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God Can See You Pee

By Kathy Y. Wilson · June 27th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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We need Jesus. We know that, and so does the Rev. Billy Graham.

Unless you've been in a state of permanent Madeira, you know that Graham and his disciples will be shepherding more than 200,000 people into Paul Brown Stadium this weekend during a four-day mission organized by the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission.

I gotta hand it to these people -- "more than 964 churches and 67 denominations," according to the press material. They've marketed God, Graham and Jesus like a Rock concert. If this were the regrettable 1980s, when benefit concerts overcompensated for President Reagan's "me, mine and ours" politics, Graham's road show would be like Live Aid or "We Are the World" redux.

I hear tell there's even a poster of Graham above a urinal in the men's bathroom at Kaldi's Coffee House. "God can see you pee" is scribbled on his protruding forehead.

That's probably not what the mission had in mind when it charged underrowers with getting the word out.

Another, less guttural slogan whispers, "God knows how it can change your life." Hmmmm. Applying "god" in the generic, everyday sense, it's a tease that could sell a vacation, an alcoholic beverage or a time-share.

It's a stroke of shrewd advertising genius that's put God on mid-day radio, on the sides of busses and on car bumpers.

And why not?

Why shouldn't God and His son employ a public relations firm in the guise of intradenominational healing and bring it -- like The Who or Rolling Stones -- in trailer trucks to a sin-sick city?

You know you're on God's black list when Graham shows up. He's like an employed Rev. Jesse Jackson without the rhyming couplets.

But there's something foreboding and sooooo Cincinnati about all this. It's almost like that sticky, post-Sept. 11 patriotic tidal wave that washed over us.

Yeah, yeah, Cincinnati needs atonement, a round of rousing praise songs and group prayer. And, sure, we could even use a group hug.

But this is going to end up as throngs of suburbanites tailgating into downtown from points way east, west and north. These will be the people who've read about us and who've seen us on the news. They'll be the ones who've wrung their hands, rolled their eyes, clucked their tongues and maybe even prayed, all in exasperation, for us wretched city folk to find some healing.

They'll drive in off the expressway, take in the breathtaking skyline and marvel at the stadium rising from the riverbanks. They'll even feel safe surrounded by all that imposing development.

Their cherubic children and virginal teen-agers will sing and dance together, and the hip (and Negroes) among them will git down with God to the Soul-filled sounds of Kirk Franklin, everyone's favorite New Jack Christian.

Later the stadium will empty and they'll go back to the 'burbs without so much as talking to one person living in Over-the-Rhine. They won't have heard from Angela Leisure, Timothy Thomas' mother, and they'll leave without seeing one small business still boarded up, unable to rebound from last April's uprising.

It's a feel-good fest. And there's nothing wrong with feeling good, so long as we're not slathering ourselves with positivity as a shield from reality.

To those of us who've been knee deep in all types of racial, gender, economic and class warfare, Graham's mission is like a relief plane drizzling water on dehydrated people dying in the dirt of their own, unconcerned country. It'll be enough to aggravate but not enough to ingratiate.

I say all this as a believer. I know God for myself.

I know God loves a cheerful giver. But He hates the drive-by.



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
 
 
 
 

 

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