just be a good fellowship time, but I really appreciate John's insights into the culture and how we can assess it and react as believers," says Saundy Milroy, a Lawrence woman who attends the discussions with her husband, Jerry.

"I tend to appreciate the bumper stickers that are subtle, the ones that maybe have a Bible reference or a subtle reference to their faith. That's not my style to have anything too out there."

McFarland believes it's perfectly valid for a pastor to use bumper stickers as a window through which to analyze the secular world and get Christians to think of scriptural responses to it.

"I think it takes a good deal of energy to go out and pick a bumper sticker that fits your world view, to put one on your car and risk lowering its resale value. So we ought to pay attention when someone's gone to that effort," he says.

So what's on his bumper?

Just a Bush-Cheney political sticker.

"The funny thing is, I don't collect bumper stickers -- I just collect the ideas," McFarland says. "I've got a page with about 60 that I've seen. Just the ideas are the important things to me."

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