Walmart always brings out the catatonic in me. I feel glassy-eyed and once removed from the staggering array of choices, poorly lit and crowded on their shelves. So it was last evening, as I found myself facing off with a plethora of skeletons in the apparent skeleton aisle. Skeletons in cages, skeletons wearing capes, skeletons with red eyes, skeletons draped in cobwebs—some white, some gray so as to look old and dirty, some large, some small—and all of them available for pennies on the craft store dollar. It’s no wonder I couldn’t decide. (Too many.) It’s no wonder I just turned around and moved away. (Feeling dizzy.)

As I did so, my eye caught the look of groovy day-glo lettering across the aisle and without thinking my feet walked toward this bubbly pink word on a square greeting card. “Jesus,” it said. And when I opened it up, music I couldn’t understand started playing as I read the message: “To one Jesus freak from another.”

Catatonia broken.

When did Jesus become trendy? I know about the wristbands you can buy in bulk from Oriental Trading Company, that ask in alphabetism: “WWJD?” I’ve seen the shirts: “Jesus is my homeboy.” And even at my local gym there is an Escalade rolling on enormous rims with a sign emblazoned on it’s tinted back window in Olde English: “Jesus Saves.”

And I agree, He really does. But I have to wonder over all of this! Is it a good thing that Jesus is so hip? Or should the very name of our Savior be too sacred to toss around in rapper culture, Hallmark culture and bulk party favor culture?

Sometimes I think anything associated with religion should by default assume traits of the more austere. Sometimes I feel drawn to the Catholic de rigueur of gilded things and heavy incense— an intoxicating cocktail of religion, the physical mixed with the metaphysical. And at these times I practice yoga while birthing babies and listening to the velar chants of my homeboys: those good ol’ Tibetan monks.

But then I see the quiet plainness of the corner stake building without a cross or statue in site and covered in orange bricks, and can’t help but feel drawn to the simplicity of a place to worship unadorned. But then again, that is my culture.

And I appreciate that in my culture, Jesus is set apart and revered. And that out of piety and respect, we fear God, we love God, and we keep holy the things that are holy. We worship a Lord that was humble and unassuming—as a people it makes sense to follow that lifestyle and adore in similar respect. I believe that the Divine are set apart for a reason, and that to allow something special to become mainstream makes it subsequently not so special.

Should I be as comfortable seeing Christ’s visage on a shirt as I am seeing Hello Kitty’s outline on a shirt? Or Bon Jovi’s venue line-up for North America?

And really: what would Jesus do? Probably not wear a shirt with graphics.

But can we make judgments on what is appropriate simply because we wouldn’t do it ourselves? I’m certain most of this pop-culture Jesus hoopla is in jest. And yet every time I am on the treadmill near the gym windows overlooking the parking lot, I secretly hope that I will happen to see who gets into the “Jesus Saves” Escalade. Is it a brother from a neighbor Christian church? Or is it a sister from Relief Society? Couldn’t it very well be either? Because we both know it to be true.
Until then, until I see the driver of the Jesus SUV, I content myself with seeing the other things. The dalliance of God in daily life is found in the beauty of these changing leaves around me, and I see my Savior in the good works of my neighbors who offer to babysit, who diligently visit teach. This is a form of spirituality I can handle in the mainstream.

I don’t need a t-shirt or a car to shout out what my heart already knows. But does the world?

October 4, 2007


  1. Jill

    October 3, 2007

    Wow. Were you a fly on my window yesterday? I was having this same conversation about an over-zealous catholic relative. I guess I’ve always felt that if you truly KNOW and BELIEVE something, you don’t have to go around continually telling everyone how much you know and believe. It’s like are you trying to convince me or yourself?

    I love finding the dalliance of God in the small and simple things as well.

  2. rachel

    October 3, 2007

    Really good post. And your right, I doubt Jesus would wear a shirt with graphics? And would he care about the sound system in our new larger church we are building? I know we care about it… but doesn’t he care more that I go speak to that lonely person on the corner or give them food?

