The rules state: 1) Keep It Simple, 2) Use Meaningful Symbolism, 3) Use 2 to 3 Basic Colors, 4) No Lettering or Seals, 5) Be Distinctive or Be Related.
According to the rules of vexillology enthusiast Roman Mars, the Akron’s flag isn’t great. It's basically a seal, has too many letters on it, and no child can easily draw it (mainly because of the lettering). I actually love the 1965 flag, just get rid of the words.
Why am I talking about flags? Because they are important to us! Flags hanging prominently from homes, tell us about the residents’ politics, heritage, and social groups. Flags are treated with care, with special rules about proper flying, folding, and disposing. To mistreat a flag is to invite others’ anger. They are the quintessential symbolic object, serving no other purpose than to state an opinion and point to the values for which they stand.
There are many objects in our world that are purely symbolic, many more that also serve practical purposes. Perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol today is the cross. We see them everywhere! Combined with other common Christian symbols, their absence in a home speaks louder than their presence. So, why did our Anabaptist ancestors avoid the usage of symbols, even the cross?
Visit a traditional Brethren meeting house and you’ll notice there is no cross, pictures, or high communion table (altar). Just wooden pews surroundings a single long wooden table and a stove for cooking and heating. Of course it is also symbolic, an open rejection of the ornate, worldly styles of other sanctuaries.
Jesus spends a lot of time reminding us about the dangers of becoming sidetracked in this world. He chided the rich for their trust in material, the Pharisees and Sadducees who held the Law above all else, and his disciples for believing in a nation conquering messiah. They had lost their way, instead of worshipping and trusting in God, they put their faith in wealth, religion, and power. They created idols. We don’t use the word idolatry a lot today, but we are as guilty of putting our faith in worldly things as the ancients.
Our Anabaptist forerunners not only saw the ornate, symbolic decor of churches as counter to the simple life of Jesus’s Way, but as idolatry, or as a gateway into the sin. Though today our worship spaces aren’t as simple, we still tend to be plainer than our neighbors.
My musings on symbolism began because this is Lent and we are approaching the cross, our most common symbol. It points us towards Jesus, towards the Kingdom. But the forerunners remind us that it is still just two pieces of wood and its purpose is only to point to the Messiah who conquered it. We need to be careful to not get lost in worldly things and put symbolic actions above compassionate ones. That our eyes should alway be focussed beyond to Jesus. So as we journey towards the Easter, let’s not worry about signaling our faith the Christ through symbols and symbolic actions. Instead, let’s show His Way through our meaningful actions and relationships. Jesus calls us to move forward with complete faith in God, living as members of the Kingdom of Heaven in a world that hasn’t called caught up yet. Perhaps, by living the way we are called more purely, we can get the world a little closer yet.
Kohlstedt, Kurt. “Vexillology Revisited: Fixing the Worst Civic Flag Designs in America.” 99 Percent Invisible. Feb. 2, 2016. https://99percentinvisible.org/article/vexillology-revisited-fixing-worst-civic-flag-designs-america/
Wyatt, Rick. “Akron, OH.” Flags of the World. July 27, 2018. https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-oh-ak.html
Blog: From the Pastor’s Desk
I am writing this letter on Election Day, a day of excitement and fear. Politics and I have a strained relationship. On one hand, I am an avid listener and reader of what is going on in our national and state capitals. (I do avoid 24-hour news on TV though.) While living in Lancaster, I was even involved in some of the politics happening in the city, I saw how choices of our governments were impacting my neighbors for better and worse. But at the same time, our politics here in the United States are so polarized. I came across a video put out recently by our cousins, The Brethren Church. Jason Barnhart, the Director of Brethren Research and Resourcing, was discussing the struggle many of us are having. He spoke specifically about abortion and immigration/refugee protections. Issues we Christians care about, but the political parties force us to choose one or the other. Or, they blast away all the complex nuances of the issues, turning good ideas into short pithy planks of their platforms. Things that don’t work or cause horrendous side effects because of their lack of their sledgehammer approach.
Sometimes I become so disgusted with the system, I consider returning to the roots of our denomination and separating myself from the process of voting. The early Brethren and Anabaptist understood that taking part in government was a type of sinning. Because the government wields the sword, taking part in its function is to also dip our hands into the blood. Therefore, while the believers may obey the government for the most part, they should not be too closely connected with it. However, they lived in a different time, one that was much more authoritarian and violent than our own. We live in a time when our opinions can actually change how our government works. Not only that, we are given the chance to help our brothers and sisters by raising our voices.
We won’t be able to vote in the Kingdom of Heaven, politics are human and therefore prone to error. But we can try to make this nation a better place. 244 years ago, we have began as a nation with chattel slavery, where most women couldn’t have their own bank account let alone act as an independent person, and where children of Native Americans and immigrants could be taken away so their culture could be washed away. Now we are a nation without slavery, with legal equality of the sexes, and where unique cultures are not just tolerated, but often celebrated. We can’t vote in the Kingdom of Heaven, but we can vote to make it more like it. Even more importantly, we can work together everyday of the year to achieve the goals that Jesus set out for us. As Andrew of the past, I pray that you who are reading this note are doing well with what has happened in the last few days and that you are looking forward to being a better citizen of God’s Kingdom.