Anyway, among the tried and trusted mottoes they liked to wheel out was the one that said that it was rude to discuss politics or religion in polite company. Well, I know my readership, and you're all a pretty rude and motley group, and so I will discuss one of those things right now.
There is a church that stands in my hometown that has a sign outside. Now, that in itself is not unusual. Most churches have signs outside. Usually they are of the wooden painted variety, with information such as a list of services, the vicar's name, and perhaps room for a colourful poster with some lovely serene woodland photo and a nice little Bible verse on it. Except, that is, when I moved to the States, where it seems every church (and when I lived in Georgia, there were a lot of them) has one of those big illuminated signs outside with magnetic letters on it. That's right, just like the Burger King and MuckDonald's. And the larger the church and the more affluent the neighbourhood, the bigger and more flashy the sign out front. From a distance you can't tell the difference between a church and a cineplex in some cases. These signs are very handy for these churches because it gave them the freedom to change the sign and put whatever they wanted on it. There seem to be a lot of puns.
Puns used to be the preserve of hairstylists only. "Hair-berdashery" and "Hair It Tiz" spring to mind. Then record shops got in on the act, with names like Vinyl Countdown and such. So the churches realised there was a marketing tool here that they could use, and don't kid yourself, churches do have to market themselves, especially when there's one on every corner like there is in Georgia. There's a lot of competition out there, boy. So we started seeing church signs with real groaners on them such as "Send God A Knee Mail". Painful, boys, truly painful.
So - marketing. Like I said, up until recently, only American churches have used sophisticated signage. British ones have always been a bit twee and Miss Marple-ey. Until I saw the sign outside this particular church. It's one of those hi-tech printed ones on a big sheet of weatherproof vinyl with that no-fade ink so even in the depths of winter it is bright and vibrant and jumps out at you. The first thing that you see on this sign is the question "WHAT'S LIFE ALL ABOUT?" in large red block letters, with the word LIFE looking very similar to the way it looks on the cover of the American magazine of the same name, large and friendly and somehow comforting. However, this question is superimposed on a photo of a silhouetted figure on the crest of a hill with large grey clouds looming ominously behind him. Sort of a suicidal-looking figure, I think. How cheery.
The next thing you see are four pictures. The first is of an ecstatically happy-looking black man with a shaved head with the expression of someone who has just received a visit from the Publisher's Clearing House people with a large cardboard replica of a check in their hands. In fact, do you remember that episode of The Cosby Show where Theo wants to become a male model and his sisters stage a mock interview at a modelling agency and Lisa Bonet tells him to adopt the look of a man who has just won the lottery? That look. What are they trying to say with this pic, I wonder? Black guys is crazy??!? Oh, you know those West Indians, always jumping up and down with manic expressions on their faces. (Sarcasm).
The next picture is of a mixed-race family looking all cheery and posing in the park for a group photo. The next is of piles of money of various currencies. I guess that represents money, doesn't it? The final pic is of a happy couple doing that 'couple-on-the-beach-with-the-guy-giving-the-girl-a-piggyback-ride' thing, which I suppose represents either relationships, marriage, spring break or sports?
Underneath all these four pics is the legend "Surely there must be more to LIFE than this?".
Then "Ever felt there's something MISSING?"
Then "Ever asked the question WHY AM I HERE?"
Can you see where this is headed? Yes, me too. It's like a freight train bearing down on you. You cannot avoid it.
"Perhaps Life is all about KNOWING GOD?"
Yeah, well, no.
There are two main things that I have a problem with in this situation. Firstly, we have this whole big marketing thing going on. The churches are just like anything else these days, trying all this flash advertising to try to make you come to them instead of the other guys. The message they are really sending with signs like this outside is "If you want to know all the answers, we've got 'em. Don't go down the street to the other churches. They may say they can help you, but only we know what the true purpose of life is. Those other churches don't know jack diddley. We got it all together here. Come on in, oh, and by the way, the collection plate is coming round."
The second thing I have a problem with is this notion that everyone and his second cousin twice removed on his grandad's sister's aunt's side are supposedly wandering around thinking "What's life about? What is my purpose? Why am I here?" which they are patently not. The churches want you to believe that that is what you are supposed to be thinking so they can then tell you. In this respect they are nothing but snake-oil salesmen.
I'm not saying that there aren't people pondering those questions. I'm sure there are. It seems to me a lot of time over the millennia has been wasted thinking about those very things. If people would just quit wondering about what it's about and just live it, there'd be less man-hours lost to the nation and we'd be on the whole a lot happier.
OK, I can tell there are still a lot of people thinking, well Jeff, you've had a good rant about this and made your opinions clear, do you feel better now you've gotten this off your chest? Well, no. Because to me, the answer to the question what's life about is dead simple. Would you,like to know?
There is no other purpose to life except to live it. You were not 'put here for some special purpose' or to achieve some lofty goal, nobody put you here. You just are. The only reason most of us are here is because our parents had a couple beers too many one night and got a bit frisky. So live your life. Quit worrying about What Would Jesus Do, ask yourself what would you do? You know the difference between right and wrong, that is basic knowledge, it's primal. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. You don't need a book to tell you that. In fact the whole Bible could really be condensed down into two words: 'Be Nice'. So quit worrying. And be nice.