Top 10 Quirky Things American Christians Do!
Before this article inspires anyone to tar and feather me, when I say “quirky” I mean it with all the affectionate endearment and happy/shiny/warm/fuzzy/sparkly feelings that I could possibly muster. It’s “quirky” as in that lovable odd duck in your family who is, well, unique. I also zero in on the word “American” because that’s what I know best. Canada’s list would probably be completely different (and more polite and considerate).
Frankly, I probably belong on this list somewhere because people who know me have, at times, used the Q word. No, not quacksalver. (A quacksalver, by the way, is someone who impersonates a doctor and practices medicine illegally. Please don’t be a quacksalver. That’s a lose-lose situation for everybody.)
Without further delay:
10. Retaining the Sentence Structure that Uses a Swear Word, But Then Substituting a Made-up Word
If you stop to think about it, it’s kind of funny: we like using the same phrases that are built and structured to house swear words, but then we kick out the tenant and let a nicer, clean-cut version of the previous word move in: “What the heck?” “Oh my gosh!” “That is heckacool!” (if you’re from Northern California) “That is freaking amazing” or, my personal favorite — made popular by Napoleon Dynamite — the word “flipping.” Yes, flipping — or flippin’, depending on whether you’re in a formal setting (in which case, sound out the “g”) or a casual one (in which case, the apostrophe is acceptable). That word is so flippin’ goofy I can’t believe it.
9. Being Really Really Friendly at Christian Bookstores
Have you ever walked into a Christian bookstore and felt that, at any moment, everyone in there, including the cashier, is going to run up to you and give you a giant bear hug and share a personal testimony? Don’t get me wrong, I love great customer service, and I love how Christian bookstores feel like home, like a friend’s house or something. But I am an introvert by birth, and sometimes I’m a little taken back when people throw their arms around me in the Christian Living section and say, “Welcome to this Christian bookstore, brother. God bless you. You smell terrific.”
8. Bumper Sticker Battles
First there was the Christian fish bumper sticker (or emblem thingy that looks like metal). Then somebody made a Christian fish that grew legs — the Darwin fish, a slap at Creationists. Then a bigger fish is swallowing the Darwin fish. And then an even bigger fish-with-legs sticker is swallowing THAT fish — and this point we’re talking bumper stickers the size of your back window. And then someone releases the Kraken (“Release…the KRAKEN!”), and a giant sea monster crushes the entire rear half of the car. Then the Death Star shows up — manned by either the Christians or the Darwinists, no one is sure at this point — and obliterates the entire freeway upon which the crushed car and its bumper stickers were once driving.
7. Doing Skits
I love skits as much as the next guy — and so does the rest of the world (i.e. the legendary skit show Saturday Night Live), but, wow, we Christians really like our skits. They are an absolute requirement at any kind of youth conference or youth anything. Evangelistic ministries have entire rooms in their headquarters filled with file drawers filled with manila folders filled with instructions for new skits. Well, back in 1996 they did. Now it’s all on the Cloud. But, man, when it rains it pours. I still remember the great Skit Storm of 2002 (back in odd ‘2) when the youth in California saw an upwards of 45 skits per square mile with a higher concentration of skit precipitation during Spring and Christmas breaks. At Christian colleges, it’s become a high art. One Christian school I know rents out an entire concert venue and preps for months for a single event that is, essentially, a skit extravaganza. Actually, in all seriousness, that event is fairly awesome because it has high quality music, costumes, and sets. It’s the Woodstock of Christian Skittery (like the word perfumery for the art of perfume making, but for skits). Heck, it is so flipping dang cool that people drive for miles to see it; in fact, somebody who came one year had a bumper sticker on his car that said, “Skit Happens.”
6. Invading Restaurants on Sunday Afternoons
The invasion of Normandy in WWII was called Operation Overlord. The invasion that takes place at restaurants across the United States on Sunday afternoons is called Operation Oh My Lord. My church has been growing lately, but for many years it was small — like under 30 people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Small churches can do really big things (that’s a topic for another day). But it gets interesting on Sunday afternoons when we would all decide to hang out together for lunch. And by “all” I mean every single shred of life, whether human or not, that was in the church service on that particular day — even the first time visitors and the guy who happened to be rolling his bike on the sidewalk past the church as we were all getting out of the service. Yes, we snagged him too. And then we all descended upon an unsuspecting Denny’s or Sizzler like a horde of orcs upon the plains of Gondor. Our post-service jubilation of laughter and Jesus talk would rise to deafening levels as restaurant patrons and waiters covered their ears. When we would return the next week, waiters would be wearing noise canceling headphones for some reason.
5. Making a Jesus Version of Everything in Secular American Culture
When a hip new music style hits the secular airwaves, you can pull your stopwatch out and start timing. After 5.3 minutes, turn to your nearest Christian radio station, and you will hear that hip new style but with lyrics that, by state law — though this could vary depending on which state you’re in) — must have at least three mentions of Jesus in it: one in the verse, one in the chorus, and one in the bridge. It’s not just music though. We’ve got Christian-themed breath mints, Christian jelly beans, a Christian version of Guitar Hero called Guitar Praise, and another video game called Original Dance Praise (like the secular game Dance Dance Revolution). I’m sure someone out there sells a Jesus bobblehead too.
