When I was little I said the Pledge of Allegiance without thinking much about it. Every morning the intercom would beep and we would all stand, place our not-yet-grubby hands over our hearts and say together those words we all know:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.
I simply believed that every word I uttered was truth without question, a statement of fact, nothing problematic for anyone, anywhere.
As a puffed up youth I went through a phase of not saying the pledge at all. As our history opened up to me in surprising ways I started focusing on the deep brokenness, the evil wrought at the hands of our ancestors and the blatant inequality that persists – rather than the promise. From the annihilation of a native people to the utter disgrace and sin of slavery to a system that favors the rich and feeds off the poor…how could I pledge allegiance to a flag that represented all of that? This was about the same time I walked away from the Baptist church for all her hypocrisy (but that’s another story). And boy was I proud to reject all that was false, all that was a downright lie. For a minute I felt quite full of myself for “seeing the truth” and “knowing better” than to repeat the lies of my parents and their parents. Sigh, what an ass we can be in our youth.
But something inside of me never really stopped believing in the promise, never stopped believing we are great and can be all (and so much more) that our ancestors envisioned. So when the hubris of youth fell away like so much peeling skin after a scalding sunburn I began to say the pledge again, not not exactly as it is written. In my lingering superiority I would hold back a few words. And it’s not the whole “one Nation under God” bit where that I would hesitate. It’s that closing line – “With Liberty and Justice for all.” I would secretly utter “with liberty and justice for some”.
Once upon a time (maybe so no long ago) when I was in the midst of one of my idealistic theological tantrums, a wise pastor and dear friend told me to keep on praying even when I didn’t feel like it, when I was full of doubt. He said that in fact that was the most important time to pray. I was blathering on about not praying a prayer with a group who clearly didn’t believe the immensity of the words of grace and justice they were praying but they droned on like Jesus zombies. This wise elder gently suggested first that I get the self-righteous stick out of my tush (or the mote out of my eye, I can’t recall what he said) then he pointed me toward the power of making real with our words that which is not yet realized. He spoke of being in partnership with God in co-creating the Realm of God. Every time we pray a prayer of gratitude when we are not in fact feeling very grateful, we open our hearts to the possibility of experiencing gratitude. Every time we praise God even when we are full of frustration, anger and doubt we are giving ourselves a chance to love and be loved even when we are not so sure there is Anyone out there loving us. And when we pray of peace on earth and goodwill toward all when we know good and damn well it ain’t so we might just be helping make it happen rather than waiting to see it happen.
So here we are, just under a month away from an rather important election so I find myself thinking about this frequently It is a fact that right now, in the U.S., as she is now operating, that there is not exactly Liberty and Justice for all. Just look around, I am sure you can find a tangible example of the disparity if you try. Y’all know that for me personally it is the denial of the civil right of marriage. But rather than seeing “With Liberty and Justice for all” as a lie about what is NOT I am choosing to see those words as a promise of what is not YET. If I keep believing it can be so; if I keep believing that it is our shared ideal, if I keep saying it – and more than that, if we all keep working to bend the arc it will be true.
It’s sorta like religion, any denomination I suppose. We are not living up to all that we can and should be but that doesn’t mean we can’t or that we shouldn’t try. We don’t have to abandon ship, we don’t even have to talk trash ALL the time though we MUST keep looking honestly at our real and often egregious faults. We can work with the beautiful mess we have and keep on prayin’, keep on sayin’ and keep on doin’ all that we can to actually live up to our promises and live into God’s promises.
What promises are you helping keep even as you doubt they can be realized?