365. symbols, advertising, and communion


I REALLY want to write up part three of my series of posts on What We Talk About When We Talk About God but I am in grad school and the end of the Spring semester is approaching which means work is piling up that I need to get to (stuff I’m already behind on).

But because I’m trying to stick to my one-post-per-week schedule, I did want to put something up.

At my seminary, we have a weekly Wednesday communion service. The services are organized and led by students and this past week was my turn to work with a few other people to do communion for the school. One of my jobs was to write up and deliver a brief homily, which I reworked slightly for this week’s blog post.


I want to talk briefly about symbols.

Our world is inundated with them. I think I’ve been more aware of them since moving to Seattle because back in Hawaii, there are laws that prohibit billboards and limit the size of business signage. I remember when I first got to Seattle, there were huge images everywhere – all over the place. And so in-your-face, begging to be seen, forcing themselves into your peripheral vision.

And yeah, on the one hand it’s kind of a bummer to have all of this extraneous imagery but on the other hand, sometimes it can be fun.

…because advertisers and the designers who work for them can be really inventive and clever with images and symbols.

Take a look at this Amazon logo. What’s up with that arrow – is it just a bit of visual flair or is it doing something more? Well, Amazon is all about delivering goods and so the arrow makes sense. And you could also see the arrow as a coy smile, highlighting the friendly nature of the company. Pretty obvious stuff right?

But can you see where the arrow goes? Notice it goes from A to Z, symbolizing how these days they sell everything from A to Z. It’s also a reference to the fact that they began as a bookseller – books composed by letters of the alphabet – A to Z.

Or here’s a more subtle one – one that most people don’t notice but I warn you, once you do see it, you can’t unsee it.

At first glance, it looks like a straightforward logo. I mean, there are different colors and the D is pressed right up against the E – nothing really special about that.

But there is something more.

Can you see it? Would you like to?

FedEx is a delivery company and to symbolize that, they’ve cleverly incorporated an arrow into their logo. Can you see it?

Take a look at the white space where the E and the X meet.

And then there’s this symbol. It’s called the Star of Life and you’ll find it on all ambulances. And that bit in the middle is called the Rod of Asclepius.

As an aside, always take sermon illustrations with a grain of salt. Sometimes a big grain.

Because here’s the thing. When I first started working on this reflection piece, I was going to talk about how the symbol at the center of the Star of Life came from this week’s lectionary reading in Numbers (21:4-9) – the story where the Israelites, out in the wilderness, on their way to the promised land, are complaining AGAIN. In this text, God gets upset, and sends a bunch of poisonous snakes on the plain and people start dying. Moses prays for them and God tells him to take one of these snakes and to put it up on a pole. And then every one who looked at that snake, that symbol lived.

And I had heard in some sermon somewhere in my past that this medical symbol came directly out of this passage… But then I started researching the symbol and found that it actually has Greek origins. That said, the history of how it actually got to be associated with the medical profession isn’t quite so clear. It might be related to the Numbers text, it might not.

All that to say, whether or not this symbol has direct ties to the Numbers passage, it certainly has resonances. And like the Amazon and the FedEx logo, it’s kind of fun to have the eyes to see something that’s out there in public, hiding in plain sight.

Later in our service we will participate in another symbol – something else that’s out in the wider world, something that looks ordinary at first glance but takes on deeper meaning once you have the eyes to see.

And I’m speaking, of course, about communion. Bread and wine that looks ordinary but for those with the eyes to see, it’s so much more.

3 thoughts on “365. symbols, advertising, and communion

  1. A mutual friend, Bryan Todd, shared this post with our Semiotics cohort at George Fox. Really enjoyed it. Thanks for thinking semiotically. Ha.

  2. Actually, the funny thing is that what you are doing is semiotics as you look at symbols and signs. The term may be hard to understand but as humans, we enter into semiotics all the time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: