I was on vacation earlier this month, driving from Missouri to eastern Ohio to visit family. I like to drive; I grew up with month-long car and camping trips, seeing national parks and historic sites. My wife – not so much; she remembers things that went awry on her family’s vacations.
When I lived in southern California, I would drive (solo) to visit my daughter and her children in Albuquerque. It was a fairly easy, if long, drive. I’m a Route 66 buff, and there were regular landmarks and sights along the way, which helped make the drive seem shorter.
Going to Ohio was different. The drive was actually shorter than the trip from California to Albuquerque, but the scenery was unrelentingly green: fields and forests, with few sights to give the eyes and mind a break.
But a couple things grabbed my attention. Somewhere in Indiana, I think, stood an enormous cross near the intersection of two highways. It must’ve been 50 feet high or more and made of some sort of white metal (rather like aluminum siding).
When we moved to Columbia two years ago, we saw a similar cross outside Groom, Texas. That one was billed as “the largest cross on the Northern Hemisphere” and “a spiritual experience you’ll never forget.” Really?
I haven’t forgotten it, clearly, but I didn’t find it to be all that “spiritual.” It just made me wonder what the builders were trying to say with bigness and shininess. I don’t remember anything supersized or ultra-bright about Jesus’ ministry among the least, the last and the lost.
The other things that caught my eye were some billboards in Indiana and Illinois. I don’t think they were connected or coordinated, but I saw a number of “Christian” signs that finger-wagged about repentance and highlighted the fires of hell for the unredeemed.
Why? What is it about some people of faith that they feel the need to say “we’ve got it and you don’t,” to demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with their particular interpretation of the Bible, the moral life, how to treat others and so on?
This seems to be peculiar to Christians. (I say this as one myself.) I’ve never seen billboards or found pamphlets on my windshield from Jews or Muslims or Hindus or members of any other faith, suggesting that I’m damned if I don’t agree with their spin on things.
It’s not as if Christians are a minority in this country or in danger of being persecuted. We’re by far the largest religious group in the country. So why do some of us seem so afraid of different views that we think we need to put down everyone else?
It’s been told that Gandhi was invited to convert, and his reply was, “I like your Christ; I don’t like your Christians.”
We Christians don’t seem to be making a lot of friends with threats and insults. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that’s a minority of my co-religionists, and there are many more of us toiling quietly and selflessly among the poor and needy.
After all, it’s Jesus the healer and befriender whose way we follow and whom others remember with appreciation, and saints from Francis of Assisi to Teresa of Calcutta who continue to inspire and call forth imitation.
And throughout history, that’s been a far more effective witness than damning pamphlets, threatening billboards and tacky, oversize road art.