Friday, June 05, 2009

Marquees de Sad

I love church marquees, those enigmatic sayings that are supposed to draw us to Jesus by the power of their cleverness. But sometimes the signs are so clever that I can’t understand them.

Case in point: I’m driving to a retreat center in Connecticut this past weekend and I see a church sign that reads, “Jesus. What if He never left?” OK, let’s think about that for a moment.

If Jesus never left, his body would remain in the tomb, and the resurrection would be pure fiction. Without the resurrection there is no proof of Jesus’ divinity. Without Jesus as God Christian salvation is impossible and Christianity is a sham. Why would you want to put that on the marquee of your church?

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe if Jesus never left the resurrection could still have happened but not the ascension to heaven. OK, let’s see: Jesus dies on the cross and is placed in the tomb of Joseph of Aramethea. Three days latter he is resurrected. He spends the next forty days wandering around but, since he never leaves, he never gets to sit at the right hand of the Father. Instead he’s just shuffling around the planet like a character in the Ghost Whisperer. If this is true, Christianity is still in trouble because now its God is exiled to earth for all eternity. This is the story of the Marvel comic book hero Silver Surfer, not the Suffering Servant. And, if Jesus is stuck here on earth, then the Second Coming is impossible since the First Coming never ends. But what is Christianity without the Return of Jesus? Nothing. So, again, why put this on your church sign?

Of course the sign may not refer to Jesus Christ at all. It could be an oblique reference to illegal aliens coming to Connecticut from Mexico: “Jesus. What if he never left (Mexico)? Who would cut our lawns?” A pro-immigration message like that might fly in New England, so maybe that was the point of the marquee.

Just to be thorough I tried different versions of this sign suitable to other faiths to see if they would yield any better insights. For example, a Jewish version of this sign might read, “Moses. What if we never left?” Well, if Moses never left Egypt the Jews would still be slaves, the bush would never have burned, Passover would never have happened and there would be no Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. So that doesn’t work.

How about a Buddhist version: “Prince Siddhartha. What if he never left?” OK, if Siddhartha never left home he would never have become the Buddha, Tibet would have stayed with the Bon religion and Jewish Buddhists would have had to find another religion to join.

If Mohammad never left we’d lack his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven and back. If Krishna never left Arjuna would not have gone to war with his cousins and we’d have no Bhagavad-Gita. If Lao Tzu never left he’d never have written the Tao Te Ching. None of these are good things.

No, this church sign doesn’t work in any religion. It seems to me that all the founders have to leave or the religions don’t happen. So what was the sign writer thinking? Honestly, I haven’t a clue. So this one is up to you. Best answer wins a year of free drinks at your local Starbucks, but only if you can convince them to do this.


Dianne said...

I honor the Torah and the Christian Bible. I think the message was trying to make you (as in all of us) think, which you did. I think it meant if we were not Christian, what would we be? Jewish, Atheist, Muslim, or another religion? I would turn to the Torah (knowing what I know now) but would the US even exist as we know it if Christians had not sought refuge? Starting from the beginning would be a big challenge and too much thinking for a Friday morning.

Eruesso said...

I guess he could settle down somewhere and start a family like in The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, but then that would mean he somehow avoided death. Nah, we can't let Jesus get off that easy.

We could have a Messianic society ruled by Jesus himself like the in Jesus on Mars by Philip José Farmer, but that would mean humanity would live in peace. Also too easy, too boring.

I guess you could also say that the sign refers to Jesus never leaving Heaven, but that's probably wrong too. Oh well, I guess I need to drink more coffee to come up with better ideas.

Maggid said...

A simple quote comes to mind:
"Home is the place we start out from"

What if we never left???

Aye-yi-yi - my life would be . . sad . . limited . . . Let's all leave and see what happens . . .

Starbucks? See ya there.


AaronHerschel said...

I think the idea here is that, if you're looking for Jesus, you needn't look into the fabulous hereafter but rather within yourself. I'm reminded of an old bluegrass tune whose lyrics go "My saviour lives inside of me/All I've gotta do is set him free." Of course, I'm also reminded of the old joke about Prince Albert in a can.

AaronHerschel said...

Just as an added note, there's a blog called that records slices of conversation overheard in New York City. Here's one that seems loosely related to the marquee:

Reverend: God was too big to die. So he lives, and so it's an empty cross.

Child: (asks unheard question)

Reverend: Well, you could use them against vampires too.

--First Presbyterian Church, 5th Ave

Patti said...

I like Aaron's response. It it plausible and made me smile. My gut though is that this statement is more along the lines of WWJD. More about Christians controlling behavior than theology. To me, the motivation behind the sign is what if Jesus was watching you sin; not going to church, or giving someone the finger in traffic or whatever bad thing is in vogue. If he was watching, would you do differently? So just pretend he is here and be a good little Christian.

It does remind me of my all time favorite sign. "Jesus or hellfire, You choose." I feel the love!

anam cara wppc said...

I'm guessing the sign has something to do with 6/7/09 which is Trinity Sunday in most churches. According to Karl Rahner's comment, which I believe was made around or before Vatican II, most Catholic & Protestant churches act as if they're monotheistic. Richard Rohr in the CD with Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Shape of God,” affirms Rahner by saying, if God & the Holy Spirit were to disappear tomorrow, not much would change in most churches. My perspective of Protestantism, which I know best, is that it is mainly Christocentric--monotheistic centered on Christ.
Pastors of these churches say God is described in the Old Testament, and like “old Europe,” is past its usefulness. They act like the New Testament is better because, well, it's new. They say precious little, if any about the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, more pastors are starting to view the Bible as a whole. They are also doing more to describe the relevance of the other parts of the Trinity. They're even starting to explain how the Holy Spirit has been working and continues to work in this reality. I'd like to hope the author of that marquee had a wholistic view of the Bible & was trying to prompt openness among her/is flock to see how the Trinity is relevant.

Mano said...

Is it just my imagination or were you treading much more carefully when you tried out the sentence on Islam? Seems to me folks have unconsciously internalised that if you say anything about Islam, you risk a fatwa, a death threat, a bomb, an angry mob...because many Moslems (let me be terribly careful and not, G?d forbid, generalise here) have not seen the humour in any attempts to make conscious the unconscious in their set of beliefs and habits