I drove by this sign during the day and awoke in the night thinking about it. Sure enough, it was still there the next day. It wasn’t a figment of my imagination. I took a picture of it just in case.
Dreams are to be taken seriously, I’m told. They are symbolic. I was dreaming about this sign, trying to make sense of it, which sounds like I was being more analytic in my dreams than symbolic. Maybe I just thought I was sleeping because I was lying in bed, and it was dark outside.
My analytic dream was an attempt to resolve the sign’s ambiguity.
Does it mean that we can fight our enemies to best advantage by praying for victory over them? Are they the prey of our prayers? Do our prayers make our soldiers and their weapons more potent against terrorists—maybe by invoking God’s assistance to vanquish evil?
Or does the sign mean that prayer is a nonlethal alternative to the weapons of war? Should we choose life over death, peace over war? Are all human beings, not just us, children of a merciful and compassionate God?
Or is the sign intentionally ambiguous? Congregations often consist of people of different, even opposing political persuasions. Ministers are known to speak on issues of peace and social justice, if at all, in ways that transcend the politics on the ground, allow for opposite conclusions to be drawn, or just leave the flock wondering. Maybe these men and women of the cloth don’t want to be pinned down. Maybe, too, they don’t want parishioners to jump to easy conclusions.
The sign might be prophetic in a mythic sort of way. It reminds me of the tension I feel when I see the U.S. flag in the sanctuary along with the Christian Cross. Perhaps the tension is the message. Metaphors—which can function as myths in miniature—consist of two terms modifying one another. The influence of two terms being compared to one another amounts to a process of meaning being transferred back and forth in a two-way transaction. The good news of the Cross—the gospel of peace—might be interpreted to constrain the militarism implied in the image of the national flag (at least for many believers). It is not necessarily the case that religion is reduced to a rationalization for war. It may suggest a vision of waging peace, of peacemaking that actively pursues justice nonviolently in a diverse and divisive world.
Not everyone shares the vision of waging peace nonviolently as an ongoing commitment and a first principle of faith—even if and when war breaks out—but the living myth embedded in the metaphorical juxtaposition of church and state is a potentially productive tension. Perhaps its capacity for transforming the polarities of war culture is underestimated.