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Deep End

Meaningless Miracle

Maybe God didn’t start the fire, but he sure didn’t stop it from burning.

By D.P. Sorensen
Photo by John Kilbourn 
Posted // December 29,2010 - Why didn’t God put out the fire? This is the question a lot of folks down in Provo are asking in the aftermath of the blaze that destroyed the rickety but historic Tabernacle. Forget the miraculous survival of the painting of Jesus that some of the faithful (prominent among them is Rep. Jason Chaffetz—more on him later) see as a sign of God’s providence, a little flame-retarding holy spit applied by His Thumb to the painting.

Whether you see Jesus and God as separate beings, or somehow one and the same, or as two-thirds of the Trinitarian powerhouse, the question still smolders, like the ruins of the sacred edifice itself: If the Lord and Creator of the Universe could save His or His son’s portrait, why not go the extra mile and save the whole damned building? That the painting The Second Coming by official God portrait painter Harry Anderson, was spared is cold comfort to the many musicians who lost irreplaceable instruments in the conflagration.

Those musicians would no doubt second Kasper Gutman’s (played by the incomparable Sydney Greenstreet) emotion regarding his choice of the Maltese Falcon, in the movie of the same name, over the life of his son: “One can always have another son; there is only one Maltese Falcon.” A musician might say, “One can always paint another portrait of Jesus; there is only one hand-made Fluchenfelder glockenspiel.”

The more one considers the “Christmas miracle” of the Jesus painting, the worse God comes off in the whole affair. His action smacks of an unseemly vanity, a vanity that we also see in all those images of himself he embeds not only in natural objects like trees, potatoes or Brussels sprouts, but also in manufactured items such as all-season tires (Norwood Feeley of Barstow, Calif., discovered the image of Jesus feeding the multitudes in the treads of a Goodyear tire he bought from Costco in June of 2004), brassieres (Cavell Monroe of Panguitch had a religious epiphany two weeks ago when she looked in the mirror while getting ready for work—she’s a receptionist at a popular orthodontist’s office—and saw Jesus turfing the money changers out of the temple in the lace pattern of her Sears Roebuck Celestial Silhouette Bra) and in frying pans (Toby Ellis, a London taxi driver, had a few too many pints one evening and dozed off while bacon burned on the stove; after nearly dying of smoke inhalation, Mr. Ellis swore off alcohol for good when he found the image of Jesus in the bacon-scorched frying pan).

Some people of a skeptical bent dismiss the profusion of Jesus images as the work of the ventral fusiform cortex, the part of the brain that sees faces in wallpaper, camels in clouds, and the Easter Bunny in a rumpled pillow. This predisposition to impose anthropomorphic patterns on random shapes and assemblages is known as pareidolia—thank God for Wikipedia—and is named after a famous Welsh scientist named Parry Dolea.

But for those of us—me, you and, especially, Rep. Jason Chaffetz—who know of a surety that our Redeemer lives, pareidolia is irrefutable proof of His wonder-working miracles. It was heartening to turn on the TV and see Rep. Chaffetz, Congress’ leading expert on images of all sorts, making a pilgrimage to the burned out Provo Tabernacle, where the former BYU point-after man used to practice his place kicking by trying to boot the football over the building. Speaking of the Jesus painting, he revealed, “It really touched me.”

Knowing how much the crusader against airport security dislikes being touched, at least by TSA personnel, that’s saying a lot.

Soon after Rep. Chaffetz was touched by the Jesus painting, reports started coming in from airports all across the country of pareidoliac Christmas miracle images being caught on those full-body scanners. Some show Jesus, others show Rep. Chaffetz and still others show Jesus and Rep. Chaffetz tossing a football back and forth.

In related news, a press release from Rep. Chaffetz’s Washington, D.C., office reports brisk sales of the Congressman’s 2011 Full Body Scan calendar. The release notes that the public is hungry for some tasteful, family-oriented and modest beefcake pin-ups. Parents will be pleased to know that offending portions of the scans are obscured by strategically placed and seasonally appropriate objects, among them a wingtip shoe (right foot), a pocket comb, a Valentine greeting card with a heart on it, and tiny souvenir Statue of Liberty. 

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