Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lines Composed a Few Feet from the Number 15 Bus Stop

Today's message is part of the Inspirational Messages from Inspirational People series, sponsored by the Church of the Orange Sky.

It's late evening and I'm sitting at a bus stop in downtown Prince George. The town's bus stops are peculiar locations these days. A couple of years ago, a local realtor helped finance the purchase of new benches for almost the entire transit system, and in exchange, he got his name plastered all over town: Bob Zayonc, realtor. Zayonc is a former minister who left the church under peculiar circumstances, though his Remax website (here) proclaims that this experience made him "a practical, progressive-minded problem solver." But Zayonc's advertising is fine - he's a businessman now, sort of a Christian reconstructed capitalist.

Zayonc's being followed by some more exciting company, though. The bus stop nearest my house now features a queerly Christian evangelical quotation about the divinity of Jesus, attributed to Mohandas Gandhi. I'm not as familiar with Gandhi's written ramblings as I ought to be, but it's probably safe to assume this quote has been yanked as far out of context as, for example, the creative creationist "quotation" of Darwin acknowledging the complexity of the human eye. Hurray for quote mining.

The message is obviously from some sort of evangelical group, but it's oddly difficult to tell which one. In small print on the sign is a web address - "truthinadvertising.ca" - which, as you can see here, doesn't actually have any meaningful content on it at all. When the muse struck me with the inspiration for this blog entry, I thought I was going to enjoy poking my way through a "Christian advertising" site. Sadly, that won't be the case. However, it does seem bizarre to raise money from evangelicals - or other groups, for that matter, but I assume these are evangelicals - to put up signs with Gandhi quotes. He's the sort of person my Baptist church used to condemn - someone too concerned about earthly good and social justice that they didn't remember to save their own soul by coming to Jesus at a good young age (or even an old one, which wasn't perfect or even good, but was still acceptable, as moronic pseudo-prophet Timothy Lahaye explains in his tell-all non-self-help book).

Anyways, to the evening at hand. I'm in another bus stop, and this one has another Christian advertisement in it. In a way, it's convenient. It's one-stop shopping for transportation: $1.50 for a ride to my house, plus a free ticket to heaven, fine print not included. Downtown Prince George is full of such interesting juxtapositions. A few blocks from where I'm sitting, there's an intersection where you can quite literally, just by crossing the street between stops, take out a mortgage for your house, buy insurance for your car, gamble away what's left, then pray for God's forgiveness (and maybe some cash from heaven, mana-style) with some friendly if mostly elderly Anglicans. (I'm allowed to denigrate Anglicans because some of my best friends are Anglicans.)

Today's bus-stop advertisement is for "Alpha," a Christian evangelism program that is like a combination of Contagious Christians' absurd "Matthew party" concept in action (i.e. invite non-Christians to an event, then ambush them with the gospel), plus the last great fad in evangelical circles, the "small group." For Anglicans and atheists out there, a "small group" is when you go to a fellow churchgoer's house, sit in a circle, eat a few chips from a bag someone thought to bring, awkwardly try to explain to the group how you failed in your "walk with God" over the past week, then have a nice group prayer and engage in entirely non-religious small talk until it's time to go home.

Alpha's that, plus Pavlov. The way it works is that the churches get together and storm the town with ads about the grand new program where you can "discuss the meaning of life." In accordance with modern evangelical marketing standards, the fact that this is an explicitly Christian discussion of the meaning of life is something you might not notice at the outset. At least, the ads don't bother to mention that Alpha is Christian; on the other hand, there aren't many non-Christian groups that can afford to advertise the fact they want to talk to you about the "meaning of life." Either you don't realize Alpha is Christian or, using your brain (at this stage, whether that brain comes straight from God or took a detour via Australopithecus afarensis isn't really germane), you cleverly surmise it, and don't care. Either way, if you're still interested, you're shifted into stage two.

