Recently I spent an evening with what was almost entirely a large group of black Christians as they honored Jesus Christ utilizing a variety of art forms--vocalists, dance, musicians, expressive speeches all carefully crafted to bring Christians together in worship. I was there to support my daughter, who was performing with a group of teenage dancers--all white. No matter. We were Christians!
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
As the evening drew to its finale, the organizers brought together all the performers on stage. As the performers assembled, the scene unexpectedly shifted to a political one. Not knowing what was to transpire, the performers had been told to "follow the lead of the organizers at the front" and they dutifully did so. They were marched back and forth across the stage as the screen in back displayed various scenes. There were images of blacks with hands raised saying "hands up, don't shoot" mixed with an image of Martin Luther King Jr. melded together with Barack Obama walking together, hand in hand, down the National Mall.
My surprise began to turn to outright anger as this display ended with all the performers stopping and raising their clenched fists forward. This symbolic act was one I instantly recognized as hearkening back to this:
This was the old Black Panther Party--a group known for advocating militant action in pursuit of its political goals.
How could this be?! The sight of these teenage white girls with fists raised in solidarity with violent black protest was outrageous.
As the program ended and hugs and congratulations were extended all around, I grew more reflective. I knew the young, black Christian girl who had organized the event. Her heart was filled with love for Christ and her mixing of King (non-violent protester) with the Black Panthers (violent protesters) told me she did not understand the symbolic nature of that raised fist. In discussions afterwards, I realized many others did not understand the fist as well. That symbol was for me completely offensive but to others it meant something different.
This got me to thinking about another symbol that is currently wreaking havoc across America:
For me, this symbol represents self determination, a long ago fight by people I identified with, whose attempt to become a nation failed. The sight of that flag for me brings thoughts of valor on the battlefield, honor, self-sacrifice.
I have no doubt what that symbol would represent to that group of black Christians and it is completely different than mine.
It would likely conjure up images of blacks dangling from trees on ropes, being water hosed, or the KKK.
Symbols are powerful things and their meanings are different to different people and can change over time. We live in this world and must pay attention to it, but as I age, more and more what is seen in this world fades and what is unseen grows brighter as spoken in the old hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Blacks need to replace the clenched fist with an upraised open hand.
Whites need to replace earthly flags with heavenly ones.
If we as Christians are to fulfill the prayer of Jesus:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. "
then we must not let our eyes rest too closely on things of this earth, but instead:
"Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith."