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Icons and Idols

Children protesting against the League of the South's pro-Confederate flag demonstration in Tallahassee, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

It's been awhile since I've posted here, and not because I haven't been thinking, pondering, praying, and wanting to post. I simply don't have a lot of time to sit and organize coherent thoughts into a blog. My Prayer life lately has involved some deep and amazing dips into the pool of the vast waters of God. And perhaps that has kept me from writing as well. So here goes nothing as I attempt to explain this title of "Icons and Idols."

A few weeks ago, over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, the League of the South, some of them donning black shirts with white supremacist logos, were out in front of the Florida Capitol building waving their Stars and Bars flags. Apparently, there is legislation to ban the Flag from being flown over public buildings. If you are from outside the United States, or simply have managed not to hear any of the history of this controversy, the so-called "Confederate Flag" has been held up as a symbol of Southern heritage; however this particular design of the flag really came into vogue when "Southern heritage" meant fighting against desegregation in the 1950s and 60s. This was not their battle flag used during the Civil War when the South rebelled against the United States from 1861-65. The people who seem to be the most attached to this flag also seem to be the most anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jew...basically "anti" anything that isn't considered part of "white" culture. 

A young woman in Tallahassee got wind of their demonstration and in 48-hours gathered a bunch of us to be counter demonstrators. She had asked that we American flags to our rally. This was interesting because the people gathered in our group were not your typical "rah rah" America types. We took up a position on the opposite side of the busy intersection of Monroe and Apalachee Parkway, each side competing to see who would get the attention of drivers passing by. It was all pretty tame as protests go. Our group of 25 people couldn't get it together to sing any of the old standard Civil Rights songs to save our lives, but we smiled and waved and held our two fingers up in the peace sign. Then the guy from the League of the South dared to taunt us by calling out the presence of the American flag in our group.

"When I see that Yankee rag, I see prison bars!" he bellowed.

I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. "Yankee rag"? Seriously?! For the first time in my life, every patriotic mitochondria in my body started firing up as I shouted back across the road:


And our group of counter demonstrating social justice activists fell into the familiar grade school cadence of the pledge:


Had we really just said the pledge with that much gusto and true feeling? Do we really feel that much deep attachment to a flag? And what is up with the hanging on so tightly by so many to the Stars and Bars? The Civil War was over 150 years ago. How can anyone still be saying the United States is an occupier of the southeastern United States?

I know that the pledge rings hollow for those who still are feeling like the left behind and the disenfranchised in this country. That was me, too, not that long ago. When I was in junior high and we had to stand each morning to recite the pledge, I would respectfully stand, and say nothing. I didn't understand pledging allegiance to a flag. Shouldn't we pledge allegiance to something a little more than sewn fabric? Later, as I came out, I felt that pledge was like another broken promise. "Liberty and justice" was for some, but definitely wasn't available to all. 

But when faced with such hatred of the symbol of this flawed and imperfect union, even I was willing to rally in defense of what I believe this nation yearns to be: a place where people are able to gather on street corners in support and dissent of the country and have that freedom without the need to resort to bombing each other. I can hope the four bloody years of our ancestors killing each other during the Civil War might have taught us not to know war between each other that way again. And yet, there are some who press on as if we are still at war. Sigh.

Perhaps it was that experience of reciting the pledge with patriotic fervor that has also helped to take my prayer life in a further move toward God. Because even while I was shouting at the League of the South, my burning passion was for the words of the pledge and I was longing for them to lay down their sesquicentennial grudge, and realize that the war is over. 

In so many ways, I think, this is part of what our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is encouraging us to see in the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus longed for his fellow Jews of his day to see that the way to eternal life was through loving more, paying attention to their neighbors more, putting God first more and not making idols of rituals that had become more important than the actual thing for which the ritual was intended to celebrate. 

And even Jesus seems to desire that we not get fixated on him, the human being, but to see through him the way to that Eternal which gives life. This is really the purpose of icons, such as The Trinity by Andrei Rublev. The Russian monk and iconographer designed this as a means by which people may gaze and see God through the art and enter into prayer, which is our line to the One. I happened on this image as I prepped for the 12:10 service at St. John's last Friday. As I looked into those heads all bent in each other's direction and their blue tunic connection, my mind went back to verse from John's gospel:

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.--John 5:19

These words had been part of Morning Prayer the Wednesday before and as I heard them, I had a revelation of the "both/and" nature of this statement. When we hear the phrase "Son of Man" (or, in this case, it was "Son of God") this is both about Jesus and humanity. Humanity has the chance, especially through following in the footsteps of Jesus, to be at one with God, who is the source of life. This "life" goes beyond the day-to-day arguments over flags, and asks us to tap into our interconnectedness with all things and people. My own belief and placing my own life in the stream of this Great Consciousness is, I think, the reason that while I shouted the Pledge of Allegiance with conviction, it wasn't out of pure anger, but out of a place of sorrow and frustration for the breakdown that leads someone to cling desperately to a past that is no longer the future. That, to my mind, is the path toward death and not life. 

I don't hate those who hate me. My work with the Prayer for Our Enemies has been about teaching me to see the anger and rage that is within me and aimed at me, and deflect it without letting it become the thing that penetrates my heart. This is how I bend my head, and knee, to Jesus. This is how the power of God working in me can help me--like Jesus--do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine. 

This post first appeared on Wake Up And LIVE, please read the originial post: here

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Icons and Idols


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