Friday, September 29, 2006

Symbols and chapels

A friend recently wrote about a conflict in his community. The hospital has had a chapel with several Christian symbols for years, but someone from a Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation has started lobbying for all symbols to be removed. That started me thinking about one of the classic Lutheran and Reformed divisions. That is our position on adiaphora. Are things not forbidden permitted. Or are only things permitted to be done. In the chapel case it seems that the Lutheran and Presbyterian have switched positions.

But it is more than that. How do we interpret scripture. The traditional formulation of literal doesn't always apply. Is the crucifix a graven image and the cross not so? And what about using only those musical instruments mentioned in the Bible vs using only voice to praise vs any instrument? And was the waltz lascivious because bodies were pressed against each other any more scandalous than some of the dance moves of today (I can't remember what they're called).

Certainly some changes should be opposed. I think the leeway we in the USA are starting to give on torture is abominable. But I just can't get too worked up about symbols. The actions behind those symbols yes.

I'm thinking also of the debate over putting a wigwam symbol on a soldiers grave that was happening a few months/years ago. Yes for many that particular symbol is one of devil worship, but the wicking I have met don't believe they are worshiping the devil or a devil or the demonic. I tend to think the demonstration of that symbol happened as a result of Christians persecuting those of another religion rather than actual devil worship - though some of the latter people persecuted may have taken that symbol as devil worship as a result of the prior persecution - and just can't get all that worked up about it.

Yet symbols are important. For many people the visual representations help them begin to pray or approach God. For me, as someone who learns primarily through hearing and movement, visual symbols just can't be as important. I get more irritated over poor and insipid music than any piece that is primarily visual.

What gets me going is a lack of tolerance for little things like symbols and a tolerance for actions that harm another. Torture - that is what we should be spending our energy opposing. This or that symbol or none at all is adiaphora, even what music or dance is less important.

Torture, degradation, calling someone names, bullying - those are the things that are important to oppose. Giving the thirsty a cup of water, finding a room for the homeless, visiting those in prison, comforting the sick, supporting those in need, caring for the widow, orphan and stranger - that's what is important to support.

Where do we spend our time?

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