The city of Wichita, where I live, has a "Christian lifestyle store." That phrasing set me against it from the start. The word lifestyle connotes shallowness, selfishness, and self-deception. To the store's owners and shoppers, is Christianity just another lifestyle? This was my judgment before I'd even set foot inside.
Confession: I've always had a highbrow bias against such places, with their Jesus trinkets and pithy books on becoming a better mother or husband or prayer warrior, written in oversized font and with an overabundance of exclamation marks. I scowled while walking the aisles of this particular store, noting the lawn ornaments and wind chimes and doormats that could be sold in any garden store-except that each has a boldly lettered Bible verse. I studied the pictures of Jesus-not a dark-skinned or unattractive Jesus, mind you ("There is no beauty that we should desire Him"), but a golden-skinned Jesus with flowing hair. I scribbled notes like a Pharisee documenting offenses on the beach at spring break.
My notes remind me that this store sells Scripture-covered coffee mugs and, for when your coffee is finished, mints with Bible verses on them. It sells cross-covered keychains, enough Jesus jewelry to keep a Roman emperor in debauchery through Passover and beyond, and bookends to ensure that our pithy books are only ever upright. It sells bookmarks, too-my favorite is one with a cartoon cat declaring: "God's love is PURRRRR-fect."
For Dad, it sells socks and ties with tiny fish or crosses stitched into them, so his co-workers know where he stands. For the home decorator, crosses of all sizes, of course, and candles, and birdbaths even, along with endless rows of picture frames-each item engraved with a Bible verse to make it holy from its apostate twin at Wal-Mart.
It sells books. Men can find books on what golf teaches us about life (or do I have that reversed?), and because they come from the Christian lifestyle store, we can rest assured that they mention Jesus somewhere. It sells books on being a Christian businessman, and handling money in a Christian manner, and avoiding sexual addiction by reading all of the author's books and attending his expensive seminar.
For the women it sells books on love and relationships and homemaking, and several rows of fiction written by other women-bodice-stretchers, as I call them, because they feed the same needs as a Harlequin romance, but without the profanity and premarital sex. For both sexes it sells books on how to handle atheists, evolutionists, people who liked The DaVinci Code, and even people who are just lost, perhaps because they haven't yet wandered into the right lifestyle store.
I am like Peter at Antioch, in my attitude toward people who shop in this store. I look down on my brethren because they are not up to my cultural standard. Does God not, as the verse on a nature picture in the store reminded me, give us richly all things to enjoy? If His PURRRRR-fect love casts out fear, surely it can see past bad taste as well?
I've come to realize that what I recoil from in that store is what repulses me about myself, the manner in which I commoditize and cheapen Christ. I chip away at Him until He fits my lifestyle, so that He is stylized, so that He fits on a shelf, or between the covers of a book, or on a bookmark. I parse Christ until He is tame. I view Him through the lens of my wants, rather than viewing myself through the truth of who He is.
I realized, standing there in my self-righteousness, that I dislike this store because it reflects not just American Christianity at its shallowest, but me as I am, nearly every moment of every day, except for those rare instances when the grace of Christ helps me rise above my nature.
We crucify Him daily, and then we cast lots for the pieces. As is so often true, the things I see wrong in the world begin in me.