Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jesus Sells?

Driving down the street today, I noticed a sign I've noticed and ignored many times before. It is a terribly busy sign and I'm positive most people can't read the whole thing as they are driving by, unless they are stopped to turn at the intersection.

The sign is on a white background with black and red letters. The sign's main gist is advertising a local plumber. On the sign is the man's or the company's name, the question, "Need a plumber?", and a phone number. Probably a few other scattered statements are on the sign--perhaps any specialty services this specific plumber does.

This sign is a rectangle, like every other sign. But it goes outside of the box. On top of the sign is a wooden cross, also painted white. On the cross are the words "Jesus loves you" criss-crossing with the directions of the cross.

I cannot tell you why the plumber put that cross and those words on his signs. Guessing at his intentions are a judgment I do not want to make, lest I, too, be judged. But, I can tell you a few different outcomes for that cross.

First, community and alterity are produced--the "us" and "them," whether fortunate or not, whether positive or negative. The plumber asks the reader to think, "Hey, that plumber is a Christian," either "like me," or "not like me."

If you are not a Christian, you may care less whether or not your plumber is a Christian, especially when your sink won't shut off and is flooding your second-floor bathroom. But you'll remember after you call, if not before, that your plumber is the plumber with the cross above the sign. Your plumber is the Christian. Any mistake that plumber makes, any attitude, any pricey charges will not reflect simply that plumber, but Christianity as the customer knows it. No person is perfect, Christians included, but when we go over the top to identify ourselves (literally), those who perceive will go over the top to associate us with Christianity.

If you are a Christian, you might end up comparing your flavor of Christianity with the plumber's (as I did, unfortunately). You may seek out another plumber, for any number of reasons, from "witnessing" to price and quality of work. Or, you might choose the Christian plumber, because you and the plumber are part of the Church. You want to support other Christians, to be one with them, to show them love. You'll call the Christian plumber even if the price is a little steep, the quality not the best, or the manners not the kindest.

Now, the plumber might be one of the best, kindest, cheapest plumbers ever. But if the plumber carries the cross, then I don't understand why the sign needs to. I said I wanted not to judge, but I can barely keep myself from guessing that plumber has genuine, loving intentions, however misguided.

You see, whatever the plumber's intentions, the advertisement bears the cross, not the plumber. Instead of a Jesus who saves, we see a Jesus who sells. In some cases, Jesus sells shoddy work and a bad reputation. In other cases, Jesus is an unwilling marketing tool for an unwitting plumber. Jesus is no gimmick. Jesus is not an advertisement. Jesus is the Christ.


Now, friends, what are we to do when we approach such a situation? Jesus walked into the temple and was outraged when he saw people using God's name in vain by forcing people to be cheated of their money. He overturned their tables. When Jesus saw injustice, he called it out. "What would Jesus do?"

As I'm sure you're aware, I'm no messiah. It doesn't seem my place to call the plumber and ask to discuss religion over coffee. I have no relationship with the plumber and, therefore, no basis upon which to have a meaningful discussion.

Meanwhile, that sign is trying to carry the cross of my Jesus. And Jesus told his disciples they would do greater things. Does that statement include me?

I feel justified to be upset. Could I leave a large note on the sign? Could I send a letter? Could I have a discussion over coffee? Or do I allow the plumber to interpret Christianity without my input and I with the plumber's input (as discussions happen two-ways, after all, and I do not pretend to have the only right interpretation).

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