Googly-eyed Lions and Lambs: Material Objects and Community of Christ Identity

Two pairs of googly eyes stared at me day after day as I practiced the piano as an elementary student. These eyes were mounted to a small, plush lamb and a slightly larger golden lion. Both sat on a lacquered piece of wood that bore a white-lettered sticker saying “Peace.” Even as a nine-year piano student, I was being reminded that I was part of a specific church, back then the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Objects all around my house told me about this identity—from a full-color framed print of Lehi holding the Liahona with a curious Sariah looking on, to a black-and-white print of Jesus painted by RLDS member Nida Vincent King, based on an RLDS member’s vision of Christ. Even though we rarely attended church by the time I was nine, my home was a deeply traditional RLDS home.

Religious material objects are bearers of memory, identity, and evidence our participation in modern consumer-driven economies. Before we get too dour on how Christians have simply “sold out to culture” with loads of “Jesus junk,” it might be good to reflect on why we fill our homes with religious material objects. Colleen McDannell in her influential study, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America, asserts that across centuries, “Christians use religious goods to tell themselves and the world around them that they are Christians.” Similarly, “religious objects also signal who is in the group and who is not. . . . Religious goods not only bind people to the sacred, they bind people to each other” (page 45). Of course, there is much more to the use and display of material objects than just this. Still, McDannell’s observations ring true to my observations of my own home.

So, in your own home, what items do you have that are “religious”? Why do you keep them? What memories are associated with those objects? Do you wear clothing branded with religious messages? What about spaces that you control outside the home? What objects are in your car or office that are “religious”? What religious items did you once display that you no longer do?

By the way, the googly-eyed lion and the lamb no longer sits on my parents piano (a victim of a garage sale), but Lehi, Sariah, and Jesus are still prominently displayed.

-David Howlett

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10 comments on “Googly-eyed Lions and Lambs: Material Objects and Community of Christ Identity

  1. Barb Walden says:

    I remember particular objects on display prominently in the sanctuary of my hometown congregation of Ridgecrest, California. I can’t look at a painting of Jesus on the road to Emmaus without thinking of my childhood. A seventy from the congregation was participated at the groundbreaking of the Independence Temple and returned to the congregation with a shovel that displayed a beautiful purple ribbon. The congregation displayed the shovel at the front of the sanctuary for years. I don’t recall thinking about the Independence temple much as a child, but I do remember gazing at the shovel throughout several long sermons. Looking back, I wonder if we gave the impression of “shovel worshippers” to the visitors who happened to stumble in on Sunday morning.

  2. jeswitts says:

    Interesting topic. I decorated my very first apartment with rainbows(30 years ago). I was a teenage convert and very excited about my new religion, especially Enoch and Zion. No crosses though, they were disdained in the congregation.

    Maybe 10 years later my home had lots of lion and lambs. Then I had my spiral period. I began to allow crosses back into my life after a visit to the Temple and being moved by the Shadow of the Cross. Somewhere in there I had origami Peace cranes around. Today I have some “community” symbols, a couple of Circle of Friends statues and 2 acoma tribe storytellers. Also a framed rubbing of Rosa Parks bus made at the Henry Ford Museum, a hunk of Temple granite and a little bowl with old margin release (mar rel) keys from old typewriters. You can pretty much track the course of the church through my decor. :)

  3. I think you all know that I am a heretic. I have no church symbols except a sticker on my car window.

  4. Kevin Bryant says:

    I have the church seal decal on the back of my car. One of my earliest memories in regards to the church was driving to World Conference one year. We had the seal decal on the back of our car and were always on the hunt to see other cars hurtling down the interstate towards Independence with a church decal on theirs as well. To me it seemed like we saw a lot of them, but probably not as many as I seem to remember driving by. Even at a very young age it instilled in me something of perhaps institutional pride in the church. I felt a connection to that car and its people even if I had no clue who they were or where they were from.

  5. David Howlett says:

    Fascinating comments from everyone! I want to push further by asking what kinds of books do any of you display that are church related? Books in homes have both a practical function (we read them) as well as a status function that sends a message about how we want others to perceive us. At least, I certainly use my bookshelves to do so! For instance, why did so many middle class people in the 1950s-1970s buy encyclopedia sets? It sure was not just to read them! I suspect that the use and display Herald House books used to say something about our religious lives. How have you used books in more than just a utilitarian way?

  6. Kevin Bryant says:

    I do have many books in visible places throughout my home, but few Herald House books. Among the few Herald (or related type) books would be the priesthood manual 2004, 3 in 1, and the set of the 3 Between the Covers for the OT, BoM, D&C. But I do agree that the books put on display to be seen by a casual visitor would be factored in for their status function, regardless of whether I had actually read them by that point or liked them.

  7. DKL says:

    Great post, David. In our home, we have a couple of Nauvoo Sunstone sitting atop an antique American renaissance secretary desk in the family room, along with the Harold House replica editions of the Book of Mormon. I have a magnet on the fridge with the Independence, Missouri Temple on it, which members of my ward ask me about. I also have a small, ceramic likeness of the Salt Lake Temple. Most of the guests in my home don’t belong to our religion, and we’ve never been asked about it.

    In my house growing up, we had a large portrait of Joseph Smith that a professional portrait artist painted for my parents. It was quite a nice painting, depicting the very Elvis-looking Joseph that began to predominate in the 20th century after those who might have known him had all passed on. It’s eyes followed me everywhere, so that when I was young, being alone in the room gave me the spooks, and at night it scared the dickens out of me to be in there alone. Now that my parents are divorced, I haven’t the foggiest idea of what happened to it.

    • FireTag says:

      We’ve long had a painting of the grove at Palmyra made by a Seventy’s wife in her old age. It was clearly understood by the family, and sometimes got asked about by visitors, but was simply a landscape to others.

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  9. Deb says:

    I would like to at least see a picture of a framed print (?) that always hung on the living room wall of my Auntie’s home where I visited as a child in the early 1960’s. I think it was of RLDS origin, but perhaps I’m only assuming it was. It seemed huge at the time, but perhaps this was only because I was small – probably only about 4-6 yrs old. The picture was of Jesus seated and surrounded by little children. My auntie used to tell me i looked like the little blonde girl in the picture. I think the children were dressed in the national dress of the different countries they represented. I seem to remember one of the children with their hand or hands resting on Jesus’ shoulder and I think one of the children was sitting on his lap. Other children were standing or seated around him at his feet, and if I remember correctly – one of the children was looking directly into Jesus’ face.

    I have seen similar depictions in books and on the ‘net, but not the exact same one that I remember from childhood.

    Does anyone have any idea who might have painted this image or where it originated and if it was/is indeed RLDS-specific?

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