Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wayside Pulpit

Driving around the city on a daily basis there are all sorts of things that catch my eye. Some of these things are clever, or beautiful, or original. Some aren't. In the second category are those gaudy, florescent signs found outside churches aka the 'Wayside Pulpit'. Just down the road from my house a new sign has gone up, bright yellow background with black writing in foot high block caps: "ALL WELCOME HERE" It's perhaps the most unwelcoming sign imaginable. And herein lies the problem. It's not just that local PCCs or whoever commissions these signs seem utterly unaware that technology has moved on to the extent that a full colour digitally printed poster would actually be a cheaper solution. No, there is a common tone of voice that seems present wherever the Wayside Pulpit is found.
I was driving down the A6 through Stockport the other day and saw a sign that must get at least 100,000 cars driving past it everyday: "JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS". It was classic of the paradigm within which all these posters seems to exist, US vs THEM. A line is drawn and rather than stepping over it in an outwards motion the slogans expect the reader to cross over and move inwards. The Stockport sign is a classic example. How different would the tone of voice be if the whole of 1 Tim 1:15 was quoted, "Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." Rather than emphasising to passing commuters just how different they are, SINNERS not SAVED, a message like this might just be able to build a tentative association... "YOU + US, we're not that different, we have stuff in common, it might be worth us taking this conversation further..."

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Paul said...

You've nicely summed up a BIG problem in evangelicalism... arrogance.

Trouble is it's deeply rooted and we each have to be vigilant for it creeping into our thinking, attitudes and actions. And be ready to own up when it slips through. Humans, eh?

spurious said...

Bigger than arrogance itself is the problem of perceived arrogance. From my vantage point, Christianity was always supposed to be about little more than shared human experiences (much of which are common to people of all or no faiths), relationships and investing sacrificially for the betterment of another with no agenda other then to live the personal enlightenment the Christian has found.

The problem surely isn't what's on the signs, the problem is signs themselves. As soon as you get a sign out, however modern its form may take, something core to what any of this may be about, is lost. I don't think truth is ever 'taught' in the way we've become accustomed to learning, and it's certainly never 'advertised' on the side of a building. Truth is a gradual process of personal revelation and understanding and if anything ever has a hope of conveying a truth, it's people themselves. People, as opposed to signs, do more than just highlight canyons that separate one person from another, we build bridges over them and give each other opportunity to come together, and that's what it's all about.

The trouble today is Christianity has become a perceived religion of both word (the need to find truth externally) and requirement (fundamentally adjusting self understanding and placement in the universe). From the stranger's viewpoint, you could sum it up in the word: effort. I think those who feel that Christianity isn't thriving as it might because society deems it irrelevant are wrong. Christianity isn't thriving because it's been misbranded to fit the neat western conceptualisation of spirituality: that you have to find truth outside of your own experience (either bow to the wisdom of another or find it in a book), and then redefine yourself accordingly. Visionaries and leaders have been complicit in this and I think if the church wants a future, it's going to have to step away from the religiosity that binds it to the extent that many will have to accept it may become virtual unrecognisable as it makes the effort to simply live among the people, rather than demand the people come to it on its own terms.

As such communicators of the faith are perceived by their nature to be arrogant, because I think though much of what Christianity has been lost in the secular world, the principle of knowing them by their fruits, has not.

I'm a rambling man. Forgive me.