Stand or Kneel?
When you see the Stars & Stripes, do you feel like standing or kneeling?
But here's the thing: if you see yourself as more of a kneeler, I understand.
Even if we tally just a brief list of grievances that might convince you to kneel, we include these whoppers: slavery, native extermination, suppression of women's rights, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow laws, child labor, exploitation of workers, forced sterilization of the mentally ill, and state-sanctioned murder of the unborn.
So, yes. I understand. Forgiveness is hard.
Yes, forgiveness. Because that's the issue, isn't it? America has committed sins, and you want her held accountable. You want her to pay for what she's done.
But here are a few things to consider while you're on your knees:
1. America is more than 250 years old, and the people who led her -- the ones who passed laws or wrote executive orders to commit those shameful deeds -- they're mostly dead, passed on to explain their actions to a Higher Authority than the U.S. government.
2. America was also led by lots of people -- people who believed in slavery and those who didn't. People who believed in the American Indian "problem" and those who thought we should keep our treaties and make peace. Most of those atrocities we list were the result of arguments that were LOST by the good guys. But that doesn't mean the good guys were not there, fighting anyway.
3. America has (mostly) repented. With the tragic exception of abortion, the sins listed above have since been rejected by the American government. Those good guys who fought to make change, they didn't slink off into the night. They fought on until change was made, laws were abolished and statutes overturned. Obviously, our representatives are still fighting over such issues today.
4. America atones. With scholarships, affirmative action, and many other programs designed specifically for people who have been collectively targeted in the past, America continues to make efforts to atone for her sins.
It's not enough, you say.
No, it's not. And it will never be enough. That's why sin is such a big deal, because it hurts people. You can't just say "I'm sorry" and make things better. Just ask a woman whose husband has been unfaithful. Can he truly make it up to her? Can he truly make things right? No, he can't, because he can't undo his bad choices. He can only demonstrate remorse and set his feet in a better direction.
And she can either show him grace, or walk away.
Yes, getting up off your knees involves forgiveness and grace. It involves you understanding the imperfection of mankind: individually and collectively.
Because I just turned forty-seven and I have sins in my ledger too. I have hurt people. I've lied. I've taken advantage. I've turned away when someone needed help. I've been unkind and unfair. I'm sure you can easily create a high-level list of your sins too.
I may not deserve forgiveness, but I've been offered it. I definitely don't deserve Grace, but it is the gift that has brought the most meaning to my life. It is the gift that makes me want to try harder, every time I falter. It is the gift that makes me get back up again and make strides toward being a better person.
It's not about that, you say. It's that our flag waved over those houses where slaves were beaten. It was worn on the sleeves of men executing natives. It flew over the jailhouses where women were force-fed during suffrage.
Yes, it was. But those are not the things it stands for -- and here is how I know that with certainty: Because what it stands for was written down.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The American flag represents that statement. It represents the constitution, which gives you the right to kneel, to burn it, to spit on it or revile it. It even represents your freedom to hate. To withhold your forgiveness.
And, I know, you get something out of holding on to your grudge. Righteous indignation can feel like a drug coursing through your veins. But that doesn't mean it's justified.
Consider another symbol that some people love and others hate: the Cross. Can a man hold a cross in one hand and beat a woman with his other? Of course he can. But since the words that inspired that cross -- those in the Bible -- do not back up his actions, he is not representing Christ, but the Adversary, not matter what he holds in his hand.
In a similar way, if someone flew an American flag overhead while he beat a slave, he is clearly NOT representing the ideals of Equality and Liberty.
There is great irony here, and I don't want you to miss it: In both of those cases, the symbol held by the perpetrator of evil actually represented the victim instead.
How is that possible?
Because of the very nature freedom. Freedom allows each of us to make choices every day, every hour, both good and bad.
But the American government hasn't done enough to mend what has been broken. There are still issues we're dealing with today. What about police brutality? That's the issue at the heart of the kneeling movement.
Yes, I agree that police brutality is a problem that needs to be addressed. Can I ask you a question, though. Do you think it's NOT being addressed? Do you think police departments across the country are NOT working harder than ever to train their officers to treat suspects as equals, no matter the color of their skin?
Of course they are! But the men and women who hold back that thin blue line are individuals. The vast majority of them are good people who lay down their lives in the mission of public safety, dying in greater numbers than those victims of police brutality -- brutality, by the way, committed by a tiny percentage of police officers over all.
But these protests shed a light on such matters. They bring about change.
They do. And I know that kneeling in front of the flag is controversial enough to get attention from the media. But shock value has been a public relations tactic since time began, so don't expect me to see it as noble based on that fact alone. You could have lined up a bunch of senators and had the players spit in their faces. That would have been disrespectfully shocking enough to make the news too. Just because something is shocking doesn't make it honorable, fair, or right.
One last thought I want you to think about as I ask you to consider rising off of your knees. America, for all her sins, has never had to be overturned to make positive changes. Have you thought of that? She has always changed from within.
Why do you think that is?
It's because of those beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence and because of the flag that flies to represent them. When I look back and cry over the way Native Americans were pushed onto reservations, starved, murdered and treated as less than human, I imagine them pointing to the flag worn by those who hurt them. "You don't deserve to wear that," I can almost hear them say.
But when all is said and done, if I haven't convinced you of anything, go ahead and kneel. Go ahead and burn the flag or spit on it, or use it as a napkin on the Fourth of July, or a decoration for your flip-flops. Go ahead and ignore the ironic image you are creating by disrespecting the ultimate symbol of freedom.
You have the freedom to do it, after all. That's not something I would take away from you. Not for all the stars on the flag.