There’s a church on my street. Kind of; it’s on the big street that my street crosses, the one I use to give directions, “the corner of Big Street and Numbered Avenue, more or less.” It’s unimpressive on the outside, just a single-story building with drab siding and three concrete steps and a sign identifying what flavor of church it is, with a smaller sign tacked onto one of the uprights directing folks to the handicapped access around back of the gravel parking lot. I imagine that on the inside it smells like churches: old people, fake flowers, and things children have spilled, although I haven’t really been inside a church in years, even counting the 7th Day Adventist churches that always seem to be Montessori schools the other five days a week.
This church is, more or less, directly across the street from another church. Well, two other churches: the deaf church and a much much larger church. I imagine the crosstown (cross-street?) rivalries in play here operate something like two high schools that are close enough to share a school bus but so differently sized that their football teams never meet in mortal combat. But I don’t really know, except that the bigger church always seems to be having pancake breakfasts and car washes while the small church just fills its parking lot twice a week and then leaves its neighbors alone.
The little church is one of those sorts of churches that has a section of its sign devoted to what the internet informs me is properly called a “changeable letter sign” and what I call “the signs where you move shit around with a long stick to make words.” For the most part, this portion of the sign has been used to emulate signs from more clever churches on the internet, aka “whatever’s going around Facebook this week” or “I googled ‘clever church signs’ and this is what came up.” Signs like WAL-MART ISNT THE ONLY SAVING PLACE (they apparently only had enough apostrophes to do one side of the sign, but plenty of hyphens). WHAT IS MISSING FROM CH CH ? … U R. Once it was GOD ANSWERS KNEE-MAIL. And back when they still had both the apostrophes that came with the letter set: DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE –GOD
Then, a few months ago, the sign got aggressive. When I drove past it read
Bold. Aggressive. Not at all a pun. And there it stayed, when the other slogans, the found ones, changed weekly. Did they have a new pastor? Is it even the kind of church that has pastors? What’s the boss of this kind of church called, anyway? The questions mounted up.
After the sign had been around a month or so, I had an idea. I meant to let the little church finally take its place among the Clever Churches of the Internet, however briefly and ironically. I’d post a photo of it, I thought, with a caption like “Look, I finally found a pro-choice church.” But I’m a lot better at intentions than actions (ask my holiday card list) and, well, driving, and somehow I never got around to it.
While my neighborhood has its share of vandals (like everyone, really), the sign fronts on a busy street and is well lit by two streetlights. To reach the sign you have to climb a moderate chain link fence that’s locked on non-churchgoing days. So when the OR disappeared from one side of the sign it was a genuine mystery.
Next, one of the S’s in JESUS disappeared. On the other side.
That pretty much screwed my theory that they were doing something super clever with the sign by removing words one at a time until there was a different message.
Another letter went missing – an E this time – and three of the 6’s (not from the same 666, of course, leaving me to infer that Jesus does not get his kicks in the usual place).
I expected that at some point a new slogan would appear, or that enough of the letters from this one would vanish to make it impossible to sustain and the sign would become a mere blank below the name of the church until a pancake breakfast could be held to raise money for new letters and we’d begin again with WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN STAND, KNEEL or something.
For the past three weeks the sign has read
And you know? As creepy as the original sign was? I think I preferred it. At least there was a choice. See, the thing about choice is that you have to be presented with more than one available option. That’s why it doesn’t feel good to win first place if nobody else enters. You know the judges didn’t actually choose you. That’s why the opposite of “anti-abortion” isn’t “pro-abortion” but “pro-choice.” One removes options; the other preserves options whether or not they are the individual’s desired outcome, leaving others free to choose the alternatives.
I didn’t set out to write an allegory for the election, I really didn’t. But I guess the idea of diminishment’s been on my mind lately. The narrowing of choices. People choosing to narrow their choices without understanding the original array of options.
Maybe I’ll go back to the church. Maybe I’ll climb the fence and hang a banner below that sign that reads JESUS CHRIST – OUR CHOICE. The banner could read: