Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Chevy, a Cracker, and the Cross

My grandson Jakub, whom many of you know, just began kindergarten.  His teacher explained to his mother that this was not the kindergarten of years gone by, with much time spent eating cookies and sleeping on nap rugs.  She said that he would know how to read by Christmas.  What a momentous event that is.  I believe it was while in first grade that I took my first trip down Main Street in Elkhart, after I began to learn to read.  I watched out the car window. I vividly remember in particular one red neon sign with the word, "BAR" on it and how wonderful it was to recognize for the first time, a word outside of a schoolbook that could be read and could understood to mean something.


Symbols abound around us.  They become such an automatic part of our consciousness that we don't even think of them as symbols.  Think of learning to read.  There are two stages to the process.  First comes the learning and recognition of the alphabet and how each letter has associated sounds.   The letters are symbols for sounds and offer a bridge between the written and spoken word.  Then words must be constructed and be recognized as correlating to the spoken vocabulary.  This is another step in the learning the rules of symbolism of language. 


The letters are arbitrary and abstract.  There is no actual correlation between the letter 'p' and the sound that we make when we pronounce the sound of a 'p', but the process is so automated for us, after we master reading, that we have trouble even thinking outside that knowledge, that all the letter 'p' is, is a symbol.  There is nothing more to it.  The same is true with words.  In some forms of language words are represented by little pictures, which have some similarity to the concept they represent, but that is a very complex and cumbersome way of communicating.  A Chinese typewriter may have thousands of keys and take a highly trained professional to master.  The English word "FLOWER", has no relationship to what in botany is known as the reproductive structure of a plant, but when you read the word 'flower' you will most likely, without any further description, entertain a visual image of flower in your mind, and quite possibly even a memory of the fragrance will pop into your head, whether it be a rose, a violet, or dandelion. 


That association is what Jakub will be learning this fall.  It is almost painful, and takes great patience to listen to new readers struggle at mastering first the pronunciation and then the comprehension of the printed words in their simple little readers, but once in place, this becomes second nature to us.  We cannot forget though that there is no universal meaning.  Numbers of languages share alphabets, but the sounds of the letters, the rules for how they are used together, the meanings of the words and the grammars of the languages are all very different.  There are no universal meanings to symbols.  The interpretation of symbols is learned through experience.


As examples, shown a simple silhouette of a man walking hand in hand with a child: for one who was raised in a loving two parent home, this can possibly summon feelings of affection and warmth, for one who was raised without a father in the home, the sight of the image may well fill them with thoughts of longing or sorrow at what they never had, and for still yet another who was molested by a male relative, the visual image might bring forth a panic attack and feelings of rage and/or fear.  Each response elicited by the same symbolic image.  Our experiences, our culture, our genetic makeup, our gender, our age, education, and on and on and on. . . our life space, that which goes into making us unique individuals greatly effect our responses to symbols.


In the business world, symbols. . . corporate names and trademarks are very highly valued.  The company whom owned the Tylenol brand name, McNeil Consumer Products, spent decades and untold millions upon millions of dollars building an image of their product that was very badly damaged, in a mere matter of days by an act of  domestic terrorism in 1982.  Seven people died in Chicago after taking cyanide laced Tylenol capsules.  The symbolism of the name Tylenol was transformed, nearly overnight from one of a feeling of confidence, heath, well being, etc. etc. to an association of illness, injury, danger, and death.  The market share of Tylenol dropped from more than 30% of all non-prescription pain medication to less than 10% almost overnight, thereby erasing decades long efforts to build up the publics warm feelings toward the brand.


All advertising is an effort to influence, or redefine the public's interpretation of symbols.  In a manner of speaking, each of the huge Madison Avenue Advertising agencies are focused upon teaching us to read the symbols of brand names and trademarks in such a way as to make us desire to buy the products offered by their clients.  Large corporations know how powerful these symbols are. 


