The Sportsing Apparel Hermeneutical Fail

October 16, 2015

My son emerges ready for school wearing a red top. 

In big letters across his chest reads ‘Standard Chartered’ and there’s a little logo to the right.

I think carefully about this.

‘What club is that? ‘Standard Chartered’. That’s not the name of the team is it…?’

‘No mum. Liverpool. Football. Club.’ he says slowly, pointing at each letter on the small logo.

‘Right. Got it. Just, going by the picture, it could have stood for Little Fancy Chicken…’

– In the absence of experience or information we make our own meaning from the

symbols before us with the resources of imagination. I think this is an important lesson in these times of many images and low religious literacy.

Are we sure we are reading the imagery and symbols and codes of others with intelligence? Sometimes misinterpretation of other’s philosophical or religious language and symbols is deliberate and malevolent. Sometimes, like my little fancy chicken faux pas, it is from benign ignorance. Either way, we need to be willing to recognise we are prone  to getting it wrong.

Are we confident that we understand our own religious language and symbols well? If it is only by deep participation in the culture and the community of something that we can learn its meaning, what does that mean for religious practices that are largely passive and observational?

And, thinking about the living faith formation of our children, if their exposure to the symbols and practices of our faith in its fullest, deepest, richest, most mature forms is only ever from the sidelines, at arm’s-length, how shall we be confident that they do not make the same mistake I made of the Liverpool Football Club for the Little Fancy Chickens:

May we so embrace our children that they never mistake

the breaking of bread and sharing of wine for a funeral wake,

or the reading of scripture for the reading of the riot act,

or generosity for guilt-assuagement,

or compassion for condescension,

or loyalty for obligation,

or faithfulness for habit.


  1. This is a fantastic reminder and aid for me. Thank you. I am a lay liturgist and worship curator, dwelling heavily in the world of ritual, symbolism and imagery, and oftentimes the liturgies do not have the word component in a classic sermon context, and when they do, the spoken word is used as proclamation rather than for exegesis. The post is a helpful encouragement to maintain diligence in the presentation of the symbols and imagery. Thankfully the services are highly participatory, and involve communal expression and interaction, so that the group’s wisdom can help maintain an appropriate forming of meaning. But good to be reminded. Thank you again. I will be quoting this in seminars on worship practices!

    • Hi Jim, thanks for your commen. Liturgy is such a rich resource of opportunity and responsibility!
      I love your emphasis on the role of the group and its corporate wisdom in holding the meaning with faithfulness. That bodes well, in my book.

  2. Thank you Beth. The Tale of the Little Fancy Chicken has now been told on your behalf at a guest lecture I gave tonight at a local seminary. You were quoted directly, and properly credited, including site address. I led on on teaching about the power of imagery and symbolism with the story of St. John of Kronstadt, and then used the Fancy Little Chicken to show that these gifts must be used intelligently and contextually or they lose their meaning. My thanks!

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