Vacuum cleaners, signs and Jesus

by Kristin on December 9, 2008

in Belief, doubt & hope

God clearly wants me to write something about Signs.

Wait. Don’t leave. Not signs, as in end-time signs. I’m talking about the kind that Some People like to put in front of churches, along highways or in store windows. I think I’m supposed to write about them because I recently had two “sign encounters” in one day.

The first was when Jason and I drove up University Avenue last weekend. It’s a main east-west thoroughfare in our town, so we drive it often. A vacuum cleaner store we pass always has a sign displaying some fundamentalist-sounding religious statement. It typically says something like “Jesus Saves” or “The blood of Jesus can wash you clean.”

I always look at it, even though I really don’t want to, sort of the way I look at roadkill. It makes me cringe. I don’t get why people feel compelled to advertise their beliefs like that, all fire and brimstone, in their place of business, no less. For some reason, there’s something extra strange about displaying such proclamations in the window of a vacuum cleaner store. Not that people who vacuum don’t need Jesus, but it just strikes me as extra funny.

Anyway, as we drove by this weekend, I noticed the store owner had recently changed the sign to this:

“KIRBY BAGS BELTS SHAMPOO” sold here. And oh, by the way, “ONLY JESUS CAN PREVENT ETERNAL FIRES.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or to get a can of spray paint and scrawl “Not all Christians are like that” somewhere nearby. These types of signs think they’re pointing to Jesus, but all accounts of Jesus show he lived a life of compassion and love. A sign like this points away from compassion and love.

I can get really worked up about these things, but in that moment, I chose instead to laugh. Jason and I started brainstorming better sign ideas. I mean, really, if the store owner MUST put such signs in his window, at least he could be clever about it.

“How about LIVING WITHOUT JESUS IS LIKE LIVING IN A VACUUM?” I suggested.

“Nice,” Jason said. “What about JESUS CAN SUCK UP YOUR SIN? or JESUS CAN SWEEP OUT YOUR SOUL?”

“Yes!” I said. “Or your dust bunnies. And remember, JESUS’ VACUUM CLEANER NEVER NEEDS REPLACEMENT BAGS,” I added.

Anyway, we had fun with it, and if you have sign ideas, you must share them with the rest of us. But this is not the end of my story about signs. It took a more serious turn, which I will tell you all about tomorrow.

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  • Nicola

    This isn’t an idea for you, but ten years ago, before the whole American Express ad campaign was ubiquitous, I drove past a church that had this sign on its bulletin:

    Free coffee, everlasting life, membership has its privileges

    I thought it very clever and it didn’t offend me at all, even though I’m not a traditional believer. I have encountered many offensive signs; what’s the point?

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Joi T.

    This post really kept me chuckling! What a great picture! David Letterman would love it. I have cringed at similar signs for years. A better angle for someone who feels like they want to make a bold statement about their faith would be something along the line of “The Golden Rule is our business creed.”
    But in answer to your sign idea challenge:

    How about,
    You can “come clean” with Jesus.

  • Mark

    Do you think some people might see a “Christians Against Christians” shirt as just another “sign” poised for misunderstanding?

  • http://flitknits.blogspot.com Jeanne

    I can forgive him almost anything, he sells Mieles;-)

    I know this because it is where I bought the bags for mine. Jesus was there even then, but I don’t remember what he was preventing at the time!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Nicola, thanks for commenting! I agree—signs that are at least clever are much less offensive. I think it’s because such signs demonstrate a person’s (or church’s) ability to laugh at themselves, which is always an appealing quality. It shows that they’re human.

    Joi, I love your “you can come clean with Jesus” concept! Made me laugh out loud. On a more serious note, in my post tomorrow, I’m going to address signs that churches put up. I’ll include my thoughts about better messages we could be sending people, if we think signs are important.

    Mark, thanks for visiting my blog. I definitely think some people might misunderstand the Christians Against Christians shirt. Pretty much everything is bound to be misunderstood by someone. I should mention that this shirt doesn’t really exist (not yet, anyway!). It’s a logo of sorts for use on my blog. What I’m trying to do is point out that there are plenty of Christians against non-Christians, and plenty of non-Christians against Christians, but it’s important for people to know that not all Christians think alike or see things in the same way. The tagline, I hope, makes people stop and think “What is that about? She’s clearly for Jesus but at the same time not thrilled with everything all Christians do or stand for.” Have you seen the new Rob Bell book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians”? It’s sort of along those lines, at least in construct. Anyway, I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this, if you feel inclined!

