We don’t need another Jesus Frisbee.
Last time I checked, the official “Frisbee” is manufactured to exacting standards, and trademarked by Wham-O. It’s not as if other companies don’t make some really good competing flying disks, but while they have come a long way since kids were flying the pie plates used by the Frisbie Baking Company, there are jillions of cheap knock-offs used in advertising. The cheaper versions do okay, just slightly better than Frisbie’s pie plates in most cases, but they are still junk and anyone who throws a real Frisbee one time will immediately know the difference.
I remember going to some children’s day camp run by a particular church. Everything wrong you’ve ever seen about the abuse of cheesy and revolting advertising techniques was all over this thing. I don’t even remember the details, and for this I thank God. But the one thing which stuck in my mind was one of the staffers forbidding the kids from using a regular Frisbee from Wham-O, and requiring them all to play with one of their junk frisbees which had an image of “Jesus” stamped on it. You know, any one of those half-dozen popular American pictures of what someone imagined Jesus looked like. The image is always someone with Caucasian Medieval European hair and beard style. We know for a fact few Judeans of the First Century looked nothing like that, but it’s all about image consciousness and other godless advertising schlock, of course.
Apparently I’m not the only one to experience this disgusting cheapening of the gospel message. Sometime ago I ran across the term “Jesus Frisbee Syndrome” and knew immediately what it meant. It’s this silly demand we must throw away all the entire collection of artifacts by which we live our daily lives whenever some greedy marketer comes up with a uniquely “Christian” version. So we had loads and loads of cheesy junk of the lowest quality possible with a picture of Jesus, or some other way of claiming it was the uniquely Christian answer to whatever better products were out there.
For example, I can’t count how many bands played the garbage bar circuit in small towns, but when they changed their shtick to something resembling “Christian,” we consumers were bullied into supporting this crap. Suddenly the two-bit almost-talented band was a big hit because they were the Christian answer to whatever genre they figured they could sell. Don’t get me wrong; the early Jesus Music did see some really good musicians start their careers, but the average Christian experienced a brutal marketing pressure from all the “me too” preachers and religious leaders who never had any integrity. That’s because they were doing the same thing in their churches, having entered the ministry with whatever human talent they possessed because the market was better.
So even when we have some really great talents, the message is still dead. Remember that big hit in 1969, “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum? He was a secularized Jew. The theology in that song is just awful, an insult to the label “Christian.” The music was a stunning accomplishment in its time.
But the problem with the Jesus Frisbee Syndrome is none of that. It’s the combination of hideously bad talent and bad theology. It’s okay to use popular symbols — kitschy representations of “Jesus” — when you can match it to the real message. And I can tolerate real talent mocking the gospel, because I understand what they are saying. Sometimes I have to agree on some level with the mockery. That’s because we have cheap imitations of real preachers running cheap imitations of real churches, and organized religion will always be a justified target for lampoon. That’s because no church is ever more than humans organized for a purpose, and humans are better at making mistakes than at correcting them. It’s when those cheap suits standing behind TV-ready pulpits expect you take them seriously, and worse, take themselves seriously.
Don’t tell me I have to fall down and reverence something simply because you paid for cheap paint to apply some bumper-sticker sound-bite to something which is even cheaper. Don’t tell me Jesus will be mad if I don’t buy it. Don’t tell me I can’t call myself a Christian because I won’t give you my money for what amounts to your cast-off dirty underwear.