Remembering to Ask Why

I had been teaching a few years before the mandatory requirement to say the Pledge of Allegiance was decreed. Before this, I’d say it occasionally, usually after a staff meeting reminder, but never regularly. With middle school students reading the Pledge over the public announcement system, it was hard to ignore.

JasperJohnsFlags-400x263
Three Flags by Jasper Johns, http://collection.whitney.org/object/1060

I was in second grade when I first became politically aware, so I decided to talk with my own second grade class about expectations around the Pledge of Allegiance. We talked about respect for our country; we talked about the history of the pledge; we also talked about our right as Americans to choose not to stand during it. We agreed as a class that if someone didn’t want to stand up during the pledge, it was ok. They had to still look at the flag and couldn’t be making noise or messing around, but we agreed that standing wasn’t a requirement.

During the first few weeks after this discussion, about half the class tried out sitting down. It never happened at the same time – only a handful of kids ever sat on any given day. After they tried it out, most kids chose to stand during the recitation. Some never did. My goal wasn’t to force patriotism on seven-year-olds. My goal as their teacher was to create an atmosphere in which they could learn and decide for themselves. What choices did they want to make? How did they express respect?

In the following years, we had this same discussion and it became part of our class culture. I always stood, facing the flag, reciting the pledge, though I could never bring myself to place my hand over my heart. I felt too uncomfortable with that level of patriotism. If given the choice, I would sit during the pledge. Not because I don’t appreciate our country or that I’m not grateful to live here, but because I have always felt incredibly uncomfortable pledging allegiance to a nation. For me, it’s not about respect or disrespect but the face that my allegiance isn’t tied to a particular nationality.

I’ve been reminded of this during the debate over football players and other athletes kneeling during the National Anthem. I know that this protest isn’t about the Anthem itself but about the continued oppression and injustice in America. It’s about something so much bigger than respect toward a song and what it stands for.

But it’s made me think about how we show respect and how we think about our allegiance. It makes me wonder about how we interpret the Bible. I’ve heard some argue that God requires us to be good citizens and others argue that God requires us to remember that our allegiance isn’t to kingdoms of this earth.

It also makes me think about how we interpret justice. What does justice mean? Does it mean that our courts hand down strict sentences to those who break the law? Does it mean that we give opportunities to those who don’t have the same inherent privilege? Does it mean justice for me, individually or justice for us, as a community?

I hope that, if nothing else, when our pledge is recited or our anthem is sung, that people pause for a moment and reflect about why they stand or kneel or sit. Why do we do what we do? I think when we can pause and ask that question, we take steps toward reconciliation and understanding.

How do you balance patriotism with your faith? Do you find they enhance each other or do you find them conflicting?

BackyardThis post is Day 3 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

6 thoughts on “Remembering to Ask Why

  1. Great Article – For me, as a Christian, a veteran, and a proud citizen I have never felt any conflict between pledging allegiance and keeping God first. Much like I keep my oath to my wife and kids. It is just one of the many individual acts I practice daily. That said, I have never had an issue with others not pledging, It is an individual choice. Like you stated, it should not be forced. Once it becomes a requirement it is not longer a pledge or a choice. It is one of the main points this country was founded on. Freedom of choice, along with religion is what makes the country work. Be well –

    1. Yes, this is exactly it! I love how you liken the pledge to the pledge you made to your family. Great comparison. And that really is what freedom is – the ability to choose. That’s what I hope my students remember…

  2. I find them conflicting. My country does a lot of meddling internationally that I could never agree to participate in. Would I stand with my neighbors if someone attacked us? I like to think I’d be that brave. Do I think my country is a good place to live? For me, yes. I don’t think criticism is unamerican. And I don’t think God sees America as more special than other countries. For me, it’s not black and white.

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