Even with my GPS, I rely on signs to travel to my desired locations. But driving to my children’s summer camp, my favorite “sign” along the way was actually a person. We often passed an older gentleman walking in the opposite direction. Without fail, this man would hold up two fingers to make the peace sign.
“There’s the peace guy!” my kids would shout, throwing up their own peace signs in return. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the back windows of the minivan are tinted, and he couldn’t see them. It was the thought that counted.
Not everyone agrees that flashing a sign is a good thing. So-called virtue signaling is a pejorative term that is often levied at political opponents. It refers to the idea of displaying moral outrage or showing disgust without actually doing anything about it — for example, decrying a political stance on social media. In our hyper-partisan culture, many of us think we have a keen sense of sniffing out the hypocrisy in others while insisting that we remain stink-free.
Judge not lest ye be judged.
It is popular among Facebook users to display a Ukrainian flag as part of their profile pictures. Maybe some of those people have an actual connection to the county. Maybe they have donated money to support the victims of war. Or maybe not. Still, the desire for peace is a good thing to signal.
Beneath my Facebook profile picture is a rainbow flag with the caption, “Y’all means all.” I have never had a negative comment on this signal that I support political stances such as marriage equality. My little sign certainly does not mean that I am excused from working to ensure that my LGBTQ siblings have equal protection under the law. And this signal of my support does not mean that I am not guilty of prejudice, whether explicit or implicit. We all make mistakes and have things to learn.
But I hope to offer a sign of peace to someone who happens to pass my online presence.
I recognize that the sign for my children’s summer camp is not the same as the actual place. But the sign assures me that this small farm exists as a kid’s wonderland of goats, chickens and Birdy — the world’s friendliest barn cat. Likewise, maybe my profile picture signals something more to someone who sees it.
Since summer camp has ended, I don’t know if I’ll ever see “the peace guy” again, much less have the opportunity to thank him for the joy he gave my children and me on those mornings.
I tell the story in this column because hope matters, and so readers might believe that we can have a virtuous impact with as simple a thing as a sign of peace, even if we never know the difference we have made.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.
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