October 11, 2017

Patriotic Knees

There are many ways to look at the controversy over NFL football players going down on one knee instead of standing during the playing of the national anthem before a football game.

When Vice President Mike Pence apparently on cue from the President made a spectacle of leaving before the game started after some players took a knee in Indiana last week, my first thought was, “don’t they have any more important things to do with their time and effort”? Perhaps minor things like jobs, immigration, trying to prevent war, instead of “showboating” and stirring more division in the country?

When this all started, I got an almost subconscious reminiscence of when I was in elementary school in the fifties and the whole class was made to stand, repeating every morning of the school year, the pledge of the allegiance to the flag. Something bothered me about that. The regimentation didn’t seem to jive with my childhood freewheeling spirit. Then when I saw documentaries of nazi Germany or fascist Italy, it just felt too similar in the demands for obedience to the “the state”. When I got a little older and the firehoses and barking chained dogs came out in southern cities, I saw my father watch the tv in disbelief and my mother cry; and I knew the words “and justice and liberty for all” I had been repeating all those years was a lie.

I am a sports fan who grew up in Washington, rooting for the Washington football team and I (hope good naturedly) never liked the Cowboys. So when their owner Jerry Jones followed in lock step the President’s suggestion and said he would bench any player who did not stand; and none disobeyed, I chuckled to myself. I know such decisions are tough, with families to support and allowing for differing political and social beliefs; but I thought: I guess “those cowboys” aren’t really as tough and brave as the media paints them.

It is true though that the “love of country” issue is involved with this controversy. Some have correctly pointed out that loving your country can very well involve pointing out and working on its flaws, sometimes even with unorthodox public displays. During Vietnam era this precipitated the famous “love it or leave it” mantra in response. Its funny in retrospect, wrapping yourself in an American flag at Woodstock was seen as a sign of disrespect and now country folk and musicians wear it on their back side of their jeans, and it is very patriotic?

My best friend in high school was killed while serving in the military and it broke my heart. Everyone who has ever served has my deepest love and respect. I would never disdain or disrespect their service. “Life on the line” service such as military, police, fire fighters, first responders, are among the highest of life’s callings. When some say the NFL players who take a knee are disrespecting those who serve it is a “red herring”. They do not. It is like saying that if you choose to be a vegetarian you are disrespecting farmers.

I do not love my country in the way some folks are demanding. I love my wife, my children and grandchildren, the good people of fifteenth street presbyterian church; and I believe, Jesus. (Or, at least I try). I honor and respect, and I am dedicated to the foundation and dream of America. As a Christian, I believe there are times to hold American values high with pride and other times that America needs to be called to task for denying justice and freedom and the common welfare to too many citizens. As a Christian I am pretty sure God did not make America or Americans better than those from other countries and God does not bless us more.

Pride in one’s country, like pride in oneself is a good thing. But sometimes it can mess up your priorities. Besides, I thought men were at their best when they were on one knee; whether proclaiming their love or praying; or maybe just just inviting us all to pause and think for a moment. 

Bob Bell


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