on becoming an icon

rosa parks died yesterday (news story here). she was such a clear example of the ordinary becoming an icon. many times, throughout the rest of her life, rosa parks would be asked, “what motivated you to sit down on that bus?” interviewers always assumed she would provide an answer about how she wanted to start the civil rights movement or that she wouldn’t tolerate any more bigotry and racial inequality. but her answer was, “my feet were tired.” rosa parks ran out of steam, and it turned her into a flashpoint, a hero, a tipping point that changed our nation. how does someone who’s just tired and needs to sit down on a bus (in a way that was illegal, of course) become an icon?

an icon is something or someone that becomes an image of, or represents, something else — usually something bigger. the cross represents so much more to us christ-followers than the literal execution device used on jesus.

human icons, i think, are particularly interesting. no one can make herself into an icon. icon status is something that happens in the collective conscious of a group of people. they don’t have to be as universally known or adopted as rosa parks (even her icon status would mean something very different to an african-american than it would to most sympathetic anglos, and even more different to some, less-sypathetic anglos).

this is particularly interesting to me this week, as this coming sunday is the two-year anniversary of mike yaconelli’s death. obviously, mike never got even close to the broad cultural awareness of rosa parks’ story. but for those of us who know him (personally, or even, through hearing him speak or reading his books), mike stood for stuff that few seemed willing to stand for; mike said things few seemed to be willing to say; and the whole while, we could tell that mike was just one of us — he had tired feet just like us. no one would have expected mike to propose a purpose-driven nation, or be asked to meet with the president (or even bono), or take over the presidency of a college (ha!). but his combination of penetrating message and broken normalcy have made him somewhat of an icon for those of us who knew him. seeing a photo of yac brings back more than memories of fun stories (though it has that effect also). seeing a photo of yac, for me, brings up that whole embodiment of brokenness and truth and humor and passion and frustration and eagerness. and childlikeness.

7 thoughts on “on becoming an icon”

  1. What a great insight. I’ve been thinking a lot today about Rosa Parks and the impact that one decision had on our country. Having lived in the south all of my life, I’m also reminded, however, of the disparate reactions to decisions like that and people like her. Every time I show someone around Nashville, I’m embarrassed by the plot of land along I-65 owned by the Sons of the Confederacy on containing the statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest (founder of the KKK) surrounded by flagpoles with confederate flags on all of them.

    I’ve also been around some folks who weren’t very impressed by the thoughts or words of Mike Yaconelli. I even caught some flack when we did the Jan/Feb 2004 “Legacy” issue of YouthWorker Journal because they didn’t think he was worthy of such admiration and remembrance.

    But as for me and my house? Well, I continually tell my 2-year-old son (even though he can’t understand yet) where his middle name, Michael, comes from, hoping some of Yac’s spirit will be breathed into the little guy. And we’ll also celebrate Rosa Parks and the influence she had on the injustice of segregation in the south. Perhaps I’ll watch the movie “Boycott” with my family this weekend.

    Thanks for this post, Marko. Great food for thought, here.

  2. coming from a bi-racial family that lived in our neighborhood for 5 years before the neighbors would even speak to my parent i can’t say enough about how precious ms. parks “tired feet” meant to my upbringing. marko, thanks for taking the time to make me think and reflect.

  3. Mark,
    I live in Montgomery, AL. We, the city, are in the midst of celebrating Rosa’s life and her impact on the culture, not only in Montgomery but around the country. Several churches have come together to create “ONE Montgomery” as a tribute to the struggle, and eventual success of the civil rights movement started by a woman with tired feet. Montgomery, and the country, still have many issues, but as we have all learned from Mrs. Parks even little things can make a big difference.

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