Flair of the Spirit

How do you know who’s a Christian?

That’s not an easy question. No definitional one is. If you’d like to prove that statement, go into a room of geeks and ask, “How do you know what science fiction is? What’s fantasy? How do you tell the difference?” Then run very far away.

But to return to my original question, how do you know? Sure, people can profess to be Christians, but how can you be sure? It’s not as if we have a Christianity detector, or any other reliable way of reading people’s thoughts and opinions and categorizing them. We’re left with looking for external evidence of an internal state.

Christianity is supposed to be transformative. It’s supposed to make a difference in your life. One outward manifestation of this is supposed to be the fruit of the Spirit.

“Fruit of the Spirit” is one of those Christian terms of art. Roughly speaking, the Holy Spirit is God in us, guiding us and strengthening us. If the Holy Spirit is in us, we should demonstrate its fruit, as Paul talked about in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

These are not exclusively Christian concepts, and Christians do not have a monopoly on them — in fact, based on the actions of a number of groups that identify themselves as Christian, we don’t display much of the fruit of the Spirit at all. So how do you use this to judge who’s Christian and who isn’t?

That’s why so many of us Christians don’t pay any attention to the fruit of the Spirit. We make up our own metrics, like political beliefs or stances on scientific matters. It’s how we end up declaring Bill Clinton to be a Christian in name only while affording full Christianhood to Ted Haggard.

Even that isn’t really good enough, though. Sure, elected officials and people in the media end up talking about what they believe, but how do I tell whether the guy on the train next to me is Christian or not? We need some obvious sign that a person is Christian. We need something like…

A play on the Staples 'Easy' button

Why, like that!

Christianity has always gleefully appropriated non-Christian symbols, the Christmas tree and the ichthys being prime examples. “Christian” shirts are the apotheosis of that practice. That’s not the real problem. The real problem is using this sort of junk to identify ourselves as Christians. It’s as if we’re not content to know that we’re Christian and act accordingly. We need to broadcast it to the world. So we put on t-shirts and buttons and WWJD bracelets, and we make sure everyone can see them.

There’s a name for all of these trinkets.

Joanna: You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?
Stan: Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself.
Joanna: You know what, I do want to express myself, okay. And I don’t need 37 pieces of flair to do it.

Office Space gave the name “flair” to the buttons and other crap the waitstaff at restaurants like Bennigan’s wear to “express their personality”. It’s a wonderful word, flair. It indicates both the supposed purpose of the buttons and the cynical, soul-less motive behind it.

That’s what we’ve bought into. Instead of taking true Christian ideals, internalizing them, and trying to demonstrate Jesus’s love to those around us, we comfort ourselves by wearing trinkets. That way everyone around us can see our Flair of the Spirit.

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26 Comments

  1. Pop
    on April 26, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Please allow me to add to this well-said piece a hearty AMEN!

  2. on April 26, 2007 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I guess you got tired of waiting for me to write this. :chuckle:

  3. Seth Vidal
    on April 26, 2007 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Well put, Stephen. My opinion on religion is not overly original nor interesting but you’ve put together a very well stated argument for having people act more appropriately independent of what they wear. Thank you.

  4. on April 27, 2007 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    You bet, Seth, and I’m glad you liked this post. Our face-to-face discussions taught me a lot about my beliefs, and gave me a lot of respect for yours.

  5. duchess
    on April 27, 2007 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Hey, thanks for this. I’ve been thinking and sifting through a lot of religious related idea-lets (little ideas, not yet big enough to be an idea) recently, and this came just at the right time. More sifting and thinking up ahead.

  6. Danielle
    on October 6, 2007 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    That is incredibly true! I applaud you’re ability to state the obvious so well.

  7. on August 20, 2008 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I totally disagree. Whats the difference in wearing a wedding band that says you are married and found the human being that makes your life happy and wearing a t-shirt, bracelet, earrings, ring, or necklace, that says you finally found out about God, Love God, and he makes your life happy and fulfilled.
    Maybe even just one person is curious enough to check out what your shirt means, or whatever you wear to express your Love of God, and they too find out about God and become one of his followers. What EVER is wrong with that? It’s better than hiding your light under a rock somewhere and not even trying to spread Gods Word & Love ……

  8. on August 20, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    That’s a nice false dilemma you’ve set up — either we wear Flair of the Spirit or we don’t talk about Christ at all. A wedding band says, “I am married,” it doesn’t say, “You should be married, and in fact should be married to the same person I am.” Flair of the spirit is used as much for proselytizing as anything else, and is often used in place of real witnessing.

  9. on August 20, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Stephen.

