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Monday, February 17, 2014

Is there a torch in the new UUA logo?

UUA Logo, 2014
Thinking about the UUA's new logo (which was announced last week; I was not involved in developing), I was struck by the torch-like image in its center. I've heard people express dismay that it's no longer clearly a flaming chalice—but it occurs to me that the flaming chalice is only one relative of another symbol that is even older in Unitarian use: the beacon.

(This post originally appeared yesterday on my Facebook page; I'm reviving "Philocrites" briefly to give it a more public home. Hi everyone! I've missed you. There's a lot of commentary about the new logo worth reading: the first round is curated by Heather Christensen at The Interdependent Web; read it, and then see later responses by PeaceBang, Dawn Cooley, and Matt Tittle, and be sure to check in this coming Friday for another edition of The Interdependent Web.)

Beacon Press logo, early 20th centuryThe image to the right was Beacon Press's printer's mark (in several variations) for most of the 20th century. The beacon, for which Beacon Hill was named, was lit to warn citizens of approaching dangers in 17th-century Boston. (Think of a modest Puritan version of the warning beacons of Gondor!) "The idea of shedding light to warn of imminent dangers" appealed to AUA leaders when the press was named in 1902, according to Beacon Press's 150th anniversary history. Back in the 1990s, I put together a catalog of UU congregational newsletter names (don't ask), and I was impressed by how many used variations on "Beacon," "Torch," "Lantern," and other analogs. And of course symbols of public light—especially to warn, to call attention, to illuminate—have featured prominently in our tradition for much longer even than the century in which our largest publishing enterprise has been named "Beacon."

The flaming chalice caught on, I think, not just because it originated with the Unitarian Service Committee's work in World War II, but also because the lit chalice could so readily become a liturgical object, and by extension a domestic or personal worship tool. Here's my modest insight: The flaming chalice is an interior lamp, a flame to light indoors in the particular context of worship. As an emblem, it's tied to the Service Committee's public service history, but in our experience, it's a symbol of our religion as practiced in sanctuaries and homes. But it has a cousin in our symbolic tradition that is a flame lit in the public square: the beacon lit in times of public crisis, the candles held up in vigils, the lantern in the steeple.

The second image is from the UUA's 2012 Justice General Assembly vigil outside the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix. I see that (battery-powered) candle in the new logo.

Copyright © 2014 by Philocrites | Posted 17 February 2014 at 8:39 PM

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