Saturday, July 18, 2015

a reflection on negative symbols

My friend Melanie M. sent me this article ( and wanted to know what I thought about it, since I am half-German. Her church has "made public invitations to a process of 'prayerful discussions' about [their] historic confederate architecture and symbols throughout the worship space"(the symbols include the Confederate flag). What follows is what I sent to her [side note: just to be clear, I agree with the removal of the Confederate flag from all state buildings with the exception of museums].

Here are my thoughts, as a half-German who has never lived in Germany:

I think [the article is] a great illustration. It presents the arguments for the many various cases for the decisions that people have to face in a situation similar to yours. 

What is the reason for the flag's removal? If it is because it is (understandably!) offensive to worshipers and it inhibits their ability to worship as part of the community, then by all means, it should be removed. 

But if it is because it is embarrassing to the worshipers, or makes them feel guilty or uncomfortable, then I think that is not a good enough reason to remove it, and probably all the more reason to keep it and own the full history of the congregation/city/country. 

What I'm afraid of is that the Confederate flag is going to be removed as a way of whitewashing our history, of deleting our past because white people can't face the fact that we were (are) complicit in the subjugation of black people. 

With the removal of the flag, are we making actual steps toward reconciliation, or is it just an easy way for white people to pat ourselves on the back and say that we did something without owning what we did in the past (or present)?

People are not cut and dry; we are complicated, nuanced creatures, and we have both good and bad at play (at war?) within us. To quote one of my favorite book series (Harry Potter, of course): "We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are" [for context: This is when Sirius Black and Harry are looking at a tapestry with Sirius' family tree. Many of his family members were evil wizards, but Sirius fought for the side of good].

I think this is why I have always had a morbid fascination with the Holocaust--I think that for so long I have sought to understand how the people I loved, who I knew as good and kind people, were part of a system/society that committed such atrocities. And I admit that I feel personally responsible for what happened, though I am two generations removed (I have heard that even younger generations feel similarly). But what I have begun to realize (rather late, I'm afraid) is that "good" people are capable of evil acts, and "bad" people are capable of generosity and kindness (Matthew 7:7-11 seems to echo--well, foreshadow, I suppose--this somewhat). 

What I appreciate about the Reichstag building keeping the graffiti is that it makes us Germans face the entirety of who we are as people. We are not all bad, and we are not all good. We are simply broken people, made in the image of a God who loves us despite our brokenness. It is through acknowledging this brokenness and our desperate need for God that we are finally able to take steps toward reconciliation. 

Image of graffiti from the article I mentioned above. 

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