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By now everyone has had their own cynical response to yesterday’s earthquake, the most unoriginal ones involving shots of knocked over lawn chairs (not even from this year’s temblor) posted to Facebook pages and blogs. As the day ended, we learned that there was damage to both the Washington Monument and National Cathedral.

While fund drives, donations, and taxes will help fix the broken stones, for the time being we can fix our problems with some dry wit. Connotative obfuscation is the practice which twists the unintended nature of damage and turns it into meaning. Emerging artists have been doing this for years by inserting vague action verbs like “investigates” into their artist statements, and obscuring incompetent craft by claiming it was deliberate (I wanted to explore the semiotics of amateur video, say).

Since the National Cathedral has three towers, it’s easy to conclude that there is one tower for each third of the Holy Trinity, with each spire atop the towers representing one of the 12 disciples of Christ. Following the quake, the most severely damaged spire now represents Judas, the disciple who betrayed Christ (leading to his eventual crucifixion and your eventual eternal salvation). The second most damaged spire represents Thomas, the disciple who doubted the Risen Christ. The leaning spire is a little more difficult to interpret, since many of the disciples had flaws. Perhaps it’s Peter, who denied Christ three times.

Divining the meaning behind the cracks at the top of the Washington Monument is also challenging. Depending on which side of the aisle you sit, it means one of two things. The cracks at the top represent our damaged republic. But, since the cracks are near the apex of the obelisk, it could mean that structure is destined to be rebuilt, with the potential to rise higher, parallel to the new heights our country will reach. Or, the cracks at the top represent our fractured democracy as we tumble further into some convoluted understanding of what socialism and treason means. You make the call.

Image courtesy National Cathedral