In “Grace Sticks: The Bumper Sticker Gospel for Restless Souls,” Kristina Robb-Dover, a minister, mother, writer and evangelical Christian, addresses those who are in the space between “church as it was and church as it is becoming” (p. x). She speaks to the religiously unaffiliated, those who are leaving church, the spiritual but not religious, the unchurched and those on the margins of church.
The premise of her book is that bumper stickers are a place of encounter with the grace of God, small gems of self-revelation, islands of meaning, signposts on the journey. The messages we encounter in mall parking lots or while waiting at a red light, in a rare combination of the sacred and the mundane, say something about the values we hold dear, about our desires, about the evils we decry.
Each chapter is a homily on a basic truth of both secular and Christian life, including personal anecdotes and references that range from scripture to pop culture, from Karl Barth to Woody Allen. For example, for Robb-Dover, the bumper sticker motto “If You Can Read This You Are Too Close” leads to musings about boundaries, sacred spaces, listening and reaching the unchurched who are in need of a safe space.
Comments on the maxim “I’ve Got Nothing Against God, It’s His Fan Club I Can’t Stand” become an opportunity to reflect on the dysfunction, flaws and failures of church.
The bumper sticker announcement “Honk If You Love Jesus, Text If You Want to Meet Him” is about worship outside the box. One of Robb-Dover’s great premises is that worship does not happen only in church. Some of the discussion questions are revealing of her preoccupations: What was your most “worship-full” moment and why? What keeps you from encountering God in worship and why? How is worship risky? What are you most afraid of? (p. 48).
“Grace Sticks” is more grounded in Christianity and pastoral insight than most popular self-help books. The tone is evangelical – gospel oriented – yet based in contemporary secular culture with a conscious emphasis on welcoming those who are wary of church.
The book is light and engaging; Robb-Dover’s upbeat and earthy tone is reminiscent of Anne Lamott. I particularly enjoyed the reflection on the bumper sticker text “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History” with its eyes-wide-open look at women in scripture “who by the standards of their time behaved badly, but who, in choosing to question various societal norms, found meaning and significance and preserved and enriched their own lives and the lives of their neighbors” (p. 117).
The structure of the book around familiar bumper-sticker mottos is clever, with its emphasis on finding grace in the ordinary, familiar and secular. Robb-Dover’s vocation as a blogger (“Fellowship of Saints and Sinners”) is evident in her user-friendly chapters, with their images of bumper-sticker text, references to Facebook and pop culture, and interactive tone. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter invite reflection and encourage readers to tell their stories in response to her anecdotes and insights.
“Grace Sticks” might be a refreshing option for a Lenten study series or inquirer’s group. Robb-Dover is pastoral and professional. Her approach constitutes practical advice; inquirer and seminarian alike benefit from her experience and compassion.
The final chapter of “Grace Sticks” is a meditation on the bumper-sticker image “Got Hope?” Here is Robb-Dover in her most lyrical expression of evangelical Christianity:
“Hope is grounded in the ongoing power of Christ’s resurrection to make a way where there is none – to forge new beginnings out of all our endings, however final they might seem. The uniqueness of Christianity resides in this hope.”
In fact, according to contemporary German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, as quoted by Robb-Dover: “Christianity is wholly and entirely confident hope, a stretching out to what is ahead and a readiness for a fresh start.” “Grace Sticks” is infused with that same confident hope and readiness for a fresh start.
(Susan Butterworth is a candidate for a Master of Divinity degree at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., where she is working on a special competency in Anglican, Global, Ecumenical and Interfaith Studies. She is a visiting lecturer in English composition and literature at Salem State University and a professional nonfiction writer.)