One of my favorite stores is Hobby Lobby. Favorite as in the 40% off coupon is permanently clipped and saved in the photos on my phone, mobile alerts activated and Facebook posts pinned to the top of my feed. I seriously need an intervention. It never fails that I go into the store for like one roll of burlap ribbon and I exit with a new floral arrangement, hand-lettering pens, 4 skeins of yarn, an entire album of scrapbook paper, 2 kids DIY art kits, a wooden sign to hang in my bathroom and a random assortment of 75% off holiday decor for next year. Well, it just so happens that on one of these shopping experiences, I bought a HUGE wooden ampersand that I was determined to include in my current decor. I tried my hand at chalk painting the wooden piece a misty-eyed baby blue and then distressed parts with an antiqued bronze. The final result was as near perfection as I will ever get with my limited crafting skills.
I placed the finished product on a lonely looking shelf in my living room and since the day I added it to our decor I have stared at it, wondering two things: #1) why I love it so much, and #2) what the actual purpose of the ampersand is and what it means. This may sound ridiculous. This is the type of story that I normally wouldn’t actually say out loud. More of a “keep it to yourself” type of situation but I think that the answer may be enlightening to someone besides me.
The actual definition of the ampersand is “and”…are you enlightened yet? No? Well, then let’s dig deeper.
Did you know that the English alphabet didn’t always go from A-Z. There was actually a 27th character. That’s right, you guessed it, it was the &.
The very first ampersand was a ligature—that is, a character consisting of two or more letters joined together. Its creator was joining the letters e and t, of the Latin word et, meaning “and.”
It’s also important to note that many sites refer to the & as “inclusionary” meaning that it incorporates the act of involving or accommodating something: the state of being included.
Taking into consideration all of this information, the following is my summarization:
Maybe this is a stretch…but I really see the & as a symbol for The Church. Not a particular denomination or faction, but The Church universal. Jesus encouraged us to live simple, yet challenging examples of faith. He urged us to include everyone and to consider them our neighbors. And He modeled practices that exemplified joining together in community. But just like the &’s deletion from the 27th position in the alphabet, The Church is being deleted from it’s place of importance that it once held. And I can’t help but think it’s because we have slowly wandered away from it’s original purposes. We focus on programs, entertainment and social connections. We buy hand-lettering Bibles, trendy t-shirts and change the phone-lock screen to an illustrative scripture (which 9 times out of 10 is taken out of context…Jeremiah 29:11 much?). All of these things aren’t bad, in fact some of them I LOVE, but when our preferences take the place of our purpose then we FAIL.
Consider this passage of scripture from Acts chapter 2:
42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Each day the Lord added to their numbers. Did you catch that? You know why? Because of the power of &. They included, they joined together and they lived a simple life that revolved around faith, community and love. Who wouldn’t want to live in that atmosphere of belonging and purpose?
Now I know why I was originally drawn to this big, beautiful, wooden ampersand and why it has taken center-stage on a shelf in my home. It’s because God wanted to give me a daily visual reminder to continually invest in His People. To re-evaluate when the programming and plans seem to get too complicated. To remember to include the people in the margins. To join together in worship with my brothers and sisters that celebrate Jesus in other denominations and in different ways than that in which I am accustomed. & means I’m part of something greater than myself. I’m not alone and neither are you.