4. Making Life-size Replicas of Things from the Old Testament
You haven’t lived until someone has blown a life-size shofar horn (the ram’s horn used by priests in the Old Testament) during a church service. One church built a life-size replica of the Ark of the Covenant — straight out of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark — and placed it in its lobby. Non-Christians visiting the church would have been a little baffled at the sight, unless they were Indiana Jones fans, in which case they probably thought it was the coolest church ever. Folks have built replicas of Noah’s Ark, even a life-sized one (and if you don’t believe me, read about it here.) For the record, I am a huge fan of the Old Testament, and I wish churches in America spent more time studying it. Probably one of the most overlooked topics is the symbolism of Christ found in the various tabernacles/temples: Moses’ Tabernacle, David’s Tabernacle, and Solomon’s Temple. A person could spend years studying each of these tabernacles, uncovering the rich symbolism of Christ within them. And, I suspect, some Christians become so overwhelmed with enthusiasm for these cool things in the Old Testament that, well, they can’t help but build some highly detailed full-sized replicas!
3. Being Oh So Punny (Using Puns on Church Signs)
We’ve all seem them. Those inescapable well-lit church signs positioned where all passersby can see them from the road. And, inevitably, whoever operates these signs feels an irresistible attraction towards puns. They often employ the word “saves” or “saving” for some reason, using the word in the economic sense and the religious sense. I have a theory that it’s all a conspiracy. It’s all just one guy — the Bad Pun Church Sign Guy — and, like Batman, he roves the nation at night in his darkly painted, brooding Pun-Mobile, listening to some angsty Christian rock, and changing church signs into puns.
2. Making Inspirational Poems, And Then Making Fun of Them
Christian culture has a quirky/comical way of making fun of the things that deeply inspired it years ago. I suppose it’s the same in secular culture: they eventually parody what they previously thought was cooler than sliced bread. But in Christian culture, it takes on an even quirkier tone. For example, the Footprints poem came out a long time ago — you know, the one that talks about how there were two sets of footprints in the sand, then only one, and the person asks God why, and God says it’s because that’s when He was carrying the person, etc. — and it encouraged a lot of people. It’s nice. And then Christians started making fun of it with new versions of the poem, like — my personal favorite — this Star Wars-themed one (all Star Wars nerds will understand): “But Lord, during the hardest trials of my life, why was there one set of footprints.” “Because,” said the Lord, “Sandpeople always ride single-file, to hide their numbers.”
1. Bro Jesus
You might argue that other Christianeze quirks belong at the top spot, but I think this one is a special accomplishment of American Christian culture: the Bro Jesus. It’s something truly American (though perhaps more on the California side of the country) — with our infamous informality and rugged individualism that tends to shy away from acknowledging the authority that other people have. This comes across in the way many churches and church leaders have gotten rid of any “titles” of authority: no, don’t call him Pastor Bob. It’s just Bob. Western culture in general has gotten very paranoid and cynical about authority, and sometimes we see church leaders apologizing for wanting to have governmental structures in the Body of Christ (even though the New Testament clearly mandates there be order, government, and authority in the Body). I spent some time in Ghana, Africa, and when our American team called the African pastor there by his first name instead of by Dr. [last name], he was very surprised. In Africa, showing respect to people in the church who have been placed in positions of authority is taken very seriously. And this extends into the way they view Jesus. They relate more to his Kingship than His Buddy-ship.
But here in America we’re all about Buddy Jesus, Bro Jesus, and “Jesus is My Homie.” That’s true among the male population, but it’s not just the guys. I’ve heard young women say, “I’m not dating guys right now because Jesus is my boyfriend.” Whoa. Boyfriend? Now, I’m not picking on her because her statement came from good intentions and a good heart, but, wow, I never got the vibe in the New Testament that Jesus was anybody’s boyfriend — or bro. I didn’t say anything to the girl at the time, but in my head I was thinking, “Jesus isn’t your boyfriend. He’s your King.”
Now, before I provoke anger, Jesus is definitely close to us. I think that’s what Americans are getting at when we use these terms. We’re trying to express the inexpressible: the miraculous closeness of Christ in our hearts and the fact that the Spirit of Christ comes and actually lives in our hearts when we believe in Him. You can’t get any closer to someone than that. So it’s not that we’re not close to Jesus, but somewhere along the way Christian culture has lost a sense of His awe-inspiring Kingship. Sure, the Apostle John leaned on Jesus at the Last Supper and was like Jesus’ best friend during His earthly ministry. Of all people who have ever lived, the Apostle John was the most qualified to use the term “Bro Jesus.” But when Jesus appeared to John on Patmos in the Book of Revelation, John fell to the ground like a dead man. He didn’t say, “Hey, what’s up, buddy bro Jesus!” Nope. He was face down in the dirt, probably shaking uncontrollably with fear and shock, and probably drooling because he no longer had the power to move. That’s how terrifyingly powerful and overwhelming KING Jesus is.
We shouldn’t forget that side of Jesus. Just sayin’.
Quirky But Lovable
Despite all of these quirks, allow me to reiterate something: this is not an American Church-bashing, Western Christian-bashing article. I love the Western Church. She is an important part of the worldwide Bride of Christ, the One whom the Bible says will be the Wife of the King (see Revelation 21). It’s just hard not to laugh a little at our little quirks. It’s a part of being human, and it helps us not take ourselves too seriously.
And, as the complete stranger at the Christian bookstore would tell me, “Amen, brother! God bless you!”