“Full Armor of God. $19.99”
This small figurine caught my eye just as I entered the “Family Christian Bookstore.” Happily, it confirmed everything I wanted it to confirm about American evangelicalism. The breastplate, helmet, and short-sword imitated Roman style, an idiosyncrasy I assumed had been missed by its sellers. Armor, I thought, is exactly what these people are selling.
As I surveyed the shelves immediately inside the door—a smattering of figurines, plaques bearing Bible verses, key-chains marked with Christian symbols—it struck me that the bookstore was selling reminders of an alternate reality, disciplining those who bought merchandise into a different culture, marking them as different. Children’s games taught distinctive lessons. One bore the ominous title “Consequences.” An ebook reader display stand boasted of thousands of “Christian” titles. All the sub-genres of Christian fiction and non-fiction had their place among the shelves of paper books. “Experiencing God at Home,” a primer on the foundational importance of family life. “Fifteen Minutes,” the newest from Christian-friendly romantic novelist Karen Kingsbury. A Bible in Army camo. And a teen novel about post-Rapture special-ops heavenly warfare eerily reminiscent of the Seal Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden. After flipping through that one, I was too horrified to note the title at all. Even fitness could be “faith-based” according to one exercise video. A small section for communion wafers, anointing oil, tambourines, and other church supplies seemed forgotten in a corner among all these other busy reminders of the pressing daily reality of Christian faith.
I was happy with all of this. I understood it. The fear, the self-reference, the American flags, the easy joy, it all fit neatly inside the box I had prepared for it.
But what I hadn’t realized is that I was jealous of all that. I wanted this for my Christianity. After all, Mennonites are supposed to be a subculture, and we—my lot at least—are busy dissolving into the liberal mainstream, our peace stance the gateway to an easy accommodation. I wanted this certainty, this discipline, this training in worldview, this armor. Well, not the armor, of course, and certainly not the sword. God knows we know that the Romans killed Jesus.
I walked the room, aware of the worried gaze of the cashier. No thanks. I’m just looking. It felt wrong to carry a notebook, so flagrantly violating their thick sincerity.
I left, uneasy, without buying anything.
Image courtesy of Familychristian.com.