Last February I accidentally ended up at the beginning of a Super Bowl party (a meeting bled into the party.) I knew many of the people there, maybe not well, but it wasn’t a room full of strangers, yet I felt strange among them.
When the anthem came on, I stood up, faced the T.V., and put my hand on my heart. It didn’t matter to me that no one else was pausing in their greetings and getting food. It didn’t bother me that the person I had been talking to stayed seated and started a new conversation.
I just knew the rules for the anthem and that I intended to follow them.
But here’s the thing. I started crying. I didn’t want to stand. The bombs bursting in air didn’t remind me of freedom, it reminded me of the lives we have lost overseas on unending wars. It reminded me that my brother was at sea with the Navy. It reminded me that that freedom in 1776 was only for whites–and white male landowners truly.
My silent tears weren’t noticed, but I wanted to sit so badly.
I wanted to sit because my sorrow was overwhelming.
I wanted to sit because I wanted to say, ‘I believe Kaepernick when he says there is systematic inequality in criminal justice.’
I wanted to sit because my President said I was against his policies because I was a loser and just wanted Hilary to win.
I wanted to sit because I wanted back the America I thought I lived in.
But the more I examine history, I have to face the reality that the America I thought existed never did. Letting go of my idol of Nationalism makes this hurt less, but makes me all the more motivated. I don’t protest because I hate the military or the flag. I don’t call my Senators because I hate Republicans. I don’t bring up racism because I hate white people. I am working to create the America I thought existed so those soldiers (and families) sacrificing to protect it are not sacrificing in vain. I’ve never felt more patriotic in my life.
But no war overseas, no matter how worthy, is going to fix the rot that is destroying our Nation here at home. And I don’t just mean the political divide, but also the inability to hear the other side on any topic, the mockery and hatred of those with which we disagree.
Why is Kaepernick kneeling? He started by sitting, but was told that was disrespecting the flag, so he knelt as a way to say, ‘the weight of my sorrow keeps me down, but please don’t hear this as a hatred of the flag, our troops, or America, please hear my sorrow at the injustice I see.’
Then we get trapped in a cycle of trying to prove we are patriotic, love the flag, and support our troops…and that we love America. It feels to me like I’m being asked to bow to the idols of the flag, Patriotism, and America Nationalism at the same time that God is asking me to tear down those altars in my heart–I choose God.
And so I’ll probably say the pledge when I’m at the kids’ school, but I’ll know that in my heart, I won’t be saying that pledge, I’ll be kneeling and praying that I will have the strength to do my part in bringing about liberty and justice for all–not because it is an American ideal, but a Christian one.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But I just might be wearing my Kaepernick jersey.