Taylor: Disposing of sacred symbols

Symbols are just that: They simply represent the real thing

A woman wrote Annie’s Mailbox (the continuation of the late Anne Lander’s advice column) asking, “Can you tell me how to dispose of an old Bible?”

It wasn’t a particularly valuable Bible, the writer continued: “It doesn’t include a family history or anything like that. It is simply worn out… If we aren’t supposed to put our country’s flag in the garbage, then why would we do it to a Bible?”

That question, I admit, had never occurred to me. The bookshelf behind me holds 19 versions of Bibles; I just counted them. When their shelf-life expires, I expect to toss them in the recycling bin.

But Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, Landers’ former editors, replied, “There is no single answer for the proper disposal of a Christian Bible. The general consensus is to wrap it and bury it with respect…”

They also suggested, “You can also ask your minister if you can bring the Bible to your church for appropriate disposal.”

What would constitute “appropriate disposal”? A formal funeral? With pall-bearers and honour guard?

Probably not putting it through a shredder.

The problem is confusing the symbol with what it stands for. We treat symbols with respect because they point us to what we consider sacred, not because they themselves are sacred.

Disposing of them is not the same as treating them with disrespect. We show disrespect when we deliberately burn flags, burn Bibles or Qur’ans (or science textbooks), as public protests. That too acknowledges their roles as symbols—in this case, of something disliked or opposed.

Years ago, when A.C. Forrest was the editor of The United Church Observer, a reader asked what he should do with leftover communion wine—in our tradition, typically Welch’s grape juice.

Forrest suggested pouring it into a urinal. “Flush afterwards,” he added, “so that no one suspects you of having a bladder problem.”

Forrest had a habit of being controversial. But few comments evoked such a storm of protest from church members. That “wine” had been consecrated, they fumed. It now belonged to God. It should not be disposed of irreverently.

Traditionally, leftover wine must be consumed. During the World Council of Churches’ meeting in Vancouver, in 1983, organizers expected 5,000 to attend a Eucharist. Only 3,500 turned up—a remarkable attendance, but it still left 1,500 servings of wine unconsumed.

After the service, organizers pleaded with departing worshippers to come to the altar and have some more wine. It couldn’t just be thrown out.

My last memory of that service is of one liturgist standing before a long line of still-filled wine cups, swaying slightly as he methodically emptied one after another.

From where, no doubt,  the wine would pass into a urinal anyway.

We need to remember that the wine is not the blood of Christ; the printed book is not the word of God; the flag is not the country. I’ve seen flags that have frayed to half their original size. Their colours have faded. It seems to me they have done their duty, long ago, and might welcome the chance to decompose in a landfill site.

That’s not disrespect for the symbol. Once a symbol has done its job, it has no further value in itself. As long as what it points to remains.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Alexa Wyatt-McCarthy, Courtney King, and Vernon North Okanagan RCMP Const. Nic Reimann, a board director for Cops for Kids, presented a new stroller and gifts Feb. 26, 2021, to a mother whose stroller was stolen in January. (RCMP)
Stolen Vernon stroller replaced in act of kindness

Fundraising efforts kickstarted by local businesswoman, backed by Vernon RCMP

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Female deputy fire chief embraces the challenges

“Fighting a fire can be taught to anyone,” says Kelowna deputy fire chief, Sandra Follack

A local aerial photographer's drone was stolen from his car Feb. 24. (Kyle Froud photo)
New Vernon business deflated by thieves

Aerial photographer’s drone stolen from car overnight

While the Okanagan Rail Trail remained open, Coldstream parks have been closed for a month now, but could re-open mid-May. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Funds link Okanagan Rail Trail to Predator Ridge

1.3-km section of multi-use trail with a safe crossing under Highway 97

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Feb. 23, 2021
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here are the stories that made waves in the Okanagan-Shuswap

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Housing has proposed that the emergency winter shelter at Victory Church at 352 Winnipeg Street be extended as a shelter until March 31, 2022. It was originally intended to be open until April 1, 2021. (Jesse Day - Western News)
One more year of ‘temporary’ homeless shelter in Penticton?

BC Housing has applied to extend Victory Church as a shelter for those experiencing homelessness

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Feb. 23, 2021
Kamloops-Thompson school district drafts new dress code policy after students sent home

The new policy is being created after a NorKam secondary student was sent home because of what she was wearing

Most Read