Welcome to part 2 – if you read part 1 first, this will all make more sense. There should be a link to the right, or if you’re on the general blog page, just scroll down.
If you’re a Christian (or familiar with my blog), you might be wondering how I’m going to bring this subject around to faith and how I think Christianity and the political sphere interact. I want to do that a little bit today and more in part three.
Now, I want to talk about the thing that originally made me want to write about this. That is the NFL players’ peaceful protest of police violence against – and murders of – black people. They chose to kneel during the national anthem. Whether you agree that that was a “good move” or not, it is completely strange to dismiss the whole thing as “unpatriotic” and attack Colin Kaepernick, et. al. by going after their character and being unkind (which is how I perceived the general response of NFL fans).
When I heard about the players’ actions, it was clear to me what they were protesting. I try to stay generally aware of what’s going on in the news/issues of injustice, and I live in a place that’s gotten national attention for racial issues. It would have been a bit strange for me not to understand. However, if I hadn’t been aware, I would have been curious. My general reaction when I “don’t get it” is to investigate. I would have wondered about the players’ motives and intentions, done some research, and figured it out. They have a right to express their opinions. One would think that kneeling peacefully could be an acceptable form of protest.
The personal was political for the kneeling football players. They didn’t feel the option of keeping their politics out of their sports. Their very identities as men of color make them more vulnerable than others to police violence. They had the guts to stand (by kneeling) against police brutality and against political rhetoric that they saw as threatening to American ideals. They did so in this public way that was sadly misunderstood by most of their fans. What would it have cost their fans to say, “Wow, they must be going through a lot to do something so big and public. How horrible that this is an issue. I need to learn more.” What would it cost fans to respect players as human beings? Realize that it’s not just fantasy football – it’s real life…
American patriotism is a COMPLICATED thing. It has always been complicated for me personally. Growing up, I was an unrelenting pacifist. I could not comprehend the idea of war – it seemed neanderthalic and stupid. (I still don’t fully get it, but I understand that it’s a part of our world that’s not going away.) At the same time, my dad was in the U.S. Army. I had to grapple with the fact that his whole job revolved around the idea of war. Eventually (after 9/11), he was deployed to fly helicopters in the war in Iraq. I was afraid for his safety and for my family. I was afraid to ask him what he’d done and seen. I understood that war was profoundly sad, destructive, and traumatizing. My dad was never an ultra-patriot in the sense of being excited about war or touting his role as heroic, etc. So, it has always seemed strange to me that the most patriotic among us glorify the military and love that they fight (quite literally) for our country. I used to protest in my own small way. I would stand for the anthem (and as an Army kid, I heard it more than a lot of people), but I wouldn’t sing it. (Sometimes, I wouldn’t put my hand over my heart. *gasp*)
Brief aside: I’ve always wondered why in the world we play the national anthem at sporting events – and random other events for that matter. The local outdoor theater where I live plays the anthem before plays and musicals… I’m confused about it. Turns out, it was first sung in settings like this around World War I, but even then it had not become the official national anthem. Decades went by before it was played everywhere for all variety of events. Here’s an article about it from the History Channel’s website – https://www.history.com/news/why-the-star-spangled-banner-is-played-at-sporting-events
Suffice it to say that we don’t actually need this practice, and everyone would be fine without it. It’s the National Football League, after all. If it were international, I guess I could understand playing each team’s national anthem (as they do in the World Cup). As it is…I don’t see the point. *steps off soap box*
It’s complicated to be a “proud American.” I would add “these days,” but I think it has always been complicated. That just hasn’t always been acknowledged. People are using their voices to point out how complicated it is, and that’s a good thing. Many in the U.S. have assumed that we have conquered the moral high ground in the world for so long. We’ve been on the right side of history in some big ways in more recent memory. And when we talk about the times we were on the wrong side, there’s sort of an “everybody was doing it” mentality… For example, we learn vocabulary terms like “colonialism”, “manifest destiny”, and “underground railroad” in history class, but we don’t lament the way that our ancestry involves the colonization and genocide of a land and its people. Our ancestry involves slavery, and we’ve inherited a persistent racism. Our ancestors did have some actual good ideas, which have become the best parts of living in the United States today. Yet, some of their ideas were deeply flawed, and so are many things about our history as a nation.
