When Symbols Become More Important Than People

A few years ago I wrote an essay "Do Symbols Matter?" In that article, I outlined we have taken secular symbols, things like the flag, the Declaration of Independence, and Plymouth Rock and elevated them to the level of sacred. This is not necessarily a bad thing but when the symbols become more important than the people they represent we cross over a line that we may not be able to cross back over.

Much has been written about athletes at all levels taking a knee as well as raising a clenched fist in the air, during the playing of the National Anthem. These silent protests are being carried out to draw attention to the inequality in our nation and the larger point of how we care for each other as human beings. As one can imagine, these protests have not been received in a positive way, and some of those participating have been receiving death threats from very patriotic Americans. I guess if we have to accept the protest as freedom of speech then we have to accept the counter protest.

It has been said that the message is getting lost in the medium that the choice of protest is wrong, even thought people support the right to protest, and that it is clouding the message. Is that true or is it being used as a way to deflect attention away from what matters. I asked one commenter on one of my posts the following question, "If the flag, National Anthem, and the Declaration of Independence were all to disappear tomorrow would America cease to exist?" There was no reply, but my answer is simple, no it would not, because America is more than a collection of symbols. America is an idea that just cannot be contained in any document, flag, or song.

We have turned America into a religion complete with its Cathedral, the Capitol Building, its sacred texts, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and its saints, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams just to name a few. We have taken the profane and elevated it to the sacred. We even have holy days of obligation. Just try not celebrating the 4th of July or some other secular holiday and you will be branded a communist. This way of thinking indeed has become a problem because we have placed these symbols above the people they represent.

I love my country and served in the Army for most of my adult life. I love and respect the flag of our nation, and I appreciate the National Anthem. I think it should be sung the way it is written and maybe we need to update some of the words, but it is a stirring song that came from a time when we needed that boost of patriotism. But none of those things are more important than the life of any American. I served to protect the rights of all Americans, yes even the ones I disagree with, I served to protect the people, not a flag, a song, or a piece of paper no matter how important it is. The people are the most important.

Recently I preached a sermon based on the story from the Gospel of Luke the Rich Man and Lazarus. This is a story of contrasts and about how we treat each other. The Rich Man, who does not have a name in the story, does not even see Lazarus. He just accepts his as a part of the landscape, and he has blended into the background of his large dining room. Even when the Rich Man is being tormented in Hades, and he sees Lazarus off in the distance with Abraham, he only sees Lazarus as an object that has been created to serve him. When humanity is reduced down to their race, their creed, their sexual orientation, or any of the hundreds of ways we categorize people then their humanness is denied, and they become objects than can be dismissed and disposed of like refuge.

America does not need more respect for her symbols America needs more respect for humanity, all of it, white, black, red, yellow, whatever color they happen to be! The symbols have been elevated to a place higher than the people that those symbols represent, and yes, they represent all of America, not just the white part.

Perhaps the vehicle for protest chosen was not the best but that die has been cast and its time we move away from that and towards the issue at hand and a coming together to find a solution then we can all salute the flag and sing the National Anthem.

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