September 1, 2016
I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with the American Flag. Given the era that I grew up in, my feelings seem strange to me. As a child growing up on military bases, when taps rang out across the base at 5:00 PM for the lowering of the flag, everyone would immediately stop what they were doing and place their hand over their heart and face the direction of the flag pole, even if it was a mile away. We would each stand stock still with hand over our hearts until the last strains of taps died down and then we would resume our play. The only way to avoid participation in this practice was to be inside out of earshot of the music.
Of course, as a participant in the public school system, I stood by my desk every day with my hand over my heart joining class members in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Even as a member of an elementary classroom, I felt like this was a very odd practice. By middle school I started pretending to say the pledge, because I didn’t feel right saying it. I wanted to make up my own pledge that started something like: I pledge allegiance to the world, and to the people groups that inhabit it…ending with peace and justice for everyone. By high school I just stood out of respect for others. I no longer even pretended. I felt comfortable with this practice. In college, I was so relieved that we didn’t have to do this anymore. In the mid-nineties when I started saying prayers for the opening of the house and the senate I stood once again, with hand over heart, pretending. There seemed to be no way around this, as I was on the dais in front of the members, and I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It is weird to disrespect one’s own beliefs to respect other’s belief’s, but there you have it. When I would venture into a discussion with someone about this, particularly members of the military, I would usually get some strong emotional response about people dying for my freedom to protect my right not make the pledge. That feels awful too.
Knowing this about myself, it’s not surprising that I have been very curious this week about the actions of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the San Franscisco 49ers who chose to remain seated during the National anthem. What he said about his choice was: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
I read with interest the concerns expressed about the third verse of the National anthem that seem to support slavery. On Sunday, Kaepernick vowed to continue sitting during the national anthem until he was satisfied with the changes made toward ending racial oppression in the United States. It appears that Kaepernick does not wish any disrespect toward those who serve in the military, so rather than sitting, he is now choosing to “take a knee.” “Taking a knee” because he believes that there are issues that still need to be addressed and there was also a way to show more respect for the men and women that fight for this country.
The flag of the United States of America is and has been a ‘hot button’ issue. I have never been one to ‘swell with pride’ over my country, even though I like living here. I might also like living in another country. As a child when I raised my concerns about our nation, those concerns were usually met by my father, a Master Sargent in the Air Force with a swift “Love it or leave it” response.
The flag is a symbol of deeply held values and I think values and the choices we make based on our values is what Jesus speaks about today when speaks to the large crowd that follows him. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” These are harsh words, so much so that members of the Bible Study wanted to place these words in the imagination of the redactor or editor of the gospel and not Jesus, himself. They hoped it was mistranslated into the English. It was not. The word in Greek means hate. I tried to assuage concerns by mentioning that it was hyperbolic language. Jesus wants the members of the crowd to know that following him is not a light matter. Perhaps up to now the followers of Jesus swept away by the miracles, love and justice, but had not counted the cost of following Jesus. When Jesus talks about the family here, he speaks of an honor and shame culture that we can barely grasp today at this time in our culture. The family during this period was dominated by honor-shame codes wherein men gained honor through exhibiting qualities of dominance and agency and were shamed if they lost these perceived virtues. Women gained honor by restricting their lives to the domestic sphere and submitting to the protection of the male. Women were shamed if they went beyond these boundaries or were violated by the intrusion of another male outside of their family or clan. You have heard of these kinds of values, as they are still held in tribal regions today. What if Jesus was asking his followers to really reconsider these values? He goes on to proscribe a process for values clarification if you will. The examples that he gives are building a tower and going to war. These examples would be relatable to his hearers and each one takes a bit of forethought and reflection, they are not a matter of passion or abandon. Jesus wants the crowd to “count the cost.” They are first to “sit down.” When they are seated they are urged to think about the outcomes of their plan. The invitation is to consider what will happen if they carry out their plan. This is an important thought process. To turn from the family system as it was in this time period would be epic. Your choice might bring shame on yourself and your family. You risk ridicule, anger and shunning of the community.
I don’t know anything about Colin Kaepernick’s though process regarding his decision to be seated during the singing of the National Anthem. I imagine that he thought about it carefully, just as I did when I decided to stop saying the pledge of allegiance. But if he didn’t, judging by the public outcry that has ensued and the anxiety of the NFL and the 49ers, he has given the outcome of his protest some serious thought.
The flag is a powerful symbol indeed. The symbol for the Christian is the cross. In verse 7 Jesus urges his followers to take up their OWN cross. If we do not, then we cannot be a disciple. The cross is another difficult symbol, because it is a symbol of torture and death. I personally do not want to glorify torture and death. However, the cross signifies that sometimes our choices come with a cost. Perhaps we feel like the cost is too much. If it means disagreeing with your family, if it means disagreeing with your country, then it is mighty hard to take a different stand. The choices aren’t always clean and they are not always easy, but they are yours to make as you sit and as you reflect and count the cost of your calling.