[Not] Kneeling in God's Country

I've mostly stayed out of the whole "kneeling during the National Anthem" thing. But some things just tick me off, so I'm going to make a few comments. You are welcome to disagree. You are welcome to tell me so. But this is my blog, so I get to make my comments anyway. Isn't that why it's here, after all? So let's get to it.

A relative of mine shared someone else's Facebook post, where everyone was up in arms about the "shameful" events that took place "in GOD'S COUNTRY" (i.e. Ohio) and how disrespectful it was to veterans that they should do this on Veteran's Day. The shameful thing in question? That the football team... did nothing. They opted to stay in the locker room to sidestep the controversy of whether they would kneel during the National Anthem.

I have three comments on this, so let's step through them.

Ohio is not GOD'S COUNTRY

Let's start there. First, for the blatantly pedantic reason that... Ohio isn't a country. It's a state. We frequently joke that we feel odd not needing passports to go from Washington to Ohio (or South Carolina), but we don't. Because we're still in the same country.

Second, for the less-pedantic reason that all countries are God's.

Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance. -Psalm 82:8

All the nations of the earth belong to God. So yes, the United States is God's country. So is Singapore. And Dubai. And Iraq. And Namibia. And the Ukraine. And Syria. And the people of those countries are God's people, whom He commands us to treat with love and dignity.

And lastly, if there is a single nation on the earth which can be said to be GOD'S COUNTRY, it's not Ohio (because it's not a country). It's not the United States. What was that nation again?

You are the children of the Lord your God. [... Y]ou are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession. -Deuteronomy 14:1-2

To whom were these words addressed? Oh, that's right - Israel! God chose the nation of Israel to be His country, and Jerusalem to be the city that bears His name. If you're walking in the Judean countryside, you're in God's country. If you're walking in the American countryside, not so much.

Kneeling is not Disrespectful

Next, since when is it disrespectful to kneel? Are Anglicans and Catholics being disrespectful to God when they kneel to receive the Eucharist? Are subjects of the British Commonwealth disrespectful when they kneel to their monarch? I rather think not.

When you say that kneeling is disrespectful, what I hear you saying is that someone drawing attention to themselves by non-conformity at a time when attention is supposed to be on the object of reverence is disrespectful. And I get that. While I think employing an alternate (and deeper!) sign of reverence is about the least-disruptive form of protest imaginable, I can understand the argument that choosing to stand out from the crowd distracts attention from where it's intended to be.

To that, all I can say is that the point of any protest, any expressive action, is to draw people's attention. Perhaps you think the National Anthem isn't the time to be expressing yourself. Perhaps that's true.

But tell me: When do you think would be better?

From my vantage point, this feels an awful lot like the people in my own town who, of course, fully support building a homeless shelter for those unfortunate people who can't afford our ridiculous housing prices. Just, you know, not near my house. Or any houses. Or schools. Or parks. Or workplaces. Or anywhere I might go and therefore have to... see them. *shudder*

And I know where they're coming from. Homeless people make me uncomfortable. Not because they're inherently scary -- I don't think my life is in danger from the guy with the sign on the side of the road. But because I know they're quite possibly as willing or more willing to work than I am, yet they're sleeping under bridges and begging for food. Maybe because they have mental illness and no access to insurance. Maybe because their job skills are out of date and they don't have access to retraining. Maybe because they had a rough stretch and now can't get the time of day from an employer because they don't have a permanent mailing address or contact phone number.

Homeless people make me uncomfortable because I know I don't deserve my comfort any more than they deserve their discomfort. They make me conscious of the fact that I have more and they have less, primarily through no merit of mine or fault of theirs.

Sound familiar?

The state of minorities in this country makes me uncomfortable for similar reasons. If you have engaged with your friends of color, asked about their experiences and sought to understand what it is like to live a life other than your own, good for you. If you think that conversation can happen more deeply over coffee or pizza than it can in a football stadium while the music plays... you're probably right. It can.

But these athletes are using an opportunity afforded them by their position to start that conversation with many more people than they can have coffee and a frank conversation with. They're prompting everyone who sees them to ask why, and the answer to that question will hopefully prompt dozens or hundreds of those people to have frank conversations with others.

Dodging the Issue

What incensed me more than anything else about this post and the responses was not that people disapproved of football players kneeling for the National Anthem. It was that they disapproved of the decision to not come on the field in order to avoid the issue.

It wasn't enough that the school opted to minimize the disruption by avoiding the presence of non-conformists for the Anthem. The author of the post wanted the players to come out - and, by not kneeling, to repudiate the actions of their colleagues on other teams. In other words, the author wanted a show of agreement with them.

Folks, if you're going to be angry at everyone who expresses less than total agreement with you on all issues, you're going to have a very disconnected life. You're the only one who agrees with you on everything, because you're the only one with precisely your life experiences. If everyone thought that way, we'd have a society in which people fragmented horribly, a society in which the cohesion and identity of our culture was in jeopardy, a society in which we prize solidarity with those who agree with us more highly than respecting people who choose to be faithful to what they see and proclaim as moral imperatives.

In short, a society pretty much like the one we live in.

Our great nation was founded in part on the principle that the government could not force you to believe something, nor force you to profess an opinion you did not hold, nor force you to disavow an opinion you do hold. So why have so many of our fellow Americans suddenly started to believe the government should silence those who want to start a conversation?

If you disagree with someone's actions, ask why they do what they do. Maybe they're thoughtless or disrespectful, but maybe there's something so important to them they're willing to risk disapproval and censure. Even if you still disagree with what they do or what motivates them, you might just have a little more sympathy for their integrity.