slogan and sacrament

My family spent last week in the mountains, in Colorado, and we made the long drive back across Kansas on I-70 yesterday. I always try to pay attention to the signs on that road – the details change but the home-cooked Christianity remains the same: now, there’s one of Jesus holding up a few fingers, with the line, “Jesus, I trust you” across it… There’s one that just proclaims, stark, italicized capital letters on a plain backdrop, that “JESUS IS REAL”… There’s one with no words at all, just a long-haired Jesus head peeking out over a golden field of wheat, and holding a few stalks of it in his hand…

I was playing this game in my head, wondering about what a suburban equivalent of these rural highway signs might be, thinking about what Saint Andrew’s message, boiled down to billboard-slogan style, might be…

And then we came upon another. Not as polished as the others; it wasn’t professionally done. Just some hand-painted block letters on a big white sign posted in some central Kansas farmland. And it said, “I Need a Kidney.” And across the bottom, the phone number.

I looked it up when we got home – James Nelson, who used to paint murals, rented the sign after he got the idea from a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. He drug a ladder out into the field where it stands and and hiked his 70-year-old self up to paint the message for his wife, Sharon. They’ve had lots of calls, but so far none of the offers have worked out. They’re still hopeful that some kind soul, with the right blood type and enough time to slow down and copy the phone number, will find them.

I’ve never felt like those other signs are particularly loving – those theological arguments posted along I-70. I’ve thought they were sometimes clever… sometimes threatening… but this one, that just spoke of the woman’s need – something about it reached off the painted wood and into my spirit as we drove by. Her acknowledgment of her need forges a connection between her and all who see that sign. And in that way, I think, it says more about God, about faith, about love, than any of the others out there. It says, honestly, this is who I am. I am, literally, broken. I need you. For healing. And it opens up the possibility that maybe, we need each other.

It’s the same thing a communion table says, right? This table is not clever, or threatening. It is not a theological argument. It simply invites us to be who we are. To acknowledge where we are broken. And maybe when we do, and we come — broken selves to broken bread — we begin to find wholeness.

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