Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Holy Relics: The Christian Flag, B-Side

Each week for Holy Relics, my column at Christ and Pop Culture, I analyze some bit of evangelical cultural ephemera. This week the Christian flag is on the docket. While my main piece is up at the site, I thought I'd use this space for this week's B-side: a series of surrealist vignettes. 

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to Jesus Christ, its only Son, one state and three governmental branches; I pledge that it was born of a virgin, suffered under the British Parliament, was taxed without representation, was crucified, died, and was subject to wanton quartering; on the fourth of July it was raised from its shackles and now lives at the right hand of God; it is coming again in glory to arm the living and burn the dead.

* * *

A bloodied Christ hops off the cross and punches a centurion in the face. He seizes a spear and then a white garment from the soldiers who were about to cast lots for it, and this garment he ties to the upper third of the spear. Waving this improvised banner over his bruised visage, he looks into the camera. “I want you,” Jesus says, “for the Lord’s Army.” Letting out a war cry, he leaps into the air and is immediately upon the soldiers, whose eyes are wide with terror at the Son of God in his strength.

The screen goes black as the VCR clicks and whirrs. “And that, kids,” the Sunday school teacher says, “is where the Christian flag comes from.” The children cheer and toss their chocolate Easter bunnies into the air before rushing the enlistment table to become missionaries.

In the sanctuary down the hall a half-asleep man is in the throes of a waking dream. The pastor’s rousing message has bypassed the level of conscious thoughts to sink directly into his lizard brain. Visual flotsam slides over his retinas and produces images of threatening shapes that loom behind the pulpit. “Christ calls us to take up the cross,” Pastor Mark says into his microphone, his helmet pushed back over his forehead, “and that the gates of hell shall not stand against his Church.” The roar of propellers drowns out his voice. Smoke rises from empty choir seats. The rafters shake and dust falls all around. 

Behind the pastor, two flags loom. The somnambulist in the pew has an eye on each and in the half-awake haze of his mind they combine into a single one. “…the upward call of CHRIST” cuts through the noise, and the dozing man jerks awake. Two flags stand again distinct.

“How would you design a Christian flag?” the youth pastor asks the youth in the youth room. Hands go up, suggestions are made. “Yes, that’s good. Fortunately, you guys, we already have one that suits us just fine.” He reveals the flag, which had been standing obscured behind a projector screen in front of a wall covered in brick wallpaper. “The white is for Christ’s purity, the blue for baptism, and the red for the blood shed on the cross, which is inside the blue box here. The white is also for surrender. It’s a pretty neat flag if you ask me.” The brass cross atop the flag pole gleams under the fluorescent tube lights.

“But who’s surrendering here?” Tim asks. “Are we surrendering? Is God? Is the Church? If our flag is next to the American flag, is the Church surrendering to America? Shouldn’t it be a color like green instead? You know, for life and growth and living things? But like, what is a flag, anyway? A nationalistic totem? A military device with a very specific rallying function? A symbol of a nation-state? Is it okay for the Church to appropriate the visual language of nationalism, militarism, and battle for the church? What about how the pledge to the Christian flag echoes the pledge of allegiance? Also, why do they stand at the same height? What about the interposition of a symbol between us and another symbol, which is the cross itself? What’s wrong with that symbol? Why hasn’t someone nailed down the exact dimensions for that canton? Plus, like, why is it so dumb looking?” By the time Tim finishes asking his questions everyone else has left, and he is alone with the back half of a spray-painted Camaro and a Skillet poster.

“LOL what kind of idiot could believe that something comes from nothing??? I’ll tell you what kind a DAWKINS KIND LOL. Please remember to bring logic/reason to the logic/reason fight next time, Ath315t.” User COL.1.17 clicks “post” and waits. Christ will be victorious on the internet, he thinks. Minutes later his mouth forms a frown around a straw poking out of a Mountain Dew can as he reads the first three replies to his comment. “These NYT types,” he says to himself, spelling the acronym out loud, “they just don’t know when they’ve been more than conquered.”

Christus Victor marches across the world under a banner so large it unfurls across entire fronts in the war with the powers of the world. This is by design; the better for his soldiers to see his sign in the absence of himself. He holds a bright sword aloft and rides out upon his white horse. The world will be overcome once more under the shadow of the cross-spangled banner. The legions of the Lord are legion, and they are marching. 

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