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.