Symbols can be powerful things. One of the ways that Rome would remind people who was in control, was to put images of Caesar all over the place; on coins, buildings, announcements and even places of worship. Hitler would intentionally do the same thing with his own image, as well as with the Nazi flag. Some have made the case that the abundance of American flags in the United States could serve the same purpose.
There are other arguments for images. Perhaps it could be statements of pride and gladness for an institution one identifies with. Or possibly as a reminder of goals or attributes that one wishes to reflect.
For instance, I hang a cross made from 3 rough spikes on my rear view mirror. This serves to remind me of the price that Jesus paid for my reconciliation with him. It also reminds me of the cross that I am supposed to carry daily (Luke 9:23) in order to follow Jesus in his willingly suffering for others (1 Peter 2:21).
In communicating with groups of people little things like titles, tag lines and logos can help people stay focused. Consider a title like “fitbit.” You already have an idea what this company is trying to do before reading anything else. Or think of a tag line like, “Nationwide is on your side.” You know how that company wants you to feel about them (whether or not it’s true). Another tagline I like, is the sandwich shop Jimmy John’s, “so fast you’ll freak.” Not only do I know what one of their main goals are, but they are putting their employees out there to live up to this claim/challenge. In my area they DO live up. They get to my house before I can get to my wallet. Some well-known logos would include FedEx with their hidden arrow. This gives the feel of movement, perfect for a package delivery company.
Several years ago I was trying to come up with a way for our church to remember the values that we wanted to use to determine our activity and efforts. We had about 8 things that were condensed into 2 Missional elements with 4 Values expressions. Our “mission” was: 1. to create worshippers and 2. Primarily do this through various discipleship efforts. The “values” were: 1. Biblical literacy and growth, 2. Personal growth in reflecting Jesus, 3. Consistent fellowship and intimate growth as a community, and 4. Genuine heartfelt impact on the immediate community as well as around the world. We simplified these ideas with the following phrases:
- Communicating the WORD
- Committed to JESUS
- Connected to the FAMILY
- Compassion for ALL PEOPLE(S)
I wanted to make these phrases repeatable and memorable. I realized that it is natural for people’s minds to wander. When I was a highschool teacher I knew that students would have moments where they would tune out from class discussions. I could not completely control this, but I could have an impact on where their minds would wander. It’s natural to have surrounding settings spark our thinking when we are disinterested. So, I thought if I could put symbols, images and pithy statements around the room, these could direct my students’ minds when they would check out from my teaching. With this concept in place, I worked with a graphic designer (her name is Lizzie) to come up with simple images that would communicate complex concepts. Over a few months we looked at hundreds of images and altered them until we came up with 4.
Communicating the WORD
A metaphor that Jesus would use when talking about the Word of God was that of seeds. In Matthew 13 Jesus described the Word of God as seeds that are indiscriminately cast into a field of varying soils. Though the seed would not be easily seen, if it is healthy it becomes a strong plant and eventually bears fruit (John 15).
Likewise, the Word of God planted in the heart of a believer would eventually result in a believer who is strong and nourishing to those around them. Therefore, we came up with this image to communicate our value of knowing God’s Word better. This knowledge is not just for academic pursuit, rather it should be a. “Living Word” that reflects a life that benefits others with a Gospel goal.
Committed to JESUS
This value is related to the idea that we are called and commissioned to become more and more like Jesus in heart and action. While God is faithful to do this work (Philippians 1:6) we are commanded to participate in this transformation (Colossians 1:28-29, Ephesians 6:10-13, Philippians 2:12-13)
This image began as a kind of Iwo Jima sketch with soldiers holding a cross. I asked Lizzie if she could give racial, gender and socioeconomic diversity to the people. After looking at this we decided that the tilted cross could create mixed messages, so we put it upright. Lizzie later created an image with two androgynous figures at either side of the cross. This created enough ambiguity that one could view the people as lifting up the cross, praising at the foot of the cross, or kneeling in humble submission before the cross. Not only this, but the bent knees of the people created an arrow that points up, keeping the focus on Jesus as the focal point, the goal.
This is the image I chose for my website. I’ll explain its evolution more in a moment.
