Bumper sticker living

Charles Cooper

Charles Cooper

By Charles Cooper
Special Contributor

I suspect people who have bumper stickers are lonely. If you happen to have one, you are probably the exception; besides, I am no psychologist, just a worn-out preacher—as the early Disciplines used to call those of us in retirement. You are as much of an expert as I am; since you have a bumper sticker, more so.

Bumper stickers are brief conversation starters: from the domesticity of vacations and family to the controversy of politics and religion to the tawdry and sleazy and, of course, sports.

They are conversation starters without conversations. How can they be anything else? All the letters are a blur until you come to a stoplight, and then you are looking at the back of the top of someone’s head with two windshields between the two of you, unless the glass is tinted or the driver is short or it’s dark or it’s foggy or rainy; or you don’t notice because you are reading the bumper stickers.

One-sided conversation

Isn’t it odd that a person makes known to just anybody, to you, convictions and passions with no chance of a response, just on to the next exit?

Here is this human being all sealed up in a bubble of steel and glass screaming in bold print as she races down the freeway. It’s as if the machine had taken over and will not stop hurling her on as she strangles the steering wheel with both fists, and screams: I visited the Grand Canyon. My child is smart. I’m a Republican. I’m a Democrat. I go to First United Methodist. I like to shoot large mammals in the woods. Peace. Go Hogs.

No one can say, “I hear you. Let’s talk about it.”

I think bumper sticker people want that conversation, yet are ambivalent about it. I tested my theory one day in a mall parking lot: I saw that the driver of a minivan had been on vacation in the Smokey Mountains. I said, “The mile-high swinging bridge about gave me a heart attack.” The man replied, “I don’t care.”

I could have replied, “Thank you for corroborating my theory about people who have bumper stickers.”

So here’s the point: I don’t know if Jesus would have put one on his donkey. Maybe he would have done it for a laugh, but I don’t think he was interested in advertising who he was to the world. When others would announce who he was, he would hush them up. He hushed up the demon in the first chapter of Mark; later he hushed up Peter when he confessed, “You are the Christ.”

Evidence of identity

Jesus seemed to believe that the best evidence of who he was would come in getting to know him. The sheep know the shepherd not because the shepherd says, “Hey, sheep, I’m your guy, the shepherd.” They know him by the sound of his voice and not by what he says about himself; it’s the sound of the one who calls them to still waters and green pastures, the sound of the one who would give his life for them.

I have been thinking about dog whistles lately, the ultrasonic variety. The hunter blows a command that the dog hears, but not the game; the police officer blows a command that the dog hears, but not the crowds. So I believe if you are who you are, you don’t need a bumper sticker. You don’t need to shout, just blow the inaudible whistle of who you are. The right people will know and the true conversation will begin, person to person.

I am sure stickers of all sorts have a reason to be. We do refrigerator magnets at my house and never give it a moment’s thought. I guess we want to give that large metal box in our kitchen a personality. I suppose some people want to do the same with the large metal boxes on wheels in their garages. That’s understandable.

I come up short in so many ways and probably enjoy too much the silence of strangers. Yet, often what is not said makes me wonder if other people might not have secrets too humbly wonderful to put on a bumper, as, of course, Jesus did.

The Rev. Cooper is a retired elder in the Arkansas Conference. Email: brocorbeau@gmail.com.