This has been a burr in my saddle for years. Longer than that, I guess. Before I made the switch to regular church attendance, the oh-so-clever church marquees were a beacon of tacky religion that always made me wonder why people would gather in a place like that. Now, they are just embarrassing and they make me wince when I pass one. There is a stark difference between smart and clever, and most of these signs are neither. You must have seen them, and perhaps you are one who smiles and gets a warm, pleasant feeling from them. Great. I am happy for you. But, consider these popular slogans and the reasons why those church marquees are making Jesus shut his eyes, shake his head, and wonder what went wrong:
- Wal-mart Is Not The Only Saving Place – I wanted to highlight this one first because there is something strange about a culture of people who will spend their entire Christmas season listening to messages telling them that stuff is no replacement for happiness and that God wants them to help the poor and the oppressed, then head to the nearest Wal-Mart for a low budget shopping spree and buy a 50 pack of blank CDs to burn all of their pirated music onto and pick up a couple of sweat shop sneakers while they are there. This is a slippery message – there are two places that can save you: Wal Mart and the Church. It seems harmless, I know, but the thing is that it is one of the least clever marquees, so why go there?
- God Answers Knee Mail – There should be some kind of ecumenical judicial system that bans this kind of thing, and they should have a brute squad that enforces the ban. Knee mail? Seriously? I can almost hear the hand-over-the-mouth snicker of not-so-funny people everywhere. I think that people who put up signs like this are too preoccupied with their wit to hear the collective groan from the public as they drive by. The worst part about this particular sign is that I have seen it about five times. If it wasn’t really good the first time, it has exponential degradation from then on. For those of you who l have no idea what that means, feel free to just snicker at the knee mail thing.
- Welcome To Our CH CH…What’s Missing? UR! – This one has little effect without the exclamation point, and therein lies the problem. This thing is so cheery that it only speaks to people who are likely to wear sequins on their sweatshirts. That would work out well, actually, if churches were having a problem getting those people through the door. But that is not the case. Oh, no. The women’s groups in the church are typically filled with folks who have sequins on their sweatshirts, and the men’s groups are filled with people who are married to those women. So, basically, the marquee that you have come up with (or, actually, copied from the Lutheran church down the street) is funny to the poor saps that are already members of your church. They don’t even read the marquee, though, because they come in the back door where the elevator is. So, the clever wit is lost with this one.
- For All You Do…His Blood’s For You – This one…actually, I like this one. The beer correlation is pretty edgy. The Count Dracula overtones are a little creepy, but that may work for you in the twenty-something market. I might wear this t-shirt, come to think of it.
- The best vitamin for a Christian is B1 – Now we are getting to the nitty gritty. Normally, I wouldn’t say such a thing, but this is a post about cliches, so I thought that something like “nitty gritty” would be appropriate. This marquee favorite has a major flaw – and it begins to dissect the root of this problem. It is too simple. Be a Christian. That is the answer. That is the pill. To add a bit of weight to this statement, here is a quote from Gilbert K. Chesterton, an influential English writer of the early 20th century: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” So, no one that I know has been argued into a loving relationship with God, and no one has ever seen one of these signs and thought “Now, those seem like clever chaps, I think I will give them a go!” So why would we trivialize our faith so dramatically? To draw in the crowds? Is it working?
- Jesus is an Equal Opportunity Savior – i was having a conversation with Ohg the other day and the subject of hate and evil came up. We both recognized that a lot of the hate and evil in the world comes from religion. This is a big debate, and I won’t get into it here, but why is it that we sometimes see so much divisiveness in the church and so much cohesiveness in the world? The suggestion in this message about Jesus is that i”Equal Opportunity” is represented in our church, and I think that the church that displays this message should be very aware of the way that their church looks in relation to their community and should evaluate the welcoming nature of their congregants. It is true, what the marquee says, but we rarely exemplify it.
- Our Church Is Prayer Conditioned – Is it really? This is much like the last one. How many times have you said “I will be praying for you” and then not done it? I don’t even say that anymore, because I know that i struggle with it and I don;t want to give anyone the impression that I am doing something that i am not. Also, this is a pretty nice and clean representation of a church. Comfortable. I think that this would be better as “Ou Church is All F@%&ed Up, But You Will Fit Right In.” I don’t need a church that is prayer conditioned, I need a church that has real people in it.
I could go on, but I think that we all get the drift. I am into a whole bunch of hate mail here as it is. There are churches all over the country trying to figure out what went wrong in the last twenty years, trying desperately to fix problems that are not problems at all, but are conditions of a new cultural paradigm. This is not something that the church has been traditionally good at. What they are good at, however, are tacky road-side signs aimed at entertaining the people who are already in their circle. We can laugh, of course, because a lot of it is funny. But in the quiet moments when the laughing has stopped, we realize that there is something sad that we are missing.
So what are we missing?