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21/06/2011

Signs for the Times

Scott Wells posted yesterday on possible Christian emblems for a new church he is intending to plant. It got me thinking about Christian symbolism.

For most Christians, the cross is the symbol of the faith. Despite the lingering discomfort I feel about the cross, which at first glance presents itself literally as an imperial instrument used to inflict a torturous death upon our fellow humans, I have come to appreciate the cross for its metaphorical meaning within Christianity - I get it, kind of. The Christian cross, particularly in its most simple form (the empty wooden cross), is a sign of 

     self-sacrifice, 

          dying to a new way of life,

               resistance to false gods and their kingdoms,

                    redemption, renewal and return to our true selves through God.


These are all themes that are found throughout the Torah and the Gospel. However, for many Christians, the cross also symbolises bloody atonement for sins and related doctrine - something which I wholeheartedly reject because I think it points to a cruel, petty God rather than the graceful, mysterious God of the Gospel.

So in short, I have mixed feelings about the cross.

Which leads me to the alternatives. I personally find more positive meaning in the Ichthys.



It is a sign of

     the simplicity of Christian witness - giving to others, regardless

          alongside

               the spirit of fraternity 

                   and 

                        the spirit of resistance

all lived out by the Early Christians in the shadows of the Roman Empire.

I also find meaning in the Star of Bethlehem. In thinking about the story of the Magi, it occurs to me that symbolism can be found in the star as a sign of 

     the hope that inspires a long, arduous journey,

            the realisation, after a long struggle, that "God is with us."


Lastly, there is the dove as metaphor for the Spirit of God. Years ago, on looking into the Unitarian / UU flaming chalice, I found the following rendition of the dove.


If I had to pick a symbol of my Christian faith, maybe I would pick this - as a sign of

     the pursuit of pure peace,

               the freeing and uplifting of the soul through God,

                         love for the world around us, particularly the vulnerable,

all messages so often expressed by Jesus in his words and actions.

Ultimately, though, it could be said that Christianity means all these things - and that no symbol will suffice. It is, I feel, a testament to the beauty of the Gospel, that a bunch of ancient (seemingly crackpot) stories can continue to have such rich, powerful and personal resonance for ordinary people today.

Which is why the Quakers, and their preference for the blank canvas over any emblems, might not be so quirky and far out after all.


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