Anyway, while driving to drop my wife off so that I could keep the one working car, I rediscovered my love for the connection between free speech and the back of automobiles. Sometimes when I drive I set out in search of collections of bumper stickers and other such items that just don't seem to fit with each other. Today I saw a beautiful trifecta. On the back of a mid-nineties Toyota there were three items:
1. A NASCAR bumper sticker.
2. A metallic ICHTHUS fish.
3. An anti-war magnetic ribbon.
I had never considered that those three could go together.
Having spent most of my adult life in one form of professional ministry or another, my cars have rarely advertised any sort of idea, much less a political one. I've always thought that professional ministry and political expression don't go well together, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has ever disagreed with the stated politics of their pastor. The Church (universal, institutional, and even congregational) is so divided over so many internal issues that the last thing it needs is a minister accidentally or intentionally dividing it over external issues like politics. There is, as far as I can see, no political viewpoint which is entirely consistent with the Gospel, and there is probably no political viewpoint that is necessarily entirely opposed to the Gospel. When we mix the Gospel with politics we create some strange concoctions, and we also, from a religious standpoint, unnecessarily cut off those who do not share our political views.
Consequently, despite my love for the ways in which others express themselves all over the back of their cars, I really haven't tried it myself. But, my car has had one magnetic ribbon, which is entirely my wife's fault.
My wife is a behavioral therapist who works with autistic children, and she is very good at what she does. She is even, against all odds given her aversion to self-promotion, pretty good at the political side of her job. She has the amazing ability to, along with other people from the non-profit organization that she works for, convince people who have money that what she does is so worth doing that they ought to help fund it. [note: she is helping with a fundraiser this weekend, which means two things: 1. I won't see her on Saturday unless I go out to the fundraiser, and 2. Several unsuspecting people will unexpectedly contribute money to a worthwhile cause.]
Because of what she does, and how good she is at it, my wife tends to view politics and political expression through the lens of the autistism community. If someone or something can help treat and/or prevent autism, or if someone or something is willing to fund programs which help treat and/or prevent autism, then she is for them. If not, she is against them. For her, with a few notable exceptions (like war!), it is pretty much that simple. As such, the only political statement I have ever at any time allowed on my car came from my wife: an Autism Awareness magnetic ribbon, which had been proudly displayed on my car, up until yesterday.
I know that most political expressions found on the backs of automobiles can be inflammatory. In fact, that's what I like about them. They often say the sorts of things we would only say with a degree on anonymity. They are intentionally polarizing, and as such demonstrate at least a great deal of gall, if not outright courage. Here are two of my all time favorite political bumper stickers, one from the right and one from the left:
1. "George W. Bush is my man, John Kerry is Osama bin Laden's man" - This had the guts to say outright what Republican operatives had been trying to imply the entire campaign.
2. "We're making enemies faster than we can kill them." - This is a statement with far more truth than most of us are comfortable admitting. It cuts right to the heart of the problem with declaring war on something like terrorism. You don't wage war against ideas, you wage war against people. And how you treat people profoundly affects the ideas they have about you.
[note: my best friend is a former Marine who fought in the war in Iraq. I am glad that he and many of his fellow soldiers can appreciate the difference between protesting against the war they fought in and protesting against them. I hope that others who, like me, oppose this war, can make the same distiction]
I can see why someone, particularly someone who, despite protests to the contrary, opposes free speech, might want to rip these statements off the back of a car. They are polarizing and inflammatory at best, potentially offensive at worst. But I wouldn't exactly put my Autism Awareness magnetic ribbon in the same category. For the life of me I can't figure out why someone or something would bother to remove it from my car. I simply have no theories.
Here is my desperate plea: Help me solve the (Hardy Boys-esque) Mystery of the Missing Magnetic Ribbon. If you have any ideas, plausible or downright crazy, please either post them as a comment on this blog, or send them to me in an email.