Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sermon prayers and thoughts: "Dashboard Jesus"

Symbols have a powerful hold on the focus of our attention:

My daughters know that when they see the Golden Arches, they think "French fries" and "playing on the toys" and "hangigers." I'm sure that is exactly what the marketers want. The girls also know the PBS logo well--easily shifting from web surfing to television. Though my 2 year old doesn't read yet, she can look at the bold green, black and white logo and say ""

The evolution and sophistication of brand loyalty appears as we flip through television stations--all anyone has to do no matter where they go is look in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and see a logo that helps any viewer at any age make a decision and focus their energy. Without even knowing the station, if my 2 or 6 year old sees a PBS logo or a Nick Jr. logo, they know that screen is meant for them. I think marketing is a tool that is value neutral. The tool can be used or abused. The logo, the symbol is used to focus thought and attention, reminding the viewer of their place. They also probably know that if they run across a TLC or an HGTV, they'll probably be bored and can leave the room or find another station.

A symbol doesn't have to be a sale tool, it's a focus tool. I have a chart at home that uses magnetic symbols to organize and reward positive behavior and tasks in our home. She knows what "no whining" looks like. She knows what "make the bed" looks like. She knows what "brush teeth" looks like. She knows the symbols associated with the reward. It helps her focus. The symbols also provide common ground to not only reinforce values, but also enhance our communication through a shared experience and visual anchor.

A symbol doesn't have to be shared to carry meaning: there's also individual meaning attached to symbols that give meaning and honor to personal experience: Sometimes I feel like I am one of the only people between the ages of 20-40 (not a category I will be in much longer) without a tattoo on my body. My tattoo career was limited to the temporary tattoos I loved to get in a box of Cracker Jack. I'm not against tattoos. Actually, I find them quite interesting. My brother has a couple of great ones that have become the fascination of my daughters (one of them being a train--a shoo-in for the girls). They just don't seem to fit me or my personality--kind of like the earring I tried for a week while I was in college. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it didn't fit.

I started watching the television show "LA Ink" on a lark--a show about a tattoo shop in Hollywood. The workplace drama is a bit slow and drawn out, but the stories behind the tattoos are gripping, deeply personal and emotional, yet also well thought out. You don't see stories on LA Ink about people getting a tattoo on a whim. These tattoos are about thought, memory, meaning, symbols, planning, beauty and relationships. The symbols that make the tattoo provide meaning about the past and guidance for the future. The tattoo stories on LA Ink connect me to some of the stories related to the Ark of the Covenant, particularly the reading in the Old Testament book of Numbers 10:29-36. The Ark of the Covenant has a deep and varied meaning for Israel, and this Bible passage reveals one trajectory of that meaning.
There is no way I can cover the multitude of tattoo stories from LA Ink in a sermon, but I think they are worth your time as you think about the power of symbols in our lives as we prepare for Sunday.
The Ark of the Covenant was a powerful symbol for Israel as the moved to the Promised Land representing many things (from the writings of Walter Breuggemann):
1. A place to hold the promises of God and expectations for the relationship with God close to the community.
2. It serves as a throne for God--therefore a statement about the authority, power and sovreignty of God.
3. A symbol that took and led Israel into battle as it faced military barriers in its journey to the promised land.
4. It signifies the presence, protection and leadership of God during risky travel.
Like a tattoo, object, photo, logo, symbol or quote, the Ark of the Covenant supplied Israel with a focal point on which they could remember that God was leading them to a new place. What are the images or symbols that have proven durable reminders and focal points for your actions every day?

A wedding ring
A Celtic cross
I've chosen the Dashboard Jesus not as a symbol that I am choosing for you or the whole congregation, but as for something that you can consider as FLCC travels toward a new season of ministry. Things are changing for many reasons.
Pastor Allen left after 20 years.
The vehicles of communication between people is different and changing rapidly. Not just electronically, but I think about tattoos. Over 5 years ago, church mission consultant Bill Easum shared with me at a conference that people use tattoos to share their stories with one another--the tattoo is a form of testimony and even basic communication.
The Dashboard Jesus can go with you into bumpy places--our view of Jesus may bounce frequently, but Jesus remains firmly anchored. The transition ahead will be bumpy and sometimes disorienting. You will sometimes question the path of the congregation and maybe your own service--but Jesus remains. Our celebration of communion reminds us of the enduring presence of God and the unrelenting mercy of God in the midst of chaos and death.
Post script: Graven images?

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