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Every summer, the Christian Bookseller's Association has a huge trade show where book publishers and sellers of religious gifts congregate and attempt to ply their wares to owners of Christian bookstores and gift shops.
It's been a few years since I attended one, and even though this year's show was in nearby Orlando, I was out of town and didn't go.
Consequently, I missed one of the most exquisitely enjoyable aspects of this trade show - the rows of Christian witness items, snarkily referred to by the publishing side of the building as "Jesus junk alley."
I heard from someone who was there that this year's Jesus junk was a bit sparse. He said no vials of ashes from Sodom and Gomorrah or "Armor of God" pajamas or gospel golf balls.
Gone were the "Standing On the Promises" scripture-infused shoe insoles, although there was a company selling wristbands made out of dirt from Israel "so you could wear the actual dirt Jesus walked on!"
Having missed out on a good Jesus junk fix, today I went online to check out what kinds of stuff is available out there in cyberspace.
One company, The Maker's Art, touts its products as "silent witnesses." According to the company's claims, "All items are inspired to draw onlookers to ask for an explanation of what each of our products are. Thus, they swing the doorways to witnessing wide open!"
They carry such items as "Peel-N-Stick" blood drop transfers that can be applied to just about anything. For $14.95 per roll you get "more than enough blood to go around, just like Jesus!"
With authentic reproduction crucifixion nails - three for $78.95 - you can "leave these bad boys lying around or simply place them into somebody's hands and you will be amazed at the powerful emotions that will burst forth."
They also have Scourging Whip Tips ($39.95 each) to wear as necklaces or use as key chains. They promise, "Most of the unknowing people you come across will inevitably ask what it is; hence, the name Silent Witness."
Snarkiness aside, I know these people who design and manufacture this stuff do so with the best intentions, to share the Christian faith and to give Christians tools to open up avenues of conversation.
Of course, some just want to cash in on Jesus. Hey, I wrote one of my books only because a publisher offered me a ridiculously fat contract and not because I was passionate about the writing. (Not surprisingly, the book went out of print almost as soon as it came out.)
There are also those who believe Christians should only wear/use/look at "sanctified" merchandise like "Jesus Loves Me" sippy cups and "iPray" T-shirts and wall art with Bible verses or crosses or angels in it somewhere.
The theory is, when those who do not follow Jesus see the Jesus stuff Christians are wearing or using or have hanging on their walls or stuck to the rear bumpers of their cars, they will be inspired to believe.
Maybe the stuff really does act as a silent witness, but maybe it just elicits sneers or yawns - or worse. Who hasn't been flipped off in traffic by someone with a "My boss is a Jewish carpenter" bumper sticker and turned off by the person's Christian witness?
As a disclaimer, I happen to be one who was inspired to follow Jesus after seeing a message on the side of a van ("Jesus Saves!"), so you would think I would be a whole-hearted supporter of silent witness stuff. But, truthfully, I'm embarrassed by most Christian paraphernalia (and some Christian books).
I think they mostly make the Christian faith look trivial and silly, not life transforming.
The way I see it, isn't it more important for a person's faith to be evident in his or her words and deeds? I can wear all the Scourging Whip Tips I want, but unless I love my neighbor sacrificially and speak with kindness and humility, all people will see is a piece of morbidly bizarre jewelry and think I'm weird.