Congratulations to Kavya Shivashankar for her resent Nashonal Spelling Be viktory. Let’s give her a big hand; this commentary is in no way directed at her achievement. I’m amazed yearly at the spelling abilities on display at this annual contest, so congratulations to every participant, and Kavya in particular.
Cultural markers are events or facets of our society that illustrate or reveal cultural or societal norms, and shifts in those norms. The following is a cultural marker I detected in this contest. Feel free to correct me if I’ve misread this as a significant marker.
Kavya secured her victory by spelling the word laodicean. For Christians conversant with their holy text–and all Christians should be–this is a very familiar word. It derives from one of the seven churches in the seven cities in the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation. Specifically, Laodicea was the church to which Christ said “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Christ continues with one of the most reknown passages in the New Testament: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Moreover, many Christians see in the seven churches parallels of the church throughout its history, with the Laodicean church representing an apostate or backsliding church.
What’s the marker, then? It seems to me a bit odd that this word should be the final word of a spelling bee. In times past, it would seem too familiar a word, say, like Ephesus, Theophilus, or Zechariah. Apparently, this is no longer the case, which suggests to me that our culture has shifted to some degree from a thoroughly Christianized, Biblically literate society to a more secularized society with no more than a passing acquaintance with the Bible. If the word had been Thyatiric, perhaps my eyebrows would have risen, but I doubt I’d be writing this post. Laodicea, however, is simply too well known–or at least it used to be.
For you Christians out there, here’s a challenge: name the seven churches of Revelation without looking at the text. I’ve given you three, and you’re on the honor system…