The Flag

Independence Day

July 4, 2019

Suggested Reading for the Day

Today, in Mercy, I offer this opinion piece.


In some ways, it’s hard to be an American today. We live in a country confused about its identity, a country enmeshed in questions about “who we really are” – about both the good and the evil we are capable of. Those questions, on days like July 4th, get all tangled up in symbols like our beautiful flag.

I don’t have the answers but, as usual, I have an opinion. I think we all do. And I’ll share mine for those who might want to read it.

Our flag, cobbled together on a narrow Philadelphia street, has run with the Massachusetts 54th up the Fort Wagner rampart, and has been hoisted on a bloody hill in Iwo Jima. It has been raised over singing, saluting schoolchildren, and wrapped around the caskets of our heroes. It has wafted from the shoulders of Olympians, and stretched – supersized -across our nation’s stadiums.

Woven into its stately stripes is our desire for human freedom, strength, pride, happiness, and peace. For me, our flag stands for this ideal and thus I will always respect and value it.

What I will not salute is the hijacking of our beloved symbol to stand for militarism, white nationalism, religious extremism, isolationism, imperialism, or racial and ethnic exceptionalism. These poisonous misappropriations have so clouded our flag that we struggle to retain the purity of its original call to us:

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 men who wrote these lofty words didn’t fully comprehend or achieve their reach. They ignored whole segments of people – women, people of color, Native Americans – who should have been immediately embraced within the nascent ideal.

And now, after centuries, we still struggle to secure the full promise of these words for all people. In many ways we have even regressed in our efforts, retreating to the deadly “isms” mentioned above.

Whenever an ideology is used to suppress and control the legitimate freedoms of others, a malignant force is unleashed. And when that force conceals itself with our flag, we all suffer.

I believe that’s why Americans like Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe protest the flag as they do. They are protesting the poisons poured into our flag  by these toxic ideologies. Rather than immortalizing or demonizing such protesters, we would do well to listen to them, discerning the truth they attempt to reveal to us.

But, as we face these challenges, let us not blame the flag. Let us blame ourselves and, in that honesty, resolve to go forward in the strength of our common humanity.

Today, let the flag do what it was intended to do. Let it call us to a determined commitment to freedom and mutual responsibility for one another’s well-being. Let the flag make us brave to face where we have failed one another – often grievously- in this pursuit. But let it also make us confident that the courage it has drawn from us over centuries will strengthen us as a just, compassionate, inclusive, free and strong nation.

Music: The Star-Spangled Banner- sung by The Voices of Gwynedd; arranged and conducted by Musical Director Carol Evans.

God Bless America

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


bike wheel

The Fourth of July in 1955 looked like this to me:

• red, white and blue crêpe paper strung through my bicycle wheels
• an open fire hydrant at the height of the hot afternoon
• about six firecrackers, fizzling off a neighbor’s doorstep
• hot dogs, Kool-Aid and catching fireflies after sunset

We gathered our families, hoisted the flag, prayed for loved ones lost in a war too fresh to reflect on. We listened to music by John Philip Souza. We felt safe, strong, comfortable and grateful to be Americans. But my 10-year old America was very small.

It was an America before Civil Rights, Medicare and Medicaid; before the Kennedy and King assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate. It pre-dated Roe v. Wade, drug wars, mass shootings, 9/11, global warming, and marriage equality. It was a world without internet, cable news and Twitter.

It was a simple, circumscribed world that we will never see again. So we should stop trying, because it was not a perfect world.  Its wounds and warts were about to fester. We have spent the intervening half-century doctoring ourselves for its recurring symptoms, never able to acknowledge the systemic cause of our pain.

For what it’s worth, here’s my diagnosis: Americans are afraid of God, and it’s making us sick.

But why are we so afraid?

Contrary to the long-held opinions of some, modern evidence suggests that God is not male, not white, not a warrior, not rich, and not even American! And this scares some of us to death! We need that kind of God to justify our greed, domination and global arrogance.


So we keep creating the God we need. He carries an AK-47 and has a nuclear button under his fingertip. He builds walls to control people who are poor, hungry, and shades of brown. He stratifies people based on wealth, whiteness and worth to the system. He believes America should be first, and the rest of the world last. He reshapes religion into a vehicle for his own heartless caricature.

If we could just gain our independence from this idolatrous God, we might have better reason to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Today’s reading from the Book of Amos tells us what this liberating God wants:

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
Then truly will the LORD, the God of hosts, be with you as you claim!
Hate evil and love good, and let mercy prevail at the border;
Then it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will have pity on you.

I hate, I spurn your feasts, says the LORD; I take no pleasure in your solemnities;
Your false prayers I will not accept. Away with your noisy songs!
But if you would truly honor Me, then let justice surge like water,
and mercy like an unfailing stream.

Music: God Bless America