When I went on this trip, I’d been planning to do a Midwestern follow-up to my Strange Religious Imagery in my Neighborhood piece. But alas, Midwesterners don’t go much for floridly weird religious imagery. (At least, not in the part of the Midwest where we were.)
They do, however, go for some interesting religious language. So I thought I’d share with you my twisted version of vacation snaps: Strange Religious Signs in the Midwest. (We actually had a genuinely good time on our trip: my family is cool and fun as well as godless, and there’s much about the Midwest that is deeply peaceful and beautiful. I do in fact love it, and get mad when people dismiss it as “flyover country.” But this is what I was doing with my camera instead of shooting pretty trees and houses. There’s something deeply wrong with me, I know.)
“God Has Blessed America Let America Bless God!” (Galva Assembly of God, Galva, IL)
One in a long series of “America is God’s special country” theocracy signs. We were traveling on the Fourth of July weekend, so this theme was all over the church signs like a cheap suit. I didn’t even bother to photograph most of them.
“May the Fourth Be With You” (St. John Roman Catholic Church; not sure what town, somewhere near Galesburg if not in it)
Yet another in the “patriotic Christianity” series. With an “out of date pop- culture pun to inject some humor and please the kids” thrown in for good measure.
“Have I Got Your Attention? — Good! Now Give Me Your Heart -God” (First Church of the Open Bible, Galesburg, IL)
Not a particularly unusual sentiment, I know. What struck all of us about this one was the arrogance of presuming to speak for God. What exactly does a pastor think when he puts up a sign like this… and signs it, “God”?
“A Family Altar Can Alter A Family” (Colonial Baptist Church, Galesburg, IL)
What is is with church signs and bad puns?
“The Presence of Christ Puts Pain In Perspective” (Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Galesburg, IL)
I’m not quite sure what the point here is. It could be, “Your divine buddy Christ is here with you and will get you into Heaven forever, therefore your pain is no big deal.” But it could also be, “Christ’s suffering on the cross was more horrific and ghastly than you could imagine, so quit whining about your own petty pain, and have some gratitude for his sacrifice. If it’s the former, then my reaction is pretty much, “Screw you for trivializing my pain.” If it’s the latter… then ditto. With an added helping of, “If I hit myself on the hand with a hammer enough times, does that give me moral authority over you? I didn’t ask Christ to hang himself on a cross for three days, so screw him for using it to try to guilt trip me into obedience.” And with just a dash of, “Ew.”
“Do You Truly Know God?” (Galva Assembly of God again; return trip)
At last — a church sign with a clear question that I can answer. My reply to that would be have a big, fat, unequivocal, “No.” Glad we could get that one settled. (I am curious about this one. Is the point that we don’t truly know God but the church does… or that none of us truly knows God and it’s arrogant to think that we do? I like to think that it’s the latter. Although given the blind certainty of the church’s previous “God Has Blessed America Let America Bless God!” message, I’m not so sure.)
“We See God Every Day. Do You Recognize Him?” (Open Arms Community Church, Kewanee, IL)
Providing a charmingly arrogant contrast to the delicate philosophical questing of “Do You Truly Know God?” I mean, isn’t pride one of the seven deadly sins? I’ve never understood why thinking that you know better than others what God thinks and wants and looks like doesn’t qualify.
Brief tangent: This one is even funnier in the context of the church’s “1960s drive-in” architecture. While I didn’t take pictures of many churches themselves, I had to make an exception for this one.
We see God every day. And he looks like a
roller- skating carhop from “American Graffiti.”
“Welcome Worship 9:00 AM Stop In We Dont Bite Much” (St. John Lutheran, Princeton, IL)
We don’t bite much. Wow. Do I ever feel welcome here. Especially with the barbed wire. And double especially with the other side of the same sign:
“Hell Is Hotter Probably Windier Too.” (ditto)
I think they were probably trying to be funny. With both sides of the sign. But something about this one told us, “Get the picture fast, and then get the frack out of there.” I am kind of entertained, though, by a church sign that warns you against the torments of hell by essentially saying, “The weather is even worse than it is in the Midwest!”
“God Is Perfect Only Man Makes Misteaks” (First Congregational Church, Peru, IL)
Another in the “labored comedy” series. Rather more comical than most. Of course this one immediately makes me want to ask, “If God is perfect, then why did he make his most magnificent creation such bad spellers?”
A specially blessed country; bad puns; out- of- date pop culture references; the trivialization of human suffering; the presumption that believers recognize God and speak for him; jokey threats; labored humor; and weird logic. Let’s hear it for Christianity in America!