Fireworks of faith
On July 4, 1776, the land that now constitutes the Quad Cities was being claimed by Spain and was inhabited by Sauk, Fox, Ioway, Illini, Winnebago, and other native peoples. What happened in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress that day meant nothing to the settlements along the Mississippi. The first permanent European resident of the territory that would become Iowa, Julien Dubuque, was French; he didn’t arrive from Canada until twelve years after the Declaration of Independence, in 1788.
Yet today a half-million Quad Citizens will join in celebrating “Independence Day“ along with people in the original 13 colonies and the other 37 United States of America. Fireworks, parades, picnics, speeches, television and radio programming, retail marketing, and widespread closure of businesses will all pay tribute to independence from a tyrannical English rule that never included this territory. British soldiers were never quartered in private Iowan homes and the Tea and Stamp Acts never drew a single penny from these parts. The original story of American liberty does not name Illinois or Iowa, yet today it is our story, too, and the contested neighborhood fireworks of the past couple of weeks testify to the strength of its hold on us.
When Iowa became a state in 1846, it became heir to the formative story of the United States, just as Illinois did 28 years earlier, Hawaii would 113 years later, and every naturalized citizen does in swearing allegiance to the country. The story became more than a particular history, it became a symbol of values and commitment and aspiration that were drawn from the history. It is the symbol, perhaps more than anything else, that was able to make the country “united.”
The creeds of Christianity – the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed that are so familiar, as well as others – are known as “the symbols of faith.” They name our values by telling a particular story. None of us was there when God created the heavens and the earth or Jesus was raised from death or the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets. In our baptism, though, we are symbolically joined to those events and they become our stories. In them, we are united with Christians everywhere and of all time, heirs of the promises that God has already given and confirmed in generations past. The Bible is the record of the story and weekly worship and study are our fireworks, picnics, and visits to memorials. They keep the story fresh, recall us to its values, and remind us that we do not face life by ourselves, but as part of a great community called together by the grace of God in which we share.
11 Comments on “Fireworks of faith”
Thanks for you question, Karen.
Is there something in particular here that prompted it? I’m eager to discuss whatever that may be….
I really enjoyed your message and look forward to hearing more from you.
I too like Nancy appreciate what you said about worship is our firework ‘s. Sometimes it fires you up, makes you reflect, makes you sad…
Thanks for your reflections, Marcia…
I love your message and its focus on symbolism, which I believe is so important in our lives. Symbolism certainly has great importance in individual lives, but I am curious about the current concerns of collective symbolism. Having lived in S. Korea, I saw swastikas regularly and understood their symbolism to many religious faiths, but was also well aware of their general perception today in Europe and the US. Within the past two days, we have heard concerns about the use of the Betsy Ross flag. And over the past few years, our society has begun to question the symbolism of everything from the Pledge of Allegiance, to standing for the National Anthem, to the meaning of statues. I’d be curious to hear anyone’s thoughts on how we respect each other’s personal symbols while also continuing to appreciate the need for collective symbols.
I think part of the power of symbols is that they can carry different meanings and still unite the people who share them. That allows for “unity in diversity” (or diversity within unity).
In US history, the Civil War was certainly the most extreme case of struggle to define the symbols of the United States — who would be included in “men created equal” beyond White males and to what degree states could diverge from the federal standard. Both remain contested issues today, of course. Lincoln’s second inaugural address seems to me to embody the spirit in which such contests need to be pursued: “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” That is, well-grounded in our convictions and well-disposed to others who disagree with us, holding community to be as important as being right.
One more thought for now — my individual symbols are mine, and no one can tell me what they mean or how I should understand them. Our collective symbols are just that — collective, and by their nature we need to be in regular and generative engagement among ourselves about their meaning for us collectively. We tend to understand this with smaller collectives and their symbols — our wedding rings, our family name, our high school mascots, etc. — and to find it more difficult as the collectives grow larger — our denominational identity, our national flag, our gender identity, etc.
Peter, this message is astute, fresh in its writing and language, stirring and inviting! What Good News to be so beautifully reminded of today. Our worship is our fireworks?! Oh, baby!!! I look forward to more of what you have to share in the days ahead.
Thanks, Nancy — I’m looking forward to much more, as well!
is anyone allowed to disagree on any aspect just to ask
Yes Karen! All we ask is that conversation is kept respectful.