Do I even need to give figures?  In 2004 Internet advertising alone amounted to roughly 10 billion dollars.  Companies are not spending this money without reason.  The day after the Super Bowl, people laugh and shake their heads at the thought of companies willing to pay millions of dollars for a few seconds of air time.  In 2008 the rate was $2,700,000 per 30 second advertising spot.  When people criticize the wisdom of spending that kind of money, they focus on how many cans of beer or how many soft drinks the company would have to sell to recoup that investment, but that is not what the Super Bowl ads do for the corporations which buy them.  It's all about creating a mental association between of the products shown with the glitz and the excitement and the sexiness of that mega cultural event.  People certainly will not rush out and buy enough colas the next day as a result of seeing the Super Bowl ad to pay for the investment, but the advertising companies clearly hope that their brand will gain an aura from being associated with the event which will pay them dividends for years to come when people decide decide which soft drink, etc. to purchase.


It is a balancing act.  Companies spend huge amounts to spread their brand names and in the reverse they spend large efforts to also control and protect the usage of their trademarks.  It is a companies worst nightmare if they are too successful and  their name becomes so closely associated with a generic action or item that it loses it's uniqueness.  Just one example,  Aspirin and Heroin were both trademarks at one time of the Bayer corporation. Today neither are associated with one particular brand of medicine.  They became common and entered into the common language.  They become generic words with no association with a specific drug manufacturer.


Companies must be vigilant in protecting their trademarked names, even to be point of looking for improper usage of them in newspaper articles, books, or even blogs.  If I were to post an article on my blog talking about my chevy truck (note the lack of capitalization), I would very likely receive an email or letter from some large legal firm asking that I correct my usage.  If I were to refuse, very likely the next letter I received would be to inform me of a lawsuit.  At G.M. and at most every other large corporation buried somewhere in the bowels of the organization, there is most certainly a person whose job it is to do daily Internet searches for wrong usages of the symbols of the corporation, looking for misapplication of their trademarks.   General Motors Corporation greatly fears their brand name coming to mean any truck driving down the road.  They must be most vigilant in their rooting out of any improper use of their trademarked brand names or they will lose them.


Symbols abound in our lives.  One that almost everyone would recognize is the exchanging of rings when a couple weds.  The ring symbolizes the oath that the couple make. It is a symbol of the contract between man and woman, the undying love, the purity of the commitment.  This symbol, like the letters which make up a word, is not important in of itself.  It is the meaning behind the symbol where the significance lays.  Jewelers today promote some ridiculous notion, that a young man is obligated somehow to spend the equivalent of 4 months wages on a ring for his bride to be.  That surely serves their purposes well, but it completely distracts from that which the ring is supposed to be the symbol of.


Like trademarks, symbols need to be protected and defended or they will be lost.  One of the earliest symbols given to us by God has been all but abandoned. The rainbow was a sign given to us by God:


Genesis 9:12-17

And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:  (13)  I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.  (14)  And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:  (15)  And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.  (16)  And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.  (17)  And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.


By our apathy toward it, and our lack of defense of it, the rainbow is now looked upon, it is read by society at large as the banner, as the symbol of a perverse lifestyle.  We can still claim it as our own sign.  It would take a broad effort to do that.  It doesn't seem that very many care.


Christianity also has other numbers of symbols associated with it:


The Sabbath day is a sign, a symbol between God and His chosen people -


Exodus 31:13

Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.


When the Hebrew people crossed the Jordon River into the promised land -


Joshua 4:5-6

And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:  (6)  That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?


The Bible abounds in signs:


Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.


Isaiah 38:5-9

Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.  (6)  And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.  (7)  And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;  (8)  Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.  (9)  The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:


Isaiah 55:11-13

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.  (12)  For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  (13)  Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.


Luke 2:11-12

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  (12)  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.


Romans 4:10-11

How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.  (11)  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:


1 Corinthians 14:21-22

In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.  (22)  Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.


The important thing to realize is that the importance is not in the symbol itself.  The wedding ring is meaningless in of itself.  The Sabbath is not the important thing.  It wasn't the pile of stones that was significant.  It isn't the circumcision, speaking in tongues,  or a baby born in a manger that were important, but the importance of these remembrances lay in what these signs, these symbols stood for.  By the same token, like trademarks in the corporate world, if the symbols become too commonplace then they lose their significance.  If you have 9 other rings on your fingers then the wedding band cannot have the same significance as if it were found upon your hand alone.


