‘It all begins with the symbols. They capture primal relations, like water and death, fire and purification, seeds and hope. The stories do not come before the symbols, but they emerge from them and bring them to life. The stories explain the symbols, and the symbols make the stories worth remembering and telling. The window in the Lumbee church said, “See, under this sign of suffering, we will accept one another as brothers and sisters.” A congregation lives most deeply by its symbol-bearing stories. They tell us who we are.
Any cultural anthropologist would have warned me not to rearrange the furniture in our church. Of course, there were no cultural anthropologists in New Cana. Had there been, they would have reminded me that the physical focus of worship symbolically “freezes” the community’s story into a sacred universe. Therefore, to shuffle the furniture in the chancel or to alter the ritual, say, by moving the flag or changing the music, is to offend against the stories and derange the universe itself.
I should have known not to try to remove the American flag from the chancel. To me, the national flag represented an intrusion into the sacred space of the congregation, an obvious symbol of civil religion. Theologically, the flag has no business beside the altar.
At one of our congregational “town meetings” I patiently explained that I had nothing against patriotism but that it was a short step from “God and country” to “God equals country”. These were the last hours of Vietnam and the early days of Watergate. How can Christians minister prophetically to the country, I asked, if we embrace the nation’s chief symbol and admit it into our sanctuary’. – Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery, 89–90.
I’ve blogged on this theme before too. See Aliens in the Church: A Reflection on ANZAC Day, National Flags and the Church as an Alternative Society