Now, you're drawn into the program by the prospect of free food. The first meeting is a free dinner. The dinners don't last, though - somewhat like Pavlov's dogs, eventually the bell rings but all you get is food for the soul. And not even chicken soup, at that, but Nicky Gumbel, who is apparently the Church of England's answer to Stephen R. Covey. (Yes, Gumbel is actually an ordained Anglican minister, which is a little surprising given the company Alpha now keeps.) Since we haven't yet perfected reliable storage and transmission of the disembodied voice that speaks to people like Neale Donald Walsch, Gumbel addresses Alpha attendees via their host's television set. At some point, there's a sermon along the lines of "does God cut it or bite it in today's secular world?", which is also, incidentally, the topic which suckered me into a Baptist church back when I was an impressionable youngster.

You might come for the free food, but the hope is that you'll stay for the religion. As Christian sermons go, Gumbel's inspirational speeches could be worse, though the spectacle of a bunch of adults sitting around receiving truth from their TV set conjures up all kinds of disturbing and depressing imagery. Fortunately, being a Mac user renders me immune to the danger of falling victim to such Orwellian oblivion, and has ever since a very hot Anya Major threw a very cool hammer through a very large Big Brother way back in 1984. (You too can become a chic nonconformist via a credit card and a visit to Apple's online store.)

It seems to me that religious organizations need only spend money on bus stop advertising if they have so much money they're beginning to see opportunities everywhere to spread their considerable largesse, or if they're growing desperate because they can't think of a better way to remind people they're still there, other than prancing about at election time decrying the trinity of modern evil (gays, liberals, and abortion clinics). Prince George's churches aren't particularly wealthy (even the Catholics have had to give up a decent chunk of their real estate holdings to Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire), so I'm going to go with unimaginative desperation. Perhaps they could spend the money on a new food bank instead. Prince George could use another one, it would be very similar to Alpha except for the videotaped lectures, and, if that weren't enough, there's already a long and honourable tradition of rice-Christians.

(Rice Christianity, incidentally, originated in Europe with the Edict of Milan, not in East Asia with rice. It's one of the few ancient concepts that Europe invented and then spread to Asia, rather than the other way around. I've always wondered why we forgot to take the credit for this one. We certainly didn't hesitate to appropriate the credit for most everything else.)

10 comments:

ftjack said...

You sir are a complete idiot, and you do not know Bob at all.
If u did, you would know that he is one of the finest human beings you could cross paths with in this lifetime,
Your blog seethes with jealousy,
and defamation,
is this what your religion teaches you??
Is it a christian thing to mount a personal attack publicly?
I fully recognize that all your comments bubbled up from the shallow end of the gene pool.
Beware natural selection my uninformed, dull, non-thinking,
mental midget,
You have displayed your ignorance for all to see, You will probably be ignorant enough to continue.
May God bless us all by removing you and any progeny from the gene pool.
Ever been struck by lightning?
I bet your right up there on God's to do list. I have no more time to waste on a moron.

ftjack said...

I understand a little better now.
You Shawn are by your own admission,
um, well, unemployed.
You contribute nothing to the tax base.
Whereas: all of Bob's clients pay taxes on their properties so that schools (did you graduate yet?)and colleges and universities can offer property tax subsidized education to even a fool like you.
You are a self-confessed nerd, duh, what was your first clue?
A communist also, does this mean you think you are entitled to an education payed for by property owners and taxpayers.
I think so.
From your selected readings you are probably a budding neo-nazi, and a most likely, a satanist, I bet you have read mein kempf also and are adopting the principles therein.

Church of the orange sky?
An offshoot of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. No doubt.
Do you use L.S.D. as a eucharist?
What have you been smoking?
I wish you a life of abject poverty. I hope you will continue to take the property tax subsidized bus.
There you can continually gaze at a man, whose feet you are unworthy to wash.
So to sum up,
Get a life, you mealy mouthed, lazy, unproductive, whining, sad excuse for a little boy.

so that you know Bob helped me buy a home, I put $30,000 down two years ago, the assesed value was 133,500 then, it is $269,900 as of june 2007.
It would now sell for $325,500.00

Yes Bob facillitated my turning $30,000 into $225,000 of pure profit in 30 months.
That's a 750 percent return on my
money.
Thank's Bob and thank's Suze Orman.

