Confessions of a Christian-ish retailer
The following is a letter from issue seven of Geez magazine.
I got the big idea that I could hock my religious wares by getting a vendor table at the Calvin College Christian writer’s conference. It seemed like a good market for my Breadbox Cards which combine pop images, like Doc Martens, Birkenstock sandals or spike heels, with related scriptures. (And you thought there weren’t any scriptures about chartreuse pumps!)
I arrived at the conference, hauled my load of merchandise to my table and started setting up shop. A veteran of church bazaars, holiday markets and, most notably, the popular Junior League Shopping Spree, I was interested to see who my next-door vendor-neighbor would be. By no small act of holy mischief, it was Geez. Scattered on the folding table next to mine, unattended, were some past issues and a donation jar. When business got slow I grabbed an issue of Geez and sat down on the floor to kill some time.
By the time a Geez guy returned, I had read just enough to realize how funny it was that Geez had gotten sandwiched between Breadbox Christian Greeting Cards and the well-coiffed lady selling pink Christian fashions decorated with rhinestone crosses.
In the few pages I’d read, though, my heart had been strangely warmed. In a painful burning sort of way. The Geez spoofs on Wal-Mart’s evil empire and religious panties smacked of everything Breadbox Cards was about (only not spoofing).
The Geez guy slid down the wall to sit next to me and struck up a conversation. Friendly. Not overly-chatty. The most relaxed fellow vendor I’d ever encountered. (Why wasn’t he trying to sell, sell, sell?)
I felt all nervousy inside. “Okay, here’s the thing,” I pleaded. “What can I do to not end up on the pages of Geez?”
In the conversation that ensued, he was mercifully kind and not (explicitly) judgmental. Instead, the witness of his seemingly simple life spoke for itself. I would love to report that I was slain in the Spirit and immediately repented. And in fact, as we spoke, the thought of making a grand declaration about forsaking my evil ways right then and there popped into my mind. But given my track record on bold declarations, I knew I was more likely to actually follow through if the decision was a little quieter. The seed of holy discontentment, though, had been sown.
Over the next six months, profiting off Christian-ish merchandise became less and less appealing. (A subsequent subscription to Geez played a role.) My local Christian bookstore sells Testa-Mints, for fresh Christian breath, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “What makes me any different than that crazy thing?”
In the absence of a good answer, I began to toy with the idea of closing shop. I weighed the positives and the negatives. Positives: 1) The Word is going out into all the earth. 2) God loves beauty and my cards are beautiful. I like that one. Some of my best excuses have that genius edge of twisty theological rationale. 3) Fresh Christian greeting cards are “new wineskins.” (Notice, here again, the clever use of religious verbage.) Now people who pay $118.95 to wear Doc Marten’s boots can at last connect with Christianity. It was, I noted, a rare ministry opportunity. 4) I donate five percent of all business proceeds to an inner-city ministry. 5) In Breadbox’s wide selection of feel-good note cards I had tucked in a few scriptures about justice. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if my unique spiritual gift might not be to do exactly that. Maybe I should design more Christian-ish greeting cards stylish enough to catch the eye of Junior League shoppers and then… KAPOW! … throw in a few justice sound bites.
In case it wasn’t clear, those were the positives. And then there’s… . 1) Rather than creating art for it’s own sake, or the sake of the Creator, I have devised a way to create it once and sell it a lot of times. 2) I love to hear people say, “Wow, you are so creative.” 3) I paid one Bible publisher a fee to use passages of scripture on my cards. (Note to self: Look for red flags when “paid,” “fee,” and “use” are in the same sentence as bible and scripture.) 4) I like saying, “I have a card business.”
The conclusion–I’m going out of business. I haven’t produced any new cards for a year or so and I’m selling off my current stock until I clear up a little bit of card debt. In the end, I was never financially successful with the business. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, it doesn’t seem that God blessed my endeavor. On the other hand, against all bottom-line logic, God just has. Thanks Geez.
- Margot Starbuck, Durham, North Carolina