Symbols are amazing things in our society. Words can be symbols. Pictures can be symbols. Corporate logos are symbols. Names of people – famous or infamous, successful or not-so-much – can be symbols. Even geographic names can be symbols that evoke some imagery in our mind. Religion is full of symbols. I have not yet named any examples and yet I am sure that you have been thinking of examples in your own mind of each one of these categories. As you have thought of those symbols, what related thoughts have come to mind? What emotions have you felt? What memories have come back to you? That is the entire point of symbols: they mean much more than what appears on paper (or on our TV or computer screens or on signs along our streets and highways or on products in our homes).
Earlier today I accepted a phone call from a person conducting a survey. He would not tell me for whom the survey was being done. I suspect it was for either a political party or a media organization. The questions were all about issues and politicians in Alberta. I was surprised at how emotionally charged I felt by the end of the 8-minute interview. The questions were framed as neutral. But the images that the terms evoked in my mind brought on more strong feelings than such questionnaires usually do.
Immediately after the survey I was listening to a program on CBC radio. It included an interview with an Indigenous artist who had been commissioned by her city to design an art installation to take the place of a now-removed statue of a prominent Canadian politician with historic connections to the design of Indian Residential Schools. I was struck by the depth of negative emotion that the artist had felt in the presence of the statue – for her it was a symbol of oppression and racism. I was further struck by the assumption by the city that an indigenous art installation would be received more positively by the community at large – as a symbol of reconciliation and cultural understanding. I hope and believe that the city is right. It is likely that the artist’s work will be recognized and positively celebrated for much longer than the politician’s statue existed in that space.
What symbols are truly important to you? Which ones evoke positive emotions, perhaps happiness or commitment? Which ones evoke negative emotions, perhaps anger or shame?
I am going to name and briefly discuss two potent symbols. I need to clearly acknowledge that these symbols will mean different things to different people – as symbols often do. Please consider your own emotions and beliefs that are either sustained or challenged by these symbols.
The cross. What image is first evoked by that word? Do you see Jesus nailed to an imperial symbol of punishment, torture, and death? Do you see a crucifix intended to symbolize Christ’s death as atonement for the sins of all humans? Do you see an empty cross intended to symbolize the risen Christ as the promise and potential of eternal life for all humans? Do you, perhaps, see another one of many representations of the cross that has been used through the centuries to symbolize things we still consider good and honourable or things we have come to regard as evil and regrettable? If you are a “church member of a certain age,” do you remember debates about including a cross in a sanctuary or on the exterior of a new church building?
The Community of Christ logo of the lamb laying down with the lion with a child standing comfortably with them. What thoughts or feelings does that image bring to you? Does it realistically symbolize peace for you? Do you connect it to prophetic scripture from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament? Do you have memories related to our “church seal?” Do you have any negative associations with this image?
I have asked many questions in these few paragraphs. There are no right or wrong answers to any of them. They are simply your answers. In another set of circumstances, the questions and answers would lead to some very interesting discussion. If you feel inclined, please respond to me at my email address which you can find below.
Meanwhile, I simply encourage your awareness of the symbols that surround us in our 21st century lives. Understand why you recognize them. Understand your responses to them.
As always, I pray for you God’s blessings of joy, hope, love, and peace in these challenging times.
Canada West Mission Centre President
community of christ
355 Elmira Road North, Unit 129
Guelph, ON N1K 1S5 Canada
Canada West Mission: 877-411-2632
Canada East Mission: 888-411-7537