Jesus Saves

February 1st, 2010
This article is featured in the New Places for New People (Feb/Mar/Apr 2010) issue of Circuit Rider
Photo credit: timlewisnm via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Once a week for five years I drove fifty miles to Buffalo, New York. On a back road is a farm with a house near the road. A very small fruit and vegetable stand sits out front. There, summer unfolds in small containers—first asparagus, then strawberries. Zucchini, yellow squash, beans, tomatoes, and basil seem to peak at once; then corn, then pumpkins and gourds. The items for sale would remind me what part of summer I was in, in case I was daydreaming and had forgotten.

The reason I remembered the stand was because of a wooden sign that was always there; summer, fall, winter, and spring, it said


Okay, I'll admit. I'm a snob. I am turned off by bumper sticker theology, even though I appreciate freedom of expression. Hanging under the permanent sign saying “Jesus Saves” was a swinging wooden sign attached with small chains that could be unlatched so the sign could change. However, in the five years I drove by, it never changed. On that sign was written: golf balls, straw, rabbits—in that order. Obviously these people were entrepreneurs of some sort—they sold stuff. But what I read as I drove by on my way to work was “Jesus saves golf balls, straw, rabbits.”

Were they making a joke? Were they trying to make Jesus look really stupid? entrepreneurial? agricultural? country clubbish? Sometimes it is so embarrassing to be a Christian. People do such weird and terrible things with Jesus.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, some of the kids in my class who went to a different church used to talk about who Jesus hated.

Jesus hated the coloreds.

Jesus really hated interracial marriage. It was a sin.

Jesus hated women who tried to wear the pants in the family.

Jesus hated Methodists because they were evil and were going to hell.

It was all very confusing, and I knew that it was not true. I was a Methodist and I was nine years old and I couldn't be evil because I didn't know what it was. I knew that these children who told me these things were also nine years old.

I asked my Mom and she said, “Jesus doesn't hate anybody.”

“Does he hate people who hate people?” I asked.

She said, “I don't think so, but he wants us to stand up and tell people that hating isn't about Jesus, it is about your own fear.”

I love my mother. She described herself as a simple uneducated Southern housewife and mother, and a Christian with shortcomings. But what she told me that day, with such a sense of confidence and truth—she might as well have been Gandhi. The truth that she told me had so much power that I based my life on it.

Even though half of the kids in my class had heard that Jesus was about who to hate, I knew that hate is about what you fear. Jesus is about how to love in the face of fear.

So twenty-five years later, driving to Buffalo, I was knocked over by that sign that says Jesus saves golf balls, straw, rabbits.

Eventually I stopped driving to Buffalo and forgot about that sign until one winter when I was in Big Lots in Ithaca, New York, looking for items for our daughters' Easter baskets. I saw a huge display of Easter baskets all made up and wrapped in clear cellophane with a bow on the top. Each basket had cheap candy in the bottom, and each basket had a theme.

There was a glamour Easter basket with beads and high heels, pretend make-up, and a tiny crown. There was a race car Easter basket with a collection of matchbox cars and small plastic road signs that were the perfect size to ruin a vacuum cleaner. There was a magic fairy Easter basket with child-size wings and wand; an artist Easter basket with plastic pots of paint and some off-brand crayons; a “let's go fishing” Easter basket, and a fun-in-the-sandbox Easter basket.

Then one of the Easter baskets stopped my heart. It was a plastic-shotgun-and-police-accoutrement Easter basket. It had handcuffs. The shot gun had a sticker on it that said “Pump-and-Load Shotgun.”

Looking at those Easter baskets I thought, Does Jesus have a chance? Mystery, transcendence, unconditional love—who will know about those things? Immortality, forgiveness, spirit, the present moment, soulfulness, mindfulness, transformation, peace, justice, equity, covenant, deep acceptance, oneness, divine communion, beloved community, co-creation, resurrection, healing—who will speak for them? How can they be packaged in ways that cannot be bought or sold or cheapened?

I bought bags of peanut M&Ms for our daughters' Easter baskets, but I ate them on the way home. Chocolate helps us repress anger and forget about profound questions.

Years later I was driving on Route 8 in the Adirondack Mountains north of Utica, New York. I passed a diner that had one of those signs with hanging parts. The top sign, the permanent one, said “Diner.” Below it hung two attached signs: “Gas” and “Worms.” We ate there once. It was true—at least the gas part. The sign was an honest sign. A real symbol that said what was true. If only Jesus were given that same honest chance.

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