Monday, September 25, 2017

Unpopular Thoughts, Part II

"Thinking NFL players are 'protesting the flag' is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation." @jeffisrael25

Relatedly. It's a hard conversation, but I am deeply grateful for the charitable friends with whom I have shared it and from whom I have learned. The conversation is the one that opens itself to exploring that and how it is both possible and good to
  • support the remarkable people who serve this country in the military AND 
  • grieve and challenge the military-industrial complex that increasingly defines this country's relationships with the rest of the world, its own land (read Wendell Berry!), its approach to education, policing, incarceration (watch 13th!), and a bunch of other issues through which - significant among other problematic things - white supremacy is systematized and habituated. 
To confuse these tasks is to fail one another in the basic human obligation to listen and tend to each other. Moreover, to pit these tasks against each other is to leave the military-industrial complex, an ailment common to both "sides," unnamed and spared our critical reflection. Indeed, one of the glaring holes of the military-industrial complex is that it leaves little to no space for veterans to talk about the sacrifices this country asked of them (google '22 Kill'!). The absence of such a space is not patriotism; it is politically and financially incentivized dishonesty, very little of which has to do with the military personnel of this country and which hides behind other people's public disagreements over whether to stand or kneel. 

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It does not dishonor one's country to pray for its healing and the making right of broken things anymore than it dishonors our military to pray for peace and the flourishing of people. Moreover, I do not know anyone who prays prayers for peace more fervently than my friends who have served in the military.

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But the flag carries multiple symbols for people, and so the president is retweeting photos of amputee veterans in an attempt to shame those who would help us see the incompleteness of our freedoms. It is hard but important for white folks to see and own that no one is free in the charade of white supremacy, 
  • which I do not wish to uniquely attach to the present administration (lest the nation become complacent) and 
  • which simultaneously mocks the flag, our conception of freedom, and those who have served the military of this country for or under both. 
It has taken too long for white athletes (and many others of us who are white but not athletes) to join the human chains (actual and metaphorical), but they are there now, which is a significant step. 

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Prophets come to heal our blindness, and the reactive response of the powerful reveals that our blinding has not been an accident. You know you have been made a pawn in someone else's game when the subversive next step that threatens to undo it all is the befriending of the side you are being told to despise.

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Postscript: It is entirely possible that this short post takes too much for granted the story of Nate Boyer and Colin Kaepernick's remarkable friendship in ways that would have been better to make explicit. If that's the case, here's the story to compensate for the deficit.

PPS The above analysis is only implicitly Christian, in its valuation of friendship and its desire to see discourse shaped by truthful speech, but the post largely punts the still more difficult conversation about allegiance with which Christians are obliged to wrestle. As a student one time said to me, "Allegiance in the church? How would that work? We only have one pledge to give." Right. Another post, maybe, would consider the relative generosity of the Book of Common Prayer's rubric "The people stand or kneel" and the undeniable discomfort that comes from recognizing that the present debate is about how not if national liturgies should be performed. 

I do think it is important to name here on that score the work of folks like David Fitch, who would contend that mutual submission under the Lordship of Jesus, as we come together and listen to discern Christ's presence in our midst, is important to understanding the kind of friendship God in Christ has opened to us and so also the kinds of friends we might hope to become, even with people who are not Christian.


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