Today is national Flag Day, a day for celebrating the flag and the country it represents. The country of the United States of America. Our country. I, along with many thankful Americans, hung my flag out on the front porch this morning. It’s out there beautifully waving in the breeze.
The flag is a controversial lightening rod these days. Maybe it has always been and I’m just noticing it now. But, it definitely is now. There is so much divisiveness over how we are to treat the flag and what that treatment means.
If someone burns a flag it is easy to see that as a sign of disrepsect, even hatred perhaps for what the flag represents. But there are other ways of approaching the red, white, and blue that are harder to interpret.
I realize even writing this post I am opening myself up for criticism. I’ve not written nearly as often since the last presidential election, partially because I fear how my offerings might be received and interpreted and I don’t want to offend or alienate anyone. And, also, because I just haven’t been able to wade through the grief in my heart at what is going on in our country today to get the words down in an intelligent manner.
I’m giving expression to my feelings today, giving it a shot anyway. From what I can tell, at its best, the flag is meant to be an icon, a representative to point us to the larger picture of the country’s values, over which the flag flies. Values like freedom, equality, strength, generosity, hospitality, and humility. A country that celebrates, respects, and protects the inherent value and dignitiy of each human being regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, religion, or anything else that might threaten to separate rather than unite. At least those are the values I’ve always thought and still hope it represents.
I respect the brave men and women who serve our country, both near and far, at great risk and with great courage to protect our freedoms and the values the flag represents. We owe them our gratitude and respect, and whatever else they may need in recovering from the traumas of war and conflict. We ask much of them, too much. Too often they are expected to be ready and willing to do inhuman things in order to protect our human freedoms. Theirs is a burden no one should have to carry.
It is not hard to see from history that we, as a people, have not always done well by these values the flag represents. We, as a country, have struggled with the practice of equality, and in many cases even in determining the scope of its definition. But, for as long as I can remember we, as a country, have tried. And, when we’ve gone through rough patches, thankfully, there have been voices. Prophetic voices who have called us back to the ideal of freedom and equality for all.
Prophets are rarely welcomed. I mean no one wants to have their weaknesses pointed out. No one wants to be challenged to change. And yet, growth and transformation only happen through reflection, repentence, and a willingness to change. I’m thankful there have been those voices. And, appreciative of their ability and willigness to speak up even when it costs them. In ways I’ve been too coward to do.
So, today I’m thinking of a young man. A young professional athlete I really know nothing about. His name is Colin Kaepernick. I’m thinking of what he did, and the storm of chaos and hateful rhetoric that resulted from it. I’m thinking of the young man who, apparently, decided kneeling during the national anthem was the best way he could express his desire for the awareness and accountability of areas where our nation is not reflecting the best of values that we, as a nation, say we hold dear. I’m thinking of this young man who has used his privilege and voice to advocate for others whose voices are not being heard.
I’m thinking of the storm of hateful rhetoric that has resulted in painful divisions. I’m thinking of the “sides” that have been declared and the words I have read and heard to debase and dismiss this man, our fellow citizen. And, I’m wondering if those voices who have spent so much energy condemning him have ever taken the time to actually hear and consider his point of view. His perspective. And, what is their perspective? What did his actions stir in them that caused such backlash? I’m trying to understand. And, I’m thinking of the opportunities to build bridges that have been missed by the divisive rhetoric. Is there a way we can make room for different expressions of protest? Different expressions of respect?
Honestly, I personally can’t think of a more respectful way than kneeling to express the call for awareness and accountability in the quest for equal justice for all. Kneeling is usually seen as an act of humility. An act of humility that invites and encourages the growth of our better selves. And, as for this action taking place in a crowded football stadium. Well, where else would be better? Throughout history the words and actions of the prophets were heard and seen in public.
The notion that citizens and residents of a country would be forced by government or a corporation to stand for an anthem or a flag is terrifying to me. The day we are all “commanded” and forced to stand for the national anthem is the day we have made an idol for ourselves. Idols are lifeless voids. The day we make an idol out of the flag or the anthem, well that would be a day of disrespect for the country, for the military, for the flag, and for the ideals it represents. And that would be a sad day of disrespecting the value of freedom and basic human dignity. There is a difference between patriatism and nationalism. The former makes room for unity not uniformity. The other demands conformity. Essential distinctions to be made, necessary in determining the health of our future.
Like I said. I don’t know this man, Coln Kaepernick, his heart or his motives, other than what I’ve heard him say on TV and read in the news. And, I don’t know the people or hearts behind the hateful condemnation and negation of his actions. Only the content of their words and tone of the voices in which they have been spoken. I just wonder…if such a quiet action can be met with such loud and angry negativity, is there the possibility that he hit a nerve that needs to be tended to instead of denied? Is there an opportunity to grow in the ideals and values we say we hold so dear? The ones the flag and anthem represent? Is it possible that kneeling for justice might be considered equally as valid of a way to show respect for what the flag and anthem represent as standing is? Is there room for both expressions?
May we not grow weary in growing in our ability as a nation, as a people of connection, to be self reflective, repentent, and willing to be transformed. May we not rest until all are afforded the same opportunities, the same respect, the same freedoms, and the same protections. May we not grow weary until it truly is on earth as it is in heaven.
Something to chew on…