Transportation without Representation
Some bumper stickers mean to provoke. But all bumper stickers provoke a friend of mine. When he sees yours, he hears you shouting your attitudes, affiliations, and achievements at strangers. Where does it stop, he asks. And if you wouldn’t say it to my face in the cereal aisle, why would you say it to me in the parking lot?
In a twist, this highly principled friend does not shy away from provoking people he knows. He calls his friends’ windshield decals, car magnets, and bumper stickers ugly, tacky, pointless, offensive! All bumper stickers are rude!! I can’t go with him on this, even for fellowship. Let’s drive a mile in another man’s car. People use bumper stickers – and tattoos and blog posts – to commit themselves to something in our non-committal, swipe-left world. By making a statement external, do you not make it more likely to remain internal as well? Does not God for this reason advise the Israelites to bind the words of the Shema on their arms and write them on their doorposts? Some people commit themselves to remembrance. The brain is designed to purge grief; lest a day go by without recollection, some mourners emblazon a departed love’s name on a windshield. When a person has an experience that has defined her – a marathon, a university education, children – how can she disentangle her other affairs from it, and why would she want to? 21st century U.S. culture is lacking in spaces where people can become known. Could these stickers be a part of the counter-cultural push to be known in one’s community? Sometimes it works. I’ve had conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened: Are you from Michigan too? Some people commit themselves to aspirations. I can testify to good fruits: others’ religious stickers remind me I am not alone in my beliefs; when behind zeal at a red light, I’ve been convicted of being behind in zeal. Though I am not an influencer of any sort, I hereby formally endorse the use of (non-offensive) bumper stickers, magnets, decals, and maybe even car flags (immediately after national championships only, please) for all those drivers so inclined to represent what they cherish while cruising the surface streets. But you do not have an attractive school magnet affixed to the back hatch. Was it lost in a tragic car-washing incident? Aren’t you the headmaster’s wife, with children in four grades? Are you secretly disaffected? Or are you just too chicken to invite strangers to check out your bumper? Answer: No misfortune, emotional or physical, stands in the way. I'm not chicken, either – I’m just an unworthy spokesman My not-quite-excellent motoring about town does no credit to my institutions. My messy-minivan-interior is not the representation anyone is seeking. You’re welcome, beloved husband and school. Hemingway would understand. Knowing himself to be a bad Catholic, he deliberately shielded his fellows and his Church from the scandal of his lifestyle by never letting on that he believed. You can read an excellent piece about him here. Alas, the Hemingway Option is not really available to me, since I have to get in and out of the van sometime. There is always a chance that someone will make a connection between the van and me, and then between me and something else. I myself am, if you will, the stubborn decal that just won’t come off no matter how many razors and Goo-Gone treatments are applied. In the end, I must face it: there is no transportation without representation. So the question is not whether I will be a witness, but to what I shall testify. It is a matter of my whole life, Honda Odyssey and all. The way forward is to keep my eyes on the road, to merge more mindfully, to keep my interior free from detritus, to make the children keep their socks on in the car (WHY ARE THERE ALWAYS SO MANY SOCKS IN MY CAR?). What if Hemingway had been public about his faith and in his struggles? He had such a gift with words. What if he had tried to use his words to win souls? What if he had spent more time cleaning up his messes and keeping his eyes on the Way? We should adhere to our beliefs so closely that we cannot be distinguished from them at any moment. So much depends upon our witness! As Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote in an encyclical, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use bumper stickers.
Picture by Francis Farago on Unsplash