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Some Southern Signs

I loved the photos of the religious signs in the current issue of Commonweal. Over the years I have jotted down such signs as I ran across them. It is to my eternal sorrow that I am not a photographer but here are a few samples I have recorded in my journal:

(1) Just beyond the Georgian line driving into Florida: "Jesus is Lord over Taylor's Catfish Restaurant."

(2) In Northern Pinellas County in Florida on the sign of a warehouse "Trucking for Jesus."

(3) In front of a mobile home on a state highway leading into Flannery O'Connor's home town of Milledgeville, Georgia:: "Great Satan Trembles on his throne when a single Christian is at prayer."

(4) My all time favorite is from the sign outside a rural Baptist Church in Wakulla county, Florida on the occasion of John Paul II ot the United States: "They call him Papa but he dresses like Mama."

About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.



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Lawrence, my brother IS a photographer, and he lives in Oklahoma and has sent me some doozies over the years.My favorite is one outside a Pentacostal Church that says, "Git-r-done for Jesus!"

The Channel 6 news in Knoxville made a bug fuss when Hilltop Baptist Church of Newport, TN put on their sign after Pope John Paul II's death: "No truth, no hope, following a Hell-bound pope." There's a furniture store on the northbound side of I-85 in Cherokee County, SC that says something along the lines of "Jesus is Lord at (so-and-so furniture store)." "Jesus saves at...." would have been just a bit much.

And John Paul never wore Prada shoes! But then I doubt "Mama" ever did either.

One step up from signs would be bumper stickers - every now and anon they make, in fact, good theological points. I have also amassed a collection of those in my notebook. Some day I hope to do something with them in the form of a light hearted essay.

Certainly these are kind of silly, but we Cathoics owe a great debt to our evangelical-fundamentalist-pentacostal brothers and sisters precisely because they are not ashamed to speak publicly about their love of Jay-sas (that's my own litlte joke on pronunciation). They have contributed greatly to the continued religiosity of the United States vs the galloping secularism in Europe. As Joseph Weiler, the Jewish legal scholar, told a group of Catholic intellectuals at a Viennese conference last spring, "What Europe needs is more Europeans publically proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ." The ones who do that the most, not necessary the best, are the E-F-P's. God bless 'em and their corny signs.

Austin has an interesting point, and our former bishop wrote a similar essay in which he wished that Catholics could embrace the kind of enthusiasm for their faith that the evangelicals do.I understand the argument, but I was raised by people who were exposed to extreme evangelicalism as children, and those experiences sent them into the arms of the galloping secularists without a backward glance.They have never been able to reconcile the Merciful God Who Loves You More than Your Mother with the Angry God Who's Going to Send You to Hell for not believing in the whole and literal truth in the Holy Bible.I'll pass on that brand of sarpent handlin', pizen drinkin, tongue-talkin' Christianity, thanks.

To drift away from signs and the South, an old Rabbi that I did some political work with in Chicago once passed on two enjoyable thoughts about Christianity. He thought Paul's conclusion that circumcision was not necessary was one of the best religious PR moves ever. He also told me how he once gave a T-shirt to a friend who was getting ordained as a Christian minister. On the front it said "Jesus Saves," on the back it read "Moses Invests"

Joe: I have often heard that old joke about Moses but have often wondered whether in its origins there was not a tad of anti-Jewish stereotyping in it.

Lawrence,The anti-Jewish issue has occurred to me, as well. In this case, I take some comfort in an elder Rabbi getting into the joke, and I recognize the possibility of an oppressed group finding humor in a stereotype, and so, perhaps, taking some edge off of it. After the Danish cartoons blow up, a newspaper editor in the Middle East announced a contest for cartoons making fun of Jews. Of course, it was an editor of an Israeli newspaper. His thesis was that no one is better at making fun of Jews than Jews.For my part as a Christian (by some generous definitions of the term, at least) I think a financial interpretation of "Jesus Saves" makes far more sense than most soteriological explanantions of the phrase. So I can find a little poke a Christians in the T-Shirt, as well.

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