    And yet being in a Catholic church once in a while for me is a unique experience to a certain extent, because being Protestant I’m never faced with the statues, imagery, etc. It sort of helps me grow spiritually and get a fresh perspective, if that makes sense.

    I agree… the mainstream vs. the importance is a tough one.

  3. AKL

    October 3, 2007

    When I was in seminary, a student had a problem similar to this. She said that she likes to think of her relationship with Christ on a more personal level, and thought it would be weird to bow down to him and worship him.

    Our seminary teacher quickly reminded her that while we can have a personal relationship with our Savior, He is still deity, and should be treated as such.

    I think that if we were ever to be in the presence of God, we would be so humbled that we would be on our knees without giving it a second thought. I think it would be hard to think of Christ as a buddy when faced with his glory in person.

  4. Justine

    October 3, 2007

    I think most of it ‘cheapens the message’, although if it gets people thinking about the Savior in some context at all, I suppose that’s not a bad thing.

    We Mormons sometimes tend to cover our homes with religious art — is that different? I’ve got Greg Olsen paintings in my living room. They might not be on my bumper or t-shirt, but do they convey the same gaudiness we associate with the latter?

    I don’t know the answer. Interesting to thing about…

  5. Brooke

    October 3, 2007

    and part of me secretly always wishes i would see a relief society president looking sort of gal step into the Jesus SUV. just to really throw myself off.

    but i have to agree with AKL– it would be difficult to think of Him as a “buddy when faced with His glory in person.” so true.

  6. Michelle

    October 3, 2007

    I am reminded of the scripture that explains why the Melchizedek Priesthood is called what it is called. The frequent use of the Savior’s name is not something is appropriate, even in terms of our sacred elements such as priesthood. The Savior’s name is tied to our ordinances (always done in His name, where we covenant to always remember Him, etc.), and closes our testimonies, prayers, etc. His name is about the most sacred part of our belief system, for lots of reasons.

    I think that some people don’t know any better, so I don’t fault the people as much who want to bring the Savior into their lives in tangible ways (ways that may feel appropriate to them). But I think that we as Latter-day Saints ought to approach His name and remembering Him in ways that are consistent with the simplicity and reverence that is part of our beliefs. The Savior is first and foremost a God to us, not simply a chum to wear or throw around like any other pop culture fad. I secretly wish that more people understood that and didn’t toss Him around so casually, but again, I can’t help but think it’s not all their fault.

    And FWIW, I personally think that reverent paintings of the Savior (which we see in our churches and temples) are a whole lot different than casual cards and T-shirts and bumper stickers.

  7. Liz

    October 3, 2007

    I have mixed emotions about this.

    One the one hand, I agree that it lessens the sacredness of the Savior if he becomes commonplace, if He’s just another advertisement of sorts.

    But on the other hand, I can appreciate people who love Him so much that they want everyone to know about it, even in environments (like the University I work at) that are not very welcoming towards those who believe.

    It’s a very interesting question.

  8. texasgal

    October 3, 2007

    Pop-Jesus, gimmick Jesus, billboard Jesus, these are big here in Texas. I think it is okay if that is your level. Its better than no Jesus at all. I am reminded of EFY at BYU –one big gimmick-fest, but all for a good cause, all for a good cause.

    One argument I have heard in favor of the in-your-face Jesus is that Satan is loud and clear, so some people feel compelled to shout back. I’m not sure I agree with that, but its a possible explanation of the phenomena. Interesting post.

  9. mami

    October 3, 2007

    Really beautifully written. I loved all of it! Interesting thoughts.

    “I guess I’ve always felt that if you truly KNOW and BELIEVE something, you don’t have to go around continually telling everyone how much you know and believe. It’s like are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
    Umm, we ourselves do have 50,000 missionaries and testimony meetings to do exactly that.

    “I think it would be hard to think of Christ as a buddy when faced with his glory in person.’
    Well said.

