It would be hard not to notice all of the bumper stickers during this political season, but I was particularly interested in one car I saw in a neighborhood I walk through every morning.  The car was covered with bumper stickers.  Almost every inch of bumper and every inch of window on the sides and the back was plastered with messages about the presidential election.  Recently on one of my morning runs I spotted the woman who owns the car putting a new sticker on the side bumper.  I stopped and asked her if she was excited about the upcoming election.  I already guessed the answer, but I was looking for a way to start a conversation.  She answered me, “I can’t wait!”  It was clear by simplying glancing at her car that she was a zealous Obama fan.  We talked for a few minutes about the quickly approaching election and then I asked the question I really wanted to ask, “So, what are you going to do with your car after the election?”  She didn’t pause for even a second, “If Obama wins, and he will, I’m going to keep my car just as it is — as evidence that I picked the winner!”

The conversation with my winning neighbor prompted me to look closely at the bumpers of passing cars on November 5 – the day after the election.  I wondered what would happen to all those bumper stickers supporting the losing team.  You can look for yourself, but they seem to have diminished significantly over the past few days, reminding us that we are quick to identify ourselves with winning causes, but we shy away from announcing that we are losers.  I did see one car today with a bumper sticker supporting the losing presidential ticket.  Right next to it was an ominous black bumper sticker with white letters warning, “Beware of False Prophets Who Promise Change.”  I wondered why someone would want to be identified with such a malignant message, and I am sure there are a number of reasons, but even this warning seems to say, “When things fall apart, the losers will turn into winners because we will be proven right!” 

Spend a few minutes scanning the bumpers of cars in your city.  In my town of Denver, Colorado, I see a lot of stickers for our football team — the Denver Broncos.   The Denver Broncos are famous for winning a few Superbowls several years ago, and even though they haven’t been remarkable since, they still out-sell our baseball team and basketball team for bumper stickers 10 to 1. (I found this statistic on the Internet.  It really is amazing what you can find, isn’t it?)  If you drive around Denver, you will also see quite a few bumper stickers for our hockey team, the Denver Avalanche.  They’ve been champions as well.  People are proud to be identified with these winning teams — so much so, that they might even advertise that they are Broncoholics or Avaholics.  I’ve never seen a bumper sticker, though, where someone celebrated their identity as an Recovering Alcoholic or Sexaholic.

We love bumper stickers that identify our children as winners.  You see them everywhere.  “My son is an honor student at Eagle Ridge Middle School.”  I really think that more people could testify to something like, “My son is barely passing Algebra!”  Sometimes a little sarcasm creeps in, and someone wil identify their son as someone beating up an honor student at Eagle Ridge Middle School.  Note again our love of being identified with a winner.

Sarcasm often dictates the tone of our bumper stickers.  I’ve read ones about men and women like, “All Men Are Created Equal – One Step Below Women,” or “With Guns, Trucks, & Beer, Who Needs Women?”  One of my favorite sarcastic bumper stickers is, “Lawyers/Criminals — I Forget the Difference.”  While these slogans make us smile or shake our heads, they also remind us of our default toward winning.  Sarcasm is a word with a Greek derivation meaning “flesh eating.”  Taking a bite out of others is sometimes the last word that announces we’ve won the discussion.

There are Chrstian bumper stickers that announce our winning ways as well.  I smile at the one with the Icthus fish symbol eating the Darwin fish symbol.  The whole concept behind this is a bit Darwinian where the survival of the fittest fish is dependent on swallowing the fish with the losing theology. 

Bumper stickers can certainly reveal that most of us want our identity to be one of a winner.  We all want to fall asleep believing the words, “Yes, we can!”  But if we’re honest, we must admit that there are two stories at war in our hearts.  The first we plaster on the bumpers of our cars — a story of victory, independence:  we can do it.  We can create our lives, keep our lives, and save our lives.  The second story we keep more hidden — a story of defeat and dependence.  We didn’t make ourselves, we can’t keep our lives on track, and we can’t save ourselves.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve found myself in the agonizing tension between these two stories:  “I must do it” and “I can’t do it.”  Facing addiction, making mistakes in parenting, trying to figure out how to pay the bills — I fear that desperation and I hate being a loser until I remember how God wins.  He wins by losing.   The apostle Paul explains it this way: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  At my worst, my lowest, my most helpless He gently reminds me that my story is not about becoming a winner, but about being loved. 

I guess if I had the courage, my bumper sticker would say, “I am a loser.”  A loser and a failure and my maker is God.  And how does He make me?  He wisely and tenderly uses woundedness and brokenness, surrender and humility to make me into a woman who first and foremost knows that she is loved.  The tenets of His story are slowly becoming mine:  that the first will be last, and the last will be first; that the meek are blessed, for they shall inherit (not win) the earth; that you lose your life to find it. 

I used to believe that we were all desperately searching for God, and that all the ways we try to win are a reflection of our search to fill the “God-shaped” hole inside us.  But my experience of love in the humiliating and broken places of my story has taught me that the deepest reality is that God is searching for us.  His identity — what He proclaims about Himself in loving us is the most incomprehensible mystery of all:  that God, the Father of orphans, the Brother of strangers, the Lover of widows, and the Savior of sinners — chooses to lose with me.  At the cross, the very first became last, that we might be first.  The winner became the loser, so that the losers could become winners.  At the cross, Jesus revealed the identity of God — love, mercy, and unquenchable grace.

“And I ask that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.  Reach out and experience the breadth!  Test its lengths!  Plumb its depths!  Rise to the heights!  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18).