Our Lady of Culture

So I’m in the land where sport and religion become one.  Notre Dame is an intimidating university for a small Protestant like myself.  Like on a first date, I’m never sure what to do with my hands.  Standing below the famous “touchdown Jesus,” more properly, the “Word of Life,” I feel small indeed.  For a long while in US history, Catholicism was treated like some kind of cult.  Those of us reared Protestant were taught to fear “them” and their ritualistic ways.  I’m more afraid that someone might ask me about football stats.  Sports is a religion I’ve never studied.

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Culture is like a colossal Cuisinart.  Lots of stuff goes in, all of it more or less equal, and the blades begin to whirl.  Sports, religion, fast food, alcohol, a dash of education, and we’ve got an American classic.  The only time that sports come to my mind is when they start to take on the flavor of religion.  The level of the devotion of fans is the envy of many a church.  In fact, the word “fan” was borrowed from the lexicon of religious behaviors.  It is not difficult to sense the pride in football here, but then, sports are often a civilized way to assert one’s self-worth in a culture where self-worth feels under threat.  It is hard to recall a time when the Fighting Irish were not mainstream.

“High culture” has put itself on the endangered species list by becoming inaccessible in a culture that doesn’t value education (not to reflect on the academics I’ve seen at Notre Dame, which are pretty impressive).  I cringe, however, when I see polished politicians basking in their lack of introspection on issues that impact the entire human race.  They seem proud to declare themselves untainted by education.  They will support sports, however, and particularly football where violence is padded, but still encouraged.  It is culture for those who enjoy the lowest common denominator.  In the airport I noticed another “touchdown” character who, in some quarters in more recognized than the deity soaring over Notre Dame’s venerable stadium.  I was in the true presence of culture even before I boarded the plane.

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Joltin’ Jesus

Jesus has been having a hard time lately. Just last month he was hit by a car, and on Monday night lightning struck a second time. Literal lightning. A touchdown-style Jesus in Monroe, Ohio, formerly six stories tall, received the paragon of divine punishments in a Midwest thunderstorm. Struck by lightning, the fiberglass and plastic foam savior melted leaving only an eerie, Lovecraftian idol of a steel frame behind. The statue had adorned the Solid Rock Church in Monroe since 2004. According to MSNBC many motorists said that America needs more symbols like this; God apparently disagrees.

Former Touchdown/Quicksand Jesus

Obtrusive religious symbols dot many high hills and adorn many quotidian highways as signs of the donors’ faith. Lawrence Bishop, horse-trader-cum-pastor, and his wife Darlene made a substantial investment in this eviscerated Touchdown Jesus sculpture. As a camp counselor in my youth, I slept in the shadow of the great steel cross of Jumonville in southwestern Pennsylvania. The 60-foot tall cross is lit at night and is visible in three states. The monolithic cross always seemed incongruous with the blackened roasted weenies and gooey banana-boats we managed to choke down. Staring at its gleaming whiteness by night was an epiphany to many.

With the rainbow seal of approval

When my wife and I lived in Scotland some years ago, a terrific wind-storm blew through. In itself that was nothing uncommon, as any Scot will tell you. Wind gusts in this storm reached about 140 knots (160 mph), causing widespread damage. In an interview on the BBC, the sexton at one of Scotland’s cathedrals (time has robbed me of the details) recorded seeing the wind topple a statue of Jesus atop the building. He quipped, “I looked up, saw Jesus coming down, and ran for my life!” Although the exact location escapes me, the words have taken on an unexpected significance as icons crash down all around me. The demise of “Quicksand Jesus” is simply one further reason to avoid trusting in anything less than solid rock.