Thursday, June 14, 2018

Flag Day and Faith

Today is Flag Day, which has never been a holiday that made much of an impression on me.  But today, I'm thinking about flags and religious expression.

On Sunday, I was rummaging in the arts and crafts closet, and I came across some small flags--the Christian flag, as I've always thought of it.  As with so many things in that closet, I wondered how we had come to have them.  I see that flag much more rarely now than I once did.  Once, it seemed that every church chancel had one, along with the U.S. flag. 

I'm not crazy about having any flags in the chancel, but I'm not opposed to other symbolic fiber art.  I wonder if that's strange.

When I used to teach symbolism to students, I asked how many of them would be upset if I set a U.S. flag on fire.  Many of them nodded.  I said, "Would you be upset if I burned my sock?  Why not?  They're both fabric, after all."  It was an interesting way to launch a discussion of symbolism.

It's that symbolism that makes me want to have a church that's free of flags.  Flags do have that history of requiring allegiance.  And church spaces should remind us of the One who deserves our complete allegiance.

If I had the kind of arts and crafts closet that I wish we had at church, it would be interesting to experiment with flags and banners.  If we created a flag that represented our beliefs, what would we put on such a flag?  Would it need to be representational?

If it had meaning to others, if that was important, it would need to be representational on some level.  We made some banners for Pentecost:

I have been surprised by how many people ask me what the banners mean.  To me, they clearly represent flames and tongues and spirit, in all sorts of interpretations of that word.  I wonder if others don't see it or don't trust what they think they are seeing.

Most of us understand the meaning of the U.S. flag because we've been instructed since childhood that the stripes represent the colonies, and the stars represent the states.  If we didn't already know that, we might be baffled by the fabric. 

That's likely more and more true of worshippers.  Many of us haven't been schooled in the symbols of our faith.  We may be entering a time where our religious art becomes more important, in a way that it was in medieval times, as a way of educating people.

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