Jesus gave us signs of Himself:


Luke 22:14-20

And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.  (15)  And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:  (16)  For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.  (17)  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:  (18)  For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.  (19)  And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.  (20)  Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.


The unleaven bread and the wine are symbols of Jesus.  If that is the case, then am I taking communion every time I eat a bowl of soup with crackers in it?  No, the importance is not in the crackers and in the wine, but in what they represent.  Indeed if not done with the correct attitude, even participation in the rite of communion is worthless.  Paul was very clear about this:


1 Corinthians 11:20-29

When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.  (21)  For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.  (22)  What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.  (23)  For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:  (24)  And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.  (25)  After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.  (26)  For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.  (27)  Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  (28)  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.  (29)  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.


Paul is saying that the symbols are important for what they represent.  The unleaven bread and wine are not important outside of the communion ceremony, but if these symbols are not taken reverently within the remembrance, (note verse 27) then the one who misuses them is actually guilty of the scourging and crucifying the Lord:


(27)  Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.


Internally then to Christianity our symbol given personally by Jesus, of the sacrifice of Christ is the wine and the bread.  This symbol must not be misused.  Clearly it is a serious offense to misuse a Holy symbol.  Which brings us to the ultimate symbol of Christianity, the cross.  This symbol was first mentioned in the New Testament by Jesus:


Matthew 10:37-38

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  (38)  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.


The first thing that jumps out at me from this scripture is that Jesus said these words a good while before His crucifixion.  These words are prophetic.  That for me was a stunning revelation.  I had not realized that until just this moment.  So closely do I associate Jesus with the cross, I never thought about these words being said well before Jesus being forced to literally carry his own cross on the road to his death.  The listeners, when Jesus uttered these words had no idea of their significance and actual meaning. 


The second thought that comes to my mind from this verse is that the cross is used here as a symbol, a powerful symbol representing the instrument of Jesus' death.  Jesus states that we are to take upon our shoulders the instrument of our death and come after Him.  What is the instrument of our death but sin?  I have always looked upon the cross as a mere burden for Christ which we must carry, but isn't another way of looking at it possibly we must take control of our sin, handle our sinful ways, be in charge of that thing which would kill us. . . We have only two choices.  Human lives end in death.  We must either carry it and or it will carry us and if that be the case, if we allow that we are not worthy of His life and sacrifice for us.


And another passage:


Matthew 16:22-24

Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.  (23)  But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.  (24)  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.


It is interesting that Jesus is saying this to Peter, the one who very shortly after denied Him.  To deny yourself is to renounce yourself, to forsake your allegiance with your flesh, to repent from your sinful ways, to take charge of them and become one who follows the path of Christ.  To become one who follows Him on that path which led to the hill of Calvary. . .


All of this is contained in the symbolism of the cross, but when your and my crosses are considered, they are private matters.  Ours are generic crosses.  The Cross of Jesus is exclusively His trademark (note the capitalization).  He rightfully has sole ownership of that symbol.  Just consider, is then my association with the cross an infringement of His trademark?  Does not Jesus exclusively own the Cross?  Surely as we have explored in this article, symbols are important.  They have great value and should be highly prized.  For example by my wearing a cross pin on my shirt to identify myself as a Christian when I pray on the streets of Elkhart, am I not misusing the sign of Jesus?  I don't think it a moot point.  When the people I meet think of the Cross they should not think of Dave Stokely.  The sacrifice of Jesus is the only thing that should come to their minds, for any other association is a dilution of the power and uniqueness of His Sacrifice. . .From this point forward, no cross will be found upon my shirt pocket, I can bear the cross for no man.  I have scarcely the strength to carry my own.  No man can look to my cross for salvation.  There is a Christian symbol by which I can be known.  I can certainly display the emblem of a fish. . .I will henceforth take that as my trademark, for I am a fisherman. . .


I love you my God. . .

I love you my Lord. . .


The Cross is Yours. . .

   and Yours alone. . .



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