Thursday, October 20, 2016

Stuck In The "National Anthem" Limbo

"That time during the national anthem isn’t about you, it’s not about me. It’s about the greatness of this country, paying our respects to it and all the opportunities that it offers.” -Tyler Eifert, tight end, Cincinnati Bengals
I just need to say this. Can we have someone of political importance, say like the President, define what the national anthem is all about? Because every hour there is someone who voices his/her stance on what he/she believes it means. And just like opinions...everybody has one. Wait a minute: those are exactly what these statements are...opinions. And opinions are not and never should be treated as fact.

In light of Colin Kaepernick's "stand" during the playing of the national anthem before game time, the issue of what true patriotism is returns to the front burner. But here is the rub: there simply is no agreement on what it looks like and how it should be demonstrated. Because of this dissonance, tempers are flaring. And they flared when Kap started his first game in over a year against the Buffalo Bills on October 16. And as Prince poetically chimed, "Let the rain come down/let the rain come down down..." And it did: chants of "USA, USA", plus some other choice comments that, depending on your perspective, have their own patriotic thrust. Just not a thrust that unifies the country.

So let me get this straight: people would rather get mad about their passion-fueled, perspective-skewed, narrative-led opinions...and ignore the facts. Or...they would treat any differing opinion with a subjective dismissiveness that would ridicule the very act of bringing awareness to the matter (see Ruth Bader Ginsburg) without even a cursory appreciation of the facts. One fact being, as Jackie Robinson poignantly stated in his autobiography, that African-Americans "never had it made".

Jackie Robinson and his son at the March on Washington, August 1963

From the time the first hijacked free African stepped off the Trans-Atlantic Triangle ship as a slave in chains to the current day, no one of African descent has had it 100% "made". Not one. All fame, fortune, adulation, achievement, perceived and temporal privilege, and heart-hardening myopia aside, American society has a way of letting a Black man, woman, or child know - whether in the right or not - that it can all go away at the proverbial snap of a finger. OJ taught us that. And Frederick Douglass' words in his Fourth of July speech in 1852 (you can read it here) appear cryptically proclamatory and prophetic.

Because we never had it endemically. It was all just on loan...until the societal roulette decides that the ball falls on black. And regardless of what Wesley Snipes said in Passenger 57, it's hard to believe someone undoubtedly showered in white privilege is willing to push all of his chips to go "all in" when that same someone fails or refuses to understand the plight of every African-American. (Those who are striving or willing to understand and empathize are exempt.)

This is exactly how the church has become one tactile symbol of "made-ness" for the African-American. You see, the church (to some degree) hath giveth what the prevalent powers of Americana hath taketh away.  The church was the environment in which an African-American learned how to read, learn, socialize (read: fellowship), escape, pray, sing, uplift, be uplifted, learn to lead, and, above all things, hope. Of course predominantly-Black congregations had to face, fight, and flee from their challenges while existing in a society that would rather see them pick cotton than preach Christ, receive Massah's whip than give the Messiah worship, and beg while bowing than self-actualize while standing. Even the prevailing American church environment was antithetical to Blacks serving the same God and worshiping the same Christ in a Plessy v. Ferguson sort of way: you can worship, just not with us...and not in a qualitative way either. (I plan to elaborate on this in a future blog.)

David Lipscomb, co-founder of Nashville Bible Institute (later known as Lipscomb University).  Although he personally opposed segregation, NBI was only open to White students.
So now we have this issue with the national anthem that has arisen again: with the infamous 3rd verse of the song juxtaposed with the waving of the Stars 'N' Stripes; the blatant demonstration of patriotism in public venues and sporting events that, for some reason, doesn't quite evoke enough lasting patriotism to carry on after the most trendworthy music artist manages to avoid a vocal gaffe when hitting the "free" in the "land of the free" lyric; and the mounting number of athletes, mostly African-American, who have decided to do something other than stand to raise awareness to a pervasive, undeniable issue (to most African-Americans and many others not of African descent) that is unfortunately embedded in the DNA of this great country. And it's sad to say that it is pervasive and undeniable to only a segment of the American population...what with more than a handful of individuals who are willing to publicize and suggest that racism is an entirely new concept and Blacks actually DID have it made at one point. Don't believe me? Someone actually had the nerve to say this...

So the ever-present tension for a person of color who happens to be Black second and a Christian first is this: how do you strike a balance between honoring the country in a patriotic way yet advocating for the end of an oppressive system that doesn't fully honor you?

Be you and do you. The real you.

See, the real you is not external.  I'm quite aware of the pro-Black cries from various philosophies... Garvey, Selassie, Elijah Mohammed, etc.  I'm fully aware of how the Word of God is somehow referenced in an eisegetical manner to support this advancement. (Song of Solomon 1.5 and Revelation 1.14-15 come to mind).  But there is a "you" that cannot be touched or seen. You are actually spirit. It is a "you" that came as a result of divine interaction with a dust-bound formation, producing a spiritual realization known as the soul.

You're probably wondering why I went down this path.

It's very easy for us as Christians to get caught up in rhetoric that sets us up to forget Philippians 3.20-21. And when that happens, the pull of the cultural vortex becomes more irresistible to act like we don't know that we are spirit FIRST. Yet when the flesh is exalted, the spirit will be brought low. We give up the desire to fight against getting sucked into the rhetoric because that's all we can see. Not realizing that we need to have the cataracts taken out of our spiritual eyes so we can clearly visualize the God who shows Himself in the midst of the vortex to remind us to do this:

Be you and do you. The real you.

"Doing us" as heavenly spirit-beings transformed by God's Spirit but clothed in flesh involves knowing the parameters within which we were given to operate by Jehovah-tsidkenu (the Lord is our righteousness). Social justice has a place if you are wisely educated in the parameters. So does dissent. You can add to that list the idea of being active in political circles. As long as the theology set forth is Scripture is correctly applied (Acts chapters 4-5 come to mind), there is latitude in "doing you".

Speaking up for God's righteousness may not be seen in many communities as being socially conscious, but it is a demonstration of social justice and this day and time. 1 Peter 2.13-17 discusses how Christians should honor the "king", a reference to ruling authorities. However, when the same ruling authorities move to enact laws that militate against the righteousness of God, that would be the cue for the Kingdom to respond and be prepared to commit "civil disobedience" (Acts 5.29). It doesn't make you any less American, yet it certainly will make you more Christian.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith wore the gloves. Peter Norman wore the patch. They all took the heat. "(Carlos and Smith) asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They asked him if he believed in God. Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, said he believed strongly in God. We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, 'I'll stand with you.' " Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes. He didn't; "I saw love." - Martin Flanagan, (10/10/06)
And it also does not mean that it should prompt a protest of the national anthem, burning the American flag, etc. But it certainly should make a Christian pause when the thought of not voting runs freely across his/her mind. Or far blindly off the edge of a cliff with the rest of the herd under the influence of a collectively-shaped, subjectively-rooted patriotism.

So be you and do you. The real you. And authentically represent the One who allowed the imagination of Francis Scott Key to bring this song into existence, and allow this song to remain in the country's consciousness long enough to play a part in resuscitating this necessary conversation for all to discuss.

Including the remaining "terrestrial" heavenly citizens. Especially the Black ones.

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