Saturday, July 30, 2011

Over-Analyzing Church Signs

Hey, still reading this thing? I know I just posted last week, which means that based on prior experience my next post should be due sometime in February, but I want to try to be a little more regular about this. The purpose, after all, is to help myself be more confident in my own voice, and to do that I actually have to do it.

To help with that, though, I'm introducing what I hope will be a semi-regular feature: "Over-Analyzing Church Signs." I've gotten into the habit lately of taking pictures of church signs that I find especially interesting, for whatever reason. Now, since religion is a very powerful force in our culture, and church signs are a way for religion to get its message out to the general public even if they never set foot in a church, they deserve perhaps a closer scrutiny than we usually give them.

I want to make clear, though, that it's not just about whether I agree or disagree with the message (as an atheist I'll most often disagree, but not always). I saw one today that said "Grow in the Son's light." I have no problem with this, besides the rather overdone sun/Son pun. I disagree with the message, but it's clear, inoffensive, and uses an effective metaphor. In other words, no fun at all.

It's also not about simply making fun of them. I'm not going to be picking apart their grammar and spelling (though it pains me not to do so), and I'm not going to be pointing out unintentional double entendres only to follow with "That's what she said." After this one.

"She" being the Virgin Mary
If it doesn't come, the 10:30 brunch will be AWKWARD.
No, this is about the message, and how well it's coming across in the limited space available to them. It's about confusing metaphors, mistaken assumptions, and sometimes just plain bafflement. In each case, I'll try to tease out the intended meaning, and what the problem is, usually in extremely nitpicky fashion. On that note, let's start off with a real over-analysis:

"God has unlimited any time minutes"
The intended meaning: You can talk with God whenever you want, for free.

The problem: Good for God! Sounds like he's got an awesome plan. Unfortunately, I'll have to limit myself to calling him evenings and weekends, except... wait, does Heaven count as "international"? Probably. The rates on that are gonna KILL me. I guess I'll just have to wait for Him to call me. (If he does call, tell him I'm out.)

I suppose the intended point on this one could just be that God can talk to you whenever he wants, but it does make it seem awfully one-sided. Suggestion: replace "God" with "prayer." Then it gets your message across, and the only problem is trying to sound painfully "with the times."

*   *   *

"The tea kettle sings even when it's up to its neck in hot water"
The intended message: Try to be cheerful, even in the midst of suffering.

The problem: First off, yes, this is the flip side of the previous sign. That was a good day. You'll be seeing more of this church in the future.

To the point, though. This is a message I actually agree with. It's secular, for one, and about looking on the bright side, which I like. More importantly, however, it shows a rather shaky grasp of how tea kettles work. If you're submerging them in hot water instead of filling them up and bringing them to a boil, you're doing it wrong. And they don't sing even when hot water's involved, they sing only then. Really, the whole thing should read "The tea kettle sings only when it's full up with hot water." Unfortunately, that makes the message sound more like an "Art must come from internal torment" kind of thing, which I don't think is what they're going for.

Credit where credit is due, though, they managed to use both "it's" and "its" correctly in a sentence, even if they did have to get creative and use an inverted comma in place of an apostrophe in order to do it.

*   *   *

"The Holy Spirit blows today"
The intended meaning:

The problem: Okay, look. I said I wasn't going to pick on unintentional double entendres. And I'm not. But really, really, I'm having a hard time seeing this message as anything other than inappropriate. I'm not by any means a theological expert, but is the Holy Spirit known for... blowing? I mean, it's not like it's the Holy Wind or something. Is it supposed to be like "The Holy Spirit moves through you today"? Or like "The Holy Spirit is... traveling around...." I don't even know.

Does... does nobody check these things? Because even ignoring the obvious that's-what-she-said-edness of this, I can't think of any way to parse this other than the same way I would the sentence "The Orioles blow this season."* Which, again, I don't think they're going for here.

*   *   * 

And that's it for this go-round! See you next time on "Over-Analyzing Church Signs"!

*What, I can't make a sports reference?

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