A quick search on the Internet shows that the flag of Denmark is the oldest national flag still in use – dating back to 1478. I don’t know if flags weren’t flown before that, or if other flags were flown before then and it’s just that this was the one that has been in use the longest, or what. I’m guessing that other flags have been flown before 1478. Humans have some kind of fascination with flags. Correction – men have some kind of fascination with flying flags. Correction #2 – primarily white guys have some weird fascination with flying flags. I’m a white guy and I honestly don’t get it.
I’m not talking about flying our nation’s flag either. I can understand people flying the US flag on their house. No big deal. That’s been a common thing for a long time. It’s not anything unusual and it’s often been seen as basically patriotic in a healthy kind of way. It’s an option for a citizen to do and no one really has a problem with that. The same goes for your state flag or flying a military branch flag if you served in that branch. There are other flags that pretty benign too.
No, what I’m referring to here are the “other” flags. When did it become a thing for so many people to fly so many “other” flags? The list is getting longer and longer. This is a recent development in the last few years. And the flags have gotten stranger and more crude with each year too. And more obnoxious too – like toddlers trying to get people’s attention throwing tantrums on the floor of the grocery store looking for attention. And other flags have become more present in response as a way to say “we reject your hatred because it threatens our very lives.” These would be the rainbow flags. Of course I’ve heard arguments from people who fly the “other” flags that they fly them because they feel their ways of thinking and their heritage is threatened. But ask a little deeper about what those ways are and what that heritage is and what you come down to is something very unpleasant and Christ-like at its core, but something humanity has held for a long, long time.
Here’s the short list of flags I can recall seeing lately. Flags that are trying too hard to make a statement in some cases, although not always. Flags that make a statement loud and clear. Flags that caught my attention – the Gadsden flag, the Let’s Go Brandon Flag, A variety of Trump 2020 and Trump 2024 flags (with various messages – even before he recently announced his most recent campaign), the F*ck Biden flag, The Joe Biden Flag, the Confederate flag, American flags with a red strip, American flags with a blue strip, American flags that are black (I don’t even know what this means), POW flags, the 3% flag, the Vatican flag, other country flags (which makes sense for this area since we are home to the US Army War College so we literally have people living here from other nations in our neighborhood and they often fly their home nation flag which I think is neat so we can learn where folks are from), and the so-called “Christian” flag. Let me be clear – the point here is not to equate all of these flags as equal. There isn’t time or space to go through what each represent.
I’ve never had the urge to fly a flag, or stake it into the ground, or prop one on the back of my vehicle. I don’t know if the thrill of it has to do with claiming something as one’s own or making a stand for something or making a statement or what. For many of these flags, they just telegraph to me that these are people I want to avoid. Some of these flags tell me that the people who fly them aren’t open to conversation. The flags aren’t really flags at all – they are walls erected to keep other people and ideas away. It’s as if I can see the man standing there staking his flag in the ground saying “I’ve made my claim! There is nothing that you can say that will cause me to change.” And so what’s the point of a conversation. How sad. Then again, I’m making broad statements and judgements myself here too, so I’m not much better. Maybe I’m flying some kind of invisible flag, which may be worse. At least I can see these other flags – these other folks can’t see mine.
But flags aren’t permanent. They are just symbolic. They represent something. They are temporary. And what they represent is temporary too. The US flag is a good example of that. How many changes has the US flag gone through since the first version of it was created by Betsy Ross? I don’t know. But I do know it has change many times. Flags change. What they represent changes. Yet somehow many of the people who fly them think what they stand for is permanent and eternal. How foolish. Nothing on this earth is permanent. It is always changing. That’s the only guarantee there is here. Stake your flag in the ground and stand against change if you want. But reality will laugh at you and eventually will win without a fight. It always does. And your flag will eventually disintegrate and be forgotten.
Because flags are temporary. Flags are not permanent. What they represent will be gone eventually. All of them.
What is permanent doesn’t need a flag. It is written in our hearts. If only we would listen. If only we would stop making claims. If only we would stop believing we were in control. If only we would stop thinking we had the answers.
Maybe the only flag we really need is the white flag of surrender – waving. Telling ourselves that we are finally going to stop fighting God, that we are finally going to stop lying to ourselves about being in control. That we are going to stop trying to control others. That we are going to stop trying to say one thing and do something else.
But, boy, the surrender flag is a dangerous flag to fly. Maybe the most dangerous flag of all. No one wants to fly the white flag of surrender. It makes you look weak. It makes you look like you are not in control. If makes you look like you aren’t man enough. It makes you look like you are not independent. It makes you look like you aren’t wealthy and prosperous. It makes you look like you aren’t a patriot. It makes you look like you aren’t strong. It makes you look like you don’t have all the answers. It makes you look like you aren’t so many other things that the other flags symbolize.
Without having thought deeply about this, I wonder if the white surrender flag might be one version of the white man’s cross to carry – a symbolic cost of discipleship in a way. It’s not the same thing as an actual cross of course – no one actually dies with this flag, not by any stretch. But what the surrender flag represents and how difficult it is for a white man to embrace in American society and culture has meaning that I think equates with what Christ says about the cost of discipleship in some way. It’s an embrace of dying to self and culture and one’s privilege and sense of control, even if it’s only symbolic in nature.
So maybe there is a flag for me after all. Just not a popular one. One that would certainly raise lots of questions. But I wouldn’t fly it because of that. I would fly to remind myself of what it stands for and what it means for me and what I’m called to because of it.