I’ve waited a long time to write this post. I’ve waited through fires, floods, and earthquakes. I’ve waited through elections, inaugurations, and appointments. I’ve waited through white-hooded marches and murders and midnight tweets justifying all of the above.
I can wait no longer.
I don’t particularly like to make political observations in this blog. I prefer to play to my strengths—poetry, metaphor, connections, spiritual insights. But the world has turned political, especially the North American world, and I can no longer keep silent. My faith compels me to start turning over tables. What once was political has become a question of national morality. What once was a matter of minority opinion has now become the vocal and violent headline of everyday news. What once was priority has now become, at best, a historical side note.
I recently heard a man say, “Everybody’s got a right to their opinion.” Perhaps. But every opinion does not have the right to be publicized or normalized. Every opinion does not carry the same moral weight. Every opinion need not be validated. Every opinion should not bear the force of law.
This past week, there’s been a lot of buzz on Facebook and other social media sites about athletes taking a knee instead of standing “respectfully,” hands over hearts, to “honor the flag” during the National Anthem.
I’d like to suggest that the flag does not deserve honor, not in the blind, knee-jerk way that Patriotism with a Capital P would have us believe. The flag is a piece of cloth. What’s important about the flag is what it stands for—in the words of the old Superman series from my childhood, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
What’s important about the flag is what it symbolizes: Thirteen disparate colonies, banding together as a Union. The United States, born in protest, an experiment in Democracy, where gradually, over the generations, slavery has given way to a dream of equality; women and African-Americans have won the right to vote; gays and lesbians have won the right to marry; and supposedly—supposedly—we have become One Nation out of Many.
How did this happen? Through protest, from beginning to end.
From the Tea Party through Abolition, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, citizens of the United States of America have exercised their constitutional right to nonviolent protest of war and injustice and tyranny. We sit in. We lie down. We stand in the way. We sing songs. We take a knee. We refuse to move until those in power give us a voice.
This is our heritage as a nation. Not a flag, or a series of set-in-stone expectations of how one will respect and honor that flag. Not a president, or his incessant need for self-affirmation and bluster. Not a governmental majority that seems intent upon harming and destroying the weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable of its citizens. And certainly, certainly, not a country that tells its citizens (or its legislators) to sit down and shut up.
We have problems. Bigger problems than athletes who exercise their right to public protest. We’re on the precipice of a nuclear war because the president insists upon insulting foreign leaders in order to make himself feel powerful. We’ve just gone through some of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history, one after the other, while governmental officials scoff at the science of climate change. Our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters languish without food or water or adequate shelter, having lost everything. Our neighbors in Mexico have endured devastating earthquakes. And instead of reaching a hand to help, our government spends its time trying desperately to wrench a modicum of health care from those who need it most.
What troubles and dismays me most about the current climate of racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, and general vileness in our culture is the way it is excused and rationalized in the name of God. The God I love and serve and worship has no traffic with racist principles, or prejudice against women, or bigotry, or violence, or meanness of any kind. God’s name is Love, and Love knows no limits.
But we’ve done this. We have.
We’ve created this god, this petty little deity exclusive to white nationalists, in our own image. Let’s face it: the God we’ve fashioned—that old white male Patriarch who sits high above it all and dispenses judgment—has little to do with the God of the Bible, or the God who dwells in our spirits. Immanuel, God-with-us is a loving Mother, a nurturing Father, an indwelling Spirit, a creative Source whose sole purpose is to bring us into unity with the Divine and with one another. This Spirit is an essence wholly comprised of light and love, in whom is no darkness at all. By whatever name we call that Spirit—Jehovah, Yahweh, El Shaddai, God, Goddess, Allah, Krishna—the glory and power of that Spirit lies in love, and in love alone.
So let’s stop talking about how awful it is that some athletes take the knee in protest against what’s going on in this country. Let’s admit that their courage shows profound respect for who we’re supposed to be as a nation, and awareness that we’re moving away from that goal rather than toward it. Let’s thank them, instead, for using that moment in the spotlight to focus our attention on what yet needs to be done. On the hatred and darkness that need to be dispelled. On the inequality that needs to be addressed. On the people who are starving and hurting and devastated and need our help. On the folks who are dying for lack of health care. On those who are like us, and those who are not, and on the diversity that once made this country great.
We need each other. All races, all creeds, all religions, all genders, all sexual orientations. We need each other.
We’re running out of time.