CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
I once co-officiated at a Jewish-Christian wedding, at a Jewish temple, with a rabbi. He said, “You can put anything Methodist you want into the service, except you can’t mention you-know-who.” I knew the bride wanted to have I Corinthians 13, read. “Oh, that’s okay,” the rabbi said. “Nobody thinks of that as Christian. That’s just a nice statement about love.”
I agree with him, to a certain extent. It’s a nice statement about love. But to me it is also Christian.
Independence Day, the Fourth of July, is here. This year, more than most, because of the controversy over the flying of the Confederate flag, this holiday raises the issue of the meaning of symbols, including words,
Words are symbols. If I could not speak, I could point to a table or draw you a picture of a table and it would be the same thing as saying “table.” Using words, though, is quicker than playing charades.
For words to work, though, they must have common meanings, meanings we all agree on. If you say, “Well, that thing may be a table to you, but it isn’t a table to me,” we can’t communicate.
Once, after I had been preaching at a new church for several weeks, I was accosted after worship by a man who was very upset with me. He wondered if I were even Christian. “In all these weeks,” he said, “you haven’t mentioned the blood of the lamb once.”
To him, that was what marked the Christians off from the non-Christians, saying “the blood of the lamb.” I had spoken in my sermons, often, about the sacrifice of Christ, but I had not used those particular words, “the blood of the lamb,” so my faith was suspect at best.
July 4 is the essential time for American patriotism. Patriotism and religion are not just intellectual. There have huge emotional components, and their symbols stir those emotions. I always get a thrill when I sing, or hear, “The Star Spangled Banner,” or “America the Beautiful” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” or when I pledge allegiance to the flag.
Patriotism and religion are more than just words. Supporting the troops, for instance, is more than just having a bumper sticker on your car that says “Support Our Troops.” Indeed, if you vote for politicians who refuse to provide adequate armaments and housing and food for troops in the field, or adequate care for veterans, you are not supporting the troops, you are abusing them, and your bumper sticker is an insult.
As with any other human element, we don’t always agree on the meaning of a symbol. Christians, though, have to consider what a symbol, including a word, means to others. If it is hurtful to them, we set aside our own feelings and refuse to use it. Paul talked about this in the controversy over meat sacrificed to idols. That meat was sold in shops. Christians could buy it and bring it to the potluck. Some folks in the church didn’t want to eat it, though, because of the idol connection. So, Paul said, consider the feelings of others; don’t bring idol meat to the potluck. 
This may not be the standard for the society at large, but it is for Christians. If a symbol, including a word, is harmful, hurtful, offensive to others, don’t use it.
John Robert McFarland
1] You can read about this in I Corinthians 8.
The picture is of the Pine Mountain ski jump in Iron Mountain, MI, the highest man-made ski jump in the world. I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter. I have a picture that is more appropriate now for Indiana, boys playing basketball in winter snow, but I have not yet figured out how to replace the ski jump picture with the basketball picture.
I tweet as yooper1721.