My Junky Reverse Elitism

So here’s my dilemma. Inspired by the latest issue of RELEVANT — which features a Q&A with Mike Foster, the founder of Ethur, the nonprofit umbrella organization over the (soon-to-be) Deadly Viper Project and the brilliantly simple Junky Car Club — I have finally found a place where I feel like I really belong: a club of people who, like me, don’t think it’s that important to drive a nice, new car. The Junky Car Club is a fun little organization (complete with membership card and kickin’ bumper sticker!) for those who purposefully drive a clunker because 1) they wish to politely rebel against consumer culture; 2) they’d rather spend money on things that matter, like social justice causes or compassion ministries, as opposed to a big car payment; and 3) who cares what kind of car you drive anyway?

So my little red 1997 Civic hatchback (104,000 miles) and I are now members. Elite Lemon Members, mind you. (Added: See Mike Foster’s explanation about levels of membership in the comments below.)

And I feel conflicted about it. Not because I don’t think the JCC is a killer idea. It is. It SO is. But I’m concerned about the feelings it engenders in me. Let me explain. My family lives in Texas, where vehicles and driving are deeply embedded in the culture. Most of our friends drive large SUVs or pickup trucks, most of them pretty new. Granted, most of our friends also have at least a couple of kids, and large vehicles are quite efficient at hauling around children and their stuff. No argument there. But so are minivans, and they do the hauling with lots better fuel economy. Yet very, very few of our friends drive minivans. Why? Probably because they carry a stigma. Everyone wants to drive a cool, acceptable car. No one wants to be the dork mom in the minivan.

Even so, my wife and I sort of have an SUV of our own — a mini-SUV. (And there’s a difference, mind you! A big difference!) We bought a new Honda CR-V back in 1999, when we were expecting our first child. More than 65,000 miles and 8 years later, we’re still driving it. It’s not new anymore, and there are other vehicles we like better, but it’s paid for and it drives just fine and I have trouble coming up with a reason to upgrade. And also, deep down inside, I feel pride at not being the owner of a fancy new car, SUV or not. I like being different, because it makes me feel…better than everyone else.

That’s the problem. My junky cars contribute to what’s becoming a “reverse elitism” in my soul of souls, and I don’t like it. Because I ride my bike most of the time, I occasionally feel superior to all those drivers burning fuel and wasting opportunities to get outside and exercise. Reverse Elitism. When I do drive, because I drive a paid-for older car, I feel superior to all those drivers wasting money on car payments. Reverse Elitism. Because I drive a fuel-efficient, better-for-the-environment vehicle, I feel superior to all the gas-guzzlers. Reverse Elitism. It’s like the bizarro version of Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In the Gospel version, the Pharisee says, “Thank God I’m not like other men,” referring to the humble tax collector next to him, while the sinful tax collector merely asks God for mercy. In my bizarro version, I’ve put myself in the place of the tax collector, humbly owning a junker of a car but still saying, “Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee over there. Yep, that one — the one driving the Expedition. Thanks, God, for making me so incredibly thoughtful and compassionate.”

Neither scenario — the thoughtless consumerism or the too-thoughtful judgmentalism — seem appropriate for someone following in the way of Jesus. And so I’m torn. I love the idea of slapping a Junky Car Club sticker on the Hatchback, letting friends know that I’m resisting the status quo and possibly encouraging them to do the same. But because I’m such an arrogant, pharasaical sinner, I’d probably end up using that sticker as proof of my own self-righteousness. And parading your humility in someone’s face isn’t very…uh, humble.

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You’re probably rolling your eyes at me, aren’t you? Thinking, Oh, Jason, just shut up and drive your stupid car. Quit overthinking things. To which I would respond: You’re right, even though you just called my car stupid. Sigh. So I’ll probably wear the Junky Car Club badge with pride — just not too much pride. The trick is to do it for the right reasons. Not to show I’m better than you, but to make you think. Ask me why I’m a member of the Junky Car Club, and I’ll probably say something similar to what Mike Foster has written here:

I heard an amazing statement this week in Ecuador about how we need to figure out in our lives how we can “move towards enough.” I think this statement is profound and represents exactly what we are trying to do here at the Junky Car Club. Too many of us are moving towards more. More cars, more clothes, more shiny, more options, more stuff. The challenge for us is to dedicate ourselves to living a life of enough.

So, friends, aim for a life of enough. Trade in your shiny vehicles, live with less, give more, simplify the way you live. Just don’t fall into the temptation of being all self-righteous and legalistic about it. Because if there’s anything worse than a Pharisee in an H2, it’s the Pharisee in the Civic thinking Jesus loves him more.

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