Underneath the labyrinthine exchange of roadways, the Interstate highway, the elevated expressway, and city streets that carry the heaviest traffic in our city, at the end of the dead end road beyond the fast food and drive thru Starbucks, there’s a mega-store. My skin crawls and I feel a little sick every time I see it. I went in a couple of times just to look around and felt dirty just being there. But, sadly, I think I’m pretty alone in my revulsion over this store. Recently there were protests and the city-council spent hours trying (rightly in my opinion) to keep a strip-club from opening a couple miles to the east of this place, but, I’ve never heard of anyone being anything but pleased by this store’s presence in our fair city.
Even so, I can’t help thinking if Jesus were to come to town, there might be some serious table turning action taking place down there.
So, can we talk about Jesus junk and cheap churchy tchotchkes and bad books and those who profit, bigly, off the sales of that stuff? This mega-store is crammed wall to wall with Jesus home décor, and Jesus jewelry, with Jesus plush-throws, and Jesus tees in every size, with Jesus baby burp cloths and nativity napkins and Jesus is the Reason for the Season soup mugs. The place is filled with the scent of “manger mixed with myrrh” melted wax (you can buy it in a set with the handy light-up nativity scented wax warmer for only $25.99).
A couple times I’ve been given gift cards to the Jesus Junk store. Last year I went there thinking I could use my gift card to buy a new Bible. The cover was coming off my old leather-bound Oxford Annotated NRSV and I thought it might be time to replace it. I braved my way through the Jesus gift gallery and past the thousands of glossy-covered books selling a “God loves America Best–Jesus is your Ultimate Life Insurance–Do you Know Where you’re Going when you Die? (and, in the mean-time, Heaven on Earth can be Yours if you follow our Ten Easy Ways to make your Husband Feel like a King)” kind of pseudo-Christianity. Way in the back of the store is their fairly large Bible section.
The Women’s Thin-line Pretty in Pink King James Version Bible complete with a matching pink journal and pink pen was only fifty bucks. But nowhere, amongst all their Biblical offerings was a single Bible for which a woman was a member of the editorial board. Not one. I’ve been exaggerating a little (could you tell?) about the stuff this store sells like hot cakes, but I’m not exaggerating at all about this. Every one of the hundreds of Bibles in a breathtakingly large array of colors and covers and versions and editions was translated and edited only by men. Why does that matter? Because women, like men, were created in God’s image. Women, like men, have brains and are scholars and are capable carriers of God’s stories. The more broadly representative the editors and translators of God’s word, the more accurate, the more inclusive the important editorial decisions. The earnest salesman helped me look at every version of the Bible sold in his store. Dozens of versions, no women editors. “Isn’t this strange?” I asked him. He admitted it was. He said he’d never really thought about it before.
Isn’t that the way it is with the whole big, let’s show the world how much we love Jesus by buying stuff with his name on it charade? We just don’t think about it. We have this good citizen-consumer attitude “It’s nice we have that big Christian store selling Christian things for all the good Christian people.” But, is it nice? Or, is it maybe a sham? Is it maybe a place where day after day hour after hour God’s name is taken in vain?
Using God’s name to make a buck, using God’s name to enhance one’s own wealth, using God’s name to please one’s investors, using God’s name to improve one’s business, using God’s name to silence half of God’s people seems to me to be risky. What I’ve read in my plain old black leather covered study Bible indicates God has never been all that pleased when people claim things in God’s name that are self-serving. Who benefits from the sale of Jesus Junk? Are the factory workers paid living wages to make all that stuff? Are they given full-benefits, do they get to take Sabbath rest? And what will happen to the Jesus junk when it’s gathered dust on our shelves and our kids have to go through our stuff after they’ve sent us to the old-folk’s home? Will it be valuable, or will it go to the landfill where it will be buried with no hope of resurrection?
Who benefits from Bibles edited only by conservative old white men? Who is being served? Is it God? And who benefits from books that trumpet piety and morality and “Christian” values that leave out the poor and the vulnerable and venerate the rich and powerful?
I don’t like the strip club in the middle of town. It’s degrading and dehumanizing. But, at least it’s not selling its’ tainted wares in the name of God.