  10. Stephen Scheppele
    on April 5, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I wear a cross on a necklace that my wife gave me for my birthday 30 years ago. It sounds like Stephen would define me as just another “Flair of the Spirit” phony Christian. It’s true that using these “Flairs of the Spirit” items don’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a Buick, but it’s been my experience, over 60 years of living, that they sometimes lead to conversations with non-believers where you actually can witness to them with the Word of God. If you aren’t ashamed of your Christian faith, you’ll be bold enough to show it in your actions, words, and works. This certainly doesn’t exclude wearing a Christian t-shirt or having a Christian bumper sticker on that Buick.

    Christmas trees were certainly a pagan tradition first and were adopted by believers that couldn’t drop all of their pagan ways, just like the Easter egg was a symbol of the rebirth of the earth in pagan celebrations. The cross is one of the most ancient human symbols, and is used by many religions, including pagan ones. Does that mean that Christians should demand their churches take down that symbol of Christianity simply because pagans used it first?

    AND – I guess you might have a point about the ichthys too. The fish symbol has been associated with Aphrodite, Atargatis, Dagon, Ephesus, the vulva of Isis, and the myths and traditions surrounding Delphine and Pelagia – all pagan gods/goddesses. However, early Christians were being hunted down and killed for their faith. Makes sense to me that they MIGHT want to avoid that end by using the symbol of the fish that could easily be confused with almost any other religion. Also, they could check out other people that they would meet to see if they were Christians:

    ……when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company. Current bumper-sticker and business-card uses of the fish hearken back to this practice. The symbol is still used today to show that the bearer is a practicing Christian.
    – – Christianity Today, Elesha Coffman, “Ask the Editors”

    Seems to me, that we should just except other people the way they are, praying for ALL of them to come to Christ or walk closer to Him if they are Christians and not find fault in someone because they want to display some “Flair of the Spirit.”

    Luke 9:26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

    Now get with the program and go buy a “Jesus Saves” t-shirt or move to Ohio and join our beloved Amish brothers who practice a much more traditional Christian faith!
    God Bless You ~ Stephen #2

  11. on April 5, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Now get with the program and go buy a “Jesus Saves” t-shirt or move to Ohio and join our beloved Amish brothers who practice a much more traditional Christian faith!

    Hey, look, another false dilemma! There is plenty of middle ground in Christianity between the two options you’ve presented.

    Your response neatly encapsulates one of my problems with how some Christians use this kind of flair, and is similar to my problem with flag pins as a symbol of patriotism: someone (like you) will come along and say “If you weren’t ashamed of (Christ/your country), you’d wear this!” Several times you mentioned not being ashamed of being a Christian, with the implication that if I weren’t ashamed of my faith, I’d be willing to wear one of these t-shirts. Thanks, but no — I’m not interested in that argument.

  12. Stephen Scheppele
    on April 5, 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    “Several times you mentioned not being ashamed of being a Christian, with the implication that if I weren’t ashamed of my faith, I’d be willing to wear one of these t-shirts.”
    Well – you read things into what anyone says it seems, so I will end it here since you are so easily offended. The “go out and buy a t-shirt or join the Amish” was a joke! Don’t take yourself so seriously. By the way what’s your advise on throwing away my cross on the necklace? Maybe I could melt it down for the gold.

  13. on April 6, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    At no point did I recommend getting rid of crosses, and I explicitly said that the appropriation of non-Christian symbols was not what I disagreed with. And you seem to have confused my arguing with you with being offended, as if the magic word “offended” will make my words vanish.

  14. greg
    on April 6, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    that shirt is stupid and not christian just like the the shirt that says jesus is ma homboy its retarted. one comeing to jesus does not bring happy life here on earth it gets realy hard. why not” worlds sin? one solution repent and turn to jesus.”

  15. Stephen Scheppele
    on April 7, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Judgment isn’t a Christians “job”, it’s Gods. If you say that a shirt is stupid, then it leads down a slippery slope where, at the bottom of that slope, you say that anything you believe is right and everyone else is wrong. Judging someone for what they wear isn’t much different than judging them for the color of their skin. We, as humans, can’t begin to know what is in someone else’s heart. It’s difficult enough to begin to know what is in our own heart. My point has been totally misunderstood. The point is to love your fellow man and don’t judge him based on what you think is stupid. There are plenty of very devout Christians with all sorts of “weird” t-shirts, bumper stickers, jewelry, etc. I myself have a Mezuzah on my home’s doorpost. This might seem goofy, silly, stupid, ignorant, pagan, Jewish, or something else to another Christian. To me it just symbolizes my commitment that my house is with God and for God and reminds me of this every time I enter the home. It doesn’t make me a better Christian, but it does remind me to BE a better Christian, especially in my home.
    1 John 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
    Of course, the above shirt was made to look as ridiculous as possible in order for Stephen to make his point. A t-shirt with a simple Bible verse wouldn’t have done that.