We didn’t learn much about our country’s internment camps in school.
We tend to think that the family separation issue is “over” because it’s not coming through the news cycle the way it was a couple months ago.
I think real patriotism is NOT a look back at a country that we think has done everything right. Real patriotism involves hoping that we can continue to improve as a nation, using everything good that we have to the best ends possible. It is a celebration of the values of democracy and freedom. It is a desire to unite as a people in order to make our country a great place to live, a welcoming place to visit or immigrate, and a peaceful place of asylum. We should acknowledge the flaws in the system and in the individual, facing them without deflecting. That’s the only way we can ultimately move forward. I do want to be proud of my country, but I need it to be a place we can all be proud of. Until then, I’m not afraid to say that I’m disappointed, and I don’t feel very patriotic most of the time. But I am grateful to live in a place where change is possible, and you and I have the ability to suggest, create, and vote for those changes.
I hope you don’t hear me saying that we should put all our trust in the political system, as if the government will save us from all ills. Of course I don’t believe that’s possible. I know there are flaws, and I know it is not the highest authority to which we answer. However, I think it’s a complete cop-out to say that the church should be the exclusive place Christians are doing all their good in the world. It isn’t the only place we’re allowed to act as Christians. We’re actually supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ in all spheres. I love the church, and I want it to be doing so many things for the world, but I believe Jesus said something about the fact that the people of God are in the midst of the world…
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14-18)
I’ve often heard Christians use this phrase: “Be in the world but not of it.” This can convey the idea that Christians should stand out as particularly moral and good people. We shouldn’t just do what everyone around us is doing – we need to do the right thing, and we follow Christ, so sometimes that will look super weird to the rest of the world. We should be distinct morally, ethically, and lovingly. However, we do lose something when we focus on the idea of being separate. We lose a lot of what Jesus was actually saying. He does not ask that we be taken out of the world. We’re not supposed to separate ourselves, contrary to how lots of Christians have lived. Many have used this idea to validate seclusion.
Jesus is saying that we are made for the new heaven and earth that are coming but that we are here now for a reason. He has sent us INTO the world. My ultimate hope is in God. My ultimate home is with him, and the church (at large – not a particular church or denomination) is the primary institution with my loyalty. That doesn’t mean that I’m not a participant in other institutions. Shouldn’t I be active, concerned, and helpful? Isn’t education important to me? Don’t I earn and spend money? Don’t I want justice to be done? The phrase “on earth as it is in Heaven” comes to mind.
So, we need some nuance.
Don’t be of the world: Don’t be hateful, vitriolic, and ultra-partisan. Recognize the need for truth and unity.
Be in the world: Use your voice for healing and justice. Do what you can.
I think it’s interesting that people don’t view certain areas of life as having political import. It turned out that many NFL fans were quite conservative. It is interesting that these fans care about the many black men who play on their football teams when it comes to statistics and game days. Yet when those same black men started asking their fans to wake up and look at the injustice in our country, they were hated, shunned, and attacked. They were using their voices in the largest arena (literally) to which they had access, but their fans could only see people refusing to stand and salute the flag (committing the most anti-American, unpatriotic act of all, in their eyes). Fans didn’t take the time to ask questions and listen to the answers. If they had, maybe one group of people would have gained a little more understanding about another. The players’ peaceful protest was also a form of patriotism — they wanted more from this country and for it, and they knelt in the hope of something better.
There’s more to come. This concludes part 2 (because it’s going to get too long again). 🙂
The music I’ve been listening to during writing time these days: Otis Redding, Leon Bridges. I had a trial of Amazon Music until recently, and their playlist “100 Greatest Classic Soul Songs” was the BEST.
Book I just finished reading – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green (Remember him? His video was in my last post. His book is good! I’m sure I’ll be quoting it here soon enough.)