The Star-Spangled battle?

In recent days, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, has refused to stand for the traditional playing of the national anthem at the start of games. He said, in part: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” (On this last point, I surmise a not-so-veiled reference to law enforcement, Kaepernick amplified his protest by donning socks depicting cartoon pigs wearing police hats.)

The response, predictably, has been largely negative. Social media is aflame denouncing Kaepernick as anti-American, anti-military, and anti-police. Fans boo him and burn his #7 football jerseys. The Santa Clara police union threatens to stop providing protection at 49er games.

Kaepernick contends that his position has been distorted, saying, in part, “…that’s (anti-American, anti-military) not the case at all…(as) men and women of the military…sacrifice their lives and put themselves in harm’s way for my…freedoms…I have the utmost respect for them.” Kaepernick also has pledged to contribute $1 million to organizations addressing concerns of racial inequity and police brutality.

Given my history and life’s experience, my theology and ethics, I respect the God-given dignity of every human being. In this, I strive to see all sides (at least, as many as I can behold and comprehend) of any issue.


I understand why Kaepernick has staged his protest (“staged”, I believe, is a fitting word, for, as a public and wealthy figure, he is in a position to have his voice heard and magnified above and beyond most individuals)…

I understand the irony of his protest in reference to the symbols of America’s flag and anthem, which represent our individual and collective freedoms to speak and act in accord with personal principle and opinion…

I understand the reactions of those who consider his protest disrespectful of beloved symbols and all who hold them dear and disloyal to the nation whose bestowed freedoms have given him the opportunity to gain his fortune…

I understand (verily, I am one of) those who perceive in America’s soil and soul the root and still flowering stalk of racism by which people of color are devalued as persons and disenfranchised of those “unalienable rights” enshrined in the Declaration of Independence of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (In this realization, this, for me, reality, I oft quote the words of the late, great Poet Laureate of Harlem, Langston Hughes, who, in his elegiac poem, Let America Be America Again, bewailed an unfulfilled, yet undying dream: “O, let America be America again. The land that never has been yet and yet must be; the land where every man is free.”)…

I understand why some view some of Francis Scott Key’s anthemic lyric (originally a poem chronicling the British naval attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812) as racist, especially those words of the third verse: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.” I also understand that “hireling” referred to British soldiers and “slave”, those who escaped their captivity and fought on the side of England. Even more, I understand that Key honored the defenders of Fort McHenry who, though mainly white soldiers, included blacks, both free and escaped slaves. Still more, I understand that Key and his words were part and parcel of an era when institutional slavery was an accepted facet of American life in commercial practice and legal principle.

Therefore, I understand, I believe that words, all words composed in time and space, at a given moment for a particular purpose, including those of The Star-Spangled Banner, constantly must be read, reviewed, and reconsidered in the light of succeeding generations and from the standpoints of manifold interpretations. For through this broadly intellectual, deeply emotional, and highly spiritual endeavor, we, individually and communally, can come to a greater appreciation for the significance, even reverence for the words we stand to sing.

Therefore, I thank Colin Kaepernick for raising the issue anew by sitting down.

6 thoughts on “The Star-Spangled battle?

  1. Paul,

    I’m guessing that this isn’t your sermon for tomorrow, BUT this blog post is one of those LAWD Have Mercy kinda things!! I said AMEN after every “I understand”…. I know you well enough to know that your sermon for tomorrow is done…. That said, this post sure could preach as you like to say!!! THIS is a perfect example of WHY I call you the man of words …

    Much Love!!


    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Loretta. Tomorrow’s sermon is done and this post isn’t it!

      Still, I blog like I write sermons. I start with a subject and, in the course of writing, discover what I think and feel about it (which, on continuous thought, is subject to change, which is why I stop and post – or preach, in the case of a sermon – for if I didn’t, I’d continue to probe to see where I might run and go with he subject!).

      On this score, though, I am and, I think, will remain appreciative of Kaepernick’s challenge to think and rethink what oft for me can be rote repetition and habitual behavior regarding our flag and anthem.

      Thanks always for you and your affirming response.



  2. Paul, I always value your thoughtful perspective. I find it interesting that Jackie Robinson once also protested the National anthem. I have asked myself this summer – how might I feel if I lived in a neighborhood where racial profiling still occurred, or if I had a family member who had been brutally shot 16 times.. I have served in the military. I did not think KAepernick was disrespecting the military by hs action. I did, however, wonder whether it was disrespect against a country that has allowed KAepernick, and many others, a way of life few will see and one that is denied in many other countries. a I note that Michael Jordan has set aside funds to encourage dialogue and am glad to see KAepernick doing the same. I confess,however, that I still am undecided as to how I feel about his action…and may be….for a while. STill, that I you for adding to that interior dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My dearest Laura, this, as most – ALL – issues is deeply complex and with a long and convoluted history. No either-or or even both-and, but rather, I think, layer upon layer of impenetrable opacity owing to human involvement with all of our largely unconscious intent. This is my constant sense of things. Therefore, I try to grasp, as I averred, all sides. Whether I agree or disagree is not as important to me as yearning, working to understand. For, at the end – and at the beginning and during the middle – of the day, you (whoever “you” is with whom I agree or disagree) possess, by virtue of your quintessential differentness from me an element of Truth that I do not (verily, because I am me, cannot) know


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