  16. on April 7, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    greg: I actually find some of the shirts clever.

    Stephen: I agree with your re-stated point about loving others. My issue with what I’ve called “Flair of the Spirit” is more with how it’s sometimes used and how it’s viewed: as a replacement for exhibiting love, patience, and kindness, and as a way of witnessing without effort. As many of the companies claim, if you change your shirt, you’ll change the world. That’s a pretty heavy claim to put on their apparel which, at best, is a clever re-imagining of corporate logos, and I object to companies making that kind of grandiose claim and using Christianity as a way to drive up sales.

  17. Stephen Scheppele
    on April 7, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    WELL, we are in agreement. Too often people don’t make the effort to witness the love and unconditional grace of Christ in the proper way. People are just people and we ALL fall short of walking the perfect Christian life. Isn’t it beautiful that God knows each of us and sent His Son to die for or sins so that we could walk with God in this life and eternally in the one that is follows this one? There might not be any t-shirts in heaven, but there might be if that’s what truly makes you happy… LOL!
    I don’t own any Christian t-shirts, but I print some occasionally. Some companies are trying to “cash in” on the Christian faith and I believe this to be wrong. However, kids sometimes need to be “part of” this world even if they are Christians. If this means wearing a crazy t-shirt, it’s better for them to wear a Christian tee than one with a flaming skull! This lets them feel like they “fit in” while still proclaiming their faith. They are young in their walk and will probably grow out of this stage with maturity in Christ.

  18. Jenni
    on August 7, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    This whole thing is ridiculous. If you don’t want to wear something that represents your beliefs or your convictions…then don’t. That’s your choice. But those of us who want to wear something that represents our beliefs and our convictions have the right to do so without being persecuted by you. It’s a free country and living in America gives us the right to wear whatever we want. So there.

  19. on August 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Goodness, if reading a single two-year-old blog post on a mildly-trafficked blog meets your standard for persecution, I’d hate to see your reaction to not getting ketchup packets when you order fries to go.

  20. on August 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    When I hear a Christian in this country complain about being “persecuted”, I am often reminded of Fezzik’s line from The Princess Bride:

    You keep using that word but I do not think you know what it means.

  21. on August 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how quick Jenni would be to defend my rights if I wore my “WWJD… for a Klondike Bar?” shirt or she spied my WWJS Buddy Christ patch? (What Would Jesus Shoot)

  22. Jenni
    on August 7, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    You people are a joke. Your blog came up under a search that I did and thats all there is to it. That is why I left a message on it. Not like I searched out your particular blog. Please don’t be so full of yourself. Besides, there are many other people on here leaving messages well into this year so don’t act like I’m the only one that has left a current message. How childish is that?? Anyway, I’m not here to defend my faith and I shouldn’t have to. Like I said, this is America and we ALL have the freedom to choose what we wear, what we believe in and what we say. Too bad you don’t allow others that same freedom to express themselves on your blog. If you don’t want people to comment against what you say, then I suggest you stop blogging your beliefs and views. People have different opinions and that’s the way the world turns. Get use to it or go bury yourself in a hole. Oh and Will, if that’s the type of shirts you chose to wear because that is your views, then so be it. It’s not for me to judge your taste in clothing. That’s between you and God and the final day of judgement. 🙂

  23. Jenni
    on August 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    BTW, you can all write whatever mean, rude and disturbing responses you want to my last post (because I know you will, you just can’t help yourselves). But I will not be returning to see the responses because this kind of banter is simply not healthy and honestly, I have better things to do with my time. 🙂

  24. on August 7, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    “Too bad you don’t allow others that same freedom to express themselves on your blog.”

    Other than this open comment box that you’ve used three times to post your thoughts, which are now available on this page in their unaltered form?

  25. on August 7, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I love that our culture has produced people who can write “That’s between you and God and the final day of judgement” and then breezily append a smiley.

  26. Glen
    on August 7, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Oh God. As much as i know we should pray for redemption, healed relationships, and the unity of the Spirit….it is REALLY hard to stop smirking when someone goes all “4chan” abusive, and then immediately announces he is leaving because this audience is not worth talking to. Bonus points for doing it in the name of defending the legal right to evangelize.

    If you do come back Jenni, please understand i think you are an ironic genius. Be blessed.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] this, but … I want to note that I’m the cynical chump that came up with the “flair of the spirit” line that Stephen uses here in summation [and in titling]. Honestly, Stephen did a better […]

  2. […] of who originally came up with it, I absolutely love the phrase “Flair of the Spirit.” It’s pithy, doesn’t have the cutesy alliteration of, say, “Jesus […]

  3. […] part of a more fundamental Christian group may have been spared the site of what I call flair of the spirit. It’s a subset of Jesus Junk consisting mainly of shirts with retooled corporate logos. The […]