Some church signs seem to have become equivalent to the placard signs homeowners proudly stake in their front yards, or the bumper stickers that accessorize motor vehicles with philosophical one-liners. I find many of them tacky (although some are amusing), and have dissected the theological implications of a few. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield spends a couple of pages in her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, reflecting on this yard sign phenomenon when she describes her drive into western Pennsylvania:
The whole country felt “religious.” On houses and even businesses, scripture verses advertised the world view of the inhabitants (66).
She was taken aback about how Scripture verses were stripped out of context and slapped on a sign, isolated and exposed. Many of the messages peddled God’s judgment, emphasizing the separation between the just and the lost. And, of course, political affiliations were staked right beside said verses.
But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich and complex context, were just sitting there on placards, naked and rude. I felt an immediate aversion to the aesthetic even as I identified with the message (67).
What do these signs really do? How are they helpful to the Christian witness? Butterfield describes how the pastor who had witnessed to her sacrificed his real, valuable time, becoming her friend. She emphasizes his loving witness over hiding behind these slogans and signs:
But Bible verses that front salvation over Christian service, instead of being important interfaces between Christian homes and the watching world, seemed like sneaky little raids, quick and insulated targets into culture, with no sense that a worldview of care lay behind them (67).
They made her wonder,
Perhaps I or one of my drag queen friends would be welcome to have a cup of coffee at one of those Bible-loving houses, resting our cups between sips on vinyl tablecloths in country kitchens. Perhaps we would be talked with as people made in God’s image. But perhaps not…
Are these “Welcome” signs or signs that read “Insiders Only”? (67, 68).
As I was reading, I made a strange connection. This was the same feeling I got when I recently made the drive into Twitter County. I had no idea how many Christians had become proficient in the art of waving one-liners. It was so strange. Peppered with helpful links to articles that I may want to read (this bulletin-board aspect of Twitter, I do find helpful) are concise thoughts in 140 characters or less. Some are equivalent to what you might find in a fortune cookie, and some are quite good.
Anyway, I find it odd that people are quoting themselves. And then there are the Bible verses that go up. Since your audience usually follows you due to a shared belief system, they aren’t so much meant to be evangelistic as exhorting. Some can be an encouragement, but only the skinny ones can survive. It makes you wonder if it cheapens God’s Word to suspend it detached from context and conversation.
Twitter wasn’t quite what I expected. I hoped to see a more personal side exposed in 140 characters. I guess that was a pretty dumb expectation–more like random, silly thoughts rather than a newsfeed of Godly wisdom-bites. On occasion, I have tried sharing some of those sentences that I underline while reading. But even that feels disconnected.
Twitter County is all signs and no scenery. I have decidedly “followed” mainly other bloggers and writers, because “outsiders” may get the same creepy feeling Butterfield did while driving into Beaver County. Again, there have been some positives. I have connected a little more with people outside of the comments box. Those interactions are nice because they are personal messages and the words aren’t staged. Personal interactions, networking, and a very big bulletin board are attractive landmarks in Twitter County. But there are a lot of vinyl tablecloths.
*Originally published on September 26, 2014.