Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And the Lord Spaketh: "Worship Me Through Vague References and Lame Jokes on Illuminated Signs"

Driving this weekend, I came across a church sign that baffled me. This is not an uncommon occurrence for me, even though I've read at a high level of fluency and comprehension since first grade. I mean, I clocked in at an eleventh-grade reading level when I was in the first grade, and I know that I've gotten better since then. At least I really hope I have. Having actually spent the last four years working intensively with high school students in the area of English, I'm reassured that yes, I've gone far beyond the average reading level of a high schooler, and I'm not even all that literal minded. I struggle with the occasional song lyric, but those are often personal metaphors or intentional nonsense, so I'm cool with occasionally having a deeper meaning pass me by in that genre. Church signs, on the other hand, are intended to communicate with the general public, and churches aren't exactly fishing for the best and brightest. They tend to go for a quantity over quality approach in their fishing of men. They're just as happy landing a member of Mensa as they are landing the barely literate guy whose life ambition is to make night manager at the local McDonald's. You'd think I should be able to figure out these damn signs intended to inform and inspire the common man, but I can't.

There is a special class of church signs that seem to me to go counter to the appropriate themes of Christianity, but then again, I've admitted my increasing distance from religion in past posts, so maybe I'm not a good judge of what is and what ain't Christ-like. Anyway, the particular sign that sparked this rant went a little something like this: "Feed the good dog." Actually, it was exactly like that, but I'm trying to be all cool and use the lingo of the streets, or something. There was no further explanation, context, or commentary, just that simple sentence floating there, backlit by florescent lighting obscured by a translucent sheet of plastic. Now, I've googled the exact wording of that sign and now know that it is likely a reference to a self-help book which uses the good dog/bad dog metaphor to describe the competing interests of our sabotaging negative emotions (bad) and our potential for greatness (good). Still, I'd never heard of that book until this morning, so I'm going to assume that the bulk of the population hasn't heard of this piece of self-help crap either and without the extra context and clarification included in the book form, this sentence means nothing more than the advocating of animal abuse. The most obvious metaphorical meaning for this little saying is that we should feed (encourage) good people while we starve (punish, kill, mutilate) the bad people. This is hardly a Christian attitude, although it's one that's prevalent in Christianity. Now, I understood that there was probably a more upright interpretation of this little tidbit, but it's really best not to use metaphor and symbolism when it's removed entirely from context or other indicators to help guide the reader toward an appropriate interpretation.

Of course, I'm not the first one to notice this phenomenon. There are entire sites revolving around the mocking of some of the worst signs observed. I'm just going to list these here bad boys for your work-time perusal, although I guess Courtney, with her newfound work ethic, will have to wait until she gets home. Loser.

  • Crummy Church Signs is basically an entire blog devoted to today's topic.
  • Church Sign Generator is a site where you can design your own church sign. In fact, the illustration for today came from the site. There's also a listing of photos of actual church signs as well.
  • WuzzaDem isn't an entire site devoted to the signs, but does have a rather humorous conversation between the Catholic and Baptist church signs using the above generator.
  • If you click the "funny church signs" link on this TimesOnline page, you'll see a slideshow of some real signs.
  • And finally, there's a good Slate article that covers this topic well.
And Courtney, sorry for the Ronald McDonald video and link to a self-help CD for curing the fear of clowns. Those were all K's ideas.


sid said...

Kill a puppy for Jesus? Erm I don't think Jesus would approve of this marketing approach.

Julie said...

I feel compelled to tell you that I didn't click on any of your links and therefore have no knowledge of the existence of self-help for clown books. You can lead a Julie to the blog but you can't make her blasphme.

Courtney said...

Ha ha, joke's on you. I actually have some down time right now, which I'm using to read your blog. I haven't clicked on the links yet, but if they're all about clowns and Ronald McDonald, maybe I won't.

Mickey said...

Good post, except for the part where you remind us what a genuis first-grader you were. What happened, by the way?

And zing.

(Sorry, dude. I've been way too nice and supportive lately, though.)

But it was a good post.

Jacob said...

Sid: There's been a lot of killing in Jesus' name that amounted to much worse than a few puppies. I'm not sure he would have approved those either, but that's never stopped anyone before. Besides, this was a satire of some of the worst of the genre. The fictional church in this case really intended the sign to be a reference to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son, but they couldn't fit "but don't actually do it. You should be willing to kill a puppy for Jesus, but you won't actually have to. Genesis 22" on the sign. Instead, they just shortened it to a memorable one liner and assumed you would know your Old Testament well enough to get the metaphor. Besides, if you can't laugh at the thought of someone saying "Kill a puppy for Jesus" with a straight face, then I'm not sure you'll ever find real joy in this life.

Courtney: They're not all clowns.

Mickey: I was starting to wondering where all the unsolicited criticism had gone. I was starting to worry if we needed to put you on suicide watch for having given up one of your favorite things.

Jacob said...

Oh, and that last comment is intended as humor. I just realized that you may not know me well enough to know that kind of comment from me shouldn't be taken seriously.

WHAK'd said...

There's another 500 sign generators @ http://www.CustomSignGenerator.com