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Reform Magazine | March 23, 2017

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Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Jesus, Mary and motors

Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Jesus, Mary and motors

Simon Jenkins reflects on our love affair with Jesus, Mary and motors

I found a ‘Jesus space’ the other day while I was circling the soulless car park of my local B&Q. This is something to celebrate, because a Jesus space is a parking spot blessed over all others. It’s the space which is closer to the door of the shop than any other space, excluding disabled parking.

The life of a Christian believer is one of constant sacrifice and self denial, but on the plus side, a well-known perk is that Jesus will find you a parking space. Either Jesus, or if he’s not available, his mum. There’s even a handy steering wheel prayer to cover it: ‘Holy Mary full of grace, help me find a parking space.’

The love affair between Jesus, Mary and motors is so strong in modern Christianity that it’s almost a shock to find it’s not covered in the epistles of St Paul. The automobile has long been a sort of travelling shrine, as celebrated in the 1950s US folk song ‘Plastic Jesus’, in which the singer doesn’t care if it rains or freezes as long as he has his plastic Jesus on the dashboard. (Making ‘Jesus’ rhyme with ‘freezes’ reminds me of the ‘Praise Cheeses’ headline in a tabloid newspaper, after the face of our Lord was discovered in a pizza. Thanks brie to God for that.)

Meanwhile, for the evangelical believer, who shrinks from the sight of a religious statue, even a plastic one, with as much horror as Superman does from kryptonite, there’s always the fish bumper sticker, which turns your car into a four-wheel advert for Christianity. Sadly, cars with fish stickers are usually driven insanely or parked with their bottoms angled out into the road. Maybe it’s because they’ve just been sold to heathen drivers who have fought a losing battle with prising the sticker off the paintwork. But the stickers are such a fixture of Christianity, I wouldn’t be surprised if swanky chariots on the roads of the Roman Empire 1,500 years ago also carried fish signs, causing as much mystification to the driver behind then as now.

An exciting new growth area in the world of motoring seems to be healing for cars. After all, if faith can move mountains, what about fixing my carburettor? One man whose car had a leaking petrol tank heard a sermon about faith in Winners Chapel, a prosperity gospel megachurch in Nigeria. He said: ‘I stepped outside the service, quietly went to my car and began to speak to the fuel tank. After lunch I checked and behold, heavenly mechanics had soldered the leakage without my having to pay a dime. Hallelujah to Jesus for this awesome testimony.’ I think it’s traditional to let others decide whether your testimony is awesome, but even so, I must remember to give my petrol tank a pep talk next time I fill up.

Another believer, this time from Florida, said God blessed him with a ‘supernatural gas increase’. This sounds alarming to an English ear, especially if the miracle is bestowed in a confined space, but mercifully the testimony clarifies things. ‘I took my family on a trip to Orlando for a vacation and back. I also went to work and church. I did six hours of driving for only $40 of gas. That’s a miracle! It multiplied! Jesus is Lord!’

No account of motors and miracles, of bangers and believers, would be complete without ‘Jesus, take the wheel’. This country song about a woman whose car (and life) is spinning out of control until she hands the steering wheel to the Lord, has since gone on to become a rather less than reverent exclamation for whenever things go slightly wrong. One woman who maybe took ‘Jesus, take the wheel’ a bit too literally as she drove her Ford sedan in Okaloosa County, Florida, closed her eyes to pray and then kept them closed as she ran a stop sign, mounted the pavement, crossed a lawn and embedded the car in the side of a house. Amazingly, no one was hurt in this story where ‘watch and pray’ seems to have gone out the window.

These days, when I see a free parking space, I take it God is being ironic. It’s our little joke. ‘Want me to find you a parking space, or make the yellow lines disappear?’ he nudges, po-faced. ‘You think you’re so funny,’ I reply. Jesus once said: ‘Why worry? All the hairs of your head are numbered. God knows every sparrow which falls.’ And every parking space you’ll never find.

Simon Jenkins is Editor of shipoffools.com. His book, Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse, is out on 16 March published by SPCK at £9.99. Reform readers can get a 15% discount by using the code ‘jsreform’ at bit.ly/spckjs

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This article was published in the March 2017 edition of  Reform.

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