    Whoever said EFY was a gimmick fest (and so much of the youth programs)—amen. I also really like that someone pointed out that we Mormons are notorious for having paintings of Jesus all over our walls. One person’s rendition of sacred is another’s common. I have to disagree with Michelle, it really isn’t that much different. We think it is revering to put up the pictures, but Muslims will not even show the image of God in art, because He is so sacred. Jews won’t pronounce the name of God, but we have no problem saying Jesus Christ in every prayer. I feel it is a bit arrogant to flippantly say they don’t know any better. What if Muslims and Jews say, “ Poor Mormons, they just don’t know any better—pronouncing the name of their God without reverence and constantly imagining up some likeness of him to hang on their walls”?

  10. Lenore

    October 4, 2007

    Just to make a point: the Jesus is my Homeboy t-shirts, and some of the others like them, are worn as ironic versions of other pop culture Jesus items, or at least they were originally. ‘Homeboy’ by the time the tshirts came out was a term out of popular use. They are intended to be a kitsch-comment on something or another, and that’s probably the spirit with which celebrities wear them. The fact that Christians are wearing them without irony is, well, ironic.

    Don’t some of the Mormonads walk a fine line in this direction as well?

  11. Maralise

    October 4, 2007

    I would have to agree that Mormons are not immune to the Jesus propaganda, or the outward show of religiosity. The CTR ring and the contents of most church book stores scream the culture of (sometimes literally) wearing our religion.

    It comes down to what degree you’re personally comfortable with this type of marketing. I am uncomfortable with most of these types of religious expression (including hanging “church” art on my walls). But, having lived in the South for a time, I gained an incredible amount of respect for those with guts enough to challenge others to pray on their license plate.

    So, even though I choose not to partake of this kind of public display, I don’t really think it’s my business if someone else does. I wouldn’t “out” one of the members of my church family for their “Charity Never Faileth” polo any more than I would condemn someone else’s Jesus Saves license plate.

  12. b.

    October 4, 2007


  13. Michelle

    October 4, 2007

    I feel it is a bit arrogant to flippantly say they don’t know any better.

    I’m sorry if it came across as arrogant, and I didn’t mean to be flippant at all. There IS a misunderstanding about God and the Savior in the world. That is simply fact. Sometimes we misunderstand them, too. But we do have scriptural guidance about how and when to use the Savior’s name, which other religions don’t have. Acknowledging that doesn’t have to be equated with arrogance. It seems a bit extreme to me to make that jump.

    What if Muslims and Jews say, “ Poor Mormons, they just don’t know any better—pronouncing the name of their God without reverence and constantly imagining up some likeness of him to hang on their walls”?

    I am not so sure that some of them wouldn’t say that. And I would want to be sensitive about their sensitivities. I respect the fact that they might see things differently from me.

    But still, my point is that as Latter-day Saints, we do have some knowledge that can help us make decisions about these things, IMO. We do know that the Savior’s name is sacred, and we know when we should and shouldn’t be using it. We know that some representation of the Savior in paintings, etc. is not inappropriate (although personal preference may vary). I trust that if pictures are put up in the temple, it’s ok to do in my home.

    I also think there is a BIG difference between wearing a CTR ring or a “Charity Never Faileth” T-shirt (although I wouldn’t want such a shirt) and wearing something that uses the Savior’s name casually. I have no scriptural injunction to not wear a ring that reminds me to choose the right; on the other hand, our scriptures make it clear that using the Lord’s name in vain and/or using it casually is not good. Knowledge like that means accountability that others may not have because they don’t have that knowledge. That seems simple enough to me to acknowledge without being arrogant, no?

  14. Emily M.

    October 4, 2007

    I loved this, Brooke. Great questions.

    I think if t-shirts really bring people closer to God, then okay. But they make me uncomfortable; they feel irreverent. I’m a person who tries to make my kids slow down when they close prayers, so they speak the Savior’s name respectfully and not all slurred together. Which we are still working on, BTW.

    I think what really matters is what you do with the faith you proclaim. Are you wearing the t-shirt (or displaying the Mormonad) because you love the Savior and it helps you grow towards Him? Or are you wearing it out of irony, or wearing it and then not following what He taught?

