Symbols Matter

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Symbols matter.

Certain images are forever etched into our memories both individually and collectively. That’s why people were so upset when this image:

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Or this one:

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Were co-opted with rainbow imagery.

It’s why people asked me why I would dare make my facebook profile picture yellow equal sign on a blue background (or pink on red).

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It’s why some people wear a cross with Jesus on it and some wear a cross without Jesus on it. It’s also why some people do not wear a cross at all.

Symbols matter.

Sometimes, the meaning of a symbol can change. The fact that the Christmas tree was once a pagan symbol is largely irrelevant. The cross was used a torture device and now it is a symbol of God’s grace and mercy and His presence in the world.

Some symbols are filled with conflicted meanings. The U.S. flag for many represents colonialism and oppression. For many, it represents freedom and courage. For others, it is simply a symbol that unites a country of diverse people.

But the meaning of some symbols cannot change. Some symbols are not conflicted in their meaning. The Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and treason. It is the flag that flew for the army that seceded from the Union. It is the flag that was flown in defiance of the Civil Rights movement. While there are some people who may have grown up without that realization, it does not change the fact that the heritage the flag refers to is one of hate.

The flag coming down from the South Carolina statehouse today is an important move. May that flag never fly in a public place again. And for those who wish to use their right to fly the flag at their home or on their vehicle—go for it. You can do that.

But ask why that symbol is so important to you. Why do you need to fly a flag that represents hate and treason to show your pride? Why can you disregard the experience of generations of people who recognize that symbol as one of oppression?

We are repulsed by swastikas. We feel a sense of apprehension or anger when we see pentagrams. We are even convincing ourselves we are seeing ISIS flags at gay pride parades.

Symbols matter.

If the symbols that are important to me anger you, it falls to me to act out of love and understanding. I must ask you why. I must learn from you what your experience is.
If the symbols that are important to you anger me, it falls to me to act out of love and understanding. I must ask you why. I must learn from you what your experience is.

They are important. But relationships are even more important. If my symbols are affecting our relationship, then work must be done. Tough conversations must be had. Humility and love must be present. And a desire to be in relationship must be greater than a desire to be right.

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