When I Hear the National Anthem, I Will Kneel and Bow My Head

In 2008, I felt like an american for the first time because I saw a leader who looked like me. All my life I hoped my education and accomplishments would free me from the history of my skin color as inherently inferior and intimidating - it never did. But then Barack Hussein Obama became President and I watched the inauguration and thought "I belong now." Things are different. And sadly, that simply isn't true. Hate groups are more active in the United States than ever before and we have presidential candidates whose platforms oppress and violate the most vulnerable people here and abroad. Lord have mercy. 

In 2011, sitting with undocumented students who had hope for immigration reform, I had hope too. But then we all saw what happened, or rather what didn't happen in congress. In 2012, Billy Graham took out a full page ad reminding everyone to vote Romney for true biblical values. Seriously? And then a barrage of events happened for me that were quite overwhelming and highlighted America's frequent and focused systems of oppression of marginalized people around the corner and the world. This coupled with unparalleled protection and empowerment of those with privilege and power leaves any national pride I had in tatters. Some of these events include: 

  • Bangladeshi factories collapsed and killed hundreds of workers while making clothes largely for our overcrowded American closets. 
  • Frontline's analysis of the Torture Report showed how we systematically abused innocent people in the name of freedom and justice for America and the people responsible wrote laws to give themselves immunity from prosecution. (I am looking squarely at George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and all them). 
  • One executive was prosecuted for the financial crisis and bonuses and compensation has returned to record levels. Bank's fines look good in articles but are a negligible percentage of their quarterly earnings. 
  • Infrastructure in the United States is crumbling every year with bridges literally collapsing as cars and trucks go across them. Never mind the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that wreaks of privileged powerful overwhelmingly white people enriching and protecting themselves at the expense poor black, brown and white people. 
  • At Standing Rock we see a corporation unleash attack dogs on Native Americans 150 years ago to the day when hundreds of men women and children were slaughtered in the interests of destructive, murderous greed in the White Stone Massacre.
  • To date, close to 800 people have died at the hands of law enforcement. And our government refused to count until this year. 
  • Hillbilly Elegy and Angry White Men point still to the tragic reality of impoverished white citizens of these United States and the enduring fact that no one in power is willing to meaningfully engage their problems drug abuse, suicide, domestic violence, educational inequality, and joblessness due to corporate outsourcing - not immigration. 

Most hurtful though are not these events alone.  What's excruciating is the disregard for pain and suffering that those with "the privilege of moving on" exhibit on a regular basis - especially in the Church.

Prayer requests, sermons, podcasts, seminaries, discipleship tools and other parts of the "Christian industrial complex" that are enmeshed with mainstream American Culture remain largely unchanged. In fact, some of America's most famous supposed Christian leaders and institutions double down on bigotry, homophobia, racism, islamophobia and defense of the gun lobby and corporate greed. See franklin graham or Jerry Falwell JR spewing nothing close to Christ-like. 

Wall posts, comments online, articles, blogposts and actual conversations are mind-boggling. Racial hatred and violence is indefensible yet we do it every day in America. I mean, Donald Trump Jr. literally compared Syrian refugees to Skittles. A @#$@$%# bowl of candy?

I used to think, "how did we get here?" And now that how this country was founded is in the forefront of my mind, I can only think, "we have always been here." 

The "American Brand" is so strong even the children its slaves think we have a shot. In the words of Denzel playing Malcolm X, I've been "hoodwinked, bamboozled. Someone pulled the wool over my eyes."  Selah.

This election cycle reminds us that more than half the country wants to make America great again and that America doesn't include people of color, the LGBT community, the poor, the disabled, the inner city or rural portions of our nation. The only people who stand to benefit are those who are already ahead. 

Then enter Colin Kaepenick's protest that got noticed; and it did exactly what non-violent resistance is supposed to do. It caused complacent, apathetic, disconnected, ambivalent individuals to engage. It forced some ignorant, amnesia-prone citizens to be get educated - white and non-white.  It drove people on the margins to the middle of the conversation and gave people of color consistently on the wrong side of injustice hope that our plight might not be invisible forever. 

No cars were burned or stores looted. No one was shot, pepper-sprayed or tear-gased. White people and everyone else who watches football were forced to remember that the land we inhabit belonged to someone else, the wealth we accumulated is rooted in the Slavery of Africans, and the justice system we celebrate is not just for all people even some of the time. 

So now, because of Colin I am forced to openly acknowledge the tension I've felt for the last 8 years. What will I do when the national anthem plays? For me, I will keep my seat, if possible I will kneel; and bow my head to pray. As a follower of Jesus I am to pledge no allegiance to an earthly kingdom and my heart is not required by Caesar. I place no faith in empire and don't want a slice of the american pie that was made possible by drone strikes, deportations, super pacs and corporations claiming to be people. Our cluster bombs are killing children in Yemen, our unexploded munitions are disabling women in Laos, and we have refugee children from Central America represent themselves in our courts. All while passing laws like Citizens United and revolving doors go from Big Pharma and Wall Street to the FDA and the SEC. I can't. I will not be duped into believing that we are a city on a hill when we created terms like enhanced interrogation, collateral damage and are the only country ever to drop a nuclear bomb. 

So, when the National Anthem plays, I will hold in one hand the gratefulness to God for the blessings He has afforded me and this country at this moment in time. And in the other I will confess, repent and plead for His mercy and justice until it rolls down like a mighty stream. 

I think it would be a profoundly beautiful thing for millions of Americans, instead of standing to sing a song written by a slave owner to pray to the author of freedom to ask for forgiveness and blessed, merciful redemption.

I will fill that minute and a half with the Lord's Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis and Spirit-filled intercession.