This poster on the signboard of a local church has something rather sad about it. It’s bad design (so bad, in fact, that it bleeds into it’s opposite, where ‘bad’ becomes a new, ironic aesthetic, a parody of David Carson’s RayGun or Blah. (Is this poster intentionally deconstructive design? And would deconstruction be an appropriate genre here?) The typography is horrible. Then there’s that nasty double exposure effect and blurred drop shadow on the strangely eroded letter forms. And that ‘train-crash’ between the cyan and magenta on a dirty blue backing board. The word Jesus is typeset in a font reminiscent of sausages (and hasn’t Jesus become commodified, like sausages, for consumers?
Above: Sausage typeface. Perfect for typesetting the name of the Messiah.
Haven’t we ‘processed’ Jesus in much the same way as processed meat, squeezed and bent him into shapes much like sausages in a pan, contortions which suit our ideas about that enigmatic 1st century Jew?).
There is an old Arabic proverb which goes “Purity of writing is purity of the soul” – in Islam, typography is considered a sacred art form. And indeed it was considered thus in Christianity once, as evidenced by the illuminated manuscripts of Medieval Europe and even in some quarters of Christianity today – in beautiful typographic design of Bibles and liturgical works.
See below: ‘Bibliotheca’ – one man’s quest to make the Good Book better
Has Christianity lost a typographic reverence for God?
Frank Schaeffer, American author, film director, screenwriter, and public speaker and son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer (of L’Abri fame), wrote a scathing attack on this kind of shabbiness – “Addicted to Mediocrity” back when he was a conservative Evangelical Christian. Proof that even Evangelical Christianity can self-critique at times. Are we content to see what Christians call “The Name Above Every Name” tossed onto the page in some god-awful freebie-font, used just last week perhaps for the flyer for some greasy burger and banger fast-foods outlet?
Yeah – we’ll use Banger Bold in Jesus’ name!
Maybe the person responsible for this monstrosity didn’t even think about it, which makes it all the more dismal.
Raygun poster Issue #19 September 1994
One of the things that makes the “One to One” poster a little sad is that it is also a feeble attempt to “reach out”. One can almost sense God’s quiet desperation here: “please, can we have ‘a one on one?'” – like someone in middle management sending a meeting request to a disengaged employee. It’s just so dismally corporate in tone:
Conducting one on one check-ins
“Would you like to be involved in something exciting? How about something big, special or important? Most people would. And for those who wouldn’t, many would still like to be an integral part of their workgroup. In this article we’ll look at one of the secret weapons leaders can use to build a powerhouse team. A tool that continually instils a sense of importance and focus… One on one check-in meetings are held between a team leader and team member. They are conversations that usually last no longer than 10 to 20 minutes where they discuss what is going well and what needs to change. For such a simple process, you’ll discover they provide a big bang for your buck.”¹
Oh, God. This quote could be cut and pasted from the corporate kingdom to the evangelical kingdom: something exciting? How about something big, special or important? – spreading the gospel of course! workgroup – the local church I guess?
So one on one has this trendy, corporate-speak ring to it: no more ‘disciples’ or ‘children of God’ or even sinners or lost sheep – but team members for Christ sake. Secret weapons leaders can use to build a powerhouse team” – that fits the Word of faith nicely!
Give me a Charles Wesley-style, hellfire-and-damnation-repent-or-be-lost-forever-God over this anaemic, apologetic just-pop-in-for-a-cup-of-tea-and-a-chat-boss.
It is a typically late- or post-christian gesture: the once omnipotent God – The warrior Yahweh, Lord of the Hosts of Israel – is relegated to the cheap seats or shunned or ignored, represented now not by sublime art or the blood of martyrs in a Roman arena, but by a shitty poster outside a locked church. Recall for a moment the awe-inspiring Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, the great architecture and mosaics of Byzantium which demanded encounter with the Pankreator God of the Universe. Think of the magnificent works of art (The Sistine Chapel, The Pieta, Handel’s Messiah and so on) which proclaimed the presence of God through beauty and craft – superseded now by third rate posters and dreary religious tracts.
While taking the photograph some curious local kids asked in Scouse² accents why I was photographing the poster and asked what it meant. I explained I was a graphic artist with an interest in the way things look, especially posters, and that I guessed the poster meant exactly what it said, that if you wanted to you could have a talk with Jesus. Perhaps it was the one-to-one bit which the kids didn’t quite get. Did I even understand what it meant? They seemed satisfied with my answer. I, less so.
The mediocrity of the poster design is a sort of graphic contradiction of the sublime proposition contained in the text – that an individual might have a conversation – a one to one – with the Creator of the Universe. And I question whether the proposition is really true, if I could genuinely tell those kids that God would listen and respond to them, that there is a God who might communicate with them. A reluctant iconoclast, I wasn’t about to sabotage the message on the church notice board like some caustic atheist (the poster was already doing a good job of sabotaging the Kingdom of God in my opinion); – but neither was I able to enthusiastically promote it’s message.
The voices in my head – the chattering remnants of an outworn evangelicalism – accused me (as they always do) of failing to use this opportunity to “share Christ” (what a preposterous and conceited notion – as if like a purveyor of fine meats I could dish out some Christ to the hungry).
Why should I get behind this message of a chatty, avuncular Jesus, when Christians themselves ask, in the words of James Brenemann,
Have you ever felt like Isaiah or the people of his day, wondering where in heaven or on earth God is? Have you tried to pray and felt nothing, seen nothing, sensed nothing for a long time? Have you ever been ready to throw in the towel or felt the sad weight of Bob Dylan’s song, “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door,” with no one answering?³
I’m drawn to the thinking of the Jesuit theologian Ladislaus Boros:
“Has God become silent?…
He says nothing…
Is there any meaning in talking to a God who keeps quiet?”
“Our journey into the territory of being should be made in silence… Silences are the only scrap of Christianity we still have left…” 4
Perhaps I am mistaken then, about the poster. Perhaps it’s an invitation not to a religious chinwag, but to enter meaning, interiority, encounter.
The poet Theodore Roethke wrote,
You will find no comfort here,
In the kingdom of bang and blab.
And in fairness to the poster perhaps at vert least it invites us to leave the shabby ‘kingdoms’ of this world, – the kingdom of pretense, of smoke and mirrors, of mundane consumerism which fetishizes entertainment – a world of “bang and blab” – to seek the silence of God.
Yet again – and I know I’m banging banging on now – but all this religious stuff may be just one more province in the kingdom of bang and blab.
At the end of the film Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman was painfully unable to reconcile the silence of God with the existence of God. In the words of the protagonist Märta,
“God hasn’t ever spoken, because God doesn’t exist. It’s as simple as that.”5
- Scouse: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scouse
- Worth the wait: Isaiah 64:1-9: Isaiah refuses to pretend anymore by James Brenneman (Nov. 2008) at christiancentury.org.
Sausage typeface courtesy of https://handmadefont.com