Yesterday Kish and I were walking home after watching a movie. As we passed the Ohio Statehouse, an earnest young man wearing a coat and tie handed us a small pamphlet entitled Heaven or Hell — Which One Will You Choose?
I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a religious tract handed out by a street corner Bible thumper. This time, though, rather than immediately toss the pamphlet into the trash — which is what the woman walking directly in front of us did — I decided to put it in my pocket to review later.
Admittedly, the colorful cover page is provocative, with its depiction of Earth in the balance between an ethereal heaven and a fiery-lettered hell. Printed in nearby Lebanon, Ohio, by the Fellowship Tract League, the pamphlet clearly had some decent production values. But, in my view, the contents weren’t exactly written to persuade the presumed audience.
The pamphlet begins with the words “Are you going to heaven or to hell? The Bible teaches . . . . ” and then launches into quotes about lost souls being tossed into a lake of fire and how to be saved from that grim fate. But if you don’t already believe in heaven or hell, why would you worry about this threshold question? And if you aren’t already a believer, why would anything written in the Bible be considered especially compelling — any more than, say, the words found in some Hindu religious treatise? Fortunately, the publishers ask anyone who is saved by the pamphlet to write and let the publishers know, so at least there is data being gathered that will let us know whether the pamphlet is doing its job.
Well, at least now I can say that I’ve read a street corner religious tract.
Last week I was getting into my car at a public parking lot. The person in the neighboring space had parked too close, so I had to squeeze into the front seat past the door. As I did so, I looked down inside their car and saw a magazine called Bibleman, with a stern looking guy in a superhero costume on the cover, in the back seat.
Given Bibleman’s outfit, he is obviously a fighting hero. If he draws upon the Old Testament, he could go around armed with a sling and some smooth stones, or perhaps a staff that allows him to part the water when necessary. The Old Testament was full of smiting and suffering and turning people into pillars of salt, so Bibleman beating the snot out of evildoers would fit right in. (And, if Bibleman ever got to the Song of Solomon, he might have even more diverse and interesting adventures.)
Of course, no good hero can be without supervillains to defeat against all odds. I’m guessing that Bibleman’s arch-nemeses were Mr. Sin and Foul Temptress, both of whom were agents of Satan — who was never seen but who clearly was always pulling the strings behind the scenes as part of some dimly perceived master plan. Mr. Sin would find people during their moments of sloth and weakness and sweet-talk them into straying from the path of righteousness, and Foul Temptress, using her Forbidden Fruit ray, would try to entice the faithful into listening to rock ‘n roll or wearing immodest clothing. And, given the unalterable norms for fighting heroes, did Bibleman have a youthful sidekick — perhaps Commandment Boy?
In past visits to Paris, I’ve never been able to see the legendary St. Chapelle, because it was being renovated, or the lines were too ridiculously long. This trip, I finally was able to check off that item from my bucket list.
St. Chapelle was the home church of the early French king who was killed in battle during the Crusades and later became canonized as St. Louis. The chapel itself is known primarily for its stunning stained glass windows, which are brilliantly colored, intricate and ornate, and reach to the very top of a high vaulted ceiling that seems to touch the heavens. The windows are generally viewed as the finest surviving example of stained glass artwork of the early Middle Ages.
The windows of the chapel each have a theme and depict Bible scenes that would be immediately familiar to the people of the time. In addition to the windows, the chapel features fine wooden carvings of saints, small frescoes of Bible scenes, many of which are violent — how many people got beheaded, tortured or impaled during the early Christian period, anyway? — and a painting of Jesus engaging in the Last Judgment above the doorway. I guess the idea was to remind you of the need to avoid the temptations of sin when you left the sacred sanctuary and returned once more to the real world.
As I craned my neck to take in the towering windows, I wondered about the medieval craftsmen who created the scenes at the very top, that cannot really be viewed and enjoyed by mortal man. What must it have been like to work with dangerous substances like lead, doing the painstaking work needed to create delicate objects of such beauty, knowing that the product of your labors would be largely inaccessible to your fellow man?