I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I was born in this country. I love it. And I will not leave it. But the pledge is not a demonstration I make for my country. This does create some awkward moments for me. Especially at functions that open with everyone in attendance standing together to do so. At least twice every week I’m put to task when everyone stands, facing the flag, hand over heart, and recites the pledge. So I frequently reflect on the reasons why I don’t. …and they’re the same reasons why I will not accept the #EricSheppardChallenge.
When I was a teenager, an insert appeared in a Sunday newspaper that advertised a US flag print bikini. I was an instant fan, both of the swimsuit and the girl in the picture, who was peeling off her jean shorts to model. Our neighbor surprised me when he came over to rant against it. He was an elder who I respected. But I couldn’t imagine why he would oppose patriotic display in any form.
“The US flag is something that should inspire respect,” he said, “not cover your ass.”
I’m quick to agree the US flag has covered worse. Few Americans would deny how politicians show their backside in service beneath the Stars and Stripes. The US government has unquestionably taken actions that were unbecoming with our red, white and blue standard. American society is so divided and fraught with issues that it does seem absurd to represent us all beneath a common symbol.
But it is just as absurd to oversimplify the US flag as representative of everything that’s wrong with America.
The US flag also represents what’s right with America.
Namely, the US flag represents the many, many people, men, and women of every race, who gave their lives for something greater. The blood of good people you know who died believing they were doing so for the people of this country. And the agony of good people you know who served and came home broken, believing they were serving the people of this country. A demonstration against the flag does nothing to affect any injustice that any of us suffers. Demonstrating against the flag is only an offense to the sacrifice those people made in the struggle for justice.
I will not disrespect the sacrifice these people made. I stand with the national anthem. I remove my hat, and I remain respectful as I survey the US flag. But I don’t pledge. Why?
Quakers tend not to (here). Though some do, many will not pledge or even take an oath when taking the stand in court. Friends traditionally view an oath or a pledge as the suggestion that there’s an alternative. But there is no alternative to truth. You do what is right for the sake of doing what is right, not because you promised to do so. Both Quaker and Taoist literature refers to such rituals as “empty forms” because they cannot create truth (here and here).
For me, when I hear others recite words day in and day out, I wonder whether or not they remain mindful of what it is they are saying. I worry that the pledge has become as superficial as the clothing with which we cover ourselves, something we do for a show. And that’s not right either.
The truth is, those who’ve died and those who’ve returned wounded deserve our profound respect. They deserve our pursuit of truth. Not because things are right. Things are not right.
We owe them our respect because they gave their lives and continue to do so…
…to make things better.