As Aristotle said: “People can’t think without an image,” which means that our brains appreciate an image to get our minds around a concept or idea. Think about it, how from Nike’s swoosh symbol to CocaColas old-fashioned script to the apple with a bite out of it on the back of my phone, all the best companies have a logo that serves as a visual shorthand to represent their core identity and values. And perhaps more than ever in the internet era, a logo can represent the “face” of an organization like never before, carrying a message about who you are in a way that is instantly recognizable.
The best logos even have messages about what they mean inherent to the logo itself, even though sometimes the message is so hidden its subliminal. For instance, think about the logo for amazon.com - of how it has an arrow underneath the word amazon that stretches from the letter “a” to the letter “z”, implying that you can get anything there from a to z! Or one I like is the logo for Tostitos corn chips where the two “t’s” look like they’re each dipping a chip into the “i” representing a bowl of salsa. Still, one of the best-known examples is from FedEx, where the empty space between the “E” and the “x” form the image of an arrow, as if to say: “we’ll get it where it’s going”.
Because the logo communicates identity. That’s why I’ve been working on the question of a good logo for the church almost since I got here now 10 years ago. (Remember the logo we used when I built the first website years ago that had the “t” of the word “Central” positioned like the St. Andrew’s Cross? I got a lot of feedback from the outside that it looked like an “x”). But ultimately, and after getting lots of feedback from others in the church I designed a logo with a “C” with a cross in the center (the “C” as a reference to our triple-c alliteration of our church name and the central cross as a reference to “Central Christian Church”).
Then about a year ago we took it to a professional artist who mocked up the details so that the “C” resembled the “C” from the Colorado state flag, representing our Colorado heritage, and the cross in the center of the circle approximated the St. Andrew’s Cross of our Scots-Presbyterian heritage.
So there’s a lot of identity points here in what appears to be a very simple logo: and that’s why I wanted to take the time to preach a sermon series explaining the new logo because when I showed it to Niki - after years of work on the design and then with a professional artist and all the steps to get Cabinet approval - again, when I showed it to Niki she said, “What’s the big deal? ‘Cause to me it looks like a Colorado ’ with a St. Andrew’s Cross inside it.” And I said, “Exactly! We just need to explain what it’s all about.”
For the beauty of this new logo is that, while its very simple, at the same time it carries a great deal of meaning and messaging about who we are: about our identity as The Central Christian Church of Denver. It’s a lot like the scripture lesson that I shared earlier from First Peter, where he says: “For you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people” (2:9)* for here Peter gives the early church a statement of identity: something to wrap their minds around to tell them who they are.
I read a story about a mom who would read every night to her young son, and afterwards she had a little ritual whereby she would encourage him by telling him that he was a long list of superheroes, saying, “Son, you are my Buzz Lightyear, you are my Power Ranger, you are my Superman!” And each night he would lay there with a big smile on his face, taking it all in.
One night, however, mom got so busy that she sent him to bed without taking the time to go through her list of superheroes. A few minutes later she heard this little voice calling out from her son’s bedroom. “Mommy?!” it said. She opened the door to his bedroom and said, “What’s wrong?” And the little boy answered back: “Mommy - you forgot to tell me who I am!”
And that’s just to say how important it is that we get clear and positive messages about who we are: especially in this world where we are surrounded by advertising and constant feedback on social media, a lot of which is designed to try and make us feel bad about ourselves. It reminds me of that old Saturday Night Live character from the late 80’s-early 90’s, Stuart Smalley - does anyone remember Stuart Smalley(?), played by Mike Myers(?) - a spoof on the pop psychology that was so popular at the time. Anyway, Stuart Smalley would sit in front of a mirror and give himself positive affirmations: the most memorable of which was when he said: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!”
Because that’s the function of these identity statements: they remind us of the truth about ourselves in a world where we’re so often told we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or whatever it is that tries to beat us down. A good identity statement, on the other hand, reminds us of who we are in a way that can provide a ready defense against the negative messages out there in the world, or in our heads, we might otherwise subject ourselves to.
That’s why Peter says “You are God’s own special people”* and in much the same way that’s why we designed our new logo to be as simple as possible while still carrying layers of meaning for those who know how to interpret it. For in the first place, as Disciples we don’t want to say too much about who we are because the more identity points we use to define ourselves the more potential there is to alienate someone, and our priority is on welcome.
For instance, the other day I was in a meeting with a pastor from another church and he was surprised to hear that our congregation doesn’t recite the Apostles’ Creed. So I explained what we Disciples know from our history, that our church was founded upon the principle of “No Creed But Christ”: in fact, the little church I used to serve in Alabama founded around 150 years ago had a framed photograph on the main wall in their sanctuary of their founding Elder holding up a big sign that said, “Christ Alone!”
Of course, "Christ Alone" means pretty much the same thing as "No Creed but Christ" which was why many of our churches nationwide were named “Central Christian Church” in that generation, because it references how Christ is the center of our faith. And that’s probably as good a place to start as any when describing our new logo - if you want to start from the inside rather than the outside! - for that’s truly the most important point about who we are as members of this church, that we are “centered” in Jesus Christ, which is why the cross is at the center of our faith. (In fact, it reminds me that this logo can be used not only to describe our church but to describe each one of us individually, but we’ll talk about this more the next two Sundays as we flesh out the details).
What’s more, and as I mentioned, the cross is based on the St. Andrew’s cross that is a reference point on our Scots Presbyterian heritage and is a point of connection to the Disciples “Chalice” emblem that is the symbol of our denomination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Those who are familiar with the tradition see the reference point almost immediately, while at the same time the cross is so stylized that it clearly looks like a cross and not like an “x” as is often a problem with people’s perception of the traditional St. Andrew’s Cross. For instance, oftentimes people will ask me about the Chalice symbol which looks like a goblet with a St. Andrew’s Cross superimposed on it, and they’ll say: “Well, I see your church doesn’t believe in drinking but what else do you believe?” So I’m glad that our artist was able to stylize the cross so that it still resembles the St. Andrews Cross but at the same time is clearly recognizable as a cross and not an “x”.
You see the new logo can provide a place to start a conversation in this way as a tool to talk about our faith. Which brings us to the other aspect of our new logo, the bold red Colorado “C” that is the dominant image.
For as I mentioned, the “C” refers first to the triple “C” alliteration of our name “Central Christian Church (which again is based in the centrality of Jesus Christ in our lives, so in that respect the logo turns inward on itself!). What’s more, the bold red color is the same as the red of the Chalice, providing another connection point to our Disciples heritage, while at the same time the “C” is clearly the Colorado “C” (so evident around here) which recognizes that our church is one of the oldest churches in Colorado.
However, the main point about our logo that we’ll be talking about next week is that the “C” tells us something about who we are and who we’re called to be, in that the “C” is representative of the open circle of welcome. For, and motivated by Jesus Christ who stands at the center of who we are, our arms are to become an open circle of welcome to everyone we meet. You see how the cross draws people into the center of the open circle?
All this is inherent in this simple logo, which I pray will become an identity statement for all of us here at Central. For our logo - the cross in the C - can help to remind us who we are in Jesus Christ (that we are God’s special people!) and ain’t that good news!
*Scripture reference is from 1 Peter 2:9-10: [For] you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [God’s] own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Posted on Sun, March 5, 2017
by Canaan Harris