Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

A Word about Signs

Signs are ubiquitous – they are everywhere! Do you remember that old rock-and-roll song by the Five Man Electrical Band (and I do mean old, like 40 years old!)?

And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply”
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do”
So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!”
Whoa-oh-oh

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

And the sign said “Anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight”
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house,
“Hey! What gives you the right?
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, Man, you’re some kinda sinner”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read?
You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here
The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside
Unh!

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper
and I made up my own little sign.
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.”
Wooo!

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Sign
Sign, sign

They are everywhere! There aren’t a lot of commercial advertising signs in the UK or in Ireland (well, there are a lot in Ireland, but they are mostly small and local). One of my favorites is this on one the local pier (Caladh Tadgh – “the stone pier”):

Sign at Caladh Tadhg, An Cheathrú Rua, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Sign at Caladh Tadhg, An Cheathrú Rua, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

I actually have no idea at all what this sign is saying, but I love the wording of it and all the things it suggests to a strange mind like my own.

Here’s another sign one sees a lot of in this part of Ireland these days:

Irish Real Estate "For Sale" Sign

Irish Real Estate "For Sale" Sign

Le Diol is Irish for “For Sale.” If I had the money, I’d be very tempted to buy one of the properties where a sign like this is posted. (The one in this picture is a bed-and-breakfast property in An Cheathrú Rua. I wonder what it would be like to run a B&B….)

There is a sign one sees in the UK and here in Ireland that is similar to a sign we see along roads in the USA:

UK - Ireland Road Sign showing a Camera

UK - Ireland Road Sign showing a Camera

In the States, the sign that is sort of like this (in that it depicts a camera) generally indicates a scenic view-point from which one can take nice photographs. I first saw this sign in southern Scotland, but it never seemed to be at a place where there was anything to see or, if it was, there was never a convenient place to pull over and take a photograph. So I was puzzled by these signs. Since I couldn’t see any scenic view-point pullouts, I began to ignore them.

Then in Derbyshire, I saw the sign together with a sign warning of the presence of pedestrians:

Camera Sign together with Pedestrian Sign

Camera Sign together with Pedestrian Sign

So I was all the more confused. Surely, these signs must be pointing to something worth seeing, and I was missing these scenic views! But there were still no places to pull over where the signs were posted and I didn’t want to just stop in the road way!

Then, near the home of my friends in Penn, High Wycombe, I saw a sign with the same camera image but accompanied by explanatory words:

Speed Cameras Sign

Speed Cameras Sign

Oh! They aren’t signs about scenic views at all! They are signs warning speeding motorists that they are being photographed and their license plate numbers recorded!

Thank heaven I was driving at or below the speed limit (not always true at home, I admit) in the UK and continue to do so here in Ireland. (Of course, I’m of the opinion that anyone who exceeds the speed limit – or, in some places, even drives as fast as the limit – on these roads is completely nuts!)

The lesson of this sign is that we ignore signs, especially those we don’t really understand, at our own peril. That’s true spiritually as surely as it is in driving through a country not one’s own. Being unable to read a sign reminds me of an incident in Matthew’s Gospel:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)

Matthew does not further explain “the sign of Jonah,” but Luke quotes Jesus as explaining the symbolism in his version of this story, “Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.” (Luke 11:30) Generally, the “sign of Jonah,” the witness of Jonah as prophet to the ancient Israelites is taken to mean that if Israel would not repent, God would take away the power and strength he had given them and give it to a another nation or people, and that nation would (in turn) humiliate and punish Israel.

So when we fail to appreciate, to understand and heed those signs that appear in our lives, we run the risk of losing that with which we have been entrusted. We run the risk of losing the ministry and the benefits we have been given, and find ourselves in need. We have all been given gifts, and we are expected to use them to the benefit of others; failing to do this, we run the risk of losing them. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

Pay attention to the signs in your life!

I’ve not been back to Caladh Tadhg since shooting that first photograph, but when I do I’ll be sure to disinfect!

1 Comment

  1. The Rev. A. Patrick K. Funston

    Great post! And too true.

    I have a special relationship with not paying attention to signs. Last summer, I accrued $600 in speeding tickets from those damned automated speeding cameras, all because I ignored the signs telling me they were there.

    Kansas just increase the speed on the Interstates to 75, which feels too fast.

    I also appreciate your exegesis of the Signs. Even now as I begin a new ministry and try to figure out how my gifts can benefit the School and how theirs can benefit me.

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