Blaisteach said...

First off, in fairness, Shawn didn't write that entry - I did. I even pay taxes from time to time, though why this would make me any more qualified as a citizen of a democracy is beyond me. The constitution bestows rights upon people based on their humanity, not their tax payments.

Second, as I believe I noted, I have no problem with Zayonc advertising anything on the bus stops. Zayonc's contribution of the new benches is noteworthy largely because it leads into my next comments, on the "truth in advertising" sign. I am not in the least jealous of Zayonc or any other realtor. It's honourable of you to defend him but I'm not really all that interested in attacking him, not least because, as you correctly note, I have never met him. If you really want to see me attack someone, read one of my posts on Ted Haggard.

Given that you claimed you had little time to waste on someone as clearly dim-witted as myself, I'm surprised at the length of your comments. Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to answer all of your questions in the order you have written them.

1.) Yes, my religion teaches me to seethe with jealousy and defamation. Surprisingly, it doesn't extend quite so far as praying for someone's death, though that's a skill you've clearly spent some time developing: the conclusion to your first post was most eloquent.

2.) Yes, it is a Christian thing to mount a personal attack publicly. Surely you've noticed this over the years. A personal attack in public sells a lot more copies than a personal attack in private.

3.) Yes, I have been struck by lightning. It was a bolt sent by the Orange Sky to enlighten me about the ways of this exciting, electric world we live in.

4.) Yes, I did graduate from school. Schools, actually.

5.) My first clue that I am a self-confessed nerd came when I confessed it; prior to that exhilarating moment, obviously, the phrase wouldn't apply to me.

6.) Yes, as a communist, I think I am entitled to such an education. Obviously you're well read in communist theory since you've mastered the basic premise of all Marxists that governments finance a public education system. Or was that the Americans who first started using land revenues for education? Facts are so hard to remember sometimes.

7.) Indeed I am a budding neo-Nazi and a Satanist, both at the same time. Usually I try to hide these allegiances by keeping my hair long, but obviously you've found me out. Well done! Interestingly, I actually have read Mein Kampf, but unfortunately Hitler was an abysmal writer. You're obviously familiar with the work yourself since you've cottoned on to the fact that this blog is part of my hidden agenda to secretly implement its "principles" in my own country.

8.) Yes indeedy, the Church of the Orange Sky flowed into my head while I sat one night, listening to the Beatles.

9.) Oh, you didn't mean the Beatles. Yeah, LSD is the eucharist all right. "This is my lysergic acid, which is given for you." There were a few hangups, of course, since the Church of the Orange Sky hasn't yet firmed up what precisely we'd be expressing gratitude for, but we just started improvising rituals based on the Book of Common Prayer and went from there.

10.) Sadly, I haven't been smoking much lately. A little weed, of course, and some ice last Tuesday, but thankfully I've stopped smoking tobacco, since I felt guilty every time the government taxed me for a packet of smokes, knowing that I was in some way compensating society for the gifts it lavishes upon me.

I'm glad to hear Bob helped you rake in some cash. I've enjoyed this little chat and I hope you come by again some time.

shawn said...

Well that was really special.
First I get blamed for a post I don't write. Then I'm called a communist, a satanist, and a fan of Hitler. Nice.

Wished death and poverty. Nice. Very christian thing to do. Regardless of whether I or Blaisteach wrote, I don't think anyone should pretend themselves to be christians if they go around threatening people because they hold thoughts different from their own.

ftjack, I wish you well. I will pray that God helps you with your anger. You seem rather riled by my friend's post, to the point of sounding very unchristian. I suppose you might have had a bad day at the office or whereever. I just hope you find a better way of dealing with what bothers you in the future instead of calling people names and threating them.

Shawn

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