I was thinking the other day about the evolution of the church reader board. You know what I’m talking about; some folks call them a “marquee, “some folks call them a “sign board.” I call them a reader board because when I drive by, I read them, and I think that was at least part of the intent. There are literally thousands of church reader boards all over central Texas…because there are literally thousands of churches in central Texas. Central Texas churches are typically focal points of the community, and you can see them for miles. It might seem strange to mention that, but despite being called the Texas Hill Country, Central Texas is basically flat, so things like church steeples, water towers and very tall cows tend to draw your attention when you’re driving. This is probably why church reader boards are so effective in this part of the country.
My guess is that the concept of the church reader board emerged from a desire of church leaders to educate local commuters about basic church information – worship topic, date, time – that sort of thing. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to speculate that the first church reader boards were restricted to primarily factual information. Now, I’m not saying that on occasion some risk-taking minister did not take the liberty to advertise an upcoming holiday social, potluck, bake sale or chili cook off, but this level of out-of-the-box thinking was probably considered cutting edge at the time and practiced by only those few living on the “fringe of the church reader board underworld”.
And then something happened. To me, it seemed like it was more of an organic movement than a phenomenon. Regardless, all of a sudden witty sayings started to show up on church reader boards. To be honest, the first one I read made me pull over. As a commuter, I was so used to seeing the perfunctory October church calendar update that when my 45 miles per hour mind wrapped around the church’s announcement that “Our ghost is friendlier than Casper,” I frankly became disheveled and feared for my fellow motorists.
Thinking this was an isolated incident, I was shocked to find witty sayings popping up on church reader boards all over town. The one across from the 7-11 said, “Facing eternal damnation…we have options,” the one beside the Home Depot said, “It’s 10 am on Sunday…does the Father know where you are?”
All of a sudden, I found myself wondering if every church has one guy that is witty, or if every church borrows witty sayings from the one church that employs one witty guy. What if that one witty guy hits a slump and as a result gets writer’s block? I can hear it now: “What happened to him? It’s Thursday…we need our saying…tell him to snap out of it.” Perhaps there is a “witty sayings for churches” website that you can just Google and download a witty saying for the week. And then there is the question of selecting the best witty saying. Perhaps there is a “witty sayings committee” that was formed to select the best out of say – 10 witty sayings – at least a week before the “best one” is to go up on the reader board… and committee members are charged with ranking the sayings and casting their vote for the top witty saying on Thursdays at noon, right after Bingo in the Senior Center alcove.
This amount of “perhaps-es” spun me into a downhill spiral so severe that I decided to force myself to regroup and focus on the origin of the “wit” itself. How did it start? What caused this monumental shift in reader board use?
This is how I think it must have gone down. Elder Bob, whose job it was to remind Janitor Steve to update the church reader board, reached for the sticky note attached to his cubical and waved it at Steve. “It’s that time again, Pardner…and remember…Wednesday has an ‘N’ in it.” Steve shook his head and said, “I don’t know why we update that thing. No one reads it anyway,” punctuating the word, “anyway” by thrusting his toilet plunger in the general direction of the reader board.
In a patient tone, Elder Bob reminded Janitor Steve that updating the reader board was the church’s method of providing traveling souls driving down life’s highway a chance to join the road trip to salvation. Elder Bob emphasized that the message on the board is a critical part of the salvation process, so Steve better get himself in gear and update the sign.
Steve muttered something into the business end of the toilet plunger and headed to the closet where he stored the plastic letters and the extension pole with the black suction cup on the end.
As Steve sorted thru the letters, his mind wandered back to a time when he alphabetized things. It was a brighter time, a happier time. It was a time when…wait a minute, he couldn’t find a “W” and the “D” was cracked down the middle. It looked like a capital “C” on a three-day bender. And that’s when the idea hit him…from the recesses of Janitor Steve’s brain, a plan hatched. The plan involved a very simple message which didn’t require the use of any of the letters he was missing. He would help those traveling souls on their road trip of life. Steve’s message said, “The HOV lane to Heaven starts here”…thus the witty saying was born.
Regardless of how or where the witty saying shows up, it’s safe to say I am a big fan of the witty saying. I think if properly structured and correctly delivered, the witty saying has a tendency to promote mental retention while providing a simple humor nugget to brighten your day. Think about the last time you had a lengthy meeting with a bunch of folks, and your boss asked you to give him a recap of the key points from a 10,000 foot level. If you’re smart, the first thing you realized is that your boss was not asking you to climb a tall building and yell down the key points. In fact, if you asked if that’s what he meant by “giving it from a 10,000 foot level”, it would probably be witty but not productive. ..so don’t. No, as your mind raced to remember the key points, all you could come up with was the time the guy from accounting in the mauve turtleneck asked, “Are these peanuts for us or are you guys thinking about opening a zoo?” See what I mean? Mental retention. Witty has a way of sticking with a person.
Witty can also be a bit of a double-edged sword. A person could accidently say something witty, when in reality that person doesn’t have a witty bone in his body. Then the assumption is that he is witty, and he will more than likely say more witty things in the future. This “buzz” that there is a witty guy in the office and more “witty” is about to occur spreads like wildfire, and the crowd becomes restless in anticipation. As a result, this fellow – who is actually not witty – feels a high degree of peer pressure and starts to perspire through his mauve turtleneck sweater. This is about the time when he tries to force witty, but instead, whatever he utters ends up looking a lot like witty’s red-headed step sister, “sarcasm” – which is never good.
When you think about it, the fortune cookie is also one of those true pioneers in the public arena of wit. I frankly have no idea how someone could come up with the notion of stuffing a small slip of paper containing a “witty” thought inside a strangely shaped glob of deep fried egg white. I have come to a place in life where I realize some mysteries may never be solved.
Picture this: you just finished eating your third helping of an Asian dish you cannot pronounce when you realize that the name includes four distinct words but only a total of three syllables. As you will your mind to resist getting hung up on the fact that your placemat states that you were born in the year of the rat, out of the corner of your eye, you see your fortune cookie. A smile crosses your lips as you realize you may get to read a little “wit” before you get hungry again.
We all know that fortune cookie etiquette dictates that everyone at the table opens and reads his own fortune. The idea of saying to a dinner mate, “Here, I’ll open your fortune and read it to you” is as preposterous as a stranger in a backless gown offering to explain your medical chart…this just doesn’t happen in the America we live in.
Eating the actual fortune cookie is optional and not always advised. I expect there is minimal nutritional value, and I would argue that the fortune cookie is not recognized by any authority as truly being a member of the cookie family.
Sharing your fortune with your group is expected, regardless of the quality of the “wit.” Fortunes with less than desirable “wit” tend to be unceremoniously discarded somewhere behind the amber colored, plastic goblet and the soy sauce decanter.
As fortunes are being read, one of your tablemates says, “Hey, I saw that saying on a church reader board last week.” Inspecting the inside of her eggroll with her index finger, the other tablemate wonders out loud, “Do you think these fortune cookie guys are all witty…or do you think they call the witty guy at the church…?”