Connected to the FAMILY
One of the lacking essential characteristics of the Church today is authentic koinonia fellowship. None of the Gospel writers (though ALL speak to this) said this as clearly and repeatedly as John. He writes that our perceivable love for and unity with one another are foundational to both our confidence of being a part of the Church (John 13:35) and to our witness of who Jesus is to the world (John 17:20-21). Not only this, but 2 times Jesus explicitly indicates that we should prioritize our commitments to the Church at least as high as we do our biological families (Matthew 10:34-39, 12:46-50).
This tells me that our connection to the family of God cannot be prioritized too highly. We chose to create a logo that played on a couple of symbols. First, you have the hands reaching to connect with one another, much like Michelangelo’s man & God painting in the Sistine Chapel.
The hands create the horizontal beam of the cross (a common symbol for Jesus). The concept is the cliché formula: the closer two people move towards God, the closer they move towards one another. The loaf of Bread is a common symbol for fellowship. In Christianity it also serves to remind us of the sacrifice that Jesus made out of love for the Father and for us. This sacrifice was not just effectually for our good, but it was an example that we are to imitate daily. (Luke 9:23 & John 13:15-17)
Compassion for ALL PEOPLE(S)
The Church is not called to merely gather together, but is also called to make a positive impact and contribution to the surrounding region and even to the ends of the earth. (1 Peter 2:12, Acts 1:8) There are countless ways to be involved in these activities: evangelism, justice for the oppressed, mission work to those who have never heard the Good News, and so on. A driving posture for me in all of these activities springs from what I see in Jesus in Matthew 9:36 when he saw the gathering crowds. He didn’t beat them down because of their failures. Rather he had “compassion” on them. Compassion means to be willing to suffer with those who are hurting in order to help alleviate their pain. Jesus did just this. And we who claim to follow him should approach all of our activities from this perspective.
This final symbol we used is also the most involved. We incorporated several images into one in a way that is complex without being cluttered. We start with a globe, but mis-shape it into a heart, indicating our love for the world. We then use the globe’s longitudinal and latitudinal lines to make a cross, declaring that our love for others is motivated by Jesus’ love for us (1 John 4:19). A fishhook is laid beside the heart-globe. This first serves as a reminder of our call to make disciples of all nations, which Jesus described in one passage as being “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) But it also serves as an outline for a final symbol. The eye of the fishhook is joined by 4 more mysterious circles descending in size to make toes and the fish hook itself creates an outline which makes a heal. This then gives the heart-globe another function of acting as the balls of the foot. This plays on the idea that those who choose to take the message of Jesus out to others choose a beautiful thing. Paul quotes Isaiah (52:7) in Romans 10:14-15 saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
These images are no longer up on the church walls where I worked, but they still mean something special to me. So when I thought about creating a logo for Generous Beggar I thought I would resurrect one of these. The original concept was to make more involved road-type signs. That is, simple sketches with no more than 2 colors, that were memorable enough to spark layers of thought. For my website, I chose the 2nd value, the image showing our love for and commitment to Jesus. I thought I would add a little color. Because I value diversity, I decided to make the heads of the two people different colors. I made the beams of the cross red to highlight the sacrificial aspect of following Jesus that should be expected by us (John 15:18-25). Finally, I shaded the area between the 2 figures to highlight the arrow that keeps Jesus as our point of praise, submission, and gratitude.
So, for those who have been asking or wondering about the logo for my website, that is the story. Whether or not this logo means anything to you, know that when I am using it, it is because I am pursuing Jesus in finding wholeness by knowing him more in the context of intimate relationships with my like-minded brethren as I desire to have a positive impact on the greater community of our world.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”
Romans 8:18-24 (ESV)
I am sincerely appreciative for Jeremy Elliott in helping me get these thoughts organized and for Lizzie Osteen for working through many hours of discussion to understand and create these. If for some reason anyone is trying to capture thoughts into design, I highly recommend Lizzie. You can email me if you’d like to connect with her.
In case anyone would be interested, I’m attaching some photos I took of the final images on the walls of our sanctuary with me using overhead projectors to get an idea of what some text might look like alongside the images. I’m also attaching a link to the final sermon of this series where I summarized all of these values.
Categories: Worship in Community