    So, I’m stating the obvious here. I do think externals matter. But since man looketh on the outward appearance, and the Lord looketh on the heart, He’s the one who will be able to tell the degree of commitment and faith in a “homeboy” t-shirt… or one of our own Mormonad posters.

  15. mami

    October 5, 2007

    “But we do have scriptural guidance about how and when to use the Savior’s name, which other religions don’t have. ”

    But other religions do have such guidance, it is just different guidance than our’s.

    We do not have any guidance that says, “Don’t put ‘Jesus Saves’ bumper stickers on your car.” or “Don’t wear shirts with references to Jesus.”

    I am also not sure that people using the Savior’s name frequently in the examples the author gave are using it casually. They take it very seriously.

  16. Katie El

    October 5, 2007

    Great post Brooke…

    Although I am not a patron of the latest ‘Jesus Saves’ fashions, I would agree with the statment that “how are we to know that those who wear these items do not take the name of the Savior seriously?” They could be a devout member of whatever sect of religion they have chosen and wearing such item(s) their way of proclaming or sharing their love for the Savior. Latter-day saints have their share of items showing our devotion to our Savior be it pictures or statues (i.e. the Christus) that we display that turn our thoughts to Him. To each his own I say. What works for some may not work for the other. As it it stated previously “the Lord looketh on the heart.” So if someone wants to sport their “Jesus Rocks” t-shirt that’s fine, but for me, I am happy with the picture of Christ that hangs in my home.

    “What if Muslims and Jews say, “ Poor Mormons, they just don’t know any better—pronouncing the name of their God without reverence and constantly imagining up some likeness of him to hang on their walls”?

    It’s hard to say what Muslims and Jews think regarding Latter-day Saints. I liked this question. I can offer this as a comment. My father in law is Muslim and my Mother in law is Mormon (the husband always says he grew up in one of the strictest homes when it came to religion). I can say that although my father in law may believe a bit differently when it comes to the Savior (Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was a prophet and not the Son of God, and Allah is the only God) there is still a mutual respect between my Father and Mother in law with regards to their own religions/beliefs.

    And I agree that I can’t think of Christ as a “buddy.” I agree that if we were in the presence of God, we couldn’t help but to fall to our knees and make ourselves prostrate before him.

  17. Michelle

    October 5, 2007

    Just to clarify…I hope I made it clear that I do believe that people who may use bumper stickers or whatever are showing their love in their way, and that the Lord looks on the heart. I have a great deal of respect for people in many different religions (I suspect that there are many who are more devout than some Latter-day Saints — not that it’s a competition, mind you, but just saying that because I recognize that we are certainly not the only people on the earth with faith and devotion that the Lord can love and accept). I love the love of the Savior that is evident in many of our Christian friends. I love the devoutness of those who aren’t Christians as well. I love it when people can devote themselves to something that causes them to worship, to seek to improve, to love other people.

    That said, is it arrogant to hope that someday people will have the chance to learn more about the Savior, His name, His ordinances, His church? I don’t believe it is.

  18. Brooke

    October 5, 2007

    Sometimes… I think any sort of spirituality is better than none at all. If a few people in my life knew even the littlest bit about the Savior (and were willing to live that little bit)– compared to now, it would seem enough.

    But yes, the Savior is for everyone and we can only hope that people will be blessed to learn more about His life.

  19. Michelle

    October 5, 2007

    Brooke, that is a good point. I really don’t want to come across as arrogant, but my heart aches for people to know what we know. But you bring up a good point…a little something would be really something for some.

  20. Dora

    October 8, 2007

    Personally, I think that the Saviour would use whatever works best to bring us back into the fold. From Mormon Tab music to Janice Kapp Perry, I-Love-My-Family stickers vs the CTR faux-location ones, dances and church basketball.

    And, as I was reading through the other comments, I kept on thinking that when the saviour comes again, he probably won’t spend much time sitting around. He spent so much of his mortal ministry with the sinners, outcasts, and “the least of these my bretheren,” that I can’t imagine that he would be judgemental about how we express our love for him. He will know the thoughts and intents of our hearts, and won’t worry so much about how cultural biases.

Comments are closed.