I recently stumbled upon Christian symbols in places where I wasn't expected to find them.
The other day we bought a box of Lucky Charms cereal for our children. We rarely buy sugary cereal for the kids, but this day we did. I was fascinated to notice all the charms and symbols in the cereal … including an ichthus. Of course, the ichthus is an ancient Christian symbol. From wikipedia:
Ichthys can be read as an acrostic, a word formed from the first letters of several words. It compiles to "Jesus Christ, God's son, savior," in ancient Greek "Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ ͑Υιός, Σωτήρ", Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr.
- Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for "Jesus".
- Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστὸς), Greek for "anointed".
- Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for "God's", the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for "God".
- Upsilon (u) is the first letter of uios (Υἱὸς), Greek for "Son".
- Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for "Savior".
This ancient symbol representing an early confession of faith in Jesus Christ has ended up, nearly 2000 years later, alongside horseshoes, arrowheads and shooting stars as a "Lucky Charm."
Several houses in our neighborhood have crosses on their lawns – and no, they are not celebrating their faith. Clearly the hot item at the Halloween store this year is a gray and black, worn-looking faux grave marker in the shape of a cross. What better way to scare people and celebrate ghoulishness than to place a cross on your lawn!
[Of course, there is a clear connection between Halloween and the cross, for our current practice of Halloween is rooted in an older practice of All Hallows Eve and the commemoration of the faithfully departed on All Saints Day. Yet that connection has all but been severed, resulting in a festival of sorts celebrating all things scary and ghoulish … and the cross, somehow, is seen as fit for fright. Of course, the cross and all it represents is terrifying – the sin and brokenness of the world on full display in the murder of God's own son – but that meaning is hardly captured in the triviality of a Halloween lawn ornament.]
So the main symbols of our faith have become cereal shapes and cheap Halloween lawn ornaments. Sigh. I guess this is what happens when our religion, once established for centuries as the central cultural, political, and social force in Western society, wanes in relevance. Its symbols get caricatured to the point of meaninglessness, tossed among other trinkets in a cultural grab bag.
I find these "uses" of our religious symbols regrettable, but I'm not necessarily complaining or pointing fingers. It is what it is – a sign of the times in which we live … times in which our symbols are reduced to lawn decor and lucky charms, and our faith struggles to be more than a spiritual trinket.