    Jeanne, no one loves her vacuum cleaner as much as you! :) Having you show up on this post made me smile, because the other thought I always have when I pass by the vacuum store is about YOU. A much nicer thought than aggravating signage.

  • http://millersmeetsacramento.blogspot.com Lesley

    It was strange timing to to see your blog post today for a few reasons. First, I was in San Francisco last weekend and some crazy “Christians” were out on the street corners waving banners and shouting damnations in megaphones. (I put Christians in quotations because based on their actions, I don’t even know if I can call them Christians. It was that bad.) Then, my friend Emily who lives in San Francisco and should be used to these vocal types, was in Seattle last weekend and just posted a picture on her blog of similar signs. She also called the people “fundamental Christians”.

    I guess I wondered– what are fundamental Christians? How would you define them? Is it up to us to define them? I know I don’t like the signs they’re holding or the things they’re saying, but I also don’t get rubbed the wrong way by a simple “Jesus Saves” sign either. To me, “Jesus Saves” is not offensive or in your face.

    I suppose, as your blog tagline says, “I’m neither here, nor there.” Thoughts?

    p.s. Emily’s blog, if you want to check out her funny picture, is: http://emilykatz.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.carmasez.com carma

    I know this is off-topic, but I loved your comment on Chuck’s site about your mom commenting and being one of your biggest fans. If it wasn’t from my mom showing an interest I would have probably quit blogging several times over by now. Even at my age she still encourages me in all of my crazy ventures that never quite seem to pan out :)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Lesley, your friend’s photo is really funny. The timing of these things is certainly interesting. I couldn’t believe that in the course of a single day I encountered two different examples of the same problem. Regarding Fundamentalists, I think it is a term that is used rather loosely (and as a writer, I should be careful how and when I use it). I think it’s generally understood, though, to refer to Christians who act like they have a corner on the Truth, and tend to defy reasonable debate and ignore any evidence that might contradict the Bible as the absolute truth. This isn’t my expertise, though! Anyone else want to jump in?

    Carma, I’m so glad you found my blog and commented. It’s funny–my mom is Joi (above). Sometimes she comments as “Mom,” like if she wants to reference the fact that she knows me well, and other times she sticks with Joi. I’m really happy for both personae. :)

  • Arathi

    The timing of this is too weird (makes me wonder about the collective consciousness). This morning, I was sitting at the light at First and University, and happened to see this exact same sign in this store’s window. It definitely made me look because of the sheer unexpectedness of it. Vacuums and eternal fires? I too wondered what makes a store that sells vacuums put up a sign like that. And why there? Juxtaposed next to the types of vacuums it sells?

    Yesterday, I was going on my daily lunchtime walk around the quad and saw two guys wearing sandwich boards with “you will burn in hell if you don’t believe in Jesus”-type comments on them. I wondered what motivated them to stand there in the freezing cold with these boards that I don’t think Jesus would be okay with. I don’t think he’d have liked the “…or else….” subtext.

  • Alli Butler

    Funny & timely! (Well, it would have been if I were keeping up…)

    Right around Thanksgiving I saw a sign at my local auto body shop that also gave me pause and a moment’s reflection. I should admit to the fact that I am an insane apostrophe-misuse critic. Those over-used and mis-used apostrophes drive me crazy! In the case of the auto body shop, however, it was the lack of apostrophe that changed the meaning and message for me.

    MAY WE ALL BE THANKFUL FOR GODS BLESSINGS

    Without the apostrophe I decided that this was a multi-ethnic, far-reaching, meaningful message that was embracing all gods and the universe in giving thanks for our many blessings. Of course, there probably just wasn’t a plastic magnetic apostrophe for the sign, but I chose to internalize and give myself a smile at the potential meaning. Of course one could argue that we all interpret faith, spirituality and input from others in our own way, but that’s a whole other post! :)