This morning the Lexington Herald-Leader published an essay I wrote about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the ritual singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner before games involving his San Francisco 49ers. I had published a longer version of the piece on my blog and on OpEdNews.
Turns out that the Herald-Leader op-ed received more response from Lexingtonians than any of the other editorials I have published in that venue. Most of the comments were quite critical of Kaepernick – and of me.
That doesn’t really bother me. As a matter of fact, it makes me hopeful. It shows that Kaepernick has touched a nerve. Perhaps he has even started a movement. What if all progressives sympathetic to Black Lives Matter (BLM) and unsympathetic to post 9/11Permanent Warfare decided to follow his example? Other sports figures have already begun to do so.
Mind you, it’s not so easy to follow their example. It takes a lot of courage for fans to remain seated during the National Anthem and endure the remarks, taunts, denunciations, and even threats of unthinking “patriots” who (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) still identify the United States as the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The evidence I’m thinking of involves not only out-of-control police executions of unarmed African-Americans, but unending wars against impoverished Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. I’m thinking of Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib – and before that of Vietnam, Laos, Grenada, and Panama. Even before any of that, I’m referring to “War Is a Racket” written by General Smedley Butler way back in 1935.
With all of that in mind, I am no stranger to the impulse to remain seated during the singing of the National Anthem. I hate the ritual. What does such patriotic display have to do with sporting events? And as I have just suggested, I object to honoring a nation that Martin Luther King identified as the“greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
Yet (to my embarrassment) I still cave in to group pressure at sporting events.
The following piece published as a Sunday Homily on my blog a couple of years ago describes the conflict between my higher Christ-inspired impulses and the craven behavior I hope to change in the future thanks to the courageous example of Colin Kaepernick. Can you join me in this aspiration?
As I say, we could start a movement of principled people against hypocrisy.
“I Stood Up”
Recently, between innings
Of a Cubs-Pirates game
At Wrigley Field,
They celebrated a Marine from Iraq –
A local boy
Who emerged from the Cubs’ dugout
To a hero’s welcome
From a crowd on its feet
Between swigs of PBR
As if the poor kid had hit
A game-winning dinger.
Reluctantly I stood up with the rest.
I now regret my applause.
I should have remembered shaved-headed
Kicking in front doors
Calling their parents “mother f_ _kers”
And binding tender wrists
With plastic handcuffs.
To rid the world of evil.
Pitiful brainwashed innocents,
Driven to war by poverty
To Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Grahib,
To weddings transformed in a flash and bang
Leaving mourners shocked and awed –
By what King called
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world”
And what the Sandinista hymn identified as
“The enemy of mankind.”
I should have remembered
Iraq (and Afghanistan btw)
Were wars of choice,
“The supreme international crime.”
Why did I not recall Zechariah?
(And here come my references to the readings for this Sunday)
And the peace-making Messiah
Christians claim he prophesied.
The prophet’s Promised One would be
Gentle and meek
Riding an ass
Rather than a war horse
And banishing chariots, cross-bows
And drones raining hell-fire
From the skies.
His kingdom disarmed
Would encompass the entire world.
Refusing to call
Any of God’s “little ones”
(To use our military’s terms of art)
“Rag-heads” or “Sand ni_ ggers”
Paul called such imperial hate-speech “flesh.”
(Judging by appearances like skin color, nationality, religion)
“Live according to Christ’s Spirit,” Paul urged.
(Compassion for all, works of mercy)
No room for door-kickers there.
I should have remembered Jesus
And his yoke.
So good and light
The heavy burdens
The Roman War-makers
Laid on their subjects
Who kicked in Nazareth’s doors
And called parents like Joseph and Mary
“Mother f_cking Jews.”
Their imperial generals were “learned” and “wise”
In the ways of the world
But they piled crushing burdens
On the shoulders
Of those “little ones”
Jesus preferred –
In places far from the imperial center
Like Palestine (or Iraq today).
Victims there might be out of sight
For those enjoying bread, circuses
Cubs and Pirates,
But not for the All Parent
Described by the Psalmist today
As gracious, merciful, slow to anger, hugely kind, benevolent to all, compassionate, faithful, holy, and lifting up (rather than crushing) those who have fallen under the weight of the burdens Jesus decries.
I should have asked,
If following that Messiah
If worshipping that All Parent
Allowed standing and applauding
A robot returned
From a war
Where over a million civilians have been slaughtered
To rid the world of violence.
(In 1942 would I have joined the crowd
Applauding an S.S. “hero” in a Munich stadium
Just back from the front –or Auschwitz?
Or a pilot who had bombed Pearl Harbor
At a “Wrigley Field” in Tokyo?)
No: I should have had the courage
To remain seated.
And so should we all
• Celebrating the military
• Waving flags on the 4th of July
• Paying war taxes
• And wondering with Fox newscasters
What makes America great?