If you visit Union Square in San Francisco, Jose Rodriguez likely will greet you with a placard he carries most weekends and holidays: “Jesus Christ Loves You.”
Sign carriers such as Jose are not hard to find in San Francisco, but they usually don’t announce such positive messages. More often, the signs tend to preach the end of the world or scream for the rights of cross-dressing whales.
Jose’s sign, however, is simple. It isn’t preachy. In fact, Jose says, “I’m not a preacher. I don’t really know anything about the Bible.” Nevertheless, Jose seems to come up with the Bible’s most important message and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of reaction the sign was generating.
“Most people show their agreement in some way,” he said. “They smile or nod and say, ‘That’s right.’ ” But no matter what their reaction, Jose holds his sign in the same unflinching way he’s been doing since 2000.
While I appreciate Jose’s message, I may have found more appreciation for what his sign does not say. In a time when fundamentalist fanatics picket the funerals of war veterans and thrust placards of dead babies in the faces of confused mothers, I could fill another few columns with what Jose’s sign does not say.
It doesn’t say, “Jesus loves you if . . .” It doesn’t say “Jesus only loves you when . . .” It doesn’t say, “My god hates your god” or “My god can whip your god.”
True, a critic might point out that it’s easier to hold a placard about Jesus’ love than to actually put love in practice. The placard approach is the one we use when we “bless” the hungry with, “Be warm and filled,” rather than offering them a cup of hot soup.
And at the end of the day, I doubt if Jose could argue that point. But that being said, I don’t think it’s possible to remind each other too much about God’s love for us. After all, can you tell a child you love him too much? Can you tell your spouse too many times that she’s the most beautiful person you’ve ever known?
Maybe Jose’s message, however many times you see it at football games or on the streets of a major metropolitan city, is that God always will be about a love that is too big to define or imagine. Maybe it comes down to a variation of what our mothers taught us: If you can’t say anything nice about God, don’t say anything at all.
After I got my fill of sourdough and cable cars, I entered the subway to take the last train home when I spied a woman holding a hymnal and singing. I paused, recalling my experience with Jose.
The woman was singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And here’s the funny part. Jose’s example inspired me to put down my train schedule and join in song. And for a moment our voices managed to flood the near-empty station with echoing chorus that told a busy world of God’s never-ending love.
Norris Burkes is a civilian hospital chaplain and an Air Force Guard chaplain. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thechaplain.net.