Save Us From Our Plastic, Jesus
Few movie scenes are more memorable than “Luke” Jackson singing Plastic Jesus while sitting as a convict in a Florida prison. Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, was a 1967 classic, a favorite, a parable about corruption and the abuse of power. It was the story of a poor man convicted of a minor crime and sentenced to two years in a prison work camp.
Luke is shown singing the song Plastic Jesus after finding out about the death of his mother. It is a forlorn, haunting portrayal. You can see this scene here. Perhaps you already know the song, or the first lines at least:
I don’t care if it rains or freezes; Long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus; Sitting on the dashboard of my car; Comes in colors pink and pleasant; Glows in the dark cause it’s iridescent; Take it with you … when you travel far.
The song was a parody, written a few years before the movie. It is a spoof, an over-the-top critique, of a “Christian” radio station in Del Rio, Texas in those years that sold prayer handkerchiefs and other phony spiritual artifacts. One could purchase “actual splinters from the cross of Jesus.” Yes, there were dashboard figures for sale — ones that glowed in the dark — representations of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. This “border busting” high wattage radio station, when not selling religious wares, featured a disc jockey known as Wolf Man Jack. To learn more about the song Plastic Jesus and its evolution, click here.
Without doubt, the most memorable and repeated line from the movie Cool Hand Luke is “What we got here is a failure to communicate.” It is spoken by the warden and one other in the film. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil this by offering more information now.
The idea of a “failure to communicate” and “Plastic Jesus” came to mind this month when I read that on June 7th, several United Methodist conference representative are planning to pass out plastic water bottles in downtown Indianapolis — as a Christian witness. Help! Talk about a failure to communicate. Save us from our plastic, Jesus!
These plastic bottles are to be “relabeled with a message of hope.” Hope? It seems what was intended was a symbolic action referring to the giving of a cup of cold water mentioned in Matthew 10 or Mark 9. Unfortunately, for many, this is more an act of pollution. Please check out this brief You Tube on Plastic pollution.
Should the church encourage such blight on creation? I know, I know, it may only be a small number of bottles — 500 or 1,000 and this is only a tiny part of the more than 35 billion water bottles used and discarded in the U.S. every hear. What witness are we to give to such a danger to us, our children, and all our relatives?
Most bottles are used once for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes and then tossed away. (There are health dangers from repeated reuse.) Most plastic bottles don’t fully degrade for 700 to 1,000 years. Ten percent of plastic bottles end up in our oceans and waterways killing millions of animals annually and over 2/3rd of our fish now test positively for plastics in their blood streams! We eat the fish… and so on.
I write this as a small plea, a tiny protest to those who think it is a witness to pass out plastic water bottles in the name of Jesus. Is it too late to reconsider? To repent? To offer a more positive witness? Think of the greater witness that could be made if there was an act of repentance, a public turning around. A call to the local newspapers could generate quite a story of faithfulness, of Christians who care enough to change.
This would be a real sharing of Gospel news, that actual cups of cold water are given and not polluting plastic bottles that will despoil our environment and diminish the health of our planet and our children’s children.
Sometimes what is meant for good instead communicates an opposite message. These folks who plan to give out plastic bottles are good people and their message is well-intended. Sadly it is at the same time a misguided effort. One can’t blame these good folks entirely. The Indiana Annual Conference has avoided taking a clear stand on the importance of caring for God’s creation. In fact for years there has been an effort to avoid working together on critical justice issues.
Last year, in June 2017, a simple legislative proposal that each congregation study a document calling for “Environmental Holiness,” for the care of creation was put on hold. Some thought it was “too political.” Others, among them some Conference leaders, thought it would take too much extra work. So it was decided that consideration should be delayed.
This year, June 2018, we have plastic bottles offered as our witness. I know that good folks haven’t thought very clearly about how we care for God’s good creation. What we have here is a failure to communicate… Unless we repent and believe. So we pray — Save us from our plastic, Jesus.
From the United Methodist Bishop’s pastoral letter entitled God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action, 2009.
The Council of Bishops made the following pledges: “With God’s help and with you as our witnesses—
- We as your bishops pledge to answer God’s call to deepen our spiritual consciousness as just stewards of creation.
- We pledge to make God’s vision of renewal our goal.
- We pledge to practice dialogue with those whose life experience differs dramatically from our own, and we pledge to practice prayerful self-examination.
- We pledge ourselves to make common cause with religious leaders and people of goodwill worldwide who share these concerns.
- We pledge to advocate for justice and peace in the halls of power in our respective nations and international organizations.
- We pledge to measure the “carbon footprint” of our episcopal and denominational offices, determine how to reduce it, and implement those changes. We will urge our congregations, schools, and settings of ministry to do the same.
- We pledge to provide, to the best of our ability, the resources needed by our conferences to reduce dramatically our collective exploitation of the planet, peoples, and communities, including technical assistance with buildings and programs, education and training, and young people’s and online networking resources.
- We pledge to practice hope as we engage and continue supporting the many transforming ministries of our denomination.
- We pledge more effective use of the church and community Web pages to inspire and to share what we learn.
From God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action, 2009.