This conversation took place on 10/1 as part of a series called Reclaiming the Arts and an exploration of symbols.
When a Picture Paints a Thousand Words
It feels fitting to reflect on symbols this morning, in part because one of the national conversations we are having at the moment is about symbols. The flag as a symbol of our nation state means freedom to some and freedom yet to be realized to others. I can hold space for different feelings about this symbol. It also makes me wonder whether we human beings become devoted to the symbol and not the thing to which the symbol points.
- What are symbols from your faith tradition that express who you are as a people?
The symbol of the United Church of Christ comprises a crown, cross and orb enclosed within a double oval bearing the name of the church and the prayer of Jesus, “That they may all be one” (John 17:21)
The logo is based on an ancient Christian symbol called the “Cross of Victory” or the “Cross Triumphant.” The official explanation is that the crown symbolizes the sovereignty of Christ and the cross recalls his suffering. The orb, divided into three parts, represents Jesus’ command to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Both the cross and the crown have felt conflicted for me for a while. To me, the cross is a first-century version of the electric chair. To me it represents state-sanctioned violence. And the crown is a symbol of Empire, when he came on a donkey with no sword.
- What symbols or images have spoken powerfully to you and tell your story in some way?
Symbols of doves, spirals and nature speak to me of the Divine more now than the cross. With the new church, we wanted to communicate that we were something different, so we needed to explore a fresh symbol with our logo. I was inspired by the trees in the east San Jose foothills. Some people think it looks like a bunch of balloons. I love that it is multidimensional. The idea is that you can be fully alive in this community, with all of your true colors showing.
In the Hebrew scriptures we heard the story of Moses getting water from a rock. It is a perfect way to flip symbols upside down. We look at a rock not typically as a symbol for nourishment of any kind, but as something that is static and hard. But the Spirit of Love turns that on its head and makes it represent something different.