The stars and stripes speak silently |

The stars and stripes speak silently

It would be less than patriotic to pass this weekend without pondering the power of symbol.

The stars and stripes evoke a myriad of responses whether they are waving in the wind or slapped on a back bumper. Lately, of course, we have been witness to an outpouring of presenting the likes of which Betsy Ross never imagined. The flag flies not just from the tops of poles or the rears of cars but billboards, barnsides and blimps to boot. 

Recently I walked by a home that had a rather large flag portrayed in neon light on its front porch. And not too long ago a fellow at a ballgame beamed his flag from atop his bald head a few bleachers to my right.

Personally, I prefer a flag without written accompaniment. Pithy explanations as to its preferred meaning generally leave me wishing the bearer had just kept silent. “Together We Stand” or “These Colors Don’t Run” seem, to me at least, to diminish the inherent power portrayed in red, white and blue.

Displaying the flag, because of these supplemental slogans, has certainly taken on different meanings.

For some it is clearly a proclamation of genuine patriotism, a symbol of gratitude for a great nation. Others apparently have alternative agendas. For some, the flag is the chip on the shoulder they dare you to knock off. One critical word about our democracy may result in a very undemocratic action. 

Some have aligned the flag and their religion, somehow convincing themselves, despite repeated historical and theological evidence to the contrary, that God has a political preference.

I suppose it is both odd and somewhat oxymoronic for a preacher to be picking on verbosity, but I have certainly been both witness to the woes of its abuse and occasional long-winded perpetrator as well. 

Because my business deals in large part with the power of symbol, I am frequently tempted to explain what often needs no explanation. I suppose that’s why I like the flag waving on its own. It is a reminder of a lesson I too often tend to forget.

Symbols permeate our lives. Everything from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the homes we occupy speak volumes without ever uttering a single word. A gentle smile, an embracing hug, a casserole left on a sick friend’s doorstep, all are symbols that need no accompanying commentary.

“Symbols point beyond themselves to something else.” said the theologian Paul Tillich, and the truth of his words lies in the fact that we really need no more words on a July 4th weekend. Just a flag will do.

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