Picture the scene. You’re strolling along the towpath in the autumnal drizzle. Behind you, the little stone bridge curves over the canal. Ahead of you, ducks dabble in the water alongside colourful moored boats. Beside you, the neat white-washed British Waterways office has two statues of Ganesh on display outside its door. Eh?!
My first reaction was cultural; how incongruous is a Hindu god (represented as a four-armed male figure with the head of an elephant) in this otherwise very English spot? My second reaction was to wonder what, as a follower of Jesus, I was to make of it.
Whatever I may think of Ganesh, I’m prepared to believe that the person who placed the statues there did so out of reverence and respect. I can well imagine that their intention was to honour and not abuse, to bless and not to curse. Whatever I may think of these figures, I recognise their owner’s desire to worship and seek the divine.
The same cannot be said of other images that pervade our public and private spaces. At bus stops and train stations, on billboards and buildings, in magazines and newspapers, on television and radio and at every internet click we are confronted with messages telling us what to wear, where to shop, who to revere and how to live the good life. With a few exceptions, these images are placed by people who want to make money out of us.
As a follower of Jesus, I find these statues of Ganesh far less offensive and insidious, much less exploitative and manipulative, than the signs and symbols of our consumptive culture.